2011-10-09

2011-10-09 04:25 pm
Entry tags:

Hear the Train?

(Originally posted at Facebook on January 20th, 2009.)

Not to belabor the point, because next to no one on this planet doesn't know it, but today, Barack Obama became President of my country. We have witnessed history. How it will end, I'm not sure. As I think I said here before, I'm not an Obama fangirl, and I don't appreciate, and actually, in fact, quite resent, the just-beneath-the-surface prosletyzing. There are other qualms I have, but... for the first time in a long time, I almost might have a little hope about the general direction of this country. I actually look forward to our future, and that maybe I won't have to feel so bad about being from this country some time in the future.

It has been a long 8 years, and I am a completely different person now than I was when I started. This country is, to be sure. Feminism and awareness of the fluid cultures around me, and the importance of preserving it all, are more present in my mind now than they've ever been. Tonight, I'm assuming because of the historic nature of this day, I'm thinking about the right to vote, about how it stemmed from the fight to get African Americans the right to vote, and tonight we have an African-American President. I see a forgetting among women, women of my generation especially. They seem to think that we won a long time ago, that Feminism is an outdated notion, and there's no reason to fight.

This is wrong.

We must keep fighting. Not just for the rights and wellbeing of women, but for the rights and wellbeing of everyone. Because if we don't fight for these rights, if we cede one millimeter of ground, they will take everything our foremothers and forefathers fought for, and, yes, died for. All this effort cannot be for nothing.

Tonight, I want to share two songs with you, both by Ani DiFranco.

Self Evident

Us people are just poems.
We're 90% metaphor,
with a leanness of meaning
approaching hyper-distillation.
And once upon a time
we were moonshine,
rushing down the throat of a giraffe.
Rushing down the long hall
despite what the p.a. announcement says, yes.
Rushing down the long hall,
down the long stairs,
in a building so tall
it will always be there.
it's part of a pair.
There on the bow of Noah's Ark
the most prestigious couple
just kickin' back parked
against a perfectly blue sky
on a morning beatific
in its indian summer breeze
on the day that America
fell to its knees
after strutting around for a century
without saying thank you,
or please.

And the shock was subsonic,
and the smoke was deafening
between the setup and the punch line,
'cuz we were all on time for work that day.
We all boarded that plane for to fly,
and then while the fires were raging
we all climbed up on the windowsill
and then we all held hands
and jumped into the sky.

And every borough looked up when it heard the first blast,
and then every dumb action movie was summarily surpassed
and the exodus uptown by foot and motorcar
looked more like war than anything i've seen so far.
So far.
So far.
So fierce and ingenious,
a poetic specter so far gone
that every jackass newscaster was struck dumb and stumbling
over "oh my god," and "this is unbelievable" and on and on
and i'll tell you what, while we're at it
you can keep the Pentagon,
you can keep the propaganda.
Keep each and every TV
that's been trying to convince me
to participate in some frat school punk's plan to perpetuate retribution.
Perpetuate retribution.
Even as the blue toxic smoke of our lesson in retribution
is still hanging in the air,
and there's ash on our shoes
and there's ash in our hair
and there's a fine silt on every mantle
from Hell's Kitchen to Brooklyn
and the streets are full of stories
sudden twists and near misses
and soon every open bar is crammed to the rafters
with tales of narrowly averted disasters
and the whiskey is flowin'
like never before
as all over the country
folks just shake their heads
and pour.

So here's a toast to all the folks who live in Palestine,
Afghanistan, Iraq, El Salvador.

Here's a toast to the folks living on the Pine Ridge Reservation,
under the stone cold gaze of Mt. Rushmore.

Here's a toast to all those nurses and doctors
who daily provide women with a choice,
who stand down a threat the size of Oklahoma City
just to listen to a young woman's voice.

Here's a toast to all the folks on Death Row right now
awaiting the executioner's guillotine;
Who are shackled there with dread and can only escape into their heads
to find peace in the form of a dream.
Peace, in the form of a dream.
Peace, in the form of a dream.

'cuz take away our Playstations
and we are a third world nation

under the thumb of some blue blood royal son
who stole the oval office and that phony election.
I mean,
it don't take a weatherman
to look around and see the weather
Jeb said he'd deliver Florida, folks,
and boy did he ever

and we hold these truths to be self evident:
#1 George W. Bush is not president.
#2 America is not a true democracy.
#3 The media is not fooling me,
cuz I am a poem heeding hyper-distillation
I've got no room for a lie so verbose.

Yes, I'm looking out over my whole human family
and I'm raising my glass in a toast:
here's to our last drink of fossil fuels.
May we vow to get off of this sauce.
Shoo away the swarms of commuter planes,
find that train ticket we lost,
cuz once upon a time the line followed the river
and peeked into all the backyards
and the laundry was waving
the graffiti was teasing us
from brick walls and bridges
we were rolling over ridges
through valleys
under stars
I dream of touring like Duke Ellington
in my own railroad car.
I dream of waiting on the tall blonde wooden benches
in a grand station aglow with grace
and then standing out on the platform
and feeling the air on my face.

Give back the night its distant whistle,
give the darkness back its soul.
Give the big oil companies the finger, finally,
and relearn how to rock-n-roll.
Yes, the lessons are all around us and the truth is waiting there
so it's time to pick through the rubble, clean the streets
and clear the air.
Get our government to pull its big dick out of the sand
of someone else's desert

put it back in its pants
and quit the hypocritical chants of
freedom forever,
cuz when one lone phone rang
in two thousand and one
at ten after nine
on nine one one
which is the number we all called
when that lone phone rang right off the wall
right off our desk and down the long hall
down the long stairs
in a building so tall
that the whole world turned
just to watch it fall.

