art and a reboot

OH MY have I been in trouble with myself. Ever since the nightmarish election, I’ve been in trouble. I keep trying to stand up, find myself, breathe, reorient my mindset. I’ll make headway — return to the mat, the street, the vegetable market — and for a moment I am back. But I’m back in that moment, still surrounded by chaos. And it’s a specific kind of chaos that’s my own worst nightmare. The incessant (even when it’s nonsensical) lying and gaslighting, and a country of people who are just fine with it. (Mercifully almost all of my own people see what I see, but not all do.) And that’s not even considering the hideous political stuff he’s doing, the destruction, the looting.

And so I’ll rally and pull it off for a few days: oh yes, yoga, how delicious. A daily walk, hard again at first but after a week getting a little easier. My wonderful food, lots of cool water, clear mind. And I won’t put pressure on myself about it (great! Now I’m completely back! That’s all behind me!) but the constant falling off and then struggling to right myself has been especially awful. I’ve tried being gentle with myself, tweaking expectations, setting low bars, surrounding myself with people who support me, and that’s all gotten me through but I haven’t sustained a reboot.

At this point I’ve gained 22 pounds, from my lowest weight. I’m not quite back where I started a few summers ago (and having sustained my comfortable self for a couple of years, this is hard to take), but I’m in the neighborhood. I was talking to a friend yesterday who asked if I wanted to let HIM have this effect on me — and of course I don’t, of course, but that doesn’t make this stop. It’s actually a thing, the “Trump Effect” — like the ‘freshman 15’ people are eating their misery.

This past week I’ve had a social date every single day, a meal or a drink, and all week I’ve been anticipating today as my next reboot. I’m taking a class this afternoon (watercolor, “bold blooms” — flowers and blossoms, just the perfect medicine) and stopping at the grocery store on my way home to buy fresh, beautiful, healthy food. After dinner I’m either taking a walk or taking a restorative yoga class. It’s not a clear, sunny day here, but I’m filling my day with beauty and color in the hopes that it helps.

Intro to Watercolors: Bold Blooms Workshop
Sriracha Rainbow Noodle Salad!

Fingers crossed, y’all. Is there any worse feeling than just being out of control, unable to stop yourself from doing what you don’t really want to be doing? Unable to start yourself in the direction you really want to go?

How are you?

potluck

Just an assortment of things, almost all beautiful:

  • Since I won’t be here on Oliver’s third birthday because I’ll be in Bali that day, I spent a few hours with him yesterday. I had some kind of seriously awful gut thing going on so it wasn’t as long as I’d have liked, but it was so wonderful being with him. He and I went to one of the neighborhood parks, the one on the elementary school grounds where he will be going in just a couple of weeks. He played on the equipment, we blew bubbles even though it was too breezy to make chasing them much fun, he ate lunch, and he ran around. I watched him wandering around, running, talking to himself the way he does, and my heart ached so hard. Oliver has something going on — the current educational diagnosis is in the autism neighborhood — but most difficult is his pretty profound speech delay. So I watched that beautiful, darling boy running around, in his own world, and I cried pretty hard because I so want to know him. I so want to share things with him, know what he thinks without guessing, hear his wonderings and his wants and his needs and his funny. At the moment that’s not how it is to be with Oliver, but I know it will be one of these days. I don’t think he feels lonely; he seems keenly aware of how much he is loved. One fun thing to do with Oliver is to look at the phone together. We had the camera on and turned to selfie mode, and he was grinning as he held down the button for dozens of long bursts. He caught the really beautiful shot I included here. See the delight on his face?
  • My dear, dear friend Becci (hi darling Becci!) sent me a Crazy Zauberball. I have always wanted one, and somehow she chose a colorway that I always wanted, too. The other day I opened my mailbox, expecting the usual day’s allotment of junk mail, and instead there was a nicely wrapped box, fit snugly into the mailbox with my name facing outward. I had no idea what it might be, even when I saw Becci’s name and address in the top right corner. I literally ran into the house and unwrapped it (even more nicely presented inside the outer brown wrapper, with a “just because” note) and when I pulled out the ball I jumped up as if I’d been electrocuted. It was the last thing I expected, and I instantly started crying with all the joy — the joy of having a friend who would do such a thing (and just because), the joy of her thoughtfulness and knowing, the pleasure of the long-wanted yarn, and the delight of finding just the right project for it. I decided on a project that others have made with the yarn, a scarf called Baktus, because it looks amazing and it’s a simple knit—I want to make it on my upcoming trip. In the way these things work, forever more I’ll feel all the love and joy when I wear it, remembering Becci, remembering making it in Indonesia. That’s one thing I love about knitting, it holds the space for all of that.
  • I can’t properly talk about how humiliated I feel over having that hangover on Tuesday. I feel such shame about it. I’m 58, I have so many ways to manage upset, and I drank enough to have a hangover? It’s hard to talk about it but I feel like I must — maybe this is some kind of self-flagellation, maybe I shouldn’t, but shame and humiliation is exactly what I feel. I mentioned that feeling to Nancy, and she looked puzzled, which puzzled me. Shouldn’t I feel shame? I talk relatively often about AA, which I only know about because of my husband; I know that they believe self-loathing doesn’t get you anywhere, and certainly not to the same place that self-compassion will take you. I’m trying that, trying to have compassion for myself that evening, acceptance of myself and what I did. I don’t think I’ll ever do that again; I sure learned a lot, including the fact that a hangover can be a really terrible mood, which I didn’t know. I’m sorry I did that — I say that out loud, and to myself. It’s funny; I even find this beautiful, even though it’s such a dreadful feeling. But it’s beautiful to stumble along, fall down and get up, bruise yourself, heal yourself, and be helped along by others. I think that’s really beautiful.
  • We just lost Derek Walcott, a poet whose words have meant a lot to me over the years. I first encountered him in 2001, when I knew a poet who loved him. I’m sorry this is in a jpg instead of text, but I can’t find it copy-able and I don’t want to type it all out. This poem relates so beautifully to the end of my last bullet point:

  • Tonight I will sit with the women in my book club to talk about this month’s book, which I didn’t like at all I’m sad to say (The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood, review here). But I will love being with the women, who share my political world view and who are SMART, screamingly smart, and compassionate. We meet at Joyce’s house tonight — she picked the book — and she’s making us a vegetable pie and salad, and I’m bringing Topo Chico and dark chocolate, and I look forward to the communion with all my heart. For now, though, I pack for Indonesia. Happy Sunday, everyone.

Well, I deserved that

I think I had a stupid hangover. If that’s what was wrong with me yesterday, I deserved every moment of the misery. If that’s what it was, it was the second hangover of my life, so I’m really not sure because of my inexperience. The first (and only, until now) hangover I had was on January 1, 1980, after a NYE celebration at a wine bar (which was a thing back in the late 70s, chickie babies, along with fern bars). We had flights of wine, small tastes, and I just didn’t realize what was happening. That felt like what I imagined a hangover would feel like: the motes of dust in the air slamming into my head were excruciating, and the voices, oh the loud, loud voices, agony. It was so punishing, I couldn’t understand why anyone would ever put themselves in a position to have to go through that, and ever since, I’ve held myself back from getting anywhere near that experience. I’m a cautious drinker anyway, after growing up with my vicious alcoholic dad, but man, that hangover was bad enough to straighten me right up even without a family history.

Monday evening I had three beers, and then also a lot of really bad food. Too many salted peanuts. A pint of ice cream. A three-pack of coconut Peeps with dark chocolate. A container of guacamole and most of a bag of salty tortilla chips. I was clearly in a hard place, and just cramming as much of everything into my mouth as I could possibly get.

Around 5am I started waking up with a funny, bad headache, and my stomach hurt so bad. What an idiot, eating all that fat! I cursed myself. And thus began the, um, “intestinal distress,” let’s call it. For the next three hours, more or less, really bad business. My head hurt, but it hurt worse when I lay down so I kept moving around, when I wasn’t stuck in the bathroom. I ate something so I could take Excedrin, and drank a lot of water, and cursed myself for having been so stupid.

But the worst part — even worse than the bathroom, because the headache was manageable — was the mood. I really think the mood all day and night was part of the hangover! Has that happened to you? I felt cloaked in a too-heavy and too-tight lead skin. Suppressed as much as depressed, but also all the bad things at once. Mad, bitter, prickly, distressed, irritated, down, flat, anxious, all of it at once. No single bad feeling arose as the most pressing, which was kind of confusing, because I couldn’t say what I was feeling. Everything bad, that’s all I could say.

Poetry group met at my house last night, and that’s usually one of my favorite nights of the month. We have a new member, and he’s an extremely good poet. He wrote a poem about an acid trip he had in the 1960s and I could immediately see that it was a masterful poem, but it prompted a lively conversation about all those acid trips members took in the 1960s/1970s. And OH were they lively when they talked about them! They went on and on (at least it felt that way to me), comparing notes, talking about the wild hallucinations, etc., and I wanted to scream and choke them and run out of the room. That’s not my favorite kind of conversation, anyway, because it always feels to me like it’s making light and fun of something that’s actually horrible. I know what it is to live at the hands of an addict, and I know someone very well who was addicted to heroin and his stories are so very terrible — oh sure, it’s all fun UNTIL IT ISN’T and then you’re stuck, and so are all those in your life. My mood made it so hard for me to sit there and listen, and I was trying hard to manage my facial expression so it didn’t betray my real feelings, but I don’t know how well I did it. I’ve never felt so terrible during poetry group, and my hangover mood was largely responsible. Otherwise, I’d have let the conversation go on a little and then I’d have redirected us back to the poetry.

I had no idea that a hangover could be that mental and emotional state, but I do think that’s what yesterday was all about. All morning, when I was walking around managing the headache and running to the bathroom, I kept saying out loud, “Idiot, you brought this on yourself! Jesus, what were you thinking.” Fully deserved, Lori, even if I also have some compassion for the feelings I was having that brought me to that eating and drinking frenzy the night before. And then the rest of the day, as the physical consequences disappeared, I kept saying out loud, “Oh, I feel so bad. I just feel so so bad. And I brought this on myself.”

The only good thing about that experience is that it seems to have slapped me in the psychological face a little bit, a bit of Moonstruck Cher talking to Nicolas Cage: SNAP OUT OF IT!

The sun is shining. I have a bit of work. I started my day the way I wanted to start it, and for my dinner tonight I’m making this gorgeous spinach salad. Doesn’t that look yummy? Ever since I got back to Austin, I have not been cooking for myself, for some reason, and that’s something I love to do, even if it doesn’t reliably work at the moment. In NYC I don’t get the kind of food I love to make, so when I’m here I’m always eager to make it and eat ALL the vegetables. That salad is part of a wonderful “snap out of it!” reboot. I only have a few more days here before I return to NYC and then we go to Indonesia, so I’d better get busy if I want to eat all the vegetables. 🙂 I’m so glad I learned, on my yoga mat, that all of life is like tree pose — wiggling, wobbling, falling out of it on occasion and getting back into it, and seeking the stable point.

And no more beer. Not for a very long time.

to be honest

To be honest, I have drunk too much beer.

To be honest, for too many days now I have drunk too much beer.

To be honest, I am lost, floundering, devastated, frightened.

To be honest, my life is a mess (but it is not just a mess). To be honest, the world is a mess (it feels like it is just a mess).

Where will I live? How will I live? I make too little money and I can’t keep going in the life I have. I am lucky — I have people, I have options, I have choices, but I have no power because I have no money. Tom and Marnie invite me to Chicago. Katie would like it if I could stay in Austin. Back to NYC is perhaps an option. I am become Blanche duBois.

I’m reading a book called Utopia for Realists and can recommend it, so far. While our country is veered so far off the rails, and we are left to think about how to manage the reboot, books like this are helpful food for thought. What we had wasn’t working, clearly, or else an insane person wouldn’t have captured as many votes as he did. While I do not live in abject poverty, I’m on the margins of things in a way that leaves me scared a lot of the time.

Between the frightening government, and my own very precarious situation and impending change in living arrangements — but with no idea what that might be — I am having a hard time keeping my head in the moment. Such a hard time. (A small mercy: I am not depressed, nor am I having even fleeting thoughts of the permanent check-out. It hasn’t crossed my mind, but it did just cross my mind to offer the reassurance.)

Maybe one solution is to take a little sabbatical from the outer world and just be quiet with myself. Just take care of myself, a bit of home spa, a bit of home yoga retreat, a bit of home poetry and literature, a bit of home food (careful food, good food, nourishing food), a bit of hydration and rejuvenation. Not worry, for just a few days, about all the starving people in the world, all those fleeing war, all the meanness of governments. Just for a few days.

If you happen to notice that I’m not present on FB or IG, and I am quiet for a week(-ish) here, that’s why. See you on the other side of my sabbatical. xoxoxox

 

seeking the mechanism

Since November 9, 2016, all my creative efforts have failed. All my cooking has flopped. My baking, just awful — even things I’ve been making for decades and can make in my sleep. Knitting? Fail, fail, fail, frog frog frog. My writing has been clenched and just kind of awful, though I have had a couple of things that worked, inspired by deep veins of emotion about my family, in one way or another.

Why is this? Why has the election of this monster (and the assumption of complete power by the evilest group of politicians that have ever skulked in the halls of power in our country’s history) had this particular effect on me? I wonder about it all the time, because cooking and baking and knitting and writing are such common activities for me, things I do for comfort, for pleasure, for myself and others, and for a creative outlet. But even uncreative things are failing too, like housecleaning. I bang into things, drop things, break things, knock them over. Putting the dust mop away, I realize there’s a wide swath of dust on the tile in the small hallway, how could I even have missed that, anyway? Like, how would it even be possible, given the width of the Swiffer and the narrowness of the hallway?

I’m less interested in suggestions to fix the problem (except for complete overthrow of our government and restoration to sanity), because I feel like I know the things to try, and have been trying them: I slow down, take a deep breath, create a setting that’s conducive to my enjoyment of the task, be present, note each step, take my time, etc., and still it’s all failing. So, OK. I don’t assume this is some kind of brain damage that’s happened inside me, I assume it will pass somehow. But I am interested in the mechanism, in finding some kind of explanation for it.

I’m sure it will notch right into a larger question that’s also confusing me: why am I this devastated? My own very specific life is not affected, if by “my own life” I draw the circle tightly around my personal physical boundary and don’t include “my care for vulnerable people.” Setting aside my real and surely justifiable fears that the Monster-in-Chief will get the world killed in a nuclear holocaust, this too shall pass, and we’ll get him and all his cronies out of office and if we have learned nothing else, we’ve learned that rules and norms don’t matter one bit and that one person can just sit in the chair and on day 1 sign a bunch of papers to completely change everything. So, OK. We’ll set it right, and in the interim it’s just going to be hard going. Why am I this completely devastated, four months and three days later? And of course it’s not just me, we’re all still shellshocked, pulled inward, trying to figure out how to take the next step. We’re mobilizing, fighting, having small victories and planning big ones. That feels good, it allows for the idea of the possibility of perhaps a spark of hope. (Note the distance to hope.)

