Life

Another Day, Another Leap Backwards

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The image above is quite the statement, no?

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I can’t possibly write a post for every new atrocity I see coming from Washington DC or read about these past six days.  I, along with most of the people I know, am overwhelmed.  Shocked. Disgusted.  Infuriated. Flabbergasted.  For a few brief hours between Saturday night and Sunday morning, I had some hope.  So many women marching together, across the country, across the globe.  And then I learned a new phrase, “alternative facts.”  Bye, Hope!  Give me a call and we’ll do lunch some time. As far as I can tell, alternative facts are what happen when you take a lie, dress it up, add some lipstick and good hairspray, and then shout it over the actual facts.

We have grown used to instant access to unlimited information.  Much of the last year has focused on the negatives of this, because much of the information available is untested and untrue; perhaps a kernel of truth popped through a skewed burst of rancid oil and hot air to morph into a flake that looks deceptively soft, but remains hard and undigestible as it travels through the system.  Still, having access to information, facts about what’s happening now and what has happened in the past is, to say the least, a good thing.  Access to information like: what are our rights? What is climate change? Why did World War I begin? How did Hitler gain so much power, and how were average citizens convinced to engage in atrocities against other human beings? Why have sales of George Orwell’s 1984 shot up? And of course, how did they get the toothpaste in the tube?

I don’t know about you, but I’m really going to miss facts and information when they’re banned. Oh wait, that’s already begun.  Who needs the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the information and health protections it offers to citizens?  After all, it was created by that radical progressive, Richard Nixon.  It will only slow down the slaughter of human beings sure to begin shortly with the repeal of the ACA and cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.  Who needs Public Broadcasting?  Our children don’t need access to programming that isn’t beholden to corporate sponsors, shows that teach them about their world.  Pfft, that nonsense indoctrinates them with crazy ideas, like truth and facts, justice, equality, and humanity.  Science (oh, that dirty word).  I mean, if children have access to that shit, when they grow up they might want to keep learning, know more, discuss more, research, compare facts, and (shudder) then offer that information to the public.  We’ve been promised fast and furious by our new US administration, and they aren’t hesitating to deliver.

Oh! And just in case you think this is merely early bluster, that no one is really going to limit the information available to us, we’ve been offered this gem.  Yes, journalists facing felony charges for doing their jobs. Of all the nauseating and horrific things I’ve seen and heard over the past six days, this has to be the most terrifying.  Journalism.  Journalists.  Those whose job it is to observe and report on the political process, make sure the people in office do not exploit us or democracy.  Those whose job it is to make facts available to the public.  The fourth estate.  It’s true that along with serious and investigative journalism, there’s a long history of yellow journalism.  True, newspapers, news shows, etc need to attract readers and viewers and show profits or those journalists will lose their jobs.  In this day and age of short attention spans and desires for gilded squirrels, that has to make it incredibly difficult for individual journalists to avoid yellow journalism, and/or opining when what we need are straight facts.  Also true, 90% of our media outlets are currently owned by only six corporations, which is inherently dangerous.

And with so much information being thrown at us with updates every ten minutes, it can be easy to blow off what’s important.  Not make the connections we as citizens should be making, because we’re waiting for the next guy to tell us what those connections are, what we should snicker at and where we should be paying attention. Scotch tape holding the POTUS tie together? Snicker. C’mon, seems like a no-brainer, that our President, his press secretary and his counselor are talking about inaugural crowd sizes, offering “alternative facts” about them as if this is an issue of major import, is one to snicker at.  Except it isn’t.  That the POTUS and his staff feel the need to lie about something so small (in every sense of the word) and so easily, clearly proven false is in fact extremely important. It tells us what’s important to this new administration (hint, it isn’t us, the citizens of the US), and tells us how little respect they have for the public.  It also tells us what type of relationship they intend to have with the press. Whether we love or hate the press, we need them.  We always have, we always will. Without a true, free press, there is no democracy.

With a POTUS and administration that wants to isolate us, keep us from engaging with our traditional international allies and reality, wants to tell us any news they don’t like is fake, wants to feed us bullshit on a bun and tell us it’s good ol’ ‘Merican beef; with the GOP in control of the Senate and the House having a collective, waking wet dream of enabling and encouraging them to step on any dissent and take away our freedoms, our health care, our American dream of safe havens, paths to education and upward mobility, equality; with corporations giddy over the opportunity to make themselves more moneymoremoney without having to worry about pesky regulations, safety, or oversight, the only thing we the people have left are facts.  Knowledge. Integrity.

