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After a nine month drought the skies opened up at precisely 1:00 pm, the exact moment the campers started to arrive. I was standing at the gate, with no shelter, the list of who was supposed to go where dissolved. So I just asked how old they were and assigned them to the units by age. After everyone was in, all hell broke loose at the office. We had asked the girls if they wanted to be with a buddy and in my random assignments I was clueless about who was buddies with whom. Angry parents, weeping children, confused staff and me just about on my last nerve. 

But, we got everything straightened out and the parents left and the girls stopped crying. A Girl Scout Council Board member was one of the parents dropping off her daughter. She was the last parent to leave and as she drove past in the parking lot on her way out she held out a brown paper bag to me.

“I think you probably need this.” She said and drove off.

Inside the bag was a can of maitais.

Just prior to opening the camp, I took a tour of the pool area to make sure it was secure and all the equipment we had been using for counselor training had been put away. My little dog, Caleb was with me. He was a “champagne colored miniature poodle and the dumbest dog I had ever met. He was gift from a friend who, I have no idea why, thought I needed a dog.

Caleb was across the pool from me when I called to him to leave. He ran in a straight line right into the pool. I was astonished! Astonishment quickly gave way to panic as I realized that he was not able to keep his nose above water let alone make his way to the side to get out. This damn dog is going to drown I said to myself and jumped in to save him. We made it safely to the side. I was dressed in my very best camp director outfit, starched white shirt, lanyard with name tag, green Bermuda shorts, leather belt with roadrunner buckle, long green socks with red flashers and sensible oxford shoes. I now had about two and one half minutes to change before the campers arrived at the gate. And you know how that went.

This was my first summer directing camp. I had never been to overnight camp as a child. I had been a naval officer for the previous two years and the powers that be at the Council office thought this is some way prepared for this job. I had majored in Physical Education in college. Not that I had any great love of teaching sports, I didn’t. It was just that as it got to the middle of my junior year I had not declared a major and I like taking PE and was a good athlete and my advisor suggested going with the flow. I got a D in Teaching Team Sports, a D in Teaching Individual Sports and a D in Ballroom Dance but that is another story altogether. In my defense I got an A in Kinesiology, an A in Physiology of Exercise, and an A in Anatomy and Physiology. I ran afoul of the leadership in the department and they refused to admit me to the School of Education where I could get a teaching certificate. I didn’t want a teaching certificate and luckily a cute Navy recruiter came to my rescue. I would have followed her anywhere.

So I joined the Navy and got out two years later and went to work for the Suncoast Girl Scout Council in Tampa, Florida. Two years in the Navy did not prepare me well for recruiting and training Girl Scout leaders either but I did all right.

I loved being at camp. We were our own universe, a miniature community out in the woods. The girls had fun and the adults had fun. We had two international counselors, one from France and one from the Netherlands. It was a great introduction to cultural stereotypes, the French woman was arrogant and aloof and the Dutch woman was like a large dog, always friendly and sloppily affectionate. I fell madly in love with the French woman, needless to say.

This was 1970 in the south. We had been ordered to integrate by the American Camping Association and had done so. I hired and trained black staff and recruited black campers from the City of Tampa Social Services.  I was sitting in my office one day preparing for a visit from the Board of Directors that evening when I say one of our black campers walking toward the front gate. She had her little sister in tow. I asked them where they were going. Home, was the answer. The older girl had had enough of sleeping out in the woods, using a pit latrine and eating weird food and she was going home.

“It’s a long walk, about 50 miles to Tampa.” I said. “You might need some food and water for the trip.” As luck would have it, the cook was baking cookies and the smell permeated the area. We went to see the cook about getting some cookies for the trip. We sat in hallowed ground on the cook’s porch, no one, not even the Director was allowed to sit there without an invitation. The cook has been at this camp for years. As the girls sat there eating their cookies and having a glass of milk the cook said to us,

“Director, we do not have enough fish for tonight’s dinner and someone has to go fishing.” Well, we both knew that fishing was the favorite activity of the black girls of all the dozens of activities we offered.

“I can’t go,” I said, “the Board is due here any minute.”

Both of the little girls hands were waving in the air. “We’ll do it, we’ll do it!” they said together.

So, there I was sitting on the dock with these two when the Board started arrive. I explained and they were quite sympathetic.

