Tuesday, 5 October 2021
What if I got free?
What if I stopped holding doors
What if I inquired
instead of pre-tired,
to place others before me?
No one’s coming for you, girl.
In all this world
you alone will know your worth.
you have had you,
and it shall be the same at the end, too.
So, steadfast friend,
shall we always bend down
Or could we hold each other up
in the light
of our own radiance?
I hold you in this dance.
This brevity of chance
where I can honor you,
hold you close,
and whisper, “Here”
as I gift to you the space
of my soul.
Tuesday, 28 September 2021
Only to be broken repeatedly in the same ways,
Over and over again.
I can never be naive again.
The pit of my stomach turns on pain
I'm still digesting.
Don't rush me.
Maybe I will, improbably, mature once more into tenderness.
Time may soften my strictures, hardened tissues inflexible now after sustained assaults.
Who knows? Even stones erode.
Jagged edges can become smooth.
Let me take on my metamorphic gleam,
Polished after so much pressure,
Veins showing across my pale, cold being.
The weight I have borne has changed me.
My materials are growing more noble,
Resolute and inert in the harsh elements.
My heart has not yet ossified.
In its cage of bone, it flutters on.
In this grand palace of fractures knit together
Nails dig in,
And knots mark the stories of gnarled growth,
Branching and finding a way.
Tuesday, 31 August 2021
The news weighed heavily on me yesterday. An end to a war as long as my adult life, messy, heartbreaking and complicated.
Do these things ever really end?
I started going to protests and getting involved with activism to prevent this conflict. 20 years ago, I was trying to dig my little heels in against a stupid president and his military escapades. I didn't believe George W. Bush would accomplish anything to make this country safer.
In community college, I helped run teach-ins about what we were doing. It opened my eyes to the importance of foreign policy, the brutal history of US puppeteering in countries that had often been occupied and brutalized repeatedly, as Afghanistan has. I didn't have all the answers, not even close, but I was certain that lots of guns and bombs were not the solution.
Moreover, it was clear that the Bush administration didn't have a solution either, nor even a plan, which was absolutely horrifying.
Shortly after W was reelected, I went off to university in London, hopeful that I could help change the world. I spent the years of his second term having to answer for American stupidity and violence that I had tried to fight at the ballot box, in the streets, and in the written word.
I was old enough to enter this war when it started, though I wasn't old enough to drink. Over time, I met more and more people who served in Afghanistan, both in the military and the diplomatic corps. I had tea with Pashtun friends and talked with them about their families back home, their children that were growing up half a world away in villages vulnerable to attack. The conflict dragged on and on under Obama, but there was also some sense of grim stability in it, never comfortable and never safe.
Meanwhile, in the US, we taught our population to fear the Taliban, hooking their medieval violence and hideous misogyny to our homegrown Islamophobia. I don't find it shocking that Trump, that carrot-faced nightmare clown of white supremacy incarnate, had no qualms about negotiating surrender to the Taliban. I do find it shocking that Biden decided to keep going down that path.
So we withdrew air support and intelligence, two major military advantages our alliance offered to the Afghan fighters, and those that fought by our side despite heavy casualties (much, much heavier than our own) and constant threats lost the last shreds of hope and fled. A government that existed with American protection and financial aid was not strong enough to stand without it. Almost instantly, 20 years worth of uneven progress toward women's freedom and opportunity was buried.
I wasn't around for the war in Vietnam, and I know the draft made that different for my parents' generation. But this was my Vietnam. This was the war that chewed up a smaller number of my colleagues, but haunted us on the news and challenged us to find any possibility of progress. And now I have seen that country collapse in real time, and it feels like some part of my heart has imploded, too.
I am not in the mood to discuss American lives. I don't value them more than Afghan lives. I am grateful that we managed to evacuate thousands in our bungled exit, but so many remain, and over 20 years of cooperation an estimated 250,000 people qualified for the types of visas that should have gotten them on planes out of Kabul with their families. Our evacuations in the last two weeks, while huge, have gotten at most half that number out of the country. Much like our entry, our exit from Afghanistan feels unplanned, and the toll of that rests heavily on the same Afghans that arrogant cowboy Americans command to stay and fight.
