Is it this, is it feelings

Is it shame? The shame of being a man with a penis and having had sex with women recently or decade earlier? The shame of being a U.S. citizen/an American who has tolerated the two party politics and dynamic between Democrats and Republicans for so long that they’ve squashed other political party alternatives?

Is it the horror of living in a misogynist nation state that does not guarantee maternity leave and therefore does not invest in parental leave nor provide a safety net for family leave. These notions are placed on the shoulders of the individual, not to be determined by policies to guarantee for all.

Is this inaction complacency to these domineering forces and stifling systems? Or a delusion that this greatest democracy in the world is not collapsing and convulsing.

Or is this some symptom or definition of stupidity. Socialized into apathy and subjugation.

This or that or that other that

The opportunity cost of the last hour has been:

  • to read the fiction by Kaitlyn Greenidge
  • read about how to plant a tree
  • write this blog post
  • write toward the other writing projects I’ve got marinating and fermenting inside.

Fortunately, the tree transplant needs a few days before replanting so that gives me until tonight or mañana. Now this blog post is nearly done. And the fiction is before me. And the writing projects is still marinating.

I’m aware of this at this moment as I seek to be intentional and rigorous about doing more of the things that have particular significance though they are also things that I’m less adept and less innate to do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

Sometimes I’ll do something but not more it or remember it and when I do remember it I don’t think of myself as having done so as frequently as I might have done it. That is one way that I belittle myself and make myself less small by not recalling when and what I did. So if I’m not doing something so frequently to know that I’ve done it, then I need to figure out the place and way that I’m writing it down so I can find that place where I wrote it says/weeks/month ago to quiet the inner critic that is so omnipresent to diminish the actions and moves and complete cycles that I have done.

It’s tricky this tendency to do something and be someone and then forget that was what I did or who I was such that I don’t remember thy about myself at all. It’s a simple way to erase who I am and what my recent history was. There’s some who write that forgetting is essential to the functioning of our brains but this habitual forgetting makes me smaller in my own cognition and my consciousness.

So I’m practicing and building my memory and skillsets to track and therefore remember. When I cannot remember with my internal gauges I will have to write it down either on paper, a smartphone, a journal or a hash mark on a wall.

I suppose that the tracking, too, is a form or practice.

Not today, haole

On Monday, in the middle of milking a goat, two police cars arrived outside the front gate. They were coming by to check after a call/complaint from a neighbor. A white neighbor. After a few minutes, a third car arrived.

It was bullshit and nonsensical. The 20 or so minutes that they were outside the gate was irritating, scary and instructive.

Some of the lessons of the episode were:

  1. Some people just won’t like you, so don’t take it personally because the exact reason(s) can be hard to discern and impossible to confirm. More likely than not, it isn’t about you.
  2. Align with fear.
  3. When people tell you who they are believe them. Believe them moreso when they show you who they are.
  4. Do not retract or recede or retreat in the face of violence, dehumanization or attempts to indignify.

The five days since then have been galvanizing and reaffirming to experience joy and delight and figure out who stands with us and what we stand for, who and what we value, and how living contrary to dominant culture in a racist, patriarchal, violent, capitalist world is something to be proud of and further fight for in the midst of hostility.

Honoring Karim, the shaman

Eight years ago, in September 2011, we walked into the animal shelter in Santa Fe to meet the Bull Terrier, who at the time was known as Blue and when he came home with us a few days later we chose the name Karim. In Urdu, Karim means blessing. At the shelter, they estimated that he was 3 years old; we have since wondered if he was as old as 5 back then. Either way, that would make the last Tuesday in September, the 24th, his 11th (or possibly 13th) birthday.

This past Saturday, October 12, Karim died. We buried him at midday on Sunday, the 13th, in a grave that I began to dig (15% of what was the needed size and depth) in mid-September when I wondered and worried if he would day in the 48 hours that I was out of town. He didn’t die while I was gone, so I got to dig the grave that he and I needed. Since late August, we have known that his right kidney was inflamed and there was blood in urine. (Looking through photos after he died, we saw one from six months ago, from March that showed a few drops of blood in pee in the foyer.)

