Thursday, July 31, 2014

movie recommendation

I watched the movie "Don Jon" tonight. I highly recommend it. It has within it my theory of romance, love, sex, porn, men, and women. All in one movie, folks. I'm not sure if I've ever in my life watched a movie that has my theory of all those things--or, even, my theory of any of those things. Good shit.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

more quote of the day

Again here we turn to the idea of improvisation and spontaneity and embracing it and one thing we haven’t spoken about the willingness as an artist to discard tons of text when necessary to create more. The poet Michael Burkard once said to me, “Sometimes it feels better to simply write another poem than revise the old one.” Soon after that he gave up intensive revision to embrace the idea of making, the continuity of making, the abandonment of reworking for the improvisation of the New.
This idea of “the Baptism of newly created things,” which is the phrase Lorca uses to speak of the duende, is a near-religious one for me. And a revolutionary one. By making and re-making the world we resist the forces of Capital and the inscription of monetary worth and re-see a world more just and humane. We make not for profit. We make to save lives.
This is the difference between art and commerce.
I have a dream that sound will one day save us all.

-Sean Thomas Doughterty

my personal quote of the day

For decades   
I’ve been pulled into the river.    Now I gave myself permission to     not swim but drown in it. 

-Sean   Thomas        Doughterty

not thinking about race, if you're white, is racist

Not thinking about class, if you're rich, is classist.

And just thinking about it isn't enough either. But it starts with thinking about it. If you're rich, you can't claim not to be classist by using this sentence: "I don't think I'm classist. I mean, I've never really thought about it." That means, automatically, you are hella fucking classist. If you're rich and you just don't much think about the people who serve your food and make your clothes and clean your house, then you are classist. You are contributing to oppression. You are part of the problem. Sorry, but you are. Me too.

And by "rich" I mean: you've got a college education, you live above the poverty level, and when you go in for a job interview you don't have to worry that the way you speak will threaten your chances for employment.

And if you're white, you don't get out of being racist by giving a cute little smile and saying, "racist? I don't think so....I mean, I don't tell racist jokes. Other than that, I haven't thought about it much." That means you're racist.

It's taken me a while to figure this out, actually. Which means I've been way more racist and classist than I had any idea I was. Which frankly is like waking up one day and realizing you've been drinking poison for the past twenty years. It's like knowing there's treachery running in your blood.

The odd thing is that I should know better. The first best friend I had was Palestinian. Her name was Mirna. I was five-years-old and I loved her maybe more purely than I've ever loved anyone. I loved her fiercely, wholly. And she was Palestinian, and even at that age I'd begun being indoctrinated with the insane idea that Jews/Israelis were God's preferred race. And yet, I knew with absolute clarity that Mirna was as worth loving as any creature on Earth.

This should've translated, all my life, into ferocious fighting on behalf of the oppressed. And, well, it sort-of has. It's just that I can't quite figure out what that means, ferocious fighting. I've tried. In high school I befriended the kids who seemed like they had the worst chances. But I couldn't save them. Was that the problem? That I was trying to save them? But even then, even at the age of 14 or 15, I knew that just trying to save someone was bullshit. So I sought friendship. But I couldn't figure out how to navigate violence and the awful things that so often come along with poverty in America: alcoholism, abandonment, incest, rape, anti-intellectualism, preying on the very weak. I encountered those things in so many of my classmates I tried to make friends with. And that was overwhelming.

Maybe I'm not as classist as I fear. Maybe I'm just brought to my knees by the depth and breadth of the oppressive system I live within.

A lot of the time in my mind I compare classism and racism and sexism, to try to get a grip on what we're really dealing with here. And those three things are similar in many ways, and wrapped up in each other in many ways. But they're also very different.

I do know, though, that not thinking about gender, if you're a man, means you're sexist. If you're like, "Hunh. Women's rights? Never really considered it. How I treat women? Just not something I give much thought to." That means you're sexist.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

only connect

As most of you know, I do this Ultimate Media Challenge (UMC) thing with my students, where for the duration of the class they can't do any gaming, TV, movies, porn, social media, or youtube. It's a super hard challenge, and at some point along the way I'm sure they all curse my name, and then by the end of the challenge about 90% of them are telling me how grateful they are that I came up with the challenge. The UMC is a huge hit in my classes. And for a number of students it seems to be a catalyst for genuine change.

