The Green Study

Bullies, Bystanders, or Bravehearts?: Questions of Civic Participation

There is an argument I consistently have with myself regarding civil discourse. In theory, I believe in civility. I believe in thoughtful discussion. Whatever vulgarity or cuss words I’ve used here, have always been of my own volition, albeit I have taken more opportunities of late to use them. I am an angry person. I believe in justice and I loathe deliberate ignorance.

canstockphoto11106690For all the understanding and tolerance we are supposed to extend to people who tell us liberalism is a mental disease and that they’re giddy about these current circumstances, we get very little in return. The message is that we are to fall in line and adore their great leader or else what? They’ll call us names? Vote in spite? Threaten us with violence?

Reading comments from people who seem to adore the president and his mafia, I am completely baffled by the appeal. But I’ve never understood celebrity worship or the idea that being unfiltered is somehow preferable to being thoughtful. I’ve never invested my sense of self in strangers on TV or politicians bloviating over donuts. I don’t get my news from Facebook or Twitter. I know that reality TV is curated bullshit. I’m not going to wear clothes with people’s names on it, whether it be Tommy Hilfiger or Trump. I am no one’s standard bearer or billboard.

And that’s what I find so baffling. I grew up in a poor working class family. I learned several skills or beliefs in this environment: 1) That nobody is going to fix my life 2) How to spot a bullshitter a mile away 3) Television is fake and politicians lie. I met people all along the way with the same beliefs. Those are the people who progressed, got out of poverty, worked hard to get an education and most, if not all, are solidly middle class now.

Whcanstockphoto3529451en I saw the chanting crowds in Minnesota yesterday during another feed-his-ego rally, it made me feel ill. There were so many people at the church of Trump. So many people slavishly cheering and grinning and repeating tired mantras. So many people worshiping at his feet. It must have been very gratifying for him, that he could say or do anything with impunity and people would still hold him up as a false idol, clap and cheer and act like glorifying him would somehow raise them up. It was grotesque.

Does it make a difference that there were protesters, yelling, carrying signs? Not to the Trump supporters. Those protesters are for people like me – letting me know that I am not alone in my disgust with this administration, encouraging me to wage protest in my own way. Protesters are important to those of us who eschew crowds, but feel isolated in the face of authoritarianism. It’s a public message – we’re not laying down for the jackboots to march all over us.

But it does bring us back to the issue of public discourse. I’ve been having a come to Jesus moment with myself (which is a really funny thing for an atheist to say). I keep thinking of that Martin Luther King quote:

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Letter from the Birmingham Jail, 1963

canstockphoto32473828The idea of negative peace and being devoted more to order than justice is something that plagues moderate middle class white people. We’re not all inherently cruel or uncaring, but we mistake the lack of violence or strong language or raised voices to mean that things are quietly being worked through and that if something really bad is going to happen, the government will prevent it. We were raised to believe in Big Daddy and that there would be things that wouldn’t happen in our beloved America.

But that is not the case. Most people of color, women, chronically ill, vulnerable children and the elderly know that the system turns a blind eye to systematic abuse, gaps in care, and cries for help. That power and wealth corrupts absolutely and disconnects people from their humanity. That leaders, those who can truly maintain a balance between personal ambition and that amorphous concept, the common good, are far and few between.

What we don’t get is that we are the stopgap, the brakes, the safety net, the protection against authoritarianism. We have to choose not to be bystanders, not snapping selfies in front of tent cities on U.S. soil, chatting up the ICE agent while fearing the bogeyman foreigner. What does our country need from us now?

canstockphoto6397204Many of the words I read from Trump supporters are no longer part of any rationale. They’re mainly spewing cutesy insulting names, parroting lies with no underlying facts, sending links to un-sourced, biased news stories, using the polemics of either-or for every single argument. Gun control = no guns. Pro-choice = drive-through abortions. Civil liberties for all = war on religion. Free speech = no consequences for said speech. Political correctness = silence, not civility. They’re digging in, not listening, not thinking.

Does it make a difference if I call the president a bastard? Have I, too, come to mistake strong words for strength? Have I adopted a bully’s approach to discourse? Or will I be the moderate white person – choosing peace over justice, order over resistance? And am I succumbing to the unthinking, blind rhetoric of both sides, falling prey to the false equivalencies equating those who fight for justice and those who just fight?

These are tough questions that have been unraveling in my brain over the last week, because I am trying to find a better way forward. Not for peace, but for integrity and progress and so that someday, I can look back, and know that I didn’t just let it happen.

What do you think of the public discourse?

Is fighting fire with fire necessary or is there a better way?

What truly makes a difference?

Putting the Brakes on Burnout

It’s only Wednesday and thus far, the week has been exhausting. My calling and letter writing and meeting-going has drained me of inner resources. In order to effectively make calls and find the right rhetoric regarding the immigration policy separating children from their families, I’ve had to read a lot of news stories, look at “other side” arguments, and really dig in.

canstockphoto13687602Yesterday I stumbled through calls, likely irritating already overworked congressional interns. I popped more old-fashioned letters into the mail, intent on contacting senators every way possible, phone, email, and U.S. mail. I attended a voters’ rights meeting, which was more social than working, but found myself tapped out by the end of the evening, followed by a heavy dose of insomnia.

This morning, after reading another round of damning news, I was blurry-eyed and tearful. The U.S. pulled out of the UN Human Rights Council. Since 1989, we’re the only country that has refused to ratify the Convention on Children’s Rights. For all the pro-life bullshit spouted in this country, we’re really not. But that is not the point of this post, merely the pile of bad news on which it is built.

