I Art, Or Am I?

Years of writing about aging–and what  Judith Peres calls the “vicissitudes of aging” — taught me that age as a number, a construct, a device. With a degree in math and a poet’s sensibilities, I have cruised through time, thinking that it did not quite apply to me. Or to anyone, really. We would all somehow carry on along this blue planet, our mortal coil. Despite sorrows and losses, we could hold each other up, and forever was one more convenient imaginary number. I could split that, too….

My body differs and jolts me with its own realities. It contains time, no matter how I count it. These bones are no longer 18, nor these eyes, no matter what BuzzFeed or some Facebook quiz calculates of my vision. 

Watercolor Pencil: Testing my Hand

Ditto for my hearing: my grandmother was right when she urged me to “turn down that caterwauling.” I have said something similar when one-too-many Kendrick Lamar tunes has blasted through some speaker in my house.

Even Bruce Springsteen is my father’s age. And when I refrain from Dancing in the Dark in my orchestra seats at the Walter Kerr theater come November, my Verified Seats will be in the handicapped area, thanks (I guess?) to several autoimmune conditions that flare at strange times and make walking and breathing a challenge.

Bruce, RFK, August 1985

HOWEVER, I am the daughter and granddaughter and descendant of so many strong women (and men, but it is the women I knew best) who gave up homes, families, opportunities…for reasons I cannot presume to know, but assume must have been to better their lives.  Have I done the same? Not often enough, but I pray and hope and think that I have raised strong people.

And I, too, persist, though I no longer think I will last so long as my paternal grandmother, whom my kids knew as Meme, who lived into her nineties. Or some of my mother’s relatives, who managed the same. They had some grit that I have scattered elsewhere in the course of this living. Perhaps I will gather it again.

Whatever or wherever that grit is, I am now beyond half done this life, for that is how the years add up. And the blues may be simply knowing that I have so much yet to learn, and yet not done. I am not ever going to be ready red hats and purple sparkles. More like my hero, Bonnie Raitt, whose website has this to say of her newest album, Dig in Deep:

 … Bonnie Raitt continues to personify what it means to stay creative, adventurous, and daring over the course of a legendary career. “I’m feeling pretty charged, and the band and I are at the top of our game,” she says. “This period of my life is more exciting and vital than I was expecting, and for that I’m really grateful. At this point, I have a lot less to prove and hey, if you’re not going to ‘Dig In Deep’ now, what’s the point?”

Bonnie Raitt Owns the Stage in DC, July 2017

How can I feel half done here, with so much yet to do? For instance, how will I roam around Annapolis on 9/19 for the SketchCrawl when I’ve just learned to draw?  My mother, artist  Mary Lynch, works five days each week in her studio at the Torpedo Factory Art Center. What some people call a Muse she has described as a monkey on her back. She says she has no time to waste. She and Bonnie Raitt are about he same age, too. Like Bonnie, my mother is not playing a game, she’s not dabbling. She digs deep and creates objects that have not ever been made before.

Still Life with Fruit

For my 55th birthday, she gave me a portable easel, which Ian, my 15-year old, set up for me just last night. I have watched it most of the day, and worked at a small watercolor for a friend.

Portable Easel Awaits Artist

How to paint something large, when I have only learned to do small things? There is only today. Only these hands. This moment. Here I go. What will you learn, old friends and new? What’s stopping you? What motivates you? I’d love to know. Share your ideas in the comments. Let’s go. 

Got Springsteen Tickets for DC? What did that cost you?

Since I first heard him sing at the Capital Centre in Landover, MD, I’ve been addicted to the music–and shows–of Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band. I don’t think I’ve missed a show in the DC area since first seeing him on the Darkness tour in 1978 at the Capital Centre in Landover, and a few years later, for the original River tour, 1980, Cap Centre, while I was home from college. I’ve seen him at FedEx field, and the MCI Center, now Verizon, and at RFK for Born in the USA. I made it to Vote For Change shows, and the show at Nats Stadium. The last time I saw him, my father, sister and I drove to Raleigh, NC, to catch him at an arena near Durham.

It also happens that I have been writing about him in The Washington Post since 1992, when my first letter to the editor appeared in that paper.

