Friday, June 26, 2020

Isolation is the New Norm


The sun is rising, the rugosas are in full bloom and the raspberries need picking. So begins this beautiful summer day. 
The Ex-Mexican Wives Club is a memoir exploring my years working as an undocumented teacher in Mexico City in the early 1980s and reconnecting with the women I knew during that turbulent time It was released late last year. The holidays passed, and I did two wonderful readings in February, one at Third Place Books Ravenna and other at the Issaquah Library. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of all other planned events.

My events calendar is now empty but for two memoir writing workshops scheduled for September and October. Will those events meet the same end? Some libraries are beginning to reopen for limited loans and returns. If they move forward with events, will I feel ready to teach face-to-face, to be in public?

Seattle, like other cities around the country, is beginning to reopen, but I have yet to get a haircut since winter break. I find wearing a mask annoying, even in the grocery store, so I limit contact with others as much as possible. After all, I have a new grandson to protect.

I stare at my flowers, think about picking raspberries, and sip my morning coffee. I scratch items from my summer calendar, plug in earbuds to listen to The New Jim Crow, and embrace my isolation.

How are you filling your summer hours? If you’re looking for a unique read, you might enjoy The Ex-Mexican Wives Club. If you like it, please tell your friends, and as always,  I'm grateful for your reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Does She Know What She’s Saying?


Two blond pre-teens cycle up the long incline of my West Seattle street. Doors and windows open to the late spring sun, I hear their laughter and chatter from the dining table where I work. I see them through my large front window.

“I can’t breathe” one hollers to the other. Laughter cascades down the street.

Does she know what she is saying? Do they understand the agony of those words, the pain they cause others as they waft through open windows?

I want to scream at them. I want to race after them, stop them, sit them down for a 400-year history lesson on systematic racism. But they are gone before I wipe my tears.

I have not been writing. The past four months have been a time of stress and struggle and surreal joy. I am a grandmother; my baby is a mother.

My daughter and her husband adhere to strict COVID-19 protocols and remain closed into their hospital room on Capitol Hill for the two-night hospital stay. They watch as protesters march to the East Precinct and chants of “Black Lives Matter” float from the street five floors below.

During the worst world-wide pandemic since the Spanish Flu and the most significant social upheaval in our nation since the Civil War, my grandson is born. This tiny innocent enters the world as a privileged white boy by no choice of his own.
I begin adding antiracist children’s books to my summer reading list. The list grows as I collect titles to educate myself in a struggle to convert a lifetime of white guilt and empathy into antiracist understanding and action.

Perhaps I could find antiracist books for pre-teens, books to put in the Free Neighborhood Libraries that seem to dot every other block of my middle-class neighborhood. Would the girls on the bicycles read them? Would their parents?

As the academic year closes, as my first quarter of online teaching comes to an end, I embrace the freedom to read and think. I look forward to long walks, long bike rides, and long hours watching my grandson grow. And yes, maybe I’ll squeeze in some writing, too.

This is a long summer reading list, and it's likely I won't get through all of it, but I intend to do my best. In no particular order, here goes:

So You Want to Talk About Race – Ijeoma Oluo
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – Michelle Alexander
Heavy – Kiese Laymon
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
 - Ibram X. Kendi
How to be an Anti-Racist – Ibram X. Kendi
They Can’t Kill Us All – Wesley Lowery
The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin
My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies – Resimaa Menakem
Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood – Dani McClain
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism – Robin Deangelo
Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America – Jennifer Harvey
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration – Isabel Wilkerson
Me & White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor - Layla F. Saad
The Truth About White People - Lola E. Peters

Just Mercy: A True Story of the Fight for Justice (adapted for young adults) - Bryan Stevenson
Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness – Anastasia Higginbotham
Let’s Talk About Race – Julius Lester
A is for Activist – Innosanto Nagara

For help compiling this list, my thanks to PegasusBook Exchange, “13 Books You Should Read About Black Lives” as well as the recommendations of colleagues and friends.

If you have other titles to suggest, please share either in the comment box or email me at aw@arleenwilliams.com. Thank you!

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Poetry & the Pandemic


We all have our crap to deal with during this dreadful pandemic, don’t we?

But despite the pandemic, despite my blurred vision, eye infection, and still tentative surgery appointment, despite the challenges of learning to teach online, despite the distance from my daughter during the final trimester of her first pregnancy and the fear of COVID exposure every shift she works at Harborview ER, the sun continues to shine, birds flutter in the front yard and bunnies hop in the back, and I’m very pleased to celebrate the close of National Poetry Month with my first poetry publications.
First came the publication of two poems, “Tree-Crook Nest” and “My Father’s Daughter,” in Chrysanthemum 2020 Literary Anthology, edited and published by Koon Woon and Goldfish Press with support from the Washington State Arts Commission.

