Checking in with Readers

Inflatable Globe

Dear friends and supporters and readers,

Things are taking quite a turn in my new work and I wanted to chat with you about it, particularly those who’ve been good enough to read my first novel. I’m going to stretch out here, so you may want to read this when you have a moment to stretch out too.

I’m heading down new paths for sure, both in short stories and a second novel. The question is, am I even on the same map? Do I need a pen name for each endeavor? Do these new works need to be corralled separately, like with like?

Mulling these questions—as is so often true for me—the voice that came forward to help was my mom’s.

Mom fled her Southern, Depression-defined roots for what she thought she wanted: a relatively moneyed, big-city life. But circumstances took her full circle. She came back home, geographically and spiritually to the Blue Ridge Mountains. She wound up hunkered down in a little (and, God knows, quirky) mountain house next to a spring with her garden, her snowshoes by the door and, yes, a rifle in the closet. If you’d met her toward the end of her life, you’d have missed a key theme: travel. Underneath her survivalist instinct to “go to ground” (as we say of burrowing critters), she wanted to see the world.

On the Moon

I put this together on the night of July 20, 1969. My brothers, sister and a bunch of neighbor kids had scooted in eyeball-close to our one, piddlin’, tee-niny TV set to “watch” Neil Armstrong step onto the moon. Of course, there would be no watching because in the mountains, pre-cable, there was no reception (back then, television signals were broadcast through the air). All we could see was the interference pattern we used to call “snow.” In fact, we were listening to the moon by way of a halting narration so different from the wall-o’-sound blathering of pundit TV today. There were dramatic gaps of silence as the commentators waited to report. I remember the hiss of the interference itself—surely the actual sound of space being transmitted to us. It was TV reduced to radio, an experience that heightened the actual distance between a booted foot in the lunar dust and our bare feet arranged in front of the impenetrable dancing whiteness before us.

And here came my mother in that moment, saying to no one in particular, or maybe to the moms sitting next to her on the couch, her words coming out of the darkness “I’d give anything to ride in space.”

That’s such a Southern-ism: “ride in space.” But it was the “I’d give anything” that stopped me. I remember thinking, “She doesn’t want to be with us. She wants to be out there—as far out there as she can get.” I remember the pang this brought me, and yet I understood her even then, I really did. She wasn’t unhappy with us or her life. It’s just that, way down deep, her thoughts, her imagination, her longings ran global, even interstellar…

Magic Eight Ball

Let me jump ahead to now:

It’s a weird thing for us writers: by the time you readers get hold of our work, we’re already well down the road on something new. Indeed, as soon as my publisher declared “Going to Solace’ final and sent it off to book designers and formatters, I went right back to the blank page. When I say “blank,” I’m being literal. Like many, I’m a Magic Eight Ball writer (we’re talking Mattel here, not inebriants or psychostimulants). When I’m drafting, I have absolutely no idea what might float forward into words, and certainly not why. I love this way of working for its serendipities, but there’s a price to pay on the back end: a lot of editing as I search for a story’s shape and nature and maybe even its meaning.

I’m in the middle of that search right now with my newer stuff even as some of it starts moving out to readers since none of it a sequel. Thanks to Mom, however, I’m beginning to see how it’s all related.

Northwest Passage

It turns out, my concerns are the same, they’ve just gone global, traveling through space and time, real and imaginary. Their settings cross borders. Their plots cross genres. They don’t go quite as far as the moon, but then again, as we learned in “Going to Solace,” an elevator can seem like the moon to a man who’s never ridden in one before.

Yes, I’m on the same map, the one I use to explore who we are in worlds we make and make up, for ill and for good. Always, I’m looking at “ordinary” people improvising under extraordinary pressure. Always humor lurks at the edges of the awful truths of things. Always I’m rooting for ingenuity and dignity and codes of decency, even in explorations of their opposites.

Thanks for traveling with me even when as the “ride” takes unexpected turns. Send me your notes and comments either as you go or upon your return from reading. I’m right here on FB or on Twitter @amctigue.

Meanwhile, I’d better get back to work.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

XMAS SR ’06: Leaving Home

xmas girl 1906Press Democrat blog. Meanwhile, the longer version is here, chock full of the details and texture that historical research always yields. The whole thing feels so old-timey-Christmas that I went ahead and did an audio recording as well. If you like to hear your stories read out loud, you’ll find it on my YouTube channel: XMAS SR ’06 audio or XMAS SR ’06 audio for mobile devices

Peace on earth and cheers to all. Many thanks to Robert and everyone at our cherished local paper, The Press Democrat, to which I am a grateful, long-time subscriber. 


