I Burned You a CD {Part Two}: A Psychopompous Samhain

 

Insert I: judgments
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Insert II: my ghost in the future goofing in your hallways
Insert III: “Someone has to make it out alive, sang a grandfather to his grandson, His granddaughter, as he blew his most powerful song into the hearts of the children. There it would be hidden from the soldiers, Who would take them miles, rivers, mountains from the navel cord place Of the origin story.” ~ Joy Harjo, “How to Write a Poem in a Time of War”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Insert IV: Janara Lopez
Insert V: Jennifer Chang

🖤

🖤

🖤

🖤

🖤

 

Insert VI : Blehhh

🗡️🗡️🗡️🗡️🗡️🗡️

CLICK FOR “PLUTO SHITS ON THE UNIVERSE”

 

Insert VII: past memory interlude

👻

Insert VIII: “Les Humains De Xinim – Série Verte #55” by Marcus Black

 

 

🦇🦇🦇🦇🦇

Insert IX: actual picture of me

🦇🦇🦇🦇🦇🦇

 

CLICK FOR THE STORY OF “THE VIPER”

 

Insert XII: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Insert XIII: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Insert XIV: ransom note obviously
Insert XVI: presented without caption
Insert XV: a friend
Insert XVII: a note on the desk of the hotel on hotel notepad “HOTEL HIDEOUT” by Dan Zollinger

CLICK FOR HOTEL NOTE

Insert XVIII: somehow infinite magic of the material plane

 

Insert XIX: you make it here and you make it go [a ghost by Charles Heuttner]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Insert XX

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I Burned You a CD {Part ONE}: Growing

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CD Cover
Insert I
Insert II
Que seguimos rompiendo aquí
Esta fiesta no tiene fin
Botellas para arriba, si
Los tengo bailando, rompiendo y yo sigo aquí
Insert III
Insert IV

 

I’m in the first row on your show, in the first row👊

 

On the First Floor Power show

🎶
Your vibrato’s like vulnerable leaves,

🎶
You do it crazy, that’s how you talk to me

Insert V
Insert VI

 

Insert IX

The only living proof I got

                                                                                       Is just the sand that I was made of

Got tired building it up

                              I found the quiet place I lost, it’s just a cell upon the river

 

Insert VII
Insert VIII: smrt fašizmu
Insert X

 

Insert XI

♩ ♪ ♫ ♬ ♭ ♮ ♩ ♪ ♫ ♬ ♭ ♮ ♩ ♪ ♫

♬ ♭ ♮ ♩ ♪ ♫

♬ ♭ ♮

Insert XII
Insert XIV
Insert XIII

You’re hard on yourself
Well you can’t always be right
All those little things that keep you up at night
You should take some time to figure out your life
But you’re stuck indoors and thinking poorly

You’ll find in time
All the answers that you seek
Have been sitting there just waiting to be seen
Take away your pride and take away your grief
And you’ll finally be right where you need to be

Take all of it, take everything you’re owed
‘Til you finally feel okay being alone
Yeah it’s different now
Yeah it’s different now, you’re old

And you try and you try and you try and you try

 

Insert XV: Growing

Playing ‘Exquisite Corpse’ By Myself

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Photo by author

    “And it kills me, the word sorry. As if something like music

 

should be forgiven. He nuzzles into the wood like a lover,

  inhales, and at the first slow stroke, the crescendo

     seeps through our skin like warm water, we

 

who have nothing but destinations, who dream of light

   but descend into the mouths of tunnels, searching.”

from Ocean Vuong’s “Song on the Subway”

 

“I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of a greater freshness. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I’m doing.”

Susan Sontag, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980

 

“Well let’s think for a moment. What type of orange are you?” Our professor asks us.

On a Thursday night we discuss how to teach metaphor in our Poetry and Pedagogy class. We are reading Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions translated by William O’Daly. Dr. Berlin has asked us what it feels like to be an orange.

“I’m a blood orange,” my classmate responded. We all laughed. “I’m red and juicy on the inside.”

“Who gets the most sun and who decides on these matters?” someone wondered.

“I would think the biggest oranges would get the most sun,” another classmate said.

“What if the bigger oranges are bigger because they get the most sun?” I posed.

“This is not a Marxist tree!” the Blood Orange shouts. People laugh, I audibly eye roll.

People began calling out, “Everyone gets equal sun!”

“Where are these oranges growing? Is this a private farm or someone’s garden?”

“Did you hear about the peach tree they cut down on campus and replaced with Dogwood. That’s nice for about one month of the year, but I want peaches!”

“Now,” I start in, “what if everyone thinks I’m an orange but I’m really a grapefruit?”

As people laugh someone says something about me being bitter.

“What if,” I begin, “we are all those genetically modified mini-oranges engineered for children under 5 and we just think we are real oranges? We’re all in a crate together being shipped to the supermarket. We’re derivative oranges,” now I’m being a bit of an ass.

“Are we the types of oranges used in perfumery?” Someone starts looking up what type of oranges those are on their phone.

One classmate says they are a Florida-hating, navel gazing navel orange from Florida.

We discuss zen koans now:

Can a koan change a life?

My professor asks if we all remember the Marx Brothers. She wonders if people growing up today have sufficient exposure to absurdity; she comes from the era of Vaudeville.

I would think it’s clear absurdity is palpable now. Especially politically.

“Do people today have something like ‘The Shirt Song’? It’s just a guy talking about how he wants his shirt,” Dr. Berlin starts singing it.

He wants his shirt!

                                                                       I want my shirt! 

He won’t be happy without his shirt!

 

I think about when I used to do prank calls as a teenager with my friends Danny and Anthony.

An answering machine beeps (Danny, barely disguising voice trailing off laughing): “HELLO DERE! Come on down to Wal’er’s Park this weekend for some hotdooogs and sode-y!” 

Videos exist of Anthony on the couch in a friend’s basement:

“Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of MAURY where today we will be discussing: ‘Help, My Daughter is Having Sex with…Pilot Lights.’”

There’s a clip on that video tape of a high school acquaintance laying sideways and rubbing his body atop a cafeteria table saying “Lemon Curry,” in a sensual way. Quickly: a cut to my friend Danielle in art class sharing her series of “feeling papers”: about 40 papers of possible human feelings. She reads each of them to me in discordant voices, pointing at all of the papers which are decorated with a hodge podge of art supplies, peaking slightly over the top of the papers and giggling after each one.

*Danielle in a shrieky voice* “Hopefulllll:” as in are youuu hopefulllll? I hope you’reee hopefulllll *laughter*

We used to laugh at anything when we were that age. In a high school play we performed, And Then There Was One, there was a line I said in the role of Detective Horatio Miles: “What does anyone do in the pantry?” It was tech rehearsal and someone in the audience yelled “Masturbate!” We laughed so hard and our teacher made us this t-shirt.

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Photo and food(?)/paint(?) stain by author

 

Last week I try to make feeling flashcards:
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They are terrible and not like Danielle’s.

I made “privacy” an emotion, too, so if you want to be technical they are no longer feeling flashcards, now they are just cards with words on them.

“Should I watch the videos again,” I wonder now, “or just remember them?”

 

**********

 

On a Thursday night in 2017 we continue discussing metaphor. My professor says: “What if I say: the universe is the smell of pee?” I got lost somewhere and now we’re here and “the universe is the smell of pee.”

Can a metaphor change a life? A law? An economy?

John Tarrant, in Bring Me the Rhinoceros: And Other Zen Koans That Will Save Your Life, says asking questions, specifically in the form of koans will encourage doubt and curiosity, lead you to see life as funny rather than tragic, and change the idea of who you are. He thinks at the bottom of people’s motives is love.

I ask myself if this can be true.

To prepare for class we read Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions. Neruda references Nixon, lemons, roses, and Rimbaud. 