At the end of the UMC, all of my students resume some use of screens, but usually in a modified form. Many of them swear off Facebook or Twitter forever, but they decide to still watch movies. Or they go from 6 hours of gaming a day to a few hours per week. That kind of thing. We talk a lot about why and how we want to use technology, going forward. Like, what's your code of ethics? What guides you as you make your choices? They come up with some wonderful answers.

Talking to them so much about technology/media/screens has also been the catalyst for me thinking a whole lot myself about my own addictions to screens, and about my own code of ethics when it comes to using media and tech. This last class, that I just finished teaching, spent a lot of time collectively researching how screens and media affect us. We read an essay titled, "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?" and we watched a Sherry Turkle talk and we talked for a zillion hours and they journaled about their experiences being off screens. I've learned a lot.

And here is the number one thing I've learned. Humans need connection and engagement. We need those two things very, very much. We need skin-to-skin contact, eye contact, verbal engagement. We need to be listened to, and have a human face and voice reflect back to us that we are seen and cared about. These are some of the most basic and most vital human needs. And they're needs that increasingly aren't being met because of screens.

Except sometimes they're needs that are being met because of screens. Skype, for example, allows people to have face-to-face contact when they're across the world from each other. And for my students who are immigrants, that's a big deal. For me with my nephew and niece, that's a big deal. Telephones allow us to have voice contact with people who live far away. Social media like Facebook can allow us to be genuinely involved in each other's daily lives in ways that are connecting, engaging, and meaningful.

However, it is very often the case that media and technology are not used for connection, but rather for disconnection. In the lives of my students, and in the lives of many people I know, media/tech/screens are the number one way that they/we are disconnecting from each other. We are lonely and so we scroll through Facebook, which actually causes us to be lonelier (there's lots of research done on this), but we're unaware of our loneliness because the stimulation of the screen distracts us from our bodily-emotional sensations. We're insecure or uncertain and so we turn to gaming for hours and hours and hours and hours--which often makes us more insecure and uncertain. And so on.

When my students first start doing the UMC, they're super bored. They're bored, lonely, frustrated, and they probably stick pins in voodoo dolls of Tamie. They feel left out, because their families are watching TV, or their friends are gaming. They totally hate the experience. But then after a week or two, they start coming up with other stuff to do besides screens. One of my students started walking his roommate's dog, just to have something to do. Another started taking daily walks around a lake in downtown Oakland. Another started swimming every day. And another started working out. One of the young women, who's living with a host family, started going on in the evenings with her host family, and attended a few local festivals.

And as they start doing these new things, where they're engaging their own bodies more and engaging other people more, they start to realize how disconnected and checked-out they've been. And they start noticing how disconnected and checked-out the people around them are. These are the things they write about in their journals. Honestly, I don't know that I would believe the scope and depth and breadth of the changes they experience if I hadn't read four classes worth of journals about this now. Even though the UMC was my idea, I'm shocked at how much it affects them.

I've come up with exercises that we do together in class, to help in this journey toward more engagement. The exercises help me too! I'm totally shy about talking to strangers, but in class we practice things we might say to strangers. (One of my African-American students said in class a few weeks ago, "I know this white, privileged guy, and I feel bad for him. He doesn't know how to do anything! He doesn't know how to use a bus. He doesn't know how to talk to homeless people." It was such a great moment in class. And I thought--I don't really know how to talk to homeless people.)

Anyway, here's my point. After several years of wrestling myself with whether I want to be on Facebook, whether I want to blog, how I feel about my own email use, and so on, I've finally come up with my own code of ethics. Finally. And my code of ethics is: Only Connect. (My friend Kate has a tattoo that says "Only Connect" on her forearm. It's a quote form E.M. Forster. I think that's why it's on my mind.)

