What I Know

It feels like a weird time, doesn't it? Or is just me?

Today marks the 4th anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and too many people in our country have been killed since that day. The lack of movement on this pressing issue baffles me.

The people in Aleppo are being bombarded....still.  

The man we elected to be our president seems to lack compassion for the very people he will be leading and respect for the office he will be taking. 

With all that in the works, I add a friend who is ill and other friends who are caring for aging parents with complex health issues. 

It is freezing in these bluffs of mine. The wind is whipping the snow, which sparkles in a way that seems almost like a taunt. 

Today at my kitchen table, I am picturing a mom like me, huddled in some tiny room with her kids at her feet, trying frantically to text a goodbye to loved ones, so certain is she of her death. 

All of this makes me wonder why am I here in this warm home with a full fridge and enough blankets to share. What is my point? 

I work all of this out with friends or on the trail with my dog or in a private writing group or alone, staring at the computer. 

I am compelled to read stories, the stories of people who turn tragedy into a life that shines not with success but with vitality. I turn to poetry because I am not the first human to turn such issues over and over. How do I live in troubled times and the problems loom large when I am only one?

When my husband rolls out of bed and hits the ground running, he knows how many people he will care for. Twenty or more people will come through his door for an office visit in various increments of time ranging from fifteen to sixty minutes. He will say through word and gesture, "I am here to help you." That, to me, seems so perfect. He has a record of people he has helped- a tangible list and a paper trail to prove it.

My life looks nothing like that.

I wake up, the pets gather, I drink my coffee and read. I think about what I'm reading and then see if my charges are up. We do the family breakfast dance and scuttle for this and that and after a flurry they are gone. I wrestle with my pages, I make appointments and organize groups of people to do this (practice compassionate listening) or that (speak up about women's rights) and tidy and manage a family life.  

I come back to write and look at my charges who want to eat (again!) and I am grateful I can feed them.  I can heat up the cast iron skillet until it is perfectly warm and place slices of bread buttered just so.The sizzle and pop as the butter hits the pan is a comfort and this is what moves me to tears. The normal of  my life is not in direct proportion to the normal of our world. I am the odd one out carrying on as is.

I care, I try, I seek, I look, I offer, I hold, I look, I resist, I attend, I retreat, I listen, I speak, I move, I rest, I wait.

Does anyone really know what to do in such dark days like these? I carry on believing I cannot be the only one.  

And so I settle on the grilled cheese and a steaming mug of tomato soup. The warmth is something to sink into. It is my offering and I already know the scene so well that I play it in my mind before it happens. 

"Hey sweetie, here's your dinner."

My son will barely look up from his book. He will mutter a thanks and take a huge bite off the corner of the sandwich. He will then blow too harshly across the top of the mug and soup will spatter onto his page. He will wipe it so it smears and then shrug. He will dip the eaten corner into the soup and then wait for it to cool as he dives back into his book. 

I like that I know this, and for now, it is the only thing I know. 



"When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."



These words by Dr. Maya Angelou have been rattling around in my head all week.

This was the conundrum we faced in this election between two woefully imperfect candidates. One has too many detriments to list but include misogyny, racism, and blatant narcissistic attributes. The other whose emails and complicated history and lackluster campaign failed to incite enough excitement within her own party to bring people out to vote against a vile and bigoted man.

She lost, and I am wondering what the rest of us will lose as well.

I have tried to wade carefully through the muck of people’s complicated hearts through conversation and social media.

I have learned, among other things, that I am an elite liberal, a whiny baby, a sore loser, and a libtard
(liberal retard). I have learned this has been God’s will. Trump is some sort of prophet for whom we are to “Praise Jesus!”.

It has been enlightening on many levels.

I have learned that some people did not understand that they cannot cherry pick qualities in their candidates. That people are reacting to the whole package we will be getting rather than the issues they voted for seems genuinely surprising to them.

I have learned that my son sees this future president as scary, but he's got a plan to deal with him. “I guess we will need to babysit this guy, huh?”

I have learned hatred and it’s evil cousins are alive and well. The day after the election a woman was waiting in a gas station for her oil to be changed. A man she knew blasted through the entrance to the counter to exclaim, “We got rid of that bitch!”  A few states further south, a white friend’s black daughter returned to her dorm room to find “Make America White Again” signs plastered to her door.

