Saturday, January 21, 2017

Thoughts from yesterday & today & tomorrow.

To a few of us here today this is a solemn and most momentous occasion. And, yet, in the history of our nation it is a commonplace occurrence. The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place as it has for almost two centuries and few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every-four-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle....  Ronald Reagan, 1981

While January 20, 2017 not the day for which I had hoped, not the inauguration of America’s first woman President, it was, as is every Inauguration, an important moment in history.

How that history plays out over the next four or eight years, what impact & changes it will bring to our country, will be for subsequent generations to analyze & interpret.

For me watching the transition of power was, as always, overwhelming. 

I wept.  Not just for my disappointment & a dream shattered, not just because I am wary of a man whose words & actions & promises cause me to fear the future of the country & the world.

I wept at the wonder of a peaceful transition of power that has occurred since George Washington turned over the Presidency to John Adams.

And a sincere hope that we never forget to appreciate that wonder.

But I was not so overwhelmed that I did not listen carefully to the 45th President’s Inaugural address. 

It was, for me, a strange speech.  But its content not unexpected.

Although I wanted to believe that #45 would use this day to extend an olive branch to those of us who did not support him & call for the nation to come together & embrace difference, DJT spoke to his base, reassuring him of his commitment to their dreams, their needs, their demands.

Demands that he described as those of a “righteous people & righteous public.” 

Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families and good jobs for themselves. 

Nothing about access to affordable healthcare.  Nothing about protecting the threats to women’s right to choose & control their bodies, nothing about protecting those of difference.  Nothing about protecting the voice & religious choice of millions of Americans who did not vote for him.

But he will listen to a “righteous people & righteous public.”

I so wish someone who ask him his definition of righteous.

Invoking the Bible offended me as a believer.  I have major issues with people who profess to love God & to listen to Her using the Bible as a political tool or an excuse for behavior that is the antithesis of Judeo-Christian teaching.  While I have no access to DJT’s heart or soul, it was an invocation designed for his base, not for all Americans.

At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity.

The Biblical reference Trump’s writers used is  Psalm 133:1, one of the Song of Ascents
Attributed to David, Psalm 133 consists of three verses:

1 How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! 
2  It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. 
3  It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.

Scholars differ on the history of the title of Song of Ascents given to fifteen psalms – but one thing prevails in the various explanations.  The psalms of Ascents are believed to have been sung as pilgrims made their way to religious festivals.

I am certain that the Bible was not talking about politics or the government of the United States of America or the 2017 Inauguration of Donald J. Trump. 

While I admire the veiled subtlety of the use of a Song of Ascents – invoking an upward, rising movement – in this particular moment, it does not resonate with me.

It is so easy to pluck a verse out of a book revered around the world as the Word of God.  I see no upward movement.  I see no one anointing of oil, no dew falling on Mount Zion.

Especially not in an Inaugural Address that channeled “America First” as a mantra.

“America First” is not an original slogan.  The AFC, America First Committee, was established prior to World War II.  Its 800,000 members included familiar names:  future President Ford; Sargent Shriver, who went on to lead the Peace Corps; & Potter Stewart, the future U.S. Supreme Court justice. It was funded by the families who owned Sears-Roebuck & the Chicago Tribune, & counted among its ranks prominent anti-Semites of the day, including Henry Ford & Charles Lindbergh.

Lindbergh, & many other anti-Semites, suggested that Jews were advocating the U.S. to enter a war that was not in the national interest.

It was a war in the world’s interest.  And most certainly in our nation’s interest.

On January 20, 2017, I did not hear a unifying or hopeful beginning to the 45th Presidency.  I felt no reassurance, no hope for positive change.  No call for inclusion of ALL Americans regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender or status.  Instead, I was overcome by dismay, sadness & uncertainty.

As I told my friend Marianna Steele, writing about my reaction to the day is a way to expunge the day from my soul, if not my memory. 

Of course, Dan Rather summed it up best – as he always does:

We now have a new and untested captain. His power is immense, but it is not bestowed from a divinity on high. It is derived, as the saying goes, from the consent of the governed. That means President Trump now works for us - all of us. And if he forgets that, it will be our duty to remind him.

