The beginning of saying something, maybe.

Last night Facebook fed me a thumbnail of Alanna Bennett’s buzzfeed article “What A ‘Racebent’ Hermione Granger Really Represents.” Today I was listening to BBC Radio 4’s  Front Row and they had an interview with George the Poet, and I have so many thoughts and feelings about both of these pieces of media, I’m having trouble knowing where to start.

#1 “Bravo!” Also, “Yes! Keep going! Keep telling your truth!” “Thank you!” And, “God bless you” (in a totally secular way) spring to mind. And just plain “Wow! Way to get down with some real shit and make it simple and accessible and timely and honest.”

#2 “Racebent” is a term I need to learn more about. I absolutely understand it syntactically, it’s completely logical (see “gender bending”), but at first glance it seems like it could get the conversation off on the wrong foot. Or that it is sort of preemptively self-deprecating in a context when something boldly positive seems more appropriate.

#3 What should I do about all this?

The two pieces knit overlap to cover the following themes: being ‘the only,’ mostly in school; yet not feeling like one belonged in either world -where one was ‘only’ or one was ‘every;’ relating to/interest in culture/cultural icons that were not “mirrors” of oneself (all three of us -Ms. Bennett, George, and myself are all people of color).

This is the story of my life.

My current set of pretty much all-white friends, mostly don’t know the previous generations of pretty-much all white friends, but even with their limited view they could offer a pretty accurate testimonial of my “no mirrors” life.

Ms. Bennett makes her point with two well-chosen quotes from Junot Díaz. And it is possibly this fact that is really making these themes spin round in my brain. Junot Díaz was my first college writing teacher. And when we conferenced, he talked to me about the fact that I wasn’t writing mirrors. At the time I really didn’t understand this feedback, and I took it the wrong way.

Today, I both understand and support the argument that without a narrative you don’t exist. The proof is in every history course ever taught. But I still struggle a lot with what this means for me personally.

I genuinely feel that true diversity in the stories we take in, from news to social media to television to books, is an important battle in a war against time and culture that won’t be won while any of us are alive to see it. True diversity = all people equally expected and equally depicted in all circumstances. I do what I can to support and promote this.

Simultaneously I am despondent that people are narrowing their own or attempting to narrow others’  choices based on never having seen a woman, man, homosexual, transsexual, person of a specific race, age, ability, whatever do ______.

I know that my stubborn universalism is Pollyanna. I am trying to keep it from being naive. But I believe you can also fight ignorance by expecting better and helping people meet that expectation. I also don’t want to be angry all the time. I can’t do it.

I don’t belong anywhere. I’ve understood for years now that if the some honest-to-goodness skin-deep racist bullshit boils up I might be an early casualty, probably walking home through some cracker neighborhood from my hillbilly folk dancing class.

I have no narrative. I have read hundreds of books and I have never appeared in those pages. Not in whole cloth. Not in the people who were supposed to “mirror” me. So I am both dead and invisible. And yet I have a job, and drive a car, and leave little impressions in many places. I must be a ghost.

And what are ghosts but the energy, and maybe the dust, being pushed around the universe by and from all the people and things now and before. So I’m back to my stubborn universalism. My nothing is the future of everything, so I am everything and everybody.

I have no ‘people’ so I am all people. I have no story so I am all stories. I have no mirror because it does not have enough facets to reflect all of who I am.

I wish everyone saw themselves that way and worked to make it true.

 

Maybe it’s time for all of us to start thinking about terrorism

Dear beautiful human, thank you for reading and thinking along with me for a few minutes. I hope that while you experience this post you are in a place that feels safe and good. I hope your body is comfortable. I hope you can easily call to mind images and the warmth of being with those you love; or that they are near. It has been a week on planet earth with deep, sharp reminders about how abruptly and senselessly these basic, vital joys can be destroyed.

Again.

I want everyone to think about terrorism, because getting used to the way the world has changed takes practice. And getting ready to changes the world also takes practice.

  1. Terrorism is the potent world order. It is not new. There is nothing new about violence as a tool wielded on a scale large enough to change borders, regimes, societies, and history. But I imagine it is new for many  of us to take a deep breath and acknowledge that actions of the kind we have seen this week are not going to stop. This is the way it is now. And there is not a leader, or an army, or a coalition, or a campaign that will definitively bring this era to an end. As with other periods of constant intertribal and intercultural violence it is going to take an enlightenment.
  2. “Why?” is the wrong question. “How?” is somewhat helpful. “Who?” is actually immaterial now. “Where?” and “When?” have been answered.  “Every populated place,” and  “Until further notice.” The right question for this time and these acts is “What?” What is this? What can be done? What do I do? What has to change? What does the end of terrorism look like? 

