keep the problem open, she said

Street art image of a young white woman holding a stenciled poster which reads “As long as I have questions and no answers, I’ll keep writing” – Clarice Lispector, The Hour of the Star (Benjamin Moser, trans.)

What can I tell you about what’s happening right now? The alarm goes off at 4:30 and I’m up, even though I couldn’t get to sleep for what felt like hours last night, my heart racing racing: we thought it was a good idea to watch the first episode of the latest season of Orange is the New Black just before bed. Not really the best idea. My heart is pounding again just thinking about it  — with rage, with anticipation, with fear, with hope, with adrenaline. Mostly with adrenaline Most tv these days seems designed to fill us with as much adrenaline as possible for as long as possible. I said, my head under the pillow, from the sleep-not-sleep-if-I-don’t-sleep-how-am-I-gonna-get-up-at-4:30 place, I said, Let’s not watch this right before bed anymore. And she said, from under her pillow, Right.

But I managed to get to sleep at some point because then the birds were waking me up upaand they were on my phone. I have the candle now, the tea the quiet place in the basement with the ticking clock. No birds outside yet. Yesterday evening Sophie and I stood at attention as something awful-sounding happened with the turkeys up the hill. First there was a loud vocal noise — of fear? of anger? of consternation or seduction? — and then a great deal of rustling in the dry leaves. We stood at attention and stared. At one point we could see (I assume she could also see) a few big birds, wings out and spread, in silhouette through a break in the trees, the setting sun illuminating the glossy green live oak leaves and the dusky brown of the hillside but not the birds themselves, but then they hustled back into the forest itself, and the rest of the noise was obscured by trees. Overhead a handful of crows played upside-down-in-the-air touch football or something, and a couple hummingbirds dive-bombed the bottlebrush tree at the edge of our yard. This is a bird place for sure. The chickadees and titmice were noisy in the nighttime the evening trees, oaks, and I looked around for deer but couldn’t see any hidden in the thoroughfare just beneath our yard, the fat row of trees and space between us and the backside of the condo complex below.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. What feels good is writing here, is being at this quiet desk, is letting my fingers remember themselves onto the keys, is remembering how to just keep writing, keep typing, forget about spelling write right or going back to fix typos or make sense of anything that the words are trying to do with your hands here. I do sun salutations while waiting for the water to boil – my body tight, not used to stretching, I let my arms hang slack and then twist from side to side, hands hit the sides of my body, hit at kidney and butt, the way Alex showed me. The other day we stopped by the old neighborhood and I stole a couple of branches from two of the plants I’d started there — the native geranium and the copper creek marigold, which the latter of which had flushed out beautifully. Right now the cuttings are in a Ball jar in the kitchen, and I run my fingers along their different leaves, the thick fuzz of the geranium, the fluttery thin filagree of the marigold, and bring their different and combined scents on my fingers up to smell, then rub behind my ears with the idea that I’m giving myself a little good perfume. Recently I bought some rose geranium soap, to have a little aromatherapy in the shower — what was it they said about geranium scent? I’ll have to look it up. Either way, it makes me feel better to smell it, to bring that aroma into my body.

There are the birds waking up here’s me been awake for an hour already and the sun hasn’t yet brought any bright to the sky yet. The fog will be thick between here and the golden gate bridge. At some point, once the sun’s up, you can look out and see a fait faint separation between ground and sky, the fog coating the mountains and bridge and the fog filling the air above, the marine layer they call it, right, thats the one above, but at first it’s just all a single mass of grey and cloud and thick and wet that clots the bay and dusts everything with seasalt and morning.

That quote from Clarice Lispector, that’s what I wanted to write into this morning: As long as I have questions and no answers, I’ll keep writing. Is that what stopped me up a year or more ago? Filled up with answers and all the answers were no – no hope, no change, no possibility. I thought about the way I’ve been thinking about men recently, about masculinity and manhood. it’s true that after I got out of my last relationship I had a dim view of masculinity, the way masculinity and the acquisition of such has taken up so much space in our various queer community/-ies — the way the search for masculinity gets to be the excuse for all sorts of bad behavior, and for treating the feminine like a rag with which to wipe off a shoe or clean up come, you know. And then there’s the rest of the men. Cisgendered millennial men wish, it seems, to recreate the world of Mad Men and Wolves of Wall Street for themselves (lest they be left out of the full promise of patriarchy, god forbid).

