It’s gotten easier and easier to get to bed earlier. In fact, during the pandemic, it’s been mission-critical. When I first decided on the tagline for this blog, my first blog of 19 albeit now abandoned blogs, I’d accepted the challenge of living with simplicity as a no-brainer. How naive I was! Which is not to say I’m measurably less so now. Motherhood is far more instructive than the pursuit of a terminal degree. Both however attempt to devour you bodily, one from the inside, the other from without. But what they say about an un-examined life is damningly accurate and who has time for both reflection and children? Okay. I hear you shouting, “Toni Morrison!” Why does everyone insist on using The Exception against the rest of us! I know. She didn’t start writing until middle age. She woke early to write the artful indictments that she produced. But by the time I wake up, my mind is so crowded with the detritus of life in the 21st century observed nose barely above the sludge I have no energy to conceive of other wheres and possibilities. In short, my hold on any imagination I might have possessed is shot through with despair – yours, mine, ours. And by then, it’s too late to remember what I know about teaching, writing, relationship to self and other. But life has taught me to trust the process. And if I keep showing up for the page, on the page, staring down the blank page, something is bound to happen. Quick. Go back to bed before dawn wakes the beautiful dreamer and you write something even closer to the truth!
Dear Friends at Sunrise,
Thank you for all you do to support and improve the health of all our community members. I write to express my sadness with an ad I have seen while online. Perhaps you can forward my comments to your marketing department. In this ad, two people hold hands as they jump off a height and onto an inflated thing in water that launches someone else into the air. Unfortunately, the person (child?) caroms off something hard and, we are expected to imagine, lands in the water only to be rushed to the ER. If it were me or my child, I would be averse to such an event being replayed ad infinitum. I would also hate for others to misinterpret such injuries as child’s play and attempt to experience the ‘thrill’ of survival.
No one asked for my two cents but I share them in hopes of bringing light, not heat, to a world in need of healing.
Today I reached and surpassed the 50,000 word challenge set and accepted by Nanowrimo enthusiasts worldwide. There’s a day left and more words to be written to finish the novel, but a draft in hand is worth ten on the backburner. As Author Holly Robinson put it:
You have to write a book before you can revise it, and you have to wade through lots of junk to get to the good stuff.
I invite you and your novel to come win with us next year!
On my way to intercession this afternoon, I came across a couple of kids fighting across the street from church. They were surrounded by a mixed audience of children of about the same age. I beeped my horn and told them to stop fighting at once. They considered their options, retrieved backpacks, and continued on their way home. As it was likely that the fight would resume once they turned the corner, I turned the car around, wound down the window and put my flashers on, creeping alongside them and yes, I was intent on following them home. I wasn’t certain what would happen when I got there, but for the moment it was enough to give everyone a chance to cool down. Silently, I prayed they’d become a generation of peacemakers.
After they had recovered from the shock that I was in fact escorting them home and I had declined an offer of potato chips, I told them that I’d stopped fighting in 5th grade when it occurred to me that I had a choice that would set the tone for my life then and there. I added that third grade reading levels are used to determine the location of new prison construction, that I work at the local community college, had gone all the way in school, and had high expectations for each of them.
When I mentioned that I had been on my way to the church they’d been fighting in front of, Aguilas, three of the maybe seven youths volunteered which churches they attended: Mountaintop, Shadow Ridge & New Antioch. Among the many thoughts that arose since this afternoon the one I most want an answer to is, what can we do to discourage bystander behavior in the body of Christ?
After conversations and pineapple upside down cake, a walk, saunter really, around the grassy area; and a perusal of the sales circulars, we enter the house. I murder a cricket (is murder reserved for actions between members of the same species?); put the spare change that discharges from the crossbody whose open pockets disgorge their contents with the effort of squashing It before it sees Me, and read Jane Kenyon’s Happiness, aloud.
It rings true against the noise of traffic outside my windows. Rings true against the water bottle weary of being washed and not otherwise upended. Rings true against the testimonies exchanged in and around the writing center this afternoon. Somewhere a cricket calls to one of its kind. Is it a battle cry or a dirge? Was it his child I murdered or maimed?
They say home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. This may be true in most cases but for this immigrant at least, home has been a slightly more complicated concept for longer than I can remember. I say longer than I can remember because, taken together, my own experience and that of the generations’ on both sides dating as far back as Charlemagne if Uncle Arthur’s research is conclusive, record every shade of motivation known to humanity for planting and uprooting our family.
I got my first passport a few months shy of my third birthday. The occasion? We were being reunited with our mother after nearly a year’s separation. She had gone to ‘America’ to advance her education – at least so several of her inner circle thought according to the letters (forthcoming) written to her during that year. It was the year of the worst hurricane on record for the region – 1963, and also the year Miss Jamaica won the Miss World crown, half a century ago.
