You Are Needed; but, first, a story

I’ve read all the pandemic advice (although not my own lately, I guess), about giving ourselves permission to be rather than to do, and I have said, “Sure, I can do that.”

And, oh, how I have been. I have been sleepy; I have been sotted with drink and food; I have been famished for content and overloaded with content; I have been angry to the point of rage that no longer seethes; and I have been … happy.

I have also been a whirlwind, on occasion. A whirlwind of doing. I completely refinished and reupholstered a rocking chair. I’d been looking for a mid-century, platform rocker for years that was in my budget. I’d had one when my daughters were babies. It had been my grandparents’, and then my parents’, and when I moved out, my parents gave it to me. I also refurbished that one. Stripping off the brown peeling paint revealing the avocado green (helloooo 1970s), and absolutely beautiful mid-tone wood beneath.

The good story about the chair is that when my husband and I lived in Arizona, I did the original refinishing of the wood parts. I had been telling my husband that I cherished the chair because my grandfather had built this very rocker. And there I was, on the back porch, scraping the stripping solution and the now very gooey paint away only to reveal … a Sears label. Still, I loved it. I loved it’s lines and the beauty of the wood, and the little tiny creaking rhythm that often lulled baby and me to sleep.

Alas, sometime after the last baby was done being rocked to sleep in it, a heart-wrenching crack rang out when a visitor stood up from the chair. When I later inspected the chair, I found the brace connecting the arm to the body gave way along the grain–a long, jagged break that broke something in me, too.

We held on to the chair for years, in the garage, waiting for manna from heaven or from a source unknown to in the midst of shelling out for unexpected expense after unexpected expense that happens when you are raising three children. One day, we were cleaning out the garage so we could get the cars back in it for the winter when I finally said, Enough! Get rid of it.

And I’ve been searching for it’s equal ever since.

I know what I’ve actually been searching for are the memories of waking up in the chair with a baby draped on my shoulder, puffing sweet breath onto my neck, my arms dead asleep from resting heavily at length on the wooden arms. I know I’ve been searching for the one piece of furniture I took with me when I left California for the last time as a resident of the state, that tethered me to my parents and my grandparents in such a sturdy way. I know I’ve been searching for the sentimentality of it all, angry with myself for giving up on the chair instead of saving up the $600 (in early 2000 dollars) to repair and reupholster it.

Instead, I found another chair for $40, and used some fabric I picked up at an estate sale a year ago, even though I had no idea what I was going to use it for. I paid the $20, knowing it would do some good down the road. And then I found the energy to sand down the awful stain that had been haphazardly applied to the frame of the new/old chair. Fixed the weird rocking motion by simply putting the base on in the right direction and without all the weird paper shims that had been used as attempts at fixing it. And then I re-learned how to sew a zipper–something I don’t think I’ve attempted since my original rocker was painted avocado green–and made a box cushion (badly, but I did it), and flipped all the original stuffing onto the box springs and stapled the hell out of so many, many layers.

This, and many other crafty projects–things to flip and sell, or things to cover the faces of people I love, or things that just fancy my creative spirit–have kept me busy and made me tired and helped me forget that a pandemic has killed 180,000 Americans because, apparently, ‘merica’s got to ‘merica.

And, of course, it isn’t just the pandemic.

Loving your country is hard. Loving anything is hard, but loving your country while it kills people through negligence (see above) or through what can only be seen as a brutality toward dark-skinned people that is our original sin. Not slavery. But a brutality and self-regard by white people that made slavery last centuries, Jim Crow and lynching last decades longer, and a continued over-policing of black and brown people that allows the beatings, unlawful arrests, and straight-up murder by police officers to continue today.

American patriotism has been co-opted by the love-it-or-leave-it, gun-toting, face-screaming, unthinking people who follow instincts they don’t even realize have been ingrained in them by the well-heeled who knew that they would be vastly outnumbered and stripped of power if the poor white and black citizens voted together. Poor white people have been voting against their own interests since the end of the civil war because they did not want to be lumped in with blacks, who they had been taught to believe were not even people. I’m not talking about Southern gentry only. Look to the north, too. And look to the Midwest now, where the killings of unarmed (and sleeping) black people are creating the protests, and where you have that couple who stood on their porch and pointed loaded guns at peaceful protesters because … ‘merica?

