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LETTERS FROM WAKE ROBIN FARM

Bitter Pill Indeed

Maybe the word is finally getting out. It's about time.  The New Yorker's April 8th edition features an article called Bitter Pill: Why do we know so little about how to stop taking psychiatric drugs?  It follows the story of a young woman named Laura Delano, who began taking prescribed psychiatric drugs in her teens and suffered her doctors' layering on of more and different drugs (19 medications in 14 years) before she finally figured out for herself what her doctors weren't telling her, that to get well, she needed to go off  the drugs, not take more.

 

I'd heard of Laura because she would be mentioned on Benzobuddies.org, a site I used to visit, where people tried to help each other wean off of the class of psych drugs known as benzodiazepines—Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan and others. She had gone public with her story on another site, Robert Whitaker's Mad in America. A Canadian benzo buddy of mine had met up with her for coffee, so,when I saw this in The New Yorker, I already knew her as a real person and I was just glad somebody was paying attention.

 

I have written before about Robert Whitaker's eye-opening book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, but it bears repeating. I bought copies for each of my kids with instructions to read cover to cover if they ever hit a point where a doctor suggested they or their family members be prescribed one of these drugs. 

 

Laura Delano says it was reading Anatomy of an Epidemic that changed her life, gave her the idea that just maybe, instead of taking more pills, she ought to be taking fewer.  It takes a long time to undo the damage these drugs can do to a person's brain, but healing is possible and she's recovering.

 

Sadly, there are many people like Laura, who have endured years of being polydrugged, and find little help or support from doctors when they try to get off.  I think my own story, detailed in Accidental Addict, and endorsed by Robert Whitaker, is probably even more common—middle-aged women who are unsuspectingly damaging their brains with doses of Xanax so small they think surely it couldn't be a problem.

 

Here's the bottom line as I see it: if you are taking prescribed antidepressants or benzos but are just  coping, not really doing well, maybe even coming up with weird new symptoms, please consider that your drug regimen might actually be your biggest problem. Please don't waste energy worrying if you must take on the label of "addict." The only question is, are you better off on these drugs or off of them? And don't rely on your doctor to have your back. His signature on the prescription pad will not save your brain.

 

Read Anatomy of an Epidemic. Check out the stories on Mad in America. Read my book.  See if any of this sounds like what you're going through and then, please, get busy saving yourself.  

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Children of the River's 30th Anniversary

March of 2019 marks thirty years since my first novel, Children of the River, appeared in print. The story for me really began  ten years earlier, however, in the fall of 1979. I was the wiped out young mother of a brand new baby boy, struggling to get the hang of nursing while watching the televised images of Cambodian families pouring into the refugee camps of Thailand.  A couple of years later, Southeast Asian refugees from  Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos began showing up at our small farm looking for work during harvest.  I was fascinated by their stories of escape, and began researching and writing my novel, the story of Sundara, a seventeen year old refugee girl  who falls in love with an American boy as she's  adjusting  to life in America.

 

I took me years to write the book and 16 rejections before it was accepted for publication.  When I received my first review—a  diamond from Kirkus—I was so excited and optimistic, I jumped in the car, drove to Eugene and invested in a lovely taspestry suitcase.  I was going places!  My husband bad-vibed me for days over this extravagance, but I never regretted it as I hauled that suitcase around the country, speaking in schools and at teacher's conferences.

 

The Cambodians we befriended at Wake Robin Farm and the writing of this book altered the course of my life.  I doubt I'd have the two most precious  half-Asian grandsons if I hadn't looked out from my office window nearly four decades ago  and seen my husband  trying to communicate with Koh Sam-ou, the Cambodian woman to whom I eventually dedicated the book.  But the story of how the baby I nursed that fall became the father of these grandsons is too long and twisty-turny for a blog post.  It took a whole book, my memoir, Wedding in Yangshuo: a Memoir of Love, Language, and the Journey of a Lifetime to the Heart of China.

 

It's a lucky thing for me I came up with Children of the River when I did.  The YA world is a nasty place these days, with what I think of as the flying monkeys of PC  looking for every opportunity to  viciously pounce on victims,  then sit around parsing the apologies.  Ugh.  In the current climate, I doubt I'd have been allowed, as a white woman, to write the story of a girl with skin a shade darker than my own.   But if white kids were going to have the slightest clue what these newly arrived Asians sitting next to them in class had gone through, the story would have to come from somebody ready to write their story in English.  At that point in time.

