2021 – some reflections…

Posted on December 4th, 2021
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Entering 2021, there was so much hope for a return to normalcy. To decency. To the US I always thought existed in America.

Here in December, with another wave of Covid causing concern not only across America but across the globe, it is easy to lose sight of all the good that happened in the past year. We got vaccinated (twice!) and boostered (once so far!). Who knew that getting shots could make one so excited and happy. And after a year of the human life raft called Zoom (thank you for 2020 Zoom – you kept me sane!), travel returned. Reunions happened with family, with friends. I wept at the privilege of just being in the same space, I’d missed everyone so much and we’d survived! We could hug again. Laugh together in the same room. Breathe. Make new memories in person.

But while good works were (and still are) afoot, roadblocks appeared to exist on every path. More Covid, people opposing the opportunity to protect each other and themselves, continued division, gun violence, racial injustice, losses of loved ones, losses of rights as women, as voters, absolute craziness abounded. Daily news stories inflamed our country rather informed, causing despair instead of resolve. Rough seas with waves carrying us up, then down.

But underneath it all, we went about our daily lives. In 2021, I finished a novel, worked on a third feature film regarding adoption legislation, lived half the year in the Adirondacks, returned home to Massachusetts having lost forty pounds, wrote dozens of letters to my grandchildren, finally met my youngest one (welcome Skylar!) almost a year after she was born, watched my grown sons navigate this insane world with their daily efforts and they give me such hope for the future. And I remain grateful every day for a life mate whose optimism is matched by his energy, as we hiked, canoed, kayaked and rowed our way through 2021, living, breathing, grateful for each other every dawn, appreciating every day, every meal.

How do we thank all the unknown strangers who made these gifts of 2021 possible, the scientists, the medical staff, the truck drivers and grocery store workers and pharmacists and fireman and police officers and politicians and mask-wearing kind and generous people? I have kept my nose above the surface of the water in this pandemic sea, because of so many people I don’t know and I am filled with gratitude. If not for Omicron and Delta, I would hug each one I encounter.

We lost so many people in 2021, and not just from Covid. People who mattered in my life, in my friends’ lives. As we enter this holiday season, I am thinking of them, of the loneliness of their isolated goodbyes, and am determined to be sustained by memories of them. They are candle flames in my heart.

As we move forward into another trip around the sun, resilience is key. Now is the time to stand up and speak. Don’t be shy. Write letters. Opeds. Register voters. BE ENGAGED. Action is the only way we will discover as a civilization, the better angels of our nature.

What will 2022 hold? I don’t know. But I still have hope, and a dream for what is possible. E Plurabis Unum.

2020 – Pandemic…

Posted on September 1st, 2020
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My birthmother, Lee, died on July 8th. I wasn’t there at her side. No one, save amazing medical personnel, was with her. Welcome to America 2020.

After she was born in August of 1934, she spent a year and a half in a Depression orphanage, one of those rooms filled with cribs where people would walk through and pick out a child, like a puppy farm. I was in awe she could survive it – to be alone for that long, without a forever family. That she then died alone seems particularly cruel. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it.

My sister Sue donned hazmat gear and went in to be with her the week before she died. She stroked her hair and joked with her. But it wasn’t very intimate. No skin on skin. No kiss on the cheek or holding of hands. Lee bore twelve babies and eight survived to adulthood. We lost Bobby, but she deserved to have her seven remaining children in a circle around her, her 15 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren, too. Thirty-seven of us in all (so far) exist on planet Earth because of her. We didn’t get to say goodbye – and she didn’t have us holding her hand.

She had Covid-19. I don’t know if that’s what killed her, but I do know it’s because of Covid-19 that she died alone. It didn’t have to be this way. I will feel forever sad – and guilty even – that I wasn’t there. It’s a story that’s being lived by thousands of people, millions if they have family’s the size of mine.

The pandemic is like 9-11. It’s too big to get our arms around it. There is too much sadness and fear and devastation, and there are too many stories,  – and each one is important. I am simply aghast that the USA, my country, sweet land of liberty and all, with all the resources at our disposal, with the education we’ve invested in for our citizens, with the hard work our parents and grandparents did over their lifetimes, struggling through the Depression, two world wars, and my generation let this happen? It’s disgusting. Shameful. All people had to do is wash their hands and wear a mask. Was that so much to ask?

October 2019

Posted on October 29th, 2019
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It’s almost been a year (literally!) so it’s not news that I did not win the election to become State Rep for the Worcester Fifth District. But I would do it all again in a nanosecond. The people I met in my community, throughout the eleven towns in our district, were amazing. I feel bonded to them. And so very grateful. Many donated not only hours but days to the effort. If I feel any regret at not earning the seat it is for them – because it was their seat too – and so many hoped for change.

