I can't believe it's been almost five years since I've heard your voice or made you laugh. The words "I miss you" are inadequate to how I feel. But they are all I have, so... I miss you.
This year has felt like a decade. I'm not even sure where to begin to catch you up, and I'm not sure what articles you would even clip, because everything is insane. The news moves so fast, and it's all either ridiculous or dire (or both), and there's no way you could have even hoped to keep up. (Although I'd have bought you fresh scissors for Christmas so you could try.)
Last summer we didn't do any big trips. We did a couple of really nice family events at the cottage, and Arno and Barrett got us kayaks we can use there. (I wonder if we could have ever talked you into a kayak? I doubt it, but it's hard to know. You did tell us about your traveling in Europe on a Vespa, and I can't picture that either. Your moments of unpredictability remain some of the best family lore.) I'm wishing we had done some real travel, because all of our hopes for that this summer were dashed. Quinn was supposed to do a class trip to NYC and Boston, but when we talked about it early in the school year, he admitted it would be more fun with his family, so I told him we'd use that money instead toward all of us doing a big East Coast trip together. We had plans to hit lots of small states, and go as far north as Maine to visit Ian's sister Ursula and her husband. But no.
Because a pandemic hit this year, and the world ground to a halt right around my birthday. (Which is in March, so I'm a Pisces. Every time I see a horoscope, I think about you reading mom hers from the paper, and when I'd request mine you'd ask, "When were you born?" every time!)
Mom's doing okay. She's got a ton of interesting art projects, and she's been in the garden a lot, but I know she's tired of feeling isolated. I wish she had you at this time. I think you'd have been perfectly happy to ride out Covid-19 at home, clipping articles in the library and not having to share Mom with guests.
For the rest of us, though, it's been strange. Everything got canceled, Dad! My concerts, my varnish workshop, my book signing at Boswell's (wouldn't that have been fun?), Ian's Army retirement ceremony, Aden's high school graduation.... Just, everything.
And being trapped in the house with a lot of unexpected free time was not as useful as it might sound. All of us felt a creative drain. I think because even though on the surface it may have looked like a vacation, it was really a crisis. Being in survival mode makes it hard to focus during waking hours, and even though we were sleeping more it wasn't very sound. But I think we've leveled out. Aden is drawing and painting again, and making small things out of clay lately. Mona is drawing on the computer and started constructing something today out of feathers and wire. I've been finally getting into my home shop, and today I worked on a cribbage board with Quinn of our own design. We're starting to feel like ourselves again.
So the pandemic is weird, wearing masks is weird, social distancing in Target is weird, not letting people inside my store while still trying to run my business is weird.... It's all weird. And sad.
And the Black Lives Matter movement has exploded into a worldwide phenomenon after even more deeply upsetting instances of police violence caught people's attention. I'm hoping this time around will lead to real change. I've been thinking about it a lot, and compared to the first time I saw video of the police beating a black man in my lifetime (which would be Rodney King), today we can instantly follow up with research. White people are actively learning things we didn't know. We're seeing things in new ways, and a lot of people I know are willing to accept hard truths and history that is new to us. Today I read about the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia. Last week I read up on the Tulsa Massacre. I wonder if those events are in your files somewhere? I may look next time I'm back home.
I wish I could ask you about any of this. Because the other day someone posted a piece about Detroit and the "'67 Rebellion" and it stopped me in my tracks. Growing up, it was always the "'67 Race Riots." I remember you and Mom talking about watching things burn and how scary it was. But I realize now we never really talked about why it happened. Those desolate stretches of Detroit that never got restored after the fires were just a fact of life. Never occurred to me to think of it as part of a rebellion. My new homework will include rethinking my hometown.
You taught us so much about the destructiveness of discrimination in connection with your family's Jewish history, it would be fascinating to get your perspective on the struggle of minorities now. You'd have been proud of Aden for going to a march.
You'd be proud of Aden in general. She's registering for her freshman college courses tomorrow! She has to do all of it online, and we've never gotten to visit the campus in person (pandemic and all), but it's still exciting watching her prepare for college. She's nervous. She isn't sure how much of a grown up she's expected to be, or how much of a grown up she already is. But Dad, she's so lovely. She's grown into a remarkable artist and person. When she talks to you about something that excites her (video game design, anime, certain YouTubers who cook creatively...) she just lights up in a way that you can't help but be drawn in. She's sweet and kind and has such a tender heart.
