Category Archives: Women, Girls & the Feminine

A Dance At Easter

Anticipation for Easter this year was enhanced by an invitation from Gail Ransom, a minister friend, to dance at her church’s Easter Service. Dancing as part of a worship service goes to the roots of dance itself, and sparks reminders of my past dancing career. Over 40 years ago, for a period of six years, I was a member of Festival Dancers, a dance company sponsored by the Jewish Community Center of Detroit and directed by Harriet Berg, who is still holding forth as Ms Detroit Dance. We performed frequently during that period in churches and synagogues around Michigan.

IMG_1216The ministerial team at First United Methodist Church came up with inspiring music and ideas for my colleagues and I to play with as we developed our contributions for the Easter service.  Rather than choreographing a dance piece from movement phrases I knew or thought up, I decided to use InterPlay’s improvisational forms, and arrange them in a sequence and in formations that fit the music and this particular church space. This was a natural choice because InterPlay founders Cynthia Winton-Henry and Phil Porter created InterPlay over 30 years ago on the altars of churches in California as a way of creating dance sequences for worship services.

A week before Easter I met with three young girls, members of the church, and taught them the primary forms we’d be using – shape and stillness, side-by-side solos, and gesture choir. When the members of Wing & A Prayer Pittsburgh Players joined me on Tuesday we worked out spacing and added a variation I’d call shape/travel/shape for each dancer to repeat until arriving at her assigned spot in the sanctuary. Inside these forms each of us created our own movement, connecting to the music and to one another.IMG_0332_2

The piece we were given to dance to was “Let the River Run” by Carly Simon. It had won the 1984 Oscar for best song in the movie “Working Girl.” The river referred to and celebrated in the song is a river of women, hundreds of thousands of women, taking their places as productive and fully contributing members of societies across the globe.

I was delighted and surprised by the synchronicity between one of my deepest lifetime longings and an opportunity to dance it.  Having the eager and dedicated young women join us added another layer of meaning to the piece since they are the future. As the choir lauded the coming of the “New Jerusalem,” we dancers of various ages leapt for joy, and my entire being tingled with what I could only describe as ecstasy.

Soccer Grand Mom

Here I am sitting on the edge of a soccer field outside Dayton Ohio, on the canvas folding chair I brought in my car from Pittsburgh. Weather predictions were for rain but it’s sunny, hot and humid.  Unseen and unnamed bugs are having a good lunch on me, and I’m wishing I had a big umbrella as shelter from the sun like several of the more experienced soccer moms brought.

Soccer_players_chasing_ball_3I’m doing my best to keep up with what’s happening on the field. My granddaughter isn’t playing right now but I recognize several of the girls that have played with her since they were tiny tots, kicking soccer balls on the sidelines at their big brothers’ games. Like many Americans I wasn’t introduced to soccer until relatively recently. It took my grandkids getting involved for me to start taking notice of the sport the rest of the world calls “football.” At the all girls’ high school I attended in Louisville Kentucky we played field hockey, though as a dancer, I was less than enthusiastic about the big wooden sticks we swung at one another while running across the field. The school sponsored a basketball and volleyball team as well, but the notion of having spectators come to watch girls play any sport hadn’t occurred to many people yet.

Times have definitely changed. The World Cup is in progress in Brazil and the television audiences in the U.S. are breaking all records. Watching the U.S. game at a restaurant last night with the team and their parents and coaches, I caught the tremendous sense of excitement as fortunes change quickly and near misses decide fates. These “surprises” may help explain why most of the world’s people are enamored soccer spectators.

girls-soccerThe soccer I’m witnessing is my granddaughter and her team, competing in the national tournament for high school aged girls. They won the state of Nebraska to get here but they’ve run into stuff competition. They weren’t able to score in their first two games and this one’s the final game, so tension is building. Just when I’m thinking the eleven-hour ride home is not going to be pleasant for the team members, or the parents accompanying them, the girls find their grove, and the energy shifts. No longer struggling individually, they connect with one another.  The ball zigzags across the field, from one player to the next. The girls call to one another and respond quickly. They guard their opponents relentlessly, and doggedly move the ball down the field towards their net. I’m on my feet and the sun and heat and bugs are gone. Along with the parents and other spectators, I’m cheering as they score, and score, and score. The finish? 5-2.

