Tag Archives: change

trigger warning: election 2016

three wise monkeys

 

It’s nearing the end of October, and the presidential election of 2016 is only a week away. The above image reflects the general attitude of the American people voting for either Clinton or Trump in November – see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil – then cast your ballot, pull the proverbial trigger, and turn away as the illusion of democracy implodes.

Our votes are as insignificant as our lives to these people, who are very far removed from the actual plight most Americans face. Both Clinton and Trump are multi-millionaires, both have accumulated their wealth through shady business dealings on the unfortunate backs of others. The majority of Americans do not believe that we hold any power, they do not think that change is possible, and although they may bitch and moan about it, they behave as sheep who follow the herd, who are implicit in upholding the status quo, and who shut their eyes and ears and mouths about lofty ideas about change and revolution.

The majority of Americans are overwhelmed with the basic tenets of survival. We wake up each day, work, work, work for the almighty dollar, so we can pay our bills, keep our homes, keep our families healthy, and buy all the things that are supposed to make us happy. Who cares about the planet, or other races and cultures, as long as we are doing okay? We are lambs being led to the slaughter-house. We are a people who have bought into the system for so long, we have become an integral part of it, and we refuse to see it.

When we awaken, we take to the streets, our voices and hearts carried away by visions of how things could be, and we are put down by a militant police force and a divisive, apathetic society. When we awaken, we begin seeing the irreparable cracks of this broken place called America. When we awaken, we refuse to take part in our own undoing.

I’ve written about the rise of third party candidates, who I now prefer to call “alternative party candidates,” as even the connotation of the term “third party” indicates a less-than or inferior position, which is created by the existing two-party system consisting of Republicans and Democrats. I propose new terms – Remocrats and Depublicans – ones that truly speak to the two-sided double-speak of these two parties, which are built on the idea of duality, where neither can exist without the other as it’s opposite, and yet, they are the same.

Remocrats and Depublicans operate in the same way – using fear of the other. These two parties have successfully inculcated the idea that they are the ONLY viable parties in America. Why? They have consistently used “divide and conquer” methods to retain control of the government. They have played the American people as if they are two bitterly opposed sports teams, and you are forced to choose a team.

People hold onto their “party allegiance” much in the same way as their favorite sports team. Win or lose, once they’ve been given a team (usually by family affiliation and socio-economic status), they are in it for life, and will stand behind their “team” no matter what – a flawed analogy, yet only flawed by it’s own design, for this is really how things are.

But … aren’t we free to vote for other parties besides Depublicans and Remocrats? Shhhhhh …. Hush! You must be a child! Alternative parties – how dare you even suggest such a thing! They won’t win, ever! We won’t let them win!! This is America god dammit, and in America, we only want a winner. You know, if you vote for an alternative party – you might as well throw away your vote! I mean, this is only the ILLUSION of democracy – so shut up and get with the program! This is politics! This is no place for idealism!!!

Do you want Trump to win?!? Do you want a reality TV show celebrity and shady business mogul as president, who has no actual political experience? Are you a bigoted, racist, short-sighted, filthy rich, sexist, misogynistic egomaniac? Because that’s what a vote for Trump signifies! You better vote for Clinton – because if you don’t – it’s all YOUR fault that Trump won!

Do you want Clinton to win?!? Do you want more American-based abuse in other countries, more Clinton foundation pay-to-play government schemes, more lies, more pandering? Are you a willfully blind, secretive, filthy rich, pseudo-progressive egomaniac? Because that’s what a vote for Clinton signifies! You better vote for Trump – because if you don’t – it’s all YOUR fault that Clinton won!

It’s at this point that people start crying about Bernie Sanders. Things would have been so different if he were allowed to compete fairly!! Remember the wave of “idealism” that Sanders rode throughout the primaries? You know, that thing we are supposed to forget about in politics? That thing that the DNC ridiculed about Sanders’ supporters? That was real. It was real because idealism IS a part of politics. What was unusual about Sanders is that he rode this wave of idealism throughout the democratic party primary – and not an alternative party.

Remember all the reports during the democratic primaries that spoke directly to fraud and suppression? That was real, too. No one should be surprised when Hillary Clinton wins this election.

But … Hillary Clinton will be the first woman president! Just like Obama was the first black president! In four years, the democrats will most likely roll out some other “first” to pretend that they are forward thinking. Maybe Michelle Obama will run! That way, the Clinton machine can continue the way it has since 1992. Won’t it be wonderful to vote for a woman?! Now is the point that you are supposed to agree, and forget everything you’ve ever heard about what Clinton has done.

