The Purple Box

This is a piece generated in the Writer’s Studio and a first in a series of poems and flash fiction that will be published on this blog throughout the year. A new year and new goals. Thanks for reading.

There was a time when things held meaning for me as if they kept me together like bone and muscle, and their presence pumped blood into my heart.

I had an art bin, actually, a makeup caboodle filled with watercolors, brushes, calligraphy pens, erasers, charcoals, and professional grade pencils as if this box of supplies rendered me an artist.

For a stretch of time in my life, there were few moments the bin, along with pads of Strathmore heavyweight paper, never left my side, an intimate companion.

Its marbled-purple plastic shell was hip for the times and inside hot pink accordion shelves with teeny compartments designed for cosmetics worked just as well for art supplies and a space underneath the perfect size for sable brushes wide, pointed, angled and flat.

I stole the bin from a discount store in The Valley.

If I come to think of it maybe I had absconded with the brushes from a local stationery store

that had little security but aisles of stuff to fill my bin with a personal supply of adventure in every shape and style.

My artistic endeavors were amateurish renderings of pop culture, record covers, motel floral patterns, silhouettes, calligraphy, dragons, lilies, the white rabbit, Alice, tweedledee and dum, and repeated versions of the Queen of Hearts.

Yet it wasn’t the output that mattered most rather that my stock of supplies was at the ready sharpened, cleaned and arranged by color.

We’d travel the length of California back and forth on I-5 or sometimes Hwy 99 if the mood suited us. I met him on the beach, in winter when the waves crashed from 6 feet into a froth of sandy gyrations.

And the purple bin and my canvas bag of journals were a constant in a time when my life centered around one man and our vagabond ways.

There was a time when dinner was a rest stop vending machine.

When we tucked ourselves to sleep in his little hatchback nestled between the rumble of big rig generators and long-haul drivers who could care less about a couple of near-do-well tweakers who had stayed up for days only to come down in a grassy hamlet with cold metal toilets and rough brown paper towels managed by the State of California and meant for the weary road-tripping family rambling their way to visit grandparents and amusement parks.

But here we were two lost souls, in a kind of tossed asunder love thinking up modern pickpocketing schemes to make a dime.

And so this purple bin of mine had been with me through so much, even tossed out of the car when we quarreled, even made it alive out of a storage unit lockout, even stayed with me as I finally left him behind.

I carried the purple bin with me for over a decade long after the nightmares that woke me up in a sweat diminished to only a few nights a year, each time more faded away. 

Now I was well and my being free from driving aimlessly across my home state from beaches to the high desert.

Yet this purple bin would appear as I moved around from a bay windowed apartment to a studio in the Mission District. I’d unpack it from the back shelf of a closet, only to stow it away again.

I hung onto it like a chest of misdeeds, thinking I’d bring it out for a night of crafting with newfound friends. But I never did brave it.

Until one day I moved into a two bedroom apartment and had to find space for baby blankets and a cradle and a toy chest filled with jumbo legos, and a tiny critter dollhouse, with itsy-bitsy kitchen supplies and even teeny baby carriages and a nursery for the wee critters and I had no more space for the bin.

I opened it one last time to inhale the waxy smell of pencils and dried out markers, stiffened brushes and worn down watercolors, a supply of the best art supplies money never bought.

And I didn’t need to hang on, my attachment had been replaced, it held no space for me to keep amongst the new life I was building.

I did pause when it crashed into the garbage and for a brief second, I wanted to jump in, rescue it, and scoop it up from the trash.

Thoughts flew through my head. Maybe I could use it to make art with my girl, or take up watercoloring, or class on figure drawing.

I could clean out the dust, maybe the supplies could be rectified and reused. Maybe I should pass it on to a friend, or school, or charity.

If I could forget what meant, it could gain a new identity, and not carry the dings of a lost youth.

Instead, I let it rest amongst the rotting edges of a smelly dumpster because things didn’t have a hold on me any longer.

Accepting the messiness of 2017

New Year’s Day is my favorite holiday of the year, full stop. An arbitrary demarcation that somehow has a cosmic-like pull on my psyche. In with the new, out with the old. Something inside me changes, I feel a spark, a little less weight. None of this real but it’s still true.

Maybe it started when I was younger, my family would gather around the television to watch the Rose Parade, half asleep in our pajamas. There was even one time in the mid-80’s when we all woke before the crack of dawn and drove to Pasadena only to find a tiny bit of cold cement to sit amongst the die-hards with their camping gear and folding chairs. Like a lot of immigrant families, we hadn’t amassed a trunk full of tailgating gear or organizational skills to scope out prime seating for a parade vaguely about college football.

I recall it was my idea for the family to trek to the parade at five in the morning. Sparked by my dad’s nostalgia, I had grown up with pictures of newlywed parents at the Rose Parade, they seemed so happy, so fresh in America that I had to recreate this feeling. It was a memorable morning, and to this day it was the only time we ever saw the floats made of roses, gladiolas, wheatgrass, marigolds, lilies, cornhusks, and seeds rolling down Colorado Ave. to the sounds of high school marching bands all within a few feet. There was always something so alluring about the Rose Parade and my father has always been in awe.

This is how it was in America, we built gorgeously impermanent structures of every type of plant material to ring in a new year, and it was amazing! In those days, we were a regular family of four, living in this country, with high hopes, innocence and a bit of simplicity.

I wanted to share about the past year before I let some of it evaporate into the ether. Yet I have re-written this post a few times in the past week. Something kept stalling me, I’d written thousands of words only to cut and paste them away into a google doc graveyard. My inner voice telling me that my thoughts were too dark, so tinged with cynicism and negativity, and maybe more useful as a journal entry rather than a narrative blog post. Sometimes I’d think, fine just go with the honesty, inside I am dark, and I took a lot of knocks in 2017. I am tired, a bit jaded, and confused. The messages haven’t coalesced, the movement is murky, and there is so much in-fighting. I can’t make sense of it all. I’m not sure if what I did, all the marching, sign making, protesting, organizing, and researching even mattered. As of yesterday, that’s where I stewed for weeks. Were any of my efforts worth the energy, investment of time, and money? And the dark forces rose up within and put a stranglehold on any connective thought that was worth sharing. For I am sure, we are all filled with some negative takeaways from 2017. So when I went to hit publish, I paused, the pessimism didn’t feel worthy of my experiences.

Because when I really sit with it all, I still believe in hope.

I know this word, hope, is so trampled upon. Synonymous with Obama’s face on a poster made by infamous by Shephard Fairey.

We are afraid to conjure hope, it was what screwed us up right? We hoped so much we were blinded, an opiate for the masses. We were so giddy, we just drank unicorn shakes and farted glitter.

And while our force field of hope was beaming to the high heavens we forgot our magical superpowers had a kryptonite-like Achilles heel. In our singing hosannas and prancing around, holding hands with our black, brown, white, mixed, gay, trans, old and young Democratic bubble-mates we didn’t see the orange monster creeping around the edges.

So he seeped in, the man that would change the world. We let him enter our homes as he fired away, and pointed, and yelled, looking for birth certificates and a secret Kenyan chain migrated family of shape-shifting lizards.

And then he won.

Our bodies writhed Charlton Heston-like and before us loomed a dust bowl of destruction as we landed on our knees screaming nooooo to the severed head of liberty.

And then we rose up.

I walked all over the streets in 2017. It was as if I needed this motion, my worn down boots pounding the pavement, one foot after another. Chugging along. Family crafting turned to minimally effective sign-making skills. Exacto knives, stencils, sharpie markers, thick paint pens, poster board, tape, and all matter of supplies filled the garage.

We weren’t gonna take it. That’s what I wanted my girl to know, and her friends too. They were all between 8-10 years old in 2017. An age when memories make an indelible mark, the sort of times we all recall in a haze but aren’t exactly sure what any of it meant. Iranian hostages, terror attacks in Beirut, the Gipper and his jellybeans, John Lennon died, religious people hated abortion, what was an abortion, what is inflation, and why is there no gas for the cars? I didn’t know then, but I do know.

My girl, she needs to know why in the future. It was okay that she didn’t get it all. But it was a messy year, taking her to protests didn’t often work out so well. As I was soaking in all the community, masses of people, signs, and outrage, she was overwhelmed. And then I began to see it from her vantage point, standing in between a sea of adults who she’d never seen so angry. So pissed about rape culture, sexism, racism, hate, bullying, destruction, and the end of the world.

It wasn’t gonna be all fidgit spinners and Pokemon Go anymore. And there were early days when my sponge of a child, who absorbs and processes like those canaries we all talk about in the dusty mines that still need to exist, simply said ENOUGH.

