About Art

“Be the person you needed when you were younger.”

― Ayesha Siddiqi

When I was 13, circuitous circumstances led me to seek a bathroom in The National Gallery of Art. Following the guard’s directions, I rushed through the modern wing, when without thinking, I pivoted in front of an oil on canvas. The painting was a monochrome sea of black. I knew nothing about art, had no idea what or who made art, had never known art was even a thing, but in that moment, I couldn’t move. I stood in front of Ad Reinhardt “Abstract Painting, No. 34” for a full 10 minutes, transfixed, lost in the subtle gradations of shadows, while tears dripped into the creases of my mouth, unexpectedly warm and salty. I had no idea why.

I come from a radically conservative family, and art is not something that’s ever been talked about, let alone explored or celebrated. In fact, where I come from, we are so culturally and socially conservative, even religious iconography is shunned. This was the first time I had ever visited a museum, and it was my first time to see art displayed, let alone showcased in a space where it is named and revered. But there I was that summer (after I’d had my spleen removed, newly healthy, sleeping in group tents, traveling by caravan across the country for eight weeks, performing and proselytizing nightly in an ecclesiastical play), seeking to use a bathroom in a big city. There are stories buried deep in the shells of that long, dense summer, packed with conflicting emotions. But it was Abstract Painting No. 34 that showed me the way home.

I knew enough not to talk about what I saw with the faith-based community with whom I travelled. But I held it within me, the rest of the summer, the smell and taste of black, and I began to notice the gradations of hues in the night skies throughout the regions we travelled, through the thick air of the southern nights and the cool northern evenings that welcomed us as we made our way into Canada. I began to notice the intricacies of blue in the daylight and the browns of the earth we slept on. And all these years later, when I ask myself what that painting did to me, why it propelled me to spend the last three decades at the intersection of my personal and professional life extricating myself from my familial roots, I understand how “art” can be used as a compass.

For the sixteenth time, I am teaching a college course in which students curate, edit and publish a literary journal within the context of a creative collective. We talk about what role art serves in our communities, what it means to support artists, how art is made, distributed, seen. And I offer the students a warning from Toni Morrison in  No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear: “Dictators and tyrants routinely begin their reigns and sustain their power with the deliberate and calculated destruction of art: the censorship and book-burning of unpoliced prose, the harassment and detention of painters, journalists, poets, playwrights, novelists, essayists. This is the first step of a despot…who know very well that their strategy of repression will allow the real tools of oppressive power to flourish.”

What I know now that I didn’t know then, is that as I stood in front of that painting in Washington DC, I was seduced into feeling, not thinking. Curiosity drew me to a canvas vastly different than the classical depictions of realism I passed on my way through the galleries toward the bathroom, but curiosity was only the trigger. I had no idea why someone would paint a canvas black, nor why anyone else would hang it up in a space, heralding it as art, but in that moment, I didn’t even know to ask those questions. In front of that painting, I accepted an invitation to feel.

Art changes us as individuals, and in doing so, changes the outer world we create and share. Inside the intricate dance between artist and viewer, we are invited to feel what we know, and by tasting, hearing, thinking, and seeing in altered ways, we increase our feeling and knowing. It’s not an obvious tool, like a map that clearly shows us where we want to go, but it transports us, nevertheless.

I think about how Abstract No. 34 captured my imagination. Amidst a caravan of followers seeped thick in the mire of original sin, through the darkness of a near-death illness, to a surgery that shifted my life expectancy, to the realization that black absorbs all the colors of the visible spectrum and reflects none of them to the eyes, I let that painting move me. In the weeks after my imagination took hold, I began to compare black to the rigid rules and paradigms of sin and righteousness I had been taught. And I began to envision a way out of my closed compartment, into the hope of a less defined space.

I get it when people say they don’t get art. Sometimes I want to say, getting it isn’t the point. Art enlarges our boundaries, and in doing so, helps us resist oppression, whether internally or externally enforced. Through art, we ask questions too abstract to be quantified within the binary values of capitalism. Reinhardt’s passion and courage inspired me to question my status quo.In the work I now do for a living, I strive to live up to his challenge and become the person I needed when I was young.

