About Nancy Werking Poling

Author of women's fiction, blogger on current events and women's experience. My published works include "Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987)" (nonfiction); "Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman" (a short story collection); and "Out of the Pumpkin Shell" (a novel).

A writing success

RANDALL KENAN SELECTS NANCY WERKING POLING WINNER OF THE 2018 ALEX ALBRIGHT CREATIVE NONFICTION PRIZE

(31 August 2018)

Nancy Werking Poling is the winner of the 2018 Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize competition for “Leander’s Lies.” Poling will receive $1000 from the North Carolina Literary Review,thanks to a generous NCLR reader’s donation that allowed this year’s honorarium to increase (from the previous award of $250). Her winning essay will be published in the North Carolina Literary Review(NCLR) in 2019.

Editor Margaret Bauer reports that submissions for the competition doubled from previous years. A total of 15 finalists out of 63 submissions were sent to this year’s final judge, Randall Kenan. Kenan is the author of several books, including the nonfiction Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century, and will be inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in October. Kenan selected Poling’s story for the 2018 Albright Prize, saying, “It was love at first read to me, and stands out in originality and in tone.”

After years of living in many parts of the country, Nancy Werking Poling reports that she is “now happily settled in Black Mountain, NC, an area where nature and history are honored.” Historical influences are woven into her 2017 nonfiction book, Before It was Legal: A Black–White Marriage (1945–1987). Poling is also the author of Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman (2010), a short story collection, and Out of the Pumpkin Shell (2009), a novel. She has recently completed another novel, currently titled “Wrap Me Tight in Earthen Cloak,” which is set in North Carolina and inspired by the question: During this period of environmental crisis, how do I make my voice and life count?

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Dare Americans tune out?

The Rachel Maddow Show may contribute to Alzheimer’s. Her investigative discoveries right before bedtime upset my circadian rhythms, and studies point to a connection between sleep deprivation and Alzheimer’s. Mornings, when I watch “New Day” on CNN, I’m reminded that our democracy eroded even more overnight.

A lot of my friends are saying, “I’m to the point where I avoid the news. It’s too upsetting.”

I’ve also heard—this from both liberals and Trump supporters—“All the Russia stuff is too hard to keep track of.” There are all those -oviches, -akovs, and other foreign sounding names. Even the Americans—Manafort, Flynn, Gates, Papadopoulos, Pinedo, Cohen—seem indistinguishable after a while. Hearing who’s been accused, who’s pleaded guilty—so much input can overload the brain.

Meanwhile our president rants against “fake news.” At a recent Trump rally, the crowd’s profanity and obscene gestures at TV cameras had to be bleeped. I fear for our democracy’s survival when a large segment of the population believes professional journalists are not truthful.

What kind of news do Americans want? Entertaining news. Hence stories on TV networks often cover animal rescues and freak accidents. News conveyed simply, in a few sound bytes. I’m as bad as anyone when it comes to having a lazy brain. I look at a science article for non-scientists and quickly decide I don’t want to concentrate that much. Understanding complicated issues such as immigration, climate change, and world trade requires too much effort. Besides, with our traditional American optimism we want to believe that somebody will solve the problems.

We live in a time when we dare not avoid information just because it depresses us, bores us, or taxes our brain. Russian interference in the 2016 election, migrant children and parents separated at the border, the opening of Alaskan wilderness to oil producers, lifetime appointments of conservative federal judges—all of these demand our informed consideration.

Many highly trained journalists are putting the information out there if we but bother to read or watch. They write for The New York Timesand Washington Postand can be heard on PBS and CNN. And of course there’s Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. (For the sake of a good night’s sleep, my husband and I record her and watch during the day.)

The times call for vigilance. A sentry doesn’t have the luxury of averting his/her eyes. A sentry must concentrate and be hyper-aware. For Americans vigilance demands that we be well informed. We need to stay tuned in so we can turn out.

Nancy Werking Poling, of Black Mountain, is author of Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987).

Summer Camps for Immigrant Children?

Years have passed since I visited Terezin. Given the context, “visited” seems a strange word, as “the Fuhrer’s gift to the Jews” is no hospitable place. In spite of today’s clean and uncrowded buildings, there’s still the feeling of being on the set of a horror movie.

 Current images on TV remind me of that concentration camp outside Prague.

 “The ghetto of Terezin (Theresienstadt)… was created to cover up the Nazi genocide of the Jews….[T]his “model ghetto” was the site of a Red Cross inspection visit in 1944 and of a propaganda film produced by the Nazis.”

https://www.ushmm.org/research/publications/academic-publications/full-list-of-academic-publications/i-never-saw-another-butterfly-childrens-drawings-and-poems-from-terezin

Terezin was a P.R. site, meant to assure the world that the Nazis weren’t really so bad. Of the more than 150,000 Jews sent there, 15,000 were children. Fewer than 150 children survived. Among the Terezin exhibits, for me the most compelling were pictures children drew while imprisoned. Along with poems these pictures have been compiled in the book, “…I never saw another butterfly…”

For now Trump has backed down from his child-separation policy. Yet recent news about children being pulled away from their parents still troubles me. While journalists have not been allowed entry into the facilities, photos released by our government show rather pleasant accommodations: spacious well-lit rooms, beds with blankets. Older boys move about in orderly fashion. Like “summer camps” for immigrants, Laura Ingraham, of Fox News said.

