Monday, November 5, 2012

The Vote: Suffrage, Girldolls, Angst, Tina Fey, 2012.

Suffragettes don't let other suffragettes brush their teeth alone.

When I was a little girl I lived in three worlds: the world around me, the world of my books, and the imagined realm, which was a space made up of the first two worlds. I had this costume box, which was supplied for me by my mother. I could often be found wearing hodge podge silk pieces, plastic jewelry and strange shoes that didn't fit my feet. Little scarves wrapped around my extremities transported me back in time. I traveled back with my dolls. They became the characters in the books I was reading. They became the made up heroines of my play and they became the great historical women that I was learning about at home and in school. We traveled as a pack and I, like any lover of stories, recorded our thoughts in these tiny doll sized journals that my mother had purchased for our adventures. I lived many mini-lives before the age of ten. I was, clearly, a very odd child. 

Recently I was sorting through childhood knick knacks and I found a bag full of these itsy bitsy journals. The pages were so small that I could only fit a few words on each page as I still had large child scrawl. As I flipped through the pages, something stood out to me. I had taken up twenty two pages to write: "Amy (name of beloved girl doll with no hair), today women got the right to vote. They were hungry then they won. There are sad things still but everything is changed forever." I am imagining that I wrote this because I had just read, or had read to me, a story about women's suffrage in the United States. I'm imagining that I didn't fully understand the whole story and yet there is no other topic that got as much page space in all of my doll sized journals. There is nothing else that warranted such an epic, twenty-two page, entry. My little child brain knew, even then, the value of that particular history. It was clear that getting the vote meant something, something I was too young to fully understand, yet something awe inspiring. 

I have not always carried over this inherent understanding of what a gift it is to have a vote. I have not always maintained the level of awe that I first had when I learned about the fight for suffrage. When I was a teenager I still lived in a fantasy world, but I had discovered sarcasm and the ever so ineffable and cool culture of "not caring". Although I generally did not live in the space of believing that nothing mattered, I said something that to this day shames me to the core. It was something that I didn't mean. It was something I said because I'd heard it said and I thought that perhaps it was dark and poetic. I was talking to one of the women who lived next-door to me about politics. It was not presidential election year, but we were discussing who we thought would be president next. She asked me if I was excited to be old enough to vote in the next election. She asked this question so earnestly and I answered in such a glib way that it still makes me almost cry when I think of how insensitively and how arrogantly I responded. I said something like, "You know none of that matters. Nothing in the system matters. I am not even going to vote. Every candidate is only a puppet. They don't do anything." It was so out of character, as if I was playing a character in one of my elaborate fantasies. She looked at me with sadness and compassion probably knowing that I was speaking from a place of teenage angst and said, "Guerita (childhood nickname), you get to vote and so many of us don't, please don't waste the thing you have been given." I grew up in Los Angeles, in a neighborhood were many people did not have papers. My comment, although speaking to a few true things, in any space would have been ill informed and smug, but in the context of my home was downright ugly. I had a physical sensation that I imagine to be similar to a hot flash. I had, for a moment, lost the understanding that people fought for my right to particate in our governmental process and that it is my privilege to be able to have a voice, even in a system is deeply corrupted. 

Over the past few months I've had countless conversations about the election with various friends. Some are voting for Romney and many are voting for Obama. I'm imagining some will get to the polls and in a fit of disillusioned creativity cast a vote for Tina Fey or, horror of all horrors, Honey Boo Boo. A common thread in the conversations I've had are that people feel disenchanted with the process. I've had a hand full of friends speak about voting as if it is as pivotal to survival as breathing, but I've had just as many, if not more, people say that they aren't sure they are going to vote because in the end none of it matters as the candidates are the same and it is only a process that divides people by creating single issue voters. Neither candidate is good. Neither candidate will save us. I have not always known how to directly respond to these comments because to a degree I agree that without campaign finance reform and voting practice reform candidates are mouth pieces for corporations and all voters do not have equal access to the polls. The candidates do not stand fully for the issues and platforms that we, no matter what side of the political spectrum we fall on, subscribe to. They are not perfect representations so it is all ruined. I have always railed against the if it's not perfect it's ruined doctrine. I think that all of these points are valid. I become more than a little angry thinking about how many people who go out to vote will not be able to stand in line and wait for their turn because the lines are so long, and the process so inefficient, that they'll leave without voting lest they lose their job or show up late to pick up their children from day care. Or perhaps there will not be chairs for people who are ill to sit in while they wait and they will not have their vote counted. There are countless issues with our political system. I could spend my entire lifetime listing them. There are a lot of reasons to believe that ones' vote doesn't matter. If you're from a state that always goes for the party you vote for maybe you feel like it's a drop in the bucket. The weight of our vote is different depending on what state and district we vote in. 

