Readers!

Please enjoy these blogposts, written between 2011 and 2015. Find newer posts soon at my forthcoming blog, Revolutionary Time.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Talk to You Later

After noticing that I wrote the name of (deceased) Senator Daniel Inouye in my last blog instead of James Inhofe, a mistake I've corrected, I've decided to take a break from these occasional blogs. My heart has been in them, but my mind has been on the road.

I'm writing fiction again, which was the goal of this last year of traveling around doing weird things. I liked the weird things. The weird things have restored me, and I will probably keep doing them. But the point was to rediscover the compulsion to tell stories that has made my life coherent in the past and will again. That train has at last reached the station.

Many thanks to my readers, whether friends or strangers.

Jo Ann

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A comforting, though dumb, idea

Last Thursday, after the pope addressed the U.S. Congress, I wrote on my Facebook page, "Pope Francis is definitely not a shit head. May the rest of us rise above shit-headedness as well." What I meant was, maybe we can lower the walls a little, take a few rows of bricks off the top. Maybe we can stop pointing our megaphones at the people on the other side, who may share none of our views but may also be members of our families, or our neighbors, or that woman at the drive-up window who doesn't disappear for ten minutes into the bowels of the bank when all you want to do is make a deposit. Maybe we can all take a deep breath, and just, you know, try to listen to each other. Maybe if we don't yell at him so much, Senator James Inhofe, for example, will read the IPCC report--just out of curiosity, just to see what all the fuss is about climate change.

Mike Huckabee at left, not the pope
Then the Pope met with Kim Price. Reportedly, he gave her a rosary and told her to "be strong." Price is not Catholic, so I wonder about the rosary. I wonder why he kept this appointment at all. Maybe he was given bad information by his staff, or (as some are already saying) by the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops. It doesn't really matter. He met with her, and now he's over for a lot of us. I feel like crying.

Gay marriage is no longer a matter of religious conscience. It's the law. (For the record, my religious conscience led me to participate in church-sponsored LGBT sacred unions 15 years ago.) But isn't obeying your superior officer on the battlefield also the law? Yet once in a while a soldier says nope, I've had enough, I'm not going to shoot at even one more person. The result is that many of us welcome her home and take up a collection for her defense. What's the difference between Kim Price and this soldier? For me the difference is that the soldier is choosing not to take a life, or royally mess one up, while Price is choosing the opposite course. She says she gets to mess up two lives because God tells her to.

For a few months I thought that some of the fair and generous people of the world had found a sort of leader in Pope Francis. It was a comforting, though dumb, idea. The Roman Catholic hierarchy is never going to prioritize ending poverty over freaking out about sex. James Inhofe and friends are never going to change their minds about climate change. The wall between us and them will still be standing when all of us are dead from heat and hunger and endless arguing. And blogging. Endless blogging. Truly a waste of time.



Friday, August 28, 2015

Ireland, Part 2: Brighid and St. Brigid


"A river of tears is one of the strongest evidences of a 'crash and burn' initiation into the Scar Clan."-- Clarissa Pinkola Estes


Priestess Glenys of the glacial river valleys of the Pacific Northwest greets you. Glenys is my new name, by the way. It's Welsh and means from the glen. A glen is a narrow valley, sometimes a river valley. Baby name websites insist that Glenys also means fair, clean, and holy, but I just discovered that this morning when I woke up at 2:00 AM, still on Ireland time, and can't be held responsible for it. Keep all this under your hat for now, until I get used to it.

I am also one of the Daughters of Danu, the name my fellow initiates and I gave our circle, but if tears shed are proof of membership, I might also claim a place in Clarissa Pinkola Estes' Scar Clan.

Daughters of Danu. The words of each of these women are written on my heart.
I've been through something in the last year or two that recently culminated in a dismantling or even a disintegration. I've been sharing my efforts to renew myself in this blog. This time they've led me pretty far from what I know, into things I can't "be sure" of.

Some believe that before Ireland was settled by Celtic tribes, its women were in charge. At the very least it was matrilineal, meaning that kinship was traced through the mother's line. Even in Celtic times, women held a much higher place in society than in the Europe and European colonies of more recent history.

I haven't done enough reading about these topics to claim anything citable, and the evidence I do follow keeps realigning, but I sense in my depths that better ways of living existed in pre-agricultural and early agricultural communities, and that those better ways grew out of respect for the creative powers of the earth in her female likeness. Some of my reasons for saying this are new, from these months of bottoming out and climbing back up again. Some have been with me all my life.

