This little light of mine…

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Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

Saturday morning, I got up around 5. Zac made coffee. I gave the dog her pill and started to get dressed. I did it that morning with more intention than I do most days. I had to stay warm. I had to be comfortable. I had to make a point. When I boarded the Metro with friends, it wasn’t too crowded. Women—mostly women—clustered together carrying clever signs and wearing pink knit hats. A group on the car we entered all had peach buttons tacked to theirs. They’d all traveled from Georgia. Everyone looked a little tired. Everyone smiled. Everyone except the man boarding in a “Make America Great Again” hat. We ignored him. I wonder if it bothered him to be ignored by so many women at once. I hope it did.

 

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Sweatshirt available at Shout Your Abortion

 

Saturday’s march sprawled, both literally and figuratively. From where I stood between the American Indian Museum, the National Gallery of Art and the Air and Space Museum, I could not see the end of it. I had no idea that it stretched over streets. I tried not to think about how many people were around me. I’m not great with crowds and have a tendency to get overwhelmed and anxious when I feel like I don’t have a clear exit strategy. When it got to be too much, I shifted my focus to the tops of buildings. I kept a few Xanax and some Advil in a contact lens case in my purse just in case. I’m still surprised I didn’t need either. When an ambulance needed to part the crowd, I wasn’t sure how the space—already so full of people—would make room, but it breathed into itself and seemed to push the vehicle along. Later, when a young girl went missing the crowd moved the information along: “Winnie’s been separated from her group,” followed in short order by the news that Winnie had been found. In front of me, a woman realized she was talking to her husband’s former teacher—a woman with waist-length curling white hair and a pale pink fleece cap. At times the crowd grew restless. Some people wanted to start marching because the speakers were taking too long. We took turns squatting down to relieve the pressure on our backs, each lifting the other up in turn, giving her something to lean against. Standing that long on concrete in misty weather isn’t easy on your back or knees or feet.

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possibly my favorite sign that day.

But we stood anyway. We stood and listened and cheered and booed and held up our fists. We sang when we knew the words. We sang when we only knew half the words. We chanted and marched. It wasn’t perfect. The marchers were pretty white and didn’t want to be reminded that a simple majority of us white ladies voted for Donald Trump, a lot of the signage and some of the chants focused on physical anatomy as a marker of womanhood further marginalizing transwomen, and Michael Moore was allowed to carry on for entirely too long. But still, I’m going to carry Saturday in my heart. Saturday felt pretty far away while I was reading a report Wednesday that the Trump administration was planning to issue regular reports of crimes committed by undocumented persons, a move straight out of Hitler’s playbook. It feels further still when scientists working for the EPA are told their work, already peer-reviewed, will be subject to review by political appointees. It feels completely out of reach when the expanded global gag rule will invariably kill women under the guise of “protecting life.”

Saturday felt a lot closer when I reached out to the woman organizing Solidarity Sundays for D.C. It felt closer when I made a point Sunday night to buy two books, one on race and one on gender, as a means of supporting writers already doing the work that really needs doing now. It feels closer every time I pick up the morning paper. It feels close when congressional staffers thank me for calling. So that’s what I do now: every day I pick a thing I can do, I do that thing, and I write down what I did in my planner. It doesn’t keep it all at bay and but it chips at the problems and it’s what I know I can do right now. It’s not nothing, which is what I’d been doing for way too long.

The Women’s March needs energizing joy, not internalized misogyny.

“Another part of the Puritan legacy is the belief that no one should have joy or abundance until everyone does, a belief that’s austere at one end, in the deprivation it endorses, and fantastical in the other, since it awaits a universal utopia. Joy sneaks in anyway, abundance cascades forth uninvited […] Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated, and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.” Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

Last week, writing in the Washington Post, Petula Dvorak implored women heading into the District on January 21st to leave our bright pink pussy hats at home out of fear that we might look silly. Now is no time to be silly, Dvorak says.But this is exactly the moment we shouldn’t lose our sense of humor.

The Pussyhat Project is the brainchild of Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman, who wanted to create a unifying visual statement at the march that’s expected to draw as many as 200,000 people. Why handmade pink hats that give the wearer the illusion of cat ears? As the organizers point out, knitting is a historically female art form and pink is a culturally female color. Also the president-elect likes to grab women by their vaginas without their consent. The hats are a bright cozy “fuck you” to the sentient cheese doodle that will be our molester-in-chief come January 20 around noon. The hats are cute and clever and the president-elect won’t get the joke and it’s going to drive him insane.

