Saturday, September 7, 2013

A public stoning

I witnessed a public stoning last night.  It was the cyber stoning of a woman on a "social" (antisocial) network.  She posted these alarming words: "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people."  There was an  anti-woman/anti-feminist cyber shit storm. I put in my you-go-girl two cents and got called names for it.  The saddest (yet completely understandable) part was that the woman then cancelled her account and went away. Thus making more real the false belief that the internet is mostly inhabited by young straight white men by making people who aren't those things either pretend they are or disappear.

Weirdly, a lot of the commenters (men) were talking about "free speech" as they shut down hers. Unless you stick to self-selecting sites like G+, facebook, or flickr it's ugly out there in cyberspace.

Laurie Penny, my new hero, who has received threats of murder, rape, and bombing for simply opening her big female mouth, talks about it in her blog:

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Paula Deen’s cultural diabetes

I have a Paula Deen shaped weight on my chest and I have to get it off!

So Paula Deen has opened up the festering sore of race and racism in our country with her use of the “N-word,” her racist hiring practices, and her clueless “plantation-themed” luncheon plans. Good. Let’s talk.

I was on a social networking site the other day and came across this: “As a black dude, it's a little bad, but I expect most white people to have said ‘nigga(er)’ in their lifetime.” So I thought about it, thought hard. Had I ever used it, in jest even? The answer is no, not even once, not even in my head, not even when eenie-meenie-moing. The reason, for me anyway, is that I know my past – MY past. My ancestors owned large slave plantations. Their elite lives were based forced labor, rapes, whippings, and the heartless separation of families. Then, after the war, my gr. gr. grandfather helped start the North Carolina KKK. Another gr. grandfather helped lynch a white politician who was sympathetic to the rights of the freed slaves. So for me the “N-word” is always bound in shackles and brutality.

Some people say ‘Oh, well I don’t let what someone in the past did control what I do or say now.’ As if to remember and respect the history of the word is to be a wimpy guilt-ridden white apologist. I don’t feel guilty about it. But I do recognize slavery for what it was and I condemn it, as everybody should.

Others have said, ‘She’s a 66 year old woman from Georgia. Of course she’s racist.’ Well, my aunts, great aunts, and grandmothers from all over the South – even (gasp) Mississippi – evolved with the times and became right-thinking, right-speaking human beings, even if they didn’t start out that way. Partly because they weren’t idiots, and partly because they just plain had good manners.

And yes, I totally get that minorities using words that the world has used against them is a way to redefine and take ownership of those words.

So here’s what I think about Paula Deen. She’s an idiot. It’s 2013 and she needs to bring her cracker (see what I did there?) ass into the 21st century, even if it’s only for her business interests. As my beloved grandmother said to my less-than-perfect grandfather, “Bill-Wayt, if you want any of the grandchildren to EVER come visit, you have to stop talking like that.” Paula Deen is also a celebrity and should know that everything she does is up for public scrutiny. And finally, it’s rude and hurtful and none of us need that.

Is she a scapegoat? A bit, in that she’s just the tip of the huge iceberg of American denial about race and racism. Even so, I don’t give her a pass. But I also don’t hate her, just as I didn’t hate my grandfather. People are a mixed bag and if you expect them to be all goodness and light you’re going to live a very lonely life. Can she redeem herself? Can she recover from her cultural diabetes? Of course! Failure and massive public humiliation are an opportunity to learn and to change. (Just ask Bill Clinton.) 

The first thing she should do is accept the invitation from Michael Twitty of Afroculinaria (see below).  Then she should do everything she can to learn about and promote the wonderful food that, as Michael Twitty puts it, “we made together,” black, white, and Native American, all of us.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Caregiver's guide to Alzheimer's

A caregiver’s guide to Alzheimer’s

When the stranger first arrives
you will go deaf and blind
rather than accept
this twin that follows
close as a double exposure blurring
the edges of your loved one’s
life.  She may even ask you 
if there is someone behind 
her. But like a two year old
playing hide and seek you will
cover your eyes and say no, believing
that if you refuse to see it, it will not
find you.  Forgive

for soon enough the shadow will gain substance
and lumber after your loved one
like a sloppy drunk that will not leave 
the party.  Evasive action is usual and
futile, followed by
anger, for which you will be sorry
one day.

At length the illness will become
a permanent boarder requiring
accommodation – extra room
set aside in every part
of the day.  At table
you’ll make a place for both
the loved one and the illness.
At night you will pray
for both, though what you pray for
is your burden
to carry

In the end
there will be one again, but not the one
you knew.  The loved one will have been
possessed completely by the stranger. 
Only the deus ex machina of death
can part them now. 

Waiting with the stranger
at the terminus, peering into the dark
tunnel for any approaching light
you will feel completely

When the transport comes
at last, the suffocating shadow will step away
and memory will restore the singular person
your loved one was, leaving you trying
to remember.  For if you forget
any small thing – today’s date or
mayonnaise at the store –
you’ll start looking
over your shoulder, wondering
if you are being
followed now too.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Over and over we built our castles, dug moats, made walls, only to see each construction erased by a careless wave, turned back in an instant into unmarked sand. I even laid my body down as a barricade (as I would do for you) but still the waves came on.

