I Can’t Breathe.

To breathe.

It’s the most fundamental aspect of what it means to be alive. In fact, if you google “to breathe” the definition runs from “to draw air into and expel it from the lungs” to “to live” to “to feel free of restraint.” That’s pretty poignant in the context of recent events.

I can’t breathe.

As someone who runs a website called Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First, who encourages myself and others to take as many big, deep breaths as they possibly can every hour of the day (because I tend to forget – not completely, obviously – but enough that it doesn’t do me any favors), I can’t help but reflect on how powerfully the inability to draw breath has affected our world these last several months.

Oxygen mask. Ventilator. ICU. George Floyd. Death. Tragedy. False Accusation. Grief. Fear. Protest. Anger.

I can’t breathe.

I continue to try to put my attention towards where I can find hope. Without hope, it feels that we are irrevocably broken and that all is lost. When hopelessness takes over, there is no sense in going on.

I can’t breathe.

But on we must go, deep into the the discomfort and uncertainty. And thus we must, daily, find reasons for hope. If you focus on the thousands of peaceful protestors that have turned out nation-wide and not the looters and property destruction, you start to see the threads of hope and where we are headed. There is a united and diverse coalition actively exercising their democratic rights to confront police brutality and the social inequities that plague this country.

I don’t pretend to have answers. I don’t pretend to get it right every time, and I know that I have work to do to be a more conscious and conscientious ally. I look to my friends of color to understand their daily experience more deeply and to have that guide my actions. I always have, but I am doubling down on that now. I know I can galvanize my privilege and will continue to advocate for the voiceless and vulnerable. I am committed to asking the questions, learning more, and participating in forging a better, safer, more equitable future.

Stand together.

Lift up your voice.

Breathe.What if 2020 isn't cancelledAnd don’t forget – please – that we are still in the middle of a pandemic. Social distancing, masks, and hand washing still matter tremendously. So do police – good police. Both/and. Life is complicated and shades of gray, ironically, not black and white. Let’s not lose track of what the story is about. It’s about greater equality for people of all colors – and that includes access to health care, education, safe living environments, opportunity. It’s about systemic racism that disadvantages some while privileging others. It’s about reforming bad policing. It’s about caring for our neighbors as ourselves, against injustice, violence and virus.

Check out my Resources page for reading and other information on #BlackLivesMatter being anti-racist.

To do list

 

 

 

 

A Plea and a Prayer for the Voiceless and Vulnerable

Where do I even start? I am rendered speechless by some of what I see happening in the world right now. And not speechless in a good way.

I understand rationally that anger stems from fear, powerlessness, and uncertainty, which we have in spades currently. So I get to some degree that what we are seeing with regards to the virus, opening plans, and people flouting the very simple protocols for keeping everyone safe from wearing masks to maintaining their distance are symptomatic of that. I recently read an article from Psychology Today, in fact, entitled What Your Anger May Be Hiding that explains anger very rationally. Did you know that when someone is angry the brain releases a chemical that stimulates a numbing sensation while establishing a sense of security and control over a situation? I did not, but it explains so much.

I guess I thought and hoped we were more evolved than that and that we could recognize anger for what it is and modify our behavior. Clearly not. And that’s disappointing. Most disappointing of all is how there appears to be a cultural disregard for the most vulnerable people among us currently. If I hear one more time, “oh, yea, a lot of people have died but most of them were old” I am going to explode. WTF kind of attitude is that? Damn.

“What young people didn’t know, she thought, lying down beside this man, his hand on her shoulder, her arm; oh, what young people did not know. They did not know that lumpy, aged, and wrinkled bodies were as needy as their own young, firm ones, that love was not to be tossed away carelessly, as if it were a tart on a platter with others that got passed around again. No, if love was available, one chose it, or didn’t choose it. And if her platter had been full with the goodness of Henry and she had found it burdensome, had flicked it off crumbs at a time, it was because she had not known what one should know: that day after day was unconsciously squandered.” from Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

Anyway, I am rambling. I felt like I needed to acknowledge that because it’s been bugging me and making me sad. But I don’t want to focus on it. What I want to do is to say a prayer for the voiceless and vulnerable, for the elderly, our elders; for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia; for those in care homes; for those with other health vulnerabilities; for those in places like rural Guatemala and rural Madagascar and so many other places in the world (including the inner city and parts of rural America) that are disconnected from the regular news cycle so we don’t hear their plight – both because they don’t have a platform to tell it and because no one is listening. Amidst all the quiet of this time, it’s remarkable the cacophony we humans can stir up to distract ourselves and still not LISTEN.

