Thursday, April 2, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis XI

Online Hashtag


Art of all kinds is especially prevalent on social media as an antidote to the ugliness of the crisis we're experiencing. Poetry as well. In fact, we're all using new hashtags — #ArtCanHelp #ShelterInPoems are just two — when posting poems and images. So, too, are photo-essays like this beautiful one by Newsha Tavakolian from Thomas Erben Gallery; new blog columns, online journals, and daily virtual diaries that are recording our lives as we live them. They're all welcome, so long as they help the individuals maintaining them. And, as during 9/11, they are apt to become, if archived, the documents that historians of the future might use to understand how all of us were coping, what we turned to (e.g., humorous memes, such as recreating famous works of art; funny videos of cats and dogs) to relieve anxiety and stress and sadness and stay connected to each other, the extent of our losses, the changes in society and culture, and so on. The New York Times on March 30 already has taken note of these "histor[ies] of our present moment" in its feature "The Quarantine Diaries" (part of its crisis coverage that is available to those who register to create a free account).


Practicing one's faith can be a great source of comfort. At my little parish in Arlington, Virginia, our priest is a source of strength, delivering services masterfully during one of the most important periods of the church (Lent and Easter) and staying in touch in so many different ways: updating our Website and uploading services to YouTube, writing a weekly article for our newsletter, making arrangements for those of us unable to go out to shop for food, finding resources for home-schooling parents, keeping the prayer list updated, continuing pastoral care, praying with us individually over the phone, and arranging for prayer partners. She is a force against defeatism and pessimism.


I have to laugh, too. There have been such wonderful memes, such as The Getty and other museum challenges to re-stage famous paintings, and funny articles on the Web, including the "Special Edition" that Hyperallergic posted for April Fools Day. And then there's this story, a treat from Bloomberg: "Newest Shortage in New York: The City Is Running Out of Dogs to Foster". Apparently, there's also been a run on Chewy Inc. stock, which the article says has been "soaring".


The pandemic as experienced in the United States is revealing the huge gap between those who have and those who don't have. Two group of workers, such as warehouse employees, grocery store cashiers and nursing home caregivers (see these video interviews with nursing home workers), who have been deemed "essential services employees", are among those most poorly compensated for the risks they must take on our behalf. The have/have-not dichotomy is one issue that clearly needs to be examined in post-crisis evaluation and rectified.


The media, especially our news sources, take a lot of hits, many justified, some not. But we can't ignore the fact that they also, in an emergency such as we're now facing, bring us undeniable inspiration by sharing examples of courage, hope, and resilience. One story about two women, one 101 and the other 95, survivors of three horrific historical events, I find particularly moving. It was published in The New York Times on March 28: "They Survived the Spanish Flu, the Depression and the Holocaust". May we all heed these two women's advice. (Note: One of the women, Naomi Replansky is a poet whose debut collection was nominated for a National Book Award. Some of her poetry can be found at the Poetry Foundation and The Academy of American Poets; also see the Naomi Replansky blog. Her partner, the second interviewee, is Eva Kollisch, a writer and former professor at Sarah Lawrence College.)


This: it perfectly articulates my concerns that we document and heed what the coronavirus crisis is teaching us.

[W]e Americans . . . tend to register perceptions without codifying
them in any political, historical, or social way. There's no sense of
 what creates or contributes to and who benefits from a situation. 
And I'm not talking about a prescriptive political ideology
 now . . . [but] a process of understanding.
~ Carolyn Forche*

* Interview with Jonathan Cott in Visions and Voices (1987). Quoted from Hinton Als, "Carolyn Forche's Education in Looking" in The New Yorker, March 30, 2020. The article in the print edition of the magazine is titled "Voices Carry" (April 6, 2020).

