activism, Change, Purpose

White Privilege at a Racial Justice Action

SURJ note

In February 2015, Natasha McKenna, a 37-year old neighbor and mother, called 911.  The help she expected was not what showed up.  Instead, she was herself arrested on an outstanding warrant.  In custody, she suffered a mental health crisis.  She was restrained while naked and put into leg shackles and handcuffs.  Six Fairfax County police officers in hazmat suits put a bag over her face and tazed her four times.  She stopped breathing.  Natasha McKenna died a few days later.  The deputies responsible for her death faced no charges and continue to work in law enforcement.

Today, SURJ Northern Virginia gathered at the Fairfax County courthouse in front of the detention center where Natasha McKenna was held and brutalized.  The protest found its way to Route 123, a narrow and busy corridor through downtown Fairfax.  At 9:00am right during rush hour, we stepped out into the street and stopped traffic.  Coverage of the story is here and here and here.

Continue reading “White Privilege at a Racial Justice Action”

Change, Determination, Mindfulness

Water, Light

garden woman

Deadheading flowers will encourage more blooms on flowering plants. The normal goal of a plant is to flower, set seeds and die. Since we want them to continue to set flowers. . . we want to discourage flowers from setting seed. Deadheading the flower as it expires will redirect the plants energy from setting seed to creating more blooms. Additionally, keeping your plants free of dying material will discourage disease and allow more parts of your plant to receive sunlight.


From Cedar Circle Farm organic farmstand and education center

Someday I will live where I can garden naked. For now I make do with stepping out onto the balcony at daybreak, damp from a shower and dressed in enough to mask my skin’s craving.

July’s rain is nothing to its glare.  A geranium in its pink pot drinks up half the jug without draining a drop. Everyone is thirsty.

A spider bobs on filament above a mess of thyme. Every time my clumsy elbows tear loose her spun walls, she rebuilds.  I take care to duck under her strands but she knows better than to trust me.  She skitters to the safety of the railing, her back an arrow of malachite flashing through a mica shield.

The thyme has tangled itself into the rosemary.  Both started from seed two years ago.  Now they are a wild fury.  Winter buried their leggy stems, spring drowned them in pools of choked mud, and now summer burns them raw. As determined as their spider neighbor, they go on.  New strands unfurl sometime in the night.  When sun steams open the sky, tiny leaves press towards light.  They grow even when the only sustenance is a stolen sip from morning’s turgid heat.   Even left forgotten in the corner, they climb out of their barren beds and peel open their seams to free a thin, bristling marrow.

The marigolds and petunias perched up in boxes have curled in and darkened. I deadhead the withered, closing my fingertips gently around each base and letting the dry tissue fall free. It is more of a coax than a tug.  Picking blackberries requires the same light touch.  The ripe ones slip loose.  Any that resist are left to darken their bite to sugar.

Ample rain and sun have kept these blossoms in a state of perpetual return. They begin even as they end.  The petunias are tricky this way.  Bud or compost?  At a glance, it’s hard to know which are closed for good and which are waiting to open.  The only way to tell is with a tiny stroke, just enough for the purple fullness to lay its pulse against the skin. The gesture is almost imperceptible.  Does it fold itself over and surrender to its end?  Or does it flex and hold inside its cocoon of flesh?   Touch has no influence on the dormant thing, only on me.  Its signal sounds through cell, through our common organelles, that it is bud and not corpse.  I let go and step back.  Somewhere deep in its furred sepal it clings to the threads of its root, churning sustenance into the shape of itself, murmuring, here, I am here, don’t rush me, I’ll know when it’s time to wake up.


Image: “Earth Goddess” from a 2013 exhibition at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens by Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montréal

Children, Letting Go, Parenting

Language Immersion

water dragon

The motionless dragon in deep waters becomes the prey of the crabs.


– A fortune in a cookie in Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth

My mother is taking a Spanish class.  This is her retirement.  She also teaches ESL several days a week and is active in two book clubs.  Each spring, with a gaggle of bibliophiles, she travels to the UK for a mystery writers’ conference.  She goes to church, putters in the garden, cooks a meal almost every evening to share with my dad, and shows up at Bug’s school events.  She even pops by my house to give Noodle a daily walk while I’m at work.

All of this, and now Spanish.

“I need to do something to keep from being bored,” she says.

In all seriousness.  Bored.

Continue reading “Language Immersion”

Adventure, body, Relationships

Injured and Alone

paredes 2

The injury aligns with the breakup, a window sash in its jamb.  One smooth slide to a perfect seal.  In stays the still air.  Out there, bees and dew and all the fecund detritus of summer.

This forced meditation is only welcome because it came in with its trunk and has evaded any attempt to pin down its schedule for moving on.  All I can do is make it feel at home.  I fold myself in beside it and listen to it breathe. Continue reading “Injured and Alone”

Brain, Choices, Mindfulness

Positive Account Balance

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.


-Wilkins Micawber in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield

The last slide on the budget PowerPoint lays out our school’s financial plan:

  • Increase revenue
  • Decrease spending

(Seriously?)

The boss man knows enough to apologize for it but not enough to skip it altogether.  None of us wants to hear it again.  We are familiar with the formula. Every pixel of internet clickbait loops us back around to yet another listicle that peddles yet another version of the same recipe.

