Three Elections

I hope you all are having a great start of the year. I haven’t posted in a while. I have been working on a few research-heavy essays that I hope to finish soon. (One involved a heavy stack of books from the library.) I plan to publish at least one of them elsewhere, but I may post another here. For now, here is something I wrote on November 2nd, 2018.

Photo/map is courtesy of Grist: https://grist.org/article/we-broke-down-what-climate-change-will-do-region-by-region/

regional-map-climate-change1

Three Elections

Deadlines loom, but my attention and my mouse stray to Facebook, searching for event updates and political news. I fear going to bed on election night with the feeling that I didn’t do my part in preventing this cancer, this madness, from growing. I have scrolled past canvassing events, citing other commitments and activities with my daughter as an excuse, when the real reason is fear and the feeling that no one wants me showing up on their doorstep. Instead, I’ve spent weeks signing and posting petitions and sharing “Andrew Gillum for Governor” ads on Facebook.

Today is Friday, four days before the 2018 midterm election. I have just forwarded my signed nonpartisan agreement to be a poll monitor. Yesterday, I attended an online training and printed out the materials. I wait for the organizer to assign me a time and place. In the grand scheme of things, it is nothing.

I voted for Andrew Gillum in the primaries without expecting him to win. Everyone assumed Gwen Graham, a competent but non-progressive former congresswoman, would be the Democratic candidate. I was okay with that. But when Gillum surged ahead in the polls that night, I felt as if Bernie had beaten Hillary. Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, had openly challenged the NRA and was fighting for universal health care.

His Republican opponent associates with racists, parades his wife and kids in Trump-toadying ads, and votes in ways that do not match his rhetoric. Having no platform of his own, he resorts to trash-talking Gillum and hoping Trump’s support will save him. Unfortunately, it may work.

Right now, they are pretty much tied.

Social media teems with support and hate for both. DeSantis supporters accuse Gillum of being a socialist and a thief. Commenters tell each other to take their meds, get their heads out of the sand (or another location), or go stuff themselves. Each side considers the other un-American. I rub my temples, heat up a third coffee, and attempt to write.

In five days, it will all be over. No more ads. No more signs. Fewer emails and requests for money. Who will win? Across the country, Republicans are suppressing votes. Will discrimination triumph? If the Democrats win, will hate crimes increase or decrease? Will the militias across the country start a civil war?

Two years ago, I went to bed believing that Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 presidential election. Because I was living in Prague, the votes would not all be in until morning, and there was no reason for me to stay up. At 4:00 a.m., after waking up from nightmares several times, I decided to turn on the computer.

It was after 10:00 p.m. back home in Florida, and the votes for the western states were still being counted. My stomach turned when I saw the map. Florida had gone red by a tiny margin. They had chosen hate, misogyny, and complete instability, if not insanity. I grew sicker by the minute as more results came in, adding more and more red to the map. When the awful truth became apparent, I composed a Facebook post in which I expressed my intention to wallow for a few days and then bury myself in my work, my books, and my family during the upcoming administration.

I did not stick to that resolution. How could I? News of hate crimes, broken international relations, and our new president’s general incompetence filled my news feed. Our nation needed all of us.

Eight years before that, I stifled a cheer as Barack Obama won the 2008 election. I had admired him as a Chicago senator and eagerly supported his campaign. Though many were disappointed in the results, I sensed an overall air of optimism. Some people who had voted for McCain still saw Obama’s win as a positive step forward for the country, especially in regards to race. If we have a Black president, racism must be over, right? Of course, this did not turn out to be the case.

Obama’s inauguration day was a ray of light in a dark period of my life. Though I later disagreed with many of his policies, for that moment, everything was right. Optimism about the future reigned.

In less than a month, I would be on a plane to Europe, and I would stay there for both of Obama’s terms.

Advertisements

Lilac Season

Thanksgiving is coming up, so it seems a fitting time to post this tribute to my grandmother.

petrin 045

Lilac Season

I was worried the cold would kill them this year, but they’re blooming—light purple, white, pink, with a fragrance you can smell from across the street. Lilacs are a highlight of the year for me, not only because I love their smell and promise of warmer weather ahead, but because these lilacs remind me of the ones that grew behind my grandma’s house. I have never seen any others like them—one tree bore the usual light purple flowers, but the other two had dark purple and fuchsia. I used to clip a sprig of each color and stick them in a vase for the house.

