Saturday, November 30, 2013

The day after generosity

When I was a little girl, everyone around our Thanksgiving table had the last name "Holmgren."

My father coveted our privacy and so the Hans Holmgren family always dined alone.

At least - until the Thanksgiving of 1958 -  when  relatives from "up north" managed to weasel an invitation.

I remember the phone call as if were yesterday.

My mother was busy in the kitchen. My father was smoking a pipe and reading the paper at her pinewood table.

"Don't answer that!" he warned as she picked up the receiver. "Nothing good ever comes from a telephone call on a holiday!"

It was my father's Uncle Oscar and his wife Millie -  people I'd never met.

Millie called from a booth in Nisswa.  They were on their way to town when she remembered they had family in the cities.

Covering the mouth piece my mother whispered to my father - "You know people in Thief River?"

Of course he did.  Uncle Oscar was his father's oldest brother. My father grabbed the phone.

There was a baby shower in Minneapolis tomorrow, Millie told him.   They were going to have to spend the night somewhere.

Would it be okay if they stayed with us? Millie was more than happy to help with the Thanksgiving meal and they would be no trouble at all.

I was stunned when my dad said "Come on ahead.  We got plenty."

But when he hung up, his irritation exploded through the kitchen.

"What am I going to say to them?" he shouted at my mother.  "The last time I saw Oscar, god was a little boy!"

But the harm had been done.  By nightfall - Uncle Oscar and Millie were at our door -  in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

I remember that holiday as if it were last night.

My father greeted his uncle with a handshake; something I never saw him do before.

The old man sat in my dad's chair at the table, while my father perched on our too-skinny piano stool.

The meal, of course,  was perfect. The stuffed, dressed turkey was moist and surrounded by roasted vegetables. The cranberries were crushed with mint from my mother's summer garden and mixed with fresh orange.

All of this - performed by my mother before anyone dreamed of the word "Cuisinart."

Oscar and Millie ate with noisy gratitude.

"Bernice," Oscar said, "you make a happy, happy table."

My mother blushed behind the compliment.

That night, Millie and Oscar slept in my bed while I slept on the couch.  They were gone before I awoke on Friday.

I never saw again saw them alive.

Traveling north on one of the many, many country roads leading to Fosston, Grigla, Bagley, Thief River - Uncle Oscar swerved to avoid an oncoming truck and threw the Oldsmobile into a tree.

We learned on the evening news - like everyone else.  Stunned, disbelieving - my father phoned the television station to confirm that the dead were Oscar and Millie Holmgren.

The bodies were at the county morgue, waiting for family to claim. My parents had a terrible argument about funeral expenses, Christmas obligations and how stupid they were to own a telephone.

The following week we drove north for a funeral.

We arrived in time to view both bodies.

My great Oscar and his wife Millie were the first dead people I ever saw.

My father led me to Oscar's coffin and placed my hand on the cool, shaven face of the dead man.

"Say good-bye," he said.  I held my breath and considered the object under my touch; a body without life, a husk, an empty shell.

When he moved me to the next coffin I felt the air in the room grew thin - the floor swirl.  I awoke coughing on smelling salts tucked under my nose.

"She's a little young for all this," the mortician scolded my father.

"She's old enough," he said.

The drive home was ugly.  My dad swore Oscar and Millie would still be alive if he never invited them to Thanksgiving dinner in the first place.

My mother reminded him that the Holmgrens were in town anyway - to attend a baby shower.

My father did not agree.

"No one in their right mind would drive from Kandiyohi County to Saint Paul in the middle of winter without a decent meal waiting for them on the other end," he said.  "Baby or no baby."

But my mother insisted.  

"No one cheats death," she said.  "You miss it in Kandiyohi,  you meet it in Thief River.  You die in your car, or you die in your living room. No one," she repeated,  "cheats death."

Her words hung heavy in the dark cold air of the Plymouth as silent my father drove,  chastened.

In years to come, others visited during the holidays - and sat around our Thanksgiving and Christmas table.

All of them immediate family.  None of them, traveling from far away.

 And all of them returning to their homes - without incident.

"We must be doing something right," he used to say.  "Nobody dropped dead in a long, long time."

