Sunday, October 25, 2009

Marilyn Bennett's Blog has moved to

Saturday, February 21, 2009

FEBURARY 21, 2009

For those of you have asked if you’ve been taken off the blog list and that’s why you haven’t been receiving notices of postings, no worries; there just haven’t been any new additions. I’ll change that now, just shy of ten months since April 24, 2008. So much has happened in those months too. Though I haven’t written about them, I thought about them and that must count for something. So here is a recap, a brief run-through of things I might have written about and may someday …or not.

Obama won the primary in Montana! Happy day! I celebrated with other jubilant Helenans at a local bar, Miller’s Crossing. Visiting Montana for a few days were a group of foreign journalists who the U.S. State Department had invited over to witness the democratic process. I talked with a few representing various news outlets, one with a Samoan news station, another from Papua New Guinea, and another with the BBC out of Niger. They were all surprised by what they called the “race revolution” happening in this country, that an African American could be a contender for president of the U.S. of A. They expressed a mix of shock and excitement, which I too toasted. I’ve since heard back from IDY Baraou, the BBC reporter from Niamey, Niger, and I hope to write more about his observations now that Obama is in office.

Summer brought visits with family, my mother in June, and in July my brother Curtis, sis-n-law/fun Kelly, and niece Lexi. Picture four tall (some might say there were a couple of large ones) floating slowly down the Missouri and passing the take-out place by a few miles. And there was my last trip out of Montana (but who’s ancy) to my niece Sallie’s wedding in College Station, Texas, home of Texas A&M University. I am a former student of TAMU –note we are not alums, just former students, there are a lot of traditions like these. It’s been many years since I was there, and unlike most other former students, I have not kept the school passion. They call us “2 percenters.” At one point at the reception all the Aggies were called out to do the fight song, a fervent song done with movements and much verve. I thought that I would stand by my niece in a kind of school-spirit niece-aunt bonding moment. This was after my Texas Tech Red Raider brother Paul had pushed me out onto the dance floor. What I hadn’t thought through is that I no longer remembered the words to the song nor that being next to the bride, I would be on the vide tape in perpetuity. My lip sync was about three words off and when we got to the movements, I had to let the side-to-sides of my neighbors carry me. At least I remember where the arms went. All this was met with glee by Paul, the family’s variousTexas Longhorns, and a cousin from California that said seeing me out there was worth the trip. Thanks so much.

Another home project was begun. This time nephew Max and his girlfriend Kate came from Arizona to scrape, scrape, and more scrape the old paint off. Too bad they didn’t get to apply any paint during their two weeks. The project continued on into November when the last storm window was put back up. Joy, Andrea, and Jesus did the excellent work.

Other happenings turned the backyard animal king/queendom upside down. One being the bird feeder turned cat feeder that went up. There was a frenzy of feline focus, crouching and lunging, with a few feathers flying. I don’t think that is what my avid bird-watching mother intended when she gave me the feeder.

Then there were the Obama over McCain days. I went through 4 “Obama for President” yard signs as they kept being stolen. The fourth one I surrounded with dog poop to at least give the thieves something else to take away with the sign. It made it until the day after the election when it was swiped. My high school informant said that she heard guys boasting they had taken signs. She thought that was stupid, especially the gloating part.

Fall Art Walk at the Rodney Street Laundry
Two fabric artists displayed their work and all I could think about was the time during my heterosexual union that we bought a Bernina sewing machine because the husband thought I should sew. I even went to one class but the frustration of bobbin problems proved once again how much I was not cut out for sewing (this was in no way a disappointment to me). He got the machine in the divorce settlement.

A new sign goes up at the Laundry with the direction of the Black Hand, White Pinkie of God.

Plus a new bakery, Vanilla Bean, has moved in across the street from the Laundry
where the pawn shop used to be. Yum. I recommend the cupcakes, orange croissants, cinnamon rolls, ham and cheese scone, BBQ sandwich, and the coffee though not all in one sitting.

Buuzdo the cat moved in just after Thanksgiving from the Chicken Ranch that was starting to be the Cat Ranch. Formally spelled Buuzdeaux, he is named after the term my friend Brandy’s Serbian grandfather called boys that visited the house. This was in place of having to remember their names. Emma is underwhelmed.

I entered the Facebook world kind of by mistake and have embraced the reality that I suck at it. For example, I accidentally named a sewage plant after my sister, but it was in a response to a poke so she had it coming. And with all the people that have found me from my childhood, let me just say that Facebook is not something you join if you’re in the witness protection program.

