Summarizing Deadly Distraction

 

I struggled to find a source text tonight. I tried to avoid politics, and specifically Trump’s Friday the 13th actions. No such luck. In the end I had to find my way back here. It’s hard culling text from his words. I have worked so hard to avoid hearing him speak, to avoid reading his transcripts. I had quite the gag reaction reading this speech.

Precision Strikes
(An erasure of Donald Trump’s address to the nation, 4/13/18.)

I ordered forces to launch
weapons combined
now under way.
Innocent people responded,
again.
Weapons, innocent civilians,
escalation.
A pattern of weapons.
Thrashing and gasping,
actions, crimes, horrors.
Suffering (even small amounts)
can establish production and interest.
The response,
all instruments of power,
stops the most responsible.
I will say what is necessary.
Friendships take greater resources,
indefinite presence, contributions,
no illusions.
We purge everywhere there is
peace and security,
a troubled place,
fate.
The darkest places,
the anguish, the evil.
Righteous power and brutality.

Say a prayer
for dignity and peace.


It’s National Poetry Month! Every year, I choose a specific form and try to write a poem a day in that form. This year, I am trying erasure poems and I want to use news articles as my source texts. I’ve practiced a few times, and it’s already feeling difficult! We’ll see how it goes.

Here’s an edited version of the Wiki definition of this form:
Erasure Poetry: a form of found poetry created by erasing words from an existing text in prose or verse and framing the result on the page as a poem. Erasure is a way to give an existing piece of writing a new set of meanings, questions, or suggestions. It lessens the trace of authorship but requires purposeful decision making. What does one want done to the original text? Does a gesture celebrate, denigrate, subvert, or efface the source completely? One can erase intuitively by focusing on musical and thematic elements or systematically by following a specific process regardless of the outcome.
Also, Robert Lee Brewer at Writer’s Digest has some good points to add about ethics and plagiarism:
Quick note on ethics: There is a line to be drawn between erasure poems and plagiarism. If you’re not erasing more than 50% of the text, then I’d argue you’re not making enough critical decisions to create a new piece of art. Further, it’s always good form to credit the original source for your erasures.

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Washington International School
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Dignity and Equality

Something that seems to be true as I read news articles to find my source texts for these erasure poems is that I am increasingly critical of and disappointed with the writing of the news. Today I was annoyed and angered by what felt lazy, seemed precious and coy. The Times editorial board wrote a piece about the attack on voting rights and how we’re in a perfect moment for the Supreme Court to do something about it.

For real? For real? A Supreme Court that is led by a man whose early career was dedicated to the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act and who had the gall in the Shelby decision to claim that we as a country had changed so dramatically that we no longer needed to hold states accountable for their discriminatory voting rights laws and procedures? That Supreme Court?

The Case for Dignity and Equality
(An erasure of Times editorial on the Supreme Court, racism, and voting rights)

African-Americans
are determined to be people.
A fact, evident
in the fight for voting rights.
The history of the United States
is the history of white people devising ways
to keep Black people from casting a ballot.
Disenfranchisement,
silencing the foundation for political action,
fundamental of all privileges of democracy —
to protect white power.

In the resurgence of overt racism and white nationalism,
Republican lawmakers make voting harder for minorities.
Redistricting and disenfranchisement — justified on race-neutral grounds —
targeted Black voters.
The insidious legacy of the Shelby decision:
free rein to discriminate.
The Supreme Court has willful blindness
and let discrimination flourish.

America was an apartheid state
in living memory.
Fact.
A dangerous notion.

I’m still struggling with this form, in addition to discovering my displeasure at the writing of the news. It’s only day three, and already I am cranky as hell. Sigh. Maybe I need to change the kind of articles I’m using as source text? I don’t know. We’ll see how tomorrow shapes up.


It’s National Poetry Month! Every year, I choose a specific form and try to write a poem a day in that form. This year, I am trying erasure poems and I want to use news articles as my source texts. I’ve practiced a few times, and it’s already feeling difficult! We’ll see how it goes.