For the rest of his life, my father never, ever, ever again -  invited anyone outside our immediate family to share a holiday meal.

And that's why you won't hear much from me this time of year.

Nonetheless - a  happy holiday season to you all -  from another member of the inhospitable, ungenerous Holmgren family.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Top five reasons to honor Halloween

I did it last year.  The year before.  And I'll do it again this year.

The children who come to my door on October 31st will meet a hideous old woman, wretched and hidden inside her black, hooded cape; her features smashed by a dark,  opaque stocking, her hands vanished in black socks.

She won't speak.

Instead, she will gurgle a terrifying, muddled murmur.

To the tiny brave ones who dare to step into the eerie, green-lit porch where bats and dismembered bones abound, she will offer marvelous, full-sized chocolate bars.

The candy will bring the brave children closer.

The timid will be terrified and turn down her candy rather than step into her lair.

The neighbors complain

When I was in my fifties (yes, when I was fifty-something-years old!) the neighbors began their annual complaint about my Halloween antics.

They claimed I take Halloween too far.

I don't need to be so frightening - the kids seek only sweets and a soft congratulations for the mother-made costume. They don't need the terror I impose.

Some said I have fun at the expense of children - an immature act that robs little ones of both the innocence and merriment of Halloween. They said I replace good stuff with fear.

I've heard this for over ten years, and I don't give a rat's ass.

My attitude?


There are only so many Halloweens in our short, sweet lives.

Think of it - one day, when we least expect,  we will wake up - dead.

When that happens, the opportunity to "haunt" will be authentic and meaningful.

Until then, all we have is one night of the year - Halloween.

I intend to squeeze every possible scream out of every single child who dares knock on my door.

For those of you who choose (for bogus religious reasons) to ignore this magnificent celebration of the dead, I offer these five, simple, clear reasons why you are wrong.

Dead wrong.

The top five reasons

to honor Halloween - irrespective of age

Reason #5 - Halloween is the only holiday when we are encouraged  (and allowed!) to cultivate and exploit an alter ego.  If we cannot let loose and enjoy the dark side of our personality (or, the light, miraculous, cheery side) - we are poorer for the lack.

Reason #4 - It's true - Halloween is for children.  And we're children as long as we grab Halloween by the gonads and wrestle it to the floor.  Celebrate and stay young!

Reason #3 - Locking the door, turning off the lights and pretending to not be home on Halloween night will provoke the neighborhood children.  Granted, they might not commit outward acts of vandalism.   Even so - who wants to be known as the "mean old man" in the corner house, who can't open his heart or door on October 31st?

Reason #2 - Halloween is the first of a string of wonderful, fabulous, festive and outlandish holidays.

 Shutting it down is a bit like turning your back on fun.

Making it a grand event will deepen your gratitude for autumn and winter - - here, in the land of sludge, crabby neighbors and people who wear too many clothes - - even in the summer.

And reason #1 - Childhood is short.  Without your good example, those little children at your door will "trick or treat" five, maybe six times in their lives.

Don't let that happen.  Show them adults know how to have fun too.  Be a witch. Be a vampire.  Be Peewee Herman, if you choose.

Be the best Halloween grownup you can be.

Be a child again.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ghosts in the heartland

My new play is a ghost story.

After Elsie dies, she realizes her life was peppered with unfinished business.

She returns, hoping to open the doors she closed in life.  Along the way she discovers most of life is "unfinished."  Nothing comes to a conclusion.

And no one is irreplaceable.

I was only eight-years-old 

when my grandfather died.  

Oscar was a cranky, difficult Swedish immigrant with little tolerance for childhood.

He never learned English; never had to.  Everyone in my family understood the language of rage.

Grandpa Oscar died on a cold afternoon in May.  Three weeks later, my cousin Cherry died of acute leukemia. She began to bleed on a Friday afternoon and was dead by Wednesday.

My cousin Cherry was eight-years-old. 
And so was I.  

Death was not proud in that year.

My Aunt Olga followed Cherry - and within a few short weeks, another uncle and aunt died together in an automobile accident.   For all of this loss, I was too young to attend funerals, too old to be ignorant of grief.

Theologians tell us that our first exposure to death is lasting.  The sudden shock of mortality changes a child.
Early exposure to death may result in everything from a propensity to alcoholism and drug addiction - or, as in my case -  an adulthood dedicated to parish ministry.

