Archive for February 2017

Resist: Ignorance 

By Laura Rink

Heartsick over the presidential election, heartsick for all the Americans who feel targeted by a president who doesn’t see humanity in all people, who sees Others who are Less Than, I needed to take some sort of immediate action. I felt a gap between myself and the people who have more reasons to be fearful of this new administration than I. To understand my fellow Americans better, I posted a note to my larger writing group and sent an email to some reader friends: I need book recommendations, fiction or non-fiction, about other people’s experiences living in America. By other, I mean other than me (white, straight, middle class) in any combination. The more recently published the better. Nothing 20th century unless the book is so good you must recommend it. Thank you.

In a perfect world, we would go out into our communities and engage with other people to learn about their experiences and concerns living in America. We would travel around the country or attend a diverse college or at least take classes that exposed us to a variety of people and ideas. I’m an introvert—seeking out strangers to converse with is not going to happen. But instead of doing nothing, I’m reading books. The best written books make you feel like you are in a room with the author or the main characters, in their minds, in their skin, sharing their experiences.

Everyone, thanks to the public library system, has access to books. Read to begin, or to deepen, your understanding of others, to create empathy, to see connections. America is diverse and that will not be changing. Knowing each other better will create respect and harmony in our neighborhoods, in our towns, and in our country.

Books read so far:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a novel about a Nigerian woman, set in Nigeria, and America where she writes a blog: Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black.

Inside Out and Back Again, a free verse novel by Thanhha Lai, inspired by her childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam after the fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama. The publisher recommends this book for eight- to twelve-year olds, but based on the book’s ability to distill another’s life experience, it should be required reading for everyone, young and old.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, a memoir about a white family and the unconventional, poverty-stricken upbringing Walls and her siblings had at the hands of their deeply dysfunctional parents.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, the first of her seven autobiographies recounts her life from age three to seventeen in the South and in San Francisco. Among many memorable parts of the book is the scene where her brother describes seeing a white man, grinning, standing over a dead black man, and her brother asks, “Why do they hate us so much?” Their uncle replied, “They don’t really hate us. They don’t know us. How can they hate us? They mostly scared.”

On my to-read list:

The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, a novel by Mohja Kahf, about a Syrian girl transplanted to the American Midwest in the 1970s.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.

Five Thousand Brothers-in-law: Love in Angola Prison, a memoir by Shannon Hager, about a largely ignored population in Amerika.

Juliet Takes a Breath, young adult fiction by Gaby Rivera, dealing with queer, latinx and social justice themes.

An Uncomplicated Life: A Father’s Memoir of His Exceptional Daughter, Paul Daugherty’s love letter to his daughter who has Down syndrome.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

There are gaps in my reading list, and the diversity of human beings will always make that true. But help me lessen those gaps: in the comments below please give me your book suggestions.


Author’s Bio: 

Laura Rink writes most days—short stories, essays, journal entries, sentences. She is currently working on a memoir, writing with authentic curiosity to find out how who she was has influenced who she has become. Her website LauraRink.com features an occasional blog and a picture of her calico cat.

And To the Republic For Which She Sits

by Laura Kalpakian

I was part of the Hell No We Won’t Go generation, 1968 when our resistance was focused on forcing the government to end the Vietnam War. We certainly did not invent mass protest, the proverbial petition in boots, but with television, our mass protests spilled into tidy American homes. That was new. In the decades since then, my generation has often been portrayed as comic, tie-dyes, feathers, flowers, stony smiles and peace signs, and our serious efforts antic undertakings. One era’s hard-won conviction is another era’s easy assumption.

And then in January 2017, the notion of a “petition in boots” (as someone smarter than I coined it) took on new meaning. In the weeks since the Women’s March, the impetus—the need, the obligation—for mass protest has become an unrelenting, an almost daily urgency.   I thought such social unrest, such a sense of political emergency as I experienced in my youth would not happen again in my lifetime. But fifty years later, here we are. And by we, I mean not just the graybeards and the grandmothers of 1968, but to quote Elwood of the Blues Brothers: “You. Me. Them.”

As a young person in DC for the 1969 Moratorium March a phalanx of my amigos and I all crashed at a friend’s apartment the night before. With us was the sister of a German friend who was visiting her brother. The morning of the March I was surprised to see her applying foundation makeup, heavily, as if for a party. She must have sensed my prissy disapproval because she tossed me the bottle and said, “Here. You’ll need it. When they gas you, the makeup helps to protect your skin.”

The prospect of gas was never far off. We knew that. As we made our way to the March we walked by government buildings sandbagged against us, prepared for an assault, and National Guardsmen behind those sandbags with rifles and bayonets. A sobering sight. And yet most of the Guardsmen were young people, like us, and several surreptitiously flashed the peace sign.

