Women

Good Morning, Friends,

I have a post draft I’ve written about serendipity and alignment and doing good work, and I will post it soon, promise, but today, I  am compelled to write about the election. I know I risk triggering folks because I don’t know who my readers supported or voted for; I don’t make any assumptions; I just want to tell you something about my experience of Tuesday November 8, 2016.

I spent this day (quite arbitrarily in the planning) in the company of women. Strong, articulate, creative, warrior women. Starting at 8 am when I cast my vote for Hillary Clinton and Maggie Hassan in the last-to-be-decided state of New Hampshire, my home of nearly 20 years. (See http://www.nytimes.com/elections/results/new-hampshire). I, like  many Americans, never believed a Trump presidency could ever transpire.

jan-aspen-1972

Jan at Aspen, 1972

But at 9:30 am, when I hit the road for Northampton, Massachusetts, I was not afraid or focused on what I’d know by 9:30 am Wednesday morning. I was headed to meet Jane Bryden, one of Jan’s first private voice students who joined her in Aspen for her inaugural summer at the festival in 1972.

As I drove, I talked for nearly an hour  with Julie Barton, my warrior friend and sister, author of New York Times bestselling memoir Dog Medicine.

9780143130017_DogMedicine_CVF_q2.indd (You can read all things Dog Medicine, the story of Julie’s depression and her beloved dog who saved her at https://byjuliebarton.com/).  We talked about alignment and seeming serendipity (stay tuned!) and trusting the passions you follow will lead you to the right work at the right time.

Soon I approached a lovely, lilting landscape to my right, a farm spreading out beyond a white cape-sized house, the rock-studded yards and front fenced field where one elegant horse and several goats lazily grazed in this unusually warm early November morning.

Jane Bryden is retired from her professional life as a classical singer and voice teacher. She’s a strong horse woman and rower, noted gardener and landscaper.  She and her husband Chris, a flutist, gave me the grand tour of their mid-17th century farmhouse in Western Mass which they’ve beautifully restored, regaling me with history and architectural details. When we sat to talk about Jan, I was reminded of this fact: Jan chose her students because of her immediate love for them and interest in them as human beings, first, and then, as musicians.

At the end of our visit, Jane and I sat in her Prius parked alongside the barn and listened to a song her daughter, the rock artist Nell Bryden (http://www.nellbryden.com/) wrote for and about her, about the time when she had to let her daughter go to live with her ex-husband as she made the transition from New York to Amherst to teach at Smith. The song for me is part anthem, part acceptance of choices made long ago, part grace. This happens everywhere I go on this journey to know Jan: people invite me in and I witness.jane-and-chris

Do you remember that Jan, too, once and twice, had to make these hard decisions about children, family, work? She divorced Tom DeGaetani and spent nearly 8 years raising  her two children alone in their upper west side apartment. Every time travel was necessary, she made hard choices about leaving them behind in the care of others or taking them with her. She moved the family to Rochester in 1973 to teach, just as Jane would do a decade later.

Jane has just returned from London where she toured with Nell (her own young daughter in tow). Nell is quite successful AND changing the world through fully embracing the Alopecia areata which has taken her hair, left her scalp smooth and pale. It is a remarkable stance in an appearance-obsessed culture. As Jane says, “she’s totally owning it.” live-the-wayfarer-way-sleeve-400x400

After our goodbyes, I drove a short distance into the center of town to have tea with my dear friend Chivas, a writer, a poet, a mother, a teacher. She is in the deep middle of writing a groundbreaking book about the violent hate attack on partners Mollie Olgin and Kristene Chapa in 2012 which left Mollie dead and Kristene with permanent physical and mental damages. (You can read about Chivas’ recent experiences in Texas during the trial which ended in David Strickland’s conviction at http://www.csandage.com/.)

It’s been six years since I’ve laid eyes on Chivas and we celebrated on the wings of our hopefulness for this election’s outcome and our passion for our projects, our work in our communities, the dreams we both have for our next steps: she and her partner’s community-building efforts in both Texas and Massachusetts, my dreams for launching, next year, into the work of ending sexual violence in this country.

I am surrounded by warriors. I am inspired and held up daily by these women and so many others like them whom I’ve had the good fortune of knowing and having in my life. Shall I list more?

lisa-and-dawn

Lisa and Dawn together again.