 

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Stuff People Ask Me: II

 

 

“Before we can find peace among nations, we have to find peace inside that small nation which is our own being.”      — B.K.S. Iyengar

 

This question generally starts with a disclaimer: “You’re an educated person. You don’t believe in all that woowoo, do you? Crystals, clearings, chakras?” As a yoga teacher, I hear the chakra question most frequently, so let’s start there.

Our bodies are our personal homes, like the earth is our collective home. In Western culture, we often think of our minds and bodies as separate entities, and we spend countless compensatory hours training the analytical functions of our minds, often judging our bodies for not submitting to the mind’s agenda. Most of us spend decades in a formal educational system designed to discipline and govern the mind quantitatively, linguistically and spatially. As an academic, I taught critical thinking for many years, systemizing and labeling complex elements of the reasoning process. When we become adept at this, it’s easy to forget that the inherent laws of logic and science exist in the natural world, with or without our codification. The way we choose to methodize these systems is simply a matter of cultural values and prioritization.

Chakras are an ancient system we can use to visualize and organize our lives through a model of integration rather than domination. While in the past few years, you may have seen Chakra iconography ubiquitously as hipster decor, this system of thought isn’t new agey, or even new. Chakras (translated from Sanskrit as “wheel” or “cycle”) aren’t part of a new religion or even a unified belief system, but arise from a larger field of metaphysical study that centers around our understanding of energy, where its stored in the body and how it manifests itself. The concept can be found in texts from numerous Indian religions, dating from the Upanishads roughly 3,000 years ago, to more detailed references in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism 1300 years ago, to diverse traditions now practiced globally through yoga.

The chakras are seven visual areas of focus through which we can consciously work to balance, awaken and energize various aspects of our being, helping us recognize and develop strength and agency. The chakras are more philosophical than poetic, but as Ariel Gore says, “magic is a way of cultivating personal power and remembering our inherent divinity.” Conceptually, I think we can access chakras as embodied metaphor.

Chakra one, the root chakra, is a pulsating red vortex of primal energy situated at the base of the spine. Whether you believe this specific energy is actually stored in your coccyx, the symbolism of the base, or starting point, is significant. As with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, this root chakra helps us recognize our primary physicality, acknowledging that we reside in the container of a specific human body, that we have foundational needs we must meet to feel secure and rooted enough to branch out effectively in more relational, intellectual, or spiritual realms. If our first chakra is imbalanced, we may feel persistent fear or anxiety, whether that’s fear for our safety or fear of our place in the world.

At the beginning of our chakra journey, we benefit from sitting, creating a physical space to drop into the awareness of our bodies, to drop down and feel our sit bones on the earth, feel gravity weighting us to the earth, accepting the physical constraints and limitations of our body, rooting into the recognition of our body’s basic form and needs.

So this is where I begin my own practice. At chakra one. Sitting in stillness, feeling the base of my spine, knowing I am grounded in my physical form, supported by mother earth and the energy that unites us.

What I’ve gleaned in my decade of practicing, studying and teaching yoga is that our brains are only one region of our bodies we can benefit from developing. The chakra system has helped me recognize when I’m unbalanced, or when there’s an unmet need I might want to fill before I take on another challenge–in any area of my life. Awareness of my chakras and of my subtle body keep me curious about and kind to myself, and enables me to extend this empathically to others. This isn’t the only system that can help regulate our choices, but its a useful tool for shaping an integral life, for seeking wholeness, and for participating in nonviolent social change.