Here’s an edited version of the Wiki definition of this form:

Erasure Poetry: a form of found poetry created by erasing words from an existing text in prose or verse and framing the result on the page as a poem. Erasure is a way to give an existing piece of writing a new set of meanings, questions, or suggestions. It lessens the trace of authorship but requires purposeful decision making. What does one want done to the original text? Does a gesture celebrate, denigrate, subvert, or efface the source completely? One can erase intuitively by focusing on musical and thematic elements or systematically by following a specific process regardless of the outcome.

Also, Robert Lee Brewer at Writer’s Digest has some good points to add about ethics and plagiarism:

Quick note on ethics: There is a line to be drawn between erasure poems and plagiarism. If you’re not erasing more than 50% of the text, then I’d argue you’re not making enough critical decisions to create a new piece of art. Further, it’s always good form to credit the original source for your erasures.

Image result for national poetry month
Washington International School

When all else fails … blue-footed boobies.

Again with the too-tired-to-think. In lieu of thinking, I will string together random, unrelated things, call it a pot pourri post and be done. Given how tired I’ve been this month, it’s a wonder there haven’t been more of these! Here goes:

Today, someone tried to goad me into an argument, and I was a) able to see that fairly quickly, and b) frustrate them by refusing to rise to the bait. I need to remember this — and remember how to do it — in the future.

Because of some silliness a friend posted on FB, I realized that my name — when the letters are alphabetized — is Aceist. For some reason, this pleased me. I like the idea of it, like I’m really into aces. This nonsense is less clever-feeling with my middle name, which turns into AAIICPRT and sounds not at all like a name, or a title, or something with actual meaning.

I am in my mom’s house (because tomorrow is Fox’s birthday, so I’ve come down to celebrate!), and the World Wildlife Fund calendar in front of me has for this month a picture of a Blue-Footed Booby in the midst of the bow-curtsy move they make when trying to attract mates.

And seeing that picture of the Booby inspired me to go look up Blue-Footed Boobies, which meant I went down the rabbit hole of watching video after video of this cuties, which is why I know that the photo is of the mating ritual. I watched a silly video about Boobies and now I’m a bona fide expert.

Tonight, instead of Boobies, I have my mother’s dog and my brother’s dog to keep me company. I miss my cats, but it’s always nice to have some dog time.

I think that’s all I can manage. Enjoy the Boobies. They’ve got a lot more to offer tonight than I do!

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aboutgalapagos.nathab.com

It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

Totally Predictable

Utterly exhausted … again … still. I’ve started three different slices and can’t focus enough to make it through any of them. Instead, I’ve turned to poetry practice. April is breathing down my neck, and I’m not yet sure-sure about my choice of news-sourced erasure poems for the month. So I tried another one tonight.

Totally Predicatable
(An erasure of an article about Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s latest craptastic nonsense.)

Laura Ingraham apologized for her show,
rejected and whining.
Companies pulled advertising,
boycotts began.
Personal remarks went too far,
these statements cross the line,
are not consistent
with open dialogue and debate,
with our values.
A series of controversies
ignited a firestorm.
There’s going to be consequences,
as someone once said.

I’m not particularly encouraged by the fact that this one was harder to write than the previous two … but I’m going to say that’s because I’m so tired tonight. I was pretty pleased with getting to pull that first line by way of strategic erasures, however, and that kind of makes the whole poem for me.

Despite my trepidation, I think this poem is sealing the deal for me: I’m going to go for a 30/30 that’s all erasure poems taken from news articles. I’ve got two days to sleep and get my brain ready!


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

Wrinkled and Unready

And then I suddenly realize it’s March 8th … and that means the second movie I’ve been waiting for these last 20 months is finally opening … and I’m unprepared!!

Yes, I have been having all kinds of fun seeing Black Panther again and again and again (and am making plans for at least one more theater viewing). But how did I somehow manage to forget about planning to see A Wrinkle in Time this weekend?!

And my blockbuster movie friend is out of the country!

And I’m still really exhausted and just want to sleep as much as possible this weekend!

And!

And!

And!

