The color and quality of the light here is, I don't know, dense. I always feel like I am being pushed into myself, quieting, sinking, falling through what is me and through the floor of the Earth when I walk alone here, visiting what seem like the ruins of the civilization I was part of eons ago, like the last survivor of Pompeii, when it was I who left. This is Montgomery, Alabama.
This is where I was a teenager and where I spent my early years as a mother, the place where I worked as a projectionist in a neighborhood theater, a non-profit one screen art house, called The Capri. Alabama is where my mother's family has lived since before the American Civil War, in a small, ever flooding town called Elba, just north of Mobile.I am hardly a survivor as I burn and push through. I used to fancy myself one, feeling the need to keep on breathing through poverty and constant shaming, breathing and birthing a creature I could be proud of. The irony though is that surviving made me ashamed. And birthing is falling too.
I am walking my old walk, my first day in town, through Granny's neighborhood, which is one dead-end block of peeling paint and plastic playsets now, all the old people as dead as where the last house blocks the street that might have been connected, up toward the theater, where I will let myself in, get a soda, just as Mac and I used to, he in his little red wagon, and then I will walk back to my friend's home (where I am sleeping, drinking and bathing), by way of the ditch that always has tadpoles. I am a pilgrim this morning. I call this my Southern Haj.
I think there is a cultural connection between Arabs, Persians, and American Southerners. Our playful, sentimental, tribal, burning, sinking natures. Our grandparents being cast out of the garden of industrial, mechanized Eden, we, in horror, the children of Cain, or the bastard children of Abraham. We are the children who drink from secret springs of fortune and the falling, always the falling.
Isn't it funny, my adviser points out to me in an email exchange, that it is so in vogue to consume local food amongst the very people who have moved away from where they themselves were produced and grown? I am thinking about this. I do a lot of food shopping with Martin, my friend of going on 20 years that I have been staying with. I treasure every litte berry I pick on my walks, to eat the dirt, maybe to make my passage through the Earth easier, to put it inside of me.
There is a home that you can only find in the depth of old friends, their eyes and hands, old places, emotional and physical, in the labor and commitment, or the memory, which has kept the bond whole. We tell funny stories about each other. Do you remember when? There are hands that make the falling move faster, your mass becomes greater, and in so, the falling will disappear, you are moving so fast it looks like stillness, and there are eyes in which the horror dissipates, and this is home inside the rapid and heavy descent.
I have fallen now clear through, as I write this, back to my children and Washington DC, or rather the Maryland suburb, where we live. Driving the rural roads since I left my cousin Wes' place, having discovered a new setting on my GPS that allows me to avoid the interstate. The more things change the more they stay the same.
The drive is misty and the pushing through Tennessee is so beautiful and so worth it. The rusting church roofs set on white cinderblock squares, the mountains being swallowed by clouds and vomiting up the remains of towns. I have a Cheerwine. It makes the skin above my upper lip and my tongue a very gross, like cheap ass uncooked hotdog, shade of pink, my upper lip in a messy crescent. But I am in a car, so totally alone, and it does not matter.
I think I know now why I like to look at and touch old doll houses. They feel to me like these towns I barrel through, like the meaningful to me corpse of what used to have its own meaning.
A man at a gas station tells me to keep laughing my big raucous laugh that he overhears. Southerners are so violent.
I return to my children. I have returned to my children, with many food gifts. Ob snuggles into me. He keeps smelling me. I wrap my arms around him and I make my chest his home again, pulling him close, for the fall.
Mothers Day is less than a month away. This will be my 16th as both daughter and mother. I get grouchier every year.
I have poured my life into my children. I've given them myself, all of it, to give them to you. They, I have to tell you, are awesome. I think you might be too.
And you know what? Fuck the stupid media debate going on right now about who gets to stay home with their kids and whether or not one should. Fucking "Mommy Wars." You know what? The mothers I know -- from sex workers to hippie crunchy mamas, to lawyers -- do not sit around having this debate. We just do not. Yes, there is a basic hypocrisy in saying that an upper class woman should stay home with her children and a lower class woman should not. Let me tell you, hypocrisy from the dumb asses of the world is the least of my concerns.
And this crap a few months ago about Rush Limbaugh calling someone a whore and the War on Women from the Right -- only from the Right? I am here to testify that I have been called a whore, to my face, by men I love, by politically better men than Rush, if by better one means Leftist. "Blah blah blah, misogyny is bad, blah blah blah; by the way Windy, I am unhappy with you, I will call you a whore now, in words and deeds." I have been bewhored up and down and all around for no other reason than someone with good progressive, Lefty politics was angry with me and that was how he knew to hurt me the most deeply. And you know how I made him so angry? By prioritizing my children over him because I am a mother.
I have been told I both work too much and work too little by both men and women because I prioritize my children, if the person in question needs something else from me, even an emotional ax to grind.
I'm grumpy. I've been writing about solidarity and love all day for school. In 10 minutes I'm going to pick my younger kid up from the bus stop.
