Black Lives Matter Pandemic Thoughts

Bumbling Into Awareness


©2020 Janet Maher, Soul Work (detail); mixed media collage print
©2020 Janet Maher, Soul Work (detail); mixed media collage print

(Updated 6.14.20 at 11:56 a.m.)†

(Updated 6.14.20 at 4:12 p.m.)††

While masses of individuals across the globe have been still enough to notice, much evil has been revealed. The virus that caused the shutdown of life as we knew it exposed the virus of systemic racism that has been running through American history since the colonists arrived into the land of the Native tribes. After the three seemingly back-to-back murders of Ahmaud Arbury, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd that occurred for no cause, and Christian Cooper’s being reported as a threat for simply observing birds a massive multiracial rising in solidarity occurred. It eclipsed any that I have experienced to date. In the silence of a physical pandemic a 2020 Consciousness Raising manifested. Various intertwined movements had gained traction and expanded into Black Lives Matter. Urgent issues brought into larger cultural awareness over the past decade were heard this time as never before. The revolution was not only live, it was televised.

In this morning’s email feed I listened to a wonderful interview between Krista Tippett and Eula Biss, Talking About Whiteness, which prompted this post. Tippett’s The Pause is part of her On Being Project. As a white woman who has been striving to become educated over the years around the issues of racism and white supremacy, like them, I will always have much to learn. I’m embarrassed to admit that I intimidated myself in 2012 against listing Noel Ignatiev’s book, How The Irish Became White, in the bibliography for my first book and in my blog about Irish history and genealogy topics. I feared potentially offending some unknown someone. Irish musician Imelda May, however, thankfully called out publicly last week anyone of Irish ancestry who had bigotry in their psyche with her spoken word work You Don’t Get to Be Racist and Irish.

Involved friends and colleagues over the years have shared important resources, and my university has actively provided training and opportunities for educating oneself. Still, it was personally “easier” for me over the years to actively address the Climate Crisis than to have Black Lives Matter be my cause. There were too many issues to fit on one protest sign, and not enough hours in the teaching days and weeks to address my chosen infused topic and still address the content of the actual hands-on courses. In whatever our professions, we juggle and bumble and do the best we can as we are also growing, simultaneously trying to inspire others by our own behavior. We want to be the change we wish to see.

Through others I learned of Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 essay, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. She powerfully bridged the feminist concept of male privilege to that of white privilege, including a list of 50 ways in which she recognized her own privilege. One friend is an active part of the Baltimore Cease Fire movement. She goes with a group to the neighborhood of every death due to gun violence and serves as a silent witness and open ear in an effort to help absorb the pain of those who experienced the personal losses. The amazing artist whose work I learned about at an exhibit at Julio Art Gallery, Loyola University Maryland, Tawny Chatmon, is one of the Instagram artists who are offering ways to help. From her site (@tawnychatmon) she linked ten suggested action items that people can do in honor of Breonna Taylor’s birthday, which would have been June 5. (#BirthdayForBreonna) †Last week a friend shared a beautiful prayer written by Dr. Yolanda Pierce, Dean of Howard University School of Divinity, that was read aloud at a virtual prayer service held at Loyola. A Litany For Those Not Ready For Healing is included within the JesuitResource website.

My humble offering in this post is music. Music has always been a deeply important and inspiring part of my life, and personal soundtracks have run throughout it. Despite the tragedies that occurred throughout the last several decades, I feel fortunate for having grown up in the time into which I was born and to have lived to see the day when there feels to be a ground-swelling of growth and change that I believe will take hold this time. New generations have joined the movements that began with their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who protested about injustices of all kinds and about dire concerns for the health of our one planet. For the first time in this pandemic I am beginning to feel hopeful for a future in which humans have acknowledged and acted upon the ultimate Wake Up calls.

With joy I began a soundtrack for now, scratching the surface of and selecting from songs I’ve compiled over several years on my Pinterest board Favorite Musicians – Old School.* I’ve gingerly shared a few with students who did not know much about previous eras, but freely open the floodgate now. Forewarned – interestingly, (appropriately) on You Tube some of them are now preceded with an ad for Joe Biden for President.

