Thursday, December 31, 2015

Post 100

Talking to Omar is like talking to a 40-year old. Omar is 10. His mother says he talked before he walked. Omar loves words - the bigger, the better. I love words, too. For much of my life, though, I kept the best words inside. I am a great introvert conversationalist. More recently, with blogs and poems, I have shared my thoughts. Over the past few months, I have created this blog just to write. I might think of a topic while on my morning run. Or something I read might inspire a post. Some posts were pretty lame; some were pretty good.

As I was thinking about the words I would write in this last post, I started reading a book about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. That is a great example of serendipity. According to the author, Arab sea traders once called Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) Serendib. An 18th century story about the island featured three princes who stumbled upon wonderful things by chance. Thus, serendipity entered the English language. 

I don't know how I would describe the path of my life if that hadn't happened. Don't talk to me about fate; serendipity is the driving force.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Ring Out the Old! Ring In the New!

The week between Christmas and New Year's is a time of disorientation. Living in the present is not possible; looking ahead is stressful. When I was working, these seven days were either marked by intense activity (preparing the Mayor's budget submission for the District of Columbia) or calm respite (taking time off from doing deals during investment  banking days). 

This year is particularly fraught. I stepped back from political activity in 2015; I know I will be very involved in 2016, but I'm not sure how. The uncertainty is making me anxious. How will I manage conflicts between the new role I assumed in 2015 (taking Beba to soccer games and the movies, picking her up at school) with the organizer's job of getting the team together to register voters, phone bank and canvass? 

Death is more of a presence as I look ahead to 2016. Leslie's brother-in-law died a few days ago after a long and painful illness. He was five or more years younger than I am. This year marked 30 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the past few years, important people in my life have died, especially Comer, my former boss, mentor and dear friend for 40 years. The lighted candles pictured on the cover of my poetry book seemed appropriate for poems that celebrated memories of my dear departed family and friends.

I can't stop on this rather tragic note. I am resilient and resourceful. My survival instincts are strong. If nothing else, I know 2016 will be interesting. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

Here are a few of the existential threats I'm thinking about this holiday season:

  • AI (Artificial Intelligence): Will deep-learning computers and other forms of AI become so smart that humans are rendered obsolete? And what exactly is transhumanism?
  • Islamic Jihadism: Entire school systems are closed by a single email. People eye their neighbors with renewed suspicion. Close the borders! Close the mosques! Close our minds to any hint of rational thinking!
  • Global Warming: Yes, I know the Northeast had one of its coldest, snowiest winters ever this year. But now it is really warm. And the oceans are rising. What about the beleaguered reefs off Australia?
  • Ebola and Other Pandemics: Everyone likes a good movie about killer germs. Will the people against childhood vaccinations change their minds?
  • Republican Candidates for President: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Book Review

Tsvi Bisk was known as Howard when we went to high school together in Philadelphia. Tsvi has spent his adult life in Israel. He is a futurist and an author. Here is my review of his most recent book, The Suicide of the Jews. 

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
William Butler Yeats

The lines of the poem kept coming into my mind as I read Tsvi Bisk’s latest book, which describes, with extensive historical support and up-to-date detail, the forces that could bring about the end of Israel as a Jewish State. The book’s message resonated with me on many levels. While the fate of Israel and the Jews is vitally important to me, I am also deeply concerned about what is happening politically in the United States and in Western Europe. The political parties of the far right are gaining power while the center/left struggles to make itself heard. The historically low voter turnout in the United States for the 2014 mid-term elections is one indicator of the failure of the center/left to overcome the disappointment and malaise affecting a large part of the electorate. This is the picture that Bisk paints for Israel, but it is not an isolated case. If you care about Israel, read this book. If you care about the fate of Western Democracies, read this book. If you care about the future of the human race, read this book. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Coliseum Books

When I moved to New York in 1983, Coliseum Books, just a block away from my apartment, was my favorite hangout on Sunday afternoons. It was a real, independent bookstore. It was huge and maybe a little dusty. It was clear that the staff actually read books. There was jazz or other good music playing in the background as I browsed the shelves and tables, finding new reading delights.

