• gun violence,  holidays,  new york,  politics,  racism

    A Horror Holiday

    The religious education wing of the Unitarian congregation’s building is a spare thing, a square room with creamy partitioned walls that can be moved to accommodate the varying class sizes of the children.  On the walls, large rectangles of paper list the birthdays of the children by months, for what is a community without celebration?  Children’s art fills the other walls, which watch over a carpet ringed by black bed rest pillows, where the children sit in communion with one another every Sunday.

    We joined the congregation when Baba was 10 months old and she is nearly 4 now, so this room is a familiar haven.  She runs to it every week, jumping down the hallway in uncoordinated hops and skips that makes the aging congregation smile as they dodge out of the way of her slippery energy.  

    It is October and this is a Unitarian sanctuary, which means that Halloween is in full swing, with a costume parade and a party planned with food masquerading as various creepy and crawly things.  And in my delight, I asked one of the teachers there, “Don’t you just love Halloween?”

    And she said, “No…no, I actually hate this time of year.”

    And then she explained to me how she, as the child of Holocaust survivors, was never allowed out on Halloween, because if you were Jewish and in Eastern Europe, this was one of the most dangerous times of the year for pogroms.  And I thought to myself, for I have grown to really admire and love this woman, who has created such a sanctuary for a generation of children, that that was such a sad thing that she has missed out on a tradition that I love so much.  Understandable, of course, that her parents would not have been able to let her go out to celebrate like so many American children do, but a sad thing.  After all, this is America.  We don’t have the same history of anti-Semitic riots that they do in Europe.  Surely, surely, she would have been safe here.

    We have done a lot of terrible things here, but at least we have not done that.  Have we?  (It turns out, yes, yes we have.  In 1991.  In a neighborhood that I travel through five days a week.)

    I thanked her for explaining to me why so many people in New York ask you if you’re celebrating Halloween before they talk about it with your children, because I had not known.

    And then, a few days later, a gunman walked into a synagogue and murdered 11 people, five days before Halloween.  And I shivered, thinking about what she had told me, knowing that her parents were right.  They were right to hide their children away from their neighbors, in the same way that I always kept my black cat indoors this entire week.  Some risks are simply not worth taking.

    On Sunday, I went to sanctuary, where many of the congregants are Jewish, in heritage, if not in practiced religion.  And I looked at their faces and I thought about all the worries that I do not have, about how once again, evil is here, but, as it always does in this country, my appearance gives me a choice whether or not to care.

    Unitarian services have a moment where you can speak the names of people that you wish to “lift up,” which is as close as Unitarians come to public prayer.  Most weeks, the sanctuary is filled with the names of individuals, names spoken aloud, colliding and enmeshing with each other as multiple people speak the names of those they love at once.  This week, the prayers were for groups; transgender people, Jewish people, the migrant caravan so desperate for safety that they are walking hundreds of miles towards a border where our government is right now placing armed troops to stop them.

    Who are we, as a country? Are we truly this lost?

    There are days where I look around and I barely recognize the country that I was raised in.  And then there are the days where I wonder if I ever really knew it at all.

  • ethics,  film,  politics,  racism

    Voting is Harm Reduction

    Lately, my Beloved and I have been binge watching Call the Midwife, which he is enjoying because of a personal connection to his family history and culture.  I’m enjoying it because I love stories about women interacting with women.  The midwives live in a convent, along with a small order of nuns, who organize the medical practice, and create a loving family of women.  I desperately want to join the sisterhood.  But it is the compassion of the nurses, who are young women that get involved in the lives of their patients, that carry the show along. 

    And it’s amazing how a story set so far away can resonate with us so closely.  One night, the episode was about an elderly woman who had been separated from her five children when she entered a workhouse after she was widowed.  She was never given the fate of her children, who all died of illnesses in the unsanitary conditions of the workhouse.  She is tormented by this all of her life, until the midwife nurse charged with her care follows the parish records and finds the burial place of her youngest child.

