Liberty and zombie filters

“Who will steal your liberty and when?”

On days of incomprehensible news, I take an obsessive satisfaction in making digital collages. It could be because it’s nonverbal and provides a kind of pause in all the urgently spoken outrage. Or maybe it’s because with these photo-combos I can almost, kinda, sorta capture the truly weird and horrifying circumstances we find ourselves in.

The paper collage (upper left) is from an old Sketchbook Project called, “Questions for a 19 year old” submitted in the category, “It’s not about me”. The Pinocchio photo is mine. On the right is an unfinished collage that became a SoulCollage card entitled “Fear”. I made it shortly after the election by combining two fashion ads from Vogue.


I use two free iPhone apps: Diana photo app and Prisma.  Some of these were generated solely with Diana.

Photo of Trump came from a Sarah Jones article entitled, “Trump leaves out Comey request for more resources to investigate Russia from timeline”. It was published online on politicususa.com here:

http://www.politicususa.com/2017/05/10/trump-white-house-sends-timeline-comey-firing-leaves-request-russia-resources.html

I didn’t see an attribution for the photo.

The old Sketchbook project queries keep coming back because of their relevance. Questions for a 19 year old included:

  • What will you carry?
  • What will haunt you?
  • What will you do when she changes her mind?
  • Who will steal your liberty and when?

I don’t usually like this dark green Diana filter but it seemed fitting for today. It’s called: “Zombie Apocalypse”.

I hear pundits say we are “on the verge” of a constitutional crisis and wonder what else would need to happen for them to name it an “actual crisis”?

#silentcoup

I have a lot to say about all of this. Maybe another spoken piece next — something I wrote in class today?






Writing helps

img_7054I don’t know who I am. I don’t know how to be. I don’t know what’s next or even, sometimes, what’s come before. Even “where am I?” is a difficult question these days.

Writing helps.

If I let a few days pass without scribing my three pages, I come a little unmoored. It took a while to notice this. These unholy pauses are sometimes followed by a great volume of ink, often equal to the aggregate number of missed pages. Now I’ve instituted a ‘catch up routine’ — whenever I miss a day, I mark my notebook where I’d be had I written every day. And then I catch up.

It seems to matter.

Strangely, writing makes me feel better even when dedicated to identifying what’s bothering me. Turns out, knowing what’s bothering me even without remedy is preferable to being bothered and ignorant to cause.

Does anyone understand why this is so?

I’ll answer the above questions, out of curiosity? Can you?

Who am I?” All the labels hang like loose chads, so I’ll let Joni Mitchell’s words stand in as answer: “I am a woman of heart and mind, with time on her hands, no child to raise…”  Maybe?

How to be?” How to be with respect to writing, that is: Stay at it. Don’t let doubt in any of its guises derail you. The rest is detail: collect 18th century language; bounce between public risk and private assembly; keep assessing the story’s pace. Keep at it. Vanquish doubt.

Where am I?” I’ve lived at this address for 23 years and in this town since 1986, so it’s strange to feel like I don’t really belong here. Did I ever? And if not here, where? Having been uprooted every few years growing up, I wanted stability for my boys and this was a good town for them to grow up in. But now? And it’s not just the leaf blowers.

The state of our nation and our planet shove disorientation down my throat in a manner most vile. Is this country mine anymore? Will there be a coup? Who will take him and his cronies down and when? Knowing that MILLIONS of Americans share my shock and grief doesn’t alter the central fact of my fearful alienation. Where am I, indeed!

img_2799

Boston Climate March

I’ll leave you with Naomi Klein’s key note speech from the recent San Miguel’s writers conference. It is hair-raising in its precise measure of our perilous state but also galvanizing… perhaps the best political media I’ve taken in for weeks.

‘We don’t have four years,’ she says. ‘The planet doesn’t have four years’.

‘The entire political system has to change,’ she says, ‘We have to SWERVE.’ (What does that mean?)