The era of Team America World Police seems to be drawing to a close. The Taliban have reclaimed their country. The resistance in the Panjshir Valley is crying out for aid, and mostly finding themselves alone. Women now at the age that I was when I started my awakening to all of this are having their dreams snuffed out, hopes of university and agency stripped from them suddenly after a lifetime of growing up with Americans at their side.
So many wrong choices have been made here. I feel sick with it all, and so small. The enormity of it all is so hard to hold.
Sunday, 22 August 2021
I did a class in an actual dance studio today, for the first time in over a year and a half. Now I feel blissed out and relaxed in an old, familiar way, but getting there was hard.
I thought I was signed up for one thing, and the plan changed. I wasn't sure if the train was running, or on what schedule. I struggled to get my headphones to cooperate on the walk over when a little music would have gone a long way toward calming my spirits. None of this would have phased me before.
I took some deep breaths and kept going. I trust this teacher, and trusted that I could show up, rusty as a bucket of old nails, to try something new... Even though I really wanted the comfort of familiarity.
There has been so much discomfort. Getting started again has had me feeling nervous and weird in ways I didn't expect. I said to James the other day, "These are things I want to do, and I'm surprised at how scared and uncertain I feel. It sucks."
"I've been getting some re-entry jitters, too," he said. And that's exactly it. It feels like stage fright, which I actually had very little of when I was onstage a lot, but I now seem to have about going to the studio to stretch. Oh, how the world has changed!
I got to the train station. My train was later than I hoped it would be. I got on anyway. While I was riding over, I felt a wave of panic about my potential tardiness that frankly was also a rather new experience. (Apologizing for being behind was unfortunately so much a part of my old status quo that it was effortlessly baked in.)
I got off at my stop. I exited. Things started to feel familiar as I entered the building. I got settled into my class. It was new and a puzzle, but also a story related to one that saw me through injury and pregnancy in a previous existence. It was a meditation through the unfamiliar back toward my old home. Getting back in my body, marley underfoot, breathing and expanding again.
It felt so good! I stayed. My teacher and I caught up afterward, comparing notes for the first time in a long while about our endurance through a year that felt apocalyptic. We both stayed--in our city, returning to this studio, reviving practices in-person that connect us to ourselves and each other.
I'm banking this experience. I needed to feel the cresting of pent-up nerves give way to the warm shore of something good on the other side, and I got it. What a treat after so much cabin fever and staying stuck!
Here's to putting the pieces back together again, even if our hands are shakier than we expect them to be.
Wednesday, 30 June 2021
My family lives in a rainbow city. A big rainbow flag flies at the top of Market Street, a grandbaby of the one created in this very city by Gilbert Baker in 1978, waving us home up over the mountain. Through COVID, rainbows proliferated in windows, gestures of solidarity from child to child.
The hilltop vistas display microclimates in all their vigor, and prismatic displays of sunlight clashing through precipitation might be waiting to delight around any corner. Truly, San Francisco wears these colors well.
When my cousin’s two adorable children learned my son’s name, they whispered, “Rainbow Dash!!” excitedly. Their mom filled me in on the exuberant flying unicorn character in the My Little Pony revival that knitted this new generation of childhood to my own. We got him the hoodie immediately.
I am basically Rainbow Brite myself, a resolute geriatric raver who needs color to thrive. So, no surprise, my kid’s wardrobe was similarly littered with vibrant hues and entire spectrums from his earliest days, with Mommy matching.
These parfaits of color have gained meaning after meaning. Only after my baby was born did I learn the term “Rainbow Baby,” and realize that he was one, conceived only a couple of months after a miscarriage. Truly, through some pretty dark years, he has made the world brighter around him, and I am so grateful for how he shines.
My little boy’s birthday happens during Pride, and San Francisco is alive with celebration when we celebrate him, too. For all of his years so far, rainbows have had a place of prominence at the party, and often friends have come kaleidoscopically from other festivities to cheer on my tiny kid.
As a subtle coda to all of this, Pride matters in this house. I am blessed to hold a very privileged place on the queer spectrum, so I don’t talk about it much—but if you know, you know. I’m straight-passing, in a hetero relationship, and sufficiently cis so as to quietly blow up femininity from the inside. (Hey, if life assigns me Disney Princess, I might as well use my powers for good as much as I can.) I’m not trying to take over Pride, but I am certainly here for it, always.
