Trump, the New Year, and Me

I like the look of 2018 better than 2017. I don’t mean the year itself, because how could I know? Who can ever predict what will happen in a given year? I am literally referring to the look of it. The last number–8–is all round and curvy–not sharp and angular like a 7 looking like it doesn’t know which way to to go, as if it starts out one direction and then says to itself, “Oh hey what the fu–this is not–I need to go another way.”

The nice, soft, curvy 8 looks like something you could rest your head on. Something that will be more forgiving, and allow for some bounce-back. I want to love 2018 and it looks like maybe I could? Maybe?

Or it might look like a continuous loop. Just the same thing going around and around endlessly. I think this is my fear.

In 2017 I became something I do not like.

I’m still the thing I don’t like; we are days in to 2018 and I haven’t even consented to doing something about it. I will say that I am working on maybe getting close to the possible idea of making, like, something sort of resembling a resolution for the new year.

One morning in 2017 my husband was putting on his shoes at the end of our bed–I was still halfway under the covers drinking the latte he brought me, which he does every morning, still, because he is a much better person than me. I was muttering about something I’d just seen on my Twitter feed, maybe it was the Pocahontas comment Trump made about Elizabeth Warren, or that stunt where he threw paper towels at Puerto Rican hurricane survivors, or maybe I was just grumbling about Donnie’s irritating inability to capitalize correctly, or his overuse of exclamation marks–honestly it could have been about a million things. My husband, with his back to me, still sitting on our bed, randomly mentioned that he’d heard something at a lecture he had attended the day before. The woman speaking said something to this effect:

“Do you want to be defined by what you hate? Or by what you love?”  

 I thought about this long after my husband had left for work, after he drove off, leaving me wondering just exactly how random that random comment was. I thought about it for a few days. And somewhere between my latest tweet aimed at Donald Trump (my brilliantly funny and scathing tweet, I might add) and my latest post on Facebook in which I beg and plead for everyone else to see with me–to see and be horrified, and help me figure out what to do–how to fix this–I realized that I spend a lot of my day hating. As in, actually feeling hate.

I didn’t used to be this person. No, really, I didn’t. I’m all about love. I think it’s the most important thing and it can save the world and each of us individually and all that. I’m all in with Jesus on this one. Love wins, it conquers all, it’s why we’re here–I believe it all.

And yet.

I wake up hating.

godzilla face palm

I wake up hating the fact that Trump is still in office. I hate how he denigrates our women, our dreamers, our LGBT citizens; I hate his son standing there holding an elephant’s tail; I hate those pussy-grabbing-move-on her-like-a-bitch remarks and the fact that people–women even–still voted for him and I hate them for being so ignorant or for caring so little for themselves and their sisters and daughters. I hate how pathetic we appear to the rest of the world; when I was in Portugal and Spain and France just after his inauguration I hated feeling embarrassed of us, of our country; I hate how my students whom I admire for their work ethic and determination are living in fear of being deported; I hate the things Trump says–I even hate the way he says them. I hate his facial expressions and his hand gestures and his ridiculous hair and I hate how I feel so sorry for his stone-faced wife who has to endure god-knows-what and I seriously could go on a lot more about the things I now hate on a daily basis.

I hate this. I hate who I am becoming. Something has to change.

This is the part where I am supposed to tell you about this new leaf I am turning in this new year. Where I stand up and proudly proclaim “New year–new me!” Where I tell you about the tools I will have handy when these hateful feelings rise up in me.

But that’s not really the deal.

I try. I really do. Today I wasn’t even thinking about all the stuff going wrong, I was prepping for my classes and petting my dog like a normal person, but I accidentally learned about the Eric Trump/Ellen DeGeneres/Deep State bullshit and that ridiculous tweet from Trump where he brags to Kim Jong-un about the size of his nuclear button. How was I supposed to not hate that? HOW?!

My daughter tells me I could just stop reading the news. Get off of Twitter. Don’t follow the links. And for god’s sake, don’t read the comments.

