Thursday, March 23, 2017

Winter in Maine is

They tell us it's spring now, as of Monday morning, these experts who know about seasons and time and things. There are signs of spring, of course -- the sun certainly shines brighter and longer into the evening, the birds sing more confidently, and faces I pass on the street show a glimmer of hopefulness, a new willingness to smile or say hello -- but this is Maine, and spring in Maine is not like spring in other places. We still have 5-foot piles of snow at the back of our driveway, and the 20-foot snow tower in the Target parking lot will likely be there until June. We are still wearing our Big Coats because it's wicked cold...and boots because it's wicked muddy. We won't see a daffodil or crocus for at least another month, and we won't plant seedlings in our backyard gardens until Memorial Day.

The arrival of spring, even if in name only, means we've made it through winter, officially. And that's a pretty big deal. It's a long exhale, a softening in the shoulders after months of bracing against cold and dark and the ever-present wind. Any day now we'll be able to walk outside without a hat -- or even better, without buttoning our coats! Imagine how exciting it will be to peel off a layer of clothing, or even to wear lighter socks. Don't even get me started about the day the farmers' market returns...sheer joy, bliss, choirs of angels singing hallelujahs in my head.

Winter, however, isn't entirely bad. In fact, in the three winters we've spent here, I've learned how to settle in, how to embrace that Danish concept of hygge, to simply slow down and listen to what my body tells me to do. "Winter. Time to eat fat and watch hockey," Margaret Atwood began her poem "February." A more accurate description I haven't yet read.

Similar to the way we looked back over our summer as the astronomical year turned to autumn, the kids and I sat down this week to look back over our winter. It was a pretty good season, all told, and we checked off a lot of items on our Winter Fun poster, although I still haven't learned out to crochet.


Winter in Maine is...

  • darkness at 4:00, dinner at 5:30, bed (or sound asleep on the couch) by 8:00
  • flannel sheets, flannel shirts, flannel scarves -- and wool socks
  • a basket of hats, scarves, mittens to the left side of the front door and a throw rug covered in boots, gaiters, and snow pants to the right
  • jumping til we're sweaty and breathless at the indoor trampoline park, then watching the steam rise from our skin when we step outside
  • ice skating lessons on Saturday mornings, snow pants and helmets and teeny penguin steps across the pond
  • sledding any time we feel like it
  • hot cocoa loaded with marshmallows (or peppermint Schnapps)
  • twinkle lights strung across town that stay lit from November through March -- Winter Lights
  • weeks that waffle in temperture between 52 degrees and -15
  • Christmas parties, Super Bowl parties, Oscar parties, birthday parties -- all good excuses to eat junk food and drink beers
  • catching up on our Netflix list
  • catching up on our library list
  • catching up on our emails, letters, postcards
  • catching up on our cookie baking (and eating)
  • ducks bobbing on the surf like they haven't even noticed the wind that's slicing through your skull
  • a perfect blizzard grocery list: milk, bread, cold cuts, cookie dough ice cream, Doritos, wine, cat food
  • walking on the Old Orchard Beach in our snow boots, gulls overhead squawking a promise of warmer beach days to come
  • the warm purr of a cat on my lap, both of us enjoying a fleecy blanket
  • birch trees dabbled with lichen that bridge the gap between snow-sparkling field and cloud-dotted sky
  • never missing a chance to put my face in the sun and chant "I'm alive I'm alive I'm alive"


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

So I left a note on a car...

"Hello, Tori? This is Maureen." The voice is unfamiliar, somewhat tentative; I didn't recognize the phone number. I pause, put a smile in my voice, and respond, "Hello? I'm sorry, who?"

"Maureen. You put a note on my car yesterday."

Oh no. My stomach flips. In the midst of the blizzard clean-up a couple days ago, I backed the minivan into a small car in front of my house. The street was crowded with snow plows and commuters, I was a bit frazzled trying to find a way back into my own driveway, and I just didn't even see this little gray compact. I thought I'd backed into a snow bank! I was only moving about 3 mph, so I know I didn't damage the car, but I left a note because that's what you're supposed to do, right? I had hoped, since I hadn't heard anything in over 24 hours, that I'd never hear from the car owner. Maybe snow melted on the note and smeared the digits. Maybe she swished the wipers before seeing the note and it blew away. Maybe a gull pooped on it.

