Writing in a Time of Peril: 7.27.2020

The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard reported 4.06 million US cases and 144,552 deaths as of 12:30 pm on July 24.– From Johns 

Hopkins daily update.

The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard reported 4.26 million US cases and 147,103 deaths as of 1:00 pm on July 27. – From Johns 

Hopkins daily update.

Love is the Substance of Justice

I weep as I watch a horse­-drawn caisson carry Congressman John R. Lewis’ remains across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama yesterday. Today I cry and swell with pride as a military honor guard delivered his remains to U.S. Airforce transportation to Washington, D.C. His procession traveled by roadway past The Lincoln Memorial, The Washington Monument and The Martin Luther King Memorial. I wept again as a jazz musician played “Amazing Grace” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” on a harmonica at Black Lives Matter Plaza, The Department of Justice, The National Council of Negro Women. The procession continued to The National American Museum of History and Culture and finally to lie and state in the rotunda if the U. S. Capitol where Wintley Phipps also performed “Amazing Grace.” 

While I watched and listened, I remembered.  

“Gulfside”, and excerpt from: The Salt Box House on Bayou Black, a Memoir

–Andrea Canaan

The summer before my twelfth birthday, my best friends and I gathered at our church, Mt. Zion Methodist Church, in uptown New Orleans. We were on our way to a Methodist church retreat, Gulfside, in Waveland, Mississippi on the Gulf Coast. Our Sunday school teachers prepared us for the religious commitment service that would happen at the end of the retreat. Yvette, Lucia Claire, Charliette, and I were nervous about becoming committed Christians. We talked and worried about it together, as only impressionable, newly minted adolescent girls could. We also wondered how long we could stay up each night, and if any of us would kiss a boy that summer. 

As the bus pulled off, our parents, grandparents, siblings, and church members stood on the sidewalk waving, sending us all off. What they did not say, but we knew, was that they hoped to provide us with a safe place, if for only for a week or two, to be young, and away from the KKK, police and firemen’s violent responses to boycotts, sit-ins, and marches. 

We overheard our parents talking about the Birmingham Children’s March. Middle and high school students had marched to end the segregation of public accommodations in Birmingham, Alabama. Fireman had been swept them down sidewalks with high-pressure water hoses. Policemen had had let loose K-9 dogs on them. Baton-wielding state troopers had beaten and arrested them. Thousands of children filled the municipal jails to overflowing until they had to use a high school stadium to hold the protesters. It took six days for the federal government to intervene and work with civil rights leaders to gain the release of the children. By then, children had made a decisive crack in the armor of Jim Crow and segregation in Birmingham, but at the high cost of Ku Klux Klan ambushes, shootings, killings of civil rights leaders, and the bombing of civil rights leaders’ homes, businesses, and Negro churches. 

Older youth from my church and community were already training for the March on Washington that coming August. I was afraid for my brothers, sister, and the older youth in my church and community who participated in civil disobedience activities. I could feel our parents’ and church members’ fear like an extra heart fluttering in dread. I could feel our families and communities’ unstoppable will to remain unbroken and unbowed. 

*

The yellow bus drove due west on Highway 90, then due south for sixty miles to the very lip of the shallow and buoyant Gulf of Mexico. The dense air was alive with sun, sand, and the musky scents of salt and seawater. Gulf water was bathtub warm and so shallow we could walk knee deep for half a mile at low tide. We could hear the water’s constant swelling, rushing, and crashing into lazy whispers along the shore. Our second-floor rooms usually stayed cool because of a steady southern breeze, but when there was no breeze, we sweltered and complained bitterly.   

*

Since we all belonged to a youth choir at home, we found ourselves assigned to Gulfside’s choir. After breakfast, a brief church service, a morning round of Bible study, and choir rehearsal after lunch, we were on our own to enjoy the land and sea. We would have a final rehearsal just before the commitment service. 

*

During our last choir rehearsal, the chapel’s caretakers cleaned the church and prepared the altar for serving communion the next day. They swept the concrete floors and wiped down the pews with Murphy Oil Soap. A deaconess placed polished wooden trays with small openings for tiny glass cups on the tops of the altar rails. The deaconesses dressed the front of the altar rails with bright white-heavy cotton cloths where we would kneel for communion. 

*

Commitment Sunday dawned clear, sunny, hot, and, thankfully, with a stiff Gulf breeze. Yvette, Charliette, Lucia Claire, and I dressed in our Sunday best. We had continued to worry about this moment. Would we make a commitment? We promised, not matter what, we would change into our swimsuits immediately after services and spend our last day on the beach. 

*

The chapel was packed with youth, guest ministers, their families, and a few parents. The familiar ritual didn’t help me make my decision. The choir was the first to receive communion. When it was our rows’ turn to kneel at the altar, I felt a terrible pain in my knee. It ached fiercely as Reverend Stevenson spoke in somber tones about confessing sins, asking forgiveness, and making a life–long committing to God and Christian service. I put the thin- white wafer in my mouth and drank the grape juice from the tiny glass cup when Reverend Stevenson served them to me. I tried to kneel on one knee. I didn’t confess any sins. I didn’t ask for forgiveness. I didn’t commit to God or life–long service. I was trying desperately not to scream or cuss. 

When my row of choir members rose to return to the choir loft, I did not. I stayed kneeling with tears running down my face. Reverend Stevenson motioned for others to keep moving. My girlfriends gave me worried looks as they left me behind. Their eyes asked silently. Are you playing a prank or really getting the Holy Spirit?  

I reached down to feel my knee and found something hard and grooved there. My mind searched for what could be so wrong. In a flash, I remembered the deaconess dressing the altar the day before during choir rehearsal there was a tin of upholstery tacks lying open on the concrete floor. 

I tried to mouth the source of my distress to my friends looking down from the choir loft. 

I knelt on a tack.

What? Yvette mouthed back to me. 

There’s a tack in my knee! 

After several tries I could see they did not understand me. Communion was still going on all around me. The music was playing, and the choir was singing come-to-Jesus songs. I was melting in pain and embarrassment. People in the chapel began to murmur in wonder. 

“She’s faking,” I heard someone whisper loudly.

Lucia Claire understood. Oh, I get it! she mouthed to me with a bright ‘aha’ expression. 

She told Yvette and Charliette by whispering and pointing to her knee and then down to me. I could read the words on her lips. Ann knelt on a tack.

Their expressions changed in slow motion: waves of concern, sympathy, amusement, quiet giggles, and in the end, shoulder-shaking, hands-over-mouths, unsuppressed, outright silent–laughter. They continued mouthing support. 

What are you going to do? Should we come down and kneel next to you? 

I responded silently with a shake of my head, no

Their laughter was infectious, though. I began to laugh on top of crying. The more I cried, my shoulders shook, the more my shoulders shook, the entire chapel was convinced I had received the Holy Spirit, except for the smarty-pants who had whispered I was faking. 

Finally everyone in the chapel had received communion and services were ending. Reverend Stevenson signaled to Ruall, the nearest counselor, to join him at the altar. He placed an arm around my left shoulder. His face curved down to meet my eyes beneath my deeply bowed head. I chanced a look up at my friends. 

Oh, now you are really in trouble, Yvette mouthed. 

High- pitched laughter bloomed inside me. My shoulders shook even more, the pain in my knee doubled, and more tears than I thought possible dripped down my chin and onto my best summer dress. 

Reverend Stevenson held me gently. “Ann, what can I do to help care for you right now?” 

My mouth and cheeks stretched in a grimace of pain and mirth. I 

whispered, “There’s a tack in my knee.” 

“What?” he asked, leaning closer. 

 “There is a tack in my knee,” I said more urgently.

“A tack is in your knee,” he said in an incredulous understanding. 

I risked another look at my friends. They were leaning into each other, hands on their stomachs, and laughing impossibly hard. Yvette was drawing short breaths through her mouth trying hard not to hoot and holler. Charliette’s head was flung back, and she was close to scream-shouting. Lucia Claire was shaking her head in disbelief with a throw–your– hands–up–in–the–air look on her face. Our other friends just looked on, giggling and wide-eyed, with their hands over their mouths. I could see other choir members looking, first at my friends with disapproval, then down at Reverend Stevenson, and then at me with puzzled–suspicious expressions. 

“Ann,” Reverend Stevenson said,” we are going to help you up. Ruall will help you out of the chapel. If you can’t walk, we’ll get someone to carry you. Is that OK?” 

Mortified that someone would have to carry me, I answered, “Yes.” 

Reverend Stevenson and Ruall placed their hands under each of my armpits and lifted me straight up. Everything was sharp pain. No laughter. No shoulder shaking. Just struggling to breathe. When I was standing again, and he was sure I did not need more help, Reverend Stevenson wiped my face with his handkerchief, placed soft white square it in my hand, gave me an assuring smile, and kissed me gently on my forehead. I limped through the side door of the chapel on Ruall’s strong arm to a place to sit nearby. 