Petula Dvorak, however, would like us to remember that men didn’t take our bra-burning, second-wave foremothers seriously and if we wear these hats and tote jokey signs, they won’t take us seriously either. What Dvorak’s editorial fails to understand is that the men she refers to won’t take us seriously. Full stop. We could march down Constitution Ave. in matching shapeless gray coveralls and carrying identical signs and those men would call our concerns superficial distractions. To pretend there is a mode of dress or means of expression we could adopt that these men might take seriously is to internalize the patriarchal notion that the feminine is frivolous. Men on the Right will deride us for abandoning traditional values, as if organized dissent in not ingrained in the Constitution.  Men on the Left will dismiss us for choosing “identity politics” over the real economic concerns of the day, as if access to adequate medical care, including birth control and abortion, is not an immediate economic concern for women in this country. There are men on all sides of the political spectrum who think the issues women face in this country are separate from the issues this country faces. We’re not going to get through to those men next Saturday, but we can start shouting over them. They don’t like it when women yell. But I’m not interested in accommodating them anymore.

It’s ironic that Dvorak points to the 1913 women’s march for suffrage as a protest remembered for its single-minded goal rather than any attendant frippery. But Dvorak ignores how those early feminists also used fashion—the all white dress that suggested purity and virtue, both of the their movement and their members—as a means of protest. She also seems to forget that the dresses weren’t the only mostly white things at that march. White temperance suffragists, courting support from women in southern states who resented the passage of the 15th amendment, characterized African-American men as whiskey-crazed mobs. I’d rather a large, messy, many-hued sea of pink that takes all comers willing to fight for real equality than a dour monolith that ignores the needs women of color or LGBT communities or the disabled or immigrants, etc.  in favor of a supposedly streamlined message that leaves most of us behind.

I can’t think of a better way to protest the explicit and implicit racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, authoritarian wave of utter bullshit (and allegedly urine) that Donald Trump rode into the White House than to gather together as women (and people who don’t hate women)—festooned in weather-appropriate metaphors for wherevers out of which many of us bleed—and take pleasure and joy in the abundance of our intersecting communities to spite him. What a way to steal his thunder.

Resolutions

I am nothing if not triumphantly confident in the dead of winter. It might be because I am mostly covered—wrapped up in dark, thick tights, shapeless dresses, and oversized sweaters. I wear my hair down more. I wear hats. The red lipstick I’ve been wearing a lot lately (with little, if anything else on my face) is ruddy, like the bottom of a glass of red wine you left out overnight or drying blood. I start to feel a little impervious, not invincible, but certainly more able to withstand sudden bursts of cold wind. The dead of winter is when I started running. It’s when I went back to graduate school, both times. It’s when Zac and I started looking for a place to live. It’s when I found and decided to keep Bagel. I make some of my best decisions between December and February.

At some point on January 1st of this year, I sat down at my desk with a sheet of graph paper and started taking notes. I made a color-code list out of those notes in the back of my planner. I gave that page a tab labelled “Resolutions.” The tab is a festive pink. It’s officially week two and it’s already a miraculous failure. Over the last week, I’ve gone to bed on time exactly zero times. I’ve gotten out of bed without hitting the snooze once. I got four hours of sleep that night. I have not started a single book I planned to read in order to complete my self-imposed reading syllabus. I only stuck to my plans to write 300 words a day three times. My average daily water intake is about 4 glasses and I’ve already ordered Chinese food twice.

On the other hand, I have gotten in a Facebook fight with a former professor that ended with him declaring in all caps that he teaches many “DEAD WHITE AND BLACK WOMEN” much to my eternal delight, ignored a Twitter troll who wanted to know where I stood on the “few billion unborn babies” murdered by feminists, and made some pretty serviceable vegetarian pad thai. All accomplishments for which they do not make merit badges. I also managed to sneak in at least a half-hour of yoga every day and started meditating. Unfortunately, the five to ten minutes I’ve spent each day with my legs pretzeled has made it painfully obvious that I have a 31 year-old’s knees and a total inability to count above two without thinking about whether that mole on my back is funny-haha or funny-cancer.

The nine straight days of yoga and eight days of meditation aren’t nothing.  Nine is the absolute most I could do anything this year that I set out to do once a day. But the page is still mostly unchecked boxes. The thing is, I don’t actually feel all that bad about only getting the year 30-50% right so far. It’s down right impossible to make a bunch of changes in your life all at once. That only one or two things are clicking right now doesn’t mean I won’t get the hang of waking up on time next week or next month. Clearing out my brain a bit each day might help me become a better writer. I don’t know how to fix the water thing, though. I’m a 31 year-old woman who regularly looks at the empty water glass on her desk and thinks, “I’m thirsty” before redirecting her attention back to her computer without doing anything to satisfy that very real need.

