Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Small Victories: Riding the Wave Between Hope and Despair

--> When it comes to the environment and all that we face today, many of us are dogged with doubt—are we doing it right and can we really turn this ship around?

We work hard, mostly in the dark. Hoping our work will bear fruit. Trusting, because there is no other way.

In my own case, as much as I wave the hope banner-–there are private moments of doubt and despair.

As if to answer these questions, I was recently sent a much needed positive sign.

It’s not often that we get to see our activist efforts rewarded in concrete ways and certainly not within twenty-four hours.

Here’s what happened:

Kristen Iversen, author of Full Body Burden, was scheduled to visit my campus at Stony Brook University, on Tuesday, April 29, 2014.  The plan was for Kristen to meet with my class in the morning and, later in the afternoon, she would give a lecture to the university at large.

The night before Kristen’s visit, the plans changed.

At 10 p.m. on Monday evening, I received an urgent message from my friend, Patti Wood, co-founder with her husband Doug Wood of Grassroots Environmental Education. The Grassroots team works tirelessly on many environmental causes including Fractavism.

Patti’s urgent plea: Would I, as the Director of Sustainability Studies at Stony Brook University, speak before the New York Suffolk County legislature on behalf of the bill being proposed banning the importation, sale or use of all radioactive and toxic fracking waste in Suffolk County the next morning at 9:00 am in Riverhead?  Patti was concerned that the gas lobbyists had won over too many of the legislators and my presence was needed. Here was the hitch: my class was scheduled to meet at 10:20, and Kristen Iversen was visiting for the day.  Riverhead is almost an hour from campus and who knew how long the event would last at the legislature. 

What should I do?  The schedule with Kristen had been set months before. 

Yet, what was most important? Keeping the schedule as it had been set, or saving the place where I live from poisonous fracking waste?

How could I not go and try to stop the polluting of my county? This is everything I work for.  The gas industry intended to push our local politicians into applying radioactive radium 226 and 228, radon and other toxic material onto our roads as de-icer and dumping it in ill-equipped and unsafe waste locations.  The material would inevitably end up in our water, soil, and farmland. Radium 226 emits gamma rays that travel long distances.

So I wrote to Kristen about my predicament and asked if she might want to go with me.  Kristen immediately said yes. She wanted to speak, too.  After all, Full Body Burden is about the dangers of plutonium pollution and the nuclear weapons factory Rocky Flats. I then wrote to two students who are very well versed in the subject of fracking waste and asked them to join us. They eagerly agreed.  My class would run with my TAs and co-teacher, a visiting filmmaker, Dave Chameides. The students would come see Kristen’s talk later that afternoon.

Kristen, Andi and Cory (my students), and I met up with Patti Wood and many others. We were each given three minutes to speak.  This was one of the most empowering moments of my life—speaking directly to politicians who would vote on our fate, about the need to preventatively protect our children and future generations from exposure to radioactive and toxic waste that would last thousands of years.

The next morning I got the message: the bill banning all fracking waste in Suffolk County had passed. A few weeks later, the same bill would pass in Nassau County.

Before putting Kristen on the train to New York City, I shared this stunning information.

We were both ecstatic.

Over the next few days Kristen spoke at New York City High School Hibakusha Stories events honoring Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors and educating young people about the dangers of nuclear weapons, waste and power. Kristen told the students about our radioactive and toxic fracking waste victory and they clapped wildly. I chimed in, too, and students reacted the same. Seeing the young peoples’ joyful responses made our small but important action so worthwhile.

Yes, activism makes a difference.  Yes, all those drops together add up to an ocean.  Yes, cast your seeds and they will grow.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Another Plain


It was a rainy day, but the sun came out by the end of our walk. The clouds were vast and billowy, and the water on the sound became flat, shiny-- like one big mirror. I lay down on the ground, turned my head sideways and looked at the meeting of sky and water. The angle was so different: I might have been dead or something or at least on another plain. I made my friend do the same. We were like children, exploring the light and seeing the world in a different way.

Monday, June 2, 2014


I developed breasts and my life changed.  Thirteen years old.  Life was never safe again.

This writing is a long time coming.

It's something I don't speak easily about.  All that harassment. It's embarrassing.  It's humiliating. Best left forgotten.  I'm so well trained to please men, to not offend others; I have tucked it under and swept it under. Still it seeps out. 

Nobody likes an angry person--especially an angry woman.

This is it. Here goes. Here goes the explosion.  Will I post it?  I don't know.

Thirteen years old. I got my period. I got large breasts. They appeared. I don't even know the moment it happened, but all in the sudden, my breasts were big. As one teenaged girl informed me--and this was the moment I first knew, "Your boobs are HUGE."

I looked down at my chest and would never feel the same about myself for the rest of my life. 

Men on the street knew before I knew.

Summer of my thirteenth year, walking with my brother and Dad in Athens, Greece, I was wearing shorts and t-shirt. It was 1970 something and a hundred degrees outside.  My shorts were too short but nobody warned me that in Greece, girls shouldn't dress like that. What did I know: I saw myself as a child--who would care about me?   I suddenly felt the violence, the onslaught of attention, and it terrified me.  Men stared. Men grabbed. Men tried to get at me, even with my father and brother there.  I put myself between my father and brother, holding their arms. Still, the men jeered with hostility.  My brother and father didn't see--or if they did, they were silent.

When we got back to the U.S. from our European trip that summer, my older sister, who hadn't traveled with us, immediately noticed the size of my breasts and that I wasn't wearing the right-sized bra.  She gave me one of her larger ones to wear.  I felt like a baby who had large breasts strapped to her, oddly marking her. I didn't identify with them or see myself as any different, but now I was all BREASTS.  I wasn't me anymore, not to others.

