Saturday, December 30, 2006
Later, after the events had transpired, I would find the playlist of what he had listened to that night. He was the Web master for the housing cooperative he was a part of, and he maintained a site that contained news about the co-op, and playlists of music that the group's members could stream. Those playlists would remain on the page until he posted whatever new songs had appealed to him. He always entitled his playlists "Playing while we hack." If you happened to check the page while he wasn't there, you'd find the old list, but where a new list should be, it would simply say, "Nothing… Our desktop's speakers are silent." Since the day of November 11, 2006, those words have become permanent on the site. They feel etched onto the monitor of my computer. The list of songs he was listening to the night before he met me are there—they are a permament record of that night, but I cannot seem to glean much of any meaning from that list.
I've always found in music some form of release, some form of profundity that I haven't been able to find elsewhere. Perhaps it's because my primary ways of taking in the world are both auditory and tactile. I'm not much of a visual thinker. I'm not sure I could rank the five senses perfectly, but my guess is that vision battles it out for third position with taste and smell. I'm a toucher. Always have been. But my ears are the secondary gateway to my world. My ears give me words. Even when I'm writing, I'm not seeing images. I'm hearing a string of words turning themselves into meaning.
So, finding the song list was a gift. And, when that song list was given to me, on a cd, by one of Yves' friends, it was a treasure. Unfortunately, I can't get the cd to play, and there has been something about deliberately seeking out the songs to download from iTunes or buy has been some kind of digging for pain that I have avoided. And yet. If I am to write, I must immerse myself in the grief. And the joy. The scales by which we measure a life. The ratio of grief to joy, with our hope that written in an equation, that joy is the denominator, and not the numerator.
But I'm working on it, on plumbing the depths so I can get to the ecstacy. Yesterday, I downloaded the song by Massive Attack: "Teardrop." It's on the list. An erstwhile lover once gave me a mix cd that comprised Massive Attack, Portishead, and Tricky. "Teardrop" was not one of the tracks. So, "Teardrop" can remain Yves' song for me. It's not an 80's tune, and, in fact, it gets a lot of play these days as the theme song for "House." But no matter. When you're trying to squeeze a lifetime's worth of meaning into the events of a single week, songs take on a significance not ordinarily accorded to them.
cross-posted at Culture Kitchen
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
I am not an expert on China. Far from it. But I know hatred of the body when I see it. And it is just as ugly in China, or Afghanistan, or Iran, as it is in the United States.
This photo will give me nightmares. Because sometimes, I think that we, as a nation, are about 15 minutes away from this type of bullshit ourselves.
SHANGHAI, Dec. 12 - For people who saw the event on television earlier this month, the scene was like a chilling blast from a past that is 30 years distant: social outcasts and supposed criminals - in this case 100 or so prostitutes and a few pimps - paraded in front of a jeering crowd, their names revealed, and then driven away to jail without trial.
The police kept watch over the public shaming. Suspects were allowed to partly hide their faces with masks.
The act of public shaming was intended as the first step in a two-month campaign by the authorities in the southern city of Shenzhen to crack down on prostitution.
Imagine. Rounded-up prostitutes--but not their johns--paraded before a crowd in order to be humiliated and shamed. So what? So they'll never be forced to resort to prostitution to put food on their table again?
And where the fuck are the men who solicited them? Are some of them perhaps the government officials who decided that this type of punishment was appropriate?
The good news is that for many people in China, what happened was unacceptable:
But the event has prompted an angry nationwide backlash, with many people making common cause with the prostitutes over the violation of their human rights and expressing outrage in one online forum after another.
And in the type of comment that actually gives me hope that a "right to privacy" really is an inalienable human right--even in a culture such as China's, where not so many years ago, spying on one's neighbors was part of the Cultural Revolution--could it be that same right might be recognized in our own country?
"With the development of human civilization and law, this kind of barbaric punishment with its strong element of vengeance has been abandoned," Yao Jianguo, a Shanghai lawyer, wrote in a public letter addressed to the National People's Congress, China's legislature.
Paraphrasing a famous letter by William Pitt during a debate over the excise tax in Britain in 1763, he wrote: "Wind may come in, rain may come in, but the King may not, which is to say that even a poor person living in a slum has his own inviolable rights."
I contrast the reaction in China against the government's hypocrisy and harsh, barbaric punishment with our own culture war.
Yesterday, for example, Paul Barnes, pastor of one of the mega-churches in Colorado who had condemned gays resigned his position because, well, why else? Because it turns out, he's gay. Such is his shame, his self-hatred, that he now finds himself the victim of his own hate-filled rhetoric. And there appears little chance, as with Ted Haggard, that his church will welcome him back into the fold with open arms. Jesus, after all, preached that we should hate and revile gays. All that stuff about Jesus telling you to love one another? That's just liberal twaddle, inserted into Bibles at some later date. The real Jesus was a real man. Most definitely not a homosexual.
Then there's Mary Cheney. Regardless of how one feels about Ms. Cheney's decision to continue to support her father's murderous policies in Iraq, the truth remains, she's entitled to privacy. As far as I know, she has not called for the thought police to enter everyone's bedrooms and determine what constitutes Biblical sexual behaviour. (Which, last time I checked, included adultery, bestiality, masturbation, early withdrawal as birth control, oh, and that "virgin birth" hokum.) And yet, it hasn't prevented certain women from getting their granny panty-knickers in a twist. My favourite group of clucking clueless cunctators, the CWFA had this to say:
Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America described the pregnancy as "unconscionable."
"It's very disappointing that a celebrity couple like this would deliberately bring into the world a child that will never have a father," said Crouse, a senior fellow at the group's think tank. "They are encouraging people who don't have the advantages they have."
I'm sure that Doctor Crouse would be only to happy to have Mary and her partner do the shaven-head perp walk while angry crowds jeer and throw shit at Mary's pregnant abdomen. Again, I'm sure their Jesus would be right there, aiming that rotten tomato at the fundus.
What I want to know is this. Why do those people who are always trying to use shame as a weapon seem to feel none of it themselves? Do they ever have trouble sleeping at night wondering if their insistence on monitoring the motes in their neighbors' eyes might be harmful in some way to those people? When they see the images of tortured, humiliated prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, do they not think that perhaps, that kind of shame constitutes a form of torture? What goes through their heads? Fuck their heads? What about their hearts? Does what constitutes their shriveled souls not hiccup in recognition that what is done to the least of us is also done "unto me?"
Saturday, December 09, 2006
In a way, what happened feels as if it was a lifetime ago. It's difficult for me to believe that it's been less than a month. The past four weeks have worked me over like a "work of art." Some days have had moments so painful, I have fantasized about ending my own pain in a permanent way. Other days have brought moments of such exquisite beauty and understanding of life that I have thanked Yves, again, for the gift of his presence in my life, brief as it was.
I have not been able to contemplate, with too much acumen, questions about the afterlife. This experience has not suddenly made me a Christian or a Buddhist or anything in particular. The only thing I can tell you with some certainty is that is has made me a more calm person. There is a whole realm of fear that has been lifted from me. I am no longer afraid of death. I have seen it. And while I am not ready to embrace my own death at this particular moment--there are still things I want to do, and I have two daughters to raise and watch grow up--when death comes, I hope that I will slip into it as peacefully and surrounded by as much love as Yves was. I think that's the best we can hope for. A peaceful, loving death.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
It is exquisite.
There were poems that made me hold my breath in awe of their loveliness.
But, methinks that many of us, who love Oliver for her seemingly paganistic love of the earth, may be disturbed because, in the wake of the death of her life-partner, Oliver mentions Jesus.
As far as grief is concerned, I believe that whatever gets you through the night is the right thing to do. Ms. Oliver is entitled to whatever comfort she can find.
