Planting

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I’ve been repotting plants lately. I know. No small feat for me. The first time I tried to adopt a seedling — a small, cheery nib of basil for my kitchen — I gently piled it and some good soil into a Mason jar, placed the quasi-terrarium on a windowsill, and tiptoed giddily away to give them privacy. When my best friend came over, saw it, and cackled, I half defended the effort, but yes: within a week or two, the match had failed, and the basil had died.

This all went down in the more recent past than I care to admit; but at least my knowledge and technique have improved since then. Still, the process of planting feels foreign to me, and a little… I don’t know… artificial. Essentially another version of retail therapy. Buy the plants, get the soil, scrounge some containers, and put it all together. Homemaking, yes, the making of a home — a chronically undervalued form of labor. Always fraught and menaced by the hallucinatory expectations of the white capitalist nuclear family, or what Coates calls “The Dream.” Like food these days, homemaking is something we need, and also something marketed to us in combinations that make us go ‘Yum’ and later feel sick, or hollow.

I’m not completely sure, but it seems like we — I, my housemates, and my larger political community, amorphous as it is — are trying to do something different with homemaking. And within the sphere of homemaking we have a range of different relationships to plant life. (As well as to home, land, homeland, and many other sub-tunnels.)

Part of what’s on my mind is: How do we continue in this era oIMG_5133f climate change?

How do we continue, knowing that the sixth mass extinction is devastating us, and so are evictions, police killings, transphobia, and imperialism?

How do we reckon with the ‘new’ peril of climate disaster (not so new to those who whose waters have long been dammed and poisoned) that not only condemns the present (our greed, waste, violence, alienation), but also dooms the future?

What does it mean to be squeezed from both sides in this way?

Black feminist sci-fi writer Octavia Butler seemed to think it means: time to learn how to grow food and use a gun. Or: hope that pseudobenevolent alien colonizers swoop in to ambiguously save humankind from itself. Either way, shit is getting very real, very fast.

From what I understand, people in the U.S. used to similarly fear and dread nuclear escalation. Practiced hiding their small skulls under classroom chairs, at intervals. Knowing that this was a joke, mostly. Chairs can’t defend you from radioactive particles. Desks can’t protect your flesh, or your plants, soil, air, water, rain.

Now some middle-class people bike to work. Eat Paleo, Whole 30, local, whatever’s in style. Protecting not just our heads, but our lungs, our guts, our digestive bacteria.

Maybe it’s helping. I’m finding it hard to understand, these days, what helping means.


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Arrival

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6:45am – arrive at JFK airport wearing borrowed snow boots one size too big and 10 degrees too warm. Overshot the footwear, I guess. Maybe I’ll be grateful for them later, if I get to tramp around in real snow sometime this month.

Waiting my turn to pull luggage like fat root vegetables out of the overhead compartment. Bulky, heavy, heavy, then — quick-quick! don’t piss off the people behind you! — wrestle myself into the giant tortoise shell of a travel backpack and shimmy up the skinny airplane aisle. Already overheating. Long black chrysalis of a down coat and multiple scarves. Hauling my allotted “handbag” item stuffed with multiple other bags, all bulging with books, laptop, and non-liquid gifts for generous hosts.

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Warming Shame

To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the making of bread.

—James Baldwin

Today, for the first time in a long time, I had a big shock of embarrassment. The kind that makes your whole head thicken, like someone stuffed a wool sweater inside your skull.

Knowing I’d be too distracted to accomplish anything for the next half hour, I sat in the corner of my living room and tried to observe the sensations, observe the breath.

Turns out, for someone like me whose body runs cold (bad circulation), the warming quality of shame can feel good, in a way. Aside from the associated horrible emotion, it was actually kinda cozy. And cheaper than a space heater.

Sometimes an unpleasant emotion hits so rude and total, there’s nothing to do but watch, try to stay present, in respect and awe. A certain side of sensual.

Photo on 8-22-13 at 12.13 PM

Period of Trust, Period of Openness

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I used to think there was one way to be a Militant.

A militant must study and analyze revolutionary history.

A militant must develop a command of the theory of scientific socialism.

A militant must know how to relate revolutionary theory to the real day-to-day life of the “proletariat.”

A militant must be able to hand out flyers and start casual yet political conversations with strangers.

A militant must thrill and captivate crowds with their public speaking.

A militant should attend an average of 3.5 political meetings and/or study groups per week.

A militant should be able to conduct one-on-one political development meet-ups with a partner.

A militant should be able to initiate and sustain local campaigns to build class power and consciousness.

A militant should promote harmony and emotional wellness among comrades and within organizations.

A militant should criticize comrades and accept criticism with humility.

*    *    *


 

Something strange and quiet is happening to me lately, gradual but massive like the movement of a tide.

It’s not that I no longer find these skills important.

It’s more like I’m interested in developing more roles, more archetypes, more specificity and multiplicity within a core range of militant activity. So that people (myself included) can find a Suitable Contribution, the long-term offering that we want to make.

Might need to sketch this out rather than writing it.

More soon.

<3

 

Weird Contentment in Colorado

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Colorado, 2014, driving from Boulder to Durango with Dawn.

feeling content these days, and it’s a little disorienting.

nothing is missing. (can it be?)

the earth is vast, the universe unfathomable, and everything alive right now will one day die.

while we’re here, most people are pursuing their best guess at happiness, even if that comes out fucked up and harmful sometimes.

i’m so grateful for this life — for brilliant friends, sweet creatures, solid comrades, revolutionary* forebears, artists and teachers of wisdom, ancestors i’m just starting to get to know.

