Monday, January 30, 2017

Getting our voices back

A glimpse in The Washington Post into Laura Moser, the mom/writer behind the fabulous Daily Action. It is the easiest kind of activism around. Just put your phone number in to that site, and you'll get daily texts with a number to call and that will connect you to your senators. You'll even get a little briefing each day on what issue to tackle.  

Happy to say Writers Resist accepted a prose poem I sent. Not sure when they'll publish it yet. 

Their magazine is one of the few resistance-related sites that doesn't give me heart palpitations each time I visit. It reminds me to take the time to think through and process current events, not just subject myself to an onslaught of news, with Kurtz at the end of The Heart of Darkness caught in a continuous feedback loop of "The horror! The horror!" 

It's sunny outside. 37 degrees. Winter weather, for which I'm so grateful.

#resistance abounds.

Please read Sandra Simonds, Cape Fear, North Carolina

Wally kicked off a #Swubble effort today with a letter to a new pen pal friend in North Carolina. The idea is for kids in different states to write (real letters!) to each other. I hadn't coached him to write about anything political and he didn't. Yet it was fitting that he wrote about studying bridges and reported that he had lost his voice yesterday, "But now I have it back." 

Friday, January 27, 2017


I was walking home for doctor's appointment Tuesday afternoon in the rain. It didn't seem worth taking the subway for a 20-minute walk, but halfway through it I thought, why did I do this? I'm drenched. I'm tired. I still have two kids to pick up. Last-minute groceries to buy. Walking home was a mistake. 

I stopped for a minute to take a break under an awning on 24th Street, and saw more than a hundred glowing paper lanterns in the window. 

There was no sign, although "3 squared" was painted on the window in gold. 

"Lanterns for Peace" said a sign inside. 

Was it a cafe? 

I peered in. 

Only one table. A gallery? A store? 

I adjusted my backpack, shook off my umbrella and propped it back up, continuing west on 24th with one backward glance. The rain was still coming down. The lanterns gleamed. 

Back home I saw it was an exhibition by artist Jessica Maffia and that the closing reception was the following day.

That is New York, the promise it has always held. That on a rainy, routine, mundane Tuesday, when you shouldn't have walked home in the rain, on a block you think of only as the block with the 99-cent store, you pause for shelter, and you are more than sheltered, you are embraced, intrigued, beguiled, renewed, with light from more than a hundred glowing paper lanterns. On the last day before the exhibition is dismantled, sent from people you will never know and never meet, handwritten messages of love and peace.

Did everyone sign this?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Today we march

I haven't found a way to channel my anxiety productively so that I can continue to write here in a "normal" way, whatever a "normal" way would be. I am pulled, pulled, pulled towards news. It's not even intrigue at this point. And it's not about learning something that will help me understand, as Wally wrote in his letter to Trump, "Why? Why? Why? Why?" I'm not actually reading through articles anymore, the way I did obsessively immediately post-election, clinging to any sliver of insight anyone could give me about how/why/WTF/Are-you-f&cking-kidding-me/Did-that-really-just-happen? Ezra Klein or Damon Young or Joy Reid or even just an anonymous comment on Babble article, begging for anyone's voice to cut through the primal scream, to rise with reason and a narrative frame to contain the collective shriek of horror.

This current compulsion comes from the ridiculous hope that in the past five seconds something has drastically changed and I can let out the breath I've been holding since about 10 PM on November 8 then I'll be able to relax and get on with things. So I frantically flip through my favorite papers and sites searching for that headline that means, oh, wait, hold on, it's not actually as apocalyptically horrible as we thought! The Republicans are in-fighting like crazy! They're tearing themselves apart. Or they have nothing to replace Obamacare and people are catching on. Or the Russian probe turned up something final and devastating and there is absolutely no way out. 

I don't think this through logically--I haven't even articulated it until just now--but I think that fear/hope drives me to this distraction. Thinking--just give me that hit of--this is not apocalypse (I know Obama said it's not, but he tends to be optimistic)--and I can go back and focus on my work. 

I have a Word document labelled, "What we can do." I put links to my favorite articles and action plans. I collect the Twitter handles to new movements. I copy in contact names of organizers. It's overwhelming. It's disorganized. It feels scattered. @flippable @swingleft @indivisiblenation @yourdailyaction The ACLU. ADL. Southern Poverty Law Center. Every day there is something new, and I think, no, not something new. We have to consolidate! We already have all the local splinter groups. I start a google doc trying to streamline and connect and tie these things together. It feels futile much of the time. 

I am having trouble re-gaining focus in writing, and without it, as I've mentioned on this blog before, I have trouble focusing on real life, too. I see this past week in glimpses:

Explaining to Wally that we are not on the Affordable Care Act but millions are. 
Wally pleading, tears in his eyes about the repeal. "People won't actually die will they? Kids won't die?" 

