Sunday, July 1, 2018

On Listservs, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Sisters in Crime


As some of my friends and followers on social media know, I have been distressed by reactions to the ALSC renaming of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, as expressed on the Sisters in Crime listserv. In part, this disappointment was because Sisters in Crime had recently launched a diversity initiative of some ambition and had been taking a lot of the right steps to make their overwhelmingly white organization truly inclusive, so I had a lot of love and hope and high expectations for this organization of writers. The many comments that ranged from simply entitled and tone-deaf to dog whistles to open racism (an actual comparison of the award name change to lynching, for example) felt like a direct slap in the face to Native and African American writers and readers, while some with broader references like “putrid political correctness” and “victim culture,” probably slammed home with other writers and readers of color, with disabilities, in the LGBTQ community, as well.

They certainly reminded me, viscerally, of the hurt I felt when I was a childish bookworm reading Wilder's books and encountering statements that insulted and diminished Native people, such as “there were no people there, only Indians.” When a famous and respected writer writes that you and your family are not even really human, the child you were sustains damage, whether you become defensive and angry to protect your people or ashamed and feeling guilt about your own heritage and culture. One of my friends was African American, and as I read what Wilder wrote about African Americans, I had wondered if it hurt her as much as her remarks about Natives hurt me—and I had thought it surely must.

The angry comments in reaction to the award name change filled the listserv in an onslaught with only a couple of people (for whom I am truly grateful) speaking out against them. It looked so lopsided that I almost gave up hope for the organization. This was probably easier to do because of the dark political climate of the past two years—and especially the past week. As all these stressors from the national stage pile up incrementally, it becomes easier to despair, and any kind of optimism becomes difficult to manage, creating extra impact for any local negativity, especially if it echoes the national trend of targeting Natives, people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, immigrants, Muslims, poor people, and women. (It probably didn't help that I am housebound with a shattered right shoulder and other injuries connected to that. Injury and illness are depression's handmaids.)

Then, after a private conversation with me about the situation and social media posts about it by me and others, a past president of the organization, Catriona MacPherson, wrote a passionate but lucid and cogent essay on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/catriona.mcpherson.54/posts/1169564503186127)
in rebuttal of the problematic comments on the Sisters in Crime listserv (reminding me immediately of why she is one of my favorite people). Hundreds of people in the mystery community and SinC responded to her post—all in support, save one. More than 175 people shared her post on Facebook, often with their own statements of support added, and each of those shared posts accumulated many responses from the mystery community, almost all supportive, as far as I could see. Then some of the people who had shared her essay put their own strong statements in favor of the name change or in support of members from marginalized communities on the SinC listserv, and I began to see that my initial faith in the organization had been justified.

Finally, the Sisters in Crime Board closed the listserv, with President Kendel Lynn saying its eventual closure had been discussed for some time, but this ugly discussion had prompted them to shut it down now, in hopes of reinventing it soon in some way that would be healthier, more constructive, and less likely to become hurtful. (https://www.facebook.com/sistersincrime/posts/1454969294649630) I didn't particularly want the listserv closed, and I don't think anyone else did, either, but I believe the Board faced a difficult situation with no easy solutions and made the best decision they could after one of the listserv monitors tried to end the discussion on this topic and was completely ignored. The Board made a decision that they knew would be unpopular with some members, because they wanted to keep the organization true to its expressed ideals. They have my respect for their courage and commitment to the organization's mission and goals.

I have been burned many times by organizations that talk the diversity and inclusiveness talk but fail to make needed changes to carry out these goals or retreat when faced with divisive situations, such as this that Sisters in Crime faced. SinC and the mystery field, in general, are overwhelmingly white, ablebodied, and heterosexual but more and more writers from marginalized communities are showing up and being published—and the field has always had interest for readers from those communities. The situation that Sisters in Crime and the larger mystery community is facing is one that all literary communities in this country face. It is the same situation that our nation as a whole faces. The many communities of people who have been left out or dismissed or openly (or covertly) oppressed are tired of the status quo and insist that the United States live up to its expressed ideals. This upsets, frightens, threatens, and enrages people who have benefited, willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unconsciously, from the status quo.

