Getting through the Daze

How are you getting through these scary times — times that find us wrestling with an evil virus and significant (and necessary) political unrest and calls to action? If I ponder too long on the surreal times we are living in my brain starts to warp. My unconscious reaction (I’ve just realized it, so now it’s conscious ;.)) has been to return to a favorite playtime from my childhood: dress-up. Back in the mid to late 70s, my mom provided me and my brother a wonderful brown box called the “dress-up box.” This sturdy box had an odd waxy exterior to it, with a lid that was easy to pull off and on. When afternoons dragged in the summer or winter months, out came the dress-up box. It was here that my current love of vintage nightgowns was born. Of the many treasures in the dress-up box, one was a silky bottle-green nightgown that had a wispy layer of sheer material over the skirt and a lace bodice. Of course, it was way too long and I’d stumble down the hallway, tripping over the slippery material with the straps falling off my little shoulders, but oh did I love this nightgown! I was QUEEN! Other treasures that my brother and a selection of young friends and faux-cousins all put on at some point included an Army shirt, red pointy heels that were meant for no human to actually walk in, some of Dad’s cast-off oxfords, a kimono, yellow house dress, many plastic necklaces, and variety of costume jewelry in loud and cheerful colors.

It seems I’ve returned to this childhood practice to brighten up my mornings as I get ready for work. I’ve pretty much given up lipstick, my favorite makeup, since masks rub it off and there doesn’t seem to be a point to wearing it, as when I do see people I’m masked. I’m trying to learn how to do eye shadow, but part of me doesn’t care. But since I’m an avid thrifter, my closet has now evolved into the dress-up box of latter years. Today I took a picture of my outfit, giggling with delight at my semi-Betty Draper look: a vintage green & white flower dress with plastic embellishments on the neckline ($3), wonderful mules from Italy ($4) that I’ll only wear for half the day (I brought my flats), and pearl earrings from a wedding I was in long ago. Who will see me? Not many people – probably just my colleague who is in the office next to me, offices that are above a stairwell flanked by locked doors. Meetings are online or by phone, so this dress-up is just for me – to lift my spirits as I walk through these traumatic times. I challenge you to find something you loved as a child and return to it – incorporate it into your day, because the childlike joy you experience will be so worth it. Now, go “dress-up” or break out the crayons, the finger-paint, the Lincoln Logs or badminton set. I promise, it’ll be worth it! 

Thoughts on Coping

I read an article this morning on how to avoid the pandemic stress from engulfing me. It had a few good pointers, but they were all focused on ways to move out of the stress. While I agree with the steps shared (you can read the article here), it omitted the value of just letting the grief, anxiety, and (let’s be honest) rage, pour over. I know that as an introvert and empath (not to mention one who battles depression), that I’m super in-tune to all the feels out there in our world. And this does not even include my personal life: changes in how I “go” to work, my baby boy now a high school graduate with no traditional celebration or family gathering, my daughter off at her last semester of college that may or may not have in-person classes in the fall. Changes in the economy that change my husband’s income. Immunocompromised family and friends. The fact that my favorite writing event, Mountain Heritage Lit Festival at LMU had to be canceled for this summer, meaning I’ll miss my most dear community of friends and the new ones I always make, and the great writers I meet and learn from. It’s crushing. When I’m feeling all of these emotions, advice to write down a gratitude list seems juvenile and ineffective at best. Don’t get me wrong, it has its benefits. I’ve done it. But I have to be in another state of mind and emotion to do so and gain the benefits.

So I let it roll over me. The tears, the confusion, the rage, the lack of control (while also re-realizing any version of control I thought I had was an illusion). That’s a lot to take in. But a good bit of crying and/or solo time is a huge balm to dealing with all my emotions, and I think every list out there should include such. To ignore or suppress our grief and shock of the state of our world at the moment would be detrimental. So cry. Go chop wood. Yell. Dance. Listen to loud-ass music. Make art. Do something every day to acknowledge and release the pain, and then do something that brings you joy. That’s my map forward. I hope I can keep steady on it. Today will include reflection, and when work is complete, time in the garden. Love to you all.

