Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam


Headmaster Percivial Chen is a proud Chinese born man who runs English language school during the cusp of the Vietnam War. In his refusal to accept his adopted country's turbulent times, his gamble becomes a life changer. Join From Left to Write on November 15 as we discuss the The Headmaster's Wager. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.


What a pleasure to interview our International Student for this blog post. An Ho is our friend through the International Host Family program of the University of Kentucky. She is from Vietnam which Vincent Lam so vividly brought to life in his novel. An Ho studied first in Washington state and then came to Lexington, KY to finish her degree in Bio-chemistry.

One of the most interesting facts about An is that she is the niece of Major General Le Minh Dao, who fought for the People’s Army of Vietnam and famously defended Saigon in the last battle before it fell. Here is the Wikipedia link about him. 


I asked An the following questions:


Brenda: How do the Vietnamese people feel about the US now?

An: My perspective is from the point of view of Vietnamese students rather than Vietnamese people since my experiences in the U.S are as a student. Parents still want to send their children to study abroad, especially in the U.S, and students still think of studying abroad in the U.S as their first choice. Though recently the dramatic change in the economy may cause some doubts and fear, we still prefer to go to the U.S. In reality, there is still no country that has overcome the U.S. To me, as I have studied in the U.S, my strength and my wealth have been increased, I so hope that the country can still keep its best ranking/position over the world.

Brenda : How do you feel about being away from home? 

An: There are some conflicting feelings and thoughts when I live far way from home. Profoundly, there is nothing that can take the place of my home; it is always in my heart. However, to adapt and live well with the current environment, I have to avoid my thoughts of home—let it become my past with many beautiful memories. I keep my life moving on with the present and toward to the future. In order to do that, I just think that there are in life many things that I should take advantage to learn. I should keep a positive attitude and an open mind to welcome new things to happen. Yet occasionally, I cry due to my homesick emotion. But certainly, I'm also cheerful for what I conquer and achieve in this world.

Brenda: Is the US different from what you thought it would be before you came here?

An: Of course it is a different since dreams vary from experiences. My experiences are focused more on study. When I was in my country and decided to study in the U.S, I believed that the U.S education was the best over the world, in terms of offering high knowledge and expectations.

However, when I first came here, I found that not many students could do math well in US colleges. Also not many people had high expectations in their studies and attempts to pursue higher degrees. For instance, when I took a sociology course in my old community college, I posted in the online discussion that I love to study and consider it a chance to push me to a higher position in society. But one my classmate replied that my thinking was old. I may have some bias, but I see people in the U.S tend to enjoy their lives with their temporary present. Many young adults just want to find jobs and earn money. Until they get older, or the economy is
 gone down and they cannot qualify for their jobs, they go back to school to study.

Despite these aspects, in my opinion, the U.S education still has some values. In my experience, I think the term "the best U.S education" should be recognized by the way of its training people to develop critical thinking, approach and solve problems. Knowledge is made to become approachable and applicable. It is built up on a hierarchy from basic to advance, which students can back up and retrieve their knowledge, in case they get lost. Generally, as long as we wish to study, we can study. To me, these are some strong points that can label the U.S as "the best country with offering challenges and chances". Indeed, the U.S education has changed my mind and contributed to my belief and confidence that I can study, research, discover new concepts, and apply them to reality.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Response to The Bloodletter's Daughter by Linda Lafferty


Inspired by a real-life murder that threatened to topple the powerful Hapsburg dynasty in the 17th century, The Bloodletter's Daughter imagines how one young woman holds more power than she thought possible. Join From Left to Write on September 25 as we discuss the The Bloodletter's Daughter. As a member of www.fromlefttowrite.com , I received a copy of the book for review purposes.


Linda Lafferty’s first two sentences captured my attention—in the Acknowledgments!

“First and foremost, my profound gratitude to my husband, writer and editor, Andy Stone. For twenty-seven years, he suffered the heartache of publishers’ rejections along with me.”

Twenty-seven years?

Oh, my, this is a good writer and yet she had to continue to write for twenty-seven years before the industry recognized her. AND, the industry has changed and is changing so much that twenty-seven years could be longer in today’s world.

These two sentences tell me two things: My editor and writing mentor is so on target when she keeps pounding it in to my head—keep writing, it’s the process. And, second, I need to be open to the various layers of publishing available today that were not available 27 years ago.

My kudos to Linda Lafferty for persevering when she knew her heart belonged to writing. Congrats!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Response to "January First" by Michael Schofield


Michael Schofield’s daughter January is at the mercy of her imaginary friends, except they aren’t the imaginary friends that most young children have; they are hallucinations. And January is caught in the conflict between our world and their world, a place she calls Calalini.  Some of these hallucinations, like “24 Hours,” are friendly and some, like “400 the Cat” and “Wednesday the Rat,” bite and scratch her until she does what they want.  They often tell her to scream at strangers, jump out of buildings, and attack her baby brother.
At six years old, January Schofield, “Janni,” to her family, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, one of the worst mental illnesses known to man.  What’s more, schizophrenia is 20 to 30 times more severe in children than in adults and in January’s case, doctors say, she is hallucinating 95 percent of the time that she is awake. Potent psychiatric drugs that would level most adults barely faze her.

I received a copy of January First through my membership in www.fromlefttowrite.com. This is a response to the book not a review.

As Good As It Gets, a 1997 movie with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt, tells the story of two imperfect people who find the humanity in each other. Jack plays a jerk with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. He eats lunch every day at a restaurant where he demands that Helen be his waitress as he maintains the excessive rituals that assuage his OCD. His relentless need for her presence in his life leads him to help her critically ill son, and they form a quirky but caring relationship in the process. Toward the end of the film, he tries to visit her apartment but finds the disorder there more than his illness can tolerate, so he suggests a walk at 5:00 a.m. Though walking at that hour seems bizarre to Hunt’s character, she agrees. As they stroll along, Jack avoids the cracks in the sidewalk and attempts to convince Hunt that if they walk for just fifteen more minutes the local bakery around the corner will open and they won’t be weird people at all—“We’ll just be two people who like warm rolls.”
That line went straight to the heart of me and ignited an understanding about myself and my family I had not confronted. It forced me to acknowledge that what separates mentally disordered folks who behave in bizarre ways from the so-called normal folks can be a narrow as fifteen minutes and a stop at the bakery for warm rolls. I have spent far too much of my life trying to find, define and perfect normal when our life’s task is simply to find yourself. I’ve turned the corner and I just happen to like warm rolls now.   

