Category: writing


100 days and counting

I was going to write my own assessment of the first 100 days of this awful new presidency. I struggled and sputtered and wound up posting something short and bitter for friends and family on facebook, noting I’d been totally justified in melting down on November 9th. It’s all I could come up with, without meandering all over the place.

In the weeks before my brief flirtation with a “100 Days” assessment, I was going to try to document all the travesties and lies and obfuscation and cruelty as I saw them unfolding each day. But it unfolded so fast, and my jaw was hitting the floor so often, that I couldn’t keep up.  I didn’t really make it even one day.

Before that I was going to try to articulate my rage about the election, and my joy at seeing the uprising, starting with the Women’s Marches, and going on from there. And I found my rage sparked again and again in an ongoing cycle, and couldn’t keep up. And likewise, constant stories have fed my joy and gratitude for the uprising, the Resistance, the pussy hats and great signs and love of science and reason, but coming so fast I couldn’t respond to everything.  It’s all been happening moment to moment, and I haven’t found time for record keeping.

What I have done each day is absorb it as it unfolds.  And maybe that’s enough. Maybe it’s enough just to keep standing, to not crawl in a hole and hope it’s all gone the next time I raise my head. Maybe it’s enough just to live through it.

I work hard to fend off the meltdowns and the ranting; so much material to fuel so much rage.  But I can’t live in a state of rage, so I retreat into humor, or sarcasm, or distractions on Netflix. I’ve been reasonably successful; I have a lot of bitter moments, but life moves on around the bitter obstacles. I’ve channeled some of that energy into answering my granddaughter’s questions about what happening to our country. She’s only seven, and a lot of it is explaining how politics work in the simplest ways I can; like most children she has a strong sense of fairness, and the politics of the time defy that. 

I feel her frustration. I channel the tension of this chaotic time into bitching and theorizing, into listening to my friends and my clients process and vent, into commiserating with them, into consoling them and allaying their fears. I seem to come out with bursts of thought, rather than cohesive assessment.  Thus, my most frequent expressions in writing appear quite regularly in comment sections at my favorite mommy blog, recipe hub, and snarkified political commentary. Wonkette has, indeed, become a sanctuary of sorts for me, a place to release the pent up anger and sorrow in somewhere between 4 words and 3 paragraphs at a shot.

My goals of writing more extensively have been lost in just getting through it all.  Is that terrible? I don’t know.  I don’t want it to be permanent; just musing about my own process here is helpful, and I don’t want to lose that release.  But, I have to stop giving myself the assignments I think I should be pursuing, and roll with the waves in front of me instead.  Plenty of waves, no doubt there.

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This painful moment, and powerful concession speech…

clinton-2016-concession-speech-w-bill-and-kaine

and this awful, awful sham of a man taking an oath of office…

trump-inaug-day-swearing-in

sparking this amazing outpouring of resistance and empowerment…

dc-womens-march-16-cities-meme

even in my town, Eugene …

and in tiny towns like Newport, Oregon (I intended to go to this one, but had to take care of my respiratory health instead, dammit)

womens-march-newport-wide-reader-2-768x576

…. maybe I’m ready to start writing again.

I have been writing, in a way.  I comment on facebook and at Wonkette; I spit out thoughts in a sentence or two, an exchange of written sentiments pinging back and forth among people online.  But I haven’t been “writing,” and I should have been.  After the election, I was sucked dry and overwhelmed by rage and grief. Just getting through the day without stewing over the great losses to social justice, to health, to the security of our future, coming down the raging rapids that Trump’s election unleashed… it’s been too much, over and over again.

Taking refuge in the hubbub around the holidays has been a relief; the PNW ice storms likewise, strangely enough. Something concrete to focus on; something to deal with right now, with tangible and visible effect. Play in the snow with the granddaughter. Clean up the branches in the yard. Seal the crack under the door. Make hot soup.

And all the while, reading reading reading, trying to wrap my brain around the social changes that this administration advocates.

