Mississippi Goddamn

So the lynch-mob cheerleader won her Senate race in Mississippi. 83% of white people in Mississippi voted for white supremacy. And all over Facebook and Twitter, white people are wringing their hands and saying, “America! This isn’t Who We Are!”

And I have to wonder, as I always wonder, what exactly these people think America has always been. Maybe what they mean to say is, “America! This isn’t who I have allowed myself to pretend we are!” That sounds  more accurate.

A few years ago, I recorded a comment for The Race Card Project, a project started by NPR reporter Michelle Norris. We were asked to record six words that summed up what we were feeling about race on that cold, January, almost-MLK Day. I found my six words quite easily. I stepped up to the mic and said, “White Supremacy is America’s middle name.” I meant it then, I mean it now, I imagine the I will mean it for the rest of my life.

The fact that there are still white people in this country who act as if they don’t understand that this entire nation was built on racism isn’t shocking to me. It doesn’t surprise me, but it does disgust me. It does depress me. It does make me lose faith.

It also makes me think a lot of those hand-wringing people are flat-out liars. They have allowed themselves the entirely white luxury of pretending they live in a post-racial world. I imagine they have told themselves that so they don’t have to do any work. If we’re post racial — whatever the fuck that would even mean if it were really a thing — then there would be no need to dismantle the structures of racism, no need to do any of the back-breaking work of rioting out racism at the root and eradicating it once and for all. No. If we are post racial, their fantasy of racism being a thing of the past is real, and they wouldn’t even need to speak foolishness such as claiming to be colorblind or that talking about racism is the real problem with race. So they have lived in their lie, skillfully ignoring or deflecting all evidence that threatened them with reality. And now here they are faced with the impossibility of living behind that lie, and suddenly they’re outraged and shocked.

This all sounds like a lot of bullshit. Plain and simple. These people know where they live. They may have done a good job of hiding from history, but they most definitely know where they live. So to see America’s true face on display over and over and over and over and over again can’t actually be surprising. And yet there they are, wringing their poor, sore hands, lamenting over the discovery of reality.

Yes, Mississippi elected Cindy Hyde-Smith. Yes. Elected her thanks to a landslide of white votes that pushed her comfortably past Mike Espy, her Black, Democratic opponent. Yes, of course, Mississippi is a red state. Of course. It was red before Hyde-Smith said how tickled she’d be to attend a lynching. Sure. Yes.

My request is that white people (and – please God – any non-white people who have jumped on this crazy train) stop the nonsense. Stop playacting amazement at things that aren’t in any way amazing. Stop pretending surprise when the exact thing that could be expected actually happens. Cindy Hyde-Smith said something hateful and threateningly racist. And then she was elected to the US Senate yesterday. And? Rather than wringing your hands and exclaiming your shock that this country has suddenly become some horrifyingly racist place.

White Supremacy Is America’s Middle Name.

The white electorate in Mississippi has offered up a bright, shiny affirmation of this commonplace fact, so guess what time it is. Time to stop wringing your damned, chapped hands and get. the. fuck. to. work.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

White Women’s Work

So, we had those midterms. The results are both good and troubling. There are a lot more women, POC, and LGBTQIA electeds today. People all across the country stepped up and made some excellent choices. They voted a raft of women into office, including Muslim women, Native American women, trans women, and young women. All of those votes for all of those women are heartening. Truly.

You know that isn’t all I’ll say, though, right? I am thrilled by many of the results, but I can’t miss the rest, or pretend that what happened on Election Day is enough. I can’t ignore the significance of the many Republican efforts at suppressing the Black vote and the poor vote — or the clear success of those efforts. I can’t ignore how comfortably many candidates and their supporters slid into straight-up, full-frontal racism in their push to the polls. No need to have a talk about dog whistles and coded language. People just said everything they were thinking about the uppity Black and brown folks who had the audacity to challenge a white person for office.

“Don’t monkey this up.”
“So cotton-pickin’ important.”
“Someone in the mansion who can take care of it.”
“His family participated in 9/11.”
“She’s encouraging people to break the law.”
“I’m a white racialist.”
“Send her back to the reservation.”

