Sunday, December 22, 2019

Paper Cut to the Lip

'Tis the season, licking Christmas cards, of a paper cut to the lip. I'm not complaining. It's an odd little celebration, an acceptance of the small annoyances that can accompany mainly joyful action! And a total coincidence, as I came into my office with Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit, which I had just finished reading, to share a few quotations with you, got sidetracked by the current cards, including one to Chief Art Acevedo of Houston Police Department, who spoke up courageously in support of sensible gun legislation, in rage and woe upon losing an officer due to the "boyfriend loophole." "You're either here for women and children and our daughters and our sisters and our aunts, or you're here for the NRA," he said, pressing for legislators to renew the Violence Against Women Act (which, despite the sound of its title is to help prevent violence against women.) Sigh... I am happy to cut my lip licking an envelope for a Christmas card thanking him!

I am aware of the irony of the strong either/or statement above, and Solnit general's support of the understanding that not everything is either/or.

Solnit has noticed, and so have I, how so many people disparage laws or victories as not being enough. Any good thing gets the "yes but" response. In her Afterword to the 3rd edition of her book, she says, "I have found, during my adventures in squandering time on social media, that a lot of people respond to almost any achievement, positive development, or outright victory with 'yes but.'" I have noticed that exact phenomenon over and over again on social media...which means, of course, that I need to squander less time there...but also that such naysayers might want to listen to Solnit and avoid what she terms a "naive cynicism" that reinforces patterns of despair, identification with losing, and dependence upon a self-defeating perfectionism.

"Perfectionists often position themselves on the sidelines, from which they point out that nothing is good enough," says Solnit. And even if they are activists, and I've seen this at the local level, their griping undercuts their own work or the work of others for their own or related causes. In the perfectionist's view, "Everything that's not perfect is failed, disappointing, a betrayal. There's idealism there, but also unrealistic expectations, ones that cannot meet with anything but disappointment."

Solnit's book has been great to encounter at year's end and in midlife, as I review my past and my present. I've realized I grew up in an atmosphere of nothing being quite good enough, and it's taken years to shed habits of perfectionism that can so easily attach to a more reasonable striving for excellence, as in "A thing worth doing is a thing worth doing well." I hope I approach art and life that way but with reasonable expectations and acceptance of my flaws!

Getting back to activism, as Rebecca Solnit points out, "The naively cynical measure a piece of legislation, a victory, a milestone not against the past or the limits of the possible but against their ideas of perfection, and as this book reminds you, perfection is a yardstick by which everything falls short." I'm glad I read it, and glad I have a wrinkly, rolled-up measuring tape instead.

Merry Christmas, and Happy Poinsettias to you, if I am not back here before the day in question! And Happy New Year, likewise!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Hope in the Dark

I've been reading Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit, to give me, yes, hope in the dark. It was first published back in 2004, so this is a third edition, published by Haymarket Books in 2016, with an updated Foreword and Afterword to give new context to hopeful thinking that continues even now. Even now.

I picked it up at the ongoing library book sale, meaning I am supporting my library and its non-profit foundation, and started reading it December 1, the beginning of Advent. This cover is perfect, bright white like stars on a dark night. When I set it down, I set it down beside a Christmas card of white lights on a snowy tree in a dark night, with "Silent Night" printed beside the image, a card from my next-door neighbor. The book is part of my holiday decorating now. Along with ebony heads from Africa and a black mask from Mexico, and a silver bird.

What's so wonderful, comforting, and inspiring about this book is its embrace of uncertainty and its recorded knowledge of how small, steady acts of quiet resistance or concerted protest moved people to continue to act and change things. Small acts led to big changes, and that is ongoing, and I am participating in this in my own small, steady, local ways. Hope in in the Dark keeps me from despair, yes, and keeps me steadily working. Here, for example, is a paragraph that inspires me, from the Foreword to this third edition:

Hope locates itself in the premises that we don't know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes---you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It's the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.

I do live among optimists and pessimists, people who choose not to act, and people who cannot tolerate uncertainty. I sympathize with them all but tend to align myself with and gravitate toward those of us who reside in uncertainty, even paradox. Both seem truer to me than most certainties the world offers.

I also recently read How to Fight Anti-Semitism, by Bari Weiss, very enlightening and inspiring. She grew up in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of the Tree of Life synagogue where the terrible mass shooting took place. She had to worry about whether her father was there...he wasn't! (I went to college with her father!) Bari Weiss has hope and offers practical advice. I wrote it all down in my reading journal. She speaks her truth, however controversial, however...certain.

