11.26 A Day of Mourning I want to sit down and grieve Sit in the snow Feel the cold settling of Futures cut off Back, front, inside, below The cat cowers beneath A threat he feels, we cannot see Less confident, less relaxed He found out about the world Yet we call him crazy? We actually once joked, About the cat Another white male in This house Man spreading, balls out What if - we welcome the Cold breath of the trauma Like we revel in close-warm ignorance? Pendulate, harmonize Sweat, shiver, move, expose Don’t look away, witness frame to frame What some bodies already know Know like - what we’re made of Not like: they can hold In the forest, Brokenness makes a loud sound Just the once: open tree to sky Smashed branches spread lichen On the earth Where the Wea people grew Corn, hunted bison and elk Danced and sang in ceremony A Black man lives each day 23 hours in solitary He - crochets The Chinook nation: Clatsop, Willapa, Wahkiahkum, Cathlamet Sent a letter every day While Obama’s lead pardon attorney In protest, gave his job away 9000 un-communted sentences 245 un-recognized tribal nations Children, ancestors, graves Breathing souls with hopes, Names I want to lay the broken branches Over my face today Fill my mouth with rain Here: I share the nourishment Why not share the pain
I’ve let so much fall away.
I don’t think there will ever be an end to the grief.
Which feels like a relief –
I can step into the stream, anytime I need.
I took an online class
If the only thing we can do with
Then, consider how you might
As the self you have
Only now become.
Let’s do this together, ok?
Grief and Ground
A three-class series
Saturdays 4 – 5:15
Dec 5th, 12th, 19th
Live on the internet, recording available afterward
We’ll rest, move, breathe, honor change, and cultivate connection to the great abundance.
RSVP for link at email@example.com
Pay $35/ $45/ $55 as you can (let me know if you can’t)
When I wrote my most recent newsletter back in June, I said that I would make a list of de-colonial, anti-racist, collective liberation resources available on my website. Then I didn’t do it. That I still didn’t do it when I finally sent the newsletter, months later, let me know that that promise had been hollow – what I felt was a No.
Instead, I’d like to offer some encouragement – specifically for white people, but not exclusively – around letting go of the list, getting curious about how you student, and decolonizing your relationship with wisdom.
There’s something killing about a list, you know? Reductive, capitalist. A list for the grocery, ok. A list of things to pack for camping, yes. I don’t want a list of the plants that grow in my garden.
Currently, I have a list of individuals imprisoned in Oregon (supplied by the good people at CRPDX) who I am writing letters to. The list is needful; in the absence of relationship, it lets me know what is mine to do. But what I am getting from writing the letters is not in the list. There is no cookie for completing it. I breathe in a single name. Sometimes google to see what the system blamed as it claimed that name for itself. I describe my reasons for writing: what in my lived experience pushed me to embrace abolition? I practice being visiblemaking the value ever more personal.
Back when I was working at a school, I had a list on the computer of all the students who were meant to be in a class. I needed to mark them present or absent. This was not, in my experience, an act that brought me into deeper connection. The youth knew that they were being counted: a reminder every period, all day – the system is watching you; sit down, stay.
As we approach the end of the first quarter of remote schooling in which students will be fully graded in the PPS system, I am alert to our systemic addiction to the deadline assessment. As the narrative goes, on November 3rd, we will – as a collective body – suddenly know a great truth about ourselves and our future. Two days later, everyone involved with public schools across Oregon will have their willingness and effort to connect, communicate, comprehend, and demonstrate their process (on a set of topics not chosen by them, on a screen, from whatever they have for home, in a pandemic) reduced to a set of letters. This will go down on your permanent record…
There is a colonial fantasy that a list, a deadline, a rigid limit will make things fair, visible, objective, clean. In my body, a list makes me a machine. I notice a brittle scarcity around the binary of present/absent; done/still-to-do; known/unknown. The point of a list is to get through it.
The learning contact I have sought and received from brilliant, radical Black educators over the last six years… is a whole universe. An Alvin Ailey dance. A Nikki Giovanni poem. A fugue of survival and a hymn of resolve. It is not a list item. It is not something I ever want to get through. The rage and shine of Black femmes opens me up; I learn not by doing what I’m told, but through love.
More: to make a list is to leave out all the the deeply intimate teachings which these professional educators prepared me for, opened me to. The colonized mind sees authority in abstraction: having studied oppression makes you a scholar; having lived it makes you a schmuck. This kind of education dissociates to indoctrinate. But we evolved to learn from people closest to us! From those whose direct experience gave them something to share. It is one of the triumphs of the racist program still running in the US that so many of us are deprived, daily, of contact with people who could actually show us the truth of ourselves. Seeking out this contact and orienting to the wisdom of lived experience is potent medicine – which requires a steady practice in slowness and humility that can’t ever be represented as a list item.
Finally: I saw A Lot of Lists in the frantic shock-woke socials-posting that happened after George Floyd was publicly murdered by the state. The toggle between the black square that declares I know nothing and the re-posted assignment list of how to be a good ally… left me cold. I am no authority here. I am an engaged neighbor, a companion, an elbow, a raised eyebrow, someone who will insist that this shit be talked about. But I can’t tell you that if you do certain things, you’ll be good, you’ll be fine.