But why? There are parts I get; I learned that there are enough people in this country to have fallen for his monstrousness and cast their votes for him, and that shocked me. They walk among us too. I knew they were here, I guess I just didn’t realize how many there were. So is it simply that? I don’t live in the country I thought I did? They aren’t just the fringe lunatics? That’s destabilizing I guess. But it doesn’t feel like the answer.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have been running sweeps all around the country, snapping up hardworking people, splitting up families — kids come home from school and their parents are just gone. That’s devastating to know about, it goes against everything human and humane and that I care about. Just typing those two sentences made my breath get stuck, brought hot tears into my eyes, and gave me a kind of panic. But that response feels like a symptom not the cause, and it’s the cause of the enormity of my despair that I’m struggling to understand.

Then I look around the world and see this virus of hate spreading from one formerly tolerant country to another. There was a terrible-wonderful passage in a book I recently read, Ill Will by Dan Chaon. One character in the book, Russell, is an agent of destruction, and the scenes that describe the abuse he had suffered as a child were almost impossible for me to read, even though they were presented in a peripheral vision kind of way, hinting and just letting the taint seep into you through your eyes. When he’s in prison later in life, a counselor says to him: “When you’ve been abused in the way you were, you have a virus. And the virus will demand that you pass it on to someone else. You don’t even have that much of a choice.” Russell thinks, The idea that I passed on a virus, and the virus would turn around and it was my own doom? That was so fucking funny. That was so sad and so funny. [Do read Ill Will, it’s powerful. Here is my GoodReads review.] But YES, a virus. It feels exactly like the world is being infected with a murderous, deadly virus, and I hope it’s not fatal. Maybe that’s why I feel sick.

You don’t have the answer either, I don’t think anyone does. Mark Halperin (senior political analyst for MSNBC and Bloomberg Television and contributor and former co-managing editor of Bloomberg Politics) said the election has “convulsed the country” more than any event since World War II, including the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. I agree with him. I guess we’ll all grapple with this until we get it figured out, and that is likely to take a long time because every single day the administration hurls more horrors at us. Every. Single. Day. It’s so disorienting.

I want my pleasures back. I want to knit beautiful things again and not have to just rip everything out.

I want to bake sumptuous cinnamon rolls for people. I want to make really delicious vegetarian food for my dinners again. I want to make.

Even though I’m not asking for answers, I am wondering: is this happening to you too? Is it still happening to you?

destabilization

It was not the first time he raped me, but it was the first time my mind severely broke. In the middle of it, while I was crying, my stepfather said, “I don’t know why you’re crying, I’m not doing anything to you.” My mind felt like it was bulging so hard it was going to shatter my skull, and at some point I completely dissociated and went away. The conflict between what I knew was happening, and what I was being told was happening, was too great. Before I left, I remember thinking that I had to pick one or the other, what he was saying or what I believed, and so I consciously picked believing him because the constancy of his and my mother’s versions of reality was so overwhelming, and they had all the power because I was a child. Obviously this wasn’t the first gaslighting experience in my childhood home; this technique was constant, daily, and applied to lies big and small. But this time, the conflict was so great, my body was screaming at me in pain, and my mind could not endure it any more.

The gaslighting that’s happening in my country is definitely hitting me hard, and it’s obviously affecting me because of my history. Except to watch Saturday Night Live, I have not turned on the television since the election. During the campaign, I rushed to mute it or turn it off anytime a Republican was on the screen, but since the election the risk is constant that he or his liars will appear — since they are causing chaos every single day — and so I’ve just kept the television off completely. I keep my computer speakers muted because some websites autoplay ads or videos and I once had to hear his voice before I could get to the mute button. If I have to read their lies, my stomach gets wet and wobbly, and I feel a kind of panic that is hard to convey in a way you can really understand. My eyes fill with tears, my breath becomes shallow, I instantly sweat, I feel frantic and start pacing like I have to run to save my life, it’s that intense. It’s hard. I keep thinking I will eventually get used to it, maybe this will be good, by throwing me completely and headlong into a non-stop gaslighting government, I will become inoculated and immune. Maybe that would be good. Hasn’t happened yet.

These flopped. Tough, hard, unpleasant.

But what has happened is that since the election, my cooking has failed every time. My knitting has failed every time. I have been making cinnamon rolls since 1979, and until now, I only had one batch that wasn’t scrumptious, back in ~1988. Even then, they weren’t a failure as much as they just weren’t as soft and puffy as usual. Since the election, I have tried to make them five different times, and they were all complete failures. The Moroccan chickpea soup that I can make blindfolded, with one hand tied behind my back, failure. The shakshuka? Either the eggs are cooked too much, or they’re slimy and the whites are raw. Chocolate chip cookies, the most reliable thing ever, nope. Lemon cakes, nope. Flops.

These at least worked, although I’m not very proud of any of them (but I am proud of my friends).

Except for the pussy hats, curiously enough, all my knitting has failed too. I’ve tried to make hats for grandkids — failures, either giant or tiny. The Kai-Mei socks, that pattern I’ve made easily in the past, gloriously beautiful socks, failures. I have to completely frog the one I made in New York and start again. I’ve been making patterns I’ve made before, simple things, and each one has failed. Scarves, shawls, hats, socks, failures one after another. I try to be mindful, to pay attention, to be present; I put on music that I love and enjoy, I remember to breathe, lower my shoulders, find the pleasure of making, which is my oldest pleasure after reading. And yet it all fails.

My self-care has been hard to maintain, too, but like with my cooking and knitting I do keep trying. I have a sense that all those things are important to helping me keep going. My already failing memory is worse than ever before, and I’m sure that’s related too, connected to the mental overwhelm of trying to battle for the truth of things.

I’ve had a LOT of therapy, and especially I’ve worked on learning how to trust my own perceptions. According to this site (and validated by my own experience, “People who are victims of gaslighting may behave in ways that cause them to appear unstable because they have learned that they cannot trust their perceptions and cannot count on the validation of their thoughts or feelings. They are also less likely to continue to voice their emotions and feelings, knowing that they are likely to be invalidated.” YEP. My sole strategy at this point is to avoid, leave, run away, turn off, disappear however I can, but I wanted to see if there were known strategies for dealing with gaslighting, and I found this kind of horrifying article — horrifying because it’s like they looked at the current slate of Republicans in charge and just took notes. For each strategy used by these people, the article lists some counter-strategies you should employ. I’m in no way strong enough even to stand and listen, so they won’t work for me but I’m glad to share them in case you are stronger than me in this regard.

I just want to be able to cook and knit again. I just want to comfort myself with those things, and show my love through them. It has taken me a while to notice that this is a long pattern, now; at first it was just weird. Huh. Why did my lemon cakes flop? Or That’s weird, I know how to knit a fucking hat. I finally realized that this has been going on since November. I want my cooking and knitting back. Any ideas?

black

Without pointedly intending to do this, I’ve been heavily focused on race in America for the last few months. Like everyone in this country, for the last few years I’ve watched black people being slaughtered and their white murderers walking away with no consequence, and with the tacit approval of the institutions they belong to. I’ve listened to white people insist that “no, all lives matter” when black people assert that black lives matter.

I’ve read three books — Underground Railroad, Underground Airlines, and Between the World and Me — and I saw the extraordinary documentaries I Am Not Your Negro and 13th. Here is the trailer for I Am Not Your Negro:

The movie is quite powerful, in large part because of the forceful brilliance of James Baldwin, who was spontaneously eloquent and thoughtful and indicting and willing and able to name the truth of things no matter what was happening, or where he was. I want to read everything he ever wrote.

I grew up in Texas, among very racist people. I was not allowed to invite my best friend to my 6th birthday party in 1964 because “it’s not done.” Rhonda was black, and she attended my school most likely because her mother worked in the cafeteria. It made no sense at all to me, and no fuller explanation was given. My paternal grandmother, a nurse her whole working life, told me when I was an adult that black people “aren’t like us, when they die, gallons of oil pour out of their bodies.” WHAT??? She saw them as truly not human beings as we are. My stepfather and mother regularly called black people niggers, and I flinched when I heard the word, as much from a response to the venom they seemed to spit when they said it as from any real understanding of the potency of the word. (They were equal opportunity haters, and had only venom for Mexicans too, and for Muslims—I remember my stepfather calling Benazir Bhutto a cunt—and for gay people.)

My first two years of college were at the Huntsville, Alabama campus of the University of Alabama. Huntsville is interesting; it’s got a very educated population, and the campus feeds engineers to Redstone Arsenal and Marshall Space Flight Center. It’s in the far north of Alabama, butting up against the Tennessee border. In most of my classes, the majority of students were white but there were usually a small handful of black students. In my Philosophy 101 class we talked about racism and all the white students piped up saying it doesn’t exist any more. Nope, no more racism. That was then, it’s all gone now. After class, I walked alongside a couple of the black women who’d been silent in class and asked them what they thought and they busted out laughing. Right.

Like everyone else who was old enough at the time, I watched the OJ murder case unfold, from the very beginning with the slow car chase all the way through to the verdict. I was shocked and terribly upset, because it seemed so clear to me that he was guilty, that he murdered his ex-wife and her friend, and how could that jury let him off? Celebrity, I muttered. I remember so clearly how I felt. I remember seeing the split screen on television when the verdict was announced: white people in shock with their hands over their mouths, and black people rejoicing. I was bewildered. Then last week my husband and I watched The People vs OJ Simpson and I saw it so differently. I still believe he is guilty, but I completely understood why the jury made the decision they did. And I had to sit in the complexity of it, with no easy corner to sit in: I believe he murdered those people, and I understand why they let him off, why they probably even believed truly that he didn’t do it. A guilty man was set free, and the community was understandably and righteously thrilled that he was not convicted.

Those white kids in my philosophy class said that because they probably didn’t think they themselves were racist, and so therefore there was no more racism. WE ARE ALL RACIST. It’s the very dirt of this country. It’s the reason for the war we fought against each other. We are all racist. Period. If you can’t start by owning that, you are the problem. I am racist (but I am not racist). I was trained by racists in my childhood home, and I grew up in a racist society. How could I be anything but racist? I do not have to follow those ideas, implement them in behaviors, allow them to bloom or grow — be a racist — but they are in me as an American, without a doubt.

You have to start somewhere, and you cannot go wrong with any of the books or the Baldwin documentary or 13th. I have no idea how to fix the problem, how even to begin. The intransigence of so many white people in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, their complete unwillingness to give up insisting that no, all lives matter, leaves me bewildered. I’ve started replying that when black lives matter, then all lives will matter (but that leaves out Muslims and gay people and refugees and immigrants and all the others who are being shoved out by the Republican party that’s in power, and by far too many straight white people). When I attended a Black Lives Matter rally, and when I read pieces written by black writers who are addressing this issue, their anger is obvious and understandable, and I struggle when they aim it at me standing there trying to do better, trying to start changing whatever I can. It’s not their job to teach me anything, or tell me anything, and at the very same time I don’t know how to move forward together with them. I just don’t know.

This is not a sophisticated or in-depth post about such a huge topic, and I’m not claiming that it is. It’s a quivering start, and a hand reached out, and a plea for help. I welcome advice and other recommendations.

three things: beautiful Bali, moving on, and cussin’

FEED: I’m telling you, it’s really winter here in New York. There isn’t any snow, but it’s very cold and the skies are either gray and dirty, or so brilliant that the cold sun is blinding. I find myself looking so forward to going to beautiful tropical Bali, and I think so often about the beauty of the place.

This is the veranda off our room, overlooking rice fields. We stayed here last time (Alam Jiwa is the hotel, and our room is Jelatik), and we’re staying here again while we’re in Ubud. We have breakfast at that table every morning, and afternoon tea and cake.
This is the entrance to the Sacred Monkey Forest
This gorgeous detail has stayed in my mind, associated with the beauty of Bali

We’re spending the least amount of time on Bali, in Ubud, and the most on Lombok, but I don’t have memories of Lombok to carry me through the cold winter so these are the images that are feeding me now.

SEED: For me, the silt has settled to the bottom and I’m starting to feel space for other things in my mind besides the nightmare of our current administration, so I look forward to writing other things in this section of my daily post. If you’re in the US (or just feeling traumatized in an ongoing way even though you live in another country), I’ll tell you the final part of my path in case it’s helpful to you.

Being active is the best thing, it’s the very best way to allow other life to reemerge. It’s easy in New York because honestly, there are one or two protests or rallies or marches every single day (at a minimum). But even back in Austin, there are work days, organization meetings, events at the capitol, planning sessions — and then there are daily phone calls. No one is more phone-phobic than I am, but you get kind of inoculated to it once you learn the structure. They certainly aren’t social calls, and they follow a formula so you just learn the formula, say what you’re calling to say, and you’re done. Those are actions that count. For me, actually doing stuff has been the most helpful.

And then minimizing my responding to my Facebook feed has also helped. As I’ve been focusing on helping the silt settle, I’ve been able to pay close attention to what happens within me when I look at my feed, and as soon as I feel the tizzy rising up, I just close it. I am in the process of figuring out my posting strategy — maybe every day one action item, one bit of background that would be helpful to read, and one thing that either provides a laugh or a bit of encouragement. If I’m involved in something that might really be encouraging to others, like participating in a giant march or rally, and I think it can strengthen my friends’ hearts to see how many people there are on our side, I’ll share a lot of pictures. But otherwise, I’m trying to limit the sharing from friends’ feeds. And when I’m tempted, I ask myself if my point is just to arouse a “SEE????!!” response (and if so, I don’t share) or if it’s instead intended to ask a question or orient us. “This is happening, what is our action option?”

I don’t know, those things have really been helpful to me. They’ve kind of re-oriented me away from reacting emotionally and toward agency and action.

And now that I’ve kind of figured this out, I’m ready to move on to thinking about other things. I am glad, and I imagine you are, too. 🙂

READ: Here, I’ll start your week off with a whole new crop of alternative cuss words. Field-tested and mother approved! I actually say a bunch of these all the time, in addition to my inordinate love of the one that starts with F.

YOU’RE WELCOME.

xoxo

three things: 2/4/17

FEED: Franz Kline is usually thought of as a black and white painter (and in fact, one of my favorite of his paintings is black and white, I’ll show you after I show you this one), but he did some magnificent paintings with brilliant color. This one just dazzles my brain cells and makes me so happy.

I can’t find the title of this painting anywhere

See how important the grays are to the success of that painting? The brown slashes, the spits of charcoal? And the potency of those primary colors, the pureness of that red, that yellow, colors unresolvable to anything but themselves. Prime colors, I guess.

And here is the black and white one I love so much — it hangs at MoMA, and I took a selfie with it last Wednesday. I’m honestly not sure why I love it so much, but that doesn’t matter. Whenever I see it, my pulse quickens.

