The Green Study

The Garden of Little Sorrows

The morning brings an achecanstockphoto5109847

that moves around each day

A back, a knee, a shoulder –

knuckles swollen, as if I’d won the fight.

 

canstockphoto28605287I ramble along the path with a limp

and an unfortunately located bite from an insect

that was there before me

but as revenge, won’t be there after.

 

The plants I moved yesterdaycanstockphoto686458.jpg

slump over, too traumatized by the extra sun

to give a damn, but hungry for me,

the water god, to bring showers.

 

canstockphoto2491406The sun sears the back of my neck

medium rare with a tinge of pink.

It cares not for the creatures beneath its gaze,

for its sole purpose is to burn, burn, burn.

 

canstockphoto304055I bend down to catch another weed

and come eye level with the motor of a bumblebee

I once read that human odors aggravate bees

but I stink of sweat and they ignore me.

 

canstockphoto7496638I resist gravity and stand up

To witness the aerial acrobatics of Monarchs

Who have deigned to share their royal presence

I pay fealty with large stands of milkweed.

 

The gardening session is overcanstockphoto15362073

I put away the buckets of tools

Punch out for the day, they don’t pay overtime

And leave the manicured wilds to second shift.

I Hate Summer and Other Pointless Gripes

Perhaps I’m just a bit miffed that vacation just turned into a road trip into the desert. With wood ticks. Perhaps it is that I’ve been reading too much news or thinking about the impending apocalypse of incompetence that will be raining down on our heads. Perhaps it is that I have gone astray on so many personal intentions that I have decided to externalize my anger. Whatever the reason, I’m blowing the gunk out of my pipes so that I can think clearly again. Welcome to my rants – they’re all the rage.

Shaking My Old Lady Fist in the Air

Memes, Emojis, and GIFs

canstockphoto26595566I ignore/loathe them. Personal preference. I like it when grownups use their words and in the world of social media, those shortcuts to communication are repetitive and pointless.  And some of them are very badly done – with misspellings, bad photo editing, and ofttimes, completely and utterly devoid of anything meaningful or useful. Because of their ubiquitous use, they’re simply no longer original, novel, or amusing.

False Idols and Bad Fashion Choices

I don’t care if it’s Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, treating other very flawed humans like they’re unassailable saints is creepy. If you are wearing clothing with their likenesses or names, I don’t trust your judgment. While we have been conditioned to be billboards for all manner of advertising, this adulation for other humans versus policy is off the rails. Don’t become a billboard unless the rental space of your head, chest, ass, whatever, is being paid for. And then I can trust your judgement even less.

Faking Patriotism

canstockphoto48494235The same people who gripe about football players not standing during the anthem are also the ones who kept their beers cold by wrapping them in stars and stripes flag cozies yesterday. If they really wanted to be patriotic, they should have demanded that the government let us know just how many troops are living and dying in Afghanistan, NW Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and Libya and what the plan is there. It’s almost like there isn’t one.

*****

Politics, As Usual

Congressional Traitors and Media Enablers

I canceled my New York Times subscription this morning. It was a hard decision. Much canstockphoto4438515.jpgof their in-depth reporting is very good. However, their front page might as well be covered in Trump tweets if they are not reporting on the seven Republican senators who chose to spend America’s day of independence in Moscow. The Moscow Times reported it with glee. Who needs peeing prostitutes when we have Republican senators openly fawning over and courting the government of a murderer and human rights abuser?

I’m not waiting on Mueller time. It is quite clear that we are in deep with Russia and these are some of the stooges who are dragging us there. While I’m pretty sure that the financial entanglements of Trump et al. are fairly damning, the extortion would not be complete without the complicit behavior of Republican sycophants. We’re in deep shit. I need to brush up on my Russian, because apparently if I want news about what representatives of my government are up to, I’ll be reading it in Cyrillic.

Here is some actual news:

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, July 3, 2018 Report on the intelligence community’s assessment of Russian interference and influence on our elections.

How anyone could read this bipartisan report and not wonder if our Republican Moscow tourists are not compromised is beyond reason.

Mid-terms and Celebrities

canstockphoto10803271Forget about 2020 elections. Keep your eye on the ball. Besides, the way things are going, there won’t be an election in 2020. I’ve heard enough about Oprah and Michael Avenatti to know that some of the electorate have lost their ever-loving minds to the Trump philosophy that winning is everything and that being a TV celebrity is winning. I have a stick up my ass and think most TV is pretty stupid, ergo people who are in that business are not intellectual giants with vision. They just have a job on TV with no relevant political experience.

Stop looking at the shiny objects. Make sure you are registered to vote prior to the midterm elections. I mean it. The way some states are purging their voter rolls, you might not be eligible to vote and not know it. You can verify your voter status and register using Voter.org’s tools.

*****

Onto Writing and Other Truths

While my vacation did nothing to boost my energy, refresh my perspective, or even allow me a decent night’s sleep (did I mention it was 102°F?), it did make me grateful to come home and anxious to get back into the groove.