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis X

I realized for the first time, and forever
that we were not safe, we were not beyond harm.
~ William Maxwell

William Maxwell's poignant statement above, which he referenced in the context of the effects on him of his mother's death, concludes Secret History | Killer Flu, a remarkable documentary about the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919. Originally broadcast in June 1998, and featuring historical footage and interviews with virologists, historians, and survivors, the film focuses primarily on the pandemic's effects on the United States. What is striking is not only the global devastation of the pandemic but also the parallels to our "once-in-a-lifetime" coronavirus crisis and the many lessons — about planning and emergency preparedness; government coordination, cooperation, and collaboration; mitigation measures such as isolation and quarantine to protect the public health; disease surveillance; protocols for care and treatment; support of scientific and medical research; and resource stockpiling, among others — that went unlearned and were not institutionalized. What people resorted to use to try  to "cure" the ill-effects they experienced are eye-opening. If you watch the film, which is on YouTube, think about how those lessons could be helping us today as we try to overcome the coronavirus/COVID-19 crisis. Then ask: What do we need to learn from this current crisis to prevent deadly mistakes in the future. (Note: At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you will find "The Deadliest Flue: The Complete Story of the Discovery and Reconstruction of the 1918 Pandemic Virus". Also see the Influenza section, which includes historical images, a timeline, and an infographic. In addition, see "The Deadly Virus: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918" at the National Archives' Website. Those pages include documents and photos.)


Between the dark sky and the dark earth
we hang a light in a dark tree
and sing of our wonder together.*
~ Pir Elias Amidon


I understand why so many businesses are filling my in-box with scores of sales ads for every conceivable thing, from books and bras to emergency guidelines. They are trying to stay in business, of course. My FaceBook stream similarly fills but while I can delete my email, I can't do anything about the ads on social media. Although I acknowledge those, too, help FaceBook to continue to deliver the platform to us, at a time when human connection is so important, I also think some of those ads (I try to avoid looking at most of them) border on the obscene. One that recently caught my attention was an ad from a funeral home, and it appeared over and over in my stream. Others were from senior care/assisted living homes and cruise lines, which, unfortunately because of the coronavirus/COVID-19 crisis, connote the highly negative. Advertising is one of those areas where technology needs to get creative, fast, so that in an emergency such as we face now ads can be handled differently, with sensitivity and concern. Algorithms need to be made smarter and relinquishment of privacy to users, if only temporarily, should be considered.


There are many, many things that seem so unfair. I scan the obituaries and learn that a survivor of the Holocaust has died from COVID-19. Think about that: to survive a concentration camp and then die from a virus for which we have no cure. Our health/medical care professionals are wearing plastic garbage bags in place of sterile gowns or have to rely on home-made cloth masks they must wear for days on end, no matter how dirtied they've become, because replacements are unavailable. Who stands up to take responsibility for lack of supplies? We certainly can't look to the president, who interrupts reporters at a daily briefing to give them his thoughts about some television show's ratings, hint that health care professionals are stealing masks to sell them on a black market, or complain about how many billions he's lost in the crisis. Let him sit upon his gold throne and have to look at pictures of the beloveds we've lost. Italy, a country whose people I love, has been devastated. Six-feet-apart chalk outlines are drawn on outdoor parking lots to give men and women and children experiencing homelessness the proper physical distance from each other's concrete beds. Rules about bringing migrants in to harvest our fields have been relaxed; they are given nothing in the way of personal protective equipment or a fair wage. And innocent people and American soldiers are still dying in wars our country can't seem to end. Unfair? These are obscene and immoral and profoundly tragic.


* Quoted from "Coronavirus" at A Network for Grateful Living Blog, March 30, 2020. The page lists a variety of helpful resources. Pir Elias Amidon is the spiritual director (Pir) of Sufi Way International.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis IX

They speak of milk and
Honey, but I dream of clean
Water in Flint, Michigan
~ Morgan Russell, Rhetorician and Poet
"Promised Land"*

I have been thinking a great deal about discrimination in our culture, how it is always present in one or another way, and what happens to those who suffer injustice in a pandemic like the one we're experiencing:

✦ What justification do you find for allowing a teenager infected with the vector causing COVID-19 to die because he lacks health insurance? Do ethics no longer matter? Who decides?

