Friday, June 26, 2015

Recent Reads

A month or so ago, I read  The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, because some of my college classmates were reading it and talking about it. 

I admit that it was a page-turner, and I didn't figure out  "who did it,"  but I so disliked the characters, especially the girl in the title, that I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else.

Then, while I was at Cape May, and after, I read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr,  and loved it.

I could read it again, with pleasure, except for the chapters on the young German boy's experiences in the Nazi school.  The chapters on Paris, and the young girl's years there in the museum with her father, as well as their years in San Malo, were so interesting.  I loved how the father carved models of all the houses of their neighborhoods in each location for the daughter to learn by feel, and then follow in real space. I loved the descriptions of the boy's genius with making and repairing radios.
I loved the courage and large-heartedness of so many of the characters. 

Then, in the last week, I finished reading Someone by Alice McDermott.

This was not my favorite novel of hers; that was Charming Billy. However, her first person narrator's description of her family and neighbors, her whole first generation Irish/Brooklyn/Catholic culture were enormously interesting to me. Because my own Irish family settled in relatively rural/suburban Philadelphia, on a small farm, and it was my father who was first generation, it was not like anything in my own experience.  But I liked the story very much; so much that I was sorry when the book ended.

Today I began to read The Lost Symbol  by Dan Brown.

Managed to get through the first three chapters and gave up on it.  It's terrible.  More of the same stuff as the DaVinci Code.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Charleston Massacre

In my opinion, that is what it was, on the evening of June 17, when that young white man went into a prayer meeting at a church and gunned down nine black men and women.

To me, that was a manifestation of evil.

Those men and women who died weren't just victims; they were martyrs.  The word martyr means "witness".  They witnessed to their faith, but they also witnessed to the racial hatred that still flourishes in our country.

To have this take place in Charleston is a bitter message, too.  Charleston is the place where the Civil War began, when the cadets from the Citadel fired the first shots from Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor.

I lived in Charleston from 1984-86, and taught at the Catholic High school there.  This school was noted because it was the first high school integrated in that city in 1964. When I taught there, I did not witness any racial problems. That doesn't mean there weren't racial problems experienced by the students, either there or elsewhere in the city.

Charleston is a very beautiful city. We lived at 103 Bull Street, not too far from the oldest part.

my dad and I, in the shade of the palmetto tree outside the house where I lived.

103 Bull Street

In our back yard, attached to the house, was still what is called in Charleston, "the Dependency," which is where the slaves lived.  It was empty and broken down, but haunting.

The Dependency behind 103 Bull Street, 1985

Church Street

East Bay Street, near the Battery
Rutledge Avenue, 1991.  Note the Confederate flag.
I am adding to this blog entry  a short essay/reflection posted on Facebook today by Josephine Humphreys, a novelist who was born and raised in Charleston, and who lives nearby now.  It was so powerful I had to share it here:
Josephine Humphreys:   
Danger and Deliverance
After the last few days of reconciliation events and impressive examples of people coming together, why am I suddenly feeling uneasy and afraid? It may be because I’m hearing voices.
I’ve heard them all my life, the voices that defended segregation, warned against liberal leanings, denied that slavery had anything to do with the Civil War, whispered that the black race was inferior. They were so dominant in my childhood that I’ve often wondered how I eventually managed to break free of them. I was an obedient child, I loved my parents, and for a long time I hardly noticed the discrepancy between their clear good-heartedness and their political opinions. So where did I get my liberal leanings? White Charleston was a place where the voices were everywhere, not just at home but in school, among friends, at church. They were quiet, assured, and not to be argued with. They pointed out examples of people who had deviated, who consorted with black people and were therefore given a name that was like a scarlet letter or searing brand. The deviants were ostracized, subtly or not so subtly. Everyone knew who they were.
I had secret deviations in my heart, and paradoxically they had come from my parents, from church, and from school. The basic teachings of all three were clear. My parents taught generosity and kindness. School taught democracy and the rights of man. Church taught God’s love for all. But the voices contradicted all that. They scared me, and I toed the line.
What finally the made me stop listening?
It was my youngest sister.
She became a Head Start teacher. I believe she was still in college. It was the first time a member of the family had any kind of extended relationship with black people. It changed her, and it changed my parents. I remember the day she told them flat out, if they continued with the voices she would never speak to them again. She was their favorite child. They gave no argument. They complied. The way was clear for me, even though the voices were still audible outside our home. My sister gave me courage.
She still does, as do my husband and my children.
But now, suddenly, I am hearing the voices again. They come mostly from Facebook and from online comments on news stories. I try not to listen, and try not to fear them. But my fear is a different kind now. It’s not the cowardly fear of deviating, not the fear of losing friends or breaking with my parents. It’s a fear of damage to the community, a fear of losing ground, a fear of ruin and violence. In fact these voices are more full of hate than any I heard as a child.
In high school when we studied the American Revolution, I read Thomas Paine’s THE AMERICAN CRISIS (1777), and have never forgotten this passage: “The nearer any disease approaches to a crisis, the nearer it is to a cure. Danger and deliverance make their advances together, and it is only the last push, in which one or the other takes the lead.” I don’t know if we are in that kind of moment now. Yesterday my cousin said so well what I am feeling now. “Deep down I harbor this hope that what we have been seeing is a sort of last gasp of the real hate - that this moment we are in represents the violent, cathartic end of the dark forces of division in our part of the South. And I know it is not. But I still cling to that glimmer of hope.”

