Dear Governor,

You didn’t know Jorge. He was just one of thousands of mentally ill patients living in one of your state mental health hospitals.

I wonder sometimes how his sister, his only surviving relative, is doing. I wonder if she knows the truth about how and why he died.

Jorge didn’t die from his heart disease, COPD, diabetes or long term dialysis treatments due to kidney failure. That’s how we all expected him to die. Fifty-five years old, in and out of hospitals much of his life, he was sure to die earlier than a healthy person his age.

Then he landed in one of your state mental hospitals. A few years after being admitted, his paranoia, his delusions and his lack of impulse control were somewhat improved. All we did to help him was of no help on his last day on earth. His last transport out of the hospital was in a body bag.

We told the patients, his peers on the ward, a couple of days later. Some already knew about it and some didn’t care. Some said “good riddance.” At the time of Jorge’s death, employees felt their own PTSD flare up again with increased respiratory rate, heart palpitations, and tears sneaking out during the unit de-briefing or later, in break room conversations.

Jorge’s dead because another patient killed him in the middle of the night when the unit was understaffed. He’s dead because your hospital refused to hire staff at appropriate patient levels based on the violent tendencies of many of our patients.

We know that the patient who killed Jorge will not be held responsible because of his own mental illness. Both men were mentally ill, both hospitalized for care and treatment. The hospital administration, and you—where the buck stops—is accountable for Jorge’s death. My colleagues know that. The doctors, the nurses, the janitorial staff all know it.

Yes, Jorge had a mean and nasty mouth on him, I’ll give him that. He could rile the calmest person in the room. That was his M.O. He was stingy. He was funny, flirty, kind at times, and very sad. He also played a wicked game of chess.

And now he’s dead.

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Micrófono Abierto Bilingüe con Chocolate

I moved from San Francisco to Napa CA in 2009 to take a new job. I wasn’t looking forward to living in what I thought of as a white-bread community. I soon realized how ignorant I was. I chose a working class neighborhood in which to make my home and eventually became active in the writing community.

Early in 2017, I sat in a roomful of well-meaning, mostly gringo artists at the Napa Valley State of the Arts event. I listened as the panelists discussed the fact that our local diverse communities were not in the room. One brave Latino photographer spoke up. “If you want to include them, you need to go to them. They are not going to come to you.” I wondered how to do that. I spoke to Izrael a few times during the next twelve months, and never really felt like I did much to help.

A year later, still wondering, I ran into him at the 2018 State of the Arts. I sat in on a small panel discussion, again, on diversity challenges, with mostly caucasians in the room. One out of three panelists was a young man I’d met earlier in the year. Intelligent, outspoken and passionate, Xulio had moved here as a kid many years ago with his family from Oaxaca, Mexico. He’s a social justice worker and a poet.

I’m the current president of Napa Valley Writers, and we were going to be hosting a first for our Valentine’s Day meeting just weeks later: Open Mic with Chocolate. I sat in front of the panel with an idea brewing, perhaps a way to bring our diverse communities together on one day of love – an Open Mic with Chocolate – Bilingual edition.

I spoke with Xulio at the panel’s conclusion and we met the next day. We were excited with our new plan. He reached out to his wide-spread ties in the local global south and native performing arts communities. We coordinated a bilingual public service announcement on local radio, distributed Spanish-English flyers, and promoted the event to our publicity contacts.

A few minutes before the Valentine’s Day event was to start, the room was practically empty and I worried. Fifteen minutes later, the place was packed with some of the usual crowd and many more people I hadn’t met, or seen, before.

Twenty-five people, forty percent of the attendees, young and old, read or performed their work in poetry, prose, and song from their hearts in many flavors of love – for the land, for the people, for a lover, for change. My collaborator was emcee, and at the opening, Xulio informed the gathering that we chose not to ask that every piece be translated. We wanted to hear with our hearts the understanding that was there for each of us.

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Not being a Spanish or native speaker myself, I could occasionally pick out a few words like madre and amore. I thought of how so many others feel every day in the English language world of this America. My heart caught in my throat. We provided something very special that night. Everyone there was filled with compassion, togetherness, and the desire to move this one event forward into something more.

