Friday, July 13, 2012


Note: Most of this piece was written during the events described, on pink card stock remnants from the print shop where my then husband Owen worked.

          What’s happening, people? Where are we?
                                     -a traveler’s perceptions

I want to understand. There are some fairly major changes going on in our time and no one seems to understand them. I believe I have to in order to live my life fully. But I don’t find anyone who can satisfactorily explain to me the meaning and significance of all that’s going on, so I have to try to interpret it for myself.

We are on a trip. Specifically, Owen and I are traveling for three weeks in a VW camper we fixed up ourselves. We are encountering the world beyond our home. We do not really understand our world at home and are seeking enlightenment.

In Portland, we visited Ruth and Owen (also known as Unk), two old and beautiful people who are practically Owen’s only family. One night Ruth and I got into in a real argument. I cried a lot and she was adamant. It seemed she was fighting me for what she thinks I represent. Her ideas of hippies and radicals have been developed by Huntley and Brinkley, local news, and a few encounters in their neighborhood. She believes they are ungrateful wretches who have been given everything by their parents and their society and respond by destroying things and being disrespectful. So she can’t see me—and she can’t see them as I do. Why do we see what’s going on so differently?

In Portland and along the road we were disturbed by people’s stares. No matter where we went (outside of the San Francisco Bay area), people saw us as something unusual. Many small children gave us the peace sign and older children smiled at us, but adults either shook their heads or just openly stared. We obviously represented something to them. We were the far out hippies they had heard so much about on TV and in their newspapers and magazines. All but the youngest viewed us with suspicion, mingled with curiosity,

Some people seemed confident they knew all about us. In Berg’s, a department store in Portland, the saleslady was anxious to show me all the most far out clothes she was sure I would like. I obliged by buying a poncho on sale. Later Owen was carrying it for me when a lady stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and stared at him with mouth wide open in utter disbelief!

Then we encountered the sellers of a local hip paper and they told us, “Go to the Buffalo Party Convention!” When we read the paper, we learned that the next weekend in Eatonville, Washington, there was a rock festival disguised as a political convention in order to sidestep a state law prohibiting rock festivals. We were very curious about rock festivals, had seen the movie “Woodstock,” and talked with people who had been to two festivals in our area.

We admitted we were on a search, partly to discover where we fit into this world, and so far had found ourselves stared at or argued with. Coincidentally, I was reading an article in Today’s Health I had borrowed from Unk which analyzed rock festivals with surprising objectivity and advised parents to let their kids go to them and not to worry too much.
So we decided to buy tickets and drove to Seattle for a day, planning to head out for the festival on the next. Then we heard on the radio that there was a court injunction against the festival. We were disappointed and a little mad that we had paid $10.00 for an event that might not take place. The promoters of the festival were fighting the injunction, but no final decision had been made.

Our plans were thus up in the air when we pulled in to Saltwater State Park, a half hour south of Seattle. We were greeted enthusiastically by the campers next to us who invited us to come right over and join them. They were also from California and we all immediately felt at home with each other.

Owen and I went back to Seattle for awhile but didn’t like it much. We visited the World’s Fair Center, where I had been in 1962, but except for a lovely fountain there were mostly only tourist attractions. We bought a couple of hip papers, but the sellers seemed hard and unfriendly, and the papers were like distant revolutionary voices from the 30s. So we were glad to get back to our new friends at the campground. We joined a warm and friendly campfire, where we shared fairy tales and ghost stories and felt secure.

In the morning we moved on, still uncertain about the festival. We decided to go to the university area in Seattle, an area that felt familiar to us—a cross between San Rafael and Berkeley. The people looked hip, but hip shops were mingled among more usual stores. We found the Buffalo Party Headquarters closed for the weekend. In the head shop next door we met a girl whose husband had a booth at the convention. She had talked with him on the phone and he said everyone there was acting as if the thing was happening for sure. We checked around with others and picked up a wide divergence of views on what would happen. No one could say for sure, but everyone had an opinion. We finally sat down in a tavern over a beer to make our decision. I wanted to go but didn’t want to force Owen. Finally he said we ought to go, that if we didn’t we would always wonder what it would have been like.

