In the news and why we MUST resist

I am not feeling hopeful about America right now, and frankly, I don't think you should be either. The news from the Evil Yam's dictatorly abode is getting worse and worse. Some recent developments:

Assaults on the media and freedom of the press:
CNN, The New York Times, The LA Times, and Politico, among others, were blocked from the White House press meeting. BLOCKED. This is unprecedented behavior from an American presidential administration. Indeed, just this past December (yes, the one just three months ago), Sean Spicer, WH Press Secretary said, "open access for the media is 'what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship.'" It seems the latter shoe is starting to fit quite comfortably.
-Meanwhile, a Chicago affiliate of ABC suspended an anchor for tweeting several anti-Trump sentiments. Speech seems to be becoming less free, eh?

Hate crimes and bigotry:
On Friday, two Indian-American men were shot, one of them killed, in Kansas by a white American who had been kicked out of the bar in which they all relaxed for such egregious racial slurs that other patrons complained. After leaving, he returned and fired on the men. It is being investigated as a premeditated hate crime. You think? Trump has made no statement about this event.
You probably also saw the horrific vandalization of a Jewish cemetery, Chesed Shel Emeth, in St. Louis, MO. Trump only made a statement denouncing this heinous act when asked directly about it by a journalist.
Trump is also still working on instating a travel ban despite not one reliable news or security source suggesting that such a ban is reasonable or is called for in any way. Homeland Security issued the article I link to.
Hate is becoming policy.

The roundups and threats of and actual deportations continue. Interestingly and concurrently, Trump rescinded "an Obama admin directive that would have ended the government's association with private prisons." As do many who have studied the systemically racist, enormously overpopulated, failing criminal justice system, Obama believed private prisons were "neither safe nor cost effective." But with Trump's deportation plans "comes the possibility of millions of illegal immigrants who will need to be detained somewhere" prior to their ouster. And it turns out according to USA TODAY, the private prison industry has already said thank you to Donald Trump.

After tweeting a promise to the LGBTQ community in June of 2016 to fight for them and their rights, Trump last week, with the support of newly installed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, rescinded an Obama directive aimed at protecting LGBTQ students in schools by tossing the decision to do so back to the states. As do I, many LGBTQ advocates believe desperately that federal protections are critically important to supersede the possible (likely; see North Carolina, for example) bigotry of state governments. 

Who's really running the show?:
Scary white supremacist WH Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, emerged from the shadows of evil last week to deliver a forceful speech on plans to "deconstruct the administrative state" and "upend the world order." This included massive, sustained attacks on the media (see point 1, above). “Every day, it is going to be a fight.” Bannon remains on the National Security Council, also unprecedented. 

Trump's lies:
On February 21, Washington Post reporter, Chris Cilizza, published a well-documented piece showing that not once for the 33 days since his inauguration has Trump gone a day without lying. Some days those lies number one or two while other days the fib tally climbs to 7 or more.

And meanwhile, Trump's (and his team's) relationships and involvement with Russia prior to the election and since remains exceptionally murky and unknown. Now, the Trump administration "has enlisted senior members of the intelligence community and Congress in efforts to counter news stories about Trump associates’ ties to Russia, a politically charged issue that has been under investigation by the FBI as well as lawmakers now defending the White House."

Post-Valentine's rose petal jam

Each year, my sweet T brings me red roses for Valentine's Day. As our years together have grown in number, so too has the size of the bouquet; somewhere around a decade, it went from 12 to 24 stems. 

I always feel a bit sad when the heads start to droop and the petals begin to brown and wither. Part of me wants to toss them at the first sign of decline, while at other times I'm prone toward resuscitative efforts or preservation. 

Five years ago, unwilling to part with my roses but unable to store more dried petals without starting to feel like Miss Havisham, I wondered what it would be like to make jelly with them. What resulted, after not a short and sweet process, was lovely. A transparent, cardinal red jewel with a distinctly herbal tang and elements of sweet and tart, thanks to the addition of sugar, apple, Meyer lemon, and red currants.

I'm a good jam maker, but jelly is tough. I don't like the taste of synthetic pectins but you need to add some in this case. I try to take a light hand with liquid pectin which has less of an aftertaste but often results in a jelly with inconsistent wobble. It's weird, but I'd rather my jelly be too loose than too stiff. I'd rather spoon than grate, you know?

It's been a long while since I've made rose petal jelly, but this year's bouquet was so beautiful, and our first V-day of ordering take-out and watching a movie in pjs so just-what-we-needed, that I decided to make some Love Letter Jelly (that sounds awfully X-rated in some respects; sorry, but jelly is more accurate than jam).

I doubled the recipe since I received 24 stems this year but came to find that I only had one envelope of liquid pectin. Alas, I now have loose jelly. But it still sings with the unique taste of rose, a taste that becomes really magical atop lemon curd and warm bread; that is my favorite way to eat this jelly. 

