Re: Public

“Eighty percent of life is showing up.”
~ Woody Allen

“Show Up: Collage by Miss O’, June 2017

From the Middle English publique, from Anglo-French, from Latin publicus; akin to  Latin populus people

First Known Use: 14th century

(Source: Merriam-Webster online)

Back when we the aspiring wrote our first serious essays for public view in high school, one of our classmates would have the novel idea (novel for a 15-year-old) of opening the essay with a dictionary definition of a key word, such as “stream” or “consciousness,” say, to start off the proceedings. Other eager writers, deeply impressed, would then copy this technique, and at some point during the year, after reading dozens of such openings, your teacher would write in red on your essay, “You might try another approach.” Deflated, for you were really excited to try out your brilliant classmate’s technique for yourself, you nonetheless pushed yourself to find a unique way into the next essay. The same happens when we in the theater direct classic plays: We can’t repeat the same old formulas when approaching a classic, because what was old needs to feel new again: Artists look at a work by, say, Shakespeare, and ask themselves, Why this play? Why now? What could we do to bring it to life in the modern age, make it contemporary and meaningful to today’s theater-goer? Sometimes it works, this novel approach, and sometimes not so much, but one of the best things about art, even if done without easy success, and maybe especially then, is that it gets us, the public, talking about it.

So with all that in mind, and given the current controversy over the Public Theater’s production of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar in Shakespeare in the Park in New York City (and can I get a “Hail, Caesar”?), it seems a definition is in order. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary online, here are the definitions of public:

Definition of public

  1. 1a:  exposed to general view :  open b :  well-known,  prominent c :  perceptible,  material
  2. 2a:  of, relating to, or affecting all the people or the whole area of a nation or state public law b :  of or relating to a government c :  of, relating to, or being in the service of the community or nation
  3. 3a:  of or relating to people in general :  universal b :  general,  popular
  4. 4: of or relating to business or community interests as opposed to private affairs :  social
  5. 5: devoted to the general or national welfare :  humanitarian
  6. 6a:  accessible to or shared by all members of the community b :  capitalized in shares that can be freely traded on the open market —often used with go
  7. 7: supported by public funds and private contributions rather than by income from commercials public radio public television

Your Miss O’ here hasn’t seen the now internationally famous production (free and open to the public (see definition 3a) in Central Park, closing today as they prepare their next offering (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Melania as Titania; I kid! Ahem), but I did teach the play itself for all of my 15 years in public (see definitions 2a, 3a, 5, and 6a above) high schools, as an English teacher. The play has been taught nationally since the early 20th century, I learned, as a replacement for what used to be called Rhetoric, when public speaking (see definition 3a above) began disappearing from the school curriculum. Julius Caesar the play is, as was the man himself, fabulously political, which is often unwelcome in America lately because too many Citizens (or Plebians, in Caesar) aren’t terribly educated on the whole about civics (a Greek and Roman idea with a Latin root in the word). Schools, as we know, are competing with lots of stimuli from the public arena (see definition 1a above), and teachers more often than not are having “to fight to teach,” as Miss O’s colleague of many years, Mrs. Little, was often heard to say in the years before she retired.

So what is a public? What is a republic? And what do they have to do with a theater in New York City called The Public Theater? I read yesterday of all these protests attending the Public’s production, protests carried out by a public consisting of people who have probably not heard of the play outside of a vague memory of suffering through Mrs. Ayers’s triple-matching test one semester of their sophomore year of high school (I mean, what the hell?). Doubtless the protesters of the Public had never read the play with anything like understanding, let alone seen a live production, or even sat through the entire movie with Marlon Brando in the pivotal role of Marc Antony.

What they are missing—and what anyone up in arms (an idiom which was once quite literally about raising ones weapons) about this event is missing—is knowledge, both of the subject matter and the play. (One could say the same about most any public protest, for one should always know deeply the why of any protest.) It’s easy enough to Google both the man or the play in Wikipedia (and anyone reading this blog won’t need to, more than likely, which is the futility of writing blogs like this), but chances are that even still, most Americans probably know more lines from it than they realize:

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears…

…let slip the dogs of war…

Though last, not least in love… (“last but not least”)

Those might surprise you—these everyday things. Here are others, seen online:

Beware the ides of March.
(1.2.23), Soothsayer

Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!
(3.1.77), Cæsar

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Cæsar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.
(3.2.79-83), Antony

It was Greek to me.
(1.2.289), Casca

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
(2.2.34), Cæsar

This was the noblest Roman of them all.
(5.5.75), Antony

Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
(1.2.146-8), Cassius

This was the most unkindest cut of all.
(3.2.193), Antony

Let’s carve him as a dish fit for the gods. (“a dish fit for a king”)
(2.1.173), Brutus

Not that I loved Cæsar less, but that I loved Rome more.
(3.2.23), Brutus

What Julius Caesar is, though, beyond the quotes, is a fascinating study in the greed for power desired by a few men who would lay waste to the land, their institutions, and the people they would lead in order to attain more of it. It’s a study, too, in the use of language, of rhetoric, to not only persuade but also hoodwink a crowd with conspiracy theory, getting the crowd to do the looting, killing, and army work in order to feed the hunger of one man’s desire for power. In other words, it’s an instructive play, and it’s a hard play, and its themes are and remain universal across civilized societies everywhere. And it took me years to understand it and to love it. That is Shakespeare for you. That is life for you.

The Public and the Republic

Should you care to, there’s a solid Wikipedia article on the meaning of republic, and it’s worth a look at the history. At the time the play is set, and in real life, Julius Caesar was the head of the Roman Republic, which republic was an exercise in representative government that carries over to our American Democratic Republic today. At the time Shakespeare’s play begins, Caesar was about to be crowned emperor by the people, and the concern of the play is, and remains, our own concern today: Can we have representative government of the people with a king in charge, however idolized by the general populus? And is assassination (a word that first appears in print in Shakespeare) of the man who would be king ever the right choice? (Hint: No.) And why are crowds so easily manipulated and so goddamned fickle? The rise of Marc Antony is especially chilling. If you read nothing else, read Act III of the play: The assassination, the aftermath—ring leader (and yet noble) Brutus’s hasty act and unrehearsed speech, Antony’s vengeful use of that speech in his own rhetoric to turn the crowd to “mutiny”; and finally, the shocking turn of the grieving Antony into the gleeful victor as the crowds tear away on a killing spree: “Mischief thou art afoot. Take thou what course thou wilt.” In Act IV, he has his own nephew killed. And we and the people learn the hard way: Great a speaker as he is, devoted to Caesar as he is, Antony is really only loyal to Antony.

Coming Up Trumps

Yet another Shakespeare play resembles the present age of American politics: it’s Richard III, only with a president who is infinitely less intelligent if no less mentally unstable than Richard. But what the two have in common is a desperate need for power, accolades, and above all loyalty. Watch Al Pacino’s wonderful documentary and filmed version of scenes from the play, Looking for Richard, and you’ll see what I mean. And another Shakespeare play that comes to mind, in a painfully diminished form, is King Lear, where the old king divides his empire among his three children, demanding from each supplication and eternal devotion. And we all know how that turned out. Or we should—and it’s why education and the arts matter, matter, matter. Goddammit anyway. Because if you’d just read Shakespeare, you’d see that not only have we seen all this before, we saw it in language so far elevated above the National Tweet it makes your head do a Spicer spin. And yet Shakespeare might make some people feel, you know, stupid, or put down, because anyone can understand a tweet. And isn’t that all we need?

Going Public

 Julius Caesar can be read as a warning parable to those who try to fight for democracy by undemocratic means. 
To fight the tyrant does not mean imitating him.” – Oskar Eustis

Photo by Miss O’ from the Staten Island Ferry, June 2017

The Public Theater (see definitions 1-7 above) is a terrific institution (, if hit-or-miss in terms of quality, so that the same theater that gives you Hamilton and Fun Home also gives you David Byrne’s (“not ready for prime time at ALL” according to friends) Joan of Arc and, according to some reviews, this production of Julius Caesar (Read Oskar Eustis’s statement here: As to hit-or-miss: Who cares? Life is hit-or-miss (just ask our president and his two ex-wives, and probably his current wife, to say nothing of the business owners he screwed over), and unlike those folks who tell you “life is not a dress rehearsal,” Miss O’ would argue that life is ever that. It’s an experiment, and it requires engagement, adjustments, rethinking, and, sometimes, new costumes to keep up with the fashions of the times. It’s also worth remembering that, as Oscar Wilde said (pardon the cliché), “Fashion is a thing so hideous we are forced to change it every six months.” And most politicians, too, can and do become hideous—hence the need for term limits.

