Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Story Writ Large

I came across this page on JewishGen while doing some research on Radom, Poland, in an effort to complete a book on my family history - my grandfather and his siblings grew up in Radom, on a street called Malczewskego.  I'm wondering if you might have a moment to help me better understand the city, especially from a visual perspective.  

So began an email I received three years ago requesting information on Radom, Poland, one of my ancestral towns. The site she was referencing was a website called a Kehilalink on Radom, Poland that I created for Kehilalink means community and this is a virtual community for those who are researching their Jewish family roots from that town.  While the website was  a lot of work to set up, the pay off comes when I hear from people around the world who are traveling there or in some cases writing a book which features Radom. This email was from Georgia Hunter, a writer, who happened to be writing a book about her family's story which began in Radom.

She was intrigued by a photograph on the site and was curious about what kind of trees were in it. As luck would have it, I received the email as I was having lunch with a good friend of mine who is a survivor from that town.She quickly reached into her memory and reported that they were chestnut trees. I responded to Georgia and put her in direct contact with my friend Dora as well as with Jakub, a friend in Radom who knows its history well and ultimately showed her around when she visited. 

She was also tickled to discover an ad for her grandparents' store with its address. I remembered the painstaking process of cropping each image from an old phone book and linking each one to my listing of names. Her delight underscored why I made that effort. I, too, am excited when names suddenly become real people.

Well now I've just finished her book and I am doubly delighted that I could play any small part in her extraordinary effort. Her book is We Were the Lucky Ones and it traces her family members from Radom across the world during the war as they each seek their path to survival. So many stories are told within one family-from the Radom ghetto, to digging a grave in the killing fields, to Lviv under both German and Soviet control, Warsaw during its destruction, hiding as Christians with false papers, to the notorious Nazi prison in Krakow, shipped to the forests of Siberia to enlisting in the Polish army and serving in a famous battle in Italy. A child is hidden by nuns and parents hidden behind a false wall in a farmhouse outside Warsaw. This is a story writ large, filled with risk and answered with bravery, always surrounded with a deep love of family. The family is flung apart by war, occasionally reassembling in pieces, but often losing family members and uncertain of their survival for years. Ultimately the Red Cross plays an important role in reuniting them and when that happens you will share their tears of joy even though as a reader you have a peek behind the scenes.

This offered an added resonance because of my familiarity with the city. It is rare that I can so easily picture a city as history unfolds within it.  This is a debut book for Georgia and obviously an important story she needed to tell. Her skills as a writer and a compelling story make this a book well worth reading regardless of whether whether you have ties to Radom and a must read if you do. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

To Catch a Thief

When I was nineteen I got my first apartment. I had spent the year in the dorm  and when summer came I was not ready to yield my newly-won independence by returning home. I got a job and together with a friend found an apartment. We climbed the stairs to the second floor of a white house, facing a tree-lined street near the university, but its side bordering a busy commercial corridor. I,too, was similarly situated, at the crossroads between my cloistered college world and the larger world. Each day I caught a bus to my job across town at an insurance agency. I felt very grown up. Looking back, I cheer myself on across the decades, marveling at my youthful clarity as I began to shape my life.

I remember that apartment in varying degrees of vividness.  My memory begins in the worn brown chair in the living room from which I watched the Watergate hearings. That was the epicenter. Memories spill out from that point, paling as they extend their tendrils like water. To the left of the chair was the kitchen, a largely useless room to me at that time in my life, so only lightly sketched in memory. A splotch of orange, perhaps a dish towel, colors the room.  It was not until a few years later that a boyfriend would teach me how to cook. From the living room the hall extended in front of me, linking the two bedrooms and the bathroom between.  I picture a claw footed tub, uncertain if my memory is embellishing. My memory is of institutional green bedroom walls, not an inviting place, save for that first taste of freedom it afforded.