“Ann, I’m going to pull the tack straight out,” Ruall said.” I promise your knee will feel better right away. OK?” 

I nodded because I couldn’t speak.

She pulled the tack out quickly and cleanly. I felt better immediately. It didn’t even bleed. She wiped the puncture with an alcohol wipe, swabbed it with Merthiolate and put a Band-Aid on it. All of the items came out of her ample mother-teacher-counselor purse.

When the service was over and everyone spilled out of the chapel, some people looked at me with curious stares and whispered as they passed by. 

“Miss Ruall,” I said, “they think something religious happened to me. What do I say?” 

“Tell them you knelt on an upholstery tack,” she said, “and have a good laugh again if they get it. Here are your friends.”  

My friends descended on me. 

“What happened, what happened? Did you really kneel on a tack? Where is the blood?” they asked in a chorus of dear voices.

 I simply opened my hand and showed them the tack with the grooved upholstery head and the new, iridescent shine of the long–needle-sharp brass point. It looked like a tiny brass umbrella without a curve in the handle. They bent and peered into my hand and gasped in unison. 

            “I really thought you got the Holy Spirit,” Yvette said accusingly, as if I had disappointed or tricked her. 

Charliette mimicked being put out. “I thought so too, and I just knew we would have to deal with you thinking you were all saintly or something.” 

“I never thought you got the Holy Spirit,” Lucia Claire said, shaking her head at Yvette and Charliette, “but a tack in your knee! Come on. Have you ever heard of that before?”  

We changed into our swimsuits, walked the quarter mile to the beach and we told each other the story over and over again, from their vantage point from the choir loft, and mine from the altar. We laughed and laughed until we gasped for breath and held our hands to the stitches in our sides. 

*

On the ride home we sang retreat songs and protest songs. As we approached our waiting parents we clapped, drummed, and sang.

Oh, freedom. Oh freedom.

Oh, freedom over me. 

And before I’ll be a slave,

 I’ll be buried in my grave 

and go home to my Lord and be free.

*

I remember the sacrifices our people made to give little black girls just a few more moments before it was our time to get in ‘good trouble.’ I took note that it has been four hundred years after the first enslaved people were kidnapped and brought to this country, one hundred and fifty-five years after the Thirteenth Amendment was passed and ratified, fifty-eight years since that summer at Gulfside, the day that John R. Lewis is to lie in state in our capital, and still on this day, we are still combating state sanctioned violence against black, brown, indigenous, and immigrant children, women, and men, along with LQBTQ communities, and non-Christian religious and spiritual communities. Yet, we are still warriors fully armored in our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

I am lifted me up from my rage, terror, grief and despair by the combined past, present resistance and insistence on freedom for all. I am held by John Lewis’ enduring optimism. I play John Lewis’ words that were piped into the rotunda and the songs sung by Dr. Wintley Phipps in the memorial service today.

Civil Rights Titan John Lewis In His Own Words | NBC News …

Dr. Wintley Phipps sings “Amazing Grace”

Rev. Wintley Phipps holds super long note while singing ‘It Is …

I go down my to-do list of self-care: stay physically distanced but not emotionally or spiritually distanced, avoid contact with police, resist occupations, counteract despair, meditate, eat well, rest well, get exercise, connect, connect, connect, stay home–except for the pharmacy & the grocery & then only with mask and gloves & when there are very few people about. Watch less T.V., but stay informed. Laugh a lot. Channel fear, grief and rage into remembering, honoring, and loving compassion to expression, action, and art. 

I continue to chronicle these times.

In Joy,

A

© Andrea Canaan, MSW, MFA

andreacanaan@gmail.com

Writing in a Time of Peril 8.5.2020

The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard reported 4.50 million US cases and 152,074 deaths as of 10:30am on July 31. – From Johns Hopkins daily update.


The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard reported 4.79 million US cases and 157,186 deaths as of 12:30pm on August 5. – From Johns Hopkins daily update

Excerpt from The Saltbox House on Bayou Black– a Memoir, “Lands of Milk and Honey”

I spent the last month of the summer of 1963 with my maternal grandfather’s family in the segregated neighborhoods in Natchez, Mississippi, and the farm community of Kingston near Natchez. During the week we stayed in Kingston at Aunt Bea and Uncle Henry’s house with my cousins Diane, Nina, Matiel, Bud, and sometimes Beanie. At Aunt Bea’s we did our chores after breakfast: weeding gardens, gathering eggs, raking yards of various animal droppings, and whatever else Aunt Bea told us to do. Then we were free to ride horses bareback and play in the barns, fields, creeks, and dense woods. We plucked blackberries as they hung plump and heavy along our road. We laughed at each other’s purple-stained mouths and picked out thorns from our scratched hands and arms. We reached up and picked ripe pears from the bent limbs of a lone tree in an empty field next to Great Uncle Herman and Great Aunt Annabelle’s farm house. We returned home for dinner and supper filthy, laughing, and drunk with the heat of the sun or happily wet and muddy after a sudden storm. The tomatoes, greens, peas, onions, beans, blackberries, and pears we gathered made their way into our meals each day. 

            On weekends we stayed in Natchez with Aunt Thelma, Uncle Thedo, and our cousin, Ina Carol. We were still young enough to walk all over town without fear of the police being called because some white person believed we might be robbers or worse. We marveled at the wide, neat, tree-lined streets and the big houses with even bigger lawns. We said hello to the maids, gardeners, and handymen working at the houses as we passed. We knew them as neighbors and church members.

By that summer the Natchez Boycott that had begun in 1950 was in full force. The Colored Co-op was running at full capacity, and white businesses were feeling the full consequences of Negroes refusing to spend our money where we were not hired, were exploited, or were treated poorly. Our parents stopped allowing us to walk to town to go to the movies. We heard about the Freedom Rides, the sit-ins, and the marches. 

Of the aunts and uncles, Uncle Henry was the only one still farming and raising cattle. Aunt Thelma owned a beauty salon. Uncle Francis was a building contractor, Aunt Hilda was a teacher, and Uncle Thedo was the editor of a weekly Negro newspaper and the manager of the Co-op. The Co-op was a combination supermarket, farm feed and supply store, and hardware store. It had been started to support the Natchez Boycott in the late 1950s and the civil rights movement generally. The boycott had been established and maintained in the South for nearly a decade and was becoming maximally effective. Colored people bought fewer and fewer goods and services from whites who did not serve, hire, or pay fair wages to Colored people. Instead, Colored people relied on each other’s crops, livestock, labor, and goods and services to eliminate their dependency on white-owned businesses. 

            On weekend evenings and rainy days, I spent as much time as I could in Uncle Thedo’s office while he worked. I read everything that came to him in the mail: books, journals, magazines, almanacs, and newspapers from all over the country. Two books changed me profoundly that summer: The Wall by John Hersey and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. At nearly thirteen, I could not have said why I was so drawn to these books.

            The Wall read like fiction or a play or a dream. I understood the events in the book had actually happened. It was a story about a diary that survived the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland during World War II. The diary told of Jewish families segregated from the rest of Warsaw by a barbed wire-topped wall. Soldiers killed anyone who tried to get out. Disease and starvation killed thousands. Deportation to Treblinka, a concentration camp, killed hundreds of thousands. Yet there were schools, music, and religious and political communities working together, even when everywhere was hardship and sheer terror. And there was an uprising. Jews fought back until the Jewish ghetto was burned to the ground, but the diary survived. The people, the place, and the times were not forgotten. I took this book in through my senses. 

I had no trouble reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. It was stark and linear with an unalterable course. I took this book in through my mind. I had heard a lot about World War II, loved war movies, and consumed my history books with relish. I knew about the Blitz, D-Day, the Berlin Airlift, Pearl Harbor, Patton, the Marshall Plan, V-day, and the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. I had seen the images of the mushroom clouds and firestorms that killed innocent Japanese civilians, although I didn’t yet know about Japanese Americans being interned in camps in the United States. I could not figure out how the bombings could be OK. I remembered seeing newsreels and movie scenes of U.S. soldiers liberating pitiful skeletal people from prison camps. None of the war movies I had seen had identified these people as Jews or explained they had been forced to wear the stars stitched to their clothing and to have numbers inked on their arms.  