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice Triangles  by Roger Mullenhour

Here's a wonderful poem about the summer solstice by Stacie Cassarino

Summer Solstice

By   Stacie Cassarino
I wanted to see where beauty comes from
without you in the world, hauling my heart
across sixty acres of northeast meadow,
my pockets filling with flowers.
Then I remembered,
it’s you I miss in the brightness
and body of every living name:
rattlebox, yarrow, wild vetch.
You are the green wonder of June,
root and quasar, the thirst for salt.
When I finally understand that people fail
at love, what is left but cinquefoil, thistle,
the paper wings of the dragonfly
aeroplaning the soul with a sudden blue hilarity?
If I get the story right, desire is continuous,
equatorial. There is still so much
I want to know: what you believe
can never be removed from us,
what you dreamed on Walnut Street
in the unanswerable dark of your childhood,
learning pleasure on your own.
Tell me our story: are we impetuous,
are we kind to each other, do we surrender
to what the mind cannot think past?
Where is the evidence I will learn
to be good at loving?
The black dog orbits the horseshoe pond
for treefrogs in their plangent emergencies.
There are violet hills,
there is the covenant of duskbirds.
The moon comes over the mountain
like a big peach, and I want to tell you
what I couldn’t say the night we rushed
North, how I love the seriousness of your fingers
and the way you go into yourself,
calling my half-name like a secret.
I stand between taproot and treespire.
Here is the compass rose
to help me live through this.
Here are twelve ways of knowing
what blooms even in the blindness
of such longing. Yellow oxeye,
viper’s bugloss with its set of pink arms
pleading do not forget me.
We hunger for eloquence.
We measure the isopleths.
I am visiting my life with reckless plenitude.
The air is fragrant with tiny strawberries.
Fireflies turn on their electric wills:
an effulgence. Let me come back
whole, let me remember how to touch you
before it is too late.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Eighteen Eventful Days

Spent one more day at Cape May, then on May 31 I drove back to Emmitsburg. 
I then did something I don't do much anymore:  I unpacked and repacked.

Monday afternoon, June 1, I drove down to Washington DC ( Bethesda, really) and joined up with some of my college friends. They joined me for dinner at a great Chinese restaurant,

 and then accompanied me to the Friendship Heights Village Center, where I gave a poetry reading for CafĂ© Muse, sponsored by Word Works, a literary association in Washington.

  I thoroughly enjoyed myself at my reading, and my friends did, too.  So interesting: six of my woman friends were there to cheer me on.

Two were my actual college classmates from forty-five years ago; a third was a year ahead of me in college and went on to be an Army nurse in Vietnam; a fourth was one of my religious sisters who was a missionary for many years in Taiwan ; a fifth was my student from back in 1977, who is now a superior court judge in DC; a sixth is a poet friend I met last summer at the Glen West Workshop in Santa Fe.

I stayed overnight in DC on Monday and Tuesday, and Tuesday one of these friends and I had lunch and an afternoon at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. I love this museum, but hadn't been to it in about 20 years. 

Then, I drove back up to Emmitsburg on Wednesday with what turned out to be a miserable head cold.
Spent Thursday through most of Sunday down and out with this cold.  But the bedrest and the cold pills worked, and by Monday, June 8, I was feeling better.

Not entirely better, it turned out.

Did school work, poetry book work, and retreat planning work on the 8th and 9th, and then, on the 10th,  I drove up to Lancaster PA early in the morning, picked up another college classmate C, and the two of us drove several more hours ( including getting lost) up to Doylestown PA for the funeral of another woman E , the older sister of another classmate MA, who had died after about a ten year struggle with metastatic breast cancer. I had become close to MA over the years, and felt it was very important that I go to that funeral. And it was.

So then C and I drove back the same day., stopping outside of New Holland PA at an Amish roadside stand to buy the most delicious strawberries I have ever tasted.

I dropped C off in Lancaster and continued on to Emmitsburg. Had a fairly ordinary day Thursday, but began to have stomach cramps Thursday night and ended up with Gastroenteritis... Again.
Twenty-four hours of vomiting.  Had to call in sick and miss the Friday Freshman Orientation I was scheduled to take part in, not to mention lunch on Saturday with S  and K ( two other college friends!) and a poetry retreat with my local poet friends on Sunday.

In fact , I spent four hours on Sunday afternoon at Gettysburg Hospital Emergency Room, getting IV fluids for dehydration.

So now I am again on the mend, and have decided to stay home and stay put.  I have a Guided Retreat to give next week, and I cannot be sick for that.

This blog entry is probably very boring for those who don't know me. Sorry.   But I am concerned that this is the fifth round of "stomach virus" I've had since this time last year.  My immune system must be in bad shape.

I have more to say about another death - a sudden one - of a woman I both went to college with and taught with -  but enough is enough.  I'll return to that another day.