My grief has not made me turn to Jesus. It has revealed to me aspects of the sacred that I was not aware of, but it is too early for me to talk about that in anything that doesn't resemble babble.
Go buy the Oliver book. You won't regret it.
And I don't want to violate her copyright, but I do want to offer the shortest poem in the book. It spoke directly to me.
The Uses of Sorrow
In my sleep I dreamed this poem
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
When I see what the members of the Right have done to the language in an effort to try to change reality, I know exactly what my father is talking about.
This week, in one of those grandstanding fuckwadded-up pieces of bullshit that they specialize in, right-wing Republicans will introduce House Resolution 6099, The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act. Because, according to the bill's sponsor, fetuses of 20-weeks gestation are capable of feeling pain. The answer? Is not to assume that it's a medical fact and require doctors to administer pain to these fetuses. No. The bill requires that doctors INFORM women about to undergo post-20 week abortions that their fetuses will feel pain.
See? That's the "awareness" part.
It's all part of the wicked baby-killer thou art woman bullshit.
According to Yahoo news,
The bill, by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., defines a 20-week-old fetus as a "pain-capable unborn child" — a highly controversial threshold among scientists. It also directs the Health and Human Service Department to develop a brochure stating "that there is substantial evidence that the process of being killed in an abortion will cause the unborn child pain."
Abortion providers would be required to inform the mothers that evidence exists that the procedure would cause pain to the child and offer the mothers anesthesia for the baby. The mothers would accept or reject the anesthesia by signing a form. The bill allows for an exception for certified medical emergencies.
Seems kind of ironic that Mr. Smith is getting all verklempt about unviable fetuses, when shit like this is happening across the country:
Women in prison give birth while wearing shackles and without pain meds.
Shawanna Nelson, a prisoner at the McPherson Unit in Newport, Ark., had been in labor for more than 12 hours when she arrived at Newport Hospital on Sept. 20, 2003. Ms. Nelson, whose legs were shackled together and who had been given nothing stronger than Tylenol all day, begged, according to court papers, to have the shackles removed.
Or, perhaps a more obvious parallel: House Resolution 855
Commending the cooperation of important allies in counterterrorist operations, condemning the criticism of such cooperation by the European Parliament, and commending the counterterrorism efforts of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Whereas renditions are an anti-terror tool that the United States has used for years, consistent with its laws and treaty obligations;
Whereas the Central Intelligence Agency does not condone or tolerate torture , transport individuals to other countries for the purpose of torture , or knowingly receive intelligence obtained by torture ;
Whereas the counterterrorism efforts of the Central Intelligence Agency contribute to the security of the United States and Europe and reduce the likelihood of terrorist attacks;
We don't torture. Therefore, the pain felt in the torture cell? N'existe pas--you traitorous, pathetic, American-hating, terrorist-loving assholes.
And, of course, there's always circumcision: removing the foreskin of a male infant can be alleviated with a little wine-soaked rag, but a 20-week fetus, which is incapable of life outside the womb, suffers horribly--maybe--so doctors need to make sure that the ignorant sluts thinking about aborting the fetuses must be informed of that fact.
If it is true that a 20-week fetus feels pain, than yes, by all means, alleviate that pain and suffering. But this is so clearly not about that. This is about voicing objection to abortion.
Just for good measure, the bill reiterates, with pornographic, horror-film relish, the following:
(A) The dilation and evacuation (D and E) method of abortion is commonly performed in the second trimester of pregnancy. In a dilation and evacuation abortion, the unborn child's body parts are grasped with a long-toothed clamp. The fetal body parts are then torn from the body and pulled out of the vaginal canal. The remaining body parts are grasped and pulled out until only the head remains. The head is then grasped and crushed in order to remove it from the vaginal canal.
(B) Partial-birth abortion is an abortion in which the abortion practitioner delivers an unborn child's body until only the head remains inside the womb, punctures the back of the child's skull with a sharp instrument, and sucks the child's brains out before completing the delivery of the dead infant, and as further defined in 18 U.S.C. 1531.
If you listen closely, you can hear the slap-slap-slap of someone beating off to the idea of such exquisite violence, all perpetuated because of the sin and depravity of woman, with her ever-devouring womb and her dangerous, but oh so tempting, vagina dentata.
In one of those bursts of irony that take the breath away, the bill further explains the following:
(7) There is a valid Federal Government interest in preventing or reducing the infliction of pain on sentient creatures. Examples of this are laws governing the use of laboratory animals and requiring pain -free methods of slaughtering livestock, which include, but are not limited to the following
So, animals are entitled to pain relief before being slaughtered. Fetuses, who are also being slaughtered according to the semantics here, should also be given the same treatment that we give animals.
Oh, but shit like this?
That's to be commended. Iraqi people don't feel pain. Why the fuck should their fetuses?
Monday, November 27, 2006
As usual, when shit like this happens, I lose all sense of my body's proportions. I got up this morning convinced that I now weighed more than the HMS Queen Mary, but when I stepped on the scale, it said I had lost weight since Y died. Of course, the only things I've eaten are eggnog lattes, an occasional cookie, and "bites of food." I make food, take a few bites, and then don't want to eat anymore.
I read the news and nothing gets in. I think to myself that I should write about bloggy stuff--who the fuck cares that my life right now is trying to sort out what the fuck happened to me--and I should go back to being an intellectual.
It's the little things that make you crazy at times like this. A sunset the other night that was gorgeous--and knowing that he could not see it.
I was sort of lost in those thoughts when I dragged myself over to the cafeteria to get a tuna melt. And the woman behind the counter, the same woman who I get stuff from every day, asks me if I saw the Kramer "thing." And then she goes off about how no one knows that the hecklers had been calling Kramer names beforehand. "He needs to stop apologizing" she says. And I think she's coming dangerously close to making some racist statement (she heard Kramer on Bill O'Reilly last night, she informs me) and I'm thinking in my head, "Please, please, please make her shut up. I can't let her make racist statements, but I can't fucking deal with this right now. Shut up. Shut up. Please shut up." And then she changes the subject and says her husband can't find anybody to do welding anymore and soon, they'll have to import all those jobs, too. And I castigate myself for letting this shit go, but she's a cafeteria worker and I'm faculty, and I become aware of the class/power differential, and then I get all fucked up in my head and I take my sandwich and pay for it and take about five bites, and throw it in the garbage. Wasting food.
And that's what it's like inside myself right now.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Wednesday night, I was driving with a friend due west. The sun was setting, and the vermilion sky cast the barns and the trees in a sort of blood-amber light. In the midst of all that redness was the palest sliver of new moon. Inanna's moon, and I was reminded of the legend that says that the sliver of new moon is Inanna's boat, carrying the souls of the worthy from the underworld to heaven.
I could not take comfort from that legend. The only thing I could think was, "When you're dead, you don't get to see these things anymore." And the idea that Y could not see what I was seeing pierced me. Death is not about the dead. It's about the living. It's about how we make meaning out of the sudden disappearance of what was once a presence.
I keep seeing his ghosts everywhere. They're private moments, and I'm collecting them all, trying to piece them together so that perhaps, if I gather enough of them up, I can glue them together and make him present again.
Ridiculous. I'm a rational, intelligent human being. And yet.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
When Caoily was 10 months old, she came down with rotavirus. If you have children, and you've been through this, then you know how awful this common infection is. Everything you put into your child--in my case, breastmilk and some solids--comes out in a very short time as a watery, noxious, seemingly neverending river of shit that overflows diapers. I would breastfeed her, and she would be shitting simultaneously, covering both of us in it as I tried to get fluids into her to keep her from dehydrating.