Yet in the face of all of these depressing realities that mar the once bright shiny face of suffrage that my child mind so loved, there is the reality that if we have the right to vote and the ability to vote it is a gift as much as it is a right for us to go out and participate in our government because whether or not we acknowledge it fully all branches of our government impact our lives. The act of voting matters and who we are voting for matters. 

It is no surprise to anyone that knows me that I am voting for Obama. This is not because I see him as perfect and Romney as evil. It is not because I believe that the democrats will save us all and the republicans will signal our collective demise. This is a human system that the candidates are operating in. They are both flawed. They are both gifted. I am voting this way because in the face of the disappointments in the past four years, I have been moved by Obama's administration. Our government has expanded the rights of people in this country in numerous ways. We are moving towards a greener, if not yet green, economy. For all of its flaws, we have passed a measure of universal healthcare. This is no small thing. Healthcare is a human right. One only needs to have one episode, or have a loved one have an episode, of illness to recognize this. Moreover I want Obama to be appointing justices to the highest courts. This is an administration that to the degree it can recognizes and supports the progression of human rights in our country. I cannot vote against it because it is because of people who have subscribed to the belief that access to rights needs to be increased for all people that I, as a woman, get to cast a vote at all. 

I have had many friends say that they are voting for Obama for "x" reason (insert gay marriage rights, dream act, Obama's view that women belong in the realm outside Lisa Frank's canvas of choice, foreign policy, etc...) and have had a number of friends say that they are voting for Romney for "y" reason (almost universally the answer has been due to his fiscal policy, abortion beliefs, or gay marriage doctrine). Although it is so natural to vote this way because as people we have issues that impact us more than others, I keep reminding myself in my own voting process that even though I might be voting for a few issues I really am voting for the whole package. I do not just get to vote for Obama because his administration increased access to healthcare, has created funding for alternative energy sources, publicly supported gay marriage, and will probably support justices whose rulings I agree with. When I am voting for him I am also voting for some of his foreign and domestic policies that I disagree with heartily. I have to decide if it is worth it to vote for him. In the same vein when someone tells me that they are voting for Romney for fiscal reasons I see that it is probably true. They probably are voting because they believe his economic plan to be more sound and they align themselves with conservative fiscal policies and yet they are not just voting for Romney's fiscal policies. They are also voting for a candidate that has made his point perfectly plain that he will be working to overturn women's healthcare rights, universal healthcare rights, and will stop the progression of the rights that accompany marriage for gay couples. It's all so frustrating and complicated. 

It is not a necessity to vote and there are many good reasons that a good many people are not voting. Yet I think that voting when we have the right and access to vote can be an act of integrity as we are honoring the voice that has been given to us, generally by the hard work of people who came before us who believed themselves and all the people following them worthy of suffrage. In the same vein I believe it to be an act of integrity to go to the polls or the mail in ballot fully aware of the package that we are voting for, knowing that when we cast our vote for Romney or Obama, or the other candidates whose names are not branded onto our brains by the incessant commercials that have been running non-stop for months, we are casting a vote for all the things their  platform stands for. We may not believe in every position, but we are voting for it. I think that, at least when I, face this reality I recognize more fully that my vote does matter.I am prioritizing certain issues, paths, and legislative ideologies. In the same vein I am sacrificing other things that matter to me. It is hard to live in a state of disconnected angst about the political system when I think about how when we truly vote in a conscientious way we must put our beliefs on the line and make decisions that may seem small, but in actuality are very big. The act of voting can and perhaps should be our way of stating what matters to us most and what we are willing to sacrifice. It forces us to say something about ourselves. 

