protect & serve

I have long held fear and distrust towards the police, the very people who are supposed to “protect and serve” the rest of us from … what? ourselves? each other? The connotation has never been exactly clear, especially when it seems that the police are there to protect and serve the very institutions that are holding us down. I wrote about some aspects of my feelings about the police and the nature of their power a few months ago in a previous blog post (police state) in response to increased national/local security and surveillance and the situation in Ferguson in which (yet another) young black man was killed and excessive force used when the police were supposedly occupying the area during protests, “to keep the peace.”

Since then, a grand jury dismissed charges against the police officer who killed Michael Brown. There have been protests and riots and people taking about everything from police brutality to institutional racism to white privilege. But the fact remains: the police officer was not charged with murder – even though he shot and killed an unarmed young person. He was not charged because he is a police officer. Many people feel that he was not charged because the person he killed was a young black male. There can be no doubt that there is a disproportionate number of young black men killed by the police. But this is not solely a race issue; this is an issue that affects every person who comes into contact with the police, no matter what their race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or socio-economic status is.

When I heard that the police officer was not charged for the obvious crime of killing another living person, I was upset. I was not alone. I remember cooking dinner and talking with my children about what had happened. My 16 year old daughter said, with all the innocence of a child, “But mom, he shot the kid like 7 times. He killed him. Why wasn’t he charged?” I shook my head. I took a deep breath. I told her that he should have been charged. I said, “if they convicted him of murder, the system would basically be hanging themselves.”

We discussed the fact that if a person is driving and hits someone, accidentally killing them – the driver is always held accountable. I heard about a very recent case of which had the defense pleading for vehicular manslaughter instead of the murder charge that the prosecution was almost sure to get by the jury, based on the high level of alcohol in the driver’s system. The driver was drunk. The driver didn’t mean to kill anyone. But that didn’t matter – the driver had committed a crime by killing another person, and even if it was accidental, that person would have to “pay.” That is what Americans call justice.

However, if that exact scenario occurred and the driver was a police officer, it is very likely that the police officer would not be charged with anything. A police officer can shoot with intent to kill, and they do, and they consistently are not charged with abusing their power. Police officers make mistakes. But they are never held accountable for their mistakes, because doing so would flaw a system built on the idea that “father knows best.” Police officers are the law. We are a society of abused children afraid to go against our parents. We are told that it is a bad world and we need to be protected. We are told that if we step out of line, we will be punished.

The police, much like the government, controls people with fear. This is inculcated and ingrained. A police officer’s abuse of power is not only permissible, it is implicitly accepted. We accept it. What other choice do we have? We are gaslighted into submission. We are taught from an early age to follow rules and not question authority. We want to believe that the police are there to help us, not hurt us. We want to believe that they are there to protect us, not protect the system against us.  Just the idea that police officers carry guns and other weapons visibly and refer to everyday people as “civilians” separates them from the rest of society and denotes an unequal power balance. But when “civilians” are required to concede all rights to the police, who watches the watchmen?

When people find out that I have had numerous run-ins with the police, they are often surprised. Why? I’m a “white” (Italian-American) female. I’m not a “trouble maker.” I’m educated. I’m quiet, reserved, even shy. Yet, that hasn’t afforded me the “white privilege” that some people seem to consider comes along with having light colored skin. I was never assaulted. I was never even formally charged with anything. I have no police record, but I have been arrested multiple times. For a long time I wondered why I had such bad luck with the police. But I no longer consider luck having anything to do with it.

The first time I was arrested, I was 19 years old. I had gone to visit a friend in upstate New York, where he was going to college. After I brought my bag to his house, he decided to show me around the small college town. We went to an area where there were several abandoned factories. We peeked into one of the buildings where of the windows were broken. Feeling adventurous, we decided to take a look inside. The door was unlocked. We walked right in. However, it was completely empty inside. There wasn’t much to see, so we decided to leave. But when we went to leave, my friend noticed a few cop cars outside, so we hesitated by the door. A few seconds later, we heard a booming voice, “come out with your hands up.” As if we were in a movie. We looked at each other in shock. We didn’t move. Or even breathe, I think. Within another few minutes, a police dog came bounding in. The dog ran past my friend and attacked me. The police came in right after, and we were separated, handcuffed, and brought to the station.

The police seemed disappointed that the dog did not bite clean through my coat and made me give it to them so they could inspect the material, but they congratulated the dog for attacking me. I was brought to every officer in the station so they could view the bite on my arm and how nicely placed it was. Then I was put in a holding pen unlike anything I’ve ever been in afterwards – for hours. It was like a small closet and very dark. I could not extend my arms, which gives an idea as to how small it was. The one window was a tiny square at the very top of the door which only let in a sliver of light. I could see long black streaks on the door, and imagined that at some point, someone had kicked at the door violently to be let out. There was no phone call. There was no miranda rights. No one in the world knew where I was, besides my friend, who was in his own kind of hell in one of the prison cells. I cried uselessly.

Later, I was fingerprinted, photographed, and interrogated. Again, this process took hours. I was questioned about my piercings, my tattoos, my short black hair. I was asked if I was a devil worshiper, and if I had any knowledge of satanic rituals happening behind the abandoned building – even though I had been in the town for less than an hour before the arrest. They asked the same questions over and over again, and I gave the same answers. About 8 hours after our initial arrest, we were set free. We had a summons to appear in court. We were both being charged with 3rd degree burglary. We stopped at the grocery store on the way home and he picked up a case of beer. Later, we went to a rave and dropped acid. It just didn’t seem real. The reality of it all hit when I had to speak with a lawyer – the town’s public defender. I was being charged with a felony. After a couple of months, all the charges against us were dropped.

After that incident, I had other incidents. There was the time I was picked up in the city for smoking weed, handcuffed and thrown into the back of an unmarked van by “undercover” police, which was a terrifying experience. I was in college at the time and again no one knew where I was. I missed class; I was held in a van for hours. I was never read any rights. I had the panicky thought that maybe I was just being abducted by two people who flashed a badge. Were they really cops? They weren’t even dressed as cops. At first there were only a few of us, but slowly they stopped to ambush and pick up others. When the van was filled, we went to the precinct, where we were held for processing, then released. There was some legal issue with the way they had arrested us, so no charges were filed.

Another time, I went for a walk after work with a friend. We went into a park after dark, which is technically considered trespassing because the parks around here “close” after dark. I didn’t realize that I hadn’t paid a parking ticket that I received in Manhattan about a year prior. A warrant was out for my arrest. So not only was I arrested for trespassing, I was held in the police station overnight, waiting for the police from NYC to come and pick me up. I was handcuffed to a chair for over 6 hours in the middle of the room, the only female in a room of men, as if I were a window dressing. A police officer removed my pony tail holder and fluffed out my hair. When I protested, he said that I was not allowed to have my hair in a pony tail. They asked me personal questions about my love life. I didn’t answer. They said I was “a bad girl” and “uncooperative.”

In the morning, a new shift arrived and was surprised to see me there. I was shipped to the basement of the old courthouse a few towns away, to wait in a cell for the NYC police. When the NYC police finally arrived, they said “the cops out here must be real dicks to keep you overnight for this.” They brought me straight to the courthouse in Manhattan, where I met with a public defender and told her what happened. I stood in front of a judge. Again, all charges were dropped. I had spent over 10 hours in police custody. For what?

All of my contact with the police has been negative. Even just being pulled over by cops while driving has had weird repercussions for me. How could I forget the cop who pulled me over for having a brake light out? Then again a few days later. Then again, a few days after that, even though I had fixed the light, just to say “I keep seeing you on the road, I almost feel like we’re dating” (I changed my route home from work after that and never saw him again). Juxtaposed with this, how could I forget my friend whose dad was a cop, who constantly was being pulled over for speeding? All she had to say was, “do you know my dad?” and every time, every cop let her go without a ticket.

Because of these early experiences, for most of my adult life I have tried to avoid any kind of conflict with the police. I “stay on the right side of the law.” I follow all traffic laws. If a cop is behind me on the road, I will turn at the nearest opportunity. I have never encountered a police officer without feeling some kind of anxiety, and I think this is the case for most people. Because even if you aren’t doing anything truly wrong, the police are at liberty to take away your most basic freedoms at a moment’s notice. Because they can. And they do.

If I were a black man instead of a white woman, my experiences with the police would look very different. Most likely, I would have dealt with underlying racism and unmitigated violence. As a woman, I have dealt with underlying sexism and implied violence. Neither one of these is okay. Neither one of these scenarios should be acceptable. And there are so many other scenarios that I’m not even getting into here. What if I wasn’t poor? What if I was married? What if I was a different race? What if I was openly gay? What if I had been older? What if I was a man? Would I have been handcuffed to a chair for over 6 hours then for a bullshit reason? All of these factors – race, gender, age, sexual orientation, socio-economics – are social constructs. They are divisive constructs. The fact is and always will be that people are people. We are all here, together, trying to do the best we can. We are taught that difference is bad. We are pulled apart into so many different pieces, we can’t get it together; it’s divide and conquer. It’s so sad.

