Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Revolution at Home

"We all need to go down and join the occupation -- and not just by "liking" it on Facebook, signing a petition or retweeting protest photos."

Alternet: On the Wall Street Occupation

As my husband and I watch the video of two women being tear gassed, a young man with a professional video camera being thrown against a parked car, and an innocent woman being ripped from the crowd and thrown down onto the street by a police Sargent--all during a peaceful march on Wall Street--I rub my belly of baby and think about how I have an obligation to do something, anything at all, to change the country I live in. It sounds so melodramatic, I know, but I grew-up in the 90s when things were so damn cushy we all decided it would be fun to wear grungy clothes we found at thrift shops for a buck (now you can buy these same style T-shirts at Urban Outfitters for $30 and still look cool). I spent my twenties educating myself, watching a televised war that felt totally alien to me, listening to the Bush-era jargon of complete lies, and dealing with a father who thinks the wealthy have to pay too much money in taxes. Too much money in taxes!! Now, the GOP won't stop complaining about Obama's request to have the wealthiest Americans return to paying a fair income tax--as though these wealthy elite can't afford to pay more in taxes. Rather, the GOP thinks that we should tax Americans who make less than $22,000/ year for supporting a family of 4 ( they call this "broadening the tax base") Okay, when I was single, this amount of money did not cover my expenses, so how we came up with the idea that a family of four could live--not in poverty--on, say, $25,000/ year, is completely beyond me. Even in an incredibly rural part of the country I feel like this would be extrememly difficult.
I found my liberalism in the institution of higher education which filled me with rage for the injustices that I had grown-up sheltered from. Then I tried to work on some political campaigns, attended the usual protests and rallies surrounding liberal arts colleges, before I decided to run away to Vermont where I became an extreme liberal, and a crunchie, striped sock wearing, wine drinking, potluck loving oh I don't know what. Vermont is a strange place to grow into adulthood because all of your liberalism and progressive politics are heavily supported--we have BERNIE SANDERS for a senator! We all know how corrupt capitalism is, we love to work for barter, live under the so-called poverty line, and we never ask each other "what do you do?" upon meeting for the first time, rather, we say things like, "what are you into?" or "what are you up to?" OK, I could go on, we love our organic vegetables grown on the edge of town and sold in the Food Co-Op, our local meat farmers, our Saturday afternoon Farmer's Market, our political puppets and parades, and so on.
For years now, however, I have felt disempowered as a generation by the political, social, capitalist machine that rules my world. I've felt that protesting doesn't work, that government doesn't work, that everything good in America has been thrown under the bus. Slowly, I've grown to realize that really, really, and truly the middle class is being systematically destroyed and education is becoming a joke. Slowly I've realized that almost everything is about making money, especially health care, higher education, and media. Media, remember, is supposed to be the watch-dog of the political machine and when it's owned by the political machine it can't really do it's job. Remember, education--real education that isn't about passing a dumb test or getting a job--is what makes democracy work. Recall, (as though we're not constantly dealing with the stress of it) most industrialized nations provide health-care (as a human right) for all their citizens.
What I came here to say is that though we all can't be at the Wall Street Occupation, we can find ways to support this revolutionary action.
I hope that all of my NYC friends will find some way to get involved.
My fellow Vermonters have planned a solidarity protest in Burlington this Sunday:!/event.php?eid=251658048203937 

Sponsor an unemployed friend to go down to the occupation!
Voice support for the occupation of wall street and fair media coverage in whatever way you can.
Feed the Protest:
The Nation:
Video of Police Brutality:

Monday, September 26, 2011

The If Onlys

There, is the woman with the feet that turn inward

Walking across the road to the park. Sometimes

She gets stuck in the meridian, tottering as she does

on the outside of her feet—Hers is a hobble

that looks painful and trying. Cars whizzing by on both sides.

I watch from my window as she crosses

Thinking about her life and my own, in which

My soles paddle the ground lightly and I have

Been given, at times, to speed.

My four sisters call my feet water-skis—

Too long, too flat! They cry, pointing

At my poor and blameless feet.

In the Second grade, I picked out a pair of white

Puffy sneakers for school. Once home, I realized

They made my feet look like enormous albino tacos.

I ran outside and threw myself down on the ground

Under a pine in the yard, sniveling.

I was not dainty! I was dreadful!

There began my girl’s life of if onlys—

How much better I would be if I didn’t have

These freckles, this haircut, these thighs...