For years, I couldn't walk anywhere without being whistled at, hissed at, or without having strange and disgusting oral sounds muttered at me on the street.  This was/is just part of being a young woman.  Once, when I was fifteen or so, when a guy in a truck drove by and made a lewd comment,  I yelled, "fuck you," at him and flipped the bird.  I told my mother afterwards and she said that it was wrong of me to be so rude.

At seventeen, I lost a career in the theatre as an actress. I was a member of one of the most prestigious theatre companies in the U.S.  It was my big break.  In acting, you rely on breaks such as these. Backstage, during the production of Our Town, this big breasted little sister Rebecca (me), wearing a little girl dress, waited with her big brother George  (over 30), in a small side area just off the stage. It was cramped and dark and we had to sit quietly and right next to each other until our entrance (all through rehearsals and six weeks of performances--seven days a week, with two matinees). While we waited for our scene in this dark little corner (where the audience could hear everything), George's hand would go up my thigh under my dress. George had bad breath and bad teeth. I would slap him away, but the next day/night, he'd do it again. After his hand crawling, we'd make our entrance, and do our oh so sweet sister and brother scene together, where I would talk about my friend's (Jane Crofut's) strange letter that she'd received from her sick minister-- how it was addressed to her street address and then to the universe and the mind of God, and how it got to her house anyway.  It's a speech I will never forget. Not because it was my grand moment on the stage in my small part, or that it bought me good reviews; but because good ole' George was there with me, breathing his nasty breath, raining on my parade.

Big brother George from Our Town and his hand.  I told no one. Who could I tell?

Then there was Lorenzo, in the next play called, Rep!. A play about the theatre company itself. Written by a famous author.  We got to schmooze the the local theatre elite in making this one. It was so exciting. I was the "Intern." Our parts were all true to life. I even had a scene where the "Director" tried to kiss me. The guy playing "the Director" could tell I didn't like him at all (he smelled, never took off his make up and had a coating of it perpetually on his neck and the edge of his face).  I hated the stage kiss, would do it reluctantly, and once herr Director yelled at me after the scene because he could tell.  Then there was Lorenzo the heroin addict in his forties, married with children. We had a scene in which we were supposed to face out and look at the audience. Lorenzo had to stand directly behind me.  Day after day, night after night, through rehearsals, and in performances, as we stood in position, facing the audience, he would whisper closely into my ear, "I want to fuck you. I want to fuck you." He said it in such a way that really meant, "I control you."  I couldn't move. I was told to stand in that spot by the director. It's called "blocking." An actor has to stand where they are told. Who could I complain to?  Lorenzo was the serious and well respected actor.  I was the lucky teenage girl, lucky to be in this play.  He did this one night with his wife directly in front of us as we faced the audience. "I want to fuck you," he whispered with his wife looking on.

In real life, off stage, when the show was over, the real director and founder of the theatre company would ask me to come over to talk at his apartment.  I would go.  I never drank and nothing ever happened. He would drink and talk and talk. He would tell me about my talent. He said I was "green" but would one day be like the leading older actress whom everyone admired. Sometimes he invited another actor, an older man to come with us. They would talk shop.  I never wanted to go, but I felt I couldn't say no. Wasn't it an honor that the director of the company invited me over?  He never touched me. But it was clear that he was offering me a choice: become his girlfriend and become a star, or ... I didn't know what.  Nothing.  I would be nothing.  He was an old man to me. Grey beard, grey hair.  A drunk. He was important. I was seventeen.

The women in the theatre company scorned me. I wanted to turn to them for help, but they didn't like me. They saw me as what--a potential competitor?  It became so difficult to navigate these waters--drunk famous actors, non-drunk ones who looked at me with scorn for being trapped in others' nets, constantly saying no, and yet feeling dirtied anyway, as if this were all my fault--even though I had done nothing. I just wanted to act.

It was my big break. I left this theatre and my big break because of those men. I never had such an opportunity again.

*           *           *

There was high school and a rape.  I told my girlfriends.  They were so used to hearing these stories, they didn't blink.

There were the teachers and the affairs with students.  Everyone just took it for granted.  The attitude was, "so what." People involved  begged me to never write of it.  I complied.  I still comply to save face for others. I am complicit.

*           *           *

The man in the subway in Paris. I was sixteen. He walked right up to me, put his hand on my breast and stared angrily into my eyes.

*           *           *

The man with the gun who got off the bus in Oakland, California, tapped on the window and aimed the weapon at my face.  The look on his face frightened me for years. I would dream of his anger, his steely eyes.

*           *           *

The owner of the restaurant where I was a waitress in New York at South Street Seaport. Three handsome young male Italian owners. Some said they were Mafia, what did they know of restaurants? This one had a wife who appeared occasionally in a mink coat. He had a waitress mistress, too, whom he kept in an special apartment. She told me about it. He'd come up behind me when I was picking up dishes, and slip his hand across my breasts.  If I said anything, he'd fire me.

*           *            *

The man at the party with the live-in girlfriend.  A neighbor of my friend.  I was nineteen.  He walked up to me. Put his hand full-on my breast.  Walked away.  No one saw.

*          *            *

The men (mostly married) in my building in Soho when I was in my early twenties (they were in their forties, with children) who hit on me endlessly. It was a cooperative artists' building. We painted our own hallways, put up walls in the basement. I had to pass them every day as I walked up four flights and they never stopped hastling me.  They were not so different from the men in trucks who hissed and yelled obscenities.  One, who wasn't married (yet), a well-known architect, never mentioned his girlfriend or impending engagement; he asked me on a date only a few days before the celebrations.  It was summer.  I could hear his party from my apartment.  Loud music.  What was the party for, I asked a female neighbor--"oh, he's getting married, didn't you know?"