The questions I want to ask myself, in relationship to whether I might want to watch a movie in any given moment, or watch youtube videos with friends, or spend a few hours emailing, or text, are the following questions:

-Will this connect me to myself or other people or the natural world?
-Will this be more connecting than something else I could do right now?
-Am I doing this to disconnect from myself/others or to connect?
-Is there something else I could be doing that would prioritize touch, eye contact, or voice contact?
-Is there some way that I could engage myself more fully right now?

I myself often (usually) do use the Internet and my phone for connecting to others. I text a couple of friends very often, and our texts are long, ongoing conversations that are substantive engagement with each other's lives. I write blog posts, and they tend to be posts about meaningful things. And this is all good. And now that I've come up with my Code of Ethics, I feel much less guilty about all the time I spend on screens! But also--sometimes I use screen-connecting as a way of avoiding in-person connecting. Sometimes I email when it would be so much better for my body and soul to go swimming. Sometimes I text as a way of avoiding taking a nap or sitting alone in silence. Sometimes I watch a movie but what I really want to do is spend time with a friend (but I'm too shy or proud to call someone). And I don't want to do that.

So. Them's my thoughts. I'd be interested to hear y'all's thoughts on media & tech & screens.

Friday, July 25, 2014

quote of the day

"One cannot be deeply responsive to the world without being saddened very often." -Erich Fromm

I'm done teaching now. Yesterday was my last day. I'm hoping to write a bunch about the experience in the coming days. I feel like I suddenly have so much time because I don't have anything to grade, any lessons to plan, any classes to teach, any classes to drive to, etc., etc. It's amazing!

Our theme of the week this past week was engagement. Engaging the world, ourselves, each other. Being fully and wholly and whole-heartedly engaged. We even practiced. We did role-playing of engaging other people. Like, we had restaurant scenarios where four friends were at a restaurant then, how do you engage your friends? How do you draw them out, talk to them? It's something they write about a lot in their journals, that they're unsure how to talk to other people. So, we brainstormed for ways to talk to other people.

One of the things I talk about a lot in my class is that if you engage the world, if you pay attention, if you try hard to see other people and see what's really happening in the're going to be sad often. You're going to realize you're lonely. You're going to realize that a whole hell of a lot of suffering is happening. And that's going to be hard. I try to talk about this so that they'll be prepared for when it happens, so that it won't make them give up on the project of learning to engage the world.

Of course you'll also realize a whole bunch of beautiful, interesting, captivating kind of things. Like how fascinating and weird other people can be. How brave so many people are. How cool science is. How gorgeous clouds can be.

If I weren't such a melancholy-inclined person myself, I'd probably emphasize the gorgeous clouds and the cool science thing more, try to give inspirational speeches to convince my students to stop watching TV! Start looking around! And I do give them inspirational speeches. Which are full of me saying, "This is going to be hard and take everything you've got and you'll be really lonely. But it's worth it anyway!"


Actually, I laugh a whole lot in class, and yesterday--the last day of class--one of my students told me I was the funniest teacher she's ever had, and another student asked me if I smoke weed because I'm so happy and positive all the time. So maybe I feel more melancholy than I'm communicating to others. !

And that is all I have to say for now. But I'd really love to say some other stuff soon.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

white culture is hella racist.

I'm not the expert on racism. Let me just say that first thing. Me, at this particular point in my life, claiming to be Super In The Know On Race in America would be as ridiculous as the Americans who used to come to Israel when I was a child, spend one week touristing their way around the country, and come back to the States waxing eloquent on Israeli-Palestinian politics, genuinely thinking they were in the know because they'd been there. Been to Israel. Saw a few real Palestinians, in the flesh! Talked to some Israelis in a cafe one time! So therefore they knew, they knew, what was really happening with Palestinians and Israelis and what the solution to the conflict was.

