A Match Made in Hell

 

Are you familiar with The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson?  It’s a tragic tale about a child trapped in a world of poverty and abuse, hunger and homelessness…

On New Year’s Eve, someone steals her ill-fitting shoes, so the little girl wanders barefoot through the snow, trying to sell matches to uncaring people hurrying home to warm houses and holiday feasts.  No one has a farthing or even a second glance for the unfortunate waif.  If she goes home having sold no matches, her father will beat her.  To keep the cold at bay, she huddles against a wall and strikes her matches, one at a time. In each tiny flame she sees visions: a warm stove, an elegant feast, a Christmas tree lit by candles…  

Then her dead grandmother, the only person who ever treated her with kindness, appears to the shivering child, and carries her soul off to Heaven. The next morning, the strangers who walked past her the night before discover the little match girl’s icy corpse, clutching the burnt-out matches in her frozen fingers.  Too late they feel a twinge of pity.  The end.

As a child, I hated that story.  I was appalled that grownups could look away from a child’s suffering, without lifting a finger to help.  Why would anyone invent such a depressing story, and who would want to hear it?

As an adult, I still hate that story, and even more now, because I realize that when Anderson wrote The Little Match Girl in 1845, except for the bit about the grandmother, he was fictionalizing a deplorable reality he himself was witnessing. He wrote during the Industrial Revolution, when the poor were miserable and overcrowded.  Pollution from the unregulated burning of coal poisoned the air, and factories were dumping metals, chemicals, raw sewage, and other toxins into the lakes and rivers that people depended upon for drinking water.

Wages were so low that the working class toiled 12 to 16 hours a day, yet still couldn’t earn a living wage.  On the brink of starvation, they sent their children to work in factories and mines.  Many were separated from their families, left to the ‘mercy’ of strangers, working ungodly hours for only a place to sleep and the food they ate.

In 1832 it was reported, “…workers are abandoned from the moment an accident occurs; their wages are stopped, no medical attendance is provided, and whatever the extent of the injury, no compensation is afforded.”  

The wealthy were given free reign to exploit the poor. When the Industrial Revolution sparked disputes over inhumane working conditions, the government introduced measures to prevent labor from organizing. The rich got richer, the poor remained poor, and children, who were forced to work all day or starve, couldn’t get an education to help them rise from poverty.

In the USA, industrialization occurred mostly in the North, with an influx of immigrants serving as factory fodder to keep up with attrition and demand. The South had its own foul history of systemic oppression, with its agrarian economy dependent upon human slavery.

Over time, Americans have fought and died for the cause of social justice.  They organized labor unions, which brought an end to child labor, shortened the work week, and ushered in workman’s compensation for on-the-job-injuries. They are still trying to negotiate a living wage.  Public education, Social Security, Medicare, Affordable Healthcare have all helped to even the playing field and a provide a social safety net.  Civil rights, women’s suffrage, Affirmative Action, environmental protection have, too.

We still had a long way to go to overcome class, gender, religious, and racial discrimination, such as the legacy of Jim Crow that still exists.  Yet we saw the middle class grow, the standard of living rise, and each generation doing better than the preceding one, until the 1970s.  What in Hell happened?  Ronald Reagan, and his trickle down economics, for starters.  It has been a downhill slide since then, snowballing since the Trump administration took power.

Today there is a little match girl on every street corner.  Our democratic republic has degenerated into an oligarchy, bought and run by big business, with puppet strings being yanked all the way from Russia.  International treaties have been broken, environmental protections scrapped to increase company profit, families torn apart by inhumane ICE policies, cruelly punishing the innocent children of undocumented immigrants. Affordable Healthcare, Social Security and Medicare are in the administration’s crosshairs.  The three richest men in America own more than half of this country’s wealth.  Our society has regressed two hundred years to become a near perfect match for the one that inspired Hans Christian Anderson to write The Little Match Girl.  A match made in Hell.

I will always hate that story.  But we need to keep telling it, until we can pound out a new ending.  We need to keep telling it, until we never need to tell it again.

©2018 Naomi Baltuck

That Was Then. This Is Now.

When traveling in Italy, we took the kids to the Florence Museum of Science, now the Museo Galileo.  It housed a collection of early scientific instruments, old maps, and, of course, the history of Galileo Galilei.

Galileo was the genius who invented, among other things, the forerunner of the thermometer and an improved military compass.  He discovered The Galilean Moons of Jupiter.  His theory, known as The Galilean Invariance, provided a jumping off point for two other scientific geniuses, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, to form their revolutionary theories regarding motion and relativity.  Galileo is regarded as the father of observational astronomy, the father of modern physics, the father of the scientific method, and he even made it onto the list of the top ten people in history who changed the world.  But he’s probably best known for proving the Copernican theory of heliocentricity, which states that the Earth revolves around the Sun, rather than the other way around.