Today, millions around the world are reminding him.  All of us.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Jaki Jean on Watching the Inauguration of the 45th President of the United States

While I understand why artists & performers take a stand on refusing to perform at an Inauguration of a candidate they did not support, I have to confess that I did not do the same upon the election of George H.W. Bush.

The artists & performers who want no part of Donald Trump’s Inauguration or his Presidency are more privileged & financially secure than I was when I moved with my toddler son to Washington, D.C. the summer before the election.

I was a single mother who moved to a town that was not particularly friendly toward single mothers, against the advice of trusted friends.  All of whom pointed out that I was leaving my support system for the unknown.

But I wanted that move.  I had an idea that leaving Texas for a city that, on the surface, represented the same sort of nostalgia & history & attraction as the cities I visited in Europe. 

And the cultural opportunities of our Capital seduced me.

I was not an artist during my time in D.C., but I became a performer.  With the election of George 41.

My job title fluctuated with the whims of my employer.  Sometimes I was a bookkeeper, sometimes a manager, sometimes Vice-President of the corporation.

I worked for a floral design company.  A florist.  I lived in a rent controlled apartment in Foggy Bottom on Virginia Avenue not far from the State Department.  My nearest grocery store was in the basement of the Watergate complex, next to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. 

My son & I could walk to the National Mall & to the White House. 

That part was exhilarating.

After the election, the firm I worked for was approached by a tennis partner of future First Lady Barbara Bush to design the floral installations for one of George 41’s balls.  My boss & a designer who had worked on Inaugural Balls before planned the conceived the installation.

All I did was take notes & write up the bid.

One does not get a great deal of specific capital for these Inaugural ventures – the cultural capital, the prestige is priceless.

Then my boss, reacting to the fact that his recently ex-wife hooked up with a man she would eventually marry, began an earnest pursuit for a new wife.

After our firm was given the ball, he decided to take his new object of affection to Belize.  For several weeks.

As I said, I only translated notes into a coherent narrative for the bid.  Shorty after my boss & the woman who would become his next wife flew to Belize, the experienced designer quit without notice & I called Belize to bitch.

And bitch I did.  I had no idea what to do, where to begin.  The Inaugural Ball was not my project.  There were no cell phones & long distance was expensive & phone contact with Belize was complicated.  But I kept bitching & begging for guidance.

Throughout the call, my boss kept begging me not to yell at him.  I kept admonishing his abandonment, telling him to return & handle this.

In the end, he did not return.  At least, not until the day before the Inauguration.

And I handled it, with the help of several talented & experienced designers.  I submitted specs to the American Floral Association (who, at the time, donated the flowers & members of the AFA came to do the work).  Always with the help of my favorite & most talented designer, my friend Miguel.

During the weeks leading up to the Inauguration, I was continuously summoned to the Old Navy Shipyard (at the most inopportune times), where I met with all the members of the committee involved on this one Inaugural Ball.  The socialite who chose our firm, the catering manager of the hotel, the general manager of the hotel, the person in charge of the talent to perform, various hangers on & the Secret Service.

It was during those meetings that I began to perform.  I bought my first pair of cowboy boots – George Strait Red Ropers.  I wore ridiculously large cubic zirconia studs in my ears.  I played Patsy Cline on the sound system at the production shop.

And I began to speak with an accent I abandoned years before – my accent when I moved to El Paso was very deep East Texas.  My Speech teacher at Coronado High School made me read exercises into a tape recorder until it was gone.

It was a good time to be a Texan in WDC.  With an accent.

In the interest of transparency, I have admit that I whored that experience.   I was not in a position of power, influence or wealth. 

I was not willing to sacrifice my source of income to take a stance against a candidate 
I did not endorse with my vote.