Me pausing. The instinct to brush it away and smile. To say something comforting about how they won't die but it will be hard. But then me going ahead with the true answer: yes, people will die if they lose their insurance.

Petra and I still belting out "Away in a Manger" on the way to school. 

Dancing wildly in the livingroom to "It's gonna be okay" by The Piano Guys.

Petra asking, when I gave her my fleece on the way to school (on a day I overshot the global warming effect, and it was actually like a little, teeny, eensey bit chilly mid-January in NYC) "But what about you? You need a coat, too?" 

Working on my middle grade novel. Seeing the illustrations for Test Your Toddler. Running again, finally, realizing this pattern is not good, where I run again, finally, and then that's it, just the one time. Listening to NPR in the morning. Packing lunches. Grocery shopping. Fury at Amazon (which I'm still boycotting) or their new fresh delivery service. Can't you be happy with selling everything under the sun at prices that literally destroy your suppliers? You have to have more? You just can't stand it that any other company can continue a hold on whatever remaining crumbs of non-online or box-store retail are left? You have to have everything? You have to be a goddamn empire? There are other people in the world. Three year olds understand this.

Making zucchini noodles and realizing that an entire meal of zucchini strips and peas plus parmesan is just not even remotely filling enough!

Making signs for the march. Asking everyone in my path if they are going to the march. Trying to organize everyone for the march and people getting mad at me because of the chaos of the logistics. 

Wally galloping with his friends after Kung Fu all in their giant black ballooning pants down the street in the rain through the palm trees of the flower district.

My neighbor wondering if the woman she told me for sure had voted for Trump, and whom, ever since then, I have not been able to look in the eye, maybe had not voted for Trump because now she was talking on Facebook about the #pussyproject and then me feeling terrible that I'd told others she voted for Trump. (And for whoever says - that' awful. Voting is private. In this case I have to say, not when you vote for a bigoted, neo-nazi supported, Russian puppet fascist who poses an existential threat to women, minorities, immigrants, those in the LGBTQ community, school children, and any in fact any living organizing on the rapidly heating up planet called earth. Nope, then you have to be outed. You are just wrong. That's it. You're wrong. You're morally wrong. You are on the wrong side of history. You knew who this man was, and you still gave him the nuclear codes. Wrong.)

The images are swirling around. And I'm losing--I've already lost--I mean to say, I haven't regained focus. Flipping and flitting around in desperation for a headline/morphine drip is not helping anyone.

I need to turn away and stay focused or I'm just part of the problem, the overload, the hyper-stimulation, the bite-size headline addiction. 

I need to think about the children across the country and the world today, sprawled on the floor drawing pictures of two women holding hands. 

I need to think about the @MomsDemandAction women in their t-shirts smiling on the 4 AM bus down to DC. 

I need to think about the grandparents, maybe supposed to be on vacation now, tired, the ones who decades ago walked in the anti-war marches, at the civil rights demonstrations, who saw freedom advance and now, tired, and terrified for their grand-children, are lacing up their shoes again this morning, gearing up for an exhausting day of crowds they maybe have barely the energy to face.

I need to think about the exhausted moms who, on their one morning off (morning! hah! one hour on one morning) are packing up sandwiches and hand sanitizer and filling up water bottles. 

I need to think about all the men who, instead of "Women's March? Why would I go to a Women's March?" said "Sign me up" the minute they heard about it.

All the recent immigrants whose lives have been threatened, who now know many of their own neighbors hate them, who will be there in the streets, practicing this sacred American tradition, protected by the first Amendment. 

All the African American women who voted for the white woman (93%) who was largely abandoned by her own demographic (white women favored the man who called them pigs by 53%). Those African American women, twice excluded their entire lives from privilege, who have always had to struggle, who have never known a day without struggle, who can somehow manage to keep faith again and join again to seek freedom for all people. 

All the members of the LGBTQ community who are seeing the equal rights they finally, finally achieved under threat, who are wondering what they will tell their children who have grown up saying, "Of course two men can marry."

All those who have a much tougher task today than we New Yorkers do, those who join small, shaky marches in deep red states, who will hold signs of freedom in the face of their haters, who will accept stares of derision and insults and threats as they refuse to hate their enemies.

All those who have never joined a march in their lives. Those who are excited and a little nervous and unsure, but who will leave their cozy homes and join the crowded, crazy streets of Manhattan or Detroit or Sarasota or Concord, NH or Paris or San Francisco or Raleigh. 

To keep my eye on the caravan of busses stretching out on the highways to the nations capitol, filled with MLK's "infinite hope." 

To all the children who woke up yesterday, like mine, in tears, because Obama--the only president they've ever known, the one they know their parents adored beyond words, whose parents would, as my father put it yesterday, follow over a cliff--is leaving.

