Not the Big Pile

I’m sure your To Be Read pile (TBR) is tall/long/extensive, like mine. There are 387 books on my kindle, stacks of books by my bed and various chairs and tables, collections of lists in every possible place, and a separate to-read list on GoodReads. I need to get better about taking care of myself if I’m going to live long enough to make any headway. In my various book clubs, I’ve always been surprised when someone had no idea what book to suggest when it was their month…..for me, the question is which one of all the ones I’m waiting to read. Assuming our so-called president doesn’t get us nuclearly annihilated, of course.

But in addition to the full TBR pile, there’s also the Currently Reading list, which is far shorter. One good thing about GoodReads is that it keeps the list for you, if you log a book when you start reading it. Right now that list shows seven books I’m currently reading, even though a good five of those are kind of in a permanent suspension (Nox, Jitterbug Perfume, U and I, The Art of Memoir, and Glass, Irony and God. Oh, also Minds of WinterI want to finish all those, I mean to, they’re just kind of….on pause). It’s funny how that happens — I really DO want to finish all those books! For each one, something happened to pause the book and then I just never got back to it.

But there’s a hot short list bubbling around at any given moment, the “which one, which one, which one to dive into right now” list. Mine includes:

  • The Idiot, by Elif Batuman. This one’s getting so much attention, and it’s supposed to be so funny and wonderful and beautiful. She’s a staff writer for The New Yorker, and I think I’d like to read something light and funny. And beautiful.
  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost, by Rebecca Solnit. For personal reasons having to do with my upcoming life change, this was recommended to me. And to be honest, while I really love Solnit’s activism and scholarship, I find her writing hard-going. Not clenched, exactly, but certainly not light and dive-in-able.
  • The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt. I started reading this one and it’s fascinating, and on the edge of catching fire. It’s about the rediscovery of a nearly lost manuscript 600 years ago (On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius) and the way that manuscript sparked the Enlightenment, and changed the whole world. It’s well written, and interesting, and maybe it’s time for a bit of non-fiction?
  • Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders. Saunders is, of course, one of our great humans. His compassion shines through everything he does, and heaven knows the world (and I) need him desperately. I started trying to read it and this one’s kind of hard to get into; but I know and trust him as a writer, so I want to push through the resistance.

All four of those are pushing on me real hard in their own ways. Have you read any of them? Any words, if you have?

It’s Tuesday, so poetry group meets in my house tonight, looking forward to that so much. I’m going to bring a couple of poems by Sharon Olds — not this one, but this is a gorgeous Sharon Olds poem:

Rite of Passage 

As the guests arrive at our son’s party
they gather in the living room—
short men, men in first grade
with smooth jaws and chins.
Hands in pockets, they stand around
jostling, jockeying for place, small fights
breaking out and calming. One says to another
How old are you? —Six. —I’m seven. —So?
They eye each other, seeing themselves
tiny in the other’s pupils. They clear their
throats a lot, a room of small bankers,
they fold their arms and frown. I could beat you
up, a seven says to a six,
the midnight cake, round and heavy as a
turret behind them on the table. My son,
freckles like specks of nutmeg on his cheeks,
chest narrow as the balsa keel of a
model boat, long hands
cool and thin as the day they guided him
out of me, speaks up as a host
for the sake of the group.
We could easily kill a two-year-old,
he says in his clear voice. The other
men agree, they clear their throats
like Generals, they relax and get down to
playing war, celebrating my son’s life.

Olds has long been a favorite poet of mine, and she was recently included on a list of five female poets who are doing good work in the resistance.

The world feels extremely scary right now. Every day, scarier than the day before. I gaze at this beautiful child and hold my breath.

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.

two things: daffies and a poem and gotta dash….

FEED: I have a specific thing for daffodils, and especially here in the late-mid-early-mid-winter. I usually think of them hard at the very beginning of March, but at the moment I am needing them desperately so I feed myself on this photograph.

Daffodils so reliably make me happy, with their wholly improbable shape. It’s silly, maybe, but every single time I see one I just feel such wonder that they make that wonderful shape. That trumpet, with the frills. I like the full-on yellow ones more than I like the yellow and white ones, but daffies do it for me no matter what.

SEED: It’s a long day for me, up and out early for a flight back to Austin, connecting through Houston so the flight will take me longer than it ordinarily would. And then a dash home to get ready for poetry group in my house, a (mostly) monthly event that I dearly love. Every month we each bring copies of two poems (whether you write them or just select them) and this is one I’m bringing tonight. I shared it on facebook several days ago and it has stuck with me:

If You Could (Danny Bryck)

I know, I know
If you could go back you
would walk with Jesus
You would march with King
Maybe assassinate Hitler
At least hide Jews in your basement
It would all be clear to you
But people then, just like you
were baffled, had bills
to pay and children they didn’t
understand and they too
were so desperate for normalcy
they made anything normal
Even turning everything inside out
Even killing, and killing, and it’s easy
for turning the other cheek
to be looking the other way, for walking
to be talking, and they hid
in their houses
and watched it on television, when they had television,
and wrung their hands
or didn’t, and your hands
are just like theirs. Lined, permeable,
small, and you
would follow Caesar, and quote McCarthy, and Hoover, and you would want
to make Germany great again
Because you are afraid, and your
parents are sick, and your
job pays shit and where’s your
dignity? Just a little dignity and those kids sitting down in the highway,
and chaining themselves to
buildings, what’s their fucking problem? And that kid
That’s King. And this is Selma. And Berlin. And Jerusalem. And now
is when they need you to be brave.
Now
is when we need you to go back
and forget everything you know
and give up the things you’re chained to
and make it look so easy in your
grandkids’ history books (they should still have them, kinehora)
Now
is when it will all be clear to them.

