Tuesday, December 30, 2014

quote of the day

“An economic system centered on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it."


more chrissmiss

Jerry (my step-dad), me, Lopa, Samuel

My mom is teaching two violin students: Lopa & Samuel. They're both PhD students in chemistry at the College of William & Mary, here in Williamsburg. They came over the day after Christmas & we spent the afternoon/evening together. They brought some musical instruments, so we all played a bit. We chatted, ate delicious food, and played a story game they gave me as a gift. T'was a lovely time!

Then, a couple days later, mom and Jerry and I took a drive northeast of here, to some places where Jerry used to live & frequent in years past. We stopped in at this country store.
Then, yesterday, it was my 38th birthday. Mom & I went to a Korean restaurant for lunch. It's cool to discover new places to eat together (since my parents just moved here this year).

Mom made me a delicious gluten-free carrot cake, which you can see. Plus my favorite: spaghetti & meatballs. I feel so Midwestern & American, to have that as my favorite! But, it is what it is. You can also see in this photo that I found a book yesterday that is tweets from historical figures. Like, tweets from Plato, Archimenedes, Nixon, Stalin, Joan of Arc, etc. It is very funny. I read it at dinner and we all laughed a lot. Laughing on one's birthday is good.

I lost my camera a few weeks ago, and through some sneakery my mom, step-dad, brother, and sister-in-law bought me a new one! How cool is that? SO COOL. It was super unexpected!

Here's me with my new camera, feeling very happy!

Friday, December 26, 2014

a real christmas song

I really like this original Christmas song by Tim Minchin. I like it because it is smart. And I like it because it articulates things I have long felt and haven't quite managed to articulate. Like, "I get freaked out by churches. Some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords but the lyrics are dodgy. And yes I have all of the usual objections to the miseducation of children who in tax-exempt institutions are taught to externalize blame and to feel ashamed and to judge things as plain right or wrong. But I quite like Christmas songs." See? Smart. And not your garden-variety Christmas song. See what you think.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

richmond family

On Sunday my Mom and I drove with her first cousin, Marilyn, to the city of Richmond, Virginia, which is where my Grandma (my mom's mom) was born & raised. We met up with my Great Aunt Rose, who was my grandma's younger brother Edmund's wife. I am sorry to report that Edmund died young and unexpectedly. But the family has always kept in touch with Aunt Rose. This was the first time I'd met her! We also met up with Tom. I'll say more about him in a sec. For now, here we are, L to R:

Me, Mom, Great Aunt Rose, Marilyn, Tom

So, my Grandma's older brother, Thomas Jefferson III, had three children, and Marilyn and Tom are two of those children.

Confused yet?

(Also, it was only that day that I found out that my great-grandfather was named Thomas Jefferson II. !!!!!  And my grandmother name is Virginia. So, it seems that some seriously patriotism is in my family line.

Also, I discovered that our ancestor, Symon Ogburn, came to Virginia from England in the mid 1600s, and that it's only been 10 generations from him to me, because a number of his descendants had children in later life--which stretched out the generations. How crazy is that? Only ten generations from Symon to me. I hope so much that none of my ancestors had slaves. I'm afraid to find out one way or the other, but I suppose I should.

And that is what I have to say about that! (P.S. Marilyn is an engineer at NASA. How cool is that?)
We visited Tom at his home, along with his wife (who's standing in front of him) and their daughter, Becky (center). I enjoyed being with them very much. And Becky even gave me a pair of cool Christmas ears like hers!

Friday, December 19, 2014

mom and me

small update + recommendations of the day

Sorry I haven't been writing much about myself and my life lately. I've been traveling a lot and somewhere along the way I got overwhelmed by the thought of writing up everything that's been happening. This week, for example, I drove from southeastern Virginia, where I'm visiting my mom and step-dad, to western Maryland for parts of three days, to visit a former teacher of mine and her husband. Along the way I also visited the author whose book I'm editing; he lives in Michigan but was in Virginia for a little while and so we had lunch along with his wife and baby. The point being: there is a lot happening in my travels, and it's great, or most of it is great, but it's a wee bit intimidating to think of writing it all out!

