How To

How do you get over this? How do you go through the motions of being a responsible adult? Pay the bills, clean the kitchen … carry on as if you didn’t just create a living breathing multi-faceted heart racing story rich with blood and bones and human foibles. How do you step away from the page?

How do you stay with the page and fight off the creeping sensation that you are the only fan of this story? All that will ever be, because it won’t see the light of day. You’ll fail somehow. Fall on your face when an agent rejects it. Maybe never send it to an agent or a writerly reading friend, or anywhere at all.

The story full of fear and hope and shame and memory will sit in a doc file until doc files are obsolete, and you never really accomplished anything other than spending hours, weeks, a year of your life wanting. In between the day job days and the chores and hitting that submit button for yet another of all the online payments in your life, maybe what you really did was waste daylight and ink.

In between sporadic bouts of self-care and wish lists, and allergy attacks, you have handmade characters so real all there is to do is reach out and touch, say good morning. Good night. Sweet dreams until tomorrow. Everything will be okay, eventually. Tell me how to keep them alive.

Tell me how to get to the end. Not THE END. That’s just around the corner. But the end of the process, the culmination of imagination, inspiration, hard work. What’s next? What comes after the end?

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When I Finally Figure Out The Obvious

  1. Much like a body in motion stays in motion, a writing writer writes. Momentum is everything and then some.
  2. Be like the puppy—enjoy food, approach everything like an exciting new adventure, and show great deference to the people who’ll pet you often while insisting that you are both good and pretty.
  3. Truth is, other people know stuff. Listen.

Routine For The Win (AND AT LEAST SHE’S CUTE)

Newest puppy, who now stands twenty-four inches taller than the older fluffier pup and weighs 50+ pounds, has finally learned to stop shredding toilet paper rolls and my notebooks to bits as part of her daily routine. That’s good. She has, however, gotten creative in her searches for shoe insoles, business cards, food packaging and paper napkins, or whatever other paper/plastic might be in reach on end tables or kitchen counters, or in my purse which I keep forgetting to hang on the coat rack by the door. This means that EVERY SINGLE DAY I sweep up swaths of debris.

Sundays have been major chore days throughout my adulthood. This is the one day each week that all the laundry gets washed, dried, and put away. The day a real breakfast gets cooked, trash is put to the curb, the bathrooms get scrubbed, and the kitchen might stay showroom clean for about ten minutes. Oh yeah, it’s also the day I clean the floors AGAIN.

Traditionally, so I’ve been told, Sundays are meant for rest. This never held true when I was a kid. The parental units got up early enough to shove me out the door (gently, gleefully) wearing my best shoes and hair barrettes, where I’d be met by the Sunday School van that would return me about two o’clock. Mama would already have laundry stacked to the rafters and Daddy would be revving up the lawnmower. I learned at some point they did indulge in after-early-chores naps followed by what Roy Rogers episodes might be on, but for most of the morning and late afternoon they were homemaking.

No vans come around to give me puppy respite (I should find out if that is a thing), so I’ve got the long-legged girl butting her head against the back of my knees as I rev up the vacuum or try to load the dishwasher. SHE IS OBSESSED WITH THE DISHWASHER. She follows me from laundry room to closet to bathroom to garage to kitchen until I give up and try to convince her the backyard is the place for puppies to be on Sunday mornings. Which means, this time of year of course, the wet backyard. So when she comes back in I meet her at the door with a giant towel in an attempt to save the floors from paw prints. Never works. 100%. Never.

Sundays have always been homemaking days for me because I work Monday-Friday, plus two Saturdays per month, and during workdays I have desperately tried to avoid anything more than the basics (cooking dinner and bathing) because good lord I hate housekeeping. Not a neat freak, me.  Or at least in the past I wasn’t worried over a little clutter during weekdays. Since the little girl has come along, cluttered floors and tossed sofa pillows and paw prints kinda drive me insane.

Hence, my chore-free daily routine has been ruthlessly interrupted with ill-tempered sweeping, mopping, tidying, and often shouting WHERE DID YOU EVEN FIND THIS STUFF YOU CHEWED UP. GET OFF THE THING. DON’T DO THAT STOP. (Thankfully we’re no longer in an apartment, but in a house sturdy enough that the neighbors are spared from all the shouting and vacuuming.)

I hope.