            I read those books in rising fear as Germany changed from a democracy to a totalitarian dictatorship. German citizens turned into Nazis who systematically robbed, imprisoned, worked, and gassed millions of Jews to death, along with other people they found inferior or those who resisted. The European Jews were descendants of the people of the Old Testament, they were European, and they were white in my mind. I didn’t know there were Jews who were not white. The only Jews I had ever known were people my family worked for as maids, gardeners, and handymen. They all looked white to me. I questioned and reasoned rather hysterically: if white people had insisted on racial purity and planned to kill anyone whom they decided was not racially pure, resulting in the death of more than six million Jews and seven million others who were not Aryan enough or were disabled or gay or resisters, then what chance did Colored people in America have against Jim Crow’s murderous brutality, terror, and disenfranchisement? How could we gain the right to vote without unfair barriers, get paid fair wages, be treated with dignity and respect, advance ourselves, and be free of snarling dogs and gun-toting white men wearing sheets and hoods? How could we stop them from killing us?

I became consciously and frantically afraid of white people, policemen, bank guards, shopkeepers, sales clerks, and white men driving in trucks with gun racks. I started biting my nails. I began to have a recurring nightmare.  My cousins and I snuck out to adventure in our wood at night. White men and boys chased us on our property. We hid in trees. A white man found one of my cousins and pointed a shot gun at her. I woke up with the shot gun blast ringing in my ears. At times some of the details changed, but this nightmare would terrorize me for years to come. My nightmares woke my cousins and me. My cousins soothed me and helped me to go back to sleep. Once I wet the bed, and that is how the adults found out I was having nightmares. Uncle Thedo and Aunt Thelma talked to me. They were concerned the books were not good for me to read. 

             Uncle Thedo called my mother and shooed all of us children away while they talked long distance. I made myself small and invisible so I could hear grown folks’ business. I saw Aunt Thelma nodding her head in agreement as Uncle Thedo spoke to my mother.

             “Yes. I agree, it is better to let the child read than to forbid books,” he finally said at the end of the call. 

I had not finished the books by the time I had to return home. Uncle Thedo gave them to me as gifts. I finished them over the month before school began. 

At home that fall my family, church members, and neighbors made fried chicken and fish dinners, sweet potato pies, and layer cakes to raise money for transportation and first-aid kits for demonstrators and marchers. Our businesses and churches held special collections to help bail demonstrators out of jail, pay for lawyers, care for those who were injured, house those who could not return home, and bury the dead. Older teenagers signed up for training to go to the March on Washington. My mother said I was too young to go. She was stalked by every Colored mother’s fear for her children, what white policemen would do to Colored children and youth if they were separated from their group of demonstrators or marchers. The fear wasn’t said out loud for fear speaking it would cause it to happen, but I saw the distant look on my mother’s face when a child or a woman was jailed or missing, unaccompanied by her cohort or a family member. She shuddered and came near to tears, then anger and determination set on her face. It was clear her word was final. 

I listened to excited talk around our dinner table, among my friends, and in my neighborhood about pacifism, Gandhi, non-violent protest, civil disobedience, peaceful demonstrations, and the dread of police batons, water hoses, German shepherds, firebombs, and white men following someone on a deserted road. 

Fifty-seven years after the summer of 1963, I’m reliving the revenant times of America’s social and political systemic racism as tens of thousands have protested and are still protesting the extrajudicial killing of George Floyd specifically and systemic racist violent responses to black and brown people and communities in general. Women, men, young old, immigrants, African American, Latinx, Asian, indigenous Americans, LGBTQ, poor, working-class, and middle-class protesters have risked their lives during the Covid-19 pandemic, having decided that systemic racism posed as much of a threat to health and life as Covid–19 did. Anti–racism and anti–police violence protesters have been met with the very police responses and tactics they are protesting; hostility toward engaging in constitutionally protected rights to assembly and speech, provocative police presences, and aggressive deployments and tactics that include discharging tear gas, flash bangs, rubber bullets, and more.  

During the summer of 1963, I gained a prescient understanding that a white power structure demanded that some white people, other white people, sacrifice their lives in order to gain and maintain tyrannical white supremacist power. I understood that this white power structure and the white people who were expected to sacrifice their lives represented an unrelenting danger to my life, the lives of my family, the lives of poor people, people of color, and immigrants, and the national life of our democratic republic and institutions. I came to understand that white people’s lives have always been guaranteed supreme privilege based on the universal systemic, functional rendering of non–white racial-ethnic-religious and cultural populations as other, as inferior, as expendable. This othering not only requires the consensus and participation of all white Americans but also requires and encourages white Americans to wallow in white fearfulness, victimization, self–pity, helplessness, anger, and resentment. This othering demands the projection of white innocence, white ignorance, and white denial. This othering demands white sacrifice in order to maintain and grow white systems of othering, disempowerment, white privilege, and white power. 

Covid-19 impacts African Americans at a much higher rate than it does whites, but we must not forget that African Americans comprise approximately 13 percent of the U.S. populations, while whites comprise 77 percent of the U. S. population. (Based on U. S. 2010 Census reporting, 61 percent of the U.S. population reported as white only–77 percent, when those reporting as white– Latinos and white–Hispanics were included.) As of July 21, 2020, African American death rates are reported at 73.7 per 1,000. For Latinx populations, this rate is 37.2 per 1,000; for White Americans, 32.4 per1,000. However, African Americans deaths–that is, the actual number of African Americans who died during this time period, not a statistical representation–reached 29,946. Latinx deaths reached 22,226, while White American deaths reached 69,950. Covid–19 African American and Latinx deaths combined reached 52,172 as of July 21, 2020. By this reckoning, White American actual dead outpaced the combined deaths of African American and Latinx dead by 13,778. 

One of the horrific sacrifices and dreadful costs white Americans are being required to pay to maintain white supremacy and white privilege includes 65,950 deaths due to Covid–19, the vast majority of which were preventable. All Americans, young and old, of every race, ethnicity, and class, whether or not they are vulnerable to social and economic injustice and disparities or not, are being infected, getting sick, and dying or surviving with the long-term effects of Covid-19. Meanwhile, many Republican congressmen, senators, governors, and mayors drag their feet, duck, dodge, deny, project blame onto others, promote hate and division, advance conspiracy theories, and promote untried medications and cures without developing and implementing a coordinated national response to Covid–19.   

The message is clear. In order to grow and maintain white power and supremacy in our country, the current administration and the beneficiaries of white supremacy have, so far, required the sacrifice of 65,950 white Americans to die of Covid–19 as of July 21, 2020.  Consider the failure to expand Medicare, the refusal to nationalize the pandemic response, the insistence on opening schools with no funding for safety provisions, the refusal to extend unemployment and housing protections, the constant assault on our governmental institutions (casting doubt on the upcoming elections), and the hints that the president will not allow a peaceful transition of government if he loses. All these things, while impacting people of color disproportionately, also require white Americans to agree to the forfeiture of their lives and the lives of their families and neighbors, damaging communities and endangering our democracy.  

Power without love is reckless and abusive

And love without power is sentimental and anemic.

Power at its best is love implementing justice,

And justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

–Martin Luther King, Jr.

I experience as patriots the U.S. citizens of every color, class, age, gender, sexuality, ability, class, citizenship status, religious belief or non-belief, political party or no political affiliation who are loving each other, listening to each other, learning from each other, supporting each other, organizing, marching, and fighting for our Constitution, our laws, our values, our country. Protestors are insisting that all U. S. citizens and guests share and enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness with equal regard and protection. Protestors and those who support protests for an equal and just society are putting their health and lives on the line for the preservation and viability of our nation as a democracy.

COVID-19 deaths analyzed by race and ethnicity — APM …

I play Ella’s Song

Ella’s Song – YouTube

Lizz Wright -“I Remember, I Believe” – YouTube

Lizz Wright: Freedom – YouTube

I go down my to-do list of self-care: stay physically distanced but not emotionally or spiritually distanced, avoid contact with police, resist occupations, counteract despair, meditate, eat well, rest well, get exercise, connect, connect, connect, stay home–except for the pharmacy & the grocery & then only with mask and gloves & when there are very few people about. Watch less TV, but stay informed. Laugh a lot. Channel fear, grief and rage into remembering, honoring, and loving compassion to expression, action, and art. 

I continue to chronicle these times.

In Joy,

A

© Andrea Canaan, MSW, MFA

andreacanaan@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/Andrea-Canaan-Author-456010704809232/

Writing in a Time of Peril: 7.24.2020

Walking with The Wind

The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard reported 3.59 million U.S. cases and 138,543 deaths as of 12:00 pm on July 17. – From Johns Hopkins daily update.

The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard reported 4.06 million U.S. cases and 144,552 deaths as of 12:30 pm on July 24. – From Johns Hopkins daily update.

An artist’s duty is to reflect the times.

-Nina Simone

A friend wrote to me. ”I’m envious of the motivation and persistence that keeps you writing during these times.”

