Monday, June 15, 2015

Packing for Madagascar

We leave today for Madagascar.

Sounds funny to say. I never expected to go to this island so far away from home, but the opportunity came up and we're thrilled.  I've never been to Africa or Asia --only Europe and to Israel as a child.  I know this will be very different.

I'm traveling with my daughter, Olivia, her friend Gabrielle and her sister Lauren, and their mother Mickie. The girls are all in high school--Olivia and Gabrielle are rising seniors. Olivia is interested in global sustainable politics and gender studies and Gabrielle hopes to go into medicine.  Lauren, a rising tenth grader, is coming a long to learn. 

We are going to the Centre Valbio in the Ranomafana National Park, the research site of Dr. Patricia Wright, a prize-winning anthropologist and primatologist, and one of the world's leading experts on lemurs.  We'll be joining a summer study abroad class from Stony Brook University, and I'll jump in to teach ecofeminism. The college students left a few weeks ago with Dr. Wright.

At the moment all I can think of is packing lists--and it's quite extensive. The forest is quite wet, so everything must be lined in plastic.  We will need so many things like Dr. Bronner's soap for washing our bodies and clothes (biodegradable and not harmful to the environment), towels, sleeping bags, rain gear from head to toe,  binoculars, waterproof watches, wide variations of clothes and shoes, and yet the airlines are so restrictive about weight. Don't bring anything you don't mind losing or getting destroyed, the instructions say.  I'm so used to packing super light, but for this trip, we'll need many supplies.

I've got a new camera with a great lens for filming wildlife. I hope it survives the humidity!

Be prepared for culture shock, the instructions say.

We're leaving the western world soon in few hours.

It's a thirty hour trip to the forest.  A stop in Paris, and then to the city of  'Tana', Madagascar; a night in Tana sleeping, and then off to meet the students and Pat Wright in the forest.

I'll be writing here with updates of our trip. I will post pictures, too.

Back to packing!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Single Mom Graduates

Helen walked into my feminism, literature, and culture class a few years ago and announced immediately, “I’m a single mom.” Fiercely proud and strong in demeanor, she also came across as childlike with her petite figure, round baby face, bright blue eyes, and high-pitched powdery voice.  This was Helen’s story: she had gotten pregnant in high school; her drug-addicted and mentally ill parents threw her out of the house; high school teachers and advisors vilified her. The boyfriend-father vanished and barely helped out financially.  Helen went to live with relatives who had plenty of children already and couldn’t help support her or pay college tuition.  Helen studied hard, made her way to university, where she raised her little girl, Anna, in a campus apartment. Campus life was good to Helen: she used the highly rated day care center and didn’t need a car--which she could not afford. Helen told her story with great pride, and many of her responses to our class readings circled back to single parenting issues. For Helen’s final project, she wrote a book entitled, For My Daughter, about how pregnant teens deserve to make the choice to become mothers and to be treated respectfully by society in return—not judged, not bullied, nor ‘othered’.  It was full of love for her daughter. All of her work in class was solid—she labored intensively over homework projects and the reading content.  She was an ideal student.  Helen got an A. 

I honored Helen’s position and choice. She was doing all she could as a single and, essentially, orphaned mom—Helen held a job and was earning a BA, and she appeared to be a present, loving parent.  In class, on Facebook and to me privately she recounted parenting stories of art, sewing, and baking projects, book reading, and taking her daughter to the beach and parks. I’d see Helen and her daughter around campus—on their own or with a group of college student friends who lavished attention on little Anna. Anna bubbled and smiled, and appeared secure and happy. Clearly, Helen was doing a good parenting job.

So when Helen posted a plea for help to get through her last semester on GoFundMe, as she explained that she’d run out of scholarship and loans, and her salary alone would not be enough to cover tuition and campus residency, I wanted to help.  Mother and child would have to leave their apartment soon if she didn’t come up with the funds.  They would be homeless. So I donated and passed the link around on social media.  Helen raised all she needed and will graduate this spring.  Additionally, she was admitted to a graduate program, which she plans to attend this fall.

But then, the other day, I saw her post a photograph on Facebook that took me aback: a sonogram photo of a new baby on the way.

I felt myself judging her. I wanted to say to Helen, but didn’t: Pregnant again?  You still have a young child. Your career and income stream are not set yet, and you are carrying loans.  Is this fair to the child you already have, and now there will be a second?