It was a reminder that no matter what is going on in the world, no matter how dire the news is, there is work to be done at home. I am useless to movements, protests, action without sleep and self-care. The world will not be a better place if I deteriorate or neglect my family and friends.

Writing has been a slog, but I should at least celebrate that I have been writing every canstockphoto42901280.jpgsingle day since late November. Even on vacation, I pulled out my laptop and got writing done. This strikes me as a small miracle and is a testament to the power of daily habits. I started off making myself write 250 words the minute I logged into my computer. Now I write anywhere from 700-1200 words in a sitting, something I could not have imagined before.

Earlier this week, I sat down and watched Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette”. I usually don’t watch anything current, but I like standup. Her special was so much more than that – it felt like a call out to humanity. It has me thinking a lot about the nature of personal truth – what we leave out or put in and why we make the choices we do. And how those choices can crush us or lift us up. Sometimes inspiration comes from unexpected places.

TGS Writers’ Book Club Reminder: The August Selection is a writer’s how-to, Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (and Really Getting It) by Janice Hardy. Follow the blog for updated selections, writer-reader guidelines, and discussions. The July 15th-31st discussion forum is about There are Little Kingdoms by Kevin Barry (Short Stories).

Staying Technicolor

My week off from blogging served no particular purpose. While I wrote about reading more and chilling, I also had to hit the road to do a two-state tour of family members I hadn’t seen in years. We visited Iowa and Kansas, which welcomed us with open, sweaty arms and no pretense. It was 102 the day we headed home from the Sunflower State.

canstockphoto1370502We stayed in a cabin on a lake near Lawrence, Kansas for a few days to avoid a hotel, furtively dashing from car to cabin in an effort not to melt. I did a fair amount of reading and writing and got my butt kicked at cards and Scrabble, but did alright during lightning rounds of Taboo. There were ticks, spiders, and turkey vultures. Everything lovely had hidden to stay cool.

We thought traveling north would give us some relief, but we arrived home in Minnesota, disheveled and sweaty, to 100°F/37°C. So I am home, not with a refreshed perspective, but sticky and irritable.

While I avoided the news more than usual during the week, I received my New York Times updates. Byte-sized reminders of badness. I inwardly groaned, then turned back to reading the latest issue of The Paris Review. I read a long interview of László Krasznahorkai, a Hungarian writer, who talked about his work as a novelist and his experiences working under a Communist regime.

It’s no coincidence that I have a curiosity about artists working in repressive regimes. I think that we are headed for some high times with authoritarians in this country, where the pall of killjoy conservatism will hang over us for years to come.

There was an editorial by Dave Eggers in The New York Times yesterday talking about our White House being devoid of culture – empty of poetry, music, books, art. These are not valued by members of the current administration. Joy only comes in “winning”. To paraphrase one commenter: I’d feel sorry for the man if he weren’t destroying the world.

canstockphoto29686267I can’t imagine living in a world without music, words, and art to inspire, lift my spirits, and inform my humanity. Appreciating art is about empathy – letting in the words, images, and ideas of others. For people like me, who would rather pretend the world isn’t run based on who has money, art seems less grubby, like I don’t need to hide my greed for it. Unlike the current occupant in the White House, I want my world to have windows, not mirrors.

No matter how coarse, cruel, and dull our political life is, art will always matter. Even if stripped of tools, public exposure, and freedom – art has always been the lifeline to the soul of a people. That we are being overrun by soullessness is the irony of the rising power of religious, cash-heavy politics.

canstockphoto7431966.jpgThere are those who would argue that money, food, health – these are the things that matter and art is secondary. Sure, if you’re dead, you aren’t painting landscapes, writing bad poetry, or fumbling your way through a song. But what’s the point of being alive, if you are soul-impoverished?

I push myself to read and take in culture above my pay grade, while feeling a degree of squeamishness about high-minded snobbery. Growing up poor meant that, with the exception of the public library, much of what is ascribed to culture, was out of reach. It wasn’t until college that I began to branch out, see live performances, go to readings, etc. As I clambered into middle class, had more disposable income, and more access in a metro area, I have taken advantage of the opportunities to see musicals, orchestras, plays, and exhibits.

Bcanstockphoto53549768ut art is not just museums, string quartets, and Broadway. If you go into any small town, there are people creating intricate quilts, experimenting with photography, playing with other local musicians. It might just be one weird dude creating sculptures from cow dung, but art is as ubiquitous as our human imaginations.

And it can make a difference.

In Lawrence, Kansas they shot a 1983 film called “The Day After”. Until 2009 was considered the highest rated television film in TV history. It has been described as a cold-hearted, fictional depiction of the aftermath of a nuclear attack. In President Reagan’s autobiography, he wrote that the film was effective and left him greatly depressed. But it changed his mind on nuclear policy and was reflected in the negotiations of a treaty with the Soviet Union years later.

canstockphoto5432485But what if your art isn’t going to change anything on the world stage? What if we’re all plodding along with our bottle cap art, our soggy word missives to the world, our plaintive bloggy bleats? What if the internet is suddenly no longer available to the common person? Or cultural knowledge is limited to what the state wishes us to see, hear, and read?

