“Turn on the dream you lived through the unwavering gaze. It is as you thought: the living burn. In the floating days may you discover grace.” ~ Galway Kinnell, from “Easter”
Wednesday afternoon, overcast, 52 degrees.
It’s not a wordless Wednesday; actually, it’s a Wednesday full of words. I usually check my birthday sites before beginning a post to see if I want to include something about a particular writer or just mention a birthday worth nothing. But as February is almost over—a fact that I’m having a real problem wrapping my head around—and as the month happens to include birthdays of so many authors/poets/essayists whose work I love and admire (for whatever reason), I thought that I’d share a brief list. Each name is linked to a bio for that person. I’ve also included just a few of my favorite quotes and/or selections from works.
So, yeah. Lots of words for what is usually a wordless day . . . Enjoy.
Galway Kinnell, Rhode Island-born poet and 1983 Pulitzer prize winner (February 1, 1927-October 28, 2014). Aside: favorite poem by him is “The Olive Wood Fire”
Langston Hugues, African-American poet and translator, leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance (February 1, 1902-May 22, 1967):
“Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor —
Bare.” ~ Langston Hughes, from “Mother to Son”
James Joyce, Irish novelist, poet, and stream-of-consciousness pioneer, author of Ulysses (1922), which was banned in the U.S until 1933 (February 2, 1882-January 13, 1941)
“It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn” ~ Elizabeth Bishop, from “At the Fishhouses”
Kate Chopin, St. Louis, Missouri-born writer of The Awakening and numerous short stories (February 8, 1850-August 22, 1904)
Alice Walker, Georgia-born novelist, poet, and political activist who won the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for The Color Purple (February 9, 1944)
Boris Pasternak, Russian-born poet and author of Doctor Zhivago; he won the Nobel Prize in literature (1958) but was forced by the Soviet government to decline (February 10, 1890-May 30, 1960)
Toni Morrison, Ohio-born African American novelist, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved in 1987 and the first African American woman to be selected for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 (February 18, 1931-August 5, 2019):
“And I am all the things I have ever loved:
scuppernong wine, cool baptisms in silent water,
dream books and number playing. I am the sound of
my own voice singing . . .
I am not complete here; there is much more,
but there is no more time and no more space . . . and I
have journeys to take, ships to name and crews.” ~ Toni Morrison, from the jacket of The Black Book
Anaïs Nin, novelist and diarist, ground-breaking The Diary of Anaïs Nin published in 1966 (February 21-1903-January 14, 1977)
W. H. Auden, U.S. poet, winner of 1948 Pulitzer (February 21, 1907-September 28, 1973)
Edna St. Vincent Millay, Maine poet and playwright, 1923 Pulitzer prize winner for The Ballad of the Harp Weaver (February 22, 1892-October 19, 1950)
Anthony Burgess, English essayist, novelist, and musician, author of 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange (February 25, 1917-November 22, 1993)
John Steinbeck, American novelist and Pulitzer prize winner in 1940 for The Grapes of Wrath, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, an award that few, including the author, believed he deserved (February 27, 1902-December 20, 1968):
“As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.” ~ John Steinbeck, from Of Mice and Men
Personally, I always liked Steinbeck more than Faulkner, and Fitzgerald more than both, and Carson McCullers more than all of them.
More later. Peace.
Music by Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro, “Goodnight Irene”
“I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.” ~ William Stafford
Friday afternoon. Way too warm for winter, 80’s.
That’s right, 80’s. Ugh. What’s so bad about this is that I’m certain that next week it will probably be in the 40’s. How is a person with sinus problems supposed to thrive in such an environment? It’s hot. No wait, it’s cold. No, it’s hot. The natural immunity that I have gets so confused that it runs and hides.
As it is, I’m out of my Singulair, so my lungs are beginning to crackle again, and because of the hiccup in Corey’s job, I cannot get refills until this coming Thursday. By then, with the temperature changes, this gunk that had taken up temporary residence in my lungs may have come back for an extended visit.
Last night, the progress I had made in getting to sleep earlier vanished as I was unable to fall asleep until 5 a.m., and then I had very bad dreams about dead babies. So not cool.
Corey is working all weekend, which is actually good as it keeps his mind busy so that he doesn’t dwell on the still-unannounced departure date. His truck is finally working; of course, it needs gas, which isn’t going to happen, so while he’s excited that his truck has been fixed, he’s depressed that he cannot drive it anywhere. Of course, there are still a few other things that need to be done, not the least of which is to put new tires on it, but we’re planning to wait until he gets back from his hitch before that expenditure.