✦ Where do the women and children, and in some cases, men, find shelter from domestic violence, which our current news reports tell us is increasing as people are confined to their homes and every available space is being turned into a hospital?

✦ How and what level of care is owed to the individual experiencing homelessness, addiction, mental illness? How do you balance one need against another? How do you ensure that no one is overlooked?

✦ When you take that last package of spaghetti, after placing four other boxes in your cart, what excuse do you give for making your need greater than my own?

✦ Why do we favor the corporation over the individual, the dollar over human life? How do we begin to create a new paradigm to shift thinking away from consumerism and supply-side economics?

✦ What makes us take the word of an inept and ignorant man over that of a woman with a doctorate in a field of science?

✦ Which of us is willing to raise our voice against ? Who can explain remaining silent?

✦ Who among us, once we reach the other side of this global crisis, will argue for sociocultural change and work at the individual, local, state, and federal levels to make change happen?

Post-crisis assessment and planning are critical. We have so much work to do, so many lessons to learn and apply.

Can you imagine the enormous database that could be curated and assembled from the many separate Coronavirus/COVID-19-related resources now online and made available to citizens of the United States and countries around the world? Local communities, city and county governments, state governments, the federal government, artists and writers, art therapists, medical professionals and institutions, scientific organizations, policy analysts, ethicists, crisis managers, economics, nonprofits, including churches, social justice organizations, researchers, newspapers, all levels of schools, public and private businesses, and periodicals of all kinds have contributed a wealth of data that explain, track, suggest, advise, and help us understand the crisis besetting us. Perhaps the Internet Archive or the Library of Congress will collect these resources so that next time — and there will be a next time — such materials will not have to be re-created.


Of all the technology available to us during this crisis, a landline telephone and a cellphone may be our most reliable means for "visiting" friends and family and keeping communication open while we all are confined to our homes.


My reading over the last week has produced a number of disparate, if nonetheless curious, facts that might help a conversation along at a virtual cocktail or wine party; to wit:

✦ The cover of Rebecca Solnit's memoir Recollections of My Nonexistence (Viking, 2020) shows the writer dressed in a reversed man's vest and skirt, one of her go-to outfits for special occasions that she completed with elbow-length black gloves and a hat with a veil. One stand-out feature in the photograph is Solnit's tiny waist: just 20 inches.

✦ On enactment of the 1934 National Firearms Act, civilians in this country were prohibited from owning fully automatic weapons. (Patrick Blanchfield, "Top Guns", Review of Frank Smyth's The NRA: The Unauthorized HistoryBookForum, Apr/May 2020) Interested to know what kinds of weapons were at issue at the time, I learned through research that the ban extended to shotguns and rifles with barrels less than 18" in length, machine guns, mufflers and silencers, and "certain firearms described as 'any other weapons'." Subsequent amendments to the law expanded the definition of "machinegun" and added "destructive devices" (e.g., bombs, grenades, mines) and bump-stock-type devices for semiautomatic firearms to the definition of "firearm". 

✦ That same BookForum review by Blanchfield also revealed that Wayne LaPierre, chief executive and executive vice president of the National Rifle Association was a substitute special-education teacher and a former campaign volunteer for George McGovern, the Democratic Party's nominee for president in 1971.

✦ The Smithsonian magazine's first issue appeared on the same day as the first Earth Day: April 22, 1970. Both are 50 years old this year. A number of other events, such as the environmental awareness education event known as "Project Survival" (January 23, 1970, Northwestern University) and a "Teach-In on the Environment" that included the cast of Hair and folk singer Gordon Lightfoot, as well as a workshop on "Spiritual Perspectives on the Environment" (March 11, 1970, University of Michigan), preceded national Earth Day. The April 2020 print edition of the magazine features a story about the mock trial of a 1959 Ford Sedan at the March "Teach-In". (See "The Case Against the Car" by Kate Wheeling.)


* The poem by Morgan Russell is in Section IV of Take A Stand: Art Against Hate (The Raven Chronicles, 2020). See my review.

