Early Spring Tableau

My desk as this early spring afternoon slips over to dusk — Belvenie on the rocks, in a lovely tumbler Eric bought. He would approve.

My sketch book with a drawing of tulips I bought yesterday. Last week I figured out how to draw a leaf turning over on itself; I followed the contour line through the flip, added a bit of shading, and there it was. I’m practicing, still drawing almost every day.

Not Sunday. Under the sketchbook is my bib from the NYC half marathon, on its way to getting pinned on the decidedly not-decorator-worthy-wall of homasote in our bedroom from back in the days David was seeing if the room would work as a studio. It didn’t. But having a wall of fiberboard to tack up race bibs and Emilio drawings and sketches and poems and cards and posters is too wonderful a thing to take down. Two weeks ago David put up homasote over the art desk in my study.

As I ran down the West Side Highway towards the Battery on Sunday, sun on my face and the wind at my back, I knew I was probably going to make it to the finish line fast enough to qualify for the race next year, but my right knee and left thigh and left, blistered foot hurt.

So I let them go. I remembered what Sam told me after he ran an 11 mile trail race a few weeks ago. Describing his fastest stretch, running downhill after a grueling, steep-as-shit climb, he said, “I was flying. My body was gone.” A faster song came on my playlist and I picked up my pace.

1:58:17. That’s 31 seconds slower than last year. I’ll take it. It gives me 3 minutes and 43 seconds to come under the 2:02 qualifying time next year, and the year after I’ll be 65 and get another 10 minutes. With my time on Sunday I’d have been fifth in the 65-69 age group. The number of women running dropped from 162 in the 60-64 group to 53 who were 65-69. Two thirds fewer. Can I keep running into that age group? That fast?

In the first years after Eric died I would have laughed at myself for making plans to place in races two years out. Where do plans get you?

But I like the idea that by keeping myself on the road I could get closer to winning, even though being able to run 13.1 miles is winning enough.

 

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#daylightsavingstime

The Truth About Death
Cover painting “Grace” by David

My conversation with Adrienne about daylight savings time started on Instagram. Under her photo of scrambled eggs and coffee she wrote daylight savings is weird. #theend. When I commented I want my hour back she replied every year! Time for the poem from 10 years ago!

Yes, Adrienne has listened to me complain about this lost hour all her life. It’s such a let down after that extra hour (bonus galore!) we get in October.

I’m not alone. Twitter is full of complaints today. Mamas, how are your #daylightsavingstime naps going? (Accompanied by a photo through a door of a child standing in a crib playing with a mobile.) I remember those days.

And, as always on Twitter, there’s politics and humor. You didn’t lose an hour of sleep # just redistributed it to someone who needed it.
Losing an hour of sleep means you have to sleep in, right?
I woke up and it was like noon wtf
low key wishing we lost the next four years vs one hour of sleep last night.
so do i have one more or one less hour to be high today?
Well, at least the clock in my car is right again…

There was a suggestion we all chill out by Relaxing Back Into Soothing Stillness w/this

Here’s what I had to say about it ten years ago, the poem Adrienne recalled. I wrote it the weekend Sam and I helped her move to live with Matt in NYC. March 2007, in the midst of the writing fever that produced The Truth About Death, less than a year after Eric died. I could feel the raw pain coming up off the pages as I looked through the manuscript for this poem. What a time.

Moving

Our daughter is going to the epicenter, someone is always
going somewhere, I can’t make small talk, I talk too much,
I am following the little red car, I can do anything I want,
I am a sparrow feeding in the bushes, the promised manna,

such pain to get here. Highways, cars, family, the irrevocable
center, flip your hand, wave off the evil eye, not evil, scary.
There is a blue balloon floating, this song is the tits, this song
is the bee’s knees, it’s if I had wings. I’m still mad

about the hour they took away two weeks ago. There are bells
ringing, it’s 6:00 p.m., the boys are watching college hoops,
the buildings out the window fall down in cubes, gardens
tucked into ledges, trees and statues below, a lion and a nymph

holding bounty, a set table in a room of glass, birds, planes
lifting west. I dance with a maenad, I dance by myself, drive fast
with my family. A lovely and ancient tradition. At dinner we discuss
predictive text, our son never finds his phone, our daughter’s lover’s

mother knows the pre-revolutionary Russian for lovely,
beautiful – veeleekalyepnah. When she found her grandfather’s book
of Torah commentary it opened to her son’s portion. Go forward
and be a blessing unto the world. Never enough, never enough.