*I had to include Patti Smith, however, although she is certainly not Old School! I believe she turned the tide of popular music in the 1970s that opened the door to the present, influencing and thus bringing strong women into full presence within the industry.

Stay safe and well. May we listen to and amplify melanated voices and educate ourselves toward a beautiful future.

©2020 Janet Maher


Pandemic Thoughts



2020 Iris ©2020 Janet Maher

Wednesday night a beautiful new song by Wilco was aired on Stephen Colbert’s Late Night. Seeing Jeff Tweedy and all the band members in their homes, most with partners and children, gave me an entirely new appreciation for my brother’s favorite band. Tell Your Friends is set up on Bandcamp as a fundraiser for chef José Andrés’ enormous relief efforts through his World Central Kitchen. Wilco’s song perfectly captures the feeling of appreciation for our closest personal connections during this time of physical distancing. Never before have the telephone, snail mail and virtual meant to reach certain others mattered as much to so many.

The song can be streamed from a link in this Rolling Stone article which includes additional links. Tweedy also recorded an acoustic version of Jesus, Etc. for the Colbert show. I so appreciate the power of these Zoomed and live-streamed concerts meant to reach through to us and simultaneously affect change. Leave it to Wilco to do this so well. 

We are experiencing Pandemic Time in separate realities through unique lenses. After two months I seem to have turned a corner in how it feels for me.  As I move from engagement with one thing to another, one completion or ebb to resolve or not (considering the weather or the presumption of another day), time rolls on without additional layers of external demands placed upon it. All these years later the fluidity of child and young adulthood time has returned. Sounds of cars may be whizzing past, but my own world has stilled, allowing me to reground in a continual present.

In Pandemic Time maybe it’s OK not to be frantically producing, not to be setting increasingly higher expectations and demands on a self conditioned to being judged by the outside world. It may be possible to reassess life itself when assumptions have been upended and people in every kind of situation are re-imagining their own ways forward. We are experiencing and/or observing both the best and the worst of human behaviors. The flaws within our social, financial and political systems have been exposed. How will we personally and collectively grow from this Time Out and reemerge into healthier and more sustainable states of being?

I didn’t watch much television as an  adult, nor did I have time to see Oprah Winfrey, or even read the majority of the books she recommended on her famous list. Today, however, I watched a 53 minute-long interview between Oprah and Gary Zukav (author of the Dancing Wu Li Masters and Seat of the Soul, among others), that occurred three years ago. Maybe the message of their conversation, interlaced with snippets from previous ones, may be heard and understood even better during the pandemic. Michael A. Singer and Tami Simon, of Sounds True produced another helpful interview, Resilience and Surrender in Challenging Times. Singer offers advice for those having a range of difficulties, and explains larger ways to consider what is happening.

Resilience takes many forms. My favorite Amplifier Foundation poster, Ernesto Yerena’s beautiful artwork honoring Lakota native activist Helen Red Feather, hangs framed at the entryway to my studio. It reads “We the Resilient Have Been Here Before”. I chose this image years back to remind myself of my own resilience throughout life so far, and of the work there is still to do, perhaps with a deeper appreciation. May we all  become resilient enough to help create a future based in the kind of soulful connections we value most. May the world that arises Post-Pandemic be a better place than the one so dreadfully harmed by our collective mistakes, and may that harm not be beyond repair. Let’s remember to tell our friends, “This is going to end. Oh, and I needed you. Oh, and I love you. I want to hold your hand when I see you again.”

Stay safe and well. 

©2020 Janet Maher



Pandemic Thoughts

Creatives Rise to the Occasion

The past six decades in my experience of the United States included unusual, perhaps interesting, times. Seared into my memory are events that altered my future engagement with the world and the dreams I’d had when young. Each disturbing or tragic event taught me something I could not have learned as well or as deeply without having actively lived through it. Assassinations gathered my family in front of the television. Nightly news aired images of killings throughout a war that much of the nation believed was wrong. Ed Sullivan and many T.V. shows introduced me to musicians and comedians who gave me a glimpse into a much larger world beyond my neighborhood. Later, there were times of odd and even days designated for filling up one’s car with gas. AIDS appeared, a virus that made love become a potentially life-threatening decision. And more conflicts erupted, over and over, many due to the actions of my country’s leaders.