    “The Boys’ Workhouse”, Albert Edelfelt (1885)

    In the final scene, the woman bends down and plants her body over the resting place of her child, at peace at last.

    My Beloved turned to me to talk to me about the work houses, public houses that were established for the destitute of the parish to have a place to go.  Families were separated from each other upon entry, kept in separate wings of the work houses with no contact.  Conditions were poor and disease was rampant because of the crowding, although the workers were given a safe place to sleep at night.

    And then we were silent, because the similarity to the news was obvious and painful.  Here we are, nearly a century after the work houses were shut down in the U.K. for their inhumane conditions, living in a country that is currently taking children from their parents in order to disincentivize refugees from central and southern America.

    An inside view of one of the tents we are using to house detained migrant children, 2018

    One father, not understanding what had happened, killed himself.  Other children have been lost, separated from their families and moved into an overwhelmed bureaucracy that is losing records and losing people.  Guards have raped the children, who have been housed in chain cages, on floors without blankets.

    Here, in America, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.  Here, we take refugee children and do the same thing that the Victorians did for their poor.  Like in the workhouses, the children are not receiving an education.  They have little in the way of legal representation.  Their environment has been designed to demoralize them.

    They have been taken from their families.

    They have been taken from their families, to punish their parents for seeking our help. 

    The episode was a haunting episode, that has lingered with me since we watched it.  And all I can think, as the midterms approach and I feel so helpless to create actual change, is that voting is harm reduction.

    Voting is harm reduction.

    Voting is harm reduction.

    Voting is harm reduction.

    This administration has actively sought — and continues to seek — to do harm, to the environment, to people fleeing violence and wars that we have instigated, to LGBTQ civil rights, to healthcare, to the rights of women.  And all we seem to be able to do is to try to reduce the onslaught, to speak up and say, no, this is so very wrong.  I have to place my desperate hope on the thought that there are enough people out there that we can make enough of a difference to slow down the harm.

    I have been wrong too many times before.  I envy the faith of the sisters in Call the Midwife, who reach for the humanity in every soul of the parish that they tend.

    But how I want to believe.

  • art,  introspection,  writing

    Radio Silence

    I’ve spent much of the summer not engaging with the Internet, which is only part of the reason why my last post was months ago.  There is so much that the Internet brings to my life, but it also brings a world of distraction with it that gets in the way of writing.

    And how I long to be the kind of writer that can pound out weekly blog posts and keep up her writing goals and also meet all of the demands of every day life.  Do these writers have a potion that they drink to keep the words flowing?  Where does the time come from?  What is the problem always, but time, time, time?

    Give a sister a Time Turner already, Hermione.

    I’ve thought of shutting down Ordinary Canary a dozen times over the summer.  But every time I start taking the steps to do so, something in the back of my brain just won’t let me do it.  It’s hardly a success, as far as blogs go.  I have no sponsors.  My regular readers number in the dozen and that’s only if you include all of the ones that are related to me.

    And yet.

    And yet I have been writing journal entries on the Internet since 1997, since before there were fun little software packages like WordPress, before LiveJournal and Diary-X, when telling the world how I felt meant hand-coding the HTML for every entry.  Updating links.  Pirating pictures from a world wide web that was still a shadow of the information dump that it would soon become.

    The Internet has grown up.  So have I.

    I have been hard at work all year on a novel that I’ve tried to write several times before, but this time I seem to actually be doing it.  It’s a historical fiction biopic, based on someone that you might know about if you know your classical music history, but most people don’t.  I don’t want to say much more than that, for I read some advice that the more time you spend talking about your project, the more energy you take away from actually working on it. 

    And working on it I have been.  I’ve done two Camp Nanowrimos this year and fully plan to be writing the last chapters of my novel in the real Nanowrimo this November.  I discovered a neat little tool that lets you run your own personal Nanowrimo all the other months of the year and track your statistics, and so for most of the other months, I’ve been doing that too.

