Day 3: A Dystopian Tale

“Good. We’ve got them locked in. Don’t let them out,” said the older one, William, who sat down against the red door, fanning himself with his gun.

The two men, one young and one old, wore black suits with long red ties.  

Inside the Red Door lounge, the two dozen women were quiet as they were told to be. They rested against one another. A feeling of hopelessness,

“We’ve got the IWQC on lockdown,” said Jackson into his blue tooth.

You see, the year was 2019 and the IWWG, the International Women’s Writing Guild, had become the IWQC, the Interior Women’s Quilting Club. Guilds were not allowed, but clubs were. Women were no longer allowed to write. Newspapers and websites were banned any way. And so the writing guild had become, ostensibly, a quilting club.

Although it was only three years after the new administration, women were no longer allowed to gather for any reason but to beautify their homes. They were required to stay in their kitchens, laundry rooms, or jobs unless they had a craft that they wanted to practice, such as quilting .

Jackson had tipped off the government when one morning he collected his family mail. You see, men were the only ones allowed to use the postal service, just as they were the only ones allowed to access health care.

His mother’s printed newsletter had arrived in the mail. It said the conference would include a gathering of leaders at the Red Door to proceed to a final session at the nearby Rose Garden. Jackson had become suspicious. And he wanted to impress the older men. He had pressed his mother who finally admitted this group of quilters were more than they had appeared. These women at the Red Door were the heart of the Resistance.

Now Jackson’s mother Jill stood by the door where her son was holding her and the other women hostage.

“Honey, Jacky, this lounge here is getting too hot. And we are getting cranky.”

See, the women, although they had been held hostage, had still managed to form a circle to develop a group process over how to deal with blame each other the thermostat malfunction. Hours earlier, Elizabeth, a menopausal woman in the throes of a hot flash, had pushed up the AC up so high that the system had shut down completely.

“Please let us out, sonny.”

“I will,” Jackson said, required to lie. Required to lie to everyone, he could only tell the truth to his fellow white men who wore long red ties.

Jackson himself, reminded of how hot he was, loosened his red tie.

“Are you lying to me?” his mother asked.

“Maybe,” he admitted.

“Honey, you never liked wearing a tie. You always liked a bow tie. Remember that black checked tie you used to wear with the pastel checked shirt? You even wore that to the President Obama celebration in Millennium Park. How old were you then?.”

Jackson smiled. “I was eight. Yes, that was great.” He remembered the beautiful diversity of the evening, so different from the current gatherings he’d had to attend, only white men in their long red ties with their suits too big, in attendance.

“Did his bow tie look like this?” Paula, the club’s president, who had been eavesdropping, asked. She dug into her basket of fabric. Paula knew they had to get out of the Red Door Lounge by midnight when the March for Justice would begin.

Jackson looked through the window in the red door at Paula’s handful of fabric.

“Yes, it was just like that!” he exclaimed. “Geez, I’d love to have a bow tie like that.”

Paula knew Jill’s son Jackson had always been a little vain. “You can have it!”  Paula shook the black checked fabric, as if were a red cape before a bull. Jackson glanced at the other red-tied man, William, who snored peaceably, slumped against the wall.  

Jackson opened the door a crack to reach for the fabric. But Paula thrust her small trimming scissors into his hand. When he pulled back in pain, she kicked open the red door.

Paula grabbed the older man’s gun. She fired a shot into the ceiling.

“C’mon ladies, some of you stay and tie them up. The rest of you follow me to the Resistance! We meet at the Rose Garden.”

Several women descended on the two men, tying them with quilting fabric onto the chairs. The women bound the men’s hands with their own long red ties.

Roaming the campus of Muhlenberg College now, the women quilters were free to be writers once again. They high-fived one another. They ran down Chew Street to the Rose Garden. There, the women met other women, immigrants, people of color, children, people with disabilities, all gathering there to take back the night. And the country.

For her part, Paula threw the gun in the Rose Garden fountain. A little later, Jill freed her son Jackson. She led him to the gathering by his hand.