In none of such times, however, were people in the United States afraid to continue simple, basic activities like mailing parcels or purchasing groceries. Yes, there were fallout shelters and elementary school drills to avoid imagined nuclear debris (as if our desks could save us). None, however, required physical protection from an invisible threat that could weasel its way into our sinuses and try to kill us even when we actively attempted to avoid it. Pandemics in which people meant to be in charge but who didn’t understand what was going on were in historic events in previous generations and centuries, not in ours.

Individuals of every age and walk of life have been cast abruptly into a next level of consciousness as if while we were sleeping. We are challenged to imagine a new future well before many of us were ready to try. Time before this pandemic is long gone. A mere few months have passed and there is only a distant memory of a “before”. Creative works and activities of all the kinds we used to enjoy in full presence, opening receptions and performances we would attend, gatherings of all kinds that we took for granted, feel way back in that past. People recently have been clamoring for places to “open up”, to “return to normal”, as if there ever had been a “normal”, as if any kind of “normalcy” hadn’t been destroyed by design incrementally over the last four years (including during the lead-in to the election). Many of us remember the mourning that darkened our spirits in November 2016, displacing our shocks of disbelief. We worried things could go terribly wrong, but I, for one, never imagined this.

Took down my eleven pieces today from the exhibition at Maryland Hall, Annapolis, that never opened – Unnatural Causes: Art of a Critical Nature

Many life-altering memories within these decades have been shared across the nation, across the planet, but none altered life in such an all-consuming way as COVID19 has. Before, it was possible to protest, make conscious lifestyle changes and swim against the stream with a feeling that collective efforts would eventually take hold. By the Women’s March of 2017 a glimmer of hope remained for many, albeit overshadowed by the deja vu of having been around this block way too long ago. By 2017 the next waves of feminists had, thankfully, emerged; fully supported, finally. They helped create the Me Too Movement that successfully broke new ground. Too many of the same issues, and sadly, more, still needed to be addressed, while the climate was going haywire right before our eyes. To think about it all was overwhelming. Nature, with her prolonged systemic mistreatment, finally decided where the overarching focus must be, and here we are in all its complexity.

As usual, creatives of all kinds have risen to the occasion to invent new ways to engage with others, use their talents, provide moments of calm, laughter, beauty, and help us feel that we will get through this strange in-between time. In unusual times creative minds do unusual things and through them create new realities. The meaning of the words “Essential” and “Privilege” has been fully absorbed in our newly-forming reality. Who is it on the front lines? Who keeps our world actually functioning? What are the essential jobs? Are those in them paid as they deserve to be? Many who are home have found ways and made efforts to keep spirits lifted and provide myriad types of support. Every bit matters as we realize how much all things interconnect.

Following are some links to people, words, and music that I don’t want to forget or that I’ve posted somewhere but anyone reading this may not have seen:

Long Distance Virtual Performances – Tip of the Iceberg!

With hope for an awakened reality post-Pandemic. May we stay safe, well, grow larger and give as we can.

©2020 Janet Maher

Pandemic Thoughts

Settling Into A Pandemic

It has been quite a long time since I began this fledgling blog. Perhaps its time has arrived. Like everyone else immersed in the COVID19 Pandemic I am trusting the process that will allow a constantly mutating virus* to die out – if people will pay attention to science and protect themselves from becoming host to it. I am also trusting the process of going inward, simplifying my life, while engaging in ways that make sense in relation to members of my varied and widely separated communities. While all life on our planet is interconnected within rippling waves of cause and effect, each of us is experiencing this tragedy in unique ways. As Dr. Maya Angelou expressed, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” Potent words for the present.

(*Update 5.18.20, Good news, my scientist friend said that it has been determined this particular coronavirus in not the type that mutates, like the common cold. See this article from The Scientist.)

©2018 Janet Maher, Gaia: Specimen #1, mm monoprint; wintergreen oil transfer print, completed with colored pencils; image size: 9.5” diameter; paper: 13” sq.; matted and framed 16” sq.

