Monday, August 3, 2020

Essential


On Friday morning, I set up a Zoom call with my friends Louise, Jessica and Sarah. That's them (or is it they?) up there in that photo, except for Sarah. She was probably somewhere near when the photo was taken, talking, probably, or making someone laugh. I can't remember where it was taken, but it must have been in 1985 or shortly after we graduated from college. I coordinated the Zoom call to accommodate three different time zones, the earliest being mine on the left coast and the latest being Sarah's somewhere in France. So we gathered in our little boxes and smiled at each other and laughed and caught one another up on our children, thirteen between the four of us, close to the age we were in that photo, most of whom are already out of college or in college or soon to be in college. Thirty-five years and thousands of miles make no difference. I feel connected in every cell to these women, and the pandemic and all its despair and loneliness melt away for the couple of hours we spent together. It's always with yearning that I leave these meetings and a sad reluctance to separate, the sad little button you click, LEAVE THIS MEETING.






What does it mean -- essential? Pandemic words.







Each morning, Chris sends a brief note of what she's grateful for, and I am at once irritated (the tyranny of gratitude) and buoyed. My sisters and I share strange humor back and forth back and forth our lifetime together. Leslie, Kari and I text one another almost daily with snippets of poetry.  The death of a mother and a father, the illness of a spouse, the ongoingness of caregiving are met with words of love or a well-placed fuck and hearts and check marks, these little messages and connections and it doesn't seem possible to be shored up but it is and we are. Tanya posts pictures of flowers and plants from her walks, sketches everyday objects on her kitchen island, talks on the phone  in her lilting voice and we are both reassured. Debra texts each evening: Feeling the evening covidy feeling, and I know exactly what she means. And the silence from others says everything, essentially.


These friendships are essential. Touch is essential and full body hugs are essential. 



I'm not faint of heart. 




Henry said tonight that maybe it wouldn't be so bad to die after all, but I didn't say that I'd thought it myself. I said some kind of mumbo jumbo about doing good, being kind and helping people out since we appeared to be doomed in these disunited States. I said something sarcastic. I am being taken advantage of, after all, by persons who've betrayed me. Insults and injuries. I cling to that, aware of the danger. A burning bush, not yet consumed.  We had read an article in The Atlantic earlier in the day that set the tone. It didn't tell us anything different than we already knew, but it was written so clearly and concisely.  Terrible America.


Anger veers into dullness eventually and reveals sorrow deep and wide where I guess we tread for a bit, tread water, our feet making walking motions and hands a downward circle. I can do it, maybe forever and maybe not. 

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Neowise


Yesterday, on an excursion to a place called Grassy Hollow where Carl and I headed for some much-needed nature, I read an article on the worldwide webs about the enormous hardship of our migrant workers, how they are bearing the brunt of the pandemic, even as they pick the food we eat, pluck the chickens we roast, slaughter and package the meat we barbecue. I won't regale you with the statistics, but it's gross. This country is foul.

How do we unhook from this culture?

This morning, I lay in bed thinking over-thinking wondering lamenting the usual morning fare. Professional basketball players are housed in what's being called the "Disney bubble," quarantined together with their families, at Disney hotels, kept safe and fed and tested constantly for the virus even as they are getting ready to finish the season of basketball that was so abruptly stopped and that fans so desperately await.

Do can will basketball players play without anyone watching? 

Does a tree make a sound when it falls if no one is there?




I'm reading an article in the newest New Yorker by Lawrence Wright titled "Crossroads." The subtitle is "A scholar of the plague thinks that pandemics wreak havoc -- and open minds." The scholar is Gianna Pomata, a retired professor at the Institute of the History of Medicine, at Johns Hopkins University who has returned to her hometown, the old city of Bologna, Italy. She compares Covid-19 to the bubonic plague of the 14th century -- "not in the number of dead people but in terms of shaking up the way people think." She says, "The Black Death really marks the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of something else." We know that something else was the Renaissance. Pomata also says, "Chroniclers of the plague describe the crumbling of the family. At the same time, human beings are creative. They react to this perceived moral decay by creating new institutions." She's less optimistic about what's going on in our country, a country that she loves, where she lived in and worked for over thirty years. "What I see right now in the United States is that the pandemic has not led to new creative thinking but, on the contrary, has strengthened all the worst, most stereotypical, and irrational ways of thinking. I'm very sorry for the state of your country, which seems to be in the grip of a horrible attack of unreason. I'm sorry because I love it, and have received so much from it."



I just can't help thinking about the migrant workers picking my fruit and the basketball giants in their bubble. I can't stop thinking about those who are both ignoring the necessary actions we need to take and those who want to "get back to normal" or "learn to live with it." I am aware of the absurdity and privilege of my own lamentation.

Again, how do we unhook from this culture? Maybe you don't want to. Tell me why?