And while we're at it
remember the first time around?
The bomb?
The Ryder truck?
The parking garage?
The princess that didn't even feel the pea?
Remember joking around in our apartment on Avenue D?
Can you imagine how many paper coffee cups would have to change their design
following a fantastical reversal of the New York skyline?
It was a joke.
At the time.

And that was just a few years ago,
so, let the record show
that the FBI was all over that case.
That the plot was obvious and in everybody's face
and scoping that scene
religiously
the CIA
or is it KGB?
Committing countless crimes against humanity
with this kind of eventuality
as its excuse
for abuse after expensive abuse
and they didn't have a clue!
Look, another window to see through
Way up here
on the 104th floor,
look:
another key,
another door.

10% literal,
90% metaphor.
3000 some poems disguised as people
on an almost too perfect day
must be more than pawns
in some asshole's passion play.
So now it's your job
and it's my job
to make it that way
to make sure they didn't die in vain.
Shh...
baby, listen.
Hear the train?

Grand Canyon

I love my country.
By which i mean
I am indebted joyfully
to all the people throughout its history
who have fought the government to make right.

Where so many cunning sons and daughters
our foremothers and forefathers
came singing through slaughter,
came through hell and high water
so that we could stand here
and behold breathlessly the sight
how a raging river of tears
cut a grand canyon of light.

Yes, i've been so many places,
flown through vast empty spaces
with stewardesses whose hands
look much older than their faces.
I've tossed so many napkins
into that big hole in the sky,
been at the bottom of the Atlantic
seething in a two-ply
looking up through all that water
and the fishes swimming by,
and I don't always feel lucky,
but i'm smart enough to try.
'cuz humility has buoyancy
and above us only sky.

So i lean in
breathe deeper that brutal burning smell
that surrounds the smoldering wreckage
that i've come to love so well.
Yes, color me stunned and dazzled
by all the red white and blue flashing lights
in the American intersection
where black crashed head on with white.
Comes a melody,
comes a rhythm,
a particular resonance
that is us and only us.
Comes a screaming ambulance,
a hand that you can trust
laid steady on your chest
working for the better good
(which is good at its best)
and too, bearing witness
like a woman bears a child:
with all her might.
Born of the greatest pain
into a grand canyon of light.

I mean, no song has gone unsung here,
and this joint is strung crazy tight
and people been raising up their voices
since it just ain't been right,
with all the righteous rage
and all the bitter spite
that will accompany us out
of this long night
that will grab us by the hand
when we are ready to take flight
seatback and tray table
in the upright and locked position
shocked to tears by each new vision
of all that my ancestors have done.
Like, say, the women who gave their lives
so that I could have one.

People, we are standing at ground zero
of the Feminist revolution.

Yeah, it was an inside job
stoic and sly,
one we're supposed to forget
and downplay and deny,
but I think the time is nothing
if not nigh
to let the truth out
Coolest F-Word ever deserves a fucking shout!
I mean,
why can't all decent men and women
call themselves Feminists?
Out of respect
for those who fought for this.
I mean, look around.
We have this.

I love my country.
By which i mean
I am indebted joyfully
to all the people throughout its history
who have fought the government to make right.

Where so many cunning sons and daughters
our foremothers and forefathers
came singing through slaughter,
came through hell and high water
so that we could stand here
and behold breathlessly the sight
how a raging river of tears
is cutting a grand canyon of light.
2011-10-09 04:59 pm
Entry tags:

"Why are you always in pain?"

(Originally posted at Facebook on February 28th, 2009.)

In the middle of a crazy shift on Friday, a co-worker asked "why are you always in pain on Facebook?" It occurred to me that a lot of my statuses lately and a lot of my discourse references something that I'm pretty sure the vast majority of you are unaware of about me because I almost never talk about it, and for things I'm saying to make sense, I need to talk about this.

I have fibromyalgia. For those unaware of what that is, I'm going to quote Wikipedia's overview description, as it describes it better than I can:

 

Fibromyalgia, meaning muscle and connective tissue pain (also referred to as FM or FMS), is a disorder classified by the presence of chronic widespread pain and a heightened and painful response to gentle touch. Other core features of the disorder include debilitating fatigue, sleep disturbance, and joint stiffness.

 

Fibromyalgia affects you physically. The aforementioned touch sensitivity is one of many reasons I'm generally not a touchy person, the smallest of touches really do hurt, and there are very few people I can trust to be mindful, few people I'm willing to take the chance with. The constantly present pain, which responds in an ugly way to the climate of the Ohio Valley, with its hellish, sudden changes in temperature and humidity, and is nearly always coupled with exaggerated joint stiffness. The lack of restorative sleep. And many others.

Fibromyalgia affects you mentally. Sufferers generally refer to this part of it as "fibrofog," and the best way I can describe it is like having each individual brain cell wrapped in gauze, unable to communicate with the others or the outside. Incredibly frustrating, maybe the most frustrating part for me.

Fibromyalgia affects you emotionally. Aside from my continued logistical issues and lack of license and car (and we are not going there, so not going there right now) I don't have the energy to live as people my age do. Even if I did have a car and license I wouldn't usually be able to go everywhere and be with people, get to do as many things as everyone else. Incredibly demoralizing.

