On Finding Joy in the Age of Trump…

quinceneara

On Finding Joy in the Age of Trump …

Each morning my head has its exercise. I hang my head in shame; I shake my head in bewilderment of what our country has become; I close my eyes in hope. I tell myself that despair is not an option, that I must summon energy from somewhere to make my voice heard, although my staunch Republican senators and representatives toe the party line, and I live in such gerrymandered districts, both state and national, that I realize that my comments, my votes, will be lost in the netherworld of the minority.

And sometimes I must look for joy. Most mornings I find it in my cats, who sit quietly with me as I read the paper, write in my journal. Some days, they climb into my lap, both of them, and take part in my 10-minute meditation.

This past week, we celebrated their fifteenth birthday. (I’ll save you googling – that is 77 in human years.) They are brothers and have never spent a day away from one another. Like all of us, they have their squabbles, but most days you can find them only feet apart.

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We celebrated their Cat Mitzvah two years ago; this year, they had a Quinceneara celebration. They appeared unimpressed, even when offered crumbs from their cake. But we humans, we celebrated. For we must take our joy where we find it.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

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On Pondering the 4th of July…

Image result for image flag 1776

On Pondering the Fourth of July…

I’ve never considered myself to be a “patriot,” even in my early years of believing that the U.S. was certainly the best, the smartest, the strongest. I accepted those ideas, those words, without question. After all, that’s what the nuns said, or at least that’s what I think they said. I knew my father had served in the Navy. Surely that meant something, although he didn’t talk about it much and I never thought to ask, although I routed for Navy in the annual Army-Navy football game.

I always loved the fireworks; we celebrated the holiday with a family gathering of seldom-seen cousins. That was my July 4th. That, and counting the days for school to being again. I was not enamored of my unstructured, and mostly lonely, summers.

It was in 1976, our bicentennial, that I first paid attention to the wisdom and folly of our founding fathers. Certainly human, vanities and foibles at the fore. But a union of intelligence, astuteness, perception in these men, that confluence of the heavens, to be able to put forth such a foundation for this experiment in democracy. Like a fire-rainbow that is rare and evanescent, here and then gone, as it appears that intelligence and prudence and refinement in our country’s leaders have disappeared. We can only wonder if it will return, or if our republic has been damaged beyond repair.

For in retrospect, our leaders have always made dreadful and atrocious errors. Our esteemed settlers who stole land from those who believed that land could not be owned; those who ripped the children of Native Americans from their homes, to give them “better” values and vegetables; those who “possessed” others, and took comfort from Bible verses and laws to assure themselves that they were on God’s side; to uprooting Japanese and other Asian families to make our country safe. And now, perhaps our greatest misdeed – the imprisoning of those seeking sanctuary, children in cages, banning groups based on…what? That they are not like us? In the name of keeping us safe? Making us great? What is it that makes a patriot? Putting country before humanity? Or calling our leaders out for their behavior.

Oh, America, whither goest?

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

On Words I Love…

Image result for image bespoke

When the world is too much with me, as it is so often these days, I find retreat and solace in words. Sometime the words of my favorite authors, sometimes simply words. Words that, somehow, make me happy. Who knows why?

Here are a few:

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Bespoke

Now I was sure that this had to be some type of derivative of “to speak.” In fact, I was so sure that I used it in a poem I was working on. Bespoke. The word, the rhythm, matched beautifully, or so I thought, with the melancholy, Victorian mood I was working so hard to present.

What made me go to the dictionary “just to be sure” I cannot tell you. But it brought me up short. And so I changed the word in my poem, but I must admit that my heart broke just a little. For bespoke means custom-tailored. But I still love this word, as my thoughts drift to a bygone era in beloved England.

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Penultimate

Last but one, second last. Doesn’t this 50-cent word imply an importance that should not be eclipsed by the ultimate? Penultimate, in my mind, should be more than ultimate. Can there be such a thing? I’m writing this on the penultimate day of June, and I declare that it is much more important than June 30th. After all, this gives me one more chance. Penultimate. I like it.

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Blithely

Oh, to do anything blithely these days. Is it something that remains only for the young, those who haven’t experienced enough of the world to forever wring out any trace of blithe? I’m not sure that I’ve ever done anything blithely, so serious a world-view have I. But the word still fills my heart with something that comes close to joy. So maybe there is hope for me. And just maybe there is hope for the world.

And lastly (for blithely was my penultimate word)

reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one - a quote from Albert Einstein on a vintage slate blackboard

Albeit

How I love this word. I actually used it in my morning’s journal entry. All those Henry James novels, E.F. Benson, and other English writers of the early part of the last century. Their characters, their way of speaking, their syntax, their vocabulary gets into one’s blood. I’m comfortable living there, albeit with an understanding that we view the past through a sepia lens. Some days it is exactly what we need.

 

And so I blithely leave you, dear reader, to return to my sunporch and penultimate volume of the adventures of Mapp and Lucia. Thank you, Mr. Benson. I’m sure your wardrobe was bespoke, albeit a bit threadbare by the end of your journey.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

On Persisting; On Resisting

Women's March on Washington: What to Know

 

On Persisting; On Resisting

I’ve found it difficult to return to my rhythm, this measure of my day, a regularity of writing, reading, thinking. For the last weeks my hours have been spent focusing on doing what I can (not much) to combat the direction of the president and his minions. I’ve e-mailed, I’ve called, I’ve left voicemail messages. So many topics that to stick to one each day requires throwing a dart and wishing for the best. The issues that are top of mind and top of Facebook, and the issues that sneak by under the radar, just as insidious in their way.

