I post for the time being as I venture into unchosen, unwarranted, circumstantial homelessness today, an essay on my own homelessness.
Many voices are sending their words of love and support to me. If you have such words, please post them here.
There is also room for other responses, especially to solution-find with me. Understand that within reasonable measure of my own endeavors along with your support, my conditions in this state will not persist for very long at all!
I will close by leaving a copy of a posting I submitted concerning my own impending homelessness to the local craigslist. It is confounding to me to realize what is happening in my life as the artist in America in the 21st Century. Arriving at this moment, I can see that in my future creative work, a book and a painting series will come out of what I've learned so far. For the sake of America's well being, invest your spirit and faith in what this country stands for in all her ideal by considering in your own communities, the pro-active ways you support the artists' fiscal access to an income much the way a plumber and electrician are enabled to support themselves:
My craigslist post of July 22, 2008:
A Call For Social Justice
Date: 2008-07-22, 4:28PM PDT
I am a fifty-three year old woman who has very recently completed 20 years of full time, single parenting_ yet not parenting itself, as one can never "complete" parenting. During that twenty years, I earned my undergrad degree and home-schooled my child. I built my foundation as a producing, exhibiting bartering/selling artist, while I negotiated all levels of cultural exposure, choices and access for my child through on-going activities and travel that has only added to the quality of experiences with which my child has grown up. I am skills-rich where work is concerned, and I have done more years of therapy, self-examination and spiritual enlightenment discipline, than many people my age it seems. In a nutshell, my child now a young adult, is doing quite well at a very good college with lots of scholarships. Likewise, I have finally been freed up to rejoin the world of healthy social connection and most importantly to work long and well! I relish this part of my path, except the on-going threat of homelessness that shadows my every step right now.
After many months of struggle pertinent to me, I have at last found wonderful employment. Yet, the benevolence of one who has housed me in my efforts to transition from a small town to the "bigger city" where more employment choices abound, has run its reasonable course. I must leave this coming week-end: 7/25/08.
I have titled my plea for reasonably supportive access, "A Call For Social Justice," because this seems to be all too common a scenario out here: women who have sacrificed willingly for the well-being of family to be faced with an uncaring society in large measure. This is simply a reality-based recognition. I understand the system very well, having made myself unfit for it by virtue of its challenges that a recipient better one's life. My own background of understanding, isolation and lack of traditional forms of support coming into this nature of experiences so many years ago, also plays a role. In effect, I am truly as unique as anyone in this world.
In greater advocacy for the well-being of our collective humanity, I do call on the greater community to cognizant(ly) recognize the wealth that is here in this society among everyone who is working, earning benefits, and able to care for a family. There are those among you all, who have gone without all those traditional mechanisms of support, courageously, ingeniously, persistently providing for self and family against all the odds, that have in other ways evolved by forced choice, yet have made it heroically nonetheless, most of the way to responsible social participation. I personally have done this in ways from which even the most materially successful, can learn. Creative business people take note. I embody those ways that can inform solution-building processes that do not have to leave human lives on the street with no place safe to live.
At this juncture, at this moment, I need your help to get into my own place to live in order to complete my return to responsible social participation. I may even have help for your own enlightenment on compassion, beginning with your own self. Simply. Not judgmentally_ that informs how others can also find solution for homelessness, for reasonable social access, education, and in natural health resources. Portland, you are not as enlightened or as organized or as motivated as you market yourself in the media. Please hear my in-earnest plea, for reasonably accessible support, to get on with my own successes for self and my child. Let us open a door together on possibility that can only result in what is always bigger than what any one of us can ever accomplish alone. My position of resource-lessness at this moment in my life, is truly only in-part, a reflection of my individual choice-making. Will you meet me in this opportunity where I am right now? To step into solution-building with me is to learn what is possible together for (your) own self and many more!
I am hopeful for this city and our country. I hope you will respond to my call for social justice, as compassionately as you know how. I am yearning for this in earnest.
Look over my new blog. A call card for a more streamlines manner to be employed and meet regular folk's incomes where they may be.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
I post for the time being as I venture into unchosen, unwarranted, circumstantial homelessness today, an essay on my own homelessness.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
This is an excerpt from Mary Catherine Bateson's book; "Composing A Life." As it was coined at that time (of publication in 1989): this is a radical rethinking of the concept of achievement." The value here is that consideration of achievement is really focused for women.