There are several theories as to how, exactly, you get fibromyalgia, ranging from genetics to stress-induced to... well, there are a lot of them. There is no cure. You can alleviate the pain with medication (fibromyalgia has kind of become the lower back pain of the 21st century because there is no conclusive test for it, so you can't prove (or disprove) its existence, but you can sure claim to have it to get controlled substances. For the most part, I love my job, but I detest listening to junkies slur mispronounced drug names at me and claim they have fibromyalgia. Evidence doesn't seem to point to it being degenerative, but I don't know if I believe that yet, as I have noticed a marked decrease in my own functionality over time, and a fair amount of those I know that have it seem to have as well.

~~~

Come back with me to 1996. That year and the rest of the century was a long slog through hell for me and I'm not going to go into details about that because that isn't what this essay is about, but it was horrible. Bad situation after bad situation no matter where I was. No soft landing, every second stress filled. Out of that, I started noticing aches, body-wide, and this manifested itself in my beginning to take hours and hours every night to do my homework because my hands hurt too much to write. They thought I had carpal tunnel syndrome at first, tried to accommodate me by providing me with an AlphaSmart (this is a picture of the first model I ever used. Sweet little machines,) and giving me extra time to finish things, but the teacher I had that year failed me at one point. I felt like I was trying as hard as I could and it wasn't making a difference, that she was unsympathetic and didn't understand or care what was happening with me and the grade was a representation of that. I blew up at her. Screaming match in the middle of a classroom in front of all my classmates, culminating in my ripping up the report card right in front of her. One of my finest moments, to be sure. (For the record, I still believe that. She always screamed at us, screamed at me more than any teacher I've ever had and I never understood why. I later apologized, but I wasn't apologizing for what I said, I was apologizing for saying it in such a manner.)

Prior to this, I was a tomboy. At school, I liked to run and play kickball, I liked the physical games. At the time, we'd just recently moved into the house we're in now, and I was more of a tomboy than John was. I was the one climbing trees (we had a tree in our front yard up until a year or two ago that I used to climb up into and read in at this time.) I was the one taking bikes in kamikaze vaults off near-vertical drops. I was the one roaming around outside doing all the stupid shit kids do when they roam around outside. All that changed when my pediatrician diagnosed me with Fibromyalgia. The year was 1996. I was 9 years old.

~~~

So, we know the definition, but what does it mean? What is it like?

This is where description breaks down, because unless you have it you can never understand, and for this part I'm going to re-use something I recently said in another venue.

I am fully capable of lecturing, chapter and verse, bottom-lining what fibromyalgia is and what it is not, treatment etc. But I can't tell you what it means. I can't tell you that that old saw about how some people with pain issues not needing to watch the weather because their joints will tell them? Is true. I can't tell you about having your concentration shot to shit and ridiculous not-so-occasional mental confusion. I can't tell you about learning to walk, learning to move in ways that aren't as hard on your joints as the others. I can't tell you about the nights I kill my back from bending up and down so much because kneeling is too painful. I can't tell you about the constant mental accounting of body parts, where they are in space relative to the rest of you and how they're being treated, and why, if you can, you should try to kneel instead of squat. I can't tell you about trying to be discreet about pushing off of something in front of customers when rising from that position. And I hope you'll never have to know about the feeling you get when the shelf you thought was steady enough wasn't, you go toppling and things rain down. (That one's fun. Especially with an audience.)

I can tell you how it affects my day-to-day life. The fibrofog means that my work performance is inconsistent at best. Sometimes I'm right on top of it, and there are many more nights I might as well not be there at all. I'm not... as posessed of my mental faculties as I once was, no telling how many IQ points I've dropped over the years. I have very little energy, so I have to allocate it as effectively as I can. This and the car/license debacle means, by and large, no social life. (This is why I'm always available.) I just don't have the energy. When I'm not at school or at work, I'm either here online or sleeping, I need a lot of sleep. I mostly sit on the sidelines and watch other people go off and do things.

It means it is going to take forever to get through school. I should be graduating in a few months, but I can't take the kind of courseload it takes to finish college in 4 years.

It means that I have to be mindful of my energy levels. I only have enough energy to do so many things, which means I have to cut out the bullshit and only do what is really important. Given this, every friend means more to me, and if I'm spending my time with you it means that you bring something good to my life, and that I enjoy our time together.

It means that I am in pain nearly all the time, and that I'm good enough at hiding it by now that you won't notice it unless it's really bad. I was 9 when I was diagnosed. 9 year olds don't get pain medication. 9 year olds get to learn to deal with it. The combination of the fibromyalgia, the concurrent bullying Fern Creek's administration never moved to stop and the issue that I believe started all this shit so long ago was the crucible that forged me into the person I am today. I'm stubborn. I'm tough. I've had to be.

