Archive for category current events

I smelled fear.

photo of chalked quote by James Baldwin on a panel.

James Baldwin quote rendered in chalked calligraphy by David Ostrowski, in Newport, Kentucky. Photo by author.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

—James Baldwin

I was struck this morning by the feelings that came up in a fastwrite about childhood. After reading it over, then turning to a review of recent news, I felt the endless echo of bullying and othering playing out in rallies and in life.

I often wonder where our deepest fear are born; they seem part of us, inescapable. The fears that make us hard-shelled and defensive. The fears that make us withdraw and give up, and/or also make us into playground bullies, ugly-spirited and hurtful, or into the bullies’ sidekicks. It is the sidekicks who truly make this bullying possible.

No bully acts alone.

The chants of recent rallies are primal, terrifying, and I feel them deep in my heart. They are not the healing chants of love and truth.

“Send her back.”

It’s a chant of othering, of ostracizing. It is racist, it is damaging. The enabling of this damage is as bad as the chant itself. Fear-driven, it can feel like your choice is either to join the bullies or be a victim, like a cruel playground game played out forever. Social ostracism is a painful tool of control. Enabling—being the sidekicks, looking the other way, feeling disempowered to speak out—is how it becomes systemic. Hungering to be accepted, we might compromise our values. Do we value love? Equality? Inclusiveness? Or are those things just fantasies to make us feel better as we choose to enable and/or behave in ways that are not loving at all.

We contain our selves at all our ages, but we are not controlled and powerless like little children, unless we permit it. Unless we haven’t faced the fears that drive us.

There is a third way. You can face your enabling behavior. You can rise above your fears, and the people I am most talking to here right now are people who are white, and looking away from blatant racist behavior, hoping to avoid having to choose.

Choose. Choose to be the grownup on the playground, and speak for fairness, for equality, for justice, for humanity. Speak against racism and xenophobia. Do not let the blanket of powerlessness put you to sleep. The world depends on you to be awake. It is not nap time.

The prompt I used was “I smelled fear.” and as always, I wrote from memory and imagination. Maybe you could try a fastwrite on this, too? Or on “Send her back.” Do it as a wake up call, looking at your fear instead of being driven to unforgivable enabling.

For what it’s worth, the fastwrite:

I smelled fear, and I think it was my own fear. It smelled like bazooka bubblegum mixed with Love’s Baby Soft lotion with a cloud of chalk dust mixed in, from the erasers that Angie—dull, backward, awkward Angie—was pounding together. If I didn’t move away from her soon, I’d be branded a social outcast, like she was. Why did she have to come over here, anyway.

I was in grade three, I was new, I said “soda” when everyone else said “pop”—I kept forgetting to say “pop”—and yet even I knew I needed to step away from the sidelines, where Angie liked to hide. I needed to try. Just enough to be marginally accepted.

We were on the playground outside the low-slung flat-roofed elementary school, by the big windowless brick wall where games of Dodgeball raged. Groups of kids were forming; the game was about to commence. At least in gym class I’d be chosen, maybe almost last, right before Angie and Karen and Bob—almost last but not dead last. But on the playground, you could be not chosen. Angie chose erasers, Karen sat reading a book next to Mrs. Schultz, the playground monitor who never looked up from her romance novels, their covers hidden behind ugly floral quilted covers, but once I’d seen a nearly naked lady, swooning backward onto a nearly naked pirate, when the cover slipped. Mrs. Schultz had a whistle around her neck but she was afraid of the boys, and never blew the whistle on them.

Waiting to be chosen, and dreading it, too, I tried to look busy, to look cool. I studied the ants crawling in the cracks of the asphalt by the jungle jim, then worried I’d be branded as the ground-staring-girl. I looked up at the cloudy October sky and worried that I’d never find a friend.

 

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Mnemosyne and the Muses

image of new orleans and flowers

Last night I woke in the teeth of the storm, shaking in a strange bed in a strange place. This time, it wasn’t a dream.

