Category Archives: writing

on writing, rewriting, & taking notes

Reading Jan 27 @7pm ET

So pleased to be invited to read from As Sweet As Honey at the Vassar Club of New York’s Book Club on zoom. If you are an alum, just register at the alumnae page or register directly at VCNY Book Club Author Reading.

I was lucky to be part of an extraordinary group of student writers in Bill Gifford’s Senior Composition class as a college senior. Several of us went onto publish books, including Jeff Wallach, Terri Cheney, and Heinz Insu Finkl. There are many other writers from other classes at Vassar, among them, Carole Maso, Jane Smiley, Ralph Sassone, and Lilias Bever, and of course, Elizabeth Bishop, Mary McCarthy, and Edna St.Vincent Millay. I drop these names because all of them ( as well as many more whose manuscripts I read in classes, and whose words I remember to this day) influenced not only my work, but my approach to life and art. It was an incredible education, and one I fought hard to get. Our teachers believed in us, and in turn, we respected them, but what really mattered, more than anything, was literature—the story and the words.

Losing Democracy

Last night, I could not sleep, thinking about what it might mean to take our rights taken away. As an American citizen, I have the right to say what I want, and the responsibility to abide by the law. It is a simple concept, but adheres to my consitutional rights as a voter, a tax-payer, as a participant in the larger community. But what if I could not say share my political opinions when running into a neighbor on the way to post a letter, duly masked and socially distanced? What if I could not even write the letter without fear of censorship? I have a bumper sticker that says, Is it Fascism Yet? which is not actually on my car, the place where I share my allegiances and opinions in traffic. A bumper sticker is more effective than, say a sign on your lawn, because you are broadcasting your opinion wherever you travel, among people who may or may not share your views. If I get tail-gated, sometimes I wonder if it is because a bumper sticker that says Madame President, indicating my preference for a female leader? Or perhaps someone who might not want to Shop Local Farmers Markets? But I never used my Is it Fascism Yet? on my car because to me, it was too strong, too close to a truth that I did not want to acknowledge yet.

But now fascism has been nipping even closer at our heels. When a people can no longer trust that an election is a fair determination of a government because members of one party decide to brazenly lie and disregard the people’s choice, as these officious Republican sentatores and Congress members did even after they dove for their lives in a seige by Neo-nazis and White Supremists in the Capitol, then perhaps we are losing our democracy. We live with certain truths in our culture: if you are a person of color, you are more likely to be suspected of criminal intent. How many times have I been watched closely or followed in shops because as a person of color, obviously I might be a shoplifter? How often have I encountered micro-aggressions and patronization in daily encounters at work or as a neighbor because of my color? Too many times to count. Yet I never believed that my vote might be counted and then subject to an outright lie.

I was relieved to read Timothy Snyder’s essay in the New York Times last night, and I hope you read it too. It is a clear analysis of just where we are, and how we got here. I don’t know what will happen on the road to the 20th of a January, or even in the first 100 days. I tend more to optimism generally, because my other choice, dread, is not very useful. I do hope that sense overcomes sensibility, that reason throws a light to follow. There is so much more at stake now with a pandemic and inequality.

These last days of 2020

It was supposed to be the year of balnce, the score for perfect vision, when things universally might be righted, adjusted. Instead, it was a another thing entirely: plague year; contagion from Covid-19. And now the last days drag by, darkening at four-ish, though the solistice means we are getting a minute more of daylight each day.

Mostly, I looked out my window. In February, I’d planned to be in Paris with a group. Instead, I lingered at my balcony window, and watched three successive nestings of a pair of industrious mourning doves. I watched the hummingbirds run riot over a pot of Wendy’s Wish salvia planted with Love and Kisses. I read an awful lot and then I began to watch an awful lot of tv. I logged seven hours one winter night with Scandinavian drama lightened by Danish seaside comedy. I forced myself reluctantly to venture outside and snap a picture of something other than my balcony–which in reality is several inches deep of metal , only a few steps away from an old-fashioned fire escape.

I mostly hung out with myself, zoomed a little, taught one class, revised an old manuscript, made a few more inches in another. I read The Guardian online at least four times a day; the NYT a little less. I learned to make radio from home, and was relieved to go back to the station, albeit with a mask, and a lot of hand sanitizer. Meeting distantly with friends was a rare joy; my radius became much, much smaller.

Yet I wish you could see the way my Christmas lights shine in a reflection out my window. This year, I relented and ordered a proper set which proved easy to hang. they twinkle like little gold stars in crooked lines. A neighbor has set up a neat gizmo that projects lights onto the trees, so we can pretend a little as the trees glitter with magic.

I don’t know when and how things will ease up as they must. The vaccine will be available for eveyone’s use around the same time Apple releases a new macbook Pro, I think, sometime in the fall. I read about four hundred British tourists sneaking out of their quarantine hotel and instagramming their so-called success, but most definitely selfishness. I find I have less tolerance these days of containment for human foibles. Yet as I type, that news has become already several days old, and I am not as invested in it anymore. Meanwhile, real refugees are turned away or taken to remote islands like lepers. We hardly ever really change, do we?

Yet such a happy surprise when something does change for the better. Small steps, little joys, lighting our way out of caves and dens.

Indira Ganesan, Summer hummingbirds, 2020