Friday, July 31, 2009


It's the first totally scary/wicked thunderstorm of the summer out right now! FINALLY. Not enough to curb another drought season, but still.

I just had purple lightning explode all around me. Very queer. I like.

Today was also the first time I noticed--really noticed--just how vibrant the Twin Cities can get in the summer. I usually miss this when I take the express bus home on I-94, but today for whatever reason I grabbed the 16's slow lumber down University Ave. And at first it seemed like another long, uneventful ride. I noticed two gay guys sitting outside Cupcake, talking. Then, a young goth couple crossing the street by Schneider Drug.

And suddenly, they were everywhere. We'd go by a Cambodian restaurant and there'd be folks hanging out in the parking lot. An art gallery, where four women were sitting around chatting. A record store had a gaggle of folks crowded near the door. A martial arts studio with a dozen crusty punk kids smoking next to it, not even users of the studio but somehow deciding it'd be a good haunt to have.

And everywhere I looked, I saw neighbors on their front porches. Whole families had set up lawn chairs to take in the last hour of sun. Older couples walking to Bingo night, and Latino and American Indian groups walking through parks and down alleys. This fantastic miasma of activity, out here for everyone to see. Was it always like this? Have I just not noticed? Was it the right combination of beautiful weather, time of day, time of week? An intentional yet decentralized reclamation of public space? Or an anomaly in otherwise deteriorating communities?

Hard questions, no clear answers. But I know that when I finally got off the bus, I was in a different state of mind. I was paying attention. I was looking around. I was blown away, amazed by people, and for the briefest moment, I caught a Detroit spirit here, an agape love. I could grow to love this place yet.

And yet more firsts for the night--thanks to sis for the gumption, feast on the results:

We look like demons. It's the eyes.

By the way, I have had hair that big. Sonya cannot say the same.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

you are where you live, you burn what you cook

My coworker clued me into this, it's kinda freaky, distasteful and intriguing at the same time:

You Are Where You Live

From their FAQ:

"You Are Where You Live" is based on a "neighborhood lifestyle segmentation" system called PRIZM NE from Claritas Inc. a market research firm headquartered in San Diego, CA. PRIZM NE, which was originally created over 20 years ago, classifies neighborhoods into one of 66 categories based on census data, leading consumer surveys and media measurement data, and other public and private sources of demographic and consumer information.

PRIZM operates on the principle that "birds of a feather flock together." It's a worldwide phenomenon that people with similar cultural backgrounds, needs, and perspectives naturally gravitate toward one another. They choose to live in neighborhoods offering affordable advantages and compatible lifestyles. That's why, for instance, many young career singles and couples choose dynamic urban neighborhoods like Chicago's Gold Coast, while families with children prefer the suburbs which offer more affordable housing, convenient shopping, and strong local schools.

PRIZM is updated annually to reflect the latest available demographic and consumer information. "You Are Where You Live" provides a scaled-down version of the complete PRIZM system. Only a handful of the consumer spending, lifestyle and demographic data available through PRIZM at the ZIP Code level was used to create this ZIP Code look-up program.

And a bit later:

To put the country's marketplace into perspective: today, there are more than 270 million people living in more than 100 million households located in over 260,000 neighborhoods, or Census block groups, across the country. Companies use this information to break through the country's crowded marketscape and understand, locate and reach their customers better. They use it to determine what type of advertising to create and where it should appear, where to put new stores, what kind of merchandising and products to put in their stores, etc.

It is worth noting here that one of the pioneers of this kind of target market research in the United States is a Chinese American woman named Shirley Young. I know this because Mom and I watched this PBS program, Becoming American: The Chinese Experience, and Bill Moyers conducted half-hour-long interviews of several folks for it, including Gish Jen, Maya Lin, and this woman. And I remember as we were watching the Shirley Young interview, and she was talking about developing these new methods that she must have known would change business and marketing and consumerism forever, I thought to myself, "Wow. Asian Americans are capable of unleashing scary shit into the world, too." (I suppose I was blanking out the reality of Michelle Malkin and Frances Fukuyama at the time.)

But I'll be damned if I'm not a fucken product of this environment, and it seems from what I've learned of my ZIP code from You Are Where You Live, the target marketers out there have their 'marketscape' (the term we now use for people, I guess) pretty well-pegged, and in turn, me well-pegged. Granted, I haven't really felt at home in my apartment over the last year and a half, heart of gentrification central and all, but this is my area's "most common PRIZM NE segments":

And for fun, I got this for where Mom and Dad live in Shoreview:

I saw New Empty Nests and felt like laughing and crying.

