I have no words… so I write

There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. — Toni Morrison

This quote by Toni Morrison, one of my favorite, popped up in my Instagram timeline this morning. When I read it, tears already at the surface, once again overflowed. The only thing I know to do when my emotions are too big is to write.

For most of my young adult life, I’ll admit I was unaware and uninterested in what was happening in the rest of the world. Or even in other states. In other communities.

Then I had a baby.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

We are at war. My daughter has been born into a time of war.

It scares me that my little girl will grow up in a world of conflict, a time of terror. It makes me panic, not for me, but for my daughter. My little innocent daughter, sleeping in her crib, and the world is on the brink of who knows what. My stomach turns at the thought of it.

In Baghdad dogs are barking, startled by the bombing. How real that makes it! Here my dog lies, ears perked up at the sound of his fellow creatures on the other side of the world. Dogs and people will be killed.

Please God make this stop, for the sake of all the parents who love their children.

A war anywhere on this planet suddenly felt too close to home. How could I ever possibly protect this tiny, vulnerable being?

But to imagine that war was outside the door every single day? I can’t. I cannot imagine having to live knowing I couldn’t protect my children, knowing everyday could be my child’s—or my—last.

Last night I stood at the kitchen table, tears streaming down my face, telling that now-seventeen-year-old “baby” about the journal entry I wrote when she was one month and one day old. When I wrote it I never could have imagined how that “time of war” she was born into would evolve.

Iraq war. Afghan war. Terrorist attacks, domestic and non. School shootings. Church shootings. Nightclub shootings. An accused rapist elected to the Supreme Court, another to the Presidency, a would-be-king who is emboldening neo-nazis and white supremacists, and glorifies violence. An increase in hate crimes against Muslims, Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, Jews. Children locked in cages. Women’s bodies policed and voices silenced still. A recession. A world-wide pandemic.

And now, cities on fire and peaceful protesters tear-gassed, shot at with rubber bullets, beaten in the streets as they call out the latest murder, maybe the most blatant yet, of an unarmed black man — George Floyd — by a police officer. And in the midst of it a president who calls for their violent dispersal so he might walk to a nearby church for a campaign photo op (holding the Bible upside down, btw).

To say I am horrified doesn’t even begin to express what I am feeling. Anger, helplessness, fear, guilt, sadness, disbelief, rage, devastation… there aren’t words big or complex enough to contain this storm cloud roiling in my chest.

I am writer. For me, this loss of words reflects a loss of hope.

What can I do on a cool, bright spring day in Vermont, where such violence is rarely, if ever, seen? Where, today, there are no fires, or gunshots, or righteously angry people calling out for their rights and freedoms and lives. Where, although threatened as everyone else by a virus that knows no boundaries of space or person, my children are relatively safe. Where, due to the color of their skin, discrimination is not something I need to worry about each time they leave the house.
What can I do? I’ve donated to an organization who knows what to do. But what else?

My words seem pointless, even self-serving, in the huge scheme of things. What do they matter? I truly don’t know. My personal reaction to what’s going on will make no difference at all.

But silence seems a worse choice.

So I speak. To show my support, to send a message into the ether that in my heart I am with everyone who is fighting for their right to be seen, to be heard. For their children not to be killed.

And although I don’t quite understand how my disjointed thoughts and inadequate words help in this moment, I choose to believe Toni Morrison, choose not to be silent, choose to believe that to “do language” is how civilizations heal.

I can’t heal this world for my daughter who was born two years after 9/11 and a month before the longest running war in U.S. history began. I can’t heal this world for those marching in the cities. For those communities who are scared, scarred—grieving for every one of their own who has been harassed, threatened, beaten, killed.

As I cried last night I told my daughter I was sorry there is so much hatred, so much fear, and so much pain. Sorry that the world of war and corruption, of racism, sexism, jingoism, toxic capitalism, and every other kind of ism she was born into is the only one she’s known.

Yes, I was crying for her, but she—thank God—is safe. So I was crying too for every person in our country who isn’t. Every peaceful protester, every reporter, medic, store owner, and bystander. I was also crying for every person who lives with the threat of danger every day of their lives.

And most of all I was crying for every mother, father, sister, brother, friend grieving their loved ones lost to violence, lack of health care, incarceration. And now the pandemic too, shining a glaring light on the disparities between the haves and have nots, those who are served by society and those who serve—and run its registers, and collect its garbage, and clean its hospitals.

And I was crying for this country. This broken country.

My heart is broken too. It has broken so many times over the last twenty years. I have shed many, many tears. But I have never cried so hard as I did on December 14, 2012, November 4, 2016, and now June 1, 2020. These days will live with me.

Where the cracks are, so the story goes, is where the light gets in. When something breaks, we humans look for the meaning, we hang onto the hope that disintegration leads to renewal, to change, to transformation.

But…

Nothing changed after Sandy Hook.

Everything changed after the inauguration, but not for the good.