After wandering around Grassy Hollow, Carl and I drove to La Cañada to try to see the comet in the northwestern sky. We parked on a street called Sleepy Hollow and walked up a dirt trail to a peak that looked out over the entire Los Angeles basin. We watched the sun go down in orange flame, a thin crescent moon rise, the lights of the downtown skyline appear out of a thin haze and then the Big Dipper. There, Carl said, just to the left of the ladle. I saw only a very faint smudge, my night blindness preventing any real recognition.  There was the comet, so aptly named Neowise, just barely visible to the naked eye, a cosmic snowball made of ice, rock and dust. I read that there are about 13 million Olympic swimming pools of water in Comet Neowise, that it's nearly 3 miles long and travels about 40 miles per second. When asked what she wanted to do when the pandemic was over, Gianna Pomata said that she longed to see her mother who lives in Sardinia. She wanted to swim there again. "Older people need exercise," she said. "I don't spend time at the beach gossiping with friends. I don't even take the sun. I just go immediately into the sea."

On Carl's super-camera, Neowise was a green blur with a fuzzy tail, 70 million miles away from the Earth where we stood.



I am grateful for my life. For life. I marvel and mark my own insignificance in this world. And I love the world and its people. But how do we unhook from this culture beyond going out into hollows and onto peaks to bask in and gaze at its mystery?


Here's a poem:

For the Sake of Strangers

No matter what the grief, its weight,
we are obliged to carry it.
We rise and gather momentum, the dull strength
that pushes us through crowds.
And then the young boy gives me directions
so avidly. A woman holds the glass door open,
waiting patiently for my empty body to pass through.
All day it continues, each kindness
reaching toward another—a stranger
singing to no one as I pass on the path, trees
offering their blossoms, a child
who lifts his almond eyes and smiles.
Somehow they always find me, seem even
to be waiting, determined to keep me
from myself, from the thing that calls to me
as it must have once called to them—
this temptation to step off the edge
and fall weightless, away from the world.

Dorianne Laux (1994)


Thursday, July 16, 2020

Pandemic Darts



Reader, Sophie is full of grace. She's a little lady. She loves to be outside. Really, that's all she wants to do -- to be outside. She loves the trees blowing in the sky. She can't walk as well anymore, but she enjoys sitting on the ground. Her eyes light up when she's outside. There's a lesson there, I know.





I had a conversation with Nice Neurologist the other day about Sophie's resistant seizures. We never really talk about anything else. Sophie's seizure control is okay -- but it really is all relevant. What she endures and what we think is a good day or week or month is a nightmare for others. A friend recently called me for support as she'd found her four year old son under the water, seizing. He'd been taking a bath with his older brother. She called me from the hospital. Her son was okay, but she wasn't. The boy hadn't had a seizure in four years, and she was wrecked. She should be wrecked. There are few things worse in seizure world than the bathtub seizure. Nakedness and thrashing and the water a killer. Yet, he hadn't had a seizure in nearly four years. How have I watched my daughter seize nearly every day (we have had brief periods of total seizure freedom) for twenty five years? More importantly, how has Sophie seized so many times yet loves and lives to be outdoors? While I listened to the panic and horror in my friend's voice, I couldn't help but think no wonder I'm dissociating half the time while Sophie is seizing. I don't really know how I do it. How I've done it. This shit is hard. I was struck by how I know this, yet I still don't entirely rest in it. I still feel agitated or guilty that I'm not doing enough, researching enough, trying to figure it all out. Figure it all out. So, back to the conversation I had with Nice Neurologist the other day. We were in a bar playing darts. He said, What about giving her a pulse of Ativan in anticipation of her bad days? and threw his dart. My turn. I don't understand why that would help? Do other people do that? I threw mine. Well, let me think about it. I'll look into the research, see whether it's been done. He threw another dart. Our darts were all over the bar at this point, a Dilantin hanging off of the seat of a chair, an old-school Diamox wedged into the front of the bar, Ativan dangling from the back of a stool. A guy walked by pulling one out of his neck. Nice Neurologist aims but generally misses. I throw wildly most of the time, but when I really concentrate and listen to what I know, I hit the target. Or maybe it's the opposite. It's only when I throw wildly that I hit the bullseye. No amount of concentration or attachment or expectation improves my aim. There's a lesson there, I know, and it's how I do it.

I don't know why I'm telling you this now. During a pandemic when the whole country is going mad. I guess I'm encouraging you to hang in there. The whole "we can do hard things" mantra. I don't know why, but we can. Lots of people do hard things, literally all the time, for years and years and years. Something is changing, and we have no idea what's happening. I think we need to think wildly and let go of our concentration, our attachments and our expectations. I think we'll aim true that way.


Friday, July 10, 2020

This Is A True Story



A very long time ago I held the baby in my arms in a brown and cream-checked easy chair, rocking back and forth while she screamed. Breathing in I calm myself, breathing out I smile, I said in my mind over and over back and forth. I got in a black car with a driver who took me to a nursing home in the Bronx where an Orthodox Jewish rabbi a supposed holy man recovered from a stroke. I walked down a hallway with the baby in my arms behind a small group of men in beards in black they turned left into a room there were no other women. The rabbi sat in a wheelchair his head on his shoulder his eyes looking straight at me and the baby and his eyes were clear and I had to look away look down not to escape but to absorb I guess (it's been 25 years). He said some things some things I won't repeat here although I've said these things before some things about eyes and evil eyes the whole time he spoke his head lay on his shoulder (the stroke) his beard lay on his chest he stroked the baby's head and said she'll be okay. He gave me a small medal with a sign on it that I pinned on the inside of her clothes for months, maybe years, taking it off each small shirt, dress, onesie, for months until it turned black it was cheap and magical. Years go by went by are going and as she seized seizes I say you're okay, it's okay, it's okay, it's okay and for a while I thought it would be okay and then I thought (with rue) when? and then with dark humor I forgot to ask when? and now it's all okay, it's really okay. 