I could do this, I suppose. I’m not sure I could do it for very long, though. Because it feels less safe to not know. I don’t want to be blind-sighted. I don’t like being surprised. Ask anybody who has ever startled me in a hallway; I don’t deal well.

Please don’t send me recommendations to meditate or pray or do yoga or journal or get more sleep or eat better or whatever else you think will alleviate the bone-deep anger I feel right now. (Smart-ass remarks are, as always, totally welcome) Not to belittle your great idea but chances are I’ve already thought of it or tried it or am already doing it.

And besides, I am still hopeful. Anybody who is taking comfort from the shape of a number is definitely trying to be hopeful. Am I right? I have some ideas about limiting myself. I’m looking to involve myself in actions and situations that help, that contribute, that encourage. I have some ideas. I resolve to try to hate less. To really try. I’m not saying you won’t see some tweets or posts from me anymore–I’m not sure I have the resolve for that, to be honest. I will, however, promise to try to not hate so much. I want to define myself by love, not hate.

But.

2018–no matter now welcoming it may look– still has a dangerous, inexperienced, misogynistic, immature, immoral little man as its president. He still has the button. We are still threatened by him. We still live in a country where people think he should be our leader–and I think that is the scariest thought of all–the one I hate the most. I think it has made me trust humanity less, and that is a sad, sad thing.

Both of these are still true in the new year: we can still hope; we are still in a frightening place.

So here’s to 2018 and the hope that it’s as good as it looks, that it welcomes in more love and less hate, for all of us, and that it is, after all, not an endless loop of the same.

 

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Apparently You CAN Go Home Again #ouchylovehurts

I’m on a train, headed back to the bay. Awaiting me is a classroom full of books and mementos to be packed up, and an apartment with more of the same. After about four years of living in the beautiful bay area I am moving back to Fresno.

This was not an easy decision. Have I mentioned that I love the bay? And perhaps you have noticed that I have fallen in love with the students at the private high school where they have miraculously allowed me to teach English and Drama the past two years.

And there’s the Fresno heat. My gawd, the HEAT.

But, the thing is: family. I’ve been away from them too long.

In the fall I will begin teaching English 1A at Reedley College. I’m excited for this job. Reedley College was my first choice, as I have always appreciated their focus on and attention to local authors. I’m excited at the prospect of being around other writers and professors. I’m excited to teach at college level. I’m excited to meet new students and colleagues.

The heart, though. It’s a tender muscle. These days it feels stretched, and pulled, and it aches.

I partly blame my students, who upon hearing of my departure began the process of torturing me. This took different forms: hugs, loving notes, and warm sentiments were dished out in a much lesser degree than sarcastic comments, messages on my white board about my desertion of them, and lots of comments like, “Hey Barker–maybe next year we can–oh wait, never mind. I forgot YOU ARE LEAVING US.”

Together my students and I have walked across Spain, studied the stories of others, learned each other’s stories, played games, pranked our principal, eaten meals, slept in cabins, toured San Francisco, put on plays–even Shakespeare (sort of), prayed, worshiped, laughed, cried, danced, and so much more.

I’m also leaving some amazing colleagues, who found various ways over the two years to show their love and support–not the least of them being providing transportation for me when riding my bike just wouldn’t work. They have made me laugh when I needed it most, showed immeasurable patience, and extended a lot of grace. I love them truly.

I’m pretty old now, and have said a few goodbyes in my day.  You’d think I’d be used to it. But nope.

On this day I am grateful for so many things. Perhaps, most of all, I am thankful for the people who live in my heart. I may have said goodbye to them, but they are still with me. They always will be.

 

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I’m Leaving the Country Today #mycamino

I’m leaving the country today. If I weren’t, I’d be marching in the city with other women in protest of the debacle that we all are bearing witness to.

But I don’t want to talk about that.

