April 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
We live one block away from a church with bells that sound like they are in our backyard, and yesterday I fell asleep on the porch in the sun while doing schoolwork and was woken up at 3pm exactly by the bells, which rang for two solid minutes before they faded out, as if some child or parishioner had gone renegade and tried to ring the bells as many times as possible before being dragged away.
Then my mom came home and put on Abba and we danced around joyfully in the living room for a few minutes and then cleaned the kitchen. Some days lately I don’t even know what I do all day, in this transitional moment of working from home and my life here still taking shape. Some of the days just drift by, and at the end I take inventory and the things that I’ve done – make breakfast and lunch, put up a shelf, go for a walk, return emails, have a conference call, get some work done, write in my journal, read, write a letter, talk to my brother – do not seem like they should have taken the entire day and yet at no point have I really done anything else. Things just take longer right now. In those inventory moments, I often start thinking some habitual thoughts about how I am not doing enough, and then I catch myself.
Because there is space opening up. The other day, a friend wrote me an email just to say hello, and that she thought of me recently while having a conversation at a party with an older woman about generational tensions in activism, pragmatism vs. vision, and had wondered, based on some past conversations we’d had, what I would say about it. And normally, I would read that and feel glad that she’d thought of me, but my overwhelm at the tide of emails I felt helpless to answer in my window of free time would have trumped any desire to follow that train of conversation into a meaningful dialogue, especially over email. And I began a brief response, just to say hello back, but then found myself typing paragraph after paragraph after all, about different kinds of reform in movement work and what it means. As soon as I started writing, I found that I had the space in my brain to respond to her thoughts and reflections, and to go so much deeper into my thought process than I would normally consider going in a spontaneous email to a friend. I’m finding that space in a lot of different places lately.
Somewhere in all this space, I drifted over to BFP’s blog to look at the (Re)Thinking walking series between Jess and BFP and others – pieces I have returned to again and again for inspiration, and sometimes to be reminded of things. Jess wrote a piece a couple years ago called “What if the point is love?” and in it she writes about falling so deeply into to-do lists that a dear friend says, Maybe you are too busy for me, and maybe we should stop trying. The piece is about loving each other through systematic overwhelm and all the demands that capitalist/productivity culture subjects us to and that we subject each other to. She writes:
A couple years ago, a really rad person I know was cooking in his bright little kitchen and talking about how he’s been feeling this “too much” feeling for years — always rushing, always like there’s not enough time in the day, always overwhelmed. I said something about how, well yeah, even when it’s really good stuff — projects you love, people you love — at a certain point it’s just too much for one person to do. And he said, no, I’ve actually been thinking about whether that’s part of the scarcity mentality that makes capitalism work. Even as my life fills up with really great stuff, instead of feeling enriched and satisfied by this abundance, he said, I stay stuck in this mind-set of scarcity — not enough time, not enough balance, struggling struggling struggling … the feeling of struggle being so much more familiar than the feeling of calm, of satiation, of peace.
Why do we do activism? Why do we engage in social-justice movement?
I think it is about love. I think it is about radically loving and being unable to accept violence, whether it is the violence of war or the violence of rape or the violence of poverty or the violence of displacement or …
So why do activism in a way that is more violent than loving? Surely it’s a kind of violence to put production ahead of people, to fail relationships while successfully meeting deadlines.
What kind of justice, or peace, can grow without strong relationships at the root?
This is a conversation I’ve had many times, with Jess and others and with myself. As I’ve made efforts in the past few years to actively challenge this scarcity/struggle in my life, I am amazed over and over at how deeply I have internalized values belonging to a culture and system that I work so hard to resist. There is much to be said about this (and much more is said in Jess’s essay), but this – the love, the relationships, the struggle against hegemonic to-do lists and against valuing productivity over…almost over humanity – this is what my life is shaping itself around right now.
It is such an enormous privilege to be where I am – in this warm house, with loving family and time to spend with them, with food and soft chairs and the ability to play Abba really loud in the living room, with work that is flexible and deeply fulfilling and a handful of beloved projects that are also are, and with a network of people in the world who love me and who I love so much. I know that soon I will touch down in this town more fully and accumulate more work and projects and responsibilities that will give more shape to my days, but I want this loving and presence and gratitude to remain.
April 22, 2011 § Leave a comment
I had my first visitors this weekend – they brought me six boxes of my books from my neighbor’s basement and a very unwieldy lampshade, and we cooked and ate many delicious and extravagant meals, and lay in the driveway on the one sunny afternoon, and then when it rained the rest of the time they kept saying, “We didn’t come here for the weather.” And I took them here:
I know, can you even stand it? I live here. Well, not here here on this rocky bluff, but close enough. (I went back on Monday, when it was sunny and beautiful again, and brought three different books and my notebook and my journal and instead of opening any of them I just lay on the rocks staring at the ocean and took these pictures.)
