The Wild Witch Speaks

OR – How I want to be remembered

I come from several generations of mostly women — who may or may not be witches.

The youngest of four sisters, I grew up among aunts and great-aunts who were occasional role models and always sources of entertainment. My sisters and I welcomed ten more daughters into the next generation, although my father — one of five brothers himself — did eventually acquire two grandsons (including my own firstborn.)

By the time of my recent exhaustively celebrated 90th birthday, things had evened out a little: two nieces had had five sons (and no daughters) between them. The rest of that generation is a mixed bunch. Thirty-some of us gathered in Georgia not long ago to celebrate my own longevity and the life of my last remaining sister Helen, who died earlier this year at 95.

The night had cooled and frivolities settled down somewhat when my giant birthday cake was brought out. Son-in-law Paul, whose passions include all things culinary, creates these ten-pound wonders. I hope I was saying some thing profound for the moment, but in truth do not remember.

Profound or not, the moment was captured by my nephew Chris. A writer/poet/English teacher, Chris later found it reminded him of a piece by noted American poet Lucille Clifton. Photo and poem were thus framed and sent to me. Clifton (1936–2010) was a poet/writer/educator herself, and two-time Pulitzer finalist. I am proud to be in the same frame with her.

daughters by Lucille Clifton

woman who shines at the head

of my grandmother’s bed,

brilliant woman, i like to think

you whispered into her ear

instructions. i like to think

you are the oddness in us,

you are the arrow

that pierced our plain skin

and made us fancy women;

my wild witch gran, my magic mama,

and even these gaudy girls.

i like to think you gave us

extraordinary power and to

protect us, you became the name

we were cautioned to forget.

it is enough,

you must have murmured,

to remember that i was

and that you are. woman, i am

lucille, which stands for light,

daughter of thelma, daughter 

of georgia, daughter of

dazzling you. 


People-Watching at the Museum


(View of the water, and Holocaust Memorial, from in front of the Legion of Honor Museum)

People-watching at its best: looking at strangers looking at art!

I visited San Francisco’s beautiful Legion of Honor Museum recently just before the opening of the next big show — The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England opens June 24 to great fanfare. Between shows is a fine time to avoid the crowds, enjoy the rest of the art — and people-watch.

At this more leisurely time you can find a fascinating mix of the casual and the hard core viewer.

(Close examination of Mary Cassatt pastels)

The hard cores are easy to spot. They include members of the Close Examination school who push the boundaries of musuem-advised social distancing by studying selected works up close and personal. 

Also among the hard cores are the Group Discussion clumps. They are inclined to hang out in front of a particularly intricate work and discuss every possible tiny detail until you wonder if they might have rooted themselves to the floor.

(Intense group discussion underway)

Group discussion clumps are frowned upon (and generally impossible unless they are with a docent) in the major shows. But when the galleries are sparsely populated you’ll find these groups standing, pointing, arguing, laughing and enjoying the art, which is, after all, what museums should be about.

Somewhere within a hard core/casual mix are the families — who particularly enjoy a museum in between major shows because they have the place pretty much to themselves. If nobody’s around to bother you, it’s open season on shouting about displays and putting your nose to the glass.

(Introducing baby sister (barely visible) to ancient art)

But often the casual art watchers are the most fun of all to watch:

(Casual viewer taking an art break during a bike trip)

This one was biking to meet some friends but took a detour to see the small show of recent works-on-paper acquisitions. “It’s the best part of my day,” he said in a museum-quiet voice; “any time I can stop by the Legion.”

(Lone looker in the Porcelain Gallery)

Also having a lovely day was this solitary visitor to the Porcelain Gallery, studying the Worcester teapots. Having the whole place to oneself is a secret treat not common to museum-goers.

But for this people-watcher, here was the prize:

(A little art, a little fashion)

Carolyn Hadley, spotted in the museum cafe with her mom, had chosen a place mat to take home so she could continue art-watching at her leisure. It was hard to switch the eye from one artwork to the other. But Carolyn, in her museum-quality dress, holds the promise of a bright future for art and people-watching alike.

