What can I say that will lessen discord and polarization and help people listen to each other? What can I say that will move the world closer to my vision of justice, kindness and compassion? What can I say to trolls that would make any difference? What can I say to a woman who tells me she loves me after insisting that Democrats are always wrong and Republicans always right, followed by a declaration that she’s proud of Trump?
Do I need to listen more? Maybe I need to listen to more poems by Wislawa Szymborska. Maybe everyone needs to listen to more poems by Szymborska. My friend, poet Marie Harris, read a poem of hers at our Skimmilk Poets group the week before last. This week I listened to Catherine Barnett read Szymborska’s poem “Maybe All This” on the New Yorker Poetry podcast. Her book View With a Grain of Sand is now on my desk.
CHILDREN OF OUR AGE
by Wislawa Szymborska
We are children of our age,
it’s a political age.
All day long, all through the night,
all affairs—yours, ours, theirs—
are political affairs.
Whether you like it or not,
your genes have a political past,
your skin, a political cast,
your eyes, a political slant.
Whatever you say reverberates,
whatever you don’t say speaks for itself.
So, either way you’re talking politics.
Even when you take to the woods,
you’re taking political steps
on political grounds.
Apolitical poems are also political,
and above us shines a moon
no longer purely lunar.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
And though it troubles the digestion
it’s a question, as always, of politics.
To acquire a political meaning
you don’t even have to be human.
Raw material will do,
or protein feed, or crude oil,
or a conference table whose shape
was quarreled over for months:
Should we arbitrate life and death,
at a round table or a square one.
Meanwhile, people perished,
and the fields ran wild
just as in times immemorial
and less political.
I’m not actually sure it’s been weeks, but it feels like it, so that’s how I’ll count it. I love having a full house, love seeing and hanging with my children and stepchildren and grandchildren and all the partners and friends that come with them. Lucky, lucky, lucky.
But there is a wall. A wall where the part of my brain that disengages with daily life and picks up in the pursuit of art — poetry, prose, drawing, collages, gardening, book-making — starts to stutter and slam around and ask for more attention.
When David and I are here in the house by ourselves, we’re easily able to ignore each other for long stretches of the day so we can fall into the tunnels of our own creativity and our work to make the world a better place. When family and friends are here, I love them too much to do anything but hang with them. Time with them is precious.
And then there’s the shopping and cooking and eating together, long meals with long talks, and games of Catan and Set and during these too too hot days lots of playing in the water. When I wake up Emilio is up right behind me so my early mornings aren’t at my computer unless we’re watching videos of endangered species. This morning I woke to taps on my shoulder and Ava’s whisper, “Mimi, Mimi, Mimi.” Time to get up and make her a honey “samblewich.” So busy. So sweet.
Later: I wrote the above over a week ago and haven’t been back to it since. Because I was only alone for one evening and then it was three more days of company and then once all the visitors left David and I put water toys away and did laundry and weeded and cleaned out the fridge and focused intently on his campaign for State Rep from Northwood (yes, he’s running!, but that’s another post).
Now I’m really alone, in Vermont, on a second story deck overlooking two old oaks, the closer one with a gaping, bubble-edged scar where a branch fell off what looks like a long time ago. A big mouth saying hello. These are very grand trees and very old. And my only company.
I’m in Montpelier for the Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers’ Conference. Yes, I’ll be spending a lot of time with other people during the day — workshopping a new poetry manuscript, going to lectures and readings and meals where, once again, there will be long talks. But the talks will be about writing and I’ll be living alone. When I come back to my AirBnB there will only be the page to talk to.
When I bought my house 37 years ago I didn’t realize I would be completely surrounded by one family, the Johnson’s. Johnson family members owned the farm across West Street, the house kitty-corner on the other side of the cross roads, the small pasture across Canterbury Street, the white cape on the other side of Narrows Brook along with that barn and corner of land, and the corn field across Route 107.
How lucky I’ve been, to have Johnsons for neighbors. There have been the inevitable shifts and changes and now my property doesn’t abut Johnson land on every side. But many family members are still in the same houses, with one significant exception.