Chapter Three: Leaving Home

Extended Version

From the minute the day began, everything went piggedly-higgeldy. Where were the roosters? It wasn’t their ruckus I woke to, it was Maddie pummeling me from under the quilt, trying to push me onto the floor. “Grandpa’s calling,” she mumbled, puddling herself into a ball.

December mornings are chill in a proper bedroom, but out on the sleeping porch with the mist coiling around us, it was torture. I wrapped myself, nightgown and all, in a sweater and coat, sliding on a second pair of socks. I could hear Grandpa’s voice now, roaring, “Jessica Anne Collier, where are you?!”

That woke the roosters. Now they were crowing—Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!—with every dog on Cherry Street baying in response.

I scooted down the hall pretending the floorboards were ice and my socks padded skates, sliding so well that I missed the bannister and skidded into the grandfather clock which set it chiming a good fifteen minutes behind schedule. It had been running slow, of course, ever since the quake.

Grandpa stood at the top of the stairs, long johns bunching over his trousers, braces looped to his knees. “You are one sorry sight, Miss Catawampus! You’re on your own this morning. Get your sister ready for school. The boys too.”

“Where’s Auntie Ruth?”

“Gone for Doctor Walter.”


“Grandma’s taken a turn.”

“No, I mean, why didn’t you use the telephone?”

“Never you mind. Be a good girl now.” He shut the bedroom door firmly behind him.

Be a good girl. That’s what Papa always says when he wants me to do something I don’t want to do. Like be a mommy when there is no mommy around. I mean, you try dressing two boys who can’t find a clean pair of hose between them—Alfred with his knickers on backward until I set him straight, Carl scrounging for his tie beneath the bed, mussing his shirt until I grabbed him by the ankles and pulled him out.

It was too cold to dress Maddie on the porch so we huddled in the kitchen. Wiggling her into her tights was a nightmare, she wouldn’t sit still for her pinafore and her boots—well, never mind trying to lace them up. She kept swinging her feet out and in, out and in, singing some made-up song about “fluffy ruffles” until I had to grab both her knees and pinch them together.

But her hair was the worst. Mama always insisted that we keep our hair well off our faces. I braided mine, all the while pleading with Maddie to at least try to do her pigtails. Not a chance. I did my best to tie them up with mismatched yarn, a spray of stray ends poking every which way.

Mama will not be pleased. The thought crossed my mind before I could remember that Mama was not here and would not be here, pleased or otherwise.

“Where’s my mama?” That was Alfred in the kitchen door. He had a point. Where was Auntie Ruth?

“Timbuktu,” I told him. Carl, the little one, hovering behind his brother, looked like he would start to cry. “I want my mama!” he howled.

“So do I,” I sang out. In an instant, I scooped him up to swing him around, thrilling the tears out of him. “Aunt Ruth will come home any minute, boys. Let’s scrounge some breakfast.”

Maddie wanted biscuits, the boys muffins but there wasn’t so much as a scrap of bread in the house. We found ham on the sideboard. Potatoes, some currents. And pickles.

“Pickles for breakfast!” Carl was delighted.

“That’s what they eat in Timbuktu,” I told him.

The grandfather clock chimed the half hour. Late again! Out to the porch went the boys, snatching up their hoops with me yelling behind them, “No hoops at school!” waving jackets their way.

They’d started down the steps for the sidewalk when Joe Pastern came speeding on his bicycle, cutting square in front of Mr. Harris’s delivery wagon, spooking the horse so bad that three quarts of milk toppled onto the dirt not two paces from where we stood. I pulled Maddie back just in time to keep her clean.

A welter ensued. “Come back, hooligan! I know your parents!” called Mr. Harris, but the boy didn’t even stop for the damage he’d done. Poor Mr. Harris jumped down to take his mare by the reins, talking to no one and everyone as he went: “Infernal cyclists! There ought to be a law…”

“Roads are getting dangerous.” Pete, the newsboy, had Grandpa’s Press Democrat in his hand. “Folks on 3rd Street had to round up two cows this morning, somebody’s strays.”

Of course, the boys wanted to stay on with Pete to confer over the sensational possibilities that Santa Rosa’s streets held for mayhem, but Maddie was already halfway down the block. “Sis!” I called, “tell Teacher I have to stay home with Grandma.” Maddie waved as the boys caught up with her, Pete tagging along behind.

