Category Archives: social justice

Protest sustenance

Seven encouraging minutes by Dr. Glenda Russell that are worthwhile and, believe it or not, funny.

Highlights:
“Don’t cultivate anger, direct it.”

“I cannot help but feel some measure of anger. I must deal with that anger.
I don’t want to wrestle it to the ground. I want to harness it.” Charles M. Blow

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” MLK, Jr.

Don’t give your power to those who would do you harm. Focus on your allies.

Sleep enough, eat well, and limit your exposure to depressive media.

Because so many groups are being attacked simultaneously, “the potential for mass mobilization and coalition building is greater than it’s ever been in my lifetime.”

Frederick Douglass: ‘The end of the Republic begins when the heroism of the struggle for equality yields to the cowardice of resentment.’

Jill Lepore: “What could possibly be more important, more meaningful, or more fun, than making this election the basis for renewing the struggle for justice, equity, and peace.”

Beat the storm 

There I was clearing off the windshield while the radio filled the interior: the mayor of Boston asking people to stay home. I would have stayed home, I love staying home on days like this, but it was the final day of the Carrie Mae Weems show in Harvard Square and I had a plan with a friend. 

The last two Louvre photos feature stacked chairs that were at the ready for a closing presentation. The peony prints were art in and of themselves but were also tribute specimens that the artist collaborated to develop in honor of W.E.B. DuBois. She also created a garden. 


The garden is in Amherst and already on my summer wish list of day trips. 


It would have been nice to meet the artist but it was also nice to have a fairly urgent reason other than my own impatience not to stay.


I will spend part of the afternoon curled up with Finn and the heating pad listening to her speak on YouTube. 


If I weren’t posting on my phone I’d insert more links. She is easy to find. Really worth finding. So are some of the reviews of her work. 

Erasure Poems

1). Start with a source document. Mine is a letter written in 1740 by Eliza Lucas Pinckney to her father.

2). Black out some words (or select some) or both.

3). Type up and read, edit if desired.

4). Repeat. Enjoy the variations.

I followed two rules: 1) all words in the Erasure Poem must be in the order that they appear in the source document and 2) all words must remain in their original form (i.e. the same tense or person). I made an exception to rule two and updated archaic spellings.

This technique, very popular in altered book circles, is one I’ve used for collage, but never for poetry. Relative to the historic fiction I’m writing (Eliza is one of the main characters), I was curious what might be revealed — anything new or useful about Eliza or her circumstances?

All of this was inspired by a poetry reading a few weeks back at Sam Durant‘s “The Meeting House” in Concord, Mass. (an Arts and the Landscape event sponsored by Trustees of Reservations). Four poets read. One of them was 2015 National Book Award winner for Poetry, Robin Coste Lewis (pictured above), who offered an erasure piece. It was intensely moving (you can hear her read three of her poems, here).

Letter from Eliza
to her Father, 1740
ONE

Honorable Sir,

Words to express the situation
beyond expression

the fearful immediate
danger

as I must own some
advantages
such as honor, perhaps profit too.

Put in with my just cause
the love you avoid
by unjust means.

The assurance that this life
depends on Dear Sir,
you.

Injurious to imagine
Heroism.

I deserve
this time.

You always persevere
Honorable Sir.

Your Daughter

***

Letter from Eliza
to her Father, 1740
TWO

To Colonel,

I want words
from you.

The situation terrifies us.
Immediate danger.
I must own

You are sensible.

Might some advantages arise
such as honor, profit too,
mere trifles
in the balance?

A just cause in preference
to every other means.
Courage enough
to will the thought
unworthy of you.

To pretend to Heroism
should conceal fears

and affections.

Always prayer.

Your most obedient
Daughter

***

Letter from Eliza
to her Father, 1740
THREE

To Sir,

I want words under you, us
Beyond and increased

Some place to differ

There, when put in the balance

Life
A just cause
Love

You avoid the assurance
that this welfare
injurious, I deserve.

To pretend
Heroism, I conceal
perpetual apprehensions.

I am always the prayer.

Your Eliza

***

Letter from Eliza
to her Father, 1740
FOUR

I am sensible and
I esteem the fight
as well as the love

Advantages arise

These mere trifles
honored a just cause
as well as every means
to retract anything more
than I deserve.

Mama and the Almighty
The constant prayer

Your obedient Eliza

Refuge

Sanctuaries are so important — even in First World lives where aggravations go to comfort and not survival.

The piercing beeping of trucks in reverse and the roar of playground grass maintenance started at 7:30. That would be immediately after I sat down in the cool peace of our deck to write. Even inside, with all windows closed and headphones on, I thought I would jump out of my skin. It didn’t help knowing that in another hour, two house construction jobs within a stone’s throw of my driveway would get going. So, I got in the car and drove around.

