My poem “Sideshow” as a short film.

It’s amazing, actually–I’ve wanted this poem to be a film for a while. A couple of years ago, when I needed to create a video as a finalist for the Write Bloody contest, “Sideshow” was the poem I thought I would go with. (Instead, with the help of my friend Eric Wilhelm, I used “don’t take rides from strangers” and adore the results.)

But it seems a young filmmaker at Temple University named Tiffany Irene went there–and went there well! I had no idea until I noticed a tweet from Moving Poems:

Crevice from Dream On Films on Vimeo.

I love the way my friend MJ described the experience of this discovery–“It’s like your babies are growing up and sending you amazing post cards.”

Thanks, Tiffany Irene!


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Céad míle fáilte, or Welcome home.

So, I was thinking I should update, since it’s been a while and a whole lot has changed, but holy crap. It’s actually been a whole year (as of tomorrow) since last I wrote in this space. And that wasn’t really new writing. It was just writing that reflects a lot of what I was thinking about then, which is something I’m always thinking about:  home.

Well. I’m currently thinking (and writing) about home while sitting on the couch in the living room in my house in Oakland. A house that I made an offer on, sight unseen, from Texas. A house that is big and rambling and 101 years old and in need of many repairs and breath-taking and frustrating and expensive and on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, and there’s just something about that last bit–about there always being a Martin Luther King, Jr. Way or Boulevard or Drive. Always it runs through the black neighborhood, past proud brown stones or housing projects or blighted bungalows or despairing Victorians. Always it feels like the cork in the shaken bottle, both reparations for his murder and an easy boundary–a line in the sand.


In the Bay Area–in Oakland, as in many other cities around the country–neighborhoods are being redrawn, boundaries shifting. The irony of my managing to buy this house, on this street. It feels like a reclamation, a reinvestment. I am the first person in my immediate family to own a home since my great grandparents came to Chicago from Missouri sometime around the turn of the last century. My great-grandfather built his family’s house with his own two hands. When it caught fire and burned to the ground, he built it again. I saw that house when I was a child–its floors slanted, rooms in odd order. But it was still standing, 80 years after he built it. It was the greatest token of love he could give his wife and his 13 children:  a home.

At my kick-ass Realtor‘s suggestion, I wrote a letter to the sellers to tender along with the offer. I dreaded writing it–I didn’t want to write something insincere or cloying. But when I finally made myself sit down with paper and pen, what I wrote was anything but insincere. I mentioned considering buying a house in Austin, but that I couldn’t reconcile it–because Austin isn’t home:

“North Oakland is. West Oakland is. The neighborhoods in which I lived first as a child and then as an adult. The neighborhoods in which I found my dog, Java the Mutt, wandering the streets as a puppy in 2002. (She’s 11 now.) The neighborhoods in which I went door to door, getting out the vote, as an electoral volunteer in 2008. The neighborhoods in which my friends and family live—teachers and body workers and community organizers and programmers and bartenders and filmmakers. Oakland is home.”

So, I guess I’m just writing this to say that it hasn’t really sunken in yet, but I’m finally home. In a way I couldn’t imagine. In a way that means I can take care of my mother when the time comes. In a way that makes me think about raising children very differently. It feels, for the first time, like I’ve answered my own question:

Where is home? Here. It’s where I am.

It feels like I’ve given myself and my family the greatest token of love I could.

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Or, like I call it: home

in the inner city
By Lucille Clifton

in the inner city
like we call it
we think a lot about uptown
and the silent nights
and the houses straight as
dead men
and the pastel lights
and we hang on to our no place
happy to be alive
and in the inner city
like we call it

I’ve been thinking hard about what to call my poetry manuscript. It was at some point rolling around in my head as “Piano Wire” and then “The Lost Art of Garroting” because I’m morbid as fuck. Then I got a book deal with a publisher, and the editor suggested “Sleep Corrupts Her,” after one of the poems in it. And I like that poem, but I don’t love it. And I didn’t love it as a title for the book, either, though it seemed appropriate enough. Now, though, more than a year after the book deal went pear-shaped and I went back to the drawing board, both in editing and in trying to find a new publisher, that title feels even less appropriate than it did before. The book is about both the concept and the reality of home more than anything else now, and being reminded of a line by James Baldwin from Giovanni’s Room–“perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition”–has only further convinced me of this.