It occurs to me that it is significant that my memory begins from that chair. Watergate was the obsession of that time and my first exposure to the seaminess that politics can offer. It is the only thing I ever recall watching on that TV. We had no cable TV, no CNN, no Facebook to share our reactions, no Internet; just me in the chair and that TV. It was a simpler world, but unseemly human behavior still was what drew our attention.

Next to the chair was a bowl of nuts, my fuel for the Watergate viewing. Each morning I would find it emptied and a trail of shells nearby. One day I caught a glimpse of a bushy squirrel tail as it slipped out the window through a narrow and barely visible space next to the air conditioner. Our thief was revealed, a fitting parallel to the Watergate saga, closer than I had ever imagined. We'd been burgled.

Since that time, I have not been as engaged by political scandal; the glued to the TV, watching the swimmer, awaiting the shark variety. It’s the kind of impending doom that has ominous music playing in the background, just before the shark makes contact and blood fills the water.  

Now once again I am obsessed with the news, but this time in all its channels and Internet varieties, 24/7. I wake to the New York Times and Washington Post on my iPad and go to bed to PBS NewsHour. Even our entertainment is marinated in politics and serves to reassure us that we are not alone.  The highlights in our household are watching Stephen Colbert’s monologue and Saturday Night Live.There is no escape. My husband is similarly obsessed, perhaps even more so. While I am grateful that our view of the world aligns, it adds to an inability to escape this perpetual news cycle. It is a bit like trying to cut out sweets and having your husband bring home a box of chocolates. Even if I momentarily choose to tune politics out,  I am gradually lured by the drone of that nearby TV, beckoning me to hear what new horrors await. I feel as if my home has been invaded by something far more nefarious than my one time bushy-tailed burglar. This thief has taken our peace of mind, and our trust in many of our neighbors, our government and our country.

So many of us are united in our abhorrence  for what is unfolding. We can hear the ominous soundtrack and await the denouement of this horror show, praying that it comes before too much damage is incurred.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Taking a Catcation

"Do you have any trips planned?" I'm frequently asked.  "Not this year" I reply."We need to stay home for our cat." It is not unlike having an elderly parent who depends on you.

This is Simba's 21st year and he is on that downward slope. He used to execute the leap to our bed with a graceful arc, now I often hear the thump of his body as he slips back to earth, ungainly and embarrassed as I, the human elevator, lift him aloft.  He stalks around on the bed and then jumps off as if to say disdainfully, "I didn't want to be there anyway." My husband tells me it is all a ploy to lead me to his food bowl.

A much younger Marty with Max
Our animals live a long time. This is the last of our pets from the past twenty years. We "inherited" our animals from my stepdaughters. One contributed a dog, the other two cats. I think they decided their father needed a pet, which has some truth to it.

Our dog, Max, was a wire-haired terrier with attitude who wormed his way into my heart. I'm rather partial to attitude. He lived to seventeen, but only because when his hind legs gave out, my husband constructed a contraption that allowed him to move with the aid of lawnmower wheels and pvc pipe. Together with our grandson, he watched the movie Babe, watching for the scenes of Flealick, the disabled dog who likewise relied on wheels. Using that for inspiration and his own ingenuity, my husband figured out how to construct this doggie wheelchair.  I remember him adjusting it at our studio as Max nudged him in anticipation. As my husband released him, Max wheeled out the door and down the hallway delighted to be able to move once again. It gladdened our hearts to watch him. 

The night Max died, my husband dreamed of him walking down the stairs. He incredulously thought, "He can't do that!" I am convinced that was the moment of Max's departure.  I still thrill at sightings of wire-haired terriers and have been known to chase people down to admire their pup.

Our cats came to us as a package, originally on loan when my stepdaughter was selling her house, but we knew them for years before they joined our household. We first met Simba as a small kitten when my step-daughter picked us up at the airport from our first overseas trip together. It was the Fourth of July 1996 as this little ball of orange fluff first meowed at us demanding our attention. He's never stopped since.