Today another police officer was not charged in the death of another unarmed black man. There is video footage of the police officer using such excessive physical force on Eric Garner that he killed him. Still, the officer was not held accountable. After what happened in Ferguson just last week, it feels like a slap across the face of society. We cannot allow this to happen any longer.

When I was driving home from work, I heard the news on the radio, and I was just shocked. How many times does this have to happen? How many people have to suffer from the abusive hands of the police? How long can people go on and on and on hoping and waiting for things to get better, without actually doing anything to make them better? What will it take for people to say … “Your problem is also my problem. Your fight is my fight. We are in this together. We will fight this together. We will protect and serve each other, because we are all brothers and sisters in humanity.” Police brutality and these systematic abuses of power tread on very dangerous territory which affect us all.

“United we stand, divided we fall.”

*


artist privilege

Artists have a unique position in our society. They are the dreamers, the visionaries, the gifted. The service they provide has no true rate of pay. Art touches the heart, opens the mind, and nourishes the soul. There is no set path, no rule book. There are artists who are rich and famous. There are artists who are “starving.” There are artists who care nothing for commercial success, and create art for “art’s sake.” The idea of success is largely defined by the artist’s concept of what that means, by the community at large, and by future generations. Art is an ever growing, changing, and evolving journey.

But some artists are also narcissistic, egotistic, selfish, myopic, amoralistic, and even dangerous people. Recently, a fellow editor and writer posed an interesting question. She said that she had accepted work blind, but when the names were revealed, she recognized the name of a man who had been openly accused by several different women in a specific writing community for attacking and abusing them. The work was good. The work had been accepted. But the person … she wondered if she should rescind the acceptance. She was searching the line where the person and the art meet.

It is a shaky territory – the idea of artist privilege, the separation between the art and the person, the self-perception of some artists, and the allowances we sometimes make for people because they are artists.

Sometimes our society raises the art above the person, and the person becomes infallible; they can do no wrong. Other times, a person is openly condemned because of their behavior and actions. Nothing will save the person, not even their art, and society will condemn them by withdrawing their artistic support. Some artists feel a sense of privilege themselves. They feel that their status as an artist elevates them above other people; they are not subject to the same laws and mores as the rest of the society. People with a sense of artistic privilege rely on people to still accept them artistically when they engage negative/hurtful/dangerous actions and behaviors in their personal life.

Many people do not disassociate the person from the art. If the person is considered to be a great artist, many people naturally think that he or she must be a great person.

When it was revealed that the popular sci-fi/fantasy author Marion Zimmer Bradley knew that her husband was abusing their daughter and other children, and was complicit in allowing it, people reacted very strongly. The author was not alive when these facts came to public knowledge, but that did not stop the backlash or the consequences. Apparently, there were people who knew what was going on in Bradley’s personal life, but they did not speak out and the knowledge was ignored/suppressed because she was such a popular author. When this was revealed, many people swiftly withdrew their artistic support. They do not want to celebrate her. They do not want to read her books. They do not want to share her books with their children, or with future generations of readers. Jim C. Hines discusses some of these ideas in his essay “Rape, Abuse, and Marion Zimmer Bradley.” He provides a list of relevant links for a balanced view, then says:

“There’s more out there, including people defending MZB, as well as people insisting we must “separate the art from the artist” and not let MZB’s “alleged” crimes detract from the good she’s done. And there’s the argument that since MZB died fifteen years ago, there’s no point to bringing up all of this ugliness and smearing the name of a celebrated author. I disagree … Are you going to tell victims of rape/abuse that nobody’s allowed to acknowledge what was done to them? That the need to protect the reputation of the dead is more important than allowing victims their voice? … We ignore ongoing harassment and assault for years or decades because someone happens to be a big name author or editor. Half of fandom shirks from the mere thought of excluding known predators, because for some, sexual harassment and assault are lesser crimes than shunning a predator from a convention.”

Or from popular culture. I’m thinking of Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, OJ Simpson, Robert Wagner, Michael Jackson, Roman Polanski, Richard Pryor, Robert Blake, Jerry Lee Lewis … All of these artists have had major scandals with degrees of artist privilege when the questionable behavior in their personal lives crossed a line in the public eye. For working artists and the “not-so-rich-and-famous,” the behavior and actions underlying artist privilege are more subtly expressed. Here are some examples I have come across:

An entertainer/singer gets very drunk before (and during and after) her shows, resulting in uneven performances. She becomes nasty while drunk, and yells at her band, her audience, and her friends. If the audience isn’t quietly listening to her, she yells at them, telling them to fuck off, that they don’t understand her ART! She has had problems with venues, sound people, and other performers. She believes that she is a genius and that other people are meant to be used. She treats people as if they are beneath her. Many places don’t want to book her. Her followers acknowledge that she is a bitch, but isn’t every diva? The little clique that she belongs to loves/hates her, treats her like she is a queen (in her presence), and rips her to shreds (behind her back).

An actor who wants to be famous tells his wife that he needs to go to a certain open mic every week, to help his career. He uses flattery and sycophancy towards the host, a young girl 20 years younger than him. His wife doesn’t like it, but he tells her that’s how show biz is. He tells her she is insecure, jealous even. They are just friends! Week after week, he gets deeper involved with the group. His wife loves him, so she plays along. She makes friends in the group. She makes a public show that she sees nothing wrong with her husband’s behavior towards the host. She even likes the girl’s facebook posts and pictures, the same ones her husband does. But where was his wife those nights in the dark theater, while the girl sat on his lap and they laughed and flirted openly, in front of everyone, his arms around her.

A musician who has lied, cheated, and stolen from almost every person he’s known through his life can’t understand why nothing ever works out for him. Not in his music career, not in his relationships. None of his ex-girlfriends have anything good to say about him. He’s lied to and cheated on nearly every one of them. He’s also been verbally, mentally, and physically abusive towards them. He throws blame, anger, depression, and negativity at the world, and when it comes back to him, he doesn’t understand why. He refuses to accept any accountability for his choices and actions. He is a good musician, but his reputation as a person affects how people respond to his music. New friends can’t understand why he’s had such “bad luck” – until they get to know him.

The people in these examples are not monsters. They are flawed people with some questionable character traits. They use artist privilege to excuse and rationalize their behaviors and actions. Many people ignore/excuse their character flaws because they like the art these people create. As long as these people keep making art that others like, they have a wide berth in how they act and behave in their communities. However, it is worth noting that the reputations of each of these artists has suffered. The times in which their personal behavior was questionable have left a subtle but definite ripple effect in how their art is received.

I think that our art is inexorably tied to who we are, and who we are is inexorably tied to the world. The last danger of artist privilege is the idea that the artist is unconnected to the baseness of the world, and lives within the self-important I, without regard to the true privilege that it is to have the time, economic means, space, and ability to make art in the first place. This is the “ivory tower” of artist privilege.

Art is not only an act of creation; it is a journey through process into a product. The artist is a medium through which our individual/collective dreams, thoughts, ideas, and visions are translated, interpreted, and then given back to the world. Art is more than the creation of a single person. Once we give our art to the world, it is processed by other people, which gives the art a deeper, wider meaning and context. In a sense, once we give our art to the world, it is no longer ours. Our life, our person, is always ours. It is in the beat of our hearts, the blood running through our veins, the eyes that open and close. The artist has an expiration date, so to speak. The work of an artist does not conform to the same sense of time. That is true artist privilege.

Artists need to be cognizant.

Art does not have a life of its own. An artist’s person will always shadow his or her work. Art has power, but that power comes from the art itself, not from the person creating it. There should be appreciation, not hero worship. There should be acceptance, not blind following. The world does not owe the artist anything. Yet, the artist does owe something to the world. Some artists abuse the power they find through art. Other artists try to harness that power and find a way to give it back to the world in positive ways. Consider Maya Angelou. Her life – I’d say even more than her work – has made her one of the most inspiring and beloved artists of our time.

Today I want to share a poem that I feel speaks directly to the idea of art and artist privilege. This poem is by Ruth Forman, and I’ve loved this poem for a long time, ever since I first read it in June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint - an overall excellent book!

 *

Poetry Should Ride the Bus
by Ruth Forman

poetry should hopscotch in a polka dot dress
wheel cartwheels
n hold your hand
when you walk past the yellow crackhouse

poetry should dress in fine plum linen suits
n not be so educated that it don’t stop in
every now n then to sit on the porch
and talk about the comins and goins of the world

poetry should ride the bus
in a fat woman’s Safeway bag
between the greens n chicken wings
to be served with Tuesday’s dinner

poetry should drop by a sweet potato pie
ask about the grandchildren
n sit through a whole photo album
on a orange plastic covered La-Z-Boy with no place to go

poetry should sing red revolution love songs
that massage your scalp
and bring hope to your blood
when you think you’re too old to fight

yeah
poetry should whisper electric blue magic
all the years of your life
never forgettin to look you in the soul
every once in a while
n smile.

*


the gift

Anya looked outside the window as summer made way for fall, when the trees shyly shed their leaves in preparation for proud winter. She watched the branches sway in their green loveliness, knowing that all too soon they would be stripped bare to reveal their nakedness, exposing their innate desire to stretch and reach for the sun.

