Monday, June 18, 2018

Happy Father's Day

From the NYT and my Dad's day wish to all dads, including those dads crying for their children, trapped in detention centers:

Stand up for the safety of schoolchildren instead of bowing to the NRA
Ensure the right to clean air and water for all and protect open spaces
Refuse to be beholden to coal, oil and gas industries
Show kindness and compassion to those less fortunate, especially victims of tragedy
Speak out against obvious lies and distortions of scientific facts
Denounce bullies and public figures who preach hatred, racism and misogyny
Model integrity, morality, honesty and decency.

Thank you for the admirable legacy you leave for all children.

Happy Father's Day.Thank you for being a good man.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Happy Anniversary, Ira: Four Decades and Going Strong!

How does a marriage survive four decades? Certainly, it is no easy task but-if like myself you are fortunate enough to have accomplished this and are still fulfilled, respect, appreciate, have fun with and sometimes squabble with the other person, consider yourself blessed. During this time, I find myself reflecting how I have come to be a member of this club, and I realize two things.

1. It is hard work. A marriage is like a roller-coaster; there are highs, but also lows, and what one must do is work through those lows, discuss them, argue about them and come out as each other's strongest advocate at the end-or walk away, and

2. It is important always respect the other person and his opinion. You may not agree, but still-you can not put down the other person for a difference in opinion. You must LISTEN and NOT PUT DOWN, and this is something I have had to learn to do.

Making a marriage work means being thoughtful and sensitive to another voice, another style, another way of doing things-and also appreciating that. Over the years, I have learned to appreciate or-at the very least-accept what I can not change, and I am always aware how important it is to COMPLIMENT, to SURPRISE, to NURTURE the person who is your mate.

I am blessed that Ira has made that task, in most recent times, so easy, because he respects me, values me, has fun with me, nurtures me and always makes me laugh. We make each other laugh. We enjoy doing thing together-traveling, walking, biking, but we also enjoy and appreciate our alone time, which makes the marriage even better-finding a space with the person you love, and finding your own space and world, too.

Our worlds are surely different, though given those differences we have managed to NURTURE and RESPECT each each other, laugh a lot, poke fun in a loving and never mean-spirited way. What is the good of being nasty and caustic when you can be good?

Our politics have brought us together. We were always on the same political page, but this new decade of moral decadence has brought out the fighting spirit in him. Ira is a moralist and a humanist. Who wouldn't admire this?

We have also raised two wonderful children, and our family now includes two terrific grandchildren. We have good friends, separately and together. And we are friends to each other.

Ira is my great friend who I admire, respect and want to be with. I hope to write this same piece forty years from now. We may not be traveling the larger world at that age, but our smaller world, when we are together, will be one which will bring be great joy, deep-seated fulfillment. And for this, I consider myself lucky!

Happy anniversary, Ira. Thank you for being you!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Going to College: A Message to Lilli

My cousin's daughter just got into college. She actually got into many colleges, but is happily going to the University of Florida in Gainesville, the top state university. I am so happy for her, and so happy for her family, too. She is bright and now she is being launched. That is what is what is most exciting about going away to school. You go in one way, and sometimes you emerge quite another way, since that is the ideal of a university education: to awaken you to who you are. I am quite certain Lilli will graduate the same happy and sweet young woman she is, but other things may change. A university is a place where you discover yourself, and who that self is depends a lot on how open you are to transformation. By that I mean it is a breeding ground for ideas. You are educated not just in your course major, but with an open attitude you are exposed to many ideas, many ways of life, many theories, numerous types of people, and this can challenge our deep-seated impressions of ourselves. It can also shape who we want to become-distinct and separate from our parents-and that is a GOOD thing. Take my daughter Samantha, for example. She went to college prepared to be a doctor. She was always invested in good causes, but this was among one of many things that she was interested in. She came out of college no longer interested in being a doctor, but deeply committed to good causes, to changing the world, with a focus no on what she could acquire for herself, but in how she could help others. She quickly left corporate law, took a job at Human Rights Watch and is now in law school, with a focus on social action and change. She is engaged and passionate in a way that I am still, but much more deeply, and with very specific causes.

In other words, she is now an adult, a person who has found herself-and her journey is over. That is the dream of college-to discover a path which gives your life meaning and purpose and joy. It is becoming an adult in the best possible way, since it is yours-not your friends, not your parents, not anyone else in your family, but yours-and you have the privilege of having learned what it is that makes  you tick. My hope for Lilli is she fines that tick and that tock and that passion, since that is what will take her through the rest of her life.

Good luck, Lilli. So many people are proud of you as this great journey begins.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Being a Teacher: EMPATHY

I realize, every time I resume  my new semester, I approach it with fear and excitement. The fear is knowing how my relaxed post-summer life will change-the papers, working on the weekends, the stress. The excitement is the new batch of students-they may frustrate me, but the challenge inspires me, too. Some of those challenges have little to do with educating a student; they have more to do about empathy and helping the students (when you can) overcome their psychological hurdles. This week, the first week back after winter break, the tears already started flowing. The first one was when I asked for the last four digits of the students social security numbers, as I always do the first day. A few students said they forgot it and then their dilemma flashed in front of me. They are DACA students, Dreamers, and they have been told by their parents not to give out any information. I told them how in their school they are safe; we have lawyers who will protect them and everyone at City College is on their side. I told them how part of being a university professor is taking care of all out students; in my classroom they would always be protected. We do not allow ICE agents into our school, as advised by our new college president. A few of them started crying, and others cheered.

