Poetry, essays and other musings by Cathy Standiford
Author: Cathy Standiford
Cathy Standiford writes “activist poetry,” essays on social justice and issues affecting women and girls, and the occasional song. Currently she is working on a historical novel inspired by her grandmother, who was a refugee from the Armenian genocide.
A retired city manager and local government consultant, Cathy is a volunteer mentor for WriteGirl, a non-profit community of women writers that promotes creativity and self-expression to empower teen girls. She is a long-standing member of Soroptimist, an international volunteer organization committed to advancing the economic empowerment of women and girls through access to education.
In addition to writing and volunteering, Cathy enjoys reading, knitting, cooking and walking with her husband, John and Lemon, their dog.
Sometimes another writer’s work is so close to my own thinking, I can’t help but wonder if they have been secretly hanging out inside my head. This week’s “WRighteous” column by Amy Ferris is one of those pieces. I envy her boldness, her directness, her ability to capture the multiple contradictions so evident in our divided America, speaking truth to power in such a creative, articulate way. I sometimes hesitate to share my more powerful poems, worrying too much about whether people will think they are too strident, or too “political.” But a wise woman once told me, “Change comes when the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same.” Our country is in so much pain right now. An effective way to ease the pain is to find our voice, find our courage, and be as bold in speaking truth to power as Amy Ferris is. I’ll try to be bolder–and I hope you will try too.
Seasonal changes are subtle in southern California, but they do exist. Cooler evenings have finally arrived–there was even a bit of rain this morning. The most reliable sign that summer/fall is transitioning to fall/winter is the growing number of liquid amber leaves falling onto the patio. Fallen leaves signal changes to come as we close out one year and anticipate the next. Gandhi challenged us to “be the change we want to see in the world.” The leaves remind me there is much work to be done–personally and collectively–to create a better world for everyone.
They lie silently
Edges turned upward
Like ballerinas waiting
To be lifted back up
Tawny, amber, ruddy chorus
Rusty with age
Brittleness belies their former supple, verdant hue
Once moving in time to windy beats
They will move again today
Raked from slumber, beautiful autumn debris
Clearing the stage
For new, gracefully falling dancers
Thanksgiving marks the beginning of my annual “season of reflection.” From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve, I spontaneously start evaluating the past year and planning for the year ahead. I think about what brings me joy, and start letting go of the things that don’t so I have more time for the things that do. I assess progress on the past year’s goals, and if the progress is underwheming, determine whether the goal is still important enough to keep pursuing. I debate with myself over whether to make New Year’s Resolutions or not. (I inevitably do.)
I usually start my season of reflection by counting my blessings. (Thanksgiving provides the perfect reminder.) This year I have so many blessings, it will take most of the weekend to tally them all. But I’m willing to give it the old college try. Today I am grateful for:
dear family and friends
almost full moons
financial security and a home with no mortgage
butchers who don’t laugh when I ask them to spatchcock the turkey for me
small kindnesses like my neighbor’s willingness to walk my dog because my hip is acting up
the taste of fresh Meyer lemons plucked from my own tree
warm fleece jackets to ward against the cooler autumn nights
finding the perfect joke gift to give my husband for his birthday
plenty of books to read, and more being written for me to read in the future….
And most importantly, I feel blessed that you have stopped by to read my blog today. Thank you! May your blessings be too many to count. Happy Thanksgiving.
I’ve been so overwhelmed lately. Overwhelmed by the violence. Overwhelmed by the hate. Overwhelmed by both the “ends justify the means” political rhetoric of the man who sits in the White House and the complicit silence of Republican leaders in response. I’m an introvert, so my natural tendency when overwhelmed is to retreat. But as Amy Ferris wrote so eloquently last Friday, “…these are not times to hide.” Thank you, Amy, for helping me break free of my little cocoon. Next Tuesday is Election Day. May decency prevail. May democracy prevail. May we all break free from our little cocoons and raise a ruckus to make it so.
Darkness surrounding, enveloping
Ensuring security, safety in being alone
Black walls block distractions
No judgements, no shaming
Nothing inhibiting penetrates
Breathe in courage, building
Breathe out fear, releasing
Emergence is coming
Dimness yielding to light
Inner power too much to contain
It’s Friday and I’m tired. On days like these it’s hard to write, hard to do anything except (a) think about when I may be able to fit in a nap or (b) find a quiet place to watch nature do its thing. When I take the time to be still, I experience some pretty amazing things. Like this….
