Sunday, November 30, 2014

recommended read of the day + a constructive To Do List

This is an essay, in The Washington Post, called "What White People Need to Know and Do After Ferguson." In the spirit of people who have asked me to write more about my sources on race, gender, class, politics, etc., I'm posting the essay here for you to read.

But this article doesn't really give the kind of step-by-step instructions that lots of folks seem to be wanting right now. White folks, that is. They say, "Okay, let's just say hypothetically-speaking that you're right about racism still existing in America. How do you want me to fix it? Tell me what to do." To such folks, I offer you a very practical guide on how to Fix Racism (assuming, hypothetically, that it actually exists). (This Practical Guide only relates to ending racism against black people. Because what goes down with that version of racism is a different thing than what goes down with racism against Latino folks, or people of Asian descent, etc.)

Practical Guide for White People on How to End Racism Against Black People (Assuming it Exists)

1. Go to the library and take out a couple books about racism or white privilege or the U.S. prison system. Read them.

2. Go back to the library. Check out books on hip hop, jazz, gospel, rap, the Confederate flag, the history of slavery, generational trauma, police violence, black art in America, and the commodification of black culture. Read those books.

3. Pretend that you have a black friend. Pretend that this black friend goes with you everywhere. Except for, like, the bathroom and the shower. Because that would just be weird. As you go around your ordinary life pretending that this black friend is with you, take notes on whether having someone black with you affects the way you talk.

4. Actually make friends with black people! The U.S. is 13.2% black. Therefore, make sure 13% of your friends are black. Let's say you have 20 real-life, actual, close friends with whom you spend a good deal of your time. 2.6 of them should be black. Let's round up to three. Maybe you think this is unfair, because hey, you're white, and don't most people stick to their own racial category when it comes to friends? Maybe so and maybe no but this isn't the Guide to Being Comfortable. This is the Practical Guide for White People on How to End Racism Against Black People (Assuming it Exists).

5. Maybe you don't like point #4 because you don't know how to make friends with black people. Or because it feels racist and weird to go make friends with people just because they're black. Fair enough, I guess. So why and how do you make friends? Walk around for a week asking yourself that question.

6. Google the term "school to prison pipeline." Read what comes up.

7. Research whether there is a Ferguson protest in your area. If there is, join the protest.

8. Every time someone says something racist to or near you, respond.

9. Every time you go to the grocery store, post office, Target, or gas station, ask yourself how your experience would be different if you were black. Not if but how.

10. Read sociology. Read poetry. Read a lot of poetry. All of it written by black people. Go to poetry readings. Go to spoken word gatherings. Admit your own prejudice. Admit your confusion. Admit being overwhelmed. Take naps. Take walks. Read psychology. Read only books written by non-white people. Google things. Walk around your own neighborhood. Walk around other neighborhoods. Walk around predominantly black neighborhoods. Pay attention to your own body language. Think about the intersection of race and class and gender. Think about the differences between race and class and gender. Ask yourself how your life would be different if you were the same gender but also black. Ask yourself how your life would be different if you were the opposite gender and also black. Ask yourself if you feel safe in the neighborhood you live in. Ask yourself if a black person would feel safe in the neighborhood you live in. Ask yourself what it means to feel safe. Ask yourself what it means to be safe. Ask yourself why safety matters. Ask yourself how it feels to live in a country where racism is systemic and where racism has been so deeply internalized by white people that they--we--cannot recognize it as racism. Write letters to the editor. Tweet. Write poetry. Know you will fail at recognizing your own prejudice and your own privilege. Do not give up trying to recognize it. Do not ever give up trying to change your ways. Go on picnics. Go to lectures. Educate yourself. Educate yourself more. Do not allow yourself to be complacent. Be relentless. Be outspoken. Except when ou are listening. Listen more than you speak. Make art. Learn about politics. Protest. Protest more. Go on walks with your friends. Cry. Get enough sleep. Figure out who is hungry in your town and feed them. Figure out why they are hungry and figure out what you can do to overturn those causes. Risk failure. Assume you will fail. Remind yourself every day that it is better to fail at this than not to try.

funny thing of the day

The entire Bible explained in one Facebook post.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

quote of the day

It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

in memory of bud osborn

listening to Bud that night, nobody could have left without having their entire being shaken to the core.
-Am Johal

Bud Osborn was and is one of the greatest influences on me, in terms of my understanding of social justice, poetry, capitalism, drug policy, dignity for all people, and hope. I found out recently that he died in Vancouver this past May, at the age of 66, from complications related to pneumonia. I would like to write a little bit about what Bud meant to me.