How did I get here? I was talking about a rocking chair, wasn’t I?

The thing is, I’ve also been spending a lot of my time this pandemic relearning the history of America, or ‘merica. I’ve been reading or listening to history, as well as fiction and memoirs written by black people while I sanded that chair or made those facemasks. I’ve listened to books like Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Say it Louder by Tiffany D. Cross, and Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi (which I had to return before I could finish), as well as essays from writers I’ve been reading my whole adult life, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. And I’ve been following Black creators on Instagram by following #amplifymelanatedvoices.

All of this was a choice. I made a conscious decision to use my time to educate myself and to push myself to listen to the voices of people who live a different life than mine because they have to.

But back to the rocking chair, sort of. My white grandparents moved from Kansas to Los Angeles, California when my father was ten–in 1939. In California, they worked as educators, and retired with a pension and a house they owned out-right. My father served in Korea, too. So he had opportunities in housing and education because of his service and his skin color.

My family has survived and thrived since they arrived in Los Angeles in the midst of the Great Depression. You would not think of them as gentry as they were not wealthy. But they were able to generate wealth over time. They were, in my mind, solidly middle class. Even my mother’s father and step-mother who lived a working class existence were able to generate wealth through land ownership and union protections for health care and pensions lived, if not a grand life, a life they appreciated well into their 90s.

I was raised in a household that was unapologetically liberal. My father, I recently learned, left ministry because the bishop he reported to did not condone the social justice bent of my father’s ministry. And even with his rabid rebellion and his public displays against the racist and anti-Christian policies of our government in the 1960s and beyond, he outlived many in that movement and his whiteness had much to do with it.

My father wasn’t a national leader. I’m not being specific about the deaths of Malcolm X and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m talking about the up-and-comers in the anti-racist movement, often killed before they could be national leaders because the FBI had targeted them, killed them, and created plausible stories to justify the killings–at least plausible to white Americans who then felt safer because these “insurgents” were dead. I’m talking about Fred Hampton and the many others who never had a chance to become national leaders of a movement to change this country for the better.

And white America ate it up with a soup ladle.

Are you tired yet?

Are you exhausted yet?

Have you had enough yet?

If you are white, take a minute to ask yourself what it is you are tired of, exhausted from, had enough of. I’ll wait.

I could tell you more about the rocking chair and the different houses it was allowed to dwell in because it’s owners were white, while you think. Because if you aren’t tired of being lied to, aren’t exhausted by the extent of the manipulation perpetrated upon you, or had enough of the death of American citizens at the hands of police or by the policies of people who are interested more in power than in life, liberty and the pursuit of justice, then you just aren’t listening and I should go back to the sentimental story of my grandparent’s rocking chair.

People need you.

People need you to look deeper than you have and to reconcile for yourself why you are meeting this moment with anger at Black and Brown and Indigenous people who are asking you to stand with their humanity.

What in your upbringing makes you say stuff like “well if they just complied” or “why don’t they protest peacefully” or “just get a drivers license if you want to vote”? What in your upbringing makes you think America is actually fair and that we all have access to boots, let alone bootstraps? Why are you unwilling to dig deeper into understanding that America is not America for everyone. Not even, maybe, for you.

People beyond your family, your church, your book club need you. People who don’t look like you, who don’t pray like you, who don’t dance like you, who don’t dress like you, who don’t even know who you are–they need you. This is a moral moment. We cannot look away anymore from the trauma inflicted on our black brothers and sisters by a policing system who does not believe their lives matter.

It is time to make choices, friends.

It is time to educate ourselves from sources outside our circles. It is time to start loving our country with the depth it takes to require change where change is long overdue.

Centuries overdue.

So, here’s your pandemic advice: be. Be able to tell your grandchildren that when you were needed, you did your homework and showed up. You used this time to do good for others because it was the moral thing to do.

