When I was ten or eleven I let my mom talk me into joining her to a gathering of her witch coven, where we all sat in a circle on some rocks by some water under a full moon and talked about menses.
I’m not lying, that actually happened. Why I allowed myself to be brought along is absolutely beyond me. It’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting into.
“We’re going to sit under the full moon and talk about menses,” she’d told me.
I think in my mind I’d sort decided that she was inviting me as a desperate cry for protection from these older witches (older, meaning the same age that I am presently). I was there to help her in case they turned on her and tied her up and took her to a gingerbread cottage in the woods where there were lots of herbs drying all over the place and a cage in the corner where people were fattened up for a few days before consumption occurred. Instead we all carpooled to the river and found a silvery rock to sit on and nobody was tied up. There were lots of new age style frame drums with frilly feathers and amethyst bangles. We each chose a drum and, thumping out a witchy rhythm, we went around the circle taking turns talking about the menses. There were stories about the first times and stories about mothers and daughters and stories about tampons and babies. The talking stick came round to my mom and she said something clever and then the inevitable happened and they all turned to me with eyes full of wonder. I didn’t have a menses yet, and so I admitted as much, locked my eyes on that full moon, and burped out a few halting sentences about connecting with the earth and the moon and then it was time to go home. In hindsight, I don’t really think my mom needed my help that night. I think she was just fine.
A few decades later I had my uterus surgically removed because it wasn’t behaving properly, having blanketed itself in abnormal tissue and fibroid tumors. To be clear, I do not think that these two events are connected. It’s all just information. But now my menses is no more, thank you very much.
What’s the point? you might be asking yourself. Is this whole thing just some opportunity to write the word menses a bunch of times? No, I do have something to say besides menses. It has to do with the sky and connection.
As I’m sure you’ve probably heard, on solstice this year (December 21-the shortest day of the year) Jupiter and Saturn are going to be one tenth of a degree apart from one another. The last time they were this close together was just before dawn on March 4, 1226.
That morning in 1226 some peasants were probably plastering their cruck house with wattle and daub to keep the spring chill out or maybe they were reaping the rye or whetting the grindstone or walking around on some wool in a vat of old pee. Then they looked up to see this giant double planet ball burning in the sky, telling themselves that the next time this will happen is on December 21st, 2020, and the people then will probably be super happy that they don’t have to take medicine through a giant conical shaped butt tube.
On March 4th, 1226 Saint Francis of Assisi was suffering from stigmata nail wounds he’d recently received from a seraph. Did he stumble outside to check on his bunnies and see the Saturn Jupiter conjunction? We will never know. We do know that he died seven months later, nearly to the day, of his stigmatic wounds, which is not nice, though he probably did not complain.
In March of 1226 Genghis Khan was in China, western Xia to be specific, meting out revenge on the last remaining Xia and Jin forces who had betrayed him by not helping out with a very special raid. Did you know that Genghis Khan was responsible for the deaths of up to forty million people? Numbers schmumbers, but that was 10% of the world population at the time. His raids killed one out of every ten people alive in the 60+ years he was on the earth. His empire was massive, stretching from Korea to Northern Europe. On the morning of the great Jupiter Saturn conjunction, maybe he glanced up from the siege plans he was diligently working on and noticed the crashing planets. What did he think of such an event? We will never know. He died a year and a half later of unspecified cause. Marco Polo said he got an infection from an arrow wound. Some angry Oirads said he got stabbed by a Western Xia princess whom he’d stolen during a conquest.
In the thirteenth century astrology was mixed into everything. Mathematicians, scientists, poets, political leaders, doctors, farmers, astronomers, cobblers, writers, laborers, priests…everybody was in on it. To be considered for an archer position in Genghis Khan’s army, men had to have vision sharp enough to be able to locate the two stars Mizar and Alcor in the Big Bear constellation. Alcor was thought to have been placed next to Mizar as its protector, and as such was prominent in Mongolian astrology. Could you imagine being trotted out into the night to locate stars as a part of your job interview?
