Since my autoimmune disorder means I haven’t actually left the general area of My House in weeks (wow, six weeks tomorrow…) I’m fascinated by reports of what’s done in places Not My House. Himself texts me pictures of the grocery store – where they greet each shopping cart with a mist of alcohol spray, and anoint every hand with a blob of hand sanitizer. I love that people don’t have the option to skip that – we’re ALL HAVING SAFETY TODAY, THANKS. The name of the store is Safeway, after all…
It’s The Day! We kept Hearing About! With Exclamation Points! All hail the Midterms at last, I guess. So much depends on… so much.
force, fulcrum, pivot
hat tip to William Carlos Williams & Archimedes
given levers we
one voice into
single story to
a monochrome world
May we move things again – not back to where they were, but forward, to a new reality.
You know it’s beginning to look a lot like Autumn when you find a stray pile of coffee filters in the cabinet and your first thought is, “What can I use these for?” Yes, it’s true – while other people suffer from pumpkin spiced blight, my autumn ailment is the belief that I can surely go mano a mano with any crafty project that I see on the internet, or in stores, or on other people’s houses, and succeed beyond my wildest dreams. Never mind that they probably bought them, and the stores certainly did – I’m positive that I can do them myself – and make them look even better. (Now that I think of it, this may not be just an autumnal ailment…).
Today’s project was making a chalk sign on slate. Mind you, I only have fat sidewalk chalk and pastels – neither of which are ideal for real (READ: unpolished) Scottish slate – and mind you, I can’t really draw all that well. I made a WELCOME sign, and it looks… probably like you ought to stay away from my house.
Fine, whatever. It’s autumn in a few weeks, and there will be garlands of leaves and coffee filter wreaths and grapevines and scarecrows and I WILL BE READY.
I’m grateful I have something fun to focus on, because my scleromyositis is being a beast. My doctor has named it Predator. “You know that one part in the movie, where it just bursts out of that guy’s chest?” Well, not really, but I’ve seen the clips, and yeah – that’s what this disorder feels like – something which gnaws on my innards and erupts out of my chest periodically. Mostly, I’m dealing with it. Having something sucking down your energy and brainpower like an invisible leech is not fun, but it’s been …manageable. Mostly. Lately, though, it’s started affecting my digestion, which is difficult. When you’re a vegetarian, and eat a lot of fresh fruit and veg, being told you need to lower your fat, fresh, and fibrous intake or what’s in your gut will just sit there and rot because it can’t absorb into your system… is hard. I am… resentful. And cranky. And having to haul out a whole new way of eating that includes applesauce instead of apples and cooked instead of fresh. Soft foods are apparently the trick. At least the summer is ending; one doesn’t worry so much about lacking salads when it’s cold, and soup ought to be okay. I think. Ugh. At least yogurt and I don’t have to break up. And chocolate pudding. And chocolate mousse…
To the Bookshelf!
Really, whenever there is anything unpleasant going on, I take to the books. (Yes, in fact I have been reading like mad this past year. How did you know?) Now that I can read again – and there was a scary period a week ago when I was too tired even to comprehend while listening to an audio book (TOO TIRED!? How can that even happen?!) I’ve been enjoying Deanna Raybourne’s newest mystery series A CURIOUS BEGINNING. In children’s books, I’m enjoying Robin Stevens’ MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE series — and I do order the British ones, because the titles and covers of the American ones give me a headache. (Murder Is Bad Manners?? Seriously, American publishers??) I’m looking forward to losing myself in more adventurous novels, including Rebecca Roanhorse’s TRAIL OF LIGHTNING, which is sitting on my nightstand, and Jacqueline Woodson’s two newest, THE DAY YOU BEGIN, and for older readers, HARBOR ME.
On the Keyboard
Because people so often ask how the writing is going, I’ll say… slowly. It’s new ground I’m breaking, trying to make a conscious decision to write something utterly new for me, something out of my usual family-oriented main character. It’s tougher still with Predator as a roommate in my brain who won’t conveniently go to sleep when I need a break. It’s tough, but to be a writer, I grit my teeth and remind myself that the gig means I have to write. Yesterday I finished a scene which had eluded me for a couple of days, and even though I had to lie down afterward, the feeling of triumph was real. Every letter counts, friends.