So that's not what's happening here, here where I'm going to write a little bit about what it's like to be the white teacher of classes that are 95% or 99% non-white. What I'm doing here, in writing to you my predominantly-white audience, about how much I've realized that white culture is really fucking racist, this is more like someone who goes and lives in Israel for a year and studies at an Israeli university but lives in a Palestinian neighborhood, and therefore really gets to see up close both sides of the conflict....this is like that person coming back to the States and telling her friends that she'd lived in Israel/Palestine for a year, and her friends responding, "Oh my God! How could you stand living around those genocidal assholes?" or "Oh my God! Aren't those people just so backwards? Why can't they figure out how not to kill each other?" or even (gulp) "I'm so glad America supports the Jews since they're God's chosen people."

The American in this hypothetical situation lived in Israel long enough to know that she didn't have any clue what the hell the solution is  to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but she knows that her friends back in the States really have no fucking clue at all what they're talking about. That's the kind of clarity she's gained. Not the clarity that thinks it knows, but the clarity that can see just how much people she once thought of as her peers do not know.

That's the basic position in which I find myself.

Well. That is to say. Let me back up and talk about the thing I first set out to use as an example, so that it's clearer, so that I can then spring from that example to here.

I've been in that precise position since I was 14-years-old and returned to the States from Israel. It was very clear to me, upon returning from Israel, that Americans, as a group, are arrogant, ignorant, jingoistic, myopic, and generally stupider than your average bear. No offense to bears. But I also could see that they didn't know what they didn't know. My middle school friends in the States thought it was okay to refer to everyone else in the world as "them." The thought of America as "here" and everywhere else in the entire world as "over there." Church-going adults assumed that Israelis are God's chosen people, and Palestinians as rubble that needed to be disposed of. But they didn't think those things because they'd spoken to a whole bunch of Israelis and Palestinians, read about the history of the Jewish National Fund, the Holocaust, the United Nations' post-war actions, Palestinian land history, Palestinians treatment by the rest of the Arab world, the Ottoman Empire, and so on. Nope. They just went to church, and the pastor said, "It says in the Bible that the Jews are God's chosen people. Therefore, anyone who's the enemy of the Jews, like the Arabs, that's God's enemy and should be exterminated."

It was very hard for me, as a 14-year-old, to take these people seriously. Or, frankly, to take Americans seriously in general. Let's keep in mind, I was 14. Plus, I was moving from one of the most multi-cultural cities on Earth--Jerusalem--to a small town in Midwestern America. The odds were not in the favor of America. It would've probably been pretty different if I'd moved straight from Jerusalem to New York City.

Eventually I got older, and started encountering pro-Palestinian Americans who weren't any more informed than the Zionists had been. This did not alleviate my despair.

It's not that I thought, as a 14-year-old, or a 22-year-old, that I knew how to solve the conflict and violence in Israel. Well, maybe sometimes I thought I knew. Divide Israel into two states, maybe, I'd thought. Or maybe have all the Israelis eat in the homes of Palestinians. Then vice versa. But mostly I didn't know then, and I sure as hell don't know now. If there is anything that the current war in Gaza shows me, it's that the situation in Israel/Palestine is terrible. So terrible.

My point is not that I'm so smart and I have all the answers and the rest of the dumb Americans don't know anything about anything. My point, rather, is that I was flabbergasted by how sure my fellow Americans were that they knew stuff. They were so sure! They were so sure that they, who had never set foot in Israel (or maybe had set foot in Israel for a 7-day tour!), whose education on the topic was extremely minimal, who hadn't listened to a multiplicity of perspectives, who hadn't agonized over the subject....they were absolutely positive that they understood and knew the solutions to one of the most complicated and violent and angst-ridden cultural-religious-social-historical clashes in the history of human civilization. They really, really, really did not know what they did not know.

And that, dear friends, is how I am realizing that I feel, as I hang out in white culture these days. That my white friends don't know what they don't know. White culture has no idea just how myopic and privilege-based and blind it really is. All the time people say in my presence things that I know for sure they have no idea are racist. Stuff like....well, let me give some examples.

-I was recently speaking with a white person I know. This person was talking about someone we both know, who is black and very loud and conversationally dominant. We were talking about one person, an individual, and then suddenly the white person said, "Yeah, they're just so annoying. On BART they're always talking on their phone." I was like, "Hunh? Oooohhhh. By 'them' you mean all black people." We'd jumped from talking about this one particular person to talking about an entire race. And the person I was speaking with, without skipping a beat, said, "Yeah."