 

If you want to read more on any of this, I’ve found clarity and pleasure in:

 

Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: embracing your life with the heart of a buddha

Red Hawk, Self Observation: the awakening of conscience

Anodea Judith, Wheels of LIfe

Judith Lasater, Living Your Yoga: finding the spiritual in everyday life

Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion: the proven power of being kind to yourself

Michael W. Taft, The Mindful Geek

 

Stuff People Ask Me: Part I

 

 

I’m not very good at directly answering questions. I usually find a way to ask the question back to the person asking. It seems that in most cases, this is exactly what they wanted. So I listen intently to their responses to their own questions, not because I am good or kind, but because this is how I learn. And I actually enjoy the collaborative space of listening and learning.

But this year, I am actively working on the relationality of “sharing” my answers to a lot of questions people ask me that I would typically avoid. For example, a former student just texted to ask me what I think of the #metoo campaign. While I appreciate how many women were courageous and shared their stories (I participated myself by using the hashtag on social media, although I didn’t share the details of any personal abuse stories publicly), I think it was really more of a way of feeling better about ourselves and our collective situations (like the Women’s March), without specifically proposing or outlining steps for systemic change. I also think the #metoo campaign leaves out the voices of the most disenfranchised and conflates microaggressions with criminal violence. I think systemic patriarchy won’t capitulate until we address how capitalism requires these hierarchies. Competition over presumed scarcity of resources is how we teach leadership, power, and masculinity in our culture. Whether its a ball or a company or a woman’s body, the goal is to dominate. This is even how we teach men to be good men, by so often measuring a man’s worth by his ability to provide. And so many women teach each other (through deifying marriage and the nuclear family) that being owned by a man (as long as he is “nice”) is desirable and socially elevating.

I mean, before #metoo, who didn’t know this is the world we live in, really? (Shout out to SNL’s “Welcome to Hell” skit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1l26UFQ06eQ) Who are we trying to reach here? “Good” men? So many men I know really don’t see themselves as part of the problem. Since so many of us conflate sexual violence with criminality, we don’t identify ourselves, or our friends, as part of the problem. Men don’t see how their entitlement presumes, but doesn’t require, consent. And women often don’t see our own capitulation to and perpetuation of hierarchies as systemic patriarchy (and rape culture) either.  

Like Brock Turner (who is just one of hundreds of thousands of American men who have acted on their presumed entitlement to women’s bodies), Harvey Weinstein is a problem, but he’s not THE problem. Women rallying to show how common this type of behavior is may look like progress, but it propels the illusion that someone in power is listening and something will change. Let’s face it: it was mostly women with social capital who participated in this campaign, and it was primarily women with social capital we collectively heard. It’s not irrelevant that all these women have been harassed or assaulted, but its not the whole picture, either. Its relatively well known now that Tarana Burke came up with the “metoo” slogan 10 years ago to address the pervasiveness of abuse in minority communities. But of course, hardly any one had heard the phrase, let alone used it, until a white celebrity coined it recently on social media. I can’t help but wonder how many women who work in service industries have stories they could tell, but don’t. Where is their #metoo? Think back to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s household help. Did anyone publicly ask to what degree she felt agency in her choices? Does her story matter? Publicly, the stance was to pity Maria (without any real discussion of what the agreements might have been in their marriage to begin with), but was she the only victim here? In I Love Dick (which is a fantastic read!), Chris Kraus claims, “Who gets to speak, and why, is the only question.” Who do we listen to? After this long-held secret in the California governor’s home broke, who started a campaign to share the stories of domestic workers across America? Who would have dared participate? Who addressed the inherent power imbalances in the sexual politics of domestic employees and those who own their services? How much more common have the sexual violations of household help (documented and undocumented) been by employers in western culture than the injustices between directors, producers, actors or their assistants? Who gets to tell their stories, and who listens when they do? Lauren Berlant claims:

Thus sex, activism, stranger encounters, reading–any collaborative practice–are not just performances of disavowal of the object’s placeholderness but scenes of a drama of attention in which we seek to work out relationality, which is a task alongside of our aims to explain, maintain, and control the encounter….to me it’s not politics if we are not trying to see how to change the consequences of what happens when the scene we are in shifts our orientation in ways we do not control….Because of our curiosity about how it will work out (will it be broken down or transformed?), because of our desires not to be defeated by life, we enter the scene of relationality that is also and ultimately a demand for collaboration; relationality disturbs fantasy enough that it is open to crazy controls and also to absorbing and generating new social relations.”

