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unicorns, mermaids and me…

14 May

i must have been 4.  he was probably 13 – the son of my parents’ friends.  i had a crush on him.  i went upstairs while our parents were in the kitchen, and passed the room he was sitting in as i headed for my bedroom.  but then he called me in.  i got butterflies.  i sat down across from him – he was lying on his side, leaning on his elbows, legs stretched out.  i was wearing a mini skirt, sitting indian style – i didn’t know that this meant that he could see up my skirt.  i didn’t expect him to begin reaching his foot between my legs.  “you like that?”  i didn’t, not particularly.  not that i remember.  but i liked the attention.  or, i liked the fact that he was paying attention to me.

in elementary school, i remember doing my own thing.  going on adventures, and singing songs i wrote to the unicorns that visited me in my back yard.  i remember being in the first grade and telling everyone a story about the bubble fish and the mermaid who used to live in the river that sat behind our school.  the kids didn’t want to believe me, but i swear it – the more i told the story, the more they started to.  and so i kept telling it.  whenever i could get someone over there, i would tell it.  and i started to believe it, and dream about her.  and the fish – it was so real.  running through the fields, trying to get to her, falling – the dream always ended right before the pain.
mermaids are odd, and beautiful.  genuine, and special.  that’s why the bubble fish are mean the way they are, so quick to use their fangs.  they aren’t hateful, really – it’s just that they care so much for the mermaid.  love comes out all wrong sometimes, when you try to protect it.  and so the bubble fish sit underneath the ground and surround the river where the mermaid lives.  if you walk near the river, you’ll feel the bubble fish like mini hills all over the ground.  if you’re not careful, and you walk too close to the river’s edge and step on a bubble, you’ll pop it.  the fish will jump out and bite you.  
piranhas protecting the mermaid who lives in the river, and sings.  they do not belong to her, i’m not even sure she knows they are there.  but she never asks them to leave, and its almost like her songs are for them.  
i used to hop from one small area of flat land to the next, and scare myself when i fell onto a fish’s bubble.
that’s the kind of kid i was.  i lived in my head.  dreamed all day.  i painted the world in black and white rainbows.  i held onto my summer evenings thinking they literally carried promises. and i believed that every single star belonged to someone.   everyone was special.  including me.  
i think i woke up the next day with tears in my eyes.  

sneak peak of the book…

29 Jan
we have learned what it means to love without ownership.  to commit to another person, and not to a relationship.  to resist norms for the sake of ourselves.  we have learned that in a relationship, the most important part is relating.  communicating honestly.  being open-minded, and considering each other’s very different, sometimes contentious, perspectives.  relating prioritizes the person over the relationship, rejecting the idea that exclusivity has a universal definition that cannot be shaped to fit.  and for over a year, we have been trying it on.time has taught us that traditional structures make things easier.  fences that mark clearly defined boundaries facilitate the establishment of trust.  security.  fences make homes feel safe.

but fences are not always honest.

this i believe.

30 Oct


i believe that change is hard. and everyday i think it is impossible. and everyday i believe we’re almost there. i believe that learning is for everybody. school is not. and i believe that for most of us, while some of us are better at it than others, our approach to schooling is not working. i believe that we should start all over. blow up and make strange all the things we take for granted and assume to be just what they are. that students of the same age should be in the same classrooms. that the best way to assess what whole populations know is by having a piece of paper ask questions, and allowing test takers to guess the best response from three, four or five options. that textbooks are the best way to carry mass amounts of information. and that classrooms require teachers. that teachers require classrooms. i believe that within this rote and archaic structure, and that at this pace, we are losing. all of us.

every other arm in america has evolved with the changes that have emerged over time. industry. technology. music. art. people. but at least two things have not changed apart from switching seats around the same small circle – our politics, and our system of education. and the two are related. i believe that more than history and racism, the hate we learn, and the ignorance we inherit, people are attached to power. and power is attached to money. and it is power’s attachment to money, and itself, that has maintained a system of systems wherein people are perpetually without basic things they have rights to. a system that teaches its constituents to (unknowingly) endorse it, and fight against one another – a battle which ultimately sustains it.

i believe that changing how people think will be the only thing that changes what people do. and the one thing that is capable of changing how people think is the hardest thing to accomplish. experiences with diverse populations – experiences, that is, that nurture understanding and empathy, and sincere connection to humanity. one can raise awareness, by occupying wallstreet for example, or lighting up watts. but until awareness breeds spaces where people are talking to one another and not against each other, and it includes the poor and black and brown among us, awareness will always fall short of influencing action.

and it is at the point of action, which after people have aha moments, and revelations, and begin to see the world differently, that change occurs.

i believe that change is slow. and there are lives among us who do not have time for it. and so we grasp at what we want and need, and steal small, subversive victories for ourselves in other ways. and sometimes these victories manifest in little defeats. sometimes talking back at a teacher gets us suspended. and sometimes one suspension makes it easier for the next, and the next, and then expulsion, and the life thereafter. sometimes if we don’t meet someone along the way who we believe in, and who we trust believes in us, we lose the point of it all – which was saving ourselves.