Ah, December and January

Early in December a surgeon told me after a colonoscopy that I had tumors that were this close (imagine an inch between thumb and index finger) to cancer. I wondered if that was to scale or what. She said that I needed to have part of my colon taken out –who says that kind of thing? She also informed me that Americans have the longest colons and you don’t need all your colon. I was in shock over the news about the colon but not enough to not consider that was an odd bit of information, so I asked if other races or, rather, country’s citizens had shorter colons. Come to find out Africans and Asians are shorter because they eat less processed foods, but the closer an Asian gets to living in America (by way of Hawaii to the mainland for instance), the increase in colon disease. My friend and doctor Michael confirmed this.

Moving on, eleven days later I went under the scalpel and came out with a shorter but still American colon. My sister came from Texas to stay with me and take pictures when the surgical nurse put one of those hair net things on me before being wheeled down to the OR. I refused to put one on when I was four for a tonsillectomy so this was something she felt she needed to document for the rest of the family. I would have done the same thing if the hospital gurnies were turned. What followed was 6 days in the hospital where I had a new take on Eat, Pray, Love; Pray, Pass Gas, Eat. Though it goes against my sense of politeness to talk so easily about bodily functions especially the digestive tract, after the nurses asked for the umpteenth time if I’d passed gas, I got used to scat-talk. The surgeon asked if I’d passed gas out my bottom, which had me wondering where else that would be. Medical school must have taught her something extra.
There were complications during surgery that required cutting me open (ouch) rather than just the laproscopic method that we’d planned. This then set up another problem. After I got home, an infection developed under the incision area and I was back to the hospital on Christmas night for another 4 days. It required the surgeon to re-open the incision, clean out the bad stuff, and left it open for me to I pack and unpack for 4 weeks in order for it to heal from the inside out. One should not have to see the inside of one’s gut. It’s just not right. I felt that I was in the Wild West but without the whisky poured into the gaping hole and a bullet to bite on during the marinating.
I don’t recommend any of this unless, of course, you need it. Finally though the gaping wound came back together, and I’m feeling much, much better!
The great benefit is that I got to spend a lot of time with friends and family in person, by phone, thru email, under anesthesia, and in la-la land. (To those reading this, thanks to all the many ways you offered support!) All and all, contrary to the ER doctor who diagnosed that I was "unlucky" and needed some good luck (no prescription written), I feel very fortunate.

To share my fortune, here are a few hospital tips I came up with on my last stay:

1) You can change the channel on the TV in the ER waiting room without anyone
hurting you even if others are enjoying A Redneck Christmas (and I thought Fox
News was bad.)
2) You get help faster if you pull the chain the in the bathroom than if you push the
button on the hospital bed.
3) Even if you are a smart alec with the food staff like...staff, "You're back." me, "Yeah, I missed the food." They, bless 'em, take it as a compliment.
4) When the beeper keeps going off because the IV tube is bent anytime you breathe
b/c of where it was placed in the arm, it's better to let the nurses come and turn off
the beeper every two minutes rather than resetting it yourself. They decide much
more quickly to move the IV to the top of the hand, a place with less constriction
with every move.
5) The housekeeping staff are gems and know which floors have chocolate ice cream.
6a)Watching Loretta Young playing a nun in a hospital on Christmas Eve trying to get
Billy a bicycle is not entertaining when you are in a hospital on Christmas night.
6b) Always find a nurse that knows where the tv remote is that is separate from
the one attached to the bed. Otherwise, you can only go one direction when
channel surfing. It wears on you, and you end up with Loretta.
7)The fewer the years a nurse has been in practice, the bigger the bag put over the IV
to keep it dry during a shower. One junior nurse (I had her during 3 of her first 4
days at the hospital, her first nursing job) used a full size trash bag. The seasoned
nurses would whip in with a small bag, tape, and once even a netted glove.

Now to February, 2009
The movie Milk is playing at the Myrna Loy Center where I work. It is the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to a major public office in America, as one of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. It portrays the start of his activism, his ability to unify and empower a community, and, tragically, his assassination 30 years ago.
I was very moved by the film and what seemed like his zest for life. It also made me glad for the work I’ve done in the LGBT movement. My most recent activist life while I was living in Chicago left me pretty worn out. But as Milk and the gay right movement unfolded, I was reminded of earlier times and work that I had been involved in that felt like I had made a difference --work with LGBT youth, National Coming Out Day activities in Dallas, and organizing a group for gay and lesbian employees at SMU. Those were days when there were still many risks in coming out. We had to be organized in order to fight for anti-discrimination protection in schools, places of employment, health care, and in our faith communities, to name a few.
As I watched clips of Anita Bryant in the movie and her religion-wrapped bigotry, I thought of how I was at one time convinced that if we could influence the religious communities to dismantle their discriminatory practices or at least educate people, that it would bring greater change in our society because we were going to the source of so much ignorance and fear. But I learned, as my friend and fellow writer Gil Caldwell often says, “On justice issues, the church is more often the tail lights than the headlights .” It follows behind change and not out in front showing the way. True enough because the church by and large remains a place of exclusion while society continues to change.