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i’ve had this Voyaging High before (traveling, spacious, privileged, insulated) and i know it’ll change when we get home to the Bay. the suffering will roil up stark and terrible again: displacement, prisons, transphobia, oil, deportation, depression, exploitation, rape culture, cruelty on large and small scales. it’s not that it’s not here, too. it’s here in colorado, clearly. but as a sympathetic outsider, i get to be patient. i get to trust that the left will reconstitute itself, and might not even be known as the left anymore, but as something greater.

these are funny political prayers, huh?

thanks for listening.


Photos: leonine kitties in Boulder; vistas on the drive south; Dawn with a special lovely kind of doubling-over smile that Dawn makes.

* i don’t use this word like a sexified marketing ploy, but for the simple reason that the magnitude of change required to give everyone on earth access to healthy food, water, shelter, medicine, and education is so great, that in my mind it would be disingenuous to call it anything short of revolutionary.

Throw Like A Girl

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For months now, I’ve been wanting to teach the neighbor-girls across the street how to throw a football, like my dad taught me.  They’re always hanging out on the porch inventing games, waving to me out of boredom, friendliness and mischief as I walk to my car.  I even got a junior-size ball so they could hold it easier, but the very same day I bought it, it wound up waylaid at a friend’s BBQ birthday party.  (Hard to resist a game of catch, you know?)  Finally recovered this week, the mini pigskin enjoyed its debut on the block.

Once I showed the girls how to arrange their fingers on the laces, it only took about three tries before one of them (maybe 8 or 9 years old) could throw a solid spiral.  The older one (12 or so) didn’t throw so hot but could catch just about anything she touched.  The youngest (7?), too shy to try, sat on the roof of the blue car, playing music she downloaded to her smartphone. (!!!).  We all sang along to Alicia Keys and Nicki Minaj.

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Unpacking The Visible Backpack. The Very Visible Backpack.

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Typically when I come back from a trip, my bag and its contents litter the floor for at least a few days, “disemboweled” (in the words of my friend Salima). This time started out no different, especially since I was semi-frantically rooting through the bags trying to find my disappeared wallet, which turned out to be left at home in the pocket of a dress the whole weekend. (Phew.)

Wallet retrieved, it seemed the luggage carcass would be left to rot for its usual 3 to 7 business days. But then I discovered how to trick myself into tackling the clothes explosion sooner. Let’s call it “pseudo-multitasking.”

Start brushing teeth; realize, Now would be a great time to unpack and put things away. Go to the bedroom, start putting things away using both hands, leaving toothbrush in mouth, inert. Actual multitasking is not occurring, since the brushing of teeth has stopped, but the simulation of multitasking is enough to pickpocket one precious tidiness-minute from the messy, smug morning.

What Stress Dreams Have to Say

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oke up from stress dreams yesterday feeling lost and frazzled.  At some point I was in a dark hallway, middle of the night, with my mom, and once we parted ways I had to tiptoe back to my tiny dorm room without alerting any ominous security guards.  But just as I had reached safety and crawled into bed, I heard a crew of men approaching my door (which consisted of a blanket hanging over a space in the wall).  The men were delivering packages from a source I vaguely understood to be a relative.  They started pushing boxes under my blanket-door: laundry baskets full of my high-school clothes, crates of old books — more and more boxes, until my itty-bitty room was filled to the brim.  I sat rigid in bed, staring, anxiety mounting.  The last box they pushed in, at 3 in the morning or so, contained a fancy TV that you’re supposed to screw into a wall.

For some reason the TV was just too much for me.  Pitching a small fit, I decided I needed to immediately return it, and the rest of the boxes, to the well-intentioned person who had sent them.  I jumped in my car and set out on the highway, sun rising alongside.  But two or three exits down the road, I realized I had forgotten to bring the TV and all the other crap!  Damnit!  So I got off the freeway, crossed an overpass, and tried to turn around and go back.

Unfortunately, the opposite onramp was missing.  Instead, there was a pop-up restaurant festival: a labyrinth of noodle joints, flax-oil-greasy-spoon diners, aquariums, and succulent plant displays.  I parked the car and tried to find my way out of the lunch-maze.  But I just kept getting more and more turned around.  Finally, I asked one of the cooks (at a caramelize-your-own-sushi station: I remember this vividly), and he began to give me directions.

Then I woke up.

Now, typically stress dreams stress me out (surprise!), and as I said, this one was no exception, at first.  It’s not hard to tell from this dream that I am feeling somewhat overwhelmed with expectations, a bit lost and directionless, and uncomfortable in new environments — maybe with a certain class confusion thrown in there, too.  Dreaming about problems amplified my worries about those problems in real life.

But all of a sudden, I thought about the inflammatory TV in relation to a dhamma story from Goenkaji.  I wrote about it here, back in the summer of 2009: it’s the story of how to stop accepting presents that we don’t want.

And just like that, I relaxed.  The stress dream became a reminder of a helpful lesson, rather than a compounder of fretting and reactivity.  Whatever my dream-life and waking-life throw at me, I actually have choices in how to respond (internally and externally).  Even the pop-up-restaurant labyrinth, in retrospect, seemed neutral, or even interesting, rather than frightful.

Imagine that.

mara

Nonprofits, Neoliberalism

What are the implications for a social justice movement in which power and resources are being transfered based on one’s ability to develop a relationship with the right white people?

 

— Tiffany Lethabo King & Eware Osayande

(or wealthy / elite people of color, these days…)