We protest school segregation

The President has said something racist, again. This comes as no surprise, as the President regularly uses racist rhetoric to rile up his base, who either share his bigoted views or simply aren’t troubled by them. To me, these two options are equally bad. If you rush to defend or choose to ignore racism, you are empowering it: either way, you are complicit.

Police brutality must stop now

The fact that our President is racist is not news; people who were paying attention in 2016 knew this, but plenty of folks still voted for him. But what is new is the way the past two and a half years have revealed people’s true values. I’m willing to give voters the benefit of the doubt if they voted for Trump with a vague hope that the solemnity of his office would tame or temper him. But as the President’s Twitter tantrums have continued, his policies have gotten increasingly cruel, and his cozying up to dictators and autocrats continues unabated, I haven’t learned anything new about Trump himself. This leopard hasn’t changed his spots, and what we’ve long seen is what we continue to get.

What has been revelatory about the past two and a half years is the behavior of Trump’s supporters and enablers. If you still turn a blind eye toward what Trump does–if you continue to say nothing or merely offer excuses–this tells me everything I, your neighbors, and your children need to know about your character. As much as you claim that you yourself are not racist, your failure to condemn abhorrent behavior says more about your priorities than any of your arguments.

I might be next

History has its eyes on us, and so do our companions and contemporaries. When I was a young and impressionable child, an impassioned priest showed my religion class footage from Nazi concentration camps, imploring us to learn from the past so we would never repeat it. As I watched the grim and grainy images, I wondered with childlike innocence how ordinary Germans could have stood by and watched while genocide happened in their midst. Now, decades later, I have my answer.

Genocide doesn’t start with death camps; it starts with divsion and objectification, with slogans and conformity, and with repeated exhortations to support your country right or wrong. Genocide starts with a moral muddying of waters and with the suggestion that some folks and families don’t matter as much as yours do. Genocide starts with good, otherwise decent folk deciding to stand by, shut up, and do nothing as norms and morals are violated, the act of minding one’s own business being weaponized as a tool of the state.

Black and white together

Plenty of folks who voted for Trump in 2016 insist they aren’t themselves racists; instead, they argue, they voted for economic reasons, or for the sake of Supreme Court picks, or because they disliked Hillary Clinton. But now that we see the kind of behavior the President is engaged in–the kind of behavior he talked about and that some voters chose to ignore, defend, or quietly agree with–we now know how low Trump’s supporters and enablers are willing to crawl. I haven’t learned anything new about the leopard, but I am continually heartbroken by the hyenas who continue to hang around him.

When I studied Spanish in high school, I learned a saying that seems particularly apt these days: “dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres.” Tell me who you walk with, and I will tell you who you are. If you tell me you voted for Trump in 2016, I can be kind and assume you were duped. But if you tell me you still support him, I must assume you either support his abhorrent behavior or (worse yet) simply don’t care. Two and half years after Trump was elected, ignorance is no longer an excuse. If you continue to lie down with dogs, you must enjoy waking up with fleas.

Today’s photos show protest signs on the Green Street parking garage in Central Square, Cambridge: part of Representative Ayanna Pressley’s Congressional district.

Two lilies

I recently started reading Jeffrey Cramer’s Solid Seasons: The Friendship of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. One benefit of 19th century literary friendships is the wealth of written evidence they leave behind. Future biographers researching friendships between modern-day writers will have to pore over emails, texts, and tweets rather than the letters and journal entries Cramer read in writing his book.

Asiatic dayflower

Both Thoreau and Emerson kept journals and maintained voluminous correspondence, albeit not always with one another. In the portion of Cramer’s book I’ve read so far, Thoreau is more emotionally intimate with Emerson’s wife, Lidian, than with Emerson himself, sending her letters that could pass as journal entries, so intricately do they chronicle his thoughts.

Front yard ferns

The problem with writerly friendships–especially friendships between two journal-keepers–is that writers are very good at talking to themselves. Isn’t a journal entry nothing more than a letter to an anonymous audience that is never sent? When you are accustomed to pouring your heart on paper for an audience of none, it’s easy to think–erroneously and egotistically–that anyone willing to receive and read such correspondence actually understands and empathizes with you.

But while the blank page has no desires or concerns of its own, friends are not blank pages. There is a very real way that two friends who are also writers can correspond at cross-purposes, even when communicating face-to-face. Each person wants their own needs met–each speaker longs to be listened to–and these desires can clash rather than finding a complement.

