Straw Flowers

Straw Flowers
"Straw Flowers" by L. Folk

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My Father's Face





When my son turned three months old I had a most peculiar experience.  He was staring up at the various trinkets in a mobile when I noticed, amidst his darkening eyebrows, my father’s face.  It was comforting yet unnerving to have the face I recognize as love, as safety—and yet a face from the grave –show up in my newborn son. 

We lost my dad in 2003, just before his beloved team won the World Series.  With the birth of his three grandchildren, my family knows the true meaning of bittersweet.  My husband’s and brother-in-law's parents are gone as well, so my kids and nephew have one living grandparent—my mother.  She and I often speculate what my father would do with his grandchildren.  “He would sit with Stevie on his knee as he watches football on Sundays” or “He would imitate Marielle’s laugh and tease her incessantly” or “He would have Zachary swinging a bat as soon as he could stand.”  Our minds would create each respective scene and we would sit there with them until we heard the gavel of fate slam down. 

My mother had waited a long time to share these grandchildren with my father; my siblings and I all married well into our thirties.  It’s a major milestone for marriages to have grandkids to spoil, scamper about the house; it follows the natural progression of things to experience one’s father evolve into a grandfather.   And it only seems fair.

I don’t begrudge other kids their grandfathers.  In fact, I’ve reasoned that it might somehow make my kids more resilient.  Life takes from you; it’s best to learn this at a young age.  And then I remember who my dad was, his integrity, his wit, his playfulness, and I grapple with how I might portray him to them.  It seems entirely futile.

This situation reminds me of that tearjerker of a song by Mike in the Mechanics called “The Living Years.” The gist of it is this: a man does not see “eye to eye” with his father and when the father dies, things are left unsaid.  There is a verse most apropos: I think I caught his spirit/Later that same year/I'm sure I heard his echo/In my baby's new born tears.  My relationship with my father was, for the most part, in tact when he passed, but that does not discount the impact of the song and its theme, especially now.  And yet, we can wax poetic about the circle of life, but there is something profoundly incongruous about the holes in our matrix of family and how we’re helpless to fill them. 

The day after my father passed away, the sun shone gloriously; it was my private Easter.  Ladybugs—a good omen—collected on the panes of my parents’ house, and I reasoned he had reached his spiritual destination.  Coincidentally, I saw a ladybug crawling on my kitchen windowsill the day my son was circumcised.  It was the same type of day known only to the month of October with boundless blue sky amidst nature’s triumph of color.  Because he was six months old, my son was admitted into Danvers MGH and needed anesthesia for the procedure.  I was excessively emotional for obvious reasons and did my best answering the anesthesiologist’s questions regarding my son’s medical history.  When she asked who was home with his twin sister, I blurted out, “My father.”  I meant to say “My husband” or perhaps “Her father.”  I laughed at myself; that was, logically, the wrong answer, but something deeper said, “No it’s not.”

I tell myself, heartedly, to find solace not in fate’s hand, but in what could be.  My mother once reprimanded me when I noted how the twins, only weeks old, would roll back their eyes like Linda Blair in The Exorcist before falling asleep.  “Don’t say that,” she said.  “They’re staring at the angels.”

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Lesser Woman

"Fragile Girl" by Laurette Folk



It’s proverbial that a man won’t choose a thinking woman for a wife…Emmeline B. Wells

Lola hadn’t heard from her fiancé Reginald in three days. She had called his cell phone many times, each time growing more frustrated with the nasal greeting he recorded when he had a cold. She left many messages at work for him, emailed his friends; they said they hadn’t heard from him either. Finally she took the city bus to his house, saw the car in the driveway, and pounded on his front door with a clenched fist. She rang the bell, yelled out his name to the second floor windows opened half way to let in the warmth of late May. The trees in the front yard seemed to be in celebration with their arrays of confetti-like petals. The tulips she planted last fall stood at attention waiting to bloom. Lola went round to the backdoor, snatched the key from the doormat and let herself in to his newly renovated kitchen.

