Yeah I’m off facebook, yeah it’s been really good for me, no I haven’t missed it for a second. I’m still on instagram, though, and its focus on “moments”—of both mundanity and epiphany—are way more what I need in my life right now than facebook’s weird world. So obviously my first trip to the bathroom in the a.m. involve some insta-scrolling.

THIS MORNING, after the first pangs of regret for *still* not managing to go to bed or get up early had passed, I landed on a post about a creative workshop-thing led by a local artist whom I have envied for years. She’s a visual artist, and very good, deserves all the clients & publicity she has and more, but I envy her because she has figured out how to be a mother and an active, prolific, good artist. I feel like she has studied her Gordian knot and untied it. While I hover over mine with a machete, completely stymied.

I think of all the mothers I’m jealous of—and I’m jealous of most of them, except for this one really wit’s-end-looking one carrying a baby and dragging a screaming toddler through the PDO yesterday—the ones I envy most are artists who manage to continue and grow their work without the help of loads of cash and/or babysitting family members. The ones who can afford nannies and house-cleaning services—I don’t envy them so much, because I can at least appreciate the fact that we’re not quite running the same sort of race. I don’t need to compare myself to them to get a sense of how I’m doing, because what we’re doing is so completely different.

And why do I feel the need to compare myself to other moms? Dumbest question I’ve ever heard. Next!

Anyway I usually avoid instagram images I see of this local artist because I haven’t felt like I could bear the sense of failure I’d get from seeing them. But today I steered into the wind and looked at several of her photos and works-in-progress.

It hit me, once again, that I’m making painfully slow progress…but I can’t pretend that this artist didn’t have long periods of painfully slow progress, too. I know enough about her to be certain that she has slogged through periods of her creative career that may have felt completely barren. I can’t wonder if I’m the only mother-creative who has hit obstacles, and let that uncertainty drive me away from other mother-creatives who are having “success.”

A first step, for me, lately, has been to re-focus on my immediate surroundings. Easy to say, hard to do. Actually I suck at it! Methods of escape have been a significant part of my life, these past couple of years. I’m gonna try not to guilt myself all to hell about that, because I was in survival-mode for some of that time, and escape is a better coping mechanism than self-harm for instance. But—anxiety about the future and about others in my family removes me from my own present life…and when the anxiety is overwhelming I have been escaping one more remove into novels, food/wine, and tv. So… when I put it like that, it makes a little more sense why I feel like I’m looking far into the distance to glimpse my own life and desires.

A second step, once I’m feeling “present” and “grounded” to my own individual life, is to organize my days so that I can search for 1) joy, and 2) time to create. I can’t even explain why this is also so, so hard. But it’s so, so much easier than it was last year, and I couldn’t have even organized my thoughts two years ago. I do feel like I’m making progress.

I had the incredible INCREDIBLE opportunity last weekend to go to a spa resort with some girlfriends. All but one were young moms, too, needing a place to retreat to and feed their/our souls. We booked massages and yoga classes and solo-tub-soaks in an open-air cabana that looked down on mountains and a river. It was just one day, but it felt impossibly long, to me. I couldn’t believe how many things I could do in a long row—things that I usually starve for and stockpile and gobble up secretly—like lounge in the sun and write, like a massage, a yoga class, more lounging in the sun and reading, looking out over mountains, talking with friends who have nowhere else to be, thinking and writing in solitude, having wine and cheese, and then the unspeakable delight that was the solitary open-air cabana. We did whatever we wanted all day long. I wrote seven (7) poems.

My mom used to joke about me that I’ve always needed to “have fun,” and I received that as a criticism for a long time, thinking that I should be able to face life without needing “fun”—I should be able to plow through whatever life throws at me without crying or breaking down or needing a break. And in a sense, I’ve tried to plow through the past three years of enormous life changes without seeking out much help (which I tend to equate with “admission of failure”), much release, much soul-food or luxury or fun.

I had a few tiny epiphanies at the spa, that day. One was spiritual in nature, and directly related to the poems I wrote, and I’m hoping my next blog entry can be about that. But another one was this: not only is it not a “failure” to need fun, but it’s an area of my life that I need to cultivate, if I’m going to survive as a writer and creator. Some advice I’ve received from people about motherhood is that “it won’t be like this forever,” and “things get better,” but passively waiting isn’t producing the results I want. Apparently, no one is volunteering to live my life for me. So I have to assert my own agency and 1) discover what makes life worth living, for me, and 2) make those things happen. Responding to the stressors in my life, and there are serious ones—I’m not a whiny-ass ‘millennial’ bullshitter—ok there was a moment of something right there—but anyways—responding to stressors by escaping was ok for a while, but I’m growing out of that phase.

