Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Devil Inside

I am aware that naming evil is not enough. I am aware that my mind shies away from thinking about the tasks of working with it, healing it, defeating it. The post by Nancy Reeves, Two Flowers in the Sanctuary and #28 Acts, requires that I engage further. 

The risk of using the word evil is that it distances, it makes it seem foreign, alien, something so caustic and disgusting that it defies address or redress. How can we agree with the assessment and evil and do anything but run? 

I refuse to run. Though I am spurred to the door, to the high cliff-- the lonely high cliff of the moral high ground, as I am reminded by my dear sister-in-law-- by calling out evil, it does no good at all for the world. I remember well the prayer of my youth-- Do you reject Satan and all of his works, all of his empty promises? I do. I want to. But what a fabulously un-nuanced understanding of evil, this horned progenitor of all that sickens, wilts, destroys! What an easy easy thing to move away, to stamp out, to sequester and shun!

This reminds me of my own rejections, reminds me of the persistent belief in myself that I am sick, wrong. This reminds me of the numbness of getting kicked to the curb as a teen for my queer love. Who was evil, then? The family who rejected, or the freakish desire rising in me like so much thorny invader on the quiet landscape of my heterosexual family? When we see evil as something outside of our human community, and therefore outside of our responsibility, then the risk of splitting raises its terrible head. 

For who does not desire the gun? For who does not harbor the murderer in their heart? For who does not ache the lonely moment before despair? For who does not reject the uncomfortable, the odd? For who lives wide open, with love only, with hope only, with good only?

If I reject the evil in the acts of war, in the acts of massacre, as something that does not rest in a part of me, something that does not live in my human potential, then I am losing my own humanity. I am losing the chance for compassion, for vulnerable love, for heart-changing growth. Is it not the revolution of free will that spurs us to greatness? Is it not my own ability to choose life that gives it value? 

When we split ourselves off from these (I'll call them negative) parts of ourselves, all kinds of f-ed up stuff happens, not least of which is the roots of our most pernicious ills-- beliefs, actions, policies that support a view that those people are the one's with the problems, and the unhappy result that usually those people are the non-dominant, the non-white, non-male, non-Christian, non-owning class, etc. etc.  Racism, sexism, heterosexism-- these ideas that somehow there is a class of less than human, where all of these sentiments rest, is the result of the mind of the split consciousness. 

So, for myself, I am looking for a better answer to the impulse of the gun in me. I am looking for a way to hold an understanding of evil that does not condemn me, or condemn my neighbor. As a Quaker, I hold that there is that-of-God in everyone. I also hold that there is that of evil in everyone. It is in this human potential that I find the most awe, and so much sadness. But if I think that I cannot hold all of this in my understanding of human, than I perpetrate a deep injustice, and risk missing the joy of what true healing and community can be.

So let us practice our 28 mitzvahs, kind acts, remembrances for all of those who died. For all of those potentials that were never expressed, or that were. Our mourning is large, and should be larger. Let us truly see each other as the full humans we are, and let us love one another and ourselves for our dance and struggles with evil. We can reach the other side of those struggles, where love wins and we end the splitting of self that allows evil to flourish. For this, I pray.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Naming the Unnamable

The massacre in CT, Westboro Baptist Church's plan to picket children's funerals, disparate reactions to children's deaths near and far-- this giant snowball of pain and sickness leads me to name what is really difficult for me to name. 

On Friday, after half-listening to the stories, seeing flashes of headline, but not really wanting to hear, I grabbed from my bookshelf, People of the Lie, by M. Scott Peck. This book, published in the 1980s, describes through anecdote a religious and psychological understanding of the lives of those suffering with malignant narcissism. The half-heard stories of Adam Lanza using his mother's guns to kill her and the children and adults at the school, reminded me of a stark story from the book. 

As a therapist, Peck saw a boy who had stolen a car and run it off the road. He was mandated by the courts to have a psychological evaluation. Peck met with the boy, and came to understand that his brother had recently killed himself with a shotgun. It was after the New Year, and as Peck tried to connect with the boy, he asked about any Christmas presents he had received. What he discovers is that the boy's parents had given him the same gun his brother had used to kill himself as a Christmas gift. 

This information immediately spurred in Peck the plan to get the son away from the parents. Peck had the chance to ask the parents about the choice of gift, and the parents deny completely any wrongdoing, any message of sadism or encouragement to death. They say that a gun is a good gift, and they didn't have enough money to get a new one for their son. They say that that they don't see anything wrong with giving a perfectly good gun to their son. They are blind to their own destructiveness. They are. Evil. 

So I've written it. Evil. As a religious and spiritual feminist liberationist, I have resisted an understanding of evil that rests in the individual. I see structural evil, I see how it can act out in the lives of individuals, but I have for many years avoided looking to individuals as being evil. 

