Submit Surrender Retreat: my corona diaries

As a writer I think about words in all their nuance, music, use and misuse.

I submit work in the hope of having it published.  In this context, submission is a good thing. No pressure, except what I put on myself in terms of deadlines, not to mention the emotional underpinnings of rejection vs. acceptance.

In the context of submitting to someone else’s will, it reeks of aggrievement. In these days when the abomination of racism, in general, and the reverberations of slavery, in particular, have brought us to our knees as a nation, conversations with my daughter have me hopeful that out of the ashes of protest may come a new level of awareness, maybe even change. We talk about books we’re reading, movies we’re watching, and their relevance to the times in which we live.

Doesn’t an individual story, fictional or personal narrative, so often move us more than historical texts?

‘I am here, telling this story, and not from the grave, not yet, but from the here and now, peering back into another time, when we were Tasked, and close to the earth, and close to a power that baffled the scholars and flummoxed the Quality, a power, like our music, like our dance, that they cannot grasp, because they cannot remember.’ – Ta-Nahesi Coates, The Water Dancer

It’s a gift, as poetic as it is poignant and powerful, to tell a story of slavery and the ending of it that would seem to have come, only to continue haunting us hundreds of years later. 

It’s a ruse, as political as it is linguistic, to try to take the wind out of #BlackLivesMatter by telling us #AllLivesMatter or #PoliceLivesMatter.  

The same can be said of what Susan Faludi calls the right-wing trap that turned  #IBelieverHer during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings into #BelieveAllWomen.

The misappropriation of language is indeed a bitch.

* * *

Surrender, in the world of meditation and yoga as I know it, is a melting away of resistance. The body, if you’re lucky, eases; the monkey mind quiets down, chatter gives way to present moment awareness. It helps to call that kind of surrender ‘sweet.’  

In his final moments we hear George Floyd—no more resistance left in him even if this was no true surrender—calling out to his dead mother. 

My daughter sends me a text: The world is over. Fuck us all.

I want to reverse the curse, give her reason for some hope.  I know my need to protect her has limitations and everything I can, or cannot, do, everything I fear is filtered through the lens of being a white mother.

We had to hire someone to help us help our son sleep. I have paid someone to buffer me from my own tendencies of protection in pursuit of a higher good. I am a black mother living in America. You cannot blame me for wanting to watch my child breathe all night.’— Idrissa Simmonds-Nastili,  Letter From Oakland: Black Motherhood in Sleepless Times

Black creativity emerges from long lines of innovative responses to the death and violence that plague our communities. “Not a house in the country ain’t packed to its rafters with some dead Negro’s grief,” Toni Morrison wrote in “Beloved,” and I am interested in creative emergences from that ineluctable fact.’—Elizabeth  Alexander, The Trayvon Generation

* * *

To be disciplined enough to sit in front of a blank screen in the hope that something of relevance will come forth sometimes takes effort. Even without a pandemic forcing our hands re: staying home, solitude is a means to a form of expression, possibly even revelation.  No sooner do I finish reading The Water Dancer than I found myself caught up in novel that tackles five hundred years of Brazilian history, in which slavery played no small part, via one family’s lineage of women.

The savages, while he wouldn’t say they had no feelings, for even he could attest they did, were like cattle: their suffering was of a lighter nature and would soon pass.’—Maria Jose Silveira, Her Mother’s Mother’s Mother & Her Daughters

To be disciplined, sometimes to the point of embarrassment, for doing something someone else thought was wrong or simply did not want you to do is a whole other matter. It’s an expression of power. 

* * *

Will wearing masks, part of our routine, ever feel routine?  it’s rhetorical to ask how wearing them became politicized.  Like all performers, the man Fintan O’Toole cleverly labeled the unpresident has his routines, though I think he gets too much credit for thinking things through. He says what he wants/whenever he wants. He bastardizes language. He himself mistakenly misspelled ‘unprecedented’ as ‘unpresidented.’ 

* * *

These days find me in retreat, another riddle of a word.

On the battlefield, retreat most often echoes with impending defeat. 

Retreat, in the context of tuning out, stepping back, is a form of self-preservation. It brings ease, yes. But there is no real ease without unease. The demons—anxieties, fears, doubts—masked by routine become restless, exposed. 

As a writer I’m prone to overthinking, counting on words to make sense of things better grasped from a place beyond words. The need for retreat at a time when a pandemic already has me sheltering in place would seem to be overkill. And, yet, if there’s any personal good to come out of a time of misery it’s the diminished compulsion that has me slowing down. If my writing feels less driven, that’s okay. If I check in on social media once or twice a week, that’s okay too. News need not be up-to-the-minute to find me.