My paternal grandmother’s name was Dorothy, but her co-workers at the justice building and the police department called her Dot. I can still see “DOT,” cross-stitched on plastic canvas in pink and white yarn. I have a mental image of her desk covered with cross-stitched accessories: the pen holder, tissue box cover, name plate. Cigarette ends stained with dark rose lipstick. Back home, her Siamese cat, Tai, who didn’t like anyone but Grandma. Chrysanthemums and peony bushes lining the driveway. The familiar smell as I entered her house from the garage. Tai’s blue eyes glowering at me from under the couch. The bay window crowded with plants. The 100-watt smile of Aunt Pauline, Grandma’s older sister, who had moved in with her.

Grandma didn’t like to cook. Instead, she took me to Arby’s on Monday evenings for dinner, and we would talk about school, friends, and whatever was going on in our lives. Thanksgiving dinner was an exception—then she went all out. Gradually, she allowed me to help and taught me how to make the deviled eggs and cranberry relish and to cut radishes into roses. After doing my part of the cooking, it was best for me to stay out of the way. One year, Grandma’s partner gave me a photo of his childhood farmhouse and asked me to do a pencil drawing of it for him. He later gave it back to me, framed, and I won a blue ribbon for it at the county fair.

I remember Grandma when I sew because she taught me how to make the finishing knots. “Hide a knot like it’s a secret,” she said. Besides sewing, she used to cross-stitch, knit, and crochet.

One day when I was fifteen, Grandma had an aneurism. She was in a coma for a couple of days, during which I visited her in the hospital, told her I loved her, and begged her to be okay. It didn’t help, and she passed away. It was a huge shock for me because she was only sixty-two years old and I never had a chance to say goodbye. For years after that, every time I got a migraine I was terrified of dying in the same way. As I grieved, I struggled to remember what she had told me about sad tears and happy tears before her own mother’s funeral.

Several years earlier, Grandma and Aunt Pauline had started a recipe box for me—a small plastic box full of index cards on which they wrote some family recipes, including the cranberry relish and deviled eggs. I continued to make the deviled eggs each year for Thanksgiving and other family gatherings, following the recipe by memory—or so I thought—and they became my specialty. Imagine my surprise when I reread Grandma’s recipe and discovered that my recipe had evolved over the years into something completely different from hers. And I felt extremely guilty for thinking that my own recipe was better.

I miss Grandma and wish I could talk to her. But now that it’s lilac season once again, I can smell the flowers and let all the memories flow through me, proving she’s still here and always will be.

The Nightingales of Wilde and Hafez

nr2

Oscar Wilde had the collected works of Hafez in his prison library. Hafez, the fourteenth-century Persian poet who wrote ghazals about ecstasy, faith, and love, whether carnal or spiritual. But what did Wilde learn from Hafez?

In “The Rose and the Nightingale,” Wilde tells the story of a philosophy student who wants to give his beloved a red rose, but there are no red roses in his garden. The nightingale begs a tree to give the student a rose, but the tree replies that there is only one way it can produce a red rose: the nightingale must sing all night with her breast against a thorn so that her blood flows into the tree. Ultimately, her sacrifice is in vain. The beloved spurns the gift. The student, who was never a true lover, tosses the rose into the street. The only lover in the story was the nightingale, and she is now dead.

Wilde must have come across numerous references to nightingales and roses in Hafez’s poetry. In Persian tradition, the nightingale takes the rose as his beloved and sings to her. In Farid ud-Din Attar’s masterpiece, The Conference of the Birds, the nightingale initially refuses to leave his rose to seek the Simorgh. A ghazal in Hafez’s Divan begins with a nightingale nourishing a rose with his blood (though this poem’s translation says “his,” the Persian pronoun has no gender). Other ghazals by Hafez portray the nightingale as the quintessential lover. Did Wilde, like so many others, weep at these verses?

The beloved of the nightingale is not named in Wilde’s story; we know only that she sings of love. She wrongly assumes the student has the same capacity for love that she does. For her, love is more important than life, and she gives her life so that the student’s love can be fulfilled. It is a mercy that she never learns that her sacrifice was in vain. Wilde’s nightingale story, while exquisite, is cynical compared to those of Hafez. That could have been the result of persecution in his life or his sardonic personality.

A subspecies of nightingale that is common in Iran is called Luscinia megarhynchos hafizi. Were these birds named after the poet who described them with such love and delicacy? (I have not found the answer so far, but I hope to one day.) This subspecies is also called Luscinia megarhynchos golzii. Gol is the Persian word for flower or, more specifically, rose. Just a coincidence, or are lover and beloved united at last?

Braided Essay (Still Unnamed)

mostar 054

I’ve been working on a rather long braided essay, the pieces of which are tied together by the topic of music. I won’t post much of it here because I want to publish it elsewhere, but I wanted to provide a taste: here are a few paragraphs from two different sections of the essay.

