Tag Archives: global movements

Vacations and Holidays

IMG_3739“What is the purpose of your visit?” the English customs officer asked as we approached his window 20 plus years ago on our first visit to Europe. “We’re on vacation,” we said.

“Oh, on holiday,” he corrected us. I’m not sure I know the difference between the two even now, but  these last couple of weeks I’ve definitely been away from my regular life. Traveling with my husband to several Scandinavian countries we’ve taken a cruise up the coast of Norway and into the fjords, and flown and driven to visit our grandson who is playing soccer this summer in Sweden. That reality was the inspiration for the whole trip.

It sounds easier than it is, to cease and desist working. My “To Do” lists are quite long and there are always multiple projects in various stages of development. When the clock and calendar indicate that I must let them go and pick them up when I return in two weeks, it’s definitely a challenge. I took some files with me, just in case there would be moments to mix some business with pleasure but it’s lucky I didn’t count on this happening. When I felt the energy to reconnect with my work life, the travel schedule or access to technology didn’t cooperate.

The travel brochures don’t mention it but with a six-hour time difference, jet lag is a real thing. We arrived in Copenhagen at 7 am their time, 2 am for us. We disembarked, and in our middle of the night stupor, found the train station, figured out how to buy tickets, where to get off, and which direction to walk to find our hotel. We had only one small mishap, leaving a borrowed tote bag in the overhead storage of the plane. We realized it just after going through customs but this mistake turned into one of the most memorable parts of the trip. We reported our difficulty to the information desk at the airport and they called the gate. The next thing we knew a young man from behind the information counter was on his bicycle traveling through the terminal on our behalf. He returned in lessthan 10 minutes with our reclaimed bag.

boy on bike

My visit to parts of Denmark, Norway and Sweden was greatly enhanced by intermittently dipping into a book recommended by a Pittsburgh friend who had just returned from the region. British author, Michael Booth’s “The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia” explored the notion that on multiple self report measures, people in these countries turn out to be the happiest in the world. As Booth paraphrased Lady Bracknell, “to win one happiness survey may be regarded as good fortune, to win virtually every one since 1973 is convincing grounds for a definitive anthropological thesis.”

Moving through small villages and medium and large towns I found evidence for much of what Booth was pointing out from his experiences living and interviewing people in each of the countries. In spite of punishing weather, extremely high taxes, and an uninspired diet of fish, sweet rolls, and beer, Scandinavians find happiness supporting one another socially and financially from cradle to grave, taking frequent time away from work, recreating on weekends with family members at summer cottages, respecting, protecting, and staying close to nature, and honoring and practicing ancient and modern art forms.

In visiting the historical amusement park, Tivoli in the center of Copenhagen, we found it outfitted with features for people of all ages. Besides the modern amusement rides for kids and teenagers, there were beautiful gardens, restaurants and an amusing, artfully costumed ballet performance of Cinderella that had me laughing out loud.

We visited the inland city of Orebro, the 115,000 person Swedish town where my grandson is living. Instead of finding a dull backwater town as I had expected, I was delighted by a vibrant city, awash in art instillations in every nook and cranny of the city as they celebrated their 6th annual OpenArt Festival. http://openart.se/2017/en/about-openart/

The primacy and beauty of design in modern architecture had me photographing container buildings, green roofs, and intricate tile surfaces – even the enormous waste composting plant on the waterfront in Copenhagen. Instead of being an eyesore on the riverbank, when completed it will be covered with green vines in the summer and an active ski slope in the winter.IMG_3719

As traveling often does, I found myself making comparisons to my home country. The nearly religious fervor for protecting the environment in the three Nordic countries we visited had me feeling embarrassed to say I live in the U.S. The large middle class, and the lack of extreme poverty in these counties reminded me of a former time in the U.S. when our country felt “great “ to more of our citizens. I’m betting that the state of happiness in these countries is affected by their emphasis on gender equality, consensus building, and looking out for the common good, all values that I personally hold dear. I’m not ready to move to Scandinavia, but I’d love it if we could imitate more of what they do.