In “Night in Hell” Rimbaud says:

But I am still alive! – Suppose damnation is eternal! A man who wants to mutilate himself is certainly damned, isn’t he? I believe I am in Hell, therefore I am.

Shams Tabrizi said this much earlier:

Don’t search for heaven and hell in the future. Both are now present. Whenever we manage to love without expectations, calculations, negotiations, we are indeed in heaven. Whenever we fight, hate, we are in hell.

I try reading Neruda in the style of Jerry Seinfeld:

Ya knowww…

“With the virtues that I forgot

Could I sew a new suit?”

 

I meannnn…

 

“Why did the best rivers

leave to flow to France?”

 

“And why is the sun such a bad companion

To the traveler in the desert?”

 

Can a question change a life?

 

*********

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Photo by author

“Hello, Love!” Katrina, the barista at Java City, says when a customer walks in, sometimes alternated with, “Hello, sweetie!”

As someone who enjoys observational research, I listen to the way Katrina talks to other customers. “Hello, Love!” “Hello, sweetie!” would ring out from the cafe as I did some reading in the nearby library study area. “It’s so good to see you today!”

I feel as a cynical academic I could have just said “she is infantalizing me,” but I think that’s also bullshit, she wasn’t, this can’t be academonized. 

One day Katrina and I talk about the power of being happy. I think about this a lot. 

Katrina treats everyone with the same happiness. I believe she is happy. We talk about smiling. She says she is 53 and decided she didn’t ever want to be unhappy again. I wonder how this works, not in a shitty sarcastic way, I actually wonder.

Emotional labor debates are not because we don’t want to ever do emotional labor–they are so people recognize the labor we perform. No one has to be good to anyone. All emotions are labor. But what would be the point if no one ever did emotional labor? Should we all stop emoting? I don’t want to stop emoting. 

I don’t think that’s the point.

There are “occupational hazard” emotions to some identities.

Calling someone “angry” can be a way to immediately shut down discourse. Telling someone to smile or be happy is intrusive. These can be ways of policing behavior when it’s threatening to power. But in terms of survival and on a more personal level–what does it do to someone’s health when they are angry a good deal of the time?

In Jessi Gan’s “Still at the Back of the Bus” (an essay from Are All the Women Still White?) Gan brings out that anger as a tool  for social equity is an essential yet alienating reality. She mentions the story of Silvia Rivera: marginalization even on the margins.

“I just want to be who I am. I am living in the way Silvia wants to live. I’m not living in the straight world; I’m not living in the gay world; I’m just living in my own world with Julia and my friends.”

Rivera, along with Marsha P. Johnson, founded “Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries.” Even in queer communities, people told Rivera she wasn’t welcome, beating her up, telling her she was an affront to “real” womanhood, making fun of her language abilities, telling her sex workers did not have a place in the movement. “Progressive” queer people ignored Rivera’s plee to financially help homeless queer youth, so she did it herself.

Queer people, especially of color, gender non-conforming and gender nonbinary are consistently barraged with demands on their identity and forced outings:

          “But who are you?”

Silvia was a founding member of Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance and was shit on by her own “group” so she left.

The answer “I’m me” is not good enough and “who are you as it applies to what serves me?” seems to be the real question when people deny identities.

This should be cause for anger. With this anger can come alienation–the angered pick up the tab for this. They are blamed for the symptom, the anger, when the anger had a causal relationship to something else.

Calling out anger can be a form of shutting down discourse, but the anger that is dwelling inside comes at a cost to the angered, not just the receiver of the anger.

Anger can poison your organs. Anger can kill you.

*Someone in the back of the room says “everything kills you someday” and they are being an ass.*

Practitioners of allopathic as well as hollistic medicine believe anger is stored in the liver. People use alcohol and drugs to cope with anger, too, which further impacts the liver. Silvia Rivera died of liver cancer.

What are the ways people kill people?

No Answer Barthes
from Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse

 

 

*********

“Sodom-y and Gonorrhea” and “Minced Oathe” were stories I wrote about breaking faith and questioning the ego when I was 19. I wonder if we are born with more wisdom than we gain and if we lose it over time; I’d write based on dreams I had.

My Grandmother was a Bible school teacher. Everything is apocalyptic revelation.

In “Sodom-y and Gonorrhea” the subject of the dream lays naked in the desert sipping a White Russian reading magazines. Most of the people are naked and imbibing, white metal bunk beds are placed all over in the sand. A natural disaster rips through the place and everyone dies except the subject of the dream.

“You killed some people who didn’t deserve it.”

They look for clothes to cover themself and only find some on a person who has been decapitated. They put the clothes on as a figure on a Hummer*** drives through.

*On a Hummer not in a Hummer because it’s a dream and: dream logic.

*

*It’s a dream, shut up.

 

Though this character is just introduced, and this seems like the beginning of the story, it’s like we know them already. They go off together through a bar where Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” plays. Jesus is the bartender’s name. Jesus knows what you want before you even ask.

The characters talk for a bit and the subject says:

“Whenever I am hating you I am only hating myself.”

 

                                                                                      Jesus swept.

 

 

 

 

More than a Grab Bag Candy Game: Citing Social Capital

Candy on human canvas: from “Wosit All About” by James Ostrer

“Did I tell you my mother, she never did stop dancing?”

“Yes. You told me. And mine, she never got well.”

Roberta lifted her hands from the tabletop and covered her face with her palms.

When she took them away she really was crying. ‘Oh shit, Twyla. Shit, shit, shit. What the hell happened to Maggie?’”

from “Recitatif” by Toni Morrison

 

In my English Composition II course this spring a student gave an exceptional presentation on Queer Theory citing J. Jack Halberstam’s Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal. They discussed precarity relating to queer people, something I wanted to prod when we got to Q&A. A problematic moment arose, for me, when my student, to support Halberstam’s thesis about Lady Gaga being the beacon of queer fluidity and new conceptions of the individual, said “Lady Gaga went to Tisch School of the Arts, so you know she’s really smart.” Now I would tend to agree: I think Stefani Germanotta, the artist known as Lady Gaga, is talented, smart, and fascinating. But this false equivalency of equating NYU with what is considered the pinnacle of intelligence affirmation was troubling to someone who understands the myth of American meritocracy. You can be smart and go to NYU, I agree, but you are not smart because you go to NYU.

The class I mentioned was not at a tier one school, or even ivy league periphery, so while this may have been an offhand comment on the part of my student, I took it seriously. Did this student think the work they were doing at this university, ranked 61 in “Regional Universities North” on U.S. News and World Report, was a waste of time? Another more important question, for the purposes of this essay: do students, or any people, understand the ways social and cultural capital work to insert people in particular stations in American society?

This is not meant to be a “call out” of the student, so this gives me an ethical concern, but I do wish, in that moment, I had a chance to explore American “meritocracy.” The most pressing concern at that time was highlighting the student’s research and hopefully leading their audience to understand more about Queer Theory. Later in the semester we were able to discuss meritocratic matters, especially when we read Toni Morrison’s short story “Recitatif,” which emphasizes the intersections of gender, race, and disability in America.

Halberstam also wrote The Queer Art of Failure, a text “about finding alternatives—to conventional understandings of success in a heteronormative, capitalist society; to academic disciplines that confirm what is already known according to approved methods of knowing; and to cultural criticism that claims to break new ground but cleaves to conventional archives.” Halberstam suggests: “All losers are the heirs of those who have lost before them.” Halberstam posits that “failure is built into capitalism.” So what does that mean?

It helps to define social and cultural capital first—two similar concepts that usually work in tandem:

Social capital–the network you are part of, the connections you have. You may have earned these through working for them, but they may have also been inherited by your family. People enter college to earn social capital through learning about the vast systemic workings of our society. But to enter college it helps to already have:

Cultural capital– the access to prior education, intellect, style of speech, dress, or physical appearance.