1. History is written by the winners (including historians with tenured university jobs). So much of the history of women (including, for example, the witch burnings of the Middle Ages and early modern period) has been minimized, trivialized, or altogether buried that it's difficult to believe that "official" accounts are the gospel truth.

2. Human beings, according to high priestess Anyaa McAndrew, my teacher, are "meaning makers." We gaze into the past, we interpret the present, and we attempt to interrogate the future for stories, symbols, and practices that help us go on, or (if you're more optimistic than I am) thrive.

3. The gentle slopes and rounded hillocks of Ireland's West Coast (at least) demand female deities. The Celtic Christians saw this themselves, and instead of trying to exorcise the goddesses from Ireland, they"syncretized" these figures (attempted to combine or unite opposing principles) with Christian ones. 

The goddess Brighid, for example, was said to be one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, or children of the mother goddess Danu, identified with the land. Brighid is described by later figures such as William Butler Yeats's fellow folklorist Lady Augusta Gregory as "a woman of poetry, and poets worshipped her, for her sway was very great and very noble. And she was a woman of healing along with that, and a woman of smith's work, and it was she first made the whistle for calling one to another through the night."

Christians syncretized the goddess Brighid with St. Brigid, a nun of the fifth century who founded monastic communities, primarily of women, the most famous of which was in Kildare. Her feast day is February 1, chosen to coincide with the Gaelic festival of Imbolc, a "pagan" festival associated with the goddess Brighid.

I have said before that I don't know if I'm a Christian anymore. Sometimes I may have said that I'm definitely not. At least a few times, I've said that I probably still am. The religion you're raised in is a hard thing to abandon. And Christianity in particular has a beauty and depth that people who associate it with Westboro Baptist Church and Bob Jones University have no access to.

But Christianity alone is too wobbly a structure to rely on in these turning times. (I don't confuse it with Jesus himself.) The tree of my faith needs deeper roots. I was moved beyond words to have the scars on my face and hand anointed by Anyaa with water from St. Brigid's well in Liscanor, near our retreat house. Brighid, I believe, was present in that water as well. (Thanks to Dragonfire for bringing it into our ceremony.)

"To live is to be marked," says Adah in Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible. My scars will fade with time, but they won't disappear. I wouldn't want them to. They are reminders that once I fell apart and was pulled from the underworld into the light by a group of wildly generous women and the goddesses standing behind them.

Altar at St. Brigid's Well in Liscanor

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ireland, Part 1: The Cliffs of Moher and Last Comments on Wales

Southern end of the Cliffs of Moher

I’m in Ireland now for ten days at a retreat house located up the hill from the Cliffs of Moher. I’d describe the area to my West Coast friends as the Mendocino beach stretched out, minus the fancy B&Bs and restaurants. The sea is generally gray-green in the distance (rather than the blue in the photo above), and the slow slope uphill from the cliffs is dotted with cows and modest, stucco'ed homes painted pale colors. It’s usually cloudy, sometimes foggy, but occasional sun breaks through and lights up the houses. Narrow roads lead up to where I am staying, among women, making new friends. We’re on a secret mission here.

My face is healing fast, and I’ve just had a massage. I’m drinking lots of water and eating vegetarian food. I’m very well. (Special note to my daughter: I’m really very well.)

I want to share a bit more of what I learned from my classmates in Wales about tackling climate change in writing. Tackling is not the right word. (It is in fact a sports metaphor, God help me.) I’d say now including or, a bit more precisely, being transparent to climate change.

Below are some of the approaches my classmates and our instructor in fiction, Jay Griffiths, are taking or have taken in their writing. I’m hinting here at possibilities, being careful, I hope, not to give away any of the magic.

An imaginary landscape in which survivors face dire need, but their problems are quite different from those we are likely to encounter in the future.

A group of people trying to figure out how to live differently. Their histories and character flaws have everything to do with how they approach this challenge.

The last days of ease as related by a character who didn’t really believe these last days would come—sort of “The Death of Ivan Illyich” where death is general as well as personal.

Jay Griffiths’ A Love Letter from a Stray Moon (2014), in which the earth is seen from a point of view that is a unique melding of the imagined minds of Frida Kahlo and the moon.