An Author Visits A Book Club

I left the church where my book club had been discussing Pema Chadron’s When Things Fall Apart and drove north to a book club where I was to be the special guest. I was the author who would be meeting in person with ten women who had read my book, Warrior Mother: Fierce Love, Unbearable Loss and the Rituals that Heal.

booksFive million adults in the US, mostly women, are members of a book club, not counting the online book clubs. Researching book clubs I learned that women gathering together to discuss books began in the 19th century as a form of self-education when women were not commonly admitted to colleges and universities. Later educated women found the book club a way to extend the intellectual discussions and camaraderie they enjoyed as students.  By 1947 the book club population had grown to 3 million members, after such national programs as The Book of the Month Club and the Literary Guild had fueled interest in both women and men for book discussions. In the proud tradition of literary salons of the mid-20’s, members of this particular book club had been meeting in one another’s homes for six or seven years. At the suggestion of my host, they had agreed to read my book. Feeling a bit breathless after climbing a steep hill to the front door, I was greeted by my fashionably dressed hostess holding a stemmed glass of red wine.  She ushered me into the kitchen where club members were chatting around a counter spread with tempting snacks and a selection of wines. I could see immediately the advantage of in-person book clubs over on-line ones. Besides the socializing and night out, there’s the food. There’s even a Book Club Cookbook. But having barely recovered from an upset stomach I didn’t dare take advantage of the offerings.

 After a few minutes of introductions and conversation we moved into the living room to begin our meeting. I’d put together questions inspired by a website on book clubs, and the hostess had added her own questions to my list. We used a couple to start but it didn’t take long for the conversation to take off on its own, giving me the opportunity to learn more about the women and their lives, and more about my book as they connected their stories to mine.

1392548_580159845383925_2052741260_n_2 I was the first author to visit the club in person, though other authors had visited via Skype. I wondered what kind of difference the in-person experience makes? Oprah’s book club has two million members and her selection of books can make or break an author but she encourages people to start their own clubs.

I’m definitely up for visiting other clubs and they say the best way for that to happen is for book club members to recommend me to their own book club or to a friend’s club. Are you willing, dear reader, to recommend me?

Sacred Water

228976_217256544990433_4221304_nWalking on the beach this morning on the Florida shore of the Gulf of Mexico my husband and I agreed that we’re both water people. For more than twenty years we’d walked the beach on Padre Island, three seasons of the year. Before that, in spring times we’d strolled the edge of a manmade lake in landlocked Lincoln Nebraska. Our present home backs up to the Allegheny River where the geese, ducks, sea gulls and an occasional hawk or eagle, provide entertainment and an education about our place in the web of life. 

 Perhaps we’re all water people, given how crowded the beach communities are this March. Or maybe people are just there to get away from the ice and snow of this particularly challenging winter, or like the students on spring break, needing a respite from the stress of how they usually spend their days. The waters of the bay and gulf provide recreation for many vacationers; fishing, boating, parasailing but I wonder if these people have the same respect for water as the commercial fisherman do. I liked their sign I saw in the fishing village of Cortez: “Don’t teach your trash to swim.”

 13GRANDMOTHERSWe certainly haven’t treated water as the precious element, most essential to life that it is. Between oil spills in the gulf and the elimination of wetlands to hold the rain we’re left with a cycle of draughts and floods in many parts of our country.  And our agricultural industries grow strains of plants that are wasteful of water our communities don’t have. The future for water and we people who need it doesn’t look good unless we change our ways.

 The International Council of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers who have taken the protection of the earth as their main mission suggest a spiritual solution. As was done with Earth Day many years ago, they are holding a World Water Day on Saturday March 22, 2014. As they go into ceremony they’re asking in the name of the Mother, that we join them in spirit from wherever we are.  Friends of mine will be most likely at the Point where the three rivers come together at Pittsburgh. What place in your community could you honor and bless water on this special Water Day?



A Different Kind of Gypsy

In the musical comedy theaterTravellers_Decorated_Caravan_(6136023633) the dancers are called “gypsies.” I suppose it’s because the nature of their employment involves changing jobs and moving around the country often. The first year I was in New York, I lived in 11 different places around the city, including the times I arranged to sleep on a friend’s couch.

This week I’m falling back on those learned long ago gypsy skills – moving around the world with a spirit of adventure, and practicing the spiritual discipline of extreme flexibility. I’m been in North Texas on what might be termed “a book tour.” With the help of my sister who lives north of Denton, I organized one book event in Fort Worth and two in Dallas. Sandwiched in between I attended a women’s retreat at a ranch an hour and a half northwest of Fort Worth.highways

I lived in this area of the world for over 20 years but having left eight years ago, I’d forgotten the amount of time people here spend in their cars and how carefully they plan their trips to miss the rush hours and the logjams created by road construction projects.  As a visitor it strikes me that most every roadway is being worked on, or expanded to accommodate even more traffic. Toll roads are under construction to swoop people over the top of the current roadways and make money for the state and the construction companies.

I’m now at my next stop, Atlanta GA. doing a home stay with a friend as I prepare for a Warrior Mother Performing the Book event this evening at Charis Books and More, the nation’ s oldest independent feminist bookstore. If you’re in the area, please join me as I help Charis celebrate their 43rd year as one of the “must see” places in the Atlanta area.charis

Speaking My Mind

As a writer with a new book out, I’m not turning down any invitations to read my work in front of an audience. I had the privilege last Sunday of participating in an outdoor literary event sponsored by the City of Asylum/Pittsburgh.


