Editor's Note

Read and reflect on “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes

A strident reminder of our country’s long argument with itself, this poem hits home after a day that began with Cory Booker’s presidential announcement and ended with Ralph Northam’s apology. His surely upcoming resignation may gratify our anger and disbelief, but we must not pretend it solves anything. Structural racism still plagues our country, a birth wound that never heals because we pretend all that blood, the scraped flesh and unrelenting pain is normal, inevitable, acceptable.

I was shocked when I moved to Virginia and learned that the rebel flag flew over a local city hall until the mid-1990s. Learning how segregation affected every part of life here from the schools to the churches during my own lifetime made me realize that it’s horrid legacy still lives. It compelled me to dedicate time to introspection, education and action.

I’ve always admired Langston Highly and his work inspired me to write poetry. His poems sing with clarity through their imagery, but they are not enough. Words can point us toward our shared dreams, but only hard work will lead us through the darkness to that great, shining land of liberty and justice for all.

Editor's Note Reflections

One Rant and Two Screenshots that Capture the Day


There’s so much to celebrate today — it’s the feast day of the Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux, it’s the first day of October, a generally lovely month. I had a great day at work and my handsome, smart, amazing husband keeps making me laugh and sending me lovely links to encourage my writerly aspirations.

And yet, there’s a burning anger in my heart.

The two pictures above illustrate the frustration many Americans feel. Some people will be upset about the picture on the left, some will be furious about the picture on the right, and just about everyone is disgusted with the state of politics and discourse our country. The country itself is pretty fine, I must say. We often forget how fortunate we are that we can even have fake filibusters and ridiculous Twitter fights (and flirts) about government funding. Our wonderful republic is so strong that every once in a while we act like a failed state just because we can. It’s great that a few legislators see the hypocrisy of the current situation and generously promise to donate their own salary to charity but most Americans actually need their paychecks, and federal employees can’t feed their kids with an IOU.

As someone who has been denied health insurance on the individual market, I understand the impetus behind the Affordable Care Act. It’s imperfect, but it’s the law. Viable alternatives have not been offered, and many people like certain aspects of it that have already gone into effect. Some people even think the crazy employer-based health care system we have will eventually fade away, just like rotary phones.

A lot of people don’t like the individual mandate because, well, it’s a mandate. We Americans will not be told what to do for any reason that does not involve a free T-shirt. We are just too special, too exceptional, and too proud. Any bossiness from the federal government is an infringement on our individual rights, except of course for those food safety rules, air traffic controllers and those other random essential services that save our lives.

tychay / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

In 2012, Republicans promised to repeal Obamacare if they won. They lost. Yet a number of politicians seem to have a problem with math. Perhaps their public schools were underfunded, or maybe they just believe it’s magic. Because that’s really the only way the 65,899,660 votes that Obama got could possibly be less than Romney’s 60,932,152.

Even in the House, Democrats won over one million more votes than Republicans, who maintained control due to the way districts are drawn. The word “control” might be a little strong for what actually happens in their caucus because no one seems to be able to restrain those members who still think Obamacare can be stopped after 42 failed repeal attempts and one Supreme Court ruling.

Apparently we now have a number of politicians who confuse making headlines with actually governing or counting votes. So the votes the American people do not count, and the votes of their own party also seem to vary depending on the day of the week. It’s easy to understand why so many people don’t believe in our government when the people running it send 800,000 people on furlough because they are afraid of a website.

Seriously. That’s what happened today. The health care exchanges opened, and the moon fell out of the sky. And NASA was closed so nobody can send a rocket to catch it before it crashed into earth, which is how you know that I’m writing this from an alternate universe.

I can joke now, but really, there’s a burning anger in my heart.

There’s a lot to be said about the benefits of checks and balances, but I don’t think this is a shining moment for democracy. The world is watching with confusion and bewilderment while the federal government shuts down even as one of our most famous and beautiful national parks celebrates its birthday. Yosemite must be closed not because it’s a luxury we can’t afford, but because health insurance became available, affordable, and mandatory for everyone.