I was a philosophy major in college and my favorite professor, Bob Doede, was good friends with a man named Bud Osborn, who was a poet on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Bob invited Bud to come to one of my classes, and Bob invited another one of my classes to go to a poetry/music reading that Bud did. The poetry that I heard Bud read was about heroin addiction (Bud was a heroin addict and alcoholic for many years, before he entered detox) and poverty and I hadn't heard anything like it before. It was so much more raw and so much less polished than anything I had encountered before by the name of poetry. It was explicit and overt and it wasn't tidy at all. It was uncomplicated in the sense that Ginsburg's "Howl" is uncomplicated; it was straightforward and unignorable and rather tough to take. He read a poem about his mother being raped in front of him when he was a young child--how he tried to fight off her rapist and was thrown across the room. He wrote about his father's suicide, and his own suicide attemps. He wrote about dozens of friends who had died of overdose and suicide and disease.

His presence was humble, gentle, very kind. I had not encountered poetry like his before and I hadn't met someone like him. I bought several of his books and read them over and over. I went to a fundraiser for the Downtown Eastside folks. I met a mutual friend of Bob and Bud's, named Dave Diewert, who had quit his job teaching at a graduate school in order to live and work among the downtrodden. I was only 20 and 21 and 22 and 23 and 24 in those days--my mind and heart were roving and opening and so many things were new to me. I started learning formally about privilege (I'd understood it informally for a long time, from the gender side of things) and about how systems of power crush "the least of these," to put it in Christian terms. How victims are addiction are considered worthless trash--but they aren't worthless trash--they're valuable as anyone else.

Those three men influenced me mightily. A friend of mine asked me recently to start writing about who has influenced me in my life. Well, Bob and Dave and Bud influenced me hugely. They introduced me to Christian thinkers and activists who interpret Jesus as a friend of the oppressed, and who consider following Jesus to be about be friends with and advocates for the lonely, the homeless, the distasteful. They also taught me that that isn't easy at all. All three men struggled themselves with sorrow (as anyone will who opens their heart to the suffering of others), loneliness, and despair (as anyone will who challenges systems of violence and oppression). I'm so thankful to have had those incredibly human men as models, men who modeled fidelity to love, men who modeled humility and imperfection and compassion and radical open-heartedness. (Men who didn't model flashiness or winning or worshiping the narrative of the American Dream.)

After I graduated from college, I mostly lost touch with all three men. But I thought of them often, and I tried to embody what I had learned from them. Of course I did it incredibly imperfectly, but their influence was a huge part of why I started Integration in Flagstaff (a 5-year conversation group that I hosted in my home), and why I interpreted the poverty I saw in South Africa and Zambia in the way I did. Bud, specifically, was an influence on my writing. Reading his writing challenged me to be as fiercely authentic as I could possibly be. Bud was an embodiment of Rumi's challenge to "Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment." Bud was bewildered at all the suffering within his community and he wasn't trying to be clever at all. But he was trying to be smart, and to change policy and to change the hearts of people in power.

In 2009, when I started teaching creative writing in the Kosciusko County Jail, I brought in a whole bunch of poetry to read to my classes. A lot of it didn't resonate with my students; I was just experimenting (not having taught before, and not having interacted with prisoners before) and bringing it what had resonated with me. Then one day I brought in Bud's poetry and everything changed. My students loved Bud's poetry. They cried when I read. They rocked in their seats, and as soon as I would finish a poem a student would tell me that he'd had a similar experience to Bud's. Students started sharing about their own experiences of rape, incest, suicide attempts, drug addiction, the death of so many friends, poverty, loneliness, child abuse, abandonment, betrayal, hopelessness.

It was overwhelming and I wish I had talked to Bud about that more. I would come home from teaching and weep. Once, one of my students, Tiffany, died of a drug overdose; her body was found out in the country, in a ditch along the side of a road. I came home from class and lay on my kitchen floor and screamed. I remember in those days that I was sometimes vicious towards Jon (my partner, and sometimes my teaching partner), I think because I was so angry about what I was witnessing in the jail--that human beings were caged, and that their caging was only the most recent event in a long history of violence towards them. I didn't know how to be present to people suffering that intensely without feeling wrecked myself. I wrote Bud about some of that, and he wrote me back, but I wish I had written him more. I think if I had opened up to him about everything I was experiencing, he would have said that he understood. He would have said that rage and bottomless grief are very sane responses to witnessing violence and addiction and death.