The kitchen sink was filled with dishes; an empty champagne bottle was on the new granite counter. Someone had written “I love you” in hot pink lipstick on the mosaic backsplash designed by a Mexican immigrant. On the dining room table, two candles had melted down to stubs, blood red hardened wax on the white tablecloth. On the dining room floor, a camisole and a sock. In the living room, the couch pillows were thrown every which way, and on the glass coffee table, a Danielle Steel novel and a condom wrapper. Lola walked about the house incredulous, her blood recoiling from her muscles and bones. She climbed the stairs to Reginald’s bedroom and found the bed disheveled, the items she left on his dresser—perfume, deodorant, Joyce’s Dubliners, and a few hair clips—removed. She sat down on the bed and tried to breathe, telling herself this could be the tryst of one of Reginald’s friend’s. Once an old college roommate showed up on his doorstep looking for a place to crash for a month and Reginald let him sleep on the couch, drink black coffee all day, watch talking head after talking head on CNN. 

Moreover, it had never occurred to Lola that Reginald would be interested in anyone else. If anyone was going to be unfaithful, she thought it might be her. She had more of a history with men than Reginald did with women. In fact, she often fantasized of other women, an entire harem of women at Reginald’s beck and call. It was always other women who made a man a decent lover and enhanced his allure. Not that Reginald wasn’t attractive; he was handsome, indeed, but he seemed to lack charisma. He was a microbiologist who liked to micro-analyze everything; he even tried to tell the Mexican immigrant how to lay the tiles in his mosaic.

A car pulled into the driveway and the shutting of a door jarred Lola out of her reverie.  She heard a woman laugh and Reginald’s voice, then the snapping of heels on the concrete of the walkway. The front door opened and Reginald and the woman entered the house.

Her first thought was to hide in the closet, crouch down under Reginald’s dry cleaned shirts and slacks and wait until they left. But then Lola decided that would be cowardly. She needed to face this head on, shock Reginald and his lover like they did her. She stood up and felt the blood loosen from her knees. Lola descended the stairs slowly and dramatically. She saw the woman first, a skinny wench with mousy brown hair and a button-down white shirt with prominent soldier pads. She wasn’t much to look at, and perhaps even a bit homely. When Lola got to the bottom of the stairs, the woman still did not look at her. She was facing the kitchen where someone—Reginald—was running water. Lola walked right up to this woman and got in her face, “Who are you?” she asked her. The woman seemed to look right through Lola with a dreamy pair of eyes. Reginald came into the living room and grabbed the remote from the stereo. He made no indication of seeing Lola and flicked on the stereo where the carnal regality of Bolero filled the room.

Suddenly a translucent form walked through the living room. It was Lola’s dead grandfather. He passed through the woman and regarded Lola with mournful, prescient eyes. Lola watched him and felt gutted, as he ascended the stairs and then rose up through the ceiling. Neither Reginald nor the woman made any indication that they had seen the grandfather. She remembered then that she had told Reginald one night, after seeing a shadow pass down the hall that she believed herself to be an especially sentient soul, highly attuned to the plethora of living and non-living beings around her.

Reginald stood next to the woman and reached out to touch her, run his fingers down her arm. This was something he did to Lola. In a rage, she charged at the woman, pummeling her, grabbing her by the hair. The woman did not scream as Lola tossed her about like a doll. She dragged the woman from one end of the newly renovated kitchen to the other. When she finished her tantrum, Reginald went to the woman and held her in his arms. Lola stood there and regarded her fiancé, the man she trusted and loved, as he caressed the brow of the woman who was now looking blankly at the ceiling. Why would he, a man with a brain, be attracted to such a twit? Lola registered then how very alone she was going to be. She would have to start again. Maybe she should call her sister when she got home, ask her if she wanted to go dancing. She knew just the dress to wear, how to do up her hair, wear lipstick. She backed slowly away from the couple, opened the backdoor and went out. The wind had stirred up the trees and a shower of confetti petals filled the air like a wedding.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Patriarchy: It Exists

On Thursday night I posted the following on Facebook: "Women everywhere are taking the good ol' boys network down." This was in response to Fox News firing Bill O'Reilly for his sexual advances on Fox female employees. Now, this prompted mostly cheers from my feminist posse, but one long-winded jeer from a male friend of mine. I should say here that I regard this friend, an old friend, as a very intelligent person, a talented musician, an eloquent writer. But I don't agree with him on how "the patriarchy" is a feminist construct.

First, let's look at the more inflammatory things he said:

"The good ol' boys network is a feminist invention. It doesn't exist."

"The sad fact is feminists build their entire world view on emotion, conjecture, and belief, while refusing to challenge their own facts."