What do these categories mean? You'll have to peruse and find out.

Today's No Greater Joy Than needs some context. Looking back at some of my older posts, I've noticed that all my previous No Greater Joy Than submissions are about food. This strikes me as very unoriginal. Rather than illuminating joys that are well-hidden or controversial or at least capable of generating a collective "Huh" among an audience, I've been devoting space to something we can all agree on. Sad.

Well, this one's also about food, but with a twist.

I have of late developed a tendency to nap while I'm cooking. This is, of course, stupid and dangerous. But in my defense, I generally only nap while making things that take a few hours to make--soup, red beans and the like. It doesn't help that much of my cooking happens late at night, sometimes into early morning hours. The risk is that my napping can turn into full-blown sleeping. Once, I put on some red beans with a good amount of water, laid down to rest, and awoke 5 hours later, bolted to my beans, and to my astonishment, found they were still fine, just cooked down a lot and only starting to burn on the bottom. You'd think I would have learned after that. But evidently I need some convincing.

I finally got to celebrate the book publication deal with a few friends the other night, and after downing two exceedingly delicious beers (they're Duchesses, red and sweet and so very very good for you) and finishing off Claudia's whiskey, made it home and decided to, um, make some rice. (I get these urges at times. Besides, I was out of cooked rice.) I could excuse this with my impaired mental faculties, but the fact is, rice takes only 20 minutes to cook, and I knew exactly what I was doing, and even though I was tired, I figured rice was one of the safest and fastest things to cook up and the danger was minimal.

So I put a cup of rice in a pot, rinsed it five times, put in twice as much water, brought it to a boil on the gas stove, then turned the heat down to its lowest level and covered it up. I laid down on my futon for what I thought would be just a few minutes.

Next thing I know, the sun has woken me up.

The realization of a mistake is very unusual. Your body is literally jolted upright with a shock of energy, and the memory of what went wrong burns this stunning alertness into your brain, unlike anything you've ever felt. You have instantaneous focus and clarity, and nothing can distract you until you rectify the mistake. So it took about three seconds from the moment I opened my eyes to arrive at the following chain of thoughts:

1) I put on some rice.
2) Rice takes 20 minutes to cook.
3) I started the rice just after midnight.
4) The sun is now up.
5) Therefore, this rice has been cooking for almost six hours.
6) That is bad news.
7) Go stop the bad news.

And at the end of those three seconds I am at the stove, turning off the heat, removing the cover, surveying the damage, prodding the rice with a fork, finding (to my utter relief) that the rice is burnt brown but not black, and there's no smoke, and there's no fire, and I am not dead. So the burnt rice is now sitting in my garbage can in a cylindrical lump, and the pot used to cook it is not ruined (amazingly), and I am still here, and I think there's No Greater Joy Than that.

Being alive rocks! Not being done in by culinary neglect rocks!

I think it's time I get a rice cooker.

music is prophesy

Mimi and I are very into music--not just listening and playing but having many, many long discussions about it. So it was only a matter of time until she found this quote--thanks for passing it along Mimi.

"Music is prophesy. Its styles and economic organisation are ahead of the rest of society because it explores, much faster than material reality can, the entire range of possibilities in a given code. It makes audible the new world that will gradually become visible . . . It is not only the image of things, but the transcending of the everyday, the herald of the future. For that reason musicians, even when officially recognised, are dangerous, disturbing and subversive; for this reason it is impossible to separate their history from that of repression and surveillance." -Jaques Attali, The Political Economy of Music

And if you want to know more about where this came from:

I ran upon this quote in a different book called Notes from the Heart: A Celebration of Tradional Irish Music by P.J. Curtis on page 7.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

marching orders

Everyone who's organized and talked with Grace Lee Boggs over the last several decades has remarked about how, when things are uncertain or when the times have reached a crisis, Grace is thinking clear, giving marching orders to those in need of them.

And even though I really don't have the time right now and have been panicky ever since I got the news, it seems I have marching orders now too, namely: Get to fucken work and start birthing a book already, because it's going to get published.

I gotta say, it works. The whole shift from things are fuzzy to things are startlingly clear. Cuz I got a whole hour or so to celebrate, and now I understand that was all prelims, and the real celebration comes after working harder and for a longer time than I think I ever have.

