Cake Quartet

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Over cupcakes at a March meeting in 2017, our writing group of four decided to call ourselves the Cake Quartet.
 
We rotate hosting our meetings and feed the group. Not only desserts and snacks, but thoughtful and respectful feedback on writing, whether prose or poetry. The meetings are times of nurturing our art.
 
We value one another as women, writers, and friends: Ann Hursey, Esther Helfgott, Trish McKenny Honig.
 
We are the Cake Quartet because cakes invoke celebrations. And we celebrate each other!
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Here’s another lovely thing about cake. It’s easier than writing!
I could not remember if I had ever baked a cake from scratch, but Trish is an experienced baker for her lucky family. We arranged a baking day for a recipe she found: Southern Coconut Cake. She had all the basic ingredients, pans, and other equipment while I brought the specialized ingredients like shredded coconut, coconut flavoring, whipped cream, and so on.
In a few hours, we were done. I felt I had accomplished something. It was fun and I had a finished product that I knew my friends and I would enjoy! Too bad if they don’t like coconut.
It was a divine 2-layer cake with 2 kinds of frosting. Voilà!
YUM!
Coconut cake
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Writing is definitely not a piece of cake. It’s a much, much longer process. Often a learn-as-you-go endeavor.
Frustration and disappointment can be constant companions along the road. Getting my book published has certainly had its ups and downs. Not sure what to do next, but I will keep doing the next thing, then the next thing and keep going. Pick up my heavy heart and keep going, while self-publishing lurks in the back of my mind.
I can commiserate with my writing group. Borrow their wisdom and strength.
And when necessary, I can bake a cake and celebrate my foolish dreams or my persistence. Maybe both.
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Please note: The Cake Quartet will be reading at “It’s About Time” at the Ballard Library on Thursday, October 12 at 6 pm. Come and join us! Who knows? We might even serve cake!

Hawaii 5-0

As much as I am a fan of the television series, this “Hawaii 5-0” trip was something else. I just returned from my 50th class reunion: St. Andrew’s Priory Class of 1967. Our class is the school’s Centennial Class so this reunion coincided with the 150th anniversary of the school’s founding by Queen Emma.

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Plaque at the school

Many of us were initially reluctant to commit to attending the reunion events and had had little or no contact with our classmates nor the school over the decades. A few simply had no interest or desire to meet. St. Andrew’s Priory had its flaws and deficits, for sure, and I cannot know what hardships and difficulties might have been experienced by others.  While I excelled in various areas, PE was surely not one of them.

From a graduating class of 60 girls, 18 of us gathered in Honolulu from various geographical points to remember our years at the Priory, reflect on our youth, and mostly to celebrate the women we have become and the lives we are living.

We’ve all learned that life does not move in a straight line, but twists and turns often beyond our control. The bright-faced girl I was who graduated in 1967 thought she was so ready for life, so ready to step out into and meet the larger world. My high school graduation seemed to offer such freedom and promise. I had no idea what was in store for me.

Likewise, I went to my reunion without a clear idea of what might happen, whether I would feel awkward or have a really good time. Fifty years is a lifetime, and I didn’t know if I would have anything in common with the girls I once knew. As we reconnected over Facebook, the memories began to bubble up, and I realized that these girls had been important in my school years.

I am delighted that I went. The girls we once were have been replaced with strong women who have been tested by life. I heard some of the stories, but not all of them. What I know is that we are no longer innocents. We have learned depth and honesty, humor and wisdom. We have grown beyond our limited selves. It was a pleasure to meet the women of the Class of 1967! And I am honored to be one of them.

I discovered I have a deep bond and kinship with my classmates that I didn’t know existed. Although I hadn’t socialized much with some of them during my Priory years, our shared memories of the school, our teachers, the Sisters of Transfiguration who ran the school created an indelible bond that surfaced during our time together. Who remembers the names of the five Sisters? Our Latin class teachers? That lunch used to cost 25 cents? (Really? Wasn’t 50 cents?) That we would gather under the ylang ylang tree at the start of PE class? Or Mrs. Hirao’s shortbread cookies?

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Graduation 1967 with my parents

Of course, we each remembered different things, but we also had some common memories that were fun to recall.

I confessed I still had occasional nightmares about failing to bring my PE clothes (ironed blue shorts and white blouse) on PE day.  I don’t even remember what the punishment was, but I felt the fear deep in my bones at such an infraction.

When we toured the school, we saw the many improvements of the campus (a new gym! a music program!) and heard about the exciting new curriculum designed to foster leadership and individual direction in the girls’ future careers. Other changes include the uniforms, a boy’s school for grades 1-5, and attending chapel at St. Andrew’s Cathedral only once a week instead of every day of school during our years.

