Archive for February, 2011

My Leanings to the Left

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011 © by Susan Swartz

I was thrilled when two members of Congress stood up to the vendetta against Planned Parenthood by telling their personal stories. California Democrat Jackie Speier told of having an abortion when something went wrong with her pregnancy at 17 weeks. Speier said she is “one of those women” her anti-choice colleagues were referring to when they wrongfully make abortion sound like a casual, cavalier experience.

Wisconsin Democrat Gwen Moore talked about being a poor pregnant teenager in her defense of Planned Parenthood as one of the few places that doesn’t treat poor women and their children with contempt.

It was an effective reality check in the debate over slashing budgets. So often Congress talks about dumping programs as if the people affected are certainly not anybody they know.

I’ve never had an abortion so I can’t tell a personal story. Nor have I ever used Planned Parenthood’s services to get a breast exam, treat an STD or obtain birth control. I’ve never applied for public assistance, unemployment insurance or disability. But I have always trusted help would be there if I needed it.

That may be one definition of liberal. You realize your own vulnerability.

There could come a time when you couldn’t afford milk for your baby or were out of a job and couldn’t pay the rent. Or became so ill that no one would ever insure you again. Or you got old and became a bag lady because you lost Social Security.

There’s a notion that people become more conservative as they get older. Not me. I’ve become more firmly liberal. But I’ve been wondering when in life a person starts to lean one way or the other.

I’ve believed in collective bargaining since I was hired as a reporter in San Diego and was given the option of joining the Newspaper Guild. I asked a photographer friend why I should pay dues every month into a union and he gave me the one-for-all talk and said a union job was the only way you could work at a newspaper and be able to feed your kids.

I support women’s rights, including reproductive freedom, because I was part of the revolution that believed and proved that women hold up half the sky. But I remember how it was before that and recognize the forces that would love to toss us back in second place.

I proudly wear the labels of bleeding heart, tree-hugger, climate change believer, public radio junkie and latte sipper. I believe that guns kill people. I have marched on behalf of labor and for reproductive choice and against war and my heart is now in Wisconsin with the nurses, teachers and other union workers.

I was on the side of immigrants from the first time I went to Tijuana and saw people living in cardboard boxes. I became even more an advocate after interviewing kids who started out crawling under a barbed wire and ended up graduating from college.

I became a tree-hugger when I hiked into my first redwood forest and saw, behind the pretty green curtain, a huge gaping clear-cut scar in the earth.

I became an advocate for gay rights when a lesbian couple moved in next door and later when a bright, fascinating man with AIDS allowed me to write about his life and death for my newspaper.

When my husband was starting out in the newspaper business at the Oakland Tribune, he asked an old time reporter to explain the difference between a liberal and a conservative.

“Liberals like people. Conservatives don’t,” the reporter told him.
I don’t really believe that because I know a number of individuals who call themselves conservative and who are kind and care about others. And who would never say “So be it” to people who are losing their jobs.

Rock On Sisters

Thursday, February 17th, 2011 © by Susan Swartz

When it comes to staying current with music trends, I often feel like Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes interviewing Lady GaGa in her undies. Curious but a little flummoxed.

In the interests of staying hip… if staying hip is still a condition that one aspires to…I watched the Grammys awards show. “You gave up Masterpiece Theater?” asked my incredulous daughter. Well no, I taped the Grammys to watch later. One has certain cultural imperatives.

Yet, I don’t want to ever turn into one of those people who grouses about today’s music, at least not without hearing it.

I was happily crooning along right from the beginning, thanks to the opening tribute to Aretha Franklin, one of the leaders of my pack, appearing near-svelte in her video, her tunes elegantly delivered by five younger stars who like every female musician on the stage that night owe a debt to Aretha and the other older sisters of rock.