I have taken this excerpt from Chapter 6, page 114, starting with the first paragraph to the end of this chapter. Only minor changes, such as the order of 'women and men' will be changed for obvious reasons, not rooted in anything than change; women as verbs: in action in their own lives. Read on:
'I participated in a consciousness-raising group for about a year during the seventies. Although I learned a great deal, it was an uncomfortable experience because, as the oldest member of the group. I had coped too well for too many years with the multiple demands of my different roles not to be suspected of being that unpopular creature, the "superwoman," who makes life difficult for other women by bearing burdens that no one should be asked to bear. And I was insufficiently angry. It was not until I had been an object of discrimination myself and been frustrated in my efforts as dean to chieve fairness for the sake of others that I became angry. Working on this project has been a form of consciousness raising for me, carrying me beyond the discovery of anger; the interwoven stories of these different women may provide something of the same experience for others.
Today, I believe that we will not learn how to live responsibly on this planet without
basic changes in the ways we organize human relationships, particularly inside the family, for family life provides the metaphors with which we think about broader ethical relations. We need to sustain creativity with a new richer sense of complementarity and interdependence, and we need to draw on images of collaborative caring by both women and men as a model of responsibility. We must free these images from the connotations of servitude by making and keeping them truly elective.
Increasing numbers of women work now within the symmetrical model, because the asymmetries of gender relationships have been so profoundly exploitative and the discovery of comradeship so rewarding. But symmetrical models promote competition and conflict; as the Bible shows, brothers are not always friends. These models also involve pressing participants toward similarity, teaching them to play by the same rules and to abandon their different styles and different contributions. The loss is serious. Furthermore, symmetrical models work badly across cultures, when differences are real and profound. They are almost useless as a basis for forming ethical relationships outside the human species; they don't help us deal responsibly with the rain forests or the oceans.
The sermon by the Tibetan monk evokes compassion with a double twist: On the other hand, it invites acknowledgment of similarity, reminding the listener that all sentient beings are caught in the cycle of incarnations hand have passed through the same forms. We are all alike. On the other hand, it evokes the asymmetry of the mother-infant relationship, of love and mutual need based on difference. We need the rain forests and the living oceans to sustain our lives. Compassion is a more complex idea than equality, but the very word is distorted in the Western usage into something like the faintly scornful pity felt by the strong for the weak. "Interdependence" is the increasingly used for relationships of interlocking needs that contain elements of difference and elements of commonality. We speak of interdependence between species, between nations, between north and south, between different bioregions. Oddly, as procreation becomes less central, we are ourselves in need of new ways to express the interdependence of females and males as partners (or) and as friends.
When you hear someone describing their day-to-day interactions, you can sort out the underlying metaphors, listening for the formal similarities between different forms of caring, or rivalry, or exploitation. you find teachers who are aware of learning from their students and teachers who are not; employers for whom workers are interchangeable and others who recognize that spontaneity and freedom produce higher productivity than adversarial negotiations about standardized tasks. Even in working with computers, there is a variation between those who use an imagery of collaboration and those who think in terms of a master-slave relationship. "I always like the aspect where there is close human interface," Alice commented, "those things a machine can do better because a human being and a machine work together."
The difference between women and men are our most important resource in learning new ways of thinking about difference. We cannot change the disparity between infant and adult, though we can surely learn to understand and respect children more. But we can work toward households and schools in which the differences between women and men are visibly a mutual source of strength rather than dominance. A home is one model of the kind of complex whole two people- or more- can work together to create. This dimension of home making is also applicable too building of laboratories and the staffing of offices, to making places where adults as well as children can grow, where strengths are fostered and possibilities are increased.
Women have a great deal to offer to this process today, but not because they necessarily bring the resources of nurturance and tolerance than create reform. Rather, having grown up expecting to be homemakers and caretakers, they still retain an understanding of interdependence. If they continue looking for complimentary relationships, relationships of mutual give and take, when we have rejected inferior status, we can help to make these relationships more widely available. And when women augue against various forms taken by the exploitation of women, against the premises on which traditional gender relationships and visions of the life cycle have been built, they are also arguing against the arrogant dominance and casual exploitation of the planet on which we live.
If the difference between female and male can be affirmed without connotations of inferiority and superiority, we may change the exploitive elements in other relationships across difference like race and class and, more profoundly, between the human species and the rest of the biosphere.'