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pondering Marriage


Getting Married and Other Mistakes by Barbara Slate, this month's selection in my www.fromlefttowrite.com book club, is my first graphic novel. We would have called it a comic book in my generation but now there are complete books illustrated in this manner. If I were talented in the visual arts, I would do a graphic novel of how I met John Lynner Peterson. Alas, I am not, so what follows is the story in narrative. 

The story of how John and I met will give middle aged single women hope that the right person exists for all of us. For most of his career, John worked at the intersection of religion and media.  In 1998, John produced the Fiftieth Anniversary Party for the World Council of Churches in Zimbabwe at which Nelson Mandela spoke. Doug Smith, a young minister, who assisted him on this event said, “John, if you ever move into doing work on the Web, call me.” Within a few years, the Hallmark Channel hired John to start a website called faithandvalues.com. John thought the job required a move from Chicago to the Manhattan headquarters for this job. He then received the news that they had chosen to locate this venture in Lexington, Kentucky because of a random conversation that occurred on an airplane. (Are you getting the picture here about coincidences?) John responded, “You’re moving me where?” Familiar with Manhattan, he felt comfortable there. But Lexington, KY? He had never heard of the place.
  As requested, John called Doug and hired him to assist in development of the website. Lexington didn’t feel as strange to Doug since he had gone to seminary there and served Newtown Christian Church as Student Pastor. As the dominoes rolled, Doug hired Martha Johnston for faithandvalues.com, a young woman who attended his youth group at that congregation and had since graduated from college.
John, Doug and Martha busied themselves with a Web presence when one day a light bulb brightened above Martha’s head. She called me on a Monday at that same Newtown Christian Church where I served as her pastor. “Brenda, you need to meet the Vice President of our company.” Gutsy for a twenty-something to call her fiftyish pastor and suggest a hook-up.
“I’m game,” I replied. “I’m not dating anyone.”
Thursday evening of that week, my cell phone rang while I ate out with my sister. Martha initiated the conversation with, “Brenda, give me a pep talk. I know the timing is right because he’s still here and the work day is over but I’m nervous. I feel like I’m asking him out myself and he’s old enough to be my dad.”
“Martha, get your ass into his office. I’m not getting any younger!” (Ass is a biblically correct term.) So she did.
John emailed me and we made arrangements to meet on Saturday evening. But on Friday evening, as I sat around in day-old makeup, my sermon just finished, (see how exciting life is for single women in ministry) I decided to call the phone number in his email to confirm that I would meet him at the designated time and restaurant. I assumed I would get a voice mail since people with real lives go out on Friday evening. What a surprise when he answered his phone.
“I just wanted to make sure you received my email confirming tomorrow night,” I stammered.
            “Yes. But, hey, I haven’t eaten yet. Want to go get a bite to eat now?” he asked.
“I’ve already eaten but I will have a glass of wine while you eat.”
“Ok, let’s meet at Ramsey’s on High Street.”
I knew he was a Northerner, so I blurted out, “Don’t you Yankees pick your dates up?”
            A bare thirty minutes later, I had thrown on some walking shorts and was letting my dog do his business when John drove up and got out of the car.
            “Oh my god, you’re gorgeous!”
The photo Martha sent me so I could see him in advance!

            How could I not fall in love with a man who delivers that opener? I later learned his expectation could not have been much lower. Fifty-something unmarried minister translated to him as over-weight, hairy legs with a bit of hair on her upper lip, a few wild ones on her chin, no make-up, sensible shoes and a very no-nonsense hairstyle. He later apologized for his unflattering characterization of female clergy.
            After dinner and ice cream, we sat on my deck and sipped tequila until two in the morning. I had never “sipped tequila” in my life. We both knew that first night that this pairing felt ordained, serendipitous, divinely inspired and meant to be--take your choice; color your own dream. When John walked through a hallway of my house where I had hung photos of my life in the arts, he said, “I’ve been looking for you.” Our mutual love of a variety of the arts provides just one of the lenses through which we see each other. John’s genuine recognition of me satisfies an identity hunger at my core.


This post is inspired by Getting Married and Other Mistakes by Barbara Slate. This graphic novel offers a raw, yet humorous look at what happens to Jo after a surprise divorce. Join From Left to Write on Thursday, June 28 as we discuss Getting Married and Other Mistakes by Barbara Slate. I received a review copy of the and all opinions are my own.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Response to "Girl Gone" by Gillian Flynn


This post is inspired by mystery thriller GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn. They may not have the perfect marriage, but after Amy goes missing, Nick becomes the number one suspect. Can he discover what happened before it's too late? Join From Left to Write on June 12 as we discuss Gone Girl. As a member, I received a copy of the book not for review purposes but rather for blogging inspiration.

“Why do people get married?”

“Passion!???”

“No, because we need a witness to our lives. There are a billion people on the planet, what does one life really mean? But in a marriage you’re promising to care about everything, the good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all the time. Every day, you are saying your life will not go unnoticed, because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.”
        
Masayuki Suo (from the movie Shall We Dance)

With the chaos of my childhood behind me (or so I thought), I assumed creation of my own family would constitute the best part of adulthood. Nothing prepared me for the reality that the formation of my own family would be like a blind woman buying art. I doubt I am the first and quite sure I won’t be the last person to come out of a dysfunctional family who thinks she will form the perfect family and “do everything right.” In spite of failures and everyday bumps along the road, I cherish marriage and parenthood as pieces of life that helped me survive and thrive.
At first blush, five marriages would indicate I failed at doing “everything right” and that I’m not good at marriage. Au contraire. Ok, Ok, I certainly didn’t do “everything right” as planned. But I have had two great loves and two marriages that satisfied and fulfilled me--one of those ongoing. Another two husbands who should have remained dear friends not husbands. Now don’t let me off the hook of responsibility for my role in constructing the less-than-desirable marriages just because I had no model for how to craft a stable marriage. Marriage number three, a monumental disaster in judgment also taught me valuable lessons. I discovered more about myself from each marriage, perhaps lessons my parents should have taught me. I grasped more about myself in the good marriages but I also digested a few morsels from the bad. With time, therapy and additional self-understanding I have forgiven myself for the mistakes. I now embrace the marriages as part of the journey to find myself, know myself and esteem myself. Understanding as relates to men in general did not come easily for me. I didn’t have what psychologists call a “daddy hole,” the emotional lack of relationship with your father, I had a Daddy Crater and I learned to fill that crater in unhealthy ways.  

Sunday, May 27, 2012

OPEN


I preached today at the Unitarian Universalist Church ofLexington. I have known their pastor for a number of years and when she called to ask me to fill in, I was delighted. I had not been to a Sunday morning service there---just a funeral and a meeting in their Fellowship Hall. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

My clergy friend asked me to speak about my faith journey. I’m not even sure she knew how much my faith journey and my extraordinary life journey are so entwined. I think she just wanted another female clergy person to share her experience with the congregation.