Thinking about home, and what it is and what it isn’t, and how and why that definition has changed for me over the years, made me pull out some old writing. The first bit below I wrote several years ago in a moment of stream-of-consciousness. The second I wrote last year, shortly after I moved to Austin, Texas with my ex-fiance, Jason. I’m hoping that revisiting these pieces will help me find a title for the book, if not a home for it.

Or for myself, for that matter.

Written in January 2005

Sleeping on my grandmother’s couch in the parlor of her Morgan Park apartment. How we battled the roaches, but they always came back. How they’d scatter when we turned on the light. Every year I ever lived in Chicago had involved roaches, but this kitchen seemed alive with them.

I was in the ninth grade. My mother had sent me from Miami Beach, where I’d been for two years, back to Chicago to punish me. Living with Nana, the most loving and stable person in my life ever, was no punishment. But after years of proclaiming that education was the most important thing in the world, I was now back in Chicago attending one of the worst high schools in the city at the time, Percy L. Julian.

Getting to school required two (three?) buses and a lot of walking in the snow. I’d forgotten how Chicago winters made your toes numb, your fingers curl up and die in useless mittens.

I couldn’t take half the classes I would have been enrolled in back in Florida; they just weren’t offered. This was a black school in a black neighborhood. The kids in my geometry class, all juniors and seniors, were suspicious of me. “Did you take summer school?” Somehow, after not coming to school for weeks, I was still ranked third in my class.

I got jumped, had my bag stolen. Twice. There were bottles thrown at me in the cafeteria. The football players protected me for a while, though I don’t know why, but eventually they too turned on me. I retreated to the library during my lunch period, where the books were yellowed with water damage and smelled of mold, read Maya Angelou and Edgar Allan Poe. I found solace in those books.

But then there were the many fire drills that drove us out coatless into 20 degree weather, always during my social studies class: Disciples from Corliss had come, set off the alarms, picked off whomever they wanted from the crowds of freezing kids. Beat them up, once or twice tossed them over the chain link fence into the Calumet Expressway. This boy in my social studies class, Harry, began harassing me during these drills, pushing me on the stairs, laughing at my unrelaxed hair, ripped jeans, thrift store shirts. Trying to smash my hands between our desks. One day I snapped, stabbed him in the arm with a pencil. “I’m gonna kick your ass,” he told me. After school, a football player from my keyboard class waited with me at the bus stop across the street while Harry and his girlfriend ran around the campus, looking for me.

After that I refused to go back to school. “My stomach hurts,” I told my grandmother each morning. “I don’t feel good.” I never felt good. Something always hurt.

I saw doctors. They couldn’t find anything. They told my grandmother my pain was psychosomatic. My exasperated grandmother put her foot down and demanded I return to school. I put my foot down and refused.

I failed all my classes that last session. Well, not all. My keyboard teacher gave me a D. “You always do good work when you’re here.”

My mother had wanted me to be tough. I remember her laughing when I told her that someone had said I “was a white girl trapped in a black girl’s body.” She’d convinced herself that this experience would be good for me. But now she gave up. I came back to Florida, enrolled at Miami Beach Senior High. That would be one of the only times I’d feel grateful to be there.

How strange it was to be lost so late in the year. The sun shone as I ran from one wing of the school to another, looking for 9th grade biology and the frog I had an appointment with.

Written in July, 2011:

We moved to Austin, Texas almost two months ago, but when people ask how long we’ve been here, I find myself saying just a month. It’s not only the nearly two weeks I spent in Edmonton, Alberta after less than ten days here–a training trip, a chance to meet my boss and the rest of my team in a blue-collar city three hours north of Calgary where, in late May and early June, the sun didn’t set until nearly 10 o’ clock at night, conspiring with my anxiety to trigger some of the worst insomnia I can remember. There’s something else keeping me from owning this place as my home.