 

From my research, I knew there was great  enmity between the Vietnamese and the Cambodians, so as I worked on the book, my main concern was that Vietnamese would be able to relate.  No problem. To my surprise, I received letters from  refugees to the US from every other region of the world indicating they did too.  The challenges of assimilation and generational conflict seemed universal.  Not only did the book find a home in 8th grade classrooms, it was also taken up by teachers of English as a Second Language.

 

Despite the  general  PC  argument against cultural appropriation and at least one comment I saw directed specifically at my book in later years, that I had "perpetuated the myth of the model minority," I stand by everything I wrote.  My research was thorough, and nothing has happened in the Cambodian refugee community in the years since publication to make me cringe and feel I'd misstepped.  The  Southeast Asians we knew, the ones on whom I based my characters,  went on to lead highly successful lives.  My main character, Sundara Sovann, dreams of becoming a doctor. Just recently I learned that one of the Cambodian girls whose mother worked on our farm, had become an award-winning surgeon. 

 

Here's the deal: it's not a myth if the success is real!

 

I wrote Children of the River in the 80's, anchoring the main timeline in 1979.  By the time the book came out in 1989, it was already becoming a historical novel. Many of the plot points are firmly anchored in the era before the common use of home computers, the  internet and smart phones.  Nevertheless, basic human emotions remain the same, and I believe Children of the River stands the test of time.  Although I've published many books after this first, clearly Children of the River is the one which will remain attached to my name when  I'm  gone.  I'm glad I can still feel proud of it.

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Daughters of the Patriarchy

Every once in awhile I read the book everybody else is apparently reading, and in finally checking out Educated, by Tara Westover, I am clearly late to the party with comments.  With nearly four thousand Amazon reviews and 45 weeks on their  best seller list, the world has already agreed that her story of finally escaping from family dysfunction to join the wider world is gripping.  Like everyone else, I read it in short order  and last night went down the rabbit hole of reading all the  one star reviews—apparently written  by her family and their supporters—and the dozens of comments on these reviews from people who refused to let these pseudo reviews stand.

 

This searing memoir is not so much about religion as it is about patriarchal family dynamics, and it made me think about something that's been bothering me ever since Donald Trump got elected, namely, who are these women who voted for him?  Who thought it was fine for their daughters and granddaughters to have for President a guy who brags about grabbing women's sexual organs?  Who are these women who somehow still support him, the ones who went on TV during the Kavanaugh hearings and said how scared they were for their sons, because, goodness, look how easy it would be for some trashy girl to take them down with a false claim of rape?

 

What?! I have two grown sons and I would never for one minute worry about that!  Number one, they would never do that.  Number two, when women gather the courage to speak up about abuse, I believe them.  My default reaction at such an accusation would be to grab my son and demand to know what was up.

 

But this is how the patriarchy works.  It's almost always men who commit these acts of abuse.  When women are involved, it's usually because some man is bossing them into it.  And then—this is the worst part—when some woman tries to report the abuse, there are always women ready to stick up for the man, turn against the woman, effectively telling  her to sit down and shut up. Don't make waves.  Don't embarrass people.  It's not enough to have the Boys' Club firmly in place, the women must help support it.

 

That's how it worked for Tara Westover.  In spilling the beans about her father's obvious mental illness and her brother's horrific abuse, she broke the big rule: Don't Make the Family Look Bad.  While her mother and her sister (also victims) had at least briefly seemed to side with her, in the end  they did not have the nerve to stand up to the Patriarchy.  It was easier to just say, "I'm with them," and put all emotional energy into justifying casting out a sister. The appearance of the FAMILY to the outside world and the support of its male members took precendence over the daughters.

 

But Tara Westover's bravery in speaking truth to power is exactly what we need  to heal  our nation and the earth itself.  We do not need women like Senator Susan Collins, who entertained abuse survivors in her office for days on end and pretended to listen to their stories, let them pray en masse out in her hall, then got her hair done, put on a spiffy suit, and stood on the Senate floor  for forty-five minutes explaining why she was delivering her vote to Kavanaugh  for the Supreme Court.  Ugh.  Ugh ugh ugh. I hate to think of the further trauma this horrific betrayal delivered to all those women who pleadingly told her their stories.

