Wednesday, March 20, 2013


I spent an hour in a
coffeehouse this morning.
It was a kindness to
a heart bruised
by bad dreams and
recent disappointments.
I have been tasked
with being nice
to myself.
Who knew it could be
so hard?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Forest Dreams

I dreamt of devastation.

Beloved forest shorn
Mountain halved raw
by men intent on
"A Good Day’s Work"

Trees dragged trunkwise
    limbs waving in protest
          (or is it fear)
ruts forced
channels plowed
earth shoved aside.

Grass clumps mark
ragged edge wounds.

Dirt roads
Scraped naked bare.

Huddled stumps
collapsing sideways in protest.

I felt no sadness.         Instead?


Memories fading.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

In The Birthplace Of The Gods

I climbed the Pyramid of the Sun
Barefoot that day
Like thousands had done
Thousands of years before.
Each step as high
As my knees.
The effort taught me
How very difficult it is
To touch the sky.

I carried my pinche sandals
In one hand
And a sketchbook
In the other.
A Danish couple marveled
At my fortitude
And took pictures of
My bare feet.

I was wandering alone
Drawing my young way
Through Mexico
Trying to distill
An entire culture to lines
on paper.

That day I’d ridden
A deluxe coach
From La Ciudad
To Teotihuacan --
Until then just
An exotic confluence
Of consonants and vowels.

Atop the Pyramid
Of the Feathered Serpent God
I sat in the blazing sun
Neverminding the dust
Of ages that coated
My feet
And began drawing
Whose lionesque head
Twined from the stone below.

Twenty feet away rose
The voice of a clay flute.
He played.
I drew.
The bustle of tourists
Fell away
And for untold time
We were alone

In perfect communion
my sketch finished
As his song ended.

His English
Met my Spanish
I learned that his great grandfather
Had been an Aztec priest
Who spilled blood
On those same stones
A living gift to the gods.
The musician
Had no blood to give
But wrote instead
A song of honor and respect.

I, who have found
no god to worship
Had been witness
To the last breath
Of a hundred hundred years
Of prayer.

We smiled and nodded.
The table of the pyramid
With the endless chattering
of gawkers in bright shirts.
Their mindless noise
drove away the gods
Only loosely tethered
by our witness.

I turn, sometimes
To the pages I drew.
Mediocre sketches
That still bring to mind
The day I felt
the feathery touch
Of grace.

(Written in response to a prompt in the Poets of G+ community.)

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Place of Privilege

This afternoon I read this essay: "The Good, Racist People" whose author believes that racism is endemic to all white Americans. It is hitting me particularly hard right now.

I try to have as "progressive" a heart as possible, in the ideal sense of gender/race/class/size/sexual orientation not mattering. Not that I don't see it, but I try to not let those factors affect my relations with any one individual or group. I acknowledge that this is made easier by the fact that I am particularly privileged: white, heterosexual, middle-class, well-educated. The only "strike" against me is the fact that I am a woman, and in my circles that can be as much an advantage as a liability. 

But still... 

And yet...

I recently learned to which middle school my son has been admitted. Both the first- and second-choice schools have the same curriculum, the same intended outcome, the same discipline ladder, the same high academic standards. They are in different neighborhoods and have quite different demographics. Therefore, despite my intent to be open minded, after learning that he got into his second-choice school I find myself confronting my own racial prejudices. My white son will be a minority in a school with a large population of hispanic and African-American students. I am nervous. I have good, logical, reasons, but when I look in my personal mirror I face the fact that my fear is tied to my internalized understanding of color and violence and education and culture and academics and class and race.

This is not a new issue in our family. My children attend an academically, socially, and racially diverse urban elementary school in a "good" neighborhood. They have always had classmates from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Unfortunately, my son has had a number of run-ins with African-American students. It started with one little boy in kindergarten who poked and pinched and kicked everyone in his class. By first grade my son had learned to equate dark skin with bad behavior. When I figured this out I immediately enlisted the help of his teacher -- an African-American woman we both loved -- to try and combat his prejudice, but the damage was done.  He told me that "brown-skins" were bad; ironically, he did not recognize that his teacher, the paraprofessional, and five of his classmates were people of color.

This year he's been having further conflicts, again with an African-American boy in his class. As far as I can determine this is both an extension of the bullying my son has faced for the past two years and normative fifth-grade-boy power plays. Regardless, my son loses and his racism is reinforced. I have been as open as possible with the (male, African American) Assistant Principal in hopes that when he deals with both boys he can address these notions in ways that I cannot. I don't know if that is making a difference.

I have done my best to educate The Boy. We have extensively discussed racism and prejudice. We have studied MLK and Rosa Parks. We have pointed out all the positive role models and examples in his daily life, from my husband's latino employees to the educators in our school to the President of our country. Intellectually The Boy understands. Emotionally, he can't get past his experiences so far. He's still too young to understand how destructive racism is for everyone it touches, including himself.

All of which is background for why I am alarmed at the idea of the second-choice middle school. I fear that The Boy -- with his brutal honesty and complete lack of filters -- will not only say something hurtful to another person, but endanger himself by sparking a confrontation. I cannot gauge how others will react to his quirks and undiplomatic remarks. And I don't want him riding his bicycle alone through a neighborhood I find significantly scarier than the upper-class enclave of the first-choice school.

Race in this country is such an awfully charged topic that people shy away from open discussions. Privileged people like myself can tut-tut about how other people are racist, but we rarely admit our own faults. We claim to be "post-racial" or "color blind", when really we are just stifling our reactions. I hope, I pray, that my son's experience at this school is enlightening, and helps him break through his prejudices. Even more, I hope it helps me with mine.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Random Bits

I've been awfully serious lately, so I thought I'd share a couple of random and silly things about myself.

