The first of the US presidential debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is tomorrow night.

What I would like is for the moderators of each debate to ask for specific policy positions on various topics from each candidate.

No generalities. No characterizing the opponent. No personality comments.

If a candidate strays from addressing the topic at hand, the microphone is cut off and they forfeit the rest of their time on that topic.

Everyone keeps lamenting that no one is concentrating on the issues, so let’s make all the debates issue-only zones.

Issues like climate change. Immigration reform. Health care. Trade policy. Diplomacy. Syria. Indigenous rights. Job creation. Income inequality. Education. Military spending. Veterans’ affairs.  War and peace. Civil rights. Justice system reform. Education. Social Security.

Each candidate giving his/her positions and plans. Period.

It would be a huge public service as we prepare to vote in this historic election.

Secret poetry mission revealed!

Earlier in September, I cryptically alluded to having a secret poetry mission. I know (a few of) you have been waiting with bated breath for the revelation of this secret, so here you go!

Of course, this will be the long, chronological version of the story…

Over the third weekend in August, I got a message from the current director of the Binghamton Poetry Project, asking if I would like to write and present a poem at the annual Hearts of the Arts awards dinner. The dinner is a fundraiser for the United Cultural Fund of the Broome County Arts Council, which provides one of the grants that keeps the Binghamton Poetry Project functioning. The poem needed to be a 2-3 minute response to the arts in our community, as the two Heart of the Arts honorees, Emily Jablon and Peg Johnston, are both very active in public art.

The Binghamton Poetry Project has been very important to my growth as a poet. I have learned different craft aspects and how to write from prompts. My participation with them led to my joining both the Bunn Hill Poets and Sappho’s Circle; I also continue to attend the Binghamton Poetry Project workshops, which are organized in five-week units three times a year. I wanted to take on this special mission to help the Binghamton Poetry Project say thanks to one of our funders and to raise its profile in the local arts community; I also admit that it appealed to me to have the opportunity to present myself as a poet to the arts community which would not recognize me at all, except, perhaps as a long-serving member of University Chorus. (It’s the hair and the fact that I am short, so usually in the front row.)

As much as I wanted to do this, it was also a daunting prospect. First, there was the actual writing of the poem. Although I have been writing a lot of ekphrastic poetry, which means poetry about another (usually visual) art form, I had never written a poem for a public occasion. Second, I would need to read in front of a full ballroom with a stage, podium, and microphone, wearing relatively formal dress. Most of the readings I have done are informal and for a dozen people or fewer, so the prospect of reading for 150 or more made me pretty anxious.

Third, there was the timeline to consider. I decided that I would need to write the poem within the next few days so I could workshop it, revise, and have a final copy before my mom’s diagnostic heart catheterization on August 31st.  Then, I would have time for practice readings before the September 19th event.

So, I accepted the challenge and got to work. I did a bit of online research on the artist-honorees, Emily Jablon and Peg Johnston. I was familiar with their public art projects in downtown Binghamton, but made plans to go down to visit early the following week to take some photos to help inspire my writing.

My usual writing process is to swish things around in my head for a while before writing. Given my timeline, I was very lucky that a basic idea and structure for the poem came to me over the weekend, so that I had the bones of the poem together even before I got downtown to view the art.

Stencil from Water Street Parking Ramp art installation

Peg Johnston was the director of a large stencil and mural project in the parking garage now located on the site that once housed Bundy Time Recording Machines and Link Pipe Organs, which later became Link Flight Simulation.

Mosaics along the Chenango

Emily Jablon was one of the lead mosaicists for this project where Court Street meets the Chenango River.

With new details in hand, I finished my draft in time for a planned Wednesday meeting with the Bunn Hill Poets, my main workshopping group. I explained the situation, read the draft, and then got really apprehensive in the silence that followed. When one of the poets, who has many published poems, readings, and commissions to his credit, started out with, “I have to be perfectly honest,” I got even more worried, but it turned out that he was just surprised that I could write this style of poem. Whew! Everyone was very positive about the poem, so I sent it off to the current and the former directors of the Binghamton Poetry Project for additional feedback, did a round of revisions, and had the poem finished by my August 31st deadline.

I was very grateful that I did, as family issues did take a lot of time and energy over the following weeks. Despite my intentions, I didn’t do much practice reading until the last couple of days before the awards ceremony. I admit that I got super nervous. I was fortunate to have daughter T here to listen to me practice and help me figure out which dress to wear, which sandals, which necklace. I was also lucky that the dinner organizers made provisions for family members to attend the performance, so both my spouse B and daughter T were there for moral support.

