Lucky Me

I’m a guest blogger today on the Listen To Your Mother website.

Audition Day! Harriet’s Story

by TARJA on FEBRUARY 21, 2017

Submissions are officially closed and LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER San Francisco is rolling ahead to our  auditions in Oakland, Mill Valley and San Francisco! Janine, Mary and I were blown away by the quality of essays this year. Thank you to everyone who bared a piece of their soul and please believe me when I say that each and every story was recognized and appreciated. As always, it was very difficult culling it down to the next level of auditions.

For those of you getting ready to read your work aloud to us, no doubt you’re feeling excited, nervous, jittery. Maybe even terrified. A little sick to your stomach. We get it. It’s one thing to reveal yourself on paper and it’s another to give life to it with your voice.

Harriet Heydemann, one of our talented 2016 cast members, shares her audition day experience with us – and how her lucky charm made all the difference.

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My Lucky Charm by Harriet Heydemann

I don’t believe in luck. I think amulets and talismans are a bunch of hooey. But I brought a friend with me to my Listen to Your Mother audition, and she brought me good luck. Without Maria, I would never have been selected.

Maria and I had known each other for a few years. We had connected through our daughters, but we had never had so much as a simple conversation without one of them present.

We had agreed to have lunch after my five-minute audition. Maria came early and met me in the library. She could have waited at the table outside the audition room. But the judges were gracious hosts. They greeted Maria and invited her in.

“You can do this,” she whispered to me as we walked in together. “Just read like you’re telling me your story.” Maria sat beside me facing the judges. What the judges saw was a woman with wispy grey hair and a drawn face in nondescript clothing, wrapped up in an over-sized winter coat.

I knew the judges liked my story, at least on paper. What I didn’t know was if Maria would like it. And I never could have predicted was how much she’d like it. She laughed when I said something funny, sighed when I said something sad, and nodded her head in agreement when I said something poignant. For those five minutes, she sat visibly captivated. At the end of my story, her light hazel eyes brightened, and her broad smile filled her face. Without my prompting, Maria was the perfect audience.

“Don’t worry,” Maria said to me over lunch. “You were great. They will pick you. I know it. I watched the judges’ faces. They loved you.”

I liked hearing that someone other than my mother thought I could write. I didn’t believe Maria could read minds or tell the future. There’s only so much a good luck charm can do. But maybe she was a little clairvoyant. The next week Maria’s prediction came true, and I was one of the eleven chosen to read.

In May, Maria came to the performance. “I knew you’d be terrific,” she told me afterwards. Maria’s hair had become thinner. The ninety-minute show had exhausted her. What the judges didn’t know was that Maria had undergone several rounds of chemotherapy for breast cancer.

By August, she was gone.

Sometimes we only have five minutes to be a true friend, to be a good luck charm in someone’s life. Maria made me believe that my stars were aligned, that I had the winning lottery ticket, that something magical can happen when you focus on someone else for a perfect five minutes. I was one lucky writer to have Maria’s encouragement — to laugh, and to sigh, and to nod in all the right places.

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Thank you so much, Harriet. How wonderful to have had someone like Maria in your life.

To our auditioners, we can’t wait to hear your essays come to life in your own voice! Whether your lucky charm is something you hold in your heart, your hand, or a good friend like Maria, you will be terrific.

 

Writers Resist

IMG_2837 (1).JPGNo rhyme can be said where reason has fled.                                                                                                  June Jordan

The Bay Area Writers Resist event last night in Oakland was the most uplifting few hours I’ve spent since November 9. The Starline Social Club was packed to capacity in both bodies and spirit. The place became electrified with one phenomenal poet after another. The readings started with Ishmael Reed and went on with many of our finest poets. I was thrilled to hear the radical voices of Tongo Eisen-Martin and Elena Rose and Javier Zamora and Arisa White and Jane Hirshfield and more. I sat in close and felt illuminated by their words.  The event was a benefit for the Southern Poverty Law Center, the International Institute of the Bay Area and the Transgender Law Center. If you missed the event, you can still donate. These organizations need our support more than ever.

For more Bay Area Writers Resist – there’s another event in San Francisco on January 18. We are fortunate to live in the Bay Area among these great poets. Go early, sit up close and get inspired.

Litquake asks a panel of writers to respond to President-elect Donald TrumpLitquake asks a panel of writers to respond to President-elect Donald Trump. (Photo: Image courtesy of Litquake)

 

Have You Seen Santa?

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It’s that time of year again, and hidden amidst the gazillion catalogs are the holiday cards. I love to get them. I always felt badly about not sending anything in return and envious of mothers who managed to put together the family photo shoot and sign and send. If you’re reading this and wondering why you weren’t on my holiday card list, that’s because there was no list. I just never got it together. The best I could do was an Instagram video of my dog.

