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?

three things: the American West, dancing in the living room, and Mexican literature

FEED: Since the new government seems intent on destroying the physical world, I need to remember this:

View of Valley from Mountain, “Canyon de Chelly” National Monument, Arizona (Ansel Adams)

I have camped in that canyon and gotten horribly, blistery sunburned riding mountain bikes over a Fourth of July holiday weekend, but the place was gorgeous. There was a new moon, so the vast, black night skies were filled with the Milky Way and I will never forget lying there watching it wheel through the enormous sky. The world can be so so beautiful, and it’s definitely worth fighting for.

SEED: Yesterday was a cold, brilliant day. Even though he has a terrible cold, Marc thought it was important enough to add another body to the crowd that he joined me at the LGBT Rally at the Stonewall Monument in the West Village. After the rally, I made a big pot of Moroccan chickpea soup, and while I was tending to it, this song came up on my playlist (“Only Love,” by k.d. lang — give it a play while you’re here, it’s such a beautiful song):

Although I’m not a very good dancer at all, I love to dance and do it at home when I’m alone. My first husband used to dance with me in the living room and I’ve missed that because Marc will not dance. Not ever, not anywhere. But there’s something so sweet about just dancing with your husband in the midst of your home. I understand Marc; like me, he is a very socially anxious person and in fact he’s much more socially anxious than I am. This is a place we can connect with each other. But the day had been so lovely, and the soup smelled so good, and so I grabbed him and dragged him up, put one earbud in his ear and one in mine and put my arms around him and told him we were going to dance. “All you have to do is just hang on to me and sway to the music a little.” He felt anxious, I could feel it in him, but I closed my eyes and held on tight and felt the music and cried.

Maybe, slowly, with patience, I can help him grow a little. That’s what it’s really about, spending a life with someone.

READ: In this time of nationalism and closing of borders (and not just in this now-insane country, of course) it’s time to read translations. I love reading translations, and some of my favorite books are translated, but how is it that I’ve never read a Mexican writer? Lithub posted a list of 15 books by Mexican writers and nope, haven’t read a one. Have you read any of them? Or another one that’s not on the list? I’d love to get a recommendation if you have one.

Foreign films, watch those too. My friend Jeff is on a Pedro Almodovar spree (I need to get on that spree too and rewatch them all….). So, while we’re at it, do you have a favorite Mexican director? Actor?

I’ll say one thing about this time of fear and insanity. I feel very much alive. I feel very connected to other people. I hate the cause, but love this specific effect. Happy Sunday, y’all. <3

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.

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: 1/18/17

FEED: Long, long ago, my son introduced me to the eerily beautiful photography of Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison. All their work is fabulous, worth gazing at and letting it settle in you, but it’s the images my son loved that stay with me the most. Here’s one I always associate with him:

“Burn Season”

Check them out — not just in the link above, when I first mention them, but I also linked the image to the specific collection for this one, all of which make me think of Will. So for me, it’s a melancholy kind of soul-feeding, looking at these images, but there is also a resonance with the world right now, and resonance is also valuable. Looking at their larger body of work, though, is lifting in the way art lifts.

SEED: My New York therapist, Elizabeth, always told me that dreams are really just showing you how you are thinking about something, how you are processing it. Dreams use a range of personal imagery, maybe, relate to personal themes, other experiences, etc. Last night I had a nightmare that couldn’t be more obviously related to how I’m thinking about the forthcoming nightmare in our country. I was in our NYC apartment, and Marc and I were packing to flee — and it was urgent, we had to go immediately, something absolutely terrible was about to happen (not specified within the dream but I think I knew what it was). As he always does when we have suitcases, he was leaving to go get the car and pull it up to the curb, but he came back immediately and said, “There isn’t time, we have to run now!” And so we fled, in terror, with a sense that we couldn’t outrun what we were fleeing. If that isn’t the most obvious nightmare you’ve ever heard, I don’t know what would be.

I think constantly about why this feels as destructive and scary as it does, why it feels so all-encompassing. After all, I’m a straight, white, well-educated, middle-aged woman beyond reproducing years. All the hate that he spews, and that his administration is ready to enact into law, won’t affect me personally, at least not in the loudest, most hateful ways. Of course living in a society permeated with that kind of hate will affect me. Living in a country determined to build a wall, remove families, block immigrants, remove access to health care for all but the wealthy, with the greediest sharks directly from Wall Street in charge of Wall Street, and people who want to destroy schools in charge of education, and people who have no idea what they’re doing in charge of the rest will affect me, even if it’s largely indirectly. And a big part of the tremendous upset is that I live among millions of people who voted for him, who weren’t bothered by his mocking the disabled reporter, his gleeful boasting of assaulting women, his harassment of ordinary people, his egging-on violence, etc etc etc. Not bothered by voting for the candidate endorsed by the KKK. Just not bothered by that. My fellow Americans.

The nightmare of his impact on global politics is likely to affect me, and I just hope we all survive. Except for our Civil War, we’ve never had war on the ground here, thanks in large part to the simple fact of geography. The terrifying thing is that with him, absolutely anything [bad] is possible, and the unimaginable — like him being elected in the first place — will be our actuality. Hence my dream, hence my constant despair which arises from the need to be ready for any nightmare.

Resist. We will resist. I will resist. We are stronger together, and as long as he doesn’t destroy the world (whether through war or his idiotic ignorance related to climate change) we can start over when he’s gone.

READ: One reason Obama always felt like my president — and this is a huge (yuge) distinction with the incoming not-my-president — is that his solace and ground is in books. He is a writer, and he has all the talents and skills of a novelist: a keen ear, an eye for the right details, an ability to observe, and an understanding that fiction has the capacity to tell the deep, sustained truths of human life. I can’t even process how deeply I’ll miss him, yet. My beautiful friend Deb directed me to this article in the NYTimes with/by Michiko Kakutani, their chief book reviewer, titled, “Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books.” I may have enjoyed the transcript of their conversation even more, because there is a lot more of his voice. If you like books and/or our beloved president, you’ll enjoy the articles too.

xoxoxo

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.

four things: 12/20/16

I look a lot like my dad. He was 16 in this picture, I think.

1)  Today is my dad’s birthday; he died March 5, 1982, when he was 43, and today he would’ve been 78. I can’t imagine him that age, but then I can no longer really imagine him. No one was ever glad he was born, and it’s kind of complicated to be grateful that he was born, but I am. I’m sorry his life was so sad and hard, and I’m sorry he made mine so sad and hard, but I’m so glad to be here, and I couldn’t be, without him. So on my dad’s birthday, I wish a happy birthday. I wish a happier birthday than he ever had. My dad loved books and old movies and his dog Rhoda, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, and he liked to make scrambled eggs. He gave me my middle name, Dawn. He had a self-aware corny sense of humor and could make himself laugh very easily, when he was in the mood. He saw himself as a Tragic Figure, and it would be hard to argue with him about that, even though a good part of the responsibility for that belongs to him. But how do you disentangle responsibility in the mess of a real life? He never found a place for his fury, and he followed the tradition of his paternal line through vicious, violent alcoholism — and he was born into that legacy in every way. My poor dad. I don’t miss him, but I do sometimes wish I could just have an hour with him, with un-drunk him, to ask him some questions.