None of this is surprising. It’s not surprising because we as a country have always used prejudice and racism to keep people of color out of office. We as a country have always been racist, always been xenophobic, always been ready to fight for White Supremacy and the holding of power in white, male hands. And it’s certainly not surprising given the current administration and the fact that the country is led by a man who speaks in slurs, who built his political brand on racism.

There was one thing from Election Day that did surprise me … well, surprised me a little. Some woman tweeted out a plea, called on Black women to step up and save the country at the polls that day. (Don’t worry, she was quickly and roundly dragged.)

The idea that a white person would call on Black women — Black people, period — to save this country is amazing to me. First, it’s a numerically stupid plea. African Americans make up about 13% of the US population. Even if all of those people were adults of voting age and every single one of them went out to vote and didn’t have their vote thrown out, Black votes really can’t be an overall strategy for electoral success.

The bigger issue here, however, is the fact that how Black folks are going to vote is, for the most part, not a question. We — especially Black women — do an excellent job of voting in our best interests. We step up and vote to protect our children, our parents, our ability to find and keep decent jobs, our ability to exercise sovereignty and autonomy over our own bodies. We do this again and again and again. We do it because our lives depend on it and we know that. We do it because we don’t have a vested interest in supporting white male patriarchy. That has never been a place of safety for us, and we know that all too well.

The numbers from the 2016 election made the truth of Black women’s votes starkly clear for people. Nearly 100 percent of Black women voted for the Democratic candidate. Nearly 100 percent. Those numbers — and the numbers in Roy Moore’s race — make Black women look like a solid voting block for the left. These numbers are what prompted that white woman to call on Black women to save the day.

But what’s also clear from those powerful numbers is that Black women can’t, alone, win elections. Nearly every Black woman who voted in 2016 voted the same way, and yet the election went the other way. If Black women alone controlled election results, we’d be living in a very different world. We’d have a white house, a congress, and state and local officials who actually represented our interests as opposed to electeds put in place specifically to work against our best interests.

No one should be calling on Black women when the polls open. Ever. No. The people who need to be called in — obviously — are white women. Punto.

White women consistently vote in the majority for while male power, for White Supremacy, for a world in which their rights are erased and their voices silenced. They so strongly align with men and believe their proximity to white male power will translate into their own power, that they come out again and again and again for the upholding of White Supremacy. (Well, that and the fact that many of them are straight-up racists.)

That woman’s tweet on Election Day surprised me because of its willful blindness. This woman was looking over at Black women and hoping some Mammy-savior would come to the rescue, ignoring the reality that she needed to look in the mirror and then at her ya-ya sisterhood of white women.

Because of course this comes back to the truth that white people need to get their people. The work that needs to be done needs to be done by white people with white people. White people have to get down in the dirt and make that happen. Black women aren’t the answers to the questions white people have been refusing to ask for far too long. Black women are out here trying to stay alive, trying to get our kids home safe and our sisters and brothers and husbands and mothers. We can’t also be cleaning up white people’s messes.

The hard task of reaching out to the white women who stand behind Trump lies at the feet of white women. Not another soul can get that shit done.

Get. the. fuck. to. work.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Down at the Crossroads

I find myself at a curious moment. Curious in that I didn’t see it coming and would never have imagined myself here. Curious, too, because I don’t know how much is real and how much is La Impostora seeing an opportunity and seizing it.

Last week I attended an adult education conference. Three days immersed in my field. I’ve attended that conference several times. I’ve presented there a few times. I like it there. I feel at home there. I learn a lot there. I feel invigorated when I come home, re-energized for my work and ready to get moving.

But not this time.

I struggled every day of the conference. Struggled mightily. People presented interesting and important things. People shared good data. People brought up issues that are important to me. People shared excellent anecdotes about the work and the kinds of outcomes they’re seeing from their participants. People in the workshops shared their passion and determination. People came with their questions and ideas.

And it left me … cold. Uninspired.

How was that possible? How could I feel so disconnected from everything that was happening those three days? From the very things that have been the focus of my career?