What sparked this post was someone else taking the time to write something she felt important enough to focus on in more than a sentence or two tossed out on social media.  She said, among other things: “A bit of perspective: as things change about how our system works in the upcoming days, months and years: write it down. Keep a journal of this period. This will help us keep perspective and prevent the normalization of possible upcoming events”

That is what my journals and blogs have generally been about: what am I noticing, how am I reacting, what thoughts are being sparked by what I’m seeing/ hearing/ reading.

And sadly it occurs to me that I better make hard copy of pretty much everything that I put down.  But more importantly, I need to make my own record of what is happening.

Yesterday many things happened.  But I’ll note one:  The Gag Rule is back in place, and stronger than ever, affecting not only family-planning facilities across the world, but HIV- and ZIKA-prevention programs as well.  And as has been memed constantly since it was made public:

trump-signs-gag-rule-fb-post-by-alkan-bowser

 

I often want to write to beloved authors, or admired politicians, or otherwise famous people. I rarely do. Sometimes, but mostly to my current reps in local government, or maybe my state or national representatives. But artists? Orators? Activists? I always figure my message is but one of a gazillion or two, a drop in a bucket, a large bucket for some. What could it matter, my measly words on paper or in an email, praise from some who doesn’t figure into anything big or important?

Still, the urge to write remains. Sometimes it works itself into something written, yet never sent. Sometimes the sentiments seep into a blog post, or a reply in a comment section online. Mostly that kind of stuff floats around in my head, thoughts structured as words, but never committed to voice, paper, or bits and bytes.

But the essence of my desire to communicate remains.  What is it? what is this thing that asks to be spoken, written.

I think in it’s simplest form, that desire to write a thank you letter comes down to this: “without knowing me personally, you affected me personally.”

That is indeed a magical thing. Worth acknowledging. Worth thanking someone for.

I saw a quote from Carl Sagan today that kind of hits the same spot:

What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

What a weird, special relationship to have with someone you’ve never met, and probably or certainly will never meet. And it seems so strange when their work – a gift to strangers that they, for the most part, will never meet – can have such deep and lasting impacts on me.

Ursula K. LeGuin. Frank Herbert. J.R.R. Tolkien. Louisa May Alcott. Emma Goldman. Malcolm X. Those are just the first names that pop up when I think, late at night, tired, two Tanqueray & tonics in my system. I’m sure I missed many, and some perhaps more important.

But still, the essence remains: individuals who, unknowingly, pushed me to think or act or reflect differently, always from the past, sometimes a very distant past. Sometimes from a life story, other times from an imagined place, a story, a tale, a snippet from life.

A weird twisting, mutable kind of human communication, of cause and effect.

Magic.

Why I read Jason Linkins’ “Sunday Talking Heads” blog nearly every week (except when he has the audacity to take a weekend off, the heel!): he brings the balance to the boredom of the mediocre Sunday line up, adding a little spice to the mix. In this particular excerpt, he takes aim at bad metaphors.

Oh, remember, Michele Bachmann has been “on the tip of the spear” fighting Obamacare, and just needs voters to grab the shaft. And then more mixed metaphors! She’s the “proven candidate who’s been tested by fire in the lion’s den of Washington, DC.” Seems to me that the key feature of lions’ dens are the lions, and not fire. I’d call that the “fire room,” or something, and I’d be like, “Lions! Get up on out of there!” And the lions would be all, “Sweet Lion God! We were just in our den, denning it up, when some raving woman came in with all this fire, yelling about Obamacare.” And I’d be like, “Damn, lions! That sounds awful traumatic!” And then I’d take the lions to the Rodeo Drive of Washington and tell them to “TREAT YO SELF.” Then the lions would devour a bunch of lobbyists, and I’d probably be prosecuted for aiding and abetting that.

Anyway, Michele Bachmann has faced the fire of the lions den, the slings and arrows of the racetrack, the guillotines of the Library of Congress, and the poisoned ping pong balls of that Starbucks that just opened on K Street, the Rodeo Drive of Washington.

via TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads.

*sigh*

back to normal life, now.

