How to Choose a Future, Line by Line: A Work in Progress

Inspired by the painting that Wikipedia used yesterday on its homepage, on President Barack Obama’s last day.

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“Hope” George Frederic Watts, 1886

 

There have always been moments

Like this: the whole world a weeping

Woman, half-collapsed, up to her knees

In tears for our unborn futures.

 

There/like/woman/in: blah

Moments/weeping/knees/future: so-so

good enough start; carry on.

In 1886, my great-grandparents chose

 

(or turned?) (Look this up; give context;

History is personal and political:

The sweat of a single brow, the blood

Of thousands soaking a nation’s fields)

 

Since then, the vote and indoor plumbing:

Yes, all that. But also, a nuclear arsenal

In the small idle hands of a man

With neither conscience nor safeguards.

 

And so, this lyre–all strings but one long since

Broken, washed away in these salt waves,

The tears of my people, my tears–

And all the air above this musician

 

Awaiting the quiet note still to come perhaps

From this final trembling audacious

String and the transformation

That may yet follow its music.

Do Not Let Folks Divide and Conquer

Another thought-provoking piece by our pal Dina Honour over at Wine and Cheese (Doodles). Keep holding the line, Dina!

I just read an op-ed about pink pussy-eared hats. You see, after the election, a few women suggested a show of solidarity for women marching at the Women’s March in Washington D.C. It is a little knitted nod to the now famous line about a different kind of pussy. The author’s opinion was they were silly. […]

via It’s My March and I’ll Wear Pink If I Want To — Wine and Cheese (Doodles)

Thank You, Meryl & Co.

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So there I am on Facebook during my office hours, because of course that is what I do when I should be reading student papers or writing the great American novel or some such thing. And I see people I knew in Catholic school, people I would normally think of as “good Christians” if I ever thought of such things, complaining about Meryl Streep using her Golden Globes acceptance speech as a platform to condemn Voldemort’s bullying ways and call the press to hold his administration accountable for their words and actions.

And all I could think of was if Jesus had the opportunity to get millions of people to recognize a dangerous, disrespectful bully and call out people to hold him accountable, wouldn’t he?

Hell, isn’t that basically what the Sermon on the Mount was?

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If Meryl Streep had not taken the opportunity to use her freedom of speech to speak truth to power, it would have been a dereliction of duty. When people with conviction are silent, the people without conviction take our silence as consent and agreement.

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When a reader asked J.K. Rowling, “…when the bullies actually win[, ] How do we even move forward from here?” Rowling answered, “We stand together. We stick up for the vulnerable. We challenge bigots. We don’t let hate speech become normalized. We hold the line.”

And that is one of many things writing is for: using our words to hold the line.

Back toward the Light

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Toward the end of the film, Fried Green Tomatoes, when the main character, who has been going through a mid-life crisis, suddenly starts to settle into a new, saner rhythm, her husband asks, “What changed?” She answers, “The light?”

While that’s not exactly true, I understand the thinking behind the line. Although in the modern first world we can control the light at any time of night or day, natural light still has a lot of power over us. Winter Solstice, two weeks ago, marked the start of increasing light every day, and on days when rain or snow haven’t messed with natural sundown, I have been feeling more hopeful and creative.

I want to dig into my novel again. It occurred to me that, although traditional conflict means making every possible situation and interaction get worse for your main character, the opposite might be just as stressful for some people. Dealing with a rash of unexpected good luck might lead to decisions that could be just as problematic as decisions stemming from bad luck.

The fact that my life has been in small ways imitating art these days surely has absolutely no possible bearing on this experimental idea.

The Pointlessness of Writing Nonfiction

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“A word is a bud attempting to become a twig. How can one not dream while writing? It is the pen which dreams. The blank page gives the right to dream.”            ― Gaston Bachelard

A week or so ago, I outlined a possibly essay, but I don’t know whether or not I actually need to write it. My usual outlines for nonfiction/personal/narrative essays consist of a list of topics and subtopics. The essay that comes out of an outline like that is exploratory in nature. The topics allow me to “try out” fitting ideas together and see if any of them fit my lived experience. When Michel de Montaigne invented the form we now call “essays” in English, he named it after the French verb “essayer”: to try. At its heart, I think that the personal essay should be a case of trial and error and discovery. If it is not, it is a different beast altogether.

It is, in fact, an expository essay, that bane of high school and college student existence, that thesis statement supported by subclaims and evidence and all that malarkey. I teach this every semester, so I am painfully familiar with the genre. It has great worth, particularly for political and social argumentation. I just find it a little boring to write.

The outline I wrote was of the second kind, more a list of premises and hypotheses: if this leads to this, then that leads to that. But here is the question: If I already know what the essay is probably going to argue, is there any point in writing it? What will I learn from turning sentences into paragraphs? It doesn’t seem to be a particularly publishable set of ideas, so if I won’t learn from it or be able to get a publishing credit for it, it feels like I should probably spend my time doing something else.

 

All I Want for Christmas, or Mrs. Claus Has Her Work Cut Out for Her This Year

I wrote this almost exactly a year ago. Some things don’t change (need for coffee). Some things seem even farther away than last year (feline litter box, patriarchal litter box). Mrs. Claus, save us!

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My two front teeth. Check. 1978

Somebody to lean on. Check. 1985

Just a little more time. Check. 1992

You.

The abolition of imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy.

A self-cleaning litter box.

A hard-boiled egg.

And a cup of coffee.

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Crystal Nights in the New World

When the world turns weird           though the sky stays sapphire

Fear finds its F-stop              capturing crashing crystal.

Glass crunches underfoot                sanctuaries no longer safe.

These are the times that try                        weary women’s souls.

Now every nation, even ours,          shall tremble, tremble,

Awaiting wickedness, war    and all the caustic casualties

Of hatred let off its long leash         while we, the warrior women,

In mud up to our ears and angry   struggle to stand up, shoulder to shoulder,

And face the fray—fearful   but determined and diligent—

Knowing this is the uncommon hour         our pasts have prepared us for.