When I look up at the night sky I think about all the people before me who looked up. Ptolemy (wrote the premier book on astronomy that was upheld for over a thousand years), Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi (has a lunar crater [Azophi] named after him!), Hypatia (murdered by Christian zealots on the street), Copernicus (did a real number on the Roman Catholic Church when he published a book strongly suggesting that the sun is at the center of our solar system), Tycho Brahe (had a pet moose and a fake nose made out of gold after he lost his own nose in a drunken sword duel), Kepler (might have murdered Tycho to get his star charts), and Galileo (spent the last nine years of his life under house arrest for defending the Copernican heliocentric model) all looked at the same planets, the same galaxies, the same comets as we do. The Anishinaabe lived on the same river where our coven gathered for tens of thousands of years and they gave the same moon we sat under different names for each of the seasonal influences it reflected.
We live in a time of great separation. But the sky holds us all in like a magic blanket and it has done so since the very beginning. I’m really hoping that the skies are clear on the night of the Solstice and that I’ll be able to see the conjunction of the two planets. I’ll be thinking of St. Francis and Genghis Kahn and Hypatia. And I’ll be thinking of the return of the light and witch covens and menses and conical butt tubes. But mostly I’ll be thinking of all of us here together, making things work, tucked up and in over the millenia, looking up.
One cold and snowy Monday evening in 1986, my mom laid herself down on the couch in our living room and gave birth, all by herself, to a real live super shiny pink baby. My dad was off somewhere and my other siblings were pretty much toddlers and were crawling around chewing on teething biscuits so they couldn’t help. Also, teething biscuits are very strange. They’re like tiny vanilla flavored pressed logs but I want to eat them because they’re just for babies. Is it just me?
Anyway, Joan, being eighteen months older than me, got to call 911 and I was only a little bit jealous. Ok, I was pretty jealous about that, but only for a little while because there was a lot going on. Well, actually I still wish I could’ve called 911 but I’m nearly over it. I DID help birth the baby, and by help I mean I mostly stayed in the other room to watch Queen Elizabeth have her own baby on a very dramatic made for television biopic. What are the odds that Queen Elizabeth had a baby at the same time and in the same house as my mom!? All I really remember about my mom giving birth in our living room was the utterly unnatural shine on that pink blob as my mom held it up to the light and made sure it was doing all the things newly minted humans are supposed to do.
My mom’s faithful friend Dawn Crowley came over because she was a nurse. The ambulance took a very long time to arrive and in the interim I helped Dawn wash some stuff off the couch cushions. And by helped, I mean I watched while she rinsed an alarming amount of what might have been blood down the tub drain. By the time anyone else stopped by, the baby was no longer shiny (thank God) and the couch was soggy, but blood free. My dad came home and we apprised him of the details of what happened as they loaded my mom into the ambulance to take her to the hospital (teachers had better insurance back then and so could ride to the hospital without thinking about their copay. I’m really thankful for my health insurance and still there’s no way in hell I would ride to the hospital in an ambulance in a non emergency while there’s a perfectly good spouse/car nearby. Once when I was in Costa Rica I got food poisoning and the doctor wanted me to ride in the ambulance to the next town and I said I can’t afford it and he looked at me oddly and said it was free and I said Oh! How novel).
So then the little blob turned into my sister Anne and my parents realized that we didn’t have enough bedrooms (we had three) for all these people (we had eight) and they decided to build an addition onto the house.
They decided on two more bedrooms, one more bathroom, and one odd-ish room that was sort of a library and a dance studio and a room to store dirty laundry and a spare bedroom. My sister Joan and I were to share one room and my oldest sister Rachel would take the other room. My parents asked us what amenities we would like in our new space. Joan asked for a ballet bar and a toe shoe friendly area because she was a budding danseuse, having starred in the yearly “Nutcracker” performance for several seasons. I asked for a deep set window that I could put pillows in and curl up like a bagel and read Farmer Boy one hundred more times. They also asked us what color we should paint our bedroom. Joan said lavender and I said camouflage. They said it was a difficult decision and after some long deliberation, they went with the ballerina bar with toe shoe friendly area and lavender. I wasn’t too cross about it. There was a lot going on. I’ve almost gotten over it. Joan quit ballet a year later. But no matter.
Handily enough, they did build a weird closet with a trap door on top that concealed a ventilation fan (to ventilate the dance studio? I’m not sure, I had never seen such a thing and haven’t seen one since either). I would climb up there and open the trap door and smoosh myself in with the fan and read my book. It was pretty quiet and nobody ever knew I was up there, so it was almost like a romantic reading nook with pillows except there were no pillows and I’d have to be careful not to let my mullet get caught in the fan blades.
