(nablopomo #9) how deep are we really ready to go?

graffiti of a girlchild holding on to a bunch of balloons, which are carrying her over the wall the graffiti is painted onGood morning good morning. The wall heater has just kicked on, so I can’t hear the owl that I was about to describe to you — s/he’s out in the pine trees, maybe situated near the top, maybe watching the moon, who-who-whoing every now and again, waking up the air around me this morning.

How is it where you are? I ask this every day, and here’s why: 1) I’m curious (and if you wanted to tell me about it in the comments, I’d love it) and 2) I think it matters for our writing, to know how we’re situated, I mean the details of place, what and where we begin from.

(A note about comments: I love them and am so grateful when you write here. I’m not always able to respond right away, but the responses mean so much to me, and I want to offer a public thank you right here.)

There’s work to do, a talk for next week to prepare (how do you define liberatory, after all?), but I’m here with this quiet page, quiet music, quiet cold air, not quite into the day yet, because it’s still dark out, so that means we’re in the inbetween. Night, early morning, isn’t that the inbetween?

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
There are big things I’d like to write about this morning — including the sexual assault awfulness at Penn State and the way sexual violence is being used and ignored at #ows encampments. When does this writing happen?

I set my timer and am just doing it. These subjects don’t go away, but public interest in them does, fades, shifts to the next best public horror. At Penn State, they’re apparently working with the model of the mainstream Catholic Church, which means, allow the pedophile to continue to have access to the children, and to use resources and facilities for his violence, but work, always work, to keep it quiet and hidden. Then they said, well, just don’t do it on campus. Yes, thank you. Take it home, don’t do it here. That way, we’re not liable. We don’t have to call you out or fire you. We don’t have to be accountable.

The truth is that we have plenty of precedent for this, not just the catholic church. This way of engaging power is all around us. Is this part of what the #ows movement wants to change? This is certainly part of the privilege that the 1% wants to hold onto, that many in the 99% also expect to have access to.

Why is anyone surprised at this behavior, at this story? The fact is, I want to be surprised. I want to be horrified. I’m not. It doesn’t feel like a calloused or cynical thing, more like familiarity with what goes on behind the surfaces of perfection and ostensible ethics. (You’ll remember, or some of you won’t know, that my mother’s second husband, the man who violated all of us, he was a child sexual abuse therapist, who wrote articles and small books about treating CSA) — The thing I heard on the news about this coach,  the one who covered for the pedophile, was that his ethics were always impeccable, everyone counted on him to do things the right way.

How do we learn to trust people again, when they never give us the chance to?

There’s more. Don’t stop. I want the details of this story, I want all of those people, those men, the men who colluded with this violence, the men who made it possible for all those boys to be raped, I want them fired, I want them held to account. Maybe jailed, but better would be a public remembrance — don’t forget. What does transformative/restorative justice look like in this case? Do they need to sit in a room with the boys and their families and listen to the damage that they were instrumental in causing? Do they need to not just apologize but provide financial restitution? They wanted to distance themselves from this man’s actions but somehow also, for reasons I don’t understand because I’m not a sports person or because I’m not a man, they wanted to keep him around. What do they have in their own closets? Why not fire him as soon as they learned about the abuse, the violence? Why are the priests moved around from parish to parish instead of fired, released from duty, sent to a monastery where they won’t have access to children, something? What is the investment for those in power, if not  so that those in power can continue to render themselves blameless for their own violences?

Why do we continue to expect more than violence from those in positions of power, when they show us, over and over, that they will violate our trust, our skin, when given opportunity — when we see, over and over, that those around them will shield them, not us.

This is where it gets complicated — we want to change how financial resources are distributed, in and with and through this movement, but we don’t necessarily want to give up our white privilege and we don’t necessarily want to give up our access to women’s and children’s bodies (& to men’s bodies, too). Is that it? What part of cultural revolution doesn’t include a revolution around engagement with racial violence and sexual violence? Deep change means giving it all up, means letting go of the places where you had unearned power and privilege, also — without knowing what will happen after you open your hands and bodies and release.

If the movement doesn’t deal with these structural, cultural places of damage and pain, it will disintegrate. First, because the ‘new society’ being created will look awfully the same to folks of color, all women, all children — change that comes for white men isn’t the only change we need. Second, because those in power, the 1%, will always say that they want to protect women and children, and will use the issue of sexual violence as a reason to attack and dismantle encampments — not because they care about protecting anyone from sexual violence, mind you, but because they want the movement to go away. We’ve seen this already, at occupyoakland and elsewhere.

What are we fighting for at this time of revolution? How deep are we really ready and willing to go?

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
The nablopomo prompt for today is this: When was the first time that you realized that your home was not like other people’s homes? I have an old piece of writing to share, in response to this:

I was hunched up against the night, sometimes. I watched all the lights go on inside.  I looked in shamelessly, walked my dog through quiet neighborhoods where nothing was happening inside the houses that would make you want to call the cops.  I looked in and watched dinner times, I watched rooms turned blue flickering with television, I watched straining and want.  I passed by.  I never stood there. I passed by.  The crickets were nighttime and I was safe in them. No one was baking bread. That was a long time ago, back when the fields were real and the houses were wool and the streets outside were gravel and cicada shells swollen with puffs of cottonwood trees, swollen with something. Possibility. Hope.  At 5, there’s nothing but.  At 5, there’s nothing but.  Later, though.  Then.  Now.  Teenager in crimson pants or nothing.  Teenager in bright green anger. Teenager gliding through nothing like hope anymore because the concrete has thrown itself up into roadblocks.