The afternoon light warmed Anya as she rocked in her chair, knitting. She was waiting for the one thing that would make her life complete and bring her full circle – the birth of her first great-grandchild, who she knew would be a girl, and who would be called Anya. The touch of the wool was soft and giving, almost as soft as the down on a baby’s back, and she longed to hold that child with a sudden fierceness that surprised her.

Closing her eyes, Anya descended into memory. She had died while she was being born. This was one of the first things she learned about herself, and it was at the core of her understanding who she was, for death had bequeathed her with a kiss, a curse – a gift that would follow her throughout her life. She thought about birth, about the entry into this world, and thought it cruel that the womb only held a child for nine months. To be that loved, wholly and completely safe … the thought brought a smile to her face. Then she thought about the children who were not wanted, who were not safe even in their mother’s wombs, and she could not make sense of it. It made her heart hurt, and her eyes winced with pain.

Anya opened her eyes again and thought she might have fallen asleep. The grandfather clock in the living room chimed several times. She thought about giving away the clock; it was useless to her now. She resented the ticking of seconds and the long, hollow chimes announcing each hour. She preferred to live by season, by the shifting light of each day. She woke when the birds began their morning song and the sky broke through its veil of darkness. She knew it was night when the light turned dark and the sun shattered into stars.

A knock on the door alerted the arrival of a visitor. The knock was a soft scratching, the sound reminiscent of the way her beloved stray used to return home in the evenings, so cautious, quietly insistent, eager to be let in. Anya smiled, knowing that it was Hope, the little girl who lived next door.

*

“Come in, child,” she called out, and listened for Hope’s hesitant footsteps as she walked through the kitchen , down the hallway, and into the sitting room. Anya sat up a little straighter in the chair and put her knitting into the basket beside her.

“Hello,” the girl said, peeking her head into the room first, as if she still wasn’t sure it was okay for her to enter.

“Don’t be shy,” Anya said. “Come, come,” she waved her closer, “should we continue where we left off? Or do you want to start from the beginning?”

Anya reached back into the basket and pulled out two decks of cards. She swung out the side table so that they would have a surface to play upon, then began shuffling. Hope pulled one of the chairs forward and sat down across from her. Two decks, 13 cards each, 7 hands. They played a game that Anya had made up long ago, and she changed the rules each time. The last time they played, they had only gotten through five hands, and Hope was losing badly. Anya had watched the girl compose herself as tears stung her eyes and she tried and failed and tried again; she was learning.

“Let’s start from the beginning.”

Hope’s feet swung in anticipation, her toes still not quite able to reach the floor. She looked around at the paintings and drawings Anya had made, always fascinated that the old woman had created such vibrant, strange art. Her eye traveled across the objects Anya had acquired from her travels all over the world. Hope often asked her questions about them, and sometimes Anya would respond with stories from her life. Hope listened, spellbound, as the hazy summer sun set in another time, lost in Anya’s memories, dreams of comrades and friends, artists and lovers, years of war, challenges, changes, new beginnings.

Hope took a deep breath and felt more calm than she had all day, all week even. The sound of splashing from a neighbor’s pool, laughter, and young shrieking voices carried across the wind into the room.

“Don’t you want to play with the other children?”

“No,” the girl answered.

She didn’t want to tell Anya that Chrissy wouldn’t allow the other kids to talk to her this week. She didn’t want to tell her that “this week” was going on the third week in a row. Ever since Chrissy caught her playing with Adam when it was his week, she’d been furious with her. Hope wasn’t trying to play with him. Adam came over to her when she was sitting outside, reading by the tree. He was so lonely, he was crying, and she never liked that game anyway; she thought it was mean. But no one else besides her would dare go against Chrissy. For the past three weeks, even Adam averted his eyes and pretended Hope didn’t exist.

“I like playing with you.”

“And I like playing with you too,” Anya smiled. She loved this little girl who appeared one day at her side door, eyes as big as moonflowers blooming in a dark, neglected garden.

“But it’s important to have friends your own age.”

The girl didn’t answer. She didn’t know what to say. She wanted to have friends her own age. She wanted to have friends like the characters in the books she loved to read, but she never met kids like that in real life. Chrissy wanted to make everyone in the neighborhood hate her, and she didn’t know why. They used to be friends. Chrissy said she wanted to be her best friend in the world. Then, she told all the kids her secrets, right in front of her, and laughed as if she was telling them all a joke. She told them that her parents always fought, that she wished she could live in a book, that she was waiting for her magic to appear. She told them that she still played with baby toys, even though she was twelve years old, even though those were the toys Chrissy had always wanted to play with when she came over, and they had made up complex stories with those little people and tiny houses.

“Amelia and David used to be my friends, but they moved away.”

She thought about her old friends, Amelia and David. They used to play a lot together. Her basement was their own private world, and Hope’s mother never bothered them. The first rainy day that they all played together, David said “I like to kiss girls” and Amelia said “I like to kiss girls too.” Hope had smiled at both of them and said, “that’s okay, I like to kiss girls and boys.”

After Amelia moved, it was just Hope and David. David liked to play superhero, and he used to tie her up with her jump rope, like in one of those saturday morning cartoons; he was the hero and the villain, and she was the heroine, captured, bound, waiting to be rescued. He liked to play cops and robbers and when he caught her, he’d put her in jail, then punish her with chinese tickle-torture until she laughed so hard she could barely breathe. He liked to play family, and he always wanted to be the dad. He insisting on taking care of the babies while Hope went to work, and cuddling all together when she came home.

When Chrissy’s family moved into Amelia’s house, Hope invited her over to play. David said “I like to play doctor” and Chrissy said “I like to play doctor too.” But when David started taking off his pants for a check up, Chrissy didn’t want to play anymore. She said that they were dirty and that she was going home. Chrissy’s mother told all the other mothers what happened. None of the neighborhood girls were allowed to play with David anymore, including Hope. Then, he moved away too.

“I wish I could go somewhere new,” Hope said.

“You will, someday,” Anya said, laying down her cards in a perfect spread.

Hope hadn’t even put down her hand yet. She gave her cards reluctantly to Anya to count. She would have to re-do the hand, while Anya moved on to the next one. Hope bit her lip. Anya would get double the points for this hand, while she got zero. She would never catch up.

“You can still win,” Anya said as if reading her thoughts, then began shuffling the cards again for the next hand.

“What’s that?” Hope asked, her eye catching the rainbow of colours in the knitting basket on the floor.

Anya smiled proudly. “My first great-grandchild will be born soon. I’m knitting a baby blanket for her … It’s my gift.”

“It’s beautiful,” Hope said wistfully.

“Do you know how to knit, child?”

“No …” the girl said. “Would you teach me?”

“Of course,” Anya said. “Next time.”

*

Alone, a wave of deep sadness and bittersweet nostalgia passed over her as she thought about her life, her endless dance with death. Anya knew that if she was damned to eternal return, she would have no regrets. She had lived a full life. She had lived as an artist, a wife, a mother, an independent woman. She was proud of the work she had done. The love of her life was an army man; she had lost him in the last war. She had lived more years without him than she had with him, but she still loved him as much as the day she had married him. He had blessed her with three beautiful children who brought her so much joy. Her life had been filled with love; she had amazing family, incredible friends, passionate lovers. Now, all of her friends and lovers were gone. Now, her children were all grown, with families of their own. Now, her eyes and hands didn’t work the way they used to, and she hadn’t been able to paint or draw in years. Now, she was alone.

There was a knock at the door.

Since becoming friends with Hope over the summer, she had grown used to having a daily visitor. But Hope only came in the afternoon, after lunch. She listened again. It was not Hope’s knock. This knock was impatient, forceful, angry. Anya got up from her chair and slowly made her way into the kitchen, to see who it was.

A girl about Hope’s age stood outside the screen door. She looked like a corn-fed child model, blonde and blue eyed and rosy cheeked, with a splash of freckles across the bridge of her nose. The girl smiled.

“Can I help you?” Anya asked.

“Can I come in?” the girl asked, pulling at the door. The door did not open. The door was unlocked.

“Why are you here?” Anya asked bluntly.

“I know that Hope has been coming here. I’ve seen her. You let Hope come in. Why won’t you let me in?” the girl pulled at the door again.

“I’m sorry child … there is nothing for you here.”

“You are teaching Hope, aren’t you?” the girl said angrily, nearly spitting out the words.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Anya reprimanded herself for leaving the side door open. All that stood between her and the girl was a flimsy screen. She felt the frailty of her old woman’s body betray her only for a moment. Then, her eyes burned. She put one hand on her hip, and the other on the knob of the heavy door that stood ajar, ready to close it.

“I think you do.” The girl held her eyes, and Anya felt a chill run through her bones. “And I’m telling you to stop. Because if you don’t stop, I will make you stop.”

“Are you threatening me child?”

“No,” the girl said, still smiling. “It’s not a threat. It’s a promise.”

“Go home, child. Don’t come back here.”

A woman’s voice pierced the silence between them, calling out into the quickly darkening sky: “Chrissy! Chrissssy! Come home!”

The girl rolled her eyes then called back in a sweet sing-song voice, “coming!” She glared at Anya one last time and left.