Old Age Needn’t Be the Pits


Photo by Daphné Richard on Unsplash

Turning 90 — which I am now happily doing — is a mixed bag.

Things I’m happy to have skipped: Internet dating. Raves. Tik Tok. ChatGPT. Crowdsourcing. Being referred to as a Content Provider 😡.

Things I’m happy to have enjoyed: Big bands. The hula-hoop. TV before cable. The jitterbug. Trash-free cities and waterways. Patriotism before it got a bad name, and civil discourse before it was eliminated from our democracy.

I’ve recently read pearls of wisdom shared by folks turning 30 — or 50, or 20, or even 70. I was brought up to believe that age brought wisdom.

Nahhh. Age brings wrinkles.

At least my wrinkly brain still functions, as do my wrinkly feet. One can hardly ask for more. My advice to the under-90 set is that if you keep using your brains and your feet you’ll probably be fine. It is wise to appreciate them anew every day.

Things that make it worthwhile to be very old:

Kindness. Kindness should be #1 for any age, but mean old people are just the pits. Which brings up:

Attitude: Optimism works for me. Old people have a lot to be grumpy about (I do not.) But grumpy old people are the pits and then some.

Activism. When you’re emailing congressmen, out working for a cause, joining marches or writing postcards to voters you don’t notice arthritis.

Curiosity. Try to be at least as curious as you were 86 years ago.

Friends. Nobody doesn’t want to be friends with an unthreatening old person. (See above.) It is wise to have been collecting friends all along, but young friends are important because the others keep dying off.

Gratitude. On the worst day there’s something to be grateful for. By the time you get this old, just waking up is one.

Finitude. Specifically: I’m likely to die soon. (Hopefully not tomorrow; another few years on the planet would be okay.) But dying is not the worst thing that happens to anybody. It is wise to consider this reality and take appropriate action.

Faith. In god by whatever name, in Mother Nature, the celestial universe, doesn’t matter. It is not wise to think we humans are the be-all and end-all, an idea too depressing for any age. It is wise to consider the stars and clouds and oceans, and the fact that if we don’t take better care of our little planet whoever’s in charge is likely to give up on us.

That’s about all the nonagenarian wisdom I can come up with.

I’m grateful to you for reading.

Crime and Punishment in Casablanca


Photo by you deal on Unsplash

(NB — Key illustrations for this article were clipped from a video of the aftermath of the crime cited herein, taken from a safe distance. They may not be photographically wonderful, but surely you will get the idea.)

If you plan to travel in Morocco, you might want to engage Take-No-Prisoners Leila and Mild Mannered Abdel, a matchless pair who steered my daughter Sandy and me through the perils (and many remarkable sites) of the country from Tangiers to Rabat to Marrakech.

Fearless guides in their customary, friendlier stances

Considering the fact that much of our time was spent wandering the centers of ancient towns, which feature impossibly narrow, twisty streets with racing motorcycles and plodding carts going both directions at once, not to mention bewildering thoroughfares with traffic circles but no discernible speed limits and few pedestrian crossings or other such niceties, this visitor needed a LOT of guidance and protection.

As far as I can tell, law and order in Morocco is a system unto itself. The unflappable Abdel steered our mini-van through perilous streets and around three-lane traffic circles in the absolute assurance of which lane belonged to him, though this seemed to be a decision in constant flux. I saw occasional policemen — those in Marrakech were old buddies of Abdel — but their primary occupation was to make random stops checking for expired licenses or other signs of malfeasance. Stop signs? Traffic lights? Why bother? (The king goes anywhere, anytime, anyhow he darned well pleases. We watched a few of his shiny Mercedes limos simply being warmed up by zooming up and down a wide avenue just outside of the palace.)

A quieter street; not the one near the palace

To cross a major thoroughfare (there are indeed occasional crossing lanes, but never mind) Leila simply put her head down, grabbed my hand, and plunged into the swiftly-moving traffic. It’s a sort of ongoing game of chicken between drivers and pedestrians; I am amazed by the limited number of dead bodies strewn in roadways.