There were always big name women singers, like Billie Holiday and Ella, but in the 1950s and 60s when my generation was discovering our own music, it was more about girl backup groups. They dressed up sparkly and had gorgeous voices but they didn’t get much front and center time until the likes of Diana Ross, Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Tina Turner. And, of course, Sister Aretha, who was the first woman to make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But that didn’t happen until 1987.

I also wanted to check out my other peeps – Bob, Barbra and Mick. I wished the camera had let me see Dylan’s face and that he had played more than three chords on his harmonica, but you have to give him points for always showing up. Barbra’s clear amazing voice soared wonderfully but her mother-of-the-bride dress suffered in a room full of leopard prints and tattooed bottoms. But Mick always makes me proud when he starts to do his rooster moves. You can lip-sync but you cannot body-sync and the boy can still out-strut the best.

I’m grateful for these lasting legends. They’re good p.r. for my demographic.

Spectacle aside, I didn’t see anything revolutionary at the Grammys, although I now will add Esperanza Spalding to my iPod (how hip is that?). Except for new technology, music, pop and otherwise, still comes down to invention, talent and a bit of flash. One generation passes on inspiration to the next. The women wear lots of red lipstick, the guys like black shirts. The product is still called a recording and an album.

And whether we hear it in an ear bud or a portable radio stuck under our pillow, music keeps us going in good or bad times. The day I heard about a friend dying, I put on an old Elton John mix and danced like such a wild thing it made the dog nervous.

My husband mostly ignored the Grammys. At one point he took a look and asked, “Who is this Princess GaGa anyway? Do we have Madonna to credit or blame for this creation.” I explained that she’s no princess, she’s a lady. And actually I think that before we had Madonna we had Cyndi Lauper and Cher to credit or blame for this creation.

Photo: Aretha at Obama inauguration

One More Before She Goes

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011 © by Susan Swartz

Miriam Swartz and I stopped being in-laws 30 years ago when her son and I divorced. But way back then we agreed that was no reason for us to split up. She could have pushed me away because the divorce was my idea. But by then we were more than standard in-laws.  And I was the mother of her only grandchild who, Miriam and I agreed, needed as much consistency as we could provide to weather this family rupture.

Miriam and I also recognized that she and I needed each other. We’d known each other since her son and I dated in high school. She knew my parents.  She always said I was the daughter she always wanted. I always said she was my  second mother. We promised to continue in those roles and sealed our new alliance with a drink, probably something containing vodka, she being of the cocktail generation.

Through the years people would occasionally marvel at how Miriam and I could remain so tight even after her son went his way and I, mine.

But our divorced status was only a technicality, not a barrier.

When I remarried, Miriam came to our wedding party. She automatically added my new husband to her Christmas list along with my two stepdaughters who came with the marriage. From then on every Easter Miriam would show up with three custom-made baskets for all three daughters.

If she loved you, you and yours were in, which is how she managed to start out officially as mother of one and grandmother of one and still end up with a pretty big brood.

After a while we stopped introducing each other as former in-laws and merely said “this is my friend.”  We shared most holidays, her schlepping back and forth between her son’s house and his new family and my house and my new family. Every year we went to the Sing-Along Messiah and screeched out the alto parts together. When my mother got sick with Alzheimer’s, Miriam sat with her and comforted me. When my husband and I moved to Germany Miriam visited and she and her granddaughter and I hopscotched around Europe together.

Miriam died last week at age 90.  I am not named in the official obit because that is not newspaper style but I’m helping to put on a memorial celebration with the family, blood and otherwise. She always hated to leave a good party, saying “I probably should be going,” which is why we’re going to give her one more.

I will make her famous rum cake and do my best interpretation of Miriam telling a joke – smoothing her skirt, crossing her ankles and launching into a salty tale that left her audience gasping.

She did not have a spectacular career. She worked mostly as a bookkeeper. She never made a lot of money but she gave generously and quietly to those in need. She did not have a lot of degrees and affiliations but she was a classy lady and a tough act to follow.

Photo: Miriam, Sam and Susan Swartz