*

Hope’s mother kept the blinds closed so that no sunlight would enter the house. They didn’t have air conditioning so the absence of sun made the inside of the house about 10 degrees cooler than it was outside. Still, it was hot.

Hope sat with her brother in the dark at the dining room table, but they did not talk to each other. Her brother watched television with a focus he only seemed to have when the tv was on, which is probably why her mother always kept it on. Hope finished her sandwich and drank the last of her milk before she asked her mother for permission to go to Anya’s house. Hope’s mother was sitting in the shadowy kitchen alone, smoking again. It seemed that the bitter-sharp scent of tobacco, smoke and ash, remnants of fire, had become part of her mother’s moody silences since her parents stopped fighting. Now, they only fought when her dad came home, and that seemed to happen less and less often these days. The silence seemed just as loud.

“Hope … Miss Anya is a lovely old woman, and I know you think of her as a friend but –”

“She is my friend!”

Hope’s mother inhaled her cigarette.

“Do you want to take your brother with you?”

“No,” Hope said quickly, but seeing her mother’s eyebrows rise, she added, “Miss Anya is going to teach me how to knit. He’d be in the way.”

“I know how to knit … I could teach you.”

“I’ve never seen you knit.”

“Well, I used to knit. I’m sure I remember how … My grandmother taught me … Grandma even knit the blanket you loved so much. Don’t you remember?”

“Grandma made my blanket?” Hope asked.

“No … my grandmother made it. Your great-grandmother. She died a long time ago, right after you were born … I know I’ve told you about her a million times. Don’t you remember? You were named after her …”

“Oh yeah,” Hope said. “So can I go?”

“All right,” her mother exhaled noisily. “Just be home for dinner.”

“Will dad be home for dinner?” Hope asked.

Her mother didn’t answer at first, and in the pause, Hope regretted asking. It had just come out, she wasn’t thinking. Her mother crushed her cigarette in the ashtray and immediately lit another one, retreating further into a cloud of smoke and the shadows of the kitchen.

“I don’t know,” her mother said.

*

Hope peeked outside the window. The sun was blindingly bright. She wanted to make sure that no one was outside. Anya was her secret friend, and she wanted to keep it that way. After making sure that the coast was clear, she would go outside quickly, then run across the lawn and through the hedge of rose-of-sharon, which led directly to Anya’s side door. It only took a minute, since the houses had been developed side by side and were very close together, but that minute had Hope’s heart racing.

When she arrived, panting from the mad dash and sweating under the hot sun, she knocked tentatively, then waited until she heard Miss Anya call, “Come in, child.”

It was as if hearing those words had a magical calming effect on her, and all of her problems just disappeared. She always entered the house reverently, cherishing the quiet peacefulness of Anya’s space. It was so unlike her own house, with her parents fighting and her brother whining and the television always on. She sometimes wondered how she was even able to read with all the noise, but books remained another sacred space, and when she opened one, she seemed to fall into another world.

Anya was in the sitting room, knitting furiously. She was trying to decide whether or not she should mention the other girl’s visit, but when she saw Hope’s face, so eager and trusting, she decided not to worry her. She beckoned Hope forward hastily.

“Come now, we haven’t got all day,” she said.

Hope sat in the chair across from her. On the side table were two knitting needles and several balls of yarn in different colours.

“How is the blanket coming along?”

“Good … good …” Anya said, “I haven’t got much time left. The baby’s coming very soon, sooner than they think … go ahead child, choose the colour you like, and I will show you what to do.”

Hope picked up the balls of yarn. They were soft and light and each one had a slightly different texture. One was glossy and black as a raven’s wing, another was pink-purple and reminded her of the big blooms on the hydrangea bush in her backyard. She chose the blended green and blue wool, because when she held it in her hands, she imagined she was holding a small globe, a miniature planet earth.

“I see,” Anya smiled, “you want to recreate the world.”

Hope laughed. “Are you going to teach me how to make a blanket?”

“Hmm … you have time for that yet. I think you should make something simple, but useful, to start. A scarf would be nice … you could wear it all winter, and if you make it long enough, you’ll never outgrow it.”

“Okay,” Hope agreed.

Anya finished another row and when her hands were free, she took the yarn from Hope and began whirling the thread around one of the needles.

“Beginning is the hardest,” Anya said.

Hope watched her measure each stitch on the needle, making sure the width would be good for a scarf. Then she showed her how to use the other needle to push through and behind each loop, twirling the yarn across the top, pulling the needle through the front, and then easing each stitch from one needle to the other.

“And when you get to the end,” Anya instructed, “you begin again.”

“Got it,” Hope said.

Anya placed the knitting needles and yarn into Hope’s outstretched hands, then resumed her work on the baby blanket. For awhile they worked in silence, the only sound being the gentle scrape of needle against needle, the whirring of Anya’s handiwork, and Hope’s slow but steady progress.

“I think it’s really nice that you are making a blanket for the baby,” Hope said. “It’s a wonderful gift.”

“Oh, I’m glad to do it,” Anya replied.

“My mom told me that my grandmother – no, my great-grandmother – knitted a blanket for me when I was born. I don’t remember her though. She died after I was born. Her name was Hope, too …”

Anya stopped knitting, a split-second pause.

“That blanket was my favorite thing when I was little. I remember that I used to sleep with it, like it was a stuffed animal. For a long time, I couldn’t sleep without it.”

“Do you still have it?”

“Of course!” Hope said. “But I never sleep with it anymore. I mean, almost never. I mean, sometimes … but only when I have bad dreams or if I really, really can’t sleep.”

“And it helps you … sleep?”

“Yes. But I’m not supposed to sleep with it anymore. They took it away from me because they said I was too old for a baby blanket … I cried so much they gave it back. But I’m not supposed to sleep with it anymore. It’s in my closet. Sometimes just knowing it is there is enough.”

“Yes,” Anya said absently.

“I know this will sound silly, but when I was little I used to pretend that it was a magic blanket. I thought it would protect me from bad things.”

“No, that doesn’t sound silly at all.” Anya cleared her throat. “I’d love to see it sometime, if you don’t mind.”

Hope hesitated. She never took the blanket out of the house. No one had ever asked to see it, not even the kids she had told about it before she learned to keep certain things to herself.

Anya continued, “I always like to see the work of others. Not too many people knit anymore. It’s an art form, really …”

“I will bring it next time,” Hope said. She never took her blanket out of the house, but she would make an exception for Anya. She thought that Anya was the best friend she had ever had, and she felt her heart swell.

*

Dusk turned to darkness. Anya watched her reflection shape and form in the window. She was an old woman. Just that afternoon, she had been a young girl, almost thirteen, the same age as Hope. Each year was imbedded in her; she was not just the age the current year accounted for, she was each age up to and including that year. She was twelve. She was forty-two. She was ninety. The calendar in the kitchen delineated time into small squares and numbers. It was like the clock, another false construct.

The baby would not know to arrive on a specific day. She would come into this world when she was ready. Later, she would learn the day and month and year. In school, the child would learn to tell time, and as an adult, she would live by time. Later, much later, Anya thought, the child will turn her back on time, when the cycle reverses itself, when she lives closer to the womb-state, when she is dancing.

*

The tentative knock at the door alerted Anya to the girl’s arrival.

She prayed that Hope had remembered to bring the blanket. All night, she had dreamed about it, vivid strange dreams that dissipated as soon as she woke, nightmares that kept waking her in a cold sweat of panic and confusion. When the sun rose again, the one thought in Anya’s mind was Hope’s blanket. All day, she had anxiously waited for her.

“Come in, child,” she called, but when she heard the footsteps in the hallway, she knew at once that was not Hope’s footfall.

Too late. She had invited her in.

The girl strode into the room. Blonde, blue eyed, rosy cheeked. The girl who had made Hope’s life so hard. The girl who could not open the door without her permission. The girl who made her blood run cold.

“I told you to stop teaching Hope.”

Anya did not pause; she continued knitting furiously, the blanket exploding with a rainbow of kaleidoscopic colour.

“I told you not to come back here.”

*

Anya wasn’t answering the door. Hope knocked again, slightly louder, thinking that maybe she had fallen asleep or something. But that had never happened, and the heavy door was open, as if waiting for her to arrive. In Hope’s arms were the knitting needles, the yarn, and her baby blanket. She looked around furtively. At least a minute went by and Anya still didn’t answer the door. Hope began to worry. What if Anya fell? She was very old … She thought about going back home, maybe her mother would know what to do. But as soon as she turned to leave, another voice inside her told her to go inside. The voice told her that Anya needed her help.

Hope opened the door quietly. She walked straight to the sitting room, and when she entered the room, she was so shocked, she stopped dumb-struck. Chrissy was in the room, leaning over Anya.

Anya was struggling. Her voice was muffled. Her arms and legs were flailing uselessly, her old woman’s body overcome by the young girl’s strength. Chrissy had something over Anya’s face.

Hope dropped the things in her arms and ran into the room, shouting “NO.”

Chrissy turned, surprised, still holding the throw pillow in her hands. Anya gasped for breath, a horrifying, wheezing sound. Hope flew across the room and into Chrissy, pushing her away from Anya and knocking her to the floor.

“Miss Anya … are you okay?” Anya shook her head, pointing desperately at Hope, behind Hope.