The other guys in the research collective have already warned me. Hell, all they did was compile an on-line journal, which is so much less intensive than a book, and it very nearly drove them into the ground, how many letters and emails they had to write, how much waiting for the goddamn phone to ring, how much money, it nearly drove them into the ground. Or more accurate: it did drive them into the ground, and they're still in the process of digging themselves out when this new shit lands.

Sis wrote with congratulations and told me it was well-deserved. But then I think of how recently I joined this collective and how narrowly I missed getting burned by their last (or what they thought was their last) behemoth project, and I feel less deserving and more lucky, which is probably fucked up to think that way, but hey.

I feel very...excited and unprepared. I always conceived of publishing a book as some far-distant, when I'm 10 years older, reward after so much toil kind of thing. Now, I'm a co-editor of Uses of a Whirlwind: Something Something Subtitle (this is how prepared I am), with a league of four other co-editors (two of whom I haven't even met yet), and the hell that's erupted over our conference calls has already got my stomach blanched about what the next year will involve. And I'm contributing an essay which needs one big fucken makeover before I'm anywhere close to happy with it. And the interview with Grace Lee Boggs is also going in, and I know I will carry some immense disappointment with me if that ends up as anything less than great.

I am not prepared for this! But I have my orders now. What can you do, after all? You deal.

Tonight I celebrate a friend's birthday at the Muddy Pig, cook up a nummy and fast pasta dish and write a letter to a dear loved one up in Menogyn. Priorities.

Monday, July 27, 2009

be kind

Saw Be Kind Rewind yesterday with Anne-Maragaret and Derrick (and an oblivious Elena). Apparently many folks don't like this movie (including the twin sis), but I thought it was brilliant--I believe I said "This is so brilliant!" an embarrassing number of times as we watched it. If anything it makes me want to learn more about Passaic, New Jersey.

All in all this was a kind weekend, altho there is still much to do and fume over. And I'm on a tight schedule, as I would like to be in a good, relatively stress-free place by the time this starts.

Priorities, people.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

one down

After ten hours of furious typing, checking for correct spelling on names like Prigogine and words like vernunft, and listening and re-listening and re-listening to the point of bafflement, the transcript for Grace Lee Boggs's interview is finally complete.

And it's a mess.

So as with any rough draft, now is when the real work begins. Oof.

In the meantime, I'm at home and the Slice of Shoreview is doing its thing in Island Lake Park. Derrick wants to head over this evening for his annual mini-donut splurge. Mom just read an article to us about UFO sightings in Elmwood, Wisconsin. (On their website they say, "Did you know we're the UFO capital of Wisconsin?" followed by a happy alien hovering in a glitter orgy.) Dad and Big Sis churn out homemade pizzas and during baking time we fade in and out of the living room, chatting it up, enjoying the slight breeze and the sunset, reminding Elena to sit in her chair while she's eating, which she has somehow forgotten how to do. That kind of evening.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

an introduction

You turn your head and you realize you are looking at it, the Boggs Center for Nurturing Community, Grace's home for however many decades and now something even more than that. You feel surprised. You expected you would have to walk a bit further down this block before you arrived, or at least you'd have more time to settle yourself before a chat with an activist sixty-eight years your senior. You stall for time and pull out the slip of paper, scan the address you wrote down, look up and much to your dismay, it matches the address of this house. You are not ready and yet you have no more time. You are already five minutes late compared to when you said you would be there. And your interview starts in ten minutes.

You put away the slip of paper in your handbag and you are suddenly mortified at how ridiculous you look. You wonder why you couldn't just fly to Detroit like everyone else, or at least find a place to stash your packs before arriving here. You feel very small, immature even. And yet you believe that once you get inside that door, you will magically grow into a mature adult again. You are impatient to go up to that door. You don't move.

You look at the house, really look at it for the first time. It's bigger than you expected, but then again, you probably expected something looking like a garage. You expected an old-lady house, which you picture as singular and unavoidable, not like any other house. But it is old and humble and rooted like all the other houses on this block. It's dark: no white trim, no pastels, no lawn ornaments or meticulously kept flower beds. It has nothing in particular to show off. There isn't even a sign, or a tell-tale revolutionary poster in the window. No indicators or flair; just a house. And you're a bit spooked by this, because it also commands respect, this house, and you're surprised that the respect you have is no different from what you feel looking at any house on this block, except that you are armed with a secret, this knowledge. You think you know something about this place that others don't. And then you realize that the truth of it is, this place knows something about this community that you don't.

