three things: 2/4/17

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

I can’t find the title of this painting anywhere

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

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

“Painting Number 2,” 1954, Franz Kline

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

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

June 28, 1969

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

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

Required reading for every American

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

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

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

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

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

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

three things: 2/1/17

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

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

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

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

How is it already February 1?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

one thing: 1/20/17

distress signal

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

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

The inaugurated leader of our country is not my president.

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

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

three things:1/19/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

checking out

It’s time to save my own life. I’ve been here before and I’ll probably be here again, so it’s familiar terrain, but with a difference. I’m not actually depressed, although I cry a lot and had a quite terrifying experience on Christmas Day that you’ll read in tomorrow’s post. But the events in my country, combined with my son’s daily choice to be gone from our family, are truly overwhelming me.

Since I’m not depressed, intensifying treatment for depression — including hospitalization — isn’t the fix. I am of course continuing taking my medication, as I always will, but instead the fix for this extraordinary despair must be:

Checking out of Facebook. I will still participate in the secret groups I belong to, all of which nourish me. I will check the Events tab daily so I can be informed about the various protests and marches that I will participate in. I’ll still feed this blog to my Facebook blog page. But I won’t be looking at my feed, at all. Of course this means I’ll miss the personal things my friends post, but that’s a price I’ll have to pay and at the moment, it’s a necessary price. All but two of my friends share my political views, and my feed is also filled with real news sources, so there is just too much dosing of the poison for me to keep living, and I say that and hear that it sounds hyperbolic, but at this moment it isn’t.

Other social media I will keep are Instagram, which nourishes me, and Facebook Messenger, so friends can easily communicate with me. If you want my cell to text me, and you don’t have it, email me and I’ll give it to you. I don’t want to avoid my friends, or make personal communication impossible (or even difficult).

Upping the medicine. One-on-one time with friends who nourish me. More walks. More yoga. More reading. More music that lifts me. More art. More time in thought. More time creating things. A focus on creating a world for myself. A temporary suspension of working on my book, because the themes and experiences of my childhood and the person of the incoming president overlap too much. Fighting the fight, holding my hero John Lewis in my mind as the model of long-term, persistent fighting for what’s right.

I am not giving up the fight for what’s right, friends, even during this moment. Today I’m going to the local meetings of the National Poets’ Protest, a training session for non-violent action, and then the National Writers’ Protest. All I’m doing at this moment is stepping outside the flames so I can stay alive. I won’t be responding to your Facebook posts for a perhaps long time, but I am still with you.

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.

planting trees

When I was in graduate school — like grad students will do — I and my colleagues saw our studies everywhere. When I was studying pronouns, it was all I could hear when I talked to people, all I could see when I read. When I took a course on psychosomatic processes I became unable to think about my health and well-being without seeing those processes at work. A concept that has a long(ish) history in social psychology relates to comparisons and how we use them to help ourselves. We use upward comparisons to motivate ourselves in an aspirational way, to see ourselves as part of a group we value (“yeah, we tennis players are amazing! Look at [insert name of better tennis player here]!”), though they can also serve to make us feel bad about ourselves of course.

Downward comparisons make us feel much better about ourselves. Well, whatever, at least I’m not like herCancer patients may observe others with the disease who are doing worse in order to evaluate their own progress and feel more hope for themselves. Well, we all do that, don’t we.

When I was in graduate school, my life was in a lot of turmoil, and big old land mine-type turmoil, too. It seemed like it was always something with me, always some disaster happening in my life, and I used to hurt my own feelings by saying, “Yeah, I’m everyone’s favorite downward comparison.” No one else ever said that to me, only I did.

I think about that a lot here, on my blog, especially when I write about things I struggle to do. I imagine that people who read such a post simply don’t struggle to do it — it’s a piece of cake for them, and perhaps some wonder why it’s so hard for me, and perhaps some even feel better about themselves, and some might even feel a tiny bit smug. I don’t let those thoughts stop me, though, because I also think that most of us do struggle with the same things I struggle with, to some degree, and I know how much relief I feel when I read another person’s thoughts about these usually invisible processes. Whew, it’s not just me. I always hope they’ve found the answer and will share it with me.

treeesAnd so I finally get to my point. A few days ago (which is actually when I wrote this and then scheduled it to publish today), I posted this status update on Facebook, you may have seen it: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today. I didn’t come up with it myself, I read it on some Buddhist website I should’ve kept and noted, but the idea just struck me so hard I wasn’t thinking clearly. It isn’t like it’s a new idea; there are so many ways to say the same thing — start today, start where you are, if you’d started yesterday you’d already be a day ahead, lots of ways to say it — but this tree-planting version captured my own struggle, and maybe you are like this too.

If I should’ve started yesterday, then big deal. Whatever, I’ll start today. Or maybe on Monday, or the first of the month (or year), or on the solstice, but shoot, whatever, I’ll start. It’s not too late. What’s yesterday in the scheme of it all. The problem is with those things I might’ve started twenty years ago because in the face of those, I’ll just throw up my hands. I should’ve made a pointed push to be a writer 20 years ago, but now it’s too late, I’m 55. I should’ve thought about what I really wanted to do with my life 20 years ago and thrown myself at it with all I had, but now it’s too late, I’m 55.

The thing is, 20 years ago I felt too young. (Well, maybe not at 35, but definitely too young when I was in my 20s.) So I’ve left myself in the position of being too young too young too young too young, OOPS! too old too old. I missed that one tiny moment when I guess I might have felt the right age. How silly.

I watch my daughter Marnie in awe. She is in her 20s but she takes herself and her work seriously. She sees herself as a real agent in the world. She applies for big things and gets them — the only way you have a chance, after all! She takes on the old, entrenched forces in the company she works for and makes a very big and quite visible difference! She creates gorgeous books out of her deep mind and heart, pulling something brand new into the world in her 20s. When I was in my 20s I felt too little, too inexperienced, too blank, too unimportant, too much a ghost, to stand up and do anything at all other than try to respond and react and get through my days. But not her. I’m sure, since she is a human being, she suffers doubt and uncertainty, but she just goes ahead anyway. I admire that so much.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second best time is today. I can’t do a damn thing about what I did or didn’t do 20 years ago, or 10 years ago, or 5, or 1, or last week. I didn’t do them, but all the doors didn’t slam shut and seal over and become invisible. The second best time to do them is today, and I am so much richer today, with so much more inside me, so what is stopping me? Only me. Thank heavens for guides like Marnie.

I think I’m going to add a prong to my 2014 project. In addition to working on inner stability and extending greater kindness to the world, I’m going to strategically work on growing in my writing, and taking it seriously. The second best time to do that is TODAY.