Speaking of term limits, most plays have a limited, and often terminal, run. Modern productions reinvent classic plays for a new age, and they, too, have a limited run. And this president, provided we don’t have an assassination attempt, a military coup, or war to end all wars, will also have a limited run. He’ll be sent packing, or will leave of his own accord to start up a TV network, or die of heart failure in office, or walk clumsily out after Inauguration in eight years, red necktie beating his face, as he heads to his gold-plated jet for rich living in his Tower till the end of his days. It’s a crapshoot, and yet we have to keep playing craps.

How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown?

~ Cassius to Brutus, Act III, scene i, Julius Caesar
Translation: Karma is a BITCH.

The personal is political, as the feminists say, and the political becomes personal, in the best and worst ways, depending on the will of a fickle public. I took a trip to Ireland in April and noticed that there really was a pub, or public house, on every corner, and it’s not hard to see why. We could use a drink. The Irish know that as well as anyone.

At Aggie’s Pub in Killea, Dunmore East, Ireland.

And a TRIP. Travel, for goodness sake. Travel. Get out of yourself. I can’t tell you how much better I felt about life, both during and after Ireland. Show up to life, sure, and then pay attention. And the more we, the people, can venture out and gather in public and LISTEN as well as protest, the better chance we’ll have to weather this latest political tempest. Ask Ireland about The Troubles, for crying out loud. This is nothing, I tell ya. And still we have to DO something about ours. So do that, and in a democratic way.


Sending love to all,

Miss O’

The Ring of Kerry, view, Ireland. It took the Irish 400 years to gain their independence from Britain, the empire that captured and subjugated everything and everyone, except the little island next door. These are my kind of people.









A Wing and a Prayer

Spy Planes

Outside my street-level bedroom window just now, I heard a man’s flat voice, and then a woman sobbing deeply, suddenly.

“Oh my God, I’m so scared,” she cried. I looked out the window. Do I get involved?

She was sitting in the passenger seat of an open-doored SUV, her chestnut hair thick and wavy, her skin smooth and olive; the man next to her only seen from the back, and barely, bobbing his grey-curled head, was fiddling around with something in the backseat, the backseat door open and between them. Her body was limp, heavy, head hanging. He said something, twice, about “the baby.” She turned to look toward him, and sobbed again.

Her sobs came in a rich voice, velvety and agonized, past which I heard his relentless, flat, hard words speaking over her cries in monotone, unemotional and relentless, without comfort or attention to her pain. Her sobs only deepened.

This, thought I to myself, is the near-complete story of Woman in the World of Man.

Collages in Progress, LO’H, NYC 2-18/19-17

“How the hell do I know why there were Nazis?
I don’t even know how the can opener works.”
~ Father of Woody Allen’s character Mickey Sacks, Hannah and Her Sisters

Family Trees

What makes women and men so different? An age old question.

Another age old question: What makes families so different? This sort of questioning is what happens when you reconnect to childhood memories on social media, and lately those connections have been made through politics almost exclusively.

Here’s yet a third age old question: What is the best way to be useful politically? Do you write a check, or do you throw your body at it?

I have several different memories of people around our neighborhood doing what was called “volunteering.” They led newspaper recycling drives, or, say, cleaned the litter from the corner acre lot with the wild stream and blackberry bushes where we kids played kickball and built forts and explored. I remember Mr. Scott from up the block stopping by our house one day during just such a clean-up effort, to ask for a jug of water, which my mom, Lynne, happily handed him—a glass container that had once held orange juice, a thing which people like my parents, who grew up during the Depression, saved for moments like this. Later, Mr. Scott stopped by to return it, with thanks. Because he grew up during the Depression, too.

As I brought the jug into the kitchen, which was a very short journey from the front door in our very small house, I asked my mom, “How come we never help with things like cleaning up or being on the PTA or doing newspaper drives?” And my mom regarded me through the blue haze of her ever-present Salem cigarette and said, “Honey, we don’t volunteer. We write checks.”

Knowing as I did how little money we had and how carefully my mom managed it, it seemed kind of crazy that we would “write checks,” but that’s what we did, five dollars here and there, when we had it. We carried old clothes and other items to the Salvation Army or the Good Will. But we didn’t get involved at the community level, not bodily. It just wasn’t us. I am still this way.


What the O’Haras did, though, was get to know new neighbors, person to person. White or black, poor or rich, a dozen kids from assorted fathers and mothers or a small traditional nuclear family, if you moved in within ten houses of us, we may not bring you a cake, exactly, but we waved from across the street. If we got a response, we—and I mean all of us, kids and parents, individually—would walk across the street and get to know you. We’d size you up, sure, while we told you the history of the house you were in. We welcomed you as one of our own, and this only stopped the first time you stole from us, and this happened often, and my mom would sit you down and explain to you, firmly but lovingly, that we could no longer trust you to be in our home, and she was deeply disappointed in you. “All you had to do was ask,” she’d remind you. And the door closed behind you forever. Though we still waved, asked how you were doing, and cared.

What the O’Haras also did, to borrow from poet Marge Piercy, was “dive into work head first.” Wherever we were—and I’m feeling a little Faulknerian narrating in the first person plural but it’s what I mean—and whoever you were, whether a stranger in the supermarket parking lot trying to put bags into your car, or a kid who dropped books in the hallway—we would, by instinct, reach out to help you. Many hands make light work. It’s no trouble. Glad to do it. Pay it forward. We do it with money, too. (My youngest brother, just last Christmas, bought a $25 gift card at Walmart after I’d checked out, and handed it to the harried-looking Hispanic woman behind us, laden with stuff, counting pennies. He simply said, “Merry Christmas,” and off we went.) It’s a way of being, is what I’m saying. When people ask us—and they do—why do you bother to help like that, we always ask, “How can you not?”

That said, as I said, we don’t volunteer to do community work. That’s where the Rachovs come in. The Rachov family (as I’ll call them) lived two streets over, five kids, one for every one of the O’Haras plus one, and we went to school with them all our lives, even into college. But while we knew them, and they were really nice, and Mrs. Rachov was easy to spot for her great height, her big smile, and her ever-present bandana covering her hair as she knocked on the door to collect newspapers for the annual drive, I remember them not being exactly approachable. As a family, they seemed sort of in love with each other, and we O’s were raised to be independent.

What got me thinking about them at all was that recently, by accident really, I reconnected with the oldest of the Rachov children on Facebook, a friend of a friend, a woman named Martina Benson. “I used to be Tina Rachov,” she wrote me. When I realized who she was, I admitted, “Your younger brother un-friended me a few years back.” In fact, that “friendship” with Kurt lasted about a week, his right-wing politics outraged by my crusade for voting rights (which outrage never ceases to amaze me in a democracy). Tina remarked, “Yeah, I have him blocked. And his oldest son. And my parents.” I wrote her what I remembered about her helpful family, and she said, sarcastically (as it turned out), “We were so warm and inclusive.” And it was then that I recalled that her mom’s ever-present smile was sort of dead-eyed when not directed toward her kids.

And that’s how all this got me thinking about the O’Haras, who, whatever our failings in terms of community involvement, always voted and always took in stray people who just didn’t know where to go. Until they stole from us, which they almost always did. The Rachovs, by contrast, gave to the community as a whole, but were not only insular but it turns out repelled by the individual people who made up their community. Growing up, Tina was always described by her brother Kurt as “the crazy one,” and he’d shake his head and smile sadly as we passed her walking alone down the road. Now I realize that however much the Rachovs modeled civic duty, it was crazy Tina, the oldest and a girl, who had an actual heart as well as awareness of and real kindness toward those who were different from her. Go know.