Two really interesting articles, both harkening back to things I’ve been thinking about for the last thirty+ years:

Emily Nussbaum, in New York magazine,
The Rebirth of the Feminist Manifesto:
Come for the Lady Gaga, stay for the empowerment.

Oh the memories… still a feminist, and proud to count myself among the ranks of same.  But there’s always something new stirring, and every generation brings a new spin on things, sometimes bumping hard up against our older feminist convictions, but always pushing things forward, and generally in good ways.

 

Conor Friedeersdorf, in The Atlantic:
Stop Forcing Journalists to Conceal Their Views From the Public

Strangely related to my own interests in feminist writing, the publishing of feminist writing.  Back in the 1980s, I worked on “Matrix,” a ‘zine before any of us were calling them ‘zines.  Our editorial policy weighed in heavy on keeping the voice, the cadence, the vernacular of our writers, and journalistic standards be damned.  We preferred our articles to be ones where the author stated her experience, background and biases up front or perhaps throughout her article, and then go forward in as “objective” a manner as she preferred.  Having stated her perspective up front, the reader was then able to form their own ideas about where the author was being objective, and where her biases were (consciously or unconsciously) influencing her work.

In the article I link to, a coherent and clear argument for this kind of upfront statement of bias really spoke to me.  And, as they advocate, it is not in conflict with the ethics of journalism, but rather, preserves it.

The Fourth Estate rules.  Or could.

Death Penalty

Odd coincidence of events:

First, several death penalty cases which have hit the news lately, namely Troy Davis, Gov. Rick Perry’s execution record, and Lawrence Brewer. And second, without knowing in advance the plotline, the renting of two movies which ended scripted death sentences, the execution taking place on film.*

I typically try to avoid state execution scenes in movies – good couple of minutes to check on dinner, go to the restroom, Google something, close my eyes, whatever, even in movies I otherwise like.

I feel pretty decided about the death penalty.  I don’t like it.  I don’t agree with it. I don’t think it’s effective as a social strategy, or for crime prevention. I don’t think it’s morally or ethically correct.  I’ve heard a hundred “but what if some guy killed your … blah blah blah,” and I have sympathy with the real or hypothetical victims, and I am as outraged at the murder/rape/treason as the person asking. Whatever story they tell will most likely sit in my gut and my mind for days to come. I have no problem understanding that rage, or the accompanying sorrow.

It just doesn’t persuade me to think the death penalty is the correct response.

Part of me just doesn’t think it’s right to take that power, the power of inflicting death, and levy it against another person. It’s not our decision to make.  I used to think it was God’s place to decide such things, when I believed in a deity.  Now I don’t believe in deities.  I still sort of believe in God (another whole topic) but suffice it to say I don’t think god is a supreme being. To the extent that god, or the universe, or the cosmic flow of things takes people out of this life and into a next, it happens on a grand scale, as well it should.  It some how feels entirely different – and wrong – when it comes to individuals doing the killing: in crimes, in war, in execution. Leave Death to disaster, to insurmountable disease, to Time.

Part of me chills at the basic irony of the very idea of the death penalty, in the case of executing those who have killed.  Really? we’re going to kill someone to punish them for killing someone? As Tevia said, an eye for an eye, pretty soon the whole world is blind.

And it seems to let the killer off entirely too easy.  If we are punishing, then punish.  I don’t mean we should be cruel, but people should be held accountable when they are in the wrong. To live in relative isolation with your own miserable self, cut off from normal social interactions, is to my mind a natural consequences version of justice.  Maybe even an opportunity to face yourself down and correct your impact on the world. Our prisons are not exactly suited to encouraging inmates to reflect upon their wrongs, but it has been known to happen.

And if not, you are held away from the greater community, where you can’t harm us.

To kill them lets them off far too easily.

And then there is this:  we are our brother’s keepers. Children who grow up and commit horrible acts of violence on others are, nonetheless, children who grew up in our communities.  We, as a society, produced them.  They are our community’s responsibility.  To kill them let’s us off too easy.

