Jewelry Box Grief

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about death and grief, it’s that it lingers. Death has a way of haunting life, and not always in a bad way or even an extremely painful way. Grief can both wound and heal.

Take today, or instance. I’ve been wearing the same earrings for a couple weeks (simple sapphire studs) and I decided I wanted a change. I also felt like a necklace. That’s the way I am with jewelry…I wear what I feel. Most days it’s simple, practical and not likely to be ripped off me by an agitated resident. Other days it’s more eclectic: dangling earrings paired with a necklace that doesn’t quite match. Rings…only when I really feel like it. Or, more recently, when I’m really missing my Grandma.

That’s another thing about me and jewelry: it’s always been a connection with my Grandma. It’s from her that I get my love of jewelry, sweet wines and going to see movies. So now that she’s gone and I inherited a fair portion of her jewelry collection…every time I open that box, it’s like a blast of pure Grandma. Yeah, it still hurts and yeah, I still might sniffle a bit going through that jewelry box, but it’s also a healing kind of grief. It’s a vibrant kind of life, that can keep people chuckling at a fiery temper more than a year after her death. It’s a good woman whose memory can still provide comfort; and whose fantastic taste in jewelry still good…even when I pair up the pieces in ways she never would’ve thought of.

Salaam

Salaam, my friends.
This word means peace, or peace be unto you and yes, it’s a traditional Muslim greeting. No, I’m not Muslim, either by culture or religion. I’m an American Christian and I have never been more ashamed.
Salaam, my friends. Peace. You and I have it, right now in this country. Sure, we are a nation divided. Some of us are feeling triumphant, pleased with the way our society is going; some of are learning to live with the constant feeling of dread. Still others are scratching their heads in confusion, unsure about what the hell is going on and wishing life would go back to the way it was before. But we still have peace, fragile and thorny though it may be.

Salaam. Peace be unto you. It’s a greeting not unlike the one found at the Statue of Liberty.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Salaam. Peace be unto you. Well, peace be unto you unless you’re a Muslim from anyone of the countries that our president has banned from our shores.
For them, for the refugees from war-torn areas and victims of horrors such as we cannot imagine here in the US…for them, no peace. No salaam. “But they might be terrorists!” I hear people say. I don’t know whether a small fragment of them might be or not. I don’t know how many might become terrorists now, out of anger and desperation. But I do know what they are, right now: people. People with kids and dreams, failings and gifts. People with nothing left and no place to go. Children who are huddled in airports, denied entry to a country that still dares to call itself foremost of the free world.

I can’t believe this is happening. I remember life in Turkey—I remember living among Muslims. I’ve loved Muslims. I have trusted my life to Muslims. And how many ordinary families like my friends are now sitting in airports right now, their dreams of life lying like shattered glass at their feet? How many will die, because the United States of America closed its border to them?
Maybe this seems like a political post on social media, just one of a million liberal snowflakes complaining about a policy she doesn’t like. But its not political. This is personal, like it is personal to every desperate person who now has nowhere to go and nowhere to turn.
So Salaam, my Muslim neighbors on this fragile planet. Peace be unto you. It’s poor comfort, but please know that there are Americans who are lying awake right now, hurting for the wrong their country has done to you. With all my heart and all my prayers, Salaam. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. This Christian’s prayer tonight is simple. May God bless you and bless those who are good to you. May God protect and keep you. For you my heart is broken.
I cannot believe our Vice President got up in front of a crowd yesterday and said that he valued the most vulnerable lives and then countenance this travesty of our beliefs? Forgive us.

Tears and Fears

“But I, being poor, have only my dreams. I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.” ~ W.B. Yeats.