And that was his inconvenient truth.

The highlight of the Museo Galileo–at least for our kids–was the mummified finger of Galileo, resting in a fancy glass jar like a holy relic.  I suppose it’s appropriate for the revered patron saint of science.  Galileo was a pious Catholic and a martyr.  Ironically, it was the Church that made a martyr of him for Science.

In 1633, Galileo was summoned to Rome and brought to trial by the Roman Inquisition on the charge of heresy.  His crime was contradicting the Bible, which states that the Sun revolves around the Earth.

When the Inquisition threatened to extract a confession through torture, Galileo recanted, was found guilty, and sentenced to life imprisonment.  His sentence was commuted, and he spent the rest of his life under house arrest. He continued to write, although the Church slapped a gag order on him, banned his books and censored his writings for another 200 years, when even the Pope could no longer hold back the tide of scientific advancement.  When Galileo died in 1642, they weren’t even going to allow him a burial in consecrated ground.  It was thirty years before they inscribed his name on his burial place.  But in 1737, ninety-five years after his death, they brought his body out of the bad boy crypt and reburied him in a fancy marble tomb in St. Croce in Florence, across from Michelangelo’s tomb, because it was believed that Michelangelo’s spirit leapt into Galileo’s body between the former’s death and the latter’s birth.  Then, in 1992, Pope John Paul II did sort of apologize for wrongfully persecuting Galileo.

The wealthy have always had a place at the table, between religion and science, as patrons, enthusiasts, or opponents, but now Big Business sits at its head.  Big Business has bought and paid for a president that doesn’t believe in anything but the Almighty Dollar.  The Republicans sold their souls to secure their power, dropping any pretense of morality or family values, and they bought their majority by pandering to the far right, that thirty percent of America that interprets the bible as literally they might an instruction manual to the dashboard of a new car.  Science has suffered for it on both counts.

Texas is producing textbooks that not only disclaim evolution and pitch Creationism as its own brand of science, but it has cut out any reference to Climate Change.  Even the conservative Fordham Institute calls it a “politicized distortion of history.”  Texas is spoon-feeding its children claims that Moses was a Founding Father of America.  There’s a lot of money to be made in the textbook business, and the privatization of schools, not to mention the prisons.  If politics and religion, power and money are twisted into a huge tangled knot, Big Business still knows which strings to pull to get what it wants.

Civil Rights, equality, justice, education, and immigration are hot topics, but Climate Change is the new subject of denial by the Powers That Be.  A few years ago I’d have said the advancement of earth science was moving at a glacial pace, but that’s not so apt an analogy any more, because glaciers are melting at an alarming rate.  98 percent of the global scientific community now recognize climate change as real and caused by human activity, but the Republican party is in complete denial.  They stick their fingers in their ears and sing loudly to avoid hearing what they know is true.  Again, it’s all about money.  Environmental protection means restrictions, restrictions mean less profit for Big Business, and Big business gives politicians huge payoffs to deny Climate Change.  This has been an ongoing struggle for more than fifty years. The damage might already be irreversible.  A rapidly warming Arctic could loose a methane climate bomb resulting in widespread extinction in as little as nine years.

 You may be sure that history will judge them, just as it has judged the perpetrators of the Galileo affair.

But there is one huge difference in this particular power struggle.  It took 200 years for the popular tide to become too strong to resist, at which time the Church bowed to reality and accepted Galileo’s proof of a heliocentric Earth.  But in the case of Climate Change, we don’t have 200 years.  We don’t have ten years.  We can’t wait for the next Newton or Einstein to show up, and we don’t need them to.  Our climate scientists have already done the math, and it might already be too late.

And that is our inconvenient truth.

Copyright 2016 Naomi Baltuck. Photos of Galileo courtesy of Wikipedia.

 

 

The ‘H’ Word


Many years ago my daughter came home from kindergarten and told me, “Michelle said a bad word at school today.”

“Which one?” I asked.

“The ‘S’ word.”

“Ohhhh.”  Subject matter we don’t want our kids learning in school.  “Do you know what it means?” I asked.

My five year old flashed me an I-wasn’t-born-yesterday look, and said, “It means stupid.”

I heaved a mental sigh of relief, and exercised my Superpower Poker Face to keep from laughing.  “Do the kids say any other bad words?”

My daughter solemnly nodded.  “The ‘H’ word,” she said.

