Some of The Amazing People I Have Met

Some of The Amazing People I Have Met

We meet many people during our lives. There is often the iconic story of the teacher, doctor, employer who teaches, employs and cares for a young man or woman who goes on to become known in the world: the scientist who creates the polio vaccine; the political activist who becomes a state senator and then president of the United States; the gardener who loves plants and then becomes known for his gardening advice. The writer who wins the Pulitzer.

Every one of you has someone you worked with, met or taught—someone who has gone on to do great things. Maybe that person is you!

Today I’m sharing some of the amazing people I have met who still inspire me to this day.

THE BEGINNING

Born, raised, and completing my education in Chicago—there are hundreds of people during that time in my life who had great influence on me, who loved and encouraged me. Certainly, every member of my loving family. 

BUT WHAT PATHWAY TO TAKE

My biology teacher at Mundelein College saw something in me, called me into her office to underline that I should NOT major in English, become a teacher. I should immediately switch to the sciences, go into medicine. I didn’t listen.

But after teaching high school English at BLOOM TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL (I loved my students) and having my children, I became fascinated with medicine and followed her advice, became a nurse. I worked in the maternity unit at MERCY HOSPITAL in Chicago, assisting pregnant women of all ages and backgrounds. Like teaching, this position opened my vision of life, stressed the importance of understanding all persons in our society.

LIVING IN IOWA EQUALS POLITICS

Then a few years later my husband accepted employment in Des Moines, Iowa—another adventure. Des Moines is the state capital, and because of Iowa’s first in the nation caucus, it is always the center of political activity. My husband and I couldn’t help but become more involved in politics. When HILLARY CLINTON ran, we were sitting in the Drake Dinner at 5:00 in the morning, watching her prepare for interviews on all major stations. We were friends with DR. ANDY McGUIRE, who ran for governor of Iowa, who has been head of the Iowa Democratic party and will always have political blood running in her veins. Through Andy, we met Hillary that morning, and I asked her how she did it all. She teared up. And for those reading who remember a similar episode, this was way before New Hampshire.

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA won the caucuses and I was able to shake his hand during a meet and greet in Des Moines. That’s a huge memory for me. But that event was also fortuitous, as the woman standing next to me was an RN at the Polk County Health Department in Des Moines. I had recently lost the amazing work I had done for Meredith Corporation in Des Moines—(think Better Homes & Gardens, Midwest Living, Country Home and many other amazing magazines), because the Meredith Books group had shut down. (Thanks to Terri Fredrickson who guided me through the years I proofread for her.) So I interviewed at the health department and was hired JUST AT THE TIME, — H1N1 was surging.

But because of my work at MEREDITH BOOKS, I had met JAMES WAGENVROOD, a writer from New York City, who became my mentor and dear friend. We actually wrote a book together that you would not think would be in my wheelhouse, MIANI INK, MARKED FOR GREATNESS. 

I also met and toured the garden of ELVIN McDONALD, gardener, writer, and lovely person. You might be familiar with his: A GARDEN MAKES A HOUSE A HOME. 

BOOK SIGNINGS 

The Des Moines Library (newly built in the re-emerging city center with a roof that originally was covered in grass, a salute to the green movement) hosted authors and there I met ELIZABETH BERG. She shook my hand and said I needed to get my novels out of the drawers where they were sitting. I’m still working on that project. She was charming, of course.  

THE IOWA WRTERS’ WORKSHOP

And speaking of writing, Iowa is the home of the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, famous for its creative writing program: The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. An easy drive down Route 80 and you’re there!

So get jealous now: I and twenty other writers spent a weekend with Pulitzer Prize winning ELIZABETH STROUT, known for her novels OLIVE KITTERIDGE, OLIVE AGAIN, AMY And ISABELLE, MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON (and more). I’ve read ALL her work and encourage you to do so.

There were more wonderful teachers at Iowa: my friend and helpmate SUSAN CHEHAK who helped and encouraged me to publish my collection of short stories: A MOTHER’S TIME CAPSULE.

ONE FINAL and FUN STORY

Through Andy McGuire we met many people in Democratic politics: Governor Vilsack, former Vice President Mondale, Governor of Vermont Howard Dean—but the most memorable was meeting NANCY PELOSI.     

We were in Andy’s inviting house for a fundraiser for a House Representative. I was sitting in the back of the room. I have often found myself in the back of rooms, but when someone is speaking, I go back to my grade-school days—I look right at the speaker, focus on what she or he is saying. When Nancy finished, she became surrounded by people. My husband and I got up quietly and walked into the dining room. I was sure I had seen some chocolate cupcakes along with other goodies set out on Andy’s dining room table.

But then someone was tapping me on the back. I turned. It was Nancy Pelosi. She said, “I came over to meet you.”

Okay! Why? I guess Andy had suggested that she do so. As we chatted, John asked her, as only John would, “What is the most important thing in your life going on right now?” He was waiting for a political response, but Nancy answered: “My grandchildren.” We loved that.

