About gretchenwing

A high school English and History teacher for 20 years, Gretchen now lives, writes, and bakes on Lopez Island, Washington.

From Mystery Trip to Flexericity Trip: The Best-Laid Plans…

[Disclaimer: I fully understand that the storm of November 15, 2021 took an enormous toll on the lives, environment and property of thousands of folks in the Pacific Northwest, on either side of the border. Please know that this tale of plans gone sideways is not meant to lighten that truth.]

That said…here’s my response to “So that Birthday Mystery Trip you planned for your Mate–how’d it go?”

Chapter One: NO Canada!

Our top-secret Mystery Destination was the lovely Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, a place I’d been introduced to by a friend’s travel blog. Having studied the regulations, I knew we’d need a COVID test–the PCR type that requires labwork, not the instant antigen test. That test needed to be taken 72 hours in advance, no more. Since we were leaving on a Monday, I did the math: take test Friday morning, immediately send it off via UPS. The nice person at the company whose test kits I ordered assured me our results should be available online by mid-morning Monday, just in time for us to present at the border.

The Mate met me at the bakery Friday morning, just after our local UPS-ing shop opened. I went on break and we gingerly took our tests on the back deck. We sealed them up and walked over to the shop…where we were informed the UPS driver had already left. “With so few ferries, they just zip in first thing and go,” the woman in the shop told us sympathetically.

Horrified, we raced over the post office, ready to pay whatever it took to get that precious, swab-filled package to the lab next day. No luck: living on an island, “next day” has a whole new meaning. But, the clerk helpfully informed us, “The UPS driver’s probably waiting in the ferry line right now. Maybe you could drive down there and catch him?”

The Mate did just that, while I went back to work. Twenty minutes later he returned, reporting success! Hugs all ’round. Canada, here we come!

Or not. Next day, tracking our package, I found its arrival listed as Monday. I called the test-kit company…and once more a nice person informed me that, even with my package expedited, the best we could hope for would be results…”Maybe Monday evening. Maybe.”

Somehow, hanging around the border until evening, waiting on a “maybe” just didn’t appeal. And that was before I started paying attention to the weather.

Chapter Two: Plan B

So I said goodbye to my Canada plans. I called BC ferries and that cute little motel to cancel reservations. Then I got busy making more.

Some place special! Some place further away than the usual 1-or-2-night trip (we had 3 to play with). Some place with some options for not-too-steep hiking and biking. And some place not too high up; I didn’t want us getting snowed in anywhere.

Got it! The Hoh Rainforest.

I found us a cute cabin near the town of Forks (famous for glittery vampires), on the Soleduc River. Beautiful, remote venue near gorgeous hiking? Check. Beds for us plus surprise guest, Son Two? Check. (Son One couldn’t get away from work.) Small kitchen for me to prepare delicious birthday dinners? Check. Weather report? Uh, yeah…I mean, it’s supposed to be rainy. And pretty windy, come to think.

But hey–rainforest! Where else would we want to be?

Chapter Three: Nope.

So early that dark, wet and windy Monday morning, the Mate & I boarded the earliest ferry, the 6:40. It was already running 30 minutes late. How, we wondered, was that possible? Crew problems? Fog?

Turns out, that wind I’d been ignoring? It was now blowing so hard through Rosario Strait that the boat had to slow to what I texted Son Two (waiting on the mainland) as “a wallowing crawl.” But slowly, rolling and juddering, we made it to Anacortes, by now a full hour late.

This next part? It went exactly according to plan. (I had no idea how special that was.) As agreed with Son Two, I pulled into a convenience store and went in to get a growler filled–and he slipped into the driver’s seat. Surprise!

Happiness all ’round. We let the Mate drive, and I directed him toward the Coupeville ferry, the jumping-off point to the Olympic Peninsula. “Don’t worry,” I told Mate & Son, “that ferry’s running. I just checked.”

Well, it was running, when I checked. But 20 minutes later, when we got there, it wasn’t. “Might the winds die down later?” we asked the guy at the booth. His response: “Actually, they’re going to get worse. I’m sorry.”

Chapter Four: My Family’s Smart

Smarter than me. I was at a complete loss. Backtrack north, then head for the Cascades? Into what was probably a blizzard by now?

“Look, Mom,” Son Two said, consulting his phone. “We can keep going south and get on the other ferry, to the mainland. Then drive just a little and get on the one that goes to the Peninsula.”

“Are they actually running? In this weather?”

They were. I guess those crossings were short and sheltered enough. So here’s the route we took:

Totally, totally worth it. Huge shoutout to Washington State Ferries!

Chapter Five: Not So Fast

Along our happy way, as I congratulated myself on saving Plan B, my phone rang. The connection was spotty, but I managed to discern that it was the owner of the cabins near Forks. Saying something about “It’s pretty much Armageddon here.” I promised we’d bed down in Sequim that night–just fine, after such a long detour–and we’d see her in the morning. (Got a motel with a kitchen–yes!)