We were 250,000 strong that day. More than anyone had reckoned on. Certainly more than that pig Nixon had reckoned on, though in calling out the sandbags and the National Guard he knew we were dead serious.   Six months later four protesters were dead. Killed in May, 1970 by the Guard at Kent State and more at Jackson State. Four months later Bobby Seale, a defendant in the Chicago Seven trial, was bound and gagged in the courtroom. At the order of the judge. The Republic stood imperiled, and the rights Americans relied on eroding.

I remember being deep in the crowd the day of the ‘69 Moratorium March, looking up to a platform. Joan Baez sang. Inspiring speakers rallied us. “If Nixon wants to know how to move soldiers peacefully out of ‘Nam,” one guy memorably called out to rousing cheers, “he should ask us!” In fact, aside from brief skirmishes, 250,000 of us did move peacefully into and later out of the city.

However, the image I remember best was wordless. Not far from my cadre of friends a woman had spread a blanket on the grass. She had a couple of little kids with her, a preschooler and a five year old. Other than her children, she was alone, no other adult family members. I was astonished that a mother would bring her little children to a march where there was a threat of violence, of gas, where protesters were surrounded by guys with guns. And yet, she sat there, amid the restless crowd, calmly slathering peanut butter on white bread, handing out sandwiches. The kids sat, cross-legged in front of her, munching, listening. She was an ordinary looking woman, perhaps thirty-five, no outlandish clothes, no feathers or flowers in her hair, no love beads. At odds with the rousing rhetoric, she exuded serenity. Her image seared into memory.

Last month my daughter-in-law took my little grand-daughter to the Women’s March. I was proud of them; I was also glad there was no threat of gas, no armed National Guard. This is not to say there won’t be. Perils lie ahead, of that I am certain. Even so I take heart from the remembered image of that mother at the 1969 Moratorium March. The simplicity of her sitting on the blanket—amid the raucous, impassioned outcry, while the crowd surged and shouted and the National Guard stood armed—calmly handing out sandwiches to her children seemed like an emblem. To me she represented confidence, not simply in the justice of our cause, but confidence in the Republic itself.   That confidence in the republic spurs us now, 2017 to put our boots back on, our petitions into our feet, marching now. You. Me. Them.   In fact, with Elwood and Jake of the Blues Brothers, we might all say, “We’re putting the band back together.”

Author’s Bio: One of the original Founding Mothers of Red Wheelbarrow Writers, Laura Kalpakian was nominated for the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for American Cookery. She won a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers’ Award (twice), the Anahid Award for an American writer of Armenian descent, the PEN West Award, and the Stand International Short Fiction Competition. She has had residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Montalvo Center for the Arts, and Hawthornden Castle in Scotland. She is the author of thirteen novels and over a hundred stories published in collections, anthologies, literary journals and magazines in the USA and the UK.

 

Waltzing My Piano

by Jean Waight

An old envelope fell out of the piano bench the other day, and I asked Bill about tossing it out. But its scratch marks held details of his 1989 trip to collect what is now our good, heavy, rather old upright piano. The trip was a December adventure, and a leap of faith, since a piano is a formidable opponent for someone going alone, with a not-good back, the six hundred twenty miles to Redding, California.

The seller wasn’t there at the appointed time. No one had cell phones in those days, and Bill was left to wonder and linger over a long breakfast until, 90 minutes late, the fellow pulled up, having finally made his way through fog-obstructed traffic.

A professional mover, he waved away Bill’s help. Actually asked him to stay out of the way. He had a solid block constructed of layers of sheet plywood, about 15 X 15 inches square and about nine inches high. Onto this block he set the piano on its side, and from there choreographed a dance of tips and pivots. In about five minutes he had the piano down from his truck and into the back of Bill’s rented trailer.

Now, no one is going to confuse a neat, five-minute piano-moving trick with the long slog we face as we do the work of, among other things, defending our open and welcoming society. But what I take from the piano mover is this hope: that when I’m trying to move a seemingly immovable hulk of problems, distrust, and ill-feeling, and I’m straining, that there may be a better way.

One way my piano surely becomes harder to move is if I fail to recognize all my allies in changing the public stories we hear, especially unexpected allies. Often enough I have used the simplified term “The Christian Right.” But this term doesn’t seem as meaningful as I thought before I saw Danny Westneat’s January 29 column (Seattle Times). From his column I learned how distraught the workers have been at Washington state’s largest refugee resettlement program, a charity of a coalition of mostly evangelical churches identifying conservative. They take large exception to the Administration’s assertion that immigrants have been coming in unvetted. And they love the immigrants they’ve been able to help, most definitely including the Muslims. Seeing this gave me goosebumps of joy.

One way my piano may be easier to move is if I can make music as well as generate sweat. We are not just in a historical moment that we can resolve in the near term. While our current crises are a special class of danger and damage, I think we are all recognizing that we’re in the midst of an upheaval that’s already been going on for decades and now shows no signs of resolving into peace in my lifetime, or maybe yours. So why not build our resilience with joys as well as activism? Joyful activism, if we can manage that. Continue to make music. And in writing my lyrics, I’d like to try this: using words like gains and setbacks instead of wins and losses—I think that will send the message to my bones that this effort is going to take endurance. And that my emotional ups and downs can be smoothed by letting go of winning. This isn’t a sport to me, anyway. Nor a war.

