May 12, 2017

Mother´s Day


Mother's Day:
A Time to Celebrate Those
Who Made us Moms



Thank you to IT Words of Womyn 2016 Anthology for
publishing this poem and to Press Women of Texas for awarding
it First Place in Single Verse for 2016. Dedicated, of course, to
the fierce, bright soul that came to me disguised as my son. 
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BIRTH BY EMERGENCY

Day 1
Under surveillance, I am
monitored moment by moment.
Beeps, flashes, signs,
green, red and blue lines.
It’s supposed to be:  go, baby, go,
supposed to be 20 hours ago,
but we’re going
nowhere−
my mouth−dry air
my eyes−drift shut

There:  baby in a bin
where did he come from,
this soul ground from mine
and from time, its rhythm
interrupted for this bundle of boy?
Behind dark eyes, his mystery mind
stares at the light. What does he see
when he looks at me?


Day 2
Confused by fever
bewildered after birth, I
do not know the spark in husband’s eye
is for the other woman: man on the run.
He must leave now, says he will go
back to med school, emergency ed class,
must learn
about emergencies.  
But,”
 I said, I’m an emergency.
I am one.”   I am
alone, cannot lift child
cannot quench his appetite,
take out the tubes or
extract the needles.

They take him away now
and bring me a cup of ice.


Day 3

The woman in white returns him to me,
big—almost 11 pounds—but also little,
being just three days’ new.
He lies at my side and
we know one soft cool moment
inside the pressure of searing pain
and the fever’s prickly burn

Skin on skin, my newborn son,
absorb what I cannot say,
these thoughts not only of love
but under love as well,
bond before bonds,
rock beneath the road
we are yet to travel

Someday you will sing, gigantito,
notes as deep as your eyes, dark and pure.

Teach me the notes again and again,
new-come child, someday man,
clutch my finger with your hand
as my arms surround you and my eyes watch you
slip slumbering into the womb of sleep:
let me treasure and remember this brief peace
the one we know now before
the world will have you and
the future stake its claim


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February 11, 2016

Life without Television, Part 2

Dashing! Father Brown on PBS
I began life without television with relief, which was consistent Monday through Friday. The first few weekends, though, felt awkward, anxious, lonely. When PBS has good programming on Saturday nights, it is extraordinarily good. Father Brown, Phryne Fisher, New Tricks... Extraordinary acting, high production values, and I fantasize about the pudgy, brilliant priest just perhaps having an innocent crush on one of his special parishioners, which would be moi. 

I called a friend one Sunday. "Maybe television helped with my anxiety more than I realized," I said. She told me about her aunt who, after her husband's death, kept the television on in his "man cave" 24/7. He has been gone years now. The television goes on, everlasting, in his absence. I don't blame her. Much of my frequent and prolonged television viewing began with grief.

After my sister died, I would watch almost anything, especially late at night when sleep eluded me. I even watched Convoy with Kris Kristofferson and Ali McGraw. That one stands out in my mind, because it was sooooo slooowwww. I watched programs my sister liked, whether I liked them or not. I watched Reba. I started watching NCIS LA. I kept my commitment to NCIS LA for four years. It was like having a date with my sister after she was gone.

Life without television has taught me something about loss in general. When grief is recent and acute, we develop ways to cope with it. We find "places" to escape where we feel less. Just less: less pain, interest, awareness, just less. Television is one fine antidote to sickness and grief. I say that without sarcasm. It can make you laugh and feel less alone--somewhere in the world someone else is watching what you are. Sometimes television is a big, thick bookmark between the page you are on and the next page you would rather not read, where the author confirms that this loss will cut across your life from now on.

Watching television helped give me relief from grief and granted welcome distraction. I've learned, though, that it's important for my patterns during active grieving not to become patterns for the rest of my life. Habit is powerful, addicting. Buttons are easy to push. The black screen stared at me and said, "Come on, you don't have to be alone. I'm here for you, remember?" I do remember, with no small amount of gratitude.

Home on the Rock, Ysabel de la Rosa
I am also grateful, though, to have lived long enough to experience that beautiful line from Psalm 30: "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." We cannot know how long that night of weeping will endure, but it can indeed come to an end and take us into morning light.

Looking at the empty corner where my big grey television once dwelled, ever ready to grant me sound, music, company, intrigue, comedy, and helpful information, I give thanks that I was ready to let my weeping-time friend go and move on to morning joy.