I just don't get us. Peanut allergies are bad, so we ban the peanuts, stridently. War is killing mother's children by the truck load, poverty is killing mother's children by the truck load, lack of education is killing them, lack of medical care is killing them. You know what we do? We "blah blah blah, misogyny. Blah blah blah blah, Mommy Wars. Yeah, that's right... Mommy Wars. Did I cite the right people?"
The media debate about abortion. Also stupid. Not only do we clearly not have a problem murdering anyone, baby or adult, in this country, but speaking as a former teen mom who is not anti-abortion -- does not think it, unlike war and poverty, is murder -- I can tell you, if you do not know, that abortion is often a sad thing worth preventing. If you care about women and if you care about babies, for god's sake, do something to make it possible for us to raise our children in peace. Stop offering to take our children from us. Stop telling us anything but our full right to have motherhood or to not have motherhood is what we are fighting for. Stop putting our babies in ROTC, stop bombing our babies, and feeding them pink goddamn slime with a side order of bullshit and brainwashing in school. Jesus. Stop degrading our babies' mothers and stop killing our babies. Even our grown up babies.
You know what mothers want? We want our children to grow up healthy and strong and good and moral. We'd like some help. We don't give it even to each other far too often. Why is this so hard? That is what I want to see in the media. I want to see an expose on why this is so hard.
There will be more on this with less primal scream. But I need to scream a
bit right now as I countdown to Mother's Day.
I have to get to the bus stop now. Happy Mother's Day, mother fuckers.
Should I end this with a smiley face?
If I ever have something really crappy happen to me that enters into what is deemed relevant political discussion, do me and you both a favor: do not chant "I am Windy Cooler." Do not wear t-shirts or buttons that say this.
Take care of my kids. If you loved me, find other people who did too, and take care of each other. Try to learn something about being human, about yourself, through the relationship with me. Tell some good stories. If you did not know me, did not love me, seek out those who did. Make some sense of what happened, whatever it was that finally did me in. The options for my unjust demise are endless. Whatever it is, bear witness. Take action. But do not take my name and put it on yourself.
We are no one but who we are, but we can do a much better job of supporting other people and asking for the same.
That is what solidarity is.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Iris Murdoch: "Love is the difficult realization that something other than oneself is real." We are not the same person. We are, however, mutually dependent and capable of doing much better by each other than we do.
Actually, wait...why wait until something is deemed politically relevant by whomever it is that decides these things?
Let's learn something about each other and take care of each other now. The options for our unjust demise are endless. Let's try a little harder to be ourselves and be present to the reality of each other.
I am recently not fond of the idea of rebirth. Our culture, at least the Middle-Class White dominant, professional, pseudo-Buddhist culture of Liberal America, to be specific, embraces the idea fully. We don't apologize or reflect or mourn. We move on.
We find new friends or new family when we destroy a relationship, political or personal, usually repeating the same behavior with the replacement people that hurt the last people in our lives. We don't talk about our pain in public, as that is more impolite than talking about politics or religion. We find new ways of being, such as Buddhism, or pseudo-Buddhism in its many self-care, self-focused forms, borrowing the culture and identity of others, to cover up our own.
It always feels a little land of the lotus eaters to me, this idea of being born again, if one is a working class Christian, and certainly this idea of rebirth, if one is of the professional culture. This is something liberals and conservatives have in common. We think we can walk away. It is a trademark of colonial thinking: there is always new territory, even if inhabited by the flesh and blood reality of others, to move on to once our own flesh and blood home has been destroyed, or made difficult, through our own reality.
Easter, in this cultural narrative about rebirth, cleansing of the sins, or cleansing of the past, is neuter. Jesus was not reborn. He lived and died painfully, focusing on a small group of close friends; then he came again, with all his scars, to the people he had already loved. He presented his mangled body to them, to see, to be seen, to recognize, to be touched, to be real.
I am thinking today about how deeply I love and trust old friends. How people grow with each other by growing into each other, through memory and experience and baggage -- that ugly word for the human experience --that we lift together.
I cannot undo my experience. But I can incorporate it.
The night before our wedding, with family and friends.
"What are you going to wear? A white t-shirt with your jeans?" That's what my friend asked the week before I married John on this day in 2003. I was the kind of person who wears the same grungy crap a few days in a row, maybe even sleeping in it, because I was obsessed with organizing. Or, that is the story I told myself.
"No. I'm going to wear a dress."
"A wedding dress?"
I wore a wedding dress. I did. It was off-white. And I carried flowers. And up until I threw it at John's face a few years ago, I wore a ring that had his name inside and the date on which we were married. I have that ring now, and his ring too, in a handmade wooden box that says "I love you the way you are."
Oh, John. Life is so short and friends are few. I love you. Maybe I can say that and mean it and know what it means to love someone else because you taught me. We taught each other, maybe, because maybe that is the way love works. In the end it was you who taught me, and I who taught you, though I have said all kinds of awful things in the past about the kind of pain I was in with you too. As have you, though you were never as emotive as I.
