gratitude

She makes her way slowly along the bluff, eyes adjusting to the early morning depths. As she walks, just the beginnings of outlines appear, above and below the horizon. Muted warm light reflects off shining footbridge handrails, revealing deep green and yellow mosses that feast on ancient redwood. Sand crunches under her soles. It’s the only sound that cuddles up to waves kissing the shore.

Standing on the little bridge, watching the sunrise in this place brings her to tears. It’s taken months for her body to believe she’s safe, for her mind to relax and accept, for her spirit to allow itself to be lifted. Every single day the universe lets her know she’s in the right place doing the right work. This morning, the rising sun warmed its way through the defenses her mind’s been slow to relinquish. (Sometimes a soul’s been parched for so long that the salve runs right off at first. It takes a little while to be able to absorb the good.)

She realizes she will never hear the sound of gunfire on this bluff, never hear high-powered, rapid-fire weapons in her neighborhood, never across the street from home. Here, she will never agonize for hours, rehearsing violent scenarios where she tries to defend her kittens and herself against an angry white guy with a gun. Hiking in this world, she will never come upon a sow whose gut has been blown out with small explosives. She will never stumble upon acres of naked, clear cut land. She won’t regularly terrify other animals just because she’s a human animal. She will never, ever say goodbye again to the sun for nearly half the year.

She reaches deep, but she can’t feel the bottom of her gratitude.

why

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The idea was to plant and grow better people. She knew they could change, the people here. She’d seen it first-hand. A phrase dropped here or a word placed there; an idea left lingering after an interaction. And then she would come back and hear the word or phrase used by someone who’d found it there and the whole world lit up. She could see how to get in, how to be useful. She imagined what they might be able to do with an idea or two, radically different than what they’d experienced their whole lives. Ideas that could lift human beings out of toxic actualities.

Top-down, power-scarce systems and processes isolate human beings. Education is limited and curriculum controlled by authorities. Information is also limited, often outdated, and recirculated like stale air conditioning air. Internet access is scarce, and the only company in town shuts its tower down on Sundays. Television content is served up only by Sinclair. Nothing—what they know, how they know it—is in their control. And that’s normal. It’s the way things have always been done here. 

Enforcement of top-down power traumatizes human beings. Punishment styles range in severity, but each punishment or threat relies on re-triggering the cause of the trauma: isolated helplessness in the face of overwhelming power. Enforcement threats often paralyze adults who, as children, lived in families where all the power was the father’s to use as he pleased, to punish. Childhood punishment serves to enforce authoritarian power when its trauma is re-triggered. Authoritarianism functionally recycles the trauma it creates to force human beings into compliance with top-down structures and processes. And tyrants.

Why don’t they just stand up, speak up, take care of themselves? Why can’t they just resist? Why don’t they see how cruel their leader is? Why don’t they see he’s betrayed them? Why can’t they change their minds? They’re adults—why can’t they act like them?”

Why, indeed. 

a rural

The gold went first. That warm light. It took months to recognize it for what it was. Surprisingly, the sudden shift to cold LED white isn’t really evident to the eye. Seeing is in the reflection, though; off the slant, if you will. Thousands of blown out shots. A monochromatic gray-green backdrop in the valley. Lightened blue eyes from shooting straight into the sun. Color that fades in weeks. This is not a basking sun. It is a force that demands respect, without question. It is the authority. Submission is the only appropriate response. Nothing democratic here.

An overwhelming sea of whiteness. Of white people. Visceral, immediate, consuming. Something to be endured. Drowning in white people. No eye contact from anyone not white. Difference must be passing-careful or withdraw entirely to feel safe or trusted. To embody a full range of expression. To have any chance at a lasting sense of well-being. To have the choice to feel fully human. Whiteness is the authority. Submission is the only appropriate response. Nothing democratic here.