But it gets worse. Let’s start with the phrase tender age shelters. Then, our vicious, useless reprobate of a president is bringing his corrosive self into my state today, where a large amount of people will don red hats and make him feel adored while shouting cult-like phrases in his direction. Lock babies up! Lock babies up!

canstockphoto37103717Today I’m taking a break. There is much to do and much urgency in doing it, but I’m headed for burnout and I haven’t been sleeping and I need to rally my mental troops, because there is a lot more work to do. Plus, if I have to see that bastard’s face one more time today, I’m going to punch my monitor.

 

To recharge, I’m doing some very basic things:

Not reading the news until this evening.

Watching pandas. A lot.

Cleaning up my study, which has become a large pile of camouflage for car keys, that canstockphoto13321629graduation card I forgot to send to my niece, Spanish vocabulary cards that exploded when the rubber band gave up on life, research articles, and ambition.

Reading poetry. Today it’s Kenneth Fearing after a tip-off from my lovely blogging friend, Donna, over at A Year of Living Kindly.

Flopping in a chair and reading something humorous. I’ve picked John Hodgman’s Vacationland.

Writing fiction. Sometimes it’s good to be in a land where things work out to my satisfaction. I’m working on short stories and not the novel, because it quite unexpectedly (or maybe not a surprise at all) landed squarely upon immigration issues.

canstockphoto15362073Gardening. After days of rain, my tall tomato plants need to be staked, carrots thinned, peas trained on a trellis. To use a bad pun, there is something very grounding about getting dirty, having sweat drip into my eyes, the smells of thyme and lemon balm, the aerial show of dragonflies (mosquitoes have arrived). It is as present in the moment as I ever get.

Listening to music. Lately, I’ve needed a lot of Etta James and Rimsky-Korsakov (Scheherazade gives me chills).

Cooking. While I’ve focused on being all civic-minded, my family has foraged in the kitchen like a pack of rabid wolves for their meals. Cooking forces me to slow down and be a little more thoughtful about nutrition. Feeding the soul is great, but feeding the body makes it all happen.

Sitting and doing nothing for moments at a time. This will likely lead to a nap or ten.

Having coffee with a friend. We always have a laugh and I get to talk about other things canstockphoto3206388than the news.

Making the list. I have more calls, emails, and letters to write tomorrow. Having a call list and addresses ready will make shorter work of things.

Preparing for and going to bed early. This is where it all begins – getting enough rest to knock out the next day.

Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated and isolated, joy is a fine act of insurrection.

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

Much like writing, one can assume that activism requires constant productivity, but we are not robots and we are better writers or activists or humans, for taking the time to allow our brains and bodies to rest, recuperate, refuel. Quantity does not indicate effectiveness and the best ideas often emerge out of fallow times. Off to get some energy and good ideas. And maybe a nap.

How do you re-energize yourself?

The Borders of Decency

I’ve been reading about the U.S. immigrant situation and the separation of children from their parents for the last two weeks. My response, from the safety of my own study, has been to sign petitions, send money to the ACLU, write testy letters to my own representatives which, in a purplish-blue state, involves preaching to the choir in some cases. It’s not enough.

canstockphoto46338616I believe the inhumane immigration policy enacted by this administration is the Japanese internment camp of our time. It will be our national shame for years to come. While we’ve already replaced our human rights high horse with a jackass on the world stage, I fear our grandchildren will ask “What did you do when they started putting the children in tent camps and warehousing them in a vacant Walmart?”

It is, unquestionably, an issue of morality. Not biblical morality, which is as whimsical and cruel as the humans who brandish it. Not legal morality, which seems to be enforced in varying degrees based on your skin color, financial means, or just who happens to be in charge at the moment. But the morality of decent humans who understand the difference between right and wrong. The morality of humans who have experienced love and separation and grief and fear. The morality of humans who understand that there should be no borders on decency.

canstockphoto2055140I believe that our government is being run by the worst of the worst now – white collar criminals with deliberate ignorance and venality as their guiding policy. Attorney General Sessions is a spiteful person who uses religion to underwrite his malevolence. President Trump is a malicious narcissist who is corrupt to the stupidest degree. The evidence is in. Rich and powerful people aren’t always rich and powerful because they are smart. It is because they are often amoral and weaselly and believe the rules don’t apply to them, moral or otherwise.

Immigration policy and surrounding issues are complicated. The policy of separating children from their parents is not. The process of warehousing thousands of children on U.S. property is not. I have no patience with the vicious people who say that humans attempting to come into the U.S. are criminals, especially the many asylum-seekers. Seeking asylum at our borders is NOT a crime. Treating people as automatic criminals, traumatizing their children, and setting up situations that will be rife with abuse, mishaps, and fatalities is bad policy.

I’ve read defense of this policy and it always comes down to well, they broke the rules and deserved to be punished. To the malevolent vipers who think this is just desserts, I’m sure you’re the ones who also say, “my parents used corporal punishment growing up and I turned out alright”. Um, no, you didn’t. You got the decency beat out of you.