In Advice for Future Corpses: And Those Who Love Them, Sallie Tisdale writes (on page 88), “If you are going to help someone who is dying, you should be prepared to help in the toilet.” In a way, Karim had us (and many friends and dog sitters who came to care for him and Jataka when we were away at births or vacations), preparing for his death for years. Coming home to find piss or shit in the foyer became so frequent upon returning home that I was at ease cleaning it up some days and at other times I was livid. In recent months, I got into the habit of walking from the parked car to the front door quickly and by myself to see if there was anything awaiting us. And the day before he died, it dawned on me that I had been doing this quick walk to the front door because I anticipated that I would come home and find Karim dead in the foyer, on the couch, or on the dog bed. All that urine and poop was getting me ready for death. On Saturday, I came home to find him on the dog bed in front of the wood stove before walking back outside to let Brinda and Sabiya know that he had died before we walked in together to see him, sit with him, be with him and be with one another in the presence of his death.

It was a sobering last month or six weeks of his life as his weight declined quickly. I could see it first in his vertebrae along his back, then the ribs along his formerly stout midsection, and finally in the hip bones that portruded at angles that had never been evident before. When I would rub his neck, there was much less muscle and mass to massage.

The disintegrating, disappearing body was simultaneously jarring and expected as he loved so many foods. Before Karim, I had not known that a dog would chew up carrots, cabbage and broccoli. A constant topic of debate was whether Karim’s favorite fruit was peach, mango, apple or whatever was in season. In preparing for  his burial, I pulled out one peach pit and two cherry pits from a katori in the fridge for Sabiya to throw into the grave along with a pink collar and a white blanket that we wrapped him in. He loved blankets, and I have learned from Karim and Brinda that (some or most) dogs love sleeping partially or fully under a blanket. Whenever a blanket or a jacket, a pile of clean laundry or a pile of pillows and blankets for the bed were available, he would go settle in for a most comfortable snuggle — it didn’t matter to him if he slept so long as he got to snuggle in a makeshift bed.

Even as he was getting weaker and slower and skinnier, he walked over to a chair on the portal to lay outside for less than an hour. The autumn air was crisp in the shade and he would go to the green chair to get a few more minutes outside before I carried him back inside. In the last week, there were three nights that I took him out to pee when we were greeted with the hoo hoo hooting of an owl; one night, there were two owls in the valley hooting for the few minutes that Karim and I were out in the dark. On the morning of his death, a magpie — a bird totem for entering other realms — jumped under a table on the portal less than 10 feet from his dying body.

 ***
Karim was Brinda and my first dog together, who we got to through some incredbile and unpredictable circumstances, three months after moving to Santa Fe and 14 months after our relationships started. She was volunteering at the animal shelter and met him one week that I was out of town. 

     “You have to come home,” she said. “Bud, is everything all right?” “Yes, there’s a Bull Terrierr at the shelter!” “I will become in eight days.” “He won’t be here in eight days.”

I did not come home early but in that time, Blue, as he was known, was adopted by an elderly woman despite the concerns about his strength and temperament voiced by one of the employees. He was returned less than 24 hours later, then acquired kennel cough placing him in quarantine the entire time that I was gone. 

Brinda told me in the last few days that it is through Karim that like dthat I was along guy. It was through July 2014 reading/consultation with Lena Barrios, a Mayan healer, that I learned that my birth corresponds with the nahual of Tz’i

As our first dog, he was also our first child who instilled parental duties, responsibilities, existential questions, dilemmas and delights that we had not entertained or experienced prior to his arrival. We had innumerable, amazing experiences with him in eight years:

  • The first Halloween when children came knocking at the door and lost interest in candy when they saw the dog who they asked to pet.
  • When we sat in a hot tub outside the bedroom windows while he sat on the bed and watched us. After a few minutes of watching and waiting for me to get out of the tub, he squatted and peed on the middle of the bed to convey (what we understood at the time as) his displeasure of being left inside while we reveled outside. 
  • Another time, I was working upstairs, and one of us had let him into the backyard and then a few minutes later, inquired where he was. Brinda asked if he was upstairs with me. When I told her no, we ran to the back to look and wonder and wander around the backyard until we saw the hole under the fence. We ran out the front door scrambling and ran to the park less than a block away to find him accttached to the face of a 14 year old, large, female Husky with three adults trying to pull his jaw off of her. One trick that we had learned from a dog trainer a EDs or months earlier was to pull and pinch the inner thigh to get him to unlatch. I learned that and had to use it just that one time. (Some comic relief afterwards, when the Husky was safe back at her home and we were back in ours was to replay the one adult who was tossing — more accurately described as sprinkling — water onto Karim’s muzzle like he was a boxer.
  • When we moved all the furniture out of a previous home and left Karim with a bowl of water and bed. In four hours of isolation, he walked into and apparently rolled all over the inside of the empty, ashy fireplace because we came back to find his coat gray  from nose to tail. We will never know if it was some sort of cleansing practice or despair or simply some BT mischief.
  • This summer, we knew that he was getting closer to death, so we would let him go “sojourn” as he wandered for 20 to 30 minutes. Solo adventures had been inconceivable in his spry years because he likely would have gotten into a fight with the larger, older dog next door or been picked up by someone who fights dogs. But, the two things that we imagine that he was doing while sojourning were eating acorns and looking for an arroyo or a bed of leave, a shady spot or a sunny spot where he could choose to die. But, we stopped permitting the sojourns after a few instances where coagulated blood showed that the impact that the acorns were having on his kidney(s).
  • Four years ago, he ate so many acorns on walks with a leash that he had incontinence causing him to pee while laying on the dog bed. After consulting a neighbor who is a veterinarian and the Internet, we learned that acorns are toxic for dogs.
  • And the time that he saw a mouse in the foyer, snapped into terrier mode launching his 40 pound body into the air, using his muzzle to stun the mouse, before grabbing it with his teeth and throwing it down his throat.

Karim was the ultimate blessing as he prepared me for fatherhood. In the early years of our relationship, there were many a night that we would watch the dizzying and hilarious antics of Bull Terriers — splashing, spinning (or as we called it helicoptering), cuddling, and trancing — in videos online that had us laughing for hours at their joy, persistence, and intensity. There was the first year when we strapped a child’s pair of butterfly wings onto his back and paraded him around the kitchen. In those early years, we learned that in England, Bull Terriers were bred and raised to accompany and protect children in the countryside and I took this distinct lineage as a sign that child or children were coming, I just had to work with my own patience/impatience and trust some forces greater than I could imagine. By some miracle, he endured and lived long to support us with the arrival of two children before his time to go back to the mountain.

BLM blog roll for 7/1

So much wisdom, so much prescience at this time of lynching, and this time of liberation:

James Cone, interviewed by Bill Moyers (11/23/2007)

James Cone on The Cross and the Lynching Tree

The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning, Claudia Rankine in NYT (6/22/2015)

Bryan Stevenson, interviewed by Corey Johnson on Marshall Project (6/24/2105)
https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/06/24/bryan-stevenson-on-charleston-and-our-real-problem-with-race

The Long History of Southern Terror, by Heather Cox Richardson, in Jacobin Magazine (6/21/2015)
https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/06/reconstruction-civil-war-ame-dylann-roof/

The Debt, by FiveFifths, on SevenScribes.com (6/10/2015)

The Debt

What This Cruel War was Over, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, on The Atlantic (6/22/2015)
http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/what-this-cruel-war-was-over/396482/

We Were Never Meant to Survive: A Response to the Attack in Charleston (6/19/2015)
http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/31465-we-were-never-meant-to-survive-a-response-to-the-attack-in-charleston

Stop Trying to Be Good, Be Black, by Jamilah Lemeiux, on Mic.com (6/30/2015)
mic.com/articles/121508/stop-trying-to-be-good-be-black

The practice of meetings

I recall a clip of Allen Iversen, former all star guard of the Philadelphia 76ers saying, “We talkin’ about practice.”

