2.5 Things

A while ago, I worked with the journalist Cynthia Gorney on her fine book “Articles of Faith” , all about the fight between pro-life and pro-choice activists around a now relatively unknown Supreme Court case, William L. Webster versus Reproductive Health Services.  Gorney, being the dedicated journalist she is, spent a lot of time with women on both sides of debate. She talked to them about their backgrounds and how they relate to their beliefs, and the symbols they used to sway popular opinion. (Remember the tiny feet lapel pins? They’re still available.)

And she listened. That’s what reporters are supposed to do: Listen. And later, when talked about the women and their passionate opinions, she mentioned how deeply she was impressed by the women’s sincerity and sense of purpose.  She understood that they were talking about something real, some uninfected with partisan concerns.

I began to think about it this way: Suppose you really, really believed in the sanctity of human life? We all do, of course — I assume you oppose murder — but some take it more literally and completely. Then you’d be against capital punishment, and war, and the cruel detention of immigrants — and, of course, the abortion of unborn babies. Those babies are alive; it is a sin to kill them.

No matter what the Supreme Court says, our definition of “life” is of necessity fluid and filled with unknowns. Does life begin at consciousness? By  that measure, then someone in a vegetative state is not alive and can be killed at will. Does it begin when the baby leaves the mother’s womb? That’s as arbitrary distinction as any other.

I believe deeply in a woman’s right to choose. But I respect some of the people on the other side of debate, the people who unlink the issue from social concerns, and who maintain their respect for life no matter what, adopting positions I approve of (against capital punishment) and ones I don’t (against assisted suicide). There’s a lot of pandering around this issue, and a lot of patriarchal bullshit, but there’s also lot of concern for helpless children, both unborn and born.

I think the anti-gay people are hopeless bigots motivated by some weird form of sexual panic. I think the Trumpish anti-refugee folks are motivated by fear and bad information. But pro-life people are engaging on another level of conversation altogether, and we should be aware of that.

The new struggle calls for new alliances, new ways of thinking. A leader of a pro-life group banned from sponsoring the woman’s march said that she had concerns about violence against women, and about workplace equality. Those are things worth talking about. And if the conversation ambles over to, say, climate change, or education policy, or U.S. ties with Russian intelligence — well, so much the better.

Time for the Left to stop acting like, you know, the Left. (The Hillary-Bernie battles are still being fought on social media, boring many). Forget ideological purity now; think strategically. This is Resistance; we can figure out who gets to be Lenin later on.

My friend Caille Millner reminded me of Ghanian proverb: “Two people in a burning house must not stop to argue.”



Art is a mark of civilization, and civilization is what we are trying to save. I know that sounds a little…excessive, but think about it. A little chaos is good, but civilization does not do very well in total chaos. Stuff gets lost. Some of the stuff getting lost is eminently disposable, but some of it isn’t. Like art. My younger daughter lives in the Canadian province of Quebec. There, the government supports art. With money. Think of that. That’s why she lives in a place that’s very cold for much of the year. Because art.

It is important to try to save the NEA and the NEH, but that course does not seem promising. The humans in charge of the government do not seem to be exactly in tune with the solace of art. But really, we own the art — and we get the art we deserve.


Art is our port in the storm. Certainly, political art illuminates our times and protests our current condition. (Also, it doesn’t; that’s the thing about art: Many different drummers; many different drums). And, sure, mediated art is great (personally, I await with anticipation the new season of “Stranger Things”), but the live stuff is the best. It’s a damn juggling act every night, with the possibility of the void looming at any moment. And it’s also where transcendence happens; some unpredictable combination of audience and performers and musicians and lighting technicians and everybody coming together to provide balm for your heart.

Feeling a little down about human beings? Get out and see someone doing something. Sure, it could be terrible, although probably not as terrible as an executive order. That’s the gamble we take as sentient humans; we trust others to see truth we cannot see. And to share it with us, and to expand the community of empathy.