There are some things going on with me right now that may have helped to  create that difficult experience. I’ve been trying to think about what can/should come next for me professionally. There’s a lot of potentially exciting stuff happening at my job right now, opportunities for my work to get different and interesting. I’m feeling energized by those things, but I’m also wondering how much longer I can be working in this particular world. I’ve been here four years, and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve also run headlong into many walls, and I’ve been halted in my tracks by systems I find I can’t work around. No one’s pushing me out the door, but I’m started to feel more acutely how much this isn’t the area I should be working in. Right field, wrong seat at the table, possibly the wrong table.

And then there’s La Impostora. Every time I start to think of what could be a better direction for me, she swoops right in to remind me that there are no good jobs for me because I’m not actually qualified to do anything, that it’s only dumb luck that has enabled me to last in my current job as long as I have.

Gotta love her.

Part of me hears that and knows it’s not true. Only a small part of me. The rest of me looks at job postings and can see nothing that would actually make sense for me. And when I see jobs that sound wonderful, their details — what degrees and experience candidates should have — confirm that my application wouldn’t move far in the selection process.

So yes, Impostor Syndrome is my constant companion, but she’s not the only problem staring me in the face.

And then I found myself feeling restless and frustrated at the conference. Going there seemed to shine a brighter light on my malaise.

I’m slated to attend a larger adult ed conference in a couple of months. Am I going to have this same disconnect, this same feeling of being removed from what’s happening around me? I certainly hope not. I have work to do, some stock-taking of my professional self. I don’t know if I’m talking about planning or a full-scale career change (at my age?!), but something’s got to give. I’m sick of this “off” feeling, and whatever needs to happen to get rid of it will surely be worth it.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Adventures in Fear and Procrastination

Today I had a writing date with two wonderful women. It’s the first time we’ve gotten together in a while, and I was looking forward to it. First, of course, I love them both and love spending time with them. Second, they are both really productive writers, ad that energy helps me, fuels me.

And finally, they are responsible for the essay I published on The Rumpus last year. They pushed and prodded me to not just post it on my blog but to submit it for publication. They helped me write my pitch letter and followed up with me to make sure I actually got it done. And I’ve been feeling the need for exactly that kind of writing support these days. I’ve fallen back into my old, familiar rut of not even thinking about sending out work. What is that? (Other than supremely annoying.)

They each gave me an extraordinary gift today. They each mentioned that their partners keep asking when there will be new comics to read.

Such a small thing, right? But so not small. So not small. The idea that anyone is thinking about my comics, that anyone is wishing there were more comics than those first four tentative ones from forever ago.  That is HUGE.

 

So, um, where are my comics? Good question. I’ve felt, not stuck exactly, more like frozen. And I’ve been this way for quite some time. I let the enormity of the project get in my head and scare me. I’ve had flurries of activity in the last couple of years — writing scripts, signing up for an online comics class, thinking about comics … but I haven’t really imagined myself working anything through to a place that looks like completion.

The closest I came to getting somewhere was a draft of a mini-comic. I sent my panels to a group of beta readers and got some helpful critiques back … and then I put all of it aside and did nothing. that was more than a year ago. More than a year.

This project is important to me. The discovery of comics as a form I could work in was huge. I thought I knew who I was as a writer, and then suddenly I was seeing a whole other way of being. And it was resonating with people. And it was fun. And it felt freeing and full of possibilities.

So why haven’t I thrown myself in and gotten some solid drafts written and drawn.

Yeah. That would be the question. Yes, I can fall back on blaming La Impostora. She’s a handy foil, to be sure. And yes, she’s surely at least in part responsible for me stopping myself every time I make even the least bit of progress in this work. But this feels like more than Impostor Syndrome.

Adventures in Racism, AIR, truly is huge. And that’s daunting. When I thought I was writing a graphic memoir, working on a series of mini-comics, the work seemed, if not easy, at least do-able. Even the longer stories I’d planned to include weren’t all that long. There were a LOT of them, but the idea of the whole endeavor still seemed manageable, like something I could hold in my hands and see my way through.

When I had the realization that I wasn’t writing memoir but was using my memoir stories as frames for a series of essays about racism, the size of Adventures suddenly ballooned. When, out of curiosity, I wrote the script for what I thought was the shortest of the essays, I wound up with an outline for a 25-page comic. Twenty-five pages … when I’d thought it would be, at most, eight. How in the actual fuck was I going to make it through all the essays I’d mapped out?

