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Month: March 2012

No Room for Error

The bamboo rises in the yard with the hump of a sea serpent. Angling the shovel, I break its spine. A neighbor planted the bamboo—on the property line. For the longest time I told myself she’d sunk a barrier around it. Surely no one would plant invasive, destructive bamboo on the property line without consulting the neighbor. The yards in Harbor Town are tight. We have no room for error.

The weeds are next. Lugging the Roundup out to the street, I squat and spray. A rustle in the bushes distracts me. Our house is on an island in the Mississippi River. We get snakes. I rise and, creeping to the hedge, peer between the limbs. A robin.

I don’t know if he is the robin I fell in love with last year or not. I don’t know how long the denizens of my yard—the towering cotton woods, the buried moles, the birds—live.

I return to my weeding. Lifting the nozzle of the Roundup, I stop. Roundup is an insecticide, manufactured by Monsanto. I use it sparingly, only where hand-pulling becomes endless. Safe, they claim. But who’s to say what they mean by that? Will it hurt the robin?

I set the Roundup bottle on the ground. I settle into weeding by hand.

Surely no one would spray destructive insecticide on the property of the robin without consulting him. After all, we have no room for error.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

It Is Impossible

I have been obsessing with the news on Trayvon Martin, watching every TV spot, reading every on-line post, shushing Tom so I can hear every radio interview.

What I am watching, listening, waiting for? For someone to say it is impossible. Impossible in any state under any law in this country to pursue an unarmed young man, shoot him, and call it self-defense. Impossible. Instead, I hear analysts seriously debating this point. Parsing it, arguing it, shaking their heads over Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

Is it true?

Have we set up a legal world where the belief of the armed man—not the innocence of the victim—controls the legality of the shooting? Where you can create a situation, then claim you felt threatened and stood your ground, and the law recognizes that as a defense? I simply cannot believe it.

If this is true—that fear is the standard we have adopted, that you can stand your ground and shoot someone if you feel “threatened”, no matter how irrational that might be—who do you think will be the inevitable victims? It will be those whom we are taught to fear: the different, the ones whose skin color isn’t ours, those who don’t have as much money as we do, those who see the world through a different lens, those who act in ways we don’t understand, those who wear clothing we don’t like. And the law will say, of course you were afraid, you were right to SHOOT these scary people???

It is impossible.

Then there was the time when I was lying on the floor playing with Aubrey and Giselle the French Giraffe (whose real name was Sophie the French Giraffe but I didn’t know that at the time) and I kept using this horrible French/Mexican accent for the Giraffe which would have been okay (Aubrey is only nine months old) except I was there on the floor with a real French woman and I was talking in this terrible stereotypical voice (“I am Gi-zell, the French Gi-raff. I have zee polke-dotted earz.”).

I put down the Giraffe.

But when I picked up the lamb, I thought of Lamb Chop on Captain Kangaroo who also seemed French to me (“Awwww, Shar-ii.”) So again out came the offensive accent: “I am zee lambkins. I cuver my eyez. You keen-nut zee me.”

I was powerless to stop it.

I know that this woman is telling her husband about it right now: “There I was sitting on the floor right next to her and she’s going on and on. Zee this. Zee that. Pfftt!”

Here’s to creative synthesis . . .

we don’t use the dishwasher
we don’t use the clothes dryer
we leave the windows open
we drink tap water, we drink almond milk, we eat barley
we build fires in the fireplace
we keep a compost bucket on the kitchen counter
we travel with a bonsai tree, Mr. Tree
we hang out on Beale Street
we let Tom be our everyday cook
we say “runned,” as in “I thought you runned away”
we dance
we join parades
we call out the names of bluesmen: “John Lee!” “Howling Wolf!” “Koko!” “B.B!” “R.L.!”
we believe Dr. Gott
we burn incense
we love Memphis
we go to church
we like going to church
we laugh at things that happened ten years ago: “That guy at the writers retreat, Patrick, who was telling women, you’d look great except your hair really sucks, and you said, My man, Patrick, let me give you some advice.”
we read the newspaper
we keep up Christmas decorations
we never remember the camera, we never take pictures, in this constantly documenting digital age, we never photograph anything
we think it’s funny to say “minke” instead of “monkey”
we call each other on the cell phone to to talk about Colin Cowherd’s show
we use a designated driver
we have a seven-foot, neon-lighted Sacred Palm in the living room
we love St. Patrick’s Day, particularly in New Orlean’s Bywater: the more rag-tag, the better

That’s enough. (This message was approved by the other half of the “we”)

Here’s to creative synthesis . . .

It’s spreading. Once I saw that pink slime, I would never, ever again eat a McNugget. Didn’t matter if the ammonia claim wasn’t true. A distinction, as they say, without a difference. Then I saw the blender video—hack, hack, whirl, whirl—and every piece of chicken that wasn’t immediately recognizable as a bird became suspect.

(Several weeks ago at the tennis tournament when I ordered a chicken crepe and peeking from the edge of the wrapping was a squarish chicken thing—well, it was all I could do not to run screaming and hollering down the hallway: “Get out while you can! They’re feeding us beaks!”)