Phew. I sat down on the top step: If Im quiet, I thought, Grandpa will think Ive gone to school. His newspaper lay in my hand. He liked to read it before anybody else, pages flat off the press, but I held the thing up anyway, trying to take a look without disturbing its neat arrangement. A handbill fluttered out, brightly colored, elves and reindeer running around its edges:

Christmas comes by once a year

Christmas comes but once a year

When it does it brings good cheer.

Kith and kin so very dear

Travel home to gather here. 



Preserved Ginger           

Pulled Figs

Jelly Crystals  

Lollies of Every Description. 

Christmas! Ugh! I folded the sheet to nothing, squinching it down inside my boot. Grandpa wouldn’t miss it; he’d never even know it was there. I smoothed the rest of the paper to erase any evidence of my nosing. There was a photograph on the front page. A handsome man looked straight out at me. He wore rugged clothes, a beat-up hat, just like the gear Papa had on when he headed north, the kind you need to cook over a campfire. Under the picture it said, JACK LONDON, ANARCHIST.

Dr. Walter’s horn blasted as he pulled his roadster to the curb. “Why aren’t you in school, little lady?” I jumped down to straddle the mess of milk and glass there, pointing to his wheels. Those Runabout tires are famous for tearing at the least little thing.

“Where’s Auntie Ruth?” I asked him.

He was gathering things into his doctor bag, “Ruth? I haven’t seen her for days.”

“Didn’t she come to fetch you?”

Clearly in a hurry, Dr. Walter stopped to take me in. “Why aren’t you in school?”

“Grandpa asked me to stay home and help.”

Of course that was exactly when Grandpa banged onto the porch with, “Jessica Anne, why aren’t you in school?” I expected to hear an earful. Instead, Dr. Walter smiled shaking his hand. “What a good girl she is, Ray, offering to help you.”

I could see Grandpa had other ideas about just how good a girl I was given my unauthorized truancy, so I held up the newspaper, pointing to the picture. “Grandpa, what’s a an-arch-ist?

The doctor laughed. Grandpa did not. He took the paper, ushering the doctor inside. “Honestly, Ira, I wonder at the wisdom of this public education you’re so excited about.” He turned back to me. “That’s for grown-ups, Jessie. Now be a good girl.”

Up the stairs they went, leaving a houseful of scatteration and no one but me to put it right. I did what I could in the kitchen, rinsing, wrapping the ham, scraping what was left into a slop bowl for the pig. In the parlor, I went hands and knees, disassembling a fort the boys had made out of Grandpa’s precious paper.

On the sleeping porch, I pulled our GRAVENSTEIN crate out from under the daybed fixing to tuck away Maddie’s nightgown when what did I find there but more newspaper! Oh, that Maddie! Was she making paper dolls? Thank goodness, the pages weren’t cut, but they were pink! Maddie’d been coloring with her colored pencils. Grandpa would be furious! On one side was a photograph of an ancient, bearded gentleman brandishing a bottle. PERUNA, it said, THE GREATEST REMEDY OF THE AGE. I remembered the name from our trip to Carey’s.

Well, I hope it can remedy those eyebrows, I thought. The thickets of hair above the old man’s eyes were almost as long as his beard.

On the other side of the page, a whole advertisement had been scribbled in. FLUFFY RUFFLES, it said. THE WORLD’S MOST UP-TO-DATE DOLL Then beneath: IN VARIETY AND VIGOR, A MARVEL TO ALL WHO SEE HER.

Suddenly I could hear Dr. Walter on the stairs. “Her catarrh is worse.” Folding as fast as I could, I crammed the advertisement down into my other boot and held still to listen. “It may be croup or pleurisy, but there is general debility, marasmus.”

The words were as perplexing to me as “anarchist.” I could hear the doctor at the front door now. “The child must go to school, Ray. You cannot keep her here.”

He was already at the curb as I ran into the hall. “Oh, please, please, please, don’t send Grandma away, please!”

“What?” Grandpa stopped me with a look. “Good little girls don’t listen in on grown-up conversations, Jessie.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Your grandmother is not going anywhere.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.” Grandpa looked tired. “I have to get to the bank. Be a good girl and sit with your grandma ‘til I come back.”

