love

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It’s no secret that I love love. Love is an essential component to nearly everything I do. It is basically the driving force of my life, and the lens in which I view my work and my purpose in this world.

This quote by Joseph Campbell is very important to me: “Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” To me, this relates to trusting oneself while traveling into the unknown, following one’s instincts, and following our passions as a guide in which to live our lives. I feel that what we love is the single most important factor driving and determining our individual paths.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about love.

Romantic love has been a challenge for me throughout most of my adult life. I feel like I had a good beginning, a sweet beginning, and I am so grateful for those early experiences. But moving on into my later teenage years and way into adulthood, I never connected with another person the way I had longed for when I imagined love. Romance and relationships and sex always seemed to come hand-in-hand with issues and problems, and while I was willing to work through these things with other people, I never had the kind of “true love” that people say exists, the kind of love that connects people at a soul level so deeply that they are bonded (happily) throughout their lives.

I think that these types of soul connections happen in different types of relationships, not only romantic relationships. Nevertheless, it seems that finding this kind of connection with a romantic partner can be very elusive. Yet, it does exist.

A good friend of mine has been married for over 20 years, and she and her husband share this kind of connection. They had known each other for less than 3 weeks before deciding to spend the rest of their lives together. Within 6 months, they were married. Over the years they have supported and nurtured each other, helping each other reach their individual and collective dreams. This isn’t to say that they don’t have problems or conflicts, but maintaining a good and healthy relationship is important to both of them. She says that they make a choice to be together, not as a residual throwback to 20 years past when they first fell in love, but as a choice to fall in love with each other all over again, each and every day.

Interestingly, even though they had known each other for “only” a few weeks, neither my friend nor her husband felt that they were jumping into things. She says that they both just “knew.”

And that is the elusive part of romantic love – it’s intuitive nature. It’s not something that can be quantified or defined. It is felt, sensed, understood in the heart and soul before the mind can make sense of it. You can’t buy it in a store. You can’t place an order for what you want. You can’t mold another person into the right one for you, no matter how much you think you love him or her. You can’t even work with the law of averages and go out on hundreds of dates, hoping to strike a match. You can be open to romantic love, but you cannot force it, or even truly understand it – to understand this kind of love is like trying to hold a rainbow in your hand.

Recently I came across an article online that was titled something to the effect of “the relationship types you will have before you meet your true love.” The article itself was kind of funny, but I think it also spoke to a great truth, in that many people have to go through different experiences with different kinds of people before they are ready to meet someone on that soul level, their minds/bodies/hearts open in acceptance.

So many times throughout my life I have wondered why I got involved with certain people. Many times even if I sensed that the relationship wouldn’t work on a fundamental level, I still loved them and tried to make it work. And maybe we were not a match in the “true love” sense, but I think the love I felt for them was true. The lessons I sometimes learned were difficult, but I think each relationship I have had has taught me important things, which helped me grow and evolve as an individual.

Recently I was thinking of my children’s father, and a single image kept recurring. When I met him, I was 22 and working in a bookstore full time. After we met, we had a grand meeting of the minds. Within a very short time, I was translating his favorite book”Nadja” from the original French, and he gave me 19 poems about my eyes. I worked in the “home” section, which included all books on cooking, crafting, gardening, etc, and he worked in “genre fiction.” I loved working in the home section very much, and it truly was my own little home. One day, I was organizing books in antiques & collectibles, and I was standing on a step-stool because the shelves were high at the top. He came into my section and held up a ring to me, a bright orange plastic pumpkin ring.

I think he mumbled something about how he was on break and saw it and thought I might like it and if he had more money, he would wish to buy me something nicer, something to that effect. But in my memory, he didn’t say a word. It was his gesture that spoke volumes. I accepted the ring, just as I accepted his love – wholly, completely, without hesitation. And even though a relationship between us failed miserably and he left me to raise two babies alone, I don’t hold any animosity towards him, and I actually think that staying away was the kindest path he could have taken. Despite all the things we went through together, when I think of him, the first memory that comes to mind is that time he offered me the pumpkin ring, and I accepted it. He changed the course of my life. Love changed the course of my life.

Did we have a soul connection? I think we did. But I also think we were very young, too young to deal with the relationship we found ourselves in. In retrospect, I understand that there was no way that our relationship would be able to sustain the trials and tests of time. But I also know that there was no way that I would have been able to turn away from it, either.

Elizabeth Gilbert has an interesting view on this. She says: “People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave. A soul mates purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in…”

In some of my research on this topic, I came across the idea of a “dark soul mate” and I believe that this is what Elizabeth Gilbert is truly referring to.

