Offerings For The Pro-Choice March

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Back at Harvard, I learned two twin currencies for liberal political engagement: prestige and critique. In order to make the most important, sophisticated contribution to your community, you should try to do one or the other. (Or, in my case, kind of switch back and forth between them.)

Prestige meant planning events with lots of endorsements by student and Real World groups; generating lots of publicity (including Real World media, if possible); and generally capitalizing on linkages with nodes of power, with the aim of Getting Big Things Done.

Critique meant showing up to a prestigious event and eviscerating it with progressive analysis. Pointing out that it reifies X Y and Z oppressive dynamic, invizibilizes A B and C communities, and generally fortifies neoliberalism and hierarchies of privilege.

Something like that. Now, I’m not saying that other approaches didn’t exist at Harvard (Harvard Progressive Action Group was probably doing things at least a little differently; and same for the Student-Labor Action Movement), but these were the ones that most affected me, in my thinky liberal way of moving through the world.

And so, yesterday, when six of us from the Marxist-Feminist study group arrived at a Bay Area Pro-Choice march armed with flyers that we had each played a part in creating, I thought to myself, This is a good offering. We chanted, we participated, we were a part of what was happening, and I felt tremendously grateful to all the people who have fought before us for the right to legal abortions. Some of the signs people carried gave me chills: “ABORTION ON DEMAND, WITHOUT APOLOGY”; “Rape Survivor For Choice [because I didn’t have one]”; and of course, the iconic coat hanger. At the rally, women shared personal stories about terminating their pregnancies, making real and visible the object of our shared struggle. No doubt, there was bravery here. This was something we wanted to support.

We were not, however, blind to the limitations of the event. A narrow focus on defending abortion rights completely overlooked the ways that austerity measures here in California are generally pummeling working-class people’s access to sexual health care. This myopia has long been a problem of largely white, middle-class reproductive rights movements. Surveying the crowd and listening to the speeches, I felt a little pessimistic about how our half-sheets would go over, fingering capitalism as a major part of women’s oppression and choicelessness.

But instead of standing on the sidelines hating (read: critiquing), we engaged. When the organizers opened up the stage for anyone to take the bullhorn, two of us got up and articulated our comparatively broader analysis. And the crowd was feelin it!

After that, flyering was easier and less awkward. People came to us.

This n That Friday

Yesterday morning, the street in our neighborhood where organizing saved a woman's house

What a week, folks. A week that included:

  • Going to a reading discussion about the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (the subject of Detroit: I Do Mind Dying), attended by two former League members (one of whom worked thirty years on an auto assembly line…..DAMN), still fiery and utterly inspiring
  • Flyer from a similar LRBW event
  • Huffing, puffing, and grinning up Berkeley hills on my gorgeous new bike

  • Feeling grateful for warm, dry, cozy home-shelter from the winter rain
  • Feeling furious, though not really surprised, at the redoubled repression of US prisoners: disappearing resistors and expanding prison labor to fill the gaps in state budgets
  • Making plans to read aloud to our incredibly fly and friendly 80-something-year-old neighbor, Mr. Posie
  • Being there for friends while they cry, and asking friends to be there for me while I cry
  • Brainstorming ways of bringing revolutionary perspectives to this weekend’s efforts to defend sexual health care
  • Showing up with Ryan at a 6am anti-eviction action, a few blocks from our apartment, to find out that it had already won: once the media started contacting Wells Fargo for comment, they backed down (for now) from taking away this woman’s home

That’s it for me, folks. Hope your week was filled with ups, as well as downs — but most of all, spaciousness enough for both. See you Monday!

The Soft Anguish of Dukkha

I don’t remember who exactly — though I have a hunch it was Joseph Goldstein — who said, at a dharma talk I went to once at CIMC, that much of dukkha (the Buddhist word for “suffering” — the basis of the First Noble Truth) is not this dramatic, cataclysmic affair. Instead, the majority of dukkha is like rubbing your face softly against a brick wall. Doesn’t really hurt. But the problem is, we don’t stop. We keep on rubbing . . . and rubbing . . . and rubbing. Ouch.

I think a similar insight finds its expression in those two unforgettable lines of the poem I shared here last year, by Nyoshul Khenpo:

Those with dualistic perception regard suffering as happiness,
Like they who lick the honey from a razor’s edge.