The performers were all tied to the Arts Council in some way, most representing organizations that receive funding through the United Cultural Fund. It was an honor to be on the same program with actors and musicians from the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton, Tri-Cities Opera, the Binghamton Youth Symphony, the Binghamton Community Orchestra ,and the Cider Mill Playhouse, as well as this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner Dr. Timothy Perry from Binghamton University.

I am pleased to report that my reading went well and the poem was well received. The stage lights were pretty blinding, so I couldn’t see myself, but T told me that Peg Johnston gave my poem a standing ovation, which was a huge honor for me, given that the poem was inspired in part by her work. In her acceptance speech that followed, she gave a shout-out to the Binghamton Poetry Project, and, after the event, sent a friend to ask me for a copy of the poem to take back to the Cooperative Gallery, of which she is a founder.

It also meant a lot to me to have Clara Barnhart, current director of the Binghamton Poetry Project, and her predecessor Heather Dorn there lending support, as well as Vernon Boyd who is a fellow BPP poet who also contributed an art poem for the event.

It was especially close to my heart that B and T were there with me. I don’t read often and an opportunity to read at such an auspicious event is unlikely to present itself again, so I’m glad they could share the evening with me.

So, now you are probably thinking, why am I not publishing the poem in this post? Because I wrote it under the auspices of the Binghamton Poetry Project, I want them to have first publication rights. When our fall anthology comes out in November, I will share the poem here at Top of JC’s Mind as well, so stay tuned!







Continuing a year of firsts

Today, my mother-in-law, known here as Grandma, would have turned 85.

Instead of buying flowers or her favorite truffles from a local sweets shop and making plans for her birthday dinner, we are faced with the six-month anniversary of her death and the beginning of a new season without her.

We have already been through the first Easter and Mother’s Day without her.

On August 15th, we didn’t buy flowers in remembrance of her and Grandpa’s wedding anniversary.

In the months ahead, there will be the first Thanksgiving without her and the first Christmas and the first Valentine’s Day.

We won’t be bringing her flowers on March 17th to celebrate Evacuation Day, an inside family joke that originated with Grandpa’s years as an elementary school principal.

A few days later will be the first anniversary of her death.

And then a year of seconds.

Third anniverary

WordPress helpfully reminded me that today is the third anniversary of Top of JC’s Mind.

I want to take this opportunity to thank my 783 followers and all those who have visited, read, and/or commented over these past three years.

I have learned so much from blogging and plan to continue.

As my regular visitors know, 2016 has been a challenging year for me personally. I have had to cut back almost totally on my own reading and commenting and have posted less frequently than I would have liked.

Even with that, people have taken the time to read and comment and express their support, prayers, and well wishes as my family continues to navigate multiple family health issues and the mourning process after the death of my mother-in-law, known here on the blog as Grandma.

I have no timeline to get back to a more regular blogging practice. With so many variables out of my control, I have learned not to make promises.

But, please, stay tuned.

three anniversaries

Yesterday was the fifteenth anniversary of the the terrorist attacks by plane which cost over 3,000 lives in New York City, Arlington, Virginia and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The attacks have cost additional lives as those who were exposed to debris and air pollution in the following months went on to develop serious health issues.

Many, many more lives were destroyed  – and continue to be destroyed – by the fifteen years of war which have followed.

On Friday at Binghamton University, there was a presentation on the aftermath of the attacks entitled “9/11: What have we learned? Where do we go from here?” Featured speakers were Ray McGovern and Donna Marsh O’Connor. Video is available here. The theme was building peace, not war. Donna Marsh O’Connor, who lost her daughter who was pregnant with her grandchild, spoke movingly about not wanting the death of her daughter to be an excuse for violence and war. Ray McGovern, who was once a CIA analyst, recounted the way that the situation after the attacks was manipuated to spread the war to Iraq. Mr. McGovern is now a peace activist.


Something that I want desperately.

For all of us.

Wherever we are.

Whoever we are.

At church on Sunday, we sang, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” I cried.

Adding to the emotion is a local anniversary. Five years ago, we were suffering from a historic flood after the remnants of tropical storm Lee dropped about ten inches of rain. Parts of my town were underwater, as were other nearby towns along the Susquehanna River. At my home, we had no power and only avoided a flooded basement because we had a generator to keep our sump pump operating. There were flooded homes and standing water three blocks away. In the five years since, we have seen some neighborhoods decmiated as homes were torn down, unable to be replaced as the land was considered too high-risk to inhabit.