In all other matters of justice (leave aside the fact that the king does whatever he darned well pleases) it seems to be a matter of swift settlement between evildoer and victim. This is possible, I believe because people don’t walk around with guns. In other words, you might beat up on one another, but you’re less likely to wind up dead — as would be the case in another country that shall remain nameless where anybody and everybody seems to be packing heat these days.

Photo by Rux Centea on Unsplash

We got a first-hand glimpse of this one day in Casablanca. We were driving peacefully around the city when we passed a park filled with Moroccans of varying ages at rest or play. The latter group included a few young hooligans of a sort common to every country since time immemorial. They were amusing themselves by tossing rocks at passing cars.

They picked the wrong car. A resounding crack against our window startled us all and brought the minivan to an immediate slow-down. Before it had come to a full stop Leila was out the door and jogging toward the hooligans. They were a small group of small boys who appeared to be about 8 or 10 years old. Within moments, Leila had one of them by the shirt collar and was giving him the what-for. It was in Arabic, but what-for to young hooligans is the same in any language.

Leila delivering the opening lecture

Meanwhile, back at the van, Abdel had found a place to park. Leaving the motor running he came to our door, explained apologetically that our health and wellbeing was of his primary concern, but — with a shrug — what could he do about Leila . . . And with that he was off, walking purposefully across the park.

Abdel (left) on his way to join the discussion

The next thing we knew, mild-mannered Abdel was offering his own what-for. To make his point, he administered a whopping swat to the primary culprit. By now a crowd was gathering. Sandy and I, noting how seriously outnumbered Leila and Abdel were, briefly discussed what would happen if one of us were to climb into the driver’s seat of the van. Easy: certain death.

Abdel justice, witnessed by Leila

We learned later that among the adults who gathered around was no one admitting to the parentage of the hooligans. Had I been such, facing the wrath of Leila and Abdel I would not have admitted to it in a thousand years. Leila has rather strong opinions about hooliganism.

Gathering crowd hearing from Leila

With their points made, our two fearless guides walked back across the park to the van. It was apparently all the time they needed to calm down and return to the pleasant companions we had known before the rock hit the window. The evildoing amounted to one small but bothersome shattered spot in the window. Punishment was administered and the issue apparently settled, without bloodshed.

Now, if we could get Abdel and Leila to come to speak with the NRA . . .

The World from Several Rooftops


Seville B&B rooftop

There’s something about rooftops, where you can look out over the city and see it anew. Currently I’m seeing actual new cities (wonderful old cities new to me) on a trip to Spain & Morocco. The above came with a view of the cathedral shining benevolently upon us all.

Inside Rabat’s Medina

Later, in the narrow alleyways of Rabat’s centuries-old Medina, people went about their days. To the visitor, life doesn’t seem easy here . . .

Atop Hotel Riad Dar El Kebira in Rabat

but from the rooftop of our hotel in the center of the Medina one could only see beauty.

Marrakech souks

Rooftop of Olala B&B, Marrakech

While the rooftop of our B&B, a few dozen steps above, was calm and lovely as the muezzin intoned the call to prayer.

Sunset from a Seville rooftop

Maybe rooftops are just their own call to peace and serenity.

The Brave New AI World


Photo by Andrea De Santis on Unsplash

I was confronted with an ad on a busy urban thoroughfare, promoting the newest thing in my chosen profession.

That is, writing. I have been a writer forever. You could say Journalist, or occasional Essayist. Columnist. Author. Proud MFA in Short Fiction graduate. Periodic ghostwriter when I needed the money.

But over a bunch of decades I have just said, when someone asked what I do for a living, “I’m a writer.”

Alas, I have been replaced. By a bot.

Author photo

Needing to understand the competition, I looked this up. Here’s what I learned:

You — company manager, CEO, whoever — don’t really need to hire a person who knows how to write stuff, because a friendly bot can “accelerate content” while remaining “on brand.” Jeez Louise.

I already knew my once-beloved profession was in trouble the first time I heard the phrase “content provider.”

Well, anyway. Who am I to stand in the way of your unlocking the power of generative AI?

In the olden days, every press club worth its salt had a touch football team.