Next morning, she texted me this photo of her property.

Oh shit

With sincere wishes for a quick relief from the flooding and a mutually agreed-upon cancellation, I scrambled to find a motel in Forks NOT too close to a river. With a kitchen. Gotta have that kitchen! And I found one. Hooray. Off we go to hike in the rainforest!

“How far a drive is it?” the Mate asked.

“Lemme check the Google.” …. “Oh. Google says we can’t get there.”

Google was right. Highway 101 was closed just outside of Pt. Angeles. (Photo by WSDOT)

Thanks to WSDOT, whose photos I’m using here, I learned that the flooded Elwha River had strained the bridge so hard they couldn’t re-open until after major structural assessments.

Oh shit again (photo by WSDOT)

Chapter Six: Happy Endings

OK. No Forks. No Rainforest. Not even any of the beautiful points west of where we are. What’s left?

Why, everything! We found a trail leading up up up into the heart of Olympic National Park…

OMG, look at that flow!

It was steep enough, the water came pouring directly out of the mountainside…but that steepness kept it from pooling. Safe hiking!

Of course, as we gained elevation, we met up with frost…

…then snow…

…then…y’know what? I’m good with turning around here. You? Alrighty then. Let’s go find a motel, then check out the coastline.

Vancouver Island, from Port Angeles: the closest we got!

A visit to Dungeness Spit reminded us just how hard that wind was still blowing, even after the sun came out.

Returning from this walk, we had to take an alternate route–a tree had fallen over the road.

Thanks to my fixation with cooking dinner (no kitchen luck in Pt. A), I changed our final night’s reservations to the only affordable place I could find in Port Townsend with a kitchen: Fort Worden State Park.

What a joyous find! It had the coolest housing, converted officers’ quarters:

Our house wasn’t QUITE this grand–but close!

…amazing views…

Mt. Baker, looking back toward Whidbey Is. (photo by Son Two)

…bike trails…

Happy Birthday, Mate!

…and even, up among the batteries–huge structures to house huge guns (which I did not photograph)–poetry!

And yes–it had a wonderful kitchen for a wonderful birthday meal for my wonderful family.

“Can we eat now?”

Chapter Seven: Moral of the Story, or, Can We Wrap This Thing Up?

We came home to discover the storm had been much, MUCH worse than we’d imagined.

That road in the video? That’s the road to our house–our only exit. Here’s what the storm did:

Oh shit again, again.

But any “oh shits” for my island PALE in comparison with what the storm did to Vancouver Island and others north of here. They got SLAMMED, not only by rain and wind, but by snow, which then melted. As of this writing, much of the island is still under a state of emergency due to flooding. Ferries have been cancelled. Misery abounds.

O Canada, you’re in my thoughts. But I’m so relieved those COVID tests didn’t allow us to visit you in your time of trial.

There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no…

I didn’t manage to put this post out there in time for official Thanksgiving. But my unofficial thanksgiving is this: thanks for the bravery of those who stride straight into the teeth of a storm. Thanks for the cozy love of my family, who made wherever we were be where I wanted to be. And thanks to who or whatever was responsible for getting us all home safely.

“Mystery Managed.”

Are You a Mystery Tripper? Or Could You Be?

Next week is NOT The Mate’s birthday. It’s the following week, on November 25th. Which, this year, falls on Thanksgiving. Which is why I’m taking The Mate on a Birthday Mystery Trip one week early.

What, you ask, is a Birthday Mystery Trip?

Well, for me & The Mate, and our kids till they grew up, it’s a family tradition. And for you–perhaps a transformative new idea for the coming year! (Or perhaps a big fat “No thank you.”)

Our Mystery Trip tradition began back in 1994, I think, or ’95. (Since I didn’t own a digital camera then–did anyone?–all of those photos are in albums, and I’m too lazy to go check right now.) My birthday’s in October, conveniently close to a Friday “Teacher Workday” which was, back then–believe it or not–optional. The Wings opted to use that time as a 3-day weekend, and The Mate asked if I were interested in a surprise trip.

Yes, I was.

I was instructed to pack gear for walking in the rain because, duh–Washington State! On the morning of the trip, with gleeful help from our little boys, he blindfolded me in the passenger seat. After a couple of circles around the neighborhood to get me thoroughly disoriented, we were off, for a drive of a couple of hours.

We ended up staying at a little motel near the Makah Reservation, and hiking to Cape Flattery. (Once again: yes, I could pull photos out of albums, scan them & upload them. But that sounds like too much work. So you just have to imagine small Wing boys and their extremely anxious parents here, because, back then–there was no railing!)

Also imagine stormy October weather (photo by Flickr.com)

The pattern was set. Turns out I absolutely adored being abducted by my family, and they absolutely adored hearing me declare, as we drove, the landmarks I was sure we were passing. I was ALWAYS wrong, ALWAYS completely turned around. But that weird mental re-orientation as my brain came to grips with where it actually was? It’s the best! Maybe the closest I’ll ever come to feeling like I’m on catnip.