After butting my head against the metaphorical wall for nigh on seven months, it’s become obvious I have to throw my twenty-plus-year-long routine out the metaphorical window. I sat down, had a talk with myself that went something like this: Kathy, face it. You now have two choices. 1) halfheartedly battle squalid shredded paw printed hell six after-work-days per week and labor your patootie off every Sunday, or, 2) embrace a routine of daily cleaning—along with a few other sensible changes—so Sundays can be for light laundry, a little floor cleaning, after a big breakfast and before driving to hours at the library so you can write, then visit a few cute shops or the cinema so that you don’t lose your everlovin mind and the puppy goes deaf. Choose #2.

I have chosen #2.

Today is the very last Sunday I stay cloistered in the house with laundry and floors. Beginning tonight, I will go to bed surrounded by tidiness, prep dinner on my lunch breaks, hang my purse on the coat rack by the door, change all my bills to PAPERLESS ONLY, take ads directly from the mail box to the outside trash can, stop buying paper napkins, stop accepting business cards from people, and clean up paw prints before bedtime while a load of laundry is in the wash. If I get an hour to write or read each weekday, cool. If not, I’ll have most of next Sunday.

Life will return to sane livability. Right?

 

 

 

 

 

Embarrassing Drivel

Every experienced, published writer looks back at the early years, sighs, and tries to look earnestly at the latest wide-eyed interviewer before divulging what crap poetry they used to write. Crap, crap, drivel, embarrassing really. It’s a miracle they kept writing, that they eventually found success.

I am suspicious. This is suspect. Think about the sheer numbers. Every writer now comfy with a book deal and online presence blathers on and on about the dreadful, shockingly bad poems of their early years. Seriously? I would very much like to meet a writer, successful now, who’ll look me straight in the eye and declare that decades ago after finishing a draft they sat back in their chair and shouted out loud: I! AM! A FUCKING POET!

That’s the kind of people I want to hang out with in a writer’s group.

 

Fear & Loathing, Twitter, Self-Inflation, and the Demise of the Two-Party System

Narcissism cannot be sustained. Eventually the self-inflation mechanisms of the narcissist will fail. It is reasonable to conclude Trump’s decades of televised antics are proof of Narcissistic Personality Disorder—he certainly seems to go out of his way to exude the symptoms of a classic case—but in truth, such narcissism cannot be sustained.

What if this behavior is a guise? What if it’s more devious … and brilliant … than any average horrified American onlooker could imagine? What if the intent is not to bring the GOP to total power and destroy the party of liberal democrats as so many of our talking heads fear, what if it’s something else? What if the two-party system has lost its usefulness?

For the better part of the 20th century, the two-party system dominated while a couple other “independent” groups flailed into notice every now and then. Prior to WWI, the Democratic Party was associated with white “Christian” Confederate sympathizers, and the Republicans with socially-progressive reform. We sometimes hear the talking heads on political news shows speak of the tide turning with the turn of the century. Debatable as that topic is, I’ll hold off for now.

As the decades passed here in the U.S., one obvious trend emerged that is not debatable—presidential campaigns got more and more expensive. Regardless of the expense, a member of each major party was always standing for the election. Democrat vs. Republican. Every four years. That’s a lot of millions.

I’ve often wondered where that kind of money comes from. Sure, the average American tosses in a few bucks with their tax returns. The occasional upper-middle-class Joe might go to a fancy dinner thrown by a governor, rent a tux, get his picture taken, and it only costs him a few grand. All in all, average voting Americans contribute a respectable amount. But the real money, well, that comes from an entirely different set of folks. The kind of people that have their own private security staffs, their own airplanes. People that cannot fathom the reality most of us deal with—whether to go into debt for a new car, or deplete the savings account to keep the clunker going for another couple of years. The choice between paying off medical bills and decade-old student loans, or moving to a part of town where the kids don’t have to walk through metal detectors to get to class don’t come up.

The types of people who contribute substantial dollars to presidential campaigns don’t diddle over such things. They dial up their investment managers on encrypted phones while their private jet floats toward a night in Paris with global oil and gas buddies. These are not people who trouble themselves with religion unless it suits their momentary goals. These are not people who stay awake at night with concerns of racism, ageism, patriotism, liberalism, republicanism, socialism, communism, health care for the poor, bad cops, safe and legal immigration, or the tragic circumstances of our returned veterans. Make no mistake, though, these are the people behind all the decisions about all the things we worry about every single day.