The process is a long, involved one, but I can manage that once every five years or so. 

rose petal trimmings; you want just the velvety red parts!

rose petal trimmings; you want just the velvety red parts!

the red leaches from the petals into the water...

the red leaches from the petals into the water...

fading further

fading further

ethereal petals in rose red water

ethereal petals in rose red water

rose syrup

rose syrup

On the arts and their value

Ensconced in a transparent plastic chair with file cabinets of sheet music on one side and a colorful array of instruments on the other, with bleats and squeaks and scales and low frequencies radiating from studios all around, I turn a page in my book and smile. Mozart, the resident dog, ambles over for a scratch behind his ears.

Although I've little musical ability, in Middle C each weekend, as I wait while Jack and Oliver finish their lessons, I feel at home. The test notes and amiable chatter and warm ups and expanding lung capacities are individuals at practice in a place that both challenges and nurtures them. I gravitate toward places like that and the people who both work and learn there.

I felt a similar homeyness during the AWP conference earlier this month, despite the fact that literally thousands were in attendance, and I knew approximately five. Armed with my schedule, badge, and a bag of books -I never go anywhere without reading material; do you?- I made my way from panel to panel, toggling between the convention center and the elephantine Marriott across the street. Lost among friends, really. And happily so.

This is not to say that all musicians and writers and artists are nice, expansive people. Good grief- of course they aren't. Some are egotistical and competitive, and others are pathologically shy. Some are troubled while others prefer words or paint to people. Many have wrestled with periods of feeling awkward or different. Many still do. Some have experienced abuse or trauma or stunning loss. Many are delightfully eccentric, some fit every stereotype.

I've often wondered just how mental health, creativity, and intelligence co-exist, for many have written of "madness" as creative fire, of angst as a torturous fuel, of tragedy and loss as a sort of generative phoenix. A spherical spectrum seems to fit the bill of any synchronicity better than a linear one. 

Most every artist I've ever encountered relishes or at least feels the utter need to get at the root of who they are, who we are, and to express those selves in some way. Communities of artists are like multi-celled organisms undulating toward kernels of truth and understanding, toward justice and inclusion. The arts push the boundaries of what is and should be accepted, what is and should be normed. They teach us empathy, allow us to better understand the beauty and strength in difference, usher in respect and tolerance, and diminish fear and hate.

It is not hard to understand why dictators seek to control messaging and especially artistic expression. So really, stay sharp right now in the face of alternative facts (bullshit), lies messaged as news (also bullshit), the spread of fear versus hope (carnage, anyone?), and attempts to quash the humanities (the Trump admin's desire to cut the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, disallow peaceful protests, etc). 

Politics aside, this post is actually a piece about me and the gratitude I feel for the arts.

When I was a young child, my parents (who both studied art history in college and have collected art for decades), sister, and I often played two games: one was an artist and artwork flashcard-based gig (more fun that it now sounds), and the other was a sleuthing game in which the player whose turn it was donned a blindfold, reached into a paper bag to pluck a cardboard object from a large assortment, felt its curves and angles, size and stature, and ventured a guess as to what it was.

I attended summer arts camps and took drawing and painting lessons for years. I have spent more than a night in Corning, NY, because my father wanted to see the glass museum there and specifically a piece, Jay Musler's Cityscape, in it. I remember that our B&B smelled like tequila and lime and that the proprietor was a zany woman who sang "Customers, come here!" when we knocked on the wrong door. Cityscape remains vividly seared in my mind, a stunning piece of glass rendered meaningful in a gifted man's hands.

Courtesy of the Corning Museum; isn't this magical? Although sadly, I read it so much differently than I did when younger. Now, though still beautiful, it strikes me as environmental doomsday.

Courtesy of the Corning Museum; isn't this magical? Although sadly, I read it so much differently than I did when younger. Now, though still beautiful, it strikes me as environmental doomsday.

And yet, with all that steeping in the arts, I wasn't comfortable expressing myself artistically until my thirties. The general aging process has helped, but I wouldn't be nearly as complete a person as I am (and let's be clear, it's a real work in progress with more work to do; likewise it's not painless!) without open artistic expression which began with cooking, segued into photography, slid easily into blogging about those things, and has evolved into so much more.

I don't consider myself a Writer yet (though I aspire to be such), but I do know that writers and artists and those who truly appreciate them are my truest tribe. The sensitivity and openness, the shared experience of some struggle and the gentle embrace of what has challenged each of us, the multitude of identities lived and loved and celebrated...all of those things are treasures, gifts, and each time I experience, witness, or grow from relationships forged in and around arts communities, I become more me. More of the me I want to be. More of that fully unhusked kernel of self truth.