Bud donated books of his poetry to my students; the students shared the books and passed them around until the pages were ragged. Those books may still be there in the jail. I hope so.

After that, I'm very sorry to say that I lost touch with Bud. I didn't have a specific reason to be in touch with him, and I guess I never considered until now that I could have perhaps sent him encouragement from afar. That I didn't actually have to have a specific reason. That caring about him would have been reason enough. Bud changed my mind and heart so much more than he ever knew.

It's such a big deal to write nakedly about hurt. In writing what he did, he allowed dozens of people in jail in Indiana, and hundreds of people around North America, to know that they aren't alone. Knowing that you aren't alone, that somebody understands, that is such a big deal. It is life. Bud Osborn's life and his poetry and his presence was life to many people. I'm more blessed than I can say to be one of those people.

I end with links to two beautiful meditations on the life of Bud Osborn: http://www.empireremixed.com/2014/05/07/bud-osborn-priest-prophet-poet-presente/

http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/amjohal/2014/05/on-bud-osborn-poet-never-dies


Friday, November 28, 2014

an open letter to white poets by danez smith

My beloved cousin, Naphtali, read this letter to me last night. I'd like to share it with all of you and urge you to read it. Here is a photo of Danez:



At the end of the letter, I will post his poem, "alternate names for black boys."




We Must Be the New Guards: Open Letter to White Poets

"But when a long train of abuses and usurpation, pursing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security,--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world."

            - The Declaration of Independence


To my kin and colleagues in letters and art, I come to you out of ink, of breath, of patience, & almost emptied of any belief that there is anything this country that doesn’t seek to end me, keep me and my black & brown loved ones from living lives that are not designed around your comfort and benefit. I’m not mad at you. I, in my best mind, believe in a borderless world of unified citizenship, not a utopia, but a place where justice is birthright and peace is promised, protected. But we live in a history well versed in repetition, where the people who built this country on burdened, wound-red backs are the same people today waiting for some declaration of independence, equality, or ceasefire.

The skin tone of the oppressed along color lines in this country’s history reads like bad alliteration, our skin a hard sound echoing endlessly in a unjustified fear we have renamed “self defense” or “probable cause.” I’m not saying that self-defense doesn’t exist, but I question what men like Darren Wilson and George Zimmerman were defending themselves against except a fear they nursed since elementary school, a fear that screams “SHOOT” somewhere deep in their minds, their hands.

I did not come here to talk about these men. I came to talk to you, my partners in verse who build a life’s work documenting their brief time on this earth. I come you to asking to question the landscape of our pastoral muse. I ask you to question to what makes you safe? What frees you to write odes of the low country of America, to mention the trees and not their wicked history, to write the praise song of night, but not sing of what dark bodies hide cold in daylight? My family, and I pray we can call each other family, I am asking you to do what you do best: Write.

We must be members of the New Guards for those whose futures have been deemed questionable and expendable. I am asking you to explode the canon with what we must make sure is remembered in this nation. We cannot leave the duty of elegy for black bodies and calls for our fellow citizens to rise, even if wounded or enraged or scared, to the catalogues of solely black artists. We must write the American Lyric like Claudia Rankine so fearlessly writes, no matter now brutal or reflective it might be for you. There are people I cannot reach because what I make is degraded (& why not glorified?) for its label of black art. I implore, I need you to make art, black, dark art that shines an honest light on the histories of your paler kin. I ask you to join those fighting, under the cry of “Black Lives Matter”, in whatever way you can. Research ways you can be involved in your local community, think critically about how you can use your privilege and influence, effect change; I challenge you to make art that demands the safety of me, of many of your writing siblings, of so many people walking the streets in fear of those who are charged to protect us, even of people who we hesitate at times to call our fellow Americans.