“Painting Number 2,” 1954, Franz Kline

SEED: SO! Anchoring the idea of ‘slow’ in my mind has been very helpful. I had just become so tizzified, so terrified, so frantic in my mind, and while I was extremely active during that period and not simply frantic, it was hard going. It was draining, exhausting, and I worried that like so many of my friends, I would get sick because of it. Because it’s true: so many of us are getting sick. Not just susceptible to colds, etc., and not just drifting into despair, but full-on sick. Unable to get out of bed, or to stay out of bed for long. I worried that would happen to me, too, given the intensity of my frantic tizzy.

What we’re doing is having an effect. Learning that has helped, too. It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of a tyrant and his administration who are willing to overturn all the rules to do whatever they want, and who are fed by a man whose stated mission is to destroy the country, but what we are doing, we in the resistance, is having an effect. That helps.

June 28, 1969

I’m making three phone calls a day. I’m monitoring the actions of Congress and following exactly what our elected representatives are doing, how they’re caving or resisting, and keeping notes because we are going to have to elect new representatives, that has become clear. I’m reshaping my social world to include more women who are fighting alongside me, and letting go those whose votes have brought this world into being. I’m noting and scheduling into my calendar every possible march and protest, and attending them. Today, for instance, is the LGBT rally at Stonewall, which is the birthplace of the gay rights movement in this country. Read the history here. I can’t wait to stand alongside everyone at that rally. Those experiences energize me and keep me able to fight and persist.

I’m going on Facebook only in the morning, for no more than half an hour, and my posts are now more pointed. Less hysterical. And I try to include at least one thing to give us a smile, we in the resistance who need a smile so desperately. Fight on, sisters, we will prevail. Slow news, slow thoughtfulness, slow reshaping of your world to help you fight.

Required reading for every American

READBetween the World and Me is as good as the reviews and press have claimed, and it’s very hard to read. Not in the sentences — the sentences and prose are quite good, evocative, clear, powerful, hard. But it’s very hard to read because of the truth of it, and the resulting overwhelm. I have participated in Black Lives Matter marches and rallies, and I’ve stood there knowing that I don’t and can’t know what it is to be black, but ready to try to know, and to fight. I’ve fought with people who tell the lie that “all lives matter,” always with bewilderment. WHEN black lives matter, THEN all lives will matter. And right now black lives don’t matter. The thing that is so difficult about Between the World and Me is that he does such a good job of showing the complete pervasiveness of racism. The murderous cops aren’t even the problem; it’s the society that invests them with the right, the history that endows them with the purpose. It’s like dropping some ink into a vessel of water, and when it’s completely dispersed, trying to pull out the ink. You can’t. The water is permanently changed. Our very ground is built on the racist murder of black bodies, our wealth, our heritage, our worldviews, and I’m left having no idea how we change this. I’m about 60% of the way through the book so I hope Coates offers some ideas, although it’s also up to me to find ideas.

One point Coates makes so poignantly is that slavery is not a thing, it is personal. It’s a specific woman who had a specific life, and who had hopes and thoughts. It’s a specific man, a specific child, a specific family, all with names and bodies. (Eric Reidy makes a similar point about refugees in this must-read piece.) It’s easy to paint with a flat brush and talk about the “institution” of slavery, but that erases all the lives of those enslaved people. In this country, we enslaved black people for 250 years. They have not yet been free for that many years.

At the giant march and rally last Sunday that started at Battery Park, within sight of the Statue of Liberty, I stood among tens of thousands of people of all hues of skin color, most of whom were holding signs about the anti-Muslim ban. And I stood next to a black woman. I wondered if she felt betrayed, because where are the crowds of this size rallying against the ongoing murder of black people for the crime of being black, for driving, for walking, for holding their hands up in the air when demanded? Yes, some white people march and rally, but in small groups, and only after the most egregious of murders. But innocent murder is innocent murder is innocent murder, and we just aren’t responding the same way for black lives — because we shrug. And we too-quickly think well, the police force has problemsThe problem is with police training, etc etc etc. Maybe we allow ourselves to think that because at some level we know how vast the problem is and in the face of that overwhelm, it’s easier just to point at the symptom.

As I’m reading, I find myself thinking Yes, this is terrible and we have to do something but right now the whole place is going up in flames and so for right now we just need to….. X….Y…..Z. And that’s not completely untrue, but at the same time it’s a part of the complexity of our country, a country filled with enough nasty voters to bring the new administration into power, and so it’s another piece we need to understand. Read Between the World and MeYou will be uncomfortable, and we all should be.

I agree with Bannon about one thing: this country does need to be destroyed started over. We do need to do that. Of course I differ with him completely on the methods and what the reboot would look like, but what we have become—and it’s a direct arrow from where and how we began—is deadly and terrible.

BONUS: Check out this link, a crowd-sourced collection of relevant books, movies, TV, podcasts, and other things (including some under the category of “escapism”) that will help us all at this particular cultural and political moment. I found lots of good stuff, and I imagine you will, too.

three things: 2/3/17

FEED: There I was, going miserably through the ongoing onslaught of onerous updates on FB, when this quite literally popped into my field of view. And how wonderful it made me feel.

Emil Nolde (German, Expressionism, 1867–1956): Sea with Violet Clouds and Three Yellow Sailboats, 1946. Watercolor on paper

Isn’t that just extraordinary? Everything about it, I just love. And it’s watercolor, which is hard to understand when you look at the reflection of the yellow — doesn’t that look like oil paint applied with a brush, a thick squidge of it at the top or bottom of each reflected sail? Gosh. I love that painting and am so grateful to have seen it. Even though the purples and blues are restful, that vivid YELLOW makes my eyes hop all over the image, and I keep loving it more and more.

SEED: My focus is drawing in, drawing down, getting close, and I hope this is what will work for me. I was reading an article about how not to get burned out, given the nonstop terrorism of our government, and it mentioned ‘slow news,’ like ‘slow food.’ I don’t think that’s a new idea, slow news, but it sure felt good to read those words, and the sentence that contained them. The thing about news feeds, however you access them, is that they don’t stop. They’re like a never-ending video game in that way—there’s always another level, another scroll, another page refresh. So they hook you, especially when the consequences are at such a high level as ours are. And when you’re hooked, there comes a frantic feeling of needing to get off the hook.

So I looked into a subscription to the real newspaper (for me, always the New York Times) but it’s way expensive, too expensive for my non-existent budget, and then there’s the issue of where it would be delivered; I’m never in one place more than 18 days, and it’s rare to be in place that many days. When I’m in NYC I can walk to the corner newstand and pick up an issue ($2.50/day, $5/Sundays). The writer of the article talked about the feeling of closure when he turned the last page. Done. He’d read the news.

I don’t know how it’ll work out, but I do need to get my news differently. Accessing the online NYTimes is only a bookmark away from my FB newsfeed, so that seems dicey. I’m working on it.

But in the meantime, I’m focusing on other ‘slow X‘ stuff. Slow handwork, knitting socks. Slow food again, as soon as I’m back in Austin. I think I’ll start baking bread again, slow bread. Slow walking. Slow breathing. Slow coffee. Quiet. It feels very loud in my head at the moment and I think the antidote is slow and quiet and deep.

READ: We are going to Indonesia at the end of March — to Bali, which is Hindu, and Lombok (and Rote Island) which are Muslim. In Ubud, there is a well-attended annual writer’s conference, and there are plenty of books set in Bali besides Eat, Pray, Love (which I have no interest in reading). If you’ve read any other good books set in or about Bali, I’d love to hear about it. I’m curious about Love and Death in Bali, which is about the mass suicides of the Balinese royalty when the Dutch invaded, but meh, doesn’t look so very great. Or Indonesia? A book? Before we went to Indonesia a few years ago, we re-watched The Year of Living Dangerously so maybe we’ll rewatch it. Anyway — if you have any Indonesian recommendations I’d love to hear them. (And the first time we were in Indonesia is when I got the red polka dots for the first time! I was sitting on the edge of a planter in the Jakarta airport and felt them start stinging and burning. Maybe this trip will close the circle and end them….not that I’m counting on it.)

Here’s a Balinese diversion. We saw a dance performance the last time we were in Bali, exceptionally beautiful and disturbing and confusing and wonderful.

Happy Friday everyone. We’re still here.

three things: 2/2/17

Anne Carson in her inscrutable brilliance; click the image to read an article in the NYT

FEED: Tonight I’m lucky enough to be going to hear Anne Carson, who is currently the Distinguished Poet-in-Residence in the NYU Creative Writing Program. What she does with language is almost impossible to describe; I’d like to share some of my favorite lines from my favorite of her book-length works, The Autobiography of Red, but (a) they are too strange completely out of context and you wouldn’t be able to see their proper strangeness, and (b) I’m in NYC and my book is in Austin and I only read poetry in real book form. First, Book of Isaiah:

Book of Isaiah, Part I (Anne Carson)

I.

Isaiah awoke angry.
Lapping at Isaiah’s ears black birdsong no it was anger.
God had filled Isaiah’s ears with stingers.
Once God and Isaiah were friends.
God and Isaiah used to converse nightly, Isaiah would rush into the garden.
They conversed under the Branch, night streamed down.
From the sole of the foot to the head God would make Isaiah ring.
Isaiah had loved God and now his love was turned to pain.
Isaiah wanted a name for the pain, he called it sin.
Now Isaiah was a man who believed he was a nation.
Isaiah called the nation Judah and the sin Judah’s condition.
Inside Isaiah God saw the worldsheet burning.
Isaiah and God saw things differently, I can only tell you their actions.
Isaiah addressed the nation.
Man’s brittleness! cried Isaiah.
The nation stirred in its husk and slept again.
Two slabs of bloody meat lay folded on its eyes like wings.
Like a hard glossy painting the nation slept.
Who can invent a new fear?
Yet I have invented sin, thought Isaiah, running his hand over the knobs.
And then, because of a great attraction between them—
which Isaiah fought (for and against) for the rest of his life—
God shattered Isaiah’s indifference.
God washed Isaiah’s hair in fire.
God took the stay.
From beneath its meat wings the nation listened.
You, said Isaiah.
No answer.
I cannot hear you, Isaiah spoke again under the Branch.
Light bleached open the night camera.
God arrived.
God smashed Isaiah like glass through every socket of his nation.
Liar! said God.
Isaiah put his hands on his coat, he put his hand on his face.
Isaiah is a small man, said Isaiah, but no liar.
God paused.
And so that was their contract.
Brittle on both sides, no lying.
Isaiah’s wife came to the doorway, the doorposts had moved.
What’s that sound? said Isaiah’s wife.
The fear of the Lord, said Isaiah.
He grinned in the dark, she went back inside.

And to entice you to read Autobiography of Red, a few snips:

“Depression is one of the unknown modes of being.
There are no words for a world without a self, seen with impersonal clarity.
All language can register is the slow return
to oblivion we call health when imagination automatically recolors the landscape
and habit blurs perception and language
takes up its routine flourishes.”

“…..in that blurred state between awake and asleep when too many intake valves are open in the soul. Like the terrestrial crust of the earth which is proportionately 10 times thinner than an eggshell, the skin of the soul is a miracle of mutual pressures. Millions of kilograms of force pounding up from earth’s core on the inside to meet the cold air of the world and stop as we do, just in time.”

What she does with language can be astonishing. Here’s my short GoodReads review of Autobiography of Red — short, because I couldn’t properly put words to her words. Her startling use of language definitely feeds me.

SEED: This is a broad topic I think about a lot, the way very good things can come out of very bad things. I’ve thought about it my whole life, in terms of my near-fatal childhood; I value who I am, and who I am is a direct result of what I endured, so where does that leave me with an evaluation of my childhood? To play the silly game, if I could go back and time and give myself a different childhood, would I?

grateful I got to be at the JFK protest on the day the ban was announced. So grateful. More than 10K people showed up spontaneously.

I think we’re in the same boat as a country now. I see good things emerging in this horrific political maelstrom. People are fighting, protesting, getting off their comfortable couches. More women are mobilizing for office than ever before. Etc etc etc. It isn’t that things were perfect while Obama was in office, and it isn’t that I agreed with all his decisions (I really didn’t, some more horribly than others like his bail-outs for the banks and his use of drones and his failure to close Guantanamo as he’d promised), but I was complacent. We all were complacent. And that complacency led us here, to the nightmare and also to the resistance, and the long-lasting consequences of the resistance — assuming our country and world survive, which is not at all guaranteed — will be good. Eventually. I’m thinking a lot about this as I look around. Are you?

READ: Read poetry. Last night I read a bit of Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates), and he was talking about writing as a way to hone your thinking — and especially poetry. Here’s a relevant passage:

I was learning the craft of poetry, which really was an intensive version of what my mother had taught me all those years ago–the craft of writing as the art of thinking. Poetry aims for an economy of truth–loose and useless words must be discarded, and I found that these loose and useless words were not separate from loose and useless thoughts. Poetry was not simply the transcription of notions–beautiful writing rarely is. I wanted to learn to write, which was ultimately, still, as my mother had taught me, a confrontation with my own innocence, my own rationalizations. Poetry was the processing of my thoughts until the slag of justification fell away and I was left with the cold steel truths of life.

Read good poetry. I am not at all trained in poetry, but I think I have good taste somehow, because the poetry I love always turns out to be “good” poetry, so if you want to read poetry but don’t know where to start, get in touch and I’ll make some suggestions.

three things: 2/1/17

FEED: This morning I am again attending the Quiet Morning program at the Museum of Modern Art — and so grateful for it. I plan to be standing in front of this painting again, for as long as I can.

Last month I cried like a BABY. I stared at all his brush strokes and thought about his own suffering, and his ecstasy, and how I could feel his and my own. This will be the fourth time I’ve seen it in person and it’s never less than the same electric experience.

After the event ends, I think I’ll go to the Rose Reading Room at the NYPL again to read and work for a while, so this should be quite a nice day after all and despite it all.

SEED: I’m continually shocked by how fast time is passing, but how is it already February 1?! I think that, among other terrible consequences, my obsession with fighting the terrible politics of my country is making the time fly. And it’s funny: in some ways I am 100% in each moment, which usually makes time slow down. The ways I’m not in each moment relate to my fears of the consequences for the future of each of these things we fight, of course, and it’s those future consequences that stoke the fire. But reading, reading, reading, refreshing the feed, what’s new, what’s now, what’s happening, is both keeping me hooked and making the day pass by in a flash and I have nothing real, no experience of myself, to show for it.

How is it already February 1?

I’m continuing to struggle with finding a place for all this, with how to effectively take care of myself and fight in the resistance. Does the resistance require my every moment? Of course it doesn’t. It requires my body in crowds, my voice in chant, my words in action, and it requires me to know what’s going on — which I can do in focused bursts, right? I’m thinking about setting aside 30 minutes or so each morning and 30 minutes or so each evening to focus on it. In the evenings I think I’ll catch up on what the monsters did that day and plan for the next morning’s time: topics to write or call my legislators about, new candidates to research, areas that need support, and to note times and dates of protests to participate in. Then the next morning, my 30 minutes will be a brief scan of the news and a focused attack on my tasks for that day, drawn from the evening’s work.

