A Rainbow in my Room

When I in doubt, back when I was a child of faith, I prayed to God—white-haired, father-figured and slim-Santa like—to take a personal interest in my problems and intervene in my favor. As a maid, after the father-figure faded, I forwarded my quandaries as to which way to go, which decision to make, which road to follow, to the Universe. Communicating via an esoteric system of symbols and signs, the Universe, I believed, would guide me to the places, all favorable, where I was supposed to be to fulfill my purpose. Now, as an adult, having found mostly fettered favors from fathers and myself situated in a universe indifferent to my flourishing I recognize these approaches have been contrivances. In one hand a magic feather, in the other a baby blanket, and over my eyes willful blinders all functioning to comfort me in the face of Uncertainty.

The stratagems of God and the Universe absolved me from the responsibility of thinking or attempting considered judgment when facing (as usual) partial information. My senses and sense atrophied under their influence. Appealing to God and the Universe to satisfy my wants and needs avoided accepting the inherent cruelty and necessary opportunism in my acts of self-serving survival. Their coddling authority rocked me to sleep in the self-satisfied justification that whatever happened, happened for a reason and that in the end, everything would be okay. For me.

I set down the feather, outgrew the blanket, and removed the blinders and discovered myself naked and alone among uncountable others, each of us facing uncertainty on every side. Without these devices, I had to own that my present position was due to the collective and uncoordinated activity and responses to and of every inseparable agent all around and through me: animal, mineral, vegetable, and those in-between. Startled awake I saw nothing happening for reasons, only things happening and not happening. I saw nothing was okay, it just was, and would be until it wasn’t. Decentered I found myself to be simultaneously liberated and bound. Unfavored by God and the Universe, I found myself in and a part of the vertiginous predicament of Uncertainty; terrifying, but not without magic and wonder.

Last Friday morning sometime around 8:45 there appeared a rainbow on a wall in the room where I write and study. I’d never seen one there before even though eight years prior I had contributed an act that—given other actors and conditions—could produce such an event.

I had placed a prism in the narrow window of this room. The window, shaded by evergreen trees allows sunlight to enter, sparingly, and only directly for a mere 10 minutes each winter day when the sun is cold and low in the sky. The prism, like several others in my home, was a gift. All of them gifts from loved ones who answered my cry for rainbows in my room when death was near me. As the sun transits east to west, its light shines through the windows and scatters rainbows, transient and ephemeral, inside my home. The minutes of their emergence and their location in this space varies with the seasons such that even though I know why they are there each manifestation surprises me still. Like magic.

I had never seen, or more likely never noticed a rainbow in this room before. As it slid down the wall and faded in its intensity, a tree branch intercepted the sunlight and cast its silhouette for a moment over the redorgangeyellowgreenblueviolet. Bobbing, swaying, dancing side to side the limb moved by the wind entered my eyes. I was not in charge of the affair, only a witness to a collective event. I had contributed the act of crying for and then hanging the prism many years ago. And the planet tilted so the sun swung low on the horizon, a breeze blew and a branch resisted. My loved ones responded to my plea for light and color. And someone, somewhere, sometime made the prism. And 20 years ago the previous owner of this house planted its trees. 44 years ago I was born, and 70 or so years ago so was the loved one who gifted me. More than 100 years ago someone built this house, and Daniel Swarovski patented his glass cutter. And beyond that, Mormon pioneers displaced the Utes on the land and further back still, the planet exploded (or so some say) into being. Where to begin describing the setting of the conditions that made possible my witnessing the rainbow in my room last Friday morning at 8:45 AM? Full of wonder I watched the gambol until it flickered and went out like a candle, like a life.

I didn’t wonder at this rainbow as a sign, a Noah-dic promise of fair-weather, receding flood-waters, and promised-lands. It did not offer respite from Uncertainty. It deepened my capacity to enjoy a decentered existence; to recognize the collective magic arising from the infinite compositions enlivened by infinite activity through time and space; to witness with humble awe—no matter how horrible or beautiful the event—the small and yet critical role of every collective part. To observe without a claiming that this is how it was meant to be, but experiencing a sense of it just as it is. Until it wasn’t.