Power is scarce. Steal for it, lie for it, cheat for it; debate, fight, kill. No collaboration. Nothing student-centered or client-centered or customer-centered or patient-centered. No power-sharers. No old people sharing power with young people. No one practicing with power. No. No. No. An enduring wall of no. This is not a place for the soft, the sensitive, the young. There is no place in a power scarce culture for vulnerability, for the grey areas, for uncertainty. They eat their young. Power is the authority. Compliance is the only appropriate response. Nothing democratic here.

reclamation

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I used to be a bit of an asshole. Very accomplished, extremely articulate, pretty fucking smart. I knew it and I leaned on it: it’s all I had. I learned two roles growing up: how to be second to my father and how to be his object. For the first half of my life, I had no idea how to be a whole human in relationship with other humans. I was able to pass as a functioning human on the strength of how ferociously good I was at being a second to older white men and/or being their object.

I’m the first-born of six children. My white authoritarian father wanted a boy when I arrived, and he wouldn’t be told “no” by the universe or my mother’s womb. He made it his mission to pass onto me—his first-born female child–the hyper-masculinist survivalist vision he embodied. (He also dreamed of moving his family away, rural. Only luck prevented that dream’s likely consequences passing to his children.)

He cut my hair short. He taught me how to fight. (The kids at school called me “tank.”) He taught me that if a stranger on the street comes up to me and touches me, I should assume that that person was trying to kill me and respond accordingly. He told me where to do the most damage to another child’s body when I fight her on the first day of school. He coached me and drove me to other girls’ neighborhoods so I could fight them. He made me responsible for physically protecting my younger brothers and sisters.

My father’s smart genes also passed to me, and he claimed my mind from the start. My given intellect was fired in the kiln of his toxic masculinity and whiteness. I grew into a fierce competitor. I sacrificed the body for the game. In my whiteness, I blindly assumed everyone should be like me, and if they weren’t, they were probably deficient and needed my help. (Education later shattered that assumption.) I knew my intellect intimidated people, forced them to treat me with respect, and it got me high: in that power, I felt secure, like I was protected somehow. Like I could do anything if I just worked for it. Like I was in control of my destiny. Like I, alone, could make my best life. Like I was a boss, only second to the master.

My intellect no longer drives. It and I have been changed by hard experience. I appreciate my intellect’s mad skills and I’m grateful for its ability to solve problems. However, it is forged in toxic masculinity and whiteness. And it used to control everything. It knows now, though, that it no longer occupies a privileged place in my life, that it can no longer steal the center. It no longer takes what it believes is its rightful place, the spot ahead of everyone else. My intellect is a reclaimed, repurposed tool, used carefully. (It still, sometimes, gets aggressive when it feels good, though. It still, sometimes, pushes too hard, its force mostly unnecessary. It still, sometimes, plots our disappearance, especially when it’s suffering.)

My emotions are now my guide. I have been changed by hard experience, and in that experience, my emotions protected me. Growing up, I learned how to ignore my feelings, even when they ravaged my body. I learned to “shake them off.” Later, I ate my feelings, I drank them, I worked my emotions into submission and silence. For the first half of my life, I taught my feelings that they didn’t matter.

They are teaching me something very different now. My emotions are glorious, a revelation–they help me see, help me connect to the world. Help me empathize and be gentle with the parts of myself my father hated and tried to kill. To weave those parts into my new little life, a life previously devoid of meaning, that now overflows with it. My emotions help me feel and connect to those parts in other humans, too. My emotions are superpowers: they make me brave and strong and intuitive.

When I stopped ignoring them–annihilating my feelings–and I turned to reclaim and embrace them, the whole world changed. It’s like a missing game piece got plugged in, and the tight click lit up the whole board. My new sensitivity feels like I’m connected to a source, to something underneath everything else, something that makes it all matter.

hellender

I see the house while I work. It’s across the street, where my little slice of ocean view cuts the horizon in two. It’s a grey house, a “non-rental,” as nondescript as most here. It keeps drawing my eyes away from my screen. I believe there is a golden retriever in that house, alone, who’ll be alone until he returns.