 

I am cheered by the new female members of the House of Representatives.  They make me hopeful for the future.  We need brave women not afraid to speak  up.

 

Count me as an early supporter of Elizabeth Warren.  I have been wearing my "Nevertheless, she persisted" T-shirt to the gym ever since she thrilled us by refusing to sit down and shut up.  I have no patience for this "But is she electable?" business.  All it takes for her to be electable is for us to vote for her.  I believe she will kick butt and clean house, so please join me in supporting her.  

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Another Amazing Immigrant Story

I honestly don't know why somebody is sending me People Magazine.  I never asked for it; I don't pay for it.  But an even bigger mystery is why I haven't yet figured out I could simply relegate it straight to the recycling bin.  Instead, I dutifully flip through, as if the trees used to make the pages will somehow be less wasted if I at least glance at them.

 

Tonight, though, I was glad I did.  In a L'Oreal, Women of Worth ad, I saw a tiny picture of a young Cambodian woman and stuck on the name: SreyRam.  Could that be our SreyRam?

 

The  SreyRam we knew was born in the Killing Fields during the Cambodian holocaust, and when she and her parents escaped they ended up in our town, Corvallis.  Hers  was one of several  Southeast Asian refugee families who came to work on our small farm during harvest, and factual bits of her story became a part of my novel, Children of the River.

 

SreyRam was, for me, one of the most memorable of the children who played on the farm while their parents picked raspberries and cherry tomatoes, and lately we have actually been talking about her, because  we could not get over how she sat in our kitchen at the age of three or four and studiously, ambitiously poked  a wire into each heliochrysum flower for drying.  We were astounded at her dexterity, because our son, close to her in age, could not have managed that in a million years.  Neither could our twins, later on. But now, Miles's son, turning five yesterday, has  that same phenomenal dexterity, which has given us cause to recall SreyRam with fair frequency.

 

We knew she had  done well, graduating as Valedictorian of one of the local high schools with perfect SAT scores.   The last we'd heard—and this was just a rumor—was that she had passed up a full ride to Harvard in order to go to Oregon State and stay near her ailing father.

 

So, tonight, when I started Googling, I found myself experiencing one shivery moment after another and repeatedly tearing up.  Because—guess what--the little girl who'd sat in my kitchen speedily wiring flowers with her astoundingly nimble fingers had become a surgeon!  She'd gone to med school here in Oregon and capped off her studies at Yale.  She was now in Houston, having garnered more scholarships and awards than I could write out here and is reportedly known for doggedly putting her energies towards helping vets, women, and all medically underserved populations.

 

When I wrote in Children of the River that my main character, Sundara, wanted to become a doctor because she'd been inspired by the kindness of a doctor who'd helped her family of refugees, I was basing that on an interview with someone other than SreyRam, who was too young to interview when I was doing my research.  But I love hearing that she too was inspired by a Red Cross surgeon who had operated on  her and her mother after they were injured by a rocket propelled grenade in a Thai refugee camp.  Apparently her mother had hammered that story home with the admonition to pay back by helping others when she could.

 

As I've said before, at our house we are very pro-refugee, pro-immigrant.  What could be more amazing than a baby born into Pol Pot's killing field surviving against all obstacles and actually thriving to become a surgeon?

 

Who knows what contributions to our society might ultimately have been made by seven-year-old Guatemalan asylum seeker Jakelin Caal Maquin who died at the border under the heartless policies of Donald Trump?

 

Can't we please get back to being the good guys?  The ones who send out the helpers to inspire the next generations?  

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Kind Words for My Memoir: Wedding in Yangshuo

The main thing I miss about being published by Random House and other mainline publishers is having my books automatically reviewed in all the important places: Kirkus, Publisher's Weeky, and Booklist.  Because I always got great ones!  And they were widely publicized for book buyers to read.  I can get nostalgic thinking of those times my NYC editor called in excitement because "our" book had received a starred review in Publisher's Weekly or a diamond in Kirkus.

