Saturday, September 26, 2009

In Search of...a way to go home again

Thanks to Facebook, there I was, going to another reunion of sorts, this time of six women I hadn't seen in more than twenty-five years. I was apprehensive about going, but I still couldn't put my finger on why. These were all nice people about whom I felt no ill will or unfinished business.

Maybe it was curiosity. Maybe it was coercion. But I found myself driving to a kosher deli in New York to meet up with complete strangers with whom I shared a history of long forgotten birthday parties, neighborhood stores that have gone out of business, and high school teachers whose names have largely been relegated to the annals of old yearbooks.

There was only one person in this group with whom I'd had any contact - Lisa. And that was only in the past six months or so, also thanks to Facebook. So I picked Lisa up at the train station and we nervously headed over together.

A few deep breaths and off we went, cheerfully smiling and greeting the rest who had gathered so far. We did the perfunctory "you haven't changed a bit" chatter, awkwardly hugged, and then went inside - minus one for whom a kosher deli wasn't kosher enough. (She would meet us later on at what, unbeknownst to me, must be an ultra kosher place - Starbucks. Truly, I had no idea.)

Over pastrami, knishes, and old photographs we went around the table and tried to catch each other up on the high points of the past twenty-five years of our lives. Among the six gathered, three were married and three were single. The married women had a total of eight children - six girls and two boys. This would later be topped by the woman who joined us who had seven children, bringing the total number of children of these four women to a staggering fifteen.

All but yours truly had remained in the tri-state area and had never lived anywhere else. We caught up on our siblings, on their families, and on whose parents had passed away. Then we switched to the topic of old classmates and who'd been in touch with whom on Facebook or anywhere else. I found myself searching the recesses of my mind to put faces with the names they were mentioning, but I came up empty time and time again. I had no faces with the names and no memories with the faces I could come up with. Had I blocked it out? Had I simply forgotten?

I wanted to find some shred of longing for the time in my life these people occupied, but I could find none. I wanted to feel a sense of belonging, a sense of being known, understood and valued for who I am, but all the wishing could not make it so. It was pleasant, it was fun, but it was superficial.

I wanted to know if these were the kind of people on whom I could rely if I needed them in crisis. That is the yardstick by which I measure my real friends. I wanted to know what dreams they had realized and what still left them yearning for more. I wanted to know their greatest successes and biggest disappointments. I wanted some meat on the table other than the pastrami.

I do not consider myself a superficial or frivolous person, and I consider life to be too short to waste even this one precious evening that was twenty-five years in the making on minutia. But that's exactly what we did. Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe it was more realistic to ease into this new phase of our lives with pleasantries.

I noticed that as we parted outside in the rain that no one exchanged phone numbers or emails. There was some talk that we should do this again, but no one said it with particular conviction. We hugged, still awkwardly and went our separate ways.

I drove Lisa to the city and we too hugged goodbye. The reunion was over.

I drove home in the rain trying to make sense of what I was feeling. It was gratitude. I found myself thanking my lucky stars for the people in my life - the ones who share a past and a present that we created by choice and not just geographic proximity. I found myself grateful for the decisions I had made over the years, even the bad ones for those too shaped who I am. I felt humbled and grateful that this evening had taken place because regardless of whether or not I ever see these people again, they each contributed to my life in some way.

We don't often get to go home again, so to those who met me there I wish you lives of fulfillment and joy. Until we meet again...

Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

In Search of...dancing stars

I've spent the last three evenings watching the excruciating premiere of Dancing with the Stars. Though I've loved the show since its inception, it has morphed into a caricature of itself. As with American Idol, the judges seem as thirsty for attention as the contestants and they add little toward improving the actual dancing of the amateurs they are supposed to be helping.

The exception to this, at least partially, is Len Goodman, the only judge actually qualified in ballroom dancing. The other two, though frequently louder, offer no expertise in ballroom dancing whatsoever and limited claim to fame as actual dancers. (Carrie Ann was a Fly Girl and Bruno did music videos.)

Now to this season's contestants. There are more than ever before, but I challenge you to name even five of the sixteen off the top of your head. The reason? They're not "stars!" Here are the four I can name - Macy Gray (1st to go), Donny Osmond, Debi Mazar, and Tom DeLay.

Macy Gray and Ashley Hamilton were the first to go last night. Can't say that I'm heartbroken. Macy came off even from the opening footage of her "journey" as someone who could care less about being there...or dancing...or anything at all really. So why was she selected? There is nothing I hate more than seeing an ungrateful person take up a coveted spot at anything.