Then, on April 5th, Celaine Charles included my poem “Public Pool” in her salute to National Poetry Month on her beautiful poetry blog, Steps in Between.

Today, I received this lovely email, the kind every writer longs to open, from Michael Broder, editor at Indolent Books:

Hi Arleen,
Thank you for submitting "Wild Rabbit" to What Rough Beast Covid-19 Edition. I posted the poem for April 29, 2020—Here's the link: https://www.indolentbooks.com/what-rough-beast-covid-19-edition-04-29-20-arleen-williams/
Best,
Michael

What better way to end a less-than-perfect month and get this writer back to her desk?!

Friday, March 20, 2020

Cataracts & COVID-19

I
I had cataract surgery on the eve of COVID-19.

II
Born cross-eyed and extremely farsighted, I’ve worn glasses since age two. After hiding them once too often in the sandbox, my mother assigned the task of keeping my heavy specs on my pudgy nose to an older sister.

Later, during my vain years, I tried contact lenses. The first time, a young co-ed at Seattle U, I fell asleep without removing my new contacts and couldn’t open my eyes the next morning. My roommate called my mother, who rushed to Seattle and drove me to the eye doctor. Problem solved and contacts abandoned.

A half dozen years passed. A new boyfriend preferred me without glasses, so I gave contacts a second try. Again, the discomfort, the eye irritation, the inability to read in comfort led to my return to specs. The relationship went the way of the contacts.

A decade or so later, I was back in Seattle. Now in my early thirties, I was curious to see if medical developments had made contacts more comfortable. They hadn’t. I decided once and for all, I was perfectly content with glasses and would no longer stash them in the sandbox.

III
Fast forward three decades. When a second specialist confirmed cataracts in both eyes, I laid careful plans. I took medical leave for the last week of the academic term to allow for the mandatory two-week gap between surgeries. The first surgery was successful.

Now I’m a tad near-sighted in the right eye and extremely farsighted in the left. Now I’m wearing a contact again. Now, my vision is still blurred and the eye gets irritated. I can handle this for two weeks, I tell myself.

To limit this scratchy irritation, I delay popping the thing in my eye. As I write these words in the morning light, I see with the right eye and hold my hand over the left. My husband’s taken to calling me the “one-eyed poet.”


IV
All this was expected. What was unexpected was the rapid spread of COVID-19. What was unexpected was the cancellation of all elective surgeries. What was unexpected was the self-quarantine to help stop the spread of this pandemic.

My second surgery has been cancelled. No one knows when it will be possible to reschedule, when I will see clearly again. 

As frustrating and unnerving as this is, and despite my fears for my pregnant daughter working in Harborview ER and my worries for my husband struggling to save his small business, I know I’m lucky. My loved ones and I are all (still) healthy. We are (still) financially secure. We have a small house with a yard to putter in, we are creatives who enjoy a solitary life. We’ll manage. 

V
My hope is that we all adhere to public health recommendations. We stay at home for the next two weeks and do our part to stop the spread of this deadly virus as quickly as possible. 

Sunday, March 1, 2020

A Full Heart

 
Many thanks to the readers, old and new, who attended my author event featuring The Ex-Mexican Wives Club last Friday night at the Issaquah Library. The roses are lovely, Keri. The photos are wonderful, Darcey. There is little that warms this writer's heart more than a room full interested, articulate readers.

If you enjoy my work, I'm hope you'll consider starring and/or posting a brief review or comment on Amazon or Goodreads.

Why do reviews matter? Simply put, reviews are important because they increase a writer's visibility through online search engine support, because people lean toward books they perceive as popular, and because indie bookstores may pay attention to review numbers when stocking shelves or scheduling author events.

Again, thank you for reading, sharing and reviewing my work.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Tonight!

Many thanks to Zlatina Encheva of the King County Library!

Sunday, February 16, 2020

All That Was Once Home


A friend shares that her husband is brain-tired after a trip to South America, finding the struggle to understand and speak in Spanish exhausting. That they both did their best to master the language and put it to use during their vacation was admirable.

Though I didn't have the words, never called it brain-tired, I remember that feeling, a memory from a time long ago. A time when I was an undocumented teacher in Mexico City, building my understanding of both language and culture while also trying to survive economically on an irregular income paid in pesos.

The comment and the memory serve as reminders each day I walk into the classroom. My students – immigrants and refugees from around the globe – are tired. Tired from low-paid, menial labor and overburdened with family responsibilities. Tired from living on the edge, unsure where their next meal will come from or if they’ll be able to pay the rent and keep the heat on. Tired from fear of current immigration policy and the constant threat of violence, family separation, or deportation. Tired of wondering what the future may bring for them and their families, here as well as back in their home countries. And yes, brain-tired from using a language and coping in a culture foreign from all they once knew and loved. From all that was once home.