The first perception I had was during the preparation conversations with the folks who would be leading worship. To every one of my questions are suggestions, their answer was “We’re open to that.” It was refreshing. There was an openness to doing things differently, to experiencing someone else’s faith tradition, to welcoming the visitor.

I used Robert W. Fuller’s book, Somebodies and Nobodies for the Opening and Closing Readings. They were open to that. I used a couple of paragraphs from my own unpublished memoir for the Reading that led into the Mediation. They were open to that. And I shared as much about my life journey as I did about my faith journey because in my mind the two cannot be separated. They were open to that.

I give thanks today for my friends in the UU tradition who are on the journey!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Julia's Child


This post is inspired by the novel Julia's Child by Sarah Pinneo. Worried about what her kids eat, Julia Bailey starts a prepared organic toddler meals business. With names like Gentil Lentil, can Julia balance work and family and still save the world? Join From Left to Write on May 24 as we discuss Julia's Child. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

We’ve been fighting stereotypes of women for decades now and we have now added to the fight the stereotypes of Moms. There’s the Tiger Mom who caused a stir with her book on rigid parenting. There’s the Attachment Mom who caused a stir by appearing on the cover of Time nursing her three year old. Then there’s Ann Romney, Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton who each gave us something to criticize and something to champion in our quest to form the perfect combination of qualities for the perfect Mom.

This post is inspired by Julia’s Child, a novel about a young woman who started her own organic toddler meals business. Sounds like a great idea but I just learned the stereotype of rich New York moms is entrepreneurs who start cupcake businesses! The moms I know who work are juggling more balls in the air than any CEO I have known and most do it extremely well. The stay-at-home moms that I know do not sit on the couch and watch soaps while eating Graeter’s ice cream. More likely, they are glued to carpool duty, PTA responsibilities and more soccer games than Pele ever played!

So why do we get so exercised about Moms? Because it remains the most important job on the planet. 


Friday, May 18, 2012

Spiritual but not Religious


Photo by John Lynner Peterson

Some reports have indicated that Spiritual but not Religious (SBNR) is the fastest growing faith group in the U.S. The fact that the Pew Forum now lists Spiritual but not Religious as a faith choice says much about the segment of our population that want to be identified as people of faith but don’t express their faith within the confines of a church or organized religious group.

How do you define spirituality—especially in contrast to religion? For me, spirituality is the transcendent connection to God (fill in your Higher Power) that lifts me beyond my skin, bones and brain existence here on earth. How have I experienced this transcendence? Through music most frequently, but also through relationship with another that is so intimate you know that your souls have touched, through reading that forces me to move past my intellect and even past my emotions. And, yes, I have experienced spirituality through sex with my beloved.

Religion by contrast has taught me theology, doctrinal beliefs and love of certain institutions. Religion has taught me a great deal that I have discarded, i.e., belief in the literal virgin birth, literal resurrection and literal interpretation of the Bible. Religion has also taught me transcendent metaphors that still mean much to me, i.e., communion and the symbolism of the table, the bread and the wine. I have distaste for the meaning of such words as resurrection, redemption, salvation, heaven and hell as taught in my religion and yet, I want to reclaim these very words for the spirituality that fits me now. If you wash the literalism from these words, they can be used effectively to describe transcendence that I know to be real from my own experience.

So what does this mean for our nation? For Christianity? For our churches? One result that some of the surveys and articles point out is that people are attending a variety of churches rather than committing to one. Obviously, this behavior adds to the precipitous decline in membership being reported by all denominations of Christianity because many who would describe themselves as SBNR just stay home from church.

Perhaps you have heard sermons in which SBNR has been disparaged from the pulpit. Of course you have, because SBNR persons do not fund budgets which pay the light bill, the pastor’s salary and insure the institution is perpetuated. What would these preachers say we are giving up by not being religious? One argument they might make would be the loss of community if you practice your spirituality only in isolation. I agree with this line of reasoning and must admit this is why I am still a member of a congregation. The community I have found in churches has raised me, sustained me and comforted me through the highs and lows of my life. I am who I am because of church communities.

Another argument might be that we enact social justice as a faith community not as individuals. I’ll let you make your own case for or against that claim. I would also make the case for church being the place where I most frequently access God/spirituality through music. It is not the only place I can or have experienced God through music but it certainly has provided the most frequent access. What are other reasons you or your minister offer for why we need to stay religious?

Are you spiritual but not religious? Do you still attend church? Why? Why not?

Monday, May 7, 2012

I am Forbidden


This post is inspired by I AM FORBIDDEN by Anouk Markovits. Though not sisters by blood but through their Hasidic faith, Mila and Atara views the rules and structure of their culture differently. Mila seeks comfort in the Torah while Atara searches for answers in secular literature she is forbidden to read. Ultimately each must make an irrevocable decision that will change their lives forever. Join From Left to Write on May 8 as we discuss I AM FORBIDDEN. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

This ancient story of trying to control others through religious laws never gets easier to understand. I find it particularly challenging as a woman and as ordained clergy. I also find it particularly obnoxious in the 21st Century and yet, we have seen a rise in the practice.

In ancient times the miracle of birth seemed more than miracle, it was mystery and it was particularly mysterious to men. Therefore, women must be controlled and an effective way of controlling anyone was through their faith. All power rested with men so it was not difficult to use this power to control women with religious laws.

The example of this as lived out in the Hasidic community of the novel, I am Forbidden, reveals the gut-wrenching choices women often made and the illogical knots people of faith had to tie themselves into to conform. For examples in today’s world, we need look no further than the recent controversy between Catholic nuns and the Catholic hierarchy. For the full story of this conflict go to   http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/american-nuns-stunned-by-vatican-accusation-of-radical-feminism-crackdown/2012/04/20/gIQAi4gkWT_story.html

I also commend to you a Lexington, KY Letter to the Editor on the subject of the Vatican vs. the Nuns: http://www.kentucky.com/2012/05/04/2175073/letters-to-editor-may-4.html (Scroll down to Nuns Know Best).

As female clergy, I know well the fight that many of my sisters of the faith have fought in their various religions and in most all Christian denominations. Progress has been made in the 20th and 21st centuries but as the Catholic situation indicates, there is always the possibility of going backwards as well as forward.

I commend to you this well-written novel as an experience of how painful the results can be when we try to control others through faith. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Holocaust Remembrance Week

Grate Heat by John Lynner Peterson

I frequently use the above photo in my writing because it says so much and yet doesn't coerce the viewers interpretation. It seems an appropriate art work to engage my readers in the commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Week.