Elsie's death leads her people to a  new appreciation of limits and a fresh compassion for the imperfection of all things.

"HOME AGAIN - A GHOST STORY"  premieres in 2015. 
Watch for opportunities 
to attend a staged reading
at Theatre in the Round Players
 January, 2014.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Putting the baby to bed

Writing a play is like raising a child.

The idea for one comes from someplace other than the intellect.

The time for one is nonexistent.

The money, enthusiasm, energy and imagination for one emerges when the time is right, and not a moment prior.

And the launching of one is as painful as the launching of the other.

My new show, EFFIGY, opens tonight.

The gestation was about nine months.  The labor was intense; my actors passed through confusion, delusion, illumination and clarity.

My mood swings were prolific.  Euphoric at first, self-doubting after the second trimester, and courageous confidence at crowing.

Now, my baby takes first steps into the public realm of criticism, review, rejection and celebration.

I drink my post-partum tonic from the wings, hoping for the best. 

Off we go - into the wild, blue yonder of literature.

And motherhood.

Fly, little bird.  Fly away.

EFFIGY is a big, strong, sassy grown up.

Click the image above for ticket information.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Five good reasons to stay single

I know, I know.  You're a little lonely.

You're not getting any younger.   The biological clock is ticking, and  all your brothers and sisters are married.

So, you're beginning to worry.  Perhaps you've been to fussy.   Maybe you should lower your standards.

You know a few acceptable men.  True - none of them ring your chimes.  But maybe you need to revisit your former criteria.

Before you make that sows ear into a Gucci bag, consider these five romantic deal breakers.

If your guy falls into any of these categories, take a deep breath and step away from the man.

1. He doesn't share your spiritual values.  

He loves Krishna and you've got a serious thing for Mohammad. 

He  doesn't think old people have immortal souls and wishes men could get pregnant so he could have at least one abortion. 

When he was old enough for "Confirmation," he announced his affection for Satanism.  About the same time, he began to test the "nine lives theory" on several neighborhood cats.   

Sorry.   The handwriting is on the wall, toots.  When it comes to faith-systems, if he's not in sync,  it's as grim as you think.  Or worse.  A whole lot worse. 

2. He's emotionally vacant.

He never calls his mother.  He evades the IRS and is hounded by bill collectors.   And when his autistic son got too big for him to handle, he divorced his wife, put the boy in a county home for profoundly retarded children and began to hide his assets. 


3. He doesn't understand finances. 

His dining room table is covered with unopened bills from his creditors.   He confesses he doesn't believe in 401Ks, and doesn't trust an employer stupid enough to match his contribution.

He sends cash each month to a mysterious off-shore investment group.  And he asks you to pay for your own dinner.

 4. High expectations

He says he never wants to live in a "used" house, and he loves over-sized, leather furniture.  He wants veto power over any china pattern you choose, and he only drinks Perrier with a twist.  Of fresh mint.

He refuses to learn to iron his own shirt, and a former girlfriend to cleans his apartment.  For free.

5: Self Satisfaction 

He doesn't walk into a room - he saunters. He never asks directions, even when the two of you cannot find the movie theatre. 

At first you thought all of this stemmed from confidence.  Then, you began to notice his lack of imagination and ambition.  

And he might be lazy.  The weeks grow three feet tall in his garden, and he doesn't seem to notice. He refuses to walk his dogs - and insists on owning Irish Elk Hounds. 

Darling, dead "Dear Abby" would say (if she were still with us), "Wake up and smell the coffee, stupid"


Okay, okay, okay.  Maybe she wouldn't call you names.

But you get the picture.

The best thing to do with any of these bozos is run.

As fast as you can.

And tonight, when the stars shine through your tiny kitchen-for-one window, take a silent moment to count your blessings.

Make yourself a tall mug of green tea, light a candle and breathe a prayer of thanksgiving for your freedom.

Because here's the truth the fairy tales never share.

Having a man does not always mean living happily ever after.

Most of us are as happy as we decide to be.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Her husband is a cheater. Should you tell her?

My mother was twenty-five-years-old when she learned her husband Carlos was an adulterer.