Simba and Kitters cuddling
His compatriot, Kitters, had black and white markings that emphasized the elegant structure of his face, while Simba as his name indicates is quite lion-like in his orange glory. Kitters was the elder and the alpha cat. He had the most attitude so I resonated with him. Simba was needy, more dog-like. He used to chase a stuffed fish down the stairs and play fetch and he was most happy when situated on your lap. I wasn't good at staying still so he quickly became my husband's cat.

Kitters lived for 22 years and that last year was difficult. My husband speaks cat pretty well. He has a natural empathy for animals and tries to put himself in their paws as he considers why they aren't eating or using the litter box properly. He factors in their sense of dignity as a behavioral influence which I always find quite touching. Soon we had a makeshift litter box without sides so the cat could easily enter and wouldn't run the risk of falling. Near the end when Kitters was having difficulty getting up, Simba lifted him with his mouth like a mother cat with a kitten. 

Now this is the point where most people grapple with a hard decision. We told ourselves we were going to the vet to get her perspective and to assess whether he was in pain.  We invited my husband's daughter to join us as he was once her cat.  The vet confirmed that Kitters was in pain and told us we could take him home to say goodby and come back when we were ready. My husband and I were both ready to hightail it out the door, the cat in our arms and never come back, when my step-daughter said, "I think it's time."  We meekly followed her lead, respecting her knowledge as a nurse in making this difficult decision that we felt so cowed by. For a long time afterwards I could feel Kitter's weight in my arms. It was harder than I had ever imagined, not on him, but on us.

We were not the only ones missing Kitters. He had been Simba's companion for 17 years. They used to curl up like yin and yang. Now we became Simba's companions, his surrogate cats. His loneliness was palpable. We cuddled him and played with him, trying to fill the void in his life, and ours.

Now almost four years have passed. We have all aged a bit, but four years in cat years is a much more substantial time. Now we cut blood pressure pills in quarters for Simba, sprinkle medicine on his food and give him eye drops. He often can be found under the covers between us, his favorite spot. He doesn't like when we are gone for a whole day. He makes his displeasure known by leaving us little "presents" upon our return. He can't walk a straight line, doesn't see or hear well and finds comfort in our familiar presence.

Master catnappers
My husband once vowed he didn't want a pet that wouldn't outlive him, restricting us to turtles and elephants. I believe he feels that, but not that he can act on that feeling. He is a person who loves and needs animals so I suspect there will be more animals in our future.

It is amazing how central animals become in our life, this living, breathing being for whom we are responsible. We often talk for our cat and write story lines around his behaviors. We know his personality well as he no doubt knows ours. Now in his elder years we still can recall that youthful kitten who first meowed at us to the pop of firecrackers so long ago.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Prancing on the High Wire

I was never very good at improv. Many years ago in high school I took debate. I remember it was fifth period, right after lunch. I used to be terrified of getting up in front of people.  That meant I couldn't eat on a queasy stomach so would forgo lunch on debate days. 

I compensated for my fear by preparation. I considered every possible argument and my response, then their response to my response and my response to their response for several iterations. I remember index cards filled with facts. Despite the stress, I was good. My debate teacher wanted me to try out for the debate team.  I declined, knowing what it would cost me in both stress and missed meals. The one thing my strategy of preparation didn't work for was improv.  Periodically the teacher would throw us under the spotlight as he lobbed an unexpected prompt and expected us to think on our feet. I froze, the proverbial deer in the headlights. It required spontaneity and that wasn't my skill set.

I have gotten through much of my life on preparation. I was the girl who did her homework, always well in advance of the due date. Preparation takes you a long way. When I used to travel in my job I would not only plan the content for my calls on clients, but also plot my path from one appointment to another, always prepared. I was never one to brazen my way through what I didn't know. I studied and acquired knowledge, making sure I knew that of which I spoke. I considered it a virtue of sorts.

