It’s time again for the EWM Yahoo! NCAA men’s basketball tournament pick’em – 17th annual-ish. Just like whatever year it was when we did this last, we’re using Fibonacci scoring (2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21), and going with modest upset bonuses, +1 point for upsets in the first round, +2 for upset picks after that. Everyone is welcome to join this pool, which will include some of the most steady-handed dart flingers of all time. There’s no time time for consulting with your local misfortune teller, ordering new eyeglasses, staring into the sun (never advisable) while wondering about the rate at which your bracket will wither if you choose that team you kind of love.
Sign up! Free, free, FREE, yes, free to you: join this year’s group on Yahoo!, NULL’s Best Guess (ID#29676). If you have questions, elbow me with all you’ve got via email at dereknmueller at gmail.com. Invite your friends, frenemies, faux-frenemies, Canadian compadres, social media snobs, wishful critical thinkers, mentors, interim interim interim associate provosts, outrageous sentiment analysts, multicolor kitchen molds, too-long-didn’t-readers, spendthrifts who subscribe to more than three streaming media services, people who can’t ever seem to find the goat yogurt at Kroger, friends of Appalachian folk artists, people who say they train on a bike but who haven’t trained on a bike in over a month, candy-sneaking flexitarians, Ypsilanti tattoo artists, grandchildren dancing to the baby shark video, snail racers, assessment Jedi, the miscreant living in the upstairs apartment who does floor+ceiling thumping Jazzercise in the six a.m. hour every god-blessed day including Daylight Saving Time spring ahead day, etc. The group has space for the next 49 who sign up. Giant stakes: reputations are made (and quickly forgotten) right here.
Nearly thirty years have gone by, but I can not forget that first job after high school, working for Coyne Oil & Propane. Didn’t have any description to pair with it, and I was 17, so didn’t pause to care for long about how the job was defined, what amounted to a do-anything unskilled generalist, some days refilling the windshield washer tubs mounted near the fuel terminal or sweeping the engine-leaks-absorbing clay pellets scattered on the concrete where fleet vehicles parked while fueling. Other days painting lines on parking spaces, emptying garbage, or loading grime-covered empty barrels by hand into the back of a semi trailer, one by one by one. When the weather cooperated, most days involved painting propane tanks. I wrote about it once before, several years ago (“Propane“), keying on some of the flashbacks to that job and how it was set up, the Ford half-ton flatbed I drove when the tanks were in the field and the rickety front loader whose hydraulics were so breezy, to hoist a tank initiated game show-like countdown, racing to paint the tank’s underside before it lowered to the ground.
It was an iffy first job. Minimum wage was, what?, maybe $4.25 an hour in 1991. The beige paint came in five gallon buckets with exclamatory warning labels about its toxicity and how you should avoid contact with your skin, but day in and day out for months my hands were covered with the stuff.
Iffy, too, were some of the situations that presented with the off-site, in-the-field painting. Some of the tanks were a mess–surfaces pocked and rusted and impossible to refinish with the limited tools I had available; many of the sites were heinous, too–tanks converged upon by tall weeds or branches, swallowed up by their surrounds, much of which the homeowners preferred to have left undisturbed. But there weren’t many rules, otherwise, and the only lines of communication were when one of the Coyne brothers who owned the company would receive a phone call of request or complaint.
The drawing up top returns again to the unforgettable excursion to a remote, wooded lot north of Farwell, Mich. A trailer in the trees with an ad hoc perimeter of chicken wire around, lazy-tacked stakes leaning, and inside that perimeter, the 330-gallon propane tank sat stably on blocks. I knocked on the door to alert them to my being there; but the adults inside were gravely ambivalent, vaguely gesturing “go on” without getting up from where they sat watching television. And in the side-yard, in that coop, all around the tank, dead, decaying chickens were strewn about right where the universe had left them–unfed to the point of starving, maybe, or subjected to a weasel’s spree. Who knows. Not the finest hour of my work life, tending to the job, stepping across the piles of putrid feathers abuzz with flies, getting out my painting supplies, pouring a roller pan full of beige paint, and rolling until the tank glistened, there in the shade. Naked or half-dressed, little kids ate cherry popsicles and watched from the window, onlookers almost like at one of those live sidewalk art performances in Chicago or New York, only humbler.