For the next 13 years, every October, our family Mystery Tripped for my birthday. With one exception, trips stayed within the 2-3 hour driving limit, and in those pre-Air B & B days, we always stayed at modest motels or “resorts” with off-season pricing. We visited the coast…

…paddling a wee kayak up the tea-colored Moclips River (photo Tripadvisor.com)

…the foot of the Cascades, where we stayed in what is now owned by the Glacier Peak Winery, but STILL features bunnies all over the place that you can feed!

I actually took this photo myself last month, when my sons treated me to a revisit of the place for my 60th!

We attended a bluegrass festival near the birding sanctuary in Ridgefield…

More kayaking here! (courtesy FriendsOfRidgefieldNWR.org)

…and another part of the coast, the Long Beach Peninsula, featuring oysters and cranberry bogs…

(Very artsy photo by OrdinaryAdventures.com)

Oh, and that one further-than-three-hours-away exception? The Mate took us all the way to Chelan, where we boarded a float plane (!!!!) and zipped up the lake to the hideaway community of Stehekin. There on the east side of the mountains, we found red leaves, just like the autumns of my east coast childhood! That’s still our BEST TRIP EVER.

(Photo by Angie Q, Stehekin Conservation Fund)

Once our boys turned into young men and moved away, and we followed by giving up our teaching careers and moving to a beautiful island, we gave up the Mystery Trip tradition. I guess our lives were full enough of beauty and empty enough of stress not to require any additional thrills.

Until now.

I’m not going to blindfold The Mate next week. In these iffy times, tooling down the highway with a blindfolded passenger just seems like a bad idea. And I’ve even had to divulge roughly where we’re headed because, ahem, it involves a COVID test. What should The Mate pack? Whatever he always packs: gear to get damp in. Because–duh, Pacific Northwest (no matter which side of the border)!

Somewhere we might go. Or not. I’m not saying.

So. Now that you know what Mystery Trips are, it’s time to take a little quiz to determine if you might be a Mystery Tripper yourself.

Do you live in a place which is an hour or two away from somewhere interesting, peaceful, beautiful, action-filled, or quiet? Trick question–of course you do!

Do you sometimes enjoy ceding control to a loved one whom you trust? (If not–stop there. Mystery Trips are not for you.)

Do you like a little surprise in your life, as long as you’ve been prepared for it?

Are you OK with packing generic clothing–nothing highly specialized, i.e. cocktail attire?

Are you cheap? (Actually, I guess Mystery Trips could be high-end as well. I’m just not as attracted to those, myself.)

So, what do you say? Are you a Mystery Tripper? Or might you have some of your own Best Mystery Trips Ever to share about?

No Pain, No…Strain? Re-negotiating the Comfort Zone

I haven’t blogged about my back surgery in August, and I don’t really intend to blog about it now, even though, OK, I guess I sort of am.

My POINT is: as an athlete trained in the no-pain-no-gain, run-through-it mentality, recovering from something as dicey as being cut open (as opposed to good ol’ shinsplints or a muscle pull) is proving tricky.

As I work through my P.T. and get back into daily chores, I keep asking my body, When does “hurts so good” slide into “uh-oh”? (The answer, I fear is: About two seconds after you tried something you shouldn’t have tried.)

Case in point: yard work. It’s fall, and a big windstorm had dropped half an alder tree and a bunch of other branches into the woods my Mate is slowly turning into our personal park. This is a very well-cared-for chunk of woods, is what I’m saying. And since I don’t do chain saws, I thought I’d help him out, as in seasons past, by dragging some branches to the burn pile, using a tarp to give ’em a ride.

Ready for a tarp ride!

Understand, I was being cautious. This pile’s about half the size of what I’d usually drag.

But after three drags I decided to leave the rest for my Mate. Branches are heavy!

Hey, know what’s not that heavy? Leaves! Our big Japanese maple had dumped a ton into our yard. I raked up a couple of piles to tarp ’em out to the compost.

Notice how much more I could have loaded? Being a good girl here.

But once more, my back skeptical. It didn’t hurt so much as grumble a bit. So after two drags, I did something I HATE HATE HATE to do: left the job to finish tomorrow.

Sigh…

Recently I’ve been thinking a good deal about the term “Comfort Zone.” It’s generally something people try to get themselves out of: ruts of thinking, habit, even literal geographical location. After 20 months of COVID, many of us are having to redefine our social Comfort Zone–and finding it difficult.

So I feel like my back is reminding me: “No pain, no gain” only makes sense in very specific contexts or moments. Discomfort is something to be AWARE of, to LISTEN to, to LEARN from. It isn’t necessarily good, just as it isn’t necessarily bad.

Do I want to quit this exercise because I think it’s doing me harm, or because I just don’t feel like pushing?

Is that person on TV making me uncomfortable because I believe they’re wrong, or because they’re touching something in me I could maybe examine further?