So, swear to God, if you want to make a political statement, go support a theater company or a zither player or an action painter or a chorus of Ukrainian hip-hop opera stars. Applaud, share, repeat, rejoice. Remind yourself that this too exists. Give money to artists so they can keep being artists.



My apologies for the 2.5 weeks between blog posts. My head was too full of Trump. I started a dozen fragments responding to some outrage, while the other outrages jostled in my head, wanting equal time. And I could never complete a thought, because Another! Fresh!  Outrage! would happen and demand a response from Me! Because I have Perspective!

And then I realized: Everybody who could write good was writing good about Donald Trump. Points were made; disgust was demonstrated. It was overwhelming; it was heartening. And it made me feel, well, the outrage is doing pretty good; it’s got legs. So maybe there’s other stuff to say. And that’s what I’m concentrating on.

We should love each other, because we need each other more than ever before. And that’s what I have to say about that.




Photography by Tracy Johnston

Help with the little things they mean so much by Michelle Mizera


42 thoughts on “2.5 Things

  1. Nice piece and it is comforting – similar to the women’s march, it is good to know that there are so many sane, smart, and politically active folks out there. We are the adults in the metaphorical room.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for this testimonial valentine to the essentialness of art. Yes it would be tragic if we lost the NEA, but a loyal, engaged, caring, enthusiastic, generous bunch of individual supporters and ticket buyers is better than any government agency. And: real art by real painters and drawers is available to beautify and ennoble our environments for very little more (and sometimes less) than mass produced stuff. Better than government subsidy is people buying the work and living with it and loving it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Now that I know Caille Millner is your friend (and that she has quoted such a sane quote), I intend to take her much more seriously. Art, yes, thank you. And even the humblest of us can create it: I play triangle in a community orchestra.


  4. I realized, once I was pregnant with my daughter over 50 years ago, that I personally could never have an abortion (unless, frankly, my life was in danger with a continued pregnancy). But this has not prevented me from supporting others who had made the hard decision that such a move was necessary. I’ve never known a woman who has had an abortion and treated it as a casual matter of convenience.


  5. Yowza!!!

    Wish damocrats could see that long-term commitment is a lot harder than short-term bursts of anger.
    Take the time to find a Trump supporter and buy her coffee. Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, etc. Thanks, as usual, for your calmness. And thanks for not raging — this time. Bruce the Bald [ultimately, laughter will get him off his throne. And laughter’s an art]

    Liked by 1 person

  6. intelligence. empathy. open-mindedness. the ability to see complex aspects of issues. thank god for those that are capable of it.
    what to do about the simplistic? the one-dimensional minds out there?
    a national election just tilted that way.
    here’s to a sense of faith in the broader view – ultimately.

    thanks, always, jon.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Not pro-life, Jon, those in that realm are anti -choice. Pro-life would mean they would care about the babies after they are born, and the mothers and families. And they don’t, at least, not yet.


  8. I have great respect for the arguments made by pro lifers. If a person feels strongly about this issue then they should apply this to their own lives. But not anyone else’s life. Not my life.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This is the truth. I appreciate level heads and listening to the other perspectives. But about reproductive choice, it is every woman’s right to choose whether and when (if ever) to breed.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. But who speaks for the wanted child that is not born because a woman is forced to bear a previous unwanted child? At age 14 in the late 1950s I was seduced by a man of 32.  Pregnant and parentless, I went to a drug store and bought multiple medications labeled “Not to be taken by pregnant women” and took them in large quantities.  The miniscule fetus was aborted. I was fortunate that I neither died nor had a deformed child, and that 12 years later I could bear a wanted and loved child — who would not otherwise been born — within a happy marriage.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Did you read about my friend Kate Munger and her friends singing to the pro-life members of the anti-choice march? With a sign saying she disagreed with but respected them? https://ww2.kqed.org/arts/2017/01/22/pro-lifers-marching-in-san-francisco-met-with-unusual-reaction-singing/
    Now, about supporting the arts. Many of my musician friends who don’t have day jobs are worried about the loss of Obamacare. I think single payer would be the greatest boon to the arts we could have. Not that we’re going to get it in this administration, but someday….

