{“children are pure” & other egregiousness}

Sonoma County 218

Things inevitably need maintenance when you need them, thus the oil light went on the day before our last day of packing. We made time to pop over to our usual car shop, where Tech Boy spent so much time before our last car finally blew up and left this mortal coil. They know him well at Honda, so when a lady came out from behind the counter and enveloped me into a fierce, bony hug, I knew it was for his sake, and not my own.

As often happens after the initial greeting of, “I’ve heard so much about you!” the questions begin, as the person tries to measure the real me against what my husband has told them. He, meanwhile, abandoned me to see if he could make the car make that one clunk sound for the technician, and so the lady behind the desk started the inquisition. She asked, predictably, about how Tech Boy and I met, and what my parents thought (they didn’t blink); she shared she’s gay, and her father is homophobic. I talked about being the youngest, and then the middle sibling, about taking care of babies as a tween and teen. We talked about working various jobs. She asked if I had new books to suggest for her nieces, and wanted to know if I had sold anything new. I shared a bit of how my latest project is making the rounds, explaining that the industry is changing and becoming more inclusive. I shared how in some ways I feel that creates a new hesitancy on the part of editors and some writers, but that we’re all finding our feet in this larger world of new voices.

“It’s Obama’s fault,” she said.

Enter feather, knocking me over.

I made my best, “Mmm?” noise, because I just did not see that one coming.

“All this inclusive, political correctness. It’s his fault,” she repeated. “People started talking about race, and felt like they had to pick sides. And it’s not fair to the kids, you know? It’s not fair that it’s affecting you, your business. Children are pure. They don’t know anything about race, and they don’t care about getting stories from blacks or whites or anything.”

“Mmm!” I replied brightly.

Perhaps it was cowardly, but I decided that a dealership shop wasn’t the place to go into my theories of …well, anything, really, and with a woman whose name I hadn’t even caught, whose personal contradictions I couldn’t even begin to plumb? Nix, nein, nope, and thank you. But, I’ve thought of this woman’s egregious assumption often in the days since.

A lot of us assume that children are pure – mentally, I mean. Unsullied by the nastiness and selfishness of the human condition. I don’t know how we manage to forget that they are born professional narcissists and by year one display their amoral characters at will. They will clock you upside the head or attempt to kick/scratch/gum/bite you, should you come between them and their desired keys/toy/cell phone/Cheerio. They scream “MINE!” at the slightest provocation, even claiming ownership over things they’re nowhere near, not to mention don’t actually possess; they can be spiteful little beasts, between bouts of looking adorable and sleeping sweetly and enslaving us with their toothless smiles. They are generally dreadful until taught better, because they, like we all, are wee mammals and nothing more. Animals, until they learn humanity, in a way.

Pure. HAH.

What Honda Lady was trying to convey, I believe, is the common belief that children are free from the bias and tribalism that taints adult interactions due to our having been raised within the constructs of institutionalized racism. But, she’s wrong there, too. Tricia’s recent blog recap of the conference on race she attended at the NMAAHC reminded me of this study conducted by CNN.

With 146 participants, I don’t think it was a big enough study, by any means, but it’s underscoring what other research on early childhood education centers have shown, that adult bias against children of color begins as early as preschool. Little wonder that children’s natural bias and tribalism comes through so young – monkeys see, monkeys do. Human beings begin to make judgments and gravitate toward those who are like us as early as six months…

They’re adorable, squeezable, and perfectly drool-y. They’re plotting, if not world domination, attention domination, and the ability to put everything into their mouths that they’d like, at any time. They’re clueless, but pure? Nope. Children are just… human animals, same as we adults. And, there’s no way you can spin that being the former president’s fault, either.

{real. hard.}

Petaluma Adobe 43

Sooo, as it turns out, what with one thing and another, my parents aren’t rich. Who knew, right? Other than me, on Year Twentysomething of paying off student loans.

We were ridiculously poor when I was growing up… though I didn’t always see that clearly. I had hints, from seeing one of my mother’s pay stubs back when I was in the fourth grade; she made a whopping four-thirty-six an hour. I looked back at that in horror when I was at my first post-college job, making just over nine dollars an hour. That was ludicrous, right? But it still didn’t seem right that I made more than my mother.

