Monday, January 15, 2018

Random thoughts on January 15


When I was a kid, I always knew when it was Martin Luther King Day because it was the same day as my brother's birthday. In the 1970's in Connecticut, January 15th was a state holiday, so we always had off from school.

I liked Martin Luther King Jr. because he was the man who had a dream that black kids and white kids could someday be friends, and if you'd asked 8 or 9 or 10 year old me, I would've told you that it was a dream I fully agreed with. 

I'd seen the film Roots at the library in weekly installments. It was clear to me that slavery was evil and all of the white people who'd owned slaves were bad. But that was all in the past. And in the South. We, in the North, were completely blameless. When I was a kid in Connecticut we didn't talk about race. 

And it was really easy not to talk about race because the town I lived in was nearly all white.

It was an old factory town, mostly second or third generation immigrants from Poland and Italy, and with a sizable group of people from Puerto Rico. Many kids I knew spoke another language with their parents at home. The Catholic churches in town still held masses in the language of the people in the neighborhoods. Polish, Italian, Spanish. 

Not that we were always nice to each other. I heard people openly talk about Puerto Rican people using derogatory language, and everyone said you should steer clear of their neighborhoods. But no one thought of themselves as racist. That was something that only happened in the South. (See Roots, above.) 

When I was thirteen, I met a woman from the South and I eyed her suspiciously for signs of racism, but the woman seemed really nice and we all thought her Southern accent was darling. Okay, there was one incident when we were walking in the park, and she suddenly whisked her young daughter away and made the remark that maybe all of us were used to seeing "that kind of thing" but where she was from they weren't used to it. 

I had no idea what she was talking about, but later my mother told me that what upset the woman was a couple holding hands, a black person and a white person. 

This was a confusing moment because the woman seemed so lovely, and I didn't know what to make of it, so I filed it under: Weird Stuff People from the South Say, and forgot about it

until I went to college in the South. 

My college roommate first semester was black, and I was eager to show her that I was Not a Racist by never having a conversation with her about race, and by acting as if I didn't notice that I was white and she was black, hoping that she could see how Progressive and Open-Minded I was. Anyway, this was the 1980's, and even though we were going to school in the Deep South, racism was a Thing of the Past,

especially at our forward-thinking liberal arts college,

which, okay, true, like my Connecticut town, this college was mostly white. 

Also, most of the female students joined sororities, and it was an unspoken fact that black girls didn't belong to any of the sororities because it was against the sorority rules, 

although the story was that one sorority had pledged several black girls a few years before, but half of the white girls dropped out that year, which killed their membership numbers, and now that was sort of the meh sorority on campus. Anyway, the very few black girls at the college didn't bother going through Rush after that, including my roommate.

I did though, and my roommate and I pretended to each other that she just didn't want to Go Greek. She dropped out of school at the end of the year and I never saw her again.

Here's something I understand now that I didn't when I was growing up: lovely people can be racist. Some of them can even be from Connecticut.












Monday, January 8, 2018

Goal Setting at the Edge of the Earth

It's January, a new year, my usual time for looking ahead, making resolutions, setting my writing goals and other goals-- projects to tackle around the house and in the garden, resolving to eat better and exercise more and volunteer and contribute to the community in a positive way, reading my poem a day and reading more, in general, and in a variety of genres.

I can go on and on with these goals, because I am a big believer in setting them, making lists, and tracking progress, all of which, I realize, lately, relies entirely on my faith in the future,

that I will be there, in the future

that there will be a future.

It's a scary realization, one that I haven't felt in a long time, but lately it's come back to me, how nothing is certain, how my fate-- how all of our fates-- are dependent on forces beyond our control, a feeling I understood instinctively when I was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years old.

Back then I didn't have much faith in the future. I wasn't a big-time follower of the news, but a lot of it filtered into my head anyway, news about the arms race between our country and the Soviet Union, the Cold War amping up.

I watched the movies about nuclear war, The Day After and War Games, listened to music where rock stars wondered if the Russians loved their children too, read about downed airlines and uprisings in Eastern European countries, heard stories about nuns chaining themselves to fences outside nuclear weapons plants.

In the 1980's we were wise enough to know that if there was a nuclear war, no one was going to stumble out of it alive, and we mocked the deluded people of the 1950's who had disaster drills in schools, the kids told to hide under desks, as if cowering under a desk would save them.

I'm not saying I thought about potential total annihilation every moment, but it was hovering in the back of my mind, the near certainty that something really bad could happen at any moment-- on purpose or by accident--

and we would all be done for.

So, why bother studying for the SATs or doing your homework or making any plans, really?

But the thing is I did study for my SATs (not that it helped all that much since I was pretty dingy when it came to taking standardized tests). And I always did my homework. I applied for part-time jobs and filled out college applications. I moved forward as if the future would be there for me,

and, what do you know? it was.

Which I guess is my long way of saying that I did set my goals for the year 2018, because while I know there is no certainty that we'll all make it to the end of it, I am going to move forward as if we will.

For the record, my goals:

1. finish the revision of my middle grade novel
2. jump back into the adult novel I set aside last spring
3. write four blogs a month, plus one over at YA Outside the Lines
4. read a poem a day; read more, in general, in a variety of genres
5. eat better and exercise more (10,000 steps per day according to my Fitbit!)
6. paint the exterior of the house
7. expand my herb garden
8. volunteer and contribute to the community in a positive way (in Real Life as opposed to on social media)
9. take monthly dates with my husband
10. remember to live in the moment, which is all we truly have.