This book I’m finding too painful to read–why is that? Am I satisfied with my own answer?

This friend I’ve dropped contact with: was that for my good, or theirs? Am I satisfied with my decision?

Pain? Gain? Strain? Some of each?

Obviously we shouldn’t overthink everything (hah–tell that to my brain!). I simply offer these examples as exhibits in the long-running show, “When We Say ___, Do We Really Mean It?”

I would love to hear your own exhibits in this show.

Now it Can Be Told: The Case of the Missing Blogger (Me)

“The drought is over, precious rain’s returned at last…” is how a song of mine begins. That lyric’s been in my head these days, because even though our particular Pacific Northwest drought ended a month ago, in my personal climate, it’s just beginning to sprinkle. This post promises to be the first downpour in months.

Got your umbrella handy?

drought-stressed cedar

Although I’m a writer, I don’t tend to use this blog to talk about writing—with exceptions, of course, when I have actual Author Events to report, like a new book.

Has it really been four years?!

If you scroll through the last couple of years, you won’t find more than passing references to the writing project I’ve been working on since traveling to New Zealand  for research in early 2019 (and before that, in 2017). Casual readers of Wing’s World as well as casual friends could easily assume, if Gretchen’s not blogging about writing, it’s because she’s busy actually, you know…writing.

So what to assume when she stops blogging at all? Shrug emoji.

To make a short answer long: I stopped blogging this summer because my writing project stalled so thoroughly that I temporarily lost my identity as a writer. Yeah, I dabbled in poetry, wrote a few articles for local publications. But having lost control of my larger writing goal, I didn’t feel Wing’s World had anything to contribute.

I’ve been waiting. Thinking. Journaling. Keeping silent, then talking. Mourning a little. And finally, just now—planning. And Step One of this plan involves telling y’all about it.

The best way to tell this story is to share the pitch I had been working on, with my then co-author, who will remain nameless here. Take it away, GW & __.

Book Proposal (V.8) for The Limits of Empathy: Why a White Author Ran in Black Shoes—and Took Them Off

These phrases—white fragility, white defensiveness, white appropriation—have a habit of standing in for the complicated mess of a true conversation. –Claudia Rankine, Just Us

Just how messy, how complicated, is “true conversation”? Is that why so few people are actually having them?

Systemic white supremacy—intentional and enabled—has become a red-hot literary topic: in the summer of 2020, fifteen of Amazon’s top twenty books dealt with race and racism. 

Right on. I read Kendi and DiAngelo. Now what?

What indeed?

Entitlement. Exceptionalism. Deniability. That’s what white author Gretchen Wing discovered after writing a novel with a protagonist of Color. The Limits of Empathy: Why a White Author Ran in Black Shoes—and Took Them Off will be the first book to expose how white supremacy culture unspools silently onto the fictional page despite the best of intentions. Through the medium of conversation—complicated and messy—between its Black and white co-authors, The Limits of Empathy probes the implications of writing across the racial divide.

In a mix of literary case study and cautionary tale, Wing splays Kiwi Crossover—the fast-paced tale of an elite biracial American collegiate runner who flees to New Zealand to escape her trauma—on the examining table for her Black co-author, ____, and readers, to dissect. In the process, ____ and Wing demonstrate the next level of the ongoing dialog on race which Claudia Rankine alludes to in Just Us, but which no current anti-racism book offers.

Like Americans everywhere on the streets in the summer of 2020, the authors came together on the question of what matters. Meeting online with one purpose—to edit Kiwi Crossover—they discovered another: to expose and discuss, with care and personal vulnerability, the limits of authorial empathy. Who gets to tell whose stories, and when, and why?

In his critique of Kiwi Crossover, ____ illuminates how our lived experiences of race can erect a barrier too solid for good intentions to pass…and why those good intentions may cause more harm than understanding. The authors’ mutual pathfinding through this thorny thicket gives hope not only to writers and readers of fiction, but for anyone who yearns to bridge divides of understanding.

If published as originally planned, Kiwi Crossover could have joined the controversial ranks of The Help and American Dirt: another white narrative written from the perspective of a Person of Color. But Fate had other ideas.

First, in early 2020, seeking race-focused critique more stringent than that of her Black friends, Wing hired a recommended editor: ____, a Black man (married to a white woman, father of biracial children). That same week, Breonna Taylor was murdered by police, though national media took a full forty-four days to notice. Three days after Taylor’s murder was exposed, Ahmaud Arbery’s execution finally made national news, along with the horror of its having been ignored a full two months. And twenty-six days later, on May 25, George Floyd was tortured to death…and the Movement for Black Lives swelled around the world. By the time ____ submitted his notes, Wing no longer trusted her ability nor right to portray biracial protagonist, Delaney Grace. Kiwi Crossover appeared stillborn.

Facing the death of her novel, Wing felt the insistence of a transformational choice: the novel’s autopsy suddenly outweighed the story itself. So she asked ____ to join as co-author to examine how white supremacy culture had invaded her own work of fiction. He agreed.