The other argument is that it is a deterrent. This supports the wave of nationalist sentiment that somehow immigrants are what – taking jobs? You mean the jobs that remain unfilled, because there are Americans who think they’ll get a job based on 1950s criteria (you know, pasty white and possibly with a penis) and don’t bother with education, training, or moving to where the jobs are. Those jobs? Not to mention the jobs that are based on dying industries. Pure and utter bullshit.

canstockphoto21191952And the value of whiteness. Look, as quickly as we’re destroying the environment and the ozone layer, melanin-gifted people are going to be the ones who survive. Pasty white people will have to live in underground tunnels, evolve some night vision, and hope that brown people don’t decide to play whack-a-mole on our asses every time we pop our heads above ground, because we’ll deserve it. Whiteness will eventually disappear and those of us who remain will be that special albino exhibit at the zoo. Get over it. We have no inherent value because of our lack of skin color.

We know the president is using these children at the border as a bargaining chip to get his Lego wall built. We know that he wants to build that wall, not because he is remotely concerned with immigration issues. He needs red meat for his base. Every word and action from this person has indicated a need for affirmation, adoring crowds, and unquestioning loyalty. He is a bad person, a likely criminal, and all his jokes about wanting to rule like a dictator are not jokes. This thin-skinned man has no sense of honor and he is not funny.

I wrote after the election that this was an opportunity to become heroes – to match every evil action and word with more compassion, empathy, and courage. I flailed a lot, feeling the outrage spikes until they became so numerous and frequent that they stopped moving at all. I have not become a hero. I have not exercised enough courage. I am still a rather complacent middle class lump. It’s not enough.

canstockphoto57450382It’s exhausting watching consumer and environmental protections being dismantled, education being denigrated, staring slack-jawed as government representatives blatantly and repeatedly lie. Listening to the racists and misogynists preach atop the rocks they used to live under, the Luddites in Congress talking about Facebook and net neutrality, the marginalized being recast as criminals, the press being attacked. It’s damned exhausting. And there seems to be no end in sight.

It’s time to re-calibrate. I’ve joined and donated to organizations over the last three years in response not only to this corrosive administration, but as a necessary antidote to privilege in the face of the suffering of others. I’ve signed petitions. I’ve written, called, and emailed congressional representatives. I’ve curated and paid for my news. I’ve taken a more active role in my community. It’s not enough.

So it’s time to come up with a bigger game plan – time to give my anger more form and shape and rhetorical fire. It’s time to ignore the shit show that is our national political life, shake off the distractions of meme-parrots and conspiracy freaks and get down to business.

I am the citizen of a country that is being represented by the wealthy and deliberately ignorant. Cowards in Congress abound. Bad people have undue influence. Foreign intervention is being downplayed in favor of political expediency. Much of the citizenry prefers to be told what to think and is, like the denizens of Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, bewitched by screens, prone to the doublespeak and nonsensical logic of inarticulate leadership.

canstockphoto20220453Where will it end? Are we as complacent as those who waited, only to see their neighbors carted off to camps or slaughtered by machetes, or forced into workhouses and labor camps? We are not as prescient as history will blame us for being. If we err, I’d rather be blamed for taking actions on the side of decency and good intention, and not serving the ego of a petty tyrant.

 

ACLU Petition

Women’s March Petition

Support the Keep Families Together Act, contact your senators.

Donations to Charities Helping Kids at the Border

“The Trump Administration’s separation of families at the border”, Vox, 06/15/18

“Here’s How You Can Fight Family Separation at the Border”, Slate, 06/15/18

Please review The Green Study Comment Policy. I will not provide a platform for false information, conspiracy theory, memes, or moral equivalency on this issue. Comments will be moderated.

Anxiety Raccoons

I’ve been eating a lot of anxiety lately. Family members are in hospice. A friend is having some troubles. My child is getting ready for a big audition. The news says that the people in charge would like me to sit down and shut up and do what I’m told, and that compassion and empathy are character flaws in weak, elitist snowflakes like me.

canstockphoto2260275Anxiety, like guilt, is one of those garbage emotions if not quickly followed by action. Sometimes that action is a mental one, like carrying your fears to the peak of possibility, playing the “what if” game. What if my daughter, despite all her efforts, doesn’t get into the orchestra? What if my friend’s family is ripped apart by a careless system? What if my country continues to drift further and further away from the things I value? What if religion is the law of the land, guns are diplomacy, and women are forced to be baby factories?

Sure, it sounds irrational, but that’s the point of playing what if. All that is required is an imagination and to be surrounded by blaring media outlets that suggest we are on the brink of civil war with our neighbors, literally and geopolitically. Anxiety is exhausting and demoralizing and sometimes we don’t even know how much of it we have until events resolve themselves.

I went to bed anxious about that raccoon climbing a building in St. Paul. The news, this morning, that she’d made it to the roof made me start crying. I’ve realized that I’ve been clenching my jaw all week, that I’ve been carrying this tension in my neck and shoulders.

canstockphoto417532I wrote a post about suicide over the weekend and it weighed on me to have it out there. I write freely these days, mostly unashamed and not embarrassed about my vulnerabilities and failings. But I wrote about my parents and that worried me. It’s hard to tell my story without revealing theirs. My mother eschews all technology and will likely never read most of what I write. She’s always been forthcoming about her own flaws – maybe that is where I learned it from.

It also made me think about how mercenary I am about my life these days. Have I reached the point where nothing is sacred, nothing is private? Have I relied on my weird little life to make me this kind of memoir-ish writer that will never be anything else?