A hummingbird sits
One bird of paradise on another
Before the day’s whirring begins
Longing to rest and be still as the bird
But the bird is not still
It shifts its gaze…left…right…up…back and forth
Alert for potential threats and opportunities
Wings ready for flight in response to either
One last sip of coffee
One last sip of nectar
As both take flight into the promise of the day
I learned to suppress my emotions at an early age. My mother was a master at such suppression and I was determined not to replicate my father’s explosive temperament. For too long, women have been criticized for being “too emotional,” as if passionate feelings are a bad thing. Such criticism continues to be a primary weapon used to maintain women’s oppression. That’s why men in power resort to labeling women protesters as an “angry mob,” then turn around and praise each other’s anger as being “strong and forceful.” Such double standards enrage me.
“Well behaved women seldom make history,” said Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Perhaps overcoming our fears and releasing our rage is the best way for us to make history now. Although I wrote this poem in February, it seems particularly relevant today.
Hot steam billowing up
Smashing against lids of self-control
Teary droplets unable to fall
Opening would bring needed release
Afraid of being scalded by her volcanic emotions
Afraid of being burned by others all over again
Sometimes I have trouble finding my voice as a writer–until something really bothers me. It is then, in the midst of frustration, anger, disappointment, sadness, disbelief, shock…that words flow almost effortlessly from my pen to paper. Writing is one way I use my voice. Voting is another.
You may have heard that there’s an election coming up in the United States. (And if you haven’t heard, where have you been? I may want to go there some day!) It’s tempting to think our vote doesn’t count, but I know from experience that’s not true. I have witnessed a mayor’s race in a medium-sized city be decided by only 11 votes. Some races have ended in a tie, causing candidates to draw straws or roll a die to determine the winner. Anyone else remember those close Bush v. Gore hanging chad results that had to be resolved by the Supreme Court? Our democracy requires “we the people” to have a voice in deciding who represent our interests. We have a voice in determining what kind of nation America will be through our elected representatives. Our vote is that voice.
The voter registration deadline has already passed in many states (including Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas), and will close tomorrow in a few others (New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma). Depending on where you live, it may not be too late to register. In most cases it can be done online. Visit vote.org for a state-by-state directory of deadlines and requirements. The clock is ticking, so don’t wait.
The only time your vote doesn’t count is when you don’t cast it. And you can’t cast it if you aren’t registered.
In April of 2018 I published an essay about a sexual assault I experienced in college and why I stayed silent about it for 40 years. This was long before the topic of sexual assault became so politically charged. I shared my story because I wanted to let other silent survivors know they are not alone, and to point out several factors inherent in our society that make it difficult for women to come forward. In the months since, I was overwhelmed by the love and support shown by both friends and strangers. The response was universally positive. Until yesterday. Continue reading “Only a Survivor”→
Thank you for joining me on this journey. I have been writing since 14, when one of my favorite aunts gave me my first journal. I quickly learned a journal doesn’t judge, it just accepts, embraces and listens to inner thoughts and experiences. My journal became the safest place for me to explore what it means to be young, what it means to be a woman, and where I thought my place in the world should be. I still have all of my original journals, mostly filled with typical teen angst. But a common theme running throughout my writing, regardless of my age, has been a voice of concern for social justice or, more accurately, the lack of it.
You see, there are certain things about our world I can’t know about and do nothing about. Writing has become the primary way for me to find my voice in the face of injustice. I turn to writing when I am bothered about something or when I am feeling particularly powerless. Writing about it helps me take back my power.
For most of my life I have kept my writing private. But in a world that feels increasingly divided, where I witness events and experiences that simply feel wrong, I have decided to let my inner activist emerge. Through this blog I’ll be sharing my activist poetry, as well as links to other sites where you can find my work. So please come back!
Obviously, this space is not as private or safe as a personal journal would be. But if my activist voice inspires you to raise your own voice–in whatever medium allows you to raise it–the risk will be worth it. Maybe together, we can change the world.
Be the change you want to see in the world. — Mahatma Gandhi