18 January 2017

At The Mansion. Connie’s Mittens: A Sense Of Purpose

Connie's Mittens

The boxes of yarn you sent Connie have transformed her days, given her a sense of purpose, kept her engaged. She is still making mittens for the Mansion staff, shes made seven, has five to go and a big box full of yarn that sits by her chair. She and Red have the most intense conversations, they have powerfully attached to one another.

So have Maria and Connie. Connie asks about her, and she was eager to see one of Maria's newest potholders, Susie and the Hen. She chuckled. She wants to hear every detail of the India trip.

Everyone at the Mansion asks me if Maria has gone to India yet, and if not, when she is going. Several of the residents have invited me to come and have dinner with them when she is away. I will definitely join them for a meal or two, if the staff approves. I told them I wasn't sure Red could come to dinner, and I'm not sure I'm still invited.

Your messages and gifts have had an enormous impact on Connie, and I hope they can continue if that is at all possible. Her lights are always on, the door is always open, her hands are always filled with yarn and knitting needles. She is lively and alert and talkative. You are doing good.

Connie's address is Connie, c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. The staff is clearing the bulletin boards in case there are a lot of Valentine's Day cards.

Posted in General

Madeline’s Story

Madeline's Story

Madeline is 93, she has been at the Mansion a month or so, she is a lot of fun, her friend Brother Pete says she has a lot of the angel, and a lot of the devil in her. She was raised in an orphanage in the Bronx, and  has a thick New York accident. Although she is Italian, the orphanage was Jewish, she knows all of the Jewish prayers and songs, she says she is thinking of hosting a seder next Passover.

She married a soldier, an engineer in the Army and lived all over the country.. When she talked to Maria last week, she volunteered to go to India with her to help the victims of sex trafficking. I am getting to know some of the residents well, our visits are longer and we talk more, I think on all sides, we are more relaxed.

I love the life stories of the Mansion residents, they are rich and touching and always close at hand.

Red knows the Mansion well and is completely at ease there. He makes the rounds, knowing where to go and not to go somehow. Every time I see Madeline, she tells me Red's collar is too tight. When I got to the Mansion, I loosen it. I admire Madeline's spirit. She is intensely engaged  with the world, and embraces precisely where she is in life. She lived for a long time in Cypress Hills,  Brooklyn, she considers herself a New Yorker and has the feisty and engaging attitude of a New Yorker.

She is always moving about the Mansion, talking to the residents, greeting visitors. She has enormous energy, and the snappy of a Brooklynite.

Madeline would greatly enjoy your letters and messages, she reads them all and replies to them, they stimulate and engage her. You can write her at this address: Madeline, c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

(If you wish, you can send Valentine's Day cards and messages to the residents of the Mansion.  Valentine's Day is Tuesday, February 14. The first names of the residents are Jean A., Mary, Gerry, Sylvie, Diane, Alice, Jean G., Madeline, Joan, Allan, Carl (Bob), John K., Aileen, Christie, Helen, Connie, Alanna, Barbara, Peggie, Dennis, John R., Bruce, John Z.)

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At The Mansion: Christy’s Healing

Christy Healing

Christy and Red and I had our longest visit today, there was a messy ice storm outside but the world of the Mansion was, as always, dry and snug. Christy has some lung problems, she is vulnerable to infection, she gets pneumonia easily if she is not careful, and is just getting over a long bout. She is looking forward to Thursday, her daughter is coming to take her out to lunch. Her favorite restaurant is the Olive Garden, but there isn't one nearby.

She loves seeing Red, we talked about her two very beloved Chihuahua's, Cinnebon and -Boo. She had Cinnebon ("Cinny) for 17 years, one day she went out by the woodshed and curled up and died. "I am glad she went that way," she said, "she didn't suffer, I don't think."

It is a spiritual experience to hear the residents of the Mansion talked about the dogs and cats and horses and goats that they loved. In the other world, Christy was a nurse, she and her husband had a small farm – he was a logger- and they had horses and donkeys and chickens. "All the animals we could stuff in there."

Christy is sometimes sick, but she is always cheerful and uncomplaining. She and Connie live next door to one another, and Connie is always reminding me and Red to go see her. I stayed away until she felt better.

