with abs like Ciara’s
you know damn well you’re wanted.
people will admire you, too,
when you lambaste the opposition,
harangue and fulminate with the eloquence of Russell Brand,
smash on your unlucky rivals
(even if the rival is you: your own gross shortcomings).
rubbernecking onlookers, vicarious,
will savor your power with bubbling glee, delighting
in your slicing triumph.
but who will praise and celebrate when you don’t overstretch in yoga?
when you heed that spooky squeal inside your knee
slowly noticing in triangle pose
that clenching your thigh muscles helps on the right side
but only seems to pull things worse on the left.
where are your accolades for that?
who will smack you a jubilant high-five
when you get off the phone with your cranky, lonesome uncle
having nudged forward a kindly conversation
like a blind, brand-new puppy splayed on its belly,
wriggling inefficiently toward warmth?
fortunately or unfortunately, my friend
it might be all up to you.
I won’t talk about my birthday, but I will talk about James Baldwin. Or, really, listen to him.
It is a pity that [Eldridge Cleaver and I] won’t, probably, ever have the time to attempt to define once more the relationship of the odd and disreputable artist to the odd and disreputable revolutionary; for the revolutionary, however odd, is rarely disreputable in the same way that the artist can be. These two seem doomed to stand forever at an odd and rather uncomfortable angle to each other, and they both stand at a sharp and not always comfortable angle to the people they both, in their different fashions, hope to serve. But I think it is just as well to remember that the people are one mystery and that the person is another. Though I know what a very bitter and delicate and dangerous conundrum this is, it seems to me that a failure to respect the person so dangerously limits one’s perception of the people that one risks betraying them and oneself, either by sinking to the apathy of cynical disappointment, or rising to the rage of knowing, better than the people do, what the people want.
Because it’s my birthday week and I do what I want, I’d like to argue for a broad definition of “artist” that includes those of us interested in wisdom. (Baldwin, as an artist, certainly was.) Which helps explain, maybe, some of the awkwardness and contradictions in the Buddhist-Marxist combo. One operates at the level of the person (or the non-self, existence, but framed in an individualistic fashion that was revolutionary at the time of the Buddha’s teaching), while the other concerns itself with the people.
Perhaps a similar tension also underlies the queasy slipperiness of identity politics — or identity, period. “Identity” (gender, race, ability, sexuality, etc.) is at once intensely personal, emotional, and subjective (our stories), and simultaneously collective, socially and historically determined (our position). I’ve written about this paradox before; maybe an unsurprising fixation for a mixed girl. ;)
My bad, friends: this was supposed to be a birthday post! I lead an extremely fortunate life amidst a blessed contagion of creativity and caring from those around me. No idea how we’re going to reconcile the person and the people, but I’m lucky to find myself in community that wants to try.
Thanks to everyone for the bornday love. And deliciousness!
I heard a Buddhist sermon once, a dharma talk, in which the teacher described the night he came to know sleepiness.
He was at a residential meditation retreat, and though the students had been released back to their dormitories for the night, he decided to stay in the main hall, sitting.
This was no lark because, as you know, at meditation retreat centers they do not mess around when it comes to mornings. 4am, your ass is up. No caffeine, either, or hardly none. Accordingly, come 9 or 10pm, you are tired. Eleven, sleep-heavy chin sinks to your chest, bounces back up like a car on hydraulics. And this is Theravada tradition, eyes closed. By midnight even the insomniac practitioners are bobble-headed with drowsiness.
But this teacher, on this night, was fighting the nods, battling the bobble-head, determined not to succumb to sleepiness, but rather to observe it. To remain awake, taking note of experience.
Finally, dizzy with darkness but stubborn and still curious, he decided to open his eyes. Not just open, but saucer and bulge them, two peeled grapes in his sockets, letting the light steep them and the cold air gently bite.
Like this, he stayed awake, sitting.
Until eventually he felt the first wave. An enormous wave, engulfing him from the bottom up, his folded legs, his butt, hips, flowing warm and heavy and sweet up his torso, shivering his shoulders and face, and wicking up and off the crown of his head, into the air above him.
He withstood it, but minutes later, another wave came. Again he fought, saucered his eyes wider, prying the lids open with his fingers. Again it traveled up his body and through the crown of his head.
A first wave; a second; a third.
And then it stopped. He was awake. Three waves, that was it. Over. For another couple hours, he stayed and sat peacefully, gently electrified, without effort. From then on, he recognized sleepiness in a totally new way.
The past few weeks — and especially the past few days — I’ve been reminded of how rape culture thrives on social power pyramids: where the contributions of people at the top — be they star athletes, beloved artists, or skilled political leaders — are considered so important that people instinctively ignore, justify, or minimize the violent behaviors of the community’s golden child (or children).