    That is to say, I write or edit nearly every day.  I’ve passed 150,000 words and still have another part to go, which tells me a great deal about how much cutting and revising I will be doing.  Perhaps this is because it is my first novel, but I am certainly not a very efficient writer.  I never have been, which is part of what makes keeping to blogging deadlines so difficult for me.  Writing takes time.  It always comes back to time.

    And so, Ordinary Canary has been put on the back burner for now, but for the absolute best reasons.  For now, I just have to keep my head down and the words flowing.  And when I raise my head again, finished draft in my hand, I can only hope that all of you will still be here.

  • children,  family,  feminism,  motherhood,  parenting,  storytelling,  work,  writing

    Summer’s Light

    Perhaps it is the middle of June, but out  here on the island, the weather has finally just reminded us of what summer feels like.  We’ve shed our jackets and dug out our shorts to swelter in the heat.  I finally covered our porch in potted plants that I think might actually survive the night temperatures now.  At last, the weather matches the long hours of sunlight that have been making bedtimes with Baba more than a little insane.

    “It’s NOT bedtime, Mama,” she says every single night.  “Look, it’s still daytime.”

    “Alexa,” I ask our Internet overlord, “what time is it?”

    “It’s seven o’clock,” Alexa says, backing me up with her calm and robotic voice, as though hours and minutes are a thing that Baba actually cares about.

    “ALEXA!” Baba shouts.  “IS IT DAYTIME?”

    I feel this is a good time to mention that nothing in the baby books prepared me for parenting a three year old.

     

     

    And yet, I’ve caught the itch too – it’s impossible to do all the sensible things that you know that you should when the world is glorious and filled with light.  And it sure it hard to go to bed after spending far too many hours convincing your toddler that she really does need to lay down and go to sleep right now or…

    OR…

    ORRRRR….

    There is no or.  Although absolutely every neighbor and every book confirms that this is a sign of my inept parenting, the three year old is in charge, as it apparently illegal to actually staple her to her bed.  Between bedtimes and potty training, my life has been consumed by her needs.  By the time she finally gives in and accepts unpleasant states like lying down and closing your eyes, it is generally about half an hour before my normal bedtime, which is just not enough time to settle down and relax.  And so I stay up far later than is wise, night after night after night.

    I know they warned me, but this motherhood trip sure is intense in the first few years.

     

     

    I was walking home from the train station the other night, enjoying the glory of the sun still out and about, when I suddenly thought about how I am now only a decade younger than my mom was when she died.  She was absurdly young, but women in my family have a tendency towards overachievement, and racing to the finish line is no exception.

    But then, the inevitable next thought always comes:  But I have not yet done what I always knew that I should do with my life.  I have published only one story.  I have written the majority of several novels.  One of them should even have a finished first draft by the end of the, dare I say it, by the end of the summer.  But it’s hard to not to despair that it has taken me so long to get this far.  What if the same thing happens to me and I leave all of that work incomplete?

    My Beloved is approaching retirement in the next decade and so we are beginning to talk realistically about what that next stage of life will look like.  How will we afford it?  Can I retire anywhere near the same time?  When I was younger, I thought that I would retire early – or at least semi-retire – because I wanted to travel. But travel in the way I had pictured has lost much of its appeal, as my life grows to make my home the place I really want to be.

    So perhaps not that.  Perhaps I will retire just to find a second career.  I’m not certain.  But I know that whatever I do, it will be arts based.  That is who I have always wanted to be: someone who creates something that matters to other people.

    But what does even that look like?

     

     

    Like most fiction writers, I dream a lot about what would happen to my life if I managed to write that best-selling dream novel.  Who does not?  Isn’t it fun? Just one success and then your money worries go away for the rest of your life.  Get optioned by Hollywood and then pay off your house.  You’ll take the lump sum of your earnings that year and invest them in ways that keep turning the money into more money.  Maybe you’ll take a part-time job, just to keep the brain cells flowing.  Maybe you’ll work on writing your next ten novels without having to balance another full time job.  Maybe you’ll spend your days just sitting in the garden, enjoying the kind of time you never used to have.