I took the stairs two at a time, glad to be of use, easing in next to the bed. Grandma was sleeping. Quilts covered her coverlet. A weak light came through the one window on the far side of the room. Two tables, round and square, had been set within reach. On them were medicines galore, bottles, sticky spoons and glasses cloudy with tinctures: AYER’S SARSAPARILLA, MOTHER SIEGEL’S CURATIVE SYRUP, PHOSOPHOL EMULSION and a poultice marked KOORINGA BILE BEANS.

Grandma snored a little. Someone had tied a bed cap around her white hair, the bow tucked under her chin. Only yesterday she’d been sitting up with pillows from all over the house behind her so that she could look out at the sumac tree, something that cheered her. But now she lay flat, clutching a dinner napkin in one hand. She’d already run out of handkerchiefs. The big painting of her and Grandpa with Papa and Aunt Ruth as a little boy and girl on their laps sat tilted against the wall, its glass gone, its heavy frame splintered, waiting for attention even all these months after falling down.

At least the painting could be fixed. Other things could not. Like our Christmas ornaments. The glass ones in all shapes—orbs and snowflakes, icicles and stars—so delicate, etched, treasures from Mama’s family. Boxes of them used to live in the downstairs closet at the bakery. They would be shards now. They had to be. I never asked, I never went to look, but that’s what I saw every night before sleep. Closing my eyes, I saw our ornaments in pieces among piles of bricks that once were walls.

The day crawled by like the slowest of turtles. I stayed upstairs until Maddie and the boys came home from school. Grandpa was nowhere to be seen. My cousins ran inside just long enough to gather their marbles. Dashing out the front door, they almost plowed into—Grandma Johnson! There she was on the porch, her boots mud-laden. With the harvest long over, she still wore her field bonnet. Her apron was covered with hop stains.

“Where’s your grandfather?” she asked.

Truth be told, I’d always been a little scared of Grandma Johnson. I never could figure how a woman so frozen-faced could be mother to my mother. Still, I could hear Mama’s chiding voice in my head: Where are your manners? I stepped outside, Maddie trailing along silently.

“I’m not sure where he is, Grandma Johnson. He said he was going to the bank.”

“He did, did he?”

Even coming into town alone, she’d driven the hop wagon. As always, Big Boy, the Percheron, was in harness. He’d swung his head clean around to look at me. I scooted down to the curb to let him snuffle my palms, Maddie at my side. I kept my eyes low on his muzzle.

“The doctor says we have to send Grandma away.”

“It’s not your grandmother who’s going, Jessie. At least not according to your aunt.”

“Auntie Ruth?”

“She came to see me this morning.

“That’s not what Grandpa said.” I looked up. Grandma Johnson did not look happy.

“I’ve come to get you. You and your sister.”

Get us? 

“I’ve come to take you home with me.”


“For the time being. Your Aunt Ruth came by this morning. She told me Grandma Collier’s taken a turn for the worst. She asked if you and Maddie could stay with me for a while.”

“Stay with you?” Maddie yelped. “For Christmas?”

“For Christmas but not for Christmas—” Grandma Johnson looked serious. She nodded toward the wagon. “Big Boy and I are not planning on celebrating Christmas this year. We’ve got hop wires to mend, poles to set, sacks to sew and that kiln to sweep out.”

“No Christmas!” That was Maddie, of course. I jumped past her onto the porch, my voice way too loud: “That’s fine with me. I hate Christmas!” In a flash I’d pulled the holiday handbill from my boot, stomping all over its Lollies and Pulled Figs, tearing it apart: “I – don’t – want – Christmas – ever – EVER – again!”

Maddie, the crybaby, started boo-hoo-ing which made Grandma Johnson apoplectic. She pulled a crinkled-up hanky from her apron pocket—it looked well used—alternately offering and pointing it at us. “That’s enough! We have all done enough crying for one year. Now get your things.”

Back to the sleeping porch we trudged, pulling out our GRAVENSTEIN crate to pack up what little we own.

“It’s just ‘til Grandma Collier gets better,” I said as quietly as I could.

“But no Christmas?” Maddie’s tears began anew.

“We’ll have Christmas, I promise.”

“Cross your heart?”

“Cross my heart and hope to die. Stick a needle in my eye.”

Two voices boomed from the hallway. “Girls! Don’t keep your grandmother waiting.” It was Grandpa and Auntie Ruth. Finally they’d come home. I put my finger to my lips before Maddie let our whereabouts be known. “Make you a deal,” I whispered. “I’ll take the crate. You go out the back door and keep Grandma Johnson company.”