The memory comes up. This time, I drew about it, then wrote a few lines. Grand lessons, I don’t know, probably not. I do wonder if anyone has had to paint that tank since. How those kids are doing. Whether the residents got right with raising chickens and had a better go of it. Coop is of those memories that raises up any time I have a bad day at work. I suppose that’s why this was such a good first job after high school to have, painting propane tanks this way. At least it’s not that July 1991 excursion again. At least there aren’t dead and decaying chickens scattered about the place.
While I’m already on that 1991 flight path (x-referencing this FB post), here’s one more scraplet of mid-Michigan memorabilia, a drawing by my hs coach’s dad, Tom Lavoie, Sr. He’d created a series of these for seniors that year, I think. My variation, shown here somehow held on for years from place to place, but eventually it succumbed to the dankness of whatever dark basement tuck-away it was temporarily stored in. I took a photo of it before I pitched it (5-6 years ago?) and then just a couple of weeks ago, reflecting on that 90-91 season, I looked up the photo and retraced it in Procreate. I mean, why forget when you can remember? In particular, I remember Tom Lavoie, Sr., as oftentimes nearby, especially for those winter break practices, which he showed up to during the holidays, joining the workout session by arming himself with football blocking pads, and fouling us as we took turns doing power-ups (could be it was only the bigs who endured this; I don’t quite remember). Possibly sounds worse than it was; it added just a little bit extra to the already-demanding exertions of again and again picking up a ball from the floor, willing it to the upper outer corner of the backboard. I assume this kind of thing–being fouled over and over by football pads–explains the band-aids, dazed-headedness, aching elbows and knees, bloody sock, and lost shoe shown here. We were always taught, if you’re gonna foul, then foul (later at Park, Coach English, too, doubled-down on this defensive philosophy: spend your fouls well, wisely; you only get a few of them to give!). Google gave me a phone number, so I tried calling Tom Lavoie, Sr., this morning, left a message of gratitude on the answering machine for the drawing, for caring enough to show up as he did for us–and, too, for the difference made by his son, who died at too young an age (53) in 2011.
Added: Tom Sr. returned my call; we chatted for 30 mins about a lot of it remembering basketball, the drawings he made for players at Beal City and also for the women’s programs at Alpena HS, the former BCHS players he still hears from, and also about how–coincidentally–he graduated from Michigan State Normal School before it was EMU, studying Phys Ed and finishing in Ypsi in 1956. Mentioned, too, the anecdote about how he and Tom (his son, my hs coach) had gone to a Dick Baumgartner shooting camp in Indiana and were astonished to learn that the diameter of the rim is twice the diameter of a basketball, and facing much disbelief about that, Baumgartner would have to climb a ladder and show it to be true (empirical evidence being observable and all)…and how he had to do that same thing when he shared that lesson in later years at Alpena.
Whatever was the address of the Sheboygan, Wisc. house, and whenever were the years (there were a few late 1970s and early 80s), I learned much of what I understand about how any holidays worth celebrating really work, miniature lessons from my brother, my parents, grandparents (not pictured), great-grandparents (left to right, the photo in front of the piano, Meta, Thomas, and Harriet, all immigrants or children of immigrants). Today I’m spending time in the kitchen, quietly preparing food, imagining it possible that there are still tykes over that way west across Lake Michigan feeling joyful for playing in the basement, a holidays-only Mr. Pibb, slinkies sent down the stairwell, hand-knitted sweaters snugly holding multigenerational warmth.
Michigan neighbor, K., asked if I take requests for drawings, and I hadn’t before, not really, and so I said yes, sure, because even though was born under a Taurus sign I do sometimes like to do things I have never done before. Yes, sure.
