A Gift from Grown Sons

On the Danube, 1985
On the Danube, 1985

My sons are gifted givers of love.  To their wives.  To their sons. To us.  The richness of this awareness is indescribable.

To watch a man, a son of yours, arrive home from work, lift his infant son and greet him with such easy confidence and comfort and tenderness, help his toddler handle his anger, joke with his wife, ask with deep concern “how is Dad feeling?” well – you can’t imagine.  If you’re lucky, maybe you can.

To watch his brother conduct serious conversations with his one year old, read to him, laugh with him, unabashedly speak of his love for his wife and child and offer small acts of kindness to us – and to so many others – well – you can’t imagine.  If you’re lucky, maybe you can.

I know many families share in these blessings.  But I’m writing it now because I woke up this morning thinking this, feeling so full of gratitude you can’t imagine.  If you’re lucky, maybe you can.

Mom to Mom: “Is There a Gun in Your Home?” #playdates2015


shooting question edited

Guns in other people’s houses: here’s what one mom wrote last spring in the Washington Post, that emerged again on Facebook after the Oregon school shooting.

The other mom might say, “Can Chloe come over here tomorrow to play with Maddie?” I would ask, “Do you keep guns in your house?”….I’m not quite sure what compelled me to ask about guns when my children were small. I just added it to the litany of things I would tell parents – we have a dog, we have a pool that’s fenced, we don’t keep guns. It seemed that if a parent told me about their child’s food allergy, I could and should ask if they kept guns.

When my older son was in kindergarten, he used to visit his friend Michael.  One day he came home and announced that Michael’s father had a gun – he had seen it.   Thirty-five years ago that was a shock, especially on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  We decided all playdates with Michael would move to our house and explained to his parents, who weren’t particularly troubled by our decision.  But it’s not easy.

It’s in our nature to be polite, civil to another parent, especially when their children like each other, but even I, the pathological people pleaser, couldn’t do otherwise.

As I watch what is unfolding in our country now, recalling the frightening relief that we learned about The Gun before anything happened, and reading on Facebook how many of our younger friends’ kids have lockdown drills even in 1st and 2nd grade, it’s tough not to feel sad — and angry.

There are more than enough words written about this already, but as we experience the continuing epidemic of tragedy and our national unwillingness to confront the issue, and I see my oldest grandson almost the age at which our son first faced this, I just wonder if our country has any will left to improve anything – even the safety of our children.

Dirty Dancing and Planned Parenthood: a Perfect History Lesson

dirty dancing
This showed up in my Facebook feed Thursday night and blew me away.  It may have been funny to many, but it left me breathless.

I don’t know if it’s possible for younger people today to know how terrible that time before Roe was for so many young women like Penny, who faced the terror and hopelessness of an unwanted pregnancy, or what a real miracle it was that she was rescued.

Dirty Dancing is set in the summer of 1963, just before Francis “Baby” Houseman is about to leave for Mt Holyoke.  I left only a year later, for Smith.  So she and I are cousins, if not sisters.  Each wanting to change the world, each with a wonderful, trusting father, each falling for a bad boy with such a different history from our own … and each inexperienced in realities such as those faced by a pregnant dancer with no money whose illegal abortion goes terribly wrong.

She nearly dies — saved only by the skill of Francis’ doctor father.  The film is a fairy tale – in the love story for sure, but also in the story of the damsel in distress rescued by a fatherly wizard who brings her back from the brink.  Most women in those pre-Roe days – and many again now, in states where abortion rights are savaged every day — faced real back alleys and unskilled procedures on kitchen tables with no wizard, or anyone else, to save them.  Penny’s story was as real as they come, and it’s no joke to remind us that her fairy tale is in real danger of once again becoming the dark horror story it used to be.

So yes – it’s always fun when cultural references inform reality.  But it’s hard to enjoy even this clever comparison when the lives of so many Pennys and her sisters are in such terrible jeopardy.

Is 2016 the New 1968? Bernie Sanders, The Donald and Eugene McCarthy

McCarthy and Cindy 2
Election Night, New Hampshire Primary, 1968

They called us a lot of things.  “The Children’s Crusade” (an awful lot of us were college kids,)” “revolutionaries,” “dangerous  idealists,” sometimes even “traitors.”

