Mary Beth Writes

Started this yesterday and couldn’t figure out how to say it clearly. Let me try again…

It seems as if nearly all social media has turned into a referendum and compendium of ways to think about Racism in America. This is good. This is necessary. Keep reading and keep sharing.

I’ve been walking. Here in June the new-blooming flowers are lusciously beautiful; flowering shrubs are in their Full Glory. My eyes, used to shades of slush, are dazzled by lavender phlox, white and purple lilacs, by Bridal Wreath spirea draping over itself.

(Oh NO! That beautiful phlox is actually invasive Dame's Rocket. Well, carry on .. but how sad.) 

I remember the two blocks between my two grandmothers’ houses. Tree-shaded Loomis Street was lined with modest, well-loved homes sitting next to each other like chubby kindergartners. I can still see the Spirea planted along their foundations, lilacs in front, irises beginning to unfold themselves into ballerinas. The flowers of early June give back to me my blue-eyed grandmothers. Rest in peace, Esther and Laura.  

Early summer feels like mercy.

Do you realize what I did with my photos and my writing?

I framed everything. The photos of the river don’t show you the street and parking lot that is right there.  Those effusive lilacs grow in a line of bushes that edge the parking lot for a strip mall on Grand Ave. The phlox are between the building used to store chemicals for the water department, and the railroad tracks.

I gave you a vision of spring collated from banal places in my old part of my old town. 

And my grandmothers? They were lovely women and I was lucky to have them. But not everyone’s grandparents are or were loving and worthy; associating flowers and grandmas is a connection not everyone gets to have. When I talk about sweet women who hugged me, does something in you feel sad or jealous or angry because you didn’t have a smiling grandma with Bridal Veil growing outside her dining room window?

I’m not done yet. Keep reading.

This week I finished reading Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler. I read his River Town last month. Both books are excellent, and I highly recommend. He writes non-fiction like others write fiction. He pulls you in.

He asks this question. “How do we learn what kind of people and nation we are?”

He talks a lot about written Chinese which is famously complicated. Chinese doesn’t have an alphabet (there is a dangerous 20th century history to this). Chinese is written in characters. Depending on how you define and count, there are upwards of 100,000 characters, although to read about 90% of a modern Chinese newspaper, you ‘only’ need to know about 900 of them. 

What does it do to one’s sense of who they are to share a language that goes back 3000 years? Scholars can read what was written in 1250 AD because ancient characters are related to modern characters. China is a huge country with different ethnic and cultural groups who speak different languages (there are big variations within spoken Chinese). Yet they all share the same written language. What unites China is its 3000-year old record of government decisions, property and trade laws, and poetry – all written in the same language. 

The frame for Chinese understanding of their own culture is their 3000 years of written history of what they have done up to now. This is interwoven with their heritage of Confucianism (no longer much in vogue, but the predominant philosophy of how to live for centuries). Which makes for a culture where people make decisions on the basis of what will preserve the elders, the family, and the nation. Things are changing fast, but education is a priority of China and they continue to educate and support education that is conservative in the Chinese way.

Nothing is as simple as the paragragh I just wrote. I read 700 pages of Hessler and you just read a couple paragraphs of me - and all I really learned was what some of the best questions are. Do not source me as an understanding of Chinese culture!

But if we think about what’s the frame right outside the picture we see, it is interesting that the frame for modern China is a complicated ancient written language mostly understood by and passed down through the most educated people in the society. Men (and some women) who were preserving their own families first. Peasants were tools to produce what the fine families need.

There’s a frame.

Hessler is having a conversation with a Chinese friend who was educated in both China and in the West. They are talking about what is the modern language that passes along culture and values in the US. The friend speculates. “I think your movies. Everyone goes to the movies. You have a common language of movies you have seen, and how people behave in them, and what you think about that.”

Which brings us back to frames. When we look at our nation under siege right now, we have such opposing worldviews. Did we see two sets of movies? (and TV shows and social media and computer games?)

When you think about the response you have to what’s going on, and what you will continue doing and what you will do differently – check what’s framing your decisions and responses.

It’s interesting.

It might even give you more clarity and courage.

What movie, book, TV show, game, social media platform seems to call you forward? 

What’s our frame? What's your frame? 

Comments

Beautiful, but unfortunately, it's not phlox. It's dame's rocket--not a good thing. https://www.wiscontext.org/dames-rocket-invasive-confused-phlox-common-sight-wisconsin
Mary Beth's picture

Oh No! Four petals, bad. Five pedals, good. I didn't know. Thank you.