So, it’s important to me that my kid keeps getting the message that there are a lot of ways to be, to love, and to live, because that is his world. This is about his family, too. He already knows kids with families that look different from ours; that is his normal. He knows that love is love, that we have to stand up for what is right, and that being bright and colorful is a joyful way for a boy to be.
As we ride out this pandemic, and expressions of love and community are so altered by yet another epidemic, may we hold our bright visions close and expand them. Baker’s spectrum contemplated expression, vivacity and sensuality as a broad embrace of all that is beautiful. I hope our arc continues to be bent toward justice with many hands working in concert, our variegation perfect and dazzling.
[Images of Gilbert Baker and the colors of the Pride flag from Wikipedia.]
Tuesday, 18 May 2021
I'm going to attempt to say something sensible about Palestine and Israel here, and the odds are high that I'll mess it up. But here goes...
I visited Israel in 2016, to attend the wedding of two dear friends. James and I were their guests, witnesses, and photographers when they married at San Francisco's City Hall, and we were honored to be invited to Tel Aviv to celebrate with their friends and families. These same friends have also openly struggled with Israel's gnarly history, which indeed mandatory military service conscripted them into. They are the first to decry how fucked up all of this is. (Their unease is shared with nearly every Israeli of my generation that I've met.)
Upon arrival in Israel, the first place James and I stayed was in Sheikh Jarrah, which is the area of Jerusalem where the recent looming threat of eviction during Ramadan of Palestinian families to make way for Jewish settlers was one of the flash points for the current violence. On our way in to the ancient city from the airport, rocket fire streaked through the night sky.
When we were planning our trip, I wanted to stay in East Jerusalem. We were welcomed at the American Colony Hotel, which was beautiful, and which in name and history still frames part of my understanding of Israel's complexities: An Ottoman pasha's home, sold on to some Messianic Christians from Chicago in the 19th century, situated in the first Muslim-majority neighborhood outside of the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, and run as an oasis of neutrality for diplomats and dignitaries in a city divided.
As the march to war has been building over the past month, the place names are familiar to me, and my acquaintance with the city puts a visceral sense of place to the flashpoints. James and I walked through this quiet neighborhood to Damascus Gate, where barricades were recently put up to prevent Muslims from gathering after prayers at al-Aqsa mosque. When Israeli officers fired rubber bullets at worshippers there, and videos played of fires and bloodshed at the mosque, it stands in horrifying contrast to the day I stood there in the sunshine, watching mischievous children get scolded by their elders while parents prayed inside.
I have never been anywhere that felt as simultaneously beautiful and apocalyptic as Jerusalem. Its Old City quarters house Muslims, Jews, Christians and Armenians in relative peace, a longstanding cohabitation indeed. I walked through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and saw over a millennium of Christian devotion rendered in Byzantine mosaic and ancient graffiti, embodied by a diversity of sectarians I don't think I will ever see again anywhere else.
But history is omnipresent, deep and bloody. I walked the path of Christ's torment en route to crucifixion, and then on to the Western Wall, crossing the skybridge over Jewish worshippers crying at the foundation of a Temple destroyed to a Muslim holy site built on its remains. Upon leaving the Temple Mount, we walked through Palestinian children firing imaginary guns at the deadly real armed Israeli soldiers, who frankly weren't much more than children themselves. I had little faith that the uneasy, imbalanced ceasefire would hold.
Let me be clear: I think that Jews deserve to feel safe, and I think the world has generally proven itself wholly untrustworthy with that. I also think that Israel has reproduced the displacement and discrimination that inspired its foundation in the first place. As an American, I see an awful familiarity between the inception of the United States and Israel's origin story; indeed, the US has explicitly helped develop the narrative of Israeli exceptionalism in a way that mirrors its own arrogance and desire to mask genocide and imperialism. I have huge problems with how both the United States and Israel came to be and continue to be, and I continue to be appalled at how the US remains complicit in the misery, displacement and oppression of Palestinians by Israel.