It means that I am exceedingly aware of exactly what I can't do and what I can't, of the fleeting nature of youth and time. I am excruciatingly aware of what I used to be able to do and cannot anymore, and what I'll likely not be able to in the future.

~~~

The vast majority of you, about 2/3 or so, are, to my knowledge, unaware of all this. If you're one of those, assuming you've read this far I imagine you're wondering why I never said anything. I was 9 when I was diagnosed, and people were only now starting to be aware of it. I did tell people, at the beginning, but when I did, either people didn't know what it was and I had to explain, which was hard because I didn't quite know myself, or they did know and didn't believe me. After awhile it was just easier not to say anything and just let people think I'm even more eccentric than I really am.

I also don't tell people because I don't want pity, and I don't want to be treated differently, even though I need it sometimes. I guess what I'm trying for is to give you insight into one of the biggest parts of me, into why I see the world the way I do.

So. When I update my status and mention pain, that's what I'm talking about. If you have questions about anything I've written here, please feel free to ask. I might not be able to answer some of it in public, but I will answer you one way or another. If you took the time to read this, it means a lot to me and I appreciate it. I should have written this years ago, but I didn't know how to say it.

2011-10-09 05:14 pm
Entry tags:

Take away our Playstations, and we are a third world nation.

(Originally posted at Facebook on March 19th, 2009.)

[I wrote this on 9-30-08.]

- Ani DiFranco

Lately, watching the news has been a damn dangerous thing to do, the few stories contained within are far from light. The keepers of our debt, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, collapsing under their own weight, only the first domino of many financial institutions to fall. And those institutions won't be the last, you can rest assured.

Individually, nearly all of us lost money today. Retirement funds declining, gas prices rising, food prices rising, everything but wages rising, and we all sit and wonder, where the hell did we go wrong? Why is this happening?

We haven't changed, you know. We as a country have not learned a damn thing from September 11th, 2001. We still picture ourselves as the clean, blonde-haired kid bringing Jesus and hamburgers to the rest of the uncivilized world. We still patronize institutions that modernize themelves and their image by shedding the hyphen in the middle of their logo, and bring it to one word because their prices can't be beat, and complain about those Messcans and towelheads we see while we're there. Why can't they just go back to their own damn country, anyway?

Our rhetoric and our action don't match.

It is possible to pull ourselves out of all this. However, we will have to make many changes to do so, and yes, sacrifices. What am I talking about?

I'm talking about changing our lifestyles. I'm talking about the fact that we don't have to wait for any particular food to come in-season anymore like we used to, we can blaze down to the store year-round and get it. I'm talking about how large sections of America largely don't have non-chain stores anymore. Our landscape is marred with the same stores, over and over and over again. Almost like the amino acids that form DNA strands. Wal-Mart, Cingular, Subway, and Starbucks. With the occasional Fashion Bug tossed in to throw off the sequence. A true chain, stretching all the way to the ocean, but not before it chokes away all that makes this country good. I'm talking about the fact that we live sprawled out, slathering this beautiful earth in asphalt, building things at the edges of our cities and then building other businesses and other houses out to it, using asphalt like it was air. Except for, you know, the fact that the substance we're using to take us everywhere is Pac-Man'ing our atmosphere and sickening all of us. I'm talking about airplanes, boats, every sort of transport you can imagine polluting our earth to bring us cheap imported crap that we don't even have the money to buy. I'm talking about not having the money to buy anything else.

For all of our sprawl and the planes trains and automobiles that make the distance between us negligible, however, we exert our bodies, finely-tuned machines in their own right who need that physical exertion to thrive, at a roughly inversely-proportional rate. That is to say, we invented all these machines and labor-saving things to do the work for us, leaving us free to lead sedentary lifestyles. And boy, do we ever. Our society has accounted for this, though, and for every little thing that ails, there are companies that can cure it, and they tell you so on TV. Some even give you free coupons or cards to try their product. 7 free nights. What they don't tell you is that after those 7 free nights, your insurance, assuming you're lucky enough to have it, won't pay for the other 21 nights. What they don't tell you is that the same people telling you about that medication on TV are also whispering in your doctor's ear. Giving them pizza, giving them freebies, asking nothing but for her to hear them out. When you come in for your appointment, your doctor writes you the prescription.

We have built ourselves this culture. In times past, if someone said they were on 4-5 different medications, you feared for their livelihood, but in these times we live in, the cure-what-ails age, there's a pill for everything that bothers you. Hell, there's pills to cancel out the side effects of those pills! All the new medicine you want. Just don't expect your insurance to cover them.

I'm talking about making our walk match our talk. You want to know why those damn furriners don't just go home? In most cases, they can't go home because, especially in the case of Mexico, their government has run the country into the ground so far that it is mostly uninhabitable. And why would they, when we provide everything for them at little to no cost? There's no incentive for them to leave. I'm talking about ending illegal immigration, and to do that, you have to eliminate the cause. I'm talking about taking action with the governments of these ruined countries, to make them not-ruined anymore. What action, I don't know. I don't know what would be effective, from what I can tell Mexico's government isn't interested in fixing things. Without their cooperation, nothing we do will be successful. With or without governmental cooperation, though. we can take other steps. We can reduce each and every such company found to employ such people to cinders and smoke, and jail all management who knowingly allowed it to happen. We can stop giving automatic US citizenship to children of illegal immigrants.

Ending Illegal Immigration is only one side of the coin, though. The other side is bringing our jobs, our factories, our businesses, back home. If we make it here, and pay people to make it, then we don't have to pay to have products of often negligible quality brought to us. And think of what it would do for our environment. That will only work if we stop populating the big box stores and companies begging us to buy it. More and more people can't afford to shop anywhere but places like Wal-Mart because everything else costs so much. And they always have low prices. Always. They can afford to have always low prices because they are the biggest company in the world. In the world! Their prices are so low because they pay the Chinese woman who toiled to make your $5 shirt a pittance. But even China is too expensive for many corporations these days- they're picking up their toys and moving to Vietnam. In addition, because Wal-Mart does so much business, because they move so many units, they can afford for each one to be inexpensive, they more than recoup the cost in volume. Non-chain businesses have no such luxury.

We have allowed our corporations to bring us to this point. Our large corporations are throwing us, all of us, both as consumers and employees, away. They are throwing our future away for nice paydays now. It's a cycle. Here's a simplistic explanation of how it works. First, a company notices labor and personnel costs soaring. It's hitting their bottom line, so they move their manufacturing division overseas, where workers don't earn as much an hour. You then close the factory in the States and send the workers home, maybe with severance and notice, maybe not. Because workers overseas make less per hour, you can afford to hire more of them, and you can produce more product. Sure, you have to pay for shipping the finished product back to the States, but the cost is negligible compared to the greater profit because you can make more units, and you don't have to worry with those pesky retirement plans. The money rains down from the skies, meaning you can take a little more for yourself. You run this company. You deserve it!

Doesn't sound bad from a business point of view until you consider the American employees you fired. See, our job market right now is horrible, and many of us are unemployed. Some of us team up with another breadwinner, a husband or wife, and scrape through it together, but that doesn't help as much as it used to. The worth of our dollar is based on how much we import as opposed to how much we export. Because the companies we used to work for fired us and moved our jobs overseas, we don't make it here anymore, we get it from China. Because China and many other countries are holding a shitload of our debt, our dollar doesn't stretch nearly as far as it used to, so you need more dollars to buy things. If you were just fired, you don't have the dollars to buy anything, no matter where it was made. And if your would-be customers can't afford to buy what you're selling? No money for you. Thank God for the Golden Parachute.

It's all a cycle. But we can break that cycle. Buy local. Buy independent. Don't feed the machine, because our machines are what got us in this damn mess, and it's going to take a lot to get us out.

