Grieve Christina with Care

Christina Taylor Greene, born at 12:50 p.m. on September 11, 2001; died at 10:10 a.m. on January 8, 2011.

Dear Christina,

I wanted to talk to you before you become a face on plastic amulets in our convenience stores, before the struggle over the meaning of your birth, life and death becomes a fight over political territory. I know I am appropriating your birth and death for myself. I do it with good intentions and in the hope that it would make you happy.

You were born in a moment of your nation’s despair, hatred, fear and rage. You knew none of that but you, as all of us, have lived in its grip for your whole life. It sounds as though your family didn’t let it hold you too hard. You were life for them when their country-people focussed on death. You were beauty and innocence and, little doubt, hope. Someone even put your face in a book called Faces of Hope, so you became a symbol for a larger circle of people than those who knew you and nurtured you.

That circle has failed you, Christina. Perhaps against our own wills we allowed your birth and the nourishment of your young life to be overtaken by our own selfish wishes for revenge, our desire to take back our own innocence by force, by our anger and rage and childishness. We moved from the terrible day of your birth too quickly, forgetting to mourn, forgetting what mourning means. We stayed in our rage and bitterness too long and polluted your environment so that it could no longer sustain you. We are famous for making this kind of mistake.

In the time since you were born we have killed many children like you. We thought we were doing that to protect you, so that you could grow up whole and strong and give us those gifts I see in your eyes. We forgot how easily and quickly we could destroy those gifts if we didn’t prepare ourselves to accept them.

We grew scabs over the pain caused us on the day of your birth. But they were scabs made of fear and a need for retribution and they allowed poisons to fester beneath them. We allowed our wounds to become fuel for violence. We have spent years spitting at each other. For all that I am against war and for peace, people have felt my spit on their faces too, I have been in such a rage about the killing. I know I am part of what killed you.

Yesterday, you went to hear and see Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords because you were interested in the workings of government and your curiosity caused a neighbour to invite you to meet her. Your interest, your neighbour’s interest in you, these are such good things. But we didn’t give you a good or safe place to explore your interests and curiosities. We gave you adults shouting inanities back and forth. We gave you insulting and hurtful and painful chatter. We made fun of people who called the rhetoric hurtful and insulting. We gave you words as weapons and vehicles to carry the poison of those festering injuries we sustained back on the day you were born. And long before that.

I’m not a romantic or an idealist, Christina. It’s become very difficult to say the words “all you need is love” and be taken seriously. Perhaps because we have never really understood what we meant when we said those words. Maybe we thought those words just meant “don’t worry, be happy”. Though even that is hardly a bad thing.

We seem to have forgotten that wise women and men (and children) have pondered the meaning of those words for centuries and only understood them fleetingly and through a dark glass. We don’t think those words are “useful” in “real” life which is harsh and hard and technical and practical and scientific and rational and emotionless. Many people sneer at those words, Christina, and think they are nice enough in a song but of no useful significance. Others think they can use them in their churches and synagogues and mosques and decide what they mean in those limited places and forget what it means to bring them out into the world – the real world that often doesn’t look as though it was made for love but was.

I’ve had a bad year myself, Christina. I watched a livestream of some very vengeful men hurting some peace-loving, gift-bearing people on a ship bound for a place called Gaza and it affected me profoundly even though I wasn’t quite sure how. I watched a bunch of vengeful men, and probably some women, intimidate, corral, beat and imprison some friends of mine in Toronto and it affected me profoundly even though I wasn’t quite sure how. It has seemed in the past year that everything I’ve always worked for and towards was in tatters and that the world was going from bad to worse. I wondered if there was anything I could really hope for, or in, any more. I’ve been pretty angry and have often felt embittered. I use that word, “embittered”, because I felt someone made me bitter, I didn’t take responsibility for choosing bitterness. That was dumb of me. I take that back. I am not bitter, I was just being stupid for awhile. You have caused me to wake up a bit.

I want this bad death that has been inflicted upon you by all of us to lead to something better, if not something good. Like a world where kids can admire and respect and actually learn some wisdom from their elders because their elders have taken the trouble to be respectable and wise. A world where it’s actually sensible to participate in the ways we govern and nurture ourselves and look after others because we do our best at it and respect ourselves and others who try. Hey Christina – a world in which we’ve taken the trouble to know ourselves and understand what a good life might be and care enough to work for it. If we got that for ourselves, if we thought enough of ourselves to demand it, we wouldn’t be able to help being good to each other, because that’s what being good to each other requires.

We need to grieve you now, child. I admit, I’m trying to get on the grief bandwagon here quickly and take over. I know I’m going to be angered by the way your death gets exploited and people tread either too hard or too lightly on your life and its meaning. I know I’m going to get it wrong too. I just hope I can stay committed to a gentle path of grieving you, one on which I don’t cling too hard and fast to anything in particular and don’t respond too nastily to others who think they know what you meant and what you mean. I do think I know something though. I’ll try to hold onto it and share it, in your honour, without wearing my rage.

You are so beautiful. I’m glad to know you. And so sad you are gone.

