Can you draw a toilet?



Help wanted. Emergency Cartoonist to extract a picture that lodged in my head after an illness last week. I don’t think I’ll be better until you help me remove it.

There is a semi circle of toilets.  About ten people who look like men and a couple who look like women, are standing with their butts in the air and heads in their respective toilet bowls. Each has one hand on the flusher. Out of their butts are ostrich feathers.

An arch overhead says North Carolina State Legislature.

A male-appearing figure is standing at the front of the semi circle. The bulb over his head says “1,2,3, flush!”.

In the corner are six small figures. Their shirts read: Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee and Wisconsin. They are childlike in stature with ostrich feathers and feet. One of them has a bubble over its head: — “Hey that looks fun, let’s do that too!”

In the other corner are seven figures – adult-like, holding signs that read, HEALTH CARE, EDUCATION, BRIDGES, CLIMATE CHANGE, CLEAN WATER, POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY, JOBS. Out of their bubbles are a series of questions marks and exclamations marks.

In the top are three figures holding a banner that says, Boycotting  North Carolina:  D.C. San Francisco,Portland,  New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Minnesota, Washington and 100 companies. 

On the bottom is a note:

“Contrary to popular belief, ostriches actually don’t let their heads hit the ground. They have learned over the generations that such actions endangers their species– because if they did they might step on their own heads, think they were being attacked and kill themselves in self defense.

North Carolina legislators are not that smart”.


Special Thanks to Emily Winkler-Morey and her friend, the Ostrich farmer from New Jersey, for Ostrich insights.

Deep apologies to all ostriches everywhere.

And thanks in advance to the cartoonist who can draw toilets. And Assholes.


Lost in Dallas tracking the Daughters of Tabor..

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You learn the most about a place when your travel plans go awry and you  are hungry,  lost, and treading where no other tourist would ever go.


We started out reasonably enough,  climbing in the airport shuttle to find breakfast and catch the train into Dallas. But the shuttle driver— a kind man in his late sixties who works 7 day weeks and 12 hour days, (including Easter morning)  offered  a short cut. He would drop us at the transit station where buses run straight into town.

As we rode the driver acted as our tour guide, as though we were driving through an area of interest and not the ugly backside of an airport/hotel nexus.   He pointed to a pile of sheet rock in an abandoned field.

“More construction.”

We passed a raft of empty town houses. “New structures  going up everywhere.”

He pointed to the other side of the street.   “See that palace? New Senior Housing.”

In the middle of all the new developments was an older run down housing project, and beyond that, a bit of  wild land — a gorgeous spring-green piece of East Texas thicket.

“This guy refuses to sell. He’s got a bunch of goats in there and a black donkey that herds them — protects them better than any guard dog. Once a feral hog tried to attack his goats.  The donkey killed him!”

We should have known.

The parking lot at the bus stop was empty, save for one lone bike. But the driver insisted the bus would come. He had already disappeared by the time we read the sign: no services on Sundays.

On the two mile walk back, we passed the thicket, hoping to get a glimpse of the donkey.
“Look like you are hungry enough to eat a goat. Maybe the donkey will come out to shoo us away.” I said.
I AM hungry enough to eat a goat. Been hungry since we got on the plane 15 hours ago.” Dave said, trying not to sound irritated.

“Hey this is just like the bike trip.” I said.  “Look out for a good story.” We laughed,  showing each other good humor that was part real and part feigning. The tickets for this impromptu trip to Dallas were cheap, but still a luxury. We were feeling an obligation to HAVE FUN.

As we passed an older run-down housing development we noticed something improbable. Something we had not see in the van. Something the driver had not mentioned.

Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery the historical marker read.

African Americans came to this area as slaves of white settlers …

After the civil war [they] stayed in the area and formed a large settlement. In 1879 Minnie Shelton purchased 80 acres including this site and the Shelton family donated the land for use as a cemetery. …. Buried here is] Elizabeth Lawson…   Her stone bears the insignia of the Fraternal Organization of the Knights and Daughters of Tabor.

According to  Portland, Oregon, blogger Jasper Wilcox, The Knights and Daughters of Tabor began as a militant Black underground anti-slavery organization. After the Civil War they  funded Black hospitals and encouraged their members to buy real estate to build Black capital.*  The daughters of Tabor in Texas bought real estate in downtown Dallas and saw to it that the Black community had a dignified final resting place.  However..- as the historical marker notes:

Access to the burial ground has often been restricted and regular maintenance was difficult in the 20th century. A Cemetery survey in 1970 found that there were 12 legible headstones and over 200 burials on the site….  

The historical marker was put up at the cemetery in 2001 – a demand of local activists. In 2013 that new senior housing palace was built,boxing in the cemetery.

