Gratitude is an interesting thing. In an Oprah-ish way, we are told to practice gratitude, especially when life is being particularly shitty and rather than sitting with those feelings, we are encouraged to focus on the good things we have. Which is not an entirely bad idea, but everything in moderation, including looking on the bright side, eh?

Gratitude is something that I wrestle with in my own life in particular ways regarding having a disability. In my last job, I was heavily pushed to profess my gratitude that the company I was working for was taking on web and software accessibility. I was interviewed multiple times for the company newsletter and ended up, through not-so-subtle prompting, repeating several statements about how grateful I was to the company for taking up the cause. And, to be fair, I was grateful ish. At the same time, it seemed to me that perhaps it wasn’t necessarily my job to pat them on the back or massage their ego with constant thankfulness. Sometimes, I simply wanted to say, “Hey guys, just do the work, alright? Know that you’re doing something good in the lives of many, and stop pushing us to constantly tell you about how wonderful you are. Just trust your work.”

Truthfully, I resent the idea that I should automatically be grateful. I try to do the right thing by people, which means treating people with respect and equity, and I don’t expect a bunch of gratitude from those who are marginalized in society just because I might be kind to them or do something to remotely level the playing field. As a developer said on a podcast I heard the other day, “Blind people shouldn’t have to pay to access the world.” I believe that for all marginalized people, and I don’t just mean monetarily. I don’t believe people should have to pay by sacrificing the energy it takes to constantly be grateful, either.

A few nights ago, I was walking home late without Kiva and crossed an intersection a bit crookedly. A woman on the sidewalk started directing me when I got to the middle of the street. I normally hate this. It’s really disorienting to be yelled at (however helpfully) while you’re in the middle of the street trying to avoid getting run over. I knew I needed the direction, though, so I tried not to be too irritated and instead to accept the assistance with humility. When I got to the curb, I thanked her. She called after me, “Thank you for letting me help you.”

I marveled at her gratitude. I often wonder if people who try to help me do it because they are desperate to feel useful, to feel like they made a difference to someone. To be thanked for this seems to corroborate my theory. It made me think of all the times I’ve felt so cheered to help someone, to level that playing field. Sometimes, letting yourself be helped is just as much for the other person as it is for you. I am grateful for that opportunity, at least.

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We only met a handful of times. At parties. Late at night. Once, and only once, at a pro-choice protest where men on the sidelines yelled that we were on a highway to hell. There, you grabbed my hand in yours and raised both over our heads. I felt lucky to follow your lead.

At parties we worked opposite sides of dim rooms. I was impossibly young and in love with someone who I realized later did not exist. You and I met in cramped kitchens, you stir-frying ginger and chile and meltingly slippery noodles. Drunk food, you said. For everyone, you said. I didn’t drink then, but I nodded like I understood. I understood your great hunger, at least, your desire to care for and feed and love. I ate those noodles like they were my last meal.

Once, in a haze of smoke and warm bodies crammed too close together, I left my girlfriend at the sound of your voice. You had a way of drawing people to you, of drawing me. You were telling some impossible story about some impossible adventure. You laughed hard and long, and with some strange boldness I didn’t recognize, I sidled up to you and skimmed my nails across your bare back. You cooed, unabashed, without reserve, like you had been waiting for just that.

We all adored you. We orbited you like planets, you beamed on us with infinite sunshine. You gave so much of yourself. I saw it all the time, in the notes you left, the words you spoke, the hugs you gave. Maybe you thought we took you for granted. Maybe we did.

I know now how hard it was. Now that I’m ten years older, jaded in ways that I despise every day. I know how hard you worked for seemingly nothing, how society turned its back, relentlessly dismissing your gifts. I know what it is to be wary. You must have been so tired. If you yearned for someone to hold you, I understand. If you wished to not go alone, I know that feeling, too. If you went with your head high and your feet sure, I admire you more than anyone, ever.

My grief is nothing compared to those who know you more. My grief is nothing, too, in comparison with the power I hope to god you felt, doing what you must, doing what you held in your beautiful brave hands as the ultimate act. Ultimate power. Ultimate control. When a world that refused over and over again to see you became too bleak, you said, I have had enough. I’ll take it from here.

I hope you felt empowered. I hope you felt finally, finally, at peace. I hope your rest is sweet. I hope you knew, somehow, that you would live on in our minds and our smiles and the way we laugh unreserved and comfort and care. Mostly, I hope you knew how you would be indelibly, dearly, unequivocally missed.

For all the baristas and the coffee shops I love so hard, especially in Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Boston, and Montpelier …

Thank you for the hours you’ve let me sit here without buying much more than a $3 americano.

Thank you for finding me tables and outlets and bathrooms, bringing me water, bringing my dog water.
Thank you for clearing my table with an immediate “don’t worry about it” when I’m trying to figure out where to put my used cup.
Thank you for the times you’ve brought me a pile of napkins when you’ve seen me crying, and the times you’ve seen me crying and knew, somehow, that I wanted to be left alone.
Thank you for remembering my name.
Thank you for asking for my name in the first place.
Thank you for that time you gave me a ride home when I came in to get out of the pouring rain, totally panicked and lost beyond reason in a city I did not know.
Thank you for the warmth, the busyness, the people watching, the reminding me that the world is moving outside of myself and in spite of myself.
Thank you for giving me a space to be in the world: to watch and listen and talk sometimes and be quiet other times.
Thank you for a place to be in the world, when I might otherwise never leave the house.
Thank you for remembering mundane details of my life, and asking me about them, and telling me some of yours.
Thank you for your conscientiousness, your intentional kindness, your service on the most thankless of days.
Thank you for caring for me, in the most elemental ways, in the smallest most important ways.