Publishing and the mystery field are a microcosm of that larger situation. Sisters in Crime, which began thirty-two years ago as an advocacy and mutual support organization for women in crime fiction, who faced discrimination and prejudice, has had great success in that initial mission and has now expanded it to include other kinds of discrimination and prejudice. I look forward to seeing the organization once again leading the way in the field of crime fiction and in publishing itself, as it has proven itself so capable of doing.

Monday, May 28, 2018

In Memoriam

On this day 188 years ago, May 28, 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which led to the deaths of over 1/4 of the total Cherokee population and thousands more from Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, Delaware, Shawnee, and Osage nations. The Cherokee fought this act in Congress and in the courts, all the way to the Supreme Court, in fact, where the Court ruled against Jackson and found the Cherokee a "sovereign nation." Jackson famously taunted the Court with their inability to enforce that decision and sent the Army in to round up the Cherokee, imprison them in internment camps, and forcibly drive them across the country to Indian Territory.

In memory of my ancestors, here is a poem to mark this dark day in American history.



INDIAN REMOVAL CARTOGRAPHY

I fought through the War Between the States and have seen many men shot, but the Cherokee Removal was the cruelest work I ever knew.”
— Georgia soldier who participated in the removal

It’s an old map,
looks hand-drawn.
Starting in Georgia,
North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama,
a broad swath of territory
belonging to the Cherokee,
yet shrunken so
from where the first Europeans found them,
that kidney-shaped province
splayed across the states
contracts
down to these thin lines
marking the paths they were forced to travel.

This old-looking map
has been modified for the modern scholar
with gray-banded place names highlighted.
When you hover a computer mouse
over one of these shaded names,
pertinent facts appear.
From New Echota, capital of the Cherokee Nation
in 1838, now a state park,
to Fort Butler, one of five North Carolina stockades
where Cherokee were held under foul conditions,
to Fort Payne, yet another
removal fort and internment camp in Alabama,
to Ross’s Landing where more than 2,000 were held prisoner
and departed in three large groups
to travel to Indian Territory by water.
The Unicoi Turnpike, an ancient war and trading path,
took other groups onto the Trail of Tears,
is now designated a Millennium Trail.
Charleston, Tennessee, where 13,000 were held
for months, waiting to begin their unwilling trek
across five states in winter.
Hopkinsville, Kentucky,
Chief Whitepath died and was buried here,
remarkable for being one of the few
whose graves are known.
Hover long enough over Hopkinsville
and the screen will tell you
“Most of the thousands of Cherokees who died on the Trail lie in unmarked graves.”

Published in Dark Sister (Mammoth Publications, 2018)

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Catching Up, or Why I Was Gone


I have been a very uneven blogger here lately, in part because this past winter has been a physical disaster for me. After developing Giant Cell Arteritis (GCA), a major illness that requires me to be on massive steroids in a maintenance dose for possibly years and the pain and difficulties I went through with that before it was diagnosed and treated, I then contracted the awful H3N2 flu that turned into bronchitis and knocked over a month out of my life. 

As we began to come into spring, and I was just getting starting to get back on my feet slightly after the flu and bronchitis, I fell and shattered my right shoulder. This has left me almost totally disabled. I am right handed, and it's not just the arm that I cannot use but the shoulder, as well, so it's basically the whole upper right side of my body that cannot be used. You would be surprised how much you cannot do if you cannot use the upper right side of your body. Even hauling yourself out of the recliner you must spend most of your time in can be difficult—or impossible, in my case. (Luckily, I have a lift recliner chair arriving Tuesday, which should allow me more independence.)

My right arm and shoulder have been immobilized by the doctors. Because I'm on all the steroids and because I have lymphedema in that arm from my radical mastectomy for breast cancer, I am a really poor risk for surgery, even though that shoulder requires a complete shoulder replacement. We are, instead, trying to get the shoulder to heal in some jury-rigged way without surgery.