I’ve been pondering how we relate to these questions and where and when and how we participate in dialogue that could actually generate new social relations. Who tells their stories? And whose stories do we share? As I write this, a friend asked me how I make time to read books when there are so many other compelling things to do. I hastily sent her this blog on how to read more, from Austin Kleon: https://austinkleon.com/2014/12/29/how-to-read-more/

And then I stopped to ponder. Why did I share his opinion rather than my own? Why do I make the time to read books? And do I let the ideas from these books propel dialogue that shifts my relationship to control or to voices outside of my current social sphere? While I love Austin’s advice, I’ve never followed any of these suggestions for any length of time. I read approximately 100 books a year (in addition to whatever articles I assign), because reading is like eating to me. But I didn’t say that. I evaded her question. Mostly, I make time to read like I make time to eat–in random bursts, on the go, when and how I can, carrying with me whatever I enjoy the most.

I metabolize words like I metabolize sugar. I’m voracious and mildly irresponsible with my choices, but I’ve persisted this way for decades. Like my food choices, I’ve generally considered reading a guilty pleasure, one which, as a mom of young children, I justified by calling “my work.” I’ve made time for work throughout my entire adult life because my “work” is how I have supported my family. And while I still consider “reading widely” a necessary part of my job as a journalism adviser, I no longer have to justify it. I continue to consume words like calories, for quick energy and access to deep thought. Reading and sharing ideas from what I read is my relationality, and books feel the most satisfying. But without sharing these ideas, I am not actively collaborating in a dialogue that could promote social change.

In no particular order, here are my top 10 reading pleasures (in book form) from 2017:

The Fact of a Body, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

Love and Trouble, Claire Dederer

We Were Eight Years in Power, Ta-Nehisi Coates

Notorious RBG, Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik

Nasty Women, eds. Samhita Mukhopadhyay & Kate Harding

Sex, or the Unbearable, Lauren Berlant & Lee Edelman

Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle

The Power, Naomi Alderman

A Uterus is a Feature, not a Bug, Sarah Lacy

We Were Witches, Ariel Gore

For the record, this is the first time I have answered this question publicly. It occurs to me now that the second wave feminists were perhaps right, that the personal may be political. In any case, if anyone cares to know what I’m reading in 2018, I’ll keep answering this question.

 

We, who sleep with a knife

 

 

A new life

requires a death;

otherwise, it is

just a shuffling

of the same dull deck,

fifty-two cards we inherited

from our fathers,

adhering to rules relayed

before we were born.

 

Here we are now,

all that detritus

drifting into our eyes;

smoldering ashes,

combed back with a stare.

 

Anger should be respected,

even when it isn’t shared.

 

Breathe in, Breathe out

She died   a famous woman   denying

her wounds

denying

her wounds   came    from the same source as her power

—–Adrienne Rich

Zephyr often comes into my bedroom early in the morning to sift through my clothes, deciding what she might want to borrow.  Sometimes she asks, and sometimes she usurps. Sometimes I ask her to take them off, sometimes I say sure, go ahead, and sometimes I look the other way, pretending not to notice she has on my new t-shirt or leggings or boots.

Sometimes she just wants to use my sink, because the hot water comes out quicker. She often asks me to braid her hair in the roughly ten minutes we have left before rushing to school. I still need to choose an outfit, or I want to finish an assignment, but I look at her when she speaks. I watch her as she toys with her golden hair, a coy supplication that melts me. I love this girl.  No matter how she looks at me, no matter what words she uses to ask, no matter what time it is or what I have left to accomplish, I braid her hair.

I know this won’t last. I know the backwards-side-french-braid she requests is only a phase, and she will grow out of it.  I know she will not always live with me, that she will not always steal my clothes, that one day she will have nicer things of her own. So I ask her what style she wants today; I pause my own routine, and I braid her hair.  I haven’t once said no.