That anger--my knee-jerk reaction to so much of what is going on, to an Education Secretary who is hell-bent on destroying public education, to an EPA director who is anti-environmental regulations--gets me no where. It's not a good example for the kids. It's not healthy. It's not productive.

I don't need my "What we can do" document today.

Today we join together. We say no to fascism and hatred. We protect the most vulnerable.  

What can we do today?

Today we march. 

Taking a break from crazy crowds near Trump Tower

My parents marching in Florida - "Feminism: Back by Popular Demand"

Friday, January 6, 2017

She Speaks

Finally packed away the ornaments and took the tree down to be mulched last night. 

Said goodbye to the season with a candle, mint ice cream and Alex playing outrageously sad opera on the piano. Wally was hugging the tree again and again, the whole way down and even once it was laying on its side downstairs by the trash. A maudlin scene.

Woke to snow this morning, but not before Wally woke several times during the night, padding into our room in tears, distraught about "Tap" (he names the trees). 

On the way to the bus this morning we got on the topic of Mimu, the great-grandchild nickname for my grandmother Miriam who lived in our current apartment from 1965 until she died in 2008.

"Tell me a story about her," Petra said, sticking out her tongue to catch the snow.

I couldn't think for some reason off hand of a good story. Not one that would fit into the few blocks to the bus stop. Not one I could tell over the noise of the traffic. 

I talked briefly about Miriam's life growing up in Brooklyn. About 4 sisters all sleeping together in one bed. About the piece of furniture she bought because it was big enough to hold her punchbowl. This was decades later, maybe even after she moved to Manhattan. The Pepsi she drank until 9 pm, switching to something without caffeine at that time. That was in the final years of her life. I skipped around. I mostly left out, for some reason, the two decades where she raised my father and aunt in Brooklyn, maybe almost like those years don't fall under her story. Maybe I classify them as part of my dad's. 

I was, between crossing streets, waving at crossing guards, saying "Hi" to the fruit guy, still trying to think of a story, to take up the time between Wally's bus stop and Petra's daycare. Somehow I skipped ahead to the rehab center in Massachusetts that had three llamas. She spent time in my parents' house after that rehab center, but that was the last place I saw her. 

I thought about how happy she was with crappy suburban Chinese food we brought to a common room there. How she told me to sit in the "Queen's chair." I pictured myself carrying Wally in the Ergo outside in the mild summer air, pushing Mimu in the wheelchair to see the llamas. She was already lighter than air.

"Pops was there with his mom when she died" I told Petra as we turned onto the block of her daycare. 

"His mom?" Petra seemed surprised. "I thought you said it was his grandmother."

"No, she was my grandmother. Pop's mother."

Family trees, sketched out, spectral and skeletal like the trees lining the brownstone-lined streets where we walked.

"Pops said goodbye to her," I went on "And Mimu died and there was a big, full moon up in the sky that night on his drive home." 

"What did it say?" Petra asked facing straight ahead.

"What did what say?"

"The moon!"

The moon! Of course the moon would speak in this story. This is girl and boy land, where owls eat pea soup in front of the fire, where bunnies stay up too late, where pigeons beg to drive the bus. Why wouldn't the moon have something to say?

But I couldn't think of anything. I surveyed the snow, general over New York City. I smiled thinking of my James Joyce course at Fordham in July only two and a half years before. My mind flashed to Ireland. The churchyard. The dark mutinous Shannon waves.

In my head, the final lines of "The Dead" weaved around Maria Callas singing La Mamma Morta in Italian. And like a counter-melody, so many lines from my grandmother's stories, fragments of stories, really. And in particular this one: "You know, I never thought to ask my father how he got to Hull, England." (It was always Hull, England in particular.) "I mean, how did an eleven-year-old travel alone from Russia to Hull, England in 1900?" 

I laughed thinking about Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids, made famous for sending her nine-year-old alone on the NYC subway a century later. Then I thought about the picture of me at that age that used to hang on the wall in this apartment, me wearing an argyle sweater with braces newly installed over wildly crooked front teeth. 

Miriam's refrain wasn't like many others in her generation. It wasn't inflated nostalgia. It wasn't, "the past was better." She was equally intrigued by and committed to the present, to giving me advice on my band, to writing letters to Senators, holding on to the present with every cell in her body, the last one to bed and the first one up. But still the past was vast, hyperlinked to every conversation.

"I really don't know," I told Petra. I shrugged my shoulders, trying to shake the spell that had come over me, the tree, the opera, the faintly falling snow. 

Petra started climbing up the stairs, holding onto her mittens and hat. At the top she turned around and took over my story, my not-story, the fragments I hadn't been able to attach, the ending I'd rushed to for some reason. The llamas and the bad Chinese food and the soaring moon in that dark sky on that final night.

"I know what the moon said," Petra whispered, like vespers, but Maria Callas' voice was still piercing, ear-splitting as that highest note rang out. "The moon said 'You cannot die.'"