Contents

The book’s structure immerses the reader in conversation. First, a brief, wry dialog between Wing and ____ invites the reader into their mindset as they face their daunting work. A preface entwines their personal stories: who they are, how they came to this moment together. Next, the main body of the book: the page-turning beat of Kiwi Crossover front and center (200 pages), with red flags on the margins. Those red flags signal “let’s talk,” and at the end of each flagged chapter, ____ and Wing do just that. Starting with ____’s comments, questions and discussion about the novel’s assumptions and blind spots, the conversation delves and winds through layers and mazes of understanding between two people of different race and gender. In what Claudia Rankine calls “the complicated mess of a true conversation,” ____ and Wing raise more questions than answers, but attest to the value of the questions themselves. The book concludes with Authors’ Q & A, and Discussion Questions for individuals and study groups to examine their own assumptions, or have their own conversations.

Still with me? Good.

The book proposal continues, as good nonfiction pitches should, with suggested readership, and ends with a roundup of seven comparable books, ranging from Ibrahim X. Kendi to Ijeoma Oluo. I wrote draft #8 in May, then sat back to wait for ___’s edits and suggestions. Since ___ is both a teacher and a parent of young children, I knew I shouldn’t expect anything from him until June. The poor guy was exhausted from a year+ of teaching and parenting under COVID, not to mention all the stress of Black people being constantly manhandled and murdered. He deserved a rest. We had all summer to get back to work together.

Then, on Memorial Day weekend, ___’s sister was found dead in her house. No explanations.

I gave him lots of space, checking in occasionally just to see how he and the family were doing. No doubt in my mind that our project was on hold. I just didn’t realize for how long.

Time to make this long story short. In September, ___ and I finally checked in with each other through more than just texting. In a long phone conversation, he acknowledged that his suppressed grieving had plunged him into a summer-long depression from which he was only now beginning to emerge. I said what I knew I had to say: “___, you’re too kind to do it yourself, so I’m going to pull the plug on our project. Your heart’s in the right place, but you just don’t have the capacity right now.” His response: “My therapist will thank you.”

Since that conversation, the rains have finally returned.

Drink up, thirsty Earth!

My own extended family’s tribulations also suddenly increased, causing the death of my/our book project to seem like that Casablanca-esque “hill o’ beans in this crazy world.” Only now, having given myself several hours of journaling-for-clarity as a 60th birthday present, has my personal drought loosened its grip.

I have worked up to a new idea: to turn this entire saga into a magazine article and pitch that. ___ has given his blessing. He even gave his blessing to this post. Thanks, ___.

What do you think? Have I piqued your interest? Does this sound like an article you’d read? Be kind but honest, please. I’m ready for the rain.

Emergency Dogblog, or, A Dog’s Gotta Do What a Dog’s Gotta Do

Umm….excuse me?

Maya here. Again.

I know, I know. This isn’t my blog. It belongs to my hooman–y’know, Whatsername. The one with the treats.

Pictured: Whatsername’s hand

Well, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but ol’ Whatsername’s been pretty much missing in action lately, blogwise. Something about “I’m not really feeling the blogging right now,” or “It’s complicated.” Whatever that means.

So I’m stepping in. Y’know, just to keep this spot warm till Whatsername comes back to curl up in it. I can make myself comfy anywhere.

Hey haters, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

So. That’s it, really. I’m just here to say–stick around, ok? My hooman’s probably just out back sniffing something reeeeeeeally interesting. She’ll be back when she’s good & ready.

But if not–you got me, right?

Who’s a good girl?

Equal Time For the Better Angels of Our Nature

I just listened to this podcast again today because I realized I needed it more than ever. Good choice, Me. So I decided maybe reblogging this post would be a good choice too. 🙂

Wing's World

My readers probably know that I’m not much of a podcast listener, but that if I AM listening to a podcast, it’s probably On Being with Krista Tippett. I started this habit after the 2016 election and, three and a half years later, I need her show more than ever.

Today I want to provide a peek into an especially uplifting interview about…ready? The evolutionary aspects of human goodness. Evolutionary? Human Goodness? Yes please!

(What follows are shameless excerpts from the transcript of Krista Tippett’s show, which I’m assuming she won’t mind because I’m encouraging everyone to listen to her.)

Human goodness? Does that mean sunflower seeds?

Nicholas Christakis is Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale. More specifically, he works at something called the Human Nature Lab—which sounds spooky until you hear what they’re studying. They’re studying goodness. (Oh my goodness. Literally.)

Says Dr. Christakis,

I’m…

View original post 752 more words

Ibram X. Kendi Says,”This is the Book I’ve Been Waiting For.” I Say: Yep.

Kendi’s blurb tops all the praise on the back of Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us. And if Kendi–Professor Antiracism himself–has been waiting for this book, this research, this analysis, how much more do the rest of us stand to gain from paying attention?