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Bookmaking

 

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I’ve been making books (the first definition of bookmaking is someone who takes bets –those of us making actual books come in second).  I’ve learned how to fold sheets of paper into zines and bind pages with the five hole pamphlet stitch. Next week I’ll learn caught loop binding and then on to coptic binding, a beautiful braid of stitches to hold a book together.

I’ve been making phone calls. My goal each week is 15 acts of resistance, which include making collages and going to meetings but mostly calls to Senators Hassan and Shaheen with occasional calls to Annie Kuster. My message is basically the same — resist the Trump autocracy/hypocrisy/treachery flavor of the day. I also make regular calls to McConnell’s office because his particular brand of partisan bullshit cowardice is particularly infuriating to me. Sometimes I even get through. When I don’t, there’s no way to leave a message. Of course.

I’ve been drawing. Every day. I’m bound to get better.

I’ve been getting smart feedback on my memoir manuscript from incredibly generous friends (you know who you are) which has made my writing brain fire off in flashes of insight that I know will lead to a tighter, stronger, more dynamic book. Part of yesterday was spent making lists of what’s coming and going in the next draft — getting ready to dive back in.

I’ve been writing pushback against injustice. Yesterday I sent off a column to the Concord Monitor pointing out the absurdity of arguments against a bill to protect trans people from discrimination; opponents claim it will lead to women being assaulted in bathrooms. I’ve had it with the “bathroom bill” idiocy. NH’s bill to add gender identity to the anti-discrimination law isn’t about bathrooms and the opposition isn’t about protecting women. Let’s be real — the bill is about justice and the opposition is about bigotry. HB 478 — call your NH House Rep to support the bill today.

I’ve been running. According to my training plan I’m running 11 miles this morning. That means my legs won’t do much else today. My gratitude for a body strong enough to still be running long distances is deep, but I definitely feel the difference between a body that’s 60 and a body that’s 63. Hopefully it will all stay on track for the NYC Half Marathon on March 19. Can I run a time qualifying half marathon again? I’m sure going to try.

I’ve been making collages. I’ve made a book collage of collages inspired by Ta Nahesi-Coates’ essay in The Atlantic, “My President Was Black.” The article describes a concert and party the Obamas had at the White House in October, a farewell celebration. It was presented by Black Entertainment Television and was primarily a party for black people — black performers, black guests, black luminaries.

It was a joy to read about, black people having a party at the White House. A house built by black slaves.

But I know there are people in this country, not the majority but enough of them, who couldn’t stand the idea of a black family in the White House, much less that family celebrating there. The White Fuckboys particularly couldn’t stand it.

Now the White Fuckboys are trying to run the country though they’re not having an easy time of it, partly because their treachery keeps catching up with them and partly because of the organic rise of resistance that’s swept across country.

Let’s keep it up. We have no choice.

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Is Every Point Turning?

 

NYTimes 2-15-17

NYTimes 2-15-17

The double whammy this week of Mike Flynn’s resignation, followed by the NY Times, and then CNN, reports of extensive contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence, felt like a turning point.

But turning to what? Whatever it is Trump is hiding finally being exposed? The cowardly party-before-country anti-patriots of the Republican Congress seeing that they really do need to serve as a check on Trump to save our democracy? The emergence of some sanity from the White House?

I fear not. While those of us firmly planted in a stance of resistance applaud news reports that chip away at the credibility of Trump as President, where is this all taking us? Though that’s not the point, actually.

The point is to tell the truth. Truth! Who knew that would become such a difficult concept to hang on to.

Whatever this week was, and whether we’ll look back and see this was the turning point, or one of the corners we rounded, on our way back to a safe, tolerant, respectful and proud country it certainly felt profound and important.

So I wove together stories and images from the NY Times published on Wednesday, which featured the story on the Trump campaign contacts with Russian intelligence on the front page and a full page story on the resistance. I once again didn’t — haven’t yet and don’t intend to — use Trump’s face, though this collage features many faces: women protesting, Elijah Cummings (D-MD), John McCain, Pence, Spicer. And then a hulking black figure over a dark path leading from a government building.

But the thing is, when I make collages only from newspapers it’s difficult to get past the dullness of newsprint. I showed the collage to David this morning and talked to him about the visual effect and he said, “This is the artist in you growing. You see what needs to be different.”

So now I’m thinking about how to highlight elements of newspaper collages in ways that have a stronger visual effect — adding color and shading  and my own outlining.

A turning point.

