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.
She converted her privilege to tools. Her education saved her. All those abstract ideas she’d read, written about, and made her own–they saved her mind. They protected her sanity in a place that worked to annihilate both it and her.
An ability to bracket experience, to be an observer, to acknowledge when her efforts made no difference—helped her learn how to sidestep the passive aggressive power projections relentlessly fired at her. She learned how to disconnect from the poisonous top-down pressure around her whose force ceaselessly pushed her to bend to its will. Trauma surrounded her, the kind that people there don’t have tools to repair. The knowledge and belief that people are more important than institutions or rules or authority helped her find places to intervene.
Her body is starting to adjust since being home, since she’s learned to stay in her own lane. She sleeps in a little later now, goes out into the night again. Her body has stopped clenching every time she hears something that sounds like gunfire. She saw a whale the other day. It was surreal. Right there, in front of her–swimming and blowing and being magical–while she walked on the bluff. Like most things in her life, she didn’t share it. No reflection. She soaks in healthy experience and continues to heal.
She reads what she writes about herself, over and over. To remember where she is, how she got here. Who she is. Settling in to her new space has thrown her off balance, like when blocking is added to being off book. She forgets her lines, stumbles. Forgets who she is. Where she is. What she’s doing here. Where she’s going next. This story’s ending is only in her imagination, and when she remembers she’s writing toward it, she’s instantly airborne, stomach dropping out, like when you’re at the top of the roller coaster, right before you fall. (In the end, she’ll make falling into flying.)
Reclining in the chaise lounge in front of the giant picture window, she wraps her arms around herself, holding tight while a sailboat glides neatly through three quarters of her living room.
She bought herself a chainsaw. An electric one. To cut and untangle the large dead, fallen pine from the living Monterey Cypress it fell on a decade or so ago in the yard behind the cottage. Tree work. Until she’d traded intellectual labor for physical in Oregon, she didn’t appreciate how empowering it is using her body to accomplish a task. How much physical self-sufficiency makes her strong and centered. How it shows her that she exists in the world.
Years in academia accelerated a learned overfocus on the mind. That overdetermined intellect worked to complicate the taken-for-granted. To weave intricate arguments from the filigree of elevated language. It’s taken nearly four years to untangle her knotted life. She’s learned that when her life is concise, like it is now–when the treadmills and conveyers belts of schedules and plans and other people’s expectations no longer glorify busy–she knows exactly where everything else ends and she begins.
She now has much of what she wished for in the middle of so many nights. She is no longer self-conscious. She can adapt to shifting circumstances like a mf. She no longer feels the need to pretend she’s an extrovert. She prefers non-instant gratification. She loves her body, and it’s hers again, for her purposes. She’s not ugly anymore, inside or outside. She doesn’t front—she just is. She doesn’t mindlessly orient toward what she believes people want or expect or demand her to be.
For the first time since leaving and now returning home, the possibilities are crowding out the pain and fear in her mind and body. She fell into another world she wasn’t at all sure she could escape. She did escape, though, like she escaped her family’s world decades ago.
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 human animals in the cosmos.
We know that creating one just relation at a time makes just families and just communities and just societies.