I wrote back to her, “I don’t know what the difference is now exactly. I felt the same writing paralysis during 911 when our country turned to destroy another country and then occupied it. I felt it during the multiplicity of the killings of black and brown people long before now. I felt it when my country elected a sociopath as its leader and every moment since.”

 I felt this paralysis about mass incarceration, the separation of children from their families at the borders, the caging of those children and their families, and the disappearing of thousands of children. I felt this paralysis as my government has been unable to report out where these children are located or who they were given to and every and other disparity and assault on our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of health and happiness. Rage and despair choked me as my government completely failed to respond to Covif-19 as a national public health emergency that was compounding harms done by ethnic, gender, age, ability, class, and immigration status disparities that increase exponentially with greed, incompetence, corruption, treason, and white supremacy. These things compelled me to chronicle our current times. ‘Better now than never, I tell myself.’

“Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. Language alone is meditation.” 

-Toni Morrison

About fifteen of us children were outside my aunt Seneva’s house, playing in her dirt yard. The sky began clouding over, the wind started picking up, lightning flashed far off in the distance, and suddenly I wasn’t thinking about playing anymore; I was terrified…

Aunt Seneva was the only adult around, and as the sky blackened and the wind grew stronger, she herded us all inside.

Her house was not the biggest place around, and it seemed even smaller with so many children squeezed inside. Small and surprisingly quiet. All of the shouting and laughter that had been going on earlier, outside, had stopped. The wind was howling now, and the house was starting to shake. We were scared. Even Aunt Seneva was scared.

And then it got worse. Now the house was beginning to sway. The wood plank flooring beneath us began to bend. And then, a corner of the room started lifting up.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. None of us could. This storm was actually pulling the house toward the sky. With us inside it.

That was when Aunt Seneva told us to clasp hands. Line up and hold hands, she said, and we did as we were told. Then she had us walk as a group toward the corner of the room that was rising. From the kitchen to the front of the house we walked, the wind screaming outside, sheets of rain beating on the tin roof. Then we walked back in the other direction, as another end of the house began to lift.

And so it went, back and forth, fifteen children walking with the wind, holding that trembling house down with the weight of our small bodies.

More than half a century has passed since that day, and it has struck me more than once over those many years that our society is not unlike the children in that house, rocked again and again by the winds of one storm or another, the walls around us seeming at times as if they might fly apart.

It seemed that way in the 1960s, at the height of the civil rights movement, when America itself felt as if it might burst at the seams—so much tension, so many storms. But the people of conscience never left the house. They never ran away. They stayed, they came together and they did the best they could, clasping hands and moving toward the corner of the house that was the weakest.

And then another corner would lift, and we would go there. And eventually, inevitably, the storm would settle, and the house would still stand. But we knew another storm would come, and we would have to do it all over again. And we did. And we still do, all of us. You and I.

Children holding hands, walking with the wind. . . .

–John Lewis: Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement

On repeat, I play The Sounds of Blackness, “Hold On Change is Coming.”

I go down my to-do list of self-care: stay physically distanced but not emotionally or spiritually distanced, avoid contact with police, resist occupations, counteract despair, meditate, eat well, rest well, get exercise, connect, connect, connect, stay home–except for the pharmacy & the grocery & then only with mask and gloves & when there are very few people about. Watch less T.V., but stay informed. Laugh a lot. Channel fear, grief and rage into remembering, honoring, and loving compassion to expression, action, and art. 

I continue to chronicle these times.

In Joy,

A

© Andrea Canaan, MSW, MFA

andreacanaan@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/Andrea-Canaan-Author-456010704809232/

 

Writing in a Time of Peril: 7.4.2020

The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard reported 2.20 million U.S. cases and 118,695 deaths as of 12:30 pm on June 19, 2020 – From Johns Hopkins daily update.

The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard reported 2.64 million U.S. cases and 127,485 deaths as of 11:30 pm on July 1. – From Johns Hopkins daily update.

“By the river of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! We wept when we returned to Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave the roof of my mouth.” –Psalm 13

In my night and day dreamings, I’m never sure who is speaking or what is being revealed or hidden or known.

The voices of my enslavers, the people who ceaselessly attempt to free me, my own agitated voice or the stars who do not care?

Is my conscious unencumbered by the whirl of the ceiling fan, the cooing of the mourning doves in the eaves, the whispering of the trees or the song playing on Spotify?

When I read the page I have written, I often wonder who wrote it, was it me or some other?

When I lean into the writing or laugh or weep or feel the creep of sadness or weariness of our journeys here or sudden flights of joy, I often ask again, to whom have I been writing, who will be receiving it, shared or not shared, sent or unsent, unpublished published or released for the stars?

And yet I am not afraid of inattentive stars, the encumbrances of otherings, grief’s wells of loneliness and death, my own laughter and tears, my own ditherings, procrastinations. 

There is something in me that requires that I remember, re-remember, speak and speak, tell and tell the harrowing sufferings, the gruesome deaths we have witnessed and borne, the savage oppressions we labor beneath, the grotesque lies of the nation’s founding, building, and profit-taking, and the simple appalling truths of white supremacy, then and now. 

And yet, what I hold dear is this place of my birth, the sky, the hills, the rivers and seas, the soils of my ancestor’s sweat, tears, and blood fertilized and grown into a nation, a nation cycling, surging, awestruck by my splendid countenances, my majestic being, my lighted footsteps shining toward more perfect unions and reunions. 

What I remember, what I re_remember, what I know, what I hold dear, can heal a world.

I read the speech Frederick Douglas gave on July 5, 1852. , The Meaning of July 4 for the Negro by Frederick Douglass 

I watched a video linking Douglas’ speech to our current confluences of viral and racial pandemics.

 Daveed Diggs asks: “What to My People is the Fourth of July … 

I read Opinion | ‘My Body Is a Confederate Monument’: Slavery …

I watched a Video of Ta-Nehisi Coats.

  Ta-Nehisi Coates Testifies About Reparations: Politics Daily …

Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose 2014 article “The Case for Reparations” in The Atlantic rekindled the debate over reparations for slavery and its legacy, testified on Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee.

I go down my to-do list of self-care: avoid contact with police, meditate, eat well, rest well, get exercise, connect, connect, connect, stay home–except for the pharmacy & the grocery & then only with mask and gloves & when there are very few people about. Watch less T.V., but stay informed. Laugh a lot. Channel fear, grief, rage, remembering, honoring, and loving compassion into expression, action, and art. 

I continue to chronicle these times.

In Joy,

A

© Andrea Canaan, MSW, MFA

andreacanaan@gmail.com

https://andracanaan.blog

https://www.facebook.com/Andrea-Canaan-Author-456010704809232/

 

Writing in a Time of Peril: 7.3.2020

The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard reported 2.20 million U.S. cases and 118,695 deaths as of 12:30 pm on June 19, 2020 – From Johns Hopkins daily update.

The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard reported 2.64 million US cases and 127,485 deaths as of 11:30pm on July 1.– From Johns Hopkins daily update.

The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration

Located on the site of a former warehouse where black people were enslaved in Montgomery, Alabama, this narrative museum uses interactive media, sculpture, videography and exhibits to immerse visitors in the sights and sounds of the domestic slave trade, racial terrorism, the Jim Crow South, and the world’s largest prison system. – from the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) website.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice 

More than 4400 African American children, women, and men were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950. Millions more fled the South as refugees from racial terrorism, profoundly impacting the entire nation. Until now, there has been no national acknowledging the victims of racial terror lynchings. On a six acre-acre site atop a rise overlooking Montgomery, the national lynching memorial is a sacred space for truth-telling and reflection about racial terror in America and its legacy. –from the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) website.

A Lynching Memorial Is Opening. The Country Has Never Seen

My daughter, Leslie Ebonne, and I traveled the few hours from Atlanta to Montgomery,

Alabama during the summer of 2018. We were on a pilgrimage to a museum and memorial that traced the histories of our foremothers and forefathers’. It was a heart, body, mind, and soul’s journey from our theft from Africa to solemn prayerful remembering and re-remembering of their journeys, our daughter–mother journey, of all Americans of African heritage and survivors of the savage and immoral enslavement of human beings in modern history.  Two African American women, mother and daughter, lesbian and straight, experiencing and re-remembering the hyper-violent and killing racist, misogynist, and homophobic terror times that our foremothers and fathers lived through and died during. Two African American women who live daily lives of the threats of police, military, and judicial oppression and erasure, along with domestic terrorism. This systemic preservation of white supremacy requires constant ruthless attempts to re-enslave, disenfranchise, overpower, disadvantage, underprivilege and dis-remember. 