During those years in our new (lavender) room, Joan and I had a tradition of listening to cassette tapes as we fell asleep. Our favorites were The Andy Williams Christmas Album and a sound recording of Miracle on 34th Street. We listened to them year round because we LOVED Christmas. It was the time of year when we were all together and merry and there were sparkling lights and lots of food and no school for two weeks and beautiful songs to be sung about snow and sleigh rides. It was romantic and Santa and reindeer were involved and life was sweet at Christmastime. I remember sneaking into my Grandparent’s bedroom one Christmas Eve while everyone was finishing up dinner. They had a wooden half moon Christmas light candelabra in their window and I sat on the floor looking out into the darkness through the rainbow bulbs letting Christmas feelings overcome me. It was such a pleasant feeling, I didn’t ever want it to end. And so we kept the thread alive through the nightly cassette tradition.
Joan and I still bond over Andy Williams Christmas songs and bubble lights (which my Grandmother always put on her tree) every season. I also still cry every time I watch Miracle on 34th street when the postmen (I’ll point out that they were all white postmen, lest you think I’m leaning too far into the nostalgia camp-though I will say the MO34THST was astonishingly female friendly for a movie made in 1947) start bringing in bags and bags of letters to Kris and dump them on the table in the courtroom. Though why they had to make that ginormous mess I can’t fathom. Surely they could’ve just set the bags down on the floor and Kris could’ve gotten to them just as easily. Now some underpaid cleaning staff will have to clean them up.
I still love Christmas like no other holiday. I start listening to Christmas songs a week before a Halloween. I start planning Christmas dinner the day after Thanksgiving. I lie on the floor in front of the glowing Christmas tree and think about that night in my Grandparent’s room, when everything was so quiet and dark except the ever shining fake candle Christmas lights. Christmas is a night of hope and redemption, when we can all be still and remember the past and think ahead to the future.
I’m not going to say that my sister Anne was like Jesus that snowy night when my mom had to give birth by herself in a house full of unhelpful animals and the wise Dawn Crowley brought gifts of medical expertise and cleaning the schmutz off the couch. And then the world opened up to a joyful time of expansive (reading nookless) rooms where the holiday celebrations were honored year round. I’ll just let you come to that on your own. But one thing I will say: this year, like all the years before it, I am settling in for a season of Andy Williams and quiet reflection and growth and hope for the future and remembering the past. Things, though they are complicated and sometimes heartbreaking and hard, are better than they’ve ever been and love is on the rise.
We are in the midst of a civil rights movement. This movement is new for some, as old as the hills for others. When I look online and around me, I see so many people grappling with a deluge of information and I’ve struggled to place my own thoughts on anything that might be helpful to add. For the black and brown people, I have nothing except to say I’m sorry, I see you, you are awesome, and I’m standing up with you.
This is a message to white folks.
The road to uncovering and dismantling personal racism is long and painful and is a life’s work. I wanted to share something that has helped me immeasurably in this work and it’s something that might seem at first to be counterintuitive, blasphemous, and maybe just wrong: For me, my true uncovering began when I gave myself permission to have biases against others.
I grew up in Bridgeport, Michigan, a tiny hamlet of 1,400 people just to the south-ish of Saginaw. My town was diverse in race and ethnicity, as well as in financial classes. My elementary schooling was in a special program called Quest, a school for gifted and talented students that had to score a certain number on an IQ test to attend. Despite the highly varied make-up of my town, nearly all the students who attended this program were white. This wasn’t questioned, at least not by anyone I was hearing from, and for me, did not seem unusual. It merely supported a barely subconscious understanding that white people were smarter than brown people. That belief worked for me because it placed me above others, something I felt comforted by. In elementary school we were taught about how white people enslaved Africans and destroyed “Indian” communities, but it was taught in such a way as to allow for a distinct separation from us. That was an atrocity that happened many years ago. There are still racist people, but they are few and they are bad, obviously.
Jr. High was a mishmash of hormones and difficulty for me. I began to understand power struggles more explicitly and history took on a different angle as we learned about the Salem Witch trials in history and watched Gone with the Wind in social studies. I began to understand “isms,” and knew that they are very, very bad and should not happen. I saw myself as a good person. I still believed I was smarter than most people, and by most people I meant the people who didn’t talk like me, dress like me, or behave like me. I understood racism as an external behavior of other people that are stuck in the past. I heard my grandad call professional basketball players “monkeys.” I heard the N-word casually tossed around in my circle of friends. To me, these were islands of racism. They were good people who were doing bad things. I knew it wasn’t right, but I didn’t challenge it. Underlying my behavior was a barely subconscious understanding that these acts cemented my own self image as being better than and to challenge them would mean rocking a boat which was my ride to success. I knew that I wasn’t racist. In safe situations, I told people as much.