“Why?” is not a good question because these acts are not reasonable. No matter our own longing for attribution, explanation, patterns or predictive signals, terrorism is more like the destructive forces of disease or wildfire. When the conditions are right there will be an outbreak. This applies to both the conditions that incubate terrorists, and actual acts of terrorism.

“How?” is both a reasonable question and a reasonable tactic. If the building blocks of the tools of terror are harder to get, the terror will have to change, which offers a chance to control it. It seems frivolous, but a moment of levity is probably in order: if terrorists could be limited to historical weapons and modes of transport even a madding horde would be laughable. You could hear them miles off. The meme would get to any village before they did, and it’s hard to get through a tank-guarded checkpoint on a horse or a camel. Point: Is true international arms and chemicals control possible? How?

So. What? What do you do? I don’t know. But I am going to make something up.

Practice. Acknowledge living in a world in which terrorism is the norm. Acknowledge how scary that is. Be proud of how brave it is to have and act with an open mind and heart in that reality. Be that brave. Acknowledge how tiring it is to live in this reality. Find community to share that truth, and give you energy.

Do not give in to “Why?” and “Who?” Why is a distraction, and who is a division. Both of these are subtle tools of terrorism. Looking for a clear, satisfying reason that never comes will amplify fear. Defining a ‘them’ to our ‘us’ is isolating and deteriorates community, part of the ‘right conditions’ for terrorists/terrorism.

This statement is attributed to Ghandi: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” This may have become: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Either way, challenging times in our civilization call on the individual to reflect on how they are contributing to and supporting a terrorism-free society. Learn about yourself, live better, set an idealistic example.

And if this post wasn’t long enough and you want some more food for thought about the incredibly loud and extremely close now, the perspective of the MI5 Director General is here.

“We are building up a new world … Builders must be strong. Courage, sisters, don’t get weary. Courage, brothers, don’t get weary. Courage, people, don’t get weary, though the way be long.” – Dr. Vincent Harding

The bad news, the good news, the bad news

Now, more than ever, the phantasmagoric consumarketing machine is out to sell you things you don’t need faster than you can realize you don’t want them. “Planned obsolescence,” and design for speed of manufacture -not durability- means the objects breakdown faster, so you ‘need’ another one sooner, and hell why not get two so you’re never without? Most objects are not designed with reuse or recycling in mind, and not enough of us have the bandwidth to pay attention to the lifecycle of our things so sooner or later we will all be choking on microbeads and microparticles of elastane just like the fish and seabirds.

Meanwhile, entertainment is taking great advantage of the incredible multiplicity of media. This increased competition has really upped the narrative game. Though I pretty much don’t watch any of it, I believe the myriad of sources who tell me there are good stories all over the place, you just have to look. Looking often means, premium channels, paid streaming online services, or television obedience devices like Roku etc. This kind of boils down to: people are spending money on experience, storytelling, art; and they are spending it on opportunities to avoid the phantasmagoric consumarketing machine!

That’s almost 100% good news. The parade is rained upon only by the fact that entertainment begets things, and we’re absurdly fond of things. *Sigh* Please don’t buy that box set. Okay, I tried.

There’s one more piece of good/bad news, the one that got me started on this post actually. The Atlantic tells me that successful playwrights are writing for television and established television writers are writing for the stage. Apparently this is one of the reasons why more ‘really not too bad’ stuff is showing up in both media. It’s also a really obvious example of the great media Ouroboros! The folks who have made it get everything because now that they are established they are a safe bet for investors. Everybody (who already has a seat at the table) wins! And the folks who are trying to make it now have even fewer crumbs to nourish them while they hustle.

The Atlantic article brushes up against a number of issues that construct the glittering surround sound buckyball glass ceiling of mainstream success in the arts and media, but maybe later. For now:

  • Consider going on a stuff diet. Lose some “things” weight this year.
  • Buy an experience instead, but please pass on the physical souvenir.
  • Nourish an artist, especially if it’s yourself.

Open Question

Jeff muses out loud that technology may be deteriorating humanity.

Margarita has a knee jerk negative reaction to his thinking out loud and decries the unilateral luddite mindset which would see us all stuck back before fire & the wheel.

Margarita’s instantaneous and outsized rage doesn’t exactly disprove Jeff’s point, nor does she go on to support her inpatient scoffing, but Jeff actually wants to continue this discussion and so he graciously declines to mention either of these facts. Instead he asks, “Hear me out?”