2)  2016 has SUCKED and I am struggling. Ilan and Lucy were born, the very best gifts to our little family and that’s unequivocally Good (as has been my own personal year), but otherwise this year in the world has just been terrible. Like so many of us in this country — the majority, let’s remember — I am so depressed by the incoming president it has bled all the joy from me, from the season, from anticipation of the future. As Michelle Obama said in an interview last night, this is what it feels like not to have hope. I feel flattened, and honestly even the thoughts that try to arise about the holidays fall flat before they can materialize. Everyone I know who shares my politics (which means everyone I know except for two people) is in the same devastated boat. I keep trying to summon some kind of lift for the holidays, and that’s always hard anyway since we are in SEAsia over Thanksgiving and the holiday season takes me by surprise when we’re back, but this year I just can’t find even a tiny spark. The future looks so bleak, and honestly it’s very frightening. We have a mentally ill tyrannical child at the helm, and he has stocked the government with people whose sole missions are to line their own pockets and burn everything down. No wonder it’s hard to find any holiday spirit.

how I want this book…

3)  But in the small moments, in the interpersonal connections, life is still there, right? I can get lost in Charles D’Ambrosio’s lush prose, in his essays in Loitering. I can see new books that give me a flutter, like Anne Carson’s new collection, Float. On Thursday I will make brunch for my beautiful, dear friend Cindy — shakshuka with crusty bread, a great green salad, and a lovely little fresh fruit cake. And oh the pleasures of choosing what I’ll cook, the pleasures of preparation, I can rest in those moments now, and a bit of happy cracks through the dark, at least for a moment. Maybe that’s how we will all get through the next years, stepping from one crack to another to help us keep going through the long fight. We will have to lift each other when we get too low, and fight together, and share information, and put our efforts together, and perhaps the most important of all those efforts will be helping lift each other. This is going to be a long-haul battle with few wins, and despair is going to be the easiest response but we can’t just give up. We can’t.

4)  I still can’t find the person who gave me a gift subscription to the New York Review of Books. It started arriving just around my birthday, so I assume it was a birthday gift, but the NYRB never sent any kind of gift notification — the issues just started arriving, and definitely in my name. I asked on Facebook if anyone had given me the gift and no one said they did, and then I asked a couple of friends who aren’t on Facebook, people who would do that kind of thing, and they didn’t. Whoever gave it to me knows me very well, because it’s my favorite publication — even more than the New Yorker, which I also love. I guess I’m mentioning it just in case someone who reads this is the gift-giver, to let him or her know that I’d love to say thank you if only I knew who to thank!

A fractured set of fragments today — it’s that kind of day/week/month. I’m trying hard.

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.

it’s fragile

The world just feels so mean right now. I wince most of the time, and know that people call me idealistic — those who are willing to be nice about it. Trump and his hideous supporters terrify me, one bit of uniform away from being brown shirts. I’m reading One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway and its Aftermath, about Andres Breivik, the man who slaughtered 76 Norwegians in cold blood, mostly teenagers, out of his hatred for feminism and immigration. This is what hatred does, it spills out onto innocents. Small men make themselves big by slaughtering innocents, and that feels like the direction our world is going as fast as it possibly can.

My husband is a clinical psychologist and has told me that it’s impossible to break into the system of a paranoid person, because whatever you might say is proof — ah, see? You would say that. I know people in Austin who are paranoid, and I know what ‘news’ they take in and how they are constantly preparing for the onslaught wrought by “others,” just as Brievik did. I feel scared and bewildered in their presence. I’m increasingly feeling like I just can’t live in Texas any more. The state politics are so mean, many of the people bewilder me, and their ‘evidence’ bewilders me too.

It’s such a scary world, and this is at stake for me:

marnie-ilan
My lovely Marnie and her Ilan — waiting with us, the day Lucy was being born, for the happy news
little-family
My sweet Katie, with her young children, happy and cuddling
o-kisses-lucy
Oliver kissing his little sister, just a couple of weeks old she is
lucy
And little Lucy, the newest member of our family

I guess this is the way the world moves: forward into slaughter and worldwide destruction, and then a recovering into humanity again. And it’s just the slaughter cycle now, I suppose. How can my country possibly be this close to electing such a monster as president? How is this possible? I am terrified, and that’s not hyperbole. After last night’s debate, how anyone can have watched that and think that the orange monster is their guy….I don’t understand them at all.

Lewis and Obama at the opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. SO MUCH in that hug. So much knowing.
Lewis and Obama at the opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. SO MUCH in that hug. So much knowing.

And then I think about John Lewis, who marched across that bridge in Selma, and who has fought quietly, without noise and arm-waving, for decades now as his brothers and sisters were murdered, and belittled, and pushed aside by white America. He is relentless and he believes and he keeps putting one foot in front of the other. As police officers in our country keep killing unarmed black men, one after another after another after another, he just keeps putting stepping forward, day after day, believing. Can I be like him in the face of this horror that’s growing in my country, and in the face of a monster like Trump, and fellow Americans who plan to vote for him? I just want to run away, but pieces of my heart are scattered everywhere — in Katie’s loving home, in Marnie’s loving home, with friends far and wide — and how can I leave them behind? Where could I go, anyway, that would be far enough away?

such a mess

Up and down I go, in this terrible mess of a world. Some days it makes me feel entirely hopeless, and other days I’m mostly able just to ignore it, not think about it.

  • Our political system as a whole is entirely corrupt, almost without exception.
  • As a consequence, most citizens of the country feel hopeless about it ever changing. Except for the increasingly tiny few with all the money, I guess, who can buy what they want — see above re corruption of the system.
  • Our media is not just irresponsible, they are no longer interested in journalism. They’re interested in entertainment. They’re not interested in examining their biases, trying to be objective, pursuing the story. It doesn’t even matter which form of media you point to. Which form, which outlet, which voice, which channel, which newspaper, none of it matters. None of it does what it should be doing. None. It’s not just Fox News, which is by far the most egregious; it’s the New York Times too, and pretty squarely.
  • People in the world who are fleeing for their lives are turned away from the countries that could take them in. People fleeing for their lives, for their children’s lives, die in trucks, on boats, in deserts, on foot. We tsk tsk tsk, isn’t that horrible that those countries are doing that (and ours is too, though “it’s different” here). Tsk tsk tsk. The wealthiest people in the world don’t want to give up anything at all, and it’s disgusting.
  • From my perspective, as a woman, I live in a world in which my existence is in very real peril. In the US, my peril comes around reproductive rights, and also in just living in this culture that seems to think boys will be boys, take a joke. Don’t be so sensitive. You shouldn’t have been wearing that. Or walking there. Or attending that party. Or having a drink. I recently heard a Republican politician say that women ought to be staying at home — in the kitchen, specifically — and then these things wouldn’t happen to them. The 70s were kind of the glory days for women. We were much freer then, and it’s been downhill ever since. We got a couple of decent years and that’s it.
  • Our culture is differently murderous for men and women. It’s horrible for men, horrible. We insist men be this very small and stupid container of things, and we simultaneously expect everything of them and nothing at all of them. What we do to men does not help our world whatsoever. And what we do to them surely has an effect on women, and on the culture at large.