“But she doesn’t like me,” Maddie hissed.

“Oh, she likes you fine. Ask her to help you feed Big Boy an apple from the scrap heap.”

That brightened Maddie. Off she went.

Sneaking behind the hall door I could hear Auntie Ruth talking to Grandpa now: “We have to try it,” she was saying. “Remember what the man said? It’s ‘the greatest remedy of the age.’ Just a few drops of Peruna and mother will feel so spry we can bring the girls back home again.”

Peruna? I pulled the advertisement from my boot. There it was in print GREATEST REMEDY OF THE AGE.

“Quackery,” Grandpa snorted. “Have you counted the bottles by your mother’s bed?”

“But what if it’s a miracle cure?”

“Right now the only miracle we can afford is a cup of that oxtail broth of yours.”

I heard Auntie Ruth’s footsteps receding, then:

“I spy someone’s shadow…” Grandpa’s head popped around the door, sending me squealing.

“What did I tell you about eavesdropping, young lady?”

I held out the purloined newspaper, doll-side up, talking fast: “Grandpa, when I talked to Grandma yesterday she said that Maddie’s only seven and she needs a proper Christmas even far away from home so I thought maybe we could buy her a doll.” I pointed to the words in big letters at the bottom of the page:



Cant-Break-Em, Grandpa. I found this in with her clothes.”

He nodded. I could see he understood. Maddie wanted one thing in this world, just one, that would not break, that could not break, no matter how hard the earth might shake. He pulled a dollar bill out of his pocket. “You’ll need every penny of this,” he said. “Ask Grandma Johnson to drive you to Carey’s and buy Maddie that doll.” He gave me a hug. “You’re a good girl, Jessica Anne.”

“I’ll take care of everything,” I told him. “You can count on me.”

He kissed me on the top of my head—once, twice, three times. “Pray for a miracle cure so we can bring you girls back home.”

Between the two of us, we carried the GRAVENSTEIN crate out to the hop wagon. I wasn’t much help, but Grandpa let me get my two hands up under it anyway like the big girl I wanted to be. Auntie Ruth was there to say goodbye. She looked flustered. “You’ll be home soon.”

“I’ve explained everything to the girls,” Grandma Johnson announced in a tone that said she wasn’t interested in saying much more.

With Maddie, I was all smiles. “We’re going on an adventure,” I told her and because I was smiling, she smiled too.

“Can I stand up in the wagon, Granny Johnson?” Maddie crawled up onto the flat bed like she was a picker.

“As long as you hold on tight,” was the answer. Grandma Johnson did not so much as turn around from her seat on the buckboard.

Maddie and I took a good wide stance, holding tight to the posts and even tighter to each other. Grandma Johnson clucked just once. As Big Boy eased forward, the wagon lurched. Somehow we managed to stay on our feet. Grandpa and Auntie Ruth waved from the porch, but we couldn’t wave back. All we could do was shout our goodbyes as Big Boy pulled slowly west down Cherry Street.

Posted in Family, Home, LIFE, PAGE, The Little Things, Uncategorized, Writers and Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

I’ll Have What They’re Having

“If you’re going to invent, you’re going to disrupt.” That’s Jeff Bezos talking. Once upon a time, he was Mr. Amazon. Now he’s Mr. Amazon Publishing. For good and ill, he’s inventing a seismic disruption of the book world. Journalists chronicling this sea change tend to follow the money. The latest swirl, for instance, “Random Penguin,” involves a possible merger between Penguin and Random House as a response to the Amazon juggernaut.

But I don’t need a rundown on mergers and acquisitions to get the picture–it’s right under my nose. Check the Oct 29-Nov 5, 2012 print issue of The New Yorker. Double truck, pages 64 and 65. I’ll copy it here:

Amazon Publishing Advertises in the New Yorker

Nice, right? Attractive. Intriguing. Lots and lots of literary real estate filled with high-concept, high content, touchy-feely design. In fact I have to check the fine print up at the top to be reminded that I’m looking at an advertisement, not some kicky collage-art statement. In fact, this is a book ad. We’re selling a book here. Not in a tiny column stuffed with seamy line art and bodice-ripper type. Not in a sad array of thumbnails across, say, The New York Review of Books (a periodical I love-love-love, but no one’s winning awards with those ads). Instead, we’re grabbing eyeballs with a marketing version of gestalt right in the heart of Reader Central.