The black children did not like being in the woods. The cabins were made of wood, resting about three feet off the ground. There were large screened windows and shutters that lowered to keep out the rain. The first night they were there I did a walking tour to make sure they were OK. There were four girls to a cabin and eight cabins near one another in the unit. The counselor’s had their own cabin in the unit. The first cabin  I came to was shuttered up tight even though it was about 95 degrees. I tried to open the door and found it blocked by four beds and the girls huddled together all in one bed scared to death. The next day I moved all the black girls into a brick building we usually did not use in the summer and kept for the Brownies during the year. It had a cement floor, electric lights and flush toilets. All very OK with the girls. After that they got used to being at camp and I think finally enjoyed themselves as did most of the white girls.

One morning while I was eating breakfast one of the campers came up to me with a bowl of granola in her hands and tears in her eyes. Cook made the best granola in the world and I could not imagine what the problem was.

“I can’t eat this” she said tearfully.

“Why not? I asked

“Because my mother doesn’t want me to eat hippy food.” She replied.

Trying very hard not to laugh, I assured her she could have peanut butter and jelly that was always kept on the sideboard if someone didn’t like the meal. Hippy food! Can you believe it? 


 
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by Margaret Mann, author of A Dramatically Different Direction

My first memory of Kwan Yin was my father smashing her to pieces. He was suffering from a chemical imbalance that caused him to have out of control rages. The tall graceful porcelain statue normally resided on the shelf used for flower arrangements. He was roaring through the house smashing things left and right. I stood frozen, totally incredulous that he could smash the Kwan Yin, of all things, the bodhisattva of compassion. My younger brother and I ran into the bathroom, locked the door and held on tight to each other. 

My father was an Apache/Caucasian man who had embraced Zen Buddhism after moving to Hawaii in 1949. Our house burned down when I was in the third grade and he had it rebuilt as a Japanese house with tatami matting, shoji windows and the tokonoma room with two alcoves. The statue of Kwan Yin graced one side and a scroll of a carp swimming upstream hung in the other. Between them was a polished plum wood pole.  I spent hours in that room lying on tatami matting reading books under the peaceful gaze of the Kwan Yin. My father often gave dharma talks at the dining room table. When I was twelve, of course, I would roll my eyes and pray he would stop talking. Later as I studied Buddhism as an adult I would hear echoes from my father’s talks in what the teacher was saying. He had laid a good foundation for me. He was actually a very nice man, very gentle and peaceful, except for the brief period before the medications became effective. His rages were phenomenal, real Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde stuff. Thank goodness he got over them.

Until he smashed her, the Kwan Yin statue was prominent in the house and in my father’s thinking and teachings to us. He taught us how to shoot a bow and arrow but we had to hold the bowstring drawn back at our cheek until we felt at one with the universe, then we could let it go. Powerful message for a teenage girl for you can’t be one with universe and have no compassion for it. He enrolled me in karate classes where I learned from an old Japanese man how to meditate and how to carry oneself peacefully in the world. My father also taught me to body surf by putting me on his very broad back and catching a wave. He bought me a surfboard and we would surf together at Waikiki.

After a relatively calm adult life at age 52 I was disabled by a small blood vessel bursting in my spinal cord leaving me paralyzed from the waist down. My life in the 15 years since has been, to borrow a phrase, the best of times and the worst of times …Best in that I have grown spiritually in ways I am sure I never would have otherwise, I now understand the compassion of Kwan Yin at a very deep level. It became clear as my life in the wheelchair progressed that compassion for myself was at the core. It is no accident that the heart sutra metta starts with oneself. I did nothing to cause my disability, no one else caused my disability, it just happened and I had to figure out a way to deal with it.

It was hard to adjust to having half the income I had before, hard to deal with all the agencies that were supposed to help and didn’t, and hard to endure the pain 24/7. The worst of times…a broken hip when the scooter tipped over, a broken leg when I fell down at the swimming pool, a broken ankle when I caught my foot in the door and didn’t realize it, gall bladder removed after gall stone attack, thyroid removed after a large goiter grew there, breast cancer recurring resulting in a double mastectomy. And through all this I was alone, no partner, 6,000 miles from home. Friends came and went though all this.

Shortly after I was disabled I attended a silent retreat. I was having a hard time with my anger in the sittings and a friend seeing that I was distressed put candies on my mat during a break. This act of kindness infuriated me, I threw the candies across the meditation hall (which luckily was empty). It didn’t occur to me then, but it occurs to me now, that my father might have been feeling the same when he smashed the Kwan Yin. The act of compassion was so painful and I was so out of touch with my own compassion that rage took it’s place.