What a world, what a world. What’s a person to do? I am often in deep despair about it. I believe we must do better, we must, but I don’t see how it will happen.

I recently joined a Facebook group — women only — called The Fempire. It seems to be primarily young-ish women, mid- to late-20s and through their 30s. They call each other badasses. They sing their own praises, and each other’s praises. They act as if they live in a different world than I do, one in which hell yeah of course it all can and will be different. And then once in a while a young woman will post that she doesn’t know how much longer she can take it, being a woman in this world. For her, I shared one of my favorite poems:

God Says Yes To Me
by Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

It’s such a hard world. It’s always been a hard world — women died very young in childbirth, commonly; babies died and kids died young; people lived short and hard lives; young men left their lives to go fight in world wars, and so many didn’t come back, and many of those who did were haunted shells hidden away from us. Now we have medical care and treatments, and every kind of technology to make life easier, and long life spans, and the world is hard. Hard, hard, hard. What is a woman to do?

  • messWe have to support each other. We have to be each other’s ferocious advocates, and allies.
  • The world needs kindness, desperately. Where and whenever possible, add some. Be kind to strangers, be kind to people you know, and importantly, be kind to yourself. When you hear something unkind in your thoughts, or in your words — even if/especially if it’s directed at yourself — cut it out. Stop. Think, wait, I didn’t mean to think or say that. Even if it takes you years and years of trying to change that habit, change that habit. Be kind. It’s the only thing that matters. Be kind. And be kind to yourself. You are not a special snowflake; you deserve kindness too.
  • Find a couple of people to form a moai — a friendship group devoted to each other pointedly, dedicated to helping each other through. I think there is great power in this, I really do. Don’t just do handwaving in your mind—I have friends I care about and they care about me, that’s enough—actually and pointedly form a group with a conscious dedication. Two people, three people, five people. A friend-marriage, committed. Give yourself to that, and accept that from the others, and good will surely come into the world.
  • Do what you can where you are with what you have to change something outside yourself and your little world. Make little donations. Volunteer if/where you can. Read this article and adopt the strategies outlined, no matter what your political persuasion might be. Help bring the dialogue back toward reason and conversation. Applaud and share instances of curiosity, and apologies, and collaborative behavior, and feelings, and careful reflection. Do not applaud or forward into the world insults, and manipulation, and black-and-white thinking, and evasiveness. Do what you can to shape the world in a better direction. (This reminds me of an old social psych story; the story goes that a class decides to shape its professor’s behavior. When he walked toward one side of the classroom, they all paid attention and were engaged. When he walked toward the other side, they quit paying attention. Gradually he taught the whole class from the one side of the room where they’d given him their attention! He had no idea he was being shaped like that.)

I don’t know, none of this feels like The Answer, but maybe all of it is the answer. Maybe small shifts produce big ones, the way waves accumulate with each other and then there is a gigantic wave. That feels easy to say and I don’t know if it’s true, but good God, feeling hopeless about it all sure doesn’t help. Two of my heroes, the Dalai Lama and Kurt Vonnegut both said their religion has one tenet: Be kind [babies]. Just be kind. Be kind in word and thought — be kind in thought, don’t forget that. Put kindness in the world. Reward good whenever you find it. Help each other. Help me, I need your help, and let me help you, I need to be a helper.

xoxoxox

the world

When I first started working in publishing as an acquiring editor, one of my lists was political psychology — a subject I knew only a little bit about, only the aspects that crossed with social psychology, my own discipline. So I attended conferences, talked with scholars, read related books (including those I signed), listened to academic talks, and tried to learn enough to speak intelligently to authors I wanted to sign.

And in the years since, I seem to have forgotten most of it.

But I do remember that for many people, their political beliefs stem from their values. (I wish I could remember the other source — economics, maybe? Now it would be fear, that’s surely a source.) It occurs to me, though, that even if we share values as a starting point, our beliefs stemming from that value could diverge.

PartisanPoliticsI’m torn right now. The political discourse is filling me with such despair and agitation. All that hate, all the snarling and contempt, and all the blind followers salivating behind the one who is being contemptuous of them! I don’t understand any of this, it makes no sense. Keep out all the Muslims but everyone including terrorists and those on the watch lists should be allowed to buy guns. What? It makes no sense. It feels like our world is upside down, and I can’t understand it.

And the parts I do understand are heartbreaking and tragic and adding to my despair. Poor people running for their lives, having lost everything, running from the very people we see as our enemy, and we slam doors in their faces. Who are we? Really, who are we? We are an ignorant country, a cruel country, a greedy country, an arrogant country. As a country that’s who we are, though most of my friends (not all) and all of my family are not like that at all. Our reputation in the world is horrible, as I know from traveling around the world. Terrified people who have lost everything want to come here, yes, but I feel for them because I know how they will be treated if they get here. They just don’t know it, it’s unimaginable to them.

And so, these are my values, and how my beliefs evolve from them:

We have an obligation to help each other. Even though Jesus encouraged people to give everything they had, we don’t have to do that, it needn’t be that extreme. I have an obligation to people I know and to people I don’t, because we’re all interconnected. And I have so much, even though I have no assets and a dusty bank account. But I have so much, including the things I don’t have, like rockets tearing through my home. I have been in great need so many times in my life and people helped me in ways large and small. This is one of my deepest values. My most complete obligation is to my children and their families, but it doesn’t end there, even if it begins there.

So what does that look like, given that I have no power to effect legislative change, nor millions or billions to donate? It means I can offer whatever support I can to agencies and groups that help others. It means I can offer practical help whenever possible. It means I speak up when I see someone who needs help. Someone I know on Facebook said come on, those Muslim women who were verbally assaulted in public should’ve just spoken up for themselves, get over it. Should they have? In a great world, sure — but it’s easy to imagine that they were quite scared. Simply being a woman who is being shouted at by a threatening man is difficult enough, and when everyone standing around is not doing anything, I can imagine that might be silencing. My value, then, leads me to speak to her, with her, for her, to help her as I can. Since this is our world, now, I can prepare myself and not be caught off guard. My value leads me to help wherever I can, in whatever way I can — not in martyrdom, but we are connected.