*           *           *

There is more.  I will stop here.  Every woman and girl must have this list. 

*           *           *

Years later, I went back to college, and in graduate school became a scholar of 18th-century literature. I focused on women writers (as well as on race and colonialism). Lost women writers. Important women writers in their day.

Dale Spender, a feminist scholar, says: there are a '100 great  English novelists before Jane Austen'.

That was the work I entered into in graduate school--to recover these important writers---to give them voice.  Yet, despite years of hard work among many scholars, do you know their names?

Of course you don't.

Here are few of that 100: Aphra Behn (very prolific and popular playwright in her day, probably wrote the first English novel, and the first English woman to earn her living by the pen), Eliza Haywood, Frances Burney, Frances Sheridan (mother to the famous playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan), Maria Edgeworth, Elizabeth Inchbald, Sarah Scott and many more.  There were playwrights, poets, and nonfiction writers of political essays, too.  These women writers influenced Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf, they deeply influenced the canonized male writers of their day--but they are rarely taught in college today (I had to fight to teach them) and their work is hard to locate for the layperson.  We have brought back some of their books back into print, but these are published mostly by small independent presses, ones you don't know about unless you're a scholar.   

The vast majority of their writing is not available to buy anywhere.



These 18th-century women writers wrote openly about rape, abortion, forced marriages, abusive husbands, fathers and brothers, forced prostitution, venereal disease, death from childbirth, fathers who sold them off to men for profit, violence against women. These women authors were honest, real, and very popular in their day, and they were a major part of the new genre at that time: the novel.  I have plenty of research and evidence to prove that the novel is a female form and a female form that expressed the real condition of women. They have important stories to tell.

These women writers were silenced.


*           *            *

This is my story, or part of my story.  I don't pretend that my own tales are unique or special.  I tell these vignettes to break the silence and perhaps this will help others.  There are far worse stories than mine: childbrides, girls dead from rape, gang rapes, wife beating, child beating, women and girls shot at, strangled, kidnapped, and locked away, girls forced into sex trafficking, mass murders, women shut out of education and equal treatment in the workplace, women hating themselves because of misogyny, and living failed, broken lives, and of course the insidious self-hatred, and self-repression brought about by the beauty myth.

In my case, I have conquered sexism to a large extent.  I'm not a girl anymore and I have the tools learned from years of feminist study.  I have a room of my own, a checkbook of my own, legal status of my own.  Nobody "owns" me.  That's huge.  I stand on the shoulders of the feminists before me.

Still, I carry the wounds.  What damage has misogyny done to me, to my sisters, to my daughter? How has this sexist world impacted my/our relationships, heart, soul?  What joy or creativity has been lost?

Who can say?

Sexism permeates us all so deeply.  Sexism silences fifty percent of the population. Sexism is a future denied, cultures vastly diminished.

*            *            *

I have a teenaged daughter.  She loves acting and the theatre.  She's in France right now, performing in a play.  No surprise, I have strongly discouraged her from pursuing an acting career.  "Go into the sciences," I tell her.  "But I hate science," she quips back. "Okay, well, if you go into the theatre," I insist, "be the director or writer, not the girl who is chosen for her looks, who is at the mercy of others telling her where to stand and how to move."

Be the girl who does her own directing--that is what I wish for my own daughter.

Don't be at the mercy of men or anyone for that matter.

*           *            *

I will publish this after all. 

These stories must be told and violence against women must stop.

Instead of being like those actresses in the theatre company who did not stand up for me when their support was direly needed, I will speak up now, as millions, no billions, suffer worldwide.

I must speak out against misogyny, violence, and oppression in any form.

#YesAllWomen. All women.

Monday, May 19, 2014

she tells me:

"you are a survivor"

I say: "aren't we all?"

(the thing about) nuclear bombs is

background radiation
   (never) disappears

not for tens of thousands of years

she tells me: "words on this page

    spill out with pain."

I say: "pain is everywhere."

Peter Pan flew to never never land

a place

without adults who
     ruin things

a place with crocodiles

a place with racism

a place with too few girls

Sunday, May 18, 2014

It's been a long year: I'm back and some environmental films!

My friends.  I've missed you.

I have missed writing here, too, and I feel remiss for not having done so.

I made a commitment to myself in the fall of 2013, before writing more here, and before writing for magazines, I had to finish my book, Polluting Mama: An Ecofeminist Memoir (Toronto: Demeter Press, 2014)  I did!  Yes, I did!  I wrote every morning from 4:00 a.m. until 6:30 a.m. (sometimes starting even earlier), woke up my daughter and then drove her to school.  Depending on my work schedule, I'd head back to more writing later in the day/eve, but I have had a lot of other responsibilities this year, so the writing had to take place mostly in the wee hours.

I did it, I did it.  The book is done!

I am making small revisions now and it will be out early fall--in print and on kindle. I'm so excited. Those who have read the work like it very much and I hope you will, too.

It was an exhilarating academic year.