It’s an exciting time for the Priory. New leadership by Head of School Dr. Ruth R. Fletcher is bringing fresh energy into our historic school. This small private girls’ school is graduating even smaller classes than our 60 seniors in 1967, but this is intentional in order to provide each girl with the attention she needs to discover her potential and talents in an ever-changing and challenging world.

And yet, some traditions continue. My classmates and I were deeply touched during the Coral Cross Ceremony on Ascension Day, which celebrates the school’s founding. The junior class decorates the cross each year to honor the school and the senior class. The plain coral cross is transformed overnight by the students who sleep at the school to ensure this is completed by the next morning. Each year, the design is different and anticipation is keen to view the artistry. The juniors sing their class song to the seniors, then the seniors reciprocate. With full hearts and through tears.

It’s a beautiful tradition, which brought back memories of our junior class decorating the cross in yellow and white carnations and singing our class song. On special days like this, we wore our white pleated skirts instead of our navy or black ones. I had almost forgotten this detail until one of classmates gave us copies of our class photo of Ascension Day 1966 when we were juniors.

I had not returned to the school since I graduated. This class reunion gave me a reason to reconnect to my alma mater, my classmates, and the knowledge that, whether we know it or not, we share an important bond to Hawaii and Hawaiian history. One hundred fifty years ago, Queen Emma was inspired to start a school to educate girls. This was a radical idea. We alumnae embody a queen’s vision.

Hidden Figures

What a great title for a missing part of American history. This is the untold story of the vital contributions of African American women to American aviation and the NASA space program. Untold because historically women have been diminished or ignored, moreso women of color. In other words, this is a story of inequality based on race and gender.

Hidden FiguresStill playing in movie theaters after opening last December, the feature film based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly has struck a resounding chord in our culture. It captures the American can-do spirit with female protagonistsintelligent, strong women of color who don’t take “No” for an answer. I can’t think of another movie in recent years with female main characters working in a math and science environment.

I was mesmerized watching Taraji P. Henson in the role of Katherine Johnson writing math equations and solutions on a blackboard with supreme confidence. She was simply demonstrating what she knew, but also informing the room full of men that a black woman has just as much intelligence as they have. And maybe more.

The film has adapted a small section of the larger story of these women who worked as human computers verifying the computations of white male engineers. This was during the time of segregation so they worked as a separate unit from white men and women. Some of these hidden figures later advanced to work as peers with the men. The encouragement of their forward-thinking, enlightened parents permitted these girls to study and enjoy math. Most ended up as teachers; some heard about better-paying jobs in the federal government aviation program in Hampton, Virginia, which later became NASA.

After seeing the movie and reading the book, I experienced feelings of immense triumph for these women and women in general.  A sense of sadness followed. I was thinking about many other girls and women who don’t have opportunities for education and therefore can’t discover their talents, skills, and passion. This is a loss for individuals, yes, but also for our society and country. The women in Hidden Figures made significant contributions to their families, communities, and our country. How many people’s ambitions and potential are thwarted because of racism, sexism, and other biases?

Imagine if each American child has the same opportunities for education regardless of class, race, and gender. 

Imagine if they have the freedom to explore their talents, to challenge their minds without fear of failure and shame.

Imagine if each female is unhindered by sexual harassment or assault or any kind of sexism that would make her doubt herself.

Our current rape culture on campuses, in our armed services, in our families is destroying lives and compromising human potential. Many women don’t report these crimes because the system does not provide fairness, support, or justice to most victims. Few perpetrators are punished. In fact, victims are often blamed and punished for being raped.

The April issue of The Atlantic Magazine features an article that reveals how qualified women are still facing gender bias in the workplace, specifically in computer science. “Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?” reminds us how slowly attitudes are changing. As we’re encouraging girls to enter STEM programs to provide skilled workers in science, technology, engineering, and math, thus providing higher-paying jobs for women, the work environments in these fields sound all too similar to what Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson faced in the 1940s and 1950s.

The old boys club is alive and well, with all its ploys to keep women “in their place.” Women    in male-dominated fields today, like technology, are finding a hostile work environment where they are being blocked in getting promotions and creative opportunities. The article describes a survey of women in technology: “84%…had been told they were too aggressive; 66% had felt excluded from key networking opportunities because of their gender; 90% had witnessed sexist behavior at conferences and company off-site meetings….” And so it goes.