The Art of Losing

On my trip to the post office, one of the few places I go to during this pandemic, I noticed the corner drugstore had Passport Pics Made Here on its marquee. What a strange time to advertise travel abroad, when we are safer sheltering at home.

I also noted that the new Popeye’s eatery had not just one but two rows of cars circling it. There’s something to that – the fact that those eager to eat at a new dining facility in our small town are patient enough to organize in a double line. I hope we (as a world) can mimic that cooperation as we move through these stressful times. I’ve never eaten at a Popeye’s. Not that I’m not a fan of eating out. I am. In fact, I’ve been astonished by how much food a family of four who is home almost 24/7 consumes. To get a break from cooking and dreaming up meals (and I have to give credit to the husband who does 99% of the cooking and 100% of shopping), we’ve ordered off and on from local restaurants. It makes me happy to have a break from cooking and cleaning, and it also makes me happy to support local businesses who’ve been slammed by this pandemic that touches everything – bodies, economies, psyches.

I started the pandemic stay-at-home/work-from-home process quite upbeat. I’m an introvert. I am blessed to have a home in a rural part of north Georgia with a pond and four acres to wander around on. Spring gifts are abundant: the patches of purple lobelia in the grass, the Japanese Magnolia pink and cheerful, and a dogwood that seemed to want to comfort us: her blazing white blossoms held on for weeks, stopping us all, from ages 18 to 55, each time we looked at her through the kitchen window.

For a time to be sheltering-in, I have it good in more than one way. I have a job. My family has remained healthy so far. But the hit to the economy has hurt us all. My husband has taken a part-time job at the local grocery store, as his main income has slowed to a crawl. My daughter is too far from her Athens office to go in, and my son’s part-time job has also slowed considerably, not to mention that he is also a Type 1 diabetic. High risk. So the worries are heavy. I do not believe things will return to as they were. In fact, I’m preparing otherwise. As Elizabeth Bishop writes in “One Art,” “the art of losing isn’t hard to master,” but of course it is. She knew this as she crafted her famous villanelle, and we all know this from personal experience.

For a few years I’ve been wearing a fitness tracker. It’s one I researched and spent money on because it met my needs and it was aesthetically pleasing – not just a typical black band with a digital printout. I took it off this week. I was too attached to it – checking my exercise, my stress levels, my hours of sleep. While helpful at times, I realized that I knew if I listened to my body and worked it like I should, I would be fine without this lovely attachment. At first it felt odd. The skin underneath is paler than the rest of my arm. My arm feels lighter, like a small weight has been removed. At first I felt “off”.  But now I’ve grown to like the feeling. I guess this is akin to the Christian practice of Lent, where one gives up something they like for an amount of time. But I plan on giving up my tracker for the foreseeable future. For me, letting go of this device that I really didn’t need after getting into the habit of daily walking, is a way to symbolically let go of a thing I was attached to. Yes, I still like my tracker. It’s pretty. But I’m not allowing it back on my arm. I’m practicing letting go and living in a different manner, because my gut tells me this is a necessary approach to the current pandemic we are in, and will benefit me as things shift once again.

Yes, it’s a baby step. A letting go of a device that is somewhat frivolous. But because of my psychological and physical attachment to it, it is a valid step. It allows me to practice being (as in existing) in a new way that was first somewhat uncomfortable. I’ve grown to like it. To take pride in trusting myself to get at least 20 minutes of exercise a day, to trust that I know what my stress level is without checking a device, to trust that upon waking I know if I’m rested or not, regardless of hours slept (or not).