And look at the coincidence of black and white. I'd add her book to my holiday decor, but it was a library book, a new one, a 7-day book, and I already took it back to share with other readers.

Oh, my dears. Hang on, hang on in the darkness. It is the season of light!

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Swamp

I finished reading March, by Geraldine Brooks, a sort of inter-textual novel about what was going on with Mr. March and the Civil War during Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. Marmee (Mrs. March) goes to Washington to tend March in his severe illness. I was amazed at how pertinent this seemed:

It came to me that if the fortunes of this war do not turn, then maybe the city is destined to be no more than this: ruins, merely, sinking back into the swamp; the shards of an optimistic moment when a few dreamers believed you could build a nation upon ideas such as liberty and equality.

Wow! We hear all the "draining the swamp" talk, and here it's geographical as well as metaphorical: sinking back into the swamp. The Civil War then is a bit like the civil war now, with our volatile divisiveness. And, indeed, if we don't turn things around, and soon, our democracy is at great risk, and our country will only sink further.

It makes me sad.

But I did file my papers today to run again as a precinct committeeperson to help get out the vote and to help local people stay energized and informed. It's a Blue Monday because I'm a Democratic committeeperson and a Random Coinciday because who knew a 2005 novel about the 1860s would be so resonant right now!

I read the paperback version, so the quotation comes from pages 215-216.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

This Moment...

Goodness, I can't believe I missed the whole month of October here in the blog. Yes, I continue to be busy, with necessary downtime between tasks and events. At an event in November, I read poems from a new book, This Sarah's Garden, for which I had written poems in the voice of Sarah Davis to accompany photographs by Ken Kashian. That's it above, accordian style, with its box and inserts, which include a packet of poppy seeds and a booklet about the history of David and Sarah Davis, their letters, her garden, and you can learn more about it at Ken's Artist Book site here. After a busy week of meetings and events, including a story slam last night, I am having a grand Slattern Day today, of rest, reading, grocery shopping, and an at-home movie, borrowed from the library. My Cousin Rachel, based on the book by Daphne du Maurier, but not exactly the same story.

I am reading March, by Geraldine Brooks, borrowed from a co-worker at the library, and I can't wait to see Little Women in the theatre this Christmas! My son saw the Winona Ryder version one Christmas when he was a little boy and fell in love with it/her. I hope he'll go see this one with me; I hope my daughter will, too! March is gory and gruesome enough that I might get my son to read it over his Christmas break with us, too! My daughter has enjoyed books I've recommended, and I have shelves and shelves for her to choose from when she comes home for Christmas.

Perhaps all this movie watching and novel reading is escapism...from politics, despair, impeachment hearings, desperate reality. But Monday I will turn in my ballot petition to run again as a precinct committeeperson, because I have to do something. Of course I will vote. And see the new Tom Hanks movie about Mr. Rogers. "Look for the helpers."

Friday, September 13, 2019

Her Firstborn

I just re-read a book of short stories, Swim Back to Me, by Ann Packer, because I had noticed what I wrote down in my reading journal from the first time I read this book and wanted to revisit the whole experience. 

Such wonderful stories, linked by character or theme so that the book somehow holds together as...a whole. The first time, I was struck by certain things in the closing story, "Things Said or Done," about regrets. 

That story's title comes from a stanza of the Yeats poem "Vacillation."
Things said or done long years ago,
Or things I did not do or say
But thought that I might say or do,
Weigh me down, and not a day
But something is recalled,
My conscience or my vanity appalled.
Yes, I get that. And I was very moved and astonished by "Things Said and Done," particularly a woman's insight about what she did wrong in her marriage based on her upbringing: "I began picking at him over tiny annoyances--because the big annoyance, the fact that he wasn't paying enough attention to me, was too unreasonable for me to recognize at that point, let alone communicate. When I wasn't picking at him I was picking at the rest of mankind, going on and on about some slight, a minor social disappointment, an achievement inadequately rewarded. I was twenty-five, I thought it was just a matter of time before people shaped up and started acting as I wanted. Such is the lot of the narcissist's child, to inherit her parent's umbrage over the world's indifference." Well said. I won't say why.
But this time I was struck by something in the penultimate story, "Her Firstborn." A man is coming to understand something about his wife, who was married before. He's "had it all wrong: it isn't that Lise had a baby who died, but rather that she had a baby, who died." Yes, exactly.
Tonight I saw a lovely production of a lovely play, The Electric Baby, by Stefanie Zadravec, about a baby who glows like the moon...and about regrets. There's a woman picking at her husband in a troubled marriage. There's a young woman at the cradle of her firstborn.
This was the night of the full moon. This was a wonderful "random coinciday."

