Sunflower Afghan

Is this the most beautiful thing ever or what?

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The pattern was delightful. Just the right amount of hard, but done in a way that really made sense to me, so I enjoyed it every step of the way.

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Vacation Brain

I’m going on vacation next week, mainly to libraries, but, hey, for me, that sounds like Heaven. But it’s meant that I’ve spent this week being scattered and busy, trying to make sure that everything is okay for me to leave.

And I’ve been fixing some yarn. And by fixing, I mean untangling in a nightmare scenario.

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And I got some yarn so tangled up in my ball winder that I just had to cut it and have two balls.

Which, ha ha.

Something’s Not Right

Say you went searching for stories about “Jack and Diane.” All kinds of stories. You might get the John Mellencamp song. You might get a story about a president and a singer. Or a president and a princess, maybe? People might just have made up stories where the characters were named Jack and Diane. They might tell you real stories about folks they know with those names.

But say you came across two stories about Jack and Diane and in both stories a guy shows up and beats them both with a chair. In one story, the guy’s name is Ricky. In the other story, the guy’s name is Richie. Your first question might be “Is this story real?” and say it is. Say you find corroboration in the local papers that this happened or at least, that people were talking about it happening and believed it had happened recently. So, yeah, there’s still a chance the story was made up, but it’s more “real” than most urban legends.

Then say you look at the stories in the papers more closely and, damn, you realize one story takes place in one city and the other story takes place in a city a half an hour away. Is this Richard dick (ha) just going around terrorizing people with the same names? Or maybe, to make this analogy work, people with the same jobs?

Yeah, let’s say that’s it. You get two stories about a mechanic and a nurse terrorized by this Ricky/Richie dude. You can somewhat verify them. They take place in two towns near each other. What do you put the chances of Ricky/Richie being a real person at? At this point, I’m like 80% sure Ricky/Richie is a real person.

But let’s say you look even more closely at those newspaper accounts and you see that those stories took place 100 years apart.

Is Ricky/Richie still real? If he’s made up, how do you explain the similarities of the stories? What if you know someone whose dad was the nurse in the second story? Someone who can say “That happened to my dad.” Someone who genuinely doesn’t seem to know of the first story.

How are both stories seemingly describing the same dude?

I don’t have a good explanation for it, but I’m going to be back on the Something’s Not Right podcast this October wondering the fuck about it. Or the analogous situation.

Done In

Y’all, dyeing with the kids, round one, about did me in! And they stole my Kool-aid. Well, I mean, they also used it to dye with, but I had enough to use with my niece next weekend and now I don’t. And so I’m pretty sure they took some home to try to talk their mom into making it for them.

Which, ha ha, is pretty awesome.

So, I have yarn hanging everywhere to dry, but no good pictures of it, yet.

And the Butcher is going to dog-sit for me, so I can go to Birmingham and spend a short amount of time in their library looking at stuff. So, now I have to make a plan for what I absolutely need to see. And also make time to go down and take a look at Fred Shuttlesworth’s church, since it plays such a key role in my book.

Dreams

One drawback to finally having someone in power at work to come over and say “Yes, you can do this,” “Why are you doing this in this stupid hard way?” “Okay, let’s make some decisions,” is that, since this is not how things have been working, my brain is trying to process how to deal with it all.

And all week I’ve been having these really vivid dreams about work. Like vivid enough that sometimes, in my waking life, I’m like “Oh, shit, I completely forgot I needed to write a children’s book for dogs by this afternoon,” and then I’m like “wait, that makes no sense.” And I realize that was dream work stress. Not real work stress.

Anyway, this week has been interesting and fun and also very stressful. Obviously.

Indigo!

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This is the color I got from the indigo dye vat. She said I could come back and dye it darker if I wanted and I was like “No, are you kidding? This is the most beautiful blue I have ever seen.” It’s almost the exact same color as the black bean yarn, which… in fairness… I also thought was the most beautiful color I had ever seen.