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Hearing Not Listening

Does anyone have this cable?

I attended a panel discussion on “The Status of Black Women in Utah” several months ago with the sincere intention of listening and learning. I knew I had missed something important when I got home. Everyone on the panel and in the room seemed to be calling out to be heard, including myself. I wondered if we are all call out, who is left to listen? The quandary left me agitated. Who indeed?

Our ears are sensitive instruments, designed to discriminate subtle differences in sound. Listening requires differentiating the shades and tones in the sounds to make meaning. At times, when I am hearing, the sounds seem to bypass listening en route to my brain. My mind proceeds straight into to synthesis, which is a nice way of saying assimilation, appropriation, and preparation. My brain maps the words and the experiences the speaker describes to my own. I filter and even reorganize the words, seeking commonalities and pattern matches. My intentions seem good. I am looking for common ground. Eager to be relatable, I am planning for a future conversation wherein my story—so like the speaker’s story—will assure them I have heard them and understood. But I deceive myself.

While I hear in this way, my mind occupies itself drawing analogies and normalizing the sounds. It integrates the speaker’s signals into my previous experiences, transforming the speaker into someone like me. In the process, I override the nuances that make their experiences different from my own. I mistake that I am listening when I do this. I am not. I am sublimating differences. I am not listening to their story but reinforcing my own. I then cannot wait to tell the speaker my story, which I believe is so like their story. I do this to demonstrate how well I have understood, and worse than that, how relatable and therefore likable my similarity makes me. In doing this, I usurp their experience reframe their story as my own, communicating only that I heard something and that I certainly did not listen.

By some miracle, I did not give voice to my “hearing” that day, even though the internal alchemy I described above had indeed occurred. I thanked the organizers for the event and went home with my thoughts like a person who knows they have left something behind but can’t say what. I knew it had something to do with everyone wanting to be heard, but no one listening. Oh. Myself included. I may have failed to listen, but I learned something valuable about my habits nonetheless. When I map another person’s experiences to my own, I annihilate their story and fail to learn anything new from them. I cannot build bridges by recasting folks into roles that fit my movie. I understand now that I’ve missed a step in comprehension. It is only by recognizing, appreciating, and exploring the differences that I will ever be able to listen.

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Ceded

In August my way of being met an abrupt halt. The activities that had defined my daily routines, weekly schedules, monthly obligations and yearly itinerary for 16 cycles stopped, leaving me alone with myself. And my beloved. And a couple of cats (also beloved). Okay, it wasn’t that abrupt. The end had been coming for some time like an extended illness resulting in death. And of course I fought it—fought right to the end—then, sighing deeply, gave in. Just like that, I ceded. If you are lucky in such a moment someone, a witnessed to your struggle perhaps, introduces you to Emily Dickinson, proper:

Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson

I’m ceded—I’ve stopped being Theirs—
The name They dropped upon my face
With water, in the country church
Is finished using, now,
And They can put it with my Dolls,
My childhood, and the string of spools,
I’ve finished threading—too—

Baptized, before, without the choice,
But this time, consciously, of Grace—
Unto supremest name—
Called to my Full—The Crescent dropped—
Existence’s whole Arc, filled up,
With one—small Diadem—

My second Rank—too small the first—
Crowned—Crowing—on my Father’s breast—
A half unconscious Queen—
But this time—Adequate—Erect,
With Will to choose,
or to reject,
And I choose, just a Crown—

To be honest, I hadn’t thought much about Emily Dickinson as a person or poet before #508 (above) entered my life. My knowing of her—made of rumors, quips, and her safe verses, sketched only a ghost story. Emily, the virginal, white-wearing, Victorian recluse, sickly, bed-ridden and house-bound, with no purpose but to write strange poems about bees and Jesus then squirrel them away in bedroom drawers to be discovered after death. I found myself wondering about her, wondering what else she knew about living and what else she and I had in common.