Because my kids are watching and listening intently, I have not been wailing out loud. Instead, I let my tears fall silently in the middle of the night as I let my mind wander a little too far down a dark path. Should we build a bunker? Will there be a nuclear war? Where can I hide the little savings we do have from the stock market? Will Mr. Trump clue me in on all those loopholes he managed? Not likely since I am not in that tax bracket but, wait!  If you don’t pay taxes are you in a bracket? As I contemplate my need for a drink of water, I begin to ponder our water. And the air and clean energy. Will Minnesota ever have snow again? I try to recall his environmental policies and my heart sinks. There are none.

But when I wake up I go to my computer because no matter what, my curiosity drives
me. It is the one constant written into the DNA of who I am. On I go to social media and the news. I don’t limit myself. I don’t hide or block or unfriend. I want to know what all the people are thinking. I want to see who people are showing themselves to be..

Nothing surprises me.

We are as big and as messy and as complicated as we have ever been.There is so much gray area in each of us, but many do not see their gray. I keep this in mind as name calling ensues. I stand firm in my desire to ask questions. I redirect, ferret, and open my heart. I tell my story. I reach out. I engage because I want to understand. I say, “ I don’t believe Republicans are racist. I don’t believe you condone hate speech.” I get blasted. I retreat, and begin again. If I am a libtard so be it, but who and what are you? What do you believe in? Why? Tell me.

It is clear the fear we feel for our lives and country is real on each side. A paycheck and health insurance make a single woman desperate and willing to cast her vote for a person she believes she sees fully. Single issue voters will never turn away from their party. The constitution, pro-life, and guns are their passion, their hard line. Curiosity is my fuel. I learn this is not the norm. No one asks me a single question.

One other irrefutable fact is that hate and racism are alive. I see it and I feel it from the swastika graffiti and loosening tongues and hate crimes and marches and the protests born out of fear that some believe is a total overreaction. I don’t agree at all with any act of violence though I can try to understand the emotions that drive it.  My guess is people who are confused and disappointed in what they are seeing have never been in an “Other” category. Maybe their way of life or who they are has never been maligned. Sexual assault victims have been living with PTSD for the entirety of the campaign. Other than a select group of white women and men, millions of people fear being rejected and/or bullied by the man who will lead us because of what he has already shown himself to be. I k we have learned from experience that if you have been bullied or assaulted you either retreat and shut down or lash out. Some are lashing out.

Were the outcome to have been what so many had expected, I do not believe I was in for a picnic. There would be calls for impeachment, road blocks to progress at every turn, and the background noise of "kill that bitch" would ring constantly in my ears.But those whose fear has been growing been throughout this campaign would feel, at least marginally, that perhaps our country had chosen to stand up against The Bully.

This was not to be.

On January 21st the first African American president will turn over the reigns to a former reality tv show star and man proudly endorsed by the KKK.

Despite all of this, I want President-Elect Trump to succeed. I have nothing to gain if he doesn’t.

I know one man alone cannot bring our country to ruin. I will never be stupid enough to believe such power is absolute in this great land. And yet I have also been taught to never underestimate the power of one voice. If this is the side I land on, the one most powerful one must be mine.

I will call out bigotry and hate, a hard line none of us can cross. It is the root of all we see unfolding before us. If we can’t agree on that, the problems we face are much bigger than name calling.

Whether Mr. Trump will lead us to unity with grace and compassion remains to be seen. Perhaps the better question is why wait?

Let us lead ourselves..

I will do my part.

I cannot wait to see it.





What's That Word?

There were too many moment I didn't want to recount from last night's debate and so I was staring at the sky on the drive to an early morning dental appointment. The sky grounds me and fills me with joy, something I am struggling at holding onto in this election cycle. My concentration floated upwards into what felt like a very hopeful October blue sky. My son was slumped slightly to the right, over his backpack, looking exactly the way a Monday feels. NPR was humming in the background and it seemed we were both a little a little lost until he bolted up. 

"Mom," he asked, "what's the p-word?"

"Hmm?" 

I found my bearings through Kerri Miller's voice. She was listing the language used by one of our presidential candidates and because she said "p-word" and nothing more, he was left needing some clarification.

I listened for a bit and then offered, "Well, it's a derogatory word for a women't private parts."

Lame, right?