Of course that makes a lot of sense, and is reasonable, and will keep me fighting every single day, but this overwhelm is outside reason. Fear is outside reason. And every single day he makes us more afraid. So it’ll take discipline and it’ll be hard to limit myself, but I do want to live, too. I’m going to try this — if you’ve found an approach that works for you please let me know. Whatever approach you’ve found to manage overwhelm and fear, to stay informed without becoming swamped, to stay committed and participating (however small), I would appreciate hearing about your strategy.

READ: Usually, when I’m wanting something kind of quick to read, I look at my saved links on Facebook. I subscribe to so many longform writing sites, and to so many book and essay sites, and when good posts fly through my feed I save them to read later. I’m sleeping relatively well and so not making much headway in my book, so I thought I’d find a few good reading recommendations among my saved links but when I went to check, look at what I found:

I kept scrolling down, and down, and down the list and they’re all like this. I was wanting to share something else, something richer, something fascinating (to me at least!), something that could meaningfully distract from this, but all I have is this. If that isn’t an indication that I need to take deep breaths and remember also to live, I wouldn’t know what is.

So instead I’ll ask: reading anything good these days? Here’s what I’m currently actively reading:

There’s a list of a few others that are stalled (Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins, Beatlebone by Kevin Barry, Nox by Anne Carson) but I’m working intently on those two. And my to-read list of 129 books is always up and ready to go of course. In my previous book club, we took turns choosing books and for everyone else, when it was their turn to pick a book they had no idea and asked for ideas, a situation that boggled me. What? You don’t have a ready and waiting LIST? I also have a “Books to Read” Pinterest board with 168 pins, most of which comprise lists of books (like “25 great books by refugees in America,” from the NYTimes).

Still, I’m always curious: reading anything good?

three things: 1/31/17

FEED: If you’re on Facebook, do you follow the page I Require Art? It’s a reliable source of something beautiful here and there throughout the day. Yesterday I saw this painting and it just fit the tone of my feeling so well, the memory of it lingered through a difficult day. When I went to fetch it this morning, I was dazzled by a brilliant orange one and nearly snagged it instead, but decided to stick with this one since the tone is just so right.

Winslow Homer (American, Realism, 1836–1910): Adirondack Lake, 1889. Watercolor over graphite pencil on paper. Sheet: 35.6 x 50.8 cm (14 x 20 inches). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

I want this portion of my daily post to be something that feeds my spirits, but I suppose that doesn’t necessarily have to mean something that lifts me up, that boosts me; it can also feed my spirits if it gives voice to them, because having them unarticulated is frustrating. Yes, Winslow Homer, American realist painter, it feels just like this. But less beautiful.

SEED: Is there anything but politics, now? I’ve never been political, I’ve never followed Congress closely, never paid detailed attention to the bills under consideration. With only one exception (pre-2016), I’ve never marched or protested or rallied. Now it’s all there is to do, it’s all there is to think about, it’s all there is to study. I keep trying to take a step back, to look at this from a meta-perspective, to find a way to let this be a piece of my life without consuming my life, but everything else seems at risk, and so I have to fight in order to be able to have the rest remain available.

Maybe this is just the early stages, and I will learn how to live with the fight, I will learn how to allow it a place in my life without consuming my life — after all, this is all new to me. But there has never been a threat like this one, except for the Civil War. Perhaps we’re going toward another civil war; it feels that way, this country is definitely us vs them now and “them” are not just threatening “us,” but also the whole world. I want to think about other things again. I want to find pleasure again. I want to cook and bake again for reasons beyond just immediate need. I want to play with my beautiful grandkids without a cold, watery stomach of fear for their futures. But really, everything is political. The formidable Nawal el Sadaawi said, “Even this glass of water is political.”

Friends around the world, I want you to know that this elected government is not us. There are more of us than them, and we are fighting. Muslim friends, you have allies here who are fighting for you. LGBTQIA friends, we are rolling up our sleeves to fight what seems to be coming for you. Women, we have been fighting and we will keep on fighting. If you live in another country and think the US has simply gone insane, please pay attention to the size of the crowds protesting this shit in every major city in this country, and in smaller cities, too. There are more of us than themThey have the power right now, and they can do very real harm while they do (and already have done so), but we are fighting. We are America, we who are fighting. Please do not give up on us. Please watch over us, bear witness, talk about the resistance, share news of the resistance, give it worldwide voice. It’s so easy to feel like we must be paranoid when we wonder when they’ll shut down Facebook, when we wonder when the tanks will appear in the streets, when we wonder how long we will be allowed to protest before they make such a thing illegal, but those are not paranoid fears given this administration.

How I long to think about other things.

READ: I’m really loving Netgalley, because I get to read new books of my choosing for free. Right now I’m reading The Shadow Land, which is set in Sofia, Bulgaria. A friend of mine, Aaron, was in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria and the stories he told me left me fascinated about a place I knew so little about. The last book I read via Netgalley was set in Norway during WWII, and focused on the Resistance (a timely subject…..), and while the book was ultimately thin and disappointing, it really did give a vivid sense of place. Neither of these books are exactly historical fiction (The Shadow Land is squarely a novel), but they both reorient me into a new place, a new culture, and how I love that. If a writer is good, it’s like getting to travel and see the world. I’m only 8% into The Shadow Land so it’s premature to say much about the book yet, but so far both thumbs are up. Check it out if you are curious about Bulgaria, and you know I’ll share my thoughts when I finish it. I’ll also offer another plug for Netgalley, if you are a reader who likes to write reviews of what you read. You choose the publishers whose books you are interested in, and you pick the books you want to read. You might not always get your choice (especially when you’re first starting out, as they want to be sure they get reviews…but they can be negative! You are under no obligation to give a positive review.), but you’ll get more books than you have time for, if you just say yes to them all.

a quick post

Last week my daughter Marnie and her son Ilan were in Austin, so I hunkered down with my daughters and their babies the whole time, and then the moment I hit the ground in New York there was so much to do. We protested in Hastings-on-Hudson at noon on Saturday in opposition to the anti-Muslim ban, and then we were lucky enough to get to be part of the 10,000+-person protest at JFK Saturday night. Sunday was the march that began at Battery Park, in view of the Statue of Liberty. There is just so much to do.

It was really an extraordinary experience getting to be at JFK, among the tens of thousands of people who spontaneously gathered.
The protest and march that began at Battery Park was exhilarating too — there are so many of us, y’all. Take heart. He may install martial law and use tanks in the streets, but we fight on.
The march went past the World Trade Center.

I’ll get back to regular posting tomorrow.

three things: 1/23/17

FEED: When I was in my first year of college, I saw this gorgeous painting on a postcard at Barnes & Noble, in Huntsville, Alabama, and the vibrancy of the colors drew me to the rack from the other side of the store.

“The Golden Fish,” Paul Klee

I didn’t know Paul Klee, then, but I learned about him and especially loved these two things he said about color:

  • “Color has got me. I no longer need to chase after it. It has got me for ever. I know it. That is the meaning of this happy hour.”
  • “Color is the place where our brain and the universe meet.”

So many of his paintings have a muted, pastel palette, so I always wondered if he said these things at the moment he got a jolt of THIS kind of color, and if his work was this vivid after those insights. There are always too many things to be interested in, too much to learn, too many depths to dive, and for now I just have to leave this bit of curiosity alone. (But if you happen to know, do tell!)

SEED: Last night was the first meeting of my new book club, here at my place. I didn’t know any of them personally before they arrived at my door; we met on Facebook, in the local Pantsuit Nation group, and then friended each other outside the group.  I had posted looking for serious readers, people who wanted to read good literary fiction and then ACTUALLY TALK ABOUT  IT, and five of those new friends immediately responded. We read The Underground Railroad, and of course they’d all read it, and were eager to talk about it.

But first. Since we met in Pantsuit Nation, they all share my politics (such a relief!) but unlike me, they are all focused and very active. My response is emotional, high-pitched, arched-eyebrowing, handwaving, shoulder-upping despair, but I stumble and can’t provide a list of facts to support my response. Not them! They were amazing. They’re every bit as terrified and emotional as I am, but they are just different women, able to marshal their reason to tell the story of what’s happening. They’re not just extremely informed, they’re active. They’re members of the local Indivisible groups and go to meetings, make phone calls, knock on doors, go to legislative training sessions to prepare to lobby, etc. It was amazing. Inspirational. And as much as I was loving it (and I was!) . . . I wanted to talk about the book. Finally I redirected the conversation from the horrors of today to the horrors of slavery (seriously. What the hell is wrong with our murderous country. Seriously).

And then that conversation was marvelous. It’s just the best thing ever to talk with smart women. One woman grew up in northern Alabama, very near where I lived for 5 years, so she has that really beautiful accent; one is from the northeast and has that style of talking, and the others just had a lot to say, too — all so smart, so insightful, so full of thoughts about what we read, questions about things they were confused by (turns out we were all confused by the same things), thoughts about how it relates to today. Basically it was a dream come true book club meeting. I’ll be smiling about it for days to come.

Marnie and Ilan arrive in Austin today, for a week-long visit, and I’m beside myself with happiness. It’s not that common that I get to be with both my daughters at the same time, and now this means I get to be with them AND with all three of my grandchildren at the same time. I could hardly sleep last night for all the excitement.

READ: HAVE YOU SEEN THIS?

HOT DAMN.

three things: 1/22/17

FEED: I’ll be feeding for a week off the energy from the Women’s March. The organizers in Austin were expecting 22,000 people but there were between 50,000 and 60,000. I marched with my dear friend Deb and my wonderful daughter Katie, who was able to come after all thanks to her husband’s work schedule. We were near the front of the [alleged] starting point, but there were so many people already on Congress Avenue, in front of the capitol, that it was almost an hour before we started moving.

That’s the Texas state capitol (it’s a replica of the US capitol, but in pink granite). Deb and Katie and I were at the bottom of that paired row of trees on the front lawn, waiting to march down…..
Congress Avenue, the broad street that is the center of downtown, going from the capitol, over the river, into south Austin. It was extraordinary, no kidding.

People like to say that Austin is a big city, but it isn’t, really. Chicago, LA, NY, Boston, those are big cities. Austin is a large town with a WHOLE LOT of people in it. So this was amazing. People came in buses from all around the state, they drove in this morning, just to march here, in front of our regressive state government. It was peaceful. Beautiful. I wanted to hug every single person I saw.

Katie and I, waiting for the march to get started, about an hour before it was to begin. Marnie marched in Chicago, and Marc marched in NYC. Our family represented!

SEED: I’ll tell you this: trolls have zero sense of irony. Yesterday a nasty little troll who lives near Roswell, Georgia left an anonymous comment on my blog that said this:

why don’t you and your radical friends move to Russia!!!!! (subject line: “sick of your bs”)

HAHAHAHAHA! Gosh. Where even to begin. I think it’s a safe bet that this troll is a Trumpeter. Right? That she (for I have figured out who she is) voted for Putin’s puppet. What is it about people like this that always makes them tell us to move to Russia, anyway? Also: trolls love exclamation points. !!!!!

And these extra “patriotic” trolls have their little feelings hurt so badly when an American exercises her First Amendment rights. Choose-your-own-patriotism, I guess.

Also, if you are “sick of [my] bs” I have a simple little fix for you: don’t read it! No one is forcing you. Please, feel free to never read my blog again, I’m serious! Do me and yourself a favor, please. Because I’m not going to be silent so you can be comfortable (and especially not on my own damn blog! Sheesh!).

This is something I really do not understand. I know a couple of people who voted for Trump, and I never bring up politics with them. Never. (Similarly, I never comment on (or read) their political FB posts, ever, but they will slap a comment on mine, what??) Because there is no point, the abyss is too deep. I never bring up politics, and if a conversation by others starts drifting in that direction, I do my best to shift it into a safer zone. But they inevitably bring up politics with me, and you can tell that I have opinions, dammit. (And not only that, I’m super angry about this, which they also know from previous times they’ve brought up politics. What is that about?) So if they do, I don’t hold back. I say exactly what I think, and I’m not delicate about it. They brought up the conversation, and they know my position. I get very upset and shaky inside, because one friend especially I care about so much, I love her dearly, and I don’t want to unleash my anger at her, but I am angry. So it’s completely unpleasant for me, I don’t like it, I don’t wish to talk about it, but THEY BRING IT UP. Again and again. One has said things to me like, “Don’t you agree, liberals don’t think for themselves?” WITH FOX NEWS BLARING IN THE BACKGROUND.

Oh, I’m angry. I’m so angry. It’s not pleasant to have these intense feelings, and I am trying to figure out why my fury is this huge. I really hate unfairness, especially when people who have power wield it over those who don’t — that’s something that always makes me see red. So maybe it’s that, I don’t know, but I’d like to get a handle on it so I don’t stroke out, because I have a lot of political work to do.

Trolls? If you don’t like what I write here, on my own tiny little corner of the Internet, just leave me alone. Please.

READ: So I finished reading A Man Called Ove, which took me so long because I’ve been on a great run of sleeping. Here’s my GoodReads review, in case you’re interested in reading the book:

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I was deciding whether to read this book, I noticed that the most common word in all the Amazon and GoodReads reviews was “charming.” And honestly, I couldn’t write a review without that word either! It’s not just that the man called Ove was curmudgeonly charming, it’s that the approach of the book was charming, too. From the funny chapter titles to the way the story is fed out, to the glorious characters, to Ove’s endless stumbling blocks to joining Sonja, every last bit was charming. The general plot was a bit predictable — exuberant new neighbor saves sad old curmudgeon who finds no use for life until she explodes into his life — but honestly? That didn’t matter. I didn’t care. I didn’t care that I spotted the plot arc the moment they met. I didn’t care that the various subplots were predictable. In large part that’s because of the good storytelling, the lovely writing, and the moments of big truth, and in the remaining part it’s because I really cared about Ove, a lot. Really good book, I enjoyed reading it a lot, and always regretted that my time to read is too brief. [View all my reviews]

Now I’m reading another Scandinavian book (Ove was Swedish, this one’s Norwegian) one called Land of Hidden Fires, which I am reading for NetGalley. More on that later. New book club in the house tonight, to discuss Underground Railroad oh heck yeah.

three things: 1/21/17

FEED: Today, as I am lacing up shoes and heading out the door for the Women’s March, I am feeling so much inspiration from our dearly beloved former Governor and salty, nasty woman Ann Richards, who is also the mother of Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood and nasty woman in her own right:

I am not proud of the 26% of registered-to-vote Americans who elected this monster into office, but I am so proud of the millions and millions of us who are resisting. I’m proud of every action we take, every word we offer, no matter the outcome. Ann, I hope you are proud of us. I am.

I am proud to say that the incoming president is facing unprecedented resistance. Very proud to say that. And I am especially proud of these six protesters who stood on their chairs near the front of the inauguration crowd and started shouting the preamble to the Constitution: We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.

Like little bratty kids in elementary school, people sitting behind them pulled their chairs out from under them so they’d fall down, but not before the protesters made their mark. Police took them away, and if they were arrested I’d cobble together my spare money and send it for their bail. So proud.

