Just past dawn…

Sept. 11, 2021

Fastwrite this morning. Still dark outside.

A devastating day, a devastating sight/site. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. And yet, other countries experience this all the time: senseless violence on their own soil. We’ve had Pearl Harbor and 9/11—and the rest was mostly internal destruction (the Civil War) or against native peoples (a holocaust), or the slaughter of Black people, minorities, and—always—women.

Is it all the fault of men?

I rather think so. Sorry, guys, It seems to be your nature, not ours. (If that makes you uncomfortable, think of it as an archetype: the “unconscious masculine.” There’s an “unconscious feminine,” also. We all have both.)

Because really: Why would women destroy anything? Then we’d have to clean up the mess, and we have too many other things to do to take care of our families, our communities, Mother Earth.

The warped male territorial battle is now played out with sophisticated rocks and sticks and sharp objects. Having lost the lesson of curbing their mating habits when resources are scarce, their progeny are imposed upon women and consuming the Earth. For those who resist, there is violence and an ever-growing presence of oppression (let’s talk Texas). Our sin, as women, being our ongoing acceptance of this state, too many of us lucky enough to be sheltered by it not motivated enough to change it.

I always said we should have dropped diapers, not bombs, on Afghanistan’s hills. Heal the hunger, heal the pain; the warlords have no psychological basis for battle. No excuse for painting America the enemy. I never, never, never supported our response to 9/11. Ever. And I was right.

Kindness, and curiosity, and a decreased dependence on fossil fuel could have been our legacy instead. Environmental conservation, increased compassion, greater cultural understanding.

But no. Hundreds of thousands of people dead and maimed, and it was literally all for nothing. A 20-year garden that could have been planted with the common good was turned into vast destruction that further undermined everyone’s freedom, everywhere, including yours, and including mine.

The current divisiveness of our country, our false patriotism, showed up for me not long ago in the form of an older white woman who glared at me for a full five minutes in an opera house in Cincinnati when I refused to sing the national anthem on that random Sunday—an imposed nationalism for no particular reason that I refused to cater to. At a football game? Sure? I used to sing with the loudest of them, hand over heart, tears in my eyes—but in an opera house? No, thanks. Remember, freedom of speech includes silence, also.

Of course, now that I know that Francis Scott Key did not believe that Black people could actually feel pain, I’ve lost respect for the song itself. Take a knee? I’ll take a time out. We need to find a new song.

Who knew that democracy could be so easily attacked—in the form of a plane flying into a building or in the eyes of an aggressive white woman inside an opera house? The fact is, we are ALL under attack right now, our freedom and our integrity—yours, and mine.

But there IS another way to respond than with war. Until now, we’ve been taught that there is only one response to conflict: fight, flight, or freeze. This response was documented by a male behavioralist in the 1930s after he studied ONLY men (women were considered too emotional due to our hormones, apparently.)

Turns out there’s another response, documented by a TEAM of men AND women in the 1990s, and it’s called the “Tend and Befriend” response. These scientists, who included men AND women in their studies, found that those darn hormones were actually a major asset in conflict. Here’s why.

Since women often have children to care for, they cannot run. So instead, they gather the children to their bosom while reaching out for support to community members. This releases the powerful hormone oxytocin (and others), flooding them with feelings of care and compassion. This helps resolve the conflict and solve the problem at hand. In other words, they are saved by love.


If only, in this new century, we could begin to use that model instead, to understand that essential truth found in every religion: that Love is ALWAYS the answer. Always.


In the garden.

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Love in the Time of the Coronavirus

River walk

March 25, 2020 after an early-morning walk
(with a nod to Gabriel García Márquez)

I remember reading Gabriel García Márquez when I lived in Portugal. I was introduced to him by my erudite roommate, Michelle. A dreamlike state pervaded the pages of his books and my life at the time. It all seemed a bit surreal.

Likewise, today is a surreal time.

I am here, isolating, alone in my house in Florida, waking up concerned: both my daughter and son are in New York City, the epicenter of the virus right now in the United States. My sister and her family are there, too.

I’m scared. My son last went to work on Friday; we are at least a week away from knowing, for certain, that he does not have the virus. My daughter has been home from work for a week and two days, but she’s been to the grocery store. My niece just arrived home from

a gap year in Spain. Where might that nasty germ be hiding itself in this world?

