Although the shore is rocky, the bottom of Wilson Bay is sandy, which makes it a nice body of water to set anchor and go for a swim. It’s normally an easy trip around Dablon Point–a ten minute ride. The wind was already picking up by the time we decided to take the boat out. When my father makes a schedule, he likes to stick to it.
As soon as we hit the lake proper, I knew I was in trouble. The chop was rough, and I suffer from intense motion sickness. Even the assisted pull-up machine at the gym makes me queasy. The wind was pushing the waves from the West, so the bay was just as rough as the lake. Before the anchor was set, I dove into the water and swam for terra firma. I contemplated walking the five miles home in my bathing suit, without shoes, so as not to have to get on the lurching vessel ever again.
Wilson beach is covered in various sizes of smooth surf-weathered stones. There are also larger flat sedimentary rocks, with fossil imprints that used to fascinate me as a child, and huge boulders. I scrambled to the closest flat rock and sat to absorb some of its heat. The water was chilly and the wind was brisk. I was nauseous and freezing.
Both of my daughters are certified lifeguards, but this fact didn’t stop me from panicking every time they swam below the turbulent surface. I reasoned to calm myself: the water was only five feet deep, they were strong swimmers, I was overprotective, everything would be fine. But I knew if the unthinkable happened, if they got swept under, I would not be able to save them. I was nauseous and freezing and uncomfortably nervous.
My father is seventy-six years old. Despite being in very good physical shape, he has been having trouble with his Achilles tendons, so when he dove into the water and started to make his way toward shore I started to panic in earnest. He swam a little and then walked the remainder of the distance slowly and surely with his mouth set in a firm line. He concentrated on staying upright and on not swallowing any water, while I imagined my entire family drowning in front of my eyes.
Safely on shore, the uneven rocky terrain proved daunting. He stumbled to find his footing and crumpled into a sitting position about three feet in front of me. I watched him from my stony perch. He sat with his legs apart in front of him, knees bent the way men often sit. His shoulders were slumped a little. If I were sitting closer I might have reached out and put my hand on his back, a small sign of solidarity. An acknowledgement that to age is no simple matter. When one of the girls was under the water for what seemed like too long, he turned to me and asked, “Where’s Frances?” I come by my anxieties naturally.
My father is my America. He is a man who always tries to do what’s right. He is organized, steadfast, reliable, fair. This does not mean he doesn’t make mistakes, but he is coachable, a team player, a good sport. He is honest and kind. He will always extend a hand. When I was younger, his rules and limits seemed oppressive, suffocating, and simplistic, but I have come to realize that his solidity is what allowed me to explore beyond my perceived boundaries. It was knowing, albeit unconsciously, that he was always there firmly rooted and consistent that allowed me to become me, despite my fears.
My daughters are also my America. They are young and fresh. They are trying to find their creative paths, learning to be responsible, discovering the nuances of love in the age of contradiction and lunacy. They are bright lights with sweet hearts. They are pure potential for all things good. This doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes, but they are coachable, team players, good sports. They are honest and kind. They will always extend a hand.
In the current political climate I find myself sitting daily on those flat warm rocks, chilled and sick to my stomach with dread, and trying to meditate away my fears that my America might drown. One thing is certain in this time of uncertainty, I am a strong swimmer. Had any of my family members struggled, I would have instantly been in the water. I would have attempted a rescue or gone down trying. Your father is my father. Your daughters are my daughters. Your America is my America, and I am a strong swimmer.
The waves were bigger and the wind was stronger on the way home. I sat in the front of the boat willing myself not to puke. Each time the bow slammed down on the rough water it felt like my internal organs were being crushed together. At one point, I looked back at my dad. He glanced at me and chuckled mischievously acknowledging in his own way that the lake was really too rough. The lake was really too rough, but we made it home and nobody drowned.