-I recently spoke with another white person, someone who's lived in the Bay Area for decades, and I was telling this person about my job teaching in a non-white college, and how part of my curriculum is talking about the racism still embedded in white culture, and also about cultural and racial differences in general. And this person said, "Really? Hunh. I haven't really thought about any of that stuff." (Please note. If you are not white and you live in America and you live around white people, I guarantee that you have thought about racial dynamics. The only people who have the luxury of not thinking about race in this country are white people.)

I can't gauge anymore whether these examples will seem like blatant racism to other white people, or not.  If I'd tell these stories in my class, I wouldn't even have to explain how racist that kind of behavior is. And yet, so many of the things that white people do, that strike me as bonkers, that everyone in my class knows for sure is bonkers....if I try to tell other white people about those things, they're like, "hunh?" And then I'm like, "hunh hunh?" To say that "they"--all black people!--are "so annoying." That is outright, shameless racism, friends. And not thinking about race, when your whole life is immersed in a whole plethora of races (but hey! you happen to be the dominant race!), that's not just racist but weird. Although it's also normal. Normalized, that is.

My tone's been a little preachy. I know.

So, um, in the spirit of my awesome students, who manage to laugh and make me laugh, here's a video:

and also Now, for my non-funny conclusion:
The deeply entrenched racial oppression of mainstream American culture has become clearer to me in recent years, and increasingly I can't not take that racism personally. People I love are affected, deeply affected, fucked over by this oppression. But it's bizarre to realize that, as I try to push against my own racial prejudices, as I try to change, that I'm more alone than I thought. Most of the white people I know aren't actively resisting racism. It's simply not something they think about much. It doesn't feel personal to them. It doesn't feel like it affects them. And this is the precisely the root of the problem.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

yes, i am needy

Today in class I was talking to my students about how much they are needed. Each of them is needed by many people. Their existence is not irrelevant or ornamental. It's vital to the lives of the people who love them, important even to acquaintances. Each of us is needed, I said. More than we know. And we need each other. A lot.

One of my students raised his hand--a student who contradicts me a lot, usually in a tone of disdain--and said, "No, I don't think you're right. What you're saying makes you sound really needy."

I said to him, "You're right. I am needy. I'm very needy. I need food multiple times a day. I need water every day or I'll get very sick. I need the farmers who raise the food I eat. I need the people who make my clothes. And I really, really need other people to care for me and interact with me. I am human: I was born needy and I will be needy until the day I die."

I don't always have the right thing to say at the right time, and usually I drive away from class lamenting all the opportunities I missed, all the ways my brain froze when I should've had something inspiring or witty to say. But with this one, I felt like I got it right. I am needy, and so are we all. I need other people--I need you, my readers--and I full-heartedly admit it. And I want my students to know that it's not only not weird or uncool to be needy, it's actually a beautiful part of being human, to be so profoundly and utterly dependent on each other.

Friday, July 18, 2014

hunh. i seem to have acted against my own self-interest.

Standing in the kitchen just now, mixing up a bowl of cornbread, I suddenly realized that over the course of the last five years I have slowly but surely withdrawn from people more and more.

I was thinking about the Enneagram, actually, and how Type 4 (which I am) is a Withdrawn Type (along with Types 5 & 9). I was also thinking about how we humans tend to use the same strategies over and over again in life, even if those strategies are undermining our happiness, or are against our own self-interest. Over and over we keep trying the same thing, it keeps not working, or not working in the way we expected, and yet we keep on doing it.

As I get ready to change my life--quit both my jobs, leave my living situation--I am asking myself what the best way to proceed is. Am I just doing something that I've done over and over before, thinking that this time it will work? If so, what is that thing? And what do I think the thing will get me? What am I missing? What are my blindspots? Is there any way at all that I could do it differently this time?