Meanwhile, life carries on, as it were.
“Fortune is like glass—the brighter the glitter, the more easily broken.” ~ Publius Syrus
So I’ve been thinking about things that break—real and imagined, literal and figurative. Not really sure why. What follows is stream of consciousness and random association, so be forewarned:
Crystal (too much)
Hearts (too many)
Promises (promises to keep . . .)
Words (is this the same thing as promises?)
Glass (looking glass? walking on broken glass?)
Eggs (secrets and treasurer inside a fragile box)
Families (far too many of these)
Concentration (too easily done)
Fevers (hallucinations or reality)
Negotiations (power struggles)
Wings (fear of flying)
Codes (more secrets?)
Locks (the way in or keeping something out?)
Bones (corporeal fragility)
Habits (bad? broken enough?)
Contracts (see words and promises above)
Records (as in over and over, or in something to surmount?)
Speed of sound (can we travel this far this fast?)
Barriers (all of my life)
Rules (meant to be broken)
Spirits (see wings and hearts)
Glass ceilings (barriers for women)
Systems (this country)
Waves (crash down)
Deadlines (as in promises?)
Bodies (feel this too acutely)
Ties (promises? hearts? families? All of these?)
Covenants (more than a promise)
“I was never one to patiently pick up broken fragments and glue them together again and tell myself that the mended whole was as good as new. What is broken is broken—and I’d rather remember it as it was at its best than mend it and see the broken places as long as I lived.” ~ Margaret Mitchell
So what does all of this mean? In no particular order . . .
I spent a great deal of time in my 20’s trying to break the glass ceiling. I felt that it was my duty, to myself, to the women who looked up to me and those I mentored, and to women in general to take on the very systems that promoted inequity. I had indoctrinated myself in the whole system of feminism, the idea that there should be no inequality between the sexes, that people were people, regardless of sex, creed, color.
I have learned in recent years that feminism has taken on a new meaning, that the rules by which I lived may no longer apply. All of the unspoken promises that those of us on the frontline made to the cause, those ideologies have been overshadowed by something that is no better than the patriarchy that we fought so hard to replace. Feminism should not be about women being better; it should not be about lesbians being better. The whole point of the covenant that we made was that no one should be considered better or treated better or made to feel inferior.
I am sadly disheartened on several fronts: the young women who see feminism as a dirty word, associating it with women who don’t like men (not sexual preference, just in general), defining it as women who hate marriage, family, children. That’s not what it’s about, or at least what it used to be about. I also hate that so many of the young women who are enrolled in women’s studies curricula have made it an uncomfortable place for men. When I was seeking my women’s studies certificate as an undergraduate, the classes were filled with men and women, all who sought equity, more parity between the sexes, all of whom were dedicated to an idea that women could be whatever they wanted and that men could actively support this. It was a curricula that welcomed everyone, and it still should, but I fear that that is no longer the case.
So many barriers that used to hold women back—in government, in society, in all aspects—these barriers have been broken. They should not be replaced with new barriers, reverse sexism, if you will.
People. We are people, and as such, we can embrace our difference and similarities without building more walls.
“It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and the broken promises.” ~ Chief Joseph
Someone once said that a broken promise is better than no promise. I heartily disagree. A promise reflects the individual. One who is willing to make a promise is giving his or her word. To toss that aside thoughtlessly is to be careless with the essence of what makes us who we are.
When we marry someone, we make all kinds of promises, sometimes in front of large groups of people and sometimes in front of no one more than an official. In so doing, we bind ourselves, create a tie. When Corey and I wrote our vows, we promised to do things for each other, with each other. Time and circumstance should not change those promises. I don’t believe that either of us said those words lightly. Nevertheless, I would not be telling the truth if I did not admit that we have each broken pieces of the other’s heart, have each chipped away at that unspoken code to do no harm to those we love best. We are only human, after all.
Admittedly, I made promises to my ex, or we made promises to one another. In the end, our words ended up on the scrap heap of broken promises; our marriage on the pile of rocks where broken marriages go to die. Years later, I no longer feel the seething anger or intense heartbreak that I once felt, and time and distance have allowed me to see how much we were both at fault, how we broke each other’s spirits, and broke our covenant, which resulted in a broken and fractured family that has slowly rebuilt itself..