This value means that I support spending some of my government’s money—taxes I paid, as a matter of fact—to help those in need. People with another value are quick to snarl that “those” people just take advantage and “those” people just want to use the system. I wonder if they’ve ever known any of “those” people. I doubt it. The ones I can quickly call to mind are quite privileged in a lot of ways and while loudly proclaiming themselves to be Christian, holding hands and praying, it’s hard to see any Christian values in action. So this value means that any vote I cast includes a concern about social welfare.

The world is not fair, but we should do what we can to make a difference. I think it’s a terrible situation that so few people own the bulk of the resources — money and power. I think it’s a terrible situation that our policies seem to operate from a position that hey, I got mine, you get yours, without any acknowledgement of our different starting places.

When I came out of graduate school, I had $50K in student loan debt. I’ll die with that debt. My daughters came out with student loan debt. My stepdaughter had everything paid for her and came out with zero debt, and a lot of resources given to her, in addition to that. They are not beginning on a level playing field. My daughters didn’t grow up in poverty, but they did not grow up with much. We always had a home and food, but they didn’t go away to fancy summer camps (my stepdaughter did), they couldn’t take advantage of programs offered by the school if they cost any money (my stepdaughter could and did), and they did not have parents with a college education. I got my education as they grew up, but even so their lives were difficult because of that — so it was less a benefit and more a difficulty. My stepdaughter had two parents with PhDs (and one stepfather most of her life with a PhD, and a stepmother from the age of 14 with a PhD…though all four are psychologists, so that’s perhaps a strike against her 🙂 ) and families on both sides with pretty great wealth. I’m not saying that my daughters should therefore be given something, but I am saying that it’s not a level playing field. And we are all white! When you add race (and gender, for that matter), the field gets rockier.

What this means is that I care about working toward seeing that disadvantaged people get help. This means I do not see them with contempt, and if there is a way I can help, I should. It’s a moral value. I should.

What this means is that I speak against the “I got mine, you get yours” position whenever I encounter it. I probably don’t have any power here, but it’s my value and I must do what I can when I can.

Really, all my political beliefs stem from that first value, and maybe everything stems from that first value, not just political beliefs. We are interconnected and are here to help each other when we can.

But I started this post with a dilemma, with a comment about being torn right now. The political discourse really is keeping me in a pretty bad place. I’m constantly agitated by it, and I easily slip into despair. So do I withdraw from it? (This would mainly mean stepping away from Facebook.) Is that hiding my head in the sand? It’s not like saying or doing anything on that platform makes one. bit. of. difference.

And then yesterday, in my despair, I read something by bell hooks:

bell hooks

And it occurred to me that I can think each morning, “What does Mister Rogers want me to do today?” And then I can decide what he would want me to do, and go into the world and in every way, small and large, build that community.

mister rogersThank you, Mister Rogers, for once again helping me live my life. For continuing to guide me as I try to figure out how to be a human being. This time the struggle is not with myself, it’s with the world, but it’s still a mighty struggle. Gentleness, kindness, saying the truth and living according to my values, helping when and where I can. Be one of the helpers instead of one of those setting fire.

what a world

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Whenever I say “what a world” I always think about that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy destroys the Wicked Witch. “What a world, what a world, who would’ve thought a good little girl could destroy my beautiful wickedness?”

On Tuesday I was talking with a very dear, dear friend and our conversation came around to the state of the world, which seems to be just absolutely horrible, doesn’t it? People slaughtering each other in the Middle East and eastern Europe, blood virus spreading, planes being shot out of the sky, our own political system a complete and total disaster and our country riven so badly it feels like a civil war is bubbling and one side is arming up. Eighty-five people own HALF the world’s wealth. Water is turned off to some people in a major US city. Giant holes are opening up in Siberia, global warming suspected.

And then, of course, something like this happens:

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I’d like to think that would happen in New York too, but I’m not all that sure. Go, people from Perth! Keep going.

I feel such despair when I look around. What could I possibly do about Israel/Gaza, Ukraine, ebola, US politics, the extraordinary inequality of wealth? I’m doing very well not to put toothpaste in my hair by mistake. (Note to myself: never again buy hair product in the same color tube as my toothpaste.) I think about all those inspirational people who remind us that one person really can make a difference in the world and cannot see any way that might apply to me, sitting in my chair in my living room and editing manuscripts.

So I think about what kind of extremely local impact I could have — extremely local. “They” say that putting good into the world has ripples, right? So I can respond rather than react; I can act with as much compassion for others as I can; I can try to help people in any way I can find; I can interact in a present way with others, and see the people who aren’t often seen. When I was in New Haven, Peggy and I were walking and whenever we passed someone sitting on the sidewalk begging, Peggy paused a second and spoke to them with kindness. She gave a bit of money. But what moved me was the way she paused and spoke to them. She saw them. I can do that. I can restrain myself from adding any grief to others’ lives, or to the world. I can manage my own anger, my own irritation and frustration, learn how to open my hands.

And so my tiny little efforts will have their tiny little ripples….and the world troubles that leave me in such despair will keep going. I just don’t know what to do. Do you? Where is the good little girl who can destroy all this trouble? Where is Dorothy?

yeah, there’s no box

boxIf you’ve read this blog for long you already know how much I hate that oxymoronic cliche “thinking outside the box.”JC I hate that phrase, and when people use it in my presence to indicate that they are uncliched thinkers, depending on my mood I might just come out with both arms swinging and with more than a little sneer point out the way they just proved how wrong they are. SHEESH. Getting me all riled up just thinking about it. There is no box, there is no half-filled/empty glass, cut it out. Seriously. I used to think “cliche” just meant trite, tired phrases like these.

Ali
Ali

I once mentioned a man named Ali who cracked open my mind in a profound way, and a friend wrote me and said she’d like to hear more about that. When I met Ali I was in graduate school, maybe 41 years old? Right around that age. I was/am smart, but in a super conventional way. All the received wisdom was/is perfectly received by me, without question, and I believed my goal was to absorb it and work with it. Oh, this is the deal? OK, that’s the deal, that’s how I understand it, that’s how it is to be understood. I knew people who were really different in some intellectual way I never could articulate; I tried to understand if they were smarter than me, but that didn’t seem to be the right dimension. They were differently smart, but smart really didn’t belong in the mix, it wasn’t about smart. They thought differently, they saw things differently, they understood something very different than I did. It wasn’t until I really got involved with Ali that I figured out that it’s about having an uncliched mind. And oh how I wished I had that kind of mind, once I figured it out, but I just felt stuck in my little array of boxes. This idea = this definition. That concept = that rigid framework.