The toggle for me in collective liberation work is this: notice/accept; divest/invest; heal/heal. The process and conditions of learning are inextricable from what we learn. This is why I love to learn about race from Black women who take no shit. Boundaries are visceral learning. We learn to act from how people let us act.
Spiritual practice is premised on being able to get more free than we feel in this moment. Activism, organizing, and social movement practice is premised on being able to get more free than we feel in this moment. Moving with an awareness of freedom means being open to feel what we cannot yet feel, while staying oriented to the sensations of support and connection that we need as organisms.
An arc of increased empowerment and personal accountability supports us through the pain and grief of association to dehumanization and calculated destruction. Cultivating curiosity and humility helps us check performativity. Also: honoring the cycle; sourcing joy; getting skin in the game; being called in and up and out. (There’s a list of actions for you.)
I use the term toggle, and learning can look like a back and forth: teacher-student, outside-inside, reflect-express. But in every possible binary, I see a wheel to turn: a cycle of seasons that, in balance, will self-fulfill. Getting curious about how you student can feed a process of healing the hurts in your own learning cycle. Who supports you? What is the self-talk? What’s your healthy pacing? Where do you tend to flinch, to fall off? How can you let go of how it looks and make the process more accessible – for yourself?
Every kid needs to learn about how they learn. Instead, for many years, we mostly learned how close or far we were from the goal, the ideal. We have all had our desire for community and belonging co-opted. We have all cut off our natural urge to explore because we were shamed for it. We have all learned – and here I see how our conditioned identities create major divergences in strategy – what manipulations of our essential energy we can adapt to: how we can conform.
Have you heard people use the terms un-learning and re-learning? Have you considered how like re-parenting they are? I am here to insist that actually, none of you is free of the social burdens of school and childhood – despite the messages that you may have received, that surviving that time is enough, and that if you don’t have any children currently in your home, you can just move on.
As a teacher, I can confidently say that the children we can support best are the ones who act through us, all the time. Young people would love for us to be able to handle our own inner children. This is the true indicator of whether a substitute teacher will increase chaos in a classroom or be a fun break for the kids. I know, I’ve done both. If you haven’t read James Baldwin’s A Talk to Teachers, here you go.
Learning – real learning – changes the function of our cells. A growth edge is where each of us – and groups of us – are available to be changed. As Baldwin says, “The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it—at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.”
If you made it this far in this post, there’s probably curiosity. Care. Some sense of reflection. Hi. Hello.
I take such comfort in knowing that there is lineage everywhere. The connections between ideas are connections between bodies: love threads of meaning and visceral recognition that carry through time and space. Feeling the pull, following the threads, reaching out in curiosity, settling in with humility to receive: the process honors our ability to grow, as it honors those who tend that growth.
If you know where your learning is happening right now, please: celebrate it. If you would like a single resource to draw you in and out and up – send me an email about what you’re noticing about your learning process and I’ll pick one especially for you. If your anti-racist process is feeling like a list, take a look at your teachers, take a look inward, and feel for where you can kneel: slow down and show some respect.
A list can pick a few key points out of a swirling world of possibility. It can be a place where we set down repetitive thoughts. It can let us know the shape of enough, so that we can step toward our purpose: rest.
But the list does not hold the wisdom. You hold the wisdom. New perspectives, fresh information, a well-timed invitation to reconstruct the map – these are seeds that must meet soil in you.
Which is why paying your Black educators is so important. More on that, next time.
The last few days, Clara has woken me with the snakey touch of her cold naked body. In this heat, she and Jeff are sleeping downstairs on the couch and thai mat, respectively. Today we played a familiar game
(The seed and the gardener … I carefully bury her curled form in pillows, wishing sweet growing wishes. I water the pile with dancing fingers, tell how the sun shines down. In time – a sprout! Her body slowly grows from the pillowy soil; I water; the sun shines. She grows to her full height. Sometimes I harvest and eat; sometimes I smell her flowers; sometimes I lay in her shade. Then we laugh and it is my turn. As I grow from the warm dark soil, I look out the window to see the tops of my kin all around. Hello! Hello!)
before we went downstairs for toast.
At night, Z and I lie naked in the bed, our bodies expressing their tender transitory expressions
(nipples, pubic hairs, labia, shoulder blades, toe nails, eyebrows)
in the yellow-black summer air as we twist on top of the quilt with our heavy heat-damp books.
She likes a lazy head-scratch from my hand that’s not holding a book as much as her dad does. I like to weave my hand in and tug slowly on the roots – a firm touch in a world of not-enough contact for our animal selves. Our hair, tangled from drying under hats after river swimming, mingles on the pillows.
A few days ago, in the wake of the inevitable announcement of the extension of online schooling in our district, I decided to revisit some old blogs I used to follow about project-based un-schooling. Despite the rotten taste in my mouth as I read an entry from 2017
(in which the writer loudly rolls her eyes about suggestions she’s received that she might be able to do more good by having her kids in school and bringing her remarkable energy to bear on the system for the benefit of all kids in her community)
I got a journal out and tried a thing she suggested: just make notes of what your child is interested in, help them see patterns, look for a project together.