Last June, 2013, I took over directing the Sustainability Studies Program at Stony Brook University and it rocked my life.  What an opportunity this has been to make a real "environmental" difference in the lives of our students at Stony Brook and beyond.  We brought many speakers to the University this year and into our classrooms--Sandra Steingraber, Michel Gelobter, Micheal Dorsey, Joni Adamson, Kristen Iversen, Dave Chameides, David Cassuto, Carl Safina, Desi K. Robinson, along with many others. These folks spoke to us about a variety of environmental issues including fracking, radioactive waste, nuclear weapons and Rocky Flats, environmental justice, food justice, animal rights and factory farming, and climate change.  In my eco media class, Dave Chameides (film guy and two-time Emmy- Award winner) taught my students how to make environmental short films and I'm so pleased with the results (see below!). We had an environmental film series, too, and showed a great selection of films including Earth 2100, Fierce Green Fire, Bidder 70, No Impact Man, Food Inc, No family History, Atomic States of America... and more....

So much happened this academic year, it's impossible to capture it all in one blog entry... One of the highlights was speaking at my local legislature to oppose the importation of radioactive fracking waste from Pennsylvania and Ohio to Suffolk County.  I encouraged many others to join me, including two students, Cory Tiger and Andi Burrows, as well as our visiting guest speaker that day, writer, Kristen Iversen, Sierra Club members and others.  We were thrilled to experience unusually rapid success in our efforts. The morning after we spoke, the legislature voted, unanimously, to ban ALL fracking waste from being purchased, imported, or used in any way in Suffolk County, Long Island. Success for the future generations!

With Kristen Iversen, author of Full Body Burden, at the Suffolk County Legislature

Oh, I wrote a piece about the Alice Walker film, Beauty in Truth  for Spirituality and Health Magazine.  My daughter and I went to see Beauty in Truth when it opened in NYC at Columbia University and we met Pratibha Parmar, the filmmaker.  The film appeared on PBS as part of the American Masters series.  I snuck that in despite my promise to write nothing but my book. I adore Walker, so I couldn't resist.

My piece, "Hurricane Sandy A Diary," was published with ISLE, Oxford University Press, in spring 2014.

Today: there is still grading to complete, administrative tasks to tend to, students to graduate at the end of the week-- but I wanted to say hello and let you know that I'm still here!

Oh readers, I am back and ready for a summer of new writing: poems, stories, and essays about love, the earth, friendship and motherhood. 

And here, for your viewing, are a series of film shorts by my students from our Environmental Media and Film class, Spring Semester 2014 (first-time filmmakers) on various environmental topics.  I'm so proud of the work my class did.  Thank you to my co-teacher, the filmmaker & Sustainability guy, Dave Chameides, for expertly guiding the students through this process, and to the film tech TA extraordinaire, Justin Fehntrich, for helping as well.  I know you will enjoy and be moved by these environmental film shorts.  My students are passionate, clever, and visionary.  Please watch all four sections... they are worth it.

Environmental Film and Film part 1

Environmental Film and Media part 2

Environmental Film and Media part 3

Environmental Film and Media part 4

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The elephant and the only answer i can find for suffering

folded knees
collapsing forward
is he alive?
and this is all i see:
folded knees
folded skin

a face
collapsing knees
folded folded
i stare at his knees
folded skin
is he alive?
without a face
is he alive?
folded knees
without a face

again, again, again

all this for piano keys?

is he alive?

on his knees
folded skin
without a face

how can i stop this?

dear deena, i almost write,
they asked you to help
in tanzania
the herd came
  and blocked
              the road

yes, they call to you and us---

is he alive?
on his knees
folded folded
no face

how do i stop this?
why so much suffering?

  so   my    buddhist friends
went to Portugal
this week

[i should have joined them
to learn the skill

of seeing this elephant
beaded with stars

face restored
upright with

his family
herd all

amid a herd all of happy elephants
flapping ears tusks heart safe]

"it's all samsara"

that's what
Buddha said

the only answer i can find for suffering
 & human torture 

Monday, October 21, 2013

the heart

i like to write in the morning
in the evening
i am too tired for poems

where does this emptiness come from?

my mouth is the desert

he dove down into the earth
giving and leaving nothing

i used to feel that with each human contact

there was

what if?

now it has all become

a google map

perhaps it is time for a pilgrimage

to a holy place

of birds

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The alligator in the pool

there was a pool in the
basement of the house
and in it swam large fish
and an alligator.

i swam with the alligator
it wanted to be near me
it was lonely
it pushed up close against

i remained still
& tried to love its closeness

i was not afraid
i was near death

i was not afraid
of the alligator in the pool

Blue Water Morning

a terrible

a dark hole
morning light
hello daughter
eggs and fruit salad
a walk with friends
bird song

what is despair?
why does it creep into my bed at night?
why do we see the worst after moments of love?

i will walk by the water
the clear blue
day after day in the house
i bought

can it be the house that makes me lonely?
how i wanted it
now i don't

i don't know what i want
i want to want nothing
i want san francisco
i want paris
i want a waterfall

is loneliness fog?
a not seeing
a coldness

watching barrels of radioactive waste
thrown into
the beloved ocean

pasting and copying my chapters

to send to a friend
she says writers must know
the loneliest of loneliness

i will research how many Japanese
women protest/ed
& mourn the loss
of Kaori Izumi
who took care of
irradiated children
& shut down the Oi reactor

her voice is on my computer
my dead bird sings in the

i cannot find the video
of her face
but in my memory
i see her son peering
in the skype screen
and her hands on her cheeks
(we talked for hours)

she returned to japan from italy
to help

she is dead.

now i must rise.
i must go to the water.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Dangerous Poem and Quiz #1

Quiz #1.  
Planned Expiration Date.________________

good morning. i am going to write 30 poems before december.
let me count the ways i don't have hope
then the ways i do.
Rebecca Solnit says infuse hope.
Z, our mutual friend, says the same.