If you too are interested in Miss Dickinson’s work—be warned. Not all collections of her poems are equal. Her earliest editors, wary that her unconventional capitalization and punctuation, slant rhymes, and spasmodic verse would render her poetry inaccessible to Victorian readers, picked a selection of favorites and “regularized” them (read: reframed/sanitized). For authentic Dickinson, please find The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson edited by Thomas W. Johnson (SLC Public Library | Find a Library | Amazon). This publication is the top-shelf compilation of her 1,775 known poems, still spasmodic and arranged, where possible, in chronological order. It is a worthwhile endeavor to read her body of work in one go. Highly recommended by me. Emily emerges from the page to sit beside you as you read. Yes, just a little bit like a ghost.

Most poetry is in my opinion too precious. I read poets’ books quickly and unsentimentally pausing only if a verse enlivens me. Dickinson’s poetry spans more than 30 years. That’s a lot of ground and maturation to cover. I didn’t expect to find anything pause-worthy for pages and pages. The stinging beauty of her phrasing stopped me almost poem by poem from the start. By #190 I felt convinced nothing I’d ever been told about Emily was true.

He was weak, and I was strong — then —
So He let me lead him in —
I was weak, and He was strong then —
So I let him lead me — Home.

‘Twasn’t far — the door was near —
‘Twasn’t dark — for He went — too —
‘Twasn’t loud, for He said nought —
That was all I cared to know.

Day knocked — and we must part —
Neither — was strongest — now —
He strove — and I strove — too —
We didn’t do it — tho’!

A search for the definitive Emily Dickinson biography turned up the unimaginatively titled The Life of Emily Dickinson by Richard B. Sewall (SLC Public Library | Find a Library | Amazon). This book strives diligently to paint Emily using solely her written words or those written by the people who knew her. The biography relies heavily on letters and material evidence concerning Emily’s upbringing, community, education, family, home life, and eventual “discovery.” Sewall’s book is not a storyteller’s biography. It is a long book, dry, often boring, and plainly demonstrates the difficulty of telling the whole truth about any human being, free of the biographer’s fantasy or imagination, based solely on the residue he or she has left behind. Sewall has assembled an impressive body of evidence, but it is incapable of delivering Emily Dickinson in total. There are long gaps between years, the correspondence is one-sided, and her poetry, being poetry, remains opaque. Sewall leaves it to the reader to draw their portrait of Miss Dickinson. Don’t read Sewall’s biography unless you are willing to do this work. Don’t do this work unless you can be content with your portrait being just one more conjecture for the gallery.

Here’s mine: Emily Dickinson was a poet. The circumstances of her life allowed her the privacy, security, audacity, and privilege to pursue and perfect this art form. Emily had an older brother, a younger sister, a father and a mother. Her mother was ill, but her father, brother, and to a lesser degree her sister, were active in the community and the world. Her brother married, and his children knew and loved their aunt Emily. Life transited Emily Dickinson’s home. Emily engaged it as it came, as her family and station expected her to do, later in life as she wanted to do, as she called it to her, and as she crafted it—in person, in letters, and in poems. Emily lived among and within the intimate relationships of her siblings (very complicated and even saucy ones at that) and had sophisticated (and even saucy) relationships of her own. They influenced her and populated her work. She loved and was loved (in every shade), was jilted once or twice. She hated and regretted and mourned and aspired. Emily wasn’t a recluse; she set the terms of her engagement with the world—I believe—to indulge her art.

Dickinson was no accidental poet. She was intentional with every written word in letters or verse. She longed to be recognized as a poet and actively sought publication, but also wanted to retain control over her work. When it became apparent she could not have both, that the world would not crown her poet on her terms and in her lifetime, she ceded. Emily became sovereign of her kingdom and titled herself. And why not? Who decides when one is a writer or poet anyway? The one who takes up the mantle—ermine, of course.