Zelda was willing. I asked questions; made notes. Soon enough, she suggested that this process was not revealing anything to her – that she already knew the things that I was asking. She used a descriptor I often use: “It just feels like an interview.”
I stood up for my sense that something needed to happen in these long aimless days – a project, a process. I said that without other adults providing structure, investing time in her learning – I felt that she needed more support. I said that the variable endlessness of the rapidly refreshing digital social scene is always available, always tempting us – usually without giving us the kind of personal, relational context in which challenge can reveal or satisfy. I said – too much.
Zelda let me know, with a tight voice, damp eyes, that I had gotten on the whiteness train again.
No, she did not say: whiteness.
She said: I feel like this thing with the notepad makes it so it’s not you and me talking anymore. It’s like this is for someone else who doesn’t even know me. She said: it hurts my feelings when you talk about the things I’m doing that you don’t like, to try to get me into your idea. She said: I think I hurt your feelings when I said your questions weren’t helping me, and so you got defensive.
I sat back, took a breath. Let her know: you’re right, that I felt somehow offended. You’re right that I wanted to defend my idea. But the wild truth is, it wasn’t even my idea. It was for someone else.
What was the feeling that drove me to the old blogs where I used to take comfort in a vision of learning and family that seemed protected – separate – from the mechanical grind of 9-5 and systemic education?
The idea laid alongside, called up through the announcement of more online school: that she is not getting enough, that I am not giving enough, that we are not doing enough. Here’s this feeling: scarcity. Worry.
And then, so quickly, here is whiteness: a fix for this.
I can hear the voices: why is this whiteness?
The central urge of the cultural energetic of whiteness is to dominate. The proliferation of ways that this urge manifests in individuals, communities, policy, structures and systems has been one of the primary activities of white culture over the last several hundreds of years. If you are curious about the concrete historical scholarship of this, please read Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X Kendhi. If you want a nuanced inquiry into the ways whiteness shows up in individuals, turn to Layla F Saad’s book, White Supremacy and Me.
One flavor of whiteness I am especially susceptible to is the exceptional opt-out. Public charter schools in Portland are full of this kind of whiteness. I know, because I’m there, too. The ironic rant that I found on the project based unschooling blog was a perfect example of this kind of whiteness. The central thesis is: I am different. And the truth is that we are all different! Something to celebrate! But when the core urge of dominance gets a hold of this thesis, it becomes: I am different, and I can and should use my power and privilege to prioritize the preferences of my (segregated) community ahead of the collective.
One big way this gets facilitated, in my experience, is fear of what will happen if we do not use our power in this way. I connect the exceptionalist voice in my head with class – the fear of the aspiring middle class that if we continue to identify with and care for those among us who remain in poverty, we will be dragged down. Those with more power than we have are using it to get ahead, to meet their own needs, to hoard resources – so we must too! But exceptionalism is clever and says, but we would never do it the way they do. Once again: I am different. Still, the fear under the aspiration makes using the power of separation, of mobility, of access and identity, almost… self-defense? There is a perpetual tinge of victimhood to the exceptionalist in me: she will be obliterated by dominant culture if she does not pull away.
I cannot overstate the role of fear in all this. Despite having an open channel with my kid, and checking for her willingness; despite my overall parenting practice, which is not overtly coercive, the way I approached Zelda was not rooted in connection. I did not start with questions and feelings. I did not start by checking in with my own emotions. I started with a vague worry, and added a sprinkling of internet, the guidance of someone operating transparently from unexamined privilege (privilege I also have benefitted from), and came up with an imagined goal, which I carried to the body of my kid to try to plant it.
I want to be so clear: this is normal! This is nuanced! I am not monstrous. I am a caring parent. And, Scarcity is monstrous. Scarcity makes those with power believe they need more.
And, she felt the third party. The way my body was half turned, hoping for some imagined approval from an audience that will never truly love me.
She felt the seed I had in my hand and its questionable provenance. She asked: did Gaga do this kind of thing with you when you were a kid? I said, no, because we didn’t have a pandemic. But my mom did really focus on my education, making sure I was challenged. She moved me to a private school when the public school was utterly boring and remedial; she signed me up for adult writing classes when there weren’t ones for youth; she made sure that I took the dance classes and the swim lessons.
Zelda asked: How did that feel for you?
And I had to admit that though I always felt challenged, and loved the feelings of being immersed in learning, in the flow of movement, of being recognized, given opportunities to learn, given privilege – I knew, too, as kids almost always do, that there was something happening that was bigger than me, not really about me, or at least not only about me. That mysterious third party sat at my mother’s shoulder as she corrected my essay, looked over my grades, hustled to pay for my extracurriculars: an unnamed external whose eye was everywhere, whose energy could suddenly be unleashed at any time.
The quest for a space in which whiteness is not watching – is not operating – is a common theme in Black American narratives.
I saw a meme this week that said, Whiteness expects everyone to deal with whiteness except white people. This quote was attributed to Sonya Renee Taylor, who I deeply honor. Generally, I assume Black people know much more about whiteness than I do, because of how important it has been in my conditioning for whiteness to remain unacknowledged and invisible. And. As I sense into the presence of this omnipresent but unmentioned third party – who came to a meeting I had with my daughter yesterday by making what could have been a conversation into a meeting, by suggesting I would need a notebook to do it right, by making me an executor of my daughter’s intellectual and creative estate, by gripping my body when she questioned the necessity of the meeting, so that I undermined her so-far resilient response to a global and very personal loss of structure, predictability, and physiological intimacy with her peers – as I sense in to this possession that I accepted but that she rejected – I know that whiteness actually expects white people to deal in whiteness all the time. It expects white people to plant the seed of whiteness into themselves and into each other and into our children – every day.
