A post in which the F-word appears. Repeatedly.

What a week, eh?

Maybe I’d have had more time to write something that matters more than this post will if I hadn’t spent so many minutes of it washing my hands. With most of the US coronavirus deaths happening just a few hours north of us and with a local school temporarily closing its doors due to a positive case in the household of a school employee, the epidemic and its possible (likely?) impacts has felt both wildly imminent and strangely distant. Most of us are all still going about our daily lives just as we always have–except, with more handwashing. I work in a school, where our custodian now wipes down my door handle and light switch daily. The idea that we might face a prolonged time not at school feels unreal, as does the idea that the daily wipe down is going to have much impact on whether or not we do.

In the meantime, it became clear this week that we will once again have as our president a doddering old white man, just in case anyone is still maybe on the fence about the idea that we are a patriarchal white supremacy. Yeah, yeah, yeah I’m gonna vote to remove the orange white guy (vote blue no matter who!), but goddamnfuckit I am so angry.

You wouldn’t know it to look at me. I mean, I’m one of those reasonable, smart, educated, competent, hard-working white women who believed for most of my life that all we had to do was work hard and know the necessary things and be good at what we do and EVERYTHING WOULD WORK OUT. Five+ decades of training and grooming and pruning leaves its mark, and so those who know me IRL (or even online) probably haven’t seen the rage that’s boiling on the inside. And who am I kidding to think that anyone really cares about the rage of a white, middle-class, middle-aged woman? I mean, sometimes even I kind of hate most of us, so, I get it–all of it. Moving on…

Aside from washing my hands of things (both literally and figuratively) this week, and trying to do good work at work, and paying bills, and being as good a mom, partner, daughter, and friend as I could manage, I didn’t do a whole lot of reading or thinking or writing. I didn’t make it to the gym, either, but I did take a two-mile walk one sunny afternoon and on another one I filled up the compost bin with the weird, wormy-looking things a giant tree drops all over my yard, which sounds like work but didn’t feel like work. I think I’m abandoning self-care that feels like work. At least until I can let up on the handwashing.

What I did this week instead was bust out needle and thread. I found a book about stitching on canvas, something that’s never occurred to me as a possibility. Why? I don’t know why. Too busy following the rules, maybe–not that this is such a ground-breaking or wild idea. I had a grubby old canvas from some long-abandoned earlier project lying around, so I covered it with the only acrylic paint I had that wasn’t a globby, chunky mess and I drew a house (from a photo from another long-abandoned earlier project) on it, and I started stitching. At the end of my days I did not read or write; I watched TV that made me feel good (season 3 of Better Things and season 1 of HGTV’s Home Town, the juxtaposition of which probably says more about my inner state than any of the words I’m writing here) and stabbed that canvas repeatedly with a needle.

At work I had a conversation with a colleague about the idea of decolonizing education, the topic of a workshop she recently attended. We explored what that might look like in practice and planned a research unit for her students with that idea as our foundation. We talked about what people who have endured colonization have done to endure it and, as much as possible, be OK in it. We talked about how, in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, so many white women were so freaked out. I shared that I was one of them, but that I have realized since then that the people of color I was talking with in those early days and weeks of the current administration were not freaking out.

My colleague, a woman of color, just smiled. “Yes,” she said.

“I realize now,” I said, “that for them, what was happening was bad, but also business as usual.”

“Yes,” she said, still smiling.

“And I think,” I said, “the problem for white people, maybe especially white women of my generation, is that we haven’t ever had to develop such coping mechanisms, not really. We don’t know how to be OK in the presence of truly knowing the ways in which we are powerless against forces that don’t care about us and are using their power against us. Because we haven’t really seen it until now.”

“Yes,” she said, still smiling. It was a kind smile. Maybe the kind you give a child, but maybe not. It’s hard for me to know.

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that I am returning to a craft of my childhood to help me cope with all kinds of things. Honestly, I don’t really care to explore that idea too deeply. It’s not a particularly interesting one and the answer to the question inherent in it doesn’t really matter.

My needlework doesn’t have to mean anything. It doesn’t have to be good (a good thing, because it’s not really) or do good in some way that extends beyond me. It is not going to be the beginning of some life- or world-altering something, and I’m not going to become a craftivist. Because I don’t think cross-stitching “fuck the patriarchy” on pillows and such is going to do much to end it. Although, maybe it’s activism if it helps others endure it. I dunno. I don’t think my embroidery is going to either heal anyone or inspire them to revolt, which is OK because that’s not what it has to do.

All the embroidery has to do is keep me going. Because even if the world doesn’t much care for or about hard-working, competent women who actually know what the fuck they are talking about and have a fucking plan to fucking get things done (like take care of sick people and educate kids and maybe not kill the planet), we know that we need to keep going. We know we have to take care of ourselves so we can keep holding shit together for the people who are depending upon us to do so (which includes ourselves). And because life is short and to abandon the joys we can extract from it, even in the shadow of pandemics and bloviating old white men, is to give said men even more power over us than that which they’ve taken.

And why in the fuck would we want to do that?

