Oh, here’s my Sunday post on Monday. Or, was the post last on Tuesday my Sunday post, and I’m now early for next Sunday’s post?

Does it even matter?

I am all wonky and discombobulated, even though I’ve been back home for several weeks now and feel as if I should be back on track with everything.

I am not.

I am still grappling with what season it even is. (Kari made me feel better about this, though I saw her post late because: wonkiness.) Cane goes back to work this week. We tried to cram as much summer into last week as we could, but we couldn’t make it feel like high summer, much as we tried. Leaves are falling. Everything looks like late August (brown, dried up). We can’t hold off the mental shift toward school and the school year. We went to many of our favorite Portland places, but I ended up napping every single day, and then migraine hit me over the weekend.

I can’t get back into the rhythm of food. I have not gotten to eat enough of what I think of as summer food. (We couldn’t get the usual ingredients in our small Louisiana town and I could not cook in a construction zone.) I went to the store and bought far too much, but then we ate out far too much or I was too tired to make meals.

I don’t want it to be fall yet, but I also deeply dislike living in limbo, on the cusp of things. It’s not summer (not mental/emotional summer, anyway) and it’s not fall and I don’t want it to be fall.

I want to feel some kind of normal again. I want to be able to stay awake for an entire day. But last week Rebecca Solnit posted something on Facebook that I’ve been keeping it in mind as I’ve drifted off to sleep more than one afternoon recently:

“If you’re sick or injured and healing or growing a new life inside you or just worn out, please notice that that thing known as ‘doing nothing’ is when you’re doing the utterly crucial and precious work of growing and healing and restoring.”

(I recommend clicking through to read the whole thing.)

Maybe I’m growing a new life of some sort, or maybe I’m just worn out. There’s been a lot this year, most of which I haven’t written about here. In most of the stories, I am a supporting character, not the main character. I find the whole “it’s not my story to tell” tenet hard to wrap my mind around. Maybe I’m not the main character, but I’m still a character. I’m still in the story, and what I think and feel and do within the narrative is mine.

I’m wondering if this–being full of stories I don’t feel free to write freely about–is why I’ve been finding it hard to write here. A comment to my last post prompted me to write a personal response to the commenter, and in writing it I realized that I’d left out important things that might have allowed me to write a post that is more true. Maybe more worthwhile.

But I’m going to let the original post stand. I’m not going to change what I am and am not sharing in a public forum. I might have every right to give my story away, but that doesn’t mean I should.

Last week, I was watering our garden in an effort to stave off the effects of the high heat we’ve been living in. I was in a hurry. I was impatient. I was anxious. I yanked the hose, and I broke off two large branches of a shrub I’d once given up on. It had been all wonky, growing a few measly branches on one side, with the other side of the bush bare. I moved it to its current spot, almost daring it to live. If it died completely there, I figured it was no loss.

It’s not only lived there, but thrived, filling in beautifully. It’s a story that has given me some joy. And then, in one quick moment, I broke off two full branches, returning it to a state of bare lopsidedness.

I was so glad that it was me who did that, rather than Cane. Because it just made me sad. I was glad to be angry with myself, rather than him.

Cane suggested putting the branches in water. Maybe they will sprout roots and we can replant, he suggested, get a new plant out of it. I think that’s not likely, but I did it anyway.

This morning, as I sat here writing these words, the branches were right in front of my face and I noticed something that stopped me:

The branches are flowering. My broken branches. Sprouting tiny little flowers. Not the roots we hoped for, but flowers we didn’t even know to hope for.

Isn’t life often like that? There’s almost always a gift of some kind in discomfort. In wonkiness, in broken things. Maybe I’ll dream about those when I take my nap later today.


I am continuing my adventures in pie:

This one is whiskey-peach. It both looks and tastes better than the last one. My bottom crust is a little too dense, but the top crust is lovely.

I’ve also been consuming books. A few highlights from last week:

Pie is comfort food, and these were comfort reads. They did not stretch or challenge me in any way. Books by women a lot like me, most likely mostly for women a lot like me.