Okay, deep breaths.

Yes, yes of course. It’s just a movie. Just a movie. A movie. Yes. Of course.

 

Whew. Somehow this will all work out. I hope I learn from this and do a much better job with Infinity War comes out this spring!


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

Waking to Sleep

My title is stolen and slightly modified from Roethke’s poem, “The Waking.” I’ve always liked that opening line: “I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.” And I’ve always loved villanelles.

I was talking about National Poetry Month today, and it got me thinking ahead to what form I’ll use for April’s 30/30. (I choose a form and write a poem in that form every day for the month.) I can pretty much guarantee what form I won’t be using. The thought of writing 30 villanelles in a month — or even a full year — is enough to send me running for my life!

Last year I worked with the chōka, and I was thinking I might work with it again. Yes, there are so many forms, and surely I should try something new, but I still have so much to learn about the chōka. We’ll see.

Mostly I thought of Roethke’s line because I am utterly exhausted. One of the unfortunate side effects of my shoulder surgery has been my inability to get a decent night’s sleep. I  sleep for 40 minutes, for an hour, but that’s about all I can manage before some movement I make sets off the pain in my arm and wakes me up. I fall back to sleep, but not immediately, and start the cycle all over again.

This means for the last month I’ve been little more than a zombie, barely making it through the work day without laying my head down on the desk. I get up in the morning and before I make it down to the subway, I’m dreaming about going back to bed. Not ideal.

Last week, I got super excited when I woke up Tuesday at 3am and realized that meant I’d slept for two hours straight. I thought I’d turned the corner on this sleep thing and would start getting decent rest. Yeah, not so much. And last night was particularly cruel, giving me 20 minutes here, 40 minutes there, never even a full hour.

The first six to eight weeks after this surgery are supposed to be the worst, so I still have some weeks of this nonsense left to go. If you pass my desk and see me slumped face first on the keyboard, give me a good poke will you? Just not in my left shoulder, please.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

Losing Ground

In high school, I had a grand plan. Despite my understanding that college was my post-high-school future, I had an alternative fantasy, a between-high-school-and-college fantasy. I’d step out my front door and not step back in until I had walked across, through, around, over the whole of the country. Yes. The full-on adventure of hiking the United States—at least the 48 contiguous ones.

I started mapping a route when I was a sophomore. I can’t remember now when I first had the idea for the trip. I certainly didn’t know anyone who’d done it. None of my friends were talking about doing something similar. Maybe I read something somewhere that inspired me.

I knew better than to mention this grand plan to my parents. There was no such thing as a gap year back then. Not heading to college immediately after high school, would just be seen as slacking, and neither of my parents would have thought it was a good idea. There were people who took time off between high school and college, but that was usually so they could save money, or because they were having a child. It definitely wasn’t a thing that was seen as the normal course of events. I probably could have told my aunt, Mildred, but I didn’t know that then. I was only 15. I hadn’t yet recognized Mildred for the big-brained family eccentric she was.

I lived in a family with a surprising number of road atlases, so plotting my path was easy enough in the beginning. I studied the maps, at first thinking there was a way to trace a path that wouldn’t require any back tracking, then plotting a course that looked like painting broad horizontal stripes across the country with me trekking west then east then back west again until I’d covered the country. In the end, I decided north-south stripes would be best, moving steadily west then flying home from California or Washington State depending on the direction of the final stripe.

I loved making this plan. Truly. It filled me with so much excitement. One thing that became clear early in the mapping was how long a trip I was talking about. The United States is enormous, and I wasn’t planning on race-walking my way across the continent. (No race-walking, despite the fact that I lettered in race-walking–seriously. The things you don’t know about me! 😉 )

When I’d originally started planning, I’d foolishly imagined I’d need to approach my mother with the idea of a one-year pause between high school and college. Sitting with the road atlas made it clear that the one-year idea was a ridiculous notion. One year? As if! No, I was going to need two, maybe three years. At the least. And, even if there might have been a way to convince my mother to say yes to a year-long hiatus in my education, there was no kind of possibility of getting her to go along with me stepping outside my life for some unknown number of years. Not a chance.