Where can I go with this story, tell the drama of those walks and all they meant for me. They were like a movie but worse, a long-going soap opera, a hope for something new, no, just escape. They were a movie where I’d never be interrupted because it was all in my own head.  This was near the university, not so far from Elmwood Park, where I only went alone when I was older and I learned there was nothing to be scared of, nothing scarier than I might find at home.  This was why I hated winter.  Walks were circumscribed.  The dog got cold and so did I and I hated being all bundled. I hated the ways the windows got frosty and kept me out; I couldn’t see inside, could just see the blue flickering against the ice on the windowpanes.  A pristine kind of privacy. Winter kept me locked out., and in.  Winter kept me too hot in my own head with no time away for distraction.  No crickets.  Still no bread.  Just the cold against the fingers.  Just the frost heaves, just the grass turning dead but still green, too poisoned, too fertilized.  What were those walks but forays into aloneness? What were they but desperation?  I’d defend myself when I got home, learned to gauge what was too much, too long. An hour? Mid day summer vacation only.  Nighttime?  Strictly ten minutes or less, unless I was pushy.  And I usually was.  That was my problem.  Half an hour with the dog meant half an hour of relative freedom, some new breath, something unsupervised.  Not free.  Just unwatched movements, when I could watch alone.

Want to use this as your prompt? Give yourself 10 minutes, just 10 minutes, set the timer, put the pen to the page, write straight through, don’t stop and don’t think/edit/censor. Let the words come. More than you might imagine can emerge in 10 minutes.

Thanks for all the questions you’re asking, the places you’re holding open for answers to emerge. Thanks for your deep engagement in complication. Thank you for your words.

4 responses to “(nablopomo #9) how deep are we really ready to go?

  1. I’m in a hotel with a newspaper that I read last night that left me with a tight-fisted ball of sorrow in my belly. Just some of the truth of what happened at Penn State in what I read, some of the details left me small inside and aching with sorrow. I sat quietly with my bits of truth- to witness, even from this placenow to the past and because these acts require that when the light shines on them.

    Your words made me breathe. More of the truth. The bigger questions- Huge questions you raised about change- This post is so BIG and important. Thank you for allowing me to breathe and nod and say that’s exactly right.

    Thank you for your courage even when your words about this were challenged elsewhere- the calm way you spoke to the truth of the matter that gets covered- up again and again- even when we know the truth- by conflict, by victim blaming, by the way we brush past things (the big we) the way we say yes that happens doesn’t it when it seems like we need to stop everything and listen to the crying, the pain, the endless creaking sound of this using of children that becomes background noise because we are used to it.

    Thank you too for this:

    How do we learn to trust people again, when they never give us the chance to?

    It resonates for me in so many ways. I’m drinking my tea, still at the hotel and the sky is dark. Time to do some writing here cross legged on the floor while my partner sleeps as I listen to the traffic on the freeway that sounds like the ocean if you pretend hard enough.

    Thanks Jen for writing these things all the way through to the other side and then gifting them to us in the way that you do.

  2. Thanks for your words and they energy they pu in the world. Change is happening, slowly, with resistance, and it’s happening!

  3. Katrina, thank you so much for this — I love reading about the subway writing, and totally resonate with this: feel safer while traveling than I ever have sitting still or at rest. Yes, yes. Totally.

    So glad you have found/made this space for your writing to emerge — thank you for sharing some about your writing process these days! It’d be great to read more, whatever pieces you wish to share.

    xo!
    Jen

  4. The leaves are finally starting to turn, here. They keep me company outside of my office window all day. I am thankful for them; I was afraid they wouldn’t show up this year.

    I think I will come back soon and post a bit more about where I write these days. It all happens on the subway, on the way to work. I got a job 2 hours from my house, which means I spend 4 hours a day traveling. This sounds excessive. I know it does, because I’ve seen a lot of eyes pop out at me when I am asked how I spend my time. But I love it, and feel safer while traveling than I ever have sitting still or at rest. I feel safe enough on the subway, for the 3 hours a day I am on it, to write. And the writing has come in floods, surprising me from every direction with its life and intensity. Where did all these words come from? I am anxious to know what they want from me, and what I am supposed to do with them. I don’t have answers for that, though, but I can’t stop writing either. So I press on, feeling like a half crazed maniac, producing thousands of words a day that don’t exist in anyone else’s experience of the world. What is this piece of life and safety I have stumbled into? I bought a word processor to help it along, so I don’t have to carry my laptop. I have written at length about why the subway feels safe to me, with its rhythm, and movement, and masses of pulsing, cranky, living bodies. Maybe I will come back and share some more of this experience with you soon.

    I am so glad for this post, Jen. So glad for all the posts!! So so glad 🙂