When the sangha reassembled I left the hall and went to my room for I was afraid that I would scream out loud. I put the pillow over my face and screamed, and screamed and screamed. The screaming finally subsided into to sobbing. I was bereft, alone, isolated and totally miserable. As I sat there crying little by little my Buddhist practice came back to me. The metta, Kwan Yin’s gift to us…I wish for myself happiness, freedom from suffering…compassion for my situation. Breathing in, breathing out. After a long while I stopped crying and returned to the meditation hall. Everything was beautiful, my fellow retreatants looked so serene, dust motes were floating in the air, a slight fragrance of incense filled my nose, and the little Buddha statue sitting on the altar looked so peaceful. Breathing in, breathing out. I knew then I was going to survive.

A year or two after that I went on retreat with Bobby Rhodes (Soeng Hyang) from the Providence Zen Center, Rhode Island. While in dokusan with her, I experienced a profound connection to the universe. We had been talking about the koan she had given me and suddenly I got it. I “saw” (felt, knew, sensed, realized, became aware of,  understood) in a deep mystical way how we are all connected from the beginning of time to the end of time, in every direction, and with every animal, plant and mineral. That realization continues to reside deep in me. I am reminded daily by the Kwan Yin statues that grace my living room. She is a daily reminder to be kind to everyone I meet…to myself as well. Her peaceful face is a model for me. Her peaceful pose demonstrates a total relaxation for me follow. She appears to me as having “got it” big time.

A year or so after that while recovering from surgery I was given an anti-nausea drug. I had an allergic reaction to it that caused a full body spasm. My head was pulled over to one side, my hands curled up and my toes splayed out. I thought, this is it, I am going to die, I will not be able to take another breath. But in that nanosecond I remembered that I had a practice and thought to myself, I am ready to go, I have no regrets…I was peaceful and calm as Kwan Yin. But then of course I continued to breathe and did not die. But this was a hallmark moment, I had never faced physical death before. Death of my life as I had known it, yes, but actually leaving the planet, no. Yet, one experience informed the other. Giving up the fear of death actually allowed me a greater freedom to live in my everyday life. Don’t sweat the small stuff and it’s all small stuff became my motto.

Before the near death experience I was curious about how I was going to manage and spent several years in my “let’s find out what we can do” stage. I was determined to be independent. I learned to drive with hand controls, I went back to school and got a PhD, and I worked for disability advocates.

But, after the near death experience things changed to the “OK, this is how it is going to be” stage when things settled down into routines. But, the routines were not working out well for me in Washington DC where I was living. I was finished with school, a potential partner dissipated, friends moved out of the neighborhood, my job lost its funding and I decided to go home to Hawaii to be with my family.  I packed up my Kwan Yin collection and headed home.

2012

She stands there graceful and serene, Avalokitesvara, on the corner of my camphorwood chest. Tall and tan and lovely she is in ivory and sepia. She looks as though she is carved out of an ivory tusk but she’s not and no elephant died for her sake. In her left hand she is holding a basket full of flowers and her right hand is in the gyan mudra and also holding the willow branch for the ease of suffering. Buddha in gasho rests in her hair. She has long earlobes and little bindi on her forehead. Her curved body fits nicely in the crook of my arm.

Next to Avalokitesvara on the camphorwood trunk in a relaxed pose is Guan Yin almost the same height, in bronze and copper patina. She sits peacefully with one knee up and her arm resting on her knee. She is holding a ball in her right hand and leaning down on her left. She has an ushinsha, long earlobes and a little bindi. She sits on a rock ledge. She is covered in gold necklaces, mardi gras beads, and a dried lei from a celebration.

Next to bronze statue is a white porcelain Kwan Yin from modern China. She is holding the willow branch in her left hand and a vase with the Waters of Compassion in her left. She is sitting on a pink lotus. As I picked her up just now to get a better look at her crown of Buddhas I was compelled to hug her. Something I have not ever done in the eight or nine years I have had her. It felt very good.

Overseeing the camphorwood trunk is a poster from Honolulu Academy of Arts of the life sized wooden Chinese Kwan Yin from 1000 AD that resides there. When I was little girl I would often sit at her feet and tell her my troubles. In those days she was located in the corner of a courtyard and you could get very close. But now she is up on a platform at the end of the Buddha gallery and not touchable.