Hope felt her hair being pulled, pulled so hard that her body jerked backwards. She spun around to face Chrissy, and Chrissy began to hit her. Hope remembered the time that Chrissy had given her a black eye. All she had done was win the game they were playing. She had played fair. But Chrissy didn’t like to lose. She had thrown the game board across the room and started punching her. After, Chrissy told her to lie and say she got hit with a ball while they were playing catch. She said that if she told the truth she would hurt her even worse. She said she had a knife, and that no one would believe her anyway.

This time, Hope was not afraid.

She lashed out blindly, punching, slapping, clawing, kicking. Tears streamed down her face, as if every blow she inflicted on Chrissy was hurting her, too. From far away, she heard Chrissy sobbing, crying “stop, stop.” But Hope did not stop. She thought for a moment that she would never stop, that she could beat Chrissy for the rest of her life, that she could cross the line from defense and protection into cruelty. From far away, she heard Anya calling her name. She stopped. She grabbed Chrissy by the arm and pulled her out of the room, down the hallway and into the kitchen, where she held her at the door.

“You’re lucky I didn’t take that pillow and do to you what you were about to do to Miss Anya. You’re lucky I’m not calling the police right now.” Hope dug her fingernails into Chrissy’s arm. “But if you ever come near Miss Anya or me again, you’re dead.”

She pushed Chrissy towards the screen, swinging the door open, shoving her through the threshold while releasing her grip on her arm, causing the girl to stumble and fall on the broken sidewalk.

*

Hope closed the door and locked it with the chain, then walked slowly back to Anya. She felt sick. She was shaking. She was crying. Places on her body were sore and her head was pounding.

Anya was sitting in the rocking chair, holding Hope’s baby blanket, cradling it in her arms. When Hope entered the room, she looked up. Tears were glistening in her eyes.

“Chrissy will never hurt you again,” she said, “But there will be others. Others will try. No matter how much they hurt you, they will never break you. You are strong, stronger than you may ever know. Come here, child.”

Hope pulled a chair close to her, and sat down. Anya spread the blanket out between them, so it covered both of their knees.

“Touch it,” she said, and Hope did. A feeling of calm washed over her. She sighed deeply, releasing all the tension inside her.

“You are gifted, Hope.”

The girl looked at Anya in confusion. Anya continued, “that is why Chrissy hated you. That is why others will try to break you.”

“I don’t understand … Do you mean … I have magic?”

“Not exactly,” Anya laughed. “But nevertheless, there is magic in the gift. Your great-grandmother’s gift is woven into this blanket, she gave it to you. Have you ever noticed that you feel things very strongly? That you are extraordinarily sensitive, not just in your heart, but in all your senses – what you touch, what you hear, what you see?”

“I don’t know … people do say I’m too sensitive, sometimes.”

“Did your mother ever tell you about the circumstances of your birth?”

“Why?” Hope asked. She shifted uncomfortably in the chair.

“What did she say?”

“She said that … the umbilical cord was wrapped around me neck a lot of times. She said that my heart stopped beating. The nurse thought I died. But I didn’t die – ”

“You died, Hope.”

“No, I didn’t. It was a mistake. The nurse made a mistake.”

“You died. You died while you were being born, and then you came back to be born again. You lived. Your spirit, your soul, was so strong that death could not take you. People who have experienced life and death so quickly have a special kind of knowledge, a vision, a gift. As you grow older, the form your gift will take will become clearer, and you will have a responsibility to trust that gift, no matter where it takes you. It will not be easy. Sometimes it will feel like you are living in an entirely different world than the others. People will sense your difference, your strangeness. Some will hate you for it. Some will love you for it. Your life will be more difficult because of it. But your life will also be richer, fuller, filled with incredible beauty. The gift may pain you, but it will never fail to protect you. These things work both ways.”

*

Hope told her mother that she wasn’t hungry, that she’d rather stay in her room instead of coming down to dinner.

“We’re eating together, as a family, and I don’t care if you are hungry or not, you are going to sit with us.”

When Hope entered the dining room, she saw the table set for three. Her little brother was already sitting down, filling his plate.

“I thought you said we were eating as a family,” she said.

Her mother’s face fell; the assertive composure that she had held only a moment before crumbled, and Hope felt a stab of pain.

“We are,” she said quietly, her voice quivering.

Then she looked at Hope and saw the bruises and scratches on her face. She reached out to her, asking “Hope … what happened?”and the girl burst into tears.

Her mother put her arms around her and held her close, the way she used to hold her when she was little, that completely. And together they cried, for all they had lost, for all they were going to find, and they stayed in the embrace for a long time until Hope’s little brother said in a surly voice, “get a room,” and they laughed and laughed, pulling him into their wild, joyful hug.

*

Everything was changing.

Only a week later, Chrissy was gone. When the moving van came, it seemed almost too good to be true. The neighborhood kids stayed indoors, peeking from their windows, watching to see if it was really true. No one gathered outside to say goodbye, the way they had for Amelia and David. After the moving van pulled away from the curb, the kids emerged from their houses one by one. No one talked about Chrissy. They played games they used to play when they were little – freeze tag, kick the can, ghost in the graveyard. They laughed loudly and ran in the street, wild and free. Then school started, and Hope became very busy very quickly with new classes, new teachers, new friends. By the end of September, Anya told Hope that she was going to stay with her daughter for awhile; the baby was coming early, just as she had expected. Hope didn’t want her to go. She hugged her tightly before she left, hoping that Anya knew how much she loved her, how grateful she was to have known her. Hope knew that she would never see her again, at least not in this lifetime.

Everything had changed.

Hope looked outside the window as summer made way for fall, when the trees shyly shed their leaves in preparation for proud winter. She watched the branches sway in their green loveliness, knowing that all too soon they would be stripped bare to reveal their nakedness, exposing their innate desire to stretch and reach for the sun.

*


police state

“There is no greater tyranny, than which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.” ~ Montesquieu

 

Here in America, we don’t live in a police state. Not outright. Not yet. But more and more, what I see makes me question exactly what it means to live in a police state. It makes me wonder where America is heading in terms of government and leadership, and how close to a police state we really are.

Many recent things have converged and I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of the police in America. I wanted to write a blog post about this in some form. At one point, I wanted to write about some of my experiences with the police in the reading series portion of this site. But something made me hold off. There are things about this topic that I am still searching, still trying to understand. I don’t think these things look the same across America, and I know people have vastly different experiences with the police. But what I’m seeing is some pretty ominous shit. And it makes me nervous.

America, land of the “free”.  America, the bully on the playground of the world. America, that lying, two-faced bitch. America, that money-hungry, opportunistic whore … I can still write these things without fear of being punished by my government. I can criticize America without fear of retribution, as long as I am a singular voice. If I started to voice these opinions to many people en masse, or if I began to organize demonstrations, I believe we would have a different story, and retribution would come swiftly. Because America does believe in free speech and “the people” but if the people organize in a difference of opinion against law and government, and there is a conflict, then all bets are off.

Sometimes the law of people and the law of government do conflict. Even Martin Luther King Jr. was a threat to the law, even with all the good work he did for the world, even having morality and justice on his side. Every once in a while, we see something like what happened in Ferguson. We see the anger and frustration of the people. We see the viciousness of the law when given carte blanche power. The police are notorious for abusing their power, in general. I can’t imagine what it would be like for a black person in America to deal with the police, the majority of whom are white men. But I know what it is like to deal with them as a female, and to be subjugated by their power.

I do not have a police record. Any charges that were ever filed against me were dropped. But when I was younger, I was arrested multiple times, for stupid things. I have been handcuffed behind my back, handcuffed to a chair, in holding cells, interrogated, strip searched, fingerprinted, detained. My rights were completely taken away from me when I was arrested. The police were at complete liberty to do what they wanted to me. Things could have been much worse for me. In another country, I might be held for months. I might have been raped. I might have been killed for the smallest infraction. But this is America. We have courts and lawyers and red tape bureaucracy.  Those things don’t happen in America? We don’t hear about those things happening in America. We don’t hear about it, until something happens like what happened in Ferguson, when things go very wrong.

Conflicts and confrontations between people and enforcers of law are only one aspect to living in a police state. There are other, more insidious, ways in which a police state manifests itself.

Where I live, an increasing number of traffic lights have cameras in them. It’s become ominous, there are so many. The purpose for these is to take a photo of the car if they pass a red light. The camera takes a picture of the car, aimed towards the license plate. Then, the person will receive a ticket for a court appearance or fine in the mail. I’ve been noticing that now certain traffic areas also have video surveillance. There are signs noting this. It isn’t hidden, which would be worse in many ways, but the existence of these kinds of surveillance to enforce traffic laws is relatively new. And they seem to be everywhere.

Almost all stores where I live have cameras and monitors in them. These cameras and monitors are used for surveillance, to make sure no one is stealing. These have been around longer. Some are hidden, some are not. People are generally aware that they are being monitored. Again, the purpose for this surveillance is to enforce laws against shoplifting, burglary, etc. But the manifestation of it – everywhere – in today’s world is creepy.

