The Drive

January 6, 2018

Day 6 Blog Post - New Year's Blogathon 2018

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When I couldn’t take it anymore I would borrow the car and just drive.

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It was the only way to really leave at night, for one thing. Sprawl-city, old-train-town-turned-car-paradise. And I was too invested in being a good kid to go out the window behind my desk (g_d it would have been easy, first floor right out into the backyard, down the path behind the backs of the houses, through the soccer field…but then you’re on a main thoroughfare with no people and few lights and cars, cars, cars, and you have to walk for miles to get anywhere, and do you really want to get anywhere anyway…). I didn’t even want to admit that anything ever got bad enough to justify taking off. But show me a life like that- can you? I don’t know that I know anyone who didn’t, doesn’t, at some point, literally or metaphorically, need to disappear into the night for a while.

Sometimes, they were small disappearances, negotiated spaces between the buildings full of people in the day, and the houses full of people at night, that were everywhere I ever was. There was nowhere, truly, to be alone, except the woods, and I got told too often what happened to girls who went alone into the woods at night to find that a particularly cathartic adventure. So I drove. There was something in the motion of it (still is), something in the lilt and speed, the shell bigger than my body hurtling, closer to the speed it felt like I was moving on the inside. I would loop the block three extra times to let a song finish, to let two songs finish, five songs, to scream or slam fists or get some salt water on the steering wheel, to speed up the hill just a little bit without killing any squirrels.

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Once, I drove to Borders bookstore by accident. It was, at the moment, the safest place I could think of in the world. It was bright and quiet and full of books, you know, books, those friends that demand nothing, not even sound, and offer whole other worlds. I left my parents’ house and drove without any destination or goal, just to move, just to drive, feeling that feeling of not being able to fit in my own skin, and of not being able to fit the world in through my skin. Implosion and explosion at the same time, intolerable. Kettle screaming and you can tell that when it boils dry the kitchen might catch fire but there’s no knob on the damn stove so what do you do.

I drove.

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I drove, apparently, to Borders. It was full of books and I didn’t want to read them, I just wanted to be surrounded by them. To know they were there. That I was neither alone, nor obligated to engage. No one in the aisles expected anything of me – they looked quietly at books, CDS, smiled when they found something that touched them. Simple. Slow. Quiet. No one needed anything from me, not even an explanation, not even a purchase. There was red carpet and warm lights and no raised voices and everything in the whole place was for imagining, imagining places, imagining space. I found an empty aisle and collapsed on the floor and, as silently as I could, leaning against the books, I cried.

I don’t remember why. I’m not sure I even knew at the time. Maybe that was part of the impossibility moving my body to the driver’s seat, the black night sky, the road. In the Borders bookstore on Ponce de Leon Avenue, years before it closed for good, before Atlanta ramped so far up into the momentum of gentrification that the peoples and communities and trees that the city truly belongs to and is made of started to get run out or over not in trickles but in droves, I opened my mouth, and I leaned my spine against the stained wooden shelving, against the spines of the books, and I silently screamed.

And then I got back in the car, and I drove again. I drove to a parking lot by a church, and got out, and looked up at the sky, and tried not to cease to exist. Tried to figure out how to make sound.

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I got back in the car, and I drove again. I looped and wound through the winding streets of a city that wouldn’t know a right angle if you hit it over the head with a T-square. That’s part of the magic, part of the motion. All foothills and bends, pulling me along, around the arc roads, the hip of a hill, and another. Music and silence, alternating on the stereo. Scorch scream and silence, alternating in the firepit in my throat. A city full of roads that move more like mountain highways, that move more like veins, in the off-traffic hours.

There is something about driving- soothe and power at once. Speed, sharp, the gentleness that comes from increasing the motion, not from trying to “calm down.” All my life I’ve been told to calm down, take a deep breath, ground, get still. Do you know what that does to a body that actually needs to move. Do you.

I knew, even back then, that environmentally I was not supposed to love the car. I knew, even back then, that in wanting to resist the myth of “American” individualism and isolation and independence at all costs, I was not supposed to love the car.

But I fucking loved the car. I still do. The place that is refuge and power both, that is a space with no one’s sound but your own. The thing that lets you move, meteor or molecule, hurtle, into night, into speed, into the safety of the bookstore aisle, into nothingness, into just a little more space, a little more silence and sound at your choosing and no one else’s. The dance, the disaster-turned-freedom. The drive.

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Cross posted at gatecitygardener.wordpress.com and patreon.com/racheleconomy

You Have to Go Back Down Again

Day 5 Blog Post
January 5, 2017

Head’s up: This is a book-nerd post (the book-nerd is me). It’s also about healing.

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When I was 16, I got to be one of 4 high school juniors (along with 3 of my close friends) in an otherwise senior-filled lit class entitled “The Story and/of the Community.” I went to a very intellectually supportive but/and also privileged/ pretty inaccessible high school. One of the incredible gifts (and massive privileges) it gave me was classes like this. But this course in particular was, and still is, one of the best literature classes I have ever taken, including college and grad school. It was a discussion seminar based around texts that dealt with stories about community, but also with stories about HOW communities’ stories, mythologies, and beliefs shape and limit those communities, and how they are passed on or changed. We read Exodus, The Canterbury Tales, Toni Morrison’s Paradise, All The King’s Men, Ridley Walker, Angels in America, and others. At the end of the year, we wrote our own version of the Canterbury Tales for our high school, each printed out our particular story, and went out on a walking pilgrimage, reading the stories aloud to each other as we made our way towards the Flying Biscuit Cafe (best brunch in Atlanta).

The class caught me (and I think a lot of us) when we were about to fall through a lot of different kinds of cracks of both adolescence and adulthood, including sudden and catastrophic losses, personal physical and mental illnesses, family and social stuff, myriad other things. It was, in and of itself, a community, in the context of a larger (tiny) school that was supposed to feel like a supportive community but which, to me, often very much didn’t. Have you ever been in a class where you might laugh till you fell out of your chair crying with hilarity? This was that place.

And it was also the place where I first read Beowulf.

Two things happened when we learned about/ read Beowulf that are still so alive for me today that I can taste them . First off, that book is full of this beautiful poetic thing called “kennings” (I think I remember that word right), which is when you combine two nouns with a dash: a boat-flute, a hammer-song, a knot-gut. I don’t know how to describe the utter visceral magic and pleasure this gives me, other than making some more kennings, so let’s do it: knife-tongue, thunder-mountain, song-rain.

And second was the reading our teacher, Clark, guided us through surrounding the monsters in this book, and Beowulf’s interaction with them. SPOILER ALERT FOR BEOWULF (a centuries old book but you really might want to read it) FROM HERE ON! This story’s imagery, metaphor, archetype, is so alive for me right now that it’s keeping me going through some deep well-dives, cavern-tumbles, briar-blood reckonings I am moving my self through (or that are moving me through myself) right now.

Here’s how, according to my decade+ memory, it went down (literally): Beowulf’s community is being terrorized and slaughtered by a monster, so at some point Beowulf, a warrior, and his crew travel down into the deep caves underground, to find, contend with, and slay the monster. It gets pretty intense, they do some slayage of said monster, and head back up to feast and celebrate.

In the night, as everyone is sleeping off the giant feast, something else comes up and keeps on slaughtering. The community wakes up to devastation.

What happened? Did the slayage not work? Was the monster still alive?

Beowulf and friends have to go on the journey into the unknown danger underground a second time, and this time, they have no idea what they’re even dealing with (I think? memory is a little shakey here) – is it the monster come back to life?

What it turns out to be is the monster’s MOTHER.

What we learned, what I hold onto and remind myself of today, the powerful sinew of the story, is this: it’s not just the thing you have to contend with, it’s the thing that gave birth to the thing. The pain, the cycle that keeps swallowing you, the pattern that keeps hurting or devastating – there’s the journey to change that, to keep it from devouring. And then, there’s the journey back down, again, into the well, into the cave, into the unseeable space, to find the thing that gave birth to that pain in the first place. You have to go down there a second (third fifteenth hundredth) time, to find the origin, the mouth before the mouth.

Today, for me, this is a story about old wounds, traumas, patterns (both individual and collective). Yes, I have to go down into the cave-well and get the thing that’s hurting me, address it, get some relief from its immediacy. And then, when I really just want to rest and feast and sleep, the cavern-dark demand that I go down into the unknown again. So I go down into it again, into the darkness, to find the source of the thing. The blades that gave birth to the blade. The mother of the monster. I don’t know its shape or scope or location, but I go looking.

There is the pain of the wound, and there is its source, both, down there in the cool dark shadow-bell stone rooms and echoes.