‘It’s not enough to resist. We have to also build.’ How? How?

 

PS “Daily Pages” as developed by Julia Cameron in “The Artist’s Way“‘

“Racism is a morphing beast”

No automatic alt text available.

Recently, I attended an OSPAN anti-racism workshop run by Didi Delgado and Leslie Mac.  #OSPAN — stands for “Organizing on (Safety) Pins and Needles.”  Developed by Leslie Mac and Marissa Jenae Johnson, these in-person and online trainings are designed to help whites become better allies.

Attending was my way to take constructive action after being stunned by Didi Delgado’s incisive piece about whites’ failures at being allies:  The Caucasian Invasion.

It was a smart move. I came away both charged and humbled. The meeting was held in Boston a few blocks from Fort Point Channel. I took the T in, which for this old broad was something of an adventure. The clouds were gorgeous and it was a little too warm for my pea coat, but I would’ve been cold in anything lighter. That’s the kind of spring we’re having.

The meeting started a half-hour late, during which time I was stunned (agog really) to see how focused the gathering group was on their phones (what can I say? I don’t get out much). Hardly anyone talked or introduced themselves. I ate cinnamon Altoids (five at a time for some real fire) and — what else? — looked at my phone.

It was a decent-sized group with all ages represented. About half of the attendees were employees of non-profits, individuals clearly charged with bringing back reports. A fair number of UU ministers were present.

After some emphatic jokes about the origins of the program being ‘finding a way to get white people to pay me’ (which, P.S., I have no problem with) and a very brief ‘ice-breaker’, the facilitators went over basic rules of engagement (listed below). Many in the group appeared to be familiar with them. I was not.

  1. TAKE INDIVIDUAL AND COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY. To be an effective ally, whites must  both own and counter our status of privilege. This means addressing the sins of the past (reparations; addressing the ongoing legacy of slavery) as well as acknowledging the privilege of the present. In any given setting or relationship, ask, ‘who has the power here?’ and ‘how am I wielding my power?’ and ‘how can I leverage privilege in aid of marginalized or oppressed people?’
  2. ATTACK THE PROBLEM NOT THE PERSON. Didi Delgado shared about how truly awful some of the comments to her articles are by way exemplifying how to violate this rule.
  3.  PROGRESSIVE STACK  and STEP FORWARD/STEP BACK, according to wikipedia:

. . . a technique used to give marginalized groups greater chance to speak.[1]

The progressive stack attempts to counter a flaw in traditional representative democracy, where the majority is heard while the non-dominant groups are silenced or ignored.[1] In practice, “majority culture” is interpreted by progressive stack practitioners to mean White people, men and young adults, while non-dominant groups include women, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, people of color, and very young or older people.[2][3]

The “stack” is the list of speakers who are commenting or asking questions in public meetings. Anyone can request to be added to the stack. Generally, people speak in the order in which they were added to the queue. By contrast, in meetings using the progressive stack, ‘stack-keepers’ invite people from non-dominant groups to speak first (i.e. before people from dominant groups). They use the phrases ‘step forward’ or ‘step back’ to manage the list.[4]

(edited)

4. OUCH AND OOPS. ‘Ouch’ is a shorthand reaction to an offensive remark and ‘oops’ a shorthand response. This technique can be employed to briefly acknowledge hurtful statements or attitudes and apologize for same, with the goal of keeping a meeting from being derailed. Participants can choose to explore at greater length outside the meeting, or not.

Personal aside:  You know that moment in “Hidden Figures” when the Kirsten Dunst character is trying to defend or apologize for her complicity with racist decisions within NASA (and really fucking it up) and the Octavia Spencer character says, “you might want to stop talking now”? That was a major ‘ouch’ and ‘oops’ moment.

