three things: 1/3/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

with names & quilted coats in the pasture, grazing unbothered

by your body in pieces, steaming

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

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

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

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

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

of herself in the third person.

– “Age of Beauty” by Emilia Phillips

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

three [book] things: 12/28/16

Before I get to the three things, my hideous headache is gone (and hallelujah for that because I felt like blowing my head off to get relief) and I’m just so numb to the pain with my son that it’s not hurting at the moment. The comments you left on yesterday’s post were so comforting, whether because you know the pain and can commiserate, or whether you simply love and support me. Thank you for that, so very much.

click the picture to go to the Amazon page

1) Book thing #1: I have a brand new book club (and we call ourselves “We Really Mean It” because we absolutely will be talking about the book dammit) and our first book is The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. It’s everything the reviewers and prizes have said it is, although it’s not a perfect book (but that’s OK by me). Sometimes the research is worn too heavily, but I don’t mind. I know so little. One thing I learned is that North Carolina (during the time the URR was so active) abolished black people. They didn’t abolish slavery, they used Irish immigrants instead, although they did pay miniscule wages so they were slaves in a different way. But they abolished black people from the state. It didn’t matter if they were free black people, they were abolished — lynched if spotted, and left hanging in the trees to rot. It’s easy to see that very thing, the underneath of that, still alive in North Carolina as they enact one hideously regressive law after another. (And I live in Texas, the King of Regressive Laws, so I can point fingers.) The white people were so scared because there were more Africans than whites, and they knew how terribly they’d treated them, so they were afraid of retribution . . . as well they should’ve been. South Carolina instituted a sterilization policy on the Africans in their state, destroying the future in a different way. It’s obviously intended that I see parallels in today’s America, because I see them all so easily. Between reading this book and watching the gutting documentary 13th on Netflix, it’s hard to see how I or any other white person in America can do anything but fight to make things as right as possible, at this late date. According to a recent dissertation I found, 80-90% of all black people in the United States are directly descended from slaves. EIGHTY to NINETY PERCENT. That shit has long, long ripples and don’t you think for a moment that severe trauma doesn’t last for generations. Read The Underground Railroad and watch 13th on Netflix. (I realize that we who give a shit about social justice — i.e., not people who voted for Trump — have our hands full, and there is only so much time and energy, and where do we start. Just getting knowledge is a good place to begin.) And if your heart can bear it, here’s a little piece on a gift made by a slave mother for her daughter who was sold and taken away. Fifty-six little words of love handstitched on a cotton sack.

click the image to go to the amazon page

2) Like me, like Karl Ove Knausgaard, or other Norwegian writers? (I happen to adore Per Petterson and recommend everything he has written.) This page lists other Norwegian writers not named Knausgaard that you might like (though Petterson is not, and should be, on the list!). I can vouch for Hamsun’s Hunger, personally. It was first published in 1890 and it’s amazing. Like other places, writers from Norway have a specific sensibility, the elements of that place soak into the language and you can feel it, whatever you’re reading. (But if you haven’t yet read Knausgaard’s epic series, My Struggle, I recommend it heartily. Here’s Book 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. We’re still waiting on Book 6 to be translated.)

click the image to go to the amazon page

3) Here is a list of 26 books to get you started, January through March of 2017. I want to read all but one — less than zero interest in reading anything by twit Ivanka Trump. Yeah, no. The list is a mix of fiction and non-fiction, and I found several I definitely want to read. Paul Auster, George Saunders, Sam Shepard, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and not on this list, but on my own, is Frantumaglia, by Elena Ferrante. She wrote the Neapolitan series (Books 1, 2, 3, and 4, which I read at the same time I read all the Knausgaard books, a miraculous experience of synchronicity), but she uses a pseudonym. Her real identity was a great mystery, and most readers were happy for it to remain that way, although it was a hot topic of conversation. My favorite guess about her identity was that she must be female, because no male writer could have that degree of success without pinning his name and face to it. Well, a male journalist uncovered her identity, even though no one wanted to out her — there was a kind of respect for her wish for privacy — and he got a LOT of well-deserved backlash. This book, Frantumaglia, is at least in part about her experience as a woman writer.

I’m just so relieved not to have that headache today, I keep exclaiming over and over, “Gosh! It’s wonderful!” Gosh. It’s really wonderful.