I woke to thunder so loud I could feel it course through me, over and over, the way a bass beat at a rock concert vibrates in your spine. Thunder so intense it rattled the old wooden double-hung window of the century-old shotgun house on Maurepas where I slept on Mother’s day eve, my youngest nearby, both of us startling awake and sliding into dreams again and again, as the storm rolled overhead.

The drifting and waking reminded me of the way I slept between contractions during labor, slept and woke, slept and woke, a nether world of sleep and memory.

Sliding between storm and sleep, the picnic of the evening before replayed. On  blankets spread on the banks of Bayou St. John we shared crusty bread, sharp cheese, black bean hummus, sweet strawberries and veggie stir-fry with gingery tofu. Wine and laughter. My dear ones and their dear ones, all of us sprawling together as the cloudy daylight slid into darkness, the bayou reflecting the lights of the big houses on the far shore.

There were seven of us, six twenty-somethings and one fifty-something: me, mother to two of the group, mother-aged for all. I felt a bit like Mnemosyne, mother of the muses, listening to the younger ones discussing their dreams and how they are bringing them to life. I marveled at their gifts, admiring their drive and determination without any maternal pride, because it’s become clear to me that I have very little to do with how even my own adult children turned out, apart from nurturing them and then getting out of the way as much as I could while they explored their gifts.

Mnemosyne—mother of the muses and keeper of memory.

Sitting in a circle with these beautiful young ones, I imagined how Mnemosyne’s heart must have swelled with joy, seeing the brilliance of the offspring she helped bring into being, one for every wild night she spent with Zeus, collisions of passions like storms in the night, wild creation birthing wildly creative beings.

Back to the storm of last night. This was not a normal Midwestern sort of storm, where the gods battle high in the heavens. This storm blew in at sea level, and I was inside this storm as if at sea, the little shotgun house a boat in the waves, the rain sounding like cresting waves crashing on the tin roof, hail pounding, windows rattling.

And in the morning, writing this—all magically calm again. Birds singing (where do they go, I wonder, in that kind of storm?)

On the shotgun porch as I write, it hits me how scared I’ve felt lately about the state of the world, about the global storms blowing the world off-course. This Mother’s day morning, I am hopeful again. The muses are at work, with their creative vision, their bravery and resilience.

It makes me want to forget the idea I sometimes have of being too old to join in. Because we can’t shirk it all off on the younger generation. That was what happened to my own generation, after all. All hope was thrust onto us to save the environment. Hippies turned to stock brokers as the impossibility of one generation creating change alone drained all energy. And here we are, sliding backwards. But from the bottom, maybe we can surface to a new world? If we all wake and work?

Even the old birds are singing hopeful songs this morning.

Even the worst storms eventually clear to a morning like this one, with sunshine and possibility.

Note: there is a wonderful section of New Orleans where all the streets are named for the muses. Read about it here: http://kreweofmuses.org/the-muses/mythology/

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Happy New Year. (I’ve been bad.)

sketch image of hand with words

My first sketch of 2019

Happy 2019.
It′s started off rocky, and my heart is feeling heavy for reasons both external and internal. Familiar questions echo: bouncing from the global to the personal.

Why are our societal systems often so cruel to the most vulnerable, the most innocent?Why do we so often hurt the ones we love?
And me: Why can′t I always be direct, and open?
Why does the past creep up and put its grubby little fingers over my eyes, my mouth, my ears? Why do I often run when I need to face things?

So much is born in seeds of fear. This year I will do what I did last year. My best.
Sometimes good, sometimes, well, not so good.

Focusing on learning, and growing, and cultivating more love, more understanding.
More forgiveness when we fail, as we will. More celebration when we succeed in loving kindness, joy, compassion…let’s do this.
Let′s grow a better world, together.