Yes, it will be wonderful to vote for a woman! I can’t wait to cast my vote for Jill Stein – a woman with integrity. (oops! another “i” word that, along with idealism, we’ve come to associate in politics as suspect and naive) And guess what, I’m not voting for Clinton OR Trump, not even by default. I’m sick of hearing immature and short-sighted people braying about what they’ve been told that means. I’m voting for the person and the party I think can help bring desperately needed change to this country.

Jill Stein, along with Ajamu Baraka as her running mate, is a strong candidate, with an impeccable record of political activism. The Green Party has a very strong, impressive, and yes, idealistic, platform that I truly believe in – because I know that they truly believe in it, too, and they will work to make these ideals reality. Alternative parties have been marginalized so far and for so long, the American people have been manipulated thus, and they are actually seen by some people as the villains in this, and any, election cycle. And yet, the real villains take center stage.

While I’m ranting about this, I just want to say one other thing: If you are an artist who has made a living by presenting yourself as alternative, risk-taking, and edgy – you have no business vilifying alternative parties and Trump while drawing hearts around Hillary Clinton, and forbidding people to disagree with you because it’s your opinion. This shows an extreme level of cognitive dissonance, and brings the legitimacy of your art into question. The personal is political. Art is political. You have some serious self-reflection to do, as do your supporters.

I am aware that the jig is up, the rig is in, and that we will never really know the true election results, the way that we never really knew just how well Sanders was doing, and the fact that it never mattered anyway. The Democratic Party could have become a party that truly embraced progressive change, instead they were hellbent on a coronation. History will show this was a critical error in judgment – much in the same way that the Republican Party’s support of Trump will be seen as a critical error. The two-party system is dead; they’ve committed political suicide. We will feel the effects of this for many years to come, and the rise that we’ve seen this election cycle of alternative parties will only continue to grow.

I truly believe that, in the words of JFK,  “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution  inevitable.”

If the democratic primaries have shown us anything, they have shown us that the people behind Clinton (big banks, lobbyists, billionaires, corrupt world leaders, the media, etc, etc) will stop at nothing to make her president. Trump is a straw man, set to burn. Alternative parties are routinely denied media coverage. They were denied access to the presidential debates because the committee is run by Depublicans and Remocrats – they were denied a voice and the ability to access millions of people with their message. Yet, people are finding alternative parties through social media and other alternative news outlets, and are supporting them in record numbers.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh. Truth and Reality can be difficult to digest. Change is hard. Complacency is easy. In this world, people sometimes make a choice to live in a world of illusion, because to acknowledge truth is too hard. This is why “ignorance is bliss” but “the truth will set you free.” You can view the current two-party system as the blue pill, and alternative parties as the red pill. “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” (The Matrix)

Perhaps this election cycle has really come down to this idea put forth by Marianne Williamson:  “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

Maybe that is why people continue to support our oppressors through the two-party system, and why idealism and integrity have become dirty words in politics. Many people do not really want to know how deep the rabbit hole goes, because it may be uncomfortable, and they want to preserve their illusions.

Nevertheless, many people understand the necessity of change, that revolution is not easy nor comfortable, and it is worth the risk to seek what wonder there is to be found on the other side.

 

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the rise of 3rd party candidates

time for change

 

A political revolution has already been started in America, and people are becoming more awake and aware of their necessary role in fighting for change. With both major party candidates being extremely unpopular, bringing questions of their personal and political ethics to the forefront, the dissatisfaction of the current business-as-usual politics, and the refusal to choose “the lesser of two evils,” more people than ever before are turning to 3rd party candidates as a refreshing and viable alternative.

This election cycle, people are supporting 3rd party candidates in record numbers. The two-party system is a symbol of the polarizing, divisive, either/or mentality that we have grown so accustomed to, which only serves to disconnect us from each other and the world. The two-party system is irreparably broken. Year after year, we are becoming more aware of voting irregularities and outright fraud, as we place our votes with wary consciousness, hoping that our votes count, wanting to believe that our voices matter.

America is a country that actually has more Independent and “No Party” affiliated voters than either Republicans or Democrats; however, two-party politics have long dominated the political arena. If you believe what you have been taught, in both implicit and explicit ways, then you “know” that a 3rd party candidate has a snowball’s chance in hell at being elected president …. But is that really true? This mindset is a carefully constructed manipulation supported by the two-party system as well as the media, in order to discourage ‘outsiders’ from entering the presidential race and also, to discourage the American people for voting for those who do.