Do you see why I’m reminded of Terezin?

When I was young I lived with a German family in Berlin for one year. My German father had fought for Nazi Germany under Rommel, the Desert Fox. How did people I came to love and respect become engulfed by such an abhorrent ideology, I often wondered. Based on what I’m witnessing in the U.S. today, I see how discrimination against Jews moved from hostile rhetoric to extermination. Hitler didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere. Over time his ethos became normalized and widely accepted by Germans.

Trump’s spokespeople have used talking points for defending the incarceration of children. “Parents put their children’s lives in danger” is one. Do those speaking for the president really believe that a father and mother decide to leave relatives, their cultural and linguistic heritage, that they pack a few essential items and walk across a desert in the summer heat, all without regard for their children? Many leave because staying in their homeland means death, either by hunger or violence. They leave for the sake of their sons and daughters.

In the 1940s many Jewish parents found ways to sneak their children out of German-occupied countries. Illegal  actions. Sometimes they paid strangers to carry the children to safety. Efforts were fraught with danger. Getting caught meant death for parents, children, and abettors.

 Then and now parents have been forced to make excruciating choices.

__________________

Since writing the first part of this, I’ve been made aware of

HR4391: Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children.

https://mccollum.house.gov/media/press-releases/mccollum-introduces-legislation-promote-human-rights-palestinian-children

 “No Way to Treat a Child”: https://nwttac.dci-palestine.org

 Nancy Werking Poling is author of “Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987),” “Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman,” and “Out of the Pumpkin Shell.”

Encountering the migrant

A recent photo shows me standing in front of a saguaro cactus, my arms spread in imitation. Ah, southern Arizona in March, when flowers bloom and birds are passing through. For me the Sonoran Desert is a great place to hike.

The number of illegal migrants crossing our southern borders, trekking the desert I hikeincreased between February and March (the same months retirees from the North migrate to Arizona.) Trump would have us imagine those coming from the south as invaders, most of them drug dealers, criminals.

On TV this morning camera footage out of Mexico showed a large group making camp at a city playground. Children play on swing sets while women sort through piles of donated clothing, searching for items that will fit their families.

These women and children are among the Honduran asylum seekers Trump would have us fear.

For those of us who have options, it’s hard to empathize with people who don’t. Hard to comprehend the fears that drive women and men to pack a few belongings, gather their children, and make a dangerous journey across arid land by foot.

Last week, during the flight home from Tucson, I read Crossing with the Virgin: stories from the migrant trail. Though published eight years ago, the book is still relevant. Three Samaritans, humanitarian volunteers from southern Arizona, write of their experiences. They patrol desert roads and trails searching for migrants who need water, food, and/or medical care. There’s a protocol, rules about what they can and cannot do. For example, they cannot offer a ride. If border patrol personnel are at the scene, the aid workers must ask permission to offer water or food.

Aid volunteers understand migrants not as criminals but as human beings desperate to survive. Migrants leave their homes not for adventure but because home has become a perilous place or because there is no work. Danger awaits them on their journey: dehydration, hunger, bandits who steal their money.

And border patrols. Some personnel are kind, some hostile. Homeland Security buses are parked out in the desert. Even in February and March the afternoon heat on a bus can be suffocating. Once the bus is filled, it carries shackled migrants to detention, where they are locked in a 20X20-foot cell until they appear before a judge.

Reading this book has made me uncomfortable. Can I return to Arizona, hike in the desert, and return to the comfort of a rented apartment, all the while choosing to be blind to the human tragedy taking place within a few miles?

The fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination has been marked with photos. One stands out: I am a man on picket signs carried by protestors of the Memphis sanitation strike.

Empathy doesn’t come naturally to many of us. It’s easier to consider migrants as law breakers than as humanity caught in a crisis. Yet photos call out to us: I am a man; I am a woman; I am a child.

Mr. Trump, meet Aunt Helen

Gulp! I’m going to confess. No, it’s too embarrassing. Yes, I’m going to.

I’m of Donald Trump’s generation.

It’s like admitting to Europeans that I’m from the country that elected Trump. Until he became president, I was not ashamed of being an American or of being a septuagenarian.

Contrary to the fact that we old people (and I deliberately use the word “old”) defy stereotypes, they persist. Grandpa, who dominates the conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table with harangues against gay marriage and immigrants. Aunt Helen, who can’t follow a train of thought and free associates her way through every conversation. Media often portray us as narrow-minded and critical. We’ve lost our mental acuity and wouldn’t know how to run a lemonade stand.

Donald Trump perpetuates such stereotypes.