We move through time, salve our wounds, fix some things, but are unable to repair completely others. Too often we walk about in a fog, as if in a fevered ague, and only awaken when necessity forces us to confront what is before us.
“The tender heart, the broken and contrite spirit, are to me far above all the joys that I could ever hope for in this vale of tears.” ~ Charles Simeon
Years ago, when I was still teaching at ODU, I was standing on the kitchen counter, reaching for something, and I dropped a glass on the floor, which immediately broke into pieces. I looked down, saw the glass. This fact registered in my brain, but I still stepped down onto the floor in my bare feet and immediately cut a deep gash on the sole of my foot that required stitches.
Why do I mention this? Because even with knowledge, foresight, we still take steps that are foolhardy; we still knowingly step into a pile of sharp edges, and then we are surprised when we are wounded. We enter into frays knowing that we might exit with wounds, yet still we do it, perhaps because we think that if we make it through to the other side, we have outpaced our own limitations, we have approached the speed of sound, come close to shattering yet another barrier. Or perhaps it is something much more simple: We are not careful enough, not mindful enough. We do not treat our hearts and our souls like the fragile eggs that they are, always believing that we can go just one step further, take one more chance.
We have no fear of flying, convincing ourselves that it cannot possibly happen to us, that is until it does, until our wings are broken, or at the very least, clipped. And what then? Does the reflection looking back at us become unrecognizable, distorted as if reflected from broken glass?
“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
Ultimately, this is a world of broken people, fragmented lives, and no matter what system we depend upon for support, we are all still imperfect beings. How we seek to attain perfection varies as widely as there are people on this planet. How we attempt to reach that state of grace is limitless.
And as I sit here now, contemplating the mutability of life, I am brought back to the corporeal as a stabbing pain shoots down my spine. And I know that even though my body is broken in so many ways, that I often do not recognize the person in the mirror as I glance quickly and then turn away, I also know with just as much conviction that the places in me that are broken have been stitched together with things that I have borrowed and stolen from everyone I have ever encountered:
A bone of contention here, a sliver of spine there. I have amassed fragments and pieces, facets and slivers.
Sitting atop my jewelry box is a rather small Waterford crystal salt cellar, an individual dish for salt. My m-in-law gave it to me years ago, and it was my first piece of Waterford. She had received it as a present from an elderly woman to whom she delivered Mobile Meals. This vessel contains three small pins that I no longer wear as I have few occasions to wear suits. This tiny crystal container is perhaps one of my most treasured belongings, so I handle it with great care, probably more care than I take with my life as a whole.
Why do I mention it here? Because it is one of those things that I have amassed that is as much a piece of me as anything else. It does not serve the purpose for which it is intended, but if I were to employ it for salt, it could hold my tears. Or I could stand at the edge of the shore as the waves break onto the sand and collect sea spray that would dry as salt, and fill it wave by wave.
For now, I allow it to contain memories, and I protect it and everything that it symbolizes, which, in the end, is all that we can do really—protect that which can be broken or mend that which has already fractured.
More later. Peace.
Music by Livingston, “Broken”
The Opening of Eyes
That day I saw beneath dark clouds
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out
I knew then as I have before
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages of a great book
waiting to be read
It is the opening of eyes long closed
It is the vision of far off things
seen for the silence they hold
It is the heart after years of secret conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air
It is Moses in the desert fallen to his knees
before the lit bush
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven and finding himself astonished
opened at last
fallen in love
with Solid Ground
“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.” ~ Elie Wiesel
Republican Kansas state legislator Connie O’Brien (Tonganoxie) really stuck her foot in it at a hearing last week when speaking against the subject of in-state tuition being granted to illegal immigrants who had met Kansas state residency requirements, which has been the state’s policy since 2004.
REP. O’BRIEN: My son who’s a Kansas resident, born here, raised here, didn’t qualify for any financial aid. Yet this girl was going to get financial aid. My son was kinda upset about it because he works and pays for his own schooling and his books and everything and he didn’t think that was fair. We didn’t ask the girl what nationality she was, we didn’t think that was proper. But we could tell by looking at her that she was not originally from this country. […]
REP. GATEWOOD: Can you expand on how you could tell that they were illegal?
REP. O’BRIEN: Well she wasn’t black, she wasn’t Asian, and she had the olive complexion.
