Saturday, September 14, 2019

Fog

The alarms embedded in my body

are going off again

My nervous system once went to war and

I've been nervous ever since

It's a challenge not to fight

when all feels like survival

I tell myself to stand down


I want to be seen

I want to be invisible

Eyes that see sit above mouths full of teeth

in the heads of hungry people

I am always trying to preserve

the unpreserved after the fact


In crowded rooms

sometimes I find a peace

if I close my eyes and breathe

with my back against a wall

for a moment I soften

So much effort spent keeping things out

and I want to let someone in

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Freedom Fighting


Born in the land of the free
and I’m still working to get there
gonna be working forever unless I catch a break
have to guard against my government
exploiting fears to grab up liberties
while the President grabs whatever he pleases

Willed over so many freedoms
in the name of a small god that promised
my submissions would fulfill me but
he just left me on my knees
wondering what I wasn’t doing right

So now I am digging in the dirt
of my mind, pulling out the weeds
of others’ authority choking out my own
learning to author my own story
for the very first time

‘None free til we’re all free’
the freedom fighters say
and I wholeheartedly agree
as I make an offering of the keys
I am finding buried at the roots
of all the lies that have been robbing me

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

In Defense of Roe v Wade

It is possible that my most unhinged moment came the one and only time I had a serious pregnancy scare. I say possibly because, to be honest, there are several in the running for the title of 'most unhinged moment,' but there was only one pregnancy scare because of how desperately I wished not to be pregnant. I took the pill religiously, and when I missed, I made my partner use a condom for the seven to ten days prescribed by my birth control for a single day's missed pill. Even when I had no missed days of taking the pill, I would often ask my partner to not finish inside me, due to my fear of becoming pregnant, and god bless him for being willing to accommodate me in that request. I am sure doing so sometimes denied him pleasure he deserved.

Why was being pregnant such a terrifying thought for me? I am a woman with childhood sexual trauma in her history, although the memories of that trauma were suppressed until about ten years ago, when I was thirty-five, and I am just now beginning to navigate those truths with a modicum of steadiness now that I am forty-five. Prior to my remembering, I experienced deep panic at the thought of being a mother. I knew myself to be barely capable of taking care of me, and the thought of being responsible for another human life seemed beyond my ability. And underneath that fear, sat a bigger fear. Even though I was oblivious to my memories, I had the sense that something was really wrong with me and I was afraid that I would unwittingly hurt my child. I know it is a widely accepted fact that most survivors of sexual abuse do not go on to become abusers themselves, and I tend to agree with that statement. But I am not sure there has been much study on the outcomes of sexual trauma survivors who have memory loss. I remember reading a passage in a memoir, where the author recounts the experience of a friend who confessed remembering their own trauma only after repeating an act while bathing their baby; they literally began to remember as they found themselves in the middle of an inappropriate act. Forgetting trauma is a coping mechanism that is difficult to overcome. I believe that many of us never remember and that some of us remember through subconscious repetition of acts, whether that be mimicking what was done to us or recreating our own victimization in a stream of unhealthy relationships that we may or may not ever be able to transcend. In the cases where people with memory loss mimic damaging behaviors, I believe they often can't even remember the abusive acts they commit, as that would force them to remember their own traumatic experience, which they are too damaged to do. Now this semi-functional person bears the added trauma of being righteously condemnable by a society that doesn't have the first clue of what justice truly looks like. How do we heal something about which we cannot even speak, whether because we cannot remember it or because we will be damned if we do? All of this combines to seemingly perpetuate damage and trauma for all time.

I share all of this to say that had I become pregnant, abortion is an option I would have wrestled with deeply, for reasons that I find extremely moral. Like many if not most Americans, I was raised in an ostensibly Christian home that claimed abortion was an evil barely rivaled by anything in this world, so I can't really say what I would have done. But I can unequivocally say that I believe abortion to be a right, and a moral right at that. In my case, it would have been responsible for me to abort rather than to continue a pattern of abuse, whether that be the continuation of sexual inappropriateness or an inability to provide a safe psychological space in which my child could grow up.