~~~

I'm looking out over a sea of people. You, my friends. My co-workers. Even a few family members. I'm looking out over my country, over everyone, and if you're paying attention, I see one common theme: fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear for your pensions. Fear for your children. Fear for yourself down the road. Fear of many things, same song, different key.

I'm seeing a tendency to close ranks. One of the many things that got us into this mess was our incompetent leadership. Yes, I'm talking about George Bush. I'm talking about George Bush and his entire administration. They were the ultimate embodiment of the businessmen I discussed earlier, people who are willing to throw away the future of billions of people, of untold numbers of nations, for the profit of themselves and those they know today. It would be disingenous to lay it entirely at their feet, though, because while they were a major factor in all of this, who allowed it to happen, encouraged it, looked the other way, they didn't start this. One of the common criticisms as people realized we were overextended, were involved in too many things overseas while our home was suffering, was that we needed to back out of foreign affairs. That we need to fix things at home before we go poking into the way other countries run things. For the record, I am a strong believer in this. How can we tell other countries that our ways are right, that they should grow up, clean up, and be more like we are, if we can't keep our own shit straight? The problem with this is that it may be hard to stop there. There is a tendency in this country to look back at the past, at the way things were, and wish for a return to those times. I see a lot of people wanting to close ranks, shut out the rest of the world, and just... be. Which is, of course, impossible. We cannot return to what was.

When I look out over my country, I see the people that live here with me divided in a way that I have never seen before, and have only heard of once before, in a story that was supposed to be fiction. We are now very much a country divided into what John Steinbeck saw coming in 1939, the Haves, and the Have Nots. Both sides are feeling embattled, besieged, feeling that their morals and values are being called into question, and I'm seeing scores and scores of people talking about "returning to basics," talking about concentrating on our home fronts, both as a country and as a member of a family. I'm seeing people stop watching the news, stick their heads in the sand, endorsing cutting ties with other countries and other people, throw their hands up, and give up on finding a solution, trusting that someone in the sky is watching them, that they'll fix it.

When I look out over my country, I see a forgetting. I see us as a country forgetting what it was like, what it took, to be winners. I see us forgetting what it is like to have to do the dirty work to stay on top, and not coast on the reputation the generations that came before us fought so hard for. I see a forgetting how to question the people who seem to hold some authority. Most distressingly, I see a forgetting why.

I see a forgetting what it is to be an American.

Folks, religion is not going to get us out of this. Pretty words aren't going to get us out of this. Sticking our fingers in our ears and saying "LALALALALALA I CAN'T HEEEEEEAR YOU" isn't going to do it either. The other countries sure as hell aren't going to do it: we've cherrypicked the parts of their countries and their culture that was most useful to us, scornfully dismissed the rest, and proceeded to build our country, a country of audacious bombast and big shoulders, with them. This has been coming for a long time.

The only thing that will get us out of this shitstorm we've created for ourselves is us. And we do it by learning to think for ourselves again. We do it by ceasing to reward underachievers. We do it by being better inhabitants of our environment, and strengthening our relationships with other countries, so that we don't have to close ranks. We do it by bringing our factories and jobs home, by paying our people enough to make things so that they can also afford to buy others. We do it by buying locally, and not feeding the machines that got us here. I'm talking about enduring a little discomfort now to ensure good things later.

In short, by making our actions match our words.
2011-10-09 05:44 pm
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Educated Guess

(Originally posted at Facebook on July 12th, 2009.)

It's about time for another one of our Fireside Chats. Pull up a chair. This is going to be long and rambly, but I'm not going to feel better until I've posted this.

I'm an introvert now. I wasn't always, I spent 18 years not being. And I still pretend to be that for most people because that's what I was when we originally knew each other. It makes me nervous to talk to people that knew me then because I have to try to remember to be that person for them. I still don't know who the new person is. (Tonight I've been going through pictures, we were all so impossibly young. I anticipated the feeling of free-fall, of time starting to pass quicker the further I got but it still caught me flat footed and unprepared and even though I'm fully aware of how absurd of a statement this is for someone my age I do not take it back.)

I can make it look natural. For customers, for audience members, for people who only knew me in passing, I can make it look like nothing ever happened, that I'm still the same person with the highwaters and the long hair, hollering down a crowded hallway just to say hey to someone who said hey to me first.

But it isn't true. Making it look natural is one thing, having it be natural is quite another. It isn't, and it hasn't been for a long time. I live in my head these days, not my body.

Lately it seems that the universe has been working overtime to throw every single thing I don't have in my face, hardcore. And I've been thinking a hell of a lot lately about the slippery passage of time and conventional notions of propriety. What it means to be in a young woman in this society. Where friendships and relationships intersect, whether they should, and the implications. And I've been sitting and watching people and feeling more isolated and lonely and cold than I ever have in my life.

