Both of my grandmothers were called Dorothy. My father’s mother was Florence Dorothy – she used her middle name, and this, my mother’s mother had no middle name. She was just Dorothy, pronounced with three full syllables. She was mild-mannered, earned a masters degree late in life, and worked as a reference librarian. This grandmother, who I called Grandmother, was from Wichita.
I finished her portrait a couple of years ago and then finished it again recently. I like to just keep adding layers and in this case the final layer was a couple of layers of uncolored encaustic wax on just her face and neck. Even more so in person it has a nice built up, flesh-like semi-matte texture that clouds her a little. I thought the likeness was pretty accurate when I was done painting, but she looked too crisp. Not that she had no crispness, just that she had many, many layers of self-possession in effect at all times.
She had an adorable way of wrinkling up her nose impishly when something was funny. (I hesitate to bring that up because then when I look at the way I painted her nose I think it looks too straight and skinny. But I’m not fixing it again.) She said, “I eat my peas with honey, I’ve done it all my life. It makes the peas taste funny but it keeps them on the knife.”
This one usually followed: “There was a fox in the hen house one night. The farmer heard a commotion and ran out to save the chickens. He knocked on the door and yelled, “Who’s in there?!” The fox answered, “No one but us chickens.”
Inez Dell Auld was the twin of Ina Bell and like her sister she never married. Bell and Dell had an older sister, Carrie, who died of pnuemonia when they were two. When the twins were four their mother gave birth again and this time it was triplets, but that is another story.
Dell was a talented pianist and moved from Kirkville, Iowa to Boulder in the 1920s to major in musical performance at the University of Colorado. But before she finished her studies she was called home to care for her aging parents as had been their plan all along. Maybe she didn’t mind, but I don’t believe it. She became the town piano teacher. She liked the Bible. She liked the color blue.
My memories of Aunt Dell are all at the retirement home she moved to when she was about sixty, around the time I was born. After a fairly effusive greeting we’d sit in a circle of chairs and take turns giving stilted monologues about our lives while she nodded affectionately. When I was still in junior high she began asking about what major course of study I had chosen in school and I struggled for years, until I actually had a major in college, to explain that the school I went to just didn’t work that way. That always made it seem like she didn’t have a very firm grip of what the outside world was like. She had a small bulletin board in her room that she would take down to pass around so each of us could admire cards she’d received and snapshots of our distant cousins.
I made this painting with encaustic – colored wax. It did not even begin as a portrait of her, but as an abstract floor plan. I find encaustic very satisfying, at least the way I’m figuring out to use it. As with many things, I may or may not be a fraud encaustically because I have submitted to no instruction. I constructed this in many, many, many layers of paper, colored wax, clear wax, oil paint and ink. In between layers I used my nifty little butane torch to melt the layers together and then sharp blades to scrape the surface flat or make grooves to inlay the next color into. It’s tedious! Stream of consciousness! Organic! Belabored, and patinated nearly to death. I do love a belabored surface.
This is one of my grandfather’s sisters, Dr. Ina Bell Auld. She was born undegreed though, in 1896, and earned her Phd from the University of Iowa until 1938. The title of her dissertation is “Women in the Renassaince: The Attitudes of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries.” Her Masters thesis, from 1922, is about the early reading habits of George Eliot. She was a flaming fleminist.
I knew her little brother Lawrence, and her twin, Miss Inez Dell Auld, and it sounds like Bell was what I like to call a difficult person, which also means I would have liked her. I think a little farm girl from southern Iowa born in 1896 who aspired to academia rather than marriage and conventionality had to be a difficult person to make it work. And she did – she was an English professor, travelled abroad, and caused anguish to her parents and siblings back home. She died in 1960.
I started this painting a couple of years ago and finished it earlier this year. I never met Bell so this image was composed in my head from photos of her and from her reputation. Yes, she’s smirking hard, and holding a book/bird/angelic being with the Congregational Church on Clinton Street in Iowa City behind her. I know from old city directories that she lived just a few blocks from there on Iowa Avenue, but I’d bet you nearly anything she was not much of a church-goer as a graduate student.