But executions are still happening, around me, around the world.  They make me sad, they sometimes enrage me.  I close my eyes, I leave the room, I google something.  And, sometimes I write.

—————-

* Spoiler if you haven’t seen them (consider yourself duly warned): The Changeling, with Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich, and Lonely Hearts, with Selma Hayek and John Travolta.

* sigh *

Oh my… cobwebs are accumulating again.

It’s hard to write.  It’s harder to write when the world is keeping me busy.  And that’s just when I should be writing.

I crack open the notebook (computer) to look in my mailbox, scan the Mudflats, spend a good amount of time reading my favorite political and economic blogs, check out the articles they link to, scan the front pages of my local papers, maybe HuffPo.

I notice that when it comes to the online versions of newspapers (web fronts to otherwise print paper, and aggregates like HuffPo), I scan headlines, read what seems interesting, and move on pretty quickly from article to article.  In that way, it’s much like reading the traditional print newspapers every morning.  Without the crackling.  The cat still jumps into the middle of what I’m reading; some things never change.

After all that, I go back to the Mudflats forum.  It’s sort of like the online front porch of the general store down the street.  I take a breather.  Then I check all the political blogs again.  I throw in some light reading along the way (White Whine, Juanita Jean, facebook).  I refill my coffee cup several times.

That whole routine takes me about an hour or more, and then it’s usually time to go to work, or get the day-off errands done.  With all that I’ve read and been sparked by, I have plenty to journalize about.  Time does not, however, permit.  Also: hard to physically write ones thoughts down when operating cars and vacuum cleaners.  Also, too:* very difficult to journalize when doing dishes.  But isn’t that just the time the thoughts are really spinning? Must be something about the water.

At night, it’s much the same routine (Mudflats, east-coast blog wrap-ups, catching up on my less-stringently tracked blogs), a dash of online news, and more Mudflats. 

And at that point (midnight or better once all I do after I get off work at 9pm or so) I’m too beat to write coherently.

*sigh*

I have so many thoughts, intermingled and unexplored and over-explored, and know writing would help me sort it out.  Such a jumble though – easier to look at the tangle of thoughts than to actually sort it out.  But it takes energy, focus. Timing my ability to maintaining focus is the crux of the matter.  And convincing myself that I don’t have to write it ALL down, complete and organized, is another hurdle to get over.

Maybe I should just go ahead and write incoherently.  It’s very quiet in here, after all.  No one will notice. 

Coherent or not, I need to push myself to write.  Even if it’s just about writing.  I’ll try.  Really.  This time.

Coffee?

 

 

* to Palinize the tangent of thought…

Seen ‘Round the Web

Episode 1:  31 March 2010

Okay.  Let’s try something new.

Everyday I read and watch stuff online, mostly political or religious, that strikes me, teaches me something, enlightens me a little, puts a new spin, or reaffirms an old one.  The bulk of the time, these are current posts to websites, but occasionally I dig up something old and thought provoking.

Then a week later, the idea comes up in conversation, and I can’t remember where I read this or that.  Drives me crazy.

So.

I’m going to make a stab at trying to make notes on some of these discoveries.  Given my sporadic ability to write over the last few months, I’m not making any promises, especially to myself.  But I’ll give it a go, and see where it takes me.

Onward with yet another experiment at the fringes of the blogosphere – wish me luck!

– Sister A

23 October 2009

I used to be politically active.  Then I went to sleep for a few years.  And then I woke up again.  What the hell happened to me?

It started in my teens, with a passion about Watergate and bringing the Nixon White House to its knees.  I grew up in a staunchly Democratic family, but one which valued an intelligent opposition.  With Nixon, we had only a compromised opposition, and I, along with my family and many of my friends were righteously outraged.  Political awareness became a constant in my life.

In my twenties, my political leanings moved farther left, and my activism grew.  I worked for the end of the US-sponsored wars in Central America, I marched for women’s rights and gay rights, worked on little ‘zines for lefty causes, helped keep my local women’s shelter open, read voraciously on the causes of my times, and spent endless hours hashing it all out with my friends and family. 

