grief

my aunt is dying. i am struggling to process it; this is my first experience with real loss. i was thinking about writing about it, but i hesitated. i thought, “what else is there to say about death and grieving that hasn’t already been said by somebody else, probably better than i ever could?” and then i realized (or maybe decided) that the point of writing about death and loss and sadness isn’t really to be a smart cookie who’s saying anything revelatory. it’s to move through the pain. i don’t think this will have a thesis or a linear progression. it’s just what it is.

sometimes i worry that people won’t understand how sad i am about my aunt dying because i know that not everyone feels very close to their aunts. i worry that they will think i am being dramatic in some way.

i had half-days when i was in kindergarten. my aunt picked me up every day after my mornings at school. i would spend all afternoon with her. i remember she took me to the dentist once, and i had to get a cavity filled. she gave me popsicles as a treat afterwards. we would run around in the empty lot next to her house. sometimes, i would pretend to be a dog named happy, and my cousin would pretend to be my owner. that sounds weird, but it was fun to have a game to come back to over and over again.

once, my brother stuck beads up his nose at her house. she got them out.

she and my uncle took my brother and me camping for the first time ever when we were young. my brother threw up in the middle of the night, and we went home.

she took a photography class when i was in high school. once, we went to a warehouse for one of her assignments, and she took pictures of me that were supposed to capture my identity. i don’t know where those pictures are now, but i remember what i wore. i felt special when we did that. she took my senior pictures when i graduated from high school, too. i think a lot of teenagers feel uncomfortable in front of cameras. i did. but it felt safe with her. which sounds corny, but it’s still true.

she came to nearly all of my orchestra concerts as a high schooler. i always felt like she genuinely cared about and was impressed by the music i made.

when i was in college far away, we got lunch every time i was home. i remember once we went to the mall with my cousin and got manicures, too.

i don’t even remember when this happened. the last time we got lunch, she had been diagnosed with cancer, but she wasn’t that sick yet. we talked about it a little. she was very matter-of-fact and gave me a lot of medical information. not a lot of feelings talk. that has always been her style.

one year, i wanted kitchen supplies for christmas because i was graduating from college the next spring and anticipated having a kitchen to fill soon. she got me two skillets, pyrex measuring cups, mixing bowls, and a saucepan. she will always help nourish me.

for a birthday, i asked for drawing and painting supplies because i had just taken an art class for the first time and was enamored with it. she got me pens, cyan watercolor paint, and so much paper. she will always be there when i am in the mood to create.

i saw her today. probably for the last time. she was so weak and tired. it felt like i was seeing her at 100 years old, without any of the years together. i wish i could see her age. i wish i could know her without children in the house, when being a mom was no longer an everyday task. she always had a lot of volunteer work going on, but so much of her life was about her kids. i wonder what she would have done when they were grown up.

i wish she could live longer just because it feels so unfair that she will die young. i also wish, maybe selfishly, that she could be around for my future. she used to be a social worker; i wish i could talk to her about that now that i am thinking about grad school. i wish she could she me get a job that i love. i wish i could brag to her about it. i wish she could see me maybe get married someday, or meet the kids i might have. i just wish she could see me grow up for real.

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radical reimaginings: books to read when you need to get shaken up

As Adrienne Maree Brown says in her recent book, Emergent Strategy, the battle for justice is a battle of the imagination. People who are striving to create or wishing for a better world need to have more expansive, and fun, and weird imaginations than those who would keep the world small and fearful. I really think imagination is like a muscle; it can be strengthened through use. Reading is one way to use your imagination, and these are a few books that showed me the world in a new way. Some of what I read clarified my beliefs and some muddied them, but all of these books made me feel intensely (sometimes even physically) estranged from the world around me in a way that stretched the limits of my imagination a little bit further. They refocused, or stretched, or distorted my vision. Hopefully, they can do the same for you. Continue reading radical reimaginings: books to read when you need to get shaken up

sun, moon, rising

Astrology has me in its grips. Just like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, another personality typing tool that has interested me, astrology is a fun way to think about compatibility with other people, strengths, and flaws. But unlike personality tests, astrology is dynamic. As the heavens move, so do our personalities. My hormones come in monthly cycles, a pattern they share with the moon. Change can come in shocking and disruptive waves, like Mercury in retrograde, or it can creep, as Pluto does when it moves backwards across the sky.