Thinking about all that, and remembering that 4s are a Withdrawn Type, I had that realization, that I've withdrawn from most of the people I know. I keep in touch with very few people now, compared to the wide swath of folks I used to email and handwrite regularly. It's been largely an intentional decision, too. I quit Facebook two years ago. I made my longtime blog private three years ago. I withdrew from much of my family. All those things were self-protective measures, and I don't regret dong them. I've become a much, much more private person than I'd ever been before, and that's felt like a healthy change. The privacy has allowed me to change in ways I needed to, without much of an audience.

The desire to live my life audience-free is a stronger and stronger desire in my life. Simultaneously, my desire to engage with others, participate with others, has also intensified. I want engagement, not performance. I realize that's a perhaps false distinction (I'm very aware of this because I live part-time with a professional dancer!), but it's a useful distinction for me lately, especially in a culture where such a high value is placed on performance (everything from hookup culture to Instagram relies on the high social currency of performance).

I wonder if I needed to withdraw for a period of time, in order to clarify who I am (and become more who I am), so that I could then re-engage from a different place, from a different narrative? I'm not sure yet. I know that in many ways I like my quite solitary and isolated existence. And in many ways I am lonely as fuck. I like how self-reliant I am. Sometimes my deep self-reliance seems like it works against me. Against my own even deeper desires, for closeness and interconnection, for example. I do know one thing: although almost everyone I meet also wants connection, almost no one I've ever met really has the wisdom and courage and stamina and fortitude and willpower and discipline and sense of humor to overcome all the obstacles to connection.

The Enneagram has taught me so much. One of the things it hasn't managed to each me is why things are as they are. Why do we undermine ourselves? Why do we act directly against the things we most want?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

ethics & appetite

A few years ago I read the book Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, who is a one of my all-time favorite novelists, and I can't highly enough recommend his fiction, but I must confess that I did not find Eating Animals to be anywhere near the quality of thinking I'd found in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close or Everything is Illuminated. However. There was this one paragraph that in Eating Animals that was not only memorable, it has actually guided me ethically through a whole lot of my life since I read the book.

The book is about both the industrialized meat industry, and about the ethics of eating any animals, ethically-raised or no. In the paragraph in question, Foer, who is a vegetarian, is responding to his meat-eating friends who say to him, "Yeah, but don't you think bacon just tastes so good?" or "Don't you ever just crave a hamburger?" And in this paragraph he responds by saying, "Yes, sometimes I am standing in line at a restaurant and I crave a hamburger. And I also happen to know that there are more important things in life than what I crave in any given moment." (That's not a direct quote; I don't have the book here with me.)

That thought--that yes, sometimes I do crave X or Y or Z, but there are more important things to take into consideration than what I crave in any given moment--that thought, that idea, is one of my most important guides in my life. It's a part of virtue ethics, which is the ethical system most closely aligned with my own ethical system. Virtue ethics is concerned with the kind of person you're becoming, rather than being concerned with whether you're following the right rules, or even being concerned with whether you're acting in a way to bring about the right consequences. It's possible to follow the right rules and still become a bitter, mean-spirited person. It's also possible to, say, be an activist and try to bring about social justice....while also being disconnected from others on a personal level. So a virtue ethicist is concerned with people being and becoming good people, first and foremost. (I myself also have a lot of concern for creating the cultural/familial/political environment in which people are able to become the kind of people they want to be...)


My students are doing the Ultimate Media Challenge, where for the duration of the class they can't use any social media at all, can't do any gaming of any kind, can't watch any TV or any movies or any youtube, and can't view pornography. About 85% of my class right now is doing the challenge, which may be the highest percentage of any class I've had so far. They only have one week to go, and I think everyone who's started it is going to finish. I've been reading their journals, and I wish I could share particular entries with you because the entries move me very deeply. It's extraordinary, what happens when folks stop using screens. It's so extraordinary I wouldn't have believed it myself if I hadn't witnessed it over and over again.

In case you're thinking that they're bullshitting me, in order to get the 200 extra credit points, let me just say that I can see the difference in the way they act in class. In the five weeks we've had together, they maintain eye contact much better, they're more confident, they much more receptive, much more engaged and aware. They write about that in their journals, too. They write about how they're learning to "know other people through my eyes, instead of through a screen." They write about how weird it is to realize how uncomfortable it was for them in the past to maintain eye contact with people. They write about being with a group of friends and realizing that their friends to actually talk to each other--they get together to hang out, and then spend most of the time scrolling through their individual phones.