There's a fundamental disconnect there, I think, a chasm I seem to be unable to bridge, and these days I seem to torn between wanting to jump in the middle, and wondering why I ever fucking bothered.

I don't understand this society. If I live to be a million years old I will never understand this society, or the culture(s) we all share. I have no idea how to be a 22 year old female. I don't know what that is. I don't know what that means. And I don't know where the hell I was when they taught that, but apparently I'm not getting all my memos. So I people-watch, and I absorb everything I can, because there's some stuff you can't be told, you have to find out for yourself.

I did finally separate one point of differentiation out, something I think might be a sticking point in my interactions with people (especially that of my age,) though, and now is as good a time as any to clarify something.

If I know you, it's in my nature to want to ask a lot of questions and talk things to death. This is for two reasons: firstly and mostly because I want to better understand you as a person, but also because it helps me better understand the culture we live in. I learn things from you people, more than you probably realize. I don't explicitly ask because most of the time I don't know when it is appropriate to, and when it would be intrusive.

I think a lot of times people take my not explicitly asking as indifference, and I want to clarify right here and now: it isn't because I don't care that I don't ask. Instead, it's an attempt to be courteous and deferential to your boundaries.

I want to know whatever you want to tell me about yourself, but I'm usually not going to risk offending you to ask.

I'm better about this stuff than I was, and I'm getting better, bit by bit. But if I seem a little stilted or a hell of a lot awkward, that's why. I'm trying as best I can.

2011-10-09 05:53 pm
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Rules of Engagement

(Originally posted at Facebook on July 31st, 2009.)

During the past few weeks, I've noticed that the same few thought processes tend to dominate nearly all of my interaction, and how I conduct myself in day-to-day life. Upon digging deeper, I noted that there are some deeply entrenched, automatic processes there, and while they govern my interactions and manner, they aren't at all easily articulable. Seemed like reason enough to go exploring.

I have internal policies. They are numerous, we'd be here all night, but they all boil down to one thing:

What is the signal/noise ratio?

How much signal? How much noise? Is the signal worth cutting through the noise to get? If so, how do I? Which signals aren't worth it? Which noises aren't so bad?

Who is worth breaking this policy for?

Is it worth my time?

The signal, obviously, is the content. The music I want to hear, the television show I want to watch, the story or the article I want to read, the news I want to absorb. Everything else: ads of almost any kind whatsoever, surveys, offers, irrelevant patter, babbling, commentators talking about the news, any sort of unsolicited stimulus? Noise.

This is why I don't watch the vast majority of current movies, and the references and phrases I use are usually rather dated. In my entertainment, I look for things that stay with me, that my brain chews and chews on long after I've finished watching. I look for things with impact, things I'll return to in my mind. Popular media geared towards the masses isn't that. However, I often find it in older media.

This is why I don't ever intentionally click the "like" button on Facebook, and why I never post memes or quizzes on Facebook anymore. I don't want people to associate my name with quiz result spam. I want to be associated with actual content and interaction. If something feels important enough for me to click a button saying I like it, it is important enough for me to drop in and interact with you about it.

I've spoken before about my policy about words. Though it is my custom to go on at length, always has been, I try to pack the most meaning into the fewest amount of words necessary. You can go too far with this, of course, making it hard to digest your message, but I always strive to come as close to that point without going over as I can.

I see so many people wandering through life, seeming to give little to no thought to the words they're saying, how they're saying them, what the implications and consequences are, and especially what it means about them. I try always to conduct myself with dignity and poise.

I see so many of these people- without honor, without class, without any sort of dignity or respect for themselves. I hope that if I get to be that way, someone who cares about me will put me out of my misery. If my choices are:

A. An existence of stumbling through life, babbling and repeating what I hear others saying while adding nothing of merit to the conversation, making onomatopoeic noises because I'm uncomfortable with silence

or

B. Not existing

I'd rather not exist at all.

I try so hard to make every single letter and every single syllable count, and to be of the highest quality. I don't always stick the landing, but I like to think I usually come damn close.
2011-10-09 06:03 pm
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"If I was taken for a day, and shown another way"

(Originally posted at Facebook on December 6th, 2009.)

For my Black Feminism in Action class's final project this semester, the project was to create and submit a 'zine. 'zines typically have one single, unifying theme, so I chose the theme of "Girls Singing Night" to represent many things in my life as of late, really, but mostly the unifying theme of various types of performance- the play I was in last semester, but also the change in how you choose to present yourself in various situations. This has changed drastically for me as of late, and I felt it prudent to discuss. The actual phrase came from what Ani DiFranco named the second disc of her live album "So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter," and I was happy to get an Ani mention in there as she was pivotal as well.