I soon realized I had problems that were bigger than time. First, I realized that leisurely cross-country treks that take years to complete also take lots of cash. My family had lots of lots of things–pets, board games, puzzles, musical instruments, books–but cash we did not have a lot of. I was rich in fantasies about doing things only rich people could do easily, however, and my full-country trek was clearly going to fall into that category.

The only jobs I’d ever had were babysitting–which I was singularly bad at–and collecting payments for my brother’s paper route. Neither of these things a) paid well enough for me to have saved a tidy bundle of travel funds or b) taught me much of anything about the world of work that might have made me a good candidate for picking up short-term jobs along the way to pay for my trip. How was I going to eat? Where was I planning to sleep? I wasn’t mapping out a cross-country camping trip. There was no chance I’d be bedding down in parks and campgrounds across the nation. It was going to be a “hotel, motel, Holiday Inn” kind of situation.

Right. On whose dime?

So, yes, money was my first stumbling block. But it started to look like an easy problem when the real problem revealed itself.

The real program was that the country I was planning to explore alone, on foot … was my country, the good ol’ US of A.

When I started mapping routes, I was planning with an eye to full coverage, to making sure I spent a little time in every state. I traced my finger along path after path, drawing a winding ribbon around the atlas maps.

And then one day I stopped and really looked at the map. Looked at the map … and saw the path I was making through Mississippi.

You may not know this about me, but Mississippi is no-go territory for me. I’m pretty certain I’d never articulated that truth for myself at the time I was planning my adventure, but I for-sure felt it when I looked at the map that day. How had I managed to spend so much time planning my grand tour without taking history, reality, and my Blackness into account?

Because of course Mississippi wasn’t a singularity. Once I viewed the map through my Black lens, suddenly I was carving pieces out of the map all over the place. My meandering stroll across my country began to look like a crazy game of leapfrog, with my feet touching down in a scatter-shot polka-dotted array.

It wasn’t the trip I had in mind. Not even close. I regrouped and spent most of junior year trying to map a course that would work. Instead, I found myself becoming more and more discouraged as my “possibly safe” zones got smaller and smaller still.

Something I didn’t consider until well into this process was the built-in danger of planning to do even the shortest leg of that trek alone, as a teen-aged girl. Really. What was I thinking? I already knew quite well that boys and men were capable of doing me harm, knew I needed to maintain vigilance and full wariness … and yet I was going to decouple myself from everything familiar, from my home and family, and send my 17-year-old self out on the road alone?

Clearly, my ability to fantasize wasn’t just strong enough to make me forget I wasn’t a trust-fund baby. It was powerful enough for me to ignore the truth of predatory men and racism. The rest of my body might have been soft and out-sized, but my fantasizing muscle was toned, Olympics-ready, practically bionic.

I kept fantasizing about the trip, but I set the actual planning aside. There was no way I was going to imagine myself past all the obstacles I’d finally recognized. My cross-country adventure became a pretty dream I’d call up every once in a while to sigh over with regret.

*

Eventually, I had the opportunity to trust my life to the kindness of strangers. I went to Europe for my junior year of college and did some traveling, including a summer of hitchhiking. And after graduating, I went back and hitched around some more. And here I am writing about it, so obviously I survived. (Thank you all the strangers who didn’t turn out to be killers.)

I saw my European travel as dramatically different from my US-trek idea. And, while I thought about that Euro-hitch in terms of race, race was the only filter I used when thinking about my trip. It’s interesting to me how entirely I was able to erase the issue of being a young woman on my own. I was surely in as much danger of rape in Europe as I was in the States, but I didn’t think about it once during trip prep.

That obliviousness to my gender and my body was surely part and parcel of my belief that, as a fat woman, I had made myself undesirable to men and therefore invisible. And my imagined invisibility allowed me to do crazy things like plan solo cross-country trips without ever thinking of my personal safety as a woman.

My safety as a Black person, however, was paramount in my thoughts, and it seemed to go without saying that Europe was safer for me at that time–the early 80s–than my own country.