Monday, March 30, 2020

'Take A Stand: Art Against Hate' (Review)

There's no word for it so far, the word
for what it means to be in love with you
in our sinking world. . . 

The world that means we've loved
through the avalanches of our time, 
loved while the wars raged, . . .

The word that means we're not alone. . . .
~ Edward Harkness
"Union Creek in Winter"

Cover Art

The Raven Chronicles, an independent, nonprofit press in Shoreline, Washington, earlier this year published a new anthology: Take a Stand: Art Against Hate. Offering work by 117 writers and poets and 53 artists and illustrators, it is a highly welcome addition to our creative and cultural literature, documenting as only artists can, the too-common experience of racism, discrimination, and hate throughout the history of the United States.

Organized in five sections — Legacies, We Are Here, Why?, Evidence, Resistance — the 368-page collection features poems, stories, essays, and images, many of which could be placed in multiple sections—an illustration of the complexity of the topics and subjects, of the many forms of hate itself, which no one generation in any period of time can lay claim to. Browsing the Table of Contents, we recognize names we know well and names that may be or are entirely new to us. Among the former are Jericho Brown, Lucille Clifton, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Ilya Kaminsky, Dunya Mikhail, Marge Piercy, Susan Rich, and Danez Smith.  Among the latter are Sara Beckman, who experienced more than a half-dozen years of homelessness because of mental illness and addiction; Sharon M. Carter, a retired physician; high school student Brynn McCall of Denver, Colorado; and Penna Ava Taesali, a Samoan poet, educator, and cultural arts activist. That the publication's editors selected so demographically diverse a group of writers and artists — all age groups, those at the beginning, middle, or peak of their career, the famous and the un-celebrated, those comfortably self-identifying as, for example, Native American, Iraqi, Chilean-Puerto Rican, Ukrainian-American, black Muslim, butch-trans, Thai, or poz and queer — is a testament to their determinedly democratic approach to inclusivity, their defiance of current political divisions, and the power of art not only to speak for those denied voice or not heard but also to make equals of us all.

As the voices raised in this volume make clear, prejudice, intolerance, cruelty, and violence — in a word, hatred — dislocate, cause division, bring war; they leave us broken, in sorrow, without acceptable explanation, and all too often even dead: Attesting to the unrecognizable body of Emmett Till, Jericho Brown calls out the "[w]e [who] "do not know / The boy's name nor the sound / Of his mother wailing" and asks, "What are we? What? / What on Earth are we? What?" ("Riddle") Lawrence Matsuda, born to parents who were forced into an American concentration camp in World War II, knows first-hand how "[d]oors slam and hands / of kindness withdraw. / You are not among the privileged / huddled masses." ("Just a Short Note to Say Something You Already Know")

The perpetuation of hate, generation after generation, Marge Piercy declaims, "is official and encouraged: anyone / not just like you is a danger. Fences, / walls, no trespassing, neighborhoods / gated, built into a maze, so those not / rich and white enough are kept out." ("Dread, Not Envy") The truth, Ryan Roberts acknowledges, is that "[o]ur history" is the legacy of "monsters we cannot hide". "From the time of Cain, he acknowledges, "billions have died, / Jewish Gypsy Native Black / Mexican Dykes and Fags thrown / from buildings, burnt at stakes / just for breathing the air—I must say, / God puts a new spin on the word Queer."  ("After the Pulse Murders, 2016") In another of her several poems in Take A Stand, Marge Piercy asserts, "We're considered white now but not / by all" and warns, of "[t]hese years we tend to be out, even proud" but the "Little Hitlers abound." ("They were praying")

Even aware, as Faiza Sultan is, that "[it] may be good to form new laws" ("I Have Plenty of Things"), creating the "new story & history" of which Danez Smith writes ("dear white america") requires more than thoughts and prayers. "We march lest we leave our children / a fractured sphere", explains Susana Praver-Perez. ("Just Breathe") Nevertheless, Risa Dennenberg points out, "We who say never forget / also know that it could happen again / to us / and we do not know more now / than we did then / how to make it stop." ("Yellow Star")