Also this weekend, my mom and Margaret’s lovely and hilarious friends from Boston came to visit, and the last night everyone was here we lit a fire and Smoot brought out her keyboards and played her entire oeuvre which I demanded, and Margaret passed around her guitar and Colette, who is Irish, played this incredibly beautiful Irish ballad, and even my brother sang a song.
I love finding the beautiful Maine places I can take people, and cooking in a big kitchen instead of my tiny Philly kitchen where any dinner guest could only fit in a chair in the doorway while I cooked, and having these family/friend dinners with all of our different people together. There is still this rollercoaster weather that is making me a little nuts (yesterday it hailed), but overall this Maine thing is turning out to be extremely satisfactory.
April 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
This thing has been happening to me ever since I moved to Maine where I automatically wake up at 6:30am every morning. I have no idea why – maybe it is because it’s so peaceful here? Or maybe it’s because I’m so excited to get out of bed and do things. Every detail of my life feels so extravagantly beautiful and exciting right now: the bay right down the street, the spontaneous conversation over tea with my family between chores, the way the neighbors knock on our door to make sure we found Margaret’s cat that got out, the way dinner somehow always gets made, how running errands is so easy because the post office and the library and the co-op and the credit union are all about two inches apart, the light coming in my bedroom window on the first sunny day all week. Will this last? I hope so. I’m sure that novelty is playing a role in how thrilling each new day is, but I actually think that this level of exuberance over the tiniest of details might be just how I am.
There are lots of home improvements going on around here, and I got all excited by the woodworking vibes and the accessibility of my brother’s power tools and spent an afternoon drawing sketches of some elaborate multi-tiered corner bookshelves I want to build in my room. Then I called in Margaret and Daniel to consult on materials, and they started doing all this troubleshooting and making it seem really complicated. I was like, “Wait, is this gonna take me more than a couple hours?” and they were like “Hahahahahaha.” So because I actually have no carpentry skills and I am now discouraged, I’ve been continuing my daily visits to the used furniture stores – my favorite one is owned by this woman named Joan who has a couple rickety old barns outside her house that are crammed with dusty tables and mattresses and desks from the seventies, and she has all these pet rabbits that hop around the driveway and you have to ring her doorbell and if she is home she will come out and unlock the barn doors and dig around in there for you. She sold me a tiny old desk that I am sitting at right now. And then my wonderful new friend Sarah who is moving into a VW van offered me her incredibly beautiful bookshelves that she skillfully built from boards she hewed herself out of a tree she cut down in her backyard or something. They are perfect.
Yesterday Sarah and I went to Augusta for that anti-trans bathroom bill hearing (here’s an article about it – I recommend not reading the comments because they’re really horrible). I was bracing myself for lots of painful hate speech and bigotry, but actually it was mostly great. Only a few people (including the rep who sponsored the bill) testified in its favor, and they largely sounded foolish and ill-informed, I think even to most of the judiciary committee. The opposition, on the other hand, presented hours of brilliant testimony from trans folks, activists, people doing anti-violence work, doctors, teachers, lawyers, allies, etc. that exposed the assumptions supporting this bill (that trans people are predators, that exposure to trans people is traumatizing to women and children, that something called “biological sex” even exists, etc) as discriminatory propaganda. Highlights included: Bob Talbot, an 8th generation black Mainer and the first director of the Maine Human Rights Commission (the body now trying to protect trans people in bathrooms), who testified about remembering race-segregated bathrooms and asked the committee, “Which side of history will you be on?”; the man mentioned in the above article, who talked about being transformed by his relationship with his transgendered 13 year old and how painfully the bill impacted her – several members of the committee were crying by the end of his 3 minute testimony (it was especially good because the bill came out of a case in a middle school and a lot of the bill’s support centers around “what about the children??” hand-wringing); and a woman from a sexual assault prevention agency who responded to repetitive questions about the safety risks of allowing trans people into bathrooms by saying, “If you are interested in strategies to make Mainers safer from sexual violence, we can send you a long list of suggestions, but I will tell you now that none of them are contained in this bill.”
Afterwards, a bunch of us went out for mediocre Mexican food and it was such a lovely first-week-in-Maine experience to find myself sitting at a giant table with a dozen other trans people. It was awkward and charming and tender, and everyone was all fired up after the hearing and it was nice to have stumbled into that moment of diverse, complex earnestness.
Sarah and I were exhausted driving home, but when we got close to Belfast she pulled over next to this beautiful body of water that she said was called either Kingdom Bog or Ruffington Meadow or something amazing like that. And we watched the most beautiful purple-and-fuchsia sunset I have seen in a long time and listened to the peepers (they’re frogs that come out in the spring) and watched geese divebomb into the water and it smelled like balsam fir and was incredibly beautiful.