There is the thing, and the mother, father, parent, day 15 years ago, or 15 years of days… of the thing. You go back for it. You go back and stand and face her.

And I think I have to stay down her with her until she reshapes herself along the blade at my hip or the brightness of my eyes, until she shifts from something that swallows to something that feeds, feast. You will not devour this place. Compost, the change underground, the shapeshift, monster to medicine. Or until she subsides at least enough enough, until I learn the dance of her pattern just enough, to live alongside her rattling the boards in the basement, and still, fully, live.

***

Cross posted at gatecitcygardener.wordpress.com and patreon.com/racheleconomy.

The Morning Routine - INTERRUPTED

January 4, 2018

Day 4 (I am not posting what I wrote for day 3 for a variety of reasons, mostly that the things that emerged need more time to season before I decide if they’re public or not – we don’t have to be resolution/intention purists! Skip your day 3 if you need to! I got you).

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Lately I have been interrupting myself a lot in the middle of my morning routine.

Like, interrupting myself out loud.

In the second person.

As in, saying, out loud, alone in my studio apartment, “What do I want for breakfast?” and then answering, “Well, you had eggs last night so that’s probably not what your’e in the mood for, and…” AND THE DIALOGUE CONTINUES.

Which is all fine and good, living alone is one of my great pleasures much of the time, I like befriending myself, talking to myself in the second person, being my own partner and bestie, it’s great a lot of the time. And I’m right, I did have eggs last night, and I’m not in the mood for that!

Even more, speaking to myself in the “you” (a habit often treated as culturally strange or dangerous enough that I get nervous when I think my neighbors can hear me) turns out to actually be extremely healing.

Why? Because unlike a lot of people I’ve talked to about inner stories and conversations, the self-critical narratives and voices in my mind don’t speak in the “you.”  They speak in the I. As in, “I have completely ruined this friendship” (a thought I had today that was wildly inaccurate), or “I should have done way better at that text I sent I need to be more conscious of how I might impact other people” (news flash: this is also inaccurate). Some people’s self-critics speak in the “you.” Mine doesn’t, which makes it slippery and wily and extremely hard to catch red-handed.

But in a strange flip, speaking to myself in the “you” means that I mostly only associate the second person voice with kind or funny things I’ve said to myself. It’s easier to be compassionate sometimes from this position, because there’s a little more breathing room between all the concentric circles of self. Like when you do a lovingkindenss meditation, and picture a younger version of yourself: a slightly different person, a slightly different reference point, with a little breathing room from but still a lot of overlap with your center.

So that’s all great and healing and everything, but meanwhile it’s 7:23 and it’s time to get up, and a different thing is happening, which is that I’m lying sideways on my bed having a second-person “you” conversation with someone entirely separate from me, like maybe a friend or family member or estranged co-worker, and the conversation is going full force deep into heavy territory. And I’ve been having this conversation for, oh, about 23 minutes, since my alarm went off at 7. Sometimes, it’s a funny or sweet or exciting imagined interaction, but most of the time, it’s dramatic, intense, charged, sad, fearful, painful- all that fun stuff. It’s almost always with a “real” person (imagined version but they actually exist somewhere), I do both sides of the conversation (Why yes I did act in high school thank you for asking! Flowers? For me? Oh you’re too kind), and we dig in to something heavy. And I completely lose track of time.

I started doing this when I was in middle school, completely unintentionally, and for a long time, I hid it because I thought something was really wrong with me. Like, something dangerous was happening to my brain. It turns out, it’s not totally unheard of for people with wildly energetic imaginations, intense sensitivity, but also a high desire for intense experiences/ sensations, to do stuff like this.

It’s not unheard of, but I still feel a little exasperated and weirded out every time I realize I’ve been standing ready to crack an egg for half an hour, and haven’t cracked it yet, because I was busy telling a friend (who isn’t there) about my experiences as a depressed 15-year-old. Sometimes, inner critic jumps in – “I am so ridiculous what is wrong with me” – and sometimes self-friend jumps in – “Oh you did that again you sweetie! Let’s make breakfast now” – but I can lose large swathes of the morning this way. It’s particularly likely to happen on days when I’m in an emotional or physical funk that would, ironically, be particularly helped by going through my carefully crafted, extensive morning routine right away and as attentively as possible (Morning routine (NO SCREENS): kettle boils while I get dressed, bed made while tea steeps, make breakfast, play guitar in the kitchen while eating breakfast and drinking tea, write 3 morning pages at desk, light candles/ small ritual time, water garden, plan day and get ready to work out, work out). It can become hard not to get frustrated with myself in that context.

To be clear, I never, ever actually think there is another person there with me, except in the way that you do when you’re watching a play, or a movie- suspension of disbelief, but not actual replacement belief. The part that is disorienting is how deep I can go into it- it’s like writing or dancing or making art, in that I completely lose track of time, something I hardly ever do in any other context.

What I’m starting to wonder, in my fits of self-criticism about sliding from talking to myself into talking to others, is: am I doing some sort of healing work that I don’t understand here? Sometimes, I’m trying to work through a conversation I’ve been too scared to have, while other times I’m off-gassing a conversation I’m not going to have, either because the person is dead, or not in my life anymore, or I need to have an imaginary conversation that gets me to a place where I can have a more concise or different actual conversation.

And sometimes, often, actually, it’s just me figuring myself out. I have learned recently that I often have no idea what I’m feeling, what has impacted me from the past, what I feel in the present, what I’m longing for in the future, until I have the chance to lay it all out in some way. Especially in a way that leads to (but doesn’t necessarily start with) words. Particularly, words verbalized, with sound, embodied language in my mouth and throat and hands and gut, and even more particularly, words verbalized to another person. Even if that other person is imaginary and I’m filling in all their lines.

When I think about it, I’m not sure this is so different from a lucid dream state.

The past few years, I have been reorienting my relationship to the word “surrender.” It has to do with not understanding all of something, and still being willing to be in flow with it. I am a stubborn, stubborn human, and I often fight tooth and knuckle against surrender. And I also need it. Consensually, on my own terms often, but I need it.

Maybe whatever this thing is that I do, that is biting huge chunks out of my morning routine, is something needed, is time that’s worth it (cue inner critic disagreeing and pulling receipts on how hours in the day are spent and what’s actually most efficiently healing). Maybe there’s something in it to trust.

And also, if I’m late for brunch, now you know who to blame/thank: all those friends of mine who would not stop talking to me while I was trying to get out the door in the morning!

***

Cross posted at gatecitygardener.wordpress.com and patreon.com/racheleconomy

The Overcorrect

“What are you going to write about for tonight’s blog?”

I was standing in a friend’s kitchen earlier today munching on sweet potato fries hot out of the oven when she asked me this. And my honest answer was, I don’t know. Not because I couldn’t think of anything, but because, as I explained to her, the thing most alive for me right now, the thing I really want to write about and wish I could find anything to read about, feels like something I definitely. Cannot. Write about. On the internet.

“Why?” she asked. And when I explained, she agreed. “Write about that instead,” she encouraged, “write about the why.”

So I’m going to write about the why, which still feels pretty vulnerable. But I think it’s important.

I am, amongst other things, an educator. This continues to take many forms at different times- I’veworked as a kindergarten classroom teacher, a farm educator for young adults, a middle-school garden science teacher, a writing facilitator for adults, a permaculture educator for twenty-somethings, a spoken word teacher for high-schoolers, and a collaborator with elementary school kids who were weilding power tools and fantastic drawings of the wild structures we were about to build (e.g. the moon, an upside down house, the bay bridge- you know, stuff like that). And even though I’m not teaching in a public school setting right now, it’s something I’d like to do again, and soon.

That’s where things get tricky when writing about myself on the internet.

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For starters, I did not grow up here in the Bay Area.  My perceptions of what teachers can and can’t be out about / open about safely at the schools where they teach, either amongst the faculty or the students, are probably regionally skewed and also dated. I did not know a single queer adult until I was a teenager (or so I thought – it turns out I did, but I didn’t know that I did, because none of the queer teachers at my elementary school were out).

But context and specifics – not just region or type of school, but the specific school itself and its culture and community and pedagogy, not to mention the given day or constellation of people and how they’re feeling at any given moment – have so much impact on this issue, that I can’t possibly know anyway ahead of time what’s going to feel like a fit.

But I do know this: in my experience, and the experiences of other queer educators I’ve talked to, queerness is often automatically assumed by those around them (parents and faculty and administrators) to be a sexualized identity (whereas straightness is not- this is much wider phenomenon that goes way beyond the classroom). This can get internalized- I do it to myself sometimes by accident.

