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

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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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Work For the World We Want

Nadia da Rosa, 15, from Providence, R.I., attends the Women's March on Washington on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 in Washington, on the first full day of Donald Trump's presidency. Thousands are massing on the National Mall for the Women's March, and they're gathering, too, in spots around the world. (AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz) NYTCREDIT: Sait Serkan Gurbuz/Associated Press

Nadia da Rosa, 15, from Providence, R.I., attends the Women’s March on Washington 
NY Times: Sait Serkan Gurbuz/Associated Press

Late on Saturday afternoon David and I stood at the top of a grandstand on Pennsylvania Avenue, near the intersection with 14th Street, in Washington, D.C., watching the flood of people who’d taken over the city. As far as we could see in every direction the streets were full of protesters marching and chanting, carrying signs with slogans as smart as “Intersectional Feminism is the Future,” as sad as “Vietnam Vet Against the New Agent Orange,” as inclusive as “No Hate, No Fear, Everyone Is Welcome Here” and as clever as “Public Cervix Announcement: Fuck You.”

It was exhilarating to be among a million people peacefully protesting the negative and backward facing views of Trump and his supporters, people defiantly lifting their voices and placards to declare love trumps hate and women’s rights are human rights.

Were there really a million people there? No one knows because the crowd was so huge it flowed out of Independence Avenue, the planned rally and march site, over the mall and into all the surrounding streets. Published estimates say there were more than 500,000 people at the march. Metro ridership was the second highest in history on Saturday; 1,001,613 people, topped only by the 1.1 million for Obama’s first inauguration and far surpassing the 570,557 for Trump’s. The Women’s March on Washington website’s current estimate is that 4,834,000 people participated in 673 sister marches around the world, on every continent including Antarctica, and that there were a million marchers in D.C. No one disputes that Saturday’s demonstrations were the largest political protest in U.S. history.

But am I getting distracted by numbers, just like Trump?

Perhaps, so I’ll get back to the point (something Trump doesn’t seem to be able to hang on to) because we need to take action to limit the damage of a president who cares more about crowd size than governing. The exhilaration is receding, especially after a weekend when the new administration showed us that lying is the new normal and any shred of hope we had for a less than disastrous Trump administration was naive. It’s time to turn resistance into organization.

What’s to be done? As Bernie Sanders tweeted, “President Trump, you made a big mistake. By trying to divide us up by race, religion, gender and nationality you actually brought us closer.”

Now that we’re closer and know how many stand with us, what do we do? The Women’s March has laid out 10 actions for 100 days. “It doesn’t end here – now is not the time to hang up our marching shoes – it’s time to get our friends, family and community together and make history. That’s why we’re launching a new campaign: 10 Actions for the first 100 Days. Every 10 days we will take action on an issue we all care about, starting today.” You can start by going to the website and get active.

At the beginning of January the NY Times published an Op-Ed by former congressional staffers introducing Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Administration. The guide borrows organizing principles from the Tea Party movement — work locally to influence members of Congress and be sure your representatives know what you want and that you’re watching to be sure they’re paying attention. “To this end, the following chapters offer a step-by-step guide for individuals, groups, and organizations looking to replicate the Tea Party’s success in getting Congress to listen to a small, vocal, dedicated group of constituents.” Check it out.

Did you know you can Petition the White House on the Issues that Matter to You? Start a petition and if it gets 100,000 signatures in 30 days you’ll get an official response from the White House. A petition calling for Trump to release his tax returns has gotten over 250,000 signatures since Friday. The official White House response from Kellyanne Conway? Not going to happen. “We litigated this all through the election. People didn’t care, they voted for him.” Well, actually more people voted for Hillary than him, remember?

If you don’t agree with Kellyanne, go to the website and sign the petition. Or the one that asks the White House to add LGBT rights, climate change and civil rights back to the list of issues on the White House website. Those were deleted within hours of Trump taking the oath of office.

Or check out Swing Left, which declares, “It starts with the House. Don’t despair. Mobilize.” The website provides a map of congressional districts that were decided by a margin of less than 15% and where organized action can help get Democrats elected in 2018. Both of NH’s districts are on the map — Annie Kuster only won by 15,546 votes and Carol Shea-Porter by 4,904. Swing Left’s strategy makes a lot of sense — “unify progressives who promote tolerance, equality, unity and fairness. . . to out-organize Republicans” in House races that get less attention and money than Senate races, providing more opportunity for impact.

So let’s get to work. If you have more ideas and resources, please share. If you need some inspiration, check out photos of the women’s march from around the world, including every continent. (Preview below.)

See you out there, changing our future, making sure we have one.

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Wrong Brain: This Is What TRANS Feels Like

Painting Fragment --Michelle Rose Pizzo

Painting Fragment –Michelle Rose Pizzo

When David and I reached the fourth floor voices rose from down the hall to the left. We turned and saw a few people gathered by an open door. Once we stepped through the door into Wrong Brain Headquarters the buzz of dozens of excited people shot us full of energy. The room was packed with people of all sizes and ages, with long hair and short, facial hair and tattoos and bright clothes and black leggings, jeans and skirts and dresses and blazers, people standing and sitting and talking in groups, exclaiming at the art and greeting friends.

David went off to look at the exhibition —  This Is What TRANS Feels Like, hosted by Wrong Brain, a nonprofit arts organization in Dover that “aims to provide an outlet and venue for unconventional, under-represented and emerging art of all kinds.”

