Thursday, January 19, 2017

Singing the Blues

Today may be our last day of national sanity. Tomorrow we usher in a "president" who hates reading, thrives on revenge, and has assembled a cabinet of super-villains. Should we be relieved or not that he plans to take a vacation immediately after assuming office?

Yes, I'm singing the blues. Still, tomorrow, while I'm singing, I'll also be leading a class at Smith College, where I'll be helping young women imagine themselves as teachers in a world that sorely needs their humanism and obstinacy. I hope that you, too, will find something important to do tomorrow . . . that you will make or share something, that you will find intersections among kindness and intelligence and honesty and morality and resilience. Despair may also be strength. I'm feeling as if the blues are, in James Baldwin's words, "the only light we've got in all this darkness." So sing loud.



Wednesday, January 18, 2017

It is snowing here this morning. In the spotlight of the street lamp outside my bedroom window, the flakes swirl up and down, back and forth, every which way except down. The stop sign beside the crosswalk twitches steadily in the wind, and the frail twigs of the sidewalk trees, bare of snow, bounce and tremble, bounce and tremble, without cease.

* * *

At the grocery store on Sunday, I ran into another poet in the produce section. He was cogitating over apples as I sorted through oranges. It was the literary life and/or the badly-paid-household-member-responsible-for-stocking-the-refrigerator life in action. Either that, or it was a metaphor for [insert abstract noun]. We enjoyed talking to one another but did not mention our fruit.

* * *

Writing shows its influences by the contagion of rhythm and pacing more often than by exact imitation of ideas.

--Adam Gopnik, speculating that Shakespeare read a 1603 translation of Montaigne's essays, New Yorker, January 16, 2017

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Yesterday I read an article by a local writer acquaintance that focused on what he sees as the "Brooklynization" of Portland . . . the grittiness is washing away, the out-of-staters are washing in . . . the upscale construction, the locals priced out to the suburbs, the misery of the poor. His article centers on the neighborhood in which I now reside, and even as a bewildered and innocent newcomer I see what he must mean. My stately Edwardian building houses five condo apartments, two of which have been mostly vacant for the month in which we have lived here. The owners are away at other homes, or on long vacations, or something. And yet they purchased their condos for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Tom and I are only perched here by accident--a friend-of-a-friend-has-a-rental scenario. How is that we're behaving far more like regular neighborhood inhabitants? It's strange.

I am too new in this place to offer any real commentary on my acquaintance's article. I do know that I am overwhelmed by the dog walking, the stroller jogging, the wearing-of-identical-stylish-puffy-winter-coats. I am overwhelmed, if simultaneously enthralled, by having a corner market that carries real parmesan cheese and excellent local greens. Every morning Tom trudges down the stairs in his Carhartt pants and work coat, with actual sawdust stuck to them, to go renovate the houses of the people in the puffy coats. Clearly our kind ought to be living somewhere else. On the other hand, here we are.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Kareem Abul-Jabbar on our responsibility to Martin Luther King's legacy

[Trump's] people and their contra-constitutional views are a clear and present danger to America, and it is our responsibility to keep our country’s most sacred values intact. Placing them in positions of responsibility and power sends a message that the assault on “political correctness” is code for an assault on nonwhite, non-straight, non-male, non-Christians. It emboldens hate groups toward violence and justifies further marginalization of these people.

“Waiting and seeing” risks all that defines the United States as a land of freedom. In his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. argued that it was a “tragic misconception of time” to believe that waiting to see will provide favorable results. “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability,” he said. It comes through “the tireless efforts” of people seeking social justice. “Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.”

We need a new civil disobedience in the American tradition of Thomas Paine, Henry David Thoreau and King. Our efforts must be organized, focused and coordinated with each other. . . .

Every time I hear someone say, “Let’s wait and see,” I bristle, because I’m reminded again of King’s writing from Birmingham. “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see . . . that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’”

[from "How Boycotts Could Help Sway Trump," Washington Post, December 1, 2016]

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Yesterday I went for a long cathartic walk with an old friend, made mashed potatoes and brussels sprouts for dinner, and then listened to the men I love sit on the couch and watch football, which they hardly ever do but which entertained us all. I find football the most boring of sports, but I love the comfort of game sounds. I like the treat of arranging dinner plates on the coffee table. I like never knowing what's going on in the plays, and I like hearing the boys debate the big moments I miss when I wander into the kitchen to make hot chocolate. Tom has spent the past two days driving back and forth to Harmony to cart away the last of his enormous shop tools. Paul has been working six- and seven-day weeks at the theater. I have been swallowing grief. An evening spent in front of a game we didn't care about was exactly what we needed.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

So. The sale is done.

All last night I dreamed of the house, of forgetting things in it, of strangers striding through it. . . . And today is day one of never going back.

I wonder what I will do with myself today. I feel too large for my own skin.

I suppose this is where chores come in. Dusting and sweeping as a patch for bereavement. Something, anything, to take care of.

Friday, January 13, 2017

We're driving north to close the sale on the Harmony house today. The book is about to shut. It will slide onto the shelf. It will sit unopened. It will collect dust and and damp and mildew. It will be thrown away.

Or that's what my melodramatic self might claim. In fact, I am dry-eyed, at least for the moment. That may be because I am so sick of killing time on the phone with utility companies, and banks, and insurance providers, and their ilk. Or because I want Tom to return to his calm, unfrazzled self. Or because limbo is an unpleasant state of mind.

Yesterday I went for a zigzag walk among the side streets of the neighborhood. I found myself in a little square park at the top of the hill that overlooks the city and the highway and Back Cove and beyond. Portland is a tiny metropolis, yet it buzzes with motion and sound. Buildings tremble skyward. Planes slide down, down, through cloud and fume, toward the tarmac. Signs glitter. Sirens weep. Meanwhile, the bay and the river embrace this crowded rocky little peninsula, wrapped in seawater and wind.

A dog bounces past me, chasing a tennis ball into the weeds. Drizzle films my hood and my glasses.

I am homesick. But after today, it--whatever it is--will have to be different.