So I’m begging all journalists, please, please keep going. Keep digging, keep investigating, keep informing us.  The day after the election, I bought subscriptions to the NY Times and the Washington Post.  I’m thinking this may have been the wisest investment I’ve ever made. Toto, we may not be in Kansas anymore, but we won’t be easing down this road. We have all been given a load to carry.  None more than journalists.

All the Best People Are

Me, as drawn by Art Child about 4 years ago, age 11

Why yes, that is my avatar

It’s funny, isn’t it?  The small things that catch hold in your mind when something big and bad is going on.  Maybe it’s a defense mechanism, to avoid the brain shutting down completely.  Kind of like the grotesque show that begins today, Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017.  For the past few weeks I’ve been alternating between reading every newspaper article I can and shutting down the laptop and zoning out with Netflix. I’m sure I don’t have to detail how I was losing my shit, reading and watching clips from the Betsy DeVos hearing.  I think the democratic senators did a great job, demonstrating through their questions, how wholly unfit and inappropriate she is for Education Secretary.  I also think it doesn’t matter.  She, and the rest of the Billionaire Club, will be approved, because all prior rules of engagement, like knowledge, qualifications, and at least a pretense of ethics have been suspended for the foreseeable future.

A couple of days ago a friend posted a picture on Facebook, a piece of art from a popular artist promoting women’s rights and being offered for download.  What caught me wasn’t the art, it was the comment (not from my friend) that artists should keep their political views to themselves.  Oh my.  So terribly, woefully ignorant, a perfect case-in-point to what has gone wrong in America.  Art is political.  It makes you feel, it makes you see, it makes you connect, it makes you understand.  Doesn’t matter if we’re talking about visual art, poetry, prose, music, or performance.  All art is political.  And art is what endures.

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My home is not what some would think of when they imagine a family of artists.  The apartment is perfectly ordinary.  Look at the sketch above, Art Child drew it about four years ago, one of her very first pieces after she began, magically, miraculously, to draw.  That’s me in the sketch, perfectly ordinary.  We struggle with bills, we struggle with chronic and debilitating health issues, we struggle with the bits and bobs of life.  And we each love music and art and poetry and food and theater and literature, each with our own draws and, if I may be so bold, talents. Husband hears distinctions and nuances in music that are an entirely different dimension than I hear.  He can turn anything into a drum and create an irresistible beat.  Man Child creates art through food, and when he’s on a stage, it’s truly captivating.  The math he loves, “pure math,” incomprehensible to me, is another language, music in its own right, a language that has no borders of origin.  Nerd Child is a musician, a director, an orator.  Listening to him on his guitar makes me want to dance and weep at the same time.  He creates new worlds we all want to live in as he directs, and when he speaks, people listen. Art Child has developed her skills and talent, creating charcoal sketches and paintings that leave not just me, but others, strangers, talking about her work long after they’ve seen it.

Me? I write. I did write.  I tried to write.  Characters that are so everyday they’re more than a bit off, think you’re going to yawn and end with an oh! Settings that begin next door and then twist into the what the fuck.  My favorite “genre” is magical realism.  Not for escape, but for exploring the difficult and often ugly realities through the fantastical. Perfectly ordinary.

I am afraid of what’s to come tomorrow, next month, next year.  I’m a woman, on the downside of middle age, a self-proclaimed sort-of feminist, unsuccessful, a big and nasty mouth with a latino family.  By definition, not who our new administration wants to see or hear from.  We are ordinary people, caught in what looks to be an extraordinary time.  I don’t expect to become the next Salman Rushdie. I’m neither brilliant nor brave enough.  Let’s be honest, at 40,000 years old, dreams of acclaim and awards are long gone, but in those moments where I let myself dream, I still dream of being able to earn a dollar from my fiction.  Not because of the dollar, but because of the validation, because it would tell me I did, in fact, have an impact and speak someone’s truth other than my own. It is my belief that it is our obligation to continue to use our chosen mediums to explore and document what is happening, how it happened, why we are here.  Now is the time to be political. Create.

Hush

Conflicted Slippers

Conflicted Slippers

I don’t think I ever owned a pair of slippers before, but this Christmas, I requested and received these.  Nice, right?  Damn, these are comfy, cozy, and all kinds of aaah.