May we be well, happy and peaceful.
May no harm come to us.
May no difficulties come to us
May no burdens weigh us down
May we always meet with success.
May we have strength, resilience and courage to meet the inevitable failures and disappointments in life.
May we be held.
May we be transformed.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Edge of the Continent



What's happening with you? We're living large out here in Covid-California times. I haven't posted in over a week, but I've composed many in my mind. That was our Fourth of July celebration. We weren't celebrating #TerribleAmerica but tried to make the best of the day. I don't feel like using this space today to rant and rave about this country or the POSPOTUS, but I will inform you that I don't think I've ever been this stressed out in my lifetime and it's not just about the pandemic, the POSPOTUS and the Assholes Who Still Support Him. There is so much stuff happening, none of which I can control but all of which I am juggling because -- well -- apparently that is what the universe is currently demanding of me. I am on edge. I am the edge. My ex continues to detonate giant mushroom clouds; I am now supporting my tenant whose job was affected by Covid, who can't pay rent and who is entitled to stay rent-free as long as the moratorium is in place.  Don't ask. I've started my baking business up to help make ends meet and am currently deep into peach pie. Last night, Sophie had three giant seizures in a row and I changed over five diapers in two hours and then I just told Henry to keep an eye on her, got in my car and drove toward the edge of the continent. I played Ennio Morricone's music because he died yesterday, and I cried and wanted to yell but then I got to the ocean, so I parked the car and walked out onto the sand and just stood there, in the dark, listening to the surf, the lights of the Santa Monica pier bright in the distance. No one was on that ferris wheel but it looked pretty in an apocalyptic way. The world is vast and oh, so weird.


I felt better.

Today I am thinking of you, Reader. How are you doing? What are you doing? Reading? Listening to? Watching?



Here's a poem:

Not Writing

A wasp rises to its papery
nest under the eaves
where it daubs

at the gray shape,
but seems unable
to enter its own house.

Jane Kenyon (1993)


Monday, June 29, 2020

PSA For All My Lurkers and Anonymous Folkx

"Here all is strange"

I was feeling beside myself  over the weekend. I got in my car and headed north on the PCH toward Malibu and turned around just about where Pepperdine sits so I could make my way back home to my regular, blessed and somewhere between a Monty Python comedy skit and a Samuel Beckett absurdist drama life.  Silly Walks. The Office of Arguments. Happy Days. Waiting for Godot. The ocean was on my right as I headed south and it led, as always, out to forever. I pulled over to the side of the road and slithered out of the car as other ones whizzed by me. I stood then, on the side of the road, on some rocks and looked out to sea (that phrase looked out to sea) and contemplated the strange world and my own insignificant place in it and the outsized emotions that I've been feeling about everything, knowing nothing. Knowing nothing and knowing more of nothing by the day, it seems. I looked down at my feet and saw this mermaid etched into the rock. Really. Beside myself.

That is what I find so wonderful, that not a day goes by....hardly a day, without some addition to one's knowledge however trifling, the addition I mean, provided one takes the pains. 
Samuel Beckett, Happy Days

St. Louis lawyers,  Patricia and Mark McCloskey,  defending their folly/home/castle/domain/wayoflife 

In today's Reign of Terror-wear, we have striped boat necks, clam diggers, pink polos and belted khakis. I know these people. We (we) know these people.







Back to my PSA for all my lurkers and anonymous folkx:

Black Lives Matter is not a terrorist organization. I imagine you have never really explored what the organization's mission is, so I urge you to do so. Here is their website: Black Lives Matter. Here are some of the statements on their website about their founding, their mission and their intent that jump out at me, a 56 year old white mother of three, pastry cook, English teacher and disability advocate:

We are guided by the fact that all Black lives matter, regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status, or location.

We make space for transgender brothers and sisters to participate and lead.
We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.
We build a space that affirms Black women and is free from sexism, misogyny, and environments in which men are centered.
We make our spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. We dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work “double shifts” so that they can mother in private even as they participate in public justice work.
We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.

Again, my Lurkers and Anonymous Folkx.
Again, #BlackLivesMatter is not a terrorist organization. I have contributed money and am committed to their purpose. I am not a terrorist, and no one I know supporting the movement is one. We are not brainwashed. We are marching or protesting peacefully with our whole bodies. The work of these women and men is profound and awe-inspiring. I am grateful to be listening and learning about the movement and to bring my own passions and experience standing up for the vulnerable to the table. I am blessed to be on what I believe is the right side of history, as they say. 