 

So yeah, I miss that.  Because you cannot get a self-published book reviewed. I tried mightily with Accidental Addict.  Nada.  So I didn't bother with Wedding in Yangshuo, except to send it to the Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards, knowing that even if it didn't win, I might get a bit of a positive "blurb" out of the promised critique.

 

So here it is, a slightly condensed version of the flattering comments written by an actual human being entirely unknown to me who read and liked my book and gave it top ratings in all six categories: 

 

"Gorgeous realism and reflection. Well done. Author excels at illustrating settings, and breathing sensory details into them. Dialogue is fresh and natural….fascinating elements of Chinese culture and the bride's family's values.  Pace is lovely, as the author's instinct for structuring the story shines, and we spend just the right amount of time in each scene. There are no lulls in the middle, as can sometimes affect narrative. Such a lovely exploration into another culture, tied together with unforgettable interactions, questions about cultural norms and history, parental hope and optimism.  Author's writing voice has great energy and positivity, and she has devoted great time and care to enlivening and layering all other characters as well. Beautiful crafting."….Judge, 25th Annual Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards

 

It's very nice for me to read this.  Maybe I should get the Award for Best Review of a Book Ultimately Read by the Fewest Number of People!

 

 

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Helping Good Things Grow

I like to start my day with a bit of aerobic  exercise on a stationary bike while reading something inspirational and informative on my Kindle.  Just finished up Go Wild by John Ratey and  Richard Manning, about the benefits of eating and exercising like our ancestors.   They point out that we humans love a view.  A wide open vista makes us feel safe because in primitive times, a favorable campsite was one enabling folks to spot the approach of danger in the form of lions or other wild beasts. 

 

This makes sense, and explains why some of the earliest pioneer women, led to the middle of a thick, dark forest of Douglas fir, were instantly prioritizing  a clearing….please, good husband, before I go completely crazy?

 

Well, I'm not afraid of wild beasts or anything else approaching through our surrounding forest, but this craving to see into the distance explains why, this year, I've had so much satisfaction from clearing the blackberries and underbrush from our woods, why I wanted to hack back the thirty-foot diameter  forsythia in the middle of which had grown up a lovely volunteer  black walnut.  I wanted to see farther!  I wanted to watch the rays of sunlight shooting through and lighting up the leaves.

 

The culminating  project  involved waiting for the tree services guys to show up with their chainsaws and  excavators and in one day of  loud work  take out a decades-old tangle of horizontally growing wild cherry trees in the ancient  front orchard.   We had discovered three or four small oaks fighting their way up to the light, and now they'll be freed to be our oak grove of the future.   This is the view from my kitchen sink, and suddenly I don't feel so smothered.   I was almost shocked at how much it thrilled me, the sight of my husband on his  tractor, tilling up that weed patch that had been  turning up a higher percentage of dandelions ever since we got married right on this spot 45 years ago.  I loved this fresh start.

 

I must back track here to say how completely distressed I've been over the news lately.   I was annoyed at myself for spending  one of the most golden Autumn days ever visited upon us, a day when my darling grandson Nolan was running around here, glued to my smart phone with earbuds, watching everyagonizing moment of the Kavanaugh hearings.  And it literally made me sick!  My blood pressure went nuts.   The rank injustice of it.  Anyone with half a brain and an ounce of intuition could see that Brett Kavanaugh had done this horrid thing Christine Blasey Ford described, and had been  conveniently  too drunk to remember it.  The fact that we have people in control of the country who think it's perfectly  fine for such a man to sit on the Supreme Court is intolerable. I have no sexual assault survivor story to tell, but if I didn't live three thousand miles away, I could have gladly joined one of those "mobs" wanting to beat down the doors of the  court. And I guess I'm not the only one across the country who feels this way.  I see articles discussing the anxiety the Kavanaugh hearings have triggered in women everywhere.

 

But now I think, for my own sanity, I'm going to have to stop checking my phone so often to hear whatever  disgusting , appalling new lies Donald Trump is spewing.  I want that despicable, odious man out of my brain, our of our lives, out of the White House.

 

Yesterday, after raking down the old orchard, Herb scattered the special grass seed.  It's supposed to be tough, drought resistant, ready to withstand whatever comes  along.  We'll have to be that way too.   Planting it seems like a positive thing to do, and now, whatever happens on November 6th when the ballots are counted, we will be right here at Wake Robin Farm, watching this new green grass sprout up, and that will be good.