Now this one–this one is a different kind of story:

I cannot figure out an elevator pitch for it. It’s academic, it’s poetic, it’s fierce. It’s about cooking, food, and women. Maybe I’m starting to wake up again.

Of dreams and time warps

For years, I’ve had a recurring teacher-anxiety dream in the late spring or early summer. It goes like this:

In the dream, it is somehow, improbably, late August. There is only a week or two left of summer break, and I am bewildered and a little panicked: Wasn’t it just June? I’d think. Where did the summer go? I can’t remember any of it. How, I’d think, can it possibly be late August already?

Then I would wake up, and it would still be late spring or early summer, and I would feel relief wash over me. The season was still just beginning. It was all still ahead of me.

After a week back home, I feel a little bit like this dream has finally come true. How is it late mid-August? I keep thinking. As I see the obvious signs of a summer winding down, it’s all felt very Rip Van Winkleish to me, like my time in Louisiana was a dream, some time out of time that wasn’t real for me, but was for everyone and everything else. While I was sleeping/away, the rest of the world kept spinning. Now, I’m awake again and hardly recognize where I am. Hardly recognizing where I am might stem, in large part, from our garden; when I came home, most things were either overgrown or dried up remnants of the plants they once were.

And so, like Melanie, I will not be rushing to fall. I am not yet ready to get cozy inside with sweaters and candles. I need some time with dirt on my hands and sun on my face. For sure, I lived fully while I was away. I had a memorable and in many ways rewarding 6 weeks. It just wasn’t what “summer” means to me. There were very few unstructured days, and even less time outside (because it just wasn’t safe to be outside, especially for me.) It wasn’t summer at home, which I have a whole new appreciation for.

In a NYT newsletter Saturday, Melisa Kirsch wrote about how time away from home can help you see your home’s absurdities. For her, time away makes her question everything about home and realize how much of what she has there is unneeded.

Boy, that’s not me.

Time away–in a place where it was too hot to go outside, where we didn’t have any furniture to sit on, where we lived out of a suitcase for weeks and weeks–has made me realize how much I appreciate what I have here. How much I appreciate a comfortable, functional home and being able to live the summer months in it.

So, I am busy cramming as much summer as I can into these last weeks of it. I was home for only one day before my daughter and I got in the car and drove north to visit my parents in the place that I really think of as home. Every cell of my being was craving big water and cool, marine air. It was actually pretty warm there, too, but low 80’s felt like such a relief after weeks of temperatures above 100.

While there, we picked blackberries in my parents’ yard, and then I had to buy a new book:


And then we came home and I made pie! (Excitement because it is much more common for me to get jazzed up about a creative domestic endeavor and read about it and then not actually do it.)

This book has unlocked the mysteries of pie crust for me. Lebow is a literary writer as well as a renowned pie-maker, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Not many dessert cookbook writers quote Richard Hugo or aspire to write “a tart book about sweet things” or craft such sentences as, “Pie can be critiqued as nationalist shorthand.” Come for the pie instruction and recipes and stay for the writing/ideas.

Once home, I spent every morning out in the yard, watering, pruning, and (sometimes) pulling up. This resulted in some bare planters I couldn’t stand to leave bare, so I went to the nursery.

The pickings were slim, and about half of the things I brought home were pretty severely root-bound. I mean, will that basil really grow? Is it too late for it? I don’t know, and I don’t really care. I had to tear out our entire herb garden, and I just really wanted to put something back in it.

Even though we have only one more week until Cane goes back to school, I’m planning to eke out as much summer as I can in the days that remain of it. I’m going to savor what’s still growing, and maybe make another pie, and sit outside as much as possible. Things are still blooming here, and the sun is still shining.