What club does Trump belong to? The Clintons? The Obamas? Daddy and son Bush, etc., etc.? Whatever national good any politician has done since the turn of the century has not been out of the goodness of their heart for the benefit of “the people”. Any good change has piggybacked on an agenda financed by the deep pockets funding lobbyists who stalk and schmooze politicians in every corner of every capital of the U.S. Look at what it’s gotten them—we, the people, are down here in the real world fueled and fired up on all sorts of propaganda tearing each other apart. We’re taking a stand, drawing a line: Democrats vs. Republicans, good vs. evil, black vs. white. Or, we’re just trying to get through the week without the lights being cut off before we can pay the bill. The point is, we’re not looking at what’s really going on.

Will we be looking when the liberals and conservatives that aren’t in on the joke burn each other to the ground? When the divide between parties becomes wide enough for another to walk right through? And when that other party emerges amidst all the vitriol and disgust and spreading poverty, chews through the fat calves of Congress while we’re staggering under valid threats of world war and starvation, will they look like honest to goodness saviors tossing crumbs from their towers built on the vast inaccessible acreage of formerly protected federal lands? As they end public trade, as they take control of communication and global banks, will we be grateful enough to serve them?

Maybe that’s all a few decades in the future. Maybe it’s not.

Our two-party system hasn’t made impactful change in decades. Our independent and libertarian parties couldn’t scratch together enough money to buy a majority percentage in a pro sports team, so we can forget them affording a go at a long-term bid for presidency. It’s been so long since, as a nation, we’ve encountered a real civil servant, a genuine candidate for the people, we wouldn’t recognize one if he or she walked right up and bit us on the ass.  (Of course, a good civil servant wouldn’t do such a thing. I guess.)

Is it far out to suspect our current clown in chief of such a conspiracy? A true narcissist needs to please someone in order to keep them feeding his narcissism. Who would Trump seek to please? The poor? Bah. The middle class? No. The Caucasian hate mongers that call themselves Christians behind their multi-million-dollar pulpits? Not even them. What would a billionaire trade the shreds of his dignity for? Trillions? What is he doing when he’s not tweeting? Signing documents that we didn’t even know existed.

I’d wager that the Elites know every change accessible by Executive Order, even if we don’t. Heck, most of us don’t even know the ins and outs of the federal constitution, our individual state’s constitution. Who’s your State Representative? What laws have your state passed in the last decade that directly impact your job, health care, income tax, mortgage or rent? Why is your local law enforcement agency and public defense system bankrupt?

I don’t know a lot of the answers to these questions either, but I’m starting to pay closer attention.

(To be continued …)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poems, Privilege, and Untimely Kneeling

It is a rare thing, but once in a great while a poem will write itself. That’s the case with Generation Gap. All the stories my grandparents shared with me throughout my childhood built America for me. In my America fairness and equality cannot be assumed, but always hoped for, striven for. In my America, petty cruelty exists. Women will be shamed by men they do not know for reasons they cannot fathom. Children lacking a respectable surname will be presumed undeserving of respect.

Here in my America, societal rules rarely come written out, so even a kid who learned to read early won’t gain an advantage.

Whether it was intended, or not, my maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather put together a narrative that helped me understand that America has been failing its purpose for quite a long time. And whether it was their intention, or not, they inspired me to learn the details of this nation’s purpose and expect it to one day become a reality. I cherish democracy, but I have never had the luxury of believing it to be without flaws.

The first time I read Let America Be America Again, by Langston Hughes, I thought of Mattie and JD. They knew injustice, prejudice, and inequality from  youth to old age. They knew these words to their bones without every laying eyes on the poem.

Mattie and JD learned the Pledge of Allegiance by heart. They knew the words and weight of the National Anthem, hummed God Bless America. Neither of them ever instilled within their children or grandchildren a distrust of their nation. Quite the opposite. (Wariness of bureaucrats, well, that’s another matter.)

My grandparents had a lot to hope for America’s future. To them, the flag was a symbol of that hope, and so were their grandchildren. Hope is a powerful thing. Nonetheless, even the power of hope without action cannot ensure a child thrives. And so the same applies to a nation.

We are indeed a nation of protesters and rebels, citizen journalists, citizen soldiers, informed voters. All, in my opinion,  something to be proud of. Injustices occur. Injustices will recur. History serves to prove Americans will eventually take a stand, and resistance to Americans who take the stand can get ugly. Violent. Embarrassing. But we persevere.