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Birds of a Feather

I’d been working on a poetry feature at Escape Into Life—of poems with birds in them—when the Audubon Society informed me, via Facebook, that we were coming up on National Wildlife Day, so why not celebrate with birds?! Happy National Wildlife Day! And Poetry Someday here in my blog. And Random Coinciday! (It’s fun to be blogging again!) (Where was I?!)(Oh, yeah.*)

Please enjoy Birds of a Feather: Poetry & Art at Escape Into Life! The flamingo painting you see here is by Ilya Zomb.

*I have been oddly busy in a number of different ways. I told you about walking in the Labor Day Parade, twice, and that was only this past Monday. Over the last few years, I have walked in many local parades and attended various meetings, vigils, rallies, and marches because OMG, I have to do something, right?! Writing poetry and submitting it got a little pushed to one side, but that’s started up again, as has my heart, and creativity pushed on me enough to put me back in a play or two. My body, again, had to do something.

Today I began walking the precinct again, collecting signatures (3) to run again as Democratic Precinct Committeeperson—to help get out the vote on March 17, 2020 and November 3, 2020. Hoping to help turn things around.

Back to birds of a feather. Birds of a bright yellow feather—goldfinches—are coming to eat the seedheads of my purple coneflowers! My husband, a painter, and I are birds of a feather, and he initially wanted to meet me as he sees poetry and painting as sister arts. He has art up in a show opening this weekend in St. Louis. It’s the Anew Exhibition at Intersect Arts Center, about healing from violence, opening September 7 and closing October 4, 2019. If you are near St. Louis during that time, I hope you can go see it!

Monday, September 2, 2019

Labor Day

Well, you may not be able to step in the same river twice, but, evidently, you can walk in the same Labor Day Parade twice! I walked with the McLean County Democrats, at the 16th position in the parade and, once we had reached our destination at Miller Park, walked back and joined McLean County Moms Demand Action, positioned as 60th in a parade of 90+ organizations, many of them, of course, labor unions!

It was great to walk back, twice, and see the carpenters, painters, letter carriers, theatrical stagehands, and other workers, along with lots of school bands! Congrats to all!

With the Moms, a nonpartisan group, I think I effectively masked my blue Democrat shirt with my orange “We Can End Gun Violence” sign, flip side, “Everytown USA.” Everytown USA is the umbrella organization for the various Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America chapters. With both groups, we encountered enthusiasm, thanks, and applause. Thanks for all your support at this crucial and sad time in America! Whatever your political party, you can vote for Gun Sense candidates, who support sensible gun safety legislation and who don’t take money from the NRA. Listen closely to what all candidates say on this issue if it’s one you care about. And I hope you do.

Today at Escape Into Life, we are celebrating Labor Day with poems with work, of all sorts, in them. And fantastic carpentry-oriented art by Drew Tyndall, one of our past EIL featured artists.

Happy Labor Day to you!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Spiritual Midwifery + Labor Day

I’m delighted that my new chapbook, Spiritual Midwifery, has come out from Red Bird on Labor Day weekend. It’s a pun, get it?! Really, some of the poems are actually about the birth of babies and some are about, in a way, the spirit laboring to be born.

The title poem is in honor of another book with the same title about actual midwifery, at a place called The Farm, where women could go have natural childbirth during a time in the USA when hospital labor & delivery were the norm. Midwives were prevented from doing their work during that time. Now there is a nice balance, with nurse midwives helping women throughout their pregnancies and with all kinds of childbirth experiences. I read that other Spiritual Midwifery to prepare me for the birth of my first child, for all the ways of going through labor, and for all the things that could go wrong as well as right. It helped keep me calm and breathing through natural childbirth with midwives in a hospital.

Labor Day is a celebration of the rights of workers, who need good wages, decent hours, and, importantly, time off! Poetry, as my fellow poets out there know, is a labor of love. And so often, it is also a labor of love for poetry book editors, designers, and publishers, who are unpaid or underpaid, just like the poets.  I’d love you to order my book straight from Red Bird Chapbooks as a way of honoring all that work and all those workers. And thank you!

