I could use a great big waterproof hat.

There are for-sure some April showers on the way. And also, I’ve just been thinking this poem a lot:

John Had Great Big Waterproof Boots On

John had great big waterproof boots on
John had a great big waterproof hat
John had a great big waterproof mackintosh
And that said John is that
-A.A. Milne

It happens with surprising regularity that I have an A. A. Milne line (or twelve) in my head. Like an earworm. It is usually a line from one of three poems.

1) John and his great big waterproof attire, from which it is the final line of the poem that I find myself thinking on a loop.

2) The excellent and troubling-on-several-levels “Disobedience,” from which there is no specific line that repeats. I tend to have whole verses or large chunks of same running time after time in my head. A particular favorite bit might be:

James James
Morrison Morrison
(Commonly known as Jim)
Told his
Other relations
Not to go blaming him.

3) Or, finally, my most favorite of all the favorites, “Lines and Squares.”In the case of this delightful thing, I generally have to stop what I’m doing and recite the whole poem for myself. And that is what I shall do for you:

Lines and Squares

Whenever I walk in a London street,
I’m ever so careful to watch my feet;
And I keep in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines of the street
Go back to their lairs,
And I say to them, “Bears,
Just look how I’m walking in all the squares!”

And the little bears growl to each other, “He’s mine,
As soon as he’s silly and steps on a line.”
And some of the bigger bears try to pretend
That they came round the corner to look for a friend;
And they try to pretend that nobody cares
Whether you walk on the lines or squares.
But only the sillies believe their talk;
It’s ever so portant how you walk.
And it’s ever so jolly to call out, “Bears,
Just watch me walking in all the squares!”

After one of my long absences from blogging, March always brings me back, always reminds me how comfortable I am in this space, how much I enjoy connecting and sharing and learning here. Making it through the month always makes me feel as defiant and proud as Christopher Robin as he faces down the bears.

National Poetry Month starts tomorrow, and I am by no means ready. I think I’ve chosen a form. I think I’ve added my customary extra challenge. But I could wake up tomorrow and change my mind. I’m exhausted, which is how I always crawl into April. Should be interesting to see what NaPoWriMo dredges up out of me …

And that said John is that.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

The Wild Unknown

Since August of last year, I’ve had the pleasure of co-hosting a monthly storytelling event at an art gallery in Brooklyn. This is the show’s sixth season. It was started by a poet who has a love of the oral tradition, of the magic of stories around the campfire. Every year, he selects a pair of hosts, and every month the hosts bring two storytellers in to share 15-minute tales with the always-appreciative audience.

Three years ago, a friend of mine was hosting and he invited me to come tell a story. OMG, but that was fun! I was crazy-nervous, but it was also great to get to share some of myself in that way.

When I was asked to host, I was excited to give it a try. I had, however, no idea what I was getting myself into. Finding storytellers is hard. But really hard. Sometimes people say “Yes!” right away, but sometimes I ask one person after another and come up empty again and again. And even once I have people, I have no idea what to expect. I haven’t asked people who are storytellers, and everyone is super nervous about having to tell a story — not read something they’ve written, but stand in front of people and tell. I’ve asked people who are interesting to me, people who I know have a lot of interesting things about them. These things don’t mean they’ll tell a good story, but I am lucky: they always do tell good stories! The challenge of coming to be a storyteller unlocks a new door for them, I think. I mean, many of the people I’ve invited are writers, so they definitely understand a lot about how stories work. But writing a story isn’t really as much like telling one as you might think.

One pure joy of this hosting journey has been my completely delightful co-host, a young woman who is an artist and an actor and who creates in so many amazing ways, and who is full of energy and light. We connected as soon as we were introduced, and are already planning future projects to work on after our hosting year has ended. I can’t wait to see what our next adventure will be!

We’ve been having a lot of fun on this ride … and then COVID-19 hit. Our little Park Slope gallery with barely enough space for five people to distance themselves socially wasn’t going to be open for this month’s event. So … we did what half the world has done lately: we went on Zoom!

