Photo Richard Feldman
I recently heard someone make the interesting observation that she was writing out the arc of her life on a big sheet of paper. When I was in residence with the Center for Land Use Interpretation I did the same. In fact I blogged this many years ago when it was in process. Finished, it was published in my memoir GEOGRAPHIC from Casa de Snapdragon Press.
Looking at it today, I realize these are experiences that meant I would never feel the United States of America was a benign liberal place designed for my happiness and security.
April 27, 1954
I am born, by natural childbirth, in Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. My mother delivers me a little after 3 p.m., after the nurse’s shift changes. They are loath to go because they have never seen natural childbirth before.
I am born into a world marked forever by Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Strange how innocent place names can come to speak of universal horror. I am born in upper Manhattan. For my entire life, my dreams will have NY City street signs in them. I will always know the cardinal directions in my dreams.
Manhattan Project, 1942-1946
Robert Oppenheimer and other physicists develop the atom bomb in a remote location in New Mexico–Los Alamos. It is tested in southern New Mexico, in the Jornado del Muerto. As an adult, I visit the Trinity Test Site on one of the two days of the year it is open and buy myself a lavender T-shirt with a blue mushroom cloud on it.
I wear it out.
Cuban Missile Crisis. October, 1962
Our third grade teacher, Mrs. Harvey, is no-nonsense and British. We know she survived the London blitz. She pulls down a map of the world from the blackboard at the front of the class and shows us that Russia practically touches Alaska. They have always been right next door and able to bomb us. For some reason, this banishes my fear.
August 6, 1945
The atom bomb “Little Boy” is dropped on Hiroshima by the U.S. On August 9, “Fat Man” is detonated over Nagasaki.
November 22, 1963
President John F. Kennedy is assassinated. I am in the fourth grade and miss Mrs. Harvey with her great accent.
This may be the first time I realize my family is different than others. The next school day many kids say they saw their fathers cry. My father did not cry, but he did drink a beer in the daytime while watching television–very unusual behavior.
Years later I learned that Fidel Castro remarked–who is this man Johnson and can he handle the CIA?
My father seemed to be asking some sort of similar question.
Autumn, 1905, Russia
A general strike is called throughout the Tsarist Russia–a revolution, really. My grandfather Avrum, who is a short skinny teenager, is lifted up by other men so he can pull the whistle which signals the start of the local protest.
April 4, 1968. Martin Luther King Assassination
The house next to us, which is abandoned, burns. It is a vast house with turrets and follies–we call it the pink castle. My parents are away, and my grandfather Avrum and I sit up all night together watching the firemen and keeping an eye so that the strand of copper beeches between us and the conflagration don’t catch fire.
November 7, 1867
Madame Sklodowska Curie, discoverer of radium, is born. I read her biography, along with those of Harriet Tub-man and Joan of Arc. I will never do what any of them do, but as a girl in the 1950s I take my heroines where I can find them.
I move to Santa Fe, New Mexico a few days after Ronald Reagan wins the election and am amazed to see the lights of Los Alamos twinkling in the northwest. It is as if I did not know it was a real place.
Tisha B’Av, 1492. Jews expelled from Spain
This date, the 9th day of the month of Av, is the least auspicious one on the Hebrew calendar.
The Jews are expelled from Spain, leaving my family with a taste for flamenco and me with the desire to just keep driving south into Mexico.
August 19-21, 1991. Fall of Soviet Union
The coup against Michael Gorbachev fails. During the two days of the attempt, my parents are huddled in the basement of their beach house because a hurricane is devastating the island of Martha’s Vineyard.
Periodically my father braves the wind and threat of broken glass to run up the stairs to the kitchen where he can get good radio reception to find out what is happening in Russia.
9th of Av, 70 A.C.E.
The destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. It is commemorated by the Romans on a triumphal arch, still
in Rome. The arch of Titus shows the plundered menorah carried off by soldiers. The start of the Jewish diaspora.
November, 2010. Wendover, Utah
Desert dawn, azure sky. Venus hangs over the guard tower. The lights of the casinos blink reflected in the windows of the Enola Gay hangar. I drink a cup of coffee by myself.