I know! In my defense, I was only one cup of coffee in and not in the parenting zone. After 13 years, you'd think I'd learned that I never really get to be out of the zone BUT. this is all to say that I let my guard down. 

Oh Mondays, you can be so cruel.

He looked at me with great expectation and then said, "There's a p- word? Are there others? Like a b-word, or a c- word? And a presidential candidate said them? Trump? Why would he do that? What are they?"

"Yes, there is a b-word and a c-word. Maybe you've heard them."

Suddenly it's the fall of '88 and I am sitting in my first women't studies class in Mankato, MN going through the exercise of filling up the chalkboard (yes, it was LONG ago) with every derogatory word that references a woman. We fill up the the board and start on a second board. Then we do the same for men. It is a single column and we are working hard. It took us twice as long to get that single column as it it did to fire off the seven columns about women. Having lived with sheltered white bread degradation, I had so much to learn from these women with diverse backgrounds and I broadened my knowledge in more ways than one. 

But back to my son. He's waiting. Will I say the words out loud? I know how much power these words have, especially when shrouded in mystery. But to use them in front of my newly crowned hormonal teenage boy? Ugh.

Instead I say, "Well, yes, Trump was caught on tape saying the p-word and I am not sure he said the c-word but he said some pretty lewd things all suggesting he doesn't think highly of women. I am sure you will hear these words somewhere. They shame and degrade women and I hope you just opt out of adding them to your vocabulary. They are vile and not meant for the kind of boy you are and the man you will be. You are much better than this."

He turns this over, reaching for comparisons. "So....bad like the n-word is to black people?" 

"Yes," I say, "Bad and degrading like that."

I am not sure this is a great comparison. It's not even 8:00 a.m. on a Monday morning  and we are on the way to the dentist! Can this day be worse already? I have one month to go....how in the heck am I going to do this?

I am reminded of the kinds of conversations black moms must have with their sons just to keep them alive. This is my work. It is my civic duty in creating a safe world for the men and women I live with, This talk and my willingness to get into it is my offering.

I look at my son and I see his curiosity. Words, especially language we are not supposed to use, are intriguing. And the words he is wondering about are damaging and lewd and not used by the men in my world and he most certainly is one of my men. He will go out into this world, a product of all I have tried to teach him.

And so I dig a bit deeper and say the very things I don't want to say and he listens. This will not be our last talk because how do you pack in how the world came to be through these words in seven minutes? How do I share that what I know about him and these words do not match in the space of a radio commercial?

I don't.

Instead I offer crumbs here and there, take the openings when they appear, and pause every chance I get. The blue sky above me offers just what I need, grounding and hope to begin again. 






ROAR!



One of the best things I did for myself in the last year was to sign up to work in an online writing group with Jena Schwartz. Because of this experience I've met and worked with a wide variety of writers and gained the confidence to apply for a grant. I am encouraged by what I read from others and by Jena, which is that writing directly through difficulty can lead you towards the truest thing. Always, though, you have to travel through muck.

I've learned to take my crazy and put it into something constructive. This piece is part of a series she curates called The Roar Sessions. People can sound off about what they will...and so I did. It was a needed release for me as I set about trying to carve a new sort of writing path this fall. I'm still working on it but so it goes. This, I'm learning, will always be the case. I will always be working on it. 





Dedication of My No-Trump Vote

My nephew, Colton Gray, will be voting in his first election this November. I dedicate my No-Trump Vote to him.


I remember feeling like a true American citizen with the first national vote I cast. It felt important because it was. And so it will go for Colton. I want Colton to know in the turbulent, fraught and divisive election cycle, his vote is important and it matters and that he has nothing in common with Trump.


As a young white man raised in rural Northwest Iowa, Colton has learned more about what it means to be a man in his short life than Trump ever has, and as it seems, ever will.


Colton loves the women in his life. He treats his mother, girlfriend, grandmother, aunts, female cousins, teachers and coaches with kindness, reverence, respect, and goodwill. Through the varied roles each of these women has played in his life, he has seen strength, intelligence, and tenacity play out in real time. Their voice and presence has always been welcome and valued. Shape and size have never been a part of the conversation with or about women for Colton because….why? I am quite certain he doesn’t even understand how this is a factor, which is just another reason I love him. But I do want him to understand it’s significance. Too many women have spent their lives defining themselves by the size our culture thinks we should be. Colton, by his very actions, plays a role in changing the narrative of how woman are perceived and valued.