#blacklivesmatter

If depression comes, try this

I think it was Malcolm Gladwell who said to be an expert at something you have to put in at least 10,000 hours. If that’s the case, after three-plus years of couch time in the last decade, I declare myself the expert on couch time and mental health. So I have some things for people to consider as they face big stretches of time in solitude or restricted society.

I don’t mean this post to be funny; I mean it to be helpful for the many who, like me, suffer in “normal” times from depression and/or anxiety that can be debilitating. I mean it also to be helpful for people, like me, for whom “normal” times includes not only a chronic mental health diagnosis, but a chronic physical health diagnosis that depresses the immune system.

This morning I posted a check in for community on Facebook: Have you brushed your teeth today? Maybe I meant that as funny, but the more the responses rolled in with laugh emojis and a question about bras, I realized I did not, in fact, mean for it to be a joke. I meant for it to be a real check in for people who may not be used to sitting around their house for hours on end and might forget to do the very basic and usual hygiene even while scrubbing their hands and singing “Stairway to Heaven” a hundred times a day.

Some of the things I have tried to incorporate into my daily life since saying farewell to the couch (though there are still days when my brain and my body insist on a couch day and I find I have not yet done one or any of these) include:

  • Brushing my teeth after breakfast whether I want to or not.
  • Getting dressed, especially in jeans that make lounging on the couch less comfortable.
  • Making a list for the day and adding “Brush Teeth” to it, so I can cross it off because I have already done it or remember to do it if I haven’t.
  • Reviewing the list in silence and for some time. Some might even call this meditation. While I review the list, I look for things I can accomplish easily and quickly (like brush my teeth), but also things that will make me feel more comfortable in the space I’m spending my day in. My husband will laugh at this last phrase, because right now, there is no space in our house that is untouched by the renovation to our living space that was started in January, before “shelter in place” became a possibility. But, still, I try. I make the bed by pulling up the covers, though I am usually doing so while a big hairy cat reclines on said covers and the attempt is neither complete nor neat. I try by putting dishes in the dishwasher and towels in the washing machine and changing the cat box with some regularity.
  • I also look for things on the list that will bring me joy or create beauty. And, if there isn’t one, I add it. It might be as simple as “replant succulents” or “read a poem,” and sometimes I never actually get to that item, but I know it’s there so I don’t feel like my day is full of drudgery and nothingness.

I think that is my best advice from the depths of my understanding of despair. Remind yourself that whatever is in front of you is not forever. Of course, chronic illness (mental or otherwise) is forever, but the moment you are in is not. This is true of the tortured moments as well as the joy-filled ones, as well as those that seem endlessly full of nothing.

As people become less physically interactive, depression is likely, and if you don’t “normally*” experience depression, it may come on gradually and you will suddenly find yourself not doing things like, I don’t know, brushing your teeth. A day of this is not depression. Two days, though, starts a trend you don’t want to extend.

I joked with my boss the other day, as I was saying goodbye until “whenever” as she and her husband made the hard but right decision to close the antique mall, that maybe this will bring back “over the fence” neighborly conversations again. That’s a good social distance, don’t you think?

And I joked last night, as I realized I had NOT brushed my teeth all day, that not doing so was MY social distancing practice.

Truth is, I don’t need any help with social distancing. I am the kind of person who has enough to do around me at all times (cleaning, making, reading, cleaning, de-cluttering, re-cluttering, and cleaning), that I don’t generally get bored by being stranded to my home. If the weather warms up or if I learn how to use my garage propane heater without fear of demolishing the neighborhood, I will gladly spend the next month in our garage, attempting to complete all the projects stored up in there. The opportunity to be at home with no pressing appointments is this home-body’s idea of a good holiday. But you are not me, and these coming weeks and/or months may be difficult for you.

And, even with all the things around me that could be done, I’m also the kind of person who can spend a solid afternoon in my head, plotting and planning things I could make from the piles in the garage.

A few years ago, my mother chose to move into an assisted living space and yesterday the news came down that she will be in “lock down” mode for the foreseeable future. The residents had been able to visit with each other, just not outsiders, for the last week or so, but now they are to stay in their rooms, with meals being delivered to them.