Most of the people I know, who are my age, are thoughtful. They read books with multi-syllabic words and complex sentences. The books cover topics like climate change and history and politics. Retirees I know take classes at area universities; they don’t let their minds become stagnant. If pensions and mobility allow, they travel with Road Scholar and return home knowledgeable about distant countries. They do not mock other people and cultures. They do not abandon peers forced to live solely on Social Security or on minimum wage, but volunteer for Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity, and the local food bank.

Trump’s presidency, on the other hand, contributes to negative images of aging.

And I resent it.

 

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987) and Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman.

Doin’ my part, Mr. Trump

Dear President Trump,

This is to let you know that I have been earnestly following your directive regarding mentally disturbed people. In response to your recent tweet, I have reported “such instances [of mental disturbance] to authorities again and again.”

Here is a list of my efforts so far:

2/15—called police about a man who followed me too closely on I-40 then gave me the finger as he passed. White male, youngish, driving a Toyota. Here is his license number: [redacted].

2/15—called police about man behind me in the Ingles check-out line. While the cashier sent another employee for a price check on my cilantro, the man cursed over having to wait to buy a case of beer. He appeared to be about thirty years old, had sandy blond hair, stood about five feet eight, and wore a camouflaged jacket. I could identify him in a lineup.

2/16—called police about my neighbor, who I’m sure is a homosexual. His name is Martin. He lives at [redacted]. They’re mentally disturbed too, according to my pastor. He could be dangerous. Not my pastor, but the homosexual.

2/16—called police about my roommate’s boyfriend, Josh. (I don’t know his last name.) Last night he kicked her dog and cursed, a sign I’ve read that predicts more violent behavior. Josh has dark hair, is about six feet tall, and drives a black Corvette.

2/17—called police about my co-worker deliberately dropping a heavy box on my hand. I now have a splint on my middle finger. He’s named Tim. (I don’t know his last name either.) He has a long scar on his left cheek and wears his brown hair in a crew-cut. I think he’s on drugs.

2/17—called police when I heard the man next door call his wife a f-ing bitch. He yells at her a lot, and I once saw that she had a black eye. He lives at [redacted].

2/17—called police about my roommate’s boyfriend again. He’s got a gun. I’ve seen it.

2/18—called police about my father’s mental instability. He’s been depressed since losing his job and spends his days watching FOX News.

So you see, Mr. President, I’m doing my part to prevent another mass shooting. Thank you for your thoughtful advice.

 Nancy

P.S. Did I mention that all of these men are white?

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987); Had Eve come First and Jonah Been a Woman; and Out of the Pumpkin Shell.

Sexual assault in a sexualized culture

I’ve never had sex on a desk. Or in an airplane. When I told my grandchildren this, they shouted “Nana!” in embarrassment. I wanted them to know that loving sex between partners who respect each other is not a rip-her-clothes-off/push-her-against-the-wall norm.

Where would they get the idea otherwise? Everywhere.

Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Louis C.K., Al Franken, members of Congress and their staffs, etc.etc. As of October 24, “Twitter confirmed to CBS News that over 1.7 million tweets included the hashtag “#MeToo,” with 85 countries that had at least 1,000 #MeToo tweets” (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/metoo-reaches-85-countries-with-1-7-million-tweets/)

Yes, women are speaking out. They’re disclosing the psychological injury of sexual assault. As a result, commentators are already claiming a “Cultural shift.” Now that powerful men are being confronted, either out of conscience or fear of getting caught, they’ll stop their abusive behavior.

I doubt it. The end of sexual violence against women would require a volcanic shift in media, where women exist for the benefit of men.

Like many Americans, males and females of all ages (my grandchildren included), I watch TV and movies. I like a good story. Readers who know me might be shocked at the kinds of movies I see. I’m sometimes shocked myself. Man meets woman; man desires woman; man f—s woman. Along the way a mystery is solved, a wrong is made right, love wins.

Let’s face it: we live in a highly sexualized society. Sex sells. Advertisers and the entertainment industry know that. It sells cars; it sells pharmaceuticals. Sex is on prime-time TV. Explicit sex. Aggressive sex.

Where do such messages lead? All men, not just men with political or social power, are led to believe they have a right to touch a woman’s breast, stick their tongue in her mouth, or do more.

I often wonder how young women are influenced by so much sex in the media. Have they been persuaded that male acceptance requires submission? I worry that my granddaughters, based on what they see in the media, will think they must give in to sexual advances.

Not that women don’t have hormones and needs of our own. In the 1960s we claimed our own sexuality and desires. But I’d wager that most want a sexual relationship with someone they know and care about.

Americans’ wishes are full of contradictions. We want services without paying taxes. We want cheap goods, yet they should be manufactured in the U.S.

We want men to respect women as equals in the work place. Yet everything men watch on their computers and TV screens shouts that women exist for male pleasure.

Can women, by speaking truthfully of our experiences, bring about a cultural shift? Only if the media quits portraying sex as an expectation of every encounter between a man and a woman.

And media, currently controlled by men, will never do that.

 

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987).