And yet, looking at what the O’s and R’s both accomplished, don’t we need both sorts of families, however crazy-making?


Right Wing Meets Left Wing

Don’t we need both a right wing and a left wing if a bird is to fly?

Politically speaking, what makes the right wing and the left wing so different? Shouldn’t we want the same things, to fly in the same direction, toward food, warmth, safety?

What I really wanted to write about today was the three beliefs/qualities/ethos that separate the right wing from the left wing on this big-ass bird we call The Republic. It’s pretty basic.

  1. Private vs. Public

a. The Right Wing: The right wing believes in legislating private morality, such as sexuality, reproductive rights, and the freedom to act on one’s personal biases based on race and sex, for example; and leaving the policing of public works and rights, such as air and water quality, land use, food supplies, and basic rights of citizenship, up to private corporate entities. The right believes that limited, exclusive, and private access to personal wealth is the only path to true freedom, and that there is no such thing as a social contract. Only by blocking social progress, limiting access to public help, and inhibiting the personal freedom of the lowest of society can man be truly free, and very rich.

b. The Left Wing: The left wing believes in legislating policies over things we all share, such as air, water, health care, and food supplies, as well as basic rights of citizenship and equality that allow us to have the freedom to pursue our happiness and not hold back the happiness of others. The left above all wants to make sure we all have equal access to all public works, including things as seemingly disparate as clean water and the arts. Public is public, and the left believes it is protecting the social contract that keeps all of us not only functioning but also aspiring to greater heights. The left wants everyone to feel they are invested in the society, money be damned.

   2. The Myth of the Level Playing Field vs. Sharing the Wealth

a. The Right Wing: The right knows that it’s a level playing field, that all humans are born with the same rights, wealth, opportunities, and living situations, and that it’s up to each of us to make the most of what God has given us. Someone on the right will never, ever be okay with lowering his or her standard of living even a little tiny bit (unless it’s by spontaneous personal giving) in order to help the less fortunate, because there is no such thing. Therefore, whatever God sees fit to deliver to you—whether it’s extreme poverty or huge wealth, disasters or benefits of weather or health, an abusive home or nurturing environment—it’s all one and the same. One man’s suffering is no one else’s business, and certainly not the government’s. And the wealthier you are, the more God has blessed you, and so the easier you should have it in terms of rules and regulations.

b. The Left Wing: The left knows that it’s never been a level playing field, and that whatever you have been handed was nothing you asked for. Therefore, if you were born into extreme poverty, abuse, neglect, or other extenuating circumstances, there’s no reason in a country as vastly wealthy as the United States for citizens not to give someone a little help, at our collective taxpayer expense. A person on the left is always willing to lower his or her standard of living a little bit to help the least fortunate among us, because we know that at any moment, we could be in the same situation. God has nothing to do with it.

   3. Secular Government vs. Religious Government

a. The Right Wing: The right places personal religious belief at the center of their governed lives and policies. That religion may be Christianity or Corporate Capitalism, but it is never Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or Other. In keeping with this placement of religion in their lives, the right believes it has the right to Play God, choosing who should live or die and how, whether at the hands of weapons, a lethal injection, or inside a woman’s womb. The right is very comfortable assuming the role and judgment of God.

b. The Left Wing: The left places empirical knowledge, including science, history, journalism, arts, and debate, at the center of their governed lives and policies. This placement does not preclude religious belief, but religion does not play a role in governing beyond belief in the freedom to practice that religion. The left, caught in that curious mix of human limitation, human responsibility, and openness to the unknowable, does not feel it has the right to assume the role of God, and does not feel comfortable choosing for others who has the right to live and who should die, and therefore wishes to prevent, through legislation, those would do violence to others via weapons, lethal injection, or preventing a woman from owning her own womb and body (any decision about which is between a woman and her god and her doctor), and those who would carry out private violence.

So you see the problem. Ain’t no way this bird can fly.

Straighten Up and Fly Right

The buzzard took the monkey for a ride in the air,
The monkey thought that ev’rything was on the square,
The buzzard tried to throw the monkey off his back,
The monkey grabbed his neck and said, “Now, listen, Jack,
Straighten up and fly right, straighten up and fly right,
Straighten up and fly right, cool down papa, don’t you blow your top.
Ain’t no use in divin’. What’s the use of jivin’?
Straighten up and fly right, cool down papa, don’t you blow your top.”
The buzzard told the monkey, “You’re choking me.
Release your hold and I’ll set you free.”
The monkey looked the buzzard right dead in the eye and said,
“Your story’s touching, but is sounds like a lie.”
Straighten up and fly right, straighten up and stay right,
Straighten up and fly right, cool down papa, don’t you blow your top.
~ Nat King Cole, “Straighten Up and Fly Right”

Different though the right wing is from the left wing, we are stuck to the body of one bird—this earth, this nation—and if the screaming eagle crashes into a glass ceiling or the rising sea or the shiny grill of an oncoming SUV, it’s because the right wing willfully denies and obstructs the talents and directional role of the left wing.

There used to be a time when you could say, “Hey, it’s BOTH wings,” but those days are gone. They began ending when Newt Gingrich took out a contract on America, and when the entire Republican Party made it its business to shut that whole thing down, that “thing” being government of, by, and for the People, and culminated in the election of Donald J. Trump, a president right out of Mad Magazine or a Marx Brothers movie.

There’s no denying the interrelationships among the right’s treatment of women, treatment of blacks, treatment of indigenous people, immigrants, and those of faiths beyond Christianity, treatment of the poor, and its treatment of the Constitution. The struggle toward a more perfect union is, for the right, answered in dissolution and apocalypse—an annihilation of their own creation. The ultimate Endgame. They cultivate the ignorant, whip them into a frenzy around a cult of personality, and set about “winning” through the destruction of such basic rights as access to free speech, access to voting, access to citizenship, equal rights for all citizens regardless of race or gender or religion, access to economic opportunity, and the right to an unpolluted natural world.

The left wants you to have equal access to affordable healthcare, jobs, citizenship rights, clean air and water, and education in a safe, secure, and inclusive nation. That’s about it.

Seriously. There’s no comparison between the two wings. Sure, the left wing is dull as ditchwater, but that ditchwater is potable, and if you need a ditch dug, they’ll help you dig that ditch.

All the feathers that cover the body of a bird make flight possible. When, say, a virus causes the bird to shed feathers of one entire wing, the bird goes nowhere but down. How far do you want me to stretch this analogy?


Hope Is the Thing with Feathers

The other week on the 7 Train here in Queens, where I live, I got on a car and sat next to an old man with a large head, shoulders bent over as his fingers, with deeply dirty nails, who reached into a cellophane bag for sunflower seeds in the shells. He’d crack, open, extract, chew the seed, and discard the shells under his seat. I judged this. A glance at his parka and pants and shoes suggested he was not probably homeless, and tufts of hair in her ears notwithstanding, his thick grey hair was washed and he was clean, except for the nails. A laborer. His eyes, when his head turned in a shell-crack moment, were large and crinkly and kind looking. I returned to my book. So the ride went. Then halfway in the tunnel, he began to sing quite happily, openly, in a language I didn’t recognize—somewhere between Greek and Italian or Polish—and his singing was so rich and gentle and natural, one let it go, the way people do in New York. But still, you wonder. Then a young woman who was standing opposite him came over to stand next to him and said, “Are you Armenian?”

He stopped singing, and looked up, “Yes! Are you?”

She said, “My parents are. I recognized the language. I think I’ve heard that song.”

He said, “It’s my birthday.”

“Happy birthday,” the young woman said.

I turned toward him for the first time and said, “Happy birthday!” Then, “It’s my mother’s birthday, too.”

“It is?” the old man said. “Happy birthday to your mom!”

Just then we approached Grand Central Station, and he stood up with his bag and looked sheepishly under his seat. “I make a mess. But it’s my birthday.”

The young woman reassured him, “Don’t worry, they sweep it out at 34th Street.”

And off he went, smiling. I stood up to await the next stop. As the train moved on, I caught the eye of the young woman and told her, “Thanks for that. This is why I live in New York.”

She nodded, smiled. “That’s why I moved here.”

There is no greater freedom than having the freedom to move toward the pursuit of happiness.

