I was in this thing this past weekend. There was a session from a very lovely instructor with a very soothing voice about writing and self-care, writing as therapeutic. She read us a poem. It was very relaxing.
I appreciated it, because I know so many other people really needed it and are flocking to her classes now.
But…it was so, so Not My Thing.
I guess I’m a bit different. I’m not writing to fix myself, I’m writing to fuck myself up. I like to read writing that makes me uncomfortable and makes me think and haunts me long after I’ve finished reading it.
It’s called a Katydid. There were several of them on the sidewalk and I stopped and sat with them. They didn’t seem spooked by my presence. They posed for photos. We chilled for a while as I admired how absolutely gorgeous they are. How elegant.
Seeing these little guys just made me so happy. Just being able to enjoy them for a few minutes, to admire them, to think about how beautiful and clever and complex nature is…it was a nice feeling.
I’m trying to remember to stop and appreciate little things. Cool air, afternoon thunderstorms, unexpected katydids, the birds fighting over the birdfeeder, how my little dog curls up next to me any time I sit down to write, how the first thing she does every morning is bring me her ball.
There’s a lot going on. These little things, these little moments…they help.
I wanted to write this around the time I turned 40 earlier this year, but then…world disruption ensued, and it didn’t seem quite right.
But here it is, and it’s very simple – I’ve cultivated a quiet life, and it’s absolutely everything I wanted it to be.
There are those who have tried to convince me that mere contentment can’t possibly be enough, that I’m in denial, that I’m scared. That really, deep down I want passion and excitement and adventure and drama.
And I really, really don’t. I like those things in literature, but eschew them in life. And watching other people covet and chase and flaunt those things makes me realize how much I value a calmer demeanor. For me, the absence of those things does not leave a void, but rather a space I’ve filled up with other things that I value more.
So that’s 40 – no longer questioning if other people are right and I am in denial, because I know myself. I’m confident in that. Now it’s about balancing the simplicity and quiet I value against striving for change and rising to meet challenges.
There’s a lot going on in the U.S. right now. I want to take this time to make it very clear that I support the Black Lives Matter movement, and am doing my best as a white woman to be anti-racist. I’ve been more outspoken on personal social media platforms – but just so that I’m clear and consistent across all my platforms: I am committed to working on myself, working with other white people, and taking action.
While I am now doing my best to be anti-racist, I failed spectacularly in the past. I admit that as a younger person, I said and did things that hurt people of color (including black people, but not just black people), and that’s something I’m ashamed of. I behaved badly and wrongly. I’ve made concerted efforts, as I’ve gotten older, to examine my belief systems, own my shitty behavior, and commit to change. All white people need to do this.
Because here’s something that’s important for white people to understand: I never perceived myself as racist, even when I was saying and doing things that were racist. There was a huge disconnect in my head between how I perceived myself and how I was acting and impacting those around me. I thought racism involved white hoods and burning crosses. Some things I didn’t understand were racist, other things I knew were problematic but didn’t give much thought to – because they didn’t impact me.
This image (not mine, it was sent to me) perfectly explains how I once was:
Most of what I was doing was in the covert category, and what I thought racism was is solely in the overt section. Thus, a disconnect, and me being a shitty person without understanding that I was being a shitty person. That’s not an excuse, and it doesn’t in any way negate the negative impact I had on others. But it does explain why so many white people claim to not be racist but still engage in speech and behavior or support things that are racist – the disconnect between overt and covert that this graphic illustrates is part of the issue. They think not engaging in the overt is enough. It’s not.
The only reason why I’ve been able to evolve and be better is because I had that realization and have been working at continuing to learn and change. Part of practicing anti-racism as a white person is realizing that you are likely still engaging in or complicit in racism, and continuously working to root that out and change it. You may not be doing it on purpose, but it’s an intent vs impact thing – they’re not equal. Impact is what really matters. Ignorance and good intentions don’t mean you’re not accountable when you have a negative impact.
Which brings me to another important point: As a white person, being anti-racist isn’t an event – you don’t suddenly cross the anti-racism line and get a gold medal for it – it’s an ongoing, lifelong process. A lot of black people have pointed out that you can’t ever, as a white person, be 100% perfectly anti-racist. The sooner we accept that, the better we can be – because truly accepting that means learning to not get defensive when someone points out missteps and bad behavior, and being able to self-reflect, reassess, and evolve.
