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turkus mother son

. . . a discouraged child tends to focus increasingly on her anxious desire to fit in and quickly loses sight of the needs of others in the family.  Children are always trying to improve their sense of securely belonging as valuable members of the group, and they fear losing that connection.  Therefore, the more the child’s discouragement deepens, the less capable she feels of interacting with others in useful ways.  Instead, she is more likely to resort to misbehavior to connect inappropriately, to feel negatively powerful, and finally to gain at least a perverse sense of respect before giving up when her attempts fail.


– Linda Jessup and Emory Luce Baldwin, Parenting with Courage and Uncommon Sense

My boy has been back with me for a week.  During that time, I have not screamed once.   I have not stormed out to cool down.  We have been on time for camp drop off every morning without a fight.  Bug has gotten himself out of the bath, teeth brushed, and into bed before 9:00 every night without me raising my voice or lifting a finger.

On July 7, I made a commitment to heal our family.  This is a tall order.  A family is more than just one mom and it would seem that one mom alone can’t overhaul a whole family culture.  Each of us can only control ourselves.  As it turns out, this may be the concept that brings the most significant change to our family.

When children are very small and dependent on us, we can haul them out of troubling situations and put them in their cribs at specified times.  We can decide what food is in front of them.  As they get older, this control shifts.  They fight their own playground battles.  They can get up out of bed and turn the light back on.  They can snub dinner and sneak treats from the fridge behind our backs.

A parent cannot control a child.  Control is an illusion.  Dominance as a method of control is an illusion. A parent can withhold, wheedle, punish, threaten, bribe, and ignore, but even with these dangerous tools, a parent cannot control a child.

What a parent can do is model healthy choices and guide a child to build the capacity to navigate the world.

I made a commitment to learn whatever I could to strengthen our family.  The past few weeks, I have planted this commitment into the center of my days.  Between reading and journaling to reflect on the approaches I’ve taken (and might like to try), I’ve immersed myself in a 16-hour Parenting Encouragement Program class.  The process has been intense and even transformative.  That word that usually makes me roll my eyes, but in this case, “transformation” about captures what’s happening here.

My son comes off the day camp bus in a foul mood and immediately lays into me for some perceived slight, like asking him to please hand me the tablet so I can charge it.  He is furious, steaming, telling me he hates me.  These are his steps in our standard friction-filled dance, one we’ve been perfecting for years.

Now, I choose a different dance, one that improvises and responds.  First I catch my breath.  No reaction.  I ask myself quietly to note that Bug’s behavior is a textbook version of discouragement, that he is actually seeking connection and a sense of belonging through a mistaken goal of taking revenge on me.

A parent cannot control a child.  A parent can only control her own choices.

I choose my words with care.  “It seems like something is really bothering you.  I’m sorry it’s hard.  Remember that it’s not okay to call me names or hurt me.  When you are ready to talk about what’s bothering you in a less hurtful way, I am here to listen.”

He continues to simmer and spit but it’s cooling down.  I sit quietly and breathe, remembering that my son is a creative child, he’s bright and resourceful.  That he is learning, as I am.  Even in my silence, I keep my mind on the goal of encouraging him and helping him feel connected and capable.

After a little while, after we’ve moved on to the next phase of our evening, he quietly — almost distractedly — says, “You should write a bad review of that camp.”

“Really?” I say, just as casually.  “And what would I write in this review?”

Then he opens like the sky.  Something happened this morning at the high ropes course.  A misunderstanding, a punishment he felt was unfair.  We talk it through and I match his tone.  Attentive but calm, like this is any old conversation on any old day, not a huge issue.  I do not come up with a list of solutions or reprimand him for what most likely stemmed from his failure to listen to instructions.  I reflect back what I’ve heard and capture what his feelings might have been about this.  Finally, I say, “Would you like to think through what you could do if this happens again?  Or to keep something like it from happening next time?”

Bug shrugs and says “maybe,” then turns to his crafts.  He’s had enough for now.  Enough is fine.  Enough is miles ahead of where we were a month ago.  Enough is a victory.  When and if he does want to tackle the issue, I’ll be ready to help him tap his courage and find his way.

I can only control myself.  The choices I make contain the threads that stitch together this family.  When Bug and I were stumbling through our difficult 9-day stay-cation together in June, this was my commitment:

I am determined to sustain a creative, positive planning attitude for the duration of this stay-cation with my son.  This means I am equally determined to postpone any self-improvement initiative that might divert energy from our formidable endeavor.

