Forgive Me, Diary, for I have Lapsed,
It's been twenty-five years since my last entry ... journal notation... letter to myself...whatever...
My BFF sometimes worries that I record her life events with commentary of my own -- slanderous perhaps, or libelous, if I type it here: "I shudder to think what you put in your journal about me," she has said to me more than once.
I don't have the heart to tell her I don't keep a journal.
Or, I didn't.
Wait, that is not true. I have a few notebooks I saved from my nine-through-twenty-three years. Some are spiral bound, some are thread-bound; one has Strawberry Shortcake on the front cover, sun hat atop her signature curls and a watering can in hand -- it's a dream journal that I kept when I was nine -- the year my parents got divorced. At some time I had cut the strap that held the sides of the tiny, brass padlock in place, proof of my youthful negligence; a lost key and no patience to search for it. I tried to re-read the dream journal entries after I became a "grown up," and my only take-away is that I was a weird kid.
This shocks no one.
But dear, dear Diary, we are not here for this — nostalgia. I'm looking forward to 2016. It's a milestone year for me. If all goes as it should during the upcoming presidential election, it's a milestone year for all American women. It's been nice, in the past eight years, to see American politics go beyond the usual "old white dude" paradigm. I'm all for continuing that trend.
I've changed so much, dear Diary, since I last bothered to coalesce my thoughts in this format. For starters, I consider myself a better writer -- all this practice has not gone amiss (that is a self-esteem thing...I have a stack of rejection letters). I'm wiser -- I won't say in what ways. More foolish, too. You would be amazed what you can learn about yourself if you live long enough, and if you allow yourself to try things you never tried, taste broth you never sipped, suggest adventures to others that you could scarcely conceive for yourself and found yourself disappointed when no one else liked the idea. Irony becomes a friend and gravity an enemy, if you live long enough. If you're lucky...
Dear Diary, am I lucky?
Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Thursday, December 3, 2015
Two shootings this week. Two! I’m past angry, I’m despondent, and that is unusual for me. I typically fall into the category of annoying optimist. The National Rifle Association (NRA) won; they own America and we’re all going to die from a bullet one way or another.
It could be a toddler that grabs a legally purchased gun and points it at us, because he’s seen it done on TV or watched Daddy do it. The gun isn’t supposed to be loaded of course, with children so close in proximity, but it is. Bang. As of this October, young’uns were gunning themselves and the grownups down at a rate of about one a week. Why? Because they have easy access to a loaded gun.
It could be the angry kid that shoots us in school – any school – any age – with a gun they legally purchased or their parents did. I’ve called Blacksburg, Virginia home since 1984, even now, though I live in the next town over. I wince whenever Virginia Tech comes up as the number still to beat as far as mass shootings go. It makes me want to take 32 flowers to the memorial on the drillfield, place one by each stone, and weep again for the potential forces for positive change that the world lost that horrible day.
We could be walking home munching a bag of skittles when a racist gun nut, with a legally purchased gun, decides we are scary and shoots us. We could be attempting to evade a store security guard who caught us shoplifting when the self-righteous gun nut with a legally concealed, legally purchased weapon decides to be judge, jury, and executioner for what is not, in any jurisdiction, a capital crime. Worse, we could be innocently caught in the gun nut’s fire. (Luckily for shoppers at this particular store, this crazy bitch was a bad shot.)
We could be at a medical facility, or a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a rally for our Senator, or a movie theater, and someone with their own political or religious agenda, or their own personal beef, could show up and open fire on us and everyone around us and kill or injure many of us in seconds. Why? Because some dumbass in the NRA thought it would be cool to give Americans easy access to military style, high powered, high capacity, semi-automatic weapons that can spray dozens of bullets in only a few seconds.
As a powerful shill for gun and munitions manufacturers, the NRA has systematically blocked every reasonable policy and political candidate that might suggest restricting the types and numbers of fire arms that Americans can buy. Every card-carrying member of the NRA has blood on their hands. They fund this tyranny. They help give the NRA the money it needs to buy politicians and keep the sale of all types of guns and bullets flowing unimpeded in America. I hope they are pleased with themselves, all the men and women who have financed the greatest engine for violence and bloodshed the world has ever seen.