Linda George discusses the idea of light and dark soul mates in her article, “The Astrology of Soul Mates.” What she relates is quite profound, and gives much to think about, so I am going end here by quoting her article.

Soul Mates. The words evoke a sense of divine partnership, a blessed union where two hearts, two souls, two people, come together as One.  The state of Oneness prevails through all of life’s adversities. The couple is melded together through thick and thin, and there is always and throughout pervasive feelings of telepathic connection, unconditional love, and simmering sexual passion.

Ah, bliss.  We all share this innate longing for our “other half.”  Since the age of romance began, literature has fed us the imagery of such a perfect union. Much is illusory, a fantasy; but still, we crave this perfection.

Our bodies hardly need encouragement.  It is the prerogative of the body to seek its “other half,” the yin for its yang. And for our higher selves, our souls, the desire to merge comes from an instinctive “knowing.” Our higher self knows that only through relationship can we bring our “unwholeness” into our conscious awareness, in order to heal—and thus become whole.

We cannot do this on our own.  We need another to help us negotiate our gaps and wounds, and to teach us how to open, and keep open, our hearts.  There is no healing with a closed heart.  We must open and let go. And this we do best when we are loved and loving.

The words “Soul Mates” are a bit like the words “God” or “Love.”  We can create any number of interpretations for these words; they are capable of expressing the highest truths, as well as truth’s opposite. From the pain of deception, loss, betrayal, and separation to the joy of profound intimacy and deep merging with another, the Soul Mate relationship can bring us any or all of these.

I use the word Soul, together with the word Mate, tentatively. And for the reason mentioned above—the words are too easily misconstrued.  They are minimized, mangled, and mutated, changed from two innocent, singly comforting words to something almost intimidating:  Do you have a Soul Mate? Is your partner your Soul Mate, or a watered down version of one? And if he is, why is living with him so difficult? He can’t be.  Or: Will you ever find that elusive Soul Mate? Do you even believe in such things?  If they’re for real, why hasn’t yours shown up yet? Where IS he?  The subject of soul mates seems invariably to be accompanied by feelings of ambivalence and vulnerability.

There is a lot of confusion about Soul Mates (as there is about anything to do with the mysterious Soul), which is why I wanted to talk about them.  After forty something years of living and loving, I have come to the conclusion that every significant relationship we enter into is with a Soul Mate. When we give our heart to another—for however short or long the duration—we are entering into the sacred territory of the Soul.  This person has then become a Mate of our Soul; our Soul Mate.

Now, we need to qualify the above.  Significant relationships are all Soul Mate relationships, but there are soul mates and Soul Mates.  There are “dark” Soul Mates and there are “light” Soul Mates.

Some of those with whom we enter into a significant relationship have come into our lives to demonstrate the less attractive side of relating—and to show us the less attractive side of ourselves. You may have known such Soul Mates in your past; your relationship with them would have been marred with darkness, destruction, and desperation. Soul Mates have been known to kill each other!

The Soul has a “knowing” that our conscious selves do not possess.  This knowing ineffably, sooner or later, draws us into the orbit of people with whom we have shared a past, a past that is outside of our conscious awareness. We “mates of old” have karma to resolve together; perhaps we have agreed to come back into a relationship to complete something we didn’t finish up in the past, or to do it differently. As an evolutionary astrologer I would add to that: ideally, complete in a positive and integrated way.  Sometimes we finish our relationships, but we neglect to complete the work we were in them to do!

These Soul Mate relationships serve the great purpose of assisting us in our awakening. They unerringly dredge up the old karmic patterns, the needs and expectations that we have unconsciously crafted through lifetimes of experiences: pain, fear, disappointment, loss, betrayal.  Once our relationships show us—often in glaring Technicolor—where exactly our “issues” are, we may be forced to go through more than a few dark nights as we learn to meet ourselves and transmute our woundedness into something more life giving.

We both signed up for this relationship, we Soul Mates.  And however long, short, or in between, this partnership that takes us to the deepest and often most painful places is an agent for the Soul.  Always, “darker” Soul Mate connections will end in a parting of the two personalities–one way or another. The karmic contract will expire and then there is no longer a necessity to stay together.  Hopefully, the work has been done and each party has healed some wounds and come to a place of greater self-awareness.  If not, then there is always the next lifetime…

Light Soul Mates are those are not fueled by the need to complete karmic contracts. They are, rather, about growth. These are two Souls who have come together in a significant relationship, in full consciousness.  That is, the personalities have matured emotionally and spiritually to a point where they understand that they are responsible for their realities—in or out of a relationship. They know that life is an ongoing journey of unfolding, learning, and growing—and that this new relationship will bring up a new set of lessons and challenges. This conscious awareness draws partners of a like mind.  The couple is concerned with each other’s growth and wellbeing as much as their own.  They also know that love is the reason they are together.  This is why their relationship is light-filled.

