I heard the noise from blocks away, as I walked down the greenway with my homemade sign. Crowds usually make me nervous, but on that day I wanted the feeling of being part of something big and loud. The mood on this bright sunny day was like a family festival, with children running around in the grass and friends laughing together. Elderly men and women, young parents and toddlers mingled in between the towering city buildings. It was so hot that several people passed out, even though organizers hurriedly carried around boxes full of cold water bottles and urged everyone to stay hydrated. Shirts and signs introduced strangers to each other as people declared the groups they represented and the issue they cared about: Voter suppression is wrong. It harms peoples of all faiths and walks of life. It matters. The North Carolina conservatives in control of the state legislature passed some of the most sweeping voter suppression efforts in the nation as soon at the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act and removed pre-clearance for this former Confederate state. The NAACP of NC has taken the state to trial in my town and organized the rally on the first day of court. This trial matters as it works its way through federal court and shapes the rights of voters nationwide. The characters that turn out to a political rally can be so eclectic and inspiring. The Raging Grannies, the church groups, the militant activists, all gathered in solidarity around one issue: the right to vote. We were raising our voices to declare together the right for all people to perform the fundamental democratic act of voting. It felt so good. It felt empowering and energizing in that cliched way that collective action can. As one in a crowd, you feel as if you are making a difference. And, with voting rights on trial, it brought home the feeling that every voice and every single vote counts. In the face of recent horrific crimes, institutional racism, and crippling inequality, I have at times fallen prey to feeling paralyzed and powerless. What can one person do, after all? Well, one person can march as one of many. One person can vote and be counted. One person can commit to registering a hundred more to vote and then even help drive them to the polling place. One person can join with others and know that every little step matters when you are marching through the streets with a thousand like-minded souls.
My last post was simply to share a poem about peace that reminded me to seek solace in wild spaces when the darkness of the world encroaches. I hoped that reflecting a little light back out towards the darkness would help me and others. Perhaps it did. I have been trying to read, to meditate, to be with my family, and to take the tangible steps of donating to a food bank and joining a local grassroots group in the hope of contributing to solving social problems that I care deeply about.
But, yet, I have also lingered in the darkness a bit. I cannot stop myself from reading pieces of righteous outrage. Being outraged myself at violence and hatred and close-mindedness and insensitivity. As a child of The South who has always somewhat loathed the spaces and symbolism and culture and history and food of the rural southern Mississippi region, I feel a deep connection with this second poem as well. In its own way, it makes me feel better because it seems deeply true. When I read this poem, I know all the beauty and ugliness of every single line – the smells and tastes and vibrancy and decay that forms the place I once called home and always wanted to escape.
I hate your hills white with dogwood
or pink with redbud in spring
as if you invented hope, as if
in the middle of red clay,
and oak trees dead with fungus
something slight and beautiful
should make us smile.
I hate the way honeysuckle drapes
fences, blooms in the ditch
where everyone dumps garbage;
the evening air sweet with cedar
and fields of burley;
the way irises and buttercups
mark the old dimensions of a house
destroyed a hundred years ago;
how a span of Queen Anne’s lace
rocks the whole moon, and the sumac
runs dark against the hill.
I hate the drawl, the lazy voice
saying I’ve been away so long
I sound like I’m from nowhere;
the old hand gathering snowballs or peonies
or forking up an extra dish of greens,
bitter, just the way I like them.
~ Neal Bowers
Added: After posting this, I read a piece about the power of poetry that speaks exactly to how I’ve been feeling lately.
A Friday ritual from SouleMama. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.
My girl looked outside this morning and said “Mama! Did you paint the grass?”
Her tone was lighthearted on this gorgeous spring Earth Day when the dewy grass is such a brilliant shade of green that it does almost look like fresh wet paint. But, she knows the difference between this natural brightness and the fake green of manicured “poison grass” lawns with their little “keep children and pets off for their own safety” signs. Oh, how we prefer the realness of untreated grass!