We’ve got a lot going on within the borders of this country right now. To be blunt, keeping up with all of it is exhausting. Disheartening. What’s most disheartening to me is just how off-track we can get when trying to make a valid point. Social media doesn’t help. There is a lot to enjoy about social media, and I have many types at my fingertips on a daily basis. But I knew we were in trouble that first morning I turned on the TV to find a national morning show REPORTING ON A TRENDING CAT VIDEO. What? High-earning, highly educated, experienced journalists just spent ten minutes of air time talking about a funny cat video, first shared on Facebook.

We’re doomed. Those were the words that played through my mind. We’re doomed.

Little did I suspect at the time that this nation would one day be subjected to a tweeting presidential candidate. It’s bad enough that a sometimes uninformed public has the ability to spread unverifiable news around the world in a matter of seconds, now we’ve got this guy to deal with. Surely our society hasn’t spiraled so out of control that Facebook likes and twitter feeds can influence voters to elect a deliberate antagonist for president.

Yeah.

Rather than a people passionately striving for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, are we really becoming lustful for click baited online mudslinging? Instead of striding purposefully toward human equality and peace, are we really this far off the mark?

Following a series of recorded and posted instances of police brutality, parts of this nation lit up with anger and violence that was then recorded, posted, and shared all over the world. Everyone had an opinion, which of course, spurred more anger and violence. Though it is still shocking, massively shared videos that contained undeniable proof of police brutality were not always proof enough to get bad cops convicted.  Some cities spent millions equipping police officers’ uniforms with cameras, and still, video proof did not bring convictions.

Past instances of brutality not filmed, and not shared to social media, were rehashed. Old horror stories came to light. (Although, I think anyone who’s ever lived in a small town where the good-ole-boy network is uniformed and armed can attest that bad behavior has been a thing for decades, the general public was not fully aware.) Protests broke out locally, in capital cities; national news gave some coverage, and a few lawmakers attempted to speak out.  For the most part, though, social media did the reporting. Wild theories, baseless accusations, and knee jerk reactions were difficult to untangle from facts. And our legislative system kept on proving just how out of touch it is.

For a while, social media got distracted with the presidential race and the ensuing fiascoes. Then very quietly and without first being noticed by the national eye, in August of last year, a well paid professional athlete sat during the National Anthem. When finally noticed and asked what was up, he said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color … To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

This season numerous players are showing their agreement with that statement by taking a knee during the National Anthem.  Not surprisingly, thousands, maybe millions, of Americans have taken to social media to complain about privileged millionaires disrespecting the flag. What other country can black kids grow up to become multimillionaire athletes? The divide is growing, and it seems that now social media’s consensus has become that it’s white Republicans that are offended by this protest while only broad-minded Democrats understand these are citizens exercising their constitutional rights.

Here’s the thing: They’re all right. And they’re all wrong.

While some may view such an opinion as hardcore nationalist nonsense, the truth of the matter is the average American takes offense to the flag being disrespected. Regardless of how far we progress, how far we get away from the assumed national morality so strongly promoted after WWII, that flag, that anthem, is HOPE. Remember what happened after 9/11? The flag flew from porches, car windows, apartment balconies, businesses, and churches.

You don’t mess with the flag.

The people who take issue with players taking a knee during the anthem, if asked, take no issue with protesting police brutality or racism. Violence for the sake of violence from those bound to serve and protect is unconscionable, and whether social media is trending with it or not, this nation is angry about the blatant disregard of blue-clad criminal activity. We can’t assume that the argument against protesting during the anthem only comes from white republicans plotting to have black people murdered in the streets. Such assumptions would be prejudice and racism in action.

My immediate concern–which precedes the backlash of Kaepernick’s sit down–is his deliberate choice to first antagonize, then to make a verbal statement.

When someone chooses to gain attention by challenging heartfelt beliefs (i.e., love of the flag), reactions will be emotional, and any emotional reaction can then be skewed to reinforce aspects of the challenger’s message. Kaepernick protested racism and police violence against citizens of color, therefore–according to ensuing statements made by his supporters–anyone who speaks out against his manner of  protest must be a racist supporter of killer cops.

This, my friends, is neither a logical conclusion, nor a fact.

Speaking of deliberate antagonism:

I would now like to make a plea to the presidential staff and White House officials. Come on, y’all. Someone there must have the influence and authority to determine what speeches are read, and whether they are read ON LIVE TV without benefit of editing. Personally, I’m not impressed if he is a business genius, or if he has the ability and gumption to clean up the national budget. Those are potential  pluses no one will ever pay attention to if he is allowed to continue mouthing off on twitter or on camera.