I’m also worried about my 90-year-old father, alone in an independent senior living facility, having meals delivered to his door. What if I never see him again? When you die of Covid-19, you die alone, the paper said. So matter-of-fact. I insisted we order him a webcam, even though the prices had skyrocketed. Yes, I can call him on the phone, but he’s got a dumb phone, and it’s so hard to hear him with muffled distortion. I need to see his face.

I was thinking about this as I walked down the street
this morning at sunrise, black coffee in hand, my new tradition. I wanted to see the sun rise over the river.
Nature does what it does, unperturbed at my plight,
our plight. We are all in this situation together, in
this story together, in this “love in the time of the coronavirus” together.

We suddenly find ourselves at war, not against
each other, but against a different kind of disaster: disconnection. The only way to survive is to protect each other, not harm each other. We are dependent on one thing and one thing alone: Love. Love for each other. The question is, can we love each other enough to keep each other safe? Can we maintain the discipline of social distancing, washing hands, and wearing masks because it could keep somebody else alive?

I am seeing more people on my morning walks these days. I step aside when we pass each other on the sidewalk, maintaining six feet because I care. I do
care. I did not even pet my favorite dog this morning. Animals are at risk too. In fact, this pandemic may well have started with wild animals we exploited. Animals we should have left alone, in intact forests, but instead bought and sold and trafficked for greed, profit, status.

We should have left the wild places wild. We should have let the wild things stay wild.

This is a reckoning, a correction to our collective trajectory. This is Mother Nature sending us to our rooms and saying, “Stay there and think about what you’ve done!”

We are humbled by this disease, all our usual defenses useless. War is not the solution. Business is not the solution. Power is not the solution. The only solution is empathy. Acknowledging that we are all indeed connected and responsible to each other.

Right now, we need leaders who will lead with love, empathy, and care for each other. Not ones who will divide us and teach us to hate each other. We need to stay away from each other because we love each other, not hate each other. We need to lead by example and keep loving each other. It is the only way to save each other.

Here. In the garden.

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Dancing with the Cranes


“We did not ask for this room or this music; we were invited in. Therefore, because the dark surrounds us, let us turn our faces toward the light. Let us endure hardship to be grateful for plenty…. We did not ask for this room or this music. But because we are here, let us dance.”

—Stephen King and Bridget Carpenter

Dancing with the Cranes

Fastwrite, March 28: Heart of the Matter writing circle

Prompt: What keeps you from dancing every day and, if you want to, how might you change that?

I’m reminded of the Nebraska sandhill cranes that a friend has been writing about.

The cranes dance, and no one knows why, she said.

She’s filmed them when they arrive in Nebraska as part of their migration, the river flats and fields suiting them perfectly as they make their way north to Canada.

I saw two sandhills cranes once, up close; heard their strange call, saw them dancing, awkwardly, together. It was in Tampa, on the banks of the Hillsborough River, which ran outside my front door in those days.

Funny, now, to think that I was up close to another river there, but undervalued it. And I was so close to the birds, not knowing how obsessed I would later become with them.

I did recognize, at the time I saw those cranes, that this was a special moment—a gift I did not fully understand. It woke up something in me; something stirred, a seed was planted.

I loved loved loved the rivers in Tampa, the deep woods nearby, the profoundly beautiful swamp available to me right from our front yard. It was riddled with pop-eyed alligators with only noses and eyeballs above the water or sunning themselves on the banks, amidst blue herons and white egrets, hiding in plain sight under huge overhanging branches and between cypress tree roots. On higher ground, my favorite sight was the fields of palmettos under tall loblolly pines swaying across the sky just like Lois Lenski drew them in Strawbettery Girl.

I miss that time, of dancing cranes, hanging moss, and dark, still waters. Such richness I knew to love but did not know how.

So maybe the cranes are calling me now, asking me to go dance with them—to follow my passions, to stay close to the river, and yet, find safe ground for myself.

In the time of the coronavirus.

Reflection: The only thing that keeps me from dancing is remembering how important it is to do so.