I also spent days refreshing my understanding of Israeli politics so I could try and briefly convey the complexity of the challenge there, and the task is genuinely beyond me. Suffice it to say, Netanyahu has been a contentious force for a decades, and during that time he has used settlers as a way to further invade Palestinian territories while also using the ensuing conflict to shore up his shaky coalitions with rightwing factions. His machinations clearly endanger Israelis, and plenty of them know it, but the incredible plurality of parties and competing agendas make it hard to actually oust him, even though he's failed to secure majorities and has been a focus of corruption investigations nearly from the start. (Americans that idolize the notion of coalition governments should do some deep reading on Israel to get a feel for how fatally stuck they can leave a country.)
As one of my Israeli friends put it at our celebration of Biden's victory, imagine what the US would be like if Trump had been in power for twenty years instead of a single (unpresidential) term. The Netanyahu years have led away from the peace process and toward war, and there will be no improvement to the situation so long as he remains in power.
So, here we are watching more death and destruction in the Holy Land. (Some sick factions of American Christianity even cheerlead this, as it's part and parcel of their End Times fetishes.) The people of Gaza are kettled on a tiny strip of land, trapped, deprived of free movement, subject to airstrikes, houses reduced to rubble amid a pandemic, bodies of children stacking up. Families in Tel Aviv are also racing for shelter, as the Iron Dome's impressive but not impervious defenses fend off rocket fire, debris raining into the Mediterranean Sea.
As we left Jerusalem to head to Tel Aviv, James and I literally drove through a fire. It started small, close to the side of the road. We had been talking to our Palestinian taxi driver about Ramallah, which we had seen from the road, and I remarked that there was a grass fire. We ended up stopped on the highway next to a large tree, because drivers in front of us had paused to gawk and take photos of the blaze. I knew that if we didn't move, the flames would be on that tree and in danger of setting our car on fire, but we couldn't go anywhere until the stopped vehicles cleared. Indeed, the fire lit up the tree next to us incredibly quickly, which scared folks in front of us badly enough to get moving. The fire was so close by the time we could move that we could feel the heat through the windows.
That sense of seeing just where the fire is heading, with nobody moving, feels like an apt metaphor for the last month of keeping up with this news. I'll never forget what it felt like to stand in the heat gazing up at the Dome of the Rock, nor the heat of that fire about to overtake our taxi.
If anyone needs me, I'll just be over here pressuring my elected officials to stop propping up warfare and hoping Netanyahu's corruption trials lead to a forced retirement sooner rather than later. More layers of trauma, bloodshed and death bring us no closer to peace.
Wednesday, 17 February 2021
When I was a kid, I was exposed to Rush Limbaugh in a filthy car and a desperately dirty apartment I tried to muck out more than once to save my father.
I heard Limbaugh's hate-filled tirades demean women, celebrate the deaths of LGBTQ activists, and rile the anger and entitlement of heavily armed men.
If you don't know what it's like to be trapped in that smoke-filled cesspool, wondering what's happening to someone you love, seeing them be radicalized long before that word had entered your vocabulary as a child, then sit down.
I won't show Limbaugh compassion any more than you'd mourn the death of the dealer who got your loved one hooked on heroin.
As a grown woman--one of Limbaugh's preferred demographics to target--I look around and find that the vast majority of my friends are not straight white Americans. My nearest and dearest are immigrants, international, first generation, melanated and queer, and they all have come under attack from Limbaugh and the rot he helped fester.
If you're capable of compassion in the face of evil that targets people you love, good on you, I guess. But don't try to shame or silence people that are feeling relief in the face of the only victory we're going to get as far as this pernicious poison is concerned.
We live in a society that refuses to hold men like Limbaugh, his buddy Trump, and all their ilk accountable. Refuses to reject them. Instead, these creeps are given medals and presidencies, pardons and praise. They breed Brock Turners, Dylan Roofs and Eliot Rodgers, who in turn are mollycoddled after massacres as the press works to illuminate their pain despite the bodies lying all around.
This doesn't stop because we turn the other cheek; that may be a power move for men in a world that doesn't expect them to display self-control when faced with attacks, but it's the bullshit status quo for those of us that are already expected to be quiet and kind as we are curb-stomped into submission.
Know justice, know peace. No unity without accountability. While I somehow still hope that true diversity reaching the highest and most powerful levels of our society will relieve this grim pressure to be pliant in the face of abuse, in the meantime we might have to simply exhale more fully in the absence of a monster.