If I’m going to write publicly about my queerness (and that’s a BIG “if” – I’m still pretty newly out, the internet is not that friendly a place, and the whole thing feels vulnerable and shaky, like a newborn calf trying to stand for the first time and then immediately trying write a blog post with tender little hooves…you know, like calves do…don’t they?…#cowblogging)

Ahem. Where was I? IF I’m going to write publicly about my experiences with my queer and bisexual identity, it feels like I have to work extra hard to overcorrect, to de-sexualize what I’m writing about, in order to protect my future professional life and possibilities. This might not be true in every circumstance, but the fact that it COULD be, that I can’t be sure, and that I have to worry about and plan around it just in case in order to protect myself and my future- that’s a problem. It’s a problem I’ve never felt like I could articulate or claim, for fear of being told that I was “overreacting.” But it’s a problem nonetheless.

It’s a problem for a lot of reasons (which I can’t fully delve into on a 20-minute blog day although let’s be real I’m clearly way past the timer at this point), some of which have to do with wide and deep issues like respectability politics, sex-negativity, homophobia, double standards, and a myriad of other intersecting threads and threats. Many people are at much higher risk than I am- I am relatively protected by many privileges, including where I live right now. But there are two issues on my mind I want to briefly mention before I sign off, because they have specifically to do with being an educator, and wanting to honor and be responsible to both myself as a queer writer, and to queer youth.

The first is: young people of all sexual orientations, but especially LGBTQIA+ and questioning kids, need to hear adults, including queer adults, talking about sex and sexuality that INCLUDES LGBTQIA+ PERSPECTIVES. Having to be extra careful to “desexualize queerness” undermines queer educators’ ability to support LGBTQIA+ and questioning youth, and those youth are, statistically, in a lot of danger, most especially when they don’t have sources of information, representation, and support.

And the second is: I’m an educator, but I am also a writer, and a human in my own right, and there are things I need to write about, that feel important to me personally and in conversation with community, that I can’t write about under the “overcorrect and desexualize” rule.

I don’t have an answer. Just these queries (queeries!) and opening thoughts on what is a much bigger issue. I’m not certain what decisions I’ll make- I need to season and ruminate a bit more. Folks with internet presences- writers, educators, artists, people with more than one livelihood that might conflict in content presentation, others – what are your strategies and needs around this? Have you found things that work for you? Let’s talk!

Welcome to the Workout

January 1, 2018

Day 1 of 2-week daily blog (20 mins or less) challenge

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I decided this morning, in a fit of vision, to choose a set of new year’s goals (which were split into two sub-categories: habits I want to build, and one-off goals I want to check off a list), and to also choose a set of challenges - little or big “month of daily____” type-things that I want to try during the year. An 8 week meditation self-directed course for chronic pain. The Whole 30. Things like that

And even though I haven’t finished my New Year’s goal-setting/ intention setting process (I have to generate and then hone or else I drown in the overambitious unachievable sea of of my own ideas, and I haven’t honed yet today so we're looking at perfectionist hell right now), even though there are markers all over the floor and my inspiration has been replaced with exhaustion and an unsettled stomach and some intense grief or tenderness about some of the journeys I find myself in the middle of, nonetheless I am starting on challenge #1. (That says “number 1,” not “hashtag one;” it’s an archaic text choice that you might never have heard of but I promise that's what it means).

Because challenge #1 is: write a blog post, writing for 20 minutes or less, every day for two weeks. Post each of the first week’s blogs on the day they’re written. Save the second week’s posts as a backlog. And then, shift over to the habit of posting once a week.

That's what I'm committing to. Y'all (if anyone is reading this) feel free to hold me accountable in whatever way floats your boat. Belligerent and encouraging and everything in between is welcome.

This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, I get excited to do it quite often in fact, except for the exact moment, every time, when I actually sit down to, you know, do it. At which point, I realize I desperately need to clean the kitchen, research how to plant tiny succulents in cute ways, read about the midbrain, call my chiropractor, put reflectors on my bike, glitter paint my nails, etc. I’ve told my incredibly patient wondrous patrons over on my Patreon that blog posts were coming. I've reformatted my blog on various platforms. I’ve even started this habit and let it go several times. As I write this, every muscle in my body is screaming for me to GET UP AND GET OUT OF THE CHAIR AND DO LITERALLY ANYTHING ELSE.

Why? I'm a writer. I want to write. I want to write in the world, not just poems that pile up in a corner. So why the resistance?

It’s been so long since I started a new writing practice. I think I forgot that even poetry, which now just sort of tumbles out of me almost any time I ask it to (not always good or even okay poetry mind you, sometimes its the kind of poetry you find on the bottom of your shoe in a dog park, but poetry nonetheless), even poetry was a rust-wrench, tooth-pull kind of disaster when I started. Every night, in the Providence bite of dirty ice and 4 pm sunset, 18-year-old Rachel would sit down with her tiny Moleskine (which she knew instinctively she was not really cool enough to have and couldn’t really afford to keep replacing), and write a poem.

This nightly “practice,” which at that point felt sort of like weight lifting with a small twig and yet somehow still spraining multiple muscles every time, was a mandatory part of the Poetry 1 workshop I took my freshman year. In retrospect, I’m pretty certain that one of the reasons I forced myself to keep lifting up that absurdly heavy twig was that I was a lot in awe and admiration of, and a little bit in crush with, my talented, poised, very kind grad student instructor (hi Nicole if your’e reading this you’re great I hope you’re having a happy new year!). It was kind of miserable, this nightly routine- possibly this was not the poetry’s fault but rather the immense hours of darkness at sub-freezing temperatures (I grew up in Georgia so...). It was beautiful and important, but it was also wrenching, and it didn't get easier very fast, or sometimes at all.

But I did it. And I did it again. And I kept doing it. And then, at many points, I stopped. And then started again. But I did it for long enough at the beginning, and for long stretches at other points, and have kept doing it for long stretches enough, that the poetry muscles, almost non-existent at first, became established. And once your body knows how to use and recruit a certain muscle, it does it during daily activities as well, not just when you’re working it out. Once I had a poetry practice established, and re-established, my body, my metaphor muscles, could get back in shape faster. Their baseline has become very different. If you asked me to write a poem right now, I would resist for maybe 3 seconds, and then I would do it. I could do it Whereas I am still resisting the idea of this blog post. I'm not sure I can do it.

And the timer just went off.

When you start training a muscle for the first time, you don’t start with way overloaded barbells. It’s hard for me to remember that everything is a muscle, sometimes, but that’s what I keep coming back to. You stop, as my physical therapist constantly reminds me, when you’ve still got a couple reps left in the tank. That’s how you avoid re-injuring, sort of traumatizing the nerves and muscles into lowering the threshold of what they can handle next time. So even though I don’t feel like I've said literally anything yet, I’m going to stop, and I’m going to come back again tomorrow, and write again, and post again. Everything is a muscle. And, as some obnoxiously wise and somewhat corny part of my otherwise resistant and panting brain decided to tell me while I was running a few months ago, having trouble pacing because I just wanted to open the throttle and run fast and hard into or away from everything that was swallowing me:

you have to go slower than you want to, in order to get farther than you think you can.

Ugh. FINE. I get it brain. You're right, of course. Here goes...

Happy New Year, folks. It’s practice time.

....

Cross-posted at gatecitygardener.wordpress.com

Voting as an act of service

WARNING: This post contains encouragement to participate in electoral politics, as well as an argument against the “participating in the system always creates complacency and assimilation” position. (If you want to argue with me about these things, I’m up for it, but let’s do it in person or on the phone if possible, yeah? Thanks ) “IF YOU WILL SURVIVE THIS ELECTION, and its supreme court appointments and lower judiciary appointments, WITH YOUR FUNDAMENTAL NEEDS MET NO MATTER WHO WINS, PLEASE LISTEN TO THOSE WHO DON’T HAVE THAT PRIVILEGE, BEFORE DECIDING WHAT YOU WILL DO.

Voting is a communal act. To love something- a community the size of this country included- is to honor it, to listen to it, to seek for its whole health and thriving as conditional to, and collaborating with, one’s own.” – facebook post a couple months ago

Privilege often means not having to depend on stop-gaps for survival. If you survive, you get to write the world. Stop gaps, reform, don’t have to be the central end-goal, but without them, only the privileged survive to write the world. That is not liberation. That is not justice. That is not accessible revolution. Many people do fight for and establish that survival outside of this system, or in direct confrontation with it. Their ability to do so, as we have heard again and again from movement leaders, is nonetheless directly related to who is in office.

