Where in the World I Was

People start blogs, keep at them for a while, then drop them. I swore I wouldn’t do that, I wouldn’t be the cliché. But here we are. And I probably should have known it would happen, given my general habit of starting things but not finishing them. Like this bleeping rug that was hatched (can rugs hatch? why not?) in 2014.

Rug in the making

The hundreds of recycled clothing items that are becoming a rug.

I will finish it this year, even if I have to work on it in the sweltering heat of August.

In our post-stroke life, there is no shortage of excuses for not doing the things we should do – exercising, eating well, reading instead of watching TV – but in the end, they’re still just excuses. 2016 was a year I’d rather forget, but like every day of every year, there are consequences for our choices. I chose to focus on our own tiny sphere, or maybe it’s more accurate to say that life threw a bunch more challenges our way and I focused on those in order to maintain my sanity. It was all I felt I had control over, and even then, it wasn’t really in my control. Doug still has epilepsy and takes two meds to keep seizures at bay. Both our dogs still passed away last year.

Meanwhile, our democracy was in the process of driving itself right to the edge of the cliff, and we’re now teetering. Given my inability (or unwillingness) to take action to help prevent that, I’ve pledged to focus on helping us pull back, or at the very least, get the vulnerable passengers out of the damn vehicle. I’ve thought about this a lot, because putting energy into resisting all that’s going on right now is hard – not just for me, but for so many of my family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors, and at times it feels daunting when I have a lot on my plate already.

It would be easy for me to go the victim mentality (which I have done at times, trust me), and just fall right into the trap of believing that Doug and I have paid our dues, so we’re off the hook. But the reality is, we’ve weathered our own personal tragedy so well because of our privilege. Our good jobs and medical insurance. Our families with means to help us. The flexibility in our schedules to focus on therapy and healing. Not everyone has these “luxuries,” which shouldn’t be thought of as luxuries at all. Basic humanity. Something that we should be able to provide in this country. Having this kind of privilege is a gift and shouldn’t be squandered.

So what the hell am I doing writing, NOW? Shouldn’t I be making phone calls to my representatives? Or volunteering time to organizations that help refugees, or protecting the environment? Yes, and.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the role of writers and artists during times like these, as well as on hope and activism. The resounding message is that action and words are both necessary.

Here’s a quote by James Baldwin that I read today (I’m currently obsessed with his writings; items in bold are my emphasis):

The greatest poet in the English language found his poetry where poetry is found: in the lives of the people. He could have done this only through love — by knowing, which is not the same thing as understanding, that whatever was happening to anyone was happening to him. It is said that his time was easier than ours, but I doubt it — no time can be easy if one is living through it. I think it is simply that he walked his streets and saw them, and tried not to lie about what he saw: his public streets and his private streets, which are always so mysteriously and inexorably connected; but he trusted that connection. And, though I, and many of us, have bitterly bewailed (and will again) the lot of an American writer — to be part of a people who have ears to hear and hear not, who have eyes to see and see not — I am sure that Shakespeare did the same. Only, he saw, as I think we must, that the people who produce the poet are not responsible to him: he is responsible to them.

That is why he is called a poet. And his responsibility, which is also his joy and his strength and his life, is to defeat all labels and complicate all battles by insisting on the human riddle, to bear witness, as long as breath is in him, to that mighty, unnameable, transfiguring force which lives in the soul of man, and to aspire to do his work so well that when the breath has left him, the people — all people! — who search in the rubble for a sign or a witness will be able to find him there.

I’ll never be Shakespeare or Baldwin, of course, but while I may write for myself, more importantly, I will try to find the courage to bear witness while I do that. And because you never know what your words might do for someone else. My writing inspiration this week is thanks to the wonderful writer and writing coach Peg Cheng (@pegcheng), whose blog I love and who tweeted me after reading this poor neglected blog. Thank you Peg, for the encouragement and inspiration.

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10 thoughts on “Where in the World I Was

  1. I guess the reverse is also true: what is happening to you is also happening to everyone else. Not that we’ve had your huge challenges of the last 3 years, by any means–but the struggle to stay engaged with the “public streets”, and to speak out, is something I need to do, too.

    The Baldwin lines you highlighted make their own essay, or poem. Thanks, Jeanie! Oh–and thanks for getting us out to see “I Am Not Your Negro.” So powerful.

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    • Yes, I completely leaned on Mr. Baldwin for sure. His words are resonating so strongly for me right now (new post on that in the works!). So glad you came to the movie, I wish you and T could have stayed for the panel discussion, some very interesting topics came up. Could have been longer even.

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  5. Jeanie, I’m honored to know that I helped you get back on the road to writing. We all leave the road at times–sometimes in a quick swerve, sometimes in a slow drift to the right–but it’s a marvelous thing when we find our way back. We all have stories to tell and I’m so glad you found your way back. Our world is richer because your writing is in it. Much love to you!

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    • Thank you Peg, your encouragement and kindness in the world makes us all a lot richer, in the most important kind of way. I absolutely have you to thank, not just last year, but with ongoing support like this. You’re a gift!

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