Since 9/11/01, there has an increased “security” in Manhattan, seen most abundantly in train stations, subways, and local airports. I live about an hour by train from Manhattan. The last time I took the train into the city, I was astounded by the police presence, and I mean police in full-out gear, throughout these areas. It is a menacing presence, and one can’t help but feel … what are they protecting, exactly? Are they protecting us, or are they protecting against us. They seem prepared to do both … Demonstrations in city parks during the “Occupy” Movement were flanked by police offers in full out riot gear. The spontaneity of the Occupy Movement across the country, and across the world, was kept just in line. Because there was no leader. Without a true leader, the movement was just a movement, and never became a real threat. I truly believe that if there was a leader, the Occupy Movement would have seen bloodshed.

Before I started writing this post, I did a quick search for “police state” on google, and this is something many people are bringing up and talking about as America sees an unprecedented increase in “security” and “surveillance”. Many people seem to find an eerie continuum that makes it seem that yes, America really does have the capacity to move to a full blown police state. But would the people ever allow that to happen?? These things happen slowly, we acquiesce slowly.

We are taught from the time we enter school to obey authority, to stay between the lines, to not question too much, to sit still, be quiet, do as you are told. We learn that the correct answer to the teacher’s question is the teacher’s answer. The number of “drills” that now happen in public schools across America is frightening. In addition to “Fire Drills”, there are also “Emergency Sheltering Drills”, “Lock Out Drills”, “Lockdown Drills” and “Extended Evacuation Drills.” In today’s world, schools are not safe. These drills are meant to keep children safe, but they also bring an awareness to children of not being safe, which instills fear. I wonder what these drills are teaching them, how they are shaping their ideas of living in this world. As a whole, this society does not teach children the skills and qualities it did even a century ago. Curiosity, ingenuity, creativity, and even intelligence are not inculcated or nurtured. We are a nation of worker bees in a world that revolves around the Queen’s almighty dollar, drugged into submission by television and media, Ritalin and Prozac and Ambien, trying to survive, to live, to find meaning in life.

In my quick search, I found articles such as 9/11 After Thirteen Years: Continuous Warfare, Police State, Endless Falsehoods and We’re Living in a Police State. Many online newspapers, such as the Huffington Post, have tag archives of all related articles written about this topic, and there are many websites, including the ACLU and PoliceStateUSA, devoted to educating and informing the public about issues that affect our rights and liberties. There is a lot of information out there. But do we really want to know how deep this goes? America thrives on the idea that ignorance equals bliss. Even with the knowledge available, I’m not sure if the majority of Americans even care. Many people don’t care about anything unless (or until) it affects them directly. What can the people possibly do, before it becomes too late for the people to do anything?

I don’t know if we are living in a police state, but I know what I see, and it doesn’t look good. I know how the government manipulates the flow of information to people. I know what we are told – this is for our freedom, for our protection, for our own good. In many cases, laws do exist to protect us from ourselves … but “who watches the watchmen?” What do we do when the law is against us, who will protect us then? Wasn’t Orwell’s “Big Brother” in 1984 enough of a warning? Or was it foreshadowing??

 

*


reading series 8.14

Through the Looking Glass by Mo T

I wanted to share something fun and different through this reading series, so I decided to share a little bit of a play that I had created many years ago.

When I received a MFA in Creative Writing, my concentration was not in fiction or poetry; it was in playwriting. I had entered the program on the strength of my poetry. I had intended on switching to fiction. But I fell in love with playwriting, and I decided to focus my efforts there. My thesis project was a full-length play called “Through the Looking Glass.” I loved and lived this play for many months, and it was the culmination of the time I spent at the university pursuing an MFA. Upon graduating, there was a staged reading of my play at a space in Manhattan, and it was bound and published in the university library, where all the thesis projects are stored. You can read the beginning of this play here.

For a long time, I was a writer without a MFA. I had studied poetry and fine art as an undergraduate student. After I received my bachelors degree, I spent about a year working at a bookstore. While working there, I ran a poetry workshop and immersed myself in writing. I was considering going for a MFA, and I began an inquiry into graduate programs across the country.

As fate would have it, I also fell in love with someone I had met while working at that bookstore. He introduced me to Andre Breton. I introduced him to Bettie Page. We shared a love of surrealism, poetry, music, and art. I started receiving pamphlets and booklets from graduate programs in writing around the same time I discovered I was pregnant. The pile on top of my desk became heavy, but it could not match the weight of the life that was growing inside me. I loved poetry. I lived poetry. And ultimately, that was what led me to my decision.

At 23, we moved in together, a musician and a writer. We were in love. We were going to start a family. We had no money; dreams were our currency. And at the time, I believed that was enough. I decided to go back to school to receive a masters degree in Education. I had initially went to the New School with the intention of learning and enjoying education again. I intended on pursuing teaching at the masters level, after I received my BA. I wanted to have a career as a teacher, so I could have a stable income. First, I thought that being a teacher would provide a job I would love while I pursed my writing. Then, I thought being a teacher would provide an income for my family. I never thought that I would make any money as a writer, but I also never wrote for money. That was never a motivating factor for me. I actually went into “being a writer” feeling that I would never make money from it. I didn’t care. Writing was just something within me, something I couldn’t stop doing if I wanted to, something that was given to me, a gift.

Fast forward a few years, and I was a single parent with two children under the age of 5. I was working nights and weekends as a cashier in a grocery store. (The bookstore had closed almost 2 years after I worked there) I was healing from the break up. I was raising my children. I was writing. I took a couple of classes each semester to finish my degree in Education. In order to graduate, it is necessary to complete a semester of “student teaching.” Those twelve weeks were some of the hardest of my life. I enjoyed teaching. I loved the children I taught, and they loved me. I loved my experiences teaching kindergarten and first grade. But I had to leave my own children in the care of others from early in the morning until late in the evening. It affected my relationship with them. It affected my relationship with my self. I felt that even though I’d make good money as a teacher, I would not be there to raise my children. That wasn’t acceptable to me. It was at that time that I decided that I would wait just a few more years (until they were both in elementary school) to get a full time teaching job.

I left my job as a cashier and began tutoring. I worked at a learning center, then as a freelance private tutor at a SAT company. During that time, I was writing mostly poetry. I had published some poems over these years, but not very much. I had two full-length manuscripts of poetry, unpublished. I applied for grants. I applied for book publication. I applied for a lot of things that would help me get my work into the world. But I felt mostly invisible (This was also before the explosion of the internet into what we know it to be today). I began noticing that most of the contemporary writers I was seeing published had MFA’s. I began wondering if that was what was stopping me from being published. For the first time in a long time, I remembered the choice I had made, and I realized that I could make another choice.

I couldn’t go across the country to get a MFA. I couldn’t even go into Manhattan, which is about an hour away from where I live. The commute alone would take away too much time from my work and my family. I needed something close by. Even though I had never heard of any, I decided to look into graduate programs in writing in the area I lived. That would be the only way that I could get a MFA.

At the exact time I looked into this, a relatively local university decided to start a MFA program in creative writing – to begin the next year!! I couldn’t believe it. No other colleges or universities in my area offered an MFA. It would mean adding an extra year to my plan, but it would only be another year. This was my second chance. I received the information. I applied. I was accepted! I applied for loans, which were also granted. Strangely enough, that summer before I attended, I received notification that three of my poems were accepted in some new experimental-type online journals. This was proof that I didn’t need a MFA to be more widely published, like I had started to think. The type of writing I was doing was different. The world of publishing, especially considering online resources, was changing. But I took this as a sign that I was on the right track. I entered the program, which was brand new. Because it had just begun, it was a very small and intimate program. It was just right for me. I was among the first graduating class.

I was 33 when I decided to get a MFA in creative writing, exactly 10 years after I had seriously considered it as a possibility, a lifetime away from where I had been ten years ago. My intention on entering the program was simply that I wanted to be a better writer, to expand, to grow. I wanted to enter the world of writers again. I had been solitary for so long. I wanted to learn how to write fiction, because it seemed elusive to me. I had never been introduced to playwriting before the program, and when I took my first playwriting class, I loved it so much. (It is said that most people come into playwriting as either actors or poets.) I met a lot of different people through the program, people of varied ages and stages of writing, people I still consider close friends. I became a different student than I had ever been in the past. I have always loved school, but this time I was incredibly active in my learning. I was back in a world where writing and reading mattered. I spoke out in class. I wanted to! I shared my work. I read my work aloud. I offered my ideas, opinions and insights. I listened to the ideas and opinions and insights of others. I learned how to stand behind my work, to make conscious choices. I didn’t take a single thing for granted.

After the program, I immediately got a job teaching at an elementary school. I continued writing. I began publishing more. After a few years, I was laid off from my teaching job. I went through a series of unemployment and crappy jobs. I continued writing. My writing moved in an inverse direction, and my work has been published more. I am proud of the work I’ve done so far. After I was unemployed was about the time I created this website and blog, so this brings me to now, where I am. My goal for so long was to have a career as a full time teacher. I was devastated when that plan fell through. I became an unemployed teacher, surprisingly unqualified for most other jobs (or at least those who are hiring seem to think so). I have dated and I have had long term relationships, but I’ve never had a marital relationship (nor do I want one). I am still a single parent. I still don’t have that ability to provide for my family in the way I wanted to. I am poor. I work at very low paying jobs, the only jobs I seem to be able to get. What happens when you don’t have a plan B? What happens when a dream falls apart? I know, I know. This is the story of my life. Fail better.