I’m not usually prone to rant on this blog, but topic for day two of the Days of Deepening Friendship writing retreat is about emotion and that opened the floodgates. I definitely need to take note of the advice to utilize my support system and transition out of emotional intensity. Writing out what I feel helps a lot. I love this paragraph:

But here’s the grand part: emotions will help you tap such deep, wonderful stuff as you’re writing. If you’re going through an ordinary day and experience anger or sadness or bliss or curiosity—you can follow that emotion down through layers of your experience and memory and find all sorts of scenes, stories, and concepts attached to those emotions.

Earlier, Vinita Hampton Wright described the emotional work that artists do as spending time in the “cellar of the soul.” That’s the perfect image for how I feel right now; I know I will eventually write, walk and talk my way upstairs and into the light but for the moment I am down in the basement, sorting through the detritus of American stupidity and exceptionalism, letting this burning anger in my heart feed my thirst for justice.


A Good Day for a Cup of Tea…

ImageDespite all the nonsense across the river, it’s glorious fall day here in Northern Virginia. The leaves are just starting to turn and the sunlight has a golden sheen that foretells the harvest. This week I’m taking a break from my normal busy-ness for a writing retreat with Vinita Hampton Wright, author of various books and the blog Days of Deepening Friendship. Today we’re thinking about the five senses, and challenging ourselves to use a sense we don’t normally use to describe things. For me, that means having a cup of tea because I almost never focus on the taste of things.

The chamomile blend that I chose tasted like gold with a twinge of citrus. It didn’t stay hot very long and slid across my tongue, a happy burst of  warm water flavored with sunshine.

That’s it. I just don’t have many more words to explain it.

It’s very tempting to describe how one of the berries in the tea bay shot brilliant red trails around the mug as the tea brewed, and to dissect the various contents of this lovely blend, but that was not the assignment. Taste is a tough sense to articulate, at least for me, the ultimate un-foodie. Maybe I would appreciate tea more if I had the patience to make it often and really perfect it…

Editor's Note Reflections

Writing and Responding to the Boston Bombings

Photo by Greg Wake, via flickr CC 2.0
Photo by Greg Wake, via flickr CC 2.0

It’s been quite a week. Much has been written about the tragedy of the Boston Marathon and the drama of pursuing the suspects, with great reporting and commentary by fine writers such as Amy Davidson, Emily Bazelon and Megan Garber. Boston College grad Amy Poehler turned her advice vlog post into a reflection that sometimes it’s ok not to follow the media storm; sometimes we have to find the balance between following current events and giving our eyes and hearts a rest.

There is wisdom in that advice. We can choose what we read and watch, our sources and our depth of engagement. But it’s almost impossible not to stumble into this story right now and not be moved by the heroism and the tragedy. I’d like to take a moment and highlight some perhaps lesser known voices who brought their unique perspectives to us:

Last Wednesday, Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham wrote a piece entitled In grieving city, one can’t help but think ‘what if?’ in which she traces the near misses of marathon participants as well as Boston residents and concludes with this:

Terrorism is only effective if we let it freight everyday choices with debilitating significance. And so, the best way for those preserved by luck to honor the deaths and injuries of those whose choices led them to that one cruel spot is to keep living as if there is nothing to fear.

But in a grieving city, a city full of second thoughts, that seems like too much to ask right now.

In later columns, Abraham explores the grief, fear, and civic pride of Boston’s Muslim community, and makes the connection between the victims’ families from Monday’s bombing and a family still quietly grieving for a victim of 9/11. Her work will slide back behind the Globe paywall tomorrow, so check it out now or sign up for subscription to support more great writing.

Today is Sunday, so it seems very appropriate to mention Susan Brooks Thistlewaite, who examined the role of belief and tragedy in her On Faith articles for the Washington Post. She encouraged us to look for the helpers, seek peace with the eyes of a child, and recognize that a state of grace is not triumphant but grateful.

And finally, on a much lighter note, there’s Boston’s own Annie Cardi, who paid tribute to writers from the Boston area in her weekly feature Friday Fifteen. Every week I’m astounded by her book reviews in fifteen words or less. They are concise and witty and marvelous. This week she posted while under municipal lock down. While her reviews aren’t specific to current events, her humor and commitment are a fine example of Boston Strong.

Kudos to Ms. Cardi and all these fine writers. Thank you for your words.