Arlene Johnson died last Friday, at age 96. She was a remarkable woman. At her service the minister talked about what an “extraordinary ordinary”person she was. But, he said, she wasn’t perfect, no one is except in Jesus.
Arlene’s neighbor on the other side of her house disagreed. She stood up when people were invited to share stories about Arlene and said, no, Arlene was perfect. The fact that this neighbor is someone who’s lived 200 yards from me for 18 years and I’ve only ever seen her three times, and who introduced herself as the person who never leaves her house, gives a tiny view into who Arlene was — such a special person that she could connect enough with a deep introvert that the woman not only went to the service, but stood up in front of a church full of people and spoke and cried and described how Arlene loved her. And she loved Arlene.
I agree with my introverted neighbor. Arlene was as close to perfect as anyone I’ve ever known. She was invariably kind, friendly, spunky, cheerful and helpful. Even though she and her family have a deep faith in Jesus and believe in the redemption he offers, she never once tried to talk to me about her faith or press her beliefs on me. Rather, she was curious about Judaism. When we were preparing for Sam’s bar mitzvah she told me she’d never been to one and wondered what it was like. I invited her and her daughter-in-law and they came and had a great time.
Over the winter, as Arlene’s health deteriorated, David and I visited as often as we could. David would play guitar and I’d chat. I showed her my photos from our trip to Ireland and she told me about her attempt to climb Mt. Major last year; she only got halfway before she realized maybe she was a bit too old to reach the summit. At her service her grandson said the one thing she left undone on her bucket list was zip lining. Until just about a year ago she was walking to the corner store on a regular basis, and up the hill to the old maples to collect fallen branches to haul home for kindling.
The minister at Arlene’s service talked a lot about the love and saving grace of Jesus, but the face Arlene showed the world was one of a deeply human, considerate and caring individual. Her favorite verse was Micah 6:8: And what does the Lord require of you? To do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.
That was Arlene. What a world it would be with more people like her in it.
Talking with Emilio I often find myself explaining idioms. “What do you mean you’ll take a pass?” he asked recently. We were in the car and not playing ball of any sort, so how was I going to catch a pass? To him a piece of cake is what he gets to eat at birthday parties. Tying the knot is a way to attach two pieces of rope. How can you drive someone up the wall?
The shoe is on the other foot? This idiom first appeared in the mid-1800’s as “the boot is on the other leg.” Either way, it makes clear the possible discomfort in reversing roles, especially when positions of power are involved. Did I have that in mind as I put together the images in this new collage?
A friend recently told me she thought the collages I was making two years ago really “had something.” The encouragement was welcome, because I missed creating statements with images. The Fractured News series I did early last year, weaving newspaper and magazine articles and graphics, was calming in the midst of so much distressing news. The need for calm amidst the news hasn’t gone away.
So I uncapped my x-acto knife and opened a favorite book of images and followed my instincts about what to cut and shape and paste. Getting a leg up? Finding a foot hold? Standing on my own two feet? On my feet? Have legs? The shoe is on the other foot? The words that go with what I put together come later — it’s all layer and color and intersection as I collage.
It’s fun to be back to it, especially as a break from all the word work I do. My memoir work right now is pulling out pieces to make into essays. I’m also starting to assemble a book of poems. I signed up for a poetry manuscript workshop with Kathleen Graber this summer at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers’ Conference, without any plan for a next book. I knew having a deadline would get me working, and I must have known somewhere in the back of my mind that I had a series of poems from five years ago in a folder buried in a folder. Those poems were waiting for me, ready to be the basis of my next book.
Mansplaining and manspreading have been around for several years now, with not unexpected debates about whether the terms are fair or part of generalized trashing of male behavior by over zealous feminists.
Whatever. If you’re a woman, you’ve likely experienced both, as well as hepeating. That’s a phenomenon familiar to women who spend time in group meetings. A woman suggests an idea that’s ignored, then a man says the same thing and everyone loves it.