I’m embracing this tiny change. And as we move forward in the world – a world that will not be the same — I am having a somewhat smoother time imagining how I can evolve. What life will be like?  How will we pay the bills? How will we float above the fear and anxiety of this collective trauma? How will we honor and allow the bad days and feelings to wash over us, but not pull us down? Giving something up that I wanted and thought I needed has helped me put a toe over that threshold of the unknown, with my own agency and intention leading the way. May it be the first of an evolution that, in the long run, will help me live each day with an eye of gratitude, patience, and creativity.

 

 

What I Read in 2017

My friend Denton Loving published his list of books read in 2017, and reading his inspired me to do my own (Thanks, Denton). While I failed to keep my blog as updated as I would like, the good news is that I never stopped reading, even with all the challenges and joys daily life allots. So below is my list, and today I start my 2018 list! Happy New Year to all!

  1. Sex Object, Jessica Valenti
  2. The Girls, Emma Kline
  3. The Unbearable LIghtness of Being, Milan Kundera
  4. How to Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran
  5. MicroFiction, Jerome Stern, editor
  6. The Folded Clock, Heidi Julavits
  7. Ongoingness, Sarah Manguso
  8. I’m Supposed to Protect You from All of This, Nadja Speigelman
  9. Fast Girl, Suzy Faror Hamilton
  10. So Sad Today, Melissa Broder
  11. Evacuation, Wendy Ortiz
  12. Birds of Opulence, Crystal Wilkinson
  13. Inertia: A Study, Melissa Helton
  14. All Fall Down, Jennifer Weiner
  15. Department of Speculation, Jenny Offil
  16. Paint It Black, Janet Fitch
  17. i hate to see the evening sun go down, William Gay
  18. A Really Good Day, Ayelet Waldman
  19. Stag’s Leap, Sharon Olds
  20. Past Perfect, Cate McDowell
  21. Fierce Attachments, Vivian Gornick
  22. Dreadful Wind and Rain, Diane Gilliam
  23. The Camera My Mother Gave Me, Susanna Kaysen
  24. Imagine me Gone, Adam Haslett
  25. Innocents and Others, Dana Spiotta
  26. The Hot One, Carolyn Murnick
  27. South & West, Joan Didion
  28. More, Now, Again, Elizabeth Wurtzel
  29. Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward
  30. Heating and Cooling, Beth Ann Fennelly
  31. Misfits Manifesto, Lidia Yuknavitch
  32. My Fair Junkie, Amy Dresner
  33. Transit, Rachel Cusk
  34. Someone with a Little Hammer, Mary Gaitskill
  35. Chanel Bonfire, Wendy Lawless
  36. Sunshine State, Sarah Gerard
  37. The Guardians, Sarah Manguso
  38. 300 Arguments, Sarah Manguso
  39. Bukowski in a Dress, Kim Addonizio

 

Gypsy Moths and Radio Talk

Remember the days when you paid a small fee and CDs showed up in the mail?  Sometimes they’d pile up, with little time to extract them from their nail-breaking plastic wrap.  I was not familiar with Chris Cornell until a few years ago, when another writer waxed on about Soundgarden. I decided to give the group a try. Didn’t grab me. But shortly after, I stumbled on an unwrapped Out of Exile, Audioslave, hiding among the CDs I’d moved around with more than once. Things changed.

I was unaware that Chris Cornell was the lead singer of both groups, and for reasons I cannot yet articulate, I prefer Audioslave to Soundgarden. I cannot tell you Cornell’s long and rich history – that’s not what this post is about. It’s about discovering a voice that provided both relief and connection, and the sadness that there will be no more vocals from that source – a relationship, a life, that has ended too early.

I grew up with funk, hip-hop, and rap. My first concert was Lionel Richie and the Pointer Sisters. After that, Fat Boys and Whodini. Then, the ultimate: Prince (still reeling). Obviously, my musical background was not pure rock and roll. I played catch-up in college, starting with Steve Miller, on to Zepplin and another favorite, Hendrix. I scoured the vinyl my husband owns, which ranges from The Beatles, Waylon Jennings, Molly Hatchet, to Mother’s Finest (and all of Prince). Newer rock simply had not made it into my repertoire, and that writer whose admiration for Cornell’s vocals and lyrics prompted me to listen for myself.