In this new silence, it is easier for me to recall my sister's beautiful perfect-pitch voice. I'm not catching Dame Maggie Smith's zingers on Downtown Abbey, nor Sheldon Cooper's brilliant bazinga lines, but the exchange is more than fair. The silence is new and still feels strange. But in that silence, I can hear my loved one sing, can catch her winged invitation to join in the mystic music from beyond. We always did love choir.


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January 27, 2016

Life without Television, Part the 1st

I cancelled my cable subscription earlier this month. My television was old-analog. Nothing much would come through without the magic box or a new-fangled antenna. A kind man from Goodwill heaved away the grey hulk on a dolly two weeks ago. 

At first, I felt relief. There was no black screen staring at me, taunting me to turn it on and submit to whatever would emanate. My head felt clearer. I felt calmer. I did not watch television as much as many do, but I did watch it more than I once thought I would. When I read Orwell's 1984 in junior high, I thought, "We have nothing to worry about. Why would anyone leave their television on all day and all night?" 

Then, I moved to a foreign country where I was the only American in the village and lived under pretty tough circumstances. Dear G-d, I would even watch "Walker, Texas Ranger" in Spanish, I was so homesick. If my former husband (my cousin calls them "wasbands") came into the den while I was watching Walker, he would accuse me of being another violent American. I watched a lot of television. I was lonely and lost without my previous reference points. The talk-box taught me a lot. In the absence of company, that's what it was: company. I could at least see American, even if I could not hear their voices in versión original.

2000-2010 was a decade of much loss and a time to recover from certain traumatic events in my life. Television again became my buddy. "Law and Order" marathons were my favorite. Television was what I could "do" when life was overwhelming and problems unsolvable. Gradually, I weaned myself from it and became once again an occasional watcher. 

As cable prices rose, I  kept thinking it didn't make sense for me to keep subscribing. So I stopped. 

There was a new silence in the house, rich and deep. I actually felt less tired at the end of the day if I didn't watch television. I loved the $39 cable bill. What a change from $139. That, friends, was Part the 1st.  At this point, I was content. Stay "tuned" for Part the 2nd. 

January 24, 2016

Beginning 2016 ... Patiently, I Hope

I did little blogging last year due to my work schedule. After a long period of hurried pressure and working through weekends for months on end, it feels almost unnatural to let down and  rest up. Resting requires patience. I wonder if patience comes naturally to anyone, or if it is a learned virtue for all of us? 

For me, patience is like a house. If I can enter it and feel its quiet space around me, I start to feel better. January is a good time to have patience for winter storms, new and difficult beginnings, tougher subjects in one's school or life curriculum. Sometimes I turn to certain Buddhist writers when I feel the need to be reminded that patience is a sign of strength. My poem below is a result of recent reading and realizing that sometimes being still is the hardest thing to do. 

May your new year continue, with peace and patience. 


BIDDEN TO THE BODHI TREE

One man sitting dispells
demons


wins war within
self

casts light into dark
as shadows

grow within—without

      Let us hurry
Sound the call to
the mighty, the powerful
   and strong.

Cry out: Come quickly
and
sit
and
sit

The road is long



August 21, 2015

Glad to Hear It

Fayum portrait. What "color" is she?
This past week, Larry Wilmore and company mentioned Rachel Dolezol again on The Nightly Show. I don't remember who made the comment, but either Wilmore or one of the panelists said, "Did Rachel Dolezol do anything bad? No, she really didn't. Why did we get so uptight about that?" I was glad to hear it. Three cheers for being human.

I looked briefly at what's on Google currently about her and the now much-discussed Shaun White. I intend not to enter any of that fray mentally or verbally. I still maintain that humanity trumps color. We have a long way to go until we can leave our "paint by numbers" mentality behind, but we've made progress. Good changes can come, even in the midst of chaos and controversy. Maybe White and Dolezal will help us see that eventually.

As long as I'm here and continuing on the subject of color, I think I'm not alone in the fact that I don't like being called "white." As for my background, it includes some English, Irish, Scandinavian, and other rivers of inheritance, including a bit of Austria and a smidgen from Spain. As for being white, my father's skin color was olive, all year round. I'm surprised that so many Anglo-Americans and others are comfortable with the label, "white." It is as limiting as any other pure-color word that labels a race, a culture, a people.