If you can wait out any repercussions of any candidate in this election, and the generations of repercussions that follow, know that that is a privilege that is not available to many people. This isn’t a theoretical position. This is about the survival of people’s bodies, lives, communities, health, movements. When you say “vote your conscience,” who is included in the morality that conscience speaks for? Is it ideals? Is it people? Is it people right now, so that they can have a voice in tomorrow?

NO, the two front-runner candidates are NOT “equally bad.” If your experience of them now and their time in office will in fact be “equally bad,” you are one of the privileged few. That is not how it will be for most people.

I know, I hear, I feel what it is to long for so much more than is being offered. To see it in those around you, in the incredible folks working for change, and to feel the pain of the compromise. Please, please take the love behind that longing. Take the power behind your privilege. Use it. Voting is an act of love. The office of president is not the end goal. Stop-gaps are not the end goal. But they are tools that can make or break the safety, the access, the survival of so many people to the actual end goal: to write our world into liberation, together.

The water protectors at Standing Rock are under attack. I feel furiously humbled to learn about what it really means, looks like to love the land you are from. To love the people down stream, in both space and time. There is always someone down stream. Everything is a commons, eventually. What incredibly, humblingly, fiercely courageous acts they are taking, on behalf of water. On behalf of the grandchildren of people they will never meet. A conscience the size of a river. Even conscience, a commons, connected to the ones down stream.

"Express Myself?" What Self? - Notes on writing and uncontrol

The problem (/grace) with writing is that I can't ever seem to control ahead of time what the writing is going to say.

How do people write books, theses, treatises, laws that in any way stay on topic?

typing-vintage-technology-keyboard

Artists talk about showing up to the table and getting out of the way of the words, which is what happens to me too, but sometimes I find myself simply reiterating the comfortable, the familiar shape of a mountain's spine.

Yet there are difficult things that need to be said.

So I show up and practice saying them, badly, clunkily, until eventually, slowly, sometimes, not so badly anymore.

This aspect of writing on topic makes sense: practice meets getting out of the way to create the muscle of diving into, learning the bones, the verbs of the unfamiliar. This is what I must do. I want to do. As a person with many intersecting privileges, there are places I have been taught not to see, not to talk, topics that I have been taught don't need words, or at least not mine. These teachings are violently incorrect. There has been damage done. Damage is being done. I am actively (often unwittingly or unwillingly) damaging. I cannot in good conscience and integrity write only in the realm of the familiar, my familiar. The magic and urgent importance of writing: that I can follow its tracks in the dust, out of the narrowness where I start.

To get away from the familiar or the comfortable, to go out of the house without a map.

amazing-beautiful-beauty-blue

To do this, I knit practice, over and over, to the showing up and getting out of the way. Notice what is around. Write. See what comes. This makes sense to me. The saying muscle becomes at least warm, at least flexible, with use.

But I still can't control what I will say about, or in, or from that terrain. I can intend, I can nudge, I can explore, get started, get startled, learn. But I cannot control.

And this is what gets me. I can't really control anything.

I had no idea, for instance, that I was going to write any of this. I was just sitting here, musing about how the project I am writing keeps receiving completely confusing feedback, and that no matter how many times I outline it, I find myself at the mercy of whatever comes out of my mouth or my keyboard. The pain of wanting to write a certain thesis or book, and realizing over and over again that whatever is writing itself through me bears almost no resemblance to what I had planned, what I am longing for.

It would be easy (and extremely accurate) at this point to roll my eyes, sigh, and acknowledge with begrudging humor (and frankly grateful resignation) that the serenity prayer is going to dog my heels until I get the message: mostly, I can't control things, and trying to hold myself accountable to doing so, holding a wide-flung web of absurd responsibility in my hands, keeps me from walking, writing forward into actual creative power. Response-ability.

But it's that "longing for" part that I keep coming back to.

pexels-photo

Of course, mostly, the fact that poems happen to me repeatedly saves my life (not an exaggeration). Mostly, the humbling stumble of sitting down, showing up, and writing into that terrain, to scrabble after the dusty paw prints, widens me back up when my body seizes and wails over in the doorway, when my chest collapses in the tunnel-breathing narrow of all the stories that used to be my lifevests but are now my suffocators.

Mostly, uncontrol constitutes wild, fierce, grace.

An advisor told me: There is writing about what you already know. And then there is writing in order to know. Let yourself write in order to find out. (And yes, this does constitute viable and legitimate learning and even- dare we think it- research. Re-search: to go looking, again and again, to delve and to delve and to delve). Suddenly, I understood what had been bothering me for years about the idea of "using art to express yourself"- it was wrong. Incorrect. For me. I don't, generally, use art to express, share, or document a pre-existing self or complete idea. When I make, when I write, what I stand with, looking out into the vast wide open, is a seed in my hand, or a pain in my gut, or a question biting at the nape of my neck, go, go, go. 

I don't have a self when I sit down at the table, when I show up and get out of the way. I have an inkling, and a social context, and an intersection, a location (or seven), but mostly what I have is a longing, a wondering, a little bit of self, and a lot of no self. A lot of elipses. A lot of abyss, of universe unformed, unexploded yet.

I never got all that "just be yourself, it doesn't matter what people think" stuff. How on earth could anyone think that at seven, or fourteen, or twenty-seven, I had any  idea who I was yet? No act of "expression" for me has ever been a performance or a documentation of a shaped or extant thing (except maybe life drawing- although that probably has other identity explorations associated with it that I never consciously noticed). My clothes, my aesthetic, my gender, my writing, my art, my weird experiments with fermented foods: they are all play, conversation, tussle, exploring at the boundary, mixing, tracking. A trying on. A seed, and then seeing where it goes, where it grows. I think, maybe, that they are all poetry.

Writing discovers, constitutes. It weaves and unvweaves and reweaves me. I don't write in order to express myself. I write in order to find out my self(s). I write in order to know. I write in order to have a self at all.

And this brings me, meanderingly and wholly accidentally, to the topic of the very project that I am working on these days, but can't seem to control or even corral. Because when writing constitutes, when it is weaving me, it's never in isolation. It's never just me. Creating converses with all the things I impact and interact with, but which I do not in any way control.  Writing, conversation, play at the poems edge, unweaves and weaves me, but it also unweaves and weaves the world. Human stories don't just describe the matter around us: they shape it.

World shapes story shapes world shapes story shapes world.

hobodyer-large

 

 

 

That concept- story that co-constitutes the world - forms the core topic of the very document I can't control , that I am longing to render in a particular way. The rogue document that keeps jump-shifting on me, that keeps derailing itself, grabbing the steering mechanism, and running me where it wants, making off with the trip-planning and gobbling all the maps.

I understand that, given what I just said about the grace and salvation in the uncontrol of finding myself constantly and wrenchingly and gratefully re-written by poems, it might make sense for me to give in to this invitation with the rogue. It might seem obvious that I follow where it crashes through the undergrowth. It might seem a given that I should trust this crashing, as a version of the very process of rendering self and world that I am, in fact, chasing within the pages of the rogue.

But I want it to be clear. I have a longing, a longing for a cohesive thing, a document that opens to people other than me and leads them somewhere useful, somewhere readable and pragmatic and profound. And what comes through me when I sit down and put pen or keys to the rogue, is just more poetry, more wandering in the woods. Ideas, hot and bubbling in me, have been waiting, waiting, waiting for this time. They want to be said. They hunger, they insist, the chomp at the bit to say themselves clearly, concisely. I am a poet, and a verbose one. Clear and concise is not my metier. But I think it's vitally important for fairness, for access, for writing outside of some artistic or academic elite or obscure esoterric realm.

I know (sometimes) how to show up to an unfamiliar what, a topic, and practice, and let the writing happen to me. But how on earth do I become familiar with a different how, a different, on-topic, clear, intelligible, style of writing, without control? Especially when it's not how I love to write? If it doesn't feel good or right? If I sit down, and show up, and get out of the way, long, verbose, gerund-heavy poetry comes out. Even with an outline, the ideas don't want to come clear. They want to come muddy, slow and oozed. They want to circle back on themselves, a swamp, the boat crashing into the mangroves again and again and again. I know this is acceptable for art. But I want accessible, not acceptable.

book-exposition-composition-poland-51369

Because ultimately, I want what I say to matter. I want it to help, or intrigue, or tickle. And to do that, it has to be readable. It has to render itself somewhat coherently, sensibly, trackably. It has to honor attention spans, even if it pushes them.

How do you honor uncontrol, wildness, tracking, going deeper into the woods, at the same time that you honor the grace of the people? Of the readership? There are two kinds of humility here: to the writing, and to the reader. I don't know, yet, how to truly balance both. I am longing to. I hope it's what me and the rogue will learn.