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Headline: Sexual Assault Hotline Sees Busiest Day Ever

drawing with news commentary

https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/01/health/sexual-assault-hotline-record-bn/index.html

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the news scares me

drawing of coffee cup and newspaper with a scared looking creature and an ominous eye in the shadows of the coffee cup

I came across this pencil drawing titled “the news scares me” that I did several years ago. (Seems it’s not a new trend, the news, being scary…) This is a reminder to anyone who’s feeling overwhelmed by the state of things not to despair, but to keep doing whatever you can do to make the world a better place, in whatever ways are within your means. Small actions, large actions—just take action. Do what you can do. Meet the world with love. And laughter. And anger. And hope.
Happy Sunday.

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dear iphone

drawing of an iphone, 3:13 am on the screen

“It’s time, Baby, to let that shit go.”

Dear iphone,

We are not so different, you and I, aside from the blood pumping in my veins and our obvious size difference, me so large and pillowy soft compared to your flat hard rectangular slipperiness. Oh, you go everywhere with me, like a shadow or a best friend (but maybe you are more shadow than friend?)

At night, like me, you inexplicably wake, beaming. Sometimes I wake at the same time as you. (We are, I think, linked?) And I see you, wide-eyed, staring at me. I have turned off every notification setting I can find; I have activated the “do not disturb” feature on your very latest OS—yet still, you wake over and over.

You are the sieve, the news-breaker, the heart-breaker of my life, aren’t you? Through your tiny speakers I have seen news that gutted me and heard hard words from people I love. I’ve heard honesty and seen realities that should have shattered your dark face.

But you are a phone. Why do you wake, little one? I wish you could sleep.

Maybe old hard syllables echo in you, something like abandonment dreams or trapped memories?

Triggers of something hard-wired into you by a tired woman half a world away who assembled you in a factory far from her family, thinking maybe of a mother or father or child she would likely never see again, swept by economic suck from home forever?

Is it her that wakes you?

You light up the dim bedroom, again, again. Is it the news? The latest assault or attack that flows through you to me? Do you try, and sometimes fail, like I do, to let it go? Is that it?

The news that rings with nightmare laughter of pussy grabbers, of men (and women, too) with hearts harder than your protective casing. Oh, little one, I understand that. I wake afraid, too.

Rape is a weapon, sexual abuse is a weapon—I’m getting off track, but rape is a weapon, and rape culture is to rape as open-carry is to gun violence. The news! Over and over, the wife or girlfriend shot before the rampage. They are trying to keep us afraid, aren’t they? But they don’t know. I’ve begun these sleepless nights to figure it out.

Maybe this is why you’ve taken to waking me. To make me see that to be afraid is to be human. We humans, all of us—are vulnerable to hurt, to pain. So maybe the trick is to be afraid, and do what you want anyway. Do not comply out of fear.

Complying from fear: that would be like losing yourself.

Like losing your heart and soul.

Speaking of loss, my soft body with its hard bones will not last, my little rectangular friend. In the end, we are both disposable. It’s okay. My soul will, I think, continue on. In some form or another.

Maybe I’ll become some whispered words between lost lovers who find each other on a starry night. Words that unlock something healing. Maybe I’ll be whispered words in a phone like you, words that might push someone else to move, despite their fear, into the stream of life.

Maybe I’ll be reborn a rectangle, hard and sleek, living warm in a pocket.

If I do, I imagine I’ll often wake with a jolt like you do, full of dread and information.

And then, like you, I’ll do my very best to close back down and sleep until it is time to chime awake the lovers tangled together in the bed next to me, to gently tell them morning has come, and the world somehow continues still to turn.

Love,
E

[ Note: much as I love and personify my iphone, we are no longer sleeping in the same room 🙂 ]

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Dear Senator Portman

picture of graffiti that says "love all"Dear Senator Portman,

Can you tap into that part of your soul that unlocks and opens up with compassion for your neighbor? You did once.

Part of me, that hopeful, naïve girl raised in a suburb that was “nice” and had “good schools” believes you can. That’s the sliver of me that tenaciously refuses to let go of the notion that at heart, a man like you with every advantage, a man like you with faith, a man like you with power — will try to be compassionate. That surely, surely, you would not be complicit in ending the fragile protections afforded the Dreamers among us.

