Category Archives: Writing

Abstract Concrete

Inspired by Tupac’s poem, The Rose That Grew from Concrete

– by River Brown

I’ve got a lot of broken concrete

repurposed into garden walls and a terrace.

Breaking up concrete is nasty business

but, if all roses need is a crack

            a break —

            Yeah, all roses need is a crack —

Then let’s bust up some more…wait.

No, no. Not that.

Ego can’t crack concrete.

In fact, all the impermeable chemically molded aggregate

rock cement set in street and sidewalk parking lot is oppression

laid down for years — that just isn’t the point.

Ego can’t crack ego.

Domination never expected it.

It’s not like rock, paper, scissors, folks

Life love being stronger, more, miraculous

Rose forces getting through

means there’s something

bigger and better going on.

Let the dream surface

Gulp some air, open up.

Keeping dreams grows roses.

Keep breathing.

Dream.

MY NAME IS…

I need a new name. We get new tennies when our shoes wear out.  We upgrade phones. Some of us get new partners, new jobs, new houses.  Is this too much to ask in my generative years? I’ve had this name over 70 years.  It’s worn out, and I’m tired of caring what went before.

            One reason heritage poetry writing vexes me is that I’ve accumulated so much history. It makes me think deeply when I add my known ancestral history to my decades on the planet. I can’t help it.  Truly, I find it easier to make sense of the present than the past.

            Is this wanting a new name an attempt to articulate an identity for my retirement?  Or am I deep down still angry and unforgiving for the things that happened to Laura?  Have I not let her off the hook for failures, both real and imagined?  Jeez, I think I have.  Then we are asked to write a poem, and I’m doubting.

            A new name, a label, might affirm my freshly sprouting identity. [I am and am not the same person today.] I am outgrowing old ways, or, what if this name kick is simply a new tool for my survival kit? Then I should rather order up a new nervous system that doesn’t reverberate with trauma, instead of a new name.

            If I have to be Laura, I’d like my stolen childhood back. I don’t have much time left now to be free, playful, curious. If I am essentially the same person who walked through all those old life episodes, then I will throw the memoir baggage overboard. Am I reduced to an additive version of life? Really?

            I argue that my fresh name will not connect to wasted years because it will be founded in more than my poor parents and ancestors could do.  Why be stuck with being made out of the past when the present is so powerful, so lovely and provocative? Epigenetics, yes! Wait… I wonder if my genes are being turned off?

            I guess I wouldn’t be able to use it officially all over the place, because not being called “Laura” would be inconvenient for some, and probably hurt my mother’s feelings, since she gave it to me.

            Laura, the song, became a jazz standard.  It was written over a weekend by David Raskin for the movie of same name.  His wife left him and the romantic, haunting theme “wrote itself.”

            I never liked the sound of it when my mother sang bits of it to me and frankly, I was a bit burned on the romance thing during my life. Finally, I found a good therapist. I need to ask if I’m having a Late Life Crisis.

            I would like a name that means I’m acceptable, loved. I want a painter’s name, a writer’s pen name, an artist. My name will remind me to be in love with life.  Which I mostly am now, if I get enough sleep. When I’m not wrestling with memoir poems.

One that reminds me to love myself.  I’ve been growing and getting to know who I really am, sorted out from the filed labels, accusations and awards.  If that person will please stand up, we can pass out the new name badge.

            This name will embolden me to speak up for what I need, to say what it is I want. Like normal people do.

            Someone suggested my name will come to me in a dream.  Another said over her shoulder at the coffee pot, “The first word that came to my mind was, ‘River.'”

            “Huh, that sounds good,” I said. 

Projects

“You sure are busy for a retired person!” my mother likes to remind me as I am heading off to volunteer in a classroom, or teach an after school writing group, attend a writing project meeting or seminar, or – my current project – coach groups of 4th graders at my old school using the LLI system.