Some people will say these are the same, but they are slightly different. These forces are what give people power and mobility. It’s important to deconstruct our own sources of power, and that’s what I’ve been trying to get better at.

One of the most important reasons to understand social and cultural capital, hitherto known as “privilege,” is to know meritocracy is a myth in order to deconstruct the apparatuses that keep the same people in power generation after generation.

 

 

“Oh this is a good quote for me,” I said to my partner as we sat at the dine-in section of the grocery store. It was a quote by André Gide:

The bottle cap reads, “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” André Gide

I thought maybe I would post it on my Instagram page, after all people love their inspirational quotes, and though I try not to perpetrate ones as generic as this one, I do have moments. It did personally speak to me since I’ll be moving 5 hours west at the end of this month.

I’ve learned over time to think over the most mundane posts, quotations, and pictures because there might be something I’m missing.

The first act I took was to look up André Gide  and find out what kind of person he was. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked up biographies of public intellectuals to find they were slave owners, Nazi sympathizers, misogynists, racists, homophobic…the list goes on. This summer I was writing a paper for a course and could not use Heidegger after I researched his ties to Nazism.

I’m glad I looked Gide up: he was a pedophile who used his position of power to molest young boys. Now when I read the quote on the bottle cap it feels creepy.

One of the very first points Ange-Marie Hancock makes in her book Intersectionality: An Intellectual History is that her colleagues, on a panel about intersectionality at a Western Political Science Association conference when explicating power dynamics, were citing Michel Foucault instead of the theories of Patricia Hill Collins. Why, she thought, were a group of panelists discussing intersectionality failing to be intersectional? Of course I reflected on all the times I’ve used Foucault instead of Collins to explain power. In terms of marginal identity, Foucault was gay and has contributed much to the field of cultural theory, but if I cite him every time when he may not even be the best person to cite all I’m doing is privileging one critical perspective over other, possibly more nuanced critical perspectives.

As someone who has accumulated social capital (through education related activities) and possesses cultural capital (as a white woman) I have to be careful about what I portray as acceptable. If I find out something is unacceptable, I also must apologize and account for that. One of the reasons people who use their power in questionable ways are able to maintain that power is because, either by citing them (or even making them president) people show the ideas they want at the fore of our society.

 

Privilege is the force that allows fluidity of being. As the public has seen with someone like Rachel Dolezal: Dolezal, at any moment, can go back to being a white woman. People who are born with cultural capital, like Dolezal, have choices. Those born without it do not.

The 1995 song “Common People” by the band Pulp comes to mind: a narrative of an economically privileged woman going out:

She came from Greece she had a thirst for knowledge,
She studied sculpture at Saint Martin’s College,
That’s where I,
Caught her eye.
She told me that her Dad was loaded,
I said “In that case I’ll have a rum and coca-cola.”
She said “Fine.”
And in thirty seconds time she said,

I want to live like common people,
I want to do whatever common people do,
I want to sleep with common people,
I want to sleep with common people,
Like you.

Well what else could I do
I said “I’ll see what I can do.”
I took her to a supermarket,
I don’t know why,
But I had to start it somewhere,
So it started there.
I said pretend you’ve got no money,
She just laughed and said,
“Oh you’re so funny.”
I said “Yeah?
Well I can’t see anyone else smiling in here.
Are you sure you want to live like common people,
You want to see whatever common people see,
You want to sleep with common people,
You want to sleep with common people,
Like me.

Privilege implies choice. For instance if you are cash poor and someone tells you to “manage your money better” they are asking you to make a choice you don’t have. If you have money left over every month after you pay your bills and buy essentials, maybe then people can talk to you about budget and savings, but otherwise, no. There are no choices involved.

A few weeks ago, the Hollywood Reporter sent out a tweet to correspond to the ending of the HBO show Girls:

The backlash was immediate.

So while Dunham may have been female and body non-conforming (she points out her body is not a typical one you see as a main character), she started at a place that was not as hard of a climb as many articles have pointed out. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a big difference between Dunham’s show and, for instance, an “ole standby” like Friends, a show that is only recently being dragged for the same reasons, or Sex & The City (basically Girls a little older), and Frasier, a show about affluent people problems.

(Also not surprising: #45 doesn’t know what racism is…)

As I talked about in my last post, now that our culture is becoming more transparent, people know Dunham is the daughter of a famous and well connected family and was able to make her feature movie, Tiny Furniture (which was the ticket to Girls) using her parent’s resources. It’s not shocking people are disgruntled that we all do not have the same opportunity, and there’s a larger system at work behind it.

Pretend you never went to school.
But still you’ll never get it right,
‘Cause when you’re laid in bed at night,
Watching roaches climb the wall,
If you called your Dad he could stop it all.

You’ll never live like common people,
You’ll never do whatever common people do,
You’ll never fail like common people,
You’ll never watch your life slide out of view,
And dance and drink and screw,
Because there’s nothing else to do.

Sing along with the common people,
Sing along and it might just get you through.
Laugh along with the common people,
Laugh along even though they’re laughing at you,
And the stupid things that you do.
Because you think that poor is cool.

Like a dog lying in a corner,
They will bite you and never warn you,
Look out, they’ll tear your insides out.
‘Cause everybody hates a tourist,
Especially one who thinks it’s all such a laugh,
Yeah and the chip stain’s grease,
Will come out in the bath.

The new show on Amazon I Love Dick is based on a book of the same name by someone Dunham has cited as a favorite: Chris Kraus. The entire narrative seems to center on the follies of people who don’t care about anything greater than themselves. Woman as nonredeemable, unremarkable is posed as a radical action.

Recently Kendall Jenner received her due for the infamous Pepsi advertisement where she pacifies police at, what looks like, a Black Lives Matter protest with a can of Pepsi. An outrageous and ahistorical piece of trash, from the same industry that in the 60’s brought you “I wish I could buy the world a Coke,” (an ad promoting global consumerism as a Band-Aid during the time of the Vietnam War) Pepsi pulled the ad. Onlookers were quick to defend Jenner citing she’s “just a kid” (not factually accurate considering she’s way beyond a legal adult at 21). People snapped back saying “Trayvon Martin was a 17 year old kid walking when George Zimmerman shot him, but nobody usually points that out when they try to justify his murder.” For 21 year old Jenner (not a kid), unlike Trayvon, life will go on, she will receive financial benefits for parodying an important movement as solvable by a consumable good.

 

You will never understand
How it feels to live your life
With no meaning or control
And with nowhere left to go.

‘Cause when you’re laid in bed at night
And watching roaches climb the wall,
If you called your dad he could stop it all
Yeah

You’ll never live like common people
You’ll never do what common people do
You’ll never fail like common people
You’ll never watch your life slide out of view
And then dance and drink and screw
Because there’s nothing else to do

 

On a clip of an early season of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Rob Kardashian apologizes to his sister, Kourtney, for missing an interview she set up for him at a law office. While reprimanding him, she said: “Rob, you have to start from the bottom just like we [his sisters] did.” I laughed to myself for the obvious reason that they did not start “from the bottom” as she phrased it, but that’s how she perceives her level of trying. This is never to say that people with existing privilege do not work hard, they just have less of a climb than those without privilege, whether it’s money, social or cultural capital.

In later seasons, Rob is the sibling that struggles with maintaining the level of success his sisters have. Kim says during an interview with Oprah, “Nobody gave us anything.” Rob corrects her and says, “We wouldn’t be anywhere if it weren’t for our parents.” Kim scoffs at him, not understanding. The other siblings are silent. Rob seems to deal with mental illness throughout the show, compounded by the thread of his older sisters’ obtuse “nobody helped us, Rob.” Rob also does receive a considerable amount of help through all 13 seasons and 4 spin-offs (including his own: Rob & Chyna).