I processed this experience with a good friend who does non-profit work with organizations that support communities and individuals who are systematically oppressed by US economic and social policy and practice. She connected the whiteness showing up in my meeting agenda with the whiteness of the whole non-profit grind – a drama layered so thoroughly over whatever deep wish to help, to reverse the damage, to support the vulnerable … that there is no dance left for all the feet getting stepped on. My friend named the best outcome of the best work possible in their office: to turn to the most impacted and ask what they need, and then to work to unconditionally meet that need.
Which, considering the fear, is really radical, right? The fear that we – the moderately privileged, the white working class, women with education, first generation college grads, alternative thinkers, escaped from religion – will be thrown back in with the most oppressed if we actually attend to them.
How does this connect to parenting?
We have all learned to employ power-over. It is the status quo. For those of us who wave the educationally exceptional flag, desiring a world where our kids are co-creators of their own learning experiences, the tools of power-over find expression in the quest to maintain and protect their opportunities.
My friend pointed out that actually asking what the most impacted need – showing up in our bodies, slowing down, staying present while they seek an answer in themselves and staying present when and if that answer changes shape – is intensely vulnerable. Because we do not think we can supply what they need; we have not been given the tools. Which is why we try so hard to convince them that they need the things we have to offer.
I see both these vectors coming together in this current moment, and in the project conversation I had with my kid.
My desire to better support her; my fear of TikTok being an insufficient resource for a whole year of socialization needs; my wish for accessible models to engage her interests in a structured format; my desire to be right in there with her in her learning – all of these are real, true, ok ways to feel. And, whiteness says that if we do not employ power over, we will suffer. We will fail. Exceptionalism says that if we don’t get to do it just the way we want, we will suffer. Our difference will be erased.
Pause with that. Do we really want to deform another generation to desire only what they have access to in a system designed to steal land and labor for the benefit of a few? Do we want to teach them to seek what they can gain access to by aligning with power and tacitly cooperating with oppression?
This comes down to the inevitable scrambly moment. In my own conversation, the ability to pause and receive Zelda’s refusal to accept the pill, was the turning point. I relinquished the power of the notepad, the plan, the vicarious online authority. I became a learner: vulnerable, willing to be seen, questioning myself. We held hands on the couch, and talked about screens and social media, about the pandemic and the uprising. She suggested that if I feel afraid that she’s not getting enough, she is totally up to talk about what we could do differently. But, she said, “it’s better for me if we make that about you.”
So here’s my check-in. As we flap our hands about school. Online, offline, masks, in person, pods, full-on drop-out, standards and skills, social-emotional, health and survival. How does that show up for our kids, in our homes? How does the particular way we worry manifest in the particular solution to the particular scarcity we encounter in the guise of our own powerlessness? (If you are thinking, “I don’t have kids, so I don’t have to think about school,” how is this exceptionalism segregating you?) How, in this process, do we double down on the harms we encountered as children, when our sovereignty and intrinsic value were demeaned by the adults who sought to support us to assuage their own fear?
And, essentially, can we root our security in the abundance of actual sensory information all around us that assures us that our children – and the children of our neighbors, and the children of those who live in neighborhoods we do not covet – are deeply, inherently valuable? We do not have to do anything to them to make them valuable. We merely have to treat them – and ourselves – as the whole, worthy humans we already are.
Conversation w Clara in the bath, while reading Ramona
Do you know what ‘Conscience’ means?
People usually think that a Conscience helps you know when you have hurt someone else, or broken a social rule, does that sound familiar?
Do you think you can tell in your body, the way Ramona can, that you have done something other people don’t want you to do? Ramona’s tummy hurts. Sometimes my throat feels tight because I am worried. Does anything happen for you?
I just cry.
OK. Yeah. Is there anything that helps you feel better when you have that feeling?
Someone talking to me. But not the person I hurt and not the person who got me in trouble. Someone I love or someone who doesn’t know what I did or doesn’t mind.
… I pause, sensing that there is moral threatening on the horizon of my mind …
Do you want to say sorry to the person you hurt, after you feel better?
… Pause …
Some people think a conscience is to help you learn what hurts people so you can change what you do so you don’t keep hurting them. What do you think?
I don’t know. I don’t want to hurt people unless I’m mad. Like, if I hit someone then when I am mad again I will probably hit them again.
Who do you hit?
Zelda. Only Zelda. Because she is my sister. I wouldn’t hit my friends.
Because they are my friends! I don’t want to. I wouldn’t.
What about Ida?
But you do get mad at Ida.
Sometimes you are sharp with your words.
Yeah. But that is because we are deep friends. Deep heart friends. I can get mad at her. Not like my school friends. They are head friends. We play more carefully.
CW: this poem is sexy.