Beginning Words

(CW: Orlando attacks)
 //
Words won't come from my hands. My body has taken over this week. Attempts at expression: of solidarity, of despair, of gratitude, of isolation, confusion, of grief, falter and get swallowed by my stomach, lungs. I have been hurting and terribly lonely. I have been cared for and in deep gratitude to friends. I cried for others and for myself and for things that don't have names and that I don't understand. I wrote a long piece (couldn't write, sleep, eat, stop crying, much this week till today) and it disappeared in copy paste. It was trying to say something simple:
 //
I see you and I love you and I am with you.
 //
I see you, friends, acquaintances, strangers that are hurting. Families, friends that are grieving. People who are angry, sad, afraid. I see you and I love you and I am with you.
 //
I say this as a white, cisgendered person, to other white cis folks: May we not be silent, even if you, like me, are feeling wracked with grief and clumsy as hell with your words. I see that this was an attack on primarily queer and trans* people of color, I see that it was Latinx night at the club, I see that this violence came from stories we are told are true by our laws and our systems and our police (by a culture and systems in which I am in less danger than most), I see that this violence is being used again to do racist harm, to spread Islamophobia, to divide and conquer, to fuel the nation-breadth skeleton-building of the structures of hate.  May we, white cis folks, hold this intersectionality of violence central in our grieving and rebuilding, in our offering of solidarity or support.
 //
May my grief,  pain flow in embodiment of our dedication to mutual interest. Not only an idea, it is my body crying real salt furious tears. My understanding that in most ways, it couldn't have been me, and yet where is the edge of me. I grew a plant from a seed and ate it and now it is my body. The edges are blurry at best. I am in many ways privileged as hell and it is not the same for me, and also I still am not free if you, and you, and you are not free. "I" is not in opposition to "you." At the intersections, messy and overlapping, this weaving of interest becomes more and more clear. I don't know how to talk about the furious, grief-stricken, fire-sharp love for people I don't even know that keeps running through my body in waves of tears. "Your liberation is bound up with mine."
 //
My body knows this. My body will not let me rest for the grief. It is wordless, nameless, it comes and screams or whimpers or floods and does not leave.
 //
I don't know if this is right. I don't know if it's the right thing to say. But I need to say something to stand with those who have been forced to keep saying it over and over so it gets said at all.  I am going to mess it up, the saying. I want to be here anyway. I want to listen quietly when needed. And when asked I want to open the volume of my voice.
 //
I see you and I love you and I am with you.
 //
And I see you, the extra Q that often goes unlisted, those who are Questioning. The confused. The closeted, whether by choice or necessity or both or neither. Those who do not know how they are oriented, or for whom it changes. Those who know and know alone. Those who cannot safely be out right now, or don't know what to be out as, or don't want to be out. Who find themselves, questioning or confused or closeted, alone in their thoughts, dropped into the middle of this storm. Those for whom this violence has made it even more dangerous, or terrifying, or lonely. Those questioning who are living at the intersections at the heart of this act. I wonder what it is like, in this moment, to watch the outpouring of queer love on the internet that I am watching, posts about queer community, queer family. I hope it feels like it is also love for you, because I hope that it is. But if it feels like a terrible compass needle pointing to community, love, solidarity that you don't have access to, you are not alone. I see you.
 //
I see you, and I love you, and I am with you.
 //
A lie we are told is that there is a right and a wrong way to love.

A Home for the Seeds

It was as the floods were coming in and the steam burning through the windows that we gripped our spades in our teeth and climbed into the mouth of the mountain to build secret homes for the seeds. We did not know each other, or we thought we did not.

We had not been born in the same places. We had never spoken words the others recognized. In the flood, trying to get out of the city, we had found ourselves in a tangle of unmatched tongues and car tires spinning wretched against the finally wet, so wet, too wet soil. Cacauphony. An unwieldy din.

But there was a language we held common, a thing that drove us madly into the hills soaking and coughing, our pockets full of sunflowers and fava beans. Call it the language of fertility. The rhetoric of rot. Of reimagining. Call it insanity. Call it a failure to bite down and trudge the proper path and save the proper thing. Call it disease or dis-ease or dissonance or dismantling, all.

Whatever name, we had it. We were, first and foremost, the ones who got out, some privilege and a dash of chance. And we were also ones who knew that the story of what-to-do-in-case-of-disaster was just a made thing, a stitched thing, an invisible lawbook, something written by five-fingered-hands in one very specific language for one very specific purpose. That the disaster itself was a story too, a made thing, a written thing. And we were the ones who knew story could, just as easy, be torn up, dug up, re-stitched, by hands, by briars, by sharks’ teeth snagging. We were the imaginers. The anxious creators, for whom no law is obvious and no story a static end. We had no set idea of how precisely to respond to a flood. We were not wed to any particular conversation with G_d about the monogomous needs of animals on large boats that wait out storms. Neither were we looking to save the microwaves.

And we were the ones that had no children. Or whose children had already gone. To the waters, to the white and hungry guns, to the longing. We were the ones who had no seeds.

So we found some. In the backs of our closets, in the corner stores standing ankle-deep in water, in the jars on the tilting kitchen shelves. And we gripped our spades in our teeth, and we looked sideways as the streets began to buckle and fold into foothills, and we saw each other limping, and rolling, and running, pockets spilling over with hard-shelled children, with descendants of future trees, and we reached out as we ran, and we gripped each other’s hands in our hands.

It was the queerest thing, like a bird in love with a sturgeon, a family of defectors, arms empty of objects and pockets emptied into soil above the water line, saving no wealth or infrastructure, saving the wrong things. A re-kindling, a re-kinning, a reckoning. All this dying, it has been beyond swallowing. All those bodies, they came home to the soil. And so we gave them children. Hard-shelled and root-bound. It was a kind of making love to the dead. We slipped seeds into their pockets. Their bodies fertile, already almost soil, meeting the beans, the walnuts, the pits we plunged in to the wet ground. The rhetoric of rot. The true nature of kinship: all things becoming other things. Hidden in the mountain, learning each others’ languages, guarding, guardening, waiting for the first roots, those parts of the plants called “radical,” to unfurl their faces into the soil.

 

Copyright 2016 Rachel Economy

 

 

Poem- "Air"

CIMG0978 Read this at Goddard open reading a couple weeks ago. What a place. What people and their work. A reminder about making, about putting work out there, about messiness and connection and the importance of sharing art even (especially) when I have no idea what it will mean to anyone besides me. Thanks Erin for reminding me- here it is :)

June 15, 2015

Air

Tonight I gave myself the heimlech while naked, thrown over the back of a chair (having aspirated somehow a tincture, magic I tried to slip under my tongue to make up for the long nights of searching for self instead of sleep.) I had just stepped out of the shower.

Suddenly where time for decisions about asking for help and the utter vulnerability of skin was once endless, or nearly so, I suddenly found only thirty seconds between myself and the finite convulsion of lungs

If the chair had not worked (and as it was I had to go back twice, twice I could not breathe the slightest) If the chair had not worked I would have run onto the porch naked and hammered on the neighbors door in the moth-bitten light of cool June, and someone maybe would have wrapped their arms around me so I could have air again.

Maybe not.

The absurdity of this situation strikes me like the absurdity of all need, how I have wanted for months to slide closer to the idea of your arms wrapped around me, how I have therefore run in the oppostie direction, thinking time is endless, thinking there will be another day, later, when it’s safer, to clamor onto the stark exposure of porchsteps at night, to splay myself, epidermis and heart showing, begging give me air give me air give me air.

"Relationship"

It’s Poem-a-Day/Post-a-Day Week! No editing, no perfectionism, no publisher/submission-managers mediating the place of art in public. Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 9.58.11 PM

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Day 5

Old, short poem because exhausted/short poems are cool/old poems need light.

* relationship

I think you're wrong about almost everything except the way you press me into the door.

*

(Originally printed in the "Faults" issue of Index/Fist zine, 2013)

"Quetzal" (selection)

It’s Poem-a-Day/Post-a-Day Week! No editing, no perfectionism, no publisher/submission-managers mediating the place of art in public. http://www.planetforward.org/sites/default/files/quetzal%20flying%20mejor.jpg ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Day 4

Selection from a very old piece called "Quetzal"- didn't know I was going to revisit this in my laptop annals today. At a time of trying to practice letting go of the need to know with absolute certainty before naming myself/living life, reading this piece from age ~19 I feel this bittersweet relief, like: thank heaven I don't have to believe this hard-assed self-policing sh** anymore. And: sometimes I still do.