However, lest we think that the fight for the rights of LGBT persons is over, we can look at the passing of Prop. 8 in California. This, thirty years after the same state led the country in legalizing protection of LGBT civil rights. Or just this past week the Montana Legislature House Judiciary Committee voted “no” on a bill on a party line tie vote against HB 252 brought by Rep. Margaret Campbell (D-Poplar) that would have added sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, to Montana's Human Rights Act and outlaw discrimination against LGBT and Two Spirit Montanans.

Some of the opposition’s opposition sounded stupidly familiar:
Dallas Erickson, described the 30 sexual orientations and 5 genders (each needing a separate bathroom), that would be affected by this law.
<my thought: only 30? Can’t we at least keep up with Baskin & Robbins’ 32?>
Jeanette Zentgraff from Concerned Women for America, explained that if schools cannot discriminate in hiring, "It is difficult to remove teachers who are flirting with students."
["HB 252] would force us to hire these people, and once in, are very militant." Harris Himes, Hamilton

Another line comes to mind, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
Linda Gryczan at Equality Project of the Montana Human Rights Network ( has promised that there is a YouTube clip coming that shows the 30 flavors testimony.
I’ll soon be moving my blog to a new web site. I write that news to you so I’ll be motivated to finish the web site… and write again before 10 months are up.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Changes in the Neighborhood

Reporting in from Rodney Street where many changes are taking place.
I've already written that the Jailhouse Sandwich Shop has moved over to the B&B Market. I misspoke that the meat counter was from the original meat market. That would have made it very, very old and unworkable so forget that. Here is picture from the old shop; remember this cartoon picture for later as it has now been painted over at the Laundry. One of the photographs at the bottom of this page is of the sandwich kitchen looking into it when it was at the Laundry. This picture can be compared to the first picture in the slide show B&B Market over in the right hand column. Now the kitchen has been cleaned out, newly floored, and awaiting more renovations. Second up in the slide show is John Leaf, one of the B&B owners, in the new space for the sandwich shop. The market has been spruced up and now sells gourmet and organic foods as well as the customary corner store staples. Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer and Rogue brew, Spam and multiple mustards, and Nutella. Life is good.

Moving on to Rodney Street Laundry, there was a lot of activity there last week with the arrival of the new energy-efficient, larger, and front-loading washer and dryers (slide show number feature, huh? even with my inferior skills of figuring out how to do it). Sandy, co-owner with Jacquie, is in the first picture with the slew of deliveries. Many tasks preceded the new machines: installation of new flooring, application of new paint, and reconfiguration of plumbing and such. In a couple of the slides, you can see the "behind the scenes" of the laundry business. Also find the new wall that covers the old cartoon. This was last week, now the Laundry has reopened for business even while the finishing touches are being applied. On a late drive-by, one can see Sandy through the window in the light of the fluorescents still working into the night.

Updates to come on the grand reopenings!

Two more "before" shots.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Add my name to those voting for Barack Obama for president. I am moved by the man, period. I can go on to explain the linear-type traits and experience that qualify him to lead the nation, but I’m more interested in why people play down his inspiration and hope. Is he insincere, I don’t think so. Is he manipulative or is he persuasive? Is he living his destiny? Are we? Should we bring lofty imaginings into the picture? Yes, because if ever there were a time for imagination, this would be it. I don’t need to go into the litany of problems such as war, the economy, health care, genocide, poverty, tax cuts/burdens, education, climate change, torture, and on. We know the problems, we can hear lists of ways to fix them, but what inspires and moves us to do anything about them? What I’ve seen of movements attempting to create change is the multiple avenues through which it is sought: community organizing (power up), policy design and implementation (power down), consciousness-raising needed in order to fuel the first two for them to be effective, and commitment to things not seen only imagined (some would call that faith or hope or even foolish fancy).

I recently learned a new buzz word/phrase being bantered about these days, “Kumbaya moment (KM).” I saw this reference in two different articles. In the first one I thought the use of KM was an interesting notion. As I read on in the newspaper, I found another reference. So then I wanted to relocate the first article, but doing this felt like I was in a card game of Concentration, where each card of the deck is laid out face down, with the goal being able to remember where a pair of the same number/suit is by turning up two cards per turn. With no success, I turned to Google to see if it would by chance bring up the article. What I got were a whole slew of articles about KM. It seems that John Edwards used the concept of Kumbaya first, calling Obama the “Kumbaya candidate." I found this tidbit in an article by Meghan Daum writing for She went on, “The term allows its users to have their coolness cake and eat it, too. To invoke "Kumbaya" is to display one's counter cultural credentials while simultaneously letting it be known how stupid and irrelevant those credentials are in today's world. Like those loathsome shibboleths ‘think outside the box’ and ‘let's take a blue-sky approach,’ which combine self-help jargon with corporate doublespeak, "Kumbaya" manages to be completely earnest and completely disingenuous at the same time.