Our past presidents weren’t all paragons, we know. But at least JFK had the good sense to not televise his penchant for infidelity. Nixon didn’t exactly tell the public na, na, na-na I can do whatever I want, while in front of a bank of national news cameras. Read up on this stuff, will you? Good old fashioned American plainspeak is one thing, publicly poking every voting-age citizen with a stick is something else. Control your guy.

/plea

I have never had the luxury of believing democracy to be without flaws. I did, however, learn from people who had experienced the worst of human behavior that the worst does not have to be accepted as the norm.

It’s easy to sit here, not an African American, not an athlete with or without survivor’s remorse, and say there are a thousand and one ways African American athletes could protest away from the field.  Even so, I would like to point out that inner city/community programs could use your voice, your face, and your dollars to make a difference in the lives of kids who might one day find themselves the focus of a routine traffic stop.

Perhaps, redirecting your energies to local community outreach, speaking at law-enforcement events, joining in fundraisers for the children of brutality victims … perhaps, standing for the flag after helping a real person just might get the results you want.

This country, this flag and all our hopes for what it should mean are not the origin of our problems. This country is made up of soil and man-made borders; the flag is a symbol of all the best possibilities. That anthem is a poem about celebration of victory over oppressors.

Just Write

My favorite recurring fantasy involves a strict schedule. Yes, that is weird. Whatever. In this fantasy, I am a workaholic down at the desk by 7 a.m sharp, Monday-Friday, come hell or high water. Nose to the grindstone, slaving away on research and words, words, words. I would finish those four projects languishing away in boxes and drawers and tattered notebooks for the better part of five years. I’d rescue them, complete them, then move on with fiery diligence to THE NEXT GREAT THING. My only breaks from writing writing writing, would be to mine for gold in stacks of submission possibilities. I would flood lit mags and presses. They, the hundreds of thousands of possibilities, would never escape my fiery diligence, my flood of work. I would astonish them all with my doggedness.

Family and friends would beg me to visit, just get out of the house once in awhile. Sure, I walk the dog and venture out occasionally for food, but come on. A person can’t type ninety hours a week and remain a healthy, normal human. But I can! I would swear this in a passionate voice! I am happy, in fact, I’ll work longer hours. I walk my dog, and carve out a few minutes each week for the grocery store and bills, and maybe talk to people I love most, read to them.

Maybe, after a year or so, I’ll go see the world. Hang out. Follow a story, sniff out ideas and hang out. Observe. Listen. Involve myself in the story until it becomes multi-dimensional. Until it becomes so goddamned irresistible, I have to drive miles up into the mountains to one of those legendary writer’s cabins, nice and rustic in early spring, and there I’ll work ninety hours a week until I have a manuscript that proves once and for all I am the writer I always thought I would be. This will, of course, inspire celebration. A nice break from writing long enough to shop the manuscript, get a terrific book deal — one that will make other writers wistful and teary eyed.

Until then, I’ll be sitting down to sketch out my plan of attack, to map out my schedule. The map will not include by-ways of procrastination. No guilt over a messy abode. No worries for not having a “real job”, no panic attacks, no sense of failure. The road will be clear, wide-open, as endless as my dark little heart desires. On day one, in those wee hours when the birds haven’t yet gathered their voices, I will walk my dog, do a few chores wearing earbuds from which the wisdom of memoir and literary journalism themed audibles will enter my brain and trickle down to build muscle memory. Once satisfied that dawn will break any moment, I’ll put away the earbuds, turn on some music, shower then dress, and take breakfast to my desk.

For eight hours I will rip away lines from old poets, paste them to the titles and endings of younger lesser-knowns, weed out genius word by word by line from dreamy-eyed dead folk and weave it all between the lines of contemporary feminists. With one hand I’ll keep an ink and white stack of citations, with the other, I will type and type, compile new work from the old and famous. Eight hours a day, for forty days will make a masterpiece that outshines my first attempts at a cento collection the same way the sun outshines a 40 watt bulb. But that’s just the first eight hours of the first in a forty-day stint.

An hour will be spent stretching the stiffness from unused muscles, feeding my dog, giving the hubby a loving phone call. Then, with a dinner plate next to the laptop. I’ll stand at that cute little pub table in the dining room, surrounded by Van Gogh reproductions, facing a window looking out toward a wink of the river. There, I will have dinner and get to that essay a small paying publication is anxiously awaiting. This will pay the rent and there might be some left over for the best doggy treats on the market. I will hit the send button and yawn. That’s a good day right there.