Dear cyber friends,
A few months ago I grew weary of so many Tuesdays coming and going. I said to a friend, “Can’t we please rename the days of the week; I can no longer bear futility.” He renamed Tuesday after the immortal jellyfish: Turritopsis, and I laughed. The next day, I made it to second period before the ennui started to set in. To no-one in particular I asked for a new name for Wednesday. The eleventh grade students sitting closest to me began offering suggestions. Eventually J suggested Hummus. And I said, “Yeah. Hummus is good. Happy Hummus Day.” And we laughed.
I don’t remember exactly what happened next, but somehow I heard myself saying, “Wouldn’t it be funny if there were little signs that said hummus posted all over the school?” My students looked at me and laughed some more. Yeah, they said, that would be pretty funny. Yeah, they thought, Miss Ginger is wild.
I went to my storage closet and found poster board and markers, and I placed them on the center table in my room. “I think we should do it. Let’s do it,” I said. And then the miracle happened. Immediately, my entire classroom of general English 3 students from diverse backgrounds and with even more diverse skill levels and challenges pounced on the opportunity to “play” together. I said, “If anyone asks, we are conducting a social experiment, but it has to be a secret.”
If you are an educator or know anyone who teaches high school, you know that student apathy and disconnect and lack of engagement are the stones we carry in our pockets. To see these students interacting and laughing as a group united lit me up. Each student made a placard that said hummus and pledged to secretly hang it in one of our school’s five buildings. They were to report back what they heard. They were hooked. And so was I.
After a couple of days of giggling about others trying to figure out what all this “hummus” nonsense was, I told the students that if we were going to continue our secret mission, it should mean something. This is when the second miracle happened. They agreed. The first thing they did was come up with words to fit their acronym. Everybody made suggestions, and then they chose to use the words S had written: Humble Union (of) Multiple Mindsets Uniting Students. They made an emblem which consisted of the six letters each written in a different hand with a different color to show, in their words, diversity and unity. And then they worked together to write a mission statement. This is when my heart cracked open.
I’m sure you have heard variations on the theme that teenagers today have gone awry, have no respect, have no empathy or compassion or self-control or self-discipline. That they are lazy. That they are careless and self-indulgent and narcissistic. I asked each of my second period students to write their version of a mission statement. I told them I would take each individual piece and create a whole from their parts. What they wrote was astonishing. Each dreamed of a world devoid of separation, a world filled with love and peace and inclusion. A world where everyone had a voice and felt safe. Every single student in that class took the assignment to create their own mission statement seriously. Every single student in that class wanted to be part of a solution to problems and issues in our global world that scare them. Each one of those students wanted to make their world a better place. The H.U.M.M.U.S. mission statement is as follows:
We are the future generation. We bring minds together for learning, inspiration, and empowerment. We uphold our core values with excellence and integrity. We unite students and people of all genders, races, sexual orientations, cultures, backgrounds, and personalities to achieve our goals, which include: Being accepting of others, promoting peace and positivity, building our community, spreading love and kindness, and creating a brighter future.
Next, they decided to create a social media presence. They made an Instagram page @h.u.m.m.u.s_nation. Currently they have 129 followers.
They presented their organization to the principal of our school with each member taking a part in the explanation. They narrated the groups genesis and how it went from a joke to something important and real that had a place in the world. Then each student stood and shared what “Hummus” meant to them. He, to his credit, gave permission to continue their project however they saw fit. He was very pleased (and relieved) that “Hummus” wasn’t a gang.
For its first project “Hummus” asked students on our campus to take the time to meet someone new, to interact in conversation, and to find commonalities. Students were then asked to take a selfie together and direct message it to the Hummus page where it would be uploaded. In the wake of the shootings in South Florida, I feel my students were remarkably prescient. Their message that “we are here to love” could not be more timely.
Now, in my classroom, every Wednesday is Hummusday. I am beyond inspired, as I watch these little chick peas spread their love. You should be inspired too. I hope you are inspired too.
P.S. After you read this, I dare you to take the time to meet someone new, have a conversation, find commonalities, and send a selfie to my students’ Insta page @h.u.m.m.u.s_nation Let them know that they can make a difference. Let them know that people will listen.