Aaaaaaaaalso, I made this flyer for my beloved comrades at Philly Stands Up; I can’t make it to the benefit since I live in Maine and all, but if you can you should go. It’s at the new co-op building!
April 9, 2011 § Leave a comment
Today I went up a mountain and wandered around on a snowy hillside and found a patch of dry grass and milkweed stalks and lay down and stared at the sky. It is so peaceful here. Last night, I saw a shooting star.
I’m still in Vermont, headed back to Maine tomorrow. I highly recommend lying on the middle of a Vermont hillside as one of the most peaceful activities ever. Probably a Maine hillside too. I will research that soon.
I’m going to Augusta on Tuesday with some other trans folks to be at a hearing for a horrible bill about gender and bathrooms. The usual stuff. If you know folks in Maine, tell them to come.
April 4, 2011 § Leave a comment
I’m at a residency in Vermont this week, taking a break from unpacking and some time to reflect. I have been talking to people about spaciousness – making space around things in order to better absorb them. For a long time I have been moving very fast, doing a lot of things in every moment, and I’ve been feeling a growing sense of scarcity – of time and personal space and energy and resilience. My intention for living in Maine is to make space in my life to fully love the things that I love: my family, my relationships, my work, my communities. I don’t want to feel rushed or burdened about these things – I want enough space around them to approach them with intention and care.
My first few days in Maine were filled with thrilling investigations such as writing down all of the things that sounded exciting from the community bulletin board at the YMCA. I always love looking at community bulletin boards in new towns, but I never really get to base my life around them the way I want to, because I always know people where I live who know what’s going on. I end up thinking I know which things will be worth doing and which things won’t, in a way that is probably not at all based on fact. So the other day I wrote down phone numbers for someone who is teaching a tarot class, someone who teaches ukulele lessons, lots of interesting documentaries that are happening at the Belfast library, and a pet bereavement group for my mom, whose dog has bone cancer.
And everyone I know is introducing me to their one really good friend who lives in Maine (maybe you know a special person in Maine who I need to meet?), so I have a growing collection of new Maine friends who I have only met so far on the internet. And I really feel ready to take leisurely day trips just to meet radical queer friends of friends in some small town that is two hours away.
I learned a new word this week: nival. It means what grows underneath the snow. Isn’t that beautiful? It is a good metaphor. I have been noticing the things inside me that have grown and healed without me noticing at all that they were growing and healing. It is so amazing to finally notice that – like my body and spirit are doing things on their own, and I don’t even have to understand them in order for that to happen. It snowed the first day I got here, for 24 hours nonstop, and even though it was beautiful it made me so sad. I hated driving away from the first cherry blossoms that were just starting to bloom in Philly, towards a part of the country where it is not yet noticeably spring. But then the next day was sunny, and all the snow is almost already melted, and I am remembering that spring will come no matter what, and then I will really get to feel all the things that changed while I was curled up on my loveseat in my apartment in Philly spacing out and wishing it was nice outside.
March 30, 2011 § Leave a comment
Four days ago I packed all my things into a pickup truck and drove to Maine. I have been thinking about starting this little blog in the midst of all this transition, because I live in Maine now and a blog is one more way to be connected to you.
I have been planning this move for so long, and now that I’m here it doesn’t completely feel real, except for a moment here and there when it does. My last month in Philly was filled with sparkly, bitterweet tenderness. It is so strange to leave a place, especially a place that is so beloved. I had tiny, two-person dinner parties every night before I left. A lot of the time I can’t believe how lucky I am.
And my family is amazing. We are all moving into a new house together, right in town, my mom (Annie), my brother (Daniel), and I. It’s been a whirlwind of unpacking, running errands, arranging things, building shelves, and moving furniture, with some tea drinking and family dinners in between. I’m a little bit intense about nesting – it is hard to really do or think about anything else until my living space is tidy and organized. Since I don’t have enough shelves, that has mostly meant moving boxes around, sorting and reconfiguring and trying to arrange them into some sort of order.
But last night my brother dragged me out of the house and took me out to dinner. We sat in a booth in the back and talked about all of our family dynamics. I tried to order a beer from the brewing company next door, but I don’t know anything about beer so instead I got five tiny glasses of five different kinds of beer and took notes in my notebook so I could remember which ones I liked. We walked home afterward, through downtown. This town is dark and quiet at 9pm, which is strange and amazing and completely in tune with my natural rhythms. And, from the middle of downtown, you can see the stars.
When we were almost home, I wasn’t sure what street we were on and Daniel pointed and said, “That’s our house, right up there,” and I said, “That’s our house?” because it is so new that I can’t recognize it in the dark yet, and he nudged me and said, “Yep. We live there.” I could see our shadows on the road by the light coming from the windows, and when we opened the door the dog barked and Annie walked down the stairs and it did feel like we were home.
[photo by Annie]