And this is not the only fight we must rage, there are many suffering the awful weight of a society and judicial system that has edited “for all” from “with liberty & justice”. We must create work that refuses to leave this world the same as when we entered. We do not have the luxury of only writing the selfish confession, we must testify in our court of craft that these poems we write are bold, unflinching, and unwilling to stale idle in a geography of madness. We must demand of ourselves to write the uncomfortable, dangerous, shift-making poems. How much longer will we write casually in the face of a beast? Submit your facts to the candid world! I ask you to join me and others in utilizing verse to not rewrite our shared, grizzly history. I end this letter by not begging you “please”, but by telling you “you must.”

***

I urge all of us to listen to Danez' letter, and ACT.

Now, here is one of his poems.


alternate names for black boys

1.   smoke above the burning bush
2.   archnemesis of summer night
3.   first son of soil
4.   coal awaiting spark & wind
5.   guilty until proven dead
6.   oil heavy starlight
7.   monster until proven ghost
8.   gone
9.   phoenix who forgets to un-ash
10. going, going, gone
11. gods of shovels & black veils
12. what once passed for kindling
13. fireworks at dawn
14. brilliant, shadow hued coral
15. (I thought to leave this blank
       but who am I to name us nothing?)
16. prayer who learned to bite & sprint
17. a mother’s joy & clutched breath

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

another day in san diego

I don't know if you can see the banner but it says "10% off active military." This is a residential hotel. It is a place where nearly-homeless folks live. Something is wrong.
The first Declaration of Human Rights was written by Cyrus the Great--in Iran. I don't know if you can read it, but it's beautiful. Cyrus abolished slavery, declared that there would be respect for the traditions, customs, and religions of everyone in his empire, and declared that no one could oppress anyone else.
At the United Nations Village, in Balboa Park.
This is one of the earliest photos of the San Francisco Bay. I'm pretty sure this is a shot of where the Embarcadero is now.
I took this photo because, what the fuck? (I did not go view the instruments of torture put on by The Museum of Man). !!
This photo is WTF in a whole different way.

Today my brother and I drive to Palm Desert.

response to ferguson 2

Until the killing of black men--
black mothers' sons--
is as important as the killing of white men--
white mothers' sons
we who believe in freedom cannot rest

We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

-from "Ella's Song" by Sweet Honey in the Rock

Here they are, singing that beautiful song:


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

response to the verdict in ferguson

In response to the verdict in Ferguson, I'm not going to write my own post right now. I will write one in time. Right now, I want to direct you to a post written by Jenny Lawson (the Bloggess) called "Compassion is painful. That's how you know it's working." Sometimes it feels impossible to believe that any good change can happen. But for the sake of those who are most harmed by the way things are now, we must continue to work for change. Let us not give up.

Friday, November 21, 2014

honky

Tonight, here in San Diego, I watched the play "Honky" at the San Diego Repertory Theater. It's a play about race, and specifically about co-opting "ghetto" culture to market to white people. (Like, if it's been legitimated by black people, then it must be cool.)

It was nicely done and funny. But it didn't feel nearly as edgy as I was expecting. The artistic director came out and said a few words beforehand--she said to prepare to be challenged--but I have to confess I didn't feel all that challenged. I didn't feel uncomfortable as I watched.

Which makes me wonder what would feel like an edgy play about race. I'm not sure yet.

warmth feels so good after cold

I'm in San Diego now. Here's photos taken from the roof of where my brother & I are staying (an Airbnb place).



My brother being his silly deadpan self. Look at the incredible sky behind him. And the sweet roof that we have access to!

This is across the street from us. I really love funky architecture.
That building with the dome is the public library, just a block from where we are staying! So cool.


I'm here because my brother & dad are here at a conference, so I thought I'd just come hang out with them since I so rarely get to see them. We're here for six days...

I'm also going to do some work here....I got a new job! More about that in the next post. :)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

new year's resolution. join me?

I make New Year's resolutions. And then I try to keep them. Sometimes they fizzle. Sometimes they don't. Fifteen years ago I made a New Year's resolution to write every day and I've kept it almost every day since. For what to resolve in 2015 I've thought long and carefully. I'm not sure why it feels more momentous somehow than other years...maybe just the number. Fifteen years into the century, already.

What I resolve to do in 2015 is only watch movies & TV shows made by & featuring non-white Americans, non-westerners, or non-men. In other words, I will only watch media made by (and starring) women, people of color, transgendered folk, gay folk, folk from non-western countries, etc. In other other words, I will engage (only) with the stories and imaginations of people whose voices are usually silenced or swept off to the sidelines. The same goes for books & articles that I read.

