I didn’t grow up with a lot of positive role models. There were not many (if any) people in our neighborhood who were looked up to as success stories.
I can see my neighbors, even now, from the concrete steps of our four unit blond brick building on S*** Avenue in Collinwood. Across the street, Francis. She had Lucille Ball red hair and sat on her porch from 9am to 9pm, beer in hand. Next door, a single mother who worked at a bar and brought work home with her – in all sorts of ways. Next to her, a retired old man who sat across from Francis with his own beer in hand. His wife, Goldie, was a sweet woman whose toes twisted around one another, feet mangled, she said from twenty years of high heeled waitressing. On the other side, a retired railroad worker, no patio, so he sat in his kitchen hand wrapped around a cold beer.
There were bars on every corner. T & M’s could be seen from the porch. Strangers and neighbors stumbling out with the music pouring onto the street.
The teenagers went to high school, married the boyfriends who beat them, and set up house on the next block. A few got away, I’m sure. But I can list many more who died young or ended up in prison. My teenage crushes are dead now. One was shot in the head, the other crushed under the wheels of a truck. I never got into drugs, thought those who smoked and drank acted silly, stupidly, dangerously. Girlfriends recall tales of waking up half naked, uncertain if anything happened. That wasn’t the memory – or lack of memory – I wanted.
Mostly, I felt limited. I felt outcast. I didn’t seem to belong with any particular crowd or group or gang. I wanted something more, something different, and I didn’t know where to turn. Getting out and getting away seemed the only answer for me. I didn’t know what might meet me beyond the borders of the familiar, but there was no safety and no options in the familiar.
Someone once said – it was very brave of you to travel across country on your own and start over alone. I hadn’t considered it was “brave.” I’d believed it was my only choice, my only chance. She offered, the world is a dangerous place for a young woman to do such a thing. Sometimes home is a dangerous place. Limiting yourself is dangerous. Not fulfilling your potential is dangerous. Living a life in which you’re completely unhappy is dangerous. Sometimes, saving yourself, however scary the unknown is, is your only choice.
You might be a racist…
One of the discussions we have in my classes on a regular basis is about cross cultural communications. I have a few rules in class about discussions. The first of which is you don’t have to agree with anyone, but you should know how to respectfully disagree. And two – if you feel someone says something inappropriate, including me, say something.
I don’t claim to be an expert. I listen. We discuss.
If you’ve ever uttered lines such as:
- “He’s good looking for a black guy.”
- “She’s a nice black girl.”
- Any version of, “Some of my best friends are black,” or “I have black friends.”
- “All lives matter.”
- Told a black joke to your black friend (and you’re not black).
- Quoted statistics of white people killed by cops.
You’ve either came across as ignorant or racist.
These are insensitive and can be interpreted as hateful. Learning to communicate effectively takes time and practice.
If you hear others say these things and feel safe, let them know these things are inappropriate.
If you’re uncertain what you or others have said is inappropriate, ask someone – and understand the reasoning.
Check out these articles.
“Some of My Best Friends Are Black”
“Why You Should Stop Saying All Lives Matter”
“Don’t Understand the Protests?”
“27 Things White People Should Never Say…”
To understand how to better communicate across cultures:
52 Activities for Improving Cross Cultural Communication
It is not my intention to label or call names. I am asking that you be aware of what you’re saying and how you sound.
We all need to be more sensitive in the way we speak to and think of one another. We share a planet. We are all brothers and sisters. We are all beautiful human beings.
Your Journal is Important, Especially Now
Journaling allows us to process our daily lives. It helps us see patterns that we are taking part in physically and mentally, and most importantly it allows release.
Don’t hold back in journaling. These are your private thoughts and they need voicing and validation. No one ever needs to read them – or you can turn them into a creative efforts. Some of my students have begun painting, writing, or even baking to express their creative outlets.
During this time, my writer friends and I are journaling to keep track of an important time in history. Maybe these will be records of human thoughts and feelings during a very difficult time in our society – much like The Diary of Anne Frank.
Some are doing dream journals as well.
In a few years, this will be forgotten, swept under the rug, or rebranded. Our society, our children, and our grandchildren’s grandchildren will need real life, first person examples of what was happening internally and externally.