This week is Holocaust Remembrance Week with Holocaust Remembrance Day --- Yom HaShoah --- from sundown this Wednesday through sunset this Thursday. It is crucial that we remember. That we mourn. That we say, "never again." 

I am indebted to my Facebook friend, Rodney Allen Reeves, pastor in Portland, OR for bringing to my attention the text and choir anthem below.

"I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.
I believe in love even when feeling it not.
I believe in God even when God is silent."


The anthem "Even When God is Silent" composed by Michael Horvit, has a poignant text by an anonymous author. It was discovered written on a wall in a hidden area of a building in Germany in 1988, believed to have been written 50 years earlier during Kristallnacht, the Night of the Crystal Glass, November 9, 1938, when about 90 Jews were killed or seriously injured, plus 1000 Jewish owned shops, 200 Jewish homes and 76 synagogues were completely destroyed and 191 additional synagogues set on fire. 

We remember so that such acts never happen again.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Travel is the Enemy of Bigotry

Photography of John Lynner Peterson



The subject line quote is by Denis Belliveau and Francis O’Donnell retraced Marco Polo’s entire 25,000-mile, land-and-sea route from Venice to China and back. It is a motto my husband John and I have found to be true throughout our lives. John’s exhibit, “Who is My Neighbor” opens at the Lyric Theatre this Friday, April 20th in connection the Gallery Hop in Lexington. The exhibit will run from April 20 to June 2nd with the Opening Reception April 20th from 5-8 pm. John will lecture on the exhibit on May 6th from 2-4 pm.

The story of John’s travels ranks right up there with Belliveau and O’Donnell’s retracing of Marco Polo’s. The provenance behind the photos brings even more enlightenment to the concept of being a neighbor to all peoples.

Remember the song, “You have to be carefully taught” from South Pacific? The song, sung Lieutenant Cable, was considered controversial when the musical first opened. The dialogue which preceded the song said, racism "not born in you! It happens after you’re born..."
Rodgers and Hammerstein risked the entire success of the show when legislatives challenged its decency or supposed Communist agenda. Georgia lawmakers even introduced a bill that would have outlawed entertainment containing "an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow." Rodgers and Hammerstein defended their work strongly. James Michener, upon whose stories South Pacific was based, recalled, "The authors replied stubbornly that this number represented why they had wanted to do this play, and that even if it meant the failure of the production, it was going to stay in. (Wikipedia)
Join us for John’s exhibit at The Lyric for an update on “Who is My Neighbor?” You have to be carefully Untaught if you got the message wrong the first time.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Response to Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventures


This blog post is in response to reading Patricia Ellis Herr’s book, UP: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventures on hiking the summits of New Hampshire’s White Mountains with her 5 year-old daughter, Alex. This is not a review. I received a copy of the book by virtue of my membership in www.fromlefttowrite.com.

Parenting comes with making so many decisions. The task can be overwhelming. A therapist friend told me she was so impressed when she asked a new father how he was going to parent his child and his response was, “I don’t know until I see who my daughter is.” Brilliant!

My son famously said, “I don’t care if my son is gay or a nerd or non-athletic, as long as he is not a Duke University basketball fan!”

Trish Herr gave her daughters a chance to decide whether they were mountain hikers at a very early age. What she discovered is that little Alex not only had the interest but the drive to summit all 40 of the White Mountain peaks.

As I watch my 6 year-old grandson Tristan try on various vocations, I grin with delight at the choices and the changing of his mind. He wanted to know one day what he had to do to become “in charge of the room called Mission Control where the space shuttles take off.” But later when Pappa had arranged a visit to the Aviation Museum, I commented, “This will be good information for when you are in charge of Mission Control.” He replied, “No, Mimi, now I want to work in the Oreo Cookie factory.”

Readers of this blog may remember the NASCAR driver, museum director and philharmonic conductor stages from this blog post: http://www.readgritandgrace.blogspot.com/2011/11/nascar-manager.html

It’s never dull with Tristan.

And little Miss Payden at 23 months show all the signs of becoming the next fashionista. When Mommy got dressed Monday evening she said, “Oh, Mommy, I love your bracelet! Oh, Mommy, I love your shoes!” Last night, it was, “Oh, Mommy, I love your boots.” And rubbing her hosiery but not knowing what it was called she said, “Oh, Mommy, I love this!”

But tomorrow, I’m sure she will be in her gymnast stage. Stay tuned. And parent with great latitude!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Grief Comes Calling--Again

During the fifth month of her pregnancy of her first child Natalie Taylor is devastated by the sudden death of her husband. Her journey with grief is chronicled in the memoir Signs of Life. Join From Left to Write on March 29 as we discuss Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor. As a member of From Left to Write, I received a copy of the book. All opinions are my own.


Robert Mark “Bart” Bartella

He may not have played it exactly as written,
but there was indescribable charm in his interpretation.
Paganini quote used for Bart’s funeral cards

I met Bart the summer I worked as a cocktail waitress at the Firebird Lounge in the Phoenix Hotel, downtown Lexington, Kentucky. I needed income during the summer when I didn’t teach so a friend suggested that I make an audition tape for an on-air position at WVLK radio station which crowned the top of the Phoenix Hotel. In 1972, with women’s voices uncommon on the radio, the station staff said my voice sounded too high. One of the radio staff knew the cocktail lounge on the ground floor needed a waitress and suggested I apply there.

“Are you kidding?” I asked. “I’m Baptist. I’ve only tasted liquor two times and don’t know any drinks except the beer and whiskey the alcoholics in my family drink.”

The manager of the Lounge, a woman, replied, “I don’t care; you have great legs.”

The first week I worked, Bart came in with his ex-wife as his date. He ordered Drambuie, an after-dinner liqueur. I asked him to say it three times and spell it before I knew what to request from Joe Lewis, the bartender.

Bart scrambled to ask, “Are you married?”

“Yes.” I replied.

He inserted, “But not happily.”

Still married to Dennis, I had not yet given birth to Denny and thought I had a good marriage. Bart proceeded to chase me around three Kentucky counties for the next three years before mine and Dennis’ marriage deteriorated and we divorced. During the summer I worked at the Phoenix Hotel, Dennis also grew acquainted with Bart. Bart arranged for athletic tickets for us, advised us about our first home mortgage and they knew each other in a distant way. When Dennis and I separated and I moved to Lexington, Dennis called Bart and said, “Brenda is moving to Lexington and doesn’t know anyone there. Would you look in on her?”