Today I am leaving the country with a fellow teacher and seven high school students. We’re walking across Spain on the El Camino de Santiago. 

Years ago, I learned about the Camino from my (most honored) English professor Craig Bernthal. He showed us stunning pictures of lush green hills, crumbling old cathedrals, and a long winding path marked with sea shells to help pilgrims find their way.

He spoke of a spiritual journey, a time to ponder, to test yourself, to question.

I thought it to be the most astounding thing.

I never thought I would do it.

The school where I work gave me the chance and I took it. In about two hours I leave for ten days. img_5682-1

We will walk long days in the rain, have lunch at cafés, and sleep in albuerges surrounded by people from all over the world.

I will be in Paris tonight.

I’m leaving the country today–grateful, expectant, and a bit troubled to leave my husband and family so far behind. I’ve written all their initials on the shell that is dangling from my pack; I’ll be carrying them on my back and in my heart.

It’s my 60th year. I’m walking across Spain.

I’m always given more than I deserve.

#mycamino

 

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Will

Just before I heard you died
just a moment before
I heard you’d gone
I’d been holding this
worn copy of Beowulf
and I’d laughed because
Remember?
how you loved Beowulf
and I didn’t?

Remember?
how you could
sit with a person
sit next to a person
and make them feel
so smart
and so significant?

Remember?
how you had such darkness
and such light
and one did not diminish the other?

And did you know that your presence
was so tangible
always?
I think,
because you had so much
mind and heart
that your body could not contain it. But–

Remember?
how you made me laugh
and made me think
and taught me
and pushed me
and Middle Earth days
and sonnets we spoke
and the professor we loved?

Remember?
the girl who struggled
in class and you–
no one knew it–
but you–
you got her through it,
didn’t you?

Remember?
how we–
my husband and I–
we danced to your music and
your soul was on your sleeve
and in the song?

but this is where I had to stop
because the thing is

it’s too hard
right now

to believe

that you

are gone.

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The Puzzle

In a cabin on a creek
unexpectedly
alone which is so
unfamiliar and

as strange as the sound of rain on the roof
in this drought.
Even the sound of thunder
and not just the teasing of the air with electric shivers
we’ve known as of late
but real thunder so loud you remember that poem and the line
what the thunder said
as you stand in the doorway watching water drip from pine trees.

But earlier,
before the rain fell,
when the air was still
and thick with promise
you found the dusty puzzle box
and the soft tussling sound you heard
as you lifted it
brought your father’s face before you.

Or not his face so much but him,
and the way he tapped the
bright, snug cardboard pieces
when he found the one,
that one piece that fit just so
right there
and made a bit more sense
of the farm scene
or the seascape,
or the raccoon faces peeping at you between fall leaves.

And the way you felt when you
were permitted to sit there
right next to him
working with him
to find that one piece
you know the one
the one that’s shaped like this
“Like this right here,” and we would
bend our heads together to find that one piece.
That one piece that would solve the puzzle.

But the puzzle is always too
big. It is too
intricate; and
you are certain some of the pieces
are missing.

The thunder stops and the rain, too.
But you stay inside because

you like to pretend

that the water still pours down on you and
the drought is over and

your father sits next to you

with his clean-shaven cheeks.

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Yes. All Women.

Woman-Falling-Down-Escalator--87517

photo credit: Vase Petrovski

Yesterday I was at Fruitvale BART, as I often am, riding down the escalator in the midst of the evening commute. It was really crowded, and I was over to the right of the narrow stairway, since I wasn’t in a hurry. (Typically people rushing to make a train or bus or get to work on time move at a faster pace and stay to the left.) The crowd started shifting around to make way for a group coming quickly down the left side. From behind I felt someone pressing against me so I tried to lean forward, but it was so crowded I couldn’t move much. In that second or two that I was somewhat trapped, the man behind me leaned into me, grabbed my ass with his whole hand and squeezed it, digging his fingers into my flesh; he laughed in my left ear, his breath and spit hitting my neck. He stepped to the left and hurried down the steps before I could even recover or respond and I watched him scurry off laughing and smiling back at me. A smallish black man in his 30s, in a baseball cap. When my own feet finally touched the unmoving floor I felt unsteady, as if I might fall over, or collapse in some humiliating way.