Every teacher you know

Screenshot of a Facebook post from May 24, 2022, with these words: Every teacher you know has thought about it. 
Every teacher you know has a plan for an active shooter. 
Every teacher you know has weighed their point of fight or flight. 
Every teacher you know has walked their room looking for blind spots. 
Every teacher you know has passed their classroom to see what it would look like from the outside. 
Every teacher you know has wondered how fast they can lock a door. 
Every teacher you know has had a talk about the "spread out" or "group together" methods. 
Every teacher you know has gotten jumpy at least once at the sound of a fire alarm, unplanned announcement, or screech from the quad. 
Every teacher you know has wondered if they could be in the way long enough to prevent damage. 
Every teacher you know has thought about how hard it would be to keep 25 young people quiet. 
Every teacher you know has walked into a different classroom and noticed where the doors and windows are. 
Every teacher you know thinks it can happen, so they pray it doesn't. 
Every teacher you know.

This week, a friend shared this Facebook post (again) for reasons I don’t need to explain. It feels futile to write here (again and again and again) about school shootings because what can I say that I haven’t already?

This week, I processed the Nashville school shooting while visiting family in Louisiana. Other than one brief conversation with one person, it didn’t come up in any way. I tried to explain to someone who hasn’t worked in schools what it means to spend your days with children in a place with constant, visible reminders of potential threat, with locked doors and ID badges and cameras and giant TVs displaying grainy images of every entrance to the building. I tried to explain the impact, but I think I failed. I was trying to sound reasonable. I am new to this family, to this place. I am trying to build things, not break them. I did not say what I wrote to my friend who shared the Facebook post about every teacher:

Every teacher you know has complex PTSD that is triggered by every school shooting, even the ones who no longer work in schools.

Sure, not every teacher. But more than most people probably know.

There’s so much to say about what I saw and felt and thought this week, I feel like I’m choking. I want to ask, why aren’t those of us who were in schools before May 21, 1998 screaming and shouting about how important it was to learn in places not locked down like fortresses? What happens when there are no longer enough of us who knew that kind of safety? I want to say that not every teacher prays that it doesn’t happen. I want to tell you about all the billboards I saw with Bible verses on them. I want to tell you about how the town we bought a house in is still segregated by railroad tracks, even though the tracks are now gone. I want to tell you about removing layers of the house to find the story of its history, about stripping down to rebuild. I want to tell you about the ads that came up for bulletproof inserts to put into backpacks, and the pretty blonde Nashville mom who posted about her child who goes to Covenant school, and the Nashville state representative who sent out a Christmas card with a photo of his children posing with guns. I want to talk about how the ugliness I saw in rural Louisiana is different from the ugliness I saw when I came home to urban Portland but that there is ugliness in both places. Beauty, too. I want to talk about poverty and culture and brokenness and politeness and religion and politics and money and burnout and persecution and conspiracy because you can’t really talk about gun violence without talking about all of those things but I can’t talk about all of those things in any coherent way. Not today, at least, when I am feeling so tired and broken. I want to say that this is not just about the south or red states; that’s just where I happened to be last week. These things bleed across the all arbitrary lines we draw between us.

Why do I worry about sounding reasonable in the face of a situation that is anything but?

Last week, I wrote about submitting a micro-essay that received an encouraging rejection and noted that I probably wouldn’t share it here because “It really was of a moment, and the moment has passed….” I wrote it during the winter holiday season, in the wake of a mass shooting at a Walmart in Virginia, and I thought it was no longer quite relevant. (I mean, who even thinks about that shooting now? I had to Google it myself to remember what it was about.)

It occurs to me now that a piece about mass shootings is probably always relevant in the America we currently live in. So, here it is:


This morning I will skate at a rink in a half-dead mall, its anchors having long ago jumped ship. Lights will shine from a fake tree at center ice, soap flake snow will drift from the rafters, and my eyes will scan the faces and bodies of lone men who watch us too long from the upper floors. 

“This place could be a bloodbath,” my coach said a few days ago as the ice became choked with the bodies of students set free for a long holiday weekend. I didn’t tell him about my scanning or my already-planned escape routes, how I’ve wondered if my aging body could carry small children while while running in skates. I didn’t tell him how often I think about the December shooting at another mall down the road just three days before Sandy Hook, the first time I stood in my office in the school library and cried.  