We talk often of protecting our Earth and taking care of the planet that takes care of us. Earth Day becomes then, for us, a day of celebration. It’s a sort of bookend to autumn harvest festivals that give thanks for the bounty of seasonal food. In spring, we come awake and give thanks for the beauty of our earth. We also reflect on what it means to be grateful and purposeful.
Since I so often post about books and libraries and reading, I thought today I would share a few favorite earthy quotes. The last one is my favorite right now, as I look towards returning to North Carolina in less than two weeks and set down some roots.
“Earth provides enough to satisfy every [person’s] needs, but not every [person’s] greed.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.” ― Theodore Roosevelt
“When you realize the value of all life you dwell less on past and concentrate more on the conservation of the future.” ― Dian Fossey
“If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a spectulator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.” ― Henry David Thoreau
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ― Rachel Carson
“It is our collective and individual responsibility to preserve and tend to the environment in which we all live.” ― Dalai Lama
“Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking. It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.” ― Wangari Maathai
So, we have been living smack in the middle of Ontario wine country this year and let me just say: The local/regional wines have gone a long way towards easing the harshness of this winter. As we drive around, exploring the parks and even taking a sugar maple tour hike through snowy woods, we have been astonished by the acres of vineyards and landscape dotted with wineries. Local wines go so very well with the salmon we’ve been eating more of and the regional veggies this greenbelt has to offer. Having spent almost a decade in southern Indiana and enjoyed having local vineyards to visit and wines to taste, it’s been lovely to sample what Ontario has to offer.
When we return to North Carolina (soon!) our mission will be to immerse ourselves in the local food and drink culture. Not only as consumers, but as community gardeners and food bank supporters. Finding our way into the food culture of a place helps us feel rooted and tastes oh, so very good.
The only flowers we see on this vernal equinox are the ones we gathered at the bustling indoor farmer’s market. This morning was decidedly gray, but the snow has almost all melted and the birds are filling the air with dancing and song. By noon, we were outside at a playground, basking in the relative warmth. I stretched, I swung, I lifted my face to the sun and saw the light dancing on my eyelids.
Though I am not so sure that the length of ours days and nights are equal at this moment, in this place, I am thinking about balance in life and self. There is no better time, with new life ready to burst from the ground, to purge the weary aspects of work and life. To embrace new experiences and resolve to be just a little more purposeful, a little more kind to ourselves and gentle with each other. For me, this means making time for a little mani/pedi action with my girl today and to visit a new yoga studio tomorrow morning. These are such small things when written down, but feel big when lived and carried throughout our days. Balance is what I will strive for in the coming year, more than I ever have before, and I wish it for you, too.
The ground has been snow-covered for upwards of six weeks, the temperature painfully low for most of those days. It’s not just our imagination, our relative lack of experience with harsh winters. No, “Environment Canada meteorologist Maxime Desharnais says it was the persistent cold and wind that set this year apart” and helped make this February the coldest on record for our new Southern Ontario home.
The snow we don’t mind. The extreme low temperatures have been unbearable, yet have made me acutely aware of minor fluctuations and the effect that even a degree or two shift can have on snow. As we live with snow day after day, the subtle differences in how it falls, clings, packs, feels underfoot or in our mouths, puts me in mind of cultures that have an intimate relationship with snow and ice and wield a plethora of words to describe its different characteristics.
As I meditate on snow, I think often of a book I read some time ago that built a mystery around Smilla’s Sense of Snow. I know a film adaptation was made and though I do tend to quite like Julia Ormond and Gabriel Byrne, I have never managed to see the film. The book was quite enjoyable, however, and well worth a little light winter reading.
Since the bitter cold keeps us mostly inside our house rather than inside our snow forts, winter reading is happening in droves for our little ones. One all-time favorite go-to book of snowy wonder is (of course) Ezra Jack Keats’ simple masterpiece.
A second favorite around here features one of our favorite children’s book illustrators, Hiroe Nakata.