And because the Ultimate Media Challenge is pretty extreme--no TV at all, no movies whatsoever, no gaming--they get extremely bored and frustrated and angry, and have to really search around for something to do in life besides screens. This leads almost always to them connecting to other people more, and being more physically active. Several of them have started walking their roommates' dogs, just to have something to do. Some of them have started working out. A lot of them want to connect more to their family and friends and feel really frustrated that they can't convince other people to stop looking at screens too. Reading what they write in their journals is moving and heart-breaking and deeply compelling.

One of the things I notice, again and again, is how these students are demonstrating the truth that it is possible to want something a lot--to have a very strong desire--and to choose to resist that thing because doing that thing won't lead to you becoming the person you want to become. Believe you me, some of these students want to go on Facebook, or game, or watch TV with their girlfriends, with the intensity of sexual craving, or hunger. They feel desperation, despair, clawing loneliness. But they don't give in. They stay the course. At first it's because they want the extra credit points, and then I think it becomes a personal challenge to see if they can do it, and then--at least for some of them--it's because they feel like the challenge is making them into someone different, someone they'd rather be.

It's really moving to me. Understatement. And now, every time I hear people (not my students, but other people in life) say that they can't do something because it's hard, or they just have to do something because they want it so badly, I think--whatever, fool. You can desire something intensely, and you can still resist or refuse it, if it's not in line with who you want to be. And if my students, with all their zillions of challenges in life, can do something as hard as cold-turkey giving up all media, then I am pretty damn sure that the fact that something is hard is not a good enough reason not to do it.

Speaking of things being difficult, today in class we were talking about cliched narratives that have held us hostage. And yesterday we were talking about cliched phrases, and cliched ideas, and how a person goes about questioning cliched ideas, or resisting cliched phrases and coming up instead with fresh language. I had the students work in small groups, which they are huge fans of (and more about that in another blog post soon), and work together to talk about cliched narratives/phrases/ideas. At various points yesterday and today different students kept saying to me, "This is hard." And I laughed and said, "So?"

But then I said, "I know it's hard! It's super hard. It's really, really hard. To resist the narrative that black men are irresponsible, or black women are slutty, or that women who don't have children by the time they're 40 are pathetic, or that people who live alone are pathetic, or that people who don't graduate from high school are losers, or that homeless people are disgusting, or that crackheads don't deserve love....and all those things are just pieces of these huge cultural narratives that are so entrenched, so unquestioned....yep, it's hard. I just keep telling them, and I just keep reminding myself over and over and over, some of the most worthwhile things in life are hard.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Monday, July 7, 2014


"There is no them.
There's only us.
There's only us.

There is no them.
There's only us.
There's only us."

-U2, "Invisible"

The theme of the week in my class this week is "others."

I would consider my work, my teaching, my being-with-others, a great success if my students would internalize what Bono sings in the song: there is no them; there is only us.

I want to internalize it myself. That sure does seem like a lifelong work.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

in class, we're learning about empathy. it's harder to teach--and learn--than i thought it would be!

“Those who 
are without 
compassion cannot see what it seen 
with the eyes of compassion.” 

–Thich Nhat Hanh

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

california woman, at least in scraps

I don't feel like a California girl, at all. Not even like a California woman. But maybe when I go elsewhere I'll realize that's what I am after all.

This is a photo that my friend Rick took a few months ago, when we went to Stinson Beach, just south of Point Reyes, together.

This is the kind of beach that I love. Rough, loud surf. Rocks. When I say, "I live in California and I like to go to the beach," I suppose that people would imagine a beach towel and a tranquil sea. It's not that I'm against tranquil seas. Or beach towels. It's just that I'd prefer them in the context of wildness.

teaching and wandering

Critical Thinking is the class that I'm teaching this summer in summer school. I tell the class that "Critical Thinking" can mean argumentative or logical or analyzing thinking, and that's what the title of the class is intended to mean, by the powers that be. But I think of it more like Thinking That Is Crucial. "Critical" as in critical care in a hospital. David Foster Wallace says that learning how to think has as much to do with figuring out what is worth thinking about as it has to do with learning rational or clear ways of thinking. And I really agree. What good is it to learn to avoid fallacious reasoning if you're only considering puny matters?