This, of course, is where the self-righteous chorus of voices chimes in to say that I should carry my baby to term and give it up for adoption, as there are so many couples who want babies they themselves cannot have. I have nothing but compassion for those couples, but their difficulty does not deserve precedence over my own difficulty; no one besides me has the moral authority to say what I should or shouldn't do with my own DNA. The choice to procreate is a monumental one, not to be taken lightly or dictated on us by another. It is also worth mentioning that very few adoptions occur where the baby is born and is immediately paired with suitable parents. Our foster care system is rife with abuses of all kinds, be that sexual, psychological or physical, so my choosing to give up my child to adoption is still no guarantee that my child wouldn't suffer the traumas I so desperately would want them to be free of.

Something else in this equation that doesn't get enough discussion is the fact that survivors of abuse often have body issues that center around control, as we had no control over what happened to our bodies in the past. I can think of few things more invasive or indicative of a loss of bodily control than being pregnant. I honestly don't think I could have tolerated pregnancy without a psychological breakdown, which would have endangered the life inside me, and I believe, passed on my trauma as my growing child would have experienced my breakdown with me. Add to this the fact that these United States have the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, and ask yourself why you feel you have the right to force any woman to give birth against her will, much less one with trauma issues.

I can hear some of you saying, 'but what about the rights of the father? Isn't it his DNA as well?' Yes, it most certainly is his DNA, but the father lacks the biological ability to gestate his DNA into a fetus, let alone a baby, and every man knows this. That means that if a man desires to procreate, it is his biological imperative to cultivate a consensual contract with a woman who can gestate his DNA into a fetus. This is the only honorable option available to him. Conversely, women have a responsibility to form consensual contracts with men when it comes to procreation. I don't want anyone dictating to me what I can do with my own DNA and I have no wish to force a child on an unwilling man. That is also dishonorable. This country and this world are in desperate need of comprehensive, science based sex education to address these and many more issues of morality as it relates to procreating.

Now to the address the 'pro-life' canard that life begins at conception and that God deems it murder to abort a fetus. First of all, none of us can speak for God or even prove that God exists, so therefore none of us can say what God actually thinks about the beginning of life or about abortion. But I can tell you this, any 'God' that deems a life that cannot exist without a host as inherently more valuable than the life that already unequivocally does exist is not a god to be trusted. This world has shown me time and time again that as a woman, my life has less value than a man's and that's a lie too. Then again, the 'God' that is against abortion is modeled as a man, so it's all beginning to make more sense. The pro-life argument is nothing more than a disingenuous power play intended to prop up patriarchy, when the truth is, there would literally be no men without the existence of women.

So much of this debate revolves around 'respect for life.' I am asking that we expand our definition of respect for life to include quality of life, and rather than just insisting that people give birth in obeisance to 'respect for life,' we shift our focus to implementing policies that bring about a better experience of life for all of us. What would that look like, you ask? I don't have all the answers but it would definitely include an overhaul of our justice system so that it is restorative rather than punitive. I would venture to say that very little about our present healthcare is more respectful of life than a dollar, so we would have to address that as well. A compassionate and functioning mental health service would immeasurably improve our shared quality of life by reducing the amount of trauma that gets passed on endlessly and needlessly. And for the love of all that is holy, we would offer science based, age appropriate sex ed that begins in grade school, where abstinence is offered as only one available and largely unrealistic option.

Impossible, you say, these reforms will never happen. Well, it's certainly much easier to continue on screaming about life beginning at conception and making abortion illegal, and while I should and would respect your right to that opinion, I feel zero compunction to respect your intellectually bankrupt opinion in action. I am reminded of the maxim to not be so spiritually minded that we are of no earthly good, but that is exactly what the pro-life movement does; it holds a specious religious conviction above the value of the lives of women and the children we bring into this world, which is about as disrespectful of life as it gets. In my opinion, the truest way to respect life is to work towards a world that is as free of trauma as possible, and until we accomplish that, abortion is one tool that can be used responsibly to help us get there.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