I got out of bed this year and thought about how to make myself and my relationships a priority (and also maybe get a cat. Zac’s talking a big game about pet rats but their tails aren’t terribly fluffy.) That’s better than two years ago when I spent the morning dry heaving because I’d already thrown up an entire bottle of prosecco before bed. I don’t remember actually getting out of bed that day. Does jotting down a list of goals for the year mean that I finish the year having finished the shitty first draft of a novel, done yoga every day, and gotten to eight breaths before wondering whatever happened to the lady who starred in The Secret World of Alex Mack? Maybe. I might as well try. What’s wrong with being (overly) confident?*

*did I get the song stuck in your head?

2017 Reading Syllabus

In 2016, I read 76 books (24 more than 2015; 46 more than 2014):

  • 41 were romances
  • 4 were YA
  • 7 were literary fiction (whatever that is)
  • 1 was philosophy
  • 2 were on writing
  • 3 were horror
  • 1 was a book of poetry
  • 2 were scientific, one of those was about moss.
  • 5 were science fiction or fantasy.
  • 5 were memoir or biography
  • 5 were history
  • 2 were on feminism

(Don’t bother checking my math. A couple books fell into more than one category and I counted them in both)

Those 76 books were written by 46 authors:

  • 33 of them were women
  • 12 were people of color

Top 5 (in no particular order):

  • H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
  • The Vegetarian by Han Kang
  • Gilead by Marianne Robinson/The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Honestly, this isn’t bad. It’s not great either. It’s a good reminder why I made the syllabus in 2015 and why I am bringing it back this year. I could have happily spent 2016 chasing bluestocking heroines and besotted rakes through London’s toniest ballrooms (and it seems I spent a lot of it doing just that), but I would have missed out on some seriously great writing (before any of you suggest otherwise, I would have missed out on great writing if I’d avoided the ballrooms altogether.)  Only a handful of the books I read this year were challenging. And while the gender breakdown was overwhelmingly female, the books I read were pretty white. I can do better. I can always do better.

With that in mind, I present the 2017 Reading Syllabus. 2015 focused on diversifying my reading. 2017 doesn’t necessarily to that in obvious ways, though it certainly allows for it in a lot of the categories and it fills in a couple gaps. Instead, this year I want to read as a means of undersimg_4478tanding and resistance. There are items on the list, like Wicked or One Hundred Years of Solitude that are just there because it’s high time I read them (Wicked is Zac’s favorite book and it’s silly how long I have put off reading it.) But there are others  that are there as a means of reminding me of what is at stake right now (the Authors category is entirely female; Regions will have me read all non-white authors). Reading is a political act and much as it is a personal pastime. When I am devoting a lot of my energy outside of work to remaining obviously busy by giving myself a relentless to-do list, I have to remind myself that we make time for things that are important and vacuuming the apartment every week isn’t as important as cultivating an inner life. I also have to remind myself of the needlepoint my mother had hanging in the kitchen growing up that read “A clean house is a sign of a misspent life.” It was hanging from a red ribbon strung up at the center of a curtain rod. The rod, the curtains, the ribbon, and the needlepoint were almost unforgivable dusty as if to drive the point home for anyone visiting our cluttered house. We make time for the things that are important. This is important to me.

2017 Reading Syllabus:

  • Authors:
    • Elena Ferrante
    • Toni Morrison
    • Margaret Atwood
    • Virginia Woolf
    • Joan Didion
    • bell hooks
  • Books:
    • Wicked
    • Blood Meridian
    • Sound and the Fury
    • One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • Genres:
    • Feminist Sci-Fi
    • Intersectional Feminist Sci-Fi
    • Epic Fantasy
    • Urban Fantasy
  • Regions:
    • Living African author
    • Living Central or South American author
    • Living Middle Eastern author
    • Living Asian author
  • Other Criteria
    • A book about Whiteness
    • A pre-Soviet Russian novel
    • A Soviet novel
    • A post-Soviet Russian novel
    • A book about Reconstruction
    • A book about Islam
    • A book about about the Holocaust
    • A short story collection
    • A poetry collection
    • a STEM book

If you have suggestions that you think might fit into any of these categories, send them my way.