Having finished and submitted a grad school paper today, I am rewarding myself with another round of re-seasoning our cast-iron skillet.
Did you know that it’s virtually impossible to find out how to properly season one of these puppies just by looking it up on the Internet? Oh, sure, you’ll find instructions and opinions, but they differ wildly from person to person, sharing only the barest of fundamentals: you need to put oil in the pan and heat it up; then the pan will be smooth and non-stick.
But how? Why? Really?
Sheryl’s Blog explains. Fantastically. Scientifically. Read and be amazed.
Friends, I’m going through a down time, and I think it shows on the blog. Offline, I’m having various conversations, and even thoughts, which, for various reasons, I’m choosing not to share in this space — at least not yet.
Part of the issue, I think, is that I’m starting to develop a nagging sense of what I should be posting. More political writing, essays, analysis, etc. The sense of play I brought here, especially in the beginning when I was specifically trying to avoid political blogging, is evaporating.
So for a time, I’m gonna give myself a break and just post little things that make me smile.
Like this light in the sky, which literally stopped me in my tracks as my friend Sierra and I passed the SF main library at Civic Center, on our way to a show unknown to me at the time. (Sierra was surprising me for my birthday.)
Ok, Jamie Foxx sometimes seems like an arrogant, misogynist asshole (have you ever listened to his XM radio station???), but this had me crackin’ up this morning.
And speaking of musical improv . . . last night Ryan and I went with a friend and our neighbor Ineva to Monday Night Karaoke at a little neighborhood bar down the street from our apartment. None of us sang, but Good Lord some of those folks were talented, and talent or not, everyone was havin themselves a good time. Mostly middle-aged Black folks. Mostly Motown/R&B/soul, with Erykah and Jill Scott and the Temptations and Marvin all making appearances. If you know me and my outdated musical tastes, you’ll appreciate the extent of my enthrallment.
To me, femme must include ending ableism, white supremacy, heterosexism, the gender binary, economic exploitation, sexual violence, population control, male supremacy, war and militarization, and ownership of children and land.
Yesterday: downtown Oakland is in full Art-And-Soul festival mode, and a small squad of us from East Bay Solidarity Network gather outside its gated entrance to do our own jovial yet serious work. Once we finally locate one another in the crowd (who has whose cell numbers?), it’s on to the business of distributing xeroxed posters and tape (did we bring enough tape? it sucks to run out), and divvying out areas to flyer. Some of us are slow and others are impatient. Caught in between as an unofficially appointed problem solver, I feel my face edge toward a scowl. Luckily, though, our little gang laughs together more and more as months pass. And laughter is nature’s aspirin for the headache of logistics. Besides: no one’s getting paid here, and there are no managers or fears of getting fired and losing that paycheck, so we’re more free to move at our own pace.
Have I told you about our current fight? Mel Hill was a security guard working for ABC Security. After working at a number of different locations, he was stationed way, way out at a bus yard, miles from any public transport. The way Mel puts it: “I had leg muscles big as Popeye from walking to and from work.” He posted up in a little World War II tin shack (“hot when it’s hot; cold when it’s cold”) with no heat, electricity, water — nothing. Leaks in the roof let the rain in. Misery. After months of enduring this, with no administrative response to his complaints, he began bringing a yellow blanket along on his shifts, to keep himself warm. This, he was told by management, is “unprofessional” and unacceptable. Eventually Mel was fired, and brought his case to us, the East Bay Solidarity Network. We explained that in order for us to take on his fight to win his job back and improve site conditions, he would have to join the network and agree to be there for other people’s fights, as well.
There’s more than enough fights to go around.
Economic need compels people who don’t own the means of production (a.k.a. the vast majority of us) to work in conditions that are often terrible for our bodies. Job conditions are set up that way in order to save time and production costs (including wages). If we object, as Mel did, we get the message (implicitly or explicitly) that (a) we’re lazy, or (b) our bodies are the problem; our bodies are defective. Look: other people can do it. Why can’t you? Stop bringing the blanket. It’s unprofessional.