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Image & Text

The New Yorker 2.6.17 Time 2.6.17

The New Yorker 2.6.17
Time 2.6.17

Working With Image & Text is the name of the class David and are taking at the NH Institute of Art. It’s also an area of fascination for me. I love words. I love visual art. I love when they’re put together in ways that make the meaning of each bounce back and forth against each other. Looking for ways to combine image and text is what led me to make collages from newspapers and magazines. It’s not only an act of resistance, shredding and weaving the news as a reflection of the world we live in now, there’s also a possibility of beauty.

The Image & Text class is taught by Erin Sweeney, a sculptor, printer and book artist, and Glen Scheffer, a photographer. They’ll teach us how to alter digital photographs, do screen and letter press printing and book binding, and anything else they know about playing along the borders of images and text that we want to know.

Based on the first class, we’ll also learn how to let ourselves go into creating art out of everyday life, the records we keep, what we do, see and hear. Our homework — spend 10 minutes every day writing and drawing in our sketchbooks, including 1) a list of what we did, 2) a list of what we saw, 3) something we overheard 4) a drawing of what we saw.

David and I have been absorbed in our homework; our sketchbooks are open a lot more than 10 minutes a day. I’ve been drawing, pasting, cutting, folding, writing, listing, coloring, printing.

When I went to Vermont Studio Center two years ago John the Founder (he’s one of the founders and that’s what everyone calls him) greeted the gathering at dinner on Sunday night, or first meal together. He welcomed us and talked about the culture at VSC — leave the competition and judgment at the door so it doesn’t get in the way of what you came here to create. “We’re all people who, for whatever reason, like to make things. So go make things.”

I made a collage in answer to a call for artists to respond to the crisis in Syria through the medium of postcards. Art for Aleppo has organized a show and online exhibit of the postcards as a way to raise awareness and money. I made mine from a NY Times article about the evacuation of Aleppo.

“My President Was Black” by Ta-Nehisi Coates was in the January/February issue of The Atlantic. The article was excellent and intersected well with the cover photo of Obama in a crowd of jubilant supporters.

My collage of the front pages of the January 21 and January 22 NY Times, the inauguration of Trump dominating the 21st and the Women’s March dominating the 22nd, came out darker than I’d imagined. The joy of January 22 was real and delicious but was still shadowed by the inauguration, a shadow I walk out of everyday.

Yesterday I wove the New Yorker cover of a reimagined Rosie the Riveter in a pussy hat with the Time cover of a pussy hat underneath the title The Resistance Rises, How A March Becomes A Movement.

We all keep moving towards justice and freedom, that’s how we create a movement. I’m having fun and satisfying something really deep by combining images and text. But I also make phone calls and send emails almost every day  — reps, senators, Governor Sununu, the House Ethics Committee — picking actions from the news and the multiple resources that have been created to keep the resistance strong.

The luck that led me to a life with time to do all this amazes me. I’m squeezing that luck to get every bit of good out of it I can.

 

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What’s Next

img_7138

There it is. My memoir manuscript, printed and stacked on my desk.

Actually, is it a manuscript or a draft? This book has been with me in so many different forms for so many years, just the fact of it being ready to send to three very generous friends who are going to be readers for me is huge. Yuge!

Is there a difference between a draft and a manuscript? This is what the New Oxford American Dictionary says: A manuscript is an author’s text that has not yet been published. Any piece of writing that you have not published in any way (but intend to) is a manuscript. A draft is the same as a manuscript, except that it insists on the unfinished state of the manuscript.

I don’t insist on the unfinished state of this manuscript, but I’m certainly aware that it’s likely unfinished. The fact that the title page has six possible titles itself says it’s not finished. Sending it to readers to get an outside take on its shape and story and cohesion says it’s probably not finished.

Whether what I’m sending out is a manuscript or a draft really doesn’t matter. What matters is that working on this memoir has occupied almost all of my writing time for the past year, a majority of my writing time for the past three years, and much of my writing head space for over nine years. So there’s a big question looming for me — what’s next?

While I wait for feedback from my friends I’ll research agents to query and get back to sending out selections from the book to be published as essays in literary journals. But waking up thinking about a chapter that needs to be tweaked or obsessing over a key paragraph or realizing there’s another scene I need to write or one I need to take out or hunting gerunds to banish the passive voice as often as possible is over for now. The queries and submissions can be done as a secondary focus. What will my primary writing focus be?