3rd parties are overflowing with people literally trying to change the world. They are idealists, who inherently believe in challenging the status quo. They are also realists, who have had to jump through hoops and work harder than any of us could fathom, just to have the chance to represent the American people. They have the courage of their convictions, and only ask us to have the same. They hold us to a higher standard – to become active and involved, and to work alongside them in creating a future that we want for ourselves, the planet, and the world. 3rd parties inspire and motivate us to question our preconceived notions about government, elections, and our role in the political system. The truth is, with enough support, a 3rd party candidate can win the presidential election.

The system is set up in a way that makes it very difficult for 3rd parties to even enter the presidential race. There are ballot access laws, which require 3rd party candidates to petition each individual state in order to be allowed on the ballot for president. (It is anticipated that both Stein and Johnson will have received ballot access in all 50 states by the election) Next, there is the question of having one’s voice heard. The media has routinely denied 3rd party candidates this exposure. In fact, they have also worked as operatives in reassuring the American people that a 3rd party vote is “a wasted vote” and have psychologically influenced people into thinking that a 3rd party candidate is at best an interloper and a nuisance, and at worst, a spoiler. None of this is true.

The way the two-party system operates is by a “winner-take-all” electoral college system, considered to be an archaic, complex, and problematic method, with each candidate needing to reach a certain number (270) of electoral college votes in order to win the election. There isn’t a national presidential election; there are only individual state elections, and to complicate things a little further, we are not really voting for the president, we are voting for the electors from our respective states who will in turn vote for the president. Electors usually follow the popular vote, but they are not mandated to. Because the number of electors per state is proportional to the amount of delegates they have in the house and senate, there are only 5-7 states who actually determine who the president will be.

It is argued that anything more than two parties would destroy the proportion of numbers, which would lead to confusion and chaos, as no clear winner would emerge. As we have seen in previous elections, the two-party system is not infallible, and there have been times when the president was decided, not by the people, not by the electoral college, but by the supreme court. One could also argue that since the electoral vote, and not the popular vote, is what actually decides the presidency, then the popular vote doesn’t actually matter at all. And if we agree that it is true, how do you think most Americans feel about the idea that their votes don’t count?

Many Americans are demanding change in the way we vote. Ranked Choice Voting and The National Popular Vote have been put forth as measures to change the current system and to give the people’s vote more power. However, the political establishment is terrified of both these measures. According to the National Archive of the U.S. Electoral College, there have been over 700 proposals within the last 200 years to change, reform, or eradicate this system. This fear is evident by those who uphold both major parties. Even in the Republican Party Platform 2016, it is stated that they “oppose the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact and any other scheme to abolish or distort the procedures of the Electoral College. An unconstitutional effort to impose National Popular Vote would be a grave threat to our federal system.” (i.e. it could dismantle the two-party system, give more power to the popular vote, and make it easier for 3rd party candidates to compete and win the presidency)

“The most political decision you make is where you direct people’s eyes. In other words, what you show people, day in and day out, is political… And the most politically indoctrinating thing you can do to a human being is to show him, every day, that there can be no change.” (Wim Wenders)

The more people recognize the truth of this quote, and how the American people have been manipulated through the two-party political system into believing it, the more people will reject what we have been taught, and we will free ourselves from our psychological and political chains by voting 3rd party. It is a natural evolution of our mass consciousness to begin to see 3rd parties as a viable option; it is reflected in the corrupt and broken two-party system and the number of movements within the last few years which have increased in frequency and magnitude, demanding change.

Refusing to vote for the major political party candidates and instead supporting a 3rd party candidate is a powerful step, and a step that millions of people have already taken, and are willing to exercise come November. This election cycle is not about Clinton or Trump. It is also not about Sanders, Stein or Johnson. It is about the American people, standing at the precipice, tested to their breaking point, testing their own strength, and deciding to stand united with 3rd parties against the very system that has been tearing them apart, believing in the power that comes with a new vision, ready to embrace a new world.

 

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This post was also published as an op-ed piece via The Huffington Post!


why i love “granny hair”

gray-granny-hair-trend-81__605

Relatively recently, I came across a blog post written by an older woman that gave me much food for thought. I am not going to link the blog post because I had quite a few issues with what was written, and I feel that instead of calling out the individual author, I would rather respond in a general way to the collective ideas that the author reflected within her post.