Kourtney, Khloe, and Kim frequently have intervention style meetings with Rob.

To take it down a peg from the simulated Kardashian-sphere, people I’ve met who would otherwise appear to understand how social and cultural capital works through their activism, still misunderstand that we do not actually live in a meritocracy. Eliza Cummings-Cove, a student from University of Durham in the U.K. recognized the cultural impact of the Kardashians and decided to explore whether or not they had created a “post-feminist” environment on KUWTK. She concluded “the culture they exist in is still very much rooted in misogyny and inequality.” It’s a difficult terrain because on one hand we can’t fault people for trying to thrive in broken systems. We can, however, point out if they are contributing to that system and reifying it instead of trying to change it. Then it gets tricky again: what if people are only changing it as much as they know how?

People with knowledge of one type of oppression can be obtuse to other kinds. I’ve met feminists who are homophobic and queer people who are ableist. Social capital is a shifting terrain, and to some degree cultural capital is too when you consider “passing.” You will not always know the struggles people go through because in a capitalist society, passing (for abled or white comes to mind) keeps your life sustainable financially. (To understand that you’d have to first acknowledge there are specific disadvantages for people who are non-white and disabled).

Sometimes we can be certain how privileged people are, but there are people who are “passing” who struggle silently.

Other activists should not re-traumatize people who live with invisible burdens by asking them to self-identify if they are passing. In these times passing can be the difference between surviving and not. People are rarely sensitive to this preferring a town-hall style call out culture, relying on ableist language (when somehow also being sensitive to every other justice struggle except for disability).

But when we, like Kourtney Kardashian (above), don’t consider our own privileges granted by cultural and social capital, especially as it pertains to a meritocracy, we end up looking foolish.

I think of privilege and lack of it like I would the psycho-social traits we inherit from our parents. If you’re anything like me, sometimes I dwell on the difficulties I inherited and not the privileges. Both of my parents struggle with mental illness. My father is a misogynist. My mother does not conform to normative gender stereotypes.

But both of my parents are white and able bodied. My mother read to me every night until I was 11 years old. I always had clean clothes to wear to school…

I could come up with infinite personal examples of how I understand privilege in my own personal life, but white privilege is more far reaching than just those interpersonal examples.

There are parts of myself, like my gender, that make me feel like I’m up against a lot. So much that I can overlook my whiteness as something that protects me in this society.

Barbara Smith echoes in my mind:

The reason racism is a feminist issue is easily explained by the inherent definition of feminism. Feminism is the political theory and practice to free all women: women of color, working-class women, poor women, physically challenged women, lesbians, old women, as well as white economically privileged heterosexual women. Anything less than this is not feminism, but merely female self-aggrandizement.

Feminism without examining privilege is just self-aggrandizement…

College student Jenny Lundt was angry when a classmate of hers, a Person of Color, was harassed by campus authorities for carrying a glue gun to class for an art project. Authorities put the school on lock down. Lundt pointed out a year prior she wielded a sword around campus and was not looked at with the same suspicion and extreme reaction:

My privileges are my whiteness, education, mostly abled body, loving partner, and emotional buoyancy (now I know not many people would cite emotional buoyancy as an official category, but I believe it to be one). My disadvantages (visible) are my gender, (invisible) PTSD related anxiety and depression, chronic physiological illness, and current lack of economic security. The latter (lack of economic security) is filled with meritocratic connotations, even from people who are activist-identifying and questioning.

“Doesn’t educational privilege grant you economic security?” Whether they know it or not, they have just asked me a question which reinforces the American exceptionalist idea of “personal liberty” related to work (again, there’s that idea of “choice” again) and doing this disregards what many activists understand as intersecting systems of power known as privilege. I’m an adjunct. No, I do not have economic security. Telling me to “get a better job” implies 1. I can “beat” out the competition (not in my hands and people tend to take for granted there are hundreds of applicants who apply for one position, in academia and beyond), 2. I should not be paid well for what I already do, 3. I’m not “trying hard enough,”4. my online activism (using my real name to post about controversial issues I believe in) holds no bearing in the real world (hint: it does).

We do not live in a meritocratic society. I would love to have commensurate success matching my level of education and spiritedness. A lot of people have “merit,” but in addition to a variety of societal constructs working against them, when lumped in a pool of others with similar merit with only a few achieving “status,” there is a “luck” factor in the mix.

One of my friends, who is a low-key genius, started college with me in 2004. He never finished because of reasons relating to a disability. As I read more for my dissertation work, I think of people I know dealing with various PTSD related to trauma and other mental health issues correlating with less initial economic advantage has impacted their standing in society, invisibly. People can also become disabled because of their working conditions, and because of the ableist undercurrent in our society this is frowned upon, even though that puts the onus on the casualties. My growing dissertation reading list is filled with people who’ve studied this.

One thing I’ve realized over the years is I must appropriately assimilate to a new place in the realm of social capital relating to my educational achievements. People who traverse higher education are tasked with using their social capital to benefit everyone, not just themselves. If intellectualism wasn’t frowned upon and 74% of the academic labor force wasn’t adjunct, maybe academics’ financial status would reflect our intellectual achievements. But even so, our education is as much of a privilege as it is a responsibility, and those who are able to complete it have social and cultural capital to thank both for getting them to that point and for completing schooling with a diploma. It is harder for people who do not possess these personal forms of capital to get through the rigors of higher education.

 

Recently the term “Men are Trash” received a great deal of attention in the internet sphere. In reaction to that someone who did not understand the full cultural intimation behind “men are trash” created a shirt on Teespring reading “Black Women are Trash.” What most people did not notice past their immediate defensiveness was: “all men are trash” was never said. “Men are Trash” implies some men are trash for reasons such as sexual and other forms of violence against women. When someone says to me “white people are trash” I have to realize that in most cases, like any privileged group, yes, many white people are trash. I’m not talking about the phrase “white trash,” I’m talking about everything you’ve ever heard about what white people do in our society: from microaggression to police murder. When I say it like that, I’m sure you know what I mean. So when people say “men are trash” if that isn’t you then move along.

Talib Kweli Greene explained this best:

 

In terms of my whiteness, sometimes I believe things without recognizing the codified variables behind them. For instance, I might admire a famous woman for her shunning of gender conventions, but that same woman might be cherry picking bits of LatinX culture to appropriate into their music that LatinX people get criticized for (I know this seems oddly specific for just an “example”). If I practice intersectionality, I must recognize that person has become problematic until they understand, apologize, and explain how they will do better.

Since I’ve brought it up already, even the term “white trash” is constructed in favor of white culture. Kovie Biakolo underscores this as part of a larger explanation in “Deconstructing Whiteness and White Privilege”:

Consider the term, “White trash” and how it has to be linguistically specified that this person is “White” but also “trash.” Other races that may fall into similar socioeconomic backgrounds as poor White people don’t need the racial linguistic qualification. Language mirrors reality more than most of us are aware of. Even a term that is meant to be a pejorative for a racially privileged group, still ends up exposing privilege.

The purpose of understanding White privilege and Whiteness is not to point fingers or place blame on entire groups. The purpose is to understand how many of us, including those who are disadvantaged by the system are still complicit in that system. The purpose is to be more aware of our thoughts, words, and actions, and how they might contribute to a system that disadvantages entire groups of people.

Lori Lakin Hutcherson wrote a thorough explanation of white privilege that detailed her interaction with a Facebook friend from high school who asked people to enlighten him about how white privilege had helped him along in life. She enlightened him with a generously long posting and went on to publish it in detail on Everyday Feminism.