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Now it Makes a Queasy Kind of Sense

So now Brett Kavanaugh says he was a virgin.  Never had sex for YEARS after his alleged sexual transgressions.  Wow.  Apparently he's admitting this because he thinks it gives him a pass.  Well, not with me.  For me, it just makes the details of the whole story click into sad, pathetic sense.

 

My degree is in journalism, and I've done a lot of research for my novels which are based on true events.  Particularly with Brides of Eden: a True Story Imagined, which is also the story of sexual transgressions, in this historical case, by a religious cult leader.  Who's telling the truth?  Who's lying?  Who has a motivation to lie?  Who would not want to admit to the truth?

 

When Christine Blasely Ford came out with her accusations, my mind immediately went to trying to put all this together.  I have believed her from the beginning, and understand completely how such an incident could have traumatized her all these years.  The puzzle for me was what on earth Kavanaugh was telling himself.  Probably something along the lines of how psychologists say people reassure themselves in these cases:  "I know I am a worthy person and a good, worthy person would not do such a thing.  Therefore, I didn't do it."

 

But now, with  the claim of virginity and the reminder that he went to something called Little Flower church every Sunday, I think I understand why this all seems so unfair to him.  Hey, folks, he wasn't even getting any!  No fair!  He knows so many guys who were doing much worse things as they actually DID have lots of sex!

 

Does he think this sounds reassuring to women?  It doesn't to me.  It sounds like he's a little off.  I don't want a guy on the court who couldn't fall in love and lose his  virginity like the good guys out there who didn't get drunk and scare women to death, not to mention apparently totally turning everybody off every step of the way.  And then baldly lying about his exploits or at the least, allowing innuendo at the expense of a girl--Renate--whom he now claims to have simply chastely admired.

 

Ruth Bader Ginsberg had the opposite sort of husband in her beloved Marty.  And there are many other good men out there; I'm married to one of them myself. Why can't we d have one of that sort up there on the bench making laws about what women can do with their own bodies?  Or just cut to the chase and get another woman like Ginsberg, who certainly had nobody coming up with disturbing stories of how she'd traumatized them?

 

I imagine they will plow through with confirming Kavanaugh as Mitch McConnell has vowed to do, just like they went ahead and confirmed Justice Thomas despite the testimony of Anita Hill.  (And I still haven't recovered from that.)   But if nothing else comes of this, I hope these recent revelations about Brett Kavanaugh will help Blasey Ford recover from the trauma she's suffered all these years over this.  I hope she knows how we're all behind her.

 

I can't wait to watch her speak up.

 

 

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Buddhism and Craftsmen Corbels

When I gave birth to our twins 32 years ago, my postpartum mental state involved a sudden obsession with acquiring a beach house.  My thinking went like this: If I were going to be spending the foreseeable future nursing two babies at the same time while gazing out the window, could I at least be gazing out a different window?  My husband greeted this brilliant idea with the insistence that this was the world's worst timing.

 

I agreed.  I couldn't argue.  But, weirdly, I kept right on scouring the ads. 

 

Well, it's said that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.  Fortunately, I have a pretty good record of getting this horse to drink if I can just lead him to the right water, so when we ended up at the little house in Neskowin and my husband stood on the deck and took in the amazing ocean view, he drank.

 

Nice that I didn't get my way in wanting a 1920s fixer cottage, though.  So many babies, so little time for projects.  The newly built house, in no need of maintenance for years, suited us much better.

 

In recent years, though, I've been slowly transforming it into the cottage I wanted all along, first with cottage-style windows and then a papering of the white sheetrock bedroom walls with lovely  Arts & Craft style reproduction wallpapers from Bradbury & Bradbury. This past winter I delighted in figuring out how to turn the exterior into a proper bungalow.  Shingles…check.  Wide board fascias and window trims…check.  And then….corbels!  Yes, corbels  would be just the thing. I painted these massive wooden braces on sawhorses in our gravel driveway at the farm and we hauled them to the beach for our contractor to install.

