Witness to a Year: Diverse Book Challenge-April
Looking ahead. Counting down instead of counting up.
Strength. Weakness. Both?
All have a place in what happens next. . .
Staring out the window, the only green in near memory was seen on St. Patrick’s Day. The clocks moved forward and I am reminded of the dirt not yet under my nails. But it’s April. It’s the end of third quarter, what I always considered the worst nine weeks of the school year. Time, not close enough to almost the end.
But, life was planted before winter, set to grow while others crumble pieces made to whisper. My garlic. I can’t bear to look, worried that it drowned. That it won’t fulfill its promise. And, that time will keep passing around me without me fulfilling my promise to myself.
Recently, I posted a poem about Spider Woman used in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony. In perfect harmony with the idea of what happens next, that story appeared in picture book form on a library shelf. Lois Duncan’s The Magic of Spider Woman* retells the Navajo tale of how a stubborn girl learned from the Spider Woman how to keep life in balance by respecting its boundaries. I lingered over Spider Woman’s words to Wandering Girl.
“But there is one danger that you always must be aware of. The Navajo People must walk the Middle Way, which means that they must respect boundaries and try to keep their lives in balance. They should not do too much of anything. You must promise not to weave for too long, or a terrible thing will happen to you.”
Taken back. Those same nails are raw from scraping my way back to morning light just to have it ripped away. It isn’t the first time that feeling like opportunities, steps forward never moved me forward. They were just things that happened before other things happened. I buy new boots for a new job on a farm. I throw away socks that I loved because the hole in the ball of the foot grew too large.
“You could darn it,” Dad always suggests.
Besides the fact that I don’t think my cross stitching skills translate, I don’t believe there is enough left to stitch it to. It is my Guatemalan paradox all over again. Wait too long and you’re too tired, too hungry, too everything for your past.
The Shaman’s assessment, “Your wife has been struck with the weaving sickness,” he told him. “She broke her promise to Spider Woman, and, just as she was warned, a terrible thing has happened. She has woven her spirit into her blanket.”
Since I returned home, I lived in that frozen space cast upon me from weaving too long. I tossed and turned in that sleep, not understanding that even though I believed I stood up from that loom, it was an illusion. Each of the changes in my movement were no more than sleepwalking. They never took me away from that singular loom and so nothing changed.
I page through my quotes from Witness. I linger on one that I wanted most though maybe do not believe. “One must be mad to believe that we can make the world better, that we can save humanity, or even a single life. It is unreasonable, irrational. But I am for that madness.” (114)
Am I mad? Yet again, I hope. Hope is more difficult than plodding.
What Happened Next
Madness is a synonym for lunacy. The joke, the definition of crazy, is the repetition of a single act expecting a new result. In Guatemala, I appeared crazy often, but I knew I wasn’t. I was different than they expected. In one particular staff retreat, I partnered with Graciela to pass through an elevated ropes course. Since Peace Corps I had attempted to place my co-workers steps ahead of me so that even a shared success would be theirs. Graciela climbed nervously. She didn’t want to go up the wood pieced ladder tacked to a tree. But, she did, with me. At the end of our balancing, sliding and tiptoeing through obstacles, she was proud. I was proud that she was proud. Just days ago, I read about her recent promotion. I messaged Graciela briefly to congratulate her. Even in a brief exchange, the welling of emotion that began in the years around that ropes course, burned my hands. I was harnessed, touching tree branches with fingertips and rope bridges with toes all over again. The path was laid out. My place was secured to the path, ropes weaving me into the blanket.
I wove my spirit, too, into that blanket. But now, the time of my nonprofit work and the time since are equal. I am hesitant to know if I repeat my beginning, what the end may be. For the past four years, I most definitely felt angry. Mad? Perhaps, it would be better to be crazy. Mad. The theme, in fact, the question, is not as important in the texts included here as the reaction and/or answer it elicits. I once quoted Janis Joplin’s words via my father. “Each night I make love to a thousand people and then go home alone.”
Perhaps, I am still a romantic. Perhaps, I am simply older and realize that my expectation should never have been to impact many, but one. So all of us in our diverse contexts, create expectation and then adapt. We plod in mud towards any illusion of green, only to ignore what is already there.
What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper. While no piece of history should be forgotten, Holocaust history has a tendency of dominating the description of the Jewish experience. This book focuses on what happened after the war was over and the camps were liberated. I was both impressed and grateful to find not only uncertain next steps to that story but also an uncertain identity in the main character. She is a Jewish character more like me than I read before. After losing her family, her music and the identity she knew, Gerta is finally liberated, and alone. In the displaced persons camp where she is staying, Gerta meets Lev, a fellow teen survivor more certain of who he is but not how to move forward. With a newfound Jewish identity she never knew she had, and a return to the life of music she thought she lost forever, Gerta must choose how to build a new future.
New Poets of Native Nations edited by Heid E. Erdrich celebrates twenty-one Native poets published after 2000. No history ends, but we often give the appearance of that ending by only retelling certain events, beliefs and practices. This anthology reminds me how much I appreciate any author, or person really, who recognizes the intersectionality of my Guatemalan colleagues. Book by book leave the library celebrating Mayans, Incans and Aztecs. Titles as general as the identities fused together to represent peoples across thousands of miles. The Native authors in this anthology represent as many geographical, social, historical, cultural descriptions as the kinds genres of poetry themselves, narratives, experimental works, lyrical poetry and political motivated writing.
For Everyone, one poem, Jason Reynolds wrote for every one person. In this moment, Reynolds allowed me to believe, his poem was for me. I’m not sure if it’s just my dad or my dad’s generation that knew they wanted to live a life they could live, but expected nothing more out of it. Still, my dad, and maybe his generation wrote a different narrative for us, their children, and all the children to come after. Dream. Dream a big dream. You can, but more like should, achieve it. Jason Reynolds’ poem admits that what we want to or should do does not come with the knowledge of how to get there. This text invites us to be scared, to be patient with ourselves and to change our minds. He also reassures us that no matter what happens next, fulfillment or struggle, we can live through that too.
Diverse book reads blog posts applied to my own life
Teacher as Character: A close reading
Dear Robin Norwood
Fight or Flight
Happy Birthday! The Start of a New Year
Coloring Books are the Future
*Duncan, Lois. (1996). The Magic of Spider Woman. Scholastic: New York.
Burger, Ariel. (2018). Witness: Lessons from Eli Wiesel’s Classroom. Houghton Mifflin