What Do You See?

These images come from “Women of Egypt,” a Facebook collection by Leil-Zahra Mortada, someone I don’t know but to whom I’m grateful.

There are so many powerful photos emerging now. These three from Mortada’s album especially resonated with me. How we view the stories in them depends so much, I think, on our own (often complex) experiences with police, and our analysis of state violence.

Class Traitors, Class Transitions

I wonder whether Moses, after being kicked out of the palace and downgraded to the slave caste, ever felt nostalgic for his royal upbringing. Same for Siddhartha, who left his princehood by choice and became an ascetic. Did St. Francis of Assisi, who shunned his cloth merchant inheritance, ever miss strutting down a 13th-century street in a fly outfit? What was it like for St. Clare, a follower of Francis, to abandon her landowner life and found the Order of Poor Ladies?

These folks all share certain dimensions of class transition, along with some leanings toward class treason — though I hesitate to call any of them class traitors because, while they attempted to carve out alternative, anti-hegemonic lifestyles and communities for their followers, to my knowledge they did not explicitly, politically confront the existence of the class line itself. (Someone please correct me on this if I’m wrong!)

Lately in my own life, I’ve been noticing painful areas in my move away from liberalism (and/or nominal radicalism) toward a politic that actually centers the working class and the dispossessed. This process, for me, involves somewhat shameful, tender stuff.

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Eat Dis Pilaf (No Offense to Edith Piaf)

I know, friends, I know. Almost every recipe I post basically amounts to: me quoting Heidi Swanson quoting someone else.

But, you know, most of the time in the kitchen I’m not shooting for originality. I’m shooting for total deliciousness.

This bulgur pilaf with spicy harissa shrunken tomatoes, lemon-cinnamon caramelized onions, wilted spinach and minted yogurt fits the bill. Try it. You’ll see.



De-Lurks, De-lights

If you didn't know already, a "lurker" is someone who reads a blog but rarely or never comments. De-lurking means making your presence known. Lately I've been blessed with some particularly fabulous de-lurkings.One in the form of the above snail-mail card from my friend Jane in New York (hey Jane!).One from a fellow organizer in the illegal gender-oppressive firing campaign. (Whatup, Nick: I am stoked to start reading your highly-recommended blog on caring labor.)Another from amazing coeditor and copublisher of make/shift magazine, Jessica Hoffmann.* (Seriously, that note's thoughtfulness sent me into a semi-shock stupor for an entire night.)A writer and dharma teacher I admire a whole lot, Mushim Ikeda-Nash, de-lurked to me last week, and then followed up with a piece of much-appreciated constructive criticism. (Actually about a post I wrote on Feministe; so I'll have to be in touch with them about updating it. Thanks, Mushim!)And then there's this (not exactly a conscious de-lurk, but I found it among my incoming links):

Karen, I have no idea who you are (do I?), but thank you. Let’s be friends. :)

Really though, not to get all mushed out on y’all, but it’s truly amazing to know that what I do here helps other people out. Even a little bit.

With so much gratitude to everybody who shows up here to read, reflect, and respond,



*As of this posting, I’m delighted to say I just had a lovely, laughter-filled walk around Lake Merritt with Jess Hoffman, and man is she kind and smart and cool. (But not in the too-cool-for-you kind of way. Cuz I guess that would cancel out the “kind” part.) Jess, if you’re reading, thanks again!

[Update 5:44pm: Elise, I almost forgot you! Folks, Elise is a bad-ass, hilarious lady with sick dance moves and mad Facebook commenting skills. So good to meet you at Jamal’s party, girl!]

January Full Moon Walk

Ryan and I both happened to be in Sacramento again for this month’s Full Moon Walk, which turned into a full moon bike ride (hence his stylin’ reflector vest, and my hard-to-detect helmet) along the short stretch of levee that isn’t privatized.

The camera even began to see in the dark, thanks to a cloudless sky and a tripod on loan from my dear sweet mama.

Next month we’ll be in the Bay for sure. I hope you’ll join us if you’re around!

Makin’ good on our new traditions. Hell yes.

Tow, Please Tow Me

In the vein of Lovely Inconveniences.

Yesterday on my way home from the Jarvis Masters hearings, I was driving down San Pablo when an object appeared in the road. Only when I drove over the object did I realize what it was: a sharp rock the size of a bowling ball.

The crunch of the undercarriage sounded real ugly. I pulled into an empty corner lot, stepped out to have a look, and sure enough, velvety black liquid was pouring from my mom’s Volvo.

I’d never seen a pool of oil that big. Part of me wanted to smear it on my arms, just to feel.

Out comes the Triple-A card. (Maybe my first time using it?) Before I’d even connected with the California office, a friendly man from the car transmissions store across the street had come over to lend a hand, and an eye.

