Still I'll rise

Friday, November 11, 2016


I don't really have much to say about the election that hasn't been said by people more eloquent than I.

In our home, we have had to comfort our child. An openly gay black young woman who sobbed in my arms at 1 a.m. on November 9th. "Half of the country hates me", she whispered.


Later when Terrance and I talked about this, he gently soothes my outrage. He reminds me that I have the outrage of a liberal white lady who has been raised to believe that things will fall on the side of the good and just and kind.  He, as a black man in America, knows this to be not true. Bad shit happens. All the time. Racism abounds.

America has always been aspirational. From our founding documents forward, we've talked a good game. Hell, a GREAT game. Rarely, however, have our words matched our deeds. We talk about equal rights, while denying them to many citizens. We talk about freedom and safety and deny that to many of our citizens. We demand the BEST but we slide the cheap stuff across the counter.

As the adults in our dual racial family, we have done our best to hide the ugly from our child. We have taught her that kindness is better than cruelty. We have taught her that she is beloved and worthwhile. We have taught her the aspirational parts of what makes America unique; that she can be free to marry whom she loves, that she can be free from being sexually or racially discriminated against, that she is free to be who she wants to be.

Terrance says to me,  "It hurts her so much because she now knows we lied to her." My tears return anew.

The election has forced me to admit that I have lied to my child about America.

*

On Wednesday, I tell my students what my crying daughter said to me: "Half of America hates me."

I tell them this because I know some of them voted Republican. I tell them because they need to see that their decisions impact people they know, that it isn't some random "other" living in the far away - that it is THEIR teacher's child. It is my family who is affected when something like "Go Home Ni**ers" is scrawled on the door of 4 students of color.

It is my child who thinks about her civil rights being removed, including her right to marry. It is my child who will endure unwelcome sexual comments or actions, spurred on by a President elect who openly suggest that we grab women by the pussy.

It is my child who will endure racial hatred emboldened by a President elect who is openly endorsed by the KKK.

I suspect I will get some negative comments on my evaluations, but I don't care.

*

Last night, as I was holding my child again, soothing her I quoted Maya Angelou:

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you? 

Why are you beset with gloom? 
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken? 

Bowed head and lowered eyes? 
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you? 

Don't you take it awful hard'
Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you? 

Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs? 

Out of the huts of history's shame

I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise. 

Mitzvah

Monday, October 03, 2016

What's up?

Here? Not much, you know. Beginning of school tumult. Massive research project launch in which I run around with 4 year olds who are all wearing mic's and I photograph and document in my research journal like a crazy woman for 3 or 4 days a week, while still teaching a full 12 credit load.

And have a senior in high school who is applying for college and who just had her senior portraits done yesterday.

And edits are due on a journal article that *must* be finished because I have others waiting but I seem to have pulled a metric ton of committee service this semester meaning that I am at research of work from 7 am to 6 pm every. blessed. day.

(note: I have fallen to the "curse of competence" insomuch as when people want something done they start tagging me to the committee because I am a workhorse. )

My 20th wedding anniversary is this week and I have nothing. I can barely keep my eyes open in the evening.  More than one glass of wine will find me face down in whatever dish is before me.

Some days I genuinely have no idea what day of the week it might be. My always tenuous grasp of time is slipping away into the abyss.

***

I spent my summer in the community garden and now that it is fall, I work. On the weekends I walk in graveyards and photograph graves. I walk miles and miles.

Last weekend, Terrance asked me if I planned to go grave robbing.

I responded: "Grave walking? Because grave robbing is a very different activity and and not one I particularly have planned for a Saturday afternoon, if ever."

This leads my overactive imagination to wonder what would be in modern graves to rob, exactly? Polyester? The powdered remains of the 1919 influenza outbreak?

I don't know. But I walk the graves and call out "Hi friends!" My reading the names of people long dead brings them back to life, a tiny mitzvah,  if but for a moment.  Sometimes I read a particularly spectacular name and address the individual to let them know that - Wow. I hoped they lived a life to match that amazing name.

I slap at the last mosquitos and biting gnats of the season. I do not mourn their passing.

Purl

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


I finding myself spinning off into dreamy contemplation as of late.