In the weeks that the immense dangers finally became acknowledged and addressed in the United States I adapted a different blog (MaherMatters) and posted “off topic” there. I also began to make fabric face masks for a long list of individuals around the country. That list continues to grow and marks my weekly visit to the Post Office with some sense of purpose and usefulness. Among many other activities, mask-making has helped me to focus, like an aspect of Karma Yoga. See my previous posts through these links:

While so many have been seriously, catastrophically affected by loss during this time, so many others are front-line responders and essential workers and an outrageous number of people have died, it is a privilege for we who are actually able to stay and work from home. We may, nonetheless, also experience emotional upheavals as an avalanche of dire news events of the days persists while we are stricken by our new and unwelcome mask-wearing, non-touching reality. Given that not all upheavals are equal, each must still be faced as it occurs and transformed into something greater—greater than the virus, greater than those who willfully do harm.

©2018, Janet Maher, Gaia: Specimen #2, mm monoprint; wintergreen oil transfer print, completed with colored pencils; image size: 9.5” diameter; paper: 13” sq.; matted and framed 16” sq.

Artists, writers, performers, scientists and others whose vocations are inwardly-driven may have an easier time of this. Our own work and endless curiosity provides no lack of something to do, even as such vocations are financially precarious even in the best of times. Ironically, the great gift of time having been given in full while we hunker down by command allows us to work in ways that ordinarily must be fitted around the edges of juggling myriad other requirements within the world of making a living. While parents, conversely, have more than usual on their plates, many have welcomed ways to engage their children in their work-lives, and children have grown in ways that quarantine time has made possible as conventional structures are being reinvented. Creatives and scientists have continued to provide inspiration, explanations, encouragement, guidance and hope for me as the Internet has functioned in ways for which it was initially, positively, intended.

With this reentry into Trusting the Process: Getting There From Here, I intend to offer links to anchors of inspiration that have lifted my spirits or informed me during what I fear will be a long road ahead. I hope you’ll enjoy them, will share your own thoughts, and will subscribe.

  • Probably Tomfoolery has created a beautiful bedtime story, The Great Realization, that has gone viral in the best possible way.
  • Global Citizen streamed an inspiring live Earth Day celebration full of performances and sources of information. Click to stream two hours and forty-five minutes of terrific music collected from the day in the album One World: Together At Home! Stream from whatever platform you use.
  • Boston’s WBUR OnPoint, in conjunction with NPR, streamed a great interview with Brian Melican and Kimberly Dowdell, How Coronavirus Will Change City Life. Read Melican’s complete article regarding pandemics and epidemics in previous centuries, A tale of three cities: the places transformed by pandemics across history. It is disturbing how similar our current situation in the United States parallels that of Marseilles in 1720, when due to letting the safety measures slip on behalf of business 50,000 of 80,000 people died—after centuries of having bypassed the Black Plague.
  • Grateful to have learned of Emergence Magazine through a friend. I find its written and spoken articles and interviews regarding Ecology, Culture and Spirituality are so helpful in these times. In Shaking the Viral Tree, David Quammen explains how the coronavirus came to be and continues to mutate into different strains. If this awareness does not keep you to obeying safety protocols probably nothing will. (Hence, you will continue, selfishly, to put others at risk!) This site is worthy reading for every day and is a free subscription.
  • My heart was warmed by this moment between Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is one of the major voices of reason and solid leaders in this time, and Stephen Colbert, whom we watch without fail every night. Somehow I enjoy this show even more as Colbert streams casually, comfortably from home, with help from his family, and brings on terrific guests who are also open to being seen on a more real level than they might have been fully suited on a stage before a live audience.
  • The Earth Day celebration on April 18 ended with this beautiful collaboration between Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli, Lady Gaga, Lang Lang, and John Legend. Full of gratitude to all who performed on and produced this world-wide event, I also have been loving the YouTube streams of so many who continue to offer music to cheer our hearts, such as this fundraiser on behalf of Mass General Emergency by James Taylor, his wife, and son. Music touches us directly and often brings tears, which help to cleanse our souls while bringing us more in touch with a sense of our shared humanity. I’ll continue to post such links. Please share your recommendations too, as I try to use my days as much away from the computer as possible.
  • If you stream Netflix, be sure to see the wonderful Michelle Obama’s documentary – Becoming.

Stay safe and healthy, become larger in this time.

©2020 Janet Maher