And now my daughter has watched Sesame Street for an hour and I’m trying to be a super good and patient mom today, so no more tv.

Is it obvious that I don’t journal privately anymore and as a result my public blog entries are getting pretty intense and personal? Normally I save the more self-involved stuff for my personal journal because The Internet and Feelings and Life Being What it Is, but— there you have it.

Ok it’s time to get outside.

Is it getting old? My husband feels like some of the activism and fervor for “women” is diffuse, unfocused, maybe a little misplaced. I’m paraphrasing, and will come back and clarify if I misspoke. But I understand that position. American women, speaking generally, have so many freedoms, today. Opportunities their grandmothers would be dazzled by, and that women in many other parts of the world will not see in their lifetimes. Yes.

But one thing I’ve found to be a huge obstacle in my white, middle-class life as a mother is this: I have become the one in our family that engages in hours upon hours of unpaid work; work that is unseen, unmanaged, receives no raises or accolades, and is mostly solitary. I know I complain about it a lot, and am a real bitch for doing so, since it’s something I can “afford” to do—many women don’t have partners who make enough money for them to stay home and do unpaid work for the family (take care of children, make meals, etc.). Most of the poorest women in the world do heavy shares of unpaid work (taking care of children, the family, food, housework) WHILST returning to paid work. I’m lucky, and feel rich most of the time. But the fact that my work is difficult…and yet does not get the kind of honor, in our money/career-driven society, that paid work gets, has been hard for me to process.

I’m not sitting around wishing I could get medals for wiping butts and picking dirty clothes up off the floor. I’m not cleaning the fifth mess of the day off the kitchen floor with gritted teeth, so bitter that I can’t get a raise for this. I don’t walk into the tenth cloud of the day of baby whining, baby songs, baby questions, baby toys, and baby-throwing-a-crying-fit-in-the-middle-of-the road-while-cars-are-waiting-for-us-to-cross, jockeying inwardly for First Prize in Enduring Brain-Deadness. Nope. I’ve moved into what I truly believe is a healthy appreciation for the work I “get” to do. I’m finally mentally and physically healthy enough to find that the joy of being a mother is simply enveloping, simply transformative—thank God. Bye, PPD.

HOWSOMEVER. It is impossible for my husband to understand the work I do all day, since he hasn’t experienced it firsthand, and since I can’t explain why taking care of a baby/toddler should be so difficult that I just can’t get to the sixth kitchen floor mess, or clean the bathroom, or get to the dishes in the sink, there’s a lot he just can’t understand about my daily work. I’ve done a terrible job of trying to explain it to him. Not because he doesn’t care or want to know, but because I just find it hard to articulate why this job is so hard. And I’ve been unwell enough that we now have a track record of pretty awful fights originating with this very issue: Why is the house such a mess? What did I do all day???? Marriage 101: Fights with the purpose of showing that one’s work is more difficult than one’s spouse’s work are unproductive and there is no moral high ground to retreat to when things get loud. Make a note of that.

So a lot of the work I do at home every day continues to feel invisible to everyone in my life … but me. (And I suck enough at Peaceful Joyful Parenting that the idea of this being my & my daughter’s “secret life” doesn’t really do it for me, either.)

But when I come to today—International Women’s Day—and re-watch Hillary Clinton’s iconic “Women’s rights are human rights” speech, and remember that billions of other women are walking our common path, doing paid work for public view, and unpaid work that’s hidden deep in the underground of history, I can do my work with a sense of community and support. Even if I don’t participate in the strike. I can honor and advocate for societal changes that will support women and the work we do: like paid parental leave, which will benefit fathers too, who need it and often don’t get it. Like equal pay for equal work, and a recognition that mothers can and should contribute their skills and knowledge to the “workforce,” with more help from employers. Like childcare not COSTING A SHIT-TON and basically being unaffordable for most people. I could go on. These are causes I stand up for.

Today I’m working: I’ll be taking care of my daughter at home this afternoon. Probably doing some cool stuff like looking for our favorite snails under our favorite snail-hiding rocks. I’ll be working for a couple hours at my place of employment (notice how this phrase implies that anywhere I’m not being paid, I’m not working? Thanks ‘merica.), Care of the Earth Community Farm, which is owned and run by a woman and her husband, and is shaped and buoyed by her generous vision and principles—I’m inspired by her and her husband every day. I’ll also be doing some unpaid volunteer work for a nonprofit, Nourish Knoxville, that does excellent work and is steered by another hard-working and visionary woman. These women, and all women who do good work, I want to honor today…with my work.