It is necessary, Stuart Gunter maintains, that "when I speak about gun control / I wear my son's shoes." ("When I Speak About Gun Control I Wear My Son's Shoes"). "It is good," argues Ellery Akers, "to stop machines—giant needles that drill into the earth— / because what they are stitching is The End." ("Taking Action") It is acceptable, suggests Keanu Jones, "to reclaim our identity as the warriors and chiefs we once were." ("Identity") Mothers, offers Jennifer DeBie, must teach their daughters how "[t]o unwrite the legends scripted / by chisel and stone." ("Lessons") And, declares Gail Tremblay, "Each one of us / needs to remember to give back to earth more than we take, / [. . .] / and work ceaselessly to transform everyone's consciousness, / so we can celebrate together the shift to a new way of living in harmony". ("Strategies for Outlasting Trumplandia")

One of the many attributes of this collection is that it is both linear and not. Though the volume begins with what we've been left — the legacies of colonialism, the sin of slave-owning, the "border of stories" of physical violation and dislocation — and impels us forward through the history of our own making to today's crises of climate change, environmental degradation, and ongoing wars, it also looks back, asking us to assess, reevaluate, understand, work together. It shows us that when we forget, we fall back; when we recall and suit up and speak out, we progress. The revolution isn't down the street; it's where each of us lives. And if we look both ways, back and ahead, we may find the common ground, make the "swerve in a different direction" (Ellery Ackers, "At Any Moment, There Could be a Swerve in a Different Direction"), and, in the words of Rajiv Mohabir, "Behold the miracle: // what was once lost / now leaps before" us. ("Why Whales Are Back in New York City")


Style, presentation, choice of words, subject matter, tone: they are in full array in Take A Stand: Art Against Hate. Though every reader will discover his or her own favorites, two poems I found notable and beautifully illustrated follow. Both use un-embellished words and are brief in length, the first, the moving "Threat", which is complemented by Tom Kiefer's sensitively photographed Wrist Rosary #1 from his series El Sueno Americano ("The American Dream"); the second, just three matter-of-fact lines complemented by the thought-provoking photograph Beyond Walls, View from an historic School for African Americans, Maryland, 2017, by Sarah E.N. Kohrs.


in a detention center
along the southern border
a janitor removes rosaries
from the trash,
photographs them
so they will not be forgotten.

Discarded, it was said,
for the safety of the officers.

~ by Kathleen Stancik for Tom Kiefer (p. 178)



Raise the wall higher
Monarch butterflies cross the border
every winter without work visas

~ by Mary Ellen Talley (p. 281)

I wholeheartedly recommend this collection. It will reward with slow reading, perhaps refresh, if not open your eyes, to the ways artists and writers capture lives as they are lived and experiences as they occur. It surely will leave you thinking, and perhaps even resolving to commit to some action, including a change in attitude or behavior, that could change your own or others' lives, one person at a time. As a tool to be shared and discussed with teens and taught in social history, communications, and writing classes in high school and college, I think it would be superlative.


The anthology was edited by poet and fiction writer Anna Balint, founder and host of Seattle's Safe Place Writing Circle at Recovery Cafe; cultural activist and book designer Phoebe Bosche, managing editor of The Raven Chronicles; and retired writing instructor and spoken word performer Thomas Hubbard, whose book reviews and short stories have appeared in such publications as New Pages, Florida Review, and Red Ink.

Back matter includes publication credits and biographical notes for all the artists, illustrators, photographers, writers, and editors, as well as the contributor of the anthology's Foreword, Diane Glancy, a poet and writer in many genres. Poet Carolyne Wright, co-editor of Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workplace (see my review) contributed the Preface; each of the editors includes a statement in the Introduction to the collection.

The anthology is available from The Raven Chronicles and online booksellers.