I wished I’d had this technique sooner in life. Funnily enough, the friend with whom I attended “Hidden Figures” said those exact words to me years earlier. It happened at a track meet when I sputtered aloud my surprise that our kids’ coach was black (there were reasons why it surprised me). I tried to add nuance to the statement — it was a sign of progress that it never came up, in my parents’ generation it would have, just like not knowing Mr. ______ was gay for two years. Blah, blah. She at last said: “you might want to stop talking now.”

Picture this then, years later, white woman leaning toward black woman in the cinematic dark, whispering,”You said that to me once upon a time.” The two of them laughing.

5. THERE IS NO QUICK FIX.

“Racism is a morphing beast.” (Leslie Mac)

As a constantly evolving, complex problem, fighting racial injustice requires sustained effort and constant learning. Activism of this sort does not lend itself to a check-list. “White people LOVE lists,” Leslie Mac joked (it’s true!) and then added, “anti-racism isn’t a a list. You can’t check if off.”

The work is messy and we’re gonna get messy doing it.

6. INTENT v. IMPACT

While some slack can be given to those allies with good intentions but little to show for them, black people have the right to make judgments based on value.

Is our involvement casual? More like a hobby than a sustained commitment? Would we risk our lives, the way they are forced, day by day, to risk theirs?

“I can’t eat your good intentions.”
Leslie Mac

 Here are some other points covered:

  • Support of black lives cannot be conditional.

African American activists don’t have to frame their message in ways palatable to white people in order for us to support them. Didi Delgado is often dismissed as an “angry black woman” and in fact two of the recurring criticisms of her recent article were that it wasn’t constructive enough and its tone was too abrasive.

How can anger be a disqualifier given the history of oppression in this country?

T-shirt at the event:
“BLACK LIVES MATTER
more than white feelings”

Needing a tax receipt for a gift is inherently conditional. Below please find some creative forms of giving (shared with permission):


  • Black people are not monoliths. Neither are their responses to oppression.

The imposition that every black person speak for all black people is something James Baldwin referred to as : “the burden of representation”.

The burden of representation is not only hurtful and limiting in one on one exchanges, it is corrosive to wider intellectual inquiry and has a way of encouraging tokenism.

Certainly there ought to be room for elegant rants as well as polite political analyses.

I suppose whites make value judgments about who their sources are, as well, gravitating toward those that inspire rather than demoralize. But, if one is not feeling uncomfortable at least some of the time, it might be worth asking ‘what am I avoiding?’

  • White missteps are inevitable and we ought to anticipate them

How can #WHITEFRAGILITY surprise us anymore? Our job is not to avoid screwing up (and certainly not to avoid being in the fray out of fear of fucking up), but to make the recovery time quicker and a tad more graceful.

Name it / Claim it / Tame it.

Didi Delgado, “I’m still holding white people’s hands during my oppression.” Also: “I don’t want to spend time with someone who leaves me on the line because I made them uncomfortable.”

  • We mustn’t forget to act!

Self-education
Reflection
Analysis
Action

These are the stages to becoming a decent ally. We need to guard against getting stuck toggling between learning and reflection and failing ever to get to action.

Leslie Mac: “People ask, ‘what should I do,’ but once you get through the first steps, knowing what to do will be obvious.”

“At some point if we’re gonna dig a hole,
someone has to pick up a god-damned shovel.”
Leslie Mac

  • Accountability is a real thing.

One of the primary objections to some white efforts — Stand Up for Racial Justice, for example (explored in Delgado’s article, The Caucasian Invasion) — is the lack of accountability to people of color. It’s one thing to take ownership for learning history and understanding grass-roots movements, it is another thing altogether to expect to effectively fight racism with no actual ties to black people.

Becoming accountable is an ask, one with real risks (see: ‘it’s messy’, above).  However, absence of accountability is no excuse for failing to act.