We cannot hope to create positive, fulfilling, loving, life-affirming relationships if we are fractured spirits ourselves.  No one can rescue us from ourselves.  If we understand the deeper significance of our principles, if we know about the light and dark expressions of these, then we move to a higher awareness.  We are “awakened” to our greater potentials and we can consciously choose to bring them into our lives.  When we do, our relationships naturally transform. Our self awareness spills over to become a tolerant, compassionate, benevolent energy in the relationship. We know ourselves and our partners more deeply. Tolerance, for both, arises from this acceptance.

All of our relationships of significance are with our Soul Mates, but the more conscious we become, the more we move toward light Soul Mate relationships—and away from the dark, destructive ones. Once we have made friends with ourselves, come to a place of acceptance (self-worth) and celebration for who we are, in the depths of our hearts, then we attract souls who resonate in kind, who love us because we do too!  These are the lovers with whom we will grow and evolve.  We draw them into our lives to share a divine partnership where two hearts, two souls, two people, come together as One.

Until we do this work to make friends with ourselves, to love ourselves, we will continue to attract relationships that offer us a reflection of what we feel about ourselves.  The dark and destructive Soul Mate is simply the mirror showing us how little we are valuing ourselves.

Nothing in this life is more valuable than the journey we make into the center of ourselves.  The master keys to creating joyful, loving lives are self-knowledge and an awakening to who we really are.”

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january

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Happy New Year!

Ring out wild bells to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson

My last post about the upcoming new year was a bit premature, but I couldn’t help it! I was looking forward, and gratefully so. Christmas always leaves me ragged emotionally and financially, but the holiday is bookended by two points of calm. First, we celebrate the winter solstice, which occurs several days prior to Christmas. Then Christmas comes, with all of its familial, consumer, secular, and religious complexity. After, we celebrate the New Year, which brings our winter solstice intentions full circle.

I have been celebrating the winter solstice for many years, and I love the quiet simplicity and mindfulness of the holiday. There are many different ways that people celebrate the solstice in modern times. In my life, I’ve mostly shared this holiday with children. As an elementary school teacher, I’ve introduced and celebrated the winter solstice through science, math, art, and reading/writing activities. (For example, in one class, we charted the time of the sunrise and the sunset every day over the course of several weeks. This was a lot of fun for the kids, and clearly showed the gradual change in distance between the earth and the sun.) As a parent, the way I’ve celebrated has changed slightly each year, changing as my children have grown older. In the past, we’ve celebrated by creating homemade bells and drums, bird-feeders (from pine cones), and sun-masks (with paper plates, tissue paper, paint, and glitter). We also share a quiet candle ritual where we talk about our personal moments of darkness and light over the past year, and share our intentions for the coming year – for ourselves, our family, and the world.

The new year is a calendar based holiday, rooted in the winter solstice. In the past, the winter solstice signified an end, as well as a beginning. After the solstice, there is a definite change, but it is barely perceptible. Each day after the solstice, we are turning towards the sun, and in two months, we will welcome the return of Spring. Like the new year, the winter solstice is a culmination point, a yearly revisiting for both the earth and its inhabitants. After the long dark night, the sun returns. After the old year, a new one is born. The year is refreshed, renewed, a metaphorical blank slate. We are given the same opportunity as the earth to move from dark to light, death to rebirth, past to future. It is the world reminding us that it is not only important, but necessary, to end. Then: begin again.

After I posted my preemptive new years greeting in December, I began making some changes to this website – little things, just updating some of the sections to reflect how I’ve grown over the past year. One of the things I am trying to work on in 2015 is increasing my confidence and self-esteem, and I think going through my website and taking stock of my accomplishments was a great start. I am happy with the work I have done so far, and I am so excited with all the ideas I have for future projects.

Right now, I’m working on completing and publishing a poetry chapbook that has been floating for a while. I’ve had a few different ideas in the past on how to present it, and I am very excited about the present incarnation. If all goes according to plan, I will be making an announcement in just a few months! Besides the poetry chapbook, I have many ideas for stories which are in varied stages of completion. I actually got my first rejection of 2015 recently. First story out, and I kind of suspected that it wouldn’t fly, but I had to take a chance because it would have fit the theme. I know that the story is good, but it is also very disturbing, and I knew that the editor would have to be bold to accept it. With so much of my work, my challenge isn’t in the writing or the ideas, but in finding places my work fits … that’s always been a problem for me. But luckily for me, I really don’t care about fitting in. I just keep writing.