I don’t want to dwell on this. I want to focus on the good stuff, the stories of hope and kindness where you would least expect to find them! It’s my whole mission here and really this is the stuff of grace and humanity that needs to be celebrated and shouted from the rooftops!

In today’s episode, we have video footage of Girl Pioneers from the MAIA Impact School reporting from their homes in rural Guatemala on what life is like in quarantine for them, thanks to donated devices that have been distributed to the students and the MAIA Impact School’s on-going work to give these girls and their families a platform from which to be heard and seen.

You can read more about the students, their lives, and MAIA’s response to COVID @ https://www.maiaimpact.org/maias-response-covid19

More to come!

Each day is a blessing in whatever form it comes – don’t squander it!

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.

Indigenous Woman Poem

 

 

Island Hopping – to Jamaica and Cuba!

Our tour of island nations continues, but this time we are traveling to the green-blue and warm waters of the Caribbean and the beautiful island nations of Jamaica and Cuba!!!

Map of Cuba and Jamaica

Cuba is a mysterious and alluring country. It is also mountainous, which I did not expect. In my mind for some reason I assumed it was flat. But it’s not. Not at all. From the Gulf of Mexico you can see it’s undulating, lush hillsides and somewhat imagine what it must look like within. Unique and beautiful historic architecture, brightly colored buildings, and old time cars that have been miraculously preserved and maintained define most people’s mental image of Cuba. If we have a notion of Cuba at all, it is these images from Havana that dominate. Today we are so lucky to be able to wander through Cuba in our imaginations thanks to photographer and creative Janice Kwan (follow her on Instagram @jwkwan and @kitrknits for more photos and other awesome creative work, including her gorgeous hand-knit pieces).

She has so many awesome images I didn’t even know where to start so I put together a slideshow. Check out the colors, the cobblestoned streets, the lighting, the purples and blues in the sky contrasted against those heavy, hovering clouds, Castro’s omnipresence. What do you see?

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Outside of Havana, the Cuba is more rural. You can get a real taste for Cuba and some powerful visual descriptions and cultural (and revolutionary) understanding by reading Our Woman in Havana by Vicky Huddleston (a former U.S. diplomat to Cuba) and Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton. 

Just south of Cuba is Jamaica. In fact Jamaica is very close to Guantanamo Bay. I don’t know how I missed it, but Guantanamo Bay is on the island of Cuba, just kind of fenced off from the rest of Cuba. I of course have heard of Guantanamo Bay, but it didn’t occur to me to think about exactly where it was. I was pretty surprised to discover it’s on Cuba of all places.

Anyway, a Jamaican friend sent me news from late March reporting that 144 Cuban health workers had arrived in Jamaica to help with the Coronavirus outbreak. This was his example of good news happening in his part of the world.

I had to pause to weigh how opportunistic versus humanitarian this show of support was on Cuba’s part and to wrestle with the possibility of our differing perspectives on Cuba’s intent. Since I am U.S.-based, the Cuban government’s actions come laden with a dose of skepticism. What is opportunistic propaganda and what is solidarity and selflessness? I am going to guess that there is gray area, perhaps it’s a bit of both, and it depends who you ask. Of course I am not professing to the U.S. government’s innocence either, to be clear. Surely many good deeds are born of strategic as well as altruistic intent.

Cuba has been sending doctors on international medical missions primarily to poorer countries all over the world for years. Currently, in fact, it has about 37,000 workers in 67 different countries. They provide more health care personnel to the developing world than all of the G8 countries combined. This is partially propaganda, but it is also a major source of revenue for the Cuban government. The U.S. has called into question the labor conditions and pay of Cuban physicians, and as part of increasing sanctions the U.S. discourages other countries from hosting these Cuban medical missions (for more on that, click this link to an Associated Press article from April 3). That said, Cuban physicians are generally quite well-trained, well-liked, and well-received wherever they go.

