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Florence in Words

End-of-Year Letter for 2016

For at least two decades I have been writing an end-of-year letter and sending it out via e-mail to friends around the world, including especially the African friends who worked on our four huge Feminist Press anthologies, Women Writing Africa. I am also going to post the letter this year on my website (

Let me say, first, that I had hoped this letter would celebrate Hillary Clinton’s victory as feminist, humanist, and an experienced internationalist. Some of you who will read this were present in the Chinese auditorium two decades ago, as I was, when Hillary spoke that famous sentence: “Women’s rights are human rights; and human rights are women’s rights.” So our work will have to continue, and I am certain that Hillary will be on the front lines of that work.

My personal news is mixed. I continue to miss my active life of walking and swimming, not to mention travelling. Despite a dozen doctors I have seen, there is no real diagnosis, but only placebos, some of which have back-fired and been therefore abandoned. Right now I am counting on rehab and a clever, hands-on therapist to strengthen my right leg so that I might be able to walk with only a cane again. But I want distant friends to know that I remain in my own apartment, and I have made various adjustments so that I can be independent.

I write a journal every day which goes into a folder. And once a week or at least three times a month I write a blog which is posted on my website that I continue to maintain, with the help of Jen Petras, my dear Ohio friend. Writing keeps me sane, I think, and it is, as for many people, one way to work out their depression. I’ve also been writing poems, some of which I may decide to post on the blog as well.

What else do I do (aside from seeing doctors)? I go to the opera and to theatre, usually with Helene Goldfarb, occasionally also with friends Shirley Mow, Elyse Hilton, Don Thomas, Jorge Cao. Elyse also visits to talk literature and to help me walk when the weather permits. AnnJ looks after my needs in certain magical ways, and she visits frequently, given that she lives in Washington, D.C.

The most striking family news is that granddaughter Dr. Florence Wright, named after me, moved to Los Angeles almost a year ago and was married last week to Jason Neville, a Louisiana-bred city planner who works for the mayor. Other family members continue to thrive in Kansas, Mississippi, D.C., and even Brooklyn, though except for AnnJ, I see them rarely.

What do I do aside from entertainment? I sit on four Boards, though I am not as active as I used to be. I still long for real work, though I am also a realist about its disappearance from my life. Occasionally, I have proofread or copyedited for the Feminist Press. I am very proud of the fact that six books published by the Press have had favorable reviews in the New York Times this year.

Finally, perhaps you are wondering how I manage being alone at 87. What do I do that gives me pleasure? Sometimes great pleasure? It’s reading and writing, of course. A good movie sometimes—I saw Rainman last night here in my study. A good play—Heidigger, which I’ve seen twice, was excellent, as was Master Harold and the Boys. As for books, the list would be too long for this letter. I continue to be a fan of Kazuo Ishiguro, have read all his books.

And yes, there is the writing. Why don’t I get on with it? Why do I write only journals and blogs? It’s like asking the question about the election: why were so many people taken in by a fast-talking, know-nothing egomaniac (and these are kind words for the man)? There are many answers to these questions, mostly not heroic but mundane. The best I can do today is to say what my favorite diva sings, “I’m still here.”

Finally, I want to dedicate this blog to the little dog who kept me company when Don and Jorge travelled. Yoya died at ten of heart disease. The happiest, sweetest bundle of fur just keeled over upstairs, after a walk. She has been replaced—yes, it’s possible with pooches—by Fefa, hardly six months old. I know you will like the photos of Yoya.  Read More 
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Deep Depression

Like you, I have been sleepless and numb, without appetite for food or news. When I’m at the computer, I can edge out only a few lines of Journal, not even half a page. And I say nothing worth remembering. So I am trying today, in the last hour before I have to leave to meet Helene for dinner at a restaurant called “Lincoln,” before seeing Manon Lescaut, an opera by Puccini, part of our annual series. It’s a tragic love story, like most opera, and I don’t think it’s been done often. At least I’m sure I never have seen/heard it.

So yes, as people say, “I do get out of the house.” But not joyously, not with any expectations that the experience will “help.” There is no “help” in sight for at least two years, if not four. And the weight of what has just happened to U.S. politics is crushing, at least for me, and perhaps it’s that I’m so old, so old, that there is little fight left in me for what has to be done. My grandchild—the youngest one of them, still in her twenties—has already been in demonstrations, and plans to attend the huge rally in D.C. in January. I’m glad to know that, and sad that my days for such actions have passed, and that this generation will have to fight all over again for what we thought we had won for them.

So, yes, I’ve written more than one paragraph, and I seem able to keep going. What to say for comfort? Thanksgiving is three days away, and we must give thanks for the eight years of President Obama and for his recent vow to pitch in during the next four years. And I am sure that Hillary will also do her part. Perhaps they and Bernie and others in the Senate will be able to diminish the power of the Republicans at the two-year point.

I am looking at bursts of sunlight lighting up a cloud-filled dark sky. An omen? A wish for an omen. Please tell me good news. I want to see Angelica Merkel reelected. Am I losing it?

Ellen Bass’s poem she sent out recently is called “Any Common Desolation.” There was a bit of comfort in it for me. Perhaps for you too.

Any Common Desolation
can be enough to make you look up
at the yellowed leaves of the apple tree, the few
that survived the rains and frost, shot
with late afternoon sun. They glow a deep
orange-gold against a blue so sheer, a single bird
would rip it like silk. You may have to break
your heart, but it isn’t nothing
to know even one moment alive. The sound
of an oar in an oarlock or a ruminant
animal tearing grass. The smell of grated ginger.
The ruby neon of the liquor store sign.
Warm socks. You remember your mother,
her precision a ceremony, as she gathered
the white cotton, slipped it over your toes,
drew up the heel, turned the cuff. A breath
can uncoil as you walk across your own muddy yard,
the big dipper pouring night down over you, and everything
you dread, all you can’t bear, dissolves
and, like a needle slipped into your vein—
that sudden rush of the world.

