Sometimes when you get home after a day of airplane travel, haggard and tired, you’re still buoyed up by a song.
“Blame It On My Youth” I learned just yesterday, thanks to my friend and award-winning jazz musician Kavita Shah, who just released her debut album featuring Lionel Loueke (one of my favorites!), and whose version of this tune (she arranged it herself) is just gorgeous.
featuring my friend and beautiful leader Karega Bailey, deep & dope hip hop with some on-point politics! lots to love. ♥
history books, history crooks
without slaves, how would this history look?
let me bring yo mind to attention
take away the builders, the building is nonexistent
two times for the man with the white fist
who’s quite pissed
who knew that racism existed in america
but now that the color is green
ask the poor white man how he like this
big cities with nice ****
i’d like to thank y’all for stoppin by
but these problems have existed in the hood
now that they’re in your homes
you decide to occupy
Tough to feel deserving of any positive blogging recognition when my updates here have been so scattered the past few months. But as always, I’m honored and humbled by this shoutout from the wonderful engaged Buddhist writer and activist Maia Duerr. You know how some people are mad talented at giving compliments? Maia is one of those people. She’s so thoughtful and specific when she names what she appreciates about people’s work. You can tell she’s really moving with what they’re putting out; not just scattering praise for feel-good purposes. Of Kloncke.com, she writes
Katie Loncke’s blog is, to me, the perfect intersection of spirit, politics, and heart.
Is that sweet or what? Really tho.
And the best part about being tagged with this kind of blogly award? Passing it on. Since Maia put her own spin on the shoutout selection by limiting her list to women, I’m going to create my own parameters, too. My list consists only of people I know and build with (politically, spiritually) in person.
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.
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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. 
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.
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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.
It’s cold here in Oakland. I am a hot-weather person. But it’s all good: I’m snuggled up under some blankets, and feeling especially cozy and glad because I get to share two lovely new blogspaces with you!
The first one a lot of folks are already excited about. It’s a blog for the Clear View Project, an engaged Buddhism org led by the totally rad Hozan Alan Senauke, vice-abbot at the Berkeley Zen Center. (Which, incidentally, is just a ways down from my new apartment. hey, neighbor.)
Just barely out the gate, Alan’s blog is already shining. Current events (national and international); incredible music (DAMN!); and personal/political reporting on the ongoing hearing of author, Buddhist, and death row prisoner Jarvis Masters — with whom Alan has cultivated a friendship for nearly 14 years. At Alan’s invitation on the blog, I joined supporters for part of the first day of Jarvis’ hearings in Marin. As someone who particularly appreciates blogs that bridge the online/offline divide, I’m so grateful that the CVP’s very first post was an offering for prison-support action. Dope, dope, dope. And the icing on the cake: Alan’s a superb writer. Clear View Blog: check it out, if you haven’t already.
And the second new blog, like most of the sites on my blogroll, is by a longtime friend and fellow young status-quo-questioner (who chooses to remain anonymous). The first few postings on handful of earth are personal and insightful, with the kind of sweet storytelling that, when you’re finished reading, makes you want to go on with your day a little differently; a little better. I especially love this dharma-infused reflection on a daily commute ritual with a stranger, commenting on the connection between generosity and joy.
There it is — two brand-new cybergems. Here’s to sharing freely online, while we still have the chance.
I wanted to write and tell you that directly but I can’t find any contact info. So if you are reading this, please know that I am sending you all kinds of mental hugs and mental bows and mental incense and mental plantains (yum!), and thanking you so very deeply for your work and inspiration.
I thought I knew Oma’s stories. Back in middle and high school, when we were tasked with writing oral histories or interviewing elders, Oma was my go-to source. Growing up poor in Vienna. Marrying a camp-surviving Jewish man 20 years her senior, after the war. Emigrating in 1949 on a refugee boat and landing in New Orleans on Labor Day, only to wait another day on the ship because all the dock workers were on holiday. Being overawed at the opulence of Safeway on her first US grocery shopping trip. Discovering with horror that the racism she thought she had escaped was still being visited here on Blacks and “foreigners.” Even in America.
