Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A ridiculous proposal -Letter #28

Dear Governor Ducey,

I think we share something in common. Our jobs are kind of ridiculous. Today, I’m trying to revise a book manuscript for a contest. In the literary/small press/indie press/university press world, we have “book contests” to which you can submit your manuscript, for a fee. The money collected usually goes to the author and pays for the printing and, if you’re lucky, promotion of your book. It seems silly to pay for publication, especially when the chances of winning are so low, but I can console myself by feeling like I’m supporting the press and my fellow authors and maintain some toe-in-the-real-world by recognizing that there is a degree of ridiculousness.

As you too must realize there’s a degree of ridiculousness to the goings on with the legislature and your office these days. Yesterday, you vetoed two bills—one that would have declared “livestock” to not be called “animals” so animal cruelty prevention campaigns would not include cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, goats, etc. You also vetoed the bill that would allow guns in public buildings. You wanted us to feel a moment of sanity, I guess, before you signed the law the tipped the world back upside down that said that will force doctors to say medical abortion can be reversed to every patient that has one and that prohibits the Affordable Care Act from covering abortion, even if the insured pays an extra fee. Oh, that moment when you vetoed the two ridiculous bills. If we could have stopped time! But then, the clock moved forward and the abortion bill (reverse that abortion, doctor magic!) was signed and the gravity moved right to the ceiling.

I can’t tell how much of this ridiculousness is premeditated. Part of me thinks, like Indiana declaring that businesses can discriminate if they want to (I’m sure AZ will follow suit soon), you want to bring on a federal case so more reasonable-but-still-Republican people who think that a lot of what’s going on is ridiculous will forget that ridiculousness when the Feds say, “no, you can’t do that” and you can rally cry “State’s Rights” to them. Well, maybe the States Rights people will forget but I will try to remind everyone of the ridiculousness. The ridiculousness of teachers not being allowed to protest. The ridiculousness of saying K-12 education funding is increased, when, per capita, it actually decreased. The ridiculousness of cutting a university’s budget by 14% and expecting that university to be able to fulfill its mission in any way. Yesterday, I learned that I have no travel funding to attend a conference where I was invited to present. I would have carried NAU’s mission forward. I would have served the state well. But now I will stay home and write letters. I will write lists because the list of ridiculous is long and one way I try to keep the gravity below my feet is to make a list.

Monday, March 30, 2015

What We Can Say--Letter #27

Dear Governor Ducey,

There’s new legislation in the state house to outlaw superintendents, principals, and teachers from protesting cuts to public education.
I don’t want to sound paranoid. Or be paranoid. Or get all riled up when I know it can’t really be true. I don’t want to use the word “totalitarianism” when I think of Arizona, which was, once, at least Libertarian and the right to “say what you want” as well as the right to “shoot what you want” were equally protected. I don’t want to use the word “fascism” to understand how corporate interests paid for your campaign and now you’re paying them back by diverting money from schools to corporate prisons. I don’t want to use the word “double-speak” when I think of how you want to protect individual rights by making sure no city can pass a law promoting public good, like the bill recently passed to prohibit cities from prohibiting plastic bags because individuals are sacrosanct—or at least individuals who want to use plastic bags’ rights are sacrosanct but not those of the teachers whose lives are devoted to teaching our kids and who do more and more with less and less and now do not have the right to say, “please stop.” I don’t want to use the word “big brother” because it’s histrionic. Certainly no one is reading these letters. Certainly you are not. Unless you are and they irritate you. You would like to make these letters illegal like any regime who doesn’t want to lose  (they always lose, eventually, you notice) makes the voices of protest illegal.

I got in trouble, once, writing a short essay about someone I knew. I revealed too much about her story and it was her story and I felt bad so I asked the people who published it to remove it and I took it out of my list of publications. Still, I left it in my book. I changed the names and some of the details because the point of the essay was still true, even if I should have better protected the identity of the person who was the point. The point was, you can have a friend who has cancer and she can go to Mexico for alternative treatments and the doctors in Mexico can sic bees upon the cancer in her breast but the friend will die anyway because that’s how the story goes. But they couldn’t make the woman I wrote the story about be quiet. She willed her friend to stay home. She called her friend in Mexico every day. She told the woman who died’s husband she was so sorry and she told the woman who died’s children she was so sorry. And she told me this story, and she was sorry she did, but she shouldn’t have been because the point of the story is a good one: Each story we tell accumulates. You would like to shutter your ears against the noise. You think behind the big wall of corporate money, your compound would be soundproof. But each bee makes its buzz.  Each story has some weight. We are a state of sand. Each one doesn’t seem like much but if you add them up, the sand gets heavy. “It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.”  Robert W. Service said. Each letter is a grain of sand in your shoe. Each voice a grain. Each protest a grain. And you can try to make it illegal. Some might even lose their jobs if they keep talking, if things are as bad as the words I don’t want to use are in fact descriptive of the situation. But the letters will sneak in. The voices will infiltrate. I can imagine it. The grain of sand. It rubs against your heel. You stop to shake your sock out but the sand is really stuck in there. It starts to make a red spot as you climb the mountain of progress and work to tear it down. You stop again. Itch your foot. Eventually, the blister is a raw, open wound. You have to stop. You have to sit down. You have to take your shoe off. The foot is bad and you need two feet to take down the whole mountain. It takes awhile for the sand to take effect but all I see is your foot, naked and irritated, exposed to the cold, mountain air.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Fear Versus Anguish--Letter #26