With the country seemingly on the verge of implosion by capitalism-run-amok, and rising uncertainties about, well, everything, the little things are feeling very important.  Small kindnesses, small comforts.  And then, three days ago, even these ridiculous looking fluffs took on another meaning.  Trump, PEOTUS, tweeted a thanks to Linda Bean for what appears to be a questionable donation, and of course, telling everyone to support LL Bean. ’cause that’s totally what the President should be doing, right? Good grief, is there no respite from this bullshit–even in the privacy of my home, in my goddamned pajamas?  No, no there isn’t.

Which brings me to my point.  This week, as promised, the GOP took their first steps towards repealing the Affordable Care Act.  Oh yeah, they also began clearing the path for future cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.   Needless to say, I and many of my friends have been freaking out.  No, this wasn’t a surprise to any of us.  This is *exactly* what the GOP and Trump said they were going to do.  That doesn’t make it any less horrific, terrifying, and downright immoral.  And it isn’t just us, this “small”  percentage (14%, last I saw) of families who have a child with medical needs.  It’s everyone who has a preexisting condition, might ever develop cancer or other catastrophic illness, might have a serious accident, use birth control, or, yanno, would like to be able (legally and financially) to make decisions for our health–even if we’re women.

It’s true, I’ve seen a few posts and comments here and there from people who voted for Trump who are surprised and unhappy.  Why yes, the ACA is the actual name for Obamacare, so you just voted to cut your own healthcare.  You’d have known this if you read full articles and didn’t rely on memes and rally soundbites as the sole source of your information.  Why yes, the Medicaid you were able to get because of Medicaid Expansion, part of the ACA.  Why yes, your young adult child is able to stay on your health insurance until the age of 26 because of the ACA.  Why yes, you were suddenly able to get health insurance you could afford despite preexisting conditions because of the ACA.  Why yes, you/your child will continue to be insured and receive life-saving treatments that can carry a sticker price of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year because of the ACA–because yes, with the old “lifetime caps,” there were many who exhausted their lifetime benefits within 5-10 years of treatment.  I would like a law that says people who voted for Trump and GOP lawmakers cannot identify as pro-life, they must identify as pro-birth, because they’re happy to watch all those babies die after they’re born.

Oh, I’m sorry, did you believe Trump and the GOP when they said they’d keep the parts you liked?  I can only quote our PEOTUS, “Lies.” That shit was magical thinking, not a binding pledge. But many comments I’ve seen and heard from those on the opposite side of the political spectrum aren’t expressing surprise or outrage.  Quite the opposite, they’re still celebrating, “the swamp is being drained.”  Yes, and as it’s drained it’s being refilled with the raw sewage of unprecedented conflicts of interest, overt greed, racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, possible treason, and plain old hatred of the less fortunate.

Most of the comments I’ve seen and heard are the ones that prompted this post.  They’re the ones that say, “relax.  Being upset doesn’t help. Wait and see, nothing has happened yet.”  Oddly enough these are the comments I’ve heard the most because I’m hearing them from both sides. It’s true, being upset doesn’t actually solve anything.  Very logical, thank you, Spock.  Guess what? Neither does burying your head in the sand.  I’m no political pundit, but I’m pretty sure that philosophy/methodology is what got us here.  You know what else?  As the parent of a child with medical needs, the wife of someone with preexisting conditions, I don’t get to step away from this or wait and see, because those medical needs are every. fucking. day. and things are indeed happening.

The ACA is certainly not perfect, and there are people who have been faced with premiums that are unsustainable long term.  Seems to me logic would say fix it, don’t set that shit on fire. Our social contract is rapidly becoming a social disease.

Raise The Stakes

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When you write fiction, once you get past the technical/grammar/POV aspects, there aren’t a whole lot of rules. Guidelines, but those are flexible, boiling down to if you write well enough, if the story is riveting, you can “get away with” practically anything.  There’s one bit of wisdom that I believe is a rule: raise the stakes. What’s the worst thing that could happen to your protagonist, the biggest muck they could make of the situation in front of them? Make that happen.

I remember, about a thousand years ago, the catchphrase in the pop psychology/self-help section of the bookstore was, “we write our own scripts.”  Positive, empowering, offering the idea that we control what happens in our individual worlds. Imagine it for a second, with a laptop, a 99 cent Bic, or a pencil found in a goodie bag, we control it all.