I had promised my boss last year when I announced my retirement I’d be good for a project and this is it. About two months of being on campus 5 days a week, some days for only two groups, but across the week meeting with 4 groups of readers. I’m passionate about reading and coaching readers, however I’m beginning to feel the cut into “my time.”

Today, now that the groups are established in routines, but not all are getting the reading they take home done, I decided to stop and take stock. They reviewed their first journal entry on their relationship with reading. We wrote “Goals” on the page and I helped them see that the behaviors I point out they are doing to reinforce and the behaviors I model to teach, are the stuff that goals are made of.

Each made lists. And they shared about their reading spot at home. I shared my goal is to have more talking, writing and drawing time for the books we read, and that I need them to take the time to finish reading at home, so we can share more.

Then, my other goal was to break out of the numerical lesson order and have them choose what they want to read. It’s more work for me, but choice is worth it. Every time, it always works.

I gave the quick commercials for four books and student picked any number of them they wanted. Each group packed up their portfolios with a sense of ownership and satisfaction. I think we’re going to have a great reading week next week.

Birthday greetings

Timing is everything. I was so glad that my sister’s card arrived at the same time the other evening as my obligatory birthday card from my primary care doctor at Kaiser Permamente.

Why does a message about “What is My Doctor Online app?” and a photo of my doctor and a code to scan to view the home page for Adult & Family Medicine Department not bring me joy?

Nor did opening a browser this morning to see Google spelled out in birthday candles make my heart sing. Rolling my cursor over it wished me Happy Birthday by name, which I found chilling.

However, my Sis wrote me. Besides the curious, fluffy bird amidst exotic leaves on the card, captioned “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom. – Socrates” — her words made me dance for joy. She began:

I wonder, “What makes this a birthday card?” The beginning: [insert wisdom here.] Is a birth really a day? The future is hope, desire, intent. The past is meaning, identity. Birth is the wave of ceaseless becoming, aka eternity.

But to quote the Dalai Lama, “Pigeons sit.” Human becoming requires identity and intent, Bergson’s duration. As sublime as sit may be, it must bring the goods. Product, Baby! What does Be do? Oh, pigeon poop, did we ask to be born? — I don’t recall. [the end of wisdom]

But whether beamed whole as Universe (B. Fuller) or Darwin’s genetic wheel of fortune spun for the umptieth time…

Yes, life is good with love and wisdom, wit and a hilarious sister who writes to me.

This morning the organic Veggie Box was delivered to my porch fresh from the farm. I ordered chocolate babka (handmade bread that reminds me of pain au chocolate in Lyon) so I started on a slice for breakfast — and did not do yoga.

When I wandered out into the dining room I saw a green rabbit felt bucket with a bottle of Prosecco and a card from my dear Mom. We’ll have a few bubbles this evening. As I told my daughter on the phone last night, “I’ll be working all day,” when she asked she might drive down midday during her work schedule. Yikes, 99 miles in bay area traffic. We postponed a get together, but goodies are in the mail. And my other daughter and granddaughter will be going out with mom and me on Sunday. Instead of doing the St. Patrick thing, we’ll be enjoying sumptuous vegan food at a local restaurant.

So, yes, these little gifts and words of love do help. They offset the cold reality of aging and push back fears of facing medical mysteries. They remind me I am loved.

Which is something I forget easily.

Edges

My eyes have found the small, triangular buds of a bush outside my window, across the fence the past two mornings. This early morning I particularly noticed their pointing upward, although they’ve changed this evening.

What I felt when I gazed at the buds, somehow singled out from all the shrubbery and sculpture in view, was a pang. Usually buds say newness and promise of growth, and they give me an energetic, hopeful feeling. Today I felt more the sharpness of how they will race into fullness of leaf and blossom and I will simply age more.