And yes—it is the job of a feminist to honor women, and work for equal rights and opportunity, and it is also a job of feminism to recognize the value of ALL peoples’ work, including that of people of color, lgbtq people, fathers, indigenous people, veterans, etc. When there are days to honor the paid & unpaid work of another group, I want to hear about it, and participate. It’s not the job of feminists to ignore other groups who need recognition. I always feel like that goes without saying, but I think I’m wrong about that. There’s so much pushback that I’ve experienced, in the past couple of years, against “feminism” that I do see the need to be as clear as I possibly can about what I mean.

Go forth and strike; alternately, go forth and work. Either way, know that your work has iceberg-like value: only 10% is on top.

P.S.! A shout-out to the women who organized and continue to run the childcare programs at First Presbyterian Church and Washington Pike United Methodist—these programs run (so lovingly and well!) on a shoestring, and have impacted my life deeply. More generous women for which I am SO thankful.

 

Just as the backyard pear
blooms,

these long peach limbs
cut down last month because of disease

and lying piled
waiting to be burnt

are, as I feared,
budding, and blooming.

Three weeks of sap
and softwood fiber swelling

with the idea of five thousand pink blossoms;
persistent, dead, yet undead.

Really, it’s exactly like hair growing
in the grave, or a corpse

bellowing in the cremator.
Or exactly like the memory

of fifty years past,
the moment that terrified then

terrifying still.
Bees

will come to these flowers.
Then they will brown, and shrink.

One last effort.
Maybe the blossoms will open, but be dry,

fooling the bees as I am not fooled.
Yet,

I am fooled, so long is the winter,
so thirsty am I.

 

___________________________

 

First poem in such a long time, I had to celebrate by getting some eyes on it. Second act of celebration will be to finish a journal for myself so I can use it for more poetry. This one was written on a notepad that really should just be used for grocery lists. Or not. Regardless, I need a new journal.

I rose in the dark, washed my face and sighed on some leggings and a cardi and made coffee. I wanted to write, needed some strict, soul-washing solitude, so when no words were forthcoming (like, not even one) and the baby starting coughing and rustling in her bed at 7:18, I went outside, where the sun was rising in the dark.

I had read a chapter of Job, forgot to mention that. I thought about a Psalm, but then gagged a little . I’m not doing a lot of praising the heavens, these days, nor begging & pleading. David’s two main things.

And I sat on the step and thought, “Why do such bad things happen.”

Then, and I’m not trying to be melodramatic, but then, the cold morning breeze made my eyes feel bright, my face feel fresh and new, and the sky suddenly appeared to me as it was: slate-blue clouds checkering the sunrise with the clearest pale blue sky behind them, and the light from the sun (wherever it was) was a sheet of living gold overlay, and underlay, and all of it was alive and too huge and beautiful for me. If I’d been any closer, I would have been blown off the face of spring. And I thought, “Why do such good things happen.” Today, I can remind myself as the day ages and ages, I felt the balance.

I remembered I had gotten two Anne Lamott books from the library yesterday, one of which is Help, Thanks, Wow, and it struck me that I’m wanting to be able to pray again, and that this was why I had gotten that book, and that what I had just done was a tiny prayer, and therefore I should get a quick booster shot of Saint Anne before the chaos of the day began to rain down on my head. Sorry for the construction of that sentence. So I brought it outside and read the following:

“My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, ‘I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,’ that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, ‘It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,’ it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table” (6-7).

And with this, I bless myself with a cross of ashes on my forehead, two days late, but idgaf, since today is the day that I spoke to God/the Mystery, and it spoke back. I’ll take it.

 

Plants I’m growing in my herb garden:

  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Rosemary
  • Lavender
  • Oregano
  • Chamomile
  • Calendula
  • Nettles
  • Comfrey
  • Peppermint
  • Echinacea
  • Monarda
  • Dill
  • Yarrow

It feels ominous to be so optimistic. Don’t know why I *must* add things like that, but apparently I must.