Yet here she is. A shaky-voiced stranger on the phone, and my first thought is, oh damn, this lady wants money...even though I know I didn't damage that car. Why didn't I just drive away? Because two years ago, when someone sheared the mirror off my car, I was more upset that they didn't take responsibility than I was about shelling out $500 to fix the damage. So I left my number and here she is. I chose kindness, and I need to stand by that now. I take a deep breath to calm the stomach flip.

"Yes, hi, thanks for calling," I acknowledge. "Is everything all right? I didn't see any dents or scratches, and I looked pretty closely." I'm so anxious I can feel my pulse in my throat. Damn, stupid snow! Damn, stupid crowded road! Damn, stupid me for being careless!

"Well, yeah, the car is really dirty," she continues, "so I really can't see anything until I wash it. But I'm sure it's okay." I breathe slowly, keep a smile in my voice, measure my words carefully as I reiterate that I was going really slowly, the car simply slipped on an ice chunk, I didn't see any damage when I checked.

Maureen keeps talking. "Oh, I know. It's a mess. I've been sick, and it was just such as hassle finding a spot in all that snow. Just a mess. I probably parked too close." This is a turn, isn't it? She's not asking for anything, just talking. Yet that small voice in my brain, the one that doesn't expect kindness from strangers, keeps whispering she's going to try to scam you.

She doesn't. Instead, she rambles on for a minute or so about nothing of consequence -- winter weather, trying to kick a chest cold, not really knowing our neighbors, wondering if the flowers she planted in the fall will actually bloom -- and finally she lands here: "I just wanted to thank you for leaving that note with your number. I was just real nice of you, that's all. I appreciate it."

Wait, what? My breath catches. She is just calling to thank me? For leaving a note? After I hit her car? She's thanking me for simply doing the right thing. Wow. Do we really have such low expectations of one another, that we don't think someone else will do the right thing? I guess so, judging by my own reaction to this phone call, my own expectations of this person I've never met. Wow.

What a big deal it is to be kind, to choose to do the right thing. And how scary. I mean, I'm still not entirely sure this woman won't demand cash from me eventually, but I stay on the phone. I ask where she lives (in one of the apartments across the street) and if she might need anything for her cold (she's improving, still not 100%). I could be opening myself to inconvenience and akwardness, but I've realized Maureen is an older woman (she calls me "hon" a couple times) who likely lives alone (she drives a teeny-tiny car!). We're coming to the end of winter (she's likely been cooped up just like I have), and she just wants to make a connection. It's a big deal for her to pick up the phone, too, isn't it?

And just like that, in a three-minute phone call from a stranger, I'm reminded how different the world could be if we each spent a few scary moments each day being intentionally kind to strangers -- choosing to be kind even when it could mean disruption, expense, or time. This is not a new concept...why is it so hard?



Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Glimpses of spring in winter

I'm sitting on a park bench in New York City, overlooking 42nd Street just east of Grand Central Station, waiting for the bus that will take me home from a lovely girlfriend getaway in Manhattan. Right now it's an unseasonable 62 degrees and sunny; yesterday it was windy, rainy, and just above freezing temps. Kids are playing in a nearby playground. Folks are out in t-shirts and sunglasses walking dogs. Colleagues in suits are lunching on nearby benches. Everyone seems relaxed, smiling, happy to be outside on a Wednesday in February. Like we're all sneaking one past Mother Nature; even the birds are snickering. Everything is fine and beautiful.

Then I pick up my iPhone, check Instagram -- which is usually a fairly neutral, politics-free social media space -- and I see posts about high school students walking out of class in protest, Elizabeth Warren voted into silence on the Senate floor, President Trump talking about terror attacks in Sweden that never actually happened, the Army Corps of Engineers granting an easement and allowing work on the Dakota Access Pipeline to continue. Everything is fucked up.

Yet right here, right now, from my seat on this particular park bench, life is peaceful. The Chrysler Building gleams and glints in the distance; yellow cabs honk and zip on the street below, tourists hustle to their trains at Grand Central. Elementary school kids in crinkly uniforms just walked by me, paired off, each holding hands with a buddy on their way to the playground. They're focused only on the hand in theirs and the games they're about to enter into. The lunchers on the benches to my right talk and smile and laugh; they're focused only on their sandwiches and their conversations. The dogwalkers continue their strolling, the birds continue their chirping, the sun continues its shining.

