Tonight I celebrate my mother’s would be 90th birthday. Yes, I know she’s gone, although a force like hers can’t be contained in a simple afterlife, right? Of course I’m sad not to have her physically with us, but wow, did we have spectacular fun these last many decades. Holidays and vacations and just spur of the minute plans that would always turn into something fabulous.
It really isn’t because I’m reading Claire Dederer’s latest memoir, Love and Trouble, but I must admit, she’s gotten me thinking. About how I wished I wrote with her daring pen. About all those crazy-ass years when I was running straight into the black, and these slightly more stable years, when some of that crazy is boomeranging back. But it isn’t totally that either, it’s my job and the demands that are clear insanity but you can’t actually admit to it because it’s your job after all and you need to keep it a few more years; it’s the guy in the White House who I can’t bring myself to call president or give his title a capital letter but still, you know he’s there and the whole world is acting like he didn’t in fact steal the election but somehow might be qualified even though he’s the very definition of shit show; it’s about summer’s abrupt end and my love of drinking a tad too much rosé, okay my addiction that hasn’t stopped even though I know better and one should stop drinking Summer’s Water; but ultimately it’s about racing and racing every day ahead of just about every deadline so that I can feel like I have it together but know I don’t. Yeah, today, it’s all of that.
There is, generally, within a disaster, some small yet distant point of light along the horizon. Katrina, Irene, and now Harvey have that in common: the disaster and the light. Although my Vermont school community is not directly affected this time, their personal memory of Irene has spurred empathy and compassion for the residents in Texas hit hard by Harvey. On our first day of school there were whispers which grew to serious conversation until an unified plan took shape to support the relief efforts. As we are hundreds of miles away, raising cash seemed best.
Headlines from coast to coast state the current crisis in our leadership better than I could…of course you might want to dig a bit and read past the headlines, but if you’re pressed for time, these statements might be all you need to gauge the American opinion of who exactly is at our helm.
Trump Gives White Supremacists an Unequivocal Boost (New York Times)
Trump Loses Corporate America (Wall Street Journal)
Trump administration wants to praise the county mayor in Miami. He just slammed Trump (Miami Herald)
David Duke and Donald Trump and the long ties of history (Chicago Tribune)
Former presidents Bush rebuke Trump’s neo-Nazi stance (Dallas News)
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”– Harriet Tubman
These inspirational quips are easy to find as they roll along our feed like waves, but can easily hit the wall of our own stupid shit. I mean, do we honestly believe we can live out our dreams? Sure chosen folk like Oprah and Kobe seem to, and possibly my mother did, but what about you, or me? Can we push away doubt? Acquire a room of one’s own where we dare those dreams into action? I’ve known plenty of people with talent and possibility who crashed right into a waterfall of negative behaviors and let their own potential rush away. Maybe it’s the demons in their head, maybe it’s just their crap circumstances, regardless, they let their internal passions subside to a trickle. They put down the paint brush. They stop dancing. They quit imagining and believe something less about themselves, something more tragic. They’ve heard the sad tale so long they write one of their own.
What do you believe about yourself? Can you just pretend for one sunny moment that you are all that you envision you are? That the job you do is one that utilizes your full creative potential? That your future is in your own hands? Quite a mission if we feel tossed from day to day. But here’s the thing: why not choose to believe in the best outcome? I mean, seriously, what do you have to lose? Life is spinning by fast and then faster, so why not harness that rotation into your own glowing projection on this earth?
I know what you are up against. Whispers of “women can’t write, women can’t paint” have been heard even before Woolf penned those words in 1927. But even timid Lily defied that sentiment, right? Regardless of gender or age we can get trapped by societal misconceptions, from being the fat one or the stupid one or the talent-less one or just plain lazy and unlucky, we play out those limiting roles. Instead, how about we stand up to our own self-doubt as magnificently as Lily does in To the Lighthouse? “Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.”
Flying away from the City of Angels is never easy for me. My children live down there. And, besides the strings knotted between us, the city is built on dreams. Uber drivers write good screenplays. Waitresses are ready to hit the airwaves. Surfers design apps to cure loneliness. Seems everyone in Los Angeles is joined in believing in a vision beyond their current limitations. Over time, West Coast magic can break even hardened East Coast Northerns. Truly. Beyond Hollywood, there are garage bands making harmony and coffee shop plot lines and glittery dreams aplenty crisscrossing freeways. Even with Trump’s fatalistic fire and fury, one can reach for the stars here, believe in a better tomorrow, and let his improvisational rhetoric fall flat below. Maybe it’s the sunshine and palm trees, maybe it’s just a collective Los Angeles agreement that everyone should have the chance to change their world.
How about just for today you suspend your cynicism? The desperate voice in your chatter? Imagine something grander for your tomorrow. Be willing to turn off despair. Count your blessings. Start speaking out loud what you hold locked within. Believe we each have the ability to transform our dreams into reality if we follow our joy. Put that in your mind. Remember when all seems impossible. Joy. Latch onto that with me and together let’s dance right into a better world.
Maybe it’s the hundreds of poetry essays moving in red folders across my table in the AP Literature scoring room, or the company of hundreds of English teachers, all equally obsessed over words, but as soon as I saw this morning’s headline on a discarded newspaper on the conference center cafeteria table, my mind flooded with questions and outrage about gun violence. I don’t want to minimize this latest shooting (prayers to all involved) but… this is what will cause Washington to become stunned over the epidemic that has been spreading like wildfire in our communities?