It's the season, I know. Hot and humid, my hair in ringlets every morning after sleeping in the steam bath of my room, I wake from restless dreams of dancing.

The cicadas thrumm in the yard, unseen but omniscient.

I get sleepy by mid afternoon, only to find myself wide awake at midnight when the air cools down and I rediscover music that makes me cry.

The earth is hot, the grass is dry. I smell the indolent eroticism of river.

"Plunge yourself in me", it whispers.

I resist, I refrain, I remain steadfast in my boycott.

If I submerge myself, I may never come back.





Time makes you bolder

Monday, July 18, 2016

Children get older

I've spent the summer thus far in service to college visits.  We have visited many and one thing is clear, my preferences are not my daughters.

In some ways, it is perfectly understandable. In places I would have thrived, my child would feel lost. In places in which I would have felt conspicuously lower middle class, my daughter walks easily.

As was always the plan of life, she will walk where I could not.


Bowdoin



We spent nearly three weeks in Vermont. We arrived in Burlington late, near midnight, and rode to Stowe with the windows down. It was the smell I was after. Always the smell. I am a sensual creature who connects first with her nose.

Sweet grass, underlying pine and birch trees with early summer flowers. I breathed it in, over and over. I fell asleep with my window as open as it could be so I could be surrounded by the air.


von Trapp Lodge


New England feels different than where we live now. It is difficult to explain exactly, but I feel secure in Vermont. I relax back into the soil, closely held by the trees and mountains.  It isn't that I am unhappy in Wisconsin. I love my job and have made a few friends - it's just that Vermont feels so familiar that I suddenly understood stories of people who wanted to go home. For a person who never wanted to go home, this is a singularly unusual feeling.




I also look like the women my age in Vermont.*  There is some trait at the heart of it all, beyond the obligatory clogs and flowing cotton skirts. They are like me. They do not ask me about my "church home", they do not ask me about my kid(s) or husband. We smile at one another and move on.



When we returned from Vermont, there were many things to do. Reunite with rabbit and cat! Work things! More College Visits! I found solace in the community garden here. I work for hours at weeding and harvesting the garden for the food bank. I haul compost. I give shockingly expert opinion on hot peppers and how to harvest and store them. I come up with recipes for fennel.  After the last 5 hour session, I am so achingly exhausted that it hurts to walk the next day.





Working like this is a prayer. An ecstatic call and response of dirt and sweat. It is my shark cage against the conceptual sharks that surround me.




Strawberries

Friday, May 27, 2016

I stood at the sink this afternoon, hands under running water, slicing strawberries.

I'd finished cutting the peppers. Then I tackled the jicama. Bit by bit, the raw produce was washed and peeled if needed then assembled into the containers for the fridge.

It's easier if I do all the prep work as soon as I get home. If I don't, then you are most likely to see rotting vegetables in the bins when I forget that I bought them. If they are washed and cut up, I will wander down to find something to eat and be delighted at the magical bounty of the prepared veggies. I can still be amazed at finding things in my refrigerator. My sense of magical realism has never really departed.

I find washing and cutting to be soothing. I line up the vegetables and find my favorite knife.  I place everything in the colander and then let the cold water run over it all for several minutes. I read - who knows where now- that you have to let running water fall on vegetables and fruit for several minutes in order to really get any pesticides off. I have no idea if it is true, but it made sense to me as a young adult and the habit has stuck.

Emily comes home as I am starting on the jicama. I peel, then start the chopping. She reaches in to steal a piece.

My mind wanders as she chatters at me. End of year, chemistry test, who said what to whom at lunch. I murmur in the right places as I watch the knife line up the pieces of jicama.  Down it drops, then up again. Neat sticks of vegetable ready to be placed in the container.

She chatters more and takes another piece of jicama. She is 18 now and I am befuddled at having an 18 year old in my house. An 18 year old who is my child. I do not feel old enough to have a child who is 18.

I look at my hands and wonder if they look like my mother's hands. How strange it all is.

Once the jicama is done, I wash the cutting board and the colander, then begin again.

Quarts of strawberries are lined up and I begin to transfer them to rest under the water. I seek out a different knife, for I need one a little duller as I begin to take off the leaves, then quarter them all in a few swift movements.