Ali had a bunch of things going for him. He was (and still is) an incredible poet, first of all. Poets are sometimes unconstrained, original thinkers. Ali was (and still is) from Pakistan, and had a very different understanding of the world than I had at the time. I was apolitical, really. I considered myself a Democrat, but really just didn’t care very much, didn’t have reasons for feeling what I felt, thinking what I thought, and didn’t feel much need to interrogate any of it. But the whites of Ali’s eyes could literally turn red when he talked about the World Bank, about the IMF, about immigration policies, about poverty, about the West. He could sometimes be kind of frightening when he looked like that, all red-eyed and intense and fired up, intensely animated. I listened with ignorant bewilderment, not even knowing what the IMF was but seeing that he thought it was bad. Google was brand new, and maybe I did a Google search to see what the IMF was, but probably I didn’t. I was kind of dazzled by Ali, who was very tall and wrote incredible poetry, and who had a quicksilver mind I couldn’t understand and experiences I’d never encountered. OK, he thinks the IMF is evil, whatever……

We fought a lot because the way he saw the world made absolutely no sense to me and I was thoroughly disoriented. Gandhi was a terrible, terrible person. (What?) Country borders should not exist. (Huh?) I often felt like he was telling me that the ground was really the sky and that I’d been lied to all these years. I was so uninformed politically and that was a big gap between us, as were our cultures. He didn’t really see himself as a separate person; when he needed to think about something, a decision, it could only be made in collaboration with his very close Pakistani friends who had become his family. It took me a long time to realize that Ali didn’t have personal relationships with people, which is just the best way I can think of to describe it. I tried to talk about this with him and in bewilderment he said that his parents had never spoken personally to each other. He and I had both known terrible suffering, but of such different forms. He told me that no one in the West knows anything at all about suffering — the source of another whopper of a fight, since I believe I have indeed known a thing or two about suffering (obviously I took that one a bit too personally). But his father died when he was a kid, leaving his mother to raise seven children alone in Islamabad, and with no money. One of his poems was about seven grains of rice and his eternal hunger. He told me that morality is the privilege of a full stomach, and all these years since I think about that and no matter how hard I poke at it, not wanting it to be true, I believe it is true at a general level. Individuals can transcend of course, of course.

On 9/11/2001, I witnessed laid-back weird Austin change as quickly as the rest of the country. At the time I had a bumpersticker on my car that said “Bush Is A Punk Ass Chump” and usually people would pull up beside me, grin, and do two thumbs up. But on 9/11 and afterwards, Austinites shook their fists at me. One tried to run me off the road, and it was my bumpersticker they were so offended by. For some reason, that cataclysmic event and our country’s response to it was the iron wedge that caused my skull to crack and I suddenly understood everything Ali had been saying. Black was white after all! Up was down, right was wrong, the US hadn’t been everyone’s “good buddy neighbor.” The point of this post is not a political one at all, it’s just that it was a political event that did the trick for some reason. I witnessed people spitting on Ali. A few days after 9/11 we went to lunch at a Greek restaurant near campus and other customers screamed terrible things at him when we walked in, someone came over and spit in his face, and the manager asked us to leave.

I saw at that moment that I’d been understanding the world exactly and only as it was told to me, described to me. I’d accepted it all without question, it never occurred to me to think beyond the given components, only to try to arrange them in a neat form. That my cliched mind was nearly complete — politics, religion, nature, existence, philosophy, whether those things even are — my thoughts snaked through those little boxes as if they were Truth describing Truth, full stop. It may sound like I’m being hyperbolic, but I’m really not. I had a very good mind, I was smart, I was just not at all original. I’m still not. I’m a great copyist, though.

It does not come at all easily to me, being an original thinker. It’s effortful and I have to remember to do it, and usually I forget. All at once I’ll realize that I should poke at the precepts, question the definitions, try hard to think about what I’m thinking about and get outside it. I’m very glad I got the chance to learn that there is this other kind of mind, even if mine is not that. Even that feels like a kind of liberation — a big enough gap to hold the light and awareness when I think about it.

* * *

I loved Ali’s poetry and huge mind — I’m always a sucker for both of those things. I much prefer people who are smarter than me, and larger in their own ways, and poetry too? Please. He wrote one poem about me titled “The Poem of Ji,” and I inspired the first line in another poem (the line: The sky here is American like the blue of your eyes; / the folds of your eyelids the Hindu Kush mountain.) He published this poem when I knew him and I still love it; he’s listed in The Poetry Foundation (here) and this is one of his poems I really love, “The Emerald Mosque on the Hill.” He has since published two volumes of poetry — and not self-published — and “The Poem of Ji” is included in his first book.

Not too long ago I found him on YouTube, a recording of a reading he did at a university. He’s on the faculty of a university in Colorado, maybe it was there I don’t recall. Anyway, one of the poems he reads is “The Poem of Ji,” and it tickled me to death to hear him read it. You know how other languages have diminutive forms at the end of names to add an endearment? Like -ita in Spanish, -itchka in Russian? In Urdu it’s -ji. So I was Loriji and he was Aliji. Well, without knowing better I just started calling him Ji, so he started calling me Ji. (Can you imagine calling someone Ita? Itchka? Somehow Ji worked differently to my ear.) Still, even though he also called me Ji he thought it was the silliest damn thing, so he wrote a kind of long poem about the Land of Ji, and it starts beautifully and ends horribly. Here it is, if you want to listen; move the slider to 3 minutes to just start right at the beginning of that poem:

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I’m grateful to Ali for getting me started on cracking open my cliched brain. I’m grateful to Ali for helping me understand the big-picture political world so differently. I’m grateful to Ali for making me understand the world as a whole differently. And I’m grateful to Ali for his poetry — the ones about me, and all the rest.

we’re never one thing

I don’t need to tell you that I’m pretty open. It’s a conscious decision, a carefully-thought-through position. And yet that doesn’t mean I reveal everything, of course. I keep others’ secrets . . . you cannot possibly imagine how hard it was not to reveal that Katie was pregnant, since so many of you were there for us through the last tragic year after we lost Gracie, and since you would ask me, with great kindness off-line, if she was pregnant yet. You were holding such hope, such care, offering prayers and good thoughts, and it was so hard to keep her secret. But it was Katie’s to tell, Katie’s and Trey’s to hold, and so obviously, I kept that secret.

You know I’ve had a cold, wah wah wah I whine about it. Ugh I feel bad. Oy this cold. Yuck it’s so gross. Going to sleep early, thank you NyQuil. But otherwise I’ve been my regular old self, feeling grateful and happy, thinking about things, processing stuff that happens, glorying in the good and trying to make sense of the difficult. It seems I am an open book.