 

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.

The Anatomy of Ecstasy

When my then five-year old nephew, Adam, who was an only child discovered that he had four cousins he said, “I feel so big. I’m bigger than a Giant!”

giantimage  Preparing to return from Atlanta after spending time with a group of amazing women and meeting many others in the larger community, I felt so full of excitement that I told a friend, “I feel like I could fly home without the airplane, though I do know that wouldn’t be a good idea.” 

 My friend and teacher, Cynthia Winton-Henry knows about this. She calls it “Flaps up, Flaps down.”  To demonstrate how to navigate between our Big self and our pedestrian, Little self, she directs her students to raise their arms high and out to the side as though they were a bird or a plane. This is “flaps up.” Then she instructs her students to put their arms down by their sides, “flaps down,” in order to return to their smaller individual selves.

womanspreadingwings Some activities require us to be in our Larger self. When I spoke with a numerologist friend of mine about what I needed to do to promote my book she said, “Last year was your completion year when you finished and published your book but this year is a number one year for you, a time of new beginnings. It isn’t a time to play small.”

  I knew what she meant. This isn’t a time to lead with my insecurities. When I experience that excited/scary feeling in the pit of my stomach just before I step onto a stage – that’s the call to step into my Bigger Self. When I am in this Larger Self, all that I know is available to me, and I am open to inspiration, which in theology is described as a “divine influence. ” I know that I’m likely to be there when I’m centered in myself from deep inside, standing tall without apologies, and fully present to the environment.

Some activities take us to our Larger Self. In Atlanta, when I was with a group of women who were each in their Larger Selves, it seemed easy to be all that I am and to appreciate the wonder and amazement of each of them. During our time together it seemed that magic happened and magic has continued to happen since as the universe seems to be cooperating with our shared goals.

Atlanta group-58 One of the women sent an email to the group members and told of an experience she had while driving home. She heard a voice that didn’t sound like her own. The voice said, “Prepare to be amazed,” and it seemed to her like the matter-of-fact sounding message delivered at Cape Canaveral – “Prepare for lift off.”  Later that same day when she got home she had a chance encounter with a woman who, when she told her a bit about our weekend, offered to partner with her to achieve our desired goals in their community.

In the days since, many of us have been experiencing similarly amazing chance happenings that are likely to help us achieve our individual pieces of the desired group goal. As I reflect on this experience of communal flaps up and its aftermath in my life, I remind myself to take special care of my Little Self. Our bodies aren’t built to live perpetually in flaps up and my bodyspirit need some flaps down time in order to be prepared for more amazement.

 

Towards a Resilient Grief

Like many people around the world, I watched the bereavement rituals for the beloved Nelson Mandela. In my case, I was looking for clues to answer a question that has been on my mind for years. “Can what is done at the time of a death, and immediately afterwards, help survivors to accept it, and be strengthened by the grief experience?

coffinMandela Mandela of course, was an international hero, an elder statesman and founder of a new nation. The mourners experiencing this loss included not only immediate and extended family members, but citizens of an entire nation, and of the larger world. In looking at this instance of public bereavement, important elements seem relevant to us all.

Celebrating a life

Following the announcement of Mandela’s passing, spontaneous dancing and singing broke out all over South Africa. In the city streets and village squares, and in the stadium before his state funeral, people whistled, sang, and danced with one another.  Having danced at my own son’s funeral I was delighted that people were using song and dance to create a joyful celebration of thanksgiving for Mandela’s life. We know that Mandela would approve since, in a video at age 81, he is seen dancing and he states, “Music and dancing make me at peace with the world…and at peace with myself. (to the audience) But I don’t see much movement happening out there, so let’s join in.”   

