A friend was startled, because of the old superstition, when I mentioned that one of my cats is black. I’ve heard a couple people making hay out of the new year ending in 13, another locus of superstitious fear.
Somebody said there are only two motivating forces for people in this world: fear and love. And you can’t stand in both those places, only one.
I went to the paper store today to spend a bunch of money. I got four cases of text papers, some endpapers, some cover stocks. They gave me sample fans of the papers they stock, to take back to the press, catnip for a paper lover. I started to say it was like crack but that’s not true. Standing in the Small Press Distribution warehouse and being told I could look around, buy anything I wanted straight off the shelf–that was like crack. I knew myself incapable of stopping, if I started.
The Rumpus does an annual best-book-read list from a handful of writers, but it’s restricted to books not written this past year. Pretty great idea.
“A poet has been sentenced to life in prison for reciting a poem.” That’s the headline on a post about Qatari poet Mohamed Ibn Al Ajami’s plight after reciting a poem “extolling the courage and values of the popular uprisings in Tunisia.” You can sign a RootsAction petition in support of his right to free speech, linked on the 100 Thousand Poets for Change site.
We were driving home through the winding mountain stretch of highway in mid-Pennsylvania and everyone on the radio was talking about the fiscal cliff. None of them was saying anything new. We heard an old song by Chicago and then one by Led Zeppelin and I wondered why some “classic” songs hold up so much better than others. I saw a documentary of John Lennon again a week ago and I have his songs lodged in my ear, along with songs from the new CDs we’re working on here. I am so in love with these songs by Cornelius Eady, I can’t see them objectively anymore.
I’m trying hard to keep the troops fed here. I made another grocery run and was about to buy two medium packages of bakery cookies, when I realized I would pay less for one huge package so I got that one. I have two soups simmering on the stove and a couple loaves of fresh bread and a bunch of tortilla chips and salsa and cat food and clementines. For some reason I was thinking about making nachos, which I never make.
Yesterday I was thinking about race. White people avoid talking about race or summarily dismiss any suggestion that it plays a role in power decisions. This is frustrating but not surprising. We humans have an annoying tendency to not see over our own fences. Whatever little patch we live on is normal to us and nothing else much penetrates our everyday notions of what matters. It’s not an acceptable position when other people are suffering for lack of what we possess. But it falls to those with a different, more complex understanding, to keep explaining it over and over and over.
I can’t, for example, expect you to understand how the thread of genocide undergirds the psyche of my extended family without explaining to you that this branch fled Russia in the progroms; that branch perished somewhere between the Warsaw ghetto and the extermination camps of Nazi Poland (leaving behind no records of their existence and no living person who can enumerate their branch of the family tree); this one lit Yahrzeit candles for her dead in secret; that one tried to raise his kids as if nothing of the family’s history mattered.
But it does matter, and trying to escape it is no more useful than being continually obsessed with it. When I was in elementary school I regularly had dreams of the holocaust in various versions, it permeates my subconscious, just as a family legacy of slavery, or indentured servitude, or generations of poverty permeates other family psyches. These are archetypal level experiences and they sear human consciousness. Acting as if they don’t carry weight in contemporary life is a denial of the way human consciousness works. We are not simply the summation of our transgenerational history, but we are certainly anything but free of it. It forms, along with our DNA and the loam of our environmental origins, the framework of our nervous systems, our concept of the possible, our willingness to reach for a dream. And that’s only the internal part.
We had a family friend who never mentioned the internment camp in which he grew up. He simply would not discuss it. Sometimes I’d study his face when he wasn’t looking, a face so deeply lined by sorrow you could have mistaken him on any given day for someone who’d just lost his best friend. Grief emanated from him. I never heard him laugh.
I was so grateful for Melissa Harris-Perry when we scrolled onto her radio show (and I see she has some great content online too). She and a panel were scoring dumb remarks from the past year they way Olympic judges hold up score tickets. But they were scoring on whether or not a statement was racist. The discussion was smart, laugh out loud funny, relaxed. I could hardly believe I’ve lived to a time when race can be talked about honestly, publically, with a sense of humor. Maybe there is hope for us yet.
Never underestimate the power of the dream. For a blogger who uses few words to speak eloquently, threaded with lyrical comic frames, here’s Nin Andrews. And here’s a really smart, funny, compassionate voice that’s cracked the bestseller list, ex-Onion writer Baratunde Thurston, who we also caught on the radio, taking call-ins from around the country, responding with honesty and empathy to all comers. I can think of no better way to close the year than with laughter, which by my lights can be the highest form of prayer.
with love & wishes for a sweet new year,