But I’m sad, too. I’m very sad, and feel heartbroken that my son Will keeps himself away from us. I think about him almost all the time. Everything makes me think of him, and especially here at the holidays, as we all gather together, I feel so very sad that he won’t respond to us, that he continues to be a jerk. He’s just right there in NY, we reach out over and over and over, and once in a blue moon he’ll grant me a visitation. Once in a blue moon he’ll respond to Katie. He hurts us over and over, but he is our son and brother, he stays in our heart as the boy we knew and loved, even if he is now a man we barely know. He will forever be my son, he will forever be their brother, but he does not seem to want to be in our family.

2003, the last time we were all together at Christmas. Ten years ago.
2003, the last time we were all together at Christmas. Ten years ago.

Katie wrote so very eloquently about driving to the hospital to deliver Gracie and looking at people in the cars next to them and . . . . well, let me just share her words from her public blog because I can’t possibly do them justice:

As we drove to the hospital the morning of my induction, I tried to look at the faces of the people in the cars around us.  The faces in our car were washed in heartbreak and loss.  It was the worst day in our lives.  What about the car next to us?  What’s happening in their life today?  Did they just lose someone they loved? Did they lose their job? Did a loved one just get a cancer diagnosis?  Are they driving like a maniac because their child is sick?  Everyone is nursing some kind of pain.  Everyone is broken in some way.  Be kind to the people around you.  You never know what their life is like and what your kindness will mean.  Be kind.

And this was on my mind today. Yesterday morning in response to a non-political Facebook post, a friend went political and even after I said I was not taking a political position, this friend continued. To her, it was just an interaction, nothing more and certainly not intended to hurt or upset me. To me, though, I feel fragile and it felt harsh and more than I was up for, although she didn’t know how low I was feeling. I have been sick — very small potatoes, of course, just a cold, but I am alone here and have been wishing someone were here to take care of me and make soup for me.  I am so very grateful that Marnie and Tom are coming from Chicago for the holidays, and Katie is pregnant with our little Oliver, and we will all be together . . . but not with Will. I’ll glow with the joy of being with my wonderful daughters and their wonderful husbands and I will feel the hole that is Will’s absence, and I don’t even expect that we will be allowed to speak to him on Christmas. He certainly won’t call us, and if we call him he won’t answer the phone. It’s very painful to a mother’s heart, and I am always aware of it. Always. When I’m smiling, when I’m laughing, when I’m lost in an experience, when I’m bathing a mama elephant in a river in Sri Lanka, that pain is always there.

And so you interact with me and I’m laughing, I have opinions and things to say, good things happen and I share them with joy, difficult things happen and I try my best to make sense and integrate, ordinary boring time happens and I pass it as you do. We spend time together and I am so damn glad to get to be with you. I have a lot going on, more loving friends than most and more wonderful opportunities than many and a pretty great life. But don’t think that’s the whole story; it isn’t for me, and it isn’t for anyone. As Anne Lamott said, “the world sometimes feels like the waiting room of the  emergency ward, and we, who are more or less OK for now, need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room, until the healer comes. You sit with people, you bring them juice and graham crackers.”

That is the thing. We are all patients in the emergency ward; maybe not right at this exact moment, but something hurts, there is some unspoken secret, some dark worry, some sharp pain, some unnoticed-by-others silence. Everyone is dealing with something. We just don’t have the spare attention to keep this in mind all the time, and we can’t, really. And we probably shouldn’t, or we wouldn’t ever get anything done, we’d be too busy trying to consider everyone’s everything.

But if you have a moment, it’s always worth remembering that every single person you encounter has something else in their heart and you just may have no idea what they’re dealing with. As Katie said, be kind. As Kurt Vonnegut said, be kind babies. It’s the only real rule. You can never go wrong.

be kind

politics and facebook

facebook

I mostly love facebook. I’ve made friends through facebook, keep up with my friends and family, and it’s my online news source.  When the Boston marathon bombers were still on the loose I was flying to New York, and the moment I landed I went to facebook to see if they’d been caught because it’s my best news aggregator from a whole bunch of sources. At a glance I could see the headlines from a dozen news sources I tend to trust. I love hearing from friends, seeing the things that make them happy or angry, laughing at funny things they share, it’s just great. Kind of addictive — constantly changing, something new! something new! something new! — but I’m mostly pro-facebook.

The majority of my friends have a similar political sensibility, but not all. And in fact, a few of my friends have such a dramatically different political viewpoint from me, it can be a ‘thing.’ So perhaps we talk about everything but politics because we care enough about each other to set it aside. Or perhaps we just kind of nod at each other and change the subject. Because one thing that’s increasingly true in our country is that we’re so polarized and our opinions are fixed in cement. Mine certainly are! I feel pretty sure I’ve heard every single argument supporting all-guns-all-the-time and I am entirely unswayed. I feel pretty sure I’ve heard the Tea Party positions, the Republican positions, and whoo boy, nope. Unswayed, and dramatically so. DraMAtically so. I have problems with a lot of things Obama has done, and certainly do not think the Democratic Party is exempt from cronyism and lobbyists, nor are they exempt from gamesmanship. Politics is a big money game, across the board.

Since we do not listen to each other, nor are we going to convince each other across the divide, I’ve thought about why we post political things on facebook — why post political things. And I know why I do: I post, and like my friends’ posts, so I don’t feel quite so much despair. Ah, she feels the same way. Ah, here are a whole bunch of people who see things the same way. Especially in such a red state that feels regressive and ignorant and cruel (politically), I just need to know that there are other people who see what I see. And so I post and share and comment for support, and that’s that. When there is a political action going on, or there’s some way we can mobilize, I always share that so my similar-minded friends will see it and help, if they can.

People on the other side of the divide just look at very different aspects of the issues, or interpret data so very differently I can make absolutely no sense of their positions. None. And I assume they feel the same way about me and my positions! One of my facebook friends will post political comments about “King Obama” and guns and various things that are just so far away from anything that makes even the slightest sense to me, and so I never comment on those posts. First of all, I have nothing to say because I can’t accept any of the premises, nor do the arguments make sense. But second, what would be the point or purpose? Simply inflaming an argument is of no use and I hate that kind of interaction. And so I let them slip past, unliked or commented upon. And that’s just fine with me! I also tend not to like or comment on posts about Metallica, for instance. 🙂

When someone from the other side writes a comment on something I’ve posted, if it has an openness to it, or some humor (which is lacking on all sides these days), I’m happy to respond in kind. One sweet woman I know feels very differently from me about guns, and left a couple of comments stating her position clearly but without hostility or rancor. Later in the thread she apologized if she’d offended me and said how she felt about me — but she hadn’t offended me at all! It was her way of engaging the issue that made the difference. I disagree completely with her position, but she didn’t offend me in the slightest. But so often the comments have a mean and harsh edge, and that’s what offends me. Commenters sometimes get personal, attack, belittle, and those I’ve decided to completely ignore. If other commenters respond and a difficult dialogue fills up the thread, I don’t even look at it. Politics today fills me with such despair, and in fact when I hear the Republicans talk about anything — and especially when a Tea Party Republican speaks — I just sink and feel so terrible it’s hard to bear. It all sounds so mean, and it’s so not the country I want. I end up pulling an ostrich and just hiding myself away.

