Archive for category current events

Dear Melania

once upon a time photoDear Melania,

Do you mind if I call you M?
I don’t want to waste too many keystrokes. Never fear. I’m not going to be mean, or unfair. I’m just going to tell a story.

Someday, some far-off wonderful day, you will be remembered like a princess in a fairy tale. (Yes, I think you will be famous, even in the future, though I imagine your name may be lost, M.)

You will be be the hapless one who drank a potion that blinded her to truth and made her say crazy things, like “every assault should be taken care of in a court of law,” with a dismissive flick of your wrist, as if a woman who alleges assault is like a mosquito buzzing too close.

Every nine seconds, a woman is assaulted in our country.* Try telling all of them they will find justice. Try telling that to the woman Brock Turner sexually assaulted, who had eye witnesses, physical evidence, a jury conviction and a prosecutor seeking a nine-year sentence, a woman who penned perhaps the most moving victim statement ever written and bravely read it out in court, then heard the rapist’s father dismiss what happened as “twenty minutes of action” and watched as the judge said a long prison sentence would ruin Mr. Turner’s promising young life. As you undoubtedly know, M, Mr. Turner served three months, and his victim got a life sentence in which she will I hope heal and grow even stronger than before, but will always have to endure those who still say things like, “well, she did get drunk, after all.” And she has to endure people like you who would pretend there is justice for women who are assaulted, in brutal, demeaning ways, even by someone far less powerful than the prince you married.

Try telling it to the women who, even right now, are held as sex slaves at truck stops in middle America. Or to the women, like me, who were as teenagers raped by much-older men who seemed kind and interested in us as humans, men who took what they wanted and then threatened unspeakable things if we spoke up. Tell that to the sisters and mothers and friends of women who have been preyed upon by men.  To the 400,000 women whose rape-kit evidence languishes for years, untouched by police.**

And try telling it to the the many men—the kind of men I love—who are strong enough not to need to oppress women to feel powerful. And the men who have said things they regret, and woken up to how damaging that is to them and to us women. (C’mon guys. Join me here in saying this is not okay.)

None of us are buying it anymore, though societal change is painfully slow.

Your saying “every assault should be taken care of in a court of law,”reminds me of another “M” from history. The one who said, “No bread? Well, then let them eat cake.” Remember how that turned out?

It’s “boy talk” you say. Your then 59-year-old, rich businessman husband was “egged on,” you insist, as if he was and still is a powerless, poor little boy. It’s bad enough when men dismiss reality, but it’s so hard to watch those women who tear out their own hearts to follow them into the jungle of misogyny. I almost begin to lose hope. I worry women won’t keep speaking up, out of the fear that has kept us silent so long.

I think of words attributed to Margaret Atwood:

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them.
Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

These words ring true.

Still, it’s hard to know, in the middle of a tale, what might happen next. All I know is that for centuries, millennia— the unlistened-to voices of women have gathered in the ether. The voices of those who have been raped, abused, groped, bought, sold, used and discarded, grabbed and then shamed and shunned and silenced—their voices float around still, like tumbleweeds of truth. The  winds of our time  and the hot air of your man and those who hold him up as a paragon are blowing those unheard voices together.

Yes. The true tale: it’s being told. The truth is now, I think, I hope—unstoppable. That’s why everyone is so unsettled right now. That truth is heading toward the flaming egos of men invested in guarding their powers, and toward the women who cling to them, out of fear or denial or both. Men in boardrooms and bedrooms. If you look you can see those egos, burning like gas flares on a dark oil field, as the truth swirls closer. Something’s going to blow up.

I do not imagine you will read my letter, but I had to write, anyway. I wonder.
Maybe underneath all the denial, you knew that your words would be a call to action for women to speak. Maybe underneath it all, you are just scared, too, and dream of a better world, where the assaulted do indeed see justice.

I like to imagine that is who you are, at heart.

* iBachman, R. & Saltzman, E. (1995). Violence against women: Estimates from the redesigned survey. Retrieved from http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/FEMVIED.PDF

**http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09/23/how-the-u-s-ended-up-with-400-000-untested-rape-kits.html

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For Terence

scared sad face

For Terence

It’s like some evil game
nightmare edition
of Simon says

Why do so many people
who look like me
comb over the footage,
looking for a misstep?