Now being a former camp counselor and youth director, I’ve sung Kumbaya more than my share and I’ve had some very funny KMs. One came in a staff call when I worked for a non-profit, national grassroots organization working for inclusion of all people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the United Methodist Church (UMC). There were four of us around the table and two by speaker-phone. We had just received news of a woman who had committed suicide under the stress and heartache of her church’s condemnation once members found out that she was a lesbian. We already knew about charges being brought against another UMC pastor for being openly gay. It was a doubly hard day. In the sad moment, I suggested that we sing Kumbaya. It’s true. We began to sing, the six of us, and then it was so somber that I got tickled and couldn’t hold in the laughter. Pretty soon, the only ones singing were the ones on the phone lines because they couldn’t see or hear that the rest of us had quit singing. That of course made it even more hysterical. Bad, bad, bad, but I couldn’t help myself. In actuality the song has gotten a bad rap, especially by sincere/disingenuous people like me. In all seriousness, there is meaning for our country and globe in this song, clear and present need even, “Come by here, oh God.” Our world can sure use some Divinity (however conceived) showing up right about now or, at least, our best selves rising to the fore. There are lots-o-problems going on and a spiritual life force would be welcome. If hope is part of that, come on.

Last week was a stand-in-line-for-hours week, and there just aren’t very many of those here in Montana…at all. At a Helena Starbucks or one’s favorite non-corporate coffee joint, the longest line might be five, and it only seems long because there is a lot of space between the customers. We have a lot of open landscape out here and not a lot of people so people forget to bunch up. It’s sometimes very annoying. I mean standing in line for dry cleaning is not the same as standing in line for a prescription. You don’t need privacy for picking up the freshly cleaned down comforter.

A week ago last Tuesday, I stood for a couple of hours outside the Helena High School gymnasium to see former president Bill Clinton, a historic occasion for Helena and Montana, but then our delegate count is r-a-r-e-l-y seen as making a difference in national politics. However, with the presidential race as it is, we had some impressive visitors. Entrance was free too, just like Willie Nelson’s concert this past July, and with about the same amount of security, though Bill did have Secret Service dudes once he arrived and Willie only had the county sheriff’s department.

Last Saturday though, the real rock stars showed up in Butte (rhymes with “cute”) for the (Democrats) annual Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. It was another couple of hours of line-standing to get in, this time in a very cold wind. The word was that we were not supposed to bring coats or large purses to speed up security screening and so many folks were not prepared for the icy chill. That was another two plus hours of waiting in line and however festive the anticipation was, it was still COLD. Usually-amiable people got pretty testy when anyone tried cut in line and the misguided souls were quickly booed to the end of the line, especially one a mile long (okay, maybe .75 miles). However I did see an elderly World War II vet --his cap said so- step into a gap in the line ignoring the .75 and though he was yelled at, I saw that someone let him in not too far down the line. What did he have to lose; he’d dodged bullets, what was getting in trouble for cutting, really?

Side note: I’d never spent any time in Butte, a mining town of ruffian legend, its population was once over 100,000 (that would be roughly 10% of the whole state’s today) made up of numerous immigrant communities, a mix that led to the name Butte, America. It’s also said that Butte was where the American labor movement was born. The introduction to the town added to my overall adventure. We went to the Berkeley Pit, a former open pit copper mine that is about a mile and a half wide and about 1,780 feet deep; stopped by the Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church (speaking of one of the immigrant groups); drove up the steep hill to Montana Tech to take in the view; meandered through Walkerville; had lunch at a sports bar that was once a bank with vault seating available; and finally got to the place I really wanted to go, the M&M Bar. It's an infamous place, starting in 1890, watering many an off-shift miner, surviving prohibition as a "cigar store," and still serving customers 24/7. I had a cell phone picture taken of me on the inside it but the photo didn’t get saved. Too bad, because an hour or two later Obama had his picture taken in the same spot. I did get the backdrop of the memorial to Evel Knievel, a hometown Butte boy

What can I say about the Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner (box lunch for those of us in the stands)? For one, it was only the second occasion where Barack and Hillary appeared at the same dinner, Virginia being the other. Two, it was interesting to sense the sharp feelings between the two candidates’ camps. There was at least one unifying line and it was met with mighty cheers when Clinton said that one thing about this election, “George W. Bush won’t be on the ballot.” Woo-hoo. Third, though their speeches addressed the same concerns, as one friend put it, “Obama made you feel like we could get things done while Clinton just made you tired” with her long lists of what we need to do and how we need to do them. Both candidates are intelligent, resourceful, impressive and experienced. However, I disagree that Hillary’s experience of having lived in the White House counts as the qualification that many herald. There have been plenty of presidents (the entire bunch of them) who have never lived in the White House before they got there. Also, when she says and infers that only she knows how to fight and hold her ground, I think about Obama being a black man in America. Hello. I think he knows how to hold his own. And as far as his church and Rev. Jeremiah Wright goes, the true revelation is that many in White America haven’t imagined what the Black experience is in these supposedly united of states.* In addition, have these same people listened to some of the prejudiced rhetoric that is spoken weekly in United Methodist pulpits, Hillary’s denomination? Furthermore if what it took for Obama to speak directly about race was the You Tube sound bites by Wright, then so be it. Though there are disagreements about Obama’s address from within and without the African American community, it still was a person of color running for president speaking candidly about race. That, to me, is a fresh breeze with a hint of moisture on a hot, dry day. Call it a Kumbaya Moment, that’s all right, I’ll even stand in line to hum along.