Day one will be so impressive that years later I will chronicle it an anthology piece, the opening to a brief synopsis of my success story. Just imagine what could be accomplished on day two, three, ten! I’ll need a bit of help, of course. A professional editor for the poetry collections. And once I’ve dug out those old pieces of speculative fiction and essays, saved them from languishing away in the dark, I’ll be keeping that editor so busy she will have to quit her day job. The essays will sell quickest. Let’s face it, readers are absolutely inundated with speculative fiction these days. And poetry, well, most people grimace when the P-Word is mentioned. Nevertheless, after the three collections are out in the wind and a dozen or so lit mags pick up individual pieces, who knows? The P-Word might be pronounced without a grimace by a few less readers. A few. But I won’t concern myself with that now. What’s important is the work. Do the work.

That’s what one of my favorite professors used to say. Be loyal to the work. She also said that I should send off Emancipation and I Am Not an Evangelist right away — that was four years ago. I never sent them anywhere. It’s as if when that class ended, when I no longer had reason to receive or send emails to that professor, I no longer had reason to consider what life those words would have outside the confines of my files. These messy files that have been packed and repacked, hauled from one end of the country to the other, digitized then lost, transcribed in the middle of the night, then shoved into the corner.

Why? Lots of things kept getting in the way. Mostly, basic survival. The last four years showed me something contrary to what that professor declared to be the ultimate truth, the ultimate goal of every creative. Sure, be loyal to the work … when it’s actually paying the rent. Or, if some benevolent deep pocket is paying the rent. For those of us who don’t have deep pockets dishing out the basic necessities, there’s forty hour weeks to be put in elsewhere. And to get through those, of course, there must be distractions. Distractions become as necessary paying the rent when a creative is punching a time clock, and spending distraction hours on poetry seems to make poetry less somehow. A shot of good whiskey and an hour of TV can save a life. Don’t waste breath in argument. It’s fact.

Before the next random person can spout a tired old platitude or start jabbering on about first world problems, four years have blinked by and here I sit with boxes of old notebooks and no real body of work. Before I can fully recall just what I took away from that brief university lecture about the importance of avoiding sentimentality in art, I realize that I can no longer introduce myself as a writer, or a student. I don’t write, I don’t study. I’ve got a job that affords me the opportunity to do neither. But the lights are on. The rent is paid. I’ve run Netflix out of good distractions. The whiskey bottle hasn’t been touched in months, and I’m sick of being a non-writer.

Lately I’ve filled free moments with fantasizing about putting in a 30-day notice and driving home to sit at my desk and start a new chapter, so to speak. It’s past 10:30 p.m., and tomorrow is coming at me way too fast. But I won’t concern myself with all that now. The work is priority.

So, let’s get to mapping out that schedule.

7 a.m. Monday: DAY ONE.

Today’s News And The Consequences Of Ignoring Old News

We’re a strange bunch, humankind. Forgetful. Deliberately dismissive, surprisingly compassionate, shockingly cruel. Passionate. Stubborn. Optimistic in the direst of circumstances. Persistently triumphant over near-fatal, global calamities. Weak complainers, fierce warriors, brilliant inventors, sickly and lazy couch potatoes prone to blindly brag and bluster about our children, our nations, our faith. We are the rulers of the universe. We are forgetful.

Christian doctrine speaks often on the fall of man — Adam and Eve’s disobedience while still inhabiting Eden ensured future generations of humankind would be forever doomed to falter. Original Sin, it’s called. How overwhelming (to say the least) to read through scripture and try to grasp that you are simultaneously encouraged to seek greatness from within, that speck of sovereignty birthed with muscle and bone and soul … but you probably won’t fully realize that greatness because you’re just a lousy sinner. Keep trying anyway.

Islam possesses no doctrine of Original Sin. Instead, the concept of ghaflah is presented — forgetfulness. People will forget their divine origin, over and over. And over. This forgetfulness leads to sin, and must be corrected over and over. Even so, the Koran teaches that the human self is created by God, and therefore is inherently good, and always entitled to respect. Wow.

We are forgetful, and that forgetfulness leads us to make disastrous mistakes. The mistake most prevalent on my mind today is the recurring demand to look away from the past. This is not a demand voiced solely from American podiums, it’s something that has recurred throughout all the “great” nations. Generations have obliged. And while they’re looking away, histories get edited, important words and phrases that once described our true path get redefined as evidence of a shameful, disdainful past. Pivotal points of human progress become convoluted. Not only are we apt to forget, but it is acceptable to ignore, or disparage, any hints of remembrance.