Of course, by then, they had raised her rate of pay, one would imagine. But, I have no idea. That sort of thing was Grown Folks’ Conversation, and little old me would have had no business knowing. What I didn’t know haunted me. I couldn’t be like a normal kid and think, “Oh, well, money. Mom, I want a Cabbage Patch, when you get around to it.” Nope. Knew there were some things I didn’t ask for, couldn’t have, so didn’t bother. I got second-hand Barbies and a lot of knock-off books from libraries and schools thinning their stock (thus supporting my parents’ dream of us reading only nonfiction forever, bless them). I got hand-me-down clothing from two older sisters plus a whole church full of people. That was my life, until I left home at sixteen, got my own work, made my own way, and married. But, I still didn’t feel like my family was brutally poor until about two weeks ago, when my mother said she was going back to work.

At sixty-eight.

I nodded quietly, all the while in my head I heard, Mayday! Mayday! Mission in Jeopardy! Klaxons sounding! Kidfail! Kidfail! Kidfail!

Oh, yes. I had a full Chianina, instead of the usual generic cow. I had to have a quiet lie down and weep a bit. Of course this feels like personal failure. Aren’t you supposed to, like, take care of your parents? Especially if you have no kids. Especially if your family unit is doing okay. And… we do the regular family things, like sharing Costco hauls and CSA boxes when they’re too big (or you really don’t think you can eat another eggplant and your vegan parents lap that stuff up with a spoon). But, it wasn’t enough. My Dad had to retire due to health reasons years ago (though he’s exploring driving for Lyft, I just discovered), and my mother had only stopped working at sixty-three, because she had a series of surgeries (and a really repugnantly ignorant boss). Now that she’s healthy – and broke – she’s going back to work.

Petaluma Adobe 42

I just…

It’s not that she wasn’t the director of the school where she’s returning to teach. It’s not like she has to be in charge, or is even working there full-time. It’s not like she doesn’t know everyone there, and see many of those selfsame kids every weekend at church where she does a program for the two-year-olds as she’s done for the last thirty-five years. It’s not like she’s going to not be greeted as a returning hero who knows the ropes and can mentor the others. It’s just… it’s just…

This sort of thing is apparently commonplace all over. The poor British officially have had their pension age raised, and it may rise all the way to 70. I don’t imagine people in less developed nations ever officially “retire;” no, they do what needs to be done, until they can’t. As everyone does.

I was comforted in knowing that a friend’s mother – who is older than mine – works happily at Costco as one of the food ladies who offers samples of this and that – and since she’s a vegetarian, they don’t have her handle samples which involve cooking meat. I know that older people retire and get bored of dandling the erstwhile grandchildren – or realize their Social Security is hardly enough to carry a teaspoon of water, and often go back to work part-time like my mother is, and it’s not the end of the flippin’ world. Hello, Harrison Old-Hoary Ford is in yet another movie, and he’s at least Noah’s age by now. (Okay, seventy-five. Whatever.) It just… feels like I got confused, looking at MY life against the backdrop of the largely white-collar, professional community in which I grew up. I got confused looking at MY world against the backdrop of what I consume in media, where I am given an idea of the life I’m “supposed” to have as I grow older. I grew confused as to what reality was vs. MY reality.

Petaluma Adobe 08

So. Mom’s going back to work. I was going to make it a fun thing where I made her a new craft smock and got her a new water bottle and a visor, because she’s going to be doing playground duty – which I didn’t love when I was teaching – but Tech Boy finally got a new post, and so we’re scrambling for the world’s fastest move, so all that – and all my private tears – will have to wait. Mom’s first day back at school in August is not going to have the fanfare I’d planned. But, maybe that’s just as well. This is just a part of life for hundreds of millions of people, not A Tragedy.

I still hate it with the heat of four thousand suns, though. It’s not right. I’m supposed to have won the lottery by now, so she could have a mansion and a golf cart (why? Why would anyone want one; top speed is something like… eight miles an hour), and never have to work another day.

Reality is freaking hard… but like a bloom on a cactus, it has its unexpected beauty. If your Mom hustled so you could do all the things she thought would make you a stellar woman, don’t limit your gratitude to a single day in May. Okay? Okay.


Photos from Petaluma Adobe State Park; if you teach the 4th grade in Northern California, please take your kids; they’re talking about putting it on the park closures list and letting it rot, and it’s amazing. They do an overnight program and everything.

{pfft, may}

*tap tap*

This thing still on?