We are truly all standing in a stream of social location, cultural tide, worlds of meaning working through us in our lives. So many of the posts analyzing mental illness around the massacre (I am Adam Lanza's mother), as well as the racism inherent in the description of Lanza as mentally ill (were he brown, he would more likely be called a terrorist), speak to this deep tide of our connectedness. And all of these pieces are true, to some degree. 

What is real to me, as I mix all this soup together, is that there is something evil here. It's not just sickness, it's not just structural evil of racism and alienation of the mentally ill. It's something about the proliferation of guns, the sharing of guns across the generations, the use of the mother's guns by the son, that echoes for me the deep evil of generational malignant and sadistic narcissism. 

He killed himself, Lanza did, after taking so many with him. Was he thinking of his mother as he took the guns they had shared in target practice together, months before? Was he thinking of the message of these shared guns? What sickness in him is an expression of the message of the gun-- the death dealing machine that came from his mother's proverbial milk? What is the consequence of drinking this poison?  

I don't have answers to any of these questions. What I am left with, as I chew and chew, is that I am sickened by these stories, these true stories. I have the strength now to say what these acts and individuals are enacting, and it's evil. 

My questions are to those who are standing at the entryway to the next generation-- we parents. How long can the child resist incitation to violence? How long until we end this lineage of death?  How will we set our children free from this heritage of impunity and destruction, and the lessons of worthlessness that our violence and narcissism teaches our children? I know I will resist this destruction with all of my will and love. Let us resist this evil of seeing our children as less than ourselves, and honor the life that is seeking expression in them. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Things are heavy here in our household right now. A much beloved uncle died yesterday, after what feels like a long battle with cancer. He died in the morning, while with his now adult children and wife. My partner traveled up to be with him last week, and got to see him on one of his last lucid days. 

It wasn't an easy decision for my partner to go up to Vermont, leaving his work as a teacher, leaving me at home alone with the little (now 2 1/2 yo) f. After the word came that hospice was suggested by his doctor, a day passed, with all its vicissitudes and stressors. That evening, once little f was asleep, my partner and I met in the kitchen. 

"Have you thought about going up to see Spike?" I asked. 

"It's been rolling around in my mind today, I'm still thinking about it."

"Would you like my opinion on the matter?"

As soon as I got the yes, I didn't stop for a moment. Go. I said go. Go. Go. Go. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Do not stop to wonder. Do not question if you are wanted. Do not let your fears stop you. Do not think it's too much time to take off. Do not worry about your son, or your beloved. Do not worry about the timing. Do not worry about the cost. Just go. Go. Go. 

I am glad to say that N did not leave that evening. He made the good choice of checking in with all concerned, and traveled up with his parents for a timely visit and farewell. I was solo parenting for three nights. It was absolutely worth it. 

As someone who is pretty damn certain that having a baby was one of the most transformative events in my life, I am also equally certain that the other end has the potential to be the same. We all get to choose how we relate to these transformative times, and to me, the worst thing to do is to pass up a chance to touch into the love and connection that is at the center of life. There is so much that urges us away from that closeness. And all of that is a lie and a hoodwink. We deserve to be close to life. We just do. Without reservation. We all deserve it.

I was with my grandfather on the day he died. I won't describe in detail what happened, mostly to protect those in my family who were there, as well. But what I will describe is my experience of sitting by his bedside, where he had decided to be at the end, and closing my eyes. I don't know how to name what impulse moved me, but I was suddenly holding in my mind each of the points on my grandfather's body that held energy. As I imagined them, I urged them in my mind to release. I was crying, I know. I was scared. And when he died later that day, it felt very right. Very real and very right. 

As I read this, I think I sound like a hippy freak. And as you know from a previous post, I am not a hippie. What I am is a deeply spiritual person. And how did I learn this? I just can't tell you right now. Right now what I know is that there is something in this life that wants us to get close. And sometimes it takes these transforming times-- birth and death, loss, trauma, injustice, love, justice, ritual, other stuff-- art, revolutions, nature, lotsa stuff-- to shake us into that awareness. I'm trying to hold onto the loss of this good good man as an invitation to the closeness of life. I'm not quite there, but writing it helps. 

Spike, in the five or so years I knew him, was a New England gentleman cum conspiracy theorist cum tractor savior cum father cum intellectual cum gracious host cum welcome wagon. I felt his hugs in my feet, and was always just a wee bit scared of him. As the cancer brought him to a more remote orbit, I was always amazed at his comfort with just disappearing. No words, just gone for whatever reason was motivating him at a family gathering. As his energy shifted, I felt a clarity in his eyes, rather than saw it. The refining fire of treatment, spiritual and modern, meant that he was living in different time than the rest of those who gathered around him. His participation was always just a gift, and one that I only benefitted from by default. Lucky me. 