I am about to shamelessly oversimplify a bit of world history for the sake of making a quick point. Bear with me.

In the aftermath of the first world war, the allied powers decided it would be best for all the world’s future to take in hand the defeated, “primitive” leftovers of the Ottoman Empire. With the newly formed League of Nations and Great Britain in the lead, “learned” men began to rearrange Middle Eastern borders. The importance and complexity of Middle Eastern cultures were soundly dismissed and ancient clans were ordered to be nice while their lands were plundered for oil, and once arch- enemies became neighbors and governors. The caliphate — the active integration of religious and state leadership believed to be prophetically ordained and integral to Muslim society — was dissolved. And thus, members of the Allied Nations shoved a region’s powerful history out of western common knowledge.

Colonialists in modern clothing didn’t bother to look back at their history books during all these resource plundering plots disguised as moralistic endeavors to see how blatant disregard for culture tends to result in radical behavior. American leadership jumped right in with its big morality boots after the second world war to do more of the same. Am I supporter of the caliphate? No. I am an American who cherishes democracy. But that’s not the point.

Speaking of America: While U.S. leadership embraced the idea of becoming global moral police, it prospered within its own borders. Manufacturing, technological innovation, communications, and political progressiveness abounded. Consumerism thrived. The backbone of all this making of modern wonders was the white middle class — the workers, the voters, the spenders. Social programs for children, minorities, the elderly were created and funded at the behest of the white middle class. Civil Rights rallies were manned and laws were changed. Roads were built, schools and clinics were built, farmers protected, wildlife protected, natural resources regulated, etc.

Then, sometime in the 80’s, it became trendy to say the white middle class was nothing more than bland, racist, greedy yahoos. Wannabe rich folks that would never make the mark. Failures. The white middle class epitomized what was wrong with this country. Sustaining the greatest nation on the planet, AMERICA, was impossible thanks to that fattening group of middle-roaders. Skilled laborers, voters, and spenders suddenly became the thing not to be.

Wait. What?

The topics above may seem ridiculously disparate. And some folks may laugh out loud at the prospect of the American white middle class being considered a culture, but the truth is the topics are relevant, if not comparable at first glance. And, the truth is, both cultures have taken devastating blows thanks to elite groups deliberately undermining their value. The difference is this: the American white middle class hasn’t attempted a public, collective rebound. Yet.

Two articles of interest for today in the New York Times:

The Manners War, by David Brooks

The New Culture Clash, by R. R. Reno

Knowledge Is Power: Digging Through Current Events For Knowledge Is Rewarding Work

Many moons have  passed since I could, in all honesty, declare myself a well-informed person. It’s been years since I sat in a bookstore or library leisurely reading newspapers or magazines. It’s been longer than that since I deliberately sat down in front of the TV news for a daily dose of current events. Oh my dear lord where do newscasters find the time to practice being so annoying?

Well, I’m not a masochist, so there will be no attempts at putting myself through such torture. (However, I do make an effort to listen to a half hour each week of BBC World News, when I remember that’s an option. Local news is just, no. No.) I don’t have the flexibility in my schedule to schlep down to the bookstore or library anymore, and for quite some time I didn’t have the budget to spend $$$ on newspaper and magazine subscriptions. Thanks to a little incentive program at the new (permanent!) job, I recently got a bit of financial breathing room to indulge myself in some good reading. I’m now a New York Times subscriber.

Why the Times? In November, after passing by a friend’s TV blaring terrorist horrors, about a dozen questions popped into my head. No one around that particular TV could answer any of the questions I asked aloud. Out of curiosity, while taking a break at work the next day, I used Google on the handy dandy smartphone to search for answers. A link to a Times article popped up. I became an avid online reader.

Turns out, there’s a limit to how many online articles a reader can enjoy for free. When I got the modest gift card in the mail from the aforementioned incentive program, I knew exactly what to do with it! Here’s what I have learned since: NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE READ THE TIMES.

I do recognize the possibility that there are other informative newspapers in the nation (I hear the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post are good). Google just happened to point me in the direction of a quick, happy discovery. Okay … let me attempt to tighten this all up a bit. I’m getting rambly.