Dump LBJ1We were the ones who responded to Allard Lowenstein’s call to”Dump Johnson” by drafting an anti-war candidate,  because, as he told us, “you can’t beat somebody with nobody.” We signed on to help to bring down President Lyndon Johnson and his Vietnam War with the only person willing to run, Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy.  And yeah, that’s me with that same Senator Eugene McCarthy. In 1968, in the middle of the night, in New Hampshire, when we kind of won* the New Hampshire primary.

Now observers of the movements behind both Senator Bernie Sanders and the Donald Trump/Ben Carson Republicans, have compared those campaigns to our efforts, and to some extent, to the rest of the 1960’s anti-war movement.  So.  What do we think?

SANDERS Crowd, Phoenix, AZ


TRUMP crowd, Mobile AL
TRUMP crowd, Mobile AL

In 1968: We were desperate and felt we were losing our country – or at least its soul and moral place in the world.  We were doing it in someone else’s country and with cruel tools like napalm and cluster bombs.

2016: These campaigners, too, are desperate, and whether from right or left, feel they are losing their country.  Consider Sanders’ outrage and economic populism, calling out an economy he views as not only unjust but un-American; consider the huge response.

Consider the fevered reaction to Trump’s pledges to “Make America Great Again”, not only through his business acumen (and some horrifying immigration changes and racial provocation) but also through economic ideas that even Paul Krugman reluctantly acknowledges aren’t dumb.

1968: Vietnam was a life and death issue; the draft brought it home to every American, especially the young — and their parents and teachers and, gradually, much of the rest of America.

It’s always the old to lead us to the war
It’s always the young to fall
Now look at all we’ve won with the saber and the gun
Tell me is it worth it all — Phil Ochs, I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore

2016: Today, the life and death issue is the disintegration of the great American middle class that has long built and sustained this country (to say nothing of enabling a consumer economy that sustained growth for decades.) It’s a brutal blow to what Americans see the their birthright.  We all know the symptoms – underemployment, disappearing job security and benefits, and this, from a 2014 Pew report:

But after adjusting for inflation, today’s average hourly wage has just about the same purchasing power as it did in 1979, following a long slide in the 1980s and early 1990s and bumpy, inconsistent growth since then. In fact, in real terms the average wage peaked more than 40 years ago: The $4.03-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 has the same purchasing power as $22.41 would today.

1968: We had very little faith in institutions (“the Establishment,”) from the government to the police to political parties, gigantic, impersonal universities, media that covered us with cruel disdain, and of course, the military.  With limited experience, we didn’t really understand the complicated issues that faced each of these entities – and our country – and exacerbated both its problems and every tragic mistake.  And though we were right about much of what we believed, we were pretty cavalier in the belief we knew how to fix things.

Although I was immunized by my steel town history, shared with kids who would never see a college or a white-collar job, many of my peers saw my classmates and neighbors simply as “hard hats” – lesser beings who needed us to instruct them.  Many didn’t consider the gap between our privileged lives and their own.

We also were enormously suspicious of a military governed by law, tradition and accountability to a commander-in-chief influenced not only by the legendary “best and the brightest” but also by a legacy including Soviet power, the “loss” of China to Communism and the fear that it might be replicated – and a political and personal story that was rapidly becoming obsolete.  That perceived rigidity and “Dr. Strangelove” stereotypes governed us.

2016: That same distrust of the Establishment informs the Tea Party but it has also touched also many, many other Republicans/Conservatives.  As one commentator observed: “They deeply believe that President Obama has ruined America.”  Beyond their rage at him come the usual suspects: politicians who care only whether they lost their own jobs, hopelessness, inability to pay for their children’s education, a cynical, uncaring media, the disappearance of decent, well-paying jobs, an emerging multicultural America where it’s hard to find one’s place and a chaotic present from Ferguson to Syria to the Hungarian border.

The Sanders people share a good deal of that distrust, beginning with the economic inequality, frozen wages and dead-end jobs at the heart of his message, but not ending there.  Add suspicion of the mainstream media (MSM), the police, college costs and crippling student loans, racism, sexism, union-busting and all the rest.

So yes, there’s plenty of common ground between that turbulent year and today.  And it’s hard to underestimate  how far we might have gone back then if we’d had the Internet.