She was resting, and the room was dark and quiet, it was intimate. I was happy to sit with Christie for awhile, and get to talk to her. She and Red have connected. Christy would love to receive your letters or messages, you can write her and the other Mansion residents c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

A number of people are also planning to send Valentine's Day Messages to the residents before February 14. I think they would love it. Today, the residents were eating pecan bars prepared by the staffer after one of the blog readers – from the South – sent a bucket of pecans and some chocolate.

Posted in General

Fantasy: If Donald Trump Tweeted For Good. The Magical Power Of 140 Words

If Trump Tweeted For Good

Imagine, for just a few moments, the world we deserve, the world we wish to see.

Imagine if Donald Trump, our new President, tweeted for good instead of revenge and argument. I got the original idea from a New York Times column that popped up in my Iphone this morning. The columnist wondered what might happen if Trump responded graciously to his critics.

He was writing about the politics, I got to thinking about ordinary people, something more personal.

Mr. Trump has about 20 million followers on his Twitter account, he posts nearly every day, and I got to thinking about this very naive, perhaps even Pollyannish fantasy, if I can call it that.

What if Donald Trump tweeted for good, rather than to punish his critics and seek revenge on the people he thinks are his enemies. What if he changed the disheartening, even violent ethos of information technology around, to something good?

I have been writing online for about 30 years, and I have witnessed and experience the use of these new tools for good and evil. The Internet was founded by angry teenage boys in many ways, and their sometimes  hostile, testosterone fueled ethic of conflict and cruelty has haunted it ever since.  Angry people on Facebook and Twitter have done more to damage free speech than all of the dictators in the world could ever do.

Mr. Trump does remind me of the early geeks and hackers i wrote about for Wired and Rolling Stone. They had powerful social and ethical beliefs, but  they often used the Internet in much the same way as our next President, as a punitive tool to intimidate, harass and harm people who disagreed with them.

Or to attack the many targets – journalists, phone companies, government agencies – that they felt impeded their work and freedom. They were devoted to their own freedom, but not the freedom of others.

Social media has taken the good and bad of technology to a whole new level. Donald Trump has become the Dark Wizard King of the Trolls, they just love him, they never dreamed one of them would be sitting in the White House. They are eager to punish anyone who dares to criticize him.

On my humble blog, I have vowed to use technology for good, to make the people who attack me small by trying to be big. In a sense, this is also President Obama's new strategdy, and the reason he is drubbing his successor in the popularity realm. He is winning simply by being gracious and mostly quiet. Not attacking people is sometimes just as powerful a statement as revenge.

That is my method of dealing with hostility online, I do not argue my beliefs on Facebook or Twitter, I will never use this technology to do harm. I love the idea of going high when people go low, it has lifted me beyond my shabby instincts.

Just think about the possibilities if Mr. Trump decided to Tweet For Good.

If he mentioned a worthy student who needed money to go to the college of his or her dreams and posted their twitter handle.

If he tweeted to ask for help for an elderly woman who needed advanced nursing care but could not afford it.

If he raised money for the families of a police officer or solider killed in the line of duty?

Or an abandoned Syrian child who needed a home?

Or asked for contributions to build a tech education center in the middle of Chicago's troubled South Side?

If he asked for support and compassion for the Muslim women who was chased through a mall and had her clothes pulled off by some teenagers.

If he sought employed for a Michigan mill worker who lost his job and can't find a new one?

If he asked people on Twitter to help pay for some expensive surgery that might save the life of a father of three, but is simply too costly for him and his family?

If he raised money to help poor women cut off from health services in rural areas?

If he tweeted a circus worker and asked how we all could help make sure the elephants found good and safe homes when they left the circus?

If he helped a struggling rancher keep his farm in Montana?

If he asked if there was a good gig for Megan O'Malley a trombonist who could write so well and who loved the circus so dearly, and was frightened about how she might live.

Mr. Trump's followers on Twitter are a ferocious mob, setting upon anyone who criticizes or challenges him.  They would help these people. Just think of the power of 20 million focused people coming together in a common cause to help people? What a gift to the world? If he did that, I would be marching for him on Saturday, flags flying.

