Someone once asked the poet, Mary Oliver, what she did when inspiration just wouldn’t come.  She replied, “Grab a notebook and pen, go to the woods and look and listen, sit under a tree and the grace of an idea usually comes.”  I love that phrase:  the grace of an idea.

If you ever read any advice for writers, you will see over and over variations on the suggestion that one must simply sit down and write.  Writers are those who put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and produce.  Do that, and you’ll be a writer.  It’s a literary version of the Nike shoe ad:  Just do it.

And there’s some value to that advice.  Often, as you tap out those first halting sentences (OK, sometimes, those first halting paragraphs, pages, sections), your brain warms up and you figure out what you want to say — or, at least, what you don’t want to say (you know, that thing you spent all morning writing).  And, the advice has the benefit of being comfortably Calvinistic.  Discipline!  Hard work!  Five hundred words before lunch.  And little, as all writers know, concentrates the mind quite so much as an impending deadline.

But I like Ms. Oliver’s notion, too.

Sure, like any worker, a writer can sit down at a work station and produce.  I often jokingly call my job producing prose for pay.  Writing for my supper.  Five hundred words, a lunch break, two hundred and fifty and you can get a cup of tea, another two hundred and fifty and you can quit for the day, clean the ink off of your quill, and head home for drinks and dinner.  Five days a week, four weeks a month, with Augusts and a week in December for holiday.  But that ignores the element of grace.  We writers know, though we don’t always like to admit, that it’s grace that lets you write and a slippery, trickery, misty grace, at that, well, at least most times.

The group Emerald Rose has a lovely song, based upon the tale of Ceridwen.  Ceridwen set her nephew, Gwion Bach, to stir the Awen, her cauldron of inspiration.  She warned him not to take a sip, but he managed to taste three drops.  A magical chase ensued, during which time both Gwion and Ceridwen continually shape shifted.  Finally, he shifts into a seed, she swallows him, and he is reborn, through her, as the poet, Taliesin.  Emerald Rose sings:

And since that day I’ve chased my muse, a thousand songs to hear and play,
although the Lady does refuse to lift her veil on certain days. . .
But when I feel my well’s run dry, those precious drops I bring to mind,
and then I hear the crickets cry
and that brings me my next three lines.

I like to think Ms. Oliver is listening to the crickets in the woods.  You can’t always hear them when you’re chained to your workstation, desperately trying to get from word 300 to word 425.

May we all have the grace of an idea.

Picture found here.




The Secret Ballot Is More Important than Your Selfie


Please pardon my small rant.  It’s become popular in some circles to take a picture of your filled-in ballot.  That’s illegal in many states and there’s a reason for it.  The prohibition on taking a picture of your ballot is designed to protect your right to vote as you choose.

The secret ballot has been one of the gems of our democracy.  We have secret ballots so that no one can make you vote a certain way.  Your boss can tell you to vote for Trump or you’ll be fired.  Your pastor can tell you that if you vote for Hillary, the community will shun you.  Your grandfather can tell you that you have to vote for Gary Johnson or he’ll write you out of the will; your dad can explain how you should vote if you expect him to pay next semester’s tuition.  Your abusive boyfriend or husband can tell you that you must vote for Trump or “you’ll be sorry,” meaning you’ll be wearing a black eye for a few days.  And you can still walk into the voting booth, vote for whomever you choose, walk out, and lie.  “Sure, yep, Boss.  Pulled the lever for Trump.  Just like you said.”

But if your boss, or pastor, or grandfather, or father, or boyfriend, or husband, or whomever has power over you (and, let’s face it, in this society, power-over is still very much a thing and it’s generally men who possess it), and a “ballot selfie” is legal, then there’s an easy way for them to make sure you vote the way they want you to vote.  “Bring me a picture of your ballot filled in as I told you, or else.”

Look, maybe you’ve led a more charmed life than I have and you’ve never had a boss at a job you desperately need make illegal demands upon you.  You’ve never had a husband who controlled you with physical threats.  And you think it would be cool to post a picture of your ballot on Facebook.  But that simply isn’t a good reason to throw away the secret ballot.

(Another reason that such pictures are illegal is to prevent people from selling their votes.  And that’s important, too.  But, in my opinion, it’s the less important reason.)

Picture, and a lovely essay, found here.

Monday at the Movies

I think I’ma go see this

Monday at the Movies

I think I’ma go see this

Sunday Ballet Blogging

How to Ensure that Our Long National Nightmare Is Over

I sometimes imagine that the people kind enough to read this blog will be glad when the election is over and I quit ranting about it.  And, I’ll admit that, like many women I know, this one has caught me harder than I expected.  There’s been a lot of good writing about how this election has impacted women and I may add my own little piece later.  But for now, I’ll say that, although I’m a political junkie (It’s often said that DC, a town of northern charm and southern efficiency, (thanks JFK) is like Hollywood for plain people.   Whether that’s true or not, it is a company town, our company is politics, and I’m a townie.), I’m really ready for this election to end.