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Fast Write, 5 a.m.: Threads

Putting on an art show in my home is a bit like being on the RAP Home Tour. Twice a year. Every year. Forever.

It’s so much work!

I remember the second year I was living here in Riverside in this historic cottage and I got a call from Joy French Walker asking, Would I be on the RAP Home Tour?

I’m not ready, I said! How bout next year?
How about this year? she asked, gently.
OK, fine. Let’s do it.

Secretly, of course, I was thrilled. But then the work began: Transform the She Shed! (thanks, Dianne). Replant the garden! (Thanks, Sven and Leslie). Powerwash the driveway and touch up all the trim! (Thanks, Anthony!) Drywall the hole in the SHeShed ceiling. Order flower arrangements. Clean out the closets. Hang a new live wreath of succulents on the front door because I wanted the fresh flowers vibe.

Plus I wanted to upgrade my art. So I asked Mindy Hawkins to help, who provided her own art and art from other artists. And I asked artist Carol Rothwalk Winner to sell her fun wordplay pieces (which people apparently loved). I got a taste of what it’s like to have an art show in my home, and I liked it.

Then Dad got sick.

So I couldn’t be there. Not to attend the preview parties. Not to view the other houses. Not to meet 2,500 of my new best friends as they toured my house and She Shed.
But I did get to see my Dad go from Death’s door to a miraculous recovery under the diligent care of my two sisters, Ruth Anne and Liz, and myself. Thank you, dear sisters!

Growing up on a farm, my sisters and I lived in the middle of a laboratory experiment, 24/7/365. We often did six impossible things before breakfast. Light the coal fire in the kitchen in the unheated farmhouse. Feed the orphan lambs stashed in the house during deep winter and clean up the urine puddles they left on the kitchen floor. Walk up the snowbound lane in knee highs and a short skirt, carrying a French horn.

Yes, that is all true.

My mother, the consummate teacher but also the consummate learner, was always trying something new— long before anyone else was doing it. Organic farming. A CSA. Farmer’s markets and fabric arts. Spinning, weaving, and shearing the sheep at the huge Pittsburgh Arts Festival, where I learned to be a bit of a barker and we taught the crowds the business of making art out of life on a farm.

I both hated it and loved it.

So now it seems I’ve followed the thread and turned my Riverside home into some sort of laboratory, a platform for community voices, an experimental garden of sorts, an ongoing project of limited resources and unlimited dreams—albeit on a smaller footprint than 148 acres of rolling hills in Western Pennsylvania.

And it’s not unlike my years as a journalist: Impossible deadlines. Constant work to do better. Lack of a personal life! Though, fortunately, I don’t find myself sleeping on the production floor with a newspaper over me, as I did in my start-up magazine days! (remember, Foster Barnes Jr?)

And then there’s imposter syndrome. I sure hope the brilliant Hope McMath does not think I compare myself to her in any way, seeing her only as teacher and mentor for this work of building a more conscious community through the power of art, writing, and human connection!)

But as I stare down this last week before my next art show, BLOOMS, opens Friday at 6 p.m., I’m thinking of all the impossible things and hoping my mother would approve—and that I don’t burn out myself or anyone else with my creative desire to do more, be more, learn more, teach more, write more, talk more.

It’s just that the risk seems important.

In the garden.

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Matthew Dug a Hole


I wanted to bury Buster in the backyard, in the garden. Matthew agreed. When I came home that afternoon, he reported he had found the perfect spot. It was under the palm tree, just beyond the outer circle of the patio. I concurred; it was perfect.

Last summer, I was working with my handyman on a project to dig a trench around the house, and I asked Matt to help. At 21 years old, he was reluctant. He didn’t want to get up early. He didn’t want to deal with the roots. He didn’t want to push through and do the job properly. I was chagrined.

So when I asked him to dig a hole for Buster’s grave so we could have a little funeral, I was doubtful, but I left him alone. I hurried to prepare the program before my friend and her daughter arrived for the service. The daughter, Avery, arrived first with a plate of cookies and a pot of flowers. I checked on Matt and saw he was still struggling with the landscape cloth and the thick roots underneath it. Concerned with finishing my own work, however, I again left him alone, just asking him to dig a second hole for the flowers.