Our pediatrician hospitalized her after 12 hours. For three days, she stayed on a simple solution of electrolytes and fluid through an IV in her leg, the only vein the anesthesiologist (I had insisted on an anesthesiologist) could find to puncture.
She was one of the lucky ones.
1.6 million African babies will die in their first 28 days of life. If it takes you five minutes to read this diary, 15 babies in Africa will have died.
But hey, apparently, we're making progress.
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Each year more than one million babies in sub-Saharan Africa die before they are a month old because of a lack of essential health care, a U.N. report said on Wednesday.
"Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most dangerous region in the world for a baby to be born -- with 1.16 million babies dying each year in the first 28 days of life," said the report published, in Johannesburg and Geneva.
According to the World Health Organization:
New report shows improvements in child survival in Africa for the first time since the 1980s - but more than a million African babies still die in the first month of life.
Up to half a million African babies die on the day they are born - most at home and uncounted. According to the report, Liberia has the world's highest newborn mortality rate at 66 deaths per 1,000 births compared to less than 2 deaths per 1,000 births in Japan and 6 deaths per 1,000 births in Latvia. Half of Africa's 1.16 million newborn deaths occur in just five countries - Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, United Republic of Tanzania and Uganda. Nigeria alone has over 255,000 newborn deaths each year.
"The health of newborn babies has fallen between the cracks - Africa's un-named, and uncounted, lost children," said Dr Francisco Songane, Director of the Partnership. "We must count newborn deaths and make them count, instead of accepting these deaths as inevitable. The progress of these six African countries demonstrates that even the world's poorest countries can look after their newborns, their most vulnerable citizens. They have shown the way-we must seize the opportunity."
It's that fucking phrase, "un-named and uncounted," that is sticking in my craw.
That's what we're doing in Iraq, right? Not counting the dead? That's what we do when the dead don't matter. We don't give them names. We don't count them.
That's what we say to each other in games where nothing's at stake. "That doesn't count."
Did you know that American Indian infants are 1.7 times more likely to die than "white" infants?
Does that count?
Did you know that in Massachusetts, in 2003, black infants were 3 times as likely to die as white infants?
Where the fuck are the right-to-life crowd on all this? Oh yeah. Busy trying to protect potential zygotes. Fuck the born. Fuck all of them.
I can hear some of you muttering now. Lorraine. Dudette. We know you're kind of flattened by grief and all, but you're not making a lot of sense. African mortality rates and the anti-choice faction in America? What's the connection? If you pay attention, you already know the answer to that question. You see, the reason that so many mothers and children are infected with HIV in Africa, and thus, the reason so many un-named children die, is because that same sanctimonious, woman-hating, fuckwad-loaded group of organizations in America and the Vatican who spend all their fucking energy weeping and gnashing their teeth over sacred sperm and holy ovaries are the same fucking groups who support Gag rules, and oppose the distribution of condoms, and who continue to preach that sex is bad, abstinence is the only way, and dead babies are God's way of manufacturing little angels whose wings fan his magnificent face and keep him cool.
If you want to send, oh, I don't know, the equivalent cost of a can of cranberry sauce to one organization that's making a difference, may I suggest Medecins sans frontieres?
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Me. In the hotel room. Right before I left for the memorial service.
Y. A photo he sent to me when we were preparing to meet one another.
I feel as if I've dropped a box of marbles on a hardwood floor. They're rolling everywhere. They are my memories of Y. I'm afraid I won't be able to gather them all up, that some will never be found again. Maybe years later, when someone is renovating the house, they'll find a single cat's eye underneath a floorboard and someone will wonder at its significance.
Note from my notebook as I've tried to write down what is happening to me right now.
This is the letter I sent to his friends and family after he died.
Y's last day
Dear Friends of Y,
I want to tell you about November 10, 2006, about the hours that I was with Y. I know that Yves was a private man; he and I talked about that, but I believe he would be okay with my talking about such personal matters with his friends. I think he would like for you to know that on November 10, he was a very, very happy man, and that except for the last five-to-ten minutes of consciousness, he was in no pain.
I ask you to indulge me for writing in English. I do speak and understand French, but there would be no way that I could tell you all of these things in a language other than my native one.
Y and I met on-line. The online personals. Both of us felt rather dorky about meeting this way, but in this modern world, sometimes, it's the only way to reach across the miles and find someone interesting. I had been out on internet dates before. Some had been good, some had been awful. Y had never posted online before. The weekend of November 3, we made contact. First, at the site, and then very quickly, through our private e-mail accounts. Instantly, there was a connection. And Y called me on the telephone when we had been in contact for less than 24 hours. From then on, we talked on the phone a lot, e-mailed a lot, exchanging bits of information about our lives and our families and what we wanted.
I found myself impatient to meet him, and I "dared" him to meet me Friday. I had the day off work, and I offered to drive up to Montreal to meet him. He agreed. And both of us were very nervous. We kept talking about our "butterflies," how we were taking such a chance to meet a total stranger and hope that there would be chemistry. We had agreed that I would most likely sleep in the guest bedroom, although there was a lot of flirtation back and forth about whatever possibilities might occur. We had seen photos of one another, and there was already a feeling that we were going to be attracted to one another.
I stopped by my work to pick up my reading glasses and called Y about 9:15 to let him know I was on my way. At about 1:15 pm, he called me to ask where I was. I pulled up in front of his apartment building about 2:30 I think. He came out to my car, helped me in with my bags. We were both happy to meet one another. As soon as I arrived, I walked over to his refrigerator and looked inside. He was puzzled, and I said,
"My girlfriend's a little worried about me coming up here without meeting you first." So I made him listen as I called my friend and said to her, "Well, I've checked. There are no body parts or decapitated heads in the refrigerator."
And Y said, grinning, "You better check the freezer." And we laughed.
We sat down on his couch, began to talk, and he said that we should go to the market to get a few things because there was nothing to eat in the house. And so we had this plan to go run all these errands, and I went into the bathroom. I came out, and simultaneously, we reached for each other and kissed. "Made out" as Y said. And at one point, I asked him, "Do you think we're going too fast?" And he said, "Yes, but I don't want to stop."
And we made love all afternoon. It got dark, and we were laughing and touching and Y just kept telling me how lucky he was, how amazing this was, this thing that we could feel happening between us. And he said a lot of personal things to me that meant a great deal to me, lover's talk.
Anyway. It got dark, and we agreed that it was time to go to the market and get some food. We took a shower together, and then we set out to go into the village. We were going to go buy some food to bring back and cook, but both of us acknowledged that we were starving, and Y decided we would go to this restaurant he knew. So, we turned the corner, and Y just lit up because there, in front of us, were H and M. M got out of her stroller, and she showed her daddy her banana popsicle, and I heard him tell her that he would come get her from daycare and spend time with her, and she told him about the banana popsicle, and they hugged and kissed.
Then we walked on, and he was grinning, and he said that seeing his daughter had made the day even more perfect because she was everything to him. He said that when he thought of her, he could think of nothing else.
And he stopped at a little store and bought some cigarettes and he and the shop clerk talked about M and her banana popsicle. And then we went to the restaurant.
We were very silly at the restaurant, making jokes, and flirting, and having a good time. And Y said, "I think I've won the lottery." And he talked about how happy he was that this date had turned out to be so perfect.
We talked about all the things we needed to buy at the market, but Y had a little headache, so we decided we would go shopping the next day.
So we walked home, and we ran into Y's friend and her daughter, and we walked with them until we got to the apartment building.
We went into the apartment, and I told Y to lie down after he had taken some aspirin for his headache. I rubbed his scalp, and his neck, and shoulders and back, and he talked about how much it meant to him to be touched. And we talked about how amazing this all was, and then, again, we made love.