The Mammogram Rite

On my 40th birthday, (some years ago now), I received an unexpected greeting card from my doctor.  How lovely, right? Happy Birthday, it read: Time to schedule a mammogram!  In one fell sentence, I plummeted maiden to mother to crone. My breasts shriveled from sexy tools used to attract a mate, skipped over their potential as a beneficent means of nurturing a child, and became an instrument of terror. My doctor’s message had inducted me into a modern female rite: the mammogram.

I experienced my first much-too-soon-after-a-routine-mammogram phone call last spring. Every hour between the hospital’s name appearing on the caller ID and my scheduled appointment the next morning was fitful and labored: troubled breathing, troubled working, troubled sleeping, troubled appetite. My imagination took hold and having already survived leukemia, had sufficient fuel. Guiltily I remembered the palpable lump in my right breast discovered ten years ago. The one I had core-sampled and that was found benign. The one I allowed to remain, filed as the result of a freak paint-roller-refill mishap. I began to vibrate to the latent anxiety I think all women possess, attuned as we are to the omnipresent pink-ribboned products and messages surrounding us. The subtext hums, hey girl, those tits of yours could rise up and kill you someday.

My beloved delivered me bodily to the clinic the next morning. It (my body) filled out the paperwork and settled in to wait among the magazines, other women bodies, and their attending husbands.

I heard my name and followed the beckoning nurse through the door separating the all-purpose waiting room from the one specialized for breast-cancer-related procedures. It was a portal leading to a domain clinically feminine, patronizingly feminine. The nurse instructed me to disrobe from the waist up, put on a dehumanizing gown with the opening at the front, lock up my belongings, then wait alongside a throw pillow embroidered with an encouraging quote placed to soften a straight-backed chair upholstered in chosen-by-experts-to-calm-and-make-you-as-a-woman-feel-valued-and-heard pinks, blue and mauves, muted of course. I tried to recall if the waiting room for leukemia patients had been similarly contrived in orange. It hadn’t.

For all its efforts to calm this carefully crafted backdrop was bewilderingly paired with relentless pop music hammering its tattoo at 130 bpm. My shoulders flinched toward my ears with each artificial snare sample. I looked around the room for commiseration and found just one other, a woman, eyes fixed straight ahead, making herself still and inconspicuous in the corner opposite me, as though inconspicuousness would negate her presence. She reminded me of a rabbit wary of a predator, so still, heart racing.

Is this your first call back?” It was.
Is it just me or is this music awful?” It wasn’t just me.
I haven’t slept or eaten since the call, have you?” She hadn’t.

We shared the nervous small talk of strangers made comrades while sitting alone together with death in the room. It was her first time I guessed. Not mine. Though Death and I hadn’t seen each other some four years and I’d grown unaccustomed and unwelcoming to it in the interim.

Death attends my mammogram
Death attends my mammogram

I heard my name and followed the technician into her workspace. She was either remarkably intuitive or routinely practiced in recognizing and neutralizing the terror I carried with me. She soothed, “A call back on a mammogram is routine. It occurs any time there is a change, even a tiny change, from your last mammogram. Here is what we found that caused us concern.” 

My eyes immediately scanned the bottom of the image where I knew the paint-roller-refill related lump loomed. The technician pointed instead to a cluster of minuscule dots in an entirely different portion of my breast. She continued, “This tiny cluster of calcifications wasn’t on your last exam. Most calcifications are normal, but if these are abnormal don’t worry. They are small; we will have caught it very early.

And then she commenced with the crushing.

A mammogram callback allows no go-home-and-wait for the results. The doctor considers the evidence in a nearby room while you sit nervously in a holding cell for his verdict. That day’s doctor declared the cluster most likely benign, chastised me for going too long between mammograms (2 and a half years) then with the nurse standing witness insisted I sign a memo vowing to make a follow-up appointment in six months. Just in case. He then asked if I had any questions. I did, one: “Do you have control over that awful music in the waiting room? It is relentlessly upbeat and frenetic for patients who are already stressed and tense. I mean really, think about it.” The doctor stared at me. The nurse laughed out loud. I realized then women like me were probably responsible for the decor I complained about earlier.