This beautiful cover is based on a painting called Looking Back, by Tony Rio. Sorry, you can’t buy it. It belongs to me. It’s a little fragile, having come through a house fire, so it has some water damage that 1) adds to the smudged look and 2) has disconnected it from its frame, but a big thank you to those fire fighters, who got us safely through that experience some years ago. I’m glad I’ll be walking with and for all kinds of workers in the Labor Day Parade!

Friday, June 21, 2019

Make Someone Happy

It’s the first day of summer! It started sunny and lovely, and I swam first, then walked to work…and then walked home as the rain began. 

But, hey, they made us happy at work by celebrating with Dilly Bars, the perfect summer treat!

Recently, I made Karen Craigo happy with this review of her book Passing Through Humansville (Sundress Publications, 2018) over at Escape Into Life.

And I’ve been listening to various versions of “Make Someone Happy” from the musical Do Re Mi, music by Jule Styne, book by Garson Kanin, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. While I fondly remember hearing Jimmy Durante sing this song, today I am made happy by Audra McDonald.

Happy summer! And, yes, the day lilies are opening!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Dude, Where's My Cart?

I work in a public library, mostly behind the scenes, in tech services...but sometimes I come upstairs with a cart to do various internal projects I didn't even know existed until I got this job. I try to remember to wear my name tag so I can help people, but often I don't, as name tags are cumbersome and at times downright hazardous when you are in tech services. Interestingly, it is usually when I am not wearing a name tag that patrons ask me for help.

I think I am like a "cat magnet." You know how a cat will seek out the one person in the room who is not fond of cats (my mom) and jump up into her lap? I don't mean that I am not fond of patrons (though it's true I do not want them to jump into my lap); I mean that I am a shy person, an introvert, and I suspect I attract equally shy and/or introverted patrons who want to ask a question of a quiet, non-threatening library-looking person who is not very customer service oriented or trained. I love helping patrons find just the right book or audiobook or movie! I don't know how to work any of the machines--copy machine, fax machine, scanner, public computers--so I go get real circulation staff for that.

Anyway, what I'm getting at here is that recently I went upstairs with my cart on a tech services project, paused to help a patron, went into the workroom to do so, and came back thinking, "Dude, where's my cart?" I knew I had pulled it out of the way, but where, exactly?! Never fear, I found it, and now I can recommend that, if you are local, you go see the 10-Minute Plays at Heartland, this year all on the theme of The Library. They are hilarious and poignant and well-written and well-performed. Every weekend in June! They made me laugh, they made me cry, and no one said, "Dude, where's my cart?"

Darn it, I should have written that play!

And here's a random but nice announcement. Patricia Clark, a poet I admire, just won a contest I also entered, The Fourth River Folio Contest. As I am always a finalist, never Miss America, I was once again a finalist, and honored to be one! If I were not such a shy introvert I might be Miss Congeniality. Or if I were an undercover FBI agent. Yay for Patricia Clark, who is also one of our poets at Escape Into Life! If you read this interview with Patricia Clark at EIL, you'll see her connection to nature, some cool art by Tim Simmons, and be set up for a fine random coincidence of the sort I love. She mentions camping out with her parents, and next year's theme for the 10-Minute Play Contest at Heartland is The Campout! Dude, where's my tent?

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Wear Orange

Today I am wearing orange. I attended one of the many nationwide Wear Orange events in a public park on this beautiful June day. We had orange balloons, a "Honk if you are wearing orange!" sign by the roadway (many honks), the chance to paint designs on orange rocks, info and flyers from many organizations (including our local Moms Demand Action group, who were the sponsors, and Prairie Pride Coalition--it's Pride month!--, the YWCA, and more!), the chance to decorate a t-shirt for someone you love who was a victim or is a survivor--to hang up with our 10 (oh, no! alas, yes!) orange t-shirts for 10 victims of local gun violence. We had Be Smart education info for gun safety. We had a chance to write downs the names of the lost. We had orange Sno-Cones and fun games. We had joy, and we had tears.

Two of the mothers who had lost their sons to gun violence this past year were there to speak, to cry, to inspire us to action, to hug each other and to be hugged.