My family told the stories of enslaved and freedmen of African descent of resistance, defiance and patriotism. They told us about the burning of whole towns and neighborhoods, and the internal immigration of millions of the formerly enslaved and freedmen west and north. One of the stories was the Thibodeaux massacre. The story is the formerly enslaved and freedmen working along poor whites to get better wages and work conditions in the cane fields. They decided to strike and marched toward the sugar mill. The mayor called the governor. The governor sent the state militia. The Knights of the White Camelia and surrounding parish sheriffs and deputies, along with civilians, arrived and fired upon the strikers and surrounded the Colored section of Thibodeaux and slaughtered the inhabitants and burned the neighborhood. The Thibodeaux massacre captured my imagination massacre because it happened about thirty miles from the home and lands of my maternal grandmother, Martha England Ransom’s home near Houma, Louisiana, along Bayou Black. I read everything I could find about this massacre. My reading validated my family’s account except for the number of dead, thirty-sixty in most documents accounts, but hundreds by my family’s account of hunting and killing labor organizers and looting farms owned by black and poor white farms. 

It was a hot summer day. After we visited the Legacy Museum, we drove to the Peace and Justice Memorial. On a six-acre site, a large shed without walls. Within the shed has 805 six-foot Corten steel rectangular boxes that hang from steel poles. On the front and back of each steel plate is engraved the state, parish or county, the name or unknown if the name is not known, the date, and if known, the circumstance of the lynching. Individual children, women and men. Son and mother. Mother and son. Families. Small groups. Large groups. Lynched. Burned. Shot Dismembered. Mutilated. 

In the beginning, the steel memorial boxes hung at eye level. The memorial floor sloped downward until the memorial boxes hang about the visitor’s head. I searched for the counties and parishes that my family lived in from slavery to the present. Escambia County, Alabama, Adams County, Mississippi, Jackson County Mississippi, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, Lafourche Parish, Louisiana and Terrebonne, Parish, Louisiana. When I reached Terrebonne Parish, I look up and see the date with thirty names, all listed as unknown. Mercifully there was a place to sit along a hip level downward curving wall. I sat in shock and bone marrow horror and grief. My family had not said they had been lynched. Lynched. Lynched while still living? Lynched after they were shot or burned or mutilated? 

Why had all the accounts I was told or read only said killed, not lynched as well? 

I wept and prayed. I imagined the organizing meetings and marching after moving the young and the old into town for safety. I imagined the guns shooting them down, their depraved mutilation of the dead, hunting down survivors, burning the Colored part of town, hurriedly burying those they didn’t lynch in shallow graves to hide some of their evil rampages. 

In the near past. Recently. Now. Maybe. Probably. Actually. Lynching a white pastime again. 

Remembering and re-remembering is the awful salve we seek in honor of our ancestors’ resistance, defiance and insistence on the freedom of full and equal U.S. citizenship. Our duty, our joy, is to actualize the miraculous promise of our lives earned by their example and sacrifice. There was no closure there. There was no rest there. There was no peace there–only the promise of peace. There is only remembering and remembering, weeping and weeping, grieving and grieving, honoring and honoring, commitment and re-commitment toward liberty and justice for the living and the dead.  

We pilgrimage again.

The antidotes to despair, internalized oppression, and self-annihilation–what saves:

Books

I choose two books to re-read: Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler: 9781583226902 …

And Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis …

Music

Holly Near: I am Open https://search.yahoo.com/search?p=holly+near+i+am+open&fr=iphone&.tsrc=apple&pcarrier=Verizon&pmcc=311&pmnc=480

Regina Carter: Southern Comfort: https://open.spotify.com/album/4KpbU96UTx4DB0ukuTE5vu?si=_nwqTiSTQ32wv-Nv0U6nna

Mickey Guyton – Black Like Me (Official Audio) – YouTube

Spoken Word

Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman Fourth of July Boston Pops 2019

Inaugural Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman … – YouTube

Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman June 26, 2020 
https://www.cbs.com/shows/cbs_this_morning/video/lFygof12gE3hjeJ8OgOdYf7UGi9sy8NL/youth-poet-laureate-amanda-gorman-on-race-injustice-and-protest/

I go down my to-do list of self-care: avoid contact with police, meditate, eat well, rest well, get exercise, connect, connect, connect, stay home–except for the pharmacy & the grocery & then only with mask and gloves & when there are very few people about. Watch less T.V., but stay informed. Laugh a lot. Channel fear, grief, rage, remembering, honoring, and loving compassion into expression, action and art.

I continue to chronicle these times.

In Joy,

A

© Andrea Canaan, MSW, MFA

andreacanaan@gmail.com

https://andracanaan.blog

https://www.facebook.com/Andrea-Canaan-Author-456010704809232/

Writing in a Time of Peril: 6.26.2020

Mars Near Opposition –Hubble Telescope

The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard reported 2.20 million US cases and 118,695 deaths as of 12:30 pm on June 19, 2020 – From Johns Hopkins daily update.

The New York Times reports 2.4 million U.S. cases and 124, 770 U.S. deaths on Thursday, a record for the second day in a row – From the New York Times Covid–19 update, June 26, 2020. 

The U.S. reported more than 40,000 new cases on Thursday, a record for the second day in a row  (Johns Hopkins Update Not Available) 

From gestation to birth, our paths are chosen or directed by biology, physiology, geography, ecology, history, our time, and our choices. For all of us, we are suffused with incalculable variables and uncertainties, except for one invariable–calculable–constant, our deaths.

I was coming out, a black woman in a majority-black southern city, New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1979. I knew no out black lesbians in New Orleans then. I still don’t. I decided to live an out lesbian life, a different choice than that of all of the black women in my family and community. Other black lesbians chose to live on the ‘down low. My mother and her friends helped black lesbian and gay men hide and pretend that the women and men they claimed to be their dates and fiancés, even husbands and wives, were, in fact, not the center of their love and sexual lives. 

Living on the ‘down low was an acceptable choice. My mother told me that since I had a good education, a master’s degree, I could do and be anything I wanted; the black community, even the church, would support me, but only if I was silent about being a lesbian. The acceptable choices were to be silent, completely repress my affectional preference and sexuality, to pretend to be heterosexual, to convince myself I was heterosexual, or to forget I was lesbian. The consequences were to borne silently and alone. Similar choices and their consequences were made about loving across color lines.

I understood these choices and the underlying beliefs, along with the deeply embedded homophobia. Being an out black lesbian was perceived as a threat, an additional target on all black backs, another shame to bear, and a distraction from activists’ stated priority: the liberation of black men first, black women second, and black children last. I carry the perceptions of these choices and beliefs in the marrow of my bones. I know the consequences of these choices, no matter their religious, social, economic, and political underpinnings. I would cause my family and community shame. I would make my family and community targets for added white hate. I would cancel my value as a representative of our community. 

I understood, however, the most serious consequence of living on the ‘down low, of suppressing, denying, and leaving unexamined essential parts of myself, my affectional preference, my sexuality, and my historic familial and personal loads of racial, physical, emotional, economic, and sexual trauma.  

Madness 

My deepest fear 

Becoming mad 

Becoming involuntarily committed to an insane asylum

My great-aunt and great-uncle told me the story after Thanksgiving dinner the year my grandmother died. 

In 1916 near Houma, Louisiana, on Bayou Black, my grandmother witnessed her grandfather’s death. Her father and her paternal grandfather had been arguing when he fell off a raised porch without rails. An inquest ruled the fall an accident death. The crucial consequence of my great-great-grandfather’s death, however, was the wrongful commitment of was his son, my great-grandfather, to a notorious insane asylum in Jackson, Louisiana. Louisiana law gives the coroner the power and authority to pronounce my great- grandfather insane. The police, the coroner, the insane asylum administrators, and the insane asylum personnel knew that my great-great-grandfather was sane. There was no recourse for him at that time. 

Not long after he was committed, he was offered a job as a  groundskeeper. In 1935 he was offered a release from Jackson, but he wouldn’t leave. “Why?’ was always the question when this part of the story was told after holiday dinners. The answer was always the same. 

His words quoted, 

“Because if I leave here, I will become a murder or go mad.”

He continued to work as a groundskeeper. He was paid a small wage that he sent home to my great–grandmother. Benjamin England, my maternal great–grandfather, died while living on the grounds of the Louisiana Stare Insane Asylum in 1943, twenty-seven years after he was wrongly committed. 

My great aunts and uncle and the Bayou Black community believed this malicious and sadistic punishment was meted out because both father and son were labor organizers and leaders of cane workers. The death of the father made neutralizing the son possible. Prosecution for murder would have been inciting, maybe giving him an outlet to continue organizing. But pronouncing him insane was diabolically silencing and terrorizing for all black cane workers and their families. 