So yes, the length of each piece made the idea of the entirety of AIR seem impossible. This is a classic way of freezing my process. The whole feels too big, I can’t focus on the pieces and plow my way through them (sort of like how my apartment is still full of boxes almost a year after my move).

The other impossibility is the fact that AIR is a comic. These crazy-long scripts are daunting because I will be the one who has to figure out a way to draw each of the panels. Me. I will have to do it. This woman who is one of the slowest, most unsure artists in the history of comics-making. I will be the one who has to draw these panels.

Now here, maybe, you’re thinking what so many friends have thought and said to me: I don’t have to be the one who draws this comic. I can write and, and I can work with an illustrator. That is 100 percent true. Except that it’s not. I could work with an illustrator, and the final product would be great, might even be spectacular. But it wouldn’t be right. When I see the finished comics in my head, they look like my little line drawings. And, too, this work is so close to me, I am greedy and selfish with it, want all the aspects of it to be mine, to come from my hands.

So, yeah. There’s that. Stubbornness. Absolute stubbornness.

 

All of this is read. The project is huge. And insisting on doing all the artwork myself will make it take that much longer to complete. All of that is true.

It all also feels like excuses.

Why am I really not doing the work? What am I afraid of that’s fueling my procrastination?

 

Over the summer, I got a push in the right direction. I stumbled on a call for writings that specifically asked for graphic work in addition to prose. And the theme of the journal matched the theme of my beta-tested mini-comic. Of course I had to submit.

I dredged up the critiques from last year and set about revising. I drafted new ideas for panels and figured out how to draw them. And then, just a couple of days before submissions were due, I realized there was a hole in the work, and I needed more panels. six to be exact. It didn’t seem possible that I could draw six panels in to days … but then I did. I got the thing finished and sent it in.

That was an enormous step for me. Completing a full comic — script and artwork — was something I hadn’t done since I’d worked on the memoir minis. And seeing that I could draw more quickly than I’d imagined was good, too. And actually submitting it to a journal? That was most astounding of all.

Okay. So lot’s of good stuff. What happened?

What happened was … I reverted to being myself. I sent my comic out into the world and behaved as if I could do not one thing more until I heard back from that journal. And I didn’t even realize I was doing that until I talked about it today with my friends — see how important writing dates can be?!

Even if, in some crazy version of the world, it make sense for me to refrain from submitting any additional comics until I heard back about that once submission, that certainly shouldn’t have meant that I needed to stop writing and drawing all together! And yet, that’s what I did. I haven’t looked at or thought about a script since that submission went in at the end of July.

What the hell?

Yeah. What the hell. And, never mind the possibility of creating and submitting new comics. I could have sent that one completed comic other places. They journal I sent it to stated very clearly that they were fine — as they should be — with simultaneous submissions. And yet I’ve done not one thing with that comic, haven’t even thought about other places that might be a good fit.

 

Despite my claim that whatever is going on with me has to be more than “just” La Impostora, I am beginning to see how absolutely this mess has her fingerprints all over it. How better to hold me back than to make me see my options as narrower and narrower still? How better to stop me in my tracks than to create random and nonsensical rules about when and how often I can send out work?

I procrastinate. It is perhaps the things I do best of all the things I know how to do. And my procrastination saves me from proving La Impostora right. If I ever get Adventures written and drawn, she never gets to pint and laugh and say, “I told you so,” when it isn’t perfect, when it doesn’t find and audience, when the world asks me to please sit all the way down with my delusions of being a comics writer.

Ugh.

Having my friends tell me their partners have asked — more than once — about my comic is an indication that La Impostora might just be wrong about me. That is a gift beyond measure.

 

Time to claw my way up out of this pit of procrastination and get back to work on my passion project. First up: submitting my mini-comic to a few other journals before I head home for Thanksgiving, rock La Impostora back on her heels and then dive into script-writing again.

 


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Magical Negresses, Robocalls, Ballot Boxes and American Greatness

A white supremacist group created a robocall for Georgia’s white voters. The call script is fascinating. Someone, doing what I’m sure they thought was an excellent and excellently funny impression of Oprah, talks about the plot to elect Stacey Abrams. Not-Oprah introduces herself as “the magical negress Oprah Winfrey” and talks about her own rise to fame being created by simple-minded white women and how that same constituency of simple-minded white women — “especially the fat ones” — will allow themselves to be duped into voting for Not-Oprah’s sister in struggle, the magical negress Stacey Abrams.