When I received a MFA in creative writing, I entered a transformational space. I did literally begin again, anew. I didn’t think that at the time. I looked at it as a second chance to do something that I had wanted to do in the past, but didn’t. I didn’t think that it would change me, or that it would alter my path in any way. I even went right back to my idea of teaching elementary school. I imagined it as a moment in time, and I knew it was an important step for me, but I couldn’t foresee the ways in which it would affect me. When I was unemployed, I also entered a transformational space. Similar things resulted. I was forced to begin again. I didn’t know the ways it would affect me or how it would change me. But interestingly, that wasn’t something I chose. That was something that life chose for me.

Sometimes we are fixated on what we want to happen, and forget that the world is so mysterious, so filled with things we can barely understand. Things happen for reasons that we do not understand, in the universe, in the world, our societies, our governments, our personal lives. Even when a choice is made for you, you can choose how you respond and how you grow from the experience. I believe that we each have a path in life, and that we are guided by our passions. Some people call this intuition. Others call it following signs, which is the idea that Paulo Coelho talks about in The Alchemist.  I believe that following our passions is the only guide we really have in which to live our lives. It is what we love, at the core of our being, that helps us make our decisions and choices. As Joseph Campbell says so wisely,

“Follow your bliss, and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t even know they were going to be.”

*


through the looking glass

 

Through the Looking Glass by Agnes Cecile

 

Through the Looking Glass

(excerpt: prologue + first three scenes)

CHARACTERS:

ALICE – Female. 35. Slight American accent. She wears monochromatic colors and layered clothing. (Alice at varying stages is played by manipulating hair and clothing as noted)

GAVIN – Male. 32. Slight British accent. He wears monochromatic colors and layered clothing. He also wears glasses. (Gavin at varying stages is played by manipulating clothing as noted)

SETTING:
In the center of the stage, there is a 9 x 9 three-sided box packed with items, extraneous home furnishings, and miscellaneous boxes, which are piled in a haphazard and seemingly precarious manner, painted white to resemble Louise Nevelson’s structural work. There is a large hanging mirror on the back of the box which is in reality a door, blocked by said items. Two working doors are on the left and right sides, obvious to the audience. The bottom of the box has a hidden space of about 12 inches with a sliding opening in which a pull out mattress can be revealed to position at front center stage. The bed/mattress is made up in black, white and grey sheets, blankets and pillows. On front stage right, there is a painted black bench or a small black couch. On front stage left, there is a desk painted black and two chairs (black). These four areas are reminiscent of the circular Celtic Cross position, and indicate four main components: the present problem and resolution (box), creativity (desk), analysis (couch), and intimacy (bed).

TIME:
The Present –1999
The Past –1996 –1999

Notes on Light, Colour, Sound: The entire stage setting is a mixture of monochromatic (black, white, grey) colours. At the end of the play, when the mirrored door is revealed and opened, the space should be filled with glowing, vibrant colour through use light and a dropped canvas painted in abstract colour. Lighting plays an extremely important role as each area of the stage is representative of different times and places and is illuminated or hidden by the light; also, the light indicates the movement of a circular pattern across each of the four areas on stage. The lighting in cases should incorporate shadows, sounds and emotions. Sound/music should be slightly dissonant and surrealistic.

Epilogue/Prologue: These poems (from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll) should be shown to the audience, either by screen painting or projection, on the front of the box.

Notes on Punctuation:
“…” slight pause
“-” interruption, continuous flow in dialogue
“/” point of overlapping speech (notated “/”at point and where next character begins)
“//” additional overlap in line (notated “//” at point and where next character begins)
“ ” quoted text, read as natural speech

 

PROLOGUE
ALICE and GAVIN stand to either side of the box, each holding a book, and a dim, surreal light shines above each of them. They are reading aloud this excerpt from the poem, addressing the audience, with awareness of each other.

ALICE
“A tale begun in other days,
When summer suns were glowing—
A simple chime, that served to time
The rhythm of our rowing—
Whose echoes live in memory yet,
Though envious years would say ‘forget’.

GAVIN
Come, hearken then, ere voice of dread,
With bitter tidings laden,
Shall summon to unwelcome bed
A melancholy maiden!
We are but older children, dear,
Who fret to find our bedtime near.

ALICE
Without, the frost, the blinding snow,
The storm-wind’s moody madness—
Within, the firelight’s ruddy glow,
And childhood’s nest of gladness.
The magic words shall hold thee fast:
Thou shalt not heed the raving blast.

GAVIN
And though the shadow of a sigh
May tremble through the story,
For ‘happy summer days’ gone by,
And vanish’d summer glory—
It shall not touch with breath of bale
The pleasance of our fairy-tale.”

Blackout.

 

SCENE 1 (excerpt)
The stage is dark. Lights come up within the three sided box at back center stage. ALICE sits profile inside the box- to the left, on the floor and against the wall. It is winter, 1999.

ALICE
I need to find the key.

GAVIN
What key?

ALICE
My key. I want to open the door.

GAVIN
What door?

ALICE
The door… The door is locked / and I can’t find the key.

GAVIN
/ No… the door is open. I just opened it.

ALICE
That’s your door.

GAVIN
My door?

ALICE
Yes.

GAVIN
If that’s my door, then where’s your door?

ALICE
Behind me.

GAVIN
I wasn’t aware that we had separate doors.

ALICE
They lead to different places.

GAVIN
One door leads to your study, the other one leads to the hallway…

ALICE
You’re so literal. Different places … different spheres of existence.

GAVIN
Which is our door?

ALICE
Our door?

GAVIN
If there’s a door for each of us individually, shouldn’t there be one for us collectively?

ALICE
I … don’t know.

GAVIN
Why did you lock it?

ALICE
I don’t remember locking it.

(holding back tears)
All I know is the door won’t open and I can’t find the key.

Gavin walks to closer to Alice. She turns away.

GAVIN
Are you really thinking about leaving me?

The lights in the box dim. End Scene I.

 

SCENE 2
Lights up on front stage right. The light is slightly dim and holds passing shadows. It is Fall, 1996. GAVIN sits uncomfortably on a couch; his tie is loosened and he is holding a plastic cup. A party is going on; music, laughter and chatter permeate the space. ALICE saunters into the light, holding a joint out to Gavin. He declines, holding up his cup to her. She laughs and sits down unceremoniously on the couch, putting out the joint in his cup.

GAVIN
(placing the cup on the floor)
Well, that’s the end of that, then.

ALICE
Boo.

GAVIN
I was quite done, anyway.

ALICE
Don’t lie. There was nothing in there but warm sediment. You were nursing the cup out of security … working yourself up, but too afraid to come over and talk to me.

GAVIN
I wouldn’t say that.

ALICE
What would you say?

GAVIN
I was working my way up to leaving actually.

ALICE
Boo-hoo.

GAVIN
It’s almost midnight.

ALICE
Didn’t you know that the fun always starts after midnight?

GAVIN
Does it?

ALICE
What, do you need to leave the ball before you change into your galley clothes?

GAVIN
No –

ALICE
Or perhaps you’re afraid your coach will turn back into a pumpkin?

GAVIN
I hate to disappoint you, but I am quite ordinary.

ALICE
I’m sure you’re anything but.

GAVIN
Well, it’s true. No fairy godmother beckoning my arrival. Just work … I have to wake up early for –

ALICE
You must be terrified.

GAVIN
Terrified? … I don’t quite know what you’re –

ALICE
You’ve been watching me all night / and here –

GAVIN
/ I haven’t!

ALICE
Yes, yes you have!

GAVIN
Well, perhaps I looked your way –

ALICE
Perhaps?

GAVIN
I … I wasn’t –

ALICE
It’s okay. There’s no need to falsify the evidence. I saw you. I waited. You never approached me, so… here I am.

GAVIN
Okay…

ALICE
So what are you going to do now?

GAVIN
(standing up, wavering)
I really must be –

ALICE
(pulling him back down)
Oh, no, no. Sit back down. You have … some time before the clock strikes.

GAVIN
Okay.

ALICE
Am I making you nervous?

I don’t mean to be… Although, you probably should be nervous, considering it’s almost the witching hour.

GAVIN
And why would that be?

ALICE
Don’t you know?

GAVIN
Are you telling me that you are some sort of …witch?

ALICE
(laughing)
Would things begin to make sense then?

GAVIN
I feel like your words are spinning around me…

ALICE
So now we’re getting somewhere…

GAVIN
Are you casting a spell on me?

ALICE
Do you want me to cast a spell on you?

GAVIN
“Are you a good witch or a bad witch?”

ALICE
“Why, I am not a witch at all…”

GAVIN
You’re lovely.

ALICE
That’s a promising statement.

GAVIN
You’ll have to excuse me but… I don’t recall your name –

ALICE
(laughing, holding out her hand)
Alice Lewis.

Gavin takes her hand and kisses it, then holds it lightly. She looks at him questioningly.

