I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save)
the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world.
This makes it hard to plan the day. –E.B. White
Sweet peas in the morning sun on a farm near Petaluma.
Oh, my loves, it’s all so much, isn’t it?
This bile that’s bubbled up from the storm drain
Offending nostrils and ears
Stealthily seeping into pores
Set it aflame and we burn ourselves
Go to battle and the war begins within
And soon the moon will blot the sun and bathe us all in gray
I was not surprised by the events in Charlottesville.
No sadness. No anger. Just another headline.
I was not surprised by 45’s two-day response delay and the subsequent offense that launched from his sphincter lips.
These days “power” seems synonymous with money, violence and fear.
It conjures images of Wall Street greed, banker bailouts, Kim Jong-un, Putin and #45.
Rather than strategizing or bargaining for power (which is how I’ve believed it is obtained), I’ve actively done the opposite – admonishing and pushing it away.
Power? No, thank you.
I am compassionate.
I am a champion of the powerless!
I believe in humanity.
Actively seeking power has seemed in direct opposition to these ideas. Seeking power meant slithering into back rooms, turning a blind eye, conjuring dirty deals and peddling cheap goods. It meant selling out. If I am granted power it will come when I’m busy doing other things – things that have merited its arrival. Otherwise, I’m content to humbly toil.
It’s been a challenging week.
My work of facilitating conversation and deep feeling around systemic racism continues in profound and heartbreaking ways.
I see how when discomfort arises we can fall back on familiar patterns of being, rooted in a hierarchical system.
I notice a tendency when things get tough for the most empowered in the group to insist that things are done another way, their way, the “right” way.
And no one wants to hurt anyone’s feelings or say, “the wrong thing.”
This includes me.
What does it mean to belong?
As a bi-racial woman, is it possible for all my many layers to truly feel welcomed in a white setting?
Who bestows this privilege and who takes it away?
This weekend I was reminded of my Blackness.
I traveled to the city for a workshop titled, “Opening the Heart & Mind of the World: Opportunities for Writers of Color,” hosted by The San Francisco Writers Conference. It was one of the few free events.
The conference took place at this hotel in Nob Hill – an area of the city that has long been the domain of the haves. During my climb up Powell Street, I was made immediately aware that each step brought me closer to the realm of wealth. The cars were European, peeks inside lit homes revealed sleek modern furniture, and on this Saturday night, well-heeled whites traveled in boisterous groups towards some area of fun that I could not fathom.
Upon entering the hotel, aside from the bellman and cleaning staff, most of the faces were white. As it had been some time since my last hobnob in the kind of place where doors are held open for you and a bounty of pens and notepaper are freely available for the taking, I was quite enjoying myself.
Me and Dad
“But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.” — Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
Racism is about bodies.
It is a visceral reality that can be tasted, seen and felt.
And yet, as I devoured Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, where the physicality of discrimination is honestly and vividly conveyed, I felt a curiosity arise in my own body. As a bi-racial girl who grew up in Utah, what was my physical experience of racism? The violence, ineffective schools and codes of the streets Coates describes of the Baltimore neighborhood of his youth, was not my reality. I grew up in an upper-middle-class white neighborhood. I was a cheerleader. Neighbors brought over bunts and peanut brittle during the holidays.
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in the eyes of the Divine. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed … I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. –Thomas Merton
Things are incredibly sad here.
When I look at the sky some days it is piercingly blue, which seems a mockery to the state of it all. Other days, like today, it is a shroud, milk tainted by one drop of squid ink. I imagine the sun trudging across its congested home, sweating and exhausted. I can commiserate. The simplest things, throwing off the duvet this morning, assembling the ingredients for matcha, take more time than they should. Why bother?
This soft, dull light of today lulls me to disinterest. I want nothing but to continue laying in my warm bed daydreaming of another world that is warm, inviting and viscous with honey’d love. I’m drunk on love, floating contentedly in its golden sea. There’s nowhere to be, no other person to invite in. It’s all exactly enough.
Last week was a week lost. We lost an election; I lost a week in time. I did not work. I did not make progress on any of my projects. I didn’t even cook. All of my energy was consumed with feeling and trying to escape feeling. It was a full-time effort.
I went to the Trolls movie.
I Shimmy Popped, InterPlayed and Twerk Werked
I held the people I love and they held me.
These things worked for a bit, but when the credits rolled, the last booty bounced, and the cuddle puddle evaporated, the anxiety began to flood back in. I did not sleep. The one lonely Valium I’ve saved for the end of the world began to call my name. “Kelsey, this is not living.” “I can make you feel o.k.”
I woke at 4:00 a.m. today and lay in bed paralyzed, unable to face a new reality, unable to will myself back to the comforts of the dream world.
I’ve bounced between text messages, Facebook posts and news reports hoping for some light to alleviate this unfathomable outcome, some comforting word to assure me that Trump really can’t inflict the damage of which he appears so capable.
The end of Roe vs Wade?
The end of marriage equality?
The end of Obamacare?
The end of climate acknowledgment?
The end of Freedom of the Press?
The end of equal rights for Muslims?
Surely, there must be some check, some balance, some other body who’s really pulling the strings? We will not regress into some good ol’ boy nation where the haves keep having regardless of the effects on people and planet. But with a Senate and House Republican majority, I have little hope in the powers that be and the course they will set.
When we knew everything. Me and my BFF Kristie celebrating eminent world domination the evening of our HS Graduation.
Write what you know.
This idea has stuck with me ever since I devoured the book Little Women in middle school. Jo, the protagonist, agonizes over writing a swash-buckling tale of derring-do. When her short stories are published, they receive little attention. Jo’s editor suggests instead she try writing something more personal, something from her heart. After some offended guffaws she pens a novel about growing up with her three sisters, aka Little Women.
As I’ve embarked on my own writing, the only place I know to start is with what’s in my own heart. Sometimes this gets me into trouble for being too honest, too transparent, and perhaps exposing those who’d prefer to remain anonymous. But it is not my wish to write for shock value or revenge. I share my experiences because I’m compelled to do so, and because I believe that writing is what I’m called to do.
I write about my love life, my aspirations, my fears and even my finances, but I have not written about social issues. Topics of race, oppression and sexuality have felt too monolithic for meager me to approach — best to let the PhD’s and activists in the world tackle such important issues. What could I possibly add to the conversation?
Maybe from living in a city steeped in years of activism or maybe from waking up to my own Blackness, I’m realizing how deeply flawed such beliefs are. Not believing I have something to add to “serious conversations” is indeed a mark of my own social conditioning. Am I not a living, breathing human living in a chaotic, confused time? Do I not walk as brown-skinned woman in a world where such distinctions are a liability? How could I not have something to say?