Well, I'm going to challenge the "facts" and we're going to start with the definition of feminism. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, feminism is "the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes." If you support equality of the sexes, that makes you a feminist according to one of the most prominent lexicons of the English language. If you believe this for your daughter, your mother, and the woman next door, that makes you a feminist. Feminist does not mean man hater. I'm thinking my friend wants the same rights, privileges for his daughter as any boy in the neighborhood. That makes him a feminist and his entire argument falls to pieces right there. But we're here to prove that the patriarchy exists, not feminism.

The reason is simple: worldwide there are far more men in leadership roles than women, and men organize themselves into hierarchies. Now you can argue the wage gap, how it doesn't exist, how it does exist etc, etc., but this is like treating the symptoms and not the disease itself. Here are the facts:

Fewer than 10% of 193 heads of state registered at the UN are women (Pew Research Center)

Four percent of CEOs are women (Forbes)

Twenty nine percent of America's business owners are women (the Atlantic, 2015)

Thirty six percent of lawyers are women (ABA)

104 out of 535 members of Congress are women (19.4%)

So this begs the question how does a surplus of male leaders in the world make a patriarchy? Well, it's kind of obvious, but just for the hey of it, lets look at some anecdotal evidence and then some chemical/biological evidence.


I graduated cum laude with a degree in civil engineering and a focus in structural engineering. Most of my peers were male. Most of my professors were male. I have nothing but good things to say about my peers and professors; I respected them and they respected me. We joked around a lot. I asked a lot of questions and received many thought-provoking answers. I worked with my peers on homework, projects. Maybe there were undercurrents of attraction here and there, but these were considered superfluous and never acted upon. Maybe it was because I didn't drink enough. I was part of an intellectual, academic, egalitarian community and I couldn't have been happier.

I graduated during a recession and took the first job I was offered in bridge engineering. As an entry level engineer, I was merely a draftsperson and spent hours upon hours editing digital line drawings of bridges. Now mind you, my thesis was in finite element analysis. I could analyze any structure you put in front of me with the help of structural engineering software. But I was entry level, the lowest "guy" on the totem pole, so I had to earn my stripes.

In our office, the boss was the guy who puffed out his chest and yelled the loudest. That wasn't at all like the cute and cozy community I was coming from in academia. There was this undercurrent of fear that didn't exist in academia. To be fair, the guys, my fellow engineers at my first job were terrific. It's just that it was dysfunctional. I didn't have my ass handed to me on a regular basis like the guys did; to tell you the truth my boss sort of treated me like a princess. It was just the way things were. But I eventually left. I wanted to be challenged.

I moved around, seeking the right fit. I began to question my career choice. Ultimately I landed a job with a company who was doing analysis work on the gusset plate failure of the Minneapolis I-35 Bridge. It was awesome. It felt like I was in school again. The project was challenging, engaging, and unifying. I thought I finally found my dream job. But that project eventually ended and other ones began. My boss became stressed out and wasn't very good at communicating and delegating work. I had no idea what project to work on. I asked him directly and was shrugged off. There was a complete breakdown in communication. Eventually I was called into the conference room and told I was on probation because I had caused a project to go over budget. Now, how could I have caused a project to go over budget when I wasn't the one delegating the work? I wasn't the one responsible for the budget; I just did the work that came across my desk. Long story short, I left. And I wrote everything down, why I left, etc. About a year later, another female engineer was "harassed" for similar reasons with the same boss. She hired a lawyer. They settled out of court. But due to my letter and the documentation on my boss's incompetency, his ass was fired. What's the moral of the story? Breakdown in communication. But more importantly, if your ass is on the line and the guy above you is breathing down your neck, you best get yourself a skapegoat. That's how the hierarchy works.

With every office I was a part of, I started to see a trend. Lack of communication. Fear of the big guy. Incompetency. Skapegoating. What's a male hierarchy? It's called a patriarchy. The members of the patriarchy care about one thing: self preservation. (We have a classic example of this in the Trump administration.) I began to see patriarchies everywhere, from the workplace, to government, to schools, to church.

This isn't a matter of feminism. This is reality. This is how men organize themselves. And I say men because they are the ones in the leadership roles, for the most part. Walter Ong, in his book Fighting for Life says men are "warlike," "agonistic," and "create oppositional formats to do almost anything." Deborah Tannen of You Just Don't Understand fame says "men live in a hierarchical world."

My point is there are hierarchies everywhere and that people will fall victim to them, whether you are a man or a woman. I happen to think woman are easier prey (especially in the hierarchy of the home, i.e. domestic violence), but you are free to disagree with me on that.