Except we don’t.  Sure we control how we respond to events in our lives, and many situations are the result of choices we make, but sometimes not. Some of these situations are the result of other people’s choices–say, being faced with terror of potential loss of health care and special ed services for a medical needs kiddo because other voters decided tax cuts and a pro life stance were more important than social services, social justice, and the needs of children and adults who’ve already been born.

The holiday season is always a bit tricky for those who deal with chronic medical needs.  Those yucky viruses that are a nuisance for all can get complicated, more serious, and last longer than they do for the average healthy person.  We’re quite used to medical mayhem here in Fringeland.  It always sucks, but you do get used to the reality of a shifting normal, not necessarily expecting but being prepared for potential complications and unpleasant surprises. Or so you think.  Because sometimes you go to Dr Pediatrician who sends you to Dr Specialologist who sends you back to Dr Pediatrician who sends you immediately to another Dr Specialologist who sees and diagnoses something completely unexpected, that may or may not have an underlying cause, but regardless, threatens the vision of kiddo. The vision. Both eyes. Of kiddo whose all-things-good come from the visual.

Yeah, sometimes shit just happens, and it feels like some sadistic fucking wizard behind the curtain is writing a manuscript where you and yours are featured, and (s)he’s snickering at they keyboard because they figured out how to raise. the. stakes. for the next few chapters. If I were writing this manuscript, this novel (remember–by definition, a novel is fiction) and wanted to raise the stakes for an already challenged artist? No hesitation, I’d threaten vision. If I actually could control this, could write my own script? Absolutely, I’d get my butt back in the chair, at the keyboard, and write for twenty-two hours a day. But this isn’t a novel, and I sure as shit didn’t write this manuscript.

I may skip decorating the tree, and let the crying sap be my holiday statement.

Empty Words

Leave the page blank long enough and it starts looking clean rather than empty.

Leave the page blank long enough and it starts looking clean rather than empty.

Have you ever wished Mrs Fringe would stop whining and shut the fuck up? Today is your day. I am taking a break. At the moment, I’m not sure how long, maybe I’ll change my mind tomorrow, next week, next year (so go ahead and stay subscribed for a while), I don’t know.

Words and writing have always been such an integral part of who I am, I’m honestly not sure who I am without them.  But as I’ve always said, I write to be read, I write to be half of a dialogue–spoken or not.  About a year ago I came to the conclusion that my fiction isn’t going anywhere.  That was a very difficult, painful conclusion.  I made self deprecating jokes and gave myself lectures.  Ok, you suck– big deal, so do most people.  Welcome to the ranks.  Sure I have occasional bouts of the dreaded hope, and send out some queries or write a story, but that faith that it will happen?  Not so much. I don’t have writer’s block, if you’re wondering–I’ve got plenty of ideas and notes and internal discipline; if someone offered me a contract tomorrow I’d be back to work within an hour. I have always written the stories and characters that I love, that I would want to find in the bookstore. But I don’t write for myself, I write hoping to offer others what I love to read, that sense of Yes. This author gets it, and has given voice to my thoughts, breathed life into characters I want to spend hours with. Many (most?) fiction writers disagree, and believe you should write for yourself.  Perhaps they’re right, but it hasn’t worked for me.

I kept blogging because it’s different than writing fiction, offers something else without pesky hopes, dreams, or expectations. I have tried to use humor (often gallows humor, but still) to address real and sometimes frightening issues.  Mostly I kept blogging for the same reason I started, a space to be a whole person, more than any one label or role I fill in the “real” world, to connect and have conversations with others, listening and being listened to. Now I am depleted. At this moment I see no point in blogging about writing if I’m not writing, no point in blogging about being a woman standing up for other women and women’s rights when my country has made it clear it isn’t interested in women’s rights and safety, no point in blogging about democracy when my country has voted for a demagogue, no point in blogging about the struggles facing people of color when the country has aligned itself with the KKK, no point in laying out the struggles of dealing with chronic illnesses in loved ones when the majority, including some who have cried with me, has just made it clear that ultimately, they don’t care and don’t want to hear it.

I know that many who are better, smarter, more evolved and generous souls than I am are sending out messages of hope, reassurances of caring, safety, and continued efforts.  Very lovely, and necessary.  Right now, I can’t do it, and frankly, I think it was the assumption that in the end people will put shared humanity above differences that has led us to where we are right now.