*On Black experience in America:
An email from my black Elder Brother, Gil Caldwell, definitely worth a read.

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath -
America will be!
Langston Hughes
In my 74 years of living, America has never been completely America to me...74 year ago I was born into American racial apartheid; the hospital where I was born, the neighborhood to which my mother returned with me, the churches, schools, stores, theaters, parks, buses, trains, all and much more were shaped by America's original sin, racism....Yet as I grew up, I knew that one day America would begin to be America for me.
That day began to become a reality in what was called the Civil Rights Movement....I was an unknown "foot soldier" in that Movment...I was in Mississippi, I participated in two phases of the Selma to Montgomery March, I was at the March on Washington, I marched next to Martin Luther King in a March on the Boston School Committee....Slowly as I became active in a Movement that would transform America, America began to become America for me.
Then when I was 73, the race for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party began and in that race was a man whose name is Barack Obama.... At first I was not too enthusiastic about his candidacy..I remembered the candidacies of other Black persons; Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun....I remember that at one time there had been the possibility of a candidacy for the Republican Party presidential nomination by Colin Powell...But "politics as usual" surfaced again and not only was Colin Powell thwarted by attacks that many of us thought were unfair, his wife was personally attacked as well....Of course I must acknowledge that Alan Keyes has also sought the Republican presidential nomination.
But, as the candidacy of Barack Obama began to succeed and succeed, despite reservations in the larger community and the African American Community, the idea of America becoming America for me, took on more new life!
New life, despite the foolishness of "Is Barack Obama Black Enough?"....Despite attempts to use his admitted drug use against him...Despite, the childish efforts to pronounce his middle name, "Hussein" with a cynical sarcasm that sought to frighten an electorate that was too wise to be frightened....Despite the efforts of some African American Civil Rights icons and successful business persons to make Senator Obama look small in an effort to make their candidate look large...Despite the efforts of a former President to minimize the achievements of Barack Obama by saying words to the effect, "He is another one, just like the other ones" (Words that not only belittled Obama, they belittled the significant impact of the "other ones")...America becoming more America for me grew and grew, despite the illogical and irrational efforts to convict Barack Obama of "guilt by association" by bringing up the names and words of Minister Louis Farrakhan and Rev. Jeremiah Wright....Despite the efforts of a former Vice Presidential candidate who said "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position."...(I had not heard this kind of "reverse victimization" before")...It is akin to saying, "If Tiger Woods was a white man, he would not have achieved the success he has." This is a new way of "dissing" Black accomplishment.
But, but, but despite the above foolishness, my vision of a new America grows and grows. Each day as I see and hear the enthusiasm of persons of all colors who are much younger than I, continuing to be excited about the prospects of CHANGE that a Barack Obama Democratic Party nomination and presidential election would offer, my hope and my pride expand. An "America that never was America to me," begins to take on "being" in ways I have never known before. My generation is a generation of "Segregation Survivors". Some would hope that we would go to our deaths in silence, so that it would be as though we never existed. The contradiction and hypocrisy represented by the reality of our segregation experience has given rise to the sickness of a national amnesia that dares not remember what we were made to be and who we are today. But, some of us have refused to be "Invisible" nor silent, women and men. Now as we are on the edge of our transition from this life, we see in the Barack Obama candidacy, even those who do not support him, something in America we never expected to see.
Despite the racial blood, sweat and tears of the past, we now see in the race for the presidency of our nation, an America struggling not to be born again, because it has never been what it is struggling to be now, but rather to be born for the first time! We live not far from the Stone Pony night club that Bruce Springsteen made popular. I could never listen with much enthusiasm to, "Born in the USA" that was/is sung with so much power by Springsteen. But now in 2008, the 40th anniversary year of the assssination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the nation of my birth evokes pride I have not known before. I can listen with pride to Bruce Springsteen's song ways I never felt before. The success of the candidacy of Barack Obama no matter what happens, enables me to say with Langston Hughes, "America will be!" Hallelujah!