The friendly request presented a set of conditions: draw our community (referring, I assumed, to the condominium complex known as Lakeview Estates, a set of approximately 130 units organized in four-unit buildings, built beginning in 1974, and occupying several acres just on the north edge of Ypsilanti, sort of between Clark and Geddes, Prospect and Harris, if you’re into Michigan’s baseline-meridian mile by mile grids). Where was I? Draw our community. Incorporate a before/after timespan. Include fuchsia. And title it with something she’d have to look up.
In 2009, I first happened up on the condo unit as a renter, referred to its owner’s adult children by an EMU colleague who knew them through their common interest in horses. The place was freed up as a rental shortly after its elderly owner died. Having moved from Syracuse, we rented for two or three years before buying a house in the next neighborhood over, same square mile as I described above.
I resumed occupancy at the condo after purchasing it in August 2014. It’s not that all of this is a dullish story as much as an account tiptoed around for uncertainty about demarcations about whose experiences constitute any story to tell and what, after all, as indefinite futures play out, do stories told bear out as consequences for ambient subjectivities–contributing without harm to an oikos, its ecology, the distributed house-logic extends neighborliness and stewardship erring always on the side of unknowns, the unforeseeable.
In 2018 I took a job 500 miles from Ypsilanti. Navigating that transition was in the top ten of stressful adulthood navigations. It meant moving away from my then-11-year-old daughter, for one. It meant wayfinding financially such that I could keep the condo as a place to visit and stay for long periods of time in Michigan while also finding a place to live in Virginia. But it also meant sorting out an incredibly trying series of obstacles introduced by the then-president of the condominium association whose inflexibilities and malfeasances led to my being sued. Twice. The details of the cases amounted to attempts to evict where I believed I was standing up for my position that “single family dwelling” met the standards of the township so long as no more than three otherwise unrelated adults share a house/condo with continuing domestic intention (sharing meals, for example). I’m leaving out a lot of the details. There was no rental agreement; no complaints, either. And I was stepped through legal proceedings that cost about 6k to defend for a pair of lawsuits that were ultimately dismissed. It’s challenging as hell to defend yourself against a condo association when the association dues you pay each month underwrite the efforts of the board president and a legal firm whose values seemed most of all to revolve around keeping a steady stream of revenue.
In the midst of the lawsuits–letters I wrote pleading with them not to pursue things further, which they ignored after the first suit was thrown out, summons delivered with the loud, intimidating knock of a flashlight handle by a county sheriff after dark one January night, the snarl of one attorney, who, at a board meeting called me an asshole and told me to shut up–among the worst of the behaviors I witnessed had to do with the sugar maple in the front and the cedar hedge in the back of my place. The cedar hedge was left to grow, untended and unkempt, eventually reaching heights that blocked my first floor window view. The maintenance requests were accidentally missed, and I was told they would get to it next time the tree trimmers were on the grounds. For a year and a half, the hedge grew. Only when other neighbors started to complain did the hedge get taken down. Meanwhile, a 30-year-old sugar maple that stood in the front of my unit was culled. I came back from Virginia in December 2019 and found in its place a pile of sawdust. They’d never told me they were going to do it, even though the tree was clearly inside the bounds of the garden area attached to my unit. I let them know I would have appreciated advance notice; it was a tree Is. climbed on when she was younger, a tree that hosted birds and squirrels outside the kitchen window. A mature tree. A tree giving no hints of being unhealthy, no roots troubling the foundation walls. What can you do but bid it gratitude and move on? Moving on for me meant asking if there was a plan to replace it. No, no budget for that, they said. Oh, gotcha and no problem. I will pay for it. But no, not allowed was the board and management company’s response.
I suppose some of the follow-through on my part was motivated by sunken costs. It was super expensive to defend those needless, frivolous lawsuits (lawsuits that could have and should have been dealt with instead through direct communication and, if necessary, mediation) and at a time when I was scraping a bit. Money, fine. Whatever. But to fuck with trees out of vengeance or spite then to block their replanting? We’re gonna do this this way? Fine. So it is.