During the economic downturn following 9/11, the Coliseum store at Broadway and 57th closed. A new store opened a few years later on West 42nd Street, but it wasn't the same. Now that store has closed, too.

One bonus of my book organizing effort yesterday was finding several Coliseum Books bookmarks, all in pristine condition. As I mark my place in my new reading matter, I will feel the glow of those Sunday afternoons in the best bookstore ever. 

Ground Game 2016

I just drafted my first post for 2016, for my Ground Game 2016 blog. So much for living in the moment.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Crossing Levick Street

One of the happiest days of my life was when I got my own library card. An even happier day was when Mom said I could cross Levick Street on my own, thus clearing the way to solo trips to the library. Yeah!

Books have always been a big part of my life, but they were becoming too big a part of my small apartment. For a few years, I donated books to the JCC seniors program. I haven't made the effort for a while, put off by the almost 2-hour round trip and the departure of the people I was close to from my stint as interim executive director of JFGO, in the same building. 

So when I saw the young man from the Orange County Library in the lobby of the movie theater where Gisela and I saw The Peanuts Movie, I asked about donating books to the library. He told me all I had to do was show up at my local branch with books in hand. On Friday, that is just what I did with about a dozen books.

The young woman at the desk was so helpful and pleasant, I was inspired to go through all the books in my apartment to find more to donate. I spent about three hours this morning pulling books off shelves and out of cabinets and storage containers. After a thoughtful reorganization (all the fiction books in the red Chinese cabinet are in alphabetical order by author, for example), I have restored order to my personal library.

One surprise: I have a lot of poetry books, now nestled together on the first shelf in the computer alcove. I didn't think I had read that much poetry. 

On Monday, I will head back to the SW Branch with about 30 more books to donate.

Friday, December 18, 2015

"It was a dark and stormy night"

The Peanuts Movie was a big disappointment. After several failed attempts, Gisela and I saw it yesterday afternoon. She liked it, and I am happy about that. For me, it was a throwback to an earlier, more conventional, less technological advanced age. The story line - Charlie Brown wants to be noticed by the little red-haired girl - was so dated. The animation was less interesting than Disney movies from the 1930's. There were only snippets of the great Vince Guaraldi music. Shaun The Sheep Movie still rates #1 with me for year.

There was an unexpected bonus for going to the cineplex yesterday afternoon: witnessing the gathering of the Star Wars fanatics for the premier of the latest episode. Some were lining up (or rather sitting up in chairs they had brought from home) for the 7 PM first showing. Others has arrived before dawn to see all the previous films in sequence to get in the mood for the new release. I had to suppress the urge to say "Get a life!" Gisela said she was afraid of them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Bug Bites

In the insect world, I am considered a tasty morsel. My picture hangs in places where insects gather.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Killing Time

There is not enough time to start a major project before I leave for lunch with friends. There was a glitch with the delivery of the New York Times, and reading the digital version does not have the same appeal. So I am reduced to scrolling through Facebook posts and checking the developing stories online. Here is what I learned.

I read about the third man on the medals podium at the 1968 Olympics when Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave their black-gloved raised fist salute during the playing of the U. S. national anthem. His name was Peter Norman, a white Australian sprinter, who was ostracized and deprived of the chance to compete at the 1972 Olympics for supporting their cause. The most touching part of the article was the photo of Smith and Carlos as pallbearers for Norman.

I also learned that the L.A. school system shut down because of "a credible bombing threat." Several of the people commenting on the story said it was probably a prank by a kid not ready for final exams. If so, it worked.

John Stewart is incensed, as he should be, at the failure of the U. S. Congress to extend health benefits for First Responders on 9/11. I don't even what to know why the Republicans are opposed.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Boy with Golden Brown Eyes

The little boy, about 4 years old, had the most beautiful eyes, a golden brown framed by lush dark lashes. As I passed him on the jogging path on my evening walk, he grabbed me around the legs in a joyous hug. His father walked over and gently pulled him away.