I attended every meeting of our Inaugural committee members (losing several florist scissors & knives I forgot to take out of my purse before going to through the metal detectors at the Old Navy Shipyard).  I ordered elephant topiaries shipped from Houston for other celebrations & parties we put together

Upon request, I bid on the Texas Black Tie & Boots Ball.  Another florist did the work – but he used my proposed design & credited me – giant urns of the yellow roses of Texas.  He also requested that I be given two tickets to the Texas party.

On the final walk through the installation, my recently reappeared boss walked with me.  Everything was exactly as envisioned - & enhanced.  We were standing in the main ballroom when two men I recognized by their sunglasses, tans, matching suits & ear phones.

Not to mention the slight bulge from guns underneath their jackets.

(I have a theory that the Secret Service agents receive sunglasses & suits from the same sources & that there is a private Caribbean retreat where they are sent to renew their tans.  They may all use the same barber.)

I also recognized two faces from weeks of meetings in the Old Navy Shipyard.
As they approached us, one said:

We have your tickets to the Inaugural Ball.

My boss held out a hand & said:  Those would be for me.

The agent & his partner paused, faces without emotion, & he replied in all seriousness:

You don’t look like the Jaki Jean Ettinger.

And then, with just a sliver of a smile, he handed the tickets to me.

An awkward moment for a vassal with no power, influence or prestige.

What I knew that my boss did not know was that I had no intention of attending either ball for which I had been given tickets.

Because I had not commissioned my talented sister & seamstress to make me a gown.

And because I had not slept for forty-eight hours & faced an early post Inaugural installation the next morning at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. 

Because it was my quiet, & personally necessary, moment of protest & resistance, I gave my recently reappeared boss the tickets.

Tomorrow, I will watch a man I know to be ill-prepared, ill-equipped & unsuited to lead the country be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States & the Leader of the Free World.  A man who will communicate with the nation & the world through 140 characters or less.  A man I did not support & could not fathom as a viable candidate for the Republican party. 

Because my 81-year old mother Jean insists it is important to watch. 

Jean is right.

We must watch, not to support Donald J. Trump, but to witness, document & remember what is sure to mark a pivotal moment in history.

And as my friend Andres M. Dominguez said:  

We need to see and explain in the future as to what happened. So I will watch

Unfortunately, I do not believe that we will witness the beginning of making “America Great Again,” but a slow & sure descent into the abyss.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Today was my first chair yoga class.  Inspired by my friend Cate Poe’s mother, Nancy Poe, who started yoga at age 70.

But I think not in a chair.

Because I have issues with numbness & balance & coordination & a lifelong issue with graceful movement, I decided that the chair yoga sessions at the local community center were the beginning of a return to yoga.

That, and I have a habit of falling.  (My son Nick & daughter in law Jane gave me tennis shoes for Christmas because I told Jane about a recent fall.  Tennis shoes keep me steady on a tile floor.)

I practiced yoga in my twenties & again in my forties.  I introduced it to my sons & their four cousins when I found myself in charge & they misbehaved.  I put them all in time out, pulled out yoga mats & put on Rodney Yee’s AM Yoga tape.

At first they laughed, then they moved their bodies & eventually asking to do yoga became a regular moment in my time with them.

My falling issues are not new to the current decade in my life.  I used to fall regularly moving from one building at Coronado High School to another. 
I think that falling & all the books flying (no backpacks in those days) led to the introduction of Douglas the Mouse.
Which is another story & I believe I told it a long day past.
(Although I would joyfully retell it again.)

Yoga classes were introduced this past summer in our one square mile city lodged between Houston & Sugar Land, since last August, & every month, I tried to arrange things to attend a session.  Other things intervened, but January was the month to make it happen after reading a post by Cate about her mother Nancy weeks ago.

The class was, for me, amazing.  Just eight people (I was the youngest except for the instructor who I believe is younger than my eldest son), most of them veterans of previous classes.

It was work.  It tested parts of my body too long neglected.  I loved the class.

And I was jealous of the veterans, who performed so much better.  I understand that it is not a competition, except with one’s own body & they reminded me of how far I have to go to perform that well.

It was a good morning, when I left the community center near 10 o’clock.