Gil Caldwell
Asbury Park, New Jeresey
March 13, 2008

Gil and I have co-authored Truth-in-Progress: Letters in Mixed Company, a manuscript waiting to be snapped up. More information to come.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Guest Author: Kelly Bennett

Thought I'd throw in a new element to the blog and feature a guest author, Kelly Bennett. For those suspicious of the Bennett part of her name: yes, we are part of the same family. She's married to my oldest brother Curtis, and they currently reside in Jakarta, Indonesia. She has many books to her name that you can check out on her website,, AND she has been to the Rodney Street Laundry. The following is part of a series of email entries that Kelly periodically sends out describing her experiences in Jakarta. Someday soon she'll have a blog but there isn't any pressure, really, Kelly.

Jakarta News—Nyepi, March 7, 2007

Today is Nyepi. Nyepi is the Balinese "Day of Silence." It is a day set aside for fasting, and meditation. From sunrise today until sunrise tomorrow everyone is expected to maintain silence. The day is reserved for self-reflection, prayer, meditation. No one lights a fire, works, travels, no one talks or eats. Imagine on an island that is usually crackling with activity, buses, taxis, bikes roaring past, honking, music, tourists and hawkers yakking, laughing, completely silent. The roar of the surf, waves, wind and gulls squabbling provides background music along the coast. Inland,in the forests and rice terraces, the insects provide the only sound track. Occasionally, a baby's cry or a toddler's giggles break the silence, these interruptions only magnify the quiet. Although most of Indonesia is not Hindu, Nyepi is a national holiday. Indonesia recognizes five religions, and everyone must subscribe to one: Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic and Christian. As a nation, Indonesia recognizes major religious holidays of all five of these. Which translates to a lot of national holidays, and perhaps a higher level of religious and cultural awareness than is evident in other countries. Interesting how when we are given a day off as a result of a holiday, we are more inclined to take notice of the event. Here in Jakarta, where there are few Hindus--none that I know personally--the streets are uncommonly empty. And, if it's possible, the few cars and motorcycles on the road seem to ride quieter and the vehicle horns--honking is a favorite pastime of Jakarta drivers--are still. It's Thursday, but the air has that Sunday afternoon feel I remember from when I was a kid--that relaxed, lazy feel that came after church, after a belt-stretching lunch, after we'd changed out of our good clothes, and theTV was turned to the golf channel. One has to admire the conviction of the Balinese people. Imagine how difficult it must be to observe Nyepi. This island, where tourism is the mainstay of the economy, cancels all air, sea, and road traffic, demands that shops, restaurants, and even the beach shuts down for 24 hours. Tourists and non Hindu are exempt from observing the holiday--barely. Within the confines of resorts and hotels restaurants are open and the pools available for swimming, but no splashing allowed! Exceptions to the vehicle/silence code are made for emergency vehicles carrying people with life-threatening conditions and women in labor--they are allowed to scream. (I guess even on Bali no one is willing to confront a woman in transition.) One thing about the day seems grossly at odds with the sprit of Nyepi: Throughout the holiday, a select group of men called Pecalang (pronounced Pe-cha-long) patrol the streets. These men are selected by the community to patrol the streets making sure that no one dares to ride, or talk, or watch TV, or light a fire--even a cigarette--during the 24 hours of Nephi. Iwonder what a silence keeper does if he catches people breaking the rules?He can't yell at them? Maybe he thinks at them until they behave?Sssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

For more about Kelly Bennett and her books visit
Kelly has authored or co-authored 12 books for children—both fiction and non-fiction. Her titles include Not Norman, Spider Spins a Story: Fourteen Legends from Native America and the just-released Strangers in Black.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008


I have an amazing spot where I write at home. My study has windows on two sides, the old kind with three vertical planes of glass in wood frames on top and solid glass below, circa 1930. I haven’t opened them lately, but this summer, Andrea, who painted all but two rooms of the house, worked wonders with a sharp blade to break them free from being painted shut. They slide along a thin rope pulley on the inner frames to open and close. On the south side of my room, I look out through three of these beautiful windows onto the backyard, beyond that to Mount Ascension. To the west, I look out on a side yard that once served as a dog run or at least has a three-foot wooden fence on one end with a gate to usher the dog in. The other sides are six foot. Now you know Ms. Em is not going in there so instead we imagine a stone patio with hot tub under the fine towering tree that is in charge right now. The woman who measured for the blinds had French doors where these west windows are for easy flow out to the patio. She had it all figured out down to which closet the towels would lodge. But right now, it is a bank of two windows and a view of Mount Helena in the background. The room is sunny and a very happy place to be. My desk faces out to the big backyard that hosts a small 350 sq. foot rental cottage on the right side and a small garage on the far side in front of me, both in matching dark yellow wooden siding with burnt orange trim. The rest of the back fence line is filled with trees kept with an old wire fence. On the left is more of the 6-foot wooden fence, encasing the yard from the street on the other side.

