Midwestern Soul

Part of my job is to help facilitate “street retreats,” which are the foundational practice of the Faithful Fools. Participants (typically people who are housed and roughly middle-class) spend a day walking the streets of the Tenderloin, eating lunch in one of the soup kitchens, and observing what arises in themselves. What fears, what judgments, what surprises. Yesterday, we hosted a retreat for 23 students from the University of Montana, sending them out into the streets with the day’s mantra: “What holds us separate? What keeps us separated? As we walk the streets, what still connects us?”

Now, I’ll be honest. I saw myself as very much separate from these people. Yes, my bias against “flyover country” reared its head. These middle-America white folks are about to be scandalized, I thought. Horrified at the unChristian hustles of the big-city neighborhood. Let’s just hope they don’t run into a trans sex worker.

I also had low expectations about the group reflection that would end the day. The Tenderloin is the most diverse neighborhood in one of the most diverse cities in one of the most diverse states. Would these Montannnins be open to seeing and appreciating its nuances?

And wouldn’t you know it. This turned out to be quite the brilliant, thoughtful, insightful, and yes, soulful group. Wonderful reflections. Courageous. Allowing themselves to be vulnerable with the rest of us, enthusiastic about all that they witnessed during the day, and eager to translate the learning back into their lives at school. Just fabulous.

And so, even though I spent the day indoors, making soup and bread for the post-reflection meal, I got my own taste of the street retreat: challenging my own judgments, and rediscovering the truth in the Faithful Fools’ credo: “On the streets we discover our common humanity.”

Hats off to these Midwestern fools.

Online Mindfulness And Facebook Meditation

Loved this post from American Buddhist Perspective.  Sometime this week I think I’ll finally have a minute to offer a list of my own favorite “mindful blogging” spaces.  This entry is a prime example: a blogging praxis that creates a tight dialectical relationship between online and offline life, encouraging and enhancing mindfulness — present awareness, plus hopefully wisdom and compassion — in both.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

You Are No Longer Following Buddha

Mindfulness in a techno-buzz-twit-book world.

Thanks, Google, for simply negating my last nine years of study and practice as a so-called Buddhist. Now that I am no longer following Buddha, what will I do? No white letters in cool blue bubbles fade in from the background to tell me.

Sorry Buddha, but the Google Ads in Buzz was uncool. I don’t mind them on websites (to a degree), I don’t mind them on blogs (you can find some here and buy me coffee by clickin ’em), but in buzz, they’re uncool.

In fact I’m not really sold on Buzz as a whole. I’m told that people are following me that I didn’t even know about. My girlfriend told me it forced her to follow me. I chuckle. That’s just so wrong. Who, or what algorithm at the world’s smartest company, is making these decisions?

Twitter (follow me….) has won my heart because most of my blogosphere friends are there. It allows a nice combination of headlines for our mutual blog posts, as well as something of a community chat function for discussion and banter. Not to mention news stories hand-selected by like-minded folks for me to read. Can’t beat that. If twitter is ever clogged with ads like my Buzz today, that too may need to go.

Facebook (add me…) still gets a fair amount of my daily attention, but is growing into a sort of bloated colorful cousin to twitter. I prefer twitter more (I find myself aimlessly meandering on facebook way too often) for its compact, quickly moving aesthetic. What it has and twitter lacks is all of my real (IRL) friends from over the years which makes any annoyances more than worth it. Besides, I should take the opportunities to be mindful in the colorful environment of facebook more seriously. Limiting my daily time. Being purposeful. Focused. And when meandering, just as in meditation, to simply catch it – gently – and ‘come back’ to my main page.

at 9:48 PM Labels: , , ,

Trans Resistance, Bloggers’ Rights, and My Best Rainy-Day Soup

After the happy madness of last week (school deadlines, dog-sitting, asleep by midnight and up by 4 some mornings for work, the Fools’ annual fundraising dinner — which involved, among other delights, facepaint, paella, and what seemed like six hours of assembling empanaditas), I’m ready to welcome the relative calm and spaciousness of April.  Off to a great start yesterday, with the second gathering of a super-solid and heartwarming Marxist feminist study group, right up in the Fools’ Court.

Today, I’m re-anchoring myself with a few staples.

  • A leisurely morning with Ryan.
  • Reading. (Check this great article, “The Nonprofit Industrial Complex and Trans Resistance”  — thanks to Eva for the tip!)
  • Meditating.
  • Feasting on the veggie soup I made last night in a fit of domesticity following a week of no home cooking.
  • Maybe a little yoga.
  • And as a bonus, a lecture at Golden Gate Law School on bloggers’ rights.  (Which is especially neat since I got a sweet little reminder/invite from a couple of friends I made when teaming up with the law school’s ACLU club in the buildup organizing for SF March 4th.)

Nothing big; all good.

Hope your week’s off to a lovely start, too!

Friendly Flirtations

For a couple of years now I’ve been conscientiously experimenting with different responses to lines from men on the street or in public places.  Ignoring them, getting pissed, smiling and walking on, smiling and saying thanks.  Lots of female-bodied friends of mine experience unsolicited hollering from men, and we all have our own way of dealing with it to best preserve our personal mental health.  (Though this also gets wrapped up, at times, with a sense of social responsibility to make public spaces safer and more comfortable for all women…)

If you ask me, building sex-positive cultures doesn’t mean suppressing the urge to play, but challenging and reformulating our own basic notions of sex as a contest, power struggle, necessary outlet, or primary source of self-worth.  From that perspective, the American Apparel posters in my neighborhood, and the extent to which I allow them to impact my sense of self, might prove more dehumanizing than the dude on the corner who tells me I’m beautiful.

