Awake and Devastated-The Morning After

In the kitchen, the animals are eating. I can hear crunching and nibbling sounds from where I sit. Small puffs of steam, barely visible, curl up from my cup of tea. My computer screen casts a white light on my fingers as they tap on the keyboard.

Everything is exactly the same as it was yesterday.

Except it’s not.

Today I am out of step with the most of America. Today I wake up to an America that voted for a candidate I do not believe will lead the country in a humanitarian way. Today I am looking at myself and asking, “How did I contribute to this reality?”

As I watched the returns last night, I was struck by “the numbers” and how they were being counted. It looked as if strategists and wonks had taken a map and figured out, county by county, how to change the election. “If we go give a speech here, we can make inroads and shift the electoral college.” It felt like I was at a table and the cards that were being played weren’t the ones that I had been dealt. I wasn’t a part of the game that was being played because my cards had already been counted. I had been lulled into a sense of safety because I was insulated on my blue island. And because I felt safe and insulated, I didn’t feel like I needed to wade into the red sea and play cards at their table. This was my mistake. I discounted them as much as I had been discounted by the strategists and wonks.

My facebook feed reads like a bomb has gone off in the middle of it. Every one of my friends is devastated. We are walking around in the rubble of hopes dashed. On the one hand, I am so proud and glad that these are my people. On the other hand, I feel insulated and stupid for not reaching out to people in the red sea, for not doing anything to allay their fears about the world, for not building an alliance, for not asking the most basic question in the world: what is enough? If you don’t ask this most basic question of yourself, you will be run by scarcity and fear and greed. And if you are run by scarcity and fear and greed, your bank of compassion and kindness and belief in humanity is empty.

I do not believe the Republican line that they want smaller government. I believe they want government their way: with less oversight so they can do what is best for the few and not the many.

I had a conversation yesterday about the Proposition 60 on the California ballot which would require condoms be used in the making of pornographic films. A good proposition, right? It protects the sex workers from disease. Like requiring safety glasses in labs to protect workers’ eyes. You would think the people who run labs and make pornographic films would require these protections as a matter of course. But that’s not the case, is it? Why? What I’ve always heard is that these safety requirements cost time and money and, if you are in the business of making money, you want to dispense with these requirements. That’s the story, which is told over and over. Is it true?

Did my father pay his workers a fair wage and install safety precautions? I don’t know. I bet he let the workers decide for themselves what was safe and let the chips fall where they may. I know I heard him say, “Do the job right.” I never asked him what ‘right’ meant. I know he didn’t like someone coming in and telling him how to run his business even if it was a simple safety step. I wonder what he would have done if a worker had said, “I think we need to do XYZ before we do ABC because if we don’t, the oil tanks we are installing will blow up.” I like to think he would have listened and not fired the worker for speaking up but I honestly don’t know.

I like to think that sex workers in California would be respected if they said “I would like all my partners on this film to wear condoms.” I like to think they wouldn’t be fired for asking to be kept safe. I like to think that stocking a box of condoms in the supply closet wouldn’t have hurt the porn industry’s bottom line. But I know that these propositions get on the ballots because workers’ rights aren’t respected.

I confided to this person yesterday that I had a hesitation before I voted in favor of the no smoking ordinance in Austin several years ago. Even though I hate cigarette smoke, even though I believed that creating an ordinance against smoking was best for all, I hesitated because the ordinance would tamp our voices. The ordinance would speak for us. We would be on the side of right but we would also diminish our ability to say to the person smoking, “Hey, please stop. That smoke is making my eyes water. That smoke is making my child cough. Could you please step outside to smoke?” We need to use that voice. Even though I support these ordinances wholeheartedly, I have let them speak for me and, and in doing so, my own voice has been diminished.

How ironic that these ordinances, so hated by corporate America, have helped created a more silent electorate. That is how I contributed to this reality. I insulated myself. I let ordinances speak for me. I have not practiced speaking up and reaching out. Enough.

By the way, Proposition 60 was defeated. Adult film workers will not be protected from disease. We will need to keep speaking up.

The Thing About Teaching

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True story: When the clock ticked to seven pm on October 27 last fall, I looked at the roomful of writers at the Writing Barn and thought, “It’s time to start the class. Who’s the teacher?”

Pause.

I was the teacher.

Pause.

I looked over at Shelli Cornelison, my co teacher for the next six weeks. She was smiling at me, waiting, too, because this class of writing short fiction was my idea. As I often do when I’m a little nervous, I laughed. Then I said, “Okay, let’s get started…”

And we did.

The class, which began with a snort of laughter, ended with one of the attendee’s stories receiving an honorable mention in the Austin Chronicle’s Short Story Contest. In between, the class wrote, critiqued and revised their own short fiction as well as read published short stories by other writers. Each class member’s craft toolbox grew. They understood how important revision is in the writing process. These writers and their stories grew over the six weeks. That’s the thing about teaching writing. It’s not a top down process. Every time I sit in front of the blank page, I become a student of that story. Yes, I have an MFA. Yes, I’ve been writing for decades. Yes, I may be less awkward with some of the craft tools. But we all begin with the blank page. My job is to provide a supportive and challenging environment for you to grow as a writer.

I am excited to be joining forces with Shelli Cornelison again this fall and teaching another six week short fiction class at the Writing Barn (September 20-November15). In addition to lots of critique time for our own work, we will also read a few selected short stories for discussion. We have stretched the six-week class over nine weeks to allow for revision and pushed back the starting time to 730 to allow for traffic to abate. Each class member will receive a comprehensive list of short fiction outlets to submit their work. We will support, cheer one another on and write. Write. Write. That’s what writers do.

I will start the class.

Register here.

April 30

The last day of poetry month and my observance of it through a haiku a day. I love the practice. The mindfulness. I feel bittersweet. Even more so because I visited my high school in Springfield, Massachusetts. Except it is no longer my high school. A freak tornado hit the campus in 2007. It looks completely different. Naked. Forlorn. Not what it was. Not yet become something else. So strange. I could see the ghost of myself there. Wandering. Remembering.

IMG_1195after the wind left
one tree, one kiss beneath it
one sweet memory

April 29

Even though there are endless to do lists to get out of town, I love that moment of leaving when everything is stretched out before me. The promise of adventure. Nothing has happened. It is all about to begin.

IMG_1185 (1)tomorrow begins
winged sun over cloud canyon
what more could I want

April 28

Coming back from the prison tonight, this happened…

jagged lightening bolts
slice the night; hail crashes down
weather in Texas