Now I see that these two journeys — family health and personal well-being — are part of the same whole.  Indeed, they turn on the same axis.  The more skillful a parent I become, the more loving our relationship, the more encouraged my son, and the more nourishing our home.  From this place, we all grow.  In this place, we thrive.


Image: Pristine Cartera Turkus, “Mother & Child”

CCT

You have no engagements, commitments, obligations, or duties; no special ambitions and only the smallest, least complicated of wants; you exist in a tranquil tedium, serenely beyond the reach of exasperation, “far removed from the seats of strife,” as the early explorer and botanist William Bartram put it. All that is required of you is a willingness to trudge.


– Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods

With a little vacation away from work and my kiddo off canoeing at day camp, it’s time for a fix of woods.  I pull up Hiking Upward to find something near enough to hit in a few hours but far enough for solitude.

This is the goal: solitude.  And its accompanying quiet.

Humans are social creatures, sure, and we need to be in proximity to people as much for a sense of connection as for all the stuff — the supermarket and hospital, the auto mechanic and school.  To survive, we need to be in community.  Even so, too much proximity to too many others can take its toll.  The buzz of engines and clang of machines, the soundtrack of urban and suburban life, can jam the signals.  When I start to notice myself too focused on the clock and task list, too alert, too aware of every demand and every passing vehicle, I know it’s time to seek out a forest.

Hiking Upward’s interactive maps let a user explore a stretch from southern Pennsylania to northern North Carolina.  The descriptions cover each leg of the journey and reviewers add details to keep things up to date.  Many of the reviews make note of the presence or absence of “road noise,” which is almost impossible to escape anywhere in the mid-Atlantic.  The site rates each hike on five characteristics: difficulty, streams, views, camping, and — yes — solitude.

For a mid-July hike in Virginia, shade would be more important than peaks.  Quiet, most important of all.  Out west in the Shenandoah and beyond, several hikes hit all the right numbers.

The problem is that lately, I’ve been taking care to drive less.  My dual commitments to frugality and environmental stewardship have me hopping on the bus and train when I can, even though this choice extends the commute.  Bug and I bike around the neighborhood for fun instead of driving to parks further away.  My shopping and entertainment are much closer to home, and I make every effort to combine trips by doing things like picking up groceries during my weekday lunchtime walk then lugging them home on the metro.

This desire for the woods is in direct conflict with the desire for sustainable living.  Still, the girl hungers to be out in the quiet.  By the time I’ve gone to bed, I’ve settled on a regional park about 16 miles out of town.  It seems shaded enough, isolated enough, and close enough that it would meet all the criteria without my little Corolla belching too much carbon monoxide back into the atmosphere.

Thankfully, sleep has a most refreshing effect on my conflicted mind.  Blessed is the deep rest that washes clear the path.

I wake to this thought: I want to go somewhere free of road noise, and I’m going to put my car on the road to get there?

The hypocrisy makes me smile.  I climb out of bed determined to make a choice that will honor both of my commitments.

With my hiking gear already in the car and my kiddo packing up his sunscreen and bug spray for day camp, I hop back online.  Where can I hike without leaving town?

Fairfax County, Virginia is home to environmental leaders whose dedication far surpasses mine.   My neighbors have been working for decades to protect the fragile watersheds that sustain our region.  In the 1990s, a critical mass of residents and leaders began to plan the 40-mile long Cross-County Trail. Its path  moves through vast ribbons of green whose undeveloped foliage act as sponges to filter pollutants from our streams.

This trail weaves in and out of neighborhoods.  It follows busy roads to connect sections of woodland.  I’ve walked parts of it further east, popular sections next to parking lots and ball-fields.   Those areas are wide and groomed, with bikes and families and runners.  But miles of the trail wind through areas that are hard to find unless you know where to look.

The truth is, I’ve never thought much of this local trail as a “hike.”

It’s time to change that.

One section of the trail happens to be within a few hundred yards of the bus pick-up spot for Bug’s camp.  The Corolla will clock exactly zero additional miles and I can be hiking.  So this is what we do, Noodle and me.  We drop the kiddo at the bus, I shrug into the backpack, and we start walking.

Around the golf course, behind houses, and into the woods.