Another way that I’ve been trying to increase my self-confidence is by taking care of myself, mind/body/soul. I’ve been actively pursuing what I love, reconnecting with friends, and doing things that I neglected while I was coupled in a relationship with someone who wasn’t interested in doing things I liked to do. There is a multitude of art galleries, museums, clubs, nature preserves and parks, cemeteries, bookstores, readings, and book related events that I need to catch up on! After being part of a couple for several years, I’m entering 2015 as a single person again. The dizzying, terrifying freedom I felt initially after the breakup has mellowed, and I’m enjoying the quiet simplicity of my life. I love that there are so many paths open, so many opportunities waiting. I’m enjoying the exploration of sex as a single person again, going to different clubs, parties, events, and classes, meeting men and women who also share my sexual interests, negotiating the weird world of dating, and having fun in the process.

Recently, I was tested when a friend wrote me to let me know that there was a rumor going around about me, started by my narcissist ex and his harem. This is the same ex who lied to me throughout our relationship, then lied about me to all his friends after we broke up – at least he’s consistent, right? At first, I got upset and wondered how I should respond to the news. Then, I realized that it has been months since No Contact, and this was just another way of trying to draw me back into his toxicity. I realized that anyone who knows me and, quite frankly, anyone who knows him, wouldn’t believe any of his lies about me. He is the one with a long string of broken relationships caused by his lying, cheating, and abusive behaviors. He is the one still trying to bring me down so that he can build himself up. And I’m just so over it; I’m light years away. I have nothing to defend, nothing to prove, and nothing to hide. I am getting stronger, each and every day. I’ve turned towards the sun.

Ah, January.

First month of the new year! By December, we’ve had a full year of living; we’ve been beaten down by life. Then January comes, and it seems as if we have another chance, another opportunity to change, to learn from our past mistakes, to start again, anew.

I’m going to end here with some quotes:

 

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes.”

~ G.K. Chesterton

 

“We spend January 1st walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives…not looking for flaws, but for potential.”

~ Ellen Goodman

 

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something. So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

~ Neil Gaiman

 

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language.
And next year’s words await another voice.”

~ T.S. Eliot

 

“Fail Better.”

~ Samuel Beckett

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happy new year!

There are only a few days left in 2014, and I am ready to begin the new year! This has been a year of transitions, a roller-coaster of highs and lows.

My first book of stories, Into the Woods, was published by Oneiros Books this year! I also published stories in several different anthologies including, A Princess Bound (ed. Kristina Wright, Cleis Press), The Big Book of Submission & Best Bondage Erotica 2014 (ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel, Cleis Press), Niall Parkinson’s No Sight for the Saved & Serial Killers Quattor (James Ward Kirk Fiction).

I had the honor of receiving an Editor’s Choice Award from JWK Fiction for my story “She,” which was published in Niall Parkinson’s No Sight for the Saved, and I was a featured reader at Lotus Blooms in Old Town Alexandria, VA and the Boundless Tales Reading Series in Queens, NY. Siren is still going strong; we published our fifth issue in 2014, and our 6th issue will be published by the end of next month!

In 2014, I said goodbye to a close friend’s mother, our beloved cat, and a person I dated for several years. The world also lost many people this year, and I felt affected particularly by the passing of Maya Angelou, H.R. Giger, and Robin Williams. 2014 has also seen an increased amount of people waking up, challenging long-established systems of oppression, and trying to affect positive changes in the world.

Over the last several months, I’ve been going through a period of reflection. The last half of 2014 was a very difficult, challenging time for me (as evidenced by the amount of blog posts I’ve written), in which I believe I went through a dark night of the soul, or “a spiritual emergency.” Emerging from this, I feel stronger. Looking forward, I feel optimistic and inspired to accept all that 2015 has to offer.

2015 will be a year of change for me. Having moved away from an unhealthy relationship, I’ve been able to see just how negative and destructive another person’s influence on my life can be, and also, how little I cared for my self over the last few years. I’ve been trying to practice self-care and self-compassion, while taking steps to make real changes in my life, which includes all aspects of my life.

It seems like my life is always about change, but really my life is always in flux. Real change takes time to root, and it is not always easy. The constants in my life are my writing, my family, and my friends. I am so grateful for the love and support I receive from so many people throughout my life that no matter what hardships I encounter, I still feel blessed. That is such a gift. Thank you.

A new year is a new beginning, another chance to start again, anew. Wishing you all an abundance of health, happiness, inspiration, love, and luck in the new year!

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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. 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??

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*


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