This shows up frequently, in small ways. I’ve heard more than one friend of a socially powerful feminist in the Bay confess to me that they feel afraid to tell her “no.” Not that this fear necessarily defines their relationship with this person (and these conversations happened a year ago; perhaps their fears have since subsided or transformed), but to me, statements like that are a red flag for rape culture. Someone is at the center, and getting on their bad side means you might get ostracized — or worse. Besides, what they contribute is so vital and powerful…
On March 1st, exactly one year after R and I broke up, I drove to his house to pick up one last smattering of my belongings, left out on the porch for me in a Trader Joe’s brown paper bag. Anticipating that it might be difficult and I might get sad, I had asked a good friend to come with me. And though I did feel nervous and sad, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Right on top of the pile there was a favorite belt that I’d been missing for like two years! When R and I were still together I lightweight hounded him about that belt — was convinced I’d somehow left it at his parents’ house. Don’t know where he ended up finding it, but I was glad to have it back, and as my friend and I drove away from his street, I thought I felt okay.
Still, the bag sat at the door of my closet, untouched, for a long time.
Again, though, once I finally screwed up the courage to go through it, it wasn’t so horrible. A swirl of memories: pleasant, unpleasant, neutral. A lot of the stuff wasn’t mine, but some of it was. Pillowcase. (Useful!) Books. (Beloved!) The scarf on the header image of this blog. (Nostalgic!) And oh, what’s this? I recognized a notecard, some stationery of mine.
It was the birthday card I had written to R last year.
‘Working class self-activity is working-class autonomy — autonomy from capitalism,’ argues [Lee] Holstein. Her problem with advocates of trade-union reform efforts, such as Moody, is that they ‘mush together the reform and revolutionary aspects of resistance and insurgency, treating forms of resistance and insurgency which are confined within the framework of capitalism in the same way as those which break out of that framework.’ For Holstein, by contrast, ‘self-activity is not just resisting and attacking, but resisting and attacking in a way that undermines capitalist power, destabilizes its institutional framework, and foreshadows and demonstrates, in the form and content of the current struggles, the potential of the workers to be rulers.’ (284–85)
Two questions for today, and then I promise I’ll get back to grad school work. ;)
Bro-Dependency is a new Comedy Central miniseries of shorts about two dumb bros, and it’s brilliant. I, a reluctant TV watcher (so addicting! nothing else in my life gets done), have so far replayed the first video, “Tacos,” three times. For me, the show could intellectually, culturally, and humorously rival Awkward Black Girl. From the casual racism and misogyny lying around like dirty gym socks (a mess both subtle and potent), to the obnoxious yet painfully fragile hetero-masculinity of its two heroes dudes, BD’s pitch-perfect acting, strong writing and sharp editing capture those ineffable qualities of bro-ness immediately recognizable to anyone who’s ever attended a frat party and felt like strangling themselves with a resistance band.
For example. On first look, Anderson’s laugh-cry (which was so effective in “Tacos” that it seems to have become a running joke for the series, with somewhat diminishing returns) might just seem to paint him as hollow and shallow. But I think this is more about nurture than nature: the sociology of bro-ness, beyond individual vacuousness. These guys spend so much time mocking and belittling what’s painful to others (like harassing the young man on the bike, or — personal-experience beef — laughing off feminism and spouting constant rape jokes) that when something deeply painful happens to them, they have ZERO IDEA how to handle it gracefully.
And although the idiocy is clear, it’s not so absurd or totalizing that we can write these people off. We, too, have our own avoidance maneuvers. Whether our veneer consists of sarcasm or spiritual materialism, when we focus overmuch on commanding, controlling, and dominating what’s around us we become kinda clueless in the face of internal crisis.
More thoughts later, maybe, but for now, can’t wait to see where this show goes. Mad potential, yo.
1. host-friends took me hiking in snowy wilderness preserve and helped me stay upright despite my hazardous “fake snowboots.” (DKNY, soles like sea glass, years-ago gift from california mom worried about cambridge winters.)
when i look down
i just miss all the good stuff.
when i look up
i trip over things.
but i don’t mind looking down, concentrating on not falling. it’s a walking meditation, a game of balance punctuated by laughter, just as good a time as any.
2. after three days and four nights snowed in with them, host-friends are still not sick of me. he calls me “honey;” she shows me how to use a dip stick. they both teach me about art. their lovely house is full of tales; the soot of courage sticks to the walls. this couple is sharp and bright, with a base of warmth (like host-friend’s diced vidalia onions and cilantro on top of our paprika-and-pepper black bean stew).
this morning host-friend Dana lightly cursed her empty bottle of insulin (type 1 diabetic). brightly, as if on cue, Victor took the refrigerated reserve and warmed it in between his palms. “if it goes into your body cold, it hurts,” Dana tells me.
3. reading well-historicized analysis (a draft, a sapling) of revolutionary organizing methods, thoughtfully written in criticism and kindness. joyful joyful. makes me think hard; makes me grateful for people with whom to think and with whom to Do — people with whom to truly attempt. i read in my host-friends’ library nook, on a great lilypad of a chair.
4. weeks of dry, indoor-heated air have given me lips of eucalyptus bark. host-friend Dana gifted me a stick of raspberry balm from the amazing goodie basket that she keeps stocked in her guest room, but i was already so far gone that the stuff didn’t do much good. today, however, revealed a godsend tube of medicated blistex hidden between couch cushions.
5. brief moment of anonymous public crying, at a cafe. output salt of tears helps to balance input salt of delicious poutine (made vegetarian with butternut squash gravy). anonymous public crying makes me feel old and young at the same time.