My reaction to the pregnancy surprised me.  I fully supported Helen all along the way up until now. I understood the decision to keep and raise her first baby. A teen might make a mistake and get pregnant and that could be forgiven. Why call it a “mistake” at all? Isn’t this a sexist view coming out of a history of patriarchy in which men own children and women’s bodies? Why is it anyone’s business how a young woman uses her body sexually or if she decides to parent and with whom? I reasoned that this should all be Helen’s choice, and society should not penalize her—especially as Helen clearly made every effort to get a solid education and to parent well.

We all know of the waning of the traditional heterosexual nuclear family.  Families and come in all shapes and sizes these days: LGBT parents, mixed-race families, blended families, and children are born through complex variations of reproductive methods and biological/non-biological gendered parenting combinations.  Over forty-percent of children are raised by unmarried parents. The possibilities in this brave new baby creation and childrearing world are endless, and the traditional heterosexual family unit doesn’t have a lock on love or good parenting.

Still, the sonogram photograph disturbed me. I wasn’t sure why, especially given my feminist view of mothering. I told a female friend this story and she asked, “Perhaps you feel betrayed? You supported Helen.” 

No, it’s not betrayal I feel, nor is it judgment, I realized. It is the older mother in me, wanting to protect Helen and her children.

Yet I also know that this is Helen’s body and life to live, not mine.

Happy graduation.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Easy to Forget

I am concerned about Indian Point Nuclear Power plant.

It's so easy to forget. It's easy to worry about my daughter, who has some kind of sinus infection; she keeps coughing; she has finals; we're worried about college admissions. There are dishes to wash. There is laundry to fold. There are papers to grade.

I am concerned about Indian Point.

It's so easy to forget. I know there is an abundance of unsafely stored spent fuel there--sitting in overcrowded pools, more fuel rods than the pools were designed to hold, and the longer the reactors run, the more spent fuel there will be. I don't think people know about the spent fuel issue and storage. They just stay, "Oh dear, Yucca Mountain didn't work out because of politics." They don't think, "How in the heck would one even get all the spent fuel from all over the U.S. safely TO Yucca Mountain?" That's "IF" Yucca Mountain were safe for containing nuclear waste, which it's not (geological studies show us this), and there's no other plan at the moment for long-term safe storage of nuke waste. Meanwhile, there is forty years' worth of nuclear waste stored at Indian Point and twenty million lives at risk. They are expecting earthquakes--7 on the Richter Scale (Columbia University Study) and the plant is not built to withstand such seismic activity. 

I am concerned about Indian Point.

It's easy to forget. I wake up and think, "I must do something." The day gets busy.  Driving. Work. Teaching. Meetings.  Just the other day there was a transformer fire there. It was in the news.  It barely got anyone's attention.

I am concerned about Indian Point.

It's so easy to forget. Yet I think of Japan. My friends in Japan can't understand why New Yorkers are not afraid. They look at me with pity in their eyes and ask, "What are you all doing about Indian Point? Don't you realize how much danger you are in!"  Nobody thought Fukushima would blow. Well, a few did. Mostly women. They tried to alert the government, they worked hard to reduce the amount of MOX fuel used (a plutonium mix) in the reactors. But nobody expected a Tsunami and Earthquake to cause three core meltdowns. 

I am concerned about Indian Point.

It's so easy to forget. Oh New York City. Nothing is meant to last. I could take a Buddhist approach.  Maybe Americans are really Buddhists, after all. Nothing matters to us. It's all Samsara. That irks me. Perhaps nothing lasts, but the massive suffering we cause with our hubris and greed is not acceptable.  

I am concerned about Indian Point.

It's so easy to forget. They are going to run a new high pressure and potentially explosive natural gas line approximately 1500 feet from reactors 2 and 3 and only several hundred feet from the spent fuel rods.* I should do something. What? What? Protest FERC. FERC approved this pipeline. People I know are protesting. Artists and parents and citizens are rising. 

I am concerned about Indian Point.