Lisa, the woman whose house I sit and write in now, perched in the same Western Massachusetts woods as Jane’s. She has been my friend since the sixth grade when we shared classrooms and my mom’s Girl Scout’s troops, and who still listens and picks up and comes when I need her. (Today is Lisa’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Fred!)

14369189_165688493835265_507966197_n1

Judy Yang

Judy, an artist I met just a month ago at the Vermont Studio Center who has invited me to her New York City home where I’ll be this weekend (http://www.cocojudy.com/).

Carole Cowan, wife of the late Phil West and caretaker of both Phil’s and Jan’s estates and archives. Violinist, artist, teacher, widow who let me into her life sight unseen more than ten years ago when I called and asked about boxes in an attic.

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Risa visiting Raleigh, Jan 2015

Risa, warrior artist-mother, holding up her family of three young-adult children as they navigate a difficult and sad divorce.

Marie Harris, poet and activist, whose two sons I met at the Vermont Studio Center, one a writer, one a painter, and who insisted I meet their mother. Marie lives exactly 11 miles from my home in Dover, and we met for tea Monday afternoon on her birthday. (Happy Birthday, Marie!) During our energetic exchange, Marie reminded me of writerly truths I needed to hear and gave me support and reassurance to buoy me when I get overwhelmed with the enormity of this project. What you wouldn’t necessarily know about Marie is that she was once the wife of Poet Bill Matthews and left him, finally, taking her two boys to the Seacoast of New Hampshire where she’s spent the rest of her life. She wrote a book of poems about this time–Interstate–about leaving and

standing in her own truth.marie-harris51lsncqwnxl

 

 

 

I am surrounded by warrior women. Jan DeGaetani was a warrior woman. And she has returned to me full force.

I woke Wednesday at 4:15 am and grabbed my phone to see if what I knew at 12:30 the night before was really true. I lay in bed feeling something I’d not felt, maybe ever, in my adult life, trepidation at being woman in this country at this time.

But—I got out of bed, I surrounded myself with my recent notes and got to work as I muted the TV in Lisa’s den and waited for Hillary to appear. What else but good work, steadfast conviction in the face of worry and fear? I am still here. And I have good work to do.

When she appeared, I listened, I wept; I felt honored because she portrayed and expressed the best of our humanness in that concession speech and the undeniable gifts and strengths and beliefs born of woman.

This isn’t temporary histrionics, mood swings. This is truth. I woke this morning early and read Trump’s To Do List for his first 100 days. I froze. Then I pulled open the curtain and watched Lisa’s beloved Luke romp in the yard just out my window, the rising sun’s light streaming through the ancient trees surrounding her wild property. I got here. To this desk. This laptop. This moment in my life, my path. I thought, I should have driven to Ohio, set up camp and walked the state, talking with people. I should have done more. But I can do this, now. I can, step by step–as Chivas said to me about when we get waylaid in the writing: what’s the next sentence I can write?– do this.

For those of us who voted Hillary Clinton, we lost the election. As she said, this is hard. I am learning daily to let what could be categorized  as binaries in my life–the good fortune of researching, travelling and writing this book/the abrupt departure from my marriage–live together, alongside each other as I continue to walk this life. The same is true about this. Not binary–before Trump and after Trump–but fluidity. Process. Loss and fear and worry and action, thought, good work. Life. Let it be.hillary

PS: If this resonates with you, if you’ve got something to say, if you like this post, please leave me a reply, join my email list, let me know what you’re thinking, too.

 

 

 

About dhaines54

Dawn Denham (formerly Haines) lives in the hill country of North Central Mississippi where she's writing a book about her mentor at the Eastman School of Music mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani and teaching writing at Oxford High School. Her work has been published in Poets and Writers magazine, Brevity, Zone 3, Literary Mama, and WILLA. Her book with authors Jacqueline Raphael and Susan Newcomer Writing Together: Transforming Your Writing in a Writing Group was the first book of its kind published in the US. Her essay Aleatorik about her mother’s death won the 2012 Solstice magazine Creative Nonfiction prize chosen by Jerald Walker and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She received an MFA in Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts, an MA in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Arizona, and a BM in Voice from Eastman School of Music.
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