To have been always what I am - and so changed from what I was. 
Samuel Beckett, Happy Days

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Go On With Your Thinking





More and more I'm thinking of resilience and sorrow all mixed up together. Meaning, on waking, I want to sleep but not because I want to sleep because (but) I want to not be awake. This sounds
depressed. Sorrow fills me up but doesn't define me in the same way that watching Sophie seize never gets easier. On June 14th, it was twenty-five years since she'd been diagnosed. Muscle memory. I could keep plumbing the depths of sorrow. Fathom the plumb unfathomable. It's down to words. Rage is just a cover for sorrow and everyone knows that.
Carl and I went out on the water yesterday on a whale-watching boat. Everyone was in masks except for a small group of over-dressed ladies who spent the entire time taking selfies. I steered clear of them and anyone else who came too close (oblivion) and found a quiet spot at the back of the boat. I sat in the sun with my face up, watched a couple of pelicans soar, at least a dozen terns torpedo into the water and a hundred or so dolphin dive and swim in the choppy water. It was cold. About halfway through the trip, a minke whale. At some point, mesmerized by all of this and the hum of the boat and the muffled shrieks of the people on the bottom deck, I wondered what it would be like to throw myself overboard, to slip in the water much like Hart Crane did after folding his overcoat over the railing. No one would see. Could one drown oneself? Could one keep gulping water or would the instinct to breathe, to thrash to stay alive kick in? This sounds depressed. The boat rocked me, though, and the late afternoon sun made the chop gold and glint, Carl was off in the distance, his lens raised and the sorrow rocked, too, back and forth, calm and soothing, making me who I am not quite all filled up.
Here's an excerpt from "Winnie," a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks:

Yet I know
that I am Poet!
I pass you my Poem.

A poem doesn’t do everything for you.
You are supposed to go on with your thinking.
You are supposed to enrich
the other person’s poem with your extensions,
your uniquely personal understandings,
thus making the poem serve you.

I pass you my Poem! — to tell you
we are all vulnerable —
the midget, the Mighty,
the richest, the poor.
Men, women, children, and trees.
I am vulnerable.
Hector Pieterson was vulnerable.

My Poem is life, and not finished.
It shall never be finished.
My Poem is life, and can grow.

Wherever life can grow, it will.
It will sprout out,
and do the best it can.
I give you what I have.
You don’t get all your questions answered in this world.
How many answers shall be found
in the developing world of my Poem?
I don’t know. Nevertheless I put my Poem,
which is my life, into your hands, where it will do the best it can.

I am not a tight-faced Poet.

I am tired of little tight-faced poets sitting down to
shape perfect unimportant pieces.
Poems that cough lightly — catch back a sneeze.
This is the time for Big Poems,
roaring up out of sleaze,
poems from ice, from vomit, and from tainted blood.
This is the time for stiff or viscous poems.
Big, and Big.









Friday, June 12, 2020

Dear Leader






Dear Leader,

We are writing you as two of your most devoted followers, filled with excitement at the prospect of seeing and hearing you in person soon at your first rally in months. We have missed your rallies and the freedom they gave us to passionately express our admiration for you and what you've given to this great country. We understand that we will have to sign a waiver that we will not blame you or sue you if we should contract The Covid at the rally, being so close to all your other acolytes. We understand the risks we will all take, but it'll be worth it. We are so privileged to be able to sign this waiver and show our loyalty to you, to God and to the country in His and your hands, and we just want you to know that drowning in our own fluids or becoming permanently disabled as a result would be an honor. We do have a question, though, pertaining to any members of our community who will not be attending the rally. Would they be able to sue us if we carry the virus back? Would they be able to sue you? Please ask Your Great Attorney General Barr to tell us what to do regarding this. We are at your disposal.

See you soon and God Bless America and You!

Tanner and Karen Jones


Saturday, June 6, 2020

Pandemic Book Club Grief In Anti-Racist Time




I becomes she. 

She leaned her forehead on the cool green tile of the dining room table, the peonies' blowsy above her, their blooms bigger than babies' heads. The leader of the book club she'd joined on impulse spoke on, enthusiastic. They were reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. She had never read this slim novel, was only aware of the movie and Maggie Smith who played Miss Jean. Each sentence was a revelation and the whole book was imbued with sadness and humor. Sadness and humor. They both drove and defined her. Her, not Miss Jean Brodie. The leader of the book group introduced the Tennyson poem "The Lady of Shalott" and asked for volunteers to read a verse. She raised her hand to do so, waved her hand to be seen, a little block in the upper-left corner of the screen. Do you not know how to use the hand wave? the leader asked her, and she answered No, but she was on mute so he didn't hear her. She couldn't wave and couldn't speak. Nevertheless, (she was now speaking in her head and typing like Miss Jean Brodie or was it Muriel Spark?), she was asked to read Verse 5. Under tower and balcony/By garden-wall and gallery/A gleaming shape she floated by/Dead-pale between the houses high. Her own square on the screen was a photo of her, blurry, brushing her hair back in a beam of sunlight over her shoulder. She looked beautiful and it was only four years ago. Today she looked old. Also, fascism. She thought of her Italian grandmother, her illiterate grandmother, her love of Mussolini. Order. Miss Jean Brodie, too, loved fascism. She (not Miss Jean Brodie) thought of the mindset of the time. It was extravagant to be reading this book today, these times, to have these thoughts. The peonies were as big as babies' heads but also blowsy, sensual. Wanton, her friend had written. Sirens kept wailing over the mute heads on the screen. She leaned her forehead on the cool green tile of the dining room table under the wanton peonies, the slim novel the sirens the awe-fulness of everything.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Notes on L.A.

photographer: Henry Beglinger

Just some thoughts and observations in no particular order and not meant to be tied together or have a lesson or moral:

We are learning that so much of what you've seen on the teevee the last few days about the "riots" in Los Angeles is not the whole truth. Yes, there has been looting and mayhem, businesses routed, property destroyed, and I don't condone it. We have had the constant sound of sirens and helicopters circling, the curfews and the buzz on neighborhood watches shots heard on 3rd and Orange, thousands marching towards 3rd and Beverly, people gathering on Melrose and Poinsettia to sweep and clean. But here, here in Los Angeles, here in my own neighborhood I've witnessed many thousands of people marching peacefully in protest against racism and more specifically police brutality.