SEED: Today is the march, so honestly that’s all I’m thinking about. I’m marching quite pointedly for this little Texan, my 4-month-old granddaughter Lucy, because I want a future for her beyond her womb, I want her to have full human rights and not be a designated breeder whether she likes it or not. I march for all my grandchildren’s futures. For the futures of everyone under threat by the current administration. But most pointedly, I march for our little firecracker girl, Lucy:

Isn’t she just the cutest little thing? The moment she opens her eyes, she grins and giggles and blows raspberries (like, non-stop) and she SHOUTS incessantly. I glanced over at Oliver on Thursday and he had his hands over his ears. She’s adorable, such tremendous energy and life, and I want her to have the rights to determine what happens to her own life.

READ: For all of us Americans, it’s time to closely study our Constitution. Read it. It’s not that long. You can find copies everywhere, but my link will take you to an easy to read version, unlike this:

The famous Stone engraving

RESIST, my friends. Day ONE.

one thing: 1/20/17

distress signal

And so today begins our real work, friends. Our country is entering into the darkest days we’ve had since the Civil War. We have to fight, we will fight, and it’s going to be long and hard, and there will be more losses than wins. “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president” (Theodore Roosevelt). Take the oath with me:

Throughout my 58 years, I have always cared about issues of fairness and justice, but I’ve never been overtly political. Before this past year, I’ve only marched once, back in 2003 when our formerly-worst president GWB declared war on Iraq. Then, my son and I marched in Austin, in protest, with so many others. This is a new era and it’s not at all a question for me, it’s not a question of whether I will fight, whether I will resist. I will resist with all my power. I will speak out and call lies lies, call tyranny by its real name. I will defend speech and the right to protest. I will call fake news propaganda. I will identify censorship when the powerful demand apologies from artists. I will identify the corruption that is now lining the halls of our government. When protesters and petitions are threatened, I will point out the authoritarianism. When the minority is identified as an internal enemy, and when calls are made for militarized unity, I will shout FASCISM. I will march, and fight however I am called to fight. And I will live my life with words and poetry and art, I will love my children, and I will fight for my grandchildren’s futures. I will hold up my friends and ask them to hold me up.

The inaugurated leader of our country is not my president.

Who Are They And Who Are We?
by Ahmed Fouad Negm

Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They are the ones with wealth and power
And we are the impoverished and deprived
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who is governing whom?
Who are they and who are we?
We are the constructing, we are the workers
We are Al-Sunna, We are Al-Fard
We are the people both height and breadth
From our health, the land raises
And by our sweat, the meadows turn green
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who serves whom?
Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They are the mansions and the cars
And the selected women
Consumerist animals
Their job is only to stuff their guts
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who is eating whom?
Who are they and who are we?
We are the war, its stones and fire
We are the army liberating the land
We are the martyrs
Defeated or successful
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who is killing whom?
Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They are mere images behind the music
They are the men of politics
Naturally, with blank brains
But with colorful decorative images
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who is betraying whom?
Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They wear the latest fashions
But we live seven in a single room
They eat beef and chicken
And we eat nothing but beans
They walk around in private planes
We get crammed in buses
Their lives are nice and flowery
They’re one specie; we are another
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who will defeat whom?

three things:1/19/17

FEED: This color linoleum cut print arrested my scrolling and drew me in. My friend Sherlock used to say that he doesn’t ‘get’ art, one of many longstanding jokes we shared, but I think it’s just this, at its most basic: stop at what stops you. Look deeply. Look at the work of it, if that’s what interests you. Look at the chips, the strokes, the texture, the color. What is it that stops you and causes you to look?

Elizabeth Catlett (also known as Elizabeth Catlett Mora) (American-born Mexican, 1915-2012): Sharecropper, 1952. Printed 1970. Color linoleum cut print on cream Japanese paper.

I’ve always loved block prints, wood or linoleum, and this one feels so full of tension, with all the tiny, tiny lines. The expression on the sharecropper’s face is where my gaze begins and stays; I can’t find a name for her expression, can you? What is that? And as always, I am in awe of the artist who can present me with such complexity and beauty. I also love the color palette in this piece, and gosh I just keep seeing things — the way the artist created the pulled folds in her garment where the safety pin tugs the cloth, amid the tiny lines of the cloth itself. Her white hair. The very tight focus, where she is all there is to see in this image.

We’ve been in a days-long period of solid gray skies, the flat white kind that looks like the base coat of a painting before the painting is begun, and we’ve had endless fog and rain. When I sat down to create this post, I felt like my spirits needed bright color, strong imagery, something vivid to counteract the gloom outside and to come, but it was this piece that stopped me.

SEED: My beloved poetry group met at my house Tuesday night, and I have to say: being with poets is great balm for the storm we’re already in, and the bigger storm to come. Poets are thoughtful, reflective, metaphoric-minded, word-gifted people who I would guess are mostly liberal and beyond, on to the far left. Because poets know that words don’t just capture, words don’t just reflect, they have power, power to resist and power to change. Last night was the beginning of our fifth year together; we first met in January of 2013, a fact that amazes me. We’re comfortable together, we know each other from these monthly gatherings.

I definitely have other friends who see what I see, and who see it the way I see it (such a comfort), and yet the poets’ vision is more of everything. More frightened. More complex. More broad-based. We’re all close to my age, I think, though one is substantially younger and one (I think!) older, so we have similar frames of reference for past political struggles — all of which have come at the hands of Republicans, I hasten to add.

So last night we did what we do: one of us would read a poem aloud while the rest followed along on the copies we distribute, and then we’d talk about it. A few of us brought protest poems — Audre Lorde (me), Rita Dove and William Stafford (Hadiya) — and as always, a few brought poems they’d written (Ed, Marilyn, and Nick, this time), and a few brought poems to relish. But unlike our usual meeting, we had breaks between poems to talk about the storm of politics. Our despair would grow and we’d have to take a breath and read a poem, to feel better.

I won’t be surprised if all our future meetings have the same structure; this might be the new form, and for me it will be life-sustaining. When they left last night, I felt fed and comforted, and grateful there be poets.

Before he read last Sunday, he pinned the US distress flag on the wall behind him, and there it stayed.

So I say again: it doesn’t matter if you don’t write poetry. I don’t! It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the first thing about poetry. I don’t! I can’t identify feet and schemes, I don’t know types, zip. It doesn’t matter if you’re not hooked into the poetry community in your town already. The poets are active, wherever you live, and you can find a public reading and just show up. Just show up, sit on a folding chair at the back, in the corner, by the door, and be ready to split at a moment’s notice. The poets are angry, but they’re also giving hope — maybe just because they’re there. I just Googled “Austin poetry readings” and WHAM. A plenty. A gracious plenty. There is even a poetry club in tiny little Graham, TX. There are poets in your town, and I’d bet a lot of money that if you put yourself among them — even silently — you’ll come away with something wonderful. And no one will ask you to recite, no one will ask you to speak, no one will ask you to identify iambic pentameter. No one.

READ: Poetry. Read poetry. Poetry can be so funny, so skewed (and yet there’s always something really important inside it) — it certainly isn’t all dense and dark and hard to parse. Here is one that George shared last night, and it’s a perfect example of funny but with something really important to say. It’s titled “Humanity 101,” by Denise Duhamel, and it was selected for inclusion in Best American Poetry, 2016.

I was on my way to becoming a philanthropist,
or the president, or at least someone who gave a shit,
but I was a nontraditional student
with a lot of catching up to do. I enrolled in Humanity 101
(not to be confused with the Humanities,
a whole separate department). When I flunked
the final exam, my professor suggested
I take Remedial Humanity where I’d learn the basics
that I’d missed so far. I may have been a nontraditional student,
but I was a traditional person, she said, the way a professor
can say intimate things sometimes, as though
your face and soul are aglow in one of those
magnified (10x) makeup mirrors.

So I took Remedial Humanity, which sounds like an easy A,
but, believe me, it was actually quite challenging.
There were analogy questions, such as:
Paris Hilton is to a rich U.S. suburban kid
as a U.S. middle-class kid is to:
1.) a U.S. poverty-stricken kid,
2.) a U.S. kid with nothing in the fridge,
or
3.) a Third World kid with no fridge at all.
We were required to write essays about the cause of war—
Was it a phenomenon? Was it our lower animal selves?
Was it economics? Was it psychological/sexual/religious
(good vs. evil and all that stuff)? For homework
we had to bend down to talk to a homeless person
slouched against a building. We didn’t necessarily have to
give them money or food, but we had to say something like
How are you? or What is your favorite color? 

We took field trips to nursing homes, prisons,
day-care centers. We stood near bedsides
or sat on the floor to color with strange little people
who cried and were afraid of us at first.
I almost dropped out. I went to see the professor
during his office hours because I wanted to change my major.
He asked, “Is that because your heart is being smashed?”
He thought I should stick it out, that I could make it,
if I just escaped for an hour a day blasting music
into my earbuds or slumping in front of the TV.
I said, “But that’s just it. Now I see humanity everywhere,
even on sitcoms, even in pop songs,
even in beer commercials.” He closed his door
and showed me the scars under his shirt
where he had been stabbed. He said I had to assume
everyone had such a wound, whether I could see it or not.

He assured me that it really did get easier in time,
and that it was hard to make music when you were still
learning how to play the scales. He made me see
my potential. He convinced me of my own humanity,
that one day I might even be able to get a PhD. But first
I had to, for extra credit, write a treatise on detachment.

And to lure you in with another poem that will delight you while delivering a point, here is Dean Young’s “Crash Test Dummies of an Imperfect God:”

Because we are so stupid,
the prizes in Cracker Jacks are now paper
so they can be swallowed, ladders
spackled with warnings. No getting
within a hundred feet of Stonehenge because
everyone wants to hack off a souvenir
and the way home is clogged to one lane
so whoever wants to can stare into a pothole
until coming up with a grievance. I’d vote
the greatest accomplishment of mankind
is the pickle spear. God created paradise
to tell us Get out! which is why we probably
created God who doesn’t much like being created
by ilk like us. No wonder it’s pediatrics
every morning and toxicology by happy hour.
Is it all in the mind, the dirty, dirty mind?
Maybe God tried to turn you into a garbage can
so you could be lifted by the truck’s hydraulic
arms and banged empty. Maybe a snow cone
so you could be sticky-sweet and dropped.
Maybe a genital-faced bivalve to be dashed
with Tabasco and eaten whole or, to his glory,
produce a pearl.

I never share the original poetry written by people in our group, because it’s not mine to share, nor is it published for all to read, but how I wish I could. Last night there were five original poems, and I just listened and followed along in awe, and felt my self expanded out beyond my bones, pushed past my skin, in wonder. “Gone to wonder in the mind,” as Ed wrote in a gorgeous poem, the line cobbled from Chaucer.

three things: 1/17/17

FEED: My Sunday was incredible — I attended the National Poets Against Trump protest and the National Writers Resist protest here in Austin, and wished with all my heart I could’ve been at the ones in New York City. The writers’ protest there was held on the steps of the New York Public Library, and how I would’ve loved to be there.

At the NYPL

I also attended a training session for nonviolent protest, organized by the women organizing the Austin Women’s March (they’re expecting more than 22,000 people!), so all that comes together to lead me to share this powerful poem.

A Woman Speaks (Audre Lorde)

Moon marked and touched by sun
my magic is unwritten
but when the sea turns back
it will leave my shape behind.
I seek no favor
untouched by blood
unrelenting as the curse of love
permanent as my errors
or my pride
I do not mix
love with pity
nor hate with scorn
and if you would know me
look into the entrails of Uranus
where the restless oceans pound.

I do not dwell
within my birth nor my divinities
who am ageless and half-grown
and still seeking
my sisters
witches in Dahomey
wear me inside their coiled cloths
as our mother did
mourning.

I have been woman
for a long time
beware my smile
I am treacherous with old magic
and the noon’s new fury
with all your wide futures
promised
I am
woman
and not white.

From The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde.

That feeds me, sisters, it does.

This is amazing, amazing Joe Brundidge.

SEED: Even though mine is such a heavily literary life, I’m not hooked into the quite large literary community here in Austin, though I want to be — especially after attending the writers protest and seeing a good portion of it. I sat there at BookPeople thinking These are my people. All of them, these are MY people. I thought it at the poets protest too; we who need words, who value words, who understand the power of words to fight, and who turn to them in times of trouble. He was at the poets protest too, but I must have been distracted because I didn’t really GET Joe until he spoke at the writers protest. He read two pieces, the first of which I remembered from the poets protest a few hours earlier. But then he read the second one, and he is such an amazing speaker it just felt like he suddenly started talking to us, and with urgency. It was about the critical importance of doing your work, of not waiting, and of how important it is, and he spoke right to the things you say that stop yourself, and he was right there ready to step into the muck and lift you out, rinse it off of you because he needs you, he needs your voice. I just sat there crying and feeling LOVED, and held. When he finished speaking, the next speaker was Sarah Bird — actually the person I was most eager to hear — but I couldn’t pay attention because I was afraid Joe would leave, so I just kept my eye on him.

As soon as Sarah quit speaking, while the next speaker was being introduced I jumped up (I was on the front row) and dashed over to Joe, who didn’t know me from Adam. I asked, “Can I hug you?” And with his giant smile, this tremendous bear of a man reached out his arms and hugged me so tight, so solid and still, and for so long. I moved slightly, to end the hug, just because I didn’t want him to feel stuck, and he didn’t let go. So I just relaxed, and I’ll bet we hugged for two solid minutes, maybe three. I thanked him and told him how much I needed to hear what he said, and my eyes filled with tears. Then I got shy and embarrassed and ducked back to my seat, but for the rest of the night I was held by him, and his words, and I felt better than I have in a very long time.

Joe is a host on Writing on the Air (here are his interviews), and he’s the director of the Austin International Poetry Festival. Here’s Joe in action, at Austin’s wonderful, wonderful independent book store Malvern Books, host of the poets protest and so many other wonderful events. He’s not as intense and passionate in this video as he was at the protest, but you get a feel for who he is.

That’s one thing I love about life. You can just be sitting there, expecting so little, and encounter someone who blows you over, envelopes you with love and acceptance and wonder, and you come away healed. I love that.

