The holidays can be rough all by themselves. This year I have a cancer diagnosis (and a test to see if it’s spreading or not in a few days) to contend with, a nonsensical President elect who seems bent on making people ashamed of America, attacks on college campuses and today, a forest fire in my beloved childhood roaming grounds in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Tomorrow, Hanford workers are talking on the news about the various illnesses they’ve experienced due to nuclear waste leakage around the Hanford area in Washington. Did I mention being sick for the last ten days and a weather report of constant 45-degreeish grey rain?
Today I took a walk during a rain-break. It was the first time I’d been up to being out of the house in a couple of days. I looked up from my walking trail to watch a bald eagle soaring about fifteen feet over my head. In the adjacent field, a flock of snow geese took flight at the same time, a soaring white cloud. Fifteen minutes of being outdoors, and I felt renewed. I have to constantly be vigilant against despair. You, too? Not just with the world’s news, but with my own life, with writing, with going to the doctors and going through tests over and over again. It is easier to feel overwhelmed and helpless. It is harder to try to see the good you might be able to do the world.
Over Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I took a few political actions of the calling and writing letters variety, I bought subscriptions to newspapers and writing and literary magazines, I read books that inspired me to feel ambitious. I wrote a poem, not a great poem, but I wrote. I sent out a submission of poems. I got a rejection. Did I mention I was flat-out so sick I couldn’t get out of bed most of the time? But I am reminded of what we can do when we’re discouraged. We remember WHY we try to do these things in the first place. Why I try to resist things I see as wrong. Why I write about things like the environment being poisoned or women being made to feel like objects of scorn rather than heroines when they try to stand up for themselves. Why I write, period. Why I bother fighting for my life, my health, through a labyrinthine health care system that often feels like it’s against patient health rather than for it. It’s because there is something worth fighting for, if I may sound so bold – equality for women, fighting for equality for all people regardless of color, religion, or creed, fighting for a cleaner earth and the right to exist and have a voice in a world that often feels like it’s trying to shut women – especially educated, feisty, feminist women – up. Today is “Giving Tuesday,” when we are reminded to give to causes and organizations we believe in – so if you love animals or poetry, value women’s shelters or cancer research, give a few dollars to a cause you believe in. We fight because individually, we may not feel we have any power, but if we refuse to shut up, if we refuse to give up, then we may have a collective impact that creates a better, more beautiful, more just world.
Sometimes, when we are focused on the muddy path and cold wind, we have to remember to look up. The air might be full of wings.
Second Note: Thanks To Atticus Review for nominating a poem from the new book, “Introduction to Spy Narrative as Love Story” for a Pushcart Prize!
Thanksgiving Warmth, An Interview with Bryan Thao Worra, Holiday Weekend Book Sale and a Tote Giveaway
Had as nice a Thanksgiving as one could wish. I hope you did too! On a rainy day, I relaxed and spending time with Glenn, my little brother and his wife, MST3K Turkey Day marathon in the background. Glenn did the cooking for two days (I’ve had a little cold) and it was beautiful, exactly the right things to cheer us up and leave a warm glow after dinner. I even did a little Tai Chi with my brother (who won awards for his Tai Chi back in the day) which was really fun! We talked politics, but only about the positive things we could do to make things better. Today the sun came back (the dark rain has been a little oppressive) so I want to get outdoors.
Thank you to Bryan Thao Worra for this interview with me on robots, the end of the world, and mythical beasts: https://thaoworra.blogspot.com/2016/11/robots-imagination-and-end-of-world.html
The weekend after Thanksgiving is traditionally dedicated to shopping, and I’m trying to spend money supporting other artists and artist organizations this year. If you feel like doing the same, I’m doing a sale on all my books for the holiday weekend, signed copies and free shipping of course! Just send me an e-mail at jeannine dot gailey at live dot com – I take Paypal and Square.
My Review of Banana Palace, a Poem from Field Guide to the End of the World, and Thanksgiving Rituals, Conflict, and the Idea of Family
My review of Dana Levin’s apocalyptic new book of poetry from Copper Canyon Press, Banana Palace, is up at The Rumpus here. The combination of frightening, weird, and entertaining makes for great holiday weekend reading.