READ: Nothing to note here — mainly because I’m out of time on this dashing day. I’d love to hear what you’re reading, though!

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: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: 1/15/17

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: 1/11/17

1)  I think a lot about the truthiness of things, and of course I have my historical, personal reasons for it. I read this passage in Fall on Your Knees, a powerful book by Anne-Marie MacDonald, and it has stayed with me:

“It’s a sin for Lily to let Mercedes think it was Daddy who beat up Frances. But he has done it in the past. Surely truth can be borrowed across time without perishing. Shelf life, so to speak.”

“Surely truth can be borrowed across time….” That. And the shelf life of truth, that too. Freud talked about ‘screen memories,’ one that may in itself be false but that masks a deeper, true memory of great emotional significance. And in Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch said,

“The more a person recalls a memory, the more they change it. Each time they put it into language, it shifts. The more you describe a memory, the more likely it is that you are making a story that fits your life, resolves the past, creates a fiction you can live with. It’s what writers do. Once you open your mouth, you are moving away from the truth of things. According to neuroscience, the safest memories are locked in the brains of people who can’t remember. Their memories remain the closest replica of actual events. Underwater. Forever.”

And so, as I continue this extremely difficult process of writing my two memoirs, and as I myself am not always absolutely certain about the truth of my memories in certain aspects, the truth of my own experiences even when my body knows the fact of them, the question of the unreliable narrator haunts me. I’m unreliable in so very many ways — including the mere fact of having told my stories a number of times — and yet I insist on the deep truth of all my memories, of all my experiences. Did this experience happen like this in the moment I am writing about, in this specific scene? Can I borrow truth across time without losing its truth? I insist that I can. Owning, telling, remembering, writing the truth of your life is not the same as being on a witness stand accusing another person of a specific crime, for which they can be judged and punished.

Right? I think so. (And if you are strong, read Chronology of Waterhere’s my GoodReads review, it was such a powerful story. The link also includes the material I highlighted, passages I loved for one reason or another.)

And in a funny twist, this quote was in my quote widget (in the right sidebar) when I was writing:

“A common feature of many theories of trauma is the idea that the causative—the wounding—event is not remembered but relived, as it is in the flashbacks of combat veterans, experienced anew with a visceral immediacy that affords no critical distance. To remember something, you have to consign it to the past—put it behind you—but trauma remains in the present; it fills that present entirely. You are inside it. Your mouth is always filled with the taste of blood. The killers are always crashing through the brush behind you. Some researchers believe that trauma bypasses the normal mechanisms of memory and engraves itself directly on some portion of the brain, like a brand. Cattle are branded to signify that they are someone’s property, and so, too, were slaves. The brand of trauma signifies that henceforth you yourself are property, the property of that which has injured you. The psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi believed that trauma is characterized by the victim’s helpless identification with the perpetrator, and elsewhere in the literature one often comes across the word “possession.” The moment of trauma marks an event horizon after which memory ceases. Or else memory breaks down, so that the victim can reconstruct the event but not the feeling that accompanied it, or alternatively only the feeling.” —Peter Trachtenberg

2)  Here’s a poem I really love, and hope you like it, too:

REALISM (Beth Bachmann)

God said, your name is mud
and the thing about mud is you
got to throw it down
repeatedly
to remove the air
and sometimes cut it
and rejoin it with another part.
If stars are made of dust,
it’s not the same stuff,
God said;
you can’t make a hut out of it,
only heaven,
and when I said dust to dust,
that’s not what I meant.

3) I read a collection of short stories by a new (to me!) writer named Carl MacDougall — Someone Always Robs the Poor. He’s a very well-established Scottish writer, and the stories are set almost entirely in Scotland and most are about alcohol in some way, and frequently violence.

The stories often left me stunned, like the powerful story “Korsakoff’s Psychosis” that took me right into the experience of a late-stage alcoholic, with all the horrors of that life. It was hard to read that story, and hard to look away even though I wanted to, because the prose slipped me right into the terrible, tragic remnants of mind. The story “William John MacDonald” broke the narrative form to tell a terrible sad story (one of many stories related to drunk men) of a young man’s tragic encounter with violence and drinking. On occasion I had to read a page a few times — in part because of cultural references that weren’t familiar to me, and in part because of the style of storytelling. I was always glad to read and re-read.

On the whole, the stories were sad and tragic, although they were never told with melodrama. Instead, they were quiet and deeply emotional, and I sometimes paused when one ended, and held it for a long while before I slipped into the next. What a powerful collection of stories that will haunt me. I read and ARC, and the book won’t be published until February 23, but I heartily recommend it. It’s a quick read; I read the bulk of it on the flight from New York to Austin, about 3.5 hours.