UGH, is it still 2020? It’s been six years!
This morning, Nikki Grimes wondered on Twitter if anyone else needed a reminder of something beautiful in this world, and oh, holy heaven, yes. As she shared a picture of her roses in bloom, so I will share my blooms – and some thoughts on the reasons I stare at my plants when my mind is full.
Despite the fact that I garden, I’m… actually kind of terrible at it. So far this year, the Evil Gopher has eaten two whole plants (although today I saw it ate A WEED. I’m not mad about it), and three have simply failed to thrive. I have no clue what’s up with the leeks and beets, or why they’re not doing anything. There are so many things i should put them on a list and make note that they don’t do well here, so as not to try them again – but I’m more bewildered and sad that they didn’t like me. ☺ Gardening is sometimes a lot about failure – and learning how to face it, breathe through it, and walk on.
Between a box of seeds I collected from a house we rented fifteen years ago (!) and seeds from my friend Elle’s crop last year, we planted LOADS of morning glories in at least four colors around the entire yard. Morning glories… are stubborn sometimes. They CAN grow in poor soil and with tons of neglect, but even when you give them tons of fresh, rich soil, sometimes they just… won’t. Right now, while I have morning glories which are just now stretching up trees and staked on sticks and trying to run up the fence, I have discovered myriad tiny new seedlings which are just now germinating.
We planted them in FEBRUARY.
How is it that seeds I planted months ago in the winter are JUST NOW deciding to germinate? Did their older siblings somehow signal that it was safe? Hanging with my plants reminds me I cannot make anything happen except in its own time. Gardening means relinquishing the idea that you’re in your control. It’s enough to make you scream. It’s also …life. Things happen when they do – and all of our stressing rarely moves the dial. Sometimes what’s needed is patience. Other times, a clipper or a trowel and a new location, or even just fertilizer. You don’t know ’til you get in there.
Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do. (There’s that failure thing again…)
So, you take a breath, and do what you can. You enjoy the blooms that you have.
Right now, what with the additional plague of “you can’t tell me what to do”-ers infecting the nation, it feels like we might never stop dying of this disease, or gain social closeness again. It feels like authoritarianism continues to invent reasons to eradicate black and brown individuals. It feels like nothing is working, that nothing is worth working for, and that we’ve lived through the winter of our discontent, which is dragging on into an endless summer. It feels – every day, for some – like the end of everything.
It’s a good thing we have this reminder: there are beautiful things in this world. There is rest – even a moment’s surcease from pain. There is hopefulness. Look for it. See.
(My beautiful plant is gone – thanks, gopher.
“Now, we don’t want to kill him, just discourage him,” the neighbor called over the fence. “We’re pouring Pine Sol down into his hole.” Er, …okay? This certainly will do something, likely to the groundwater, but to the gopher snacking its way through our plants? Not much. However, we have four crows watching the ground closely, and we’ve heard an owl… we figure something will serve justice eventually. Meanwhile, more seeds…)
Good thing I just checked my calendar! I knew I was doing something else with poetry rather soon… and indeed, Poetry Friday is hosted here this Friday!
…ADDITIONALLY, I’m doing The New Year’s Poetry Challenge! The Modesto-Stanislaus Poetry Center every year gives out prompts for poetry from mid-month December through the New Year. Since my road buddy, Sarah, is the board secretary for the Center, she and I are opting in this year, and will be posting dueling poems… somewhere, possibly on our Wonderland Dispatches blog, whilst we also look over some of our favorite discoveries in poetry this year. You’re welcome to join the fun.
This year’s NYPC will begin on December 15th. so you’ll get your first prompt the night of the 14th! If you’d like to jump in, email us at Info_at_mostpoetry_dot_org. You will receive a prompt a day for 30 days! You choose to write to all the prompts, some of the prompts, or none of the prompts. It’s all for fun. Toward the end of the 30 days, we’ll put out a call for any poem you’d like to share in an NYPC chapbook.
If you’d like to participate, you need to opt in, even if you’ve done this in the past. That way no one who doesn’t want these prompts gets them. Please feel free to pass this opportunity on to whomever you think might be interested! The more the merrier!
Edited to Add: Early bird Poetry Friday posts from Thursday have been moved to the next blog post!
No idea what kind of flower this is, but it was unfurling outside the post office where I – finally, after entirely removing three chapters I’d moved around in the narrative twice before – mailed off my latest project.
I shall take a tiny moment and say “Hurray!”