(artwork by paul goodnight.)

summertime reminds me of home.

9 May

this morning, i could smell summertime in the air.  and immediately, i felt love.  

i remember my elementary school summers, and waking up to sounds that hugged me like long, grandmother squeezes. familiar, comforting, but maddening interruptions to my deep-sleep, sweet dreams.  the sound of you pulling our past from our cabinets, and closets, and throwing what we had forgotten in big trash bags, sitting on the kitchen floor.  saturday morning funerals for the memories you called junk.   you always called this cleaning, but it was always one big mess to me.

i remember our summer afternoons spent in libraries.  my adventures in the corners between book shelves and pages, hiding in my head for hours  everyday.  i remember your “stone soup” and “three billy goats gruff” storybook voices, and how you took us on long walks down your childhood, up southern dirt roads, past tennessee farms and wild white horses, all the way to the honeysuckle you helped us find in our own backyard.

i have been carrying gifts, traveling my entire life with butterfly cocoons in my pockets full of tomorrow and collections of you.  thank you for your stories.  for your guitar playing and piano pounding, and the church ballads you wrote, and made me sing.  for the fake summer, schoolwork assignments i begged for, and the paperdolls you made us.  i thank you for your love.  and your selflessness.  i wear your sacrifices like award medals around my neck, and i am proud to know you as mother.  i am blessed to have you as friend.

(artwork by keith mallett)


rewind a lil: “on deception”

11 Apr

rewind a lil: “i have a confession”

11 Apr

getting past the “F” word…

20 Mar

March, 2010…for women’s history month

There was a time when celebrating Women’s History Month was an uncomfortable experience. Celebrating my “womanhood” meant also accepting a host of other things I didn’t necessarily want to. Most of it was my fear of being called a “feminist” – that ‘ugly’ perverted stink of a name. I resisted the identification, wanting little to do with the leg hair growing, angry people who constantly beat up on men.  Or so it had been presented to me.  Claiming it, the name and the association, actually made me feel less “feminine.” Aggressive and hard, “too strong” I think. And I hated it.

Because I was affected by popular (mis)representations of Feminism and femininity, I wasn’t able to imagine a woman as both intensely ‘political’ and gracefully beautiful. As being simultaneously bold and without unnecessary offense.  I wanted to be both Harriet and Billie. But I had to pick a box – check one. I chose the ‘prettier’ girl. She generated less trouble, more friends, and it was easier that way.  But of course, this particular compromise was expensive, and cost me a very significant part of my identity. I’ve had strong opinions since birth, but people – teachers especially, have always chastised me to silence and stillness, mold making me into some more suitable version of myself. (And I willingly obliged.)  If I had a voice, it had to look a certain way.  I got, “don’t be so loud” far more than anyone ever helped me in shaping thoughts and developing ideas.

I believe the first time I was told to channel my energy in some form outside of dance and song was when I met a complete stranger during my senior year in college.  Lisa Delpit.  Our conversation was probably no longer than an hour, yet she left me with more than I had accepted from most people at that time:  “You have to write.”  For my grade school teachers, I had been too sassy, too assertive and consequently, I started wearing the face of a femininity that never belonged to me. And while that face is probably true for someone, I resent that it was presented as being without any desirable alternative, and maybe also that I was so preoccupied with becoming whatever would make me more tolerable.

It took me until 2007 to finally understand, that Feminism and I (despite our flaws) stand for many of the same things. The root of which is humanity – people. God forbid. And… I’ve decided, feminists aren’t ugly. Oppression is.  In mind and spirit, and in politics.  Patriarchy is ugly.  Sexism, domestic violence – ugly.  Male chauvinism, sexual abuse, entitlement, unrestrained and ignorant male privilege.  Those are ugly. I think I must have quietly participated in some of those evils all those years I was ducking the “f” designation. I still loathe boxes though.

So here I am.  Grateful that experience has afforded me this wisdom: trying to make people understand you by masking who you are will not help them see you. Nor will it help you see yourself, or them. If anything, it cultivates greater misunderstanding. I get that now. In an effort to become agreeable enough to occupy enough time and space to express an opinion, I suppressed my ideas.  Running from one name, forced me into another and neither of them belong to me.  I lost myself altogether.  I am truly glad to have recognized that being me is inherently political. And even more inspired to have identified purpose in helping myself and others develop language to describe ourselves and our experiences, and mark a space from which we can declare them.  So for now at least, my current status remains: “Working Title.” Though let me be clear, Feminist or some variant is in the mix.

My whole point has really been this…  March is Women’s History Month. And I’m celebrating, as a Lover/Supporter/Defender of women and people everywhere.  (Feminist does not sting as much when it stands next to its definition.)

Thank you to all the women in my life, and in this world, who understand human value and self-worth, and have had the courage to invade silence to aggressively protect their names. To those who seek to learn themselves, but search more than their own faces. And to those who are after more than Self.


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