So, is our moment over? After George Floyd’s murder and the wave of online and offline outrage, are we just supposed to stop talking about racism now? That’s certainly what the social media algorithms seem to suggest. Suppression of Black voices seems to happen on every social media platform, but two of the most recent examples have been on LinkedIn and Facebook.
I met Sharon Hurley Hall online years ago on a blogging site that’s long since faded away. For a while, a group of us who are writers formed our own, online critique group. Sharon focuses on providing content for businesses. She also has a new project, her anti-racism newsletter. That newsletter contains some of the best anti-racism writing I’ve ever seen.
It’s well thought out, on point, and provides food for thought in these troubled times that we can trust as being fair, reasonable, and accurate. Like this article, that newsletter (which has both free and paid subscriptions) provides the words of wisdom we need as we watch the news and see the protests in major cities.
As she suggests in this article, take a look at what’s happening on Facebook and other social media sites and draw your own conclusions about whether or not anti-racism posts and conversations are being allowed, placed at the bottom of the stack, or blocked. The last thing we need to do is cut off communication.
In real life, I’m staying inside a lot, wearing a mask when I go shopping, taking a car with 81,000 miles on it to the shop, and constantly mowing our four acres of grass. Yesterday’s mowing, at 95 degrees and sunny, featured cows staring at me from the pasture on the other side of the barbed wire fence, unconcerned about the noise of the riding mower but startled and watchful the minute I sneezed. All of this seems far away from the protests and the pandemic.
Re-reading old books
I read fast. Always out of books. So, trying to cut down on my book-buying habit by re-reading old books. I just finished re-reading John Hart’s gritty The Last Child and The Hush set in a small town in a rural county where bad things happen. Now I’m re-reading Lisa See’s China Dolls, set in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It features three young women who become friends while seeking dancing/singing careers. These books contrast greatly with Dark Arrows, my novel in progress, which is set in the KKK-infested Florida Panhandle where I grew up. I have to re-boot my brain when I switch genres–or watch the news.
Pandemic and Protests
As far as I know, I haven’t gotten Covid-19. Nor have I seen protests, looting, attacks against the police, and burning stores on nearby streets. This is, of course, real-life, but as it unfolds on social media and on the news, I feel culture shock again as though I’m looking back to the anti-war protests and race riots of the 1960s. The entire country seems to be torn apart by the multiple issues which we’re confronted with daily. Meanwhile, the Presidential campaign has heated up and we’re all trying to figure out what’s true and what’s an empty (or impossible) promise.
I’ve lived in Chicago, Atlanta, and San Francisco: thank goodness I don’t live in those cities now, much less in Minneapolis (where I once wanted to live) or Portland (where one of my brothers lives). Or St. Louis, Seattle, or NYC. The riot in Atlanta where the Wendys burnt down occurred in an area my wife and I drove through frequently when we worked there and were involved in a non-profit organization that met a few blocks away.
I don’t know where all of this is going to end up, but the polarization and lack of tolerance bother me a lot. So, I continue to read, write, and cut the grass, and when I see images of big cities on fire, I remember a 1960s riot several blocks away from my San Francisco apartment on Dolores Street in the Mission District, and I feel sad for those who are pulled into the horror of protests gone bad. Seeing it all again is the worst of culture shocks.
Witches ladders are made by tying a series of knots in thread, yarn, or some other material and that include, at each knot, a feather, a strand of human hair, leaf, jewelry, pine cone or object that symbolizes the purposes of the ladder. The purpose is generally the creation of a spell or a meditation.
The ladders are known to have been around since the 1870s, but I suspect practitioners of the craft have used them for centuries. Typically, one sings, chants, or recites a specific of general spell element with the tying of each knot. A “simple” ladder often has nine knots and often uses this chant:
By knot of one, the spell’s begun. By knot of two, the magic comes true. By knot of three, so it shall be. By knot of four, this power is stored. By knot of five, my will shall drive. By knot of six, the spell I fix. By knot of seven, the future I leaven. By knot of eight, my will be fate. By knot of nine, what is done is mine.
Anyone with patience or the slightest affinity for arts and crafts can make a witch’s ladder, though the example shown here from the Wikipedia article probably shouldn’t be the first one attempted. However, a properly done witch’s ladder is not really simple because for the spell or meditation to manifest, the creator of the ladder must have strong faith/conviction the spell/mediation will work, must maintain a powerful focus upon each knot, and then do nothing to doubt the power of the ladder and the intentions behind it once it’s been completed.
Those who have read this blog for years know that I’m not a big fan of affirmations, statements one repeats daily with the belief that this repetition will bring changes into their consciousness and then into our consensual reality. Émile Coué (1857-1926) was a proponent of this so-called “self-suggestion” and is probably best known for the affirmation “Day by day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”
Yes, I think affirmations–like the steps in a witch’s ladder–can work if they are not recited more or less by rote and if we live the affirmations after making them. That is, we activate them by doing something in our lives (even symbolically) in support of the statements. That is, if–in the moments before you fall asleep–you say “Day by day, in every way, I’m getting better and better,” then you aren’t really living that self-suggestion if you continue to smoke a pack of Marlboros and drink a quart of whiskey every day while thinking little or nothing about what you would look like or act like or think like if you became better.