Ask to feel
Strip on a pink
Torso tipped over
Deer tail ticks
Side to side
Arch to hip
Ass lifted off
Touching and showing
To the surface
Edging along boulders
Of short mountain
To the valley
In a sudden slide
A roaring, moaning
Around my shoulders
Bones of my back
The weight of the sun
These breaths under
High blue blue sky drinks
The condensation from my
Skin bakes me back
To a Separate thing
Cold breeze lays close to the land
As it moves
Dancing the buds and open
Sex parts of
Buttercups Heather Yarrow Violets
Paintbrush Pine pollen Penstemon pistil
Sedum, saxifrage, stamen
Too, the breath
of this wide wet pocket’s
Licks my nipples in time
I imagine the evening’s
As sky air falls to the
Shining moving skin
Of the lake again
Ravished by the rhythm
I dress and continue
Hand and foot
Reach and lean
Playful warmth at the center
Draws me up and on and in
Zelda and I rode to Laurelhurst park on May 31st to protest. It was the second night since this most recent iteration of the uprising for Black Life had sparked in Portland. Maybe the third. Jeff had just gone downtown to “help clean up” with John G.
Tonight I will march again … for the 10th or 11th or 12th time.
My google calendar still holds the old story: swim lessons, gymnastics, childcare swaps. I am returning from a BMC training in Lorane. I am headed out on a five day backpacking trip with youth from school – school where I am no longer employed and no one is leading a backpacking trip for youth.
It was too much to delete everything at once. And it is too much to add what is actually going on somehow on top of what was planned. So I let the days float freely, unadhered to the construct. I write very little here. It feels like such a struggle to quantify, to try to name, to hold it still.
I don’t know how many times I’ve been in the crowd, chanting, walking, heart in fist. It doesn’t matter. Only a few things matter, is the legitimate relief of now: the source of all possibility. So much floats, but the path is clear.
I have no paid work and yet I work, am being paid. I think about the same issues, practices, processes I thought about when I was “working,” though the number of interactions with others is far fewer. The pressure to produce on an external schedule is much less. The pressure to grow is not less. The pressure to grow comes from within, from the pull between earth and sun.
In a text conversation with a former colleague and still-friend, I joked that I had no idea the government was going to pay me to work for Black dignity, joy, and self-determination in 2020. As soon as I saw the words on the screen, I realized the disconnect: of course I did know; before I got laid off, before Covid-19, before the uprising – that was my job, as I conceived it.
It looks different now. I miss my students. I miss my colleagues. Like most everybody, I stay home a lot, doing repetitive things in my house, some of which are functionally supportive (making dinner, listening to the kids, moving money into Black lives and Black orgs) and others which are dysfunctionally supportive (eating the cakes the twelve year old makes, going for periodic swims in the meme ocean, painting my fingernails black so I won’t bite them and then biting them anyway).
I look at my phone a lot. I take mandatory breaks and struggle, but manage to cut down. Then I congratulate myself and re-addict. I just want to stay in connection with the movement, with the cultural body that is close enough to my value matrix so that I can resonate, cultivate, transmit beyond just the small feeling of me locked away in my privilege in my house.
On the streets I feel connected, rooted, powered by the great bursting desire of the Earth. And then I feel, afterward, relieved to take a break from the drumming, shouting, dully repetitive language of the march, of the crowd. My inner Virgo rises, and I want carefully constructed sentences, details, history, multiple meanings, shadow and light. My inner Taurus wants to slow down, touch the grass like a lover. I want to move my own small body in generative, intuitive ways. I want to feel the myriad replications of life, in a dance that includes time but is not defined by it. I want to explore the ramifications of even the smallest codes – “what does Good mean in this case?” I ask the children, again and again. My inner Cancer wants the loving push-back that can only happen in intimacy, where the fetus kicks, where personhood and personality can be parsed, and the warp of conditioning fingered gently from the weft of Life.
But here at home I am often blank, shifting from one room to another, putting the phone down, picking it back up. I sit to write, and tiptoe along the edge of hopelessness, using two hands to break the full flooding spectrum of sensation into word problems I can solve for an imagined audience. So I try to read, and in three pages am so full of the concentrated literary transmission of one human (Hanif Abdurraquib or Christy deGallerie or Aja Monet or Ta-Nehisi Coates or adreinne marie brown or Suzan Lori-Parks) whose sharing of their embodied experience of oppression, white supremacy, family, safety, legacy, beauty, gender and Blackness is so unique, so collective, so painful, so rich and proud and elegant, so impenetrable and isolating and impossible to fucking get a break from – that I subside again, rocked by intimacy and vastness. A cat sits on me, and I collapse into relief at being only this body again. If I pet the cat long enough, someone will sit with me, and I can listen to a kid talk about a show or a dream, or read a kid a book, and then it will be almost time to cook dinner, again.
The rest is garden: turn of leaf, root need, language of shadow and air, too tight here, too bright there. I draw out where the abundance makes a rhythm that erases difference, limits possible outcomes; I feed in where my desire is whetted but not yet met. The soil is so many ways; my toes show where it was garden bed, where pathway, where an anchor plant has made the land a home. I feel the space between “me” and “it” – from the window/ from the deck/ passing on the path/ deep in, crumbly on my sweat. Our relating shifts from eyes to ears to smell to skin. I breathe translucent, ego-less, from watching-the-gold-lit-leaves to wet-shirt-petal-pile to how-are-you-corn? I am cells upon cells, a whisper garland on my mother’s chest.