My grandmother was never the same. “Teched,” they called her, the colloquial word for crazy. My mother’s early life was shattered by my grandmother’s mental illness. My childhood was lived in a soup of my grandmother and mother’s untreated and unhealed emotional, psychic, sexual, and spiritual wounds. All my life, I have been making sense of what I have come to believe is their “adaptive lifesaving madness,” a way for black women and girls to navigate life in hyper-misogynist and racist landscapes.

*

It was 1979. I had pain in my back. Right side. Below the shoulder blade. Lung? Diaphragm? It was excruciating, hard to breathe, to speak, to move, and to walk.

Diana was–is a masseur. She was–is beloved to me, extended family, my daughter’s co-mother. We had graduated from the Tulane University School of Social Work together in 1975.  While in graduate school, Diana studied massage and became an internationally recognized practitioner and teacher of relational-somatic connective tissue work, which is especially useful to heal survivors of trauma.  I agreed to a massage, only because I loved her and trusted her with my life, my family, my daughter, my body, my heart, and I knew she loved me. Despite all of that, I still thought the only reason to take off your clothes and let someone touch you was to be sexual. I thought ignorantly and hilariously that the naked touching thing must be a white thing or a Yankee thing since Diana was white and a northerner. 

In the sunny room off her kitchen that served as her massage room, she supported me onto the table and began to work. Kali Ma, a full skeleton, hung from a stand, a sage witness to her care. The room was scented with arnica and almond oil. 

The sound of her hands rubbing gently together.

Her warm touch on my skin

Her pause 

Her hands hovering above

Heat deepened touch.

When I tensed up and held my breath in the pain’s overwhelming presence, Diana told me to relax and breathe. That did not make any sense to me. When somebody is hurting you, you don’t relax! You don’t think about breathing! 

Patiently she guided me into breathing and relaxing with her breath and touch. 

The deeper her hands moved into me, the more it hurt.

I cried out.

“You’re hurting me.”

“Ann,” she said, using my family nickname.

“The pain is here, in you. I am moving into it.” 

I heard and felt her patience and love moving into me, through me. 

“What you are feeling is the pain leaving,” she said. “Relax, breathe into the pain. It will abate.

I still have pain in that same spot. I can feel it now as I write. It is always there. It has contracted and twisted and squeezed in agony in times of catastrophic change. A death. A lost possibility of home. A lost opportunity. A breach in a relationship. Intense unhappiness. When beloved ones suffer.

I live within its abatement.

When I write, I tend to that pain. I imagine. I remember. I re-remember. I study and research the stories that comprise the pain. I live within its abatement while the writing breathes, relaxes, warms, and allows its continual lessening.

The gifts and the beauties are in the lessening.

Death’s transformations are what we are here for 

The beauty is what lies between the brilliances of our adaptive and resilient insistence on lives of joy while we reduce the transmission of othering to future generations.

I listen to Nina Simone.  https://open.spotify.com/playlist/37i9dQZF1DX8OYzU0lx5hL?si=EKmgbzSvSouoa9COuVxbFg

And I add a song I need today: I Wish I knew How It Would Feel to be Free. https://open.spotify.com/track/5CKHhg31HcYYhwUeeGqvhq?si=MJUjFAJDRMSV2ypoLjt2mw

I add another song I want today: Aretha Franklin and Mary J Blige sing: “Never Gonna Break My Faith” from Bobby’s motion picture soundtrack. https://open.spotify.com/track/1oZ1SqJrCNokYRw5nvhoOd?si=pPKZ3p-ESESakFdQe1M7KQ

I go down my to-do list of self-care: meditate, eat well, rest well, get exercise, connect, connect, connect, stay home–except for the pharmacy & the grocery & then only with mask and gloves & when there are very few people about. Watch less TV, but stay informed. Laugh a lot—Channel fear, grief, and rage into expression, action, and art.

I continue to chronicle these times.

In Joy,

A

© Andrea Canaan, MSW, MFA

andreacanaan@gmail.com

https://andracanaan.blog

https://www.facebook.com/Andrea-Canaan-Author-456010704809232/

Writing in a Time of Peril: Friday June 19, 2020

The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard reported 2.20 million US cases and 118,695 deaths as of 12:30pm on June 19, 2020.

 Remembering the 100000 Lives Lost to Coronavirus in America

I read each of the thousand names in the pages of the May 24, 2020 edition of the New York Times. It takes me almost an hour I read each entry. Since there are no Johns Hopkins updates on the weekends, the updated Covid-19 numbers appeared the Friday before on May 22, 2020: The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard reported 1.59 million US cases and 95,276 deaths. 

The New York Times features one thousand deaths out of nine hundred twenty–five thousand, two hundred and seventy–six dead. To read the names of all those who have been documented as dying from Covid 19 by May 22, 2020, it would take me take nearly forty hours. I would gladly read them out loud were they available. I would gladly mourn their passing in honor and respect.  

Meanwhile, U. S. police kill nearly one thousand people each year. Most of the people killed are children, women and men of color. This is a pandemic of violence. 

Police kill about 3 men per day in the US, according to new …

Covid–19 has burrowed into the DNA of the U. S. It is exploiting the European founding fissures of colonization. The genocide and removals of indigenous people and the enslavement of African people has created a health pandemic, a miseducation pandemic, a food insecurity pandemic, a housing pandemic, an unemployment–under employment–non–livable wage pandemic, a domestic terrorism pandemic, a denial of civil– human–constitutional rights pandemic, and an ecological pandemic. A toxic capitalism pandemic overarches all. The valuing white power, white caste, white property and white profit while devaluing, exploiting, segregating, over policing and imprisoning indigenous, black and brown children, women and men who make up nearly forty percent of U.S. citizens. The intersectionality is clear, glaring.  

 George Floyd tested positive for Covid-19. His life and death are still being honored. His remains have been interred. His daughter believes her father has changed the world. His brother testified on Capitol Hill. The course of justice, to hold those most immediately for his death accountable, is in the making, and protests continue in our nation, our world. 

Brionna Taylor was grieved, celebrated and interred with the suppression of the circumstances of her death. Two months later the nation knows of her sweet life and horrific death only because of the insistence of her family and their lawyer. This natation and we, as a people, struggle to remember the lives of black women and children murdered, assaulted, raped, and injured by police and other authorities of the state, and civilian vigilantes. 

I live in a gated community or people over fifty–five in Rio Vista, California. Gay friendly and diverse, this community is mostly middle class retirees. On the other side of the wall of my back yard is Airline Road. Cherish Thomas, a black woman, was pulled over for an expired registration with three passengers on Airline Road with three other young family member occupants. One of the occupants called a relative for help when the police decided to impound the car rather than give the driver a warning or a ticket. When Thomas’ mother arrived, she began filming her daughter’s encounter with police. While she filmed, a police officer body slammed her daughter, Cherish to the ground. 

Rio Vista Police Officer Body-Slams Woman to Ground After …

How many times have black women and girls be intimidated, assaulted, falsely imprisoned, raped, and killed by police and civilian vigilantes? Do we, black and brown women, report these incidents, and if we do, what are the police and court responses? And when we don’t, why don’t we? Who keeps the statistics? Why don’t we include gender and age disparities in our conversations about police and vigilante violence, and the school to prison pipeline?

From Preschool to Prison: The Criminalization of Black Girls …

The school-to-prison pipeline is getting worse for black and …

I turn to the blues this morning. Bessie Smith sang to me on Pandora. When she began singing Careless Love, inexplicably, I began to cry. I puzzled over why I was crying. I pushed a button and placed Careless Love on repeat. I listened to Bessie Smith sing this song three more times. The piano holding the melodic line and swinging the pace along lulled me close to this altar of sound. The trombone growling low and keeping syncopated time with the high sound of the trumpet repeating and embellishing Bessie Smith’s voice, opened and washed through me. 

I’ve heard this song in the background of my life growing up in New Orleans. I listened on thirty–eight records, albums, blues and jazz radio stations, instrumental jazz versions played during jazz funerals and street parades, and in blues and jazz night clubs. 

Love, oh love, oh careless love.

You fly through my head like wine.

You’ve wrecked the life of many a poor girl

And nearly spoiled this life of mine.

My throat and chest kept tightening and swelling. Tears kept spilling and dripping to the edge of my grief and rage. I knew this song. I knew the places the sounds and emotions came from. The song of was of betrayal, but worse, self– betrayal. 

Love, oh love, oh careless love.

In your clutches of desire

You’ve made break a many true vow,

Then set my very soul on fire.

I have been betrayed by my country. But much–more elementally, I feel, like my ancestors, African slaves and free people of color, and my generation have allowed ourselves to be seduced and duped by the ideas and promises of the United States Constitution all of its amendments, declarations, and pledges, its justice system, along with all its Judeo-Christian morality. 

