Fall Colors....?

We’re halfway through one of our epic road trips, meandering our way through states that include the Appalachian Mountains – Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, so far. Despite being the end of October, it’s startling to see what’s missing from the scenery.

There’s no color!

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The trees remain shades of green with none of the brilliant reds, burnt orange, and vibrant golds of this season. It’s as if the trees themselves have noticed that our country is struggling to come to terms with all that we should be celebrating – the vibrant colorful diversity that has made this country so great.

Part of this trip is about tracing family – and mine goes way back to the first few hundred years of immigrant pale people coming to this country. This land has traces of humans who lived remarkably creative lives, and then left behind traces of civilizations millennia before my ancestors showed up.  Although I don’t know the entire story, I do know that my people chose to leave their homes, their families, and all that was familiar to seek the opportunity represented by this new land.  

Side note here – it appears my predecessors came to fight on behalf of the conservative forces – the British – against the rag tag band of revolutionaries trying to take down the reigning authority, King George. I’ve got both Hessian soldiers and a connection to Benedict Arnold in my background.

The promise and potential of this country has been a magnet for all who are here now – and all those who seek to add their talents and energy to our future. Families, mothers, children, young men, and women come here seeking a better tomorrow – and this country has fulfilled that promise for generations since the 1700s.

Yet somehow – today – there are those who want to pull up the bridge to that better future. This whole debate about immigrants is absurd within a nation of immigrants. The only people in my home state who should argue about the value of immigrants are the descendants of the Iroquois whose ancestors truly settled what we call Ohio.

Let’s be clear about our terms. In this country, we are all immigrants. All of us who don’t trace ancestors to Native Americans.

And based on the events of the past week, the largest risk to domestic tranquility in this great land of ours comes from white men – men who are prone to believing demonstrably crazy conspiracy theories with no basis other than delusional thinking, brewed in a stew of frustration and some belief that their lives would have turned out better if everyone not identical to them were out of the picture.

Instead we’re being asked to believe that a caravan of a few thousand Central Americans is the big risk – a few thousand people seeking a better life in a land of 326 million people. Context here is really important – although some seek to use this caravan as a fearful threat, listen to the stories of people seeking safety and a better life, as did my ancestors three hundred some years ago. Actually, my ancestors may have been the bigger threat, having come here to fight against the emerging democracy. These migrants will go through legal channels to achieve what mine did with guns.

We do have things to fear in this country. We should fear a partisan culture that is vilifying anything perceived as “other” amidst an environment where blaming “them” for our own issues has become a national sport.

This isn’t who we fought to become in this grand experiment. Admittedly, my ancestors lost their fight to retain the King’s supremacy in this country, but I can assure you that their progeny have all been actively engaged in retaining the freedoms of this nation, including the freedom and wisdom to continue welcoming the immigrants who make this the vibrant land it is. That includes the right to vote. Seek the moderates. Seek those who will understand that politics is about seeking solutions, not dividing people.

We’re on the road for another week and I continue to hope for the colors of fall. The trees are boring without them in this season, and frankly, so are we.

Triggers Be Gone

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I have projects to do, work to get done, as Fall in Minnesota is a time of great industry and preparation. Up here, we know without any doubt that winter is coming – and I’m not talking about Game of Thrones.

But this year, I’m struggling to stay focused on all I need and want to accomplish. Because of crass politics.

I’m feeling gutted and drained. Exhausted and sad.

This woman, who has been married for 36 years – to the same man, with two children well-launched and a couple of careers in the rear-view mirror, and a next chapter underway – is experiencing long-buried memories and feelings from my young adulthood.

We came of age in the 1970s. In fact, my 40-year college reunion is this fall. It was a time when we women believed we had achieved some semblance of equality. We were no longer limited to teaching or nursing careers. We could be anything we chose in this wide-open world.

Sure, my mom talked me out of going in to medicine. It’s too demanding, she said. How will you raise a family, she said. Choose a career with more flexibility so you can give your husband the attention he deserves, she said. Insidious and effective.

So I chose journalism as an honorable profession. Seeking out truth, justice, and the American way to ensure powerful people didn’t take advantage of The People in this democracy of ours. (Don’t snicker – I grew up in Ohio where we were taught to pursue things like that.)