I need to go to Birmingham. I have to figure out the dog situation. Like, can I do a research trip in a day? Can I not get bogged down in interesting details that don’t pertain to my question? Or do I need to do it in two days? In which case, who’s going to watch the dog?

Also, right now the book is called “Busy Looking the Other Way: Why Nashville’s Integration Era Bombings Remain Unsolved,” but I’m entertaining “The Rise of the Confederate Underground: Some subtitle I haven’t come up with yet.” The Rise of the Confederate Underground is better, isn’t it?

Half-Poppies

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I got my first three half-poppies in place. Just nine more to go. But I’m about to be hugely busy, so I don’t know if I will get this done any time soon. I am looking forward to seeing how the border goes. It’s just been a really lovely thing to work on. And I’m excited to see how it looks after being washed and laid flat to dry.

And my friend’s mother-in-law has an indigo dye-pot going! So tonight I’m going to take a skein to her house and learn about indigo dying. Basically all I know about it is that it’s magic and you do not want any oxygen in the mix (so I’ll have soaked my yarn for 24 hours before heading up there with it).

And this weekend the step-niece and step-nephew are going to dye their yarns for their afghans. And next week, baby nephew turns one! Already!

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Look, he’s already got that world-weary look of a guy who’s about to start a story about back in the day. He remembers what it was like before teeth. He’s out here working hard, standing up, saying “dog,” and kids today, they just lay around, waving their hands. They’re not even waving their hands AT anyone. They don’t know about “hi.”

Poor baby nephew.

Weird

So, get this. Our work day starts at 8:30. Not 9. But my old boss had us working from 9 to 5.

It’s weird. It’s not important. We’re not in trouble or anything for it. We just have to start coming in at the correct time.

But I’m fascinated by the psychology behind it. Were we supposed to be less concerned about other people not coming in until 10 or just coming in in the afternoon because we, too, were all flouting the rules? But don’t you have to know you’re flouting the rules for that to work?

The Man from Chattanooga

A thing that I know by now, but that still surprises me is how small the group of racist terrorists was in the 1950s and early 1960s. I mean, most white people were racist, so you’d think the number of people willing to act on it would be way high.

But as I research, I realize, no, I’m looking at a pool of less than 200 people here. Probably less than 100 (though not much less). So, when J.B. Stoner tells a Klan leader in 1958 that he’s got a guy in Chattanooga he likes to use for bombings, who was in the military, specifically in demolitions, and then an Atlanta racist in 1963 is talking about a young guy he just met from Chattanooga involved in bombings in Nashville, who was in the Marines, even if he’s not named either place, that’s the same dude.

That’s Stoner’s mystery man.

Take the Hint

Y’all, I went to bed at 11 and I woke up at 10. In the morning. An hour before when I normally eat lunch. I think I have just had so much stuff buzzing around in the back of my head that I couldn’t completely turn it off and sleep well.

Gladys told me about a murder. I tried to find out if the murder was real before I decided what to do about it, but the details were so vague that I began to think that either she was bullshitting me or she’d gotten the details wrong.

And then I found the murder in the paper. And I was like, well, what the fuck do I do now? All I have is second-hand rumors from a terrorist.

But last night, I went to WPLN’s Podcast Party and Emily Siner’s guest was a retired cold case detective. I am not even shitting you. I learn a thing. I become troubled by the not knowing what to do about it of it. The Universe puts me in the path of a person I can tell.

So, I told him. And I told him that I wasn’t sure how much of what Gladys had told me was true and how much was just her trying to settle some old scores. And he got what I was saying.

So, that’s a relief.

And I went and got the Wilton’s copper food coloring.

Look at how close I was just with my own color mixing! (It’s the second from the left.)

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Copper Continued, Continued

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I overdyed three of the yarns from the day before yesterday to see if moving from the microwave to a pot was going to work. I think it is, but I also think I’m going to have to go by Joann’s and get some gel food coloring. Scaling up with the drop kind is just giving me a little more mottled look than I want.