Bart, more than pleased to fulfill that request, “looked in on me” more than Dennis had intended. He was thirty-two years older than I. Yes, you read that correctly. He had two daughters, one two-and-a half years younger than I and the other two-and-a half years older. I told him from the beginning that I would see him socially that summer while Dennis and I were in divorce proceedings but that I could not get serious about anyone and I would date other men before I would consider marriage again.

We saw a lot of each other that summer. Bart wined and dined me at Lexington’s finest restaurants. We spent long weekend afternoons at the pool in his apartment complex and met each other’s families. While my eyes opened to the vision of dating an older man, they also opened to a new vision of myself as seen through this man’s eyes. I knew that Dennis and his family viewed me as part and parcel of a poor dysfunctional family. This new mature man saw me only as an individual. My family didn’t seem to be clinging to me in his vision.

Finally, the clanging cymbal of love rang for me. Finally, I got it why movies and books and songs got written about this thing called love. Love happened to me. I had no idea the power of this love. In those early years, I didn’t know love would enable us to make love with a colostomy bag in between our bodies and cry together afterwards. I didn’t know love would enable me to pack a surgical wound that went six inches into Bart’s body. I didn’t know his love for me would mean he agreed to have another child when he was sixty-two years old. I learned that love for us meant all these and so much more.

I exacted a promise from Bart before we married that we would at least discuss having another child when Denny turned three years old. When Bart was sixty two years old our Mark, his first son, arrived. Their relationship played like a symphony which required only two musicians. Bart also decided to legally adopt Denny because he wanted Denny to feel loved by him and be a Bartella.

Ten very happy, fulfilling years followed before Bart died of lung cancer in 1985. He said we had a “one issue marriage.”

The two-shaded blue stretchy knit bathrobes clothed our little family of four for more years than I had imagined when I made one for each of us. Bart supported my sewing projects because he thought it occupied my days and assuaged my desire to go back to work. My Bernina sewing machine, the best on the market, challenged me enough to buy him one more year of a stay-at-home wife and mother. Then I gave him the ultimatum of law school or another child. He chose to have another child, a wise decision. We were three years in to this stay-at-home career path at this time.

The Stretch and Sew store in the Landsdowne Shoppes taught technique for new knits. Matching bathrobes smacked of cutesy to Bart’s no-nonsense mind, but he wore his more and longer than any of the rest of us.

For better or worse, too many of the memoires in that bathrobe mix in my brain with the sound of the ice in his glass followed by the stream of rum and coke. He awakened around five a.m. every morning and many Saturdays and Sundays, he sat there in his big orange recliner wearing that bath robe and well on his way to drunkenness by time I awakened around eight or nine.

The crashing realization that I loved this man as I had loved no one in my life sloshed around in my heart with the cruel irony that he was an alcoholic. Dressing the family up in matching bathrobes doesn’t cure alcoholism.

With the gift of maturity and Al-Anon, I accept and acknowledge how I enabled Bart’s alcoholism. In the beginning, I denied it as alcoholism. The drunks I knew didn’t dress in coat and tie and go to work every day as successful executives. By the time I knew in my bones he was an alcoholic, I loved him and thought my love would make the difference in his drinking. Foolish love. When he bought rum by the case, I meticulously loosened the state seal, poured out a third to a half and refilled it with water. I deluded myself that I had made the difference when “the issue” went away the last two years of his life. A more accurate explanation--the change occurred because he knew when he retired that he had to either quit drinking or die. Sadly, he did both.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in psychiatry to diagnose my marriage to someone three decades older had something to do with the “daddy crater.” But that explanation presents a shallow interpretation of this deep and rich relationship. Some folks said Bart served as my Svengali. He said, “I just provided a stable marriage and home life so you could blossom as you desired.” After his retirement, he joked that people in our home town began to know him as Mr. Brenda Bartella. Other folks called me his “Trophy Wife,” a summation accurate only in the sense that I was the young, attractive and glamorously dressed woman on his arm. Marriage to Bart offered me options I had not considered as roles for me—glamour girl, volunteer, civic leader.

Oh, the trophy wife moments happened—like that fabulous strapless shirred white evening gown which he called “the Rita Hayworth gown that stopped the gaming tables in the Monaco casino.” On vacation in Monaco, we decided to walk through the gambling casino before dinner. Because of the celebrity culture of Monaco such a distinguished older man and attractive much younger woman could only mean—they must be someone famous. As we walked around the perimeter of the room, the gamblers stopped their games and stared at us as if we were the newest People Magazine cover. In moments like Monaco, I pinched myself and asked, “Am I still Brenda Sims, the poor white trash girl from the projects?” The answer to that question even after marriage to Bart remained, “Yes, I am Brenda Sims and I have grown into a sophisticated young woman who still has a good deal of growing to do in spite of a white gown and a trip to Monaco.”

To finish with the speculations on the character of our marriage, my family joked that Bart thought he chose a glamorous sex object and got a Baptist Sunday School teacher instead. He didn’t get one or the other, he got both. The jokes and theories created part of the fun because our marriage rested on solid knowledge of each other. We enjoyed music, sports, books, movies, travel and shared parenthood. Since Bart had peaked in his career, he gave himself permission to enjoy these experiences in a way that he didn’t allow with his earlier marriage and his older children. Grateful for a second act, he made the most of it.

I do not underestimate the financial impact of this marriage on my life. It moved my standard of living from struggling lower middle class life to secure upper middle class. I remember the first time I thought, “I don’t have to parcel out the strawberries because there are enough for all of us to eat as many as we like.” I remember when Bart directed me, “Buy diapers in large quantities when they go on sale.” I had never had enough money to buy more than the quantity necessary short term. Upon seeing an advertisement in the paper that a scissors expert would be demonstrating at McAlpin’s Department Store, Bart suggested I run over there to buy several different kinds for our household use. What? Specialized scissors? I seemed the height of luxury to this girl from the projects.

Bart provided a lovely 5000 square foot home, swimming pool, constant travel and even after his death, paid for my two Masters degrees, Mark’s undergraduate degree and Denny’s long and winding road through education. Bart, of course, had a comment about this financial impact too, “I know Brenda could walk out of this marriage any day of the week and make it on her own in fine style.” The glue of this marriage of broken persons was love.

When I insisted on a pre-nuptial agreement for the marriage that followed Bart’s death, my attorney tried to dissuade me. “Brenda, you are not a wealthy woman.” He had no idea how vast that inheritance appeared to little Brenda Sims.