Aimless escape of this kind is a luxury since Finn came to live with us. I drove around in part because I could — it’s a doggie play date day (oy – talk about First World) but also because I couldn’t think of a place nearby that I wanted to occupy. Peets is crowded, always. Our town library is not reliably quiet. The coffee shop in Newtonville — also rarely has an empty seat.

And then I remembered my alma mater: Boston College Law School.  A minute or two from the house. With a beautiful, clean, QUIET and nearly empty library. Wow. Wow.

Greeted first by Saint Thomas More and then by a Ruth McDowell quilt, then entering a wing donated by the law firm I used to work at, there was a sense of homecoming (even if I did not feel at home at that law firm for a single minute of my tenure there and even though this library was built after I graduated).

Something curious went on just before noon. Maybe because I was recently ‘followed’ on twitter by a Massachusetts ACLU lawyer, maybe because last night I watched a talk he gave at the Center for Constitutional Rights on YouTube (Carl Williams) and was really inspired, and maybe because when at 11:55 I got up to chant the Lotus Sutra for Mike Brown, for Mike Brown’s family, for all the BLM activists on the front lines, and even for the dumbbells who don’t understand that racial justice benefits each and every one of us, I was tempted into pulling a directory off the shelf that just happened to be at eye level.

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I don’t even remember what you had to do to qualify for the Order, but I know it was kind of a bid deal. It was a weird and unexpected pleasure to reclaim this part of my life, even if temporarily and for no other purpose but to notice.

I’ll leave you with a little law school humor, lest you conclude I am spending all my sanctuary time on social media!

Distracted

The presidential campaign continues to distract me. I know I’m not the only one who feels she is in limbo, unable to read or even watch TV much, because of the driving need to consume news stories and op eds about the candidates.

I have to know the latest. This week it was: has Trump finally gone too far (dare we hope)? Maybe it is true, as some say, that he never wanted the job and it’s only a matter of time before he folds (dare we hope?).

Is there any remedy for ‘post-factual’ politics (George Will’s term)? If in fact Trump’s followers are willing to accept belief as fact when it suits their purpose, what place does rationality have? John Oliver captured this dilemma well the week after the RNC.

Does it help to blame Roger Ailes, Fox News, the Tea Party, our education system, or the ghost writer of Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal” (who sounds like he’s practically suicidal for his part in aiding Trump’s ascendancy –described here, in a New Yorker article)? Or to call to task all those lame Republicans who have either endorsed the lunatic or remained silent out of fear of messing up their own political ambitions?

Meanwhile, I also collect scathing condemnations of the ‘purity vote’ which strikes me as another form of being unhinged from reality, but from a place of sanctimonious delusion rather than reactionary xenophobia. Who are these people that cannot fathom that sitting this one out or voting for “Jill fucking Stein” (radio host Dan Savage’s name) is to risk turning our country into a flaming dumpster? Maybe Sanders now regrets waiting so long to endorse Clinton, seeing as how so many of his followers do not seem to understand that they are voting ‘in the real world’ (his words).

Occasionally, I hiss in the direction of Lexington, Mass., which is not very far from here, since that is where Jill Stein is from.

Here’s where I need to cite the best article I’ve read so far about the double standard applied to Hillary Clinton, which doesn’t convert her from crook to saint, but does put the unrelenting attacks against her into a serviceable framework of sexism. Too bad the ‘jail Hillary’ folks don’t give a rat’s ass about facts.

It would be like a circus if the stakes weren’t so high. It might even be hilarious if it didn’t reveal the underbelly of our society and just how wide and deep the divides are between various factions.

I hadn’t intended to write this. But maybe I needed to document this craziness as a way to manage it.

Meanwhile, the mundane business of caring for trees, scrubbing scuff marks off of baseboard, making herb butter, vacuuming up dog hair, and a little bit of stitching keep me sane. Good thing, too.

We removed an ailing Rose of Sharon and took some low hanging limbs off of one of our catalpa. I got some quotes for long-deferred tree work. Since we are going from paying two tuitions last year, to paying none this year, we can spring for this. There are big dead limbs in a chokecherry out back. A maple out front with branches tangled in the wires. A four-trunked maple at the side that is compromising our roof. It will feel really good to take care of these trees.

The virtues of watermelon


Let me tell you how much I like watermelon. It’s sweet! It’s juicy! I like watermelon doused in lime juice and sprinkled with mint. I like the cool crunch of it, especially as July shoulders into August and the heat gathers its dull fury.

But why so small a domestic rave?

Well, otherwise I might find myself complaining about the relentless, interfering noise in my neighborhood. When I went out to pick the mint, I leaned into the street to see what racket had just begun, thinking it might be the planned driveway installation next door. But no, it was tree work two doors down. That’s usually good for at least three hours. Not long after I clopped my headphones on, the excavator that has been working sporadically across the street for weeks fired up its engine.