Finally, I was ready with my one-page program, a mix of quotes and a sweet poem written by a writing circle friend. My plan was to ask Avery to hold the flowers and Beth to hold the candle; I would hold the ukulele, and Matt would hold Buster. But I worried; would the hole be deep enough? Had Matt properly completed the job?

Checking one last time, I looked into the hole, which was next to a large pile of dirt. It was perfect. Deep, narrow, just the right size, in just the right spot. I was gratified. Asking more of Matthew, I said, “Would you please go get Buster?” Buster had been lying in state in his doggy bed upstairs, and Matthew brought him down, wrapped him in a blue towel, with just his ears sticking out. We proceeded to the backyard, with Matthew in front, gravedigger and pallbearer all at once.

So we lit the candle, sang Amazing Grace, read the poem, and kissed Buster’s ears one final time. We laid Buster in his grave. Then we went inside and left Matthew to finish the job while the candle burned in the soft falling darkness.

Later, I checked on Buster a final time. The candle was still lit and glowing in the dark, and the hole was neatly filled in. I saw that Matt had left a handprint in the soft dirt, his own loving touch.

I could ask no more of him. He had done what I asked him to do, and then, he did more. Matthew dug a hole, and he filled it in, his own particular way. Such is the everyday grace, the amazing grace, of being lost, then found.

In the garden.

In memory of our beloved Buster, February 5, 2002 to October 10, 2018. 



I can see you standing
then sitting again.
your spindly ballerina legs
as you seek
a comfortable nook.

I can feel your bony little
frame pressed
snug against
my thigh.
Warming the
cushion (and my heart)
you patter away.

I can hear your paws,
along wood floors
and closed
dainty requests for
treats or
garden expeditions.

You precious, jaunty
thing. Bringing
smiles to the
circle, while
reminding us
to keep our perimeters
open to the few true
gentlemen among us.

—Jenny Anderson
Member of our writing circle

Read the previous post on Buster…

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Where I’m From: Writing On the Theme of Home


Selling lamb kabobs at the Farmer’s Market with my mother in Western Pennsylvania circa 1983.

“The place I lived as a child, the sharecropper’s farmhouse with its wind-bent mulberry trees and rusted farm machinery has completely vanished. Now there’s nothing but plowed fields for miles in any direction. When I asked around in town no one remembered the family. No way to verify my story. In fact, there’s no evidence that any of what I remember actually happened,
or that the people I knew ever existed.
— Louis Jenkin

This summer, at the Community Transition Center where I write weekly with incarcerated women, we are focusing on the theme of “Home,” as in, “coming home to ourselves.”  This Friday we wrote poems based on the structure of a beautiful poem titled, “Where I’m From,” by George Ella Lyonwhich begins:

“I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush,
the Dutch elm
whose long gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.”
—excerpt, Where I’m From, by Geroge Ella Lyon

This poem, by the way, has started a movement that you can read more about here. We carried on that movement by writing our own poems as we sat in the circle on Friday morning in a very cold classroom on Catherine Street with eight women. Below is my version of it. (If you want to read their versions, stay tuned for our mini-anthology to be published soon as a fund-raiser to keep supporting our work at the CTC!)

Where I’m From

I am from percolators and coffee cups, 
From Maxwell House and Spic and Span.
I am from the farmhouse and the fruit cellar
(Dusty, shelves filled with canned peaches,
the dirt floor squeaked under our rubber boots.)

I am from purple irises,
and climbing roses,
mock orange blossoms and frothy forsythias,
planted long ago around the house,
a gift each spring from a stranger.

I’m from Cuban bread and homemade apple pie,
     From Rose and Dolores, Robert and Edith
I’m from playing with puns at the table
     and having an opinion about absolutely everything.

From make hay while the sun shines
and get off the phone!
from you’se not fat you’re fluffy and
hoooooooome, sheep!
     I’m from small-town liberals
     gathered in a mining town
     singing For The Beauty of the Earth.

I’m from Wyano and West Newton,
roasted lamb and homemade spaghetti sauce
     From the little boy who delivered groceries
     in his wagon for 25 cents,
     The girl who read books under her desk, hidden from the nuns.

In a stash of vintage slides brought to life
relics of another era:
Hospitality, beauty, conversation
cultivated intentionally,
seeds planted that
still shape
my life.