 

Speakers and listeners both touched their hearts with open hands with a feeling of gratitude and many of us had tears. Of course I’m still aware of our divisions, but at least once, together, we’ve experienced a bit of a bridge. The room pulsed with energy. One of our writers group members commented that it was the highlight of the year.

The Vintage high school girls’ Spanish and English words in poem and performance brought down the house as they spoke of the prejudices and injustices their families live with on a daily basis – and what they are doing to change it. The elder Mexican poet read from his journal to a pin-drop quiet audience, receiving a thunderous applause at the close. Charlie, native woman and elder, spoke and chanted, reminding us of our memories and our spirit that has been lost and is now being found again. Xulio’s performance dazzled. My Latino friend, who advised me that I had to go to them, spoke to me with misty eyes that matched mine.

Change is coming, I felt it that night and I feel it now.

 

(Thanks to the Napa Valley Register for running a version of this piece as a commentary in the Sunday 3/4/2018 edition)

She Made a Difference

I like to think mothers the world over do their absolute best to provide loving arms, direction, laughter, and nurturance to the children in their lives. Some mothers do a better job than others – I know that. It’s not always easy. Or ever easy.

Other women, who haven’t birthed one baby, give their hearts and love to little ones each and every day. In my own heart, I know these women. I feel their love, their pain, their tears of joy, and the sadness in their hearts.

I salute you all. To my family and friends who are mothers, to the mothers of my family and friends, and their mothers, to the women who love and cherish their family, whatever that family looks like, to all our children — we are the lucky ones.

My own life has been heavily influenced by my mother and I wouldn’t change a thing for all we shared together. She taught me to stand by my friends and family, no matter what. She taught me to never give up my dreams and to always stand up for myself and for those in need. She taught me to keep peace in my heart, and in my world.

She made a difference. I love her so much.❤️

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It’s a Ride, Not a Race.

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I celebrated Earth Day out on it.

It was to be my first 50-mile bike ride in support of Cycle for Sight/Enchanted Hills Camp/Lighthouse for the Blind. I’ve been training for it. I ended up cutting the ride short—not because I couldn’t physically do it. Oh…I could have. Definitely could have.

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No, I had a big Writers Club event at one o’clock. How the universe put together possibly my two biggest personal events of the year in one day, I have no idea.

I suppose it fits—a bike ride—and the release of a new book. Both treks take you up and down, over and over again, alternately speeding and holding back before coasting successfully across the finish line.

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I arrived at the staging area at 7:30 in the morning, and commenced riding with the early birds at 8 o’clock, bike bag laden with water/gatorade and a granola bar. It turned out I didn’t need any of it. The Ride rest stations took good care of us. As I wheeled along with dozens of other riders, passing and being passed, I kept reminding myself – it’s a ride, not a race, it’s a ride, not a race.

The morning was glorious with stunning cloud formations and shoots of warm sunshine. I started out in leggings, silky red cashmere gloves, sleeveless gym shirt, and two jackets. By the time I hit the first rest stop, those jackets and gloves were packed inside my bag, my skin free to feel the cool air as I whizzed along.

We pedaled 7 or 8 easy miles through vineyards, alongside streams and past lush greenery north of the start line until we arrived at the Yountville Veteran’s Home. We sailed up the wide driveway, along Memorial Mile lined with staked posters calling out the names of Veterans and Ride supporters. Donations to the Ride are split between The Lighthouse for the Blind and Pathway Home, a Veterans Organization.

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It was a quick porta-potty stop and several minutes of walking and stretching. The Ride Support crews served up a huge spread of orange sections, power drinks, water, cookies, and hard boiled eggs. I grabbed a few bites before heading off.

On the way down the hill, I purposely wheeled close to a 90-year-old-ish Vet with a WWII ball cap on his hairy head. He was in his wheelchair watching the riders on parade. I thought of all our old dads who’ve served, and called out to him, “Thank you for your service!” I was more than happy with the slight smile and nod I received in reply.

I’ve ridden many miles in the valley—up, down, and across. My longest until yesterday was 27 miles, sometime in the past few weeks. At one point on the route, when the race guides suggested going left (north), I thought better and went south, to the right. I was thinking of the time and wanting to head back.