Friday, July 18, 2008
A little inspiration for the preservation of Democracy! Do WE want this?!!!!
If so, what are WE going to DO about preserving our DEMOCRACY?!
Thursday, July 17, 2008
I received this email today, and my gut instinct says this is robbery! That the money sent in to the "HillaryClinton.com" website was pilfered by the DNC/Obama Campaign, and now that money is being paraded around for all the country to witness the robbery in front of your eyes standards that have been well-learned from the Republican party!
Register for Change bus tour We have some good news today, and it's all thanks to supporters like you.
In the month of June, the DNC raised approximately $22 million -- our best month of the year by far.
This is a stunning achievement, and it's to your credit. People like you heard the call, and thousands have answered it.
But we're facing opponents with staggering resources at their disposal. The Republican National Committee finished June with nearly $68 million in the bank.
We can't stop now. We're counting on you to help us close the gap.
Please make a donation of $5 now to keep building our momentum and bring about the change this country so desperately needs:
The DNC does not accept donations from Washington lobbyists or special interest PACs.
But John McCain and the RNC have no such standards, and together they raised nearly $100 million in June. Add to that the huge checks brought in by shadowy outside groups, there's no telling how much our opponents will spend on attack ads.
They're not backing down, and neither can we. Only by working together can we fight back against the massive funds they're raising from special interest PACs and Washington Lobbyists.
It's up to you. Take a moment now and strengthen our movement for change:
We're fighting for Democrats up and down the ballot and in every state. That means competing in a lot of battlegrounds that have not traditionally been successful for Democrats. Our 50-state strategy is working -- but we need your support to keep the momentum going.
It's going to take all of us working together to defeat John McCain and the Republicans, and we can't do it without you.
I say people continue to be ignored to our face. I know this experience in my job search, as the language of my résumé actually shows my experience versus "key words" that narrow down what I have actually done, so someone with no critical thinking skills can throw out that résumé, saying it is not "a fit" for the position being hired for; cookie-cutter, cookie-cutter, cookie-cutter!!! TAKE! TAKE! TAKE!
Our weekly newsletter is back in full force! We hope you like the new format and are having fun exploring the new community site. We certainly are - all of us have been so impressed by the quality of posts going up, and level of participation - so keep it coming!
We really couldn't have created this amazing community site and upgrade without you - so for the millionth time - thank you! Thank you for your support, your patience, your advice and your kind emails. We love you guys (sniff sniff).
We finally got the new site up and running!
McCain spokesperson Carly Fiorina said her boss understands that women want insurance coverage for birth control -- forgetting to mention that McCain opposes that. Later he claimed he is in favor of equal pay for equal work -- also patently false. So we told him to fuck off. (On a related note, Bill Kristol had the audacity to say that Republicans are more comfortable with the idea of strong women. I suppose that's true if he defines "strong women" as "don't care about the right to choose or equal pay.")
Planned Parenthood's Action Fund endorsed Obama, despite his controversial comments about late-term abortions. Obama did better, however, when it came time to talk about women and work.
Some assholes created a parody of Guitar Hero designed to highlight how scary and foreign the female anatomy is. In examining how the game might be applied to real-life women, AbbieNormal noted, "If some guy started poking me in sequence, I'd probably just be annoyed." And UltraMagnus added, "Followed by a curt, 'What the fuck are you doing?' And then if it was my turn I'd hold his dick and pretend I'm actually playing Guitar Hero: green, red, yellow yellow, reeeeeeeeeed! (whammy bar included) /snark."
We flashed back to Courtney's childhood, in which she railed against racist, sexist debutante balls. In comments, folks shared (and critiqued) their own debutante experiences.
A columnist told us we should all be shaming pregnant teens. And community blogger Aly informed us how tough it is for some teens to buy pregnancy tests.
We analyzed the whole Jezebel/Thinking and Drinking debacle.
Maureen Dowd told us to look to celibate dudes for relationship advice. And a Southern Baptist minister said that women who don't submit to their husbands are to blame for domestic violence.
We said thank you to Eleanor Roosevelt. And speaking of (potential) first ladies, we watched a roundup of all the crap Fox News has spewed about Michelle Obama.
We looked at the gay-rights movements in the U.S. and in India.
A British art critic said people with ladyparts aren't capable of "aesthetic greatness." And katems pondered how her love for opera fits with her feminist beliefs.