I was nervous: what if no one showed up, what if my computer froze (it’s done that in a few of my meetings this week), what if someone noticed that my house is a mess?! You know, all the worries.

But … all the worries were over nothing. Tonight was so much fun!

A — People came. As we approached start time, my computer screen started to do that intro-to-the-Brady-Bunch thing with all the squares popping up to show who’s joining the meeting. Not only did people come, but they came from places they wouldn’t normally be able to join from! We had folks joining from Long Island and Colorado. My cohost is Australian, and her mom zoomed in from outside Melbourne! So tonight was our first international showcase!*

B — People were so nice. This is one of the things I love about our in-person event, the way the audience is always ready to embrace the storytellers. And that was definitely true tonight.

C — The storytellers were sweet and open and wonderful. It’s such a gift to have people give you their stories, to trust you to hear them. I feel so lucky every time.

Every month, we have a theme for the evening. We’ve tried to have our themes connect to whatever show is up in the gallery. And we pick them well in advance. This month’s theme was “The Wild Unknown,” picked when we had no idea we were about to be plunged into the wildest of unknowns. Couldn’t have had a better theme for tonight.

COVID-19 didn’t beat us, couldn’t keep us down! We laughed and cried and laughed together. Which is maybe a good thing to remember as we shelter in place and pray for safe passage through this unsettling and straight-up terrifying time.

Storytelling can move us. Storytelling can connect us. Storytelling can make magic even when we’re not in the same physical space together. Storytelling is how we weave ourselves and our worlds together. I am so lucky to be a part of this. And I can’t wait to do it again in April!

__________
* I really just want to say, “Wicked cool!” when I’m this happy and excited. I’m trying to rein it in …


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Pondering the Pantoum

Hey, friends, it’s Pi Day! I neither baked nor ate pie today, and I’m okay with that.

What I’m not okay with is our rapid progression toward April and me still with no idea what form I’ll focus on for National Poetry Month.

For folks who are new to this sleepy space, that’s a thing I do: pick a poetic form and explore it by writing a poem in that form every day for the month.

… or try to. I ran aground last year. I chose to write a pantoum a day. I also decided to dedicate the month to Say Her Name and have each day’s poem be for or about a Black woman who’d been killed by the police. I broke my own heart every day writing those poems, and I didn’t make it through the full month.

Part of me wants to stick with the pantoum this year. It’s an interesting form and I have the feeling I’ve got more of them in me. I don’t imagine that I can put myself through another Say Her Name month, however. It’s just too painful. There are, however, plenty more women to write about. And, too, I didn’t think I did Eleanor Bumpurs justice. Hers was my April 1st poem (this is an “of course” for anyone who knows me). The first poems of the new form are always my roughest, and I always thought I’d go back to her, end the month with her.

I’m undecided. There are, after all, so many other forms to explore. It seems … lazy almost to stick with the same form two years in a row. I did that with the arun, though. We’ll see.

I wonder if we’ll still be socially distancing and self-isolating come April. Seems likely the answer will be yes. Maybe more yes then than it is now. And I wonder if that will make a difference in the feel or quality of what I write, if my writing will see claustrophobic somehow. I guess we’ll see about that, too.

I’m not totally decided. I’m still looking around at other forms, but that pantoum is calling my name just now.

What are you planning for National Poetry Month? How do you celebrate? Do you write a poem a day? Do you make sure to have a poem in your pocket? Do you post your favorite poems on your blog or FB page? Are you already planning your month … or are you marveling at how nerdy I am to be thinking this hard about this so many weeks before the fact?


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Manna from Heaven

Today I was reading Katchori recipes. You know, as one does. I was eating Katchori Chaat and wondered what, exactly, I was happily inhaling. Little did I know I was about the get my whole life.

After I stopped ogling the pictures, I started reading the ingredients. And there it was, right down at the bottom of the list: “amchur,” a thing I’d never heard of and had to click away and look up. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but … mango powder.