Basically, the post was about growing older as a female in contemporary society. It appeared that some of the concepts and ideas that our culture has inculcated in women was something that the author had bought into in her youth. As an adult woman over the age of 60, she had some cognitive dissonance in reconciling her role as a female in our “youth obsessed” culture. She said that as an older woman, she now feels marginalized and invisible. She expressed that she was happy to have “aged out” of the catcalls, sexual harassment, and objectification she had experienced as a younger woman, but she also felt a sense of loss and displacement as an older woman.

She didn’t like the idea that women who were older and appeared to conform to society’s norm of beauty (by hook or by crook, genetics and/or plastic surgery) were heralded as “sexy” and “gorgeous” and instead called for a redefinition of beauty as it applied to older women – preferring to focus on the attributes that made older women sexy and gorgeous, which included their intelligence, their personality, and their experience. (I’d say this redefinition of beauty should apply to ALL people, regardless of age or gender) Lastly, she cautioned younger women about the role they play, telling them that the concerns of older women should be their concerns too (assuming that the majority of younger women did not care about older women) while warning them that they, too, would be old someday.

A few days after I had read the post, I was still thinking about it, pondering the implications of what the author was trying to express, when I was at a grocery store with a friend, a man who is older than me chronologically but certainly not mentally or emotionally or spiritually. (I also have to back up a little bit here and say that I do look “young” for my age – which I will address a little bit more later in this blog post. My friend has grey hair. I too have grey hair, but I have dyed my hair black or brown pretty continuously for over 15 years to cover it, and it has been with mixed feelings over the last five years or so. Every once in a while, I start to grow it out, marveling at my silver strands, wondering how I will ever be able to grow it all out while retaining some semblance of color continuity and keeping my hair long. To tell the truth, I have dyed my hair far longer than that. I started dying my hair black in my early 20s, as was my inclination.)

Anyway, we were at the grocery store, and a long-ago high school friend of my friend’s, an older woman with dyed brown hair, stopped him to say hello. We all chatted for a moment, talking about the weather and some of the weather patterns over the last few years, when suddenly the woman turned towards me abruptly in a pointed, seething sort of way said, “well, you are way too young to remember that.” I was very surprised and responded immediately, “I’m not as young as I look …” but she continued talking to my friend as if she had not heard me. After a few minutes, the conversation ended and we went our separate ways. But the lingering effect was there, and my friend and I talked about what had happened.

“You do look young,” he said, slightly unnerved at being thought of as a man who was ‘robbing the cradle’. I was unnerved at being thought of as somehow undermining older women by being with an older man. But honestly, while I am younger than him, I am not THAT much younger than him. Looking younger than I am is a problem I’ve had nearly all my life, at pretty much every stage in my adult life.

From the time I was a senior in high school and my sister was a freshman, when some of my mother’s coworkers who knew she had two girls and their ages but not our faces, would, upon meeting us, turn to my sister and ask her where she was planning on going to college. I still get ID’d when buying products for people over the age of 21. I’ve had people express downright shock when they discovered my true age. I will never forget a man who said to me just last year, “You are over 40?! But you are so pretty! You look so happy!” People have told me more times than I can count, “Oh you will be so thankful for looking young when you are older.” As a young woman, I would ask, “How much older?” As a young woman, I never wondered, “And why then?” Honestly, it has always felt like a curse for me to look younger than my chronological age, and it always bothered me in how people reacted to me, especially when they told me how “lucky” I was to look young.

So why have I continued to dye my hair?

The answer is, I’m not. I made a decision a while ago to stop dying my hair. It feels radical. I never dyed my hair to look young. I dyed it to maintain a color consistency. However, with the advent of “granny hair” I can still maintain a color consistency while my natural hair grows in. I can dye my hair grey. In short, I’m going grey! I can’t be more excited about it. Will I finally look my age?! Though, truthfully, I don’t care what age I “look”.  I want to keep my long hair while my natural hair grows in. Dyeing my hair grey offers a unique solution to the awkward transition.

This brings me to the whole idea of “granny hair.” Ah, first of all – what a term! Right then and there, there’s a bias and presumption that only “grandmothers” have grey hair! The biological fact of the matter is that both men and women usually start to go grey in their 30s or 40s, sometimes even earlier in their 20s. The cultural fact of the matter is that men usually do not dye their hair. Men are light years more accepting of the grey and silver strands that permeate their hair with age, which has led to the perception of men with grey hair looking “distinguished” and “sexy.” There are names for these kinds of men, and I’ve never heard of a derogatory term or an implied “grandfatherly” term – “silver foxes” comes to mind.