    Creativity needs space and time.  Executing the dream, the work of the doing, that takes time too.

    At the end of the day, every dream I have is really about freedom, not money.  It’s about being able to buy the time that I feel so starved of now, here, in my present life that sometimes feels like it’s lived entirely in service to the needs of others.  How is it that I’m spending my days folding laundry and going grocery shopping and and not doing, doing, doing the creative things that would satisfy this longing?

    This feeling is only temporary, I tell myself.  It’s just a few more years before Baba can fold her own laundry and cook her own meals and won’t want me around.  How I’ll long for her then, this sweet-skinned babyish form of hers that crawls into my bed and curls against me and says, “Mama, I just want to sleep on YOUR pillow,” as if that makes all the sense in the world.

    And then I will miss this time, this hard, frustrating time that is filled with a thousand small moments like that one.

    And so.  So I carry on, scribbling when I can, as best I can, and trying to be gentle on myself for staying up too late, for forcing myself exhausted through the motions of each entirely forgettable day, for not doing the work that will satisfy my dreams.

    There’s time yet, after all.

  • family,  grief,  introspection

    I’m Mad at Anthony Bourdain

    (posted a few days later)

    This morning the news broke that Anthony Bourdain had been found dead in a Paris hotel room. His death has been ruled a suicide, and although the details have yet to come out, it is inevitable that it must also be related to a mental health disorder. This is barely a breath after Kate Spade was found to have hanged herself off a doorknob in her Manhattan apartment, a result of a cheerfully hidden case of bipolar disorder. But her handbags were so playful!, said every single reporter, which tells me everything about what they understand about the manic part of manic-depression.

    This has been a hard week for me.

    I have no affinity to either Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain, though it is always sad to discover how desperately someone was struggling, but, thanks to their suicides, I am now surrounded by self-appointed experts on mental health.  In the elevator, they talk in respectful and solemn tones about all the people that they’ve heard about–and it is clear from the careful tones that they use that it is a subject that they get to forget about most of the time. Creatives, they tell each other, truly creative people often suffer from depression. Look at Stephen Fry. Look at Robin Williams.

    When you are the child of a bipolar parent, this is enraging, even though this is probably just the way normal people cope with bad news. It seems impossible that someone with so much wealth and fame should be so unhappy as to want to end it all, doesn’t it? It’s so easy to look at their lives and say, oh, if I had a few million in the bank, then I wouldn’t have the worries that I do. Money solves so very many problems.  Just not biology.

    Like Kate Spade, my mom also died at a young age, and, bizarrely, ended up on national news media when it happened. Her death was not a suicide, but without a doubt was influenced by her bipolar disorder. Self-care is hard when you’re struggling to survive.

    But I also know that she would have chosen to live. Some days that knowledge is heavier to carry than others. Listening to strangers talk about how sad it is, but also how unsurprising it is, to see someone with bipolar order take their life…well, it hurts.

    Likewise, every time another school shooting/suicide happens, the people who want to own guns shout about how the problem isn’t guns — it’s just those people with mental health problems. I always want to shout back, to remind them that if they understood what it was like to live with someone with bipolar disorder, then they would stop thinking about mental health as something that gets cured through a one-time talking cure.  They’d know the three states:

    1. On meds.
    2. Off meds.
    3. On meds, but the meds have stopped working.

    My mom’s life was dedicated to the balance of those three, though it was generally a balance between states one and three.  She spent her whole life just trying to feel normal, constantly working with her doctors to find a pharmaceutical and therapeutic balance that would allow her to keep functioning.  She constantly chased activities and pursuits that she hoped would bring her to a state of calm happiness. My earliest childhood memory is going to stay with my father while my mom went to rehab after years of self-medicating.  Most of the next ones were entertaining myself in therapy waiting rooms and A.A. meetings.

    Given a choice, she would have lived.  And that is profoundly painful to know — that she would have lived, but wasn’t given the chance.