i read a book of hers, Savage Dreams, filled with stories that lap over my life, laps, swimming laps, my father swam back and forth, sitting on my father’s lap, stories about women strike for peace and the desert and my mother’s story infused in there, and my body’s cancer story and the American story all a jumble and Berkeley in the sixties and it turns out that her brother X went to jail with my brother Y for an anti-nuclear protest, and a man i loved is friends with her brother X, and he’s one of the Xs in her book, and i canceled our friendship, but Z is friends with him, and Rachel Carson now has a statue in Woods Hole, and I should have been there for the dancers who memorialized gene pools and
he never held my hand, it was all
about sex

facebook is god.

human beings break hearts and planets. or is it stars?

small love, big love, what’s the difference?

is there a difference between a broken heart and a nuclear bomb explosion?

this is a poem about love.  

nobody knows the difference or cares, so you must knock on the doors of your neighbors’ houses, and give them this quiz: where is the closest nuclear power plant? what is a storage pool for spent nuclear fuel rods?  what temperature must it remain before the rods explode?  how do you split an atom?  why in the hell would you split an atom?  why do they use uranium and where does it come from? what happens to a landscape that is mined for uranium? do you know what happens when a terrorist flies a plane into a spent fuel pool?

i am looking at the ocean now and changing the subject.  subjective realities are far more interesting than objective realities. don’t objectify me. say, what is the goal of philosophy or literary theory?  do something real. plumbing. build a house. seed the earth. this word is an abstraction, a hyperreal non-thing. it.

don't be so high and mighty.

what is real?

i/me will tell you what’s real.  loneliness.  running water.  three full core meltdowns. millions of gallons of radioactive water. children with thyroid abnormalities. death.


will you go with me on a pilgrimage there?  fess up.  it scares you.  YOU won’t admit it.  you’ll placate to get your name in print and get funding.  say radiation is safe.  but do YOU live in Fukushima?  do YOU go camping in Chernobyl?  would YOU buy a radioactive dog?  why is it forbidden for pregnant women to get x-rays, but YOU say it's all the same: bananas, airplanes, Cesium 137, plutonium, strontium 90, but when it suits, YOU laugh and remind us about the short life of tritium that YOU leak. ha ha and all the fellas drink the tritium in YOUR home-made beer. it comes right out in your pee.  you say: ha ha ha

weep not for the weary.

or the mothers who flee with internally contaminated children.

it's so easy to confuse the poor ignorant people who cannot understand physics or the news.

do you have an evacuation plan?

three big tuna swimming in the sea. radi-o-act-i-vi-ty.

am i the walt whitman of the sea?

my chest hurts, right in the spot on the upper right of my chest near the shoulder almost where the port catheter used to live.  turn down the volume please. i am getting way too loud. search in the archives.  be thankful. hang on tight the american e-conomy is sinking/booming shale/gas/tar/oil and privacy has been given up to Google.  hello edward snowden.

i was in the Russian airport, too, a summer ago.  it was empty in Moscow and crowded in Petersburg. 

swimming pools.  Americans.  we have them in our back yards.  they are mostly kidney shaped.  

in Japan, it is the old people who protest now.

i dream of swimming in and out and around them. spent fuel rods.  radioactive mermaid am i.

the fukushima workers have been lied to. they ingested 20% more radiation than previously told, but they, lucky souls, get free cancer testing.  catscans are highly radioactive. e-qual to exposure to the Hiroshima explosion. all things being equal, i did not see that on the form when i signed away my future.

look homeword angels.  Buddha Blue. hope.  there is always hope.

a man stands with a remote driving an electric car in the parking lot by the beach in the too warm weather. 

every day i ask the question: what will become of us?

we save pictures of animals on our computer screens and love one thing only.

this quiz counts for 100 million years of oceans free of human trash.

this poem is too long.  i wrote it in a parking lot.

a nuclear power plant is a plutonium factory.  not good.  no

Friday, September 27, 2013

For my sister who asked me to write a poem

What is hubris?

I used to think all hubris came from jealousy.

Scientists, like literary critics, make toxic chemicals.


A play on words.

Words are prettier than bodies.

Words do not wilt with age.

Words don’t have hormones. Not as far as I know.

Words don’t get cancer.

Words are not impacted by superfund sites.  Not directly.

Do words get sick from Strontium 90 and Roundup Ready?

Do words create naval dumping sites or aquifers?

Do words make 400 parts per million?

What happened to the bees?

Will words bear children when exposed to secret fracking chemicals?

Who will be the last baby?

Who will have the last word?

There is something about car dealerships. Today I bought a black Prius
because I haven't seen a butterfly lately.
Sandy and guns. Oh that too.
The saleswoman told me I should work less and feel less stress.
She said I would make myself sick.
Remain calm. Eat your vegetables.  Go to yoga class.
These are things we say while test driving a new car.
Then she told me she had cervical cancer and they took everything out and this week they found more cancer cells even though there was nothing left inside.
How can you do a pap smear when there is no cervix she asked her doctor.
The lady's eyes were deep brown.
I hugged the lady who sells cars.
I want to hug every body.
I told her there are over 100 superfund sites on Long Island.
She asked, 'what’s a superfund site?'

How do I begin to explain my frustration with words and persistent organic pollutants?

Where is eden?  Please text me the location and I will use my GPS to find my way there.

What is the butterfly effect?

Is it possible to restore words and living things to their rightful places?

Have you found your one rightful place?