Woods!  Woods like forest, like Shenandoah, like a wild place.  Creek crossings.  Lush carpets of ferns.  Damp oak leaves drooping across the sky.  Solitude, yes — in three hours, only four people pass us.  And while the occasional distant leaf blower or lawnmower jars me back to this zip code, the morning is almost entirely quiet.

“Quiet” isn’t the same as “silence.”  Truth is, when we need to replenish the spirit, silence is not really what we’re after.  Rather, we crave the absence of pressing need, the muting of the incessant clatter that keeps us in a heightened state of reactivity.  Quiet is far from quiet.  It’s a music, a pulse of wildness that tracks the beat inside us.  Quiet is the chittering throb of cicadas, the swooping cry of an unidentified bird.  The small crystal shattering of water over stone.

Eight and a half miles we walk through the morning, through our very own town.  I see its raw underside, the part that feeds us whether we know it or not.  It nourishes us without us drawing down its riches.

It’s here.  It’s not just in our backyard, it is our backyard.

It turns out that it is indeed possible to hike close to home.  Isn’t a hike just a walk with intention?  Even a cross-county trail isn’t a requirement.  A hike can cover suburban neighborhoods and city streets.  Seeing any stretch of ground as hike-able reveals a whole new terrain.

Of course, it isn’t new at all.  It simply asks to be entered as if it contains the possibility of wildness and wonder. It simply requires of us “a willingness to trudge.”

We teach our kids to revel in the natural world in ways that minimize damage to it.  We don’t let them deface trees or leave trash.  As grownups making our more complicated calculations, it’s critical to remember that the same simple rules apply.  If we want to keep finding refuge in the forest, if we want our grandkids to seek sustenance in the unbuilt world, then we need to do our part to sustain it.  Sometimes that means choosing not to go at all.  Sometimes means opening ourselves to the wild places waiting right outside the door.


 

 

Dear Fairfax County School Board,

Please don’t stop.  You’re getting this one right.  When you decided in May 2015 to add “gender identity” to the non-discrimination policy, you took a step that will put our schools on the right side of history.  You’ve been facing some pretty loud resistance to the decision, and I want to tell you that those voices are not the only ones out here.  Also here are parents who are thankful that our kids go to schools that recognize the dignity and worth of all people.

I know the parents who are gathering to stop your momentum.  I saw them at a school board meeting in 1950 when they demanded that you preserve segregation.  They said it was about local control, about the autonomy of communities to determine their own futures.  They organized themselves and worked hard to push back the tide, until the tide came in.

I saw them at a school board meeting in 1970 when they demanded that you put a stop to mainstreaming students with disabilities.  They said it was about maintaining standards in the classroom and the ensuring high quality instruction.  They gathered their forces and tried to put the brakes, until federal laws passed and localities had to let the momentum carry change forward.

I saw them first at a state legislative session in 1990 when they argued to preserve archaic laws that criminalized sodomy, then the next day a school board meeting when they called for the firing of gay teachers for being “criminals.”  They said it was about morals and the safety of the children.  They blew lives apart and held their ground until the ground shifted enough to shear loose of their grip.

I saw them at a school board meeting in 2010 when they insisted that undocumented children be barred from the public schools.  They said it was about fairness and about national security.  They held children to detention centers until enough people recognized that our public education system can do better than imprisoning child refugees.

I know these parents who are trying to stop the school board from enacting updates to Policy 1450.  They say it is about respect.  They say it is about transparency.   They say it is about a predictable process.

But let me be clear:  these terms are hate in sheep’s clothing.  No matter how rational and polite the arguments appear to be, these are the same parents that have been showing up since the start of our public school system, denying the freedom and access of students who look different than their own.

They’ve chosen their terms with care.  Like all of the words they’ve used over the years – standards, morals, safety, fairness, and national security – “Respect” and “transparency” are positive yet vague.  People can line up behind their shield without truly owning the nature of their demands.

Their petition claims that there are sacred spaces in the schools that should be somehow omitted from this non-discrimination policy.  Bathrooms, for example.  And athletics.

Why not water fountains?  Why not lunch counters?

No matter where you land in the history of this country, you’ll find people who draw boundaries around the spaces they are determined to control.  We all know it’s not about the spaces.  It’s about the control. When extending privileges and freedoms to other human beings means the possibility of upsetting the structures that keep them dominant, they will rail against it.