It's so easy to forget. The nuke plant seems far away. Nothing happened at Three Mile Island, that's the chant. Fukushima isn't so bad. Nothing much happened at Chernobyl. Secrets and Lies. Amnesia and cover ups. So many other spills and leaks and accidents that have few have heard of. It's hard to imagine such a disaster happening here. It's spring. The birds are singing. A nuclear nun was just released from two years in prison for protesting at Oak Ridge. What's Oak Ridge you might ask?  We can't smell or taste radiation, so maybe it's a science fiction story. Maybe ionizing radiation doesn't exist at all. Maybe cancer is a dream. Maybe children with leukemia don't exist. 

It's so very, very easy to forget. 

My head explodes with fear when I remember.

If you'd like to remember and learn, read these two important articles by Ellen Cantrow and Alison Rose Levy.

Or, speak up at the May 20th Nuclear Regulatory Commission meeting. 6:30 in Tarrytown, NY. Make your voice heard. Keep in mind: We don't even need Indian Point (it only produces 5% of NYC's electricity) and the Governor of New York has said the plant (on its own) poses such a great safety risk that it should be shut down.**

Or, get involved with SAPE (see below). They are working hard to stop the Algonquin/Spectra gas pipeline that threatens millions of lives. They need your help. 

*The newly approved 42" diameter high pressure gas pipeline will run 105 feet from vital structures at Indian Point e.g. jet fuel tank and switch yard.
The pipeline will be located several hundred feet from 40 years of spent fuel rods, and about 1500 feet from Reactors 2 and 3.
**We don't need IP for electricity in New York, even though Entergy claims we do. NYC gets about 5% of its electricity from the plant and the rest is sold elsewhere. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Aileen Mioko Smith: Anti-Nuclear Feminist 

1111_Sit-In_In_TokyoThis March, for Women’s History Month, the Ms. Blog is profiling Wonder Women who have made history—and those who are making history right now. Join us each day as we bring you the stories of iconic and soon-to-be-famous feminist change-makers.
My mother was part of Women Strike For Peace in the early 1960s and, along with thousands of other women across the U.S., she helped put an end to above-ground nuclear bomb testing. Women Strike For Peace organized in response to the St. Louis Baby Tooth Study, which revealed that Strontium-90 released from nuclear bomb tests in Nevada had contaminated cow and human breast milk and poisoned children’s bodies across the country. Horrified mothers rose up in protest and their efforts led, in large part, to the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963. In later years, my mother and father participated in the Nuclear Freeze movement to ban nuclear weapons and shut down nuclear power plants in the U.S.
So, when three Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdowns occurred after March 11, 2011, my eyes and ears were peeled to any and all news I could find about the accident.
Not surprisingly, I found that most activism post-Fukushima was led by women and mothers. One such activist is Aileen Mioko Smith—mother, grandmother and executive director of Green Actionwhom I have interviewed several times over the years. Smith is also co-author with her ex-husband, photojournalist Eugene Smith, of Minamata: The Story of the Poisoning of a City, and of the People Who Chose to Carry the Burden of Courage, the book that exposed the damaging health effects of mercury pollution in Minamata Bay, Japan. In working to help the Minamata survivors with their 14-year lawsuit (which they eventually won) Smith learned that, “No matter how hard it is, and no matter how many times you lose, you will win. There will be some measure of justice.”
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On March 28, 1979, Unit 2 at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, located near Middletown, Pennsylvania, had a partial meltdown. Mitsuru Katagiri, the translator of Smith’s Minamata book—a university professor and anti-nuclear activist—went to the site with a scientist and lawyer to investigate. When Mitsuru’s team returned to Japan, they reported that the situation on the ground was quite different than official statements which claimed no harm had been done. Mitsuru’s team, Smith says, heard and saw a different story: the locals near the nuclear plant noticed strange tastes and smells. Then, later on, their animals became sick and many people had strange ailments. Smith then traveled to Pennsylvania with Katagiri where she spent several months interviewing 250 citizens affected by the accident.
The interviewees in Pennsylvania repeatedly asked the research team about nuclear power in Japan: “Well, there must be no plants in Japan because you have earthquakes?” These inquiries stirred Smith, because Japan did, indeed, have nuclear power plants and the country is very earthquake-prone.
When Smith returned to Japan, she turned her full attention to the anti-nuclear cause. In 1988, Smith helped collect 4 million signatures calling for a ban on nuclear power. In 2004, she made the public aware of the government’s attempt to pass on the cost of reprocessing MOX fuel (plutonium-uranium mixed oxide) through citizen tax dollars at a cost of 8 trillion yen (about $66 billion). For years, Smith’s team worked diligently to achieve the now-de-facto moratorium on highly dangerous MOX fuel in commercial nuclear plants in Japan. In 2010, she helped lead a large movement warning of the dangers of nuclear power—especially in high-risk earthquake areas such as Fukushima. After the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Smith protested the restart of nuclear plants in Japan and participated in countless anti-nuclear rallies, legal battles, and presentations before politicians and corporate boards. In one large anti-nuclear Occupy event in 2012 (pictured above), Smith’s team and many others camped out for over 10 months in front of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI). At the end of the Occupy period, the women danced in celebration. Smith is pictured with them in the center.
Is nuclear power in Japan a gender issue? “Absolutely,” Smith affirms. “[Japanese] leadership is [dominated] by men. The nuclear industry and … officials working on nuclear issues, including government officials, local government officials … and, of course, the utility people … are 100 percent men. Well, maybe now there are a couple of women, so 99 percent men.”
Most people in Japan do not question this gender inequity, as the dominance of men over women in Japanese culture is so embedded.
Smith believes that to avoid accidents, the gender inequality needs to change. Currently, anti-nuclear activists and those watching out for safety issues in Japan are mostly women and many mothers from Fukushima. Yet they have little political power. Women activists have to go up against male politicians and male members of the nuclear industry. Overwhelmingly, women’s arguments are silenced, Smith says. But they fight on.
Aileen Mioko Smith comes from a long line of anti-nuclear mothers and feminist activists. Women’s History Month falls in March, the month of the Fukushima disaster in 2011. We honor Smith’s and other women activists’ ongoing efforts to protect the lives of the people in Japan, especially the children, on whose behalf she works tirelessly to safeguard their health and future.
Photo courtesy of Aileen Mioko Smith
Posted originally at Ms.Magazine