Years into the future, Jackson would remember the beautiful diverse scene at the Rose Garden in Lehigh Valley. He would never forget that he played a part in the Uprising of Women Quilters, a day almost as historic as President Obama’s Election Victory Speech in Millennium Park.

I started this in Paula Scardamalia’s class on Writing as a Goddess and nearly finished it in Anne Walradt’s Creating with Comedy. (It’s still not quite done!) Mom gave me the idea for the story, but instead of the narrative being comical, it took a Handmaiden Tale twist. In any case, I turned my fears for America into dystopian flash fiction.   

 

Day 2: The Writer at Work

“This period of my life is like..”

A True Detective story full of blood and wayward characters.
I am the western cop, trying to wrangle my people. Trying to stop time. Trying to figure out the killers and the troublemakers.
Seeking justice.

In Eunice Scarfe’s class, “The Writer at Work: Old Words and New,” this morning, we were asked to write from the prompt, or the catalyst: “This period of my life is like…” Here is more of my free write.

This period is a blue period.
A blue egg in a Robin’s egg nest. My nest, my home full of bustling, flitting activity.

This period is brimming with coffee and hilarity.
And worry.
Did I mention worry?
Worried about everyone’s health and how will I face my own ageing? Is that important?

Frida Kahlo had her birds

frieda.

Her own comfort. her man. her art. her illness.
I have my people, my worries.

I’m grateful — there it is, popping up like a weed — my gratitude.
I cannot stop journaling until it pops up. This gratitude for people. for places. for New York city. for shelter at this retreat from this United States political storm. I am hiding, nesting.

A bird has its nest.
a bird like me needs to fly. But there is so much to worry about. And there is so much to be grateful for.
Does a bird worry as she flies?

Does a bird have gratitude?

***

I read part of this  — and another essay I started about how the Coudals resemble the Kennedys — to Mary Alice Hostetter who wrote the beautiful Modern Love essay, “Dear Dad: We’ve Been Gay for a Really Long Time.”

I was reminded by Eunice of Natalie Goldberg’s advice, ‘Get your own story straight.
We all have a story.” And we were invited to ‘write so as to stop the breathing of our audience.’

“if you can tell it, you can write it,” Eunice Scarfe said.

 

Day 1: The International Women’s Writing Guild

Writing is a sanctuary, a church. This is a paraphrase from the brilliant, deep Susan Tiberghien, founder of the Geneva Writers’ Group.

Am writing from the back of the room at the 40th conference of the Guild.

I am here. At Muhlenberg. Today.

Thinking of my mornings, every morning, my coffee, and the light through the dusty kitchen window. The cupboards I should wipe down.

My cup of coffee — in the mug from Taize or from Westport, NY.

I write to say I am here. I write to say I have arrived.

I journal to figure out my day, my story, my list of things — so many things — to do. Journaling in the morning is my church too. My meditation. A place free of judgment. A moment of Ahhhhh.

Living in a dynamic, whirlwind family — the teenagers, bound for college, the husband, declining yet still active, an actor with Parkinson’s.

I am still here, I say in my journal, I have not lost myself entirely. When I write, I do not disappear.

I refuse to lose myself.

Now I am in Alyce Smith Cooper’s class, the Use of Creating the New Narrative of Compassionate Inclusion.

“How do you lift your voices and sing?”

Light

We had an assignment to write about light. 

speed of light.
an owl lit out from the barnyard squawking.
a mouse flitted from the pasture to the tall green stalks of corn.
Did not know her days were numbered.
the bitty mouse.
She will be bit as mice will bite.
and no one

This dream.  Poetry is a dream. why do we dream?
why do i dream? Anxiety dreams?

that i am late for school/work.

that i will forget my lines.

i cannot stop dreaming
i must let go of my anxiety dreams. Before I fall asleep, I tell myself, have a happy sleep, no more worries…

I started this blog post on the Mariandale Retreat in Westchester – a break from my mad dash
cycling, cycling to get to my next big thing,
to my next place

