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Posts Tagged ‘Contributing Writer’

I’m not as limber as I once was and so I was having difficulty getting through the window but I didn’t have to fret for long because a stranger took my hand and pulled me through and when I lost my shoe on the rim of the window frame, he picked it up and gave it back to me and then turned and continued to help other strangers out of the train.

I wasn’t sure that I’d write about the chaotic experience of being on the Orange Line train yesterday in Boston’s Back Bay Station that filled with smoke. In the moment I was less concerned about the possibility of a fire in the station and more concerned about the growing panic of the people around me. Later I just wanted to let the incident go. But then today I picked up something and I remembered the feel of that man’s hand holding mine.

It was rush hour. People had had a long day and just wanted to get home. The car in which I stood was not packed but it was tight enough especially as most of us wore the beginnings of our winter gear. The lights were on but there wasn’t much air circulating and the intercom system must not have been working because there was no news being shared by anyone. The train had partially pulled away from Back Bay Station before coming to a halt, and later, officials would note that that was the reason the train operator could not open the doors, because of the danger of people stepping onto the tracks and landing on the electrified third rail. But most people were not thinking of that as the smoke grew thicker, and from inside the car, we could see people on the platform start to run for exits.

Even as I was starting to say, please, be calm, I felt my own panic rising. And then people began to scream, especially when they realized the doors were not opening. People began beating at the windows. The smaller windows on the sliding doors were easier to break. Individual flight was on many a person’s mind for sure but others were trying to help scared people through the small openings. Then in the part of the car where I stood, a man on the platform motioned people away from a larger window. He was not a train official or one of the policeman stationed in the area. He was just a regular guy. He kicked at the window, again and again, until it flew in, a single large sheet, shattering into a spider’s web pattern but no jagged edges did I see. People started leaping out the window while that man and some others stood, held out their hands and helped strangers out. I did not stop to ask his name but I think I shall never forget him.

Read more: Boston Globe article

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Visiting Virginia a few summers ago, I stopped in a small city. It was a literal crossroads of sorts. Fancy antique stores and cheap thrift shops lined the road. Around these buildings people had set up long tables for further display.  My partner and I sauntered through the buildings.  As usual in such places we found a wonderful mix of treasure and trash. Later, he wanted to peruse the tables.  Usually I would have raced ahead but I found myself hesitating as I watched one of the tables being prepared.  Two men arranged an amazing array of items, items that had one unifying theme. They all displayed the Confederate flag.

While I had to pass that table to get back to the car, I did not get close. Eye contact was made with one gentleman. With both our heads held high, we nodded in that southern way of closed lipped acknowledgement. It was not an unexpected sight especially because this encounter took place shortly after all the hullabaloo of removing the Confederate flag from institutions nationwide. Not unexpectedly, at least to me, online sales of the flag (and in-store sales depending on where one lived) went through the roof. But it’s America, right? As private citizens, those gentlemen could choose to sell the flag. And I could choose to walk away.

Recently one of my brothers who lives in southern Virginia described driving past an estate where half of the owner’s lawn was covered by a Confederate flag. I told him I wanted to ask the owner what was the intention behind such a display. He joked that I probably wouldn’t make it halfway up the driveway before the owner would step out with his licensed gun, and perhaps his dog at his side, to encourage me to leave his property. Okay, my brother became a bit more descriptive and I chastised him for making such jokes. If the owner wanted me to leave his property, he could. It’s America, right?

For those who do not know, I am an African American woman who grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. When I return to my hometown or attend a reunion at the school I attended in North Carolina or visit family now settled in South Carolina, I have at least two expectations. One is to bathe in the beauty of the southern natural landscape and two is the likelihood of seeing Confederate flags. After living in New England for nearly twenty years, I certainly have that first expectation. There is no New England state that I have visited where I have not experienced great natural beauty. But that latter expectation … no, I guess I did not have that one though I now do after last weekend.

I later described it as being caught up in a Klu Klux Klan rally but no one wore a hood. There were no torches or anyone burning but there was plenty of black smoke and revving of engines. I’m  sure there were guns but none were on display. Nothing illegal was done that I could see except for some bikers racing by in the breakdown lane but they didn’t do so for long. They just did it to keep up with the pack, or I guess I should say the convoy, of three dozen or more vehicles — trucks, cars, jeeps, bikes — driving along the highway from Massachusetts into Rhode Island, waving the Confederate flag. The American flag was flown too of course.

When I saw the first truck, a large black pick up, with Trump and Pence stenciled in white on the side, I thought, “Well, this is America.” Then as we kept driving along I saw more vehicles, a beat up Corvette with a Confederate flag nailed to the roof, more pickup trucks with large chimneys and flashing lights in addition to their flags, bikers with the flags pinned to their leathers.  I really, really, really didn’t want to be in their midst but there was no other route to our destination.

I could avoid that table in the Virginia flea market with its sea of Confederate flags but I could not escape this experience. We all had to share the road, and we did so for a very long time. Finally the vehicles all left the road, to pull into a Rhode Island rest stop.  Their final destination I have no idea. We completed our journey into the quiet of Rhode Island’s small towns.  I slumped back into the seat, exhausted. Why was I exhausted?