What can we do about this core of ableism within the exploitative, competitive, profit-driven system?
Been a little under the weather, on and off, over the last few days. Downsides: pain. Upsides: opportunities to observe pain, and taking time to lie low and read hella articles on the Innernet. Here are three of them which happen to be about self-defense.
Colorlines has a meticulously researched article about the secrecy and opacity shrouding Oakland police personnel reports. Some say that if the public had access to these files, they could be used to weed out ‘loose cannon’ cops before their aggression leads to fatal shootings. But problems with policing go way deeper than that, if you ask me — including pro-ruling-class trends in the laws that police are paid to enforce as an arm of the state. In any case, responses to OPD brutality seem to fall into three camps: individual lawsuits; accountability/reform measures; and resistance/defiance. I was sensing some author bias toward accountability, but you can read for yourself. One of the only mentions of on-the-streets resistance to OPD brutality, the riots following Oscar Grant’s murder, is glossed over in a somewhat awkwardly placed sentence: “Rachel Jackson, an organizer of the Bay Area protests of Oscar Grant’s killing, says the indictment on murder charges of ex-BART Officer Johannes Mehserle, following widespread public outcry, is proof of the point: ‘If there’s street heat, they’ll do something.’” [Emphasis mine.] On one hand, I appreciate that the author is illuminating OPD murder cases besides Grant’s. On the other hand, the lack of elaboration on Jackson’s crucial political claim seems, uh, strange. Given that we regard OPD murder patterns as a problem (to say nothing of other types of police-on-people violence, like sexual assault), what are our best strategies for self-defense? Shouldn’t we discuss that underlying orientation?
In a very different and awesome take on community safety and protection:
When you’re meditating, the same process [of restraint] holds. People sometimes wonder why they can’t get their minds to concentrate. It’s because they’re not willing to give up other interests, even for the time being. A thought comes and you just go right after it without checking to see where it’s going. This idea comes that sounds interesting, that looks intriguing, you’ve got a whole hour to think about whatever you want. If that’s your attitude toward the meditation period, nothing’s going to get accomplished. You have to realize that this is your opportunity to get the mind stable and still. In order to do that, you have to give up all kinds of other thoughts. Thoughts about the past, thoughts about the future, figuring this out, planning for that, whatever: you have to put them all aside. No matter how wonderful or sophisticated those thoughts are, you just say no to them.
YES! Good Lord, it always seems like my best, most nuanced ideas come when I’m trying to meditate. And all I want to do is get up from the floor and go write them down. Or else I’ll forget! And this key conceptual innovation will be lost forever! People will die and movements will perish unless I fully formulate and record this thought!
Underlying this mildly desperate grasping, for me, anyway, is the notion that my ideas, my intellectual products, are my most important features and contributions. “Features” in the sense that they might make me more admirable; “contributions” in the sense that they might make me more useful. If an idea can be articulated, recorded, and disseminated, it will be worth more to a greater number of people than my 60 minutes of calm, settled mind, which are beneficial only to me.
But what Thanissaro Bhikkhu is getting at, I think, is that ways of being — i.e. patience, restraint, generosity, and dignity — can be equally important features and contributions.
I think that in some way, this is borne out through his article itself. He’s talking about patience and dignity, he’s using well-crafted language to describe it, which is lovely and useful. But it is our experiences of beneficial patience, restraint, dignity and generosity that leave more profound impressions on us, and on the ways we engage the world. Observing, emulating, and deliberately cultivating these qualities intervenes more significantly in culture (even on the level of our friendship groups, or workplaces, or organizing committees) than an eloquent description of their beauty.
If that doesn’t grab you, and you still think good ideas are the shit, consider this: a calm mind can act as a stronger foundation for discernment and discriminating thought. So even if we have to let go of some idea-streams in the short term, in the long term we may learn to call on a broader range of faculties in determining which ideas are worthy of extended investigation. We may find that we need to ‘chase’ good ideas less, and instead allow them to arise and show themselves in our minds.