Some days all I want to do is listen to Igor Levit play Beethoven or watch dolphins swimming on my TV screen.

All of which has me me feeling almost liberated.

—-June 30, 2020

We should live and be well: my corona diaries

A stanza from a Jane Hirshfield poem:

A moment knows itself penultimate—
usable, spendable,
good yet, but only for reckoning up.

Passover, with its nonseder/seder for me, the Zoom version for so many others, has come and gone. We should live and be well, Jews like to say.  And by any measure, the creativity and love that has gone into long-distance celebration during corona times, speaks volumes about the collective spirit and will to transcend.

And yet, when time and distance give us perspective on how we coped during the 2020 pandemic, can we ever view it without the specter of that heartless heinous criminal occupying the Oval Office? Not to mention his complicit cronies.

The anger rises, finds me conjuring speeches for Joe Biden. Whatever shape a Democratic convention takes, I imagine Bernie Sanders giving the speech of a lifetime. An impassioned plea for his supporters to follow his lead, vote for Joe Biden.  Likewise for Elizabeth Warren.

Could there be a better appeal to party unity? Is a Democratic landslide/sweep asking too much?

I spend what feels like too much time thinking about food, then stress over the logistics of picking it up. Do I have everything I need for at least a few days?  I’m not prone to hoarding.

I think about what self-composed creatures we can be. 

I think about how that composure so easily shreds when reason gives way to raw nerves. Do we need to be afraid of everything we touch?

Local news story: the 20 something girl with a mother in need of lots of at-home medical care, a father in the grips of COVID-19 at the hospital. The hardest thing for her is not being able to visit him. To touch him. Never getting to say good-bye when he dies.

Another stanza from the same Jane Hirshfield poem:

The moment finds itself weary,
language confuses its ears.

Do we need a new language or at least different ways for expressing a very particular grief?  ‘No closure’ when a loved one dies in a hospital, alone, doesn’t quite cut it. I look up synonyms for ‘closure’ in Roget’s Thesaurus (the real deal, on my desk). Dictionary apps cut to the chase, no nuance. Roget’s shows closure in four different contexts: closing, completion, hindrance, joint.

To call this variant of coronavirus ‘novel’ gives it a peculiar stature. How can I help but think of all the stories it has to tell?

Even weeks before the grim reality kicked in, I found myself restless. Online more, a lot of time spent deleting emails, checking in on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. I called it lackluster motivation, a time-in-life moment when I no longer know what it is I’m supposed to be doing. My daughter called it procrastination. 

* * *

I stare at the mesmerizing aerial and underwater scenes Apple TV provides as screensavers. I put on music. I am not stoned.

I get a cheap thrill at knowing I can watch Kinky Boots via my PBS app. Even if the reason it’s available is a mixed blessing.

I treat myself to a pretty caftan, a papillon pattern, to wear now, at home. Or whenever. I treat my daughter to a pretty blouse. Because I can.

Because what seems frivolous in dire times really does matter.

The very idea of procrastination to someone always one step ahead of deadlines makes me laugh. Maybe a new way of being has kicked in. Maybe I’m as thankful as I am tired of the “wild patience that has taken me this far.” Maybe this forced hunkering down is a time for shifting gears.

Adrienne Rich speaks to me now more than ever:

Nothing but myself? . . .My selves.
After so long, this answer.

Two stanzas later:

Anger and tenderness: my selves.
And now I can believe they breathe in me
as angels, not polarities.
Anger and tenderness: the spider’s genius
to spin and weave in the same action
from her own body, anywhere—
even from a broken web.

Speaking of webs, my days are off to a much less rattled start when I don’t check in on Facebook or read the  news, or even emails. I can even find enough calm presence to sit down and write.

* * *

A windy, cool, almost wintry day for April has me thinking: can a marked shift in weather blow away the virus?

A very dear friend, a gifted artist who also just happens to be gifted in all things culinary and whose perspective on just about anything I value, introduces me to a new word.

Consilience: a coming together of knowledge from widely disparate disciplines, to provide a depth of understanding that would otherwise be unattainable.

Jane Hirshfield, Now Even More:

Now again, even more, I admire Roget,
in whose Thesaurus
self-knowledge appears under Modesty.

Following verecundity-–knowing one’s place;
preceding reserve.

April 20, 2020