Will anything change after this?

Can we look for the proverbial phoenix to rise from these ashes? I can’t say I feel very positive right now. There are military vehicles driving into D.C. as I write. But could this be the new 1960s? Are we on the edge of positive change? I hesitate to hope. But that and prayers are the only things I have.

Meanwhile, all I can offer are words of love and support and gratitude to those fighting for change. And a message from my younger self:

Please God make this stop, for the sake of all the parents who love their children.

Musing to Fruition: A ‘Write Now!’ Series for Creatives of all Persuasions, 2019

I try to shake loose my mind, so something fresh can fall out… This process acts like a sifter – sand falls through and bright nuggets come to light.
Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning

mtf poster 2019

Register at the Sparkle Barn by clicking here

Musing to Fruition: A ‘Write Now!’ Series for Creatives of all Persuasions

I try to shake loose my mind, so something fresh can fall out… This process acts like a sifter – sand falls through and bright nuggets come to light.
Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning

MtF poster

Register at the Sparkle Barn by clicking here

One cold, dark, beautiful morning…

vt in october

I wrote this post almost nine years ago, in November 2009. My life looks very different now — I no longer need to lay out my children’s clothes, for one thing, thank goodness! — but the main message, that we all need support and friendship, is particularly on point for me right now. 

When I originally wrote this post I didn’t have a true friend with whom to share intellectual conversation or a listening ear over coffee or wine. But just a couple of days ago a relatively new friend, whom I feel so, so fortunate to have in my life, and I were talking about how important interpersonal relationships are and in particular how incredibly vital it is for women to surround themselves with other strong and supportive women. I re-post this today in honor of my dear friend and all the other women out there who believe in the power and beauty of women who hold each other up. Thank you.

~~

Yesterday I dragged myself out of bed an hour earlier than usual. The coffee wasn’t on, and, because I had forgotten to do so the night before, I had to lay out the kid’s school clothes and get their backpacks ready in the dark and cold. I dug out my own dusty winter coat and gloves, kissed my sleeping children goodbye, and went out to my chilly car.

As I huddled over the steering wheel I wondered if this trip was worth it. But as I wound along a road that hugged the feet of golden tree-shod mountains, through small villages and farmland where woodsmoke and cow breath was visible in the frosty air, I realized the journey itself was more than worth it. When I arrived at Hildene, the summer home of President Lincoln’s only son, Robert Todd Lincoln, in Manchester, VT the mist hovered over the mountains, muting the splendor of fall foliage. Oh, Vermont!

Inside I found the room I was looking for – warm and smelling of coffee. A small group of women were chatting over their paper cups and I suddenly felt shy and lacking in confidence. But a friendly woman shook and my hand and welcomed me to WBON: Women Business Owners Network.

The speaker, Chris Berkhout of Alchemy Productions, was funny and shared great information about making goals, sticking to them, and being confident your own ability to get where you want to be. She spoke about how writing down what you want makes it happen. I know this so well! My writing refuge is just one example .

The camaraderie in the room was inspiring; although a new “business” woman and feeling inferior, maybe even doubting that what I was doing was a business, I felt accepted and motivated. We were not a bunch of catty women competing against or judging each other, we were there to offer advice, encouragement, and… business cards, lots of business cards.

I once had a boyfriend who was so deeply stuck in his own creative rut that he couldn’t see over the sides into the real world. He believed if he stayed in his room practicing his art night after night that he would one day “make it big.” He didn’t think he needed anyone else’s input, inspiration, guidance, or even fellowship. When I mentioned he might consider getting a mentor (at the suggestion of my professional artist father) he flipped out and accused me of thinking he wasn’t a real artist and not believing in his talent. Our relationship never recovered from my offense.

I confess I would probably have had the same response. I used to believe that if I couldn’t do something well without help or practice then I obviously lacked the natural talent and shouldn’t be even attempting it. I have applied this philosophy to piano playing, singing, art, and most recently, giving birth and parenting (I still struggle with that one). But the truth is, we all need help. Just like the flower needs the bee to help it fulfill its own destiny, we all need the input of others in order to discover our full potential. It is not a weakness to seek out assistance – it is a strength. Utilizing other people’s strengths can only give you more stability and resistance. No two people think exactly the same which means we can all offer each other something new – maybe even better.

This is why I came away from this meeting of fellow business women feeling sturdier. I now know I have a buttress of local, creative, ambitious, imaginative, self-believing women to whom I can turn for help and connection. Although I already believed in myself and my dreams, knowing this made the cold, dark morning a truly beautiful one.

Let the river take me: Learnings from facilitating an at-risk group

I originally wrote this article for Chrysalis, The Journal of Transformative Language Arts (which is currently under maintenance), April 2016 

 

Let the river take me,  a compilation poem

Let the river take me —

Even when it hurts, it breathes with the joy of laughter, undulating.

I choke on life, I’m really here in the world.

I keep trying. I am a survivor.