I needed taco shells for lunch & chicken thighs for dinner, so I went to my current neighborhood store.  As I walked toward the front door, I thought about the personalities of my chair yoga classmates & was in deep thought.

 My purse strap fell off my shoulder & as I heaved it up, I hit a bundled up little lady coming from behind me.

Mortified, I apologized & she assured me she was fine, not to worry.  I recognized her.

My victim bundled against the cold was the same woman, the same chance encounter I met a few days before Christmas.

Walking at the same brisk pace.

She slowed her pace a bit & reassured me she was not hurt.

I told her I had been in deep thought & she said,

I think we are all in deep thought these days.

We wished each other a Happy New Year & after she resumed her brisk pace, I moved differently.

Perhaps from the loosening of my muscles during chair yoga, perhaps from the benefits of deep breathing, perhaps from meeting a chance encounter a second time.

Whatever the reason, I am certain that my body & mind, challenged & stretched, is moving differently.  With more strength.

As are my thoughts.  Deep thoughts for these days.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Missive on the Beginning of 2017

On this, the first day of 2017, I avoided most of the Sunday morning “news” programs except for CBS Sunday Morning & Face the Nation.

My mother Jean & I love CBS Sunday Morning.   It has been my habit for many years to exit at a point from watching it & view Meet the Press & then This Week with George Stepanopoulos.  George himself is now so seldom present on This Week that I often skip the whole hour.

This week, after learning of the President-Elect’s New Year’s tweet (someone wake me up & tell me that we are not hearing from a future President & Leader of the Free World via Twitter), I avoided my usual Sunday morning routine. 

"Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don't know what to do. Love."

Why learning of this tweet from our future President irritated me, I cannot honestly articulate.   Perhaps because it was divisive – drawing a line between his supporters & classifying those who did not support him as enemies.

Perhaps it was because he felt the need to demean those of us who did not support his campaign of bigotry, fear, racism, misogyny & anger. 

Perhaps it was because he insinuated that we are powerless in his triumph.

We do know what to do.  As time since that disappointing & terrifying night in early November has passed, we are gathering together. 

But back to the topic at hand – (my brief digression about why I did not follow my Sunday morning routine aside) - a story on Face the Nation.

The segment was entitled FULL BOOK PANEL JANUARY 1.  It featured four writers: 

Isabel Wilkerson, author "The Warmth of Other Suns," J.D. Vance, author of "Hillbilly Elegy," Diane Guerrero, author of "In the Country We Love," and Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, author of "Muslim Girl" sit down for a discussion on their works and how their experiences have impacted their writing.

It was a diverse, interesting group of writers – a black woman who wrote about the great migration of blacks from the south to the north, a white man who grew up in a rural community coming to terms with his roots & his Yale education, a woman born of undocumented parents who were eventually deported, a Muslim American woman growing up in the aftermath of 911.

A worthy effort on the part of Face the Nation & commentator John Dickerson to give a voice to the many voices & experiences of the diverse communities that make up Americans.


Bothered by the absence of Others who make up this wonder we know as America, I looked up the definition of FULL.

completely filled; containing all that can be held; filled to utmost capacity

The voice & experience of Americans cannot be categorized or limited to or contained within one or two or three or four groups.  We are more than young black, white, Latina, & Muslim Americans.

While I understand the time constraints involved in a television production, the absence of Asian Americans & Americans over Sixty & Native Americans & representatives, writers, whose parents & grandparents are from around the globe, who forged families & communities & contributed to our national wealth of wonder & strength, grieved me.

That being said, it was a beginning.  Someone at CBS should pitch an idea for featuring a writer, an activist, an entrepreneur, a contributor, from the diverse & amazing group of people who comprise this wonder called America.

From more than four select groups.

If I have learned anything during my six decades on this planet, it is that each of us needs to listen to & get to know the Other.

Our nation is richer & stronger for its diversity.  My live is richer & stronger for getting to know the Other of that incredible diversity.

We are all snowflakes, unique & different & Other.  I hope that in 2017 we remember that.  I hope we remember to recognize & appreciate that Otherness, instead of fear it.