If we could get back to the roots of color, where it truly refers to a shade, a color, and carries no other baggage with it, that would be great. My sister was porcelain. I have Mexican friends whose skin is that same color. Combine that with their jet black eyes, and you have real beauty only high contrast can provide. I have red-headed friends whose skin is true pink, not white at all. When my brother was first learning to talk, he called an African-American person who was passing by purple. My sister and I giggled, but it was true. There were deep tones of lavender beneath the dark sheen of that person's skin. If we could look at color as paint, as tones, as variety, instead of as race, stereotypes, labels, I think the Painter of the Universe might feel that He could rest from his labors awhile simply to smile down upon His children.

July 19, 2015

Blind to Everything but Color: A Kind Word for Ms. Dolezal

Everyone knows now that Rachel Dolezal is descended from Northern and Eastern European ancestors, rather than African ones (I should say descended directly from, given that most humans of all skin colors have some African DNA in their systems). What news I 've read or heard, and the countless sarcastic jokes, leave me deeply puzzled by the widespread response of outrage and outsized disdain over this one woman's life choices. 

Substantial progress is being made in accepting transgender persons (and as is our national tradition, money is being made on the progress). Bruce Jenner's transformation into Caitlyn did not come cheap. The media have been profiting and will continue to with her story, and she did not appear on the cover of Vanity Fair as an act of charity.  I watched multiple news stories where men made remarks about the new, "hot" Caitlyn.  They appeared not to care that the parts of her they admire are neither original or inherited. Caitlyn has now received the Arthur Ashe Courage award for changing gender--surely the most massive change a human being can make.

What is Belonging? Where is it Found?


Ysabel de la Rosa
I remember flying into Spain for the first time and feeling that the very landscape filled a hole in my soul. I walked through Austrian streets during a study-abroad program, immersing myself in European space and time. Something deep in me breathed a sigh of relief. Relief from what? How to describe it? I simply knew deep inside that I had found a place into which I "fit" in a way I had never fit in the US. This feeling was accompanied by gripping homesickness and difficult experiences, but it filled something that had previously been empty, and filled it in a meaningful way, if not an easy one.

In the 1970s, a fellow social worker and I assisted with some elder programs at a Jewish Community Center. Neither of us was Jewish. The older adults said "hello" to her and "Shalom" to me. Why? Something deep in us recognized each other. What was it? It's not meant for words. Several of my friends have converted from Christianity to Judaism; one found a profoundly meaningful practice in her conversion. Another friend converted from Judaism to Christianity, yet another to a Buddhist spiritual practice, also finding a new sense of connection and meaning. Are these changes not at least as change-full as changing skin color?

Our souls are complex. Many people have soul urges that take them into places and activities or traditions that are not part and parcel of their geography, culture, language, religion---or even their own body. People change religions, cultures, home towns and all their roots, even trade in their native languages. And some change gender.

An Earlier Dye Job


John Howard Griffin became famous for his book, Black Like Me. The white Dallas native dyed his skin (with the help and supervision of a physician) and traveled for six weeks through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia to experience "colored" life. He did not go undercover, did not change his name or personal history. He changed ONLY the color of his skin. After the book's publication, he and his family lived outside the United States for a time because they received so many serious threats to their welfare. John Howard Griffin did what Rachel Dolezal did as an experiment, and had his life threatened. But, he was also admired widely for what he did. His book was a best-seller. Granted, he returned to his white-skinned self. But he did not plan or desire to be a part of black culture.

Rachel Dolezal did. It appears that that is where she feels she belongs... perhaps in the way they I felt I belonged in Spain and my Jewish friend belongs in Buddhism and Bruce Jenner belongs in a female body.  It would be logical to think, "Sure, you can participate in African American culture, but don't change your skin color to do it, because that's not honest."

Would that have worked? I've been in numerous situations in public where I've been  with an African American friend. He or she will be greeted by other African Americans passing by--even when they don't know each other--but I will be ignored. If they knew each other, this would make more sense. It has been clear, however, that frequently they didn't, and that my skin color led them to decide not to say hello to me, as well. 




Sometimes I think we humans are not sophisticated enough even to be racist. We still lean toward being colorist, tribal and territorial. Minorities lament that majorities (all of which are changing in terms of the numbers) don't respect or appreciate their cultures, but there are many instances when these same minorities consider their culture private territory. 
"Appreciate us from a distance, even if you care, even if your soul feels like it belongs close to us. This experience / territory / culture is ours, and we're not sharing." 

