Friday, February 17, 2017

Reading and Navigating Silences

Silence, like love, comes in many forms.

*

I wake very early in the morning, before the sunrise. I like the silence before the day begins. The stillness. Long before there is any stirring in my house or even out on the street. During the warmer months, I sometimes hear the first birds, but not often. This I how early I wake.

I spend that time meditating and writing. Sometimes they are one and the same. I find that the mind –while it still whirls with endless thoughts—has a slower pace. Of course, that lasts about five minutes before it ramps up. Then I try to return to the breath. Listen to the silence.

In yoga, there is something called Nada Yoga. The inner sound. You hear it when you sit in absolute silence. It’s the sound of the vibration of your very being. (If you’re curious, Google it.)

This silence allows for an opening, an expansion. A connection to the Divine.

*

I grew up a quiet girl.

If you know me, this is very difficult to believe. If you don't know me, well-- I am loud, a bit frenetic. Always urgent. Always trying to do everything at once. And loudly. Sometimes I feel like Hamilton who writes like we're running out of time, writes like tomorrow won’t arrive, writes like we need it to survive.

But I have my quiet moments.

If you take my Asian ethnic identity into account, it's not that hard a stretch to imagine. Asians are notoriously known for our silences. (Though, to be fair, Filipinos, funny enough, are known to be loud Asians.) Plenty is left unsaid. But there is plenty more beneath the surface that is understood. It doesn’t have to be made known with words said aloud. A look is enough. Children, especially girls, are seen –if you’re lucky— and most certainly not heard.

I learned this early on as a kid when I made attempts to communicate with my parents in Tagalog. They immediately insisted on English Only. Also, I was not to speak unless I was first addressed. There were more important adult subjects to discuss at the dinner table. Like that historic moment when Marcos was overthrown and Corey Aquino became president of the Philippines. But they didn’t talk about it to each other. Not really. I just remember excitement in the air. They exuded a feeling of promise and hope for their homeland. If they did talk about it, it was in hushed tones, half sentences. Always in Tagalog. Code that they presumed I didn’t understand.

There were many nights of staring down at my plate, rice swimming in nilaga or tinola broth, wondering when I could be excused. Being silent isn’t easy. But I will venture to say that I’m likely a poet and writer because, in addition to being a bookworm, I had to live in my head to entertain myself during dinner.

I'd like to say that as time has gone by my parents have let go of their affinity for silences, but this, unfortunately, is not the case.

We're not allowed to talk about politics. Ever.

Growing up, my paternal grandfather was a Democrat and his son, my dad, was a Republican. I have no idea how this happened, but this was always how it was. This was my family. I remember times when my grandpa and my dad would get into heated political arguments. Over what? I couldn't tell you. As a kid, I really didn't understand what they were talking about; I just knew that they vehemently disagreed. What's worse is that they were the two most hard-headed stubborn people I knew. The apple didn't fall very far from the tree in that respect. Needless to say, the "conversations" always ended with someone stomping off.

At some point, my grandpa, a WWII veteran, a survivor of the Bataan Death March, a man old and tired, declared that there would be no discussion of politics. Ever.

It seemed like a reasonable rule. Why get all worked up about something like politics? For what purpose? In the end, you're stuck with your family so you might as well make things bearable. Right?

But then November 8, 2016 happened.
Politics are different now. 
They are very real, showing up at the everyday level.

So now what?

My grandpa has been gone 12 years now. It seems I have taken his place as the head-butting liberal in the family. The rule of “don’t talk about politics” still remains in place. But at what cost?

I don’t know. The silence between our words during family gatherings is hard to read. But it definitely feels like a ticking bomb. This is a silence I’d rather not navigate.

So what are my options? What does it mean to be silent in this regard? Is it self-preservation? Or does my silence work as some kind of sanction – that, by not actively disagreeing, I am allowing for agreement?

I think about this with regard to the election and how many people did not vote.

Silence is tricky.

*

Silence can be damaging.