Between now and January 11, I'll be here in Michigan with my parents. So maybe I'll have time & energy to backtrack & post photos of where I've been & reflect on what it's like to visit with such a diversity of people in such a diversity of places over a small span of time.

Meanwhile, I've been catching up on Ta-Nehisi Coates' articles over at The Atlantic. He's one of the writers I most trust these days. It's a rather new thing for me to follow individual writers at magazines, rather than just thinking of all the writers at a magazine as the voice of the magazine. (Like, when I read The New Yorker I tend to think of it all as New Yorker writing, rather than distinguishing between writers. But I'm starting to do that more and more--read the writers, rather than the magazines. If that makes sense.)

Ta-Nehisi Coates has written maybe the best article on the response to Ferguson that I've read so far, and I recommend it highly: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/11/barack-obama-ferguson-and-the-evidence-of-things-unsaid/383212/

And then he also wrote about how he believes that Bill Cosby is a rapist, and has believed this for quite a long time. It's an amazing article, both because he (Coates) admits his own cowardice in the past, and because he's coming right out and saying point-blank that he believes Cosby is a rapist but that the American society doesn't have the guts/courage to really believe that and see it and remember it. Again, I highly recommend this read: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/11/the-cosby-show/382891/

Saturday, December 13, 2014

recommendations of the day

Here are a couple recommendations for the day:

1. The Problem with #crimingwhilewhite (an article written on Jezebel)

To summarize, the problem with white people telling their stories about being pulled over the the cops, or other stories, is that it is still white people telling their own stories. In the context of injustice perpetrated against black people.

2. How sexism stifles creativity (an article written on The Atlantic)

To summarize, when women in a mixed-gender group feel that they will be treated with respect and listened to, they feel safer, and thus can be much more creative.

Friday, December 12, 2014

recommendation of the day

This is a website devoted entirely to good news. And it's genuine good news too. Good news about stuff that matters. http://www.dailygood.org

quote of the day

We do not see things as they are.
We see them as we are.

-The Talmud

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

quote of the day

“I have often said that one of the principal causes of terrorism is the issue of loss. People resort to violence when they feel something has been taken from them. Giving love to them, instead of returning violence with violence, is returning to them something that has been lost. Giving love can radically change even seemingly hopeless situations. This is why Jeus tells us to love those who do not love us. Much of my work in religious sectarianism is simply about showing love to the unlovely.”

            -Andrew White, the bishop of the Anglican cathedral in Baghdad. He has worked with and befriended many terrorists and perpetrators of great crimes, in Israel/Palestine and in Iraq, and is widely recognized for his work across all boundaries, for peace.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

what cleaning out my storage unit meant to me

Today I wrote a letter to a friend and after I'd written a reflection on my recent experience with my storage unit I decided I wanted to share it with y'all. Here it is:

One of the best things that happened in the past couple weeks was that I spent 4 days going through my storage unit in Indiana. It's been in storage since I left Indiana 4.5 years ago. I thought I'd retrieve it years ago, but it just hasn't happened. I threw away or gave away half of what was in the unit--4 SUVs full of stuff! + a truck-full of stuff (someone came & picked up the mattress, armchairs, etc.)--including a number of things associated with previous relationships. I went through every box I had in there, re-packed a bunch of stuff, gave books to the library, remembered a whole lot of things that I'd forgotten I had, and generally reconnected with my own history. 

For the couple months prior, I'd had this sense that I should return to the storage unit, which didn't even make sense because I don't have the money to actually retrieve the stuff from the unit, but I heeded the sense anyway. And somehow, I'm not even entirely sure how, it ended up being a much more profound experience than I'd expected. I came away with this understanding that I so often have settled for a dim vision for what is possible for my life.....I think maybe because there are lots of things in the storage unit that remind me of past romantic relationships, and the ways that I allowed things to happen that I didn't want...it was a kind of resignation, a sense that I couldn't expect anything better from life, so why even try? (I also saw all the pretty clothes that I own--not necessarily fancy, but pretty-- that I'd forgotten I had because they've all been in storage for 5 years....which somehow seems like such a metaphor...) I don't want to do that. I think I've gotten much better about not doing that, and I want to do better still. Not even so much in the romantic arena (although there too!) as in life as a whole. I can, and want to, dream of a good life for myself, one with joy and calm and creativity, and then live into that life.