I have heard countless accounts from people that I know, that were there, that the "rioting" and looting, that the mayhem in many of these places in Los Angeles was instigated and exacerbated by the police.

Please read this story, written by a good friend of mine who I've known since I moved to Los Angeles in 1998, who lives down the street from me and whose children grew up with mine. Zeke's story is an important one and deserves attention, so if you are so inclined, please share it. If you live in Los Angeles, please send it with a letter to your councilman or woman. The police are under the authority of the Los Angeles city council and the mayor, Eric Garcetti.

photo credit: the world wide webs


Here's the story: The LAPD Instigated a Riot, Falsely Arrested Me and Now I'm a #BLM Activist. I believe it's an account that should help you to pivot toward what we're protesting here: POLICE BRUTALITY AND RACISM. We don't need proof of it from a white man, but perhaps many of you dithering over looters and good cops vs. bad cops and fruit analogies might listen and pivot toward anti-racism action.






My friend Chris said this, "Nineteen percent of police forces in the country are former military. The 2009 Homeland Security report that was trashed warned of radicalized vets in police forces. This is frightening."






Last night, my son Henry joined the protestors marching toward the mayor's residence which is within a mile of our home. Henry is in a general state of upset these days, and he and I talk nearly continuously about everything that's going down. He came back an hour later, sweaty and red-faced. He told me that he'd taken a knee for nine minutes and was standing up when a large cop car pulled up and several heavily armored police jumped out. One huge one shoved Henry out of the way, shouting Get the fuck out of here. Henry came home breathless, red-faced and enraged, but he's alive and unhurt, and we know why.



Aside from the vandals and the opportunists and thoughtless idiots, as well as the clashes between a militarized police and citizens, we also know that there are groups out there targeting these peaceful protests -- groups of radicalized people and racists intent on violence. There's plenty online that you can read about these people and what they're doing to our country. The POSPOTUS is one of them.


Aerial view of my neighborhood
photo from local news agency
There's also this stuff.


And then there is everyone else. My friend Michael B said this on his Facebook post yesterday,
Between today and yesterday, thousands of protestors have marched in DTLA, Venice, WeHo, Hollywood, the mayor's residence, Van Nuys, Pasadena, Manhattan Beach. This morning, religious leaders lead a march downtown to police headquarters and prayed with the Mayor and police chief. The crowds keep growing in size and resolve. I have never been more proud of my city.




It's terrible that property is being destroyed, but killing black men and women has to stop.






Monday, June 1, 2020

Atonement

Los Angeles, CA
May 31, 2020


It is bigger than everything and anything, what is going on. No question mark. On this beautiful Monday morning I sit in my dining room, my view an expanse of green and sunlight pouring in from the east. A spiderweb glistens, its threads loose, wavy, the air so clear I see gnats eluding it. We have so many hummingbirds this year, and I think they are the air's dolphins darting friendly so much that is good to sip. I'm thinking about atonement and whether this country our country will have the strength to work together as a collective to atone for the brutality upon which we were founded and continued through centuries all the way up to now with children in cages, the disabled having to beg for help, the elderly left to die alone, the dead bodies of children piling up, the dead bodies of black people piling up, the healers in dirty masks. Yet so much bounty. This country taken from those that lived here for thousands of years and then built on the backs of the enslaved. The delusion that is the American dream. The vast inequality. Age-old. The center cannot hold. There is something beyond intense watching hordes of young people break through glass only to grab boxes of shoes and luxury bags. The backs of their heads, their heads in hoodies. I can't get the white girl with the skinny legs and pink hair out of my head. Skateboards used to smash windows. The tank rolling down the street of pristine houses, men in riot gear hanging off, headed to where? I saw a man with a box on his shoulders, clothes wrapped in plastic dropping out of it as he ran while others watched. So much heaviness and anger and wildness in the scrawls of letters across buildings. So much desperation. How paltry in comparison to the plights of other countries, other peoples. Or is it?

The beauty of those who swept the glass and scrubbed away the ugliness. The Korean councilman, the Orthodox Jewish rabbi, the teenaged girl, the black man.

I want to write something funny. Something absurd. Something to tell the truth. Something to evade the truth.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Next Morning

No photo today.