During this time I started going to another special school called Center for the Arts and Sciences. It was a magnet arts school that was a half day. I was in the theater class with all grades ninth through twelfth, but I was allowed into the class in eighth grade because of scheduling issues at my homeschool, which I attended in the mornings. One day I was listening to some older students argue about racism. They were talking about the Constitution. I don’t remember the exact conversation. I do remember interjecting caustically, maybe trying to look cool, “well, where were the black people when we were writing the Constitution?” I was trying to intimate that these people shouldn’t be complaining if they didn’t help out with the plan. One of my older friend’s mouth dropped open and quickly turned to a sneer before she said “they were in the fields, picking cotton!” Oh yeah, I thought to myself. I forgot. The other older kid helped me out and said “what I think Sue is trying to say is just that if more black people had been involved with writing the Constitution, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” or something like that. I agreed with him that that was what I meant as they moved on. How could a fourteen year old, educated human being ever, EVER make that mistake? They can only do so if they’ve veiled themselves in a cloak of superiority that dismisses the reality of the experience of others. I’m normal! I told myself. When other people spoke, I viewed their words through my lens of normalcy. Wow, other people sure do make a lot of mistakes! I thought, dismissing the possibility that their views of the world were simply different than mine.
In high school I started freshman year riding the bus. I lived near a row of low income housing apartments called the Complex and an area called the Gardens, where poorer people lived. I was the only white person who rode my bus. Sometimes I could disappear into the window seat. Sometimes I got dealt some shit. Every day I was relieved to arrive at school. The black kids were loud and screechy and they scared me, all bunched together like that. I begged my mom to give me gas money for a friend to pick me up, which she did. For the next two years, until I got my license, I didn’t ride the bus again. I never told anyone why.
Once I’d gotten my license, I was driving home, passing through the Complex and I got pulled over. The white cop asked me if I’d been drinking and held up a large empty Colt 45 can. He said he’d seen it fly as I drove by and he thought I’d thrown it out the window. I wondered briefly if he’d thought I was black driving in this area in my Cutlass Supreme. I told him I wasn’t drinking and added, overtly conscious of my meaning, “that’s not my brand of beer.” I practically winked at him. I knew I was using our race to tie us together against people who drank Colt 45 and I was a little ashamed, but not too much to try. I don’t think he got what I was saying, but he let me go anyway.
In order to get to the Center for the Arts and Sciences, we had to drive through the East Side of Saginaw. The East Side is a strange place. Once the city of Saginaw was wealthy and teeming with dollars. The East Side was where the rich automaking families built their mansions. As time went by and automaking went south (literally) the mansions emptied. For a time, you could buy a mansion on the East Side for $50,000. I’m talking ballroom, carved staircases, chandelier style mansions. Of course, they’d be dilapidated, but still. The East Side was also dangerous, or at least it seemed so to us. We’d heard tales of drug deals gone wrong, drive bys, and beatings that happened there. My friend’s car broke down in the heart of the East Side once, on the way to school. We felt like we were in mortal danger. We got out of the car and ran for the bridge that separates the East from the West. We didn’t wait for each other. It was every man for himself. I was somewhere in the middle and I remember the relief I felt as I crossed over the Saginaw River. Safe from whom was never mentioned. We didn’t talk about it.
My sister and I were once pulled over by a white cop in this same area. We weren’t doing anything wrong, he’d just pulled us over to ask us what we were doing there. We told him we were going home. He told us “be careful, this is a dangerous area.” I retold the story a hundred times, my words dripping with derision. How dare he pull two white girls over to tell us that that was a dangerous area! He’s racist.
I’d created a world where people of color were somehow both equal to me, but not as smart and also not very good at not getting in trouble, but definitely equal to me, if anyone asked. In that world the black and brown people I knew were ok because they were kinda more white, so I could accept them and they were smart and good. But the ones I don’t know were scary and probably dangerous. I was extra good because I knew that racism was bad. That cop was wrong. And I knew it.