Gender bias still exists and is detrimental to individuals, society, and our country. It pulls everyone down, wounds and weakens our democracy. It’s true that there have been moments of success and triumph when a woman has stepped forward out of the shadows and been recognized for her talent, courage, or contribution. But many of these stories are still hidden. I wonder what would have happened to John Glenn’s space flight if Katherine Johnson had not provided the accurate computations for his return to earth. She did and he became an American hero. Only now decades later, she is receiving the recognition she so rightfully deserves.

Kehinde Wiley & Ta-Nehisi Coates

In this Black History Month of 2017, I wonder if anyone has thought about inviting artist Kehinde Wiley and journalist/author Ta-Nehisi Coates to appear together on the same stage. I think this would be an exciting and provocative conversation between literature and art.

In Between the World and Me, Coates is writing to his son. He wants to prepare him for navigating through this world as a Black man. There are some practical things his son needs to know. What struck me as a reader was the corporeal reality of the African American experience that he describes.

He writes, “Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”

Again and again, he reminds us that Black bodies are being defiled, plundered, controlled, taken, broken, shattered. The violence is historic and continues today. He believes that “The larger culture’s erasure of black beauty was intimately connected to the destruction of black bodies.” As a father, he understands that his son is his own individual, but he wants his son to understand the history and context of the ongoing devastation appearing in the news: Black lives being destroyed by our police forces, being incarcerated in high percentages, being demoralized, disempowered, and experiencing little justice.

Coates wants to educate his son about the reality of being Black. The dangers. The assumptions. The judgments. The “justifications” for violence. The anguish of this father should give pause to all thoughtful Americans.

Coates’s feelings and observations are valid. American history confirms his thoughts and feelings about the racism in our country. At the same time, Kehinde Wiley is changing the narrative of Black American lives with his paintings by bringing attention to the bodies of Black people, by reclaiming them in works of art, in elegance and beauty.

Wiley says, “The history of painting by and large has pictured very few black and brown people, and in particular very few black men. My interest is in countering that absence.”

I saw his work for the first time in a stunning exhibit “A New Republic” at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) about a year ago. Wiley is a Black American living and working in Brooklyn and Beijing. His use of large canvases displays the remarkable faces and bodies of African Americans—people whom the artist has often pulled off the streets of America. These people are not only immortalized in his paintings, they perhaps are given the chance to see themselves differently, important and larger than life. Empowered instead of disempowered.

When I saw these paintings, I recognized some of the postures and accoutrement as the same ones featured in other portraits of European nobility, warriors, other men of power living in earlier centuries. Many of his paintings are huge, impressive. The viewer cannot help being impressed by a painting that fills a wall; artists in earlier centuries and their subjects understood that sheer size does convey messages of wealth and power. However, instead of White Europeans, Wiley depicts contemporary Black men of varying ages and hues striking these poses of power often against a background of elegant wallpaper or vibrant flora.

Wiley is committing an act of revolution to subvert how people might see Black Americans and what they hear about crimes involving Black Americans. It’s an act of empowerment. Unexpected and unforgettable.

While culture and politics have appropriated Black bodies to the needs of the dominant White culture, Wiley has appropriated portraiture elements of Western art to make a statement about Black lives. He is reclaiming and reminding us of the beauty of the bodies and faces that some would judge and condemn.

Wiley’s art is a quiet revolution. It won’t change the hearts and minds of racists. It won’t stop the violence against Blacks. But it reminds people that Black people are diverse. They are strong. They have dignity and grace. The SAM brochure describes Wiley’s work: “Elevating people of color, giving them a sense of presence and visibility in countries or cultures where they were long absent from representations of power, is at the heart of this endeavor.”

Coates and Wiley are two Black American men expressing themselves eloquently. Their messages are similar, yet different. One uses the power of words, while the other, the power of visual art. We need both to completely understand the Black American experience.

Black History Month is really for all Americans. It is an opportunity to be informed and hopefully recognize that all of our histories are connected in One America.

We Never Know

As we enjoy the last few days of 2016, I want to leave you with these words by Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chodron:

When we think that something is going to bring us pleasure, we don’t know what’s really going to happen. When we think something is going to give us misery, we don’t know. Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. We try to do what we think is going to help. But we don’t know. We never know if we’re going to fall flat or sit up tall. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.

I read somewhere about a family who had only one son. They were very poor. This son was extremely precious to them, and the only thing that mattered to his family was that he bring them some financial support and prestige. Then he was thrown from a horse and crippled. It seemed like the end of their lives. Two weeks after that, the army came into the village and took away all the healthy, strong men to fight in the war, and this young man was allowed to stay behind and take care of his family.

Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know.

