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Florence in Words

Vietnam, Part One

This morning, as I thought about Martin Luther King’s Day, January 16, 2012, I remembered the way I had begun—two months earlier—to write a blog about my trip to Vietnam. At least once a day, and sometimes all day, I couldn’t stop thinking about what the Vietnamese call “the American War,” and the long years of U.S. bombing of this slender piece of land and its resilient people, and also of the U.S. peace movement’s marches, protests, arrests, frustration. I remembered one particularly astonishing moment in Mississippi, during the summer of 1965, when a woman I was interviewing said that the people in Vietnam being bombed were just like her and her folks. “How is that so?” I asked. “They’re colored, too,” she said. “It’s a war against colored.” Read More 
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New Year's Day

Lady Borton and I in Vietnam.
Apologies, apologies, apologies. I ought to fill the page, many pages, with that word. I’ve been silent since early October, perhaps mourning for the loss of that family who stayed with me for a week and then returned to their own life (see blog and photos just below). On November 1, I had to wake up to the realities of two weeks in Vietnam on a schedule that would have tired a teenager. But that’s the way my dear friends, Lady Borton and Nguyen Minh Ha, lead their lives. And I managed, though the journey back—14 hours (from Seoul to New York) sitting upright with leg cramps most of the way, after a five-hour layover and another four-hour flight—sent me to bed for a couple of weeks and the depression returned. Read More 
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End of the Year Letter

Rebecca Seawright, Grandma Alice Jackson holding Kennedy and her new stuffed dog, and Jack Wright, Kennedy's father
Dear Friends:

Yes, I know, I am weeks late with this end-of-the-year letter. What inspired me to write today was coming across last year’s plaintively optimistic letter. I hoped that President Obama would be able to do more, and I hoped that my book would do well and that I would quickly find new forms of productivity.  Read More 
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The Power of Kennedy

I’ve admitted to occasional bouts of depression, assuaged usually by a new mind-moving project, and on occasion by dog-sitting Yoya, a delightful Maltese, whose antics are irrepressibly comic, and whose cuddling warms my heart. Last week, I discovered another possibility—house guests who included a two-year old. Four visitors arrived for a week: daughter Alice, grandson Jack and his wife Maban, and their daughter Kennedy who is several months past two. Kennedy was not a nay-saying two-year-old. Her approach was “let me do it”—from feeding herself to feeding others. Fearless, she fed the largest animals in Central Park’s petting zoo, one food-pebble at a time. And fearless also, she fed Yoya small bits of cheese, and thus won her attention as well as her heart. Read More 
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Cleaning Up

Four members of my chosen family are coming from Mississippi and Kansas to visit for a week: daughter Alice, grandson Jack, his wife, granddaughter Maban, and great-great-granddaughter Kennedy. To get ready, I cleaned closets and sent off to the Hunter College library three boxes of books. And then I turned to the boxes of overflow files for which there was no room in my huge filing cabinets, and which ran the gamut from the early 1960s to 2008—all in a heap. Read More 
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Hurricane, only two days after, and then a few days more…

It’s a blue-sky day as I look out my window and remember the pouring rain and the fear. I couldn’t move the large pots of trees and shrubs into my apartment. And I worried that they might become missiles aimed at my own windows or at my neighbor’s. Don, Jorge, and Jeannette, who happened to be in my apartment , turned the table on my deck upside down and pushed some of the large pots close to the building wall. I took in the light chairs and the empty flower pots. We left the three wooden planters where they were, against the northernmost railings. Read More 
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Jeannette Petras, Creativity in Action

When I first met Jeannette Petras in 2005, I was temporarily the director/publisher and she was working part-time at the Feminist Press, a tall, slim, attractive twenty-something, who spoke with calm energy about what marketing was possible in three days a week. I liked her readiness for laughter as much as I liked her firm sense of order. Between 2004 and 2010, she became the marketing manager at the Feminist Press, directing two junior staff members plus a raft of interns. She was responsible for marketing, sales, inventory (which included paying attention to fast-moving books for reordering), and attending to the website, that ever-growing, hydra-like realm that replaced mass mailings and advertising. For quarterly Board meetings, she produced detailed sales reports that illuminated the kinds of markets books were reaching. Several times during the six years, she was offered jobs that would have paid her far more than she could earn at a non-profit. But she cared about our mission, she said, and felt rewarded by the importance of the books themselves.  Read More 
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Dorothy Sayers, Part Two

So here I am weeks later wondering why I decided to write a blog about Dorothy Sayers in the first place. I think it was the revelation in the biography I happened to find on my bookshelf among the eleven novels: that Sayers had had a child out of wedlock whom she gave to her cousin to rear, without telling her about its parentage. Indeed, the son died without knowing his father. Anyone who has read my memoir will understand my interest, no, my fascination with anyone who could bear a child and then bear to deny motherhood for the child and for herself. As it happened, the young man—we hear from in the volume—seems to have grown into a sensible person, able to understand Sayers’ dilemmas and forgive her.  Read More 
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Wedding Day

Jorge Cao and Don Thomas on their wedding day.
The special Sunday, July 24, 2011, was blistering hot, even before seven in the morning. We stood, near the front of a very long line, for an hour and a half before the doors opened to a loud countdown. Joanne Hanley and I were there as witnesses to the marriage of Don Thomas and Jorge Cao, our friends. While on line, they filled out forms requesting a waiver of the usual waiting period. Reporters and photographers—as numerous as the applicants—helped make the time pass quickly. Their favorite question, “How long have you been together?” Don and Jorge’s “thirty-three years” became their mantra, though they were shy about talking about their courtship beyond Jorge’s saying that “both our families were very supportive.” We were probably 16th or 17th in line, behind a diverse group of women and men of various hues and in various styles of dress, including the comfortable shirts and trousers that Don and Jorge were wearing. Flowers ranged from carnations and roses to lilies and orchids. Several male couples were spectacular in cutaways or formal black suits. I saw several white-gowned woman. Photographers who stopped to speak with Don and Jorge, could not resist photographing two young Asian women, their shining long hair falling down their backs almost to their arms clasped behind them. Read More 
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Why Dorothy Sayers?

I first began to read mysteries as a substitute for scotch which I was using to survive 12-hour days with my mother. Each evening at about seven, I’d flee from the Palm Beach nursing home to the nearest bar and drink two scotches in succession, giving myself a splitting headache and a reason to go to bed at once. So I’d drive the few blocks to my motel, and fall asleep in my clothes, only to wake in the middle of the night, head aching still, and in need of food. Read More 
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