Ashley Hamilton at least had a compelling story about being in a wheel chair for a year and a half. He's also got famous parents, but parents and story aside, that doesn't make him a star either. Just to make sure I am not being too harsh on poor Ashley's star status, I looked him up on IMDB. Tell me if you've ever heard of these gems in his illustrious body of work -
Voodoo Lagoon and Sluts & Losers.

Add to the mix a snow boarder who's admittedly never even watched the show, a clumsy football player whose sole purpose for being there is to beat Jerry Rice at anything, and the former House Speaker who was indicted and booted out of Congress and you have a good cross section of this season's esteemed celebrities.

What is the criteria for being selected for this show? Is this really the best they can come up with? Can't they at least go for people without criminal wrongdoing? On second thought, maybe that last one is hard to come by in Hollywood.

So I'm voting for the person I've known longest and like best - Donny Osmond. Oh, laugh if you will, but he fits my criteria - he's famous in his own right, has seen and likes the show, and hasn't been indicted for anything.

If anyone knows of how I can get on the show, please let me know.

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

In Search of...the end of an era

One really doesn't have to look far these days to find the end of an era. It seems like every day another celebrity or public figure passes, leaving this world a little more void not only of their art but of their spirit as well. The media loves the big headliners like Michael Jackson, but to those of us who have different frames of reference what constitutes a headliner varies. I say this because Mary Travers of Peter Paul & Mary died and her death barely garnered the crawl on the bottom of the CNN news screen.

We've all joked about folk songs, but the truth is that there is hardly an American who has not sung This Land is Your Land or If I Had a Hammer at least once in their lives. And for those of us who learned to strum a guitar to the three chord Leaving on a Jet Plane or Blowin' in the Wind, Peter Paul & Mary are indelibly etched in our psyches.

While I believe that Peter, Paul & Mary are best known as the voice of a specific older generation, it is important to note that they never stopped letting their songs speak to all generations spanning fifty years. If folk music was the anthem for a particular political movement, then that movement never ceased, nor did their personal activism on behalf of causes both popular and unpopular.

Mary Travers death is not just a musical loss, it is a loss for those oppressed worldwide for whom she fought so vocally. Whether it was playing an active role in Washington's Center for the Development of International Policy, going on missions to El Salvador and Nicaragua, fighting for a woman's right to choose, or demonstrating in support of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, Mary Travers never stopped being an outspoken advocate for people who had none. So it is in that capacity that I feel the world has truly suffered a great loss.

To those of us who will miss both the voice and the activist , I leave you with the haunting Laura Nyro lyric that Peter Paul & Mary recorded in 1966 -

"And when I die, and when I'm gone
There'll be one child born, and a world to carry on."

Thanks for stopping by, and rest in peace, Mary Travers.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In Search of...a new season

I'm in New York, and today's the day the temperature is finally supposed to start matching the time of year it is. I love autumn. Well, let me rephrase that - I love autumn on the east coast. I like a chill in the air that promises changing leaves, cool breezes and sweatshirt weather. I love the richer colors and inexplicable desire to buy school supplies.

Every year at this time I find myself reassessing my life, taking more resolute steps in the direction of my dreams. This year is no exception. After spending the entirety of the summer rallying the troops for legitimate health care reform, I am exhausted, weary of the struggle and skeptical that my efforts mattered at all. Oh, on a better day, I would tell you that everyone's efforts matter, but today I am ready to let go of the vitriol in favor of a little peace.

This brings me to what many of my trusty readers have been waiting for...the fall TV lineup. Oh, rest assured as my old favorites return and the new ones emerge I will be writing about it. In an effort start things off on the right note, I am eagerly awaiting Tom DeLay's early expulsion from Dancing with the Stars. Call me crazy, but I don't think we should reward convicted criminals even if it does turn out that he can dance - which I doubt, but you never know.

I am off to the gym now, eagerly anticipating the joys of my iPod Nano. (I don't eagerly anticipate the actual exercise.)

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.

Monday, September 14, 2009

In Search of...the time of my life

As I received the news of Patrick Swayze's passing, I felt numb. Like Ted Kennedy's death, it was an expected passing, and yet the realization somehow caught me off-guard. For a man who never won an Oscar, an Emmy, or a Tony, he sure made a lasting impact on our popular culture. More than that, he was a great teacher to us all in how to live and die with dignity and how to fight past pain and prognosis.

For a man who made the largest portion of his fame as a sexy leading man, he led a pretty quiet life away from the tabloids and with one woman. What many may not know is that he tried to own as much land as he could in order to fix mismanaged forests and create wildlife preserves. Perhaps that is his greater, though less spoken about lasting legacy.