There’s a reason I chose this quote to go on the header of my blog––ever since I heard Sean Bean recite this snatch of poem in the movie Equilibrium, I’ve loved it. It’s just so me, that sense of desperate dreaming. I’ve never been rich and occasionally I’ve dipped below the poverty line…but I’ve always had my dreams. Now, more than ever, I cling to this poem. I am not okay and I cannot pretend to be. I’m doing better than I was in the first three days after the vote to begin defunding the Affordable Care Act…by this I mean that I am no longer swinging from raw anger and helpless weeping. But just because the tears are now controllable doesn’t mean they have dried or that the fear is gone. “Don’t be afraid,” I hear people say. “Be brave,” I tell myself. But courage is not the absence of fear, but the overcoming of it. When repressed, fear does not vanish but instead transmutes into despair. They say confession is good for the soul so I will make a clean breast of it, hoping that in the telling of my fears, I will find my courage. And maybe, along with it, my hope and a way to move on––a way to cope with the new normal that has been forced upon me. I am giving myself permission to cry one more time, now as I write this. So if this is a little less coherent than my usual, at least you’ll know why.

On November 9th, during Hillary Clinton’s concession speech and in the middle of my work day, I broke down. “There goes my brother’s health insurance,” I sobbed, shaking so hard I thought I was going to throw up. I knew that repealing the Affordable Care Act was at the top of the Republican agenda…and they had just won control of Congress and the White House. I knew what was coming. Many people tried to tell me it would be okay, that the Republicans wouldn’t repeal the ACA without a replacement plan in place. They told me I was over-reacting, that things wouldn’t be as bad as I was saying. “Repeal and Replace” is the motto I have heard since the election. And yet last week, both the Senate and the House of Representatives voted to defund the ACA…with no replacement plan in place or even drafted. When I called my representatives and senators and asked if they had a plan and what it would be, I was told “Oh, it’s coming, just wait”. There is no plan in place. They will repeal the ACA and then, maybe, come up with a replacement plan. Eventually, after they push it through all the levels of government.

And I am afraid.

I am afraid for the present because I have a brother with autism and a mother with auto-immune diseases. I remember the days before the Affordable Care Act. I remember the discrimination, the outrageous premiums, the denial of services. Finding insurance companies who would even cover their diagnoses was difficult, painful. Those that would charge outrageously high premiums…and they would often deny services. Anything related to autism (or be linked by the most slender of threads) was often refused, leaving us being charged out of pocket, while still paying for insurance. I remember laughing aloud with joy when the ACA passed…because now we had options. I know that the ACA isn’t perfect, and I’ve never claimed that it was. Still, it gave me something precious: it gave me hope and help.
Now that it is being gutted without a replacement waiting in the wings, that help is gone…gone with the suddenness of a rug being ripped out from under me. Now it is back to the bad old days of unchecked greed and discrimination. Without the ACA to help, my brother’s insurance will go from a little over $100 to half my monthly paycheck. And what about Mom…will she be able to get treatments now if she needs them again? What about all the other people I know who depended on the ACA even more than I did? What’s going to happen to them now? How many will suffer?

I am afraid for the future. I am afraid because I have begun to think about starting a family of my own. Now…now I don’t know what to do. You see, statistically any children I might have are pre-disposed to have something on the autism spectrum. I am not afraid of having a child with autism: my brother has it and even if I could, I wouldn’t exchange him for a “normal” one. I know autism is not a curse and that levels of ability do not determine a person’s worth to society, or make them broken in the eyes of God. An autistic person’s full potential is not to become neurotypical.
But while I know the joys that come with autism, I also know the challenges. I know what it will take to give an autistic child the best shot at a good life: early intervention. If I have a child and that child has autism, I want to be able to give them every opportunity to make the most of their unique gifts and limitations. Good prenatal care, holistic environment, good diet, early access to therapy and personalized education––the works. All that is obviously quite expensive, ranging from difficult to impossible when you aren’t wealthy; but the ACA and similar programs made them more accessible to low income families. With the ACA, I thought that I would be able to focus less on the basics of good health care and focus more on education for any children I might have.
Could I live with myself, knowing that my finances and the political climate placed more limitations on my child than nature did? It’s a question without a wrong answer––which makes it more difficult. I don’t know what I’ll decide, but my decision will be made on a knife’s edge between fear and recklessness, hope and naiveté. It’s one thing to say that children are a blessing and quote all the pro-birth slogans…but I could very well bring a child into this world that would never be what we call “independent”. That is the reality of the choice I face.