The repercussions of losing Bart in 1985 rippled forth in my life. I suppose I lacked awareness myself of the ways in which I could not let go of him. Ten years after his death, a new seminary friend commented, “Since knowing you, I also feel like Bart is just away on a business trip and will be back soon.” The mirror she held up for me reflected that I communicated a relationship with Bart that existed only in my heart and mind. I also endured nightmares in which Bart still lived but had moved on to another house, wife and family. Stating the obvious, I had deep-seated fears that all men would leave like my Dad.

In 2001, after meeting John, my last and current husband, I saw an advertisement on TV for a new film about a great love story. I thought, “Oh my god, I’m being reminded of great love and for the first time in sixteen years I don’t wish for Bart to still be alive!”

Thursday, March 15, 2012

While I'm off Playing Around in Philly

“You write out of need. You write out of hunger.  It isn’t your brilliance; it’s the flaw in your makeup that drives you.”—from an interview with novelist Theodore Wessner in Novel Ideas: Contemporary Authors Share the Creative Process by Barbara Shoup and Margaret-Love Denman

Check out my friend, Richard Gilbert's blog on writing:

http://richardgilbert.me/2012/03/14/noted-write-from-the-pain/

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What's the bottom line on food?

This post was inspired by the book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  As a member of From Left to Write book club, I received a copy of this book. All opinions are my own. You can read other members' posts inspired by on book club day, Feb 21 at From Left to Write . Buy this book here.

Barbara Kingsolver wrote one of my all-time favorite books, The Poisonwood Bible. I’m inclined to be favorable toward her because she is a Kentuckian. I respect what I know of her as a human being. So why did I resist her approach to food in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle?

It’s really quite simple. I don’t want anyone even for noble reasons coming between me and what goes in my mouth. I have the great good fortune of genetics that allow me to eat whatever I want without being over-weight. I love to eat. I love food. Why do I need to alter my relationship with food?

Ok, I’ll dance with Barbara to the extent that eating local gives me tomatoes that taste like tomatoes and strawberries that are actually red instead of white 2/3 of the way through the fruit. And I’m quite willing to support local farmers instead of far-away farmers that send me fruits and vegetables by truck or train before they’re ripe. I get the local movement.

But the issue that finally makes me side with Barbara against my own appetite is fat bridesmaids! Yes, I mean that. I am a baby boomer and as a college girl and sorority sister, I lived through a lot of weddings in addition to my own. A generation ago, we did not have fat bridesmaids. Now before you jump all over me for being politically incorrect and insensitive to the calorie-challenged among us—here’s what I think is going on. We didn’t have fat bridesmaids in the Sixties and Seventies not because we were prejudiced against the chubbies and didn’t ask them to be in our weddings but rather because the over weight twenty-something was a rare being. Now, every wedding I have attended in the last five years has fat bridesmaids! They are normal young women. For some reason being over weight is far more prevalent and acceptable in this generation.

Blame the processed foods! I’m serious. Stop feeding our children processed foods in school cafeterias and on college campus and all the affordable restaurants where young people gather and we will stop this epidemic of fat bridesmaids. It’s even hard to shop in regular grocery stores and avoid processed foods. But we have to do it. Start now.

Please don’t shoot the messenger!  

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

This post was inspired by the book, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker.  As a member of From Left to Write book club, I received a copy of this book for review. All opinions are my own. You can read other members' posts inspired by this book at From Left to Write.

Click on the title above to buy this book from my aStore.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats tells the story of love, spiritual depth and family choices. Set in Burma, when Burma was Burma, Sendker brilliantly weaves the tale of three generations. The compelling story of a blind boy who falls in love with a club footed girl who can’t walk anchors the novel and showcases a love so deep as to overcome logic, continents and time.

All families make choices that deliver a wallop of impact which ripples forth and we never know how far the ripples wave before the effect dies. My father died last week and I am particularly aware right now of the decisions he made that rippled forth in so many lives.
Dad and All Six Wives
Photo by John Lynner Peterson

Dad was married nine times—only 6 women—but nine marriages. He produced seven children—that we know of. I used to say, “Dad is not immoral, he is amoral.” He did not think rules, propriety, manners, codes of conduct or logic applied to him. He was going to do what he was going to do regardless of what others thought. He lived his life this way and accepted the consequences of doing so.

I suppose all parents make decisions that affect their children’s lives. And we don’t get to choose our parents. So the lesson in life and from The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is to go deep, find peace and let love take precedence regardless of the ripples you are experiencing from decisions past generations may have made. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

RIP Clarence W. Sims AKA The Raggedy Ass Son-of-a-Bitch

Photo by John Lynner Peterson

I have written about my Dad in this space before—like the section on Dad from my memoir here:

And this post about my last visit with him.
Last visit with Dad
 The last few years have been a healing experience for me with Dad. After admitting I love him, I accepted that I would never get what I needed from him as a father. This acceptance permitted me to enjoy him as a human being. He was a one-of-a-kind character.

Dad declined rapidly in the last few months. My half-brothers and I began to talk about his death, burial and funeral service. I knew officiating at the service would be something I could contribute that others couldn’t. I knew the service shouldn’t be in a church and shouldn’t be religious. A one-size-fits-all service by a clergy person who didn’t know him, sounded disgusting. I had to do it. Could I?

I got the call that Dad was gone at 8:30 Monday morning. I started thinking. I determined I would not make comments about Dad that were untrue. I could find lots of positive qualities and decided I would make jokes about his shortcomings. And, once again, my friend Don Lichtenfelt came through with poignant quotes, poems and connective material.

Oh, Facebook also provided some fodder. Dad’s favorite tavern, Leroy’s posted on their page a tribute to him that stated he sat on the corner barstool, ordered a cheeseburger with onion and a 7 and 7. They closed with “RIP Shoestring.” I knew his eulogy had to be delivered from a barstool.

We left for Evansville, IN on Wednesday morning. The visitation started at 4 pm with a service at 6:30. People started arriving. As I stood at the far end of the room, a woman through the door at the other end.

“Who is that?” I asked my half-brother Greg, “She looks a lot like me.”

“It’s Carol Sue.”
One of the Sibs

Oh my, Carol Sue is my father’s first child from his first marriage, eight other marriages followed. I scarcely knew her as a child but remembered she danced as a go-go girl at a bar in downtown Evansville in the Sixties. She’s 71 now.

And that was the beginning of the funeral experience. More to come.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My favorite poem of faith

Photo by John Lynner Peterson

Counterfeit


By Roberta Dorr



Sand is the water of the desert.
It can bear the traveler on its billows,
Or wash her cups
And clean her hands.
But when her body’s
Racked with thirst
No counterfeit will serve,
And one would trade
One’s kingdom in the sand
For one clear cup
Of sparkling, liquid water.
One faith is quite as good
As any other
Until the heart in thirst
Cries out for what is true.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

This post was inspired by the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. The book was given to me by virtue of my membership in www.fromlefttowrite.com. This is not a review or critique.