READ: I will just share some good thoughts and reading if you’re in the same general mindset I’m in this week, as we prepare for ….. ugh. Well, you know. Think about, remember, do these things:

  • “My existence requires no one’s permission.” (Joe Brundidge, beautiful Joe)
  • Someone at the poets protest said, “Aesthetically and philosophically, any poetry is against Trump.” No Republican president has ever had a poet at inauguration. Shocked? Nah.
  • “Don’t just sit there simulating a free person.” ~Austin poet Greg Liotta
  • When he takes the oath of office on Friday, January 19, you take the oath too. Take the oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution (against him and his swamp monsters).
    https://www.wall-of-us.org/taketheoath/
  • Here’s a list of 27 books every woman should read if they’re going to the women’s march or NOT. I’ve only read five, how can that be…..gotta get busy.
  • A pivot: Harvard’s photography courses are online, and free. If you complete all the modules, you get a certificate. The software they use is old (~2009, I think), but the basics of photography haven’t changed.

three things: 1/16/17

FEED: When I went to the Quiet Morning event at MoMA last week, I stood in front of this painting with an overflowing heart:

Henri Matisse
Dance (I)
Paris, Boulevard des Invalides, early 1909

For a few years in the 1990s, I felt like this painting kept me going, kept me able to imagine that life could be worth living, that life might again have happiness and joy, that one day I might actually want to dance. They were hard years, uprooting years, dream-wrenching years, and I had a print of this painting on my bedroom wall so I could see it when I felt the most despair. Looking at it today, I remember my shattered heart and how that felt, and I remember the agony I felt in the times I felt this painting made a promise that couldn’t be delivered in my life — and then the fragile times I thought perhaps it could, after all. And now, the simple happiness I can feel in the wake of those years, to have survived them and to have danced. Whether you need hope, or know joy, this painting is a gift.

Here’s the gallery note for this painting: “In March 1909, Matisse received a commission from the Russian merchant Sergei Shchukin for two large decorative panels, Dance and Music (now in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg). This painting was made quickly as a compositional study for Dance, which was intended to hang on the landing of a staircase, approached from the lower right. This may be why the lower figure leans into the painting, increasing the sense of movement, and why the figure at left is so large, slowing it. Drawing visible beneath the paint shows that Matisse started with two smaller figures where the large figure is now.”

SEED: I want to talk about little-b bravery because I have been thinking about courage/bravery my whole life. (And in fact, one of the characters tattooed on my back is ‘courage,’ and I wrote a memoir chapter about it, which required me to think very carefully about the idea, the experience.) And then, whaddya know, Emily McDowell went and created a whole line of pins for people who exhibit bravery in their daily lives. I have bought four of them, one for me, one for my daughter, and two for women friends, because I agree with her: so many of us do brave things that will never receive the kind of attention that big noisy brave acts receive, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t brave acts. And that’s why I want to set “little-b bravery” as my focus here. The big-b Bravery is inspirational, aspirational, admirational, worthy of the kind of honor it receives — like John Lewis and his life-long fight for the civil rights and honor and dignity of black people in this country. It was a Brave act, walking over the Selma Bridge and in fact he was beaten and kicked quite terribly by Alabama State Troopers, who fractured his skull. He thought he was going to die, and he just kept going. There is no doubt that was a Brave act, and it’s also true that he continues to do Brave and brave acts every day, in his quiet, dogged persistence. I’ll probably never do anything in my life that approaches his degree of courage.

But I am brave. I have been brave in my life, and in fact most days it takes courage to keep going. My friend Nancy told me that the focus of my memoirs must be “what it is to live with it,” because I survived all the nightmares of my childhood, and in a way that was the easier part. (In a way.) Then, it was so often literally a matter of life and death, and that has a way of focusing things. But living with it all, living with the fallout, living with the consequences, living with the loneliness of it, the despair of it, well, that takes a lot of courage, and there are absolutely days that I don’t have enough courage. I do not keep a gun in my house for all the reasons, but the most pointed one is that I am afraid I will use it on myself. On Christmas Day, I was so overcome that if I’d had a gun, I would’ve walked into my back yard, sat on the rocks and just pulled the trigger. One minute, start to finish. My courage was too low that day, the despair too great. I’m so glad I didn’t have a gun.

But more days than anyone can imagine, I lie in bed when I first wake up and summon courage. I summon the courage to get up anyway. To live my life that day anyway. To find some kind of happiness, some bit of joy anyway. To be willing to be open to joy even though there are ways that continues to be hard. I do it — I seek happiness, I allow happiness, I welcome joy, but it’s a brave choice, most days. This isn’t even about depression, which I know too well; it’s about what it is to live with it. To have survived. To be the survivor.

And so the pin I bought myself says “I saved my own life.” That’s brave, and I might even argue that it’s Brave. (Probably not.) One of these days, when I have earned it, I’ll buy myself the one that says “Found My Voice.” My daughter survived unimaginable grief, and that’s brave. It’s so much easier to give up the game, fold up the cloth, disappear from life in all the ways we can do that — drinking too much, abandoning ourselves to whatever is our drug of choice (carbs, for me), withdrawing from the world, dissolving into hate and anger, abandoning people, as my son has done with his family who desperately love and miss him. So much easier. It’s brave to risk, to risk again, to risk loss, to risk hurt. To risk involvement. To risk connection. If that has never required bravery on your part, then you have had a lucky life, and I don’t begrudge it! You have your own ways of being brave, because I believe we all do — and so does Emily McDowell, as she acknowledges the dozens and dozens of ways we show up to life. The ways we show up anyway. The things we had to fight for and maybe still have to fight for every day. The things we survived. The things we live with, and live anyway. Like me, you are brave in your own ways, I’d bet my bottom dollar.

READ: I like to read about the process of writing, and in case you are a writer, you might like these links:

In a pretty low place right now. Pretty low.

three things: 1/15/17

FEED: Here’s a glorious poem that you have to see on the page.

TIME AND MATERIALS

1
To make layers,
As if they were a steadiness of days:

It snowed; I did errands at a desk;
A white flurry out the window thickening; my tongue
Tasted of the glue on envelopes.

On this day sunlight on red brick, bare trees,
Nothing stirring in the icy air.

On this day a blur of color moving at the gym
Where the heat from bodies
Meets the watery, cold surface of the glass.

Made love, made curry, talked on the phone
To friends, the one whose brother died
Was crying and thinking alternately,
Like someone falling down and getting up
And running and falling and getting up.

2
The object of this poem is not to annihila

To not annih

The object of this poem is to report a theft,
In progress, of everything
That is not these words
And their disposition on the page.

The object o f this poem is to report a theft,
In progre ss of everything that exists
That is not th ese words
And their d isposition on the page.

The object of his poe is t repor a theft
In rogres f ever hing at xists
Th is no ese w rds
And their disp sit on o the pag

3
To score, to scar, to smear, to streak,
To smudge, to blur, to gouge, to scrape.

“Action painting,” i.e.,
The painter gets to behave like time.

4
The typo would be “paining.”

(To abrade.)

5
Or to render time and stand outside
The horizontal rush of it, for a moment
To have the sensation of standing outside
The greenish rush of it.

6
Some vertical gesture then, the way that anger
Or desire can rip a life apart,

Some wound of color.

© 2007, Robert Hass
From: Time and Materials. Poems 1997-2005
Publisher: Ecco (HarperCollins Publishers), New York, 2007

SEED:  OOF, you know how you can just be doing something random, like looking through a box for the pretty cards you stored away, and then you happen across something you had completely forgotten about, and that punches you right in the heart? That happened to me. In a box in my storage room, I saw a plastic sleeve with old IDs and credit cards, no idea how long ago I tucked it away in that box — must’ve been when I moved in, November 2012. I went through them and came across this tiny snippet of now-brown newsprint:

It’s blurry because it is blurry, the print is fading. “Lori G,” I had that last name so long ago, and this small personal ad was in the newspaper for me in ~1990. Almost 30 years ago. I didn’t remember that I had it, and I didn’t even remember it had happened until I saw it.

When she was a tiny little girl, my sister hated milk. Hated it. She only wanted water (“that’s the Stone in her” everyone said). But she couldn’t say milk, she’d just say, “No muck Big Daddy, no muck.” So he called her Muck. I was Pete, she was Muck, we were a nicknaming family. (Big Daddy especially.) My sister and I cannot have a relationship longer than a week, and it pops up once every 8-10 years, and I don’t blame her or myself. When you come out of the family we did, well, there is too much I understand about that. I don’t blame her or my brother for our inability to know each other, but the deep truth is that I dearly loved her when we were little, and it’s so easy for me to touch that feeling I cry.

She knew that I had this silly little habit of reading the personal column in the weekend newspaper just in case there was an ad for me. (My dad did the same thing, and I didn’t know that until I met him again right before his death. So did his sister, didn’t know that, either.) I don’t know if my sister and I were having a relationship at the time she posted the ad,  I can’t remember too clearly. I suspect this was placed around the time of my first major clinical depression, the one that culminated in a terrifying suicide attempt, because around that time she wrote me a letter saying, “We keep going because we never know when we’re going to round a corner and there is someone holding a bouquet of flowers just for us.” So it makes sense that she would’ve done this, too, a very personal and specific reaching-out to me, her big sister, a bouquet of flowers just for me.

So much in that tiny square of delicate old newsprint. Twenty-five words.

READ: A Texas writer named Sarah Bird was supposed to receive an award from the Texas State Legislature, which delighted her — until she learned that she was not going to be allowed to speak. This led her to decline the award because she didn’t want it to appear that she supported them without question. So instead, she published the speech she would’ve given (here’s the article about it in the Texas Tribune):

Whenever I meet a woman of my age, old enough to remember those glorious carefree days back when America was great and we were pooping our panties as we trembled in fear of nuclear annihilation beneath our desks; or skipping merrily behind the truck spraying clouds of utterly safe DDT; or staring at the photo of a black girl nearly our own age who required the National Guard and more guts than you can hang on a fence to go to school; or, living in terror of becoming one of the thousands of women who died of an unsafe, illegal abortion, we shake our heads and wonder, “How the hell did we get back here?”

The short answer to how is “states’ rights.” Yes, that nightrider who’s kept the Civil War raging for more than 150 years is the very creature enabling all the OB/GYNs in the Legislature to get all up in our lady business via the gnat swarm of bullshit laws they keep trying to inflict upon us. What? No, OB/GYNs in the Lege? But they authored a booklet, “A Woman’s Right to Know,” that doctors are forced to give patients seeking an abortion that warns those women they will suffer a higher incidence of breast cancer — a fact unknown to countless medical groups, including the National Cancer Institute, which has debunked this claim. State Reps. Donna Howard, D-Austin, Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, and Mary González, D-Clint, introduced legislation to fix the inaccuracies, but it didn’t pass.

The hypocrisy is wearying. And it would be laughable if the bodies of Texas women were not at stake.

So, that’s the “how,” what about the “why?” Because it gets votes and the dipshits get to accomplish that which their entire being is centered around: Keeping their jobs. And why is using the bodies of Texas women as a sort of tenure track to job security such a sure-fire vote-getting strategy?

Let us turn to the individual selected by the antiquated, dangerously unrepresentative Electoral College to be our next president for that answer. No more perfect articulation as to why our representatives are so relentlessly eager to shove their transvaginal ultrasound wands into the bodies of as many Texas women as their bullshit laws allow can be found than that offered in this individual’s colloquy with Billy Bush, blessedly, blessedly, preserved for the ages on videotape. There, in the NBC Studios parking lot, he identified the ultimate prize that awaited the man who achieved his level of celebrity: the power to grab women by their genitalia.

Here in a nutshell is the cornerstone of every fundamentalist perversion of religion from the Taliban to the Yearning for Zion FLDS compound: Control the P____. Our next president can say it, but I won’t. This atavistic impulse is at the heart of every transparently cynical political ploy from the state’s egregious fetal remains burial proposal to mandatory parental consent for minors to defunding Planned Parenthood to the rules that forced most clinics in the Rio Grande Valley to shut down.

Her speech is remarkable, and I wish she had been able to deliver it to the people who deserve to hear it (but who would’ve slammed her mercilessly and tried to shut her down). Instead, she will join all of us marching on January 21st. I’ll be wearing my pussy hat. Every single time the shout is “MY BODY MY RIGHTS / HER BODY HER RIGHTS”I cry and the rage that fills me turns my shout hard and louder and filled with the fury of a human being who does not understand how we can still be fighting this fight.

three things: 1/14/17

My dear friend Craig has a website called Travel With Craig. He travels a lot and has a particular affinity for Italy; when he first went to Rome, he felt like he’d finally come home. He provides great information about the various places he visits around the world, check out his site! He travels very differently than I do, but I dearly love following his travels, and it’s always one of our most exciting topics of conversation: Where are you going next? One of the fabulous things he came up with for his website is the organization for his posts: Sights, Nights, and Bites. I’ve been thinking about my post from a couple of days ago, about the Wake Up Project and spiritual warriorship, and it all came together for me. Starting today, I’m going to follow Craig’s model and organize my posts in this way:

  • FEED  (“feed your mind beautiful things” — art, poetry, photography, something that will lift and elevate me, and I hope you too)
  • SEED (thoughts about whatever is consuming me, whether personal or world)
  • READ (whatever I’m reading, whether it’s a book or an article about something big or small)

So here goes:

FEED: It’s pouring rain as I write this and the skies are almost invisible, the rain is so thick, so I found myself longing for sunshine.

“The Sunflower,” Gustav Klimt, 1906-1907.

SEED: I am really struggling with my failing memory, and it’s so upsetting that I was even looking up nursing homes that work specifically with people who have lost their memories. There’s one in my Austin neighborhood (prompting Marc to say, “Well that’s good, you can keep all your old friends!”). Yesterday, by the time I got to the end of a thought I couldn’t remember what I’d been thinking, so I can no longer wait until the end of a thought, as I’d been able to do. I have to act the moment I start thinking about something. It’s so upsetting that it even got into a nightmare I had last night, where I was reading but couldn’t make any sense of the words. I could see they were written in English, but I couldn’t tell what it said.

I can remember older things. I can think, and process information. I can do all the things I’ve ever been able to do, I just can’t hold onto thoughts as they happen, things like, “Oh, gotta go brush my teeth.” It’s very much a failure of on-the-fly processing, and it’s terrifying. Doing memory exercises and working puzzles (word and numbers) hasn’t helped me at all, and in fact this seems to be getting worse. Marc said when he was in his mid-50s it happened to him, and it felt like a plummet — and then it stabilized, so the issue is not to fall into despair and catastrophize. I’m still waiting for things to stabilize and I hope it happens soon, because the despair and catastrophizing are sometimes threatening to swamp me.

click the image to go to the Amazon page

READ: I’m reading A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman, and I don’t think it’s a very ‘literary’ book as much as it is a ‘human-story’ book, as if those are separate categories. Ove is a cranky old man, bitter, judgmental of everyone and the world. And heartbroken by the recent death of his wife. Some of the most beautiful passages in the book describe his memory of her laughter:

“She laughed and laughed and laughed until the vowels were rolling across the walls and floors, as if they meant to do away with the laws of time and space.”

“He had never heard anything quite as amazing as that voice. She talked as if she was continuously on the verge of breaking into giggles. And when she giggled she sounded the way Ove imagined champagne bubbles would have sounded if they were capable of laughter.”

But it’s not a saccharine story at all; the passages that show you how Ove views the world are hilarious:

“The husband just nods back at her with an indescribably harmonious smile. The very sort of smile that makes decent folk want to slap Buddhist monks in the face, Ove thinks to himself.”