At some point, when the cacophony of anxieties reaches an overwhelming level, I yell at myself enough already! I sit down and make a list of everything that worries me, from the monumental to the petty. There are pointless, irrational things like what if I die before I get published (um, I’ll be dead, it won’t matter) to big things like what will retirement look like? (the same, just me, a lot older).

canstockphoto36537604Writing is all about giving the world some organization. I’m great at organization. Labels on boxes (though not on people) make me happy. When I write things down, I am emperor, strategic commander, philosopher, and tactician. Ephemeral ideas become these manageable, concrete things in ink. Anxieties become what they are – silly or issues on which I need to take action.

I am persistent about facing things now. I haven’t always been. Like a lot of people, I can use compulsive activities as bandage on the rawness of anxiety. At my age, though, and in my circumstances, they feel like tired reactions, done with an eye roll and a laugh of regret. Those few moments of relief after stuffing my face or making a compulsive purchase disappeared a few years back. Now it’s just reaction, habit, another problem to be fixed.

When I thought of being older, I imagined that I’d be this calm, wise, centered person who let things roll off her back – that my persistence and tortoise-like thought processes would serve me well. And yet here I am, preparing to make another list of things that keep me awake at night. I am still dealing with some of the same anxieties that I felt when I was 15 years old. 4,037 lists later.

canstockphoto52534727.jpgThere’s no great lesson in this, I suppose, except to say that there is value in persistence and that you use the skills at your disposal to make life manageable. The trick is to know what those skills are, when to rest, and when the only way forward is up.

This was a lazy stroll into “raccoon as metaphor” land. You’re welcome.

The Limits of Knowing

This post is about suicide and mental health issues.

I was listening to the live stream of Roxane Gay speaking in New York last night at the PEN World Voices Festival. She said “When you write and gain attention for it, it can be really overwhelming because everyone thinks they know you when they do not.”

She writes about very personal issues  – of her sexual assault, her body issues, her feminism. Even with some intimate issues subjected to the public eye, she is a private person. She said that what she puts out in the world, she’s prepared to have out in the world. Managed discretion. Personal boundaries.

canstockphoto7950236I began to think about how much I’ve written on this blog about my childhood and my personal development struggles – about what gets edited out, the issues I skirt, the misdeeds that I leave in the recesses of my brain, but mostly the dark moments when I think I just want to rest. I don’t want to struggle anymore. I’m so tired of feeling this way.

I’m at a point in my life when I recognize this creature, this mental hobgoblin that lures me with the idea that it could all stop. It took my father in his late 30s, nearly took my mother in her teens, called to me repeatedly as a teenager, and beckoned me to sit on the bathroom floor with a straight razor in hand when I was 23.

Once, when I talked about my depression with a friend, she asked if I wanted her to call a crisis line. She didn’t realize that she was the crisis line. This embarrassed me and felt like a betrayal of intimacy, this lack of understanding. Some people don’t know that to say something out loud is to lessen its power in one’s head. Perhaps it is an unfair burden. That incident stigmatized me for several years, made me crack jokes even as I felt the darkness descending.

canstockphoto14959499People are still surprised when those with celebrity status and/or material fortunes commit suicide. It doesn’t surprise me at all. That suicide is on the rise in this country is also not a surprise. When we know people by their production values, their presentation, we don’t see the cutting room floor. We don’t see those moments of despair when the cameras are off and the distracting crowd goes away.

The only value in me writing about this perhaps lies in the fact that I am still here, at age 50, over a decade older than my father when he composed a 17-page suicide note, closed the garage door, attached a hose to the exhaust, and asphyxiated. I am here, writing, reading, living with a family who loves me. I am here, still in the struggle to stay out of the shadows. I am here to experience joy, surprise, delight, and sometimes a comforting sort of melancholy that does not overwhelm me, but fills me instead with words.

The odds were against me. My parents met as patients at an outpatient psychiatric clinic. My family history is riddled with mental illness. In my late teens and early twenties, I began to self-medicate with booze. A drunk who could go from an acquaintance’s bed to brawling to blackout in the course of one evening. I leaned on compulsive tendencies to fill this inexplicable void – a void that leaked like a sieve.

canstockphoto8316983On the outside, I showed up on time, I worked hard, I laughed and smiled. I had friends and boyfriends and ambitions. Then there were the weekends when I could not get out of bed. I would not answer the phone or the door. The curtains were drawn closed. Every nerve was dulled. I stayed in a cocoon of darkness and silence, because anything else took too much energy.

This absence of life, of feeling, this moment in space where nothing matters, is the stage needed for the hobgoblin to do his act. It starts out with the idea of darkness that seems warm and comforting compared to all the pain, the sharp edges, and the endless road of sameness ahead. It gives us visions of our futures – futures filled with the same kind of wounds we are experiencing at the moment. Why go on?

The thing is, we’re not very good at predicting outcomes and depression lies its ass off. I had no idea that I would go on to a life that gifts me every day. I had no idea that I would feel loved or that I’d wake up feeling pretty good. I had no idea that I’d get opportunities over and over to create a better life for myself. In the darkness, I could see nothing, just those emotions I had in that minute.

Like so many people, I’m tempted to write good advice, post suicide prevention numbers, go on about the state of our mental health system. That information is out there, everywhere now. But for the person who is in that moment, all of that means nothing. It takes energy and wherewithal to call a number, find a therapist, get help. Those are all good things to do, positive things to do, but those things rarely happen on the razor’s edge.

I am here now, because I waited.