We weighed in on the "cultural defense" for violence against women. We mourned the death of young feminist activist Jana Mackey, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, and the death of Olidia Kerr Day, who was killed by a random man who saw her in a supermarket and stalked her.
Got something to say? (I know you do!) Sign up and get blogging on our community site!
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
New York Times
Published: July 2, 2008
Environmentalists have long claimed that the Navy’s use of sonar for training exercises unduly threatens whales, dolphins and other acoustically sensitive marine creatures. The Navy has adopted some procedures to mitigate the risk but has resisted stronger protections ordered by two federal courts. The Supreme Court has now agreed to address the issue.
The justices will not try to determine the extent of harm but rather the balance of power between the executive branch and the courts in resolving such issues. In an effort to sidestep the courts, the Bush administration invoked national security to exempt the Navy from strict adherence to the two federal environmental laws that underlay the court decisions. The top court will now have to decide whether the military and the White House should be granted great deference when they declare that national security trumps environmental protection or whether the courts have a role in second-guessing military judgments and claims of fact.
The case at hand was filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other conservation groups to rein in Navy training exercises that use sonar to search for submarines off the coast of Southern California. The Navy says that its exercises pose little threat to marine life and that the training is vital to national security.
A federal district judge and a federal appeals court in California, after careful reviews of the facts, have found that the Navy’s arguments are largely hollow. Although the Navy likes to boast that there has never been a documented case of a whale death in 40 years of training, that may be mostly because no one has looked very hard. The Navy itself estimates that the current series of drills, conducted over two years, might permanently injure hundreds of whales and significantly disrupt the behavior of some 170,000 marine mammals.
No one has questioned that sonar training is vital to national security, and the federal courts have not tried to ban the training. They have simply tried to impose tough measures to minimize damage. The Navy objected to two proposed restrictions in particular — that it shut off its sonar when marine mammals are detected within 2,200 yards and power down its sonar under sea conditions that carry sound farther than normal.
High-ranking officers said these restrictions would cripple the Navy’s ability to train and certify strike groups as ready for combat. The appeals court, mining the Navy’s own reports of previous exercises, disagreed. It said the Navy, following earlier procedures, had already been shutting down sonars with little impact on training or certification.
It seems telling that the Navy has accepted the 2,200-yard safety zone for other sonar exercises. NATO requires the same zone, and the Australian Navy mandates a shutdown if a marine mammal is detected within 4,000 yards.
The federal courts have played a valuable role in deflating exaggerated claims of national security. Let us hope that the Supreme Court backs them up.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Posted on July 13, 2008
Gruber Foundation Announces Winners of 2008 Gruber Prize for Women's Rights
The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation in St. Thomas, the Virgin Islands, has awarded the 2008 Gruber Foundation Women's Rights Prize to three activists who have led successful efforts to advance women's rights in their respective societies, often at great risk to their own safety.
The women, who will share the $500,000 prize, are Yanar Mohammed, publisher of the newspaper Al Mousawat ("equality") and co-founder of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq; Sapana Pradhan Malla, president of the Forum for Women, Law & Development, a Kathmandu-based nongovernmental organization and leader in securing legal reforms that protect the fundamental reproductive and property rights of Nepalese women; and Dr. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, a leading feminist scholar, therapist, and activist who has worked to end domestic violence, including so-called "honor killings," against Palestinian women.
"These women inspire us as they courageously fight for gender equality under the most difficult conditions of war and armed conflict — conditions that trigger deeply misogynistic ideologies and practices supported by nationalist and religious fundamentalism," said Pinar Ilkkaracan, co-recipient of the 2007 Gruber Prize and a member of the 2008 prize selection advisory board. "Through their vision and dedication, these prize recipients have become the world's conscience in the struggle for justice, peace, and equality between women and men."
“Three Activists to Share 2008 Gruber International Women's Rights Prize for Advancing Gender Equality.” Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation Press Release 7/08/08.
Primary Subject: Women
Secondary Subject(s): International Affairs/Development
Location(s): International, National, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
I have always said whatever progress women in THIS country make_ sets a standard for the rest of the world. Meaning, if women of the free world can accomplish the ultimate dreams of choice, of autonomy_ women in the rest of the world will have a momentum around their own efforts where ever we are! NO, this is not a naïve statement, it is one of conscious responsibility
Friday, July 11, 2008
The Corporatization of a generation:
The technology whiz kids don't even notice the new social grooming techniques of which they are the horizontal peer advocates, because they are minion perveyors; the dispensers of the mental/emotional gulag!
