Stories told by children
She believed there were still good people in the world. Even though she hadn’t met too many here who were “good” in the way she understood good, she created perfection in her mind to replace what was missing. She pretended. Her “peeps” existed in her mind only, a story she told herself. And her “friends” were epic. She wrote:
“San Francisco Bay Area peeps are collaborators. We are student-centered, client-centered, customer-centered, patient-centered. We are power-sharers. As students we’ve been shown how to power-share, and we expect to share our power. We are freed to stop chasing power, debating for it, fighting over it. Power-sharing frees us to create a multitude of healthier sources of power.
SF Bay Area peeps know possibility is real. We know it’s as real as what’s actual. We know that ideas have lives, that they can change lives. We like to work from the ground of possibility. We are subjunctive. We are limited when we problem-solve only from the actual. We challenge systems that lock us into the actual because they block our view of the possible. We live in the actual and are present now (and now and now), but possibility moves us, lights up our imagination.
SF Bay Area peeps imagine. We imagine BIG. Our imaginations soar. We look up. We expect things will work out. (And we know they will, eventually, if we keep doing just work.) We know that imagining positive outcomes helps us create humane methods for input. We know that’s what humans can control, our own input. We focus on our best input instead of fearing unknown outcomes in the future.
SF Bay Area peeps self identify. We know the power in knowing ourselves. We embrace our intersectionality. (Ness.) We recognize that diversity, options, choices—knowing our own agency—makes healthier humans. Too much of any one thing always steals power. We know that each of us is a work of art. And we know that art is life.
SF Bay Area peeps orient toward the best. We strive to engage with our best selves. We trust each other to speak to our best selves. We try to connect with others’ best selves. We prefer incentive and support to threats and punishment. We recycle. We upcycle. We don’t throw people away. We know that people have inherent value because they are part of a whole.
SF Bay Area peeps embody Ubuntu. We live “I am because you are.” We recognize that we are all glittering jewels in Indra’s net: all our reflections are in each of us and those reflections are the core of who we are as humans in the cosmos.
We know that creating one just relation at a time makes just families and just communities and just societies.”
She could dream, right?
Being rural poor is a whole lot harder than not having money. Healthy relations—the very basis of being a healthy human—are mostly nonexistent here. Not relationships. Those are big complicated things; they are nouns. Relations–as in relational communication–are everyday granular events. Verbs. The everyday authoritarianism that destroys healthy human relations bend interactions to its will here.
It’s not just talk that’s so damaging. It’s how people relate to one another, one-on-one. Passive aggressive maneuvers are common in a power-scarce culture; without power, passive aggression protects intention, doesn’t give anything away. Keeps the exercise of personal agency quiet. This orientation is second nature—it is a pose, a posture, a way of being that’s like air. It’s everywhere, and it pushes to isolation.
Rural isolation is devastating. Connect a bunch of tired, confused, angry isolated people with someone who makes them a friend—a confidant, plays savior—and they will do anything for him. Anything. They will believe anything. They are not alone anymore. They have someone. They exist in the world. They affect the world now. It’s like magic and it changes their lives for the better. It lifts out of an ugly actuality, at least for a little while, into something that feels like belonging, usefulness. Purpose. The powers that be are pleased. And that is worth everything here.
Power scarcity produces extraordinary defensive measures if you happen to have just a little. Tiny centers of power are fierce, policing what little territory’s been gained. Eye contact that excludes; never hearing your own name; no response to friendly small talk; turning attention to something else during the conversation; slowing things down to frustrate; the “you’re new here, aren’t you?” question; whatever the opposite of curiosity is.
Don’t make yourself too obvious. Don’t stand out. Stand out without power, get smashed. Do not take chances. Do not make yourself vulnerable. Avoid changing your mind at all costs. Do not appear weak. Unsure. It is dangerous to do so. Nothing but bright lines between black and white, right and wrong, insiders and outsiders. Passive aggressive warfare’s casualty is invisibility. Every day. For whole lives.
Someone looking lost
Almost nothing made sense to her. The logic she’d swum in her whole life did not flow in this world. Her mind started creating explanations for whys and hows. Like how do you account for people here just disappearing? One day they’re there, the next, nothing.
In an information vacuum, her mind begins hunting for clues in its environment, putting the pieces together in novel ways, and explanations are created. A “how” is discovered, but no “why.” A small rural town context, her outsider status, and some outright hostility—the grapevine, the interloper, and the possibility of violence—and the sense-making process goes into overload. Many “whys” emerge. So many possibilities for conspiracy.
Speculating is active—it is doing something: it’s trying to figure something out, trying to make sense of baffling experience, trying to come to conclusions. In this place where people have no power, seemingly no effect on the world, and little or no reliable information, trying to figure stuff out—speculating about causes and motives and secret plans—is an effort to do something. It feels like work, productive, like forward momentum. It feels like purpose. The alternative—when swamped by wtf situations–is paralysis. And, she knows that doing nothing is simply out of the question with what’s at stake.
Hang on for life
It’s the old people. (And you don’t have to have years to be old.)
The ones whose necks are too stiff to turn and look at themselves.
The ones who believe that years equal all the experience that matters.
The ones who believe they’ve learned enough.
The ones whose mercy has atrophied.
The ones who always say it can’t be done.
The ones who police the worn-out rules.
The ones who hoard and guard resources.
The ones who ride lethal assumptions.
The ones who try to crush the world into their image.
The ones whose jealousy of youth drives them to try to kill it.
The ones who never had any real friends.
The ones the cool smart kids pushed out.
The ones who always knew they’d have to cheat to win.
The ones who believed from the start that there isn’t enough room for all of us.
