Oh, We Rioted Too

I stepped onto an elevator at work today and caught the end of a conversation:

“…and now that they’re burning down the businesses in their own neighborhood, they’ll have to go even farther–with their hands out!…Hey, Ashley!”

I was ashamed of myself. In the trip between one floor, I couldn’t think of what to say to these caregivers. Yes, I work in a place where kindness is the norm and we treat everyone who walks in the door in need of help.

I couldn’t find my voice in that instant to call out what I had heard.

I saw the same comments on Facebook that you did, the ones asking, “Why are they burning and looting? What good will that do?” One commentor even stated, “White people didn’t riot when OJ was acquitted.”

Demonstrations in 1995 after the Simpson criminal-trial verdict split along racial lines. This one was held in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Demonstrations in 1995 after the Simpson criminal-trial verdict split along racial lines. This one was held in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Yes, yes we did.

The difference is, we had a nice safe place to express our rage. White people owned the media outlets. We raged and rioted on TV so much that we created the 24-hour news cycle.

That’s the thing I have learned about rage–it will be expressed through whatever means are available to you. If you have the microphone, the chair, the podium, there are plenty of outlets for your rage. If a stone is the only means of power available to you, you will use that.

A Palestinian boy doesn’t throw a rock because it is photogenic. A lone man doesn’t face down a Chinese tank with a grocery bag to be poignant. A furious man in Ferguson doesn’t tip over a car because a camera is there to capture the shot. Those are expressions of simply not being able to take it one second longer. Looking around for something that translates fury into power. And using it.

Do I think it’s right? Of course not. But sometimes it’s the only tool at hand.

Nailed It


It’s not really “home” until you hang stuff on the wall, right?

I spent a few hours today at my friend’s place, helping her hang stuff on the walls. She’s one of the Cool Kids. It’s been a rough year. Hanging pictures had been her partner’s task for fourteen years. Now it’s not. So the Cool Kids showed up, like we tend to do.

This wasn’t like the last Cool Kids operation where there was serious back-breaking work to get done. This day was about making an apartment into a home–finishing touches and being present. Susan brought the dog a ball. Nicole arrived with homemade spaghetti sauce and meatballs, even a little bag of freshly shaved Parmesan for topping. Libby made a cake…with a nipple, but that’s a story for her blog. It sure made the birthday girl laugh. I brought prosecco, disposable champagne flutes, and a laser level. Erica contributed the hammer. Even Heather, who couldn’t be there in person because she was driving home from her father’s memorial out of state–Heather supplied a chocolate stout and sent pictures from the highway.

We sat on the floor with glasses of wine and listened to the ones with freshly broken hearts talk it through. We cried. We laughed. There was a lot of nodding and dabbing of the corners of the eyes. I rolled the ball across the floor for the dog. She brought it back. The dog wasn’t possessive of her mama, like she is when they come to my house. I think she knew Mama was safe. We are all in the same pack.

When it was time to get to work, we asked our friend how she wanted her home to feel. Where should the cowboy painting go if it’s her favorite? What should she see on the wall when she walks in the front door? What does she want to see while she’s lying in bed? How about this lamp here? That bookshelf there? What if we moved the couch to this wall? OK, what if we don’t.  Do you want something in the hallway or should this go in the kitchen?

She wasn’t 100% sure. It’s so hard to go from us to me. From we to I. To have to put that favorite picture in the desk drawer so it doesn’t hurt. I thought of the Michael Feinstein song “Where Do You Start?” that goes, “Which books are yours? Which thoughts and dreams belong to you and which are mine?” I sang that song over and over when I spent a day separating Fartbuster’s books into neat white banker’s boxes.

Hammering a nail into the wall is tough, because it’s a decision. It’s saying, “This is where I’m going to be.”

cowboyLibby whacked the first nail. Turns out that she and I have divergent approaches to hanging stuff. While I scrounged around for a measuring tape, stud finder, level, pencil…she eyeballed it and WHAM. Picture hung. Next!

And it worked. (Well, after I scooched it just a smidgen to the right and three inches down.)

I was the one who did the math and the measuring and the hammering when it was time to hang the cowboy painting, but it was Libby who took it one step further and hung our friend’s lasso and favorite cowboy hat on the facing wall to complete the tableau. I put the lamp in the logical place and she came right behind me and put it in the beautiful place. The place where it lit up the painting and brought it to life.

It all worked.

When you have a tribe, a pack, “your people,” you don’t ever have to face things alone. You get your tall friend to mark the wall and your short friend to hold the painting and your logical friend to use the level and your friend with panache to add the finishing touches.

On our own, we were afraid.

Together, we nailed it.

Life is Sweet

Let’s have a moment of music appreciation today. This song got me out of a dark place today. Natalie Merchant, “Life Is Sweet”:

natalie merchant

It’s a pity
it’s a crying shame
who pulled you down again?
how painful it must be
to bruise so easily inside

It’s a pity
it’s a downright crime
but it happens all the time
you wanna stay little daddy’s girl
wanna hide from the vicious world outside

Call it seasonal depression. Or emotional fatigue. Or denial. I call it “dragging the wagon.” Today I was dragging the wagon behind me and in that wagon is every brave thing I’ve ever wanted to do and left short, every pound I’ve failed to lose, every person I ever disappointed, every dream I had that didn’t come true.