So we bought groceries and headed out for Eatonville. The radio continued to blare out uncertainties which we had by then decided to ignore. We saw no one else headed in our direction until we were practically there. Then the gathering of the clan began. Another car full called out to us, “Do you know the way?” And some long-haired boys standing on a corner in town pointed down a road saying, “It’s that way!”

We gave our tickets at the gate and were directed to a spot to park our van. Everything seemed most friendly and perfectly in order. So we began to set up camp and went in search of water. The closest water supply seemed to be a waterfall and stream which could only be reached by sliding down a rather treacherous but beautiful path, where we found clear, cold water. As we struggled back up the path, we heard the police had set up roadblocks and no one was being permitted in or out of the ranch.

It looked like the festival was defeated. Surely no bands could get in now, and no more people could join us. What would happen now? Soon we heard the police were allowing people to leave, but it was already near evening so we decided to stay the night. We moved our camper closer to the lakes where people were enjoying the freedom to swim however they wished. It had been a hot dusty day, and we too went to wash ourselves in the lake. Then exhausted, we fixed supper and collapsed into bed.

In the morning we thought we would probably be moving on, since we had given up hope that anything resembling a rock festival would actually take place. But the other people there seemed unconcerned and no one else was leaving. We decided to at least go for a swim before we left.

The two lakes were already bustling with activity. People were frolicking in the water or lolling about on the shore in all sorts of attire or nude. No one seemed to care whether you wore clothes or not—whatever was comfortable for you was right. The air was full of the sweet smell of marijuana smoke. Surely this was another world. There were definite rules, but they were much different from those on the outside.

During the night and all morning people had continued to work on the construction of the sound stage and on setting up the sound system. (Here ends my writing from 1970.)
Eventually the authorities in charge of keeping folks out relented and the gates were re-opened. Port-a-potties were delivered, which was a big relief as up till then we had to make do with a trench dug on the spot when folks realized there were no facilities--an example of the cooperative spirit of the people there.

Finally the music began. Exactly who played is still a bit of a mystery, but according to other remembrances I discovered online, the James Cotton Band played late into the night, and there were local groups like The Walters, Don and the Goodtones, and The Sonics. Crowd estimates ranged from 10,000 to 30,000. The local area still remembers the festival, mostly with fondness, surprised at how polite and well behaved the longhairs were. All agree it was good for business. Before the weekend was over, local stores ran out of beer, wine, ice, cigarettes, and most of the food they had on hand.

My favorite moment in the festival happened late one night while the music was playing. Probably in honor of the Fourth of July, someone launched a huge flare into the sky above us. Suddenly the sky was bright. We could see those around us and those at a distance, giving us a sense of the whole gathering. At the time, I had never seen a flare and was unsure what was happening. I’m sure we were stoned, which added to the mystery of the experience, but it seemed like some kind of miracle. While the light lasted, we stood smiling at each other, loving the thousands around us. Were we a new society? Could we maintain this wonderful, peaceful feeling of connection with all who were there? Maybe it was enough just to know that for that one shining moment we could see ourselves in a new light as a new culture. This was what peace and freedom looked like.

I am grateful that our journey in search of enlightenment led us to this experience. Given what I had written earlier on our trip about wondering where we fit in to the world, was this rock festival an answer? The clan that gathered there welcomed us as family, and the way people interacted seemed far better than other situations we encountered in our lives. But still, this wasn’t quite it, although some of the elements were there. I knew I had still not completely found my culture.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