Perhaps I understood something, because of my family, not in spite of them. I understood the volatility of emotion, the impermanence of situations, the idea of nothingness – the space where nothing would ever change again. I waited. And when I was able to get off that bathroom floor, it wasn’t with clarity of purpose. It was all based on maybe. Maybe I’ll feel better tomorrow, maybe something will be different. I was not prepared to give up my maybes.

canstockphoto9737189When I was strong enough, I sought help. I learned tools to cope with the vagaries of my mind. I built a gentle life that gave me room to care for myself in those darker moments. I asked for help. I learned to give words to these feelings and found people who did not shy away when I spoke.

I did not know where my life would go and I don’t know what it will be in the future. Circumstances can change on a dime. What I do know, is that no hobgoblin gets to take away my maybe.

Reading is in the Job Description

It’s a rainy day and the last day of school. My hours of solitude will soon be a distant memory, until the crispness of autumn air returns. Soon, I will be sharing endless space and time with a teenage changeling. I’m anxious about that, about how rattled and on edge I can get when someone is always there.

And thus the argument begins, should I read or get some things taken care of today? Whereas I’ve begun to write regularly and have elevated the task to the top of the to-do list, reading seems to fall lower on the list than it should.

canstockphoto23557237I have a life coach friend who often thwarts my litany of excuses. She was blunt and said, “Reading is part of your job.” This rolled over my brain in an aha! moment. Despite the fact that I’m a voracious reader, it is always with a whiff of indolence and apology.

I’ve approached reading as an activity you do when all your work is done. This was a hold over from my own mother, I suppose, who pushed herself through the day of raising four children in less-than-desirable circumstances. Reading was a luxury – time where nothing was left to be done. And you interrupted her at your peril.

Reading is part of your job. I’m a writer. An unpublished, not particularly intense writer, but a writer nonetheless. I wanted to write when I was younger, because words on a page seemed more real and important than the life around me. I wanted to write to live in a world where I could make anything happen, where I could express what I seemed wholly incapable of saying out loud. Without reading, I would have been someone else entirely.

canstockphoto411034This idea that if you write every day for hours on end, your writing will magically improve, is endemic of a lot of writing advice. But if you’re not challenging yourself beyond your own style, your own perspective, your own circular world, your writing is likely to only improve in quantity. I don’t believe in magic, at least not for myself.

I believe in feeding the muse. Much like success is preparedness meeting luck, good writing is the result of reading meeting the pen.

This means reading a lot. It means reading outside of genres, it means reading people you can’t at all relate to. It means struggling with text. If you’re a genre writer, perhaps it makes sense to read heavily in that particular form, but that becomes a recursive world as well. Breakthroughs are made when form and genre are mixed.

I am about to embark on a forced summer march through Austen and the Bronte Sisters. Period pieces tend to bore and irritate me, especially when it comes to the state of women characters in these books. My brief dalliances with Jane Austen made me run off and read Dorothy Parker right quick, just to cleanse my pallet of simpering coquettes.

Now before all the Austen-philes give me what-for, I’m taking another run at them with the eye of a writer. Perhaps they will read differently. Or perhaps I will need to keep a literary extinguisher of Alice Munro at the ready, lest I find myself wishing to self-immolate during yet another pianoforte/garden stroll/tea party scene.

The idea of reading as luxury is one I can ill afford to maintain. My life is more than half over. If my desire is to become a better writer, I can’t keep putzing about with old ideas about how I spend my time. Happiness, like luxury, are things I’ve never learned to take well and it seems rather unlikely that I will change at this point in time.

canstockphoto30462740My subconscious mind is always one step ahead of me, though. It plans and leads me down an intentional path, even when I’m still wrestling with the remnants of dysfunction. My study is full of books – on shelves, in piles next to my reading chair. Bookmarks peek out of every other one. My resistance to this luxury, this desire, has been entirely futile.

I have changed how I read in pursuit of better writing, reading with a notebook and pen at the ready. I write down questions, phrases, quotes, anything that catches me. I want to develop writing skills that are not, innately, my own. Part of this is surely a sneaky way to excuse keeping my nose stuck in books when there is laundry to be done.

When I heard reading is part of your job, my mind lit up. It was the desperate grasp for rationalization. If I can call it work, I can dive in with the intensity I save for real work. I have permission. I have validation. And goodness knows, I’ve got the books.

So, on this rainy day, I’m getting to down to business. I’m rolling up my sleeves. I’m putting my nose to the grindstone and cracking open a book.

TGS Writers’ Book Club Reminder: The June Selection is a collection of poetry, Afterland by Mai Der Vang. Follow the blog for updated selections, writer-reader guidelines, and discussions. The July selection is There are Little Kingdoms by Kevin Barry (Short Stories).

Fearless Friday: The Power of Poetry

In a world where things sometimes seem dire, where does poetry fit in? How does it feed the starving? Find the lost? Rehabilitate the criminal? De-traumatize the victim? How does it stop corruption and hypocrisy? What is the point if it cannot automatically be processed, packaged, and monetized?

canstockphoto3647287.jpgBut then what is the point of anything, if we cannot have the joy of words, music, paintings, artistic movement? Why does any of it matter if we have nothing that fills our soul, connects us with our fellow humans, makes us imagine the what ifs?

Today, I’m focusing on poets who wield the power of poetry.

Welcome to Fearless Friday.