They claim they are not biased, that they have nothing against transgender children – nor do they harbor any ill will towards Black children, children with disabilities, or children whose first language is not English.  This sense of magnanimity stops at the doorway of equitable distribution.  The advantages of democracy are theirs to maintain against any diffusion.  If their own children share a classroom with students whose needs are different or greater, they also have to share the attention of the teachers.  They have to share the resources of the school.  These parents have come to believe that it’s their job to ensure that own children should have every possible opportunity, even if it means barring others from the rights and freedoms of this democracy.

What might happen if their children have to learn to share?

If we extend to transgender students and staff access to an educational environment that recognizes and protects them, what terrible things might transpire?

The children of the petition-signers might have to try a little harder to be number one in sports.  They might have to walk a little further to a bathroom.  They might have to face the reality the people who are different than them still have bodily functions.  They could become more aware of their privilege and speak out against injustice and unfairness. They might befriend someone who is transgender.  They could become an advocate for their friend.  Well after graduation, they may go on to stand up for changes in laws, and call on their leaders and neighbors to do the same.  They could become lawyers or policymakers or senators who recognize the worth of all human beings.  They could become teachers or innovators or human right activists who create ways for people to learn and build a better world.

They could become more compassionate.

They could learn to be engaged citizens of a diverse, living democracy.

Along the way, they might have to sit in a bathroom stall next to Katie who still has a penis.

Along the way, Katie, who still has a penis, may win first in girl’s Track and Field, while their child takes second.

You know what?  Their children will be okay.

Their children will somehow manage to use the bathroom without trauma.  Their children will still win prizes and go to good colleges.

And all of our children will be better human beings for going to schools that stand on the right side of history.

I applaud your determination to move forward with the changes to Policy 1450.

Most Sincerely,

Parent of an FCPS student

Press Through

cave woman

Downstairs is the Cave of Dudes.  It is where the free-weights line up in rows by the mirror, where contraptions pierced through with grimy iron bars and corsets of straps hunch in the corners and dare you to approach.  Someone has squeezed a couple of treadmills in at the back.  They are the wireless kind that run on human power instead of electricity.  The robot machines are quartered in the vast gallery upstairs, a whole army of them blinking out their perfectly calibrated, simulated tracks on LED screens.

Down in the cave, incline benches.  Pull-up bars.  Clangs and grunts.  Some days, most days, I’m the only gal down there.

The Cave of Dudes skews young.  They cluster in packs, spotting each other and counting off.  Their tattooed calves flex with effort.  When they finish a set, they pace, flushed and breathless.  They turn their arms just so to see the cut in the mirror.  They try to look like they’re not looking.

The few older men who dare to visit are made of sinew and focus.  They grip through fingerless gloves.  Intensity makes their neck veins pop.  Even though they lift less, they seem stronger.  Grounded.  The old dudes are more likely to end up on a mat doing the peacock pose.

I am a 42-year old woman with cellulite and stained sneakers.  It takes an enormous force of will to peel myself from the whirring breeze of the elliptical and descend into the Cave of Dudes.  It stinks of testosterone.  The man-juice is thick as brine and you’ve got to churn your way through the miasma to get to the dumbbells.

I go because I love the place.  It’s a playground, full of toys to mess around with.  Yet every time I start down, up drifts the bass dialogue and the metal bang.  With it, a clench of dismay.  Couldn’t it be silence?  This time, couldn’t the room be mine alone?  It never has been, not in all the years I’ve been going.  There’s no reason to believe it would be now.  Still.  Traveling has offered up enough deserted, junky hotel fitness rooms that I know what a blast it can be to bounce around by myself.

Better yet, how about a gaggle of gals?  If my girlfriends in their saggy capris and cheap Reeboks joined me, that would be a party.  We could shut off ESPN and crank Throwing Muses and Flogging Molly.  We could do all the wrong things with the iron maidens in the corner.  We could dance between sets.

But in the Cave of Dudes, antics are unwelcome.  Talking, unless it’s about muscles and stuff, is also rare.  Dancing?  Who would dare to try?

To will myself through the throatfuls of male musk, I’ve learned to man up.  Every gal has a store of Dude inside her.  She knows how to act remote and invulnerable.  How do you think she survives the subway, the office, the bar, the street?  When it’s necessary, she taps  the supply, adopting tunnel vision and shooting straight for the target.  No distractions.