As I flip the berry in my hand, I press the knife through to meet my thumb. Gently, not hard enough to cut, but just enough to part the berry... I have an image of my grandmother cutting an apple for me. When she did this same hand movement that I am now doing with these berries, I would hold my breath because she was using the knife in a way that I'd been explicitly told to never, never, never use.

I smile at my hands under the water. My daughter, still talking, walks over to me to begin eating the berries as I pile them in the bowl.

My mind wanders.




I don't need that pressure, Ron.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

In Target:

Emily: I don't get "fitbit".

Me: Neither do I. I don't need that kind of pressure in my life.

Woman in target looking at the FitBit display: Oh, actually they're really fun!  I don't even want to recharge mine in case I miss counting steps."

Me ( looking balefully at her): Yeah. I don't need that kind of pressure. I got other shit to worry about.


In Gap:

Me to Em in dressing room: Here are some nice summer dresses.

Em ( changing into one): Mom. You got me a romper. Did you want to see me in a romper?

Me: I did not get you a romper. That's a dress.

Em: There are legs on this. It is a romper. I am coming out to show you.

Me: Jesus. That's terrible.  Do you like this?

Em: NO! But you gave it to me to try on.

Me: No one should wear a romper over the age of 3.  I apologize for that awfulness. Take that off.


In Walmart:

We are picking up Em's Adderall. The pharmacist comes over to ask "Any questions?"

Emily: NO.

Me: Geesh, that was emphatic.

Emily: I've been taking this for years.

Me: You make it sound as if you are a hard core drug user.

Pharmacist stares at us.

We walk away.

Me: I don't think Dave found us to be amusing.


Home:

I am in my bathroom changing the liner and shower curtain. 

Terrance: Hey!

Me: Oh, hey.

Terrance: Did you buy more cider? When I pulled in, I saw two more six packs of cider.

Me: Yeah.

Terrance: Got plans to drink all of that?

Me: Shit yeah. I have a new shower curtain and liner and 12 bottles of cider. Shit's getting real now that school is almost done! Watch out! I plan on binge drinking and showering!

Terrance (completely deadpan): Okay.




No one finds me as funny as I find myself.








Indirect Conversation

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Emily and Terrance have the perfectly awful habit of attempting to have conversations through me.

I detest this, and have told them both a million times to just. converse. with. each. other.

The truth is that my daughter and husband are more similar than either would care to accept, and as such, they are both squeamish about certain topics.

Neither are squeamish with me,  mostly because there is very little in life that I am squeamish about and  because I rarely hesitate to have conversations about anything, even if the conversations feel weird at first.

On Friday, Em tells me that she would like me to tell her father to make sure that he takes care of his condoms because it horrifies her to see them. Terrance tried to flush his condoms- even though I have been telling him for 25 years to knock that shit off.  He does not listen to me. He flushes them.

They do not flush well. Emily comes into the bathroom in the morning to take a shower, looks down and sees floating, used condom.  Becomes horrified that her parents have sex....adds this to list of things to discuss with therapist.

Em complains to me. I tell her father. Terrance denies that he has left a condom in the toilet and/or gets horrified and promises to stop flushing the condoms ( until a week or two later when he reverts to his same old procedure).

Both of them freak out at me: THE ONLY PERSON WHO IS NOT DIRECTLY INVOLVED IN EITHER END OF THE HORROR.

On Saturday, I tell her again that if she wants to have the most direct impact on her father that she needs to convey how uncomfortable seeing the condom in the toilet makes her. My telling him hasn't changed his behavior, so perhaps she should address this herself.

Later that afternoon, she walks by him and lays on my bed. He is in the hallway. They can not see one another:

Em: "Dad?"

Terrance:" Yeah"

Em: "I'm tired of seeing the things in the toilet. So can you just not do it anymore?"

Terrance: Silence

Terrance: More Silence ( I watch his face go through the horror of having his condom usage indirectly addressed by his 17 year old daughter)

Terrance: Ok. But you have to take care of your situation. Because I don't want to have to see that in the laundry.  ( He is now referring to her leaving her menstrual pads in her underwear which he never finds until they've been through the wash. And yes. I've communicated his horror to her before.)


Emily( from bedroom) : Ok.

Terrance ( from Hall): Ok.



It's a beginning.






 
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