It’s not the first time something similar to this has happened to me and I’m sure most women would say the same. I think now that I am older I become even more enraged when something like this occurs. Maybe because I am coming at it from a place of more understanding about how women are valued, or more accurately: the twisted ways in which women are valued and devalued at the same time.

Women are shooting shit into their asses and their lips, slicing open their breasts to shove packets of crap into them, and paying lots of money to have their skin scraped, pulled, or otherwise manipulated. Our value seems to be found in the level of desirability we can achieve—at least the level and shape that the media touts before all of us as desirable—and women are doing terrible things to their bodies in their desperation.

When we walk down the street our bodies are vulnerable to leering and comments and even aggressive and unwanted groping. In that recent moment on the escalator I felt inexplicably and maddeningly embarrassed, as if I had done something shameful, and that infuriates me; I am still angry at not only the grinning man in the baseball cap, but at myself for my vulnerability, and my inability to stop or prevent this—my failure to retaliate or protect or punish.

It’s time to evolve. Time to raise our daughters to believe that their bodies are their own and not created for the pleasure of men’s eyes or hands or fantasies. Time to raise our sons to value women as more than flesh designed to gratify them. And—perhaps most difficult of all—time to look at ourselves and our own behaviors to determine how much a part of the problem we are. In countless subtle and powerful ways we tell ourselves and those around us what we think of women. Our words, actions, behaviors, and expectations scream out our true thoughts, and often they do damage that does not undo itself for generations, if ever.

One afternoon I sat at a sidewalk café in San Francisco with my son, Nate, and a young woman wearing a short skirt walked by. Nate and I witnessed a whole lineup of men either outwardly leering or trying to sneak looks without being detected. Nate turned to me and told me about something he’d read that was sticking in his mind.

“Say you’re a young girl,” he said, “and you’re out to lunch with your dad, and you’re telling him something about school, or your sports team, or whatever. You’re telling your dad, but the thing is, while you’re telling him his eyes are following a woman who just walked by. You know what that says to the young girl?” my son asked me. “It says: ‘your dreams and accomplishments aren’t as important as this woman’s ass.’ Now she’s probably going to spend more time in her life improving her ass than herself as a person, because she’s figured out that’s what matters to the most important man in her life.”

Ogling a woman passing by is a small and subtle thing, I suppose. But the message it sends is powerful and pervasive. And what of a son in that situation? Pretend the girl’s brother is at the table. What is he learning from his primary male role model? That the accomplishments, dreams, words, thoughts, ideas of a woman are not as important as her ass (I’m using “ass” to stand in for body, breasts, legs—whatever is being leered at). Insert ‘wife’ or ‘girlfriend’ into this story, and think about how that might affect the ability to feel appreciated, understood, equal, desirable.

#YesAllWomen

Now that we have diminished women to body parts and flesh existing for men to enjoy, it seems some of those men feel perfectly entitled to grab and stare and otherwise use our bodies to get them off in some way—with or without our consent. #YesAllWomen is a movement that seeks to expose the treatment that all women endure. On the daily, tweets pop up in my feed with women relating stories like my escalator one; most of them are worse. I like that the emphasis is on all women, as I’m hoping and imagining that this helps dispel the idea that this sort of thing only happens to certain women who dress a certain way. Have I mentioned that I am 58 years old, and at the time this happened was wearing a t-shirt (with a high collar—not a V neck), jeans, and red chucks. Not exactly the attire of a woman who is trying to attract unwanted (or any kind of) male attention. Yes. All women. Even your daughter, your sister, wife, friend. Your mother.