Being an extrovert or introvert should not come with a value load---negative or positive. According to Susan Cain, the positive value in our culture is decidedly skewed toward extroverts. She and her book are intended to start a Quiet Revolution.

I say, “Have at it, Susan. Please take my portion of the Value of being an extrovert in this world.” Having said that I am forced to admit, extroversion does have advantages and I’m not ungrateful for those. I maintain it also has the disadvantage of having to due the extroverting for all your introverted friends.

I write this post as a tribute to Judy Bartella, Rachel Childress, Rhonda Johnston, Mary Henson, Wendy Wilson (although I think she is a closet extrovert!) and many of my family members. At one point in my life, I felt surrounded by introverts. I screamed at Rachel one holiday season, “I’m tired of doing the extroverting for all you introverts.”

The truth of the matter is that on most days I wasn’t tired of it. I loved it! But when an extrovert is extroverted-out, look out world. In my experience, she becomes a grouchy, bitchy witch until she gets re-fueled.

Cain’s thesis in much of the book is the benefits that introverts bring to the table which are often overlooked or outshined by the extrovert sparkling away at the head of the table. I can agree with Cain on this, I just wish she hadn’t thrown the extroverts under the bus and called us ax murderers in the process. My introverted friends bring great value to my life. Steadfastness, thoughtfulness, calm spirit, peace, good ideas and great loyalty to our friendship. 

Thank you, dear introverts. I bequeath to you my share of all that extroverted work. Hee hee hee hee hee.

Friday, January 6, 2012

2012 National Festival of Young Preachers

Click here for gallery of photos by John Lynner Peterson of this event.
As mentioned, John and I attended the Academy of Preachers' event in Louisville as “convener” and “evaluator.” Our positions though are irrelevant. The end result is we attended a spiritual feast presented to us by “children” young enough to be our grandchildren! Since it was our first experience with the Academy we had no idea what to expect. What a delightful surprise.

I learned from Willie Bodrick II that we are blessed so that we can be a blessing. This Harvard freshman preached a traditional African American style and packed it with original thought, righteous indignation and the Good News. One of Willie’s final comments was a quote from Edgar A. Guest, poet, “I’d rather see a sermon than preach one.” I saw a sermon that will bless the future in Willie Bodrick II.

Following Willie, we worshipped with Ashley Hawley, a fifteen year old high school sophomore from Sacramento, CA. As Ashley told us, “I’m a fifteen year old from California, so I preach like a fifteen year old from California.” So she did. While the Sermon on the Mount from the Gospel of Matthew was the text for all the preachers, could one really expect Willie and Ashley to have the same perspective on the scripture? No. And we weren’t disappointed.

Willie and Ashley were but two of the one hundred twenty five young preachers from thirty states and over thirty faith traditions. As I indicated in the previous post, I support the Academy of Preachers because it is one of few organizations that brings together people of faith from the entire spectrum of right to left and allows them to know and love each other for who they are.

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why I Do What I Do

I off to Louisville today—no, I’m not going there to gloat over the University of Kentucky’s victory over University of Louisville—although that is tempting.

Husband John and I will both be volunteering our services to the Academy of Preachers event called Preachapalooza. A friend of mine commented in the last few days, “What are YOU doing at an event called Preachapalooza? It sounds like conservatives?”

I agree it sounds more like terminology the conservative mega-churches would use. We liberals tend to eschew anything that smacks of stadiums filled with dancing fans unless it’s Kentucky basketball.

But the Academy of Preachers is not a conservative organization AND it is not a liberal organization. Therein lies the reason John and I will be giving our skills to the event. The Academy, founded by Rev. Dwight Moody and led by Rev. Lee Huckleberry, brings young people from a vast area of denominations--the entire conservative to liberal spectrum. They come together, preach to and for each other, become friends and share their faith.

It’s the “becoming friends and sharing their faith” that draws me to this organization. It is the first and only organization I have heard of in a long time that is bringing the extremes of our faith into conversation. And it's not like we haven't looked. John and I have both done a great deal of ecumenical and interfaith work. Somehow, the organizations are not doing a good job of bridging the gap. We live in our separate worlds, attend our separate churches, vote for our separate candidates and have our separate agendas for America. It’s not a healthy situation for anyone.   

So we’re heading to Preachapalooza today. And I hope you will spend some time talking with someone whose faith you disagree with. Who knows, we might learn something from each other.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

I wanted to recommit to this blog in 2012. I didn’t want to do it at 4 AM. Isn’t there a saying that what you do on New Year’s Day, you will do all year long? I pleased if that means more blogging, I’m not so pleased if that means more insomnia in 2012.

I crested the hill of sixty-fours years since I last posted on this blog. Creeping up on Medicare makes one think about “have I made a difference in my life.” I do feel I have made small differences but that is something else I want to recommit to in 2012.

One of the organizations that I am most proud of being part of is Avaaz.org. Below is a letter to Avaaz members with a sample of the difference Avaaz is making world wide. I met Ricken Patel, the founder of Avaaz when I was the Sr. Advisor for Religious Outreach for the Democratic National Committee in Washington, DC. Ricken was young, brilliant and on fire. I knew he would make a difference.

I hope you check out Avaaz.org and decide to make a difference in 2012. You can be part of this movement with the click of a mouse. Remember Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2012 was The Protestor. People in great numbers make a difference….it’s the only force that has ever made a difference…human beings.


Dear Amazing Avaazers,
Avaaz is on fire, at 10.5 million people and rising fast. But we're also deepening our activism -- and with the combination of depth and huge numbers, we're winning, over and over again. Scroll down to see some great examples from the last several weeks.

We're not just effectively delivering petitions, we're running safe houses and smuggling routes to protect democratic movements, challenging corporations by bringing lawsuits or calling all their shareholders, donating millions to equip human rights defenders with the latest technology, and powerfully delivering the voices of our community direct and in person to presidents, billionaires, ambassadors and cabinet ministers.

It's working -- scroll down to see how. In recent weeks alone, we've helped win victories on everything from banning cluster bombs and sanctioning Syria to saving the Internet and the UN climate treaty:

ON THE FRONT-LINE OF THE ARAB SPRING
Wissam Tarif, a friendly Avaaz campaigner -- called “the most dangerous man in the world” by Syria’s brutal regime
Avaaz has been at the heart of the struggles for democracy in the Arab world. Funded by $1.5 million in small member donations, we’ve broken the media blackouts that dictators tried to impose -- training a huge number of citizen journalists and equipping them with top flight technology to get information out. Top editors at BBC and CNN have told us that in cases like Syria, Avaaz has been the source of as much as 30% of all their news coverage!