The struggle for access and preservation of  the cemetery continues.


*Mississippi Knight of Tabor  Theodore Roosevelt Howard was a friend and mentor of Medgar Evers. He founded PUSH — that organization that came to be associated with Jesse Jackson — in 1971.

After Obama Returns from Cuba, Who Will Listen to our Dissidents?

IMG_0850 (3) This morning, I stared for a long time at the photo of President Barack Obama meeting with Cuban dissidents.  I wondered: who decided who would be invited to the meeting?  Do the gay activist and the Catholic lay leader often seek audience together?  To whom can I — dissident of the United States — appeal?

This evening, the poem, APPLYING FOR CITIZENSHIP — read by author Ruben Medina, who has lived in the United States for forty years and is still considering becoming a U.S. citizen — spoke to the spirit of my morning questions. He read his poem to a crowd of eight at the Loft Literary Center.  You need to buy the book to see the proper format and read it all – but here is a taste:

Here, my fellow citizens are my conditions. 

English-only speakers should pay higher taxes

The welfare system should be abolished for big corporations

America should be dropped from the name of this country

Absentee ballots should be allowed for undocumented workers only …

The White House should be moved to Puerto Rico, The Congress to Harlem, the United Nations to Wounded Knee….

Half  of the billboards in the country should be given to poets or anyone who wants to imagine the nation, the other half to children. 

People who say this is the greatest country in the world should do volunteer work for the homeless, sing the national anthem backwards or attend every death sentence carried out in the nation….

Commercials on TV should be limited to one minute every hour ….

The Cuban National baseball team should play in the  major leagues…. 

All military forces in foreign lands should return within 30 days. 

This morning I voiced my dissent by tossing the morning paper, yelling at my radio.  This evening I listened, and felt  vindicated.

You should have been there.

* Ruben Medina, Nomadic Nation / Nación Nómada – Cowfeather Press, 2015.






See yourself, Be yourself.


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Shannon Gibney Speaking  about Her new Young Adult Novel  See No Color.


For the last week I have been doing everything I can to avoid writing answers to  what should be a couple of easy questions: Who am I? and  What is my book about?

Instead I wrote about Kmart, (!) washed five loads of laundry,  folded  AND put them away, graded all my papers, searched in vain for cheap last minute tickets to NYC to see my daughter perform, had tea with two students, made and ate two from-scratch soups, raked leaves, walked, checked Facebook and,  Facebook and, Facebook and

I also attended two talks. Historian Peniel Joseph  addressed students at Macalester, putting Black Lives Matter in the context of civil rights and Black Liberation History. Shannon Gibney read from her new  YA  novel See No Color.

Joseph said we make a mistake when we put too much emphasis on legal changes, like the Voting Rights Act, or Brown V Board, or focus on the rise of an individuals like MLK andBarack Obama.  When we do that we see these events and people as some sort of resting spot, instead of staying in the struggle.

Black Lives Matter youth are the progenitors of SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee)- young people aiming to transform the system, Joseph argued. “For Black people, History is sustenance.Without it we die. With knowledge of those who struggled before us we know who we are, and what we need to do. If we read and write our truths everyday we don’t need drugs and alcohol. The knowledge will keep us healthy.”

Shannon Gibney, whose book gives voice to young transracial adoptees — said essentially the same thing at the Loft Literary Center.  “Something happens when you don’t see yourself in literature.”

She was told by editors to focus her narrative – to which she replied “my life is multilayered.” It was exactly that complexity that she needed to write about.

One of Gibney’s strengths as a writer is that she is a truth teller – something she said does not always work for her in life, but is essential to writing.  Part of telling truth in See No Color was to create Alex, a 16 year old  biracial girl adopted by a white couple — who tells lies as she struggles to create a face for the world.

Her goal as the story progressed was for her character and her readers to learn to be comfortable with themselves and with the diversity they encounter as they proceed toward adulthood.

When I was 17 trying to maneuver my first semester at Oberlin College (a few weeks before dropping out) I came home from a world history class and wrote in my notebook:

“I am a product of history.”

Now, 40 years later, I wish that instead of paragraphing who am I and what is your book about — I could just repeat those six words … I am a product of history…  and the reader (and publisher) would say,

“Interesting. I’ll come along for the ride.”

The Invisible (Blue) Back Pack #2





Before I left home to visit my ailing baby brother in the hospital in Boston I  packed my suitcase and blue back pack.

In the back pack I put my laptop, wallet, passport, sunglasses, sheaf of essays to grade, phone with shattered face. Dave, the loving spouse, suggested I take the daughter’s social security card and birth certificate, as I would be seeing her.

