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.

Beginning Words

(CW: Orlando attacks)
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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.
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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

EPSON MFP image

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

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

***

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

- Grace's Permaculture Wisdom, Woolman PDC 2013

 ***

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.

***********************************************************************************

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

IMG_2582

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.

What the Body Wants

The mint roots got tired of the windowsill water, so in the early afternoon today I pulled myself out of the mental bog and mire of second-guessed decisions that I'd been slogging around in and went outside to fill a cup with pebbles and dirt. There happened to be a hurricane helping water the weeds and native plant garden in the dirt parking lot. I was not particularly worried about it. I grew up on what I think is the fringe of a minor hurricane corridor (is that what they're called? or is it a hurricane foyer? the language architecture of weather seems to be a futile exercise in imagined control- we give it names, rooms in houses, corridors, so maybe it won't gobble so much. So maybe we'll have a better linguistic grasp on chaos and a better literal grasp on our roofs and beech branches and car windows.) I had heard distant thunder earlier in the morning and the rain was coming down pretty much in accord with regular old gravity- psh, I thought. Not even a good, drenching lightning storm to siphon off this end-of-August frenzy we've all been feeling, fall whispering its evening way in. Hubristic and barefoot, I opened the mud room door and stepped out onto the harsh pebble driveway, unafraid and frankly hoping the water might rinse off some of that mental bog mud. The dog, on the other hand, had been trying to climb onto my lap on each and every article of furniture I parked on all morning, and several times even tried to paw his way in when I was standing, lapless, in the kitchen putting blueberries into things. I have stopped checking the weather channel this summer because this dog knows when a storm is coming. And ain't nobody getting any work or sleeping done once he knows.

I thought that he, like everyone and their newspaper, was overreacting- climbing into laps, buying water at the grocery store (is there a reason not to fill up jars with the water we already have? is it unglamorous? I probably missed that memo...), parking their cars in other people's places to avoid the potential of a washed out road or an overenthusiastic tree branch trying to make love to the far away ground. Issuing a no-driving state of emergency at midnight the night before when it was hardly drizzling (which we ignored).

So I walked out in a t-shirt and sweatpants, holding two stems of wild mint I salvaged last week from a plowed-under row of zucchinni. The grass next to the parking lot had turned marshy and tasted delicious between my toes. Sometimes rain is all that breathing you didn't realize you'd been forgetting to do. I enjoyed the water, thinking how perfect and ordinary it was. And then I walked around the corner.

We live and work in on a hill in a building called the Creekhouse. On one side of the house is the road, on one side woods and rose thickets, one pasture (complete with requisite cows cowbirds and flies), and at the bottom of the back hill is the ankle-deep creek. Or what used to be the creek. Because when I walked around the corner, what I saw where the creek was supposed to was a living muscle of water equal in volume and rush-rapidity to certain parts of the Nantahala river, which I used to raft back when North Carolina was still close by.

I probably said something profane and thrilling (at least to me). I probably made noises I wasn't planning to utter. When the body sees water moving like that, busting out its banks, clamoring up the trunks of trees and frothing with intention, it starts moving too. The mouth, the tongue, the arms flail in wildness, look. Holy crap. That is a freaking river. Immature language because no language will be sufficient. The body does things, sends liquid into the blood, says run, run, whether towards or away.

When my body sees water moving like that, it wakes back up and demands a banquet with grapes, hammers on the door of the tiny room I keep it locked in most of the week, screams its way out and does wayward things with me even as I am determinedly trying to creep back to the mucky bog of self-doubt in the safe, immobile kitchen.

Umbrella. Camera. Click. Return to house. Shorts. Jacket. Waterproof sandles. I set off down the hill to see more wonders. The entire bottom of the pasture across the road, where I sat once for half an hour drawing Queen Anne's lace intently until I suddenly realized I'd been sharing the field with a coyote, is underwater. The pasture close to the corner becomes a marsh, birds returning to it like they know this ecosystem of old, even here in the hills. I walk through a road underwater and feel phenomenal. Not a familiar feeling lately. The storm drain expels a constant Charybdis roar. The gully on the left, usually a rock and flower ditch, now contains waterfalls.