And if I weren’t complaining about noise, I’d be feeling some responsibility to articulate my rage and despondency about racism and unwarranted death and policing and gridlock and…  and… and… For a while now, I’ve believed that speaking out in clear anger was part of the solution, because, you know, ‘denying racism is a form of racism’. I’m not so sure right now. I’ve hit some sort of wall and silence feels like the better response, or maybe, the only one I’m capable of right now.

It occurs to me: America needs an etiquette for mass shootings. America needs an etiquette for racist murders. Think about that for a minute. “Dear Miss Manners, I can’t seem to wrap my head around the recent spate of race-driven murders. What is the most thoughtful response — too old to march. Signed, Weary White Woman.”

I “liked” the woman on FB who said (not completely jesting) that she ought to be able to “call in black” to work, just to give herself a few hours to grieve or find her own humanity (if you’re on FB, look for ‘Evelyn from the Internets’ and scroll down a couple of posts, or search #callinginblack).

Shaun King of the NY Daily News can always be relied upon to inform and respond in outrage. I follow him on twitter so that I will know when another atrocity has taken place (@shaunking). His recent article spoke about the need to end the despicable practice of asking African Americans who have just lost a loved one whether they forgive the perpetrator or not.

If you haven’t read the recent NY Times article by Charles Blow, I recommend it.

Otherwise, find your cool, crunchy sweets where you can?

Even though I’ve been writing at the kitchen table today, I’m going to escape the clammy, noisy air by descending into the basement. It’s cool down there. And quiet. I’ll enjoy my bowl of watermelon standing at the sewing table, with my laptop set up among the pins and scraps.

Then I’ll turn my attention back to mid-eighteenth century, South Carolina.It is strange to feel the permeability of history, which is another way of saying: it’s awful to acknowledge how the hate from those years lives on.

Hearts for Charleston Quilt — Dee

My block honors Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. She was 45 at the time of her death and left behind three children. As a part-time minister at Emanuel AME, a speech and language pathologist at Goose Creek High School, and also the coach of the girls’ field and track team, her death impacted a wide circle of people.

https://i2.wp.com/media2.s-nbcnews.com/j/newscms/2015_26/1093376/150625-sharonda-singleton-mt-1252_c8998f49b44e7720001714d268adcfa2.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000.jpg

image from NBC news

IMG_0498She was said to have run ‘cheek to cheek’ with her athletes — a method of inspiring runners to perform at their best level. Imagine that: a grown woman, strong and swift, pacing her high school students on the track, pushing them to go faster. It’s an unshakable image. I also read that there were times when she ‘prayed so hard that the tears fell down her face’. And her smile! Look at that smile! Apparently, Rev. Coleman-Singleton was known to wear that smile even when disciplining her students!

Not long before the bullets began to fly, she took a call from one of her children. I am grateful the phone call was over before the violence erupted. It was a mundane, housekeeping kind of call — letting one of her children know where she had hidden the game controller. The three stitched hearts on the left are for her children: Chris, Caleb, and Camryn.
IMG_0500Synchronicity lead me to dedicate my heart to Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton.  At my town’s vigil for Charleston, the person who read the prayer for her wore an unusual dress. I actually gasped when I recognized it, because I had used fabric from an identical dress (purchased ages ago in a thrift store) for my block .The quilt square was in my purse, in fact, at the time – I wanted the cloth to be in the energy of our town’s memorializing and prayers.
When I read about Rev. Coleman-Singleton’s life, I wanted to honor her even more — in part because one of my boys ran track for four years in high school and it would not be an exaggeration to say that the experience changed his life. Because of his first coach. When you start counting up all the people touched by Rev. Coleman-Singleton’s life, it really makes you shake your head.

Eulogizing her, Mayor Riley of Charleston said, “In each of her roles, everyone she touched, their personality changed. That is passed on and that’s how a community is changed.”
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I used some of the indigo strips that I dyed while at a workshop outside of Charleston last September, as well as that cut up dress mentioned above and some fabric dyed here in Massachusetts in my back yard.

The nine patch in the center of the heart is mis-aligned, but I left it that way. It, of course, stands for the nine deceased. Those squares are silk and have a slight sheen to them, which makes me think of how memory shines after a person is gone. I’m not sure the block is quite done yet.IMG_0507

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IMG_0193Some of the double exposures that I created during this time were visual explorations about faith, death, and martyrdom. The ‘African Christ’ figure made ages ago appears above.
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One more square is winging its way to Massachusetts from Montana as I type and a block arrived from New Jersey yesterday (stay tuned!). Soon it will be time to assemble the quilt.
Many of the contributions honor all nine of the deceased. Others honor a single person. I haven’t yet resolved how this will determine the final quilt (i.e., if one is honored, shouldn’t they all be?). Furthermore, when with this in mind I started a block for Tywanza Sanders, my online reading revealed the agonizing fact that his mother watched him die. That particular article made the point that the “Charleston Nine” really ought to be the “Charleston Twelve”.
More on this as I go.
To read more about this project,
please refer to the the sidebar category:
“Hearts for Charleston Quilt”.