Since the inauguration two weeks ago, I’ve been having nightmares. I was too freaked out to share them, until I read Sherman Alexie’s new poem Autopsy about his dream that his passport was bleeding. Thank you, master poet. For sharing your pain. I woke up the other morning and jotted this down quickly, before the nightmare could fade…
First they cheered their new savior
Their hearts swelled
imagining that beautiful new world
no enemies near
wealth without fear
They saluted or swooned when he walked
in the room…
Well, except the women, who
shrank almost imperceptibly
inward and back, smiles intact
eyes averted and blank
hands gently cocked, ready to defend
when he approached
to hug them.
Then they watched their new president
his pals with dark smiling eyes
suits and ties
destroy their institutions
generations of work and promise
became ash at his feet
and still they cheered
for soon, so soon now, they’d have nothing to fear
Then they watched as he cut
with our oldest allies
provoke others into terror and war
They watched neighbors beaten
in the streets
When the homes of natives went up in flames
they grew silent, confused
they turned back to FoxNews
where they could read about
The Best Cabinet Since Lincoln
How to Use God to Defend Against Liberal Jackals
(go check that out if you think I made it up)
When they looked outside each new day
they wondered why
millions around the world
marched in the streets
against the savior, who well, sure
may look like a dictator
but they knew he wasn’t
because he was their savior
So they did what they’d been taught
they kept preaching kindness
while they watched babies
terrorized at their borders
and in their heartland
They preached compassion and forgiveness
please, don’t be crude
don’t say pussy
don’t bother me with your petty politics on Facebook
all the while
white guys with dark eyes
poured gasoline on tepees
on women, on nature, on life herself
and dropped the match…
When the world went up in flames
the day World War III began
they didn’t even notice
thought they’d be saved by their new president’s best buddy
There they stood, plain to see
two great men: one bad, one good
and both, sadly,
long since dead.
And they didn’t even notice.
Until their water became too expensive to drink.
Until mom got cancer
nobody could afford to treat.
With no EPA, scientists,
journalists, backbones, or basic human decency left
poison peddlers flourished
bees across the homeland died
more than half the crops
They found themselves
looking for rest and work
anywhere they could get it
A third of their children
died that first bitter winter
another third of them
drowned crossing rivers
the gentle earth gave them stones
to mark their passing
Most of their grandparents died
in one spot
because they were too weak
to climb their own savior’s wall
one mass grave for them all
So that’s how we showed up here broken
bleeding and starving
with literally no place left to go
at the world’s front door
Afraid, no more. Of
Aka, 55 books to read to slow yourself down and reimagine yourself as part of the creative, fun, difficult, and beautiful new/old resistance. The story of creating the list follows the list. I’m refusing to organize or categorize this list. The point is to explore, find something important to you, leave the Internet, and go find some books to read!
- Man’s Search for Meaning. Viktor Frankl.
- The Slave Ship. Marcus Rediker.
- The Half has Never Been Told. Edward E. Baptist.
- The Civil Disobedience Handbook: A Brief History and Practical Advice for the Politically Disenfranchised. James Tracy, Editor
- A Fighting Chance. Elizabeth Warren.
- Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Tom Friedman.
- Poetry as Insurgent Art. Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
- Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist. Sunil Yapa.
- Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self. Danielle Evans.
- Teaching the Cat to Sit. Michelle Theall.
- We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For. Alice Walker.
- Overcoming Speechlessness. Alice Walker.
- Silent Spring. Rachel Carson.
- Ishmael. Daniel Quinn.
- A Chinamen’s Chance. Eric Liu.
- The Other One. Hasanthika Sirisena.
- Culture Jam. Kalle Lasn.
- Power. Linda Hogan.
- Mean Spirit. Linda Hogan.
- Solar Storms. Linda Hogan.
- Republic of Outsiders. Alissa Quart.
- The Twentieth Day of January. Ted Allbeury.
- Deceit and Other Possibilities. Vanessa Hua.
- Fire Shut Up in My Bones. Charles M. Blow.
- Unbought and Unbossed. Shirley Chisholm.
- The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010. Lucille Clifton.
- Popular Songs: The Political Poems of 1890-1820. Percy Bysshe Shelley.
- The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Joseph Cambell.
- Women, Race, & Class. Angela Davis.
- Don’t Bite the Hook. Pema Chondron .
- When Pain is the Doorway. Pema Chondron.
- When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Pema Chondron.
- The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. Pema Chondron.
- The Left Hand of Darkness. Ursula K. Le Guin.
- Four Ways to Forgiveness. Ursula K. Le Guin.
- Tehanu. Ursula K. Le Guin.
- Sun Dogs. Lee Maracle.
- Daughters. Lee Maracle.
- Ravensong. Lee Maracle.
- Perma Red. Debra Magpie Earling.
- Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith. Edited by Alethia Jones and Virginia Eubanks with Barbara Smith.
- Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought. Beverly Guy-Sheftall.
- Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. Melissa Harris-Perry.