I feel like something fresh, a bucket of tomatoes with the mud still on. The way the water gnaws on the edges of the roads reminds me of that poor small winged thing wanting hope. Not that I would give up the concrete. I simply want to live places where there is something bigger trying to eat it. This kind of chaos, unlike that in my mind, does not terrify me. I have crossed rivers up to my thighs with weight on my back. I have locked eyes with wild hooved things. I have confused earthquakes with the comfort of trains and sought of mountains I knew would destroy me because I trust even the destruction. I fear it, but the feeling is not terror. Weather. Something bigger that happens. The last great uncontrol. What the body wants.

Half the farm is underwater, which should make me unhappy. It's really going to be a problem for the crops. Instead I feel a great, lapping joy, unbound and uncouth and uncultured. I want to shout. I want to roll in the new marsh. I laugh in my throat and consider for just a moment being inside of the river (the second stream is also flooded past its own hips), what it would feel like to be that surrounded, that free. All body. No longer the one responsible for the chaos, the pounding water, the confusion. Just inside it, rush-water battered and alive.

Lately I have been angry. Or cruel, rather. Slinging slicing blades at my mind for not solving the questions of what I want. When I want. Who I want. Where I want to go to. And how. I stay inside the small house on the hill, erecting spiked fences to keep my own gentleness out, trying to force my own hurricanes into corridors because the weather looks a little grey, a little unpredictable. There is no house for a storm but the sky. I have been going about this journey the wrong way, compounding the problem, inverting and inverting. To stay inside with the mind trying to figure out what, who, where, how I want is to draw farther and farther from ever answering, to lose my boots in a that dark bog of self-doubt which turns out to have also been confined to the drawing room in this tiny house where I try to keep my chaos. My unexpected deluge.

It is the body that does wanting. Desire comes from there, not the mind. The mind is a secondary tool for desire. My particular mind is overdeveloped from years of getting in my own way. Engorged from a blessed, privileged, and terribly imbalanced education full of analysis and questions and hands folded or raised, one-at-a-time, polite and empty. My doing-things-muscles, my desire and will, my use and my wild knees that used to ride horses badly and collect bramble scars, are atrophied. And I sit here and keep taking x-rays, holding consulting sessions with experts in my head: what are all the different ways this muscle might move best, which part should move first, in which direction.

It doesn't work that way. You don't heal in the doctor's office. I know this story. I once spent 4 months unmoving in a bed. You do not decide what to do with those pathetic, tiny strings you are left to move with when you get up. You just move them. Painstakingly. You run half a mile and sleep for two days. Then you make an omelete and sleep again. You don't plan, you don't decide how your calves or your latisimus dorsi will move in the world. You move them in the world, and the world moves back against you. You use them. And after weeks of this, when they have returned to their minimal functionality, then you start to do things because they feel good. You start to want again. That 70% of yourself that was motion, that was doing, starts to feel like it can come back in. You dance to old motown in the kitchen. You go for a run and feel windy, not winded. To do this, the muscles have to already work. To already be developed. Only then will they know how, when, where, who to move toward. What to touch. What to hold on to.

And how are you to know what you want to do if your doing-things muscles, the wanting and the building which happen in hands and hip sockets and the small of the back, don't work yet? You have to give them practice. You have to give them flavors, things between their toes. If you keep them inside, they will starve. There is nothing to want there, only the mind, trying to plan the wanting before it happens. You have to let those sweet muscles out into the chaotic body of the world, go skinny dipping with strangers inside a hurricane and dive off the dock into water you can't see. You have to give them input, things they might want, might be thrilled by, might despise, so they can learn about desire. So they can give you feedback: yes, this, storm, no, not that, we don't like fennel, don't know, try again, not sure about her, not sure about that sound or that swerve in the road.

You go to plant mint in a hurricane. Your senses come, smell the grass underwater and the crushed mint strong in your pocket. Then desire, and then the word. In that order. You start with what the body wants. You give it options, things to smell and rub up against and drown in. And then you listen to the rain on the roof of the new house you are building, with open walls, no corridors, room on the edges of the concrete for the teeth-marks of a verdant chaos you forgot you needed in order even to breathe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today I Love the Farm

