6/10: Stick with me on this one; it mostly makes sense in the end

The other afternoon I was having what I considered an average conversation with a good friend. It was about politics, love, life, friends, and sci-fi. She presented me with a problem she was experiencing with another friend. This other friend feels like if it’s not political it’s not worth writing or reading. Appalled at this proclamation my friend, shall we call her VegasaurusRex , challenged our other friend who we shall call D.B. Downer to explain himself. I’ll spare you a transcript laden with profanity and give you the essentials.

D.B. Downer hates to feel vulnerable; that kind of vulnerability that comes from being open and receptive to the world around us. Making everything about politics and political identity makes it possible to look at the catastrophe of the world around us and not feel pain, confusion, fear, sadness, rage, or hope. When you wall yourself up you miss out on the chance to feel things that remind you what you’re fighting for. For example, we’re not just fighting for everyone to have a home, but I’m fighting for Helen, the women I buy street my copy of Street Sense (the local homeless paper) from because I’ve talked with Helen and her fear at another winter on the streets is in her every word. I fight for the clients I see each day who speak of hopes that one day they will one day be cured of a disease that as of yet has no cure. I certainly fight for the memory of the forests around the place I grew up that were so mercifully clear cut.  Because when I visit those clear cuts the energy of the earth to want to regrow is palpable. I don’t fight for anarchy, I don’t fight for revolution. Those are things that may or may not come to pass. What I fight for is what it will feel like when we are free – calming, cooperative, joyous, smooth, seamless, loving, hardy, healthy, growing, lustrous – just to name a few ways I think it will feel.

Alas, D.B. Downer only feels for the political. Politically he will say how it will or will not feel. Politically he can identify what needs to change. VegasaurusRex on the other hand is like a porous sponge that sucks up the feelings of the world around her for processing and wringing out over and over. But where this argument started was with writing. D.B. Downer saying that only the political I worth writing and VegasaurusRex arguing, rightly I would say, that the articulation of the world to come is one that can be written in so many ways.

In the end D.B. Downer just couldn’t see it and VegasaurusRex in a huff asked me how to fix D.B. Downer. I thought for a moment. Thought real hard. In the end my mind when straight to what I know best – fiction books. I find a great power in the use of words to tell fantastical stories of great meaning for every day use. Fiction, particularly speculative/fantasy/sci-fi/visionary fiction can help us to articulate whole new ideas of making and shaping the world we live in, new ways of relating to each other and the earth, and help us grapple with big questions of power, violence, and race.

So I brought to my friend this: In Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series there is the concept of the One Power. This power moves the Wheel of Time. Half of the One Power is male and the other female. Some can channel the One Power, but most cannot. It can’t be controlled, the One Power just is, but it can be tapped into, or channeled for use by those who can channel.

In a great battle to defeat the Dark One (again with dark and light) the saidin or male half of the One Power was corrupted in an effort to seal the Dark One in a prison. This corruption, which I will simplify for you, led to the breaking of the world and war, strife and general chaos and upheaval. Another thing it led to was that now any males who can channel will eventually go insane and often become quite dangerous.

Ok, still with me? This is where I remind you to stick with me; it comes out in the end.

What I said to my friend was something like this:

It’s sort of like he can’t tap into the One Power without going insane. It’s a lot to take on, feeling the world around you – being empathic and open to pain as well as joy. To this she replied by asking why he would go insane if he really started feeling things. Well, I thought about it again and said, the world’s been busted pretty badly by men, mostly men and that’s heavy stuff. We all feel our privilege differently and some have a lot more than others. Some of us can hide bits of who we are and where we came from, while others can’t. My dad talked to me a lot about privilege. He referred to privilege as bags we carry and that we have to start opening up those bags and casting them off. You do this by living in real time with the world around you, feeling everything. Deconstructing differences you feel with other people because of privilege, not just recognizing these differences. Building relationships with people, being genuine, living with and among people in a cooperative way, highlighting similarities instead of standing behind differences  – this is a lot of how my dad looked at privilege. VegasaurusRex called this “keeping it real”. That pretty much sums it up.

Well anyway, D.B. Downer maybe can’t handle taking a look at his privilege and doing more than just taking a look at it. He can’t live without looking at…he can’t live actively trying to deconstruct it.