A few dots…

Something to watch: Warren: Just a Little Longer… (“Persist.”)

Something to look at: A photographer’s parents wave farewell (“At the end of their daughter’s visits, like countless other mothers and fathers in the suburbs, Dikeman’s parents would stand outside the house to send her off while she got in her car and drove away. One day in 1991, she thought to photograph them in this pose, moved by a mounting awareness that the peaceful years would not last forever.”)

Something to short read: Anne Lamott on Forgiveness, Self-Forgiveness, and the Relationship Between Brokenness and Joy (“This is how most of us are — stripped down to the bone, living along a thin sliver of what we can bear and control, until life or a friend or disaster nudges us into baby steps of expansion. We’re all both irritating and a comfort, our insides both hard and gentle, our hearts both atrophied and pure.”)

Something to long read: Erosion: Essays of Undoing (“People often ask us how we can stay buoyant in the face of loss, and I don’t know what to say except the world is so beautiful even as it burns, even as those we love leave us, even as we witness the ravaging of land and species, especially as we witness the brutal injustices and deep divisions in this country…”)

Also, I’m growing things.

12 thoughts on “A post in which the F-word appears. Repeatedly.

  1. Kari Wagner Hoban says:

    So much to say but I always struggle to address all things in these types of posts. Of which I adore, by the way. Although you already kow this because tater tots. 😉

    I am now watching Better Thngs again. I found it right after I had dropped Anna off at college a year and a half ago. It was the episode where Sam drops Max off at college, loved it then DVR’ed it to watch is properly from the beginning. Thanks to you I found it on Hulu and watched four episodes last night with Mike.

    I also love Home Town too; much more real than Joanna and Chip although I do like them too.

    I thought about you when the Seattle area was being swallowed by the COVID crisis. It has made my anxiety go fucking bonkers.

    I hate how helpless I have felt over the past four years and now with this epidemic, I realize that feeling helpless has also made my anxiety go through the roof.

    Sending you peace. So much peace that we all so desperately need.
    Kari Wagner Hoban recently posted…I Hate Painting FurnitureMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      That episode where she drops Max off? I only saw it a few weeks ago and my daughter is about to graduate (WOW that was a fast four years!) and it STILL got me so hard in the feels. And I wasn’t even the one who got to drop my daughter off. Just, that last scene where her daughter ditched her for her new friends? Yeah. So absolutely how you want it to be and so gutting at the same time. I love this show, and am so happy that I don’t have to wait a whole year now to watch the new season now airing.

      Also, I do not love Chip and Joanna at all, but I really like Erin and Ben. I like them because they are so genuinely nice to each other and build each other up. I’ve always hated how Chip is portrayed as a doofus. No, doofus men-children are not adorable. I also like Home Town better because their houses don’t all look the same when they’re done. They seem to more authentically preserve what can be preserved and create a home that fits the new owner’s style. I’ve only watched part of the first season, so I don’t know if that continues, but I hope so.

      I’m sorry all of this is triggering your anxiety. It is weirdly not doing that to me. I know it should, but it’s not. I am sick of washing my hands, but I read a great piece about how we should realize we are not doing it for ourselves (if we’re not in a high-risk category) but for those who are high-risk. Somehow, that makes it easier for me to do. (Let’s not dig too deeply into what that says about me, mkay?)

      We’ll just keep tater-totting our way through, and we’ll get through. Sending you love–

  2. Kate says:

    I’ve been watching your area and thinking of you…keep washing those hands!

    I haven’t read your links yet, because you packed so much in your post. But a lot of what you wrote…well, you write more eloquently than I think…but it’s captures what’s tumbling around inside my head.

    When EW dropped out I just…sighed resignedly.. She blew away debates. She had plans. I may not have agreed with everyone of her plans and she wasn’t even my first choice but damn if she wasn’t qualified. I know, I know “vote blue no matter who” but…not a single candidate I support is standing and now I don’t want to choose. I just don’t want to. I want to topple things over and burn things down. In the last four years I’ve come to understand rioting. (And toddlers.) Democracy may be the best system out there, but it sucks.

    I watched a recent multipart doc on Hillary (Hulu) this weekend and it has a pro-Hillary lens but it made me realize how much CRAP I had internalized in the 80’s and 90’s as a kid with fundamentalist Christian parents. (The baking cookies comment caused SO much outrage in our house – my mom even mentioned it when she ran for President AND my mom was NOT a stay at home parent.) So much unlearning!!!

    Anyway…I love your canvas embroidery and your growing things. And your thoughts. And these Sunday posts.

    • Kate says:

      Came back to add that the photographs of her parents – when it was just her mother, and then when she was in the chair, and then empty driveway…I started crying. Such a sweet and beautiful memory….

      • Rita says:

        The empty driveway really got to me. As did thinking about how my grandparents always stood on their back stoop next to the driveway to wave us off, and how my parents have always stood on the porch next to their driveway to do the same. And how I stood on my front porch just a few months ago to wave good-bye to son when he headed back to his base after the holidays. Everything is so temporary, isn’t it? And that’s such a large part of what makes it beautiful.