Everyone in her small town of Fosston, Minnesota knew - but she didn't have a clue.

Later in life she told me how she misread the quiet signs.

"Everyone tried to tell me," she said.  "But I didn't want to know."

Everywhere she went, she said, picking strawberries, Ladies' Aid meetings, shopping for produce at the fruit market, the other married women treated her with a strange respect.

They stopped speaking when she approached.  They whispered as she departed. The ones who knew her best huddled around her, asking again and again if she had any "news."

Sometimes, my mother thought she saw pity in their eyes, worry.

But hindsight, she said, is always 20/20..

Then, one steamy August afternoon, Carlos came home early from the butcher shop and confessed.

He was sleeping with a seventeen-year-old girl named Phyllis.  Phyllis, he told my mother, was pregnant.

"And I don't believe her," Carlos pleaded. "I don't believe a word she says.  Give me six months, Bernice.  Six months alone, at the cabin with her.  I'll prove her wrong and come back to you."

And so it came to pass that  my mother moved her two children back to her father's house in St. Paul and became a "divorcee".

The year was 1938, and it was not easy rebuilding a shame-ridden life among  judgmental,  irritated Swedes.  Even so, my mother worked hard to remove the taint and scandal of abandonment.

Nothing was righted until nine years later when she married Hans, my father.

The power of lies.

Flash forward eighty-something years.

Carlos is dead.  So is his childless widow, Phyllis.  My mother and father are dead too.

But the lessons of all their intertwined lives continue to educate. 

Living in a family devastated by lies,  I learned the importance of always speaking the truth, no matter how difficult.

But sometimes,  the truth is wrapped in bad news.  And bad news is hard to deliver.

Still - if my mother were still alive, she would say what she always said.

The truth never hurt anyone.  And if it does, the pain is always worth the knowledge gained.

So, at midsummer, when I'm certain several of my women friends are unaware of the antics of their ne'er do well spouses, I offer . . . .

Five simple rules for sharing the worst news possible.

  1. Be certain your facts are correct.  Verify, verify, verify. 
  2. Before you contact her, contact him.   Warn the cheater.  Tell him you're about to blow the lid off his lies - unless he tells his wife the truth.  Give him a deadline - but be careful.  A trapped animal strikes out at anyone - so make certain you deliver this message in a bright, sunny place, surrounded by strangers.  And then - leave town for a few days.  Better safe than sorry.
  3. You're wondering what to say and how to say it?  Phone her - and say this.   "I have information about your marriage.  I want to share it with you, but I won't do so if you do not want to hear it." 
  4. She'll beg you to tell her - but never, never drop the bomb over the phone.   Offer to meet. 
  5. Bring flowers.  Bring a bottle of wine.  Bring a box of Kleenex and all your support. 
You will be surprised how easily the words come, once you see her.

Another thing that grows in the sunshine;  friendship. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fathers - the best words

 Don't bother.  It's all been said - and better than you could ever say it.   Below - some of our literary giants share insights to paternity - - and I share it with you - on this, our Father's Day, 2013.
For my father - who still haunts me.  Rest in peace, Hans.
  1. It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.  ~Harper Lee
  2. All fathers are invisible in daytime; daytime is ruled by mothers and fathers come out at night. Darkness brings home fathers, with their real, unspeakable power.   ~Margaret Atwood
  3. When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. ~Mark Twain
  4. Sometimes I think my papa is an accordion. When he looks at me and smiles and breathes, I hear the notes. ~Markus Zusak
  5. Few sons are like their fathers - many are worse, few better. ~Homer
  6. He breathed in [my mother’s] hair, the sweet-smelling thickness of it. My father usually agreed with her requests, because stamped in his two-footed stance and jaw was the word Provider, and he loved her the way a bird-watcher’s heart leaps when he hears the call of the roseate spoonbill, a fluffy pink wader, calling its lilting coo-coo from the mangroves. Check, says the bird-watcher. Sure, said my father, tapping a handful of mail against her back. ~Aimee Bender
  7. Perhaps that is what it means to be a father - to teach your child to live without you. ~Nicole Krauss
  8. Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later… that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps love, adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life.  ~Tom Wolfe
  9. Never having been in love, this is going to be a real trick. I think of my parents. The way my father never failed to bring her gifts from the woods. The way my mother’s face would light up at the sound of his boots at the door. The way she almost stopped living when he died. ~Suzanne Collins
  10. A man knows when he is growing old because he begins to look like his father. ~Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  11. The father is always a Republican toward his son, and his mother’s always a democrat. ~Robert Frost
  12. I killed the monsters. That’s what fathers do. ~Fiona Wallace

Friday, May 10, 2013

The best of times, and the best of times.

