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.

 

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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.

I’m back in Vermont for residency, staying at an adorable bed and breakfast close to campus. I’ve never stayed at a bed and breakfast before, and I feel pleased that my first time is now and here, paid for with my own dwindling savings, made possible by my own desperately underused agency and will. It’s going to be a week of rest, of writing, of thinking, of quiet, of planning, of talking, of songbirds, of sunlight and rain, and of breakfast every day that I don’t have to make.

I’m popping into say that this blog is going on hiatus for the summer. One thing I love about this space is the freedom to write as I wish, without the scrutiny or desires of advisors or critique partners. It’s been a struggle to keep up with lately, though. There have been so many things I’ve wanted to say that I haven’t known how to put into words, or haven’t had the courage to try. This space has started to feel somewhat inauthentic, and I never want my writing to be a reflection of my inauthenticity.

It was my birthday on Friday, and a friend I don’t talk to often sent me a list of very lovely birthday wishes. Among them, she hoped I would have “an omnipresent reminder that you are you and you are doing just fine in this life and you are a wonderful person.” I mention that she and I don’t talk much simply to say that I am always shocked when unlikely people have the knack for telling me what I am longing to hear. I’m going to use this hiatus to try to get to that place of omnipresence, to know in my bones that I am doing just fine, that I am doing the best I can and being as good as I can to my loved ones and to the world.

Thank you for reading and for sticking by me this past rollercoaster year. I’ll be back in a few months with stories to tell.

For the Summer Solstice, I thought I’d pay homage to a little patch of green outside the back entrance to my apartment. I’ve dreamed of having green space ever since I moved into my first solo apartment seven years ago. Two apartments later, I finally have somewhat of a “backyard”, a large fenced-in sprawl of grass and winding sidewalks leading to separate dwellings. It’s one of the reasons I picked this apartment, (the other reason being, mainly, I have no time to make a choice and this is good enough).

This spring, I’ve settled into making this space a place I want to be. In past years, in order to get enough time outside in the warmer months, I’d go to a coffee shop with a patio and stay as long as I felt it was acceptable before I should either leave or order another drink. Or I’d sit on my front stoop and brush Kiva for an hour. Or I’d walk. But I longed for a place to sit and read and write and eat and drink my coffee for as long as I pleased, without worrying over capitalist or social pressures. I’ve borrowed a swing and an outdoor table from my parents, and planted some tomatoes, basil, and marjoram in pots beside them. I’m not confident I will get tomatoes, but I love the smell of their leaves and their fuzzy stems and remembering my parents’ tomato-filled garden from years past. I like to wander out my back door and pick basil and marjoram for salad or scrambled eggs. Or clip lemon verbena from its pot on the windowsill for tea. It’s such a small thing. Yet it’s big because it is one thing in my life that is truly mine.

Usually during the day, when the sun is high and relentless, I sit on the swing while Kiva runs around taking care of dog business: sniffing everything to make sure it’s where it should be, eating grass, peeing on stuff. I’ve gotten more sunburns than I care to admit in those quiet minutes. It’s peaceful. It’s luxurious. I am so grateful to have it.

Tell me what you’ve planted this season, what you’re hoping to grow, what you’re planning to do? How will you celebrate this summer?

I am haunted by something I read, by a thing a white person said,
“I refuse to be abused because of the color of my skin.”
… um …
That’s nice white person but what if you had no choice?
What if the system said your skin was so abhorrent that you couldn’t get a job and you couldn’t live in a safe house and your babies would go hungry and no white person had your back, really had your back, so you were just fucked all the ways but especially sideways and constantly, and no matter how hard you work and how much you bleed and how much you want it the system says no justice because the system is afraid of you
the system says you don’t matter because the system is afraid of you
the system cakes your wounds with salt
and no white middle class person does a damn thing that would actually matter
because what’s happening to you doesn’t directly affect them
and they’re safe in their own work-family-love-success-buying-things so who cares what’s going on in the streets
white people, we are complicit
we are all complicit
and these words that I’m writing will do nothing to change that
I am haunted by what you said
and how
I still
do nothing.

A little context about this poem: In 2014, I began doing pole dancing as a form of physical self-expression and exercise. I poled for about a year, then lapsed when I moved to Seattle. I’ve recently been able to pick it up again in the past month, and have had an incredible time reacquainting myself with it. This poem celebrates that.

Poem for my Body

Oh hello, there you are
we haven’t talked in a few years, and it’s my fault, I know.
Finances, pain, lack of motivation, exhaustion
all reasons I said I couldn’t get in touch with you then
until, finally, I had to.
Because I knew I wouldn’t be ok
until I felt
the strain of all your engaging muscles
the curve of your sturdy spine, pressing, leaning in
the thrust and clutch of your bent knees, giving me so much
holding me up.
I can’t believe you still love me, for all I put you through.
The days of endless sitting,
the way I ate chocolate and cheese to stop myself from feeling,
how I neglected your desperate need for sleep.
I can’t believe
you still welcome me back
shoulders steady, pointed toes, hands reaching towards the sky.
You spin, you slide,
you bend to my will
and break my stubborn mind.
Thank you for being strong
thank you for being mine.
You’ve shown me clarity again.
And when I’m climbing and the music beats within me
scaling towards the top of the world,
pumping blood and electric nerves
I feel a shaking, tremulous high
like a kite set free for the sun.

Cold feet in May, double-socked, toes still stiff
warm cheeks because of something you said to me,
blood still flowing
somewhere, at least
I smell cut grass, taste the chill of night descending
What season am I in?
What life is this?
I want someone to comfort me, to tell me I’m doing right
or just to tell me to do something, and what that something should be.
I can’t take this change alone, this hurtling towards some wild what.
The world isn’t stopping so I’m holding as best I can,
holding my very best
Earlier today I sat in a dim-lit room and listened to nothing but everyone breathe
and that was everything, everything!