Thank you to all who attended, locally and nationally. Thank you to all who are working so hard to raise awareness for gun violence prevention and for legislation to help reduce gun violence in America. Thanks to those of you who are running for office and voting for people who support sensible gun control. Thank to all the responsible gun owners who also support gun safety legislation and to those who speak out. Thank you to the friends of Hadiya Pendleton, who started this particular Wear Orange awareness event, wearing orange, like hunters, to say, in essence, I am human, not prey, after Hadiya was killed at 15 by a stray bullet. Thank you.*

Soon, soon, but not today, because of the long, cold, late spring...soon my orange day lilies will bloom.

*Thank you, Ulf Eliasson, for this day lily image from Wikipedia!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Three Ducks Spark Joy!

Lap swimming has begun for the summer! On Monday, it was in the 50s, but water was warmer, so, yay! Tuesday, I swam with three mallard ducks. Well, I stayed in my lane. They stayed in their half of the pool. They did spark joy, so nobody got rid of them.

Today, I discovered that my little white anklets do not stay up by my ankles, so goodbye to them! And probably to my navy blue criss-cross Mary Jane shoes, which are coming apart at the seams. I wore them till I wore them out.

Busy, and busy reading. And writing. And editing. And being human.

Sitting Mallard photo credit:
Bengt Nyman - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Mallard Pair photo credit:
Richard Bartz

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Road Trip/Redacted

I just wrote an entire blog post that I--oops!-- deleted. It was about driving cross country to move my daughter and her boyfriend to Portland, Oregon (right before 10,000 writers and writing teachers descended on the city for the annual AWP Conference). My husband and I drove her sturdy little used Miata (not this one), and she and her boyfriend drove his car, the backseat and trunk full of their essential belongings. (We unloaded their heavier belongings from a U-Haul pod, delivered to their new apartment.)

 Our country is beautiful, just as the song says! Spacious skies! Purple (purple?) mountain majesties!

When we got home, our reliable but broken red Ford Focus wagon still sat in the driveway, falling apart. New tires! Still starts! But the bottom might drop out. My little old (1991) blue Ford Escort wagon still sat in the garage awaiting me, its license plates not yet electronically redacted. It was time to get another reliable used car. In Peoria, via Craigslist. As you can see, it is a two-toned Miata. Somewhat tensely, I drove the little blue wagon to Peoria and back, not sure it would withstand 65 miles per hour. It did! But I needed the glass of wine.

I have yet to drive the Miata.

Portland, by the way, is also beautiful! We saw both sun and rain, we hiked a forested trail, we visited the Saturday market and Powell's City of Books and all 4 of the city's quarters. We drove to the coast and walked the beach and hiked another forested mountain trail. I remained awed and grateful.

At Powell's I got Fall Back Down When I Die, by Joe Wilkins (hardback, signed!), and The Pisces, by Melissa Broder (paperback, funny, fishy!).

This is basically what I wrote before, but shorter, so better! The images were still available to me, but the words had flown the coop. Now I am reading The Life of Objects, by Susanna Moore, from the library book sale! And writing a poem a day for April, National Poetry Month!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Fat Tuesday with Abe

It's almost like I've given up everything for Lent and as if Lent is all the time. I am behind in my blog, poetry writing, poetry submitting, letter writing, and all things me. Except that I was in a play, so that explains my absence in January and February, 2019, but it doesn't explain anything else. Tuesday, I was downtown and saw Abe Lincoln all dressed up for Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday. Here he is.

The play I was in was Marjorie Prime, by Jordan Harrison. I played a human and an A.I. (artificial intelligence) version of Marjorie (Marjorie Prime.) It was a wonderful experience--the process, the performances, the cast, the crew, the audiences, all of it! People keep stopping me to say how much they liked it, how thought provoking it was, how much they appreciated Heartland Theatre Company for doing it. So, yay! And, strangely, I learned a lot about what it is and what it means to be human. There are four characters in the play. One is A.I. throughout, one is human throughout, and two of us got to be both, and we both felt the difference. I felt not just like A.I. but, in a way, like a Buddhist. I like the play better than the movie, though the movie has a stellar cast, in case you ever seek it out. I advise seeking out a live theatre production, though!

Then I went to Chicago for four days to discuss human nature with a lovely bunch of coconuts via a wide array of readings (excerpts). We also visited the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie--to ponder again what humans do to other humans--and asked questions of a survivor who is, for museum purposes, also a hologram.

Now (again, forever) it is snowing, and I must decide whether to go out in it and for which reason: candidate forum or volleyball regionals. Sigh....

And it's not Tuesday, fat or skinny. It's Thursday.