I understand this and even, in some sense, can relate to it. It speaks to the need for authenticity combined with sincerity and recognizes the power of shared experience. There's no substitute for shared experience and the connections it forges. It's likely that people consider Ms. Dolezal's entrance into the African American world inauthentic, and that's fair. I do believe, however, that it was sincere


Meanwhile, a white woman on The Nightly Show bragged about her 6% African DNA in the same breath that she--and all the other panelists--belittled Ms. Dolezal.  The black and white audience members applauded the white Nightly Show guest and cheered for her 6-percent-black content. In the midst of the monolithic disdain for Ms. Dolezal, I want to put in a kind word for her and say that her "mistake" can be seen as more from the head than the heart. Frankly, after watching her stiff, lily-white parents on television, I can sympathize with her feeling that she did not belong in her own family. John Howard Griffin wrote a follow-up book to Black Like Me, titled The Prison of Culture. I think the public treatment of Rachel Dolezal speaks to Griffin's title and the prisons we create for ourselves.

Why is it acceptable to change our religion, country, culture, language, and even gender  (a body and soul change),  and yet see changing skin-deep color as an unforgivable cultural sin? Unless, of course, it's a fashionable, bronze tan.
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Illustrations: Dover Clip Art

June 28, 2015

Thank you, Press Women!


My blog won first place in personal blog writing for 2014 in the Press Women of Texas's Communications Contest. Afterward, my blog placed second in personal blog writing nationwide in the National Federation of Press Women's Communications Contest. I can't adequately tell you what these awards mean to me, but I feel impelled to try.


On May 6, 1937, 39 women from seven states gathered at the Chicago Women's Club to turn their vision into reality. They formed the National Federation of Presswomen (yes, then it was one word) and set forth their goals: "To provide a means of communication between woman writers nationally; make possible the expression of a common voice in matters of national interest to press women, and otherwise advance the professional standards of press women." 


It was brave enough for women to found such an organization in any decade prior to 1970, but this group was founded at the height of the Great Depression. It grew to include all 50 states. Press Women of Texas was the first professional organization I joined as a young writer. As my life and career took me to some odd times and places, including overseas, I did let my membership lapse for some years. When I returned to the US, I was only too happy to rejoin. The organization does accept male members, and has done so for a while. 

I respect this group deeply. In the midst of the digital tidal wave and the massive changes that have occurred in journalism, they have stayed true to principles that should never change. This organization represents award-winning writers and photo journalists, creative writers and designers, students in journalism and mass communications. Its communications contest, in my opinion, is the most professional and most honest of its kind. 

If someone enters an ad campaign, for example, the campaign is judged and evaluated not only for its creativity, but also for its results. It has to work! As impressive as the American Advertising Federation's award winners are in its annual state and national contests, no one who enters those has to "prove" anything. But, in an NFPW contest, if your work did not achieve a result, it does not win. Every entry includes information on the project's budget, the size of the media, the audience, and any measurable results. In the case of my blog, I included information on reader stats and traffic. That's the way it should be. NFPW and its state chapters work very hard not to let these important competitions degenerate into awards based on what people "like." 

These contests take place, thanks to an army of hard-working volunteers and women who care about upholding standards in journalism and communications everywhere. I invite you to learn more about this organization, join a local chapter, and/or make a donation to their operating or scholarship funds. You'll be supporting some of the best, most hard-working, most HONEST  journalists in the world. You will also be supporting a group that supported women long before ERA, Title IX, and other groundbreaking legislation. 

If you are a writer, journalist, author, designer, photographer, editor, then you could benefit greatly from joining your local chapter of Press Women. Joining a local chapter automatically connects you to NFPW. This year, their annual conference is in Alaska! Doesn't that sound fantastic?

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NFPW Code of Ethics

As a professional communicator, I recognize my responsibility to the public which has placed its trust and confidence in my work, and will endeavor to do nothing to abuse this obligation.
With truth as my ultimate goal, I will adhere to the highest standards of professional communication, never consciously misleading reader, viewer, or listener; and will avoid any compromise of my objectivity or fairness.

Because I believe that professional communicators must be obligated only to the people's right to know, I affirm that freedom of the press is to be guarded as an inalienable right of the citizens of a free society.

I pledge to use this freedom wisely and to uphold the right of communicators to express unpopular opinions as well as the right to agree with the majority.

— Adopted in 1975, Annual NFPW Conference, Sun Valley, Idaho


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Last, but certainly not least, thank you to the readers of this blog. 
You give my "voice in the wilderness" its purpose and add to its meaning.  I am especially grateful to the band of readers who have taken time to send me personal notes of encouragement and responses to my blog posts. You know who you are. All of you share in this award with me. With gratitude, 


March 31, 2015

Your Poetic Gift is Ready and Waiting for You

National Poetry Month begins April 1. I have designed another poetry mini-poster for 2015. It features the poem, "Each into One," which was published in the anthology 
Her Texas. The beautiful photo on the poster is by David Li.