This week I’m spending time with Stuart on Long Beach Island in New Jersey. He rented a vacation nest a hop from the beach, and you can hear the waves from the deck and the hot tub and the living room couch. (Yes, I said hot tub.) I’ve been spending weightless hours there once or twice a day, letting the jets pummel me. And, once a day we go to a small cheese shop for chocolate-covered figs, pickled tomatoes, peppery olive oil, smoked cheddar, and chitchat with the extremely friendly owner, who has the patience to indulge us. Kiva barks at all the repair folks who are fixing up the houses around us at the end of the season, and frolics near the surf without actually being brave enough to go in. She grows bored easily and lies in the sun, just like at home. I sit in the sun and get sun-drunk and sleepy, just like anywhere I go.

I feel pretty spoiled, truth be told, like a sparrow in luxury’s lap who keeps looking over its shoulder, wide-eyed. It’s certainly like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The copious reading is the same as at home, the loom of my thesis, the life survival anxiety which I tamp with less gentleness than I care to admit, but my mind is also occupied with being present in a new place. Whenever I go somewhere new, I think about the people who live there. In this case, I think of the islanders who live here year-round, who grow up with the ocean as a backdrop to their lives. What would it be like to always hear this roar, always be clued into the storms brewing at sea? To spend summers treading the influx of tourists who leave their footprints everywhere and the beaches wrecked? To see “closed, surfing” on a store front sign and understand all the joy there? To grow up amongst affluence, scraping mussel shells with your teeth, skimming waves and running into the wind? Do you go to New York City on weekends? Do you summer in Philadelphia, away from the people who flood your home? Does lobster become commonplace rather than extravagance? Do you learn about the deep Atlantic in school, how it gives so much, what you can do to give back?

I’m especially appreciative of the novelty of these thoughts in my mind, a mind which is frankly tired and overwhelmed with the tasks of human interaction and navigation and living. I hope I can remember this privilege, even when I return to the real world. Love to you all.

Memoir Tuesday

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about social responsibility. I’ve been re-reading (for critique purposes) Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s ridiculously candid memoir, Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home.

In it, she talks about her identity as a mixed race queer girl and her finding home in the South Asian communities of Toronto. She speaks plainly about the things all of them did to survive poverty and class and race dynamics. What strikes me is this passage about social responsibility and the women who taught her: “I was raised here. By these women-of-color places that taught me that being a light-skinned person was a privilege and a tax, that it didn’t mean you were prettier or more special than anyone else, it meant you took your privilege and went in and got the grant or stole the spray paint because no one was following you aroun the store, and then you shared the money and spray paint with everyone.”

For all of my life, or at least since I began to understand my place in systemic privilege for only select groups, I’ve felt a calling, an almost teary-eyed foot-stompy desire to be that person who gets the grant and steals the spray paint, if in any way I possibly can. It’s a fierce need, destructive sometimes. I want to share what I have, even if it’s nothing, and I want to build allyship and community with people, not just people who are like me. I want us all to feel a little less alone, to feel held up and embraced on all sides, to not feel afraid to go home or go out or go where society says we’re not supposed to. Who’s with me?

Also, a song, because all my ears want to hear right now is Cocteau Twins. There’s something of that embracing quality in their music. You feel almost stifled by it, in the best possible way.

See you all next week.

 

I’m not sure how much time I will have for this space over the next several months, but I don’t want to entirely neglect it. I thought I might share a poem or essay with you on Fridays which reflects what I’ve been working on during the week.
This week I’ve been reading Alice Walker. I had only ever read The Color Purple before, several years ago. I am immersing myself in her poetry and personal accounts of her activism and bearing witness in Gaza, in particular. “Working Class Hero” is a poem I keep wandering back to, to reimmerse myself in its vast tenderness.
http://www.khabaryalnews.com/poetry/poetrydetail/love-poetry/working-class-hero-poem-by-alice-walker
Happy weekend, everyone

Hi Internet! I promised a summer hiatus, and despite the fact that Seattle is in a “heat wave” right now with dry, warm days on end, everyone is starting to talk about fall, so here we are and here I am.

I said Seattle, and you may not be surprised to know that I moved back here at the beginning of August. My return to Minneapolis never really took. I struggled with unbelonging, unemployment, and an unease that I could stuff down for a little while but never left me in peace entirely. At the risk of sounding over dramatic, I explained it to people as a feeling of being “haunted” by the past life I’d lived there. I came back in 2016 expecting everything to be like 2014. I was ready to pick up where I left, but everyone and everything had moved on, which is one of the most obvious things about this situation that I completely, willfully missed. It simply reached the point where there seemed to be no reason to stay. I’m definitely grateful for the friendships I rekindled and the new friends I made in my year back there, but feel I can still maintain them even if we are not in the same physical location.

So, at the end of July I trekked back West. I’m currently staying in a house with a lavender jungle in the front yard, shady trees and a hammock around back, a deck that gets full sun midmorning, and a nearly bottomless coffee pot gurgling in the kitchen. I have a lot to do this fall. I’m currently working on the first of two grad school theses, and I need to find a permanent place to live. There’s also still that unemployment thing. And there are self-care things to square away, like exercise and social time and time for jamming and pickling and music and walking.

It feels a bit overwhelming most days, to be honest. Still, sometimes I walk outside and run my hands through the lavender stretching towards me on my way down the stairs, and I have to stop and remind myself that this is mine again. This city that’s green all winter, whose steep hills and winding water make me feel inexplicably alive, I am here to stay now. Maybe not forever, maybe only for years, not decades. Who knows? I know that I am inherently restless, that my contentment now does not mean my contentment forever. But instead of that knowledge feeling scary, as it often does, I feel thankful to be here for now, right now. I am where I want to be.

I’m doing well. I hope you are, too.