* ~the diving bell~

Mouths to caress was back where the exile began, when her mind started to sprout feathers, leeched her colors away so it could fly them out into a forest made of rain. Mouths to caress and which shape they made. Which language touched which tongue (language laps, same word as tongue- when we kiss you are inside a diving bell, delving, coming up with bright flash sounds about me in your clumsy mesh bag. This is why it is so important for words and taste buds to be true).

[here is the part of the story that wanders untold. an archive without a gap makes a face without a mouth, no teeth or appetite]

*

~bird cornias~

And what she meant was "I have been watching the place where your hair meets your neck for weeks and I don't know why." What she meant was "I am in awe of your indifference." What she meant was "I have just let go my first love and he is still crying." What she meant was "I don't know, I don't know, I don't know anything and when I see you I feel these unfamiliar wings beating at the inside of my eyes."

*

~still tongue~

The tongue is still the same word as language. Her moral teachings are clear: you will not tell a lie about your self. You will know, and only then will you say.

"Love Note for the Rough Days"

It’s Poem-a-Day/Post-a-Day Week! No editing, no perfectionism, no publisher/submission-managers mediating the place of art in public. IMG_2659

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Day 3

A first draft from 10 days ago, Hawk Campground, Marin Headlands, under the cypress rain

_ Love Note for the Rough Days

Rest easy in that storm heart, those thunderheads gave it to you for watering roots and shaking bones into dancing.

Sometimes it's dark inside the beating water of the sky.

Rest easy in that storm heart you got, let relief crack open the way summer breathes in Georgia when something bigger than human hands decides there will be no more fires set, no more fires allowed to burn.

The way lungs fill with electric ease when it finally finally finally rains.

"When I Was An Octopus"

It’s Poem-a-Day/Post-a-Day Week! No editing, no perfectionism, no publisher/submission-managers mediating the place of art in public. From BBC Nature Library

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Day 2- Work-in-progress, written originally last winter

When I was an octopus

There are certain colors to the action called writhe certain cremations and correlations to the avoidance called write, certain ways of wrapping oneself around skull in order to fit body through the most invisible of cracks in the red flesh rock wall.

Once, at the aquarium all the fish of a particular gulp size went missing from the tank a hall over from me. No one noticed for days that there was a walnut shaped hole between the stones in the wall of the sea where I pretended to live. Afterward, no one noticed for another week entire that my head would resemble a walnut if all the writhing flesh compressed into a point of electric orange a fire-tipped sucking in slipping tight limbs through tighter holes, yes like that, the octopus is rumored to be the only creature that like us, enjoys such things, but unlike us has no penchant for setting rivers on fire.

ZINE LAUNCH! "Index for the Next World" CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

Warehouse

"...[W]e are good at resisting. We are good at fighting for the world we don’t want. We are good at analysis ...We are skilled at naming what we don’t want. I think we are less skilled at naming what we do want; our visions for liberation. And not just vague things like, “ending white supremacy and heterosexism,” but how are all the children going to get fed? Who will clean the toilets? Who will take out the trash? Who will cook the food?"

-Mia Mingus, Remarks from the closing plenary, “Revolutionary Organizing Across Time and Space,” at the INCITE! Color of Violence 4 Conference, March 26-29, 2015, Chicago, Illinois.

Full Circle Flowers

 

Re-storyation is a term I use to illustrate what I study/the work I do. Actually, it's work we do, as communities and socio-ecosystems. I am humbled and made hopeful over and over by the activist work I get to learn from and about, witness, and participate in. I study the ways that really big, often invisible culturally rendered stories are taken as given and unquestionable truths, and what happens when we change and re-design not only our systems (physical and cultural), but the stories that engender and reinforce them. Today, I am so excited to invite you into the first seed stage of a collaborative re-storying project I have been slowly pondering and dreaming about for 3+ years.

 

Pondering...

 

Come on in, makers, wonderers, poets, cooks, activists, humans! Are you into these questions and ideas? Do you want to collaborate? Send in some things for the zine! Come to one of the community events (to be announced soon)! Tell me what excites you, or if you want to collaborate on zine-printing parties, crowdfunding campaigns, brainstorming, website building, or something else going forward.

 

The project is called

Index for the Next World. 

EPSON MFP image

Here is what it's about:

Index for the Next World is a collaborative collection of stories, art, poems, maps and other rich, nitty-gritty visions for the next world.

 

Whatever stories we tell will shape the world. What shape do you imagine in a world that thrives? What do you imagine in your wildest dreams?

 

What would the specifics of that world we are both grieving and longing for look like if there was no “but we can’t because_________?”

 

The intent of this project is to collect and cultivate work/art/play that is curious or concerned about, for example, how we're going to simultaneously meet our needs for community ritual and durable dishware (stuff to eat off of), what we're going to do instead of policing and surveillance, how we're going to throw dance parties and feed the children, what community justice looks like, or how we might replicate the important things about the internet, in a post-scarcity, post-petroleum, post-extractionist, post-domination, pro-abundance, pro-resilience, closed-creation-loop (i.e. no mines as sources no landfills as "final resting place") world.

We are tired of being told that art and imagination are impractical luxuries or hobbies and not revolutionary acts. At the heart of "business as usual" live invisible stories of scarcity, separation, and domination, a long-standing status quo with a momentum and an inertia that are threatened when we come together to imagine the specifics of something different out loud.

The point here is not that ending white supremacy and heterosexism (as Mingus mentions in the quote above) aren’t important- they are essential. The point is that honoring their importance and possibility includes getting down to the specifics of what our lives and communities look and function like while and after those things are ending/ended.

Currently in its seed stages, the Index lives in the world right now as a zine and community event, and behind the scenes as an upcoming online-resource-to-be.

 

SUBMIT TO ISSUE 1 OF THE ZINE! Poems, maps, recipes, stories, art, photos (just know that this is currently a low-budget b&w zine), instructables, diagrams, songs, hybrid forms. Submissions should be attached to an email as either a .docx, .jpg, or .pdf file, and sent to rachel.nextworld [at] gmail.com. (Deadline for Issue 1 TBD)

CRITERIA: This project aims to be as inclusive as possible. Work should be on the shorter (zine-appropriate) side in these beginning stages. The length of the zine will be limited by the printing budget for a while.

PLEASE AVOID: “Color blind” language (‘we don’t see race in the next world’). This framework does not meet the needs of this publication for creative and respectful justice and anti-oppression work. This goes for all forms of oppression and identity. "Getting rid" of diverse identities, now or in the future does not solve oppression, it reifies it. It can lead to blaming the oppressed for their oppression, identity erasure, and failure to acknowledge the injustice and harm, and diverse offerings, gifts, and cultures, of the past and present. Also importantly, ecology teaches us that non-diverse systems are not resilient systems. Most of us do not and will not have the option (and many of us do not have the desire) to “forget” our identities, affiliations, heritages, or oppressions. Our histories and identities don’t magically disappear in the next world, so submitters please meet and weave them in your work creatively, abundantly and respectfully.

 

This is a call to all creators (that means you!) to imagine the next world now. We've been told that our visions and stories are impractical precisely because they are impactful and therefore dangerous to the entrenched status quo, but also because they are so hard for us to prioritize in the face of immediate suffering. So let's not prioritize them over current needs- let's care for the current needs and map our deepest, most mundane and miraculous visions of where we are going, of what our interventions seek to build in place of the old world.

 

Warehouse Sun

 

Here, we treat storying as the deeply practical work that it is.

 

Many cultures have carried and protected so much knowledge and story of how to live, through crises, colonialism, ecological and social violence. Many organizations and communities are modeling and prefiguring next-world practices right now, right here. This is not a request to reinvent or appropriate the wheel. This is an attempt to connect and honor an abundance of stories in one place, to honor and make visible and accessible some of the work that art and storying do in shaping the world. To create an interactive repository of stories and visions that we can refer to and build from.

Seed Bank Bounty

Imagine that we're already there. And show us the rich specifics of what it looks/feels/tastes/sounds/smells like, paint us the details of how we, as communities, meet our needs and give our gifts. 

 

Ecosystems with no place for the yields (gifts), and no way to meet the needs, of their elements and agents tend to get sick (when you dump fertilizer in a stream and it gluts with algae that is an issue of not having a big enough need to match with the yield in that particular place). The same process happens in our social webs and ecosystems. Too much individualism hurts. We are here to match back up our needs and gifts.

CIMG0521

If each need is met in multiple ways, if each gift has multiple places to go, our systems become more resilient in the face of impact or extreme events, ecological and cultural (picture a farm with only beans that is suddenly descended upon by a bean-eating insect vs. a farm that also has 15 other crops to eat). So six people can write six different poems about how we might produce clothing in our next worlds. We're not looking for a universal map, which could disastrously dishonor those most fitting local maps that come out of local wisdom.