There was plenty of anti-Black racism in Europe in the 80s, of course. It wasn’t so much directed at me, though. It was also different from the racism I saw, experienced, and expected at home. And somehow those differences gave me a feeling of security.

Those European tours lasted a few months each. And both, but especially the second trip, included extended stretches of me traveling alone, me standing alone on the shoulder of a highway with my thumb out and my face hopeful. There were some dicey moments along the way, yes, but even during those moments, I would still have said I was safer on those French or Spanish or Austrian or Belgian or Czech or German streets than I would have been anywhere at home.

*

I hadn’t thought about my high school trek planning in many, many years … and then suddenly there it was a few months ago, in the front of my brain, called up by who knows what.

It started me thinking about what that trip would look like today. I still don’t have much money, but I certainly have more than I had as a teenager. And I have marketable skills and work experience that could enable me to support myself in random towns across the map. I also have credit cards. I would still be a woman alone, and now I’d have sometime-y knees and a cane, making me look that much more like an easy victim. And, importantly, I am still most definitely Black.

I think about all the places I removed from my tour plan in the late 70s … and I realize that there are far more places I’d need to cross off the trip list today.

If I marked out the road atlas now, it would be the visual aid of the conversation I’ve been having with myself and online for the last three years: the fact that my country, my home, has become that much less welcoming, less mine.

Today, in 2017, the NAACP has issued not one but two different travel advisories for Black folks—one for St. Louis, the other for American Airlines. In 2017.

Had I attempted my trek after graduation, it’s a pretty good bet I’d have come to a bad end—an accident, a rapist, a serial killer, a bear—something. Sure. But I might have had a great time before running headlong into whichever life-ending force would have had my name on it. I’d have covered some ground, maybe seen a handful of states at least, gotten a good look at some of this crazy-huge country I call home. Today, I can’t convince myself that I’d make it out of New York State.

*

I’m not the only Black person who has intentionally narrowed her range of motion. The need for organizations such as Outdoor Afro and Journey Outdoors is real. As is the fact of terrible encounters with whiteness in the wild—I can’t stop thinking about the Black family whose reunion at Rollins Lake, Nevada was cut short when an armed white man threatened their lives. And the number of people creating lists of places that aren’t safe for Black folks to travel. I don’t know how to reconcile these clashing truths. I don’t like feeling that I’m losing my country, but I can’t pretend that very real dangers don’t exist.

 

I don’t have any answers here. I see the tiny pockets of places–both in the US and elsewhere–in which I can imagine being safe. The Europe I hitched 35 years ago is, sadly, dramatically different today, and I’d have little to no chance of a safe, months-long hitch now.

And I don’t see a way to reverse any of this. In high school, the US was a place in which I could imagine being safe exploring on my own … almost. Today I can’t imagine that at all. There are so many consequences of the intolerance and hate that is rolling rampantly across this country and others. The extreme shrinking of my universe is clearly one of them, but I didn’t see it happening because my lens wasn’t trained on that. These last few years, I’ve been focused more acutely, focused on feeling safe right in my own city. And while I was nearsightedly pre-occupied, I managed to miss the larger shift in my landscape.

I have no intention of swearing off travel. I’m currently planning for a big writing trip for next year that will land me in entirely unfamiliar territory, and I can’t wait for that. Still, revisiting my long-ago plan of hiking my country and seeing how much less viable an idea it is today frustrates and saddens me. This is my home and has been my family’s home for generations. And while it is true that this country has never wanted to accept my family or others like mine, we are still here. This additional reminder of the fact that my country sees me as alien is sitting hard with me. It’s not news, but it still hurts.


For 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I fell months behind on my #GriotGrind, and it seemed highly unlikely that I’d write 52 essays by year’s end. But then I dedicated my NaNoWriMo to writing essays, and did a pretty good job of catching up! I’ve got to move house before the end of December, so I’m unlikely to reach 52 essays. Still, I’ve written more this year than in the last two combined, and that adds up to a solid WIN in my book! Get ready for #52essays2018!