If your personal happiness depends upon the destruction of other people who have never wished you harm, you are a problem.

But now, in an ironic twist, my personal happiness depends upon the destruction of an entire political party whose sole purpose is to destroy my happiness.

But we come at this impasse from different angles: The right wing thinks they have the right to stop the old Armenian man from eating sunflower seeds and singing on the 7 Train because it’s fucking annoying, and also he should be deported; whereas the left wing recognizes the old Armenian man as a person with eccentricities who, when not merely tolerated but engaged, turns out to be a delightful human to know, his deeply dirty nails revealing, with some imagination, his history of laboring to live in and serve this country.

It used to be I only got involved with people on a personal level, as on the train back there, and that I didn’t get involved at the community level, at least not bodily. It just wasn’t me. I am still this way. Except on January 21, when I did the Women’s March in New York City. It felt good. I’ve done it several times since.

Miss O’ (right) with activist friend Colleen at the Women’s March, NYC, 1-21-17

What I’m saying is, people can change. If Miss O’ can change, the world can change.

So America: Make an effort. Talk to your neighbor AND throw your body at the problems. Mend these broken wings so we can take off like a big-ass bird.

And don’t be afraid if the pilots turn out to be a couple of women and an old Armenian man riding a train in New York. Indeed, the world should be so lucky.


Read Us Like a Book

Today is Martin Luther King Day, and I am home with a holiday from work, able to write because of this great loss of life. So let us begin with him:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

61st St. Station, Woodside, Queens. Photo by Miss O’

“Never are voices so beautiful as on a winter’s evening, when dusk almost hides the body, and they seem to issue from nothingness with a note of intimacy seldom heard by day.”

~ Virginia Woolf, Night and Day

Public Theater

The other night, Friday, I went to the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival’s presentation of Lula Del Ray by Manual Cinema based in Chicago. Such an unusual and simple story—an adolescent girl living with her mom in a trailer in the desert in the 1960s at the time of the space launch—but its chief feature was that it was performed live, with musicians, actors, technicians, and overhead projectors. Remember those? Miss O’ used them as a teacher nearly every day. The result of the layered images and slowness and music was that you experienced a whole interior world, so that each moment—from swinging feet while sitting on a rock ledge, to sleeping in a hammock, to listening to a record of two young country stars—became significant.

Public Theater. Photo by Miss O’

Before the show, sitting in the Martinson Theater at the Public with friends Heather and Bettina, we began talking politics, and I railed about the week’s events, including the votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which many Americans know as Obamacare, but don’t realize they are one and the same. So vociferous did I become, an older woman in front of me turned around, and I said, out loud to myself, “Lisa, shut up, you’re in a theater about to see a nice show, so please, just STOP with the politics!” And I laughed. I leaned down to the woman and said, “I am so sorry,” and she said, “I was just thinking that this is the conversation I have with my friends all the time.”

Taking moments to breathe: So important. Before the show, I’d picked up a turkey and brie Panini at a deli called Bully’s on Broadway, and had leaned against the Public’s stone facade to eat it. Outside in the chill dusk, staring into the buildings across the street, all that glorious architecture, made me calm but also inquisitive, contemplative. In one of the tall bright windows sat a slender young-looking woman in a sweater, short hair, bent over a desk, who appeared to be drawing. She did this steadily the whole time I chewed, slowly, bite after bite. New York is full of lives, millions of them, behind facades both material and emotional, working out things we can’t even imagine. Sometimes it’s nice to sit and contemplate only one of them, and I found it restful.

And as I write this I realize that my observation, of what was a kind of silhouette of a moment in a stranger’s life, was very much like seeing Lula Del Ray, and there was both emotional connection and distance, both cogitation and peace in each act. And this theater piece had something else: Romance—the romance of the desert, of being young, of listening to records, of space flight and flights of imagination. Also disillusionment, followed by, you know, growth. I miss romance. Thank goodness for books.

The gift of books from friend Tom Corbin.

Writers Resist: Louder Together


~ Protest sign at PEN rally, January 15, 2017

So in this most UN-romantic of times in America, I want to write about “Writers Resist: Louder Together,” the PEN Rally for Free Expression I attended at the New York Public Library, one of many set for Sunday, January 15, 2017, at libraries across the country, but I can’t stop laughing to think of it. Before I explain, let me say that PEN is a great professional writers’ organization, and while I’ve never been a member, it’s famous for a lot of great work to do with the freedom of ideas. It’s expensive to join for most people, given that unless you can fully participate, and who has time, it acts essentially a charity to promote literacy for other people, a charity about which almost no one will ever hear, which says so much that is ill about this nation. And given how powerful PEN might be at time when President-elect Trump is talking about removing the White House Press Room, the disappointment I felt—no, the agitation and annoyance I experienced at this PEN event—were couched in irony.

First off, you should know that the vast majority of writers in the world are not speakers—neither are most people, but at least writers use words for a living. Writers are introverts, for the most part, so you see where this is going. They are more than a little freaked out by crowds. Volunteers at the event were not, therefore, really “people” people, so would ask us, either sheepishly or with irritation, “Are you a speaker? No? Then you need to be over there; this area is for speakers.” (I placed a semicolon in that last sentence because I do think writers would think of their speaking in terms of punctuation.)

So what did the organizers do with their speakers at this big RALLY FOR FREE EXPRESSION? Did they open with, say, a rousing contemporary song about the world today, sung by someone interesting in terms of body and background? No. They opened (one imagines to establish patriotism, however unimaginatively) with “The Star-Spangled Banner,” sung by a slender young white soprano with long blonde hair. You can’t make this up. Was the first speaker a rousing, stirring voice of a generation? No, it was long-lived Rep. Jerry Nadler, from Congress, greeting us on the plaza (this placement making it hard to see him) with a flat, well meant, and staggeringly rote commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as a kind of invocation, but the sound system made it hard to hear him. Did PEN then have the speakers speak from the microphones placed high on the steps? Nope. Each speaker spoke from what appeared to be (at best glimpse) a handheld mike on the plaza level, where only a few dozen could get a view. I sighed as I stood in a small puddle, getting shoved by short old women in interesting hats trying to get a better view. Everyone around me was white. Everyone as far as my eye could see seemed to be white, until I saw two Asian women, one old, one young, to my right. Some clapping happened. Did any speaker within the first fifteen minutes of the event deliver a rousing call to demonstrate that “the pen is mightier than the sword” and that our voices together made us louder and stronger, and tell us this from high up? I must say no. No one around me could hear or see him/her/it, whenever. The crowd, with no trace of irony given the title of the event, kept crying, “Louder!” And no one in authority heard them.

Miss O’ resists…screaming.

Was there anything amazing after the first fifteen minutes? I couldn’t tell you. I left the plaza and this surreal event and started walking up Fifth Avenue, muttering, “This is idiotic,” when I heard two white (of course) women about my age in front of me, talking good-naturedly about how they couldn’t hear anything and had decided to leave. I touched one on the arm. “Forgive me, but I couldn’t help overhearing, and I feel the same way.”

I went on as we paused there on the sidewalk, “I’m a theater person. How on earth can a group of introverts, one speaker more decrepit and whispery than the last, hold a rally? Why aren’t they talking from the top of the steps? Where was the big opener?” Here I mimed a cigarette and a New York rasp, “What they need is a director!” The women laughed, agreed, and at least this moment of communion felt real. I headed toward the subway steps at Bryant Park, contemplating my next move, when I heard the women laughing again, in agreement, repeating what I’d said. I felt a little bad, because here a great organization planned a vital rally, and all I could do was criticize. I don’t need Bread and Circuses (and this week I read that circuses are, finally, going the way of the vaudeville), but I expected ENERGY, and words expressed as ART, at a rally like this. It was strange. And, unlike the teeming world of the surrounding sidewalks, so, so, white.

In a quiet, internal response to all this, I, appropriately enough, found myself reciting Brooklyn-born poet Walt Whitman:

When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer


When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

F Train

Maybe I just needed to go and find my own voice for a while. So at Bryant Park I picked up the downtown F Train to 2nd Avenue and walked around the East Village, because that area of the city helps me think. It’s where I’ve always felt the most “at home” in New York, though I couldn’t tell you why.

