Friday, May 13, 2011

Pointless Blogging = Pointless Politics = Pointless Running

I was working on a post about my favorite topic - despair and its antidotes, and I ran into a post entitled "How Running a Marathon Is a Lot Like Being a Small Blogger" (and to Roxana, the author of that post, I can only say, you don't know what a "small blogger" really is - compared to me, you're HuffPo).

Check it out. It's brilliant. It completely changed what I was going to write.

She compares being a small "niche" blogger to being one of the people in the pack at the Boston Marathon - you do it for your own reasons, not to "win." I think that analogy is equally applicable to being a habitual protester/leftist decryer of the status quo.

The problem is that the awareness of how true that is, which has been good enough for me lo, these many years, is wearing thin.

A friend recently recommended the book How I Became a Famous Novelist. She said it was so much more than she expected, and that's why reading it was such a joy. She contrasted it with the much-hyped The Help, which she found so much less than it should have been. I think what I'm experiencing now is the activist version of her reading experience.

It's not that I suddenly need or expect to be effective. It's just that right at this moment, being the gnat buzzing around people's eyes for a minute on their way to Starbuck's is so much less than we could be, it's too depressing to keep doing it. For most of my activist life, people on the left have been predicting that our economy and environment were on the verge of collapse, and that when that happened, capitalism and imperialism would inevitably fall and a more caring form of social organization would take its place. At the same time that I was skeptical of those assumptions, I did take it for granted that the purpose of our organizing was to position ourselves to move into the void created by the capitalist elite fleeing to the Cayman Islands or wherever they've stashed their loot. But now the crash has come and the Tea Party has moved in to exploit it for the benefit of the same monied interests they pretend to oppose, and we, the left, are doing -- what? A few tepid demonstrations and a lawsuit or two. A couple good occupations of state capitols, a recall initiative in Wisconsin.

I am going to a demonstration after work today to save education in California. But what does it even mean to "save" a system that is already so broken, that it has the highest teacher-student ratio in the fifty states? Why are we demonstrating only to save education while health care and welfare and in-home support services for disabled people are also decimated? Simple: because the teachers' union doesn't represent the nurses or the IHSS workers, and no one represents the patients or the women who depend on CalWorks to feed themselves and their kids. Why won't any of my coworkers, many of whom are parents and nearly all of whom are products of California public schools, go to the demonstration? Simple: because no one asked them to, because no one thinks they really will.

Because no one thinks we can really win. Everyone knows that in order to win the crash, we need to unify and bring out everyone, professional workers and clerical workers and low-waged workers and unemployed and homeless and housed, union and nonunion, teachers, students, nurses, patients, people who don't come to demonstrations because they're busy writing grants for their nonprofits and people who don't come because they're home taking care of their elderly parents and people who don't come because they're out buying iPad2s.

Or because they're busy massaging their little blogs or running marathons they know they are not going to win.

My question is, when and how does the person 2/3 of the way back in the marathon suddenly get the idea that they could win if they acted like they could? I watch a lot of tennis and every now and then there's a player who's been plodding along year after year, getting to the quarterfinals or the semis now and then, who all of a sudden breaks through and wins a big tournament and before you know it they're #2 in the world. It happened to Patrick Rafter and Vera Zvonareva. And they were the same players the day before they won their first big tournament and the day after. They didn't get implants or something that enabled them to hit harder or run faster. They worked out, sure, but they'd been hard workers for years. They obviously always had the talent to win, and god knows, they always had the desire to win, but they didn't have the belief they could win. And for some reason, one day they did and after that they believed it because they had done it.

One big thing these sports stars have going for them is coaching. They have someone they are paying to be in their corner, to keep yelling "You Can Do It" from the sidelines. So maybe I'll take up a collection to hire a John Madden for the social justice movement.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

3.5 Weeks In Paradise

I recently returned from almost four weeks at Hedgebrook, a women's writer's retreat on Whidbey Island in Washington State. The opportunity to spend that time engaging deeply with my own writing and other women writers was truly one of the most magical that I have ever had. I feel it changed me a lot, especially changed my relationship to writing and made me take myself more seriously as a writer. I had a lot of time and space to reflect on the purpose of writing and to remember that writing really does, at its core, change the world. (Hedgebrook's tag line is "Women Authoring Change.")

It was really special to be in a place that has nurtured the creative spirit of giants of women's writing, like Gloria Anzaldua and Adrienne Rich. To read the journal entries left by Sheila Ortiz Taylor, Gloria Steinem and Ursula LeGuin, and feel that by leaving my own entry I was in a tiny way blending my voice with theirs to make a great writer's soup to nourish the women who come after me. I was privileged to meet some amazing writers, whose work and friendship I will cherish always, and to find a kindred spirit in a local woman who offered to take me to lunch one day.

I have never written so deeply or with so much joy. I wrote pages and pages most days, without even noticing the passage of time. I was gifted with that precious experience I've heard of but never really believed in - where I felt I was watching my story unfold and only had to write it down. We will see what comes of it in terms of representation, publication and readership - the forms of outward success. But the inward success of knowing I did the best writing I could do, finding characters whose company I enjoyed, who whispered to me not only what needed to happen in my current book but where they (think they) want to go next - that no one can ever take from me and I thank Hedgebrook so so much for choosing me and Murder Under the Fig Tree for this adventure.

Check out my photos.

The website is for any woman writer (and writing is construed pretty broadly - the woman who took over my cottage was a very talented songwriter I went to hear the other night at a local club) who might want to apply in the future. The application deadline is in September for the year. And even though I know everyone is stretched in terms of donations, if you want to nurture women's creativity and bring out the voices of women hungry for change, please think about adding Hedgebrook to the organizations you support.