The provocative theme we writers were asked to respond to was “I Don’t Know What I’d Do if I Couldn’t Speak My Mind.” Every 10 minutes for six hours, a different writer read from their work while groups of people walked past, lingering a bit as they participated in the Mexican War Streets Annual Home Tour.  I read a short excerpt from Warrior Mother, and three short pieces inspired by the topic.

Speaking My Mind
Before I speak, my focus goes to stillness inside.
Before I speak, my ears listen for the sound of suffering
Before I speak, my heart decides, will this serve love?
Before I speak, my gut signals something must be done.
My hands speak as I type and text.

The tone of my voice speaks, revealing sorrow.
My muscles speak as I lift debris from the river.
The twinkle in my eyes speaks of a grandmother’s joy.
My arms speak as I churn the chocolate chip cookie batter.
demanding peace.

Speaking My Mind 2
My mind’s in my feet, like a choreographer taught me years ago. We were rehearsing a dance in a church, suspended high over the pews that the congregation would soon fill for the service. We danced on a ledge over the pulpit, perhaps illustrating a story from the bible, “And David danced before the Lord.”
There was no railing, nothing to catch us if we fell. “Keep your mind in your feet,” she called out from below. “That’s the only way to stay safe.”
That’s how it is for dancers, writers, musicians, spoken-word performers – people who insist on staying in touch with their souls. Having your mind in your feet means that your sole is in touch with the earth, a necessary connection as you move about on uneven surfaces, exploring the territory close to the edge.
To be an artist is to live there, on that edge, and though you become accustomed to dancing with your own fear, your witnesses, fanning themselves as they recline in comfortable cushioned seats, are both enlivened and terrified by the possibilities you present.

Speaking My Mind 3
People who know me as I am today might not believe it, but I haven’t always spoken my mind. On the surface of things you might say I’ve had the freedom to do so. But like other children of “The Silent Generation” I learned early not to disagree out loud with the adults around me.

As a young woman I followed the rules, even the stupid unwritten ones, like women must behave as proper ladies, and be careful not to threaten men. I finally found my voice to object to being paid less than men I supervised, to being given half my ex-husband’s debts but not his good credit score.

Joshua Trees

Twisted, spiky, almost grotesque appearing trees proliferate in the high desert where my new granddaughter lives. Mormon settlers named them when they spotted the trees in their migration west. To them, the trees appeared as the biblical character Joshua with his arms outstretched, urging them on. Joshua Trees can only grow in a narrow range of elevations in California’s Mojave Desert and in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, alongside the Saguaro cactus.

Regarded as a treasure and with a national forest named after them, there are serious penalties for removing Joshua Trees from public land. But the property where my granddaughter lives looked naked and forlorn, the only lot for miles around without a single Joshua Tree. The trees had been removed several years ago, before her mother bought the house, and her father found their remains buried in the back yard before she was born.

As a person who looks for opportunities to celebrate life with rituals, the baby blessing of my one-month old granddaugher seemed a made-to-order occasion I couldn’t resist. And the lack of Joshua Trees at the baby’s house seemed to call to me as a condition we could remedy with a ritual. I enlisted the baby’s other grandmother who had baby Joshua Trees on her property and she said she was willing to bring them to plant during our grandparents’ ceremony.

Restoring native plants to the land seemed a worthy way to mark our granddaughter’s birth. And Joshua Trees demonstrate that, just as with a human baby; there is a delicate reliance on relationships in one’s surroundings. In this case a yucca moth must assist the plant to pollinate, and the tree provides food for her young who are born in its flowers. 

With songs and laughter, we planted one Joshua Tree in the back yard and one in the front, while spelling out our visions for the world we want our granddaughter to grow up in. “I see the world as a place of peace for all peoples.” “I see girls and women of all ages, being treated with dignity and respect in all countries around the globe.” 

We did our part to encourage a playful world as we juggled colorful scarves singularly and together in anticipation of the time Kyra Joy will be big enough to come and play with us. And as Krya Joy and the tree grow up together, we will all be reminded that the land, the trees, and, we the people, are all related.   

Desert Song

We’re in the desert again, this time to attend a baby blessing for our granddaughter who lives here. There’s something about deserts that call to the spiritual side of people. I remember visiting Barry Stevens in Moab Utah, in 1973, and our family vacation in Sedona, Arizona in 1997; the red rock formations, evening light shows against the mountains, dry creek beds and sand everywhere. Maybe it’s the sand. There’s so much of it, and all those tiny grains help remind us of where we fit in to it all.