Fuddy-duddyhood? At 30?!

Fuddy-duddyhood? At 30?!

That same year–in fact, just a few months later, I wrote another letter, this one bemoaning some writer’s statement and the genius of Bob Dylan would far outlast that of Bruce Springsteen. I begged to differ (and, in the process, really irritated my 23-year old brother, but hey, he didn’t know!).

Bruce in the History Books

Bruce in the History Books

I have written a few times about how hard it has become for an ordinary person with an ordinary computer to buy tickets. Once, it was about the 2007 Magic tour, and the Post ran my letter, bemoaning the seats members of Congress gobbled up and sold as fundraisers.

Seventh-Street Freeze-Out, But Congress Partied On

Seventh-Street Freeze-Out, But Congress Partied On

And the last time I couldn’t buy tickets (The 2010 Wrecking Ball tour) I wrote about it for the Post’s Local Opinions, suggesting that the bots and StubHubs of the world had taken over the joy of live rock shows. Oddly enough, this story became the basis for an article about an act–the BOSS Act–that was under consideration as a way to stop the bots. In 2012, something similar happened, and I appeared as a guest on the radio program, Culture Shocks with Barry Lynn to talk about the issue of being able to get concert tickets, and how the bots keep winning.

I try to think of why I love the man and the music so much, and can guess at many elements–my own 1970s adolescence and the recession, where we all seemed stuck forever in a moment of time. The voice and the music, full of muted sexuality and longing and love. I wrote about that show for a blog called The Light in Darkness. Even now, 46 years later (how did that happen?), I am transformed when I watch Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform.

Great seats for 2014 show in Raleigh, NC

Great seats for 2014 show in Raleigh, NC

The truth is that a Springsteen show is about as close as I get to church anymore, standing in a packed arena, fists pumping and singing along with Bruce and the crowd. I am often there with my sister and my father, and I am always happy when the 73-year old jumps to his feet and belts  out “Born to Run” with the rest of us, house lights up, as if he, too, were 18 again. In fact, at 73, he is a cancer survivor, and I always hope to get in one more show with my Dad and my sister. Nothing can compare to that joy.

Dad knows every word

Anyone up for a trade? I can’t afford the $600 the scalpers are after, but I’ll pay face value, or trade you–I can draw a little work of art, featuring whatever it is YOU love most about Bruce Springsteen.

The time Springsteen goes on tour, how about skipping Ticketmaster altogether? I, for one, would be quite happy to camp out in the Verizon parking garage and wait for tickets to go on sale in person for my city’s shows. That, at least, would seem fair–not only to fans, but to the artists, who are also ripped-off by scalpers.

At 53, I’m quite adept at dancing in the dark, but man, living in the future ain’t what it used to be.

Key words: buying tickets for Springsteen, how to beat Stub Hub, camping out for tickets, child of the 1970s recession

 

Lift Every Voice: Listen to Women Veterans

During last week’s Veteran’s Day inspired concerts and tributes to veterans, a Hill-gathering of Disruptive Women (and our man of the month, Rep. Tim Walz, (MN-OI) spoke truth with power. Gathered to discuss challenges faced by women veterans, the group included veterans, members of Congress and their spouses, congressional staff, state leaders, and filmmakers. The group had had enough of platitudes and promises. We were ready for disruption, and Rep. Walz delivered just that, saying he was done with “incremental change” (Washington’s latest, favorite buzz-word) and prepared to lead “seismic change.”

Walz speaks from a place of experience, knowledge, and passion: He is a retired soldier, and the highest ranking enlisted man to serve in Congress. During a 24-year stint in the Army National Guard, including a tour of duty in Operation Enduring Freedom, he also taught high school. The latter tour provided him some insight into chaos and disruption. In the 113th Congress, he will serve in leadership roles that include the National Guard and Reserves Caucus, and the Congressional Veterans Jobs.

In his remarks, Walz noted that “it doesn’t take much to offer health care that people can’t access.” He added that although the VA has made some progress since the days when “the best thing the VA could say for what it had done for women was that the exam tables no longer face the door.” Later, he added that the VA system—staffed by dedicated people—still has far to go to really offer care for all, noting that, “it is much easier to put up a yellow ribbon than it is to step up care.”