The old white man was here over the weekend. The cattle family man. A Hellender. The man I saw drag an obedient female golden retriever by her neck on a choke chain for a quarter of a mile to the beach at the end of our street. The man who willfully ignored her resisting body, which kept telling him, “no.” Her body which moved in the opposite direction of the man’s full weight, annihilating her choice to escape him.

I yell to stop. He ignores me. I run to catch up. We have a conversation. He is convinced that taking her where she wants to go instead of dragging her further by her neck with the choke chain in the other direction is easier than facing my carefully controlled rage. We walk the quarter of a mile back to our houses. He doesn’t believe I live here. (I’ve lived across the street for 7 months. This is the first time I’ve seen him here.) He doesn’t know what to do with me. He tries 3 different tactics to justify what he did, to try to take the control back. To try and figure out what the hell just happened. To find a way to dismiss this woman who is talking to him like this, a man like him. In this place, his place.

I leave him at his house and ask him not to be cruel to her when I’m gone and he’s in the house with her. I hear her protest bark–just a single one–right before he pulls out of his driveway 20 minutes later. When he stays here, now, he drives her away in the car to walk her, away from me. I thought of following, and thought better of it. I work and watch, now, wondering when he will return.

The woman”–what he calls the dog trainer during our conversation–was back at the house this weekend, too. Training the golden retriever. Making her carefully walk down the street, head up, with a stick in her mouth. The retriever is beautifully groomed. And, she is one very well trained animal, a being who would not resist unless there was a damn good reason to do so.

Next time I see “the woman,” I will stop and I will tell her what I saw the old man do to the dog. I will tell “the woman” that it is the old white man who needs trained, not the retriever. I will tell “the woman” that the “problem” animal is Mr. Hellender. 

normalizing

I came to the party a little late. I was buried alive for 8 months while the earth shifted on its axis after November 6th, 2016. I fell into another world, very far away. My lifelines were imagined–only in my head–and they snapped at the first sign of pressure. When I dug out and came up for air in June 2017, this world was gone. So was everyone I knew. I’m still processing. 

I missed the group reckoning process, the one that started most people’s normalizing. I can actually feel the normalization process happening in real time now. I feel my emotions—stirred up by everything wrong in the world–want to relax, rest, just be. I feel the outside edge of rage dip into anger, cool, and trickle to a lower plane: sad acceptance. All my new, lively, squirming emotions have been on high alert since the world disappeared. They still haven’t settled down. 

My emotions want to lose their hypersensitivity, want to be calm. They just want to try and enjoy what they can. And my mind colludes. It keeps looking for ways to live with the cognitive dissonance between a body and emotions justifiably hyper-vigilant and a deep exhaustion and desire to stop feeling every fucking thing. To just live, accept what is. 

If I let myself normalize, I give myself permission to stop thinking about the carnage, stop feeling the chaos, stop trying to solve this new world’s ocean of problems. If I normalize, I let myself relax into this new normal, figure out how to maneuver in this new environment. Normalizing, I wall off my view of the destruction, creating a garden behind it, making room for peace in the midst of war.

I wonder: “How much harder will it be for me to push back when I’m normalized?”

babyfoot

soft white cold light; fragile flakes

boots break a creamy crystalline crust

iced pea gravel crunches under treads

face frozen, eyes water, fingers numb

on the trail to babyfoot lake

 

first freeze, first snow

frozen fog and freezing flowers

iced falls and sugarcoated limbs

shiny sculpted trees and fractal puddle art

 

a rising sun blasts the fog with yellow fire

reflecting colorlight cools the sun’s rising heat

in a lake where an ice moat crystallizes around an underwater snag

 

evap blows up the skirts of the hard blue sky

while tiny ballooning balls of frost create lilliputian explosions of red soil

 

magic