To this VegasaurusRex asked again how she could fix D.B. Downer. I said the only thing you can do is just love. Be open and boundless with love. It won’t fix people but it will be a source of power and comfort.

So another part of the One Power and the corruption of the male side is that the female side can do what is called “gentle” a saidin. This is sort of like a frontal lobotomy. Not cool. But so, stick with me here. Applied in this context it could be that to gentle someone is to love them, boundlessly and openly. For real. Martin Luther King knew it, Dorothy Day knew it, Mother Jones knew it, Ammon Hennacy knew it…shit. Dumbledore knew it. Yet love, in activist circles, especially white ones that are very male, is an over looked and under appreciated source of power. Well, deal with it. Love is, to get unreasonably cheesey, like a One Power. It’s kind of scary but don’t worry, we won’t let it make you go insane.

All of this is to say: you can learn just about anything in a fantasy novel if you try hard enough and if that fails you can always turn to the movie Clueless – you can always learn something from clueless. Always.

PS. VegasaurusRex called this our corniest conversation ever.


New Issue of The Worst: A Zine Compilation on Grief and Loss is Out!

Don’t worry I won’t count this towards my 10 posts in 10 days. But I just wanted to make sure folks know that the latest issue of the Zine the Worst about grief and loss in radical communities is out and ready for you to get a copy to read. Its a truly beautiful zine full of compelling and thoughtful essays. I can’t tell you how much this zine has helped me! This issue also includes an essay by me!

Check it out and get a copy today!

5/10: A Long Memory

*editors note – this here is a fiction piece but many of you will note that part of the story sounds very familiar. That’s because I’ve taken a story about my dad, a true story and mixed it in to some measure. I’ve been thinking of this a lot lately, this idea of taking some of his life and mixing it with fiction. Hope it worked out alright.*

The street was dark besides the yellow glow of a street lamp filtered through the trees that lined the street.  My attention was mostly kept by looking at the way the wet side walk glimmered. It had rained all day, all week in fact and it wasn’t until an hour ago that it had stopped. Walking home all was quiet. All the rain had kept people inside so much they probably didn’t know how to come outside anymore. Normally this time of year people would have had their windows thrown open to let in the cool evening breeze. The days this fall had been hotter then average, but the nights had been wonderfully average.

I was startled out of my thoughts by a loud crash. Just ahead at the next intersection a car had collided with a newly installed small round-about.

The city, in all its infinite wisdom, wanted to bestow upon our rather down trodden little neighborhood the gift of a beautification campaign. The round-abouts were some city officials I idea of making our neighborhood nicer. The round-abouts were place at random throughout the neighborhood, each including 4-5 large concrete planters containing dirt and the pitiful beginnings of some flowers. Most residents viewed these odd constructions and just another weak attempt by the city to show it cares for our neighborhood.

I approached the intersection looking cautiously at the car now resting with its passenger side up on the round-about rammed up against one of the large flower planters. Dirt was tossed all over the hood of the car along with one lone pansy. The engine was still running. Walking around to the driver side I saw the door flung open and a large man sprawled face down on the bricks.

“Uncle Hank. You alright” I said nudging the man with my foot. “Uncle Hank!” this time I yelled. I got a faint mumble followed by a groan. Slowly he rolled over. “Oh lord” I said and went to help him sit up. As I knelt down to help him up I caught a nauseating whiff of liquor mingled with body odder.

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4/10: The Fruits of Light and Darkness

The idea of light and darkness as being symbolic of good and evil, right and wrong, virtuous and corrupting is one that I’ve been struggling with lately. Yes, in the dark there is the sometimes disconcerting unknown of not being able to see into each corner. There could be spiders in those corners! But in the dark is also when we mostly sleep. In the dark is where tasty things like kimchi and miso ferment. In the dark is where little amazing eyeless fish live in subterranean caves. In short, lots of amazing things happen in the dark. There is also the reality that dark is also black and black is also a racial construct applied to a whole lot of people.

In pre-colonial Europe darkness and the color black had already been defined in literature and by the church as “deeply stained with dirt, soiled, dirty, foul. Having dark or deadly purposes, malignant; pertaining to or involving death, deadly; baneful, disastrous, sinister. Foul, iniquitous, atrocious, horribly wicked.  Indicating disgrace, censure, liability to punishment, etc.” (Zinn, 1980).  Light or white likewise had been ascribed the meaning of being related to virtuousness and beauty.

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