Photo by Miss O’

Something about the age of the city, the low-rise buildings, and bars and cafes and unexpected historical plaques; all the theater on E. 4th Street, from La Mama to KGB Bar and the Kraine, to the acclaimed New York Theater Workshop. I always sort of dream I’ll have a show in one of those places.

Back on Houston St., when I first got off the F Train, I’d stopped for a hot knish from a real deal Jewish deli before I’d wandered to E. 4th St. I had the bag in my hand when I made my way to Swift, a Hibernian pub (for the second time in as many days, since it’s not far from the Public), where a cracked-leather covered stool in an empty corner by the window allowed me to sneakily eat my contraband knish with a pint of Smithwick’s, and enjoy the light of the window to read more from Patti Smith’s simply lovely book, M Train. From this book (M is for mind) I’ve learned that this revolutionary rocker, fashion icon, iconoclast, and artistic legend has, over her life, wanted nothing more dreamily than to open her own café. These dreams of the simple and communal are not unusual, but they can be surprising in spectacular geniuses. A poet friend—perhaps the greatest living poet that almost no one knows about, Jean LeBlanc—would love nothing better than to have a little shop that sold original arts and crafts and other neat stuff, where she could write more poems as I looked out for shoplifters. We want that blend of society and solitude, the warmth of handmade things, and fresh, warm beverages. Sure, it’s cheaper to make coffee at home, or buy a six-pack of IPO, or eschew material possessions for asceticism, but where’s the romance in choices like that? And, boy, do we need a rebirth of romance.

At Swift, E. 4th St. Photo by Miss O’

Something Curious

This week, as Onion-esque and Kafkaesque as it may seem, Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. Rallies are scheduled, marches are happening across the country, and it’s all totally uncertain as to where this country is headed. And as horrified and depressed as I’ve been over the results of this election, I have to admit a curious thing:

I haven’t felt so alive to myself in my adulthood, as I do now, since the first summer I spent, at age 26, at the Bread Loaf School of English, my first summer of a five-summer graduate program. I’m 52, twice that age, and in having something to so clearly fight against, that my own values and morals, my ethos, my art, my friends and their safety—even the everyday sights of New York City—are at stake, my senses have been sharpened by the prospect of horrors to come, as a broadsword by a whetstone. I hope my pen proves mightier than any sword, or sling and arrow for that matter, from this sociopathic right wing. I tend to doubt it, but one must try.

 Burst Your Bubble

To white Christian America, the original bubble people, who ironically think that all of us who move to the Big City are in a bubble, when in fact we’ve BURST our bubbles to reinvent our lives and connect to disparate humans from all parts of the earth (thus perhaps making a new bubble, but WOW, what a bubble!), I say this:

Find some old movies about New York. Nice ones. Watch Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters. Whatever you think of Woody Allen, the man is at his best when he focuses on women and the complications of relationships, because it frees him to examine with real curiosity the beauty and intricacies of New York City. With only white people, a handful of Jews, and with a brief appearance by a black, singer Bobby Short, and taking place in the distance of the 1970s and ‘80s, maybe you white small-town folks won’t freak out. It’s romantic, really. For Allen, it’s all about romance. Remember romance?

From Queensboro Plaza, NYC. Photo by Miss O’

Curiouser and Curiouser

The way Lawrence Ferlinghetti was “waiting for a rebirth of wonder,” Miss O’ is awaiting a rebirth not only of romance, but of curiosity. I want to see people looking up and out, talking, listening, reading a fucking book. Collecting small objects of beauty, sending cards to one another, hearing live music, writing of our experiences, or at least sharing a good joke, before the joke on us is one we can’t laugh at anymore.

The most lacking thing for me, the observation that has been freaking me out more than a little of late, is vitriol spewed from mouths, or even hoarse laughter, accompanied by a total lack of affect in the eyes of Americans—a kind of deadness while the mouths move, however nastily or in mirth—and I demand to know, Where are the flashing eyes, where are the twinkles? It’s like inquisitiveness and connection to feeling never existed. While we all feel curiosity when it comes to gossip, say, wouldn’t it be lovely to be curious about why we feel and act as we do toward our fellow men and women and transgendered, and for that matter, PLANET? I think yes. Dammit!

So to all I say, Wake up, take up your pens, but also pick up your goddamned feet. Remember when your mom said, “GO OUTSIDE”? Go OUTSIDE. Go to a bar, to a café, for a walk around the neighborhood. Use your VOICE. Now go LOUDER. And also listen. Really LISTEN. And with love. Care deeply! And let me see the romance in your eyes.

Oh, and:

Miss O’ appeals to you.


Pay attention to everything that changes in the political landscape, and write them down:

Read some poetry:

And more about poetry from Jean LeBlanc:

Read about how books created Barack Obama:

Look at art:

Host a salon in your home:

Or meet at cafés:é_society

Dance more. I’m working on that.

And finally, this is how I feel when it comes to teaching America’s youth—this is loud, AND DIRTY, and it’s hilarious.


61st St/Woodside, NYC. Photo by Miss O’

A Tale of Two Americas: A Miss O’ Thanksgiving Meditation

A Tale of Two Americas: A Thanksgiving Meditation


[Note: This version has been slightly revised. -ed.]

Oh, kids. Miss O’ wanted Hillary Clinton to be our president, and not just because she’s a woman, but because she GETS it, IT being Democracy and all its messiness. We’ve all been sad, we supporters of the losing side that strives to make a more perfect union, which opposes the side that celebrates greed and narcissism and God and hard judgment and “I got mine” in the name of “change.” Understanding, please, that neither party has a claim to perfection by a long shot, where does this divide come from? And who do we want to be as Americans?

To start thinking about the events of November 8, 2016, I thought I’d reach back to our earliest successful colonists in America, the Puritans.

“Upon a Fit of Sickness, Anno. 1632”

O Bubble blast, how long can’st last?

That always art a breaking,

No sooner blown, but dead and gone,

Ev’n as a word that’s speaking.

O whil’st I live, this grace me give,

I doing good may be,

Then death’s arrest I shall count best,

because it’s thy decree.

~Anne Bradstreet,    1612-1672, Newtown (later Cambridge), Massachusetts

Miss O’ is in a fit of goddamned sickness. And as Anne Bradstreet was our first woman poet, and our first feminist, really, I thought hers a good voice to open this little essay. She grew to be deeply ambivalent about religion in the Puritan mode. The term “puritan” was an English slur against this ascetic religious group, and so loathsome and annoying were they that King Charles I gave them a ship for the Great Migration and hoped they’d drown in it. Instead, they made it to Plymouth, in Massachusetts, and the rest is history. Sort of. I say “sort of,” because most Americans don’t know jack shit about it. And we are paying the price of that ignorance, I think.

My Country ‘Tis of Thee v. My County ‘Tis of Me

So we had an election. Every election is too much for television, and every election seems to carry the stakes of life and death. But the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, for the first time in our 240 years of Democracy, actually was a referendum on democracy itself. The stakes for preservation have never been higher, and possibly never less understood by half a country—the half that voted for Donald J. Trump, a man right out of that Sinclair Lewis novel that you have never read (by a Nobel Prize-winning American author you’ve never heard of).

There are a lot of ways to try to frame this election’s outcome, so Miss O’ here is going to approach it in the ways I can think of to see if anything can make any sense of it. Trump voters famously don’t read, so this won’t reach them. I can only hope to clear it up for me, and maybe a little for you.

My Country ‘Tis of Me  (possible new lyrics for an old patriotic song)

My country ’tis of me,

This is my liberty,

Of me I sing!

Land of the white man’s pride,

Walt Whitman’s dream has died,

For all the liberal tears you’ve cried:

God Save the King!