And yet, I persisted a word placed upon us like a totem for our righteous zeal. I marched, yelled, called, signed, and emailed. And when the slight whispers of MeToo wafted in the air, I couldn’t absorb it at first. It was all TooMuch. One the one hand I am swatting away sexist pig, nazi scum from my streets in San Francisco and Berkeley, and on the other, I was flooded by memories of sexism. The whip of inequality kept building each day. Revelations, chapter and verse, exposed so much pain.

Then I drove in a haze caused by a fury of fires, burning souls, and homes, wine countries and farms. And it collapsed me. I knew I had to turn inwards. Check in on my kid. Make cupcakes and feel gratitude for our home with filtered air and tightly sealed windows. Because she was right to wanna tap out.

And as we approached the year anniversary of The Election, I tuned into voices that were saying what was hard to admit. The Resistance kept us in the shadow of the orange man. It left no space to think outside the pull of his existence. His livelihood insists upon perpetuating a decline. And I wasn’t going to let my family slide into this darkness. I had to find to find a way to monkey-wrench my way out of the twisted up narratives.

So it became a slow puttering fall into a fattened up holiday season. I tip-toed here and there. My swords crossed a few times as more men fell down the swirl. I wasn’t happy about much but I was hopeful that I could remain honest.

Honestly, I am not sure if the choices I made were all that great. Maybe I screamed too much about oppression and white supremacy. Perhaps I became repellant. I wasn’t living rooted in hope, inter-connectedness, the idea we do have blue states and red states but we all believe in the union of these states. And states of mind and theories all of these are formed to live in some sort of messy soup bowl of unison.

There was a man who said these things, and he left behind a legacy of hopeful youth I tuned into each week. Crooked Media was a continuation of the idea that not everything is a deeply twisted nest of  5-dimensional chess. These bros counteracted the cynical, pessimistic, angry, lonely testosteronic grumbly naysaying bros that crunched my forehead and left me no place to turn. All they say, it’s rigged, rigged, rigged, a pile of junk, all diseased and hypocritical and full of shitheads and fuck this and that and HER. It’s HER fault, she sucked, sucked, sucked. So what are they asking me to do now?

Some things are simply right in front of us. Telling us what they were going to do all along. We get out the word. We sign people up. If we pay more attention than others, great, spread a bit of good knowledge to others who don’t. Not because they’re apathetic, do-nothings but maybe because they’re trying to live, to make it, pay bills, or don’t know how. If you do know how, teach others.

And that is the hope, I can do this. It feels better to reach across, yes to my white friends, and immigrant family. To an independent or a third party enthusiast. Do it, build more parties, I am so down. I will be there to help. But you can’t build from the top, roots begin in the ground, foundational supports, rebar, flexible two-by-fours of diplomacy and taking in all sides, yes all sides.

It took me all week to write this year out, it doesn’t make a thread, it’s a messy tangle and I love it. I adore the mish-mash, mixed tape of so many voices and ideas. That is what our side has, we are not one big tent, suffocating dissent, beating down voices into a single tone-deaf khakied monolith that is crumbling away like a shortbread cookie left over from Christmas. Oh, and don’t you dare tell me about the war.

My dad, he still watches the Rose Parade on TV. Today I sat with him on the phone for over an hour while we patiently sifted through the equestrian pride, and flowers, and City of Hope float, dangling pandas, and synchronized bands with glimmering flags. He kept thinking we missed the float, he was so worried it passed him by.  No dad, hang on it’s coming, I promise, they did it again this year. And then it came on screen and I was filled with pride. I really did feel like a full circle of my shared experience here in California, and I pulled my daughter in and we watched together. To see us, a float with turbans, phulkari dupattas, langar, towers from the Golden Temple adorn the phrase “Serving Kindness” did me right. It took me all day, to connect to all that happened in this mixed up year. But we are the hope right here. My family, we can live here, we are proud to organize huge weddings and then go to our jobs in cubicles or peach orchards.

It’s right here and not that hard to see as I live it. This is what I needed, a day in my house, a place for the first time in my adult life I don’t actually want to leave. For I have finally made a space filled for my family’s comfort, a lair of books, food, a bubbling pot of Thai noodle soup, leftover candy, a drying Christmas Tree.

I finally bought table mats, and cloth napkins for the holidays that tuck into little golden rings and I am filled with hope for 2018.

IMG_0543

 

Sharpening the word sword, again

A few weeks ago I found myself alone in Seattle, a luxury I wasn’t going to let pass without some revelry of the type suitable for a middle-aged mother the night before a work-related conference. I landed in sideways snow a somewhat sweaty-palmed adventure for a consummate Californian, who truly dislikes the unknown variable of white stuff falling from the sky. Icy flurries smacked the windshield of the car creating the illusion of a massive blizzard tunnel, but when I looked out a passenger window, I saw a peaceful flake flutter, a light dust atop evergreens and slick black highway. So weird how perspective changes everything.

I had read online that Ta-Nehisi Coates was speaking at Benaroya Symphony Hall about two blocks from my old-fashioned hotel, of the style with glimmering chandeliers and effusive concierge. Surely this was a sign, a cue to tell me something I needed to know, as I had his book “Eight Years We Were in Power” tucked in my backpack, the edges of the jacket already curled up from wear and a bookmark at the last chapter. Plus, I had made no plans on purpose, hoping to find my way, as I used to before family and work-life carved me into a highly scheduled person. I’ve always loved coincidences, for a moment I start to believe there is something larger out there guiding my way, a personal message from some secret source of inspiration. Of course, Coates’ talk was sold out but I figured I’d try to grab a ticket like a teenage groupie waiting to see a glitzy rock band. I checked in to my cozy room and set about my mission, and as my feet crunched down salted sidewalks, I was dazzled to be alone in the crisp air, no distractions, nobody asking me for a thing, just my random plans. As I anxiously waited at the box office for standby tickets to be released, a beautiful black woman, like Diana Ross beautiful, with long natural hair scanned the crowd, she overlooked the tall man standing next to me who was also waiting for a spot but her gaze connected with mine and she asked if I needed a ticket. I said, yes, and as she handed it to me she said “Spread the love sista” and I swear she floated off into the crowd. The man next to me, raised his hand as if to say, what about me, but I didn’t wait to see his outcome and bolted off to grab my seat.

So, I gotta do it, spread the love! I had my marching orders and a solitary evening that didn’t make me feel wistful for any companionship. I wanted to be alone, listen hard to a writer that I feel is treading on some truth, using well-chosen words and research as his guide. I took notes like a rapt student listening to a master essayist, but more accurately he is an observationist, a polemicist, someone who is not going to back down from the narrative he formed through great personal energy and rumination. I find his writing brave, his ideas necessary as if he uses his pencil to poke at the beehive. His objective to write felt similar to my own, although I can’t say I have his level of experience and surely not his dedication, I could still relate. I had been feeling a little out of touch with my writer self all this year, distracted by activism, paralyzed by a combination of fear and hopelessness at times. Most of 2017 has been a horrendous journey into our worst anxieties about our country led by a bigoted, racist, and unfit president. But at that moment, in my singular space, in the balcony of a large symphony hall, surrounded by cozy Seattlite liberals who were in the thrall of Coates’ ideas and words, I could only think that spreading the love meant I must write more because it brings me closer to loving myself.

IMG_2739 lrg

I had figured that the night would be filled with talk of Trump’s election, the definition of whiteness, the politics of our age, and how we missed the signs of the racist backlash that was gonna smack us out of our Obama-fueled hope daze. I looked around the hall, and some semblance of positivity about the future filled me as I saw real-life humans, mostly white people, nod, some snapped their fingers in approval as they do now in universities and activist circles as Coates described whiteness, not as a genetic characteristic or ancestry, but a belief that these characteristics guarantee a place of power in society.  When he said such words, about how white supremacy works in his book and now on stage, it usually strikes me as a comfortable position, and for a brief moment I feel heard and understood as brown woman, until I realize how difficult it to really grasp, even for me, that some of us have an advantage on the backs of others loss. But nevertheless, on this evening, Coates and the moderator sat on two arts and crafts leather chairs, a small table between for resting water bottles and note cards, and an entire stage rimmed with glowbaby hand-blown glass candles, and I was taken back to little dashes of hope, a feeling that is hard to relinquish. I let my mind wander, and yes hope, that even if one person in the audience could begin to understand that we have to do more than just react to our current situation, that we have to build a plan that directs towards a vision of a country that is different than one we have accepted up until now that maybe we could actually do it. The vastness of this idea is not lost on me, I know it will be generational, but it has to begin, and the more I reckon with our white-supremacist, misogynist systems, and culture the more I am sure we need to find a different mechanism for change. And so listening to Coates, reading his work that is built upon research and actual stories of people in this country who have lived under the strains of our often merciless laws and regulations is an important step in the process. Coates’ work is footnoted and references many other academics whose work is just as important, researchers, and writers who have spent their lives dismantling the notion that our system is fair and just. Without this important backbone, and without Coates’ own narrative voice and personal story, I think his work would fall flat but he is wise enough to know that his pointing to the white supremacist structures will require that he as a black man, a college dropout, an author from Baltimore, will have to work triple time to make his point, he is afforded no shortcut in this area. This inspires me to great lengths, to build writing upon knowledge, interactions with people, historical context, an unacceptance of easy narratives and myths that we adore so much in our country as this way of life have often been my natural frame of mind. I’ve always been a contrarian, a debater someone who rankles at doing things because that’s how they’re done, and throughout Coates’ work I recognize this in him as well.