Och, this month. This month, in my circle, brought unseasonable weather, flat tires, abrupt job losses, cancers, heart weirdness, travel, ocular migraines, suicide, allergies, a major anniversary, and a whole lot of book rejections. In the larger world, it brought such politics as to set one’s teeth on edge, a redefinition of the word “sanity” and moments to check in with each other, as incidents in the news brought us to bought nausea and tears. Definitely a month wherein one takes stock of one’s mental health.

How you doin’?

I’m reevaluating my religion/faith/denomination, re-examining my abilities to write contemporary fiction, and contemplating my potential to say anything of worth. It’s, in many ways, just another day on the farm, but each round of this kind of thinking moves me… some direction.

How about you?

We learn things, through these revelatory moments in our lives. Trees age in circles, tides push us out, and draw us in again, moment by moment, step by step, always moving somewhere both familiar and new. I feel like I am moving both closer to my real self, and further out into the sea.

I don’t practice Judaism, but follow author and Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg on Twitter because she is deep, and we all need a rabbi occasionally, for our mental health (I’d say a priest, except you don’t get girl priests, do you, so… *shrug*). She said something the other day, referencing counting off the days (roughly forty-nine of them, I believe, between the second day of Passover and Shavuot) before the celebration of the giving of the Law (from Moses at Sinai, just to catch everybody up) that resonated with me about Revelation – about things being revealed in due time. About our process, about waiting and being. About, as will always make me think of my buddy Robin, being here NOW.

All these days of counting–the journey from the Red Sea to Sinai–have been to help prepare us for Revelation. Insofar as we can ever be prepared. (Spoiler alert: we can’t.) All we can do is wait in anticipation and hope of being in a place where we’re capable of hearing the voice of God. Maybe that’s a still small whisper inside our intuition. Maybe it’s big and dramatic. But we have to be in a space where we can hear it. Maybe that’s a space of readiness from spiritual discipline. Maybe you’re torn open by grief and able to hear stuff that you usually don’t. Maybe you’re able to love or forgive in a new way and that accidentally opens up this other thing that is actually the same thing. That is, love and forgiveness and God or the divine or the holy or sacred or whatever? All kinda the same stuff. Imho. Ymmv.

Anyway. Tomorrow night is a time of exquisite openness. Attunement. Listening. Receiving. A time to hear what you need to do–which may be (often is–sorry) very different from what you *want*. Needs are inconvenient. The place God is calling you to might not be the fantasy script you’ve been playing out in your head. It might require sacrifice, loss, growth, and deep discomfort in the process of becoming the holiest version of yourself. (Spoiler alert: it’s always process.)

Revelation is terrifying, every single time. Ever read Exodus 19-20? Go look again. That’s some scary shizz there. Revelation is not for lightweights, y’all. You have to be brave enough to hear what God is telling you. The truth of your life. What the cost is to become the person you need to be. (Obligatory gif: “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”) People tune out all the time because they don’t want to hear. Our phones are extra popular for that now, but it’s been true forever. Shavuot is the holiday of tuning in. Shutting up and listening and getting your instructions. You can figure out what to do with them later. (Once you hear them, you can’t un-hear them, tho. No amount of drink or drugs or sex or Candy Crush in the world can fix that, really.)

Are you ready? Are you scared? Are you willing? Are you open?”

I hate this treading water bit of life, this sense of standing in a boat while it’s being sloshed from stem to stern, and we’re just trying to keep our balance. And yet – it’s been a month of unpacking some things, in between bouts of flailing about and wondering if I’m doing anything right at all. I sense the answers may be just around the corner.

Until then, we wait. We listen.

Ready, though scared. Willing. Open.

{Granny Weatherwax reminds you}

“There is a very interesting debate raging at the moment about the nature of sin, for example,” said Oats.

“And what do they think? Against it, are they?” said Granny Weatherwax.

“It’s not as simple as that. It’s not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of gray.”

“Nope.”

“Pardon?”

“There’s no grays, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.”

“It’s a lot more complicated than that—”

“No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”

“Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes—”

“But they starts with thinking about people as things…”

People are not things to be moved around, denied, abused, or miseducated. This is your reminder, in case, with the noise of the world, you needed one. Resist this sin with all your soul. Thou shalt not allow people to be used as things, nor put up with that nonsense from thine government without a loud outcry.

*This from CARPE JUGULUM, by Terry Pratchett


{thanksful: 30 – selfishness?}

One thing I notice, around the close of my Month of Gratitude, is that I always go to my ritual of “thanksfulness” when I am feeling something. This is why it’s good ritual and practice; it becomes like the journaling I gave up long ago, except with less obsessing about bad manicures. So, today I have a feeling, and I came to write through it, to gratitude.