Okay, now for the chemistry, psychology, sociology piece. I think you'll agree with me when I say we are composed of chemicals. I am more oxytocin than any man. A man is more testosterone than I am. Men, history and science tell us men are biologically wired for aggression, and I am biologically wired for nurturing. You might see this testosterone, oxytocin thing as an oversimplification, but the gist is true. These are the building blocks of patriarchy and matriarchy.


My antagonistic friend is right when he says this:

"If feminists want to be relevant again, they need to start recognizing the biological, natural group-level differences between men and women, instead of actively denying nature and pretending we're the same."



So we're not the same, and it certainly is cliche to say that the male sex is destroying the planet, fighting wars, killing people, but this is the way it is based on chemical make up and who is in the leadership roles on this planet.

Okay, so this begs the question, what is a matriarchy? Well that is a very elusive topic indeed. First I want to explain why you can't see patriarchy for what it is. The reason is actually pretty simple: it's the only thing we know. From natural selection to Yahweh, hierarchies, patriarchies are everywhere with competition as the main driving force. For matriarchies, it is compassion (and you can read more about why this is here, again the reason is rooted in biology). Social justice is a compassionate thing; so is egalitarianism. And that's what you would have with a matriarchy: you would have egalitarianism. In a matriarchal society you would have less of the fucking fraternity where you've got to endure the hazing of the patriarchal hierarchy to get anywhere. It would be more of a true meritocracy. In fact, it did exist a long, long time ago on the island of Crete when they worshipped a goddess and lived in communes with just as many, maybe more female leaders than males and lived in a relatively peaceful society. They were artisans and artists, priests, and philosophers. Crete. The beginning of civilization. It was the same way with the early Christian church. President Carter in his break with the Southern Baptist Convention over the discrimination of women and girls says this:

During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn't until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

I can hear his retort now: the la la land of compassion and egalitarianism. Such a non-reality. But you know what is a reality? Emotional intelligence. Teachers (what's the stats on teachers...75% women?) know this. They exist in communal matriarchal enclaves within a patriarchal society. They know how to inspire students to work; they know a student in crisis needs special treatment and space to heal before they can learn. I'm talking about good teachers.

So I went into teaching. I was hired as a permanent substitute at Watertown Middle School and taught Algebra I and II. I was then hired by Swampscott High School as a physics teacher. I was there for nine years, won awards, was respected for my teaching. I got a Masters of Fine Arts in Writing during my time at SHS and became a published science writer. My curriculum ideas were published in two separate texts. I created and taught an engineering course for ninth graders. You talk about STEM; I was living STEM. But then there was the issue with my certification and No Child Left Behind. The superintendent, male, ex-marine sent me a letter: either get another master degree in your discipline or you're fired. I argued my position with him, with the Department of Education, stating how I wasn't going to get another masters degree: the one I had helped me become a published teacher and science writer. It was relevant. I used my writing in my teaching. I was published in two separate text books, and both of them I used in my classes. They fired me. The Department of Education ignored me. And this brings me to my final point. In a patriarchal society, there is no room for creativity. You need to do what the rules say or you are out, no matter how smart and talented you are.

Where do communal organizations exist? With creative people. This is why many artists and writers (Frieda Kahlo, for one) were communists. Oh, but that's so un-American! How un-patriotic of them!  Patriarchal construct for self-preservation: badmouth communism.

So now I am a Professor of English, adjunct, at North Shore Community College where my degree is relevant. As you have probably heard, we adjuncts are heavily exploited. Colleges and universities are now about 75% adjuncts. And this is the most patriarchal, bullshit situation of all. We adjuncts get to remain the peons, the lowest people on the totem pole while the administration gets all the highest salaries (according to the DPE, in 2012, women accounted for 26% of college presidencies) and the college doesn't have to pay benefits to most of its faculty.

Outside my classroom, the patriarchal world exists, but inside, I can run my classrooms with rigor, respect, clarity, creativity, and make paramount student engagement. It's communal, really; a place for inspiration, support, communication: all the things we females (and males) versed in emotional intelligence deem important and necessary for meaningful success.


Note: The good news is that emotional intelligence IS infiltrating the workplace by the flat organization model. This is a more functional, communal set up than the traditional patriarchal hierarchy and incorporates mentoring, network informal trust structures, and employee input; they are, according to David Stein, co-CEO of Rypple, a social software company, "collaborative cultures that thrive on ideas, innovation and employee engagement." How very communal/matriarchal of them. Bravo. You can read more on flat(er) organization models here.