SOCIAL WELFARE CLASS, Scripps College, 1965

My awakening to the possibility of new forms of education came unexpectedly in a course I would never have taken had I not flunked Economics the first semester of my senior year at Pomona College.
     Suddenly my final semester of college, I was forced to take five courses, instead of the usual four. This meant a lot of extra work—20% more than I had ever handled before, in fact. How would I manage?
     I’m not sure what made me choose the course in Social Welfare. Was it because it was taught by a woman? Was it because it was offered at Scripps and the one prior course I had taken there (Shakespeare) turned out to be one of my favorites? Did I think it would be less work than other courses I would be taking? Was it because the class only met once a week and would fit into my already busy schedule? Was it because it was completely different from anything else I had studied until then and it was time for something new? Perhaps I thought it would relate in some way to the path I had decided to pursue after graduation, the path toward ministry.
     For whatever reason or reasons, I found myself in a very different environment the moment I walked in the room. There were no tables or desks, only a cirle of chairs. The professor was Jean Barrett, a visiting assistant professor of sociology who had earned her PhD at Claremont Graduate School in 1961. She seemed younger than many of my previous professors, friendly and open, and interestingly non-professorial. As we students dutifully took out our notebooks and tried to balance them on our laps, she smiled and suggested immediately that we put them away. It was our choice, she said, but she predicted if we took notes we would not do as well as we would if we listened with full attention and engaged in discussion. She went on to explain there would be no assigned reading, no texts, and no tests. She pointed to a table full of books at the side of the room. These we could borrow and read, if we wanted to. Or we could find our own resources.
     The requirements for the course were to come to class, participate in discussions, and go on field trips. Our grades would be based on class participation and a final project we would work on throughout the semester. The project could be a term paper, but she suggested it include research beyond the library and encouraged us to choose an aspect of social welfare with facilities we could investigate in person, so we could explore both social problems and potential solutions.
     To say this first class session blew my mind would be an understatement. This was unlike anything else I had ever experienced in education, something exciting and new. I felt blessed by some unseen spirit of life for flunking Econ and discovering this new approach to learning, this opportunity to try something different from the highly structured academic education I had been previously immersed in. 
     I walked out into a sunny blue sky afternoon, the kind of late January day that makes southern California seem like a paradise. The air around me was fresh and new. My reality had shifted, and I was grateful be alive in this place at this time. This was not your normal everyday college class, and I was excited by the possibilities. I opened my arms and said out loud my favorite words from the musical, “The Fantasticks”: “Please God, please, don’t let me be normal.” PS. If you were in this class or one similar, please contact me so we can share our memories.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Journey Toward Wholeness

A few days ago the following comment on the Trayvon Martin killing appeared on a chat list: "The UUA's Journey Toward Wholeness greatly oversimplifies the
complexity of racism, while being "anti-", offering little that is is
positive on which to build. Events like this Latino on Black
violence points up that fact."

I've been thinking about this statement for a few days, deciding whether or not to respond. However, my commitment to Journey Toward Wholeness won't let this statement go unchallenged.

I was in one of the early groups for the training provided by Crossroads for the Unitarian Universalist Association, so I got the full unadulterated version. This was in the mid-1990s. Parts of the training were hard to take, no doubt about it. Most problematic for me was the notion that we were asked to look at race separately from gender and class. I still have problems with that. However, I participated in all three levels of the training and found it to be a life changing experience.

I came to understand the importance of the definition of racism--which the chat statement IMHO fails to take into account.

Racism = prejudice + power

Using this definition, it was clear then and is even more clear today that in virtually all institutions of our society power is held by wealthy white men. Many others, particularly other white folk, benefit from the social arrangements created by these institutions.

When we who were white were asked in the training to acknowledge that we were racist, we were not saying we personally were prejudiced, although most of us discovered subtle ways we had internalized prejudiced attitudes. What saying "I am racist" meant to me was understanding the myriad ways I benefit from being white in this society.

I did not carry guilt away from the training, but instead felt empowered to continually examine my reactions and actions through the lens of my commitment to being anti-racist.

For those who find the "anti" prefix negative, I would remind you of the value of other "antis"--like antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antitoxins, etc. The comparison to medicines works especially if you think of racism as a social disease. To rid ourselves personally of this dis-ease we need to become conscious of our participation in the system and change our responses in order to change the system.

The training included the importance of understanding the relationship among different oppressed groups and introduced us to the concept of "lateral oppression." We see a lot of this today in the prevalence of bullying. One person who is bullied because of her/his participation in a particular group (based on race, social standing, class, size, strength, perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.) may bully another weaker person of a different group--or maybe just lash out at whoever is handy and likely not to resist too much.

Conficts between different ethnic groups are common, because one of the ways to gain a sense of self-esteem in an oppressive system is to oppress someone from another group. It's a very sad situation that perpetuates violence and keeps oppressive systems from changing. Understanding lateral oppression as part of racism helps us begin to figure out how to dismantle it.