Plants I’m growing in my vegetable garden:

  • Tomatoes
    • Principe Borghese
    • Italian Heirloom
    • Opalka
    • Matt’s Wild Cherry
    • Speckled Roman
    • San Marzano
  • Beans
    • Bird Egg/cranberry/October beans
    • Tiger Eye beans
    • Whippoorwill peas
  • Winter squash
    • San Jose Mountain Club Squash
    • Long Island Cheese Pumpkin
    • Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck
  • Basil
  • Celery (I’ll let you know how it goes…haha)
  • Okra
    • Clemson spineless
    • Burghundy
  • Storage onions (Valencia?)
  • Corn
    • Tennessee Red Cob
    • Cherokee White Eagle Blue
  • More flowers, for the pollinators
    • Black-eyed susan
    • Cosmos
    • Tithonia
    • Milkweed
    • Chamomile, yarrow, monarda, calendula

Isn’t that so exciting? Yeah our springs are getting shorter (and earlier, in aggregate) every year, and yeah this year we’re 20 days ahead of where we should be, temperature-wise, and so on & so forth, but “for all this, nature is never spent; there lives the dearest freshness deep down things,” speaking of Hopkins, and I mean to bring them up.

Things I want to do with these plants (now this is where I’m getting way optimistic, someone hold me back):

  • Can maybe 10 quarts of tomato sauce, freeze lotsa tomatoes
  • Dry all herbs
  • Freeze basil pesto
  • Dry beans
  • Cure and store onions, winter squash
  • Become That Person who gives away tons of garden produce. You know who I’m talking bout. These neighbors that you don’t hang out with but who hang plastic bags of tomatoes and okra on your front door knob. That kind. But I’ll try to be kind of clean and presentable and maybe speak once in a while. So I don’t fit the type too much. I’ll be like…a gardening millenial, or young-mom-with-unusual-hobbies.

Omg I forgot we have that pear tree. Geez I wish somebody could tell me how to manage this tree & its heavenly bounty. It’s one of the old pear trees, with pears that end up with more of an apple-texture than regular Anjou—crisp, juicy, sweet. But it’s a huge tree and I don’t know how to tell when they’re ripe, or what to do with them when they all get ripe, etc. A little overwhelming. We have a huge, unpruned apple tree back there, too, which may actually set fruit this year since we’re replacing the diseased peach tree with two little apples. Someone planted a single apple tree and then wondered, each year for like 10-15 years (it’s a BIG tree) why it flowered but never fruited. Anyway, crossing fingers we get *some* apples this year.

Do any of you parents out there find it unfair that JUST as you’re getting up earlier, the sun is also rising earlier, and therefore your toddler is also rising earlier? I have to go to bed at like 10:00pm every night if I want to get up at 6:00am, and I just cannot tell right now if that’s a bridge too far. Because Mary used to get up at 8; now, thanks to ridiculous annoying sunrise, she gets up at 7:30. Unspeakably obnoxious, wth. But I just don’t know if I can go to bed at 10 every night. It’s diametrically opposed to our cemented habits.

My last thought for this morning, before Mary gets bored of whatever toys survived the night with her in the crib and starts yelling for me: there seems to be a huge black walnut stump in our yard *precisely* in the area I wanted to plant little apple trees. Last year we cut maybe a thousand suckers off of it, so it’s still got some juices down there somewhere. How bad would it be to plant there, anyway? I’m talking about the “toxin” (if that’s the right word) that walnuts produce in their roots and spread through the soil, some substance that acts like a repellent for other plants. I’m not sure what effect we’d have if we tried to plant little trees 10 feet away from this dying stump. Anyways. Maybe if I asked someone at the nursery? I guess I’ll do that.

Last weekend my parents-in-law took the baby overnight for a cousins’ sleepover. When the baby is gone, and she’s over two so maybe I should stop calling her a baby, but every time she’s gone on the weekend I have to actually think about what I want to do. On Sunday, it was go to church, and be inspired mid-service (by ye olde hymn Fairest Lord Jesus) to go take a long and solitary walk on the greenway over the river.

Taking long, solitary walks—like rising early—used to be one of my favorite things to do, ever. Partly a product of a lonely adolescence with no car to jump into and drive away, partly a product of some lonely college years in a new city, also with no car for the first couple years. Partly also a product of my fierce love of Gerard Manly Hopkins, whom I always imagined roaming the coombs and coasts of Wales with note-paper and pencil. Leaning against trees, etc.

A friend turned me on to Hopkins’ fragment The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo while I was still in high school, and it’s stuck with me, but the older I get, the more the poem Spring and Fall appeals to me. As a matter of fact, I have been using my (infrequent) trips to this particular greenway to memorize it. On Sunday, I believe I finally got it. I’m so bad at memorizing anything these days. But rhyme and rhythm help, and this poem lights a dark way. I also re-read God’s Grandeur, as I wanted another sonnet but felt The Windhover or Spring were too cheery.

