Wednesday, June 24, 2020


I have been worried about my yucca plants because I think they are in spots that are too wet. Plus, we're on 100% clay here so there's no drainage. But the other day I was outside taking a look at my border and was shocked to see that the yucca that still has leaves is growing a flower stalk! Very slowly, but it's there. All the other neighborhood yucca already have tall stalks but they weren't transplanted a few months ago. I was worried this one was dying, one leaf at a time, and was trimming back all of the outer leaves as they shriveled and turned brown.
Even more miraculously, the very unhappy yucca might be growing back as well! I checked and saw a tiny bit of green in the center. My friend Shawn had said it's impossible to kill a yucca and recommended as all of these leaves started to die that I cut back the entire crown to rest the plant and see how it goes next year. I had also put in this inherited plastic bird to watch over it.

So, we all start where we are. I am still sorting out how to do the work on top of my work, and I think it involves combining them—which is something I've always done but now want to consider more consciously. How can I combat racism in my field, which has always been there? It's something I have known and noticed and felt from entering it but no one was really willing to talk about it or hear it. I'm already underway on certain direct action but it all goes so much slower than I'd like. If you were to read this interview about my rhododendron drawings during lockdown, you'd feel like I was in another world then, which I was! Grateful for this new attention to the plants right around me as they give me a lifeline of sorts to continue my work.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Losses and riches

I didn't post when it happened because I couldn't handle any deaths during pandemic but did want to acknowledge that the hand papermaking world lost Richard Flavin last month. I only met him twice in my week in Japan in late 2014 but had wonderful visits and you can revisit those photos here. I wrote about Richard as well but the best remembrance for now is by Paul Denhoed, who created a space to honor Richard on his site.

I'm re-engaging in the active work of supporting POC in hand papermaking and grateful for Akua, my partner in crime on that project, who has been fundraising for a new wheelchair. I was eager to help her in this regard as she has always been incredibly generous to all kinds of people both inexperienced and experienced in the hand papermaking field. She is the only person I know who makes paper even after paralysis, with a kitchen studio. I learned so much from her early work in botanical papermaking that she has re-compiled on a new website. Now that I am in middle age, I feel even more thankful for all of our elders, too many of whom we have already lost since the pandemic began, and more committed to documenting their wisdom.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

"Poets as cultural workers"

In his preface to A Field Guide to Eastern Trees, George A. Petrides wrote, "Like all other creatures, we depend totally on green plants, which convert inorganic chemicals into organic foods and also help to maintain essential atmospheric gases in a healthful balance." We truly depend totally on these plants, not only for keeping us alive in the scientific definition but for providing beauty, abundant renewable materials, joy, and a sense of connection to the world, among a zillion other things. On Sunday night, I harvested three bags of yucca leaves for a future papermaking bonanza.
I continue to cook and cook and eat and overeat, and was grateful to a friend for letting me know that Samin Nosrat recommends always keeping pickled red onions on hand. It coincided with listening to her speak generously about her trajectory and her twin loves for food and writing, and what it was like to grow up always looking and feeling like she didn't belong.
This is the second garment from a tablecloth, also a practice run—not only for how the pattern works/doesn't work but for how to piece together a billion scraps. I thought that sewing would save my eyes from the computer, but sewing is really quite hard on my eyes. Regardless, I am always eager to read what Herb has to write and his post on how we label policing is very good and his link to Officer Patrick Skinner's first-hand account of how to be a good neighbor as a police officer is also something I needed to read coming from someone in uniform.
I finished this yesterday and though it didn't come out exactly as I wanted, and I made many more mistakes, I am relieved to be done—it's already in the mail to its owner. I am diving back into more sewing and look forward to the latest episode of Books & Boba, about Asian American literature. I want to leave you with a little about my colleague Akua Lezli Hope, a creator who among many other things writes poetry, makes paper, and is a glass artist. Over the course of months, I slowly read her book, Them Gone. Slowly because I've learned over the years that poetry is not meant to be speed read. Slowly because it's intense and masterful as it weaves through many narratives of the American Black experience. This week, Akua was a featured artist on an episode about Finger Lakes arts—go to 35:09 of this video to see her speak and be sure to listen to her latest powerful poem. The title of this post comes from her interview and she walks her talk.