So this is to Spike's passing. So this is to our growing closer. So this is to saying yes, and go, and more, please. We deserve this life. All parts of it. Even when we don't, and even when it's hard as hell. We deserve to be close, and to find it in each step, from beginning to end. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Martyrs and Clowns

Today I am seeing reminders of the loss of two great men in the causes of gay rights and peace-- Harvey Milk and Tom Fox. In 2005 on this date, Tom Fox was abducted while doing peace work in Baghdad. He was found dead months later. In 1978, Harvey Milk was gunned down in San Francisco for the sole reason of his public and political gayness. 

Both of these men and their movements have figured prominently in my understanding of myself as a queer person of Quaker faith seeking justice and safety in my life and the lives of my fellow humans on this planet. Both of these men stand for me as examples of what the natural extension of the work of witness and truth telling can be. Yup, it's death. We speak truth to power, we could die. 

When I was a kid, I had a personal relationship with a Jesus who I knew had died for me. He was my intimate imaginary friend. He was my externalized conscience. And, as I learned more about him in Catholic school, at mass and in conversations with my mother, he was my true savior. Without him, how could I be? And could I ever be him? Would I want to be? Was I good enough? Usually, the answer was no. 

These modern day martyrs echo that feeling for me. Are these men inspiring to me? Cautionary? Daunting? All of these, and more, maybe. It is the death of the privileged in the work of justice-love, the visible, the front and center, that makes for our common understanding of martyr.  And these voices, bodies, risk-takers, wily spirits in the world go far toward this justice-love they so seek. They are beacons and calls to us, they demand a response from we more comfortable, we less willing to risk for what we believe. They are, so I can be in this world, now.

Beside this, I have been seeing some really overwhelming examples of creative actions done by groups that shock, amaze, impress, and make me laugh. The stuff that's reaching me as I make my way around the interwebs is brilliant: naked ACT UP occupiers, clowns against Nazis, men in heels, singing civil disobedience. All of this makes me feel like I could be a part of this bigness, this creative hullabaloo.  Check it out: Walk a Mile in Her Shoes

Clown Protest at KKK Rally

Occupy Homes Singing Protest
image from NYT article

You can't make this stuff up, and I wouldn't want to. These actions give me so much hope, and give me a model of action and change I can work with. I am not meant to be a martyr. I am meant to survive and survive. And thrive, if I'm lucky. These clowns for the cause, these holy laugh a minute rollers, who speak to our better natures through inspiring risks of playful honesty bring out a whole different level of awe in me. Are they daunting? Inspiring? Invigorating? All those, and more. And could I be one of these multitude of jesters, tricksters, subverters? Perhaps the answer is, yes.

We need our clowns and martyrs, and we need to know that they can be all of us. Clowns can die, too. Martyrs can rise again. I am glad to be reminded today of the many faces of this arch and muddle toward justice, and the many paths leading toward justice-love. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Letting Go Series #3: Bigness/Smallness

Number 3 in a series. A colleague looked me straight in the eye and spoke with great conviction: Let it go, Victoria. Let it go. I have decided to take him at his word, and reflect on issues with which I struggle to let go. 

With the power of my will, I shall be healed.

This line from a feminist liturgy is good ground for today's lesson in letting go. So often, those of us with strong wills, with powerful charisma, and a steady affirmation of that charisma and expressed will, find ourselves on top. We are confirmed in our faithful leadings. We have jobs, communities, security in the sight of God and country. We are models, examples, vociferous front-men. We rock, and sometimes, oftentimes, we know it. This is not say we are arrogant, though some of us are. This is to say we are self-aware, engaged, and completely committed to the work of the moment, its power and purpose. Whole hearted, big hearted, we are there.

I have been this person. Standing in front of a community, leading in prayer, in action. Secure in myself and using all the tools available to me, I have moved mountains of perception. I have changed things, or so I have thought. It's felt good. 

But was She there? Was our shared and disparate God waiting in the wings to stroke my ego after each public offering? Many public successes, for me, have been followed by a level of self-recrimination, self-criticism, and uncertainty. The more public success, the more this backlash happens. 

I do not think this is the voice of a vengeful, jealous God who wants to make sure I am keeping the covenant, playing my ascribed role. Rather, I think this is the voice of a jealous parent, the result of a life grown in the soup of narcissism and neglect. The price of saying yes to myself, as a child, was saying no to the needs of my family, laid out before me, always demanding, always seeking to annex my will, my power. It's a lot to get over. 

But I do, every day. And there are gifts of these voices, though that might be hard to believe. Though I have the burden of learned lessons of inadequacy with the weight of my family's need, the question of if God is with the charismatic, the strong willed, is a good one. 

Arguably, God is with most folks, in our imperfections, in our leadings and mis-leadings. God is with the farmer and the physician. God is with the strong and the weak. But within a liberation theology context, the scales are tipped to the poor and marginalized, to those who don't read well on your daily teleprompter. And in a world where those in power get more of what's what, I like a theology that privileges those without, those who may not register on the mainstream cashbox of our dominant culture. 

But, then is God with ME as I struggle against these voices of recrimination? Is God holding my hand, helping me embrace a will that singes, an expressed leadership that is sometimes so large to me, I fear it eclipses the Divine I seek to honor?