Bessie Smith’s voice, the wail of the trumpet, the moan of the trombone, and the melodic swing of the piano uncovered layer upon layer of the consequences of the United States of America’s carelessness within me. Promises of acceptance and equality coated in beguiling lies and inducements that were wrapped in forced dependence, self–exploitation, and unspeakable violence waiting at the ends of billy clubs, fire hoses, and ropes. I imagine generations of slaves and former slaves laying twisted and shattered or hung while smiling faces spoke to the terrified bereaved of boot straps, resilience, the healing power of forgiveness, and the faults and responsibilities of the vanquished for their degradations and deaths, those never fully human, those never white. 

Bessie Smith sings songs of lost love in ways that remind me of the ways that black women have preserved our union while being enslaved, abused, and marginalized by men, white and black, with little recognition of our worth or our fragility. Yet, while we have never had the value, respect and rights of full citizenship, we have hoped, lived and worked to constantly create a more just and equal society and world. And miraculously, we have insisted on justice and freedom instead of revenge.  

Bessie Smith on Spotify

I go down my to-do list of self-care: meditate, eat well, rest well, get exercise, connect, connect, connect, stay home-except for the pharmacy & the grocery & then only with mask and gloves & when there are very few people about. Watch less TV, but stay informed. Laugh a lot. I drive the speed limit, I keep to all social norms. I avoid all contact with the police. I Channel fear, grief, and rage into expression, action and art. 

I continue to chronicle these times.

Still, In Joy,

A

© Andrea Canaan, MSW, MFA

andreacanaan@gmail.com

https://andracanaan.blog

https://www.facebook.com/Andrea-Canaan-Author-456010704809232/

Writing in a Time of Peril: June 12, 2020

The US CDC reported 1.84 million total cases (14,676 new) and 107,029 deaths (827 new) – From Johns Hopkins daily update.

The US CDC reported 1.99 million total cases (20,486 new) and 112,967 deaths (834 new). The United States will likely surpass 2 million cases in today’s update – From Johns Hopkins daily update.

When Will the Crepe Myrtle Tree Bloom?

I am waiting for the crepe myrtle tree outside my window to bloom. It leafed later than the ornamental pear and maple trees. The clustered buds at the end of the slender limb are dry looking and rust-colored. I am worried that a deep pink frilly blossom will not emerge. The sweet peas, crocus, tulips, and azaleas have bloomed in their finest glory and burned out in the heat. Roses, geraniums, bougainvillea, and night-blooming jasmine are flowering and thriving, but not the crepe myrtle.  I have been looking forward to its coloring and constant flowering in the summer heat. I’m afraid it will not bloom.

The mourning doves begin to coo at precisely six-thirty in the morning. They perch on my shaded garage roof. After singing, they flirt and dance and flutter from branch to branch until they mate. I worry that the crepe myrtle tree is waiting for their courtship to be over, that maybe its blossoms might compete with their passion. But I hope that their singing and fluttering and mating will coax out the timid blooms. 

I am not hopeful, no matter how many people of color and white and people protest, run from pepper spray police advancing with weapons of war, and then return again to protest with their signs, singing, dancing, praying, teaching, learning, speaking up and out.

I am not hopeful even though politicians, police departments, media, clergy, former military generals, and high-level Pentagon officials support protestors and condemn the current administration.

I am not hopeful no matter how many photographs of our dead children, women, and men are named and shown and grieved again and again. Emmett Till, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carol Robertson, Denise Mc Nair, Travon Martin, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd.

All those before. All those between. All those coming.

I am not hopeful no matter how few Republicans whisper their tiny apologies.

I am not hopeful no matter what Nike, McDonald’s, Netflix, Amazon, Uber Eats, U Tube, and–and–and donate to Black Lives Matter, the NAACP Defense Fund, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, and put out statements of support and new ads.

I am not hopeful when the U.S. Attorney General, the FBI, the DHS, the DEA, the Bureau of Prisons, the Pentagon, the Republican-led Senate, and the rest of the federal government are functioning in swamps of incompetence, corruption, silence, white profiteering, white dominance, and white nationalism.

I am not hopeful when voting access is closed, downsized, defunded, or blocked by dysfunctional voting machines, and it takes U. S. citizens six to eight hours to vote in the sweltering heat in Atlanta during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

I am not hopeful when a global pandemic is being incompetently and ineffectually managed while people of color are dying in punishingly disproportionate numbers compared to white people.

I am not hopeful that the killing of black and brown people and their allies will stop.

I am not hopeful when the head of our state dog whistles –law and order–very fine people–when the looting starts the shooting starts–don’t be so nice. 

He is calling to arms and to harm the Alt Right, Holocaust Denyers, Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and white nationalists. I believed Dylann Roof, who murdered nine members of a prayer circle, and announced he was hoping to spark a race war. I believe that’s this is the plan, before, during and after national elections, win or lose. 

I am not hopeful when hundreds of thousands are making the decision to risk the death from Covid–19 rather than continue to die from police brutality, poverty, mis-education, preventable illnesses, toxic living and work conditions, fear death walking, jogging or driving or riding or birding, or grilling or sleeping in your bed.  

But I am hopeful that the doves will sing and flirt and mate and coax the myrtle tree into bloom.

*

I receive the Covid–19 case and death count from Johns Hopkins each morning. I play the music that allows me to sink down into grief and lifts me again. I curious. What ethnic, cultural, and generational rituals and music allows anger, fear, and sadness, along with, promise’s ambitions, and joy’s wells of tears, to tell the victory stories of our beloved departed, and celebrates the precious lives of those of us left behind?

I surround myself with the music of Donny Hathaway, Angela Boefil and Sweet Honey in the Rock

Spotify Play List: 

I go down my to-do list of self-care: meditate, eat well, rest well, get exercise, connect, connect, connect, stay home–except for the pharmacy & the grocery & then only with mask and gloves & when there are very few people about. Watch less TV, but stay informed. Laugh a lot. Channel fear, grief, and rage into expression, action, and art.

I continue to chronicle these times.

A

Writing in a Time of Peril: May 22, 2020

The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard is reporting 1.42 million US cases, and 85,974 deaths as of 10:30 am on Friday, May 15, 2020. – From Johns Hopkins daily update.

The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard reported 1.59 million US cases and 95,276 deaths as of 12:30pm on Friday, May 22, 2020.– From Johns Hopkins daily update.

“Art invites us to know beauty and to solicit it, summon it, from even the most tragic of circumstances.” ― Toni Morrison

In the middle of a double pandemic, amidst the cacophonous drumbeat of rising hate and division and Covid-19’s raging wildfires, wild rabbits lay sunning beneath ornamental pear trees. While I chronicle, immigrant children are being deported in the middle of the night without protection or representation into more certain danger, the sun shines in sparkling–clear air, and cottony clouds make giant rabbits and dragons in the sky. As I sort through the strangling, drowning, skin, and hair on fire–feelings of anger, sadness, fear, and hopefulness, honey bees and hummingbirds visit each bridal veil and morning glory bloom in my back garden. While I struggle to make use of my feelings, how to make them of use, save my life, the lives of those I love, rather than ineffectual ranting or going silent or still or all of those, Charlie Hayden’s Beyond the Missouri Sky plays on Spotify. As I struggle to lead a writing life, I am relatively privileged, resourced, and safe; yet, I am assaulted daily by the incompetent–double-bind–death assuring responses to Covid–19 by our current leader and his government. I awaken to the voices of my mother and father, aunts and uncles, blood kin and named kin, all gone before me and never gone, insisting that I remember what  I was taught by my grandmothers and grandfathers’ great and grandmothers and fathers. They insist on action and service to ensure the protection of all life as sparkling–peach sunlight rises over the garden wall. I am afraid, angry, humbled, and in constant mourning as delta breezes carry the scents of night-blooming jasmine and the sounds of morning birds calls filled with the healing treasures of the day.

I receive the Covid–19 case and death count from Johns Hopkins each morning. I play the music that allows me to sink down into grief and lifts me again. I curious. What ethnic, cultural, and generational rituals and music allows anger, fear, and sadness, along with, promise’s ambitions, and joy’s wells of tears, to tell the victory stories of our beloved departed, and celebrates the precious lives of those of us left behind?