 

 

 

When I was in 4th grade Mom and I moved again. Mom wanted me to go to make friends in the new school district and let me wear a large brimmed hat she got from the thrift store to mingle with the new kids. What I now know to be a Gaucho hat was appropriated by affluent white people after being a staple of farm work culture and re-assimilated as a marker of class privilege. Just like people cite being tan as growing in popularity after Coco Channel was tan from her vacationing (though it also seems like another way white people poach “aesthetics” from People of Color without repercussions), it became another marker of class privilege. Prior to that, a tan meant you were a worker. I wore this hat and someone asked me “Are you rich?” I looked at them and they continued “because you have that fancy hat. I thought you were rich.” A completely unearned designation they were giving me by this conjectural marker of class.

A gaucho hat for sale with no context.

 

I wonder what my great grandmother thinks of me her great granddaughter who sits across from her at the restaurant we’re at for Mother’s Day. I draw up a picture she must have of me: I just got done with a year of teaching at a university, after this summer I will change from a PhD student to a candidate. This fluidity is made possible by my whiteness. The difficulty that adheres is from my gender, recurring chronic illness and mental health issues. I’m wearing acid wash jeggings, a black tee-shirt under a blazer with some light shoulder padding, my hair has blonde highlights with a purple toner, my face has carefully placed cosmetics. Maybe she thinks I’m rich until I tell my mother who sits with us we’re “splitting the bill.” But in many ways: I am rich, especially from my educational privilege.

I remember Toni Morrison’s quote, “When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”

Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist also asked us to remember: “aren’t we all privileged in some way?” I’m not trying to be the “privilege police” anymore, I’m simply saying that recognizing our own privileges can be a form of activism.

Giving power to others also means taking stances that don’t always coincide with your identity. For instance: my MA thesis was uplifting to sex workers and then I had a period where I was questioning the misogyny inherent in sex work (honestly from a specific interaction with a misogynist I had around that time) not thinking “hey, you have the privilege to consider such things: you’re not forced to become a sex worker.” Therefore, it was a step back for me to point out the already obvious misogyny in sex work instead of advocating for sex worker protection.

In Disidentifications: Queers Of Color And The Performance Of Politics, José Esteban Muñoz writes about AIDS/HIV activist Pedro Zamora of The Real World: San Francisco fame, and how, through the Greco-Roman concept of “Care of the Self” (Muñoz was writing in 1999, we now say “Self Care”), he turned the corporate MTV atmosphere into a teaching space. He simply lived his life in public and opened up people’s hearts to him. There was a huge cost to him for doing this: his health declined from stress. All the while he was working against his antagonistic housemate “Puck” who was both causing him immense stress and lessening his visibility and also just proving his point about straight white cishet men. Zamora’s work caused him stress that probably contributed to the acceleration of his illness, ultimately leading to his death, and that was the risk he took when he entered The Real World house. As Muñoz poses it, he was the only “real” part of that artificial environment.

For people who do not already hold every marker which would make them powerful in society, they will need to gain social capital in their lifetime to take care of themselves. We must also acknowledge this will only be possible with the help from others and certain privileges. Meritocracy is one of America’s gods, but it is a myth.

How do we balance getting enough power for ourselves while giving some to others?  It’s a mixture we all figure out along the way, I think. At the minimum we need to like ourselves, have a good quality of life where we can take care of our health, and be around people we love and who love us back.

What I tend to appreciate about people with power usually is: if they give to others and how much. This act shows me they know how privilege works.

What I try to hold close is if and when we can take care of ourselves, we can’t decide that all the power we’ve gained is only for us. We have to recall the many and varied intersecting forms of privilege, luck, and people who have helped us. Only then are our moral legacies worth more than a “grab bag candy game.” That glint of recognition is what makes truly “smart” people.

 

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The Phantoms of Culpability

“The sensation of the eerie occurs when there is something present where there should be nothing, or there is nothing present when there should be something….In the case of the failure of absence, the question concerns the particular nature of the agent at work. We know that Stonehenge has been erected, so the questions of whether there was an agent behind its construction or not does not arise; what we have to reckon with are the traces of a departed agent whose purposes are unknown.” Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie

 

Your DropBox is closing in 30 days unless you take action.

 

“The internet does not have room for my 300 pictures,” I joked to everyone and no one on the internet as I shared a screen shot of DropBox’s threatening automatic e-mail to Twitter.

Last year the laptop I used for 4 years died during the August Mercury retrograde. I lost 10 years of work I failed to back up. Now there is a liminality in my mind: there is work I have done, but it will never re-materialize. Short stories, an old manuscript, research papers from college. Now all I can do is create something new from the lessons of previous experience. Unfortunately, I did not have my writings backed up on my DropBox; only extraneous pictures.

A photo in my DropBox entitled “Colorado (864).” Yes, I took over 864 pictures of just Colorado scenery.

Browsing through my DropBox account, I found folders from 2007 and 2008. Reflecting on these I realize: I don’t think I’ll ever have a desire to delete these pictures. No one is holding me accountable: I’m not planning to reconcile with either of my exes (who are in or implied in both folders), they certainly wouldn’t care if I deleted the pictures. If I deleted the pictures, I’d be less likely to drudge up what I should like to forget about the past.

“California 608”
“California 611”

Like how I was engaged to someone at 20. Like when I went on a trip across the country with another ex and a random stranger asked if we were on our honeymoon so my ex told them it was a “warm-up honeymoon.” That will probably embarrass him if he reads this, but good because it embarrassed me too. “Warm-up honeymoon”? I did not sign up for that.

“Nevada 107”

Ultimately, all the reader needs to know is those relationships did not fit my standard of mutual respect, so I left. In retrospect, I knew early on the relationships were not for me, but I stayed. Those choices rest on me, were enforced by my conditioning, and directly relate to my self-worth as I knew it at the time I entered into those relationships. Culpability is a mixture of all those things.

We have learned opinions and ignorance—blind spots or places we’ve refused to look within ourselves. I have learned a lot over the years, especially since I’ve been writing online. Some of things I’ve learned right out in public.

 

***

 

“Who’s this, Edith?” I asked my great grandmother, who, I mentioned in my last post, I’ve only recently met. We sat at Edith’s kitchen table looking at family pictures. I noticed in this picture Edith was with a man her age who I hadn’t seen in other photographs. My mother took the photo out of my hand before Edith could see it.

“Oh that’s Ralph,” Mom told me.

“Who is Ralph?” I asked.

“Oh, Ralph was her boyfriend.”

“That was your boyfriend, Edith?”

“Hm, yes,” Edith said.

“That’s nice you had a companion to keep you company,” I said to Edith.

My great Aunt Yvonne was in the room and blurted out, ”Yeah, that was after he got divorced from Carlotta.” I was beset with confusion. Carlotta? Carlotta was my other great aunt, which would make Edith her mother. You’ve probably figured out: Edith dated her daughter’s ex-husband.

Not just a few casual dates. They lived together.

When I learned that about Edith I thought “Well what kind of trashy nonsense is this?”

Because of the love I am developing for her I made myself think “When have you also made a mistake? You have made mistakes. You have made mistakes.”

93 year-old Edith said, ”I should have never done that.”

After I left Edith’s house that day I didn’t get over it. It’s a callous disregard for the feelings of her daughter. These stories I’d been hearing about how Carlotta was an antagonist made sense now. I wondered what her other daughter, my grandmother (the eldest sibling), went through if her mom was willing to date her daughter’s ex-husband. It’s a moral quandary I tried to justify because my great grandmother also went through considerable trauma, but I still could not reconcile it in my mind: just because you were abused doesn’t mean you need to turn into an ignominious parent.

“What the hell was Edith thinking?” No transits of malefic planets or quotidian explanation would make me feel better about it.

If I hadn’t asked about that picture, I wouldn’t have known. If the picture wasn’t included with the rest in the photo box, I also wouldn’t have known. But now I do.

After we looked at the pictures we took Edith to Barnes & Noble to get out of the house. She doesn’t get many visitors. We got her a regular coffee with milk and sugar at the Starbucks. She told us it was the best coffee she ever had.