It's the middle of the night and I'm wide, wild, and wooly awake - -

When a person is a playwright, and two of the plays written are about to launch, the playwright often has a difficult time settling down at the end of the day.

So it is for me - right now.

Two plays - two delights -

One, my funny, funny show - SWEET TRUTH - is about to be be "world" launched in Columbia, Missouri at the Berlin Theatre.

And two - my show, EFFIGY - not as funny, but certainly humorous - premieres at my own Minneapolis-based Mixed Blood Theatre in August.

Of course - a reasonable playwright would sleep well under these conditions.

"My work is done," a reasonable person would say. "Time now for Pinot Grigio on the patio at W.A. Frost's."

Instead, I'm wide awake, imagining new scripts and new directions.

One will be with the Minnesota Historical Society and the commission I'm about to begin on our shared,  new production with Tim Stolz.

Another is certainly the play I'm revising for a Midwest theatrical producer.

And a third is my stalled, new show "Growing Up Goodrich."

But Goodrich will have to wait for a while.

I'm dreaming of an effigy-laden summer!  Tonight I designed the postcards, created the posters and fussed over the Mixed Blood stage diagrams given to me by the delightful Fringe Festival professionals.

The park bench is assembled - a dear friend is creating my "hanging tree" and tying a fresh, hard noose.  He does this for me from memory.  The Boy Scouts, it seems, teach their Cub Scouts to tie a hang man's noose.  Go figure.

And while you're figuring, I'm going to go to bed.

It's been a wonderful, wonderful day - and although I hate it to end, another awaits after a few hours sleep.

My wish for you - that one day you will be as happy as I am.

Never, never walk away from your art.

Dance, sing, create, and dare.  In the end it is the only thing that saves us.

I know this.  Because art continues to save me.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Confessions of an unrepentant tattletale

You'll get no apology from me.  If you're doing something against the law and I see it?   I'll blow the dang whistle on you.

I did it when I worked for the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

I did it when I worked for a certain women-serving nonprofit cheating its unsuspecting funders.  And I'll do it again.

Consider yourself warned.

Don't let me catch you stuffing a box of company paper in your briefcase as you punch out.
 I'll tell the boss.

If you're one of those unfortunate parents who insists on taking your exhausted toddler to Cub Foods at four o'clock in the afternoon,  you better watch your back.

Don't you dare slap that little bink in front of me.  I'll call the frickin' county.

I'm one of those moral fruit cakes you've read about.

I am a whistleblower.

Tattletale as a rightful legacy

I come to this odious behavior honestly.

My mother - bless her self-righteous soul - trained me in the fine art of radical truth telling.

I was seven-years-old when she issued her first order. 

"If anyone, " she said, "ever asks you to do anything I wouldn't want you to do  - you come home and tell me right away." 

Never mind the lack of logical thinking in that demand.  I listened.  I obeyed.

When ten-year-old Mike Zeller asked me to go into his garage and "pull down" my panties - I told him I had to first ask my mother.

The rest is Goodrich Avenue legend.

Mike, last I heard, was doing time at Moose Lake.

The Zellers moved to California, never to be heard from again.

And I went on to become a professional writer.  A notable tattletale.

No one escapes my righteous indignation.

When my children were young,  I wrote a column for the Star Tribune.

For the first several years, my girls were a common topic.

Piano recitals.  Political slights by the public schools.  The charming ways in which their little worlds reflected the larger issues of society.  That's what I wrote about.

Then, one day - my seven year old came home from school, fierce in her rage against me. 

"I didn't know you wrote stuff everyone reads, " she said.

I reminded her that the circulation of my newspaper was several million readers.

"You have to stop," she said.  "Right now."

I assured her that was not going to happen.

"At least," she pleaded,  "stop writing about me."