I believe the Ancient Goddess never left us and Kwan Yin is her modern emissary. She may have been overrun by the male figures of Jesus and Buddha but I suspect she went underground. I understand that almost every household in Asia has a statue of Kwan Yin. The Catholic churches I visited in South America and Mexico all featured Mary prominently and Jesus off to the side. I think all the female saints are just the Goddess taking a form accessible to the women of that time.

Well, whatever the history may teach us, I am happy here with my little collection. We live happily together on the 25th floor overlooking Honolulu harbor. Rainbows appear quite often stretched out across the sky and the sparkling white fairy terns dance a pas de deux over the city. Life is good.

October 10, 2012 


 
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by Margaret Mann

I have been to graduations. I have been to graduation parties. But this was the first time the graduation was the party! 

Heald College Graduation April 2012 was held at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Coral Ballroom.  My client Robin who had come to me years ago with self-esteem issues was now graduating with a 4.0 average in Business Administration. I was so very proud of her, I could have burst my buttons were I wearing any.

The elevator to the ballroom was very crowded. We had to wait a long time as the people on the lower floors filled up the cars before they reached us. For some reason the stairs ended on the floor below the ballroom. We found out later there was an escalator connecting the floors.

The room was laid out in typical graduation style. A center stage, empty chairs for the graduates in the center of the room and chairs for family and friends in a huge semi-circle around them. A delightful student took our tickets but was clueless about where the wheelchair should sit. But, she was an earnest young woman and got a hold of two other earnest young women, rearranged the chairs and put me in the front row next to the graduates.

A group called the Academics was singing onstage. Seven young men all dressed alike in suits and ties singing a song like those you hear on those on American Idol. A faculty member called the group to order and asked the graduates to process in. And of course they played Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance over the PA system.

The invocation was delivered by a Pentecostal minister. It was long and spoke often of God’s plan for us. Turns out she was the psychology professor. Hmm…

After the graduates were seated a very loud, very vivacious group of men (most likely Samoans) whooped and shouted their way to the stage where they commenced to do a very loud, vigorous, stamping, arm slapping, dance. I have to admit this was a very different start to a graduation than I had ever experienced. A young woman sitting directly behind me was clearly related to the young men as she whooped and shrieked in an ear-splitting support of their performance. She continued to do this almost every time something happened on the stage. As did the people sitting to my side. A little disconcerting to say the least.

Heald College is a community college dedicated to training of pharmacy aides, hospital aides and para-legals and small number of business administrative assistants. The crowd was a wonderful representation of modern Hawaii. The audience as well as the graduates was 99% people of color. The majority of the assembled were South Pacific islanders and Filipino representing immigrant Hawaii. There was a small smattering of haoles (the name for Caucasians in Hawaii) in the audience and the majority of the faculty were older haole women with sensible shoes. Polite applause for the old haole women, but loud screaming and whooping and hollering for the “local boy” Student Services Director and his staff most of whom were previous graduates from the school. The clear favorites.

There were awards given for the students who earned anything above a 3.5 average. The color lines divided at the 4.0 level, almost all of the eight or ten haoles among the graduates earned a 4.0. The Outstanding Student Award went to a single mom who had earned good grades and participated in a number of service projects. The most surprising award was one for Perfect Attendance…at a college. There were many award categories.  I suspect this was deliberate on the part of the administration. Many of these graduates had just attained their highest level of education they were ever going to earn and deserved all the credit they could get.

There were two graduate speakers elected to the give a valedictorian address to the graduates. Both women were single mothers, both had graduated from high school and gone on welfare and now both were moving on seeking a better life for their children. The stories moved me to tears and I found myself earnestly praying that they succeed, that all this effort leads to something good.

The Student Services Director gave the keynote speech. Closely related the Pentecostal preacher but funny. Had the audience in stitches. But was keen to make the point that 85% of children born to parents who earn degrees also go on to earn degrees. He stressed that their graduation was going impact their family for generations for come. He pointed to a group of small children playing near the stage. You are doing this for them, he said. A very different theme from the usual college graduation address where the graduates are told that they are the ones who are going to change the world. Clearly pharmacy and hospital aides and para legals are probably not going to change the wider world as we know it, but there they were setting about changing their world.

The Mistress of Ceremonies had the students who were the first in their family to earn a degree stand. One half of the graduates stood up. She also asked the single parents to stand. One third of the graduates stood up.