The bottom line in sharing all of this with you is that I have been blessed. The people I have met in person and the people I continue to meet online and now in my new but old home of Chicago, are all important to me in so many ways. So thank you….AND, ANYONE READING THIS–YOU ARE ALL AMAZING, Beth 

Photo Credit   Citizenship Creations Stock.

Stick to the Truth–And Dance

Stick to the Truth--And Dance

Or–when I met Nancy Pelosi.

 

From childhood on, when a person is happy about something, they jump, twirl–they dance. In the teen years, new dance moves are often born of enthusiasm about a choice. They drive a person to experience the space around them.

That’s a great thing, Readers, that feeling of space, of choice. And it’s even better for women. Because it’s time for women to dance again, to move onto the floor, throw up their arms and call out for truth. Why? Because women are gaining voice and power. A grandmother is now third in line for the presidency during a time when men (and many whose dancing years left them long ago) are clinging to power with their last defense: women shaming and lies.

NAME CALLING 

It’s an old trick and it has to stop. In the LA TIMES, Virginia Heffernan remembers a short story by Kristen Roupenian that appeared in the New Yorker. Talk about #MeToo! The story relates the disintegration of a couple’s relationship, the mild male character stooping to the lowest low when that  relationship fails. He calls the woman he is supposed to have loved a “whore.” Why? The author indicates it’s that basic, baked in fear of women, fear of their power.

This week 102 women took office in the new Congress. 102!! And we are just beginning. Were they welcomed by the men? Not always. Heffernan writes that these guys holding on to their power well, “they’ve had enough.” Because when Rep. Rashida Tlaib from Michigan used the impeachment word and another commonplace vulgarism to refer to a certain person who uses vulgar language often but, come on now, he’s a guy–her supporters loved it, but men on the other side of the aisle scorned her vocabulary. She has not apologized.

DANCING, WELL NOT IN THE AISLES, YET…

These guys are also picking on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York saying she is so YOUNG (do older men fear young women) and insisting that she is naive. And she dances! What right has a congresswoman to dance? This is serious business. (Well you old guys don’t always stick to that seriousness when you are eager to destroy healthcare for all people–and that includes women and children, and you care naught for the rights of minorities and that also includes women and children. Who are you really serious about? Bankers–and we know how the gender numbers stack up in that category.)

TRUTH TELLING–YES ON BOTH SIDES

Jennifer Egan is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist whose recent piece in TIME MAGAZINE–FACTS STILL EXIST– moved me. She writes that when online, the words of lies and truth look the same. And certainly their are folks who take advantage of that. She postulates that much of fraudulent news allows the avoidance of hard facts.

She writes: “How much better it would be if the Sandy Hook massacre really were a hoax, rather than an actual slaughter of 20 kindergartens and six school staff members.”

Or: “What a relief to conclude that hundreds of international climatologists are lying rather than face the perilous state of our talent–and the tiny window of time we have to preserve life as we know it.”      IN OTHER WORDS, FEAR MAKES US WANT TO BELIEVE LIES. FEAR CAN CONTROL US.

Egan writes that the SHORT-TERM opioid-like effect of these lies gives the believer a kind of short-term solace (I don’t have to worry about those things) at the cost of our then inability to work on and solve these problems that are not going away: gun violence and climate change. She mentions a certain leader who at his rallies has co-opted the term FAKE NEWS, thus finding a way of keeping his followers happy. It’s the new bread and circuses. It is accepting to be ignorant and ignoring the truth. It is dangerous.

FREEDOM TO WRITE, SPEAK and DANCE

But new days are dawning and as they do, old fears are also rising. Can the women in our new Congress truly make a difference? Will they be listened too? Will they withdraw under the word lashes and criticism of the older male contingent? (My nice way of saying OLD WHITE MEN.) So far I’m betting on the  women, who represent years of waiting, of working, of preparing for these moments. I’m betting on Nancy Pelosi. (see P.S.) I’m believing in their ability to dance, dance, dance. But most of all, I believe in their advocacy of TRUTH.

And like novelist Jennifer Egan writes and believes, the new congresswomen have arrived at their new positions BECAUSE they are not afraid to tell the truth, write now, speak well–do all of these things despite blowback, criticism, jeering and name-calling. They know that truth is our *BEST SHOT at saving our democracy.

And when they do, you can bet there will be lots of DANCING!!

P.S. Sometime during 2012, I met Nancy Pelosi. It was in a private home of a dear friend in Des Moines. Nancy was there to support Leonard Boswell who was running for reelection in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional district. When Nancy had finished speaking and was surrounded by many, my husband and I headed into the dining room for some treats. Moments later, someone tapped on my shoulder and I turned. It was Nancy Pelosi, asking my name and introducing herself. We chatted and my husband asked her “What is your most current important issue?” She smiled and responded, “My grandchildren.”

Now that makes me want to DANCE!

*Jennifer Egan’s phrase

Photo: My Collage