What we're going for is an abundance of imagination, so we have plenty of things to get excited about, to try in different scenarios and contexts, to build, to aim towards.

Here is a list of universal human needs from BayNVC, a an organization that continues the incredible work of the late Marshall Rosenberg's in Nonviolent Communication (NVC). In NVC, we are taught that there are many strategies to meet each need. Instead of deciding that, for example, we have to nix video games in the next world because ________(insert tirade against video games here), what happens when I look at "video games" as a strategy that many people currently engage to meet deep needs of _____ and ______? How exactly will we meet those needs even more richly in the next world?

Every element or need, large and small, is fair game. Talk about carrots. Paint about conflict-resolution. Draw about kids toys. Write about back massages. Sing about safe consenting sex. Diagram about books. Photograph about currency.

Carrots Intertwined

Any need or gift you can think of, any intersection or identity or history or crop or practice that you want to see honored in the day-to-day of the next world, imagine it onto paper and send it this way.

More soon!

"...We were never perfect.

Yet, the journey we make together is perfect on this earth who was once a star and made the same mistakes as humans.

We might make them again, she said.

Crucial to finding the way is this: there is no beginning or end.

You must make your own map."

- From "Map to the Next World," by Joy Harjo. This poem and this humblingly powerful poet partially inspired the Index project. (read the full poem here)

 

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SOURCES:

Mingus, Mia. "Still Choosing to Leap: Building Alternatives." Remarks from the closing plenary, “Revolutionary Organizing Across Time and Space,” at the INCITE! Color of Violence 4 Conference, March 26-29, 2015, Chicago, Illinois. https://leavingevidence.wordpress.com/2015/03/31/still-choosing-to-leap-building-alternatives/ Accessed April 26, 2015

Harjo, Joy. "A Map to the Next World" from How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems:1975-2001 Norton. Copyright © 2002 by Joy Harjo

"Universal Human Needs." Bay NVC. http://www.baynvc.org/materials/UNIVERSAL_HUMAN_NEEDS.pdf Copyright 2009 by Inbal, Miki and Arnina Kashtan.

 

 

All photos taken by/copyrighted to blog author.

Prefigure Your Pleasure

"...the movement should seek to prefigure, or anticipate and model, its goals in its own work."

Oppose and Propose: Lessons From Movement for a New Society, pg 24

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"If there's no dancing at the revolution, I'm not coming."

- Quote attributed to Emma Goldman, deriving from her works and words

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"Regenerative hedonism: have so much fun that no one can resist joining in." 

- Grace's Permaculture Wisdom, Woolman PDC 2013

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I spend a lot of time wondering about, talking with folks about, and working towards, prefigurative spaces and practices.

My way of explaining prefiguration: spaces and practices where the how models and matches the what. Container = content. Micro and macro correspond. The means both move towards, model, and are the ends.

An example: a group that has ends of racial and gender equality and justice designs its meeting facilitation process with careful attention to who shares and how much, in order to make sure traditional patterns of conversational and decision-making dominance are subverted and replaced with an equitable balance.

Often, my interest in prefiguration comes up outside of the explicitly political arena. Actually, it comes up everywhere.

Right now, I'm doing some gentle loping into the questions "Why does this matter so fiercely to me?" and "How do I locate this in larger contexts of activism?"

The main delicious and frightening creative challenge usually on my mind and heart is:

What would we want this to look like in the next world?

and Ok, what are the barriers? What's stopping us? How much of that can we go ahead and create right now? How do we want it to feel?

and For/with who? Are we just dropping out? How do we make sure access, collaboration and radical inclusivity are part of that creation?

In the spirit of prefiguring a world that does not demand that individual contributions be perfect performances to be worth hearing in the collective space, instead of writing a novel as is my tendency, I'm going to leave these musings here, threads on a partially woven loom. Here's to prefiguring imperfectionism and vulnerability, here's to prefiguring an invitation in to a conversation with many voices, rather than just presenting a closed script (I tell myself as my hand hovers over the little trashcan that would delete this post...)

How do you experience prefigurative practices and spaces, not just in explicit political movement building, but also at your work, in your home, in your relationships? Is this important to you? Why? 

I'll leave with an old poem I wrote after seeing the Beehive Design Collective present their project "Plan Colombia" in 2008 or 2009, during which they spoke about their interviewees description of the essential and necessary power in singing and celebration-to generate strength, resilience, co-care, and solidarity in a community of workers under attack.

How might this beloved community, this necessary play, allow us not only to model the joy of world we want to live, in the face of all that works against that next world, but also lend us the strength and support of interconnection, the sharp pleasure so that we can keep on facing and working in the current world with our eyes open to its pain, a pain that an individual person sometimes cannot hold alone?

"If there is no dancing"

If there is no dancing the revolution will not come.

If there is no dancing the sunflowers will curl in on their heavy heads too early, stars bound straight to red death no chance to feed the curious mouths of children or birds.

If there is no dancing your ears cannot hear my tongue-song drumming I will never know what sound your body makes.

If there is no dancing the revolution will stay too long calling itself progress and turning pale a death un-coming un-feeding un-found.

If there is no dancing our hammer-hearts cannot feel the nail.

Once, the hive-minded painters walked out of the coca fields and into the local bar to ask why everyone was singing the people looked over their glasses over swaying heads and said:

song is the only choice when the soil voice gets hit with helicopter fire.

what do you do when everything is coming up orange?

how else will you un-lid your eyes and not turn and run?

Alone, I open up landscapes of the possible behind my eyes, like we could walk speakers into the parking deck and mad dance stamp until the rains redistribute the water

or until we are declared a wild nuisance

or until the mud-slung hateful shape of things grows us another hammer and another hand to hold it and we write songs that say what will be built out of houses, coastlines reef-depths that now stand broken.

We could kiss like the abandoned so that nobody would be.

We could write those songs on the bark of a tree without touching it.

We could overlap and balance invisible wings wrapped twisting to vestigial beats.

We could reopen the sunflowers petal by bright sky petal until they too dip their heads into music and move until they too can turn faces towards the horrors and hurts.

Without dancing we will never remember how to spin the rusting wheel.

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If you want to read more about prefigurative politics in movement building, check out the Berkeley Journal of Sociology's forum on Power and Prefiguration, and the book Oppose and Propose: Lessons From Movement for a New Societyover at Anarchist Press.

The First Question

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

~Mary Oliver, The Summer’s Day

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When you come to a print on a muddy streambank, the first thing you say is not “This bobcat was thirsty.” The first thing you ask is not, “What should we do about all the thirsty bobcats we now know exist in this woods?” The first thing you think, on a good day in your walloping, galloping mind, is not even “Hey, a bobcat track.”

The first question is: Who is it?

And the first answer is: No answer.

It doesn’t matter if you think you know. If you are as certain as your own left foot. Because the truth is, there is nothing certain, nothing given about even your own left foot.

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The trick here, the hard hard tightrope dance, is that there is space between noticing and meaning-making. And in fact, there is a space before noticing as well. For most of my life, nobody taught me this. I thought curiosity had to with voracious, rampant questions, answer-driven or aimed at taking down assumptions somewhat sharply (“critical thinking”). No one mentioned that I was skipping two major steps, steps that, if skipped, tend to leave certain mental and physical muscles atrophied and stagnant, until your starving spirit or soil-working hands suddenly need them decades later, and you feel the awkward, unfamiliar strain.

Welcome back to your animal.

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The two steps, the two muscles I largely missed from age 6 to age twenty-whatever (what age was I yesterday?), were the slowness of noticing, and the capacity to stay inside of not-knowing, to tolerate curiosity and multiple possibilities.

Have you ever noticed how unconscious we have made our noticing? Wait, there’s a catch-22 in there somewhere…

We perceive first with our senses, in mutual subjectivity, as ecologist and magician David Abram tells us, with the matter around us. Our sensory perception happens so quickly, in these animal bodies we live from. It makes sense that a lot of this noticing would go uncatalouged in the conscious mind- if we had to take time to consciously list every color we perceive in order to move through our day, it would take a very long time to get anything done (conversely this is why sitting and listing every color you see is a great way to get out of an addictive pattern to getting things done). And even our almost insantaneous meaning-making from the things we notice makes good animal sense- if something is dangerous or there is a very short opportunity to take advantage of a food source, our body-mind needs to be able to go without a ton of articulated, analytical conscious thought.