Smartweed

In a radio interview about his book, Cramer said Emerson and Thoreau had contrasting views of friendship. Emerson had many friends and drew different things from each, but Thoreau had few friends and strove (unsuccessfully) to have all his social and emotional needs met by one. This difference is a recipe for relational disaster, perhaps, and it helps explain the tense complications of Emerson’s and Thoreau’s friendship. What started as a conventional mentorship between an established writer and an idealistic protege deteriorated as it became clear that Thoreau would always be his own man, a nonconformist who marched to a different drum.

Enchanter's nightshade

But longevity is not the only (or best) way to judge a friendship. Although their relationship would ultimately grow strained, both Emerson and Thoreau were forever influenced by the insights of the other. In a passage Cramer quotes near the beginning of his book, Thoreau compares long-time friends to two trees who stand apart but whose roots intermingle. Above ground, two venerable trunks might seem distant and disconnected, but beneath the surface, they take sustenance from the same soil.

Bug

Now that summer is here, Toivo and I have a new routine. After I’ve finished my morning chores, we take a short walk, then we sit on the patio while I read and write my daily journal pages. We started this ritual earlier in the summer, when Toivo couldn’t walk fast or far. J suggested that being outside surrounded by new sounds and smells would be good for Toivo’s spirits while she recovers, and he was right.

Dragonfly and day lily

We call these days when Toivo and I sit on the patio our “beach days.” I pack a bag with a book and notebook for me and water and snacks for us both, and we sit in the shade until the day gets hot. We sit outside for the sensory stimulation a summer day brings: Toivo hearkens to every smell, and I follow every flash of motion. We both are all ears, but we are attuned to different things. My ears perk to the smallest bird sound, like the chirp of a house sparrow in the neighbor’s hedge, while Toivo sits alert and expectant, waiting for the smallest sound from any of our neighbors’ dogs.

All eyes

At first, Toivo was restless and whiny on beach days, tangling her lead while pacing the patio, unsure why we were sitting outside doing nothing rather than walking. But now, she’s come to see our time outside as another everyday routine, my accustomed spot at our patio table no different from my place at my indoor desk. In summer, the size of our house expands, the yard and patio being an extra room without walls whose roof is the summer sky. If it weren’t for the dog, I’d forget to venture out, having grown too accustomed to long winter hours at my desk, still tethered long after my lead has rotted away.

Frederick Douglass bio and Postcards to Voters

Today is the 4th of July. After reading outside on the patio for a short while this morning, I’ve spent the heat of the day inside our air-conditioned bedroom, trying to keep the dogs cool and ushering them outside for short, closely supervised bathroom and exercise breaks. So much for the Dog Days of summer.

Frederick Douglass

I’m currently reading David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, a weighty brick of a book I checked out and returned to the library several times before making time to read. Yesterday, I read the chapter in Blight’s book that discusses Douglass’s famous speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” which seems more relevant than ever this year.

Great Hall

Blight accurately interprets the speech as a classic American jeremiad: a speech intended to provoke and spur listeners to action and repentance. In it, Douglass argues that Independence Day means nothing to slaves who lack the freedom it celebrates:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Chairs

This year, I find myself wondering what the Fourth of July means to migrant children detained in squalid holding pens, citizens in gerrymandered districts denied the full power of their vote, or homeless and suicidal veterans fighting PTSD while our draft-dodging President entertains himself with military parades.

Eagle, clock, and portraits

Today I celebrated the Fourth of July by doing two things that I consider to be my civic duty. First, I spent some time writing Postcards to Voters. Voting is an important way to preserve freedom, and encouraging Florida voters to enroll in Vote-By-Mail is one way to get-out-the-vote one person (and one postcard) at a time.

Light fixtures

Second, I spent some time with the Mueller Report, which I’ve committed to read in 10-page daily installments over the course of the summer. In today’s installment, I read Robert Mueller’s indictment for Russian social media meddling, which the Washington Post edition includes in an appendix of supplemental materials. It feels important to understand what the Russians did in 2016 and how easy it was to mislead voters with fake news, sham social media profiles, and even in-person rallies organized from afar and designed to energize some voters while discouraging turnout among others. It’s easy for nefarious agents to mislead gullible constituents; being savvy and thinking critically are also part of our civic duties.

Overhead

July 4th is when we celebrate America’s birthday, but every day it is our job as citizens to defend democracy by doing the work of engaged citizens. This means educating yourself: read books and understand history. Vote and encourage others to do so, too. Pay attention to the news and hold your elected officials accountable. These are the gifts any one of us can give Uncle Sam on his birthday or any other day.