A notification pops up on my phone's screen: Blizzard warning! Tomorrow, all along the eastern seaboard. Winter is still here, of course. And isn't this the perfect metaphor for this time in history we've entered? Glimpses of spring even in the middle of winter: We just have to be sure to notice.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

#WhyIMarch, part 2 - for my sons

A note to my sons on the night before the Women's March

Hi, guys. I've been thinking a lot about this march, as you know, this week...and last week...and the week before...and as the day gets closer, I'm feeling pretty anxious about leaving you and traveling to Washington. I know you will be safe with Dad (winter camping! how awesome), and I'm going to do everything I can to keep myself and your Aunties safe in Washington. I've been reading and preparing and talking to everyone I know who's ever been involved in a protest march, so at least I'm ready mentally. 

I wrote that long post yesterday, full of all the high-minded reasons that I'm marching. As I thought about it last night, I felt uncomfortable with that post. Like it was a re-hash of all the things other people have written. Even more, I feel like a phony-baloney. You know I'm not really an activist, or at least I haven't been. For example, I cried and cheered when the Supreme Court ruled on marriage equality for gays -- I was so happy for people I love who finally had the same rights as me! -- but the truth is, I didn't do anything to bring about that change. Others did. Other people fought really hard and gave up time with family and friends and spent lots of money and had horrible things said and done to them in order to gain those rights. And that's the way it's been through time. People like me stand and cheer for the ones who really sacrifice. But we don't get into the mix.

Change is coming. Likely really big change, social and economic, and some of it will be painful to witness. Freedoms will be taken away from some people in order to make others feel better. The truth is, though, it's unlikely our family will be directly affected by the changes that this new government wants to make. This is our privilege. Our family is white, middle class, college educated, and heterosexual. We have many options. 

But here's the thing that's changed in me over the last couple of years: I have realized the responsibility that comes with privilege. I know that even if I'm not personally adversely affected by a law that's overturned or enacted, or even if I enjoy some benefit from that change, someone else will suffer. And I'm not okay with that. I believe, as Martin Luther King, Jr., said often, that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We need to take care of one another. And I need to get into the mix.

You know how I read a lot of WW2 and dystopian books, right? I think I'm so fascinated with these books because I always wonder if I have what it takes to stand up for other people, knowing that it could mean punishment, suffering, or death for me. Would I be able to harbor a Jew in my basement in Nazi Germany like the family in The Book Thief? Could I be strong enough to keep my family alive through starvation times, like the sister in The Nightingale? Or, like the other sister in The Nightingale, would I be brave enough to lead strangers through the dark and cold to safety? Would I even be smart enough to know how to help families flee to safety, as in Number the Stars?

I don't know. And I hope I never have to learn. What's in my heart, though, is love and peace, and I'm going to do all I can to let love and peace guide my actions in the coming years. I have lived long enough to realize that love and peace don't just happen by accident. Remember Monday when we talked about Martin Luther King, Jr.? You both told me you'd seen his "I Have a Dream Speech," and your teachers talked about how he worked for peace. Do you remember what I told you? Martin Luther King, Jr., worked against injustice. He was hated by many people, feared by those in power, because he threatened their comfort and way of life. He did not sit around patiently singing hymns and waiting for justice, though; he wasn't the pacifist "can't we all just get along" man that's been portrayed in recent history. He actively spoke and risked and ultimately died opposing laws and beliefs that he knew were wrong. 

I'm not going to Washington to yell about Donald Trump. I've told you that more than once. I'm going to stand up for justice for all people. One of the tenets of MLK's nonviolent protest is this: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people. This is a really important concept that we have to keep reminding ourselves throughout the next few years. I might need you to help me remember this, too, because sometimes I just get so angry! It's really easy to get mad at people, though, without realizing all the forces at work around those people. So let's remember this together: Fight the forces of evil, not the people who do evil. Think about what happened to Anakin Skywalker, right? He was a regular person who became fearful and angry and turned toward hatred for power. Darth Vader was definitely a bad dude. But ultimately, he was just a dude. And even he realized, in the end, that he'd been on the wrong side of history.

In our country right now, the forces of evil -- fear, hatred, anger -- are motivating a lot of people and making them feel powerful, starting with our new President and trickling right down through our neighborhoods. And those forces are acting on people like me, too, who consider ourselves liberal and progressive and on the right side of history. I am afraid, no question, and I am angry. But we're all just people, no matter who we voted for our what we believe to be right. We need to do all we can to resist those forces of evil and to remind all people that love is so much stronger. Love is much easier to bear in the long run, too. 