And yet: you turn your back. You coat yourself in political Teflon and try to slide under the radar. You want it both ways. You want to be obedient to your party and your president — and also be seen as a fine Christian conservative. I wonder how you manage this juggling act. Are you hoping redemption will save you, in the end? Are you hoping that denial can allow you to be complicit in great injustice, and still, you can claim, somehow, to love your neighbor as yourself?

I invite you to try a thought experiment. Remember when your son told you and your wife that he was gay? You had an epiphany then, a spiritual awakening: suddenly you could see that gay people are simply people with different sexual orientations, and that they should be able to marry if they choose to. Suddenly, through the eyes of your son, you saw that the policy you firmly supported denied him something you valued very much.

Back then, you said it like this: “Jane and I were proud of him for his honesty and courage. We were surprised to learn he is gay but knew he was still the same person he’d always been. The only difference was that now we had a more complete picture of the son we love.”

Okay, here’s the experiment. Imagine back to when you and Jane were new parents with small children. Perhaps when your son, Will, was 11 months old. Close your eyes. Really, really think. Remember how oftentimes Will was only comforted in the arms of his mother? Remember how he’d stop sobbing and burrow his head into the crook of her arm, how his whole body would relax into a deep sigh, feeling safe and held? Remember how you’d well up, feeling the palpable love, seeing that bond, being part of that circle of love. Did your chest expand as it filled with fatherly pride? Would you have done anything for that son, for that wife?

Breathe into that. Feel it in your body.

Now imagine the next moment there is a knocking at the door. ICE agents are there to examine Jane’s papers. Only now Jane, in this thought experiment, was brought to this country by her uncle when she was nine. She’s as “American” as you are, but not to the ICE agents. You are not a Senator in this experiment. You are just a working man, a brown one at that. But inside you are you and Jane is Jane and they are taking her away and Will is screaming for his mama and you cannot afford a lawyer and it wouldn’t do you any good even if you could and now they are deporting her — sending her to a country where she knows no one. Leaving you with your heartbroken son. Perhaps Jane was still nursing your son when they ripped her away — she didn’t get to pack a bag, or kiss you or the children goodbye. Stone-faced, they took her away. Locked in a windowless cell, her breasts fill with milk; they swell and ache and grieve along with her heart. You imagine her there, alone, and feel angry, powerless. You pray to God for help.

You write to your senator, pleading.

A miracle! Your senator answers: “the overriding message of love and compassion that I take from the Bible, and certainly the Golden Rule, and the fact that I believe we are all created by our maker, that has all influenced me in terms of my change on this issue.” (1)

And the senator who previously towed the party line — why, God must have spoken to him, for now, he speaks up for you, a helpless father, because he cannot bear the idea that a person brought to this country as a child would be expelled, for no good reason. That a mother would be ripped from her child. For an accident of birth.

The senator who previously stayed silent or tried to atone by speaking up for sex trafficking victims sees that you, the bereft father with the crying children, living on the edge of extreme poverty — and sees that you are his neighbor too. Your senator sees that he can, and must, speak truth to power.

Or else lose his own soul, supporting policies designed to terrorize those not born the right color or orientation. Supporting a president who would pardon a man known for his cruelty and abuse. Suddenly, in an amazing moment of grace, the senator rises up and does what is right.

Oh, it’d be a miracle if you read this. I know that. A miracle if you’d put yourself in a Dreamer’s worn shoes.

But there’s a sliver of me, foolish and hopeful as Anne Frank once was, who believes in miracles, like Anne did, before the political powers of the day refused to speak and act for her: “I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

And so: are you? Good at heart?