Who would have guessed then that the little island girl presumed mute by all beyond the family would find herself and call it home, not once, but twice, on a cold little cape at the end of the train line somewhere in Massachusetts. One of the things that keeps me coming back here is the neighborliness. Friendships forged 20 years ago pick up where they left off without skipping a beat. Initially, I came for a visit to see friends along the coast I hadn’t seen in years. At one fortuitous dinner, a fellow girl geek – a regular at the monthly gatherings that have continued in my absence, offered me her house and car for the month she’d be away working on a database in Washington State. Naturally, I went home for my dog and returned. One month turned into a summer with the possibility of a winter rental and a writing gig that appears to be tailor-made for my mind and heart.
Carless and carefree, I let someone know I’d be coming back to town from the town next door this evening, cutting it close for the bus schedule. She called on her way up from the museum to see if I ‘d made it and reached me by phone while I was walking my dog and she was cruising the aisles at our favorite second hand store – the one where I picked up curtains and rod this afternoon for $10. So I mentioned that I’d left my water bottle there and she dropped it off on her way home. Where else, if not small town America. Sure, you’re always in a fishbowl but it beats crabs in a barrel corporate America hands down.
I’m posting this list of Poetry Landmarks as a placeholder. Too bad only one of them is located in one of the nine remaining states to visit in my quest to sleep in all 50 states. Good on you, Massachusetts for having the most poetry landmarks of all the states!
Taken from the National Poetry Almanac, a project of the Academy of American Poets
1. Berkley Poetry Walk, Berkeley, CA
2. City Lights Book Shop, San Francisco, CA
3. Robinson Jeffers Tor House, Carmel, CA
4. Wallace Stevens’s hometown, Hartford, CT
5. Homes of Elizabeth Bishop, James Merrill, Wallace Stevens, Tennessee Williams, & Shel Silverstein, Key West, FL
6. Sidney Lanier Cottage, Macon, GA
7. Carl Sandberg Cottage, Galesburg, IL
8. Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, Chicago, IL
9. Langston Hughes’s hometown, Lawrence, KS
10. Robert Penn Warren Birthplace Museum, Guthrie, KY
11. Emily Dickinson’s home, Amherst, MA
12. The Search for Anne Bradstreet, Essex County, MA
13. Grolier Poetry Bookshop, Cambridge, MA
14. George Edward Woodberry Poetry Room, Lamont Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
15. The Longfellow House, Cambridge, MA
16. McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA
17. Edna St. Vincent Millay’s home, Camden, ME
18. Theodore Roethke’s house, Saginaw, MI
19. Robert Hayden’s bus route, Ann Arbor, MI
20. Dixon Bar, Dixon, MT
21. The Frost Place, Franconia, NH
22. Walt Whitman House, Camden, NJ
23. William Carlos Williams’s hometown, Rutherford, NJ
24. George Moses Horton’s home, Chatham County, NC
25. American Poets’ Corner, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, New York, NY
26. Brooklyn Bridge, New York, NY
27. White Horse Tavern, New York, NY
28. Paul Laurence Dunbar House, Dayton, OH
29. James Wright’s hometown, Martins Ferry, OH
30. The California Gulch Trail, La Grande, OR 31. Marianne Moore Collection, Rosenbach Museum & Library, Philadelphia, PA
my 4-legged son assumes the donut position
on the couch while I read and write at the dining table
signaling season’s end
45 days ago we were inseparable
and some fear global warming
while I wonder who rescued who
Inspired by Annika Jensen’s William in Midnight Meanders
It’s not hard to imagine what to do with a billion dollars. After tithing & offering 20% to my church, I’d finally build the four-story community center I’ve imagined since my glorious summer of Swahili and dance classes at Elmcor the summer I turned 13. Only now, with more money than I’d imagined, I’d build one in each of several cities, add the Algebra Project and teacher training retreats at each location.
These community centers would have a library on one floor with hardback and digital collections, music, art, and dance studios on another floor, a juice bar & gathering place for poetry on the ground floor, and an art gallery on top. People who could or couldn’t pay for classes would donate their time and a foundation would be endowed at each location to provide oversight and inspiration.
Staff would be paid top dollar but educational and other benefits, after the sheer joy of being there with kindred spirits, would be the things that set these centers apart. Educational debt forgiveness after three years’ service would be one benefit and credit counseling and investing would be another -with seed money provided to start a stock portfolio for use during class. Who knows what the ripple effects might be…
…One day, I ran into something I did not understand and instead of giving up, I pushed through… That day was a turning point for me. It was the last time I thought that whether or not I was successful depended on my talent or intelligence. It really comes down to hard work people. Ever since then, I have attacked each thing that I do not understand until I understand it. John Noonemaker