This entry has rambled. I have talked about dolls, doll journals, smug teenage angst, suffrage, and my soapbox. The main point of all these musings is this: I feel incredibly fortunate to have the right to vote. I believe that as important as it is to recognize the power of suffrage it is equally important to recognize that who we vote for matters and moreover that we are voting for them and their platform as a package. 

I wrote to my bald girldoll Amy so many years ago that there are still sad things, but that everything is changed forever. As an adult voter I now lack the bright eyed idealism of my childhood self running about in silk skirts pretending that I was part of the women's suffrage movement. I still maintain though that suffrage can and does change most everything. That change may not be as shiny as I, or we, would like it to be. It is marred by political games, but the change we can enact with our votes is real and it is deep. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Ineffable Voodoo Glue

Over the past week I've been reminded that I am hopelessly and I believe lastingly in love. The love I'm speaking of is not a romantic love, or at least it is not romantic love anymore. This week a very dear friend got married in the mountains of Colorado. A large group of our friends piled into planes, cars, tents, cabins, and bathing suits and made a raucous nuptial pilgrimage to the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs. Although we have had smaller reunions with specific people in this group, it has been years since all of us have been in the same place at the same time.

It was wonderful and overwhelming. It was surreal. It felt at once that no time had passed and that we had each lived a mini-life since last congregated. It felt like we are all growing into the people we are supposed to be. It filled my heart up and made me proud to know such wonderful people who I could converse with endlessly.

During college I remember a night where most of the people present at the wedding were at a party together dancing, talking, and wearing the ridiculous outfits that visually marked my collegiate experience. I recall a self-indulgent thought that night where I wanted that moment and these friendships to be frozen in time, exactly as they were. I was on a fire escape over a citrus tree. I looked up at the hazy rainbow that sometimes circles the moon in Northern California and thought, "Damn this is the life." I wanted to preserve the feeling of absolute unity. It all seemed so "written" in the stars, as if we all deserved to feel the way we were feeling that night for all time, amen.

Our friendships have not remained the same. In addition to all the joys,hopes, and accomplishments we have had individually and collectively there has been a lot of loss. We have lost people, we have lost love, we have been asked to move romantic relationships into platonic ones, we have forged new romances, we have wrestled with our career paths, we have made impossible moves, we have questioned our choices, we have been brave, we have come face to face with the recession, and we have been asked to find forgiveness for ourselves, others, and even each other. My fleeting, well intentioned, and naive hope that all would remain the same could never be true. I'm glad for that.

The joy of college friendship feels inevitable. Coming back to these friends a few years out now feels like a gift. We no longer share all our space and every thought with each other. The ability to live separate lives and then reunite with a genuine appreciation, warmth, and love for each other speaks to a deep bond, a true delight in each other, and growth. Within this group I see some of the best things about community and individuals.

Thank goodness relationships are not stagnant. We grow, redefine, and forge newfound closenesses. I should not be surprised to be feeling this way after my friends' wedding. They are genuine, kind, smart, hilarious, and community oriented people. They will be great partners for each other. They are the best of people so it makes sense that at their wedding gathering we would have such a gratifying reunion full of old love, new stories, and the ineffable voodoo glue that is made out of time, shared histories and hopes, and the subtle work we do in our own lives to keep us open, growing, and ripe for friendship.

I know that no matter how far friends scatter around the globe they can come back to each other changed, but still in love.

It was a great weekend of celebrating our beautiful bride and groom. It was pure voodoo glue.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A City on Fire: 20th Anniversary of the Rodney King Riots