Friday, June 12, 2020

A few more notes in the stumbling through shadow

Because I've been consuming monster amounts, I left off a few other things I wanted to share:

Terrence Wilson will be performing piano via Open Space (a new way to experience music at home by contemporary performers. 97% of ticket sales go to the artists). He originally was going to do a different program but given these times, created a program that looks at hope and despair. Tickets are only $12! I participated in the first event for this series and found it to be a warm and curious space, where we were able after the concert to interact with the performers and even during it to pipe in (via chat, of course) with comments.

BIPOC theatre makers have come together to call out white American theatre. Their litany sounds familiar to many other fields, including my own, and they are looking to gather a few thousand more signatures for their petition to reach 75K. It's a tiny gesture, almost a token, simply to sign and yet it's so easy to do. They ask for any donations to go directly to Black Lives Matter.

Finally, This Jungian Life is a podcast by three Jungian analysts. Their latest episode, 115 (We Can't Breathe), invites back fellow Jungian analyst Fanny Brewster. She had been on episode 87 talking about the racial complex. She is one of only four black Jungian analysts in their field, and is incredibly measured in both episodes but generous with her knowledge. There were moments where I was put off by some of the white lady energy from the regular hosts, but it's worth listening to the current episode because they recognize that the horrible things that have been happening since the beginning of time are all shadow and impulse that lay in each one of us, so we can't sit around pointing fingers without serious self examination.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

"Race is a pigment of the imagination"

[Youngmin took this picture of Ellie sniffing my wedding ducks on the beautiful bojagi she made to wrap and gift them.] I just heard that quote about race on episode #10 of an incredible podcast, All My Relations. Two Native women created an impeccably produced, insightful, and necessary space to talk about issues important to Native peoples. Early on, it made me question the colonial thinking of humans being more important than any other animals or organisms, which is only one of many backward colonial tenets. Matika Wilbur is an artist who has been traveling the world to photograph Native people because the images we have of them all exist in the historical past (she said, if you search online for "African American" you see a family of smiling black people, a family of smiling Asians for "Asian American," and so on. But a search for "Native American" only pulls up outdated and usually false images from early colonization). Adrienne Keene is a scholar and professor who runs the site Native Appropriations for years and says it is a place where she is "consenting to learn in public," which I found poetic and courageous. We worry so much about doing and saying (or not doing and not saying) the wrong thing when we could all consent to learn in public, correct our mistakes in public, and grow.
Their voices are strong and informed, willing to disagree without hostility or apology, and wise enough to bring many other Native voices to the table. I especially appreciate that their theme music includes their laughter. When I first started to listen to the Bruce Lee Podcast, I was surprised by all the laughter between two women who were friends and co-workers. Now I hear it as a gift, and hope we can get used to that sound because it is a healthy and real thing. I listen more regularly to They Call Us Bruce and in the latest episode learned about an excellent W. Kamau Bell article about how it's possible for him to hold many different "mads" in his head at once: mad at Chinese discrimination against blacks, while also mad at white discrimination against Chinese, and so on.
While my friendship structures during pandemic became very clear in terms of who I could count on to support me as we all limped through an experience that all of us had never had before, I feel bereft now. I knew that the choice to live in a white suburb in Northeast Ohio meant I would lose proximity to the closest city while gaining proximity to a future studio (whose roof is being replaced right now). It has been a painful transition because living amidst all white people feels unsafe and unnerving, and hammers home the fact that most of my friends here are white. While I would love to live in an enclave and see my face reflected in the streets amidst many other faces, I can't afford to do that and have the things I want (e.g., a papermaking studio). But I miss those communities, and understand why my other friends make the sacrifices to live in those places.
A friend on the west coast responded to my recent email by saying, "as white-lady-mcwhiterson, I have NO authority on anything here," which made me laugh as her self awareness was refreshing. The opposite is distressing, from random and frantic calls or emails from (white) people who never usually contact me, to statements like, "We can't get rid of the police, I want to be able to call them if my house gets robbed," without recognizing the privilege in saying that, as well as its racism. Years ago, I saw Ta-Nehisi Coates at an event for his Between the World and Me. Unsurprisingly yet still disappointingly, a white woman during the Q&A asked, "I read your book, but now what am I supposed to do?" His response: don't ask me. His example was to imagine a white person with their boot on a black person's neck, asking the black person, "What am I supposed to do??"