I do not like surprises. They force me to respond in real time. A friend of mine is a glider pilot. He used to talk about how in flight you had to learn how to react in the moment, in real time. I knew I would crash in real time, frozen in fear, and avoided those situations that called on split-second timing.

 In recent years I have delved into new arenas and learned many new skills, often through the process of inquiry. I ask people what I don't know. I study from life and knit together new information that allows me to perform on new turf. Oddly enough as I've learned to respond to the unknown, even if not in real time, my relationship with improv seems to have changed.

I still prepare, especially when I do public speaking. I prepare until it is effortless, until I know it so well that my delivery seems truly spontaneous. More than seems, it actually is spontaneous which I know seems contradictory. It isn't memorized, it is integrated into my wiring. I've gotten over my fear of being in front of people and actually often relish it.

Recently I was giving a talk, a genealogy talk on the theme of solving puzzles. Now I've often said that what unites all the disparate things that I do is they all involve solving puzzles and telling stories. In this talk I began with the hypothesis that genealogists like to solve puzzles and that often extends to such games as Words With Friends. In fact many of the principles we employ in WWF also apply to genealogy. I outlined those parallels and then moved into some stories of actual puzzles and the process of solving them.

I had created a presentation with many images. A friend had given a talk prior, using a flash drive on my computer, and when it was my turn to speak we had a quick change off. I do my talks without notes, my presentation reminding me of where I'm going. The first few slides went smoothly and I had settled into a comfortable speaking rhythm when something strange occurred. An expected image failed to appear. I moved my slides forward and horrified realized that all of my images had fled the slides. Now some elements remained; text boxes summarized information that was now gone, circles around information on an image that had now gone missing and that all important header was there, tipping me off to something that had once occupied the page. It was as if my images had flung their clothes about, then run out the door in haste. Hats and scarves left behind announced the occupant who had been there just moments earlier. Suddenly I was in that real time I had so dreaded.

I contemplated rebooting my computer in the hope that it would resolve, but hesitated to take the time from the narrow window which remained. Every second seemed extended as my audience awaited my decision. I looked at them looking back at me. I felt a bit light-headed, unsure how this would play out.Then in a moment of resolve I decided to do the presentation without images. An odd thought popped into my head. "This could be interesting. I wonder if I can puzzle it out as I talk about it." It was a game of wits, a test of my mettle as slides appeared like soup cans missing labels.  Something in me eased, the release that comes from committing to a path. Could I brazen through this, prancing on that high wire without plunging?

Adrenalin can carry you a long way, weaving a safety net that holds you in its embrace. 
Sheer energy can mask the underlying panic and keep you moving. It doesn't hurt to have prepared so much you can do it without notes. I looked at each slide trying to remember that missing information, telling them what the red circle had once circled and looking for clues to my story.

It is only now as I write this that I realize how appropriate this experience was to the topic,  a puzzle on puzzles. I am also a bit amazed at how far I have come with impromptu performance,for it is indeed a performance. Now I certainly wouldn't seek that experience out, but I learned something about my own capabilities. I am learning to trust my ability to grapple with the unknown as it arises when I least expect it.

And if you are interested in that presentation with images, you can find it here.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Letter to Self

It has been slightly over ten years since I gave up a regular paycheck.  After a number of years of consulting, I gradually wound it down and settled into what I guess you would call semi-retirement, basically I recreated myself. It has proven to be a very fruitful time in my life, devoted to meaningful work of my choosing. My work now consists of genealogy consulting, writing, artwork and public speaking, but I do it on my schedule and on my terms. Awhile back in this blog,  I wrote a letter to my 22 year old self, telling the then me what I would later learn in life. Then I was on the threshold of my work life. It occurs to me that there are many times in our life where we could benefit from a word from our future self. So with that in mind, I offer a letter to my 52 year old self, the age I was when I was considering taking the plunge of leaving my job. It was a decision accompanied by some trepidation.  