In this week when bullets rained and revelers died and Walmart shoppers dropped and another governor declared that violence has no place in our communities–words empty as the windows of our vacant storefronts, as the ice after a fresh cut–I will swoop and soar and spin at the center that still holds, my flashing blades a defiant middle finger to all that I fear.

After hitting Publish, I am going to think about what resistance might look like today, and I hope you will, too. Have a good one.

Retirement is weird

Technically, I’m still working a little bit, but I’m finally starting to feel retired. And it mostly feels…weird.

I started working in the fall of 1980. I was fifteen, and I got a job at our public library as a page. (It might be the best job I ever had.) The only time I haven’t worked regularly since then was about 4 months in late 1983/early 1984, my first terms in college–when I lived off money I’d saved from my high school job. I did get 6 or so months off when I was on medical and parental leave to have my kids, but even then, I still had a job (which occupied prime mental real estate) and I picked up some freelance editing work.

For 42 (whaaaat?!?) nearly-continuous years, I’ve been exchanging hours of my life for money, and it now feels so damn strange to just…exist. I’m still laboring every day, but I’m usually not getting paid for it by some outside entity, which means that my time belongs to me in ways it never has before, not even when I was a child. I have more freedom and independence than I had then. The thoughts/feelings this has been raising are…unsettling.

Yes, that’s the word. I do not feel very settled lately.

Maybe that’s why I haven’t had many words to share here. The few I have (such as these) I’ve forced out, hoping that the words will beget more words. That I will find my groove, or get it back. It often works that way, especially after a pause, but that’s not been happening. So many things are not working the way I am used to them working.

I am not complaining. I am also not celebrating or savoring or cherishing or regretting or wanting or wishing. I am not feeling any kind of judgement about this state–that it is good, bad, or otherwise. I suppose I am simply being and observing: Life (both internal and external) feels foreign, some place I’ve never before been. Can one be an ex-pat in their own life?

Perhaps I am just detoxing, still. I don’t expect this floaty state to last forever. (Everything passes. That’s one thing I’ve learned.) But this is where I am right now.

A few weeks ago, I had a weekend visit with a cousin I hadn’t seen more than a few times in the last three decades. Despite our 10-year age difference, she is someone I felt close to when very young. For a few years as she transitioned into adulthood, she lived in the town our parents grew up in, where our grandparents still lived, and we knew each other in the ways you can know someone you see often. She painted my nails with polish from her extensive collection and gave me ice cream cones during her shifts at Baskin Robbins (the coolest job ever, even better than my Grandma’s job at the Sears candy counter). When she was living with our grandparents, she let me sleep in her bed with her when I came to visit, and as we talked late into the night she shared stories about her own childhood, which was different from mine in important and eye-opening ways. She was pretty and kind and treated me like a real person, not just a kid. I adored her. (I still do.)

After she married in her later 20s, she moved to another state; it was years–decades?–before I realized she wasn’t moving back. It was even longer before I realized what that would mean for us, and what my own move to another state would mean for my relationships with everyone in my family. For the longest time her move and mine felt temporary to me, like something we were just doing for awhile until we returned to our real life with the family we’d been part of growing up. I didn’t understand that we were each already living our real lives, that we were living them right now, every day, and that each day we lived apart was taking us further away from the time and place where we were young and our grandparents and aunts and uncles were alive and we were all part of each others’ lives in ways that would become impossible to recreate or relive even before the generations ahead of ours began dying.

As she and I sat talking at her kitchen table in the state she moved to more than 40 years ago, sharing stories about our lives past and present, she suddenly interrupted herself: “Where have the years gone?” she asked, and the question wasn’t rhetorical or musing. It was real. It was a genuine wondering, full of bewilderment.