In the case of COVID, Cuban doctors have been on the front line in Italy since mid-March. From a practical standpoint, they are experienced with this virus and ready to assist better than many in the western hemisphere. There are also A LOT of them. Did you know that Cuba has more doctors per capita than the U.S.? In fact, it is ranked third in the world for the number of doctors per capita (67.2 per 10,000 people according to the World Atlas). WHY are there so many doctors in Cuba, you ask? That results from half of the nation’s doctors fleeing during the Cuban revolution in 1959 and Fidel Castro subsequently promoting medical education as part of a national project to reconstitute their medical corps. Universal health care is also a defining feature of communist principles.

Of course, it’s possible that the training required to become a doctor in Cuba isn’t the same as in other countries, and that that is part of the explanation for the differential in numbers. But Cuba’s health care system is widely praised and life expectancy and infant mortality in Cuba are the same as in the U.S. (if you believe the Cuban government’s statistics, which they do not allow to be independently verified). It appears they are onto something there, but no matter how you slice it, for a virus that seems to require all hands on deck a surplus of well-trained physicians seems like a welcome bright spot on an otherwise gloomy horizon. Propaganda or not, well-trained medical personnel descending en masse to help a neighboring country that isn’t as well prepared to manage it is good news.

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.

 

 

The WHY of Preservation Matters Now More Than Ever

Today’s post is brought to you by Anna Davis, the Communications Director of the Architectural Heritage Foundation in Boston, MA. She wrote this really wonderful post recently distilling why historic preservation matters. When all else goes away, she writes, “what remains is the stories we keep.” How profound and beautiful. Historic preservation is about more than preserving old buildings – it’s about community and our past and the stories that weave us together. That’s important to recognize, now more than ever. It will help guide us when we emerge from this period of extreme slowing-down, introspection and, honestly, grief to engage with our communities and our world differently and more completely.

Stay well, stay home. You will be alright.

Photograph of the Fellowship Hall at the Grand Army of the Republic Hall and Museum in Lynn, MA. The Architectural Heritage Foundation (AHF) is providing historic preservation consulting services to the Friends of GAR Hall.
Grand Army of the Republic Hall in Lynn, MA. Image courtesy of Jason Baker.

When life as we have known it comes to a halt; when the bonds holding society together grow brittle; when we cannot gather for fear of harming each other – what remains to us are the stories we keep. The reminders of those stories take many forms. A building. A battlefield. A burying ground. These physical affirmations of our histories and values are all around us. They help us to see ourselves as part of a community spanning generations and, in so doing, make us feel less alone.

Yet preservation can seem frivolous during a crisis like COVID-19. Why spend time and money on saving historic sites when people are getting sick, losing their jobs, and struggling to stop every aspect of their lives from unravelling? Answering this question requires a shift in perspective from regarding our historic places as luxuries to recognizing them as necessities. Catalyzing that shift in perspective is one of the main challenges facing preservationists over the coming weeks.

Successfully making the case for preservation will depend on how well those involved in restoration or adaptive reuse tell their projects’ stories. This means crafting a narrative focusing not on properties’ historical and architectural significance (though important), but on the material and intangible benefits that successful projects bring to their surrounding communities. Projects need a vision that extends beyond the historic places to the people who will use them.

A vision does not need to lock a project into a specific program, but it should offer a general idea of the role that the site could play in the community. For example, could a vacant building become much-needed housing? A mixed-use commercial hub that invigorates a business district? And arts or educational center? Which populations will the building primarily serve, and how will it benefit the most vulnerable members of society? And specifically, how will the project help the surrounding community to heal post-Coronavirus?

North Brookfield community members stand conversing in the Great Hall of the North Brookfield Town House in front of a stage with blue and red velvet curtains. The Architectural Heritage Foundation (AHF) is providing historic preservation consulting services
Community members discuss the future of the historic North Brookfield Town House.

Though all preservation efforts are different, they share certain commonalities that are helpful to consider when making the case for a project:

Preservation strengthens the economy

Most likely to resonate with the widest range of people are the economic benefits of preservation. The National Trust for Historic Preservation notes that each year, historic preservation creates millions of jobs, attracts hundreds of millions of dollars in investment, increases property values, augments the affordable housing stock, and generates more money in tax revenue than it costs.