Everyone has goodness inside of them, and everyone also has weakness and selfishness and cruelty. That is just the truth, but it is a hard pill to swallow when it’s about you. This truth, and other difficult truths, can be found in astrology. Sometimes they’re easier to hear when they’re from something that is, in theory, neutral about you. It’s easier to be generous with yourself and with others when you know that every sign has beauty and ugliness to it.

Likewise, every period of planetary movement has a negative framing and a positive one. Retrogrades, for example, get a bad rap, because Mercury famously fucks up all communication-related things when it moves retrograde (Mercury is the messenger of the gods in Greek and Roman mythology). But retrogrades are also periods of reflection, to sort out your internal compass, to take stock. Saturn is in retrograde right now. Saturn is about getting what we deserve; it’s about taking responsibility for ourselves. (Interestingly, Saturn is the titan who fathered Zeus, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, Demeter, and Hestia. Saturn overthrew his father, Uranus, to become lord of the universe, but was overthrown himself by his own son, Zeus. So Saturn knows something about karma.) In this retrograde, we should be asking ourselves what responsibilities (to ourselves and to others) have we been shirking? Where have we been falling short? Where can we be doing more?

Astrology helps me ask myself questions that can be scary to face alone. When I was reading about Saturn in retrograde and asking myself, how am I standing in my own way right now? How am I preventing myself from having what I want?, I came back to this little blog. I don’t feel certain about what I want to do for the rest of my life when it comes to a career, which is how I initially approached the question. But I do feel certain that writing is an art I want to do forever. I feel certain that I want to get better at it, that I want to explore different styles, that I would enjoy a larger platform if ever I had the opportunity. And I know that to get better, I have to actually write. I just have to do it. And that’s what I’m doing, after two episodes of WestWorld and some homemade rice pudding to gear me up.

I don’t believe that stars and planets control my life, but astrology enriches my life by pushing me towards truths I need to look in the eye and by holding myself accountable to my flaws while assuring me of my strengths (and often giving me something to strive for). It’s nice to be reminded that Leos love to give love and be loved. It’s necessary to be reminded that Leos can be judgmental and rigid. And it’s inspiring to be told that Leos are fearless. (Working on it…)

I’ve recently been enjoying learning more about my moon and ascendant signs. For anyone who has no interest in astrology, a quick summary: a sun sign is the sign associated with your date of birth (the one that’s easy to look up) and represents your personality, your ego. A moon sign represents your inner, emotional life, your subconscious. An ascendent sign (also known as a rising sign) represents how other people perceive you; the you that you present to the world. Anyway, my moon sign is Virgo. In contrast to my sun sign, Leo, which is often characterized as confident and authoritative, my moon sign is sensitive, shy, and anxious. I know I have all of that inside of me, even though those signs seem diametrically opposed. Astrology gives me room to be the entirety of myself without ever making me feel bad about it.

Sun, moon, and rising signs are just the beginning (although they are the beginning AND end of my understand of astrology for now). Astrology is all about complexity, which is so different from other personality typing tools. Part of the complexity is that astrology is also global, in addition to individual. It’s not just about one person’s personality and life; it’s about how planetary movements create moods that affect everyone.

I’m not sure how much deeper I’ll dive into astrology. I think there is a lot of value in it for myself, and as a queer, feminist site of knowledge production. For now, I read my horoscope to feel grounded and connected to myself. I am trying to change in the places I think I should, and make peace with where I can’t (for now), and feel the joy that my Leo-ness can bring me.