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/12/05/watch-this-delightful-video-of-an-81-year-old-nelson-mandela-dancing-on-stage/

womanwithmandelaimage

Expression of Feelings

As the camera panned the crowd it was not hard to spot people crying openly. When a loved one dies, sorrow and tears help us to recognize our loss.  I was grateful that people were able to have their sorrow in the setting of a supportive community. Some people decorated their bodies to express their admiration for Mandela, sporting his image on their shirts, headgear, or ink-stamped upon their faces. People attending his funeral stood in the rain for hours, and when asked about their willingness to do this, they said this was a small inconvenience given the difficulties Mandela had confronted on their behalf. They considered this a way to express their gratitude.

Lessons Learned

During Mandela’s eulogy, world leaders and well-known celebrities, through storytelling and personal reflection, spelled out the lessons of his life. They pointed out events, such as the years of his imprisonment; and lauded him for how he handled his challenges; his ability to forgive and make allies of his former enemies. In President Obama’s comments he asked himself, “How well have I applied his lessons in my own life? “ I’ve noticed that, when friends and family are given the opportunity to share stories with one another, formally as part of a eulogy, or informally at a wake or visitation, a fuller picture of the deceased emerges. It’s as though each person’s life were a puzzle, and each story, a piece. When placed along side one another, the picture becomes complete.  

Relating to what is unfinished in a life

South Africa Mandela Mourning

Mandela lived an unusually long life, yet as his ex-wife Winnie stated it, “Even though he was 95 and had done so much, there was so much that was still undone.” Those of us watching and reading about the rituals of Mandela’s crossing; the full military honors, the 21-gun salute, the 95 candles, one for each year of his life, the slaughter of an ox in his home village, know that the true tribute to his life will consist of what we, the mourners choose to do in the years remaining in our own lives.

Occupying Pittsburgh’s Market Square

Last Thursday’s One Billion Rising Pittsburgh event attracted over 400 people and was organized by New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice, an organization that InterPlayer, Toni McClendon helped to start. These young, mostly African-American women put together on February 14th, with the help of volunteers of all ages, the most soulful, spiritually enlightening, community inspiring, two hour event in Pittsburgh’s downtown Market Square.

In addition to the stage where dancers from the August Wilson Center performed, and hundreds of women danced Debbie Allen’s Break The Chain, another corner of the square contained a tent the size of a solitary confinement space in a prison. The construction held artwork and petitions to obtain release for women incarcerated for defending themselves against the violent acts of intimate partners. A candled altar space occupied another corner, a place for remembering women from our community who have lost their lives to violence, a resource tent offered information about organizations addressing this vital issue, while the Comfort Tent offered support and respite for anyone strongly affected by this topic of violence against women.

When I shared information about this event with Coke Nakamoto, a dancing social worker friend in California, her comment said it all. “Absolutely love the consciousness brought to the Pittsburgh event. What vision and understanding of the bigger dance beneath the dance!”  No wonder I feel so honored to take the over 15,000 steps my fitness tracker counted that day, (three times the national average) to support these women in bringing their vision to such a spectacular reality. 

A Tribute to my Sisters

The boys in the Vatican are picking on the sisters again. When I read that the male officials in the Vatican were investigating an organization of 57,113 U. S. nuns, I laughed. It seems the church hierarchy has run out of important issues to focus on like preventing child sexual abuse by priests. Now they must keep busy by investigating an organization of U.S nuns for “serious theological errors.”

As a woman reared by Catholic sisters throughout 13 years of my education, I was intrigued to find out what these errors might be. While the Catholic sisters have been focused on assisting those whose lives are threatened by the effects of poverty, educating children, meeting the health and social service needs of immigrants and other disenfranchised people, and conducting parish ministries, they are being called out for “remaining silent on the right to life.”

It made me smile to think about other things the sisters don’t do, like serving as priests, bishops, or cardinals, or sitting at the tables where important theological matters are discussed. I consider myself a post-denominational Catholic, and like the universities where I am an alum, I am most grateful for what I have learned in these organizations, and for what I am able to use in my present life. I’m especially grateful to the sisters and the lessons they’ve taught me that I have finally mastered. In my younger years, I would become angry with the male leaders of the church over their disrespect and mistreatment of women.