The ridiculously easy access to guns and bullets ensured and protected by the NRA has led to a saturation of armament in our society. It is all too easy to settle even the littlest of life’s frustrations by pulling out a gun, legally purchased, and shooting whoever annoyed us. The gun nut who murdered a kid for playing music at a volume he disagreed with just got convicted. One less gun nut on the streets, but nothing will bring back the dead seventeen-year-old. The flood of legally purchased guns has also well-armed the gangs and felons that contribute to the narrative of gun violence in America, and all because the NRA has backed the gun makers rather than the citizens of this country. It’s about profit. It’s about greed. It’s about control. It’s not about keeping Americans safe and it never was. Even the majority of NRA members agree that gun control is an important issue, but the organization continues to push against it; why are these members still paying dues? Surely they give enough support to the gun makers by purchasing guns and ammunition.
I know someone whose co-worker, an NRA member, brags that he buys a new gun and another 1,000 rounds after every mass shooting because he thinks the president (whom he refers to by the n-word) will have a chance to stop gun sales in America. He has no tolerance for gays, either, and he has amassed an arsenal greater than most police forces. All anyone can do is hope he doesn’t choose to act on his intolerance or snap, because it is all completely legal. Of course even if he snaps, he gets to keep buying guns. Thanks to NRA efforts, folks who know they are mentally ill do not have to disclose their mental illness to gun dealers because of privacy issues.
I knew someone who was murdered by a gun. I knew someone who used easy access to his gun to end his own life. If you come to visit me in my beautiful mountain home, expect me to take you to see 32 white stones in a semicircle of grief. Gun violence is personal to me. It’s personal to every person gun violence has touched. Yesterday, it got personal to the families of thirty-one innocent people who were either killed or wounded while celebrating the holidays with their co-workers, one of whom got angry and got a gun—a legally purchased gun.
Thank the NRA and all of its card-carrying members who help fund the madness. Many more will die.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
I love Halloween, I really do, more for its ancient pagan roots than the candy and toasted pumpkin seeds, but don't get me wrong. I love those too. To celebrate Halloween this year, I decided to publish my recent ghost story over on my fiction blog. If you dare, click here to read Bones Never Lie.
Monday, June 22, 2015
|Ellett Road As Seen On Google Maps|
My BFF called me at a few minutes after 7:00 am this morning to warn me that my normal commute, the 460W bypass between the town where I live and the town where I work, was a parking lot, the result of a car accident. Minutes before I was to depart, my husband, who leaves before me due to a slightly longer commute (nine miles to my five), called to confirm BFF’s report and add that town was also now crawling with traffic. Word of the backup was making its way around, and folks savvy enough to take the business route were doing so. “You can’t get there from here,” he said.
There are few roads between the town where I live and the town where I work, but I know them all. My favorite is the two-lane country road that cuts through Ellett Valley, a small patch of heaven tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It winds along the path of Wilson creek as it flows toward the North Fork of the Roanoke River, over bridges, under bridges, around hairpin curves, all beneath glossy green eaves. Houses and farmland intermingle. Between them both, there is space. I know this road well. It was once my daily commute, and, should I choose to get up a little earlier and leave a little sooner, it still could be. I usually sleep.
But today, traffic snarled in the two most obvious directions, I went the opposite way and took that two-lane road less traveled, the long way to town, because at least my wheels would keep spinning, not sit idly in a traffic jam. With my choice, came unexpected perks – encounters I usually don’t have on my morning commute. For example, I hadn’t even made it out of my suburban neighborhood before I had to yield the right of way to a beautiful doe and her even prettier spotted fawn crossing the road. The fawn, all legs, had to work twice has hard to keep up with graceful Mama Doe. Suddenly, I no longer grudged the eaten day lilies in my front flower bed. Perhaps the little one was hungry....