    Some days, my dead are harder to carry than others. This week they swirl around me, because there is nowhere to go to escape the many reminders of their lives.

    And so.  Anthony Bourdain.  I actually know very little about him — he had some TV shows that I don’t think I’ve ever seen.  I can’t pretend to know what was happening in his life.  I certainly don’t judge him for it.  Life is hard.  But there are people whose passing creates ripples in the larger wave of humanity.  His is one of them – and the waves have brought on more grief than I was prepared to handle this week.  And so, I cannot help but be angry, because anger is so much more comforting than despair.

    Rest peacefully, all of you ghosts.

     

  • friends,  grief,  introspection,  relationships

    My friend Del — it’s like “of the” in Spanish.

    I’ve been torn in many directions over the last few months; trying to find time to work on the novel that I have been writing in bits and spurts, exhausting myself with my family and work responsibilities, cramming friendships into the bits of space left over, picking up projects here and there to help this one or that.  In the middle of that, grieving the loss of a good friend who I still cannot believe is gone.  And still beyond all that, the steady guilt of ignoring this place, of letting another month go by with silence here.

    In January, in the middle of a blizzard, my kid brother moved out of our house in the most painful way.  He’s been our charge for the better part of a decade, so the schism was not without grief and bitter feelings.  And yet, we carry on.  Worrying from afar and hoping that it will all work out.  Trying to ignore the pain that we all inadvertently cause each other as we bumble about our lives.

    This is just life.  Whether you will it or not, you move along on the ebbs and flow of its waves.  Time and tide wait for no one and you can do nothing about the words that you should have written yesterday.  Or the day before that.  Or the day before that.

    My friend Del died in February, which made everything else seem very trivial.  Life simply stopped for me for a while, as my everyday duties became complicated by grief.  He has been in my life for my entire adult life, so it took me some time to adjust to who I might be as an adult without him there as my constant friend and support.  I found out at work, so I locked myself into an empty office and sat on the floor for a long time, until I figured out how to stand again.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was a metaphor for the days to come.

    My Beloved, when I told him, just said, “No, it is too awful.  It’s just too awful,” which I still can’t help but agree with him.  It’s just too awful.

    My friend, officiating our wedding, because it made no sense to ask anyone else.

    At my friend’s funeral, the pastor read an Auden poem — you know it — the one with the final line about how nothing now will ever come to any good.  My friend, sacrilegious at best, would have deeply enjoyed a pastor reading a gay love elegy at his wake, once he got past the idea of a pastor showing up for his wake at all. But it was a good poem to choose, because Auden had the right of it.  I was, at best, semi-functional while my mind struggled with reconciling the impossible (he was now dead) with the possible (and yet the world went on without him).  I spoke at his funeral to a crowd so large that it was standing room only in the biggest room the funeral parlor had available.  He was not a famous man, and yet, he touched people.  He was a sincere man, who cared about people, who was good at loving people.  That — and a puckish, adventurous nature — made him so special.

    Loving people is not something that comes easily to me, but my friend made me better at it. When I heard the news, my first thought was, “But who will love me the way that he loves me?”  And what I meant was that he loved me without expectation or judgment, which is an incredibly rare way to be loved.  Being around him was like slipping into your comfy slippers at the end of the hard day, after you’ve locked your house’s doors against the unsafe world outside.  And you just couldn’t help but love him back.

    That would explain all the people at the funeral.

    Under ordinary circumstances, I do not enjoy speaking in front of people.  But I could have spoken for hours, telling stories of how my friend has touched my life over the 20 years of our friendship.  But each of his brothers was to speak after me, so I kept it short and told only one story, which thankfully made the crowd laugh, because they knew him the way that I knew him.  By the time we made it to the party after the reception, I so exhausted that I fell asleep sitting up in a living room bristling with people.

    The depth of my grief in the first weeks surprised me.  I have lost so many people and animals over the last two years that I wondered if it was cumulative grief, but I don’t think so.  My friend was a part of my past and my future, and to have that lifeline removed so suddenly was enough to bowl me over.  He was always there for me.  Now he can’t be.