And if you are so inclined, read my Pedagogical Manifesto:
As a writer and educator, I am interested in intersections: the points where curiosity, contemplation, and creativity overlap. I believe these corresponding spaces or moments offer the most fertile learning environments, and joy is a natural by-product of this collision.
Curiosity is a desire to know. This quality, while inherent, needs to be nurtured, or it is lost.
Contemplation is a way of “seeing.” In educational terms this encompasses seeing the connection between ourselves and the world we inhabit. Through introspection it is possible to connect to a larger purpose relative to what is outside the immediacy of our own us-ness.
Creativity is what happens when curiosity and contemplation collide. Learning is a creative act, as is teaching. I believe teaching, in its highest form manifests from a desire to share. To share implies a reciprocal relationship, in this case, between the student and the teacher. Ideally then, teaching is a mutually beneficial transaction: a co-creative endeavor.
My pedagogy style is rooted in contemplative attention and awareness. I believe education by definition should entail more than knowledge building, that it should also encourage an understanding in each student as to their personal role (responsibility) to create a better world.
I believe education should foster a creative, contemplative, curiosity filled exchange across a wide range of disciplines, and that this exchange can involve new thought processes and new pathways of understanding that embody our best hopes and aspirations. There is no doubt that students today are confronted by a world that is often scary. For this reason it is especially important to remember and reinforce joy.
I believe education must have the bones to become a place where many elements co-construct questions about empathy, about ethics, about imagination that include the nuanced fragilities in our shared stories, stories from all over the world.
I believe education must manifest in diverse voices, visions, forms of knowledge and expression in order to transform how we experience today into how we will experience tomorrow.
clar-i-ty n. 1. Clearness of appearance 2. Clearness of thought or style; lucidity,
[ME,clarite,brightness<Lat. claritas,clearness<clarus,clear. See clear.]
As I ran today, I experienced a rare translucent moment of lucidity. A rare transparent moment. A moment as location where everything is intelligible, easily understood.
I will attempt to map this experience, to share it, to shine.
It began with the image of a mountain. I saw myself standing on the peak. It was clear that I had stood on this peak many times, moment after moment, lifetime after lifetime. It was clear that I was strong and resilient, and I had fought and clawed my way to this summit over and over again.
The image shifted. And I saw the word RESIST at the top of the mountain, which now resembled the head of an arrow pointing skyward.
I believe energy moves on the word, through words, and in this moment of lucidity, I witnessed energy attempt to infiltrate RESIST the word. I literally watched energy flow into what quickly became a structurally reinforced brick wall of resistance. I realized that by definition, its language, its very nature, the word RESIST can do nothing other than resist, manifest resistance. Where can the energy trapped within the parameters of this word go? I watched as some of the energy stagnated and some of it slipped backwards down the mountain, back in the direction from where it came. It could no longer move forward. RESIST is impenetrable.
I saw myself as the wily coyote deftly maneuvering through barbed wire resistance, making progress to be sure, only to be faced with a forty foot high sheer steel wall of ACME strength resistance, that I managed to climb over to be sure, only to be faced with an ocean of sharks with resistant teeth, which I managed to swim across to be sure, only to be faced with…
The point is: RESIST always resists. And it doesn’t matter how hard you fight. Sure, you can make progress or so it seems, but when you look back at the journey you might realize you haven’t moved at all, that you are still stuck within the parameters of a word. One little word.
The point is: that every instance through all those lives and moments when I reached this pinnacle, when I got so close to realizing the secrets on the other side of the mountain, the language that encompassed my experience was a language of resisting change. And as long as I was resisting, I could not move forward. Not really. It is energetically impossible to resist and embrace simultaneously.
I have said before that language is incredibly powerful, but this is sometimes hard to adequately articulate. In this moment of clarity I saw very clearly that a shift in language is a shift in consciousness, that to shift from I resist (the old) to I embrace (the new) is irrevocably transitive.
So I watched myself take an imaginary eraser in my mind and erase that one word at the top of the mountain. I scribbled another in its place. Instead of RESIST, I wrote: EMBRACE.
I embrace. I accept. I am open. I am receptive. I am willing to map the other side of this mountain.