As I made my way through the valley, other fauna joined me. For a short time, a juvenile male northern cardinal flew along side me before winging across the creek. As I slowed for a curve, a brown rabbit hippity-hopped in front of me, and I broke all the rules, swerving to avoid its fluffy white tail, grateful the road is rural and that no traffic occupied the other lane. A few minutes later, I foolishly repeated this process to spare the life of a gray squirrel. With the sun roof open – it’s the cool of the day – birdsong competed with the sounds of NPR on my car radio; the bluebird’s chirp chirp chirp tweeeeeee has become familiar to me, language lessons from the nesting pair in my back yard. White lambs littered a lush green field on one side. Two horses and a donkey stood munching a roll of hay on the other.
I began to climb the hill into town, and a passing bicyclist nodded at me as he headed around a curve and down into the valley. I wondered about his path. Would he turn right and follow the road back the way I had just come, see the lambs and miss the bunny? Would he bear left, follow the road around to Luster’s Gate – it’s the less hilly route. Would he follow the main road straight on to other curvy paths less taken? Not that it mattered much – all his choices end with a steep ascent out of Ellett Valley, a leg-breaking pump action that I could never imagine attempting. I envied him briefly, though, the wind in his face, the coolness of the morning surrounding his limbs even as the haze began to burn away, promising the day’s heat to come.
Later, if it rains, steam will rise from the road, followed by fireflies and the moon — nature’s street lights. The valley will lose itself in comfortable darkness save for an old pickup truck with one headlight to pierce the night and illuminate the way.
Sunday, March 22, 2015
Say, we can act if we want to
If we don't, nobody will
And you can act real rude and totally removed
And I can act like an imbecile
And say, we can dance, we can dance
[“Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats]
I’ve been reading about “safe spaces” more than usual lately, you know, the metaphorical and literal environment we create for ourselves with each other so that we can pretend to avoid the risk of rejection or ridicule. It comes in handy while discussing topics that may or may not be comfortable for us to discuss. I credit Starbucks although I doubt they intended this consequence when they started the #RaceTogether coffee cup hashtag. As a non-coffee drinker, I first worried that some caffeinated person wanted me to run a 5K with them. Then I read the PR and realized the Starbucks' CEO expected his baristas to engage customers in conversations about racial equality.
Smart, funny, bold coffee addicts populate the majority of my Twitter timeline; they go to Starbucks, and this past week some of them asked the barista to start the conversation. That’s how I learned that the Starbucks’ baristas have been given no script and very few guidelines on how to conduct a conversation about race relations in America, which seems risky. What if the barista is actually a closet racist faking a tolerant mindset just to keep the job? How would that conversation go? But I digress.
Whether or not Starbucks artfully executed the program, they at least started a conversation, and that is never a bad thing. But it has led to some sidebars about “safe spaces” in which to conduct difficult dialog, and whether or not such spaces exist. Earlier today, a Tweep shared an article link to a New York Times op-ed piece on the topic that piqued me.
The article begins with the author detailing the “safe space” created at Brown University in response to a debate being held to discuss campus rape culture. The potential for a nuanced and informed exchange of ideas to make rape survivors feel invalidated may or may not be a dominant concern, but a few students saw the risk and created a safe space for attending rape survivors who might experience a trigger during the debates. This space they stocked with “cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.” The trained students and staff members made perfect sense to me, but bubbles?
The space sounded more like my old kindergarten classroom. Were the victims children? If so, I could understand it, but how were cookies and coloring books going to help college-aged women work through the trauma, talk about the nightmares, face the triggers, and learn to defeat them? How would Play-Doh educate their friends, sisters, brothers, parents, and lovers on how to better show compassion? The space sounded more escapist than safe.