I teach topics that deal with slavery, suffrage, native American relocation stories. We read first person accounts. These allow my students to understand critical happenings in our society not from our history books who are written by the victors or the historians recording political acts, but by the people who went through and dealt with racism, oppression, and death our history has reaped on individuals.
Journaling seems more important now than it ever has before.
It can be anything you want it to be, look like anything you want it to look like. Let it be private and burn it later. Or share it.
What Did You Do?
I read an article which stated, there’s no need to feel you have to be productive at this time.
WHAT? Then wtf are we going to do?
I heartily disagree. I think during this time we need to set goals. We need to focus on something to keep us sane!
When this is over, I want to have something to show for it.
When this is over, in another month? another two months? giving us a total of 3 months or more alone in our homes, do we walk out with nothing to show but our muffin tops the size of three tiered wedding cakes?
I’m not telling you not to feel stress. I’m not telling you not to stress eat. I am saying – set a goal and focus on something positive while we’re doing the best we can to survive the pandemic.
This is hard. I get it. We’re scared. If you want to stuff your face full of maple bacon donuts, I’m totally with you. If you have a bad day and want to curl yourself into a ball under your flannel sheets and cuddle your cat – that was my Saturday. I’m not superwoman. I’m not asking you to do anything I’m not doing myself.
When someone asks me, what did you do during the pandemic? I want to say I accomplished something.
I’m setting goals.
I’m in the process of another draft – hopefully the final – of my novel. I want to finish that.
I have two fully drafted novellas that need work – those are next.
I signed up to take two classes. I may take more.
I painted my patio. No shit. It’s nearly finished.
I’m going to have a hell of a lot of rooted clippings – plant speak.
My yard will look amazing – well, for a week or so after the pandemic ends, then the weeds will be back.
I’ve written two new poems. I think I’ll start reading poetry live.
I have a live online reading scheduled for April 24th, if you’re interested.
If you’ve gotten this far, I’m planning on offering a free writing class to whoever wants to share some writing. I may recruit other writers to offer their opinions. I think we should workshop too.
So – speaking from the future – what did you do during the pandemic?
KUDOS and LOVE
to those who are serving,
police, fire, grocery clerks, doctors, nurses, volunteers.
You are my HEROES!
Old Disasters, New Meaning.
The night was black; there was no moon to guide us when we woke up to sound of the earth roaring, the feel of concrete slamming up then down.
Dogs barked and whimpered, car alarms bleated and died out. Then there was silence.
It’d been my first major earthquake.
We pawed our way through the dark hall over broken glass picture frames to find our children, our shoes, the doorway.
In the 1994 earthquake, I lost almost everything. We lived on the second floor of a nice apartment about a mile away from the Reseda Boulevard epicenter where (I believe) 23 people lost their lives.
Everyone in our building got out alive. But the building was destroyed, gas hissed into the alley and we had to flee.
I walked away from that disaster with my daughters. At the time, I didn’t care about all the material things.
All of the “stuff” we had seemed so worthless. And as we rebuilt, I didn’t replace all the junk we had. I didn’t have a mixer or a microwave. I didn’t fill the kitchen with “good plates” and every day plates. My cabinets remained near empty for many years. Slowly, they have been filled with occasionally used items nestled next to the well used necessities. I have things I don’t need. Pretties collected that I’d resisted for so long fill small places here and there.
And here we are again – on the brink of another disaster. And I say – I do not care about all of these things I have collected. I care about my family, my friends, students, neighbors.
My first year psych teacher said to me – before that 1994 Northridge earthquake – “The only real thing of value is meaningful human relationships.” I have always held that close.
We should dismiss our first world concerns of malls, cars, and money. We can put aside our overly independent natures and our me first attitudes. We can do what it takes to make certain that those we love, families and strangers, survive this.
We know what we need to do. We’ve done it before.
Hold on to those you love, even if they are far away right now. Nothing else matters.
Plagues and Pandemics throughout History
Writing in the Time of Cholera
A number of people have mentioned the book Love in the time of Cholera to me lately. Ron Terranova, fellow writer and Poe lover, reminded me Shakespeare had a very fertile writing period during The Black Plague.
My writer and critique friend, Jo Rousseau, said she’s keeping a journal and thought many people should. It would be interesting, she said, to see the pandemic from different points of view.