Hence, the synchronicity of finding that unwrapped CD in my own dusty collection – particularly during a time when the CD player lies dormant, my cell phone my source of music. I may have been about ten years late in discovering Cornell’s voice, but that became a moot point. I listened. I balked at what I’d been missing.

The connection we make with voices and lyrics is, in a large part, personal. What makes me like the songs on Out of Exile ?  Cornell’s voice. It’s the vulnerability that it exudes – an excruciating balance of the masculine and the feminine, mixed with the authenticity and rawness of his vocals against screaming guitars. He soars and slays, and offers no apologies for what he conjures. His vocals were/are a vehicle for the fragile self that battles with the stuff of life. May he rest in peace, and may all of your tomorrows shine.

To Macro or Micro Dose?

In my year of women, I’m reading books written only by women, and I had a fun juxtaposition recently. Because I’m constantly drawn to memoir, I downloaded Cat Marnell’s, How to Murder Your Life. I read this book, though, after reading A Really Good Day by Ayelet Waldman. Both books are about drug use, but along different lines. Marnell chronicles abuse alongside what it’s like to be a beauty editor for a magazine (all that swag!), and Waldman documents her heavily researched use of micro-dosing to treat depression, along with delving into laws, discrimination, and some myth-busting around LSD and other drugs that society has deemed inexcusable. It was somewhat like a roller coaster ride to read these two back-to-back: Marnell is very fond of the exclamation point!!! And she does not hesitate to use it! Often! I had to adapt to this, but grew to appreciate the candor (along with the horror) of much of what she survived. I also got a glimpse into the world of magazines and fashion that I’ve never seen. I related more to Waldman, though, because I, too, deal with depression and PMDD, and reading her book made me reconsider my biases and beliefs when it comes to LSD, and allowed me to see how a small dose of such could have extremely positive results (but too bad, as it’s illegal and we’re all out of luck until the laws change). Waldman adds to the memoir structure by including a good deal of research, which really adds depth to the subject material; she moves between the personal and society-at-large very well. I recommend both books, and enjoyed the juxtaposition of reading them back to back.

Current reading is Sharon Old’s Stag’s Leap (thanks to my pal Julia who gifted me a copy). I’d had this on my list for a long time, but am happy to have a physical copy. Because I’m impatient and live in a rural area, I still download a good number of books. However, when I love one, I must own it. Therefore, a shout-out to a book of essays on depression (and so much more) that I read at the tail end of last year that was quite powerful: Melissa Broder’s, So Sad Today. It’s on my iPad, but now I must have a physical copy for my bookshelf.

Here’s to more sunny weather (and warmer) and, just as importantly, to good books!

 

Have You Met Alice?

Today’s post is about a woman I should have heard of, but have not. She is, for a large part, the reason why women have the right to vote, which was a 72 year battle that ended on August 26, 1920, with the passing of the 19th amendment. It just so happens that August 26 is Women’s Equality Day in the U.S. (Yet another fact I did not know.)

In light of the recent event where Mitch McConnell silenced Elizabeth Warren from reading a letter from civil rights activist Coretta Scott King (a silencing that he did not extend to his male counterparts, and a silencing that inevitably backfired), I think recognizing Alice Paul’s contribution to the equality of the sexes is very timely, as there’s still progress to be made (for example, how women earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man).  Interestingly, Alice Paul was raised as a Hicksite Quaker. The Hicksite Friends “endorsed the concept of gender equality as a central tenet of their religion and a societal norm of Quaker life” and it is obvious that this belief in equality influenced Alice throughout her life, worldviews, and activism.