The questions begin,
inevitable
hateful
cloaked in willful blindness
the cloak victim-blaming
always wears:
“Yeah but–was he
fully complying?
Why didn’t he
comply exactly?”

The wrong questions,
again
and again,
world without end

Just ask Charles Kinsey
if hands up & unarmed
& lying on your back
on the road
begging for reason
will keep a black man from being
shot if someone decides
he looks like a threat
because he is breathing

Like someone decided
12-year-old
Tamir was a threat,
sitting alone, dreaming
little-boy dreams
that will never come true.

I dream of a world where
people who look like me
will ask vastly different questions,
harder ones,
braver ones,
again and again
until this world ends

And a new world opens
one where police will be expected
to protect and serve
a father of four
car broken down
who has his hands in the air

Where de-escalation
is the absolute expectation

A world where
Terence Crutcher
would still be here
heart beating,
breathing,
alive.

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On sitting down with fear

door with many locks“Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.”
–Hafiz
Fear is ever-present, a room in every house. I think it must be acknowledged to be lived with. Denying fear’s existence, its slithery form under the bed, under the pillow, in your head, in your darkest dreams—is to deny part of what makes us human. Unexamined, it drives us. Unacknowledged, it diminishes us. We want to chase it away, but without it, we are not quite all there. We are fragmented. Brash and bold or handwringing, but not whole.

We are whole when we can look in fear’s hissing-badger face, see it clearly, yet remain calm. It doesn’t mean we are not scared shitless of those needle-sharp badger teeth tearing into us. Tearing into everyone and everything we hold dear. Oh, no. We are terrified of the tearing and even more terrified of the silence that precedes it. Our hearts are beating too fast. We scan the news and cannot breathe, cannot think what to do.

I am saying “we” but when I say that, I am talking of my many selves. Maybe you know what I mean? The selves that scatter as I try to ward off fear.

I’m not afraid of dying, I won’t die tonight—I told myself that, told you that, but lying in the hospital alone, I met fear. It came in the night to shake me awake. It shook every part of me, parts I forgot were there—the frozen teenager, trembling in terror. The happy little girl, lying on her back looking at seagulls and cumulus clouds, breathing sea air, fully in the moment, the one I lost so long ago. It shook the anxious, lost traveler feeling around in the dark for a warm hand, the one learning to hold herself when no one is there.

It awakened the bright-eyed lover who is peaceful as storm clouds threaten, because the sun lives inside her, as it lives inside all of us when we feel whole. It is her I search for now, and I think she’s deep inside, in the fear room, hanging out.

Fear lives in a room deep inside me. A stuffy room I must visit, opening windows, letting in air, relaxing into, though it makes me edgy. It is a room I go to ponder things I cannot understand, go to find the best parts of me. A room where all my many selves find each other, the default meetup place. In the darkest corner is the cradle of courage, dear little courage, weak as an infant, sobbing, wobbly from being so neglected.

I hold this tiny part of me—she is crying for love—and picking her up, I feel again like a strong, sure mother, courageous enough to look at the fear. All the fears. There are so many right now. It seems important to be strong, be together. Strong enough to smile into the invisible beams of hope that shine behind all fears, casting great shadows.

Hold hands, everyone. No matter what, everyone.
Look at fear honestly, and you will find courage.
Yes. There it is, fear. It travels with us, but we don’t need to feed that snarling beast, it always finds something to feed on.
Say, I see you fear. Then turn away. Let it grow dull from inattention.
It’s courage we need to nurture now.

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Bursting

IMG_483409246

Bursting
Clouds rip open like my heart
bursts – whoosh, closed to wide open
Swoosh: a purple umbrella
floats past; droplets slip, wiggle
mercurial jelly-dots.
We swim in the same pool, this
heavenly, dirty fishbowl.

IMG_483409214

 

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After the goldrush

photo

Early November on the roof.

I’ve been drunk-binging on nature lately, pulled from my grind-screen work and what I ‘should’ be doing to spend hours just gazing at the wonders of the fall. I end up working way too late to compensate, but you can only see the foliage in the daylight.

Such transformation is amazing. It gives me hope. As in, “I am living in a miracle world, pure, uncut amazing! Anything might happen!”