 

***

 

We’d all love to paint ourselves in the most flattering light, and on social media, we often, if not always, do. Why not? If we have the choice between showing the times where we fuck up versus the times we do something good, why not show the good stuff? But the fact is sometimes what we think is good is actually not and we’re going to get called out on it. We might hurt people’s feelings and make them question everything about our character.

It might embarrass us, and we’re going to have to sit with that.

There is an online footprint we leave, James Carraghan references this in his post “Living InFinite Museums,” and I believe we are approaching an era where privacy will completely dissolve. “Keeps ‘em honest” is a phrase that pops in my head. So: what happens when we make mistakes?

As someone who writes and teaches writing, to encourage the writing process (brainstorm, draft, revise, edit, revisit) I gladly volunteer that I’ve published work that I would now revise but am unable to.

Right now we’re going through a Pluto retrograde, which has me reflecting on self-transformation. It’s a time where we look at our shadows, our fragmented self that we must heal. A time where we change.

I believe people can change. It’s not always easy to admit when we are wrong, as Ijeoma Oluo writes in her article “How To Be Wrong.” Oluo points out, if nobody tells you you’re wrong you won’t have the agency to make anything right. Maybe someone can also tell you you’re wrong and be a little wrong too. I know in my own relationships I’ve seen the faults of others while also holding culpability. But damn if by pointing out mistakes we both learned something was it ever worth it.

It’s too whimsical to say “I would never take anything back.” I would love to take some things back. LOVE. But I can’t. All I can do is reflect on what I’ve done, amend, and change. Even that will not be enough to keep people in your life you may have hurt, whether intentional or not.

My DropBox, with all the photographic vestiges, is active. Though I’ve decided to leave the relationships I was in, I won’t forget passing through those times in my history so I can be better—for myself, for everyone.

We will make mistakes, and perhaps, due to increasing transparency, we won’t be able to escape them. Much of the fear of transparency comes in recognizing the fallibility in human reasoning. But if we agree to learn from missteps, we can be better, for ourselves, for everyone.

Doing art history homework in 2005.

 

 

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Processing Karma

The author 10 years in the past.

Processual learning, in classrooms and in life, emphasizes the intricate and unfolding manner of transformation. Karmic lessons are not always fully carried out in this life; we may only know one piece of a lesson we are supposed to learn now. That lesson needn’t exist in a linear frame. When you look up at the stars to notice how they are ordered, you won’t see a straight line or set of instructions, but we know we are made of the materials of stars. We are scattered, dynamic people.

In my post “Transfiguration,” I discussed cultural memory because, as I delve deeper into secular spirituality, I wonder: “Who was I in previous lives?” Some maintain we stay within our family lineage, believing we are one of our ancestors.

Maybe you were your great great grandfather or grandmother, a great aunt.

I once watched a documentary where a child discussed his life as his mother’s father (he believed he was his grandfather who died a few years prior to his birth). My friend, Adam MacHose, tells me his children, 2 & 5, talk about what they used to do “when they were adults.”

When we leave these bodies, we must possess knowledge of all previous lives. All agreements with other souls, all red threads of karma, they fill us up with love for what we’ve learned—what we’ve seen through different eyes is understood and we prepare to do it over again. This may be the only comfort for those who don’t find justice and affirmation in this life, though it isn’t a reason not to seek it, or not to be angry when they do not find it.

Patterns form in families, as I study mine I am convinced of this.

One of the beautiful things about the internet is the accessible digital archiving of public records.

I found a lot just by finding birth and death records, looking at the Ellis Island database, and using the Mormon-owned Family Search. If you are wondering: no, this is not a post for Mormon evangelism, but you may take interest in Latter-day Saints’ motivations for keeping detailed public records:

Latter-day Saints believe families can be together after this life. Therefore, it is essential to strengthen relationships with all family members, both those who are alive and those who have died.

Though I’m not a Mormon, I can empathize with this belief. I do not believe in a heaven where we retain our worldly identity from just one life. My grandmother, Phyllis, did. She believed we stayed 33 years old forever in Heaven and we sang hymns to Jesus. She’s still in this realm somewhere. I know because I remember of hymns I haven’t heard in over 20 years at times when I need encouragement.

“Be still, my soul, the waves and wind still know…”

“One good memory I have of my grandfather, Benny, was that he used to cut up pomegranates for us to eat,” my mom told me as we drove to the craft store to pick up some colored pencils. She doesn’t remember much else about him; he died when she was in 6th grade.

Mom couldn’t remember what his profession was; her mother Charlotte, Benny’s daughter, was not close with my mother after she left the family. Mom was in middle school when Charlotte left. Opportunities for connection with Charlotte’s family diminished after that. Charlotte also died in 2014, so I can’t ask her questions anymore. Charlotte’s mother, Edith, is 93 and lives in my mom’s town.

In about 2006 Mom was driving us home and we rode right past Edith. She would have been 82 then, but the way she zipped down the street you’d think she was 20 years younger. I don’t remember ever meeting her. Mom said, “That’s my grandmother. She says we’re Jewish.”

I found an obituary for Benny from 1974. His last name was Gawrich, like my grandmothers. His parents’ names were Gawrilowicz, which, it seemed, Benny himself anglicized, since his brother’s name was unchanged. He was born in Brooklyn in 1918. His wife Edith’s maiden name was Frank. Edith worked at a sewing factory. My aunt still works there; Edith taught her how to sew.

Edith’s phone number on a Google search matched up to the address I knew she’d lived at. I called Edith and she did not answer the first time. I left a message on her answering machine. No returned call. I irrationally felt rejected; I screen my calls as well.

That’s the thing with the digital: we have all this information available—the archives, a history of human beings, but we must account for temperament—human errors.

Perhaps Edith did not want to call me back because she felt I would like to unload anger on her for being out of touch. She had no way of knowing.

Fearing non-existent rejection has no place in this universe. Too many people I’ve known have died before we could talk because of such faulty reasoning. I called Edith again. She answered.

“Hello, this is Marlana, I’m Robin’s daughter…your granddaughter. Well, I’d be your great granddaughter.” I kept overcompensating to prevent thoughtful silence.

A noise. Edith stirred and I shut up, “Are you Robin’s daughter?” she asked me in a “cut to the point, kid” way.

“Yes. That’s me,” I said.

“What a nice family, huh?” was the next thing she said. Forthcoming and curt. I could appreciate that.

As we talked, Edith confirmed some of my research. There were also new elements she introduced to the research dynamic.

“Benny [my great grandfather] never wanted kids. I asked him ‘why would you even get married if you don’t want kids?’” Edith told me he agreed to have two children. They had six. Benny also didn’t want any children named after him, a breaking of convention Edith abhorred, she told me: “The first son was always named after the father.” It seems she was a bit of a normie, but alright. She also confirmed the anglicizing of Gawrilowiscz—Benny was the first to do this.

We talked for some time on the phone. My interrogative approach was well received: Edith is 93 and says no one visits her anymore. Her daughter lives in the apartment above her in the same building she’s lived for at least 60 years. She’s agreed to meet with me two weeks from now—my time constraints, not hers.

Our family is diasporic. There’s a thread of people leaving and going far away. Edith’s Jewish family left Europe during the Pogroms. They were secretive people, never delving into family information. When she asked she’d be dismissed or met with “we don’t talk about that.” She explained how her experiences with her husband were similar. I imagined this was a hard situation to grapple with, since growing up my mother told me to always ask “Why?”

I still do.

Edith recounted a time she was on the phone with a serviceman while she was using her maiden name He told her, “I don’t talk to Jews,” and hung up.

