Where in the world?

Abstract Airplane Paintings | Fine Art America

At 6 pm on election night I sat down to watch the results on MSNBC, and at 8 am the following morning I was still glued to my seat. Throughout the night I was at times filled with despair about the real possibility that Donald Trump would be re-elected and that the Senate would remain under the demonic control of Mitch McConnell. But now that it is two days later, that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris seem poised to win, and that the Senate may well see a Democratic majority before all is said and done, I am feeling less hopeless.

Increasingly, though, I am questioning why, even if Biden wins and the Senate reverts to Democratic control (after two pivotal run-off elections in Georgia), I would want to continue living in a country where almost half of its inhabitants are racist, anti-Semitic, white nationalists who believe any lies Trump tells them and who live in a reality I simply cannot begin to fathom. So, my daughter and I have been talking about leaving the United States. Here are several countries we are thinking about: England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain (and then a few outliers like Greece, the Netherlands, and New Zealand). Of course, getting jobs will be crucial for the both of us, so much depends on our ability to secure work for ourselves before we pack our bags and go.

Artwork credit

Turning four

number four

I’m not good at making resolutions. If they involve a bleak self-denial, such as when I try and say no to a food group, or if they require an inner tamping down, such as when I try and say stop to a pining, something from down deep rises up and digs in—leaving me starved for the very thing I think I should deny myself. Really, I find it’s best to pretend there is no hunger at all and to go about my business as if I were able to manage myself.

Still, it is a new year, and I feel obliged to reflect on the past 12 months. This has always been true of me during January, at least since I have been an adult, but as I get older it is even more crucial to consider who I have been during the previous year and who I will be bringing into the new year—these two seeming so much more important, in fact, than what I might, or might not, have accomplished. Accomplishments, like bones, fall to dust, and in the end who is going to care about what I have written here? I’m not even certain if I care about what I have written here.

Yet something in me does care about the fact that, in a week’s time, ruminationville will turn four, and I cannot help but ask myself what I have to show for these years. Certainly I could count the number of posts, or poems, or photographs, or movie reviews, or comments, or likes, or absences of likes. But there is such emptiness in this kind of exercise, and I have come to the end of my own emptinesses.

What cheers me now is the knowledge that I have all along tried to be genuine with you and that I have allowed you to see who I am, and who I love, if only a small bit. Nothing else much matters.

Image

Crossing over

boats on calm waterJust now I was rereading a beautifully written short essay from one of my more bashful students. In it, he writes of his connection to the Chesapeake Bay—a mighty body of water that ebbs and flows across six states, including Virginia and Maryland—and then goes on to use the image of ebbing and flowing as a way of describing his inner state.

While reading the essay, I saw before me an image of a man I had known only from a photograph. I cannot say why he appeared, since I had not thought about him for many years, and I cannot tell you the reason he was sent. I can say, though, that he had been the handsome amante of my friend Mary and that he had died one night of cirrhosis.

At first, she did not know of his alcoholism because he had been able to stop drinking for a while and because they lived countries apart—he in Mexico and she in the United States. An intellectual who frequented a university where she had gone to study Spanish and Mexican literature, he saw her one day in the school’s cafeteria and, no doubt because of her beauty, made a beeline and struck up a sexy conversation. Soon after, they fell in love and carried on their long-distance romance until his sudden and tragic death.

For reasons I do not understand entirely, her romance with him and with Mexico marked the beginning of my love affair with Mexico, in particular, and with Latin America, in general. My second husband, now an ex-husband, is from Bolivia and, like Mary’s departed lover, is an intellectual (or somewhat so) and an alcoholic—this last a fact I discovered only after we were married. Perhaps somewhere within and down low, though, I knew from the start that he was in trouble.

Alcoholism, or at the least heavy drinking, has flowed through my family for generations: grandfather, mother, father, brother. So embedded in my sense memory is the boozy stink of my lost mother and the liquored-up reek of my lost husband that I, myself, cannot even bear to smell hard liquor, especially scotch, much less drink it. Sometimes, however, I will drink a glass of Pinot Grigio or Prosecco and usually will enjoy it well enough. Also, Mary and I are no longer friends.

Photo

Can’t make cents of it

pennies

Yesterday, I met a new acquaintance for a cup of coffee (well, he had chai), but that rendezvous, and what led to it, is another story. Later, I made my way to my car and discovered I had left the keys in the ignition and the doors unlocked, though, oddly—and you will soon see why—the doors usually automatically lock after a short period of time. You can imagine, then, how grateful I was that a) the doors had remained unlocked for several hours, b) no one had stolen the car, and c) I didn’t have to wait interminably for roadside assistance to come find me and break in through a window.

Once inside, I saw something eerie in the change holder that sits in the front under the radio—something that had not been there the last time I remembered looking: 28 grimy pennies. Typically I put only quarters in the holder, which I use for parking and tolls. Occasionally I will put dimes and nickels in it, but I will never put pennies in there because they are useless. Parking meters don’t take pennies, and toll takers don’t much like pennies. Who can blame them?

Recently, I moved temporarily into Northern Virginia, land of tolls, so I have had to become pretty aware of the change I keep in my car. All I can say is that I cannot account for these pennies. Just as, some years back, I could not account for a thick neck scarf that had found its way into the sleeve of my winter coat—which had been hanging on the back of a chair in my living room—and that did not belong to me or to anyone I knew.

