Saturday, March 2, 2024

Navalny: The Dangers That Lie Ahead If America Becomes Russia

 Today Alexsei Navalny was buried in Russia. He was a dissdent who spoke up for decades, knowing full well he risked assasination in his country for his powerful voice.  He died in jail, having returned from Munich where he could have lived with a level of peace and serenity; however, he returned to Russia, only to be placed in the worst prison in the Vladimir region of central Russia, where he was placed in a punishment cell. Everyone who attended the funeral--thousands--risked the possibility of jail and possibly death, since this dictatorship keeps a tight wrap around every aspect of life, including and primarily, those who call out against injustice. Russia is a dangerous place, and right now America has an indicted former president running for the presidency of the United States, again, and he is equally dangerous. He has vengeance against the opposition on his mind. The prospect of a Trump presidency is terrifying, There is writing on the wall, just as there was in Nazi Germany, and people are not paying attention. They are in love with the strong man, Trump, who is turn is in love with Putin, who is lethal. The Republican party has drank the poisonous kool-aide, but so have many of our institutions, the House and all his blind followers. America is planting ugly and terrifying seeds.

The signs in America are already there that we are going backwards in a lawless way; otherwise, Trump and his cronies would have already been jailed. The horror reached a culminating point this week when the Supreme Court decided to hear his immunity case. I have no faith that they will say a president who is no longer president is immune from criminal cases, even though he had secret and classified documents hidden in his Florida home, including in his bathroom. He claims these documents are his. He also was the catalyst behind the January 6th insurrection, where countless people were injured and hiding, while the storming others were defacating on the floor, smashing glass and screaming, "Hang Mike Pence." Adding insult to injury, aside from his chronic lies, he has such a hold on the party that the recent bi-partisan imnmigration bill was dead on arrival in the house because Trump is afraid if it passes it will enhance the Democrat's chance of winning the election in 2024. People in Congress are afraid of the aftermath of his wrath. We are becoming that totalitarian state, fearful of supporting Ukraine and modelling ourselves after his Russian ally, Putin,  this same man who has threatened the West with nuclear escalation and has praised the Russian politcal system as,"one of the foundations of the country's sovereignty." 

Listen to Trump's words political pundits are saying as he continues verbally to assault all our norms, threatens to execute Mark Milley, get rid of civil servants, put children in cages, assasinate or jail his political opponents. We have already seen the dismantling of Roe vs. Wade; the possibility of  eliminating smae-sex marriage; threatening transgender rights; women's rights; climate change; all of our laws and conventions dismantled before our very eyes. Trump's con men were willing to overturn an election. What is next when books are banned; IVF is banned in one state; an embryo becomes a person and the press--aside from Fox News--is daily bashed?

I am terrified of his words and the possibility of a world where he places his sycophants in positions of power and jails those who have erred him. He has said he would only be a dictator for one day. This is a blatant lie. Once in the White House, your precious rights and freedoms will be gone, and there will be no protections. Like Russia, your opposing voice will be threatened, and the risk for jail would be overwhelming. He will be president, change the laws and stay in the office forever if given a chance, until he dies. 

I am afraid for our country of this would be king. I pray that people, even those not in love with Biden, realize the risks of their silence, of not voting, of saying nothing bad will happen. It already has.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

The Perfect Day

 I just saw this movie about a man who has clearly left his moneyed life to live a simpler, more meaningful life. It has circulated with me for days, not because I am moving in that direction, but because I am filled with sorrow, at times, because the disparity between the haves and the have-nots grows larger by the minute. My friend and I had an engaged discussion about this: having grown up poor, what does it mean to now lead the privileged life? We recognize we are the haves and would never go back, yet we know what we acquired by having less growing up. It made us resourceful, resilient, capable and appreciative of being alone. It made the small items we received huge and wonderful. It also made us, at times, uncomfortable with our adult lives, which is not so bad, because the excesses we have are truly that--too much. How does one make peace with so much, when you look around and see so many who have so little? There is no answer to this.

A friend once asked me, when my children were young, how can you be a person with money and keep your children from being spoiled. They way we did it was for them NOT to go everywhere, not to get everything, but still, it was not easy. It was not perfect. Nor was it perfect to grow up poor.