Several neighbors took interest in these and other questionable and combative events. Word–stories–rippled across the property. Kicked out of the pool stories. Lore of bluster, antagonism, and targeting in the most passive/aggressive ways possible. A few people thought it was time for a change. And then more than a few. And they organized. Is there a lesser status form of government than a condo association? But neighbors put their names in. We spread the word about a better, fairer platform. We gathered proxies. And in early September, we voted. The board turned over. And things changed for the better.
The walls of this brownstone have been good to me–a space of quiet, of rest, of learning the difference between loneliness and aloneness, of healing. An old furnace gives heat. An old stove gives flame to soups. Plenty of counter space for fermenteds, which is important, since my neighbor, P., brings me bags full of vegetables from Detroit gardens in late summer. Neighbors look out for the place. The meandering streets nearby are familiar. The squirrels and birds are still around, a few trees over or maybe in the park on Norfolk, a block away. I see them there when I walk. With the new board, a board voted in a couple of months ago, I now have approval to replant a tree. Gonna do that in spring, imagining its roots will find and hug near as they can the underground rootpaths forged before them by the sweet maple.
“An exteriorist topoanalysis would perhaps give added precision to this projective behavior by defining our daydreams of objects” (34).
Vote. Here voting.
Keep it cryptic. Filter. Ill-digested week; shit. Besides for those highlights. T. with belly giggles and mouthfuls of cheese. Damn!, chew, babygirl! Tins mailed to colleagues. Two addresses were wrong, but I figured one out and follow-up on the other. House of No has everyone’s address. Handwritten notes making me late for Thursday’s game. Is.’s volleyball matches, counting, counting, 1..3..5. Five matches. Three against the Rockets. Line-judged two of them on Friday afternoon. That day. New towels. An edited collection sent to copy editor. Filter. Shit week. Neighbor P. brought another garbage bag of vegetables. Some cutting then I converted it to a half gallon of pickled peppers. Grown in Detroit; fermented in Ypsi. Two eggplants, luminous purple. The skin of one started to wrinkle today so it was lunch. I’m grateful. I often think of all the family and friends P. told me she lost to COVID and how they had a mass service on Belle Isle.
Element needs brake work. That’ll be Tuesday first thing. Leave by 7:30. Already scheduled. No idea if I’ll be waiting at the shop for the call with the dean. Zoom gives 10-12 ways to connect. Why haven’t you used them all by now? Are you still watching “Schitt’s Creek”? Plus twelve email inbox. Plus four to-do list. Both are feral. Tired of working on weekends. Return to Virginia on the 12th. That’s Indigenous People’s Day. Filter. Keep it cryptic. Dirty ice cream bowls. The bowls were free. The ice cream was already in the freezer thanks to Ph. The bowls are thin, delicate. They were free. Not part of the June 2019 Kohlsploitation run. The scoop is cheap. Its handle is rubber coated, reasonably firm for gripping until the end where it bends because it is past the end of the metal handle it wraps around. The bowls would be shardy if broken. Cookies and cream. Is the cream supposed to be like sandwich cookie filling or like ice cream. Inconsistent so you never quite know what you’ll get. One of those to-dos is a manuscript review. I keep saying yes to manuscript reviews and then feeling fitful workload regret after they’ve been on the list for ten days.
I voted for Biden+Harris, of course.
Dystopoanalysis. Erasing Procreate lines. Clear layers (choose Layer, choose Clear). Already more drawing than I’d daydreamt was possible. Now a marshmallow-headed figure on a skewer blow-torching their own face. It melts. The heat is hot. But so what. I’d rather be writing (not x). I’d rather be reading (not y). I’d rather be drawing (not z). Going to do this s’more.
This was the first summer to have gone this way: plague, medium incline boulder roll, grandfoolish grand-societal re-opening, redoubled plague, steeper incline boulder roll. Who even has the time or energy to imagine Sisyphus as anything at all?