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Just a scrawl to thank you for your lovely, thoughtful essays. I only discovered you through this blog, and it was a lucky find. You are balm too!

    Elizabeth Oguss Montclair, N.J.

    On Thu, Feb 2, 2017 at 5:31 PM, Jon Carroll Prose wrote:

    > joncarrollprose posted: ” A while ago, I worked with the journalist > Cynthia Gorney on her fine book “Articles of Faith” , all about the fight > between pro-life and pro-choice activists around a now relatively unknown > Supreme Court case, William L. Webster versus Reproductiv” >


  12. Thank you for not going off half-cocked Not that you do that very often. But this was a particularly good time. 50 years ago I was in the Navy and at that time all naval airfcraft had 8-day spring-wound dashboard clocks. The aviators used to say that the first step in declaring an emergency is to wind the clock. Took me a while to get it – an 8-day clock takes a long time to wind, and winding it can’t screw anything up, so you get a bit of time to calm down and start thinking. So thanks for winding the clock! And by the way, I’ve been waiting for somebody on the left to say what you did here about abortion, and about the motives of people who concientiously oppose it. I’m one of them – I’m mostly on the left otherwise – but I also don’t think that laws about it do any good, and they probably do harm, Plus, judging others is wrong, and since I’m a man I need to just trust women’t moral judgments and hope for the best.


  13. Bravo for listening! I haven’t the wherewithal….. Ann Krebs Barry

    807 Crystal Springs Road Hillsborough, CA 94010 home: 650 344-5785 cell: 415-609-6631



  14. Your reflections on the political sides of the abortion debate and the bits of common ground at the individual level are right on point in my experience. As a clinic escort for almost 17 years, facing the same “antis” every week, sometimes for years on end, I saw how appreciation of our common humanity flowed in both directions.

    Yes, sometimes there was jostling and tempers flared. Some antis couldn’t return a civil word and reaped our silence. Escorts were trained to be non-confrontational but sometimes one had to be given a time-out or even asked to choose a different volunteer activity.

    But on the whole we stuck to our respective roles – they yelled at persons approaching the clinic and we used our bodies, in a non-threatening but firm way, to open a path to the clinic door.

    Between clinic arrivals we talked endlessly within our respective groups and often across that boundary. Our escort guidelines discouraged ideological debates but some antis tried to engage us on abortion or theology, and sometimes we took the bait (doing no one any good). We talked about everything else, though, from the death penalty to bilingual education to the lives of the saints and current events.

    There was often some surprising common ground of the kinds your post suggests. I’m not talking about the Common Ground movement that has made no discernible progress towards its laudable goal but simply about our peaceful coexistence week after week outside clinics. It added up to grudging respect, probably a lot less friction when things got active, and I think a tacit readiness on each side to police newcomers who might be tempted to disrupt the fragile peace between us.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I very much respect the pro-life movement’s supporters, their beliefs and the importance of these beliefs for them. However, I still want abortion to be legally available for those who choose one. We fought hard after many perils and tragedies to get this right for women. And slowly but surely this right is being pulled away from us. What are we supposed to do?

    Liked by 1 person

  16. A fine essay.

    I like that proverb and was going to repost it. But then again, it might be good to remember that if you’re sitting in front of a computer reading the Internet, you’re probably not in a burning house. There should be time enough not only to argue, but to have conversations.

    I’m trying to decide whether creating a sense of urgency is a good thing or not. Clearly we’ve been too complacent. On the other hand, being stressful and angry all the time: not so good either.


  17. Point taken but it is difficult to chat respectfully when, quite arguably, the building IS on fire!

    And, if rational conversation were possible, would not those people have already voted otherwise?