A letter addressed from the future to a friend or relative living in the past, before massive change began to take place.

A big thank you to the kind and brilliant people I met in Wales.



                      

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Some Considerations When Telling It Slant or Otherwise

Our two teachers at Ty Newydd--Robert Minhinnick and Jay Griffiths--offered us welcome reminders about what makes good writing and new ways to think and write about a world suffering from climate change.
Minhinnick's New and Selected Poems 

Minhinnick's and Griffiths' work and teaching:

Minhinnick has made a lifetime commitment to both climate activism and poetry. He has been called "the leading Welsh poet of his generation." You can hear some of his poems here and at other sites online. He has also published essays and, more recently, fiction. In his teaching, he emphasized such fundamentals as including detail, the more particular the better, making full use of our memories, and letting strong diction stand alone, without modifiers.


Griffiths is better known in the U.S., partly because of her columns in the magazine Orion. Her book Wild: An Elemental Journey (not to be confused with Cheryl Strayed's Wild) is a memoir about visiting some of the last wild places on earth and an argument for leaving them that way. Some of her other works: A Sideways Look at Time, and Kith, about the modern child's need to meet nature unmediated. A paperback version of Kith will be published soon in the U.S as A Country Called Childhood: Children and the Exuberant World.

Her teaching of fundamentals centered on point of view--how what is seen changes according to who is seeing it--and on something she calls a work-in-development's arrowhead, where its focus is, where it is tending. The arrowhead of A Sideways Look at Time, for example, was the "politics of time." Jay wrote those words on an index card. In fiction, she said, finding the arrowhead is easier. What does the protagonist want? What obstacles are in the way of her getting it?

In putting together a book of poetry, Minhinnick said, one keeps in mind a theme or controlling idea. He prefers individual poems, however, to avoid summing up, to gesture toward continuing. 

Writerly intention and tone when climate change is the subject: 

Griffiths led a discussion suggested by something one of us had said (it wasn't me--I'm not this smart), that climate-change writing, climate-change art, is the opposite of art about war. War poetry is a poetry of reproach, she said. It looks backwards.

Must climate change art look forward?

Minhinnick stressed that the earth, and even late-arriving humans, have already experienced climate change more than once. The difference this time, Griffiths argued, is that the climate change has been caused by us. It's anthropogenic. (Minhinnick: "That may be, but I don't want to see the word anthropogenic in a poem!") 

Should art about climate change also be about reproach?

One of the roles of being a writer is being a messenger, said Griffiths. 

Minhinnick reminded us of Auden's "September 1, 1939," which asserts that all a poet can do is warn: "All I have is a voice/To undo the folded lie." What we write about should contain an element of warning, Minhinnick added, just as long as it's not black and white, as long as it's not telegraphed.

I'm not sure which teacher offered the following, but I think it was Griffiths in the first case and Minhinnick in the second. 

Writers need to distinguish between the fire in the belly that makes us want to get something across because people need to hear it, and the fire in the belly that makes us want to say something because we want to, or need to.

It is always easier to change someone’s mind in the dark. When light is shined brightly on particular readers, they tend to hide.

Beliefs about climate change: 

I figured you would be curious about this.

Griffiths holds that we in the West will face trouble due to climate, but that an "honest calmness" is justified. We have the means to temper climate effects, unlike the poor inhabitants of countries like Bangladesh. Griffiths acknowledges the injustice of this: the West is largely responsible for climate change while the whole world suffers from it.

Minhinnick is optimistic, period. He offers no argument for his optimism beyond his resilient nature. I feel now that he might justifiably have quoted the last lines of "September 1, 1939":

May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

(My own views about climate change haven't altered much over the last couple of years. I believe climate change is accelerating toward catastrophe, and that few if any human beings will survive. If we act to minimize the damage, we'll have to do it soon. We know enough to move forward right now. More science may be helpful, but what is required is something else--a capacity for love and courage that might emerge from new stories, new art, and a new humility about our species.)


More to come

I learned almost as much from my fellow students as from my teachers about indirect approaches to writing about climate change. And I'd like to share Griffith's wisdom about my own sketchy thoughts about a book to come. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Telling It Not Slant


Climate change is not the only kind of disaster that could bring our species to an end (as it already has many of our fellow species), but its special genius is that it can generate other catastrophes—disease, war, starvation, thirst, mass migration, fire. 