I wholeheartedly believe that the voices and stories and imaginations of white people, men, privileged people, and Americans are important and deserve to be heard. I just think they've been heard disproportionately; they've been heard so much more than other voices. And I believe that what we hear, what we listen to, deeply affects (maybe even determines) who we are and are becoming. I want to feel what happens inside me when I make an effort, for one year, to change who I'm listening to.

As a sub-resolution, I'm considering also giving up Google for this year. At least as a search engine. Google, after all, is owned and operated by wealthy, white, American men who have massive control all over the world. Maybe there's nothing wrong with that (?) but I am curious to know what would happen if I looked for things (places, books, people, information, maps) without ever using Google. What would I discover? Who would I become?

I'd love it if some of you joined me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

quote of the day

The only weapons we believe in are books and we 
believe in heavily arming everyone.

-The Bloggess

Monday, November 17, 2014

photos of my visit thus far

 This is the view out of Lori's folks' home. !! :)  I don't know if those specific mountains are the mountains of Glacier National Park, but they're close. The rest of these photos are of us just hanging out at the homestead today, and I should offer a mild trigger warning because there is a photo of some taxidermied deer & elk on the wall at the home.


This is Lori reading to her two oldest kids + her nephew (Bennett, who is Rachel's son, for those of you who know Rach)





Dessie

Bennett + Zoralee


Ziah + Lori


Sunday, November 16, 2014

a real post + recommended reading of the day

Montana, Whitefish. That's where I am right now. A town ringed by high mountains. A mountain town. Lori's family's homestead. Her parents live here; she and her siblings visit often. There are horses in the pasture, grandkids running around underfoot, and pretty much everyone in the family is a musician. I'm glad to be here.

Something on my mind is something Lori and I talked about on the drive here (a drive we did in two days, due to the 3 munchkins) which is: Is it possible to actually connect with a person you disagree with radically? Or even, that you disagree with very much, if not necessarily radically? Like, let's not tackle quite yet whether any of us could connect with ISIS or the head of the KKK. My question for the time being is more along the lines of: is it possible for a mainstream evangelical Christian to have a genuine, bonafide, non-debate-type conversation with a, say, non-Christian, sex-positive, neo-hippie? (Is neo-hippie a thing? I feel like it's a thing.) And just to hike up the stakes a wee bit, let's say the Christian was firmly opposed to "premarital sex" and the neo-hippie was firmly opposed to what s/he thought of as a "sex-negative attitude." Would it be possible for these two people to honestly listen to each other? Would it be possible for them to honestly talk and listen without trying to change each other's minds? What's going on between humans when we're trying to change each other's minds, each other's beliefs and actions? What's going on between humans when we're engaged in listening to each other's stories?

Lori has the radical notion--and I really do mean that; it's a radical notion--that people should listen to each other's stories. Rather than debate each other.

The problem, I think, is that a lot of people disagree with Lori on this. So how're you going to convince those people that stories are better than yelling, without debating with them in order to convince them? Maybe we don't need to convince them. Maybe there is no "them." Maybe that's Lori's whole point.

Another radical idea that Lori and I together came up with yesterday as we were entering the Flathead Valley was the radical idea of asking people to tell the story of what led them to believe the thing they believe. So like, there's the thing you believe (that racism is systemic; that capitalism is inherently exploitive; that the USA is the best country on earth; that abortion is always wrong) and then there's the story of how and why you came to believe that thing. People have reasons for believing the things they believe--and I'm not talking about ideological reasons. Do you believe abortion is always wrong because you had an aunt who died from a botched abortion? Because you had an abortion yourself and always regretted it? Because you know someone whose mother almost aborted them and then didn't, at the last minute? Because you went to anti-abortion rallies where pictures were shown of babies suffering, and it broke your heart? Because you ran into some pro-choice people who weren't compassionate towards anti-abortion folks? Because you once had an STD and went to Planned Parenthood and weren't treated with respect?

The reasons we believe the things we believe--those reasons are really fucking important. They're often what the story is really about.