This will be hard for my mother, who moved to this place because she felt socially isolated in her house. Here, she has friends just a few doors down and they aren’t able to play cards or share meals any longer, or gather for book club. This is necessary and gives us (my siblings and I), peace that precautions are being taken to keep her and her friends healthy, and, yet, I feel so sad when I think of her in isolation like this–away from everybody.

But this also provides me an opportunity to become creative again in ways to keep connected to her with the things she likes that I can share via text or phone call. Things I was a slacker at pre-pandemic because her life seemed so busy with friends and cards and all those doctor appointments. I already see my Facebook feed filled with people finding new and fun ways to stay connected as well as share ideas for creative adventures in social distancing.

It may feel like we are living in a petrie dish right now, but the one thing we know about petrie dishes is that they grow things. See what you can grow, what you can create, what story you can tell your grandchildren about the great pandemic one day. May your isolation mean good health for you and yours.

And, if you are one of the helpers who does not get to self-isolate because your ability to heal, feed, or protect others keeps you in the bottom of the petrie dish: thank you. May you be well.

To all who are doing what they can to flatten the curve and reduce the number of people who will die because of this disease, thank you. This is holy work.

Oh, and thank you all for brushing your teeth.


*I keep putting the word normal in quotes because each day I find it harder and harder to define it.

 

 

Yellow

Here’s a poem I wrote the other day. The sunflower reminded me I should put it up here.

cropped-napaflower.jpg

February begs for
yellow
for the daffodil,
the tulip,
and the rebellion of
the dandelion.

It sings to the
unseen stirring
below ground,
the signal,
the shift
from the dirge
of gray and grayer white

to tempt
the tendrils of warmth
in Spring

Begin Again in Love

Note: This was originally published on the now defunct TinaLBPorter website on 2/23/2018. I’m working on filling in some of the spaces between the beginnings of this blog and the jump to writing new content here. So her’s a rerun, of sorts. –Tina

Way back in January, when I offered to fill the pulpit at my congregation on March 11, I had no clue I would be preaching on Daylight Saving day. But I did it.

I preached about beginning again, in love, after the Litany of Atonement reading by Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs, which is included in the back of Singing the Living Tradition, our UU Hymnal. And now that I have had the after sermon naps, and powered through the day after the harsh removal of a single hour, I google the reading and come across a Church of the Larger Fellowship video of the Rev. Eller-Isaacs reading his original version, prefaced by his explanation for the difference. I wish that I had found this before the service. I wish I had thought to google it rather than just read it in the back of the hymnal. If you have a few minutes, listen to him read it.

Like Rev. Eller-Isaacs, I, too, prefer his original version, where it reads “I forgive myself, I forgive you, We begin again in love.”

If I were able to go back and redo the sermon to read it this way, I would. Because that is exactly what I wanted to say to my home community, the community I left several years ago when I felt overwhelmed by life and disappointed in not only the way other people were pursuing the stated goals of our congregation, but the way I was doing so, as well.

So the homily I preached on Sunday was one where, in the midst of it, I said “I feel like Julia Roberts in Notting Hill, when she says to Hugh Grant, “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.”

The sermon was years in the making, but I only knew it a few weeks ago. I had a different piece of my mind to give the congregation when I volunteered, but wisdom struck at some point reminding me that I needed to ask to be back before I could waltz in and say “You’re Doing It Wrong!” which was the sermon I was going to give, kind of.

But as I was cleaning up my office one day, I found the notes for a UU World article I wrote about the fires in California last spring and fall. Rev. Jan Christian’s words leapt off the page at me, as I was readying to toss them in the recycle bin. “It is a reminder that we belong to each other,” she said. And I remembered how it was to talk to all those ministers who were holding people who had lost so much, if not everything, who were living in communities that disappeared into ash. How they talked, with the exhaustion etching their words so that I felt them, rather than heard them. Each one echoing some sentiment of Rev. Christian, echoing how the church was a place to go when there was no home. The congregation was the people who were, as Rev. Christian also said, “present in the loss.”