    Thinking the inmates have taken over the asylum, I am not so optimistically yours…


    A Pledge for Unity and Inclusiveness
    In these dark, divisive and foreboding times, I feel that we are called to turn away from exclusiveness and embrace love and unity. Therefore, in the spirit of love, unity and inclusiveness,
    I declare and pledge:
    That my name is Everyman;
    That my name is Everywoman;
    That I am black, brown, yellow, red, white and the hue of all fellow human beings;
    That I am male and female, heterosexual and homosexual, bisexual and asexual, transsexual and transvestite, and all sexual identifications that are freely chosen or inherent, and not harmful to others;
    That I will fight against demagoguery, hate, xenophobia, egoism, misogyny, sexism and all other isms, creeds, beliefs and practices that demean, denigrate or destroy the wellbeing of my fellow humans;
    That I will denounce and oppose by my actions and words the acts and positions of politicians, legislatures, courts and law enforcement personnel that infringe upon the rights and dignity of my fellow humans;
    That I will denounce and oppose by my actions and words the degradation and destruction of the environment by those who would exploit the earth for personal enrichment;
    That I love my neighbors, however they worship, be they Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus or of other religious persuasions that practice peace and love;
    That I make this pledge fully knowing that my actions may adversely affect my comfort, personal freedom and wellbeing, but also fully knowing that my failure to so act would demean me before my God, my family and friends, myself and the world.
    I so pledge.
    Kerry Gough


  19. I am 73 years old. I wrote this sixteen years ago. The events happened when I was in my early twenties. At that time I was barely making ends meet, working as a nurse in a small hospital and raising my two boys by myself. This was a time when male nurses always made more money than female nurses, because as I was told they needed to support their families.
    I am not a professional writer. This poem has been edited from time to time by pros, but I have always preferred my original version, which I show here.
    I’ve never been able to tell this story or read it without crying.

    Before Roe versus Wade
    And the legal medical taking of fetuses in large numbers,
    And I’d realized that I don’t know it all
    And had lost my confidence about recognizing when I was in over my head;

    After the births of my own two baby boys
    And my nursing training where I’d learned what happened when a fetus took
    hold and grew in a tiny fallopian tube,
    And I’d seen the mother die and the baby die
    And had left the church of my youth over that;

    While fetuses were being aborted in dirty back alleys,
    And women left all alone to die of infection and hemorrhage,
    And the burden of unsanctioned pregnancy was so unbearable
    That too often suicide was the only answer,
    And enough money and the right connections could buy a way out;

    After I’d met my pale young patient
    And judged her vapid and dull,
    A rich girl whose family could afford to buy her out of trouble
    With more money than I’d ever see on a nurse’s salary;

    Before I’d realized that she was terrified,
    And could have been a victim of abuse, or rape, or incest, or all of it,
    And I was able to think about these things without immediately going into sick
    driven denial;

    After I’d seen a saline abortion for the first time
    And saw the doctor inject salt water into the swollen uterus of the girl
    And saw her cramping and heard her moans;

    Then I saw the baby pop out between her legs into the bed—
    A tiny girl baby, perfectly formed—
    And saw the baby move and thought I heard a tiny mew
    And knew that the baby was born alive
    And felt the tears and panic and rage and pity and love for the little girl;
    Before I’d looked around and saw the hospital floor was deserted except for
    the three of us,
    And I left the girl-mother in her bed
    And wrapped the still girl-baby in a blanket and took her into the bathroom,
    And, even though I didn’t believe in such things any more,
    I baptized her because I didn’t know what else to do
    And then sat on the floor and rocked myself and the baby for a long time;

    Before I’d worked myself into a numb state
    And then went to check on the mother
    And realized that we had experienced two different events,
    And I gave the “specimen” to the lab technician
    And raged at the doctor and he put me in my place, laughing at me to cover
    his own fear;

    Before people talked about these things and started asking questions,
    And protocols were developed,
    And nurses had more education and protection and recourse,
    And the whole country was engaged in a deadly debate
    For which I have no answers.

    That’s when it happened.

    Liked by 3 people

  20. If it’s art you’re seeking, I can recommend “Native Son” at the Marin Theatre Company through Feb. 12. Saw it yesterday. It’s powerful, devastating and a play that speaks to our time.