It wasn’t until college that I started to even have a glimpse of my own hypocrisy. I majored in Religious Studies at Central Michigan University. At that unlikely spot I met two professors who would pinball shoot me in another direction. Dr. Robin Hough and Dr. Merlyn Mowrey: both white academics, both incredibly brilliant and obsessed with their topics, and both committed to offering different ways to view the world. I won’t say that I took a good hard look at my own racist tendencies, but I will say they introduced me to the problem and some people with solutions. Dr. Hough was into Candomblé and jazz and Capoeira and Yoruba religion and Billie Holiday and civil rights. He taught us about “Coon Songs,” the terribly racist and heinously popular music around in the late 1800’s, performed by white people in black face, made specifically to detract from human rights achievements in that century. Dr. Mowrey was into women’s rights and the history of subjugation and black women’s theories on race and relations. She introduced me to Beverly Tatum, Susan Faludi, and belle hooks. I learned all about the culture and music and wisdom of generations of black people and I read literature by black activists and philosophers and researchers and teachers. After sitting with these teachers I couldn’t live in the world I’d created anymore. Reality didn’t match. I had to smash it apart. Between the two of these teachers, I cobbled together the next phase of my uncovering: white guilt.
I understood now, on a deep level, that something very bad had happened. A whole group of loving, creative, intelligent, feeling people had been, and are still being, silenced through brute force, intimidation, and psychological warfare. And as a member of the community of people that did it/are doing it, I am complicit in the act. I was defensive. I’ve never owned a slave. I was always kind to the black people who I felt comfortable around. I didn’t benefit from being white…did I? I’M NOT RACIST. I’M NOT. I can’t be. I’m nice. I’m liberal. I felt torn between being embarrassed about it all and denying it even existed for a long time. I wished I was black so I wouldn’t have to worry about it. I would just know I was ok.
I graduated college and moved to Eugene, Oregon. I didn’t know the gruesome racial history of this town until much later. When Oregon entered the Union, black people were forbidden to live here, the only state in the Union to make such a claim. A burning cross was placed on the butte that you saw as you rode the train into town, to remind you who was in charge here. The KKK had deep connections to the schools and businesses all around Oregon. Oregon refused to let black people vote until 1959 and didn’t ratify the 14th amendment until 1973. Therefore, Oregon has remained a fairly white state.
I took a job teaching middle school at a small, non-profit charter school. I loved and hated teaching. Children are mirrors, showing you every moment the places where you are lacking. I did a pretty ok job, noticing the places where I said “we,” as if I were talking about humans but really meant white people. I made my people drawings a light brownish color so students could all see themselves in my pictures. I thought my colleague was genius for having a conversation with her class about “flesh colored crayons,” being many different colors. But I still viewed myself as more a part of the solution than part of the problem.
Everything started to unravel about four years ago. I read a story during this period about a black farmer who once delivered produce to an affluent neighborhood. He decided to stop because it wasn’t the white supremists who were going to kill him, it was the “nervous white women in yoga pants” who would call the cops on him and take him away from his daughters. This story really got to me. A long list of black people were already dead at the hands of white cops. It was undeniable that there was a problem and we weren’t getting to the root of it. And here was a black man telling us that “so called progressives,” of which I considered myself to be one, were more dangerous than white supremists.
The administration and faculty at my school decided to start an equity and inclusion committee. I volunteered to sit in on an interview with someone we were thinking about bringing on to do a professional development with our largely white faculty. His name was Johnny Lake. In the interview he told us that everyone has biases because everyone grew up in a community of peers. It’s what you do next, he said, once you realize you’ve got them, that matters.
My mind was blown. Back to back I’d been informed that yes, progressive people can be racist and further, all people have biases. My white guilt started to turn into something else: a need to make real change. I started to look at myself differently. What if it was actually normal for me to be frightened of difference? And what if instead of spending time feeling sorry for myself, I spent that energy identifying my prejudices, no matter how hard to admit, and took steps to change them?
I started analyzing myself. I let some of the memories I spoke of earlier bubble to the surface. But a real eye opening moment occurred when I was hiding someone on FaceBook. I realized suddenly that during my decade or more on social media I’d hidden only three people and all three of them were African American women. Out of the hundreds of friends I had, only three had bothered me enough to hide. Three black women. I had friends who posted terribly offensive things about Muslims and Barack Obama and even gay people, of which I am one. But I kept them and hid three black women.