Well. It’s not all Indian summer breezes, after all. Nope. It’s a world awash in constant pain. Turn on the news or read the stream or listen to the couple behind you in line for a burrito sniping at each other–pain, pain, pain; see the face of the worn-looking woman waiting for the bus, see how a knotted thread of anxiety is pulling her features toward the center of her face, into a pinch of ache. She’s in pain, emotional, physical, spiritual–it doesn’t matter what kind of pain, does it? She’s a human, and she’s hurting.

This week I read a story in the New York Times about an Italian marathon-runner, and not an experienced or well-trained one, who came to New York to run. He was with a loosely-organized group of Italians. He spoke no English. Somewhere along the route of the marathon, he dropped his small amount of cash, along with his hotel key-card and his subway map.

He went missing for around 48 hours, wandering New York in his running clothes, disheveled, hungry, alone. Unable to communicate. After running a whole marathon, so he must’ve been flat-out depleted.  He made his way, somehow, to the airport, knowing his group would be flying out the next day. Security kicked him out, because they thought he was homeless.

A policeman noticed him on the subway the next day, and realized he was the missing foreigner.

According to Office Yam, “He kept turning and looking to the map. He seemed like he was under duress, like he happened to be lost or not knowing where he was going.” Thanks to the officer’s alertness, the hapless marathoner was saved. Happiness! Truly, it was a joyful ending to what must have been a terrifying experience for him.

Still, no mention in the news article of all the actual homeless people who are disheveled, hungry, alone and unable to communicate, who also do not know where they are going, and who are moved along and cursed at and rarely rescued. They have no group to join, it seems. Imagine the marathoner, wandering weak and scared for two whole days. Now imagine wandering—indefinitely. In the cold, in the rain. In the days that come after this golden time ends.

Sometimes I just want to not want to help, to care, to crave, to feel at all. Because I don’t know how to fix it. I can barely  manage myself.

But then: the trees.

The trees are divine spirits. They won’t let me fade into numb oblivion. They remind me that no matter what else is going on, no matter what hurts or what is messed up—that beauty is there, not caring if I eat it up or ignore it, but there all the same. Doesn’t that mean something? I take a picture. I feel pleased, and then sort of shallow at the rush of pleasure all this beauty brings. My inner scold chides me.  A picture of an amazing blazing autumn afternoon won’t heal the world.

A little voice says it might heal some tiny corner of it.

It might remind someone— someone who gets lost fighting things she cannot change—to remember to appreciate the gift of being in this world, on this day. To breathe this autumn air, and feel gratitude.

And maybe that is a tiny little start?

Maybe.

It’s not nearly enough, but you have to begin where you are, and work up from there.

 


 

“Hope without power is no match for fear with power.” –Caroline Myss

Maybe if we empower our hopes, there will be a little less fear in the world?

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The beautiful rowdy prisoners

The small man
Builds cages for everyone
He knows.
While the sage,
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the
Beautiful
Rowdy
Prisoners.
—Hafiz

Eastern State Penitentiary photo

A cell at Eastern State Penitentiary

The beautiful, rowdy prisoners.

It is their ghosts I think of as I walk past cell after cell. (I know. It’s easy, in such a ruin, to imagine ghosts.)

Silent screams echo through the ruins of Eastern State Penitentiary in the trendy Fairmount neighborhood of urban Philadelphia. This prison, now an historical museum site, has not housed inmates since its closing in 1971.

Maybe it was the humidity, pressing down on me the hot summer afternoon I visited. But I felt what I felt. I felt heavy layers of despair. I heard voices, and not just the recorded ones in the audio headset. I also heard the voices of prisoners past and prisoners present, calling me to attention.

This place was, back in the early 19th century, thought of as a ground-breaking, humanitarian response to reforming criminals. The Quaker-inspired system was based on the belief that solitude and work would allow convicts to focus on their wrong-doing, and become truly “penitent.” Prisoners, many in for crimes like horse theft, saw no one, spoke with no one, touched no one, and smiled at no one, day after day. When necessity forced prisoners to leave their cells, they were hooded so that they had no visual interaction with other humans.