Take One: Omniscience v. Free Will

Who were the Puritans, and why does this matter? It was the beginning of “separate but equal,” is one way of looking at it. I’m not even remotely a theologian, nor a deep historian, but I offer some ways to looking for information, should it interest you. From an article on the Washington State University site:

“The term ‘Puritan’ first began as a taunt or insult applied by traditional Anglicans to those who criticized or wished to ‘purify’ the Church of England. Although the word is often applied loosely, ‘Puritan’ refers to two distinct groups: ‘separating’ Puritans, such as the Plymouth colonists, who believed that the Church of England was corrupt and that true Christians must separate themselves from it; and non-separating Puritans, such as the colonists who settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who believed in reform but not separation. Most Massachusetts colonists were nonseparating Puritans who wished to reform the established church, largely Congregationalists who believed in forming churches through voluntary compacts.  The idea of compacts or covenants was central to the Puritans’ conception of social, political, and religious organizations.”

I pledge allegiance. Puritans also believed in Predestination. “Predestination, in theology, is the doctrine that all events have been willed by God, usually with reference to the eventual fate of the individual soul. Explanations of predestination often seek to address the ‘paradox of free will’, whereby God’s omniscience seems incompatible with human free will.” So here’s the BIG question: Is God, if she exists, all-knowing, all-seeing? Or do we have free will? John Milton’s famous Paradise Lost hinges, more or less, on the following question: Why did God put the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden, and then forbid us to taste of it?

And, for that matter, why did God create disharmony between the sexes, between our brothers, among us all? Our nation might do well to revisit the old Bible story of Cain and Abel: Let’s take a little stroll back to 1632, again with poet and ambivalent Puritan, Anne Bradstreet.



There Abel keeps his sheep, no ill he thinks,

His brother comes, then acts his fratricide.

The Virgin Earth of blood her first draught drinks,

But since that time she often hath been cloy’d;

The wretch with ghastly face and dreadful mind,

Thinks each he sees will serve him in his kind,

Though none on Earth but kindred near then could he find.

~ from “Contemplations,” Anne Bradstreet, 1612-1672

So religion is very much about war, whether war within oneself or with another, or with God, and projecting our self-loathing onto others. Life is, and is only ever about war, not peace, the Scriptures tell us (until Jesus, but no one reads the words of Jesus anymore, just as no one reads The New Yorker–so sayeth Trump). Republicans go on and on and on about religion and crime and war and the devil in this country, and yet it’s like they don’t know all this stuff is a part of our history (see previous parenthetical), an in an almost barbaric way. Do you or they remember The Great Awakening? What about Jonathan Edwards (October 5, 1703 – March 22, 1758) and his immortal sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God? Here are we humans, according to Rev. Edwards:

  1. The devil stands ready to fall upon them and seize them as his own, at what moment God shall permit him. They belong to him; he has their souls in his possession, and under his dominion. The Scripture represents them as his “goods” (Luke 11:21). The devils watch them; they are ever by them, at their right hand; they stand waiting for them, like greedy hungry lions that see their prey, and expect to have it, but are for the present kept back; if God should withdraw his hand, by which they are restrained, they would in one moment fly upon their poor souls. The old serpent is gaping for them; hell opens its mouth wide to receive them; and if God should permit it, they would be hastily swallowed up and lost.

Jonathan Edwards was a complex and deeply serious man, and he’s a confusion to me. From the Wiki: “Recent studies have emphasized how thoroughly Edwards grounded his life’s work on conceptions of beauty, harmony, and ethical fittingness, and how central The Enlightenment was to his mindset.” And to continue: “The emphasis of the lecture was on God’s absolute sovereignty in the work of salvation: that while it behooved God to create man pure and without sin, it was of his ‘good pleasure’ and ‘mere and arbitrary grace’ for him to grant any person the faith necessary to incline him or her toward holiness, and that God might deny this grace without any disparagement to any of his character.” So much for the God of Love of the New Testament. The God of Wrath returns. Where did such a view come from? Did it come from within himself and he projected it onto others?

So what does this relic of reverend have to do with Trump v. Clinton? For one quick image: the Republican National Convention used a background color of fiery red, the color of wrath, which matched the tone and content of the convention speeches. The Democratic National Convention used the backdrop of clear blue, the color of tranquility, matching the tone of optimism and clarity of vision of the speeches. Another comparison: The Puritans believed in the Elect, or the idea that God does not take everyone into heaven, and that “goodness” has nothing to do with it. There is no way, the Puritans said, to know who is among the Elect. But, as my junior year English teacher Mr. Edwards (no relation) explained, “Surely God would not bless you with a Cadillac, surely not, unless you were  among the elect.” And, lo, capitalism was born, and dressing up for church, for if God is “blessing” you with material things and great opportunities for sex (or grabbing pussy), apparently you must be going to heaven. (“The meek shall inherit the earth,” said Christ in the Gospel of Matthew. “But,” as someone said in a movie, “the meek don’t want it.”)

So Trump deserves the presidency, you see, because God has blessed him. Hillary has had to work and work for her success, and so of course she has been predestined to fail. If you are truly worthy, then, what you seek comes easy and without a hitch. Just ask Jesus. And all the while, Trump called Hillary “crooked,” “lying,” and the rest, projecting onto her what he himself is guilty of. He fired up his base. Sinners were in the tiny hands of a deeply angry Trump.

So to sum up: Religion is interwoven with politics in American Christians, and is so deeply ingrained in part of the American psyche that the indoctrinated don’t even realize it. It goes like this: God gives grace in an arbitrary way, so that there is no point in being good. Being good is for suckers. Whether Rev. Edwards intended it or not, the idea of Predestination and being among the elect and being in God’s favor “at God’s pleasure” really opened the doors to sinning with impunity, it seems to me. People who were truly good, therefore, were being suckers. The Donald Trump who refused to pay small business owners is going to heaven, seeing as God has favored him so nicely, and the truly good, hardworking business owners who lost their shirts because of Trump? They are dangling over the pits of hell at God’s pleasure. At least, this is the view taken by the Americans who elected Trump the elect. Everybody loves a winner. Greed is good.

The trouble is, the nation was founded by deists, by men who accepted God but not any church or dogma attending religion. They established rights that would prevent forcing religion on people, prevent persecution and separation under the law. Republicans are ever trying to repeal those rights, and they make no secret of it.

Take Two: Pessimism v. Optimism, or Us v. Them

Republicans typically paint the nation as in a state of continual and unabated crisis: Nixon, Reagan, Bush—all said America was on the brink of disaster, and that they each were the one, with God’s help, to repair the tattered remains of our republic. Public cries for civil rights, ending the Vietnam War, bringing home Iran hostages, ending military waste, sustaining labor unions, or protecting the environment—and all the attending citizen protests and placards for justice—were, to Republicans, destroying the fabric of the nation. The problems these protestors were seeking so solve were irrelevant: The problem was the protesting. Are you following? America, Republicans always declare, is on the brink of ruin (even as life gets progressively better for a lot of citizens); and in victory, damned if these Republican presidents and the others among the elected didn’t try to push it over the nearest cliff. (Watergate? Iran-Contra? Trickle-down Economics? The 2008 Mortgage Crisis, anyone?)

Democrats, by contrast, except in times of actual crisis (the Depression, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement) never have any idea what nation, exactly, Republicans are talking about. Democrats see hope not “around the corner,” should they become elected, but living in our midst, playing out in every moment. Democrats fight for voting rights, and they encourage active participation—whether it’s hippies in sit-ins, or student activists marching, or unions marching, or women marching, or #blacklivesmatter as a movement—and see peaceful, vociferous protest not as destructive to democracy, but rather as the very essence of our national identity. Give us Liberty, or give us Death!

To reiterate: Republicans want “law and order” and abject silence—unquestioning obedience—and never see the quiet for the apathy or the fear it actually is; rather, they see incarceration (Lock her up!) and quashing of rights and voices as the hallmarks of “success.” Give us Liberty, and give you Death! (Did I get that right?)

For Democrats, protest brings us closer together as we define our ideals and goals, how we want to govern, and how we want to live. Democrats ask for money loudly. They call people. They make big noise. They welcome real debate. Note: Television news seems not to broadcast liberals in action or celebrating the wins.

Republicans, by contrast, do their voting and deciding silently; the money filters in covertly; and the gerrymandering is done in a backroom. Their idea of “change” and “Make America Great Again” is antithetical to Democracy with a capital D. Note: Television news broadcasts Republican dismay with Democrats 24/7.