You walk up the steps and your eyes shift to the right, to a doorbell and a small label right above: Boggs Center. You somehow know to look to the left of the door, and there is another doorbell: Grace. And you breathe in quick and you're present now, dreadfully present, and your mind has leapt forward into time, into this space. You see her answering the door, looking up at your face with shining eyes, crouched. You see yourself leaning in to hear her as she speaks, both perched on the edges of armchairs. You see people watching the interview from a slight distance, standing, arms crossed, listening closely, kneeling down to take photographs, wanting to capture this encounter. You're fanciful that way.

You press down on the doorbell, drop your packs to the ground so that they rest by your feet. You hear the muffled sound of footsteps on a stairwell, descending. The door opens: a man answers. You shake hands and you are inside.

It is dark. That is the only thing you notice and can think of: it is dark. The man is directing you forward into an even darker foyer through a heavy black door. He chats jovially with a young volunteer on the staircase leading up, and as you look up you see it's lighter on the stairwell, and you wonder why that is, why you're being made to stay in the dark on this floor, through this doorway. You knock lightly and push the door open and it is just as dark in this new space, and you start to think of how wrong this feels and why don't they install some lights in here already, and you worry your eyes are too adjusted to the brightness outside and this interview will go horribly because you won't be able to see anything, and you remember tying your white tennis shoes in the harsh glare of sunlight on the front steps of your parents' house, and the whole while you are wondering where she is, where is she in this darkness.

And you take a step forward. You ask, Hello. You turn to your left, take two small steps. Then turn another left, and there she is, sitting, facing you, mouth slightly open in a smile, like how people do when they're distracted, or when they're caught in the act, smiling because they've just been exposed and there's nothing to do about it now.

She is so small. She barely projects past her armchair; you barely detect the delight in her voice. "Yes, and you are?" And you say your name, slowly and a bit louder than what you're used to, that you're here for the interview, and she is already talking over you. "I hadn't--I didn't have any idea what you looked like. Is your last name really Peace?" You laugh and say, No. You remember your manners and say it's an honor, a real honor, and at once you're shaking her hand. You think this should be electrifying but it's just a hand, it feels dry and a bit coarse in yours, and she is talking over you again through all your manners. "So. Tell me a little about yourself." And she adds three rapid taps of her other hand on the hand she's holding. It is all going much faster than you want it to, but you sit down in a neighboring armchair and launch in.

You say, Well, my Mom grew up in a Chinese community in Augusta, Georgia and my Dad grew up in a farm town in Minnesota, and they eventually met each other in California. You think, why the fuck did I just say that? You continue (despite the eruption of questions of what it means to pinpoint your mixed-race status from the get-go with someone you meet and why you've never felt pressured to do that until now) and say, I went to college in Washington state and that's when I opened up to activism. You think, that's quite the reduction. You say, After I graduated, I traveled down south to New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina, and I worked in a health clinic there and then moved back to Minnesota and I now do restorative justice work and that's when I also got involved in this social movement research group. You think, is any of this actually meaningful, is she gonna remember any of this? This Grace, who remembers from a very young age the threats of being left on the hillside to die because she was born a woman? Who not only studied Marx and Lenin but actually joined a group that studied them all day every day, published pamphlets, traveled around and outside the country, met with countless rank-and-file organizers? Who left New York for Detroit to lead political education efforts and met a black autoworker from Alabama and married him at the end of their first date? Who organized with labor movements, civil rights movements, women's movements, ecology movements, city revival movements, restorative justice movements, and environmental justice movements, and who is still writing and meeting with people today, every day? Who lived to see the rise of the automobile and the rise of the Internet? What right do you, a confused twenty-six-year-old, have to be in the same room as a ninety-four-year-old giant? What grave misfortune brought you to this moment, what stupidly misplaced confidence bluffed you into the doorway of a living history and has now left you stumbling and incoherent and uncertain and remarkably timid? What are you even doing here?

And the whole time, Grace Lee Boggs watches, and listens, and smiles that barely projecting smile, her head perched slightly up, her back crouched, and when her demeanor changes and she says, "Now, let's figure out logistics for this talk," you remember again what you're doing here, in this room saturated in darkness, in an unassuming house in Detroit, Michigan, and she's ready to talk and you're ready to talk, as agreed upon in advance, and in an instant you understand that this agreement is all either of you have to stand on, and it's enough for now, it will be enough in the end, when you're through and you're looking back on it. And you understand, too, that this is how it always is--that relationships, powerful as they are, would be confined to the realm of improbability, save the faith that propels an introduction.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

note to those who wanna try

Transcribing is not a breeze. I pounded hard this afternoon on Grace Lee Boggs' interview. We have about 2 hours worth of stuff. I gave it a good hour of transcription work. I now have 1 hour and 45 minutes of stuff to get through.