Hope you benefited from this post. As always, comments welcome.

img_9856

PS  As a writer of a novel set in South Carolina during the mid-eighteenth century, I am really flummoxed on the business of accountability. How do I ask a black reader to review my manuscript — it’s long, for one thing.  And for another, the issues around creating authentic voices, cultural appropriation and exploitation of African American pain are really tangled.

“Please read my draft (which I hope will be published someday and maybe even produce a little income). Let me know what you think? And if at all possible, please don’t tell me this isn’t my story to tell.”

Would any of the icky problems around cultural appropriation and profit be mitigated by an up-front commitment of a portion of earnings to black causes?

I think about these things a lot.


Decline and Breakthrough

Another cold and rainy day. There was the weekly 1/2 hour indivisible group phone call at eight.  Two check in calls with my sister. Two ventures out with Finn. Daily pages written by hand early and chapter revisions done later on laptop. 

Yesterday was busy and draining. I took my sister to an appt and out to buy booze and annuals. The limitations imposed by recent weight gain seem to be the new normal (she can’t use any of the three methods of transport I’ve arranged for her anymore; severe shortness of breath when moving; increased difficulty dressing and bathing). Very discouraging — more for her than for me, but also for me. Came home and planted my annuals — coleus, sage, and rosemary. Cleaned up. Grocery shopped. And then spent the rest of the late afternoon wondering why I was so tired?

Finished this vertical denim backed piece yesterday — well, almost. 

I’m loving how it came together, what it came together with, and the result. Such a rarity! But maybe I’m on to something? For such a modest little piece: it feels like a breakthrough. 

Don’t you just hate posts about blogging?

Posts about blogging often have a Catholic air of contrition about them: “Bless me Father, for I have sinned — I have not posted in six days.” Ach, indulge me as I cast before you a post about blogging!

img_2353Earlier this week, I published a few paragraphs about K traveling to a city in China very close to North Korea. It was freaking me out, etc. I thought maybe I could institute a practice of sharing his absence in real time because of our barky friend, Finn — but then thought the better of it. Why advertise vulnerability? (Since K’s now en route from Beijing to Newark, it’s public again).

[By the way, I don’t need my husband to be within Seoul’s radiation range to care about nuclear escalation — (in fact two others in my indivisible group and I have an appointment to speak with Representative Joe Kennedy about this next week). Let’s just say that the possibility of immediate personal harm amplifies concern].

img_2486

Then I started a post about housekeeping. Part nod to the need for discrete tasks with tangible results in a world spinning out of control and part nostalgic lament. (And yes, I really am picking detritus out from between the floor boards with a fowl pin!)

The house is tidier than ever. The raking more thorough. It’s hard not to wonder: what was so impossible about keeping a neat house while the boys were growing up?

Not wanting a question so fundamentally unfair to myself to linger unanswered, I considered an exercise in prescriptive memoir. Let’s document the positive!

I have a terrible memory, but this warping of recollection in the direction of personal failing is something else. It hurts.

But then it all felt incredibly disingenuous and anyway, in the process of rereading journals to “build my case,” I kept finding stuff that highlighted my missteps. Whoops! I got jammed. Really jammed.

I consulted my dear Byron Katie and got a little unstuck.

I’m tired of taking sides.

And anyway, wouldn’t a disordered lament make me more vulnerable and therefore be more interesting than some tidy, upbeat chirp of a post, which corrective or not, is ultimately self-congratulatory?

Messy then. Less messy now. So what.

I’ll leave you with a few of the pictures I scared up. I’ve made no attempt to span the years or to be thorough in any way (you know me better than that!)

img_2392







IMG_2011

20140713-020129-7289027.jpgmay 2014 192

celebratingblizzard-D-to-left

Bombs and bluebells

Dalian, China doesn’t share a border with North Korea but it’s pretty close, just across the Bay of Korea.

There’s K, dapper in a crisp green and blue plaid shirt and charcoal grey slacks, packing. I crack open an eye: “a little overdressed for nuclear warfare, aren’t you?”

This weekend I almost googled “radiation fall out” but raked some more instead.