But perhaps I am asking the wrong questions. Maybe it's not a question of if God is with me. Maybe we don't need to worry about if our actions are God-worthy, or eclipse or create, or magnify or lionize, or any of that prevarication. Maybe it's about an alignment of the will itself. In a previous post, I noted that it takes a strong will to be willing to leap into a relationship with a will not entirely one's one. What if, beyond this, there is a will that is seeking to align with ME? What if, the faithful following of the seeker is the whole point? If I express a will of public ministry, where I stand before many, I can be just as connected to God as if I choose a ministry of quiet service on the farm, in my family, with my friends. 

I cannot tell you how many times I have been told, You have such a quiet nature, or, You are so powerful and out there.  It's an old dichotomy, and one I could do well to let go of-- it is a false dichotomy. The life of the Spirit is big enough to take all comers, all expressions of faith, of giftedness. I should not be afraid of either the bigness or smallness of the will in me to serve our shared and disparate God. Each will come in their own time, as the fruit ripens on the vine, so my faith will grow and express itself in new ways. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Will the True Guide Please Stand Up?

Having just read the sweet and compassionate post by Ashley W about accepting imperfection in ministry, I want to push this conversation a bit farther and talk explicitly about the guide and ministry. 
Fear of outrunning my guide has motivated me to embrace physical work in my life as balance to a strong sense of call toward prophetic and pastoral ministry among activists and religious communities. This might seem an odd juxtaposition, but at this point in my ministry and work, the work of hands is a balm and beacon to what can feel like an overwhelming mess of desire and resistance. When I work with the earth, nurturing life from soil and seed, I find lessons of patience, persistence, and humility are right at my fingertips. 

We would do well to listen to the land in discernment around ministry. When we humans haven't completely tipped the scales, verdant eco-systems sing stories of balance and extremity in a lilt only some can hear. What have I heard, when I really try hard to listen?

I hear, sometimes, about the creep of the invader. A bed untended becomes a clutch of weeds. I think it is telling me that I need to be vigilant, that I am lazy and foolish in my growing endeavors. I think it is telling me I am bad at farming. I think it is telling me that I am mediocre in my task, that I can't possibly be doing anything right in the crazy balancing act of work, land, love. 

But then, in these thick beds late in the season, gathering last gleanings of harvest with students, we witness the giant carnivores, grown fat on my neglect. Mantis' as large as my hand, spider mama's that fascinate and terrify small children, these animals have thrived in this unkempt eco-system, have kept the squash bug away from these precious last yellow fruits. 

And then, we see the tomato hornworm, half desiccated  from the hatched eggs of a parasitic wasp, hanging loosely on a tomato plant. My students marvel that this was something alive once, this creature that destroys crops brought low by something so small, so intent upon its insides for survival. My overwhelm and needful neglect, as well as a commitment to not using chemical pesticides or herbicides, has made for a powerful teaching space and a vibrant world of life, in this late season. 

Sometimes, I try too hard. If the fat mantis, the successful wasp, can teach me anything about ministry, perhaps it is to wait, and see the fullness of life, in time. Despite a weedy bed full of our invasive friends-- thistle and hops, pigweed and stilt grass-- a deeper life grows and thrives, with its own lessons, its own fascination and value. 

And so I ask, will the True Guide please stand up? Is the guide in me, or is she the land? I temper my internal leadings with land-lessons, in hopes of moving forward with integrity and responsibility. I pray we can find our leadings both within and without, as we explore our ministries for the healing and building of justice-love for all creatures, and the glory of our shared and disparate God(ess). 


Friday, October 5, 2012

all about love, or why I am not a hippie

The other night I was sitting in a room with colleagues before starting an evening responsibility monitoring students and helping get students to sleep. I work at a boarding school, and I have the good fortune (and sometimes deep annoyance) to live on a dorm with my family rent free, in exchange for weekly night duty and monthly weekend duties.

So we were sitting together, before the formal meetings started, discussing the love life of a colleague in the room. He shared with the group that he and his fiancé are being married in a week at a small ceremony. We all congratulated him, and I went on to say how awesome that was, because we are all here for one reason, right? To make more love in the world.

There was a slight dip in conversation, and then laughter, when I repeated it. I thought this was an easy statement—who could deny that love is the highest good? And then, as I looked around to the bemused faces in the room, looking at me as if I had said something off-color, I heard from one colleague—I don’t think ______ would agree with you. I turned to this colleague and they said, I don’t even know what you mean.  I repeated the sentiment, asking, What else are we here for?  They looked at me blankly, and I had head enough on my shoulders to say, You have some work to do on love, colleague. And laughed.  It was obvious that they were uncomfortable, and somehow I had said something wrong.

The next day, walking by this colleague in the hall at school, they smiled and gave me a peace sign. I laughed and said, How’s the love in your life today?