1. After grabbing my selection from the shelf at the grocery store, I feel compelled to "face the aisle", stacking cans, turning jars, or pulling boxes forward so a passing customer sees bountiful rather than bare shelves. This quirk comes from working in a grocery store all through high school. I usually resist, except in dairy. There's something satisfying about making the yogurt look good. 

2. I'm particular about my pillow, so much so that I always pack it with me when I travel.

3. I love brussell sprouts, but don't like cilantro and actively dislike beets. Sweet red dirt, as far as I'm concerned. 

4. I have two dogs. The older dog has been in my life for about five years. Having one, then two, dogs has confirmed in my heart that I am, indeed, a cat person.

5. I love to sing out loud in the Washington DC metro tunnels, especially on the escalators.

6. I've had a few silly hair days but I think this was my silliest yet!

Monday, March 4, 2013


You ask what
will make me happy?

I cannot answer

I have denied
My Self so long

I have forgotten
How to want.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"Real" Women

I started a kerfuffle yesterday. I didn't mean to. I was commenting on this post:

In my own clumsy fashion I stated that the tall, skinny women we see in print ads are NOT real. I recognize that this was a tangent from the intent of the original post. Perhaps it was somewhat defensive. I have and do use the term "real" women. My intent, though, was an allusion the fact that those images of women have been radically altered post-production.

Unfortunately, my effort instead upset the Original Poster, who -- being a tall, skinny woman -- took me to task for not respecting women on the other end of the physical spectrum from me, thereby perpetuating the very culture of discrimination which I deride.

She is right. Referring to larger, curvier -- fatter -- women as "real" does devalue those who don't fit that image. And that's not my intent. I strongly believe that women in all shapes and sizes are beautiful and should be appreciated as they are.

I apologized and posted nothing further. But the conversation has continued in my head, and here in the comfort of my own blog, I am going to say two things:

1) I maintain that the women we see in print media AREN'T real. In the insular world of photo editing and "fashion" the ideal of a woman has shifted to a point that is beyond the reach of human physiognomy. They are physically impossible. I mean no disrespect to the women who are the beginning point for those images. But after seeing videos like this:  

there is no way to say that the pictures to which we all are compared are "real". It doesn't matter that the woman in front of the camera is a living, breathing person. The end result bears no resemblance to her, and saying that the billboard is fake is no reflection on her. If my daughter draws a crayon picture of me with snakes for hair and orange skin, and you say "that isn't a real person", I understand that you are not negating me, just acknowledging that the picture has no correlation with my true physical characteristics. Images can be powerful symbols, and as an educated, critical, thoughtful consumer, I look at magazines and try to keep in mind that the women in those pages have been made into symbols of a idealized, generic, and ultimately (to me) boring, standard of "beauty".

2) Of course Photoshopping is a disservice to every woman. That said, I still argue that the trend toward slimmer and longer as the ideal is more harmful to "larger" women because it removes them (us) even farther from the standard by which we are collectively measured. "Curvy women" are obviously, deliberately, absent from every one of those pages and as Photoshopping becomes more extreme, curves are quite literally being wiped out of the picture. Layered on top of that are the cultural biases toward fat people, which do not apply to skinny people. Yes, I am familiar with, I even have used, the term "skinny bitch". I can imagine the pressure to eat, the comments about anorexia and bulemia. With some thought and awareness I can begin to deconstruct my beliefs about health and how I negatively apply them to slender women. In analyzing myself, though, I also see that I believe slender women are more attractive and perceive them as energetic and healthier, as well as better leaders.

The same does not hold true for fat women. I had the awful opportunity to discuss our collective cultural bias with my own son when he was about eight years old. My boy is brutally honest, and one day we were talking about an overweight person. The words he used included: lazy, greedy, dirty, unhealthy, and stupid. My son is not unique in those impressions. I recognize that have internalized them about myself, even though intellectually I could argue that none of those characteristics apply to me. Still, when I look in the mirror, both before and after having recently lost roughly 40 pounds, I see a fat lazy slob who doesn't take care of herself and obviously isn't as bright as someone who weighs another 40 lbs less.

I joke sometimes that I come from sturdy breeding stock, and I take pride in my physical strength. But as a teenager I thought my broad hips were a sign that I was fat. I was sixteen, 5'7" tall, and I worked out every day. I was an "ideal" 145 lbs. I could count my ribs. Still, I thought I was overweight. That was the year I heard this joke, which I have carried with me for 25 years:
     Q: How are a carousel and a fat girl alike?
     A: They're fun to ride, but you wouldn't want your friends to know.
I don't know how many opportunities I have let pass because of the shame that one joke engendered in me. I don't remember a day in my life when I haven't looked in a mirror and felt less attractive because of my size. On good days I don't feel pretty because of my shape, but in spite of it.

That is why I started using the term "real" when talking about women who look like me. By calling myself real I was both reclaiming myself and using my new found power to try and stake a claim for "real" women in the magazines. My intent was that the pictures my children encounter would reflect the beautiful diversity of women in this world, and would help my daughter in particular to recognize her own beauty, no matter what size she may grow to be.

Having said all that, I have to admit that the OP was right. Tall and Skinny girls aren't imaginary. We are all real women. We must stand together to fight the nonsense about beauty which is thrust down our collective throats. We all are beautiful, with our curves and sags and wrinkles and bones and freckles and pointy chins and tree-like height. So, rather than eliminating the term "real" from my vocabulary, I will choose instead to apply it to all the living, breathing, beautiful women I see. And I will teach my children to carefully consider the messages they ingest from the media around them. I will teach them to see with a critical eye, and to find beauty in the truth rather than the story they are told.