And along the way I experienced most of what the 1970s and 1980s were known to offer. OK – I didn’t actually smoke pot because every time I tried to inhale anything, I threw up.

Yes – I engaged in activities that expanded the 1950s definition of what being “a good girl” meant. I believed we were coming of age in a time when women and men – as equals – could go to parties, could have cocktails, and even share off-color jokes.

I violated my mother’s warning to never say or do anything I wouldn’t want on the front page of the newspaper. I was young, ambitious, and admittedly stupid at times. And I own it all.

I dealt with the bar manager named Bubba who told me to stop wearing a bra under my work t-shirt by laughing and ignoring his entreaties. After all, I was working two jobs to pay my $300 a month rent and I wasn’t going to let him keep me from earning good tips.

And yes, I learned the value of a well-placed knee or loud screaming when the word “No!” was being ignored.

I began in TV news as women moved on air. If you could read and were moderately attractive, you could anchor the news – in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Men still ran the newsroom and made the big decisions – but we were telling stories that changed laws and influenced important opinions. And I knew in the early 1980s to never go into Charlie Rose’s studio alone.

I moved from journalism to public relations and public affairs as I believed even business deserved to have its story told. And that’s where I learned about corporate America and the choices some women made to gain access to the C-Suite. I learned to be the second person with an idea – after all the men spoke – so I could be heard.

We ignored a lot of behaviors – the innuendos, the handsy hugs, the kiss on the cheek that somehow landed on the mouth. We excused it as adolescent immaturity well into our 30s.

Mostly we blamed ourselves.

“I must not have been clear enough.” “How did I lead him on?” “What did I say to make him think THAT was a good idea?”

“I shouldn’t have had a beer.” “I shouldn’t have laughed at his jokes.” “I shouldn’t have worn make up, that dress, those shoes.”

When I was a young adult in the 1970s and 1980s, women made excuses for the bad behaviors of men. Now finally, bad behavior, abusive behaviors are being called out for what they are and were.

Not only are young women today saying “That’s enough!”, but many in my generation are finally saying, “Nope! It was never OK to prey on women, to push beyond a No, to ignore women’s voices, to talk down to, and generally objectify women.”

Last week, when we learned that even Bill Cosby isn’t above the laws against rape, we experienced again the awkwardness of high school through vivid and contested testimony in front of Senators who struggled to be human.  

And still – winter is coming, and there are things to accomplish before that happens.

What I know is the best way to get things done is if we do it together – men and women, drawing from our unique talents and strengths, treating each other respectfully and without vitriol or power perversion. I’m working for a future where that’s not too much to ask for. 

 

Fall and A New Year

 Always a road to travel…

Always a road to travel…

The older I get, the more connected I am to the moon and all of its phases. Some of you will smile, nod, and recognize the lunatic connections…

But truly it’s more about being Jewish. 

Our holidays are based on a lunar calendar, meaning some years Hanukah is at the end of December, and others, it’s a toss-up between observing Hanukkah or Thanksgiving.  

This year, Rosh Hashanah – or the Jewish New Year is early, arriving right on the heels of Labor Day. It’s been earlier – actually over the Labor Day weekend requiring a conflicting menu of grilled burgers and hot dogs served with apples dipped in honey.  

Only one Christian holiday is based on the lunar calendar – Easter – which is why its observance moves about the calendar – yet always is observed on a Sunday.

Being Jewish teaches one to pay attention to the moon and its phases. Full moons herald festivals like Sukkot, Hanukkah, and Passover while new moons mark the start of something new – like a New Year.

The ever-shifting date for the Jewish New Year is a reminder that there’s no one perfect time to pause for the reflection that comes with the start of something new. The idea that new plans, new resolutions, or commitments to a new habit require a January 1 start date, or even a Monday for that matter, is called into question by the shifting start of Rosh Hashanah.

The holiday itself, although recognized as the start of the New Year, is not observed at the start of the Jewish calendar, rather it’s the sixth month of the calendar. What an important reminder that we can pause for reflection, renewal, and even a reboot in the middle. We can always start again no matter where we find ourselves.