And, after five hours on two evenings, I figured out how I was fucking up the poppy! It’s now in place. Good thing that was the only one! Oh shit…

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I can’t believe how beautiful this afghan is. I’m truly just blown away by it. Even the join is pretty simple once you get the hang of it. And it looks fantastic. I think I get caught up in the idea that everything has to be so fucking hard to be worth it and I’m glad to be reminded that simple, fun stuff can result in great beauty and happiness.

The shit did hit the fan at work yesterday. Hard. I’ll have a better sense after I see how next week goes, but I think that may have been the worst of it.

Also, I already broke my yarn swift! I think I can fix it, if I can find the piece that came off.

I’m going to see my baby nephew today. He’s trying to walk, but he doesn’t yet have the whole “standing without holding onto things” part down yet. He remains the greatest.

Copper Continued

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I spent some more time last night farting around with copper colors. I love that green on the left. I really love the copper that’s second on the right. In general, I wish I were getting slightly better coverage. The pattern I want to make calls for twenty skeins of yarn and I’d like to feel confident in my ability to dye a whole skein the colors I want.

I also tried to put my first poppy in, but I fucked it up somehow. I’m going to try again when I’m feeling more awake.

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Still, fuck up and all, it looks really good! I really love how beautiful this afghan is.

I think the work shit is finally hitting the fan. I mean, I have felt like we’ve been through the fan and covered in shit for some time, but I think now some things are going to start coming to ends and I’m afraid it will be some good things as well as some bad.

I’m just so stressed out and tired of being stressed. I think I’m sick in part because I’ve just been in a heightened state of what-the-fuck-is-going-on-and-what-can-I-do-to-mitigate-it? for a year.

Also, I broke my yarn swift. I think it can be fixed, if I can find the part that went flying, but damn.

And Aretha Franklin died. I am incandescent with rage about it. Not that she’s dead. Death comes for us all. But that she was such a genius and such a great talent and she was that while being fucked with, deeply fucked with, her whole damn life.

And yet, even in death, it comes down to how she looked. Like, here she is, one of the best artists the 20th century produced, and the Washington Post gives that much space to the fact that she got fat. But it can’t even talk squarely about the abuse she endured and survived.

I “love” how much work is being done by the part where she had two children by the time she was 17. Yes, and by that time, one of those children was five years old. Someone was doing real bad shit to Aretha.

But she got fat, so you know. Priorities.

Copper

I really want to make a copper afghan. But I can’t find the yarn I want for it–something that will look like an old penny. But last night, I decided to experiment to see if I could get something I liked with just the tools I have in my house–in this case, vinegar and food coloring.

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I hand-painted the wool, but had way, way too much liquid. Oh, well, live and learn. Those little blue and green specks looked awesome. None of them survived.

Here’s what I ended up with:

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So, what I love about this is that the brown part has the exact right weirdness of pink in it that copper has. I also like that I got some really good tonal variation, which makes the yarn look shiny. I might wish it were a hair darker. And I think my patina is good, but also, might have wanted it a hair darker. Also, maybe greener.

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But I keep going in to stare at it. I really like it.

Slow

I’m ready to have my brain back. But it seems slow in coming. The join for this afghan is a lot simpler than I thought it was (at least so far; let’s not yet consider the poppies), but it looks really great. I’m just really pleased with how this is going, even if it’s going there very slowly.

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I can’t remember if I said where this came from, but it’s a Janie Crow pattern. I would say it’s about a medium on the difficulty scale. It’s not incredibly difficult, but you wouldn’t want it to be your first afghan, or even your 10th, I don’t think. On the other hand, if you’re a beginner, but you already have your decreases down, I guess, go for it.

Magic

Nothing like being sick to put you in a state where you don’t feel like leaving the couch, but you also can’t sleep. I have all my motifs for this afghan done and even all of the millions of tails tucked.

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The colors of this afghan are just so beautiful I can’t stand it.

Now I’m working on the joining round, which is a kind of lacy blue thingy. I have the first row done. I think it went all right. I’m more curious about how easily, or not, the motifs attach on two sides, instead of just on one. And I am curious/terrified about how the poppies go in.