While Paul led a comfortable life, she did not sit on her heels. After spending time in England and witnessing the suffragist movement there, Alice went from being “reserved” to being a “militant suffragist.” While in England, Paul joined up with the Pankhurst suffragettes, whose motto was “Deeds not words,” and this often meant the breaking of windows, heckling, and the use of other means to raise awareness of the suffrage movement. There were arrests, hunger strikes, and imprisonment. While in prison, Paul saw the following quote written on the cell wall, “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God,” a phrase that appears to be attributed in similar forms to both Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.  The phrase was also used by Susan B. Anthony (another activist for women’s rights who was a Quaker and whose name is much more familiar).

While there was some fracture in the various strategies among suffragists groups to attain equality for women in the U.S., Paul eventually formed the National Woman’s Party in 1916. This group was often deemed “unpatriotic” for picketing during wartime, and the women were often jailed. They even marched on Pennsylvania Avenue during President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration (unfortunately, that march ended with physical violence against the women). After being imprisoned in the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia, Paul and her comrades went on a hunger strike. The conditions of the Workhouse were unsanitary, the women were often beaten, and public outcry led to their release. At this point, President Wilson “reversed his position and announced his support” and in 1919, the House and Senate passed the 19th Amendment. It was then ratified in 1920 (thanks to Harry Burn’s mother, who asked her son on the Tennessee assembly to support the amendment).

Did Alice Paul stop with the 19th Amendment?  No. She pushed on. She persisted.  And, to this day, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), rewritten in 1943 as, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex” has yet to be ratified. Many Southern states have failed to support such.  It is obvious that the need to persist continues. Silencing someone for gender, sexual orientation, skin color, religious preference, etc. is not acceptable. While McConnell may have stopped Warren from reading King’s letter with his sexist rebuke, he only amplified the need to persist, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” McConnell’s sexism led to a timely reminder to women and other disenfranchised groups that persistence can, and does, pay off.  

Persist.

 

 

Source sites:

Who Was Alice Paul?

Women’s Policy Research

Danse Sauvage

This is a part of a series of brief posts I’ll be doing that feature women — as writers, creatives, world-changers, or everyday people who’ve made a difference, yet we’ve likely not heard of them.

Today we celebrate Josephine Baker. I was thrilled to draw Josephine’s card not only because it is Black History Month, but also because Josephine was part of the Resistance – the French Resistance in WWII – and she is an inspiration to me as I also resist.

One of the things that appeals to me about Josephine is that she was multi-faceted: a performer who was both comical and sensual, a woman who did not depend on a male partner for financial stability (back when it was even harder to do so), and a woman who  vociferously opposed racism. While she saw success in the US as a performer, she was an overnight hit in Paris. One of her most creative costumes was one of bananas strung into a skirt. Josephine was so popular that she was photographed as often as Gloria Swanson and Mary Pickford, and in 1927 she “earned more than any entertainer in Europe.”

Josephine had nicknames such as “Black Venus, “ “Black Pearl,” and “Creole Goddess,” and she hailed from St. Louis, Missouri.  Of the many youtube videos I watched, this is one of my favorites.

So, in short: resist.  Dance.  And be sure to mix some humor into your life amid the stress. As Josephine saidSurely the day will come when color means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul; when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.

Fannie Lou

This is a part of a series of brief posts I’ll be doing that feature women — as writers, creatives, world-changers, or everyday people who’ve made a difference, yet we’ve likely not heard of them.

Imagine going into surgery to have a tumor removed, only to wake and find out that you’ve also had your reproductive organs removed without your consent.

Imagine that you lose your job and get kicked off the land you’ve farmed for over two decades for simply driving to the county courthouse and registering to vote.

Imagine that while you were sick and tired of being sick and tired, you still fought for civil rights, even after being shot at and jailed.

Imagine being beaten so badly you suffered from permanent kidney damage.

Imagine the power and tenacity it took to be Fannie Lou Hamer, a black woman who took her rage and defiance and turned it into energy and actions that led to securing voting rights for African Americans and the creation of economic and community programs.

Imagine that, and act.