Why white people don’t want to live among racists, either ~ (part 2)

Why white people don’t want to live among racists, either ~ (part 2)

In an earlier post, I mentioned I was going to revisit the topic of white people & living with/among racists. I’m trying to get my head around how we — those people who fight for social justice, who try to live our lives grounded in Buddhist (&, to be honest, most religions’) principles — can work against the systemic white privilege & overt racism in today’s America. All without falling captive to the hatred so prevalent in today’s discourse.

As a Buddhist — as a humanist, as a progressive, as just a person in the world with kids & grandkids & nieces & nephews coming after me — I want to be a force for peace. I don’t want to be eaten up with the anger & hate that consumed me for more than a year after the elections. To hold on to anger, as the Buddhist saying goes, is “like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” So I actually stopped reading FB for several weeks, since it just ‘fanned the coals.’

But I’ve slowly returned to reading friends & family. And just the other day my sister posted an update on the renaming of the Tulsa school that triggered Caleb Gayle’s post in The Guardian. Robert E. Lee Elementary, which was changed to Lee Elementary (I have nooo idea why that supposed to placate concerned citizens!), is now Council Oak Elementary. Which is wonderful — definitely a praise-worthy name. The Council Oak is a wonderful piece of Tulsa history.

However, this change (posted, again, on my sis’s FB) initiated a vocal & lengthy thread calling the decision costly (??), politically correct (as an insult), an erasure of history, and more. The lament was that we were denouncing family members who might have owned slaves, and rewriting history.

At this point I joined the conversation, noting that my paternal grandmother was a class A racist: wouldn’t watch the news if there was a black or brown newscaster on it. I still love her. I just don’t want that part of her to be my children’s legacy from her. The conversation wasn’t loving, but it wasn’t hateful, either. No insults. Just folks exchanging comments on what this decision by Tulsa Public Schools’ board meant to them.

I felt pretty good at this point. We were talking! And I was hearing what folks really thought! Since I have muted most of the FB ‘friends’ who insist on fighting me (literally — complete with insulting my dearest friends & colleagues) about such political issues, it felt like a huge step to be able to hear folks who disagree with me, how they feel and what they have to say. Without insults, rancor, or hostility. How else will I learn? And surely there is some place we can still meet…?

And then the guys joined in…

I must digress here. Far too often a disagreement is seen as a red flag to assert dominance. People can be sooo certain they’re correct that they don’t listen. Especially if you’re disagreeing on something they a) hold fundamental to their beliefs, and/or b) think they’re an expert on. Insults flew (liberal BS, ‘butthurt’ Hillary, a few more for good measure). My carefully nurtured sense of communication, of return from the hot coals of anger, was beginning to burn…

And I realised: I WAS under attack. No wonder I felt so defensive, so angry! These 2 men were saying that my carefully couched comments, framed to be non-confrontational & respectful, were just BS. And had no basis in reality. They were dragging in total non sequiturs to derail a conversation. To assert dominance. To win.

That wasn’t what I was looking for, nor — I so hope! — were the original folks on the thread, who were trying hard to be respectful. These guys? Not so much…

My takeaway is this: I have to remember (to learn!) how to let go of my darn sureties. I need to listen (although maybe not to those 2 yahoos!). I need to NOT be ‘those guys.’ And I need to try every single day to breathe. After all, tea & breath, right? And engaged Buddhism is fed nicely by both.

 

the dance upon our toes ~

the dance upon our toes ~

I watched the most amazing half-hour series yesterday — Poetry in America’s 1st episode in this spring’s offerings. Centred on the iconic Emily Dickinson, and her poem “I cannot dance upon my toes,” it’s one of the few poetry specials I remember to make manifest the links poetry has to other fine arts. Specifically, music & dance.

Yo-Yo Ma ably represents the music side of things, playing the cello as if it was a voice reading. His incredible fingering & bowing turn the simplest rill of notes into something astonishing, much as Dickinson takes ordinary words & creates an image that stuns.

Dancer Jill Johnson, poet Marie Howe, and actress Cynthia Nixon (who plays Emily Dickinson in film) join host Elisa New in unfolding the layered origami of Dickinson’s poetry. It’s astonishing, and so worth watching!

In other poetic business, NaPoWriMo’s prompt today is magick! Seriously —  use magic(k) in your poem. It’s good practice! And here’s mine — a fusion of yesterday’s prompt (which I missed!) & today’s:

She finds herself dividing like a cell

Is it mitosis or meiosis ~ she doesn’t

quite remember. Perhaps the brain

is what does not cross over.

Perhaps the cells cannot communicate.

It was never easy.

 

This cell   this one she lives in now

neatly divided   borders clean-edged

is the mother   the wife   the sister/daughter

she from whom the other cells draw energy

 

That cell   the one of brilliant colours

as formless as internal music

pleochroic    emerald ruby citrine

is who she might have been

who she is    sometimes

in her dreams. Messily bordered

without shape or form.

 

And somewhere in the middle

is the space that neither one inhabits

that void of becoming

before the words begin.

NaPoWriMo/ National Poetry Month/ & just a poem ~

NaPoWriMo/ National Poetry Month/ & just a poem ~

Today’s the 6th day of one of my favorite months — National Poetry Month. Which is also National Poetry WRITING Month, NaPoWriMo. AND…my birthday month! How filled w/ great stuff can a month get?