“I don’t know,” I said, and we were both quiet for a moment. I thought about how, in my own 20s, I understood neither what I was exchanging nor what I would (and wouldn’t) get for it. And now, so much (but not all, not all) of what once might have been can now be nothing more than what was. We’ve had the marriages and children and careers we’re going to have, and she missed much of mine and I missed much of hers. Still, she is as important to me now as she ever was, and in my two days with her time was malleable and stretchy and I floated between past and present in ways that are perhaps only possible when the present isn’t so insistent on being our most important reality.

My days are quiet enough for me to see such things clearly now, and perhaps what I am feeling most is curious.

For the first time in 42 years, I don’t have to exchange my life for money. What does that mean? What might it mean? What will I use my life for now, now that I have more choice than I’ve ever had?

I think before I can answer these questions, I need to come to greater understanding of and peace with the exchanges I made for so long they didn’t even feel like choices. (Maybe they weren’t?) I probably need to do some grieving. I for sure need to do some healing. Maybe then I can come to feel more grounded in what remains and in what remains to be seen.

March on

A few days ago Google photos sent me a little overview of the month of March. Back in January, I made a promise to myself to be more present in my days. To notice them more, so that when I got to the end of another year I wouldn’t feel as if they’d all slipped past me when I wasn’t looking.

I wrote a post at the end of that month in which I looked back over it, which was a way of noticing. The days had been short and some weeks even shorter, but the month looked long in the rearview, when I saw how many good things had actually filled its 31 days.

I meant to do the same at the end of February, but you know how things can go. And here it is nearly the middle of April (or it likely will be by the time I get this posted), but it’s not too late to look back at March. (You can do things like this when you’re making up your own rules as you go.)

I had one really big event in March–a trip with the women of my extended family to my great-grandparents’ first home in Croatia–but the rest of the month was full of a rather ordinary kind of good. The first bulbs poked their heads above ground. I ate a great deep-dish pizza at a library training in Chicago. I got to teach some kids how to use databases. My daughter sent me texts and snapchats that made me laugh. The bulbs grew, and I pulled weeds, and I went for a walk where I took photos of modest little houses for a project I started years ago and will likely never do anything with. I got scared by a spider (which wasn’t exactly good but made me laugh) and ate a great donut and then I took a plane (or three) to Croatia. The bulbs fully bloomed while I was gone.

It was a good month. It’s a good life.

The same day that Google reminded me about my month, I came across this article on living “a mediocre life,” which asks:

“What if I am not cut out for the frantic pace of this society and cannot even begin to keep up? And see so many others with what appears to be boundless energy and stamina but know that I need tons of solitude and calm, an abundance of rest, and swaths of unscheduled time in order to be healthy. Body, spirit, soul healthy. Am I enough?”

Solitude. Rest. Calm. Enough.

I’ve caught myself lately saying, “I’m turning into an old person,” in response to such things as being in bed on a Saturday night at 10:00 or really looking forward to eating German pancakes on Sunday morning at a neighborhood bakery. I say it as if doing such things and/or being an old person is a bad thing. But if healthiness rooted in the presence of small, everyday pleasures–as well as the absence of hangovers, headaches, and drama–is part of being an old or boring or mediocre person, well…bring it on.

We don’t ever ask the bulbs in spring if they are enough, or to be more than they are. We just let them unfurl (or not), and accept that whatever they do is what they were meant to do. We don’t curse the tulips and daffodils for being common or for needing certain conditions to grow. When we see them, we’re just grateful that they’re here, again, both testament and witness to another year, and that we didn’t have to do anything extraordinary to make them bloom.

Lately I’ve been wondering if the way we think of seasons as metaphors for our lives might be all wrong. What if the prime of our life is not summer, but winter? I spent a lot of the past two decades with my head buried, living my way through a lot of short, dark days, doing a whole lot of growing and energy gathering in an underground, crocus-ey sort of way. It was not a bad time, but maybe it was not the summer of my life. Maybe this, right now is the springtime of my life. My mediocre life.

Maybe it’s yours, too?