Before you answer, think of Riccy Enriquez Perdomo and her 11-month-old baby and the ICE agents that tore her away, and will tear her away again, if you and others like you remain silent. Imagine the anguish of her husband. Think of them and multiply by 700,000 or so of your neighbors. Make the calculation; square it with compassion. (2, 3)

Look into your loving heart and ask yourself if you can really turn away this time. (4)

Sincerely, Elaine

1: quote by Senator Rob Portman, on his change of stance on gay marriage. http://www.politico.com/story/2013/03/rob-portman-gay-marriage-stance-088903

2: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/08/24/advocate-ice-says-release-kentucky-mom-who-has-legal-status/599185001/

3: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-daca-deportations-20170419-story.html

4. silence on DACA http://americasvoice.org/press_releases/sen-portman-not-on-letter-for-daca/

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some random notes on fear

Fear-based attachments are physically addictive,
states the psychiatrist in the book I’m reading.

(Is that why this nightmare isn’t over yet?)

Explains things:
why ugly hazing rituals cement bonds
why that friend of a friend won’t leave her abuser
(Oh, and she may also know he’ll kill her, if she tries,
but people will still blame her, won’t they?
)

And do you remember?
“love trumps fear,” said those hopeful campaign signs

I am relieved to find
I am not afraid of Donald Trump
after blustering “many sides” and “very good people”
After David Duke thanked him for his support
I would spit right in his face — I would
(though I am sometimes, often, afraid
I am not attached yet, it
seems)

I would spit on Rush and Sean and Kellyanne, too,
though I don’t hate these people,
they are very dangerous
telling us to fear each other, fear our neighbors
passing out fear like shots at a frat party

— calling things by all the wrong names
sowing more fear —

“The greater your influence,” the evangelical preacher James MacDonald said,
“the greater your complicity, if you don’t call the Charlottesville attack what it really was: a heinous act of domestic terrorism entirely rooted in racial hatred.”

There’s an old story about the Buddha.
His enemies frighten an elephant, hoping it will kill the Buddha.
The elephant charges in panic and the
Buddha holds his right hand up:
Stop, his hand tells the elephant.
Then the Buddha sees the fear in the elephant’s eyes
sees that the elephant is driven by fear
and he opens with compassion.
He cups his left hand,
making a space for love,
and the elephant stops, and bows down to him.

So I think it goes:
open with compassion
love with all you’ve got
call things by their right names (don’t lie)
and say no when others try to crush you with fear.

I’m just trying to sort it out.
Figure out how on earth to respond.
Spitting won’t help.
Seeing might. Opening might. Standing up might.

(Remember, be brave. Don’t attach, don’t attach. It whispers your darkest names…but please, please, don’t fall in love with fear.)

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somehow, we have to be the light.

photo of trees, sunset, and a streetlamp

I took my car to the dealership this afternoon. I brought my work along, dreading having to tune out the flash and blare of the ginormous big-screen TV in the “customer lounge.”

Ironically, the last time I was at the dealer, trying to ignore the television, it was Inauguration day. Me, a woman who hasn’t lived in a house with a TV for years now, who would have sooner walked barefoot across a bed of broken glass than watch a man she had zero respect or faith in rise to power — yes, I accidentally ended up seeing the live streaming coverage of Trump being sworn in. It was inescapable in the “lounge.” I gave up trying to work, because they had it cranked up. The office staff was watching, a few mechanics wandered in and out, catching a peek.

I listened to the others, the customers and car salesmen, many of whom probably voted for Trump, making comments about how pretty Melania looked in that ice-blue, how nice it would be to have her in the White House (seriously, someone said that, that she would look so pretty at those state dinners). Oh, how handsome and cute fidgety young Barron was. Switch to a close up of Trump, hand on Bible.

“Look how serious he looks,” marveled a white lady about my age. She sounded relieved, and mildly surprised. Her tone said what I think everyone there hoped: that the campaign was over, and now he would behave like an adult. The pussy-grabbing tapes could safely be shoved into the crypt of collective memory, along with all the things he’d said on the campaign trail. Calling Mexicans “rapists,” hollering for the crowd to “knock the crap out of them! I’ll pay the legal bills!” — well, all politicians say crazy things in the heat of a battle. Don’t they? It’s like a man killing his wife in a fit of jealousy. Sort of, well, excusable, right? I mean, don’t we excuse that? It’s all just locker room talk, to be tuned out, glossed over.