I retweeted the article with my own two cents thrown in: “Cookies and coloring books? Are they ten?” I did not ask the questions sarcastically (although I own that sarcasm is my usual demeanor where retweets are concerned). I sincerely did not understand how coloring books made a place safe. My questions reverberated as snark though, and someone else on Twitter quickly reminded me that the person who created the space was “a rape survivor, but whatevs,” which is Twitterspeak for “but if you want to be an asshole, just know I think you are being an asshole and shame on you.” (At least that is how I use “whatevs.”)
Twitter likes to shame. Twitter is no safe space.
The world is no safe space.
And college is supposed to be teaching that.
Humans can create the illusion of safe space – we can fill the metaphoric room of our choice with like-minded people and promise not to step on each other’s toes while we do a safety dance of political correctness. We’ll hold conversations on pre-approved topics with expected emotional responses ranging from mild interest to active encouragement. We’ll discourage negative criticism, everyone wins a trophy, and those who disrupt the order, we will shun. In this bubble we’ll convince ourselves we are enlightened. It is the ultimate denial.
In that “safe” space, we lose our ability to think critically, to argue successfully, to change a mind, plead a cause, march for reform. I think we also lose empathy for one another – that necessary element – the only hope to keep Homo Sapiens from fully devolving into sociopathic narcissists. So many people prefer to avoid uncomfortable truths or refuse to listen to the stories told by fellow humans of racial injustice, sexual violence, abuse, and oppression. In the absence of conversation , they (we, I) never learn to understand the courage of those who experience it, survive, and press on. Those in true denial delude themselves into thinking it doesn’t happen often or only to people who deserved it. It provides their rationale to ignore the calls for change or the suggestions that one could do better. In the blind eye turned, others perpetuate the violence, parrot the old hatreds, and create a new generation of intolerance. The space is anything but safe.
More baffling is why today’s future leaders think safe spaces are necessary. No one ever taught me something by agreeing with me. I was schooled in how to debate and raised with an open mind. I learned more through hard conversations with others who, rightly or wrongly, believed I was the problem, than I learned in books and movies, which are skewed by their creators’ personal biases. As a teenager I was threatened with a beating for my whiteness while walking home after school: “Didn’t you see Roots? Don’t you remember slavery?” Rhetorical questions unanswered by my feeble “yes” and “no, I wasn’t alive then.” In that moment, I had no safe space, and it was a hard conversation.
My takeaway from that scary experience? Getting judged based only on skin color really fucking sucks. I empathized. I quit doing that to others.
I was never informed by being called a name either, and I have been called many, but I don’t care. If you have resorted to that, you have lost the debate. Your toolbox is empty, and your clue bag is filled with trash.
We each have the power to create a safe space, not just for ourselves but also for others. It’s a choice we make – recognize shared common ground, celebrate what’s different in ourselves and in others -- dance if we want to.
Saturday, March 14, 2015
@KStreetHipster broke up with Twitter tonight. I watched it happen. I wished her well. Whoever she really is, she is smart, and funny, and bold. She Tweeted like she gave a shit, but maybe something in Twitter broke her. Or maybe she got smart about the thinness of the thread and the use of time allotted. It happens. I’ve seen it before.
Twitter is a strange playground. I’ve met Tweeps in real life; we have become friends -- I love them now. Other Tweeps I wish I could meet; we live only four hours away and they make my Twitterverse a happy place. I have left coast Tweeps and a few who live across The Pond. I still need to pin down logistics on how to tweetup with them, and my life will be richer when I manage it.
I dig that KStreetHipster chose a Saturday night to tell Twitter, “Got a life, need you not.” It adds to the drama – the Twitterverse got dumped like a bad blind date; the nightmare of green beer on amateur night, the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day. She didn’t seem hostile or suicidal. I’ve seen those sorts of Twitter farewells also. They scare me – calls for help I can’t answer.
I don’t mean to mock. Social media means different things to different people. Even I, who thought I fully understood the connections I could make in this ether, have met with the unexpected. It’s been wonderful, and sometimes, it has made me cry. Did I waste time? I could argue yes and no. Certainly, I could do other things with the time I spend Tweeting but I can say that about the time I spend writing, or baking, or gardening, or cleaning the house. Playing with the kittens is as fruitless and fabulous as Twitter. I’m mindful to be where I am.