And speaking of bombs, the Boston Marathon is today. We must’ve heard forty helicopters and dozens of sirens over the weekend. No, make that dozens of sirens on each of Saturday and Sunday. Practice, I guess. K thought each was an emergency. “Can’t be. Can’t be,” I kept saying.

I’m not going this year (we live pretty close to Heartbreak Hill). Instead, I plan to *write, walk the dog, write, play fetch with the dog, write, eat lunch. Repeat from * substituting supper on second round.

Finn wanted a quick game before Ks cab to the airport arrived (did I mention he’s going to Dalian, on Korea Bay?) but it was too early. It’s school vacation week and some of our neighbors will be sleeping in.

The Virginia Bluebells are up. The maples bud at last.

At the curb, I do my best Sean Spicer, “Say hello to Kim Young She!”

Easter was hot. But today should be cooler — perfect for the race.

Feedback on chapter five

Yesterday was my day to get feedback on some manuscript pages. Much was very positive (always nice to hear) — the prose was “vivid” “raw,” “transporting,” with credible characters. The rapes described: ‘disturbing without being gratuitous’ (but would they have used the word ‘rape’? –  good question).

The more critical feedback addressed some of the ongoing difficulties. These difficulties are listed below in no particular order:

1). It’s my first attempt at writing a novel. 2). There’ve been some ongoing (sometimes heartbreaking) caretaking responsibilities during these same years. 3). Voice. Voice. Voice. 4). Race. Race. Race. 5). Tempo (is this section too interior? have I spent too much time describing the light?)

Voice goes to research and it goes to structure and it goes to race (including but not limited to problems of cultural appropriation) and it may be the single biggest ongoing challenge I face. If I ever dump the project (and believe me, I consider it often), this will be the reason.

To put it another way:  How, as a white suburban Yankee in the 2000’s, do I craft a southern landscape with authentic (or at least not mortally offensive) white and black characters set in the mid-eighteenth century? 

I chose to tell the Eliza Lucas Pinckney chapters in first person and the bondwomen sections in third person close. I didn’t think I could pull off first person for the enslaved characters, a decision that seems alternately respectful and cowardly. Even third person close is very very hard. Until a professional asks me to revisit these two overarching decisions, I’m sticking with them.

But, can I rethink the complete absence of an omniscient narrator? Not having one means that historic conditions have to be explained vis-a-vis the characters. It can be cumbersome. Plus, I’m denied any opportunity to make modern observations about human bondage (which, in the thick of things, believe me, I do really want to make).

Some historic junk I’ve assimilated so thoroughly that it flows into the narrative easily and then the issue is — does my reader understand what I’m talking about? what’s a ‘factor’? is a ‘Guinea’ a ship? why say ‘rigger’ when ‘sailor’ would do?) Other times, it’s just clunky and it’s hard for me to know if I’m showing off (look what I’ve learned!) or whether the historic business at hand is essential to the story.

“working in the brakes… certain winds over Barbados brought the smell of a slaver long before its sail appeared on the horizon… Noah was a quadroon… the cutter monkeyed to the ground, hand still clutching the machete”

Anyway, when the idea was floated to allow myself the occasional insertion of an omniscient narrator, I was very open to it. And, guess what? I’ve been hearing this new voice talk all day and it’s not at all who I expected (i.e., white, female academic). Instead, he’s a sly and humorous bondman. I suspect his forceful commentary will ‘lay some learnin’ on me way before he does on you. I don’t think he’ll get a name. We’ll see. I’ve also kept the Barbadian cane grower who rapes one of my main characters (Sally aka Melody) nameless.

Tomorrow: how what I learned about accountability at the Organizing on (Safety) Pins and Needles anti-racism training on Wednesday applies to manuscript feedback.

(Note next day: Nope. Can’t go there yet).

Photographs were taken February 2017, at MacLeod Plantation on James Island.