This was at a press conference where Iversen seemed irritated (at least to me) that he was having to spend time answering questions about what he was or wasn’t doing during practice. They weren’t talking about games or opponents but what was rumored to have happened at practice. Namely what had occurred between Iversen and his coach. He had plenty of reasons to be weary of how the press portrayed him, since they had portrayed him as a ruffian from the time he was 18 years old.

I remember Allen Iversen’s irritation years later because it reminds me of feelings that so many people have towards a constant irritation in their own lives. It is not basketball practice that they are obligated to attend, forced to go through, and then go back to over and over again. It is not anything sports-related, but it is the job-related meetings that people are required to attend, to go through, and go back to over and over again, even when they don’t go well.

Like a bad practice, a bad meeting feels terrible. The difference is that most of us, unlike professional sports athletes, don’t get skewered by the corporate media afterwards. There may be gossip about what does or doesn’t happen in a meeting, but rarely is it in front of video cameras and reporters.

In the last month, I have heard instances of two friends who were feeling a lot like Allen Iversen. They were stewing after long, onerous, and horrendous days. Their work days did not consist of hours of practice, but hours of meetings. Meetings that people loath. All-day meetings that feel useless or, even worse, are counter-productive. Meetings that take people away from what they feel a need or obligation to do, and have to sit through something else. To be in a physical space, or on a phone call that obstructs and distracts.

I find this practice/meeting metaphor more poignant having just read about how people steal your most valuable asset, your time. Time which unlike money cannot be compensated, reimbursed or retroactive. When I heard Iversen’s quote, it sounded like he was doubly frustrated. Frustrated at a practice that seemed like a waste, and then having to spend time listening to people ask him questions about an incident that they were not a part of, and that he did not want to revisit.

A question that we ask in our house is: How does this serve you?

How do meetings serve you? More importantly, which meetings don’t serve you? And, what is causing us to continue to subject ourselves to terrible meetings. It has been 13 years since a book with the title, We Have to Stop Meeting Like This written by Tony Jeary and George Low, came out. I haven’t read it, but whatever meeting status quo the authors hoped to address and disrupt seems to carry on.

Rather than get wiser in how we do meetings, we have gotten stuck. It seems to me that all meetings consist of some fundamental elements:

<ul><li>two or more people</li>
<li>one or multiple topics to address</li>
<li>how the people in the meeting communicate with one another</li></ul>

In my math mind, this feels like an equation:

X = P + T + C

Where X is a meeting, and the three variables are People, Topics, and Communication. Depending on the set-up, and the power dynamics, a different meeting could mathematically be written as:

X = (4P x 3T)/C

Where four people are present and they have three topics on the agenda.  Like in any good equation, any of these variables (P, T or C) can greatly affect the outcome of meeting X. But, oftentimes, it seems to me that communication, C, is the variable that most affects both the people in a meeting and how they talk to/address/shout at/disagree/pummel/reprimand/present to/inform the other people/person in a meeting.

As social beings, how we communicate with one another tremendously impacts how well or how poorly we get along. As is the case in any team sports, chemistry has as much to do with performance as talent. As a child, and as a younger brother, who often played sports and pick up games, I learned how a team with more synergy and less talent could often win over a team with more talent and less synergy.

Our working environments and campaigns need meetings with better synergy and more attention given to the chemistry and dynamics between People. The old and entrenched habits around meetings need to be broken. We’ve got to figure out how to drop these bad habits, as they are lethal to our health.

Expanding through life

In recent days, I have had reminders of containers, opening, expansion, and the ways that my soul can adapt and does adapt to the stimuli of life. At times, the container feels like a crucible; on other days, it is a jar or a pitcher full of water or some other liquid. A few years ago, during a more tentative time in my life, it felt like my container was a wee teacup sloshing through quakes, waves, whirlpools, and other tremors of tumult that had the insides spilling out and over the rim.

My container is less teacup, and more of a vast expanse. Something that is like an aquarium yet nimble, with tall sides yet accessible, wide and broad. My nephew told me about his first attempts at throwing clay in the past school year, and expanding my container feels like a slower version of throwing. Instead of starting with a new mound of clay, I add another layer of clay on top of what was already there or add spots to touch up.