But what I wasn’t expecting was the night would essentially be a class on writing and as I looked around and saw I was one of the few (or only) people taking notes, I realized he might just be talking to me, and perhaps one or two others. For he admitted he compiled his essays so he could share his process and journey as a writer in the last eight years, and he wanted to come to Seattle to speak to all of us young writers, and I took young not to mean age but lacking in experience or audience. I took his words as a direction, just as I was told to spread the love, he also reminded me that writing is fighting, and we have to keep our swords sharpened, that we must wake from the dream and into the struggle. I wrote this and paused, that moment when I felt so aligned in exactly where I was sitting, at exactly the time I needed to hear exactly the words that were spoken, and I was open. He told me, that fear is a productive force, something I hadn’t heard enough, as I am surrounded by intellectual people who also say fear is a paralyzing force. That writing is a private act, that it’s how we feel, and an important part of writing is curiosity. He mentioned when people would throw out terms like The System or White Supremacy, he wanted to know more. What do those words really MEAN? So he set out to learn. And he would research a topic and think one thing at the start and after a while, he would think differently on a topic, that writing is about habit, a willingness to be wrong, struggle, and questioning. Ah, how I loved all of these ways, they do not shrink me, these insights encourage me, and even though I have little space for a full-on writing habit, I can make something happen with the time available. Because he also said writing is a process, and yet not stuck in amber. He wrote this book for writers.

Then he went through his process for writing, and he said his first draft is always really, really bad and I believed him. Because his brilliance is that he sticks with it, and rewrites that horrible draft until it transforms to really bad, to bad, to still bad, to average, to passable, to maybe he can share it now, to something that is a final published piece. And that was honest, it’s what I know every author has told me, drafts always start off bad, but it’s a start. Coates also said he just couldn’t sleep at night knowing he wasn’t writing and that’s the rub, for I have had many a sleepless night, only to wake and stand in the shower while my head is a swirl of ideas. If I’m lucky I write down a blurb in a notebook, or I do the lazy thing and post a ranty Facebook update only to get a like or two. And that can feel deflating, but I also realized that’s my problem, I’m choosing the wrong medium. And I struggle, do I write long posts or not, are they worth anything and then I force myself to stop, even though I’m dying to share. But it’s still writing, it’s still a tiny bit of sword sharpening, so as of now I feel less guilty about my posts. I’m reminded think of what Coates wrote about the defiance of being a writer:

This lack of expectation dovetailed with my writing, because writers too must learn to abandon appeal and expectation. Failure is the norm for writers–firings and layoffs, rejected pitches, manuscripts tossed into the wastebins, bad reviews, uninterested editors, your own woeful rough drafts, they all form a chorus telling you to quit with whatever dignity you still have intact. And if you are going to write, you must learn to work in defiance of this chorus, in defiance of unanswered pitches, of the books that find no audience, and most of all, in defiance of the terror radiating from the blank white page. And so, in writing, I found that black atheism and defiance morphed into a general theory of life. No one was coming to save me, and no one was going to read me. My reasons for writing had to be my own, divorced from expectation. There would be no reward.

Of course, he goes on to say there was a reward for he became the Atlantic’s black writer, but I take his point to write in defiance of the chorus. My friends and followers on social media, they don’t regard me as a writer, yet I have to write for my own reasons and understand not everybody reads. I have to relinquish feeling sheepish for writing long facebook updates, blog posts with so few readers and reading poetry out loud amongst a clique of talented Berkeley writers. I have to stand my defiant ground when a friend cautiously asks me, not out of curiosity, but tinged with a sort of shorthand judgment, as to why I posted and shared so much on Facebook. That she didn’t “get it” should reveal more about me than her scrutiny. I got it and I know a few others do too but writers live in a very small world. If I think of sitting with Coates in Seattle, I did feel like one of the few who would take his words to heed. That should fill me with energy, not this diabolical fear, for not everyone’s mind is racing a thousand miles per minute, as I gorge myself with long-form essays, and hours a week writing drafts nobody may ever read.

IMG_2734 lrg

I had such high hopes to write about 2017 a bit more scrupulously than I have done so far. I had an aspiration to be a diarist documenting all the chaos around me and from what I see there is still time. It might even have been a good thing to step back for a moment. About a month ago, my brain lit up with a new realization that left me uneasy. This most horrific year had churned me up and left me by the wayside at times. I was unsure of my direction and where I had been placing my energy. Surprisingly, I felt frustrated that the resistance compromised my writing, although maybe I will see that it was fuel to be in the streets all this year. But I recognized my urgent on-call activism had taken up so much brain space that I had nothing left to give, even as my mind filled up with ideas, observations, and revelations. My notes app and journals are brimming with ideas and titles for blog posts, and there is a sizable amount of niggly little bits one could call bad first drafts, and this is not a bad thing. For most of these past months, I’ve been over-eating and under-creating, paralyzed by frustration and comforted with candy, bread, cheese, and wine. Hitting a wall is nothing new, and oh, do I know the drill. It was time to make a plan, start writing, start exercising, eat clean, and the big one, less news consumption, more reading, and more editing. As for the list, I can just check “start writing” the other stuff is more challenging but I know I will get there.

So I’m back at the Writer’s Studio again, creating persona narrators and talking about literature with other writers. I had started here a few years ago when I began to put more faith in myself as a writer. I already feel the limbering up has made a difference, I feel able to say that I’m a writer without feeling like a liar. My struggle about whether I should write or not feels less consuming. I know I have to do this and almost every day I stumble up little happenstances that reminds me to keep going. Most days I am clear, there is a place for my words, voice, and ideas. Coates reminded me that writing is a fight and I take it to mean one worth the battle. I also take away that the internet is a sword. It’s been so easy for most people to bemoan the toxicity of the internet, more specifically social media and its bots that allow for a constant stream of rhetoric and harmful propaganda. But Coates also pointed out, as well as other “under-represented” writers, that although the internet did destroy the gatekeepers, and this is perhaps why we see the fake news, those same gatekeepers also controlled ideas and who was eligible to share those ideas. Without the gatekeepers, writers like Coates and probably so many of the beautiful tide of diverse writers of color and women, wouldn’t have had the platform they do. It was a reminder not step aside and let the populace continue to slide into easy to digest soundbites about right and wrong, but that if I was to write, I needed the internet, and social media to be a healthy space for ideas. Even this small reminder, showed how easily I’m influenced because the toxicity online, and it does exist for certain, was also keeping me from taking on this blank page. If Coates is right, that white supremacy in all of its forms is also fueled by a shared body of knowledge and if my hope is that we work to fight for a new vision of our country, than perhaps I need to add my voice, narrative, and question ideas from my position so that we change what is shared. Coates has been labeled fatalistic, the oppositional point to Obama’s hopefulness, but I don’t see it that way at all. He said on that chilly November night in Seattle, to me that writing matters, it’s meant to be enjoyed, it’s an expression of who he is, and it’s pure. So perhaps it’s not hope in the way we’ve been trained to embrace it, but what Coates’ is asking is that we all make something worthwhile out of our lives, and for us, it’s writing.

I took the day off in solidarity, not out of privilege.

One day, there will be a cool documentary about feminism, women’s rights, and the international fight for female equality and it will garner praise and recognition at a fancy black-tie occasion. There will be a beautifully subtle fictional movie about an American girl who struggled to fight for her own identity, perhaps casting off the myth of the American Dream, or ideals of the model immigrant her parents so desperately clung. Soon to come, a compelling documentary of extraordinary length about how systemic misogyny ruined a famous woman’s life or career (hmm I can’t think of an example, kidding). Or we, as women, will have our own “James Baldwin-like” prophetess come forth and rip apart the obvious bias we face each and every day through our debates, careers, family life, and institutions. She is out there, not everyone is listening right now, her words are still shrill and unappealing to those whose ears aren’t tuned into strong women voices. We will realize her legacy years too late and post-mortem there will be a glossy movie about her personal story, laced with the backdrop of our feminine struggle. We will all proclaim that we knew sexism existed in 2017 we just didn’t know how to deal with its obvious power, and we ignored the voices in the wilderness. We will cry.