The “does it look like a leg?” litmus test has its own problems. To wit, if the answer is yes, it looks like a leg! A near-constant reminder every time you approach your food that you are eating one of your fellow creatures. Like the little chicken stuck on the vertical chicken roaster, its naked body trapped in the oven: help! help! it cries, arms raised.

The “is this really chicken?” issue is just the beginning. Then we have antibiotics and hormones (just slap that “organic” label on there, he he, they’ll never know the difference.) And, the more ephemeral but eternally haunting question of the chicken purveyors: are they mean to their chickens? (fondly known as the Weezie test).

Chicken may not be worth it.

All well and good. Then my husband sends me an article about that “meat” they’re hocking in schools. And I see the still photo of the poor pregnant pigs laboring in metal troughs (I couldn’t stand to click on the video.) And who can forget Sarah Palin’s pals feeding the turkeys, head first, into the funnel?

I’m on the verge of giving up all meat.

Which leaves fish. The tuna in the can that l can pretend never leapt through the waves (but whose capture probably kills dolphins) and surely shrimp are safe—shrimp look like shrimp, nobody shapes goo to look like shrimp, right? But are they raised in beds contaminated with raw sewage? I don’t even want to think about the origins of the “filet o’ fish” sandwich.

“You are what you eat,” they say which, given the above, is bad enough. But, now that I know, am I also the unconcern with which I chomp into that animal that began life as a cute little thing only to be tortured into the “food chain” and thus on its way to my lazy stomach?

My friend Robb Pate told me one time that very slow photography of a rose being clipped shows the rose retreating from the advancing shears.

Here’s to creative synthesis . . .

An Interview with Carlos Fuentes
by Lois Parkinson Zamora
Hotel Amerika 2011

LPZ: Just one last thing: what about Faulkner?
CF: Well, you know for us, Latin American literature begins with the Mississippi, with Faulkner . . . We read his novels and felt that our Latin American territory began in Mississippi.

Q: I, a girl sprawled on her uncle’s sofa because he’d gone to live in an apartment for a while so the room was empty and quiet and free from questions about why she was reading by herself in summer’s semi-darkness in a room musty as a hundred-year old house can be with books from the library piled on the coffee table, their plastic covers sliding all over each other: As I Lay Dying, Go Down Moses, Absalom, Absalom—one after another because once I began I could not stop—only to grow into the woman who found (can you name God’s miracles in your life?) Fuentes, Garcia Marquez, Llosa and all the others but felt her love to be a fraud: what right did I have to love adore desire these Latin American authors?

A: Faulkner gave you the right.

Mirrors: this issue of Hotel Amerika is devoted to reflection, and inside its pages I found this doubling-back: Carlos Fuentes was inspired by William Faulkner and I, steeped in Faulkner, recognized and loved Fuentes.

Here’s to creative synthesis . . .

Wildly Improbable Goals

The Advocate began with a grant. One of our stated goals was: “Use the arts to change perceptions of people who have experienced homelessness.” How, the application asked, will you evaluate whether you’ve been a success?

In a moment of honesty, I said to June Averyt, who was the Executive Director, “I want them to read our work and appoint one of our writers to those committees they keep forming to end homelessness.” June said, “Put it down.”

So we wrote into a formal grant application the most wildly improbable goal: “We will know we have succeeded if decision-makers have appointed to homeless policy-making bodies people who have actually experienced homelessness.”

Today, David Waters of The Commercial Appeal asked the Door of Hope Writers for their opinion on the Mayors’ new faith-based initiative to end homelessness.

Can I say this again? The Commercial Appeal asked the Door of Hope Writers—men and women who have a personal knowledge of homelessness—for their opinion on what the religious community can/should be doing to end homelessness.

“The Door of Hope Writers.”

My friend and Door of Hope supporter Brooke Sarden foresaw this miracle. A long time ago, she posted on FaceBook: “I love the Door of Hope Writers!” It was the first time I’d heard us referred to as an entity.

Jennifer Sudbury worked so hard to get The Commercial Appeal to pay attention to us. Just when I’d said to myself, oh, well . . . here comes the email.

“We want to know what the Door of Hope Writers think about this new homelessness initiative.”

I cannot say I had faith or hope, because I never believed it would happen. It seems that the key is to keep plugging away at whatever you think is the right thing to do even though you have no belief at all that your wildly improbably goal will ever be met. But, when it is, you best go outside and kneel on the concrete and thank God that one of you has faith.

Now, who can I give these names of potential committee members to?

Here’s to creative synthesis . . .

Because I am a Woman

Before I was a liberal, I was a woman. Back then, in the 1980s and ’90s, when I was apolitical, when I could care less about Democrat or Republican, except sometimes I went out of my way to vote Republican because I wanted a two-party system in Mississippi. During those years, when I had little understanding of who was running for what, all I cared about was equality.

So, today, when I lash out at Limbaugh or Congressmen supporting Roy Blount or commentators who think we can have a rational weighing of “religious beliefs” vs women’s rights, do not be confused. It’s not because I am a liberal. It’s not because I’m political. It’s because I am a woman. This runs deep with me.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

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