Secrets are tucked in silence. Traumas never spoken sit within and fester. Destroy the heart and soul from the inside out.

Sometimes you need to break that silence. For your own survival.

*

How you do you choose when to speak and when to hold silence?

“There are moments when the words don’t reach. There’s a grace too powerful to name. We push away what we can never understand. We push away the unimaginable.” (from Hamilton's "It's Quiet Uptown")

There is a moment of knowing that words are insufficient, when silence is a comfort. A hand on top of another’s shoulder. An embrace.

There are moments when speaking the words aloud are too scary. After all, you can’t unsay them. What would happen if you released them into the air like an escaped balloon?

The worst kind of silence is when you let your imagination run away from you and you start to build a narrative in your head that doesn’t exist in reality, but somehow you convince yourself that it is real. You invent conversations, predict responses. To what end? Why not just speak?

*

This morning, I was restless. Reading silences, inventing narratives to fill the gaps. But then it occurred to me: be still, surrender to the moment, trust that something will emerge from the black hole of silence.

Surrender. Trust. Love.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Meditation on Love

This is Essay #6 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished) essay each week during 2017.

*

I love you.

I've been saying this a lot lately. To everyone in my life. Sometimes it's said as a farewell, a goodnight. Sometimes it's said as reminder, lest we take our loved ones for granted. Sometimes, it's said out of urgency, as if one of us were going to die that day. (Our current political climate has that kind of effect.)

In the days leading up to the inauguration, I emailed and texted almost everyone I knew and told them I loved them. I felt like the world was going to explode and that my people would never know how much I loved them. It was important to me that they knew this. I’ve lost too many people in my life to whom I’ve failed to profess my love. Why deprive others of this beautiful gift?

*

What is love?

I know: a question that everybody asks. To the point that it’s a cliché. But one that really has no singular answer. Still, we recognize it when we see it. In a gesture: a father helping his disabled son put on his coat. An embrace between friends. One hand slipped into another. And of course: a kiss.

We also recognize it when we feel it. For the most part. Well, maybe. It depends on what kind of love you’re talking about. The Greeks had seven words for seven kinds of love. Sometimes infatuation is mistaken for romantic love. It takes practice to discern these things.

Love is a vastness with infinite variations, endless manifestations. The effects of which are just as multifaceted. Like a polished and cut gem.

We can take love further and bring in divine love and cosmic love. Both of which are spiritual experiences and create similar, if not stronger, more intense feelings.

On this site that has the lyrics to Hamilton’s “It’s Quiet Uptown”, there’s a remark about the song that has stuck with me: “humanity’s terrible and infinite capacity for love”.

Oh, how true.

*

These days I am caught between feeling creative and destructive. Between loving the world and breaking it apart. Between hugging someone and wanting to kick their ass. Literally. Fists raised, wide stance, front leg ready to kick. I move like a pendulum between the two. Create. Destroy. The vibrational energy of my body rises and falls in waves. Sometimes in small movements like the easy break at the shoreline on a calm summer day. Other times there are huge swells and crashes of a storm out in the deep sea.

This makes it very hard to navigate the real shit of daily life.

Last night, I was trying to write in a coffee shop while my oldest was at basketball practice. There were two women sitting at the table next to me. When a third woman approached them, my vibrational energy escalated. She had good energy but it was crazy for me to even pick it up to that extent. It was like someone had turned on a switch inside me.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. And not the most intense either.

The other day, my friend Marina asked me if I was an empath. We were at a reiki community share where Himalayan crystal healing bowls were being played. The sounds activated my energy. I had to sit on the floor against a wall to ground myself. I felt like I’d fly away if I didn’t. No one ever asked me that question before: am I an empath? Generally speaking, I’ve known that I’m super-sensitive to things around me, but I thought that was just part and parcel of being a poet. You know: in tune with the world and all that. Only recently have I heard the term empath to describe a person as someone who is extremely empathetic to others to the point that their physical being is affected. Hmm. I was curious, so I took the first online test that Google gave me. I had no idea whether this test was legitimate or not, but I just wanted to see.