Writing emails takes time. Especially when it's going out to people you don't know. You think it's an easy thing, 10 minutes tops. But then you want to make a good first impression, use the right language, and if you identify a writer you will also have a bit of the perfectionist in you, and before you know it, half an hour has gone by.

A handwritten letter is a fucken commitment. I've learned now that if I want to take my time with it and be thoughtful, especially for someone I love, I can't start it late at night. I need to set up a four-hour block where I do nothing else but write that letter. And I mean nothing else--no eating, no listening to music, no other distractions.

Cooking a meal rarely happens in less than an hour, when you include all the prep work, the chopping. Doing the dishes is a half hour minimum for me.

Ironing your clothes can take an hour, and you do not want to rush this.

Preparing my appearance in the morning takes fifteen minutes minimum but I always hate how little I can do in that time. 45 minutes is more reasonable. Especially because there are some mornings where I brood for 10 minutes on how to dress myself up for the day.

Shopping for clothes, now that I'm getting in the habit of it finally, can take hours. I never used to understand why my parents and sisters and other friends would take so long, but then again, I did not give a rip back then about how I looked. Once you start caring, you can't go back to 15-minute outings for a new wardrobe. (No lie.)

I note all this for those who wanna try and who, like me, can be very bad about estimating the time needed for the basics. I'm starting to understand the strict regimens the twin sis, the Mom, and many others have figured out for themselves, and why they're needed so badly. It's not to fall into comfortable patterns so much as to be fully aware of your needs and your body's needs. It's more than time, it's structure, it's health, it's responsibility. So when I come home from another long day at work and decide I can goof off for a few hours, playing guitar or reading or napping, and then get surprised and angry at how late I have to stay up doing the necessities--writing emails, cooking meals, sprucing up my appearance--all this really means is that I don't know self-care as well as I should by now. Not that playing music or reading isn't important for self-care; it's more how I make it work, how I avoid putting absurd stresses on my body and mind.

Grace Lee Boggs mentioned a tenet I have been dwelling on quite a bit: "learn to manage your despair." I've learned so well know how to live with despair, but when my daily life feels out of sorts, and I fall asleep unexpectedly and I wake up 5 hours later realizing I haven't put the food away, or when I run to catch buses and cuss at myself to high heaven when I miss the connection to another bus, or when I note blankly that I was supposed to call someone and only noticed this two weeks after the fact, I think this all means that I am not managing the despair, just letting it seep in and start fraying all the edges and sucking on my brain. I wanna try something different.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

you heard that right

He is hunched over the printer they have set up for the Allied Media Conference, a woman hovering at close distance, waiting to copy papers in hand. He knows I am waiting to register. Glancing up at me, he pulls out a card catalog. "What's your last name?"

"Peace." I say it with a slight, slight preliminary pause of hesitation. Some days it just doesn't sound right. This is one of those days.

He turns his attention to the catalog, shifting presumably to the P section, fingers at work. Then he considers something, and looks at me, really looks at me for the first time. He blinks. "How do you spell that?"

I spell it for him. He blinks again. The woman with the papers grins an open-mouth grin, then asks, "Is that a last name or an acquired name?" She has me in her sights.

No one believes you can have the last name Peace. It's not impossible, I looked it up on Google. But it's rare enough that it draws curiosity, perhaps suspicion. When I first walked into Grace Lee Boggs' home, the very first things she said was, "So is your last name really Peace?!" And I knew that was intentional. I knew she wanted to know the truth, whether I was truthful. The hard thing about choosing a name for yourself is that you can wear it like a disguise. People don't see you so much as your deceit. And it can come back to bite you.

Later on in the evening, Grace said, "Now tell me what your actual last name is," in this particular air that simply demands compliance. And I told her, and it was a relief of sorts. But only temporary.

To name, to define, these are political, emotional, social, spiritual decisions. It makes a very big difference whether you call it God or G_d or Allah or just Him or Her or you refuse to name at all. It's a big difference to call her Sonya or Son or Sis, or to call that person across the street baby or cutie or shawty or bitch or ma'am or 'you' or nothing at all. Or whether you say "police brutality and violence is a serious issue in our community" or "the pigs are beating on our heads every single day out here". You learn your voice and your perspective and your agency and your language by how you name. And I suppose the good, comforting thing is when people hear you right. That's always nice.