This series of exchanges struck me on a number of levels.

First, it was amazing how uncomfortable folks got around me! And how quickly I realized I had said something I shouldn’t have. And how, if I made a joke of it, it would be all right.

Second, sharing a couple’s move toward committed relationship is always a moment to re-affirm our own loves in the world. I would no more look blankly at the disclosure of a colleague about this great leap forward than laugh derisively if a student came to me in pain or need. It felt an opening of vulnerability, and I didn’t understand the response I got to moving closer to that openness, saying yes to it and sharing that I thought he was participating in the most important thing in the world!

Third, why did my colleague flash me a peace sign in the hallway the next day? 

Throughout my time working at this school, and honestly throughout my life, I have had the term hippie used, primarily as an insult, in my general direction. I want to stress that I have never self-identified as a hippie. Maybe it was because in high school, fellow students would yell Fucking hippie!  at me in the halls and cafeteria. Maybe it’s because I grew up thinking that this boat had sailed, that there were no hippies left. Maybe it’s because I never EVER listened to the Grateful Dead.

Obviously, this term carries with it a weight of shame and judgment. And yes, some of the external markers of my life point in the direction of hippie—radical leaning, farmer, feminist, don’t shave, rarely spend money on physical appearance (though I love to get a pedicure and massage, and a fancy haircut), extended nursing/attachment parenting, interested in ending the money economy…..

But that’s really not the point of this post. I am not going to argue myself into calling myself a hippie. I am writing this to talk about how my expression of the highest good of LOVE prompted my colleague to both laugh at me and then flash me the hippie code—the peace sign. And no, they were not being in earnest.
What I want to write is that this conception of love—this stereotyping of love as an escapist fantasy is such a complete hijacking of what love means. It’s appalling.

The title of this post is an homage to bell hooks' book by the same name—All About Love: New Visions. Though it’s been awhile since I read this book, I remember her writing so eloquently about the connections between individual transformative love, love that seeks to be free from oppression, from misogyny and racism, and the transformative power of a world love that is required of us if we are to survive as a species on this planet.

When I speak of love, I am not talking about the avarice spewed in the media, the drug-hazed sentiment of the 1960s, or the lonely pining of the unpopular. I am talking about the power of justice love, where right meets right, where power bursts the bounds of human limitation, human evil. I am not telling my colleague, when he shares he is committing to another—good for you! now your life is perfect! What I am congratulating him on is his commitment to struggle and growth and the potential for transformation in the heat of what happens, when we are brave enough to stay. And this staying is good for us as individuals, and when it is right, it is good for the world, it builds the kin-dom. It changes things. It would do us well if we were more honest about what we do when we love, what we embrace and the power we have together that we do not have when apart. 

And love is not simply something we do as couples. We love as neighbors, as friends, as adversaries seeking common ground, as teachers, as students, as children, as parents, as activists confronting injustice, as ministers and musicians and every other thing we can think to do and be, with love. 

And it is a religious experience, this love that will change us. The faiths I have engaged hold love at the center of their call and challenge. How does invoking love lead us to think of hippies, instead of Jesus, or Gautama, or Goddess?

Ultimately, I would like to think I could invoke love and not evoke derision from my community. Ultimately, I would like to honor the elders who embraced the hippie label, and know that I stand in a stream deeper than any one moment in time. The threads of liberation that were nurtured in the time of the hippie were not newly born, and love is not a concept that belongs to them. Love belongs to no one, and is available to all of us, when we are willing to say yes, and stay.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Letting Go Series, #2: The Gifts of the Spirit

Number 2 in a series. A colleague looked me straight in the eye and spoke with great conviction: Let it go, Victoria. Let it go. I have decided to take him at his word, and reflect on issues with which I struggle to let go. 
My experience of Quakerism, in the 16 years that I have attended meeting, lived in and out of Quaker community, studied, worshipped, and struggled, has taught me that gifts of the Spirit are many. When I am able to really see people acting in their power, in their complex faiths, I see such a diversity of gifts expressed, arrayed like so many stars against our sacred sky. It can be humbling, exhilarating, and joy filled. 

But what happens when these gifts don't have a home? As I continue to grow in my understanding of myself as a minister, a poet, a farmer, a parent, I realize that there needs to be a home big enough for these parts of me to thrive. Thrive by way of challenge, by way of acceptance. Thrive because these gifts are not a joke. They are hard won. 

They are part of my own personal revolution. 

I feel stalled, just now. I feel like the space to grow into these gifts is clamped down. The way is shut, as opposed to open. Sometimes I am brought under by a sense of not being seen for these gifts. Sometimes my ego is so blasted because no one is walking up to me, saying, Hello, minister! Hello, poet! I see you for who you can be, I see your gifts and say, yes!

This is really not how the Spirit works, surely. This is just some adolescent fantasy-- like being singled out on the dance floor to dance with the cutest, most popular person in the school. This preoccupation with recognition is my biggest limitation, maybe. It makes it hard to listen.