The Academics came back on stage and Director of Student Services joined them, as did a female staff member who was an excellent singer. The whole ceremony was light hearted and fun. The administration does this three times a year and had it down to a science. The graduates collected their diplomas and very well orchestrated march across the stage and we joined the swirling mass of graduates and their large extended families in the foyer. The excitement was palatable as moms, dads, grandparents, children, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, buried the graduates in leis.

I am very glad I went. 

April 21, 2012


 
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by Margaret Mann

This story appears in “Old Lesbians and their brief moments of fame,” by Joy D. Griffith, Karen Gibson and J. Ross, Xlibris Corporation, 2012

My name is Margaret Mann. I am a 64 year old, Caucasian/Apache, lesbian, Buddhist who uses a wheelchair to get around. I was raised in multi-cultural Hawaii by an Apache who wished he was Japanese (oh, the stories I could tell…). After a wonderful career working on behalf of women and girls on the mainland, I retired home to Honolulu, Hawaii in 2003.

In 1984 I was working in the national office of the League of Women Voters in Washington DC. I was a community organizer where it was my job was to support the local chapters. I was sent to Raleigh, North Carolina to do a workshop. The first issue they raised was: How do we expand our chapter to include women of color? We invite Black women to attend our meetings but they never come.

I said, “Well, it’s not a problem, just invite your Black friends and neighbors to attend. Or, you could join the local chapter of National Council of Negro Women and attend their meetings.” There was dead silence. It took two clicks for the message to sink in. They had no Black friends or neighbors and the thought of joining NCNW was abhorrent to them.

We had a great discussion afterwards. We talked about how the problem was larger than the LWV, that if we were to address the issue we were going to have to think outside the box. They understood clearly their own reluctance to go to an all Black neighborhood to attend NCNW meeting but they had little understanding why a Black women did not want to go to an all White neighborhood to attend a LWV meeting. We talked about how Black women usually come into White neighborhoods as maids and how a Black woman who wasn’t on her way to work might be treated with suspicion. We talked about how uncomfortable it would be to be a minority of one in a group. And they were clear that they didn’t want to be the “one” minority at a NCNW meeting. They were very well meaning and sincere in their quest, but just a little ignorant of how race plays out in real life. The story, however, has a happy ending. At my suggestion, they contacted the local chapter of NCNW to ask if they would be interested in conducting a joint voter registration campaign.

Back in Washington DC, I had been meeting with my counterpart in the national office of NCNW so I was fairly certain that they would have a warm reception. The LWV national office had hired Melva Ware, (one of two Black women in the 75 person national office), to design a program to integrate the LWV. They did not give her much of a budget and little support. I became her lifelong friend when I suggested that she purchase black shoe polish with her tiny budget and distribute it to the chapters. That way they could paint their faces black and have Black LWV members just like them. It was Melva’s idea to contact the NCNW and get the two national offices talking to one another and we cooked up the idea of joint campaigns.

About this same time, the LWV national office hired a PR firm to produce a membership brochure which would reflect the integrated membership they hoped to attain. The traditional brochure was red, white and blue with pictures of White women. The new brochure was green and white and had pictures of Black and White women working together. The members hated the new brochure and refused to use it. We had our work cut out for us.

Back in Raleigh, at the first joint meeting several months later two women, one White, one Black had a tearful reunion. They had worked together in the sixties integrating the schools and had not seen each other in years. It was very touching and sad at the same time. They clearly liked each other and had worked hard together on a difficult task and yet the segregated society in Raleigh had kept them apart all those years.  


 
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by Margaret Mann

I wake up each morning and sit on the edge of my bed dreading the day ahead of me. Not because I have an overwhelming list of things to do but because I have nothing to do. Except for an occasional doctor’s appointment or luncheon engagement I rarely have any reason to leave the house. This persistent idleness terrifies me. I feel lonely, isolated and useless. Something deep in my psyche is terrified that if I have no purpose, no reason for being here that I don’t exist. Carl Jung’s annihilation. A deep existential terror that I do not matter to anyone, I could leave the planet tomorrow and no would care all that much. No one will throw themselves on my coffin and wail. My friends and family would be sad for a short while and then go on about their lives. Four friends about my age died this past year. I envy them for checking out early and not having to endure this agony. I could be dead a week and the maintenance man will discover my stinking body before anyone knows I died. I could move out of town and no one would know until I told them. 