Liberated from my holding cell, degowned and rehumanized I skirted the breast-cancer-related waiting room en route to the all-purpose one and my beloved. More than twenty women now occupied that space, sitting silently, uncomfortably, eyes fixed straight ahead, making themselves still and inconspicuous. Pensively tolerating the music. All these women, topless under dehumanizing gowns with the opening at the front. Sitting alone together with death in the room. Hearts racing like rabbits. Each waiting for the sound of her name, hoping to be a lucky one, lucky like me that day. I wondered what Margaret Atwood would say.

I bought myself a couple of new bras this week even though or maybe because it was the week scheduled for my 6-month follow-up. You know, testing fate. As I tried them on, adjusting the straps, shifting my breasts around, my beloved asked if it was fun to have boobs.  “Not really,” I answered. “They look nice I guess, but they can get in the way. Sometimes they ache and feel heavy. Even small ones like mine. And they don’t come without risk. They could kill you.” Turns out, according to the follow-up mammogram, my boobs aren’t going to kill me. At least not today.

While standing at the machine with my tiny breast inconceivably stretched onto the acrylic shelf, crushed between it and an upper panel, first mechanically then (yes one more turn of the dial please) manually, hands gripping the sides, holding my breath on command until given permission to breathe again, I couldn’t help but observe: A mammogram is an absurd, unnatural, painful, contorting experience with a dollop of radiation on top. Women, wild women, my ancestral women never did this. Could never have imagined willingly participating in this. Sure, they died, but we all die. I couldn’t help but ask: “Why am I compelled to bring my body to this altar for this ritual once a year for the remainder of my days? What is it I am trying to prevent?” 

My doctor said a routine mammogram is something a gal my age should have every two years after 40. The doctor who analyzed my images insisted the American Cancer Society recommends a mammogram annually. The internet supports versions of both positions. All three were quite serious about my regular, unquestioning participation to prevent an untimely death. Ah, I see. The Mammogram Rite, such a small sacrifice to avoid death and prolong life (as if longevity were equivalent to living) if we but catch it early.

Caught It in time
Death—that naughty child
Its intentions
Postponed—
Saved
For later

Am I alone in finding it strange that every woman over 40, regardless of her history or risk factors is encouraged (coerced, intimidated, pressured) to perform this singular test on one part of the whole body, every year for the remainder of their lives to prevent an untimely death? At what age is death no longer considered untimely? If society is concerned about untimely death, let’s acknowledge that breast cancer isn’t the only thing that can kill a girl. Heart disease, colon cancer (just as likely), buses, leukemia (rare sure but it happened to me)—the annual mammogram will not catch any of these thingsIf you should encounter one of these in your lifetime (or something worse) and it doesn’t kill you after all well, you will soon discover trying to avoid an untimely death by avoiding illness has been a waste of living. Death is with you no matter how inconspicuous you become and no one gets to pick their time. Acceptance of illness and death is not resignation. It demonstrates a deep understanding of what it means to be alive.

Cuppa with Death
Getting Reacquainted with Death

I was once well acquainted with Death. I called it “friend.” I even begged it to take me, but it wasn’t my time. I knew once there is no such thing as an untimely death. I trusted but forgot, until the mammogram callback, and the six-month follow-up reminded me. The mammogram is not the ritual I want to use to strengthen my relationship with Death. Going forward this heart-racing rabbit will be inviting Death round for tea and conversation daily. I’m over 40 after all.