I immediately unhid all three women and examined why I’d hidden them in the first place. Why did I do it? Because my bias kept me from accepting their experiences. I didn’t understand them. I didn’t relate to them. And I didn’t like what they were saying. So I crossed them off. This was the first of a string of realizations, not just about black and brown people, but trans people and Asian people and even white people.
Soon after we were into February and African American history month. I stood in front of my sixth graders and told them the story of my biases. The words stuck in my throat. I didn’t know how to say it out loud. Once you admit out loud that you’re fallible, you can never go back to being all powerful. I’ve gotten better at saying it over time: I’m a racist but I’m trying not to be.
This is the thing, white people. We can’t assume that because we are progressive or fair minded or nice or colorblind or have black friends that we are ok. We have to look for all the places that we benefit from racism. Don’t tell me you haven’t benefited from it. If you’re white, you have, even if you didn’t know it. Maybe your great grandpa came back from war and got a GI loan that was only available to white people and bought a house, allowing your grandma a place to grow and prosper, which in turn allowed your parent to go to college and earn a degree, which benefited you (this is an approximately true story told to me by a colleague at work). Go back in and you’ll find it. Maybe it was as simple as that you weren’t put into juvenile detention when you got pulled over at age seventeen because a cop “thought” you threw a can of Colt 45 out your window. We have to look for all the places that we have, consciously or subconsciously, placed another person in a box. It’s the hardest step because we have to see out of someone else’s eyes and admit some hard truths. And then we have to change.
You have biases and it’s ok. You don’t have to rail against it or prove your innocence to anyone. Be honest with yourself about your feelings. All people have them. Somebody crosses the street when they see you coming, no matter who you are. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. It’s only once you’ve admitted it that you can change it.
Everybody loses when we pretend that race implies intelligence or ability or worth. What has been happening to black and brown people for the last SEVERAL HUNDRED YEARS is deplorable. It’s time to start a new era of active honesty. Maybe in a few hundred more years, and after reparations, we will find ourselves trustworthy again.
(Thank you Robin Hough, Merlyn Mowrey, and Johnny Lake)
Today is my birthday. I’m forty-four years old. I’m a huge fan of event days like Christmas and last days of school and birthdays, BUT I prefer the weeks leading up to those days, because during those times I can still look forward to them, imagine what’s going to happen, dream about the good food, and picture the people all gathered together. I always say that the worst thing about Christmas is that it’s the absolute furthest point away from the next Christmas that you can get. So I’ve been looking forward to my birthday for days and now it’s almost over and tomorrow will be back to the old mundane, which stresses me out. The minutes keep relentlessly marching forward, never to stop, no matter what.
I remember some time, maybe ten years back, I read an article that said that Brad Pitt was forty-five or something like that years old and I felt surprised that he was so old. I felt a small gratification that, even though I’m not rich and don’t have a vineyard in France, at least I wasn’t old yet. Linear time is funny like that. Because now that I’m the same age I judged Brad for being, now he’s fifty-six (I just checked)! No Benjamin Buttons for this guy. He just can’t beat me in the age category.
I’ve been thinking a lot about linear time lately, partly because of my birthday approach but also partly because of my alarm clock. Several nights ago I couldn’t sleep and I noticed the clock was blinking from when I turned off the electricity. As I stared at the numbers, I realized that I could compare the time that was blinking on the alarm clock (2:42) and compare it to the actual time it was (4:06 via my smartphone) and find out exactly what time I turned the power back on after I finished hooking up the grounding clamp in the backyard, because the clock starts at 12 when the power goes out and comes back on. A little mental math told me I finished that job at exactly 1:24 pm.
I started wondering how I could use this newly discovered tool for something useful. For example, when I’m cooking and I need to time something, I could unplug the clock and plug it back in to measure how long it’s been in for (perhaps not as efficient as other time measuring devices widely available). Or if someone sneaks into the house to murder me, I could reach down and unplug the clock and plug it back in to give the police an accurate time of death (much more promising for marketing appeal.)
Mulling this over made me remember how Sipsey stopped the Grandfather clock when Ruth died in Fried Green Tomatoes. When someone dies it’s like shutting off the power. If you believe in reincarnation, when they come back, when the power comes back on for them, they are inextricably mathematically linked in linear time to any other person they’ve ever met, in any lifetime, just like my alarm clock and my smartphone.