But now I collapse into nearly hysterical laughter when I read that the U.S Bishops’ doctrinal conference offered a formal critique of theologian Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, accusing her of over-emphasizing feminine descriptions of God in her new book. The fact that I am able to laugh shows how far I’ve come. As the sisters’ taught, we must love our enemies and do good to those who would harm us. We must find compassion for those who do not know what the prophecies of First Peoples worldwide have predicted. The Divine Feminine, which has been missing from the altars of churches everywhere, is being returned to a place of prominence and respect.

“I think we scare them, “ Simone Campbell, a lawyer and executive director of  NETWORK, the sisters’ lobbying group. Perhaps the real newsflash for the boys in Rome is this; 5000 years of patriarchal rule is ending and we, the women are no longer afraid of you. The sisters have already been re-formed by their deeply spiritual good works, their brilliant educated intellects, and their relationship to God the Mother of us all, who I’m imagining, isn’t very proud of you.

To Women and the Men Who Love Them

It was 1985 and a woman college professor and I needed to move some boxes from an office we shared to the Women and Work Research and Resource Center, which we founded. I had asked my 19 year-old son to help and we three went about our business, carrying boxes, books, and stacks of folders. All the while, two male faculty members were closely observing us. Rather than pitching in to help, or moving out of the way, they stationed themselves in the doorway through which we needed to continually pass. They amused themselves by wisecracking with one another about what we women were wearing as we struggled to balance our burdens and move the objects from one office to another.

My son, who was witnessing this rude behavior, told me later, “Mom, you can’t image the raunchy comments they made about you and Margie after you passed. They acted like they were in a singles bar, trying to impress a future sex partner. What’s the matter with those guys?

Seems a strange memory to emerge on this 102st International Women’s Day, something that happened over a quarter of a century ago. But recent events and conversations in the media have reminded me that the most tried and true method of disempowering women is to relate to women as sex objects. And there are still guys who use their power to put down, and keep down, half the members of the human race

Perhaps the role we older women need to play is to remind people how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go. As the African symbol, the Sankofa bird reminds us, it is often necessary to reclaim and remember our past in order to see clearly a way to put it behind us.

Celebrating this day, which is a national holiday in many countries, can take many forms. Make a donation of time and money to an organization that supports the empowerment of women, (micro-lending, scholarships, internships,) mentor a younger woman, (through your local school, or internationally through one of my favorite programs, Infinite Family ) write an email to your congressperson about what you will no longer tolerate, make sure businesses that sponsor misogyny  know they will never have you as a customer. I’ll be playing with my InterPlay troupe, dancing on behalf of all the women in the world, and the men who love them.  Happy International Women’s Day! Let me know how you are celebrating.

Martin and Me

Our InterPlay troupe participated in several Martin Luther King celebrations this past weekend, which got me thinking about what my kids used to call, “the olden days.” I remembered the time I almost got to meet Dr. King in person.  

Dr. King was scheduled to speak at a Black church in Detroit, Michigan, where my then husband was a news broadcaster. As a member of the press he was invited to attend the event as a special guest and I came along as his wife. The church was crowded with people, and the excitement in the air was palatable. We were immediately ushered to the front and given seats on the stage. As I turned around to survey the audience, I realized we were a couple of only a few white people in attendance. I remember this surprising me at the time, because Dr. King was a well known public figure, and I for one had considered this evening a wonderful opportunity to see and hear him in the flesh.

After some preliminary introductions, the MC of the event made an announcement. “Unfortunately I have some sad news this evening. Dr King will not be able to speak to us this evening. He has been arrested and is in jail.” There was a hush and then a great commotion in the audience as people came to realize the realities of this situation.