I’ve read enough writers on the writing process to know that finishing a book, or getting to the point where the book goes out into the world in some fashion, can be disorienting. When a piece of writing has “got you by the throat,” as a poet friend said to me last year, and then lets go, what do you do with all that breath that’s freed up? How do you decide where to dig to find the next book that’s going to take over?

For now I’ll relish in this impressive pile of paper on my desk. Though it’s still only a manuscript and probably only a draft, it’s definitely a giant step further along the path to being a book.

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Don’t Be Fooled; Renew and Resist!

Curious giant fungus: provenance unknown

Curious giant fungus: provenance unknown

Trump and his cadre of sycophant puppet masters are trying to wear us out. Let’s not let them.

Our first week as citizens of the new United/Divided States has not gone well. The evidence of Trump’s unstable personality disorder mounted steadily while a wall of silent men stood behind him as he signed executive orders that harm women, children, refugees, and immigrants. When his aides did speak they lied and screamed and distracted attention from Trump’s assaults on core American values. Every gathering I was part of this week began with people expressing their dismay and confusion about what to do.

Can we survive four years of this? Will Trump even last a few more weeks? Would it be worse to have Pence be President. We can be sure it was his idea to order the reinstatement of the global gag order on any mention of abortion by overseas organizations getting U.S. aid. Trump has been quoted as asking why he should care about abortion when “it doesn’t affect me.”

And it seems certain that Bannon’s white supremacy drove the ban on immigrants from Muslim countries and Syrian refugees. The power grabbers around Trump enable his childish obsessions with crowd size and illegal voting to manipulate him into promoting bigoted whiteness and discriminatory Christianity. I think the attraction to rampant capitalism that will further enrich people who already have more money than anyone could possibly use in a hundred lifetimes is Trump’s own contribution to this mess.

Or is it Putin calling the shots?

It has been a horrible week, but those of us (pretty much everyone in my bubble, a bubble I’m proud of) in the resistance have to pace ourselves. We have a long fight ahead and we can’t afford to burn out on outrage. The Trump administration’s strategy is to be so outrageous so constantly that those of us who believe in the democratic country we thought we lived in — where diversity and equity are valued  — get overwhelmed.

So how do we not get overwhelmed? Maybe this is a blog post to myself, because I am overwhelmed. I haven’t been able to sustain a focus on editing my memoir since the end of October. The minute my self imposed no-internet-writing-hours are done I’m clicking Twitter and Facebook and checking the NYTimes and Washington Post.

I know I’m not alone. The women’s poetry listserve I’m on has been full of discussions about how to maintain a creative focus in the midst of madness. One woman wrote, “I wish to God I could just think about quatrains and line breaks now. Time to make some daily phone calls…”

I can’t shut off what’s going on, but I can’t have my face in it all day every day. In fact, having it in my face all day distracts me from taking action that would make me feel better. I didn’t make any calls to Congress this week because I spent so much time reading news about all the things I should be making calls to protest.

This year for the holidays I gave David a commitment for the year ahead: one outdoor adventure and one museum visit a month. Some part of me must have known how much I was going to need dedicated self care and healthy distraction this year. This weekend we bumped up against our last chance to go to a museum and chose the Athenaeum in Portsmouth. The Athenaeum is celebrating its 200th anniversary with a rotating exhibition from their collection — A Museum of Curiosities Both Natural and Artificial.

The curiosities included a giant fungus, as big as an end table, “provenance unknown.” The friendly historian and curator of the show that opened yesterday wasn’t even sure it’s a fungus but it was certainly curious. There was a large chunk of stone purportedly from the house of Christopher Columbus in Genoa. One wall was hung with paddles and spears and a shield of intricately carved wood from the Austral Islands in the South Pacific, collected by a Navy officer in the early 19th century to bring back to the Athenaeum.

Viewing curiosities, along with meeting friends afterwards for dinner and a movie, was my reset button. I needed a break. We all need breaks so we can keep making calls, writing poems, showing up for marches, going to elected Rep’s town hall meetings, running for office, organizing petitions and working to get Democrats or Republicans with balls elected.

I’ve been afraid that looking away, enjoying an afternoon and evening of distraction, would be normalizing what’s happening. It isn’t. I’ve been paying more attention than necessary to be effective, and that needs to change. I believe Trump intuitively and Bannon deviously know this — the news is addictive, especially when it’s outrageous. Keep everyone with their faces in their screens and they won’t show up to organize an effective resistance.

I’m walking out of that trap.

Detail of ironwood paddle from Austral Islands

 

 

 

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