Incidentally, this thought process also made me want to watch Fried Green Tomatoes again, which is my birthday request for tonight, along with apple crisp and vanilla AND chocolate ice cream and pho soup with double noodles. I’m still looking forward to that, I’ll admit.
There’s a theory that in the fourth dimension there is no linear time and everything is happening all at once. It’s like if you think of your life as a giant sweet potato. At the pointy left end is your birth and at the pointy right end is your death. If you were to slice the sweet potato into rounds, going from left to right, you could pull out each individual moment—when you were born, your first day of high school, the day you retired, the day you died. That’s the way we experience time in this dimension, one split second at a time. I like to think that right now my sweet potato rounds are at the juiciest part. But in the fourth dimension, I’m a baby and I’m dead at the same time, because there are no singular moments there. Just a bunch of fat, blobby sweet potatoes, where one pointy end exists at the same time as the other pointy end forever and ever. Brad Pitt could beat me in the fourth dimension. Please don’t tell him I said that.
As an aside, I recently read an article that said since we, in the third dimension, throw two dimensional shadows, if you’re in the fourth dimension, you’d throw a three dimensional shadow. I think that’s terrifying. Can you imagine a three dimensional shadow? And you know that it ain’t no sweet potato throwing that thing. It would be some sort of outrageous looking thing, with its insides on the outside, no skin maybe, some crazy looking fourth dimension eyeballs, but they wouldn’t be balls at all because balls are three dimensional. Maybe we couldn’t even see it, because our eyeballs are built to collect three dimensional images. There would just be this creepy three dimensional shadow that’s a baby and dead all at once. Outrageous.
So to wrap up this weird birthday writing, I’ll say that while linear time forces us to experience Brad Pitt getting older and birthdays passing and Christmas being over again and again, one relentless second after another until we die, I also have to admit that it allows for a very specific human experience. Without it, we can’t reflect back or dream forward. We can’t see how far we’ve come or wonder where we’ll end up. We wouldn’t get to feel the growing anticipation that leads up to important events in our life. We wouldn’t feel the connections pinning us to all of those who came before us and those who are still to come, late at night, while watching a blinking alarm clock.
Therefore, I’ve decided that tonight after I slurp up my double rice noodles and watch Sipsey stop that grandfather clock when Ruth dies, and my birthday comes to a close, I’m going to try to feel both the bitter and the sweet sides of time passing and the world continuing its trajectory, rather than mourning the long distance between now and the next fun thing. Someday, when I’ve reached the dry hard point to the right side of my sweet potato, I’ll be able to look back on ALL the slices and feel content.
Today while I was cleaning the kitchen I was thinking about politics and karma. Karma is a funny word that we use a lot, mostly to make ourselves feel better when we think we’ve been abused and we can’t do anything about it. I’ve done a lot of things in my life that, were there really a full blown law of retribution, I would surely be in some hot water. I decided that maybe if I come clean about them, I might feel better and reduce my karmic debt. Here’s a woefully incomplete list of things I’m sorry for in chronological order.
1. I convinced my brother to ride his bike down a 2×4 propped on a giant concrete slab because I wanted to see if it could be done without getting hurt. It couldn’t. He banged his forehead on a rock and it bled a lot. The adults brought him inside to examine the wound. I ran to the bathroom to get a band aid and my dad didn’t take it when I offered it telling me “you’ve done enough here today.” I went away with the bandaid and I felt sorry for myself.
2. I stole a silver compass out of the Sunday School art cabinet. I cased the cabinet for about three weeks of Sunday Schools before I took the compass home, telling myself that nobody even knew it was there. I lost it almost immediately and felt sad.
3. I played a trust game with my sister Rachel on a rock wall. In the game one person has to close their eyes and the other person tells them where to step. I directed her off the end of the wall on purpose because I wanted to see what would happen. I told her it was an accident, but I could tell she didn’t believe me.
4. I found a cough drop on the chalkboard rim in my fourth grade classroom and I took it. I had it in my mouth a little while later when my teacher asked if anyone had seen it. I tried really hard not to breathe because the aroma would give me away. I never owned up to this. I’m sorry Mrs. Snarey, it was me that took it.
5. I put staples in Ms. Tunney’s apple in the 6th grade and got sent to the office. It wasn’t my idea, it was Mark L’s idea. I didn’t want her to get hurt, I just thought it was funny, like a whoopie cushion. I had the chance to apologize while she stood next to me in line on the way to the cafeteria but I chickened out and never spoke of it with her.