Well, this magical negress found herself full-on surprised by this ugly audio postcard … and surprised by her surprise. The campaign against Stacey Abrams as she runs for governor of Georgia has been nothing but bald-face lies, ugly snark, unscrupulous behavior, and disenfranchisement from the start. This call is nothing new and certainly shouldn’t be in any way surprising.

I don’t live in Georgia. I live in a racist northern state instead of a racist southern one. I don’t live in Georgia, but I’ve spent time and a tiny bit of money supporting Stacey Abrams. I would be thrilled to see her win today. She is one of what is — thrillingly — much more than a handful of Black, non-Black POC, and LGBTQIA Democratic candidates I’m pulling for this election. Their rise to the offices they seek wouldn’t be magical, wouldn’t mean the end of racism (see above, re: not magical). But their elections would each be important steps in a better direction than the one we’ve been headed the past 21 months.

I think my surprise with this robocall is in how comfortable the racists who created it feel. They are so comfortable, they don’t worry about alienating a large voting block of the Republican base. The call script is racist, sure, but that’s too basic a description. One that doesn’t do justice to the layers of hate and ignores the other ugliness on display.

First, the voice recording the call seems to be a man’s. Because of course. Because any Black woman who wields power and is proud and confident and talented is depicted as a man.

The script takes an old story and gives it an updated twist: as has ever been the white supremacist plot line, white women are held up as needing to be protected. The 2018 twist is that, in these modern times, rather than needing protection from the sexual rampaging of brutish Black men, white women need protecting from the cleverness of magical negresses (bearing gifts of free cars). Sweet.

The protection of white women in this call to action isn’t the protection of purity as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. This script calls out the need to protect white women from their own stupidity. White women, apparently, are so addlepated they can be seduced away from the fight for White Supremacy by Black women and their magical negritude.

White women are weak … and the fat ones are weakest of all. The excess adipose tissue must put too much pressure on their wee little brains. Because, even if it has nothing to do with the subject at hand, if there’s an opportunity to throw in a little fat hate, why on earth would you let it pass?

It was the insult to white women that surprised me. White women have shown themselves to be pretty solid supporters of White Supremacy, gender inequality, and misogyny. Did the writer of this call script not see the results of the 2016 election, or the white women supporting Roy Moore or Brett Kavanaugh or any number of other candidates and ballot issues that were entirely against their own best interest as women? Given that voting history, why come for white women?

But, of course, white women are a safe target, a safe tool to use against Black women … precisely because white women have been solid supporters of White Supremacy and violent patriarchy. White women have chosen to support white men over and over again. No matter how much evidence can be shown of a white man’s guilt, vileness, basic unfitness for a job, white women will stand up in support of him. So I really shouldn’t be surprised that the creator of this call felt entirely comfortable painting his womenfolk so insultingly.

 

I don’t know what Georgia (or Florida, or Minnesota, or Michigan, or New York …) voters will do today. I hope they will send a flood of Democrats to local, state and national offices. I hope everyone who cares about human rights, human decency, equity, and the values we like to think this country was founded on understands the threat we’re facing and has stepped into this fight with both feet, stepped in fully-armed and prepared for the long slog. Because despite the legendary magic of negresses, this fight needs more than our votes alone.

We are people for whom and to whom America has never been particularly great, but who choose to believe that it could be great if enough people stood with us to hold the line, to force back the noxious sludge flowing in the streets. We will show up, because we do. We will cast votes aimed at protecting our families and communities and keeping this country from tumbling further into hell.

Who’s with us?


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Remembering, and Honoring, Loss

October, I’ve just learned, is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month. When I learned this, I thought this had to be a thing we have only recently been naming. These aren’t things we have been encouraged to call out, to draw attention to. Infant loss is too painful, so best not to talk about it. Pregnancy loss … well, it’s just been brushed under the rug. So to have a national remembrance day, that had to be some new business. Right. Imagine my entire surprise when I learned that it was created in 1988 … by one of the last people I’d have expected: Ronald Reagan. Color me amazed.