What I've tried to do ever since my participation in the highly enlightening Journey Toward Wholeness training is to seek openings where the racist system can be changed. After a period of working thru several UU groups as a co-trainer, I have gone on to active participation in NAACP. Being part of a large movement with primarily black leadership has been another step in my awareness of how racism works and what we can do to move the system in the direction of justice.

So rather than disparaging past efforts, I suggest it is most useful to build on that past and continually renew our commitment to dismatle racis--in our hearts, souls and minds, and in our communities and congregations, and in our world. To do this, I suggest we need to remember the definition of racism.

Racism = prejudice + power

Monday, February 13, 2012


Lately I've been feeling ambivalent about saying I'm writing a book when I'm not actually doing much writing at the moment. Then Donna and I had dinner with her childhood friend, Candy Rowe, who teaches writing at UMass Boston and her husband, Raffi Yessayan, a criminal defense attorney and published author (thrillers based on his former role as DA).

We got into talking about writing, of course, and the conversation clarified things for me by redefining what writing is.

Ministers often say that writing a 20-minute sermon takes about 20 hours. Part of the process involves reading, research, and thinking/feeling about the message. In my case, this initial part could take anywhere from 5 to 10 hours or even more. Then there's the preparation of the context, i.e. the service itself, including music, readings, children’s story, meditation/prayer, etc.--another 2-5 hours. Then when I'm ready to put the words together, that process takes 6-8 hours. Funny thing is that until just now, I never related my sermon writing process to the process of writing this book.

Raffi described his favorite role in "writing" as plotting, figuring out what's going to happen in the story, what the point of view is in each chapter, the character development, the flow of action, etc. That's what he's doing now with a book project he's currently working on with Candy and another couple.

I remembered how I used to write term papers. I spent the bulk of the time researching and making notes, all the while formulating in my mind what I was going to say. Sometimes what I would say changed, even late in the game, based on what I discovered in my research, which is why when I was in college, I often stayed up all night to finish a term paper. By the way, I almost always got As on my term papers but generally did not do as well on written exams.

So I realize that right now I’m in the reading, research, and thinking/feeling part of "writing" my book. I'm reading all sorts of things I saved or my mother saved that I wrote over the years--like the many long letters I wrote from Germany and the notes I made about my teaching and the challenges it presented. I'm sorting though boxes of papers and memorabilia, putting them into order—chronologically and by theme, subject, or type of writing. Then I take chunks and read through them and make notes.

Earlier I skimmed and partially read my journals, which cover the latter part of the time period I'm including in the book. When I get done reading the other things I’ve written, I intend to go back to the journals and try to put it all into context. I'm about to construct a timeline, so I can keep track and understand better what was happening when and what experiences may have led to what new thoughts and plans.

When I started my initial work on this project, I wrote what I remembered without referring to these materials from the past. If I had continued on that track, I might have been able to write an interesting book, but it would have lacked the depth and significance that will now be possible. Candy says what people expect from a memoir is a real grappling with the issues raised by one's life and experiences.

Processing the rich materials I have from my past almost requires a kind of self-psychoanalysis. I wonder if I can be self aware enough to do it on my own or if I need to ask for help. I've been considering finding a spiritual director.

One of my recurring ideas about structure is create a dialog between my 60s self and who I am today. I'm still not sure how to make it work, but I'm now learning to trust that when the time comes to put all this together, the structure, voice, and message will be clear and will, in the translated words of Rilke, “flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.”

I still have the chapter outline I made based on my initial writing, but I can see now that may need to change. I also finally understand why most memoirs I read, especially first ones, have taken the authors a decade or more to complete. Initially I thought I could complete a draft of my book by this summer and publish the book in 2013, but now I realize it will undoubtedly take longer. Still, I remain committed to getting the book out as soon as possible, because I believe it carries a message that will contribute to the social change movements of today.

At the Women’s Lodge Imbolc Retreat and Ritual, the message that came through to me was TRUST THE PROCESS. That’s just what I am now doing as I write this book!

At some point soon, I will start posting updates and reflections along the way at Stay tuned.