Is this my problem? Am I not being attentive enough, still enough? Have I outrun my leading? I am wracked with insecurity, when doors shut and I feel stuck. I want to run from the discomfort, the hurt of not feeling at home. I want to rail at God(ess). I want to name myself ruler of my own fate. I want to embrace the arrogance that so often leads to worldly recognition and spiritual lack. I second guess my feelings, I second guess God(ess), I twist and turn on my own pin. I try to dissect myself out of the truth that is staring me in the face. The voice that is beckoning me. That has been speaking to me for as long as I have had ears to hear. 

I used to think this was Jesus' voice, when I was a young person. And then it was the voice of an imagined parent. Now I hear this voice as a marriage of my own internal compass and the worldwork energy of the earth. God(ess) in the machine. Life in the moment. Metta listening. Pulse of the earth. Spirit in motion. 

And what is She saying to me now? I am still trying to listen. Sometimes I hear a faint voice, chanting, Follow, follow.  But mostly I hear the struggle for self within me, the recrimination, the powerful witness. Mostly I know that I must let go of the desire to be seen and valued for these gifts. For spiritual gifts do not lead to ego-stroking and popularity, they lead to wholeness, to sweetness, to the great unknown and the power of will that is required of us in order to let go into a will that is not solely our own.

I pray for the strength to listen, the humility to let go of my attachment to external recognition, and the power of will required of me to follow faithfully, in time. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Living the Post-Apocalypse Now

I just came back from watching Fixing the Future, a documentary about the development of localized economic models in the face of global economic struggle (to put that issue mildly). The crowd was stellar, and I was really glad I went. To summarize: 1- the economy is a shambles for the little people, the environment is in shambles because of big corp; 2- little people are finding ways to find meaning and resources to survive (some really amazing creative examples); 3- there is another side to this economic and environmental crisis. 

The documentary event ended with a taped panel discussion with Bill McKibben, Majora Carter, and Mike Brady (CEO of Greyston Bakery, founded by Roshi Bernie Glassman). In it this really awesome moment of a nod to the Occupy movement happened. McKibben was talking about how the economy as it currently is doesn't work for most ordinary people. David Brancaccio, the mediator and explorer in the documentary, says something to the effect of it works for some people, and the panelists nod and someone says, yes for maybe 1% of the population, the economy works. 

The audience thought that was pretty funny. I did, too. But then I started wondering about the intended audience for this documentary, and what just might be the message that is hidden in this very respectable and interesting piece of filmmaking. 

Brancaccio, during the panel discussion, asked these three change makers and modelers of sustainable business practice how they keep on going. McKibben was the only one who pointed in the direction that maybe we were too late to change things, but if we aren't, wow there is an untapped human potential that is amazing and energetic and transformative. Carter talked about celebrating the small successes, and the creative possibilities in these small moves. Brady talked about the Greyston Bakery model as one that could possibly change policy. 

These answers were very telling about who the intended audience is for this documentary. I realized, while listening to what honestly felt like half-truths, that these words and images are meant for frightened people who have no idea what to do to make their lives better. Carter did speak some powerful truth about the deep crisis of demoralized folks, at its center being about the complete lack of belief that we can make anything anymore, that we have been so ensconced in our consumer culture, we have forgotten that our bodies are made to make things. That was pretty awesome. 

Maybe that is who this doc was meant for-- the demoralized, the confused, the abstract and disengaged folks. I found myself, while looking at the local oven-making business, or the local flour mill, wondering about where the robots were sourced, or the plastic face masks. I found myself, while watching this film, imagining what I would need to use instead of rubber to seal my future glass cans, once the rubber seals had run out. Would beeswax work?

I am thrilled that this film came to my area and I got to sit in a theater with some amazing people doing good work in the region. I am thrilled that this film exists. I just need another film. I need the Living the Post-Apcalypse Now film. So many of the examples actually felt a lot like that film. That feels like a more honest film, and one that can engender a deeper conversation and a deeper sense of the changes we need to make, and the resilience and creativity that will be asked of us as our world shifts and changes. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Of What Should One Write?


You remind me of my mother
all bluster and love, ice and promise.
I do my multiplication tables
faster than anyone
and still you don’t notice.
So I pretend for you
can’t learn my sevenses,
hide a paper under my desk.
My brother laughs
tells me he did that, too,
but he knows better.
I’m just trying to catch your eye.
And I do. You pass back
my perfect score, stare me down
with those milky blues
and ask if I want to take
the test again, alone with you,
after school on Friday.

I jump, in fear and joy,
practice with my brother’s help.
He smiles as he drills me, too.
He knows what I am looking for—
to be brought back from the brink,
read the riot act, saved. He obliges.
I pass with flying colors.

This poem is from a cycle I am working on called In Thrall to the Sadist. In this cycle, I am working on aspects of sadism, and also the challenge of story telling in poetic form. These poems are confessional at their root, stem, branch, and leaf. They are the product of years of growth, and the somehow ever-persistent desire to write. 

