Sunday, December 4, 2016
I once knew a budding white supremacist. This was a long time ago — Carter was president, and the internet, at least in its present form, was undreamed of. I've forgotten his name now, but I remember the boy himself pretty well: a tall chubby kid, face of a mean cherub, who always carried a few knives and ninja stars, which he loved to pull out and display, trying to impress me. He seemed to think I was his friend. I believe I qualified for this status because I was the only girl who would talk to him.
I never reacted much when he waved the weapons around or tested out his race rhetoric on me. He was clearly trying to shock, and I knew better than to take that bait. And anyhow, it was more interesting to keep quiet and see what he'd say. He struck me as equal parts creepy, repulsive, and pitiful. Typical teenage girl that I was, it was his pitiful aspect that fascinated me. I felt sorry for him, or at least thought I should. He was evasive when I asked about his home life, but from hints he dropped here and there, I gathered that his mother was absent and his father was a tough guy, a bully. He despised his dad but really wanted to be just like him. I suspect he succeeded.
I've thought about that kid a lot over the years, and recent events, of course, bring him to mind again. I see him in Dylann Roof and in those well-groomed young fascists Sieg Heiling around DC. Bannon actually looks a bit like I imagine my pal would after growing old and seedy. I wish everyone could see the screwed-up 16-year-old behind the cruelty and madness of our current crop of devout racists. It's not that I think we should pity those people. God forbid. I'm not a teenage girl anymore and I spend my pity a little more sensibly now. And I don't mean to downplay the danger they present. But to effectively answer the danger, I do think it's essential to keep in mind how utterly ordinary they are.
There's nothing special about hate mongers. They don't carry any evil gene or suffer from some unique pathology. They're simply people who've made decisions about how to relate to the world. Their decisions make exactly the same sense to them that ours do to us. They don't know their own corruption. That's why we've got to remember that resistance doesn't just mean outwardly opposing them and their agenda. It means, for some of us, building up an immunity to it within ourselves and among our own. "Nice" white people can believe we're deaf to the siren song of racism, but we never are. And those of us who grew up with hellfire religion know that the first step to conversion — to the con of "salvation" — is fear. Fear makes the mind soft and the heart stupid. It makes us pliant. It makes us doubt ourselves and scramble for what feels like safety without questioning whether that feeling is true. So above all else, we've got to refuse to fear the haters. Don't let them scare you. They're just fucked-up little twerps, desperate for our attention.
Vision, Odilon Redon, 1883
Saturday, December 3, 2016
Sunday, November 27, 2016
Thanksgiving is just past, and tomorrow is my birthday. Seems like a good moment to survey a few random blessings, large and small:
In (almost) 55 years on the planet, I've never known a single day of genuine want — never spent a night sleeping on the street or been denied anything I really needed because I couldn't pay for it. This alone strikes me as a miracle of good fortune.
After a long history of holiday gatherings marred by political disagreements, this year the Browning kids, conservative and liberal alike, were united in our complete disdain for the president-elect. I love my brothers. (Thanks, little Donnie — you racist, woman-hating, egomaniacal con artist — for bringing my family together. At least you're good for something.)
I own a totally awesome dog because some stupid people threw him away. Luck can sneak up on you when you least expect it.
I had to say goodbye to two beloved dogs, Nio and Porter, in the past year, but thanks to a good vet and the money to pay for his services, I was able to give both of them long lives and easy deaths. Can't ask for more than that.
I have an amazing collection of lively, kind, talented, thoughtful friends. Sometimes I can hardly believe the array of lovely people I'm lucky enough to have in my life.
I own more books than I will ever read and more perfume than I will ever wear. Somehow this never ceases to thrill me.
I have my share of gripes and disappointments, but fundamentally I love my life. Just as it is, I love it. I'm at peace with the past and welcome whatever comes. Today is sufficient.
I have sailed the River of Yellow Flowers,
Borne by the channel of a green stream,
Rounding ten thousand turns through the mountains
On a journey of less than thirty miles....
Rapids hum over heaped rocks;
But where light grows dim in the thick pines,
The surface of an inlet sways with nut-horns
And weeds are lush along the banks.
...Down in my heart I have always been as pure
As this limpid water is....
Oh, to remain on a broad flat rock
And to cast a fishing-line forever!
~ "A Green Stream" by Wang Wei
translated by Witter Bynner
A Player with a Hermit, Moritz von Schwind, c.1846
Sunday, November 20, 2016
I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.
~ "Poem" by Muriel Rukeyser
Study of a Mourning Woman, Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1493-97
Saturday, November 19, 2016
Just as the birds above our heads
that, in what lies before them,
the always unknown passage,
wind, water, air,
the failing light
the failing night
the blinding sun
they must get the journey done.