I’ve tried to discuss the importance of women rising up together, that the movement requires our support for each other, not us ripping apart messages and symbols. The image of a group of women fighting for self-determination has been seared in my mind, 1917 in Russia, suffragettes in America and England, Indian women fighting rape culture, Liberian and Icelandic all gathering en masse, saying enough is enough. Standing together, shoulder to shoulder they say go ahead, rip our bodies to shreds this is an emergency, you must listen now. But to have deep discussions with fellow women, of every stripe, class, color and creed, to ask women to truly dig into internalized misogyny usually winds as some of the most fraught conversations and I fear my passion comes off as judgemental, but it’s not. I notice that in my circles we can talk about racial bias all day long now, this is a new development, but gender bias, norms, and identities are still tricky. Why? I must continue to poke at this obvious tender spot. For one we lack tools, language, movies, short videos, a pithy slogan, and leadership. Try searching for a very well made video about feminism, or a bit of inspiration for an 8-year-old girl, they border on overly comic or are an ad for a technology company, or large corporate conglomerate trying to sell snake oil feminism. Secondly, we don’t want to admit we still make decisions for ourselves that are rooted in sexism, some apparent and others buried under layers of bias and outdated narratives. Many women still live under the shadow of a man or haven’t seen how we play into gender roles that still hamper our growth. It’s harder to admit in this day and age of supposed surface-level equality that deep down we’re still holding back, feel insecure, less than, ugly, unable to speak out freely, and enslaved. And all women know the truth of the matter that we’re still vulnerable to every range of sexism, violence, physical and mental abuse. We think to change our culture entrenched with masculine violence would mean to attack the men we love, or rip apart our own comforts, become an ugly feminist, cast asunder with no sexuality, berated and alone. And frankly, there may be some truth to this because every activist is often alone in the woods for a while until critical mass erupts and solidarity becomes more than just a word. Instead of facing this hardship, we convince ourselves that everything is fine, we have it all, and those women who are out pushing our buttons should shut-up because they’re going to topple what little protection we think we’ve built up in this male-dominated world. We can barely square our own ambivalence about being a woman in 2017 and so we stomp out words like feminism, equal rights, and intersectionality because it brings so much to light the problems we want to shove behind sofas and under carpets. We’d have to admit that past women’s movements were focused on white female empowerment and left behind black and brown women by design. Just as today, back then, women in the movement felt it was important to stick to one topic, adding racial and economic inequality concerns to the march made it hard for the establishment to understand the movement, so they thought. They said, it would water down the message, it would be too confusing, too many topics is not a good strategy, and this sounds all too familiar today. I just read an article about this idea yesterday and I stand firm that to focus on a single issue, like reproductive rights, does more harm to that issue and does little for the progress of full equality for economic empowerment, religious freedom, migration, and safety. It’s also interesting that many of my white liberal women friends have come around to the idea that Black Lives Matter but still find it hard to accept that women’s rights, feminism, and their own liberation intersect with the powerful movement for racial equality. Women hold the key to toppling the structures that are holding us back due to our race, sexual orientation, gender identity and class. I believe this strongly and don’t treat the burgeoning feminist movement as an isolated issue, it’s all one in the same fight. Instead of white journalists berating us for attending a march, or wearing a certain hat, or what we name marches, their energy could be better served by identifying their own bias towards women of color or their own barriers to achievement as a white woman. Furthermore, to assert that white women marching is some sort of privilege is to admit that white woman have it all and they live some sort of life that precludes them from the fight for equality. Now white women can wring their hands and say, see, I have privilege, it’s not my fight to fight and I feel like I am taking the stage again. But have all white, upper-class women freed themselves from the psychological bondage of sexism? It would be an amazing day if all women could rise up together and discuss all the ways that men still dominate the cultural and political power centers in this world. I mean, we just watched a powerful white woman get hammered in an election by the blunt instrument of misogyny. Are we to believe that the rest of the white women in America are living some life outside this same world? It’d help if white women would admit they may have a slight advantage due to skin color but they too are still subject to sexism and male violence. That would be a show of solidarity, that would go far and I will say we began to hear this when it related pussies being grabbed. For the first time, I’ve heard many women admit that they’ve faced some sort of assault by a man, that this is a common refrain, this is our bond, sadly. We all nodded our heads, and brought up memories and let ourselves become triggered in 2016. Let’s use that energy and remember we’re all in this together!

So, today, on International Women’s Day, I am going to infuse myself with the history, spirit, and solidarity of women who have marched for our freedom as it stands today. In the past 100 years or more women shut down governments or changed policies in Russia, Iceland, Liberia, US, England just to name a few bright spots in history. Look up Leymah Gbowee for some inspiration, her peaceful women’s strike toppled a genocidal dictator in Liberia. They’d want us to continue the movement and the movement must be inclusive and intersectional, don’t reduce these to buzzwords, make it happen, model the behavior as women! When women join forces it’s always one to be reckoned with and without full solidarity, the movement will lose its power. That is what the establishment is hoping will happen. Don’t give in.

I have taken the day off, used my limited paid vacation to spend the day marching in San Francisco and Oakland. I appreciate my friends and co-workers who are with me in spirit, have expressed solidarity, or guilt for not being able to take the day off for understandable reasons. My actions are not about inducing guilt or acting privileged, rather my intention is to deepen my family’s commitment to our values of community activism and progress. I am not taking the day to just sit around my house watching TV, this is not a vacation day, I’m not out soaking in the sun and zoning out. I am tuned in and feeling rather concerned, fearful and anxious about our future. After I finish pounding out this essay I am working all day to meet and connect with women, walking miles on foot. My 8-year-old daughter has chosen to come with me even after my stark warnings that today is not about having a jaunt to the city, or relaxing, we have work to do! We are going to soak in what we can, listen to speeches, feel the energy in close proximity to other women who I hope feel this is the start of a larger movement. The fact that the Woman’s March also joined in and have provided a platform is not a bad thing, it’s a powerful show of force, a reminder that we’re still here. We marched on Jan 21 and are back at it again and we will continue. I find all the sniping back and forth a tad draining, but it fires me to write again, to document where we stand, and frankly it’s kind of a mess but I still go forth. Right now, we are in the midst of extreme discomfort with the idea that our world is misogynistic and racist and these two evils are the ancient foundations for white male supremacy that is literally destroying our world. This is our common cause from Black Lives Matter to the Women’s March and any subsequent movement, we must gain traction, we must gain more freedom, and shatter the false notion that women, especially women of color, have equal opportunities. We don’t and we won’t win unless we stop infighting and join together! At the very least, I hope the energy of critique by women gets turned away from the women’s movement and towards the institutions that hold us all back. There is much to dismantle.

The First Week-A letter to my child

To my eight-year-old daughter,

I don’t know where to begin. Maybe I can just start with what’s in my heart and it’s pretty simple but truly profound. You have given me purpose, strength, and focus. Before you were born I struggled and hated almost everything about myself. Seriously, every bit of my persona was up for grabs. I talked too much. My body was lumpy and soft. I had ugly curly hair that was never cool. I was brought up straddling the values of a Punjabi family and white American culture but never really rooted in either. A college degree was elusive and I felt smart and stupid at the same time. I lived with this frustrated chaos for most of my adult life. Until you came along. So, you see, it’s simple, but not quite so. Maybe when you were growing inside, you squashed away some pain. I wonder if you saw what was in my heart? Whatever happened, since you’ve come along I have changed for the better. I am not filled with as much self-loathing. I feel proud of my accomplishments. I have always been sensitive, emotional, and even over-reactive. Now I see these traits as weapons, a defense against uncertainty and malaise. Because, I am sure you know this about me, I don’t sit still for long! I know you’ve seen me in a state of sadness for a few days, but I always rise up because I refuse to give up. I hope I passed this along to you too.