Feacanstockphoto13410470rless Fridays are about lives lived in spite of our fears, living a life that is about curiosity, compassion, and courage. If you just got published, something wonderful happened to you, you witnessed an act of kindness or bravery, or you have someone in your life who amazes you, drop your story into my contact page or email it to TheGreenStudy (at) comcast (dot) net and I’ll run it on a Fearless Friday. If you’re a blogger, it’s an opportunity to advertise your blog, but this is open to anyone who would like to share.  These will be 100-300 word stories, subject to editing for clarity and space.

Poets Writers Readers Bloggers Spies (maybe not spies, but how would we know?)

Poetry takes all forms and there are readers here who run with that. Some poems are stories, leaving us to divine the message. lifecameos from New Zealand tells all kinds of tales. Read her latest “Tea Party Chimps“. For Haiku, jokes, and fun art work, visit Steve at Heed Not Steve. And I’ve introduced her before, but Cate at Meditatio Ephemera just wrote about her own foray into poetry in the post “Donkey“.

And I’d like to welcome and introduce some new readers who are poets. I enjoyed reading “long Languished Days” at the Harp of Vega and a high school poet at Writings of Lexie, who reminds us of the intensity of school hallways.

The Necessity of Poetry

23649600Tim Miller at word and silence has served as an excellent resource for rediscovering poetry. His long narrative poem “To the House of the Sun” has long been on my reading list, but I wanted to finish Ovid’s Metamorphoses first, which is an undertaking. Recently, Tim felt compelled to respond to a critic in “Defending One’s Strangeness: on To the House of the Sun“, in which he says a lot about the nature of poetry and art and the choices he made.

You asked me about necessity, and I’d only say that it would have been spiritual death for me not to write the poem.   Defending One’s Strangeness: on To the House of the Sun

I’ve been thinking a lot about the rawness and profundity of that statement. It’s a reminder to stay connected with why we do what we do – a stalwart defense against cynicism.

Some of my favorites

Writing and music feel like part of my character. When someone asks me who or what my favorites are, I hesitate. I have an innate fear of always being too ordinary, too pedestrian. But if I’m going to talk about being fearless, I need to shove my cowardice and insecurity aside.

28014763Many years ago I tracked down a tiny book called The Gardener by Rabindranath Tagore. In my American way, I read a snippet and thought I must have that! It took awhile to arrive and when it did, I excitedly sat down to read it in full. Excitedly was the right word. It’s foreplay – sensual and romantic, quite unlike the random snippet I’d read.

We hasten to gather our flowers lest they are plundered by the passing winds.

It quickens our blood and brightens our eyes to snatch kisses that would vanish if we delayed.

Our life is eager, our desires are keen, for time tolls the bell of parting.

Rabindranth Tagore, The Gardener

With all the plucking and plundering and sighs and fluttering, I can’t help but hear Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” when I read it.

The first poem that I ever memorized was William Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud. I will always love the lines: And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils. Melancholy and sweetness and gratitude. Who couldn’t use some of that?

I enjoy poems by Mary Oliver, W.H. Auden, Rita Dove, and Billy Collins. There are so many others – a poem here and there that lands just right, a balm, an inspiration, a truth. And if, in that moment, you cannot find what you need, it might be time to write a poem of your own.

Online Resources for Poetry

The Poetry Foundation

poets.org

Poetry International

Poetry International Web

Do you have a favorite poet?

Is there a line you always remember?

TGS Writers’ Book Club Reminder: The June Selection is a collection of poetry, Afterland by Mai Der Vang. Follow the blog for updated selections, writer-reader guidelines, and discussions. The July selection is There are Little Kingdoms by Kevin Barry (Short Stories).

My Ineffectual War Against Incompetency, Bureaucracy, and Crime

We keep getting told life is short. I feel that. At 50, it seems to speed by more and more quickly. I have become resentful of the things that eat my time and am trying to simplify more than ever before. But who am I kidding? Nothing about modern society is simple. Everything has a EULA attached and you better damn well read it, lest you inadvertently give up your firstborn.

canstockphoto12549577Today, I spent a couple of hours reporting a fraudulent credit card charge, cancelling my credit card, and moving auto-pays (which is an alarmingly high number of transactions) to another card. Because fraud has become so ubiquitous, it was surprisingly easy, albeit time-consuming, to do. I do hope that AirBnb in California was a lovely place. For $950, these criminals should have gotten a bedtime story and warm milk with their stay.

Over the last month, I’ve been stalking the magazine American Scientific through email and phone calls requesting repeatedly that they remove me from their email lists. I finally cancelled my subscription. To no avail. They email throughout the week with offers and click bait. I’ve blocked the sender and finally reported them to my internet company as spammers.

It isn’t just the constant emails that aggravate – it’s the idea that a publication covering science is incapable of managing a database or teaching their customer service reps who, to a T, have told me they have taken care of the issue, how to use said database. My husband doesn’t understand why I’ve picked this particular battle. He’s a programmer. Color me suspicious.

And the final time-suck culprit is the MEETING. Every time there are more than two people involved, there is a meeting. Some of the groups I’m involved in have a heavier social aspect than others, requiring designated drivers and doggie bags. The other groups have a decidedly bureaucratic flavor, with multi-page agendas, PowerPoint presentations, and where, at any given moment, 50% of the participants are on devices. Connected and disconnected all at once.canstockphoto13823889

Meetings are made up of human beings. At least that is what I keep telling myself. There is always the meanderer, the nonstop talker, the pen-clicker, the drink-slurper, the strident, loud voice that stomps on everyone else. I have meeting narcolepsy. The sound of the human voice going on and on, puts me to sleep.  College was torture.