Photo by Francesca Runza on Unsplash

Maybe you missed a deadline, or somebody else scooped you on a great story, or you were just brain-weary from too many words. You could always find a pick-up game with a bunch of writers needing to work out their literary frustrations. (Then you went for drinks.) I’m satisfied that similar collegial opportunities to blow off steam still exist, even if my football days — as you can tell from the attitude here — are over.

All that generative AI can replicate your voice, and stay on-brand for optimum marketing potential, and you can refine its integrated content to align with your pre-approved messaging . . .

But can it play touch football?

Can We Talk About Guns?

Can we talk about DOING SOMETHING about guns?

Photo by Paul Einerhand on Unsplash

I am, to be clear, just a little old lady who never messed with weapons of any sort beyond a couple of curiosity-type visits to rifle ranges and a youthful flirtation with archery. But still.

At last count (according to a recent ABC News report,) 9,870 Americans have died from gun violence this year. It’s probably more by now, since people are shooting themselves or each other at an alarming rate. The rate at which one person is shooting a bunch of people is somewhat more alarming. The Nashville school tragedy was the latest of the 130 mass shootings this year counted by the Gun Violence Archive. Since then: Kentucky.

Isn’t it all worth talking about?

I don’t mean talk as in making a speech or broadcasting your great thoughts into the wind; I mean talk as in having a conversation. An old-fashioned civil dialog: you tell me stuff while I listen, I’ll respond with more stuff while — hopefully — you listen.

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

A lot of people just talk about “Second Amendment rights.” Well, okay. Those guys who wrote the second amendment a few centuries ago were, of course, talking about “well regulated militias;” apparently James Madison wanted to be sure state militias could defend themselves against the feds.

Fast forward to 2008, and more guys (on the Supreme Court, in DC v Heller; Ginsberg was among the dissenters so it was all guys) expanded that to mean everybody has a right to handguns for self-defense. Seems a stretch, but here we are.

Could we talk about my right to enjoy a latte without being freaked out by that guy with a gun on his hip v his right to swagger round bearing arms?

Photo by Jess Eddy on Unsplash

Shouldn’t it be okay for little old ladies to talk about how freaked out they are by guys packing heat? Thank heaven I don’t live in Florida, where now, apparently, just about anybody any time can pick up a gun and carry it anywhere he or she (women & girls packing heat at Starbucks also freak me out) feels inclined. I would write a book on this but it would get banned, so why bother. Then there’s the congressman – I wiped his name from my conscious memory – who suggested parking tanks at schools.

I do not believe we are helpless. Or that tanks will make our kids feel safe. I do not believe, as TN Rep. Tim Burchett does, that there’s nothing we can do about guns because “criminals are going to be criminals” and Congress is “not gonna fix it” (though so far he’s right on that) or that we need “a real revival in this country” rather than gun control of any sort.

I know revivals. I’ve been to a bunch of them. I promise you no revival is going to reduce gun violence, or even the sheer number of guns that freak out little old ladies.

I do not believe, as does TN Rep. Andy Ogles — he who posed for a Christmas photo with his happily armed family — that it is “ridiculous” to blame guns for those dead children and adults in our latest school shooting. (Unless there’s been another school shooting since Covenant School.)

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

Why can’t we talk about mass shootings? And doing something to reduce them? For instance:

You can’t have mass shootings without guns to shoot masses. Most of those shooters are not criminals — or at least, they weren’t criminals until they picked up a gun and started killing people. Most of those guns are assault weapons designed to kill a whole lot of people. I know people who hunt, many of whom are very dear to me; I don’t know anyone outside of the military who has an assault weapon. Or who thinks we should all have access to one if we take a mind to.

Could we just talk about assault weapons? Then maybe we could talk about why anybody needs one and why they shouldn’t be banned. When assault weapons were banned, fewer people got killed. Maybe that’s worth talking about.

If we can talk, we can find common ground. I don’t think any of us really love the fact that tiny children are learning mass shooter drills before their ABCs. We could start there.

I may be just an unarmed little old lady, but I am not stupid. I do know that talking — just having civil conversations without shouting and getting angry — is not popularly done any more.

But we CAN. Maybe we need to try harder.

Photo by Aleksandr Ledogorov on Unsplash