In the middle of a double pandemic, amidst the cacophonous drumbeat of rising hate and division and Covid-19’s raging wildfires, wild rabbits lay sunning beneath ornamental pear trees. While I chronicle, immigrant children are being deported in the middle of the night without protection or representation into more certain danger, 

the sun shines in sparkling–clear air, and cottony clouds make giant rabbits and dragons in the sky. As I sort through the strangling, drowning, skin, and hair on fire–feelings of anger, sadness, fear, and hopefulness, honey bees and hummingbirds visit each bridal veil and morning glory bloom in my back garden. While I struggle to make use of my feelings, how to make them of use, save my life, the lives of those I love, rather than ineffectual ranting or going silent or still or all of those, Charlie Hayden’s Beyond the Missouri Sky plays on Spotify. As I struggle to lead a writing life, I am relatively privileged, resourced, and safe; yet, I am assaulted daily by the incompetent–double-bind–death assuring responses to Covid–19 by our current leader and his government. I awaken to the voices of my mother and father, aunts and uncles, blood kin and named kin, all gone before me and never gone, insisting that I remember what  I was taught by my grandmothers and grandfathers’ great and grandmothers and fathers. They insist on action and service to ensure the protection of all life as sparkling–peach sunlight rises over the garden wall. I am afraid, angry, humbled, and in constant mourning as delta breezes carry the scents of night-blooming jasmine and the sounds of morning birds calls filled with the healing treasures of the day.

I receive the Covid–19 case and death count from Johns Hopkins each morning. I play the music that allows me to sink down into grief and lifts me again. I curious. What ethnic, cultural, and generational rituals and music allows anger, fear, and sadness, along with, promise’s ambitions, and joy’s wells of tears, to tell the victory stories of our beloved departed, and celebrates the precious lives of those of us left behind?

Spotify PlayList: Beyond the Missouri Sky 

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7qgb9gAlUfW0URVECeirkk?si=GXz98yApR-ex-IP6djDL8g

I go down my to-do list of self-care: meditate, eat well, rest well, get exercise, connect, connect, connect, stay home–except for the pharmacy & the grocery & then only with mask and gloves & when there are very few people about. Watch less TV, but stay informed. Laugh a lot. I channel fear, grief, and rage into expression, action, and art.

I continue to chronicle these times.

A

© Andrea Canaan, MSW, MFA

andreacanaan@gmail.com

Writing in a Time of Peril: 5.1.2020

April 1, 2020:The US CDC reported 186,101 cases (22,562 new) and 3,603 deaths (743 new) on April 1. The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard is reporting 217,263 US cases and 5,151 deaths as of 11:00am on April 2, 2020 – From Johns Hopkins daily update.

May 1, 2020: The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard is reporting 1.07 million US cases and 63,019 deaths as of 8:30am on May 1. – From Johns Hopkins daily update.

May 11, 2020: The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard is reporting 1.33 million US cases and 79,825 deaths as of 1:30pm on May 11.

Covid Mourning

There are no national Native American honorings of Covid dead. There are no national Jewish mourning observances for the dead each Friday. No national services for Seventh Day Adventist or Church of God or Jehovah Witness dead on Saturday. No national Protestant or Catholic or Mormon observances for the dead-on Sunday. There are no national observances for Buddhist or Hindu or Sikh dead. Nor ecumenical or atheist or agnostic dead. No national observances of American dead.

Church leaders, ecumenical councils, the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and the president have not called for national daily, weekly, monthly mourning observances for all our dead. 

There are no comprehensive lists of the names of the departed in local and national newspapers each Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There are no moving tributes to 75,000 deaths on television or the radio. There are no PSAs about grief’s rage, despair, loneliness and injustice. 

As the number of the dead increase exponentially, so do my shock, disbelief, desperate prayers for a cure, anguished calls for special dispensation from worry, desolation, keening grief, and compound suffering as beloved ones may become sick, become sick, are sick, are dying, die. 

A month before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, my mother, Dora Ester Ransom Bridges, had a small stroke. The only significant complication was she could not swallow. Doctors placed a feeding tube in her stomach to deliver nutrition. My mother entered a skilled nursing facility in Uptown New Orleans in order to restore her ability to swallow and return home. Three days before hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, my mother was informed that safe locations were being prepared for skilled nursing home residents in the path of the hurricane. They could not give her the exact location before she was evacuated. After the hurricane hit, communications were so compromised, it was a full week before we located her at the East Louisianan State Hospital, formerly the State Insane Asylum, simply Jackson to most black people in the region. 

Over the phone, my mother gave me a long list of food and supplies to send to her and for other patients and the staff. She let me know that patients and staff would be returning to The Home that November, because miraculously it had not been damaged during the storm or its aftermath. In addition, my mother explained that she would not be coming to live with me in San Francisco. Instead, she would be returning to New Orleans, because she was not going to leave her friend. Her friend was a woman in her thirties who was rendered paraplegic after an automobile accident. I was sure I would convince my mother otherwise when I arrived in Jackson to see about her. 

I traveled to New Orleans during the first week of October. I drove north on I- 12 along wide grassy medians. The southbound lanes were filled with trucks bumper to bumper traveling sixty-five miles an hour hauling temporary housing units, FEMA trailers. I picked up food and supplies from Winn Dixie and Walgreens. I had also taken orders from my mother for herself, other patients and staff for Popeyes, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut and Burger King. I was greeted like a hero with clapping, smiles, and thanksgiving. The trunk of my rental car and every seat were packed with supplies, food and takeout.  The staff carried all of the supplies to a room to organize them for distribution and the food into the dining room for a feast. I returned home without my mother. 

I made a second trip back to New Orleans to bring my mother to live with me in July of 2006 after my mother’s friend’s home was repaired and she was able to move back in it. The Ransom family celebrated my mother’s eightieth birthday with family who survived Katrina and her aftermath in Natchez, Mississippi. When I arrived at the Home to drive her the nearly three hours to Natchez, I found that my mother was oxygen dependent and not recommended for air travel. My mother complained her doctors had refused to remove her stomach tube even though her ability to swallow had returned. My mother insisted that the stinking opening that needed constant cleaning and care be closed. 

I spoke with the doctors who believed that the surgery, while minor, was not minor for my mother. My mother insisted and surgery was scheduled for January 2007. I scheduled a flight based on the date of the surgery. I decided to visit my paternal aunts that Christmas, instead of going to New Orleans as usual, since I would be with her for her surgery. Just before Christmas my mother’s surgery was changed to Thursday, December 21, 2006. I didn’t change my plans. I didn’t go home to be with my mother. I didn’t. 

On Wednesday, December 27, 2006. I received a call from my mother’s longest and best friend. She said my mother was failing and for me to come home. I scrambled to get an earlier flight home. My mother died on Thursday December 28, 2006 alone because I didn’t change my plans. I didn’t go home to be with her.

I wasn’t there when my mother died, but my mother didn’t die alone. I spoke with her nurses and her doctor. The choked up as they described her last hours. They had held her hand, sang to her, prayed with her. They had stayed with her until her last breath. When I went to the hospital to retrieve my mother’s belongings, I brought flowers and food to the hospital staff. While I wept with unrelenting guilt and shame, they held me without judgement with tears spilling down their faces as well.  

I wait for the John Hopkins Covid–19. Update each morning. I feel my mother’s death every day. Only now, I count along with my own regret and loss, the Covid reported deaths. 79,825 deaths as of 1:30pm on May 11, Monday , May 11, 2020.

I shatter when I think that their family members would have given most anything for the choice to hold, sing, to pray with, to say goodbye in person with their loved ones, what I could have given to my mother and myself. I weep knowing how much hospital, nursing home, and congregate living staffs wish for more time, fewer patients, to have all the material, equipment and gear they need, to save more, not have the additional responsibility to do hospice and familial substitute care as their patients died alone, as well as, being in constant fear for their own lives and the lives of their families.

There is no national mourning. I will mourn anyway. In my intense sorrow I will ruminate over the loss of beloved ones. I may focus on little else but our loved one’s deaths. I long to have them back with us. I struggle accepting their deaths. Yet, I become deadened sometimes and shutdown. Sometimes I lose the ability to feel anything but sadness and loss. Sometimes I’m angry, bitter even. Sometimes I feel hopeless and helpless as Covid deaths increase exponentially. 

I receive the Covid–19 case and death count from Johns Hopkins each morning and play the Spotify Playlist I made of the music that allows me to sink down to my knees in grief and lifts me up again. I wonder about what music others would select. What cultural and generational rituals and music that allows grief’s well of tears, tell the victory stories of our departed, and celebrates precious lives left behind. 

Covid Mourning Spotify Play List

I go down my to-do list of self-care: meditate, eat well, rest well, get exercise, connect, connect, connect, stay home–except for the pharmacy & the grocery & then only with mask and gloves & when there are very few people about. Watch less TV, but stay informed. Laugh a lot. Channel fear, grief, and rage into expression, action and art. 

I continue to chronicle these times.

© Andrea Canaan, MSW, MFA

andreacanaan@gmail.com

https://andracanaan.blog

https://www.facebook.com/Andrea-Canaan-Author-456010704809232/