Yesterday, I found an old photo that would have made the perfect card. It’s at least twenty-five years old. I didn’t use it then. It’s a good time to use it now. That’s three- year old Ariela sitting on Santa’s lap. The photo was taken at the holiday party at Ariela’s preschool, the early intervention program at UCLA. You can’t see much of Santa’s face, but it’s the same color as his large, dark brown hands. Santa was a UCLA undergrad. I can’t remember his name or what position he played on the Bruins football team. He volunteered at the preschool.

I love this photo, because it reminds me of Ariela’s happy times at UCLA. She especially liked the parties. They were always celebrating something. She loved Santa. All the kids did. He was jolly and fat, but not too fat to have a lap. And he was fun. Every child got a gift. She didn’t care what color his skin was. The colors of her clothes were the only colors that mattered to her. (At the time, pinks and purples were her favorites.) Skin color was irrelevant. Like most preschoolers, she only cared how someone treated her. Were they kind? Patient? Silly? Did they give her presents? I can’t believe any three-year old gives a damn about skin color. Unless, of course, that three-year old is on Twitter.

What you may not realize from the photo is that this Santa is holding her up. Without his caring hands, Ariela would have toppled over. That’s enough to make even this Jewish mother believe in Santa.

Three pictures from El Paso-Juarez

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A week after returning from our Thanksgiving holiday in El Paso, and I continue to be grateful for family harmony. In three days under my brother’s roof, there were no arguments or disagreements about the recent election. We are all in accord about the frightening state our country is in now. We are bound together for reasons beyond shared DNA. We all hate bigotry. Everyone in this two generational picture voted for justice.

On the day before Thanksgiving, our friend Rosy drove my sister and me to an orphanage in Juarez. Eighty-eight children, ages five to twenty-one, live there with little electricity and almost no heat. They share two bathrooms, one for the girls and one for the boys. There’s no refrigeration. They have two meals a day. On the day we were there, they ate macaroni and potatoes. All white. No greens or fruit. We gave them clothes and blankets and books and chocolates. (Yes, I know we should have given them kale and brussel sprouts.) They gave us abrazos. Here’s the picture.hugs

Thousands of people cross back and forth from El Paso to Juarez every day. My brother, a physician, sees patients in both cities. As far as he is concerned, they are one community.

Leaving Juarez, we looked back at the unattractive slabs of cement and fencing planted on the bank of the Rio Grande. Graffiti abounds. If you live thousands of miles from the border, you don’t know what a wall looks like. You don’t see this ugliness. You don’t know what a wall does to your community. I looked at that wall and thought, “Why?” Why spend billions of dollars on a wall when people (little children!) in both countries need food and shelter? Where is justice in this picture?wall

A Sad Day in Our Nation’s History

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Fifty-three years ago today, I sat in my English class in Dallas and doodled spirals on my notebook. The next week would be Thanksgiving, and I was dreaming about my four-day holiday. One year earlier, my family had moved to Dallas from Baltimore, and I thought we had landed in a different universe — in a place where kids of color attended separate schools, in a place where drinking fountains were marked “white” and “colored.” I had never seen those signs before.

A few desks were empty that day. The President of the United States was in town, and my classmates had gone to Dealey Plaza to watch the motorcade. Our teacher, Mrs. Rudd, always followed her lesson plans, but that day was different. She turned on the radio. “Our president and our governor have been shot,” the announcer said. Then he said something about Parkland Hospital. And then, “The President is dead.”

I didn’t hear anything after that. I stared out the window looking for signs of life. The playground was empty. There were no cars on the street. It was as if a bomb had dropped. (I feel much the same way now.)

We weren’t dismissed from school. After English, I went to Latin where Mrs. Vernon insisted on giving us a quiz, and then to Geometry for a test. Some children were crying as they tried to calculate circumferences.

Students burst into the halls between classes. I heard one boy say, “I’m glad he was shot, because he was Catholic.” The intensity of his hatred reverberated against the walls, the venom in his voice palpable. I stood frozen in fear as I watched him and his buddies saunter down the hall.

Over fifty years have passed, and I no longer hear about Catholics as the targets of hate. Now that poison is thrust at Muslims and Latinos and African Americans and Gays and People with Disabilities. Anyone and everyone who is labeled different. Have we moved back to signs on drinking fountains?

I’m still frightened by the bigotry that continues to thrive in our country. I see no guidance from the president-elect or his appointees in reversing this trend. After Kennedy was assassinated, I never thought our country lacked leadership. I question that now.

I don’t want to end this post with a lament. It’s not 1963, and I’m not the petrified kid I was then. You’ve probably read the many ways you and I can take a stand against hateful acts and the people who propagate them. Here are only four of the many organizations involved in this effort.