I have been having a very hard time lately living in Texas because most of the Texas politicians humiliate me, and their stances feel so mean and nasty. Ted Cruz, Louie Gohmert, that moron who berated and tried to shame the Parks Dept employee in front of a crowd, Texas politicians. Humiliating. Of course we also have Wendy Davis, and Leticia Van de Putte, and Senfronia Calpernia Thompson (boy do I love her name), Texas politicians I am so proud of (and coincidentally, women, or maybe it’s not a coincidence). But they have a hard row to hoe, and the chances they’ll succeed in making the changes I long for are slim. The Affordable Care Act doesn’t do me much good here because of my idiotic governor and his cronies, who have successfully kept much of it away from Texans. Again and again I am denied the things that people elsewhere in the country can get, because I live in Texas. I despair. I live in a place where someone can be fired from their job for being gay. Seeing that my facebook friends feel similarly doesn’t change anything, but it does help me feel less alone, and that helps me.

I ‘like’ this post.

exhausted by the meanness

There is an exhaustion that comes from fighting, at least for me. Some people seem able to persist, and thank heavens for them. Thank heavens for Wendy Davis, Senfronia Thompson, Kirk Watson, Leticia Van de Putte; thank heavens for the orange-clad people who just keep returning and fighting for women. Thanks heavens for bold young women like this one, who makes me so so proud:

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meanI cannot watch that video without getting choked up and feeling so proud of her, of us all, for fighting so hard. I am so tired of having to fight the meanness of the Republican party, which just seems to hate everything and everyone, maybe most especially poor people. Or, wait: gay people. Wait, maybe women. Poor women, double trouble. The same Texas Republican politician (a woman) who ignorantly said that ER rape kits are for “cleaning women out” after a rape, who is pushing this anti-abortion bill that will effectively end health care for so many women who rely on local clinics that also happen to perform abortions, this Republican woman also wants to severely cut prenatal health care to poor women because “the babies are not born yet.” Women cannot have abortions because that’s a person in there . . . but hey, no help for you, impoverished woman who cannot afford to have a child, because that person isn’t born yet. (Not that you’ll get a lick of help after it’s born, either.) The lack of logic there is depressing, and only really explained by the characteristic meanness of people in her party. NO you have no rights to your own life because you got pregnant (and we’re not going to educate you about it, even though Texas has the 4th highest teenage pregnancy rate in the country)(and we’re going to cut off options for free or inexpensive birth control)(and if you get pregnant, you’re entirely on your own)(and no we’re not at all interested in helping ensure that you will get fair pay, by the way)(but at least you’re straight so you can get married). I am exhausted by the nasty mean attitudes, by the “I got mine” attitude, by the vicious judgment, by the “King Obama” name-calling, by the attitude that people who don’t agree are “brainwashed.” That one really gets me; whatever else you might say, brainwashed is particularly mean and discounts the possible that other people actually think and might even (gasp!) disagree for legitimate reasons. I do not assume that they are brainwashed; I assume that they have reasons for their beliefs, even if those reasons make no sense to me. But to discount those assumptions and beliefs as being “brainwashed” is to discount them as thinking people.

I have read plenty of nasty comments by liberal Democrats too (of course, so obvious it hardly needs to be stated), name-calling the anti-abortion protesters, so it’s not as if any side is holy. It’s not like that at all. We are all so frustrated, and then we’re kind of left with our frustration and lashing-out because — I think — none of us sees how it can change. And it’s not as if any of this applies to 100% of people in either category, of course. I can think of exceptions right and left. But the lock-jawed, mean, cruel, harsh Republican voice is wearing me down and breaking my heart. My heart does bleed, I do think we should take care of people who need help even though there will always be cheaters who game the system, I do think the government should stay out of our personal business (and my body!). I do think that gay people ought to have all the same rights as straight people and it’s mind-blowing to me that this is even a question. I am exhausted by religious people thinking their beliefs ought to be the law, that their judgment should apply to everyone. I am exhausted by it all. I am exhausted by white people who think it’s all been magically fixed, but who don’t do even the slightest bit of research to see that no, gay people are not safe; no, voting isn’t as simple as all that for everyone; no, racism isn’t over; no, women aren’t equal citizens. I can see a lot to change about liberals, but I do not typically find them to be such cold and mean people. And it’s the cold and meanness that are so exhausting me.

Right now I am editing a memoir of a dominatrix, and I’m not a prude but I am being exhausted by the cruelty and terrible things people do to each other, by the harsh and hateful things people want done — and some are willing to do them. There was a chapter I read earlier this week that was just so terrible, I did not want to keep living in a world where people do these things. (Just a feeling!! I definitely want to keep living!!) I don’t know when or why the world became so cruel and mean, so “fuck you.” I don’t know why it’s so bad to have a world where we get help when we’re in trouble, where we help others in trouble (a sentiment so many vocal Republican ‘Christians’ seem to ignore), where we just let each other be, but I’m not stupid and naive; that is not the world we live in, at least for now in this country. I can pull away from mean people, but I am currently stuck in the political consequences of such meanness and it breaks my heart and exhausts me. I am exhausted by the meanness of George Zimmerman’s comment that “they” always get away, as he allegedly pursues Trayvon Martin and kills him. “They.”

We cannot and do not talk to each other — and that is as true of ME as anyone. I find most Republicans’ attitudes incomprehensible and reprehensible. I generally find their lack of reason and logic troubling to say the least. My opinions are very well thought-through — no “brainwashing” here — and no, they’re not going to convince me to change my opinions on the anti-abortion bill. They’re not going to convince me to change my opinions about gun ownership, or gay rights, or women’s rights, or pay equity, or voter’s rights. They’re just not. I haven’t yet heard an argument that made one damn bit of sense to me. And so I own up to that: no, I see no point in talking to them, or listening to them. I see no way things can change with that attitude, but then again I don’t think their opinions are open to change either. I’m glad I’m not in charge of the world because I don’t know how to fix it. My late-night daydreaming involves shipping them all to a mean island where they can be cruel to each other to their heart’s content, but that’s impractical. 🙂 I have the same thought about smokers. I am a small and petty person.

Two nights ago I watched the news and saw young women shouting when the gavel fell and the anti-abortion bill passed in the Texas House. I saw state troopers dragging them out, and still they yelled. And it just made me feel so so tired. As Dee says, we can do better. And we just have to. And then there is this:

hell yeah.
hell yeah.