There is a lot swirling through my head this morning: yesterday, I attended a community concert on behalf of our chamber choir, and upon returning home a.) found out that the mother of a dear Scottish friend of mine has died, a woman I had met and enjoyed; b.) was told a “you’re-not-supposed-to-know” update on my Dad’s cancer, c.) then, my autoimmune disorder, which over the last two weeks lulled me into a false sense of serenity, bloomed out in full malevolent force, and d.) myriad people asked me if I knew what was going with Anne Ursu’s report, and the subsequent discussion in School Library Journal on sexual harassment in the children’s lit industry. (After a bit, the comments are NOT worth reading. Reader discretion is advised.)
I decided to take a bath and go to bed.
Today is a new day, and everything I tried to ignore yesterday has returned to pay a call. In triplicate.
There is so much good – all of the Youth Media Awards from the ALA are in and faaaabulous, and Erin Estrada Kelly’s win is well overdue, so I’m thrilled she’s being honored; the fourth Asian overall, and the first Filipina to BE honored with a Newberry by the American Library Association – within the horrible, there are shades of wonderful swirling past (Witness Rick Riordan’s commentary and Gwenda’s sterling response and empowerment to the community.). Still, I feel like I’ve been caught in a hurricane, one the forecaster had predicted, but which had been ignored.
So, here’s a song to which you can sit and breathe… and then, get up, and head back into the fray.
One afternoon, on a relatively smooth patch of snow, I found: baby steps, goose steps, rabbit, dog and deer prints, and the marks of a cane. The magic of looking is never knowing what you’ll find.
Crossing time’s wide street
here, our life’s heartbeat
explore, part, retreat —
Our song’s incomplete,
But, from its downbeat,
Leave your footprints, though all such prints be ephemeral. They’re playing your song. Arise and shine.
It always amuses me that whenever my Scottish friends speak of pies, they invariably mean… that which I do not mean at all. Say “pie” and they’ll say chicken-and-leek. Eel. Steak-and-kidney. Mince. Mutton, or something else in Scotch pie. Sweet pies are… um, puddings? So, it gets to be a little confusing.
In view of the fact that today is apparently National Mac & Cheese Day I will raise a …mug to Macaroni Pie. It’s better with fresh peas than baked beans from a tin, to be sure, but it’s one of those ubiquitous quick meal I had when out and about, visiting castles and historical places. I’ve never tried to make one – I truly can’t see the point of adding pastry to pasta when there are perfectly good pumpkins and peaches just sitting around – but macaroni pie was good fuel for a long day of walking in cold climes, so here’s to it.
When cravings for a piece of pie
Meet diet’s parsimony,
Forget the peach – your fork apply
To tasty macaroni!
A hand-pie makes a lot of sense:
Food without ceremony –
(And, in a pinch, it’s self-defense
And lessens acrimony).
Take my advice and make this meal
With peas and pepperoni,
Complete with pastry’s flaked appeal
A pie of macaroni.
This is a DREADFUL POEM of the worst sort of drivel and I’m well aware of that, but I’m also packing to move, so it is what it is. ☺ The rest of the ACTUAL poetry-ites are over at Tabatha’s blog today.
I tweeted this yesterday, but the drawback of Twitter, of course, is chopping things up into tiny bits. This quote needs to be seen and savored in its entirety. It’s from the legendary dance diva, Martha Graham in a 1973 interview. She was interviewed countless times throughout a long and brilliant career, of course, but one of the biggest things she’s ever said that stuck with me was about struggling as an artist. She told the Christian Science Monitor, `You are unique and so am I. If you do not fulfill that uniqueness, it is lost to the world. No matter how uncomfortable it may be, you must pay your debts to the life that has been permitted you. And to do it with as much courage as possible.’
It’s the COURAGE that stood out to me.
It’s odd how some people seem to equate being a writer with suffering in some vague, indefinable way, as if the suffering itself, the self-deprecation and the, “Oh, I make no money with it,” is part of the gig. The attitude some people bring to the work really has nothing to do with the writing, the desire to write, or why we do so specifically for young adults. I distrust a writer who gets too involved with The Struggle (TM), this idea that The Arts and The Life are some sort of all-caps calling to which they’re supposed to sacrifice everything. Part of me constantly chafes at myself for indecision and nonsense, while the other asks, “Did you choose this life, or not?”
“There is no place for arrogance in the arts, but neither is there room for doubt or a perpetual need for affirmation. If you come to me with doubts about a particular move in a piece, or if you come to me and ask if what you’ve written has truth and power in it, these are doubts I can handle and respect. But if you come to me and moan about whether or not you really have a place in the dance or the theatre or in film, I’ll be the first person to pack your bags and walk you to the door. You are either admitting that you lack the talent and the will, or you are just looking for some easy attention. I don’t have time for that. The world doesn’t have time for that. Believe in your worth and work with a will so that others will see it. That’s how it is done; that’s how it was always done.”
Emphasis mine, of course.