Astrological sources (I don’t know anything myself, I’m just enjoying other people’s understandings and readings):

Honestly Astrology

Cafe Astrology

Chani Nicholas

Astrology.com

Astro Poets

Queer Cosmos

And yes, I know I’m mixing up the Greek and Roman names for gods but WHATEVER!

perseus and the gorgon

if you are too beautiful, and if you know the fact of your own beauty, a horrible fate will befall you. imagine you are in greece, long ago, when the gods ruled. you are lovely. the god of the sea wants to possess you. he doesn’t want to make love; he wants to violate you. so he does, in the temple of athena, the goddess of wisdom and war. this seems like it would be a place where women are protected from rape, or at least a place where men are punished for it. but instead, athena punishes you for desecrating her temple. she makes you so ugly that you turn other people into stone when they look at you. in some ways, this is a blessing. to be so fearsome to behold that no man can look at you and live to tell the tale? that is some kind of power. but underneath that is loneliness. athena punished you for being raped by robbing you of your ability to have intimate relationships of any kind. to protect yourself and others, you live far away from other people. your only company is the statues of men who have tried to kill you.

because, as it turns out, if you are too powerful, too fearsome, too ugly to men, a hero will come and kill you and be rewarded for it. he will do this to protect his mother from a marriage she does not want, but he will also think it fitting that you were punished for being forced to do something you didn’t want to do. besides, noble-sounding intentions don’t matter to you when you are murdered.

athena will let this happen to you. in fact, not only will she let this happen, but she will give your murderer the weapons he needs to kill you. after all, she is his half-sister. your murderer will use your face as a weapon (because even in death you will be able to turn people into stone) until he gives you to athena as a gift. she will replace her trusty shield with your head. those who hurt you most will never find a better protector than you. you can’t do anything about it.

it also happens that from your rape, you became pregnant. you will not give birth until you are beheaded, and from the warm rivers of blood flowing from your neck will spring your children. you will never meet them. you will never look upon their faces. you will never know they exist.

only your sisters will cry for you (though some think they never existed and that you have always been alone).

there is nothing colder than this life that the gods have given you except for the way that people remember you only as a monster. they remember the bodies of warriors you killed, but they don’t remember that those warriors came all the way to your island at the edge of the world just to kill you for glory. they remember the snakes on your head, but they don’t remember why someone gave them to you. they remember that you hate men, but they never ask why that might be.

your murder was a conspiracy by gods and heroes and kings. your legacy has been created by men who write of you as a monster. you are not a monster. your story is a tragedy of which we have not yet seen the end. i hope it is coming soon.

what rape culture can’t do: harvey weinstein and accountability

First of all, fuck Harvey Weinstein and all the people who have protected him. And let’s just say fuck you to all rapists, abusers, and harassers for good measure. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s not be surprised that a powerful white man used his position of power to deeply harm other people. That is exactly what we should expect. However, as a Liberal, Harvey Weinstein has to care what feminists and feminist-adjacent people think about him being a shitty, violent misogynist. So he issued a statement on October 5, in which he apologized for the pain he’s caused without specifying what pain he was talking about, made a weak excuse about how he came of age in a different time in which this was acceptable, and said he was getting help from therapists and lawyers. He ends by talking about how he is on the path to setting up a scholarship for women directors at the University of Southern California, and how he will name it after his mom. It is not totally clear why he felt compelled to add that into an apology. Does he think that giving some women money means he doesn’t have to feel guilty for hurting others?

Then on October 10, his spokeswoman (QuiT, GIRLLLLL) said, “Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances.” This across-the-board denial of wrongdoing is pretty much par for the course, but it’s also very confusing (and utterly enraging, if you are easily wound up like I am). 5 days earlier, he said he was sorry for pain he’s caused right after his many sexual harassment settlements came to light and people started paying attention to his sexual violence. What other pain could he possibly have been referencing? How is he going to do right by the people he hurt (which he said on October 5) when, 5 days later, he says he never did anything wrong in the first place?