I have been told that love shouldn’t always be like this.  Sometimes we are supposed to say no. But my love for her isn’t complicated.  It isn’t fraught with compromise and worry for how she might take advantage of me or our bond.  As her mother, I have provided structure and discipline throughout her childhood, and I have set high expectations, but my love for her isn’t fraught with worry for the future. She knows who she is and how to ask for what she wants, and she freely accepts attention and praise when they are offered to her. I know eventually she will stop asking me to braid her hair, stop asking for my hot water and clothes and for sips of my morning coffee, but that won’t be the end of us.

I wish all love was as straightforward.

My friends say I don’t have high enough expectations.  They say I shouldn’t be nice to people who aren’t nice to me, or that it’s not healthy to love people who aren’t in a position to love me back.

They are undoubtedly right.

And yet.

I don’t give love in order to receive love. I love because it’s the air I want to breathe, the world I want to live in. Sometimes I love those who love me back. Sometimes I love those who hurt me. One love isn’t greater than the other. The practice of loving is the practice of loving.  Love is its own reward, regardless of the outcome.

Breathe in, breathe out.

My mother liked to quote Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof. She would say, “If I try and bend that far, I’ll break.” She recited a list of things that would break her: piercing our ears, dying our hair, listening to pop music, kissing a boy before marriage. She taught me that love requires high standards, and that to give it away is a weakness. So she never gave it to me, in actions or in words. She taught me not to need it, not to crave it, not to expect it. Not even when I behaved.

The first time I broke one of her rules, I apologized. I begged for her forgiveness. She turned her head from me, as if from Sodom. And she never looked back. I got degrees and gave her grandchildren. I earned money and bought her things I knew she needed. But she couldn’t look at me, couldn’t bend.

Breathe in, breathe out.

I refuse to use love as a negotiation tool. I don’t withhold love until I get what I want, or require people to earn it or to behave in ways I want them to. If I can’t love someone exactly as they are, where they are, I’m not offering the air I want to breathe. Unlike Zephyr, I struggle to accept love, but I will continue to offer it unabashedly and completely, and I no longer see this as a source of shame. What I used to hate myself for, I no longer work to change. Yes, I love those who hurt me.  And yes, sometimes that gives them license to hurt me again. Does this sometimes cause me to suffer? Yes.

And yet.

As the Buddha says, life is suffering. (Or as Westley says to Buttercup, “Life is pain, Highness. And anyone who says anything else is selling something.”)  To deny suffering is to deny reality and to suffer more.  Loving someone who doesn’t love you back is painful.

But not, I think, as painful as not loving.

As you wish

Before I fell out of love with God and my grandfather, I helped my grandmother cook and serve at formal functions called Leaders’ Dinners. She would labor over meats, sauces, potatoes, vegetable medleys and custards for days, and serve them up, once a month, to 50 men on Monday nights. Grandfather was proud of her delivery, and so was I. Sometimes, she asked me to help serve, reminding me with pursed lips that I was to be seen and not heard, that this meeting was for men of God, and I was to fill glasses and transport plates, moving my body in service to our Lord, my head used only to ascertain what was needed and nod, my mouth opening only to smile.

Grandma served everything on Enoch Wedgwood Turnstall Limited China, an English Harvest pattern featuring fall-hued fruit and foliage. When she died over a decade ago, the Leaders Dinners were things of the past, and no one wanted or cared about the relics. I saw the dishes in the stack to be donated, and I paused for a moment. Then for no known reason, I scooped up the boxes, put them into my back seat of my car, took them home, and carried them down the stairs to be stored in my basement. My house was full of children, and I never served formal dinner parties, to men or anyone else. The boxes collected dust, and I let them.