As recent Veterans Health Administration scandals have revealed, its challenges go beyond exam room layout – and problems reflect deeper challenges within the system in particular and American culture in general.

The day’s two other panelists included Emmy award-winning filmmaker Patty Lee Stotter, whose award-winning documentary, Service: When Women Come Marching Home, uses women’s voices to tell their story. Director of Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, Lourdes E. (Alfie) Alvarado-Ramos, detailed her state’s actions to address specific problems.

Stotter has crafted films to give women veterans a place to speak. Her presentation included quotes from several women veterans, and included poignant thoughts, such as these:

“Tell them how I had to file a congressional inquiry two years after my daughter was born because the VA was NOT paying my prenatal care bills, which impacted my credit score…Tell them that the stress of being billed throughout my pregnancy with no advocacy from the VA left me crippled with PTSD and physical pain.””

“Tell them I was told that I should leave my boots on while having a trans-vaginal ultrasound because the stirrups were so filthy.”

“Today, I am fighting for my life. I have an extreme case of PTSD that has rendered me housebound. I have been in the disability claims process for nearly 4 years…”

 “I was raped in Iraq and when I went to report it I was told I was lying and probably wanted it. I was denied the right to get medical help.”
Alvarado-Ramos, a veteran herself, offered models from the other Washington that reflected possibilities for change and improvement. Washington State, she said, has, 70,000 women veterans, and, by 2040, projections are that there will be a much higher percentage of women veterans, as well as on active duty, as the numbers of men decline. She listed a dozen programs underway, most brand-new and inspired by her own service. These include: establishment of a women’s veterans committee; development of a veterans registry to better tracking and inform veterans; hiring more women service officers to help veterans of claims; and creation of a statewide information campaign to educate the the public and raise awareness of veterans’ ongoing struggles.

All of these programs represent a step toward addressing shameful situations that our veterans encounter – including homelessness, food insecurity, incarceration, mental health problems, sexual assault and economic hard times.

DW on the Hill

In a follow-up interview with Disruptive Women, Stotter talked about gender stereotyping and discrimination, and its toll on women veterans. I told her about the work of MacArthur genius Ai-jen Poo to organize domestic workers in New York City: When Ai-jen talks about women work—particularly paid housekeeping and babysitting–she notes that  says simply do not value or compensate the people who do the work that allows the rest of us to do our work

“Exactly!” Patty said. “We don’t even value the work that allows the rest of us to be free.” She continued, “I am furious that hard-working people who are soldiers get so little. Going to war, we see the worst of what the universe has to offer.  In our response to women veterans, I fear that we are losing our soul.”

It was the first time in a decade of attending DC panel discussions that I went home and spent three hours writing a poem about what I had heard.  Earlier in the week I’d written an essay about Bruce Springsteen’s performance at The Concert for Valor, and my appalling realization that our veterans must rely on the national equivalent of bake sales to resume civilian life.

Musician Bruce Springsteen performs during The Concert for Valor on the National Mall on Veterans' Day in Washington

I am proud to join this movement to advocate for women veterans. Not a veteran myself, I cannot imagine what women veterans have endured. But as a midlife woman, I know too well what it means to have a voice that is silenced. A voice that gets shouted down or shamed or discounted. A voice that gets shoved against the wall with a knife. A voice that does not dominate the room.

As a Disruptive Woman, I know what it means to reclaim your voice, to use it for good, to launch seismic change that echoes for many, and that helps people build new and safer shelters within their own minds, bodies, and lives.

Each and every Disruptive Woman should join our sisters in this battle. We can all sing in this chorus. Perhaps not from the same page or even the same score, but in a song that raises our voices and lifts them for those who, just now, cannot do it for themselves.

key words: Disruptive Women in Health Care, Tim Walz, women veterans, military sexual trauma, rape, wounded warriors, Ai-jen Poo, Bruce Springsteen, Concert for Valor

 

This post originally ran on Disruptive Women in Health Care on Tuesday, November 18, 2014.