After my first miscarriage, a woman who was my friend at that time waved off my sadness, saying: “It’s no big deal. You’ll try again.” The fact that she was saying this to a single, childless, 40-year-old woman seemed lost on her. I was also a relatively poor woman, and “trying again” would be a very expensive proposition. This, too, seemed not to register with her.

I didn’t tell many people that I was trying to have a baby. Three, only: my sister, my friend Grace, and this woman. Her response to my miscarriage was part of the reason I told so few people. I don’t have a good history of people taking my pain seriously. I thought I was protecting myself from that callousness by telling so few folks. But I’d made such a bad choice in that one person.

Of course what’s also true is that, even if I could easily try again, and again and again and again, that ease wouldn’t have lessened the pain of that miscarriage. Why is it at all difficult for some people to acknowledge what seems a very simple, obvious fact? Why are women who lose pregnancies so often not given the space to grieve?

I have lost three pregnancies. All of those losses happened around the same time — two in the 10th week, one in the 11th week. Just before I would have started telling family and friends that I was pregnant. I didn’t tell Fox or Grace about the miscarriages. After my friend’s response to the first loss, I wasn’t prepared to share with anyone. That wasn’t fair to Fox or Grace, neither of whom would ever have responded with so little care, but I couldn’t take the chance of exposing myself to more dismissal.

My friend Sharline posted a beautiful remembrance on FB last week. That’s how I learned about this being Loss Remembrance month. It was also the first time I’d thought about the idea of a ritual to support my grieving, my release, my ability to move on feeling whole.

It’s 13 years since my last miscarriage. Obviously, I have moved on with my life. I’ve accepted as best I can the fact that I will not be anyone’s biological mother. I say “as best I can” because the pain of that truth bubbles up every once in a while, surprising me with its razor-sharp intensity, even all these years later.

In response to Sharline’s post, I said I wished I’d had a ritual back then. And I’ve been trying to imagine what that would have meant, what that might have looked like. And yes, writing about it then might have helped. I think most what I would have wanted was feeling safe enough and worthy enough to tell people what was going on with me. I didn’t have, then, the broad and strong circle of love around me that I have now. But I definitely had love, had people who would have stood beside me, embraced me, grieved with and for me. And I am sad to recognize that I didn’t see that then, didn’t know it.

There are surely other things that would have helped me process those losses, but having people I loved know that I was grieving and offer their support and comfort would have meant so much. I couldn’t give that to myself then. I was too afraid and uncertain and — I realize now — ashamed of my failure that I couldn’t bring myself to share with others.

Yes, failure. Because what is the one thing I’m supposed to be able to do as a woman? And there I was, proving again and again, that I couldn’t do it.

It’s National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month, and I am sending wishes to all the women currently dealing with these losses. I hope you have friends and family around you, loved ones you can reach out to for support, who will hold you and lift you up. I hope the society around you isn’t full of messages that leave you feeling like a failure if you cannot conceive, carry to term, and birth a child. I hope the women around you who are mothers know better than to say hideously cruel things about how you’ll never know what love/sacrifice/exhaustion/fear (fill in with just about every feeling) is until you have a child. I hope the people you work with and for don’t assume you are always able to put in extra hours because you don’t have kids to go home to.

Some of you will eventually become mothers. Many of you, like me, won’t. I wish all of you the time, space, and ability to grieve. Give yourself everything you need to accept your loss, come back to yourself, and go on to be and do all of the things still waiting in front of you.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

A Writerly Obsession

At my first for-real job, I was a bookkeeper. “For-real job” means the first job I took with the intention of doing the job for more than a minute, the first job that wasn’t simply a way to finance my next vacation – though I didn’t stay there over-long, and it did finance some vacations.

I kept the financial records of a small professional organization. Real work, not the paper pushing I’d done in my previous job. I can’t imagine anything I could have said in my interview that would have inspired anyone to offer me that position. I didn’t know the first thing about being a bookkeeper … and I wouldn’t have tried to gloss over that fact, as it never occurred to me that possessing the necessary job skills was … you know … necessary.