While I revisit my creative and intellectual development, the wholly un-original thread connecting the different chapters of my life is an ever-present ego that has simultaneously whispered of inherent creative strength while shouting, in a manner that could make a grown man cry, every conceivable inadequacy and shortcoming. Even now, I struggle to face this blank page and criticize what has not yet been written. I am intimate with this perfectionist streak, this overbearing parent whose demands I cannot possibly, and often don’t even attempt to, meet. That being said, at forty-one, I have begun to cross the street, and although I don’t yet live on the fearless side permanently, I, at least, get to visit more often and for longer periods of time.
First and foremost, I am a reader. When I was younger, if someone asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, my secret answer was, and truth be told still is, read and make stuff. I come from a long line of readers and potential artists who became teachers, and I may end up following this well- worn path. In the spirit of full disclosure, even as I write this my heart sinks a bit thinking about the unwritten stories that went to the grave with my grandmother who often spoke of a desire to write, and I am confronted by an image of my father, who never has less than three books going at once, and the startling revelation as to the possible depths of his interior creative life, which never seems to manifest (as far as I can tell) in his exterior life.
I love books. I love how they smell, the feel of paper, and the words, both individually and collectively. Twenty years ago, I went to art school to become a painter, and from this perspective the finished page is not so different from a finished canvas. For it to be done right there needs to be contrast, tension, juxtaposition, balance, color, cohesion and that bit, the rhythm, that is not quite definable but exists just the same. To choose the sensual supple, crisp antiquity, or the absoluteness of fuck and to follow where these choices lead, is the same process by which a painting evolves. Even without adequate vocabulary to describe why a particular piece of art works, connection through truth is proof enough.
In retrospect, I believe I chose painting because I could bear to be a mediocre painter, and I am not sure I can bear to be a mediocre or, in the words of Stephen King, a competent writer. (This word, competent, has now been added to my least favorite word list, biting at the heels of potential.) To acknowledge this desire, to release this dream into the world, to speak of it out loud, is almost, but not quite, physically impossible. After protecting this tiny flame from the wind for so long my instinct is to stay huddled over it for fear it could just go out, and then what would I be left with? My ego bitch has suggested this is not a therapy session…so I’ll move on.
When I was eighteen, I opted not to accept a partial scholarship to Keuka College and moved to New York City. My two full time jobs: waitressing at The Waverly Coffee Shop and frequenting every neighborhood bar in Manhattan, made success at Hunter College where I had enrolled, impossible. There simply were not enough hours in a day. The only positive thing to be said about aspiring to be an alcoholic in New York is that you drink in very good intellectual and artistic company. Even as I eventually made my escape to paint in the light of New Mexico, those hair- graying days in the East Village remain irreplaceable. I may have dated the same unavailable man in different bodies the entire time I was there, but I also was introduced to people who remain the most influential in my life to this day, and I was exposed to an arena flooded with a level of creativity which, I am biased in believing, exists no where else in the world.
In New York I studied drama, photography, film, painting, and the fickle shades of humanity. All this was a mere backdrop for exposure to literature and film, and often, the learning transpired outside the walls of university. What is that saying? Jack-of-all-trades, master of none? My early loves…. Margaritte Duras, Paul Bowles, DH Lawrence, Gabriele Garcia Marques, Salman Rushdie, and later Barbara Kingsolver, Annie Proux and Michael Onjaatje. Films like Paris, Texas and Breaking the Waves influenced me. I adored an Eastern European style of painting by artists whose names I have long since forgotten. I bought a book (I believe I still have) on how to write a screenplay and wrote one, only to have the sole copy destroyed by an ex boyfriend in a ritualistic jealousy provoked rage. I was a stage manager for an off off off Broadway production of the Sam Sheppard play True West. I took edgy black and white photographs of New York, painted, studied acting, and drank like a sailor (I fear Mr. King would not approve of my simile).
