On Jan. 10, 1917, twelve women silently gathered in Lafayette Square, directly across the street from the White House’s north lawn, and sparked a protest that would later contribute to granting women the right to vote. They were known as the “silent sentinels,” the first picket line to ever take place at the White House.
During that year, more than 1,000 women from across the country joined the picket line outside the White House. Between June and November, 218 protesters from 26 states were arrested and charged with “obstructing sidewalk traffic.”
On June 4, 1919, women were granted the right to vote.
Thanksgiving Eve, east to west. 19 degrees. The season of bracing winds and empty seats. Grief understands life in the sparest terms: before and after. Years like this, spent looking through a window into the past, at the sky, for signs. Sunsets like this one, or the first star, and then she’s there, ahead, maybe a year or a month or a day’s walk if you keep moving. Hope.
I’m thrilled to share that for the next six months, I’ll be the new Curator and Editor of “Corporeal Clamor,” a weekly literary publication at Corporeal Writing, the online teaching home of bestselling author Lidia Yuknavitch. I’ve invited three brilliant writers to join me as monthly columnists, and I’m beyond grateful to Lidia Yuknavitch and Zinn Adeline for creating new territories for women’s voices in this world.
Here’s more about the writers who will be joining me:
Megan Ainsworth is a Southern United States essayist and memoirist who teaches writing and literature at a community college in Jackson, Mississippi. Her work has been published in the Brick Street Press 2008 and 2010 Short Fiction Anthologies, on Elephant Journal, The Good Men Project, and on her blog site; she was a finalist in the “Lorian Hemingway Short Fiction Competition.” Madgirl Elegies is a six month installment column for Corporeal Clamor. She is interested in gender politics and race relations, particularly at the intersection of faith and spirituality in the Deep South. She shares a home with a precious and precocious four year old daughter, three rescue pups, and a fish named Steve. She is completing a memoir and a novel-length work of fiction. Read Megan’s first piece, “Rebel Yell,” here.
Amital Stern writes theater, film and more in Jerusalem. She earned an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Hebrew University, and studied screenwriting at the Sam Spiegel School of Film and Television. Her plays include: In Waiting, winner of the Fred Simmons Arts Prize; Hunger Artist, performed at the Theatronetto Festival, Jerusalem Fringe Festival, Arab-Israeli Theater and other venues; Aliza, a site specific theater production now haunting abandoned buildings in Jerusalem. Her writing has appeared in Guernica. She is currently working on her first novel.
Shefali Desai is a child of the American southwest, daughter of Indian immigrants, mother of sons, fighter/writer/lawyer, and a lover of mountains, forests and bodies of water. She has been a Rhodes Scholarship finalist, Arizona Supreme Court law clerk, and VONA fellow. Her book-length manuscript was selected by Lidia Yuknavitch as a finalist in the Kore Press Memoir Competition, and her work has been published widely including in Ms. Magazine, the UCLA Women’s Law Journal, Kartika Review, and the anthology This Bridge We Call Home. She currently is co-authoring a legal paper on federal and state regulatory power over so-called sanctuary cities, litigating an asylum case, and finalizing her hybrid memoir. She lives in the Sonoran Desert with her partner and two children.
Finally, I’ll be writing a new column, a hybrid of short fiction and music. Read all of the pieces in my last series, Secret Circus, HERE.
My newest essay, “Make a Little Birdhouse in Your Soul” was published today in my monthly column, Secret Circus. Last month, I was invited to create a featured column on Corporeal Writing, the online writing workshop run by bestselling-author Lidia Yuknavitch. Lidia’s newest release, The Book of Joan, was recently featured on the cover of the New York TimesBook Review and it’s getting rave reviews. (Read it – it’s worth the hype!) This is my second piece for Secret Circus.