Aden didn't mind too much not having a high school graduation. (She understands that was more for me.) But she was sad not to have been able to say goodbye to people in her school. They didn't know when they left for the day in March that they weren't going back. There were people she would have liked contact information for, and teachers she would have liked to have thanked. Not to mention she finally got her schedule just the way she wanted, with an interesting English class on African-American Lit and a ton of art classes. When she went back a couple of weeks ago to pick up her things, a piece she'd been making was still sitting on the pottery wheel where she'd had to abandon it. Lots of projects she was excited about were left unfinished. Everything about her senior year was left unfinished.
I wonder how odd her first year of college will be with these added complications? But she's not alone. I reminded her that everyone will be in the same boat, and the class of 2020 can bond over not having had graduations, and trying to make new friends from behind masks and at least six feet apart.
I was sad I didn't get the experience of touring colleges with her. I remember your taking me to look at Oberlin. That was a nice trip. And I'm still glad I backed out of staying in that weird dorm and just sharing your hotel room since it had an extra bed. (You told me the place missed out on calling itself the "Oberlinn.")
I'm going to try to write real letters to Aden at school. Getting mail helped me a lot my freshman year at OSU. Mom wrote letters, and you sent post-its, and I still have them all. I know if you were still around you would send Aden packets of articles and she would love them.
So Aden's doing okay. I'm feeling like I haven't prepared her well enough to go out into the world, but she can cook, and do laundry, and can write a good essay when she has to. If she can just be a little brave and find some friends I think she will do well. I hope. Was it hard when I went off to college? What advice would you have for me now as the parent, I wonder.
Mona is doing okay. I think. I can never be sure. She still gets anxious, and is already a little panicky about the idea of school starting up in the fall again. I'm not sure how to help, however she's at least willing to talk to me. I'm so proud of her, Dad. She works so hard. She's been doing online gym for summer school so she can take that out of her schedule for her junior year. Can you believe she's a junior? And she's driving. Or, at least, she supposedly knows how. She needs practice. You were always so calm with me in the car when I was learning. Ian is like that. I am not. I never expected to be as freaked out as I am trying to help my kids learn to drive, but yikes. It's really nerve-wracking.
She finished her two years of French, and did well, but I have never heard her speak it. All she would tell me is the numbers are weird.
She's working on the cover art for my new violin repair diagnostics book. She's excited by the idea, but struggling a bit to get something together for me to look at. I hope that works out, because I think that would be a cool thing to have in her portfolio when she's ready to apply to art school.
Mona's still in pain. It's been two years of this now, and I hate it. We've been to our regular doctor, two different ENTs, the pain clinic at Children's, she's had an MRI, dental x-rays, tests by vestibular rehab, and a recent trip to a neurologist. Nobody can tell us what it is. Although for the migraines that accompany the ear pain, the last doctor did recommend she go cold turkey off any pain medicine to sort of reset her system (since, ironically, at some point migraine meds start to cause migraines). We have prescriptions for more things she could try, but she said she'd rather not. I don't blame her. Thankfully, her ears in the past couple of weeks feel plugged up and there's a lot of pressure, but less pain. The orthodontist said there's a chance she'll just grow out of whatever it is. He said he sees a lot of teens with odd pains and issues that simply go away once their bodies get past this stage of rapid change and growth. I hope he's right. Mona shouldn't have to deal with chronic pain. Life is already hard enough without that.
Quinn continues to take things in stride. Dad, he's getting so tall. When he's not slouching I think he's my height. Possibly taller. And his hair is down to the middle of his back and all wavy and doesn't tangle and it makes his sisters really jealous. His voice is changing, too, but we are careful not to comment. He's very sweet, but at thirteen is easily embarrassed. He's super fast at games like Tetris. Still doing in fine in school. He's stopped playing violin but still takes piano. It got to a point where both were suffering and he needed to narrow his focus. In March, before the pandemic, he went on a school ski trip and broke his left wrist, so I got to be one of his hands for his online lessons. I miss that time with him.