I was the one who was restless. I’ve moved more times than I can count during my life. I can distinctly remember three different apartments with my grandmother when I was a child:  the one place near a viaduct on a gray, stark street—87th, I think. My great aunt Alene lived there with us. She had brain cancer. I remember her messing herself in the bathroom once and my grandmother cleaning up after her. I was very little then, maybe two. There were rats in the walls. I don’t remember seeing them, but my grandmother always talked about hearing them in the walls. She would stuff cotton wool and broken glass into the holes they used for access.

The next apartment was in a brownstone on 111th Street near King Drive. It had three bedrooms, high ceilings, a sparkling chandelier in the dining room, a fireplace, and gleaming wood floors. It was across from a big park that she used to take me to so that I could play on the swings. We must have lived there for two years at least; I remember my mother asking me if I wanted to go to school, and soon I was attending Happy Holidays, the preschool around the corner.  My grandmother’s brother Harry lived with us there for a while, and then her nephew Jackie. Aunt Alene lived there, too, and she died there. My mother then moved into her room, but I still slept with my grandmother. In the mornings, I would wander into my mother’s room and climb into her bed, playing with her closely cropped hair and pulling at the many gold hoops in her ears and pulling open her eyes while she was still asleep, fascinated with this woman who was my mother but seemed so strange and unfamiliar.

The tenants above us, who were closely related to the landlady, used to stampede through their apartment so that the chandelier in the dining room would swing dangerously above our heads. The landlady complained that we made too much noise. The truth was she wanted us out so that she could move another relative in. I was four years old when my grandmother gave up, and we moved further north.

Our new apartment was a small second-floor one-bedroom without a shower over the tub on Champlain near the corner of 78th Street. My aunt Barbara–who was my cousin, once removed really, but around the same age as my mother, who was an only child–lived on the first floor with her husband Joe and her two daughters, Dolly and Debra. We lived there for years–it was the last apartment I lived in with my grandmother until I moved to California to live with my mother when I was ten. She insists I lived with her in Chicago as well, but I have only a vague memory of an apartment in an elevator building somewhere on the north side where we briefly had a black puppy I named Pookie, but he bit me and I don’t think I ever forgave him. I’m not sure what happened to him after that.

The apartment on Champlain is the place I think about when I think of Chicago as my home. I was an only child like my mother, but Dolly and Debbie were like older siblings, with all that entails. Dolly had covered the wall on her side of their room with posters of Blondie and Duran Duran; Debbie and I wrote terrible rap songs together (“Me and my cuz / We are the best / She wears Gucci / and I wear Guess”) and choreographed dance moves to Michael Jackson and New Edition, and in the basement, with its chipped and cracked red and black checkered linoleum, hosted roller skating parties when our other cousins were visiting. I would always insist that we play my Disco Duck record, and they all hated it, but the portable red and white turntable we had down there belonged to me, so I got my way. I wasn’t trying to be a spoiled brat, but I was the youngest, and it only seemed fair.

We also listened to house music in that basement, and snuck down there to memorize rap songs that would have earned us whuppings had the adults known.

I went to the doctor’s office / I said, “What have I got?” / He said, “Turn around, boy, / and take this shot.” / I looked at him like he was crazy / and I said, “What? / Ain’t nobody sticking nothin’ in my butt. / He turned and said in a real deep voice, / “Have it your way if that’s your choice. / And I’ll put it down if you want me to put it / but don’t blame me if it turns into a foot / extended from the middle of your body / and the next time you see your cute hottie / you won’t be able to screw / the only thing you can do / is just kick her, so go take karate. / As I turned around to receive my injection / I said, “Next time, I’ll use some protection. / If I see a pretty girl and I get an erection / I’m walking in the other direction. / Cuz I don’t want to do the sick-sick dance / so I’m keeping my prick inside my pants / So if I see another girl, and I know I can rock her / before I put up, I’ll make her go see the doctor. 