I tell you this because I want you to know how much I care about the future you will share with all the children in this world. And although I don’t feel as much internal chaos as before what I see happening to the world right now is a new chaos I’ve never felt. I can tell you that us grown-ups are very worried and as each day passes in early 2017, our worst fears are unfolding before us. And we feel so many things at once, hopelessness, anger, energy, resiliency, and unease. Your father suggested that I stay off social media and this is good advice because right now it’s hard to soak in so much bad news pouring in every hour. At the same time, it’s how I connect and mobilize but I admit I’m struggling to balance. Your poppa likes to approach the world with calmness and introspection, his way is also valuable, I hope you learn from him as well. But I find it difficult to respond with such a measured approach because what we’re facing feels urgent. So I turn to writing, as I am now, as a way to share my experiences. I feel compelled to do this because I want you to have a trusted source to turn to when revisionist historians downplay and gloss over what the general masses were feeling during the twilight years of some future I don’t yet see. And you can tell from my writing, I pound out words with urgency and speed. I just try my best, something I say to you often. But my goal is to write a simple sketch of 2017. I think this is an important year and I can already see there will be much pain and loss for many.

img_1599

So this brings me to week one. Just seven days ago, on January 21 I was in Washington DC marching with two of my dearest friends, women you’ve known your whole life. We marched with nearly 500,000+ people, mostly women, mostly wearing pink pussyhats. Plus, every state in this country had a sister march too. Your grandfather marched in Los Angeles with a turnout of 750,000. He texted me a selfie and I started to cry when he told me I inspired him to wear a pink turban and march. It was an emotional day in DC, there were so many signs, messages, and concerns. It was a day I will remember forever, a day our country showed it’s big loving heart and I felt fortified and supported. It was the most inspiring thing I’ve ever done in my life, your Nanaji said the same thing. It will be our touchstone, I will return to the photos and videos for energy as we descend into instability. And trust me, the crowds were huge, so huge they had to open up all the streets for us march! We showed up and I’m glad you remember that I called you as I marched down Pennsylvania Ave. At the same time, I also felt so sad. Everything we are marching for is under attack. Women’s health and reproductive rights, climate change, black lives, justice, immigrant rights, protection for migrants and refugees, Native American sovereignty, and our planet are all going to be hit hard. But I want you to know this story and pass it your friends. You can tell them your mother and her friends were there and more people marched than attended Donald Trump’s inauguration. This is a fact. I wasn’t paid to attend and neither was anybody else. Full stop.

fullsizerender-6

I feel strange having to make this statement but remember facts and truth are real. I never want you to stop believing! Yes, people are spreading hateful, awful lies right now. I have no idea what you will read when you’re an adult. I imagine it will be different than reality. This saddens me because I had such a different childhood and I mourn the idea that your country is in a dark place as you become a teenager. I know your memories of this time in your life will be more negative than mine. Back in the day, we did believe in our country, your grandparents and great-grandparents immigrated here with lots of hope and patriotism. I will do my best to keep joy and happy memories in your life.

I hope you read the book 1984 by George Orwell. I turned 12 in 1984 and so it was back in popular dialogue. Your grandfather had a tattered copy on his shelf, along with Animal Farm and I must’ve read it when I was 13 or 14. It was a bit over my head, that’s for sure, but since then I’ve read it many times. I tell you to study it because we live in an Orwellian time right now. There are powerful people using phrases like “alternative facts.” This is not a real concept. Very smart people are manipulating the truth and confusing all of us. It takes a lot more critical thinking energy to sift through information and I make all sort of errors too. But the truth is still out there, it’s not fully eradicated and never will be. But right now, lies are taking center stage. There is debate over the election results, but it is true that Hillary won the popular vote by 2.9 million. It is also true that Donald Trump won the electoral college and is the reason he is in the White house. My hope is that when you vote it will be counted directly. Right now, many Americans feel as though we’re not represented by our government, this is a very unstable feeling. This has happened twice in my lifetime (research the election of George Bush) and I feel strongly this must not happen again. I will fight for this change, we can do it!

fullsizerender-7

Also, President Trump ran a campaign of lies and has deluded himself and perhaps many Americans that his plans will make our country great, again. You said it best, with the sign you made on inauguration day “Donald Trump, America is already great, you will make it worse again.” I want you to remember what you knew when you were just eight years old, in third grade, making art and writing your feelings out on January 20th. You believed that America is great. I am very proud of you for understanding that this country has a lot to offer. Look at your grandfather and look to people in your community that care, have thrived and love this country with all of its diversity of people, ideas, and yes challenges. We have legacy problems to correct, I will not deny this, but what Trump wants to do will not solve the issues. And somehow, without knowing every detail, you understood something deeply true. Throughout this whole year, your astute observations have filled me with relentless optimism, or Chardi Kala as Sikhs like your nanaji say! What a beautiful word, this is your culture and your roots. Sikhs and Icelanders are strong, resilient people, always tap into your blended heritage when you’re losing direction. And always keep good people in your life, you will need them. Your friends are all kind, caring, intelligent and creative human beings, I’m so proud of you all.

fullsizerender-8

But remember, President Trump is in power for what will be a short blip in your full life. You and the children around your age will have to make this country better and I’m sorry there will be a lot more work ahead. But I know you will do the right thing!  I marched with so many young people in DC and saw how determined your generation is to protect people’s rights and our planet. The kids get it! You know we must have justice for all people. You know that we must protect our water. You know that we must have health insurance and access to education. You know this and I never want you to forget.

There will be people that will try to convince you that their religious views supersede your rights to make choices for your body. Reject this limited view and fight to protect your choice. There will be people who will tell you it’s okay to pump oil and we must be energy independent. Reject this destructive plan and fight for sustainable solutions. There will be people that tell you immigrants cause all the problems in this country. Reject this and remember your roots, your father, your grandparents, and every single American came as immigrants to this country and they made it great! There will be people that will say Muslims are terrorists. Reject this and all forms of religious and racial discrimination, always. There will be people that say the rich shouldn’t bear some burden to help others with less. Reject this and fight for economic equality and remember an injustice to one is an injustice to all. There will be people that tell you liberals lie, climate science is a hoax, the left is intolerant, and the news is fake. Reject misinformation and always research, use your well-honed critical thinking skills, and don’t get off message. The truth is real, don’t ever give in and think there is nothing left to believe. Always find some source of truth in institutions that are here to protect you, they do exist. Right now in 2017, many people I know, on both sides have lost faith in everything and this is very disturbing. It’s destructive and we haven’t seen how just yet. Because a lot of people who voted for Trump did so out of frustration and the belief that we need to shake things up because everybody lies anyhow. And then there were 45% of the population that didn’t even vote at all, most likely many of them also believe that their vote doesn’t count, that nothing matters, or that everything is a lie. So these are the underlying factors that brought about a Trump administration. In 2008, we voted for Barak Hussein Obama, I took you in your little stroller to the voting booth, never forget. We as a country, voted for hope, for change, for pragmatism. So I know this energy still exists, I felt it when I marched with millions of people all over the world. There is love and it will trump hate but right now we’re gearing up for the biggest battle of ideas and I do so bravely and without reservation. I will not be one of the adults that made this world a mess for you to clean up.

fullsizerender-9

 

Focusing and Deepening Political Clarity

Yesterday, I flipped my whole schedule around and ditched my family for seven hours to attend a one-day conference sponsored by the Center for Political Education. At first, I wasn’t sure if it was the right way to spend my Saturday but I knew a few things; 1. I had to get away from soaking in politics only from screens, and 2. that my hesitation was rooted in fear, and 3. my family would be totally fine without me (update: they survived).

I hadn’t heard of any of the speakers but when I read Linda Burham’s notes on the election I was motivated to attend, sending flying kisses to my daughter as I rushed out with a randomly packed bag of snacks, pen, and a notebook. Since the Election of 2016, I’ve been trying my best to hunt down new voices, new sources of information, history, guidance, and inspiration. This doesn’t mean reading conservative news outlets, buddying up with Trump voters or researching conservative think tanks. Rather, I’ve been trying to follow the trail of those who weren’t shocked by what happened, who were paying attention and had seen the signs. What I’m learning in the past few months, was there were a lot of people screaming in the woods about the oncoming backlash and groundwork for Trump’s ascendency. I somewhat heard their faint calls and would think; “Naa, did I hear that? Hmm, must’ve been my imagination. All is fine.” I encourage you to read Burham’s full notes but the conclusion she came to in May 2016 was this:

The U.S. left is not strong enough – not nearly strong enough – to frame its own choices. Every choice that is framed for us by the center and the right will be agonizingly difficult. The key issue is whether the choices we make create the possibility to build our strength and move in the direction of a coherent strategy, or further weaken and marginalize our already fragmented and debilitated forces.

The conference was held at UC Berkeley and I’ve always had a Dead Poet’s Society-like nostalgia about being a college student on such a campus but on days like this, I also feel free to teach myself, whenever and however I want! I walked briskly, filled with purpose, without motherly guilt, and ready to deepen my political clarity. I went alone, only knowing one person who I’d met briefly while campaigning for police reform in Oakland. And I felt proud to push myself to fill my brain with new ideas, fully open-minded to listen intently and to LISTEN HARD.