Dear Self,
Life is good from where I sit.  To get there you are going to have to learn to let go, be open to the unknown and let life unfold, all things at which you are not very good. Don't worry, you'll learn and the rewards are great. You've done a good job of preparing for your future.  The hard thing is knowing when to say "It's time," to let go of titles and paychecks and start to reinvent yourself.  It takes a while to let go of the idea of a paycheck, even when it is more psychological than necessary. If you can't go cold turkey, either because you need the income or merely think you do, do some consulting or part-time work. You'll know when you are ready to let go. When you get a call on a project, ask them to describe it. If it interests you, you will know. You will start wrapping your brain around it, considering how you would tackle it. You will feel a zing. When there is no zing, it will be time to move on.  

But what about income you ask? You forget, I know you, you are a bit of a worrier, a belt and suspenders type. The savings you socked away and a lifetime of living within your means will pay off. By the time the zing is gone you will have learned to trust the time value of money. It really does grow, that's not just theory you know, even if market shocks cause it to drop precipitously now and then.  Just a heads up, it will tank right after you leave your job.  Yep, you'll be examining your portfolio every time the market dips that first year. Relax, everything will be fine. Just stay diversified and live modestly. 

Now you can begin to fully take control of your life and your time. When you are still consulting, you are always attuned to work emails and not fully attuned to yourself. When you leave that behind,you will start by settling into your natural rhythms. You've always been a night owl by nature so pretty soon you'll be pushing lights out to 2 AM, reading well into the wee hours of morning, just because you can.

As a result you will ban morning meetings before 10 AM, yet another reason to reject consulting jobs where they want you in the office in the morning.  If you're invited to serve on a board that meets over breakfast you will coyly tell them that it won't work for you as it sounds slightly impolite to say "I don't do morning meetings" to someone who doesn't have the luxury of that choice.

When the world turns topsy-turvy, you will get involved politically, stating your opinions freely on social media and in your blog. Oh almost forgot, you will join Facebook in 2008 and begin a blog in 2009. I'll explain later what those are, suffice it to say that you are more public than you ever imagined.  Anyway, it will dawn on you one day that you would have felt a bit uneasy being so open about what you thought when you were receiving a paycheck. When you had a work persona you were more careful about expressing political views, even though they tended to leak out around the edges. You were never very good at hiding what you thought. Now you will find that it feels freeing to be open about who you are and what you believe.

You will rediscover a sense of possibility. You remember when you were first starting in your career, how you always felt such a sense of anything can happen, as if opportunities lurked just around the corner. The world felt like a magical place and you discovered your ability to create something from nothing. It was exhilarating. Along the way, that got tamped down. That sense of adventure began to wane as you were called on to perform specific functions. Creativity wasn't the priority and you discovered that a well-paying job, while it has its rewards, doesn't encourage you to use all your talents. You began to wonder if that early creativity was still there. Happily you will discover it is. Your sense of possibility will be reawakened and you will feel re-energized.

Sometimes you will hear of different careers that sound interesting. You will think for a moment "I could go into that!" Then you'll remember that you've already done the career thing and typical careers eliminate flexibility in your life. That of course doesn't mean you can't dive into something new. You can be a writer or an artist or a genealogy consultant or a public speaker or any number of flexible roles. In fact you'll begin all of those paths, sometimes amping up an existing activity, sometimes discovering a whole new direction. Often you will be surprised to discover new abilities you didn't know you had. You will feel freer to experiment with new things because you have nothing to lose, no perch in a corporate hierarchy to preserve. 

You've always done a lot of volunteer work. Now you choose your commitments carefully, engaging in things that have meaning to you and where you can use the skills you enjoy using. If things don't meet that test, you bow out or take a pass. One day you look at your involvements and realize they accurately reflect your interests and values.