– Kool Moe Dee

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I could write about what happened when I moved to California to live with my mother and her girlfriend Joanne, and I probably will. But right now, I’m just thinking about the concept of home, and whether I feel like I ever had one. Jason can’t remember living in any other house growing up than the one his parents still live in in Fremont. This is the first time in his thirty four years that he’s ever lived anywhere but the Bay Area. He got homesick while living in the dorms at San Francisco State, and that was just half an hour across the bridge from his family. I’ve moved around a lot, and more so when I lived with my mother. I wondered sometimes if she was allergic to stability or simply incapable of providing it. Later, after we had moved to Miami Beach, whenever we’d move, she’d get rid of all the furniture she’d bought for the previous apartment. We’d still have beds and dressers, usually, but the living space would be empty for months until she suddenly had some other big, used sofa and dining room table delivered. In the interim, we’d retreat to our rooms. In retrospect, I think she kept the living space devoid of furniture so that we couldn’t comfortably share it. Not that it was often that more comfortable when we had a couch. We were just not comfortable with each other.

Despite all my moving around, I lived in the Bay Area longer than any other place–ten years. And I was there for two years as a child and then for eight months in my early twenties after I took a leave of absence from Cornell. But this ten-year stretch–though I bounced back and forth between San Francisco and Oakland–was significant. On my own, I sought out the family I hadn’t had since I was ten, roller skating in the basement with Debbie, playing in the backyard under the apple tree my grandmother mined for fruit to use in pies and apple butter until it was struck by lightning one summer night during a storm. In the Bay Area, and really in my last few years there, after moving to Oakland and deciding I had no interest in going back to the expensive and whitewashed city on the other side of the bridge, I felt like I had found home.

And yet, here I sit in an apartment in Austin, in a living room without a couch. I said for a long time that after spending my teen years in Miami, I would never again live below the Mason-Dixon line. Visiting Austin over the last decade–for the National Poetry Slam in 1998 and game developer conferences and then SXSWi–I recognized it as a special place, and it went on a list in the back of my always restless mind of places I could see myself living someday. It was still below New York, which on some level will always feel like home even though I’ve never lived there, but Austin remained a possibility if the stars were somehow to align. But now I’m here, and I’m missing my friends–my family–back in the Bay Area more than I ever thought I would and also feeling like an alien here in this place of blindingly bright sunshine and 102 degree days which, while the most liberal city in the state of Texas, is still in the state of Texas. I’m wondering how long this place will take to feel like home, or if it ever will. Maybe we’re here because on some level, like my mother, I’m allergic to stability. After all, we got rid of our sofas before we left the Bay Area and haven’t gotten a new one yet….


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On synchronicity and anger.

When I was in college, I noticed a certain… synchronicity with my classes. Regardless of what I was studying at any given time–a French literature class on the history of Jews in France, a government course on racism in the United States, literature of the British Restoration–I would notice connections between the subject matter even when those connections were not obvious. Sitting at my computer writing an essay for one course, I would suddenly have a light bulb moment and leap across the room to grab a volume from my bookcase that I’d been reading for a different class entirely. I felt my brain yawn and stretch as the world around me began to make a different kind of sense.

This was especially true of my final year at Cornell, after taking a leave of absence and nearly leaving the school due to depression, lack of money, and being entirely fed up with the racism that was rampant on campus from students and faculty alike. I returned in 1998 to the same racism, poverty, and depression. Yes, there was the day I went to speak with a white professor during her office hours about ensuring a spot in her class, which explored Shakespeare from a feminist perspective and she literally jumped when she opened the door. I’d knocked and waited when she said, “Just a minute.” But she still jumped when she saw me standing there with my short dreadlocks, JNCO jeans, and hoodie and then made many excuses for why I shouldn’t take the course, as it was a senior seminar (I was a senior), English majors received priority (I was an English major), and we were two weeks into the semester. (I’d been attending the class since Day One and had done all the reading but was still not officially on the roster. I ended up taking that Restoration class instead.)

Since college, I’ve continued to come across these moments of synchronicity. Unlike in college, these revelations don’t earn me a spot on the Dean’s List. They only confirm that which for so many years before college I never wanted to confirm: just how deeply entrenched racial animus continues to be in American culture.

When I last wrote frequently in this journal, we were gearing up for the election of the first African American president. I watched slack-jawed as women I had read and idolized as a young, budding feminist let their unacknowledged white privilege and, in some cases, white supremacy, ooze onto the digital pages of the Huffington Post, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. I again leapt to my bookcase, to grab Angela Davis’s Women, Race & Class, George Lipsitz’s The Possessive Investment in Whiteness, Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum’s “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” and Other Conversations About Race. That a racist dog-whistle was in heavy use by the GOP (and at times Hillary Clinton’s own campaign) was galling, but again, only confirmed much of what I had learned both while studying history and during my own 32 years as a black woman in America.