Hey Siri, calendar check please. Since late May–the 26th. I picked a date just to size things up, snapshot tally, to figure summertime with whatever it’s been now that I’m in a week dialed intentionally to pausing–a rest before the tidals of August wash our way.
Since late May–the 26th.
1,415 vt.edu emails received
911 vt.edu emails sent
That’s a 35.6% reduction, or interruption rate. I wish it was more like 50%.
3 tenure and/or promotion cases to review. One done; two to go.
2 article manuscripts reviewed
1 promotion narrative and dossier sent in (my own)
67 syllabi reviewed for equivalency requests
106 hours in the ENGL1105 Canvas blueprint–I almost wrote blurprint. Blurprint, indeed.
That’s the list. I can see in it some things I’d like to change, some things I’d like never to do again, some things that signal follow-through and commitment, and some things that flag for skewing too too far into the faculty-administrative depths of a WPA position that still feels very new to me. Onward is August’s knowing, mumbling hum, and with August, here’s to hoping sky-high hopeshot, there will be space+time for achieving a healthier balance, like amoebas searching for more podia than pseudopodia.
“The depth and complexity of human memory is staggeringly rich.”
Douglas Hofstadter, I Am A Strange Loop (2007), “Of Selves and Symbols,” p. 86
Picked back up again from Sunday, April 26, 2020.
The time when I woke up refreshed and hopeful on the last June Sunday morning during Year One of pandemic. The time when…and then I read a FB post from an uncle lauding Trump, a badly re-shared (copied/pasted?) Twitter spitshot–aren’t they all?–about heritage and about second amendment and about slighting iffy Joe. The time when seeing that just so happened to coincide with Trump’s being in the news for retweeting a video of clashing seniors in Florida, golf cart-riding white folks shouting “white power” (fascists, maybe? certainly not anti-fascists), the President characterizing them as “good people,” and that this is not a deal-breaker for family members, ooh, balling a hard fist it’s telling. The time when the work of interacting at that site of worldviews splitting wide fork, taking notice of uncles-led sides-drawing, focusing again on what really counts among relational accountabilities.
The time when minutes after taking a Zyrtec generic pollenguarding allergy pill I could not remember whether I had taken one today or was that yesterday. Did I? The time when, upon visiting Michigan to return Is. to her mom’s, they were setting up for a garage sale and there was an enormous second edition Webster’s dictionary and all I had to do was look at it with bibliophilic eyes and ask where did that come from before everyone said “thought you’d want it.” The time when getting a new-old dictionary felt like antiquing except that this dictionary might really get some use. The time when upon reaching the condo, what converges are slightly different dispositions on housekeeping, mine being a preference for tidiness and simplicity, but knowing too that’s then my work, to make it so. Swept and wiped counters and, coarse-side sponge to poly shell, shined the tub and enclosure. The time when I didn’t really think twice about it but sent Ph. a text to let him know I was going to eat the snacks in the cupboard only for him to respond that he meant to but hadn’t gotten groceries, thinking I was being sarcastic maybe, and then I followed again to SMS no really, I owe you, because I’m truly eating these opened bags of chips and also that kind of melted to a giant, rock solid caramel cluster container of cashew and candies, a refrigerated glob that took some handiwork and possibly tools to get out of the jar and into a bowl. The time when it also clicked that yeah, I do tend to have issues with finishing food, always finishing, never wasting, that we’re all still five years-old sometimes and hearing synaptically echoed and haunting the charged scolds of parents, living that compounded static out for a good part of our lives. At least a few years, sometimes more.