Apparently, I’m an empath. It also turns out that I’m very bad at protecting my energy and aura. Uh, yeah. Duh.

Onyx mala beads, anyone?

*

What’s it like to love so widely? To love unabashedly? This is a question I’ve been considering. It sounds terrifying. Especially considering “humanity’s terrible and infinite capacity” for it. You see that? Terrible! Who wants to participate in that? And yet, despite this, I am compelled to love, to radiate that love out into the world, even if it leaves me vulnerable, exposed to potential hurt. (Maybe that’s why I swing back to destruction – maybe a kind of defense mechanism?)

But also: how do you love the people you already love even more? How do you grow love? How do you nurture it? It’s always changing, shifting, growing, even diminishing. Perhaps it’s like a garden: you need to tend to it with light, a little water, some good soil. 

My dearest sweetest friend, Ross, whom I love so so much, says: "Attend to what you love. Love is the engine to our own poetry."

What more is there than love and our own life’s poetry?
  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Perspective, Exhaustion and Other Observations

This is Essay #5 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished) essay each week during 2017.

A friend of mine told me about this abandoned lot he saw in Philly, fenced in, with vegetation growing all over the place. He told me he noticed the trash thrown in there: cans, plastic bags, newspaper bits and the like. He also used the word "invasive" to describe the vegetation. So, I asked him: which came first -- the plant life or the trash? Maybe, I suggested, the vegetation is Mother Nature coming back to reclaim what's hers. He hadn't considered that.

Perspective.

What are we looking at? From where are we looking? Where do we stand? Can we relocate ourselves to different positions of placement in order to see other angles (aka empathy)? Can we even try? Are these questions we even ask ourselves?

I think this is what has been lacking --an acknowledgement of different perspectives-- especially now, during this surreal time in the US. 


*

Yoga philosophy encourages the practice of compassion and loving-kindness. That’s kinda hard to do when you’re mad at people. Also hard when it’s the people who need compassion the most (maybe even empathy) are the ones out to harm you.

Yoga Sutra 1.33 says to cultivate attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion towards the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard (or equanimity) toward the non-virtuous (or wicked) to retain undisturbed calmness.

How does one do this when the world demands that you stay outraged? (There is a hashtag after all.) How do you sustain inner serenity?

And then, how do you create and maintain boundaries to protect yourself?

*

Last week, I shared my essay on marching as a woman of color with a group of women writers. I was looking for ways to polish my piece as I know it’s messy and frayed at the edges. Instead of getting feedback on the essay, I was met with knee-jerk reactions of defensiveness from the white women in the group. “That’s not me.” “I didn’t vote for him.” “How can you lump people into one monolithic group?”

I was accused of being divisive, especially during a time when “we should all be coming together”.

I’m so tired of hearing that language. Can we take a step back for a minute? Look at the history of this country. Who invented the nation’s social structure that is built on division?

Against my better judgment, I actually tried to answer some of their questions, but was interrupted. They said I was alienating my audience. I reminded them of the title of the essay: “Marching as a Woman of Color”. I asked them: who do you think is my audience? 

Silence.

But then they continued. “If you want to be inclusive…”

I kept my mouth shut. At that point, I had to decide: is it worth my energy to educate these women on how they are exercising their white privilege in that very moment by insisting on themselves as the center? Or is self-preservation more important? I was angry that I had to make this kind of decision in the first place, but: welcome to being a person of color in this country. I decided that I needed to take care of myself, seeing as that I was getting ganged up on. Two of my WOC friends were absent that day –and I’m sure I would’ve been heard had they been there to back me up. (Again: it makes me angry that it has to be that way, that in order to be heard we need to have more than one POC speak up.)

In the end, my perspective was entirely overlooked. To the point that it was dismissed, rendered invisible. Even after I pointed this out. Even after I insisted.

The tone-deafness and ducking of accountability was stunning.

