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 Denies, 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 of from Covid–19 rather than continue to die from police brutality, poverty, mis-education, preventable illnesses, suffering toxic living and work conditions or fear death walking or jogging or driving or riding or birding, or grilling.  

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