“Ove glares out of the window. The poser is jogging. Not that Ove is provoked by jogging. Not at all. Ove couldn’t give a damn about people jogging. What he can’t understand is why they have to make such a big thing of it. With those smug smiles on their faces, as if they were out there curing pulmonary emphysema. Either they walk fast or they run slowly, that’s what joggers do. It’s a forty-year-old man’s way of telling the world that he can’t do anything right. Is it really necessary to dress up as a fourteen-year-old Romanian gymnast in order to be able to do it? Or the Olympic tobogganing team? Just because one shuffles aimlessly around the block for three quarters of an hour? And the poser has a girlfriend. The Blond Weed, Ove calls her.”

The most commonly used word to describe this book, as I scan Goodreads and Amazon reviews, is “charming,” and I’d agree. It’s charming. Predictable in plot (exuberant family moves next door and save him from himself), but it’s a very enjoyable read so far. So if you’re looking for something like that, I recommend it! Of all the books I’m reading at the moment, it’s the lightest and easiest to read, and a variety of pleasures as I turn the pages.

Happy Saturday — I hope there is a corner of peace for you somewhere. xoxo

two things: 1/12/17

1) The Wake Up Project is an Australian-centered mission to promote kindness and mindfulness. Five years ago I followed them but somehow I lost track — maybe in one of my occasional email subscription purges, which I regret. Click the link above for more information; I’ve signed up again. One of my dear, dear friends shared the most recent email from the founder, and I thought it was so great I wanted to share it here, and say why/more . . . but first, the email:

With all that’s happening in the world, I see 2017 as a profound call to personal leadership. More accurately, I’d call it an invitation to spiritual warriorship – to train and nourish our heart’s tremendous potential for kindness towards ourselves, each other and the earth.

To me, this means stepping up and honouring the ordinary magic of our daily lives. Learning how to protect our minds, listening for guidance and living from our hearts.

May I offer three areas to focus on this year:

Feed Your Mind Beautiful Things: Never has this been so important. Feed it truth. Feed it inspiration. AKA uplifting literature, wisdom, poetry, comedy, music, podcasts and good journalism. Surround yourself with people who nourish your mind and open you to new possibilities.

Adopt a Practice of Intentional Stillness: Set aside 5-15 minutes a day to relax and rest in the unchangeable part of you. The method doesn’t matter – sit, journal, pray, swim, stretch. It’s all about calming your mind, befriending yourself and listening to what life wants from you.

Once a Week, Pause and Ask Yourself “Who Can I Be Kind To Right Now?”: Really listen. It could be a friend, lover, family member, stranger – or it could be the same person each time. It doesn’t need to be big – e.g. send a text, make a phone call, leave a note. Or it could be big and risky. Step by step, kindness becomes your #1 spiritual practice. Set a weekly alert in your calendar to keep this practice alive.

Always remember….

“There is a LIGHT in this world. A healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, and too much pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.” ~ Sir David Attenborough

So there it is. This is your year to Wake Up the best in you. To befriend yourself through unapologetic gentleness. To discover a profound rest in your human imperfections. To awaken the revolutionary (and essential) qualities of kindness, courage and creativity. This is spiritual warriorship.

OK! The reason this struck me the way it did is that like most of us, I’ve been just so scared of the incoming government, and a big part of that fear is that we’d all just get worn down and quit fighting. That the media will cave (as they have already done to a large extent), that the fighters will be loud at first but gradually they’ll (we’ll) subside because of exhaustion or because they’re systematically shut down, and that those of us with truly little power will find our powerlessness too hard to accept so we’ll start saying things like, “well, I’m just going to be kind/ paint/ write/ knit” and without diminishing those things AT ALL, they are too easily, I fear, a transition to acceptance of the situation. I’ve been scared of that, and I’ll just claim it for myself: I’ve been scared that will do that.

Te-Ata, Chickasaw

But this letter orients that effort in such a powerful way: spiritual WARRIORSHIP. My mother is descended from a Chickasaw woman named Ela-Teecha, so I am going to imagine myself a spiritual Chickasaw warrior. I found this beautiful photo of a Chickasaw woman named Te-Ata (Bearer of the Morning) and since I don’t have a photo of Ela-Teecha, I will instead hold her in my mind as my spiritual warrior image. (Wasn’t she so beautiful?) The Chickasaw belong to the Five Civilized Tribes, and were relocated, along with the Cherokee, on the Trail of Tears.

And so I will follow the guidance of the Wake Up Project and do the things I’d planned to do, but as spiritual warriorship. Somehow that feels different to me — and I will march and protest and write emails and make calls, too. And that is enough for one powerless person.

2) Speaking of Ela-Teecha, here’s what I know about her:

A friend did a quick exploration for me through Ancestry.com and uncovered so much information — often thrilling, sometimes painful (slave owners in Georgia) — and in the documents, she found this. I read it again and again, and adore “married into the great Choctaw family of Leflores.” The description of Ela-Teecha sounds exactly like my mother, exactly: straight black hair, very high cheek bones, and small black eyes … — medium size and slender build. That description can of course look a lot of different ways, and she undoubtedly looked nothing like my mother, but my mother fit the description too and that’s a bit eerie.

Ela-Teecha, my ancestorOH!! I found her! After she married Smith Paul she went by the Anglicized name Ellen. She lived from 1797 to 1871, and if I joined Ancestry, I could also see her grave, and probably find out exactly where she is buried. Wow. For a rootless person like me, that feels utterly amazing. I was able to snag her tree without joining:

I love that one of her sons was named Tecumseh, and another Mississippi. I’m unsure which of her children led to me, but I think that must be knowable. My father’s paternal line is a series of abrupt, violent stops, but that’s not my whole story. I know my father’s mother descended from a line of Alabama Coushatta, so on both sides I am descended from native people and their toughness and resilience live through me.

This is not really of interest to anyone but me, but I’m glad to stash this here for later finding.

Find your own model, if that will help, or maybe you don’t need one, maybe you are ready and able to fight your own way, just out of your own core. #resistance

three things: 1/3/17

1)  I started reading Underground Airlines by Ben Winters, following on the heels of The Underground Railroad, and so far it’s spectacular. Honestly, I don’t know why the black people in the United States aren’t raging and fighting white America all the time. (And we women, too.) They (we) have every right to be doing that, and every single time some white American says something about slavery being a long time ago just get over it . . . well hell, even want to punch those people in the throat. This country. We arrived and right off the bat started killing people and stealing their land, and just kept doing that (through to today). And then we stole people from another continent and brutalized them in unimaginable ways to enrich ourselves, and then enacted laws to keep them from getting anywhere (through to today). One horrible thing I learned when a friend did my ancestry is that someone in my history owned slaves in Georgia. She shrugged a little, it’s the thing you learn, and yet it’s horrifying to imagine. And so I too deserve the rage. In the second episode of The OA, a new series on Netflix, a voice-over read the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty (“The New Colossus”) and vomit came up in my throat, it’s such a lie.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The world is going mad and it’s so scary. And the United States is the engine of so much of it. How does a person work with that? (I’ll say more about Underground Airlines after I finish it….)

2) Depression status stable. Not feeling better but not feeling worse, and when you deal with depression you know that’s a good enough report. One thing I’m trying (among many things) is a daily inoculation of art, and today I’m rolling my eyeballs around in this glorious color — great thanks to my beautiful friend Anne for posting the painting on FB a couple of days ago:

Max Kurzweil (Austrian; Art Nouveau, Vienna Secession; 1867-1916): Lady in Yellow, 1899. Oil on canvas. Vienna Museum at Karlsplatz, Vienna, Austria.

That color! I would really like to take my eyeballs out of my head and just roll them around in it, coat them like you do a sugar cookie, and then pop them back so that color can seep into me. It’s so glorious, especially in these very gray NYC days. Tomorrow I’m going to a special event at MoMA, 1.5 hours of silence on the 4th and 5th floor galleries, ending in a guided meditation (in front of Monet’s “Water Lilies,” I think). That ought to help too.

My dear sister-friend Peggy gave me the suggestion to make a long list (25 items on mine) of small things I could do, simple things, nourishing things, and you know, when you’re mentally flat and blank the problem is that nothing feels do-able anyway, much less thinking up a list of things. But with her help I did, and daily art is doable. If you are prone to depression, make your list when you’re not depressed, it’s much easier.

3)  Another bit of art stolen from a friend’s FB (this time from beautiful Kathy, who understands so much):

This is not an age of beauty,
I say to the Rite-Aid as I pass a knee-high plastic witch
whose speaker-box laugh is tripped by my calf
breaking the invisible line cast by her motion
sensor. My heart believes it is a muscle

of love, so how do I tell it it is a muscle of blood?

This morning, I found myself
awake before my alarm & felt I’d been betrayed

by someone. My sleep is as thin as a paper bill
backed by black bars of coal that iridesce
indigo in the federal reserve of

dreams. Look, I said to the horse’s
head I saw severed & then set on the ground, the soft
tissue of the cheek & crown cleaved with a necropsy
knife until the skull was visible. You look more
horse than the horses

with names & quilted coats in the pasture, grazing unbothered

by your body in pieces, steaming

against the drizzle. You once had a name
that filled your ears like amphitheaters,
that caused an electrical

spark to bead to your brain. My grief was born
in the wrong time, my grief an old soul, grief re-
incarnate. My grief, once a black-winged

beetle. How I find every excuse to indulge it, like a child
given quarters. In the restaurant, eating alone,

instead of interrogating my own
solitude, I’m nearly undone by the old
woman on her own. The window so filthy,

it won’t even reflect her face, which must not be the same
face she sees when she dreams

of herself in the third person.

– “Age of Beauty” by Emilia Phillips

What a wonder art is. Thank you to everyone who puts it into the world.

here we go.

And so it begins. I have not been able to say the three words one says on the first day of the year—the ones that begin with ‘happy.’ I do not see the possibility this year, even though of course I know I will have my own personal, private moments. Inevitably, they will involve my family, my friends, my pleasures in books and movies, good food, poetry, and travel. And they will exist in the context of our horrorshow government which, well, I can’t even find words. All the ones I can think of are too ordinary.

I ended 2016 with this poem, which I think also gives me a way into 2017:

In a dark place
in a dark time

start with black.
Stop. Soak up its energy.

Remember the circle
however bent and broken.

Prize balance. Seek Pleasure.
Allow surprise. Let music

guide your every impulse.
Support those who falter.

Steer by our fixed star:
No Justice, No Peace.

Jim Haba, 2016

Excerpt from “French Window at Collioure,” 1914, by Henri Matisse. Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris. (Image: Wikipedia)

I am certainly in a dark place, my own deep depression and my bone-clenching fear about the incoming government, and as my dear sister Peggy suggested in a long conversation about depression, one step is “Be OK with it.” As Haba echoed, “Start with black. Stop. Soak up its energy.” Only when we stop and give ourselves over to fully taking in this darkness can we begin to gauge its scope and scale, he said.

But then unfolds the rest, right? Prize balance — and so I need to find that, and I’ll find it on my yoga mat to start, and I’ll figure out how to balance activism and life. I’ll need to seek pleasure, which means allowing the cracks to let some light in, because right now I’m too flat to feel any of it. Anhedonia, donchaknow. That poem is a flashlight in the dark, the guiding star I needed (among the rest, including friends who reach out in all the ways thankyousomuch), and perhaps, if I’m lucky enough, it will deliver me to this beautiful place shared by my friend Jacqueline:

To dance so hard my heart will learn to float above water again. It doesn’t feel possible right now, but it’s a goal. I have a feeling this year is going to be characterized by all the extremes. I will be marching, and shouting, and protesting. I will be crying, and raging. I will not be nice. (That one will be good for me.) I will be angry. I am angry.

This year I don’t have a ‘word’ for the year. I don’t have resolutions (except one: RESIST). I don’t even really have goals beyond surviving it and fighting back. In January I’ll protest on inauguration day, and I will march next to my friends Cindy and Don Ray in the Women’s March the day after, wearing our pink hats. I’ll attend rallies and organizing meetings. And to help myself survive, I’ll see Katie and her kids, and (we hope) Marnie and Ilan, and I’ll spend time with friends. I’ll make myself good food, and listen to music and try to make my feet dance — and as my beautiful friend Judi dreamed, I’ll hugdance whenever possible.

I just choke on the words, so I won’t wish a happy…but I will wish a powerful year, a productive year, a committed year, a meaningful year, and if you aren’t in this country and having to fight, as we are, those wishes apply to whatever you’re facing or embracing.

Let’s get going.

(p.s. I love you.)

 

three things: 12/30/16

1)  No talking around it, or talking in the general direction, it’s time to be blunt: I am very depressed. I know from depression, as people in the northeast would say — like my taxonomy of headaches, I have one for depression and it’s enlarged by generations behind me and now beyond me. My people are the kings of depression. I have so many versions, including one version that visits me every eight years like clockwork and ends in a suicide effort/attempt (I’ve had three of those, the last pinning the cycle in 8 years for me). I have another version that makes me sick and lays me so low I struggle to breathe. I have another version that makes me so enraged I hate the fucking sun for shining. I have a version that completely blanks out my mind, bleaches away the words and thoughts. I have the light ones, the little dips and low periods that descend and then lift, like everyone else. When I am very depressed, except for the blank version I always have an ‘explanation’ for it, my list of ‘reasons.’ They are always more or less true, more or less connected to the reality of things, even if they are slanted and deepened. Except for the dips, I have to take them seriously, for my history is as serious as death. The depression I feel now feels very true and connected perfectly to the reality of things, even as I can also see that it’s not the whole reality. The incoming president and his gang of thieves, along with my contempt for all those who voted for him, have nearly paralyzed me with fear and dread. The world I want — one where we respect each other, one where we are thoughtful and value intelligence, one where we lift an umbrella over those in need, one where we engage thoughtfully with the world — has been kicked to the curb with jackboots. That’s not hyperbole, it’s not a simple “nyah nyah I wanted my girl to win,” it’s the truth of this change that’s coming and it terrifies me. All the things I value, my values, are being shit on. They’re not just being erased, or set to the side . . . they are being shit on. And I am depressed. I really am. So many of us are. Had the Republican voters elected Jeb Bush or any other “normal” Republican, I’d have dreaded the policies of hate and cronyism, the pulling-away of concern for any but the super-rich, but it wouldn’t be the same. It’s absolute dread I feel, and I am so depressed. Color seems faded. Hope seems too quiet and tiny, a mustard seed hidden in a dusty corner behind the drapes.

I see my grandchildren there. (And then I fear the world they’re getting.) I my see my beloved children (and ditto, plus my dread for them as parents). I see my friends, the overwhelming majority of whom are with me, fighting with me, we’re helping each other (and thank God for all of you, all of you). I see travel in my future, I see happy time with friends, I see babysitting of Oliver and Lucy, I see celebrating birthdays together, I see all that. And all that matters, it does. It’s not disappeared by the depression, it’s there, it just feels muted by the heaviness of the world that’s coming. And so this is another kind of depression to add to my taxonomy: the extremely realistic kind that’s due entirely to the world. I do not feel suicidal or in any kind of danger beyond the kind my government is about to cause, it’s not that kind of depression. Goddamn. Help me Jesus. Help us all.