Wisdom and guidance of how to do so abounds with metaphors outdoors, guidance in books, recipes, food, and in conversations with others. Just last night, I read about the “generosity of the universe,” an obvious statement yet a teaching that does not get mentioned as frequently, or a worldview that is not as pervasive, as scarcity as supposedly shown through Darwin’s theories of evolution and elimination.

The generosity of the universe has me guided by intuition more than ever. With this, verbal communication has taken a back seat to the unexplainable or illogical. Stimuli are sudden and by letting go of the cause, source or motivation, I can accept things just as they are. I spent a lot of energy and time spinning my wheels trying to defy, denounce, and change what was. I

sensory apocalypse from the mail pouch

In my early teens, which were the Swaziland years, I read Sports Illustrated magazine regularly. It gave me some perspective of what was happening with sports back in the U.S.

The magazine would come through the “mail pouch” each week, which I believe meant that there was a large canvas pouch placed in the cargo section of a commercial airplane. As best as I understood the set-up, mail from the U.S. was sent to an APO or FPO address somewhere in the metropolitan Washington D.C. region that would then be sent by plane to the Embassy in Mbabane. Though, I never saw the mail pouch, I imagined it to be manila. There were so many manila envelopes inside the Embassy, particularly that had to do with communications so I associated the non-descript color to the mail pouch.

Earlier today, Sports Illustrated came to mind as I remembered a section in the opening pages called “Signs of the Apocalypse,” a pithy indicator of what was remiss in the wide, whacky world of sports and society. All of this came back to me because of a banana and hard boiled egg in my bag that I anticipated eating. In the midst of so many other smells, I considered a few other signs of the apocalypse:

  • the preference for the smells of Febreze to bananas
  • that Glade Plug-ins get commended while garlic breath is ridiculed
  • a cloud of cologne or perfume is more desirable to the lingering smell of onions on one’s breath or fingers.

Such preferences bewilder me. I find the artificial chemicals of cologne or perfume so pungent that I may lean away or even gag. I suppose that it may be due to a sensory sensitivity hard-wired in our brains that has little to do with choice.

________

In this era of the Internet and NSA, that pouch seems so quaint. Even though the pouch was the primary means of getting us personal mail from stateside throughout the final years of the Cold War, it seems like such a rudimentary way to get contents from the U.S. to us in different countries. All of these memories make me wonder just how simplistic or elaborate that manila “mail pouch” actually was.

Twin guards of the Old Guard

In academia, the twin guards of the Old Guard, White Supremacy and Misogyny be triflin’.

That’s the pithy one sentence reaction I had after reading “The Tenure Game” by Teresa Steinhoyer in the Yale Daily News, about the miserable and failing efforts by Yale University between 2006 and 2011 to greatly catapult the number of women and people of color in faculty ranks written. I encountered the story since a FB friend, and former professor of mine, who instructed me in one of my most instrumental undergraduate courses titled, Black Public Intellectuals, posted it. It was in this course in the Fall of 1998 that I read Ida B. Wells for the first time and learned her history. It was in that course that I wrote one of my best papers about the lyrics of Tupac Shakur, citing passages from the 2Pacalypse Now album, released in 1991.

I recognize that this social blight — this epic failure, this structural deficiency — is not just at Yale. This discrimination is not just in academia, as similar dynamics, subtleties, and closed doors pervade the social profit sector, government, the military, the private sector, and K-12 education. In other words, any mixed race or coed institution. This is what it feels like and what the humbling (if not humiliating) demographics look like for any predominantly institution or workplace where white males are predominant in numbers, particularly so in the upper layers of an organization that have the authority and power to determine other’s fate.

