Saturday, January 1, 2022

Ravenswood Notes: 'The moment we choose to love, we move towards freedom'

The Equestrian, by Bisa Butler 
     I saw that feminist author and teacher bell hooks had died, and that her passing moved many people. But I'd never heard of her before, and the news was swept away without my addressing that lapse—I think her lower case name might have put me off. Leave it to Ravenswood bureau chief Caren Jeskey to grab me by the ear and further my education—and perhaps yours too. Her Saturday report:

     “Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.”
    ― bell hooks (Sept. 25, 1952 – Dec. 15, 2021)
     bell hooks died last week. I dove into her work and found that her words resonate deeply with the current times. She talked about intersectionality decades ago—specifically the ability of race, capitalism, and gender to “produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and class domination.” I believe that an unjust world will never be pleasant to live in.
     She also writes a lot about self love, and loving others:
      “The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love, we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.” 
     Personally, I put down my rage hat weeks ago for the most part. It's more fun to feel goodwill towards others, than judgment and hatred. Vestiges of anger still kick up when I am treated unjustly, or in unwelcome ways. I am hoping that the the 25 day meditation program I am embarking on next week with a small group of others will help me learn to turn the volume down on what others are doing that displeases me, and turn it up on finding joy, peace, inspiration, and calm.
     bell hooks is a name that stuck with me from the first time I heard it. It was probably in high school AP English, with Michael Conroy teaching. Conroy, as we called him, was one of those rare teachers who inspired me. (Ms. Minor, Mr. Bakrins, Jeanne Marsh, Father Jim Halstead, Derise Tolliver Atta, and Stanley McCracken are notable others). Conroy, in his calm commanding voice, made the Iliad, The Odyssey and Shakespeare more than palatable. Downright exciting, in fact! He was never condescending, and always encouraging.
     I recently came across a grade from him for a journalism class I don’t even remember taking, back in the '80s. The grade came on a piece of fancy parchment paper in true North Shore Country Day School savoir faire, and notes that I was a "very promising writer." He added that I could have been an editor of the school paper by then, had I done my work more diligently the previous year. He suggested that I buckle down and do so at that time. I did not.
     It took me decades to realize the lack of value that irresponsible (albeit exciting) adventure must hold for me in order for me to feel well. I do better with stability and simplicity, turns out. I was a person who collected experiences, as an astute therapist once pointed out. I have almost forgiven myself, since my inner chaos was honestly gleaned and not a choice of my own. No one “loves drama.” Trust me.
     What has this year held for all of us? Perhaps a lot of fear and uncertainty. Hopefully, an opportunity to slow down and hold our families and true friends closer. Folks read more, baked more, took longer walks, pared down friendships that were not working, and reassessed values. This pandemic will not be done with us until we show that we are serious about beating it down. That has not happened yet. I haven’t done the research but it seems obvious that Omicron is not the last variant. COVID is not going to "end", and we must learn to adjust to what is really happening.
     Fortunately, I work for myself in that I make my own hours, and I am able to work remotely. I wish that was true for everyone else. It’s hard to accept the back breaking roles so many must play. The stress of this year is taking a heavy toll on many of our fellow humans. I am sure many of you are finding ways to be of service, and thank you for that.
     So how do we come to peace with our lives, and take advantage of the very privilege that allows us to sip a hot cup of coffee and read a blog? How do we stay hopeful and mentally well? There have been movements over time for humans to work less and spend more time focusing on nurturing other parts of the self, in order to become better people.
     I half listened to a piece on NPR yesterday that speaks to the work less movement. "Evidence suggests that one of the biggest advantages of working fewer weekly hours is that it makes people better workers." The four day work week has become a hot topic. The puritanical, punishing idea that idle hands are the devil’s work is being challenged. For what is the purpose of this existence if not to be calm and loving enough to be humans who can play well with each other? I hope we can all find ways, in this fresh new year, to hone in on what we can do to improve our own personal happiness, for ourselves and also so that it may trickle down to others. Happy New Year!


  1. One of your more thought provoking blogs. Love is one of those impossible to define words. I don't think one can choose love. In my experience, it just happens. Certainly one can love things about a person or other entity but the actual sensation is indescribable.
    Regarding self love, that too is difficult. I'm happy with self acceptance. Acknowledging my strengths as well as weaknesses.
    Choosing to look for the good in people and other entities, when it's there, makes more sense to me and probably has the same result. Happiness.
    Negativity simply breeds more negativity.
    Positivity breeds more positivity.
    Although a non-believer, I am somewhat jealous of the genuine religious folks who seem to always have a positive attitude because they truly believe a superior being is watching out for them.

    1. Thank you for your thought provoking response.

    2. The movie Don't Look Up helped me feel even more sure about savoring all I can now, since life is short!

  2. For someone in my generation, literarily speaking, “bell hooks” brings to mind “e e cummings,” and in my case his novel, “The Enormous Room,” a tale of French cruelty echoed by Alfred Koestler. Of course, my first encounters with cummings in high school literature, impressed me with the unusual orthography almost exclusively and the importance of his poetry and philosophy was overshadowed by the spelling. It may be plain sour grapes, but I often congratulate myself on my non entity status, in that my ideas, such as they may be, are not exposed to ridicule or disdain, and my aspirations, intellectual, spiritual and political, aren’t subject to trivialization. As much as I admire much of cummings’ work, I’m left with disappointment over his rightward last days, in which he enthusiastically defended joe McCarthy.


    1. I also thought about e.e. when I heard about bell hooks. "The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." I did not know about his crappy politics, too bad. I also thought of Gwendolyn Brooks when I was revisiting bell hooks and this very sad and still sadly valid poem of hers:


      We real cool. We
      Left school. We

      Lurk late. We
      Strike straight. We

      Sing sin. We
      Thin gin. We

      Jazz June. We
      Die soon.

  3. Acceptance. Satisfaction. Love. Looking inward in the new year. moving away from anger towards others. fortunately I am self employed, choose my hours and being a better worker benefits my circumstance instead of some corporate entity.

    Bisa Butlers work is so enriching . Thanks for the reminder of the wonderful exhibition of their work I was fortunate to have attended .

    It offsets the experience of hearing literally thousands of gunshots at midnight again last night. Went on for a couple of hours. Some from right on our normally tranquil block .

    1. Surely—or is it hopefully?—much of it was actually fireworks. Where I am, it sounded like a battlefield at midnight.

    2. Fireworks ?

      I'm at 71st and cottage Grove.

    3. So? People in that neighborhood don’t set off fireworks for July 4 and NYE? I’m referring to the kind people buy in Indiana, not professional displays. I’m sure there were also some gunshots.

    4. Some fireworks for sure. Mostly gunshots. Sad for sure . But true

  4. That really stinks. So sorry. I've had neighbors robbed, beaten with guns, and carjacked, and there are very regular shootings less than a mile less from where I live, sometimes closer. I hope we stay safe, and this horrible rash of crime somehow stops. Neil took the Bisa photos, but thankfully I also attended that powerful exhibit. Peace and safety to you-


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