Even so, I can’t vote YES on this one.  The initial 60’s activists believed in so much more.  So many moments have been declared the day “America lost its innocence” and certainly they chipped away at it: Vietnam, the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the Chicago Democratic convention, Watergate, Irangate, the Clinton scandals, Oklahoma City, Challenger, the 1980 election and, of course, 9/11.  Those who have chosen action since those shattering events are almost a different species – at least those 40 and younger.

These losses also inform Trump and Tea Party voters, I think, as they try to turn back the clock and reconstitute an American that is no more.

As for the left, after years during which unions were decimated, blue-collar wages eviscerated, voting rights emasculated, women’s rights torn away and racial and religious tensions breaking every heart…  well, it sounds familiar but it’s so much tougher because what’s happening now has moved our country backward and the left is fighting to hang onto or reclaim lost rights, not win new ones.

It really doesn’t matter anyway.  Things look bad right now, and optimism, belief in the possibility of positive change… do you see it anywhere?

*Actually we only got 42% of the vote but that was so high against such a powerful politician and Democratic machine that it really was a “win” and caused him, a month or so later, to declare he would not “seek nor will I accept” the nomination to run for a second term.

Emmys, Women of Color and the Wonderful Awesomely Luvvie

Listening to Viola Davis last night and reading responses from so many of my friends was inspiring, but hardly surprising. I’ve written often about the gift, through the Internet, of access to the ideas of women of color their perspectives on America and race.

But last night and this morning, it was as if it was brand new, with this post from AwesomelyLuvvie saying it all. The depth of joy and pride wasn’t surprising, of course. It was just so wonderful and passionate. I remembered all the “first women” of the 70’s and 80’s: astronauts and VP Candidates, fire fighters and West Point grads, Supreme Court justices, rabbis, and orchestra conductors,  and could only imagine how much bigger this must feel – especially since Davis’ speech was so phenomenal.

So hats off Luvvie!  And hats off to Viola Davis and her sisters, those who won, those who didn’t and the fierce women who supported them.

What Have They (or Maybe WE) Done to Us?

Cindy wedding 1971The day I got married my mother looked over my shoulder into the mirror and said “NOW do you finally believe you’re beautiful?”  Of course I said no.  Each of the #TBT photos here elicited the same response: “Am I beautiful?  Remotely?  No. Cute maybe.  Fun.  Smart.  Lively.  But beautiful?  No way.”

It’s always been like that.  For decades I’ve read feminist pieces on self-image and beauty and with all the intellectual awareness I have, I still can’t for the life of me, figure out how I got here.  All the years I wasted feeling so much less than, it seems, I was.

Look at these – if not beautiful, certainly not bad:

Cindy Smith College 1965
Cindy DC 1969
Cindy Paris thumbnail 1988


cindy small marin august 2014
cindy parkside edited










I know internal beauty and intellect are treasures, but this matters too – we can’t help it. Let’s keep the girls in our lives today from wasting so much energy and time on the what the world doesn’t seem to want to let them understand, and learn to define their beauty for themselves.

WWI, Women and Jon Snow: Testament of Youth

The bravest women of their (and just about any other) time, they left their protective parents and a world of white gloves and chaperoned afternoon teas, where they were barely permitted to touch the hand of a male companion, for the French battlefields of World War One and the hellish field hospitals there, washing naked, wounded men, treating their wounds, the stumps of their amputated limbs, their lost sight, their mustard gas-poisoned lungs and their shell shock.  Mocked as privileged snobs out for a thrill, they struggled to prove their strength and capacity over and over again, and they did.

Vera Brittain as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse, 1915. Photograph: the VB Estate/McMaster University Library, Hamilton, Canada VIA The Guardian

Among them was Vera Brittain, who’d fought to be one of the earliest women at Oxford, her father permitting her to enroll and risk “becoming a blue stocking” only because her beloved younger brother Edward refused to go if she could not.  Testament of Youth , the story of her struggles to attend Oxford, her brief presence there and her life-shattering experiences as a wartime nurse, is a classic, still in print and still beloved.

Kit-Harrington-and-Alicia-Vikander-Testament-of-Youth-534165Now it’s a film, and the stature of the cast, including our own Jon SnowKit Harington, as her fiancé Roland Leighton, The Wire‘s Dominic West as her father, Emily Lloyd as her mother and Miranda Richardson as her mentor  suggest that British headliners wanted to be part of her remarkable, very British  story, even in a small, if gorgeous, art film like this one.