If I had boobs, a boyfriend, more money.

I have mostly recovered from the if onlys,

But some days, watching her cross to the park,

They return, and I let myself wonder how her life

And my own, might have been different.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The House is a Nest for Dreaming: "Letting Go and Making Way" by Sarah Twombly

No matter what my step-father says, I am not a hoarder. Listen to my mother; I'm a nester.

Growing up, my family spent as much time moving as we did in any given house. A summer here, three years there, we were nomadic but mostly happy. Michael Martone writes that “On one hand we have a desire to be rooted, to belong—literally to be long—in a place. On the other hand, we wish to be free of those connections, to keep moving through.” The only attachments my family made were to each other, and to the things we carried. We packed carefully, more scared by the thought of our possessions breaking than of the move itself. Box by cardboard box, we arranged, organized and taped shut the contents of our lives, always neatly labeled for easy unpacking later on.

I have never been long in a place. One house for six years feels an eternity. I get restless, anxious to pack, to unpack, to have the fresh feeling of a new place, a new room, a new opportunity to nest.

A house never felt like home until my mother's school house clock had been hung in the kitchen. Even though the insistent tick tock, tick tock drove me mad, even though its hourly chimes were so loud they woke me in the middle of the night and on more than one occasion I tip-toed into the kitchen, opened the glass casing, and stopped the pendulum, I needed that clock to hang. I have more memories of that clock than any single house I’ve ever lived in.

My mother was the expert unpacker, but my father was the consummate nester. With three hours, a hammer and some picture wire, he could work magic. And every move he refined his skills, until the transition from one place to another was seamless. The photo collage hung on the wall of one house miraculously reappeared, slightly altered, on some wall of the next. We packed these pictures so carefully, each frame individually wrapped in a large sheet of packing paper, tucked in a box upright, not flat the way you’d think. Upright and face to face was sturdier, we’d learned.

My favorite photo was of me in my mother's lap the day of my christening. My mother’s cheeks are still round with the weight from her pregnancy, and my father is sitting beside her with a tired but joyful grin on his face. My brother stands between them, his head cocked proudly, as though fascinated by his new found status as the eldest. It is summer and we are heaped on the slope of a front lawn, one of the many I’d come to know. I don't know who took the picture, but I imagine my father set the timer and ran back to us before the shutter clicked, the way he would do for years to come. We have that disheveled look to us, even me in my white, lace bonnet, that comes from hurrying to catch the flash.

Like the clock, seeing this picture safely hung meant we'd made it through another move intact. Unbroken.
But over the years we have had to learn, every member of my family, how to let these things go. Clocks and photos and collections of every kind and creed, the flotsam we’d collected in lieu of a home became too much to carry, a comfort-cum-burden.

When I was twenty and my brother twenty-four, my parents divorced. They spent months amicably dividing their properties. No one argued. No one protested. Quickly and quietly the cargo of our lives was organized, packed, and shipped—to my father's in Virginia or my mother's in Maine. A few things my brother took for his new apartment. Others, like my childhood blanky, I brought to college for safekeeping. As always, we moved efficiently, like the gears in one of my mother's clocks. Our choices were precise and measured. In the throes of a move we were decisive to a fault.

A few months later, after the boxes had been unpacked, the goodwill trips finished, the castoffs hauled to the dump, we were half the people we had once been. Half the people living in half the space with half the stuff, and nowhere felt like home. We would spend the rest of our lives learning how to live and how to nest without the objects, those things that had held us together for so long.

It's been ten years. We have, my mother, brother, father and I, moved no less than four times each, and we are still learning.

My father's new partner, George, once gave away almost everything he owned—a mahogany dining table, a grandfather clock, a bed, a dresser, oil paintings, everything. It was liberating, he says. I was traumatized by the story. Before my father moved in, George's house was a kind of homage to Georgia O'Keeffe—a chair, a bed, and a pitcher of water on an Amish-style nightstand. He likes space. Breathing room, he said. I called it optical quiet.

But my father moved in and worked his magic, and now there are pictures and art on almost every wall. But not like the walls of my childhood. My father has honed his skills. Over the intervening years he has refined his aesthetic so that, with a single painting he can manage an affect that once took dozens. He no longer has a storage space brimming with ancestral artifacts too precious, too dear, to let go of. He will always be a nester, but he has found that the sticks and grasses at hand offer a freedom he’d never been able to find in a cardboard box. Even more surprising, perhaps, is that George has come to enjoy the whimsy of artfully placed bibelot, the comfort of a photograph.