Manipulate the truth; truth to be heard.

The road to hell is as slow as molasses.

Sometimes it feels like a web of pointlessness — all shit.

I keep trying. I am a survivor.

Let the river take me, to be free.

I’ve come to acknowledge that… my life has been heavily influenced by broken relationships, terrors of my past bad influences or bad teachings from my childhood. Breaking free of the twisted mold of my childhood is no easy task. Knowing, acknowledging, and a desire for change is a beginning. – Grant, “Write to Recover” participant

I can’t deny it: I’ve lived a sheltered existence. I have seen only glimpses of the tougher sides of life – a couple screaming at each other as they walk down my street, an addict sitting in a car on my corner before the dealer’s house was busted, the child at the street fair asking for more free cotton candy because she’s hasn’t eaten all day. 

Continue reading

Path to Publication, pt 18: Book Launch!

2 books 2 authors2-page-001

This photo of Lilian Baker Carlisle, the subject of my book, from 1970 when she published her first book, has been a source of inspiration for me over the last two years. I envisioned creating this side-by-side from the first time I came across it. 

Well, I did it. The book is finished. Lilian Baker Carlisle: Vermont Historian, Burlington Treasure — A Scrapbook Memoir is, finally, gosh-darn really real!

I truly didn’t believe it was real until the moment I first held it in my hands at the book launch. It’s always just been a one-dimensional design on the computer, even the printer’s proof was digital. Now I can literally flip through the pages instead of figuratively doing it by clicking the “next” arrow. And, oh, it feels good. Continue reading

Path to Publication, pt 17: It’s happening! (pt2). Subtitle: ARGH, the Critic!

Good grief.

Nine months ago I wrote a post in celebration of the fact that the first draft of the book manuscript was imminent and that layout was finished, meaning in just a few months more the book — a (mostly) visual biography of a local historian and writer — would be ready for publication.

HAHA… heh.

Yeah. No, that didn’t happen. Why?

Continue reading

Hear myself out

This is one poem in a series from the “Write to Recover” group I facilitate. I put them together from phrases that resonate with me while participants read, adding nothing but punctuation and the occasional conjunction. This one is comprised of the words of four participants who were writing on the theme, “Your own voice.

Distractions of the necessary,

Ants scurrying around the concrete of life.

 

But I am not spineless;

My spirit can fly.

A shimmer of aliveness,

Fresh,

Like a baby carries a big lot of love.

 

I remain quiet

To protect my being,

The true essence of me;

This gnarly mess–

My very “I am” self,

A fresh flowing fearless frequency.

 

Sit gently like

A grain of sand in time — rock time

To hear myself out,

Another human hand holding hope, and

Nurture lovingly and meaningfully

Because I am real and worthy of love.

I’m not here to teach you anything: Some thoughts on facilitating & coaching

I originally wrote this post in 2014 for the blog of tlanetwork.org, the website of the Transformative Language Arts Network. It seems appropriate to re-post as I am preparing a graduate course on Expressive Writing in the classroom for Castleton University’s Center for Schools. Although in this situation I will be technically a lecturer/teacher/professor rather than a facilitator and I will be imparting more information than I would in a workshop, I will still apply the methods I know best and which have proven to be helpful to participants.

~

Justus Sustermans - Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636

Justus Sustermans – Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636

“I am not here to teach you anything.”

Expressions of confusion flicker across the faces of those circled around me. Wasn’t the very reason they signed up for this workshop to learn something?

I continue: “I am here to show you how you can learn from yourself.”

Smiles break out and the workshop begins.

While this is not intended to be an op-ed on the benefits of teaching critical thinking, how I facilitate is how I believe children should be taught: Teach them to learn for themselves. And this is how I approach my workshops. I give guidance, I provide prompts, and then I sit back and witness my “students” learning from and for themselves (and from the words of others in the room) — not to impress me, the “teacher.”

How does this work with TLA?  Continue reading

Scars to prove I showed up

This is one poem in a series from the “Write to Recover” group I facilitate. I put them together from phrases that resonate with me while participants read, adding nothing but punctuation and the occasional conjunction. This one is comprised of the words of five participants who were writing on the theme “Overcoming an obstacle.”

mountainI am a letter written to the world,

Trying to be self among all this chaotic happening,

Scared to be anyone but me.

`

Madness, the veil of darkness,

The gift of my mother,

My normal has been misconstrued.

My demons pretend they have healed me,

Then I blow away on the next strong breeze.

`

My biggest obstacle has been me,

Sinking down of my hopeful self.

What do I trust? What is real?

`

I have scars to prove I showed up,

Survived to face another one,

Another corner to turn.

I keep the breath coming,

Attempting to win completeness.

`

Take three steps away from me and see me,

Inside I am all good,

I am beautiful —

Like an old leather shoe.

Focusing on being focused,

Awaring I am.

`

I will always be part of that mountain,

Breathing through the gap.

Release the sunshine,

Come out to shine.