We could all come together in the most joyous of causes – helping one another. Even the left and the right couldn't argue about that, and Mr. Trump could give his loyal trolls a wonderful lesson in humanity.

I can only imagine the impact it would have if Mr. Trump showed them and the rest of the country how to take this amazing new technology and give it a new and different kind of rebirth – if he used it only to help people and bring them together. It was meant to do that, that was the failed dream.

Imagine also the psychic impact on all of us if we could send a few dollars a day to fellow Americans to help them, rather than argue with them, belittle them or divide them, as our political system now does almost reflexively?

I am no saint, but I have learned to try to use my blog for good. This is selfish, not selfless.  People are eager to do good, and I am eager to feel good about myself.

We raised $3,000 on one day to buy welcome bags for immigrant children. We helped raised $70,000 in a few weeks to raise money for legal fees for Joshua Rockwood, a decent farmer and animal lover whose farm was raided, his horses taken, and who faced charges of animal cruelty because his water tanks froze in -30 degree temperatures.

Joshua was cleared of all of the charges. When I asked readers of the blog to think of the residents of the Mansion, an assisted care facility, at Christmas, the Mansion was flooded with cards, messages, flowers, shawls, mittens, photos, chocolates, and other gifts. They came in for days and totally transformed the Christmas lives of people at the edge of life. (We're doing it again for Valentine's Day.)

We helped to raise $60,000 to support a cafe seeking to serve it's community. We paid the bills of a beloved farrier who had two knees replaced at once in surgery.

Social media can do good as well as bad, it can lift hearts as well as cause them to sink. I am weary or argument and revenge and pettiness, the grievance and victimization and tit-for-tat of bankrupt ideologies. Enough.

I have learned in this new culture to try to think of my attackers and many critics as human beings, to try to connect to them at that level, to speak to the better angels in me and them. I have learned to state my beliefs clearly, but also that they are not an argument.

I see in many ways – the love people have for him, his close connections to family – that Mr. Trump is so very human, I wonder if he could not use his tweets to bring out that humanity and give us all the gift of getting to a better and more hopeful place? He could show us every single day how to find a common ground in our polarized reality.

I know what it is to be attacked, I am attacked all of the time, and have been for 30 years. If you think at all,  you will be targeted by someone. And loved by someone else.

I do not feel the need to answer the angry people or pay them back, they are entitled to their beliefs, as I am entitled to mine. This, I learned is a lesson of adulthood, of growing up. You choose your battles, if you fight every one, you will soon be spent.

Imagine if Mr. Trump had used Twitter to send this message to Meryl Streep after her speech at the Golden Globes: "Dear Meryl Streep, I am sorry you chose to use the awards ceremony as a political forum, but I imagine your outspokenness is one of the reasons people love you so much and why you are so successful. I hope you will consider coming to Washington to meet with me, perhaps the two of us can use the power we have been given to do some good for people. Best..."

Or this tweet to John Lewis: "Dear John Lewis, I am sorry you feel I am not a legitimate President, I hope to prove you and others wrong on that score. On the eve of Martin Luther King Day, I salute our brave and inspiring contributions to the civil rights movement, and I hope we can work together to ensure the rights of every American citizen, as you have so long fought to do."

I am a writer. I know that you can do so much damage in 140 words, or so much good. It is the choice we all face whenever we sit down at a computer,  connected in this new way to the powerful web of humanity.

Tweets like those above, tweets that dignify people and help them, and give us the chance to help others, are the tonic and the balm we need, tweets that rise above our political differences and honor the humanity that connects all of us.

Am I silly for dreaming of this, for hoping that is possible?

Maybe.  But hope is a tonic too, and  my heart is full of it, and I will keep on hoping. I am no President and have little power, but I will re-commit myself to using it for good.

Posted in General

Saturday: Walking With Women. For Love, For Family, For Liberty.

For Liberty

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." -Nelson Mandela.

Thomas Paine is one of my heroes, and he wrote that "independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good." Mine, also.

