By Joni Abilene

Freedom was presented to me in childhood as a commerce, an idea wrapped up with the flag like a striped candy wrapper. Freedom meant society coming together, to celebrate with picnics and fireworks on the Fourth—of beer and fried chicken and sucked-up cigarettes littered along gravel ditches. My mother sewed identical dresses for my sister and me-we two of compete opposition. Little wars in pretty dresses. The forcing of this did not feel like freedom to me. Later on, a music teacher spoke of man and music, of the fool creating sound as a means to entertain himself in our prefabricated, preindustrial world. Lips poised in an O, he or she produced song wherever they wanted: amid a field, a mountain, a forest. The simplicity of this meant true freedom to me. I loved the idea and held onto it like a salve when life turned complex and chaotic. Now I know that true freedom is not the absence of conflict, but the acceptance of it. Life taught me this. Freedom is the ability to be that simplistic music-maker amid the fray. To whistle and have the world scorn, but still whistle because it makes you happy. If every person did this they would know true freedom. Lauren Bacall said it best, “You just put your lips together and blow.”

By Chris

I Have No Answers

All are welcome here is a political statement.

So is Some are welcome here.

Why? Should they be? Who gets to decide?

Is the second a statement that highlights emphasizes corrects or excludes?

Is it a statement about the some or the not-some, the rest, the others?

Who gets to decide? The speaker or the listener?

Is what matters intent or impact?

Eighty years ago an establishment could post a sign saying “Coloreds not welcome” and the intent was clear: exclusion.

Would a sign saying “Coloreds welcome” mean the same: all who are not colored are excluded? Or would it mean the colored are included along with the rest?

I grew up with the song “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” All the children of the world the lyrics went Red, brown, yellow, Black and white It spelled it out, that “all.” It listed the skin tones to emphasize their inclusion.

If I sing a partial lyric— “Jesus loves Black children”— does that merely highlight a part of the song, emphasize or make note of a part of the whole? Or does it make a new song and cancel the rest? If I say the song mentions Jesus loves Black children does that imply he hates red, brown, yellow, and white?

Assumed exclusion; implied negation. If I say “I love dogs” does that mean I hate cats? If Mozart is my favorite is Beethoven then slandered? When I savor a steak do I debase all salad?

Who gets to decide whether I have and what my words mean? Is my intent behind them all that matters? Or do others determine the impact regardless of what I meant?

Some say wearing a mask to prevent the spread of Covid-19 makes a political statement about those who don't or can't or won't. Does it? Some say saying “Black Lives Matter” makes a political statement about lives that aren't Black. Does it? Do you get to decide the meaning behind my intent? Do I get to decide for you? Are these things personal? Individual choices and freedoms? Or are they political, attempting to influence who we are together? Who gets to decide if I'm being personal or political? Some, all, or me?

If I am your host and you feel unwelcome by my Black Lives Matter pin am I at fault? Am I failing as a host? Do I need to “correct” my behavior to change the way you feel?

If I have a library or school or public space that is intended as welcome to all and I display a Black Lives Matter sign meant to particularly indicate inclusion and you feel it means something different, that others are less welcome than Black in comparison, have I done something wrong? Who owns your perception? Is my intent or my impact decisive?

(Because in similar but reverse situations, when you intend something harmless that I perceive as racially harmful, I would say the impact outweighs the intent.)

(If I attempt to restrain you and you die have I committed murder?)

I'm sure there are professionals who study this kind of thing, philosophers and ethicists and the like, who have formal systems for determining answers to my many questions, who know how to weigh one benefit against another, one harm against another, one intent against another, one freedom and right against other freedoms and rights, when they compete against each other, when one would cancel the other, and reach decisive conclusions.

They are not me. I'm stuck in my questions, unsure how to proceed. Chances are, they are not you. How do we negotiate this, me and you?

I'm not sure who gets to decide. Are you?

September 2020 Prompt

What does freedom mean to you? What does it mean in this country? What do you want to be free of or from?

Submit your piece here

and, Read other responses here

Thanks for all the thoughtful responses you submitted to our August prompt!

By Chris

To be kind is to notice. To perceive. To see, hear, feel, understand. To feel kindness is to feel recognized. To be acknowledged and comprehended.

Respect. The root “spect” is for seeing. Spectacles. Spectator. Inspect. “Re” is again. To re-spect is to look and then look again, closely enough to see carefully. Accurately. Truly.

Kindness is attention. It is paying attention with a desire to understand, without judgment or conditions or self-interest. It is accepting the other on their own terms.

Random acts of kindness are small moments of attention. . . .

By Helen

Working the Math

How does the arithmetic of one small kindness work against one small unkindness? Are kindness and unkindness one-for-one? And if not, how does that math work?