I was trained by the woman who’d been the works-when-she-feels-like-coming-in part time bookkeeper. Let’s call her Edith. She was a bored lady of leisure, childhood girlfriends with the director of the organization. She had stepped in to help out a couple of days a week. Then the organization had grown, and part time was no longer enough time, but she had no interest in working every day. She was in her mid-forties, and casually glamorous. I remember loving her wedding ring — it was a broad gold band, a crowd of people standing hand-in-hand and arm-in-arm.

The organization’s records were kept in the kind of old-fashioned ledgers I’d only seen in movies. They were awkwardly big. I remember them as enormous, but they were most likely legal size. Thick, hard, cloth covers with leather-wrapped corners, bound on the short end with metal peg-and-clamp fasteners. Edith handled them carefully, as if the slightest jostling might shake the ink loose.

The desk was like any desk, but instead of a chair, there was a tall stool, a backless barstool. And when it was time to teach me how to keep the records, Edith opened the top desk drawer and pulled out a fountain pen.

The pen was an old one, a Parker. The pen may still exist, but I couldn’t find it when I searched. The Parker Vector is similar in cost, so it may be the modern version of my ledger pen. My pen had a silver cap and a dark-but-transparent blue barrel, and it took cartridges.

I’d never used a fountain pen, so Edith gave me a crash course in pen use and maintenance. She gave me the location of the one store she knew of that sold the ink cartridges, showed me what I now know to describe as the nib’s flexibility. And she showed me how to “erase” any errors: lick the corner of your Pink Pearl eraser and rub gently until you’ve worn away enough of the paper that you can write over your mistake. Natch!

And then we got into the books. Edith was patient, never once her losing her mind with anger at my inability to learn even one thing about keeping those books. Because really, I didn’t learn a damn thing. My training ended, and Edith was gone, and I was on my own. I sat on my high stool and leaned way down over my ledger and played at bookkeeping.

And I followed Edith’s rule and used the Parker only for the ledger. And, when that pen died, I didn’t do the perfectly reasonable thing and pick up a ballpoint and get back to work. No. I went out and bought a new Parker. It never occurred to me to use any other pen.

At the turn of the quarter, the accountant came. I handed over my ledgers with pride. I was a little cocky, thought I was doing the job. The accountant took my books into the conference room and sat behind closed doors for a couple of hours. Then he called me in to review.

The accountant, David, was a lovely man – older, stocky, Jewish, with a gentle voice, kind eyes and beautiful wavy silver hair. We chatted for a while. It was our first time meeting, and he wanted us to get to know each other. As our chat wound down, he asked what I’d studied in college. I gave what had already become my standard airy, dismissive wave and smile and said, “French and photography. I know! It’s the perfect training for my job!”

We laughed, and he repeated my answer. “French and photography. I knew it couldn’t have been accounting.”

I won’t lie: I was more than a little surprised. Something was wrong with my books? My precious ledgers weren’t perfect?

David, because he actually was a lovely, kind man, spent the better part of the afternoon giving me a crash course in accounting. Most important and most mind-blowing takeaway? The grand totals of my rows and columns had to match! No, seriously, that was the whole concept of balancing the books.

French and photography. Right.

With David’s patient help, I got to be as good at my job as cocky-first-quarter-me had imagined she was. I stayed in touch with David. We exchanged Hannukah and Christmas cards for several years after I left that organization. Whenever I got a new job, he was sure to ask how my French and photography were helping me out.

Most of that is not my point. I just couldn’t resist telling that story.

The first of my two actual points was about Edith’s set-up for this job: the old-school ledgers, the high stool, the fountain pen. It was as if she thought her job was an audition to play Bob Cratchett.

I liked it, that’s true enough, but it was hardly normal, and it certainly wasn’t necessary. Ledgers had moved into the modern era years before. Everyone in the organization had a desk chair. She could have kept the books with a regular pen. Her insistence on using the fountain pen for the ledger when she used a workaday Bic for everything else was just odd – except in the context of her playing the part of bookkeeper in a period play.

Edith’s random oddities are responsible for my second and more important point: my introduction to fountain pens! She planted the seed. My bookkeeping job made me familiar and comfortable with fountain pens. And today, I own many too many, so many that I probably need an intervention.