And yesterday, this dharma found its way to me yet again, in the form of an Iranian movie. Celebrated filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami created this work, Shirin, by filming the faces of over 100 Iranian stage and screen actresses as they themselves watch a film of an 800-year-old Persian epic love poem: the story of Shirin and Khosrow. Shirin is an hour and thirty minutes of framed face shots, inviting us to meditate on subtle and dramatic changes of expression as the women become emotionally involved with the story. The film also invokes self-consciousness about our own being and emotional vicariousness: spectators spectating other spectators.

For me, the arresting part in the epic poem (which is both audible and subtitled in Kiarostami’s film) was this, from a scene where a dying queen shares her final words with her heiress, Shirin:

AUNT: “I had my blossoming spring, I grew old at fall. Now I welcome the winter and the snow that will cover my grave.”

SHIRIN—”Haven’t I suffered enough? My heart can’t afford to be broken again, or my body to be abandoned.”

AUNT: “It took me a long time on this earth to understand that the joys of life are like the caress of a feather on the palm of your hand. Pleasurable at first, and a real torment if it perdures. I leave this earth to people who deserve a better life.”

(Visuals show women’s faces, teary and crying.)

The feathers tickling our palms are not emotions themselves. Rather, they are the self-generated process of reacting blindly to those emotions: embracing pleasant ones and running from unpleasant ones. We blindly, habitually react in countless small ways like this every day, allowing transient moods and the vicissitudes of experience — pain, pleasure, neutrality — to dictate our internal well-being.

Part of what I love about Kiarostami’s film, though, is that it allows us to step back from our emotional entanglements and watch them play out externally, on a stream of other faces. It’s like ninety minutes of looking in a mirror, and watching the flow of feeling pass by, unhindered. We don’t get to know any one woman long enough to get caught up in her story. It’s simply beautiful to greet her for a moment, welcoming her into a growing rosary of all the audience members. I’m reminded that I myself am, in some ways, a rosary of many faces: always changing, counted one by one. This allows me to relax. It’s the same comfort I feel when I look out the window on a long train or bus ride. The scenery is flowing by so quickly that there’s no time to fixate on it; and so I let go and simply watch. Give the feather — and the brick wall — a rest.

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The One And The Many: Polyamory and Precepts

Friends, I’m gonna try an experiment. Rather than pour out a long story about today’s topic (non-monogamy and polyamory), I’m just going to give a brief thumbnail sketch — and we can see where the comment thread takes us.

As some of y’all may have noticed on Facebook, Ryan and I (with our Bad Good Romance) have been in an open relationship for over a year. In the past, when asked “What’s that all about,” I’ve explained that rather than a declaration about having other lovers, it’s more an expression of commitment to exploring our desires in a non-judgmental, loving, honest way that doesn’t assume monogamy is the best path to a healthy relationship — for us or for others.

A little more background on the situation is that I identify (and have for years) as someone with polyamorous tendencies. I can feel happy and fulfilled with multiple lovers at once. Also, I’m happy for my lovers when I know they’re enjoying sex and companionship with other people. (Note: this is only true when things between my lover and me are going well. If things between us are souring, then I typically feel super jealous of the other sweethearts in their life.)

Ryan, on the other hand, has always operated on the monogamous side of things. By this I mean: when he’s with a partner, he’s not interested in being with other lovers; and it’s painful to him to know that someone he loves, and who loves him, also wants to romance somebody else. At the same time, he’s deeply respectful and even admiring of polyamory, and investigates questions of (non)monogamy both through reading (like the classic “Poly Primer” [as make/shift’s crossword puzzle clue called it] The Ethical Slut, which Ryan had read even before we met) and by deeply reflecting on his own feelings, perceptions, and experiences.

Up til now, our difference in orientation hasn’t mattered much for us. But recently, one of my favorite former lovers (what one might call an “ex-boyfriend”) moved from the Midwest to Berkeley, a short ways from our house. After a rocky past and more than a year without seeing each other or really communicating at all, he and I now find ourselves spending time together. An entire afternoon last week; something like fourteen hours yesterday.

And so, Ryan and I have been doing a lot of processing. Each of us feels scared of limiting or hurting the other one. But we don’t want to break up, either. Not an easy place. We both agree that polyamory seems like a positive practice, a good way to live. But for people who naturally gravitate toward exclusive relationships, walking this new path ain’t easy — and may not ultimately be worth the hurt.