*

Then there’s gaslighting.

Someone asked me about my reaction to the white woman at the march, the one who told me to take deep breaths. Maybe, this person suggested, that woman was just a jerk, inserting herself into my conversation with my friend. True. That’s a possibility.

BUT

Why do you even have to question my view of how *I* experience the world? Why do you have to question whether or not this has to do with race? My very existence is rooted in looking at the world through a racial lens thanks to the white patriarchal hegemony. Why can't you just say, "I'm sorry that happened to you"?

I am fucking tired.
Have I said this already?

*

My heart aches.

A caving in of my chest
hollowed out by hurt.

I am falling apart.

Trying to hold it together
in the face of (in)(di)visible destruction.
So many questions.
Being questioned.
Questioning.
Of self.
Of others.

I alternate between being a pillar of strength 
and a soft vulnerable child.

I am tired of fighting.
Of justifying my experience as a woman of color.
Of everything.

My heart aches.

How can I nurture my spirit when all I feel is the breaking of my heart?

And then someone says: how do you know it’s breaking? 
How do you know it’s not just heartburn or indigestion?

I am living it.

Are you sure? Maybe it’s something else. Maybe you’re imagining the heartbreak.

Then why am I crying?

You’re too sensitive.

And you are trying 
to destroy me 
by erasing me. 
I refuse 
to let that happen.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Marching as a Woman Of Color

This is Essay #4 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new essay each week during 2017.

Since Saturday, I've written about 3000+ words (that's about 12 pages, double-spaced, but probably more) about the Women's March. Some words were addressed to certain people in emails, some were words written in my journal to process what I experienced. And here I am, writing more about it.

I've started this post at least four different ways. Probably more.

Why? Because there's just so much. So so much.

About a week before the march, I decided to participate. This, after two months of saying I wasn't. (Read here for more on why I changed my mind.) And so I made the preparations necessary. First up: I needed a marching buddy. Second: I needed a sign to carry. Third: I needed an organization to march with for safety reasons (I wanted to be sure someone official could account for me should something happen.) This was by no means my first protest.

By Friday night, the night before the march, all was in place. I was marching with my friend, Samara, who is Iraqi-Anerican and her friend, Jennifer, a black woman. Three other friends from their neighborhood were also going to be part of our group -- three white women.

I went to Staples and had them enlarge a poster created by artist, Molly Crabapple, that quotes Audre Lorde: "Your silence will not protect you".  My sign, bold and colorful and fierce, was ready.  A friend commented: Damn, that is badass. Yes. Yes it is. It's Audre Fucking Lorde. Expect nothing less.

Another friend got me registered with Sanctuary for Families -- organization affiliation? Check.

I was ready.

At least as much as I could be.
There are always unexpected things for which we cannot prepare.

On the train into the city, there were a lot of white women jabbering away, holding their signs, wearing their pink pussyhats. You'd think I'd be excited by this, by this showing of women who were willing to go to the streets and protest this new administration. But I wasn't. I was suspicious. I hate to admit this --and maybe this is cynicism, but maybe not-- but I looked at these women and wondered: are you doing this because it's trendy? Because it's the cool thing to do? Where were you on November 8th? Did you actually vote? Or did you stay home thinking she had it in the bag? And now that you've woken up from your dream, do you think marching for one day in the streets of Manhattan is going to actually change things?

I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth, but if history is any indication, I worry that this is a one-time thing. Activist for a day. And then hashtag the shit out of it. And then disappear.

I pushed those thoughts away. Or at least I tried. I wanted to give this demographic of women the benefit of the doubt. After all, if we're going to incite real change, we need their help.