The helicopters are circling, have been circling since yesterday afternoon when a peaceful protest turned into an afternoon, evening, night of violence and looting in my neighborhood and in downtown Los Angeles. It was deafening. I can only write what I know and what I feel. I refuse to dwell on the looting but will sit with the churning in my stomach, shooting out my fingertips. The questions. All of our blind grappling in the darkness as if answers will come. I've argued with my own mother. Carl saw a bear yesterday somewhere and I haven't had the chance or even desire to ask him where. I set up a bird bath in my front garden, powered by the sun. Powered by the sun. I keep thinking of the Wallace Stevens' poem Gubbinal, its simplicity and paradox. How tempting it is to despair. The world is ugly and the people are sad. The body. The sun. The imagination. How to inhabit the body, the individual body and the collective body. Everyone was peaceful until the cops showed up, my son reported. Showing up. Riot gear. Helicopters, their blades slicing through air. I watched a video sent to me by a neighbor of a group of young people, black and white, bashing their way into a luxury store at a local mall. Do I care about a mall? Do I care about a luxury store? Do I understand the motivations? Will I condemn them as senseless? I felt afraid and not for my body, my white body nor, even, for the white bodies of my children or the black body of my love. There's a strangeness and goodness in just feeling something, not thinking about it, and I felt afraid. Cooped up for months. Twenty percent unemployment. National Guard soldiers standing outside a marijuana store called Med Men. Jewish synagogues and schools and small stores defaced and looted. People sweeping, sweeping it up. What it looks like to step through glass buckled and shattered, your skinny white legs and bleached blonde hair, your sleeveless arms clutching a large leather handbag, a blurry computer. Do not share the faces of the protestors, the young people admonish. The strangeness of it. Yet, shouldn't this be so? There's a timeline that leads to this moment and the urge to contextualize. The timeline begins centuries ago.

I'm thinking of Armaud Arbery running through the streets of his Georgia town, chased like an animal and gunned down, slaughtered by vigilantes who were free for months. 

There should not be an etiquette for people's responses.

Earlier in the afternoon, a billionaire launched a bunch of astronauts into the empty airless space over a world choking to death in a pandemic as hordes gathered in the streets to protest the slaughter of a black man who could not breathe under the knee of a white man. That is everything.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Throwing Your Body Into Anti-Racism



Our country is broken, but many of us aren't. Throw your body in and do something.


You don't need visuals to feel empathy for victims. Be mindful of spreading images and the trauma they reinforce and cause.

Please add in any resources that you know of in the comments and share with whomever you like. I will be updating constantly.
A riot is the language of the unheard. 
Martin Luther King, Jr.

The beauty of anti-racism is that you don't have to pretend to be free of racism to be an antiracist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it's the only way forward.
Ijeoma Oluo




Anti-Racism Resources for White People

Sign the #JusticeforFloyd petition

The Minnesota Freedom Fund is a local organization that pays criminal bail and immigration bonds for those who cannot afford them.

Black Visions Collective

Justice for George Floyd -- How You Can Help

Justice for Bre

Black Lives Matter

Black Mamas Matter

Equal Justice Initiative

Thurgood Marshall College Fund

Southern Poverty Law Center

Keywords in Black Protest: A (n Anti-)Vocabulary

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Grace's Warbler

Grace's Warbler by Carl Jackson
@mo_better_birds

to Carl

My love, my Bird Photographer, is a black man and not a day goes by that I don't think about the danger of his being a black man, filing it away the worry in the dark with my night vision honed by twenty-five years of worry about Sophie. I am nothing if not good with this kind of coping. But is it coping or is it complacency? Is there something more to think about, to do, to work towards, something beyond the obvious? How to be scrupulously honest with ourselves, we white women? We white people? How to begin how to continue and how to do so despite the cacophony.

Carl wrote this on his social media page, where he generally posts some of the most gorgeous photos of birds you'll ever see: 
A Memorial Day reminder of just how risky it is to be a black photographer. I’ve got too many stories from my time out alone shooting in Southern California, as well as every state I’ve gone to observe/photograph wildlife or birds. The systemic racism based upon skin color by the police and the justice system could turn a birding trip into an arrest or even death, not even accounting for the threat of others who hate based on skin color. “Birding while black” has many layers of risk.

We can pass along memes and express our outrage. We can talk about privilege and supremacy, inner and systemic racism. We can defend dogs and debate endlessly whether Ms. Cooper should will when how much is enough receive the punishment she deserves. The word opprobrium. How much energy is wasted even in this the writing the need to wrestle meaning to string together in what direction? What direction? 

When I first met Carl he took me out for a walk in a park. He walked so slowly that if I hadn't been falling in love with him, I would have felt irritated. He is so very very quiet. He stopped periodically and pointed. I'd look where he'd point and see nothing. I'd tilt my head and gaze down the long line of his finger, one eye closed struggling to see. To see what he saw. And then I did see what he saw a brilliant blue bird so blue that I couldn't possibly miss it, yet I had. In the days and months and now years that followed then, I saw them everywhere, these birds, all sizes and colors their markings intricate and startling even as they blended in with the browns and greens of the trees and flowers and shrubs. Their calls, too, each distinct and something to remember -- a chirp, a warble (is there a more beautiful word than warble?), a low rumbling creak. They have always been there.

I had to slow down and look. 

I had to be quiet and listen.

And yet. 

I still walk fast. I'm impatient and blind, perhaps willfully so to what is in front of my eyes. I can't hear, don't listen and I forget the names.  

And yet. 