And I asked him recently, since our Latin lessons got canceled in this new era of not going anywhere, if he wanted to continue that when possible, or just be done. I fully expected him to say we should let it go, since this was the perfect opportunity to do so. But he surprised me by saying when we could go back to the university and have Latin again, he wants to. On the one hand, the ablative case hurts my head, but on the other, I really liked that time with Quinn once a week. We always had a nice time on the drive, and sometimes stopped at the lake to look for beach glass on the way home. I wonder how much of wanting Latin lessons again is really that? Or is that just motherly wishful thinking?
Dad, he's so sweet. He's always willing to come out of his room if I call up the stairs and invite him to play a game. And the fun thing about playing with a smart kid is I never have to go easy on him. He hasn't beaten me at Boggle yet, but he always finds some really good word that I missed. You would have loved playing with him.
And he's funny. He has this amazing deadpan sort of delivery that is hilarious. He took some sort of aptitude test at school that recommends different professions, and his list was wacky. It included artist (which I thought was odd, since there was no way to assess talent in that area on a test like that), and cartographer (because he's still freakishly good at maps), and BARTENDER. Bartender? What kind of exam suggests that to a seventh grader? I laughed so hard! But maybe it's right, who knows. When I was talking about that with Mona, she said, "You know what I think Quinn should be? A Comedian." And at the one parent-teacher conference I got to go to for him this year, his teacher remarked that he was really funny. She said it took a while to recognize his dry humor, but that he's always making people laugh. So it was a surprising idea at first, but I can imagine it. You'd have to be really smart, and methodical, and good with language, and he already has the delivery and timing. But you also have to be comfortable in front of crowds, and right now, that's hard to picture.
Anyway, I think Quinn is coping best of all of us with the shift to a pandemic schedule. He finished the school year on Zoom, and now he's got video game goals. He seems content.
I think Ian's content, too, as much as he can be with all of his concerns about keeping us financially solvent in these strange times. I don't think he misses the Army. Probably parts of it, but not the hassle. I like having him around more. I couldn't ask for a more supportive husband. Our anniversary is tomorrow! 23 years. I should break out the poem you wrote for us as our wedding reading and share it with the kids.
I'm doing okay. That last novel of mine that you got to read the draft of years ago? Just Friends, Just War? I finally polished it up and got it out into the world. Sort of. My launch got canceled, but everyone who has read it seems to have liked it. I wish you could have read the final version. Barrett made a really nice cover for it. If Mona gets too stuck on the cover for the repair guide, I may use that instrument drawing you made for me that I have framed at the violin store. I don't think you'd have minded. (Heck, I feel like if you were still around you'd have cranked out fifty versions for me to choose from in a day!)
My health is better, so that's good to report. The mastitis thing seems to finally be gone. I hope. If it returns again I am not going to the doctor. They just exacerbate all of that mess. I stopped taking all pain medication last year after my colonoscopy showed poor side effects from them, but I don't get headaches the way I used to. Only problems are some high blood pressure that my doctor put me on pills for (so that seems under control), and my back is goofy. Eh.
Since the pool closed and I can't swim now, I broke out my old dojo notes and have started up our old stretching and blocks and strikes warm up. We do that as a family almost every evening. The kids are getting more flexible and better coordinated, so that's working out well. Plus, it's about an hour every night where we listen to music and catch up. I really like it. (It makes the dog nervous, and the bird is fascinated.)
That's been the most reassuring thing lately: enjoying being together. Because when we block out the news for a little while, and forget that the world looks like it's coming apart at the seams, our own little space with each other really couldn't be better. (Well, it could be less cluttered, but that's how we know it's real life and not a movie.) I love my little family. Despite everything, we know we are really lucky.
Arno and Barrett and their families are also doing fine. Your other two grandchildren are amazing and you'd be so proud, Dad. I do feel better about the future looking at all your beautiful grandkids and knowing they are next in line to help run the world. They'll do it with intelligence and compassion, which is sorely needed.
Well, this note ran past midnight. I should sleep. I love you. And I really really miss you.