I started to apologize, just now, for this rant, and to thank you for sticking with it. But then I thought better of it. I don’t apologize for this rant. I apologize to my daughters, my son, and my grandson, for the ways in which the world will (and has) hurt them, and for the ways I have hurt them in my own ignorance. For that time I didn’t say anything to the man who was so familiar with me in the grocery store that it made my six year old son feel angry and protective. For the times I valued my daughters’ beauty too much, or failed to teach them how to function in the world as a pretty girl and still know who you really are—I couldn’t do it for them; I couldn’t do it for myself.

To the man on the escalator, and to all of you with your leering eyes, your shouts and whispers, your laughter in our ears, and your spit on our necks: I think you are losing more than you are gaining. You are losing your ability to see women as they are: complex and brilliant, capable of deep love and intellect that goes beyond the bounce of our breasts or the meat on our thighs. You are pushing us away with your meager understanding, and with your foolish lack of control in the presence of our flesh. You are more than all of this, and so are we.

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Brackish Water

This is a hard and exhilarating season. I am in between one life and another—not really, of course—not in the Samsara sense, or in the “I see a tunnel, and a bright light” sort of way. But I am nonetheless perched between my former life and my new one, at the age of 57, and I’m feeling a little like I’ve jumped into a river that is about to meet up with the enchanted sea but I’ve got to get out of the whirlpool I am in first. Let me explain.

I am only living in two geographic locations: Fresno and the bay area, but in the past week I have slept in five different beds, and I’ve been engaging in this sort of gypsy behavior for the past two months. I’ve started a new job in San Francisco, doing something I have never done before—teaching English courses to middle and high school Chinese-American students in a private learning institution. I am still trying to be proficient at using the bus, BART, and Muni to get me around, which has resulted in a couple of “Oh crap I’m on the wrong train” sort of moments, which aren’t terrible but at the end of a long work /travel day when it’s time to eat/pee/chill/sleep (none of which I can do on the BART—though some people do) it makes me feel stupid, and a little pathetic, sitting there with my suitcase at my feet and my smart phone in my hand; it makes me miss my husband, who I don’t see nearly enough these days. It makes me miss my dog.

I think I’m very tired.

One of the first things I learned from my beloved/irritating writing professor—who shall remain nameless but who, I will say, has an affinity for Melville and an aversion to the word “issues,” because, he claims, it’s a weak euphemism for what it really means, which is big fucking problems—is that writing is not therapy. Or, at least it’s not supposed to be a therapeutic endeavor. Is that what he was saying? I’m not really sure, even after hearing him say it repeatedly over a span of years. Because it never made sense to me. Like math, I couldn’t make his philosophy fit into my brain.

But out of respect for my mentor, and courtesy for my reader, if I still have one, I’ll keep the analysis and self-examination to a minimum.

IMG_7684A couple of weeks ago I was hooded for a master’s degree in creative writing out of Fresno State’s MFA program. I had amazing and inspiring professors and creative, hilarious, talented fellow students; I hope and pray to stay connected with this wonderfully strange family of people I have grown to love.

I walked away from a volunteer job that I loved, and it still hurts to think about it. The inmates I met, and soon adored, who were in my writing group at Fresno County jail, greet me in my dreams almost nightly; they want to know why I left without saying goodbye. In real life, they know why, because I told them repeatedly months in advance that I would be leaving, that I was graduating, getting a job in the city, and that I had a grandson coming. But still. In my dreams they look at me without trust.

I am still trying to do my job at Dakota House, where I have been the founding director for fifteen years. I am doing a bad job, though. I’m too scattered. And I miss the kids so much sometimes it makes me want to drop everything and run back to that little neighborhood, just in time for prayer and announcement time, where I can wrestle and snuggle and hang out with kids I love and with whom I can entirely be myself.