Southern Poverty Law Center

American Civil Liberties Union

Bend the Arc Jewish Action

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund

There are many others. Most important is to do something. Be vigilant. Protest. Join. And don’t leave anyone out.

Don’t Mess With My Yard Sign

ricoforhillary

Saturday afternoon, I came home to find my Clinton – Kaine yard sign gone, missing, vanished, stolen from its perch in my front yard, its metal frame tossed in my driveway to damage my tires.

I envisioned someone lurking in the bushes, ready to jump out and confront me. I was certain the thief had targeted me, because I had flown to Pennsylvania to register people to vote. They knew that I spent evenings calling to get out the vote. They knew that a few days ago I went to a local high school and talked to students with disabilities about their voting rights. They hacked my email and saw all the messages I received from MoveOn and Daily Kos.

Okay, I know I can get carried away here. Whoever took my sign doesn’t know anything about me. They don’t appreciate that they violated my first amendment rights and trespassed on my property. They don’t care that I was proud to drive up to my house and see that sign and remember my daughter, who fully understood that her right to vote was hard fought and that the rights of people with disabilities need to be protected. She would be proud of me. And she is why the next day I drove 1-hour round-trip to purchase another yard sign.

This time, I would protect my sign. My first thought was to spray the sign with an acid that might sting whoever touched it, but there are children and other little critters in my neighborhood. Same argument against circling the sign with barbed wire or topping it with broken glass. And this wasn’t the message I wanted to send. Like Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” I opted for a modest deterrent. Honey. “Sweet,” I thought. But the honey dripped down on the N and the T. So I painted the honey with Vicks VapoRub, hoping the mixture of sticky sweetness and the pungent goop would make someone stop and think before they grabbed my sign.

My dog, Rico, watched my handiwork with great interest. He wanted to contribute. I used a little of his gifts to coat the frame. Just at the bottom. You can’t see it, but it’s there. Rico is all about Hillary.

I planted my sign in the same spot as the first sign and stood back to admire my work. A stranger walked by, someone I had never seen before. I smiled and before I could utter “good afternoon,” he came at me with “Are you really going to vote for that criminal?”

My first response was to laugh. I thought he was joking. Who in my quiet neighborhood would be so offensive? Then, it occurred to me he meant it. “Yup,” I said. “I’m a nasty woman and proud of it.”

I’ll let you know if my sign is there tomorrow.

I’m Doing This for Her

election-day

I’ve never volunteered in an election before. OK, I admit, maybe for Eugene McCarthy. Remember him?

This election is too important to sit back and do nothing. I want a future in which everyone’s rights are protected. That includes women and children and people of color, the LGBT community, immigrants, workers, students, and people with disabilities.

My friend, Nina Fendel, and I decided to go to Pennsylvania, a battleground state. I don’t usually think of myself as a battler, but Nina is. She’s an experienced election worker. She pushed me out of my comfort zone and into the streets.

We reported to a small storefront office near Temple University and were sent to the 30th Street Train Station. Nina and I divided the rows of benches. “Are you registered to vote?” we asked. We stood back as people filled out the forms for themselves. We followed the rules. Registration is non-partisan.

We registered five people that first day. And we handed out many more forms to people who wanted to register at home or online. Not a stellar record, but when we turned in our clipboards that evening, we were told that was “pretty good.”

The next day, we rang doorbells in North Philly.  I was intimidated to approach strangers, especially in an unfamiliar neighborhood. You never know how people will respond as they scrutinize you from behind their screen doors. More often than not, we heard, “Thank you for doing what you’re doing.”

I lost track of how many people we encountered. Numbers are important, but what I remember are the individuals I met. I registered one man who handed me his phone. “Take my picture,” he said holding up the registration form. “I want my people to see this.” He told me he had just been released from prison. He had served 22 years. “This is part of my re-entry.”

Then, there were two people with disabilities who had never voted before. And the woman who had changed her name, because she had just gotten married for the first time – at 60. And the many people who gave us directions and cheered us on.

The saddest people were those who felt so powerless that they didn’t want to register. I wished I could have changed their minds. To some I said, “I came 3,000 miles, because without Hillary Clinton’s efforts, without her championing PL94-142, a law assuring equal access to a public education for children with disabilities, my daughter would not have had an education. She wouldn’t have been able to get in the door of a public school.” No need to speak negatively about the other guy.

No one appreciated her education or her right to vote more than my daughter. No one had to explain to her what it was like to be marginalized, to be considered “other.” She lived it every day. Yes, she saw people who mocked and ridiculed her. She had multiple disabilities, but she wasn’t blind.

I’m doing this for her.