And he kept saying, "I've won the lottery." And "I know I'm repeating myself, but I've won the lottery." And we were making jokes about all the ways we could find to get ourselves arrested that weekend. And he was going to make pancakes and fruit and yogurt for me for breakfast. And coffee. Definitely coffee, because we both loved coffee.
At about 9 pm, Y started apologizing because his headache hurt and he wanted to sleep for a while. So I curled up next to him and I got out a book of poetry that I had brought and read to him while he lay there.
The poems are all by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, and the first one I picked to read to him because I knew it would make him laugh.
A Dog After Love
After you left me
I had a bloodhound sniff at
my chest and my belly. Let it fill its nostrils
and set out to find you.
I hope it will find you and rip
your lover's balls to shreds and bite off his cock-
or at least
bring me one of your stockings between its teeth.
And we did laugh at the absurdity of the poem, the jealousy and such.
I was flipping through the book, and the next poem I read was completely random:
In a Leap Year
In a leap year the date of your death gets closer
to the date of your birth,
or is it farther away?
The grapes are aching,
their juice thick and heavy, a kind of sweet semen.
And I'm like a man who in the daytime passes
the places he's dreamed about at night.
An unexpected scent brings back
what long years of silence
have made me forget. Acacia blossoms
in the first rains, and sand dunes
buried years ago under the houses.
Now all I know how to do
is to grow dark in the evening. I'm happy
with what I've got. And all I wish to say is
my name and address, and perhaps my father's name,
like a prisoner of war
who, according to the Geneva Convention,
is not required to say a single word more.
And then I said I wanted to read to him Amichai's most famous poem. And I told him the story of how when Yitzak Rabin and Yasser Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize, this was the poem that Rabin read. I wanted to read it to Y because I knew he had children. It was only later that I realized what was contained in the poem.
God Has Pity on Kindergarten Children
God has pity on kindergarten children.
He has less pity on school children.
And on grownups he has no pity at all,
he leaves them alone,
and sometimes they must crawl on all fours
in the burning sand
to reach the first-aid station
covered with blood.
But perhaps he will watch over true lovers
and have mercy on them and shelter them
like a tree over the old man
sleeping on a public bench.
Perhaps we too will give them
the last rare coins of compassion
that Mother handed down to us,
so that their happiness will protect us
now and in other days.
Y was tired, and he closed his eyes. I read a novel for a little while. I have chronic insomnia, so I took my sleeping pill and I fell asleep.
About an hour later, Y woke me up. He got out of the bed, and he said "My headache is killing me. I'm going to take some tylenol." And I listened as he went in the bathroom. I heard a noise, and and I heard him turn on the water to get a drink, but the water was running really hard. So I got up to see what was going on. Y was sitting on the floor, his back against the wall, and the pills were spilled on the floor. He said, "Please help me take the pills." So I got them and gave them to him and a glass of water. I grabbed a washcloth and soaked it in cold water and gave it to him to put on his forehead. I knelt down beside him and he said, "Help me back to bed." So I tried to help him stand up, but he fell against me and I fell against the vanity and felt myself bruise. He was rubbing his arm, and I said to him, "We should call the doctor." And he said, "No. I'm just a little dizzy. Just let me sit here for a minute and then we'll try again."
I got this idea. I went into the bedroom to grab the duvet, and I came back and said to Y: "Crawl on to this blanket and I'll pull you into the bedroom. We'll put you back to bed." And he tried to move forward. At that point, I said, "I'm calling 911" and I called the number.
Y pitched forward, putting his head down on the blanket. His eyes fluttered closed, and I wrapped the blanket around him. He was breathing very hard, and he was unconscious. He could not hear me. But I kept rubbing his back and sitting with him, waiting for the ambulance. He was shaking. But he was in no pain. When the EMTs arrived, they could get no response from him. I believe he was already on his way to somewhere else.
They worked on him for a few minutes, and then they took him to the hospital. I went in my car. I waited in the waiting room. Two doctors asked me to describe everything that had happened before Y collapsed and I told them. I asked if I could see him. They would not let me, and they told me to go home and they had a lot of tests to do and they would call me.
So I went back to Y's apartment and I lay on his bed. I slept a little, and then the phone rang and they told me the bad news that he had had a massive brain bleed. They told me they didn't know how to contact his family, but I remembered that Y's cell phone was on the kitchen table, so I went and got it. I remembered that when we ran into M and H, that Y had told me the name "H" and I looked for that in his phone list. I gave them the phone number. They told me they were going to take Y to another hospital.
You know the rest. H called me at 7, and I went to the hospital to say goodbye.
I want you all to know that Y did not suffer. He had a headache, but I do not think that even when he was feeling dizzy that he knew he was dying. He was so insistent that he did not need a doctor when I first said it. And he was not alone as he sank into unconsciousness. I was there with him. He knew he was being cared for.
I have done so much crying since Y died. There are so many things to be sad about, including my own sense that I had found this man with whom there seemed to be this bright future, and then it was snatched from me, from us.
But I am so grateful that I got to be there for Y. It has struck me repeatedly, all the strange things that happened. Why did his brain bleed happen when I was there? Why did we change direction and then run into H and M? Why was it so intense between us? Why did Yinsist on telling me, over and over again, how happy he was?
I have been shattered by this experience. I feel as if I got to be a part of something so much greater than myself, that I got to be present for Y and take care of him in his last conscious moments. That I got to help him to have such a happy day.
Part of me is so angry. Angry that he leaves behind Z and M who still need him. Angry that he will not see them grow up. Angry that I got to have just a few hours of Y before he left. I am not a religious person, but if I meet God someday, I will kick him in the shins. I think Y would approve.
So that's what I wrote to his family. His family has been insisting that I was the angel in all of this, and they asked me to be at the memorial service. Y had been alone for two years before he met me.
I was fussed over at the memorial service, and I was asked to tell the story of his last day. Which I did. And at some point, I'll be able to write about what I said and how I let all those people know that Y had not suffered, how he had given me the gift.
I was okay at the memorial service. Before I spoke, his friends, who were all musicians, took turns singing various songs in French and English. I was sitting, and one of his friends got up and said, "Y was not alone on his last day. He was with an angel, and she is right here now with us." And then she started playing this song, by Sarah Maclachlan, and I fell apart.
Spend all your time waiting
For that second chance
For a break that would make it okay
There's always one reason
To feel not good enough
And it's hard at the end of the day
I need some distraction
Oh beautiful release
Memory seeps from my veins
Let me be empty
And weightless and maybe
I'll find some peace tonight
In the arms of an angel
Fly away from here
From this dark cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie
You're in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort there
So tired of the straight line
And everywhere you turn
There's vultures and thieves at your back
And the storm keeps on twisting
You keep on building the lie
That you make up for all that you lack
It don't make no difference
Escaping one last time
It's easier to believe in this sweet madness oh
This glorious sadness that brings me to my knees
In the arms of an angel
Fly away from here
From this dark cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie
You're in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort there
You're in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort here
So, I've been listening to that song. But I've also been listening to this song, by Dar Williams, especially this part:
But now I'm sleeping fine
Sometimes the truth is like a second chance
I am the daughter of a great romance
And they are the children of the war
Well the sun rose with so many colors
It nearly broke my heart
And worked me over like a work of art
And I was a part of all that
So go ahead, push your luck
Say what it is you've got to say to me
We will push on into that mystery
And it'll push right back
And there are worse things than that
'Cause for every price
And every penance that I could think of
It's better to have fallen in love
Than never to have fallen at all
'Cause when you live in a world
Well it gets in to who you thought you'd be
And now I laugh at how the world changed me
I think life chose me after all
This is the first time I've tried to write about this. There is so much more left to say. I think there is a book in here somewhere, but right now, I'm the blank page.
I want you all to know that your kindness to me sustains me.