639919With my abhorrence of meetings, I’ve mastered several new skill sets. The classic lean on hand so closed eyes are not noticed posture or writing as if I’m taking furious notes, while putting together grocery lists, bad limericks, and drawing animals based on my childhood Ed Emberley training. I have not, however, learned to avoid the snort-awake. But I’m good at it – meetings, yoga classes, airplanes. Any place where there is a slight chance I might doze off. They don’t call it the relaxation pose for nothing.

Pushing back against the minor indignities and inconveniences of life likely takes more effort than the initial grievance. But that’s what they’re counting on. That we just give up and before we know it, we’re walking balls of aggravation, carrying our hostilities out in public, hunched over by the weight of it all.

There’s something to be said for picking your battles – maybe not every single one, but a few here and there to suggest you still have a pulse and haven’t been assimilated into the machine. There are bigger battles to fight, huge social and political issues that might award some integrity points, but sometimes you like to have a fight you can win. Snoozing during meetings, stalking publications, and making crime profitable – these are things I can do all on my own.

 

The Dark Coffee-Time of the Soul

I gave up at 3:42 am and got out of bed. I’d been awake for the last hour thinking about all the things that I needed to get done.

4:00 am – Writing

Yesterday, I began doing some research for my second novel. The story is emerging fromcanstockphoto3206388 days of shiftless writing. What started as a simple tale now has layers and I’m running into a lot more questions than answers. This is, I think, a good thing.

One of the problems I had with my first dust-collecting novel was that I was incurious about the story. Like a lot of first-time novelists, it carried autobiographical themes – stories I’d been telling myself all my life. Repetition breeds boredom and I was thoroughly bored with the thing.

Writing a novel reminds me of something I learned when I began raising a child: I was not entirely in control and I had a lot to learn. So it can be with a novel – and being curious is often a happier state to be in, rather than always knowing how the story ends.

*****

6:36 am – Blogging and Book Club Administrative Update

It’s time for me to give The Green Study a bit of an overhaul – update the About page, review what the hell I’m trying to do here and possibly start using my full authorial name.

I’ve been blogging for over six years and every time I go through this process, hardly anything gets changed. I like what I like and I guess that’s the way it goes. I like a simple page that focuses mainly on writing and commenting. My theme has always been book/nature-related and I don’t like too many bells and whistles. I’m curious for those who have been blogging – what changes have you made and what really works for you?cropped-cropped-canstockphoto68267321.jpg

While I will continue writing Fearless Friday posts, it will be inconsistent. I had hoped that it would garner more input and would be a great way for other bloggers to promote their blogs, but I’ve been flying solo and it takes time to put together a theme and find blogs in which others might have an interest. I still like the idea of it and will reiterate it here, for anyone interested in participating.

Feacanstockphoto13410470rless Fridays are about lives lived in spite of our fears, living a life that is about curiosity, compassion, and courage. If you just got published, something wonderful happened to you, you witnessed an act of kindness or bravery, or you have someone in your life who amazes you, drop your story into my contact page or email it to TheGreenStudy (at) comcast (dot) net and I’ll run it on a Fearless Friday. If you’re a blogger, it’s an opportunity to advertise your blog, but this is open to anyone who would like to share.  These will be 100-300 word stories, subject to editing for clarity and space.

canstockphoto7243840The TGS Writers’ Book Club has gotten off to a slow start. I figure these things take time and I might have a few months of talking to an empty room. That’s okay, all the donuts and coffee are mine. I’m giving it six months and if it doesn’t really engage people, I’ll move onto the next thing. On that note, June’s selection is poetry – Mai Der Vang’s Afterland. Short read, much to talk about.

This is the nature of trying new things – sometimes they take time to develop, sometimes they remain a lead balloon that never gets off the ground. But that’s okay. I’ve learned not to be afraid of failure.

7:29 am – Grace for the Depressive

canstockphoto7950236For the last couple of years, I’ve had an impending sense of doom when it comes to the state of the nation. Children being murdered in their schools. Politicians who are so far removed from ethical norms as to be entirely useless to those they are supposed to represent. The pustules of sexism and racism bursting wide open. It seems like we’re all ugly Americans these days.

It has kept a stranglehold on me – that no matter how happy I was in the moment, it was all under the shadow of a cloud.

I thought that the only way out was to operate with intention and to understand that all the angst, guilt, anger, outrage, and sadness in the world won’t make one iota of difference if it’s all in my head.

I started with action. I joined the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the Sierra Club, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and donated to the Center for Reproductive Rights. I embraced my liberalism and joined the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (the Democratic party in Minnesota).

My focus turned to local and state issues. Over the last year, I’ve gotten to know my mayor, state senators, and representatives. I’ve learned about my school board. I’ve attended conventions, focus groups, debates, and informational forums.

I retreated from social media platforms that promoted false information and from people who based their opinions on echo chambers and memes. I continued to read heavily on economics, immigration, foreign policy, and history.

And I am so damned tired of it all.

canstockphoto6437374Spring came and so did gardening. It’s my happy place – dirt under my fingernails, errant bumblebees bumping into me, the sun on the back of my neck. After hours of back-breaking work last weekend, I tossed off my shoes and socks and flopped in the hammock. The neighborhood had ceased its endless mowing and children had retreated indoors. All was quiet, except the wind in the trees, carrying with it the smell of lilacs and freshly cut grass.