Looks like the oil pan, he said.

Awkwardly, I patched back and forth between him — meeting his eyes, answering his questions — and the AAA person on the phone. Pretty soon he got shy or bored from my half attention, and retreated to his store. “One second,” I said into the phone, and hollered a clear thanks to him. He waved and disappeared.

The tow truck would be there in an hour. In search of a bathroom, I began to walk the stretch of San Pablo. On foot I got to see more clearly the things I’d sped past just minutes ago in the car. A tiny taquería adjacent to a car wash. A strange eco- toy store. Salvage yards sourced largely from UC Berkeley frats and sororities, brimming with windows, chairs, stone buddhas, a pink sink and matching tub.

When I finally found a place to pee, it was inside one of the most beautiful restaurants I’ve ever seen. A barbecue joint overflowing with antique radios and stoves, Black family portraits and Southern paraphernalia. Where crown molding would go, there were rows of roof shingles.

Eddie, the AAA driver who picked me up, brought the car to a shop, waited for me, and then drove me home. We joked in the massive cab.

Now, there are a lot of important factors that reduced my stress around this incident. No one was hurt. My family can afford the car repairs. I wasn’t late for some important appointment. I was in a safe, well-lit area.

Still, I have to credit some of my calm (even enjoyment) to the dhamma study. This is a practice that teaches us to stay in the moment, rather than wasting time grasping at the future (I should be home by now; It’s been over an hour, where is that tow guy?) or harping on the past (Why didn’t I swerve or something? What was that damn rock doing in the middle of the road, anyway?). Rather than wishing it hadn’t happened to us, we accept responsibility for the continual flow of our life. There’s no escaping it.

And why would we want to? Without being Pollyanna-ish (meaning, I think, refusing to acknowledge unpleasantness), we can still open up our vision enough to include the beauty of inconvenient or ouchy circumstances.

Will I take pains to avoid unknown objects in the road next time? Yes. But I certainly don’t regret my tow day.

* * * * * * * *

PS: It’s another Full Moon Walk night tonight! Think about taking a stroll, wherever you are.

PPS: I’ve been messing around with new themes for the blog, but I think I like this one better than yesterday’s experimental one.  Agreements?  Disagreements?  Hope this guy works alright for you, for now.

What To The Radical Is Martin Luther King Day?

Alan’s got a lovely piece up at Clear View Blog (digging his jaunty-angled question: what would MLK, Malcolm X, and Paul Robeson think about being put on U.S. postage stamps?) that points to the connections between big-L Love and the effort to, in King’s words, “defeat evil systems.”

Compassion and militancy.  Neither can substitute for the other.  If you’ve got militancy but don’t practice compassion, your friends and comrades — the people upon whom you most rely, politically and personally — prob’ly won’t enjoy being around you.  Not in the long term, anyway.  And if you’ve got compassion but no critical analysis of “evil systems,” or meaningful program to defeat them, you are, as Ryan points out, utopian.

Combine the two, compassion and militancy, and you’ll get something powerful.  But you’ll also get problems.

Frederick Douglas famously asked, “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?”  We might do well to extend the same skepticism to today’s hallowed, lovey-dovey vacation day.

Beneath the hype, MLK day can serve as a reminder that people who advance the fight for radical liberation, using their own compassion and militancy, are undoubtedly risking their lives.

So if you’re among them, thank you for your courage.  May the earth continue to bless you with beauty every day. May you sometimes have a sweet picnic by the lake.

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Buddhist Production, Feminist Effort, and the God of Work

It’s a gorgeous, crisp day outside: perfect for a ride on my pretty new bike, and no time to be stuck inside blogging til dark. So the thought-connections in this post will be loose. Maybe I’ll try tightening them up sometime.

The following are three excerpts from three different pieces: Buddhist, economic, and Marxist-feminist. All deal with the same theme: work. I’m simply interested in thinking about parallels and dissonances among them, and working toward a more holistic understanding of how work operates in reality, and how we might want it to operate.

1. Buddhist Production

Let’s start with the Buddhist one, from Tricycle Magazine online:

When explaining meditation, the Buddha often drew analogies with the skills of artists, carpenters, musicians, archers, and cooks. Finding the right level of effort, he said, is like a musician’s tuning of a lute. Reading the mind’s needs in the moment—to be gladdened, steadied, or inspired—is like a palace cook’s ability to read and please the tastes of a prince.

Collectively, these analogies make an important point: Meditation is a skill, and mastering it should be enjoyable in the same way mastering any other rewarding skill can be. The Buddha said as much to his son, Rahula: “When you see that you’ve acted, spoken, or thought in a skillful way—conducive to happiness while causing no harm to yourself or others—take joy in that fact and keep on training.”

– Thanissaro Bhikkhu, “The Joy of Effort”

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