How can I have ease? i would like to know
i know i am only responsible for myself. i know this intellectually, but i also feel i am responsible for all of you. that your happiness depends on me.
who is this YOU? any passerbys, i offer a smile. any family member, i will rent a car and drive you. any friend, i will make a date and meet you. any bank clerk, i will greet you with kindness.

and i feel a tension in my shoulders. i retreated because i needed to remember this:
’tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free.
and this:

every single person needs to keep beauty on their map
because there is more to this life than bread and water
we need to play, to immerse ourselves in nature, to have strength
we need to dive in to beauty as if into a pool.

lose ourselves. To find ourselves.

every single day, at the retreat and now at home, i set out to walk for an hour. I heard a neurologist at the Rockefeller University say we need this. this is the secret to happiness – walk an hour a day. but i usually walk for 40 minutes.

And i try to make art every day.

i wanted to light out like the owl from the barn.
i wanted to take flight and swoop down to carry the mouse back to the nest. the hungry tots. but there is also the owl that loves to fly farther and farther
and swoop into the currents of the air stream
the stream in the air
diving and dipping
when the lights dwindle and the stars poke through like mice. a little twinkle, a little glimmer, a little field of effervescence. And there it is:
the ineffableness of you
the secret of you
the only you
the way to find the most of you.

you
i was tired and lay down
and i lay by the river and i drifted to a deeper sleep and no one ever came to wake me.
and some day i will sleep, but until then I will fly.

Forgotten Phone

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), Girl in a Bonnet Tied with a Large Pink Bow.girl in bonnet

 

As I was driving back into Manhattan Thursday night, I realized that I’d left my phone plugged in to a charging station at my kids’ school. Should I turn around and drive the 10 minutes back to Riverdale to get it? No, I had another social engagement; I wanted to get to book club — we’d read Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. I was looking forward to the discussion.

Besides, I thought, as soon as I arrive, I’ll call Cate who could email her dean and ask her to hold my phone. But we didn’t bother the dean. Because Cate reassured me, “It’ll be there in the morning. I’ll get it for you. You’ll be fine. It’ll be like a game. See how you do without your phone.”

Occasionally, on Friday, I found myself reaching for my phone, like a phantom limb. Especially, last night. See, I had an invitation to a preview of a show at Christie’s auction house and wanted to to snap a pic of the two- to three-million-dollar painting by Mary Cassatt of a girl in a bonnet.

The girl’s eyes drift to the side. She looks ready to play. Or maybe she is not allowed to play and she has become reflective. There seems to be as much nuance in her expression as in Mona Lisa’s smile. She is watching something. (She is not on her phone.)

Without my phone to snap the painting, I had to simply gaze at Cassatt’s intense colors and brushstrokes. Apparently, at an auction house, you don’t have to keep back from the art like you do at a museum, you can get right up in a painting’s grill.

Mind-blowing. The girl’s peachy skin reflected the peachy color of the bow. There was a quality of androgyny to the girl that I don’t think you can get in the reproduction.

Also, a painting, like this one, probably took forever to paint whereas a phone photo is snapped in an instant. In those museum photo grabs, the painting is like an animal — once hunted, purposefully captured, immediately stashed, promptly forgotten.

Having to look at the painting, without photographing it, made me remember it and interact with it. There was no screen, no filter. Nothing between me and the painting. It was refreshing. It was meaningful. It was a moment.

On the M5 bus ride home from Christie’s, if I’d had my phone, I would’ve gazed at the screen. Maybe scrolled through my Twitter feed, become irate at the first 100 days of the pres’s failing administration. I’d have begun to seethe.

But, without my phone, I read the Christie’s catalog. I learned Cassatt painted many children in bonnets. I thought about art. I gazed out the bus window. I saw many people with their heads down, looking at their phones.

When I returned home, Cate handed me my phone. She told me that it’d been right where I’d left it, at the charging station. I set my phone down.

“You were right. I don’t need it. I’m fine.” I’d been recharged by art without my phone.