I don’t know the origin of the phrase, “Work hard in silence, let your success be your noise,” but this quote pulls that to mind. Oh, the self pity, the “look-at-me” posting of daily word count (I know that for some people, this is a necessary part of keeping themselves accountable, but not only is it really painful sometimes for other people who write very much more slowly, but daily word count is really… significant of nothing), the sort of whingeing of worrying aloud we do, when we see someone else “stealing” our plot or idea – all of this is unnecessary. Terry Pratchett always said that there are stories simply “sleeting” through the Universe. There’s enough for all. There is room for all. There is art for all. It only requires that we reach out and embrace it. Believing in our work, our worth, our will. Which is just kind of huge.
“The world seethes with ideas the way a week-old carcass seethes with maggots, and they are individually just about as valuable. Standing atop the carcass shouting, “The eighteenth maggot on the left belongs to MEEEEE!” is well… bless your heart, as they say around here. And even if both you and I, creative carrion birds that we are, grab for the same maggot, we’d get very different results.
…so, stories are like dead whales. One falls from the sky every now and again, and we all jump on it.”
– Ursula Vernon, on why writers really shouldn’t worry about story ideas being “taken” because there are stories out there, forever, like there are whales washing up on beaches forever, which will nourish all of us bottom-feeder writers forever, amen. Really, it’s a charming analogy, just as charming as whalefall, which is whales washing up dead on beaches… Okay, so NOT charming, but whatever. Circle of life. Just like ideas, and writing, and all of this work. Circle of life.
So, the next time I find myself in the presence of undue “suffering” in my chosen profession, I’m going to imagine Ms. Martha plié-ing across the floor to escort that person OUT of the field. (At least out of my hearing and field of vision, if nothing else.) Gracefully, of course. Because nobody has time for the transparent bids for sympathy in a job we took onto our own shoulders. Believe in your work and your worth and go on.
I find it unbelievable that I have no pictures of the persimmons that Bean picked up last year – from a tree unclaimed on the side of the road. I somehow didn’t even photograph the pomegranates, which are also a November favorite, which my father hoards from his tree… and while it seems early in the month to be grateful already for *cough* food, which is what most of us do when we feel like we’re running out of things, *cough* I forget about persimmons every single year. I hated them, as a child; they were slimy. I still prefer the firm ones – but the slushy, sticky fuyu, which can be dried whole or used fresh, make THE BEST sticky fruit cookies, ever. Actually, come to think of it, the pie was pretty good, too.
I am grateful today for all the gifts of autumn, even the ones I periodically forget exist.
Occasionally, I have the distinct pleasure of meeting absolutely unique people, and I met this adorably dimpled person for the first time the other night at supper in Berkeley. He happened to be all of seventeen, full of wit and cracking wise all evening, making the assorted adults about him guffaw intemperately. A very good time was had; a brief blip of sanity in amongst ALA meetings and packing and sightseeing and preparing to leave the state and the country.
Adorably Dimpled (whom we’ll call AD for future reference) is one of those outdoorsy people was relating to us the tale of his canoeing trip through the Adirondacks, and how well it had gone. He added that he and his rowing partner had at one point stood in the canoe, poling along and singing out all the Italian words that they knew, gondolier style – which were sadly limited to rigatoni, zabaglione, bruschetta, antipasti… Yeah. It was fairly pathetic, but it amused them, so they carried on… until they rounded a corner and met up with another canoe full of people conversing … in … Italian.
Mortified, they sat down and shut up.
AD chuckled ruefully, recounting the tale. “It was terrible,” he recalled. “We thought we could get away with a little racism out in the Adirondacks, but no.” The complete incongruity of this statement of course broke up the whole table and we all laughed some more. But, AD’s claim of racism has stayed with me… and rattled around like a dried pea in my brain.
I was nineteen when a social worker I knew prodded me into being part of a study at Boston University’s Sloan Epidemiology Center. I’m still a part of that study, which has turned out to be a huge and important one about the health of women of color across the United States. Biannually, the several hundred thousand women in the group answers questions about their health, visits a lab to give blood, or agrees to give Sloan access to their cancer records or their blood pressure readings, and &tc. This is a comprehensive study, and includes mental health, and every other year or so, when the questionnaire comes out, I’ve been asked about my experiences with things that threaten mental health — things like domestic abuse, self harm, assault, and… racism.