This story never made it into my school reports, though. I don’t remember when she started telling it (meaning, most likely, at what age she felt I was old enough to hear it). But now she repeats it on every visit. (What a perfect jigsaw-fit for aging: losing her short-term memory while vividly recalling her childhood. The ‘intelligent design’ of transmitting elder wisdom, huh?)
It goes like this.
*Trigger warning: rape, war, threatening with weapons, and vicarious trauma.*
Feminism teaches us that “accommodating” people’s differences and dis/abilities doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, it often leaves everybody better off. Prime example, my cousin Alexsander’s bar mitzvah last weekend.
I haven’t attended a ton of these ceremonies, so I don’t have a huge sample for comparison, but I can say that this was one of the most fun, heartfelt, and moving coming-of-age traditional ceremonies I can imagine. Musical, personal, participatory. Precious community and sympathetic joy in abundance. And Sander took to the mic like anything.
Sander wasn’t the only one in attendance whose bar mitzvah was a special celebration of triumph. His grandfather, Hans, risked his own life in World War II by performing his bar mitzvah in a concentration camp. As my oma would say, “Can you imagine?”
Of course, the whole event was emotional, but the moment that really wrung the tears out of me was the speech by Sander’s mom, my cousin Suzie.
Today Alexsander becomes a man and yet it seems like yesterday when we sang nursery songs together, took stroller walks and read Dr. Suess books. It is from the Dr. Suess book “Gerald McBoing Boing” that I wish to paraphrase to describe my pride in our son, Sander.
They say it all started when Sander was two.
That’s the age kids start talking-least, most of them do.
Well, when he started talking, you know what he said?
He didn’t talk words- he went “meow” instead!
And as little Sander grew older, he found when a fellow repeats
No one wants to give him treats.
When a fellow goes “skreek” he won’t have any friends,
For once he says, “clang, clang, clang,” all the fun ends.
And as the story goes, Rabbi Mintz seeks out Sander’s talent.
“Your Hebrew is terrific, your pitch is inspired!
“Quick – come to Friendship Circle, Sander! You are admired!”
Now his proud parents are able to boast
That their son’s singing is known coast to coast.
Now Sander has friends, and makes his bed
‘Cause he sometimes speaks words but mostly sings instead.
[A note about the title: while a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah refers to a particular Jewish rite of passage, colloquially a “mitzvah” can also mean an act of human kindness. For me, Sander’s bar mitzvah was a great reminder of the many mitzvahs we can all do for each other every day, simply by accepting and honoring each other as we are.]
A stat counter is a common tool that lets bloggers see the number of people who visit their site. I learned about it back in 2005, when I first became acquainted with blogs, and have interacted with stat counters and traffic graphs in my bloggerly life ever since. Every day (ok let’s be real: practically every five minutes), I check my traffic chart on Kloncke to see how many people are reading. I glance at the line graph and its 15-day history, with the current day’s data point climbing ever upward until the stroke of midnight, when its ascending carriage takes a pumpkin-like tumble back down to zero. New day, new stats.
Within the past few months, I noticed myself monitoring my stat charts with increasing closeness and intensity. It became sort of embarrassingly compulsive. I checked my traffic at Gmail-like intervals (read: Too Frequently). And of course, my heart would soar and sink according to the graph’s altitude.
Many page views: “My writing is helping people.”
Few views: “This blogging thing is just a narcissistic waste of time.”
And then, the real kicker: auto-adjusting scale.
Let’s say I’ve been plugging along on my little blog for a month, and one day I get 25 views, the next day 30, the next day 7, and so on. The top of the y-axis represents the largest number of views in a single day: 150. The smallest, one notch above zero, is 3. Then, one day, the blog is viewed 170 times. What happens to the chart?