September 5, 2017

Their History Matters to Them

Sculpture: "The Last Voyage"

I recently came across an online discussion about whether or not the Israelites were ever really slaves in Egypt. There's a lot of scholarship on this subject, and it's fascinating to read about the archeological evidence (or lack thereof) for the Hebrew Bible. But I find it even more interesting to think about how the history of this small ethnic group is now known the world over.

I don't find it at all surprising that the Egyptians didn't corroborate a lot of the stories from the Hebrew Bible in their own writings. After all, why would they? They were large and powerful monarchies, and with the effort and expense required to actually write things down 4,000 years ago, why would they waste any of that on stories about a fragment of the slave or migrant population? There were thousands of people who migrated through Egypt's kingdoms back then.

The history of the Israelites (or people who eventually became the Israelites) just didn't matter to the Egyptian ruling class. But it mattered to the Israelites. They carefully preserved the stories of their ancestors, passing them down orally and eventually in written form. As a migrant people, history and shared culture was all they had.

Now, one of the great ironies of history, in my mind, is that many people the world over who have no Hebrew ancestry can list the rulers of Israel and recite stories from their histories; while few beyond scholars can name more than a couple of Egyptian pharoahs. In fact, a lot of people only know Egyptian history through the lens of the Hebrew Bible.

Millennia later, the unimportant migrants, the slaves, are known worldwide. Their histories are just as important as those of the great kingdoms where they toiled anonymously. I wonder, who are the Israelites among us now? Which ignored, marginalized people are carefully recording their own stories from their own perspective - stories those in power aren't even aware of.

A thousand years from now, the people in power now might either be forgotten or else known primarily through the stories of the ones they enslaved and mistreated. It's a good reminder not to discount people's points of view just because they aren't the ones in charge.

September 4, 2017

The Definition of "Free"

photo by Amy Claxton

When I first started this blog, I intended it as a place where I could share ideas that I thought were useful but that I didn't really know what to do with. "Free Ideas" meant ideas that I was sharing for free, without cost.

Over the years, however, I've found that while my head is as full of ideas as ever, not all of them are useful. Many of them are simply persistent, connections or stories or images that, once created, seem to want to rattle around in my brain, getting in the way of my thinking about more important stuff.

So I've decided to free these ideas trapped in my head. "Free Ideas" now means a place to set free all the thoughts clogging my mind, a place to purge my brain. For anyone reading this blog, you likely won't notice much difference except that the frequency of posting should increase.

For me, I hope that this change in focus will help me get better at turning invisible ideas into visible creations. I tend to be satisfied with the creation of a story or a song or anything else simply in my own head, and don't need (or even want, most of the time) the validation that comes with sharing it with a wider audience. However, as I get older, I've realized that I don't want everything I've created to die with me, so I need to get it out of my head somehow.

Hopefully, posting here will be a start.

May 24, 2017

Poem: I Was a Teenage Moth

Me on the last day of 8th grade

I covered myself with plastic chains,
Rocks and beads, embroidery thread,
Glitter paint, and soda can tabs.
I wrapped my body in ripped jeans
And t-shirts stamped
With symbols of my tribe.
So cocooned, I pupated,
Relying on my outer shell
To tell the world
Exactly who I was,
Who I wanted to be.
Inside, I gradually developed
A heart, a spine, a prefrontal cortex:
Each new organ dearly bought
And painfully grown.
At last, I realized I had emerged
The day I found
Pieces of my cocoon
Neatly boxed up and put away
As mementos from a time
When I wore my inner self
On the outside.

May 13, 2017

Poem: Sine Wave

illustration by S. King

Life happens on a sine wave.
Troughs and peaks, crests and valleys
Are part of every day,
Every week,
every year.
I can't determine
The period of this waveform
From my mortal perspective
On my little life raft
Riding each wave as it comes.
All I know is
The motion is continuous
Through life's ups and downs.
It doesn't matter
Which part of the wave
I'm surfing today -
Rise or fall,
Tomorrow will be different.