At nineteen, I returned a survey which said that I had never experienced racism. I know – highly unlikely, right? Yet, it was important for me during that time to be able to say that, no, there was no racism. It supported my worldview, which stated that The World Is An Okay Place. If I believed otherwise, I would have been too petrified to go out in said world — so I went with the “I don’t see color and no one has seen mine” fabrication with which so many young people have attempted to navigate their world. But, the survey kept asking that question, year in, year out. Asking. And asking. Insistently. There’s a reason for their questions, of course; the NYT reported recently on some of the findings from this study and others like it. The questions are important – vital. The survey designers always vary it — as all psychological tests do — they ask in terms of the workplace or in terms of feeling safe, or in terms of shopping experience, or in terms of school days. But, they keep asking.
I have been, by turns, exasperated, impatient and mildly annoyed with their questions. But, after AD’s little story, what I am now is …illuminated.
Of course, I have experienced racism. (And, I have acted in racist ways — as much as I HATE the idea of that, I have.) This week, I’m in Scotland, which is where some of the more …embarrassing experiences in my life have happened. The UK isn’t a monoculture, contrary to what ends up on television or in the media – there are people of Asian, South Asian and African backgrounds who are born and raised here, but for reasons of …history? the popular depictions are almost always white. This is changing, as the population shifts, but when we moved here in 2007, I was a serious minority, and it didn’t always feel okay. People would either stare at me — to the extent of turning after we’d passed each other in the street, to look over their shoulders — or they would accost me to rap (arrhythmically) at me, scream “Soul sister!” or try and do complicated hand-shakes with me. No, seriously. Strangers, I’m talking about — trying to slap hands with me, and assume some familiarity because they were sure that they somehow knew me, because… maybe their best friend was black? And, I would bet that none of those people would have the clear-eyed realism of AD, and say that they were being racist… but, they were.
In college, someone asked to record me scatting — as if, because Ella Fitzgerald could do it, surely I could, because black. Er, NO. So not able to do that. I am not a jazz person in any formal fashion. Let’s have some Handel and get on with things, yes? And yet, even that didn’t work — other girls in my high school chorus were offered Messiah solos; I was offered minor key descants in the spirituals we sang. Because, black. Even as far back as elementary school, where a PE teacher assumed that I could skip better than other kids, because I could dance (SO not sorry to have to disabuse her of that notion) and another assumed that I would sink because “people of African ancestry don’t really swim, they have too dense of muscles for it” (Which is likely a surprise to the coastal peoples of Ghana, Mauritas, Mozambique and the Seychelles, but whatever), people have been in essence painting my picture without ever looking at my face.
But, was that really… racist? I mean, isn’t racism assuming that various specific characteristics of someone’s race makes them different in abilities or capacity than you — judging their abilities or worthiness based on the unrelated characteristic of race? How was what AD was doing actually racist? Wasn’t he just being silly? Haven’t we all pretended to faux-speak a language, and thrown in some food words? Isn’t he being really hard on himself? And, sure, maybe accosting a stranger or throwing peace signs and shouting out “Soul sister” is a little obnoxious, but is it really insulting me, to acknowledge that I am, in part, of African ancestry?
Well, I can’t judge people’s motives as racist or not – but I do know this: racism is something which perpetuates stereotypes. It also trivializes and homogenizes various cultures, tribes and their struggles and victories. It makes a diverse and textured people into plastic dolls with molded faces, something easy to carry in a labeled box and use in your own narratives, disregarding their real stories. One of the hardest things for me to …take in is that racism isn’t always based on malice, it’s based on ignorance. Deciding that all Asians are good at math is meant to be a compliment to Asian people – but it isn’t. It’s painting them with your assumption. The stereotype of African Americans as agile sports people, dancers and entertainers is reductive in the extreme, though some people insist it’s a compliment because all of their black friends can dance. As we speak and think and move through a diverse world, the question is of where to draw the line. Is pretending to be gondoliers racist? Or is “Othering” and making light of a culture or a group what is at issue…? Is it actually racist, or merely unnecessary and potentially unkind?
Just like AD getting his “Italian-face” on in a ridiculous fashion would have maybe prevented him from having meaningful exchanges with actual Italians, employed as gondoliers or no, the people getting their metaphoric blackface on, and presenting me with hackneyed representations of blackness, and making bizarre assumptions of ownership of both my experiences and my person were problematic because they left me feeling both exposed and obscured, naked of my humanity, but swaddled in yards of their preconception. In making anyone else the Other, we indicate our disinterest in knowing the real them – and signal our contentment with the predigested stereotype.
In another six months or so, it’ll be time for the Sloan study to send me more questions. They will be nosy questions, as they are in any study – they’ll want to know my weight, my habits, my experiences. They may ask — again — about my experience of racism. What I’ll tell them this time – as I have the last several years – is the truth, as best I know it. I’ll think long and hard and answer carefully. But, more important than how I answer the survey, I think, is how I answer myself. More important to me than the question, “Have you experienced racism?” is how I answer, “Have you been racist?”