But in this movie, the main character clearly had money at one time, and left his family of origin to live a quiet, simple life, where he had great pleasure. I could not go there, but still, there is an allure in discarding, getting rid of, seeing less can be more. At the end of the day, money, objects, trips, all pleasurable, do not make one happy, particularly when you are doing all of these things and you look around, there are too many people who have been left behind.

I do not wish to be the character in the film, though I do admire and enagage in appreciation of the smaller and simpler beauties in life. I wish we did not live in a life of either or, since EXCESS and HAVING TOO LITTLE both are problematic. I wish for a better world where the rich do not get richer and the poor, poorer. I remember having so little, and it was hard, but I also know the appreciation of those moments when my Dad took me to a movie or bought me a new winter coat. Like the character in the film, I thought I was getting something precious in the world. The character in the film, in his small habits and routines, felt that way. How many people can say that? Not many! And that is sad.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Not the Life You Imagined


                        “I am  paying attention to small beauties.”

                                           Sharon Olds, “Little Things”


                                                          NOT THE LIFE YOU IMAGINED


You always thought you were smart, you planned well, you would have everything you want. Many people have a preconceived notion of the life they want and believe they can make it happen. Now that I am approaching seventy years old, I see that as a fast and fleeting illusion. Shit always happens and sometimes compels you to find new and diverse ways of assigning meaning to your life and making the best of what you have. This is no easy task, but what is the alternative?

Let’s start with career choice. Your decision is often based on what you think you are good at. This diminishes the possibility of exploring other aspects of yourself. For example, you have a quick and methodical mind and are good at arguing your case, so you decide to become a lawyer. This same lawyer (I know dozens of them) has countless loans and is often compelled to take a high-paying job to pay the loans back. This precludes the possibility of doing a service-oriented job, which might be more gratifying in the long run. And what, if this same lawyer, loves to write, and not just briefs, but poetry and fiction. Several of my MFA students in the Creative Writing Department are unfulfilled lawyers who want to return to their passions-the creative arts. Making a living is not necessarily the life they imagined.

Some people move onto forming a partnership, sometimes a marriage. The person you select in your twenties may not satisfy you quite the same way ten years later. Certainly, so many marriages end in divorce, but is that always the solution? Is it possible to work on your differences, to compromise, to dialogue, communicate and accept these differences? It may not be. Can it be the person you have selected does not communicate well? There is always counseling, though perhaps-at the end of the day, your partner is no longer right for you. You imagined “till death do us part” bur reality is different from the fantasy of happily ever after.

Sometimes children are born into these marriages. Children have their personal inner clocks, so some negotiate the split between their parents seamlessly, while others do not. It may be a balancing act children have to walk when their parents end their marriage hugely mad at the “other.” Parental angers may seep into a child’s life, but this can even happen when parents stay unhappily together.

And what about the child who is born with challenges? Some of these are apparent in the very beginning when the infant is not meeting his or her milestones; some become evident later on, during toddlerhood. Parents find themselves mourning the child who could have been, rather than focusing on this is what I have. It is not the life a parent imagines when birthing a child—nor are the challenges that creep up later on. The mental health of a child is always precarious, for some more than others. Adolescence, in particular, awakens a parent’s worst nightmare: seeing your child anxious, depressed, unable to cope, contemplating and succeeding at suicide Even what seems to be an apparently well-adjusted child can suddenly sink into despair, and move into a deep and dark abyss.

And then there are the children who choose a different path then their parent’s, who choose to embark on “the road less taken.” For a young person, for example, whose educated parent’s dreamed of the control they have over their child’s life, only to discover it is elusive. Every day there are stories of children leaving the safe haven of their religious, conservative homes, abandoning the dream of family that they would stay put and pursue what has laid out for them, and the child ups and leaves college, the farm, the home, the religion and politics they were brought up with. Conversely, children who grow up in “hippie” households turn to a conventional lifestyle. Things do not work out as planned, and sometimes the outcome is much worse for the adult who thinks he or she can control everything. When a child makes its own choices; when a partner leaves; when sickness or death of a partner or child occurs, the grief is overwhelming and the thought : IS THIS THE LIFE I IMAGINED?

The answer is a resounding no. I suppose I knew this at a very young age, when I grappled with a mentally-ill mother, a father who divorced her and an unstable stepmother.  I felt the hardship of my life and the belief that so many people had it better. I tried to exert those familiar controls as an adult and parent but found myself on a roller coaster of a ride. Yet somehow, along the way of living  a life with some wonderful moments, but also  many challenges, I discovered behind every closed door are secrets, despair, attempts at control, some successes, some failures, moments where every person wants to lay down and weep and say now what?