Thus the great divide. So which way is “authentic” to the spirit of the Constitution, to the original founders’ intent? Does it even matter anymore?

Take Three: Separate v. One

A few quotes from the past few decades:

From The Atlantic: “In 1968, Richard Nixon spoke of a nation torn apart by crime at home, and by wars abroad. But, he promised, better days were ahead. ‘Without God’s help and your help, we will surely fail; but with God’s help and your help, we shall surely succeed.’”

It’s up to you and God, says the Republican nominee. So which is it?

“America has never been about what one person says he’ll do for us. It’s always been about what can be achieved by us, together, through the hard, slow, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately enduring work of self-government….The America I know is full of courage, and optimism, and ingenuity. The America I know is decent and generous.”
~ President Barack Obama, Democratic National Convention, 2016

“I alone can fix it.”
~ Donald Trump, Republican Nominee, Republican National Convention, 2016

From The Atlantic: “[Trump] broke with two centuries of American political tradition, in which candidates for office—and above all, for the nation’s highest office—acknowledge their fallibility and limitations, asking for the help of their fellow Americans, and of God, to accomplish what they cannot do on their own.
“But when Trump said, ‘I am your voice,’ the delegates on the convention floor roared their approval. When he said, ‘I alone can fix it,’ they shouted their approbation. The crowd peppered his speech with chants of ‘USA!’ and “Lock her up!” and ‘Build the wall!’ and ‘Trump!’ It booed on cue, and cheered when prompted.”

And not to go all apocalyptic on your ass, but here’s an Irish poet to say it:

The Second Coming

by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.


Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


Reread that a few times, why don’t you? There’s a question about the way religion is used to oppress in there, and a warning. Then take that image of the “slow thighs” and read it against the two poems that are coming up. Look how all these disparate poets are talking to each other across centuries, rooting, in their way, for the good of US.

Take Four: Generosity v. Greed, or Abundance v. Deficiency

The Statue of Liberty: Iconic to the entire human world. Engraved on its base, the most famous poem of freedom, which was written by a Jew, Emma Lazarus, July 22, 1849 – November 19, 1887, an American born in New York City. The title, little known, of her sonnet is “The New Colossus,” the title taken from a statue that was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.


“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I contrast the message of this poem with the Puritan disdain for, say, Native Americans, even as the Puritans depended on them for survival. I also contrast this message with that of Manifest Destiny, “the 19th-century doctrine or belief that the expansion of the US throughout the American continents was both justified and inevitable.” I contrast this with 350 years of slavery justified by white supremacy. And with the treatment of women who sought the vote, tortured and beaten and tormented for wanting a voice in government. (Women couldn’t own a home in her own name, or even have a credit card, until 1974, or work while pregnant, the list goes on. I read of too many female Trump supporters who wished he’d grab their pussies. Give me your genitals, yearning to grope free? How have we toppled this low?)

Two Americas, Take Five: Color v. Content


When Barack Obama was elected, I read that John Boehner was heard to say of our first black president, “I can’t even look at him.” Friends of mine in Virginia actually said, “Well, we’ve been debased. I can’t believe I have to live under a nigger as my president.” And, these friends noted, a “negress” as first lady was beyond absurd.

Their comments deeply troubled me and angered me, and I said so, but more than that they baffled me. Harvard Law Review editor, constitutional law professor, state legislator, U.S. Senator—and still Barack Obama is “debasing” us and cannot be “looked at” because of the color of his skin? When I try to explain that my disgust with Trump is based on the content of his character and his lack of elected experience, and not the color of his skin, the deplorable white friends explain to me that it’s exactly the same. And they aren’t racist, they point out, but rather simply right.  Blacks in America are viewed by them as, if not subhuman (though often that), at least clearly inferior to whites, and I was reminded of this over and over as a teacher in rural Virginia. The impossibility of working with the Republicans in Congress was blamed never on a racist (“You lie!” “I can’t even look at him”), intractable Congress, but on Obama himself, for his arrogance. So I cannot seem to get through to these white friends and relatives, who could not look on Obama without retching, that their worldview is simply ugly and wrong.

Then last weekend, following the election and its astounding and embarrassing outcome (and this is globally recognized to be true, if not universally understood in the U.S.), I was walking through Port Authority here in New York City after a bus trip out to Jersey to visit equally aggrieved friends, and I saw at a newsstand a People magazine cover featuring a full body photo of our president-elect with the title, in appropriately big white letters, “President Trump.” I thought to myself, “I can’t even look at him.”

So am I no better than a racist?

White supremacists, again including relatives of mine, and their friends, have told me that it is I, not they, who have the closed mind because I will not consider white supremacy to be a fact of life. They have told me this in ALL CAPS: “YOU HAVE A CLOSE [sic] MIND!!!!” My friend Mark heard such a supremacist on NPR say this same thing just yesterday. I, who have been enriched and amazed and loved by humans of all races, religions (and ages, for that matter) am “closed minded” for not seeing whites as supreme. Because I am not giving WHITES—and we mean white CHRISTIANS, to be clear—a chance to run everything, “for once,” in their belief system, then it is I have who have the closed mind.

Where do I start?

Back when I was a high school English teacher and a co-sponsor of the Gay-Straight Alliance, a group designed to promote understanding and tolerance, a nice English teacher lady colleague said to me, firmly, “I don’t believe in tolerance. I don’t like gays, I don’t like illegal immigrants. I don’t like liberals.” She seethed. “Why should I tolerate what I don’t like?” Lately, I am asking myself the same question. But we are asking that question from two entirely different points of view.

Who is right on the issue of gay rights? Mike Pence and my colleague up there and millions like them, or Miss O’ and the millions of gays and their friends in the world? Is global warming real? Who is right as to whether or not blacks and Muslims, as well as whites and Christians, have the Constitutional right to fair and equal treatment under the law? Who is right about women’s right to their own bodies and decisions about their health? Who is right, people who think we need to work together to solve problems, or people who want one (straight, white, Christian) man to solve all the problems for them?

These are the questions that divide us in the United States right now. Trump supporters tell me their side is just as worthy of consideration as my “liberal” “closed” side.

How do you tell them, “No, it’s not,” without sounding like a tyrant and a hypocrite?

In Sum

First came the Puritan, white, my-way-or-the-highway, love-it-or-leave-it, God-fearing, separatist, elite, elect America of Plymouth Colony origins: It’s complicated, and often unattractive, boring to study during junior year of high school, despite their suffering—and this is a shame, because America just voted it into office in 2016 without realizing it, probably. And these historical folks aren’t funny. Just not. Ever. Funny.

Second came the Revolutionary War-winning, immigrant, dynamic, deist-not-Christian, Enlightenment-influenced, red-white-and-blue, Declaration of Independence, Constitution-based, vote-giving, anti-oligarch, Hamilton-rap-fest amazing America, inspiring to the world, taught in school—and yet it was voted out of office in 2016. Plus, it’s the America of genuine humor and scathing satire.

There is a Third America: The America of slaves, of dispossessed and tortured indigenous people, of oppressed women, of exploited laborers, of religious and racial bigotry, of socio-economic disparity. Only Democrats include this Third America in their party platform and policies, and the Republicans very consciously do not.

Finally, I am going to say it, I am going to pronounce judgment: White supremacy is fucking wrong. Like bigotry, murder, rape, bullying, and abuse, I can comfortably categorize white supremacy as equivalent to a biblical sin (a bible in whose God I do no personally believe, but in whose stories I find important views of the world). White supremacists don’t see they are wrong, any more than Donald Trump doesn’t see why he can’t grab the genitalia of any woman he wants, or ogle teenage beauty contestants in their dressing room, or destroy a small business. Just because he doesn’t think it’s wrong doesn’t mean it isn’t. Any four-year-old will rationally explain why she or he is perfectly capable of being left alone around hot stoves, big lakes, and strangers. Grown-ups know better.

Unfortunately, Trump supporters own all the guns. So you can see where this is headed.