7-Day Book Challenge: Turn Not Pale, Beloved Snail

I stole this book from the King County Library system. I didn’t forget to return it. I didn’t lose it and find it years later. I made a deliberate, conscious, and purposeful decision to keep it because I needed it and back in 1981 I didn’t have any way to get my own, lawfully-owned copy.

I happened upon it by chance; I worked as a page at the Burien library, which was, it seemed to me, a rather twee (though it would be years before I was introduced to the concept of “twee”) job title for those of us who shelved the library’s returned books. Sorting and shelving books was a fabulous way to discover titles I’d never have otherwise found, and this was, perhaps, the best of the treasures I uncovered, for it helped me find a way back to writing.

Kind of ridiculous to think that, at 17, I’d already lost my way as a writer, but I had. Actually, considering all the ridiculous things we do and say to children around the subject of writing, it’s not ridiculous at all. At any rate, I’d lost my way, and this book helped me find it again.

“What do you do with this book? There aren’t any rules. Start anywhere and go anywhere….If a teacher likes the book, don’t let her (or him) shove it down your throat and make lessons out of it, unless that’s the way you want to use it. And tell your teacher, if you have to, that the kind of writing this book is about isn’t a spelling assignment, or a lesson in grammar or handwriting or how to make paragraphs. This writing is to get down your good ideas, and what you think and feel inside.”

–Jacqueline Jackson, Turn Not Pale, Beloved Snail ©1974 Little, Brown and Company

The author, Jacqueline Jackson, wrote children’s books that I didn’t find particularly compelling but this book gave me a vision of what life as a writer could be:  One filled with kids and books and talk about books and humor and joy and mess-ups that were not failures or potential triggers for frightening adult anger but material for great stories. (There’s a whole chapter on the merits of being horrid!)

This was no how-to-be-a-writer guide that required me to live my life as a loaded gun or end it with my tragically young head in an oven. It was a book full of anecdotes and kids and dogs and mishaps and references to books I already loved (Harriet the Spy!) and books I was sure I would love as soon as I read them. A big part of me, even though I was nearly grown, longed to be a child in this household. (Her children had wonderful names–the youngest was Elspeth–and they had a dog named Frodo! Who knew you could do that?) Since it was too late for me to have that kind of childhood, I dreamed that some day I might create such a life for the children I hoped to have.

The title is an allusion to Lewis Carroll’s “The Lobster Quadrille”:  “Turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance,” and this was the first book I read that suggested that the path to writing was not, in fact, to shut oneself up in a room with one’s demons but to enter into life as fully as possible and live to tell the tales. It probably doesn’t seem such radical stuff now, but for a good (read: “compliant”) student in the early 80s struggling with what she’d later know was anxiety and depression, the idea that there was a whole different way to learn about writing and to live as a writer than those I’d been taught was ground-shifting. Life-saving.

The librarian in me now would be perfectly fine with the younger me keeping this book.  (But you don’t have to steal it now. Amazon has multiple old copies available.)

(This was written in response to a Facebook challenge to post photos of the covers of 7 favorite books in 7 days with no commentary. Clearly, I’ve broken the no commentary rule–shocker! I’m not as compliant as I once was and tend not to follow rules that seem arbitrary. Who says the 7 days have to be in a row? And why 7? Not sure how many I’ll do. Feel free to nominate yourself for the challenge.)

Where was your outrage when…?

My children had, in many ways, an idyllic, throw-back childhood. We lived in a small mountain community, where neighborhood kids spent countless low-supervised hours tromping through woods as they acted out epic dramas in imaginary kingdoms built on the banks of the creek and river that ran past our homes.

On the 4th of July, most of us gathered for a parade, led by a local fire truck and an older, beloved couple who dressed as Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty. We all decorated bikes and wagons and walked with the kids and waved to neighbors who lined the streets and waved back. Like something out of a movie about times gone by–except it was our time.

I miss those days.

I miss how sweetly innocent and simple the 4th of July felt then. I miss the optimism I felt for our children’s futures. I miss my ignorance–which was, in many ways, bliss.