At the same time, the way we hold one another — mentally and physically — throughout these painful talks only underscores how much, and how well, we love each other. This is non-violent communication from the heart, organically: expressing pain, grief, fear and heartache without blaming; taking physical space and declining touch when we need to; listening; not escalating; acknowledging and validating each other; taking the time and space to do all this properly; being physically affectionate when we both feel ready; and committing to follow through on what we decide, together, as the best way to move forward.

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Interdependence, Colonialism, and Commodity Fetishism

In Buddhist parlance, we often encounter the word “interdependence.”  It comes up in many contexts.  One way I often hear it invoked (in dhammic as well as New-Agey spaces) is as a kind of feel-good spiritual brainteaser.  Isn’t it amazing and beautiful how we are all connected?

Here’s a good example, from my own life.  I was attending a conference about spirituality and technology: the Wisdom 2.0 Summit.  One of the keynote speakers, Tony Hseih, CEO of the online retailer Zappos, gave a talk about the culture of happiness at his company, and how attention to the human connections between merchant and consumer fosters better, more lucrative business.  The title of his book sums it up nicely: Delivering Happiness: A Path To Profits, Passion, and Purpose.

When it came time for Q&A, I raised my hand and got the mic (standing up, semi-terrified, before this large crowd of very successful techno-seekers). I thanked Tony for his work, and then asked what he thought — and what all of us present thought — about the happiness of the people who produce the technology we use.  The people working in the factories that make our phones, our laptops, our desktops.  The people mining the minerals for all of these.  What about their happiness?

It’s all well and good to look at interdependence as a network for human kindness and beneficence.  But the fact is, it is just as much (if not more) a network for exploitation: of humans, animals, and the earth.

In his newest book, The Boddhisattva’s Embrace: Dispatches from Engaged Buddhism’s Front Lines, Hozan Alan Senauke of the Clear View Project cuts to the core of exploitative interdependence in the conclusion of a beautiful essay on the shipbreaking industry in Bangladesh.
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Friends, Meet Imani


Folks, I’m going through it a little bit this week.  Just a lot of complex stuff coming up.  Haven’t found the right words for sharing it here, yet.  But in the meantime, this video of my friend and fellow Goddardite — vocalist, composer, interfaith priestess, and cultural worker Imani Uzuri — made me smile today in a full, full way.  Not only does Imani bless the world with mad artistic skills (including, but not limited to, the most moving voice I’ve ever heard in person in my whole entire life: no lie), she also illuminates the people around her with her spiritual reflections, historical insights, unbeatable hilarity, and genuine compassion.


Here, she reminds us of the importance of exploring and loving our always-complex selves.  It reminds me of an essay I read yesterday in the current issue of make/shift: a piece by Alexis Pauline Gumbs called “M/Othering Ourselves: A Black Feminist Genealogy, Or, The Queer Thing.”  The essay in turn takes its inspiration from a line from Audre Lorde: “We can learn to mother ourselves.”  Gumbs asks:

What would it mean for us to take the word mother less as a gendered identity and more as a possible action, a technology of transformation that those people who do the most mothering labor are teaching us right now?

I hear this question (and its associated family of questions) echoed in Imani’s 120-second share.  (And enacted, unwittingly, in the sweet out-takes in the final few seconds.)


Imani’s work itself is powerful enough; being in her presence during Goddard residencies, and seeing the mind, soul, and radical self-mothering behind the music, has been an extraordinary gift to me.  She’s real and grounded, as well as spiritually developed and crazy talented.  Quite the combo.  Check her out, and join me in celebrating the friends who inspire us, even unknowingly, while we’re slogging along.


Bonus: Raspberry Jam Cookies

I’m not a baker, so this go-to cookie recipe fits my standards. Incredibly simple;* truly delicious. I tried to do it with rhubarb jam today, actually, but when I opened the jar there was a bit of mold inside. :( Next time!

I found this recipe about three years ago on The Post Punk Kitchen website, a great vegan cooking resource.  But this morning when I went to look it up, it was gone.

PPK has apparently undergone a site overhaul since last I checked.  Whereas before it was essentially just text (very, very useful text) on a dark red background with a few graphics, now it’s got a super-sexy layout loaded with stunning photos.  Even though my beloved Jam Thumbprint page got lost along the way, I can’t say I’m sorry for the progress.