Spring and Fall: it means infinitely more to me than it did when I was in college. I remember one English professor saying it was her favorite Hopkins poem, and—in the way of young snobs everywhere—I thought, “she must not have really give *my* favorite a deep reading,” and moved on. But it’s written from the perspective of an older person who has seen much of life, especially suffering, and is moved by the sight of a young child’s sadness. Now that I have a young child, who is sometimes sad, this is a strange perspective that I have slipped on like a glove. It allows me to look forward to my daughter and her experience of grief, and backward to my own experience of grief as a child. “Sorrow’s springs are the same.” Yes.

And God’s Grandeur: I read this young—maybe it was even in my elementary school curriculum—and loved everything about its structure, visual and auditory. I think I remember connecting it to the Industrial Revolution, or the Great War. Now that climate change’s work is no longer subtle, now that renewables are still mostly a cool idea in our country and nothing more, now that environmental protection is a partisan issue (and therefore in the process of becoming “de-funded,” in large or in small part), and so on, it is an eyepiece that suddenly zooms in on the present day. On my Sunday walk, I read the octave aloud while walking, but reached the volta with a surprising surge of feeling. The sestet, especially the last couplet, had me in tears, tears that maybe I’d been squashing down all day, all month, all winter.

I feel like this is a super-crap post but I’m trying to write as often as I can…regardless of whether I feel like it. In other news, I was typing away and listening to the baby wake up, and after a preliminary cough or two, she made this horrible gurgly-choky sound and I ran down the hall like Miss Clavel, “fast, and faster,” and up her head pops over the railing, big grin, two stuffed animals in her arms. Turns out she was just “clearing her throat” in this horrible growly-raspy way that she’s started doing here in the last month or so. Wth. Good morning.

Recovering from a “survival mode” period in life is something you want to be gentle about. I’m becoming more and more open about my experience of postpartum depression & anxiety, these days, in an effort to understand it more, myself, and I’m surprised to hear myself using phrases like “suicidal thoughts,” “panic attack,” “intrusive thoughts,” and so on. I can admit that I lied (without meaning to) on the Edinburgh postnatal depression scale (test they give you after you deliver, when your head is still spinning and nothing feels normal, and you’re supposed to indicate if you feel normal—obvs I have some thoughts on this test).

One of the things depressed people deal with is “lack of interest in activities you normally enjoy.” Asking a woman with a brand-new newborn if she’s interested in activities that she used to find fun, is strange to me. Like, no. Right? Or was I even more delusional than I thought? When you have a new baby—I guess especially your first—you’re suddenly in (allow me to borrow a concept from Netflix’s Stranger Things) “the upside down.” Yes, things around you look familiar… but they’re not familiar. Because everything in your head and body has made shifts that you don’t understand, but that make you feel like a strange version of yourself. I could write a few more paragraphs on these physical and hormonal changes alone. But since everything has changed, your perception has to change, and your focus, and your brain is struggling to find what’s familiar and de-code what’s unfamiliar.

After my husband’s partial week (now that I think about it, I’m not even sure it was a whole week—I think he was at home for some of that week but had to be working) at home with us, he went back to work and I was at home with the baby, feeling like the world had flipped. No I wasn’t interested in reading, or hiking, or writing, or sewing, or watching movies, or cooking or baking or calling friends up or putting real clothes on. But I thought that was “normal.” You hear this all the time about moms with babies: “He’s/She’s my whole world!” —followed by heart emojis. But I didn’t feel bonded with my baby—I just felt glued to her and urgently attentive to her helplessness, every cry felt like a dark and evil mystery to be solved. I also didn’t know that I didn’t feel bonded with her. I didn’t know what was normal, and what wasn’t. I even asked friends about some of these things, and they nodded, like it was normal. Of course I didn’t go into detail about some of the uglier feelings. Because I did have a deep fear that I was failing this enormous responsibility.

But life moved on, and I still never wanted to return to all these fun and creative pursuits I’d loved in my previous life. I thought it was sleep-deprivation, exhaustion (and there was that).