Are they equal in weight? You can lob an insult. If you lob a compliment does it hit in the heart or the solar plexus?

Are occasions of goodwill one step forward, hostility two steps back? Or is it the other way ‘round? Acrimony versus affection; anvil or lifeboat.

Small kindnesses make the world go ‘round and they matter. How many does it take to make up for one One small meanness?

By Kathryn

“I love your...” is one of the phrases women hear from each other on the street in reference to their clothes, hair, or accessories. Having your appearance admired is great, but one of the greatest kindness we women can do for one another is let each other in on our own fashion/style secrets.

Whenever someone mentions that they like the shirt I am wearing or like my purse, shoes, etc., I make a conscious effort to tell them about where I acquired the item. Shoot I will even share where I get my nails/hair done or how I did it myself. It is a simple kindness that is easy to do spur of the moment and does not take a huge amount of effort.

Kindness isn’t always about doing big elaborate things for people that require you to spend time and money. A lot of the time the little things that can be seamlessly incorporated into your day are the best.

August 2020 Prompt

Write a story about the power of small acts of kindness, given or received. Is kindness always a “doing” or is it more nuanced than that? Does kindness from a stranger have more impact because it’s less expected?

Submit your piece here

and, Read other responses here

Thanks for all the thoughtful responses you submitted to our July prompt!

By Diane H

Words What are words? You can use words to say anything you want, And expect people to believe you just because you said it. You don’t believe me? Let me explain with more words, leading you here and there, Down pathways of similes and analogies, Wherefores and therefores and henceforths and soforths, And it’s the Truth I’m speaking so listen to me. Over here, not over there, Not what the others are saying. I have the good words, The right words, The words that will enter your brain and persuade you. What a tangled web of words we weave, Trip you up if you’re not looking. And suddenly, you’re in the middle of a sentence with no idea how you got there.

By Chris

One of My Favorite Words Is “Embody”

I used to be my body.

I inhabited it fully is what I want to say but that's not right— it was not a vessel that some essential “me” occupied and filled; there was no separation, no distinction between thoughts, sensations, and physical form.

No inner and outer.

My thoughts flowed most freely when my body was in motion. My deepest passions were felt— not abstract emotions, but physical experiences: love as touch and sex; joy as movement and play; scent as memory and mood; sound as thought in music— poetic and emotional and atmospheric and philosophical and spiritual and playful— not to mention connection: communication with people, communion with nature; taste as pure indulgence. The seat of my knowledge was in my gut my fingertips the breath of my lungs.

I was in the world and a part of the world. I fit. I belonged. One animal among many.

I was I and I was free.

Now, though— time has happened, age has happened, not all at once, I'm sure it must have been gradual, I didn't even know it was happening, only just realizing, slowly coming to awareness, suddenly able to articulate, something has changed.

Now I feel captive.

I am something apart; contained within this thing I no longer know except as an inconvenience, a decrepit machine that cuts me off from life.

Even as my mind has grown, my essence matured, my confidence, capabilities, comprehension increased, my ability to partake has dwindled.

Somewhere along the way I lost my body.

Too much indulgence and now I'm diabetic; food has become sustenance instead of pleasure. Too much movement and a knee surgery. Obesity. My kids say Come, let us play but I always say Not today; I'm too big, too slow, I hurt, I'll get hurt, not anymore, you do it without me. My son revels in the pure joy of running; something for which I yearn that I'll never know again. I've lost my sense of smell, so no more mood or memory. The doctor lists my conditions on and on, prescribes my medications endlessly.

This thing that used to be me has become an obstacle rather than an expression.

Science says my thoughts are physical processes, chemistry and electricity, that I am nothing without my sensations and perceptions, yet in the background, when I wasn't paying attention, my self-concept morphed regardless, and now I imagine myself as a collection of formless ideas floating in a void trapped inside this rusty vehicle, forever reaching for— and falling short of— true connection.

I have become abstract.

By Helen

Sticks and stones may break my bones But words will never hurt me. ~ English Language Children's Rhyme

Words will never hurt me; except, of course, when they do. Words hold the power to harm in special ways. They are instruments of arguments, accusations, and insults. They’re what articles of impeachment are made of; broken vows and promises.

Words, and the punctuation between them, have been the center of lawsuits. Guilty. One little word; so much import.

So powerful are words that when they hurt beyond measure, our only recourse is denial. Words can never hurt me.

Maybe it’s time to revise our little rhyme. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can deeply hurt me.

If it’s true that words hold great power to inflict harm, it’s also true that words possess the power to heal. They’re the stuff that pledges, proclamations, and apologies are made from. Imagine a world devoid of love letters, novels, and lyrics.

Maybe it’s time to revise our little rhyme. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can harm or heal me. Choose them wisely.