Cedar Rapids (or Peter Rapids as one sign declared) was the center of the Democratic world there for a minute while 19 candidates attended the Democratic Hall of Fame Celebration on Sunday. The day before a whole lot of them were in Des Moines for Pride Fest, and most made a weekend of it with multiple events all over the place.
yrmama’s Friday night was all about Bernie and hunger, Saturday was for Jay and Cory, Sunday was Pete, more Cory, and sightings of Bernie again and Kamala and certain hearing loss from the yelling TYT Army. Why were they angry at us? Were they angry at us or just…yelling? In between all those events yrmama held focus groups.
My dental hygienist got all worked up Friday afternoon with her hands in my mouth. It was hard to hold my own. She said, “well…I like Pete,” and a lot of other political things. She does not like Donald but knows a lot of folks who do. I do not know anybody who likes him. Another member of the Friday focus group told yrmama all about vanloads of diverted ballots, the hackers who vote remotely from nursing homes and, for some reason, the Whale Cycle. It’s kind of like the water cycle, but whales.
The large Saturday noon group determined that it is time to prohibit baby boomers from running for office. That means anyone older than yrmama because 1964 can count as a transitional year, right? The cusp. yrmama swings both ways. Donald, W and Bill were all born the same summer in 1946, Joe is four years older than them and Bernie is six years older than them. Kamala is 55, so in by a hair, and Cory is only 50. According to this metric, Elizabeth, a peppy 70, needs to step away from the microphone as well.
Towards the end of this session it got really real. “so, yrmama,” he said with sneaky menace, “which of the candidates has the best plan for completely disenfranchising all Trumpers? We’ve got all the evidence we need that representative democracy is a failure, so if someone is going to be in charge it better be us.”
To which yrmama calmly replied, “I love you, dude. I raised you to be this passionate and I’m proud of you. Who indeed?” Well, that didn’t get us anywhere, but the bile pressure was thereby reduced a bit. It brought the righteous anger of the good that is ominously burbling under the crust of society into focus and that’s valuable.
Sunday morning was, as usual, a confab of sweet middle aged ladies who think Pete is adorable, waiting for him to appear like a sprite from the mist. They said things like, “This is the first time I’ve been to any kind of political thing in years.” And “Well…I like Pete, but Elizabeth is good too. And I hope this doesn’t offend you, yrmama, but Joe is just too damn old.” At which point yrmama mentions Bernie and they go off. “Bernie’s even older! Oh no. I hope he’s not the one you like. I don’t want to hurt your feelings.” Look, if yrmama’s feelings were gunna be hurt by sweet Iowan ladies cautiously stating their opinions there’d be nothing left in here but scar tissue.
yrmama is starting to get upset about the ridiculous constant downpour from the heavens. Her AccuWeather arthritis forecast keeps saying she is at Extreme Risk of pain and she seriously wants to move to New Mexico. It feels out of control. It always rains. No corn gets planted. It’s just gross. Last night 53 tornadoes touched down in the midwest and in Dayton they were using snowplows to remove debris from the highways.
Remember early on yrmama said that climate change is the central issue? Well, it is, from human society and human species points of view. Mother Nature, however you conceive of her is going to continue to be just fine. Nature and quantum physics have no morality attached to them and I think that may be what makes them scary to humans. They are this big (ahem, understatement) amoral force that we exist within. Sure, when a butterfly flaps it’s wings in Mozambique a celery stalk wilts in the crisper in Toronto and when we burn fossil fuels like they’re the best thing since sliced bread, shit gets crazy for meteorologists, but that’s all WITHIN this balanced system. Balance is dynamic, like having wagon legs, it shifts around, it’s not rigid sameness.
Mother Nature insists on balance and balance she will. Not wrathfully, but with the flinty-eyed dedication of my late doggo Lupine who was compelled to Kill All Raccoons. It has to be done and it will be done. All us hoomans as a species can do, if we want to, is try to behave in a way that takes our own best interest into account. Mother Nature will take care of herself.
The next scheduled campaign event in Iowa City is on June 9, location still TBD, but others may pop up between now and then.