Heeeere he is straight from the DNC, it's Howard Dean! Hi, floks! I'm here telling you: "Democracy is a contest on YouTube! Now you too can win a chance to be special!
Anyone who sees through this charade, calling a spade a spade (opps!), will be derided as an outcast of the in-crowd. Ha! Ha! (Now that we have gotten rid of the nurturing voice for independent thought)_ hope the herds love the view right over the cliff! Enter and win BIG now!"
Thursday, July 10, 2008
It has been a long campaign year and for Hillary supporters and Hillary, of course, a very disappointing and hurtful outcome. So, we decided to take Hillary’s lead and get back up, dust ourselves off, and with a smile on our face go forward!
No matter what YOU may have decided to do with your vote and activism since the primary has ended, we can all be one in showing Hillary how much we appreciate what she has done for us. The best way to celebrate Hillary is to make her proud!
In Hillary’s name we are giving the BIGGEST service day in history all across this nation.
I am looking to recruit 10 volunteers in the Portland Metro area to help me get this event up and running. I am starting that process NOW!! If you are still searching for a way to heal the hurt from Hillary's loss, do not delay! This is a great opportunity to get involved and do just that! Contact me for more details by leaving a comment here! Thanks!
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
I am on a mailing list called the Philanthropy News Digest. Many moons ago, an acquaintance turned me onto this site as a good source for grants... I have not been able to tap into the resources to be found there, but I do read the odd article that comes to my email box daily!
This is one article that is coinciding with movements of change that are swelling on the horizon of our country, as we respond to the past eight years in Washington and this heinous administration's devastating consequences. Consequences that will absolutely haunt this country and its constitution for generations to come! We have a BIG BILL COMIN' DUE in these here United States!
Here is the article to which I refer:
Posted on July 8, 2008
Knight Foundation, Carnegie Corporation Expand Initiative to Transform Journalism Education
The Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York have announced grants totaling more than $11 million to support the expansion of an initiative designed to redefine journalism education and train a new generation of journalists capable of reshaping the news industry.
With the funding, the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education will be expanded to the journalism schools at Arizona State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, joining journalism schools already supported by the initiative at the University of Southern California, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Maryland, Northwestern University, Columbia University, the University of Missouri, Syracuse University, and the University of California at Berkeley. A research center, the Joan Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, is also supported by the initiative.
The funds also will be used to double the number of schools participating in News21, an experimental online news incubator; extend the work of the Carnegie-Knight journalism education policy task force, which is housed at the Shorenstein Center; and enhance and expand the journalism curriculum at the schools participating in the initiative.
"Today's journalists must be steeped in experience and deeply knowledgeable about the subjects they report on," said Carnegie president Vartan Gregorian. "To understand the underlying ideas and possible ramifications of import, even truly transformative events, requires that journalists be trained and informed enough to deal with complex, nuanced information with a richness and depth."
“Expansion of Carnegie-Knight Initiative Seeks to Transform Journalism Education in U.S.” John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Press Release 7/07/08.
Primary Subject: Journalism/Media
Secondary Subject(s): Education
Location(s): Florida, Miami, National, New York, New York City
***I say, pay closer attention now to what it is that a majority of prosperous males predominantly control, just for prudence sake to begin with! This is a process of real balance in this world, after all_ it is the long walk.
Posted by la fin du siècle at 5:56 PM
Harvard University Commencement Address J.K. Rowling
Copyright June 2008
As prepared for delivery
President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of
Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all,
The first thing I would like to say is 'thank you.' Not only has Harvard
given me an extraordinary honour, but the weeks of fear and nausea I've
experienced at the thought of giving this commencement address have made
me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep
breaths, squint at the red banners and fool myself into believing I am
at the world's best-educated Harry Potter convention.
Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I
thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The commencement
speaker that day was the distinguished British philosopher Baroness Mary
Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing
this one, because it turns out that I can't remember a single word she
said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear
that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in
business, law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay
You see? If all you remember in years to come is the 'gay wizard' joke,
I've still come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals:
the first step towards personal improvement.
Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say to
you today. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own
graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years
that has expired between that day and this.
I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are
gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to
talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the
threshold of what is sometimes called 'real life', I want to extol the
crucial importance of imagination.