The Raven Chronicles Website

The Raven Chronicles on FaceBook, Twitter, and YouTube

Note: I received a copy of the anthology for review purposes.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Thought for the Day

How beautiful and devastating, to let things become the past.
~ Sarisha Kurup

Quoted from Sarisha Kurup, "Memory vs. History: On the Neverending Struggle to See Clearly Into the Past" at Literary Hub, February 12, 2020

Sarisha Kurup, Short Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Writer

Friday, March 27, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis VIII

. . . we don't enter it [a work of art] all at once, we enter it
in spaces, and they all add up to  the work, to the whole. . . .
~ Percival Everett
"Trout Fishing in America" in BookForum, Apr/May 2020

Since reading the interview with Percival Everett, I've been thinking about his quote about visual art, how he has to "steal glimpses" of such work as Jackson Pollock's before he can fully understand it. He applies the "lesson" he says he learned about art to writing as well, pointing out that when working on a novel, he does his best to not think about "ideas about writing." Rather, he just does the writing, lets whatever part he's working on move through him for however long it needs to become what it will be.


Jeanie Tomanek, In Place, 2020
Acrylic on Panel
8" x 8"

Used With Permission

I look at and read about art all day throughout a day. One thing I'm giving extra attention to is how visual artists are responding to the Coronavirus/COVID-19 crisis. Some are sharing uplifting images, especially paintings of beautiful flower arrangements and gardens, birds, and landscapes, or abstracts in cool colors; some are posting images of work specific to the season of Lent, to remind us of the need for reflection and contemplation; and some are posting images of spring, which arrived with the virus itself. Others are directly referencing the crisis. One is Jeanie Tomanek, whom I have featured in my Artist Watch column at Escape Into Life. She is a figurative and allegorical painter whose narratives touch upon the lives of women. Jeanie painted the work above. Its reds and blacks and grays make it an intensely strong work; the white, mere lines of it, illustrate what is disappearing in the flames of the hell we're experiencing. Its title, "In Place", speaks directly what people the world over are doing, must do, to protect themselves during the pandemic. Note, however, the sharpness of the lone female figure's heart-shaped face and also the glasses, one lens of which is blacked-out, the other still somewhat clear. Those glasses represent a duality—the closure of our minds to what is happening, the need for clarity and truth. A searching for hope.


If you are on social media, you've probably seen, if not used yourself, these hashtags: #ShelterInPoems, #ArtCanHelp, #PoetrySaves. Use them. Believe in them.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis VII

Never waste a good crisis.
~ Andrew Wolstenholme
"Wolstenholme Report" (2009)

Every little thing counts in a crisis.
~ Jawaharlal Nehru
First Prime Minister of India, Independence Activist


Some of us have returned to blogging for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. I've read posts by quite a few friends who say they cannot write, though they try. None of us should worry too much about what we write. The point is to write and in writing to feel connected.

Have you ever noticed how often someone will respond to a posted poem by saying, "This is just what I needed today"? #ShelterInPoems #ArtCanHelp #PoetrySaves

Never have so many made so much Web content free (The New York Times mostly excepted; its coverage of the Coronavirus is very good, so just register to receive it). Of course, as Robert Farrar Capon might say, there's no telling what attracts the "loving eye".


Artists, poets, and writers generally are devoted to the practice of social distancing. It is the only way we get anything done. Increasingly, I have to admit, the thought of receiving a friend's hug at the end of this crisis is what gets me through my day.

No one who has used FaceBook for any length of time was surprised a week ago by the number of conspiracy theories that popped up about the company's plot to keep our Coronavirus posts from being seen. So much of we posted was marked "spam" or "against community standards" and taken down. FB attributed the entire issue on a "bug" in its anti-spam program but declined to confirm that it was because the company had sent home its scores of employees who spend their days looking for content that violates those "community standards". It did apologize, at least to me, though not publicly, and restored the disappeared posts. Was the lesson that artificial intelligence is no substitute for humans learned? Update: some of my posts and opinions, no matter how eloquent or artfully the latter are phrased, continue to disappear.

Could it be true? Did those "men" who troll FB, always in search of a new "friend", who have posted photos only of themselves, have taken a hint that the pandemic is not the time to let us know how good-looking they think they are? As soon as I wrote this, I took a look at FB to find I'd had several of these "friend" requests. The e-mail spammers (bots?) also are still out in force, offering every kind of action one might imagine. Talk about a mass deletion!