We've been so shitty to each other, by accident mostly, and so, so good to one another too, mostly on purpose. The forgiveness between us is real and deep. There is something to be said for that.
For the rest of you, this is what I have learned from my marriage. John and I took vows on our wedding day that we wrote ourselves. They were about our commitment to the community. That's all we said. We were a work team devoted to the world. Guess what, activist friends? That did not a marriage make, and in the end, that did not a good work team make either.
We fell apart, as people. We're still picking the sharp little pieces of broken heart out of our flesh.
Community is something you don't just work for. It is a relationship. And you can't have a relationship with something as huge as "the world" or even "the neighborhood" if you don't know how to have a relationship, an intimate one, with another person, because you cannot know the reality of others without this experience. And you cannot write your own vows to the community. It is a negotiation.
In The Sibling Society
, author Robert Bly relates the story of the Hindu god, Ganesh, who, as a youth, is asked by his mother to guard her privacy as she bathes. He unknowingly is guarding her from her husband, his father, who had been so long gone he does not know him. Indeed, the father had left the family in a rage eons before because his wife, the goddess who bore Ganesh, conceived him in an act of trickery against him. In the ensuing fight between Ganesh and his father, the boy’s head is cut off. His mother, upon seeing this, is filled with grief and rage. To mend him his father takes the head of a baby elephant and places it upon Ganesh's shoulders. Bly interprets the story in terms of the damage we do to young men in our culture of libertarian ideals, leaving them without mentorship, to feel as if
they are protectors of their mothers, not themselves sheltered.
The myth is also reminiscent of the awesome, if somewhat delusional, responsibility of the activist, the deformity, and the weight of a professional head -- a non-human head -- that has colonized us, a head that does not quite fit on our very human body.Jeff Noonan wrote recently
"A future new left must be positive and constructive if it is to be anything at all. A positive and constructive new left, while mindful of the structural contradictions of capitalism, cannot treat these as a reason to not act in the present on demands that make some people's lives better but leave structural problems unaddressed in the short term. Theoretical models of wholesale alternatives to capitalism have a place, but have not proven capable of mobilizing large numbers of people in Europe and North America in ways that have effectively institutionalized real gains. Instead, the losses continue to mount. The first crucial task of an effective new left must therefore be to work out a short term agenda that builds mass support and that can be realized within existing institutions, but at the same time pushes those institutions away from their current life-blind function toward their life-valuable reason for being."Their life-valuable reason for being.
Their life-valuable reason for being.
Their life-valuable reason for being.
My friend, poet and teacher, Lee Furey, wrote in her poem Penelope
about her 20 year long relationship with another activist:I hate this movement
that has stolen you from me.
I hate it because it denies
its own love of conflict,
the beauty of imperfection
and forgiveness.I hate it because
it finds those who live in peace boring.I hate it because
I don't know where you left the guitar.
I hate it
I live on the ground.
Yeah, Lee. We all do. We all live on the ground.
A Friend who is a friend (FYI: I am an atheist Quaker sunday school teacher) told me, told all of us, about this song
today at Meeting. There will come a day
When we will all stand before the throne
On that day, some will say:
"Did we not prophesy in your name?"
And they'll say:"We drove out demons in your name"
I know some will say: "We performed many miracles in your name"
Some will say: "So many works we've done in your name"
Then the Lord will say: "Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity I never knew you"
That's why I know
Everybody talkin' 'bout heaven ain't goin' there
Everybody talkin' 'bout heaven ain't goin'
Everybody talkin' 'bout heaven ain't goin' there
Oh my Lord
He was talking about peace, about how many of us talk about peace, but we may never see it, relating Palm Sunday to April Fools Day, with Jesus entering Jerusalem as a fool in Matthew, on two animals, triumphantly riding to his death.
I am feeling this song as a message about solidarity.
Not everybody talking about solidarity is going there. Not hardly. And, it is
the nature of solidarity, I think, that makes it so that if not everbody goes,
none of us do. I always thought, when I was a Christian, that heaven would be the same, because without someone we might love, there could be no true heaven.
Our whole idea of heaven is the reverse of everything else Christianity is. It
is about material comfort. Not love.
To me, colonial thinking (for example: racism, classism, misogyny),
which we all engage in to varying degrees -- in testament to our wretched
inheritances -- is ultimately about denying humanity, making people, ourselves even, abstractions, ideas, not flesh and blood people.
The idea we have might be violent or it may be sentimental, as our political
debates speak to, but the reduction is ultimately an evil. It may be the
defintion of evil, I think.
In my experience solidarity is a word we use to mean superiority in the colonial experience we are all having, not the shared responsibility to the human one that is hurting in the face of it.
Franz Kafka once wrote: "In the fight between you and the world, back the
world." This is not an admission of defeat, for me, but a call to negotiation,
to the belief in the reality of others and its awesome power. Be a friend and
have friends. Make peace with and love and understand your family. Your
relationships are your work and your bread. They are who you are. There can be no heaven, no solidarity, without you and without me.See More