On Left, Right, and In the Middle (Nope, Not Political)

Rise From the River Cover

Tonight, despite having a lot of work to finish, I set it all down and went for a walk on Waukesha’s Riverwalk. I was restless, tired and keyed-up at the same time, and overcome by too many emotions to sort out. So I let the propulsion of the emotion fling me outside and down the alternately cobblestoned and asphalt path of the 3-mile loop. It’s formally called the Riverwalk. I call it the Respite.

On my Facebook page and a few other places, I refer to myself a living breathing rollercoaster. I mean it. I loopdeloop through emotions like a heavily engineered amusement park nightmare. For the most part, I deal with it. But this last week was a series of hairpin turns, upside-downs, and fifty-story drops.

As I set off down the path, I decided to construct my steps to my thoughts. When I was thinking of the happy, exciting things happening now, I’d walk on the left. When my thoughts churned over to the sadness and anger that bullied me out of the happy, I’d walk on the right. I hoped that by putting the physical to the emotional, I could get a grip on the steering wheel of the runaway coaster and maybe tame it down to a kiddie ride. I like merry-go-rounds.

The things that sent me to the left:

*Tandem book debut in one week. Books five and six, one a collection of some of my stories published in literary magazines and one my first poetry chapbook, released at the same time, and in an event to raise funds for a cause I love – the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books.

*Both books are in my hands now, with a delivery from the nice guy in the brown truck today. Holding books five and six is just as exciting as holding book one. And two. And three and four.

*An interview with a reviewer from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is on tap for tomorrow, and an interview with Milwaukee’s NPR is slated for Monday.

*The AllWriters’ Annual Retreat is in two weeks. 23 writers under one roof. Representing 9 states and 2 countries. And it’s been sold out since January.

*In a little over a month, I’ll be teaching in a prison in Pendleton, Oregon. The prison is the site of the last clock school in the United States. 25 inmates are reading The Home For Wayward Clocks, and we’ll be discussing it, and then I’ll be leading a writing exercise. My husband Michael cringes every time I say I’m going to prison.

*And then I’ll be heading to the Oregon coast and walking beside my friend, the Pacific Ocean. And writing. All day, for two weeks.

It all makes me giddy.

But then there’s the right side of the path.

*Brock Turner.

*Brock Turner.

*Brock Turner.

*His father. His father’s letter.

*The judge. The phenomenally ridiculous sentence because Brock is a Stanford student and “a really, really good swimmer.”

*The persistently silent mother.

*The friend from school, a girl, who is quoted as saying that not all rapes are caused by rapists, and tried to blame the rape on the victim.

*And the victim herself. Where is she? How is she?

*They say a rape is defined when the victim says no and the rapist doesn’t take no for an answer. But in this case, she didn’t even have the option to say no. She was unconscious. She woke up raped.

I’ve been posting about this on my Facebook page most of the week. I signed the petitions demanding the judge step down, asking President Obama to make a statement. And I’ve watched the comments that have shown up on my Facebook page and on the news articles. The rage and the sadness, I truly understand. The incredulity. But there’s also the eye for an eye demands. Those crying out for the rape of Brock Turner.

Do I believe in an eye for an eye?


No one deserves to be raped.

Not the victims.

Not the rapists.

No one.

So then what do I think? Where does my rage take me?

Do I think Brock Turner needs to be punished?


Do I think the father’s letter dismissing the rape as “20 minutes of action out of Brock’s whole life”, and the mother’s continued silence give a pretty good picture of what the Turner homelife must be like?


Do I think this justifies what Brock did?

No. No. Of course not.

One of the nightmarish things I keep returning to is the fact that Brock, besides repeatedly raping this girl who was unconscious, filled her vagina with leaves and twigs.

Imagine that. Imagine what it must have been like for her with the rape kit in the emergency room. Imagine what it must have been like for her to watch, to feel, in every sense of that word, as the ER staff tried to clean her wounds, to remove the detritus.

What was Brock Turner thinking? Did he think it would hide the evidence? Or was he turning her into compost? What was he thinking?

Thinking about what he was thinking has been turning my thinking ever darker. And ever sadder.

And of course, being me, being the author of “Rise From The River”, my thoughts also go to the question, Was she on birth control? If not, was she given the morning after pill? Or is it possible that a child was conceived? Conceived in a bramble of rape and leaves and twigs.

Oh, imagine that.

On my walk on the three mile loop, on the Respite, I veered to the left, stayed a while, veered to the right, stayed a while longer, veered to the left, but looked sidelong at the right.

For the last half mile or so, I forced myself to walk down the middle. Straight down the middle. Where I could reach out and touch the left and smile. Where I could look at the right, lift it up, examine it, and then put it back down. Put it back down. Put it back down.

Though I know I won’t put it down for long.

In a student’s story tonight, when I got back to work after my 3-mile Respite of left, right, middle of the road, she wrote, “Jesus calls us to take God’s love outside our walls, to the hurting world.”

I am not a religious person.

But boy, did “hurting world” ever resonate with me.

That’s why I wrote “Rise From The River”.

And that’s why I won’t put the right side of the path down for long.

Michael said to me last night, “Why do they keep trying to say that the rape victim could be your wife or your mother or your sister or your daughter? Why can’t they just say that the victim is a person, why can’t that be enough?”

I said because “they” are trying to make it personal. They’re trying to make it real.

And I wanted to say, “Because you don’t know. You don’t know what it’s like. And to make a difference, you have to know what it’s like.”

And that’s why “Rise From The River”. I tried to bring knowledge and experience to a hurting world.

Brock Turner is evidence of our hurting world. His father is evidence. His silent mother is evidence. The judge…so much evidence.

And the girl. The girl with the twigs and the leaves. She’s hurting the most of all. Where is she? Is she all right?

And I’m hurting too.

I don’t want to be. I want to be walking firmly on the left side of the path. I want to be dancing on it. But Brock Turner et al won’t let me.

So for now, I’m going to settle for striding down the middle. I’m going to enjoy the excitement I have coming, what I’ve worked so hard for. I need to do this.

But I’ll keep an eye on the right. On Brock Turner. And on trying to figure out how best to help this hurting world.