I do have one quibble with Thanissaro’s article, though. While I completely agree that much of consumer culture pushes us toward instant gratification, I also think there are a few vital exceptions to this rule: examples of toxic, twisted imperatives toward “restraint” that illustrate important truths about economics, politics, and gender.
Exception 1: The Dieting Industry
Each year, people in the U.S. spend $40 billion on “weight loss programs and products.” On one hand, it’s true that “restraint” does not figure too overtly into the industry vocab. On the contrary, I think, we often see a marketing strategy of “indulgence.” The health bar that tastes like a candy bar! Sumptuous weight-loss meals prepared and delivered to your door!
Feeling a bit sick today, but wanted to share a few fotos from this weekend’s meeting-slash-potluck. Originally conceived as a mini reportback and collaborative skillshare between San Francisco Solidarity Network and East Bay Solidarity Network, only one SF member was able to show, so we pumped her for a lot of info. :) And sat around eating homemade vegan cornbread, spicy green bean and potato salad with caramelized-onion-mustard dressing, vegan mango lassi, risotto, brownies, and Mel’s sweet potato pie that will “make your arms go up in the air.”
Wrote This On a Plane to Houston, On My Way To Guatemala
I like to pretend sometimes,
that I got this hunching spine
from working so meticulously at my craft.
Each day carefully placing my toolbox on the table,
unfolding the lid and curling my soft pink fingers into their positions
to forge these words into some kind of weapon,
to whittle at these ideas until they pierce the chest.
I like to pretend sometimes
that this glow is a kiln,
I wipe my brow, and it makes no matter
that my hand comes away dry.
Because this feels like the work of a workman,
and I make like I’m adjusting my spectacles
and gripping my tweezers
as I deftly shift another syllable.
I like to pretend sometimes
that I’m just like that man I watched
crack firewood with ballet strokes,
cut grass finely with a dull machete,
coax coffeebeans to fall with massaging fingers,
like the spider spindling the fly.
From Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s The Rebel Girl: An Autobiography, about her experiences as an agitator and organizer with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or “Wobblies”) at the peak of its power, in the 1910’s:
Foster’s campaign against dual unionism was aided by Tom Mann of England, who came over on a speaking trip in 1913.
. . .
Never had I heard such a flow of fast-spoken, picturesque and colorful oratory, charged with tremendous fervor and fighting spirit. It was a hot night and after he finished some English weavers took him away with them, promising to bring him to the railroad station to make an eleven-thirty train back. They came rushing him along at the very last minute, bubbling with reminiscences of where they knew him and had heard him speak before. We asked, “What did you do, Tom?” and he said cheerily, “They took me for warm ale. There’s nothing like it after a speech.” He was a living example of joy in struggle and proved that a light heart makes the road shorter and the load easier. He lived to be over 80—oratorical, exuberant and vital—a great agitator to the end.
How do we nurture joy in struggle? For me, it’s a dialectical question. How do we struggle? Strategically, which courses do we choose? And how do we nurture joy? What traditions and methods do we adopt, adapt, learn, preserve, and transform? And how do we live joy in our struggles? And how do we live struggle through our joy?
Crazy Wisdom (“A film about the life and times of Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche”). I can already tell I’ll have issues with this film (the trailer shows Pema Chödron justifying Chögyam Trungpa’s sexual affairs with students by saying “he never hid them” — and I’m like, OK, and how did his wife feel about them? And how did it affect the students?), but he’s one of those figures I can’t write off, emotionally. Messy.
Twenty-five feels a bit hazy so far, but I’m pluggin’ away. To all you incredible beings, past and present, who continue to bless me with honesty, support, quotidian hangouts (love those), compassion, food, wisdom, class-struggle education, patience, quirks, meditation, music, and humor . . . thank you.