Clementines: they’re called mandarinas in Spain, and when I was studying there in the fall of 2006, I picked a glut of the sun-warmed orbs from a tree in the mountains of the Alpujarras. I wore layers of scarves, because even though the sun warmed one side of my face, the wind knifed its way down the back of my neck. I was raised in the Midwest, so had no experience picking anything off a tree but the occasional late-season, squishy apple; so even though I tried to act blase about the whole thing, I eventually plopped down right under the mandarina tree and peeled away the rind of a particularly heavy fruit. The peel came away easily, smelling like a winter flower. I listened to the shriek of an unknown bird as I ate the segments down to nothing.

I am February cranky, sun-starved, craving warmth, looking for spring. It hasn’t been the rainiest Seattle winter I’ve experienced, but by February, even four months of intermittent rain starts to drag on my spirit. So I eat mandarinas and cling to the memories of sunshine of the past. I stand over bubbling vats of lemon marmalade. I water my anemic bamboo and daydream about lush growth. I run my hands over citrus displays at the co-op, forcing whoever is shopping with me to stop and wait while I heft pomelos, too big to fit in my hand. I succumb to buying out-of-season strawberries, and feel a knee-jerk urge to cry when they taste dry and woody and of nothing. Even though I know the outcome will be this way, year after year, I can’t help it.

What do you do to create spring when it seems so far away?

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There’s a woman crying on the bus. She’s trying to hide it, but the breathing gives it away. Not the sniffles of a persistent cold, or the snortiness of laughter, but the hitching gasps of a good sob. A sob that is straining forth, wanting to break free, but she denies it.

This is Minnesota, we don’t cry in public here. We come from sterner stock, virtuous stoicism in our Nordic blood. The thing is if we cry in public, people will look, and wonder why, and maybe think that we don’t have it together: we aren’t making enough money or we think our partners don’t love us or our partners really don’t love us and have been gone a year now. Or we haven’t had a date in a decade and there’s no cure for being so damn lonely. Or it’s mid-April and snowing with no whisper of spring.

I used to be afraid of crying in public. I held my tears in, clenched my teeth to stay quiet, bit the insides of my cheeks so that I could taste only physical pain. Years ago, on a night plane back from Vienna, leaving my girlfriend, I sobbed into a tissue until it disintegrated, waving away the flight attendant who tried to offer comfort. Don’t acknowledge me. Don’t validate my pain or right to exist.

Now, I let everyone see it: let my face scrunch freely, not hidden behind my hands; let the tears run without furiously wiping them as quickly as they can fall; let the snot bubbble from my nose like someone really uncivilized. Go ahead, look. Stare. Speculate. “What is wrong with that lady? Why doesn’t she go home and do that? Why doesn’t she have anyone to help her? Should I help her? I’m probably too busy, I have my own problems.”

If you’re crying in public, I’ll offer you a tissue. I’ll put my arm around you, if you want, I’ll ask you where it hurts. You can tell me, or you can tell me to leave you alone, or you can say nothing and just let yourself be held. You lay your sorrow on my back, I will bear it. It’ll be me who needs you tomorrow or next week or years from now, after all.

Hello Internet, and happy New Year! I just returned from freezing-cold Vermont and my second-to-last residency. I have a slightly heavy post planned about ableism in academia, particularly in progressive programs such as mine which work hard to be inclusive and whose students sometimes miss the mark. It’ll be all about “good intentions” versus actual impact, microaggressions, and how “judgment free” spaces can create permission for people to say unoriginal and problematic things. It’ll be mad fun, I promise. I can tell you’re excited!

Meanwhile, though, I thought I’d offer a few new year intentions and see how everyone else is welcoming in 2018. I know resolutions aren’t cool any more. Now, the general idea seems to be that making resolutions puts undo pressure on us when we are just trying to do the best we can. I affirm this, and no judgment here if you don’t make them. But I do have a few things I’d like to work on this year, and here they are, in no particular order:

I want to love something enough to stick with it. I want to love something so much that I am basically forced to stick with it. I’d like, even, to become a little obsessed. I think part of my downfall in this area is that I like to do a lot of things and try a lot of things: yoga, pole dancing, rock climbing, improv, different types of essay writing and poetry, recorder playing, canning, bread making, essential oil blending, etc etc blah blah blah. Yet, I feel somewhat unfulfilled by quantity. I don’t think I’ll ever quell my desire to always learn and dabble in new things, but I’d love to find something that I can really sink into.

I’ve also decided that I am no longer going to ask my friends and partners to bear the burden of inaccessibility when it comes particularly to agency and organizational incompetence. I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked to fill out paperwork, be it at work or at a doctor’s office, that is inaccessible. And therefore an employee will say, “Don’t you have a sighted person who can help?” I usually do, technically, but I am tired of always asking. I am tired of waiting for someone else to be able to help. Even if it takes the organization longer or someone working there has to assist me, I will insist on that. It is their job. They are getting
paid. My loved ones are not getting paid, and I have better things to do with them than paperwork.

Finally, I want to work on being gentler with myself. I renew this every few years, which is a bit frustrating. I’d like to just get it right already, but people don’t work that way. Things finally came to a head when a writer in a workshop told me that the discrepancy between the slack I cut for everyone else and the standards I hold myself to in my writing often verge on painful. Yikes. I know I am hardest on myself. I am hard on others too, certainly, but I save the worst for me. As cliched as it sounds, the first step is probably to recognize that.

I hope you all are having a good start to the year. Tell me what you have in store for 2018!

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.

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 walked down a big, big hill, behind a chatty woman with three small dogs on continuously tangling leashes. They frequently stopped to pee. My dog frequently sniffed them from behind because she does not understand consent. We talked about snow and dogs and pleasantries with no substance, but it was easy like drinking a beer under a shady tree. We got to the bottom, slunk down four crumbling steps, and came out to the right close to downtown. She crossed over shortly, bidding farewell.

I kept on, alone, my body wired with the tension of navigating a new place. I stepped gingerly, my face in the wind, down to the intersection at State with the loud “clack-clack” to let me know it wasn’t yet time. As the light change, bells in downtown Montpelier began “My Country Tis of Thee.” For the 4th of July, tomorrow.

Often, people tell me I am so brave to do what I do. Especially, to navigate unknown cities. What I think they are actually in awe of is that I do these things and I EXPECT them to go smoothly. Or, if not smoothly, at least I keep trying. I realize, suddenly, humbly, that perhaps everyone is right. Perhaps the most radically brave thing I can do right now is walk with my head high in a place that I don’t know, in a world that is not built for me, with freedom bells in my ears and a dog jumpy with excitement at my side. And through grit and attention I’ll find what I’m looking for, a gastropub snug in the heart of Main Street, and I’ll sit in the window of the crowded room and drink an IPA whose bitterness fills my nose, and eat a plate of skinny fries doused in mustard, mine all mine. You, little bird, you with your curiosity and your hunger for life, you are the bravest one in this room right now.