This is the fourth time that I've taught this class. I'm feeling much more competent and confident in the classroom. Part of that, I think, has to do with owning my role as the teacher. For reasons that I don't have the time here in my early morning hours to get into, I've often backed away from that role, even though I've found myself in it so many times. I haven't wanted to be the one with the power, the one that other people were looking up to, listening to.

Deb the Wonder Therapist said to me once that I'd handle power so much better if I could just admit to myself that I had it. If I couldn't admit that I had power (and not a power bestowed by external authorities, it seems, but a power that just comes from me being me), then I'd be a lot more likely to misuse it. Deb the Wonder Therapist is a wise, wise woman. Slowly, slowly, I've realized that she's right. I'm admitting to myself that my students listen to me, some of them listen to me very deeply, and the more I recognize that, the more I try to be the kind of person who's worth listening to. The more I try to see their full humanity, to treat them with bedrock respect, and also--the more I try to give my power away.

I think for a long time I tried to give my power away because I didn't want to have power. I was trying to get rid of it. Now I'm recognizing that for better or worse, I just do have power. And I can empower others. But I won't be able to empower others--I won't be able to give my power away--until/unless I embrace it myself.

Here in a few hours I'll head off to teach my class. I've been working so many hours with Ariel--I still work with her seven days a week--and now with teaching I'd say I easily work 80 hours a week. I don't like working that much. One of the many reasons I'm soon moving on.

Mark was asking where I'll go, when I wander. I have some ideas. And right now I need to do lesson prep. But I'll get back to the question.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

canada day

Canada Day means something to me because I did my bachelor's at a university in Canada. I don't know anything whatsoever about Canadian history, but I know that I have friends in Canada, and I think of them on this day. Twelve years ago I graduated from that university--an evangelical university, which seems so odd to me now--and the next year I drove with my then-husband down the western part of the United States, through national parks and roadside campsites, up into the mountains of northern Arizona. I lived there in that thin-air small mountain town, Flagstaff, for six years, and then I drove away again--to northern Indiana, south-central Alaska, urban Minnesota, and then to the city-state of the San Francisco Bay.

I haven't intended it as a wandering life, but it's been that. Some of my earliest memories are living with my family at a monastery in Bethlehem, nomadic Bedouin herding their sheep across the monastery grounds. They felt foreign and kin at once, and I was only five-years-old. 

Wandering like this, you get interpreted certain ways. Running from something. Looking for something. Idealistic. Unable to commit. I'm mostly finished with others' reads of my life though, and I'm trying to be finished with thinking I've got anyone else pinned.

I'm running from stagnancy, although "running" doesn't seem quite right. I sit still more often than I run. I want to be very, very still, and I don't want to be stagnant. In the morning, drinking tea, I watch robins and juncos and stellar jays and towhees. I watch and I listen and when I am completely alone I come to as few conclusions as I possibly can. If there's anything I want to slough off it's the....the thing that makes me un-tender. Rigidity. Certainty. 

But that's not true, not really. It is, and it isn't. I'm cultivating ferocity and tenderness. Do not fuck with me. 

In October, I'll be leaving Berkeley and going--elsewhere. I'd like to go by foot. Camel wouldn't be so bad, or elephant, or horse. No joke whatsoever. How odd to live in a land this vast where it truly would be impossible to travel by animal for far at all. Why is that? I don't understand anything at all.

So this is my new blog. Welcome. I'm making a new batch of kombucha, which feels so cliche-Berkeley that I laugh. You who will read these first posts know me well already so I won't say anything by way of introducing myself. My time with Ariel is closing. I'm relieved. I'll miss her greatly, but I don't want to stay any longer. These two years with her though, these two years in Berkeley, they have been two of the best years of my life, hands down.