I just had the dame's rocket discussion yesterday in Rockford, more on that later... As for memories of Grandmother's Our Paternal Grandparents were dead before any of my siblings were born, so no telling who or what they were... My Mother's Parents on the otherhand I know well since my mother came back with my older siblings when I was born on the island... I was left with "Mama Y PaPa" as I affectionately called them until the age of two when they flew to Chicago to pass me back to my parents... I still can recall the sweet tropical sent on their skin and the wonderful wrinkles they both cultivated on... Grandma's porcelain white, and Grandpa's as dark as a French Roast coffee bean, real life salt and pepper shakers and I loved them both... The smells I grew up around in that house were of banana, mango, guava, breadfruit, avocado, and all sorts of exotic fruits... Thanks MB for bringing back some happy memories... I said I'd get back to dame's rocket and also an update on dating in this Covid Age... There is only so much texting, emailing, phone conversation's and Zooming two people can do without ever really seeing if all that can match the reality of the two people involved... For Mr. P and I it was four months of this sort of thing after he first contacted me on an online dating site... We agreed to meet on the 3rd of June covid or not... We both have younger sisters in healthcare... We did social distancing, mask, hand washing and sanitizer for the time leading up to this person to person contact... We met at 9am and that first date nervousness that usually happens did not... It was like finally catching up with an old friend, we pretty much new everything we would have had to have talked about already... Good , Bad, Happy and painful, we already new most of that stuff... What we didn't know was if the image we each had of the other was wishful thinking ¿Or were we truly as compatible as it seemed? from a distance... I drove to meet him with a car full of plants, Sofrito, and fresh green salsa, while he planned out our first outing together, Andersen Gardens... He had Dame's Rocket so I did my thing about how invasive it is... His sister said that she wanted to meet me after she got out of work... We had an amazing time together, and with his sister who's normally afraid to get covid but as I was heading back home asked if she could hug me? As she did she said that she hopes to see more of me in the future... The future by the way is next Wednesday.( THANK YOU COVID )
Mary Beth's picture

This is so cool, Franc! And Mr. B! And I think it is adorable that he brought you a plant that is "wrong." This a good week in which to misidentify beautiful flowers... We could all use a lot more small mistakes and a lot less huge ones.

Very interesting.. Thank you..

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Quarantine Diary #150 8/11/2020 Taking a Break

I’m depressed. How about you?  I’m not the kind of depressed where I should call a doctor. I’m more “Michelle Obama depressed.”  Things feel stuck, wrong, and getting worse. There’s the pandemic and the feeble, chaotic response to it. There’s racial strife. When, if ever, will the police police themselves? Teachers and kids are being thrown back into schools like spaghetti thrown against a wall - to see who will stick? There’s the angry self-entitled idiocy of too many people.

Quarantine Diary #142 Swimming Lessons

“It's a good idea to begin at the bottom in everything except in learning to swim.” Unknown author

I was well into my 40’s when I realized that one doesn’t have to wait for perfect weather if one wants to go into the water. 

Quarantine Diary #141 8/5/2020 "Red Dust"

I just finished reading “Red Dust – A Path Through China” by Ma Jain.  It is a remarkable book that asks more questions than it answers.

Ma Jain was born in the 50’s and grew up grew up very poor in a small Chinese city. He remembers when his mother would simmer stones for dinner so that the neighbors would see her cooking and not realize how poor they were.  (A whole different take on the children’s tale “Stone Soup.") The violent and terrifying Cultural Revolution that Chinese citizens lived through is over but memories of it are in everyone’s minds.

Quarantine Diary #140 7/31/2020 Wishing you a Merry Quarantine Weekend

When I’m in a certain mood I love how-to articles – and I’m in that mood right now. I think it happens at the intersection of reasonable weather and Friday ... when happiness still seems possible.

I googled “How to have a nice weekend in the time of Covid” and guess what? There are no Wiki-How articles on how to be happy in a pandemic.

Let’s invent this right here, right now.

Quarantine Diary #134 Written while sweating …

My best coping skill for appalling weather is to show it who is boss. 30 below?  Cool. Let me put on all my clothes plus a hat down to my eyebrows and another one up to my glasses, and I’ll go out there.

Quarantine Diary #131 7/23/2020 "Becoming Labrador"

Yesterday I forgot to write about a movie we watched which I think many of you might like to watch, also.  We’ve been talking here about what one can stand to read and watch these days when our spirits are stressed and anxious.

I thought I wanted to reprise some of our Canada travels.  FYI, if you’ve traveled in a place you loved, put that place into your streaming service Search window, find some great or mediocre documentaries about that place, and revisit your memories.  It’s fun.

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