But there have been such beautiful moments of freedom and clarity, here in the last six months. I’ve pulled out of “the upside down” and am only having a few flashbacks, a few dreams about what life used to be like. To be honest, I wish it all could vanish. I don’t even want it all as writing material—I don’t want to have lived it, I don’t want to re-live it by writing about it. (But writing this blog wasn’t so bad.) Now, I can say with HUGE gratitude that my life is coming back together in ways I prayed for. I’m creating again, and exploring the city with Mary occasionally (instead of holing up in the house all day), and doing some yard-work and bird-watching. I’m planning gardens, and showing Mary all the bugs that live underneath rocks (she is blown away by snails and roly-polies especially).

Maybe these early mornings, still new to me, are the beginning of the end of the puzzle: sitting at the dining room table with candles burning while the sun comes up in front of me—this is perhaps one of the greatest pleasures of my life. I loved this through college and afterward, through grad school and afterward. Mornings are sacred circles of holiness that I have always wanted to touch before entering the day. Two years of sleeping till the baby is up have been lame. But mornings are back. And I’m back. Here’s to surviving things you weren’t sure you could.

 

I’m up early again this morning, early enough to light candles on the table and have them glow richly against the walnut (veneering?) tabletop. And the horizon was a thin band of rose and pale blue, the rest of the sky was still dark. I’ve decided—once again—that as long as I can, I have to keep getting up this early.

I wanted to talk about how I’ve been inspired by American politics and this election particularly, to quit pretending I can’t influence the world around me. I’m at the most limited I’ve probably ever been—more than grad school or recovering from surgery, even. Having a kid and a husband with a chronic illness will do that (not to mention I’m still recovering from PPD/PPA). But I look around at things like the president, the conditions under which he was elected, the enormous protests and demonstrations that blew up after the election, the confusion and debasement of public discourse, the rising violence against people of color and immigrants, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s recent report of the tripling of American hate groups, and I think, “I have to do something this time.”

So I’ve started volunteering an hour and a half a week, until I start back at work in April, at a local nonprofit that serves local farmers and connects people in our region with them: Nourish Knoxville. Small, diversified farmers (and small farmers MUST diversify to make it, these days) are vulnerable to the changing winds of public opinion, government protections (to a lesser extent), and most of all: climate change. I may not be able to make it to the Climate March on Washington this spring, but I’ll be doing what I can, where I am.

I’m also going to dedicate 2-4 evenings a month to volunteering as an adult literacy coach/tutor with another local org., Friends of Literacy. Another problem I see in the world around me is a lack of knowledge about how to read widely & critically, and research information to see that it is true—many simply don’t have the resources or time. Again, lack of resources and time that a sense of powerlessness can really aggravate. Immigrants and non-native English speakers are part of this population. But even among natives, a large percentage of Tennesseans haven’t finished high school, and another large percentage finished but life swept them off their feet and they never got a chance to develop their learning skills so that they could grow into adulthood with self-education along for the ride. I want to help. I think this is going to be fun. My older sister has been doing this for a while in Nashville, and I’ve been inspired by her to give it a try.

Lastly, I’ve swept Black Lives Matter and many conversations about race in America under the rug, these past few years. But now I’m inspired—again by the new administration—to listen. If there has ever been a time to choose to listen, it’s now. As a white, middle-class Southerner, my life is astonishingly separate from the lives and concerns of “the black/POC community” in my city. So much of the South is still segregated. I used to look at that fact and shrug, thinking, “nothing wrong with like communities sticking together.” But I’m seeing now that those with an amount of social and economic privilege are often the ones (if not always the ones) who should be listening first, and asking questions later. I’m aware, to some extent, of the lasting results of Jim Crow and the residual stereotypes and fears from the terrible centuries of slavery and abuse and repression and deprivation and denial. But as NPR & PRI ramp up their coverage, here in the last few years, of racial disparity in American, I’m learning more about the concrete actions that result from those residual stereotypes and fears.

I’m learning that discriminatory housing laws and rules about drawing local district lines (“redlining,” “blockbusting,” to name two such—google them!) are largely to blame for the segregation of neighborhoods and much of the poverty that’s characteristic of black communities. I’m learning that proven bias against young men of color has resulted in unfair police harassment and imprisonment, and that this fact has resulted, itself, in an enormous sense of powerlessness and anger in those communities. These are examples of “systemic bias/racism,” that have helped to deprive people of color of a sense of power and, in too many case, of justice. All of these things are important, if we want to be proud of our democracy.