This poem has been with me for many years. Its inspiration came first from the Texas landscape. Later, I visited the land of the windmills of Don Quijote in central Spain, making the windmill a symbol of something far beyond utility, a kind of sculpture to the imagination and the sacred wildness of the human spirit. I always loved pinwheels, and the similarities of that colorful hand-held windmill and the great one towering over the plains provided rich metaphorical connections. 

I will mail you and/or a friend and/or a family member a poster as my gift to you during National Poetry Month. Anywhere in the world. These little (6 inches wide by 11 inches tall) ambassadors of poetry have traveled to Australia, Scotland, Spain, Mexico, Argentina, and Italy, not to mention many states in the US, in previous years. 

To receive a poster, just enter your name and mailing address (securely and privately) at postable.com/ysabeldelarosa.  All of your information remains private. I would never sell it. I don't even know how to do such a thing! 

Here it is, my 2015 Poetry Poster, "Each into One."



March 22, 2015

Making Great Memories at Baylor with Her Texans

AB Library, Entrance. Ysabel de la Rosa
St. Patrick's day ended for me with a wonderful Her Texas event at Baylor's Browning Armstrong Library. The building: a temple to love and knowledge; an architectural prose-poem to Robert and Elizabeth Barrett-Browning. The large audience enjoyed outstanding readings by 2013 Texas Poet Laureate Rosemary Catacolos and poet Naomi Shihab Nye. My mother introduced me to Naomi's work many years ago. This was my first opportunity to hear her read in person and feel the infectious enthusiasm of her warm spirit.


Naomi Shihab Nye , Photo Shevaun Williams
As part of their readings, Naomi and Rosemary shared work by others, a sign of how poetic minds always stay open to finding jewels in language. 

Naomi quoted from the "next generation" of Texas poets, students at an elementary school where she had just taught a workshop. One girl told Naomi that it was wonderful to have a "poemist" in the classroom. I plan to add that to my working vocabulary.

Both poets did for the audience what I believe poetry should and can always do. They reached us with words we needed to hear, with meaning that we were hungering for. In Naomi's poem, "Room for You Here," she says of heaven:


There weren't any houses. Everyone floated.
No one was unchosen.

I believe we all want to know that we are not unchosen, that we are not excluded. From what? From love, a sense of belonging, from community, and certainly we want to believe we are not excluded from heaven.

Rosemary Catacalos, Photo Michael Mehl
Rosemary's dreamlike, mystical poem that travels into the landscape of Borges was a gift to mind and ear. Her reading of "Revenge" by Taha Muhammad Ali, a Palestinian poet born in Galilee was another gift. In another poem, Ali wrote:

"And, so  it has taken me
all of sixty years  to understand
that water is the finest drink,
and bread the most delicious food,
and that art is worthless unless it plants a measure of splendor in people’s hearts."*

AB Library, Window Detail, Ysabel de la Rosa





A measure of splendor is what this celebratory evening left in my heart. Before I get too high-minded, however, I must add that the evening's refreshments included Dr. Pepper ice cream floats! Diet and regular! After all, Waco is the birthplace of that drink many of us find downright curative. I remember wandering the streets of Manhattan once, a Texan in need of her "doctor." I'm sure the man behind one certain convenience-store
counter did not soon forget witnessing my excitement over what he, poor Yankee, thought was an ordinary soda.

Rosemary's poetry ranges far, wide, and deep, as you would expect from the work of a writer who grew up within three cultures in San Antonio, a city almost a culture unto itself. I'll end this post with the end of her poem, "Swallow Wings," which she dedicated to Maya Angelou. These lines "sing" how I feel about life's good things, about poetic expression, about the surge we feel inside that makes us want to stay alive.

Swallows keep makin' their wings
out to be commas on the sky.
World keep sayin' and, and, and, and,
and.

Keep saying and. Keep saying it, keep living it. Keep hearing the world say it back to you. And ... read how a strong, diverse community of Texas women are doing just that in Her Texas.

* To accommodate spacing, I did not maintain Ali's original line breaks in the poem.
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Kindle version available here.
The link above will take you the publisher, Wings Press.
You can also order from Book People in Austin.
For your overseas friends, you can find Her Texas at Amazon.co.uk.