Unfortunately, today I’m feeling… really crappy.

Portland 137

Keep Portland… um

I respect my agent and my editor, and when I get a critique letter from either of them, I always try to look at it in the spirit it is sent — to improve my craft.

This does not always work. As a matter of fact, initially I am hit with a wave of depression when I receive a critique letter, and like my friend Sara, I have to sit with it — preferably in another room.

It’s not at all that I expect my work to be infallible; I need to know when I’m not hitting the mark within a narrative, and as I strive to write more and more honestly, scraping from the gut, I need to know if my truths are capital letter Truths. But what’s hard for me is less about the critique and more about myself. It’s finding that I’m not creating an imaginary world at all… but that I’ve recreated this world, and perpetuated the mistakes of this current world. To find that my character shares my foibles — idiosyncrasies I’ve found nearly impossible to be rid of in myself — is a thing of horror. I can’t even create an imaginary friend who isn’t my idiot double.

You see why I don’t have children.

Today, my agent pointed out that I’ve managed to create a character who flinches before the axe falls. Who organizes her life so that she can deflect criticism from her parents and relatives before they actually say anything about her actions. Before she actually ever does anything. Cringing, self-deprecating, apologetic… Yes, well, hello, real life! You found me. Again.

I talked with a young friend the other week who is very good at taking care of herself. After a childhood of waiting while her mother fulfilled her needs, now that she’s an adult, my friend’s big on Me First kind of behavior. And, yeah, it can be cringe-inducing to experience, but in some ways, I am wistful when I look at her path of rabid self-determination. I can’t think of one decision I’ve made in my life where I wasn’t presupposing the opinions of six other people, and preparing a defense against their reactions. When you lie down with judgement, you get up with self-censure. And possibly fleas. And it. is. exhausting.

Fiction isn’t meant to be real life with all the “uh-ums” written in; it’s meant to be an exaggeration of the real, a heightened, polished version of same. I am, frankly, in need of polish. And an axe.

So, today I’m grateful for …the concept of self care, in a non-Pop Psychology fashion, and the dynamically self-engaged person I’m going to create, first in fiction, then perhaps in real life. I’m grateful for self-centeredness as a concept, even though I’m not able to recognize it as a path that I can normally take. I’m grateful that every day is the possibility of a step forward.

{thanksful: 28 – irregular}

Today is my brother’s birthday. I remember when he was released from his social workers at the hospital, a mess of wires and heart monitors. I remember his pitiful wails, the birthmark that all but swamped his tiny cheek, our disbelief that the woman who gave birth to him could have left him, any more than a person could abandon a mewling kitten. As always, I remember the first IEP he had, and my mother’s blotchy, tear-swollen face when she hoarsely recounted what she’d been told; that he’d never read above a 3rd grade level. Since he’s now in junior college, still reading slowly, still not letting it define him, this is an especially poignant memory. My mother made the choice for us to stand up and move forward with his life, as if he were perfect. As if he weren’t an irregular little human being, left on the cutting room floor when they loaded up the lives of perfect people for public viewing.

This time of year, there are tons of sales and people blah-blah-blahing about steals and deals. I just got an ad insisting that they’d find me the most “flattering” holiday dress, and I had to laugh and roll my eyes. I frequently have these questions — when they talk about swimsuits and hiding “trouble” spots, but what does “flattering” really mean? To supplement what’s already there? To augment or enhance what isn’t there? Is a flattering dress one that doesn’t show all of my flaws… a dress that doesn’t show me as I really am?

Should I want that?

The idea of imperfect, irregular, stippled and nonuniform shouldn’t be so repugnant to us — there are few — actually none — of us who are that ideal of physical beauty, but we’ve been airbrushed and perfected until that’s all we seem to see. I’m reminded of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “Pied Beauty,” and its overwhelming love for all things are blotchy, skewed, and varicolored, so many more asymmetrical, uneven, crooked, misshapen, and lopsided. I’m grateful today for the irregular, which gave me my brother — and myself.

And all of you.

Pied Beauty

~ Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things –
      For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
          For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
        Landscape plotted and pieced –
fold, fallow, and plough;
            And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
          Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
            With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
        Praise him.

{thanksful: 27 – love & spite in equal measure}

The title of this post comes from an Ursula Vernon comment – “I was alive, and I am still alive, and since I am not inclined to die just yet, I will keep going. Out of love and spite, in equal measure.” Love and spite, in equal measures.