I’m sure you’ve read more post-apocalyptic fiction than I have. Not all is modern. Mary Shelley’s novel The Last Man, for example, published in 1826 and set in the 21st century, follows well-born refugees who flee from a plague-ridden England to the European continent. But if you’re a science fiction fan—these days it’s often called speculative fiction—I know you’ve read a lot more futuristic tragedy than I have. I’m more interested in the near than the distant future, however. I’m afraid I won’t be strong enough to face it.  If I can write about it, if I can fully imagine characters who do face it, I might be able to locate what so many people, including my classmates in Wales, have found lacking in me, some small measure of hope, or maybe courage.

Firefighters today, 70 miles east of Sacramento, where I was born.*
Here are some thoughts I had during the workshop. We didn’t discuss them—I didn’t have the chance to bring them up--but we talked about plenty of other, slantier things. I’ll get to those.

Climate can function as the setting of a story.  Settings are traditionally about mood. A stormy climate on the one hand or a quietly dying planet on the other (food crops unable to survive, people and animals dropping off) would establish a different intensity of mood than the foggy streets or deep forests of fiction set in the present. Stories like this could be about love affairs, home invasions, the loss of fortunes, or just about anything else, with climate change pushing in around the edges, serving as a reminder, more potent than we’re used to, that life is short.

I can’t think of an example of this kind of book right now—can you?—but I believe it’s the kind I’d like to write.

Climate change can also be the engine of the story. This is the way it’s being used most often, as plot. The action is the characters' attempt to survive.

1)   The story can begin after a definitive catastrophe, as in The Road, Benjamin Percy’s new book, The Dead Lands, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, or James Kunstler’s A World Made by Hand.  A few human survivors must remain; otherwise, no story.

(But pick up The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, a nonfiction book that predicts in detail what the earth might look like and how it would change in our absence if humans died all at once.)

Survivors might be building new communities, as in Kunstler’s upstate New York, or living out their days in struggle, as in The Road.  In Station Eleven, the goal of the Shakespeare company whose exploits we follow is not just maintaining life, but transcending it. Its motto is “survival is insufficient.”

The world before these stories start is sometimes visited in flashback. In Station Eleven, the back story is only a quick hop away, achieved without a lot of explanation, since many of the characters were in the same place the night the epidemic began, at a performance of King Lear in Toronto. We get a sense of the lives they’ve led before the disaster by witnessing how they behave themselves right before trouble comes, and what they do when it strikes. After that they head off in different directions, coming together again, some of them, as fate (and the author) determines.

2)   The story can start now, or even twenty years ago, and move forward steadily into the near future. I’m happy to have an excuse to bring up one of my favorite books of the last few years: Lauren Groff’s Arcadia. Groff sets us down in an American commune formed in the 1960s, as seen through the eyes of one of its children. Over the course of the book, the older generation mostly dies off, and the kids have kids of their own. We see this second group of parents and children a few years from now, living in a city, after the commune has been mostly abandoned and when epidemic illness begins to take its toll. We see the land on the commune change, too.

What we don't see is some huge power struggle, some evil genius who's trying to take over the settlement, as in Kunstler's book and Percy's, even briefly in Mandel's. (Don't ask me about The Road. I've never had the guts to read it.)

The great thing about the strategy of stretching a timeline from now into the future is that when the characters are faced with hardship of a new kind, we already know how they faced previous challenges. We know them deeply.

More later.

Every commune needed one, but my friend Ruth owns one now. She drove me to the hospital in it. I think hers was made by Toyota. 


















*Photo credit: International Business Times


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Slanted Landings, revised

Many Brits greet you with the phrase, "You all right?" This is to allow a yes or no answer, rather than force you to consider a whole spectrum of responses. So a new English friend explained to me.

My first reaction to this greeting was to think, "Why? Don't I look all right?" But I answered yes, or I'm fine, or something like that, and passed the test. If I'd answered no, I suspect that someone in the vicinity would have offered to help. I say this because when I fell down the stairs in Wales the other night, landed on glass, and produced a great deal of blood--in other words, when I was not one bit all right--a whole squad of people hurried to help me.

I'll try to make this quick because I'm supposed to be discussing how to write slant about climate change. I'm going to do that, maybe tomorrow. I came away from the class with some ideas that, vague as they are, might ignite less vague ideas in you.