I was with a friend this week, both of us commiserating that we resent having to spend our time, our energies on what should be considered a slam-dunk of agreement, of opposition to policies and actions that any human would consider so odious and wicked that anyone espousing them would be tarred and feathered and sent out of town on a rail.

And then we read of rallies supporting them, and wonder what our country has become, perhaps what it always was.

I found a post I wrote shortly after the election that included a statement that I keep close to my heart, even as the months roll on. It has been shared many times, and I cannot find the author. But did her words resonant, did they ever ring true. And I share them here, once again. Not my words, though I wish they were:
“I want my friends to understand that “staying out of politics” or being “sick of politics” is privilege in action.
Your privilege allows you to live a non-political existence. Your wealth, your race, your abilities, your religion, or your gender allows you to live a life in which you likely will not be a target of bigotry, attacks, deportation, or genocide. You don’t want to get political, you don’t want to fight because your life and safety are not at stake.
It is hard and exhausting to bring up issues of oppression (aka “get political”). The fighting is tiring. I get it. Self-care is essential. But if you find politics annoying and you just want everyone to be nice, please know that people are literally fighting for their lives and safety. You might not see it, but that’s what privilege does.
I also want to say to my friends who are new to this, my friends who have recently become more vocal, my friends who’ve seen the damage #45 has done so far, my friends who went to the women’s march — I am proud of you for getting involved. Don’t stop there. Keep having these discussions, keep talking about politics, stay active.
And when you read the critiques of the march from other progressive women who didn’t feel represented, don’t get defensive or discouraged. Activism needs critique. We need to ask ourselves where we were as Flint’s water has been poisoned, or where we were when Philando Castile was killed, or John Crawford or Eric Garner. If the women who showed up at the march showed up when people of color were murdered, it would stop.
Intersectionality means showing up even when the issues don’t affect us directly. Stay awake and stay active. We need you so much right now.”

And so I continue, every day, as the months and years roll on. I know it is small, but it is something. You know what they say about those snowflakes – alone, one might not mean so much, but just see what they can do when they accumulate.

Resist. Persist. Resist. Remembering that we are not alone.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

On Realizing That We Never Learn…

flanders field

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.
 www.cynthiastrauff.com

On Trying Too Hard…

I’m heading to a workshop at the John Campbell Folk School this weekend. On collage. And I am anxious about it. There I’ll be, with all those accomplished artists.

 

I’ve spent the last weeks gearing up, getting collage-ready, scissors with blades so sharp they cut with just a glance, modge-podge jars in every room, ephemera gathered with abandon. After all, I can’t just show up with an “ordinary” collection; there must be something that will draw admiring, slightly jealous glances.

Then cutting, pasting, always looking for the edgy, out-of-the-ordinary combination. I am exhausted.

And last night I stepped back to take a look. My creations scream “trying too hard,” even to my eyes. Whatever creativity I might possess does not come to the fore when demanded, any more than I respond when a militant voice tells me to obey.

So, a lesson learned. In art, in life, trying too hard never works. Best to use that energy to get comfortable with who we are, and appreciate the talents we possess. So that’s what I’ll be working on.

Never too late for a life lesson.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

On Mother’s Day, My Mother’s Hand…

My mother’s name was Hyacinth. And so on this day, a remembrance of this complicated, beloved woman…

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My Mother’s Hand                                                  

My mother’s hand was full of diamonds –

rings strewn carelessly on her bureau

in a china dish my father found in an antique shop

in East Baltimore.

She never wore a wedding ring,

at least not that I remember.

 

She spoke of a ring my father gave her,

before they married,

inexpensive, a black onyx with a diamond chip.

Her mother made her return it,

but they eloped instead.

Such children, an onyx ring.

I wore it for a while,

then lost it.

I wear a similar ring now, expensive, designer,

I see her, him,

my high school self.

 

My mother’s hand, full of diamonds,

never held a cooking spoon or a baby bottle,

but a pen, a beautiful script,

and shorthand, the Gregg method.

Her journal,

or perhaps only some writings now and then,

in shorthand,

her way of keeping her secrets.

She taught me to write my name that way.

I looked for it in her writings.

It wasn’t there.

 

My mother’s hand –

piano keys.

Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Chicago,

I only play in the key of C she would say.

but she sent me to Peabody.

I can play in any key, yet don’t have her touch, her spirit.

The last time she played,

her fingers, her muscle memory, not failing her,

diamonds still on her fingers.

 

Hands less beautiful in time,

arthritic,

jewels removed in the nursing home,

to keep them safe, they said.

She didn’t miss them,

she, with her manicure each week

to the very end.

 

Don’t grieve when I go, she said.

I’ve had a wonderful life.

****    ****    ****

This poem is part of my chapbook, PortraitS. If you care to, you can read more by going to my website:  cynthiastrauff.com