So their pert shape and crisp color that made them stand out in the foliage, while it was lovely, did not evoke the freshness of spring. Thinking of aging is perhaps not a rational, sit down and have tea sort of exercise. It seems to arise sometimes from aches in my joints that I don’t usually experience after mild exercise, or from getting overly tired. But this approach of spring is making me look in the mirror in a different way.

While my view and mood were considerably softer in the late afternoon, after a lovely walk in breezy fresh air and after the day’s work was done, still those buds are hurrying into leaves to nourish the bush by capturing sunlight. What am I eagerly leaning in to accomplish? What can I produce, beyond keeping up with the daily expectations and business?

I credit myself that I notice what I notice. That I see and find beauty around me and that I pay attention to the sometimes less than honorable dialogue in my heart and mind that accompanies my day.

It would do no good to scream that I don’t want to spend spring aging. That I in fact would like to decompress from some of the effects of turning 70. That even if some wisdom comes with old age, and sometimes a happiness that is more carefree than I’ve felt in younger days, still it is clearly a slow demise. Not a fresh leaf and flower.

Love Team

Today at 7 a.m. I drove 99 miles up to Sonoma, to my daughter’s home to help clean up from the Russian River flood. Yesterday I was at the Writing Project Saturday Seminar almost all day, then went walking and out to dinner with a friend, so I forgot to blog.

But today, in it’s squishy muddy, overwhelming way was good. Two nurse friends and a chaplain drove up from Oakland, and a BFF friend from Maine arrived after navigating two mudslides. The morning was foggy and my daughter’s eyes were still swollen from crying.

She made us tea first, hibiscus. My first task was to begin on the side carport and sort garden and yard tools and place them against one side of the house. Things in cardboard boxes were of course soaked after almost six feet of water. We started the wheelbarrow trips out the front gate for the county trash pickup.

Every surface was covered with an inch or so of wet silt, very slippery and the most clingy substance. When the other women arrived, they brought fresh work gloves and love. We cooperated on heavy items, like each taking a corner of the chicken coop to move it out of the mud and into the newly cleaned space on the carport.

By three pm we were thinking of lunch and we had washed off the glass patio table and set up the umbrella. We dragged water logged wood chairs around and I brought down bowls of the gumbo I’d made. It felt like a party al fresco. We were all muddy and had strained at firewood, old desk drawers and wheel barrow after wheel barrow of things that simply had to be discarded. Yet, we were happy.

Finally, Alice requested we put in one more push to have one square of the back side of the yard clear, which we did in short order, except for the chair impaled in the fence. It was kind of a statement, so we left it.

One relieved daughter posing with chair impaled on the fence.

And mother brought home the trunk full of muddy laundry. She can hear her washer chugging outside the window, on double rinse. Tomorrow A.’s dad will pick up the clean clothes and take them up with the power washer and dehumidifier. Such a mess it was and so satisfying to all pitch in and bring some order back.

Layers

Sandra Cisneros refers to Russian dolls in her short piece, Eleven, in which she says, “Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one….”

You can listen/watch Sandra read this piece here.

Today I felt those layers, those tree rings, or those nested dolls while I was at work and doing errands. This morning my older daughter, J., texted me that my younger daughter, A., did not want any texts or phone calls because she was digging graves.

Today is the first day A. could get back to her home near the Russian River after the flood.

Before the river started to recede

I met with intervention reading groups; coaching and cheering them on. Then, in between, I’d ache with the radio silence. I knew A.’s chickens, aka “the Girls” didn’t make it. And I don’t know how the turtles be okay either. And I knew how deeply this hurt my daughter.

As I pinpointed the ache in the center of my chest, there were other times, other layers, like when Alice was eight, or nine. The time when we discovered her beloved mice dead. Going up to the garage because I heard a wail, and finding Alice pulling the two mice out of their cage to hold them to her heart. Apparently being in the open, instead of in Alice’s room, caused a cat to stalk or pounce on the cage and the poor rodents had heart attacks. She crumpled to a weeping two year old.