The starlings are back. For each of the past three years, they have returned to gather a chaotic pile of damp grass, peeled bark, and matted bits of twine, threads still unraveling even as they are tucked away. One day a silky puff of cream-colored fur appears, the next, a waxy red leaf. I marvel at their ability to make do with such a seemingly uninhabitable place, an old crook of drainpipe beneath the roof of my apartment building, but this is what starlings do. I watch them, thinking of home.
Twenty-nine places in twenty-seven years. Never allowing myself to need anywhere or anything or anyone long enough to stay.
I think this is not true.
(Maybe it is partly true.)
Starlings are “egg droppers.” When they’re feeling competitive, they swoop into unattended nests and steal eggs, dropping them from great heights. Glossy and pale blue… [read more]
“White House staff visited our programs and invited us to Washington. When it came time for the final interview that we hoped would lead to funding, I spouted literacy and poverty statistics while stressing the need for the separation of church and state. I emphasized the importance of program quality, replicability and scale. After two hours of questioning, they began to wrap things up.
“One last question,” said the man from the White House. “Is there anything about you that could be potentially embarrassing to the President?”
I squinched my eyebrows. Refocused my attention on the American flag waving at me from his lapel. “Other than being a lesbian Democrat running a faith-based initiative for the Bush White House, I can’t think of anything…” [read the full essay on The Manifest-Station]
Courtney, whenever I think of you, I think of your adventures. You seem to be everywhere at once! You don’t know this, but not long after you told me you were training for a marathon, I decided to take up running.
I HATE running.
I hate everything about it – the mind-over-matter, all the jostling of the wobbly bits, I mean, the pavement pounding is just hellish – but most of all, I was irritated by what I perceived to the overly zealous nature of all the runners I know.
I’m not proud to admit this, but there it is.
(I’m sure you’re not one of them.)
Here’s the rub: I am a survivor, and yes, like you wrote in your postcard, I AM a dreamer! I do love a good challenge. So at 46, I decided to try running. At first, it was only a few minutes at a time. I thought I’d never make it past 90 seconds. Then a quarter of a mile, then a half. I went along like this, mile by mile, mostly hating it, occasionally liking it, one day even loving it a little, until I did my first 5K.
There is a photo of me smiling at the end of that race, and while I don’t look particularly zealous (in fact, I look very red-faced and exhausted), I do look HAPPY.
It’s been raining all day in Philadelphia, and look – there’s the sun! and whoa, the dog needs some fun, and hey, there are my running shoes by the door…
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller
Every woman I’ve met carries a story inside her. Stories about loss and love, of adventure in far-flung places or the longing to create new ones, of the ache to return home or to make a new one. Stories of shame and rage and desire – the kinds of stories that climb the walls just to make themselves heard.
Stories that carry whole worlds.
I carry them, too.
I’m a woman who has to sit on her hands to keep the stories in, because that’s where I carry them. In my hands.
Sometimes our words don’t know the stories they’ll tell until our hands let them speak.
Put them on the page. Speak them or sing them just to find a place of truth outside yourself. Loose them to the wind.
Sometimes the very brave act of telling gives a thing new meaning.
The morning after the Women’s March on Washington, Mom and I set up a date to talk over our experiences – mine in Philadelphia, and her march of 200 people in her rural Arizona town 40 minutes north of the wall in Mexico.
“So can we talk about the hats?” Mom asked over Skype. “My friends and I are trying to understand, but can you explain? In my generation – that word – I don’t think I even knew that word, I mean,well, it’s just so … it’s not a word I would ever say in that way. My friends agree that none of us would ever use it.” She looked at her hands. “That word makes me so uncomfortable.”
We went on to talk about the message behind the sea of pink. What it means to reclaim power over the things that make us angry and uncomfortable. What it means to feel like our bodies and even language are being used against us. The importance of creating community and the power of speaking up.
During the week after the election, I wrotethreepoems. Many of you wrote to thank me or to share your own stories. Thank you – I love hearing from you. Only one of my longtime subscribers unsubscribed from this blog with the message:
“I’m sad to see that this space has gotten political.”
Since when are heartbreak, sadness, and anger political? Always.