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But so far, so good.

It’s Not Allergies

It’s a cold. Not the worst cold I’ve ever had, but not a cold that seems to have any interest in moving along. I had three goals for today–walk the dog, water the plants, do the dishes. I have gotten the dog walked, on a half-assed walk that at least let him poop.

We’ll see about the other two things.

I did finish my whole poppies and have started work on the half-poppies.

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Lavender

I use Tom’s, which is supposed to be a “natural” deodorant, whatever that means. Usually I use the unscented, because I tend to be allergic to scents in things. But the last time I was at the store, they were out of unscented, so I grabbed the lavender scented stuff. Friday, I used it for the first–and only–time.

I had an allergy attack the likes of which I might have mistaken for a summer cold except for, other than being stuffed up and sneezy, I feel fine. Plus, I felt noticeably better after showering and scrubbing my pits.

So, hot damn, I poisoned myself. That was dumb.

And I’ve finished all my sunflowers. I don’t know if I should put them together and then start on the poppies or do the poppies and put everything together at once.

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Dye, Dye again

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I love dyeing so much it’s silly. It just makes me happy and I like to see how stuff turns out. Here’s some of the pokeweed. Just plain. No modifications.

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And this is some of the pokeweed variegated with yellow food coloring. Look at the cool orange it made! And all my awesome speckles. I was worried because you need heat to set food coloring and I knew pokeweed will turn brown if you get it too hot, but everything worked fine.

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The rest of the pokeweed yarn is sitting in a bath with the rest of the black beans. You’re not supposed to let the yarn touch the beans, because something in the beans will turn the yarn gray where it touches, but I’m trying to make a multicolored yarn. What the fuck do I care if there’s some gray in there? I don’t know how long I’ll let this sit, but it’s sitting for now.

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Then I took a good hard look at my cabbage and blueberry and blackberry dyed yarns and decided to give them a little help looking okay once the natural dye starts to fade.

I bought myself a yarn swift and a ball roller and I’m a little in love, I must tell you. I don’t think I’m in desperate enough need of a knitty-noddy to buy myself one, but I am putting it in my letter to Santa.

Pats

One of my favorite things about this dog is how he seems wholly to believe that, at any moment, I might need to pat his head. Like, I throw my hand over the side of the bed in my sleep and I wake up to the dog putting his head against it.

Today, on our walk, he got tangled in his leash and I was trying to get him untangled, which was thwarted by him turning so that I could get in some head pats, you know, if I needed to.

I had a dream last night that I heard some rustling coming from near the dog food and I went to investigate and discovered that “they” had transplanted Sonnyboy’s brain into a dachshund and I was so happy because now he was a size I could manage. So, we were happy together and we went for walks and one day he got tangled up in his leash and I went to untangle him and he was helpful and cooperative and not a wiggly silly mess.

And I realized that I had been scammed. Of course they couldn’t put Sonnyboy’s brain in another dog. Someone had just stolen my dog and given me this better dog, who I suddenly didn’t like as well.

In other news, I bought myself a ball winder and I spent way too much of last evening winding yarn into balls just to see. It is pretty awesome.

Surprise!

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Even through I’m following a pattern and using a kit, meaning, if I do things right, there’s no way to not end up with something that looks like the thing the pattern is supposed to produce, I was still surprised to see how gorgeous the finished motif is.

A thing I’d like to get better at is understanding color theory better. Like, why does that teal bring the whole thing together. So, obviously, blue and yellow are complimentary colors, so they should look particularly nice together. And I think there’s something about the vibrancy of the teal and the orange and the red and the purple that makes it all look like it belongs. And maybe the green of the teal makes it seem like it goes with the leaves?

But I really only feel like I can put that together in retrospect. I don’t know how to know that ahead of time and use it in my planning.

Also, I pulled the yarn out of the pokeweed bath. So far, so good. But I put the blueberry and blackberry yarn next to it for contrast, and look how much color those have already lost.