But I couldn't ignore the fact that in the massive crowds of women --and men! There was quite a good showing of men-- that there were very few people of color. And this is New York City where I'm used to seeing so many brown faces. All I saw, aside from my two friends, was a sea of white. With pink-capped heads. (Which, by the way, bugged the shit out of me because it felt like an empty gesture, a symbol without real meaning or significance. It was a gimmick. I'll admit that initially, I thought: oh, how cute -- maybe I'll make one too. But then: what the fuck?? Cute?! We're talking about people's rights to fucking survive, to fucking LIVE, preferably without fear. A hat isn't anything. What does a hat symbolize? Not a goddamn thing! A raised fist means fight. A hat? A fucking hat?? Uggghh! And it's fucking PINK. Must we continue to reinforce gender constructs with PINK?!? Come on!! Uggghhh!!!)

As far as the signs people carried, there were very few that had messages demanding racial equality & social justice. I felt like my sign was the most radical with Audre Lorde's face looking out at you severely, demanding you to speak.

A few folks told me they loved my sign, which I appreciated. Others snapped photos of me & my sign, which I wasn't comfortable with. I had a battle in my head about this.

It's a protest. Of course, people are going to take pictures to document this moment. But why did I respond differently to different photographers? A woman of color took our photo and talked to us while we marched. She wished us luck as she headed on to her next photo opportunity. A white-haired white woman took my photo as I marched by as if I were a specimen in my natural habitat. Like an animal in the wild or something. She was detached --an observer-- and not engaged at all. It was weird. I wanted to turn around and tell her to delete my photo from her camera or to tell me where she was planning to share that photo or if she had a form for me to fill out and give her permission to take my photo. Or even just ask her what she thought of my sign -- why did she like it enough to snap a shot? Does she know who Audre Lorde is? Then I had a moment of panic: what if she was working for the alt-right, looking for shit to skew into fake news / alternative facts, and make me part of that disgusting narrative? Ugh!

I tried to ignore these observations. I tried to stay focused on my purpose: to show up and make it known that I am here and that I am demanding to be heard.

That was really hard.

It's hard to do that when white women carry themselves as more important than you, when they take up space in ways that tell you you are not as important.

At the beginning of the day, we were in the holding area on 47th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, waiting for the police to open the barricades so that we could join the flow of the march at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. It was crowded, packed like sardines. I was doing my best to sustain a positive energy, to not think about exit strategies in the event of an emergency (would I get trampled?), to take deep breaths. We had been standing there for about two hours with very little progress. I made an off-handed comment to Samara about people's patience running out (because, well, that's human nature), that they needed to let some people into the march to release this build up of marchers. It was more an observation than anything else. Then this white woman in her late sixties decides to insert herself into our chitchat by saying, with a tone of condescension: no, that's not going to happen -- just take deep breaths. I gave a look to Samara that said: who the fuck is she to tell me what to do? Up until that point, I was fine, breathing, staying patient. But now this woman is telling me what to do (as opposed to making a suggestion) and my patience was close to breaking. I didn't respond, tried to turn away from her (though I couldn't fully do that -- it was that packed), and took a deep breath. This white woman then made efforts to wiggle her way forward to join her friend a few inches ahead. Because, you know, we weren't going to the same place for the same purpose or anything like that. I reached into my bag and whipped out my lavender oil. I offered it to Samara and Jennifer as well. I listened for the echo of my protection chant in my mind (Earbuds in, I had played it all morning while I got ready at home). I needed to strengthen my personal forcefield. And to calm down.

Soon, we got tired of waiting and decided to join the march on our own terms. We turned around and made our way through the crowd to get back out onto Third Avenue. What I kept noticing was that white women were pushing through the crowd as if their time and space was more important than anyone else's. I don't know how many times a white woman tried to push past me. It took a lot for me to just keep it together. To not shove back. To not spit some angry energy. To do that, I kept reminding myself, would not be useful. Not in this moment. Later, I told myself, later you will write about it.

Others have since commented on the "peacefulness" of the march. What struck me during the march was something I heard from different people in the crowd: the NYPD pretty much gave up on trying to keep us on the route. They shrugged and let folks walk wherever they wanted, even if it meant shutting down traffic (which we did). Now, had this been a Black Lives Matter march, there's NO WAY IN HELL the NYPD would've allowed that. Veer off course? No fucking way. So yeah, white bodies kept my brown body safe. To a certain extent. The microaggressions were still there.