You will be surprised to discover many avenues to creating new friends, every interest has a community that accompanies it.  You will be out in many different circles and accumulate new friends easily, friends who share your interests, not just your career path. Writing and speaking publicly introduces you to people you might never have met otherwise.

Now the bad news, that study or closet that you've always figured you'd clean up when you had time. Not going to happen. Stop pretending. Just because you have more flexible time, doesn't mean you will commit it to things you don't like doing. Oh you might do a bit around the edges, enough to hold the chaos at bay, but when you've successfully built your new life, you will much rather spend your time exploring it.

And yes, you are getting older. On a good day, one might say you look good for your age, always that damn qualifier.   All in all though, this is a pretty good time in your life, a growing time. You can almost hear the synapses snapping.

Your Future Self

Thursday, February 9, 2017

In My Family

Occasionally I reread past blog posts, a bit like one might reread a journal, for I have eight years of my life well documented in these pages.  I notice that in many of my posts, I say "in my family we..."

Value education,
Love words,
Write protest letters,
Have strong opinions,
Value creativity, 
Make use of failures,
Speak up...

All defined within the construct of a family, one which now has lost those two central people who created it.  Fortunately my sister had two daughters and so the family continues. My nieces were close to their grandparents and absorbed much of those underpinnings directly, as well as through my sister and perhaps a bit of me.

 I've also written about my grandparents who were immigrants and how that immigrant history informs my politics. Who we are doesn't spring out of nowhere. It is born in a family of beliefs, in a family of experiences that are passed down to us and within a heritage and cultural history. It is one of the most important things we get from family.  Whether we concur or rebel, it influences our world view.

Some of us grow up in a religious tradition that influences our perspective. Mine was as a Reform Jew and it echoed and supported the beliefs of my family, one grounded in questioning and challenging, in speaking up for what we believe is right.  That perspective is
My niece's cape at the DC Women's March
often the wellspring of creativity.  Questioning allows us to see the world through fresh eyes.

We also grow up in a community.  I grew up in downstate Illinois in what was a pretty conservative area. Sometimes we define who we are in opposition. I found little to rebel against in my family's belief system, but I did define myself in opposition to the politics around me. In high school I used to work in political campaigns to meet people who thought like I did. My candidates invariably lost.

We each have a story defined by family, religion, community and our life experiences. We also absorb the experiences of our family as if by osmosis, not always realizing the source, but absorbing the message.  As a reader I have always valued story, it is the focus of my artwork and my writing.  

I've been working on a project for many years that grew out of interviews with Jewish elders. It has grown from interviews to artwork to public speaking and hopefully in time will be available in a book.This project has been important to me because I think it is important to acknowledge and understand the history that defines who we are, that underlies our beliefs which in turn feed our actions. Family history tends to become important to people as they age and begin to lose the people who embodied that history, but even if we don't take that deep dive into family history research, it is important to share our family stories and their embedded values with children and grandchildren. As I explored questions around family history, I ran across the research by Marshall Duke and his colleague Robyn Fivush.  They work within Emory University's Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life and have found that young people who know about their family history have more effective skills in dealing with life challenges. They call this awareness our "intergenerational self." For this reason alone we all need to be family storytellers, linking past to present and ultimately to future.

But it is not just about the next generation. We also need to remember our stories ourselves, to keep ourselves centered in challenging times, to remember the values and traditions from which we come and to act in ways that are consistent with that which is integral to who we are. In this time of turmoil, I take a deep breath and remind myself, "In my family we value education, we value creativity, we write protest letters, we have strong opinions, we speak up ..." 

*Text on cape: My Great-Grandma Immigrated, so my Grandma could Learn so my Mom could Work, so I can March so my nephews will see women as Equals

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What Does Democracy Look Like?

I am not a protester by nature. Well that's not strictly true. I have strong opinions and I don't hold them back.  I prefer to do it with the written word from the comfort of my home, allowing me to be thoughtful in my approach. In real time, I can be a bit of a hothead. Most of the time my Midwestern roots kick in and I bite my tongue. Still my husband has watched me nervously in airports when I've not been happy about how things were unfolding, worrying a bit that I might push my displeasure too far.