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Makes me wonder how that cabbage is doing. Some of this may be destined for redyeing sooner rather than later.

How the Pokeweed Dyeing is Going

Let me be clear, for those of you wondering if you can attempt this at home (me, too, at this point), very little of this color is coming from the berries. As you can see, I have quite a few green berries in there. But once some berries on the cluster turn black, there is enough red in the stem of that cluster to get color out of.

I know many dyers use only berries, but in Me vs. The Birds for who is going to get the ripe pokeberries, it’s not me.

So, I had been collecting poke parts and putting them in vinegar and keeping it in the fridge. Then I mordanted my wool in eight parts water to one part vinegar (I ended up using 12 cups of water and a cup and a half of vinegar. Plus a teaspoon of alum. I heated that all up and simmered it for an hour and then let it sit until it was room temperature. I also brought the pokeweek vinegar bath out of the fridge and let it sit until it was room temperature. Then I put the yarn in the bath and used the water/vinegar mix to top it off.

Last night I moved stuff around so the plant matter was on top and the yarn was on bottom. I have also been adding pokeberry clusters as they ripen on my weed.

I don’t know how long I’m going to let it sit for. I’ll admit that part of it is just based on smell. I don’t want another situation where I have a yarn so stinky I don’t know how I’ll use it. So, basically, I’m going to let this go until it starts to smell bad or until it gets a shade darker than I think is really beautiful.

I am very, very nervous that it will all wash out. Like, what is setting it, if not heat? But the black beans didn’t wash out. That’s a lovely blue. So, cold dyeing can be done. But, man, if this works, it’s magic.

If it works, I’m going to be really tempted to redye my blueberry and blackberry yarn using this method.

Sunflower Thoughts

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This round is easy and fun, but I’m having a hard time getting through it with any speed because the motifs are so much fun to touch at this point. Everything’s squishy and those tall stitches feel cool.

I Know Politics Bore You, But I Feel Like a Hypocrite…

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I met Gladys Girgenti yesterday.

And I really liked her.

I don’t know what to make of that, but it seems like an important component of trying to understand why these bombings weren’t solved. I’ve never been to a Klan rally. I don’t, as far as I know, know any people who deliberately set out to hurt or scare others. And I’ve never talked to a convicted terrorist before.

She was funny and charming. She had big round eyes that made her either seem perpetually surprised or perpetually delighted. She lived in a big old assisted care facility over in Madison. The place was spotlessly clean, but dark and kind of industrial seeming. The hallway to her apartment was dark and there were pipes overhead. It smelled like people used to smoke there a lot, but hadn’t in a long time.

Her apartment was small and cheery. She had a large window she sat beside and sunlight flooded the place. She had an amazing crocheted afghan draped over her loveseat. She had a cat, who seemed about a third longer than a cat normally should.

Her son told me the cat would bite, but once he got some head pats and sniffed my bag, he settled in on the cat tree and paid us no mind. Once her son seemed to ascertain that I was harmless, he went upstairs to his apartment.

And there I was, alone with one of two known racist bombers to come out of Nashville.

She was very matter-of-fact about things. She launched right in to telling me about Klan rallies and who she knew and how she had met them—J.B. Stoner, who she met through Ed Fields, Robert Shelton, David Duke. Folks I had only read about in books or, in Duke’s case, seen on TV, and they were her friends and she spoke about them with the fondness you have for friends.

She didn’t use any racial slurs or launch into any lectures about the evils of the Jewish people. And, honestly, I didn’t ask her about her beliefs. I wanted to keep my focus on getting my questions answered.

But it’s easy to see how, as a white bystander, you could seduce yourself into believing that a white supremacist like Girgenti isn’t “that bad.” Yes, she was talking about the Klan and talking about people who did really terrible stuff, but she was talking about it in the matter of fact way you might talk about your Sunday School class or the Rotary club. The signals that tell you that this is dangerous shit aren’t present or they’re muted.