I have, after the first week, continued to do work on freelance writing and editing contracts and teach a large, intensive online class in writing a novel. The only way I am doing this is with voice recognition software, which is also how I am completing this blog. Because of all this, I will probably still be rather hit and miss with this blog for awhile here. Voice recognition software has not reached a great pinnacle of efficiency. It does save me a lot of time and a lot of work with my left hand, which is excellent, because my left shoulder and elbow have damage from lupus, and I don't need to injure them further. But after dictating, I must go over and correct multiple mistakes that the software puts into my text. Random capitalizations all over the place. Words that may have been mistaken for others. Typos. Egregious misspellings. It's quite time consuming. (So please forgive any typos I've missed.)

Just as I went down with the flu, my next book of poetry was published. Dark Sister is truly a book of my heart. It is a book of poems that are based in my family, in my heritage, and in my community. They deal with some of the things that are most important to me in the world. Unfortunately, I have not been able to do what I planned or would have wished to promote this book. I hope to be able to do more in the future. I would greatly appreciate anyone who is interested in buying or reviewing the book. Dark Sister is my 10th book to be published, rather a significant milestone that I would like to celebrate by promoting the book and helping it to find its readership. It had been seven years since my last book of poetry, Heart's Migration, which brought me awards and opportunities, but in those seven years, I published seven other books, including several anthologies of other poets' work.

I also had hoped to bring back my blog series, Books of Interest by Writers of Color. So many wonderful writers of color are publishing terrific books right now. This is a golden age for these books by diverse authors. Unfortunately, most of them are from very small houses without promotion and publicity budgets, and they get very little distribution and very little publicity. So I would really like to be once again promoting these books and letting readers, teachers, and librarians know about them with links to buy them. That will, unfortunately, have to wait until I am a little further along in recovery, I'm afraid. That's a big disappointment to me.

I do hope, however, to blog more regularly here, as I get better at using the voice recognition software and begin to heal and regain use of my right arm and shoulder little by little. So I hope to visit with you more often and begin my Books of Interest by Writers of Color series again soon. There are SOOOO many terrific books I want to tell you about!


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Remembering My Mother on Mother's Day With A Poem


Mother's Day is always a difficult holiday for me. As with many people my age, I buried my mother a number of years ago. So this day that celebrates mothers can be tough. 

I find it especially difficult because my mother and I did not have a good relationship for the majority of my life, especially near the end of hers. My mother was never able to show me any kind of love or affection, no matter how much I showered her with, and this was always an open wound in my life. 

I know many other women who have had similar dysfunctional relationships with their mothers, so I know this is not a unique problem. Mother's Day is not the warm and fuzzy holiday for us that it is for women whose mothers are still alive and with whom they have/had close, loving relationships.

I love my mother and miss her terribly even after all these years , but I also longed for her and missed her in much the same way during her actual lifetime. So this post and this poem are for my mother on Mother's Day—and for all the other women out there like me who still long for and miss their mothers, even after their deaths. A complicated woman in a complicated relationship, who, like most mothers , did the best she could, I suspect.


CONVERSATION WITH MY MOTHER’S PICTURE


You and Dad were entirely happy here—
you in purple miniskirt, white vest and tights
(you always wore what was already too young
for me), Dad in purple striped pants,
a Kansas State newsboy’s cap
made for a bigger man’s head.
You both held Wildcat flags and megaphones
to cheer the football team who,
like the rest of the college, despised you
middle-aged townies, arranging for their penicillin
and pregnancy tests and selling them
cameras and stereos at deep discount.
But you were happy
in this picture, before they found
oat-cells in your lungs.