I was sailing along when I looked over to see a well-known and oft-visited landmark—Mumm’s tasting room. That shouldn’t be there, I thought, starting to laugh. After my initial surprise, I was cracking up. I hadn’t been riding south after all. I’d been getting in several extra miles to the north!

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There was no traffic so I quickly made a nice wide u-turn and headed south. For real. A few miles later, just after stopping at the top of an incline, I texted one of my friends to check in, and sailed down a rough patch of bike lane. FWHKISH! What was that noise? I slowly braked, and looked down to see a rear flat tire.

Was I ever surprised. There was a brand new tire/tube on that wheel.

I wasn’t only thinking about the flat, and what to do about it—I was thinking about the next big event I  needed to get to. I didn’t think I had time for a flat. In less than two minutes though, two biker-angels came to my rescue.

The first, a rider about my age, sailed across the road from his own ride north. “Could you use some help?”

Laughing, I answered, “Yes I could.”

He asked me a few more questions. To which I replied, “No, I don’t have an extra tube. No, I don’t know how to fix a flat, either.”

IMG_9437Standing at his bike, he answered, “I’ve got one right here that’ll work for you.” He pulled an empty tube like a magic trick right of his little carry pack attached to his bike seat.

His name is Blair. He lives here in town. We talked about the idea of me learning how to change a flat sometime, in a helpful manner of course. No judgments. He got his little tools out to pry the tire off and get the tube out. It wasn’t easy as they were new and stiff. Just as he was finishing up that task, as we chit-chatted, a ride support-van came along, also heading north. Anthony (I learned his name quickly) popped out of the van and crossed the road, air pump in hand. “Need some help?!”

Other riders would pass us, cheerily calling out “Need help?” or “You guys all right?” and once—”Get out of the bike lane!” That last one was from the only women who yelled out at us. “It’s a ride, not a race,” Anthony said as the three of us chuckled. Where were we supposed to be? In the weedy drainage ditch on the side of the road?

They finished helping me, we said our goodbyes & good lucks and each of us headed off on our merry ways.

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Early on, I had decided I had time for the 25-miler. With those extra miles of mine, I ended up at the finish line with 34 miles! Woo hoo! I also had a new bike tube, two ride t-shirts, new friends, and a wine glass half filled with a nice cool white. I was able to chat a bit with my friends from The Lighthouse – Tony, Kathy, and James before I made my way a mile or so to Rob & Liz’s house where I’d stashed a car and dress-up clothes.

After a shower and a little make-over, I headed out to the Napa Valley Writers Book Launch. First Press, with stories and poems from over 45 authors of Napa Valley, was finally seeing the light of day – we were excited! Over 50 people attended this fabulous event. More than a dozen of our authors read excerpts from their work. We enjoyed each other’s company, along with a nice spread of wine, cheeses, baguettes, and chocolate covered strawberries put together by our Launch Team on a beautiful Earth Day afternoon.

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On a sad note, one of our First Press authors died recently – just prior to his work being published. I’d invited his wife beforehand to join us at the Launch. I watched Maryann in her dark teal sweater as she filmed one of our writers reading Michael (Mike) Layne’s piece to the crowd. I was touched, and I know she was. I think we were all touched as we thoroughly enjoyed the reading of Mike’s story, “Vittoria’s Secret”.

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All, or almost all, the books we had on hand sold out. Some of us laughingly passed our books around to get autographs—just like high school. First Press: Collected Works from Napa Valley Writers 2017 is available now at The Bookmine in Napa and First Press at amazon.com

It couldn’t have been a better day in the neighborhood.

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Half and Half

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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My writing desk sits smack in front of a big window. I pause as I write to peek out on life as it moves on in front of me. On a beautiful sunny day such as this, I sit in the warm sun. The light is so bright, I happily don a baseball cap to keep the sun out of my eyes to continue to enjoy the sun’s warmth.

I haven’t written on this blog for a while. My heart, and my soul, seems to have been on strike since November 8, 2016.

I am and have always been grateful for the millions of immigrants and their families who made the difficult journey to this land in the North American continent. Our lives are more full and blessed in so many ways. Language, ideas, and ideals. Inventions to make life grand, written words to awaken our souls, works of art broaden our horizons. Together, we toil each and every day, educating children, caring for families here and abroad. Doctors, nurses, teachers, service providers, physicists, politicians, road workers, writers, musicians, neighbors and friends. Good people. Upstanding people I call my friends; friends and strangers who never, ever pose a risk to me and my security.