“Gooseneck barnacles,” photograph by @fifi_dob

2) It is such a weird, weird world. You know how much I depend on every single person I know? Instagram keeps me going: I depend on seeing Fiona’s underwater photography every single day, depend on it. Mary’s shots of the beaches around Sydney. Judi’s gorgeous sunrises and sunsets when she is in Lorne, and the various amazing birds she sees. Friends who travel? I live for your pictures — Mary’s in South Africa right now, Leanne is showing her sons a glorious white Christmas in Europe, Alison is usually off to somewhere I want to see. Megan always has some kind of lush delight for the eye and spirit, whether it’s her extraordinary shots of flowers or the art she makes. Who knew how important an app could be, how invaluable to my daily life could be people I have not yet met. I depend on you, every day. You have a very real spot in the hours of my day, in my anticipation, in my making-it-through. (And it must be said that it’s not just your photos, it’s the real, and very personal kindnesses you show me regularly, the way you are so open with me, the way you share in my life, too.)

I depend on a close watch on politics by my friends Cindy, and Don Ray, and Tina, and Matt, and Margie, and Debra, and Anne, and all of you who are new militants like me. And of course I depend on your communications with me, as we share and worry over the onslaught we’re facing. You help me feel less alone, you help me remember that there are millions of us in this battle.

I depend on people in my real life that I can see in person, regularly (even if not regularly enough), I can’t even name you all because I’m afraid I’ll leave one of you off. I depend on those coffee breaks, those glasses of wine or beer, those dinners or breakfasts, those walks, those hand-clutching conversations. And I depend on the online private communications just as much, whether you are a friend I can see in person, or a friend in another country — the emails, the FB PMs, the texts, the way I can be feeling low and hear a ping and a friend’s note reminds me that I am not sitting alone in the dark. I depend on you more than you could ever imagine. Ever. You give me so much more than I ever give you. (And while I was writing this, *ping* came a note of big love from Dixie, while I was writing a response to one from Alethea. See?)

I depend on my oldest friends, my years-long friends, and friends I’ve just made (a wonder, that, making new friends at 58, especially when they are like long-lost sisters) whether I see you regularly, or not. I really depend on you, and I mean that in a blood-and-bones-and-breath way. I depend on you, I depend on knowing you’re there.

It’s too easy, I think, for us to feel some degree of isolation, and surely we all have those moments—even if they’re brief—of feeling unimportant, or unseen. Unappreciated. Undervalued. So let me tell you: if you were gone, a hole would be blown in my world. You probably wouldn’t think that, but you’d be wrong. My beautiful, beautiful friend Laura in Perth shared this image of a net with me, and let me remind us all that we are connected like a net, we’re each a knot, a nodule, a small thing with arms out to others nearby, and together we are mighty.

3) Even if it’s not your easy style, call a friend sweetheart, or darling. Anne does this and I literally explode in delight, a small fireworks of feeling loved, of feeling special every single time she says it. Give that to someone today.

three things, 12/29/16

today’s Riffle deals

1)  One more book thing before I move on from books (for the moment). Do you get daily emails from Riffle and BookBub, notifying you of very good (i.e., super cheap) daily deals on e-books? That’s really all I’m interested in because I only get to read for fun in the middle of the night, and don’t want to turn on the light and wake myself up more than I have to. The light from my Kindle Paperwhite doesn’t wake me up so it’s my favorite middle-of-the-night thing in the world. There are also book giveaways on GoodReads, based on books you’ve tagged as “want to read,” and while I haven’t yet won one, it’s nothing to enter so I continue to do that. Do you have another source? I get the Kindle Deal of the Day email from Amazon, but can’t tailor it as precisely as I can the Riffle and BookBub subscriptions, so it’s a little less useful. There are really just a few categories of books I want to read for fun: literary fiction, translation/world literature, and memoir. Occasionally non-fiction. Always good poetry, but I have to read poetry in real books, and very rarely in the middle of the night so I don’t get notifications on that genre. Let me know if you have another source for deals on e-books!

2)  It’s not quite the last day of the year yet, but I love this poem so I’ll share it today. It’s a cold, rainy, dreary winter day here in New York, and I was to meet Jim to retrieve my son’s belongings — but he has a terrible cold and is coming a long way, and the rainy dreariness was breaking my heart harder, so he and I will see each other another time, and I will pay attention to my real gratitude to him for the gift he’s giving me.

Year’s End, by Richard Wilbur

Now winter downs the dying of the year,
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin
And still allows some stirring down within.

I’ve known the wind by water banks to shake
The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell
And held in ice as dancers in a spell
Fluttered all winter long into a lake;
Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,
They seemed their own most perfect monument.

There was perfection in the death of ferns
Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone
A million years. Great mammoths overthrown
Composedly have made their long sojourns,
Like palaces of patience, in the gray
And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii

The little dog lay curled and did not rise
But slept the deeper as the ashes rose
And found the people incomplete, and froze
The random hands, the loose unready eyes
Of men expecting yet another sun
To do the shapely thing they had not done.

These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.

3)  Hasn’t this been a hard year? It has held its wonders in my personal life — Ilan and Lucy born, travel to southern China and the UP and Laos and Thailand and Taiwan, hours of poetry group meetings, meals and drinks with beloved friends, weeks spent with Marnie and so many days spent with Katie, the opportunity to help my daughters and their families even though I have less than no money, time spent laughing and walking with my sweet little Oliver, good movies, gorgeous food made and shared. Those are great things. And it seems like the world is about to end, too, with the horrors of Syria and South Sudan and Palestine and the true hideousness of the American election and the death and destruction that are about to follow from that. And so many people dying, largely just a generational thing that will be increasingly notable to me as my generation (and older) are nearing that point on the wheel. It’s easy to tap into this feeling of gloom since I am depressed, but that doesn’t mean the horrors in the world aren’t also true. I’d like to say something lovely like ‘It can only get better’ or ‘Maybe things won’t be as bad in the coming year’ but one word answers those thoughts with a big loud no: trump. I’m trying to find purpose in the way most of my friends and I will fight so hard, we will protest and boycott and make calls and march and show up and call out lies and gaslighting and it’s hard to feel the energy I will need for all that.

Plus my lost son.

How are you managing all this? Are you picking one hill to defend? Are you simply doing everything you possibly can, in a scattershot way? Are you pulling back and focusing on more immediate things, your own life and its joys and needs? Are you looking harder for the good? Maybe you’re doing all of these, either purposely or in a swinging back and forth way? I have no judgement on any of them; we’re all going to have to find our way to keep going, and the world needs everything — and especially everything good we can pour into it as this horror and destruction is about to come raining down. If you have any wisdom, or if you have arrived at a path or plan that makes sense for you, please share. I’m looking for help.

three things: 12/27/16

1) Headaches, of which I am the chief taxonomist, the God of Knowing, the Linneaus, the Webster. My dad was a headache-haver, I am the inheritor of that misery, and my daughter Katie carries it on another generation. I have a headache nearly every single day, and know the specifics and instigator of so many. There’s the one that exists in the top of my left eyeball (and the very different one that dominates my right eyeball). The one that sits on the top center of my head. The one that presses on my right temple. The one that wraps like a belt. The one that comes from a low pressure system. The one that arises from smells in the environment. The one that comes from specific bad sleep. The different one that comes from insufficient sleep. The one that comes from perfume or cologne worn by others. The one that I get when it’s too cold. Etc. Etc. Etc. The one that’s treated with hot, wet cloths. The one that’s treated with Sumatriptan. The one that’s helped by beer and a Sudafed (only if both at once). The one that’s helped by massage. The one that’s helped by sleep. The one that is helped by nothing. And all combinations of all.

People want to help, and I inevitably hear that I should go to a doctor. But the issue is that I am a headache-haver, and that isn’t treatable. I know how to identify and treat the different ones, so what would a doctor say? You have sinus headaches, tension headaches, sleep-related headaches, you’re sensitive to volatile organic compounds, all of which I already know. It’s a terrible thing, being a headache-haver, because my day can be derailed so easily and often there is nothing to do but wait for the next day in the hope that it’ll be better. This part of the post brought to you by today’s low-heavy-shaggy-gray-sky-headache. I was in my mid-20s when I learned that not everyone has a headache every single day, and it blew me away. Lucky you, if you don’t!

I have 953 pictures of just him, and only 6 of those are from the past 13 years. I always loved this one, he is so beautiful.

2) My son is breaking my heart anew. I got a message from his ex-boyfriend about a box of Will’s stuff — did I want it, or should he throw it away? It’s filled with pictures from Will’s childhood, mementos, gifts I gave him, an album his sister assembled with pictures and letters from us all when she was trying to lead him back to our family, all just abandoned by him. I’m honestly not sure I can bear to collect them, but I know I can’t bear for them just to be tossed in the dump on Staten Island and so I will collect them. They will smell like Will. He told me that Will lost his job in the spring and he doesn’t know if/where he’s working, and that he doesn’t have the same phone number. He knows he is (at the moment) staying with a friend in Sunnyside, Queens, but nothing more specific than that. The thread is getting so weak that allows me to tug him, frayed down to a single twist. Will knows he is hurting me, and that doesn’t make my pain any less, it doesn’t allow me to just reside in anger at him. I still fill the weight of him in my arms, smell the smell of his baby head, smell the smell of his teenage years, hear the sound of his boy voice and his deep man voice. I still remember his humor, his pleasure in beating me at Scrabble, the way he called me Ma just to crack me up. The way he said I’d be Granma Pete instead of just Pete, to make me laugh. It’s holding the full complexity of it all that breaks my heart. If I could simply be furious with him, or let him go, or just feel all the love, it would be so much easier.

3) I’ve been trying to sit very still and quiet with this terrible feeling in order to understand it. I set aside the headache as its own thing, and focus instead on the heartache. Why is it so painful? What, exactly, is the feeling of it? I realized that I feel chaotic and not whole, that this feeling is one of fragmentation, and an inability to cohere. It might cohere if I had a simple story I could tell, if I had more answers (whatever they might be) than questions, if I had a simple set of feelings. Just grief, for example. My mind feels like threads exploded outwards, my body doesn’t feel whole and comfortable, and my feelings are all over the place, changing with my breath. I’m doing my best just to let this all be, to be present with it and not try to force it into one category, one thing, and to notice that I can do that. Super hard, y’all. Super, super, super hard. I keep suddenly standing up and preparing to walk somewhere, but I just take a few steps, turn around, hold my head, and sit down again. This is just part of life, it’s just part of my life, it just is, and it will not always be like this.

aftershocks

I can’t speak for everyone who did not want the orange monster to win our presidential election, but I can report about thousands of people. There are a number of huge groups that organized during the campaign, to provide a safe place for us to talk about our support for Hillary (or simply our fears about the orange monster) without fear of being attacked by the trolls. In honor of Hillary’s clothing choices on the campaign trail, the groups are called Pantsuit Nation. There is a national group, and state groups, and city groups. I belong to them all, and for both states and cities I live in. It’s a LOT. During the campaign, it was a haven, a wonderful place to share and support each other so we could get back out there and have the tougher skin to endure the nastiness and vicious threats.

But then. Then last Tuesday happened, and the groups became places to share our horror, our very real pain, the trauma that many of us are feeling. Those of us who have experienced sexual assaults, those of us who are women, those of us who are black or brown, or gay or trans, or who are (or even just “look”) Muslim, we’re all shaking. It’s not really getting better. We cycle through waves of numbness; days we can’t get out of bed; days we are afraid to leave the house because while we are white, our children are brown and we are scared for them; days of rage; days of feeling like we have to start fighting…but it’s everything, where do we start; days of feeling so hurt by the ‘winners’ who gloat and tell us to stop our whining; moments of real fear when the orange monster threatens people who protest. It’s really horrible. I personally know two people who have been attacked since the election — one very specifically in the name of the orange monster, but the other was clearly within the context.

Yesterday I attended a meeting of people from the Austin Pantsuit Nation, a huge crowd of people who are mobilizing to fight back, and to fight hard. We are mounting an opposition candidate to Ted Cruz in the next election. We are working on redistricting, and education (which is particularly terrible in Texas; as the biggest state in terms of textbook purchases, Texas has the most influence over what goes in our country’s textbooks and it’s creationism that goes in and evolution that goes out; it’s a rewriting of history to favor white people and denigrate black people and Mexicans); we are working on the various social justice concerns. We are organizing and it feels a little bit better than crying in my bed. And last night I marched in a protest through downtown Austin, thrilling to be in a crowd of people shouting and welcoming others to walk with us. It definitely feels better to act, but then I come home and wonder if the act was just a moment’s balm and nothing more.

But there have been some remarkable moments, too. Lots of friends on Facebook did not feel comfortable expressing their politics, for many reasons. But in this group, they can come out — the groups are secret, so whatever we share there does not show up anywhere else. I’ve learned that so many people I wondered about are actually as opposed to the orange monster as I am, so the circles around me are growing and I feel less alone. I’ve met so many people in those groups who really help me feel like no matter what the outcome, we are definitely going to be fighting loud and hard, and if we fail it won’t be because we didn’t try.

Mrs Worley
Mrs Worley

And then I was contacted by a woman with the last name of my third grade teacher, who I especially loved. In 1966, Mrs. Worley made me feel OK, and even special. Some of the kids were bullying me one day, and she put her arms around me and made the class apologize to me, one at a time, because those who weren’t bullying me had witnessed it and not stood up for me. She talked to the class a long time about it and I felt cared for, seen, and supported — and I’ve remembered her all these years. I also loved her classroom; she let me read whatever I wanted, and since I was so ahead of the class, she arranged for me to go to the principal’s office after school every day and read with him and talk about the things I was interested in. We didn’t have gifted programs back then, but she did what she could for me. I still remember talking to him about salamanders, for some reason. My life was pretty hellish, but going to school, seeing Mrs. Worley (who I thought was beautiful; I’ve since learned that she was a very well-regarded art teacher, winning art education awards again and again), and just getting to learn things from her was my beautiful escape. I asked the woman who contacted me if she had a relative who taught elementary school at Lucy B Read, and she said it was her mother, who died this past April. When I moved back to Austin in 2012, I actually looked for Mrs. Worley, but I didn’t remember her first name, so while I was sorry to hear that she’d died, it was so wonderful getting to tell her daughter what I would’ve told her — that a 58-year-old woman remembers her still, and has been grateful for her for 50 years.

And so things move the way they move. The world falls apart, we cling to each other, we find strength in each other, and in some ways that’s a lot and in others we don’t win despite all this. My own mood swings from despair and fear into quick glances of strength and action and then back again. I can’t turn the television on except to watch Netflix, for fear of having to see the monster’s face or hear his voice, but that’s OK.

Tomorrow I leave for NY, and a couple of days after that we’re off to Southeast Asia again. I hope I am able to relax, there, and enjoy being in the places I love so much. I hope I am able to recover my creative mind a bit. I hope we all survive.