And what forward-looking institution made this happen? Some high-design indie imprint? They don’t have the dough. Some high-dollar Big Six Powerhouse? They’re the last to lead with punchy communication. Nope. It’s Amazon Publishing, people, Amazon Publishing. They’re changing the game by changing the playing field at my level, the level of writers to readers. I mean come on! You’re an author or an editor or any kind of make-worthy-books-happen publishing professional, don’t you secretly want to sign up with an operation that’s selling books aggressively, inventively, disruptively?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no fan of monopolies. To switch metaphors here, no way do I think we should all run for the Amazon lifeboat, the one that created the tsunami in the first place. But we do need to take a lesson.

So, in the spirit of re-invention, I went ahead and mocked up a version of my own two-page spread. [Note to any reckless zillionaires out there: it’s ready-to-print should you feel the urge to stake me to a little prime real estate on the pages where my future readers congregate.] Until then, it’s been a good exercise to think bigger and better. Money makes things possible, true. It also opens the mind outward to new possibilities. Imagining I was blessed with Amazon’s resources, I let a team of disruptive jinn inspire a fuller expression of my novel:

Going to Solace by Amanda McTigue Ad

Even if I don’t find the pennies to hit the major media with this layout, I want to thank Amazon for reminding me to animate every invitation I extend to readers with the vibe, the feeling, the flavor of the writing within.

Posted in Artistry, Design, Expression, Going to Solace, I:DEAS, PAGE, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writers and Writing | Tagged | 6 Comments

Joie de Livre: Shared Reading

It’s been a big week. I was honored to moderate a panel celebrating the joys of shared reading called Joie de Livre (great pun) for the Women’s National Book Association and Litquake. I love the speed-chess thinking that has to happen when three knock-out novelists with three knock-out books get together to consider their works in relationship to each other.*

Amanda meets with Reading Between the Vines

Then last night I met — for the very first time in this author’s life — with a book club that had read my novel, Going to Solace. Wow. So amazing to sit among folks who know the book as well as I do, who favor this character or that, who chafe when characters fail no matter how good their reasons might be, who worry about how a particular character might fare beyond the book’s end. Reading Between the Vines: that’s what the club is called, a nod to our mutual home in wine country. The members have overfull lives, lists of to-dos, but they put that all aside once a month — they’ve been doing so for 13 years now — to talk about a book, a book they’ve had to carve out the time to read. They change it up. One month it’s classical, the next kitsch. Sometimes it’s fiction, sometimes non-.  A review copy of Going to Solace went to the leader, she loved it and — Bam — there we were last night eating dinner in stages all over the house, sipping and blabbing, chewing and blabbing — sharing reading. We talked around the book — the who and how of its long unfolding through writing into publication. We also wandered inside the book, trading questions and insights.

The whole thing has such an interesting rhythm. Stealth explorers, we readers schedule short bursts of lonely literary teleportation between breakfast and bedtime — and then meet up afterwards to compare notes. Did we come up with the same map? Did we note the same landmarks? Did we meet the same people? It’s particularly fun when our maps don’t quite line up, when our snapshots don’t look anything like the ones that other readers took. Sharing like- and not-so-like-minded experiences of the “same” book is a gas. When that book is a book you happened to write — now that’s joie de livre

* The panel featured Anita Amirrezvani, author of Equal of the Sun; Amanda Coplin, author of The Orchardist; and C.W. Gortner, author of The Queen’s Vow.

Posted in Going to Solace, PAGE, Publishing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

D.A.R. 2.0

Two generous women of African ancestry help the D.A.R. move beyond its racist history.

The New York Times’ recent article on the D.A.R.

My mother was one. That means I’m one: a (big quotes here) “Daughter of the American Revolution.” I wouldn’t have known that if my dad hadn’t told me because my mother never spoke of it. Why? The thought “mortified” her, that is, she’d rather die than lay claim to such a thing.

I was a girl on the one occasion when my father brought the subject up. Mind you, he ached for his own long, traceable family arc. His Irish Catholic background dissolves a few generations back and by the time you hit the Cromwell era, the records disappear altogether. He lived vicariously through my mother’s ancestry, delighting in the idea that her lineage went back to a European-American version of “first people.”