I've been thinking lately about that song from Dirty Dancing - The Time of My Life, and the implications of a life lived in celebration. In this era of pettiness and greed, and in this year of such great loss, wouldn't it be beneficial to stop and look at the bigger picture? Wouldn't it be a better idea to stop and give thanks for those moments and people that have made our lives joyous and given them meaning?

There is enough to fret over and be unhappy about without even trying. What if we tried just for a moment to recall something that made us smile? What if we took a moment to look up at the sky, or into the eyes of a child, or into the mirror. Wouldn't we say that even with all of our trials and tribulations we've had the time of our lives?

Thanks for stopping by, and rest in peace, Patrick Swayze. Dance on, dance on.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

In Search of...walking the talk

It's Sunday, and you know what that means. Politics. But I'm getting ready to go to an anniversary party, and so I am trying to reconcile party and politics mode.

As was expected, the president spoke last Wednesday night about health care reform to a joint session of congress. I held my breath as he began. As speeches go, it was a good one with a passionate delivery. Unfortunately, I've grown weary of the rhetoric, especially since what President Obama will settle for seems to change with the tides of political fortune. Oh, don't get me wrong, the democrats will pass
something, but I doubt it will be something that will benefit those who need it most, nor will it slap the wrists of those who are gouging the system.

Reaction to the content of the speech was largely overshadowed by the big hubbub made about Joe Wilson, the Congressman from South Carolina who yelled out "You lie" while President Obama was speaking. Did he think he was in a bar? Or was he just raised by a pack of wolves? Surely there is some congressional book of etiquette that you're given before they let you into the club. Shame on him.

For my part, I had a problem with the president's new definition of "public option." As I understood him, this would only be available to people with no coverage at all. That defeats the purpose of creating competition for the insurance companies. Take someone like me whose premiums have nearly tripled. I would take the public option in a heartbeat, but now this would not be available to me because I already have coverage that I would not be allowed to leave for a more affordable public option. How is that driving down costs? It's not. I would drop my policy now and gamble, but I don't have the stomach to bet on the federal government coming through for me on this. Do you?

And for a final note about the speech I go back to Ted Kennedy. Senator Kennedy sent a letter to the president regarding health care reform shortly before his death. So why didn't the president read the darn letter? Everyone was waiting with baited breath. Even Joe Wilson was quiet. And yet, President Obama never read it, he just quoted a phrase here and there. What a disappointment.

Maybe I'm getting cranky because we are running out of time. Maybe I am losing heart and faith in the man whose poetic words seemed like they could move the mountains of inertia and corporate greed in Washington. Maybe I expected that his passion for the best interests of the American people would give him the qualities necessary to achieve those results. Maybe I thought that the long shot coming from behind to win a history-making election had the gumption to twist a few congressional and senatorial arms when and if necessary.

I've said that I was holding off on my presidential report card, but maybe it's time for a warning that he's about to flunk. Harsh words coming from me? You bet. But he's about to compromise away the life and death of many Americans with a democratic majority in the house and senate. That's just not okay with me.

So Mr. President, please walk your talk - the talk you gave that said we will rise up to meet the needs of this moment in history. Let's actually make good on that.

God Bless America, and thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

In Search "In Memoriam" redux

As the President prepares to address a joint session of Congress, a Congress that will be absent one Ted Kennedy, I thought it appropriate to reprint my original In Memoriam blog that was only up for a few hours. So here it is again -

In Memoriam
(originally printed Wednesday, August 26th, 2009)

I was up watching TV late last night when breaking news interrupted my regularly scheduled programing. Senator Ted Kennedy lost his battle with brain cancer.

I was alone on my couch, sitting silently as tears began to flow down my cheeks. I have handled the losses of the public figures that we have all lost this year with calm sympathy comparatively - from Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Natasha Richardson, and Bea Arthur to Walter Cronkite and Eunice Shriver. But Teddy? I can't even. The loss feels personal.

In many ways he is the United States Senate...or at least what is good and just about it anyway. He has been the Senator from Massachusetts my entire lifetime and the thought of a future without him there seems unthinkable. So does healthcare reform - the cause for which he fought his entire career. I'd like to think that some other senator will pick up the torch, but I'm not that optimistic when it comes to Congress.

The TV channels are flooded with footage of his life and career, most of it repetitive. There's the seemingly carefree child, impish in appearance and often overshadowed by his older brothers in early adulthood. Then there's the young senator, the plane crash survivor, the somber rock of Gibraltar walking each widowed sister-in-law in the funeral processions of his slain brothers. There is the devoted uncle escorting his niece Caroline down the aisle at her wedding in happier times, the last remaining son burying his mother, the uncle scattering his princely nephew's ashes at sea after the plane crash that took his life. There was the scandal at Chappaquiddick, the drinking, the divorce, and the re-marriage that changed him for good. If anything at all can be said of Edward Kennedy, it is that he was profoundly human.