I think I’ve been in an answered place for a long time now — and just kept getting hammered down with more answers: The world wasn’t going to change. Men were going to keep on using women and children for their sexual gratification and domination needs, no matter what we did, no matter how we grew and raged and fought back, no matter how much we “educated,” calmly explaining that, no, we didn’t want to be harassed on the street, no, thank you, we didn’t want to be raped today just because we asked for some money to support our growing business or because we were a student in their class or because we were an employee in their company or because we walked past them on the street and smiled or didn’t smile or wore clothes or had legs and breasts and a body or because we were their child or their girlfriend’s child or because we were a child in their parish or because we shared an opinion online (note! initial image at this page is likely triggering) or because or because or because— no, thank you, you know what? we don’t want to be raped today. Are you educated about this yet? Have we held enough classes and trainings?

So I had some answers — or I thought I did — and I got stuck in them.

I turned to the bread, the sourdough starter, the seeds in dirt, the garden, which are all question, all wonder, all what’s going to happen next? People were giving too many answers. I needed to get away from them. Social media, the whole fucking Internet is filled with answers–every post, every tweet, a declarative sentence, a statement, a knowing, a surety, an answer pounded with a fist into a table. There is no room for conversation in a place, within a room or inside a body, that’s all answers and no questions.

Keep the problem open, read a sticky note that I used to keep next to my bed back when I was at Hedgebrook, a piece of advice offered by Priscilla Long one night at dinner. Keep the problem open, she said, challenging the prevailing blogging culture that encourages short posts with pithy answers. Don’t think you have any answer at all. The answer stops the writing.

Questions and curiosity are what drive me to sit down at the page, the notebook, this keyboard, and ease my way into words.  Question is vulnerability and uncertainty. Question is openness, the soft belly of wonder, the tenderness of curiosity, the lack of a hard outer shell that makes fun of everything that isn’t ironic and joking, isn’t seeded with hatred and fear.

With only answers in front and inside of me, I couldn’t write. I didn’t feel drawn to write, I mean. It’s not so much that I was blocked if I sat down at the notebook, but that I didn’t want to spend time with the answers I’d been filed with. These were answers of despair, of hopelessness and depression, of the inability to change, learn, grow, hope, wonder, want. These were the answers of lack and of no. These were the answers of it’s never going to get any better and those in power are never going to give it up and we who haven’t had power aren’t going to take whats rightfully ours or demand that they quit treating us like meat to be fucked at their leisure.

What room is there in such an answer for poetry, for story, for fiction, for imagination, for wondering? Who wants to wonder into such a thing?

Maybe the garden and the bread, the dog and the birds, have helped me back into questions again. Maybe time away from social media has eased me out of the idea that the only way to participate is to Have The Answers, to use a voice that is sure of itself and clear, that doesn’t ask, that gives only a list of ten ways why every ally is an enemy, why you are fucking up your social justice work, why those who don’t think exactly like we do are capital-w Wrong, why this or that or the other group is making a mistake and has to change now, why we are going to fail at anything we try.

The people in power, if course, want us to have these sort of bleak answers, Hopelessness is easier to control than a hope that is reaching for change, that believes in a positive change, that seeks wonder, that is curious and slippery and aching with desire, that sees something new for our children and their children, and even for ourselves and those we love right now. When there are questions there are still possibilities for something new — something heretofore unimagined, something beautiful — to emerge, damp and glistening with seasalt and morning, quivering under our fingers, just ready to take its first breath.

Thank you for all the questions you are still asking, still allowing yourself to ask, still inhaling and exhaling, still writing into. Thank you, today and always, for your words.

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