By Catherine White
I lean into the shortening days making a point to get outside a little bit earlier than the usual dog walk, to go a bit further than is my custom, both serving to extend my time outside. In December I have to work for inspiration. I look at the brown rubble in our yard to find color. I search out the bits of beauty–the curled leaf, the muscular vine, the fallen locust pods. I point and shoot the camera, gather a few treasures like a squirrel, scribble like a madwoman, and sing poems as if they were songs of a child.
The barrenness of the poetic task: as if everyday we look out at a barren courtyard of rubble and from this are required to make something beautiful.–Theodore Roethke
I’m enjoying following Catherine White’s countdown to Solstice. You can follow her here—http://catherinewhite.com/rough-ideas/
Re-blogged by permission
This started out as prose–one of my off the cuff blog posts that I enjoy if I can get to the heart of something. However, it wasn’t working and just felt too clunky. Revised into a poem–and sharing it here. I’ll never know exactly why certain things work better in poetry or in prose–a matter of rhythm maybe–but I enjoy the process.
Take A Note
which is fine by me.
However, I’m concerned
about whether or not
you are actually dead.
I try and figure it out.
You must be dead,
because I saw your corpse.
Because the coroner
released your body for cremation.
But I’m unsure,
it seems we’ve had
since you died.
It hasn’t been
because you persist
in telling me
that even though you are alive
you don’t love me any more
and are breaking up with me.
The main reason
I’m upset by this is that—
my story has changed.
It’s no longer the story
I’m committed to,
that you loved me
When I wake up
my second husband
offers me hot cereal,
and a bunch of copy editing notes.
My grand daughter,
actually she is yours too
but you’ll never know it,
sleeps on my knee
under a red and blue quilt.
She’s picked the batten
out of worn spot.
I like that in a baby.
Please don’t tell me
how Buddhism and physics
agree—there is no “you.”
Say what you will,
but I’m under the quilt too,
wondering if it
will snow again.
This seems like an amazing project. I’m sitting in a room that has a Hmong embroidery/applique of massacre. And a war rug from Afghanistan, or maybe a camp in Pakistan. I’ve been obsessed with the textiles of survival for a long time.
Remarkably, the ancient and widespread practice of making story cloths offers a road to recovery that is consistent with insights from current brain science. In coping with adversity, women in many diverse cultures have gathered to support one another, and to sew that which they cannot speak into narrative textiles.
Those who have practiced this powerful form include the Chilean women who used potato sacks and scraps of clothing of the “disappeared” to sew story cloths during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Outlawed by the Laotian government, the textiles of the Hmong people provided a way to narrate their painful history. Amazwi Abesifazane (Voices of Women) is an archive of more than 3,000 story cloths made by South African women, showing their experiences under apartheid. The AIDS Memorial Quilt has been a massive effort by those who lost loved ones to pay tribute and to grieve — in textile form.
“We Are the Ones Who Are Bathed in Blood,” by a Pakistani refugee in Nepal, describes a terrorist attack at a mosque in 2010.
Every so often I mishear Bob Marley singing “you’ve got to lively up yourself” as “tidy up.” It is probably some kind of cue to do housework. I’ve been descried as “neat but not clean,” “territorial,” and once, in exasperation “you tidy up other peoples’ things and then put down your shoes, book, and apple in their place.” All true. That’s how I am, and you probably know your own profile. The thing I want to address today, though is:
Tidiness, neatness, cleanliness, etc. have NOTHING to do with either
Artists and writers seem divided, but rather fanatically attached to two opposing views. The first–a clean serene space favors inspiration and productivity. The second–a cluttered mess does the same. I can say with certainty that neither of these is an objective universal truth. One works for you, more or less. That is all.
I know you want to argue–but all that cleaning is obsessive compulsive…but that hoarding is a sign of OCD. Diagnosing others without a license is a waste of time that could be spent writing, painting, or composing. Disorder is indeed associated with shame, maybe part of our puritanical heritage. However, every creative endeavor involves transcending shame, so by now you should have a good skill set around this.
Convinced that if your kids would just tidy up you’d finish your novel? My advice–go to the nearest cafe and get to work.