Look, I know cloves and turmeric, ginger and coriander. Of course. But mango powder? Mango powder? What is this mystical, magical, heaven-sent substance?

Oh, I’m sorry. Don’t you know about mangoes and their exalted position as one of the three fruit proofs of the existence of God? Well, if you didn’t know, now you know.

So. Amchur. Mango powder. Why am I not surprised to find that it’s a common ingredient in Indian cuisine? India is good at this kind of thing — luxuriant detail, fantasy, extravagance. If anyone was going to think of creating mango powder, it was going to be someone in South Asia.

My Katchori Chaat was delicious. A little spicy, a little thrown-together looking, a little I-made-this-from-whatever-I-had-on-hand looking. Delicious.

My recipe reading, in addition to introducing me to amchur, made me remember the giant 600 Curries cookbook I bought a few years ago. A cookbook so voluminous, so encyclopedic, it’s totally intimidating. I have made exactly one recipe from that book. Indian cooking, I think, requires that I understand food science better (or at all), requires that I understand the complex properties of food.

But I’d like to learn how to make Katchori … and then take my learning a step further to Katchori Chaat. And yes, I want to do this so I have a reason to acquire some amchur, but also because I love to cook, and I love a challenge.

I have questions, though.  There are so many kinds of mangoes. Can amchur be made from any of them? How is the result different when you use different mangoes? How many of the kinds of mangoes I’ve eaten would make good amchur? Have I ever had an Indian mango? (Seems pretty likely that the answer to this is no.) Why haven’t I?

I’ve got some research and adventurous shopping to do. Stay tuned …


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to.
Or … it’s not too late to join in!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Let’s Go Living in the Past

I just discovered CNN’s podcast, Lectures in History. I was setting up to do some cooking last weekend and thought how I didn’t want to listen to music or a book. And then I thought, “I want to listen to someone talking about history.” And I was so bent on finding that for myself, I didn’t even spare any time to fall on the floor laughing at that entirely hilarious thought. Who says that to themselves? Well, apparently, I do.

And so. I searched for “history lectures” and found a lot of annoying minute-long clips from lectures. Definitely not what I had in mind. And then I found Lectures.

I’ve listened to a few lectures so far. And I’ll for-sure listen to more. I’m still amused by my sudden and burning desire to hear “someone talking about history,” but I’m glad it led me to this podcast. In truth, this desire isn’t surprising. I already subscribe to The History Chicks and Stuff You Missed in History Class and a few others that could be considered history podcasts. And much of the nonfiction I read is about history. I’m still amused by myself.

Maybe that amusement stems from the fact that I specifically went looking for lectures. The podcasts I listen to are definitely not lectures. There are, for one thing, usually a pair of hosts talking about the subject or interviewing some expert. Just sitting and listening to a professor go on and on about a thing? Not usually my sweet spot.

As a kid, I wasn’t much of a history fan – or, to be most precise, I didn’t enjoy the history I was made to study in school. It was uniformly dry and boring and had nothing to do with my life. The history I was introduced to at home – through comics about famous Black folks and stories from The Negro Almanac – was far more interesting.

I took some history classes in college … and they continued the dry-and-boring motif. I mean, Renaissance and Reformation England? Seriously? And there was a course on ancient Greece that was interesting because the professors who taught it argued with and contradicted each other all the time, but the subject fell flat for me. And European intellectual history? Um, no. Why didn’t anyone smack me, give me a good shake and tell me to study something I actually found interesting?

I discovered that I enjoyed reading and studying history when I became and adult education teacher. The bits of history covered on the GED exam frustrated me – a lot of out-of-context information that didn’t invite digging in and learning anything. So I started digging in with my students. We read Howard Zinn’s People’s History to start, and that opened plenty of new doors, plenty of new things to investigate.

And I realized I actually loved history … when I got to take it on my own terms, when I was studying things that had clear connection to my life, when I went beneath the surface and had the chance to look at the inner workings of systems and the deeper causes for the surface manifestations we had seemed to focus on in school.