To those who supported this effort, through time and treasure and encouragement, they are the real lifeblood of any campaign. Citizens. Americans. Willing to pound pavement, knock on doors, make phone calls, reach out to strangers, neighbors, to discuss our present and future. For many, such actions are way outside their wheelhouse – so courage is involved, and certainly perseverance.

Will I run again? Should I? Not sure when the path to victory is unclear. But… we’ve got a lot of lawn signs! Important issues to fight for! Friends! If I do – it will be because of all those people who joined together in 2018 to make something happen. Though we didn’t win an election, we found kindred spirits in our rolling hills, a sense of belonging, of not being alone. And THAT is gold.

While 2018 was all about the election, 2019 has been about other things. Friends. Love. Loss. Life. Losing Margie Cate devastated a thousand people. She was that loved. https://www.row2k.com/features/2665/In-Memoriam–Margie-Cate/#.Xbgr3-8Mv3o.twitter

Being there with her at the end of her fierce battle was one of the most poignant, heart wrenching, magnificent moments I’ve ever witnessed. She gave each of us new friends, a parting gift, so we will not traverse the future without her. Together, those who loved her, will make her immortal through memories shared, stories told, and aspiring to the heights of dignity, humor, integrity, and courage she displayed her whole life.

I continue to write, to film, to edit. Creativity is a sustaining force. Even if work remains unshared, it provides a daily goal of examining life. In travels this year, I was often reminded what a privilege it is to have the time to pursue the mind-expanding joy of such work. So many people never have such an opportunity in their entire life.

As Margie taught us this year – never take the time for granted…

Jean Strauss for State Rep

Posted on May 6th, 2018
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January 2018

Posted on February 7th, 2018
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What a wild year 2017 was, filled with so many experiences and emotions – with becoming a grandmother at the top of my list of ‘highs’…

2018 dawned with three major events:

Filming the enactment of Missouri’s Adoptee Rights Act on January 2nd was monumental. The ‘Show Me State’ was one of the last places I ever thought would pass access legislation. It was incredible to watch people I filmed a decade ago finally able to have that simple piece of paper (at the ages of 85 and 75!).

Second, I have at long last completed the film on the most significant US women’s single sculler in history. This has been one of the most meaningful projects in my life – and as I wait to see if KISS THE JOY: the story of Joan Lind Van Blom is chosen by festivals, I can’t wait to share her story with the world.

And last (but not least) I have decided to run for office. Running for State Representative of the Worcester 5th District is a dream, born during over a decade of filming and working with legislators from coast to coast. To have the privilege of serving my community, the way I have witnessed others serving their own, has been in a desire for years. There is much to learn and much to do. A new chapter. No matter the outcome, there will be new friends made and knowledge gained – and maybe a chance to make a difference…

January 2017

Posted on February 11th, 2017
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FINALLY. After an over three and a half decade battle, citizens adopted in New Jersey now have the right to receive their own original birth certificates. I stand in awe of the long-standing effort. The tenacity and resolve of Pam Hasegawa and many many other people in NJ-CARE is a testament to the power of citizens (and legislators) to right a wrong.

My first film, “The Triumvirate”, was going to be the only documentary I ever made on adoption. Then Pam asked me if I would come to New Jersey and make her group, NJ-CARE, a short public service announcement (PSA). That request changed my life forever and led to my documentary advocacy work creating films, from shorts to features, to help legislators and citizens understand what adopted citizens and first parents and adoptive parents go through when secrecy is imposed upon their lives forever.

In honor of the historic enactment of the New Jersey law, I have decided to put all my adoption films online for free – in perpetuity. This will include not only what’s been done, but also what’s next. There are many films I haven’t yet had a chance to cut (Rhode Island, Missouri, to name just a couple) and there is a feature in the works on New Jersey. “Citizen Adoptee” will take a while (I have the film on Joan Lind Van Blom to finish, and since my filming in NJ goes back to 2005, well, its going to take a little bit). But when it is completed, it will be available for all.

Fifty films are already available for your viewing at the ADOPTEE FILM CHANNEL. A dedicated website is also in the works.

Congratulations NJ-CARE! Bon apetit ALL!

November 2015

Posted on November 28th, 2015
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Sometimes, there is so much to say, I end up saying nothing. I have spent the three months since Joan died in silence, trying to organize footage and images and interviews from the days we spent working on her film – and yet in truth I have spent a great deal of time staring off into space.

It is daunting to tell the story of someone who was so special to so many people. Joan was a unique individual who touched many lives, as a racer and teammate, as a teacher and administrator, as a friend, as a wife and mother. Some days its feels impossible to capture her spirit, her wit and elegance, to do justice to her trust to tell her story. I find myself waiting for her nod of approval. But I know its time. I keep thinking of how she described her race in Montreal, the words that kept running through her head. “This is it, this is it, go for it.” I feel that way about cutting her film.