As hurricane season unspools, clouds hover on the horizon, I hope you are glorying in the final days of an unconventional summer, and wringing from them all the joy that you can.
Years ago, when a friend of mine was in the first throes of a difficult divorce, I saw a list on her wall which read “Things I Can Do And Not Panic” or something like that, and the list was filled with simple things she was good at, which she had control over, that had nothing to do with the betrayal and drama currently going on in her life.
That …sliced me to the bone. While we both put on a brave face, I shed more private tears over that list than she ever knew. It hurt me to think that so talented and loving and competent a person was having to resort to lists to remind them of who they were. And yet. Depression – that liar – constantly tells us who we are not, and anxiety leaves us dashing about trying to prove we are better than that liar says.
So. Here I am with my lists.
This will be this administration’s legacy: lists. Lists to remind me of what I can control (nothing) and what I can do (not much, but something). Lists to act as bandages and gauze, staunching the stab wounds to my sanity Every. Single. Day. Lists. To remind me that I have to get up and keep going. Lists that remind me that there are still some thing which are…safely predictable.
I’m so impressed with what so many friends and acquaintances are doing – speaking up, speaking out, organizing efforts to raise funds and collect necessary items. I can throw money at things, when I have any (and LOL that with the writing life), but “silence, like a cancer, grows.” Anxiety and depression are some of the great stranglers, I find, and as events unfold and the national discourse goes from vicious to violent disintegration, some of us can barely think or speak. Every task takes enormous concentration to complete. We are overshadowed by a desire for unconsciousness during the day, and twitch restively with thwarted energy in the dark hours.
And so we pull out our lists… packed with metaphors, we make our lists force sense into the world.
On my list right now are plums. There are plums on our teensy, tiny Charlie Brown tree in the backyard, and that plum tree is doing its UTMOST right now. Every day I get a couple of pounds of plums from that thing, and when all is said and done, I’m going to have forty pounds of plums or something. I go out and take pictures of my plum tree pretty much every day. The life cycle of a plum is …pretty straightforward, actually. It’s yellow-green. Then it’s green and pink. Then it’s red. Then it’s plum-purple and then it’s ready.
(As anyone with a fruit tree, I also spend a lot of time side-eying birds. There are a LOT of birds in my life right now. I name them and count them and …basically argue with them.
Hey. It’s a thing. It’s something I can do that I’m good at now: random tiny bird identification and illogical discussions with said birds re: staying out of my plums.)
Oddly, the second thing on my list is my piano. To be clear: I am a terrible pianist. Just really bad. Mainly because I was an anxious child who didn’t ever have a professional teacher, and so had to learn from an older lady who meant well, but who basically terrified me with her quavery voice and tremoring hands. Those “lessons” lasted for about six weeks before we all gave it up as a bad idea. I could play anything the lady asked me… but I never read a note. No, learning to read music was something I taught – and still teach – myself, and my playing shows it. Badly. But, right now, an anxious aadult hacking away at the mountain of Really Craptastic Playing gives me a kind of peace. Plus, when I’m not butchering Bach, I play hymns – that’s a twofer right there.
The third thing on my list is… creating. Art. Crafting. Food. Did you know Bon Appétit has videos? (Soon I’ll be fermenting kombucha in self defense. At least now I know new things to do with alllll those plums…) I may not be good at creating, but I can be relentless. That’s basically how I have to approach everything – keep trying. Which leads to …
…the fourth thing on my list, which is, predictably, Dutch. The language is by turns impossible and then deceptively easy – and, like with piano, I am dreadful at it — but I keep hacking at it — oh, so badly, with the throat-palate-hiss sounds of g and h – and I can only hope that someday, someday I can solidly converse with a six-year-old. Someday.
Fifth is reading. Specifically, reading fairytale retellings and romances. A happily-ever-after is a requirement, a plot that isn’t too full of drama and chaos; the sure knowledge that, as in the thirty-minute sitcom, all’s well that ends. I am throwing a way a great many things which don’t fit my narrow parameters, but am happily finding a great many that do. It’s time to reread books that made me happy, where great justice prevailed over impossible odds. These are the times I reread the Discworld books, so I can listen a while to Sam Vimes.