Every time there is a flood in the news, we have a good idea what those people are going to go through and how long the process is.

As we watch coverage of floods, blizzards, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, and other weather-related disasters, we are painfully aware that their increased frequency and severity is related to global comate change. There is a new website that shows how much impact global warming has on weather events. It does a good job showing how particular events are tied to changes in the atmosphere brought on by global warming.

It is sobering but a good tool to help explain the science.

Which leads to a third – and significantly happier – anniversary.

This is the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek. There have been marathons of episodes of the original series and interviews about it and its cultural impact as a franchise that spawned many television shows and movies. In their version of the future, earth is a peaceful place with a thriving natural environment. Poverty has been eliminated. There is racial and ethnic equality, although, while improved from the 1960’s reality, they still have a ways to go on sexual and gender issues.

In an odd way, though it is fiction, it does highlight that we can improve lives and health through science, knowledge, learning from past mistakes, ingenuity, co-operation, and good will.

Let’s get to work on that.

SoCS: political views

During the primaries, I supported Senator Bernie Sanders, as his views aligned most closely with my own. Although he didn’t win the nomination, many of his views are reflected in the Democratic party platform. I now support Secretary Hillary Clinton for the presidency.

Due to family health issues, I haven’t written a political post since before the conventions, so I am going to use this post to catch up a bit.

In brief:  The Republican convention was dark and scary and portrayed the United States in a way that I couldn’t recognize. The Democratic convention was much more hopeful and positive with some amazing speeches. It was also historic as the United States finally has a woman nominated by a major party  for the presidency, 96 years after women gained the right to vote nationally.

I had thought – or maybe it was more hope than thought – that the campaign in the general election phase would be more focused on policy and debate. Secretary Clinton does have policy papers on her website and does regularly speak on policy, but a lot of the press coverage is swallowed up by more subjective things, such as likability – and whatever nonsense has just been propelled from the mouth of Donald Trump.

I am very disheartened by the hatefulness and the bullying and the crudeness of Donald Trump, which is too often echoed by his staff and supporters. I am also disturbed that facts don’t seem to matter. Although the press is finally being more consistent in pointing out when Trump’s rhetoric doesn’t line up with fact, there are now millions of people who believe the lies and cannot be convinced by factual evidence.

I do find some comfort in the polls which show that in state-by-state match-ups, Secretary Clinton is leading. I hope that the upcoming one-on-one debates will clarify for voters that only Clinton has serious plans to move the country forward and deal with the very real problems that our country and the world face.

It’s odd how stream of consciousness writing takes over. Linda’s prompt this week is “view” and I wasn’t intending to participate, but as I wrote the first paragraph of this post, the word “views” appeared and I decided I would run with stream of consciousness rather than a planned, edited post.

Two birds with one stone…
Join us for Stream of Consciousness Saturday! Find out how here:


My first MOOC

I am a proud alumna of Smith College, one of the oldest women’s colleges in the United States. I am committed to the liberal arts tradition of pursuing education in both breadth and depth and am eager to learn new things.

So, when Smith announced that it was offering its first ever MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), entitled Psychology of Political Activism: Women Changing the World, I jumped at the chance to sign up, ultimately joining over 5,000 participants from 140 countries.

The seven-week course, taught by Professor Lauren Duncan, was scheduled to begin March 21. In the weeks prior, I had carefully planned for the three to five hours a week that the course was projected to take.

Within the first twenty-four hours that the course was available online, my mother-in-law died after suffering a heart attack.

I wasn’t sure whether or not I would still be able to do all the course activities as I had planned. In one of our first assignments, we had to state our learning goals. I honestly said that I didn’t know how well I would be able to keep up, but that I intended to try.

Back in the day, I was a very good student – and hyper-conscientous. Those instincts reasserted themselves and, even though I was exhausted and overwhelmed, I kept up with the coursework, which often took longer than five hours for me to complete, until the last week. We were to write a five to ten page paper and critique another student’s paper – and I just did not have the time/brain power/concentration to do it. It was some comfort that, because I had completed all the other work, I had enough points to pass the course, had I actually been taking it for credit, which I wasn’t…

Despite my less than optimal participation, I was very pleased to have taken this course and learned a lot from it. I have admired many activists and it was interesting to gain insights into their personal makeup and motivations. Given that I have been involved in  activism myself in several different areas, including feminism, social justice, and environmentalism, I was also able to see some of what I learned alive in me.