I, and almost everyone I know in this country, come from a family of immigrants.

I am so ashamed of the new federal leadership. I ache for the souls who could very well be punished by an evil, narcissistic, mean-spirited and mentally unstable man who was elected president this past year. His followers and supporters are no less guilty in the travesty they are planning, and the results that could come.

The world is watching.

Thank goodness for the resistance of our local residents across this land and around the world. We will never stand idly by. This is not an easy task ahead of us. We cannot rest.

When I sat down today, the sun shone on one half of my face. It’s just how I feel. One half of me is proud of everything we all have brought to this world. The other side lives in a dark place, fearing where we are going.

Each day I sit in the sun revives me for another. Just one word came to me to close this short tale.

Help.

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Mirrors

Denial.

Anger.

Bargaining.

Depression.

Acceptance. Hope.

I’ve been clawing my way over and under these feelings since that November 8 evening.

Long before then, I was frightened, angry, and shocked as I watched little donnie in his made-for-twitter gutters and swamps.

Everything he’s done, everything he is doing, is exactly what I’ve come to expect. Nothing he does surprises me. That’s what scares me the most.

Acceptance.

Hope. In you. In us. In the best we have to give on the other side of the stream.

 

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…and the Cubs Win!

I was over at my daughter and son-in-law’s house this morning, keeping an ear out for my 4-year-old grandson playing in the next room. My fingers paused on the laptop keys as I waited for the creative juices to kick in. Please kick in. I wanted something fresh and funny for the upcoming open mic.

Problem was, I wasn’t feeling fresh and funny. I was feeling worn, torn, and battle fatigued with the overwhelming election coverage this year. The Cubs’ World Series win brought me much needed relief and excitement — even if it was drawn out over and over again. That high didn’t last near long enough. I was missing that consummate Cubs fan who killed himself ten years ago. The big win was just one more in a string of life events he’s missed out on.

An hour later, I was still looking at a white screen without one string of words to be seen.

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You know why?

Well. My friend had some studying to do, so I suggested she bring her 4-year-old daughter
over to play. The more, the merrier is my motto. She dropped off her daughter along with the best of offerings — doughnuts, coffee, and hot chocolate. Woo Hoo!

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Twenty minutes later, it was time to wash and dry those cute little hands and faces. Time
to chase the dog back out after she knocked one of them onto the floor. Time to put that laundry in the dryer. I checked my email. Ah hah! A personal note from the Clinton campaign. Please, would you donate just one dollar? Sure, here’s 5. Would you like to double that? Sure, make it ten. Get out the credit card and load up the webpage with all the necessary information. Thanks – want to give more? No. Not today.

Then I checked Facebook. I peeked at a bit of online campaign news. I clicked around youtube and listened to a couple of tunes. First there was Bob Dylan, then John Lennon. I felt better. Kids were playing nicely. They were chattering away and giggling in their own little world.

So, anyway, I got back to business. It was a sunny day outside and I glanced into the living room. My eyes landed on Mollie’s memorial corner. Three framed portraits hang over the aging upright piano.

Lowell: strong and courageous father of three sons, dressed in his lifelong beard and glasses. Mollie’s husband’s father, he died just last year, after a tough battle with aggressive metastatic melanoma. He was such a wonderful man, full of love and passion… a man who would do anything for his family.

Katie, my beautiful grand-daughter, gone from us much too soon. I look at her smiling, in her pensive way; I wonder what she was thinking when that picture was taken. Our hearts broke the day she died, leaving behind her baby boy Jack. Her laughter had filled our world. We miss her so much.

And Matt, my former husband, father of three, baseball fan extraordinaire, former Stratamatic player and political junkie, a voracious reader who died before Mollie even knew she’d be marrying Matt, her new boyfriend.

Each of them gone now from this world for widely different reasons, each one of them leaving a big hole in my heart. There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t imagine Katie or Matt or Lowell standing with us in the sunshine, laughing at a birthday party, playing with the kids, or repairing something or other.

Cheering the Cubs.

Damn. Pass me that doughnut.

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