A few seconds of today's Veteran's Day parade in Portland, Oregon on a crisp November morning....
Visible, and Invisible
It’s Veteran’s day, and today I feel compassion and gratitude for soldiers who served my country. I also can’t wait for tomorrow’s parade (which happens to march right past my neighborhood). The kids twirling batons and the marching bands playing “Eye of the Tiger” always get me teary-eyed.
And while I am grateful to individual veterans, when it comes to my feelings about the military—it’s complicated. I am angry and sad about our country’s military past and present. I am angry that the effects of PTSD and inadequate healthcare cause a lifetime ripple of casualties (suicides, broken lives, and the latest mass shooting) for veterans whose service has supposedly ended. I’m angry about the violence towards women, people of color, and LGBTQ people that continues to haunt our military. I am horrified that we continue to sell to Saudi Arabia the weapons that are raining down on innocent humans in Yemen, for starters.
But I am grateful that I live in a country where I’m still able to freely express this ambiguity and where in the midst of extreme partisan polarity, we are maybe also growing to accept and express nuance and conflicting feelings within ourselves. Maybe?
I recommend this article about women in the military, and the internal conflict that many experience with trying to fit in and to move past at the same time.
Women are the Most Visible Servicemembers, and the Most Invisible Veterans https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/women-are-the-most-visible-soldiers-and-the-most-invisible-veterans
Happy Birthday, Mom!
Today my mom turns 88! Double infinity! My first memories of mom are of her getting down on the carpet or the grass and PLAYING, like really playing, with us kids. She would let us dictate which magical character she had to pretend to be, and she’d be all in. Boredom was not allowed in our home. She’d simply come up with stuff for us to do: homemade play-dough, finger-painting with Ivory Snow soap flakes, EZ Bake cakes marbleized with food color and toothpicks. Her creativity is boundless. She would never say so, but she is a skilled self-taught artist who can draw just anything if she tries, and has always practiced beautiful calligraphy lettering. These days her body doesn’t allow her to go go go, but she does what she can. She practices songs on her piano even though her hands don’t quite obey anymore. She still remembers and tries to teach me Finnish words from when she and my dad and the first sprouts of their children lived there, over 50 years ago. She still calls me her “kuopus,” (Finnish for the baby of the family). I love you, äiti, and I’l always be your kuopus.
I am obsessed with these arbitrary combinations of sounds and letter-shapes that stand for things--
—these tools which can be used for the most basic of human survival (help!) and for the most abstract magic of life (shazam!). Words are a shadow of the thing itself—which, when we look and play with them also come to life as things.*
In autumn with all the maple leaves falling and their ghost-shadows staining the sidewalks, I cannot resist this mental mantra—two lines from a life-changing poem that play in my head:
“For all the history of grief / An empty doorway and a maple leaf.”**
As a writer, I get the special privilege to play in the realm of giving a second life to words, which is of course a second life to my own first life.***
I live a life that dwells in the world of words, and I love it.****
For this I am so, so grateful.
* “Literature, the best of it, does not aim to be literature. It wants and strives, beyond that artifact part of itself, to be a true part of the composite human record—that is, not words but a reality.”
― Mary Oliver
** Ars Poetica by Archibald MacLeish (poem copied in full, below). My college poetry professor (shout out to Richard Kenney!) had us read this poem—a metaphoric how-to poem within a poem.
*** attributed to good old Ms. Natalie Goldberg who famously said that “…writers live twice.”
****Except when I hate it—which I sometimes do.
(The mantra in my head when I hate it sounds like a line from Marianne Moore’s poem, “Poetry:”
“I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle…”
BY ARCHIBALD MACLEISH
A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,
As old medallions to the thumb,
Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown--
A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,
Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,
Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind--
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.
A poem should be equal to:
For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea--
A poem should not mean
Today is Liisa’s birthday! Not many people have both an infectious laugh AND are themselves funny as hell—but she’s one of them. Ever since I was a tiny kid and she a teenager, she always treated me like my voice mattered. She listened, laughed, and learned alongside me, even though she already knew way more and probably had better things to do. As an elementary school teacher and now a skilled educational administrator, she has made the lives of so many kids and other teachers richer, deeper, and has ignited the love of learning in hundreds if not thousands of souls. As a mom to her own kids she is a phenomenal mentor and friend. My life would not be the same—in fact it’s not an exaggeration to say the world would definitely be less wonderful—without this person.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LIISA!
P.S. Apologies to my other four sisters and two brothers who were not born in November and therefore do not get the #NovemberGratitude treatment.
I'm grateful for the darkness.
Today in the U.S., we inched forward with record-breaking representation of women and minorities in our midterm elections. Today is also the Hindu holiday of Diwali—a festival of lights—a symbolic victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance. The evening is closing in extra-early here in the Pacific Northwest November, and tonight is the night of a new moon. Sometimes we need the darkest nights to see the stars that are already there, or the fireworks of our own making.
One day the sun admitted,
Traveler. Baker. Beauty Seeker. Hiker. Paper Ephemera Collector. Sharpie Lover. Etch-A-Sketch Artist. Mondegreen (Misheard Lyric) Connoisseur. Public Space Ninja. Nickname Giver.