6. I slammed my sister Joan’s finger in the door of my parent’s van twice, one right after the other. She was making a silent scream after the first time and I didn’t understand why the door wouldn’t close so I gave it another go. Then I was jealous when a kind lady gave her a piece of gum to make her feel better.
7. I used one of those giant matches to light the kerosene heater in our living room and my little sister Anne wanted to blow it out. I tried to make some sparkler circles with the ember after she blew it out because I thought it would be impressive. The match was so long it went out of control and I hit her in the eye with it. I felt terrible and put some antibiotic ointment on it to make it stop hurting and it got in her eye and made it worse.
8. My friend Gretchen and I found corn cobs in a field behind her house and we lit the ends of them on fire and smoked them like cigarettes. It actually sort of worked. We knew it was wrong.
9. I stole a CD of Celtic dance music from Meijers Thrity Acre and got caught and my mom had to come and pay 10x the cost of what I stole as a penalty. It was $40 and I never paid her back, even though I said I would.
10. My friends and I tried to steal a newspaper machine to take the quarters out of it so we could get McDonalds. The security guard saw us and called the police and we lied and said we were just trying to get a newspaper and they let us go.
11. I’ve told a lot of people asking for money that I don’t have any cash on me when I actually do because it’s easier than telling them that I don’t give money to people on the street. This story has two sub points-1. I started not giving money to people when a lady told me she was out of gas in the parking lot at Market of Choice. I gave her a few dollars and then I randomly saw her again a few days later in the parking lot at Fred Meyers with the same story. We looked at each other and I squinted at her to show my displeasure (I’ve never been one for quality on-the-spot retorts). She looked away in regret (or maybe she didn’t recognize me) and I vowed to never give anyone money like that again. 2. I broke this rule one time outside of Lotus Garden. I’d paid for my dinner with cash and had my change in my hand-it was eleven cents. A man approached me and asked me if I had ten cents. I held up my hand and said “Oh my goodness I do!! Ask and you shall receive!” and handed him the dime. I thought it was an amazing coincidence but he didn’t think it was funny and I can surmise why.
12. I pre-paid for a ½ cord of mixed firewood to a young whipper snapper of a kid I found on Facebook marketplace. He told me five days in a row that he would deliver the wood the next day and he did not. I found his mom on Facebook and told on him. He pulled up at 10 pm that night in a ratty ass pick up truck and threw a ½ cord of logs as big around as my waist into the driveway and told me his mom had torn him a new one. I felt bad and so I didn’t complain that the logs were so big. He told me, “thanks for being so patient,” as he jumped into his truck and slammed the door and peeled away.
13. A boy at school answered a math question with the answer 69 and snickered. I got overly mad and I told him he was ruining math class for everyone including himself. I said “it’s like we’re having a nice party together and you’ve come along and pooped in our cake.” It was a little much and as well, did not have the intended effect of creating obedience. A very nice girl couldn’t stop laughing and I told her to, “go to the office if you think this is so funny!” She went, laughing so hard she was crying. I did apologize the next day, but it still goes on the list.
I could make this list very, very long if I tried. This was just with a little thinking back over the years. Plus, I’ve definitely omitted some things that only those who are close to me will ever know.
But back to karma. I don’t really believe that there is a law of nature that says if you do wrong, wrong will come to you or vice versa. I believe that when I make decisions that don’t honor the values that I believe in, I stop trusting myself a little more each time. Every time I stole something or dropped my sister off the side of a rock wall or lied to someone to make my life easier or got mad and said some weird bullshit to a room of twelve year olds, I respected myself a little less and life became less enjoyable. And every time I come clean and tell the truth and do better the next time, even when it’s hard, I respect myself a little more and my life gains meaning and feels settled, something that took me decades to understand.
A great friend once said that “true justice is blind,” and that has always stuck with me. I try to remember it when I feel like lashing out at people who are doing wrong. This whack-a-doo Osho, whom I love and hate, says it best:
The law of karma is not some philosophy, some abstraction. It is simply a theory which explains something true inside your being. The net result: either we respect ourselves, or we despise and feel contemptible, worthless and unlovable.
Every moment, you are creating yourself; either a grace will arise in your being or a disgrace: this is the law of karma. Nobody can avoid it. Nobody should try to cheat on karma, because that is not possible. Watch… and once you understand it things start changing. Once you know the inevitability of it you will be a totally different person.