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Dear America: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?


“Love is at the root of everything — all learning, all parenting, all relationships.
Love or the lack of it. And what we see and hear on the screen
is part of who we become.”
—Fred Rogers

Dear America:

I wish we could be kinder to one another.

Growing up as I did, under the influence of my Pittsburgh “neighbor” Fred Rogers (and lots of storybooks), I did always believe we were “the good guys.”

In my mind’s eye, I saw the American soldiers coming to free the Jews in the Nazi concentration camps. Square-jawed, fresh-faced, tall and healthy, they were shocked by what they saw there, and earnestly went to work to help them, to free them, to feed them. I saw them holding emaciated bodies in their arms, giving them soup, and kindness, and love.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was my World War II hero, and Eleanor Roosevelt (my namesake) was my model of the enlightened national cultural leader. He created the New Deal for Americans, one that protected them from the dire poverty of the Depression with Social Security (think about that phrase) and Medicare. He wanted to ensure that no one would starve here in our own country due to extreme poverty or age or poor health.  Not on his watch.

Then Eleanor served as the first Ambassador to the new United Nations and was named the chairman of its Commission on Human Rights, relentlessly pursuing the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by all countries until it was done. She helped forge an agreement around the world, an agreement joining all nations to work together toward peace and justice for all so that the destruction and savagery of World War II might never happen again.

The phrase, “Lock her up” to me means, lock up love. Lock up the mother.  Lock up kindness and nurturing and goodness. And then throw away the key.

Today, however, I find it painful to acknowledge that some of my own friends, neighbors, old classmates, and even relatives have elected a president and therefore an administration that, to me, is the anti-FDR, the anti-Eleanor, the anti-Mr. Rogers. These leaders are not kind, nor loving, nor compassionate in any way.

Instead, under the guise of “we need strong leadership,” and while watching the hyperbolic prat of TV screen pundits, they are able to justify, or ignore, or perhaps even secretly support:

  • taking babies away from their mothers seeking asylum at our borders
  • the United States not only not paying our fair share of the dues we owe to the United Nations, but actually withdrawing from U.N. Human Rights Council
  • the relentless pursuit of dismantling and undermining of every civil and environmental and human rights advancement we’ve made in the past 50 years

But of course, the truth is even uglier than that. Turns out that we never really were the good guys. We built this country by enslaving and exploiting our First Nation peoples, African-Americans, immigrants, and, for certain, women and children. We’ve been separating children from their mothers throughout our history. Today we do this mostly through our privatized prisons, which have been shown to do more harm than good for mothers and their children. ICE, in my opinion, is just another form of this idea that “locking people up” is some kind of real solution. The phrase, “Lock her up” to me means, lock up love. Lock up the mother.  Lock up kindness and nurturing and goodness. And then throw away the key.

I watched the story of Fred Rogers last night in the movie “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” My God.  He is the antidote we need in this world! He represents the enlightened male, the nurturing, kind man, the spiritual leader we need. He is the feminine side of man, and, yes, he was berated and even hated for that. After a lifetime of ministry to children and America, he had done so much good in the world.  But by the end, after 9-11 and the vitriolic hyper-patriotism that followed, he wondered, did he make any difference at all?

Today, on this Fourth of July holiday, as I reflect on this anti-woman, anti-mother, anti-father, anti-nature, anti-immigrant, anti-kindness, anti-love state of our country,  I must ask, America, seriously, Will you admit this is unjust?  Will you admit that we can’t go on like this? Will you at LEAST support greater compassion for the people asking for asylum at our border?

Will you be the great nation I thought you were?

Seriously, why can’t be good neighbors? Why not work to create a place of safety for all of us? A “neighborhood” based on love and all the possibilities of what we can create together, not fear of losing what we have? After all, despite our dark past, I do believe this is what actually made America great.

The question we face now is, who DO we want to become?

If nothing else this Fourth of July, I hope that you will—that we all will—make a commitment to greater compassion and love when we go to the voting booth this fall. Especially if you are a mother or a father, I ask that you remember this: Our children, our little children, are depending on you.  I hope you will show them the way of love and kindness for all, as Mr. Rogers did.