The White House press conference, meanwhile, has reached news-lows, Anthony Fauci excepted. The unanswered question is, where is Stephanie Grisham?


Cats and dogs always grab the limelight on FB. Some are even speaking directly to us these days. The two dogs of friends from the art world make regular appearances online; sometimes they dress for the occasion. A headline spotted earlier in the Daily Dog: "Humans Stay Home: Dogs Overjoyed". I do miss my sweet boy Jack, the best Westie I've ever owned.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis VI

. . . It is always sunrise somewhere. . . .
~ John Muir
Naturalist, Explorer, Conservationist, Writer
John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir

The eye, when it opens, is like the dawn breaking
in the night . . . a new world is there.
~ John O'Donohue
Priest, Poet, Author, Philosopher
Anam Cara


Sometimes we need to open our eyes, look around, and remind ourselves how awesome Earth is, that the same planet on which deadly viruses exist also generates wonders: a "flipped over" iceberg in Antarctica of "vivid green-blue color"; the "chance discovery" of a tunnel in Mexico leading to the Temple of the Plumed Serpent; the natural, pesticide-free way that a South African vineyard, rice paddies in Bali, and agricultural plots in China all find to protect the environment and ensure harvests.

One of the greatest wonders available to us is our own universe, which we can investigate as quickly as our computer will come online. Thanks to NASA's extraordinary technology, especially the Hubble Space Telescope, we can explore, albeit virtually, colliding galaxies, supernovas, black holes, cosmic clouds, comets, the Milky Way, Jupiter, and so much more in deep space that would remain forever unseen but for the images sent back to Earth. Those images currently are collected in NASA's online Universe Images Archive and also featured in the agency's Image Galleries, where we'll find an Image of the Day, an Astronomy Pic of the Day, NASA Image Library, and Mission Galleries. No one can look at these images and not be in awe of God's creation and beauty.

Black Hole Disrupting a Passing Star
Astronomy Pic of the Day
March 24, 2020
Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech


From here on Earth, however, it is possible sometimes to see the unforgettable, which for me is a night-time trip many years ago through the high Colorado Rockies. Above the tree line we noticed cars were pulling over and people getting out, so we stopped, too, thinking some terrible accident must have happened. And then we saw it, the Milky Way, the galaxy containing our Solar System. It was spectacular to take it in from the mountain top, with no city lights to shut it out. Recently, astronomers have discovered the edge of the Milky Way, which is 1.9 million light-years across—a number we have to hold in our imaginations to realize.


The red-veined darter, a type of dragonfly common in northwestern Europe, particularly England, Wales, and Ireland, is certainly one of the wonders of the natural world. A male, its color is bright or deep red; its eyes, brown above and blue below; the base of its wing, yellow. In symbolism, that red connotes both eternal love and death, a dual omen for the yellow-brown females it must attract.


And, then,  spring—and its promise of rebirth. Spring, which Pablo Neruda said, you "cannot keep from coming."* Who cannot include all the seasons among mentions of wonder? They chart our seasons of life: our joys and loves, our hopes and despairs, our freedom to explore, our maturity and transitions.

* "Podran cortar todas las flores, pero no podra detener la primavera." ("You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.") During Arab Spring, the words of resistance appeared on Cairo streets; then again in 2017 on posters at the Women's March. I have yet to find the source of this.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis V

Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit
and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, 
this is one of the strongest things you can do.
~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes
"We Were Made for These Times"
"Letter to a Young Activist in Troubled Times"


When it's all over, what happens to all the stories told in FaceBook posts, Twitter comments, lines of poetry shared?

What is one of the most important but unanswered questions about COVID-19?*

In leadership and human resources literature, I learned the other day, focusing on failure is called the "Wallenda factor". The term was coined after the 1978 death of the legendary German-American high-wire artist Karl Wallenda, founder of The Flying Wallendas. According to Wallenda's wife, on the day he died in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the aerialist had been overly worried about not falling instead of concentrating on getting across a 75-foot-high wire. (See Warren Bennis's Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge, one of many books that discuss the subject.) Something other than fear of failure is driving U.S. leaders' response to the pandemic.