Part of my aversion to "in the streets protesting" is that I don't like crowds. It is not just the discomfort of crowds.  I don't quite trust a crowd mentality, on the left any more than on the right. I prefer nuanced well-thought-out and articulated ideas and those come from a different channel. In today’s environment, I am rethinking my resistance to crowds and protest. 

After the election when we both were deeply distressed, my husband did a lot of preaching to the choir. That's me. Fortunately, we share the same views and the same distress. I kept saying, "We should all be out in the streets!" This choir was ready to sing, albeit a tad off key. My crowd aversion was quickly forgotten. When things are so wrong, my instinct is to take to the streets to declare it.

It was a small step from that sentiment to attending the Women's March in DC and that caused me to reassess my crowd aversion. It was a joyous and inclusive crowd, driven by the same instinctive awareness of wrongness that drove me. There is a time to take to the streets and this is it. Marching to the chant of "Tell me what Democracy looks like.  This is what Democracy looks like" felt absolutely right deep inside.  I chanted with fervor, believing those words. I believe in democracy and inclusiveness and yes, kindness.  Those are the things for which I am comfortable protesting.

You know it's bad when Ole and Lena protest
You know it's bad when Sven and Ole protest
The action against immigrants and refugees upset me more than anything prior and between choice, health care and the environment, that is saying a lot.  I think it is because we can clearly see the impact on people. To me, it feels personal. My grandparents were immigrants and fortunate to have immigrated in the early 1900s. Had they waited until the middle of the century, they would likely not have escaped. Jews were not welcome in the United States and many were turned away and sent to their death. Many of my family did not make it out. With fifty family members murdered in the Holocaust, I am well aware that in another time, I could easily have been trapped on the other side. I also realize that it takes a certain comfort in one's safety and place in the world to challenge, to protest. I imagine that few of those detained felt that safety. For that reason, I have a responsibility to protest on their behalf.

Responsibility. That is a lot of what it boils down to.  Lately my husband and I have talked a lot about personal responsibility. We are fortunate to have flexible time and the financial ability to support causes that matter to us, to grab a flight to join a protest in DC or elsewhere. That underscores our responsibility and eliminates many of the excuses we are often prone to for not engaging.

This feels like a pivotal point and I have been trying to find the best ways to respond. When the news broke barring immigrants from seven Muslim countries, I wrote to my senators and congressman. My congressman, a conservative Republican, gets a steady stream of notes from me. He needs the most prodding. I gave money to the National Immigration Law Center, I signed a petition and posted information, all pretty small steps. 

I was greatly heartened however by the protests at the airports. There is something about showing up that feels important. It is how we say "This is not normal nor right".  Our biggest threat is if we allow these government actions to become the new normal, if we post on Facebook and then move on with our everyday lives. Protesting requires our bodies to follow through and there is something about that physical action that kicks the rest of us into motion.  It is the difference between a spectator sport and actually playing.

You know it's bad when Susan and Marty protest

The United States has not always inspired pride.There have been times when it was mired in isolationism and bigotry, much as is threatened today. I hope we can help our country be one of which we can be proud, but I know it takes critical mass and I can't make it happen by myself. So tonight, I did something about it.

My husband and I went to a political protest this evening.  We first stopped at our studio to make a sign, then joined at least 5000 people in downtown Minneapolis. When we first arrived, I spotted an artist friend. She told us that she had gone to the Women's March in St Paul, her first protest. Her friend commented that this evening was her first protest.  That is what I find remarkable. People who would normally never protest are stirred to action, so disturbed that they are taking to the streets. Tonight, I chanted loudly, half dancing down the streets of downtown, feeling the energy of the crowd and grateful for our shared passion. 

This is what Democracy looks like.