  21. So nice to have a curmudgeon back even when not writing curmudgeonly… Thought you had written ‘”art is our porn in the storm” and am still holding onto that lifeline! As for pro-life – maybe well intentioned and compassionate, but in addition to disrespecting individual women’s rights and often ignoring medical best practice and horrific rates of child abuse, there is the religious head-in-the-sand approach to over population and climate change which simply cannot sustain all of life (that includes non-human) already on this glorious planet.


  22. Very 1960s of you, but you forgot to say, “peace, love and understanding”. That was a surprise, fun moment of youthful excess but it was passive in nature, a cultural sensory event without revolutionary legs – The Age of Aquarius never had a chance of success and it’s a long time dead. For every Mario Savio and Tom Hayden there was who and what?

    Sure, why not let any and all of the sincere and passionate individuals or groups express their sincerity and beliefs. America has a long tradition of people with soapboxes, and righteous causes and groups going to the wilderness to do their own thing (see: the Shakers, Mormons, Big Sur/Mendocino communes and Preppers in the wilds of Idaho/Montana/Oregon/etc.).

    The problem with all that pro-life sincerity, more often than not, is the missionary zeal and the silly science (alt-science) that extends beyond personal beliefs … they want more: they want conversions.

    We’re living on a brand-new razor blade that’s indifferent to private thought, independence and self-reliance. We’re hypocrites about intelligence, common needs, social responsibilities, self-sacrifice, education, the arts and creativity (unless there’s a buck in it).

    We know the Golden Rule, the 10 Commandments, the Boy Scout oath but fingers are crossed because if we ignore the bullies and sociopaths maybe there’s a job promotion, a new Winnebago or the squishy feeling of being liked by neighbors and Facebook friends.

    No, being tolerant isn’t enough. Neither is sincerity or hopping around and spouting fantasy beliefs.

    Of course, support the arts, that’s easy. What isn’t easy is to individually work at changing the culture and the political bureaucracy which controls this nation. Who’s willing to spend 10-20 years as citizen activists or being on city councils or school boards?

    Apathy runs deep and a whole bunch of moderate, sincere but apathetic people, just got sucker-punched by the presidential election. Dazed is the new color and it’s probably the perfect storm moment of disarray for a country’s collapse. We’re teetering on that razor’s edge.

    Want Change? It won’t be easy or pretty.


    1. The Dems don’t have much bench depth; where are 6 or 7 people who could effectively run for President? If they’re in the pipeline seems to me they’re pretty far back. We have these huge [yuge] crowds of upset, eager people who want to stop the madman, but I get no sense of overall guidance. Your remarks are solid, if very dark. I have to put my trust, believe it or not, in the Republican legislators to see Trump et al for what he is, and nip this stupidity in the bud. Otherwise he’ll get the war he seems so eager to get, and who knows the consequences. Would that people would stop talking about his small hands, his orange hair, and other minutiae: he’s painting the country as dark and terrible shape just so he can be perceived as the Great Savior. Leaders? Please step forward.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. I didn’t much care for Callie’s column when it first starting running in the Chron — there was something in the tone of those early pieces that put me off — so I stopped reading them. Still, every writer takes a while to find his/her “legs,” and I was happy to find that I resonated with her writing once I gave it — and her — another chance a few years ago. Whether it was she or I who came around doesn’t matter — what matters is that I now look forward to her columns… but had no idea she writes short stories.

    I’ll check that out.

    Thanks for not beating the Trump drum this time around. Although I fully share our collective disgust and rage that this monster has come to power, I’m increasingly weary of the daily sandblasting of outrage from social media and other sources. I can only take so much before “outrage fatigue” sets in… and then I find myself adrift on a cold gray ocean of depression-induced apathy, the sense that this is just Too Big to Deal With. At that point, I have to disengage, if only to salvage my own mental health.

    And yes, by all means we as individuals must support the arts. It would be nice if the government wasn’t run by myopic, unimaginative (except when it comes to paranoia), soul-dead, money-grubbing ideologues who see no value in anything that won’t generate immediate massive profits for billionaires — but such is life in modern America.

    And that means it’s up to us.

    Great column!

    Liked by 1 person

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