The time when the president of the condo association that was megalomaniacal–also pricey!–in its legalistic onslaught emailed again with a personal swat about tone and courtesy, about how and why to be gentler with making requests about plants that were by our [unnamed] landscaping company weed-whipped beyond recognition, about how we really should be more generous with loyal hard-working companies we hire and pay to do good work, even when they do shitty work, oh, and you cannot have the name of the landscaping company so as to post a review, but they will plant a replacement hosta, only weeks later to find out that instead of planting it they just ding-dong-dashed that hosta, leaving it on the porch, never finding its way to the soil and now it’s gone, vanished-gone, never-seen gone. The time when by responding, no worries, we’re all good here, I was read back a finger-wag about how by saying I never saw the plant I was implicitly calling the landscaper (still unnamed) a liar and about how ghastly and gruesome was my position. The time when shew are people going through some stuff and handing off their snarls and with vitriol slashing through deep suspicions about others. The time when the only things left to work with are clearing, forgiveness, and compassion, let’s make a path for you to go forward along another day and that tempest in you, keep its fire, fine, but channel it where rage will not shred what endangered goodness still orbits. The time when the hosta taken down in late May was scarred but okay, finding sunshine and still trying its best in late June. The time when its growing back grew back.
The time when sitting side-yard at the two-storey Michigan brownstone in Lakeview Estates, wobbly chair because the pavers were some years ago pulled up and reset by an amateur (who possibly had not filled out the proper modification forms, though to the amateur’s defense, what exactly was modified in the crooked reset?), their mossy grout restored now, their wabi sabi angles somehow a more honest accounting for time and resourcefulness than would’ve been any more groomed or polished magazine cover sideyardscape don’t trip. The time when the surrounds was still only missing a laughing Buddha statue because that one’s in Virginia and also because the local nursery didn’t order poured form figures this season due to the pandemic. The time when first it was requisite masks for the good of public health and then added to that were the concrete inconveniences of no poured form yard decor and between government and Coronavirus so many precious white-fingers-clutched liberties tottered, they cried. Jesus wept; Buddha laughed. The time when the plants were more than enough in the sideyard, a fenced, angular parcel becoming, three lavender plants thriving over there, three sage varieties thriving over in the V corner, plus a giant anise, another small lavender, a cluster of long grass, a recently transplanted greenstem forsythia, what PictureThis app quickly computes for me as a species of Easter tree, also known as Chinese gold bell, Greenish-flowered forsythia, dwarf cutleaf forsythia, golden bells, and whose botanical name is forsythia viridissima, can you imagine having that name?–a plant from neighbor K, and then there are ferns, double-escaped onions (one getaway from the market, another from the refrigerator), stonecrops (graveyard moss), a giant hosta whose leaves gulp for water and sunshine, and two spearmints–also a chipmunk, skiddish but not too skiddish to dig soil near the lavender plants–also a table and small storage bin covered with algal film and a little bit of bird shit, a lounge chair, a very modest and weathered patio set, a wagon tucked in here by Ph., I’m guessing, but room enough for coffee and a laptop in the shade where there’s birdsong and a power tool intermittently screaming change to straight lines and sawdust from across the street.
Every June 11, calendar taps my shoulder, Do you know what today is?
Of course, I do. It’s the day my mom died. On a Wednesday. In 1997. At the age of forty-eight. *looks back at the calendar, unfazed and unflinching* What’s it to you?
I’ve written about it before, not remembering as much as returning to something temporally recognizable, a time of life and time of year faint and hollow but still capable of stinging, in the orbit of one strange loop. In 2005, making sense of Barthes’ the almost; in 2007, mysterious disappearances, a bona fide insurance coverage, resonant for conceptual elasticity, bearing on the job I worked in 1997 when my dad called out of the blue, bearing on the how death and why death questions that never gathered much in the way of answers. And then, “Have Some Soup,” an entry I still read from time to time when I’m missing her because I came close to getting it right, language being clumsy and unwieldy, minds too for the curlicued circuits of remembering and forgetting, processing loss and processing continuations, pin-pointing a few of the (oftentimes kitchen-based) clicks of “I’m here now,” “I” referring, of course, to “we.” Here we are now.