The patient and loving father told me his son was autistic. I said that I thought autistic children shied away from people, but his son had embraced me physically and, it seemed, emotionally. The father said that his son approached other children without hesitation but then didn't know how to play with them. He was in a special program at a local school. 

The little boy and I walked hand in hand until I left the jogging path. I wondered what kind of life he would have. Such beautiful eyes!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Saving the Planet

I don't think of efforts to ameliorate the effects of global warning as a way to save the planet. Earth will do just fine. The threat is to the habitat of my species and other species I rely on or just like. (Penguins come to mind.)

I do want to mark this date, when 195 nations committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I will not be alive when the success or failure of the accord is measured. For the sake of younger and future generations, I do hope it works.

Holiday Calls

My holiday calls are going well. It is a 2-year tradition. This afternoon, I spoke with Leslie, Phyllis, and Tom and Sidney. I told Sidney stories about working for Mario and Andrew Cuomo. The content of the calls is not as important as the fact that two people are actually talking to each other. No emails, e-cards, texts, or paper holiday greeting cards. They may be so old-fashioned, but the calls are so gratifying - at least to me.

Puppets and Puccini

In 2006, the Metropolitan Opera premiered a new production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. I was fortunate to attend a performance that first season, when I was still living in New York. I have seen the production three more times on the DVD I bought to share with Melissa.

With the new staging and design, one of my favorite operas broke through tradition to become a highly stylized but intensely emotional experience. The film director Anthony Minghella and his wife, the dancer and choreographer Carolyn Choa, drew on Asian theater and puppetry to create a set of pure beauty and movement.

Puppets and Puccini may seem a surprising combination. Together, they are magic. 

Cheerful Equanimity

The English word equanimity refers to a state of being calm and balanced, especially in the midst of difficulty. In Buddhism, equanimity is one of the four great virtues (with compassion, loving kindness, and sympathetic joy) that the Buddha taught his disciples to cultivate.

Many years ago, a friend gave me a book on Buddhism; she hoped that reading it would help me chill out. The author encouraged the reader to attain a state of cheerful equanimity. Think Dali Lama. I've been working on it ever since. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

What I Did for Money

At lunch yesterday, Lynn told Betty Jo and me about the League of Women Voters' lobbying days in Tallahassee early next year. I said I had done my share of lobbying in my various jobs. I didn't like it much then, but at least I was getting paid for the effort. I will pass on this volunteer opportunity. 

Here is a sampling of my work with legislative bodies:

United States House of Representatives: I was in my  mid-20's, working for the Budget Director of the District of Columbia government. The city's budget was under Congressional control, as mandated by the Constitution. I spent many hours in the office of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for the District of Columbia, working on the transcript of the budget hearings. It was 1972, and no women were permitted as paid staff for the Committee. I was treated politely, but I think they disinfected the desk and chair I used after I left for the day.

Missouri State Legislature: I flew from Chicago to St. Louis the morning after an ice storm and nervously navigated my rental car along the slick highway to Jefferson City, the state capital. I had lunch with a legislator to ask for his support for legislation to authorize a new tax-exempt financing program. As he patted my thigh under the table, he told me he was on my side. I kept smiling. I was an investment banker; I had no shame.

New York State Legislature: As the head of the NY State housing and health care finance agency, I made regular trips to Albany with my legislative liaison. We always paid our respects to the most powerful Black member of the legislature. He started each meeting by noting that his ancestors had come to this country in chains. 

United States House of Representatives: It is now the late 1980's, and I am on a mission to win over a female staff member for Tip O'Neill's Appropriations Committee, who is threatening harm to tax-exempt financing for non-profit hospitals. Our regular lobbyist, a male, reports that he is making no progress. He and my male deputy think that I might have a better chance of success with a woman-to-woman approach. Of course, I get the job done.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Blocking Out Bigots

I am now speeding through the New York Times delivered to my door each morning. (You can take the girl out of New York, but you can't take New York out of the girl.) I avoid articles about certain Republican Presidential candidates and terrorism that do nothing to enlighten, only to raise tension, fear and mistrust.