In the 'zine, and in this piece, I wish to discuss my path to feminism. They say that you really learn something when you have to teach it to someone else. I hadn't actually thought about it too closely, so I had to pin it down and analyze it before I could articulate it to someone else. In retrospect, it seems fairly circumspect. Because I'm meander-y tonight, you get to hear about it. Awesome.

~~~

I didn't have an actual, close personal relationship with feminism for most of my life. I knew that they and the suffragists were responsible for my right to vote. I knew that they were responsible for a lot of the cushy comforts that I enjoy. Obviously I knew that Roe vs Wade was dreadfully important, and I supported all these things. But I didn't call myself a feminist.

Yet.

In 2003 or thereabouts, I came upon a book that would change my life. Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed came to me via my mother. A lot of people were apparently talking about it on TV, I think it was on Oprah's Book Club? I dunno. Anyway, Ehrenreich's premise was simple: she was to visit 3 or 4 cities and try to do what is supposed to be possible- marry expenses to income while working a minimum wage job. Even with the advantages of being white, of above-average intelligence, articulate, having her own car, and having $1k in start-up funds, she was only briefly able to do so, and it took her working 2 separate jobs, and doing so 7 days a week.

The book itself isn't perfect, but it was my first true introduction to what privilege means, particularly as it relates to class, and what that can mean for your lifestyle and finances.

In the book, Ehrenreich attempts to work at Wal-Mart, and I just ate that shit up, as Wal-Mart was already one of my pet topics. Still is, actually. One of the things I've been following with considerable interest is the drive to unionize individual Wal-Marts. It is in Wal-Mart's best interests not to allow unionizing, as unionizing would foster camaraderie as well with everything else. It is in their best interests to keep everyone alone and separate so that they have no position to bargain for better working conditions and treatment from. Unionizing would supply that position. In recent years there have been a few stores in the company that have done so successfully, though. I wish they all would.

I've always wanted to be union. I've always wanted to be a card-carrying member of one of the institutions that built this country, and I do believe unions, along with feminists, are one of the forces that helped to make this country what it is. Certainly there are bad unions- union politics can be just as nasty as regular politics, but there's nothing like a good union to fight for you and your rights when your employer is pushing you around.

I've written before about how this nation really is separating into a nation of haves and have-nots, just as Steinbeck envisioned. That's what the haves try to do, you know. They try to separate us, keep us small and separate so that we can't effectively fight for ourselves and our livelihoods. Over a year ago I wrote, saying that it was the worst I'd ever seen at the time. Well, it is worse now.

This is why a solid understanding of Wal-Mart, its protectors, and economic forces that allow it to flourish were crucial to my becoming a feminist. You see, I approached the problem from a macro-level understanding: why it was possible for retailers such as Wal-Mart to offer such low prices in the first place. The answer, we now know, takes few words to explain but has breathtaking implications for our economy: they can sell each unit so cheaply because they sell so many units. They procure each unit so cheaply because they procure so many units. To procure each unit so cheaply, they ruthlessly squeeze their suppliers. To supply Wal-Mart with the requested number of units, suppliers must squeeze every cent/yuan/peso of efficiency they can from their organization, resulting in their workers being paid a pittance.

You want to know how it is possible to make that $3 T-Shirt you're wearing? That's how.

Regular retailers cannot compete in such a landscape. They buy fewer units, so they must make more with each one.

This systematically impacts people of color, women, people without various types of privileges disproportionately, and negatively. Women are more likely to be working in those factories. You know what some of these factories are like? They don't allow things like that in this country anymore, and for good reason. Women are more likely to be the ones working in the retail spaces selling the things procured from those factories, and guess what? The pay is shit! A considerable amount of people on Wal-Mart's payroll are also on various government assistance rolls. Taken directly from the Criticism of Wal-Mart entry on Wikipedia, which isn't the best source but gives you a general idea: A 2002 survey by the state of Georgia's subsidized healthcare system, PeachCare, found that Wal-Mart was the largest private employer of parents of children enrolled in its program; one quarter of the employees of Georgia Wal-Marts qualified to enroll their children in the federal subsidized healthcare system Medicaid.

I could go on and on, but you already know it. You already know how earning lower wages in comparison to men directly affects you your whole life, and how much money you'll have when it comes time to draw Social Security, assuming you get there. You already know how living in a constant state of poverty can affect your health and that of your dependents, if you have any. You know about redlining. You know about the lack of access that people without various types of privilege have to things that those of us with various types of privilege have, and how that also affects you and your dependence.

All of this disproportionately affects women. We have been systematically targeted. Such policies, implemented by the haves, directly cause all of these things and more. It affects us. Me and you. Right now.

That was my path to feminism. The personal really is political. It's happening right now.

This is why I'm a feminist.
2011-10-09 06:14 pm
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The Most Dangerous Woman- Revolution 2010

(Originally posted at Facebook on August 2nd, 2010.)

Twitter informs me that today is Mary Harris Jones' birthday. Mary Harris Jones, aka Mother Jones, is a big inspiration, and I thought I'd take a smidge of time to talk about her.

I believe I've spoken before about how I mostly support labor unions, at least in theory. In practice, well, they aren't perfect, but what is? Mother Jones was a labor agitator, and eventually formed the IWW. Even though I became aware of all the inequity and systemic fuckery in this world through socioeconomics and labor relations, that isn't primarily the spirit this is intended. Mostly, I mean the woman herself.

Mother Jones had a long life, much of it plagued by considerable hardship. I'm not going to write you a novel about it, you can ask Uncle Google if you want the specifics. What you need to know about her is that she was a fierce champion for the rights of the worker, and she was willing to lay it on the line, do and say whatever it took, if it would help achieve the goal. She was old-time tough, a hardbitten woman willing to say and do the unpleasant thing for what she believed in. Mother Jones fought the power for far longer than most people would've- the year Teddy Roosevelt called her "the most dangerous woman in the world" for storming down a road completely alone and confronting a militia owned by John Rockefeller over a strike to enforce the 8-hour day that Colorado had recently made law, she was 83 years old.