Yes, Robin Reader. I am writing. That’s never not on my list. I am writing even though it feels like my fingers are chisels and the plot is granite. I write even though occasionally my chisel turns into a penknife and the plot is impenetrable. I hack out a few millimeters as I can. Sometimes, it’s like sand, and it all fills in the shape by the time I get back the next day. And then this beast becomes archaeology, and I take out my brushes and go dirt-diving. I find where the plot disintegrated. I carefully piece together the story’s history. And then I dig again.
These things I can do – simple, fixed things, while we do what we can. Meanwhile, the swords we beat into trowels to transplant the flowers of justice need sharpening. If you’ve turned your spear into a pruning hook, don’t forget that agricultural implements are still offensive weapons, according to Sam Vimes… what we sow, we’re going to reap, so keep planting.
So, there was a skunk on my walk this morning.
Other than the skunk that lived by the canal behind my Martinez apartment (where the guy downstairs yelled, “Bad skunk!” every time it a.] ate his outdoor cat’s food, and b.] sprayed his cat), whose presence I never saw but only smelled, I’ve not interacted with skunks. Most people don’t, at least, not pleasantly. They’re small, slow, and nocturnal, and wisely avoid humans like the plague we are.
There was, of course, Warner Brothers’ Pepé Le Pew, the skunk of my childhood whom I hated with all my soul. A serial assaulter, his insinuating pseudo-Frenchness populated my nightmares. (HOW someone thought an animal who wouldn’t take no for an answer and violated random black cats was a good comedy starter for children, I do not know.) There was also my friend Dan’s skunk, and “Kitty” as he called her, stomped her slender feet every time I came over. Foot stomping, incidentally, is a prelude to aerosol warfare, and you can trust that I hustled out of any room that skunk was in while she probably snickered. Knowing who provided her canned cat food, Kitty never sprayed; hand-raised and thoroughly spoiled, she was a professional saber-rattler, a little stripey punk who lived to pester her owners for nine, fat and cranky years.
I hustled out for a walk in the early hours of this latest “pineapple express” which meant that, as the mist suddenly thickened into fat drops, I was hustling along at nearly a run. Skidding to a stop after meeting an ambling form low to the ground was… a lot of windmilling arms and panicking. I wasn’t sure if I should go forward or back, and waited to see if the little queen of the road was going to cede half of it to me without argument. She wasn’t too vexed until Himself shone his flashlight on her.
NB: Should you ever meet a skunk in the wild, don’t do that. Queen Stink Was Not Amused. She got TETCHY. Her half-raised tail and a head-down position indicated mounting aggression, and I froze, whispering, “Would you stop blinding her? Do you want to try out that Mythbuster’s peroxide and baking soda recipe before work?!” As soon as Tech Boy’s flashlight went off, her tail went down, and she went back to digging out whatever grubby salamander she was after, as if she’d never even seen us. We waited in frozen fear, and… she utterly ignored us.
We had to walk toward her to pass her, so as she
walked waddled toward us, we walked toward her… and, like duelists who are pacing off to turn and fire, we just… kept… walking, sneaking glances over our shoulders.
Queen Stink didn’t bother looking back.
I told you! I told Jackie she was going to win. And I said that if she won, I would tell all of you something I learned this summer, which is that Jackie Woodson is allergic to watermelon. Just let that sink in your mind.
And I said you have to put that in a book. And she said, you put that in a book. And I said I am only writing a book about a black girl who is allergic to watermelon if I get a blurb from you, Cornell West, Toni Morrison, and Barack Obama saying,”This guy’s okay. This guy’s fine.”
Yeah, remember that? 2014, the National Book Award, televised on C-SPAN and elsewhere. People are so heartened to see African Americans on the National Book Award finalist list. Poets and writers and people of letters are tuning in. In the children’s lit community, we’re thrilled that Jacqueline Woodson, one of our steady bright lights in YA literature, has won. She’s earned that BIG award, one which will thrust her outside the quieter waters of children’s lit, and… in that moment, the professional crowning pinnacle of her success thus far, the presenter makes …a watermelon joke.