    His death was so sudden that my calendar is still marked with the plans we had together.  We had been trying to have a shared house vacation together for years, but our plans kept getting marred by other obligations and, even once, a surgery.  At last, this summer it was finally going to actually happen, and I was so looking forward to exploring a new place with him.  Those days, the ones where we had already had plans to be together, are going to be hard days.  He was going to be visiting me again in another two weeks, for the wedding of one of our many shared friends.  That will be hard too.

    One of my favorite pictures of two of my favorite men in the world.

    My friend is gone, but I hear him all the time.  When I open the pantry to pull out an onion, I remember him telling me to keep the onions and potatoes in separate baskets.  A stainless steel pan comes with a reminder – in his voice – to heat them up before you drop the oil in.  He helped me set up my first fish tank, and I cannot think of undergravel filters without thinking about him teaching me about why I needed one.  My oldest fish, a pleco named Socrates, is now eleven.  In my music room, I have a Japanese fan that he bought me a lifetime ago when I moved into an apartment, which has followed me to every house since.  I have so many of these physical momentoes — a bottle of mead, giant spools of yarn, bottles of Scotch.  But most valuable to me is all of the advice that he gave me over so many years, which I always hear in his baritone voice in my head.  And the love.  He taught me that I was worth loving, because he loved me without wanting anything from me.

    And so, he is gone, but he is not gone too, not in the way that other people I have lost have gone.  I touched his body, but a world without him in it seems impossible.  He will be in mine forever, because he helped make me who I am.  I’ve returned to the waking world again, but I am glad to have been able to stop – to call in too sad to work, to have been able to think about all the people that really matter to me and how lucky I am to have such love in my life.  I think it was his last gift.

    Del with my daughter as a 2 month old.

  • human moments

    Human Moments, No. 12

    “Mama,” my small daughter says, as she stands beside my bed.  “I think I need you change my diaper.”

    “Okay,” I say, groaning and tearing myself from sleep.  It is 3:30 a.m. I follow her into her room, where she lets me pick her up and put her on the changing table.  Trying not to fully wake either of us, I quietly slip off her old diaper and replace it.  Placing her gently back into the center of my bed, where I know she’ll fall asleep again, I slip in beside her and lie down.  Within minutes, her breathing settles into the sweet, wet rhythm of small children.

    Her knee rests just below my right shoulder blade, while her foot gently twitches on my hip.  I lie in bed, listening to the even snores of my spouse, but my brain and hungry stomach will not rest.

    Quietly, I tear myself from the warmth of the family bed and slip downstairs to write.

     

     

  • amusement,  children,  introspection,  motherhood

    A Wooden Bed on Which to Lay Your Head

    My daughter lies on the floor of the hallway outside her bedroom door, an arm sprawled in front of her. The other is tucked in next to her side, her pale ruddy skin a contrast to the cheerful green of her dinosaur pajamas. She is soundly asleep and undoubtedly quite pleased at her independence.

    I put her in bed properly a few hours earlier, of course. But Baba refuses to lie down in her bed, no matter how much you sweeten the deal. The very thought of it offends her, though she goes into it easily once she’s fallen asleep elsewhere. And so she has fallen asleep in protest on nearly every other surface of her room; the rocking chair, her personalized L.L. Bean couch and once, even on her changing table. For all of our sanity, I put a rug on the floor and it has become the favored location ever since.

    Sure, kid.

    But this night, when she managed to crawl halfway out of her room before giving in again to sleep, I turned on all of the lights and took a good picture. I put it as the wallpaper of my laptop, where it is displayed for all of my coworkers to see.

    “What is she doing?” they ask.

    “Being herself,” I say.