“Help me remember what that stands for.”

“Hate,” she told me.

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I was a storyteller long before I had kids, and I understood the power of words. That didn’t prevent me from indulging in colorful language, mostly offstage. But after my children were born, just as I saw the world anew through my children’s wondering eyes, I listened through their innocent ears.  I saw how words loaded with negativity seep into the consciousness like toxins into groundwater.

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I determined to turn all my verbal toads and snakes into rubies and pearls.  At our house, everyone was encouraged to speak their minds, using language constructively, not to hurt or humiliate.

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When my little innocents first toyed with the word ‘hate,’ I explained that some words aren’t naughty but are powerful, and must be saved for emergencies or they lose their power.  Just like with TV violence or antibiotics, excessive use results in an unhealthy immunity.  Hate was a word rarely heard in our house.  But since the election, that and many other ‘H’ words have come into common usage all over America.

H is for Harassment.

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H is for Homophobic.

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H is for Hitler, for Holocaust, for He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, that Haughty Hot-Tempered Hypocrite who is Hijacking our Homeland to Hell in a Hand-basket.

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A great man once said that a house divided cannot stand.  Inciting fear and hatred is the traditional means of dividing a people and strengthening a power base.  Every day the Republicans implement new policies legalizing the persecution and diminishing the rights of people based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, and socio-economic status.

H is also for heartsick, which is how the majority of US citizens feels as American ideals and constitutional rights are trampled and tossed aside.  So last January 21st, here in Seattle, in solidarity with people throughout America, and on every continent–even Antarctica–we donned our pussy hats and marched.

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It buoys the spirits to walk shoulder to shoulder with 135,000 like-hearted people…

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…in a crowd stretching farther than the eye can see.

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People protested against the Republican threat to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and equal justice for all.

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Even those who had never been politically active took to the streets.

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These were people who weren’t afraid to speak up and speak out.

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People who cared about the greater good.

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People for whom the ‘H’ word is Hope.

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Harmony.

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Healing.

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H is also for hero…

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…and heroine.

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H is for happening, for hookup, for hive and home and herd.

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 For heart.

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For helping hands.

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H is for holdfast.

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H is also for humanity and high ground.  And that’s why and where we’ll take our stand.


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All words and images copyright 2017 Naomi Baltuck









Besties

I tend to be a happy hermit, but this October has been unusually social.

One of my dearest friends, Meg Philp, is visiting from Australia.  I’ve known her for almost thirty years.

We savor the moments, like lunch out with another bestie, Pat Peterson, storyteller extraordinaire.

My Story Sisters welcomed Meg to our Elizabeth Ellis master class reunion, and she fit right in.

I love seeing my home through Meg’s eyes.

Everyday chores, like stair-walking at Richmond Beach, are more fun.

Yesterday we visited Volunteer Park…

…and gloried in the fall color.

Meg knows how to live!  She cooks with wine…

 

…and finds fun in the simplest things–like Bunny Ear Towel Origami.

Who needs Disneyland, when we can ride the Washington State Ferries?

Especially to attend the Forest Storytelling Festival in Port Angeles!

But we are happy just hanging out talking, walking, waxing philosophical, picking raspberries in the garden, telling each other our dreams over morning coffee, writing and researching our stories, talking some more, and even posting on our blogs.  Check out Meg’s blog, Story Twigs the Imagination.

All words and images ©2015 NaomiBaltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Theme: (Extra) Ordinary.

You Don’t Have to be Einstein…

Yesterday was my Cousin Albert’s birthday!

Actually, he was my fifth cousin, and we never met. My personal theory of relativity is that some relative of his got together with some relative of ours somewhere in the old country, and we have the DNA to prove it.

An indisputable fact is that he was a genius, whose life work changed the way we see the world.  He also had definite ideas about intelligence and education.

Cousin Albert said it is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

Last month Thom and I drove to Olympia to protest oppressive high-stakes standardized tests. This disturbing trend towards over-testing affects the quality of education for children all across the U.S. by reducing the time to teach and the time to learn.

Since both teachers and students are evaluated by those test results, teachers feel compelled to spend their class time working on tested material, leaving no time to nurture creativity, exercise imagination, or teach a higher order of critical thinking.

Standardized tests don’t account for students testing on empty stomachs because their parents can’t afford to feed them breakfast. Or those who didn’t sleep because their parents were arguing about a divorce.  Or homeless children with no place to study.  Or those who can’t afford reading glasses.  Test scores won’t cut any slack for students with learning disabilities, or recent immigrants who haven’t mastered English, or orphans of suicides, or children suffering from depression, or those who simply don’t test well.