I miss him so much.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
I have been writing down notes everywhere since Y. died. At some point, I will be able to make sense of things. There is something profoundly sacred in what happened, and right now, I am riding the waves of the universe, allowing myself to float. Eventually, there will be a spilling of ink. My sense is that once I begin to write about all of this, there will be no stopping.
This is the poem I'm clinging to today.
Dirge without Music
Edna St. Vincent Millay
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, --- but the best is lost.
The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
Thank you to all the people who have reached out to me these past few days. I am grateful. But right now, I am feeling quiet. And I know that I am loved.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Is there nothing that Fundies will not stoop to if it keeps them from having to re-think any of their positions?
by Eavan Boland
The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me.
It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.
Caliberal has been in despair about what has happened to women in this country. I love Cali; she's my girlcrush, and I wish we lived closer so I could hang out with her. But here, in my home, I have two reasons for every move I make in honor of women. Two daughters, born of my body, and the lights of my life.
Sometimes, I just want to throw up my hands and give up. We are going backwards when it comes to women's rights in this country. The Fundamentalists, whose fear of women is so pronounced that they can't think of enough ways to punish us for having vaginae, currently seem to have direct access to those in power who make decisions about women's rights.
Of course, it's the same in various parts of the world. Bob Herbert's columns this week dealt with violence against women--violence that was directed at women solely on the basis of their sex.
My friend, Amy, said it more eloquently, I think, but then again, I think poets say most everything more eloquently than those of us who write clumsy prose in offering to the Muse.
Lake Kivu plaits through the Rift valley,
a current of despair and revenge.
I was the Hutus' favorite daughter,
I am their nation; a lakebed,
my mouth a volcano,
a danger to anything that breathes.
My nation insisted I become a nation,
scissors, opened and closed, life sliced
in two. I sent my son, Shalom,
to young Rose, the Tutsis' plea to God,
to where she hid, to the fields
where her faith fought back.
I called to the Tutsis, exhausted as rain:
Here is your food. Here is your shelter.
All of their death took only an hour;
a red chested cuckoo asked why.
I told him: My eyes are split open,
I am sorry; I am not.
This will never end, my wandering
into the twilight, out of my Bombay
backyard, my parents' final basket of fruit,
my peafowl sashaying to the males' courtly
help help of recognition.
I miss my peacocks more than mother or father,
birds of prey who could not comprehend
this girl's longings.
When the males release
their plumage, they call ahhh ahhh;
the peahen mutters Hell-o Hell-o.
I can not tell you
what you want to hear,
cannot remember the travelers' eyes, faces, words,
any kindnesses as I drifted out of my skin,
as my mouth became the rapist's chick, wingless, blind.
This will never end. No, I am not that girl:
her sorrow song not mine.
I do not wake up every morning and thank God
that I am a man; I love my mother.
I will never tell my wife.
What I love most is morning,
my line cast for stripers,
their obedient mouths.
The girl was pretty, tall, lean enough.
In the graveyard, the headstones
shut their eyes, their mouths sang
silently, she did not hear their sympathy.
All of my life looked
meek in the setting sun.
I heard her No, but who
could stop in the throes of opening.
That was another life.
She was never my true child.
My snow white crane,
her red right eye, her hysterical cry
entreating me, Faz Mai, to feed her.
I hear her
in the shallow waters of the Indus,
but my breasts are not milky,
the weeping sustenance that calls
my fledgling home for food
is only rain. Even my tears
have dissolved into breaths I take
when I must breathe, have to breathe,
for the child who floated out of me
into my blister of nothing.
And for my cousin Naseem,
like me, forced to spread herself
into our country of dread,
into the fields where white bulbs
of cotton are slowly dying.
That was another life.
I had not yet cradled my daughter,
she had not suckled
my lexicon of milk.
I had not forgiven myself
for being a body,
a dutiful daughter,
for inhaling my era's
I refuse to remember him.
I refuse to remember the Portuguese
stones of loss, the nearby sea
smacking its futile fish.
He kissed me.
He did not kiss our child's sigh
as I slipped it into the waters
of the Holiday Inn, my thumb nail,
my lily, I named No, Please No.
At times, I want to be his body,
to feed him with regret
I need to imagine.
Now white bulbs push up and out
of my hardened suburban soil.
What I have learned is lime, water,
what returns and will not return.
Still, there are times I want to be you,
Naseem Mai, pesticide flowing through
your still body like fresh milk.
Now I am milk. My daughter has eyes
so blue they become the sea,
daybreak, another country.
I return to the sink, the toilet, the mop, the clothes,
the little neck splayed opened, my husband's
silky undershirt, its smallest tear.
My husband snaps a picture
of our daughter shaping mud
for her report on the prairie photographer
who fell in love with sod,
the wonders of sod,
gave up everything for sod:
medical school, lovers, home,
to travel, to take pictures
that would be lost
in a fire, all 1500, except negatives,
imprinted on glass,
sheltered from obscurity
nothing was lost.
I love my imaginings of this man,
this Solomon Butcher,
the long stretches of land,
the wind, the occasional tree,
the lone dugout,
how he wanted to discover the world,
discover the woman, her fire
beneath the caldron.
I love my life,
my mislaid child,
this century of tears,
life before life.
This week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on an abortion question. One of the heroines of the right-to-choose movement, Jane Hodgson died a few days ago. Dr. Hodgson was sentenced to jail in 1970 for performing an "illegal" abortion. She acted on her conscience, choosing to provide medical care to a woman who had contracted German Measles during her pregnancy. Rubella is devastating to the developing fetus. But don't think that the anti-choice forces give a shit about any of that. Every sperm, egg, and zygote is sacred. Women, on the other hand, don't count for shit in their world.
Perhaps it's best that Dr. Hodgson not live to see what continues to happen that women fought and died for just a generation ago. Eight men, none of whom will never be pregnant, never face the danger of pregnancy, never have to make a choice about what they carry within their bodies, will rule on whether women and their doctors can be trusted to make the right decision about late-term abortion.
The law lacks the exception for a pregnant woman's health that the court held in the Nebraska case to be constitutionally required; Congress simply declared that the procedure was never necessary.
Congress declared that the procedure is never necessary? Jesus Fucking Christ. Is this the same Congress that voted to authorize the president's search for chimerical weapons of mass destruction? That spent days arguing over whether Terri Schiavo was alive? What, did they all go to medical school during one of their recesses? What the fuck?
But you know what? Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, we will fight them. We will fight them with Emergency Kindness. We will fight them with my nascent plan to create a network of women willing to help minors get Plan B. We will fight them by educating our daughters about the beauty and perfection of their own bodies, their own souls. They will not take our daughters.
For a generation, we have been losing ground. But it is time for a new generation of Bread and Roses. Of Beauty and Sex. Of Love and Pleasure. Of Equal Opportunity and Freedom.
Bread and Roses
by (Lyrics: James Oppenheim; Music: Martha Coleman or Caroline Kohlsaat) (1910s)
As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: "Bread and roses! Bread and roses!"
As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women's children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!
As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for -- but we fight for roses, too!
As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler -- ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!
Twenty years ago, I fought my shame by posing for photos for a friends' artistic portfolio. I never thought I would post any of those photos publicly, but today, for my daughters, and for myself, and for Cali, I re-claim my body, my rights, my freedom.
It's not perfect, but it's mine. And I'll be godfuckingdamned before I let them, or anyone else, tell me what I can do with it. And if they think that they can mess with my daughters, they clearly, clearly do not know the wrath of Mom-Lorraine.
Friday, November 03, 2006
It's the kind of thing that schadenfreude is all about: watching, with glee, the suffering of one who has been hoisted by his own petard.