    The most wonderful thing about young children is that they are so entirely themselves. Baba has no apparent self-consciousness. When she wants something, she’s willing to throw a fit over it, with no concern about the snotty mess that her face becomes or the unflattering way her skin goes splotchy. As soon as she has a thought, she tells you.  When the thought was hilarious, as it often is, and you laugh, she laughs with you. When she doesn’t know a word, she doesn’t hide it – she just describes what she wants over and over until someone supplies her the word.

    It’s so wonderfully refreshing to be around. Even when I just, desperately, want her to put on her socks and go out the door and all she wants to do is stop and play with….whatever…she has suddenly fixated on, I can’t help but see the beauty of her nature. Perhaps this is motherhood, this effortless sense of understanding. Although I try hard to extend it to everyone in my life, to know that a person is more than just their behavior in the moment, it’s so much easier with someone so innocent.  And now that she is approaching three, I value these moments so much more, because I know that they can’t last all that much longer.

    And how Baba makes me laugh, just by being her authentic self.

  • friends,  grief,  gun violence,  motherhood,  new york,  travel,  virginia

    A Weekend in Blacksburg

    My friend is studying to be a wild life scientist, a trapper and catcher of information about the world’s dwindling carnivore populations.  He’s approaching his graduation date, but I am only just now getting in a trip to visit him, because after two and a half years, I am finally ready to be separated from Baba overnight.

    And so, I find myself on an airplane by myself.  It’s a puddle jumper, as Virginia Tech is only a two hour flight away from home, and the plane is so small that I have managed to get myself a seat that is both window and aisle.

    Glorious time, for an introvert.  Two and a half hours of the kind of solitude that I have become accustomed to, the type where you’re surrounded by strangers who need nothing from you.  Although I should be writing, instead I read the last 40 pages of Elena Ferrante’s Those Who Stay and Those Who Leave, the third in her famous Neapolitan novel series.  Somewhere near the end of the flight, I close the book on the last page and sigh, knowing that I can’t check out the fourth and final book from the library for another week.

    But then I look up, to see that I have been lucky enough to arrive in the mountains in late fall, where the land is carpeted in hundreds of thousands of trees that are all turning red and orange and yellow.  Suddenly it strikes me how little I’ve noticed the turn of the season and how few trees really live on my street, although one thing I loved about my neighborhood when I moved to it were the size of the suburban trees.  But compared to a real forest, the  paltry sidewalks plantings of the suburbs are nothing.

    When I land at 6 p.m., it becomes clear that we are the last scheduled plane and the airport is closing for the night.  There are cafes and bookstores in the terminal, but the employees have shut off all but the emergency lights and they chat with each other in a way that doesn’t encourage customer interruptions.

    It is a relief to be out of New York City, to retreat to a calmer place, where the accents are slower and businesses shut down for the night.

    In the morning, we go to Virginia Tech, which is a glorious campus, with serene and stately stone buildings nestled among majestic trees that create a campus that feels more like a well-kept city park than a university.  But you can’t go far without running into a memorial for the students and faculty that were murdered here a decade ago.  It is a too-solid reminder of the attack on New York last Tuesday, which hit me and mine closer than any would ask for.  But we try to move past it, darting between buildings in the gray rain, and watching the Virginia Tech undergrads like zoo animals, because the 15 years that separates us makes them seem like alien creatures.

    I am here for a short visit – not quite 48 hours – and most of it is spent on friendship, asking about people that no one else remembers, reminiscing about the people that we were when we were the same age as the students around us.  We can’t help but wonder – is the world less innocent now than it was then?  Are we less safe now than we were then?

    Then the news of the Texas church shooting breaks, so we know.

     

  • children,  culture,  family,  feminism,  grief,  motherhood,  parenting,  politics

    The American Legacy

    My daughter crinkles paper, blows
    on the tree to make it live, festoons
    herself with silver.
    So far she has no use for gifts.

    What can I give her,
    what armor, invincible
    sword or magic trick, when that year comes?

    How can I teach her
    some way of being human
    that won’t destroy her?

    I would like to tell her, Love
    is enough. I would like to say,
    Find shelter in another skin.