well-traveled

My mother taught me to travel well

tho she hardly made it

any of the places she dreamt to go

settling for the subversion

of a National Geographic subscription

in a household intent on 

separation from the world


She showed me the value of moving things

not related to the reason you were going

if doing so got them closer

to where they needed to be

to see that each small move made

is part of the whole of getting it done 

so  that a pile of clean clothes walked 

from the basket I was passing

to the stairs by the door I was exiting

was half the work of restoring them to my room
  

And I am just now learning  

how to harness that power of making each step I take 

move me simultaneously in multiple directions  or

shift me into synchronicity with people and things around me,

the life-multiplying power of living moments fully invested

experienced as a self-sustaining fuel


My mother taught me to travel 

well past points she had instilled

when she left and birthed me again

into freedoms I hope she has since found

she did not travel most but

she traveled beyond

and walked me with her to stand comfortably 

past the threshold of the unknowable













 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Grappling With My Unforgiveable Sins

Two years ago around this time, I committed two public acts of racist whiteness in close succession. The first involved a grocery clerk, a young black man, with whom I had awkwardly interacted and later written a note apologizing for microaggressions, a thing I had recently read about and felt I had done to him. He quit working there not long after, probably wearied by me and other well meaning yet still harmful white people gentrifying his neighborhood.

The second was even more egregious and involved what I want to call a borderline drunken racist slur, but I truly offended and hurt the gentleman I slurred and that is the only truth about it that matters. He was graciously tending his own bar, we were talking, he told me about his family name and background, and I said, 'Oh, so you're a Jew.' Not 'Oh, so you're Jewish.' His face fell and I knew immediately that I had weaponized my whiteness. I came back a few days later and tried to apologize, he gave me the out of being drunk, and I have worked since to understand and own the parts of me that feel it's acceptable for me to practice bigotry for any reason.

Doing so has unearthed a lot of unsavory things that I have been wrestling with since, like I used to wonder if I had blackness in me, for some pretty ignorant reasons such as I have curly hair and tend toward muscularity. I can now recognize this as an attempt by my white guilt to make myself a member of the oppressed and a desire to escape my role as potential oppressor. 

I used to wave a confederate flag proudly and have worn an iron cross belt buckle, thinking I was celebrating proud heritage or being contrarian in a rock and roll reclamation kind of way, but I now believe that contrarianism is a deeply insensitive and selfish luxury afforded me because of my white skin. I accept that brandishing any symbol that has been involved in the promulgation of hateful behavior is going to be painful and offensive to some of my fellow human beings and that doing so puts my character in a position open to unfavorable interpretation.

What I am slowly owning about myself is that I am a white person raised in a white supremacist society, and that as such, parts of my DNA are racist and white supremacist, regardless of the beliefs I now hold on race and equality; it's the principle of osmosis manifesting humanly. I must accept that it is entirely up to me to ensure that my actions align with my beliefs, and the best thing I can do when I fail at that is to own it and examine it, not deny the fact that I did it. White people have been coddled in this country, we ruin ourselves with this system intended to unilaterally uplift us, and we have insulated ourselves from consequences by rewriting our history and inculcating our children with a narrative that absolves and ignores our very worst sins.

I have some family roots on my maternal side in the deep south. It is my firm belief that most of us with southern roots have some potentially unpardonable actions for which our families need to attempt to atone. This is the part where my whiteness wants to say things like, 'We were too poor to own slaves. We were barely better than slaves ourselves,' which is exactly what people who have never been enslaved would say. There is no comparison between being poor and being owned, and there is no sidestepping the fact that some of my poor relatives were enthusiastic members of the KKK and possibly participants at lynchings. I desire generational healing for my family and it is my hope that being honest about our roots may begin to metaphysically redeem the parts of my family tree that need it; redemption is only possible in the presence of truth.