This is anything but a quiet little place, one can see by the variety of scat present: deer, rabbit, cat (lots of cat), birds, and dog. The deer’s was mystifying to me as I couldn’t figure out how a deer was getting in so I had settled on an imagined monster rabbit. Until the evening when I opened the door to let Emma out and there was a large doe digging around in the snow under the crab apple tree. She looked at me, me at her, Emma for the smell of cat excrement, and then she easily jumped over the wooden fence and took off down the street. I thought my apparition-seeing moment had come, but the next day upon investigation, I found her scat. I didn’t spot her again for a long time, but a few weeks ago as I drove up to the house I saw two young deer by the fence. One trotted across the street but the other looked at me and then into the back yard. Pretty soon a doe jumped over and the two trotted away. So much for the false sense of protection for a summer garden. I knew that a few herds traveled through the neighborhood, often following the same trail as the postman across the front yard at an angle to cut the corner. I’ve seen him; I’ve seen their “calling cards,” as Mammaw used to call them, large scat-terings.

There was another party interested in the crab apple tree, this time a huge flock of Bohemian Waxwings. There were at least a hundred of them that descended on the back yard with their playful chirping. I hadn’t seen this type of bird before. I knew they weren’t sparrows or robins and all the other ones I know were on sunny vacation and weren’t due back for a few months. I did the only thing I knew to do when faced with feathered questions; I called my mom. I couldn’t offer her much, “They’re bigger than sparrows and finches. There is a whole bunch of them. They’re mostly gray black, have some rust color on their heads, and yellow on the tip of their back wings.” She did what birders do: sorted the information, compared and contrasted in her mental bird book, and spit out the answer, “Cedar Waxwings.” Well, she had the waxwing part right. I was following her suggestions on the internet and was happy with that answer even though she suggested I look at Bohemian Waxwings too, which later I found out that’s what they were. Mom said that she had searched all over Michigan for some of these Bohemians but never found them. She called their visit “wondrous,” I’d have to agree.

The greatest activity in the yard surrounds the cats. In fact I’ve come to call the cottage the “cathouse.” Emma calls the flowerbed, bordering the front of the small house, “treat land.” I sit at my window, see the cats dig around in the bed’s soil and do they’re business, and shudder at seeing the production of Emma’s treasured snacks. That sight is just too fresh and vivid when Emma comes inside with THAT breath. Every now and then a cat will brave coming over to her. I wonder if she recognizes it as “the source.” The other night she was doing her own pooping by the bed. Even while she was in the dog’s awkward poo stance, she had her nose turned to the treat box, multi-tasking.

There is a little cat door in one of the windows of the cottage. Three cats live inside. Two out of three are often outside; the third is venturing out more now that the weather is warmer. The longhaired black one often sits on the roof peak over the door looking down on the yard. One day I came home to that cat on his perch, the other black feline resident climbing the nearby tree (best bird-hunting tree during spring and summer), and a loud crow in another tree cursing the cats. That’s what I imagined the noise to be; it sounded so stern. A giant gray tabby also visits the house. I’m waiting to hear howling and find him stuck in the door after eating the cat food inside. There are at least two other cats that visit on a regular basis.

The weather has warmed up and most of the snow has melted in the yard. I’ve enjoyed seeing all the various paw/hoof prints (the snow also covered the less desirable scat). We had some mighty windstorms in the last month or so. I looked out one day to see the plastic Adirondack chairs copulating. But there were some really, really cold days. I checked the weather conditions on the internet one morning, the day after a snowstorm left 2 feet of sparkling snow but lots of sunshine. The blue sky was deceiving, it was minus 15 outside, that’s Fahrenheit. On the Weather Channel listing where it reads “Feels Like:” it had “N/A.” No fucking kidding. Once you’re at minus 15, what’s it take to figure what it feels like, bloody hell frozen over.

On April 2nd I will have lived here 4 years. Clearly that’s not long enough to become jaded to the urban deer herd. They still surprise me when I drive by them as they trail down the sidewalk. Yesterday was no exception as I sat here at my computer and looked up to see a doe running down the alley, pass behind the garage, and cross the street. Soon a second doe came barreling through. I waited but that was the end of it. I wondered if I should have set up a water stand by the garage for the deer marathoners but socializing with the deer is frowned upon. Plus, they’re wild animals in an urban jungle. I still think they are the graffiti bearers.

Another window that I love looking out of is the one over the kitchen sink. It has a wonderful view of the big Montana sky, great for full moon watching, and more cat antics. I watched one of the neighborhood cats trying to act nonchalant, as cats do, when after crossing the snowy street, its paws, legs and belly sunk into deep snow. It backed up, sat down, scratched, and decided to go back to where it came from, all the while bluffing, “I meant to do that.”