When I was about 30, I moved, along with my nine year old daughter and my girlfriend of five years, to a county and state that was deeply immersed in an intense battle over gay rights.  My daughter was entering public school for the first time (she’d been in parent-run schools up to that point), and I went back into the closet a bit.  I retreated from most of my political activity as well.  That retreat was in part due to worries about my daughter being targeted as coming from a gay family, and in part also to a very different schedule (new job, no extended family to share child-raising with).  And it was due also to a kind of weariness that comes over you at times.

And there’s no doubt that 12 years of Reagan-Bush was wearing me out.

By the time Bill Clinton came into office, I was working for a non-profit women’s health clinic, immersed in the struggle to help women obtain decent, respectful reproductive health care.  My clinic offered abortions among its many services, so I was also immersed in the abortion wars.  My activism was practical – helping women find information and services for all kinds of health care, publicizing the attacks on the clinics, fundraising and the like.  (An aside here:  it really made a difference when Bush Sr. exited the scene, and Clinton stepped into the White House – the gag rule was lifted, and we could give our clients better information and services.  In just that microcosm, you can’t tell me it makes no difference which party holds the White House.)

And then we got Bush Jr., the Boy King.  I groaned, but tried to buck up.  He was awful, inane, snotty.  He was an embarrassment.  I hadn’t liked his dad much, but at least Sr. wasn’t so embarrassing on the world stage (okay, I admit the vomiting-on-a-foreign-dignitary episode was pretty effing bad…) If I’d realized the power which Cheney and Rumsfeld were wielding, I’d have been more depressed, but as it was, I was keeping my chin up.  And then 9-11 happened.  And then Bush’s awful response, and the incredible war-mongering began, and the reactionary anger against anything Muslim.  And then the Patriot Act.  And then Afghanistan.  And then Iraq.  And then the awfulness of our dead and our maimed coming home, and the utter despair of knowing that even greater numbers of people were dead and maimed in the countries where we’d been making war.

It just kept getting worse.  And I kind of went into hibernation, politically.

I was hiding, but at the same time, it wasn’t that I wasn’t aware, or wasn’t angry, or far too frequently frightened about what was going on around me.  Still, I could not muster the political energy to do much more than vote.  Compared to my usual verbose self (this post proves my point) I could barely talk about what I thought.  I wrote almost nothing.  I made myself listen to the daily NPR reports with increasing grim determination.  I scanned headlines, but couldn’t bear to venture into the articles.  I let my newspaper subscriptions go.  I didn’t protest Bush.  I didn’t protest the war, at least outside of my circle of acquaintances.  The world was in the hands of mad men, and everything felt futile. 

I muttered, at times, to sympathetic friends on the source of my political frustrations.  We muttered and cursed and stomped our feet together, and I don’t think I was alone in feeling otherwise immobilized.  To come up against the paranoia of the Bush administration made me feel like any effort would make no dent in the brick wall I was banging my head against, and damage my head plenty.

But there was a dim light at the end of the tunnel. 

Continue reading

Verbosity

19 August 2009

About half the time I sit down to write a post, I intend to jet out something quick and concise – usually an in-the-moment reaction to news, or a comment made to me, or a random thought.  I’m thinking a paragraph or two, a snapshot of a reaction.

Then, an hour later, I realize I’m not even close to being done.  I save the draft, and move on to some other project.  Most of the time, I come back to it later, finish my thoughts, clean it up, and post the thing.  But my vision of the snappy response to the world around me disappears in the tangle of thoughts.

I’ve always been a bit verbose.  What starts out as a quick meet-up on the sidewalk evolves into an hour of conversation over lunch.  Five page papers turn into fifteen pages after much editing.  Nothing actually wrong with all that, I suppose, as long as I’m not boring people.

And in any case, in this setting, the self-serving aspect of a blog sort of cancels out any concern about “going on too long.”

And, with unusual constraint, that’s where I’ll stop.

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