The second incident involved a young, brilliant, beautiful girl (a transfer from Swathmore College), who had a full-blown anxiety at the end of class. I closed the door; hugged her and managed to talk her down from her fears. Of course I did the professional thing, too, which was to ask if she had a therapist, which she did. I suggested she might discuss this incident with her therapist, and possibly contemplate medication, which she had though of. She thanked me profusely and my response was, "It is my job." If you are contemplating becoming an educator and you do not know how to be empathetic, how to take care of people, the job is not for you!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Volunteer Work in Puerto Rico

I have just returned from Puerto Rico, where I traveled with my friend, Janet. We both did volunteer work in Centros So Isolina Ferre, a center for children pre-k through high school, many of whom have issues, but some of those issues include homelessness (post-Maria), pregnancy; poverty, among others. Janet and I came as facilitators in the classroom. I brought copies of HOMER for the little ones (a picture book) and Ronit and Jamil for the older students. EVERYONE, and I mean EVERYONE at the facility was remarkable-the teachers, the staff, even the wonderful driver, Juana, who drove us back each day. We managed to communicate so much in my broken Spanish, even though Juana knew no English at all. At the end when I left, she kissed my hand. Kisses say a lot.

Lourdes Lopez, who runs this organization, runs it with such love and compassion and interest in the children; she is a powerhouse of a woman, and I found myself in love with her passion and kindness.

What was most remarkable, though, were the children. The little ones needed a translator when we worked with them, and when I read my hurricane Maria picture book to them, they did drawings about what the storm meant to them.There was a lot of blue; a lot of water.

The high school children were remarkable. Most of them knew English, and they were engaged, interested and so seriously smart. More importantly, they were so grateful that I was there as an author. They confirmed a very deep-seated feeling I have; the less you have the more appreciative you are for what you have. They were grateful to have a signed copy of my book, and I would like to think I even inspired some of them to become writers.

I am back only two days, and still this experience and the faces of the children stand in front of me. I offered all of them the experience of writing a poem, sending it to me, and I said I would publish it in Poetry in Performance. I am grateful that I got to do this work and I pray the island continues to recover from its devastation. I pray for easier lives for these most remarkable children and people. They deserve all that-and more!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Growing Up Without Money

There is nothing romantic about growing up without money. You want what other people have-and you can not have it. You want to travel the world, and the best you can hope for-if you live in NYC-is your grandmother's rental in the Rockaways-or perhaps another borough. You are sick of wearing imitations; it would be nice, for once, to have the real thing.

And yet....

I think about what my children and their children are missing. I recall living with my Aunt Lil in the projects, where I shared a one bedroom apartment with my cousins Donna and Ricky. Our youthful entertainment was not gadgetry, since there was none, but stories and invention and imagination. I recall laughing so much, and I also remember not missing anything. Certainly I missed having a  "normal" family, but my Mom had issues and my Dad worked hard, so I lived with my cousins for awhile. And the thing is, I lacked for nothing-what really matters.

Now that I am an adult, I have come to see how much things depend on what money can buy, and sometimes-particularly for younger people-it is never enough, and I feel nostalgic for the days when whatever I got-however small-was sufficient. I am aware that I can not turn back the clocks, nor do I want my grown children to lack for anything, yet I can see the merits of something they will never have. They will never quite know what it is like to step into the shoes of another. It does not mean they are not kind and do not have good values; they do. But they have grown up in abundance, so they can not imagine losing it, as I can, or feeling there by the grace of God-that what you have today can be gone tomorrow. The lack of material wealth growing up gave me something else, something I would not trade in for anything in the world; it gave me character. I am not always comfortable with what I have, though I would never trade it in. And sometimes I think, if I were to lose it all tomorrow and I still had what really matters-love, companionship, emotional fulfillment, what else matters. And all these extras-just surplus, which I have grown accustomed to, but really, truly do not need.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Big Birthday for Ira

Happy birthday, Ira. This is a biggie. You just got your medicare card and are so excited to get your discounted metro-card. Yesterday we went to see Star Wars-your all time favorite movie, and I was reminded of the time decades ago how excited you were to stand on line for hours so we could go to the opening of Star Wars. I said to you yesterday that we were just kids. How wild is that? We were!!

And now, decades later, you are about to embark on being a"senior citizen," and I still find my love for you is enormous. You make me laugh out loud. Yesterday, when you were reading THE FIRE AND FURY, you were chuckling so loudly that I, too, found myself laughing. My love for you has grown, since you have evolved enormously, while still being the stand-up citizen you always were.

No one has more integrity than you. You are a morally upstanding citizen who thinks about the greater world in such a generous and caring way. The way you work as a doctor in an inner city hospital with such care and generosity of spirit is a marvel to everyone around you. My God, a patient named her daughter after you- Marie Ira, and we were at the wedding of this patient.

You were always funny, but you have grown funnier; you were always warm and loving, but you have grown even more so. You are a wonderful family man who has always put your family above all else. You have always been a great Dad.

Recently, you have grown into an even bigger person. You always have had terrific values, but your response to the current political climate demonstrates a politics I never saw in you. Your attitude toward lies, dishonesty, moral indecency is so outstanding and your willingness to not just cry out, but give money, join protests, utter contempt for what is uncivil, inhumane and wrong allows me to see you are not a person who stands in the background, but someone willing to risk a voice for reason and humanity.

For this-among many other reasons, I am so proud to be your wife, so blessed to have had such a wonderful marriage to you, so happy to say "still crazy after all these years"-and I hope there are many more of them, in a world I know you will make every attempt to make better!!!!  We have a standing joke that the world would be better if you were president.And I agree!