Either way, all I know is that before this election, I didn’t think I would have to choose. With the ACA and the legacy of Obama’s progressive equality, I liked my chances of protecting and expanding my family. And now it is going, going, gone. My trust has been shattered and along with it, the dream that I could have it all, the dream that I wouldn’t have to struggle like my parents did to raise a wonderful person with ASD. The dream in which a child of mine would be valued by society at large the way they would be valued at home––no matter how their brain was wired. No matter where they fell on the spectrum of human sexuality or what color their skin. And maybe this “amazing” new program will be unveiled in a year’s time, or six months…maybe it will even be the ACA, just repackaged under a new president’s name. But even six months without insurance can be a literal case of life-or-death, financial ruin or success.
This vote has taken from me my peace of mind and replaced it with only a promise…but a promise won’t help me in the meantime. A promise from people who dismissed my concerns does not compare to the lifeline they ripped from my hands.

What’s a dreamer to do? I guess I just go on. I have my family, my friends and my God; I have my dreams and my words to describe them. I guess I step up and try to throw myself into the ACA-shaped hole in our lives: I tighten my budget and I decide what I am willing to sacrifice for my dreams. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr day…today of all days I have no excuse for allowing fear or the political climate to kill my dreams. Today, I am reminded that I am not the only one with a dream or the only one hurting right now.

It’s just so hard. There. That’s all my tears and fears laid bare to the world. Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.

Deadlines

So, it’s been a little while since I’ve blogged. There’s actually a really good reason for that.

Back at the end of October when I started my latest attempt to finish my novel, I set a deadline for the first draft and a word limit: 80,000 words by February 1st. I figured that gave me just a little over three months to finish. Since I have a job that is emotionally exhausting and often requires quite a lot of overtime, I thought this was a pretty reasonable goal. Usually, I set overly-optimistic goals and then scold myself for not exceeding them. For me, guilt is not a effective motivator. Better to allow for slow progress and avoid feelings of guilt altogether.

I did really well until Election Day…then I had to take a week off from the story to process my startlingly strong emotions. I limped through the rest of November, gamely determined not to quit this time. December was great, writing-wise. I also realized that my draft was not going to be 80,000 words; indeed, I’d be lucky to reach 70,000. So, feeling just a tiny bit cocky, I revised my deadline to January 1st and decreased my target word count. And on December 26th at 10:00pm, I realized that I could either close my iPad and go to sleep, or keep going and finish my first draft THAT NIGHT.

It took several cups of coffee to get me through the next day, but it was totally worth it. For the first time, I had a finished first draft of a novel…and before my deadline! Best feeling ever.

∞oOo∞

I’ve been trying to write this novel since 2012, with a variety of ill-success. At first, I was dealing the aftermath of the tornado. Then I switched jobs and then I took other writing responsiblities. One thing lead to the other and I just never finished. Each time I would go back to fix it up, I got frustrated with the fragmented state the story was in. Also, my writing style had matured so much since the days when I was first writing it…everytime I went to add new stuff, it looked like two different people had worked on it. That was extremely frustrating as I would have to rewrite the whole dang thing all over again, hopefully from start to finish this time! Then, in early October 2016, I had this great idea for a story. I mean, I just really loved it…but the problem was, it required scraps of another story to be woven into it. I didn’t want to start not one but TWO new stories when I couldn’t even finish the one I had. I hate to sound obtuse, but it literally took my mother saying “Um, Hannah, you already have scraps of another story, why don’t you just use that?” for me to see it.

On the one hand, I hate that I couldn’t finish my first story in a novel-length, cohesive style. It kind of feels like I failed that story in some way. It was the story that marked my coming-of-age, the story that helped me work through so many questions, doubts and “What do I actually believe?” moments. It’s also (in my not-as-humble-as-it-should-be opinion) a good story. On the other, I really like what I have right now…a cohesive narrative that is novel-length and, oh yes, FINISHED. I still need to edit it, and then edit it some more…but still, this is pretty awesome! It honors the original story and the person I was when I wrote it, while rising above the flaws that always kept me from finishing.

I’m trying to decide between traditional publishing and self publishing (leaning towards traditional, to be honest). Any thoughts or suggestions?