My students routinely tired of my intensive digging, of the ten thousand Aha! moments we’d have in the course of a particular unit. I don’t blame them. I’m pretty obsessive when I get into something. I learned how not to overload my beleaguered students, but my own digging continued.

As I said earlier, much of my nonfiction reading is history. I love history written well, written as if it’s fully alive and on the gallop. Books like The Boys in the Boat and When the Garden Was Eden. The first is about the gold medal-winning men’s crew team from the 1936 Olympics, and the second is about my heartbreak team, the New York Knicks, back when they one their championships in the 70s. And yes, there is a theme there. I love good sports writing. Love. It. I’m no one version of a sports fan as much as I have my teams and my faves. But good sports journalism wins me every time.

And then there’s Team of Rivals, about Lincoln and his cabinet. Other loves: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, The Songlines, Life and Death in Shanghai, White Rage, and The Warmth of Other Suns. So I’m pretty steeped in history on a regular basis. Sometimes, even when the history is terrible, it’s a good break from present-day terrible. Sometimes – as was the case with both White Rage and Warmth – what I read introduces me to myself, to my family, shining a light on something I hadn’t found a way to see before stumbling across that reading. Both of those books showed me my parents in various ways, showed me things I thought I knew and realized I had only focused on the smallest piece of the story and not a fuller telling. Both sets of revelations hit me like a wrecking ball. Both made me grateful.

I’ve been discovering great stuff as I’ve listened to these lectures. More things for me to dig further into and look at more closely. The first lecture was about enslaved people suing for their freedom. It centered on a particular family, but covered other ground, too. This has been my favorite so far. Next was a talk about Feminism and popular music from the 60s and 70s. And then I took a bit of a misstep and listened to a lecture 50s and 60s counterculture. The professor was a little too charmed by his cleverness, which I always find irksome. And, too, at that point I’d started to wonder if any of the lectures would be by women as all three of my choices had me listening to men (I checked the show notes then and yes, there are women, but men definitely get the lion’s share of episodes. Feh.)

Okay, enough time has passed since I started writing this essay (two days) that I’ve listened to a couple more lectures, including the first I’ve heard by a woman. I’ll keep listening, but my pace is going to slow down. Bingeing these lectures hasn’t been all that nice. Half of them confirm for me that we’ve been ugly for a good long time – as a people, as a country, as a civilization. Our history has bright spots but the broadest strokes tell stories of oppression, violence, and evil. Also, I do miss the back and forth I get on the other podcasts.

The biggest reason I need to slow down in this consumption is that – in the instances where professors elicit responses from their students – the students often say really problematic, wrongheaded things … and the professors mostly let those comments pass. Rather than push students not to be lazy thinkers and fall back on tropes and racial biases, they either affirm the nonsense (!!) or gloss over it with responses that imply the students’ comments are at least partially correct and then they move on to pull answers from other students.

Obviously, I never want professors to respond the way I did when I heard some of the students’ questions and comments – saying aloud, “You’re an idiot,” or “Thank you for your racism.” Not that, but I expect professors to make their students see that they have to do the work, have to examine ideas, not just relax in the comfort of what this society has spoon-fed them. Ugh.

I’m sure there will be other lectures that don’t trigger this particular disgust or annoyance. I’m also sure that, even with the moments of disgust and annoyance, I’ll keep working my way through the back catalog of episodes. Because yes, I am a “historophile,” not a history buff, not hardly, but a lover. And Lectures in History feeds my habit.

We’ll go walking out
While other’s shout of war’s disaster.
Oh, we won’t give in,
Let’s go living in the past.

It’s always nice to slip a little Jethro Tull into the conversation. The lyric isn’t exactly accurate for my feelings about discovering this trove of history fabulousness, but I like it all the same.

Oh, we won’t give in,
Let’s go living in the past.


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 kept working on personal essays, kept at my #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join, it’s never too late! Find the group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.