I first met Vera in the 1979 PBS Testament of Youth series, moved from there to her trilogy: Testament of Youth, Testament of Friendship and Testament of Experience and found a sister.  A young activist in the 60’s, I understood  her need to contribute, to be part of the crisis alongside those she loved, and as a woman fighting to function in a mostly-male profession, her battles as a woman were mine too.

So, if you share the political memories, ideal and goals of so many of us,  Testament of Youth needs to be part of you, too.  Go see it.



Ripple, The Grateful Dead and Don Draper

Once upon a time, things were hopeful.  We were too.  Not because there was peace and love and bounty in the world but because, if we all tried, maybe there could be,

blissed out don draper Coke commercialThat’s what was so perfect about the Mad Men finale: the ironies of hindsight.  There was the desperate Don Draper, moving toward bliss and emerging from both the 60’s and his misery to create the perfect, pseudo-idealistic yet consummately cynical commercial: a UN of young people on a hilltop, singing about Coke.

This video is what that video should have been.  Musicians from 12 cities on 5 continents, brought together by Playing for Change,  join to pay tribute to the fiftieth anniversary of The Grateful Dead and to remind us of what had all hoped, and maybe still hoped, could be.

I was a little teary.  The friend who sent me the link said he’d been “crying like a girlymon the whole weekend…”

This isn’t the first “Playing for Change” video; take a look at what is a wonderful body of work created not only to move sentimental people like me but also to raise money for music schools and other services in areas of great need.

And while you’re at it – here are Robert Hunter’s lyrics for this beloved Dead classic.

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine

And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung,
Would you hear my voice come thru the music,
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken,
Perhaps they’re better left unsung.
I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs to fill the air.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

You who choose to lead must follow
But if you fall you fall alone,
If you should stand then who’s to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home.

Lanny Budd, Hero for a Lifetime: a Pilgrimage to Juan-les-Pins

Lanny Budd lived somewhere on this hill .
Lanny Budd lived somewhere on this hill .

He’s been part of my life for more than fifty years – dashing, smart, generous and always on the side of the angels.  With him I wandered through most of the 20th Century in the company of critical figures including playwright George Bernard Shaw, powerful arms dealer Basil Zaharoff,  Adolph Hitler and his brilliant propaganda director Joseph Goebbels, Leon Blum, the first Socialist (and Jewish) Prime Minister of France and of course Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin, as well as the infamous “modern dance” pioneer Isadora Duncan, Chinese rebel leader Mao Tse Tung, and, among so many others,  Albert Einstein and of course, FDR, whom he served as a Secret Agent from before WWII to well after the war.

When we met, he was 13 and I a couple of years older and, much like the NYT’s Julie Salamon, my mom introduced us and from our first meeting I knew that I would love him forever.  His remarkable life revolved around his home base of Juan-les-Pins,  where he grew up, and to which he always returned.

The house was built on the top of a rise, some way back, from the sea. It was of pink stucco with pale blue shutters and a low roof of red tiles. It was in the Spanish style, built around a lovely court with a fountain and flowers; there Lanny played when the mistral was blowing, as it sometimes did for a week on end.

Last week we went there, where Lanny  lived, with Beauty Budd, his artist model mother.  Though she and his father Robbie Budd, a New England arms dealer, never married, Robbie visited often, struggling to transmit his conservative capitalism to a young man living in dire danger of corruption among artists, journalists, socialists, communists and wealthy ladies, many of them an earlier version of trophy wives.  Their fierce conversations were a wonderful window on the conflicts of those times.

Lanny is, of course, not real – at least not to everyone; he’s the hero of eleven novels written by the prolific Upton Sinclair (yes, he’s the one who wrote The Jungle) tracing world history between 1913 and 1949.   Best-sellers all when they appeared in the 40’s and early 50’s and translated into 16 languages in 20 countries, the books formed much of my political and historic perspective and I was hardly alone.

When people ask me what has happened in my long lifetime, I do not refer them to the newspaper files and to the authorities, but to Upton Sinclair’s novels. — George Bernard Shaw

As we walked through the village I turned to my ever-tolerant husband with a catch in my voice, said – surprising myself with the depth of my emotion “I’ve known him almost longer than I’ve known anyone except my family.”  He and the saga that surrounded him felt, in so many ways, just that real.