A poem from Field Guide to the End of the World that seems appropriate for our time:
Thanksgiving, Rituals, Conflict, and the Idea of Family
It seems Thanksgiving is almost here, and many of us are thinking about our families and maybe some of us are feeling conflicted. I usually love holidays and rituals but Thanksgiving doesn’t really give me a lot of warm fuzzies right now. A lot of my memories of Thanksgiving involve stomach aches from the fights my parents would get into, usually in front of a good amount of company I didn’t know well. Also, if any one asks me to count my blessings right now, I’d probably have a strong urge to smack them in the face. Sometimes you have to be honest and say, “Hey. I’m not feeling warm and fuzzy right now. I feel fear and grief and anger.” Maybe we can toss the rituals that don’t belong any more. Maybe we can make new, better rituals.
This Thanksgiving Glenn and I will be celebrating with my little brother and his wife, which will be good – we’ve missed them as they’ve spent some of the last few years traveling out of the country, which I sort of envy. Glenn is a terrific cook and we have started a tradition of eating duck for Thanksgiving (which, let’s face it, is way better than turkey, especially as leftovers.) Maybe we’ll have a Stranger Things Season 2 marathon (Yes, I finally succumbed and just ordered Netflix for the very first time.) Coming back to a sort of altered ritual can be healing – it’s not the stressful, heated holiday I remember, but hopefully one where we can gather and have fun and yes, try and be thankful, and oh yeah, only make the Thanksgiving things you actually want to eat. Toss out the things that don’t work, and keep what does.
I was thinking about the meaning of family. What if you have a family you can’t agree with (not just in politics, though that seems especially highlighted right now with an election that left some of us squarely lined up against others) or just a toxic family overall. a family that doesn’t make you feel loved or supported or accepted? Unfortunately, I think it’s very common.
I encourage us to all think hard this Thanksgiving about who has truly been our family in the sense of making us feel secure, loved, and accepted, and reaching out to those people and thanking them for their support and friendship. Bake some cookies, send a note. I can think of ten people right off the top of my head who made me feel better when I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer earlier this year, people who took the time and effort to reach out to me when I needed them the most. Those people were mostly not people related to me. In a way, that’s sad, but in a way, it shouldn’t surprise us at all – the bonds of modern life shift around us, and merely being related to someone doesn’t guarantee that they will love us, or us them. But the little kindnesses of people that life has thrown in our paths – roommates and coworkers, neighbors and friends – can illuminate our lives, and right now feels like it’s important to remember those kindnesses. Also, people who have been through a major crisis – like cancer or other scary illnesses – have tended to offer the kind of support that I really needed. I know they are tired and fighting their own fights every day, so it’s been inspiring.
And speaking of inspiring…I recently have been spending time with some people that have been really inspiring – a visual artist I’ve been corresponding with for almost ten years, celebrating another writer’s book launch that included beautiful band music – and the awareness that this writer has made it to almost every one of my book launch events since I met her. Meeting with new poet friends to discuss poetry, I appreciate the sincerity and good-heartedness of the writers I’ve met in Seattle. I’m having over another artist friend next week.
This has been a particularly difficult season of a particularly difficult year, and I want to do what I can to create light. Sometimes we can feel powerless in the face of evil. But we are not powerless. We can be there for each other, we can donate our money to causes we believe in, volunteer. Buy art, buy books, write a review. Befriend someone new. Go out to lunch with an old friend you’ve neglected. And if you have relatives who have been supportive and there for you, yeah, go give them a hug, or at least a phone call. This year has left me without a lot of time or energy, but I hope I’m being kind to people in the face of their struggles, as kind as people have been to me.
My wish for you this next week is for you to find the family you need – whether that family be the one you were born into, or the one you’ve created for yourself. I often think we find our mothers, brothers, sisters all around us when we look. We cannot overcome evil alone. The hate I’ve seen screaming through the news reports is enough to make anyone retreat into solitude and Netflix. But we are more powerful together.
It’s been a rough week for a lot of us. A trip up to Port Townsend two days after the election required that I rally myself, pick out some poems, and go out into the world.