So, as I was sitting there, listening to this funny, charming woman tell these stories that were sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad, I could feel something happening to me, mentally. It’s not even been twenty-four hours yet and it sometimes takes me a while to figure out how to understand the things I experience. But I came into that apartment knowing some really terrible things about Girgenti and having heard credible rumors of worse. And I had been warned not to underestimate her, that she was very smart.

In other words, I was as prepared as I could be.

And I still felt this overwhelming urge to just go along with what she was saying. Not just for the sake of the interview—that I could understand and not fret over—but for the sake of our rapport, for the psychological reward of having this woman I found funny and charming finding me funny and charming.

That scared, and scares the shit out of me.

Listening to her stories, it’s very easy to see that the FBI took the absolute wrong approach to her, over and over. It seems like they thought the button to push with her was her family, which, after talking to her, I agree that her family is very important to her. But threatening them never caused Girgenti to break and admit to crimes. It just strengthened her resolve to not cooperate.

Not that I got much farther. She wasn’t in town for my bombings. She didn’t want to tell me anything she, herself, didn’t know as a fact. So, no gossip on who it might have been. But I definitely and firmly got the impression that there was gossip she had heard. I just didn’t have the skills as an interviewer to overcome her reluctance to gossip with me.

But this was my first time interviewing a person with known ties to a terrorist network. Presumably the FBI does that shit all the time.

I had told a handful of people where I was going and that they should call the police if I didn’t get back in touch with them by dinner. I was done long before dinner. I did my best to make sure I wasn’t followed home. I felt stupid for worrying about it.

I couldn’t sleep, though. I found excuses not to go to bed and then when I realized I was just sitting on the couch staring at nothing, I forced myself to go to bed. And then I laid there, in the dark, in the quiet, afraid I would hear someone in the house with me. I had this thought that I should not have met her, that I should not have let her know what I look like, or given her my phone number. That, obviously, anyone with dangerous friends could still be dangerous.

But the thing that kept me up was that I wasn’t having these thoughts until almost eight hours after I’d interviewed her.

The thing I’m trying, but struggling to put into words is how far down the path I was before my gut instinct to be afraid kicked in. I had already done the interview. I was already home. I had already assured everyone I had jokingly asked to avenge me if I was murdered that I was fine. While I was with her, I wanted her to like me.

And I had years of research about her and her friends in my head.

There’s something psychological going on here that seems important, if we want to truly understand how we’re in this situation. Something about how your brain will push you to find connections and common ground with people, to find ways and reasons for you to like each other and see each other as being on the same side, even temporarily.

I keep thinking about that lyric from They Might be Giants, “Can’t shake the Devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.” You become like the people you like. You can’t have a racist friend and not be, at some level, okay with her racism.

And yet, if that person is charming and funny, smart and insightful, isn’t it so very tempting to overlook her flaws?

No, no. More than tempting. I would not have been tempted to overlook Gladys Girgenti’s flaws.

This is something deeper and more fundamental to how white supremacy works, I think. Something so deeply ingrained in me, so deeply trained, let me like her and suppressed the warning signals I should have been getting. Obviously was getting, if my terror that night was any indication.

I came as prepared as I could be. I was raised to try very hard not be a racist asshole by people who have tried very hard their whole lives to not be racist assholes, and I still had that psychological reaction to her. And I didn’t even recognize that’s what was happening until way later.

That’s deeply troubling to me. But it also feels to me crucial for understanding why these bombings were never solved. I think there’s a very good chance that the white people in a position to investigate these bombings had the same bad training or psychological shortcoming or whatever this is as me.

I think a crucial component of why these bombings were never solved is that the people who could have solved them were not seeing them for the huge red flags that they were.  And I have to allow that one of the reasons I haven’t solved them is that I also am not picking up on obvious cues and am, instead, reacting in ways that work to thwart my end goals.

Friday

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The second I finished my first leaf, I could hear clearly in my head the way that sunflowers rustle in the wind or when you walk by them. Funny how memory works.