Monday, December 8, 2014

hungry deer: a parable

If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they won't have to worry about an answer.
-Thomas Pynchon

The last few days I've been in Indiana, sorting through my storage unit. While there, I stayed with Pam and Jim, a couple my parents knew way back in the day, when I was a little kid. I haven't had a conversation with them since then, so it was interesting to catch up on the last 30 years.

Yesterday morning I was telling Pam that I'd like to have a garden someday. She said she'd had a garden, off and on, over the years, but that in recent years the deer had been especially bad, eating everything in the garden, plus all the flowers, plus bark off the trees. To which I replied, what the heck? That's weird behavior. Why would they be eating the bark? Pam said she had no idea. I pondered. Then I said: sounds like starving deer to me. She agreed that it did sound like the kind of thing that only starving deer would do. I pondered more. Why would the deer be starving? Well, the answer wasn't that hard to arrive at. The forests have been almost entirely cut down in that area. Housing developments have taken over like smallpox taking over a tribe. Predators of deer, besides humans, have been eliminated completely. And so, there you have it: too many deer and not enough food or shelter for the deer.

It struck me, how often the human question seems to be, "what's wrong with the deer?" Rather than, "what's wrong with the system as a whole, that the deer are driven to this behavior?"

Saturday, December 6, 2014

ziah the buddha + the nature of desire + AJ the prophet

A few weeks back I was visiting my pal Lori, as y'all know, which meant that I was also visiting her kiddos, one of whom is Ziah, who is 4-years-old. One day I was hanging out with Ziah and he reeeeeeeeeaaaaaaallllllllyyyyyyy wanted something. It was, like, a cup of yogurt. Or one of his superhero action figures. Or a racing car. Something like that. And the thing wasn't available to him at the time for some reason. His sister was playing with it. Or it was in the wash. Or there weren't any left. And he was reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaallllllllllllllyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy upset about this. He wanted the thing so much! He was crying and saying how much he wanted it and begging for it.

I was watching him, really feeling the dilemma he was in, wishing he could have the thing and also seeing how it just wasn't in the cards right then. Time passed. Circumstances changed. The thing became available and he was given the thing and he was happy!

Time passed again. And when I say "time passed" I mean that four minutes went by. He became interested in some other thing and played with it. After a minute, thinking maybe it hadn't sunk in that it was actually available now, I offered him the thing again that he'd originally wanted. And he was like, "meh." No light shone in his eyes for that thing. It was over. It was so five minutes ago. And that was that.

And that, friends, is what the Buddha was talking about. Figuring out how to live with equanimity when you are a being that has multiple, often contradictory, ever changing desires.


Right now I'm in Indiana, visiting my storage unit where most of my possessions have been stored lo these many years. I'm staying with friends of my parents from way back in the day. Like, I used to play in this home 30 years ago. Their son was my buddy and their daughter was older than me and I thought she was so pretty. I haven't been in this home since or had a conversation with these people since. But they took me in, wayfaring stranger that I am in this town.

Tonight was their son's 39th birthday, the one I used to play with when we were first graders. He came over with his wife and two kids and we all had dinner together. At dinner, his 4-year-old son said the prayer, and the prayer was this: "Dear God. Um....I love you. And help us to like this food. And if we hate this food, help us to have a napkin so we can put the food in it. That would be good. And, amen."

The theology I take from that is: Dear Benevolent Force: Lead us in paths that will bring us good things. But if the paths bring us shitty things, help us to find an escape hatch.

Which, yep, amen.