It makes no difference if I get up at 6:00 am or 10:00 am. It makes no difference whether I eat breakfast now or later and it makes no difference what I eat. It makes no difference if I watch TV, read a book or stare at the wall. I have no demands other than what I invent. I can shop any day of the week. I can do my laundry any day of the week. I can wander aimlessly around the shopping center and no one will know or care. It is a huge burden to think up things to take up the time until I sleep once again.

I notice that I am no longer listened to. I applied for a job recently which years ago I am sure I would have gotten. I used to be a successful grant writer but in the last two years two different directors of agencies have ignored my work and failed to submit the proposal I wrote, both time denying me a job for a year. I feel like they would not have dared to dismiss me like that when I was 40. I feel ineffectual, unimportant and that I am sitting on the sidelines. I once was valued for what I knew and now I am not. I used to be in the know and now I only have memories. I speak now more of the past than the future. I have entered the realm of becoming an entertaining, eccentric old lady who is patronized, patted on the head and thought…cute. When did the worm turn? When did I become marginalized?

What happened to my busy, purposeful life when I had no time to do anything? What happened to getting up on a Saturday morning after working all week, going off shopping, coming home to chores around the house and garden, having interesting people over for dinner, or going to the theater with friends with whom I shared season tickets. I can no longer afford season tickets. I live in an apartment with no yard and my friends are scattered across the country.

What­­’s the strategy to prevent me from throwing myself off the lanai railing? Do I simply assign myself a life? It’s contrived but if I don’t examine the smoke and mirrors too carefully it could seem like a purpose. Did I always do this and just didn’t notice? I assign myself tasks, swim twice a week, go to Tour and Tea at the Academy each week, sign up to be a docent at the museum with a two year training program and take classes at night to fill up the empty hours. Should I try to find people to go with me on these adventures so it seems like a pressing obligation? Or do I just suck it up and go alone to the festival in the park? I dream up projects and set about organizing them as though they mattered. My deeply terrified psyche is sure they don’t really but it is nice to pretend that I have a purpose if only for that moment. 

October 14, 2011


 
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By Margaret Mann

I would like to fall in love just one last time. I would like one more kiss that causes my universe fall into place. I would like one more passionate zap in my private parts.  I would like my heart to stop when the phone rings in the hopes that it will be the love of my life. I would like to bury my face in soft skin in a neck and breathe their sweet scent. I would like to look deep once again in someone’s eyes and see true love reflecting back. I would like to walk hand in hand along the sand with a silly grin. I would like to answer the door and be greeted with a long kiss. But….

I know too much now about the physiological and psychological aspects of “falling in love.” Experience and information have put a damper on romance. I know too much about endorphins, serotonin, projected golden shadows, a 50% divorce rate and co-dependence to ever be swept away again. But…I wish I could.

And, I would also like to have faith in a “big idea” again: The Secret, EST, transactional analysis, rock and roll will save the world, being born again, peace in the Middle East or even that there is God in charge of anything. But all the big ideas have fallen by the wayside for me as I age. No big idea seems to make sense any more. Little things like friendship make a lot of sense but no big ideas like Nouveau Riche University, Rich Dad Poor Dad for me. Or even, I hate to say, the whole Wall Street  protest thing lately. I see right through them.

And yes, I would love to truly believe in a political candidate once again. Not since my heart was broken when Bobby Kennedy got shot have I believed. I support a candidate now and then but I don’t believe like I used to. I spent 15 years walking the halls of Congress and I know now that any one elected to a national office has sold their soul to the devil somewhere along the way. I have seen too many “honest politicians” fall from grace with sex scandals, income tax evasions, and just plain stupid decisions.

And, I would love to truly believe in a product again. I used to believe in Celestial Seasons and Progresso Soups and now they have been bought out by some multi-national corporation. It seems that all my product decisions are now made in China. I used to believe that some products were better than others but now I am not so sure and they all seem how less than they used to be. Too many recalls, too many lawsuits, and too many consumer alerts.

So with the wisdom of age, which I thoroughly enjoy, comes a dark side that I did not anticipate. I didn’t expect to become a “jaded Washingtonian.” Well…I am not living in Washington DC any more but you know what I mean. I hate that wisdom trumped romance and innocence. I still wish something or someone would ring my chimes. But then, it will probably be something ironical like Jack Nicolson in the movie The Bucket List wishing to kiss the most beautiful girl in the world. It turned out to be his three year old granddaughter. 

November 26, 2010


 
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In 1990 I went to work for the Older Women’s League in Washington DC. It was my job to organize new chapters and support the 35 existing local chapters.