And then there is my grandson Mason. Nobody prepared me for this sort of love. Oh yes, they all said things like “It’s wonderful. You get to play with them and then send them home to their parents. It’s great!” This sort of sentiment doesn’t even touch the feelings I have for my grandson. He is only 2 ½ months old, and I am completely smittenphoto, out-of-my-head in love, and would basically climb any obstacle, put up with any inconvenience, and sacrifice nearly anything just to stare into his face and watch him drool and blow spit bubbles. It’s ridiculous. But seriously, can you blame me? I mean, look at that face. And he already has a personality that outweighs him by twice his size, which is not surprising in the least if you know his parents.

Wikipedia defines brackish water as “water that has more salinity than fresh water, but not as much as seawater” and states, rather obviously in my opinion, that “it may result from mixing of seawater with fresh water.” I’ve always liked this idea: the coming together of two different things to make something new, something that contains elements of both, but is neither. It is brackish.

My life in this season still has elements of the life I have been living for years now: our big old house that I love, with its crumbling walls and lush garden and bright kitchen; my noble and neurotic weenie dog, Hector; my Dakota House family; my extended family; my four amazing kids; and of course my husband, Brad—they all have my heart and my love and that has not changed.

But so much has. I am no longer a student. Wait. What? Yes. I am no longer a student. I had to say it twice to make it go in. I’ve been a student for so long—literally been in and out of college since 1990, and that doesn’t even count the early half-hearted, mostly social and debauched semesters in the 70’s and 80’s when I racked up some units at Fresno City College and C.O.S. in Visalia. I don’t remember what it’s like to not be learning, doing homework, complaining about doing homework, and commiserating with other students who are complaining about doing homework. I can’t recall what it’s like to read whatever I want, without taking notes or wondering how I could work this in to my next paper. I can’t remember what it’s like to NOT have an assignment hanging over my head. I have vague recollections, and I am starting to feel it now, but I think I don’t trust the feeling yet and haven’t given it permission to settle in just yet. I’m not even sure I like it.

More things that are different: I don’t sleep in the same bed as my husband every night anymore. I live out of a suitcase most of the time. I don’t get to have my dog with me. I rarely have time to cook and eat my own food. Half the time I don’t know where my stuff is. I don’t get to see my DH kids enough. Ever. But these are just the bad things.

I get to see my kids who live in the bay more. I actually spend several nights a month staying at their place(s). I get to see the amazing adults they have become; I get to enjoy them and hang out with them in their world. I have a new son, the father of Mason, who I coincidentally have loved for many years (I’ve even, in former years, been accused of making him my favorite DH kid–a preposterous notion, of course).

Sf cable carI get to breathe fresh salt air all the time now, which always has and still does feel like a gift, a precious, lovely, moist, not-valley-air gift. I regularly move through and stay in a beautiful city, taking in sights, and encounters, and discoveries that often astound, delight and intrigue me. I am not bored. I am learning new things all the time—I am teaching so I am learning along with my students. I have exposure to a new (to me) culture and am learning about it through kids that are funny, smart, curious, angry, happy, bold, shy, serious, and silly—just like all kids everywhere.

And there’s my grandson. The boy with the moon and star on his head, the boy who holds my heart in his chubby little hand, the boy who makes all the world right when I look into his eyes.

Hopefully, someday Brad and I will have our own place in the bay, and things will be easier; I will have more time with my husband, and a place for our grandson to come play, and I won’t be traveling back and forth so much; I’ll feel (and look) less like a tired and disheveled gypsy.

But this brackish season has its beauty. It’s not my old life, but it’s not my new one either. It’s something in between: a time to figure out some things about myself, my family, and my priorities. A time to discover what is out there besides everything I already know and live. A time to make good decisions while still recovering from the bad ones. A time to make bad choices and really figure out, for sure, that they are bad. A time for our family to grow and morph into what it will be in the years to come.

Wikipedia also says this: “Certain human activities can produce brackish water.” I’ll have to agree with that. It’s taken a lot of activity to get me where I am, some of it good and admirable, some of it not so good and admirable, but all of it mine, and all of it very human.

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