And that’s what I’d like to write about tonight:  how to end this election.

There’s been a lot of discussion about whether or not the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, will conceded the election if, as seems increasingly likely, he loses to the Democrat, Hillary Clinton.  So let’s be crystal clear, there’s no need for him to concede.  Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution provides:

Section 1

1: The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows

2: Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

3: The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusingthe President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; A quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shallchusefrom them by Ballot the Vice President.8

4: The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.

5: No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

Bottom line:  whichever person (who is a natural-born citizen, is at least 35 years old, and has lived for at least 14 years within the US) wins a majority of electoral votes (today, that’s 270 of the 538 possible votes) “shall be president.”  You can read the entire document and there’s nothing about the loser conceding.  Which makes sense.  Why would the Founders have given the loser a veto?  And if you think about it, there are always multiple candidates for president.  This year, we have the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, the Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson, and a host of smaller-party candidates.  Yet you’ve never heard that the results of the election couldn’t be announced because one of those candidates didn’t call the winner and concede.

True, it’s traditional in American politics for whichever major party candidate loses to show some dignity and grace and call the winner on election night and concede.  That candidate then often goes out and speaks to hir supporters, says that s/he just called the winner and conceded, congratulates the winner, and urges unity.  That’s what decent people do.  But there’s no Constitutional requirement for it and the fact that a candidate doesn’t do it has no legal relevance.


But Trump could still cause a lot of trouble if he wanted to.  In many states, if the vote is close (how close varies from state to state) there is an automatic recount.  Until that happens, the members of the electoral college won’t know how to vote.  You may remember the election of 2000.  As Wikipedia explains:

Bush won the election-night vote count in Florida by 1,784 votes. The small margin produced an automatic recount under Florida state law. Once it became clear that Florida would decide the presidential election, the nation’s attention focused on the recount.

And I think we all know how that worked out.

If the vote in a given state isn’t close, either there’s no recount, or the notoriously cheap Trump campaign would have to pay for a recount if it wanted one:

Recount rules vary from state to state. North Carolina, for example, doesn’t allow a presidential candidate to request a recount at all if one candidate has a lead of more than 0.5% of the total votes cast.

In Wisconsin, the challenging candidate must pay the full expense of a recount if the vote in dispute is more than 0.25%; in Colorado, the candidate must if it is more than 0.5%.

That can be expensive. Officials in one Wisconsin village put the cost of a local recount, in which about 9,000 votes were cast earlier this year, at nearly $13,000, said Michael Maistelman, a Wisconsin election lawyer who represented the unsuccessful candidate. More than 3 million people voted in the 2012 presidential election in Wisconsin.

Deciding where to challenge the election would be complicated. Trump, who trailed Clinton by 7 percentage points nationwide in a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week, is fighting tight battles in some key states. In Ohio, for example, an average of major opinion polls reviewed by the RealClearPolitics website found Trump to be leading by less than 1 point. In Iowa, he is leading by nearly 4 points.

The simple way to shut down Trump’s ability to challenge election results and to create chaos for a month or so is for so many people to vote for Clinton that there’s just no way that demanding recounts can help Trump.  So here’s what I am asking you to do:  I’m asking you to vote for Hillary Clinton for president.

I’ve often said, maybe even on this blog, that, if you live in a safely blue state or a hopelessly red state, you should go ahead and write-in a real progressive or vote for the Green Party just to send the establishment Dems a message. This time, you should not do that.  This time, you should vote for Hillary Clinton for president and for the Democrats running for Senate and Congress.  Please let me give you my reasons for saying that.

First, there are fewer and fewer hopelessly red states.  Even Texas(!), Alaska, and Georgia are within the margin of error for going blue this time.  What kind of an ally are you to African American and Latino voters in those states if you cancel out their votes by voting third party?  Second, and this is maybe even more important, it is important for the margin of victory in every state to be large enough to move the state out of Trump’s “maybe I can make trouble by demanding a recount” column.

You want this election to end.  I want this election to end.  But Trump and the alt-right want a mess.  They want a lot of recounts and uncertainty.  They want to spend the next four years arguing that Clinton wasn’t the legitimate winner.  They’d love to do the same for down-ballot Democrats, as well.  They want to do to the first woman president what their birtherism did to the first African American president.  If the rest of us split our votes between Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, and Hillary Clinton, they may well get their wish.

We can make this election end by voting overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton.  That’s what I’m asking you to do, even if you might normally write in a progressive or vote Green.  Write in Jill Stein or Elizabeth Warren or whomever for your county council or school board if you want.  But vote for Hillary Clinton and the Democratic candidates for Senate and Congress.


Such a Nasty Woman