I’m led to the work of Gabriela Fried Amilivia as I talk to my great grandmother:

Traumatic memory transmissions are articulated over time not only through social sites or institutions but also through cultural, political, and familial generations, a key social mechanism of continuity and renewal across human groups, cohorts, and communities. The intergenerational transmission of collective trauma is a well-established phenomenon in the scholarly literature on psychological, familial, sociocultural, and biological modes of transmission.

Edith explained to me her family’s journey from Amsterdam to New York, then Montana. She said her family must have wanted to move because “they were putting them [Jews] in jails, you know.” I wasn’t sure which historical moment she was referring to. I just let her talk. She was snappy and loved explaining things. Then, Edith, by herself at a young age, moved to New York City– Brooklyn. She met Benny there.

“…he used to cut up pomegranates for us to eat…”

———————

After meeting with a few psychic astrologers over the last year I especially took to one, Magic Mike (who also goes by “The Peace Dealer”). We’ve now talked on Skype together and one of the elements of my natal chart he brought up was the dwarf planet Ceres located in my 10th house of career. This was a planet he didn’t know as much about, he said. He would research it more.

After my mom told me about Benny’s love of pomegranates I thought about how pomegranates are situated in the background of The High Priestess tarot card. Jordannah Elizabeth wrote about “The Hermit” last month, and a few days later I found a comprehensive tarot book at a record store/performance space/book shoppe in the same town where my mom and Edith live. It’s a curious place, located inside a once bustling shopping mall, now mainly used for seniors’ morning hospital sponsored walks, Weight Watchers, Curves, Gold’s Gym, and a large antique depot where a JC Penney once was. It smells of damp basements and, last week, human pee in the left-hand quadrant. The big box stores, stubbornly adhering to the mall like treacly pieces of gum, are mingled with one locally owned pizza kiosk, Aunt Anne’s Pretzel, and a nail salon. I like going there for the feels.

Anyway, I serendipitously opened this book about the tarot and instinctively turned to The High Priestess, one of my favorite tarot cards.

The High Priestess is also known as Persephone, Isis, the Corn Maiden and Artemis. She sits at the gate before the great Mystery, as indicated by the Tree of Life in the background. She sits between the darkness and the light, represented by the pillars of Solomon’s temple, which suggests it is she who is the mediator of the passage into the depth of reality. The tapestry hung between the pillars keeps the casual onlookers out and allows only those initiated to enter. The pomegranates on the tapestry are sacred to Persephone. They are a symbol of duty (because Persephone ate a pomegranate seed in the underworld which forced her to return every year). The blue robe the Priestess is wearing is a symbol of knowledge. She is wearing the crown of Isis symbolizing the Triple Goddess. The solar cross on her breast is a symbol of balance between male and female.

In her lap, she holds the half-revealed and half-concealed Torah, representative of the exoteric and the esoteric teachings and higher knowledge. The moon under her left foot shows her dominion over pure intuition. The palm indicates fertility of the mind and the cube on which she sits is the earth. The planet associated with the High Priestess is the Moon. [taken from Biddy Tarot]

The woman sitting on the throne in the Rider-Waite deck is Proserpina aka Persephone the goddess queen of the Underworld (She has varying names, including the queen of Shades, which is funny to me: The Queen of Throwing Shade). There are a few versions of this myth, again, cultural memory, but the mash-up of her tale is: she is the daughter of Ceres who was forcibly kidnapped by Hades to serve as his wife. Her father, Zeus, said it was fine, but her mother fought for her to come back. Hades relented, but before Persephone could come back she ate a handful of pomegranate seeds (those delicious things) and was caught in a bind—once you eat the food of the underworld you are bound to it. Eventually a deal was worked out where Ceres could see her daughter half the year and Persephone had to go to Hades the other half.

RWS_Tarot_02_High_Priestess

The Myth of Persephone is how people of yore would justify the seasons of Ceres. In the Summer and Spring Ceres was happy because she got to see her daughter. Winter and Fall she could not see her daughter, so nature died and went dormant. Ceres represents child abduction, abandonment and:

…most importantly, she supports in death and with death ‘rights.’ Consider this – when we are faced with death, the strangest of things can happen. We grow. Our soul grows. We can see and feel the intensity of a flower. We can experience a side of ourselves that would be unknowable otherwise. We see our soul, and the reason for it`s existence. The darkest hour has the greatest light. And Ceres takes our hand. She walks with us and tends us in this pain. She tends us while we grow. [from Midlands School of Astrology]

—————————-

As I learned from his 1974 obituary, FASCO Finishing Company is where my great grandfather, Benny, worked. I consider myself an amateur local historian, learning much from my Grandpop Buddy [who saved every local newspaper from the 1950’s until his death in 2004], but hadn’t heard of it. “I will drive past it next time I am in New Jersey.” I looked up the company with the address listed online and this was what I found on Google Maps:

FASCO Finishing Company as depicted on Google Maps.

“He was a finisher,” his obituary echoed. What a menacing job title.  Finisher of what? Concrete? Interiors? People who knew too much?

Karmic finisher. The person who closes out a chapter of karmic patterns in a family.

Use it in a sentence: “It is finished.”

On April 1st I will meet my great grandmother, Edith, for the first time. My stoic countenance can fail to convey the metaphysical connections I feel to karmic places, people, and situations, but I feel in each of us lies a responsibility to each other, people we have and have not met.

“Be still, my soul, when change and tears are past, all safe and blessed, we shall meet at last.”

As classroom teachers can tell you: students do not immediately recognize the multifaceted lessons you are teaching them through modeling, interactions, and personal choices in curriculum—memories which are philosophically, culturally, and interpersonally significant. Our lessons from the universe are similar. Through our families and everyone we meet we learn. Some of those lessons are apparent and some have yet to be understood. They will revisit those lessons. Once you eat the pomegranate, you have to go back. You can’t unlearn. Arundhati Roy says in Power Politics,

The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out.

Hymns from childhood lessons repeat in my head, and can’t be unlearned. I’ll continue to remember them despite learning the contexts in which some of them become glib or gauche. Still, I remember the process of revering a spiritual force, and this provides me with comfort. Not by having the same set of spiritual “rules” that were prescribed to me, but by learning a set of practices. I think of the fascism present in the U.S., especially the current leadership, and hold reverence for the diasporic conditions of so many in our country. You don’t need vast knowledge of diasporic people to care deeply for the conditions which create suffering. It does help to reference it for people who act obliviously. My public opposition to fascism has caused a perceptible chain of events in my life. I won’t resist those events initiated using the principle of faith I learned in childhood. The practice is to adhere to “right action.” As I live longer, I learn more about “right action” every day.

As I absorb the karma of my family, meeting Edith shortly, I continue my process for this life and, presumably, the next.

“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”

 

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Protozoa, Nematodes, and The Internet

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Portrait of Hookworm by Marlana Eck

In 2010 a chronic illness made me rethink my life choices. Allopathic medicine offered no solace.

“Take this pill. In clinical trials it works 50% of the time” wasn’t enough for me. There was only one drug option for me as well (in generic and name brand): imagine the doctor saying “One pill! One pill to rule them all!” As with most pharmaceuticals, there would also be side effects that were worse than the actual illness. In this case, the pills would gradually tax my liver. I was 23 at the time, and I didn’t see how a medicine that damaged a vital organ was worth the risk.

So began my journey to self-discovery, osteopathic & homeopathic research. This will not be a piece about diet and biopolitics. I’ve already written that piece.

One of the things that stood out about homeopathy is they emphasized the impact of parasitic organisms. A lot of illnesses, mental and physical, begin in the gut. Notice all the recent emphasis on maintaining good gut bacteria in the face of regular antibiotic use (and conditions of commercial meat products). The state of the gut can play a huge role in the condition of the blood (which effects the skin), brain, and colon. If those parts of the body break down you’ve got some big issues. According to homeopathic medicine, parasites can play a huge role in the breakdown of the body’s immunity over time leading to chronic issues.

I started addressing my overall health with diet, herbal supplements, and vitamins. As someone who was already an avid exerciser, that would only help me to be sure my blood and lymphatic fluid was properly circulating, allowing for essential oxygen to permeate my body’s organs.

A few of the online homeopaths who offered advice suggested doing a parasite cleanse. I’d need alkaline water with a high PH (9.5 is ideal), raw vegan food (fresh fruits and vegetables), and other nourishing substances parasitic organisms didn’t like:

  • cayenne pepper
  • pumpkin seeds
  • cloves
  • apple cider vinegar
  • garlic
  • wormwood
  • coconut oil

In addition I would need to fast every so often. Fasting cleanses the body, purifies the blood and lymphatic fluid (in addition to light exercise), and I am always surprised, with how often people have used fasting throughout history to rid the body of toxic buildup, how little it is put to use.

People have commented in various forums how they have seen some of these parasites leaving the body (via their toilet). That seems melodramatic, but I’m not denying it may have happened to some people. Since they are so small, in most cases, you mostly just feel different after a while.

Because I eat a vegan diet, I am less susceptible to parasites, but not immune.

I remember when I was first reading about how these creatures could be inside my body, sucking my blood, eating my partially digested food, exploring, latched onto an intestinal wall hanging out. One night in particular I remember I couldn’t sleep reading about parasites, which was accompanied by the occasional alarming picture. I called up a friend and asked if they could buy me a cheap bottle of wine so I could fall asleep. [I don’t generally advise using this method because it works against building up the good gut bacteria and alcohol also toxifies the blood].

But what I’ve been thinking about lately is parasitism as praxis. In terms of our daily activities across the decades, we can see ways where parasitism has been practiced. Marxism is mostly based on the concept of parasitism, and I’d studied parasitism years before I studied Marx. Labor is the real value in that scenario, and those who benefit off of labor receive that value when we are dealing with unequal labor practices.

In our human bodies, we are constantly turning over new cells, our body labors for our spirit to continue occupying our material realm. When parasites enter, they expect to benefit from this labor. The excrement of parasites alone, if you have enough of them, can make you ill. The idea that a hanger-on might be excreting inside of my body without my consent is chilling.

There is also information which represents parasites as a symbiosis. The argument is we need parasites to digest food, so in that sense they are beneficial. However, when the body is overrun with creatures which do not originate within the body, the body cannot perform properly and this can cause a slew of health problems.

When housewives stay home and take care of domestic labor without payment some would call this a symbiosis, and that would be dependent on the situation. The husband makes all the money, therefore has all the power, and if the wife has never entered the job market she has less leverage if she decides to work in the future, or the marriage breaks down and she’s forced to leave. This is a lot of pressure to be considered a symbiotic relationship. If the wife is treated well, recognized for domestic labor, maybe the couple decides on compensation (which, first the labor would have to be acknowledged) would this be a better symbiosis? I recognize I am being incredibly heteronormative as well, but I thought it interesting to draw from past debates. Both of my grandmothers also lived this reality.

There will always be questions of labor, domestic or otherwise, and how they relate to parasitism. In my intentionally vague straw man scenario above some would fault the wife. “She’s living with ‘free’ food and shelter.” This undermines the labor position. In this argument there is no labor on the wife’s part. Since it is immaterial, it doesn’t exist.

Many of us labor on the internet each day. Lindy West recently deleted her Twitter account saying she did not wish to put forth her free labor for a site that refused to silence hate speech.

We are seeing this idea more and more: how much is someone allowed to say before they are overstepping, before their presence feeds on the pain and suffering of others?

In dealing with parasites, I’ve adopted a no nonsense policy where I will fast immediately when I spot symptoms. Not everyone is willing/able to do this. My fear of parasitic organisms does not exist in a vacuum: I’m concerned with living a long life with great quality, and I wish to have less symptomatic chronic illness or eradicate it completely (though allopathic medicine tells me this is impossible).

When we learn a practice or person is harmful, up to what point is it/are they allowed to co-exist with us?

 

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Transfiguration

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“The greatest and most important question facing humanity is that of purpose. Sigmund Freud, the father of modern-day psychology, was humble enough to acknowledge the spiritual element of psychology in his later years, and yet the foundation of modern orthodox psychology is still based on his earlier teachings. To put it simply: there is an underlying (or overlighting) spiritual reality behind all microcosmic and macrocosmic creation, and this reality embodies the meaning and purpose of this creation.” Transpersonal Astrology, Errol Weiner

One of my first memories is playing under my grandfather’s kitchen table and thinking, “Why am I who I am?” My visage beamed as I thought about it.

At 30 I am still figuring out why I am who I am.

I passed through many religious places, but many of them seemed secular in their approach to the human experience. Sure, those churches believed in heaven, but why should a soul pass through the world only once? I asked my grandmother, Phyllis, what we would do in heaven, and she told me we would sing hymns to the Lord for all eternity. This seemed perfunctory.

When I studied Marxism in graduate school the idea that heaven was a place created for people so they would accept mistreatment on Earth in exchange resonated with me.

I remember going down the shore with my boyfriend when I was 19 and walking past a Seaside Heights church on the way to the beach. A sign read “Win brand new 2006 Cadillac in raffle! Like Pastor _____ drives!” I thought it bizarre. Week after week ascetics donated their money so Pastor could drive a Cadillac and give one away for free. This seemed inconsequential to the life of the soul.

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I know in the only church I ever belonged to I once sat through a sermon at 17 years old where the Pastor lectured about looking out for those “kids from divorced families.” In the pulpit I sat knowing the Pastor was aware about 30% of his parish came from a divorced family. I wondered what he was hoping to gain by preaching on this, but I knelt and prayed with Gram because it made her feel good.

Mom gave up early on trying to find a church that would accept her without a father to her child. Yet Jesus ended up having a step father, too, and nobody seems to realize it.

We had a plethora of hermetic texts in my mother’s house when I was growing up, and reading became my church. I wasn’t judged by books and if I was I could close them without any humiliation.

The futility of religion lies in the failure to understand our existence in the Monad. The Monad is our greater cosmic self which is undivided by superficial appearances or occurrences.

One of the roads to our souls is through our ancestry. We were the first computers, storing a sense memory of all that came before us. If your family was ever involved in a massive genocide, your body remembers. When there is a legacy of rape in your matrilineage, your body remembers. It is something we carry, like distinctive birthmarks.

Having reverence for reincarnation, memory, and, what Jung called, the collective superconscious, can move us toward a spirituality concerned with humanity’s well being.

The desire to reset the many traumas in our ancestral memories is an impulse that can give us lift and purpose, not only to help heal the ghosts of our relatives, but to understand why others would like to do the same. It can help us understand the cultural push to fight systemic racism, for instance.

One of the tenants of computers that we’ve come to admire is their ability to hold albums full of our pictures. Family pictures, personal portraits, and in a variety of different ways, relics of our sex lives. When we consider those imprints and know we, as the first computers, have the capacity to store those photographs in our human databases, we can’t help but consider how we will work through those “files.”

In Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination, Annette Kuhn suggests:

“As with photographs, so with other memory prompts, the democratic quality of memory work makes it a powerful practical instrument of ‘conscientisation’: the awakening of critical consciousness, through their own activities of reflection and learning, among those who lack power; and the development of a critical and questioning attitude towards their lives and the lives of those around them. As a practice that begins with the practitioner’s own material -her memories, her photographs -her memory work offers a route to a critical consciousness that embraces the heart as well as the intellect, one that resonates, in feeling and thinking ways, across the individual and the collective, the personal and the political.”

For all the negative criticisms of social media that exist, it is an undeniably rich source of what could be a collective superconscious of secularly spiritual moments, and a congregation of seekers of truth.

 

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