Or, when Miriam, her hamster died. A. gave her some alfalfa pellets (which looked a bit off) and they made her sick. She was crushed and I felt so unable to comfort her, as she was three inside.

Or when A. came home from school (at her Dad’s) to discover that the heat of the day had killed her rabbits. I heard about this with tears on the phone, and I remember wondering to myself, “Why do we do this?”

Alice is a great-hearted, caring soul who not only loves animals, but connects with everything and everyone around her. As a child those pet deaths left her temporarily inconsolable.

The scenes floated up in my mind today on the drive home, in the aisle of the hardware store, and when I texted J. in the late afternoon for any word. I relaxed a bit to hear that the pet funeral was over.

There were more layers for me, of course. I have watched my youngest work so hard to change careers and earn enough to be able to buy a house in Sonoma County, (miracle) where she works as a nurse doing home visits for patients after surgery. She loves each and every one of her patients, too, no matter what their age or need.

The county is still recovering from the wild fires last fall. The blazes came within miles of A’s home, two months after she bought it. She feared she’d lose it. When I looked at the flood progress photos texted from neighbors in boats, or from the bridge, I saw rings of her her hopes, her hard work, and her gumption to turn that place into something lovely. It’s been a long three days waiting to know whether the upper floor — the living space — was flooded. Thankfully, it was not!

Some of the echoes of times when my daughter didn’t want to talk with me took me to rings in my mind, too. The teen years and times I was simply not reachable. Now that I know she is safe in her house, and that as a family we’ve made plans to get dehumidifiers, fans, supplies, etc. and help up to her, all I can do now is hope that the rain that is predicted for tomorrow skips over her town, or is very light indeed. It will be good to drive up to help on Sunday. And let the flood of sorrow subside.

And, tending to my heart today, I think perhaps it is okay to feel 10 inside, or 20 years old…sigh.

How One Could Think, “He’s God’s Man,”Is Not Beyond Me

A person can don a used world view by slowly exchanging his or her contemporary world view for a stronger story. This can be good like waking up, or, not so great. I took on a life redux in my post-divorce time of guilt. In the early ‘80’s I hefted on the big overcoat of salvation at age 30, desiring to be a perfect Christian wife in my second marriage, hoping to redeem my life mistakes, which were many.  T.S. Eliot wrote in Choruses from the Rock of those who “By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good…” I met people with tight biblical cosmology and they appeared happy.

Changing my perspective to a Christian view had different features. There was community and connection, new friends, meaningful work, outreach to needy people, drama and music and 1,100 acres of redwoods in which to live for a monthly tithe. 

There was a dark side to donning salvation.  A khaki, tailored thing with epaulets from another era.  One thing about this religion I didn’t know then, was that I was enlisting to be a soldier. I’d heard the tune, “Onward Christian soldiers” but thought that was a vague metaphor of long-gone days. The mission Bible church, where I was inducted, became an outpost of militant purity.  We were, according to our pulpit, more like the true church than the average. And, I am at heart, a peacenik, so I overlooked much of the language of domination for too long. Now it shouts on the public stage.

Back in 1980, my personal hope was simply to be made whole. I was sensible of my wounded self and my fractured life.  I couldn’t afford a therapist. Like generations of penitents, I wept on my knees over my fallen nature — cringing in the light of God. My zero self-worth was easy to establish, as the firstborn of an abusive alcoholic father who grew up on a mission station in South Africa and of an unexpectedly pregnant mother who, even though she sang in the Methodist choir at 17, had no qualms about asking a doctor to remove me from her uterus.

In the teaching and in the company of others who had “repented” of being part of the human potential movement, I came to believe that I was “new in Christ”, so I stood on my feet and evangelized.  I got a system and worked it. 