I have little to no fear of dying, even in the solitude I keep daily; I have my faith, the beauty of my art to turn to, the several hundred books of shelved poetry, always available to open and read. I am, however, scared of how I might respond if my only child, who lives an entire country-worth-of-miles-away, were to become infected and not be allowed to be tested. All mothers, in their own way, are like that Orca whale who grieved her dead infant for 17 days.


What has become of all the children locked in cages at our border with Mexico?


On the day I married for a second time, while headed to the reception in an open carriage, the sniper team of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boy Malvo was doing its deadly work in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia. How many of my friends remember the wedding? How many the shootings?

How many times have you recounted your last intended words to a beloved?


We know how to use 3D printing to make ventilators for patients and face shields for health care workers. What we don't know is, are we willing to risk enough to make enough in time?

When I ask a friend how she's doing in self-imposed isolation, she tells me she's making romantic dinners for herself, lighting candles, dressing up, and playing the music she's always liked.


In this crisis, we tell our stories as we live them.


* See Brian Resnick, "The 9 most important unanswered questions about Covid-19", Vox, March 20, 2020.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis IV

The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres
March 23, 2020


I have been thinking about the United Nations Secretary General's call to put down firearms and cease fighting throughout the world to help stop the spread of Coronavirus/COVID-19. Consider that: humans warring against each other even while so many elsewhere, those on the front lines, the scientists and health care professionals, are working themselves to exhaustion to stop the spread of a virus that is devastating countries like Italy and may soon explode in the United States. North Korea is still sending off rockets. Americans are still being killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hostile nations remain hostile. Pompeo trades barbs with Khamenei. Who, Guterres asks, is tending to the needs of the most vulnerable among us: the already sick, those experiencing homelessness, women, children (especially those held in ICE cages at the U.S. border with Mexico), those over 65 residing in assisted living places, people with disabilities, refugees, asylees, and the displaced, the incarcerated? Who cares about protecting them? If we don't, who will?

Here in the U.S., our Congress needs a time-out, an appeal from all Americans to cease-fire, to get past its deadlock. To do what's right. To cooperate and collaborate to save lives, not ensure each other's job or wealth. And when this pandemic resolves, all Americans need to ask these questions: Who am I? What is my responsibility? What might I do to help heal this broken country? Where and how do I begin?


News media are replete with photos of people not practicing recommended social distancing. Too many are gathering in large groups, using public transportation, insisting on their "right" to be out. What is it these people do not understand? If they cannot follow medical professionals' advice to stay home to save their own and others' lives, who is it they will listen to?


This from PLOTUS: "We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. At the end of the 15 day period, we will make a decision as to which way we want to go!" Pardon me for not quoting this in all caps, the way he tweeted it. For the first time in all the years I've been on Twitter, I stopped posting my finds on poetry and art to challenge him. I called him out for his lies and incompetence, the confusion he's created, his inability to get out of the way of experts such as Anthony Fauci. What I did doesn't and won't change a thing but at least I spoke up. It is when we answer with silence only that we should most be concerned.


It is said that the pandemic we're experiencing now will be one if not the "defining" event for the younger generations. My own: Vietnam (I wrote to soldiers in my brother's company), 9/11, Iraq and Afghanistan, the Cuban Missile Crisis; the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.; the March on Washington, the burning of Washington; the 2017 Women's March on Washington; every Newtown; the birth of my son, the sudden death of my father at my home, my beloved brother's death at 59 from cancer; being able to write poetry again and to love again following my conquering of a profound depression; finding faith and hope in a community I thought I'd lost.


I was born in November 1952. I have never known what it might be like to pick up a morning newspaper, turn on a radio, catch the latest happenings online and learn that everywhere the world is at peace and the birds are singing, the way they do most mornings now, when our streets are empty and we are sheltering in place.