Monday, June 22, 2020
Sunday, June 14, 2020
A week ago today, my daughter and I attended a protest march. I needed a few days to process the experience, and then I was too busy to write about it, but I'm making the time today. I want a record for myself of what it was like. Beyond that, I want to share for others who have not been to a Black Lives Matter event how it was from my perspective. I see too many people characterizing these marches as violent, and referring to protesters as thugs. I am not a thug. I didn't meet anyone I would describe as a thug last Sunday.
Black lives matter. Regardless of how anyone wants to view people or organizations associated with those three words, that phrase should not be controversial. Because it is true that black lives matter. Even when people choose to combat that concept by muddying the issue with phrases such as "All lives matter" and "Blue lives matter, " I will agree. All lives (and "blue" lives) do matter. That does not negate the fact that black lives matter. We should all be able to acknowledge that. (And not follow it with anything beginning with "But...")
I am humbled and dismayed by how much I do not know about the black experience in America and the world. Only in recent years with video recordings making certain actions clear and undeniable am I starting to comprehend how different my America has been from the one other people in my community know. I am angry about the history I was taught in school that excluded important details of slavery, events such as the Tulsa Race Massacre, not to mention anything truly instructive on Native Americans, or how the Chinese were exploited in the development of the West, more than a line or two about Japanese Interment Camps, among other things. My children are being taught better, but still not enough. We're doing our homework together.
I believe most people are decent at heart. We can be easily misguided by our own narrow experience. I think what we are witnessing at this moment is a collective realization of how much unfairness exists all around us that we unconsciously contribute to every day, and that we need to change. The marches are one way to demonstrate that we care.
I also believe the marches would be bigger if it weren't for the pandemic. I know my own reluctance to join the BLM crowds has been tied directly to the health risk involved at this time. My family is looking for other avenues to lend support, such as making signs or donating food.
But risks have to be weighed, and some things are too important to ignore.
When a friend who needs a wheelchair for going long distances asked for a volunteer to push her at a handicapped accessible march last week, I jumped at the chance. Since there would be vulnerable people visible in the march, I figured mask usage and social distancing concerns would be better adhered to than on average. My oldest daughter wanted to come, too.
We drove to the other side of town to pick up my friend, and managed to find a spot for my minivan not too far from the gathering in Veterans Park by the lake. There were two marches scheduled at that end of town: The accessible march, and a BLM/Pride march closer to the festival grounds. A third march led by athletes was meeting downtown, and the plan was at some point for all three to join together.
The event began just beyond the parking area near the kite store. We settled in on the ground facing a pickup truck where sign language interpreters were standing. There were several interpreters at the march, identified with bright vests and yellow pool noodles they could wave above people's heads to be found in a crowd. They, and the deaf marchers in attendance, wore masks with a clear section in front so their lips were visible.
Around 2:00, when enough people were assembled to begin, we were led in nine minutes of meditation. We were asked to either close our eyes or cast them to the ground, and then told to concentrate on our breathing. Then on our emotions. Then on our thoughts. Then back to the breath coming in and out of our bodies. I've participated in many acts of meditation. This was by far the most profound.
Even as each of these speakers expressed frustrations with trying to function in this country as people of color, they were overwhelmingly positive. They celebrated the diversity of the crowd. They asked people to refrain from cursing. (There was about twenty seconds of "Fuck the police" about five hours in, which didn't catch on, but that was the only such chant I heard all day.) The general atmosphere was of support for one another, and a desire to be heard and make our city better by holding the police accountable.
The march was set up with the people in wheelchairs at the front so they could set the pace. There were about eight or so wheelchairs in a group of a few hundred people, so my friend and I were in a position to lead the march in a manner we weren't expecting. For my part, this was fine, because although I was in a good mask, I was not eager to be pressed in too close to so many people. It suited me fine to be spaced far apart and in front of the large crowd. Plus it was helpful in guiding my friend's chair to have a clear path and not be concerned about bumping into anyone. I did my best to keep my friend positioned in the second or third row when possible, because she really didn't want undue attention.