The system of assessment is unfair. For example, in Florida an excellent music teacher was fired because of her students’ low math scores, even though she was not responsible for teaching them math.

Cousin Albert said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

He also said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.  We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

We honor that sacred gift of the intuitive mind when we allow teachers to assess each child’s strengths and needs, and design teaching strategies to nurture that child’s curiosity and passion into a lifelong love of learning.

Standardized testing is the servant of the rational mind, reducing children into test scores.

Who benefits from over-testing?  Not students, who are stressed and most of whom will be labeled as failures.  Not teachers, who either teach to the test or risk losing their jobs, regardless of whether they manage to pull kids out of their Learning Comfort Zone, and encourage them to take risks and learn from their mistakes.

The benefits are reaped by corporations like Pearson, that specialize in testing.  Or technology companies that sell schools the massive amounts of hardware students use to take these computer-based tests. Or private charter school operators who are waiting to step in as soon as public schools are labeled failures.   Tests are designed so that 68% of those taking the tests will fail.  It’s better for business.

Diane Ravitch, an educational policy analyst, says, “It’s all about…propping up a vast and growing “education industry” that’s only worth the trouble (money) of the likes of Gates, Murdoch, the Waltons, and the Bushes….if it’s standardized and millions of customers–I mean children–are buying.”

Cousin Albert grew up in Germany, where the spirit of learning and creative thought were lost in strict rote learning.

He was among the scientists and intellectuals who escaped the Nazis, those methodical masters who were terrifying in their efficiency.  Cousin Albert was lecturing in the US when the Nazis put a price on his head, and confiscated his property, turning it into a Hitler Youth camp. But as efficient as the Nazis were, according to Cousin Albert, they lost their technological advantage and eventually lost the war because they murdered or drove out all the creative free-thinking innovative imaginative intellectuals.

     Cousin Albert said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

And you don’t have to be Einstein to get that.

All images and words copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck, unless otherwise stated.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Numbers.

If you’d like to read more, here is a link to an excellent article about the results of the protest, and a bipartisan bill proposed to repeal Common Core.

Joyriding

  • “Love…

…doesn’t make the world go round.”   

But love

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

Love…

LOVE!

 Yes, LOVE!

“..is what makes the ride worthwhile.”–Franklin P. Jones

Always has.

Always will.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

c

c2015 Naomi Baltuck

A Theory of Relativity

I met a little Elf-man, once…


…Down where the lilies blow.


I asked him why he was so small…


…And why he didn’t grow.

He slightly frowned, and with his eye

He looked me through and through.

 

“I’m quite as big for me,” said he,


“As you are big for you.”

—JOHN KENDRICK BANGS.

All images copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of  The Weekly Photo Challenge: Scale

Using Your Outside Voice

Before publishing my very first blog post, I ran it past my teenaged daughter Bea.

She said, “Mom, you’re using your storyteller voice again.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Oh, you know…narrative, formal, soft and wise. You might think like that inside your head, but it’s not the way you talk.”

“How do I talk?”

“You’re funny.  And sassy.  Mom, your idea is good.  Just say the same thing, only write like you’d say it. Write in the same voice you used to write Real Troopers.”   Out of the mouth of babes.

How many times were we told as children to use our Inside Voice, the demure, soft, polite, quiet voice that will offend and disturb no one?  I’ll tell you: LOTS.  Now my own child was urging me to use my Outside Voice, that of the goofball, smart ass, class clown.

It’s the sometimes-too-loud voice that spills out of my mouth when I’m with trusted family and friends. As Bea observed, it’s the voice I use in my novel-in-progress, Real Troopers.  Maybe I struck the right chord in Real Troopers because it’s about sassy funny Girl Scout leaders, written from the point of view of a middle-aged woman who is desperately trying to find her real voice.

So I turned that first post into more of a conversation than a story, and Bea was right—I like it so much better.  I’m happier when using my Outside Voice, in my backyard, in my living room, and in my writing.

Or perhaps I should say, ‘When I allow my Inner Voice to go Outside to play.’

All I need now is to make my readers a virtual cup of coffee, and come to the table–or the computer–in my jammies for an early morning chat.  Hey, got a minute? Wanta cuppa? Cream or sugar?

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Express Yourself.

BTW: Adventures in Hats is my daughter Bea’s writing blog.  I won’t embarrass her by telling you she’s won awards for her poetry and her stories.  But I will say that I can almost hear her voice when I read it, and her illustrations are delightful.  If you drop by, tell her I said ‘howdy!’