International Women’s Day

Why Resist?

Because I believe in protecting the rights of the marginalized, especially women, children, and the disabled.

Even though we have much to work do in our country, I tell myself to work on myself. Make a difference in the ways I can. Work on the things in my realm. This is the way I dug myself out of the 9 11 morass. I did small acts of kindness. I cleaned my kitchen. I joined forces with people who focused on children. I worked for social justice, which means a lot to me. I worked with the General Board of Global Ministries and United Methodist Women. My life has been about fostering sisterhood and brotherhood across borders and countries, which are, let’s face it, arbitrary lines on a map, subject to interpretation. I’m now teaching. And teachers can make a difference.

malala

Why International Women?

When I went to China for the women’s conference in 1995, I was amazed by the beautiful diversity of women around the globe and the work they do. Especially women activists – rural women, college women, labor advocates, environmentalists. I don’t know if international women will save the world. But I think it’s possible. I find hope in knowing that there are countries where women political leaders are not anomalies. Diverse leadership teams always succeed in ways that homogeneous teams do not.

Young international women, too, like Malala Yousafzai, are making a world of difference. Can you imagine being shot by the Taliban and then rising like a phoenix from those ashes to write and speak so brilliantly (and win a Nobel prize!)?

well behaved womenSo Why Now?

I enjoy Maria Shriver’s weekly newsletter. In last Sunday’s paper, she said:

Feminine power is available to every woman because power starts within. You don’t have to act like a guy, talk like a guy, or dress like a guy to be powerful. You have to talk, act, dress, and think like the person that you are.

It’s not a man’s world. It’s everyone’s world, and it’s ours to go out and make better.

Yes, we have the power. We have the international connections. We have the authenticity to start right where we are. To do something, anything — with compassion. We can write a postcard, support a teacher, speak highly of women leaders, join a march,  vote, organize a huddle, diversify our boardrooms, or run for office.

On International Women’s Day and every day, women are looking out for each other, for children, for people with disabilities. And we are facing fear with love. We are calling out hypocrisies. We are finding our why and sharing it.

These are some of the reasons why I’m proud to wear red today and I’m proud to be a woman every day. I celebrate international womanhood and sisterhood!

Giving Up for Lent

I am not giving up wine or chocolate this Lent. I am looking at my life and making an impact – socially, spiritually, physically, creatively, professionally, politically, and family-wise. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, a reminder that we are all going to die. And Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, the night before Ash Wednesday, reminds us that we are going to live until we die. Lent is 40 days of intentional living.

Here are my aims, remembering that this life is but a whisper.

Socially

Speak with words of deep love and mutual respect
No gossip or judgment – Believe everyone is doing their best
If I’m on time I’m late; Arrive early

Spiritually

20130425-085137.jpgPray and meditate
Practice mindfulness
Celebrate the diversity of religions

Physically

Stay fit
Train for a 10K in June
Eat more greens (fruits and vegetables) and less whites (carbs)

Creatively

Make art, especially cards and my art journal
Write in my journal every day
Send work out to be published
Less time passively taking in social media, more time producing art

Professionally

Read about what makes for good teaching every day
Listen well to students and colleagues
Be firm, but loving with classroom management
Remain organized with lesson plans – organization is the key to success

Politically

Give to: the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, International Women’s Writing Guild, and United Methodist Women
Support women and children who are marginalized and oppressed
Honor the sanctuary movement
Write to thank the activists on the frontlines
Support independent and women artists and commercial establishments
Speak up about gender equality
Celebrate and preserve the freedom of the press

Family-wise

Remain true to Chris and the kids
Do not overparent but guide my nearly-adult children to independence
Listen to and encourage the dreams of my children and family
Play more board games

I know I should make these resolutions SMART goals — measurable and time-sensitive. But for now, this is where I am starting. This is the beautiful thing about Lent — it is manageable; we travel from winter to spring. The miracle of renewal and resurrection is right around the corner. Stay optimistic. Have faith.

More on mindfulness.