- Divine Rebels: Saints, Mystics, Change Agents – And You. Caroline Myss.
- Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Audre Lorde.
- Wretched of the Earth. Franz Fanon.
- Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. Sebastian Junger.
- Indian Killer. Sherman Alexie. (to start)
- Demand the Impossible. Bill Ayers.
- Rules for Radicals. Saul Alinsky.
- Ten Days in a Mad-House. Nellie Bly.
- India’s Struggle For Independence. Bipin Chandra.
- Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha). M. K. Gandhi.
- Emotional Agility. Susan David.
- Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto. Jessa Crispin.
This week I asked my 500ish online friends for recommendations for books to read. These are people I trust, not strangers. A diverse group, although as a middle aged white woman I know I will always be pushing to do better–no friends with disabilities responded, for example.
I need to get off the Internet more often right now, so that I don’t continue to get sucked into the complete partisan hell circus my country is unleashing every single day at us now. I want to more fully join the new creative, fun, difficult, and beautiful new resistance. Be a better accomplice and friend. I will still be online sometimes. Yet, as a creator I need big infusions of slowing down, resting, listening, wandering, and inspiration to be myself and to do my work well. Outrage helps my work too, but not all outrage all the time. That’s just not me. I’ve aged out of being able to sustain rage. When I don’t demand these other things, I become a reactor, not a creator. I become unrecognizable to myself. I end up sharing “news” that is actually lies. (Yep, I did that just yesterday. Thank God for smart friends who check when in my outrage I forget to!) I don’t think that being just another reactor and tantrum thrower is what we need right now (although I really needed to be that for a while this week). I think we need to remember who we really are. And by “we” I mean me and most of the people I know.
I asked specifically for creative, inspiring, resistance books. Both fiction and non-fiction. This is what I heard back in 3 days! Wow. I forgot what a deeply curious and gloriously book nerdy group of humans my friends are. Yay! The numbers in the list just represent the order in which I received the recommendations from various parts of my online world. I am not categorizing them–the point is to explore the list and find something new and important to you. Personally, since I want to read all these books, I will be reading them out of order in whatever order I can borrow the books from others, check them out of our library, afford to purchase them (some came very highly recommended), and find them personally inspiring. I own the Viktor Frankl book and all the Ursula K. Le Guin books if you live nearby and want to borrow them. Also, if you’re a friend and you notice that we’ve missed a creative resistance book that you love (in our few days of collective online brainstorming), please share it with me and I’ll add it to my reading list.
If you don’t have time to read 53+ resistance books this year, then follow me on FB or Twitter. I will be reading and sharing excerpts from these books online in 2017 and beyond. Trying to recommend specific books for specific friends. And hopefully, one day soon, I’ll find myself writing a book of creative resistance too. But this is not that year for me. This is a year of listening even more closely to my/our ancestors. To all of the people and groups who have already been doing this for a long time. Some for a very long time.
Note: I occasionally update this list with new books as trusted people and authors recommend them to me.
Here in our world, which is cold and dark at the moment, January just became Write a Poem for Friends Month. So all my posts this month will be poems I write for friends. This one is for my friend Danyale Thomas Ross. I considered her a friend for many months before I met her in person. Approached by neighbors–strangers (me and Knox)–via email, she jumped onboard whole-heartedly with our crazy Hopscotch CD–1.8 Miles of Fun! idea without a second thought. Made creating the event far more fun, made the day far more fun, just like she made the neighborhood far more fun. She’s been inspiring me every since: as a human, as a small business owner, as a woman, as a neighbor, and as a well-grounded person who takes big scary life leaps. Her courage and openness lift everyone around her. Love you Danyale!
And I Rise
Whenever I think
“The deck’s stacked against me”
“I have nothing important to add to the conversation”…
“This path that we’ve chosen is way too hard”
I think of you
Whenever I wonder
“Can a woman really do this?”
“Do good people really get ahead in this world?”
“What in the holy hell do we do now?”
I return to you, listen more closely
to your wide open story
When I give in
that I’m not exactly where I planned to be
I think of you
and your mother
all the women who believe
and each other
Whenever I fail
which is often
at being a good neighbor,
supportive friend and partner,
or small business owner
I come see what you’re up to
just to check in
to remember who I am
I see you at rest
and in action
There you are
that our world needs nothing
but my presence
wants nothing less for me
that I can stretch beyond each
with nothing but our shared history,
wits, kindness, and some friends
You haven’t taught me, yet
how to cut hair in the CD
how to farm in Texas or
how exactly to move from
this here to that there
how to rise
I got this idea from my friend Bayo who teaches me daily that we are so much more than we imagined yesterday. Thank you, Bayo. This is his list.
These are my current irreverent and unapologetically odd resolutions. In 2017, I am somewhat inclined to:
- Accept life advice only from birds, animals, and the strangest of the strange humans I know or meet.
- More thoroughly enjoy mom’s Alzheimer’s disease.