And then some people won't settle, and they'll ask, and you're in their sights, and whatever solidness was resting in your decision has dissolved. You rush to defend the name. You let go of it hastily. You juggle, you catch, you roll it away and tease it back. You deal. You just deal.

on Detroit (1)

In Detroit there is one grocery store, one bakery, and one health foods store that is a hole-in-the-wall. There are sections of the city where you can walk a few miles and not run into any shops, retail, billboards or advertising. In Detroit there are ghosts, there is a haunting over giant phantasmagoric factories, behemoths ushered in on a wave of industry, now just busted windows, crumbling brick, broken teeth. There are houses covered in weathered stuffed animals, three-foot rabbits stapled to the siding, blanketing the steps and the front porch, like parasites, like barnacles, and you dare not touch or cuddle them, they just want you to leave and mind your own business. In Detroit the empty lots are blooming--weeds, or community gardens, flowers straight up through the concrete. The sidewalks are more grass than pavement because there is no public money to maintain them, and yet the lawns of each house are always freshly mowed and made beautiful: pride.

In Detroit there are no good or bad parts of town. Capitalism has given up on it all. And people are living here, still living here, and striving, and struggling, and with more hope and levelheadedness than you might expect, when you stop and think about it. They are learning to embrace the uncertainty of the future; they are swinging their feet and thinking ahead, managing despair, working something new, thinking, thinking ahead; and they are finding that loving each other is more than just a notion.*

*Tip to Baldwin, this language is echoed in If Beale Street Could Talk.

Monday, July 13, 2009

speaking of Minnesota Nice

This is really brilliant, from No Snow Here:

Often women of color writers get critiques that are unfair and do not take our work for it’s own merit but fixate on “tone,” “education,” and “politics.” I put these in quotations because they are coded words.

“Tone” — A reviewer takes issue with “tone” when what they really mean is that they feel implicated in what you have written. You should have broken it to them nicer, and because you didn’t everything you have said is invalid.

“Education” — A reviewer questions your education. In this context, “education” means a degree from a college or university. Obviously you have not had the requisite book learning to speak eloquently on the topic of your choice. This is especially true if the topic of your choice is your own life. How dare you write about your own life when you don’t even have a master’s degree in Arab American studies?

“Politics” — A reviewer thinks you should focus less on your politics and focus more on being a good writer. This is code for, “You colored people need to stop complaining and just get over it!”

Have you got any code words to add?

And I mean brilliant on a few levels, as this has to do with all the little (I mean very big and indefatigable) ways that oppression intersects with our art, our craft, the words we speak, how you must always demand your dignity and humanity in what you write and must always bring it the fuck on when someone attacks your dignity/humanity/life in the guise of attacking what you've written, that shit is the worst.

But also brilliant because of this commentary:

"What is up with this idea that we can have a productive conversation about race, but it’s all supposed to be conducted very politely???"

OK, so this piggybacked from the original brilliant post, but still worth consideration.

This is brilliant because it offers another take on what I've already mused on in a few posts, namely what the fuck is going on in all these workshops, how they seem to lurch from absolute full-on annoying civility to being very uncivil but in disrespectful and degrading ways to the participants (my latest take on the 'agitation'), and that's it in terms of possibility, no spectrum, no range of how to talk things out, just Workshop A or Workshop B, pick your poison, it's the same loss either way.

I think this is also brilliant because this is unfortunately reflective of how we are raised to discount the full reality of our lives and until we learn otherwise, or are taught otherwise, how to know and express and examine ourselves, until this happens, we will only know how to count ourselves out.

But really this is brilliant because it reminds me of another brilliant writer. (Side note: it is quite possibly one of the unique joys of a craft, especially this craft, where in the reading of one person's wonderful words you immediate think of another person's wonderful words. This does not imply imitation or flattery, mostly praise, but perhaps most of all, power.)