In the American garden.

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Garden Report

This morning, I walked outside my front door at 6:45 a.m. with my coffee in hand and was pleased to hear a Great Crested Flycatcher calling out nearby.  I sat down on my steps and listened, sipping while scanning the tree branches around me. Suddenly I spotted her moving in the highest branches of the camphor tree across the street. When she landed on a bare branch directly in front of me, as if to invite me to take a look, I finally grabbed my binoculars from just inside the front door. Catching her in the viewfinder, I followed her for a few minutes while she darted about. I saw a flash of her lemon yellow belly as she flew over me and then a clear view of her, the light directly on her, perching on the oak tree next door, cocking her head, looking at me.

And then she was gone.

Photo credit: Great Crested Flycatcher photo by Joe Noordman on UglyHedghog.com

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Morning Coffee


“Two phoebes flit from tree to eave to tree
Feeding the tyrant nestlings you can’t see”
—Judith Moffett, in her poem Grace

Morning Coffee

I do love waking up in a convent. The single beds, the monastic minimalism, the cheerful quilted bedspread that brings women’s work into the room. A sacred space.

I drink my coffee outside, early, despite the drizzling rain. I find a spot under the fire escape and I’m able to stay dry while watching the activity of the birds in the lush green gardens around me. Only a mosquito finding soft flesh on my coffee-cup-holding hand disturbs my peace, momentarily.

The coolness of mornings in the summer up North seem to last longer. In Florida, by 8 a.m. the heat can already be overbearing. So I luxuriate in the coolness of the day, enhanced by grey skies, low-hanging clouds, and light rain. It just makes all the green around me look even more lush.

I hear the insistent calls of those tiny “tyrants,” baby mockingbirds, calling out around me: “Feed me, pleeeease, pleeeese, pleeeese, feed me.” A constant noise in the early days of summer.

Life is calling! Feed me!
So off I go, for a run with a friend.

In the garden.

—At the Transfiguration Spirituality Center in Glendale, Ohio, on retreat with Women Writing for (a) Change facilitators.

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How Mystics are Born

May 5, 2018

At the Judy Chicago Exhibit, The Dinner Table, in the Brooklyn Museum

I felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke free on the open sky.
—from the poem Poetry, by Pablo Neruda

I noticed her and her mother walking alongside the triangle table, talking. A pixie-sized girl with straight brown hair, she looked to be about four or five. Her mother was carefully explaining each name listed on the cloth at each place setting: “Kali, a Goddess; Sophia, a real person.” The daughter seemed entranced and was listening carefully, asking questions as they went. I was surprised she had such a sustained interest. By the time they got to the middle of the second side, I made up my mind to give them the little booklet that gave the details about each name. I stood silently by their side for a bit at first, listening, as the daughter gave her ideas about why all these women were being honored together.

“I think these are great lights,” she said, “and we’re trying to remember them.” She went on: “I remember them. I remember when they were stars next to me, before I was born.”

Her mother looked at me and said, “I didn’t tell her this. She started explaining this at 18 months old, that she was a light, a star, and that she came down from the stars through a hole in the top of my head and went into my belly.”

She filmed her, quietly, as her daughter went on to explain: “I’m younger than you two,” she said, “ so I remember. I’m four and a half.”

I said, “Yes, but maybe you’re an old soul.” The mother smiled.

“Everyone has light,” the little girl said. “Like rays of the sun. They come out from the middle of you, and I can see them. I can see their rays, too,” she said, nodding to the table featuring 39 women represented by the feminine place-settings and the 999 women honored on the platform underneath them, names hand-written in gold, in a feminine script.

“Maybe,” I said, “We’re old so we’ve forgotten about the light but you can help us remember.”

“Yes,” she said. “I think so.”

I left the book with them and went back to my own daughter, waiting for me in the next room. I hoped I’d be able to see her light, and that would still be able to see mine.

This is the good work that mothers and daughters and artists and mystics can do in the world.

In the garden.



More on The Dinner Party, from the Brooklyn Museum Exhibit

Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1974-79) is an icon of 1970’s American feminist art, and one of the most important artworks of the 20th century. The installation celebrates the achievements and lives of 1038 historical and mythical women while paying tribute to all women whose stories have been lost to history to erasure or suppression.