Even when — especially when — those distractions are the echoes of ancient patterns learned by a girl surviving in a universe of threat.

I know rationally that the dudes in the cave have things more compelling than me to capture their attention.  They may notice the arrival of a female of the species, but what’s it to them if I’m clumsy or old or weak?  What do I care even if they do care (which they don’t)?   I’m safe here.

I know all this rationally, but still, the sense of intrusion, of outsider-ness, as I walk in almost overwhelms me.  Among the dudes, the racks and incline benches look as sinister as they do inviting.  My toys, in the company of dudes, look like mistakes waiting to happen.

Stepping across the room, I try not to glance at the bench press.  It’s my favorite piece of equipment.  I started on it a year or so ago with just the bar.  Eventually, the weights went on.  Week by week, they increased.

It’s a strange kind of thrill to climb of my own free will under that iron bar.  Lifting it off the stand exposes my girly chest parts and delicate neck to a grimy mass, one that’s entirely in my control.  It’s danger, it’s power.  Nothing beats finding out how much this body can do.

Despite all this love, I start to stride past it over to the relative safety of the dumbbells.  A trio dudes are all gathered up near my beloved bench.  One of them is doing some sort of big-cock-lunge-squats while the other two watch with their arms crossed.  It looks like a dare.  Or a hazing.

As I pass, a little voice whispers, I wish he were here.

Oh, you again.

The voice accompanies me everywhere, all the time.  But I hear it right here, at this almost imperceptible moment of choice.  The timing makes me pause.  That wish is whispering up right as I am about to abandon my very favorite exercise on account of the presence of men.

I stop.  I let that wish bob and dance like a soap bubble , the little voice a song inside it.  Yes, we always got such a kick out of sweating together, punching stuff and finishing the run with a wind sprint.  Yes, this was one of highs we climbed together.  And yes, if he were here, every piece of equipment in this place would be fair game.  We’d mess around with it together.

All this wishing.  Wishing to be alone, wishing for the company of women, wishing for My Mister.  Wishing to be younger and stronger.  Or older and more free.  Can I actually change any of these things?  For the ones I can change, do I want them enough to take the leap?

Or do I choose this?

Wishing without action is a destructive habit.  It’s biting nails and picking at scabs.  It’s holding the fact of the terrain up against an ink-stained map of Rivendell.  It’s falling from a cliff then cursing the earth that’s caught you.

He’s not here, Smirk.  It’s just you, your grit, and your capacity to make your own bliss.

Get to it.

I touch that bubble with the tip of my courage and let it pop.

Then I slide on right past the trio of dudes, grab two 10-pound weights, and rack up.


Image: “River in a Cave,” John Spies, Thailand

 

SURJ note

In February 2015, Natasha McKenna, a 37-year old neighbor and mother, called 911.  The help she expected was not what showed up.  Instead, she was herself arrested on an outstanding warrant.  In custody, she suffered a mental health crisis.  She was restrained while naked and put into leg shackles and handcuffs.  Six Fairfax County police officers in hazmat suits put a bag over her face and tazed her four times.  She stopped breathing.  Natasha McKenna died a few days later.  The deputies responsible for her death faced no charges and continue to work in law enforcement.

Today, SURJ Northern Virginia gathered at the Fairfax County courthouse in front of the detention center where Natasha McKenna was held and brutalized.  The protest found its way to Route 123, a narrow and busy corridor through downtown Fairfax.  At 9:00am right during rush hour, we stepped out into the street and stopped traffic.  Coverage of the story is here and here and here.

The primary objective of this action was to focus enough attention to Natasha McKenna’s case that county Sheriff Stacey Kincaid will bring charges against the six officers.   The protest is also part of a larger goal: to stand with Black Lives Matter.  We need our neighbors and leaders to hear that racism and brutality are not problems somewhere out there, in Memphis or St. Louis or Ferguson.  They exist right here in our own community.

As a white person at her first racial justice action since protesting the death sentence of Mumia Abu Jamal at the 1995 governor’s convention (that’s 21 years ago, people!), I’ve got some catching up to do.

This work is about Natasha McKenna.  It is about changing structures of law enforcement and governance that dehumanize and destroy People of Color.  This work is decidedly not about me.  Yet when stepping out today, I woke up to a few things — food for thought for other allies who are considering their involvement? — about being white while working for racial justice.