These might seem quixotic or paradoxical choices, but please bear with
Looking back at the 21-year-old that I was at graduation, is a slightly
uncomfortable experience for the 42-year-old that she has become. Half
my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I
had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me.
I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write
novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished
backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that
my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that could never
pay a mortgage, or secure a pension.
They had hoped that I would take a vocational degree; I wanted to study
English Literature. A compromise was reached that in retrospect
satisfied nobody, and I went up to study Modern Languages. Hardly had my
parents' car rounded the corner at the end of the road than I ditched
German and scuttled off down the Classics corridor.
I cannot remember telling my parents that I was studying Classics; they
might well have found out for the first time on graduation day. Of all
subjects on this planet, I think they would have been hard put to name
one less useful than Greek mythology when it came to securing the keys
to an executive bathroom.
I would like to make it clear, in parenthesis, that I do not blame my
parents for their point of view. There is an expiry date on blaming your
parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old
enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you. What is more, I
cannot criticise my parents for hoping that I would never experience
poverty. They had been poor themselves, and I have since been poor, and
I quite agree with them that it is not an ennobling experience. Poverty
entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand
petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own
efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but
poverty itself is romanticised only by fools.
What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.
At your age, in spite of a distinct lack of motivation at university,
where I had spent far too long in the coffee bar writing stories, and
far too little time at lectures, I had a knack for passing examinations,
and that, for years, had been the measure of success in my life and that
of my peers.
I am not dull enough to suppose that because you are young, gifted and
well-educated, you have never known hardship or heartbreak. Talent and
intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the
Fates, and I do not for a moment suppose that everyone here has enjoyed
an existence of unruffled privilege and contentment.
However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you
are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear
of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your
conception of failure might not be too far from the average person's
idea of success, so high have you already flown academically.
Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes
failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if
you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure,
a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic
scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was
jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern
Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me,
and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual
standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.
Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That
period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going
to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale
resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long
time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.
So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure
meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to
myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct
all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I
really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the
determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I
was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I
was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an
old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid
foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is
inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something,
unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at
all - in which case, you fail by default.
Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing
examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have
learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more
discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends
whose value was truly above rubies.
The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks
means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You
will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships,
until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift,
for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than
any qualification I ever earned.
Given a time machine or a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self
that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of
acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your
life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse
the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone's total
control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its
You might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of
imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but
that is not wholly so. Though I will defend the value of bedtime stories
to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader
sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision
that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and
innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity,
it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose
experiences we have never shared.
One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry
Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those
books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs.
Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid
the rent in my early 20s by working in the research department at
Amnesty International' s headquarters in London.
There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out
of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment
to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw
photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty
by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture
victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten,
eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings
Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been
displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the
temerity to think independently of their government. Visitors to our
office included those who had come to give information, or to try and
find out what had happened to those they had been forced to leave
I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older
than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had
endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a
video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot
taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job
of escorting him to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man
whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite
courtesy, and wished me future happiness.
And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor
and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and
horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the
researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink
for the young man sitting with her. She had just given him the news that
in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country's regime,
his mother had been seized and executed.
Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how
incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically
elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were
the rights of everyone.
Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on
their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power. I began to have
nightmares, literal nightmares, about some of the things I saw, heard
And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty
International than I had ever known before.
Amnesty mobilises thousands of people who have never been tortured or
imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The
power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and
frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security
are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not
know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was
one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.
Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and
understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into
other people's minds, imagine themselves into other people's places.
Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is
morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or
control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.
And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose
to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never
troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they
are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can
close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them
personally; they can refuse to know.
I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I
do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live
in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that
brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more
monsters. They are often more afraid.
What is more, those who choose not to empathise may enable real
monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves,
we collude with it, through our own apathy.
One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor
down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could
not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we
achieve inwardly will change outer reality.
That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every
day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with
the outside world, the fact that we touch other people's lives simply by
But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people's lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world's only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.
If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you
have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.
I am nearly finished. I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children's godparents, the people to whom I've been able to turn in times of trouble, friends who have been kind enough not to sue me when I've used their names for Death Eaters. At our graduation we were bound by enormous affection, by our shared experience of a time that could never come again, and, of course, by the knowledge that we held certain photographic evidence that would be exceptionally valuable if any of us ran for Prime Minister.
So today, I can wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom:
As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.
I wish you all very good lives.
Thank you very much.