The full title is, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.

At the high school where I taught, one of my favorite principals used to say, “Tell the truth and point towards hope.” McGhee’s title does just that, and so does her book’s contents.

McGhee’s chief metaphor for the costs of racism, whose image graces her cover, is the destruction of public swimming pools all across America, following orders to desegregate them in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision. Cities and towns of all sizes literally poured concrete into their pools or bulldozed them rather than let Black people swim there. As a result, everyone lost:

“Over the next decade [1960s], millions of white Americans who once swam in public for free began to pay rather than swim for free with Black people…The classless utopia faded, replaced by clubs with two-hundred-dollar membership fees and annual dues. A once-public resource became a luxury amenity, and entire communities lost out on the benefits of public life and civic engagement once understood to be the key to making American democracy real.” (p. 28)

McGhee, an expert in economic and social policy, goes on to demonstrate this “close the pools” reaction–and its evenhandedly negative effects on communities–in more current policies such as the expansion of Medicaid (nearly all Republican-led states refuse it, even though the people who most stand to benefit are the poor whites calling it communism); the fight against raising the minimum wage; and the choice of southern white automobile workers to vote down a union.

From the beginning–Bacon’s Rebellion in 1675, when poor whites and Blacks joined forces and scared the pie out of the ruling class–McGhee shows how the ruling class has used race to keep poor whites attached to “zero-sum” thinking: Any gain of a racial minority means a loss for me. Through her narrative, it’s not hard to understand why generations have chosen racial identity over any other potential benefit, be it wages or cool water on a hot summer day.

I knew this. Ibram X. Kendi knows this. I’m willing to bet you knew it too. And most of us probably knew that the Brown v. Board decision outlawing segregation in public institutions relied heavily on psychological research that showed the damaging effect of segregation on Black children–the famous “doll tests.”

But here’s something neither I, nor my Constitutional Law-professor Mate, knew. Take it away, Ms. McGhee:

But there was another path from Brown, one not taken, with profound consequences of our understanding of segregation’s harms. The nine white male justices ignored a part of the social scientists” appendix that also described in prescient detail the harm segregation inflicts on “majority” children. White children “who learn the prejudices of our society,” wrote the social scientists, were “being taught to gain personal status in an unrealistic and non-adaptive way.” They were “not required to evaluated themselves in terms of the more basic standards of actual personal ability and achievement.” What’s more, they “often develop patterns of guilt feelings, rationalizations and other mechanisms which they must use in an attempt to protect themselves from recognizing the essential injustice of their unrealistic fears and hatreds of minority groups.” The best research of the day concluded that “confusion, conflict, moral cynicism, and disrespect for authority may arise in [white] children as a consequence of being taught the moral, religious and democratic principals of justice and fair play by the same persons and institutions who seem to be acting in a prejudiced and discriminatory manner.” (p. 182-3)

When I read this, it knocked me breathless. Those quotes from the early 50’s sound like they’re describing white folks of 2021. And I’m not just talking about the “confused” folks who carried the Confederate flag into the capitol building. I’m talking about people like me, “nice white people,” who, in middle age, are just starting to acknowledge what we’ve lost by living whole lives without close friends of other races.

[photo “Hermandad” by Rufino, Wikimedia Commons]

But. I told you this book’s title promises hope, and the book delivers. McGhee constantly pivots to examples of what she calls the Solidarity Dividend: white and Black workers in Kansas City joining together to win a $15 minimum wage; conservative Connecticut passing “a raft of popular public-interest bills” like paid sick days and public financing of elections; the 95% white town of Lewiston, Maine, at death’s door economically, embracing African immigrants to bring itself back to life. McGhee ends with a clarion call:

Since this country’s founding, we have not allowed our diversity to be our superpower, and the result is that the United States is not more than the sum of its disparate parts. But it could be. And if it were, all of us would prosper. (p. 289)

God knows it’s hard to feel optimistic at this moment in our history. But these concrete examples show what is possible because they already exist. If we all keep pointing to them, divisive fear will stand less of a chance.

Question for y’all: have you seen this Solidarity Dividend in action? Please share.

Post-Vax Travel: Keeping it S.I.M.P.L.E.

[With shouts-out to Chef Yokam Ottolenghi’s acronym, this is NOT a cooking post.]

“How was your trip?”

This basic question comes weighted with all kinds of new meanings now. Unspoken components may include:

“Did you feel safe?”

“Should you really have been traveling?”

“Can I think about traveling?”

“Really?!”

“Nice to be you.”

Acknowledging that weight, here’s all I want to say about my recent flight across the country to see my octo- and nonagenarian parents, whom I hadn’t seen in 14 months: I kept that trip as SIMPLE as I could.

S is for Spring–meaning fully-leafed, eye-poppingly green spring, a season I’ve not been able to enjoy in my home state for decades, due to work. (The Mate’s and my annual Road Trip pilgrimages bring us to NC in March, when leaves are still in their cute baby phases.) I soaked up May like a thirsty sponge.