Here’s how the view goes. God is in charge of the affairs of men, although not their conscience or free will.  And men are in charge of their women. A church with a woman pastor needed a “covering,” meaning a male.  My female pastor refused one.  The saved believe while their fellow humans are seen across a chasm. Eternally damned.  This connection to “the Holy Spirit” became a model of becoming deeply disconnected with myself.  My fellow church people and I often fearfully didn’t ask questions, suppressed anger and slowly began wounding our consciences as power was more often exerted in physical abuse along with the unending humiliation of emotional “corrections.” I am deeply sorry for my actions and inactions then.

Changing my view took time because one doesn’t throw a lobster into boiling water; one heats it slowly. That’s part of the recipe for delusion. It wasn’t a prayer to Jesus, but the practice that harmed. Living as a “disciple” in a fundamentalist church was a slow erosion of my self-referencing and conscience that went unaddressed. And once you’re immersed, well, you’re deluded. Taking on an identity that you soon fear will be ripped from you: By a word from a “godly” leader you may be kicked out and shunned by your fellows.

Roger McNamee wrote in a technology article in Time Magazine (Vol. 193, No. 3 2019) of the Facebook woes, “the business model depends on advertising, which in turn depends on manipulating the attention of users so they see more ads.  One of the best ways to manipulate attention is to appeal to outrage and fear, emotions that increase engagement.  [ital. mine]

One evening in the mid 80’s, I drove down from the Santa Cruz mountains to Los Gatos Christian Church to hear Jerry Falwell speak.  He was teaching the white grass roots, filling a wealthy church with expensively dressed visitors. He encouraged believers to get active in politics – for the sake of their values.  Indirectly, for God. He appealed to moral outrage and patriotism. At one point he mentioned the need for more women in Washington D.C. and a well-heeled lady behind me said audibly to her friend, “How come it’s always the women who have to clean up the mess?” We chuckled, but it was a moot point. 

The next day after the talk, one of the teaching pastors at West Heights informed me that I was now a fundamentalist.  “A what?” I asked.  He explained that’s what Falwell’s movement was about, and that I qualified because I believed the basic truths of the Bible.  I knew the nickname was not a compliment, as they never are when applied to groups, even though the he meant it as one.  But then, fundamentalists take insults as a badge of honor.  Which is how contemporary conservatives view the country.  They say “our” America like they bought it and no one else has permission to pursue happiness.

Now, 20 years removed from that religious cult, transformed by hard work and the love of family and friends into a fairly normal human adult, I can understand today’s religious conservatives being up in arms. It makes sense why a surprising number of Americans supported a demagogue at the polls.  Knowing how well the Moral Majority did their grassroots homework, it doesn’t seem like a big stretch.  Like a televangelist, Trump’s a political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument.  Now the megachurches provide him one big base for this emotion-based persuasion. What do these hundreds of thousands of American believers want? Protect our investments and take us back to [imagined] days of moral purity.  Don’t let the liberals make our government huge or expensive and don’t let them infect our children with their ungodly ideas.

Reader, please accept that today I do not judge or take issues with any person who names their source of life Jesus, nor discourage anyone from gathering to pray for peace and wisdom, whatever the faith. It’s your choice. 

However, my church experience, almost 40 years ago, became a communal study in delusion which I think mirrors a condition in our country that may be occurring large scale.  Fundamentalism is an adjective for the more specific word, extremism.  As in taking the Bible literally. Leaders’ power exerted in matters that are none of their business. When evangelicals stand up for a moral [note, not a civil] agenda in public, they call any negative reaction persecution – not disagreement.  If liberals disagree, their voice is dishonored or disregarded because liberals don’t conform to the biblical agenda.  But, has moral outrage become the purveyance of both sides? Sometimes lately it sounds like that.

And subtly, but surely human love was differentiated from “the love of God.” The split — the division of some pure theological love from ordinary human love paved the way for cruelty done in the name of God but with cold self-righteousness.