Like how stark the difference between our treatment today and that of Black protestors using the same tactics in other cities.  The police who came on the scene took their time to congregate.  They kept a safe distance.  They gave us three clear warnings and articulated exactly what would happen if we refused to move.  No one touched a weapon.  No one hid under helmets or riot gear.  When they handcuffed the folks who blocked traffic, they asked if the cuffs were comfortable.  The ones under arrest were booked and released in less than an hour.  Everyone had time to get to work.

White privilege at a racial justice action means knowing that my job is safe even if I show up late, or show up on TV.  I can take personal leave or just stay after 5:00 to make up the lost hours.  Many of my co-workers, my supervisor, and even the students I serve will be supportive of my involvement in political protest.  My livelihood is secure.  I have no criminal record and I’m not on probation for any of the thousand tiny infractions that can land a Black person in jail.  Even if I get arrested, even if my name is in the news, the consequences are negligible.

White privilege at a racial justice action means I can choose whether or not to be arrested.   Both the cops and the activists know the script and the parts they play in it.  We move through the choreography.  The certainty is near total:  I’ll block traffic at 8:00 a.m. and be heading to the office by 10:00.

Being white at a racial justice action means that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the armored truck trying to turn right into me is not going to run me over.  I can plant the giant image of Natasha McKenna in front of me.  I can refuse to budge.  The driver is welcome to be as pissed off as he wants.  He can rev his engine, nudge up to me, come within 10 inches of my body, and I’m going to be safe.  The cops standing there will not let him hurt me.  There are laws in this country that protect me.  And I’m secure in the knowledge that those laws will do exactly that.

And guess what?  The Loomis truck driver growled and cussed, then backed up and shot an illegal U-turn to find an alternate way around us.

Being white at a racial justice action means that when the gal with the bullhorn clicks off the mic to confer with the cops and everyone is standing there waiting for guidance, I get to hide.  It’s a white sort of hiding.  I can stand there silent and anonymous and surrounded by 20 other silent white folks in front of double lines of cars stretching a mile in either direction.  My privilege — and the expectation of decorum and conformity — allow me to gaze off vaguely and wait until our leader is done.

Awareness of white privilege at a racial justice action is something altogether different.  It means reaffirming the commitments that brought me out.  It means calling to mind the simultaneous actions going on around the country, and remembering that the People of Color leading this work are tired.  They are always the ones on the front lines or in the line of fire.  Arrest is no joke.  Law applies differently or not at all.  They don’t have time for my timidity, my uncertainty, my need for a perfect plan.

They are why I showed up.

Ending the racism that permits the white privilege that keeps our little group of protestors safe — and its dehumanizing corollary for everyone else — means that I get to check myself.  Confusion and embarrassment are thick veins running right through the heart of the white culture I carry, particularly in the affluent, educated whiteness that is my native land.   This need to know what I’m doing before I do it, this fear of looking stupid or screwing things up, these are all part of a crippling anxiety that has no part to play in the work of liberation.

So I say to myself, you know what, Smirk?  No one knows what the hell to do. No ONE. 

No one knows how to build this thing.  No ONE. 

But you are not one today.  You are many, you are a force, you are part of an improvisation and a collaboration and a movement.

Go.

Being white at a racial justice action means stepping through the silence, opening up my  out-of-practice voice, and shouting out the call:

Black Lives Matter.  Black Lives Matter.

Black women matter.  Black women matter.

Say her name.  Natasha McKenna.

Say her name.  Natasha McKenna.

No justice.  No peace.

No racist.  Police.

Black Lives Matter.  Black Lives Matter.

Say her name.  Natasha McKenna.

A final note:  Putting down my sign at 10:00 and heading to the office, I realize with stunning clarity how goddamned much I have to learn.  Becoming more skilled, knowledgeable, and effective will take some work.  For this, I take the lead from activists and authors of color on all these fronts.  This week, I dive into this excellent Black Lives Matter reading list which curates and categorizes a number of recent pieces from folks working on racial justice.  It and others are available on Longreads.


Image:  Note from a morning commuter sent to the SURJ organizers today.

 

Show Up

People are getting live-killed on Facebook, y’all.  If we aren’t showing up now, then when?  It’s time to get out there.


SURJ Organizer, 7/10/2016

Over 70 folks came out for the SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) meeting.  They had to bring in more chairs.  After last week in America, despair and outrage have combusted into something that refuses to stay contained.