And so - a truce was forged.  And I stopped writing about my daughter Grace.

That is - until writing this blog - - where, I guess, I blew the whistle on her.

Which only proves - I'm not to be trusted. 

Don't let my sweet smile, my blue eyes, my little-old-lady affect confuse you.

You bring bibles into my public school?  I'll call the American Civil Liberties Union.  You stop one of my friends from speaking out a school board meeting?  I'll call the police.

I do it for our collective good.  I do it to make you a better person. I do it because I can't do anything else.

The logic of my whistle-blowing mentality might not resonate with your timid approach to citizenship.

But trust me.  You can't trust me.

I'm a frickin' tattletale. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

BELIEFNET blows it. Feminism is NOT a dirty word

Seriously, is the F-word offensive? I'm proud to call myself a feminist

Kristine Holmgren

 As a playwright and pastor, I was delighted to be offered a new blog on a faith site – but not at the expense of my beliefs

Let me be clear: I'm a feminist playwright and proud of it. I'm also a Presbyterian pastor. I've built a successful career marrying these peculiar, male-defined vocations.

When the faith and spirituality site Beliefnet invited me to blog for them, I was delighted. In my circles, Beliefnet is a well-known resource. Writing for them would add national scope to my own website and blog.

Blending my unique expertise, I suggested the title: "Notes From a Feminist Pastor". But before the ink was dry on the contract, Beliefnet asked me to delete the word "feminist". A Beliefnet representative wrote to me:
"(We're) concerned about the negative connotation that our readers may associate with the word. We'll want this blog to focus more on Christianity/spirituality as opposed to issues related to feminism. What do you think of … 'Sweet Truths with Kristine Holmgren'?"
I told them to take a hike. I can't work where feminism is not celebrated. I'm proud to call myself a feminist.

And why shouldn't I be? Feminism proclaims all people are created equal, irrespective of our gender. It is the simple belief that women are people, entitled to respect, protection and equity under the law.

I'm old enough to remember pre-feminism, and the bad old days before feminism saved us. I remember when newspapers listed employment opportunities under two categories; "help wanted-male" and "help wanted-female".

"Administrative assistants" were men; "secretaries" were women. "Custodians" were men; "maids" were women. Never mind that they did the same tasks. Equal pay for equal work was never a consideration.

I remember my first job interview: the hiring manager asked if I was married, if I planned to marry, my boyfriend's name, his age, his occupation and when I planned to have children. Every question was legal. Not one was asked of the men interviewed.

And I remember when all girls were expected to find a good guy, marry after high school, take their husbands' names, get pregnant and disappear. But my generation of women had other plans for our futures. We were not about to march, lockstep, into motherhood. Nor would we settle for the dead-end, low-paying jobs our older sisters hated and suffered.

Instead, we raised a royal, riotous ruckus. We marched, we yelled, we shut down businesses. We fought for equal rights in the workplace, equal funding for education, for athletics. We fought for abortion rights, equal pay for equal work, protection against sexual and domestic violence.

We did so because it was the right thing to do. We were feminists. And we still are.

Make no mistake, the work we did to bring about social change was done so at great personal sacrifice. Every time a woman rose to speak for freedom of choice a personal reputation was ruined. Even so, my generation of women thought nothing of defending the rights of other women at the price of our own futures.  We measured the loss and found it worthy of the gain.
Feminism made us sisters. Individually, we were impotent females. Together, we were a social force.
Historians call us the "second wave" of the women's movement. We were born after women gained the voting franchise. In some ways, our call to action was more difficult than our mother's. Once achieved, the vote will never disappear.

Not so with our accomplishments, apparently. For example, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, released in January, found that over the past two decades, the further we get from the ruling on Roe v Wade, the less young people appear to know about it. Among those younger than 30, only 44% polled knew the case was about abortion; 16% thought it had to do with school desegregation.

Beliefnet, and its staffers, do not understand the stake in forgetting our history, and trivializing the sacrifice of previous generations. Here's what they told me:
"I agree with the ideals of feminism. But our readers are offended by feminism. And we can't risk offending our readers."
Consider the many titles that offend: "liberal", "environmentalist", "progressive", "humanist" … It's time, I think, to reclaim them all. Time to start calling ourselves who and what we are, with pride and purpose.