Many of my regular readers and commenters are not American, which has been an amazing, beautiful thing; WordPress is a fabulous platform, allowing me to feel that I have connected with others outside of my immediate, narrow margins. That said, I am American, and the American people have spoken–I am to pick a label and that is the sum of who I am. How boring. Hell, it makes me yawn just to think about it, who wants to log on and read a label?

Hot Off the Presses! or, Last Gasp

Someone appreciates my efforts.

Someone appreciates my efforts.

There are many things I am not.  One of them is crafty.  Some people have the magic touch, some of us don’t. Really, I wanted to learn how to knit, but was defeated multiple times by the instruction, “cast on.” I tried, not happening.  Despite this, once in a while I enjoy crocheting crooked scarves and uneven afghans.  Maybe I just enjoy the look on Husband and Fringelings’ faces when I gift them, and they’re trying to decide if I’m pulling their leg or just blind.

You know what else I’m not? A journalist. That’s right, you heard it here first; blogging is not journalism, and shouldn’t be confused with it.  The other day I did a bit of shameless self-promotion, sent a link to this blog to a friend; mostly because I was too lazy to retype all the blathering I’ve already done re my thoughts on this election.  I gave him a heads up, this is not a political blog per-se, but I do a fair amount of blogging about politics.  I’ve been thinking about that.  Why have I written so many posts about this election?  I’m not kidding when I describe myself on the “About” page; I’m an expert on nothing.  Not a journalist, not a political pundit, not someone who’s paid for her words.

So why have I continued to rant? I think mostly it comes down to the same core feeling that has many supporting Trump.  Ewww.  For all my love of navel gazing, plumbing the depths of humanity, and the grotesque, that could be the most squirm-inducing sentence I’ve ever written.  Still, it’s frustration; it’s feeling powerless.  And that feeling of powerlessness (is that really a word? auto-correct isn’t saying no, but it sounds/looks wrong) comes out in different ways.  For me, it comes out in long, spluttering blog posts, horrified as I see the ugliness that has always lived in America’s laws and psyche magnify among our citizens, reflected in the face of Donald Trump.  But I guess for some–too many–others, it comes out in the ways of the stereotypical playground bully, push those perceived as weaker down on the ground and mash them into the asphalt.  Because that’s what you’re doing, when you campaign to take away the dreams of immigrants, the rights of citizens, send women back to the kitchen–unless, of course, those women are young and “hot,” in which case they can be displayed and groped.

Not to be too hippie dippy, but when you count yourself among the powerless–because of fortune or circumstance–it really is the non-material things that become most important.  Like character. That’s what has left my jaw grazing my chipped toenails for a year now. I try to be a decent person, I try not to be judgmental. I’m not always successful, I don’t hesitate to admit this.

What is the character of someone who supports Donald Trump?  I don’t mean in terms of religion, too many ways to interpret a verse, too many wars fought over who has the right God; and no, I don’t care how many times he’s been married, let alone what his wife did/didn’t wear during her modeling days. For whatever policies he hasn’t laid out, he’s been very clear about what he stands for.  He and his supporters stand for mocking and rejecting those who are differently abled, even now in these last hours. He and his supporters believe sexual assault is acceptable. They believe it’s ok to have someone proven thin-skinned and inexperienced hold the nuclear codes. He and his supporters stand side by side with white supremacists, who would love nothing more than to see the US become a fascist state.   Am I wrong for rejecting this as a valid political opinion, saying those who support this man are unworthy of respect? I know some who support him are doing so while saying they’re only doing so because they’re worried about who might be chosen for the Supreme Court vacancy.  They’re worried about life, those potential fetuses. I’m not so different, I’m worried about lives too–the young girls and women who carry those lives, and the many diverse lives that will be dismissed and discounted under a Trump Presidency. Is this evidence of me as a judgmental bitch? Maybe, but that’s where I stand, and this is all I’ve got; my voice, my words.

This is it, the final hour.  Tomorrow is election day, and I already miss Barack Obama.

Sigh of Relief or Hold Your Breath?

Flower Bulbs--finally ordered them in the right season

Flower Bulbs–finally ordered them in the right season

Well, it’s been an interesting week here in the final leg of this election cycle.  That curse again, “may you live in interesting times.”  Donald Trump and his campaign seem to be imploding.  As horrifying as his continued statements are, as disgusting but not shocking as the accusations of inappropriate behavior and sexual assault are, he’s still here, still in the news, still the person the Republican Party chose to have represent and lead them in the 2016 election.  I have friends on the left who are beginning to breathe a sigh of relief as his poll numbers drop.  Me?  I’m holding my breath.