My crowning artistic achievement, however, was teaching drama to first and third graders at a community center in Jamaica, Queens. Unqualified, both professionally and emotionally, the tasked proved daunting but ultimately more fulfilling than anything I have done since (besides raising my own daughters). My first transcendent moment was realized when the time came for the part of one of my students, who, too shy to go on stage, had refused to leave the audience. The moment approached for his performance, I looked for his face in the crowd, our eyes locked, and at exactly the precise second, he became the most perfect alarm clock I have ever heard!
There have been other successes: The first time I saw a bus in Albuquerque drive by adorned with my painting, part of a traveling (literally) art show, the time I made a banana crème pie so yummy, a man actually grabbed my arm with two hands to thank me, the time I consoled an old friend with words written about her mother who had recently passed, and the mere existence of my two lovely daughters. These have been my small contributions to society.
I eventually got married, moved to Florida, had children, and bought a mini van. Reconciling my self- image as an artist with my new mommy/wife identity (without the aid of alcohol or nicotine) proved more difficult than I imagined and I developed a profound anxiety disorder. Frankly, the attempt to maintain any semblance of artistic integrity during this period proved fruitless. Except for a few paintings that ironically were made up of abstract word-like script in the guise of love-letters to my husband, art consisted of children’s bedroom murals and hand-painted growth charts.
An absence of formal education shadowed this journey spitting venomous potential at every small success. This was but one of my ego’s favorite weapons of self -destruction. My aim was to remove at least this one poison from the arsenal, and hopefully to then have enough presence to continue with what ever came next. I went back to school to study Psychology based on my new -found appreciation for all things mind related only to be faced with the truth that despite my fascination and personal relationship with the material, I am probably not hardwired for the related professions.
In 2007 I convinced my very southern husband it was imperative we move back to New York. “It would be good for the girls to be closer to family…the schools are so much better…I miss the landscape and the seasons…my parents are getting older…” Suffice it to say, this decision does not rate high on the self-awareness scale. You can’t go home again (me) and You can’t teach an old dog new tricks (my husband) may very well be the greatest understatements ever penned. That being said, I am deeply grateful to have found my way back to words, and to have been reminded of the very simple truth that at the end of the day I am still a girl who loves to read and make stuff.
(Spoiler Alert: I use the word pussy 16 times in this piece. If you have a pussy aversion, consider yourself warned.)
Pussy is a fluid word. Sometimes noun, sometimes adjective, sometimes verb, sometimes slang or euphemism. Sometimes it is vulgar but sometimes not. The history of pussy as word as symbol suggests that it evolved from a reference to a cat to a reference for young girls or women in the seventeenth century to a reference for female genitalia by the eighteenth century. In the twentieth century it transformed again to include sexual intercourse with a woman. In short, pussy has been around in various mutations for a long time.
Words evolve. They are not static elements, and they are imbued with the energy of those who express them, expression that reflects cultural bias and perception. Expression can be exquisite, banal, violent and everything in between. Expression is a manifestation of humanity in all its contradictory glory. As a writer, I am fascinated by the power of language, the energy it contains. I am also intrigued when words as symbols are appropriated as weapons to shame or silence. As a woman, I am fascinated by the power of language, the energy it contains. I am also fascinated by pussy in all its manifestations.
To be clear I have only recently added the word pussy to my lexicon; I have only recently started to use the word in print and to add the word to particular conversations. In a sense I feel like I am owning my own power as a woman by taking ownership of language that has most often been used against me. The first few times I allowed the word to pass my lips, I cringed visibly and inwardly. I remember the very first time I tested the word out-loud. I was bartending and I insinuated the word into casual conversation. I felt dirty. But half a century on the planet has taught me that my visceral reactions to language always need to be investigated. My self inquiry led me to the stark realization my personal aversion to the word reflected a personal aversion to my own sexuality. A personal aversion foisted on me by a society that has long expected its women to be virtuous whores. I think what I mean is: a society that dictates certain judgemental and self-righteous pussy parameters.
Sexism, misogyny, sexual harassment and abuse all share, among other things, a component of shaming the victim for having a vagina. A pussy. We have internalized this shame. So while I abhor the connotations that insinuate pussy equates to weakness or any variation that implies that a pussy is something to be owned or controlled or violated against a woman’s express desire, as well as any interpretation that implies something vulgar or perverse, I take this word back. I will not feel shame for having a pussy, nor will I be shamed for using the word. My pussy is pure. My pussy takes up space. My pussy controls the conversation. My pussy will not be censored.