That brilliant writer is June Jordan, who wrote Some of Us Did NOT Die and Civil Wars, among other amazing works she completed before her death in the last decade. In the opening to Civil Wars, she recounts a common experience: a man and woman are reeling from the shocking violence that has killed their child. A news reporter asks them to speak about it. And they learn to say--they learn to say!--"Well, we're still in shock, we're devastated." Never mind that if they were actually in shock they wouldn't be able to speak, let alone form coherent sentences! Never mind that if they were actually devastated they'd be on the ground, or pitched up off the earth contorted, wailing, screaming, stone-cold and shut-down, swearing, getting violent, getting irrational, getting difficult to follow, getting hard to watch. There is something in this forced, unnatural 'civility' that makes the couple speak, and quietly, and correctly, and in doing so we watch and take it in and we think it's going to be OK, they're going to be OK, we learn that if people are still civil they're going to be OK (read: not allowed to be) and so we can move on, as if our knowledge and history is disposable, as if terror can be stifled. And June Jordan isn't arguing that we need to get rid of politeness and civility; she is arguing that the cultural pervasiveness of civility is not helping us one iota; and she is questioning how we got to this place, given the torridness of what we've seen and where we've been; and she is saying that if folks really want to build movements for change in our lives, out of our lives, out of the realities as we live them, then we better fucken learn how to be uncivil--that is, how to let go and be a bit more true.

Right on June and right on to everyone else and their brilliance.

And isn't it plum-awesome that the keeper of that blog, Nadia Abou-Karr, is in Detroit and is one of the organizers for the Allied Media Conference. I'll get to meet her provided I can get in her schedule...I know what the organizer's life is like.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

a quick note about writing

You know how you want to write in something, say a blog, every day, but you know you haven't gotten into the habit of it yet and so every time you sit down at a computer to write something, your mind draws a blank (unless you urgently need to get something down) and you get kind of shamefaced about this commitment you said you were gonna make but obviously haven't, and so you find all manner of means for procrastination (playing computer games, checking email endlessly for nothing in particular, browsing Wikipedia), and then you get up and figure what you need is some water, or coffee, or a bathroom break, or just read something first, and then after a few hours you steal out of the room and leave your intention of writing alone and dead in the water, to be revived (in vain, once again) for another day?

Well, if you don't know about this, consider yourself right-on. As for me, I just need to get on. I gotta live on. You know what I'm sayin'. This shit gets very infectious and I don't know how to throw it off me. Sis might have some answers but she isn't speaking about them yet--actually she just got back from Venezuela for a wedding so I'm giving her a pass for now. But seriously. Gotta get on.

And you better believe that I have a very good reason to get on, very soon.

Monday, July 6, 2009


The man leaves his girlfriend for a moment and walks down the aisle to a crouched figure. He says something inaudible under the rumble of the bus. He grins, a bit uneasily, clutching his cup in one hand, then shrugs a bit and moves back to his seat. Everyone is stealing a glance at this figure, this woman whose head is bowed low, she may not be able to stand up straight and she almost fools us, until we reach Lowry Avenue and slowly, slowly, she raises her head, and it is bits of shock, one right after the other--the red streak down her forehead past her eyes--the splatter on her shirt--the crusted trembling lips--the gash, a gash, the back of her head, bleeding, and pooling, and staring right at me that gash--and as the bus slows to a stop she makes for the back door, she's weaving, she's halting, and there's a cry goes up, Hey, HEY, HEY--and we rush to stop her, but she's already fallen, and in a moment I am beside her, and I'm forgetting everything I learned at the clinic, and the driver is yelling and someone is laughing "She drunk!" and she is not even there, and I am not even there, I am somewhere else, the bus roars off and I am sitting next to her, and she is not here and I am not here I am somewhere else, this terror, this terror I know like I know my lungs, like my clenched fist, like the blood I smell in the air.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

slaking weather

Drought weather here. You can tell because the chalkings in the paths of Loring Park--HENNA, FREE CONDOMS, AIDS TESTING--are still plain as day, a week after Pride. But the air was heavy today at the Fantastic Fourth in the Walker Sculpture Garden, and now the skies have opened up, and it feels wonderful, all them drops on the skin. Release. And I sure could use it today, still mourning and unfocused and very much alone, even with family and friends around.

It looks like it's already letting up; I hope it doesn't. I hope we get rain all day and all night and into the morning. Fireworks be damned.

Friday, July 3, 2009

a mother's love, a queer boy's pride

Mother's day today--birthday that is.

This is her, in one of my very favorite photos on earth. With twin sis in tow.