After the verdict, he took you to Disneyland,
this man who married you and your five children
when I was fifteen. He took you cross-country
to visit your family, unseen
since your messy divorce.
He took you to St. Louis
and Six Flags Over Texas and to Topeka
for radiation treatments.
I don’t think he ever believed
you could die. Now he’s going
the same way. And none of us
live in that Wildcat town with the man
who earned his “Dad” the hard way
from suspicious kids and nursed
your last days. For me, this new dying
brings back yours, leaving me only this image
of you both cheering for lucky winners.

Published in Heart's Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Poem for Maya Angelou's birthday and National Poetry Month

Today would have been the 90th birthday of Maya Angelou, the great feminist poet, essayist, memoirist, and activist. As part of my series of poems posted for #NationalPoetryMonth, I thought I'd post one for her. 

This poem was not necessarily inspired by Angelou and her work, though it very well could have been. It shares many qualities with her work, an optimism, a desire to celebrate women, a belief in the triumph of the human spirit. It was, however, created during the immediate aftermath of having to leave, for medical reasons, a longtime career of running a university women's center and working extremely hard to help women empower themselves.

One day during this period of adjustment and grieving, as I wrote in my journal about what I missed most about my work, I reminisced about the extraordinary moments when women I had worked with would finally step up and seize their own power and take charge of their lives and their dreams. This poem came out of those memories.



SHE TAKES HER POWER IN HER OWN HANDS

and pours it over her body,
drenching hair and face,
standing in pools of herself,
dripping excess. She takes up her power
with strong hands and holds it close
to her breasts like an infant, warming it
with her own heat. She draws her power
around her like a hand-loomed shawl,
a cloak to keep the wind out,
pulling it tighter, tugging and patting it
smooth against the winter.
She pulls her power from branches
of dead trees where it has hung so long
neglected that it has changed from white to deep
weathered gold. She wraps her hair
in power like the light of distant stars,
gleaming through the dark emptiness
in and around everything. She lets her power down
into a dank well, down and down,
clanking against stone walls, until
she hears the splash, a little further
to submerge it completely, then draws it
hand over rubbed-raw hand, heavy enough
to make her shoulders and forearms ache
and shudder with strain, pulls it up
overflowing, her power,
and drinks in deep, desperate gulps
out of a lifetime of thirst. She weaves her power
into a web, a cloth, a shroud, and hangs it
across the night where it catches the light of stars
and refracts it into a shining glory,
brighter than the moon
and colder. She holds her power
in her hands at the top of the hill
in the top of the tree where she steps out
onto the air and her wings
of power buoy her to ride the thermals
higher and higher toward the sun,
her new friend.
When she returns,
she folds her power over and over
into a tiny, dense pellet to swallow,
feeling its mass sink to her center
and explode, spreading throughout to transform
her into something elemental,
a star,
a mountain,
a river,
a god.


Published in Heart's Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Sunday, April 1, 2018

National Poetry Month Begins on Easter, Passover, and April Fool's Day

April is National Poetry Month, and as usual during this month, I will be posting poems to this blog throughout the month. In 2018, however, the beginning of National Poetry Month is also April Fool's Day, Passover, and Easter, a powerful concoction of influences.

This first poem for National Poetry Month, then, is one that plays with the history of Christianity, Judaism, and the basic concept of the Holy Fool or the fool for God.




LAMENT OF A FAILED ACOLYTE

Desperation can come from having nothing but God to love.
                                         --Michael Heffernan

Desperation I’ve a long acquaintance with.
Desperation and hope
have been the twin pillars
between which I’ve sailed,
trying to avoid being eaten alive
or sucked in,
aiming at the narrow gate
sometimes called Jesus
who’s run me aground on hope.
Unlike despair, hope’s not a sin
against the Holy Spirit but only
against logic and forty years’ experience
wandering in this hungry desert,
waiting for white wafers of grace
to descend and bring another presence.
If I sound mad, it’s no wonder,
in this shaggy, lice-ridden skin
with blood of locusts on my tongue.
My big mistake was asking
I AM
in for company.
Avoid divine guests, I say
now, drowning in painful, terrifying love.
There’s been a mix-up somewhere.
I put in a request for ecstasy,
not passion.


Published in Heart's Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)