And as I looked at those last words, I realized my own loss in my willingness to walk away from a congregation that had, as Dr. Mark Hicks says, “loved us into being.” We grew up in this church. One story I didn’t tell is that my youngest daughter actually lost her umbilical stump somewhere between the nursery and the minister’s office on the day we signed the membership book. And I mean LOST, as in I couldn’t find it. (I kept trying slyly to fish through the cushions of the couch in the office, hoping to find it before anyone else did, but no luck.) And that baby is nearly 20 years old. (Now 21!)

Walking away from love is sometimes necessary. I get that. It was for us at that time in our life, in the church’s life. And one of the lessons I learned is that the church is not me anymore than it is anyone in particular that attends. The world spun on. No one is indispensable and the church stayed afloat.

It is nice to know that when the time comes and you have to stand before the crowd and ask them to love you, you can get the forgiveness you seek, not only from others, but from yourself, as Rev. Eller-Isaacs’ reading suggests.

It’s been way too long. And I’m not ready to jump into a leadership role at the church, I’m ready to get in and roll around in the messy way of living and loving that happens when well-meaning people rub up against each other for the common good.

Onward, dear friends. Onward we go, remembering that good old saw: love thy neighbor as they self. And also, love thyself as you would love thy neighbor.

Final note: “not ready to jump into a leadership role” — Hah! I have been serving as the Ministerial Search Committee Chair for more than a year. 

Emergency Music: Or, How I got out of “The Game”

Yesterday I posted this on my Facebook page:

So, there’s this thing going on where people want to know when it is okay to play Christmas music. And I have decided, in the spirit of all things not within my realm, that today marks the opening day of ” Josh Groban Season.” So, y’all, feel comfortable belting out that Ava Maria or, Heaven forbid, Little Drummer Boy. But for *&^%’s sake, enjoy what you enjoy when you enjoy it and don’t let anyone tell you it is too early, too late, too almost or whatever. Enjoy your dang life, y’all. (So I’m enjoying life so much I decided to go Texan on all y’all.)

And I have to admit that I am the one who may have actually started this thing, earlier in the week when I posted on a friend’s wall:

6:58 am, October 28. I’m officially out of the game.

Which referred to a “game” last year where you try to avoid hearing The Little Drummer Boy as long as  you can.  I didn’t last long last year, either.

After that post, many people chimed in and another friend (who is also now out of the game) asked for people to take a poll on when it is appropriate to start listening to Christmas music.  And that’s when I went all Texan.

In the post where I outted myself from the game, I told people who were incredulous that I was already out that I would blog the circumstances because I didn’t have time to write it all then.  So here is my really boring yet true accounting of how I came to be listening to The Little Drummer Boy at 6:58 in the morning on October 28:

I have had the same 6 CDs in my car’s player for the last two years, I think. Maybe longer. Two of them are holiday-themed CDs.  One is Peter Mayer’s Midwinter, and the other is Josh Groban’s Noel. The other four CDs are your every-day kind of music. Lately, when I drive, I am either listening to NPR or my iPhone. I keep the CD player loaded up with emergency music–music that has accompanied me through most of my adult life and will follow me to my grave: REM, Indigo Girls, Bonnie Raitt.

Somehow, over the last two years, Josh Groban’s Noel was added to the Emergency Music rotation. Maybe out of sheer slothfulness on my part (it’ll be Christmas music time in another 10 months, I might as well leave it in), or maybe out of the fact that I just love his voice. It soothes me. It’s like audible chocolate.

And so, there it was, in the CD player, in the rotation. I got in my car at 7:15 pm on October 27th, after 2+ hours on the commuter bus that takes me from Chicago to my home town. It is a 4-minute drive from the bus to my home, and when I got in the car, the CD-player kicked over to the Josh Groban CD, having just finished up the REM greatest hits CD.

My first instinct was to skip the disc and get to the next one.  But there it was, “Silent Night” and I had had a long day and had just a short drive home and I thought, “this is really pretty,” and so I let it go.  I got home, parked my car, went in to spend what was left of the evening with my family and The Blacklist and didn’t think another thing of it.