What made it harder for me was the three white women marching with us.

While I'm sure they mean well and have good intentions, I couldn't be myself. Not fully, not wholly. And that bugged the shit out of me.

A day before the march, I emailed a friend of mine, a white woman, about white privilege. She had gone ahead and found me a marching buddy without asking me. She assumed that it'd be okay for this stranger to join my group. I had to tell her, no, it wasn't okay. I didn't know this woman's politics outside of wanting to march. Was she a true ally? Or would I have to babysit *and* educate? I wasn't interested in spending my time and energy in this way during the march. I told my friend that this "found marching buddy" couldn't come with me. She responded in a productive way: in a kind of tiny awakening and understanding of where I stood -- she apologized and hoped that her ignorance didn't hurt our friendship. I think she's a little bit more aware now, which is good. Also, I didn't have to march with a white woman stranger.

But now here I was marching with three white women strangers. Sure, they were friends with Samara, but I didn't know the extent of their awareness and knowledge. And while I do not like to police my thoughts when it comes to social justice, I found myself doing that to a certain extent. For a couple of reasons: self-protection (would they try to dismiss how I was feeling? What my lived experiences are? as white folks are wont to do) and energy preservation (would I need to educate them?). This, in and of itself, is exhausting.

After the march, we got a bite to eat. Once the food orders were in, someone asked: what now? In that moment, I had all sorts of feelings. What do you mean "what now"? Didn't you think about that when you decided to march? Are you asking because you truly don't know? Or because you need ideas and suggestions? I held my breath. I didn't know which way I wanted to respond. I wanted to take a moment to step back. I also wanted to wait and see what the others might say.

Silence.

Are you fucking kidding me??

(I know, I know! I'm not practicing this yoga teaching: to meet people where they are. But I'm just so fucking tired of it all! Fucking. Tired.)

I took a deep breath.

Suck it up, I told myself. Here's an opportunity to mobilize these women into action. Be the fucking educator already. Just for this moment.

So I exhaled a series of suggestions on the kinds of actions to take. The Women's March itself also has a list of 10 actions for the next 100 days here. I don't know if they'll do anything, but at least I did my part by offering some knowledge.

It's the small actions that build up into bigger, longer lasting effects.

Even if it means I have to invest more emotional energy than white women.

I'm going to keep fighting for social justice, as I've always done. I just hope white women will step up beyond their activist-for-a-day and join the fight in earnest.



Saturday, January 14, 2017

Action: Show Up

This is Essay #3 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new essay each week during 2017.

The other day, while having drinks with a friend, I leaned over the bar and whispered, half-jokingly, to my bartender-friend, Matt: "We're all dead after January 20th". He laughed, but with that knowing look of agreement.

This opened up a conversation about the Women's March on January 21st. He asked if I was going. I told him that I wasn't. I've been ambivalent about the march since it was first conceived in the early post-election days. First, it was about my own personal safety. On November 9th, I couldn’t even leave my house. I was that scared. But I forced myself to at least go to therapeutic yoga; if anything, to find a moment to connect with myself and others in a spiritually supportive space. On my way, I saw a pick-up truck with a DT bumper sticker in front of me at a red light. Another car pulled up to its right. The driver rolled down his window and pumped his fist, shouting “We did it”, to the driver in front of me. I couldn’t breathe. He then drove up to the next car up, which apparently had a similar bumper sticker, because he did the same thing to that driver. I felt my body freeze in tension.

If I couldn’t even feel safe driving to my local yoga studio, how could I possibly feel safe among hundreds of thousands of people in a demonstration in the capital of this nation that has chosen a demagogue to lead us? (“Lead” is definitely not the right word here. “Rule over us” might be better.) I’ve always been a political activist and eager to participate in various protests, but this was different. This was bigger. I knew it was important for me to be part of this, but I also had to think about self-preservation. I am now a mother and have to consider how my activist actions might affect my family.