Listening and educating ourselves is important, but action is even more important. Educate yourself, but also…do something. Do a lot of somethings. Do as many somethings as you can, and then keep doing more. There’s a lot of good information out there about ways that white people can take action to be anti-racist and dismantle racist systems.
I’m not going to tell you where to find that information*, because one thing white people need to do is learn to do the research. Learn to find those sources. Figure it out. Don’t bother the black people in your life or wait for them to call you out – do the work yourself. That’s another important step. We need to be proactive rather than reactive.
(j/k I added a page. But it’s not exhaustive and you still need to do your own reserach.)
They say art reflects life, and the older I get, the more I turn to it and see within the very same lessons that I’ve learned, or am grappling with myself.
I realized recently that there’s a reason why two of my favorite books are The Great Gatsby and Love in the Time of Cholera. They’re very different stories, but are united by one thing: A character who idealizes a love narrative, to the point of it becoming a lifelong obsession that never waivers.
I’m hardly a muse in the artistic sense of the word – I’m a fairly ordinary person, and quite proud of the fact. But even those of us who revel in their ordinariness can become someone else’s hinge. I was once a young person with rather literary sensibilities, and the youthful idea that I was going to be different. I wasn’t going to succumb to the quotidian world – I was going to rise above it. So when I encountered people with similar convictions, I tended to gravitate toward them – and the more outlandish their convictions, the more fascinated I became.
I smile at my younger self now. I understand why she felt that way, why many young people feel that way. But with experience comes evolution, and like many people, I evolved into the early middle ager that I am today. I have no particular regrets about giving up on those romantic sensibilities – as I have said to more than one person, there are certain things that interest me in art, but would repel me in real life.
One of those things is that person who becomes so attached to a youthful narrative that they aren’t able to let it go.
For a long time, there has been a strong association between faeries and mushrooms.
At night, it’s said, the faeries come out to dance around in rings of mushrooms. If there’s a full moon, they’re particularly likely to be out. If you hide in the shadows and keep very, very still, you might manage to see them and hear their strange, otherworldly music.
They may use clusters of mushrooms as a place to meet, or play, or perhaps even worship. And in those places, the mushrooms grow in a ring. It conjures up images of other ancient circular monuments such as Stonehenge. Circles are, after all, powerful symbols in many cultures, both ancient and modern. Circle dances go back into ancient times, existed in various cultures, and may have been considered sacred.
I think all of us are desperately longing for something right now.
The Rose II – Ola Gjeilo Concerto for Violoncello and Strings: II. (Longing) – Dobrinka Tabakova Illirion – Lubomyr Melnyk Burnt – Lubomyr Melnyk Rework – Lubomyr Melnyk Five Cycles of Minor and Major Keys – Roberto Cacciapaglia Opus 2,5 – Dreamers’ Circus
Gjeilo sets a poem to music in The Rose – this is the instrumental version of that, a poem-as-music. Tabakova’s piece aurally embodies longing – you’ll feel this one somewhere deep under the ribs. You’ll get absolutely lost inside Melnyk’s piano, a gorgeous catastrophe that will have you soaring and drowning. Cacciapaglia is a nice cool down that will have you feeling like you’re rocking on ocean waves. Dreamers’ Circus will take you to a more playful, nostalgic place.
Scarborough Fair is a middle English tune, popularized again by Simon & Garfunkle in the 1960s. In it a young man gives a series of impossible tasks to his former lover, who sets some for him in return. Then, near the end, this astoundingly pragmatic stanza:
If you say you can’t, then I shall reply Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme Oh, let me know that at least you will try Or you’ll never be a true love of mine
We may not always get the things we long for, and our desires and needs and burning ideas may seem impossible – but at least we can try. And now, more than ever, that’s an important message.
Over the fall, a friend suggested an outing to the Tower of Memories near Denver. It’s one of those strange local sites that I wasn’t even aware existed. We were there on a particularly hot day – it’s not unusual in Colorado for summer weather to continue well into fall. I found this place impressive, cinematic, unusual…and unsettling.