NOTES FOR MY NEXT BOOK



    1)  My mother’s peach paint colored fingernails curved like the back of a hard shelled insect downward, downward, and after she died, at my mother’s memorial, a woman I had never met said those curved fingernails were the result of a lifetime of chain smoking.
    2)   My mother was an anti-nuclear activist. 
    3)   A lifetime of chain smoking. She coughed endlessly. A painful wheezing cough.
    4)   The smell of smoke.
    5)   After she died, I often smelled the scent of smoke at odd times. I’d wake up in the middle of the night. Smoke. Was my mother visiting me?
    6)   I hated my mother. I thought I did, anyway.
    7)   My mother was a civil rights activist.
    8)   When did she stop holding me?
    9)   I remember her holding me in the swimming pool, the warm water, singing and humming. I was an infant or toddler. Blue chlorine Florida water. 
    10)  My mother learned languages easily, and spoke French, Hebrew, Yiddish. She understood Russian. She could get by in German.
    11)  My mother made friends easily. 
    12)  My mother made friends in Paris.
    13)  She took us to live in Paris, near Paris, and these friends expanded to a large circle. Quickly.
    14)  She loved to throw parties. Mostly political parties.
    15)  My mother was a peace activist. She taught the UC Berkeley students civil disobedience. 
    16)  She wore a scarf around her neck to hide her neck. I thought everyone aged like that. A loose chicken neck. Shame.
    17)  Who shamed her?
    18)  Who shamed my mother?
    19)  My mother’s last job was as a volunteer with Planned Parenthood. She couldn’t find a paid job because of her age.
    20)  She could have gone to law school or done anything at all. 
    21)  She read everything important. (Her bookshelves were my college education)
    22)  She was fluent in Latin. I forgot that.
    23)  The Great Depression was her playground.
    24)  She was the daughter of Russian Jewish Immigrants. Socialists.  
    25)  The only girl in her high school calculus class.
    26)  In Washington Heights.  New York, New York it's a wonderful town.
    27)  Her sickly parents ran a laundry shop. 
    28)  They ate potatoes. Only potatoes.
    29)  And listened to Frank Sinatra on the Radio.
    30)  My mother was never warm. Her coat was thin and her shoes had holes in the bottom and her legs were bare. Girls wore dresses then.
    31)  My mother joined the young communist league against her father’s wishes. They argued. Joyfully. He had red hair. 
    32)  My mother had to support her family.
    33)  She became a secretary at 16 and was harassed by her male bosses just like every woman and put my father through law school and my father became a lawyer tyrant and philanderer.
    34)  She yelled, “YOU BASTARD.”  The tolling bell in our house: “YOU BASTARD, YOU BASTARD, how could you?” 
    35)  I thought I hated my mother. For her weakness. For giving up her life for others.  For living through me. “Get your own life.” I would shout. “Why would you stay with him?” 
    36) After she died, my mother’s friends told me stories about her, how she was strong and courageous, a member of Women’s Strike For Peace. She helped stop above-ground nuclear bomb testing.  She marched and fought and petitioned for many important causes. 
    37)  My mother danced with black panthers.
    38)  I read books on mothering and feminism. Adrienne Rich. Susan Griffin. Toni Morrison. Alice Walker. I learned: What do we really know of our mothers?  These mothers who are taught to be the mules of the world, who are taught to blame themselves, who are taught to shame themselves.
    39)  My mother, after you died in the hospital ICU--frail, in another time zone of 1968, skin dry and peeling.  Heart and lungs cluttered/hardened with smoke and cancer.
    40)  I wept.
    41)  In my own post-mother death chemo body. 
    42)  I paid a deep debt of shame for not loving you.  
    43)  My head was bald.  
    44)  I paid.
    45)  Burned and scorched. I. 
    46)  Reached through time and non-bodied existence.
    47)  I see you now you, Mother, in the eyes of the Hiroshima Survivor at the UN at a convention for nuclear disarmament.  I see you in the eyes of Japanese women anti-nuclear activists post Fukushima on Skype. I see you in the eyes of women talking about Chernobyl in my classroom in St. Petersburg, Russia. I see you in the eyes of the Indigenous Dine anti-uranium women from the Rez. I see you in the eyes of Helen Caldicott as I interview her, your heroine.
    48)  With these women and mothers, there is an invisible string that crosses through time and space and cultures.
    49)  To you, my Mother.
    50)  This story I teach daily to my students: of women and their tyrants and the dangers of nuclear weapons and power and toxic chemicals and climate change and racism and rape of the earth. I am a professor now. You missed that.  
    51)  Now, I have a redheaded daughter—red, the color of your father’s hair. I took her to Russia, to stand in your parents’ land of sorrow. She is tall and good at calculus and languages and passionate about civil rights and race and peace and feminism and literature, and she marches, like you.  
    52)  My anti-nuclear Mother. 
    53)  At last: I see you.


    (For all my mothers)