Echoing the famous words of a famous poet this poem (if you can call it that)
exhibits hubris.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The People All Said Sit Down, Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat

it wasn't supposed to be any easier on
yom kippur. not easier. as the leader of the republican party's wife sat
in front of me while I sang Pete Seeger's "God's counting on me"
and John Lennon's "imagine" these poisons seeping in my
cells killed by the chemotherapy that saved my life.
yes. breathe. now. stop. again. sigh. buddha.
singing while his girlfriend the man I made this child with
toes pointed inward uncomfortably looked down at
the words on the page of our service. again. start.
my daughter turned 16 this week on the day the towers fell
they say Georgie and Cheney knew before it happened.
now. the first responders ill from the smoke it's in the new
york times so. amen. it must be true.
suburbia smelled of poisonous stench for days.
a new idea. start. here.
i worked in one tower as a waitress at windows on
the world and the engineer high up on the ladder
looked down at me and said "quit this job.
you're breathing poison air.
when they built these towers they sprayed them
with asbestos that blew right over
brooklyn. get out."
the people all said sit down, sit down you're rocking the boat.
serving steak tartare and martinis
to business red faced men. we the lowliest lunch servers
made $300 a week. we had health insurance.
aprons. stockings. buns. hair spray. high heels.
nylon tan scratchy dresses.
asbestos never saved those people in toppling towers.
maybe that's where my cancer came from?
asbestos air and strontium 90 in my baby milk?
DDT for the birds and the bees?
oh silent spring. oh Rachel Carson.
oh yom kippur.  back to the mourning.
misheraberach a prayer for the ill
kol ni dre she plays violin. sixteen now.
i thought about my mom and dad.
i thought about the vanishing honey bees.
i thought about the vanishing ice.
i thought about the men i dated this year
big fat liars. all.
war and monsanto
Rocky Flats.
little veins
port catheters
"the man died in his car
just like that suddenly
from lupus"
or suicide?
what species kills itself?
stop. now.
shma y'israel. adoni elohanu.
  adoni so sorry  for
          what my people have. done.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Hello, it's Rosh Hashanah, meaning a new year.

What will you do this New Year?

What do you have to be sorry for and did you apologize to all those whom you might have hurt?

The book of life.

We have a week.

We're about to go to war, for the sake of something. What something?

We will kill to save more lives? To make a point? To show our strength?

I dropped her off tonight and did not go.

Feeling sorry for myself, on the freeway, in the car.  My car.  My car. My car.

My mother the car.

When I realized when something breaks down.

There is no one to call.

Imagine how those children feel in countries where their parents
are bombed.

We only know the fragmentation of the bombs.

It's after effects.

That's America.

No, that's callus and forgetful.

We had 9/11.

But since the civil war in the 19th century, what wars have we
known?  Directly?

Again, callous and forgetful, I will look to orion.  So many American soldiers.

I'm sorry.  It's the week of I'm sorry.  Yom Kippur coming right up.

What do I know?

Our bodies indirectly know.

Through cancer.  Through the street people and the homeless.

Through Agent Orange and Depleted Uranium and Chemical Warfare.

All those test bombs.  oh those.

Do we see them?

A terrible mother,  I am.

Sorry.  Sorry.  Sorry.

Sorry VERY Sorry for bombing your country.

Sorry is no enough.


What else is there?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The latest from a very busy environmentalist professor and mother

Just so no one gets worried about me as I've been a bit silent, lately, all is well.

It's been a busy, busy year.

Here's what I did since last Fall.  As an act of cracking eggs to enlighten the young, in addition to teaching my normal load of two courses a semester, plus directing dissertations (my PhD student Ula Klein just graduated and I'm so proud of her and her work), and writing articles for magazines, and Directing the Environmental Humanities major in our Stony Brook University Sustainability Studies Program, and becoming Interim Director of the entire Stony Brook University Sustainabilities Program (are you tired yet?  I am!), and trying to complete my environmental memoir, I taught two freshman seminars on Environmental Film. Oh, don't forget (I almost did),  I taught TWO summer classes on environmental literature and film-- graduate and undergraduate.  I'm sure I've forgotten something.

Why, pray tell, would I be so crazy as to add two courses on top of the other two and on top of everything else in the spring semester (or the summer courses!)?  It's my calling to wake students and others up.  That's why. Desperate times call for desperate measures!

The Freshman seminars meet seven times.  So I showed six environmental films and we talked about the environmental issues related to these films...  Here's what the students viewed: Earth 2100 (climate change), Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (made for PBS), Gasland 1 (2 wasn't out yet), Into Eternity (nuclear waste), Food Inc, and No Impact Man (along with the video short- The Story of Stuff). So, we covered: climate change; nuclear power, weapons and waste; toxics, chemicals and cancer; fracking; food and agricultural rights; garbage, waste and consumption.  The last--No Impact Man! was the lightest fare and left the kids with suggestions of things they can do, as well as a bit of humor and hope.

I think I made an impact with these two seminars... as the kids run off to their various majors, they said they plan to bring environmental awareness into these different fields, from Business, to Chemistry, to Engineering. Very cool.

My other courses were awesome.  In my Feminist Literature and Culture class we rocked to Eve Ensler's One Billion Rising on February 14th, V-Day.  Two of my students are dancers (thank you Jul Carmela and Melanie Magdit); they learned the choreography from the One Billion Rising site and taught my class of almost 60. We played the live stream and danced with the world--simultaneously.  Very powerful.  We also watched Nick Kristof's Half the Sky, read Ensler's Vagina Monologues and The Good Body, The Color Purple (and a bunch of Walker's work--essays and poems-- on eco-womanist themes--women and the environment), Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea, and Into the Forest (by Jean Hegland).  So, we covered contemporary body issues, women writers/writing and feminism, colonialism, race, ecofeminism, and so much more.  Loved that class.  On the last day, one of my students, a single empowered very young mom,  brought in her little girl, and another student brought her beautiful hairy dog, Foosa. Students did creative research presentations on feminist topics most meaningful to them.  Some memorable ones: a book by my single mom student to her daughter about being an empowered teen mom, a presentation on women in comic books throughout history, and a presentation on women (and power) in Star Trek. Another mind blowing presentation was on a google chat where the question "what do you think of feminism?" was posed.  oh my, in the world outside the bubble of my classroom, it seems many folks have no idea what feminism is and anonymous chatters seem to hate women!  The mysoginist language used was pretty shocking....