June 1st

June 1st

I wish for many things this holiday season. Peace on earth. A 32 TB Pegasus2 R8 Thunderbolt 2RAID hard drive. And another year with Joan Lind Van Blom. She made this planet a better place – and made 2015 a sacred and special time.

March 2015

Posted on March 17th, 2015
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I am making a film that has nothing to do with adoption for the first time in almost ten years. The subject is one of the women I’ve admired most in my life. Joan Lind Van Blom is an extraordinary athlete, the very first woman ever to earn an Olympic medal for the United States in rowing. She did this in a spectacular race in the 1976 Games, the first Olympics to include women’s rowing. Her silver medal was nearly a gold – and this against East Germans and Russians, in the worst lane on the Montreal course, in a cross wind, up against the rocks. For the last four decades, she has been an amazing ambassador for the sport, for both men and women. Setting the bar for all who would follow, Joan’s story underscores how far women can excel when given a chance to compete.

Joan Lind Van Blom Long Beach, 2015

Joan Lind Van Blom
Long Beach, 2015

As I begin this endeavor, I am reminded of the privilege that filmmaking affords. I am getting to tell the story of an idol of my youth, to immerse myself in a sport that long ago defined me – at least to myself. My camera lens is trained upon a magic athlete, who continues to inspire all in the rowing community to this day. What joy!

November 2014

Posted on November 5th, 2014
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Governor Pat Quinn lost his re-election bid in Illinois yesterday. He had come into office by replacing Rod Blagojevich, and then winning one term on his own. And somewhere in there, he signed HB 5428 – the bill that would provide Illinois adoptees with access to their original birth certificates.

Governor Quinn did this for a number of reasons. Representative Sara Feigenholtz, an eight term representative, had made it clear that this bill was the most important piece of legislation she would ever champion – and she needed him to sign it. Other key legislators played a role, most notably Senate President John Cullerton, and Speaker of the House, Mike Madigan. So politics may have played a role – but I’d like to think Governor Quinn signed the bill into law because he knew it was the right thing to do.

This past May, he celebrated the fourth anniversary of that signing in Springfield – and then in July, he signed yet another bill to help adult adoptees. He has championed adoptee rights more than most in his position across the country. I hope he can feel me standing up to salute his service today (as he has so often very quietly stood up to salute those who have served our country). Thank you Governor Pat Quinn. Adoptees, whether they are from Illinois or not, will remember the good work that you did. Thank you for your service and for your compassion as a human being. May others in power follow your example…


September 2014

Posted on September 3rd, 2014
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2014 is the year of fourteen. 14. That’s how many states to date provide access to original birth records for adopted citizens. It’s wonderful – yet also sobering. Its taken so much effort to get to this place – and there’s still so far to go. I stand in awe of those who have navigated the sluggish and tricky waters of reform.

Sad to think that states sealed adoptees’ birth certificates with such ease, often with little or no record of who was involved or why. Bills passed in silence. No one fought on behalf of the children being adopted, there was no impassioned testimony about what this might do to them, just a quiet closing of doors, a creation of vaults, and generations of stone-faced clerks taught to say ‘you have no right to this information’, a monotone inhumane response stretching out forever.

What past legislatures did in an instant has taken decades to undo. New Jersey sealed records in 1940. When those children of the sealed era grew up and asked for the piece of paper that the state held on the first chapter of their lives, it took 34 years to finally reverse. Young people who began the effort are now white-haired. And even with victory, there was a need to compromise. What made the ink on the New Jersey bill palatable was the knowledge that going there would be no more sealed records going forward.

Not every state has been as complicated a battleground as New Jersey – but all of them have required tenacity, courage, and enormous amounts of personal time. On the surface, it sounds so easy. If a law is unjust, change it. If it were just that simple.

2014 has felt like a tipping point. Washington, Ohio, Colorado, New Jersey – all enacted or passed laws this year. Connecticut has inertia. Illinois passed an additional statute. And Pennsylvania has looked hopeful all year long. But like so many other battleground states, as votes draw close, old and antiquated fears and foes appear. This may not be Pennsylvania’s year – but one day it will be.

For if the history of the adoption reform movement suggests anything, its that perseverance works. The stamina required is daunting. The cost, in terms of human time, personal expense, coping with attacks from within and without, the discouragement – its impossible to quantify. Applaud the people in the trenches doing the work. Their efforts are for more than a simple piece of paper. They dignify us all.

2014. It could be a tipping point. It’s definitely a year to celebrate!