Note2: You can read Jimmy Carter's article on the discrimination of girls and women in Christianity here.

Note 3: Conservatives and progressives can also be categorized as "patriarchal" and "matriarchal." According to Berkeley author George Lakoff (as stated in Daphne White's Berkeleyside article): "Conservatives believe in what Lakoff calls the 'strict father family,' while progressives believe in a 'nurturant parent family.' You can read White's article on Lakoff and his ideas regarding who votes how here.












Sunday, April 9, 2017

Mixed-media Collages

Mixed-media collage: Dreaming of a Cabana in Martha's Vineyard When the Weather Doesn't Suck

Mixed-media collage: Dreaming of a Doorway in Aruba

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Longing II, A Confession (and two new collages)


 Here's a flash fiction piece that didn't make the cut for Totem Beasts. I had decided last minute to pull it because, as I was reading through the proof, it hit me that it didn't fit in with the surrounding work. I tried to identify what the problem was: was it not crafted enough? was it too confessional? (I winced when I read it.) This begged the question, what is and what is not fair game for art? In fiction, we craft a guise that separates us from our work; we artfully do it for poetry as well. Some guises are thick, others thin. This piece was literally wearing a slip. It was half dream, half life and both haunted me. What to do about this? And then I thought of Frida Kahlo. In her work, she is completely exposed; she exposes her mangled body, her miscarried child. I thought of Yoko Ono in her performance pieces where people are invited to cut off pieces of her clothing. Is this risque or freeing? I think it is a type of confirmation; by declaring a vulnerability you begin to own it, and it will haunt you less.

But isn't just writing it down, getting it out of your head, owning it? There's something about leaving stuff up there in that realm that makes it less clear. Creating from experience, pain, clarifies these things and promotes growth. Publication is a means of showcasing it, and I wouldn't deny that ego is involved. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Ego says this is me: it's a pronouncement, a declaration of self; it is expression, a chronicle of experience, and I suppose this is the interface where catharsis can become part of a larger canon. I say can, because actually becoming a part of that canon depends on other qualified individuals like literary or art critics who have expertise in the field and know what has and what has not been done, who know craft and impact. But that brings us back to square one, and being fearless, experimental, honoring oneself: I doubt very much Frida Kahlo and Yoko Ono had critics on their minds (or at the forefront of their minds) when they were creating the work. It's more a thing that must be done, and that's what we need to remember. Where and when we birth it to the world is a different topic entirely.

Longing II


There was a stairway to the third floor apartment, and I ran up and down it for exercise. I thought perhaps you were watching me. You were playing a game on the fields below; it was some kind of timed obstacle course. I saw you during your run; you hurled yourself over the finish line with the crowd watching you, and I thought, yes, I do that too, hurl myself at things.
 
I found out eventually that you and your wife were our new neighbors. While you were at work I befriended her, and we planned to have dinner, despite the fact that she could barely speak my language. Was I just trying to get to you? Get on your good side? When you finally arrived, you were dressed only in a towel. I hadn't seen you in years and then, suddenly, there you were, dripping wet, the hairs on your chest, wet, wet. 



There was that time, years after we broke up and after you broke up with her that I knew you would walk through my front door. I had just moved into that dingy apartment in Brighton, and I was standing in the foyer looking at the painted grain of the wood, and I said to myself, he's going to be here at some point. And then you were. You called me wanting to return a book of poems, and we went out for dinner. Your hair was cut and you were wearing a ring. I don't remember anything about the ring, only that it was there, on your hand, some gem, and I thought perhaps she had given it to you. You had transformed into a man, and yet you still lacked some facial hair; there would be parts of you that would be forever boy. You had already made up your mind to move to LA and besides who would want a woman still dripping fresh with longing and need? She's as desirable as a wet piece of laundry.

Is this the part I need to rectify? Your opinion of me? How I see myself through your eyes?

Above right: multi-media collage "Emergence" by Laurette Folk ; Left: multi-media collage "Garden Bed"



Friday, March 24, 2017

Mixed Media Collage, Bowl of Flowers





Book Review, The Hunger Saint by Olivia Kate Cerrone



I loved this book for its gorgeous prose, its allegiance to human truths, its integration of prominent detail, and its heroic story.


My review of Olivia Kate Cerrone's The Hunger Saint, published in The American is here.