“In a few short words, the audience and I were asked to take a step back from everything I’ve ever written, a step back from the power and meaning of the National Book Award, lest we forget, lest I forget, where I came from.” – Jacqueline Woodson, quoted in the New York Times.
He had an hundred million reasons why, later, he had remarked so disparagingly on the poets who were nominated, why he had told jokes and tried to wrest the attention of the crowd from the nominees onto his vast and hungry ego. But, it wasn’t personal; he cried no foul, she’s my friend! a thousand times, and yet, that moment, those sly, knowing words sliced thousands of us to ribbons, as the audience laughed, and a tall, serene woman had to stand – and yet again, endure. Endure. Endure, with her face at peace, as if the buffoonery of the man before her didn’t reach her.
I don’t support hate, and yet, in that moment, that dizzyingly visceral emotion shivered in my sight. Gut-punched, I wanted to both hiss and claw, scream and spit. As far as I was concerned, that man was finished, and I was done with him and all his works, forever. I never bought, reviewed, read, or talked of anything else he said or did. It made no difference to his life, I am sure, but it seemed right, to me, to simply use my internal Wite-Out and blot him from my notice for the rest of forever. I was fully over this “problematic” favorite.
It’s clear that I’m still sitting with our current moment in the children’s lit industry, trying to work through it, and thinking about the last time that so many voices came together to exclaim in disgust. It was for our Ms. Woodson, and rightly so. The commentary was sharp, and loud – and ultimately… was placated by the huge monetary donation Handler gave to We Need Diverse Books. And then, most of the voices were hushed, pressing their hands against the shoulders of those who still rose up, and their hands over the mouths of those still bitterly protesting. He apologized. He made it right. You can’t judge people on what they say.
But, yesterday, after Handler wandered flat-footedly into the pages of children’s lit history again, this time into the earnest signatories of the #ustoo pledge, wherein members of the children’s lit industry pledged to hold accountable conferences and gatherings, and not attend those which have no clear sexual harassment policy, people took him to task for his very clear participation IN the harassment. The very innuendo-laden jokes, in front of children and adults. The demeaning sexual talk. But — he apologized. He made it right. You can’t judge people on what they say.
It seems clear that you can, unless what you say is racist.
In my small and petty way, I blocked Daniel Handler from my sight years ago – but he’s still been doing things, writing, being invited places, feted within the industry, and I’m the doofus who didn’t realize that his “little faux pas” on Ms. Woodson’s big night had long been forgotten.
But, as Heidi so succinctly asked, didn’t we figure out this guy was trash after the watermelon thing? What are we doing still courting that kind of person to be a speaker and to visit classrooms? Why don’t we seem to take the humiliation, shame, and harm of racism as seriously as we’re all endeavoring to take the #metoo harassment thing?
In all seriousness – is a #metoo movement going to actually succeed if, once again, racism is instructed to take a seat at the back of the bus?
1897. “The day before the inauguration of the nation’s 28th president the Congressional Committee of NAWSA hosted a large parade on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. The idea behind this was to maximize onlookers who happened to be in town to attend the inauguration. Woodrow Wilson expected a crowd at the train station to greet him; however, very few people actually showed up to greet the president, the largest part of the crowd was his staff. The parade was led by the beautiful lawyer Inez Milholland Bouissevain upon a white horse. This image of her as a warrior atop a horse is what made her an iconic image in the fight for womens’ right to vote. This massive parade consisted of no less than nine bands. It also included four brigades on horseback and close to eight thousand marchers. The parade was cut into sections: working women, state delegates, male suffragists, and finally African-American women.
The point of the parade was “to march in the spirit of protest against the present political organization of society, from which women are excluded.”
Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the journalist who led an anti-lynching campaign in the late nineteenth century, organized the Alpha Suffrage Club among Black women in Chicago and brought members with her to participate in the 1913 suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. The organizers of the march asked that they walk at the end of the parade. She tried to get the White Illinois delegation to support her opposition of this segregation, but found few supporters. They either would march at the end or not at all. Ida refused to march, but as the parade progressed, Ida emerged from the crowd and joined the White Illinois delegation, marching between two White supporters. She refused to comply with the segregation.”