Continue reading what rape culture can’t do: harvey weinstein and accountability

let’s be anti-gun extremists

Something horrible happened on Sunday. 59 people were killed by someone with a gun. Hundreds of people were injured in the ensuing chaos. Terrifying. Unimaginable. But then, we aren’t unfamiliar with these stories in the United States. In the past 5 years, there have been more than 1,500 mass shootings (in which four or more people were shot). But we already know this. We know how the news cycle will go when a white man kills people. Calls for prayers, as if that will help. Calls to stop the politicization of death, as if death isn’t always politicized. Calls to band together as a country, as if that will change anything. Speculation about the mental health of the shooter. Use of the phrase “lone wolf.” Resistance by most politicians to any major political action. Mass shootings shouldn’t feel banal, but they do.

There is a concept called the Overton window that describes the relative acceptability of various political ideas. Ideas that fall within the window are generally acceptable according to public opinion. In a talk by Jaclyn Friedman, author of “Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World without Rape,” she urged progressives and leftists not just to hold the line of acceptable political discourse but to continually push it left, no matter how futile it feels. She said that to hold the line means to concede ground to those who would push it right.

Perhaps the financial power of the NRA combined with the passion of NRA superfan voters frightens progressives into taking timid, milquetoast positions on gun control. Perhaps Democrats truly do believe that “we can respect the rights of responsible gun owners while keeping our communities safe.” And increased regulation, banning assault weapons, and making it more difficult for people who are known to be violent (particularly with intimate partners) to obtain guns would certainly be better than nothing. But I think we need to push the Overton window further left. People who oppose gun violence must understand that there is only one way to end it: to eliminate all gun manufacturing and ownership. This is not a politically viable opinion in the United States right now, and it would involve a Constitutional amendment, something that feels like a nightmare to achieve. But most important things will take a long time and a lot of work. There is no other way. Continue reading let’s be anti-gun extremists

be kind, not nice: how niceness marginalizes oppressed people and protects oppressors

This weekend, I had an experience with a dude that reminded me how much women are expected to be nice to strange men who give us no particular reason to be nice. On a hot night at a rooftop bar in Minneapolis that serves $3 vodka rail drinks (uh oh), I am sitting with four women friends when a stranger comes up to our table and starts making conversation. It is pretty clear that he is there to flirt with literally any one of us who will take him. Unfortunately, he is not especially interesting. He says nothing of importance. The onus is on us to keep the conversation moving along, and so we tease him about being boring. He calls us mean as a joke. I’m sure you can imagine how stupid the conversation is. One of my friends, who happens to be sitting across the table from the man and thus is ill-positioned to hear him in a loud bar, starts looking at her phone and talking to our friend who is sitting next to her. The man seemingly can’t take this, even though three other women are humoring his attempts at conversation politely. He says she’s being mean. He says she could just be nice. I tell him, as gently as I can, that what he’s saying is sexist and that she owes him nothing: not time, not attention, not laughter, and not conversation. He tells me I’m crazy, that he’s being nice and he just thinks someone should be nice, and that’s sexist?! In a perfect moment, another friend happens to arrive at the bar right as he’s saying this. She asks, don’t you have friends you can hang out with? He says yes. She says, then go hang out with them. The high of watching him angrily leave because he has been told to go is almost worth the low of having to listen to him talk for half an hour.

I know many other women have experienced nearly identical scenarios, perhaps with less happy endings. I also know that the expectation of niceness is put on other marginalized groups too: people of color and people with disabilities, especially. And it’s definitely required that marginalized people are nice when talking about their own oppression; being anything but nice is, in and of itself, grounds for complete and total disregard.  Continue reading be kind, not nice: how niceness marginalizes oppressed people and protects oppressors