I realized that it’d been a long time since I had experienced a moment of grace – that space where you recognize the perfection of the moment when you’re in it, the release from all worries. And I thought about how infrequently I’d given myself the opportunity to experience it.

In the midst of all the fomenting, it’s important to create space for joy, even if it is only moments at a time. For some people, this concept is a given. I’m an intense person with an inaccurate sense of what I deserve. I internalize a lot of the world around me. Which means that I have to be deliberate in balancing it all with moments where I tell myself Yes, there is suffering in the world, but will mine make it any better? It’s okay to be happy sometimes.

Amen.

8:45 am and two cups of coffee later. Back to writing again.

Here’s hoping you find your proverbial hammock this weekend!

 

Fearless Friday: Tested Integrity

Adding a weekly feature to this blog a month ago was like assigning myself homework. I was never a great student, usually saved by my test-taking skills and overcompensation on writing assignments (imagine that). So here is my caveat – I’ll do it when I can and sometimes it will look strangely like me working out some issues.

canstockphoto7663084This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about anger and integrity. I’ve always been a pretty intense person, but the last couple of years have tapped into a social/cultural and political anger that has magnified because of the sheer crudity of the discourse. And I’m tired. Sometimes it’s exhausting to sustain the belief that I, as an individual, have power or can make any difference at all on the larger landscape.

For the last couple of years, I’ve slowly talked myself into doing all sorts of things I wouldn’t normally do. I’ve joined a political party, become a member of a voting rights organization, and forced myself to be more engaged with others than I want to be. I’m an introvert, but with a fierce belief that if I do nothing, I have to keep my trap shut. And that’s not happening.

canstockphoto39922182The thing is, I’m still working within systems within systems. And these are the very systems that have made the wealth-pillagers our political leaders. I’m also working from a very comfortable place – I am white, have a home and health insurance and enough money to buy chocolate when I want it. The system supports this life for me.

Over the years, I’ve gotten on my high horse about voting. I still believe it is an important right, but the elections of 2000 and 2016 showed me that many of our votes don’t matter, due to an antiquated system that gives undue weight to land mass over people. The system itself is flawed. Is my participation in it akin to collusion? I don’t know.

I’ve begun to think about what it really looks like to stand for one’s beliefs, to be assertive about integrity, and what dissent means.

Welcome to Fearless Friday.

Feacanstockphoto13410470rless Fridays are about lives lived in spite of our fears, living a life that is about curiosity, compassion, and courage. If you just got published, something wonderful happened to you, you witnessed an act of kindness or bravery, or you have someone in your life who amazes you, drop your story into my contact page or email it to TheGreenStudy (at) comcast (dot) net and I’ll run it on a Fearless Friday. If you’re a blogger, it’s an opportunity to advertise your blog, but this is open to anyone who would like to share.  These will be 100-300 word stories, subject to editing for clarity and space.

Meaningful Patriotism

Wcanstockphoto55158483hen thinking about the courage it takes to dissent from prevalent culture or politics, we don’t have to look any further afield than Colin Kaepernick,  whose small gesture created a cultural firestorm. LitHub ran an excerpt of Howard Bryant’s The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism. Mr. Kaepernick sacrificed his athletic career and monetary gain for his belief that he could not stand for injustice.

It is likely that he had no idea what that small gesture would entail, but even as the cost became apparent, he was steadfast. As a veteran, I am grateful for someone who stood against knee-jerk patriotism – all that “thank you for your service” nothingness and magnetic bumper ribbons. If the flag and anthem mean something, make them really mean something today – like justice and equality in our society, and judicious use of military lives abroad.

Radical Rudeness

canstockphoto19013767Stella Nyanzi is a Ugandan dissident. We have a lot of issues in America, but when it comes to courage, we often work within parameters. There are countries that make it a crime to criticize their leaders or government. Ms. Nyanzi’s favorite insult is calling someone “a pair of buttocks“, which has landed her in all sorts of trouble. The for-profit prisons in our country would fall over themselves for laws like that here, because most of us would be in prison.

I think about her choices – to be quiet in the face of injustice or to be loud and defiant and have the full weight of the government come down on her. What choice would you make?

The Fearless Fourth Estate

The most tiresome phrase used by the president et al is “fake news”. That people are so willing to throw multiple babies out with the bath water is laziness personified. Lately I’ve been listening to a New York Times series called Caliphate. Listening to Rukmini Callimachi as she interviews former ISIS fighters and goes to dangerous places in more ways than one, makes me tremendously grateful.

Despite the national derision and specifically the canstockphoto51852868mortal danger, journalists and photographers risk their lives to tell us the stories we would never know otherwise. It matters and it is important. Shrieking “fake news” all the time is just dumbed-down cynicism – an indicator that critical thinking has stepped out for a smoke. And really, critical thinking is all you need to figure out what is likely factual news.

Leaving Hypotheses Behind

I keep thinking about the fact that I need to do something that is not easy or convenient for me. I go to a lot of meetings these days with a notebook. I hate meetings. I have volunteered to chair committees and research initiatives, also a rather loathsome task. So there’s that. But I keep asking myself the question: how far would I go for my beliefs? These are the days we live in – where the possibility that my answer may be tested.

 

TGS Writers’ Book Club Reminder: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward is the May Reading Selection. Discussion forum opens on May 15th. The June Selection is a collection of poetry, Afterland by Mai Der Vang. Follow the blog for updated selections, writer-reader guidelines, and discussions.

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