But we have created a strange world of billboards and car horns and sirens, of rooms without wind or water or food where we spend our days, all these sensory spaces that our animal bodies might very well perceive as extremely threatening. Starvation spaces. On top of this, though we create beautiful music and tender things, we also fill these worlds with extreme injustice, oppression, cruelty, and torture. And then we ask each other, in our jobs and transit and home spaces and waiting rooms, to move through these worlds at breakneck speed. No time or safe container to deal with all that truly perceiving these things would imply for us. No wonder the noticing muscle goes not just under the conscious radar, but under-used altogether.

Noticing, presence, whatever you want to call it, asks us to stay in relationship with a bigger body, a larger organism or ecosystem. The meaning-making that follows, in this world we’ve woven, can bring with it extreme grief, stress, and pain. For many of us then, it has become a survival tactic to turn down or shut down most of our perception.

The problem with this tactic is that it leaves us out of relationship with the bigger body. Suddenly, we are stuck in starvation mode, alone, without the “family of things,” as Mary Oliver puts it, to hold us if any of that pain or joy from perception does get through to our lanky, rough, tender hearts.

So simply walking up to something, a track or a feeling or a knot, walking towards it instead of immediately assuming meaning or danger (“it’s a bobcat!”), and asking, Who are you? brings us instantly back into relationship with our ecosystem body. Suddenly, we’re not alone anymore. Then, too, this practice relieves us of the intense secret pressure so many of us carry around to already know what’s going on. In this way, too, the practice releases a bit of the hubris that “knowing” and certainty bring with them, a hubris that often becomes cultural structures of harm for our world-body.

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The relief, the delight, the humility, of not knowing, of wondering and therefore walking towards, of suddenly being in curious relationship again with the matter and body around us, in direct defiance of a world that says we are separate individual isolated entities living on top of matter- I believe this is a radical act. For our own development, yes, but also for the way we live with this planet. I’ll return to this at the end.

First, though, let’s talk about how uncomfortable it is not to know! At least for me, it’s almost intolerably painful, even as I recognize its value. This is the second step, the capacity to stay inside of not knowing. To ask that first question, Who is it? To notice, and draw no conclusions yet, letting the first answer be: no answer yet. Instead of the drive to find out the answer, curiosity in tracking for me is the increasing ability to stay and play around in the space where I don’t know.

Tracking teachers Scott D. and Jon B. are amazing at modeling and guiding this process. The first time we stood and looked at a hole dug by an animal (probably) and were not allowed to decide whose it was, I lost focus immediately and started planning what to cook for dinner. The next time I tried to stay inside the question and possibilities while looking at a nimal sign, noticing more and more details and considering options without narrowing to any answers, I almost started crying. I was so uncomfortable with the physical experience in my body of sitting with the unknown. All of the other unkowns in my life rose around me like a flood, a deluge.

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For those of us whose sense of value and personal stake in the world have been built around performance, competence, whose education has encouraged us to be clever, to know answers, to volunteer in a group only when we have something concrete and correct to offer, whose sense of ability to receive gender equality has perhaps depended on maintaining an outer appearance of extreme independent competence, it is really, really hard to trust that your teachers want you to have the space to be wrong out loud. A lot. But as Jon and Scott so artfully and compassionately demonstrate, trying to be right immediately decreases the likelihood that you will actually perceive as much of the story in the landscape as possible.

To be in widely perceiving, expansive, deep relationship with the world I am a part of, to learn at a pace and with a humility that allows for my delight and deep learning, epistemologies (ways of knowing) that depend on proof, defense of ideas, and certainty must fade, in order to be balanced by a deep trust that information is present in my inner and outer landscapes, and I will meet it with the gentle, slow question, Who are you? And I will stay with what I notice, and I will wonder, and I will generate possibilities, not because I need to prove that there is something here worth looking at- that I can already trust- but because I want to track who it is and how they are moving, because I want to explore. The only agenda is not to have one. And to show up. And to ask.

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Then, when I’ve noticed things, and questioned, and made humble meaning, I can point to the trails of my knowing as a story or a root system. Rigor is still present here- the threshing out of a track-maker’s possible identities, and the continual noticing of details that support particular possibilities- this is a rigor of deep systems observation, rather than of isolated, replicable experiments. We still say, this is why I know what I know. But it is not a thesis defense. It is a story rooted in deep observation, and it arises out of not-knowing, and noticing, and then following the threads, bringing past observations and intergenerational teachings to bear on the curiosity play.

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These practices apply equally to a bird in the sky, a track on the ground, or a deep sense of knowing or experience in the self. I came to write this not because I am looking at tracks or birds (well actually as I write this a bunch of crows or ravens are dive-bombing what I think might be a raptor because of its shape and flight pattern and the way it’s being treated by the neighborhood birds), nor because I am anything but a novice tracker. Rather, I am embarking on two years of deep learning in a school setting, albeit an extremely unconventional one. I can feel my old ways of learning, of needing to defend and prove and protect my curiosities and sense of thread, attempting to sneak in. And they were delightfully harsh and rigorous and left me with a lot of distrust and atrophied inner muscles.

The last time I was a full-time student, I expended an incredible amount of fear and exhaustion trying to prove academically that all the things I thought were connected and important- poetry, education, ecological literacy, radical reclamation of voice in spaces under attack- were, in fact, connected and important. And I did it. But my sense of trust was shattered. And this has deeply affected my ability to stay in relationship with my own education. It has inspired self-directed learning, and transformed the way I teach and lesson-plan. But in my own relationship to academia, there is still this sense of being under attack, of a thesis defense, of the possibility that everything I believe is worthy could just be wrong. A hundred times while writing this, I have, in fact, stood up and walked away, because of the fear that it will be unclear, that the arguments or the writing will not hold up. Expression modulated by fear of outcome has become a disastrous energy-suck. It is not really freedom. It takes away a crucial part of learning: messiness, voice-ownership, testing, trying, curiosity, self-trust. Empowerment.

Last week at Goddard College, where I now have the immense blessing of being a graduate student, I made a commitment. In the past, I have had to defend and prove the very idea that the ideas I see and feel are connected are, in fact, connected. This is a warlike way to relate to my own knowing and curiosity, and to the world in relation with it. How can the act of my learning model the world-change I am trying to learn about/into? I commit to trusting that these threads are connected, that these prints form a trail. This is not in question. My task, my gift-burden (TRANSLATE?), is to approach with this trust and ask the threads, Who are you? To track, knowing that they are connected. To, with curiosity and an increasing tolerance for staying in this roiling, dark, strange river of not-knowing, begin to find out how they are connected, and what that might grow into in the world.

So I ask, Who is it?

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In the case of my study queries, who is talking about systems and eco-social resilience? Who are the people proposing applicable frameworks of changemaking, and what are they saying? Who has something to say about grief and cultural story in the context of structural revolution? What about art and individual action/expression? Who is here? Who am I in this conversation?

I'll let you know whose tracks I find  think I've found based on noticing and presence and staying with questions...

I am still in the dark on how this first question, this noticing and tolerating curiosity, leaning towards, lives its way through us into bigger systemic change. I don’t know. It is difficult to trust that this is a “good” or “correct” thing to do. That it serves. My impulse is to turn away, towards rational, critical cynicism- Who is this helping? If I don’t know, if I can’t prove it, I should abandon the track. We only have so much time here, and the seas are already rising.

This is all true, in one sense. But/and, to tend this world without knowing in my body how to be in relationship with the shadow, with the unknown, how to stay engaged in perception and openness to interrelationship- without these things, I might very well replicate the very structures I hope to change. Avoidance of interrelationship and shadow are one of the threads I want to track, in fact- how are these fears at the heart of the harms we’ve built? I don’t know yet. And so the question is simply, Who is this? Who is moving here? And, as part of that, Who am I? My body wants to follow and so I follow. Back into relationship, messy, shaking, unknown, with the body of the world.

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Coastal Pinball

straddling the coastlinesa pinball ricochet, or that three hours makes one hell of a difference for the midnight phone-callers among us.

The mountains are made of different books back in the ankles of the Appalachian hills.  Here they are just a dusty rock-promise in the fog, surrounding this flat motherboard of a valley built on plastic and impulse. A binary game. Two coastlines, full of fresh fruit. Persimmons and the crows come cawing down.

The joke is on us: we keep planting vast holidays of table and seed, but ain't quite enough water, out here, to water even the smallest of apple trees.

Kingfisher Zine

A few months ago I had the honor to contribute to Kingfisher, a collaborative zine currently publishing out of Providence (I think?). Just found the PDF of the issue, based around the glorious theme of Grunge. Here it is: Grunge

Looking forward to checking out other issues as well, saw some names of great folks in those tables of contents.