Eastern State is where solitary confinement was pioneered, and perfected, the audio recording hissed in my ears, as I peered in cell after lonely cell. The Pennsylvania System, as it was dubbed, was hailed as a model.

It didn’t work. It did not reform.

But “solitary” remains a punishment used at many modern prisons in the US and is even used on prisoners under the age of 18. US state and federal prisons are currently holding as many as 100,000 inmates in solitary confinement or isolated housing, according to ACLU reports.

Human Rights Watch notes that as of 2006, the rate of reported mental health disorders in the state prison population is five times greater than in the general adult population.

What 17-year-old deserves solitary confinement? What mentally ill person deserves it? Which criminals deserve this, exactly? And who is empowered to decide and implement this torture that takes place far from the eyes of mainstream society?

As Charles Dickens said, after visiting Eastern State in 1842:

“….I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body; and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye… and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment in which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay.”

I wonder at how I have slumbered. In the courtyard of Eastern State sits a sobering, three dimensional bar graph, charting the rate of incarceration in US prisons versus the rest of the world. The US has achieved world domination here. With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.

Processing all this, I walk the corridors of Eastern State. A fog of cognitive dissonance begins to cloud my mind. The light here is soft, and beautiful as the light through any rose-windowed cathedral. The arched corridors are beautifully proportioned. In its heyday, Eastern State was hailed as a model of justice and technological advancement. On the surface, it appeared to be such a good idea. An unquestionable system, implemented by a government that knew what it was doing.

This is a reminder, one of the little voices whispers to me.

A reminder to wonder, to question. A reminder to look beyond, to see what is really happening.

I’m not entirely sure what all this means. But I know it’s not good. I keep reading. The United States prison population has increased by 500% in just thirty years. I learn that that minorities and impoverished people—the most voiceless, the least powerful— are far more likely to end up doing time. Hard time.

Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, prisoners are being put to work filling government contracts. Think “slave labor.” Federal Prison Industries, also known as Unicor, uses prisoners for labor, and pays as little as 23 cents an hour. And, according to the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, thirty-seven states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations who bring their operations inside prison walls.

Suddenly, as I write this, I hear other voices too, jeering ones, asking me if I’m forgetting the victims, in all this wondering? No, I’m not forgetting.

But there can be many kinds of victims, after all. And many kinds of crimes, not all of them carried out by individuals.

The ghosts in my head remind me to keep wondering, to keep questioning why we as a nation keep building so very many cages.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Links to more information on this topic:

http://www.easternstate.org/

http://ellabakercenter.org/

http://www.amazon.com/Race-Incarcerate-A-Graphic-Retelling/dp/1595585419#reader_1595585419

http://www.wsj.com/articles/large-number-of-inmates-in-solitary-poses-problem-for-justice-system-study-says-1441209772

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/us/23prison.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/15/business/private-businesses-fight-federal-prisons-for-contracts.html

https://www.hrw.org/news/2006/09/05/us-number-mentally-ill-prisons-quadrupled

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Love is the answer

photo

June 26, 2015

I’m not religious, and I hope I don’t offend anyone by saying what I believe. I believe in a higher power. I believe that higher power is manifested most purely in love. I don’t mean only romantic love, though that is one form.

In our culture, that kind of love is held up as a commodity or a prize. There are even television shows about finding love by a process that looks like an extended series of job interviews, with marriage as a prize for the winner.

No. I mean the kind of love that doesn’t judge or control. It is that feeling that shoots through you when you hold someone you care about, it is that feeling you find when you journey through the dark and discover you never were really alone. It is about faith in the better part of the world, and in yourself, in spite of seeing the worst parts of both. Or maybe because of seeing both sides?

There’s a poem I love by a wonderful poet named Deena Metzger. It rolls around in my head sometimes when I walk, like a prayer of sorts. I think it helps me to be open to seeing signs, like this leaf on the sidewalk on the day the Supreme Court decided they cannot control love. Now I’m sure there will probably be shows about gay people searching for partners and getting married as the prize, but the bigger take away for me is that expressions of committed love are now open to the LGBT community, and freedom to love, in the end, really is everything, and should be open to everyone.

Song
There are those who are trying to set fire to the world,
We are in danger.
There is time only to work slowly,
There is no time not to love.

–Deena Metzger

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