(Negative) Bucket List

Although I love to make lists, I do not have a bucket list–and never will. They have always seemed oddly commercial to me, involved with spending money to attain culturally anointed experiences.

I did get to Japan (my kids did that, actually) And live in an artists’ residency in a freezing cold farm house. Was that a bucket list item?

No. I hardly knew that world existed.

And I’ve accomplished things, but I call those things goals. That is, they aren’t wildly aspirational but rather composed of quantifiable, attainable, things. For example, I’m apt to say: my goal is to do five events for this new book. Not–my bucket list is to win a big prize.

So, I’m going to create a NEGATIVE bucket list. Here goes.

  1. I won’t make up with my enemies, bad old friends, or difficult relatives
  2. I won’t need to ever have my appendix removed
  3. Donald Trump will not be president of the United States again

You can see why I don’t trust the efficacy of bucket lists.

Anne of Green Gables Vs. Donald Trump: A Tale of Two Borders by Miriam Sagan

I crossed the border this week—the northern border, on what now appears to be our annual pilgrimage to Canada and a break (at least imaginatively ) from Trumplandia. And I’ve been in Anne of Green Gables country—Prince Edward Island. We just visited the birth place of her author and creator—Lucy Maud Montgomery—and saw the homestead where Montgomery wrote and the cemetery where she is buried. It looks much the way I imagined—gentle low lying country, many views marked by the meeting of sky and sea. Green fields dotted with cows and little churches.The Atlantic.

I got a note from my friend Ana, distraught as I and so many others are, over the immigration crisis on the southern border. Ana said she was re-reading Nora Ephron’s “Heartburn” in an effort to keep cheerful. Ana and I share a great love of literature, and a belief in its healing power. A story need not apply to the details of our situation to help us—it is the human spirit which prevails.
I read Anne of Green Gables—the entire series—as an adult, during a time of crisis. It was passed on to me by another writer who was in a different kind of crisis, brought on by the dark material she was working on. “I think this will help,” she said, and left the first volume on my porch. It did.
As women, we need our heroines, who may sometimes be feisty girls. The “feminine”—or social construct of the female—can so often be degraded and victimized. As a reader, I’ve spent a lifetime looking for the antidote. Anne—a displaced orphan, classically enough—is determined to survive. Her survival isn’t just personal—it is also deeply social. I could feel that sense of community immediately on PEI. Nothing is perfect, and I’m sure Canada isn’t, but it is a relief compared to the USA where even ordinary neighborliness seems beyond our reach.
Anne is now on Netflix—it seems like the perfect time to watch. The opening scene has Anne quoting from “Jane Eyre”—a book whose moral core has helped anyone who has cracked its covers. My gratitude to women writers is boundless, and today I want to thank the Canadian ones, from Montgomery to Atwood.

Ozymandias’s Socks

I’ve been enjoying all the snarky and sarcastic comments on the internet about how we’d never have history if it weren’t for statues. It’s a funny attack on Trump’s statements, but it also points to some deeper truths. Statues have never accurately represented history. They are the perfect example of the truism that history is “written” by the victors.
Monuments are also deeply connected to the dead, and to a desire to mark the landscape and infuse it with a particular set of meanings. Chaco and Gettysburgh alike reflect this need. And so, unsurprisingly, what statues are is really art, not history. Good or bad art, but art nonetheless.
The Latin poet Horace boasted that he had “erected a monument more enduring than bronze”–that is, his poetry. But both Buddhism and common sense teach us that everything changes, and yes, most things are eventually lost.
Which brings us straight to…Ozymandias!

“Just off the highway heading south on I-27 out of Amarillo, two gigantic legs in athletic socks can be seen. You wouldn’t know it, but they are in fact the shattered likeness of an Egyptian king.”Ozymandias” is the Greek name for Ramesses II and was the inspiration and name of a famous poem written in 1818 by Romantic poet Percy Shelly after a visit to the ruins.

The pedestal near the monument also asserts that the visage of the king was destroyed by Lubbock football players after losing a game to Amarillo, which while plausible, is of course false.

The sculpture was built by local artist by self-taught artist Lightnin’ McDuff, who specializes in altering found objects to make new pieces of art. The sculpture has been vandalized numerous times, most notably with the addition of socks to the legs. Occasionally the sock vandalism is sandblasted off of the sculpture, but always seems to reappear. The locals appear to prefer the king’s legs be kept warm.

A plaque near the gigantic legs reads:
“In 1819, while on their horseback trek over the Great Plains of New Spain, Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein), came across these ruins. Here Shelley penned his immortal lines.” ”

This of course is a series of charming hoaxes. I”m pretty sure when I last saw it the legs were missing socks, but here is what they look like added:

Info from the marvelous Atlas Obscura, without which my life would be much poorer: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/ozymandias-plains

And these lines from Shelley, who endures in my poetic pantheon.

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Don’t Tell Me To Calm Down

Don’t Tell Me To Calm Down

One thing that bothers me in social media is it seems like dozens or hundreds of people are telling me what to do, how to react, and what to think. I know people are just offering their best perspectives, but far too often this is couched as advice, not opinion. So I’m going to respond to the world in turn.
Don’t tell me to calm down abut Donald Trump’s election. First off, this advice elevates thought above feeling. Thoughts are no more sensible than emotion if you examine them closely. Maybe its an Enlightenment model, or a male model, or an Anglo Saxon model (much as I love the Vikings). Our thoughts aren’t any more real than our feelings.
Next, what’s so great about being calm? I’ve been around Buddhism and Buddhist practioners my entire adult life and sorry to say, I have found Buddhists completely average in their ability to respond to a crisis. Give me EMTs any day. That is, in an emergency, I’d rather be with people who are outer directed and trained to act, no matter their emotional state.
My dad Eli was a complicated sometimes difficult person, but a great role model in terms of standing up to oppression. During the war in Viet Nam, his anti war activities led him to being arrested, a phone tap, and a place on Nixon’s enemies’ list. No one could accuse my father of being calm. He was reactive and scrappy and angry. However, he knew how to act—bravely, spontaneously, and consistently.
My being calm benefits the status quo—not me. If the media tells me to calm down, essentially it is telling me to shop. I’d rather be told—stay upset. Also, let’s not forget, I’m from New Jersey. I was raised in a sub culture where things got worked out through disagreement —sometimes yelling and screaming. I’m not saying this is all good, but it is honest.
Calm is not an ultimate state. It is a coming and going thing, like everything else.
And here is the truth—I’ve never been calm. The simple fact of my existence as a Jewish woman has seen to that. The world has never seemed like a benign place—and that’s because it isn’t. In my twenties I was the victim of a very violent crime. I don’t usually talk about this but it feels necessary today. I hear folks criticizing others for saying they’ll leave the country or take up the means to defend themselves. This might not be my path, but when someone feels unsafe I would never tell them to stay put. And, bluntly, I would encourage women to learn to defend themselves. A self defense course literally saved my life in the course of that crime. I know individual solutions don’t address the larger issue of rape culture—but if society is changing slowly or in this case backsliding—taking care of ourselves and our daughters is never amiss.
So don’t tell me to calm down. Tell me to act. Tell me that even if I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, that’s fine, and the way will emerge. I’ve been hearing “what can anyone do,” and at first I thought that was a pathway to despair. Then I realized I was impervious. Something inside me is galvanized and I’m going with it. You can call it the human spirit.