So who pulled me down again? The bruise inside, the one I work on and sometimes think I’m getting past. The fear of putting my heart into the vicious world and getting it shredded. The fear of running back for comfort to my daddy and him not being there.

Three friends have lost their daddies in the past week. And the story I haven’t been telling for a couple of months now is that I almost lost mine. It scares me so much that I can’t look at it straight on. My dad was very close to dying. He’s back now. He called me the other day to thank me for the orchid I brought when he was in the rehab place. We’ll eat turkey next week and be grateful.

I’m sad for Heather and Jonathan and Laura who are trying to find words to say goodbye and thank you and good job, Dad.

But don’t cry
know the tears’ll do no good
so dry your eyes

They told you life is hard
it’s misery from the start
it’s dull and slow and painful

I tell you life is sweet
in spite of the misery
there’s so much more
be grateful

10700549_10204326604998278_6333280427733818279_oThis weekend, I took the kids down to the playfort in the backyard and got choked up when I saw that the cherry tree had dropped all of its leaves overnight. One day, a globe of golden whispering leaves and the next day, a silent carpet over the frosty ground. Some trees, like my neighbor’s sugar maple, take weeks to shed their leaves, so long that we get kind of used the change. Others–whoosh and they’re gone in the first hard freeze.

That cherry tree was a wedding gift from my coworkers when Richard and I married. It stayed in a pot for months, waiting on the soil to soften up with spring. I got around to planting it after Richard died. It’s been especially precious to me now that my babies play in its shade. Time and sunlight and being grounded–that’s all it needed to grow.

For almost ten years, I’ve grown used to the miracle of that tree. Pink pom poms in spring, pale green leaves through the summer, then the golden show of fall. And every year, the shock of the day when it’s just gone. Bare and spare. Reminding me how suddenly everything can change.

Who do you believe?
who will you listen to
who will it be?
it’s high time that you decide
in your own mind

Dragging the wagon. Carrying all this fear and sadness around and not writing it out. Afraid to write it wrong or write it right. Trying to speak my truth but the hand over my mouth is my own. That’s why I found myself crying at my desk at lunchtime. “Life Is Sweet” came on Pandora and it took me back all those years to when I first loved this song and had no earthly idea how true it is. I sat there and cried because I’m so tired of wanting things to be different but not making them different. Time to make up my own mind.

mapleThere’s a red maple outside my office window, and as it’s been losing its scarlet leaves this week, more sunshine gets through. I sat there today next to the window, half of my tired body warmed in the light and half of it shivering. Natalie’s words calling out to me from my phone.

They told you life is hard

it’s misery from the start
it’s dull and slow and painful

I tell you life is sweet
in spite of the misery
there’s so much more
be grateful

Who do you believe?
who will you listen to
who will it be?

I closed my eyes. In the dark quiet there behind my eyelids, the left eye caught a reddish glow from the sun shining through. The right eye looked out into the darkness.

It’s high time you decide
it’s time you make up your own sweet little mind

With my eyes still closed, I turned towards the sun. I sat still and let it warm me. Just like my cherry tree, “Time and sunlight and being grounded–that’s all I need to grow.”

They told you life is long
be thankful when it’s done
don’t ask for more
you should be grateful

But I tell you life is short
be thankful because before you know
it will be over

Cause life is sweet
and life is also very short
your life is sweet

If you are the praying type, say a peaceful one for Ted and Heather, Stephen and Jonathan, Gary and Laura. And say a thankful one for Sam and Ashley.

Daddy, I’m glad you’re back. I love you and I’m grateful for you. Save me some turkey.

No Milk, Two Sugars

coffee-239716_1280The other day, I came back from lunch and I stopped into Nicole’s office to tell her that I had run into one of the Big Bosses on the stairs and had asked him about a situation that needed clearing up.

She stared at my boobs. Well, boob. The right one, to be exact.

“You talked to him just now?”


Then she burst out laughing and pointed to my chest. I looked down to discover that my sweaty drink cup, which I had brought back from lunch, had brushed up against my red shirt and left a giant nipple-sized wet spot right on the bullseye. Nice.

No wonder that dude was so agreeable. I should have asked about the capital budget.

I laughed it off, but it did remind me of the days when I was nursing my babies or pumping at work and those kinds of mishaps were a real thing to think about.

And today, my friend Janelle from Renegade Mothering shared a picture of her cute new haircut and had to add, “Don’t mind the naked breastfeeding picture. I was stuck.” The curve of her sweet baby’s head in the corner of the picture took me back to those days of being stuck. The very best kind of stuck, when I spent hours in a rocking chair with my baby and a book. Lying curled together on the bed in the small hours of the night. A time when my #1 responsibility was sitting still and helping someone else grow. Those were the good old days.