I am foolish. I want to live in a world characterized by kindness, and that is rarely our world. Except when it is. When complete strangers run into a bomb blast, not knowing if there would be more, to save complete strangers. For example. Fewer bombs please, less meanness, more helping strangers. Please.

it seems so simple to me

This is a serious post, political, in the same way a glass of water is a political issue. And just like a glass of water, it’s clear and obvious (to me, anyway!). If you do not believe in gay marriage, do not marry someone of your own sex. If you are against abortion, do not get an abortion. That would seem to end the discussion, wouldn’t it?

So often, the people who want to enact these stances into LAW forbidding anyone from doing them are Republicans (especially but certainly not exclusively Republican men) who think — otherwise — that government should stay out of their lives. And of course none of this is monolithic. Some people who consider themselves Democrats want these to be laws. Some Republicans do not. Of course. And the abortion issue is complicated, especially since it is framed as “the abortion issue.” Another euphemism: this is about “women’s health.”

For the past week, I’ve been so focused on the issue of women’s choice for self-determination. I was overjoyed that DOMA was overturned and realize there are so many states — including my own — where the fight is not at all over. But especially here in Texas, after Wendy Davis’s incredible 13-hour filibuster, the pink-sneakered issue of women’s rights has been loud. It’s an issue of having the right to decide your own life. The right to your own body. I have the right to my own body, unless people with certain religious beliefs make the laws forcing me to live their religious beliefs.

thousands of us there
thousands of us there

I have been so ashamed of Texas politics, but so incredibly proud of some Texas politicians, including Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth and Kirk Watson, of Austin. I have been so incredibly proud of the hundreds, maybe thousands of people who stormed the capitol last week when Wendy was filibustering, and took the filibuster the rest of the way. It is so right that it was the people who stopped that bill from becoming law. That was so right, and I was disappointed not to be there in the gallery, or in the rotunda. So I went to the enormous demonstration yesterday and it was so good, seeing the thousands of people who came. Here is the transcript of Wendy Davis’s remarks on the capitol steps. I hope she keeps on talking and standing up. I hope she runs for governor.

humor helps, right?
humor helps, right?

Our mistake is in ever debating the rightness/morality of abortion because it’s not the point. Facing the question of an abortion is surely every woman’s last wish. It’s a nightmare, it’s the longest, darkest night. It’s hard, any decision is surely easier. You struggle in the dark, in the night, and while I do know some women who go into it lightly, they are certainly a minority. If you believe abortion is murder, if you believe you will burn in hell if you have one, that is YOUR price to pay, and your nightmarish choice to make. No one can make it for you or pay the price you’ll pay, but you ought to have the right to struggle with that because you will pay all the prices, whatever decision you make. Have the child, a lifetime of prices. End the pregnancy, a lifetime of knowing that. No legislator is in that dark room with you, no legislator holds your hand, helps pay the bills, carries the load, does one damn thing to make the choice — whatever it is — easier.

Instead, the real issue is whether we have a right to decide for ourselves what will happen to our lives. That’s the essence of it. I find it so hard to fathom, and in fact it makes me nauseated, that half of us don’t have that simple right. I mean, we should, Roe v Wade made it possible, but states get to pull this bullshit that Texas is pulling. Whatever percentage of women would make that choice is irrelevant; a friend tried to argue the question of half by pointing out the large number of Catholics, religious women of other faiths, etc., who would never consider having an abortion. But that’s not the point at all. They would never make that choice as if it were a choice to be made. For them, I suppose it is a choice of sorts, although it’s an empty choice because there is no alternative.

My heart breaks over the issue of abortion. It’s horrible, and I find it hard to talk about. But the question of whether any woman has the right to make whatever decision she feels she needs to make for her own life is not at all hard to talk about. Some states are making it harder to get birth control and next to impossible to get an abortion, effectively converting their female population to baby factories. And in the real irony of it, these are the same states that damn and condemn women for having more babies than they can care for, the same states that cut all kinds of funding that affects women and children. Why do we accept this?

Why do we allow our lives to be taken away from us — and this is a question being asked by people all over the world, now and all at once, it seems. Marnie posted this link from The Atlantic, an article depicting the protests from all over the world by people who cannot just sit by any longer. Being in the crowd at the capitol yesterday, and looking through all the images in the linked article, I feel hope. Ah, look at all of us! But I know it’s misleading, because here we all are, shouting and being gassed and assaulted and in some cases, being killed (or killing ourselves in protest), but the men in power keep going. Until they don’t. And I hope and pray we all get loud enough, and don’t stop, and keep coming back no matter what kind of shady crap they pull, as they are pulling at this moment in Texas. I hope and pray we just keep coming back, over and over. And when they stall us, I hope we get some more friends and come back even louder. And we keep coming back until it’s done. It’s a war of wearing-down. Our illustrious Lt Gov Dewhurst said with a smirk, describing the 2-week period of the next special session, “No human being can talk for two weeks.” His glee and delight at that made me want to vomit. He has no interest in having the law shaped by what the people of Texas want — evidenced, obviously, by his actions during and in the wake of the filibuster — and he  doesn’t even mind saying publicly that he’ll win by setting up the game so he’ll win.

There is a growing movement to turn Texas blue again, and it’s not an idle dream. Texas was historically a hard-core Democratic state — yellow dog Democrats, which you know means that we’d vote for a yellow dog before we’d vote for a Republican. That’s who we always were, until the mid 80s. We had a brief revisiting of our roots when Ann Richards was our governor, but we sank right back into the Republicans’ and Tea Partier’s slick hands. The demographic shift is coming, as our state moves to a Hispanic majority, but there are still an awful lot of us Democrats here, and the irony is that all this disgusting crap the Republicans are pulling — illegal tactics, they’re caught red-handed — is mobilizing us in a way they surely never intended.

If you are against abortion for any reason, you have a right to that belief! And it’s probably a religious-based belief, so recognize that you are being guaranteed the right to your religious belief! If you feel so strongly about it, then help women you know when they are facing that decision, offer them help and your thoughts, maybe, and your love and care. That’s about the limit of your rights as far as I am concerned.

There were two big reasons I did not think I could ever move back to Texas after living in New York. One reason had to do with my real pleasure at living in New York, having all that available to me, all that richness and culture and possibility. But the bigger reason had to do with Texas politics, and my shame and disgust over them. Last week, though, watching Wendy Davis filibuster, watching other senators supporting her, watching the hundreds or thousands of people — mostly women, but lots of men, and people of all ages — in the gallery and in the rotunda, I realized my mistake. There is a lot of work to do here. This is the place to be, and I am so glad to be here. I will be back at the capitol when the session is reconvened, and if I am arrested, as others are, I’m grateful to have family and friends who will make my bail. There is so much work to be done here, and in other states. There is so much work to be done around the world, and if we all stood up, it would really help.