According to an article in ljworld.com. this is, in fact, what happened:
The dispute was over testimony O’Brien gave last week to the House Federal and State Affairs Committee in support of a bill that would repeal in-state tuition for certain undocumented students.
O’Brien told the committee about an incident last year when she accompanied her son to enroll at Kansas City Kansas Community College.
A woman near them in line was requesting her scholarship money, but when the clerk asked for her photo identification, the woman said she had none, O’Brien said.
The woman then asked for someone else to help her, O’Brien said. O’Brien told the committee that the woman was going to get financial assistance, and her son, who was born and raised in Kansas, wasn’t.
“We didn’t ask the girl what nationality she was. We didn’t think that was proper but we could tell by looking at her that she was not originally from this country,” O’Brien said.
Rep. Sean Gatewood, D-Topeka, had asked O’Brien how she could tell, and O’Brien replied, “She wasn’t black, she wasn’t Asian, and she had the olive complexion.” O’Brien said she had a son-in-law from Afghanistan, who had olive complexion, so the woman could have been from Afghanistan.
Another committee member, Rep. Mario Goico, R-Wichita, told O’Brien during the committee hearing that the woman O’Brien had been speaking about, if she was an undocumented student, could not have received any federal or state scholarship funds.
“To be ignorant of one’s ignorance is the malady of the ignorant.” ~ Amos Bronson Alcott
I’m so fricking angry that I’m spitting, and there exists a real possibility that I may kill my keyboard from typing too hard. And it’s not over the illegal immigrants thing (which is a whole other issue), but over the blatant racism: “She had the olive complexion.” (emphasis mine: the, as in there is only one kind of olive complexion?)
Excuse me . . . what? Olive complexion? You mean like mine? You mean like my sons? That olive complexion? The one that we got from my father who fought in three wars for this country? That olive complexion?
Oh, you know what? You, Connie O’Brien, and those of your ilk aren’t worth my dying from an aneurism from high blood pressure. Do all of us a favor and just sit down and shut up. Your extreme ignorance and racism are showing.
“Instead of being presented with stereotypes by age, sex, color, class, or religion, children must have the opportunity to learn that within each range, some people are loathsome and some are delightful.” ~ Margaret Mead
As recently as Monday, O’Brien wasn’t certain that she was going to apologize, saying she needed “time to think.” O’Brien said that she thought that “the Democrats were making a big deal out of nothing ‘like they did with Bill Otto.’ Otto, a Republican state legislator from LeRoy, was criticized for making a video in 2009 in which he criticized President Obama in a ‘RedNeck Rap,’ while wearing a hat that said ‘OPOSSUM the other Dark Meat.’ Otto said he didn’t mean for his video to have any racial overtones.”
O’Brien’s apology today? “I misspoke and apologize to those I offended. I have learned from this situation and will be more careful with my choice of words in the future.”
I love that word—misspoke. It’s the ultimate in back-peddling: I said something, but actually, I misspoke, because I meant to say something less offensive, you know, something that wouldn’t cause a backlash, but as to my original sentiment, well, what can I say?
Misspoke/misspeak is so 1984: If you don’t like history, rewrite it, say that you misspoke. Or just use 1984‘s duckspeak, to speak without thinking, or as is the case with so many politicians who misspeak, they seem to get their singular brand of truth from Minitrue (the Ministry of Truth). I could go on, but really, you probably understand fullwise the day order of political doublethink.
But I digress . . .
I mean, certainly Bill Otto certainly didn’t mean anything offensive about “the other Dark Meat.” How could anyone with a brain believe otherwise?
Oh, wait. Operative phrase being with a brain, which, apparently, too many people in positions of power seem to be without.
Entertainer Josephine Baker said in 1963, “Surely 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.”
Obviously, that day has yet to arrive.
More later. Peace.
Music by 30 Seconds to Mars, “Hurricane (This is War)”
The following is one of my favorite Langston Hughes’ poems, and I taught it in every literature class that I had. I did not pick this poem to go with this post because Hughes was a black writer. I chose it because I believe that this is the kind of message that all mothers should pass on to their children: Life isn’t always easy, and it may not always seem to be fair; life isn’t always beautiful, and sometimes, you might seem to be stumbling around in the dark, but that doesn’t mean that you give up or that you quit trying. And by the way, Rep. O’Brien, you could learn a thing or two from Hughes.
Mother to Son
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.