But, yesterday, I also had a bad day. I spent much of yesterday crying, sick to my stomach, unable to catch my breath, and contemplating the various implements within my own house that could be used to effect my own demise.
Jesus commanded that we should love all people as we love ourselves. But perhaps Ted Haggard and many, many of his compatriots do not love themselves; therefore, they cannot love others.
I get that kind of pain.
Pain has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not.
It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain.
Emily Dickinson, XIX
My pain yesterday was precipitated by a cruel remark made by someone that struck at the very heart of me. It was a criticism of some essential part of myself. Not a valid criticism, but the kind of remark one makes when one has set out to hurt someone. It found its mark, and devastated, it took me hours to dig myself out of the hole that I had been thrown into. Of course, as anyone who has suffered from these types of events will tell you, once you get in the hole, you are quickly joined by the other monsters, and before long, one remark had become an entire critique of my useless, awful life.
I suppose I'm lucky in that I've had to deal with these types of events before. I've learned coping mechanisms--some cathartic, some merely busywork until the crisis has passed. But it was a long, horrible day. For a few hours, my self-loathing was at its zenith, and I fantasized, in exquisite detail, the various ways that if I really wanted to, I could end that pain forever and kill myself. The only thing that kept me from doing it was the memory that this has happened to me many times before, and if I could just hold on, eventually the storm would blow through me. It did. When the acute feelings had passed, I was left with the sensation of being a tree that had been violently stripped of all its leaves. Naked and exposed. My whole body ached.
Life is tough and brimming with loss, and the most we can do about it is to glimpse ourselves clear now and then, and find out what we feel about familiar scenes and recurring faces this time around.
Roger Angell Let Me Finish
One of the toughest things that depression and addiction have taught me is that my secrets will kill me if left in the dark. It does not mean that I have to equip myself with a bullhorn and proclaim my secrets to the world (although some might argue that I tend to use blogging to do such things), but rather, that when something makes itself aware to me, pushing it down into the darkness, ignoring it, is the quickest way I know to start myself on some sort of downward spiral. And so, when I feel some truth, or some urge, or some desire, I make sure to admit it to myself, and if necessary, tell someone else.
Relentless honesty can be exhausting. And as the Dalai Lama said, "Honesty without compassion is cruelty." That's the rub for me. It's all well and good to be honest, but if it merely becomes one more way to beat the shit out of myself, well, that's not the intention of honesty. Which isn't to say that I don't admit the bad about myself; it's just that if I am acknowledging some part of myself that needs improvement, I need to do so in a way that allows me to move forward in change, rather than getting stuck slung over some barrel, where I invite everyone to take a whack at my ass.
Mr. Haggard's secrets, Mr. Foley's secrets, Mr. Swaggart's secrets, Mr. Limbaugh's secrets, Mr. Bush's secrets--have not, as far as anyone can tell, made them more compassionate, self-aware human beings. Instead, they have retreated into addiction, and into projection, where their self-loathing evinces itself as cruelty to others. Pedophilia. Making fun of disability. Going to prostitutes. Sending others to war. Jesus said to love others as you love yourself. If their behaviour toward others is a reflection of their own feelings toward themselves, their inner pain must be overwhelming.
For those of you who don't know Mr. Haggard's story, here are parts of it.
The evangelical association states on its Web site that homosexual sex is condemned by Scripture, and Mr. Haggard has advocated passage of an amendment to the United States Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
The accuser, Mike Jones, told KUSA, Channel 9, in Denver that Mr. Haggard had paid him for sex over the last three years, and that he had methamphetamine several times.
“People may look at me and think what I’ve done is immoral,” Mr. Jones, who said he is no longer a prostitute, told KUSA. “But I think I had to do the moral thing in my mind, and that is expose someone who is preaching one thing and doing the opposite behind everybody’s back.”
Mr. Haggard said in a lengthy interview with KUSA that he had never used drugs of any kind and that he did not smoke or drink alcohol.
Mr. Haggard has been a supporter of an amendment to the state’s Constitution banning same-sex marriage, on which Coloradans will vote next week. He told KUSA that the accusations might have been politically motivated.
Later, however, this came out:
Rev. Ted Haggard, Evangelical Senior Pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, has confessed to some of the accusations against him according to Rev. Ross Parsley, who is serving as Acting Senior Pastor of the 14,000-member Protestant church.
Rev. Ted Haggard, a key Evangelical in the religious right and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said in a statement that he placed himself on administrative leave "pending investigation, spiritual counsel, and a decision by the church's board of overseers" after he was accused of using drugs and participating in a three-year homosexual relationship.
After he resigned, the board of overseers met with Haggard. "It is important for you to know that he confessed to the overseers that some of the accusations against him are true," said Parsley in an e-mail to the congregation.
Earlier in his life, Haggard saw demons. As he told the Colorado Springs Gazette:
Haggard had experienced a vision in high school after he was born again.
He said he saw demons hovering over newborn babies at a hospital, waiting to instill in them negative character traits such as hatred, greed, drug use and masturbation.
These were the kind of spirits Haggard knew he had to fight. Haggard said he never thought of leading his own church.
Masturbation as a demon? It doesn't take a genius to figure out that even as a teenager, Haggard struggled with what his flesh desired and what his brain told him he could have. What a conflict that must have been for him. He married and had five children. If it turns out that Haggard is, in fact, gay, he will have no need for hell. The self-loathing he has lived with is its own hell.
I am not excusing Haggard's deeds as leader of homophobic groups in Colorado and across the country. It will be interesting to see the group's reaction to their former leader: will they turn on him as the mob often does, or will they practice Christian forgiveness, hating the sin but loving the sinner? Will they send him off to be "re-educated," so that he may once again return to trying to mortify his flesh in the name of some despotic God's commandments in Leviticus?
Or, is there a possibility for Ted Haggard's redemption? Will this be his conversion experience? Will this be the moment that, his heart broken wide open by what is happening to him, that he learns to love the part of himself that he used to loathe? Will it cause him to ask forgiveness of the gay community, and to join the ranks of those of us who want all people to be able to love whom they choose to love? I think that's my wish for Ted Haggard. For him to know peace.
I can only love others as I love myself. And as I wish myself peace, I wish it for those who suffer. Maybe, if their suffering is eased, they will stop inflicting their pain onto us.
Your grief for what you've lost lifts a mirror
up to where you're bravely working.
Expecting the worst, you look, and instead,
here's the joyful face you've been wanting to see.
Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small
contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
News out of Great Britain suggests that a male contraceptive pill is not too many years away from the market. The pill has been shown to not affect male hormone levels (thus not making them into girly girls), but it does prevent the manufacture of sperm.
In trials so far these have produced no worrying side effects - however scientists think men may still worry about whether introducing female hormones could harm their virility in some way.
The new approach would therefore avoid this problem. The common perception is that few women would actually believe a man who said he was on the Pill.
However a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2000 found that only two per cent of women said they would not trust their partner to take a male Pill.
I bet you can tell where this diary is going. Down.
If you are a woman, would you feel comfortable relying on your male partner to take care of contraception?
If you are a man, would you consider taking the pill in order to ensure not getting your partner pregnant? Would you worry about side effects? Would having your fertility affected make you feel less "manly"?
Given a man's choices about contraception previously: condoms, coitus interruptus, coitus reservatus, and vasectomy, this may be a welcome addition to the options.
Obviously, not everyone site has to worry about pregnancy. Those of us who are gay or sterile are out of this loop, but I would hope that even so, you may still have an opinion on the topic.
This diary is partly tongue-in-cheek. But I think that the reproductive rights debate may change in ways subtle and not-so-subtle if a male birth control method that had no permanent nor sensation side-effects were to become available.