(From a section set in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Behind me, a woman fills her bottle from a spout on the stone-roofed fountain. Closer to the Adriatic Sea, Mostar is hotter than Sarajevo and the fresh, cool water, available to everyone, is most appreciated. Next to the fountain stand medieval tombstones, some with round turbans carved onto them. The dead are never far. Flashes of hot pink, orange, and red billow behind the tombstones, next to the mausoleum. The souvenir shop sells pictures, tapestries, and clothing, including belly-dancing costumes—evidently for tourists who assume that every country with Muslims also has belly dancers.

(From a section set in Córdoba, Spain)

The smooth claws of a curious pigeon grip my hand as I gaze on the earth-colored and white walls below. Water cascades down the fountain, joining the bubbling pool with a crash. The wind picks up and a stream of water splashes onto the concrete, spraying my face; the pigeon flies away. I stand and look around. Palms and orange trees line the streets and courtyards.

Walking through the streets, I see, smell, and hear the traces of Ziryab, the architect of Andalusian culture. Sweet-smelling cafes and restaurants where meals begin with soup. Honeyed desserts of walnuts and sesame. A couple playing chess by a reflecting pool.

Misophonia in five voices

This is a ghostwriting exercise in which I wrote an article using the voices of five famous people or characters—one for each paragraph. The voices are those of Christiane Amanpour, Whoopi Goldberg, Stephen Colbert, Alex Jones (yes, I went there), and Bernard Black. Can you match the voices with their paragraphs?

pjimage (1)

Let’s talk about misophonia. No, it doesn’t mean eating miso soup while talking on the telephone—but that would really annoy someone with misophonia. The word misophonia comes from Greek and means “hatred of sound.” It’s also called “sound rage,” which coincidentally was the name of my metal band in college. A person with misophonia experiences intense emotional and physical reactions when they hear certain trigger sounds. Doctors aren’t sure what causes it, and it’s difficult to diagnose because it’s a mental problem and not a hearing problem—a person with misophonia has normal hearing, but sounds affect their brain or nervous system differently. It was officially recognized in 2001—before that, it was just called being a social curmudgeon.

People suffering from misophonia are triggered by many different noises. Roughly eighty percent of triggers involve mouth noises, such as gum chewing, slurping, crunching, talking with one’s mouth full, sucking and loud breathing. Repetition is also a factor, and people with misophonia often develop visual triggers as well—merely seeing someone pacing, chewing silently, fidgeting or bouncing their legs may trigger a reaction. Reactions are both emotional and physical, and can include intense rage, anxiety or panic, a desire to cause physical harm, disgust or hatred, leaving the room or dinner table and even suicidal thoughts.

If someone you love has misophonia, know that they really do mean it when they say a noise bothers them. Their emotions are valid, and their needs are valid. If they ask to eat in another room, be sympathetic. It’s not that they don’t love you; it’s just that the trigger noises are too much for them and they might be afraid of acting on the emotions that come up and going crazy in front of you. Don’t take it personal—they don’t see it that way. Remember they will have to deal with thoughtless people every day who won’t take them seriously, so make sure you’re not one of them. Even though more people are becoming aware of this disorder, lots of people still respond like this:

“We live in a world of trigger warnings. They’ve got these millennials all coddled with their safe spaces, and microaggressions, and PC jargon. That’s the old news. The new news is that just eating your dinner could be a trigger for some people. Misophonia, they say. What is misophonia? It’s an excuse for so-called sufferers to whine about everyone else. What’s next, a war on chewing gum like Singapore? This laundry list of phony disorders is just the beginning. Next we’ll have people claiming disability just because they can’t cope with real life. Total bull! The doctors who diagnose all this crap are puppets of the government, and what they want is a dumbed-down population that can be easily controlled.”

Ignore rubbish like this. You need a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and a place where people will leave you alone. There is no cure for misophonia, but you can live a perfectly normal life if you stay away from filthy monsters who eat crisps in your space. Some clinics have developed programmes like counseling, sound therapy and exposure therapy. Join social media support groups so you can complain about your triggers without actually having to go out amongst people. If you need any medication, just ask your therapist—or the local pub owner.

Your Melancholy Masterpiece

This piece was inspired by Picasso’s painting “The Weeping Woman” (shown below), and his relationship with its model, Dora Maar, who was a painter, activist, poet, and amazing surrealist photographer. This is an inner monologue from the perspective of any woman (or maybe some men too) who have ever been told they were too sensitive, and/or who have been in an emotionally abusive relationship.