- Write odes (aka, poems/songs of praise) to everyday people and items on good days and to people/things I am angered by on bad days.
- Watch for dragons in the woods behind our new house. Talk to them only when we’re both ready and then mostly about magic.
- March peacefully in protest to 1) show solidarity with those most hurt by standard prejudices and practices, 2) make protests safer by my presence, 3) make new friends, 4) get more exercise, and 5) fall back in love with the world.
- Dance, sing, draw, swim, daydream, or write poetry every day. See that these take priority on days when I or nearby earthlings are especially frustrated, sad, or angry.
- Hold funerals or say prayers for lost socks, buttons, and other small things that disappear unexpectedly.
- Follow the examples of Americans with disabilities and mental illnesses, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, and LGBTQ+ Americans, as well as braver-than-me artists/poets/musicians, in their demonstration of what it means to be fully present and listen really well to those present. Here in my country this will be a year of remembering what it is to be a true friend, fully human, a beautiful earthling, and a strong community. A year of reminding ourselves and our institutions of our amazingly weird and wonderful nature.
- Get even more lost. Open even more space and time for purposelessness, pondering, poetry, parks, play, and pancakes.
- Take spontaneous road trips with my sweetie, my dog, and possibly, my three cats, if nobody volunteers to come watch them for us. Hint, hint.
- Enjoy dirt under my feet and fingernails. Enjoy dust, dust bunnies, stains, hairballs, and all their kin. Not just alone but with friends.
- Learn from those who unexpectedly thrive within resistance. Learn from strangely endearing scientists, off-the-charts kind religious leaders, and awkward-and-beautiful-and-trying grassroots organizers around the world.
- Financially support local poets and artists, the Standing Rock Medic and Healers Council, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, and my two favorite media outlets.
- Recognize that both our home and our town wants to be a refuge for people more threatened by hatred and discriminatory policies than we are. Allow our home and our town to live to their full potential.
- Write a book that surprises me.
- Learn what it takes to remove a hate-filled demagogue from government office. Take an active part in the process of learning.
- Plant trees and shrubs selected by birds, bunnies, bugs, deer, and at least one dragon for their suitability to the place and time.
I lose the mom I grew up with to Alzheimer’s every day. This loss began roughly 12 years ago for me and is with me every day. Others who love her live with similar loss—we each lose her in different ways and stages.
You may see her smiling face in photos and think that the woman you knew is with me. You are wrong.
The woman with me today is someone entirely new. She’s new each day now. This woman speaks very little. She doesn’t follow conversation. She no longer sleeps poorly: she sleeps much of the time. She hasn’t known my name, or her own last name, for more than a year now. She calls dad, lovingly, “The guy.”
When Daniel and I walk in, mom usually recognizes Eva the dog first, then looks up, remembering that she loves us. Or, she at least loves us for bringing a dog to play with her. She smilingly pulls the dog and I down the hall to her dresser to show us the new bracelet or socks or sweater that the guy bought her yesterday. “He’s so good,” she often says. The love and strength that it must take to awaken with a stranger in your bed each morning? Yeah, I can’t even fathom that one yet. Its a love beyond all reason. I revere both parents more as a result.
Spoken and written language gone, mom can’t tell her stories in traditional ways, so she gets creative: using props, gestures, silence, telepathy, empathy, almost-right words, and half words. Which is cool. I love her stories now: each one is a collective haiku crafted of magic. Dad’s stories have lengthened, artfully weaving past and present together: a shawl around our shoulders.
Some days, while mom and I are walking down the grocery aisle she says to me “Hey! I really like you.” And I flush, flattered, knowing that she likes me as a stranger. “That must hurt,” people assume and, too often, say. But most days it doesn’t hurt. I am with a woman who likes me for me. Because of who I am in the moment. She likes me without expectations, family ties, history, or baggage of any kind. And maybe sometimes, because I just put lemon cake—a favorite of hers—in the cart. This sweet new woman likes me as a total stranger. I like her too.
Loss has shown me how “I like you” can be more powerful than I love you.
Loss demonstrates that the coolest stuff is always happening around the words. Difficult to see at a distance, while distracted, or worrying. Loss stills me into better noticing.
This year, I notice that staying with loss has immunized me considerably against the promotion of the always-winning, always-first (and ultimately violence-inducing) cultural myth and its associated orange-haired icon that flashes out at me from all the screens. Those who scream that always winning makes us strong and powerful ultimately haven’t got a clue. Been there. So very glad to be done with that.
If you want to feel strength, gently stay with your loss or a least visit on a regular basis. Listen. Hold her hand. Slow down with her. Be her friend. Walk into and through anger with her: into and through hate. Weep. Breathe. Go for a walk. Accept help from nature and cool people. Eat healthy foods. And put an occasional lemon cake in the cart to mend your hearts. That, friends, is what deep winning feels like. It honors loss. Deep winning eases minds and lifts hearts in all directions around it. Deep winning is hearing “Hey, I really like you.” from a total stranger who you—lucky you—already love like family.