Wood sorrel

What if discipline and habit are not the key to creativity? This morning as I sat reading then writing, a woodpecker called overhead; in the distance, a sparrow trilled. On sunny summer days like today, Toivo and I take a short stroll, then we settle on the patio to enjoy some fresh air before the day gets too hot. Opening my notebook without a particular topic to explore, my thoughts naturally turn to the question of inspiration.

Day lilies

My life revolves around the discipline of many schedules: the cats need to be fed and medicated specific times, the dog needs to be walked regularly, and there is always a daily litany of chores. I live most of my life at the mercy of schedules and checklists. Even when I’m not teaching–working for pay, that is–I’m always working. They say a woman’s work is never done, and although I can’t speak for men’s experience, as a woman I can say there is always something that needs to be done.

My perpetual goal–one that is perennially unsatisfied–is to perfect a routine where both work and chores unwind almost automatically: a time for everything, and everything done in time. For mindlessly repetitive tasks like scrubbing dishes or cleaning litter boxes, this approach works fairly well: my morning routine is so deeply ingrained, all I need to do is wake up, show up, and my daily tasks all but do themselves.

Spiderwort

Creative endeavors are different, though. Some days I show up at the page and the words are there waiting for me; other days, they are reluctant to come. I haven’t discerned, even after all these years of more or less daily writing, why I have Something To Say on some days but not on others. Is it something I can control by perfecting a smoother routine that lands me at the page well-read, well-fed, and well-rested? Or is it a matter outside my control, like the weather?

I’m coming to realize that discipline–the setting of and adhering to habits, which I am so very good at–is necessary but not sufficient. You need the discipline of hard work–the habit of showing up to the page whether you feel inspired or not–as much as a fire needs fuel. But discipline alone is like a dry pile of wood without a flame. I can religiously show up to the page, and I try my best to do so, but there is something else I can’t control. The blank page is kindling; the inspiration, a spark. In all my years of writing, writing, writing, I still can’t describe or explain why some days the lightning comes.

These past few months, my writing–both in my journal and on-blog–has been uninspired, my mind mired with the muck of an unremarkable life. But some days, I look up right as a hawk slices silently across the sky. Why does randomness happen: why do stars and starlings fall? As I write these words, a pair of titmice set up to scolding in a nearby hedge. Why here, why now? Or better yet, why not? Perhaps hawks fly and titmice scold at all and random hours, and occasionally the disciplined ones are lucky enough to notice. Isn’t this reason enough to keep watch?

Yellow taxi birdhouse

Today something remarkable happened on Toivo’s morning dog-walk: my mind wandered. We’re still limited to short and slow walks in deference to Toivo’s injured leg, so by “walk” I mean a leisurely stroll past two neighboring houses, where the mouth of a woodsy trail gives Toivo a place to pee and poop on pine needles before turning around and walking back home. It’s the shortest outing you can take while still using the word “walk.”

Columbine

This morning after we’d walked two doors down to the mouth of the woodsy trail, as Toivo was nosing and sniffing through the drizzle-dampened undergrowth, my mind wandered. After months of spending every minute of every walk fretting over Toivio’s feet–is she putting weight on her injured leg, is she limping, is she panting or showing other signs of discomfort or distress?–I let my thoughts fall away while listening to the umbrella-patter of raindrops sifted through leaves. For the first time in months, my dog-walking consciousness was as free and unfettered as an unleashed hound wandering wherever she pleased.

Abundance

This is how Toivo and I used to walk, before her impairment. Toivo would sniff and wander on her end of the leash, and I would dally and daydream on mine. This is how Toivo and I used to walk before early March, when she first showed signs of lameness: back when we blithely took for granted the luxury of an able body.

Bleeding hearts

This past weekend, after finally getting a diagnosis and treatment plan for the mobility issues Toivo has had since March, I drove to western Massachusetts to visit A (not her real initial). It was a welcome break from my usual routine, and a chance to debrief after a particularly stressful semester.

Raindropped

A and I spent the weekend taking scenic drives, looking at art, and staying up late drinking wine, playing dominoes, and having the kind of conversations that happen best in person, not via text or email. On Sunday, A and I drove to North Adams, where we went to Mass MoCA, took a labyrinth walk, then visited Rabbi Rachel for yet more wine and conversation.

This past semester was particularly stressful in part because I had to keep my head down during most of it: as I scrambled to keep my plates spinning, I didn’t have much time to write, visit friends, go to the Zen Center, or engage in other acts of Mental Health Maintenance. Visiting A for the weekend and Rabbi Rachel for the afternoon was wonderfully restorative: like returning to sing a favorite song exactly where you’d left off.