Some contemporary churches, particularly the mega churches, many of which are based on the prosperity teachings of Norman Vincent Peale (see POTUS prayer consort at inauguration), offered a comfortable salvation – belonging to the club — without worrisome issues like sin.  The main benefit, besides the music, hi-tech emotional experience and company, is belonging to the right team. The great team. [see red hats]

Here’s the obvious problem with dualism.  If there’s a “correct” side then the other is damned. And both the left and the right seem convinced that they are correct.  In the struggle for the moral/social/public advantage, only a few are addressing critical issues.  For example, the rapidly widening wealth gap. This is equality business that I think ought to be attended to for the well-being of all. It might also ease the climate change factor. When I reflect on the agenda and squabbles of leadership back in the fundamentalist cult it was, underneath the finer points of scripture, mostly about control and money.  I suspect the contemporary conservative stance is mainly about protecting monied interests in the name of taking the moral high ground. That is hypocrisy.


How dare the Dems deny a wall? Is it King Cyrus having another temper tantrum, the way he’s done business all his life? Or, I wonder, is the wall a red herring? Trump’s campaign revisited in his Tweeted video clip today was pure propaganda.  From here on out, it’s going to be only America first. “Every decision on taxes…. will be made to benefit American workers and their families.  I will never let you down.  We will bring back…we will bring back…we will bring back…we will not fail.  [My inauguration] marks the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.”

How, in the past two years, has he made “the people” rulers? He has incited mob violence, but that isn’t rule of law.  Besides the video clip’s stirring call to nationalism, watch it with visual literacy.  His claim of greatness is back grounded by military might, repeatedly through the frames. Look at the expansive scale of everything.  Let’s consider, too, how much the media corporations profit by this push and pull drama.  

The contemporary surge of liberalism mostly represents to me evolving human rights issues, better thinking and action for social and economic equality, understanding differences, establishing justice for peoples who have been disenfranchised, humiliated or murdered for their sexual preference or their skin color, or both.  I remember how we fundamentalists automatically judged those people sinners.

But even under reasonable presidents, have we noticed and dealt with the multi-billion-dollar corporations and banks, the federal contracts, dark money, the Wall Street gamers, gerrymanderers, lobbyists pumping billions into politicians – have we already let them steal the prospects of a livelihood for the next generation?  Have we noticed the escalating number of homeless people with heartbreaking addictions? The rise of child poverty numbers in a wealthy country and the under-funding of their schools?

Recently, one of my liberal women friends in a book club was shocked that I was reading David Brooks’ The Social Animal.  “He’s a conservative! she gasped.  It also happens that Mr. Brooks is a good writer and has articulated some complex ideas.  Was I really to worry that I would be tainted? This cultural war is not healthy pluralism.

I’m trying to apprehend how to live my civic life as a We thing, which is the gist of pluralism.  Our present institutions are mostly structured top down and American life is viewed as a power struggle within the factory model. Or a big triangle on the American dollar.  This does not need to engender demagogues and followers, but in the digital age, the way public “discourse” is proceeding, it has.

We face some tough problems that are being exacerbated by our positions of in-it-for-me – government continuing to operate in the clutches of big business, for example; or in it for “my team,” aka the politically correct agenda.  I’m interested in the view of work from the book, The Power of Positive Deviance, demonstrating that, while we know much about how to prevent the suffering and inequality in our nation (and world), we aren’t taking a We stance to do anything about it. The current POTUS thrives on division as he lines the pockets of his cronies and global pals.

Fundamentalist doctrine infers that a nation gets the leadership it deserves, that a healthy nation is upright, traditional, and thus, godly.  This is defined outwardly:  Does the president hold a prayer meeting?  Does his family go to church? Is he against abortion? That’s all it takes to be accepted by the conservative.