As my children began growing past their childish things, we began storing their boxes in the basement. As the spaces filled up, I saw no use for Grandma’s dishes, and thought it was about time I gave up my semi-sentimental hoarding. But then I opened the first box and I was hit with a palpable thought. I don’t need these dishes, because I eat on plastic. These are the kinds of dishes men are served on.

One by one, I transported the dishes into the dishwasher, and ran load after load, until they were all clean. I stacked them in my hutch, behind glass, where I could see them. I hated what they represented, hated that they triggered anger in me from abuses of power I have struggled to forget; yet there they were, stacks and stacks of white china plates and bowls and saucers and serving trays, rimmed in gold, with delicate fall foliage. They became an art installation I viewed with indecision, contemplating daily why they were there.

And then one day, my friend came over and I spontaneously served her tea from Grandma’s Wedgwood teapot, pouring the hot liquid into a dainty cup like a proper hostess, setting a cookie on the rim of the matching saucer. I clumsily apologized for the formality, and told a story while I poured. She paused and said, “this is really quite beautiful.”

The next week, I served dinner for two on the plates. The next week, for the whole family, adding the accompanying salad plates. The next holiday, I served twenty-two people with her Wedgwood platters and saucers and butter containers, scooping sauces and pouring refills of wine into the matching coffee cups, telling stories, clinking toasts, moving through the room laughing at the endless pieces and the endless mess, a woman welcomed around and at the table.

Now I eat on her china daily. And not a single piece of her collection has exploded from the blasphemy.

Grandma spoke with the labor of her hands. I have both her dishes and her work ethic, but I also have a voice. Grandma’s china reminds me to use it.

Resistance

“This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people; they say no to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance.” —  Philip K. Dick

I was raised in a religious cult, founded and led by my grandfather, a man who shared many of Donald Trump’s attitudes, mannerisms, and values, as well as his mercurial temperament. Our community worshipped him. He lied about where he came from, where he went to school, who is was loyal to, the translations of God’s word, fiscal management, and the dangers of the outside world. But none of that mattered to his followers, who didn’t fact-check, who weren’t trained in logic, who wanted a man who could lead. In a predominantly male organization, he bullied women, used his charisma to advocate for a hierarchy of dominance, and taught us to trust in God’s plan.

Where I came from, the closer a man was to my grandfather, the more power he had, and the more access he had to children. Men who loved my grandfather–powerful, godly men–had the freedom to grab me by the pussy. I was seven years old the first time I remember this happening.

The majority of the sex I knew about was unwanted. By men who didn’t offer pleasure or emotional safety. For most of my life, I didn’t know I could feel good, or even that I deserved to. I was a receptacle for a man’s pleasure and need, and for the most part, I was comfortable with that. My grandfather taught me that sex was something a man did to a woman, and if you were married to him, or he had authority, you let him. Sex was something a good woman let a man do to her, because God created us out of man’s rib, to be his helpmate, and it is an honor to serve.

My grandfather still shared a bed with my grandmother until the day he died. I lived with them for a few years in my early teens, and I often watched my grandmother kneel by her bed, sobbing to the Lord, her God. I never asked her why. Where I come from, there is a lot we don’t talk about.

I dedicate my resistance to my grandmother, who never knew she could say no. Who was grabbed by her pussy her whole life, and never knew she deserved better.

 

Sally

Sally, my only full sister, and I don’t have a lot in common. We both share fairly intense blue eyes, but otherwise we barely look related. She’s fair-skinned, blonde, and short. She looks just like our mother, Kathy. I’m darker, olive-skinned and brunette. I look Sicilian, just like my father. I’ve always been a little bit of a brute, big and aggressive. Sally and I have spent a lot of time together. For our whole childhood, we shared a room and sometimes a bed—and, for a short time when we didn’t have a bed, just space on the floor under a single pink blanket. Despite all of this time together, and despite the fact that I’m only a year and a half older than her, our relationship has always been strained. She’s more sensitive, analytical, and optimistic. I’m more quick to anger, more reactionary. She’s prone to posting inspirational quote memes on Facebook and I’m prone to rolling my eyes. Once, when we were teenagers, she made me angry and I shoved her hard, sending her flying into our closet. She was nothing in my hands. Seconds later, I felt horrible. I had wanted to hurt her, badly, and it had been so easy.