Friday, December 5, 2014

recommended video of the day

I've been thinking and writing a lot about race issues lately. I've been feeling angry about race issues lately, as I know a lot of you have as well. Today I want to share a short video by Chris Rock called "How White Supremacy Works" that doesn't have an angry tone. It's actually not even funny, which as we know is unusual for Chris Rock. It's just straightforward, non-preachy, and....well, I found it moving.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

my cousins & i had a reunion

My cousins & I had a cousin reunion over Thanksgiving. It was great! Here we are, doing a Band Shot (you know, where you pose like bands do on album covers) at Joshua Tree National Park.

recommended read of the day

Frank Rich interviews Chris Rock in the New York Magazine. Chris Rock talks about his new movie, Obama, Bill Cosby, racism, and humor. It's a great read. Here's the link.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

thought provoking quote i resonate with

We always say ignorance is bliss. Well, if so, what’s the opposite? Some form of misery.
-Chris Rock

something to read

I'm in Chicago now. It's nice here. Especially when you're staying in the lovely home of Web and Jonnie. I'm blessed.

Today I read something that was helpful to me. It's titled "How to Tell a White Person They Are Being Racist." I had googled "what to say when someone says something racist" because it's an experience I'm having a lot lately, since the verdict involving Michael Brown's shooter. I think some of you may be having similar conversations. A particularly frustrating experience is when white people get angry at the mere suggestion that you might be saying something they did or said was racist. They aren't upset at racism, they aren't upset that black men are shot at an astronomical rate, they aren't grieved that Michael Brown died. Nope. They are upset that someone could be suggesting that something they did or said might come across as racist. This article deals with that issue.

It also says straight-up that the burden of pointing out racism shouldn't be on people of color. The burden should be on white people to take it upon themselves to try to root out their own racism. And it says: the burden shouldn't be on women to point out when men are being sexist. The burden should be on men to do their homework, examine their hearts, and fucking change. It's the very definition of privilege for men or white people to march around assuming everything is groovy, until someone points out otherwise. (And then, of course, get upset that someone has accused them of not being 100% Awesome.) I cannot even begin to tell you how absolutely sick I am of men who act like that, and I can only assume that people of color feel the same way about people of my skin color.

So here is the link to the article:


Monday, December 1, 2014

transparent about my own whiteness

A few days ago I read a (white) friend's blog post about racism in America, particularly about everything happening in Ferguson, and in that blog post he quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. I thought it was a great quote, very apropos, so I re-posted it here on my blog. After all, the quote was about rioting--about a time when black people were rioting and white people were condemning them for it--and since that's happening now too, it seemed unusually appropriate for contemporary America. The quote also gave context to why black people might be rioting, and since so many white people I talk to seem to have practically zero understanding of the context for why hundreds of thousands, and millions, of black Americans might be outraged enough to protest, scream, even start fires...well, it just seemed that it might be good to try, as a white American, to speak to my white comrades about the history of racism in America.... I don't want to be silent. I don't want to just let what's happening happen. I don't want to be complacent. That's why I posted that quote.

Then last night I went on Twitter, which I've started doing a little bit more, and I read the Twitter feed of a friend of mine who is from Trinidad (I'm actually unclear about whether he identifies as African American; he's lived in America his whole adult life but grew up elsewhere...in any event, he's certainly black and is outspoken about race in America). On his Twitter feed, he'd re-posted this:

"Dear fellow white people: STOP INVOKING MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. STOP IT. You are exactly the white moderate he disdained."

I followed another link Roger posted, that took me to Gradiant Lair, a website devoted to "Black women + art, media, social media, socio-politics & culture." Trudy (@thetrudz) writes extensively on Gradiant Lair about white people quoting MLK to respond to Michael Brown's death, Darren Wilson's freedom, and the protests and riots. One of the many things she says is:

"Don't even try to critique how Black ppl respond to CENTURIES of State violence, by using MLK who was killed for same reason. Go away."

She also writes:

"Notice Whites won't say 'Shirley Chisholm said' or 'Bayard Rustin said' or 'Miss Major said.' MLK chosen = meme + cishet patriarchy."

I didn't know what "cishet" meant so I looked it up on urban dictionary. This was the entry: "An abbreviation of cisgendered or cissexual heterosexual: a person that identifies as the sex they were born as, and are attracted to people of the sex opposite of theirs, who are usually also cisgendered or cissexual. Mostly used in social justice circles to describe people commenting on LGBT+ matters when they probably shouldn't be."