So what’s up with “granny hair?” The term has originated as a label given to younger women (and sometimes even older women) who CHOOSE to dye their hair grey. Young women in their late teens and 20s are sporting grey and silver locks – and rocking the look. Suddenly, shockingly (!), grey hair is beautiful, sexy, edgy, cool. Older women who retain their grey and silver (Helen Mirrin, Toni Morrison, Jamie Lee Curtis, EmmyLou Harris, Alice Walker, etc) are now being celebrated as “silver vixens”, whereas in the past older women who have chosen to go natural when the grey comes in have been considered to have “let themselves go.”

If there was ever a time in which the term “from the mouths of babes” was appropriate, I’d say that applies very directly to young women with “granny hair.” They actually haven’t had to say a word. It is all in the action of dyeing their hair grey, and finding empowerment there. (Though I have seem many recent articles about the “granny hair trend,” I’ve also seen online articles talking about this “trend” which go back to 2014 and 2013. I’ve also seen some earlier forums and hair related sites in which women ask help for transitioning between dyed hair and natural grey hair, bemoaning the fact that grey hair dye didn’t exist.)

Interestingly, it wasn’t older women who began celebrating and seeing their grey and silver locks as something special, edgy or cool. In fact, older women typically dye their hair to hide their grey into their 60s and 70s, sometimes even longer. Who usually sees grey or silver hair on women, unless they are very old? It was young women who radicalized this vision. They didn’t come up with the term “granny hair” … it was the culture throwing that on the action of younger (and older) women dyeing their hair grey. They couldn’t care less about the term. For these women, grey and silver hair is not only unusual, it is striking and beautiful. And it forces not only older women, but the entire culture, to reconsider their relationship to grey hair as it relates to ageism, female beauty, and empowerment.

One of the biggest problems I had with the blog post I had read was that the woman who wrote it seemed so bitter, almost angry at young women. (I think it is also worth noting that in the author picture, the woman had dyed blonde hair.) Maybe she was even a bit angry that she had bought into the cultural idea of female beauty when she was young, thereby thinking that all young women felt that way. We live in a society that does not really respect old people. We do not see them reflected in media or in television or movies. They are often hidden away in nursing homes and senior citizen centers. We forget how much older people have to teach us, not only on an individual level, but on a societal level.

It is up to older people to set a different standard than the one that has been outlined for them by society. That is why I am so grateful for women like Joan Price, author of Naked at Our Age and The Ultimate Guide to sex after 50, who seek to redefine our attitudes about what it means to be an older person in this society, and to live by our example, our words and our actions.

We also forget sometimes how much younger people have to teach us. Our society is a changing, growing, evolving thing. Young people do not necessarily have the same ideas about aging and beauty as what has been outlined for them by society. In many ways, young people are more likely than older people to revolt and to radicalize concepts and ideas that we have long taken in and internalized as societal norms and cultural standards.

When I decided to take the plunge and dye my hair grey, I started looking for places where I could buy grey and/or silver hair dye in New York, where I live. I could not find a single store in my area which sold grey hair dye. “How could this be?!” I thought, after the third store I went to, a popular beauty supply store that I was sure would have it. “This is a goddamn conspiracy!” I thought angrily, after the sixth store I went to. For, what would it mean to multimillion hair dye companies, or the female beauty industry on the whole, if women actually celebrated their grey/silver hair and growing older naturally?! These companies and industries are built upon pimpology – exploiting women’s self-esteem issues by bringing them down so they can be built back up. That in itself is a radical thought.

Needless to say, I was not able to buy grey or silver hair dye locally. Perhaps if I had hundreds of dollars to spend at a salon, I could have a professional hair colourist dye my hair grey. But I do not have such luxury. Not to be deterred, I started scouring the internet and found some places where grey and silver hair dye could be purchased internationally. It will take several weeks for the dye to arrive. There are many different DIY tutorials on how to dye one’s hair silver/grey on youtube and across the internet, given freely by young women, young men, and young transgenders … “granny hair” is not just a woman’s thing in the eyes of young people. Young people are moving far away from the binary ideas older people have about gender, which throws the door wide open, exposing and redefining our antiquated notions about age and beauty from the gender root. As I said before, we sometimes forget how much younger people have to teach us …

To be continued!

In the meantime, check out some photos of these people rocking “granny hair!”


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.

*


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.”

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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.

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