The NaPoWriMo prompt for today is about the line — about changing it up, about playing with it. But since I didn’t write yesterday, or do yesterday’s prompt, I’m combining them. A word in a language not my own — riffing on what it looks & sounds like it means — and line change-ups. You can let me know how that works for you. Here you go:

Torschlusspanik[1] ~

how our frantic panic

burned like a torch

incinerated any good

intentions

whatever we once knew

of any middle path

through

how lust too was a torch

an incandescent inferno

a purgatory

in which both our bodies

burned to cinders

now

the cooling of lava

the way the embers bank

how they glow

beneath the black ash

of what we lost

to time

[1] Torschlusspanik is a combination of three German words, and literally translated means “gate-shut-panic.” Apparently the term dates back to the Middle Ages in reference to the panic medieval peasants might have experienced as they rushed to make it back inside the city gates before they closed at nightfall.

I also want to offer another poem I love, one I read at my first public reading (where I was asked to choose a poem to read). It’s by one of my favourite mentor poets — Denise Levertov. An anti-war poem, it looks at the people of my childhood home, ViệtNamAnd the ways in which we forget that the real victims of real wars are real people.

I hope that’s not too much food for poetic thought!

Epeolatry, or the love of words that begets (begat?) poetry ~

Epeolatry, or the love of words that begets (begat?) poetry ~

I see the word epeolatry and I feel obliged to confess: I’m a total word nerd. I was that kid you hated in 4th grade, who begged for spelling words, and won the spelling bee, and had her nose in a book so often that even my grandmother – an old teacher – yelled at me: Girl! Get your nose out of that book! I didn’t invite you to read all weekend!

Recently I learned a new word: ‘squeg.’ It means to ‘oscillate between max and zero, as in an electronic current.’ But the student who brought the word to class (she had it played against her in Scrabble) thought it meant the apogee of a conversation. I thought when I heard her definition: hmmm… who knew conversations had apogees?

Still, it’s a new word, however discordant it sounds. It’s hard to make melody from a ‘q’. I used to love the word queer, until it began to be used to beat up dear friends and family. I liked the way the mouth pursed to make the qu dipthong, and then almost smiled to make the ee. It’s noticing (and caring about) things like this that confirm my complete word nerdiness.

All of this makes me quite odd, if you think about it: ‘squeg’ is an unlikeable word. Says me. But how can you like or dislike a word, you ask? Now a sentence – that’s different. It may be poorly written, unclear, etc. We all remember THOSE classes. But an orphan word? Unattached to its parents subject and predicate? Naked of modifiers? Ungendered in its lack of pronouns? What’s to hate about that??

I give you… music. There is no music in ‘squeg.’ It even lacks the onomatopoiea  of ‘squelch.’ Or the whispery dead finality of ‘squish.’ It’s the ‘g.’ The whole word becomes guttural. And for word nerds? That’s enough.

Except actually, according to this Venn diagram, Venn diagram nerd and geekit’s word ‘geek’: if you’re obsessed w/ words (guilty), and reasonably intelligent (debatable), then you’re a word geek. No rhyme, unfortunately, but accurate. Which should be worth at least as much as rhyme, even if it doesn’t sound as good.

Which leads us (oh so meanderingly) to National Poetry Month. And my charge to you this month to post a poem to social media. Maybe even daily! It should be one that’s somehow special, or at least one you have strong feelings about (I may post one I HATE!).

Today’s poem from me to you is one that’s as awesomely ridiculous as possible: Ogden Nash’s The Tale of Custard the Dragon. He’s one of my favourite poets — there’s not a pretentious bone in his devilishly funny body of work. I just remembered this one, so here it is. Enjoy! And remember: a worship of words is a necessary evil in a world that values poetry!

 

 

 

[1] The worship of words.

and so it begins (National Poetry Month, that is) ~

and so it begins (National Poetry Month, that is) ~

So much poetry! So little time! I have a couple of links for you to start off National Poetry Month, and an assignment (😏). First, here’s a short post I did recently for the wonderful literary journal Nimrod. It looks at the differences between poets & prose writers. And maybe, too, the differences between the readers of each. The post is this poet’s own experiences, bolstered by a few comments from far more famous writers, who agree: the two are very different. Duh, huh?

The second link is in the same vein — it’s a more researched look at those differences (there’s that word again) — between reading poetry and even ‘literary’ prose. And you know what? It’s even better for writers to read poetry — even if they write prose! (Which may be why some of the better prose writers in my creative writing program were the poets…)

Finally? Your assignment: find a poem you love & post it to social media — FB, Twitter, Reddit, whatever. I’ll start you off w/ a couple of mine, beginning with one I used as a model for a ‘golden shovel poem’ that was published recently in an online residency. (Thanks, Soft Cartel!) The poem is an old one, and possibly the first poem that really made me think HARD about social justice. It was 1972. It was Watergate. It was Việt Nam. And here came Ishmael Reed, a Cowboy in the Boat of Ra. Every word was a knife, a blade, white-hot & searing with a fierce beauty. It wouldn’t matter that he said crazy-ass things later. It would only matter that he wrote that poem at that time, and I read it.

So find a poem you can’t live without, and post it. Share it.  Someone out there needs your poem. I guarantee it.