The calendar may say it’s fall, I may be watching my freckles fade and wearing a sweater on the terrace, but I feel like it’s spring, and those sprouts in the soil aren’t going to produce prized flowers.  Instead, the invasive roots that have been busy under the surface choking out desired vegetables will yield blooms that release a putrid stench, cloying and spreading so it overlays our gardens, our streets, our dinner tables.  How’s that for purple prose?  Drama or melodrama, I can’t yet say, but I think my concerns are real enough.

Yesterday, when I opened the box of bulbs I had ordered online, I read the instructions.  Add bulb fertilizer.  Who knew there was such a thing?  Needless to say, by the time I went to the local store to find and purchase bulb fertilizer, it negated the whole purpose of ordering online to minimize cost.  Trump is the fertilizer.  Overpriced, surely unnecessary but for those who don’t know what they’re doing and can’t be bothered to do adequate research, they buy it–just in case.  So now, he’s done his job by supporting and feeding all of the hate and fear that was at least nominally underground, strengthened the roots so the stench will spread and linger, in the form of his supporters and the politicians who endorse equivalent messages of hate but are just polished enough not to use the naughty words that cause sensible souls to clutch their pearls.

So what’s going to happen now that all of this hate has been fed, engorged with new life?  Where will these people take their message and what will they do with it?  How will America recover, when our response to the one of the most brilliant, successful, scandal-free Presidents (and families, thank you Michelle Obama!) was to elevate a greedy, gilded, spoiled sociopath to a position where he has freely insulted everyone–within our borders and worldwide?  I’ve heard whispers of maybe the moderate Republicans will step up once more.  Really? Because I don’t see any, haven’t seen any in a long, long time.  A precedent has been set, long before Trump was given the nod.  A precedent was set when this obstructionist congress took their resistance to all things Obama so far they have ignored his nomination for the Supreme Court, and left the seat vacant instead.  I’ll be honest here, since they’ve carried it this far, I hope they’re forced to eat it with fava beans and a nice chianti, if Hillary Clinton would be so kind as to nominate someone who doesn’t lean so far right as Obama’s pick.  A precedent was set when the Tea Party movement became mainstream, took seats in Congress.

As for Donald Trump himself, there’s only one thing I’m sure of, much like his declared loss of $916 million dollars, he’s already figured out how to make this shitshow a personal gain and win.

If we are to remain–or maybe that’s return to–the land of the free, we can’t pretend this anger and hatred spouted from Trump’s coif and grabby hands, and we certainly can’t engage in magical thinking that this will all disappear with a Clinton win.

Do poppies grow from bulbs?  Because maybe my analogy shouldn’t be weeds, but heroin.  Cheap, easy, insidious, deadly.  The damage is done.

The Line Keeps Moving

 

We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of my top ten novels, always comes to mind when someone asks for a recommendation.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of my top ten novels, always comes to mind when someone asks for a recommendation.

This morning, as every morning, after my yoga I sat in front of the laptop and started cruising the news.  I don’t read any one paper/site cover to cover; I hop around, the HuffPo, The Guardian, New York Times, Politico, and any links popped up overnight on my Facebook feed that catch my eye.  And so I saw the headline for this essay in The Guardian, and got excited.  (As excited as I get at pre sunrise, only on my second cup of coffee.)  I am a huge fan of Lionel Shriver, as evidenced by the photo above.  Over the past few years I’ve gotten rid of the majority of my paper books–surprisingly liberating–but I keep a couple of shelves worth, a selection or two or three showcasing authors I worship or individual volumes that have had a huge impact on me, as a person and/or as someone who writes.

When I read the essay, my first thought was, “oh, fuck.”  It’s about the author’s response to part of a speech given by Lionel Shriver, about identity, cultural appropriation, what is or isn’t ok for an author to explore through their fiction.  When I love an author’s work, I want to be one hundred percent devoted to them in every way.  I want them to be the giants I’ve built them up to become in my mind, I want to have faith as I learn more about them that this is someone I’d enjoy having conversations with over tea, coffee, or a glass of wine.  Silly, isn’t it?  Especially silly when I’m someone who still harbors occasional fantasies of being published (well published!), and yet here I am running this blog:  Mrs Fringe of the colorful language, big mouth, strong opinions, and anything but neutral political leanings.  I have no doubt there are many who would not enjoy having coffee with me, maybe even some of the same who enjoy my words when they’re fiction.  I’m the first to admit not everyone finds my sense of humor charming. General publishing wisdom–common sense, really–dictates that anyone hoping to earn a dollar from strangers shouldn’t do anything to actively offend anyone.