BY  ON JANUARY 21, 2015
Dr. Heidi Hutner and her daughter, Olivia Fine
Dr. Heidi Hutner and her daughter, Olivia Fine

This was written by Dr. Heidi Hutner, Director of the Sustainability Studies Program at Stony Brook University:
My seventeen-year old daughter, Olivia and I traveled to Northern California for winter holiday break. Olivia is in the throws of an intense “junior year” of high school, while I’m busy with my work as a professor. This vacation gave us a chance to catch up and reconnect – take stock and also have fun.
One Sunday morning, while enjoying an Asian Fusion brunch in foodie-land San Francisco, Olivia asked me:
“You work so hard on environmental issues, Mom. How do you know all those hours will pay off?”
When Olivia was three, she held up a sign that read: “Don’t Spray on Me.” This particular protest was about the spraying of Malathion (a powerful and carcinogenic pesticide) by New York State during a West Nile Virus outbreak. It was the late 1990s and she was barely out of diapers.
These days, she has become more considered. A teenager’s job is to question everything. To Olivia’s question about whether my hard work will pay off, I replied:
“When you have asked me that before — ‘Does activism work, Mom, aren’t you just spinning your wheels?’ — I’ll be honest: it made me a tad defensive. Yet, I pointed out to you that historically it has been activists who brought us so many successful and important freedoms that we take for granted today — the women’s right to vote and equal gender access to education and more, the end of slavery for African Americans, Civil Rights, many LGBT rights, the Clean Air and Water Acts, and so on. People acted and stood up for what they knew was right and, eventually, they won. Even as I said this to you, Olivia, part of me worried that we wouldn’t succeed. Today, however, I feel more hopeful! I say to you with confidence, ‘Yes, environmental advocacy works. Look at what a year we’ve had!’”
I then reminded my daughter of the wave of environmental successes of 2014 and early 2015: some big wins, some partial wins, some in-progress wins; many of which we were a part of.

I told Olivia,
“Of course, there is still much to be done. Climate Change threatens our civilization and we need the world governments to agree to radically reduce carbon emissions, stop producing and clean up nuclear radiation waste, and shift to renewable energy. We need an even more effective Safe Chemicals Act to stop the polluters from contaminating our water, soil, and air, and so much more. Yet the tide is changing. Look at the People’s Climate March. We couldn’t have imagined 400,000 showing up five years ago. Governor Cuomo just banned fracking. It’s just amazing.”

“Okay, mom. I see your point.”
We finished breakfast, rented two bikes, and rode through Golden Gate Park. It was a beautiful day.

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