I’m not trying to start a debate about breast feeding over formula. Or next to formula or after or behind or whatever. Vivi nursed until the week before her second birthday and it was a wonderful time in my life. Carlos weaned himself after 15 months. I was sad then because I knew it would be the last time that I would sit so still while helping someone grow.

Today, I was thinking about all this as Carlos and I walked in the house after school. My hand brushed the top of his head as he sailed past me and I said, “My sugar.”

That’s how I’ll take this next part of mothering–no milk, two sugars.


Sweet Cheeks

November 8, 2014

November 8, 2014

He was born at 6:25 a.m., the morning after Christmas.

The whole world lay quiet under a snowy blanket, glowing in the lavender light before sunrise.

Eight pounds, five ounces.

Twenty inches long.

His first word was Da-da.

I’ve seen him eat three bananas in a row.

I have video of his laugh, how he laughs until he has to gasp for breath.

I have his first curls from his first haircut.

There’s a picture of him pulling up for the first time, on the corner of his great-grandparents’ traveling trunk.

He’s finally getting the hang of talking. He’s even learned how to complain “Aw, MAN.” I write down the funny things that he says in his journal.

I try to remember, to hold on.

But how will I ever remember the feel of his cheek?

One day, if he is lucky enough to live a long and ordinary life, his cheek will grow rough and prickly. How will I remember the silky curve of his cheek beneath my fingertips?

Touch is a sense we can’t hold on to. What our fingers have known, we have to let go.


Here There Be Dragons

Abraham Ortelius, Tehatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1570

Abraham Ortelius, Tehatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1570

Legend holds that, centuries ago, mapmakers marked uncharted areas on their maps with the Latin phrase: HC SVNT DRACONES.

“Here are dragons.”

There are only two maps still in existence that actually have these words on them, but the dragon or sea serpent was often used in map decoration to represent perilous waters, dangerous leviathans, or geographically murky coastlines. I think the expression is so beautiful–“Here there be dragons”–that the idea behind the phrase has stayed with us even if it isn’t on that many maps.

It’s a useful way of saying, “We are leaving the part of the world that we know and hell if I know what is out there but it’s probably scary.”

It’s the Latin form of “Get in. Sit down. Shut up. Hold on.”

I’ve been feeling that way the last few days. Since November started, to be exact. I’ve set myself a goal of writing 1000+ words every day and they are words in addition to what I post here. Words that, if assembled in the right order and around a central theme, might be called a…well, you know.

But I don’t want to jinx it.

In the proud tradition of procrastinators everywhere, I usually end up squeezing in my writing goal between 11 p.m. and midnight. I get my fingers moving across the keyboard. I slog through the warm up, force myself through the sticky bits, finally manage to sail my word ship in the general direction of The Point…and that leaves me in a soggy mess of tears.

I’ve cried myself to sleep every night in November (sounds like a country song). And it feels great.

With all this new territory, something new struck me about “Here There Be Dragons.” The cartographers didn’t put that on there to say “DON’T GO! PADDLE THE OTHER WAY!” Maybe they put the dragons on there as a landmark, a way to know that you’re steering in the RIGHT direction.  If you’re looking to explore the uncharted lands, you are right on course.

The one thing I remember from those sailing lessons that Richard and I took in Maine just before he was diagnosed with leukemia was “Point the tiller toward the trouble.” In the weird physics of steering by wind, if you want to go around an obstacle, you have to point the tiller directly at it in order to maneuver the rudder and the boat around it. (I think I got the terms right. My sister will correct me if not.)

So some of these feelings that I’m stirring up? I hope my face burns from the dragon’s breath and this strange quivering around my heart is stirred by the dragon’s wings. And I hope I don’t fall off the edge of the world.



FDR’s Second Term

The first time I ever voted was in the presidential election of 1992. Lines stretched around the building and we were told to expect waits of several hours. It just added to the excitement for me.

I was a couple of months into my first Real Job. I even remember what I was wearing on that momentous day! A black wool pencil skirt, a creamy satin blouse with long puffed sleeves, a gold scarf tied around my waist, black stockings and black pumps (we had only recently escaped the 80s).

This was before smartphones, kindles, ipods, so there wasn’t much to do in the line besides wait. Me being me, I struck up a conversation with the couple in front of me. A husband and wife, retirement age, African American. Neither was taller than my shoulder. He wore a flat driving cap and she wore her glasses on a gold chain. Somebody’s grandmama and grandaddy in Columbus, Georgia.

“This is my first time voting! I’m excited.”

“Oh, that IS good to hear!” he said. “We never miss an election.”

“What was the first election you voted in?”

She looked at him and he looked at her and they both did a little recollecting. She snapped her fingers and said, “FDR! Yes, that’s right. FDR’s second term.”

We spent the rest of that long wait talking about the history I had learned in books and they had influenced with their votes. I’ll never forget those two citizens and how their simple dedication to using their votes taught me about the responsibility and joy of being an American citizen.

I hope you’ll make time to vote today. It hasn’t always been a right. It hasn’t always been easy. But it has always been important.

It's just so much TROUBLE to give women the vote. Why bother?

It’s just so much TROUBLE to give women the vote. Why bother?