I recall the first time I saw someone bid Twitter farewell. The implied hubris amused me. It carried a certitude that one would be missed in this digital world we all created together, reaching out to each other, sometimes with teeth and claws. I get where it comes from – filling in the dash – that spot between the day Mom birthed us and the day we died – but I never imagined that if I just dropped off the grid, anyone would notice.
Whatever use @KStreetHipster will now make of her free time, I hope it fulfills her soul. I hope she never looks back, never looks down, never questions each second of breathing. I hope the keen edge of uncertainty leaves her uncut. I hope she finds meaning in the space.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
A Child’s Drawing Colored Outside the Lines and Crumpled in A Clear But Failed Attempt to Discard It (In the Category of Be Where You Are.)
I never dreaded aging, knowing, as I do, that it beats the alternative. But Dad died suddenly and unexpectedly five days before my forty-seventh birthday, and just today, a week out from my forty-ninth, I realized that I now link my age increase with his sudden death.
It’s a bummer.
Before Dad died, my birthday, positioned near the last day of winter, always conjured for me hopes of spring. Daffodils were usually out by then, though that is not the case this year. The odd brave forsythia could be spotted (again, not happening this year). As the equinox approached, the angle of the sun bent back onto my deck, and things held an air of potential. I had ideas to write and a conviction that the time spent writing them was time spent well. I easily connected with that life force, that surety that I was alive and living fully, with purpose.
I took it for granted.
For Christmas I received a 365 day calendar, the kind where you tear off a new page each day. I find myself startled at how quickly the thick stack of thin sheets printed in kittens and italicized wise words has diminished. Today’s quote is Longfellow, sappy and contemplative. I like tomorrow’s better: “The darkest hour has only sixty minutes.” (Morris Mandel)
It turns out that I don’t care for daily calendars. The need to turn them regularly eludes me, and I end up peeling away weeks at a time to get caught up. I lose the continuity of wisdom; it feels like skipping chapters in a book, but I toss them unread. I do flip quickly to see the pictures of the kittens, though. Daily calendars produce in me a psychological anxiety similar to an hour glass – the surety of pages dwindling, the passage of time and no means to prevent it, no matter how cute the kitten, no matter how wise the words.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
You would think I have more sense than to write about race, “privileged” white woman that I am, but it’s Martin Luther King Junior’s birthday, and the movie about him, Selma, just got snubbed by the (mostly old, white, male) Oscar nominating committee in all the actor categories as well as the Best Director category, although it was nominated for Best Picture. (I guess it directed itself.) I live in Virginia, one of the first colonies to bring Africans to the new world and enslave them out of greed, callousness, and an utter disregard for human life and dignity, and tomorrow, workers for the Commonwealth will be given a paid holiday to honor Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, Southern heroes of the “War of Northern Aggression” (I’m being facetious here, but they actually still call it that in Savannah, Georgia) because the former capital of the Confederacy just can’t get its racist head out of its bigoted ass.
And lately, the recent murders (not being facetious here) of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black men taken down by white police officers for various illegalities concerning tobacco products, have me doing a lot of soul-searching about race relations in America; who with a heart and a mind hasn’t been? It’s bullshit. America was supposed to be better than this by now. I can clearly recall the elation I felt when Barack Obama won the 2008 Presidential election. My sister called me just as the world was learning what the Commonwealth of Virginia had done — we had voted blue, we had voted for Barack Obama, and for the first time in my voting life, the candidate for whom I had cast a ballot had actually won the Old Dominion. Sis and I wept joyful tears together. Finally, we said, maybe, our country and our Commonwealth were shedding the manacles of racism that have bruised every moment of American history — happy thoughts; the audacity of hope.