There are no solutions or answers to when life throws you a curve ball --which is too often. What I have tried to do, not always successfully, is to face my reality, acknowledge the pain when it is there, focus on the joy of the little things. I can look at what I don’t have or choose to focus on what I have. I try to rely on what my husband  says about the illusion of presentation—behind every closed door is another person’s challenges, so I may as well live with my own. In the process, I look at what I love with what I have, imperfect as it may be. I try, as best as I can, to stay anchored to this, to what Sharon Olds says in her poem “Little Things”:

                             “I am doing something I learned early to do, I am

                             paying attention to small beauties,

                             whatever I have—as if it were our duty

                             to find things to love, to bind ourselves to the world.”




Monday, October 24, 2022

What do you do for an encore?

 You are ten years old. You have two homes equipped with pools and tennis courts and gyms.. You have never had a vacation where you were not chronically entertained. There is tennis and swimming and soccer and ballet. There is skiing in the Rockies, and you have been to Europe several times. When the weekend arrives, there are more classes, endless playdates. You don't know what it means to play alone, have no plans, be bored.

A friend of mine who teaches in school knows so many clones of this child; she teaches them. She thinks about her own child; she is a single parent without unlimited resources.  It is not the experience of her child, who sometimes waits for her at the gym while she takes a class. He is sometimes bored, but he is also resourceful. Her experience of raising a child is so different then the students she teaches. She knows it is okay to be bored and figure it out. Vacation is not always a signal to go away. 

She is raising a resilient, resourceful child who knows life is sometimes (often) about doing nothing and figuring it out. LESS IS MORE, but affluent parents sometimes just don't get it. The problem with chronic entertainment and extravagance is that is what will be expected in adulthood. There is nothing to grow into. There is no world to be discovered, since these children have done it all.

What do you do for an encore when you have done it all?  Of course, there are always more exotic places to travel to at twenty and thirty and beyond, but here is something to be said about the discovery of the world you never knew as a child because your family did not have the time or resources. You can grow into an adult who has a whole, wide world in front of you. You can be creative because you have had unlimited time to dapple in the arts. There is a lot to do as an encore. Including doing absolutely nothing and all, aside from, perhaps, being a good person.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Politics, 2023

 Why is Marjorie Taylor Greene on the cover on the NEW YORK TIMES magazine section? What has she done, except espouse lies and wildly insane conspiracy theories? Why do I wake up every day to the bleak news that the Republicans may take the house and senate? Why do I have to hear, first thing in the morning, that the Republican agenda is:

1. Make "Don't Say Gay" a federal law (De Santis, haven't you done enough damage to your state?)

2. Make an abortion ban federal (hey, I live in New York. Leave my state alone. Leave any sanctuary state alone or all your talk is blatant hypocrisy: "Leave it to the states."

3.Impeach Joe Biden. Seriously? 

For a president who has done more to help this suffering nation; has passed more bi-partisan laws; who continues to speak for "every man and woman" are you really going after him for possible crimes of his son?

Pardon me, why, then, are Trump's children not behind bars? And Trump?

Our country has gone so backwards and we are not stopping on this downward spiral. The worst of it, though, is the media is NOT helping. They are constantly giving a voice to insanity, so instead of quieting the "crazies" they are making them credible.

This is not a credible world, the world of January 6th, conspiracy theorists, diminishment of the rights of citizens to vote, to practice their gender and love of choice, to pray to whomever God they choose.

This is a world of insanity. And the media does not help by giving the "crazies" front and center stage. I just want them to go away. I PRAY fervently the next election brings fair and decent people to the forefront, that the media stops these scare messages, which only discourage people from voting.


 I have just finished a young adult novel-in-verse, WISTERIA AND WEEDS, with Ukrainian poet Vasyl Makhno, and now it is about to go into the world, and hopefully find a home in a publishing house which appreciates not only the art, but the weight of this situation. Daily I wake up to the news-a bombing, a drone strike. I see thousands of displaced people fleeing their homes and seeking shelter. And though we, as Americans, are doing something, it feels insufficient, the way it once did during World War 11. Now Putin is threatening Nuclear War. What would this mean in Ukraine and the rest of the world? How can he mercilessly make these threats, while he continues to bomb, playgrounds, hospitals, schools. This war, like any war, is an ugly one, and innocent civilians are left without homes, food, shelter. When I started this book, I felt hopeful--how long could this war possibly last? Now it is almost a year, and it seems to be accelerating. For those in power, it is never enough, and it fills me with deep-seated despair. And what about the people there? What does the rest of the world intend to do about this situation--watch and walk away, while innocent people die?