I remember a couple years ago, on my Owls & Angels blog, a number of my readers & I got into an intense conversation about whether spanking children was ever okay. Many powerful arguments were made. Many passionate things were said. The conversation lasted weeks, if not months. Then, a couple years later, three of the main readers of that blog and I were visiting each other in person. The four of us sat around a livingroom talking about that blog conversation in spanking. All four of us had been spanked as kids. And, probably because we were in person and not online, the conversation got quite personal and we started telling the stories of what the spanking was like for each of us. One person, who online had been heatedly opposed to spanking, had had her pants and underwear pulled down, and was spanked with a belt on her bare legs and bum. So when she heard the word "spanking" that's what she thought of. Another person, who online had been a bit more moderate (spanking is mostly wrong, but sometimes maybe okay), had never experienced anything more extreme than a light swat on the hand. So when she was saying "spanking" was okay, that's what she was talking about.

The life experiences that led us to where we are are, as I said, really fucking important. I remember sitting in that livingroom, listening to my friends talk, and how hearing each other's stories....well, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that it changed all four of us. We understood each other in a deeper way than we had before. We loved each other more tenderly than we had before.

I'm with Thich Nhat Hanh, when he says that understanding breeds compassion. If we truly understood another human being, says Thich Nhat Hanh, we would have complete compassion for that person. We would understand that we, in his/her shoes, would not have chosen any differently in life than s/he did. If we understood, and really felt deeply in our body, how that person was treated in childhood, what his/her mental habits and abilities were, what the cultural conditions were around him/her, what his/her weaknesses and desires and hurts were, we would have complete understanding for him/her, and therefore complete compassion.

It is my strong desire for that to happen. And it's my strong desire to have the heart capacity and the stillness and the mind capacity to listen, really really listen, to the story (not just the ideology, and maybe not the ideology at all) of each person I meet. It's my further desire for everyone's life and story to be considered equally valued, equally worthwhile. It's hard for me to listen. Well, not always, but...

Actually, you know what I realized lately? The problem with me is that I'm too hellbent on authenticity! I've always thought of my striving for authenticity as a good thing. But then just a few days ago I realized a downside to authenticity, which is that I can find it difficult to say things out of simple politeness, or out of the attempt to put someone else at ease. So like, when I first meet someone I find it difficult to ask them questions about themselves because I don't know them yet, so I'm not interested in them yet. That is the for-real, honest truth. I don't actually care much about them yet, so I'm not interested enough to ask questions. !!  I suppose to all you extroverts, and all you super-hospitable folks, this sounds like anathema. But it's the truth!

Whereas, once someone's snagged my attention, I have a whole lot of questions. And I really, really want to know the answer.

Which, it's cool that I pay attention to people who win my attention. But I, like everyone, have assumptions about who's worth attending to. It's these assumptions I'm trying to challenge.

I'm getting sidetracked here. The point, pre-sidetrack, is that I want to listen to people's stories. I want to prioritize stories from people whose stories have been marginalized. But I also think that some part of almost everyone's life has been marginalized. I knew in childhood a boy who grew up to become very privileged (straight white man, advanced degree at an Ivy League school) who as an adult killed himself because he had experienced horrific sexual abuse as a child that no one knew about until he wrote about it in his suicide note. That man may have been privileged by all external appearances, but he felt it so impossible to tell his story to anyone, and he was so tortured by what had happened, that he felt the only relief would come through death. We have all suffered. That is the truth.

I want to be the kind of person that man could have told his story to if we had known each other as adults. That might not have saved him. But sometimes the willingness to listen to someone's story, to listen from your heart, sometimes it does actually save a life. I want to see past "privileged white man" to the person whose worth and humanity is always so much more than even something as basic as race or class or gender.

And yes, it is also my desire for the privileged among us (of whom I am one) to be just as open-hearted, just as eager, to hear the stories of homeless people, undocumented people, mentally ill people, people of color, queer folk, strange folk, un-strange folk, boring folk, old folk, young folk, folk with 14 facial piercings.

***
On a perhaps related note, I read a brief but seemingly accurate explanation of what the deal is with ISIS (now known as IS). It's written by Loretta Napoleoni, an expert on the financing of terror. It's my recommended reading of the day. Almost none of it is explicit or triggering, and most of it is simple explanation/history. Toward the end she comes down fairly clearly on a certain side (certainly an anti-ISIS side, and also what Americans would call a "liberal" side), but even if you disagree with her assessment there at the end, I imagine you'd find the article an informative, succinct explanation of what's going on in the Middle East right now. You can find the article here.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

last nodak photos



 Here's the family I spent the last week with in NoDak. From L to R: Dessie Lynn, Lori, Zoralee, Jason, and Ziah. They're great!