I went to her gravesite in Missouri last September. And after, posted this on FB:
Of course a Kansas City excursion includes a visit to my mom’s gravesite, what’s a burial site twenty-two years conventionally groundset in a regularly mowed cemetery at the bank of a nondescript Blue Springs, Mo., suburb. Here. Friday. It’s sunny; it’s sunsurface hot, too. Sit, anyway. Bring water. Let time teach that fuzzy edge, what boundary really?, between person and place, a body quickly and slowly (paradoxically quicklyslowly) from that to this, being becoming becoming. And then there’s just earth, prairielike, wind bending grass, or a stone performing durability, a bronze plaque, a few lines, and time’s circlings, bringing me back here without reason (i.e., reason suspended), to visit. And to find a place more than a person, wherever for now along death’s sure reaches.
About that prairie wind blowing the grass blades, what’s especially striking is how each strand stands again, gets back again on its little rootfeet, bowing to the elements only momentarily, knowing strength (and I mean this as really knowing embodiedly strength). Some of that strength, I suppose, comes from grasping intuitively that we only get this for a little while. The calendar nods.
There’s a numerology blinkered all around this year’s deathdate, a numerology that lurks, gazes, hails, beckons. In its rouletted triviality, something is piqued as serendipitous, though possibly it’s a low-grade poetic flit, possibly a nothing-at-all. Let me try, anyway (not that I’ve got the time; busy AF with work, to-do list is a task-lavishing spawnmonster…though the truer truth is that for this, there’s time more than enough). Mom died when she was 48. I was a few days more than a month into being 23. And now, today, I’m that same measure, a month and six days past turning 46. Math math math, abacus beads don’t fail me now, carry the one: nearly half of this life has gone by without her. Carry on.
The implied hmm and huh in this is with what Louise Phelps wrote to me about a few weeks ago as folded time, a theoretical extension of something from Julavits’ The Folded Clock. It’s that kind of interval-ed co-experience of being an age, some age only now (in this moment for me) mirroring some age only then for another. This stirs an ordinary but marvelous experiential deixis. Then and now, then as now. I remember my mother at 46. That’d have been 1995. A year I started off spending ten–offs!–days in North Kansas City hospital, eleven staples or was it fifteen squeezed pla-chunk into the top of my head at the ER before dawn, early January. A year when I also sat scalpel and scope through three surgeries. A year when I stopped playing college basketball days before the start of what would’ve been my senior season. A year–still in 1995–when my mom was there for me a lot. A lot, a lot.
That’s all I mean by the hmm and huh: noticing a life once folded, first twenty-three years with a mom, next twenty-three years without. Onward, onward, grandbabies and (17-year-brood, is it?) cicadas. Onward looping, onward heart.
Can’t especially much sidestep or neglect to mention that this kind of look-back too means I’ve been a parent for twenty-three years, and whatever kind of parent I was ready to be or not ready to be at that age (there were a thousand generous friends and strangers looking out for us all), it’s what brings us to a now, Ph. at 29, Is. at 13, V., Ph.’s daughter, at 1. Another angle on folded clocks for how in a life they keep folding, relational entanglements and relational accountabilities (an idea best-set by Shawn Wilson), brother-sister, father-son, father-daughter, aunt-niece, and grandfather-granddaughter. Sure do believe it to be true, my mother would’ve marveled.
She’d have been deeply, wrenchingly disturbed, though, by this moment. And she’d not have been complaining but acting, perhaps privately and semi-privately (not online), to sew change. I don’t mean the pandemic, though that’s brought to the fore a measure of static and gnashing, privilege and comfort hard-checked, (ever-more-distant) family members grumping and whining about mask inconvenience and how a basic do-unto-others empathetic regard, call it civility or decency or neighborliness, gets twisted social-media-megaphonic into villainy and fascism. I miss her, but I’m relieved too that (were she with us, abacus, that’d be coming up on the age of 72), she is not around to feel the anguish brought on by such selfish nonsense as has been expressed by relatives. Linda? Oh, she’d have been pissed. She’d have drawn lines. She’d have nevermind Costco Kleenex box wept. She’d have marched. She’d have taken down with force some of this bullshit y’all kinfolk are far too casually espousing. Let me be clear: I’m not saying I knew her best, but I am saying I know this much.