My first assignment was to attend a meeting of the Brooklyn, New York chapter. In my own defense I would like to state here and now that I was raised in Hawaii, worked with the Girl Scouts in Honolulu, a brief stint with the League of Women Voters in DC and educated in the Mid West, none of which prepared me in any way to work with the Brooklyn Chapter of the Older Women’s League.

I had been on the job one week when I arrived at the door of the meeting room. I had dressed very carefully that morning in a standard outfit that I had worn at the League of Women Voters: a blue plaid skirt, white blouse with a high collar, blue wool blazer and pumps. The conversation in the room came to a complete halt with my appearance in the doorway. They looked me over with an expression we would have called “stink eye” in Hawaii.

The national board member from that area came forward and greeted me. She steered me to a seat around a large table and advised me to observe for a while before joining in. Good advice, as it turned out. The chapter had a tumultuous history with the national office. They had at one time refused to pay their dues, another time they had sent a representative from the national office home in tears, etc.

They were wearing sweat pants and sweaters and each seemed to have a very large black purse not unlike Mary Poppin’s carpet bag, that held everything anyone would need for an overnight campout. At precisely 11 am they started digging down in these immense bags for snacks. Out came toast wrapped in a paper napkin, packages of crackers, and cookies. I came to find out that this was not a Brooklyn custom alone; it was universal across the nation at meetings of older women. No matter what had been served to eat up to that point, purse rummaging and snacks appeared at 11 am.

The meeting was to say the least, lively. She who shouted the loudest got the floor briefly before being interrupted by the next loudest person. They were rude to one another, “shut up, I’m talking here!” One said to the woman next to here. At one point everyone was talking at the same time and one woman with a cane, slammed it down on the table to get everyone’s attention. Got mine for sure!

By the end of the day, I am thinking to myself that I am going to quit this job the minute I get back to DC. But then as I was going out the door, the woman who had slammed the cane down came up to me, grabbed me by the lapels and said about 3 inches from my face….”Didn’t we have fun today!” She was serious. I blinked, took a breath, and realized that this was sport, not just a meeting. I got it! This was recreation.

These women, mostly Jewish, had been advocates for something their entire lives. They were thick in the labor movement, the socialist movement, civil rights, women’s rights, local neighborhood issues. The Jews of New York City have a long tradition of advocacy and indeed as I traveled the country to do my work I ran into New York Jews everywhere I went.

I returned in a month for the next meeting. I wore pants and a funny sweatshirt. I elbowed in to melay around the table shouting to be heard. They were unhappy about some policy issued from the national office and I did not defend it. I told them they had a point and they needed to write to the board and make themselves heard. I encouraged them to run their affairs they way they saw fit as long as they did not take a position in conflict with the national policies. They loved it, declared me the best thing that had ever come from the national office. I was now one of them, somehow.

A few months later they held a speak-out on Social Security. The first speaker was Lou Glasse, the President of OWL, a WASP from Poughkeepsie, NY.  The ladies of the chapter folded their arms over their purses in their laps and glared at her. She gave a good speech but they barely applauded her. She was the enemy in their eyes, wealthy, protestant, and even worse…from upstate NY. The next speaker was Joan Kuriansky, the Executive Director of OWL. The ladies of the chapter beamed! Joan was Jewish, the same age as their daughters, she was a lawyer, raised in Stamford, Connecticut and the E.D. of their beloved OWL. Joan rattled her papers in preparation to speak, they applauded, she cleared her throat, they applauded. She finished her speech to thunderous appreciation. They gathered around her, touching her arm, smiling at her, telling her how proud they were of her. Lou on the other hand sat with me on the side. Not one person from the chapter paying attention to her.

They were to become my favorite chapter to work with. They were always up to something, totally engaged and marching in the streets, so to speak. It was a great East Coast cultural education for a kid from Hawaii. 


 
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by Margaret Mann

I have been struggling lately with the notion of "women born women” and the controversy about letting them attend “women’s” events. Certain questions come to mind as I struggle. The first question that pops into mind is why? Why do we need to define who can attend events and who cannot? The second question is how to determine who is WBW?