Went this afternoon to Stillwater for a lunch at Dock Cafe, with a view of the St. Croix. The nieces had way too much energy and we tried burning it off with walks to the marina and to Teddy Bear Park. I haven't been to downtown Stillwater in ages but it somehow felt familiar. Back home for more chillin', making stuffed peppers and a simple cake. The real celebration is tomorrow after all, but it seems that whenever the kids are involved, all of us are much more interested in relaxation than excitement. It rubs off on me too; no matter how much I know I have to get done on a weekend, errands, writing or otherwise, when I'm in Shoreview with the parents and the Hodges all those plans go kaput and I laze like nobody's business. And despite the failure of discipline, I have no qualms.

As for Mom, she is plum-happy with this birthday. I feel I should mention, as one of three children and a twin, just how much respect and love I have for this wonderful woman, not least of all due to the fucken PAIN of moving two babies out of the womb in rapid succession. If a person can give life like that and come out smiling, then I want them on my team. Gratitude to you Mom. You are too amazing.

Other amazingness: the Pride Festival and Parade this last weekend. Major downside: saw next to none of it. Pulled a freaking all-nighter on Saturday night, writing and research if you can believe that, still made it to the parade where there was terrific wind all up and down Hennepin Ave (which of course makes you more tired, more quickly), stayed awake enough to see the procession and my co-worker Reggie marching with the R.T. Rybak contingent, then promptly boarded a bus home, flopped onto my bed, and woke up the next morning for work (16 hours sleep for those of you guessing at home). I'm saddened by how little I saw and was involved in, although Pride is now so overtly commercialized and mainstreamlined (I think I just invented that word), purged of all radical roots and more interested in building the gay white male market than building urgently needed social movements, but still, saddened. It is not often you can walk about and find fellow queers, gays, lesbians, and transgender folks flooding the public arena. Not so much engendering hope or joy or promise, but (forgive me here) rather a whole helluva lot of confidence, love, sassiness, sexiness, style, and flat-out gayness. It's what we're good at.

So it was fun and funny and funky for a while there, the highlight being the block party at Bryant-Lake Bowl with old and new friends, and I trust come next year I'll be stepping all in it, the Trans March, Dyke March, and by stepping I mean doing some for-real participation, ya hear? Can't do shit by moaning about the state of things and how detached I am. Gotta get it on.

As for the July 4th weekend, this and this look attractive.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

rest in peace Ed Burks

"Some time ago, Edwin Burks came into the clinic to register for Patient Assistance Program. I remember this amiable man well--I was the first person he met at the clinic, back during the front desk days. As usual, he was grateful I could help him, although I conveyed my distrust of PAP to him too. I wanted to make sure this man never got screwed over.

As he got up and shook my hand, he said, "Thank you for helping me so much. You know, even though they put you in the back, I still think you're the most important person here."

And I am a tissue. The wind is crumpling me, tossing me gently on a current of fine words. I love these people. I love this city."

I wrote these words in a memo pad back in April 2006. This is one of only a few documented memories I now have of Ed Burks, Common Ground Health Clinic client, volunteer and stalwart, a great friend and wonderful, wonderful man, now dead of cancer as of Wednesday, July 1st, 2009.

Ed always, always, always brightened my day whenever I saw him. Incredibly kind and good-natured and quick to a compliment, and always armed with a few stories once you plied him with drinks. He always told my co-workers at the clinic that it was because of me that he decided to pitch in and help out (or rather that I roped him into it). At the time when I wrote that journal entry, I was conducting case management for 150 clients in need of medication assistance. By the time I left New Orleans 8 months later, he was the one in charge of the program. He did it with gumption, moxie and grace.

It was only through some communication over letters and email that I learned how quickly his life had taken a downturn. In the last months of his life he was in pain all the time, bound to a hospice bed, confined to an outlook of misery. And so it's strange to say it, but I'm glad he's no longer in pain and no longer tired of being immobile and useless.

Yet he has passed and I am still here and for whatever reason this seems wrong.

It is not unusual in New Orleans to lose people you love. I was there but 15 months and saw three close friends and neighbors die of color cancer. Another neighbor was shoved into the path of a bus and flattened. Horror. No other word for it. And one of the first things you learn in that city is to hold it close, hold fast. But I moved out and lost touch and so with Ed's passing I feel guilt. I wish I could have told him so much. I wish I could have told him I'm OK, he was always worried about me in a way. I wish mostly I could have let him know that it was a two-way street--I was the one who got him to love the clinic, but he was the one who got me to love the city and its people. I owe him big time for that.

No chance now but what can you do. Just mourn and remember I guess. I love you Ed. I miss you and I thank you, you give me more life. Rest in peace.