And luckily, there’s Gmail archive: I’d typed and e-mailed the recipe to some friends following rave cookie reviews at a potluck.  Funny karma moment, huh?  Sharing with others = preserving for oneself.



1 cup almonds
1 cup rolled oats or oat flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour
pinch sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup coconut , canola, olive or grapeseed oil. I like olive the best.
1/2 cup maple syrup
all-fruit jam (raspberry is nice, or blackberry…or some unusual berry!)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly oil a cookie sheet.

Chop almonds into coarse meal. This can be done with a knife (which takes a long time and is messy) or in a food processor (or a blender, but a food processor is ideal) by pulsing a few times. For a chunkier cookie, grind the almonds only into small pieces.

Grind oats to flour in a small food processor, flour mill, or a blender. You can also use oat flour. For a chunkier cookie, don’t grind oats all the way.

Combine almonds, oats, flour, salt, and cinnamon.

In another bowl combine oil and maple syrup. Add to dry. Mix lightly.

Roll into walnut-sized balls. Place on an oiled cookie sheet. Press an indentation in the center with thumb.

Fill indentation with jam. Do not overfill, do not underfill.  What you see is what you get, basically – the jam shouldn’t overflow too much when heated, and the cookies shouldn’t spread a lot, so you can pack them in pretty close together on the sheet.

Bake 15-20 minutes, or until bottoms are lightly browned. Cool 10 minutes.

*I should note: simple with a food processor.  Which I now have at our new place.  Thanks, mama!  If you live near me and don’t have one I’d be happy to loan ours out.

“If You Can Serve Then You Can Poison.”

This semester in my MFA I have the profound good fortune of working with an amazing faculty member: poet, writer, and cultural historian Gale Jackson. Today in our twelve-person advising group, we worked together to respond to one of her poems — “1691. Tituba of Salem.” — which happened to be the first and only one I had already read.

* * * * * * * *

The whole poem is a deeply layered thing that I know I’ll continue to revisit. One line (now the title of this blog post) echoed as I was reading Detroit: I Do Mind Dying: A Study In Urban Revolution. (Remember when I mentioned that? Yep, ha, still makin’ my way through it.) Describing an opening sequence in Finally Got The News (a renowned documentary self-made by the League of Revolutionary Black Workers), I Do Mind Dying authors quote League leader John Watson:

You get a lot of arguments that black people are not numerous enough in America to revolt, that they will be wiped out. This neglects our economic position. . . . There are groups that can make the whole system cease functioning. These are auto workers, bus drivers, postal workers, steel workers, and others who play a crucial role in the money flow, the flow of materials, the creation of production. By and large, black people are overwhelmingly in those kinds of jobs. [116]

Of course, times and circumstances change. This brings new questions. What does US de-industrialization mean for the potential of workers in the United States to “poison” the system we serve? How does utter disposability, from the point of view of capital, affect the position of undocumented immigrant workers as they clandestinely serve, haunted by a terrorizing, racist, sexist campaign of economic opportunism that threatens to incarcerate, violate, and deport?

The rich, ongoing resistance of immigrant workers in the US testifies that this shifting terrain does not completely close down our opportunities for struggle. Disruption and destabilization are still possible.

* * * * * * *

I also wonder about the converse. Perhaps if we can poison, then we can also serve.

I mean this more in terms of the ways that I might poison my own life. The ways that I might relate to, and feed, my own internal sufferings. Day to day, in subtle ways. Clinging to high expectations. Beating myself up over mistakes. Fearing and worrying about the future. Indulging in fantasies and daydreams, even when they make me feel kind of sticky and queasy afterward. In general, surrendering my happiness to the mercy of my own thoughts.

Goenkaji says: there is nothing more harmful than our own untamed mind. And there is nothing more helpful, more beneficial, than our own trained mind, tamed mind. This observation comes up again and again in dhamma teachings — the idea of “turning the (monkey-) mind into an ally.”

So much in one post! Hope I haven’t overwhelmed you. Happy Monday, friends.

PS: You, like me, might want to support Gale and her important ongoing work as an artist. She’s more of an “analog girl in a digital world,” to borrow a phrase from Erykah, so since the PayPal button is out, over the next couple days we’re gonna put our heads together to find a simple way for y’all to make offerings and contributions (and/or purchase some of her breathtaking books!) from afar.