Next morning, I get in my car, turn it on and Silent Night ends and … Little Drummer Boy begins.  And you know what?  I laughed.  I thought of my friend who doesn’t ever want to hear it and I thought of my daughters who had, I was quite certain, already started listening to Christmas music, and I thought to myself, dang it all if it ain’t time for a little bit of Christmas.

And so, that’s my story of sound and sloth. And joy.

I don’t ask you to listen to music if you don’t want to, I just ask you not to poop on my party in the meantime.

Blessings to you–and Merry Christmas music season (whenever that starts for you).

My parents, my heroes

After spending a week with my mother and my sister, this post came back to me today. My father was with us this week; in our hearts and on our minds. As he has been since and always.

Tina L B Porter

This week is over for me. Tomorrow I get on a plane back home to my kids, my cats, my husband and the snow–most of which I am thrilled about.  And yet, I leave my hometown, and in doing so, must say goodbye to my father. 

My father taught for many years at a community college and in his courses he used what he called student facilitators who helped him teach.  Over the years he had many and in December, they gathered together for a reunion here at my parents’ house.  One of those facilitators called the other day while my mother was otherwise occupied and I took the call.  “He’s my hero,” she said of my dad, “and she’s my other hero,” she said of my mom.

Mine, too, I said.  Today, it is actually true—despite teenage years shouting just the opposite.  This is hard stuff they are going…

View original post 510 more words

Happy. Wealthy. Awed.

leavesThis. This is what I love about blogging. This is a re-run inside a re-run, the bulk of which was written nearly 9 years ago for a column I wrote for the Post-Tribune. I remember that day, watching those leaves, like it was yesterday. But I don’t remember what I wore to work just yesterday. What matters doesn’t always need to be written down, but when you do, it not only matters … it lasts.

Tina L B Porter

Today is a work-at-home day, so I was allowed to watch my youngest as she waited for the bus.  I stood on the other side of the window, in my bathrobe, holding a less than steaming but terrificly delicious cup of fresh-roasted Highlander Grogg, watching her.  The trees in the front yard were/are shedding their leaves rapidly this morning, a steady shower of orange, red and gold.  The big ginger cat sat at my feet, his tail twitching as he, too, watched the leaves drop from the sky.  Oh, he wanted to wrestle them, I saw it in his tail.

This scene reminded me of a column I wrote two years ago.  I found it and share it with you now.  I continue to be awed (and odd).  Enjoy your fall day.

October 30, 2005 

There is something about the fall that just awes me. I usually feel odd…

View original post 549 more words

Today, a prayer, I think

Tina L B Porter

Okay, God.  I’m listening.I sat in the sun and ate dumplings yesterday and the wind blew over and through me, much as it did that day I stood on a ridge near an old, old battlefield.

They are all old battlefieds, aren’t they God?  All the spaces we inhabit hold the old and new battles, the seen and the unseen. Those battles between classes, between races, between lovers, between parents and children, bosses and workers, even between friends. Those interior battles, too, I see, within the shifting, temporary walls that hold me in and in place.

The wind is the same and it holds that which binds us one to another, when we look, when we listen, when we feel. The sun warm on my face, the wind lifting my hair, the taste of plum sauce sweet on my tongue–you have my attention. And I thank you for offering me…

View original post 9 more words

A god of lesser things?

So, my sister saw my earlier re-blogged post about God and noted that she’d had a dream that God was named Margaret. Then I see that I’d already given God the name Eugene. In any event, lots of things have changed since this post, including I now have 3 daughters who know how to make a bed.

Tina L B Porter

Can it be that I have a 12-year-old child who does not know how to make a bed?  Oh, yeah, she is my child.  A Gemini, too.  Bed-making has never been an issue for me–and yet, when I do make the bed, when the sheets are all clean and cozy, well, there’s just nothing better, right?

So, we washed her sheets and I left it to her to make the bed and she comes out and asks, “Do you have to be a mom to figure out how to put these things on the bed?” She indicated she was having more trouble with the mattress cover than the sheet.  So I go in to help her, and I’m showing her how to ease it over one end, pull toward the other then, well, you know the drill, I’m sure.  So I’m in the midst of showing her and I say…

View original post 199 more words