Brings me to another very closely related clock-fold thread, more than a mirage in remembering well my mom’s lessons and values, her priorities for parental consciousness raising, justice, awareness, and accountability to others. Recently I’ve seen some flappings-on in certain small-ish-familial circles about how unfortunate (saddening) are the removals of confederate statues, prospective renamings, and so on. I grant that phrase, “flappings-on,” implies critique. So be it. I don’t have the slightest damn to give about the swift extraction of public monuments or public memorials dedicated anyone who tolerated, promoted, abided, or was otherwise receptive to or amenable with slavery. Clear away all of that ugly and traumatizing shit. Those markers are not teaching history. They’re signaling explicitly the persistence of a dehumanizing value system–and that dehumanization disproportionately applies to some (BIPOC) and not others (white folks). So openly and uncritically sentimentalizing or reveling in public markers rooted in the subjugation of fellow humans, it expresses a reckless and unchecked obtuseness. It’s serially injurious, inscribing legacy fear, legacy pain, legacy nastiness overtly into the commons. It’s an asshole thing to do. Seriously, fuck that.
Ok. Counting to three. Gonna take a breath and try it one other way. Clockfold. It’s June 11, 2020. Murders of Black folks at the hands of police officers (Breonna Taylor, George Floyd), as well as documented lynchings (Ahmaud Arbery) have motivated and recharged civil rights activism, all for the greater good, nothing left to lose, and enough is enough. Breonna Taylor was 26; Ahmaud Arbery, 25. And George Floyd, 46, my age, also tall and a former high school tight end, a dad with a young daughter. A dad, dammit. They should be alive.
Four paragraphs ago I mentioned my son and daughter and granddaughter. There is so much more that can and should be said, that is being said, that must be deliberated over, acted upon, sorted out, made better in light of that last paragraph. But up there four paragraphs ago, where I mentioned Ph. and Is. and V., to those in my family singing woe-song about slipping handles on history due to the sociocultural eviction of atrocity memorials, I have only this scenario to offer. Bracket history for one beat to consider whether you would believe it reasonablysafe for Ph. and Is. and V. to drive together to where I live, to pay me a visit, the three of them. Consider it carefully. Their different last names. Their different races. Their unusually different ages. Ph. driving. Their navigating state highways in Ohio, especially southern Ohio, and West Virginia. Consider it. Consider why such a road trip would be terrifyingly precarious, dangerous, risky. And then mull over what you are actively doing to make it otherwise. Give it a minute. Try.
So, here’s where I’ve veered to this morning in the clock-folding. Entirely on (circular) track. I think about my mom often, especially on her deathdate, especially in this particular moment. The personal. The familial. Can’t find in all that introspective deep digging and self-awareness any fire to relate, really? Ask what it would take to make the constant threat and trauma and springloaded trigger-happy state violence–the anguish perpetuated through structural-systemic and targeted dehumanization–personal for you, for those to whom you are accountable.
I’ve continued to draw, albeit more slowly. More than five hours into this-here, Lift #23, something like a masked, anthropomorphized mandala subjected to the annoyances of serpentine figure. A dragonfly knows to conjure and contain fire. And so: Put more care into each line. Erase and redraw. Get it just right. Wabi sabi, too, though, so do not chase perfectionism. Zoom in. Make junctures that touch.
The world’s exhaust and sparks, it’s a noxious lot right now. Just gonna leave it be that. Pandemic and high amperage outrage because George Floyd should still be alive. Ahmaud Arbery should still be alive. Breonna Taylor should still be alive. Feel that heartache. Anger and outrage. Empathize. Listen. Notice those closest who can use a hand, a place to stay, a dollar, a break. Pass forward what few dollars I can spare into the relief of others’ pain. Sit, dwell on ways of sorting through all the more there is to say, all the more there is to act upon, what it will take to forge ahead. Encourage healing. At your pace. Stay focused and patient-persistent and good.