Here are some racial/gender/social issues to tackle if conservatives really feel the need to clean up society.  My list would include: educating and disarming good old boys in pickup trucks who are gun-toting racists who openly disrespect women.  It would be challenging religious fundamentalists – well-situated, white, and respectable in appearance who see themselves superior to those who are poor, different or who disagree.  I’m white and realize I’ve only been abused by white working-class men, by white people who sold me drugs, and by white religious fundamentalists.  My daughter was beaten up once by skin heads, a white supremist gang. In more recent years, the children shot in schools were shot by white boys. The children of color who were killed in their own neighborhoods were shot by white policemen.  What is with this white superiority?  How does race and income equal supremacy?

Self-righteous, rigid conservatives living in the evangelical bubble, staying safe from all the bad people, is a problem.  Their primary fault: their worst problem is that they usually cannot, or will not, call out a leader in error. The blinders are on.  Don’t touch God’s anointed.  I was a bystander, then a victim, then a perpetrator of religious bullying.  And the “love-of-God” they tout is separated from human love. Dangerous.

During my fundamentalist stint, my fear of wrongdoing made me behave the way a germ-o-phobic handles being around other humans.  I feared the porn shops, the drug dealers near my kids’ school, and the rise of crime in my city. Which didn’t change anything.

By the 90’s my view of home, community, work, state and nation had shifted to a deo-centric world, as a result of “being discipled” in a community that modeled itself on “the true church.”  My life became more and more about compliance.  I became rigid. In retrospect, I was using the childhood coping mechanisms for surviving an abusive, alcoholic father. Everyone at the cult, especially under new leadership, tried to maintain.  We tried to keep on the good side of the “anointed” leader, with little or no say.  It reminds me of Trump’s revolving staff.

Now, I notice and hear rigidity.  Could there be three, or more sides to our story? What if? I question the value of long term entrenchment in an uncivil war because, like it or not, we are all in this together.

A person can don a used world view, by slowly exchanging his or her current world view for a stronger story. This can be good like waking up, or not so great. I am working on a new view, a view of us, a We-View, as in we the people, and as in my fellow humans. I hope that history will show me some groups who survived nicely without the conquistador or monarch approach. Without slavery and cruel dominion.  Without a tantrum-throwing patriarch in the White House.  Self-aggrandizing lies. The Stock Market going up means that we don’t have rising poverty in our nation? Really?  The power of positive thinking is a business tool for the entitled and is the 45th president’s religion.

 I am led to wonder what political discourse would be like if we stopped trying to fix each other, or if we stopped standing across a chasm shouting with moral outrage? We may have a crisis in Washington that becomes a meltdown of government beyond a shutdown.  This isn’t a prediction of the end, just not great hope for a change for the better from this point.

The left and right see two different messes.  Two lenses. The conservatives see Trump as the Messiah [yes, Cyrus was called Messiah in his day] to clean up the Washington mess. Trump says he’s draining the swamp.  What will the gators do? Would it be possible for some thinkers and leaders to abandon party platforms – the glamour of power – and dig in to do something for the good of all? 

Would a nation of united people, united by respect rather fear, solve many more pressing problems than if we continue in our present polarization? The following quote spoke to my sense I am backing into passive, woo-woo position.  Yes, I admit my innate, trained “white moderate” posture comes easily. And I am not fearless. I aim to not let my fears paralyze me.

One passage of King’s response seems especially apropos to this moment. In it, he confessed that he had become “gravely disappointed with the white moderate.” Too often, he said, they were “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice,” and preferred “a negative peace, which is the absence of tension to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice.”  -Op Ed. Miami Herald, Leonard Pitts, Jr.

I think my search for a “new” view must sound ridiculous, childish.  Kids often just want parents to get along and be nice. We want people fighting wars to just stop. Or it might sound like I’m saying everybody move back to the middle, like the Centrists, which I’m not. I am not asking everyone to sit down and be quiet as in parental order. Change is messy. My inkling – as inarticulate as I am about it — is closer to something I could work for, better than hiding in my house, hoping without evidence for better news, while a greed-committed political world continues to abuse a heat-stricken planet, and another generation grows up who are vulnerable.  Trying to be perfect, to do it all right.  They may be likely targets for demagogues, as many conservative and uneducated voters were in 2018. 