Yesterday, I read a long obituary of Janet Wolfe, who died at the age of 101. It made me smile; it made me laugh out loud at one point. These are rare reactions to the news these days. Thank you, Janet, for leading a wonderful life.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

8 Years Divided by ...

On December 1, 2007, I landed at Orlando International Airport. The lease on my new apartment was active, but my furniture and other possessions were on a moving truck heading slowly in my general direction. I stayed with Melissa, bought a car, signed up for a Florida driver's license, and registered to vote in the  next few days. 

It has been eight years, but the time has been divided into distinct segments that mirror in some ways the transition stages described by William Bridges: letting go; neutral zone; and new beginnings.
  1. December 2007 - August 2008. This was one of the worst times of my life. I was an astronaut who had landed on a alien planet; survival was my sole goal. I signed up with a consulting firm primarily for the group health insurance. I had to get my own business and never earned a dime. I found that Central Florida was still the South, with a high degree of segregation of the sexes. I had never gone to so many women-only functions.
  2. September 2008 - September 2009. Persistent networking turned up an assignment as the interim executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando. I was a one-woman turnaround team. I kept the doors open, made new friends, and decided I never wanted to do anything like that again. 
  3. October 2009 - November 2011. This was time well-spent in the neutral zone. I went to Israel, reconnected with New York clients, and moved tentatively into Democratic politics. 
  4. December 2011 - November 2014. This was definitely a time of new beginnings. With the support of the superb Obama campaign team, I re-invented  myself as a grassroots political organizer. I found a community of like-minded people. Helping to carry Florida for President Obama in 2012 was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life. I pushed out of my introvert comfort zone in 2013 to collect 2,282 petitions for a constitutional amendment to protect Florida's environment; I ranked 8th in the entire state in petitions collected. I spent 2014 supporting Democrats for governor and other state offices, but that was a bust. Virtually everyone I supported lost.
  5. December 2014 - December 2015. I pulled back from politics and invested my energy in other ways. I became an overage soccer mom for Gisela and spent more time with family. I  wrote and self-published my first (and very likely only) collection of poems to capture memories and feelings I usually kept to myself.
  6. January 2016 ... I plan to get back into politics, working for Democratic candidates at all levels of government, including - and especially - the President's race. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Pearl Harbor

Today marks the 74th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, ensuring the entry of the United States into WWII. In some ways, it also marks the beginning of my personal origin myth. 

My parents were engaged but had not set a date for the wedding. According to family stories (told mostly by my mother), my father was not yet ready to give up the single life, especially playing pinochle with the guys on a regular basis. After Pearl Harbor, my mother said "George, let's get married. Maybe they won't draft you." There were married 20 days later.

Of course, my father was drafted some months later. Then my mother said "George, let's have a baby. Maybe they won't send you into combat." I was conceived before my father shipped out to Hawaii, where he served for the duration of the war in the coast artillery. He did not see me until the war was over. I was two years old by then.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Talking Circles

I'm reading Gloria Steinem's latest book, about her life on the road. Early on, she writes of her time in India in the late 1950's, right after she graduated from college. She describes taking part in talking circles in villages in the southern part of the country.  Each person has the chance to speak; all views and opinions are valued. The practice of talking circles in those villages was rooted in Gandhi's methods of engaging the poor and marginalized. Gloria notes, however, that the practice goes back to the earliest days of human society and can be found in many cultures.

Fast forward to January 9, 2012, my first house party as a neighborhood team leader for Obama's re-election campaign. I've made hundreds of calls to invite people to the gathering. About 25 people have said they would come. I worry about how I will fit them into my small apartment and reach out to the Obama organizers for folding chairs. 

That evening, nine people show up, in addition to the four Obama staff members who are there to support me. Following the prescribed format, we start by going around the people sitting in a circle in my living room. Each of us tells why we are there: why we support President Obama, the issues that matter to us in the election.