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dust devils

Scientific American calls dust devils “mini-weather systems.” They arise on hot, calm, clear days. In Calimesa, where we lived, we didn’t watch the weather report for months and months. We knew exactly what were going to have. Hot. Calm. Clear. Every. Day. The air was still. Lizards shifted between baking rocks. Sometimes I’d catch the babies, let them tickle the palms of my hands before letting them go. The field in the center of my father’s property was all brown, dusty earth and tumbleweeds. The tenant kids and my sister and brother and I congregated in the field and waited. The sun washed over us, hot, and we squinted into it. We never wore the sunscreen I now slather on my kids before they go outside in the summer. We could count on part of the ground heating up, creating the necessary invisible column of hot air. We could count on the calm being broken by a gust of wind, forcing cooler air to collide with the column, forcing the dirt below to swirl up and form a dirt tornado, as we called it. We didn’t know any of the science. It was pretty and exciting and a little bit magic. It was summer and there was nothing to do on Roberts Road, a street we shared with a farm, a junk yard, and a horse ranch. Nothing much happened here. We ran towards our miracle of weather, a rough pack of kids with dirt under our nails, joyful, yelling. You have to close your eyes in the center of those storms, or dust and twigs and bits of trash get into your eyes. But it’s hard to contain your smile, so when the devil dies down as quickly as it started, when your hair is all whipped up around you and sweat is running down your face, and you can feel your heart beat and your skin is warm, you slide your tongue across your teeth to discover the layer of grit you expect. The taste is not unpleasant.

forthcoming

Hello,

I am on a ten-month sabbatical working on a book project. I always had a million jobs and a million babies, which have conveniently distracted me from doing that thing I always said I wanted to do–writing. I love teaching. But I teach writing, and I’ve never actually committed to doing it. In just these first three weeks, I have written and read more than I have in years. I don’t exactly know what I’m doing, but as a professor friend recently told me, “You can’t arrange the furniture when you don’t have any furniture.” My bluff has been called, and it’s a little scary. I don’t enjoy not having control over things, but I’m trying to let that go a little, and let this project emerge. Right now, it looks like a series of essays, about my mother and me, about what it means to be a mother, wife, parent, lover. I’m digging deep, y’all, and getting vulnerable, and hopefully writing something that isn’t just an exercise in narcissism. So each week, I’ve decided to publish just a paragraph of what I’m currently working on, to keep myself honest.

So here’s the first paragraph I’m posting. Thanks for reading. Thanks for sticking with me on this inconsistent blog.

From “Leaving”:

When I was four, my mother, Kathy, left my brother and sister and me out on on her front porch. Our clothes and toys were stuffed in garbage bags and slumped next to us. With the slam of a screen door, and the efficient click of a lock, we were suddenly not inside. No grown ups. A different kind of quiet. The sound of air, only, maybe bugs. This was not right. I began to cry. I jiggled the door knob. There was chipped paint, dust on the porch. A chain link fence surrounding a dried out front yard. Clusters of dead grass amid larger patches of dirt. I’ve never been the kind to quietly accept. I began to scream. Tears streamed hot down my face. I tried to look in the window, to fix this. Sally and David were there, of course, but only incidental, blurry within the fog of my rage. It’s the feeling I remember most, like an explosion inside of my skin, a feeling that has since become a close friend. Sally was a toddler, and David only a baby. I was too young to be responsible for them. I was probably scaring them. Even then, my emotions spilled everywhere, infecting everyone. Eventually, my father pulled up, tossed our garbage bags into the bed of his pick-up. This was the end of their divorce. Kathy wasn’t the kind to give up easily either, but the courts had commanded it. She was a bomb, detonated, everything in its radius collateral damage. I never saw that house again.

 

 

 

 

 

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