On the way up the slanted stairs to my room--the central structure of Ty Newydd is 600 years old and has its quirks--I lost my footing and somehow turned 180 degrees, or maybe I changed my mind about going up and turned on purpose to take my glass to the kitchen. I can't remember this moment very clearly. Either way, I tumbled down 8 carpeted stairs, landed on my face on the now broken glass I was carrying, and cut my face deeply over my nose. More blood than I've ever seen. The ambulance driver walked in and said, "Has there been a massacre in this house?"

By the time the National Health Service was finished with me, I had nine stitches over my nose, two in one finger, a very impressive black eye, and some scratches and bruises. But that was all. I was wearing my glasses, and I have to tell you that when the optician says "safety glass," he or she really means it. My glasses are bent beyond saving, but the lenses are 100% intact. I don't like to think what would have happened if they'd broken. Two of my stitches are a nanometer from the corner of my eye.

While the ambulance was on its way, one of my classmates, Ruth, the quietest among us, held me and collected the blood on towels, toilet paper, whatever the other women could find, as fast as they could find it. Others supported my back, gathered up my things, and so on. Then Ruth followed me in her van to the hospital, about 40 minutes away in Bangor, stayed up all night with me, and drove me home in the morning. Forget Queen Elizabeth. Ruth is Britain's true royalty. The others comprise her idiosyncratic family.

The NHS was slow but good, and charged me nothing. Imagine.

Everyone was very kind to me when I got back to the house. They didn't want me to be alone there on the weekend, and I think they made the right call. I wasn't moving very fast, and it would have been difficult to organize my meals, wash my bloody clothes, etc. Merryn did all these things for me.

My teacher, Jay Griffiths, invited me to spend the weekend at her house in South Wales, but I didn't think I could sit up for a two-hour car trip. As it turned out she had a breakdown on the way home. But how wonderful of her. 

I didn't stay at Ty Newydd for the second class I'd intended to take. I'm a troubling sight. I'm in Manchester now, holed up for a few days. I suppose I must have replaced all the blood I lost by now, but I still feel shaky. I'm wearing my sunglasses indoors and out. I avoid contact because I don't want any stranger to say, "You all right?" I'd be tempted to take my glasses off and tell the truth.

I've done some thinking about why this happened. I'd been up and down those warped stairs maybe 20 times before I fell. I knew they were "dodgy" (one of my favorite Brittisms). But I was also very tired, having done too much that day, walked too far, felt a wave of emotion during the workshop that morning that left me in tears, and drunk, over four hours' time, three small glasses of wine. I'd been feeling uncomfortable in the group, too. I was either the most pessimistic member when it came to climate change or the least in denial, and I felt a lot of pushback. I was also the only American. If you've done any traveling in the last, say, 50 years, you know what that can mean. We have pissed people off. A lot. Last but hardly least, the EMTs (I think they're called something else in Britain) commented that I was on a lot of medication--antidepressants, meds for restless leg and low thyroid. They blamed American doctors for this, but that was a stretch, I think. If anyone is to blame, it's me. Wine plus fatigue plus medication plus emotion plus slanty stairs equal a fall, I guess.  

A friend of mine, another kind of teacher, has suggested that my difficulties lately--I also had a car accident in June--may be about dealing with who I will be as the hardships of climate change accelerate. I'm undergoing some kind of spiritual transformation, she says, and I might as well surrender to it. It's out of my control anyway. She reminded me of the Buddhist saying, "When you're falling, dive."

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Learning to Tell It Slant in Wales

This year, as you know if you've been checking in with my infrequent blogposts, I'm willing to go just about anywhere if it will help break the logjam in my head. I'm in North Wales for the next two weeks, taking two consecutive writing workshops offered by Literature Wales. This week's workshop is "Telling It Slant: Writing about Climate Change," and the tutors (that's what instructors are called here) are Jay Griffiths and Robert Minhinnick.

View of Criccieth Castle and the sea
It wasn't easy to get here. I flew from Vancouver, British Columbia (just over the border from my home in Bellingham, Washington) to Heathrow, now a labyrinthine shopping mall as much as an airport. After schlepping my baggage from one terminal to another, I missed my connecting flight to Liverpool, flew to Manchester instead, then took a train to Liverpool. The following day I boarded another train to Wales, to the town of Criccieth, on the wrist of the Welsh hand that reaches into the Irish Sea.