They have wings and voices
are making choices
are using what they have.
They are aware
that, on long journeys,
each bears the other,
in the middle of the terrifying air.
From "Munich, Winter 1973 (for Y.S.)" by James Baldwin
Symbolic Dance, Jan Ciągliński, 1897-98
Thursday, November 17, 2016
This is the female form,
A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot,
It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction,
I am drawn by its breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor, all falls aside but myself and it,
Books, art, religion, time, the visible and solid earth, and what was expected of heaven or fear’d of hell, are now consumed,
Mad filaments, ungovernable shoots play out of it, the response likewise ungovernable,
Hair, bosom, hips, bend of legs, negligent falling hands all diffused, mine too diffused,
Ebb stung by the flow and flow stung by the ebb, love-flesh swelling and deliciously aching,
Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and delirious juice,
Bridegroom night of love working surely and softly into the prostrate dawn,
Undulating into the willing and yielding day,
Lost in the cleave of the clasping and sweet-flesh’d day.
~ From "I Sing the Body Electric" by Walt Whitman
Nude, Vitaly Gavrilovitch Tikhov, c.1920
Monday, November 14, 2016
Remember that piece of girlfriend advice we got from Maya Angelou via Oprah? — "When people show you who they are, believe them the first time." There's never been a better moment to keep it in mind. It's always tempting to give someone another chance, to believe that, deep down, he's not quite as bad as he seems. Don't go there. He's been showing you who he is for months, years, decades. He's every bit as bad as he seems. Oh, sure, he'll show you a "better" side just often enough to keep you hopeful and make you feel a bit guilty for judging him. And then he'll play you for a fool. Every single time.
Make it your mission to resist him. Keep your mind free, even when your heart wants to believe something comforting. Don't let yourself fall into the trap of hoping he'll change. You're liable to pull a bunch of other people in with you, and everyone will die in there. If you can keep seeing him for what he is, you'll help others see it, too. They'll start to resist with you. And pretty soon you'll be rid of the Creep, once and for all.
Skull Crowned with Snakes and Flowers by Henry Weston Keen, ca. 1930.
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Since Little Donnie (as I will be referring to him from now on) was declared the winner in the recent unpleasantness that passed for an election, I've heard a couple of friends question the value of their creative work. What's the point of pursuing art when the world is so deeply screwed up? Shouldn't we all be putting our energy toward something more important? Etc., etc. Here's my answer for all the artists — and by the way, if you create, you are an artist, whether you have paintings hanging in major museums or you write poems no one ever sees:
The living world is chaotic, complex, and messy, and artists glory in the mess. It feeds us. We take it in and transform it, and thus we thrive. Authoritarians of every sort hate us for that because the mess scares the hell out of them. They're ruled by fear, and we’re braver than they are. They need to flatten, smooth, and simplify in order to make their world feel safe. We're their natural enemies. They keep trying to tidy the mess, and we keep stirring it back up. We can’t help ourselves. Simply by being who we are, by engaging with the world in a way that feels natural and necessary, we make them squirm. And making bullies squirm is a good thing, worth doing. Always.
Photo by BitterGrace
Photo by BitterGrace
Thursday, October 20, 2016
There is a Smile of Love
And there is a Smile of Deceit
And there is a Smile of Smiles
In which these two Smiles meet
from "The Smile" by William Blake
Sunday, September 4, 2016
Nio in July 2016
Since Nio was once a featured voice on this blog, it seems fitting to give him a goodbye post here, even if posts are few and far between these days.
In November 2005, I wrote in a column for the Nashville Scene,
"In spite of all my good intentions, I have rescued another dog. This makes my third—a young Lab/probably Boxer mix. He was born to be a big, gorgeous guy, but now one of his back legs dangles uselessly, and he is so thin you can see every rib. A friend who owns a farm in Smith County found him abandoned after one of her hired hands went AWOL. She said she’d already adopted all the lost/discarded/screwed-up canines her husband will tolerate, and did I know anyone who would take him? As it turns out, yes."
That was Nio's first appearance in print. The vet didn't encourage us to think he would ever really get well, but the sad animal we brought home wound up thriving way beyond expectations. Even after age took its toll, it was hard to see any vestige of that painfully skinny, maimed dog in the robust beast Nio became. His slightly crooked gait was the only clear hint of a painful past. It turned out we were wrong about his parentage, too. He was half Rottweiler, not Boxer, and his gentle, tolerant nature defied all prejudice about "aggressive" Rotties.
I stroked Nio's rich black fur as he died yesterday. Later, I told a friend that he was a dog who deserved to live forever. I wish he could have.
*Putting down a beloved animal is one of the most bittersweet experiences I know. It's hard to depict it without either being maudlin or dodging the powerful feelings involved. I think this little film captures it pretty well.