Do we cease to exist as creators of art? Do we stop imagining a better life, a different life? Do we stop self-entertaining, telling stories, making bee-bop-chicka-boom sounds with whatever we’re banging away at? Hell no. If anything, art becomes more necessary than ever. It becomes resistance to the dull gray repression. It is the color and sound that keeps us human, reminds us of the world beyond suited, greedy men and pious, malevolent women who pull strings to create a world in their image.

canstockphoto6658146While I have not renewed my spirits, I still have fire in the belly to write, to create, to be part of the bulwark against these flat, angry humans who seek to make the world smaller and fear-based. I think we, the poets, writers, musicians, painters, dung sculptors, are going to have to up our game. In the words of Chuck Wendig, we need to art harder. Vote, but create. Resist and protest, but imagine and design and sing and write and dance. It’s on us to keep the world from turning gray.

Pie Hole Shutting Time at The Green Study

The Green Study will return on July 1, 2018.

I’ve been writing my ass off the last few weeks, both here and offline. It’s time to take a breather from everything. I have a stack of books, my bird-watching binoculars, and a false sense of limitless time. Perfect for a vacation of sorts.

canstockphoto24883850This is when I go off the rails. And wow, is it exciting. I drink caffeinated drinks, eat a lot of cheese, stay up past 8, and think about how I should probably move in order to get rid of the numbness in my lower limbs. And then don’t, because I want to read one more chapter.

I’ve been writing pretty intensely about civic participation, the current state of politics, and mental health issues. Which means I’ve been writing whichever way the news blows. And boy, does it blow.

The volunteer gigs seem to be pausing for a bit. The Minnesota legislative session ended with a whimper, with anything progressive shot down when they tried to shove everything into a last minute omnibus bill. Honestly, they seem like writers sometimes, or at least this writer, waiting until the last minute to get work done.

canstockphoto19562I sat last night in a coffee shop listening to a live string quartet and felt my eyes well up when they played Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. For all my stalwart conversation, a part of me feels like having a good blubber a lot of the time. It’s usually an indicator that I need to take a break, re-group, and get back to my personal mission. Which is not, I hope, to turn into a humorless git.

It’s easy to do – to forget how to laugh. To forget that there is love and joy and justice in the world. To forget those who took nonviolent action and succeeded. It’s easy to lose that full spectrum way of seeing the world, because you’re so focused on fixing what’s wrong.

As an introvert, with an out-sized, narcissistic sense of firstborn responsibility, I have to force myself to sit down, shut up, and to stop raising my hand every time someone asks for help. I’ll schlep into a meeting, find a seat near the exit, and hope I can stay awake. An hour later I’m heading a committee, writing a newsletter, adopting children, and rescuing house pets with social anxiety disorders. If I stay long enough, I’ll have donated a kidney – both of them. This would be some lovely virtue signalling if it weren’t so pathological.

Eventually, I feel hollowed out and detached from my life and start disappearing, making excuses, oh, I must have missed that email, sorry, my phone died (as if my phone is a metaphor for ambition), because it feels like I cannot breathe. I’m trying to learn to sit on my hands, stay quiet, and pace myself.

Sometimes taking a break means shutting up. When my internal monologue starts snapping back at me, shut up already. Criminy. Give it a rest, I know it’s time to go dark, stick my nose in a book, and let things marinate. Right now, my brain is shouting shut yer pie hole!

In the interest of pie holes and maybe pie, I’m going to take a break and leave you with some unwanted thoughts.

Earworms

Havana, sung by Camilo Cabello, is plaguing my brain. The video is even goofier. Try saying “banana” after listening to this song – it will likely have several extra syllables.

I caught the song Chainsmoking by Jacob Banks being piped in somewhere and desperately tried to remember phrases to Google later. He’s got one of those voices that reaches down into your soul and sets off a dirge of melancholy.

I want to read all the books

32508266I h36479876ave three ridiculously high stacks of books that I’m working through. For my break, though, I’m indulging myself with The Virago Book of Women Gardeners edited by Deborah Kellaway and Betwixt and Between: Essays on the Writing Life by Jenny Boully.

Lately I’ve been doing so much reading for research and knowledge, that I’d just like to sink into something that doesn’t require a lot of me, except to turn the page.

The voice of the rising tide

When your mind is liberated your heart floods with compassion: compassion for yourself, for having undergone countless sufferings because you were not yet able to relieve yourself of false views, hatred, ignorance, and anger; and compassion for others because they do not yet see and so are still imprisoned by false views, hatred, and ignorance and continue to create suffering for themselves and others.

The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh

And I leave you with a song for the weary:

Have a lovely week!

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).

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