I was sent home from school in 1968 for wearing culottes. I was in 7th grade and the male shop teacher grabbed me in the hallway. Girls must wear skirts, and they must not be shorter than two inches above the knee. I was sent to the principal’s office. My only regret was that I didn’t ask Mr. Shopteacher, in the presence of Mr. Principal, to prove it. It would have required an awkward moment – me, spreading my legs to reveal the stitched crotch of the herringbone wool tweed culottes, which were stylishly discrete to look like a dress. The one-piece outfit was a precursor to the efficient can-do jumpsuit, a seamless promise of crotch inaccessibility that neutralized the playing field. I too could be an astronaut; maybe even president.
A week ago I flew to Washington,D.C. where I joined my two adult daughters for the Women’s March, along with my niece and a friend, both teachers, and my hosts. I wore a fake furry pink hat with kitten ears and pink balls attached to the neckties. I’d found it while cleaning out the closet. It reminded me of an Andean cap with earflaps and the balls swinging beneath my ears were festive payback for the male incursions on style I’d endured in school and at church; I hated those chapel veils.
We wore our pink hats, we talked to strangers, we laughed, we felt good, we were mashed in crowds and unafraid, we refrained from liquids to avoid the serpentine port-a- potty lines. We imagined feeling bad by Tuesday when weren’t all together, laughing, walking, chanting, doing something and believing in the goodness of people.
We arrived at the designated ‘end’ of the march, the Ellipse (how perfect!) on the Mall with a clear view of the White House. I set my sign among the others on the grass for Trump to read knowing full well the only readers would be my fellow marchers and the DC sanitation crew. It said ‘You Tweet, I’ll roar’ ‘ on one side and “Liberty and Justice for All”’ on the other.
Where is my roar? Can you hear me? It’s like a nightmare and I cannot scream. Last night it was about my old dog Dibby. In the dream she’d died and nobody had told me. My sorrow was swallowed up in not having been with her when she was dying. I get phone calls from distressed friends. What can we do? How do we say walls don’t work- remember Berlin, not to mention China? Who will hear that fracking disrupts the heartbeat of the earth? How can I speak to the muscle memory of fear? That’s what’s in running the government right now in the US and creepily, all over the world. Fear.
On Sunday, following the march, we went to the The US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Red Make America Great caps and Pink Pussyhats were shoulder to shoulder in the crowd. It was warm inside. I was uncomfortable. I thought it was bad design, all these people….it felt like I was in a herd of cattle, ushered in one direction, no way out. And then I got it- the perfect design for a memorial. I am here, it’s January 22, 2017 and this is the feeling of the people whose pictures I see on the walls, whose words I hear and read. I mentioned to my daughter that if I’d visited a year ago it would have been soft focus historic memory, something that happened at another time or far away. Now it feels current. I want the young girl in the red hat ahead of me to question; I want her WOKE.
January 26th. I listen to the news. Those who voted for Trump and wrote him off as a blowhard full of rhetoric who could make America rich again, I wonder if they are squirming inside. And those who didn’t vote, how do they feel? Are they scared?
In late August I was driving with friends to go mushroom hunting for porcinis. As we turned toward the mountains there was a man standing on the corner, holding a cardboard sign with big black painted letters ‘STAY POSITIVE’.
That was all. Stay positive. No money requested, no story about war or gas or hard times. He was his sign, a bright presence on the corner of Paseo de Peralta and Guadalupe St. We all gave him money. Stay Positive was our slogan for the day although we found no mushrooms. It steered my perspective. I painted the words on my studio door. When I fall into the rabbit hole of worry and fear I remember stay positive, his presence. Now I’ve added his words to the contacts in my phone, along with phone numbers for Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich. I’ll need them all in the coming months.