This persistent desire has surprised me, because of the equally persistent self-recrimination for said desire. The difficulty with my writing, and particularly my poetry, is that it lines up with the confessional school of poetry that I know through the likes of Sharon Olds and Anne Sexton. I admire this poetry, and also question its value in a larger project of art. Where is the intersection of aesthetic and experience? When is experience spun to move toward an artistic expression? Is it simply self-preoccupation that tricks me into thinking these confessions are art, or is there space for confession in the large umbrella of art?

I get confused about art. The recent storm around the appalling cake performance art in Sweden was, for me, an opportunity to work out the difference between provocation and artistic expression. This brilliant analysis from blacklooks helped me to see the space that was created by this piece of 'art' was false at its core, making no real space for the voices, vision, and true story of African women to be heard or seen. By parodying the images used to stereotype, by cornering white women into colluding with the parody, Makode Linde participated in the long line of folk who have used African women's bodies for their own sensational, titillating benefit, reinforcing the story of their silences with hyperbole. 

In this context, then, I wonder about my confessional work. I am telling my story, I am not seeking to parody my life or hyperbolize the truth welling up in me. BUT, I am not the only one in this story. I write about my family, my lovers, my friends. I want to write about the stories in my community, but I often stop myself, for risk of being like Linde, perhaps, humiliating readers, making art that only shocks, and does not name something that is true.

I think that this is at root of what I desire in my writing-- to name something that is true. I like the folks at post secret for this reason, though there is a rare example of that art that speaks to me in this way.  Sometimes I think I should stop writing from this deep well of story in my life, that bubbles up, that obscures itself and then shows me stark, vibrant, alive images and story. There isn't much else that comes to me, though, and so I follow these stories, and hope they speak beyond my own life, and can be of some use, stand in some way beyond the moment of my writing them. 

I don't know how I know when something is true in this way. It is a feeling in my gut, it is a sensation across my shoulders, it is the calm behind my eyes, as if I had been meditating, or praying through the poem. When I feel this way, the recrimination of creation is at bay, at least for some time, at least until I move on to the next poem, the next step in the process of this truth-seeking.

These blog posts also, I hope, speak in this way. Somehow it feels a bit like messages in a bottle, blown out into the universe of tubes and wires, landing on someone's shore, and being read. Thank you for reading. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On Saying Yes to Family: My LGBTQ Family Story

June 1 is Blogging for LGBT Families Day, and I thought I would take this moment to write about my queer family. 

Now, my queer family is not just any family. And it's not just anything I would have called family 10 years ago. As a bisexual woman who came out at 20 and promptly got ousted from my family of origin, the term family is not one I had wanted to embrace at all. I spent years running from this idea, laughing at the suckers who spent hours talking to parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, etc., on the phone-- or traveling to reunions yearly. 

I knew what was real. I knew it was all smoke and mirrors, part of the heterosexist trap that  seeks only to recreate itself in constant solipsistic longing, the ultimate masturbatory fantasy-- every man has their woman, every woman in her place, every baby in their correctly colored bonnet. 

I was enraged. Enraged at the family that rejected me. Enraged at the media that sexualized me. Enraged at the religions that demonized me.  Enraged and spitefully jealous of all the friends with different stories to tell. 

In short, I worked hard to kill the love in me. Every reminder of what I didn't have, what had been taken from me by my family's denial of my deepest and most vulnerable part of me-- who and how I love-- became a weapon of my own self-disgust. How dare I care about the world's recognition of my life? How dare I want what others had? How many people never know love, acceptance, comfort? What right did I have to want these things that my family of origin obviously did not want for me? 

I worked harder still, as the years went on and the desire for children became conscious. No one would think you were a good parent, I would tell myself. Look at who was the role model! You're too f*ed up. You're too big for parenting. You have too many other things to accomplish-- you don't need to be a mother, partner, lover. 

But here's the rub (though I have to write that this is starting to feel like an 'it get's better' post). Despite my best efforts to kill this love in me, I found myself making choices to put myself in the way of love. The most significant move for me I think along these lines was moving to a neighborhood in Philadelphia, PA, where freaks abound and love in all its variance thrives (and struggles, and sputters, and grows). Letting myself begin to reach out to others like me-- even those so different as to be like me only in their variance from some imagined norm-- was not so much a risk as a relief. That I was met-- by friends, lovers, compatriots, community orgs, churches, gardens, houses, streets, ferns and hostas growing like weeds on well kept tiny front yards-- was a revolution of healing and growth. 