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the Rodney King Riots. Today marks the anniversary of the day that my childhood neighborhood became a war zone in what seemed like a matter of minutes after the Los Angeles jury charged with King's case decided to acquit the four police officers that brutally beat him. Today I'm compelled to remember what the human spirit and human bodies can do to space and each other when their rights and their dignity are repeatedly compromised. Today I am reminded that cases like Rodney King's are not causes of mass rioting and violence, but rather catalysts in the context of greater oppressions. Los Angeles, especially South Central, in the 1980s and into the 1990s was referred to by The New York Times as a war zone of international importance due to the high rates of violence and fatalities. Many factors intersected to create a space that was ripe for rioting and public uproar. The relationship was strong and growing stronger between the crack cocaine boom and the expansion of gang presence and stronghold in many of LA's low-income neighborhoods. The LA police department had a history of racial profiling and limited follow through in the neighborhoods deemed most dangerous and their presence induced fear more than safety at that time in South Central's history. When the jury found the police officers not guilty people's anger at the verdict spread like wildfire and soon literal fires dominated the landscape of South Central, Koreatown, and other surrounding neighborhoods. Although my memories of this time are blurred in the way that a child's memories tend to be, I vividly recall the oppressive smoke that filled every street and room of our house. The palms of my hands had a layer of soot on them. I tried to lick the grime off and the taste of acid and charcoal was so overpowering that even today when I see images of riots or cities burning my mouth is filled with the memory of the ash. Stores on our block were firebombed. People took to the streets looting, screaming, burning, and raging for days. It was a riot rooted in the classicism and racism often perpetuated by governing institutions that isolate people without access to power turning them against one another in conflicts often drawn along racial lines. The police initially stayed on the Westside trying to contain the spread of the movement. For days we did not see police officers in our neighborhood. People do not often think about US cities losing rule of law, but that was precisely what happened in the days following the verdict. On May 2nd 10,000 National Guardsmen and the entire LAPD were called into my neighborhood. Again, my memories are blurry, but I do recall the lines of armed men in combat gear. I remember being afraid of them, even at that young age understanding that they did not belong in the community and that their presence signaled danger and an escalation in violence. After that the rioting was contained. Dozens of people were dead, over a thousand seriously injured, and thousands of people's livelihoods were compromised or destroyed. It felt like everything was smoldering. I had no context for understanding tornadoes at that young age, but I now think that it was like an extended tornado full of ill intent had lingered over us for days permanently altering the landscape of our space. Since the riots much work has been done to rebuild the community. In fact you would not know that South Central had almost burned to the ground if you saw it today. I think for the people who lived there though during that time it is something that is hard to forget. I remember the fire, the smoke, the booming, the shields, and the ascorbic taste I licked off my little chubby child hands. I remember holding my stuffed animal letting him know everything was fine, already understanding the power of reassurance when all other forms of control seem to have left the building. Today these riots feel far away. I am in Colorado. I am no longer a child. South Central itself has in many respects been transformed. This is a simple blog post about a highly complex issue. Although this time in my life is distant from my present realities, I must honor what happened in 1992 because it was significant not only in my life, but in the lives of the people I loved most, and in the history of our country. I am reminded that when institutions do not honor the humanity of their people it is enough to create a welling of anger so great that it lights a city on fire. The memory of this time reignites a flame in me that fuels my belief that I must in all of my small everyday dealings act in a way that promotes equity, community, and the dignity of all things. So today I want to honor the people that died and were injured in the riots and the time leading up to the riots. I also want to celebrate the people that stepped up in the wake of the chaos to make their community stronger. Let's never forget the riots and what they have meant to so many of us. *for some reason blogger will not allow for paragraphs in this post...hmm...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

hello duckies,

hope this prayer finds you uplifted wherever you may be. it's moved me countless times in the pursuit of a life lived in contemplation, love, action, and focus on others. i am humbled and ignited by his words.

written by Cesar Chavez

Show me the suffering of the most miserable, so I may know my people’s plight.
Free me to pray for others, for you are present in every person.
Help me to take responsibility for my own life, so that I can be free at last.
Grant me courage to serve others, for in service there is true life.
Give me honesty and patience, so that I can work with other workers.
Bring forth song and celebration, so that the Spirit will be alive among us.
Let the Spirit flourish and grow, so that we will never tire of the struggle.
Let us remember those who have died for justice, for they have given us life.
Help us love even those who hate us, so we can change the world.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Calligraphy Tattoo: Good Like Bread

This is a phrase significant to a few people in my life who are significant to me. I've always loved this phrase so I finally got it in tattoo form. Good Like Bread reminds me to be nourishing and a gift to others and myself. Bread, in my world, is always a gift.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Rare Tree: Thoughts on Love, Sex, Being Single, Hiding, and Valentine's Day

