Welcome to Carolyn’s
Reasons for Writing
“Tolerance is love;
acceptance is a greater love still”
“Diversity has been written into the DNA of American life; any institution that lacks a rainbow array has come to seem diminished, if not diseased. In fact, there is a general acknowledgment, in all but the most troglodytic precincts, that our racial diversity is a major American competitive advantage in the global economy.”
~ Joe Klein Time Magazine Dec. 18, 2006
“Tolerance is not enough because there’s no educational component to it.” ~ Gustav Niebuhr, author of Beyond Tolerance
“We are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do”
~ Barack Obama in his eulogy at the memorial for those who died in the Tucson shooting, 2011
“Free speech is everything, the whole ball game. Free speech is everything!”~ Salman Rushdie, Nobel Prize Winner
“We can’t begin to explore the issue of religious bigotry in this country until we ask, ‘Would you vote for an agnostic or an atheist.” ~ Pam Wright, Pasadena, CA. Quotation taken from Time magazine.
I see intolerance (or better, lack of acceptance) as the root of evils that have afflicted humankind, probably since Ardipithecus, and in modern times from our world wars to 9/11 to the political and religious stalemates we have been experiencing in the last few years. It is the driving force behind what I write, the way I think of publishing, free press, and free speech. Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness.” With that in mind, I hope you will scroll down and explore my poetry and fiction, some of it travel inspired, or go to see my poetry publications on this website, the Poetry and Fiction Page. I love Twain—as you can see—but the quotation below is my favorite of all. It comes from a lovely personal friend of mine, now deceased. She leaves you this thought:
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I’ve eaten animals
disguised by deceitful
Beef not cow,
pork not pig,
mutton not sheep,
calamari not octopus.
and after they make
A pretty name
or breading will never
again be masquerade enough
for me to dip their
curls into hot sauce.
I fed a stingray today,
held it in my arms,
it’s skin silky
as a soft, wet kiss.
My granddaughters and I swimming with a
friendly stingray in Caribbean waters, Nassau.
Taking a Dose of What’s Good for You
Ever Heard of Terezin?
Available for reprint at no charge with permission from the author.
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
It was the side trip no one talked about. And then everyone did. Some were interested. Some were afraid. No one was enthusiastic.
“It will be good for the younger students. You know…to learn what we remember,” one of we more mature students enrolled in the Glendale College Summer Studies Program in Prague said. We nodded solemnly. In the end we all—young and old—went to Terezin because we felt we must.
This was not a death camp in the strictest definition of the word. It was a camp where people were “retained” before they were sent on to Auschwitz or one of the others where there were facilities for mass destruction. Still, there were ovens to cremate those who died of mistreatment or starvation or overwork or natural causes. It was no wonder there was some reticence among us.
Our tour guide was Michal. She was from Israel and spoke so many languages I lost count. Perhaps in her late 20’s, with curly dark hair and dark eyes that sometimes reflected generational pain, she had come to Prague at the suggestion of one of her professors in Israel. “My wish for you is that one of you will find unique blessings of Prague,” he had told her. She was searching for a place to practice her arts. She was a puppeteer, a performance art enjoyed by many Czechs. She was also a writer. Sometimes, as an avocation, she led tours to Terezin because she wanted others to learn from its history. Her grandmother had perished there.
When I first saw her, she was sitting on one of the stairs among students piled on the stairs with their daypacks. She wore a long black dress with huge yellow hibiscus printed on it. Black for mourning? Yellow for hope? I was busy with a journal, one of the assignments for writing class I was taking at Prague’s Charles University.
“Are you a writer?” she said. I noticed later that she managed to ask every one of her charges a personal question about themselves, welcoming them with her soft accent. She invited me to a poetry reading for later that week. “It’s in a cellar. Just like you think of when you think of Bohemians.”
I told her that I only write in English. “Prague is for everyone,” she said. “So is Terezin.”
And she was right. From the bus, we could see fields unfurled like flags of orange and yellow. Poppies, sunflowers, mustard weed. We were traveling Northwest from Prague and wouldn’t be too far from Dresden when we arrived. Berlin was beyond that. We would be in the Sudentenland, the Czech lands where most spoke German. They were given over to Hitler without a shot fired.
There was a fortress on the right. Graves with poppies carefully placed at the headstones. Past the Ohre river. Into a village. A museum where we saw the stuff of life—sewing projects, drawings, music, even plays—works of art done by those held in the camp. There was a wall in the museum that had been frescoed into a permanent display, the official lists of human cargo the trains held. They were human ghosts on bills of lading.
Michal read one name. It was that of a child, born the same day and month I was. I was overwhelmed and did what writer’s do. The journal I was to keep for my creative writing class came in handy:
When I finished writing, my group had disappeared. I wandered the streets of the little town searching for them. It was extremely hot (one of the few hot days in the entire semester we were there) and there was hardly anyone about. Finally I gave up my quest, exhausted. I sat in a town square next to an old woman who was crocheting.
“Was tust du?” I said in the familiar of German, because I couldn’t remember the formal.
She didn’t seem to mind my impertinence. She took out piles of doilies from a basket and told me she made them to sell. She also discovered that I was “lost” and found someone who led me back to my group. I decided that, though it was good to be back with them, I was meant to have had this idle time sitting with an old lady on a shady park bench. It was a view of a town with a horrible past that somehow goes on living in the present.
We went on to another memorial where trees “give a beautiful shadow,” as Michal worded it. A place too beautiful for a massacre.
This memorial had been placed at Terezin by a newer generation of Israelis. They had noticed that their generation has been deprived of aunts and uncles for they were all dead. They also became aware that they never saw anyone wearing boots because the memories of boots were still too vivid. There were no dogs, either. Watchdogs had not been their friends. The scars were still evident, two and three generations later. A memorial would help us all to remember.
So, in honor of Michal, I will not dwell on the morgue or the ovens but on hope for a better future. A better future ensured if we visit Terezin, in person or in print. The student who said this visit would be good for the younger students was wrong. It was good for all of us. This was a place of horror. But it was also a monument to the strength of spirit, both of those who died and those who survived and those who still make a life there. Those of us who visit history may choose to do things differently in the future. We may respect life, the way those Jews and Gypsies and Intellectuals and Homosexuals did, even in the face of death
The poem printed in the first edition of This Is the Place
Copyright© Carolyn Howard-Johnson 2007
Intolerance exists in all of us.
Gender, race, religion,
and things that don’t count,
fat and fashion, voices. We must
own them if they’re ours,
refuse to act on them.
If they belong to others,
ever so gently—without blame
to their existence.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson ©
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IMPERFECT ECHOES: Writing Truth and Justice with Capital Letters, lie and oppression with Small
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CHERISHED PULSE: Unconventional Love Poetry
IMAGINING THE FUTURE: Ruminations on Fathers and Other Masculine Apparitions
SHE WORE EMERALD THEN: Reflections on Motherhood
BLOOMING RED: Christmas Poetry for the Rational
DEEPER INTO THE POND: Celebration of Femininity
SUBLIME PLANET: Celebrating Earth and the Universe
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