Preservation is green

Not only does preservation make economic sense, but it is an ecologically sustainable form of development. Demolition and new construction generate massive amounts of landfill waste and carbon emissions; by contrast, adaptive reuse of historic real estate reduces these climate impacts. Moreover, historic structures designed prior to the invention of HVAC systems are generally more energy efficient than many modern buildings. Preservation is a climate-friendly option.

Preservation brings people together

The preservation of a beloved historic property often inspires people who otherwise would not come into contact with each other to pursue a common goal together. Moreover, it gives people – not least those who often feel disenfranchised – a stake in improving their neighborhoods. This benefit, though unquantifiable, is particularly important to emphasize at a time of social distancing. As communities become ever more fragmented, projects that are unifying, uplifting, and meaningful can raise morale and connect people to one another.

Now is the time to speak up for historic places by articulating why preservation projects matter to the communities in which they are located. As Richard Moe, former President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, once said, “There may have been a time when preservation was about saving an old building here or there, but those days are gone. Preservation is in the business of saving communities and the values they embody.”

Photograph of the Shingle-style buildings of the Charles River Speedway framed against autumn foliage and sunshine in November 2014. The Architectural Heritage Foundation (AHF) is preserving and redeveloping the Speedway as a mixed-use commercial complex.
The Charles River Speedway, November 2014.

The Architectural Heritage Foundation is a 501(c)3 dedicated to stimulating economic development in disinvested communities through historic preservation. Follow AHF and its projects on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

Song for the times

This one speaks for itself. The words are perfect for right now, even though the song was released in 1994! I remember it from then, but if you haven’t heard it before it’s timeless and super appropriate for now. The emphasis added by bolding is mine. Those lines get me every time. In 1994 and today. And, also, I am apparently old :-).

None of us will miss this storm. It’s raging all around us now. I’d love to know the end of this chapter, to avoid some of the tougher parts, to know how it’s going to turn out (and of course dreaming that it’s going to turn out okay). But we can’t know that. We are in this and we are in deep. Dive into the well of courage and inner-strength in your heart (dig a deeper well if you need to – moments like these, when we face adversity and are tested, force us to evolve and flex our resiliency muscles), love your neighbors and lift them up (all of them – remember we are ALL human and we are all in this together), and think about how we can do and be better on the other side. Hold on tight. This is one rickety old roller coaster and we are in for some shaking. But that’s where we need to go. And then we will move forward and move on. Changed. Wounded. But oddly stronger.

Woodsong by the Indigo Girls

The thin horizon of a plan is almost clear
My friends and I have had a tough time
Bruising our brains hard up against change
All the old dogs and the magician

Now I see we’re in the boat in two by twos
Only the heart that we have for a tool we could use
And the very close quarters are hard to get used to
Love weighs the hull down with its weight

But the wood is tired and the wood is old
And we’ll make it fine if the weather holds
But if the weather holds we’ll have missed the point
That’s where I need to go

No way construction of this tricky plan
Was built by other than a greater hand
With a love that passes all out understanding
Watching closely over the journey

Yeah but what it takes to cross the great divide
Seems more than all the courage I can muster up inside
Although we get to have some answers when we reach the other side
The prize is always worth the rocky ride

But the wood is tired and the wood is old
And we’ll make it fine if the weather holds
But if the weather holds we’ll have missed the point
That’s where I need to go

Sometimes I ask to sneak a closer look
Skip to the final chapter of the book
And then maybe steer us clear from some of the pain it took
To get us where we are this far yeah

But the question drowns in it’s futility
And even I have got to laugh at me
No one gets to miss the storm of what will be
Just holding on for the ride

The wood is tired and the wood is old
We’ll make it fine if the weather holds
But if the weather holds we’ll have missed the point
That’s where I need to go

Listen here.

Songwriters: EMILY ANN SALIERS

© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
For non-commercial use only.
Data From: LyricFind

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.

Hardy Chalk art2

Staying Put

To be fair, the U.S. is so big there’s no way I could get to all the stories in one little post. So, here’s more!

First, I finally finished my puzzle. So yeah! Small victories.

Second, the suddenly open access to culture and museums and places and worlds that were previously held at a distance to us mere mortals is one of the silver linings of this challenging time. Within days of our outer worlds shutting down, cultural opportunities proliferated.