15937238_10210537070276378_1993808596971436013_o

The lecture hall was packed, CPE said that they had twice as many attendees as expected, portending the enthusiasm for a movement forming right before us. The keynote opened with a reminder that UC Berkeley was built on sacred Ohlone burial grounds. Then we were asked to stand and participate in a traditional Ohlone blessing to the seven directions and asked to invoke the name of our ancestors, children, women, men in our lives and honor the heavens above, the earth below and the energy that connects us all. And just like that, the whole day was framed with poignancy and history that grounded us.

Linda Burham opened with a keynote that focused on short-term and long-term arcs of history. As soon as her full speech is made available I will post it because it was filled with so much detail, history and analysis I need to watch it again. It was clear she could’ve spoken for hours, and we all would’ve sat in rapt attention. Linda opened with a poem by June Jordan, a poet I had never heard of before but was honored she was brought into the room. Here is an excerpt (slightly paraphrased) of what was read from Jordan’s book “From Sea to Shining Sea”, published in 1982:

This was not a good time to be married.

This was not a good time to buy a house at 18% interest.

This was not a good time to rent housing on a completely decontrolled rental market.

This was not a good time to be a Jew when the national Klan agenda targets Jews as well as Blacks among its enemies of the purity of the people

This was not a good time to be a tree

This was not a good time to be a river

This was not a good time to be found with a gun

This was not a good time to be found without one

This was not a good time to be gay

This was not a good time to be Black

This was not a good time to be a pomegranate or an orange

This was not a good time to be against the natural order

……

This is not such a hot time for you or for me

I post these words to illustrate one refrain I heard over and over again. Trump is not new. We’ve seen this before. Linda said, “We are troubled and in trouble. But if you woke up shocked after the election you weren’t paying attention.” I was home, this is what I wanted to understand, the historical context and hidden agendas that had been in play for decades. She also tempered her speech by saying she didn’t have answers and went so far to suggest that “anybody with ready-made answers is possibly a charlatan.” Lately, I’ve heard from so many that want answers, easy fixes, a clear plan, one that doesn’t involve protesting, or direct engagement and to hear long-time activists without answers was at the same time humbling and uncomfortable. Despite the lack of clear solutions, I still believe it’s important to research in order to create new strategies because it feels like we’re on the cusp of creating a newly reformed leftist, progressive movement. At least this is the hope, that a center-left coalition based mass movement that is inclusive of many perspectives, with an agenda that is formed from the ground up will fill the current void. I have glimmers of cautious optimism this will happen and agree that anybody with easy, ready-made solutions for progress should be met with scrutiny.

About halfway though a funny thing happened, I started to lose my confidence and sense of purpose. Listening to the panelists, diving into a very deep pool of experience, knowledge and different points of view than I was used to hearing started to erode my groundedness. I sat alone, eating my smashed, almond butter and grape jelly sandwich and watched groups of people hugging, interacting, chatting, and it became obvious that many had crossed paths before. Instantly, I felt alienated, alone and intimidated and of course, I went for my digital security blanket and posted an honest (maybe pathetic) little screed about how I wished I hadn’t squandered my calling. And it’s true, all I could feel was a deep sense of regret that I hadn’t figured out a way to work for organizations that had been leading the fight for social justice and human rights when I was much younger and more energized. I kept kicking myself, thinking how much further I’d be in my journey if I had the confidence to stick with my convictions. I felt a longing for the activated, captivated youth that I remembered before I went down a path of self-destruction (don’t worry, more essays to come about this personal story).

16113087_10210537860536134_2617051649868865638_o

But being alone, also forced me to re-write notes and condense my thoughts in the moment, and I felt disciplined, like a hungry student. So here are my lightbulb moments, written at a break before the final wrap-up, scrawled with a pen running out of ink, in no particular order and based on what I heard after six hours of panels and lectures:

  1. We must move past the “liberal panic over identity politics” and understand the delusion of the master. The Election of 2016 was not a response to counter identity politics, rather a culmination of a 40-year strategy to regain white supremacy (i.e Paul Manafort began his Southern Strategy with Reagan’s campaign). It was a fairly predictable backlash to changing demographics.
  2. The false of idea of “choice” (health care, charter schools, opting out of Unions) perpetuates neoliberalism and diminishes collectivism and protection for all citizens. (Neoliberalism defined as making markets where markets didn’t exist before or moving from centralized governmental agencies to privatization).
  3. We must rebuild the left, learn from the lessons of 2016 that exposed flaws in our system. We are working on new terrain that is not in our control. The weakened left must rebuild a broad base of radicals, moderates, and corporatist liberals to form a strong electoral strategy and not continue to cede voters to the powerful Conservative movement. Currently, the left is bereft of an electoral strategy. However, finding common cause is the most effective weapon against fascism.
  4. Neoliberal and capitalistic policies that were allowed to take root under the Democrats will now be exploited by Trump’s amped up repressive form of conservatism on steroids.
  5. There is a deep concern for the protection of free speech, and the personal safety of protesters as the police will be empowered to use their military-style weapons. We must prepare for the worst and at the same time, we must not let our “revolutionary imagination” become subdued (an example of how dialectal thinking is necessary).
  6. Bernie and his supporters created a beachhead for progressive ideas but right now his platform is weak and it’s Achilles heel is his reliance on race and gender neutral messages that didn’t create a coalition until Black Lives Matter activists pushed him into this arena. However, there is an opportunity to build this coalition and tap into the energy generated by his supporters. No progressive political movement can succeed unless the struggle of people of color is central.
  7. Trump is not new. We are experiencing the backlash that has historical reference. The black struggle for freedom had always inspired other disenfranchised groups to fight for their rights and this combined movement always sparked a backlash. The white activist movement coalesced around mobilizing resentments of the white working class as they have in the first and second reformations. They also exploited the fears of inevitable demographic shifts. We are on the eve of a third reformation (ie. Rev. Barber’s Moral Monday’s movement).

Here is a bunch of additional research to dive deeper as a self-directed student of the movement, and in my opinion, it’s utterly crucial to understand terms that are flying around and become deeply rooted in history. The more I learn, I am simultaneously freaked out and also comforted by the similar patterns that have always existed.

Terms and theories to research further:

  1. Neoliberal multi-culturalism
  2. Internationalism
  3. Collectivism
  4. Fascism
  5. 1st and 2nd reformations
  6. Dialectics
  7. Community defense organizations
  8. Trump’s “New Deal for Black America”

Books, papers and authors/poets mentioned:

  1. June Jordon
  2. Adrienne Rich
  3. Audre Lorde
  4. “Mobilizing Resentment” 
  5. “The Soul of Black Fok” W.E.B Du Bois
  6. Frederick Douglass, particularly his comments on Lincoln’s election
  7. Princeton paper that proves the US is an Oligarchy and no longer a Democracy
  8. Reverend Barber’s New Year’s Eve message (2017)

Well, my brain is full. I have a busy week ahead and am on my to Washington DC, pussyhat and signs in hand. I’m doing all of this to remain inspired, energized, not give into liberal malaise or discomfort. I’d aspire to be committed, hopeful, positive and thoughtful in my approach. This will require more balance, discipline, and dedication. I may complain, feel isolated or intimidated, but I know those are just fleeting feelings, they will pass. Sometimes those feelings are a message as well. But I know I’m tapping into an energy ball of light and I won’t let that flame flicker out to darkness.


This essay is a part of the writing challenge called #52Essaysin2017 and my continuing series called Dismantling. These are my thoughts, opinions, and ideas about politics, activism, community organizing and family. Please join me on my journey. 

 

 

 

 

Women marching forward and leaving the grumbly stuff behind

This essay is a part of the writing challenge called #52Essaysin2017 and my continuing series called Dismantling. These are my thoughts, opinions, and ideas about politics, activism, community organizing and family. Please join me on my journey. 

It had only been eight days after the election when I got a text from a dear friend. “Do you want to come with to the Women’s March in DC?”  I was still in a funk over it all. Like so many, unsettling emotions would sweep through me in waves. My mind could be filled with usual working momma stuff for hours and then it’d hit me in a crushing flash that Donald Trump won. But I also knew that there was a lot of work to be had in order to keep important issues on the table—equality, human rights, and the environment would need our protection. I didn’t admit this to my friend at the time but I also felt unsure about the current state of feminism, after the heady days following over a million women in Pantsuit Nation, the thought of a women’s march kind of rankled something inside. I felt deflated, irritated and I just wanted to shrug it away, curled up in bed, and watch YoutTube with my daughter. The feminist messages all around also annoyed me and I thought is this all we’re gonna do, remain nasty women, complain about pussy grabbin’ and wear safety pins? After the election, everything that had fueled white-hot feminist inspiration felt contrived and hollow in one instant. At the same time, I knew these grumbly opinions were around because I was awash with negativity and filtering ideas through a murky lens of self-flagellation.