Last week’s blog had a picture that was taken from my office window at the Myrna Loy Center which is across the street from the county courthouse. The caption read, “What’s in the pick-up.” It was a stuffed mountain lion and a mounted deer head. When the lion was being brought out, human arms under the belly, I thought it was a very old live dog. As it got closer and the man carrying it turned around, I thought with alarm, “It’s a mountain lion!” My brain then eased into, “ It’s a stuffed mountain lion.” Yesterday through the same window I watched a Golden Retriever/Yellow Lab mix puppy playing on the courthouse lawn. When the dog walker tried to take it back into the courthouse, the pup sat down and refused to budge. It’s only 2-3 months old and belongs to one of the judges –a good one that always talks to Emma when we see him on the street. He once borrowed Draco (one of the Hounds of the Myrna), when Draco was a young pup, for the day to hang out in his courtroom.

Windows offer a frame for life’s constantly moving picture. Not only do they allow us a view on the world but also a focus at a particular sight. Over the years when my dad was sick with cancer, especially toward the end, I remember thinking that someone watching through the window from across the street could have followed the whole story of his illness: his slowed walk during chemo treatments, the boxes being brought home after early retirement, the arrival of the wheelchair that propelled him once his legs became weak, then no sight of him leaving the house but the sense that he was still in there, cars lining the street, adult children arriving from the airport, a shroud of silence during the last days, a pastor ringing the doorbell, a hearse pulling up, and a body taken out on a stretcher (the jogger going by when this actually happened looked rather shocked). Later it would be the limousines driving up to carry the grieving family to the funeral --lots more of the family there by then, hours pass and back the cars come accompanied by more people, neighbors bringing casseroles to the door, flowers being delivered, and days later, cars taking the same adult children back to the airport. This might be a dreary sight but it is still there frame by frame and tells a story. We see these all the time if we look and keep looking. It is an honoring in a sense, witnessing of life unfolding, sometimes all the way to the end, a tender wave hello and goodbye.

In memory of Mary York, dear friend in Chicago, and Martha Gilmore, lovely woman mentor and friend in Dallas. I imagine you with Molly Ivins and Ann Richards. When the wind is right, I hear all y’all laughing.

Also in memory of four lovely four-legged creatures: Willy, Girl, Joshie, and Lily.

Guest blog by Kelly Bennett, more e-says, and news of Rodney Street Laundry.

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Thursday, March 6, 2008


Okay, forget that whole plan of writing more often with fewer words. Whatever. That’s just not my temperament and that’s that. Several of you wrote and told me that the number of words doesn't matter. I like you. Today, though, will not be an essay but a brief hodge-podge of items about the neighborhood.

(You can read the comments on the last posting by clicking on "Comments" just below my last posting.)

Capital City Perks
Months back I mentioned that the owners of Main News, James and Sandy Rojo, were taking suggestions for a new name for their store. Soon after, James came up with their new identity, Capital City Perks. The store is truly “more than good coffee” as their tagline promotes and good coffee gets high marks already. The Rojos are the wonderful people who bring the Sunday New York Times to Helena on the Sunday of publication AND they sell cigars AND comic books AND other interesting merchandise. Nice humidor and you can’t say that about just any store. Check out
They aren’t officially in the Rodney Street neighborhood though they’re only 3-4 blocks down the hill. One good drop and roll and you’re there.

Side note: Big thanks to the “New York Times Fairy” who paid for last Sunday’s paper. When I picked up my paper from the Rojo’s front porch (the store isn’t open on Sundays anymore but we can still get the paper if we work it out in advance and put the $5 through the mail slot), there was a note that said the NYT Fairy had paid for my paper. What a fabulous and happy surprise, one of those little gifts that mean a lot. I now believe in fairies.

Jailhouse Sandwich Shop & Soup Kitchen
Big news about the Jailhouse Sandwich Shop & Soup Kitchen, it has now moved across the parking lot to B&B Market. It’s a nice fit as B&B already has a deli feel to it with their meat and cheese case leftover from when the building was a meat market. Plus the merchandise in the small grocery store already reflects the neighborhood’s diverse tastes: Pabst Blue Ribbon to Rogue Microbrews, lemon pies of old (also come in cherry and apple, one serving per yellow, red or green wrapper) to half-loaves of heavy wheat bread from a local bakery. I haven’t tried the coffee.

Snow Sculpture Contest
The 2nd annual snow sculpture contest was held a few weeks ago. First place went to Timber with his King Kong creation. He built back in a cold, shady corner and with the temperature in the 40’s, he also gets the award for the longest-surviving sculpture. Timber won last year as well. He has an advantage being a stone carver by trade. In fact, he carved the stone crosses that grace the Helena Cathedral. I asked him if he carved them on the ground and someone else put them up, but he said that he was the one up high on the steeple installing them. Made my knees weak just thinking about that kind of height. The sweet smell of dryer sheets at the drifted across the parking lot from Rodney Street Laundry where the machines were in full use. There is BIG news coming from the laundry too, but can’t tell it just yet.


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