The extent to which Knoxville is still so segregated makes this an opportunity for me to change my life a bit, since I don’t often rub shoulders with or speak to people of color, and especially since people must often live together (be neighbors) before they can get to know each other, and our neighborhoods are the most segregated of all our local arenas, I think. One of my bosses is from Mexico, and I’ve learned a lot about Knoxville’s hispanic immigrant population from him, but it’s my choice to go home and forget what I’ve learned…or go out and make new neighbors. I’ve occasionally heard Christians say that that they are praying that God would put needy people “in their lives” or “bring opportunities” to them—when Jesus didn’t wait for the marginalized to come to him (because they likely wouldn’t come—social class, social status, and religious mores are such strong social dividers): he went to find them.

These are causes that I find compelling in the Year of Trump. We can’t know what will happen as the year goes on, except that we will find people to help if we go looking for them. I haven’t often done that. I will, now. What has the election inspired you to do?

This morning I have 2.5 hours to drink coffee, write, and work on my quilt before I go to my volunteering gig at Nourish Knoxville. I’m at the “bar” in our odd and ancient kitchen, wondering why I want to be here even though it’s probably the ugliest room in the house. Answer? I’m always going to love the kitchen, no matter what, because it’s the heart of the house. And two east-facing windows with bushes underneath them that songbirds like to hang out in doesn’t hurt, either.

I’ve had something on my mind for a while. And it has to do with how polarized humans naturally become, and how to “make bridges instead of walls.” I’m socially and religiously progressive, and most of my larger community is conservative, but most of the that community is also open-hearted. This means that I feel loved by them, regardless of our views on theology or politics. So, that’s a nice rock to sit on for a few minutes. I’m grateful.

But enter facebook. One friend—who I haven’t caught up with in maybe 10 years, and lives way far away—recently linked a blog essay which I mentioned in an earlier post. It was “against” the Women’s Marches and what it called “modern feminists,” implying that feminists like to kill babies and hate men, and that it would be impossible to be both a Christian and a feminist. When I read stuff like this, I tend to dismiss it as trolling. But the Christianity element caught my attention, and has held it firmly, two weeks after. I’ve written a lot about how I see Christianity freeing and empowering women, and it’s kind of a pet issue of mine, so I couldn’t scroll past when that friend linked the blog and also asked (perhaps rhetorically, I can see in retrospect) for feedback from friends. The “I’d love to know what these people are thinking!”-type comment. I bit.

To be honest, it didn’t end well. I’ve studied feminism—working on both my BA and my MA in literature and writing—and I’ve grown up in the church…and am still in it. I’ve found a place where Christ and feminism are living in harmony. I have a lot to say, I realize that, and I tend to be earnest and prolix. But I was also careful to say what I meant, leave no room for misinterpretation, and be kind and gentle. This friend’s responses made it clear that my responses both stung, and were ultimately irrelevant: she didn’t believe I was Christian enough, that we had enough common ground, theologically, to find a meeting place. I’m extrapolating, because her responses were not as clear as I would have wished, but I think it’s a fair conclusion. I haven’t had a response in days, and probably won’t get another one.

When I told my husband I was engaging in this conversation online, he sighed. He doesn’t really believe these kinds of conversations can be productive. But I’m an idea woman. I love to debate and even though I can get emotionally involved, I love to get to the bottom of a disagreement. I’m unsatisfied if I can’t understand the central problem. I thought this conversation—since I know this friend to be a very kind and loving person—could be an opportunity to talk about religion and culture, and how we understand them to mesh and grow and so on. But I suspect she chose not to continue the conversation because she didn’t see the point—for many Christians, debates on theology, exegesis, or hermeneutics with someone they see as a “corrupted” by the world, or false teachings, are pure wastes of time. A door in the mind clicks shut, and I am on the inside, and you are on the outside.

I find this frustrating. To put it mildly. I find it hard to believe that God doesn’t like us to talk about these things—impossible, in fact. I find it impossible to believe that humans have received the strange gift of enormous and impossibly complex brains (terrifyingly complex, I say, after having read Vonnegut’s Galapagos–ha), but with the tacit injunction not to use them too much.

In fact, one of the strands of feminism is a recognition that world cultures most normally form a societal structure in which a few powerful people are allowed to do the thinking for the entire populace. Those few have historically been men, and again let me emphasize that there have always been few. In the instances when those men discourage women and less-powerful men (and children, for that matter) to think for themselves—this is the beginning of a problem. And this structure will be familiar to those who have grown up in the church, on one hand, because men are the overwhelming majority of those with religious power, but the underside of this problem is a more hidden one: who have been the translators of the Bible, the best-selling authors of books about Christian life, the blockbuster radio teachers and pamphlet writers and worship hymnwriters—i.e., who have been the ones who have written the implicit (or explicit) rules of daily thought and prayer and life for the vast majority of the church? Very few, and almost always men.