I got caught by a rack of brightly colored zines — hot pink, orange and purple covers with black text and fantastical drawings. A sign announced the zines were free and I began stacking one of each in my hands. What great colors and images for collages, what a resource for burrowing in to the world of Wrong Brain.

A old friend greeted me and I noticed her tag (David and I had been swept into the room right past the welcome table) had her name, as well as her preferred pronouns — she, her. I looked around and saw everyone’s name tag included their choice of pronouns, both gender binary and neutral. I felt like I’d found a refuge.

I read a lot of news — daily doses of the NYTimes, the Concord Monitor, the Washington Post, and then clicks off Twitter into The Guardian, Slate, the Wall Street Journal, BBC, Politico, The Hill. Despair can be hard to push back because it feels like tolerance, respect and kindness are all being pushed back. Suddenly black and brown people more than ever are fair game for overt hatred and discrimination, Muslims are terrorists, gay people are deviants and transgender people are just plain weird.

Well not in Dover, NH last Friday night. The exhibition was put together to give artists a place to express “what it means to be transgender and the unique experiences transgender Granite Staters face.” What a relief, to still be able to walk into a room of people ready to celebrate diversity, to look at art that comes out of struggle and pain, to witness courage in expression.

In “The Gender Series,” a stunning display of nine photographs, Jeff Kramer poses in self-portraits that move from feminine to neutral to masculine. Kramer, a trans man, told Kelly Sennott at The Hippo in an excellent article reviewing the show when it was in Manchester last summer, that “I was going through my transition, and I was having a very hard time. . . .  Photography saved my life. By doing this series, I was getting my feelings from the inside to the outside.”

The rest of the wall with Kramer’s series was hung with pieces from trans artists as well as allies. But honestly, I didn’t get to see the rest of the art because David and I were meeting friends for dinner and I’d spent most of the time talking to Beth Wittenberg, a resident artist. She had made many of the zines I picked up and exuded good cheer and enthusiasm and had a lot to say about making art and creating space to welcome others into the process. “Come visit and we’ll make a zine,” she said when I told her I write and make collages.

It was David who led me to the photos. On the adjacent wall was a large, grafitti-like painting by Michelle Rose Pizzo with dark, stylized figures dancing through colors as bright and rich as the zines that had first pulled me when I walked in.

David and I had to leave; there was still so much to see. I want to go back. If you need some reinforcement of your own courage and resistance, go see this show. This is art that says I’m here, art matters, I matter — this is what TRANS feels like.

The show will be up until February 14, at Wrong Brain, Washington Street Mills, 1 Washington Street, Suite #459, Dover, open Monday — Saturday 11 – 5 and Tuesday until 8 p.m. The exhibit, coordinated by Freedom New Hampshire (FNH) in partnership with the ACLU-NH, and Rights and Democracy NH (RAD-NH), is free.

I’ve read all the zines. Amazing, intriguing, wholly inventive. The archived zines on the Wrong Brain website are well worth a visit also.

 

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All I Have To Say Today

 

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My Own Sin

I drop the apple.
I turn from the voice.
I hold my tongue and let
my breasts ascend.

I spit back at the snake.
I knot my hair.
I name nothing, press
my lips to the tree.

I plant cherry seeds.
I throw away the rib.
I walk through the gate
my hands empty and open.

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Snow Party

 

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Since the election I haven’t done much of my usual personal writing, because what does some happy or sad moment from my own life count in the fight to make sure our country stays as just, diverse, safe and equitable as possible?

But there is life beyond resistance to whatever roll-backs of social justice the Trump administration will bring and I need to live that life sometimes. Or perhaps the life beyond resistance is resistance, because living from a place of struggle to make the world a better place requires joy as much as persistence.

Sam was home last week and over one of our predictably competitive Scrabble games we had this exact conversation — the need to balance how life goes on in the face of struggle. How much would my life actually change with Trump as President? Couldn’t I keep enjoying what’s good even if we have a dick for a President?

Melia and Sam’s friend Mike were here too and this lead to a long discussion about what would change, what mattered, what we were afraid of, what was upsetting us the most. Was it a gendered response that Melia and I are more worried about reproductive rights than Sam or Mike? Sam and Mike are most upset by how little people are listening to each other and how ready they are to judge others based on their votes. They both live in states with far more Trump supporters than Melia or I do.

So how is this about joy?

The Scrabble game (I got crushed) and discussion were on Thursday afternoon and that night we got over a foot of snow. A group of Sam’s friends planned to visit and the thickening snow didn’t stop them. Trucks still arrived in the driveway with young men and boxes of beer, one with his Christmas tree ready to burn.

Burn it we did, drinking beer while snow swirled and slid off the solar panels on the barn roof in clumps that thumped and drenched us. We watched flames catch the limbs of the tree and curl up into the needles, hot pine burning yellow then glowing red as the fire moved on to the next branches.

It was an elemental celebration, because this is how it all started, getting through the dark part of the year by gathering with family and friends around light. Most holiday parties are lit by electricity and candles, cheery and warm. We love the sparkle.

But when the light is outside in a snow storm, the knot of of energy created with a circle of faces to the fire and backs to the darkness is tight and strong. Joy. To carry into the new year.

Here I go.

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Posted in Family, Friends, Justice, Light, Seasons | 2 Comments