In my case, I rely a lot on my gut instincts rather than a strict rule, but tend to lean toward friendliness since (a) smiling feels better to me than scowling, and (b) ultimately what I want are real relationships with all kinds of people.  Finding a way to push past the sexualized overtones, especially with some of the men I see around my block on the regular, opens up more spaciousness, an opportunity for better connection.

Anyway, I love hearing, from folks of all sorts of genders, the different forms and levels of stranger flirtation that can actually feel fun and sweet. Here, two music videos (classix!) that show what respectful play might sound like.  (Hint: asking questions seems to be a key theme.)  Hat tips to Ryan and Jamal for the YouTubeage, and Noa for recent great conversations on this complex topic.

[Ps: lead-in track, “Ladies Love Cool JB (Innerlube Two),” from homo-hop pioneers D/DC: self-described “bourgeois, boho, post-post-modern, African-American, homie-sexual, counter-hegemonic, anti-imperialist, Renaissance Negroes stalling your cipher.”]

A Woman’s Work = Non-Profits?

From a Facebook Note I wrote last night.  (Friend me if we’re not friends already!)

Dear lovely people,

I hope this note finds you well! I’m writing it at the end of an exhausting day of work — cooking, grocery shopping, driving, hosting, facilitating — when all my body wants to do is sleep, but my mind’s got other plans.

Since reading Selma James’ “Sex, Race, and Class” and another work of hers and Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s (“The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community“), both offered this week through a rad study group here in the Bay, I’ve been considering parallels between the role of nonprofits (like the one I work for, in exchange for room and board) and the un-waged domestic/reproductive/social labor of (mostly) women, as James and Della Costa explain it. Wanted to share my thoughts with y’all– as always, your insights are tremendously appreciated.

Arundhati Roy names a process by which NGO’s, in ministering to the needs created by gaps in both private and public capitalist enterprise, chill the potential for social resistance. “Non-profits’ real contribution is that they defuse political anger and dole out as aid or benevolence what people ought to have by right.” Folks who work for non-profits often acknowledge that their efforts amount to a Band-Aid approach: covering up the problem, but failing to reach its root causes. But Roy seems to reject the Band-Aid analogy. A metaphor she’d choose might be more like: taking painkillers to ‘heal’ a broken leg. The immediate pain might be numbed, but by continuing to walk on the leg, you’re only worsening the injury.

Similarly, Della Costa and James argue that both trade unions and nuclear families trap us in this painkiller predicament:

Like the trade union [or non-profit, in this case], the family protects the worker, but also ensures that he and she will never be anything but workers. And that is why the struggle of the woman of the working class against the family is crucial.

Unlike trade unions, though, which address the conditions of masculinized wage labor, non-profits often seem to institutionalize the work traditionally associated with feminized labor performed within the family. Need a hot meal? A soup kitchen will serve you one. Sick? A clinic will treat you. Want to come home to a lovely garden? No need to rely on Grandma or the wife: your local eco-NGO will build a permaculture paradise for the whole neighborhood.

There are exceptions, of course, like hotel worker unions which may parallel feminized family housework, or media non-profits that are basically mainstream corporations with an opportunistic tax status. But overall, I’m struck by the resemblance. Is the non-profit an incorporated version of James’ and Della Costa’s working-class woman? Complete with moral imperatives to ‘nurture,’ or in this case, ‘serve the community,’ all the while scraping by on allowances wheedled from donor husbands and grantmaker sugar daddies?

I know a lot of us are thinking and living similar questions right now, and I just wanted to share my own musings. Thank you for all the inspiration and strength you give me! I love all of you and miss those I don’t get to see.

hugs and more hugs,


And let’s not forget that NGO work doesn’t replace the “second shift” of unpaid housework!  After coming home from the non-profit you still gotta wash dishes.  (In my case, throughout the day at the non-profit.  And we wash lots of people’s dishes.)

Happy Monday!



A Fool Family Affair

Friends, there’s so much goodness in my life that I don’t get to communicate here, and wish that I could.  Every day, so many small moments, big questions.  But this particular goodness, I’m very happy to be able to share.

The gist: a week or so ago, Abby, one of the Faithful Fools, got bedbugs.  Not a fun enterprise.  And though, to her enduring credit, she handled it like a champ, it’s still an enormous challenge for anyone to face — both logistically and emotionally.

So at a time like this, what do Fools do?  Band together to completely clean out her entire studio apartment, carpeted with what looked like five years of cat hair.  (From a very cute kitty, I might add.) Host her and said kitty while the place got fumigated.  And then, tonight, throw a laundry party at her local coin-op, Amybelle’s Wash N Dry.  How’s that for (unpaid) co-worker camaraderie?

Have a wonderful weekend, y’all. ‘Til next week!

The Grass Is Always Greener When You Let Go Of Your Lawn Complex

Driving with my parents and pooch through Amador County yesterday, surrounded by snowy mountain horizons and idyllic “Gold Country” scenes, I breathed the deep sigh of the escaped innercitydweller.  At the same time, I found myself thinking of the difficulties of rural living.

Dusting all the “quaint” knickknacks on display in your one-street-town storefront.  Chopping firewood with a bad back.  The lack of “cultura,” as a new mexicana friend describes her life at the University of Wyoming — which, in its more insidious aspects, may relate to the faint queasiness in my gut whenever we had to stop the car and ask a sinewy old white man for directions.  (They were all perfectly sweet, incidentally.)  Absent indigenous people; invisible immigrant laborers.

Not knocking the Sutter Creek set, of course — simply checking my own tendency to romanticize the gorgeous, sweet-breezed setting.  And rather than spoiling the enjoyment, my negative observations ballasted and strengthened my experience.  Free from craving and projection of fantasies, the day felt even more poignant, more precious, more vivid. A truly beautiful afternoon.