Weeping Woman 1937 by Pablo Picasso 1881-1973

Your Melancholy Masterpiece

You called me the Weeping Woman. An irrational, overemotional basket case. You love it because it makes me weak; you hate it because it makes me dangerous. You took the liberty of giving me a name. What about the name I gave myself?

An inferior specimen of an inferior sex. You would cherish me if I were only a better person, more in control of my emotions and more dutiful. If I would give up those foolish and improper pastimes. If I were someone else. Docile, impeccable, and pliant as a doll.

You call me a crazy bitch after pushing all my buttons in quick succession, lighting a fire and spewing gasoline. Then you stand back and wait for the opportunity to say, “You’re too defensive. Why are you crying? Oh right, mental illness runs in your family. No wonder you flew off the handle at me!”

I wasn’t always this way:

There were sunny days
I sprouted, I blossomed, I reigned
Reveling in my power
Dappled with paint and accolades
I could do anything
I could be anything
You plucked and fixed me on your wall
Where you could examine me
Your flawed private muse
Take me down when you wanted me
You never saw me as I am
You don’t love me as I am

I wanted to die in that closet. I locked myself in the bedroom while you pummeled the door. My head was pounding until I thought it would burst. We had fought again, and I died a little inside. You will never feel it. You always laugh when I insist I hate crowds because everyone else’s energy flows into me. Discord makes me physically ill. Are you blind that you don’t see you’re poisoning me?

You say my family is low and my friends are low. My tastes are low, and I am low. “I’m only trying to help you. Don’t you know what you could be if you did your proper duty, if you spent time with the right people?” Am I really such a villain in your mind? I know I’m no prize angel, and that’s why I need to change. I’ve already given up so much of myself for you and it’s never enough. You tear off pieces of me with your teeth until there’s nothing left, and ask me again why I’m crying.

You scorn my intensity and dark moods. They’re disturbing. A woman shouldn’t be crying about the genocide in a distant country. “What can you do about it anyways? Are you going to fly over there and help them? Where’s my shirt? Where is my lunch?” I know it makes you angry when I don’t cut the onions small enough and when there’s a crease in your collar. Fighting fascism means neglecting your needs.

You wanted me to do something with my appearance so I’d be fit for decent society but when I did, you asked me who I was trying to impress. I don’t fit in with your social circle. “Say something. Why do you sit in the corner like that?” But when the little woman shows her claws and expresses an opinion, it’s “Why did you say that? Don’t you know that what you say reflects on me?” They’re all waiting for me to break. I really did fall down the stairs, I swear.

Llorona, you’re barred from grace
Your past will haunt you always
I will press it against your throat
No one wants you lurking near
With your silence and somber face
Your wailing sets my hair on end.

“What’s wrong? Aren’t you taken care of? You have no grounds to be offended.” You tell me no one else can ever love me, and you’re right. No one would want me, pitiful, used, and broken as I am. I’d be cast out with the trash, forgotten, relegated to a houseful of cats.

I know that I’m only valuable because I’m yours. What would I do without you? How would I survive out there? You’ve stripped me and clipped my wings, and I’ve forgotten how to hunt. Is it too late? Can I soar free again?

Art is in my blood

terra-papers-leonora-carrington

Art is in my blood.

I remember my dad teaching me to color when I was young, and now I see how much my young daughter enjoys coloring. It would be an honor to provide art classes for her if she wants them. Watching her, hazy memories gradually materialize.

Much later, teachers started telling me I had talent. I suppose I was good for my age. But really, it was a fierce passion. I adored the smooth feel of chalk pastels in my hand and the saturated hues of them on paper. Having paint on my hands was a point of pride, and a reminder of what was waiting for me at home. Most of my best memories of high school involve art somehow.

In those days, I used my face, hair, and body as a canvas as well. I suppose now I have to look like an adult, whatever that means these days, and hold it all inside. At least most of the time.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Renaissance and Baroque painting, with a few notable exceptions. I adore impressionism and abstracts, in bold colors with high contrast.

When I went to college, I didn’t make much time to paint, and I didn’t take art classes. I figured I could pick up later where I’d left off. I wasn’t going to be a professional artist, after all. I should focus on my “real” future.

Of course, I couldn’t pick up where I’d left off. I’d lost all the ability I had. That is one of the biggest regrets of my life. I can barely draw a chair or a hand now, and it’s agonizing. I want to start taking classes again. Naturally, I would have to start all over, but maybe it would come back to me and I’d be able to progress quickly. Later. I should focus on my “real” future.

But still, art is what I see when I close my eyes. Splashes of color and how they fit together, what could be done with them if I dared. Soon. This time, I mean it.

*The painting at the top is Terra-papers by Leonora Carrington