But if the past six years have shown me anything, they have shown that racism is alive and well and as insidious as ever. The 113th Congress did everything in its power to thwart the success of a POTUS of color right up to shutting down the country, an economically disastrous gambit that hurt everyone everywhere except for members of the House of Representatives. On a state level, voting rights have been attacked in the name of preventing voter fraud, which zero studies can show is a problem. Voting districts are being redrawn in shapes that resemble the Jim Crow era, and even the Supreme Court refused to uphold the Voting Rights Act. On a local level, too many of our police forces – now nearly as well equipped as our armed forces – act as though they have redefined their role in the community from “protect and serve” to “shoot first, ask later,” as poor Tamir Rice’s family learned the hard way. At the very least we could hope for justice – some semblance that the lives of all citizens matter to law enforcement, but when the use of a banned chokehold still won’t get a police officer charged with a wrongful death, it’s hard to stay naive.
Mostly, I feel hopeless though. I know we need to get past this racist bullshit in America, but I don’t know how. It doesn’t feel proactive to simply wait for all the old white bigots to die and hope the next generation won’t hold the same biases and fears. It’s important to me because if we can solve our problems with race, then maybe we can move onto solving other issues, like gender equality. Dare I say, perhaps we could even elect a female POTUS. It seems like a logical next step, and anyway, all the cool countries are getting female leaders. Why can’t we have one too?
Thursday, January 8, 2015
I was trying to edit in less-than-ideal conditions when this show called Booze Traveler came on TV (like I said, less-than-ideal conditions). Cute Dude and his crew were in Spain, land of my birth, so instead of focusing on the one act play that I need to rework, I watched Cute Dude knock back a combination of red wine and Coca-Cola, which offers a heady blend of alcohol and caffeine, a local favorite in Barcelona according to the Spanish lady showing Cute Dude around town. As they walked, she smoked, and it reminded me of a dream I had the other night. In this dream, this time, I didn’t actually light the cigarette; instead I told my dream self, “I don’t need this now.”
But I didn’t toss the cigarette either; I wiped the smooth sides clean of the bits of tobacco leaf that cling to the paper when one slides a smoke out of a fresh pack. I laid the cigarette on the table where I sat, placing it beside an orange Bic lighter (I dream in color) to save it for later. As I looked up, I realized I sat in the conference room at the company where I worked right out of college. Several engineers, men, sat with me at the table working on schematics and puffing away. A mushroom tobacco cloud filled the conference room, and I thought to myself, no need to light another cigarette in here – just breathe deeply. Then my alarm clock went off, and the shame of what I dreamt swept over me.
Smoking dreams go like that – longing, restraint, mortification, and disgust all combine into a powerful reminder of why I quit. I awoke feeling off-balance and grumpy, the hangover of some unfulfilled nicotine fit that only my brain experienced. The dream felt like backsliding, even though I remain a former smoker. I think it is a metaphor for all the other things that I once had a handle on that now feel slippery and uncertain: goals, friendships, raison d’êtres. I miss the clarity. I miss feeling, if not relevant, at least not frivolous. I’ve lost confidence; my muse is sick of my shit; the words are in my head, but my head sees no need to bother my fingers with the drivel.
I should be editing the one act or figuring out where I was on the unfinished novel. I should be working out every day; I could sleep less, focus more, so much to do, seeds to plant, stories to tell. But other stuff has gotten into my head – disappointments, frustrations, realizations of fruitlessness, relationships I valued falling apart*, the gut-wrenching process that comes with accepting that no matter how many lumps of sugar one spoons in, one will not necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea.
The wet blanket weight of it has smothered my creative fire. In its ash, a gritty mean voice inside my head has taken shape, recalling for me in vivid detail all of my prior failures and embarrassments – all the foolish things I wanted and arrogantly believed I could have and all the ways those things were denied or taken away from me. I’m trying to silence this mental monster, but so far, only clichés and pop songs come to mind: shake it off, let it go, carry on, carry on. I still have no sense that any energy I invest on any front will be well-spent, which makes it challenging to muster motivation.
It will pass, this feeling. I'm pretty sure -- it always has before. But it scares me worse than a smoking dream.
*My relationship with G. is not among them.