I don’t inherently mistrust men. Far from it. What I mistrust is “the few” being the teachers of “the many,” while they weave through their teachings this thread: “TRUST ME. I know what I’m talking about. Don’t go see if I’m right. Trust me.”

Anyone who’s spent much time in the church, or studied it, recognizes this implicit statement. It’s not always a dangerous thing to say, I would like to emphasize! But sometimes, it has been, and sometimes it will still be. So many people throughout the centuries have been misled by leaders who said, “Trust me. Don’t go see if I’m right. Trust me.” This is the hallmark of cults, and the thing that scares me most when I hear versions of it in sermons.

And it frustrates me when I hear it in the background of a friend’s response to my questions or comments. I do believe one of Christianity’s great gifts is the holiness of trust—but while I can trust God, I find in my complex brain a message from God, too: “Think about what others tell you. Think about what you believe.”

Today I’m finally back on my early-rising schedule, after having dropped it for almost two weeks while Mary and I recovered from a “flu-like illness.” As a side note, Knox County schools are closed for almost the entire week for illness. The teachers were getting too sick…and then the substitute teachers got sick. Ha. I feel a little ahead of the game, that we’re on the upswing already. I swear to god though, if we get sick again. *fist emoji*

Yesterday was really difficult. Two things made it better: I planted seeds, and I met up with a couple of friends for a weeknight spaghetti dinner, with all our kids. (Shout out to Brenna and Elizabeth for letting us crash your kids’ spaghetti date! I needed that.)

Seed-starting, though.

I’m going to start talking about plants and my garden. (You are warned; and I shall persist. Did Elizabeth Warren get Rule 19’d yesterday, too? Cause I’ll add that to the list of things that made it better, by virtue of the fact that McConnell’s words are now a feminist rallying cry.)

So I’m going to become an amateur herbalist. I’m all the time wanting to make herbal bath mixes and body-butters and such, and some of these things are expensive and a hassle to buy. For instance, I bought a big bag of calendula to use for my postpartum care kit, and it was great, but a few months after I bought it, tons of weevils hatched (?) in there! Ugh! So that went in the garbage, and I have been a little scared to replace it. Lavender flowers are *not* a dime-a-dozen, either, and neither really is anything else. So, I’ve planned a perennial herb garden for the space around our toolshed in the backyard. I’m growing rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, parsley, peppermint, chamomile (and raspberry leaf)—we eat/drink so many fresh and dried herbs, too, so here’s the beginning of trying to supply my own culinary herbs—and nettle, comfrey, yarrow, calendula, lavender, monarda, and and coneflowers. Ohmuhguh I get so excited thinking about this garden.

The main garden will have a block of perennial flowers in it: milkweed (if I can get any of these seeds to germinate), more yarrow and monarda, black-eyed susan, tithonia, more chamomile, and cosmos. I’m growing Long Island Cheese pumpkins, San Jose Mountain Club Squash (extremely rare, Care of the Earth Community Farm is crossing it with butternut squash to get the size smaller, so this will be an ongoing experiment), and Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck.

I’m getting crazy and growing corn—Tennessee Red Cob, a local heirloom dent/flint corn for which we East Tennesseans are justifiably proud, and Cherokee ‘White Eagle’ Blue corn, another extremely rare variety from Baker Creek Seeds that originated/was selected somewhere around here by the Cherokee. Both make marvelous cornmeal, and the blue corn is just a rare treat that I could go on about. I want to know more about our indigenous peoples and the food they cultivated. I’ll be hand-pollinating the blue corn. Beans: Tiger Eye, Cades Cove pinto, Lena Sisco’s Bird Egg beans, and Whippoorwhill peas.

Basil of course, tons of it, celery (wish me luck), and both Clemson spineless and Burghundy okra. TOMATOES: Principe Borghese (for drying), San Marzano and Opalka (for canning), Italian Heirloom and Speckled Roman (for canning and fresh eating), and Matt’s Wild cherry (for the joy).

If I can get extras from the farm, which I can, I’ll also be growing whatever else I feel like trying but certainly storage onions. Onions are one of the only things I have to buy from the store throughout the year (except in onion season). Pretty much everything else I can get in some quantity from the farm. We eat just SO MANY onions. Would love to have big bundles of these braided and hanging to cure in the basement.

Baby’s up!