The Face Under the Mask

One of the most disturbing things I’ve seen is the bullying that happens all the time on the internet, from all corners. It’s frustrating and scary: the internet has given me so many opportunities for my writing and at the same time, it has exposed me to horrible and hateful things. In the course of my post-election online activity, I’ve come across this cyber-bullying infecting open discussions of politics. Sometimes it seems like everything is so polarized that I can’t laugh without being accused of having an agenda. And then having my perceived agenda attacked in graphic terms and my actual opinion dismissed out of hand.

Cyber-bullying is bullying and it hurts real people behind the online avatars. It’s easy to attack someone on the internet, to make fun of their deepest beliefs and mock their fears. It’s easy to laugh in triumph while others sob in fear.

But is this who we, all of us, liberals and conservatives alike…is this really who we want to be, a nation of bullies?
The problem, as I see it, is that respect and responsibility were allowed to become partisan issues. Preservation of the environment should not be a party issue. Respect for the dignity of all people should not be a party issue. All of our children will have to live the world we shape right now. They are the ones who will grow up absorbing the sound-bites we throw at each other. I would ask that all of us, Republican and Democrat and everything else between, try to see each other as human beings before we cover faces in masks and replace names with labels.

As a writer, this is both my hardest struggle and my deepest inspiration: who are we behind our masks? What are the names we choose for ourselves beneath the labels we have slapped upon us?

Old poem, new progress

Cleaning is always an adventure for me. That’s probably I don’t do it often enough.

Anyways, I was going through the notes on my iPad and found this poem I’d written about seven years ago. I’d almost forgotten writing it.

More Than a Meant-To-Be

Everything has been said
And nothing has been done.
We are waiting here,
In the night, on the plain;
Waiting for more words.

For life and death hang
In the balance of a word.
When they give the order,
We go and don’t return.
A cold night, a cold world
Does anybody care?

And then suddenly
This madness makes sense:
We’ve a purpose here that stays
Even if the memory fades
And it waits for no man’s hate.

The day that we’re born for
Is the day that we die;
But there is more than here.

We’re more than a meant-to-be,
A memory; something that’s lost
And can’t be found again.
We’re on a tidal wave, an ocean spray
Light is here and we can see past today.

No more words, no more thought
We are here and we can do our part.

We’re more than a meant-to-be,
A memory; something that’s lost
And can’t be found again.
We’re on a tidal wave, an ocean spray,
Light is here and we can see past today.

 

In other writing news, I am 60% of the way done with the first draft of the novel I’m working on. That’s farther than I’ve ever gotten before and I fully intend to blow that record out of the water with a finished manuscript by January 15th.

This day in history

Today was the day the veterans stood between the water protectors and the militarized police.

Today was the day the Army Corp of Engineers denied the easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Today was the day we who have stood up for #NoDAPL made history.

Today is a good day.

I want to thank the Sioux of Standing Rock for their long struggle for justice; for this stand that they have made not only for their future, but mine as well. You have been asked to endure more than anyone should be. You have taken so much abuse and you returned mercy. Everyone said this would turn into a riot, but you showed the greatest courage in your nonviolent protection of the water. Thank you for making your stand and thank you for allowing me to stand with you.

I want to thank the veterans who went Standing Rock, and those veterans who couldn’t go in person but were surely there in spirit. Thank you for putting yourselves on the line, for risking the cold, and triggers for PTSD to take a stand for your brothers and sisters of the Sioux. It never should have gotten to the point where this sacrifice was nessecary…but once again, we called upon those who have already given so much. Your courage in answering the call once more is inspiring and humbling.

I’m so proud to be the daughter of a veteran. Dad, I love you. I’m proud of your service, your kindness. I saw how you cheered on your fellow veterans, even when you couldn’t go yourself. I don’t say it often enough, but I love you.

Yes, today was a good day…the best I’ve had in a long time. But this struggle does not end with this sunset. When the sun rises again in the morning, we must keep on doing our best for each other and for this earth. We have achieved so much, more than they said was possible….we cannot afford to grow complacent now.

Mni wiconi. Water is life.