I consider saying, “Is that safe? How can we trust me with them?” but it felt good to think I was trustworthy, so in they went.

Arriving at Logan I rushed to the Silver line bus stop, headed to the red subway line at South station. The bus arrived just as I did.

I  was frantic to get to the hospital. My previously healthy littlest brother, couldn’t see, couldn’t walk. His malady was still undiagnosed, but they had begun a treatment called IVIG– which Wikipedia says is:  “a blood product administered intravenously. It contains the pooled, polyvalent, IgG antibodies extracted from the plasma of over one thousand blood donors.” 

I had missed the worst moments. He was on the upswing, well cared for by hospital and family.  I needed to see him, to be a part of the healing process.  Getting on the right bus was a relief. I felt lighter.

Too light.

The bus was just leaving the last airport stop when I realized I did not have my back pack.

I walked back through no-pedestrian land, going through what I had in the my back pack. the laptop with latest version of my book, the passport – surely gone now. Emily’s birth certificate….

I imagined telling my students their papers were blown up by robots. Everyone gets an A.

A for absent minded.

Thirty minutes later I arrive back at the silver line stop.  The blue back pack was lying on the sidewalk untouched, right where I left it, with all of its contents.

My baby brother has now been diagnosed with the rare auto immune disease  Guillain-Barré Syndrome  with a side of Miller Fisher.  The IVIG treatment seems to be working quite miraculously.

“It’s like hair” the nurse said. “It will grow, you will get better, but slowly.”

The “village” is organized here. A meal train made up to 12 neighbors and friends begins tomorrow, scheduled to deliver  a meal a night. The cooler is outside the front door, ready to accept these gifts.


The invisible Blue Back Pack #1.


While I was on the plane from Minneapolis to Boston, my family of origin were engaged in a bet: what will she lose, break, forget, ruin this time?  When I found out about the bet I was miffed, but I didn’t have a leg to stand on.  I had already told my sick brother of my misadventure  at the airport. It felt like a lucky thing then, something to make him laugh as he lay there in his hospital bed.

At least smile a bit.

I am extremely absent-minded, have been since I was a child. I’m not proud of it, but after four decades of I- should-do-better-now adulthood, I am trying to give up on feeling ashamed. It doesn’t make it any better.  I yam what I yam.

I have never had any diagnosis – just a lot of nodding heads when symptoms of ADD or autism spectrum are  noted. Trouble learning to tie shoes. Trouble spelling words I use constantly – like foreign – when I was in graduate school studying U.S. foriegn policy — and bicycle when I was on a 14 month bycicle trip and blogging daily. Trouble remembering to comb hair, clean glasses. An absolutely maddening dog-run- in-circle-chasing-tail when I try to leave my house with the basics: keys, wallet, phone.

The only things that give me relief from a brain that will not sit still long enough to do things right, are walking, biking and writing. A combination of one of the first two and the second is heaven. The thoughts begin to gather, to form lines, to make sense.

I have had a million falls and a million second chances as a result of my wayward brain.  I have become aware, mostly through my teaching, that many of the second chances I get are classic examples of white privilege, and in some cases, short woman privilege. I appear to be helpless young thing, or, now, a tottering old thing, but not dangerous, not trying to cheat the system. A presumption of innocence is a privilege I have relied on to get me through countless messes.

But that does not explain the case of the blue back pack.

More tomorrow.

Day of Atonement

Eid  Adha,  Yom Kippur, and the Pope’s visit to the United States all happening at the same time.  The Pope has reminded us we have a much work to do to bring about a world where we treat our neighbor as we would be treated ourselves. He also talked about atoning for past sins, against Native Americans, against immigrants, against mother earth. (His canonization of Junipero Serra  puzzles me as it is so incongruous with everything else he is saying. The only good he is doing with this decision is  thrusting the limelight on those Native Americans who oppose his decision.

I spent the day of atonement – Yom Kippur – not fasting but – due to a dizzy spell — contemplating, thinking about accepting and changing. Angela Davis said she wants to change what she can not accept. I agree. But first I have to accept myself where I am, my students where they are, the world the way if is before I can change anything.

Maybe  accept is the wrong word. I have to be willing to start the process of change from where I am and where we are and not from where I wish we were.

I’m not for atoning, but I am for repairing. Personal wounds and those facing a nation and a world.  Reparations — for slavery for example — don’t require personal responsibility for the sin, just a realization somethings been torn and needs repair. that makes sense to me.

Without repair  we face reckoning, no matter what god we do or don’t pray to.

Pope Francis referred with reverence to Dorothy Day, who – Code Pink tells us once said:

“Our problems stem from our acceptance of this dirty rotten system. “