In days to come he will be eulogized and memorialized. He will no doubt be relegated to history as the larger than life lion that he was. Young upstarts like our President will not have the benefit of his wise counsel, nor will the rest of his colleagues have the benefit of his genuine leadership and friendship. The generation that encompassed Camelot will finally be laid to rest - literally, leaving us all a little bit emptier.

Who now will fight the good fight? Who will lead and not follow? What rich white man is going to be the voice for the poor minority? Who has the strength of character to dedicate themselves to a life of real public service? Who can weather the politics and the name calling, and the shifting tides of public opinion? Who has that kind of fortitude?

Since his diagnosis with cancer, I've often thought about the Senator's inevitable passing. As I look at pictures of his huge close-knit Irish family who are all but gone (there's one left of that generation, Jean Kennedy Smith), I imagine that there is great celebrating going on in heaven. I imagine Ted being reunited with his parents and brothers and sisters after a lifetime of earthly tragedy. I imagine some raucous heavenly football game taking place. I believe the only loss that's being suffered now is our own, and it is a monumental one.

Because I am a believer in the unfettered power of those who have left their human shackles behind, I am believing for Ted to have a greater ability to usher the kind of reform in death that he could not accomplish in his time on earth. I am praying for miraculous turnarounds that begin on an individual soul level and end with legislation that benefits all of us equally for generations to come. I believe that it is possible.

So thanks for taking on the needs of a grateful nation, and rest in peace, Teddy. Rest in peace.

Monday, September 7, 2009

In Search alternative to "This LIttle Light of Mine"

Yesterday was Sunday, politics day on my blog. But since practically every day has turned into politics day on my blog, I took the day off...not from watching my Sunday pundits mind you, but from blogging about my frustrations, and outrage, and hope upon hope that substantive healthcare reform will take place in Washington as our representatives return from their healthy vacations.

While consumed with concerns about the character of our nation, I got to thinking about the rally I attended a few days ago and the three choruses of This Little Light of Mine for their song choice, and I decided that for a special Labor Day holiday blog I would impart my personal favorite songs of social conscience to you so you can add them your iPods and/or music libraries if you're so inclined.

The order is based on interesting listening flow as opposed to any order of preference.

"Note to God" - written by Diane Warren, recorded by Charice
"Abraham, Martin & John" - written by Dick Holler and recorded by Dion
"Don't Laugh at Me" - written by Steve Seskin & Allen Shamblin, recorded by Mark Wills
"Stones in the Road" - recorded and written by Mary Chapin Carpenter
"What If Jesus Comes Back Like That" - written by Pat Bunch and Doug Johnson, recorded by Collin Raye
"Praying for Time" - written by George Michael but done impeccably by Carrie Underwood on Idol Gives Back
"Change is Gonna Come" - this song was written by Sam Cooke and recorded by everyone who ever lived pretty much. My favorites versions are the original Sam Cooke version and the more recent Bettye LaVette version.
"Satisfied Mind" - written by Tony Arata and recorded by Hal Ketchum
"The Times They Are A-Changin' " written by Bob Dylan. The recording that absolutely gets me at my core is by Keb' Mo' and you must download it now!
"We Shall Be Free" - written and recorded by Garth Brooks

Thanks for stopping by...and enjoy!

Friday, September 4, 2009

In Search of...a real rally

Yesterday was the big rally for healthcare reform, and I know you are all dying to know how it went.

I spent the time between my phone call from Tennessee Citizen Action and the rally preparing to speak. I filled out the necessary on line form they sent and I got busy formulating my thoughts. Well, heck I've been expressing my thoughts on healthcare reform for months here, so it was really just a matter of whittling it down to bullet points on index cards. Then came the practice of not looking at them. For thirty-six hours I practiced pacing and speaking loudly and slowly and passionately (which wasn't hard). I envisioned myself being Ted Kennedy - well, if Ted Kennedy were a short Jewish woman living in Tennessee.

I was excited and nervous as my friends and I drove downtown together and parked a few blocks away from where the rally was to be held. My friends Tanya and Arnie were excited to hear me speak publicly for the first time, as was the additional unnamed Canadian friend we brought along with us for good measure. This was going to be great. I was ready.

We made our way to the park across the street from Congressman Jim Cooper's office where news vans were already assembled and cameras were rolling. There was a smattering of people gathered and I began to feel like this wasn't going to be what I'd expected.