And that is true with this blog. I’ve taken a pause from writing that now has become almost uncomfortable. I enjoy sharing the reflective work of observing life from this mid-point age and mid-point geography of the North Coast of this country. The air is usually clear up here making perspective a bit easier – although Western wildfires made a mess of that over the summer.

So, I’m back – with the resolve to start again in concert with this new moon that heralds the New Year of 5779.

 

Missing Dad on Father's Day

  My dad on vacation - always with a tie. NYC, 1960-something

My dad on vacation - always with a tie. NYC, 1960-something

He was a wise man – a smart man.  And he taught me about unconditional love. He was my father, Art Alleshouse.

When Dad was born, this country was a very different place.  He was the eldest of three sons, and when he arrived in 1909, he was the third generation to be welcomed to the household in Holmes County, Ohio. I can only imagine my grandmother was delighted at the distractions of a new baby in a home that included her father and mother-in-law, and brother-in-law, as well as her quiet, somewhat taciturn husband.

Arthur Earl Alleshouse was born with her features, set in an interestingly triangular-shaped head. His brother Wayne followed in three years, and then his baby brother Paul three years after that. The three boys changed the demographics, and I’m certain the energy level, of the intergenerational homestead.

My father was a talented photographer – more of an artist, actually - who used black and white film to capture his understanding of light and dark. He found beauty in faces, figures, and form. And for him that form was found in settings ranging from the rolling hills of central Ohio to the linear angles of Midwestern American industry of the 1930s and 1940s.

But I didn’t appreciate all of that when I was a child. I always thought Dad’s photography was limited to documentation of the hundreds of recitals and performances organized by my piano teacher mother.

Mom always told me she had wanted to be a vocalist, but she lacked talent. So she went into piano teaching where having an ear wasn’t quite so important, as long as a professional tuned the piano regularly. She played with great passion and gusto that more than made up for any deficit in technique.

And my father was there to document all of those recitals, music competitions, and performances at the state hospital and old folks homes. He took great care to set up a tripod, examine its precise level with the accuracy of his engineering training, and then would set, reset, and set again the light aperture to ensure the smiles of Mom’s pupils were captured just so. Of course, the smiles would start bright and happy, as the photos were taken at the end of the recitals, but after Dad’s lengthy camera futzing, the shots he captured show strained impatient smiles of teenagers ready to go home already. 

 “Just grab a candid shot, Dad,” I’d say, totally ignorant of the assault that was to his artistic training that called for precision and care not to waste film. 

I have wondered how my father would adapt his photography style to the freedom of digital cameras, where the artistry is in the editing, resizing, and reframing of quickly snapped images. Photography today is less about capturing a memory by recording the facts of an experience than it is about fixing the image of the experience to fit a memory we wish we had. During Dad’s day, a cloudy overcast day was captured as just that – a cloudy, overcast day at the beach. 

Not today. With a little editing and added lighting of the digital image, voila! The day becomes sunny and our memory of the experience is equally altered.

The photographic artistry of my father required intense patience that waited for light to shift, or shadows to lengthen. He always preferred black and white because it didn’t fade, as did the color prints of the time. His photography reflected an honesty that was part of its, and his, origins.

Looking in albums of old color snapshots today shows how right his dedication to black and white images was. I’m pretty sure my mother never wore pastel-colored clothes as they now appear in those square photos of the 1960s and 70s.

I knew what I knew as a child about my father’s passion for photography by how he spent his limited free time. I knew he had his own darkroom. I knew he printed photos himself. Whenever Dad would disappear for long stretches of time, he would be off in his darkroom printing images of people and places.

It wasn’t until he was gone that I found the huge stash of prints and slides, along with charcoal sketches and drawings he made years before he became a husband or father. 

My son Ben gave me perspective about how we view the lives of our parents when he met my old college roommate, a relationship that clearly predated him. “It’s always surprising, Mom, to realize you had a life before I was born.  In my mind, your life started when mine did.” 

And that’s what I always believed about my father. Surely I knew he had been born on a farm, and grown up in rural Ohio. But I simply never imagined my father as a young man living a fascinating artistic life before becoming a husband and father.  How I wish I’d known to gather his memories of his young post-college years because the images we found raised so many questions.