Because it’s all different now. My children are grown, and the 4th of July will likely never again be a sweet, simple, or nostalgic holiday for me. This year, I cannot look at this picture of my babies without thinking of the thousands of children currently being held, by my government, in cages away from their parents. I can’t help thinking of their parents and the pain they must be enduring as they imagine that of their children.

To all those who have asked/accused people like me, who are horrified at these actions and are raising our voices against it, Where was your outrage when___ (fill in the blank)? all I can really say is, “You’re right.” They aren’t always right about what actually happened in the past, but their question gets at an important and essential truth:  Our governmental institutions have been responsible for unjust, painful, outrageous actions all through my life, and I did not protest most of them. I didn’t even know about a lot of them.

Recently, my daughter asked me how I could bring children into such a difficult and troubled world (“just the climate issue alone, Mom!”), and the only answer I could give was that I didn’t understand, when I was making that decision, how troubled our world really is. “How could you not?” she demanded of me. “All the information was available.”

She is not wrong.

And I don’t have any kind of good defense. The second time Bush won the presidency through a questionable election, I checked out. I decided my contribution was going to come through my work as an educator and parent, and that that was enough. I stopped paying close attention because paying attention frustrated me and made me feel powerless and because–I understand now, but didn’t then–my privileges shielded me from the impact of so many things that were happening. I told myself that none of it really mattered that much. Life goes on, went on, much as it always had, for me. I checked out because I could. Simple as that.

There’s really no excuse for me not knowing the things I didn’t know then, but I know them now. And you know how it is with so many truths we don’t really want to know:  Once we know them, we can’t un-know them.

I can’t un-know that people of color have a very different lived experience in this country than people who look like me.

I can’t un-know that I have lived my whole life in a country founded on white supremacy, and that race has been at play in every aspect of our history.

I can’t un-know that we are in a place I never thought we could be but that I should have known was possible. The balance of powers is gone, as are collective agreements about how to play fair in a democracy. There appear to be very few checks still in place, and the ones that remain are under attack.

And this is knowledge I cannot simply turn away from, much as part of me wishes I still could.

It is not so much that I’ve become “woke” as that I’ve just started to pay attention again. To pull my head out of the sand. And to all who ask, “Where was your outrage when___?” all I can say is, “Fair question, but it’s a time-waster, a diversion, a straw man.”

That I wasn’t outraged when ____ does not invalidate my outrage now.

Just  because I (and so many others) failed to protest in the past, it does not mean we should be quiet now or that our protest now lacks legitimacy. It does not mean that past wrongs justify current ones. And it does not mean that our outrage now is only because we don’t like your guy. To be clear:  We don’t. He’s a racist, misogynistic, corrupt, dishonest man who’s surrounded himself with people a lot like himself.

The important fact is not that we dislike them as people, but that we don’t like what they are doing. We don’t like elimination of due process, violation of laws, and irreparable psychological damage done to children for political gain. We don’t like their lies and their abuses of power. We don’t like the ways in which they have not played fair. We don’t like any of them because collectively they pose a greater threat to our country than any I’ve ever seen. I like to think we’d be against that no matter who occupied the White House, if we knew about it.

What I know today is that patriotism requires so much more than fireworks and colorful streamers woven through the spokes of a bicycle wheel. It requires that we inform ourselves, seek out truth, and, once we know it, speak it to authority–through our words, our votes, and, if necessary, our protest. As the bumper sticker says, Dissent is Patriotic. Good Lord, as much as our country was founded on white supremacy, it was also founded on dissent. We have always been a complex, contradictory nation, one who idealizes tradition and decorum with the same breath we use to smash them. Our understanding and celebration of our country–our patriotism–should be equally dimensional.

While I’d like to wish you a happy 4th, that doesn’t seem the right sentiment this year. In fact, what I most wish for your 4th is that it be a complicated one, a mix of love and pride and anger and alarm and–above all else–one of resolve to preserve the best of what this day has traditionally stood for. Our children need that from us, much more than they need sparklers and streamers. (But hey, I hope you enjoy the sparklers and streamers. We need those, too.)