 

Let's call this amazing guy Steve. (You don't think I'm going to hand out his actual contact info, do you?  Maybe when I'm all done with him, ha ha!)  He shows up when he says he will, does fine work, and has a sense of how things ought to look, an eye for design.  And I love how he always says I have good ideas.

 

His one flaw turns out to be a tendency to forget whether I said to do a certain thing one way or the other. If he remembers I wrote it down, he's not sure where to find that note or email.  Couple this with a gambler's willingness to just go for it, and we had several incidents where things went wrong. Still, I  have never dealt with a guy more eager to cheerfully correct his errors.  Usually these guys are surly about it, right?  Not Steve! Wrong siding in this one band?  No problem!  The right stuff will go up tomorrow.

 

Well, I knew the corbels could be problematic.  They had an upside and a downside, but the difference was subtle.  Communicating these things from a distance wasn't always easy.   To make it clear to Steve which end was up, I emailed him about it.  I put blue tape marked "Top" on the corbels when I left them at the beach.  I emailed him the picture of the corbel, right side up, from the catalogue.  I repeatedly said, almost unnecessarily, I thought, "Be sure to put them right side up!"

 

When he texted that the corbels had been successfully installed, I couldn't wait to check them out.  Imagine my          shock. You guessed it: he'd bolted them on upside down.  And no, they couldn't simply be turned around; he'd had to shave them in places and make cut-outs in others.  When I told him, he was horrified.  "I really screwed up!"  He insisted he'd cover the cost of new ones because he wanted to get it right.  He said he feared every time I looked at them I'd be bothered and mad that he'd blown it and it wasn't how I wanted it.

 

Well, maybe not.  I've been reading a lot of Pema Chodron lately, discovering  some of the Buddhist ways of looking at things.  The idea of not forever insisting on total control really spoke to me, because I've always struggled with a certain crippling perfectionism.  I am working on learning to let certain things go.  Relax my grip. Because--duh--life's short.

 

I studied the corbels.  It seemed so unfair that after all my efforts to head off this very problem, I did not get to have them the way I wanted.  The RIGHT way.  On the other hand, they didn't look bad.  I mean, they were good solid corbels and they had the effect I'd been after. If they'd really screamed WRONG, Steve never would have chanced doing them this way.  He does have a good eye.

 

I decided that every time I look at the corbels, I will not think that I did not get my way.  I will not be the woman cracking the whip of perfection at everyone.  I'll be the one who said, "Good enough! What's next?"  What should make me think I'm in charge of the universe, anyway?

 

 

And why not stay on Steve's good side?  I have a lot more projects for him.  Maybe next time I'll just stand right there as he's making some crucial decision!

 

           

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Happy Father's Day

My father has been gone for over twenty years, but the longer I live, the more I feel  I understand him.  From my mother's side of the family I inherited a penchant for list making and trying to be organized, but from my father I got all my creativity.

 

Like his father, my grandfather Papa Bill, he was a talented artist.  In college, the story  goes, he was told his drawings were "too photographic," and so  he simply turned to photography as a career.   We have only a handful of his wonderful pen and ink drawings, just as we have only a few from his father, who earned his living as a drygoods salesman.

 

But my father, in his creativity, was irrepressible.  He loved to make things.  He carved Dutch wooden shoes for my Shirley Temple doll.  He built a clever kitchen camping cupboard which would each year be set up at the end of a lakeside picnic table on our vacations. He would add an extra fiberglass foot to a sailboat, just for the amusing challenge of it.

 

He was never neat or organized about any of this.  In all the instructions he gave me about painting, he never mentioned proper care of tools, and it was highly fitting that at his memorial service in 1996, my brother brought to the pulpit a glass jar containing, encased in hardened fiberglass, a paintbrush.  It looked like a trophy and brought a laugh of recognition.

 

So many times now, when I'm doing a project, excited and impatient to see how it will turn out, I find myself thinking, "Well, I'm doing this Dad-style."  Which is to say, we don't have time to wait for things to dry as long as it says on the paint can.  Those rules about testing something ahead?  Waiting 24 hours?  Forget it!  Those rules are for somebody else.  We're artists and we are just too excited to see  how the whole thing is going to turn out.