The Future is NOW

Three weeks ago our daughter Bea flew home.  As she packs to return to school, I try to recall where the time has gone. The day after she arrived, we told stories at the Black Diamond History Museum for their Hometown Christmas.

The locals were very friendly!

Black Diamond teems with local history: we found some of it for sale in a great Antique Store next to the museum.

We were treated to the best pizza in the valley at Black Diamond Pizza and Deli.  The owner, Mike, told us he was passing through on a trip from Wisconsin, saw the building, originally built as a bank in 1915, and fell in love.  The rest is history.

In the days that followed we enjoyed many winter walks, like this one at Green Lake.

They often entail impromptu birdwatching.

We celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas at our house.

But we love sparkle all year long, and welcome any excuse to bring more light into our lives.

More cookies too.  There was a flurry of baking…

…for both holidays.

.

Then we drove out of the city…

…to find our tree.

We got a gooder!

This is how you dress for a Northwest Christmas.

We hosted parties for Bea’s NaNoWriMo pals, and the Dungeons and Dragons set. 

We visited friends……and had friends over to play.

On Christmas Eve we broke bread and made joyful music with family and friends.

On Christmas morning some lucky ducks found cool new jammies under the tree.

Very fitting, as we rang in the New Year with a sci-fi party.  Our old friend Sargon served as Master of Ceremonies.

Cap’n Tommy wore gold. Rick and Sue were Red Shirts–those ill-fated crewmen doomed to die violent and expected deaths before the first commercial break of each Star Trek episode. Rick painted His ‘n’ Her phaser burns on the front of his shirt and the back of Sue’s.

Rick and Dorota were smashing as Effie Trinket and Caesar Flickerman from The Hunger Games.

We came as…

Zaphod from Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, T’Pau the Queen Bitch of Vulcan from Classic Trek episode Amok Time, and Doc Brown from Back to the Future.  When Back to the Future was made in 1985, the distant future to which Doc travels is set in the year 2015!  Yikes!  If you think three weeks goes fast, see how fast three decades will sneak up on you.

I thought about that as we toasted the New Year with the traditional Boston Cooler.

  Here’s a toast to you.

May the New Year bring you twice the warmth, wisdom, joy, and sparkle!

But don’t wait for the future to come to you.  Carpe Futurum, guys, before it carpes you!

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: New.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Sparkly.

The Christmas Gang

 

There is an ancient British tradition called Ganging, from the Anglo-Saxon word gangen, meaning ‘to go.’ For fifteen hundred years, in what evolved from a solemn prayer ritual, village folk would gather to go ‘beat the boundary.’ They walked all around the parish to impress upon the youngsters’ memories the place they called home.

 

Their elders dunked them in dividing streams, knocked their heads against bordering trees, and made them climb over the roofs of houses built across the line so they would never forget.

Our family has a gentler holiday tradition, a celebration as much as a reminder. Our Christmas tree is nothing like those featured in House Beautiful. It’s topped with a Star of David, as we also celebrate Hanukkah.

The oldest ornament, a cellulose umbrella, decorated my great grandmother’s tree. We carefully hang Grandma Rhea’s handmade ornaments, dioramas inside blown eggs dressed in velvet. My children’s contributions are made of Popsicle sticks, glitter, and clothespins. The marshmallow snowman has grown sticky and yellow, with a tiny bite taken on the sly from its backside, but it makes me smile, and bookmarks an era.

I hang up the key to the house where I grew up, and recall my childhood, running barefoot through the back alleys of Detroit. The little Polish dancer wears the same costume my dashing husband wore performing with his dance group Polanie. The glass pen celebrates the year my first book was published. A tiny guitar marks the year my husband broke his leg and, instead of sulking on the couch, taught himself to play guitar. It hangs near Eli’s tiny oboe, and Bea’s violin and clarinet. A small glass bottle contains ash from Mt. St. Helens, collected from my pants cuff in 1980, when I was caught bird watching in Eastern Washington during the eruption.

Each Christmas, we carefully remove our ornaments from their tissue paper cocoons. As we hang them on the tree, we retell the stories. It’s like a crazy quilt, where scraps of colorful memories are pieced together and, voila! E pluribus unum! From the contributions of individuals we have compiled a portrait of one family, and from the many generations we have pieced together one history.

Ganging, or beating the boundary, is a tradition that teaches children their limits and sets rigid boundaries. Instead of knocking our children’s heads against a tree, let’s invite them to help create an empowering communal story among the branches of the family tree, free of boundaries and limitations, celebrating their lives, so full of possibility.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: It’s Not This Time of Year Without…