There was also a lot of drama wrapped up in the march itself: from the change-up in organizers to the co-opting of the Black women's march in 1997 (and even the historic MLK march) to women of color, generally, being unheard. (Read more here.) But this was the main thing for me: there was no clear message. What were we marching for? Was there a specific agenda? Who was going to speak, if anyone? What would they speak about? If we were marching for general women's rights (equal pay, the right to choose, etc.), then why did I, a woman of color, not feel included in this conversation?

Over the past year, I’ve had a problem with white feminism and the ways in which they are short-sighted and, often times, oblivious to their privilege. How they haven’t seen the ways in which they’ve excluded women of color from the discussion. There are better-versed people to articulate this. You've got Google -- go check it out.

Then the election happened. And white women gave the president-elect their votes. Even *after* the pussy tapes came out.

What. The. Fuck.

In an instant, everyone’s true selves were exposed to the world. The curtain wasn’t just drawn back – it was torn down, ripped right off the rod. The racists came out of hiding and terrorized anyone with brown skin. The misogynists came out and tried grabbing women and girls between their legs. People started breaking off long-time friendships; families weren’t talking to each other. It was a stark white (pun? you decide!) wake-up call.

I found myself angry at a lot of people, but not bold enough to face them. I simply withdrew from them. It sounds like the coward’s way, but, not only did it feel like too much work that would likely fall on deaf ears, I really felt outnumbered and unsafe. Where I live, DT lawn signs were rampant en route to driving my kids to school everyday. It gave me anxiety. I live in a Red county in the middle of a Blue state. Go figure.

Essentially, I’ve spent the past two months in hiding. Only talking to like-minded folks. Usually online (Facebook, email, blogs). (I realize that change can only come by reaching outside of our circles, but again, I wasn’t feeling ready for that just yet.) I engaged at minimal levels with those I must. Keeping conversations brief and only about the matter at hand. Politics was tucked away in a small box, in a dark corner.

Of course, I kept myself informed and signed various petitions and did what I could from the safety of my laptop. But overall? I’ve just been trying to keep myself together. (It doesn’t help that yoga teacher training is working to pull me apart and dismantle me. But that’s another conversation.)

And now, here we are, a week out from The Apocalypse. (I know, the language is dramatic –possibly inflated-- but it feels necessary in this moment.) I am feeling anxious. Not in a “I am unsafe” kind of way. But in a “I need to DO something” kind of way. The digital signing of petitions feels empty. The online conversations are great, but I now feel a need to be physically engaged. To take physical action. And I feel ready to do that now.

So, when Matt started that conversation about the Women’s March, I was reminded of the march against the war on Iraq after September 11th. I told him I was there, freezing my ass off in the streets of Manhattan with friends, protesting and standing up for what I thought was right. The look on his face –one of inspiration perhaps?—reminded me of how important it was to take action. Real action. This is what it takes to inspire people to take actions of their own. And before you know it, it gets contagious, it builds, and then whammo! We’ve got a movement.

Over the past two months, I’ve been working on cultivating my personal force field. I think it’s strong enough where I can go out into the world and march. To demonstrate. To show that I AM HERE: I am living and breathing and I give a shit about the world I live in. Sure, the actual march might not change legislation in the instant ways that we are used to in this social media era, but it’s important to DO SOMETHING. Even if it’s only symbolic. Even if it's complicated, as politics often are (I still have issue with white feminism.). Even if the shitheads in office disregard us (though they need to be reminded that we put them there). We, the people, need to speak up. But you can’t expect to be heard if you don’t even show up.

So I’m going out and I’m going to show up. I’m ready to fight. To march. To shout. Make my fucking voice heard.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Essay #2 of the 52

The second essay is too sensitive to post publicly. If I know you & you want to read, reach out.

For my kind readers who I don't know, Essay #3 is coming! And I think (I *think*) it will be public. One can never be sure of the writing process.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Old Days

This is Essay #1 of The 52 Essay challenge, a series in which I write a new essay each week for 2017.