I found the guy with the clipboard to check in. He wasn't the one I had spoken with on the phone. As a matter of fact he had no idea who I was and I wasn't on his list of people slated to speak. He said, "We'll try to squeeze you in," as he scribbled my name on the side of the paper on his clipboard. I knew it wasn't going to happen. Anytime anyone says they're going to "try" to do something, it's a definite no.

Someone brought huge signs for us all to hold, the only sign of organization that I could depict. I chose the one that said "real healthcare reform is a public option." I stood in the front row as the news cameras squarely captured my sign.

I held the index cards in my left hand behind the big orange oak tag sign, and I scanned the crowd as people began to speak. There were less than one hundred people there, mostly minorities and college students. As a whole, the crowd looked bedraggled in the sweltering heat. This was not a group of affluent people, nor was it well organized.

For their part, the groups in charge tried to make it seem like a real rally, chanting responsively, "What do we want? - Healthcare. When do we want it? Now!" Had they done it with more conviction to a larger turn out, it might of been effective, but instead it just seemed pitiful.

And where was our representative, Jim Cooper? Well, he certainly wasn't at our "rally," but then again, with such a poor response to such an important issue I don't think his attendance would have changed his position - a position that has fluctuated like a ping pong ball according to those at the rally, leaving us with no exact knowledge of how he's going to vote.

As I'd assumed would be the case, I never got to speak. I lost out to the uninsured amputee in the wheelchair and the lady who can't afford surgery for her uterine polyps. I guess that's as it should be.

By the time we'd said the Pledge of Allegiance and gotten to the third chorus of "This Little Light of Mine" led by a Baptist college student, my eyes were rolling in the back of my head. It was an embarrassment that at this critical moment in history when literally life and death are riding on the choices our legislators are about to make, the best my progressive counterparts could do was a handful of people singing folk songs. Believe me, no one appreciates a well placed folk song as much as I do, but this was not the time for self-soothing.

This is the time for patriotism, the kind of patriotism that says that healthcare reform is more than an economic issue; it's a human rights issue. The kind of patriotism that says it is unacceptable to make healthcare a privilege for the fortunate few who can afford it while the rest of our society perishes. It is time for the kind of patriotism that favors human life over corporate profit margins.

That's what I would have said if I'd had the opportunity.

As Congress returns to Washington, D.C. next week, please call them. Email them. Write them. Flood their offices in the kind of way that makes it clear that this issue will not go away and that in the final analysis they do answer to the people.

Here once again are the links:

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

In Search of...the courage to lead

I am very brave on paper. Really. I can and will say anything that's on my mind or in my heart, and so I've been forthcoming about health care reform in my blog and in my letters to my representatives including the President and his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel. I have no trouble being outspoken with friends either, especially those who share my political views. That's easy. However, I have never been the one leading the charge.

Don't misunderstand me, I've wanted to lead the charge, but I've just never had the courage. So there I was, sitting at home minding my own business last night, when the phone rang. It was a nice young man named Tom from an organization called Health Care for America Now. He was calling to garner support for an upcoming rally this Thursday. He called the right house. He couldn't get a more enthusiastic supporter for the cause and so we chatted. Before too long he was asking if I would speak at the rally. I hesitated. My palms began sweating. I found the idea of this both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

There was an internal dialogue going on inside my head that Tom was oblivious to. It went something like this: "Ilene, this is your chance to make a difference and stand up for something you believe in. This is your opportunity to be heard." Then another voice was saying, "Are you out of your mind? You are shy and way too soft-spoken to do any kind of public speaking, especially at a rally." Then the other voice would say, "It's now or never. You have a chance to lead."

Schizophrenic? Hardly. Did I mention that there's a bull horn involved? I started having visions of Sally Field in Norma Rae. Is this who I am? It is my fantasy vision of myself, but not the one I've ever thought I had the capacity to actually carry out. Yet here I am, with the gifts of passion, articulation, and opportunity at a pivotal moment in history. Isn't it incumbent on me to act?
I believe it is. And so I'm awaiting Tom's email with the details for tomorrow.

In the meantime, I'm going to jot down some thoughts and facts - like how my premiums have nearly tripled in the last seven years...and how they almost equal my rent. Oh, and how I had to agree to a rider in order to get coverage in the first place, and so they won't cover anything to do with headaches (which they cause a lot of, so that's really unfair)...and how if I want to increase my out of pocket and deductible to lower my premiums it would be considered a new policy and therefore the pre-existing conditions clause would be in effect for a year and nothing would be covered. Well, I guess I am ready.

I'll report back to you, my trusty readers in detail about how this goes tomorrow. In the meantime, here's what I need YOU to do - get involved. Call your representatives, including the President. Below is the link to the site.

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.