So, the snow compresses and the prospect of a warm breeze and mushy thaw still eludes us, but we learn — from books and from snow. And from time and a promise of seasons that shift, if slowly.
The unexpected encounter with art.
The experience of raw emotion skillfully displayed by the practiced performer.
The blurring of genres in a presentation that includes live singing, short films, personal reflection, and scholarly conversation.
I thoroughly enjoyed, and have been reflecting on, the Family Ties event that I had an opportunity to attend this week. Toronto based artists Vivek Shraya and Casey Mecija screened short films that explore their relationships with parents whose acceptance and support shaped their lives in powerful ways. While the films were quite interesting, it was the artists’ comments about their creative processes and personal experiences that created the most memorable moments of the evening.
Alanis Morissette and Sarah McLachlan were important contributors to the soundtrack of my teen years in the 1990s. I have never been a diehard fan of either, I certainly didn’t care for everything they create, and their biggest hits were actually my least favorite. But, some of Alanis and Sarah’s songs made it onto my permanent playlist. Don’t we all have one of those? The list of songs that touch us, stay with us, make us turn the volume up when they come on the radio? Those songs that we have strong memories of and know most of the words to, even after years of forgetting they exist.
I always respected the hell out of Sarah for co-founding Lilith Fair. Along with other 90s feminist favorites like 4 non Blondes, Tori Amos, and Garbage, Sarah and Alanis are both part of the legacy of 90s mainstream musicians defining third wave feminism. The substance of their music and activism and culture jamming makes the recent claims of feminism by some high profile female musicians seem particularly superficial and uninformed.
So, I am enjoying listening, remembering, and analyzing Alanis and Sarah as Canadian celebrities and activists as I prepare to present research about them at the annual conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies in Montreal in a few weeks. I thought I would share the abstract of the study here since I haven’t blogged my research in quite some time.
When Gen X Icons Grow Up: Celebrity, Ageing, and (Trans)National Canadian Identity in the Careers of Alanis Morissette and Sarah McLachlan
Canadian musicians Alanis Morissette and Sarah McLachlan helped define 1990s Third Wave feminism and Generation X culture through their art and activism. This project traces their careers and the reluctance on the part of transnational media to accept evolutions in their music and identities as they age or to acknowledge their Canadianness. I examine how transnational media construct celebrity activists as feminine archetypes and the influence that female musicians can have on audience performances of activism.
Morissette was catapulted to fame with her 1995 song “You Oughta Know.” With its graphically sexual lyrics and angry tone, the song cast Morissette in the role of an angst-filled Gen Xer. Morissette’s star persona turned meditative in follow-up works, leading audiences and critics to question her authenticity. As an advocate for breastfeeding and attachment parenting, Morissette’s credibility was treated with skepticism because she remained linked with her past exemplification of the seeming irresponsibility and sexual promiscuity of Gen Xers. Sarah McLachlan’s fame grew more slowly, as her album 1993 Fumbling Towards Ecstasy steadily gained acclaim ahead of her chart topping song “Angel.” As a co-founder of Lilith Fair, an event featuring all female musicians, McLachlan’s career is defined by her feminism. McLachlan’s career has waned as the Third Wave/Gen X movement faded from prominence. The inability for transnational media to release them from the frames that defined their early careers exemplifies how female celebrities are rarely allowed to age in celebrity media discourses.
Furthermore, both women’s Canadianness has been obscured in transnational media. Using the concept of celebrity colonialism, I examine the unique cultural imperialism in which Canadian national identity is subsumed by U.S. national identity. U.S.-centric media construct us/them dichotomies that rely in part on cultural cues such as language or accents that may not be readily evident in the often highly scripted public personae of English-speaking Canadian celebrities. In order to explore the trajectories of the women’s stardom over two decades, my analysis will account for a variety of media including publicity produced on behalf of the women, their own editorial writing, song lyrics, and music videos, interviews conducted with them, and media discourse about them in order to gain a multi-faceted understanding of their significance as ageing Third Wave/Gen X icons.