Monday, October 30, 2006
by Kim Addonizio
I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it sleeveless and backless,
this dress, so no one has to guess
what's underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store
with all those keys glittering in the window,
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.
I want to walk like I'm the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm
your worst fears about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment
from its hanger like I'm choosing a body
to carry me into this world, through
the birth-cries and the love-cries too,
and I'll wear it like bones, like skin,
it'll be the goddamned
dress they bury me in.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Outside, it is cold. It has sleeted much of the day. Sleet is ambivalent snow. Neither one nor the other, it just makes a mess. I wonder sometimes if my ambivalence creates the same affect in my own life. Neither here nor there, one nor the other. Happiness, when it comes, is not a long-term visitor, but when she arrives, I sometimes feel as if I overwhelm her, make too much of her being around. Perhaps if I gave her time to settle in, she wouldn't feel the need to leave so quickly. Sort of like the way I used to scare off lovers when I was younger. Sometimes, I just overwhelmed them with my need for their company, for their … love. And they would leave, hurriedly, sometimes cruelly.
Now, I spend a lot of time alone. My children split their time between their dad and me, and I no longer expect the men in my life to be permanent fixtures. I have learned, finally, to be alone, to like my own company, even on nights such as this when I am full of longing and wanderlust and not entirely sure of what it is that I want.
When I was younger, nights like this frightened me. The things I did to keep from having to be alone were myriad. I sought distraction, and that distraction took many forms. Men. Drugs. Bars. Television. Even books. That desire to get lost, to get totally fucked up and disoriented was strong, because if I didn't know where the hell I was then I didn't know where. I. was. To be aware of my true location, my true size, my real situation, was uncomfortable. I hate discomfort. Discomfort is dis-ease. That itchy, crawly sensation inside my own skin to be someone else, to be somewhere else, is god-awful. It makes me want to tear at my own flesh. I wish I could say that it has gone away. But it hasn't. What has changed is my ability to sit with it. To let it come into the room with me, see what it wants, see what it is trying to tell me.
A few years ago, shortly after I had left my marriage, at a moment when I felt completely adrift, I chanced upon Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. I do not remember how I found them, or why I felt compelled to buy a copy in the bookstore, but I did. I have a distinct memory of being sat in a coffeehouse in Seattle, and reading Letter #8 for the first time.
Have you ever had a moment when you have read something so true, so resonant with your own struggle, that you have vibrated upon reading it? It was as if someone had touched a gong within me.
The letter was written in August of 1904. It begins by discussing sadness as moments in which something enters into us, that, in fact, sadness is the reaction of our emotions to being confronted with something that whose meaning is not immediately apparent to us.
And to speak of solitude again, it becomes always clear that this is at bottom not something that one can take or leave. We are solitary. We may delude ourselves and act as though this were not so. That is all. But how much better it is to realize that we are so, yes, even to begin by assuming it. We shall indeed turn dizzy then; for all points upon which our eye has been accustomed to rest are taken from us, there is nothing near any more and everything is infiintely far…So for him who becomes solitary all distances, all measures change; of these changes many take place suddenly, and then, as with the man on the mountaintop, extraordinary imaginings and singular sensations arise that seem to grow out beyond all bearing. But it is necessary for us to experience that too. We must assume our existence as broadly as we in any way can; everything, even the unheard-of, must be possible in it. That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. That mankind has in this sense been cowardly has done life endless harm…For it is not inertia alone that is responsible for human relationships repeating themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and unrenewed; it is shyness before any sort of new, unforseeable experience with which one does not think oneself ready to cope. But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes nothing, not even the most engimatical, will live the relation to another as something alive and will himself draw exhastively from his own existence…We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares are set about us, and there is nothing which should intimidate or worry us. We are set down in life as in the element to which we best correspond, and over and above this we have through thousands of years of accomodation become so like this life, that when we hold still we are, through a happy mimicry, scarcely to be distinguished from all that surrounds us. We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must rry to love them.
Last week, alerted by caliberal that Eve Ensler had published a new book, I picked up a copy. Insecure at Last: Losing It In Our Security Obsessed World was not unlike reading Rilke the first time. Except for something important. The first time I read Rilke, which wasn't all that long ago, everything he said resonated, even if I felt I wasn't ready for the truth I was reading. I knew that I was suffering, but in reality, it was my fear of potential suffering that could still happen to me that was absolutely paralyzing. I did not think that I could bear one more moment of pain, that anything else that life had to throw at me would undo me. But Rilke opened something up in me that night. It made me aware that my fear would only lead me down the same paths I had already traversed. Those paths had led me to the place I was. All of my attempts to avoid suffering had simply created new ways for suffering to get in.
When I read Ensler last week, I found myself shaking my head in agreement. Not in the "aha" moment, but rather, in the recognition that fear has driven many, many people to forfeit their freedoms, to justify torture and war, to pledge allegiance to madmen, for that false sense of security. And in reading Ensler, and in being reminded of all that we have given up out of fear, made me want to … what?
At what point do people "get" that false security is allowing our fear of possible futures to pollute our right nows? There are worse things than the monsters. There is being paralyzed by fright, sitting in the cave watching shadows, afraid to go out into the sunlight. I feel as if I'm living in a nation of cave-dwellers. But I have hope, because I think that there are a lot more people venturing outside, braving their fears to really examine where our need for security has brought us. That is the "right now" that I see.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
My connection to John Lennon is virtually non-existent, other than the fact that I came from a working-class Northern English factory town—he a Liverpudlian, me a Mancunian. But there is a link to John Lennon in my life. It's also a link to politics and my personal story, so if you're in the mood to read, I'm in the mood to tell.
In November of 1980, I was a college freshman. I had spent the entire summer prior to college working on a congressional campaign. It was exciting work, and I met many "famous" politicians, got to hob-nob with political movers and shakers. I was young, and I kind of got adopted by the campaign as the "kid," but the deal was, I was also intense and well-organized, and I wound up being the volunteer coordinator. Yep. 17-year old me organizing phone banks and sign parties and envelope-stuffing parties.
I also had an enormous crush on one of the campaign coordinators. He was a recent graduate of college, taking a year off before applying to law school, and I thought he was to die for. I thought about him constantly. Even when I went away to college, every weekend, I'd go back down to campaign headquarters and work with him. And, because I was going to college in the same district, I still got to see everyone when they came up for events.
He and I talked all the time. He was a huge Beatles fan, especially Lennon. We talked about music. About politics. About how the world was going to be a better place. We talked about human rights. About how labor unions were important. About how he was going to law school to get involved in international justice. Each day, my crush became more and more of a love. I was blissful in his company. I couldn't help it.
November 4, 1980. For a liberal Democrat, it may reign as one of the worst nights ever. It wasn't just Jimmy Carter getting trounced by that animatronic moron. It was the liberal Democratic senators who lost their seats that night: Church, Bayh, McGovern, Magnuson. I forget all of them now, but I just remember being despondent. As the election returns came in, it just went from bad to worse to grim. A caravan decided to head south to our main headquarters so our candidate, who had clinched his race, could make his victory speech. It was late. After 11. Nobody noticed that I was pouring myself drinks from the open bar. But by midnight or so, with it hellaciously clear that nothing was ever going to be the same, I was pretty drunk.
As was he. He offered me a ride home to my parents' house. My folks had no idea I was in town, of course. I remember we got into his car and he said to me, "Well. You have two choices, I can drive you to your folks, or you can come home with me."
Guess which I chose? I wasn't a virgin then. I had lost my virginity at 15, and my fantasies about this guy had always included sex. Of course I said yes. And what I needed from him was more than sex. I needed comfort. Some assurance that the world that I thought was collapsing all around my feet wasn't really collapsing. That it wasn't really as bad as it looked. That this country had not really just elected Reagan and a band of such conservative dismal Republicans that certainly, now, Orwell's 1984 was about to manifest itself.