Here's their house from the road as we drove out yesterday morning.

And here's the road. Exactly how you'd expect it to look in North Dakota.

Most of western North Dakota, however, was hilly. It's a gorgeous state. It's damn cold. But gorgeous.

quote of the day

"Fuck the system that fucks the artist." -Jon Erdman

Friday, November 14, 2014

north dakota, now in the rear view mirror

 I write this post from Havre, Montana. Havre is pronounced "Have her." So, the local joke (or at least, the one Lori's told me) is, "Have her? I barely know her!" I don't know a single thing about Havre except that on this day it is damn cold here. Negative four degrees. Lori and I are on our way to Whitefish, Montana, with the kiddos & the dog.

I thought I'd post a few more pictures of North Dakota before we get too far away from that fair state. The above photo is the cozy camper I lived in the last week at Lori & Jason's place. My cocoon.

 And here we have Lori and me, using the table saw (or, prairie saw in this case) to cut insulation. Jason & Lori are remodeling the upstairs of their house. And I helped them with that.

 See Lori's hand in the foreground, showing perspective?

 Their driveway. And the entire state of North Dakota there in the distance.


Here's the winterized chicken coop.

I really, really should've taken more photos. I'll maybe post some more from when I was there last year.

headin' out


This is where I've been the last week. It's been a fantastic week. I have more photos but for some reason they're not uploading right now. I'll try 'em later in the day.

Heading to Montana now!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

at the beginning of this week

My good friend Jon came to the East Bay on Tuesday to see me. We had a great time together, as we usually do. He took a picture of us, which, um--he looks like himself and I look like I recently escaped from a mental ward. Which--nothing wrong with that! Maybe it's a mental ward for people whose mental capacities are superhuge.


Friday, November 7, 2014

cozy in north dakota

North Dakota. Wind. Wind wind wind. Plains wind, the kind that makes you suspect there's nowhere else in the world, that the whole world is as wind-hustled as Siberia. A tropical island feels as unreal to me as one of Jupiter's moons: it exists, perhaps, but what does it have to do with me?

Lori, whom I'm visiting, has fixed me up in a cozy camper out behind the house. There's a heater, a big bed, and lights for the evening, and that's about it. The camper shakes when the wind blows, which appears to be all the time. I'm writing from the camper right now.

Landscape and weather (and they're inseparable, no?) determine so much. Everything, really.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

kate in oakland...


This is my friend Kate! I love this photo of her! Look how smiley she is. We've had such a nice time together here in Oakland the last few days. Look at her therapist-type chair (right side of the photo), which we've switched turns in. Not being therapists to each other mind you, but just being comfortable. Her couch is comfortable too. Her apartment is cozy, in a light-filled California way. I'm so grateful for Kate's friendship, and for knowing that her friendship will be with me for years to come, no matter where in the world we both are.

Plus, she makes a mean split-pea soup.
Plus, she knows the Enneagram.
Plus, she's a courageous and large-spirited person.
How incredibly fortunate I am, to have her in my life.

In about an hour, I make my way to San Francisco, and take a plane to North Dakota.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

the san francisco bay

I'm in Oakland, baby. Staying with my friend Kate, which is lovely. It's nice to chat in the morning & later at night, which are two times I very rarely interacted with Kate when I lived here. The big task I'm doing while I'm here is getting my stuff out of storage & sending it to Alaska (contrary to what I told you Andrea!; I decided just yesterday to send it to AK ). That's been a rather monumental task. But luckily, my dear friend Jon came to help me yesterday. So it mostly just felt fine and okay, rather than monumental and overwhelming. That's what friends are for!

It's weird to be here though. I've been trying to figure out what feels weird, and even though I don't know the reasons for it, the simple fact is that this area (the whole SF Bay) feels alienating to me. Maybe it's all the light. Certainly it's all the concrete. And the volume of people.

I leave tomorrow and fly to North Dakota. Which I'm really looking forward to. I'll be there for about a week, and then I drive with Lori & her offspring to Montana. Hm. "Offspring" is a weird word. But, there it is! I used it.

I won't say more now, but I'd like to blog a bit more regularly in the coming weeks.