Think of how hopeful the world would be if every progressive was proud of the title, eager to find likeminded folks. Imagine your local city council confronting a room full of people calling themselves liberals, without apology. Do you think our common life would be changed if corporations had to contend with outspoken, strong environmentalists, committed to securing a healthy, prosperous planet?

Imagine a world where men, women and children were proud to say who they are and what they believe. It is time to reclaim freedom of thought, freedom of choice, freedom of self-definition.

And it's time to be proud to be feminist.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Cranky no more

For almost ten years, I sat in this same chair in this cafe, writing my opinions for the Star Tribune.

In those days, I never ran short of criticism.

Trained by cranky immigrant Swedes, I grew up watching the world with a wary eye.

When I needed to write social criticism, I had little difficulty.

Inconsistencies were everywhere.  Lies, failures, shortcomings, and the ever-present flaws of humanity were ready for the picking.  I sat in this little chair and cherry-plucked from the vast and infinite flaws of my little world.

Today, I sit in the same little chair in the same little cafe.  I'm sure I'm wearing the same jeans, same sweater I wore fifteen years ago.

What I see, however, is far different from what I saw in those early days.

Art changes everything

Today, my world has no edges.  All the sharp contrasts from the past - the things that inspired me to  charge into righteous indignation - are muted into common effort.

Writing for the theater changed me from a comely curmudgeon to a near-obnoxious optimist. 

Instead of aligning myself with the great, ink-stained wretches of my former career and calling, I align with the bright, careless, lovely and lonely beauties and freaks who affiliate with the stage.

The beautiful people of theatre

When I pick up my pen, I think of the young, beautiful, globe-trotting actor  known for her scarves; so much, her friends assume that every lost piece of cloth belongs to her.

I think of the playwright who can only pen what she knows through her long experience as an actor.  She writes for those who deliver the goods - and not those who review them.

I think of the director who only works with young people; not because he enjoys them - quite the opposite.  He works with the young because if he didn't do so, no one would.  And he understands the importance of creativity.

These, and others, came into my life when I stopped criticizing.

And when I started creating.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

BeliefNet tells me to not use the "F" word!!

Beliefnet tells writer: Don’t use the word ‘feminist’ on your blog

“Guess which Minnesota Playwright was invited to BLOG for Beliefnet?” Kristine Holmgren wrote on Facebook in early January. “Yup! Your favorite cupcake, me!!! I’m negotiating “terms” right now…!” beliefnet
Beliefnet staffers “were very excited about me” blogging for them,” Holmgren told me on Wednesday, a day after negotiations broke down over use of the word “feminist.” The editors and marketing people “gushed” over her portfolio, which included columns that Holmgren says had been picked up by the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun.
“I said to them [during a group interview], ‘You’ve got to know that I’m a Presbyterian pastor, but I come to the world as a feminist.’ They said, ‘That’s fabulous. We want a wide range of views on the site.’” (Beliefnet, which was briefly a News Corp. property, was acquired by BN Media in 2010. It calls itself “the leading website for spirituality, inspiration and emotional wellness.”)
Two days ago, Holmgren got this email from Beliefnet marketing and business analyst Sharon Kirk:
We’re ready to get started on the header for your blog however first we need the title of your blog and any creative direction you may have (i.e. colors you want to include, any themes, a headshot, etc.). I believe you and Jana previously tossed around a few title possibilities including “Feminist Pulpit Notes.”
While I agree that title is certainly straight forward, I think it would resonate with our readers more if the title was a bit “softer.” Our readers are looking for editorial that’s uplifting, motivational, inspirational, etc. and I think your blog will perform better if the title speaks to that aspect of your blog. Do you have any ideas along those lines?
Holmgren replied: “How about – “Sweet Truth – Thoughts of a Faithful Feminist” – ?”
Kirk had problems with that, too.
I love “Sweet Truth” however I would suggest changing the tag line or deleting all together as I’m concerned about the negative connotation that our readers may associate with the word feminism. In addition, we’ll want this blog to focus more on Christianity/spirituality as opposed to issues related to feminism. What do you think of simply “Sweet Truths with Kristine Holmgren”?
“I think we need a conversation about this,” Holmgren told Kirk. “Please phone me.”
The pastor/writer says she asked Kirk over the phone why she had a problem with “feminist.” The Beliefnet marketer said she didn’t, but that “we know our readers are offended by the word.”
Holmgren tells me: “I asked, Why did you contract with me? I made it very clear who I am. I said, I’m afraid this is a dealbreaker. I said was I stunned. I felt like I was talking to somebody from 1955.” (I emailed and called Kirk for comment, but have not heard back from her. I did the same with Beliefnet marketing vice president Brandy Grenier, who hasn’t replied.)
Holmgren announced to her Facebook friends Wednesday that the Beliefnet deal was off:
I spoke a few moments ago with the contact at BeliefNet. She told me – not only can I not use the word “feminist” in my title, I cannot use it on the blog.
Kristine Holmgren
Kristine Holmgren
“The word offends so many people,” she said. She said I should come up with a word that was “softer.” I told her I didn’t think there was anything “softer” than feminism; a word that denotes equality for men and women and respect for children and families. She said “I agree, but. . . ” so I told her their inflexibility on this was a “deal breaker.” She regretted my “feeling” on this (by the way – - this isn’t a “feeling.” It’s a “thought system.” Some people’s kids!!! ) and said, “We can conclude this without rancor.” I said, “Oh, no we can’t.” I’m writing about this one.