The garden senses, I think, if I am in a mood to visit and listen, or a mood to fuck things up. Sometimes I am a reverant worshiper; sometimes the nature of harm reduction is action after action, because learning from impact requires engaging with choice. Red bark cracks from manzanita branch. The jays squack at the cats. The bunnies watch me expectantly, knowing my process brings fresh green things to the pen. I wonder if their categories for the leaves I toss them overlap with my own: grass, broad leaf, woody stalk … do they peruse by flavor (bitter? sweet?) or rate of digestion (fibrous cells, watery ones). Do they break up bites of the medicinals with something a little blander? Or is it all about what is most fresh?
Walking the stalls at the farmers market every week, throughout the pandemic, the winter, and for seasons and seasons before (and after), I fancy myself like the rabbits, twitching my nose and tuning in to my salivary glands – a wordless inquiry, reading the recipe for satisfaction in red cells/ thirsting for that which only green cells can eat: soil and sun.
In the kitchen it is simple, rhythmic: clear a space. Beets. Greens cut off and boiled, roots roasted, their damp, leathery skins rubbed off with a blue towel. Cool under the shakes of a vinegar bottle, rain of salt. In a bowl with cucumbers, smooth white goats cheese peeled out of plastic. Pause, face to light, to dream of the day when the green tomatoes on the vine will be red in the bowl. Black pepper. More vinegar. More salt. When it is time to eat, unwrap the head of lettuce from its shroud. Chop gently, add with oil to the bloody pile, turn with kindness in your heart, eye-edges wide and soft. Feel safety in the skin of bare legs. Sense the back of your neck. Let the air all around extend in and out; feel held. Gather; ring the bell.
Sometimes I pull tarot cards, since a friend leant me hers. I tend my altars, sit on my cushion, follow my spirit into the center as I fall to sleep, wind it out again in the waking light. I’ve spent plenty of years of my life inquiring into specialized practices for juicing the nervous system, flushing toxins, burning the seeds of karma, grounding anxiety and leavening depression. I’ve taught these practices and learned from the alchemy of witnessing the spells at work in others’ bodies. I’ll continue to do this. But “practice” in this way is like the boxes of my calendar: a construct. I let that track go on, but what floats above it, or walks beneath, is everywhere. Not held or transmitted, not known or learned. Not planned, not future or past. It is each footfall in a rumbling wave of feet: Now, Now, Now.
Last night, something real happened between my daughter and me.
As a friend said, “everyone’s regular patterns are just getting louder right now.” As my therapist said, “Strategies are going to show up.” As another friend said, “I don’t think we can expect to do this better; I think we can only try to be kind to ourselves and each other while we struggle. Cuz we’re going to struggle.”
Of course, one of the biggest strategies that is showing up in response to socially enforced isolation is substantially increased screen-time, at least for those of us with ready access to internet. This is something I’m hoping to write a lot about, because it feels like the leading edge of the social experiment our culture is running right now. At the same time, I feel like maybe I shouldn’t write so much about it, because the direct experience of seeking to get relational needs met through screens is triggering to me. Maybe I should just go back to the garden.
So this unfolding interaction occurred between me and my daughter, but it also occurred between me and my device and the social media platform that I primarily use on my device, and – maybe? adjacently? non-consensually? – the people who follow me closely enough on that social media platform to glance at my story while this messy fleshy thing was happening, right here in my house, between us. We know our interpersonal neurobiological relational complexity is both magnified and blurred through translation to high speed pixelation – right? But here is a specific moment: just a small normal set of interactions between a mama nearing 40 and her tween daughter, spending long days in a house together, feeling not totally consenting, seeking connection and release through the internet…
This great kiddo, who is in sixth grade, who has had a smartphone of her own since the beginning of this school year, and who has multiple social media accounts, including, most recently, Instagram, has, over the last few months, like many of her ilk, experimented with baking. A while back she made some chocolate chip cookies that were a hit, and she has made them several times since. Yesterday, I asked her to make them. For me. Because I feel grumpy and sad and confused. Because it is the beginning of the third week of our new not-normal and maybe a cookie would help. She agreed.
Then her good friend came over (this is something else I want to write about specifically here, which is that, in the midst of a call to retreat completely into our – very separate, very often hetero-normative monogamous family units – we have chosen to remain un-isolated from a small version – 9 people total – of what we consider our chosen family) and they proceeded to goof and giggle their way through the recipe. I was on a work Zoom call, and they were throwing themselves on the floor in the background, gasping and cackling. It was vaguely irritating. But they are eleven, they are cooped up, they were having fun together and I was going to get some cookies.
Off the call, I discovered what had been so funny: they didn’t make the cookies quite right. Melted too much butter. Poured it all in anyway. Didn’t mix the wet ingredients before adding the dry. I mean, screwing up baked goods is something I can really understand. And the cookies were still very much edible, if lumpy and a little burned-butter flavor on the bottom. But I was sad. Another expectation not met. If I had made the cookies, I would have pouted, maybe even shouted. I might have gotten a little sobby release out of my disappointment that this small thing couldn’t be normal and comforting.