So much of what we say and do when confronted with the need for change–as protests around the nation are bringing to our attention–is often (as people have said) little more than lip service to new ideas or a BAND-AID® applied to an old and festering problem. Saying to the protesters (in person or figuratively), “my thoughts and prayers are with you” is meaningless unless you focus your intent and will power on those thoughts and prayers and then take positive action to back up your intentions.
The real witch’s ladder is not simple, though it need not be considered too complex to utilize effectively. Yet, the ladder is simple if the alternative is doing nothing. The trick, if there is one, is living as though the spell/mediation has come to pass even before you see it with your physical eyes.
Uncle Hugo’s, the oldest independent science fiction and fantasy bookstore in the US founded in 1974, burned down during the recent riots protesting police brutality and racism in the wake of the shocking death of George Floyd during a police arrest in Minneapolis.
I suspect outside agitators rather than protesters did this. Apparently, no police were present. On TV shows, the cops find the perpetrators via recordings from traffic and security cameras. That probably won’t happen here or at any of the other stores looted or burnt and watched live by 24-hour news station viewers.
The irony, of course, is the number of black-owned businesses that have gone up in flames: not exactly a plus for the Black community is it?
And indeed there will be time To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?” Time to turn back and descend the stair, With a bald spot in the middle of my hair – (They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”) My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin – (They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”) Do I dare Disturb the universe? In a minute there is time For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
Julia “Butterfly” Hill disturbed the universe for 738 days by sitting in a 1,500 redwood tree from December 1997 to December 1999 to keep the 180-foot tree from being cut down. Her efforts saved the tree. Though many people, including those who agreed with her, said she was carrying her protest to an extreme level, the very nature of what she did attracted attention, garnered support, and that resulted in an agreement that saved the tree. In spite of one attack by morons with a chainsaw, the tree is carrying on its long life.
Most of us wouldn’t have done that because when all was said and done, the practical ramifications of sitting in a tree for two years would have probably made us unemployable, not to mention the loss of income that would have bankrupted us. There is so much noise in the world, that it’s hard to know what any of us can do or say to disturb the universe enough to make a difference. Today, authors hear that “it” is all about “platform.” One has to have a “platform” filled with Facebook and Twitter and blogs and Pinterest and LinkedIn to have any hope of seeling books. The trouble is, everyone else is out there in the same social media trying to sell their books. It’s hard not to get lost in the crowd.
Anyone who wants to follow his or her beliefs and passions and work for meaningful change is likely to feel just like the writers who are trying to sell their books: what must I say or do to be heard? Fortunately, there are many organizations we can associate with that will help us be heard as part of a group. If you want to fight to save redwoods, for example, you can join the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, the National Parks and Conservation Association and many other groups. Many of them want hands-on help as well as your donations and your help in letter-writing campaigns.
In 1967, I came within several breaths of going to Sweden to avoid being drafted and forced to participate in a war I did not support. I had the means and the opportunity. The reasons why I didn’t are both complex and unclear, but within the context of this blog, my leaving the U.S. (and being banned from coming home for many years) would not have changed U.S. policy in Vietnam. If I had been famous, perhaps living in Göteborg might have either changed a few people’s minds or convinced everyone who knew me that I was nuts.
It’s a hard call, I think, to figure out the difference between running away and leaving because you cannot accept what your country, town, company or organization is doing. I absolutely cannot accept the United States’ policy of using drones to kill people it doesn’t like in foreign countries. In my view, that is unconstitutional and in violation of international law. This practice hasn’t been discussed very much in the Presidential race because few people are upset enough about it to disturb the universe. And, like those of us who have considered sitting in trees or moving to Sweden, we’re more likely to scuttle our own universes rather than impacting the national debate.
I would like to disturb the universe when it comes to the use of drones in sovereign foreign countries, the spying on Americans done with little uproar based on so-called “security reasons,” the mistreatment of the environment, the intrusion by governments and religious groups into a woman’s personal rights, and a dozen or so other issues. But I never quite know how.
The Quiet Approach
Whenever my frustrations about issues get too strong, I use every relaxation technique I know to pull myself back into what I believe is an essential truth: as Joseph Campbell said “We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”
Seriously, we’re not burying our heads in the sand when we admit that we cannot save the world. While some people will make very noticeable positive impacts, most of us will have to take a quieter approach. Perhaps we’ll donate some money to Planned Parenthood or we’ll add our name to a petition about oil pipelines through sacred Indian lands or we’ll spend the weekend with a volunteer group that’s clearing brush and deadfalls off a national forest or national park trail.
And who knows, there the ripples from such quiet actions influence. The universe we must dare to disturb, I think, is ourselves. Are we following our beliefs? Good, then doing so may impact a friend and then a neighborhood and after that, who knows who will step aside from their busy day-to-day life to help. We’ll probably never meet the people we influence, but that doesn’t matter. We won’t have a page in wikipedia that tells the world who we are and what we did. That doesn’t matter either.
The hardest thing is, perhaps, that first step. Are we following our beliefs? If not, we need to disturb ourselves greatly. Once that happens, the universe that matters will never be the same again.