– Excerpts taken from One of Divided Sisters: Bridging the Gap Between Black and White Women by Midge Wilson & Kathy Russell, Anchor, 1996, and PBS.org.
I think I’ve been naive, and pretty quiet – but it’s clear the time for my naive assumptions is way over.
Dear Readers, today we lost a sage.
…Success is somebody else’s failure. Success is the American Dream we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including thirty million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty. No, I do not wish you success. I don’t even want to talk about it. I want to talk about failure.
Because you are human beings you are going to meet failure. You are going to meet disappointment, injustice, betrayal, and irreparable loss. You will find you’re weak where you thought yourself strong. You’ll work for possessions and then find they possess you. You will find yourself — as I know you already have — in dark places, alone, and afraid.
What I hope for you, for all my sisters and daughters, brothers and sons, is that you will be able to live there, in the dark place. To live in the place that our rationalizing culture of success denies, calling it a place of exile, uninhabitable, foreign.
…And when you fail, and are defeated, and in pain, and in the dark, then I hope you will remember that darkness is your country, where you live, where no wars are fought and no wars are won, but where the future is. Our roots are in the dark; the earth is our country. Why did we look up for blessing — instead of around, and down? What hope we have lies there. Not in the sky full of orbiting spy-eyes and weaponry, but in the earth we have looked down upon. Not from above, but from below. Not in the light that blinds, but in the dark that nourishes, where human beings grow human souls.
Thank you for everything, especially the Hainish novels, which truly brought me truths from fiction. May we always see differences in the world with kinder eyes.
Ay! November already. Here, have some colors of the season. This is from the gorgeous altar display at the Oakland Museum of California. Their combination of migration – the Monarchs – and the passing of life as commemorated and celebrated during the Dias de los Muertos – was among the more memorable and beautiful that I’ve seen. Well worth a trip.
At some point, this form will become easier. At some distant date, all we’ll need is to hear a form and, with a graceful flourish, we’ll pull out a pen and produce said form with grace.
That day is obviously not yet come, at least not for me.
Last attempted in 2015, the triolet remains the more problematic of the repeating forms for me. I think it’s the awkward rhyme scheme, which never gives me a feeling that the poetic statement is complete. Like a song which closes with an unresolved chord, I find myself… stopped, but not…finished. I’m never quite sure if I’ve yet said what I’ve meant to say – or if it was coherent. Nevertheless, I applied myself to this month’s task set by the lovely Liz, which was to use two autumnal words from a list comprised of orange, fall, chill, light, and change.
The poet warned us gravely ‘nothing gold can ever stay,’
Persimmon’s orange a honeyed warmth ephemeral as mist.
You’ll sooner find a treasure in a vacant alleyway,
The poet warned us, gravely. Nothing gold can ever stay
Bright. Tarnishing, the light fades into winter’s shadowplay.
Drink down the days at autumn’s end on memory’s mailing list.
The poet warned us gravely ‘nothing gold can ever stay,’
Persimmon’s orange a honeyed warmth ephemeral as mist.
Technically, red is the more ephemeral color, but I just had to play with that… because orange is a hard word to include in a poem, since nothing rhymes with orange. I also like to play with using fourteen syllables occasionally.
White-hot, our spirits rising through the heat,
The flame renewed with passion’s fiery light,
Destroyed, we fall. We signal cold’s defeat,
White-hot. Our spirits rising. Through the heat
We radiate – our frantic dance complete –
Collapse as ash, with sated appetite.
White-hot, our spirits rising. Through the heat
The flame renews our passion. Firelight.
Now here, I was only writing about fire. I’m told Other Interpretations May Apply. *cough* I take no responsibility.
Also, happy Books and Blogging Weekend to all those gathered in Hershey, PA for the 2017 Kidlitosphere Conference. Poetry Friday today is hosted at Teacher Dance. Sometimes, when you’re feeling blah, the Friday poetry round-up is just the thing. Read on for a little lift of your spirits.