On Mondays I wake up at 5:30 hating everything. I hate myself, I hate my alarm clock, I hate the pushpin next to my bed, I hate chaos theory, I hate cucumbers (I always hate cucumbers), I hate steamy movie scenes, I hate toothbrushes, I hate other people for being awake and not hating everything, I really hate other people for being asleep when I'm not, I hate fallen arches, I hate sun hats, I hate the once-soothing sound of summer fan blades in the morning air. I smear sunscreen onto my face without remembering to wash the sleep out of my eyes and hate that I now have to either leave the sleep there or rinse sunscreen into my soon-to-be screaming cornias. It's far enough past the solstice, and far enough into a day of sky taunting storms, for it to still be pitch-black outside. (I hate that.) The clouds hang low and cool in the hills east of the Hudson River. (Okay, maybe I don't hate that so much...). I eat maple yogurt made from milk from cows that are currently in the barn down the hill being milked by really weird, fascinating machines and farm apprentices, and I don't exactly hate the yogurt, but I do think about the fact that whole milk yogurt is not the same as low fat yogurt and which one is better anyway but who cares because I hate everything. Except my bed, which I am no longer in. My drooling dog mind, certain that the only reason we could be up this early is that we are UNDER ATTACK, kicks the adrenaline up and starts driving itself feverishly into the self-criticism button, fix this, fix us, fix the (non)emergency, fix everything.

I ignore the dog and continue eating yogurt.

The dog is catching more early morning burs, more of those crisp little "shoulds" in hard shells determined to lodge in my side, and getting them all over the place. I put on my hiking boots and rain pants (harvesting without them when the sun isn't up yet is about equivalent to jumping in the swimming pond across the road with all your clothes on) and wait for the other intern to come and lead us down the hill too fast.

And then this happens: in the mist, we harvest tomatoes and I speak with an apprentice about that illusion called future (dog mind throws itself against the bars in the tiny cage of my head). The tomatoes are firm and they have green shoulders. My hands turn green-yellow grunge from the leaves and smell of that pungent kind of salvation that comes from this late-magic summer fruit. Everything feels free, like it can breathe, the low sky a collarbone bending down to pick us up, small children protected by this out-in-the-open weather. Relief spelled r-a-i-n.

I am prepared to bet that I could make my first million by bottling and selling a scent called "tomato harvest infused with dark 6 am rain." In the face of rampant dissatisfaction and a pendulum heart that won't tell me anything about where or how to go next, and as someone who admittedly has some sleep issues, a rainstorm and 5:30 wake-up call should pretty much send me over the edge of horror canyon into the gorge of despair (imagine really deep echoes around both of those phrases for the full effect). But today I declare the following, won't you join me, say: I'm finished with "shoulds," they're evil little burs, let's all get over ourselves and spend a few days picking them out of our skin and the cuffs of our pants. And then forgive our stupid panting adorable shit-rolling curious insatiable lovely dog-minds for bringing us such wiry, piercing little seeds of doubt and chain.

I ride in the jolting back of the blue truck bed and grin like a mad boat captain, watching the road go backwards, the drizzle in my face fresh freedom, the spray of mountain-seas. I have been frenetic with the wild permutations of thinking about next month and invisible conversational nuance and my car battery and feet and was not expecting this kind of peace. This kind of joy in motion. The road only goes backwards while we move in a direction with no name. Here we are in this truck bed careening towards something, California or death or the field down the road, and I only see the potholes after they've hit. They are full of muddy rain. Spine already knows. Ass already knows. Slung sideways in the glorious dirt of the truck bed I finally feel safe. Heart shaped like those lopsided oxheart tomatoes that all had rotten spots already already  knows.

Most days I don't love the farm. I respect it but it is not my endeavor, I feel no ownership or belonging, I work most days in an office and resent my tailbone for getting so much use. I am a guest in the field and a bad early riser. I try to draw far-reaching conclusions from every minute thing I do or don't enjoy (perhaps a trait of many of us in this particular carnival moment of abject uncertainty). I could exchange my thoughts-per-minute for dollars and have enough to buy a three-hour trip down the river and all of Manhattan when I got there. I believe in farms, especially this one, I work for and on and around farms, but they have been hard for me to love. The first farm I ever really worked on got tangled up with my white blood cells decision to engage in open revolt and my first shameful thrill of heartbreak besides and also it was run by people who kept asking me if I could see the faeries outside my tent. I have been somewhat mistrustful ever since.

But today I love the farm. I love its people and their rough warmth, their hands full of competence I aspire to. It is not an easy love. I try hard not to draw conclusions, not to decide what I will and will not handle in the future. The farm alone among all my rattled loves and angry phone line snares, all my cover letter disappointments and friendship-wish travels that never put me on a real road, has offered me this: the smell of tomato leaves burned into my hands. It does not rinse off when I come in for breakfast.