Hello Duckies,

We're almost a month out from Valentine's Day and I feel the need to revisit it. I am rather juvenile in the way that I handle this holiday. Over the past few years I've believed it important to explain to others that it is not about romantic love for me when asked if I have a Valentine's date. It is about all love. It is about friendship. It really is not about romantic love. It is about reconciliation. It is really not about romantic sex. It is about the beauty of the world apart from ideas of marriage and partnership. It is about the hope found in small gaudy gestures to one's friends and family members. It is about goddamn world peace and paper doilies. I want Valentine's Day to be about anything that is not romantic love, which is odd given that I'm prone to fits of romance and poetic indulgence and often find myself in lengthy and gratifying discussions about all things relational with my nearest and dearest.

I don't believe there is something wrong with co-opting V-Day for one's own mischief or healing apart from romance. There is something healthy to be found in this space. I wonder why though I articulate around Valentine's Day so vehemently? I hold my language and messaging around this holiday the way some people hold a banner at a protest. This day of silly cards and box of chocolate hearts means something to me as I believe it means something to many people, those that own the day and those that dismiss it with a force that can only be fueled by actual caring. Why does this day represent something significant to people?

Many of my friends are engaged, recently married, or about to get engaged. This is beautiful. This is expensive. I had no idea that I would need a separate wedding account to finance all this wedding travel. Apart from the financial concerns there is almost nothing that makes me well up with gratitude and awe at the mystery of time more than watching the women and men who I loved from youth make life commitments to another human. These friends are stitched so tightly into my psyche that it's impossible and undesirable to measure their impact on me. There is no corner of the self that is untouched by young friendship. The time in my life when many of these friendships formed they knew me better than I knew myself. They were home. They are now building their own homes. They are now making their own commitments.

I have joined the ranks of many 20/30 something single people (and I daresay many people in young couples feel this way as well) who are called to know themselves better than others know them. I am called into the sometimes lonely place of being a single adult navigating the day to day realities of building a life and recognizing the value in the pieces of life that require no work and are merely gifts. I am learning how to be home for myself. This does not mean that others do not frequently come to stay at this home. It does not mean that my people do not often shed light on aspects of my person that I've neglected to spend time on, but the stage of "friends melting into each other until we are one large LOVEBOT" has passed, at least for the time being.

My friendships now are just as deep, but they carry a layer of humility and recognition that we are all walking our own path and that no one else can walk it for us. These friendships acknowledge inadequacies, fears, and the pervasive truth that no one person can entirely fill up another person's flask. This reality of adult life as it relates to my inner being as well as my external friendships compels me to dig deeply into myself on a frequent basis, to wax philosophical to the point of annoyance, and to turn my mind off indulging in the simple pleasures of a house well kept, a glass of wine shared with a friend, a ridiculous tv show that provides the comfort of consistency, and a loaf of bread that rose properly even at altitude. I believe all this individual and group growth to be positive. There are times though in the midst of all the beauty associated with becoming an adult who is self-assured that shit gets lonely. From what I've observed in myself and my other singletons this loneliness often translates into either:

a) a strong desire for a relationship

b) a strong desire for a new life plan

c) a strong desire to assert one's independence/ downplay the desire for companionship

or d) all of the above on a semi-regular rotating basis

When I'm lonely I tend to hang out in the land of d) and for some reason Valentine's Day makes me tip into the c) realm. I've had to face, as embarrassing as it is since I fancy myself grounded to the max, that I can sometimes hide my "I really would love a partnership that involves lots of loving and laughing and hoping and sexing and sexting (maybe more sexing less sexting)" behind my admiration for other types of love. I am so busy working on being a single adult that I forget that in addition to being self-sufficient I'm also filled with desire. It is the type of desire that builds bridges between people's hearts, minds, hands, bodies, and bedrooms. This hiding does not diminish the fact that I think that we should acknowledge and lift up all forms of radical empathy, which is the stuff love is made of. I just think maybe it's time for me to be clear with myself, which I'm finding more and more can be a surprisingly daunting task.