When no other organization could, our network smuggled in over $1 million USD of vital emergency relief to communities under brutal siege in Syria. We also smuggled activists and their families, at risk of torture or death, out of the country. Our secret safe houses shelter dozens of top activists from regime thugs, giving them a protected base from which to operate. Assad’s murderous regime is not happy about it -- Syrian state TV called our campaigner “the most dangerous man in the world” to the regime.

We’ve also matched front-line support to democratic movements with fierce global lobbying of our governments to squeeze brutal regimes -- millions of Avaazers successfully campaigned for powerful European oil sanctions and Arab League sanctions on Syria.
PEOPLE POWER VS THE MURDOCH MAFIA
An Avaaz member sports our giant Murdoch head at a protest outside British Parliament. From London to L.A., Giant Murdoch appeared at protests all over the world
We took on the world’s most powerful and dangerous media baron, Rupert Murdoch, and won.

It was the biggest deal of Murdoch’s career, growing his extremist global media empire by 50% through acquiring a huge UK-based company -- BSkyB. Everyone said we couldn’t stop it, but Avaaz members thought differently, sending 668,784 messages and 30,000 phone calls to members of the UK Parliament, and running stunt after stunt as well as 2 opinion polls that showed massive public opposition. 

Avaaz was also the only organization to promise to legally challenge the government in court if they approved the Murdoch deal. The Minister responsible for the deal was so rattled that he repeatedly postponed approval for months, publicly blaming Avaaz. The delay gave us space to build awareness of a huge corruption scandal in the Murdoch empire until finally, the deal was dead.

We haven’t stopped there -- we need to roll back the Murdoch threat and fundamentally reform our corrupt media. Avaazers recently used our new tool to call all the shareholders in Murdoch’s biggest companies, NewsCorp and BskyB, creating the largest shareholder rebellions in the companies’ histories!

And in Australia, where Murdoch controls 70% of the print media -- we helped defeat Murdoch's attempt to snatch a $223 million TV contract from the public broadcaster and pushed the government to create a far-reaching inquiry into Murdoch and media reform. 
A GLOBAL OUTCRY TO SAVE THE AMAZON
Leaders of the march closed their speeches by pointing to the Avaaz banner and stating: “We have the support of the whole world!”
Half a million of us joined more than 1,000 indigenous protesters in demanding that Bolivian President Evo Morales halt construction on a highway that would slice through the heart of the Amazon.

Avaaz staff delivered our petition to top Bolivian cabinet ministers in a long and stormy meeting. Our widespread solidarity strengthened the legitimacy of the indigenous protesters whom Morales tried to marginalize, and threatened his desired reputation as an environmentalist. 

The pressure worked! After our campaign, Morales canceled construction, repealed the decision granting permission for the project, and pledged to protect the impacted TIPNIS national park and indigenous territory -- the crown jewel of the Bolivian Amazon -- forever! We'll hold him to that promise.
VICTORY ON CLUSTER BOMBS!
Our massive petition was delivered by a cluster bomb survivor to the French chair of the conference
Three years ago, Avaaz mobilized to help push through a global ban on cluster bombs, saving thousands of children. This year, the US quietly lobbied nations to sign a new law that would have allowed their use again! Our 600,000-strong petition helped push 50 states to oppose the US’s underhanded plan.

Many delegates used our petition to strengthen their arguments in negotiations. Our powerful banner, placed right outside the conference room -- together with 1000 fliers that the Avaaz team plastered throughout the conference center -- sent an unmistakable reminder to the negotiators about the opposition they faced back home. The US initiative failed --together we helped save the lives of thousands of innocent civilians.
CLIMATE CHANGE: KEEPING HOPE ALIVE
More than 800,000 Avaaz members fought to save the Kyoto Protocal at the climate meeting in South Africa
At critical climate talks in Durbanmore than 800,000 of us helped salvage the UN climate treaty from a cabal of polluters determined to kill it. Our team on the ground in South Africa delivered our message day in, day out through hard-hitting actions like this ad in the Financial Times -- released on the final day of tense negotiations. Despite massive pressure by oil-backed planet killers like the US and Canada a deal was struck to save the vital Kyoto Protocol and give us a fighting chance by keeping climate negotiations alive.

EU Climate Chief Connie Hedegaard said: "Thanks to the over 800,000 people from around the world -- your voices made a vital impact at the end of the talks.”
SAVE THE INTERNET - GREAT PROGRESS!
Avaaz campaigner Maria Paz Cambronero delivers our petition to top White House officials
In days, over 1 million of us worldwide signed a petition opposing a scandalous bill that would give the US government the right to shut down any website -- targeting sites like WikiLeaks, YouTube, even Avaaz! 

President Obama’s team responded, and Avaaz organized a 1 hour meeting with top White House officials to deliver the petition.

We’ve now been told privately that Obama is likely to oppose the bill as it stands. When we started, insiders all told us the bill could not be stopped, now they’re all telling us the bill may soon be dead in its current form -- that’s people power!
TAKING ON CORRUPTION IN INDIA
Avaaz members campaign against corruption in India
Avaaz’s anti-corruption campaign in India was the most viral campaign in Internet history! In just 36 hours, over 700,000 Indians joined the petition to support a strong law targeting corruption among public officials called "Jan Lokpal". We staged marches across the country, erected hard-hitting billboards across the capital, and launched an independent public opinion poll showing that the majority of Indian voters wanted an ambitious Lokpal.

We helped win that round -- a bill is coming before Parliament now! The Times of India hailed Avaaz as "a key player in the Jan Lokpal initiative." 
ITALY - A WIN FOR FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Avaaz members and campaigner Giulia Innocenzi protest draconian limits on free speech
During his last months in power, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi tried to gag democracy by enabling the government to shut down Internet websites on a whim. Our community fought back and won! 

Italian Avaazers sent 200,000 emails and flooded Facebook and Twitter. We mobilized hard-hitting public demonstrations covered by top media and shelved the law for good! Now Italian democracy is free from Berlusconi -- and we are still going strong.
These are just a few of the victories we've won together in the last several weeks. Since launching almost 5 years ago, Avaaz has run over 1000 campaigns! And as our community has grown and deepened our commitment, we're winning on more and more of them. If we stay on this track, and keep hoping and believing in change and in each other, anything is possible.

With hope,

Ricken, Dalia, Luis, Allison, Ari, Maria Paz, Wen-Hua and the entire Avaaz team