“…and to the Republic, for which it stands…”
It’s easy enough to avoid American nationalism in the form of the anthem or the flag. Just come late to a game or a classroom. Slip in behind the Scouts or the Pathfinders as they march proudly onward with the Colors. While there are so many people don’t know all the words to the Pledge and to the Anthem, I do – I always have, though I never considered myself someone terribly patriotic. I just didn’t mumble. If I was going to say a thing, I was going to mean the thing. That’s just how I am. I am one of those weirdies who look up and READ the lyrics of songs, and sometimes, I don’t sing them because they’re words I can’t get behind. From Top 40 pop music to hymns, I’ve always been that way. As my friend and fellow English teacher Susan Goins always said, “Words. Have. Power.”
I became deeply uncomfortable with the words to the pledge years ago, but didn’t decide to stop participating in its recital until early 2014, when so many of the things which complicate my relationship with the United States came together in a perfect storm. Again, not someone who would simply mumble, or la-la-la my way through the parts I didn’t like, I heard the words and realized that I could no longer give unquestioning allegiance to the decayed and listing Republic. As you are perhaps rearing back in shocked affront, imagine how it upset me. Additionally, during the past couple of years, my relationship with church also got the “It’s Complicated” tag on my imaginary FB page – as there are things with the church in which I was raised that are also so anathema to me personally, so insular and content with it – that I don’t know how to integrate them with who I am as an adult.All this to set the scene for my story.
There are multiple occasions for the winnowing of beliefs in adulthood. Values form and clarification is not always the most fun of work, but if it doesn’t get done, you’re staying a nymph instead of a dragonfly, capisci? (And eventually, the nymphs eat all the food in the pond, and can’t fly away, so they die. FYI.)
So, I attended church this weekend, which was an International Celebration spearheaded by the community’s teens. I was prepared for much of what it was – cheerfully chaotic, cheesy, and very, very cute. There are something like thirty nations represented within our one congregation, which meant that the scripture was read in Haitian French, Peruvian Spanish, the Maori language as well as English, and the hymn was sung in Tagalog, Swahili, Spanish, Samoan and English. This also meant the service was amusingly interminable (we were fortunate the speaker graciously bowed out), but full of heartening moments as we acknowledged the immigrant and the “stranger within our gates” with the renewed commitment to them as family. Despite myself, I warmed to the familiar concepts.
The Flags of Many Nations procession was my very favorite thing, as little kids, big kids, and sometimes whole families paraded down the aisle in national costume, waving their flag, while an (increasingly shorter as the service dragged on) clip of their national anthem was played. I loved seeing the participation, the joy and pride. When the Kenyan kids stood and saluted their flag as it passed, little bodies ramrod straight and eyes bright, my heart pinched a bit. I remembered what that was like – that unstinting, unhesitating love for my country. I found my eyes smarting with tears – and then, I went lightheaded for a moment, as a wild, unfathomably deep scream of rage boiled up from deep within – at how that has been irrevocably taken away from me.
“…One nation, under God, indivisible…”
And oh, the sucker punch when my own flag stuttered haltingly up the aisle on the shoulder of a Korean War veteran. Oh, the pinch. I was already there, though. No avoiding this. No quietly slipping out. It was take a knee, or… or… I couldn’t decide.
The old people around us were dabbing their eyes. The kids were beaming, happy their program was a.) Nearly over and b.) Such a success. Would anyone there understand what taking a knee – in church – was about? Had any of the teens, people, who were raised sheltered, insular and oblivious like me, did they eve understand the importance of Colin Kaepernick? The brutality of our national relationship with law enforcement and people of color? The necessity – the responsibility – of all citizens to push back and resist? Would what I was about to do make any difference to their understanding? I’m sure you can imagine the wash of conflicting feelings flowing over me. We were supposed to be celebrating our exclusivity and diversity. We were meant to leap to our feet, our hearts beating as one in proud agreement that we all loved our country.
Everyone surged to their feet. I, too, found my feet – bitterly unhappy that I didn’t have the courage to kneel – that it wouldn’t have made the difference we need. That maybe nothing will. I stood, yes. But with my arms crossed, my head bowed, and my face wet.
“…with Liberty and Justice for all.”