The horrors I mentioned coming from my friend’s TV? That was a report on Syrian refugees, within which I heard the words “ISIS” and “caliphate” mentioned. I had a vague understanding of what “ISIS” is (or thought I did), and I recognized “caliphate” from reading on Islam during a comparative religions study in college. At the risk of sounding like some idiot who’s been living under a rock, I had no idea about Syria until that moment. But caliphate … that really struck me.

This is an old word taken out of play after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. I had a mental uh-oh moment and started spilling questions. When the lack of answers inspired a long-winded recitation of world history I got some interesting (you must be crazy!) looks from the people who were, just moments before, seemingly engrossed in the televised story.

So, what the heck is going on in Syria? This is the question I posed to Google the following day. And wow.

As much as I prefer BBC World News over the other options, in my search there I only received current reports. No history of the situation. When did this begin? I didn’t want to know when everyone in the west began reacting, I wanted to know the beginning.

Now, I’m mostly caught up.

So, why was my interest in current events suddenly renewed by hearing the word “caliphate”? What knowledge have I gleaned since? Why should anyone else care? Where is all this going, Kathy?

Over the next few weeks I intend to touch on those questions and more. Meanwhile, if you’re just emerging from under a rock like me (I’m not judging), have some links:

ISIS Women and Enforcers in Syria Recount Collaboration, Anguish and Escape. NYTimes, Nov. 21, 2015

Who Is Fighting Whom in Syria NYTimes, Sept. 30, 2015

The Real Problem: Politicians Run This Country

Once in a while I revisit two of my lengthiest personal essays, each of which were originally conceived in early 2013 — I Am Not An Evangelist, and Emancipation. The latter begins with the discovery of my very first “grown-up” reading experience, Gone With The Wind. I was eleven and wanted to impress people with finishing a hefty novel during summer break. Had no idea what the thing was about, and didn’t care. It was HUGE in  my eyes at the time, and that was enough. That novel so affected me over the next two decades (and several more readings), that I still keep a copy in the house.

I revisit these essays … as you might guess … because I have never felt they were complete, and never attempted to publish either in spite of one writing professor’s high praise for Emancipation. She noted that the expression of my perspective on the novel (and other literature and pop culture referenced) presents a  brand of southern feminism, love for history, exasperation with politics,”religion”, and (mostly lousy but sometimes inspiring) human behavior worth sharing with others. Like I said, high praise. The fact that this amazing, respected teacher honed in on exactly what I hoped would come of writing such a piece was enough to soothe my raging heart for a while. I settled into doing research and trying to polish the essay a bit. And then I spent a year or so blaming its dust gathering on work and life and blah blah blah.

The other essay, I Am Not An Evangelist, is quite a bit more rambly than Emancipation. Which is astonishing. Reading through this one truly illustrates why I may never complete or publish either essay — the content is all so intensely personal that achieving the polish I desire might be impossible. Writing lessons, in general, encourage us to narrow the scope of our topics. Even braided essays, in the end, give a sense of being tautly focused. How can a feminist southern Christian with scholarly hopes longing for common sense leadership to save humanity manage to create taut, focused personal essays? All I know is that they beg to be written, but I may never discover how to bring them to an appropriate end.

You may ask at this point, Why bring up these failed attempts of personal essay writing?

Well, there is a presidential race underway, and it seems that every candidate on the block offends my feminist southern Christian sensibilities and hopes for common sense leadership fully aware of the importance of this nation’s history and constitutional principles. Not to mention the real meaning, and intent, of faith.

I want to finish my essays now more than ever before.

Faith isn’t meant to be the rock in a mud ball to sling at opponents. I know, I know … this nation’s political campaigns turned dirty long before even old Bernie was a spark in his daddy’s eye. It’s a thing, mudslinging. Have I mentioned my exasperation with politics?

I take issue with one person tearing another down in order to make themselves appear to be the better option. I take issue with melodramatic ploys to distract citizens from problems inhibiting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that could be (legally) dealt with the stroke of a presidential pen. I take issue with the definition of  words like “socialist”, “liberal”, “evangelical”, “republican”, and “civil servant” being reinvented (or applied willy nilly).

Oh. Wait. “Civil servant” hasn’t really come up that much, has it? Don’t be fooled. Every single candidate on the platform right now is a POLITICIAN, and politicians are good for one thing — serving their own agendas.

The great leaders can’t all be gone. Can they? No, I don’t think so. They’re out there somewhere being smothered out by our nation’s modern campaign criteria — one must have two hundred gozillion dollars, half of which gained by questionable means that we will ignore, in order to afford televised clowning and fibbing exhibitions. Yay, America.