After reading Gloria's book, I recognize that I took part in my first talking circle that night. It was the first of many that year. As the 2016 election cycle begins in earnest, I am sure I will be organizing and taking part in many more. It is so important for people to tell their stories.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Existential Threat

Here is my intention. I will approach the 2016 election cycle with the mindset I adopted when approaching chemo for breast cancer. Existential threats are inherent in both campaigns. The only thing I have any hope of controlling is myself - the way I conduct myself, my attitude, the aura I project.

I will try to stay extremely focused on the job at hand. I will not complain or become emotional. My stoic personality will take charge. I will be the calm center of my own existence. 

Friday, December 4, 2015


Because of required minimum withdrawals from my IRA accounts now that I have passed the 70 1/2 years old mark, my Social Security net monthly benefit will be reduced in 2016. The withdrawals, on which I pay taxes, have pushed my income into the high earners' category. My vision (never great) is getting worse, especially when I am driving in a downpour at night with oncoming headlights in my eyes. When I look in the mirror, I see the frown lines, wrinkles and sagging skin that makes me look more like my mother. 

At this point, I will gladly accept these indignities of growing older. I passed up the opportunity to die young when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 41. I'm okay with the trade-offs. 

Impassive or overwrought, they wait for news from the OR
where smooth scalpels excise malignant growths.
They relay updates to remote family members and shut out
slow-moving time with laptops and an occasional magazine.
I witness their vigils with empathy one step removed.

It was my parents who stood vigil 30 years ago,
waiting fearfully for news of me under the knife.
Edith and George, president and vice president of my fan club,
must have clung together as never before,
praying they would not have to bury their first-born child.

Their prayers were answered. I am here to bear witness to their undying love.

Thursday, December 3, 2015


I'm so proud of myself. Not once at the fundraiser for Hillary Clinton yesterday afternoon did I say that, to me, Bill and Hillary were Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Instead, I spoke, rather boringly. of the need to register voters on our side. Such self-control.

The day was a bit of an endurance test. The event was at a huge home on a lake in Windermere. I had  5 - 6 different driving routes, none of which made much sense to me. At 2:00 AM Tuesday, I awoke with visions of Google maps dancing in my head. I got on the computer, viewed the maps again, and plotted a route that seemed to work, at least in theory. On Tuesday, I did a test run so I would sleep better that night.

Betty Jo and I navigated the trip on Wednesday in about 45 minutes without one missed turn. We arrived at 2 PM. Hillary arrived at about 4 PM. It was too warm for December (even for Florida) as we stood around on the patio, chatting with some people I knew from Democratic politics and others who were new to me. 

It started to rain as Hillary began her stump speech, which was smart and articulate. No surprise there. The rain progressed from drizzle to downpour as Hillary moved from economic policy to education to support for Planned Parenthood. Then we had to get our car, which was an exercise in patience (which I did not have much of at that point). Finally, my Honda Civic appeared.

The drive home took much longer because of rush hour traffic and heavy rain that hit us about half-way through the journey to Lake Nona. The windshield wipers were on high speed, but visibility was still poor. Lights from the oncoming traffic did not help. We got home safely, though.

We passed the endurance test. So starts the long political season.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

May the Force Be with You!

The new Star Wars movie will be released on December 16th, and advance sales are sizzling. The force featured in the movie will not be gravity. As Einstein proved 100 years ago this month, gravity is not a force. It is a feature of the space-time continuum. 

I've read a number of articles on this anniversary of Einstein's lectures on his theory of General Relativity. I cannot say I understand it at an intuitive, or even vaguely intellectual, level. This description by the physicist John Wheeler does help: "Space-time tells matter how to move; matter tells space-time how to curve." 

General Relativity explains black holes, which have event horizons. They provided me with a metaphor for being stuck in a destructive relationship and inspiration for my favorite poem from my recent self-published collection.

Event Horizon

An event horizon is a strange and lonely place to live.
You balance on the rim of emotional annihilation.
Observers beyond the boundary detect
only shadows of your sadness and isolation.

Your fears, self-doubt and memories create
the fierce gravitational pull of your present life.
Your stubborn resilience powers
your impulse to break free.

Stuck between opposing forces,
You bide your time, on the lookout for a wormhole
to fall through, spiraling through space-time
to a liberating region of the universe.