Petrichor (/ˈpɛtrᵻkɔər/) is the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil. The word is constructed from Greek, petra, meaning stone, and ichor, the fluid that flows in the veins of the Gods in Greek mythology.
a tide of persuasion; breathe in: swallow
fragments exhale brief shards of language
in the telling–watch your behavior
as you watch your self behave in certain ways
where does the wild live? each country comes
at a price even the un-attached know
the cost of dirt and sky and weathered wing
this lie sewn through with dark ages of guilt
they tell me if you don’t know what to do,
don’t do anything. sit with the tension;
make friends with suffering as sky expands
and contracts in breath: reveals the halo
if it is raining, let it rain
if it is raining, let it rain
There is an essay coagulating in my bloodstream as I fold the laundry. There is language sprouting from my gut as I wash the dishes. Words like privilege and paradox and humanity are hovering on a frequency just beyond cohesion. The more I reach out and try to grab them the more they unravel into space. I decide to swat the impulse away. I need to get my house in order. I don’t have time to write this love letter. Yet, it means to be written. It whispers to me: slow down and clear your heart. Come back to the page to expose your truth. It refuses to be eclipsed. The floor will have to be washed later.
At the beginning of the summer I was prompted to explore the meaning of constitution beyond symbolism. My investigation followed a specific tributary: one that desired to see self as it really is. My self. My truest self. No different from the self of other. In short, my exploration led to an epiphany. I am built in ways I have ignored. I am not the person I have convinced my self exists. And to eclipse the full totality of who I am, the all of it, the full spectrum of humanity expressed, is to allow the less savory aspects of self to flourish secretly in the dark.
Left untended these parts of self grow restless. I have come to suspect that while these darker characteristics of human nature are not meant to be wantonly unleashed, they need to be acknowledged: nurtured even. These shadow tendencies of self know their place.They simply want self to re-recognize their existence and then re-recognize their existence in others. The hypothesis formed. If you can recognize the shadow self within, you will be able to identify this for what it is in others: a reflection of humanity eclipsed. Therefore, all constitutions must acknowledge silhouette.
The problem with my experiment becomes self evident almost immediately. If shared in totality, my proofs are incriminating. They do not fit neatly in the general narrative of the who I believe I am. They do not fit neatly in the general narrative of social acceptability or moral equivalent. Others, most likely, will fail to see themselves reflected in my shadows. But at least for now, I can see them reflected in mine. And this is a beginning.
As the moon passed in front of the sun, I made a silent commitment to my shadowy contour. I promised my grayer selves that in the moments when I choose not to look up for fear of being blinded, I will at the very least attempt to remove my own blinders. And when searching for the light within, I will name the darkness as well. In this way to re- remember not only when I tend to shine but also how the light necessitates darkness, without which there could be no reflection.
To look closely at my own shadows.To pay attention to them. To be honest with myself. These were my promises, and I have been shocked at what I have uncovered. Still, it has been worth it if when I turn my gaze again to others, I see them through vigilant eyes of one who understands and sees her own limitations reflected in those she previously judged as lacking.
My constitution is paradoxical. My constitution is in flux. My constitution inhabits every possibility. It will not be eclipsed.
Tales from the mouth of a wolf
"Late" According to Whom?
Learn Something New Daily, Teach What You Love
Poetry from a body shaped like a question mark.
New Voices in Fiction, Nonfiction, Plays & Poetry
The Dawning of An Aging Aquarian
Musings on poetry, language, perception, numbers, food, and anything else that slips through the cracks.
THE BEST OF POETRY
a space for authentic expression
A Mysterious Jungle Cat...
Flash Storms of Art for the Visually Addicted
Writer, Speaker, Zen Teacher, Adventurer
innisfree poetry bookstore zine
Bobby Taylor's Blog
Smile! You’re at the best WordPress.com site ever