This is Rosalind Greene. Have you heard of her? I hadn’t. Here’s her campaign website: https://www.rosalindgreene.com/home She’s an RN, and a veteran, born in Hopkinsville, KY and a grandmother. I am unable to give you many more details because the flickering flames on the screen started to make me feel seasick. It might be fine for you – but if you wear a shirt with black and white stripes I won’t be able to look at you either for the same weird optical reason.
I’m glad Rosalind is running and if nothing else she can have a very worthwhile impact on the primary process. For example, on her list of hot issues for 2020 she lists ADOS and tangibles. Do you know what #ADOS means? I had an inkling but then had to look it up. It means reparations for American Descendents of Slaves. (It’s about lineage, not melanin levels.) And “tangibles,” refers to the actual agenda and commitments a candidate makes to the black community. 21st Century Afropolitan on Youtube explained some things to me pretty well. Maybe you’re on black Twitter and already know everything. Good for you!
Reparations is not a crazy idea and the US has paid them a number of times; from the Japanese Americans held in American concentration camps during WWII, to survivors of police torture in Chicago in 2015 . (more reading for your free time at this link) A lot of smart people believe that for a candidate to truly take hold in black communities they will have to be able to discuss their plan for addressing these issues.
How does the legacy of slavery affect black Americans who are not DOS? Saturday night when there were seven police cars camped on my driveway I had to walk my privileged white butt out and talk to the officers. yrmama said, “My teenage son could come home anytime. He’s black, so don’t be surprised,” by which I meant, “don’t freak the fuck out and shoot the boy in the BMW.”* Mothers shouldn’t have to say things like that but we do. (Then I conferred with him and he decided to just stay at his friend’s house. It could have been the concentration of cops or it could have been me being embarrassing.)
*They were camped out here because someone else’s son was missing and his cell phone indicated he was at my house. They pinged his phone until it’s battery died. He’s not here and never was. I can’t explain it and neither can they. I hope he’s okay. I hope his parents are okay.
it’s very hard to accept that yrmama won’t get well.* Evidence of that difficulty is that I really do think I will get well soon, but genetic collagen defects are forever, man. Plus my advanced age is kicking it in. For example, yrmama was limping like a zombie yesterday, swaying stiffly side to side and constantly on the verge of losing her balance. My foot hurt, but I wanted to keep working, so I did. It was 70F, sunny and I was planting things, clearing brush at the edge of the woods and filling the car with mulch. I like to do stuff. I hate sitting. But finally I had to stop because it was painfully ridiculous to be wobbling around like that and dragging my leg while trying to use heavy tools. Giving in to the big pain in my foot led immediately to feeling bad about myself: I thought I had this foot thing fixed, I thought I had this under control. Maybe I haven’t been doing the exercises the PT prescribed dutifully enough, maybe I should have worn different shoes. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do this when everyone else can?
Until about a year ago I always said, “It’s going to hurt no matter what so I might as well be doing something I like.” Then I began a summery descent into a whole new realm of pain that led to spine surgery. During that un-belayed descent my doctor advised, “This isn’t the time to power through, yrmama,” and “this kind of pain is humbling.”
You’ll be glad to hear that yesterday I surrendered relatively early in the pain spiral. I washed off the poison ivy, took a big slug of CBD and some gabapentin, taped the bottom of my foot within an inch of it’s life and settled my butt down to work on my Etsy shop. I practiced saying to myself, “yrmama? You are doing a good job. The pain comes, the pain goes, some days you can do this, some days you can do that. It’s not about you. It’s not something you can fix or will away. Be humble.”
Meanwhile, my ego had it’s fists all balled up; “So now I’m supposed to obey pain?”
I replied firmly but compassionately, “yrmama, it’s not about obeying or not obeying. This isn’t about effort.” So Buddhist.