She wasn't even from this country, but in that respect she was fundamentally American, and that's what I admire so much about her. That's what the hell we need in this country. We need people who are willing to call it as they see it, do and say the unpleasant and usually uncomfortable thing for the things they believe in. We need people willing to ask the questions, make people a little uncomfortable, dig under the fragile veneer that holds our society together to find the truth, however wanting, underneath, and we need people willing to do that regardless of what others think about it. We need people who are willing to blur, blend, and defy definition and delineation, people willing to confound those who attempt to classify while working for the betterment of our society. (Our entire society, not just white male conservatives.) We need people with big hammers who are willing to smash the hell out of all forms of systemic inequity, and willing to engage with people who endeavor to maintain the status quo.

We need people with the courage of their convictions.

Those weren't just words for Mother Jones. That was her life. She lived it, and I respect the hell out of that. I try as best I can to embody that, even when it's hard and uncomfortable and lands me in hot water, which it does with not-at-all startling frequency. I don't always stick the landing. It's a tiring, if not exhausting, way to be, and I don't always have the energy. Sometimes the enormity of the reality of all the issues we face as a society overwhelms. Sometimes, a lot of times, it seems futile. That I can make the choice to engage or not is indicative of privilege on multiple levels, and although I'm trying like hell to keep that particular knapsack as empty as possible, it will never be truly empty because of who I am and the socioeconomic space I inhabit.

I never give up, though. Ghandi wasn't just speaking to hear his own voice when he encouraged us to be the changes we wanted to see. No one ever said it would be easy, and no one ever said it wouldn't suck sometimes, but it is inherently worth it. Our society is inherently better because of her willingness to fight the power, and we owe her and all our likeminded foremothers a great debt.

Rest in power, Mother Jones. Give 'em hell.
2011-10-09 06:33 pm
Entry tags:

Malibu

(Originally posted at Facebook on June 22nd, 2011.)

Whenever someone told me that I would one day have a license, a car, an apartment- things I have wanted longer than I can remember, I smiled and nodded and generally thought they were wrong but well-meaning. I never believed I could get that for myself, but I certainly wouldn't say so to someone who seemed to believe I could.

I spent a lot of time despairing, a lot of time lonely, loneliest when in groups of friends. I'm not a religious person, and I'm squarely in the minority. Most people seem to believe things that happen are part of some overarching plan, and that comforts them. I don't. It bothered me, therefore, that everything I saw, everything I lived through, everything everyone managed to survive, was essentially for nothing.

Today marks my 4th anniversary with my employer. All day I've been thinking about all the differences between this day and that one, thinking about what I've learned and how I got here.

I now have all the things former iterations of self thought impossible. I got my license on July 21st, 2011, got my car about an hour later. Last month, I got my apartment.

How? I worked my ass off for them, first and foremost. They weren't given to me, I earned them. In addition, I have a lot of really good and smart friends to point me in the right direction, people who eventually convinced me I really could have them and what they symbolize and that it was okay to reach for them.

Along the way, I learned a lot. Some things were fun, some things were vital to success, some things I would've been happy never knowing. I learned I would never be happy if I remained distant in the present while focusing on some undefined future, to stay in moments important to or good for me and to cherish them. I learned (remembered) that sometimes you get one shot at what will make your future, and you have to go for it or you'll regret not having done so forever. I learned my tastes are still changing, and that trying things I had once disliked might be a good idea once in awhile. I learned to love a good musical. I learned to never ever jump into a pool, even if you can see the bottom.

I learned that the truth is not static but dynamic and fluid based on who you ask, and that there's generally more to the situation than you'll ever know. I learned that nothing stays the same, to cherish the moment now because after it ends it will never be the same. I learned not to become complacent because the second I did, the riptide pulled me under. I learned that someone you loved and trusted, someone you were willing to take a bullet for, will stab you in the back and leave you just alive enough to know you'll never be the same and wish they had just finished the job. I learned that sometimes you have no clue what is truth and what is illusion but you have to carry on as though you did. I learned that people and animals you love and depend on get sick, die, change beyond recognition, and you have to go out and live the rest of your live in a world you don't recognize when no one else seems to notice anything changed. I learned that that never stops happening.

I learned that the only one with you your whole life is you. I learned that I have to put myself first, and that I better make it good because I'll remember and regret it if I don't. I learned that manners and grace go a long way, and that they will save your ass when nothing else will. I learned to champion my own causes, save my own bacon.

I learned to live for myself.

I learned to treat my past not as minefields to be avoided at all costs, but as things that shaped me as I made it through. I learned to hold my head up and occupy my space. I learned to be proud.

It took 4 years to get here. The distance between then and now seems unfathomable, but the distance between now and the next 4 seem unimaginable.
2011-10-09 06:58 pm
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Welcome!

Greetings, earthlings!

If you're here, you ostensibly already know who I am, so we'll skip the introductions and move right to the good stuff.

Why have I created this? Three reasons:

* For awhile now, I've been looking for a way to group all of my best writing into one place. Traditionally I've used Facebook for this, but their draconian and odious policies are too much for me these days. I'm rather inactive there, mostly because I wanted my writing showcased more than anything else and Facebook isn't the proper medium for that.

* I've been looking for a way to post things to Twitter but not clog up the feeds of friends. I enjoy Twitter, but my thoughts aren't limited to 140 characters, so it often takes several tweets to explain myself. Not necessarily long enough to deserve a fully-fleshed out blog post, but not particularly suited for 140 characters at a time, either.

* For a long time now, I've been wanting to put my best writing to date somewhere in one central place, somewhere I could hand you the URL and say "come find me."

Here we are. Welcome to my Dreamwidth.

The way it works is pretty simple: I have and will continue to post longer essays from Facebook, things I wrote for school, things I wrote for myself, etc, and interspersed with those will be whatever off-the-cuff small bites that were just too long for Twitter. The newest posts are at the top of the page- the further down you go, the older the post. Comment if you wish, I'd be delighted. For the moment, at least, comments you leave won't be visible immediately because I'm screening comments to make sure no spam shows up, but I'll approve every comment that isn't spam pretty quickly, and then it'll display.

Anyway. Thanks for stopping in- make yourself comfortable :)