Colton loves guns. As a hunter, war history buff, and a competitive skeet shooter at his community college, his interest in the gun debate is sincere. He doesn’t want them taken away and yet he knows there is a problem. I have encouraged him to be a part of the solution, especially when he doesn’t agree. That is how we move forward, through rigorous debate, through speaking up, through the belief that it matters to be involved..


Colton loves his country and he loves the country, particularly the corner of rural Northwest Iowa where he lives. Rural Iowa feels forgotten after the primaries. It feels left out of the economic conversations where elite liberals rarely spend time. I have watched him cycle through news clips, listen to those he loves and respects discuss the election, and I hear him wondering, “Well, what about us?” When he reaches out to me I try to answer him as honestly as I can, but he is learning that taking this stuff apart is hard and complicated and can’t be assessed with an errant quip or a statement of truth simply because he wants it to be true….yet another quality he has that Trump does not.


Colton loves being a helper. He lives to serve and do good where he is whether that be on his grandfather’s farm, as the oldest brother of four, in his 4-H club, or as a volunteer with a rural fire department or inside elementary classrooms. Through his investment of time with people, he has shown that he cares more for others than himself in way Trump has yet to demonstrate.

I dedicate this to Colton and all young white men trying to determine what their role is in this election. They are certainly seeing what it is not;  to perpetuate anger and hostility and fear and bigotry; to make fun of the poor, the disadvantaged, the other (anyone but a white man); to succumb to “It’s only business.” On his journey from boy to man, from child to adult first-time voter, I applaud his willingness to dig in and investigate how his vote will count.


I want Colton Gray to know I’mWithHer in this election primarily because I’m with him. He shows more promise, compassion, humility, and leadership than Trump ever will. Trump does not care about the Colton’s of this world. Trump has nothing to offer those he cannot find the audacity to listen to and learn from-- young men like my nephew who will shape our country through their honest hard work, compassion, and love of ALL the people in their lives.


My No-Trump Vote is a vote for Colton’s future, one made brighter by the faith I have in him. May his actions always be led by his good heart and give him the courage to speak up through his vote so the place we both call home is not forgotten.




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Diving In

I won a grant

And now I must dive into words...my words.

I've done all the throat clearing parts...prepared the space, carved out the time, created a schedule and shared it with family and friends. I have even addressed my inner critique/scathing asshole, but the time at long last has arrived. 







It's time to dive.

I have some essays to write. When I made the proposal, I had all sorts of ideas and now, of course, they seem terrible. What was on my heart at the time seems hard to find at the present moment. Instead, I am going to simply search for my truth. 

I feel like to write means to dig into nooks and crannies that I am not totally sure of, but they feel necessary to at least visit.

I was asked to write a bio for a little piece that is going to be published soon.

I said, "She finds her truth in her coffee cup, her books, her family, and though always a surprise, it's never surprising, on the page."

So I know, at the very least, the page is where I find what I am looking for. 

Here is what I mean. I sit down to write. I write. It's meandering, boring, yadda yadda yadda and then....hmm.....there is a sentence. What is that? Where is that taking me? Where will it lead me? Sometimes I don't want to go, but I'm so curious I just can't not go. So I do.

It's sort of like the best conversation with a good friend or a trusted mentor. I am free to say whatever it is I think or feel. I might stop and start and stop again and suddenly, it seems the truth reveals itself.

It sits there, quiet but firm, just sort of waiting for recognition. I can write for hours, for days, I can turn something this way and that and then...seemingly out of nowhere, there it is.

It's interesting that once you see something or say something that you can't unsee it or unsay it. This is why I tread so carefully... so slowly and cautiously. Will I unintentionally blow up what I thought was true? If I do, then what?

I get to practice listening in a group called The Red Boot Coalition. The premise is that once a safe spaced is created, people feel safe, connected, and loved enough to say their truth about the topic at hand. I have listened (too many times to count) as people speak their way into their truth. I have heard people say, "Wow, I didn't know I thought that!"It's like that for me when I am down and dirty on the page. The space is safe and I feel open and loved...like somehow my words will take care of me. 

I know I'm a bit of a weirdo. I have been accused, rightfully so, of overthinking. But much of that makes me me. Writing. It is my experience of doing and my being. Right here sorting it all out with no particular place to go and poised for new discoveries.