Dear Governor Ducey,

When we were fly fishing on the Fremont, the road up to the reservoir had just been opened after winter. We saw one truck on the way to Johnson’s Reservoir—a guy fishing in Mill’s reservoir. Otherwise, we were fifteen miles from the nearest town where the population was maybe 100 people and they were all in church anyway. Snow peeled back from the hills. The ice on Mill’s reservoir floated on top of the water, waving goodbye from the banks, at least for the warm day, if not for the rest of the year. As Max and I stood by ourselves along the Fremont river, I kept my ears out for rustling in the trees. For bears and mountain lions. I consoled myself by realizing, this is Utah. This is southern Utah were the ranchers see cougars as enemy and kill any cougar they find. I’m not sure if “console” is the right word. If you’re going to be fishing, to predate, perhaps you too should find yourself on the other end, sometimes. At least know the feeling of being on your toes. Skin prickling. Ears sharp. To have the confidence you are never prey is a kind of numbification—colder than the river into which we waded to try to find the fish that are smarter than us or our fishing poles. The fish know fear. They know to hide out in river under the trees where our fishing line will get caught until we go home.

I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s latest book, Flight Behavior. It’s OK. Not as good as her other books. But I’m envious. You can feel she didn’t feel the anguish of wandering, is this how I should write this? Is this the way the plot should go? Should I linger longer on the clothes Dellarobia wears? Should I consider the food she eats? Have I said what I wanted to about how much she believes in God? I’m not saying Kingsolver didn’t have these questions—just that she didn’t feel anguish about them. Mistake or not, she charged right through. It’s something success awards—the sense that you can answer your own questions and then move on.

I’m thinking about the difference between fear and anguish. Fear comes from the known. You know there are cougars in your midst. Keep your eye out. You know there are humans looking to lure you with their plastic flies. Keep your eye out. Fear is useful. Sometimes, fears are overstated—the likelihood of a cougar attack is almost zero, even almost zero that a cougar will attack your livestock, but still, fear is resolvable. You can kill all the cougars or you can educate yourself to realize the cougars won’t really destroy you or your livelihood. Obviously, one is more ecologically sound. One will probably lead to the end of the world. But still. You can make the fear stop.

Anguish is different. Anguish is circular. Anguish is loss and unstaunchable wound. When I have a little writing success, I am able to stop worrying detrimentally. I can worry productively. Yes, this has a little too much description of my main character’s nose hairs. No, it is OK this sentence is purely unsubstantiated. You can substantiate later! Yes, linger on the pattern of butterfly wings! Yes, let the squirrel be a metaphor for the fast food restaurant. You’ve done it before. It’s going to be OK.

When I see what has happened with the budget cuts—the way they were passed in the middle of the night, with no public input, with “bipartisanship” bought for 1.2 million dollars in road aid, it is not government I fear. If I feared it, I would still be living in a democracy where I could fight it or wait it out or build against it. But instead, it is anguish. The anguish of not knowing how much worse it could get or how, with the infusion of money from corporations and foundations run by the Koch brothers, any one with any integrity can run for office. The anguish of thinking, I live here and I vow to keep working to change things to make them better but spending the night awake wondering how. That’s anguish’s problem. Sentences begin with how and end with how.

Doubt leads to weak writing. It is bad citizenship too. Doubt makes you stop writing. It makes you stop voting.  Sometimes it makes you quit.  If I just had one sign from you, that you hear that I’m worried about not just me and my job but my friends and my colleagues’ jobs and my students and future students and the future’s future. But you can’t give me that, because that might staunch my anguish. And, if my anguish were staunched, it would turn to fear. And fear is manageable. We can fight what we know. We would know that sometimes you are predator, but sometimes prey. No wonder you hate education. With that kind of knowledge, maybe we could endanger something truly dangerous.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Earth Hour--Letter #25

Dear Governor Ducey,

I had to wait to write my letter to you until after my daughter reminded me I would help her write a sonnet and after my son sat on my lap to warm up because he's sick and he was cold and after the first birthday party and after the second and after I met some friends who also thought maybe the idea of Arizona was unsustainable but maybe they'll go rafting in the morning while there's still some water and then it was Earth Hour where you're supposed to turn the lights off for an hour and then I did and it was late so this is all I have to bring you today from this morning when my daughter said, "will you help me write a sonnet," and I tried.

Her sonnet:
Fly Fishing at Pine Creek

I’ve never been fly fishing before.
My dad keeps saying “No Talking,”
but my feet are so cold like walking
in twenty or more
feet of snow.
The fishing line continues
to get tangled in my shoes.
I guess we don’t know
what the fish see. The water
is evaporating into the air.
I can smell mud, grass, and lavender
as the day gets hotter.

I hear only the birds singing
and the sound of my fishing line flinging.

Mine is not as good but still is 14 lines. With some rhymes.

Flyfishing on the Fremont

They said the knots would be hard to tie.
They were. But that wasn’t the worst part.
Getting the fishing line out of my
hair or from the back of my shirt

made me think that maybe this knitting
project is not for me.
I take a stab at the flitting
fish. Easier to grab. by hand, it seems.

Specked fish. Speckled sunlight.
A bald eagle. Two Sandhill Cranes.
Eating goldfish crackers. Take a bite,
human. The fish themselves aren’t fans.

Still. Maybe that’s the point. Not baiting fish but baiting
time. Learning to love the wait if not the waiting.