Ellen Bass Read More 
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Depression Gone Swimming and Politics

This has been the shortest span of depression I can remember, and though I don’t feel completely free, I recognized the moment when the depression began to slip away. Paul Pombo was here, to deliver my tax return, and, yes, that had something to do with the relief I felt physically, especially since he coupled his remark that I don’t owe anything with another that I ought to go to Mallorca. And as if that were not enough, my daughter Alice Jackson called soon after Paul left to tell me that she’d booked us into a resort in Florida (formerly a navy base, since Alice was once in the navy) for a week in May. “You need to get out of New York’s weather for a bit,” she said.

So is that the solution? Movement? Or is it the water promised, the swimming and the snorkeling? And what does it all mean? Or is asking for meaning a waste of one’s energies? Why not just learn to live and enjoy the act of living, yes, despite infirmities, limitations, and the loss of independence and especially the loss of being able-bodied. Would that I could. Would that I were physically stronger, even as I was two or three years ago before the knee surgery and all that followed it.

I’ve left out for the moment my metaphysical connections to the world and so let me comment on what I did Sunday and review what the day’s politics have to do with my depression. I attended a fine panel of political commentators gathered together at Roosevelt House by the Board of the Hunter College High School Alumni Association (on which I sit as secretary). They were all our own alumni—graduates from classes mainly in the 1990s: two people from the New York Times, Ian Trontz and Aaron Retica, who was a brilliant chair of the panel; Amy Davidson of the New Yorker; Jamal Greene, professor of law at Columbia University; and perhaps the best known, Chris Hayes of MSNBC. (A niggling point I will mention only is that of attire: the token woman and the token Black professor were dressed formally. The three white men might have just gotten out of bed to romp with their kids in a park. So nothing has changed in that regard: women and blacks are still expected to show up looking appropriate. White menfolks can arrive in any condition and they are accepted for the brilliant light they shine.)

And I’m not taking anything away from them: the panelists were all fine. The chair was particularly effective; Amy Davidson and Chris Hayes talked the most. And Ian and Jamal were called on for their particular expertise. And there was much talk about the impact of “movements” upon the “rules” of the two political parties, especially with regard to decisions about whether they were “free” or “locked in,” and how an electorate might respond to unseating Trump, for example, or to seating Clinton rather than Sanders.

On the other hand, I was not easy with the discussion about young women choosing Sanders over Clinton, saying that gender had nothing to do with their choice. More important, I was more than annoyed by several in the audience emphasizing that Hillary Clinton was not the “last chance” for a woman to lead this country, that Elizabeth Warren “could get a nomination in a second,” and that there were more than a dozen women in the senate with more experience and acumen than Cruz, or even than Obama had eight years ago.

All this makes me very sad. I wish I could say “energized” and ready to go work for Hillary’s election. I am convinced intellectually and emotionally that we need Hillary Clinton now, and that there is no one who combines her quality of experience, knowledge, and heart. And she clearly has the energy for the job. I would not call Bernie Sanders a windbag, though his speeches are by now tedious repetitions that anyone could offer. But he’s had no experience that matches hers not only in foreign affairs, but in the politics of a large state like New York, and in spending eight years in the White House working on many issues including health care. Nor can I see him moving his pie-in-the-sky promises into bills that would pass Congress.

I am sorry I didn’t get to say this, but I say it here: We’d be fools not to use the competence and knowledge and heart of Hillary Clinton right now. Yes, other women will follow her, but there is only Hillary right now.
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Mindless Politics?

I watched the Republican debate last night and was appalled or mystified by the crowd, and not only because of the comic central (who was placed in the center) who seemed to be saying that he was going to run separately if the Republicans didn’t choose him as their candidate. He really does have delusions: thinks he can beat Hillary as well as any (or all) of the Republicans. How does a person get to live in such a delusionary world? Is it an illness?

The others were somewhat in awe of him, if not seemingly frightened. He is, of course, a bully, and they all understand the power of money. He seemed to indicate that he has contributed funds to most if not all of them, and his tone towards them was generally scornful. I wonder how many people, ordinary people like me, see him as a bully, a delusionary bully. He does have money and in this culture money is power. He also seems devoid of normal kindness, even towards those with less or no power, less or no money. His normal demeanor is scornful. Those who have less are weak; they are fools.

And the audience? They seemed with him, but I am hoping that someone has listened even more carefully than I, and that someone had had access to faces in the audience after some of the ugly things were being said. I hope someone is analyzing this, and that that person will tell us about the crowd’s response to him. Rachel Madow: are you listening?

As for the others on stage, the two sanest seemed to me to be the former governor of Florida and the current governor of Ohio. Jeb Bush stuck to his views on immigration; and John Kasich offered a vignette about attending a same-sex wedding, saying that, apart from human kindness, such weddings had become the law of the land. They seemed to this 86-year old political junky to be the only ones able to joust with Hillary. They’ve not had her international experience, nor her eight years in the White House. But they can brag about their hands-on management of state bureaucracies.  Read More 
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End of (Another) Year Letter

Dear Friends:

Had I written this a month ago, or even a week ago, it might have been cheerful. But after still another murderously deranged young man, it’s hard to write even a sentence that does not contain a scream. What kind of society breeds, even fosters, such behavior? What kind of world allows the mother of a 20-year-old who did the killing to own three or four guns, at least one of them an automatic capable of shooting a roomful of people multiple times without reloading?  Read More 
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