How do other people know who they are? If you know who your father was, does it make a difference in who you think you are? Where is “home”? I’ve been playing Aaron Neville’s latest CD, Bring It On Home, and it calls me back from this sense of diffusion that keeps carrying me off into the clouds over Portland. “Tell it like it is,” Aaron sings, “Respect yourself.” Last night I listened to a woman read a couple of chapters from her (so far) unpublished (but spellbinding and well-crafted) novel about young gay men in Japan just before the bombing of Hiroshima. She’s certain she was Japanese in past lives–she can dimly but unmistakably remember Japan, and when she lived there (in this life), many of the places she went to for the first time were as familiar to her as the streets of the town in Michigan where she grew up. She knew what was around the corner before she rounded the corner. She attributes that to karmic ancestry rather than genes. What explains affinity? Some people who’ve never been to Morocco long for all things Moroccan. Others are drawn to Chinese art. Some feel truly worshipful in front of Byzantine icons. I’ve lost all sense of who I am or why I ever wanted to know and cannot proceed with my autobiographical novel right now. I’m letting that be. At the same time I’ve received some terrific emails that also serve to bring me on home. Read the rest of this entry »
When I chose to retire and move to Portland, I thought I knew, however dimly, what I was doing. I wanted to write full-time. I wanted to be done grading papers written by nineteen-year-olds who didn’t want to write them. I was worn out by seven-day work-weeks, by short courses I taught during holidays in order to earn extra money, by broken relationships and the relentless difficulty of parenting, and by migraines. Sharply aware that I was on the threshold of “old age” and the dissolution of this mind and body, I wanted some joy and ease before this life was over: time to read, walk, daydream, sit on a park bench in a rose garden. I wanted a room of my own and time to write this autobiographical novel I’ve been composing in the back of my mind since I was seven years old. After a lifetime of Buddhist practice, I thought I was ready to write the answer to the koan, “Who am I?” The first sentence came to me during that ten-day Vipassana meditation course: “I have always wanted to be a saintly person.” It would be a comic epic. As a way of doing “research” for the book, I began in earnest to seek out where this fool who calls herself Kendall came from–who her phantom father was, who her people were, how her pieces fit together. I stumbled into a possible whole new family. Very dramatic, but suddenly I’m stunned into silence. The book disintegrates. I can’t find the central character. She is neither fiction nor non-fiction. She is neither Narcissus nor Goldmund, contemplative nor adventurer, Gentile nor Jew. I look at the pages I’ve written since I came here, and I feel nausea. I’m sick of this story. I feel lonely and displaced. Lost. What am I doing here? Read the rest of this entry »
If I could read five pages at once, I would be doing that. My hunger to know is so great. I’m dimly aware of the rest of the world: 360 women, many of them Tibetan nuns, arrested in Nepal. Unimaginable suffering in Burma, where a Red Cross boat full of aid supplies for survivors sank in flood waters. But inside my head, I’m transfixed by the baby daddy drama of my own life. Searching for my father. Trying to understand who he was, and who his people were, and whether that has some significance in my life. What is family? is it a genetic unit? an emotional unit? a legal entity? what are the ties that bind? I sit and stare at the pictures on my monitor, inviting them to talk to me, tell me stories. There is something eerily familiar in these faces, these people to whom I may be related. I study the forehead, the nose, the bridge of the nose, the slant of the eyes, the cheekbones, the shape of the head. What do we get from our genes? I’m reading books I never imagined I would read in all my life: books about merchant ships during WW2. I even got a 1943 Humphrey Bogart movie in which Bogart is First Mate on a merchant ship: torpedoes, flames on the water, stereotypical German officers in submarines (observation: when the “Germans” die, they scream in agony; when the “Allies” die, they look stoically and silently toward heaven), violins playing as the wives back home wait for the news. The movie starts with a quotation from FDR that ends, “Damn the torpedoes. Full steam ahead!” and it made my eyes fill up. I’ve heard that phrase before, but I didn’t connect with it. Now I do. I’m also reading Judith Plaskow’s Standing Again at Sinai (wonderfully well-written, fascinating: and here’s a short, powerful article by Judith that’s like the condensed version), and I watched a documentary on the Yiddish Theatre . Even if I’m not Jewish (but I think I am, I think I am), I’m having a great time learning all of this.