Margarita gives a terse nod and sips her latte. Her body language is all jaguar skepticism, coiled and ready to pounce.

Jeff: I  was thinking about education.

Margarita: What does that have to–

Jeff: You said you would hear me out. Thank you. I was thinking about education. And how the one thing we really need to ingrain in humans is the hardest thing to convey and we’re completely failing to do it. Education would probably be more successful if our aim was to help each ‘student’ identify in themselves the feeling of making the connections that constitute learning; and the confident sensation of knowledge. If every ‘student’ learned these feelings in themselves they would be able to get back to them, and they would be able to identify when or if they were learning in any context.

Learning would be a freedom. ‘Students’ could all be seekers and find their education anywhere. More learning would be seen as valid, because having identified the feelings of learning and knowledge within themselves ‘evaluators’ could have more empathy to learners of different types. Education would be more egalitarian, and perhaps more people would choose to become ‘educated’ because the pain, embarrassment, and hierarchy were stripped away.

Margarita: And everybody gets a puppy that never grows up and doesn’t shit or eat your stuff. And endless ice cream with rainbows and leprechauns and prancing unicorns. This has nothing to do with technology. What the hell are you talking about you Bodhisattva gargling, socialist slag.

Jeff: Yes, well. Follow if you will. Learning is a kind of empathy. When you know something you are empathic with the concept. That is how you trust that you know it. It’s a sense. Empathy, though not executed frequently enough, is in my mind the beating heart of humanity.

Technology is devaluing knowledge. The computers in our hands are faster, and come with prettier pictures than the computers in our bodies. You can look anything up. Anyone can have information almost instantaneously, and most times that can pass for knowledge so learning and knowledge are being devalued. If learning and knowledge are empathy, and empathy is humanity. If we devalue learning and knowledge – which was on the wrong side of the slippery slope already- we are devaluing humanity. Q. E. D.

Margarita: Wait. What does that mean? QED?

Jeff: I don’t remember. Can you look it up?

 

Sunday 16 November, 2014

I intended to sleep longer but I woke up hungry, with several questions already on my mind, to a sunrise adamant to be watched. It has spread into the pale tentative sort of day that is the hallmark of winter light.

All is divine.  I have woken from another night, another experience, with more pieces to put in the puzzle; more choices to make; more questions to ask; more imagined avenues to explore; more hopes to fruit as indomitably and surprisingly as mushrooms after a rain.

Origin Story 2

I didn’t think I was going to die. It’s possible some of my family members did. It wasn’t that serious. It was just new, and never fully explained, and out of character for me to be incapacitated.

It was also just much too much to palpably feel my family worrying about me on top of the stress about work and my baseline angst about Christmas. So my second-happiest moment of last year’s holiday season was arriving back home at 1 PM on St. Stephen’s Day and fully committing to not acknowledging reality for the 19 hours before I had to return to work.

My plan was movies, a jigsaw puzzle, my favorite food and drink. I got a slow burning, frivolous, uncomfortable but ever-so-welcome, miracle.

“Miracle?” You say. To which I would tilt my head contemplatively until the smile crept irrepressibly to my lips, and I would nod and confirm. “Miracle.” The miracle was releasing my imagination to frolic unrestrained, something I had been starving for unnoticed for a long time. I didn’t know my imagination was straining at the leash like that. I didn’t know a few months of free mind play could heal two years (and more) or heartbreak, insecurity, and stress.

So my happiest moment of last year’s  holiday season was the liberation of all those dreams. And my fancy did come gushing out, like a fire hydrant with a cap too-long stuck. And I owe it all to…well, I owe it all to Sherlock. 

Ahem. Yes, that’s right. I am chalking up a year-long epiphany, opening to love, and a voracious current of creative juices, to the viewing of a television program so popular it is almost its own cliché.

And I stand by that attribution because it is a totem -something to look at when I feel dismayed or that  I have lost my inspiration. It is a comfort -as any favorite book, or sweatshirt, or cup of hot chocolate is when faith flags, and life pinches. It is a standard-bearer easily kept in sight, as my lonely regiment of one marches a journey though hostile territory to unknown lands. It is an effective, and completely unaffected muse. It will never change, nor will its (non-existent) affections ever be changeable.

I remind myself every day that after hard times, in deep silence, Sherlock taught my mind to wander again. I am grateful. And I hope -and work- every day, to someday, somehow best my standard-bearer.