I always believed that I was the weak one, the weak willed and weak-bodied, because everyone else seemed to be accepting ~the way this feels~ (aka life in a human body) so much more gracefully. (Or being a huge pain in the ass and complaining all the time. It’s binary. Either/Or.) They must be better at tolerating the pain, they must be better at exercising/choosing shoes/carrying things/running/throwing balls for the dog. What stamina they have. They’ve clearly done enough push-ups, or something, that their elbow doesn’t pop out of joint when they push a full wheelbarrow. Since the solution to my inadequacy was clearly to be stronger I went to fitness classes at the gym five days a week and lifted more weights afterwards. But when I turned fifty everything that was circling my whole life came home to roost.
It turns out a lot of people actually go about their days and activities with ZERO painful body parts and think that’s entirely normal. When they complain about something hurting it’s because it didn’t hurt at all before, not because it’s worse than normal everyday baseline pain. Who knew?
yrmama says, “get yourself some equanimity.”
*But seriously, none of us will. We will not survive life. Except – Great news! Quantum physics!
p.s. my brain is still saying, “yrmama exaggerates. yrmama is a whiner.”
Look. Listen. I was there, saw Pete IRL and left partway through his speech drenched in that greasy kind of sweat that precedes keeling over and embarrassing oneself. For me the best parts of the event were the new best friends I made in line outside, and the second group of new best indoor friends crammed into a corner with me for the second hour of waiting.
Both groups were of my favorite demographic; women 10-15+ years older than me. Among us there was genuine enthusiasm for Pete and shared dismay at what we’ve let things come to. We wondered what it will take to get “young people” behind Pete the way they were with Bernie last time around. We ranked our favorites, we compared notes on the various campaign events we’ve been too, we admired one another’s fantastic taste in shoes and eyeglasses. In each group ladies leaned near me and asked in a confessional tone of voice if I thought Pete was “electable.” I reminded them that Donald and Barack weren’t electable either and urged them to not try to second guess their true affections. We talked about Roe v Wade and our embarrassment when we catch ourselves feeling critical of female candidate’s gestures or tone of voice because, WTH, that’s so sexist. In two hours we had time to cover a lot, including our favorite parts of his book, The Shortest Way Home, and how Pete inspires a kind of maternal protectiveness and pride in us. I think we were pretty unanimously all in for Pete.
I heard that the venue officially holds 500 people, but that was a handful of hundreds short of the crowd that showed up. I was in physical squish contact with everyone around me and I think that was a nearly universal condition. The HVAC was inadequate. Pete came onstage once they had packed everyone in and gave us one of the best ever renditions of his stump speech (according to someone I know who has watched A LOT of them on Youtube). But by then things had gotten hazy for yrmama. A woman reached through the crowd and tapped me on the shoulder. “Hi yrmama!” I mirrored her enthusiasm, “Hi!” but had no idea who she was. She wore a name tag but the only person I know with that name lives in rural Ontario. I was so confused.
*Late Breaking Edit: I’ve been thinking about the bit that follows the last couple days because I’m not happy with it. But I’m leaving it. ——–> The conclusion is wrong. ———-> This is right: Power-crazed volunteers will always exist and that’s okay. Victimhood though is useless and not at all yrmama’s brand. She wants to be more ready to stand up for herself. There’s no shame in pain or autonomic “dys”function. There’s no shame in anything because we are just little organized blobs of energy making things up as we go along. Electrons have a moral charge of zero.
Haziness postscript: I left while Pete was speaking and almost embarrassed myself even more by crying in public from disappointment. I’ve been feeling pretty good lately but had significant back pain that day. Indeed, during the hour we waited outside, my new best friends and I, I was happy to stand. A friendly volunteer patrolled the line offering folding chairs to the gimpy. After about 45 minutes I took her up on the chair not knowing how much longer we’d be waiting. She repeatedly assured the gimpy that there was ADA seating right inside so not to worry.
But the ADA pen was guarded this time. (Give a volunteer a nametag and a job and the power just goes to his head.) The guard looked me up and down, the cane, yes, but also yrmama’s tanned and muscular limbs. He said, “Well, can you stand?” yrmama said, “not the whole time.” “Can you climb up those stairs? There’s seats up there and I’d rather you went up there.” The “seats” were barstools which aren’t so great for bad backs but he’d successfully shamed me up the steps so I decided to stay and see how it went. How it went was it got more and more painful.