What is insidious about how academia does it, is that the hoops of being considered for tenure most often depend on jumping through hoops years in advance. As this article indicates, an aspiring professor spends somewhere between 3 and 7 years of showing their merits before actually being given the yeah or nay on getting tenure. Since the Civil Rights Movement opened up new paths to academic positions and hastened the integration of education from pre-school to post-doctoral four or five decades ago, it appears that academics and academic institutions have figured out a variety of ways to track disproportionate numbers of professors of color and women into some second-class status all but guaranteeing that they will not get tenure, and not be around for the long-term. A whole lot of pomp and circumstance that isolate individuals so they cannot coordinate and collectively wield power. I call it insidious because Misogyny and Supremacy have cleaned up their decorum. They don’t tar and feather quite like in lynching’s heyday, but they sully people and women and people of color who attempt to stand up, they diminish and belittle research and rigor that focuses on the experiences of Chinese Americans, or facets of immigrant lives. It may not be lethal in a life/death sense, but not getting tenure is lethal to one’s academic profession and academic pursuits, or so it appears to me from my non-academic perspective.

When multiple female mentors tell a younger female factuly that they have to choose two of three between “husband, children or career” is internalized misogyny placing career over children. Particularly, when only 19% of male faculty (compared to 43% of female faculty) felt that they did not have to choose between their academic pursuits and family lives. This is what gender imbalances look like in capitalism. In academia, tenure-track and supremacy reward patience with the Old Boys network, the kind of patience that has to last longer than a presidential term or olympic cycles. This is a long game.
~~~

These are the same recurring dynamics — of recruitment and retention — that I saw as a college student. As a sophomore and junior, I attended countless meetings and meals focusing on how to recruit and retain more students of color. In a nation where people of color were a much larger percentage of the population than the student population, something was undemocratic and skewed in who attended Macalester College. Yet, the numbers did not change, and got worse from the mid-90s to the late-90s. This lackluster system was exacerbated by an administration and faculty voices that espoused how international students could make up the difference. But they did not. The math did not add up.

We could talk about the social aspects of what could attract/repel a prospective student of color. However, those exchanges led by a Black employee in the Admissions Office rarely, if ever, brought up the material matters of budget decisions, financial aid, and what financial resources were being expended to make a four year, liberal arts college degree more of less accessible to more students of color or what considerations were being made for students who were coming from high schools segregated by class and race. The systemic imbalances of K-12 education were glossed over, as were the structural deficiencies at Macalester that were ill-equipped to grapple with institutional racism and institutional sexism.
~~~

The section in the Yale Daily News article about assertiveness is dicey. And saddening. The Latina quoted in the article was cognizant of having to be assertive from her freshman year at Yale and continue to do so into her first years as the first tenured Latina professor in the Law School. The diceyness of the entire set-up is that people of color and women have internalized messages that we get angry too hastily. We have been pummeled with the notion that the playing field is level and will give us a fair chance so long as we work hard. Most people of color and women sublimate their assertiveness because it is spun as anger. The micro-aggressions are one form of it, and the internalized racism and internalized sexism are another. (And, I consider the latter more harmful because it is what we do to ourselves rather than what someone else is doing to us.)

In the last 50 years, Supremacy has learned how to give the appearance of fairness, when the reality is far from that. In the five decades since the Civil Rights Act, we have had scattered progress as segregation and bias has gone from de jure to de facto. What this has meant is that the guards of the Old Guard have determined what can be done to pass a legal test yet uphold segregation and the persistent imbalance of access and power, evolution and adaptation. The figures cited in the YDN article demonstrate how persistent the Old Guard is, and how craftily they have figured out how to protect their neck and protect their tenure protocols so they will endure the test of civil court, or when someone files a discrimination suit with the EEOC. These are the house rules in a game that the Old Guard still dominates, decades after the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Movement.

So long as there are a fixed number of positions, or metaphorical seats at the table, then there are those who will lose their seats. This is the case in academic departments, in Congress, and in any workplace, political body, civic association that has a limited number of slots. Capitalism is a social order that suggests that there will always be a fixed number, less spaces than what we desire. Fostering competition and animosity rather than instilling a sense of shared destiny, this perceived stagnation creates ire causing some to hoard power and figure out how to subjugate others.

And those who have historically occupied those seats, in the 240 years of the United States, are not going to simply give up what they have known as their’s. There is greed and selfishness, and there are also just old habits that are hard to break. As Frederick Douglass said [credit is due to PublicEye.org for making this lengthier version of his “power concedes nothing” quote more accessible],

If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.