On Valentine's Day this year I received a letter at my workplace. A few friends also received these letters. The letters arrived together. They were powerful and full of gratitude for who we are as professionals and people. They were from a client. Mine said all sorts of lovely things. It said I was kind, but straight up about things. It said I didn't hide things that are ugly or hard, but in the face of them found beauty. It called me and my team as valuable as rare trees. That was a particularly favorite line of mine. Upon reading it again I realized that in this "love" area of my life I have not been totally upfront with myself recently. I have not been frank. I've been co-opting my own feelings and desires and hiding them behind stories that I find beautiful instead of finding beauty in what is in my heart and what is most raw during this life stage.

Maybe this year, inspired by my strange reaction to Valentine's Day and subsequent self analysis, I will work on continuing to honor and uplift the types of love that do not pivot around romantic partnership and allowing those solid examples of the human spirit to create a space for the chocolate box heart/swooney/lovey dovey/i want you now and forever/kissey/sexy/touch me/hold me/hear me/heart me brand of love. Perhaps in the coming year I will seek to not so much re-frame as to embrace. I will seek not so much to assert as to appreciate that there are as many iterations of the human heart as there are trees, each one as rare and valuable as the next.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Unpleasantness of Being Brave

I learned how to swim before I could walk. Water is the most calming force in my life. When I was in second grade my class got free swim lessons. Our district secured a grant for all of us to take swim lessons and diving lessons. I was ecstatic at the prospect. I was in my element during the swimming portion of the lessons. I felt competent and committed in the way that you only can when engaged in an activity that you were made to do. Then came the diving portion of the lesson.

This pool was Olympic regulation and the highest diving board seemed to me to be larger than any building I'd ever seen. I was selected to be the first to "dive off" the highest platform. Really what this meant is that the diving teacher would pick me up, tell me to stay straight as a pencil, and drop me into the water. I was selected because of my confidence in water. I climbed the board feeling a great sense of anticipation and excitement. Then I looked down. All of a sudden I felt Ike I was going to vomit. My body wanted to be as far away from the edge as humanly possible and as low to the ground. I knew that something major was at risk. I knew that by jumping I was risking something and it petrified me. What was interesting though was that I quickly realized that I could also not climb down the ladder without losing something. The whole class was watching and furthermore climbing down a ladder once you've realized how high you are is almost as scary as jumping off the board into the water. I had this acute sense of anger at myself for climbing onto the board thinking, "I could have just stayed on the ground where God intended me to be. I could be in the third row behind the other kids hiding out awaiting some other classmate's jump."

The diving teacher came and took my hand and said, "You do not have to jump, but I promise you that you will be okay and you'll always remember that before anyone else you jumped off the high dive. You'll remember that you were brave. You seem brave to me." I am sure that in that moment I did not seem brave, but I took his hand and let him hoist me over the board. I hung there little legs straight as a board. Before I knew it I whizzed through the air and was in the water. The impact reddened my legs and lit up my spirit. I felt like I had done something big. I knew that I had done something for myself. The decision was two-fold. I climbed the ladder and I made the jump.

Today I was reminded of this story. I had a conversation that has been at least a year and a half in the making. I found myself on the brink of bringing it up then would become ill. At one point I realized that I had already climbed the board. I could jump or I could do the labor intensive work of climbing down. I climbed up to the board the first time I shared something real about myself with this person. I took another step up the ladder when I began to regard their opinion highly. I took the next step when I began loving them. I realized that I've been on the board for a long time. For a moment I imagined that I might be able to climb down without anyone noticing. I no longer have a host of second graders bearing witness to my shame. I realized though that I have become my own second grade class bearing witness to myself. There is no hiding from yourself when you've decided to drop pretenses. I jumped. I brought up the dreaded topic. When I hit the water it stung and I was proud of myself for it. Who knows what will come of this recent small and specific act of abandon. What needs to unfold will.

Today I was reminded that we are never jumping alone even when we feel alone. We always have love hoisting us over the board. There is a choice. We can decide to never climb up the ladder. We can decide to climb back down. We can jump. After quite some time of living in fear of the climb and of the jump I am pleased to share that I remembered that I climb the ladder. I was reminded that I jump.

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