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Prayers for What??






The Supreme Court has recently Roe V.Wade, a right which has been precedent for almost fifty years. As I contemplate the bleak outcome—a world where over half of the country will enact draconian laws which will enable them to prohibit a woman’s right to a safe abortion, I am filled with grief and rage. Mind you, the focus is NOT on the physical and mental well-being of the woman, but on the fact that she is “killing a fetus.” The fact that the fetus is not yet a person is irrelevant. So is the fact that regardless of the health of the fetus; if the fetus has physical or genetic disorders; regardless of the health of the woman; if the woman has been raped or is a victim of incest, she must still carry that baby to term—because, so they say—it is a life. There is zero compassion, when this decision is made, about the countless children born, but not desired, to a world that does not welcome them. Many parents do not have the finances or resources to support these children, nor do they want to be reminded that this child is the end result of a horrific rape. Justice Amy Comey Barrett says, “Leave that child at a police station or a hospital. The infant will find a home.”


Really? How? In impoverished communities where parents cannot support their children they already have, how can they provide a home for yet another? What life is in store for the newborn child born into poverty when the state and federal government continue to strip away all safety nets? Without these anchors, no funding for food, the higher incidence of drug abuse and violence, this is a tragedy in the making.   Everyone cares about the seed; no one cares about the child.

Yet again, the recklessness our government displays towards children is evident. The refusal to pass sensible gun-control laws is mind-boggling. An eighteen year-old in Uvalde, Texas, can purchase an AR-15 with absolutely no background check.  Assault weapons can be purchased in many states without a background check. In many parts of the country, this translates to mentally-ill individuals purchasing guns, as this eighteen year-old did, going into a school and shooting nineteen children, as young as nine-years old. Two teachers also died in this massacre. One week prior to this incident, an eighteen year-old entered a supermarket in Buffalo and killed ten people of color, injuring three. So many children and adults are repeatedly and senselessly killed because assault weapons are in the hands of youthful or mentally-ill people, often both. And 22% of firearms have been purchased without ana background check. Some states require the minimum age to be twenty-one, at least a little older. And what about limiting gun sales to people who have drug or alcohol convictions? If the Sandy Hook murders in 2012 by one lone shooter who killed twenty-six children was not sufficient to pass more restrictive gun-control legislation, what will be? More lives lost, more children who will never see their next birthdays, more grieving parents who sent their children to school in the morning, giving that child its last kiss.

Here lies the irony: it will soon be unacceptable for a pregnant woman whose health is in jeopardy, one who has been raped or a victim of incest, to have an abortion, but it is not okay, according to the law, to check the age or mental status of a person who selects to purchase an assault weapon. An estimated 18.8 million forearms were sold in the United States last year. Please do not even bother mentioning Second Amendment Rights and the rights of a fetus without a voice. It is 2022; The Constitution was written for a very different world, and one our forefathers could never envision.

If we truly care about the sanctity of human life, then it is imperative for our lawmakers to show their arbitrary rules are not grounded in hypocrisy, but instead in a sincere belief-system that children’s lives matter. To allow an unwanted or unhealthy child to grow up in a world without the resources to thrive—not just to survive—is a cruel and unusual punishment for all the Baby Does who have been cast aside—born and forgotten. Congress, the Senate, the Courts continue to show their true ugly colors: it is imperative to birth a child, but not care for it, feed it, nurture it, and equally acceptable to not restrict guns, so that one day a lone gunman will mercilessly kill that child, and many others. But those in power will continue to offer their thoughts and prayers, supported by an absolutely clueless Supreme Court.




Pamela L. Laskin is a lecturer in the English Department at The City University of New York, where she directs the Poetry Outreach Center. She is the author of five books of poetry and three young adult novels, many of which focus on political and social issues. She is currently at work on a YA novel in verse about the war in Ukraine, with Ukrainian poet Vasyl Mahkno