The Passing of Mentors and Guides

  Perspective provided by the long view...

Perspective provided by the long view...

I lost a couple of my favorite people this week – people who served as mentors and guides on this journey of life.

If you’re really fortunate – as I have been – your life has been filled with a progressive series of mentors and guides. Those who have been there and done that – and are more than willing to share the lessons learned with students, or junior colleagues, or friends along the way.

It started with an exceptional group of teachers in the Mansfield public schools through a college experience with faculty who cared about the curiosity of each of us.

Today – those teachers and professors are gone. And now, I’m saying goodbye to professional mentors who provided important perspective to my work life in Minneapolis.

Dennis McGrath was one of those. I am one of the few PR people in the Twin Cities who never worked for him or actually with him, but I often sought his counsel nonetheless.

I knew him as a well-connected and wise soul whose humor was always overlaid with kindness – and hilariously offered with a touch of snark. He believed deeply in possibility and potential, even when the humans around him demonstrated otherwise.

There was the time when I was working at the University that we were struggling to help a community based health clinic with its governance issues.

“What we need is someone who knows our community and its leaders well, who has run a business and understands spreadsheets, who cares about people and their health, and fundamentally, is a good soul,” stated my boss, adding that he doubted such a person existed.

Instantly, I knew that he was describing Dennis, and I volunteered to make the ask. I set up a lunch, carefully explained the issues and the need, and by the time I asked, Dennis was nodding knowingly.

“Yes,” he said. “I think I can help.”

 And he did – serving through many nights of meetings, offering carefully framed advice and counsel that helped that clinic survive through a particularly difficult era.

The last time I saw him, it was over lunch once again. Although struggling with recovery from a very tough surgery for cancer, his eyes sparkled from his deep interest in what was going on with issues and organizations he followed.

I will miss his presence.

And the mother of a college roommate left this week, too. Jinx Arneson lived up to her name – full of spark and funny as could be. She was the first adult who shared the secret that in our minds, we never really grow up beyond our 20s. She stated this fact while we college students were setting up our dorm room sophomore year.

“In my mind, I’m still the age you are today,” she said, smiling at our horrified expressions. “You’ll see. The face you see in the mirror becomes a surprise at some point because mentally we’re all 21.”

She was right. It is, and we are.

One of my favorite Jinxisms was a story she repeated with glee, whenever asked. She had a college friend who apparently was quite the drama queen. She would sigh loudly, turn to Jinx and say, “Ah, Jinx. You’re so lucky. You’ll never know the burden of beauty.”

And Jinx would laugh and say, “Can you believe that? And she was a good friend of mine, too.”

Jinx truly was beautiful.

April Snows Bring...

  The snow out the window is a shot of the winter that will never end - in April...through the fog of a screen that's waiting to be opened!

The snow out the window is a shot of the winter that will never end - in April...through the fog of a screen that's waiting to be opened!

We’re preparing for a big snowstorm this weekend. They’re saying it could be the most severe of the winter.

It’s April 12th and I shouldn’t be writing that sentence.

When we lived in California for a while, I used to laugh dismissively when people asked, “How could you live in a place with 6 month winters?”

“Ha!” I’d say. “Six month winters are so rare. Usually it’s three or four months of real winter, and the rest is extended fall or early spring.”

And here we have it. Winter 2017-2018 is coming in for a full six months long.

The spring that just won’t arrive. The winter that just won’t end.

I have not written in awhile – and that may be that this long winter is mirroring my level of gumption, as my grandfather used to call it. That “get up and go” that drives productivity has been mired in oatmeal-ly molasses this winter.

I’ve had to dig deep to push forward on projects that are usually creative energizers. Everything has been harder than it needs to be – more complicated, complex, and with multiple parts moving in odd directions.

At the same time, the weather of winter is just dragging on, hanging on, unable to cue to the signs of nature telling it that it’s time to move on. This is in spite of the sun’s position in the sky, the return of robins who are probably miffed they left the south, and several enterprising sprouts of green that will become popsicles by Sunday.