One of Lanny’s childhood friends, Silesian, and bitter about the deprivation caused by enormous war reparations after WWI, became a Nazi; another, British and liberal, a fighter pilot and socialist.

His first wife ended up hanging around with with the Nancy Astor and the pro-German “Cliveden Set.” My world view was formed through their eyes and conversations and the events they faced as allies and sometime adversaries.

The books, Lanny, and the characters who moved in and out of his life were, for me – a very personal window on the horror and violence, courage and evil, glamour and idealism that was the first half of the 20th Century.

Oh, and of course, it being the South of France, the literary folks hung around there too.  We had lunch at Scott Fitzgerald’s “Villa Saint-Louis”, just down the hill from Lanny’s neighborhood and now the Hotel Belle Rives.

Belle Rive fitz patio
“With our being back in a nice villa on my beloved Riviera (between Cannes and Nice) I’m happier than I’ve been for years. It’s one of those strange, precious and all too transitory moments when everything in one’s life seems to be going well.” 
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, March 15, 1926, Juan-les-Pins (Plaque outside the hotel that was his home on the Riviera)

Clinton confidante Lanny Davis was named for Lanny Budd.  The late NBC News anchor John Chancellor once told me he wanted to be Lanny Budd.   At 15, I wanted to marry him.

Now, I wish I could have gone up the hill to the pink villa, rung the bell and just thanked him for all I learned from him, how much more available I am to travel and political thought and my own role in the world because I’ve known him.  He may not be “real” but his impact on me, and so very many others, was profound.

Indeed, thanks Lanny, and Upton Sinclair, and my long-suffering husband who tolerated a pilgrimage to a place where not so much happened in the “real world” but plenty happened to me.

The Jews of Girona, Their Exile – and Bruce Springsteen (Seriously)

Girona refl 2 fix

This is Girona, home to a large, prosperous, and effective Jewish community until a confluence of events took it all away.

In a single year, two historic moments changed western history and Jewish history, too.  It was 1492.  The very Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, partners in a marriage made to consolidate power, threw all the Jews out of Spain.  Immediately.  Convert or get out.

At the same time, of course, these same “Catholic Kings” sent Christopher Columbus on his way to the “new world” and forever changed faith, power and geopolitics.

The Jewish History Museum of Girona beautifully documents much of this story:

Two "JIDE" - Jewish figures from the 1050 "Creation Tapestry" and also seen here.
Two “JUDEI” – Jewish figures from the 1050 “Creation Tapestry”

The letters floating above these two little people say “JUDEI” – Jew.

Girona mikvah dating from 1465

This 14th Century mikvah was found only recently. How haunting, especially with the recent mikvah scandal, to see before us evidence of how long women have honored this commitment.

Words from a tombstone (see next picture)
Words from a tombstone (see next picture)

For some reason, this just felt extra sad.  There are so many little boys in my life – and some big ones – so maybe that’s part of it.  Beyond that though, the humanness and loss felt so real, and the suffering of those times so much more concrete as I absorbed the words of this one grieving parent.

But what, you may ask, does any of this have to do with Bruce Springsteen?  Well, as I entered the lovely museum gift shop, attended by this equally lovely gentleman, I heard Bruce on the radio. Gradually, I realized that he was singing My Hometown. 2015-06-23 11.32.28

BRUCE My Hometown

Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores
Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more
They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to your hometown  

Last night me and Kate we laid in bed Talking about getting out
Packing up our bags maybe heading south
I’m thirty-five we got a boy of our own now
Last night I sat him up behind the wheel and said son take a good look around
This is your hometown

Exile and loss, pain and deprivation can be understood on so many levels. Just as the Jews were brutally ejected from the homes and community they had so painstakingly built, so were workers throughout this country as the factories and mines and mills that had sustained them for so long collapsed. Although on a different scale, they too lost everything they knew and the life they had loved, and were forced to find another, unknown place to call home. Although less brutally required to depart, they had no choice, really.

Loss of home, love, family and community is a hardship experienced by more and more people throughout the world. Hunger, terrorism, civil war, drought, economic collapse and religious, gender and racial discrimination hurt in different ways and to different degrees, but the pain is the same in nature if not in degree. The only thing that changes is the faith, or class, or color of the refugees.  We still certainly don’t seem to have learned to care much more today when it happens to people who aren’t us.