My other class:  Eco Media (yes, I teach a class on environmental media-love it!).  In this class, my students created an amazing amazing live blog, and they wrote sharp critiques of all of our readings and film viewings -- on current environmental events in the media.  We were visited by a live New York Journalist--Karl Grossman, we attended a brilliant symposium on the future of Nuclear Power post Fukushima, hosted by Helen Caldicott, in the NYC.  Many of us took buses at 5 am on a freezing winter day to Washington, DC, where we attended the biggest Climate Change rally ever-- headed up by Bill McKibben and Sierra Club.  One group of my students made an amazing film about the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the Great South Bay.  We all participated in Stony Brook University's Earthstock (Earth Day Celebration), presenting research projects on toxics and cosmetics, fracking, GMOs and pesticides and food, and Hurricane Sandy and Climate Change.  Many folks at Earthstock were stunned, mesmerized, and impressed by what my students had to say and offer!

Oh and here are some other things I organized for the Eco Media class and the Freshman Seminars: two public showings of Dear Governor Cuomo, with the filmmaker, Jon Bowermaster, speaking!  What a great guy and what a rocking, rousing and inspiring film. One showing was in Huntington, NY, at the Cinema Arts Centre, and the other was at our Stony Brook Campus.

I also organized a showing of Chasing Ice at Cinema Arts--and we invited Professor Malcolm Bowman, an oceanographer to speak...

Gosh, there's so much more.... summer classes and attending The Clearwater Revival Festival with my students and working in the Green Cities Tent, again!  Hands-on environmental learning from the experts at its best.  Thank you Ryan Palmer, Manna Jo Greene, Karla Raimundi, and Linda Richards, for pulling this astounding learning experience together for my students, once again.  Unforgettable.

Last but not least, I just came back from Omega Institute, where I gave a lecture on the Power of Environmental Literature.  That was a lot of fun to put together.  I spoke about the profound influence of literary words on environmental activism.  Skip Backus and Laura Weiland created an amazing six-week program there on Sustainability (one of my students attended) and I was delighted to jump in and speak with this very engaged group and others for the evening.

Now, more to do, more to do... and back to revisions of my book.... soon to come to a store near you!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Summer 2

I walked and the creatures came to see me.
The rabbit stopped to say hello and a brown bird.
With a sharp black beak and orange fleck on his cheek.
A striped chipmunk scurried under my feet.
They looked into my eyes.
Save us, they said. 
We know you love us.
Bird after bird perched near me.
Please, they said. We know our time is up.
What a burden.
What am I to do?
What can I do?
I am dumbstruck at all that is wrong--how to fix it--
Yet I don't want to let on that.
I've lost hope.
I cannot lose hope.
Too many are counting.

And then I had a dream.
And then I saw a field of bright colors.
And then the people emerged from the tunnel.

On bicycles.

Waiting for me.
Waiting for you.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Summer's Gone, or The Bliss of Suburbia

I woke this morning, happy to greet summer and looking forward to planting seeds.

Before, there was no time.  No time.  Never enough time.

This morning. I would make time.

I opened my door to greet the semi-quiet morning.  Birds. Lots of birds. The humming of insects.  The far away hum of cars.

First, I made coffee and planned to sit on my porch and read Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire

I read about the quiet and the red sand and the desert flower, the sexuality of bees and moths burrowing and pollinating.  I stopped for a moment and soaked in Abbey's words on solitude and the expansiveness of the desert and felt his thoughts link with mine.  I then scribbled a few words on paper about the end of romantic love, it's self-enclosed and selfish nature, about how I prefer the expansiveness of loving the earth, of giving to a greater cause.  

What a glorious quiet, simple moment: book, pen, notebook, coffee, porch, thoughts.

Then the sound.  The blast.  The churning BLAST.  A wood chip machine? 

 It is Sunday.  The Christians made a law that bans the machines on Sunday. 

Yet it blasts and blasts, and the partial silence is gone.  The breath. The day. 

I wait and hope.  Maybe it will stop.  Maybe it will go away.   It grows louder and louder.

I try to read, to bring back that moment of Desert Solitaire and me.  Gone.

The blast continues. Minutes.  One hour.  Two hours.  Three.

I move back inside the house to escape the noise-- shut my windows and doors, shut out the industrial noise that is always, always there.

The irony: following the section on the solitude of desert flowers and red rock, Abbey cries out against the industrialization of the national parks in Desert Solitaire.  New wide roads were built and brought in millions of tourists and their big machines. Quiet and silence and mystery vanished. 

The irony: I moved to the suburbs and bought a house with a yard so I could grow a garden.  I moved to a place where I envisioned long solitary walks.  A writer's dream.  I imagined peaceful summers.   

I came from Manhattan because the noise and bustle crushed my soul. 

Yet the noise is here, every moment, everywhere.  My neighbors run machines, buzz buzz buzz.  We cannot leave windows open, sleep in a hammock, or read a book in the shade.

There is no peaceful summer.  Maybe there never was.  Maybe Eden had leaf blowers and generators  and electric weed wackers and buzz saws and Strontium 90 and plutonium and TCE and PCBs and fracking waste and  DDT.   Maybe google earth snapped pictures of naked Adam and Eve and posted them on facebook.  Maybe Eden's evil snake was a sneaky drone.  Maybe Eden's apple was an iphone.