Last year I met a very charming woman who identified herself as a lesbian and I invited her to attend a picnic sponsored by a lesbian group here in Hawaii. The picnic was held at a public beach park. As she approached the picnic site she was asked by one of the organizers to leave because this was event for WBW only.  Boy children are welcome at this picnic and it made no sense to me that transgendered folks are not.  It broke my heart that we could not expand our definition of who "we are" to include someone who wanted to be with us. Who are we to draw lines in the sand? Have we not experienced first hand for centuries what is like to be on the wrong side of the line as lesbians, as women, as young or old, as women of color, or as poor women? What right do we have to impose that experience on someone else?

At a meeting of lesbians meeting to plan events for folks on Oahu I suggested that we open the invitation to all women. One of the lesbians said that once she had worked with transgendered folks on a committee and they were very difficult to work with and she didn't want to put up with that again. I pointed out that I had served on several committees with lesbians who were difficult and it didn't stop me from wanting to work with lesbians! This is when a preference becomes a prejudice. Because we could not seem to resolve this issue I decided to leave LIPS and form the Lesbian Arts and Culture Exchange (LACE) which has no "woman born woman" rules.

A few years ago I attended the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. One workshop there was a panel of women theologians from around the world discussing the rise of fundamentalism. The conclusion was that people want certainty, they want to know the rules, and they want to know what is right and what is wrong. The theologians determined that in this age of pluralities where everything is acceptable and the differences we once thought separated them from us now begin to blur. In an effort to make sense out of this and comfort the unease that goes with it, some folks turn to fundamentalism as an answer. I suspect the same need for an answer is behind the WBW notion. In an age of indeterminate gender, multi-culturalism, and hyphenated ethnicity we have to draw the line somewhere…or do we?

On a nine-hour plane ride recently I sat next to a young person whose gender I could not determine. It was several hours before I decided that this person was female. She was quite a good cartoonist as was drawing characters from a television program that featured similar non-gender-specific characters. I suspect the younger generation might have something to teach us about this. I suspect they find gender-less appealing for the same reasons some find women-born-women appealing. As I sat next to this young person I asked myself why it was important that I know whether she was male or female. The only reason I could come up with was sex. You would only need to know what sex a person was if you intended to have sex with them. I did not intend to have sex with that person, so in a way, their sex and/or gender are irrelevant.

It seems to me that the drawing of lines in the sand almost always lead to discrimination. Or so it seems for the last 4,000 years of recorded history.  I further suspect that these lines are becoming archaic. I read a book about the X chromosome recently and in there the author points out that many more people than previously known are actually combinations of X and Y chromosomes in much greater variety than XX and XY. So, how are we to actually to determine whether someone is " really" a WBW? Require genetic testing? How are we going to determine whether someone is transgendered as the science of hormone regulation and plastic surgery advance to the point where we can no longer tell from ones appearance? Perhaps then we will have to give up our gender prejudices and judge the people we meet on their own merit. What a revolutionary thought! Maybe like the woman in that poem who wore purple and a red hat that didn't go we could start practicing now…

2006


 
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The Netflix blurb for The Kids Are All Right reads: The children of same-sex parents Nic and Jules become curious about the identity of their sperm donor dad and set out to make him part of their family unit…with frequent comical results. With his arrival the household dynamics quickly become complicated and no body is sure where or how he fits in, if at all

This blub did not prepare me for a film focused primarily on heterosexual fucking. First we see the sperm donor fucking his employee which is questionable enough (like what this had remotely to do with the story line?). If that wasn’t bad enough we are then exposed to way too many minutes of him and one of the lesbian moms fucking their brains out in many different positions in explicit pornographic detail. I was outraged to be tricked into becoming an unwitting voyeur of just plain pornographic sex when I thought I was going to see a film about a lesbian family. We could have gotten the idea of what was happening with Jules just as clearly without the graphic details. In fact the graphic details detracted from the portrayal of her struggle. So, you gotta wonder what the director was really trying to say….what was the message exactly about these protracted heterosexual sex scenes? Hmm?

I am always suspicious when women are slapped around or Black men lynched in a film…raises the hair on the back of my neck about how certain mainstream behaviors (supposedly bad) are happily modeled under the guise of realistic film making.

To be fair, other than the sex scenes and some very stilted psycho-babble-new-age-speak directed at the children the story was great. The two lesbians did model how mature adults who work on their “stuff” can make a relationship work. I thought the actors did a great job and there were moments of brilliant directorship. But the fucking sex scenes ruined the movie for me. I will not be purchasing this film, I will not be adding it to my very small collection of good lesbian films. I am so sorry the director felt the need to include this trash in the middle of what could have been a wonderful film.