But what about mansisting? David came up with the term recently after listening to a friend describe an experience with a man who kept making his point over and over without listening to any arguments or counters to what he just knew to be true. My definition: a man who insists, particularly to a woman, his point of view regardless of his own or the other person’s expertise or knowledge. Yes, women do it too, but men do it more, and besides, the term for someone who does it is a great word. He’s a mansister.
Donald Trump is a constant mansister. He’s not particularly skilled at it, given that his vocabulary consists of about 100 words, too many of them adjectives that he over uses. Without any knowledge, facts or even common sense he routinely insists that something is “terrific” or “terrible” or “tremendous” or “dangerous” or “bad.” He repeats his assertions, as if saying something multiple times will make it true. He mansists.
Actually, mansplaining isn’t an option for Trump. He doesn’t really know anything, so how could he mansplain anything to anyone? Hepeating is also tricky for him. He certainly does repeat what others say (like whatever he hears on Fox & Friends), but hepeating requires repeating what a woman says. Does Trump ever really listen to anything a woman says?
Beyond having to endure the idiotic and insulting assertions of Trump, mansisting can be a real problem for women. How do you convince a man that you know more about a topic than him, or that he’s wrong, or that your vagina actually doesn’t make you less intelligent when he mansists instead of listens?
But we persist, right? “Nevertheless, she persisted.” Remember that, Mitch McConnell shutting down Elizabeth Warren because he didn’t want to hear the truth she was speaking? A recent study of interruption patterns during oral arguments before the Supreme Court Justices, published in the Virginia Law Review concluded “that judicial interactions at oral argument are highly gendered, with women being interrupted at disproportionate rates by their male colleagues, as well as by male advocates.”
Surprised? I thought not. The study found that seniority also plays a role, but mostly from “female Justices learning over time how to behave more like male Justices, avoiding traditionally female linguistic framing in order to reduce the extent to which they are dominated by the men.”
Do we need to behave more like men in order to get them to stop dominating us with mansplaining, manspreading, hepeating and mansisting?
I propose that as many of us that safely can become shesisters: a woman who persists and resists in the face of the verbal tactics men use to dominate her.
to have a life that isn’t consumed with anxiety and terror.”
“How’s it going,” Jon Lovett asks.
“It’s difficult, man.”
So says Marc Maron in this week’s podcast of Lovett or Leave It. Maron goes on to counsel that you do have to figure it out. Trump thrives on making us mad and scared so when you let the unprecedented unprecedentedness of the terror of his presidency keep you from enjoying the clear blue of a cool autumn day in New Hampshire after spending two days playing with the unspoiled and precocious children of your child, then he’s won. Resistance is enjoyment of simple pleasures and there’s nothing better than a rainy Saturday morning entertaining beautiful children so their parents can have a rare morning of sleeping in together.
I have to say this over and over in order to write blog posts. What difference do my experiences make, as sweet as many of them are? Well, they make a lot of difference to me and then I have energy to at least try to do my fifteen acts of resistance a week (way off that average recently having taken over a month more or less off). And my frequent emails to Mitch McConnell (go here and join in the fun) telling him I’m afraid in a way I have never been as an American (fear is a core motivating message of Republicans so I love being able to honestly use it to oppose McConnell’s unconscionable behavior) are actually renewing.
Life has been good to me recently and horrifically hard for a number of people I love. So all that makes sense is to share the extra generosity of my life. Mortality and change and rain then sun, zinnias and eggplant running into colder weather but no frost yet, bouquets in the house still and all the colored paper clips put away from Ava “working” at my desk this morning.
Ava loves to help put things away and clean up. Emilio has an arm that’s astounding for a six-year-old. Really. We measured our football throws this morning and as I thought he can throw twice as far as me.
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.
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.
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.
Fractured News: NYTimes Cover Pages: 1.21.17 vs. 1.22.17
Art for Aleppo NY Times 12.15.16
Fractured News: The Atlantic:January/February 2017
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.