Last year, I adopted a dog who looks like a larger version of a dog I loved and lost in a breakup; I saw her face and was immediately in love. As it turns out, she is also a breed favored by white supremacists, a coonhound, something that I probably would have known had I grown up in Arkansas rather than just being born there. To be honest, I had heard the name once or twice in my life and automatically assumed it was racist slang. The fact that coonhound is an actual breed recognized by the United Kennel Club is a fine object lesson in how white supremacy works: it gives an air of legitimacy to illegitimate things. Yes, dogs of this type were bred to hunt raccoons and other such prey, but they were also used to track and return runaway slaves and enforce segregration on the backyard level in the south. I expect I am not the first of my family to own one. I was told by the pound that she was 'a type of hound' and they were glad she was being adopted. Now I understand why and also the terrified and disgusted look a black woman gave her when we passed her in a public park, and why two white women wearing Georgia football sweatshirts came over with sly smiles to compliment me and my dog on the same day; being her owner once again puts my character in a place open to unfavorable reading. At the same time, she is healing me on some visceral levels; I have struggled to support myself, much less any other living thing, financially speaking. Adopting her was a huge step for me, but I also accept that she may be an avenue for partial metaphysical familial healing too. She is such a good, sweet dog and is herself innocent of any wrongdoing. I am choosing to love her and accept her love and to send love back through time to any of my clan who may have used her relatives to subjugate other human beings. We get to define our relationships with the dead as we see fit; my maternal grandmother and I have been working together on the spiritual plane for the past couple years on other aspects of family healing; perhaps this is a place where I can offer her roots some metaphysical healing in return. 

For the entirety of my life to this point, I have believed in my utter inability to be redeemed, having committed what feels like unpardonable sins at the very beginning of my life in childish reaction to some potentially unpardonable sins committed against me. Holding this belief about myself has made me particularly susceptible to committing sins of oppression, to both falsely feed my low self esteem and to reinforce my belief that I don't deserve love or goodness. I have a record of fine self-sabotage that righteously isolates me from the circles in which I wish to move. I am aware of an animal self who loves to compete and assert dominance, who is furious at all men (read: patriarchy) in some moments and is not above using any means to predicate itself, even if they are evil. These public racial failures have forced me to confront this pattern in myself. I accept that the belief that there is worthiness within me in the face of indefensible failing is mine to build. I accept that marginalized and discriminated against people owe me no absolution or forgiveness for my failures when I lean on white supremacy to prop myself up.

The easiest thing for me to do would be to go quiet, to take the target off my back that comes with visibility so that my unpardonable failures could be less observed and I could be less embarrassed. What I am going to do though, is marshal up my nascent resilience and own my failings in all their ugliness and do the work it takes to repair my character. This, I believe, is what is required of my whiteness in this country, and it is also the work that will free me from the opinions held by myself as well as those judging me by my failures, whether or not they have the right to do so.

It is human nature to look for and call out hypocrisy, to make imperfection disqualifying. This can be both justice in action and a reason to resist change. I am committing to a new practice this new year: I resolve to give up my appetite for scandal and to continue shedding tired religious programming that preaches empty redemption supplied by another. When I hear of failings in those working for good, may I have the compassion to ask questions and leave room for a redemptive answer, and may I continue to build true self esteem by believing there is goodness in me, whether or not it is visible in any given moment.


Friday, November 30, 2018

copy what

trauma, especially the kind that gets passed down

is like being a member of a club you think is exclusive

but may more actually be universal

speaking of it may get you excommunicated

from all your social groups

much more admirable to soldier on silently

like every generation before

trauma alters cells, they say

and we pass it on

whether we speak of it or not

so speak, I say

call it out

clear its register from the body

and halt this chain of replication

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Game



Born into a system of subjugation
Some of us became lethal players of the game
And they worshipped our untouchableness
With groans and more desire
Some of us opted out
Evolving and becoming something other
Something not on the menu, we hoped
Others of us went underground in our own minds
And we are barely even here, even when you are inside us
Our grandmothers terrified us with their traumas
Hoping that fear would keep us safe
They had accepted that this was how it was
Their minds fit for survival, not this revolution
But we are their daughters’ daughters
And we say it is time for a new game
This is one we will no longer play