Thanks to this, ummm, situation I went to my first opera at the MET. They have been allowing free streaming of their Live in HD performances. I have always been curious about this esteemed cultural institution, so this was an exciting opportunity to check out what it’s all about. Truth? Opera isn’t for me. But even an unsophisticated observer like me can appreciate the costumes, the voice ranges, and the talent required to combine singing like that with acting.

More up my alley, the Indigo Girls played a live show that we could all stream in our living rooms. And there were tears in my living room, I can tell you. It was such an unexpected portal into the broader world. Hearing the Indigo Girls transported me right out of here and now and into the past with a heaping dose of unexpected nostalgia.

Beyond the Indigo Girls and opera, talented professionals across many creative fields have generously opened their homes, studios, museums, and performance venues to entertain us. Children’s authors Jarrett Krosoczka and Mo Willems hold daily writing and drawing classes for children. Olaf from the movie Frozen is reading bedtime stories to children. Yoga and crossfit studios have gone digital. You can tour numerous museums, go to the zoo, or visit a national park. And of course there is @John Krasinski from the Office totally stealing my idea and creating the Some Good News (@somegoodnews) news program that ONLY FEATURES GOOD NEWS. What a novel idea. And of course he is hilarious and just slightly more famous than me so I support his effort.

Is experiencing these cultural places virtually the same as seeing it, being there, experiencing it for real? No, of course not. But, does it break through isolation and provide access to worlds previously held at a distance, places that many would never have been able to experience at all? Well, yes, it does. And, boy, does it ever gives us all something to dream about, not to mention something to do!

I dream of one day going to every single place I profile during this virtual journey and hugging ALL the people, everywhere. Dreams help enormously right now. A little escapism never hurt anyone, right? Generous people giving of their talents to keep us all entertained at this time help tremendously. And, I want to note that I find this sudden turn toward the stalwarts of civilization – books, art, music, culture- fascinating. In the U.S. the arts often don’t get their fair shake. They are considered superfluous and perpetually underfunded. And, yet, when the shit hits the fan, look what anchors us all.

I’ll leave you with this. Truly, what the world needs now is love. And hope.

OH! And I forgot to recommend some good books for this part of the tour. Well, one of my favorites is Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. A truly gorgeous book about pioneering in the American West. Or how about The Overstory by Richard Powers? Or The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah? Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance could also be interesting during this time to frame the political conundrum, to put it gently, the U.S. finds itself in. Those should keep you busy for a while.

Until next time.

Stay home, stay well.

You will be alright. WE will be alright.

Prayers to all of us during this season of Passover and Easter. Hopefully the tempest will pass over soon and we will all be finding re-birth and renewal in its wake.

Mais, oui! Paris is always a good idea

Whoops. A little trigger happy! I guess I needed to go to Paris sooner than planned :-)!

Even now, the City of Light beckons. The fruit grocer still mans his post, providing fresh produce to shoppers who leave their flats for essentials. Walks/outside time is limited to 30 minutes per day. Police fine those who flout these restrictions.

But the resolve, vivid color, and poetry of French life continues even in this adjusted, more limited world.

Here is an information sign from Paris: “I stay home, you stay home, he stays home, she stays home, and life will become beautiful again!”

France sign

In the evenings, neighbors across Paris open their windows and wave to each other. Everyone is craving connection and a reprieve from this feeling isolation (new phraseology to temper that sense of overwhelm from isolation is “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing,” but let’s be honest, call it what you will I’ve barely left my house in 3 weeks and I know it). Still, it helps to try to focus on the notion of remaining social while distant.

The other night my family sat around the dinner table and shared our rose (positive), thorn (negative), and bud (what we are looking forward to) for the day. We all said we were looking forward to when this quarantine period ends and the tsunami passes over. But I want to rephrase that so it’s more in the moment when we do that exercise again and ask instead, “what about this quarantine period will you miss when it’s over?”

What are you craving when you return to “normal”? What will you miss about these slow, quiet quarantine days?

France reads: The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George is a very sweet trip down the Seine surrounded by books and a main character, Monsieur Perdu with a penchant for prescribing books for the hardships of life to mend hearts and souls. What do you think Monsieur Perdu would prescribe for today? Perdu means lost in French. Anyone else feeling a little perdu these days?

And a delicious French-ish movie is Chocolat (just the way it’s said makes my mouth water. Plus, I mean, chocolate is really one of the saving graces of these times.)

Merde!
This just seemed like a timely message