Love and peace, when activated, will spark justice. And tens of thousands of people resisting the forces of evil will show anyone who's paying attention that we mean it. That's why I'm going to Washington. 





Wednesday, January 18, 2017

#WhyIMarch

Zippy and I hiked in the woods the other day, following the icy trails around Evergreen Cemetery. The cold air stung our eyes but the sun shone warm and bright, and it felt great to breathe fresh air. As he skipped and hopped and twirled beside, in front, and around me, I felt peaceful, happy, content. Until I realized the Womens' March is in a few days, I am going, and I don't know what to expect. I've never done anything like this, except for a few years ago at Occupy Philly, which was nothing compared to the numbers they're anticipating this weekend. The Women's March will be a peaceful protest, yes, but 200,000 is an awful lot of people in highly charged city during turbulent times. I felt anxiety creeping into my chest.

"So you know I'm going away this weekend, right? To Washington, D.C. For just two sleeps. Do you know why I'm going?" I asked Zippy.

"Because you don't like Donald Trump and he's going to be the President."

"Well, that's true, but it's not really why I'm going," I tried to clarify. I explained that I don't hate Donald Trump, but I don't believe in the things he stands for. I didn't go into great detail, but I wanted my son to know that I'm marching because I love him and I love our family and I care a lot about protecting the progress that has been made for civil rights of all people. I told him I'm marching to stand up for what I believe in.

"Do you understand what I mean, babe?" I asked.

"Yeah, momma, of course. Hate has no home here." 

I caught my breath, wiped my eyes. Hate has no home here. Words from my 6-year-old son, who doesn't blink at having friends with two moms or a genderqueer teacher, a child who has only ever known a black president. His little-kid world is open and welcoming, free of judgment. Yet this is the same child who asked about World War 3 the day after the election, who worries that his immigrant friends will be sent away. Hate has no home here. 

Suddenly the anxiety I felt over the march melted away, replaced with a renewed sense of purpose: I'm marching on Saturday not to protest Donald Trump -- I have no more control over him than I do over hurricanes or the flu -- but because I reject all that he stands for. I reject racism, sexism, chauvinism, homophobia. I reject Islamophobia and isolationism. I reject bullying. I reject cronyism and nepotism and the 2% getting richer at our expense. I reject endless war. I reject stripping the land of natural resources. I reject legislating women's bodies -- anyone's bodies. I reject the notion that any human is illegal. 

Of course I want jobs and prosperity for people in rural America; of course I want safety and security here and abroad. But not at the expense of civil rights and common decency. 

I'm marching because I'm raising white, middle-class boys who will grow up to be white, middle-class men. They will come of age in an era in which the elected leader of their country is a mean-spirited, short-tempered, ignorant, bully. He's demonstrated overt racism throughout his lifetime. He stirred up significant hate during his campaign and legitimized violence. And he is  a sexual predator, let's not forget. He has shown every indication that he intends to rule as a despot. The people he's chosen to surround him during his campaign, his transition, and his Cabinet have shown they accept and embrace all of this, as have the folks who now lead the House and Senate. Will my children grow up thinking that in order to be a leader, you have to intimidate, strong-arm, and harass? Will they grow up thinking that the only opinion that matters is yours, that facts are not necessary, or that science doesn't count? Will they grow up thinking the only way to get ahead is at the expense of women, people of color, and poor people? No. No. No. Not while I'm standing.

I'm marching because I want my sons to know that when you're afraid of something, you don't pretend it's not really there. You gather your courage, you hold on to what you know is right, and you stand up.


I'm marching for respect and rights for all people, regardless of skin color, class, gender, or sexuality. I'm marching for fair wages and for women who have to make hard decisions about childcare and work. I'm marching for strong public education and teachers who work hard for our kids. I'm marching for my friends and family who rely on the ACA for health care. I'm marching to make it clear that a woman's choice over what to do with her body remains her choice. I'm marching because our earth, air, and water need protection from humans. I'm marching because I believe in peace, empathy, and care. 

In my search for pithy sayings to write on a sign (which I've actually given up on -- only a pink pussy hat for this girl), I came across a quote attributed to Angela Davis, the civil rights activist. As I've mentioned here before, I'm no freedom fighter. I don't know that I'd go so far as to call myself an activist, either. But these words hit the mark:

“I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change…I’m changing the things I cannot accept.”

I'm no longer able to sit still.