Carl still walks slowly. He points them out, these birds that are everywhere. 

He tells me their names.

Brown Violetear 

Summer Tanager

Cedar Waxwing

Vermilion Flycatcher

Grace's Warbler

You know where I'm going. 

Look. 

Listen. 

Say the names. 





#BirdingWhileBlack
#BlackLivesMatter

Monday, May 25, 2020

It's Not Too Much To Ask You to Wear a F*^king Mask and Stay Home



I'm just going to repeat that:

It's not too much to ask you to wear a fucking mask and stay home.

The pandemic isn't "over," and life is not "going back to normal." What is "normal" is the craven irresponsibility of the privileged and even the not-so privileged. This is the high school that I graduated from back in the Stone Age. It was basically a one-room school-house then (hyperbole intentional since privilege was rarely recognized in the Stone Age) but is pretty much unrecognizable now. You can read the story here. 

My take on this shit-show?

(Anonymous commenter -- you'll have to forgive me my anger as I know it offends you, makes you "exhausted") This pandemic is demonstrating with crystal clarity that the lives at risk are expendable. That if you are a person of color, a disabled person, an old person, a person who takes care of another, an "essential worker," you are EXPENDABLE.

WE are expendable.

The rest of you are "free" to do -- in what seems to be the most grotesque interpretation of freedom I've ever understood -- whatever the hell you want.

All is transactional.

So, go on with your best self, as they say.

Have a party.
Travel!
Get your hair cut.
Go bowling.
Go to the beach.
Go to church.
God will take care of you. 
You've got to start somewhere.
Don't muzzle yourself. You're free.
Social distancing is a hoax.
Bill Gates is out to track all of us.
Get back to normal.
Make America great.


I'll say it again. America is terrible and exhausting.

Sometimes, it's not. Read this:
It Just Burns Me Up

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Conversation

Giulietta Masina, La Strada


Do you think about things while you're showering or focus on your shower? he asked. She was combing out her wet hair, already anxious about going to bed too early. With wet hair. What? she asked, as was her wont. Or what. She had a hard time picking up the lower register of his voice, of any voice really. It was one of those things that she'd noticed in the last year or so along with the tiny age spots at the base of her right thumb. She wouldn't do anything about it. Do you think about things while you're showering or focus on your shower? She leaned over, picked up her clothes from the floor and dropped them into the hamper. I don't focus on the shower, she said. She felt vaguely irritated at the question. She wondered if she wanted to be unknowable. But I don't really focus on much these days anyway. He asked, What do you think about? What did she think about? The peeling paint at the top of the tiles, the gray spots on the ceiling that she couldn't reach to clean, her perpetual disappointment, the way the tile felt on her forehead where she rested it, the water streaming down her back. I cry in the shower sometimes she said. But not tonight. He put his phone down and turned to his side. She didn't tell him that she'd been thinking of Giulietta Masina's face in the Fellini movie, her devotion to the strongman, however cruel, how she climbed into the back of the carnival truck with the mermaid on the side to serve him, how she ultimately went mad, her love and devotion abandoned, all the magic and superstition and miracles.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Terrible America



I should probably change that sign to "I bake and I know no things," because lately I'm just feeling mostly that I know very little if nothing at all. For instance, why is the rest of the country (other than New York City and greater Los Angeles county) getting back to what they deem normal? Who were those people in those bars in Wisconsin, for example, that bunch of burly white bearded men getting beer on tap, piled up in booths with blondes? And who are the people driving across the country to their beach houses? Who is my son, actually, getting ready to fly to the east coast to spend the summer in South Carolina where life is back to whatever normal is in South Carolina? We are still wiping down our groceries before bringing them into the house, rotating through the masks that lie, now, everywhere, making sure that we wash them before putting them on again to step into the dystopian world outside. We're looking at a fall with school still virtual, with even colleges and universities heading toward 2021 that way, even as other states are opening up their gyms and planning for football. Black men, women and children are gunned down doing normal things while being black even as men with submachine guns strapped to their bodies (and their adoring women because let's not leave out the women) protest for their freedoms in public places. Their idle white faces.

I'm confused, so confused.

Children are beginning to die in New York and New Jersey from a rare neurological/immunological disease related to Covid-19, but there are legions more protesting against their tyrannical government, peddling conspiracy theories and refusing to wear masks in the name of freedom. We've got Dear Leader spinning spinning spinning his lies and venom, health insurance companies diving back into states that they'd pulled out of one year ago, piling up record profits to reward their shareholders and executives, while the disability community faces the spectre of cuts in services, the usual sacrificial lambs at the altar of mammon.

We are divided, disunited.

We were encouraged to go outside and look up into the skies today as military jets flew through in a show of aerial support for healthcare nurses. Thunderbirds. Blue Angels. Who are the people that thrill to this kind of thing? I do not understand them, but I know nothing. I am confused. I put on my mask and go for a walk, my lips tight underneath, my glasses steaming up. Don't touch your face.

America is exhausting and terrible.


Sunday, May 10, 2020

This Guy



I know it's Mother's Day and all, but frankly, who cares? I spent much of the day weeping on and off, and don't ask why because it's all blurry, the why. These are strange times, and I'm going with the flow of strange. Today was also Oliver 's -- the Big O's -- Ollie's -- the wunderkid's-- nineteenth birthday. We celebrated yesterday. I made a traditional cheesecake with strawberries on top, and Oliver invited some friends over to social distance celebrate. Masks were worn. Oliver was born a few months before 9/11 and now this. Life is weird.