So today I write as a way to shake the impact of this winter – to reassert some pretend gumption until the real stuff returns.

And I’m putting it out here as a way to tell the universe that the time has come, the time is now to turn the nob on the seasons and bring us the spring that’s overdue.

 

Season of Nostalgia

  My mom on the right with her sister, Aunt Connie - some time in the early 1960s. 

My mom on the right with her sister, Aunt Connie - some time in the early 1960s. 

The calls begin at the start of the week from old friends, family, and the kids.

The question, “What are you doing?” comes out as “Whatcha doin’?”

There is truly little interest in the actual tasks underway or the activities in process as the nation prepares for Thanksgiving. More it’s about connecting at this time of year.

“Whatcha doin’” means “I miss you”. 

It means, “I wish we were kids again when life was simple.

It means, “Are you making that mashed potato recipe Mom used to make?”

It means, “I wish Mom were still around to talk to as she made those mashed potatoes when we were kids.”

It’s the start of our season of nostalgia that seems particularly potent this year. The entire country seems to be nostalgic for the perception of “simple” that came with being young.

Truthfully there was nothing simple about the times of our youth for those of us who are Boomers. The death of Charles Manson this past week reminds us that there were domestic anarchists or terrorists active in this country when we were teenagers.  More than 48 years ago, we also experienced crazy men calling for race wars and murdering people in their homes.

One of the biggest differences between no and then was the lack of persistent, insistent channels of information in the 1960s. Yes, we had a television when I was 13. It was a black and white TV that required a hand on the knob to actually change to one of the four channels. There was radio, sure, but mostly music or sports and less hate.

We simply didn’t have persistent, insistent voices in every room of the house, in our hands, in our cars with hundreds of variations telling us the same story over and over, with opinions coloring the perspectives and providing extreme interpretations.

So this week, we turn on Hallmark movies - the fireplace log with a soundtrack was big today. And we call old friends, family in other places, and ask at Thanksgiving, “Whatcha doin’?”

And we yearn for a time that we believe was simple – despite all evidence to the contrary.

The Girls

 Sunrise behind the Duomo in Florence - 

Sunrise behind the Duomo in Florence - 

Venice was its magical self last week – foggy lagoon with palazzos and cathedrals rising from the mist to create a beautiful, if somewhat creepy, vista of Renaissance barons and gondoliers plying commerce among the canals and alleys of the Queen of the Adriatic.

I was there to meet up with The Girls of Wake Forest’s class of 1978. We went to revisit some of the magical moments of our semester abroad in Casa Artom on the Grand Canal.

It was only the first stop on an adventure that included planes and trains to the mosaic rich Ravenna, Medici influenced Florence, and walled city of Lucca – each a reminder of the rise and fall of empires, the impact of political and religious trickery, and the resilience of great art to inspire beyond the reach of time.

While the art of Italy fed my soul – and the pasta did a number on my waist - it was the time with The Girls that was most valuable.

Of course, we’re not actually Girls any more in the true sense of the word. Not sure it’s possible to be Girls when you’ve hit your 60s. But these women will always be The Girls in my mind’s eye. 

It’s a fun trick the mind can play – holding the visual memory of our younger selves so that 23-year olds peer at me from the faces of my long-time college friends. I can still see the young women excitedly preparing for first dates with fraternity boys, hair being straightened or curled depending on preference.

That same phenomenon happens with childhood friends from Mansfield, Ohio – within minutes of meeting up, the children of my youth peer at me from eyes that have lived decades beyond the expiration of childhood.

The Girls have all been married, raised children, and experienced moments of great joy and profound sadness. All of that is reflected in the corners of our eyes, the curve of our smile lines, and in the “11s” of our foreheads.

That last is a new thing for me – I had never realized what a problem 11s could be on one’s forehead. Those are the two parallel lines that appear when one frowns deeply. They were quite the topic of conversation over my week in Italy – how to moisturize, hydrate, or tape them away so that they disappeared from view.

I guess I’ve never really noticed the 11s, the creases, or wrinkles on the lovely faces of The Girls. They remain 23 for me within the magic of my mind’s memory. Always young, always eager for a new adventure – and that is the power of staying connected to dear – and old – friends.