I certainly have my own work to do as a light-skinned POC who comes from cultures that actively engage in anti-blackness. I am doing it, and it is painful, but that's the process. Sitting with the pain and working through it without getting reactive is really important, even if it's lonely.

Back to listening to Matika and Adrienne!

Sunday, June 07, 2020

A book for now

I forgot to add yesterday that the bright spot in my week, month, months since lockdown was the news that the public library drive-thru window opened. I was able to get a book I've wanted to read for months and it was worth the wait, Gene Luen Yang's Dragon Hoops.

About the book.

A great interview with the author.

It is exactly what we need now, and appropriate for younger readers as well. Gene spoke to a history teacher, Tony Green, from the high school where he used to teach, and where this book takes place, and created these panels about their conversation about today.

Saturday, June 06, 2020


[Last night's Strawberry Moon.] I've been amazed by how well people are thinking, writing, organizing, and putting their bodies on the line while the world is on fire. I don't have that kind of fortitude. I've been walking and thinking.
Yesterday I needed to get away from the neighborhood and into the woods. The previous day I had listened three times to an important and excellent interview with Resmaa Menakem, a therapist who helps people grapple with the effects of racism in their very bodies, over generations, and in every body (white people forget how much they are harmed by oppressing others, and their own history of being subjugated in the "old world" that continues to this day). He is moving away from "people of color" as a term to "bodies of culture," to affirm that we are human beings. POC is a story for another day, a term that came up after the older ones I learned, still inadequate for these times. Many POC feel it means only black people, and there is still so much work to be done under that umbrella to recognize the ways we share experiences yet also have different ones that can make our lives easier or take our lives away. Menakem says also that we must start the healing while in our like groups, not glommed together in "diversity" training because throwing bodies in a room like that is dangerous.
While walking, I thought about how I rush here to feel held and protected, away from the world, but more melanated people cannot. I heard it years ago on Code Switch, about the dangers of being a black or brown body in nature, and people who are working to change that. Because of Chris Cooper's recent experience, I read about birding while black and highly recommend this article plus the video and links to J. Drew Lanham's initial essay about being a black birder. I rarely see black bodies in the woods; the last time I did, I heard the woman speaking passionately to the man about social justice. When I pass the many white bodies in the woods, they are on the phone, jogging, gossiping, with their dogs and children, able to do whatever they like.

Lanham's comment about black birds being his birds made me think about how I feel about the grackles all over my home. They have been nesting in an evergreen tree out front, right next to the rhododendron bush I've been drawing since March. Probably also in the maple on the side of my garage. I watch them terrorize squirrels and one grackle made a deer run faster than I've ever seen. I don't care for their squacks, but do I get as upset about the fighting pigeons and robins, the woodpecker that woke me up at 6am this morning as it drummed into my gutter? It's true that we don't feel kindly towards black birds (though I definitely get angrier at the woodpeckers when they wake me). The baby that died on my lawn was a grackle, and another one died on my friend's porch. We both hated to witness that part of nature but could not do anything.

However, we can do a lot when it comes to how we think about and treat black people. All the worry we have about a tiny black bird in danger of dying should pale in comparison to our feelings about black humans in the same danger—we shouldn't even have to make the comparison. It starts at home and continues every day to ripple out into the world. I won't live to see the day when black and brown bodies can feel safe in the world but that doesn't mean we can't work tirelessly towards it.