© Copyright 2013 by Jim Romenesko. All Rights Reserved. Website designed by Jonathan Liss.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Overheard at a coffee shop; An old woman's wisdom.

When she was a small child, she posed in front of her nursery mirror - fascinated with her reflection.  Sometimes she emulated Betty Davis.  Sometimes Shirley Temple. 

When she was old enough, her mother enrolled her in tap dance classes, hoping to channel some of that ham-bone energy into something constructive.

It worked.   Twice each year, the tap school dressed her in frilly, fluff-flounced costumes, put her on stage with a dozen other little show-offs,  and together they tapped their way to elementary school stardom.

When she turned 13-years-old, her tap-dance gang joined the downtown YWCA where they spent their Saturdays doing something called "creative dramatics."

Swimming, archery, bowling and hula absorbed their weekends, and she made new friends who introduced her to neighborhoods and families she might never have met and enjoyed.

In high school, she auditioned and was cast in every onstage opportunity. In college, where the competition stiffened, she turned her ambition to philosophy, religion and service.

Now, in retirement, she realizes that her life has always been grounded in the joy and opportunity of performance.

She built a professional life in social work, peppered it with a life-long love of writing and dance. Today - she is an actor.

And last night, a young person asked her for advise.

Sure - it's been easy for you.  Your generation, he said, grew up with guarantees.  But what about me?   No Social Security - no Medicare - no guaranteed pension - no promise of insured savings.  How will I ever be happy?

Happiness is sharing your art, she said.

 Money, of course, will always be important.

But  the secret to happiness, she said, is not money.  The secret is living a life grounded in art - in expression - in communication.

Find peace, she said,  in practicing your art.

Celebrate it in what you communicate to others.

Share it in the art you create every day.

And never believe the millionaires.  Suzy Orman is a liar.  Donald Trump is not a role model.  Bill Gates is a rare duck.

Don't believe what they tell you and don't believe what they write.

Money does not mean security - and the truth is - you need much less than you now believe. You all ready have everything you need to be happy, she said.

"You all ready have everything you need to be happy, she said."

Joy.   It's in you, she said.  Share it.

Love.  Everyone around you needs what you have, she said.  Shower the people - and be kind to yourself.

Peace.  Every great thinker and lover knows that this is the yearned-for virtue, she said.   So it is for you.  Work for it.

If you accept these virtues within yourself, and share them with others - you'll find the money you have is more than what you need.

The greatest quest is the one that leads you to peace.

I finished my decaf - leaned back in my booth and remembered the words written long ago - by another wise, older person.

"Hope, faith and love abide - these three.  And the greatest of these is love."

May all your love lead you, this year, to the expression of your "art,"  the living of your "joy," and the generous seeking after "peace." 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

GOD GIRL - at the History Theatre

Kristine Holmgren shares the inspiration behind her new career as an emerging Minnesota playwright.