Maybe the writers of the Bible left industrialization out of creation to fool us all.  Maybe there have always been machines.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Mother's Day 2013-A Miracle


                              Mother's Day

1) You lose your mother to cancer and other disease.
2) You want babies and can't have them. 
3) You get cancer and think you'll really never have them.
4) Post-chemo: you have a baby.
5) You want more babies and cannot. 
6) You look back in love and awe at your mother's political and activist work. 
7) You become your mother and try to save the world. 
8) You feel: Gratitude and grace for the gift of motherhood. 

 It's a fraught day for many, a joyous one for others.

I know, first hand, both the immense pleasure of being a mom, and the intense pain of wanting to be one and not being able to.  I also know the angst of losing a mom, the challenges of working full time and parenting, and the difficulties of raising a child alone.

It's a complex role, motherhood.

First, I lost my mom, too young.  That's a complicated story.  She was a complex person, married to a very difficult man.   It took many years for me to come to grips with her greatness.  I always saw her as weak and fallen, but now I see her differently.  I see her as a victim of her time.  I see her as a hero. That's the story of the book I'm writing.

And then there's the challenges of being a mother myself.

For years, I wanted to be a mother.  I mean really, really wanted to be a mother.  It was an obsessive desire.   I wanted to have five or six kids: With Six You Get Eggroll, The Waltons, Yours Mine and Ours

It didn't seem to be in the cards for me.   Yes, I was of the generation of women that wanted to work and have a family--but it wasn't my career that got in the way, I just didn't seem to fall in love with "traditional" marriage or child-friendly guys. They were artists, actors, dancers, hippies, and free spirits who saw the nuclear family as confining, repressive, anti-happiness.

So, for years, I watched, with intense envy and sadness, other women get pregnant, give birth, and do it again and again.  Everywhere I went, there seemed to be women with babies, toddlers, and pregnant women.  My friends all had kids.  Not just one, but several.

It was torture.

The sight of a stroller, a mother nursing, children in the playground with their moms, made me weep. I hated hated hated baby showers, dreaded the invitations, the cards, the excited calls from friends and their words: "I'm pregnant!"  I would try to sound happy and supportive, but inside, my heart was breaking.  'All I ever wanted was kids,' I thought,  'Why couldn't it be me?'

The man I loved through my late twenties and thirties "wasn't ready and wanted to wait to have kids."  I waited for him to change his mind, to feel at ease.  My partner poo-pooed the "nonsense" I told him about the decline in fertility rates in women as they age.  He thought medical statistics "were all in the mind." 

The years went by and the clock ticked. 

Then, in my mid-thirties, I got cancer and faced an onslaught of intensive chemotherapy treatments.  Chemotherapy, my physicians said, might very possibly render me permanently infertile.  I was bereft and upset with myself.  Why had  I hung out waiting for someone else to make up his mind, when having children was so vital to me?  Now I might never have biological children of my own, now I might die and never experience motherhood at all. 

There was no time for freezing eggs.  I needed chemo right away.

Out of guilt, and possibly a sudden waking up to the sacredness and fragility of life due to my life-threatening disease, my partner then promised to have a baby with me when I was healthy enough to try. 

Two years later, we tried to get pregnant.  Nothing happened.  Then after much help from an excellent reproductive endocrinologist, I became pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful, healthy girl.  At last, I was a mom.

She was and is my miracle.

Yet.  Even though I finally had a child,  I still ached for more.  So, I tried and tried, but I could not conceive again.  I went through several years of giving myself shots of hormones daily, of multiple surgeries and treatments and various drugs.  No luck.  Every month, I went through a dramatic cycle of hope and disappointment that took a heavy emotional toll.  Finally, I ran out of steam and stopped trying.  I was too exhausted to go through the adoption route.

The grieving and longing for more children passed in time.  Today, my heart is full with joy and gratitude for all that I have.  My girl amazes me more and more each day with her kindness, intelligence, grace, vision, and generosity.

My relationship with my own mother has evolved over the years as well.  Growing up, my feelings about Mom were fraught.  When she lived, I saw her as the beaten-down woman of an abusive husband.  I wanted Mom to be strong, to get out and save herself.

Now, twenty years after Mom's death, through researching her life in more detail for my book, I discovered that she was an important environmental and peace activist.   She put her own body on the line to save the lives of many.

I have also come to understand the complexities of motherhood in a patriarchal world.  It's not easy to leave an abusive relationship, and it was more difficult in my mom's lifetime.   Fingers pointed at women when men misbehaved or when marriages failed.  Women were supposed to keep everyone else happy.  Adrienne Rich explained it all as a kind of altruistic self-sacrifice. Yes, we still have to be very careful not to fall into the trap of mommy and women blame.  I was guilty of mother-blame myself when Mom lived.

I now see how deeply and positively Mom influenced me in a myriad of ways.  For Mom's sake, I wish she could have put feminism into practice in her marriage, yet I no longer blame her for not being able to do so.

On a very positive note,  I have come to follow Mom's path as an activist who works to protect all children from the polluting of our earth. 

So. Now.

Every day I thank my mother for giving birth to me, and for teaching me the value of working on activist causes for the good of the earth and all living beings.

Every day I look at my daughter with amazement and feel immense gratitude for the gift of motherhood and all that it teaches me.

I honor my child.

I honor my mother.

Today, when I'm feeling any (mothering) grief, helping to take care of our mother earth is the best medicine of all.

Thanks, Mom.