But I didn’t make the cookies. And the people who did were still cackling. I suppose I could have tried to laugh with them. Or just eaten a bunch of the disappointing, lumpy, slightly-burned-butter cookies. Or gone for a walk! Or smoked a joint! But what I did was take a picture and complain on my Instagram stories about how my kid made “gross” cookies. I said, “and I can’t even throw a tantrum” – even though I was throwing a digital tantrum (albeit without any of the physiological benefits), for an unknown number of people, both instantly and for the next 24 hours.
I wanted some allies. I wanted to just quickly bitch to someone who would get it. Be snarky. I wanted to take some of the irritation out of the space between me and my kid, and stick it on a digital shelf somewhere, to see if it had a half-life.
This is not the real thing that happened. But it was necessary to the real thing.
A few hours later, my kid came to me, upset. She had seen on my stories what I had said about the cookies. Gross. She had seen that 45 other people, most of whom she does not know (and some of whom I do not know) had seen what I had said. She was clear that I had crossed a line; that the joke I had tried to make was a mean one, and mean at the expense of my own kiddo, in the company of strangers.
Getting a lesson in the nuances and dangers of social media from an eleven year old is a real thing! After weeks of watching her spend more and more time with her sweet, broad face tipped down in the green glow of the internet, inwardly rehearsing my fear-prayer that her nervous system was rewiring at top speed in the time of corona, I was being called in – by the very victim-child I had projected on – to a more careful culture of emotional-digital overlap.
I consider myself pretty good at getting feedback from my kids. In a relationship where the power dynamic is this extreme (in which I – The Mother – will live on as both shadow and sun, whether I like it or not, in their bodies and minds, even into a future I cannot imagine), there is little to be lost in seeking to open to their reality when they seek to share it. At the same time, I must be true to the reality I experience, or risk handing them a power they cannot hold. The dance between these is an inner one, of slowing and softening. Of feeling ground and opening to the precious temporality of an honest encounter with another being, wherein she exists fully, without erasing me, and I exist fully, without erasing her. I know from many, many tries that to choose this quality of presence is to have already begun to heal the rupture, whether the rupture that is healing is current or deeply past.
Still, I admit, it took me a minute to sense the full benefit of this opportunity. “It was a joke!” I tried. Also: “That wasn’t for you. Or for your friends. It was exaggerated, and silly, and for other adults, who can judge me as a mean mom and also laugh at me for being sad, and also have compassion for me as I grasp at straws in the sanity-suck that is our current moment.”
My girl held to her incredible communication skills, and let me know that as I said these things, she felt angrier, because I was pushing away her real feelings of hurt and exposure that she was trying to tell me about. She squeezed out some tears and we held each other and looped back. I tried some I Hear Yous. I tried reflecting, naming what I was hearing with a willingness to be corrected. And in that, she found some space to hear me. “I guess it is hard for me to think of you as more than just my mom. I can unfollow you on Instagram.”
She talked about a good friend of hers, who has helped her understand how easily people can get hurt on social media, and about her desire for privacy when it comes to mine. I clarified that I would ask for her consent on images or stories that directly involved her if I was going to share to a broad public. Before I punish this blog, I’ll have her read it and see if it feels ok.
I requested that her friends not follow me on social media and said I wouldn’t follow them.
Gradually the charge dissipated. I deleted the offending story segment, in a teaching moment wherein she saw how to delete story segments. I took an unflattering picture of myself and put some text on top apologizing for my rudeness and correcting the unfair slander on her cookies. She laughed some, and sent the clip to a few adults she is close to, via direct message. We touched a lot, and she washed her face. I stayed with her until she felt complete, and thanked her for being clear and direct with me.
I don’t know what this interaction will mean to her in time; if it will be significant because she felt heard, or because she felt hurt. Or, possibly, because her mom wrote a long blog post full of “very fancy words, mommy” and asked her to read it. In the overall arc of this strange time, maybe it won’t stand out at all.
There are days – moments – when this prolonged pause feels similar to a meditation retreat. The lack of distractions, or the obviousness in the effort to be distracted, brings me home to the subjectivity of my moment to moment reality. The proximity of death feels more real, more tangible: a common experience when we get closer to life. The falling away of the illusion of choice (oh the way I used to wander the grocery aisles, touching things I never intended to buy) exposes the depth of my interdependence. And the boredom, the increasing proximity of nothing happening, is a precursor, I know, to a new level of trust.
Where silent meditation retreats take us deep into relationship with our own minds, though, this one seems to be emphasizing my relationship with domestic intimacy. On retreat, we get the time to see how our projections of reality are not reality, and yet nothing exists outside of the mind. But here, at home all day long, the reality of cookies, of Instagram, of tender touch and tears – seems only more real. My mind balks and scrambles, but 7am dawns, and everyone is back in the kitchen again.
I wonder: if Z and I did not do the repair, would we exist differently? Would there be less air in the house? More strategy? When I say that what happened between us was real, I think I mean that through it, we were each made more real for the other.
Yesterday I scrubbed away the thick black line of goo (sneaky, deep-crack goo) that was making the dishwasher (and the inside of the wine glasses which should smell purely like waiting-for-wine and the steam that should smell foggy-clean when it rises into your face as you open the door) smell like old fish. As I did not meditate yesterday, this was my first morning activity: unload dishwasher; remove bottom rack; scrub goo.