The thing is, I’m a person, first and foremost. That’s what Mrs Fringe is about, being a person who wears many hats, plays many roles; complete with disappointments, laughter, mourning, screw-ups, nonsense, inappropriate thoughts, offensive-to-some language, a desire to be heard and understood, a desire to learn and understand more, a desire to connect with others.  Kinda like, oh, say…fiction.  And the authors of said fiction.  Yes, it’s imaginary characters and made up scenarios, but good fiction, enduring fiction, the kind of fiction Lionel Shriver writes, is uncompromising, unapologetic.  She creates characters who are SO real, doesn’t hesitate to use her characters and scenarios to explore who we are as human beings, as a society, to use the mirror of fiction to examine the beauty, pain, and the ugly bits of what it means to be a whole person.  Sure it’s uncomfortable, but it’s also riveting.  This is the fiction that endures, because people are people–now, fifty years from now, two hundred years ago.

So I’m a person.  So, apparently, is Ms. Shriver.  And I read the essay, thinking about the author of the essay, her offense at Lionel Shriver’s remarks referencing how easily, too easily, people are offended now, the idea of political correctness.  Her offense at the idea that a novelist can accurately and appropriately portray someone whose experience of life is vastly different than their own, i.e.: a white novelist writing a person of color, straight novelist writing LGBTQ characters, etc.  Her interpretation of the novelist’s speech as arrogance–maybe it was, because I only have the author’s paraphrasing before she walked out twenty minutes into it, I don’t have enough information to give an informed opinion.

I want to be offended by her offense.  But I’m not.  The truth is, she has a point.  Could a white male have written Their Eyes were Watching God, given the character of Janie Crawford the same depth, the same enduring honesty created by Zora Neale Hurston?  Nope. Could In the Time of Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez, have been written by someone who isn’t Dominican, written in a way that allows the reader to come as close to feeling what it would be like living in the shadow of Trujillo as you feel reading her story of the Mirabel sisters?  Nope.  If a white author writes a black protagonist, I’m going to be skeptical, I’m going to be wondering about the character being written in a way that is not only not realistic, but wondering about the icky squicky line of that protagonist being written in such a way that it’s lecturing (subtle or not) the reader on how a person of color should be feeling in this imaginary scenario.  Will that novelist be able to allow the reader to feel the enduring humanity while preserving the reality of life experiences through they eyes and thoughts of a protagonist who isn’t straight and white?

Lionel Shriver, as far as I could tell from the essay, had a point, too. If we are afraid to examine any but our own narrow viewpoint, so afraid of using the wrong words we stay silent, we will never understand a damned thing, and our worlds will shrink with the novels in front of us, rather than expanding.  Female authors have written beautiful, powerful strong male characters and vice versa.  What would seventh graders read if Harper Lee hadn’t written To Kill a Mockingbird?  What are we teaching these future generations (*cue thinkofthechildren wail*) if they stop reading it because it might be triggering, or offensive to examine our society’s racism–past and present?  You know what was amazing to me, about Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin?  Reading about her afterwards, and learning she isn’t a parent.  My mind was blown.  But maybe it shouldn’t have been.  Maybe it’s because she isn’t a parent that she was able to take such a hard look at parenthood without turning the mother into a saint or a caricature of a villain (though not necessarily likable).

Would it be the same thing, a white author writing a protagonist who is Black, or Latino, Asian or Indigenous?  No, but it also shouldn’t mean limiting characters to only those who experience life the same way the writer does.  If it did I’d have to give up even fantasizing about having anything published.  I can see it now, the NY Times Best Seller– Mrs Fringe Buys a Slow Cooker.

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Cultural appropriation is a real thing, and it’s something we need to be aware of, and sensitive to.  Maybe it’s harder for whites to understand because so much of the tradition of white, Christian culture involves the attempt to force it down the throats of everyone else.  What the line is, exactly, I’m not sure.  At the beginning of this post I referenced yoga.  Is it cultural appropriation for me to practice yoga?  I’m pretty sure I don’t have that Jane Fonda exercise tape anymore.  Or a beta machine to play it on.  Nerd Child tells me the Weeping Buddha statuette I have on my desk is cultural appropriation.  I don’t know, it makes me feel better to touch it in the early morning, pretend that I really am letting go of any sadness and starting the day with a clean slate.

