Shakepeare, Puritans and the killing of kings

Every American child gets the story of thanksgiving:

The pilgrims left England to find freedom in America, sailing over on the Mayflower. They suffered and could barely feed themselves, but a nice Indian man taught them how to grow plants. They made friends with some Indians and the next year, they had enough food after the harvest for a feast.

Kids make paper hats with the buckles, because that was the style at the time. That’s the story of America! Freedom and turkey.

Of course that is not the whole story. There is more.

I’ve been doing a review of American literature, and I revisited the famous “City on a Hill” sermon by John Winthrop. Clearly it had a lasting impact on America, but I wanted a point of comparison. What literature was being published in England?

From where I sat, England had the glory days of Shakespeare then literature fell off a cliff until Johnathan Swift came out with Gulliver’s Travels. And he wasn’t even English! Victorians brought literature roaring back to life, but there was this hole.

Looking into it, somehow, I didn’t realize that there were Puritans left behind in England. It turns out that the Puritans played a dramatic part in British history that had nothing to do with Americans.
For all the Puritans that left for America so many more stayed behind in England and caused trouble. Oliver Cromwell was a Puritan, heading an overthrow of the monarchy.

The first of many revolutions to come, Cromwell and the Puritans had a Civil War that executed King Charles the first.

News travelled to America about these developments. Some of our turkey-eating Puritans founders went back to England to support the revolution. Really, isn’t this what they were looking for? If the Puritan religion was the religion in power in England, why bother with the NEW England?

Winthrop’s sermon was preached in 1630. Charles the first was killed in 1649. Charles the second was reinstated in 1660. Those were some exciting years for Puritans.

Revolutions are dangerous times. Cromwell, and then Charles II had some harsh censorship in place. War and censorship put a damper on the creation of literature. Political tracts and sermons were just about it.

Taking a wider view of the world, I have some new perspective on America and what kinds of dinner conversations were happening. There was a lot going on.

If Shakespeare Ran a Zoom

I chose to listen to a Shakespeare play done by the Royal Shakespeare theater. I had my earphone in while I was cleaning the kitchen. I wanted to escape into the lovely dramatic enunciation of the THEATAH.

I am not the only one. It’s been a lot of being home. We have not gotten much art in our separation.

What we do have is a lot of screen time and zoom meetings.

And masks. Not the fun theater kind–the kind that makes you wonder if other people are mad at you from 6 feet away.

I wanted a little break. Royal Shakespeare company, a comforting bottle of pine sol and my earbuds. I was cleaning my kitchen with world class actors speaking the beautiful old-fashioned pentameter.

But wait…I wasn’t paying attention. Did I miss something? Is that queen actually sincere when she is planning her support of the step-daughter? I thought she didn’t like her.

I wasn’t going to rewind to make sure I understood the intention. But then I remembered:

Shakespeare is not subtle. If that queen is plotting a demise but saying sweet words, the bard will have her do a stage whisper aside. My face cracked in a smile. Good old Will. He puts in the reversals, but he leaves BIG CLUES to make sure we can follow along.

And I did pause the play at that point. He got it right. He is as true now as he was 500 years ago.

Zoom meetings are exhausting, right? Everyone says so.

I’ve heard that a good policy in these tiring meetings is, when you have a question? Repeat it three times.

One time
Two times

Got that? Everybody ready?
Three times

There are a lot of things competing for our attention. It’s crazy out there. It takes a few tries to make sure the message is heard.

I need to do my Zooms like Shakespeare showed us. You can get through all kinds of twists, substitutions and mistaken identities if you keep stating the facts. We can get through it if we stick to this idea:

“Speak plain and to the purpose.”


I’ve seen enough change to know that more will come
-Gloria Steinem

I’m looking for work again. I am a lot calmer about it than I have been in the past, because I realize I have successfully found work so many times before I can trust myself to do it again.

There is a name for that:

I have a lot of experience now. I’m not entirely comfortable with that, because it would be very comforting to look over my shoulder and ask someone else how to do this. It’s just…I’m that someone now.