The speaker continued, “But we are fortunate to have Dr. King’s father, the Rev. Martin Luther King senior as our speaker this evening.”  I don’t remember the words he spoke, but I can still see his small frame at the podium, the worry and concern for his son on his face. As I told the kids at the MLK celebration at the Kelly-Strayhorn yesterday, the whole audience joined Martin’s father in his concern for his son, because at the time, none of us knew how things were going to turn out. 

And now that we do know how it turned out, my compassion for his father reaches even deeper and broader. Martin Jr. has said, “The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, but It Bends Toward Justice.”  I’m grateful to have lived long enough to experience that bend.

Paying Attention

I’ve always had “a sensitive body,” one of those good/bad things, like being way taller or way shorter than other people. My body sends me messages that are hard to ignore, like red blotches on my face and puffiness around my eyes when I eat something like Mexican peppers that most people consume without incident.  On the advantage side, my body often gives me signals like a warning that the person seated in front of me is not as they appear. I’m sure everyone has these signals but mine seem a bit hyper-tuned at times. And being a dancer, I probably pay closer attention to this than other people.

Often an image accompanies the body sensations. Like last night, I awoke in the middle of the night in quite a bit of physical discomfort in my abdomen and head. I saw my body as a piece of hand woven fabric, being stretched from both ends. The fabric was becoming transparent and frayed at the edges and holes were being created in its center. 

Through the years I’ve learned that I pick up “stuff” that seems to be in the air, and then try to connect with where it might be coming from.  In mentioned this to my husband this morning, I remembered that, according to one expert on the Mayan calendar, today is the end of the Mayan 5125 year cycle. Many other experts place this transition at December 21st.  I have no opinion on this controversy, and little knowledge of what it would mean, one way or the other.  I do know this to be a time of rapid change and upheaval around the globe.

I have been describing sensations of an overarching chaos that seems to be permeating everything, both inside and outside of me. I guess as a way to impose some order, while standing in the hallway talking to my husband, I reached up to straighten a small picture frame on the wall along side the staircase. This action unsettled the picture above it, and it dropped on my hand, slicing a shallow cut that required a bandage to stop the bleeding.

United We Stand

Last weekend InterPlay Pittsburgh participated in the Building Change Conference: a convergence for social change. This three-day conference included skill-building workshops, panel discussions, community dialogues, a film festival, an art show, and an evening of performance art.

Our improvisational troupe, Wing & A Prayer Pittsburgh Players performed Friday night on the theme, Changing the World 101.  Two hundred or so conference participants, award honorees, and friends witnessed our 20-minute performance that occurred in the center of an evening of short performances by singers, drummers, dancers, actors, rappers, and musicians – all who use their art as a tool to change the world.

Since our performances are made up in the moment and on the spot, it’s always a bit confusing when we say we practice InterPlay on a weekly basis. But how it works is that a week or two before a performance, we each meditate on the topic or theme, and practice accessing and telling our stories that seem related to it, or to words that people associate with the topic.

The words, “domination” and “fear,” were suggested by audience members when we asked what gets in the way of creating a world that works for all. This brought out a troupe member’s story of how her young son had solved the bullying problem at his school. She had told some version of this story before at one of our practices. But in the presence of witnesses, people passionate about social justice, this simple story became something much more.  As company members joined her, the message her son gave to the bully, (after he had rounded up enough kids for support), became amplified in movement and song. “Whatever you do to one of us – you do to all of us.”

And then, with support from our keyboard musician, the entire company formed a straight line, shoulder to shoulder in solidarity and began moving towards the audience. The song morphed into,“We’re standing together, we’re standing together.” None of this had been rehearsed. It came from the grand goal of the conference, of the Occupy Pittsburgh event that was to take place the following day, and of hundreds of events taking place around the globe last weekend.  I felt in my own body, the connection to my fellow performers, the support from the audience, and the power of standing together. We became, on behalf of everyone in the room, in the nation, and throughout the world, a metaphor and a mantra, for the Power that Unity brings.