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My Ántonia: A memoir by a woman, about a man, remembering women

I went to the library seeking a woman’s voice and pulled from the shelves Willa Cather’s My Ántonia (SLC Public Library | Find a Library | Amazon). I chose it because of the excellent printing — hardbound with a ribbon to mark my place — and because I  remembered buying a book by Cather many, many years ago by mistake. O Pioneers! I think it was. I never read that book. I was not prepared then to read something by an author I did not know. Willa Cather was not among the literary canon of my upbringing: conventionally British, white, and male. The introduction to My Ántonia described Willa Cather, as mannish in her opinions and aligned with masculine ideals. Women’s novels were, in her view, sentimental. When given a choice between a new book written by a woman or one written by a man, she selected the latter. What woman’s voice had I found?

The novel begins with a quiet transfer of authority. Our female author is traveling by train with fellow New Yorker and childhood acquaintance James Quayle Burden (Jim). They pass their journey reminiscing and idealizing their pioneer childhoods in the fictional town of Black Hawk, Nebraska. Jim chastises his companion for never having written about Ántonia, an immigrant woman they both knew, who has emerged in their conversation as iconic of that time and way of life. Our author protests—surely Jim knew Ántionia better than she—and then strikes a bargain: She will write down all that she remembers of this woman if Jim will do the same. Within a few months, Jim produces a memoir. She has written next to nothing. He entitles his work “Ántonia,” rethinks, then adds the prefix “my.” Is Jim’s story sentimental? Maybe a little.

My Ántonia is a memoir not of a woman but a middle-aged man. Ántonia is Jim’s first playmate and four years his senior. This age difference keeps Ántonia just out of reach, always on the horizon of his maturity. She is the planet Jim orbits, in steadily distancing revolutions, out of childhood, through adolescence, and into adulthood. After decades he visits her as an adult and finds a worn yet happy, fecund, earth-bound mother of nearly a dozen children. Reality is a buzz-kill and nostalgia remarkably shallow:

The idea of you is a part of my mind; you influence my likes and dislikes, all my tastes, hundreds of times when I don’t realize it. You really are a part of me. In the course of twenty crowded years one parts with many illusions. I did not wish to lose the early ones. Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen again.

Despite his claims of love and ennobling of the past, Jim could never have chosen Ántonia or the life she represents. He shifts his attention to Cuzak’s boys, Ántonia’s husband’s boys, and makes plans for their future. His influence will certainly seduce them from their mother and the very culture his memoir celebrates. There is no stopping time; there is no stopping progress.

Jim’s memoir is a series of first-person vignettes strung together like beads on a string. Many of these beads illuminate and dignify variations of femininity and feminine success. Jim tells us about women of authority in the community—respected and sometimes feared. He admires the physical grace and strength of immigrant women who, unlike Americanized women, are as at ease in their skins as they are in the fields. He bears witness to the liberated perspective that empowers the town’s most gossiped-about-girl to leave and attain a life of independence. He marvels at the waif who parlays skills gained working for Black Hawk’s female hotelier to make a fortune lodging miners in Alaska. He admires Ántonia who shrugs off a scandalous seduction and unabashedly celebrates the daughter it produces.

I went looking for a woman’s voice and found many within the pages of My Ántonia. The novel’s heroines are whole human beings with masculinity and femininity intact. Willa Cather is an artist who used Jim’s voice to great effect, validating and magnifying the independence, fortitude, and mettle of immigrant women who broke the soil and shaped the American West.

Thou Shalt Not Be Poor

I watched the film “The Big Short” hoping to understand what it means to “short a stock.” I learned this — and received an education about the global economic collapse of 2008 which, being privileged, I had largely missed. The film’s narrator delivers a fairytale ending in the epilog: banks are held accountable and wealthy bankers sent to jail. Just kidding! That moment of cognitive dissonance is soon set aright.  This movie was based on true events after all. The banks were bailed out by the taxpayers, no one except this one guy no one heard of went to jail, and the crisis was blamed on the poor, immigrants, and minorities. Is this how you remember it too? Do you also remember that the recession is over? It’s as if all those people who lost their homes, who lost their jobs, have become invisible.