And so, my family began. It's been a decade since I moved there, and have moved away since. But my wild and wooly family-- now comprising of a partner and a toddler, in-laws(who are sitting reading in the room in which I write this post), sisters and brothers and uncles and aunties (traditional and chosen-- a few in the wedding photo on the right) in CA, MA, NC, NY, OR, VT, distant relatives who feel like close friends when we see each other every year, queers and breeders, zealots and atheists, dreamers and cynics-- is the center of my life. My queer family is where I express the love that was denied me, the love that travels between us, the true and deep, challenging love of authentic connection. My family is strong enough for the love that I have to express and share, and is strong enough to hold a new and expanding sense of what family is and can be.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Letting Go Series, #1: Gender

I begin a series of posts on letting go today. A colleague looked me straight in the eye today and spoke with great conviction: Let it go, Victoria. Let it go. I have decided to take him at his word, and reflect on issues with which I struggle to let go. And being a part of the human community means that it's usually not just me that has something to let go. 

Here goes nothin'.

Letting go of my internalized sexism- giving the pink slip to the gender police

A dear friend and mentor told me about Ken Corbett yesterday, as I sat and struggled with her about my gender and the work I do in the world.   I find, with my beloved and my child, that the heaviness of my gender as a woman falls away. There is no doubt that I am Mama, partner, woman particularly in my family-- and yet it rests well with me most of the time. My body has a function that is life-giving. My heart is open and (mostly) unafraid. 

She said, Gender can be a lightning rod for pain.

I feel pain most often about my gender in my work in the world. As a person who is working on being a farmer and educator-- and as a woman who is working with young people-- I feel pain when I am reminded that my expression of myself as a woman does not fit with the dominant culture, and can be alienating to many young people obsessed with fitting in, anxious about doing things right, and living in a developmental moment of conservatism. As a person who wrestles with the spiritual gifts that have been given to me-- through accident, family, experience, Spirit-- my gender feels like an albatross around my neck. Attempts to embrace the feminine divine feel marginal and heretical to many in my current community, and I feel the risk of being out in this way. As a bisexual in a committed relationship with a man, I feel the invisibility of my gendered desire in a heterosexist landscape. 

I also feel pain and confusion about gender as my son interacts with the world. As we continue to not cut his hair, I feel concern for him being judged as not a boy, or perhaps we being judged as deviant parents. We dress our boo in clothes we mostly get donated, so much is gender ascribed. When we pull out the pink onesie or he wears his pink and purple rainboots, I cringe as I imagine more conservative people looking askance at his blessed frolic in the puddles. Gender is a trap in the world. It is a cage. There is a cost to any transgression, and rampant fear of that transgression. 

As I looked for more on Corbett online, I came across this news piece from a year ago (how did I miss it?) about a JCrew ad where a 5 year old boy is painting his nails pink. The controversy itself is affirmation of these feelings

The well reasoned speakers are trying to stem a tide that is larger than this boy and his painted toes. I often get information from progressive religious sites and feeds about this overwhelming tide of gender policing from religious and secular groups. I am reminded of my seminary work looking at Kate Bornstein's Gender Outlaw as I write this. As a transsexual activist and intellectual, Kate's writing about our role and responsibility to tear down the gender policed state was inspiring to me as I explored liberation theologies and what I could be. Though there are voices to listen to, places to live (yes I mean you, West Philly), the tide of the gender policed state is overwhelming, and just a click away.  

So I ask myself, in the spirit of letting go, what would letting go of this struggle look like? Would it look like courage? Pride? Calm? Would it look like moving outside of the fear of confrontation with those who might judge me as not fitting?

As I look at the current debate over public and extended breastfeeding, I feel a fierce clarity that this nurturing of children should be encouraged, not codified or policed, and this struggle is apparent, between permission to be and expectations of performance. Does being a good mother require specific behaviors? Does being a good woman require specific roles? These questions are maddening! -- and the questions that play in my mind as I butt up against those who cry out-- yes! yes indeed they do! 

Maybe the challenge, for me, is to let go of this idea of good. I will perform my gender in my wiley ways. I will be a woman until and unless that changes. Why do I hold up my being and performance against others? Why do I listen to the gender police in my mind as often, if not more, than the voices of diverse and amazing folx across the gender spectrum in my actual life? Why do I worry if I am the only adult woman in my community who does not shave? 

Last night at dinner, my beloved N relayed a story about how he was an object lesson for the Pre-Kindergarten class on exploding gender norms. As a man with long hair, one of our young neighbors stood up in class and said-- I know a man who has long hair! N! Others around the table shared that N's ponytail had been discussed with their little ones, as well. I was pleased, and a little shocked to realize that N is the only man in this community with long hair. And he smiled and was glad. I love that man. 

And so I give the pink slip to the gender police, or at least notice. Each step I take to stand without shame, with my family, friends and neighbors willing to let this policing go, is a step to showing the internal police the door. I don't know if these struggles will lessen, but I do know that I am committed to making a free gender play space for my son and the young people I meet, modeling who I can be and inviting the bigness of who they can be, outside of  fear of reprisal. I only hope that as I and others let this struggle go, the death throes of this policing will be heard, and then silence will follow-- and who knows what will fill up the space, when we say good-bye to the police within and without.