So that’s the lesson for today. Invisible disabilities, like those caused by Ehlers Danlos, are real. Ehlers Danlos, in fact, often gives one super-soft skin not prone to wrinkles hence my perpetually youthful appearance. I look strong because I exercise, and yes, people with chronic pain can exercise. I look good, but not looking as raggedy as I feel sometimes is one of my superpowers. People generally don’t fake chronic illness for the immense social benefits it affords them. They generally fake being okay so they don’t have to deal with explaining themselves all the time.
It’s another dry stretch for candidates, and simultaneously a chilly, wet stretch down here on the farm. I especially want to hear from Cory, Jay and Stacy. I want to invite Kamala for a second interview. I want to invite Barack and Michelle over for dinner.
Speaking of Jay Inslee, he’s the only one who’s all about climate change, and he’s right to be. —–> From here yrmama could veer into religion, science, raptors, poison ivy, catastrophic weather events, how it is taking well over ten years to move the UI’s art campus uphill (after the the last giant flood) and to raise Dubuque Street enough that people can reliably get in and out of town. Eleven years ago I watched a woman scooping up large fish with a net in City Park, in the grass, as the water rose and rose and rose. She was filling a big bucket with writhing fish, like 10 inches long, and planned to share them with whoever wanted to help eat them. It was bewildering.
Or we can discuss yrmama’s favorite way to address the epidemic of plastic consumerism we’re all about to choke on. At the Mennonite thrift store where I volunteer sorting through other people’s huge bags of crap, we divert 10 bajillion units of solid waste A DAY from being dumped in the formerly pretty little crick nearby or sent to the steaming, reeking landfill a little farther off. The sale-able stuff is sold for cash money to support international relief projects many of which, you guessed it, are probably triggered or at least complicated by fucking climate change.
*yrmama used to buy everything second hand because she was poor. Now that yrmama is rich she prefers to buy things second hand because it’s more fun and way more interesting. Plus it helps divert a bit of that aforementioned mountain of other people’s crap from the crick.
Some donors to the shop are Marie Kondo-ing, some just will lose their minds of they don’t do something to get that mountain of outgrown soccer shoes out from behind the couch. Some middle-aged siblings who live far away come with pickup trucks full of warped tupperware, doilies, stained vintage clothes, National Geographics, footstools, peanut butter jars full of screws, and a few dozen boxes of Q-tips from when they were on sale in 1984 and someone stocked up. They look stunned because their last parent just died and they have to clean out the house and they don’t want to cry until later. I LOVE sorting that stuff. It’s the least I can do.
How about Liz and Pete? Or better yet, Liz and Amy? Joe and Stacy Abrams? That would make me like him more. Oh wait, she already turned him down, and declined to run for a senate seat, which means we may soon have 23 candidates…baited breath… Kamala and Pete could work, but we all hate to see Pete just cooling his heels for four years. Kamala and Amy? I think we are working with a top tier of Liz, Kamala, maybe Joe, maybe Pete…
But those maybes, that Joe is too old, Amy looks too much like yrmama and Pete is too adorable bring us to the issue of ELECTABILITY, a quality that doesn’t exist. Electability is when you start second-guessing yourself and stressing about what you think other people want and how much you’re willing to compromise to beat a tyrant toddler, and none of that is good, ever. Which leaves me with Liz and Kamala. And Pete. (My sweetie wants me to love Pete best and yrmama’s sweetie is very persuasive.)
In May or so of 2007 yrmama was at a wedding reception and a know-it-all, political writer academic guy asked what I thought of the upcoming Democratic prospects and I blurted out “Barack Obama.” He laughed at me. Until that glorious sweaty, fluorescently lit Iowa Caucus night in the jam-packed school gym Barack was not electable. Donald descending his golden escalator was a joke, unelectable. Electable doesn’t know it’s ass from a hat rack.
Listen to Sam Sanders on It’s Been a Minute, taped Thursday in DesMoines. They’ve really got our number, us stressed-out Democratic Iowa caucus people.