What interests me most is how quickly my mind will run towards the paranormal if it cannot easily find a rational answer to a puzzling event. It is the same part of me, I think, that is drawn to mysticism. And God.

Image

On devolution

god_jack sanders_photo by Marilyn SandersToday I caught the last moments of a Terry Gross interview on NPR. In it, she was speaking with Jack Miles, general editor of The Norton Anthology Of World Religions and professor of English and religious studies at the University of California, Irvine. He is also the author of God: A Biography, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1996. What I heard was of great interest, but most interesting of all was a seeming throwaway line I might have missed had I not gone back to read an online transcript of the discussion and reflect on what had been said.

“I have no confidence that the world [awaiting] us — given global warming, given the threat to the human habitat — is a world of ever-increasing knowledge…,” says Miles. “We may be at a peak now from which we will decline. Who knows?”

I think I can honestly say it never occurred to me that human beings would stop evolving; in fact, I have often taken comfort in the belief that we could grow out of our smallnesses and stupidities to become the enlightened band of sisters and brothers we were meant to be. But one glance at the day’s headlines, and I have to wonder if we are, in fact, on a slow, steady slide downward.

Photo

Three years!

Tomorrow it will be three years since I wrote my first blog post. To celebrate, and as a way of offering you my gratitude for reading and supporting my work, I thought I’d unearth and reprint “The hay who wore a toupée,” one of the pieces I wrote in January 2012:

“When I was a child, I think I thought that words were more reliable than grown-ups but not as important as horses. Grown-ups were always gone or leaving, but words were right where you left them. Horses were passion, though, and nothing trumps passion. Just as I can’t remember a time when I was read to I can’t remember a time when I did not read. Any words would do so long as they were companion enough. I especially loved stories of young girls with a heap of derring-do. My favorite was Ginny Gordon and the Lending Library, and I smile now to think of the reason. At such a young age I couldn’t possibly have understood why a mystery novel about a grown-up who keeps trying to steal a book would have taken me so completely. Probably as soon as I mastered cursive I wrote my first poem. This is how it went: On a bright sunny day/he galloped away/his mouth full of hay/wearing a toupée.”

2015 — and you

Netherlands New YearEarlier, I sat down to write a poem for you about the new year, but an hour or so into the process I realized it wasn’t going to be very good. It felt stiff, contrived, and I knew I should scrap it. I’ve never been able to create on command, and I’m always surprised by where the mysterious act of creation takes me — whether I’m writing a poem from thin air or drawing an actual tree in front of me.

From the time I was very small, people have had all kinds of advice about what and how I should write. “Write about what you know,” some have said. “Write about what you don’t know,” a few others have suggested. Upon reading a novel I wrote years back, my brother asked, “Can’t you be a little more cheerful?”

Well, no, I can’t cajole myself into being upbeat. Whatever emerges almost always appears to have its own heart and mind, while I just seem to get taken along for the ride. But, if I could will myself to write something meaningful for you about 2015, it might have some of these sentiments in it: evolve; love yourself and others; live authentically and simply; be kind (or at least stop being unkind, as a friend of mine says); be honest; surround yourself with people who genuinely care about you. Leave suffering and unrequited longing behind you, if you can.

Photo

May I have a word?

givethanks

I started this blog nearly three years ago, and, at the time, I had no expectations about what I should do or about how I should do it. I knew only that I wanted to write in a disciplined, thoughtful way because I saw that, for me, a careful, dogged approach to the craft and art of writing was the only path to developing myself.

Though I have done many things in my life — teaching writing among them — I always seemed to run from this slow, steady approach to my own work. Early on here, I began to write sections of a short story and to post them each week. This felt very risky, but your “likes,” “follows,” and comments gave me the confidence to keep on with it. I have since had the piece published — thanks in large part to your support. I now find myself very caught up in writing poetry, which has been a wonderful surprise for me, and I am once again grateful for your responsiveness to this work. I thought you might all want to jump ship if I stopped posting short pieces of nonfiction regularly, but so far only one person has jumped, and perhaps for other reasons.

I often have felt quite sad during the holiday season because the essence of its holiness seems lost on many of us — as does a true sense of wonder and gratitude for the life we each have been given, with every day a chance for renewal and for giving and receiving loving kindness. By staying with me over these years, you have shown me much loving kindness, and I am very grateful to you. During this season, may you all find and keep the peace and love you so deserve.

Image

Montana 1948: a novel

readingSome years ago, I taught a literature course in which, among other works, we read Montana 1948, a powerful novel by Larry Watson. The book sparked interesting class discussions over a period of several weeks, though none more intriguing — to me at least — than the one that took place after I found myself reminding students we were talking about a work of fiction, which meant the story, though written in the first person, was not true.

One student, a very quiet young man who always sat in the way back, seemed not to have understood that the book was entirely spun out of sugar and air until he heard my jolting reminder. When my words registered with him, he looked as though I had punched him low and hard. Because he had all along believed the story to be true, he said he felt betrayed — so much so that he told us he would never again read another novel. Other students said they also felt bamboozled, though no one else vowed to give up on fiction for good.

Even when I was a very young and inexperienced writer of fiction and poetry, I often got twisted around this idea of truth-telling and wondered what it actually meant for me to be an honest writer of made-up stories and poems. Over time, I have come to think that truth-telling is any writer’s true north and that sensitive readers will know an honest piece of writing, no matter the genre, by the way it makes them feel. Judging by the student responses in my class, I’d say Larry Watson’s compass needle was stuck on “N” all the while he was writing Montana 1948.

Photo