A section of bath-accompaniment then ensued, in which I ate a sourdough english muffin with peanut butter on it while also “eating” several kinds of “sushi” made out of wet pieces of fabric. Clara’s body in the bath has been, now, a delight of seven years. My heart breaks a bit on the rocks of how repetition and ease can transform what is most precious into a sort of side job. I mean, I was pretty full, but I ate that sushi anyway.
For an hour I jumped around to pop music and touched my elbow to my knee a lot. I assume there were a lot of other people in their dining rooms with their tables pushed to their walls doing the same thing at the same time, because it was Dance Church.
Lunch was a bowl of tomato soup adapted from this recipe. I put a sweet potato in because the tomatoes we canned this year are especially tangy.
And then I walked to The Peoples Yoga to teach. First, for Suniti’s ongoing teacher training, Treasures of Engagement (great name, right?), I offered a couple hour walk through of a process I’m in most of the time. Pray, Breathe, Sense, Resource, Discern, Reach. I was teaching this particular material – a weaving of so many threads in my body and awareness – for the first time, and I’m deeply grateful to Suniti for openly inviting me to bring what is current for me. I have benefitted from her collaborations with others in the past, and I see how she brings the power of trust to help the between-ness grow rich.
Two and a half hours on Zoom later, I ate half of a large chocolate bar and took a short sunny-windy walk. This delight is new to me: the reality that one can have more than a square or two of chocolate at a time. I started figuring it out because I was keeping chocolate in my car to help me get home on the freeway from work. Over a year and a half, I have tried a lot of different things to help me get home on the freeway after work. Podcasts, loud music, changing my pants, rolling the windows all the way down even when it is cold and rainy, making videos of myself… Turns out eating more chocolate than I think I am allowed is the best thing yet. Try it. Specifically good chocolate that I like. Junk chocolate doesn’t work for me but it might work for you. The trick is to have a lot though, so you want it to be not too dark, but also not too sugary. For me it is good if there is something salty and snacky in it, like pretzels or nuts.
Teaching embodiment through a screen is also relatively new to me, and about as easeful as the freeway, in the trapped sympathetic nervous system sense. So I tried chocolate as a snack/recovery item between strange, dislocating, hopeful sessions of trying to connect and connecting and also not connecting – stretching my sense of the meaning of connecting, or stretching my willing suspension of disbelief, at least. It helped, and the little walk helped, and talking with Suniti helped. In the sense that those things helped me feel real and slightly more whole, which is my running definition of help, right now.
And finally I taught my regular Sunday class, 5pm, called Grounding Practice, in which we lay on the floor. Or lie. Whichever feels more real.
And before we did that, I read this wonderful piece by Ross Gay, from his Book of Delights which really is the inspiration that got me to write this journal entry in this public “place” at all:
60. “Joy is Such a Human Madness”: The Duff Between Us
Or, like this: In healthy forests, which we might imagine to exist mostly above ground, and be wrong in our imagining, given that the bulk of the tree, the roots, are reaching through the earth below, there exists a constant communication between those roots and mycelium, where often the ill or weak or stressed are supported by the strong and surplused.
By which I mean a tree over there needs nitrogen, and nearby tree has extra, so the hyphae (so close to hyphen, the handshake of the punctuation world), the fungal ambulances, ferry it over. Constantly. This tree to that. That to this. And that in a tablespoon of rich fungal duff (a delight: the phrase fungal duff, meaning a healthy forest soil, swirling with the living the dead make) are miles and miles of hyphae, handshakes, who get a little sugar for their work. The pronoun who turned the mushrooms into people, yes it did. Evolved the people into mushrooms.
Because in trying to articulate what, perhaps, joy is, it has occurred to me that among other things – the trees and the mushrooms have shown me this – joy is the mostly invisible, the underground union between us, you and me, which is, among other things, the great fact of our life and the lives of everyone and thing we love going away. If we sink a spoon into that fact, into the duff between us, we will find it teeming. It will look like all the books ever written. It will look like all the nerves in a body. We might call it sorrow, but we might call it a union, one that, once we notice it, once we bring it into the light, might become flower and food. Might be joy.
I wanted to share this piece because of how it helps me feel my place as I offer a practice, an online class, some notes about my day… as one piece of a union, one little handshake, opening up for transmission, letting something through.
Along with chocolate – even quite a lot of chocolate! – and walks – even very short walks! – I’ve been helped this last week by other people who are sharing their practices online.
I know from experience: these practices just want to move. They want to get into bodies and wrap them up and make them move and settle them down and open them up. The people are letting it all through, and that is what is most inspiring and encouraging to me as I sit here trying to just let this one darn blog post get out of my body!
Renee Sills has so so many mystical, accessible, creative somatic meditations available
My partner and I bounced our booties with BootyLuv and it was sweaty and even the 11 year old could do it if she could stop falling on the floor and giggling
My childhood friend Brooke is the fittest person I know and also so cheerful about doing very painful abdominal exercises
My teacher Caverly Morgan is teaching through Sangha Live this week
I have some new (to me) stuff on my schedule for this week. I’ll let you know!