At first, I wanted to respond to my friend with a mean and sarcastic quip to match my edgy mood. But she’s not that type of person, she is the sweetest, most kind woman I know, and to answer her earnest request for solidarity with a snide response felt wrong. I laid in bed, cell phone in hand and pushed myself to answer with the same generous spirit of the request. I knew I should try to take in her openness, her invitation for action and connection was real, it wasn’t a Facebook comment or Twitter follower. In all honesty, it was surprising she was the first of my friends to act because I didn’t expect it from her. In the nearly 15 years of our friendship, we had talked about issues but never discussed direct action or activism to any extent. So when she told me she had already bought her plane tickets, I was actually impressed by her quick response. I knew that as a Latina mother, who has worked tirelessly for her community as a public health professional, she was just as devastated as I was at the thought of a Trump administration, yet she was already rising up. So in my lame attempt to be ambivalent, I typed that I wasn’t sure if a women’s march was where I wanted to put my energy at this time. I couldn’t explain it to her, probably because I didn’t have the words myself, but I wasn’t all that inspired to trek out to DC in January. As she usual she understood and I told her to keep reaching out and I was here for support. Then she told me she had been reaching out to more than one woman friend and was met with resistance, ambivalence, questioning and felt disregarded and alone. I could understand that feeling, I had been gearing up as a community organizer in Oakland in the past few months and at times I had also felt alone in my quest to help the homeless and fight for police reform. Something about what she said made me sit up a little because here she was a busy mom of two, asking for support, trying to mobilize and fight one of the most corrupt Presidents we had ever witnessed in our lives and I wasn’t fully meeting her where she stood. We went back and forth for a good for 20 minutes and it clicked, she was trying to reach out to mostly white, upper-middle-class moms in Marin, some of whom wouldn’t ever be directly affected one way or another by laws that Trump meant to enact or dismantle. Eventually, we tepidly agreed that our white friends may not react with the same urgency because their privilege allowed them to remain passive. It felt a little liberating to be so blunt about the differences, but at the same time, it was a disappointing realization. But one thing was clear, this change in our country felt like a crisis to both of us, and we felt very sure that our communities and the issues we cared about would be adversely affected. Then she told me that one of her friends said that if the march had a single focus, like the environment, that maybe she’d be compelled to attend but that women’s rights was too broad for her to rally around. That’s when I said, fuck this, us brown mommas, we gotta go to DC! I immediately booked a seat on the same flight as my friend and it was in that moment that the grumbly crud that was starting to infest my worldview was wiped clear. I didn’t need to read a mission statement or know who was leading the march, or even the route. Being in DC on the first official day of Donald Trump’s presidency would be important and I didn’t need any more convincing. And through all the initial mess of the march’s organizing, the issues with permits, leadership, and conversations about the lack intersectionality in messaging, I just sat tight. I had a plane ticket, a marching buddy, a studio apartment in Dupont Circle thanks to some amazing happenstance and generosity of another good friend, and I knew it’d be worth our time.

When I look back upon 2016 I can see I was preparing myself for exactly where we are now. I may not have consciously realized that I tapped into some sort of innate reverberating current. Sometimes it can feel as if there is a subconscious stream of knowledge, at times we act on this foresight, or we walk around feeling something is amiss, but mostly it goes ignored until it blasts through to consciousness. I started by connecting with groups online, following new Facebook feeds and signing up for events, lectures, and protests. This all began slowly at first, I sat by all winter and watched streets erupt in pain as another black man was shot by police. I saw the videos, heard the pleas for help, and understood the psychic distress of each fatal bullet inflicted on communities of color. All I could think to do was click yes on Black Lives Matter events, many of which I didn’t attend because of one complacent reason after another. I probably clicked yes so many times that the word lost meaning and eventually the virtual actions felt less impactful. I began to recognize that sitting behind a screen, in my safe haven, was not going to make a difference and it created hopelessness and disconnection. But still, I watched as yet another shaky cell phone video captured violence in which the only form of de-escalation was a bullet. I read every argument, comments online, and watched racists memes fill my channels. I began to recognize that in the background of a long, divisive Presidential campaign and the onslaught of police brutality that our country was already torn apart. By the middle of last year, what had been itching away in my gut became hard to ignore, there are people who want to protect their way of life and it has nothing to do with mine. I could see there was no going back, that it would take mass protest, feet on the streets, people like me, a middle-aged mother, living in Oakland to join the fight. I had to share my frustrations with my black neighbors because what was happening was unacceptable and I knew we had to let it be known that white supremacy is real, it creates violence and division that may never heal but needs to be addressed and eventually dissolved.

Then the Oakland Police Department became embroiled in a sex trafficking case that involved a minor and multiple officers plus a rotating door of police chiefs. Alton Sterling met his maker and Philando Castille got slaughtered in his car in early June. This was too much for me to bear and I rose up and out my chair. The confluence of subsequent events since Ferguson and Trayvon Martin connected a fateful tale of violence towards black men, and by default, to every person of color in our mixed-up country. And the realization that Oakland was a ticking time bomb filled with police corruption and sexual abuses of vulnerable women prompted a visceral reaction that finally ripped me away from my screen. I knew it then and I know it now, we have deep problems in our country, racism, economic inequality, lack of respect for women, the dominance of white culture was rearing its ugly head for all to see but what I didn’t know then was that my realization would be validated with the results of the 2016 election. In early June, I started clicking away more furiously than before, RSVPing for every march and social justice meetup I could find. I still had no idea which way to turn until a co-worker who I had recently friended on Facebook, breaking my usual protocol, asked if I wanted a marching buddy for one of the many protests that showed up in my feed. I said, yes, you’re exactly what I need, a marching buddy. And so my librarian friend and I marched in the streets and freeways of Oakland, with our backpacks filled with in-case-of-tear-gas lemons, scarves, granola bars and water. It was not an easy march, the messages were filled with suffering, we cried, and we marched with a slight unease one would expect to have as anarchists took to the streets in dark of night.

Looking back six months isn’t really a long period of time to ruminate over but it’d probably take another essay to fill in the details of everything I’ve learned about political activism and community organizing. Even though the time has been short, I’ve crammed in so much information and connections it’s a little dizzying. At times, I realize I am a few steps ahead of my friends who are just now waking up to a new reality and are probably clicking around looking for answers, groups, connections, and ideas (by the way I’m still doing this too). But I feel organized and ready to stay on task, keep up the energy and write about what is happening during this time in history. Every moment we live is part of history and there are times when the storyline is dull and nothing of much importance is happening on a grand scale but daily life is still part of the narrative. But then there are times like now, on the eve of a Trump presidency that is surely significant in the timeline of the 21st century. In a few weeks, thanks to meaningful, love-filled friendships, I will be in Washington DC, bundled in warm layers, marching with my ever expanding network of activist friends as we witness the Women’s March grow to have global influence. I know we’ll feel unified, inspired and ready to connect ideas in an accelerated manner. I do feel this strange level of awareness and sometimes insecurity that I have a lot to offer. I don’t feel disconnected, numb, scared or ambivalent. I know it’s valid to feel these emotions and I absolutely get it, but I’m not there anymore. It’s also been suggested I should try to meet people where they are but I’m super impatient and ready to forge ahead. So it’s a little hard for me to take steps back to meet everyone as I need to blaze my own trail and catch up to those who are ahead. I’m here and if someone wants to meet me where I am, I’ll try to wait up for a moment but please excuse me if I’m talking a mile a minute and tapping my foot! If you’re not ready, that’s cool too, I’m around, you’ll find me in community centers, city council meetings, women’s circles, living rooms and of course marching in the streets. Trust me, I don’t have all of the answers, I write all of this filled with humility, although I am hyper-aware it probably comes off as arrogant. I will admit I often feel like a crazed maniac, reading, talking, absorbing so much at the same time blending in family and work. But I’m okay with owning up to my strengths with much more ferocity and confidence than before. I might not have a clear path yet, and I’m sure all of my ideas, passions, and activism sound delusional but that’s how it works.

 

Time after time-Another Year Passes

Some say time is a construct, an arbitrary measure of days passing, marked by a calendar that was created to restore order to holidays surrounding the birth and resurrection of Jesus. We began counting Earth’s rotation on January 1 since the year 1582. While arbitrary in the sense that time is meaningless and we’re all gonna die anyway, the Gregorian calendar has been in place for 435 years. Although many celebrate holidays according to Jewish or Chinese calendars, it’s still a feat of global unity that we all function using one standard measurement of time. And so we arrive at the end of another 365 days, another year passes, another day upon us to wipe slates clean, as we prognosticate new plans and goals. Last year’s regressions are deleted from the calculation, our chance to hit the reset button is here, on the first day of January we can start fresh. I always love this day, all stark white and wintery-hued, decor returned to minimalism, the hustle and bustle reduced to quiet, and the oncoming normalcy is a comfort. It always takes me by surprise to notice my own lightness, as my mix of PMS and anxiety—exacerbated by the unpredictability of family dynamics—dimishes and is replaced with relief that it’s passed.