There are people who are having trouble focusing on writing. I have to admit, I was one of them.
While others are saying they’ve never gotten more done. Perhaps they are in the minority? Or maybe they write well under pressure?
Just the day before Jo mentioned the journal, I started keeping my own. I’ve been plagued by disturbing dreams.
Our lives are changing, but not forever. We will come out of this, we will get through this, and I, personally, want to have something to show for it.
I started listing the things I’m accomplishing every day. I’ve added some other things, pandemic jokes and memes. Someone else is writing down the use of language, such as “social distancing”, and how those words are changing and shaping our understanding of society. It’ll be interesting how this comes to use after the pandemic.
Beyond all the free things being offered to keep us safe and sane, free yoga classes, free workouts, free virtual tours of national parks and art museums, there are a number of other things to keep us busy.
It’ll help us all to accept that, for a little while, we need to stay home and find alternative ways to sail through our days.
I urge all writers to keep a journal. Not to focus on writing to publish, but a personal historical account for your children, your grandchildren, or for the future. How will this time be remembered? Consider how we think of the Plague and The Flu Epidemic of 1918. What do you know about it? Do you know any people, any stories, any personal or family accounts of the day to day life? Encourage your children to keep journals too – in the future, compare them.
Journaling has helped me get back to writing.
Stay well. Stay healthy. Be safe.
Much love and appreciation.
People feel all sorts of ways about crying. I feel it’s cathartic, sometimes needed. Sometimes I worry our world is headed in a different direction. My new story explores a world that feels differently.
Let me know what you think. The Crier on Kindle.
The Idea Farm
The idea farm is a creation – where we keep all of our ideas planted, waiting for the spring.
There’s a time for the planting – every day, every minute, every conversation, every silence. But pick and choose. My favorite place to get ideas is from overheard snippets of conversations, words and lines heard in passing or overheard in a coffee shop. Sometimes, it’s just a word someone throws out that sticks. It might be an image. Someone posted a photo and it was eerie, strangely haunting to my strange little perception. I have notebooks, torn papers, lists of ideas. And the ideas do come to live when they’re ready.
To keep the idea farm going, we need to keep it fresh. New ideas coming, water flowing, fertilizer tossed around. Water is connected, according to Freud, to our unconscious. Taking a bath before bed is a great way to feed your muse. Fertilize – remember to go back, reread, add a word or two, subtract a word or two, think about it before you go to bed, when you first wake up. Something will bloom. Sometimes it blooms prematurely and I’m up at 3am writing like a madwoman. But it works. I wrote a number of poems and short stories struck by a fever of words and rhythm. Of Strays and Exes and The Gold Tooth were written under one of those spells.
When the time is right, you write. You’ll pluck that idea out of the ground and start massaging it into what it was meant to be. Eddy was on a list. It sat there for quite some time waiting for me to be brave enough to pull it out, confident enough to put the words to paper, and strong enough to show it to others. So many more stories came like that – waiting for just the right time, ripe from the time and the fertilizer and ready to burst forth.
Much love and luck.
At Home with Your Idea Farm
Here in Southern California, schools closed, businesses limited, no hugging, and it’s raining. The mood has been set:
One newscaster is talking about cycling to work. Did he not get the memo?
STAY HOME. TOUCH NO ONE.
Schools have closed – or gone online. Starbucks is limiting in person ordering/seating, not allowing refillable cups, considering going with online ordering and pick up only. Restaurants are closing.
I saw my friends this week, and we didn’t hug. This makes me sad – but it’s completely understandable.
It feels like we’ve reached the point of all those 80’s sci-fi movies in which people stay inside, afraid to go out, and resist human contact.
In the Stallone/Snipes Sci-Fi flick, Demolition Man, (a genius move btw), people have sex through the use of computer attached to their temporal lobe. They don’t engage in physical contact.
I really want to say:
This, too, shall pass.
You don’t need 148 rolls of toilet paper or 37 boxes of cat litter. At least, the average person doesn’t need this. You’re going to wake up surrounded by bleach wipes for the next two years!
I guess this whole thing keeps me home, keeps me writing. Writers, at the very least, should be using this whole scenario to feed your idea farm. (More info on my idea farm on Monday).
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