My mother has had a harder time, her learning curve an elongated parabola, but she is making headway. Every year she lets go of something. Last year it was the stuffed animals from my and my brother's childhood. This year it was her house. She and Drew, my step-father, a man as reticent to let go as she, have been forced to find common ground and pare down, their new houses being smaller than their last. Unlike my father and George, my mother and Drew enjoy the melange of a wall hung with a dozen photos, the constant surprise of alighting on one image then another, re-remembering, rediscovering.

Someday I imagine my mother will bring our library of picture books to goodwill, but for now, they nestle on a homemade bookshelf in the basement where she can crouch and pull them out, one by one, remembering how she'd read them to my brother and I, and how, eventually, we'd read them to ourselves, over and over again, until the spines were creased and the pages dog-eared. She is the protector of things, the one who remembers, the one who will always have what you’re looking for.

There’s a fine line between hoarding and holding on. I find myself attached to objects, obsessed with them, really, as my friends will attest. I have a need to feel, to hold, to smell the relics of my life. These objects—the wooden buddha my brother and sister-in-law, AJ, carried across the Pacific Ocean for me, the clock with the face that says "Keep Writing", given by a dear friend—they inspire. They incite in me a deep-seeded longing memory alone could not manage. But I have seen objects, their cumbersome weight, bury the ones I love. If you want to hold on, be ready to sacrifice your life for it.

These days, living in a New York City apartment, my belongings are precious few. I have no desire to part with any of them, but when the time comes I will find a way. How else to make way for what’s to come?

My mother's school-house clock may still hang in her kitchen, but that picture from my christening has long since disappeared. And I like to think we’re all the better for it.

Sarah Twombly is a writer and literary agent living in NYC. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Fiction at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I first met her at VCFA as my roommate during her first residency. Instantly charmed by Sarah's passion, energy, kindness, and talent, I became one of her biggest fans.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"The Brevity and Expansiveness of Time"

Fall in Vermont
I am thinking of Andrea Modica's photographs of wild apple trees in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Pastoral writes, "In Northeast Kingdom, (Modica) has perhaps created an awareness of both the brevity and expansiveness of time and what it means to hang onto it."

I first encountered Modica's photos one autumn when I worked on a farm. We took turns driving a tractor with a wagon attached to the back to and from the farmyard and welcome center, picking up children and their keepers, driving them over the turning landscape to the farmyard where animals calmly waited behind fences to be pet and cooed over. One afternoon, the leaves had just started to turn, I flipped through a journal at the welcome center while I waited for my wagon to fill. Near the end, I found some of Modica's photos from her Portfolio Northeast Kingdom. How I was drawn to those black and white photos of wild apple trees.

No one tended those trees, harvested their bitter fruit or trimmed back their branches when they began to droop against the earth. Modica, as her photos seem to explain, was drawn to her abandoned subject as a symbol of time, change, growth, death and loss. The pictures are often out of focus except for one small circular patch caught in the detail of her lens. They seem to spiral or swirl out, creating an orbiting blur that frames fine and delicate detail. Modica said, the apples hung on even into the wintry cold, through the ice, to spring. One photo (shown above) catches a shriveled apple the size of a plum hanging from a long and slender thread of branch. In another, the alchemy of shadow and distance sweep across an orchard, smudging time, rendering the picture seasonless.  

I carried the dream of those photos with me as I drove the tractor out over the field, past the Canadian geese stopping to rest on their journey south, and the spring calves now grown and close to slaughter, up to the farmyard. The children shuffled off the wagon and, stretching their legs, ran towards the farmyard animals. When I could, I went back into the welcome center to comb through the four or five pages of photos. They fed me something that fall. I thought of the wild trees growing along a dirt road, the white bloom a shock of spring beauty, the full branches of fall beseeching a belief in nature's generosity. I dreamed of the icy branches to which a few lone apples clung on by a thread--I won't go, I won't go into the snow, they cried.

Of course, I gave the photos no meaning then; I simply looked at them, thought of them, and let them nurish me. It is only now, returning, that I find such meaning. I have since looked at the photographs, my husband eagerly peeking over my shoulder in the welcome center at the farm. "They still have this?" I whispered. It's still here.