In my mind, there is a point to counting time, it’s a line in the sand to remind us that an elliptical orbit around the Sun has ended where it began. And it’s hard not to notice the sliding of time as daylight fades into darkness and eventually transcends into hazy summer twilight. The passage of time is not arbitrary or made up, we see our kids change from chubby little babies to independent proto-adults. Time does move, it’s how we count it that may be random and perhaps our insistence that each year has its own personality as if a new one will arrive to save the day. I read that the first of January is often the coldest day of the year across the globe, so there is a sense that something connects us and traditions to mark this passing are cathartic and imbued with our own useful meaning. I also read that this first month of our Gregorian calendar is named after Janus, the god of beginning and transitions, although there is some dispute over this naming convention, I can see why those before chose this deity. I think we can agree, that collectively us humans have created a social norm that the changing of the year is a transition, like it or not.

I think of this day as the brink of past and future, a splintering faultline that we straddle while we pray for the past and hope for goodness in the days to come. Perhaps this is why the ominous tone of the coming year feels so disquieting, something we can’t ignore because it feels out of our control. I have heard more than one person refer to 2016 as a terrible year and that 2017 will be even worse. In years past, friends wouldn’t have dared to place such a negative prediction for the future, we’ve been so trained to think positive, hope for the best, always look for the bright side. And I think we’re all trying to do that but for once we may have rescinded the idea that just praying and hoping won’t make goodness magically appear. For the first time, I am so clear that if I want to do anything, in my home, my neighborhood, city, state, nation, and for the future of this beautiful blue planet, then I’m going to have to take it on myself. But I don’t feel alone, along with the dismal predictions, cynicism, fear and the unsettled feeling in the air, I also feel a large burst of energy, cohesion, unity, and action. So many friends that have usually remained on the sidelines are activating, right now we’re meeting, discussing, sharing ideas, concerns, and agendas. Documents are being gathered, resources, plans, structures put in place, the organizing is palpable and just where we need to be at this moment in time. I feel a little pulled in every direction, that’s for sure, but I’m also trying to bend like a willow tree, swaying back and forth between ideas and groups, learning where I will need to plant myself. This flowing around is absolutely okay and necessary. We’ve been complacent, intractable with our values, our current forms of institutions have failed us, we have no strong direction or leader and yet I see opportunity ahead. Because we need to let whatever force for change that is going to happen next year, and perhaps the years after, to build organically, by the will of the people, by our thoughts and ideas. Yes, right now they’re all over the place in a way, but I can see where the laser beam of light is headed, its refracted glow is sharpening inward and we will see the path lit up soon. I have no doubt about it and that’s my hope a laser beam to fight off the dark forces that are in power. This is not done by movie magic or wishful thinking but with hard, uncomfortable work that will be in addition to our daily lives. I will have to maintain energy and focus, something I’m not always very good at but I’m willing to practice because I just may have to out of necessity.

For me, 2016 was a year of transition, I moved away from feeling insignificant, or unsure of myself and for the first time in many years I am absolutely clear on what I stand for and why I am here. My anxiety no longer stems from confusion or lack of direction but from the fact that I don’t think I have enough time to do everything I want and understandably I get bogged down by regrets. I know that first and foremost, I am a mother. It’s a role I take seriously, and this identity is the fuel that keeps me moving forward, because if all goes to plan a part of me that will be on this planet long after I am gone. I am also a wife and feel grateful that my husband is stoically on my side, never getting in my way and honoring my decisions to fight the power! I told him that he and my girl are the only two people I need to do right by, I don’t need validation from anybody else. If my actions harm or get in the way of these two people I will make adjustments accordingly. This clarity is what I need to move forward, and both of them understand this without any doubt. In the past few months, especially since November 9th, this is what I’ve been doing, clearing my path, talking with more people, testing ideas, researching and preparing. It feels so right to be doing this and it doesn’t feel strange or unnatural.

I will also add, that writing this blog is a huge part of my efforts, I still plan to continue to journal my thoughts, again as a voice in this human experiment, as a regular person during this time in history, someone not affiliated with a certain group, but with a cause and hunger for knowledge and justice. And as it always happens, I get clues to keep on my path, even if I feel so alone at times, or even invalidated or delusional. Right when I start to spiral, I usually get a sign. Recently, one was to join a group of writers, many of them are women of color but so far the group is growing and expanding to include many voices. The call is to write 52 essays in 52 weeks starting on Jan.1. So I took heed because I need the support even if I am so passionate, outspoken, opinionated, arrogant, single-minded, whatever you want to call it, I still freak out all the time! I can go weeks feeling really strong and then some small event, comment or experience will crumble me to the ground. I recently sat curled up on my kitchen floor, crying about the future, with snot dribbling down my chin, while my husband held me and eventually walking me upstairs to bed. It’s not a pretty vision, but it’s the damn truth, I take a lot in and I expel just as much, sometimes with direct positive action, sometimes with tears. I hope to make those teary moments happen less, at least for the comfort of my family, but I can’t guarantee success on this point. However, I will do my best and I know what to do, walks, talks, good food, art, and most importantly writing in my own voice, in my own forum with free expression—these are all healing activities. I do feel like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, that I am writing like I’m running out of time, I bet a lot of you can relate! So let’s do it, and write our hearts out for posterity, for health, and most important for the protection of TRUTH.

A Holiday Wish-Rising Above the Blues

Usually this time of year I’m a little ba-humbug about the holidays probably because I don’t have a shiny, happy, white, very Brady, Walton’s, Little House Christmas. But this year I’m more grateful than usual to spend time with my silly, sensitive, strong, kick-butt, hard working, unorganized, overly consumptive, mixed-up Punjabi-Icelandic-Mexican-Italian-White family. We will make a Christmas meal with canned ham glazed with Hawaiian punch, Swiss vegetable medley, pasta salad, topped off with Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider and I won’t be an unbearable food snob about any of our hodge-podge family traditions that we all love. Of course, I will make something from scratch because it wouldn’t be the holidays if I didn’t over-complicate at least one thing this year.

And yes, my brown ass family, with turbans and chunnis we celebrate CHRISTMAS, we know it’s the day Christ was born, in a manger, where he received presents from three wise kings, but we’ve adopted this tradition like many immigrant families. I know every word to “Away in the Manger” and “Silent Night” because I sang them in the school choir and still enjoy listening to a beautifully sung rendition. And we don’t stop anyone from saying Merry Christmas, nor do we go to war over the word, it’s not offensive or strange, afterall we’ve lived in America for nearly 50 years. Over time, we’ve added other cultural traditions to balance out the season. My parents started attending a large Gurpurab, where all the Sikh Gurdwaras in Southern California gather to pray and for many years my sister played kirtan with little kids dressed in white. Most people don’t know what these words mean but it’s how we honor the birth of Guru Nanak. Like almost every faith and culture in the world, this time of year is usually marked by prayer and contemplation as we go into the dark days of winter when the nights are long and stars shine brightly.

But this year, the mood in the air feels different and like many, I’m filled with sadness and concern for our future as a society. It’s hard to ignore the signs that portend a dark turn in our history. But it’s due to this anxiety that I realize the only thing I have is my family, we’re bound by our traditions, our wounds and I love them unconditionally. Mostly, I want to hug my parents, sisters, and nieces closer than ever as we descend into a new world order. So my usual complaints and aggravations about shopping, family dynamics, and rushing around seem trivial, instead, the irritations are comforting as they’re normal and predictable. Because what is uncomfortable and downright scary are the dark clouds I see gathering, all I want to do is circle close with trusted family and friends. For once, I’m not wrapped in guilt about a glittery tree, piles of presents, a bountiful table of foods, binge-watching classic movies, and too many pieces of See’s candies. But I will think of others, make donations, help the unhoused living on my street and have a moment of contemplation for lives in danger all over the world. It seems to me the best way to honor all the pain we’ve felt this year and so I’m filled with a renewed gratitude for everything good I have in this moment. Because things may change, we may not have the same people in our lives, the same jobs, the same things, the same friends, the same country or even the same world this time next year. Now more than ever, we need to soak in the love and connections. I hope you all recharge with your loved ones, build stronger connections and find solace in your faith and traditions. We must live with love, respect, kindness,  and hunker down for the long winter ahead. Much love and peace to everyone, I wish you all the best this season. Whatever way you celebrate and honor this time, may it be with lots of love and joy. 

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