ALICE
And you are…?

GAVIN
Gavin. Gavin Carroll.

ALICE
So. Gavin. Carroll? / You seem to have my hand? //

GAVIN
(letting go)
/ Yes. // Oh, sorry.

ALICE
No, no. It’s fine. Lewis. (pointing to self) Carroll. (pointing to him)

They laugh.

ALICE
“In another moment, down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.”

GAVIN
What’s that?

ALICE
(laughing)
What? Oh. Lewis Carroll.

GAVIN
I do rather feel that way myself.

You are bewitching.

ALICE
It must be the hour.

GAVIN
How are you getting home?

ALICE
I thought you were taking me in your pumpkin?

GAVIN
Ah, but what if it is only a pumpkin shell?

ALICE
Then I should never be your wife.

GAVIN
Well, we needn’t worry about that… It is still before midnight after all.

ALICE
A few minutes.

GAVIN
Where do you live?

ALICE
Too far. How about you?

GAVIN
Very close.

ALICE
Well, that sounds about right.

GAVIN
Do you need to say your goodbyes?

ALICE
I never say good-bye.

Lights fade to black. End Scene 2

 

SCENE 3
It is later the same evening as Scene 2. The sound changes to that of night and traffic; a car driving, music played on the radio, doors slamming shut. Lights up on the bed front center stage. GAVIN and ALICE enter the stream of light, kissing passionately, removing clothing. They fall onto the bed as lights fade to black. End Scene 3.

 

*

 

 


breaking up

 

“Breaking up is hard to do” is the popular wisdom, and anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows it. But why is breaking up so hard, when we all know that nothing can truly last forever? I believe that our feelings about breaking up are rooted in our ideas about growth and change. I also think that the way we think about relationships has a direct correlation to how we think about break ups.

We know that death is a natural and essential part of life, that an ending and a beginning are two sides of the same coin, and that each person goes through life alone. But knowing these things doesn’t make breaking up any easier. For many people, a break up represents a loss, a failure – “giving up” instead of working through problems together. And while I know that working through problems and issues is part of being in a relationship, sometimes “holding on” is not the answer. Many people “hold on” to people and situations out of fear – fear of failure, fear of change.  Conversely, many people “let go” of people and situations out of the same fear.

Relationships are very complicated. I’ve come to think that relationships carry a certain kind of energy that is created and shared between the people involved. I’m focusing here on monogamy, defining a relationship as a “couple.” Even so, these ideas are applicable to those who choose a poly lifestyle. When two people are involved with each other in an intense way, there is a “twinning” energy. This kind of energy can either double strength or split power. I’ve also heard this described as “the royal we.” An unavoidable part in being a couple is that one person’s identity becomes enmeshed with another. Adding to this, many people seem to think that a partner is someone who “completes” another. In any partnership, there is an interdependency, and the best relationships seek to balance individuality and togetherness. Even having this awareness and taking a mindful approach, it can be challenging to maintain.

As someone who has been in several long term relationships, I’ve come to realize that a relationship is a constantly evolving process. It is one of the most important ways that we learn about ourselves and others. I’ve always thought of relationships as learning experiences. Even if you are with the same person over the course of many years, there is still a process of break and renewal. Life changes. People change. Relationships are organic, and they need to change as we do. The person you loved a year ago, or five years ago, even ten years ago, is likely to be a different person now, even if you have been in a relationship with the same person the entire time.

When a break up occurs, it means that you are making a choice to not stay in a relationship with another, at least in the capacity you once shared. That choice is sometimes reciprocal, sometimes unwelcome, and sometimes indicated by the actions and behaviors of the people in the relationship. In a best-case scenario, people who have shared an intense and close relationship will remain at least friends. However, usually this positive end result comes from an amicable break up.

Unfortunately, breaking up is not always amicable. A break up is the final result of what didn’t work in a relationship, and that is sometimes very hard for people to deal with, because often the cause for the break-up is what they’ve been struggling with as a couple throughout their relationship. There is an idea that when we meet someone new, there is a glimpse of the ending in the beginning. Meaning, all of the potential (good and bad) between you is there, right from the onset. Many people are so swept up in the idea of a relationship that they focus on the positive, and either ignore, downplay, or reconcile the negative aspects by thinking that the other person will change.

One of the most important things I’ve tried to teach my children as they enter dating is to be kind. For the most part, I’ve been lucky to have been involved with kind and good hearted people in my relationships. But I have also had relationships with people who were not exactly good, people who were troubled and confused about what they wanted, and people who were incapable of actually being in a healthy relationship – accepting, giving, and receiving love, starting with themselves.

One of the relationships I was involved in ended very badly when I discovered that my partner had been lying to me. This betrayal of trust was a deal breaker for me, and he knew it would be a deal breaker for me. He loved me, but he also lied to me. He never intended that I would find out about his “omissions of truth” and when I did, the results were catastrophic. Other truths were revealed. But instead of feeling sorry or taking any responsibility for his behavior, he tried to blame me for what happened. When I refused to take the blame, he became angry and defensive. He talked badly about me to his friends, manipulated the truth about why we broke up, and blamed me for everything that had gone wrong between us.

Even though I told myself that the truth existed, and anyone who knew the both of us would understand the truth no matter what he said, it still hurt. But what hurt the most was that the person I loved, and the relationship we shared, didn’t exist anymore. Because of how we broke up, a terrible shadow cast itself over our entire relationship. Everything was thrown into question. I didn’t know what had been true or what had been a lie. I didn’t even know who this person was anymore. The backlash after we broke up showed me that, even after what happened, he still didn’t want to face his own truth. He still was blaming me. He still was lying, but in the face of all evidence; he was lying to himself. Our break up was much more painful than it needed to be. Any relationship between us, even friendship, became impossible.

This is an example of why I feel that kindness is so important in relationships. When we love another person, we have to open ourselves up. In the process of opening up, we also give the other person a set of tools in which to hurt us. This leaves us tremendously vulnerable. Trust is necessary in a relationship, and trust also leaves us vulnerable. We all experience this. And I think that knowing this should make us feel a sense of responsibility towards the people we love – to be more mindful about how we treat others, and to understand how our actions and behaviors affect others. The importance of reflection and communication in a relationship can never be underestimated.

Even though it is usually painful, breaking up with someone you have shared a close and intense relationship with can provide an opportunity for change that is unlike any other. We always have choices. We can repeat our mistakes. We can learn from our mistakes. We can do the work necessary to really look at ourselves, no matter how hard that may be. The fact is that a relationship is a dynamic. Nothing is one-sided. We all make mistakes. We all are learning.

In the past relationship I used as an example, even though the person lied to me and we had a “bad breakup,”  I didn’t blame him for everything that went wrong. I was a participant in the relationship, not a victim of it. I tried to understand what happened between us, but I also tried to understand what happened to me, throughout our relationship. And in retrospect, there were other problems between us, other issues not involved with why we broke up, but just as important, maybe even more so.

I think that breakups magnify the fault lines in a relationship, but sometimes obvious problems also underlie other problems. Human beings are strange and complicated creatures. We lie to ourselves. We have blind spots. We stay in unhealthy situations. We seek out unhealthy situations. We give implicit consent when we allow others to treat us in certain ways. We even participate in our own undoing. We have a deep sense of self-preservation, even if it means preserving an illusion. We do all of these things, and we do it without even realizing it, unless something provokes us into realizing it.

When we look at how complicated the motivations for our choices, behaviors, and actions can be, with or without our subconscious awareness of such, we can begin to see how our behaviors and actions can reveal something else entirely, which goes a lot deeper than what is apparent on the surface. Only when that deepness, that root, is touched, can we truly change. And people can consciously change. We have that potential, always. I think that potential is strongest when we are shaken, awakened. That is why I feel that breakups offer a unique opportunity for growth. In magnifying the fault line we’ve encountered with another, breakups also give us the chance to encounter ourselves. Ultimately, in an abstract but fundamental sense, any relationship we have is not simply about our relationship to another; it is also about our relationship to ourselves.

A break up can also be an opportunity to care for yourself, to heal yourself, to nurture yourself. When most people end a relationship, they feel that their heart has been broken. They feel acutely alone. Many times, they are losing someone who has become, above all else, their closest friend. But instead of thinking of what has been lost, it is important to see what has been gained. There are reasons why people break up, but there are also reasons why people were together. When people hurt each other and are left with pain after being in love, it is sometimes harder to see that. But the depth of pain is directly relational to the depth of love. It’s important to remember that the love and the positive aspects of the relationship you shared are lessons, too.

After a break up, it is very natural to be wary of getting involved with other people again. Some people will jump right back into dating. However, I think that time alone is important, especially if you are coming out of a long term relationship. It is important to reconnect with yourself, and to strengthen your relationship with yourself. You have spent so much time as part of a couple, it is important to reassert yourself as an individual. I think that the issues we confront in our relationships are lessons we need to learn. I also think that each lesson we learn brings us closer to understanding ourselves, and what we want and need in a relationship. We can try to understand and learn from our experiences; we can transform our lives. We can grow and expand and develop, and embrace change in healthy and positive ways. An ending is a new beginning, another opportunity to start again, anew.

*


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers