Archive for the ‘figuring shit out’ Category

The name of this blog is taken from Dar Williams’ song “After All.” She sang:
“And when I chose to live
There was no joy
It’s just a line I crossed
It wasn’t worth the pain my death would cost
So I was not lost or found.”

But lately when I choose to live, joy is involved. This song in particular lifts my spirits, lulls me to sleep, gets me outta bed, gets me outta the house …


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My place in the world is right here.
On the back porch of a house in Detroit:
A breeze stirs from time to time, cutting through the June air.
It catches the wind chime. I close my eyes and hear: clinking glasses, the hum of a Tibetan singing bowl still carrying on after contact.
The sun lights up the leaves at the top of a young tree.
One of my feet touches the ground.
The other is suspended a few inches above, as I sit one leg crossed over the other.
My place in the world is right here.

The above is excerpted from a free write on the first day of the Allied Media Conference. I had just been at the UAW Constitutional Convention and was feeling a little disjointed from switching from one gathering to another and anticipating a third: the US Social Forum.

The AMC was a totally new experience for me. I’ve wanted to go for several years and finally got to.

I was immediately grateful to be in a space where “we spend more time building than attacking” is one of the core principles.

I moseyed through the AMC, pacing myself and resting. I started out by participating in make/shift’s collaborative editing workshop. Collaborative editing is one of the ways make/shift practices feminism(s).

Next was the workshop on radical m/othering, parenting, and childcare collectives. I appreciated the tips for how to be more inclusive of parents and children in meetings and community gatherings. These were simple things, including: saying up front that children (and the sounds they often make) are welcome, offering childcare is helpful to parents even if they opt not to use it, acknowledge children, and offer to hold them or play with them if their parenting is occupied.

Poor magazine schooled us all on “poverty scholarship” and the difference between research done by academics outside the community and the “we-search” that they do. The folks at poor magazine take media-making and research into their own hands.

Finally, in a workshop focused on responding to violence in our communities outside the formalized police state, we explored the “middle path” in responding to violence: community accountability. The Audre Lorde Project’s Safe OUTside the System uses a step team to raise awareness and do outreach. Always a Safe Space (ASS) hands out guides on how to pick people up in safe and respectful ways in the bathroom lines at queer clubs. And Community United Against Violence hosts a fun “safetyfest.” One thing that the person from CUAV said that stuck with me is that isolation is one of the major things that contributes to people both being harmful and being harmed.

At the USSF, a lot of the things I participated in were with UAW. At a discussion on labor, faith, and community activism, the new UAW president, Bob King, said that unions are strongest when we’re active participants in our community. He said that over the years we’ve done a good job building up great contracts for those we represent, but haven’t done enough to protect other workers in our community. He said that unions must fight for everyone in society. I couldn’t agree more.

The next day we marched to Chase bank in protest of Chase’s role in the foreclosure crisis that Michigan is experiencing and their bankrolling of JR Reynolds which is currently denying its workers decent wages and working conditions.

One of the evenings, I caught some of the art programming outside at the amphitheater. A poet talked about non-cooperation in two specific ways that resonated with me: 1. not believing the lie that you are not good enough and 2. challenging our over-consumption. Of course, these two things are very intertwined.

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At one of the intersections at the university I attend, there is a sign that says, “Think! Accidents are avoidable.”

A few weeks ago, I burned myself badly–a burn that resulted in a lot of pain, blisters, a trip to urgent care, and skin that has (thankfully) mostly healed, but is still red in the spot that got the worst of it. The accident happened while I sitting in the passenger seat of my aunt’s car. I was taking some time off, but thought it was important to be part of a conference call for work. So, my aunt drove me about 10 miles until my phone could get reception. The nearby coffee shop was packed, so I decided to take the call from the car. My aunt went inside and, after a few minutes, delivered a steaming hot cup to tea to me. The tea was on the dash of the car, the phone to my ear, and the laptop across my thighs. After about 5 minutes on the call, I lost reception, so after a few failed attempts to reconnect, I started an email to my colleagues to let them know what happened. I shifted in my seat a bit and the top of my laptop sent the cup full of tea flying–scalding hot water splashed across my wrist, seeping in and though the sleeves of my jacket, and finally landed on the side of my leg and across the keyboard of my laptop.

I frantically turned the laptop upside down, hoping the water would exit it as quickly as it entered, and made a dash for the restroom of the coffee shop to run my terribly burned wrist under cold water.

This was a painful lesson in mindfullness. I could have looked at the placement of the tea and anticipated that an accident may result. And so it goes with many things in life. In a hurry to meet a friend the other day, I had way too many things in my hands. I dropped my wallet and the contents scattered across the ground, slowing me down considerably.

In his recent LA Times review of books about slowing down writer Nick Owchar had this to say about Thich Naht Hahn’s You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment:

“This book, slender as a breviary, elegantly describes the very act of breathing as an art, and he shows us ways to apply our full concentration, our ‘mindfulness,’ to everything we do during the day–walking, sitting, driving your car (‘the red light is not your enemy,’ he assures), drinking a cup of tea. The point of all this, in the end, is to measure the depth of one’s commitment to that moment. ‘When you are holding a cup of tea in your hand, do it while being 100 percent there,’ he advises. Maybe if you did, you wouldn’t spill so often.”

I went to Deer Park Monastery for a weekend retreat in February. Along one of the paths was a sign that read, “Before you start, stop.

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Law 12. “Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim.”
And by “victim” you mean “girl”—never “woman”
And by “victim” you mean yourself
Except if you fall in a forest
and you don’t see it
does it matter?


Law 16. “Use absence to increase respect and honor.”
Don’t be too available.
Find an excuse to get off the phone.
Don’t linger. Excuse yourself to say hi to a friend—she told you to check this place out after all.
Wave at the hottest girl you can make eye contact with.
Be caught off guard when your “victim” dances with someone else.
Was that supposed to happen?


But who cares?
Girls are a dime a dozen,

Law 20. “Do not commit to anyone.”

I decline
a swig from the flask
once tucked under the seat of your mid-life-crisis car.

You shoot your head back
gulping vodka
tucking the flask away
as you step on the gas.

Tracing the zigzag of LA freeways

You are taking me to the Magic Castle
so I am supposed to be

According to you
I am


I get that way at certain times with certain people and I never unfreeze.

Months later you ask me to travel the world—or some portion of it—with you.
I suspect that traveling means unfreezing.

So, again,
I decline.

“It’s hard enough to have a relationship when people aren’t playing games,” you say, your humanity rising above your ego for just a moment.

Sometimes I resent your formlessness as I struggle to follow, keep up, learn my own shape, only to unlearn it and learn it anew; to teach it to myself.

will let me down.

(imagined as a cartoon character’s word bubbles. she’s screaming the first, represented by all caps; whispering the second in a tiny font.)

This week’s writing is mainly inspired by The 48 Laws of Power. Instead of one coherent poem, I came up with a whole bunch of fragments. The “you” in each is a different person/situation. I would like to know which of the fragments are most compelling, ideas about integrating them, and spots that are unclear or confusing. In general, I also like to hear suggestions about punctuation and language choices.

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This week I went up to San Francisco with LA CAN. The 50 or so of us on the bus met up with folks from all over the West Coast for a “House Keys Not Handcuffs” action. Despite the rain, several hundred of us marched through the streets of SF to deliver our message at the federal building. And through it all, we enjoyed the rain with a lot of help from a very spirited marching band. The next day this quote came to me in the form of a love note left on the gift exchange alter of the Evolver Long Beach “Give It Up” event/spore: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

On the way up to SF, we watched several movies, including Revolutionary Road. The movie has really stuck with me throughout the week. An excerpt from my journal writing about it: “It’s a movie about people’s reactions to nonconformity and the pressures to conform. It’s also about the label of ‘mental illness’ and what gets deemed crazy and the ways other (unhappy) people will use this label to put down others in order to feel better about themselves and their own unhappiness.” I’d love to discuss this movie more with others who have watched it.

Also, this song is where the name of my blog comes from. Dar Williams’ “After All” is an anthem of sorts for me. “And when I chose to live, there was no joy, it’s just a line I crossed. It wasn’t worth the pain my death would cost. So I was not lost or found.”

“Go ahead, push your luck …” This song also inspired one of my sisters’ tattoos!

One thing that has meant a lot to me over the last week is having relatives post pictures from when I was younger on Facebook as part of the retro/throwback phenomenon. These photos mean a lot to me because they help me remember connections to my childhood and my family members. Here’s one that my Aunt Kelly posted:

[removed 2/09/11, feeling shy at the moment]

According to the date on the back, I am about to turn three here.

As I write I am experiencing one of the things on my list of simple pleasures–hearing my cat, bell, snore. My turn soon.

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1/11: “I sent my friend Jenni a text asking for a writing prompt. She’s a sixth grade teacher and gives her students’ prompts for their journal writing assignments. She sent me two back: ‘What’s your favorite daydream? Or, what is the hardest thing about growing up?’ Those two things interplay with each other in interesting ways–my daydreams versus growing up. The hardest thing about growing up is figuring out where to focus my energies–what will have the most impact in terms of creating a more just, humane world and creating a sustainable world.”

1/12: “I am drunk right now. Perhaps I should write a poem about vodka tonics.”

1/14: Reflecting on #14 from my list of simple pleasures: “Sharing meals with friends and loved ones … I remember going to a (what I thought was fancy at the time) Italian restaurant with the cheer team I was part of/co-captain of in high school and expressing, for the first time that I can remember, my utter satisfaction with eating–with a meal. I think I said something along the lines of ‘I love food.’ I was so content. I remember some of the other cheerleaders kind of laughing at/being amazed by this statement. It is, however, completely true.”

1/15: Tweeting from LA CAN
“There’s nothing more basic than being treated decently and having a place to live.” ~Al @LACANetwork
“Thank you, Dr. King, for passing the torch to us.” ~Deborah @LACANetwork

1/16: Poetry prompt found online: “Write a poem that starts with a one word title, two words in the first line, three in the next, and continues by adding one word per line.”

It’s Christmas
Waiting for sisters
Love by my side
They arrive with smiles, hugs
I have prepared an appetizer spread
Three cheeses, sun-dried tomato and olive tapenade
Also heirloom tomatoes, crackers, two kinds of bread
I am relieved when they find something they like
Peppermint patties procured for Kate lest there is nothing else
I watch, noticing that she also likes the tangerines and strawberries
The once picky Maggie eats olive bread, fresh mozzarella, and tries tapenade
So much to grasp and this is only the beginning of the meal
Tony plays music and video records me mashing potatoes and checking Tofurky
We steam broccoli, drink chocolate port, finally sit down for dinner
We laugh at the Tofurky which Tony has expertly carved
Everything isn’t for everyone but we all have something
Then we almost can’t decide on a movie
Us each dancing around our top picks
I am nervous and generally agnostic
Sherlock Holmes is the winner
During I cringe, laugh
Afterwards we walk
To lights

It’s fun to use these prompts to practice writing, even if what comes from it isn’t, well, poetry.

On tap for the holiday weekend:
Dissertation writing
An additional interview for the make/shift roundtable discussion I’ve been working on

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are you my mother?

I recently watched Julie & Julia and was struck by a scene where Julia Child is trying to figure out how to occupy her time. Her husband’s government job has landed the two of them in Paris and she has nothing but time on her hands. At first she thinks she will take up hat making. At another point she suggests that she wants to learn bridge—that she likes the idea of it, anyway. Finally, she decides to enroll in culinary school. Finally. Watching it I was anxious for her to figure it out—”it” being her passion for cooking (well, eating, at first). It was Julia, after all, who taught me how to steam an artichoke and to braise rice; to relax in the kitchen; and to never apologize for how a dish turned out. Of course she should take up cooking! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what a life of passion and meaning looks like for me. What my “of course” is. Let me know if you have any ideas. And I’ll keep you posted as well. xo

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