Mother of God with Child--Kuz'ma Petrov-Vodkin

Mother of God with Child–Kuz’ma Petrov-Vodkin

I saw the above painting recently, wished I could have it hanging in my apartment.  I’m far from a religious anything, let alone Russian Orthodox.  It’s art, and what makes great art (visual, written, or other) is the creator’s ability to preserve the specific subject while transcending it, offering the reader/observer/listener a world outside of her own while tapping into the common themes we all share.

People don’t change, the human condition has had us exploring the same questions for hundreds of years.  Society, though.  Society changes.  The words and language we use changes.  What is acceptable changes.  The line of what is or isn’t ok to do and say moves.  Sometimes it moves quickly.  It behooves all of us to remember this, and if we write, or read, or engage with the world in any way, it behooves us to remember this, like everything else that’s important, involves many shades of gray.

*Follow up: This morning I saw the transcript of Shriver’s full speech in The Guardian.  I thought some of my readers might be interested, and as always, invite all to come back and comment here if you read it.

Fundamental

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) around 1570, "The Flaying of Marsyas"

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) around 1570, “The Flaying of Marsyas”

I was going to do a Part II post of our trip to The Met Breuer, but I’m going to do a bit of navel gazing instead.  I’ll use a couple of the photos I took for something else that’s been on my mind.  Recently I’ve heard and seen quite a few people referencing the concept of “fundamentally good.”  As in, human beings are fundamentally good, love conquers all, good always triumphs over evil, etc.  On both small (personal) and large (nations, international) scales.  I’m…not so sure of that.  Not saying human beings are fundamentally evil, or “bad,” but fundamentally flawed? Maybe.  Look at a close up of the face from this painting, close to 500 years old:

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Do you recognize it?  That stare has been all over the news recently.  Here. And it’s been here. Without war, here. No stare, but a story that’s yet to end here. I could go on, find 50 more examples without effort, but you get the point.  I know I could just as easily find photos of hope and affirmation, and that’s why I don’t believe we’re fundamentally evil.  But flawed? Yes.

As I type, there are about 1300 people, asylum seekers, including 50 children, being held in detention sites off the coast of Australia, in Nauru and Manus Island.  Naturally, many horrific photos have recently come out of there.  Crimes against humanity.  Feeling smug, Americans? Don’t. And a little history.

A few months back, Donald Trump said he could look Syrian children (refugees) in the face and tell them they can’t come here.  Because safety. And possibility, and terrorists.  I’m certain I’ve read this story before.  Oh gee, Trump has no compassion for others but a hyuuuuge sense of otherness.  Yawn.  Trump, his beliefs, his greed, not the issue.  The issue is how many, and how many in positions of power and authority, support him and his ideas.  How many voted for him, and will vote for him in November.

Is this current election cycle truly shocking, when we pull our heads out of the sand and look at history, both recent and ancient?  Is the photo of 5 year old Omran Daqneesh (the little boy in the first link) truly shocking?  Is it shocking to see the headlines about last week’s disastrous flooding in Louisiana are focused on which politicians (and political wannabes) have gone to visit and when, whether or not the displaced are getting first page coverage or third?

It is our human flaws that allow these things to occur.  It is our human flaws that make us interesting. It is our human flaws that prompt us to strive for more, for better.  But it’s our denial of these fundamental flaws, our insistence on not only closing our eyes but obscuring our vision and differences that keep us stuck, repeating history.

Anton Raphael Mengs, 1775, "Portrait of Mariana de Silva y Sarmiento, Duquesa de Huescar"

Anton Raphael Mengs, 1775, “Portrait of Mariana de Silva y Sarmiento, Duquesa de Huescar”

 

Sunrise Thoughts

4:45am

4:45am

You should dye your hair

You shouldn’t dress so young

You should lose weight

You should gain weight

You should work out

You should reinvent yourself

You shouldn’t try to be someone else

4:52am

4:52am

You should put your children first

You should put yourself first

You should eat this

You shouldn’t eat that

You should live in the moment

You should look to the future

5:04am

5:04am

You should have faith

You should stop dreaming

You should do it only for the love of it

You should be practical

5:05am

5:05am

You should speak up

You should shut up

5:09am

5:09am