The late Hugh Prather once spoke of a growing family whose strength lies in their gentleness and whose message is not so much in their words as in their treatment of others. I hope to carry that thought with me, at least in my better moments, whether I’m pushing or waltzing.

Author’s Bio: 

Jean Waight, formerly with Group Health Cooperative’s Communications and Community Relations department, is a Bellingham writer of memoir, short fiction, and essays. Her work has appeared in the Red Wheelbarrow Writers anthology Memory into Memoir, in “Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim,” and in the sociological journal, “Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.” More blogposts are on GreenTeaSympathy.blogspot.com.

 

 

On Forgiveness

by Nancy Canyon

Lately I’ve been remembering a saying I learned in the eighties: choose love over fear. To love ourselves and everyone else, no matter the behavior, raises our vibration. It’s natural to attempt to keep the shadow at bay, but doing so increases its power. This doesn’t mean to accept what others do or to not question off-color rhetoric and power abuse, nor does it mean to do nothing about violations of our freedoms or illegal behavior; it just means keep the heart open. No fortified walls. Only love.

While taking an energy healing class once, I complained about my ex and the heartache he’d been putting me through. The teacher said, “What you resist persists.” I wasn’t sure at the time what she actually meant. But I was open to learning. I realized that like most people, behavior I didn’t want I tended to ignore, curse, and deny. I wanted to feel better, to drop my vendetta, and move on.

Carl Jung said, “What you resist not only persistsbut will grow in size.” When my body became ill in my early twenties, I’d heard of Jung, but not his idea. The theory that energy can be blocked, however, wasn’t new to me, as I was a dancer. I began to suspect the fibroids and pending surgery might have been the result of blocked anger. For sixteen years I’d tamped down my rage over the sexual abuse. I couldn’t express myself as the perpetrator had threatened me not to tell. Once I moved away from home, however, I became a stinging hornet. I was dealing with intense feelings and if someone had said, choose love over fear—I would have told him or her where to go.

In my early 30s I began participating in group therapy, making healing art, playing the piano and, of course, dancing. Slowly the anger lifted. I became a better friend to the people I loved. I became a better caretaker of myself. And I practiced forgiveness. But the hurt hadn’t healed enough that I was ready to forgive him.

In my 40s an astrologer said to me, “Forgive, but don’t forget.” That I understand. Each time the perpetrator had asked for forgiveness, I’d denied him. Still, deep inside, I knew I needed to forgive him, if only for my own peace of mind. So I sat down and wrote a letter: “Dear Dad, I forgive you…,” and mailed it.

An amazing thing happened after that. I felt lighter, joyous even. I remember lying in the grass on a sunny day, saying to my friend, “Yes, I forgave him.” She said, “What else could you do?”

Holding onto anger had given me power, but not virtuous power. Letting go of resistance raised me up. I felt healthier and happier. I’d begun the journey away from fear and toward love. I’d set myself free.

What we resist persists and grows larger. If we resist opening our hearts, we block universal energy and the ability to manifest what we want. Holding onto fearful thoughts weakens the immune system. Practicing self-forgiveness returns the body to a state of harmony. Blessing ourselves and others, allows negative energy to flow like Tai Chi, maintaining calmness and a state well-being—and it increases good brain chemicals.

Love will get us through these tense times. Forgiveness will release the energy that builds walls and keeps a fortified stance. Positive thinking will help us manifest what we want in the world.

Additionally, when I hear myself or others gripe about current happenings, I think: What can we do about this? Bless the situation and let it go, and practice imaging what we want to happen instead. We can open our hearts to the “other”. Or, if there’s an action to take, like writing letters or marching, we can sign up.

We now have the opportunity to actualize our freedoms, to walk into the new paradigm with open hearts, to join peacefully like we did during the Women’s March in January. I personally intend to take action. The invitation is to love and forgive yourself and everyone else. Collectively, we will shine our brilliant light, illuminating the darkness.

Author’s bio:

Nancy Canyon’s prose & poetry is published in Raven Chronicles, Hurricane Press, Water~Stone Review, Fourth Genre, Floating Bridge Review, Able Muse, Poetry South, Main Street Rag, Exhibition, Obliquity, Labyrinth, Sue C. Boynton, Clover: A Literary Rag, and more.  Ms. Canyon holds the MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific Lutheran University.  She’s a creative writing instructor for Whatcom Community College and visual artist.  Her eBook “Dark Forest” can be found at Amazon.com.  “Saltwater” a book of poetry, is available for purchased at www.villagebooks.com.  She’s a member of the Morgan Block Studios in Historic Fairhaven, where she paints and writes.  www.nancycanyon.com