The first day of a new year and I'm talking about the old days? It happens. We take inventory of the year that had just ended, wondering what to change, where to improve, what we missed, where we want to go. At least I do.

Yesterday was a friend's birthday. And I think about what that must be like: to celebrate your entrance to the world at the crossroads of beginnings and endings. As I write this, I'm reminded of his birth story, one filled with magic, one in which a midwife appeared out of nowhere to aid his mother in the birth (as no one was around - everyone was counting down to midnight) and then vanish.

I sent him birthday wishes and we ended up having a brief exchange over email. One comment he made was about missing the old days. Before social media. Before the hyper-careerism of creative writing. When writing workshops were all heart. When writing was all heart.

This made me think about my own writing. Is the heart still there? I'd like to think so but I'm not immune to the effects of careerism -- I see it everywhere and wonder if there's something to that. But then I look at the work that's being produced and realize: nah, there's nothing*. It's empty language. Slight of hand. Linguistic gymnastics. No heart. But that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about beginnings. And endings. And how I am nostalgic for a less complicated time.

(*Yes, grand sweeping generalization. We're adults. We know there are exceptions.)

A few days ago, a writer friend reminded me of our time at VONA when it was in San Francisco -- USF to be exact. He reminded me of skipping --SKIPPING!-- down the street, three of us locked arm in arm like kids, on our way to the Haight, singing Carpenters songs. Rainy days and Mondays always get me down, but that day it wasn't raining and I don't think it was a Monday, so I'm pretty sure it was spectacular.

This was before Facebook was born.

We were present. We engaged with each other: eye contact, small gestures of touching - an elbow cupped, a hand along the small of the back, linked arms. And dancing. Lots of dancing. So much fun, sweaty, barely-lit club dancing. We wrote hard, exposed-our-inner-souls kind of hard. And then we danced hard. We hardly slept. It's a wonder I survived those two weeks.

The USF Lone Mountain campus was a rapid changing climate (they say there's some crazy number of different micro-climates in the city of SF). The mornings were cold and full of fog. I imagined that London might be like this. By 2 o'clock, there was sun and clear blue sky as expansive as a blank page, a fresh notebook. And if we went to the Haight (which we often did), it was downright hot. After all, it was late June. Those mornings, I forgot it was summer at all.

In workshop, I'd hunker down to write at the start of each session with the given prompt. I was eager to get back to my poet self. I spent a year away from her, trying to turn her into an academic scholar in the PhD program at UC-Santa Cruz. I thought I could be both poet and scholar but by the end of that first year, I had left the poet behind in some ditch on the 17, that treacherous freeway of sharp curves and sudden climbs and drops through a mountain. A road upon which I took two fellow poets to the beach after our first VONA week. (Later, one told me that she feared for her life, gripping the passenger door's handle white-knuckle hard, as I took each curve with the approach of a NASCAR driver. I remember those adrenaline rushes, the control I wielded over my car. It was fun for me. Apparently not for my passengers.) I didn't know I had forgotten that poet self. Until VONA.

Each day of workshop, we'd write. We'd push ourselves to dig deeper. Our workshop facilitator, Ruth Forman, gave us no choice. She demanded it of us. Later, we'd look at the poems we brought, try to locate the heat, the core of each poem. We helped each other excavate. Uncover the farthest reaches, reveal glimmers of gold. So yes, there was plenty of crying. But more importantly, there was plenty of heart.

Now, a decade and a half later, I find myself missing those days when everything felt infinitely possible. Yes, things are still possible -- it just takes a little more effort on my part to see past the obstacles. And in this political climate, it's even more crucial to seize possibility, crack it open, and share it.

As the new year kicks off, I want to see if I can get back that bright-eyed possibility through the cold fog that 2016 left behind. To dig deeper into the work but also into my life. To be engaged with elbows and sweaty bodies dancing in the half-dark, small of the back guided by my heart. All heart. All. Heart.