The ones who believe that “selfish” is another word for love.
The ones who are conditioned to believe violence is the only thing that Others understand.
They tell the rest of us, “We tried and it didn’t work, didn’t last. Focus on work. Focus on being a good competitor. Fight hard. Focus on being a good consumer. This is the new normal. You’ll get used to it. Change is incremental. Patience, my child.”
The dog is in the middle of the highway. Goddamn it. She pulls over. Who the fuck is letting their dog run around on 199? Seriously. Early Thursday morning, on the way to Kerby Peak for a hike. Very little traffic. The dog sees her car and runs across the two lane road and under the trailer. The trailer is parked on the side of the highway, close to the treeline. A pickup truck—little more than a collection of pasted together parts—is parked in front of it. Full of someone’s life. They litter the highway here, from GP to CJ. No one seems to be around. She pulls over, gets out of the car, and knocks on the trailer door. Hard. It opens. It wasn’t latched. Part of a shattered household spills out. A little closer look, and it’s like someone’s home just got poured into and onto these ancient vehicles. The side of the highway is home.
“Hello!” she yells, aggressively. No idea who’s going to pop out, but she needs to look someone in the eyes and know the dog is going to be okay. Nothing is okay here. But, she’s going to make sure that at least this effing dog is okay.
No one responds, so she starts looking around for the dog again. She walks around the vehicles looking behind them, and the explosion of stuff is even worse back here. No people, though. And she can’t see the dog now.
As she walks back around to the front, a woman has appeared in front of the trailer. It surprises her and she’s scared, just for a second. Then, she’s pissed.
“Hey, what’s up? Your dog was running in the middle of the highway! She could easily have gotten killed out here! You need to watch her, make sure she’s not on the highway! Even when it seems there’s no traffic! It’s not safe! It’s your responsibility!” Guilt about Bello tightens her gut. As usual, she is projecting. Hard.
She actually looks at the woman now, through the red of her anger and frustration and fear. The woman looks as if she’s emerged from a storm. Her hair is whipped to one side, and her clothing is partially on and partially hanging in tatters. Her face is dirty and tattooed. She looks at me, shouting at her, and her whole demeanor wilts. She supplicates, as if to an authority.
“I’m so sorry about that. I had to do something and I could’t get her in the trailer. I just got back. Thank you so much for helping us. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much.”
What the fuck I am doing? How am I getting mad at this woman? Who is living in a fucking trailer with all her stuff all over the place on the side of a highway? What is wrong with me? Can’t I see that this woman is obviously struggling? How can I be so cruel? How can I be so blind? Where’s my fucking compassion for this woman? I haven’t responded to her. I’m crying.
“We’re at the end of our road with no one else.”
It slams into her, like a Mack truck roaring and swerving on the highway. She’s scared because she sees herself in this woman. They are both alone. Neither has another human to turn to. She walks to the woman, puts her arms around her, and apologizes, over and over.
Okay, let’s give this a first shot. Part 1
It’s been a while since we talked. A few years. I had to go away and figure out what was worth reclaiming in myself. I had nothing else to give. I was burned out and empty. Ready to cash it in; no reason to stick around. I had to leave to find out if I was worth taking up room and resources. I found that I am stronger than I knew.
You’ve always been strong. Left with six young children after a young husband died of lung cancer, you plowed through. Your strength wasn’t a woman’s strength, though. Not a strength from within. It was “toughness” you consumed from around you, that you internalized from all the men around you. You absorbed their ways of being in the world. You always wore that “toughness” like a badge of honor. You taught your children to be “tough” like you.
You taught your children to be obedient. To be respectful and never speak back to adults. To do as we were told. That our bodies and minds weren’t our own. That we have to fight enemies, Others. We have to compete with them and win. You taught us to do what our father told us to do.
You told us women drivers were horrible. Asian drivers were just as bad. Black people’s houses looked good on the outside to hide the ugliness within. Mexicans were good “help.” You taught us that women make bad leaders because of their emotions; their “time of the month” would make it impossible for them to be “rational.” You taught us that the boys in the family were more important. You taught us that women should defer to men, that men—fathers and brothers–are bosses. You taught us that authority is to be obeyed, without question and without resistance. You taught us that power is something you are born with. Or it’s something taken, after beating Others for it.
We know you (mostly) didn’t do the beating, the molesting, the terrorizing. But you were there. You were right next to him. You were the only mother we had. We counted on you. We all needed to you to protect us. It was your job. To stop him. To do something.
to be cont….
She has to go back. It’s been four months, and she told them she’d be back in three. It’s okay, though. It’s not like they’re going anywhere. She decides she’ll go back to do the interviews over the Thanksgiving holiday. Maybe she can bring something nice for them. Almost nothing works out there. She doesn’t want to let them down.
She’s paid six people in CJ for interviews for her projects. She didn’t have to, but she’d been talking to them for 19 months about her work while she lived there, and they didn’t believe her. When she shared her work with them, it was like she was speaking another language, one that was far too hard to figure out, so they just ignored it. There is really nothing to believe in there. Two hundred dollars per person was something they could believe in. And she knew for a fact that that 200 was deeply needed and appreciated. Even if they never thanked her, she knew the magic that happens when an unexpected kindness comes your way there.
She believes her body has had enough distance and time to heal. Well, it’s healing. Her mind still employs those tactics she needed to survive there, but less so now. Still, she thinks she’ll be okay with the passive aggressive hostility that will be directed at her even though she’s not a stranger anymore. Doing this solo again will be hard, but no harder than the first time. Either way, it’s her job to take the trip back to the place that fundamentally changed her as a human being.