 

So here comes this great-grandson of his, Nolan Crew, now four-and-a-half.  Since both of Nolan's Chinese  grandparents are artists, it's no surprise he may have inherited a degree of talent along these lines.  But when we get going on a project, it's this fierce creativity from my father and from myself that I recognized in this child.

 

I had suggested the prosaic job of painting a little picnic table my husband Herb had built for him, just tossed this off as he was on his way to pre-school, his dad dropping off his little brother at the Wake Robin Farm Academy for Exceptional Grandchildren.  I knew he liked the idea of painting.  But without missing a beat that day he said, "I have an idea!  Let's paint it like there's a tablecloth already on it so I can paint designs on that."

 

And when he showed up after a fun, muddy day at the Avery Park Nature School, nothing else would do but we get going on that.  He'd obviously already been giving it a lot of thought and would brook no warnings about primer needing more time to dry.  We're artists!  We want to get in and do it!

 

I don't know that Nolan's paintings are so outstanding compared to other four-year-olds.  It's his narration of his creative process I enjoy.  "Nothing here is from imagination, Gramie.  Everything here is what's actually blooming today."  Like any good plein air artist, he was looking up and painting exactly what was in front of him. "This painting," he told me, "is called 'Today at Wake Robin Farm.'" 

 

I loved that.  And my father would have too.  It reminded me of a New Christy Minstrels song he always liked, the one sung at our own wedding, 44 years ago this month:

 

Today, while the blossoms still cling to the vines

I'll taste your strawberries, I'll drink your sweet wine

A million tomorrows shall all pass away

'Ere I forget all the joy that is mine…today.

 

Dad, Papa Bill, I wish you could see this little guy who clearly has some of your very special artistic genes.  You would love him as I do. 

 

Happy Father's Day.

 

 

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Watching History Unfold From Wake Robin Farm

Since our married life began right here on this exact piece of land, from the day we said our vows, we have been following the news of the world from this same, but ever-changing  setting, together.

 

We bought our first TV right after our 1974 June wedding specifically in order to follow the Watergate hearings,  and I  clearly remember sitting on the dusty sofa that had belonged to Herb's former girlfriend, taking all this in.  The livingroom was particularly disgusting, because I had started ripping the wallpaper off the ceiling (I know, how does wallpaper get on a ceiling?) without  bothering to move or tarp any of the furniture below.  We were so happy that hot August afternoon when Nixon resigned in order to avoid impeachment.  We had hated him for years as the villain of the Vietnam War.

 

But it's funny now, looking back, the Presidents we've disliked.   Thanks to Trump, even George Bush seems  like something of a teddy bear.  Many of them were men we disagreed with politically, but I now see I could have sat across a dinner table from any of them.  Donald Trump, in contrast, absolutely makes my skin crawl. Until him, we really had no idea what it would be like to have for a President a thoroughly despicable human being.  

 

The summer after Nixon, we sat on the front porch steps (still wooden, not yet brick) and speculated whether they'd ever find Patty Hearst, and had she actually joined with her radical kidnappers.

 

Fall of 1991 found us in the backyard, rolling out and reseeding the lawn while we listened to Anita Hill testifying in Clarence Thomas's hearings for confirmation to the Supreme Court.   It would have gone right over the heads of the five-year-old twins, and  Miles, at 11, was in school.  My memory of that project is entirely of the red hot anger that burned in my chest over this, especially when Thomas was confirmed.

 

Ten years later, on the sunny morning of  9/11, standing on that same, now thick lawn, we noted the eerie calm of the blue skies as all planes had been grounded.  Then, as no one suggested we do otherwise, we drove the twins to high school.

 

Today, we're repainting (for the third time) and re-installing the fancy, funky garden gate, and strengthening  the fences against  the overly  bold deer.  And what are we discussing?  Melania Trump.  As in, where is she?  Not sighted for 22 days.  This is not right, folks.  For the record, I think Herb's theory makes the most sense.  Maybe she's just fed up.  Maybe she's saying, "Hey, you want me to come out and act like a nice First Lady?  Tough!"

 

I sincerely hope for the sake of the entire world that we will be looking back at this day and noting that it was right before Mueller came out with indictments which will prove the beginning of the end for this so-called Presidency.  Donald Trump is bad for my mental health and that of everybody I know, and we want relief!

 

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