    I would like to say, Dance
    and be happy. Instead I will say
    in my crone’s voice, Be
    ruthless when you have to, tell
    the truth when you can,
    when you can see it.
    Iron talismans, and ugly, but
    more loyal than mirrors.

    from “Solstice Poem”, Margaret Atwood

     

     


     

    On the radio this morning, the hushed voices of NPR reporters break the news that the largest mass shooting the country has ever seen happened overnight. The details are still sparse, but I wait for the body count. In the back seat, Baba babbles about the birds she heard singing, while I wonder what new words she’ll pick up from the radio this time.

    After the barest details turn into empty radio filler, I turn down the volume. There is time later to obsess about the increasingly competitive rampages of men with guns who want to die over and over again on the front page of every newspaper. And we fall into the trap, as we must, feting the murders on every radio station and in every newspaper in terse and gently probing tones. The President issues a speech that manages not to insult anyone. On social media, the cringey and meaningless posts about thoughts and prayers are echoed over and over.

    We are helpless. We are hopeless. But yet, we want to be seen having compassion for people we would not know walking down the street, because the situation is so terrible that we must be observed to publicly mourn to protect our decency. And so we perform our grief, but it feels false. How can you have grief left to give to strangers, when we’ve done this show so many times?

    This season, it doesn’t even have an intermission.  Hurricane, hurricane, horror, hurricane, slow response, mass shooting, horror.

    Later in the day, Tom Petty dies, because how could such a well-loved American artist live out this terrible day? Although we know by now that it is simply not safe to go to work or ride a train or dance in a night club, music had been safe.  If you weren’t French.  Now, thanks to yet another white man with far more guns than anyone should ever own, that too has been defiled. Even Tom Petty’s death is ruined, because our thoughts and prayers are already taken.

    Tomorrow, his record sales are sure to spike, because that is what happens every time. And we will do nothing else. Nothing and nothing and nothing.

     


     

    About a month ago, I told Baba that it was time to leave to go to school.

    She says, “No, Mama. I no go school. I have to murder my tiger.”

    “You have to what?” I ask, as I walk into the living room, where I find her holding a long piece of plastic across the throat of a stuffed Disney-shaped lion that we have yet to identify.

    “Ehm,” I say.

    “Ehm,” I say a little louder.

    Baba interrupts her sawing and looks up with curiosity on her sweet and feral face.

    “You seem to be murdering,” I say, in what must the epitome of good parenting.

    “Yes, Mama,” she says happily. “See, I murder my tiger! Like this!  You want murder my tiger too?”

    “No, baby. Murder is not nice.”

    “Murder is not nic-CEEEEEE?” she asks, cocking her head with an overdone smile that usually makes me laugh.

    “No love, murder is not nice. Tell your tiger that you’re sorry, honey. Then we need to go.”

     


     

    We have a madness that we cannot seem to shake off.   Already the old conversation about gun control has started. I think more about personal risk.  I don’t worry for myself, because I have walked through high-risk halls on my way to work so many years that I long ago accepted the chance that some violent man will take my life. After all, I ride trains. And, in 2017, we all know that bombs and trains go along very well.

    Hopefully not my one, but you never know.

    But no parent considers sending their child to school without also imagining the day when that decision became deadly. Because you never know.

    And this is the world that I must explain to Baba. Now she is so young that her innocence about the world constantly surprises me.

    One day she took down our Bernie Sanders card from the bathroom mirror and said, “Who dat?”

    “That’s Bernie Sanders, love.  He reminds us to look out for one another.”

    “Who Ernie Sandbars?”

    I thought a while about how to explain it. “He’s a man who wants to make sure that everyone can go to the doctor if they get sick,” I said.

    “Why you no can go doctor?” she asked.

    “Well…” I said, at a loss for words.

    What a world I have to give you, my Baba, my innocent and feral child. And that is my deepest grief. All I can arm you with are the words and poems of the fighters and the heroes and hope that you stay as courageous
    as you were born.

    And do better, child. Do better than me.

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