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 feeling almost liberated.
—-June 30, 2020