A few of Oliver's friends went to PRESCHOOL WITH HIM. I'd put their pictures up here, but they'd probably kill me. It makes me so happy that they've known one another all their lives.

Happy Birthday, Oliver. I love you so much, baby.


(Oliver is NOT this tall -- I am standing on a stair below him. BUT -- I am morphing into my Italian grandmother.)






Here are some posts about Oliver over the years:

http://elizabethaquino.blogspot.com/2009/05/best-of-birthdays.html
http://elizabethaquino.blogspot.com/2010/05/ugliest-party-room.html
http://elizabethaquino.blogspot.com/2013/05/a-birthday-song-for-oliver.html


Friday, May 8, 2020

Day 60



I've been ordering fresh produce from a local cooperative, and yesterday's delivery was a bonanza of greens and lettuces, radish and baby broccoli, a scattering of herbs and lemons, a grapefruit, some blueberries and onions and a couple of tiny worms. The rendering -- the washing the drying the organizing the storing -- of all this fresh produce gets my tiny little mother mind™ thinking about convenience and waste and the myriad depressing ways a lot of us live, saying we're too busy or can't be bothered or whatever. Whatever. I'm no farmer girl, no rural girl, no grower of my own vegetables nor do I have any desire to do any of that. What I do love is fresh food, recipes and cookbooks and puttering around in my kitchen doing domestic things. I also like fancy things -- half and half in a glass bottle, tiny little jars of pot de creme from France, a weird Italian green that tasted salty like the ocean or what I imagine a cactus (it looked like one). I don't have much to say other than I've been depressed in a way that I can't remember being depressed and I'm very much aware of the luxury in that statement and the unoriginality in the condition. I'm angry, too, but I'm made of anger in no small part and as the gray takes over my hair I will try to be as exuberant as unapologetic because it's all about letting go letting god letting.






as much as i try to be an easygoing, stretch your wings and fly type... i just can't stop trying to burst people into flames

a card that a beloved sent me



People I'm Currently Trying to Burst Into Flames In No Particular Order, Except for the First Three:

Donald Trump
Mike Pence
Mitch McConnell
Men with submachine guns
Men who assault women
Men who kill black people
Men who shoot children
Men who beat up women
Men who make stupid jokes
Men who harass women
Men who are religious zealots
Men who date girls
Men who refuse to apologize
Men who can't get their shit together

Feel free to add to the list.


Saturday, May 2, 2020

Conversations in Quarantine



I can't do it anymore.
What's happening?
I can't do it anymore.
Where are you?
I'm driving.
Where?
I don't know. Anywhere.
You should pull over.
I can't do it anymore.
It's too much.
Yeah.
It's too much for all of us.
Yeah, it's always been too much.
Yeah.
Yeah.
The yeah yeah yeahs.





How's Sophie, he texts.
Fine
Then,
nothing.





A nasty toxic red tide we see during the day on the beach in southern California turns into a glowing blue -- what? Phosphorescence. Some people call it magical. I'm transfixed less by the blue emanating from dolphins and water in moonlight than the transformation itself. The smell of decay masked by light. It doesn't seem possible so I guess, magic.






How's Sophie, he texts.
She's running a fever. No other symptoms. I will talk to the doctor tomorrow.
Then,
nothing.






People on cell phones bore me. The people I can't see and the people I can see. The head low like a horse without the velvet nose. I'd like to see some teeth, the huge yellow ones biting an apple.




Anger.




Red tide. Decay. Stink.

Phosphorescence is light emitted after exposure to radiation.
It's produced by something that doesn't flame or heat.











(BTW, Sophie had a fever last week for three days with no other symptoms. She also stopped having seizures which is always the case for her. I wondered if she had The Virus. I wondered whether she'd die, but I wonder (this) (whether she'll die) every single day. The parenthetical. My powers of dissociation are strong. I had my first tele-health meeting with The New Physician. She took up 1/2 of the rectangle that is my phone screen. She wore a white lab coat and stood in front of an examining table with a blood pressure machine on the wall behind her. I wondered if it were a backdrop, one of those screens you can put up behind you while you Zoom. My students do that. One of them has the Tiger King guy behind him, the stripes playing light across his face. Wavy. We're reading The Crucible. The student can't believe I refuse to watch Tiger King. Why not? he asks.  Why? I say. What's a crucible? he asks. A container that holds high temperatures, metals melting. The doctor says, I wouldn't test her because it's so uncomfortable. I imagine driving in a line of cars into Dodger Stadium with Sophie in the back of the car in her wheelchair. Would someone open the door and have to swab her? I read somewhere the nasal swab felt like it touched my brain. 
)




How's Sophie, he texts.
Fine.                                                                  (I am, too.)
Then,
nothing.



I'm outside today picking mint from the garden. I rip it up take a huge bunch inside and wash it in the sink. The apple tree has blossoms and every succulent has a bloom. The sky is blue and a velvet hummingbird sideswipes my nose, I hear it coming. Hear it here.











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