Marching for a cause is a bit of a conundrum for introverts. We're not particularly inclined to be seen or heard. But that's the whole of our contribution when involved in a protest this way. In my friend's case, there is the added element of the wheelchair, which draws a peculiar kind of attention. I was of mixed mind about how she was being included in this march. On the one hand, there was a practical reason for her to be up front. The march was designed specifically around her sort of needs. But it was hard to get away from the idea of her being used as a prop. I know that made her uncomfortable. At the same time, she was there with a sign which she wanted people to see. (It read: "When George called for his Mama, all moms were summoned.") So why not be seen? If the wheelchair in this instance amplified her message, all the better? And the focus on the disabled caught the needed attention of the press. I don't know. It was awkward, but maybe for the best, and I haven't worked that bit out in my head yet. There is a fine line between tokenism and awareness sometimes. I think my friend handles it with grace. I don't know if I would do it as well.
We walked out of the park and south along Lincoln Memorial Drive. We took over one side of the boulevard, and cars lined up on the opposite side honked in support. The basic chants were mostly call and response: "I can't breathe, can you breathe?--I can't breathe." "Whose city?--Our city. Whose state?--Our state." "Don't arrest me!--Arrest the police." Along with repeated chants of "Black Lives Matter" or the sing-song "Ain't no power like the power of the people 'cause the power of the people don't stop."
We got as far as the intersection by the art museum before we stopped for a while. Apparently marching involves a lot more stopping and standing than I knew. We waited for the Pride march to join up with us, then the march from downtown.
That's when the food appeared. I had my own water, but volunteers all along the route were omnipresent with water bottles offered out of the trunks of cars and in wagons. There were boxes full of snacks, and whole bagged lunches. I took a bag marked PB&J, and shared my sandwich with my daughter. In the bag was also an apple, a granola bar, and fruit gummies. My friend said her son had been marching every day since the protests began (this was day ten) and that he'd been living off the snacks donated by volunteers.
The weather was perfect: Sunny, just cool enough to not be sticky. It was sort of fascinating to get to eat lunch in the sunshine near the entrance to a freeway in a place I normally only drive. Everyone was pleasant and generous.
We gathered in a circle at the intersection where someone set up speakers and a microphone. The interpreters were always in sight. The people in wheelchairs (at this, and every stop) were escorted to the front to make sure they had an unobstructed view. Organizers spoke, and kept the themes positive. To be honest, their words didn't stick with me as well as the presence of a four-year-old girl who got to lead the crowd in repeating "Black lives matter" over and over. It was done with the glee you'd expect of a child who doesn't tire of reruns. It was hard not to think about the world she's growing up in. I can't imagine anyone not wanting the best for her. I thought about how many of my own children's opportunities I tend to take for granted.
Eventually everyone reassembled into a procession again, wheelchairs at the front, followed by people with banners and everyone else. All along the route were people to cheer us on, offering water and handing out extra signs for anybody who wanted one. At that point the group was very large. I saw an estimate later on the news of thousands, but really don't know. Again, I was grateful for the excuse to be essentially out front and able to keep some distance between our trio and others.
We headed past City Hall and over to Red Arrow Park--a small skating rink where Dontre Hamilton was shot and killed by police in 2014. He was a man with mental illness who had been sleeping in the park. People ever since have placed small memorials to him there that are repeatedly swept away. I often play in the performing arts center across the street. There is never a time I see that park that I don't think of Dontre needlessly losing his life there.
There were speeches at the park, followed by another break for food. Some generous donor had provided a car with 60 pizzas, and children followed by women were invited to partake. That was maybe the only other thing in the day that didn't sit with me well, in addition to people in wheelchairs being made to feel a bit like props. There were a few times one of the organizers described men as the protectors of women, and sort of lumped women and children together as a weaker category. I know it was well-intentioned, and no harm was meant by it, but I think for a march that included a sizable LGBTQ+ section of the community, it was not particularly sensitive. I wondered how it would be possible to broach the topic with the speaker somehow, because I'm sure he wouldn't have wanted to alienate anyone present. But if I, as a cis-gendered hetero white woman found the "protectors of women and children" thing uncomfortable, I can only imagine how that sat with any queer or non-binary people in attendance.