He needed that, too. He needed to lose himself in me, to pretend that the world would be different. So that's what we did. We went back to his apartment and we fucked all night long. Literally. The room was light by the time I fell asleep. We slept for a few hours, and then, when he woke up, he said to me, as only a 22-year old male could, "That should not have happened."
I don't think I could have been more devastated. The world was over and the guy I thought I was in love with had just disowned everything that had passed between us. He drove me to the bus station, and I remember crying all the way to my college town.
Three weeks later, I'm late. It's just a day or two. No biggie. But I'm getting worried. This is 1980, and they don't sell pregnancy tests in stores. There's a health clinic on campus, but the earliest they'll do a pregnancy test is two weeks after a missed period. Three days. Four. Five. No blood. I call him, tell him the news. He's supposed to be leaving for Europe right after Christmas. He's supposed to be starting law school in the fall. This is not in his plans.
He begins to call me every day to ask me one simple question. "Have you gotten your period yet?" And every day, the same answer. "I'm sorry. No. I haven't."
I didn't tell anyone. Who was I going to tell? I just carried myself through my days in a daze. I tried not to think about it. I had heard that you could make your period late by stressing out over it, so I tried to tell my body to relax. I went running, every day, thinking that the exercise would make me start.
Abortion was legal, and was available in the college town where I lived. But I didn't know what I wanted to do. If I was pregnant, could I go through an abortion? I preferred not to think about it.
I saw my folks. Didn't mention anything going on with me. I went to classes, did my school work. Talked to him every night. It was bittersweet. On one hand, he was talking to me and I thought I might be in love with him. On the other, he clearly did not want to be talking to me. He wanted me to go away.
Finally. The first week of December. I went into the health clinic the first thing in the morning. I peed into a jar. I would get my results in the afternoon—after three p.m. they informed me. He had arranged to meet me off-campus at 4:00. I showed up at three in the clinic office. "Negative" the nurse said, and I must admit, my feelings were mixed. I was happy to not be pregnant. But I also knew what it meant for him.
He showed up at the café. I told him the news. He was so happy. He was so happy I wanted to punch him. He was happy because he wouldn't be saddled with me. That he could let me go now. That I could go away and he could go away and that was that.
And he did. But a few days later, I was sleeping and my mom called me. I thought she was calling because it was her weddding anniversary and I had forgotten. No. She was calling because John Lennon had just been shot to death. It was like 8 pm my time.
The only person I could think to call was him. And so I did. He was crying, couldn't talk. I don't remember what we said, but the conversation lasted maybe 60 seconds. I wanted so much to hold him, make him feel better. But I couldn't.
It was the last time we ever talked.
On May 14 1970, I had just celebrated my seventh birthday. I was living at the time in a suburb of Chicago. In 1965, my parents had emigrated from England, my brother was born in 1966, and in 1970, my mother was pregnant again. The events that I'm about to speak of undoubtedly happened on May 15, but I've been snapped back to that time a conversation I had with Liza, about the radical impulse, the differences among so many bloggers—the division that has arisen among those of us who look at the upcoming election and want to cry over our "choices."
Some of us have been accused of being single-issue voters who are willing to see the Democrats lose in November because they are running so may anti-choice D's. In fact, we've been lectured by quite a few people about how if we elect these anti-choice Democrats, choice will still be preserved. It's a logic I can't follow; won't these folks wind up serving on committees where they're still going to be able to have a say on issues related to privacy? Or will they magically vote the way they are told to by the leadership? 'Coz you know, that's been working out so well these past two years.
Anyway. I want to talk about how I became a radical leftist, the moment at which I understood that my way of looking at the world was coming from some other place than "love of country" or "patriotism," the two things we start almost immediately to teach children in school. Kindergartners say the Pledge. But they don't often talk about issues of social justice.
In my family, we did. Nearly every single night.
1970 was the year of Kent State. But I don't remember Kent State. I don't have a single image in my head of it, other than the photos I saw much later, and the song by CSNY. It's not Kent State that changed my life. It's Jackson State. On May 14, two students were killed by police at Jackson State in Mississippi. And that I do remember. Because I remember specifically what I said to my father while we were watching the news about the killings: "Daddy. I don't ever want to move down south. All they do is kill people down there."
The possibility of moving down south was not out of the question. My father was a management consultant, and we moved from assignment to assignment, following him all over the country. I was to move 11 times in 10 years. By the time I was 7, we were on our third move, and recently, even though we were living in Chicago, he had started traveling to Texas to help out with a short-term project. That day, I was filled with terror to think that I could wind up down south.
By the time I was 7, I knew my father's stories about his personal heroes: Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. My father told me stories about his father's witnessing of Gandhi's trip to Northern England, where Gandhi had asked the workers there to allow Indians to make their own cloth. My father had been inspired by King. Although my father was not a religious man, he carried a copy of the Beatitudes in his wallet. He told me that those words were the only words that someone needed to know about religion.
I don't know if the news showed footage of the dead students at Jackson State. I do know that, even now, I have a visceral reaction when I think about that day. I have images in my head of chaos and guns and black students running for their lives. I have an image in my head of my 7-year old self, trying to make sense of what had happened.
The Jackson State killings was the day I realized as a child that there were people in the world who would kill other people for the simple act of asking for what was theirs.
Certainly, the spark of my progressivism had been lit by my father, sitting at the kitchen table with me, telling me stories about people who wanted to change the world. But Jackson State was the day that I burst into flame as a leftist.
I'm not a liberal. I am a leftist and I am a pacifist, but I believe that there are things that are worth fighting for. That justice is worth fighting for. That the right to own our bodies and not be judged by our gender, sexuality, or ethnicity is worth fighting for.
The day that Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and James Earl Green died, was the day that my life changed. That was the day that I got it, that even as a 7-year old white girl, the killing of black students on a college campus was something that could happen to me. And it's for that reason that 35 years later, I will not keep my mouth shut, I will not back down, and I will proudly bear whatever epithets the wingnuts want to throw at me.
Because injustice is so clear that even a 7-year old can see it. And I may no longer look at the world through the eyes of a child, but the rage it engenders in me is that of my little self. And so for her, and for my children--and your children, too--I fight on.
It's one of the reasons that the Democrats are breaking my heart. Around us, our civil liberties are being destroyed, our cities are dying, we are fighting an illegal war, we are destroying the right to privacy, to the claiming of our own bodies. And what are we focused on right this moment? E-mails between a Congressperson and his page. Sleazy, yes. But not the abomination that is Iraq. Or the horror that is our treatment of Iraqi/Afghani/Pakistani prisoners. Or the terror that women feel when they realize they are pregnant and they have no where to go. And not the sadness that gay men and lesbians feel about their inability to secure basic civil rights in this country.
Politics is not a fucking game. It's not an academic problem that you get interested in because you read a little Machiavelli or Burke. Politics is life. There are people dying because of our politics.
And all over the world, children are getting radicalized by what is going on around them. Watching their homes being bulldozed, their families being murdered, their playmates being dragged off in the middle of the night, burying their dead, it's all become part of their politics. And those people who can't be bothered with politics, but love the sleaze of a good scandal—are fucking entertained and aroused by the content of pathetic e-mails are not the voters that the Democrats want at the polls. Those folks will turn on the Democrats in a heartbeat.
We want those voters who, having seen the carnage being committed in our name, want answers, want change, want justice. I'm embarrassed by the haymaking over the Foley affair. Yes. I recognize the hypocrisy, and I love the schadenfreude, but at the end of the day, it doesn't matter. What matters is justice. Goddamn it. I want the Democrats to stand for justice.
For more information on the Jackson State murders:?
Black Kent State
Black College Wire