San Francisco 293

Architecture and luck, in equal measures.

This made me wonder how much of my life was balanced between such unlike things; love and spite. Persistence and schadenfreude. Sturm und drang. Lately, I’ve been thinking about my religious upbringing, and how much that was based on meekness and obedience… and how much those two things aren’t actually the entirety of my character. There is a such thing as being too meekly obliging, too blindly obedient. I have been those things, too. And I find myself wondering what a faith practice looks like that isn’t blind and silent, like justice is purported to be. If Justice took off the blinders and spoke, what would that be like?

It feels like the whole world is poised to change. I could have done without 2016, in so, so many ways… but I guess I’m grateful to be witnessing this time in history, a time of love and spite, in fact, ebbing and surging, each day, in waves. Like a living pendulum, act and reaction are sloshing each back and forth, and change is being made.

{thanksful: 26 – going on}

Someone posted a cartoon recently that said, “Welcome to Hell,” and showed a little character choosing between two boxes: Keeping Informed With the News, and Protecting One’s Mental Health. Yep. Welcome to hell, because both of those are necessary, and neither is something we can afford to pass up.

I’ve been grateful before that our congregation has a community service arm which feeds about five hundred families a month, but I feel like I’ve always been too focused on me/mine in terms of community. Today, we are grateful to be able to send coveralls and gas masks to Standing Rock, to fund the Flint Water project, to donate to the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center. But, I’m now trying to think what I can do besides send small amounts of money.

The phrase “social justice” has been bandied about religious groups for years, but it wasn’t until we were involved with USF when Tech Boy was doing his first master’s degree that we really understood what it is to have a religious organization involved in protests and getting arrested. (The university president, at the time, was arrested. It was one of several times for him.) I’m grateful – in a roundabout way, because I would really rather that these last two months wouldn’t have gone the way they have – for the push that a lot of religious groups are getting, to coalesce what they believed were amorphous beliefs, and to put their actions where their mouths have always led them. I’m grateful for the painful, skeptical, horrible process of values formation and clarification that this is having on all of us.

{thanksful: 24 – left alone}

Vallejo 221

Beautiful art in the neighborhood earlier this month.

Probably wrong of me to be filled with affection and grateful for my guests …after they’ve left. After hours of work last night and today, the house is again clean, and I. am. so. tired. Who knew a three-year-old and glitter would be so much work? (Answer: EVERYONE)

WARNING: Introvert crash.

One new thing I found was Cousin Mary Lee’s December lantern-light haiku project; that sounds worth doing. Though I may not be able to participate daily, it is such good practice. Lifting the light above our heads strengthens our arms, so we can push back strongly against the dark.

{thanksful: 23: a political act}

I have a list of things left to do: make the sausage bites, roast the beets, sauteé the shallots for the greens, move the kitchen table into the dining room, put in the dining room table leaf, set the table. The last line of my To-Do list is a reminder to put a POLITICS FREE ZONE! sign up on the front door. My mother is bringing guests whom we don’t know, otherwise, we wouldn’t bother. My family never, ever talks about politics.

I’ve always assumed that’s because we all believed alike. And, having said that, I have a friend whose parents proudly voted for the reality-TV candidate this year, and they were a bit caught off guard when all was said and done. I don’t envy them their dinnertime discussions this holiday.

When we don’t talk about our realities, when we assume a great deal, in families, we end up… surprised. I think my parents had a great many assumptions about me, growing up. None of who they thought I was is who I turned out to be. So, maybe I shouldn’t make assumptions.

And, maybe I should… take that sign off the door.

This year, I thought my biggest job would be trying to make things… normal. I know we’re very much NOT in normal times, but my mind was in making things as smooth and lovely as possible, because everything has been – and continues to be, round the clock, people – so. very. awful. Bake more pies! Make more pasta! Buy nicer napkin rings! Trowel that spackle on! Paper over the cracks!

…but, that’s not going to work, either in my family, nor in the national conversation. So, maybe this year, instead of standing at the head of the table and asking everyone what they’re thankful for, I should ask them what they’re going to do to pass the blessing on. No, we don’t “earn” our blessings, and grace is favor unmerited, but we’re not worth the carbon we’re made of, if we’re not passing them on.

Gratitude is a political act. And, I’m grateful to be able to use my hands and my heart to spread my privilege around.