“Wow. It’s gotta be a hard day for them,” said a round-faced woman, as the camera panned to a close up of the Obamas. She sounded like she was commenting on a reality show where a couple’s just been voted off the island. She sounded both sad and gleeful at once. Like, I mean, this is exciting! We wanted change! And look — the camera pans back to Melania’s sculpted cheekbones. “You know she was a model, right? She still looks so amazing. How old is she?”

An older black couple stood up right then, and moved as far away as they could get from the “U” of couches set up in front of the giant screen. The overall vibe in the lounge that day felt more tense than celebratory, even though, as I said, I’m willing to bet many of those present had voted for him, and most of them made comments along the lines of, “I bet he’ll get really smart people in to run things. You know, he’s an excellent business man.”

It was a surreal experience.

I do think most people, liberals like me included, hoped he’d delegate responsibly and treat the job seriously. That he’d want to do right, in the end. End his association with openly racist “platform of the alt-right Breitbart” Steve Bannon. Stop the twitter rants. I mean, he’d be President! He’d have to be a responsible, sober adult. But that was 207 days ago.

Today at the dealership, the big screen was dark and silent, and I really didn’t think about why until I came home and watched a recording of Trump’s press conference online.

That’s why it was off! No one wanted to see that. No one wanted to hear that. No one can sit through that and make polite conversation about his tie.

But we have to watch him, don’t we? We have to listen. We have to speak.

Because he’s not sober — he’s dangerous to our society. Dangerous to people I love, and people you love, too. Dangerous to civility and liberty.

I wonder what the history books will say someday? I wonder who will write them? I wish I could write more coherently about what is happening right now, in real-time, but it all feels too much.

So instead, I took a walk. I took this picture. A bright sunset fading into darkness. A lone streetlamp shining. We have to watch, but not fade into darkness.

All of us who care about our country and everyone in it, we have to watch, and not fade.

Somehow, we have to be the light.

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casting stones

church window with stained glass

casting stones

For Maribel Trujillo-Diaz, deported last week to Mexico

In the dark before dawn the birds sang as
Maribel was snatched off the streets by ICE agents—
her four American-born children,
ages 3, 10, 12, and 14,
never got to say goodbye to their mother

In Fairfield she worked processing chicken parts
primary breadwinner
grueling work—uncomplaining,
she paid taxes, went to church,
made a family, made a simple life…

now her deportation is
breaking news,
breaking my heart

newsfeed comments roll past
smelling as I imagine chicken innards on a
conveyor belt might smell,
gagging—

“Go home to YOUR county and think about
what you are going to do with the rest of your life,”

says the red-headed woman whose profile picture is a
parti-colored “Kindness Matters” meme

“She caused the breakup of her family when she
decided to live her criminal lifestyle,”
says another woman grinning in full Irish regalia,
forgetting about her own ancestors who fled from famine,
many of them illegally

“The blame is solely on her,”
says the beefy red-faced man
whose facebook page overflows with
snaps of him and his wife and three kids
at an Easter-egg hunt after church

“If she was in fear she should have
gotten help long before now,”
chides the woman whose profile picture
says “Happy Easter!” superimposed over
a closeup of her kissing her blonde toddler

“Why does this get so much attention?
Is she the only mother that has
Ever been sent back???” asks the woman
who’s also proudly posted she’s
FINALLY past level 65 on Candy Crush

“The law outweighs compassion,”
says Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones

‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
says the second commandment

In Fairfield tonight, four children cry for their mother,
faraway now
who did not get to tell them goodbye

‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,”
says the second commandment, again, falling on deaf ears

ears closed hearts closed
as tight as their bibles

closed to Maribel,
closed to Maribel’s children,
closed to mercy
closed to compassion
closed to loving their neighbors

and the closed ones
harden, harden, harden
as they
scroll Facebook,
troll newsfeeds
play games—
casting stones
pass the hours

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