My son invited some monks to bless his baby daughter, a day and a month after she arrived. Friends and family gathered for the occasion – actually the grandparents gathered ahead of everyone else because mom and dad hadn’t had much sleep and gotten behind on house and yard maintenance. So we cleaned and swept and raked the sand, inside and outside, getting the house ready to welcome the monks and the baby’s new community.

We knew that the monks wouldn’t eat anything because they would have already had their one meal for the day. They’d take water, (seems a necessity in the desert) whatever your spiritual practice, but apparently they said yes to some iced green tea. My son told me they needed one more tea and glass of ice so I brought them and placed the items down in front of the monk who didn’t have anything in front of him. Just after I did that, the head monk picked up each of the three glasses and bottles of teas and placed them down again, in the same spot as before. It seemed odd to me, but later, when I learned that my daughter-in-law had been the person who placed the other glasses of ice and tea in front of the first two monks, I realize that this action was necessary because the monks cannot eat or drink anything presented to them by a woman.

The baby blessing began with the monks inviting the entire group to mediate with them while they chanted. We were instructed to first send loving kindness to ourselves, because if you cannot love yourself, you cannot love anyone else. We were instructed to send loving kindness to all those that we love, our family and friends, then next to those suffering with ill health or recent losses. Finally, we should send loving kindness to the whole world, to those with whom we disagree, and to the ancestors on the other side. The chanting of the monks supported our meditation and I came to a place that I’ve come to many times – everything becomes easy when we love. That changes the world from the love of power to the power of love.

Especially since the baby we are celebrating is a girl, I prayed that everyone gets this message soon. The world I see for her is one where women and girls are respected and treated with dignity and respect. Where men accept with gracious gratitude, what women have to offer them. And where practices that do not reinforce these values, fall away; as the desert lets go of whatever doesn’t work in the environment, and where only what is essential survives.  

The Day of the Mother Has Arrived

Everywhere I look I seem to see a pregnant lady. This is more likely to happen in the summer time, when women aren’t wearing layers of clothing to keep warm. And I must admit, this particular noticing could be related to the fact my son and his partner are expecting their first child, my granddaughter, this September. Women dance PregnantI could just have babies on my mind.  There’s the very pregnant gal in my Zumba class that I first noticed the other day, due to her cute workout attire. When I complimented her outfit she commented she didn’t have much choice in what she could fit into these days. Her baby’s due early September.

Coming home and looking through the paper, I saw that Yahoo has just appointed their first women CEO. Of course, being a woman of a certain age, I rejoiced at this development. In reading the details, however I learned the more dramatic news – that 37 year old Marissa Mayer is pregnant and due to deliver her first child in October.

Wow! The times they have a-changed! In the old days, women kept the news of their being in a family way, a secret as long as possible. Marissa MayerThis was particularly necessary if they were interviewing for jobs or hoping to be promoted in their workplaces.  Having a pregnant lady at the helm of the ship is a big deal because of what it does to the traditional barriers of the good ol’boy network, the glass ceiling, the baby track, and people’s ignorance.

I’ve always felt this baby-carrying factor the heart of the matter, the one difference between the sexes that makes all the others seem moot. If this works out for all involved it doesn’t mean that it always will, but it is a demonstration, in an industry whose signature force is innovation and creativity, that to stay competitive, its best to not exclude the gifts of one half the population. I’m wishing Ms. Mayer and Yahoo the very best. I may just get that pregnant lady in my Zumba class to help me celebrate.

Nuns’ Bus Stops In Pittsburgh

The enormous graphically decorated “rock star” type bus pulled up in front of the office of Tim Murphy, (R) in Mt. Lebanon and stops before a cheering crowd. A couple of men in suits start a chant to welcome them. “The nuns on the bus say fairness now,“ fairness now,” to the tune of a children’s folk song.  Looking around at the crowd, I’m guessing many of them learned fairness principles from the nuns while they were in  grade school. It’s one of the principles they taught and one of the principles they live, as they operate social services agencies and hospitals around the country, serving the poor and disenfranchised.

Sr. Simone Campbell disembarks waving, along with several other sisters from Network, a social justice lobby in Washington DC. They’re on a two-week tour of the Midwest to highlight the need for economic justice in our country’s budget. They visit the representative’s staff and then talk with the crowd of mostly seasoned activists, holding signs that attest to the sisters’ moral authority –

 “Do Corporate Prophets help all people? Nuns do!”

The nuns have been in trouble lately, some say for their support of the health care bill. While the American bishops were worried about contraceptives in health care plans, the nuns worked to help the bill that would insure 40 million people will have health care.

The Vatican assigned a male representative to oversea these “radical feminist,” whose message is about economic justice. Their tour is to highlight the disaster to the poor and middle class of the Ryan budget.

Sr. Simone taught us their chant. “Reasonable Revenue for Responsible Programs, Reasonable Revenue for Responsible Programs.” Sister urged us to chant this message at the state and local levels as well.