Still Waiting on a Dream: Veterans are Veterans All Year Long

As a native Washingtonian and lifelong fan of Bruce Springsteen, I was disappointed in the way the irony of his all-acoustic set flew over the heads of many who sat in or tuned in for Tuesday night’s HBO broadcast, Concert for Valor. In the early 80s, Ronald Reagan and his crowd tried to appropriate Born in the USA as an anthem for a campaign that also promised us that it was “morning again in America.

Musician Bruce Springsteen performs during The Concert for Valor on the National Mall on Veterans' Day in Washington

Back then, Springsteen and his fans reacted quickly to put a stop to such use. The song was anything but Springsteen’s rendition of America the Beautiful.  When Springsteen sings, “Born down in a dead man’s town/the first kick I took was when I hit the ground,” he is not telling the story of purple mountains’ majesty.

The song, nearly 40 years on, rings true today, even in the lines where the “VA man” retorts, “son, don’t you understand?”

Apparently not, judging from the Twitter feeds that paid homage to Springsteen and his performance Tuesday. In today’s America, we don’t shame our veterans as we did after the Vietnam war, but we surely, as a nation, ignore what becomes of (mostly) young people sent to repeated and seemingly endless rounds of battle.

To be sure we admire their service, their bravery, and their sacrifice. When we see video montages of happy soldiers and Marines reunited with their families, we shed are grateful tears. For 95 percent of us, the wars in far-away places are far from our lives and our experiences.

We expressed the requisite outrage over recent VA scandals, and admired the struggles of wounded warriors who, like the amazing Master Sergeant Cedric King, find the will to flourish within and despite their maimed bodies. For the most part, though, we don’t see that too many of our veterans come home with a “fire still raging within”, and a war that plays out for years in brains injured by bomb blasts.  We do not march in noisy crowds demanding that more of our tax dollars be directed to veterans and their families. Instead, we elect Republicans who are now beating the drums of war against ISIS.

Meanwhile, the veterans we laud and thank are really just symbols of the people we ignore and avoid. Record numbers of young veterans will now live with chronic pain syndromes for the rest of their lives. At the same time, we support policies that are barriers to accessing pain relief treatments, both traditional and complementary.

We give a handful of folding chairs to veterans on the Mall and seats in our sports venues, while we have no shelter for the thousands of veterans who are now homeless. And while we go on holding our national versions of bake sales for our national defense, we withhold funds that would provide meaningful training and education to veterans trying to rebuild their lives and find their purpose.

Bruce Springsteen, a man who recently pointed to Flannery O’Connor’s writing as having made him the man he is, knows irony.  When he opened with Promised Land as a prayer for active-duty military and veterans, Springsteen knew just what he was doing. For those lost to injury, poverty, addiction, pain, and suicide, we have yet to build a promised land.

“Mr. I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man/and I believe in the promised land,” the Boss sings. So do I—and so do the men and women who volunteer their lives for the sake of our freedom. To them, freedom is not just another song lyric—but it is often still just a word to those who come home and vanish under our lip service.

 

key words: Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA, Concert for Valor, veterans, homelessness, pain, addiction

My Husband Does the Wash

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The day you turned Springsteen blue
Crushed something in my heart.
What we talk about when we talk
Is never what we mean. I like to keep things
Clean, but you don’t see the dirt.
I sort by category and weight
I read labels, and experience.
Rayon shrinks, deep colors bleed.
You say you will cover it up, the blue
BVDs and the grey undershirts. I wear
Everything on my sleeve, including old
Memories of Bruce, center stage
On my mind’s eye, his guitar tuned
To the beat in my pulse.

 

key words: laundry, Bruce Springsteen, relationships

In the Deep Heart of the Night

–…we let loose of everything
–Bruce Springsteen

One breathless night                         he whispers

Should I be afraid?

Aren’t we all,

Spinning through the black               of dreams

Unaware of what might land next

A derecho or a fire

A war outside                          raging within.

Earth sheds us      before we know

Who we are.                             I am holding on

So hard                my hands hurt.

They burn.                     So do we.

Breathe on them, baby,           while we can.

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key words:  Bruce Springsteen, night, dreams, fear