Want to get fit?  Exercise more, eat less.

Tackle the day?  Fewer screens, more sleep.

Be a good friend? Listen more, talk less.

A good lover? Less grasp, more give.

Scale it up and the formula breaks down. Good luck giving global overpopulation the “less babies, more birth control” treatment.  Large-scale social problems have to reckon with the complexity of human cultures, histories, and economies.

This is why we love the personal self-improvement principle almost as much as we loathe it.  While its simplicity balms the wounds of chaos, its refusal to acknowledge complexity drives us batty.

Too hooked on your fix? Use less, breathe more.

Struggling with social anxiety or loneliness? Isolate less, connect more.

Stuck in your career? Hide less, lead more.

Anyone who has ever come up against a tough challenge knows that paths are crooked and terrain that at first appeared solid turns to quicksand in a blink.  It’s only when we’re far on the other side of it — or perhaps when we’re judging some other poor sucker’s fight — that we apply the simplicity principle.

I’m not the only one in the room looking at those PowerPoint bullets through rolling eyes.  As if.

As if all our problems could be solved so easily.

But now I wonder.

What if Mr. Micawber is right after all?

Not for everything, but for one thing in particular: when it comes to this life-choking, spirit-sucking, too-many-decades-in-residence depression, what if Mr. Micawber’s formula is exactly the one I’ve never really tried?

More happy, less misery.

Of course it can’t be that easy.  Not for most of us anyway, and definitely not for the hard core clinical pits into which I stumble, body and mind shattered, bruised and slick with mud. . .

Yeah, that’s exactly the kind of metaphor that costs me twenty pounds nought and six.

Happy = revenue.  Misery = expense.

How might this look?  Here’s an example:  When I remember yet again that awful phone call from Friday in which I learned that Bug and I missed an opening from a many-years waitlist for family camp because I called one minute (the registration lady told me) after the last person who got in. . . I say to myself, “Rehashing this makes me sad. I’m going to think about something else now.” Then I cast around for something nice to notice and remind myself that we’re going to have our own adventure this summer, whatever it is.

Or it looks like this: When my kiddo scowls and tells me yet again that he doesn’t love me and in fact I stink like a rotten poop-eating skunk, I consider how much better laughing feels than fussing. I clap my hands in delight and say I love eating rotten poopy skunk carcasses, they’re even better if they’ve been marinated in worm puke. Then we’re giggling and tickling, and our smiles bounce off the walls.

Or it looks like putting on music when I’m home alone and dancing while I do the dishes. Or texting a girlfriend just to say hello. Or carrying colored pencils in my bag so I can doodle while my son carries on with his buddies at a birthday party.

Or just frittering away my time stuck in traffic counting off the day’s 100 blessings.

It looks like noticing when I’ve started to pay the inflated cost of ruminating while missing an opportunity to generate some pleasure revenue.  A person who tends towards depression needs only one thundercloud to knock the account all out of balance again. Building back up from that kind of debt is a wearying toil — an avoidable one, as it may happen.

When I have enough attention to notice, I might choose to forgo the temptation.  Do not overthink, do not give in to self-pity.  Like walking past the Cheetos at the supermarket.  Just don’t.  Sure, those things are familiar but they make me feel disgusting, and really, they don’t even taste that good.

Can it be this stupidly, improbably simple?

Give it a shot, Smirk.

Choose happy whenever possible.  Or colorful, or musical, or goofy. Choose anything that lifts and ignites over anything that weighs and chokes.  Marvel at the beets, smell a bunch of dill.  Imagine what new recipe to make.  Flirt with the butcher.  Hum while trundling down the aisles.  If it increases the happy income, do it.  If it exacts its price in misery, walk on by.

It makes me smile just to begin.

See? Already, I’m saving for happy.

Simple as that.


Brain, Change, Living in the Moment, Mindfulness

100 Blessings

Spring-Rain

In Jewish tradition, a person should recite 100 berakhot every day.  That’s 100 blessings.

So you are not Jewish.  Or you are.  And you think maybe a blessing is something like prayer.  Or gratitude.  Maybe it’s different too.  Maybe it’s noticing the azalea bush at the foot of the stairs and the way its blossoms began as thin green threads and now, after their full explosion, rest like a grandmother’s hands against damp leaves.

Maybe it’s also praising the rain.  Continue reading “100 Blessings”

Letting Go, Poetry

Ecdysis

Honeysuckle and waning moon. Outside
the door, freedom leaves
boots of alligator
teeth. They only fit you

when you take off
your skin
shaped name. Slice along seams
and peel back your tattoos,
those catalogues of cravings.

Permanence
is the chorus you memorized
and forgot
someone wrote. Before it
was,
it wasn’t.

You don’t go. You stay.
The going one is a stranger
with motives
unclear,
blood type
unknown.

 

Change, Poetry, Relationships

Tesselation and Return

Do you remember when we cracked our saddles against the flared skyline?

Morning is a container of lists now.
You rail in tight packets
and wear the fallen prism.
Swimming sidelong, the ring
in miniature
slides in next to the scratches
you squint into my waterlogged
furrow.

Your paddle, my web.
Your vigil, my birth.

The inverse of collapse is an empty rescue.

(Your collar
my attempt to soar)