The course used the lives of eight activists to help teach various theories of the psychology underlying group identity and activism. Our first step was to choose one of the eight women to study in depth by reading her oral history transcript from the Smith College Archives. Our choice divided us into study groups facilitated by Professor Duncan’s on-campus student assistants.

I chose Katsi Cook, who is a member of the Mohawk nation and an activist for feminism and indigenous rights, combining in her work as a midwife/educator utilizing medical knowledge in a culturally appropriate practice, and for environmental justice. Since my New England childhood, where we lived in an area that had once been home to the Mohawk nation, I have been interested in the indigenous peoples of North America, so I loved reading about Katsi’s experiences as a Mohawk, particularly the storytelling aspect. I was also drawn to Katsi as I have a long-standing interest in women’s health issues and in environmental issues.

Even though we each chose one activist to study in depth, we learned about all the others, who were active in racial issues, gender issues, and civil rights, through their timelines and other course references. Each week, we also learned about Smith alum and feminist icon Gloria Steinem. There was even a special discussion board for Gloria Steinem’s segment of the course, which gave us a forum for addressing our own experiences with activism.

After an introductory week in which we chose the activist to study in depth and read her oral history, we used the next five weeks to study a relevant psychological theory, beginning with earlier work and progressing through to more recent developments in the field. We read scholarly articles and viewed Professor Duncan’s lectures on them, along with relevant applications to our group of activists.

I found the earlier weeks, which  involved older theories, to be insufficient to explain Katsi Cook’s or Gloria Steinem’s or my own experiences, although I certainly gained some insights. One of the most important for me was learning about Politicized Racial and Feminist Identity Theory. There is a stage in this theory called immersion in politicized racial identity and embeddedness in feminist identity in which the individual ties themselves so closely to their racial or gender group that they exclude those who don’t belong to their group. In this phase, attitudes toward people outside the group can be very rigid and negative. For the vast majority of people, this phase leads to an emersion/emanation phase, in which the individual develops a more open and nuanced way of relating to people from other identity groups.

Learning about this theory made sense of a situation that bothers me. Many people have a negative connotation of feminism because they think that feminists hate men and feel superior to them, a viewpoint that may be held by women feminists in the embeddedness phase but that is not held by most feminists. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding has led many feminists of all ages and genders to be reluctant to use the word feminist to describe themselves. I appreciate and participate in the current efforts to reclaim the accurate use of the words feminism and feminist, but it can be difficult to educate people. It was helpful for me to be able to apply insights from this theory to this current problem.

In the later weeks of the course, we learned more about some more recent developments in psychological theory. One of the most helpful for me in describing what I saw in Katsi Cook’s life and my own was the concept of intersectionality. The theory takes into account that we each have multiple identities which interact and determine our thoughts and actions. For example, I am a woman, a Catholic, a person with roots in the rural Northeast United States, a parent, a college graduate, and an Irish-Italian-American. Those aspects of my identity, along with others, impact my thoughts, actions, and reactions. Causes in which I am active, such as the movement toward women’s ordination in the Catholic church and the climate justice movement, relate in various ways to several aspects of my identity, not just one.

Another concept that struck me in particular in the later weeks was that of generativity. In examining what personality traits and life experiences lead to activism, we examined the impetus to change things for the better for current and future generations and to pass on knowledge and wisdom. All of the activists we studied showed this trait and it is something that I am acutely aware of in my own life. So much of the work of activism is about making change possible for the future, even when you know you are unlikely to see the final results of your work. Elizabeth Cady Stanton did not live to see women gain the federal right to vote in the United States, but her activism helped to make it possible. Many civil rights activists died before seeing Barack Obama elected president, but their witness was vital in moving the country forward. I myself am aware of the generativity aspect of my own activism. I may not see women ordained in the Catholic church but perhaps my daughters will. I won’t know how much impact my work against fossil fuels and for renewable energy and efficiency will have on the extent of global warming, but I feel obligated to future generations to try.

I truly appreciated this course and all I learned from it. The second offering of this course will begin on September 12, just a few days from now. If you are interested you can register here: Professor Duncan has wisely added an audit option for the course, so people can choose to view the course materials and participate in the discussion boards without having to worry about papers, quizzes, and grades.

When things settle down here, I may be on the lookout for another MOOC. There is always so much more to learn.