All posts by chris317-ca


susan b anthony
Please contact me if you know who took this photo. I very much want to credit her.




Susan Brownwell Anthony met Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851. They fiercely loved what I got to do today. Neither lived to see women in the U.S. vote, a human right to which they devoted their lives. It was ratified 96 years ago, August 18, 1920,  My grandmother, Amy Mildred Farley Hutchins, born in 1896, was 24 years old.

In my own childhood, I watched the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution fail, watched as state by state failed to ratify it. I remember what that felt like. I was standing in a grocery check-out line and saw the headline, “ERA FAILS” over a photo of a huge, cheering crowd. To say such a national event was not personal is to miss the fact that it was personal, and not only in the feeling of knowing myself as devalued that permeated me as I stood in line next to my mother, a moment against which I have had to fight in my most private self all my life. The failure of the ERA has also meant that each right gained during my lifetime has needed to be fought for separately and most remain permanently at risk: abortion, Title 9, even the right of a woman to wear pants in the workplace. This is the status quo that is embedded in our daughters still, no matter how much contemporary rhetoric suggests that feminism is no longer needed.

Women’s suffrage did not begin with Seneca Falls but has been part of U.S. history as long as the nation has existed. It is not over. Women gained the right to vote in Saudi Arabia only six months ago, in Dec 2015. Even in the U.S., though the right to vote became law in 1920, after the necessary 36 states ratified it, that right was still not ratified in  six states when I was born. Mississippi, the last, ratified women’s right to vote in 1984.

If you have not seen the movie Suffragettes, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is a feature film of relationships and events in the years preceding the women’s vote in England. At the end, as in the movie Selma, there is actual footage of the activists who were beaten en masse, the leaders imprisoned, bound, and force fed.

Voting for Hillary Rodham Clinton as the President of the United States, apart from her being the smartest and most humane among the candidates, is, indeed, “a woman thing.”

Voting today stands among the proud moments of my life.

Suffragettes parade New York City 1917. They are carrying the signatures of more than one million women


The Rough Places Plain: On Handel’s Messiah, Total Knee Replacement, and the Affordable Care Act

Today is Christmas Eve, 2015. Last week I spent an evening poured through by the holiness of George Frederick Handel’s oratorio, The Messiah, gift of a mature composer, of musicians of the San Francisco Symphony, Chorus, and the soloists, of the gathered listening, an audience intensifying the experience, and of my father’s gone baritone, setting this oratorio ever alive in me. The announcement with which the oratorio begins is from Isaiah 40, which is among my most favorite of biblical passages:
“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people… The voice of one cries in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way…, make straight in the desert a highway…
“Ev’ry valley shall be exalted, and ev’ry mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.”
This lyric holds a phrase that long has rankled me in my queer-embodied life and social-critiquing commitments, yet this year I hear it so differently. “The crooked made straight” has become not a quelling of a humanity and world wildly diverse but the gift that lives in my body and enables me to walk again and for the years to come.
I have a new knee.
I also love how Handel, as he does throughout this oratorio, makes audible the vivid images, textures and brings them fully alive. Images are no longer metaphors but voiced, toned, harmonized into a common experience, hugely resonant. The melody of this first Air begins with a valley, very low pitched and suddenly exalted, leaping high. The mountains, risen clean and majestic, then slope down in pitch. In my imagination I watch the greening of the world. What was distant is come close. And then that melody, sung by a tenor with the energetic, staccato-bowing string sections, becomes all crooked and jagged, until finally it shakes itself into a smooth, long-held note, “plain,” sung and shared by the whole orchestra.
The knee is a gift of the taxpayers.  After decades of often severe pain and increasing deformity, falling again and again, my leg would no longer hold me. The surgery would have been impossible without my Obamacare/Covered California health insurance. The Affordable Care Act* is aptly named. It is a tangible way we care for each other, and I have experienced the magnitude of that care. This public care is come close, into my own body, not as a metaphor but in my actual and most intimate motion. The knee and my newly straightened and strengthening limb is also a gift of Dr. David Seidman’s exactitude, of Kaiser nurses, anesthesiologists, PAs and PTs, and of loved ones who have fed, accompanied, soothed, advocated, and cared for me exquisitely in the bodily vulnerable year I have lived.
“The rough places plain.” This gift lives in my body. I walk and am brought to tears with the ceaseless joy of it.
Thank you, President Obama. Thank you, all of you.
*Prior to the ACA, I carried a minimal insurance plan, with low total cap on coverage and an immense deductible, which, as a low-income, non-benefited professor in higher education, nonetheless took one third of my income. The ACA also allowed me to disclose to healthcare providers an obviously preexisting condition, my increasing limitation and never-absent pain , without being refused coverage. Out of a constant fear of losing all access, instead of asking for healthcare, I had worked to hide my need. The ACA’s other prong legislates as illegal the refusal to insure, due to any preexisting condition, anyone in the U.S.
 This isn’t an x-ray of my knee, but mine looks like this!


My Hermes Rocket: The Craft of Manual Typewriting

“I type poems, the first draft, and many that follow, on my Hermes Rocket or, sometimes, on an Olivetti 22. I am fond of a well-working typewriter in the way I esteem a good piano, as an instrument for making music. I need the muscular effort of pressing keys that lift to imprint a sheet of paper and then fall down again. I draw on the rhythms of my typing to guide the poem, while it decides its beatsChristina in San Miguel Allende per line and the size of  its stanzas, if there are any. I value having to retype the entire poem with each draft. When the whole piece moves through me afresh with each set of changes,  unforeseen shifts occur.”

“Most of all, the typewriter sometimes lets me leave the line I’m typing behind, before I reach its end, so I am chanting, often aloud, one line ahead of myself. It’s something I’ve never been able to do while working on a computer. The temporal alteration of making has something to do with not being able to see the line while I’m actually typing it, because the paper guide covers most of it. This frees my psyche for a mysterious constellating process by which complex images, felt language, and associative leaps become inseparable as they move.”