I want to get back to Rev. Jeremiah Wright , Barack Obama, and Race. When the right-wing media had its heyday with Wright, they cut his speeches and sermons to shreds and left out everything he said that didn’t suit their purposes. I’ve already posted Father Pfleger’s defense of Wright. Father Pfleger knows Wright well and says it better than I ever could, but I’d like to take an academic’s approach and direct us to the text. I had listened to Rev. Wright’s speech to the Press Club on the radio while I was doing something else, but I went back again to the Rev’s speech (all of which is on Youtube, along with the hateful cuttings of his sermons) and I took some notes. I want to point out what Wright says that the media didn’t pick up. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve tried to make my life my statement about race, even though we’ve known since W.E.B. DuBois said it in 1914 that scientifically “race” doesn’t exist. Race is not inscribed in our genes, any more than “class” is. But the perception of race exists. People have been enslaved, imprisoned, lynched, raped, tortured, and shot because of the perception of race. People hate each other, fear each other, and make assumptions about each other based on the perception of race. I am racist because I was born White in a system of power based on the perception of race. I’m part of that system. I can’t get out; my skin is what it is, and there is nowhere on this planet untainted by that system. Therefore I choose to work on myself, to be aware and vigilant for ways I embody or absorb racist ideology, and to put the whole weight of my life into the effort to educate myself out of it and to counteract racism in every small way I can. I will always have plenty of work to do, inside and outside. Plenty of people have written about race better than I will ever be able to. But I need to begin putting a few words together, if only to join a conversation with White people about race in our lives. Anybody else is welcome to listen in, chime in, or quit reading now. Very few people read this blog, so what I’m about to say will remain secret. Despite that, I have trepidation. My grandmother told me a version of something Jeremiah Wright’s grandmother told him: “If you keep your mouth shut, you won’t ever say anything to make people think you’re stupid.” He didn’t heed his grandmother’s warning, and neither have I. Whatever it is that I’m about to say will be flawed, imperfect, inadequate, and a work in progress. So here I go. Read the rest of this entry »
Conjunction of events at the mailbox yesterday afternoon: I received a remarkable letter from a prisoner I’ve known for some years who is 42 and locked-in (in what is called Administrative Segregation or Ad Seg–spends his life literally in a cage surrounded by the din of other men locked into cages all around him); and I received my rental of Julian Schnabel’s brilliant production of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly , which is about Jean Dominique Bauby, who had “Locked-in Syndrome” (he could hear and understand everything, but he was completely paralyzed and unable to move any part of his body but his left eye) as a result of a stroke he suffered when he was 42. Read the rest of this entry »
Thanks to Hafidha, whose blog brought this amazing ten-minute argument to my attention! I haven’t heard such a powerful anti-racist statement in years. Those of you who are not in the USA may not understand the whole argument–and you don’t need to understand the whole argument. The core of what this priest says is simply obvious to anyone who looks closely at what passes for dissent in the USA: when a white person criticizes the U.S. government, it’s “criticism”; when a Black person criticizes the U.S. government, it’s “hate.” The hate-mongering Fox News interviewer is utterly out of his depth with this man, and it is a thrill to see how powerfully Father Pfleger re-frames the discussion in terms of poverty, class, race, and history, and away from the interviewer’s intention of fanning hatred, bigotry, and ignorance by means of kneejerk soft-headed opinion and out-of-context sound-bites . Father Pfleger speaks with clarity, force, and sharp intelligence. Anyone who has not seen this video, please drop everything else in your life and watch it now. Or as soon as you possibly can.
I’ve been diddling around on the computer all day while I could have been out marching for immigration in the streets of Portland. I feel vaguely guilty for sitting on my butt, but here I am anyway, and here’s what I’ve discovered. Flickr has changed the rules. Now if you want to store more than 200 pictures, you have to pay. If you want more than three “sets,” you have to pay. I was afraid that would happen. Until now I’ve been using the blog for words, with a link to Flickr for pictures. No more free ride there. Anybody know any reliable free sites for storing photographs? On the other hand, there’s Youtube, which I sometimes forget. But what a resource! Moonbeam McQueen’s blog for today is so hilarious I had to read it three times to take it all in–especially Dennis and Vageena. And check out the birdhouse. Genius on wheels. I want her to move to Portland. And I’ve just found two really delightful new blogs. One is by Jamie, who I met in Houston just before she moved to New York state to go “homesteading” (and if you are like me and you don’t know what that means, I’ll come back to it in a minute). The other is a delightful blog by a woman the age of my firstborn son who calls herself ”Old Crone” (if she’s an old crone, what does that make me? a withered hag?). OC writes with energy and infectious delight. She posted the following ode to Aretha: Read the rest of this entry »
As all the people who have been part of my life know, I get migraines. I have chosen not to write much about them on the blog, because it’s just boring as hell to talk about, but I’ve decided to do this one post now and then shut up about it unless there is a big change. If the subject disgusts or bores you, skip this post. Read the rest of this entry »
Part of my exit from Houston involved getting rid of most of my books. The post office lost the large part of the ones I meant to keep. So I’m just home from the Friends of the Library used book sale, where for a total of $37 I got such wonders as a complete hardcover Shakespeare, an edition of Sophocles, a selection of Chekhov’s plays (in a cherry-colored hard binding published in 1935 with beautiful woodcuts by Howard Simon), Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead, a wonderfully-designed old Max Beerbohm, Marguerite Yourcenar’s memoir, some essays, some letters, some biographies, some writers I’ve never even heard of before, and some old friends (how did I ever part with them? in which of my upheavals did I lose them?). Instantly I’m where I was when I first read them–in junior high in Hawai’i, certain I was the reincarnation of Emily Bronte; in high school with a pimpled face and immortal longings in me; as an actress in New York searching for audition monologs; as a single young mother in a rocking chair by a Louisiana bayou, my baby boy in one arm and a book in the other; as a graduate student in Texas, dreaming of a regular teaching job with health insurance and tenure. Old books are like old lovers: dear to the eyes and heart, reminders of such good times. Read the rest of this entry »