“Divided We Stand”: In Memoriam, Democracy #notmypresident

 When Barack Obama was elected, a brand new group arose out of the clear red, the Tea Party, funded by the Koch Brothers. They were mostly older white people who were terrified of a black man in office, and the Kochs were terrified of a Democratic president and congress that might raise taxes on rich people like the Kochs, or make it impossible for them to get tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas. It’s an old, old game, stoking irrational fear for an endgame that has nothing to do with the people who go on the lines in the name of, er, freedom.

Americans of the Red Elephant who coined “Not My President” (co-opted now by the Blue Donkeys as “#notmypresident”) called Obama a nigger, questioned his citizenship, called his wife a gorilla, and said worse about his daughters. (These same people wore tee-shirts calling Hillary Clinton a “cunt.” They wore these shirts in front of their children.)

In the America where I was raised, as I said before, blacks, to many, simply are not humans, but are wild animals from the jungle, cut loose from captivity. If you don’t believe me, watch video footage of the way white officers approach and kill unarmed black men and women, and it’s as if you are watching Daktari. These officers of “the law” approach black citizens while in crouched stances, backs arched, as if they are on safari. It’s horrifying. It’s absurd.

My parents did not subscribe to this at all, and used All in the Family to teach me about racism, explaining why Archie Bunker was wrong. I was six when this started. So when I went to teach in rural Virginia I was unprepared for having my life threatened by two white boys in my class for teaching “I Have a Dream,” and for calling Martin Luther King “a great American.” They pointed fingers in my face, “You know was a great American? George Washington. Huntin’ accidents happen, Miz O’Ha.” The Vice Principal took their side. I taught the speech with even more determination, this being Miss O’, and I’d like to think that maybe, as the first white person in that school ever to do so, I made the tiniest bit of difference in a good way.

Of my disappointment over the results of this election, a black colleague and friend said to me, “I have had it with all of you white people and your white privilege.” She frowned at me. “You are disappointed. You are. Now you know what it feels like to be a black person, how I feel every single moment of my life in this country.” I felt chastened. I think it would behoove every white Hillary supporter to take in those words and have a Great Awakening of our own.

Art as Life: Hope?* (*This section edited from an earlier version. –ed.)

If you know the musical Hamilton—and how could you not?—then you know we just elected Aaron Burr over Thomas Jefferson. More than that, we may have “elected” King George III:

Oceans rise, empires fall
We have seen each other through it all
And when push comes to shove
I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love!
~ Donald Trump, er King George III, “You’ll Be Back,” Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda

This is a real fear—a promise, even, if you are Muslim or undocumented or black—stoked by the President-elect himself. We know this. We’ve heard this from his very lips in various shapes and forms—both the words and the lips. “Detention camps for Muslims are on the table” in the Trump administration, read a recent headline.

You’ll be back like before
I will fight the fight and win the war
For your love, for your praise
And I’ll love you till my dying days
When you’re gone, I’ll go mad
So don’t throw away this thing we had
Cuz when push comes to shove
I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love
     ~ Donald Trump, er King George III, “You’ll Be Back,” Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda

And you’d have to live in a fully armed bunker not to know that on Friday night Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended a performance of Hamilton, his entrance into the theater after intermission was attended by boos and applause, both—divided we stand. And yet united by art. During the show, various lines got wilder applause than usual, or even standing ovations, including this one, sung by King George.

What comes next?
You’ve been freed
Do you know how hard it is to lead?
~ The American Left, er King George III, “You’ll Be Back,” Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda

You know how great is the artistry of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics because one can also imagine Obama and Clinton and Biden and Kaine singing this song of King George’s, and to Mr. Narcissism himself:

You’re on your own
Awesome. Wow.
Do you have a clue what happens now?
Oceans rise
Empires fall
It’s much harder when it’s all your call
All alone, across the sea
When your people say they hate you 
Don’t come crawling back to me

~ “What Comes Next?” from Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda

After the show, at curtain call, Mr. Pence was hustling out when the cast, led by A-dot-Burr himself, read a respectful letter, on behalf of the cast, imploring the VP-elect (M-dot-Pence) and his boss (D- dot-Trump) to lead the nation by including ALL people, despite their promises to the contrary. What a RADICAL NOTION! As quoted by Peter Marks yesterday in the Washington Post:

“Thank you so much for joining us tonight,” Dixon said, on behalf of the production. “You know, we had a guest in the audience this evening. And Vice President-elect Pence, I see you walking out, but I hope you will hear us just a few more moments. There’s nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen. There’s nothing to boo here. We’re all here, sharing a story of love. We have a message for you, sir, and we hope that you will hear us out. And I encourage everybody to pull out your phones and tweet and post, because this message needs to be spread far and wide, okay? Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us at ‘Hamilton: An American Musical.’ We really do. We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values, and work on behalf ofall of us. All of us. Again, we truly thank you for sharing this show, this wonderful American story, told by a diverse group of men, women, of different colors, creeds and orientations.”

Trump tweeted a giant whine against the cast of Hamilton: “The Theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!” — President-elect Donald Trump (Come January, Trump may well try to close the show. For good. Will he find a way? The fact that I could even IMAGINE such a move is what makes me so nervous about Trump as a leader.) What Trump doesn’t understand about theater and its place was critiqued beautifully by the Washington Post‘s Peter Marks yesterday: Why Trump gets theater completely and utterly wrong (Miss O’ recommends the full read, and hopes you do it.)

Trump also doesn’t get this thing called American Democracy, nor does he want to. His transition to power has been the slowest and by all accounts most incompetent in recorded history. I read that Obama’s people are freaking out because Trump won’t read anything, won’t move on any issue, and there’s plenty to know about. (Anybody else remember Bush willfully ignoring the memo: “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States”? Anyone?)  Trump’s never had truck with democracy and so knows next to nothing about it, as evidenced by his speeches. We’ve all heard them. He’s been, and I say this factually, the pampered son of a rich white man in America, and has broken and destroyed lives, raped young women, and spent money that was not his, all with impunity. To keep this good luck going and to pass it on to his kids, he’s trying to return to oligarchy, and possibly monarchy, apparently. Today’s headline in The Guardian:

Trump transition provokes cries of nepotism – but can anything be done? Despite concerns over Donald Trump’s decision to bring his family into his White House inner circle, experts says critics have few ways to stop him.

 Is it just me, or does Trump more and more remind you of the machinations in Richard III? I swear his family looks like the cast of an updated version of one of Shakespeare’s history/tragedy plays. King Lear, perhaps.


Are you a Puritan or a Hamilton? Are you an American in the spirit of Manifest Destiny, or an American in the spirit of Ellis Island? Can you reconcile yourself to both? And of course it’s way more complicated than that, but we have to start somewhere.

So when you People of Trump out there start thinking that the Left is really out of its Thanksgiving gourd, or that our warnings of fascism are little more than “sour grapes,” you might listen to the Hamilton cast album and read the Chernow biography that inspired it; reread “The New Colossus,” read about the Puritans and the Revolutionists. And read the FUCKING CONSTITUTION. I swear that with love.

Post Script

 “According to most contemporary descriptions, the Colossus stood approximately 70 cubits, or 33 metres (108 feet) high—the approximate height of the modern Statue of Liberty from feet to crown—making it the tallest statue of the ancient world.[2] It was destroyed during the earthquake of 226 BC, and never rebuilt.”


 No American (mostly) wants (surely) the nation’s history of democracy to come to an end. Shelley’s famous poem up there, as my friend poet Jean LeBlanc says, shows a poet’s ability to “remember the future.” So, in that spirit, ol’ Ozymandias should be reminiscent of the latest man to claim absolute power, this man who has no honest claim to be the leader of the United States, and thus the world, except that he is among the Elect, and select of the Electoral College, if not elected by majority vote (Hillary Clinton is leading by 1.65 million votes and counting); and unless we are eternally vigilant, as Jefferson warned us, it could be Donald Trump’s words on the base of a torch-less, headless New Colossus. In the form of a whiny tweet.

(P.S. The worst thing you can do is nothing. Make calls to your reps. See you, perhaps, at the Million Woman March on January 21, in Washington, D.C. I have friends flying in from London to attend, another friend in New Delhi counting on me to represent her, too, because this is of global importance, and our rights must not be rolled back or run over. Will it make a difference? Oceans rise, empires fall. And in this election, the world turned upside down. Time to right it, from the left. Sending love.)