The new year is often a time of renewal, starting fresh, and optimism.

However, many may not feel especially optimistic looking forward. Whether feeling optimistic or pessimistic, this not knowing is another choice. It’s not passivity. It’s a middle path, sort of neutral space that avoids the emotional swings that may be less than helpful.

Really, we don’t know what will happen. Fear and worry definitely won’t help. Nor will chronic cheerfulness. We will see what 2017 brings.

America, We Need To Talk

Something has been bothering me for many years. Now that it’s become a topic in our national elections, it’s out in the open, and we need to talk about it: violence against females in America, aka our rape culture.

We’ve all heard the statistics, right? I mean is anyone really surprised? Most women are not surprised because this is our reality. Chances are you are one of these women. If not, you certainly know women who have suffered some form of sexual assault, whether verbal, psychological, or physical. I’m not talking about other anonymous women. I’m talking about your sister, spouse, daughter, cousin, aunt, or mother—someone you love. Your teacher, boss, neighbor, or co-worker—someone you see often if not daily.

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A certain Donald has never been challenged, never sued, prosecuted, or punched for the way he treats women. He has gotten away with being a misogynist and feels entitled to do whatever he wants where women are concerned.

Until now. Women are stepping forward to challenge his denial of what he said on videotape. He claims it was just guys talking and that he never behaved in the manner he bragged about. Women are saying: Wrong! He’s guilty of sexually assaulting me! He walked into our dressing room knowing full well that some of us would be naked or partially clothed.

This is the core character of someone who would be president. These are deep-seated values. Hard-wired. He and his buddy Roger Ailes, the deposed head of Fox News, apparently have no impulse control, no sense of propriety and decency, and absolutely no respect for women. Zero.

Their behavior speaks volumes. I have to wonder: Why do they hate women so much?

This is the central question regarding this epidemic of violence against females, both women and girls.

Unfortunately, they’re not alone. I hate to admit that I’ve dated men like this. They’re everywhere in society. They appear charming, but the big bad wolf is still there. They may not have the wealth and power of these guys, but their misogyny is just as toxic. Because of men like this, we have new language to describe them: toxic masculinity. Here is just one article on this subject. Google this term for more.

Talk is cheap. Action or inaction says it all.

That swimmer at Stanford who got caught raping an unconscious woman. That judge who reduced his sentence to a mere slap on the hand. Another judge in Montana in an incest trial who sentenced the criminal father to a meaningless 60 days in jail. The 12-year-old child was repeatedly raped by him. Those hundreds (thousands?) of rape kits in police departments across the country that are never processed. Those college administrators who choose to not fully investigate sexual assault incidents to avoid scandal. And these are only very recent examples.

There’s my friend who got grabbed when she was in her 20s and was working as a cocktail waitress; she got grabbed in the way that certain D (I can’t bear to even say his name) described he could do. She made a scene. The well-dressed customer denied it and she got fired. Decades later she has blogged about it. 

Women’s well-being is consistently being marginalized, declared unimportant by those holding power. That man’s behavior during the debates was especially revealing: We knew about his pathological lying, but his constant scowling, his use of intimidation (stalking and name-calling), and general lack of respect were astonishing. I can’t imagine how many thousands of women were triggered by such behavior on national television and by what was revealed on those videotapes. I can’t imagine how many women are remaining silent after being sexually assaulted by this man because they fear repercussions. Because you and I know he has done this numerous times. He gets away with it and he keeps doing it.

This kind of male privilege contributes to our rape culture. And rumors of rape have indeed surfaced in connection with this toxic man.

It’s not easy for those women who are speaking out. This is a topic I’ve written about from my own experience. It wasn’t easy to recall those events. It wasn’t easy to write about them. But it was something I had to do. I used to feel ashamed, but writing about these events made me realize this shame doesn’t belong in my body. Women are constantly being made to feel shame when they’ve done nothing wrong. Shame is being used as a weapon to keep us females in our place. It’s about power.

Like rape. Like sexual assault. It’s about exerting power over others.

When that man chants and encourages his followers (both men and women) to chant, “Lock her up,” I cringe. An involuntary physical reaction. They’re not talking about me. They’re not even really talking about Hillary. They’re talking about all women! They want to silence all women. To keep women powerless. Unequal.

They should be ashamed of themselves.

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Kudos to those stepping forward to tell their truth, speaking truth to power. Bullying and intimidation aren’t stopping them. More than ever, women need to tell their stories. Women need to use their voices. Women, we need to ROAR to stop this violence! And we need all decent men to stand and support us. Because this is not a gender war.

Violence against females hurts EVERYONE.