Well …

Later that weekend, people asked me how did I know that there were three dozen or so vehicles in the convoy. I explained that I counted them. With the luxury of being a passenger and not the driver, I looked at each vehicle surrounding and then passing me. I looked at license plates (several New England states were represented). I looked at the drivers who would not look back at me. I got the feeling that they had all been instructed to keep their eyes on the road and to do nothing intimidating individually because what they were doing as a group was much more effective.

I don’t know if it’s nature or nurture, likely a combination, but there’s a thing that happens to me in certain situations. It’s the confluence of past and present. There’s a scene in the movie 12 Years a Slave, and a scene in the movie Glory, and scene in any movie  involving slavery, where a man or woman is tied up and whipped. I have many a friend and family member, of different races and ages and life experiences, who will turn away. I cannot. My back straightens. I hold my head high. Not so much to bear witness but it feels almost like channeling ancestors who did what they had to do to survive but they would not be subjugated. To sit in that position for an hour, so tense, was exhausting.

In that Virginia flea market, when I made eye contact with the vendor selling the Confederate flag, and nodded at him in acknowledgement, in a different day and age, for such behavior, for stepping out of my place, I would have been whipped. I know, I know. There some who might say, there you go stirring up the past again. But that past is a part of my American heritage, and every American’s heritage.

I am a major proponent of “just go with flow” and “just let things go.” Being caught up in that convoy for about an hour, those philosophical tendencies were replaced with something else. I increasingly wanted the drivers to look at me. I wanted to look into his or her eyes and to see who they were. And I wanted them to see me. As with the man in Virginia with the Confederate flag covering his lawn, I want them all to explain to me the intention of their display and to do so with other words than “It’s about heritage, not hate.”

I had my camera with me, of course, but I refused to pull it out. There was no need to capture in pixels and post on this blog such imagery. But I did want to share an experience that I will not let go of but I will certainly move beyond.

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It’s mid-July, and here in New England, we’re still talking about this past winter.  The seemingly unending piles of snow will long live in the memory, and for me, so will the unexpected creativity born out of solitude watching things grow even in the dead of winter.  I’m honored to have a series of images from that period featured in the latest Alimentum The Literature of Food.  Enjoy!

 

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… but I usually like to send them off with just a simple word or two like “Hi, how are you?” and conclude with a smiley face.  Okay, sometimes I say a bit more, like “remember to look at the sunset outside your window.” These are a few of the postcards available in my online shop.  You can view the full selection via this link:  ImagesbyCynthia Postcards

http://www.zazzle.com/imagesbycynthia

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My mother had a drawer full of scarves, of every size and color imaginable.  The textures tended toward silky or the fine sandy grain of those materials that were sheer.  My scarves are more dispersed throughout my environment, possibly because, in a way, I have more personal space than my mother ever had.

She would have been a teen and partying young woman in the 1950s and 1960s when scarves were a fashionable part of the ensemble.  By the time I came along in the 1970s, my mother wasn’t partying so much but she still had that drawer full of scarves, and I remember my father still buying her scarves throughout much of my childhood.

Whether for elementary school or high school, when I left the house in the morning for my journey, if the wind was blowing fiercely, if she’d done my hair the night before, if there was even a chance of sprinkles … she’d wrap one of her colorful scarves around my head and tie it beneath my chin.  In elementary school, I may have looked cute.  In high school, when scarves were not fashionable … well, I once passed by a group of girls and one of them said, “What is she wearing?!” But, even as I felt bad, I heard another girl say, “Leave her alone.”  What I remember from that moment, this day, is the care of my mother and the care of that stranger.

My small scarves I keep in a little gold box on a book shelf.  I rarely use them or even look at them but I’m not ready to part with them.  Long, narrow scarves I keep in a basket, and when I am too lazy to track down my leather belt, I’ll pull out one of those scarves to hold up my pants.  Large, square scarves I learned to wrap around my head using techniques my mother did not know.  Those I’ve tucked away in a drawer.  I mostly wear long, oblong scarves, especially the ones given in recent years by friends and family.  I wear them to freshen up an outfit.  And, of course, I photograph them as they are or use them to serve as background for a leaf.  And, in this house, with so many windows, I sometimes hold them up to see what happens when the light shines through.

These musing of the morning were inspired by a link recently shared by a friend, a Salon interview by Edwidge Danticat of Katia D. Ulysse.  As my friend described to me, it is a thought-provoking, poetic exchange between two writers of Haitian heritage.  An excellent read.  At some point there is reference to scarves, and that was all the inspiration needed for me to crack open a box.  Have a good day.

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There is a time and place for everything.  I guess now is a time and place in my life to collect seashells and rocks and blossoms that I let dry in the sun.  As I collect these things, I ponder.  Here is a recent essay inspired by a broken bowl of stone and shells:  fragile beauty.

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It was a delight to receive an email from graphic design artist and photographer Cindy Dyer earlier this year.  I had “liked” a post on her beautiful blog and she had visited mine in response.  She liked enough of what she saw to invite me to include my essay, Seeds, in the Spring 2013 issue of her digital magazine, Celebrate Home.  The issue is on newsstands now, so to speak, free to download and print issues can be purchased.  Seeds can be found on page 95 but I encourage to check out all of the writing, imagery, and recipes to found in this lovely publication.  And you can check out Cindy’s blogs via the following links:  http://www.cindydyer.wordpress.com/ and http://www.gardenmuse.wordpress.com/

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