One thing I’m good at after all these years is working with people remotely. That’s another hot trend right now “working remote” It means everyone is on their homes.

But it also has another meaning. When I am in my employer’s office building in California and I need to work with a coworker who is in DC, I am assisting remotely. I’ve had to do this kind of cooperation for all kinds of global work.

My work has to do with physical equipment, network connection and audio and video signals on each side. And very few of those things can I check remotely, only the network and that only a little.

Across time zone and language barriers, with the stress of the High up Executives wanting this all to work, I have to talk to my colleagues in all the other sites at the other end of the meeting and get it working. I have to trust the person who is there.

I know the equipment. I know which lights blink and how it all is cabled together. But I am not there. They are. I have to hear what they are telling me.

Even when it seems impossible and wrong.

But if my colleague is on the phone with me, describing the lights and the cables, I have to believe he is sincere. I’ve talked janitors into re-cabling entire systems for me. If we stay on the phone and trust each other it comes out all right.

I have heard stories that sound impossible. I know for sure how these systems work!

But I learned to listen. To ask questions and hear what my colleagues are saying. To trust them and ask again and again until we figured it out.

And we always figured it out. Because I did know how the systems worked. And they were telling me what they heard and saw.

Sometimes there were very big language and communication barriers. But I learned to use better words and be more precise. And to get confirmation from the remote colleague that she understood what I was asking.

There were a lot of tense moments, but every single time we did it. We just had to keep talking.

I’m thinking about that right now in my country. We are very politically divided. I am at home without a job and I’m feeling discouraged.

But I have experience. I’ve experienced how it can work out. We just have to keep working it. We’ll get there.

It’s your voice

“Why should I vote?” Olga said. “It doesn’t matter.

It was 1993 and I lived with Olga in Yakutsk Russia. When I first moved to Yakutsk to teach English-language kindergarten in a Christian school, Olga was the music teacher. She adopted me and persuaded me to move in with her.

I had my own bed in a two-room flat with the other teachers. There were four of us, but they were all so much older than me. I had just turned 20. Olga was 18 and like most Russians lived with her parents.

The other teacher whispered to me that she’d heard Olga was in the middle of a divorce. But this seemed unbelievable. I had to ask her was it true.

Yes, it was. She had gotten married at 16, she said. In fact, the single bed we shared—sleeping feet by head—had been the one she shared with her husband.

Why get married so young?

It was the thing to do, apparently. But he wasn’t nice to her. And after he went to prison for reasons unclear to me, she decided it was time to divorce. Except the church she had become part of seemed to want to give her advice about it—or at least gossip about it. She said the pastor said he would not give her advice one way or another.

But she and I spent all our time together and there was an election. And I wanted to go with her to see what it was like. She was not at all interested. “My vote doesn’t matter.”

The word for vote is Russian is the same word for voice. This still charms me. My American self was sure that it was her civic duty. And even if it hadn’t mattered during soviet times, surely things were getting better. That was more than a year ago! She should be part of the activism of voting.

Plus, I wanted to see what it looked like.

I persuaded her. We never had enough excitement anyway. She figured out the site to vote, and we took the bus to a section of the city I didn’t know. I went with her and saw the little stations. I had voted once right before I had, but I’d seen my parents vote. It looked very similar. I was happy for the new Russian Federation.

Yeltsin was president, but this was a local election. My Russian was not strong enough to follow it but there was not a lot of press about it anyway.

She came back from her booth and grabbed my arm, “I saw him!”

“What? Did you vote?”

Yes yes yes, she showed me her inked finger. This was a vote?

“But listen! I saw my ex!” She was nervous, clinging to me as we walked out.

He had been out of prison for a while, which I hadn’t known. She said he had a new woman in his life, and she had been with him. On the bus, Olga discussed her a little. She was so much older!

She had done it. She voted, even though she thought it didn’t matter. I told her I was very proud of her: “You used your voice.”

It is confusing and there are a lot of reasons not to bother. But I still believe my voice matters.