I discovered  Sasha Abramsky’s The Way of American Poverty: How the other half still lives (SLC Public Library | Find a Library | Amazon) while researching the racial wealth gap as part of my volunteer work with the YWCA. The title conjured the black and white images by Dorothea Lange and Steinbeck’s characters in The Grapes of Wrath. I thought about my upbringing. I wrestled with my culturally ingrained fear of poverty. I heard the howling wolves. I breathed in a little terror and decided to read the book anyway.

Part one shares vignettes from the lives of Americans already in deep poverty who have been with us for generations and the newly poor who enjoyed the comforts of American affluence in this generation and then lost it. Not since the Great Depression have so many been suddenly ejected from society. Regardless of their point of entry, whether deeply or newly impoverished, the effects on individuals are the same: shame, loneliness and exile from our pay to participate culture. They are invisible. We don’t see them because we can’t face them. Out of fear for those howling wolves I mentioned earlier. We shudder, toss salt over our shoulders, then incant: there but for the grace of God go I.

Part two details the steady dismantling of our half-assedly implemented safety nets for the poor. Abramsky proposes possible policy changes and discussions that would have to take place for our society to make progress on this issue. If we but had the political will, that is. To substantively help the poor would be to admit that there are circumstances that require a little more than hard work, boot-strappedness, and smarts. It requires a stable community, education, opportunity, compassion, a decent diet and a whole lot of luck. Oh, and a dash of vanilla doesn’t hurt. Our current social safety net isn’t crafted to lift the poor out of poverty. No, it’s made to entangle them and justify our blame when they fail to swim. The American Way of Poverty examines our commitment to poverty as a feature of our culture. So long as there is someone poorer then you, you can keep those wolves at bay.

Americans conflate wealth with goodness and intelligence. Anything less is a failure of personal character. Yet most of us are poor— wealth inequality in America is ungodly.  How have we allowed this injustice come to pass?   Kurt Vonnegut captures it perfectly in his 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five (SLC Public Library | Find a Library | Amazon)

America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, ‘It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.’ It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: ‘if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?’ There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.

Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.

I know, such an obvious quote, right? So what. Its obviousness makes it all the more poignant. To be poor in America is to commit the greatest cultural sin of all: failure to realize the American Dream. Ours isn’t a “War on Poverty” its a war on the impoverished—lest we become one ourselves. It’s almost as if we think people are poor because they deserve it.

Do you hear the howling?

Do Not Go Back to Sleep

I’m going to say this right out loud: If Clinton had won this election the majority of progressives (myself included) would have rolled over and gone to sleep Tuesday night in secure, smug, complacency. And by “gone to sleep” I mean not fully awake to the seriousness of the social and economic injustices humanity has been enduring long before Trump happened on the scene. It would be business as usual: someone else can take care of these, our government perhaps.

Trump does not have a mandate. Clinton did not have a majority. The majority of our citizenry are those who did not vote at all. The darkness is that most Americans are utterly disengaged.

If you are feeling frightened and confused and despondent—good. Use your discomfort as an impetus to engage with the community. Not your community, the community. Resist your own hatred, misogyny, racism, elitism, greed, fear, and sloth.

I am not saying roll over and give Trump a chance. Do not go back to sleep! I’m saying do the work you believe in, champion the change you want to see, regardless of who is president.

Going West

I come from a lineage of pioneers. How about you? Pioneers who left places for many reasons, but mostly because they didn’t like the governments or religions or economic or environmental conditions surrounding them. When times get tough we pull up stakes and move to the next frontier, set up a temporary utopia with a select group of people until the problems we were avoiding caught up with us and we’d move again. In my short lifetime I moved so far west that I found myself on the other side of the planet for a time. I did not expect to land myself back in Utah, ever again. 

We don’t always get what we want.

I have this to say: there’s no more west. Eventually we have to stand our ground and face what frightens us. Until we do it will keep on chasing us, right around the globe and on to the moon or Mars. It’s our shadow you see. And it’s attached. The brighter the light we shine on it, the easier it is to see it.

Illuminating.