I also don't know who Shirley Chisholm or Bayard Rustin or Miss Major are. And I can see how my not-knowing those people is part of the problem. I'm quoting someone who wrote decades ago, someone white people like to quote because he was peaceful, or at least his ideology and legacy has been whitewashed to be now considered peaceful--aka, not ultimately a threat to the entrenchment of white power. I'm quoting him because actually I'm profoundly uninformed about contemporary black authors or thinkers or people but I want to do something about Ferguson. So I turn to MLK because I have some vague idea of who he was. And because it's easy to turn to him.

Here's my point. I posted that quote by MLK in good faith. I did it because I am trying to be a good person. And then I read the writings of some contemporary black people and I discovered that at least these particular black people consider it ignorant (at best) to do that. To be a white person invoking MLK, in response to Ferguson. When I read that, I had a choice. I could become defensive and say, "Hey, I did this in good faith. I'm one of the good ones! It's not fair to come down hard on me. I didn't know." Or I could admit that I'm so far out of my depth, so far out of my league, that I actually have no idea what the hell I'm talking about when it comes to race in America.

But here's the thing! I so often get the impression that I know what I'm talking about because I'm so much more informed than almost every white person I know. Just understanding that racism exists in America makes me more informed than dozens of family members and friends. Just seeking out the occasional newspaper article about violence against black people, or listening to the occasional Dead Prez song (is it called a song?), makes me exponentially more informed than almost every white person I know. Just having studied a little Foucault and Derrida in college, and a little feminism (almost definitely all white feminists), and a little epistemology, makes me think I know something about power and privilege. So that then can give me the impression that I actually am very informed and insightful. Which I am not.

I'm a privileged white person. I'm a white person which automatically makes me privileged, and on top of that I grew up economically advantaged, educationally advantaged, etc. I never have to think about race if I don't want to. America is made for me. I talk and smile and move in exactly the way that makes store owners and gas station attendants and waiters and pilots and stewardesses and salesmen open their doors and ask me how they can help. I never, ever get pulled over when I'm driving because of anything about my personhood. The only reason I get pulled over is because I'm speeding, and since I don't speed, I don't get pulled over. If I went to court, I have no doubt I'd be given the benefit of the doubt. If I sit down in a bar, I can pretty much be guaranteed someone will want to buy me a drink. I'm never viewed with suspicion, ever, anywhere I go in America. Maybe I'd be viewed with suspicion in certain places, but it is extremely easy for me to never go to those places or even think about those places. 

As soon as I read that it's not cool to go quoting MLK in response to Ferguson, I wanted to take down my post quoting him. But, a dear friend of mine has recently strongly encouraged me to be more transparent about my own journey, when it comes to race/gender/class. To write specifically about where I'm getting my info, what my stream of thought is, why I think what I think. Rather than just go around criticizing white people for being ignorant (even more ignorant than I am, and I am pretty fucking ignorant).

The other thing that is true is that I do understand something about being on the receiving end of power and privilege because I am a woman who has suffered a lot from patriarchy. This doesn't mean that I therefore automatically understand what it's like to be black in America. One form of oppression isn't the same as another. But it does mean that because my life would have been so very much better if the men around me had taken personally the suffering of myself and other women and had actively resisted it (taking it upon themselves to educate themselves and fight for change, rather than passively allowing sexism to persist and maybe--at the very best--becoming a little bit feminist if sexism was brought to their attention), I therefore want to take personally the suffering of others who have been disempowered, violated, systemically abused and imprisoned and murdered. And I want to work to actively resist those things, to fight for change. But I've got a long, long ways to go. And I need to get up to speed now. (Just like men need to get up to speed now. We women don't have time to wait around and get raped and harassed and beat up and killed while men take their sweet time reading feminist lit.)

I suppose it might be easy to be self-congratulatory for even writing this post. I'm coming to think that self-congratulatoryness is a form of defensiveness. I do feel defensive because I'm white and incredibly privileged and although I've lived in America for a long time I've done almost nothing to fight racism. I'm scared of what that might mean about me. I know there's something suspicious going on with the self-congratulatory urge because I don't feel that urge when it comes to sexism/feminism. I just feel fucking angry. And desperately grieved. Which is the appropriate response to mass harm and injustice.