The drive/ferry up to Port Townsend takes about three hours. On the way up, we were rewarded with sunshine, blue water, and plenty of wildlife – our day trip wildlife count included a playful otter, one seal, sassy kingfishers, two bald eagles singing and gurgling to each other as they sat as a couple in a pine tree on the beach, many many deer, basically more wildlife than I see in a week in Woodinville. I was late, but made it in time to have dinner with poet friends before the reading, which was wonderful. The ocean, the mountains, and the warm and welcoming people of Port Townsend made this reading trip – though slightly grueling physically – a pleasure. A pleasure that seemed really necessary, a reminder that there is beauty in nature, and in humanity.
The crowd at the Northwind series at the Northwest Arts Center was full of old friends as well as Facebook friends I’d never seen in person, and surprisingly, lots of strangers (God bless Port Townsend’s poetry-loving culture.) Instead of depressed and discouraged, a lot of the folks spoke about how they were ready to take on the challenge, the young people defiant, the older folks confident that we would overcome what seems like an absolute win for everything bad in America. The reading went well, the audience laughed and bought books, there were lots of hugs. One person said the poems from Field Guide to the End of the World were exactly what America needed at this point in time. That made me feel good – like maybe poetry could make a little difference, after all. (Because I’d been feeling the opposite the last few days…) I’ll try to have a link to the recording Glenn took up soon.
Another little happy thing was a friend (Thanks Michael Schmeltzer!) who snapped a pic on Twitter of my book next to James Franco’s at his local Barnes and Nobles. I made the joke that this is probably the only time anyone will see my lying next to James Franco!
I also want to remind you to vote in the semifinalist round at the Goodreads Choice Book Awards for Field Guide to the End of the World if you liked it. Only two more days left to vote!
Dark Election Night, Goodreads Semifinalist Voting, Okay Ophelia, Aimee Mann and a Reading Tomorrow in Port Townsend
Wow. Last night was rough. I cried, starting at about 8 PM Pacific. I couldn’t sleep, and when I could, I had nightmares about rape and guns and Donald Trump’s face twisted with anger. I wrote a post on Facebook describing how gutted I was at the revelation that America was so racist, misogynist, and charmed with a man who was a tax-dodger who can’t speak a coherent sentence, that so many would rather vote for an unqualified evil man that mocks and hates people different than myself, than a much more qualified, intelligent woman. I felt hated, invisible, that as a woman and rape-victim I was always going to be ignored and marginalized, and how my friends who are people of color, LGBT, disabled, or immigrants must feel what I felt times ten. I felt betrayed by Christian voters who turned out in droves to vote for someone who is the opposite of what Christ stood for, in fact, pretty much the embodiment of the seven deadly sins, plus stupidity and crudeness. I wrote about how useless I felt all my teaching and poetry work seemed to me in the face of such hatred and ignorance. (Especially the message of my first book, which was literally that our culture turns every woman with any power into a villainess. Right? Did anyone even read that?) But this morning, despite the sleepless night, I felt that poetry maybe could do something, maybe shine a light. Here are two poems I posted there that are worth reading – June Jordan’s Poem About My Rights and Lucille Clifton’s Won’t You Celebrate with Me. May their voices be heard and not forgotten.
This is much less important that yesterday’s election, but in a small victory, my newest book Field Guide to the End of the World has made it to the semifinalist level in the Goodreads Choice Awards, and I’d really appreciate your vote. This round only lasts til November 13, so go vote. May it make more difference than my last vote did!
I’m reading tomorrow with Sally Albiso in Port Townsend for the the Northwind series at 7 PM at the Northwest Arts Center. Beforehand I’m meeting up with some poet friend for what is hopefully a consoling and cheering dinner. Northwind readings are always good, too. If you’re in or around Port Townsend, please come out and say hi! I’ll be reading VERY appropriate poems from my new book, Field Guide to the End of the World, and maybe this one from my first book, that also seems appropriate for our times.
We’ve heard you were a victim.
Stop crouching in shadows, chewing your hair.
You can be graceful, not like a ballerina,
like a hedge of coral,
built up and eaten and worn down
yet alive, carving the rhythms of the seas.
You can be a threshing sledge,
new and sharp with many teeth.
This song from Aimee Mann seems apropos as well. Comfort and peace and love to you, my friends. The America that spoke in that election is not my America. Donald Trump does not represent me. Racist and misogyny, hatred and ignorance may have won the election, but we are not going to accept that as the new American way. There are a LOT of us. We will not be silent.