Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ferguson and Literature

Mary Engelbreit, In the USA (2014)

How do we, two white parents, raise a white toddler in America in 2014? In Washington, D.C.? It isn't easy to talk about race and I'm not sure that I know how. Each individual - every single one - is equal and entitled to the same things, but we aren't all offered the same opportunities. (Have you read the recent and thorough Atlantic article, "The Case for Reparations" by Ta-Nehisi Coates?) There's some hope in literature - both writing and reading it - as a means to access experiences, truths and possibilities.

I remember reading Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye in high school and, while not having blue eyes, feeling embarrassed for my privilege. I'm not sure we were using the word "privilege" then as we do now, but I remember the feeling. I read the book at least twice and when I learned in class that Morrison's given name was "Chloe" ("Toni" was a nickname), I felt it was a sign I could share insight through the written word. I remember telling a white classmate this and she said, "Really? But she's black." I wish I had responded to all the "but" implied; I should have and I haven't forgotten my silence.

As I read about Ferguson I am at a loss. What can I possibly do? Children are dead because of race. We live in a country where this happens.

I can teach my son to be open, welcoming, and understand both his privilege and other peoples' experiences. I can purchase books by writers of color for him (of which there could be many, many more published) and expose him to a variety of cultural experiences right here in our city and throughout our nation, as well as the world. That's not enough, of course, to change our country's path, but it is a start. (And our MFA and publishing worlds aren't perfect for people of color, as Junot Diaz writes in The New Yorker.)

As adults, I encourage you to read the below poems and pieces on race. I look forward to sharing them with our son as he matures. Could we progress so that they become historic relics? Markers of a time past? I remember learning about the 60's Newark, New Jersey, race protests from my parents, who lived nearby at the time. Hopefully the next generations, unlike ours, will learn from history.

Poems for Ferguson: Vanessa Huang and Aya de Leon

Danez Smith's not an elegy for Mike Brown

On Being Seen: An Interview with Claudia Rankine from Ferguson and Langston Hughes' Let America be America Again

Dear Ferguson – A DC Community Poem

Danez Smith's "Dinosaurs in the Hood" (written before Ferguson)

This is just a start. What else should we read? 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

(Trying to be) Easy on Yourself

Exploring Jefferson's Monticello

I'm typing this after being up most of the night with our teething toddler. I had planned on spending today writing and making progress on some new poems and submissions, but my head is fuzzy like unbrushed teeth. My to-do list is long and I probably shouldn't even be "indulging" in (unpaid) writing when there are other pressing things to do.

Today isn't a day when I'll be creating anything. I can do some laundry and basic tasks, but that's it. While I'm frustrated, this is part of parenthood and our (increasingly less new) reality. It is one that requires deep breaths (Dr. Karp's "magic breathing"?) and flexible thinking.

Yesterday, while the bambino was napping, he burst out into sleep-giggles. I was right there when it happened because he was napping in my arms, refusing the crib (another frustration). Without waking himself up, he smiled, his chest heaved and his eyes squinted. These moments remind me that everything is ok. Its ok to rest and enjoy each moment, tough and beautiful wrapped into one.

Excuse me while I refill my coffee cup and remind myself that writing isn't an "indulgence," it is what I do, along with many other things. And arrange to take a nap this afternoon.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Art & Poets at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center

I love taking the bambino to art museums (his first visit was to the Portland Art Museum.) Carrying him, he can be just about eye-to-eye with the art work and we're close enough that I can talk to him about it. Nonna and I recently took him to the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center. The museum is free and parking, underneath the building, is only $2.00 an hour. It is very easy and accessible with a baby (there's an elevator between the three floors, in case you are using a stroller.) I was happy to discover that there is an exhibit with work by and inspired by poets, too.

Looking at Hadie Shafie's 26000 Pages (Ketab Series), 2011

The exhibit An Opening of the Field: Jess, Robert Duncan, & Their Circle was really interesting and inspiring. The artist Jess Collins and his partner, poet Robert Duncan, collaborated with poets and artists in San Francisco in the early 1950s.

What are your favorite, kid-friendly things to do in Washington, D.C.?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Pregnancy and Parenting Advice Internet Style

Reading parent online discussions about pregnancy or children's medical issues is like watching a train wreck. It isn't good for anyone involved, yet I can't stop turning my head.

* Parents post photographs of their baby's rash - on their genitalia - and say that the doctor said to do something, but the parents don't want to. What do you, random person with a computer, think I should do instead?

* I read something by one mamma who dropped her baby on the sidewalk. She was reassured by many other parents who had also dropped their babies on hard surfaces. And you know, they seem fine. For now. Without medical attention.

* One mother posted recently that her contractions were one minute apart. What should she do? I read this a few days after it was posted and women were continuing to offer late, time-sensitive advice. No follow-up from the mother.

* There are posts about cheating spouses, suspicious relatives left alone with tiny babies, anti-vaccination posts and more.

Why would you listen to someone on the internet who doesn't know your baby's medical history or anything about you? It is baffling. I understand the need to connect with other parents; parenthood can be scary and lonely. But just because you are pregnant, got someone pregnant, gave birth, adopted, foster or otherwise care for children, none of that means you suddenly gain the knowledge of a medical professional.

But, if you would listen to just anyone, even someone with an MFA in poetry and a computer, here's my advice:

Call your doctor. Follow the doctor's advice and if you don't like it, get a second opinion. From a medical doctor.