And I live in the Evergreen State! Still miss those eastern Beech trees…
fallen bloom of a tulip poplar tree
Mountain laurels at New Hope Creek, not far from my family’s farm
Laurels up close–aren’t they amazing? (You can tell they’re in the blueberry/heather/madrona family)
Resting in my laurels!

I is for In-depth. As in, this trip was for FAMILY ONLY, but really in-depth. Days were for walking in Duke Forest, playing with doggies, feeding the various critters (horses, goat, donkey, chickens, guinea hens, barn cat…), cooking, eating, and sharing family stories.

Many of which involve my family’s running passion. (That’s me up top, my mom & sister with teammates below.)

M is for Martha, or Mom. She’s about to turn 86, and is very excited to try and set a new age-group record for the 1,500m at this summer’s Masters Nationals.

Go Mom!

P is for Peter, or Pa–nah, let’s just say Peter. (He might accept “Pater”–the guy does like his Latin.) In his 91st year, he’s facing the first seriously debilitating physical challenges of his life, forcing him to give up running. But he still gets out every day to run his beloved dogs.

Who’s a good girl? You’re a good girl!

L is for ___ and ___, my sister and brother-in-law (whom I won’t name here), who made the drive down from Michigan to coincide with my visit. I hadn’t seen them for 2 years (sister) and 4 years (bro-in-law).

Mom and Seester showing off their loooooong hair
The amazing feast of Indian food my Seester cooked (she & her husband used to live in India)

E is for…let’s just say EVERYTHING. Every aspect of travel that I no longer take for granted. Like: thoughtful flight attendants. Empty middle seats. Regional food you can only get by being there. Hugging on arrival and departure and any other time we felt like it. And E is also for EVERYTHING I love about where I live now, and the fact that–despite Delta’s excellent performance on this trip–I still have no desire to fly anywhere else now for a long, long time.

Home with The Mate and The Beast is where I am happiest now.

Miss me? Thought so. Isn’t it time for dinner?

That said–would love to hear of others’ experiences as they venture “back out there.” Trip story, anyone?

Affirming Antidotes: Best Books to Save Your (Literary) Soul Following (Literary) Fiascos

What’s this? Two book reviews in a row? What’s Wing’s World morphing into now?

Don’t worry. This post is entirely situational. As in, given the SITUATION I was in, last post, of having read a book as godawfully depressing as it was brilliant, the moroseness of which is now a distant memory due to the book that fell into my hands just after I wrote that post.

A HEARTWARMING book. A laugh-and-cry, go-ahead-and-recommend-this-book-to-everyone book (but especially to sisters, Minnesotans, and lovers of pie and beer–that is to say, Minnesotans).

And more importantly (to me): a book which is all those things AND excellently written.

I’m talking about The Lager Queen of Minnesota, by J. Ryan Stradal.

I was mentally bookmarking all kinds of passages even before I knew I wanted to blog about this book. Right off the bat, I was impressed with the intuitiveness of Stradal’s similes:

She looked at money like how a motorcycle driver looks at asphalt. The more of it you see, the farther you can go, but a single mistake with it can finish you. (p. 17)

…he didn’t crumple in the grass like someone wrestling with death, he lay still like someone waiting to be kissed. (p. 82)

Together they could pass the time like a couple of empty boats tied to a fenced-off pier, and it was beautiful. (p. 91)

The LOL parts were really too frequent to capture, but here’s one of my faves:

He glanced at her and pursed his lips. “On second thought, I don’t know. You white Minnesotans sure like things bland. I like the ramen there the way it is now. You start eating there, it’s gonna mess things up.”

“That’s probably true,” Diana said. “But I like spicy things.

He seemed mildly impressed. “Oh yeah? What’s your favorite spice?

“Butter,” she said.  (p. 205)

Hahahahaha. Here’s another gem, featuring one of the protagonists, pregnant:

“I’ll like it when it’s over,” ___ said, watching their pizza arrive, suddenly wanting it all for herself.

Their waitress, who was younger than them, and had the careless vibe of someone merely working for extra spending money, somehow couldn’t help herself. “You’re not supposed to say that,” she said. “Pregnancy is a miracle.”

“This pizza’s a miracle,” ___ said. “Pregnancy can suck it.”  (p. 242)

Stradal’s ease with implicit metaphors is even more impressive in its lack of impressiveness. I mean, he throws stuff out there which simply sounds NATURAL:

She dog-paddled through the rest of the day. (p. 185)

Before she could pour a glass of her own beer, or even order a bag of malt, there was a long, shallow puddle of bureaucracy she had to wade through. (p. 240)

But what gets me the most about this author is the fact that he’s a man writing in the perspective of women–three different main characters, all female–and he doesn’t eff it up. Scenes having to do with sex or childbirth he doesn’t dwell on, as if paying tribute to his own lack of understanding, but in other scenes, having to do with the psyche of women in a man’s trade? He NAILS it. Here, he describes the effect on the least sympathetic of the main characters, rendering her…sympathetic.