But you know what? Compared to the way BLM marches seem to be portrayed on social media and in the news, these are exceedingly small quibbles. People always get points in my mind for their good intentions if they are doing the best with what they know. I only bring them up in order to highlight how overwhelmingly positive and inspiring everything was. If the only thing spoken that made me cringe was someone saying men have a duty to protect women and children, well, then I wish all the problems of the world could be so insignificant.
My daughter and I ate our pizza standing well apart from others so we could remove our masks with less worry. It felt good to sit in the park for a bit and rest our feet. I also had the opportunity to talk with a couple of women with signs listing black people tragically killed by police. We'd been chanting the name "George Floyd" of course, and sometimes "Breonna Taylor" (and then the call and response would turn to "Say their name--Which one?"), and I recognized several of the names on one woman's sign (Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown....). But I was shocked at how many names I did not know of local victims on the other woman's sign.
We reassembled after the break in the park to march over a bridge and toward the police station. That area was blocked off by dumpsters so we could not walk in front of that building. We stopped again so people could speak, then wound our way back toward the lake where we started. As we passed through the tunnel under the convention center, everyone was struck with the same urge as every little kid in that space to make a lot of noise and hear it echo. It was one of the only moments I took any video because I wanted to remember it. It was impressive. (I am not sharing it here, or any photos that protesters could be identified from, since I do not have their permission.)
During the downtown portion of our march we were joined by a few men carrying rifles. I am not comfortable around guns. However, in the wake of lock down protests where white men felt entitled to openly carry with impunity, I don't think there should be a double standard when it comes to black citizens. Anytime I see a Walmart I think of John Crawford who was killed in one in Ohio for carrying a BB gun that was for sale inside that store. These black men with their rifles were making a statement, and did not make me nervous. If anything, I was nervous for them.
As the sun was setting, we walked back along the road in front of the museum, and back into the park. I drove my friend home, and then on our way back to our side of town, my daughter and I were stuck in traffic in the dark watching the same march continue up by the university. It was amazing to watch the group we'd walked in front of for seven hours from the outside. I hadn't realized just how many cars had joined the procession at the rear. It was noisy and energetic.
The whole thing was a great experience. I am beyond glad I went. And it was a joy to see the kind of light the day brought to my daughter's eyes. She's been stuck at home so long, deprived of her end-of-high-school experience, apart from friends, and feeling helpless about these important issues we are all grappling with lately. She said it felt good to get up and do something, even if it wasn't much. We both agreed we felt better about our city having spent the day with so many people in our community who want things to change. It gave us hope.
So here is a big takeaway from this event for me: The positive is seldom reported. Not a big surprise, but in the context of our current state, it leaves the wrong impression of BLM protests. I talked to one woman at our march who said the one she was in the day before, they walked peacefully in a northern suburb for ten hours, and the only part that made the news was the lawyer who came out to spit on a young black man in the march. That moment was despicable, and deserved press, but I have a feeling if that hadn't happened, those hundreds of people out there to make a statement against racism would have been overlooked entirely. Our march got press because it had a couple of gimmicks: the wheelchairs, and the professional athletes. I wonder if it hadn't been for those things if it would have merited a mention at all.
There were no police in sight anywhere on our march, with the exception of a couple of cars at a distance helping redirect traffic. I don't believe unless there is a specific reason for police to be involved, they should be anywhere near these protests. The few marches in our area where there was trouble, protesters have reported that the police overreacted to situations they misinterpreted, and escalated the conflict. I believe them. I can't speak to the devastation to property in places like Minnesota, but I can say that any time we care more about property than we do about human lives and dignity and justice, we are putting our empathy in the wrong place. I love the store I run. It's an extension of myself, and I think I do good work for our community. If something were to happen to it, I would be understandably upset. But I don't think it is worth more than a human life.
I hope these marches are the beginning of a larger trend of learning and change. I hope at some point when they die down and fade away, that the momentum continues in other quiet but meaningful ways. In the meantime, our family will look for more contributions we can make to the Black Lives Matter message. This weekend both of my daughters joined an event where they participated in a protest using chalk on a sidewalk in a park near our home. We plan this week to make signs for others to carry. Someday soon we hope to be among the people handing out snacks that keep others marching.
Because black lives matter. Obviously.