Canada in Afghanistan

From Graeme Wood at The National:

Over the last three years, the Canadian military and Afghan security forces have fought the Taliban to a bloody stalemate. The Afghan police and army routinely drive over roadside bombs on Highway One, Zhari’s main road, which is bumpy with filled-in craters. In Zhari’s villages (there is no settlement larger than a cluster of a few war-demolished mud buildings), insurgents mount ambushes nearly every day. The Canadians, for their part, have tried to fight the war cleanly, with at times absurd levels of attention to law and rules of engagement. And despite being a modern and impressive fighting force, with armoured vehicles and innovative counterinsurgency tactics, they have died at a rate alarming even for a war zone – over 100 since 2001, in a force of only 2,500 (many of whom are not in combat roles). That death rate exceeds not only the US death rate in Afghanistan, but also the US death rate in Iraq.   [more]

To say that it is far from clear either what Canadian troops are doing in Afghanistan or whether they are even approaching meeting their goals is obvious.  I’m outraged that Canadians are dying at a greater rate than Americans in Iraq though.  Whose war is this?

Read this whole article – it’s clear that the writer thinks that Canadian troops follow the law in a way that’s not for their own good.  I, for one, am glad that is the perception.  Surely it’s the very least we can do?

But why are Canadian and Afghan soldiers and civilians dying?  Why do we have to wait till 2011 to get out.  Who knows what harm Obama can cause between now and then by revving up the war with fresh American troops, as he seems intent on doing.

via 3 quarks daily

Hortense Calisher

The Fiction of Hortense Calisher by Kathleen Snodgrass (Google Books)

Calisher at The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation

Works of Hortense Calisher at the Authors Guild

Calisher’s political activism – co-signed letters to NYRB

Joyce Carol Oates reviewing Calisher’s novel, The Mysteries of Motion:

“Mysteries of Motion” is remarkable in its scrupulous attention to the details, both technological and psychological, of space flight: the sensations of liftoff and an attempted docking; the malaise of nongravity (“Now we desert into an element where the body can never be quite natural again”); the finicky attention to food, drink, hot water, comfort; the commingled wonder, apprehension, excitement, boredom; the necessary claustrophobic focusing upon one’s fellow travelers. Space travel begins to seem not at all visionary but merely practical, inevitable. Earth as the humanists would know it is finished. Gilpin wonders, as we do, “why even ordinary citizens still relegated so much of what was happening in the world to science fiction. They themselves were fiction, to the scientists.”

As the fated Citizen Courier approaches its destination—as the novel confronts its series of surprising climaxes—Miss Calisher’s prose becomes increasingly economic, urgent, surrealistic. Only one passenger goes mad, but all share in the hallucinatory nature of their predicament. As the novel ends, a mechanical failure prevents the spaceship’s landing. It orbits the space habitat, its passengers awaiting rescue, futilely or not they cannot know. Gilpin broods over the arcane term “Psychopannychy … All-night sleep of the soul; a state in which (according to some) the soul sleeps between death and the day of judgment.” Terror and optimism alternate. Gilpin’s logbook is addressed to us in increasingly incoherent language (“broken time, broken language, broken lives always fusing—breaking the mold?”). Long after the journey has ended for the reader, the Citizen Courier’s eloquent voices linger in the mind, haunting and prophetic. “If we are not dead—we are forestalled,” Gilpin observes, speaking, it might be surmised, for us all.

“Are we the country behind you, or the one before?” Gilpin asks rhetorically at the end of the novel and (perhaps) the end of his life. These voyagers set out in search of an ideal, a new civilization. And the fact that they find it difficult, as we all no doubt would, to abandon their earthly concerns, does not in Miss Calisher’s mind diminish the heroism of their attempt.

“Mysteries of Motion” is as demanding a novel as Miss Calisher’s “False Entry” and “The New Yorkers,” but its rewards are well worth the effort.   [more]

 

From Holcombe B. Noble at the New York Times:

Hortense Calisher, the novelist and short-story writer whose unpredictable turns of phrase, intellectually challenging fictional situations and complex plots captivated and puzzled readers for a half-century, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. She was 97 and lived in Manhattan.  [more]

W.D. Snodgrass

Heart’s Needle

1
Child of my winter, born
When the new fallen soldiers froze
In Asia’s steep ravines and fouled the snows,
When I was torn

By love I could not still,
By fear that silenced my cramped mind
To that cold war where, lost, I could not find
My peace in my will,

All those days we could keep
Your mind a landscape of new snow
Where the chilled tenant-farmer finds, below,
His fields asleep

In their smooth covering, white
As quilts to warm the resting bed
Of birth or pain, spotless as paper spread
For me to write,

And thinks: Here lies my land
Unmarked by agony, the lean foot
Of the weasel tracking, the thick trapper’s boot;
And I have planned

My chances to restrain
The torments of demented summer or
Increase the deepening harvest here before
It snows again.

[more]

W.D. Snodgrass

I mourn his passing.

via Silliman’s Blog

“A Mother From Gaza” Reports

From blogger A Mother From Gaza:

The rains of death continue to fall in Gaza. And silently, we watch. and silently, governments plotted: how shall we make the thunder and clouds rain death onto Gaza? Egypt; the United States; Israel…

And it will all seem, in the end of the day, that they are somehow a response to something. As though the situation were not only acceptable- but normal, stable, in the period prior to whatever this is a response to. As though settlements did not continue to expand; walls did not continue to extend and choke lands and lives; families and friends were not dislocated; life was not paralyzed; people were not exterminated; borders were not sealed and food and light and fuel were in fair supply.

But it is the prisoners’ burden to bear: they broke the conditions of their incarceration. They deviated. But nevertheless, there are concerns for the “humanitarian situation”: as long as they do not starve, everything is ok. Replenish the wheat stocks immediately.

The warden improves the living conditions now and then, in varying degrees of relatively, but the prison doors remain sealed. And so when there are 20 hours of power outages in a row, the prisoners wish that they were only 8; or 10; and dream of the days of 4.

Read her posts here