The Dinner Party consists of a corridor of welcoming Entry Banners, a massive Heritage Floor, and a dazzling ceremonial banquet arranged in the shape of an open triangle, which here symbolizes equality. Each of the 39 “guests of honor” is individually commemorated through and intricately embroidered runner executed in historically specific techniques, as well as a unique 14-inch ceramic-painted plate with a central motif based on butterfly and vulvar forms. Gold ceramic chalices and utensils, and embroidered napkins accent each place setting. Painted on hand-cast tiles, the names of 999 additional women, correlating with the contributions, experiences, eras, or regions of the 39 place-settings, spread out across the heritage floor.

Chicago’s installation was the first monumental American artwork to survey the contributions of women to Western culture. In addition to sharing knowledge of forgotten historical figures, the artist was invested in a feminist reclamation of craft techniques traditionally associated with women: embroidery, needlework, ceramic painting, and ceramics. Chicago used “central core” or vulvar imagery as an unprecedented symbol for the struggles and achievements of women. The artist began work on The Dinner Party in 1974 and it took five years and the help of hundreds of volunteers to realize her vision.

The Brooklyn Museum was an early stop in The Dinner Party’s original tour, and nearly 100,000 visitors came to Brooklyn to see it in 1980. Chicago’s aspiration for the work was “to end the ongoing cycle of omission in which women were written out of the historical record.” In 2002, Elizabeth A. Sackler generously donated The Dinner Party to the Museum, ensuring a permanent home for the artwork. In 2007, The Elizabeth A Sackler Center for Feminist Art opened with The Dinner Party as its central installation, inspiring viewers to question history and carry the work’s feminist legacy into the future.

Women represented in the place settings 
The first wing of the triangular table has place settings for female figures from the goddesses of prehistory through to Hypatia at the time of the Roman Empire. This section covers the emergence and decline of the Classical world.

The second wing begins with Marcella and covers the rise of Christianity. It concludes with Anna van Schurman in the seventeenth century at the time of the Reformation.

The third wing represents the Age of Revolution. It begins with Anne Hutchinson and moves through the twentieth century to the final places paying tribute to Virginia Woolf and Georgia O’Keeffe.

The 39 women with places at the table are:

Wing I: From Prehistory to the Roman Empire
1. Primordial Goddess
2. Fertile Goddess
3. Ishtar
4. Kali
5. Snake Goddess
6. Sophia
7. Amazon
8. Hatshepsut
9. Judith
10. Sappho
11. Aspasia
12. Boadicea
13. Hypatia

Wing II: From the Beginnings of Christianity to the Reformation
14. Marcella
15. Saint Bridget
16. Theodora
17. Hrosvitha
18. Trota of Salerno
19. Eleanor of Aquitaine
20. Hildegarde of Bingen
21. Petronilla de Meath
22. Christine de Pisan
23. Isabella d’Este
24. Elizabeth I
25. Artemisia Gentileschi
26. Anna van Schurman

Wing III: From the American to the Women’s Revolution
27. Anne Hutchinson
28. Sacajawea
29. Caroline Herschel
30. Mary Wollstonecraft
31. Sojourner Truth
32. Susan B. Anthony
33. Elizabeth Blackwell
34. Emily Dickinson
35. Ethel Smyth
36. Margaret Sanger
37. Natalie Barney
38. Virginia Woolf
39. Georgia O’Keeffe

Women represented in the Heritage Floor
The Heritage Floor, which sits underneath the table, features the names of 999 women inscribed on white handmade porcelain floor tilings. The tilings cover the full extent of the triangular table area, from the footings at each place setting, continues under the tables themselves and fills the full enclosed area within the three tables. There are 2304 tiles with names spread across more than one tile. The names are written in the Palmer cursive script, a twentieth-century American form. Chicago states that the criteria for a woman’s name being included in the floor were one or more of the following:

  • She had made a worthwhile contribution to society
  • She had tried to improve the lot of other women
  • Her life and work had illuminated significant aspects of women’s history
  • She had provided a role model for a more egalitarian future.

    Accompanying the installation is a series of wall panels which explain the role of each woman on the floor and associate her with one of the place settings.

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