Saturday, I've decided to join Maria, I will be walking with women on their March. We thought about going to New York City, or Washington, or Boston, to join one of the marches there, but in the end, we decided to walk in Glens Falls, N.Y., the funky gateway to the Adirondacks, about an hour from us.

In Washington, hundreds of thousands of women are expected to March, they are also predicting enormous crowds in Boston an New York and all over the country. It was not simple decision for me, over my lifetime I have been a watcher, not a marcher, an observer, not a joiner. Marches, however noble, are mobs in their own way, and mobs have always made me uncomfortable.

I saw that 150,000 women have registered to sign up in New York City, 20 are signed up for Glens Falls. It's the right place for us. The town library will serve hot chocolate at the end of the March, it begins at Planned Parenthood.

Why am I marching? Partly, it's personal. I march for Maria, for my daughter Emma, for my granddaughter Robin. I want them to be free and strong to make their own choices and decisions about their lives, to not be forced or coerced against their will to abandon their choices and principles or the sanctity of their bodies and voices.

And I love these women very much. I will always stand with them, anywhere they ask me to go, or anywhere they need me to go.

I want to walk with them, literally, spiritually, symbolically. I want to walk with all of the women heading to the streets to stand with one another in their truth and strength.

It is, in every way, a march for good.

There are other reasons, that are not personal.

We are not a country that is supposed to force our religious and cultural values onto others, it feels very wrong to me. I have trouble with all of these angry men (and some women)  telling women what they must or must not do with their bodies and lives and their most intimate and personal decisions.

Some things just feel wrong.

I hope Donald Trump is a successful president, but my faith in that is increasingly difficult. He has made it clear that he represents only some people, not everyone. And that he can never love or empathize with his enemies and critics. To me, that is the behavior of a King, not a leader, and I have to move my feet to walk with women against that

Women need to be represented and supported as they continue to make their own peaceful revolution in their own way. I know I am welcome there, but I also know I am there in support, not more than that. It is not my revolution. Thoreau said that disobedience is the true foundation of liberty, the obedient must be slaves.

I imagine that in Glens Falls, it is not as easy to walk that mile as it is in New York City or Boston. My daughter, who lives in Brooklyn, does not know a soul who would deny her freedom of choice, or any kind of freedom. In Glens Falls, it is perhaps easier to find people like that, so all the better to walk there.

I have this sense that in the future I will called upon to be disobedient, and I am ready to take that walk as well. My dandy silver heart pill case is full and ready to travel.

I want women to have the Liberty that our country was founded upon, that my grandmother came to America to find and did find, that has been so important to me in my own life, that I wish for everyone.

I have always embraced the struggle of women to be equal and to be free, it has always seemed fair and just to me. I have always lived among strong women, married and fathered them, worked and lived with them.

I have sadly and reluctantly come to accept that their freedom is in real peril. Sometimes, as one friend suggested to me, you simply have to show up, bear witness, participate in the world. It is not enough to watch.

I do not like political correctness much, but I think even women  forget how difficult it is to be  a man. We are the people who start wars, shoot and kill, are greedy for money and power, who abuse and diminish and conquer and denigrate others. Just look at what has happened to Washington, D.C.

I have tried to keep an open mind about Donald Trump, but to me, he embodies everything that is wrong with men, and is infecting our government with that awful  germ.

More than anyone, it has been women who have kept alive the spirit of our revolution, and who are lighting the flame still and now, are making their own revolution on behalf of their liberty. How could I not march for that?

I think what Jefferson said was true.  Freedom is not one revolution but many, you can never really stop protecting liberty and fighting for it. There are always people who wish to take it away.

Liberty is not simple, and it is not free. It is also not something, I have come to see, to take for granted or to leave to other people to protect. So on Saturday we are driving to our small town in upstate New York, to march a mile for freedom. It is the very least I can do.

Thomas Paine had a great genius for capturing the spirit of liberty, and he has always inspired me in that way. "Whatever is my right as a man," he wrote, "is also the right of another, and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess."

When and if the history of my life is ever told, I wish to be remembered to my granddaughter as a man who walked with women back then, whenever he could. I hope someone will say that about me.


Posted in General