After my stint with the books, I didn’t find my way back to fountain pens for three or four years. I was in Kate’s Paperie and found myself at the pen counter, practically drooling over the loveliness under the glass. I went back to the same pen again and again. The saleswoman, clearly sensing that I needed only the gentlest of nudges to turn me from a looker to a buyer, inked the display pen and let me write a few lines to see how it felt. Well, of course, it felt wonderful. Smooth across the notepad she’d placed in front of me. Clean, thick line – not bold but assertive. I walked out with that pen, a black-with-gold-trim Pelikan M250 – piston-filled, thick but lightweight, logo at the end of the cap.

Pelikan M250

I was reading Natalie Goldberg then, my first go-round with Writing Down the Bones. So I was doing a lot of writing, filling pages, filling notebooks. And the Pelikan was an excellent companion on that journey, so fluid my words spilled out effortlessly across all those pages.

A year later, I was back in Kate’s buying a ridiculously over-priced birthday gift for my new love (the start of my saga with The Morphine Man) — a gorgeous hand-bound notebook with a birch bark cover and thick, ultra-smooth, creamy paper. A notebook like that deserved a fine writing implement, so I moved slowly down the gleaming pen case until I found a deep green Waterman – slender but heavy, it’s green a dark, marbled resin. I bought it for The Morphine Man … but I knew before I got home that it was really for me. And so it was. (He loved the notebook. Was none the wiser about the pen.)

I used to think pens were necessary, disposable, interchangeable tools. If you lost one, you picked up a new one and moved on. I had favorites – the Pilot Precise rollerball was a particular love – but I wasn’t attached to any pen. The Pelikan changed that. I have only lost one pen in the 30 years since I bought that Pelikan. One. And I agonized over that loss, still occasionally kick myself over my carelessness and hope the person who found my gorgeous Levenger True Writer Kyoto took good care of it and wrote well with it.

And my handwriting has changed. It was never truly terrible — despite the bad penmanship marks I got in grade school — but it is definitely nicer now. This seemed a strange fact at first, but then, the last year that I was teaching, my students helped me solve the mystery. One of the goals that bubbled up at the start of the year was that a lot of the younger students wanted to improve their handwriting. No one had ever asked about good handwriting before. I started researching … and writing with a fountain pen was one of the top recommendations. It was all about ease of ink flow eliminating the need to exert force with the pen, allowing the writer to loosen their grip and write more comfortably.

I bought a set of student pens and gave a little tutorial on how to hold it, how to write with it. No one had every used a fountain pen, and most hadn’t noticed that I always wrote with one. We had a lot of discussion about that. Sadly, I’d been writing with a fountain pen for so long at that point, I had no “before” examples, no pre-fountain writing to show the difference.

My students thought the pens were funny, and the novelty made encouraged practice. Not everyone stuck with it, but the ones who did saw that their writing changed. And they noticed, as I had after switching to fountain pens, that they could write for longer periods of time without their hands hurting. I wonder if they stuck with fountains long enough to see their hands change, too. The tip of the middle finger on my right hand used to have an ugly, rough, half-callused indentation. It doesn’t anymore.

That year of Bob Cratchett playacting had quite the long-term effect. I don’t actually know how many fountain pens I own – I’ll make a conservative guess and say four dozen. Sailors, Esterbrooks, Pilots, Platinums, Pelikans, and any number of other brands, big names and unknowns, fancy and expensive, and three-dollar beauties. It’s fair to say I have a pen problem, but there are far worse vices, so I give myself a pass.

I wonder what made Edith choose that Parker, why she didn’t keep the ledgers with whatever pen was on hand. Was it really about the choice to turn her work into a game – setting herself up like a Dickensian clerk on her high stool with her tiny numbers noted down on those wide green “eye-ease” sheets? Whatever her game, I’m grateful to her. I’d surely have been introduced to fountain pens eventually, but maybe by that future time, I’d have been so entrenched in my writing habits, complete with a favorite pen, that fountains would have been just an interesting curiosity. Edith and her Parker came along at the exact right moment!


(The pen in my GriotGrind image is my perfect little Sailor pocket pen. I have a crazy number of pocket pens, mostly Platinums and Pilot Elites, but my Sailor with it’s excellent blue-black ink is a go-to fave!)

In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.