I know at least one very dear and patient person is still checking this sorry and neglected excuse for a blog (xoxoxo @ ATWB!), so I'll try to update things a bit more often.  So...

I had a very difficult emergency visit to my mother.  She has had two bad falls in the past few months and got lost on a trip to Philadelphia (and by "lost" I mean she ended up in Baltimore).  I told her she had to move very soon to Pittsburgh and live with us.  She said "No no no."  I said "Yes yes yes." I eventually won out because 
1. I was right
2. I'm bossy that way
But it's devastating for her.  Her grandfather had dementia and (according to her) turned into an old lecherous caricature of himself, still going to his offices and groping all the women in the elevators.  Her father, when he was diagnosed with possible senility, committed suicide rather than become like his father.  

Of course she won't be groping women in elevators (at least I hope not!), but she has lived for a long time with the heavy weight of fear - as her father did - of losing herself entirely to this disease, or of losing what she considers to be the most important parts of herself.  And in ways I see already that she is.

Wish us luck in finding a path together and through this that is more dignified and full of love than the paths her grandfather and father found.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Where I've been

I've been working like a mad woman on revising my novel but also, as you'll read below, dealing with my mother's descent into Alzheimer's.  Heart wrenching.

Opening my brother’s specimen room door
to pin a new one to the wall
it always seemed we’d startled a flock
of sunning butterflies.  Wings wide -
palm-leaf green, sky turquoise,
sunset orange, star-lit iridescent midnight -
rising up the walls away,  forever
stilled.  Shadows wavered beneath
them so they seemed to move. Just
a trick of light.

In those days my mother wore
sun yellow, grass green, American-beauty red
silks.  Sleek sheaths, dresses
with tight bodices and skirts that fell
like bell flowers around her knees
fluttering as the ceiling
fans circled.  Sinuous lines of cigarette smoke
rose above the chink of drinks
and cocktail party laughter.  She floated
from group to group. Hostess’s antennae tuned to
too much, too little, too lonely, too late,
she skimmed each clustered group, landed, moved
on, spreading her bright
self wide.  And where she lingered
they stilled and said,
There’s sweetness.

The doctor displays
a cross section of two brains.  “In the normal one,”
he points, “the cerebral cortex and hippocampus
are full.”  The lobes spread wide, full and rounded
with nuances of knowing.  “But here you see….”
The other is an ugly leering face:
its jagged edges draw the unkempt hair;
scooped-out hollows make the vacant eyes, the mouth
hanging open in sleep.  Formaldehyde
also kills without destroying outer form.
I held the jar and watched
my brother put the silken creatures in. I watched them
struggle into stillness.  

This woman moves
uncertainly.  Querulously angry she says
“The maid stole my sweater.
I put it here and now it’s gone.”  She is
so fixed that I don’t even argue.  My mother
would have known that
no one – least of all the pretty Ethiopian
who cleans the floors – stole her old
moth-holed cashmere.  My mother
would have soothed this woman struggling
to make sense of an invisible
thief who is stealing
all her memory.  My mother’s daughter
would have said, ‘That’s nonsense Mama.’
But I just hold my tongue.  I watch
and sometimes see
the shadow of my mother moving
in this stranger, or maybe just
a trick of the light
of my memory.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

More pictures from the dynamite crate

There are more of this series on my flickr site if you'd like to poke around my grandfather's world.
Horseman by the shore, Nicaragua, late 50s

People at the swimming hole, Nicaragua, late 50s

Office workers, Honduras, late 1950s

Boy holding machete, Nicaragua, late 1950s

She's a little devil (Cousin in a mask)

Pirate cousin

Friday, January 7, 2011

Peace be with you

I got a hateful comment today on a little piece of piffle I wrote some time ago.  Generally I'm a pretty feisty person and not averse to mixing it up with bullies.  But it's been such a heart-wearying Fall that all I want is to do is to give and receive peace, kindness, heart's ease.

So to that end let me share with you one of the great bright spots of my life lately.  This summer I found, in my aunt's attic, an old dynamite crate full of slides and negatives that my grandfather took fifty +/- years ago, some in Nicaragua where he was working as an engineer, and some in the US.

Now let me tell you about my Grandfather.  He was a right-wing, racist, homophobic good ol' boy just one sheet short of the KKK.  But he was also my Granddaddy who taught me how to play chess and poker, bought me wonderful trinkets at junk shops, and put plastic flies on our grits to make us laugh.  I might hate some of the things he believed, but I could never hate him.

And for a right-wing racist homophobe he took some stunning pictures full of love, beauty, and humor.  By which I mean to say we are all complex, full of good and bad, and forgetting that makes everyone poorer, makes the whole world a sadder harder place.  So enjoy the pictures and the strange and beautiful conundrum of the man who took them.

Women on the road, Nicaragua 1958

Rodeo levade, Nicaragua 1958

Diver at the water hole, Nicaragua 1958

Diver, Gran Hotel, Nicaragua 1959

Cousin in a mask, North Carolina 1960s