April 23, 2017

Poem: Shoot


You were your mother's last effort,
Sustaining life when she faced death.
Your mother was old,
Old and strong and beautiful.
I wish you could have seen her
In her springtime glory
Before that winter day
When ice came raining down.
Her branches bent and broke,
But I think she could have
Remained and recovered
As her sisters did
(Look! You can see them now
Flanking that empty spot.)
If it weren't for the patch
Of bad ground where she stood.
The earth around your mother
Was too weak to hold her up.
Her roots lost their grip, and she fell.
She fell, but did not die, not yet.
When she saw death coming,
Your mother sent up shoots
Sprouting by the dozens.
Most were little things,
Hardly more than weeds.
But you were her best effort.
She reached out and placed you
Distant, far away from
The bad ground that sealed her fate.
She passed on to you
Her strength and tenacity.
I saw her in you from the beginning,
And let you grow where you sprang up,
Wild at first, spindly and untamed.
I hoped you might grow into
My memory of your mother's beauty.
So I trimmed your branches
And shaped you with care.
No longer just a shoot,
You've become a tree,
One which I hope will grow tall
And spread its branches wide
And bloom in springtime to remind me
That even death is not the end.


Postscript

This poem was inspired by a comment my friend Susanna (yes, we have the same name) made. She is a landscape designer and knows more about how to grow and nurture plants than I ever will. I posted a video of my husband cutting down a tree in our yard on Facebook, and she asked why we cut it down, since it made her "sad to see trees go down without good cause."

Her comment made me pause and think about how differently I view trees here in South Carolina than when I lived in California. There, trees are the majestic giants of the landscape. Each tree, whether pine or oak, birch or redwood, has its own space. In California gardens, trees generally don't grow unless you specifically plant them there. When Susanna redesigns someone's garden, she takes existing trees into account and designs around them.

In South Carolina, trees grow like weeds, literally. When I weed a flowerbed, I pull up handfuls of pine and cherry laurel and oak tree sprouts (Oak are the worst! Their roots are so stubborn.). Any empty lot will become a forest if you just leave it alone for a couple of years. When developers build houses around here, they often clear out all the trees on a lot before building. After all, you can easily grow more trees after the house is built. The tree that we cut down in our yard wasn't aesthetically pleasing and had been damaged by an ice storm. I thought of it as sort of a giant weed, to be honest. My friend's comment made me think about the prevailing attitude where I live now, that trees are so common and easy to grow we don't value them much.

There was another tree knocked down by the ice storm, a beautiful flowering pear, the middle one of three that lined our driveway. After the storm, we cut it down to the stump, since stumps are difficult to remove. Remarkably, the stump continued to send out shoots, as if it were desperate to continue its life even though the main body of the tree was gone. Most of those shoots we cut down. But one grew big enough that it would've been too much trouble to remove it. I began to wonder how big it could get, and whether or not it would be able to become a tree in its own right. I liked the idea of the old pear tree leaving behind a "daughter" tree to remember her by.

All these thoughts inspired me to write the poem above. Common or not, each tree is a little miracle of nature, designed to grow and thrive in all sorts of adverse circumstances.

April 14, 2017

Poem: Unimproved Lot


Find beauty in a dead oak tree
Drowning in kudzu.
Find beauty in a lopsided longleaf pine
And the squirrel nest in its broken branches.
Find beauty in dusty red dirt
Scattered with pine cones.
Find beauty in blackbirds' overlapping cries
And cicadas' grinding whirrs.
Find beauty in shimmering, humid heat
On a cloudless summer afternoon.
Find beauty in places called empty,
Abandoned, ignored, unimproved.

February 1, 2017

How to Write a Politically Correct Business Email

Dear Bubba,
I know that I really ought to be raising this issue with Jim Bob. But, as anyone who's met him knows, he's a stupid S.O.B. and lazy to boot, so therefore unlikely to either understand or care about my concerns.


Dang. That's no good.

Dear Bubba,
I know that I really ought to be raising this issue with Jim Bob. But I think that it falls outside his area of expertise. I hope that you will be able to help me take care of this problem, or recommend someone else who can. Please don't bring Jim Bob into this, he's dumb as a slug and mean as a hornet and you'll only make him confused and angry.


Nope. Dang.

Dear Bubba,
I know that I really ought to be raising this issue with Jim Bob. But I think that it falls outside his area of expertise. I hope that you will be able to help me take care of the problem, or recommend someone else who can. I don't think it's a good idea to bother Jim Bob with this right now, as he has other priorities. If we can come up with a reasonable solution quickly, I think we'll be able to implement it before Jim Bob has another one of his temper tantrums and goes whining to the boss like a spoiled five-year-old.


Nope. Can't do it. Try again.

Dear Bubba,
I know that I really ought to be raising this issue with Jim Bob. But I think that it falls outside his area of expertise. I hope that you will be able to help me take care of the problem, or recommend someone else who can. I don't think it's a good idea to bother Jim Bob with this right now, as he has other priorities. If we can come up with a reasonable solution quickly, I think we'll be able to implement it without interference.
Thank you for your time.