Not mom. I remember that conversation clearly. She cut Dad off in mid-boast, turning to my sister and me to tell us in no uncertain terms that, Yes, our people (person) landed in Jamestown, managing to survive and procreate. Yes, we were technically D.A.R. But she would have nothing to do with that organization because of its appalling history of racism. Period. She made it clear there would be no talk of it in our house. And when we were old enough, she told us,  she hoped we would have the good sense to follow her example and affiliate ourselves with more worthy sister- and brotherhoods.

Not a word was spoken of it again. Indeed, dutiful daughter that I am, I’ve scarcely thought of the Daughters over all these decades. But I wish Mom could have read the New York Times with me this past week. Thanks to the astonishing generosity of mind and spirit of a few individual women of African ancestry–and it requires generosity for any such person to give any such organization a second chance–the D.A.R. is being invited to redeem itself. To tell its history true. To open its doors to all Daughters. Thank you to the trailblazers who pushed those damn doors ajar. Perhaps one of these days I’ll consider passing through them–but not before I see a host of folks once excluded welcomed in ahead of me.

Posted in Family, Going to Solace, I:DEAS, Identity, LIFE, The South | 1 Comment

Muppets and Vampire Squids

“Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and you are not currently an ax murderer), you will be promoted into a position of influence.”

I had no intention of prepping another post on leadership this morning. Then I read the paper. New York Times, OpEd. This will be one of those mornings I’ll remember for a long time because my heart’s still going a mile a minute. Because the column there, “Why I am Leaving Goldman Sachs” is so clear, so strident. Zero B.S. Straight talk. Names named. Lord have mercy, it’s a breath of fresh air not just for the content, but also for the clarity of writing, the emotional honesty of the writer’s voice.

I am well aware of the irony: a Captain of Rogue Capitalism bemoans the erosion of ethics in his world. Ethics? Really? I’m not a client. I have never been and will never be pursued as such. I’ve got my two cents squirreled away in the sleepy, safe, dusty padded rooms of low-low-low return “investment.” But the rudderless, heartless, unprincipled way of doing business that Greg Smith describes feels rife even in my life. And we’ve simply got to change that. All of us. Insist upon for ourselves, model and teach that leadership is about service (as my dear friend, Dr. Lynne Morrow preaches daily). That everything is about service. Therein lies both our happiness and our value. Whew! Nothing like some truth-telling to get this girl preaching too. Hope you read the article and find it stirs you as well.

Come join me for a conversation about leadership at the Women’s Power Strategy Conference in Marin County, CA on Saturday March 24. 
Artwork from Whimsy Dreams blog.
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Aerosols and Butterflies

“The clarity and starling nature of what Molina and Rowland came up with–the notion that something you could hold in your hand could affect the entire global environment, not just the room in which you were standing–was extraordinary.”

That’s Ralph Cicerone, President of the National Academy of Sciences, paying homage to F. Sherwood Rowland in an obituary in today’s New York Times. Dr. Rowland was the guy who said, way back in 1974, that aerosols could destroy the ozone layer. He’d done the lab work. He had the proof. What did he get for his trouble? Denigration and shunning by “the Academy.” His legitimate findings were derided as “disco-science.” He and his work remained personae non grata for a full two decades before the thinking world caught up with him and he was awarded a Nobel prize in 1995.

This is leadership, people. A story from which we can all take a lesson, particularly those of us who are inveterate crowd-pleasers and line-towers. There’s a place for those values too, but many of us–particularly many of us women–need to cultivate Dr. Rowland’s Zen detachment from others’ esteem. We live in a healthy climate that promotes collaboration and conversation. At the same time, we must be ready to weather the storms of negativity that can arise when we reveal new truths. How interesting that our language even permits me to write “truth” in the plural here and add the modifier “new.” Is there not only “truth,” one truth in the singular? What Dr. Rowland arrived at was not an alternative point of view, but the truth, replacing not other truths but, in fact, as Prince might say, misconceptions-formerly-known-as-truth. Even the most learned among us resort to kindergarten tactics, mudslinging and I-won’t-eat-lunch-at-your-table ostracism, when our sacred cows are threatened. I’m so grateful to be reminded of Dr. Rowland’s story. To remember that someone else’s passionate conviction that I am wrong may be the first indication that I am dead right. And that, per the butterfly effect, whatsoever I might hold in my hand at any scale, from a scientific theory to a household cleanser, will in fact–in fact–be felt around the world.

Come join me for a conversation about leadership at the Women’s Power Strategy Conference in Marin County, CA on Saturday March 24. 
The wonderful artwork above can be found at Joshua Page’s A Sensai’s Journey
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