The men at or near her level across the industry were often exhausting. Very early she’d been spiritually and emotionally corroded by the roomfuls of them at various industry gatherings, men who talked over her, explained to her, asked her to fetch them lunch or coffee, planted and reaped her self-doubt. In the underpopulated women’s restrooms at brewers’ conventions, she’d sometimes hear of industry women experiencing far worse, but ___ quit attending these caustic functions before she personally experienced anything horrifying. (p. 335)

Even closer to the emotional bones:

The car accident that killed ___’s parents last June revealed a lot to her, especially the fact that every adult and almost every other person her age didn’t understand her, no matter what they’d been through. As a new kid in a new town, living with her kind but exhausted grandma ___, she had to set herself to a frequency that no one could tune in, just to make every day tolerable. (p. 90)

Or simply:

He laughed again… “Need anything from the kitchen?”
“No,” she said. “I have everything I need.”

As her husband vanished upstairs, she lay on the couch, took a deep breath, and almost believed it.  (p. 155)

Without giving anything away, I can divulge that the book’s main plot derives from a lifelong rift between two sisters. I’m not saying anything about the ending. But these two characterizations, one for each sister, epitomize the author’s deftness with character. When you read the book for yourself, they will speak even louder:

She halted in the doorway between those rooms, her blood full of sparks. (p. 347)

…and:

She was as calm as a small town on Christmas morning. (p. 348)

Is it true that I’ve just written a book review consisting almost entirely of quotes? And with one single lousy picture? Yes. Yes, it is. Because sometimes the words are enough.

So thank you, Mr. J. Ryan Stradal, for renewing my faith in good, positive-energy lit. And for the rest of y’all: What other novels would you put in this category? Got any more hidden gems for me?

Hurts So Good: When A Book’s Too Painful To Recommend, But Too Powerful Not To

Anyone else ever have this conversation?

Friend: “So what’re you reading these days?”

You: “Omigod this BOOK. It’s so INTENSE. The plot is masterful, and the details are so IMMERSIVE. It has a total hold on me.”

Friend: “Wow, sounds like I should read that next. What’s it called? Can I borrow it when you’re done?”

You: “Ummm…sure. But it’s also really super sad. It’s kind of bumming me out, to tell the truth.”

Friend: “Oh. No thanks. I don’t need more of that in my life.”

You: “But it’s so GOOD!”

Renoir, Woman Reading (courtesy f_snarfel, Creative Commons)

Anybody? Anybody?

My latest engagement with an entry in the Bummer-of-the-Month-Book-Club is the Pulitzer winner The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson. It’s been around a few years, and only fell into my hands by accident–somehow finding its way onto my bedside pile without any known recommender. I picked it up and, as perfect illustration of the cliche, found myself hooked by the first page.

Damn it. Had I read the blurbs, I probably would have passed. But I’m not a blurb-reader.

This book is PAINFUL to read. For starters, it’s set in North Korea. Additionally, it’s set in North Korea. And, as if that weren’t enough–North Freakin’ KOREA.

But those Pulitzer-givers know a thing or two about literature. Not only does the book twine different genres–identity odyssey, thriller, love story–it also switches point of view here and there, from close-third person narrative of the main character, to state-run propaganda blasts repurposing the very story you are reading, to a first-person accounting, up close–way too close–to North Korea’s vicious prison “life,” by an unnamed but increasingly conflicted interrogator.

And the writing? I’ll let it speak for itself.

Jun Do’s reward for these achievements was a listening post in the East Sea, aboard the fishing vessel Junma. His quarters were down in the Junma’s aft hold, a steel room big enough for a table, a chair, a typewriter, and a stack of receivers that had been pilfered from downed American planes in the war. The hold was lit only by the green glow of the listening equipment, which was reflected in the sheen of fish water that seeped under the bulkheads and constantly slicked the floor. Even after three months, Jun Do couldn’t stop visualizing what was on the other side of those metal walls: chambers of tightly packed fish sucking their last breath in the refrigerated dark.” (p. 40)

I would love to be able to talk with someone about this book, to discuss questions and groove over passages. But I don’t want to give it to anyone without warning, and most people, once warned, sensibly pass. That got me thinking about other books in this category. Here are a few that come to mind:

The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner. He’s one of my, let’s say top three, favorite 20th century authors. Angle of Repose, his Pulitzer winner, is incredibly sad, but I can still recommend it to anyone, especially over the age of 30. But this book kind of destroyed me for a while.

The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara. I mean, it’s about the Civil War, so that’s a teensy hint I should have taken.

Probably the queen of books too terribly powerful to pass on to people you like is Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Please read it anyway, if you haven’t yet. But give yourself lots of breathing time.

So I’m wondering…what other books would you nominate for this category? Shall we start a TPRTPN* Book Club?

*see title of this post