Once the train reached the Welsh beaches, vacationers climbed on and off in droves. Because I'd transferred to this line in Shrewsbury, England, I hung onto my window seat all the way to Criccieth. Across from me sat an amateur painter who travels to Wales every summer. He filled me in on the landscape and the beach towns. He talked at length about Welsh history and politics. All was friendly until, near the end of the trip, I told him I was traveling to take a class on writing about climate change. His face, his diction, the tone of his voice immediately altered: "We may be experiencing climate change," he said, "but I can't believe we caused it." He wasn't so chatty after that, a reminder that approaching this subject directly still doesn't work with most people. Hence the second half of this workshop's title, "Telling It Slant," which is borrowed from the Emily Dickinson poem that begins, "Tell all the truth but tell it slant/Success in Circuit lies."

Literature Wales holds its classes, one at a time, ten students per class, in a beautiful old house called Ty Newydd. Room and board (lovely food!) are included in the cost. I don't know yet how to write at a slant about climate change. In a day or two, I hope to have at least a clue.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Grieving

I spent the weekend before the Charleston church shooting in Providence, Rhode Island, attending a grief workshop facilitated by Carolyn Baker. Carolyn led us in a ritual in the West African tradition of Malidoma and Subonfu Some.
My beautiful teacher, Carolyn Baker.

One way Carolyn readied us for grieving was to tell us folktales while drumming. She usually began with something like "a long time ago or a short time ago or whatever time it was." Right away, because I couldn't place the story in time, I--I'll speak only for myself--could disengage some other habitual expectations. Where was it taking place? I didn't need to know. If a dead father walked into a village, weren't there dead fathers everywhere? Villages everywhere? If a long-delayed tear was shed by a man and drunk by a woman, couldn't that happen in my town, and wouldn't my town be changed by it?

With the drumming serving as a sort of universal pulse, I could have been sitting anywhere in the world or living in any time. I could accept that caring for an ancestor required picking the maggots off one side of his body and polishing the gold on the other side. Of course it did. Why wouldn't it?

I won't tell you much about the grief ritual itself except to say that it was simple, it lasted a couple of hours, and for most of us, it "worked." That is, we were able to sink into the experience, feel our grief fully and release it, achieve a sense of emptiness and ease. For now. Grieving must be done regularly. I will need to grieve again before long and will have to find a community in my home town to grieve with. You can't do this kind of work alone.

We'd all come to Carolyn's workshop with different losses to grieve. For me, and for some others, I think, family losses and the slipping away of a livable planet intersected as one loss. I was able to cry for both.

We grieved in the presence of photographs of our ancestors. I'm only beginning to look into how people outside western communities think of their forebears. In my experience, when a loved one dies, a service is held, his or her life is remembered and celebrated, we say goodbye, and the body is cremated or buried. In other parts of the world, there is no goodbye. Those who have died are still part of the community, maybe the most important part. They strengthen the living, grieve alongside them, advise them, and require their attention.

The shootings in Charleston on June 17 didn't surprise me very much.  I've been there, seen the elegant colors its bricks are painted, bricks made by slaves from the clay of alligator-infested tidal rivers. I've visited the slave market, which has been turned into a shopping center where crafts once practiced by slaves are sold as artsy souvenirs. I've seen the barbed wire placed on top of the walls around some of the oldest homes after the slave rebellion in Haiti in1791. Charleston whites were scared to death by what happened in Haiti, and they must be scared still since that barbed wire is regularly refreshed. I've looked out on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Confederate artillery fired the first salvos of the Civil War on the Union garrison there. I've seen the Confederate flag flying everywhere, sometimes just above what's called the Gadsden flag, popular these days with the Tea Party.

Gadsden Flag
Tourists crowd Charleston's streets. Its venerable, perfectly preserved hotels fill up with destination weddings. The restaurants are so epicurean I don't have the vocabulary to describe them. Charleston's permanent residents are white.

Black people, descendants of slaves, live around Charleston, on its outskirts. The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, dating from the time when the slaves of Charleston proper needed a church near where they lived, is in white territory. How could a kid like Dylann Roof--imagine his ancestors if you dare--be expected to tolerate that?

I live in a bigger world since Carolyn's workshop, but it's a dying world, a little closer to death every day. I will need to grieve regularly. These last few days I'm grieving for the people a white supremacist killed, for their grieving ancestors, and for their grieving children.