Desert Rose (August 9, 2012)

Desert Rose



I am not a botanist. I possess the opposite of a green thumb. I can kill the most resilient of houseplants like cacti and bamboo while meaning them no harm. This woman just doesn’t speak their language.

I am also the proud resident of a concrete jungle. On a 4:30 am run yesterday morning, I made a semi-serious game of jogging a wide berth around scurrying creatures of the night that I could only hope were rabbits and squirrels foraging for pre-dawn meals. I can’t imagine a vacation less relaxing than camping.

I am generally indifferent toward the natural world, yet I can’t help but foster a begrudging admiration for this purple flowering plant in my apartment building’s courtyard, species unknown. It’s been an evil summer in the Midwest – sweltering daytime highs, precious little rain. Yet it seems like the less nourishment it receives the stronger and more beautiful it grows. Each evening when I return home, its colorful buds are just a little taller and fuller, just a little brighter, the stalk reaching ever so slightly higher even as surrounding weeds and dry brush would have it strangled.

This persevering little beauty reminds me of my own journey as a writer, an expedition far from complete. It’s a grueling campaign that began with a loud internal thumping, a warning that I was on the wrong path, a crash course with unhappiness predicated upon a willful disregard of personal truth.

This voice was in charge: “You can’t be a scribbler. There’s no future in it. Climb the corporate ladder. Make that money and your husband and family proud. Writing is selfish, maybe even destructive.” That was the sand added to the cement mix provided by my immediate support system at the time. This foundation was almost, but not quite enough to choke the sapling, the murmur that countered, “But you have ideas and thoughts you have to share, even if no one reads them. You are growing weaker and sicker from the effort of pretending to be that which you are not.”

Inevitably, an ingrained need to please and maintain the status quo lost to a force much more powerful but there was oh so much collateral damage: a foundered marriage, a splintered family, isolation, depression, fear, regret, cruel words and actions that can never be recanted. So many times I wondered if perhaps writing was too damned selfish and costly. When he said, “I never should have let you,” I bristled at the presumption but wondered if I had secretly logged my name amongst the misguided with a “big idea” that proved too expensive.

Marooned, thirsty and malnourished, this plant looked for sunlight and a healthy place to grow with the support of sundry friends and family who believed in the effort no matter how foolish and risky it appeared. And with every little nibble of success – a published piece here, an award there, a reinforcing compliment from a fellow writer – the roots of certainty dug themselves in the sand a little more stubbornly. I am not Gail Collins, David Sedaris or Garrison Keillor yet. I may never have the career of those esteemed wordsmiths and I can live that with it. But I have a career nonetheless. I gave up almost everything I knew to strive for it too – and it didn’t kill me.

Like my friend the little purple shoot, I will keep growing and changing, with or without the common elements of growth too often taken for granted. Thankfully as I evolve and learn to believe, the love and sustenance craved is organically materializing. The purple plant, my own desert rose, clearly doesn’t need my help, but I seek to pay tribute to her inspiration with a prosaic rain dance.

Racism in South Carolina? How Original! (June 5, 2010)

Nikki Haley

Talk about the ultimate backfire. When Palmetto State Republican gubernatorial candidate John M. “Jake” Knotts Jr., called GOP frontrunner Nikki Haley, a converted Christian of Sikh Indian descent, a “raghead” this week, he made the young lawmaker a household name. Heretofore, she had only been known as the slutty would-be replacement for the current tramp in the Governor’s mansion, Mark Sanford. Haley was well on her way to doing herself in, having faced two separate allegations, within the span ten days, of having sexual relations with GOP operatives. But leave it to an old, fat, racist white man to breathe new life into Haley’s candidacy.

I have to admit that I never bothered to search for an image of Haley, until Knotts hurled his antiquated and culturally ignorant epithet. I read a column in the New York Times by the incandescent Gail Collins this week that addressed the infidelity accusations dogging Haley’s campaign, and upon coming across her name for the first time, I assumed she was simply another hypocritical, greedy member of the far right, which tends as we know, to be WASP-y in its makeup. No thanks. It wasn’t until news spread that Knotts had not only insulted Haley’s cultural heritage, but managed to rope President Obama into a racist slam at the same time, that I wanted to know more about this woman.

And if I am discovering interest in Haley, it is not a far conjectural leap to assume that voters in South Carolina are doing the same. The rumored adulterer and mother of two has suddenly been rendered sympathetic by the shocking ignorance of a challenging member of the ruling class. In a political climate that is very anti-establishment at the moment, Knotts could not have made a more damaging faux pas, leaving aside what it says about his tolerance and character. All of the sudden, the clout of Republican heavyweight Sarah Palin is thrown behind Haley’s candidacy, in the form of recorded robo-calls. Whatever one might think of Palin, there is no denying her star power, particularly in the Red States. I doubt Knotts can count on any important party support, except perhaps from the ghost of late South Carolina Senator and fellow ideological crackpot, Strom Thurmond.

Which brings me to another point. I thought conventional wisdom had it that in order for the Republican party to compete in the ever more diverse landscape of American politics, they were going to have to break with the past, be more inclusive? Wasn’t the point of hiring bumbling jackass Michael Steele as chairman of the RNC (the gift to the Democrats that keeps on giving), to put a face on that effort? Well you can place as many visages of color in leadership positions as you want, Republicans, but as long as you have wingnuts like Knotts, and media personalities like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly doing your talking for you, it’s going to be hard to convince people that you are other than the party of discrimination. In a nation that becomes more multi-ethnic by the year, intolerance is dangerous and unsustainable.

One can only assume, despite Knotts’s predictable, insincere apology for his comments, that his candidacy is all but over. Thank goodness for that. I believe an additional boost to Haley’s run will stem from her measured, savvy response to the controversy. She was quoted as saying: “What the race in 2010 will prove is the goodness of the people of South Carolina, that there [are] fewer people of the Jake Knotts [ilk] and that there are a lot more good, educated people [who] want their voice heard in government.”

I can only hope that other members of the new Republican movement are sincere in their desire to expand their membership base, and are not just cynically chasing votes. Because even those of us are who lean far left have much to gain in finding a worthy adversary with new ideas and attitudes. Clearly however, the old guard of the GOP has not looked a calendar lately. It’s 2010, not 1959 fellas.