    • Rita says:

      Our democracy as we are currently practicing it does, indeed, suck. Humans are generally not altruistic, so the idea that we will freely make decisions in the best interests of most of us is stupidly naive (imo). We need such things as the FCC regulations about political messages on the airwaves (equal time for opposing views) that were abolished in the 80s and gave rise to Fox News and CNN. We need to over-turn the Supreme Court ruling that spending = free speech and that corporations have the same free speech rights as individual human beings. Now that we’ve decided we have to educate everyone (a relatively new idea), we need to get real about the levels of funding (and teacher training/compensation) required to do so and allocate resources accordingly (so that we can have an educated populace, a foundation for healthy democracy).

      So, yeah. What you said. I am both wanting to burn things down and terrified that things will burn down. The Hillary documentary is on my watch list, but I’m not sure when I’ll get to it. My watching is of a different feel currently, so we’ll see. But also: I have also been a little horrified in recent years to understand how much I’d internalized from the 70s-90s (and, let’s be honest, and beyond) that I couldn’t see then that feels so glaringly obvious now. And I wasn’t raised in a fundamentalist Christian home. The backlash against the baking cookies comment was more a source of outrage than the comment itself, and still I can’t believe how differently I see things now than I did then. Lots of burning already going on. I guess what I want is a contained fire, which is probably why I supported Warren.

      Anyway, thanks for writing. I really appreciate knowing that I can find people all across the country, with backgrounds much different from mine, who see things much as I do. It gives me hope.

  3. Denis G says:

    Hey Rita I am an old white male, you have something to say but are’nt saying it . You complain like most Americans who are unhappy with the present situation, and that is ok only one problem those that complain should also have the wherewithal to at least trie and trie again to come up with some kind of solution to the problem. Like get involved, vote for the right reason, act responsively not just out of anger . What was that native story the beast that wins is the one you feed. Sorry I am not a writer or a thinker like you…wish I was!….

    • Rita says:

      Hey Denis,
      Maybe the problem isn’t with what I’m saying or how I’m saying it or that I’m not saying “it” (whatever you think “it” is). Maybe you just aren’t hearing it?

      Where I work, a common agreement for meetings is that we “listen to understand.” The idea is that we listen not for things we can argue with or use to make our own point, but listen to truly understand what the other person is saying. Maybe you could try a little harder to do that?

  4. Marian says:

    Oh so much to comment on here, Rita. I had been wondering how far you were from that pocket of COVID. Now I know. Stay safe, Rita.

    On the stitching: it’s weirdly coincidental that one of the sentences I thought of (for your last post) but didn’t list (because how to choose just six when you’ve got hundreds swirling in your over-thinking brain?), was this one: “You’ll be okay.” This was spoken to me when I was about 18, when I was most decidedly NOT okay and had never actually been okay, and although it was my dad who said it, it could easily have been my mom. (They were both fond of making pronouncements and didn’t seem to care whether there was any evidence to back up their words.) Anyway, the thing he was referring to was the fact that my hands were *always* busy stitching something. There was something in that pronouncement that jarred me and angered me, and although I didn’t have the words back then to frame what I felt, I now understand that somewhere deep inside I realized that my parents (and our fucked-up household) had provided both the injury and the cure. I think it’s easy to dismiss stitchery—or any other type of craft that isn’t mainly done by men—but I think stitchery—or any small, repetitive, purposeful thing—actually can play a tremendous role in keeping us sane.

    On who cares what white, middle-class, middle-aged women think: I run the considerable risk of being labelled a fragile white person, but I think anytime we dismiss someone’s thoughts because of the colour of their skin, we run the risk of diminishing their humanity and their lived experience. This, to me, is a really dangerous thing. We absolutely DO need to wake up and truly see the way the world operates—the power, the privilege, and the corruption, both historical and current—but we also need to realize we’re all individuals, and that humans have it in them to be both loving and barbaric. I’m the daughter of a German who had older siblings in the Hitler Youth, and what I see happening in the States right now chills me to the bone.

    • Rita says:

      The idea that something is both injury and cure–that stands out to me. And I’m thinking now about my great-grandmothers and grandmothers, all of whom did needlework of various kinds and endured challenges far greater than mine (or mine so far). And the conversation I had with my colleague about how colonized people have endured–it has been through tradition, and food, and art, and community. I’m thinking about how knitting and other needle crafts have seen a resurgence since the Great Recession, and why that might be (other than for practical reasons).

      My comment about no one caring about women like us was partly tongue-in-cheek (as much of my posts typically are), but, yes to what you are saying. I’m the grand-daughter of a first-generation German, and lessons from WWII were woven into the fabric of my childhood, mostly by him. I believe he would be appalled by what is happening here. Humor (dark as mine can lean) is another coping mechanism (one I learned early through those same women), and it, too, has been both injury and cure. Part of the reason I am so angry right now is that we so desperately need leaders who can help us find a way out of this forest we’ve gotten lost in. And I’m not confident that any of the people we are down to can do it.

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