The life you save may be your own

“Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice. To love someone is to put yourself in their story, or figure out how to tell yourself their story.

Which means that a place is a story, and stories are geography, and empathy is first of all an act of imagination, a storyteller’s art, and then a way of traveling from here to there. What is it like to be the old man silenced by a stroke, the young man facing the executioner, the woman walking across the border, the child on the roller coaster, the person you’ve only read about, or the one next to you in bed?

We tell ourselves stories in order to live, or to justify taking lives, even our own, by violence or numbness and the failure to live; tell ourselves stories that save us and stories that are the quicksand in which we thrash and the well in which we drown, stories of justification, of accursedness, of luck and star-crossed love, or versions clad in the cynicism that is at times a very elegant garment. Sometimes the story collapses, and it demands that we recognize we’ve been lost, or terrible, or ridiculous, or just stuck; sometimes change arrives like an ambulance or a supply drop. Not a few stories are sinking ships, and many of us go down with these ships even when the lifeboats are bobbing all around us.”
~Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

When I was a girl, stories were everything to me:  solace, companionship, beacon, and guide. Much later, stories literally saved my life.

The story I’ve been telling myself this past week is that we are living in a dark time. I believe this story to be true, even though I’ve wanted to believe otherwise–to believe that, perhaps, I’ve got the story wrong or that I’m not seeing all of it or that I’m giving too much importance to the wrong details. I think there is great danger in telling ourselves stories we want to believe even though they aren’t true. I believe this because of my own story, the harm I’ve done because I believed stories that later collapsed around me.

I am fully cognizant, though, that others in my country are telling themselves an entirely different story about who we are and what is happening to us. About who are the protagonists and antagonists and what the central conflict is, about whether that conflict is internal or external.

While there is so much I don’t know, and the versions of the dark story I am telling myself shift so much that I can’t seem to chart a constant course through it–some days fired up to take action and others so hopeless I retreat to silence and solitude–one thing I always believe in is the power of story to shape story.

So many of the stories I grew up believing have proven to be false. So many of the stories I’ve told myself have, the past few years, turned out to be fairy tales or myths or wishes more than truths.  The wonderful thing about being a writer, a teller of stories, though, is that you know revision is always an option. When we are open to the stories of others, we always run the risk that it will change our own–that we will realize we have to “kill our darlings,” perhaps throw out whole chapters or abandon what once seemed like the whole point of the thing. To some, I guess, this feels like ruin. We love our stories, and we don’t want them to change. But to me, it feels like possibility and relief. How amazing and interesting and freeing, that none of us are the sole authors of our plot line or themes, that it is always something we create in concert and collaboration with others, that a plot twist we never anticipated can save us. It’s such a burden, isn’t it, to feel that we alone must carry the weight of writing our own story? Maybe we can set that one down.

Whatever story you are telling yourself now, what I hope is that you will tell it to others, that we will all tell our stories to each other and listen to them with empathy. I hope you will listen most to the stories of reliable narrators, those who are seeing clearly rather than clinging to sinking ships and in their panic thrashing at and pushing under those who are in the water to save them. I hope we can collectively write and tell and share our way to a lighter time, to a narrative in which we strapped our lifeboats together and hauled into them as many of us as they could hold.


Getting collective with it

As promised in my last post, I’m working on launching a project and I want this project to be a collective effort. I’m reaching out to ask for your support and expertise.

I’m looking for adult/young adult fiction/memoir that illuminates the experience of Americans in the following categories: immigrant, refugee, Muslim, African-American, disabled, Native American, Asian, women, LGBT. I’m interested in any group targeted in the election campaign and/or vulnerable if proposed policies are implemented.

I’m most interested in contemporary works that depict current American lives, and I’d like a range of ages for the main characters. Please share any titles you’d recommend in the comments.

Thank You!