The meeting was two hours of focused, efficient movement.  We engaged in small group discussions about concrete things we’ve seen white allies do to disrupt racism and cultivate justice in our communities.  We heard from the organizers about activities that have gained traction in the first year of this young organization’s life: immigration reform, police accountability, renaming buildings that celebrate the Confederacy, and coordinating a region-wide canvas in majority white neighborhoods in the run-up to the presidential election.  We then split into breakout sessions for a deep dive into each of these areas.  Finally, we learned about the next public action planned for this coming week.

Around the country, ally organizations are stepping up to make a stand for Black Lives.  The focus is on police departments, sheriff’s offices, and Fraternal Orders of Police.  Affiliated organizations led by People of Color have put out the call to SURJ and other white allies to take bolder action on issues of police brutality.  Facing our white privilege means more than talking about it on social media.

It means showing up.

It’s time to take our horror at what happened to Philando Castile and turn it into a movement.

And what happened to Alton Sterling.

And Natasha McKenna.

And Freddie Gray.  And Trayvon Martin.  And Michael Brown.  And Eric Garner.  And Tanisha Anderson.  And Tamir Rice.  And Zamiel Crawford.  And Dominick Wise.  And Frank Shephard.  And Vincent Valenzuela III.  And the 5 Dallas police officers, some of whom had stood with the protestors before the shooting began.

And so many more, each a story.  Each a neighbor.  Each a life blown short by a force whose call to protect has gone haywire.

The organizers asked who would be there for the coming action.

At a public protest, my skin and income lower the risk of abuse to negligible.  This fact does not make me proud.

It makes me raise my hand.

It’s time to show up.


 

Water, Light

garden woman

Deadheading flowers will encourage more blooms on flowering plants. The normal goal of a plant is to flower, set seeds and die. Since we want them to continue to set flowers. . . we want to discourage flowers from setting seed. Deadheading the flower as it expires will redirect the plants energy from setting seed to creating more blooms. Additionally, keeping your plants free of dying material will discourage disease and allow more parts of your plant to receive sunlight.


From Cedar Circle Farm organic farmstand and education center

Someday I will live where I can garden naked. For now I make do with stepping out onto the balcony at daybreak, damp from a shower and dressed in enough to mask my skin’s craving.

July’s rain is nothing to its glare.  A geranium in its pink pot drinks up half the jug without draining a drop. Everyone is thirsty.

A spider bobs on filament above a mess of thyme. Every time my clumsy elbows tear loose her spun walls, she rebuilds.  I take care to duck under her strands but she knows better than to trust me.  She skitters to the safety of the railing, her back an arrow of malachite flashing through a mica shield.

The thyme has tangled itself into the rosemary.  Both started from seed two years ago.  Now they are a wild fury.  Winter buried their leggy stems, spring drowned them in pools of choked mud, and now summer burns them raw. As determined as their spider neighbor, they go on.  New strands unfurl sometime in the night.  When sun steams open the sky, tiny leaves press towards light.  They grow even when the only sustenance is a stolen sip from morning’s turgid heat.   Even left forgotten in the corner, they climb out of their barren beds and peel open their seams to free a thin, bristling marrow.

The marigolds and petunias perched up in boxes have curled in and darkened. I deadhead the withered, closing my fingertips gently around each base and letting the dry tissue fall free. It is more of a coax than a tug.  Picking blackberries requires the same light touch.  The ripe ones slip loose.  Any that resist are left to darken their bite to sugar.

Ample rain and sun have kept these blossoms in a state of perpetual return. They begin even as they end.  The petunias are tricky this way.  Bud or compost?  At a glance, it’s hard to know which are closed for good and which are waiting to open.  The only way to tell is with a tiny stroke, just enough for the purple fullness to lay its pulse against the skin. The gesture is almost imperceptible.  Does it fold itself over and surrender to its end?  Or does it flex and hold inside its cocoon of flesh?   Touch has no influence on the dormant thing, only on me.  Its signal sounds through cell, through our common organelles, that it is bud and not corpse.  I let go and step back.  Somewhere deep in its furred sepal it clings to the threads of its root, churning sustenance into the shape of itself, murmuring, here, I am here, don’t rush me, I’ll know when it’s time to wake up.


Image: “Earth Goddess” from a 2013 exhibition at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens by Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montréal