I long for a positive peace. I will speak up for that. A person can don a new world view, by slowly exchanging his or her current world view for a stronger story. This can be good.

I want to continue to change my view in order to get something done for the good of others.  Currently we’re not promoting e pluribus unum, one out of the many, because the many aren’t having helpful conversations. Who has much of a voice today unless making headlines or Tweet storms?  But I conclude:  This nation will never be homogenous again.  Well, not ever without ethnic cleansing…

There really isn’t any going back – bringing back, as the POTUS says – the real America – unless you want to risk that attempt at greatness being enforced, as in, swallow the propaganda and lies [and forget to remember Hitler]. This is another area to pay attention.  I suspect that the current deepening of division of the American people makes us more vulnerable to the rise of a totalitarian leadership that none thinks could never happen here. 

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Background note:

When Trump was elected, an article in The Guardian by Martyn Percy, a Church of England priest and the dean of Christ Church college, Oxford explained: 

“…Trump’s political rhetoric can be traced back further, to the specious singularity of his religious roots. Norman Vincent Peale, the pastor of New York’s Marble Collegiate church, was Trump Sr’s pastor and presided at the wedding of Trump and Ivana in 1977. Peale’s bestselling 1952 book, The Power of Positive Thinking, manifestly shaped the world of the Trumps. The book also launched the motivational thinkers’ industry, and its practitioners are businessmen just like Trump. Marketed on confidence, pragmatism, expectations of exponential growth and realising your dream, ambition or vision, it also shaped numerous Christian evangelical and fundamentalist ministries.”

Percy also wrote, “Graham, in signaling that Trump was a kind of Cyrus, was simply saying that evangelicals and fundamentalists could now rid themselves of a once dominant, centralising liberal hegemony, and reclaim their religious freedoms. They could do this even by voting for someone who manifestly doesn’t share their evangelical faith.”


Inspiring.

While renewing the domain on WordPress the other day, I stopped to think about the name we chose when L1 and L2 began co-blogging.

Inspiringteacherstowrite. That sounds to me (still) like a pretty big task for one little blog. I even feel guilty of hubris, like who thinks they can move overworked teachers to do anything? I will say in LSquared’s favor that, in our roles as teacher coaches and in professional development for the writing project (SJAWP), we have moved some to enjoy teaching writing more and have given them a taste of writing for writing’s sake.

Why did we hope to inspire others? To inspirit, to cause to breathe life in…I love the first entry in the online dictionary:

1.fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

When you see the way that writing contributes to your own thinking and self-awareness, that’s reason. And when writing in a group causes you to know and understand a colleague and become deep friends, that’s reason. When a friend is completely ripped up by an injustice, then you can write alongside after you’ve heard her story, raw, fresh and out loud. Writing has meant so much more though than filling another with desire to do something creative, to do a bit of their own writing.

Like reading, writing is about meaning making. Making sense of difficult subjects like writing instruction. Difficult things like finding one’s voice. Making sense of the way education is managed in a locale and then teaching in a way that reflects my values and beliefs about what’s best for students. Without writing I never would have known the wise and true things others have discovered and established in practice along these lines.

With writing and reading we don’t have to stumble along in the dark on our own. Well, mostly not and not for long, if we are curious enough to learn.

The real task at hand is not inspiring others, whether they be teachers or students. Inspiring myself to write, to just start somewhere and renew the daily habit of getting some lines down, is really why I’m here today. Sitting in Crema. Which removes me from the bazillion distractions at home and which has the patina of happy memories of actually writing and talking about writing.

And now, I have to shift to a googledoc to brainstorm a short PD session for K-5 teachers on informational writing, to be given, alas, on the day the teachers return from winter break. How will I inspire them?