And so now.

Three years after the Oscar Grant shooting. Three years after I ended a relationshipwith a white man who couldn’t conceal his contempt for black people being angry about the shooting and believed sympathy should lie with the white cop, who clearly had the worse day of his life when he killed an unarmed, restrained black man on a cold, BART platform in full view of a train full of passengers on New Year’s Day. Three years since I watched Barack Obama’s inauguration with my heart in my mouth and then watched hisfirst dance with Michelle with tears in my eyes. Three years since I contended with a police officer in Oakland who didn’t believe I could possibly have an innocent NPR driveway moment like so many white people do in my car outside my own apartment.

It’s been three years, and I’m living in Austin, Texas now, working for a game company again.

On, March 25, I went to a coworker’s wedding. I had a pretty good time despite the aunt who said in front of me that there were a “lot of angry coloreds” in Vegas the last time she went. I looked at her, and she looked at me, and it seemed to dawn on her that she’d said something wrong. But it took her three tries to say, “Blacks! A lot of blacks!” and I couldn’t even be angry.

Why couldn’t I be angry? Why couldn’t I, [info]fightingwords, Queen of the Taint Kick, Worshipper of Tire Irons, be angry?

I couldn’t be angry at this old, drunk woman from Lockhart because Shaima Alawadiwas dead, her head actually beaten in with a tire iron in her own El Cajon, CA home and a note calling her Iraqi refugee family terrorists and telling them to go back to their country left beside her body. I couldn’t be angry because Kenneth Chamberlain, a 68-year-old veteran was Tasered and then shot to death by New York police officers responding to a medical alert call at his White Plains home–and though the entire episode was recorded, police officers have yet to be charged. I couldn’t be angry because Rekia Boyd was shot in the head in my hometown of Chicago by an off-duty cop who claimed a man near her had pointed a gun at him when he rolled up in an unmarked car to scold a bunch of adults for hanging out in a park after dark. (No gun has been recovered, and according to the supposed gunman, who was shot in the hand, the policeman admitted he fired because he thought his cell phone was a weapon.) I couldn’t be angry because Anna Brown died on a cold, jail cell floor in St. Louis, MO after being denied treatment by staff at the local hospital because they assumed that the homeless black woman was just seeking drugs and had her arrested for trespassing.

And then there’s Trayvon Martin. Do I even need to talk about this?

I grew up in Florida. I went to junior and senior high school in Miami Beach, where I can say from experience that being Hispanic (or Latino) does not in anyway exempt one from participating in anti-black racism. It is to understate things to say that one of my my best friends in high school was forbidden to speak to me. To say it plain, upon meeting me for the first time when Chris and I came to pick her up from work, his mother refused to acknowledge my presence and cursed (in Spanish) all the way back to Treasure Island, where we all lived. She pulled over on a busy road to let me out of the car instead of pulling into the circular driveway in front of my high-rise even though she had to drive past it to get to their apartment building a block and a half away. She threw his clothes out of their second-floor windows, took away his keys to her car, and hung up on me whenever I phoned Chris after that night. Chris and his mother were Chilean. The police officer who shot and killed a black motorcyclist in Miami in 1989, a year after my mother and I moved there and which led to three days of rioting, was Colombian. And everyone knows that race has always played a huge role, and sometimes a deadly one, in Latin America…right? Why is it so surprising that the racism of Central and South America (and the Caribbean) dovetails neatly with our domestic variety, and especially in the south?

On March 26, two days after I saw the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ novel,Jezebel published an article entitled “Racist Hunger Games Fans Are Very Disappointed” about the outcry on Twitter (though it was also alive and well on Facebook) from fans who not only lack reading comprehension skills but were upset that some of their favorite characters from the trilogy were played by black actors in the record-breaking film. Notable among the hundreds of comments and tweets are those by @sw4q and @JashperParas, respectively:

“Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blonde innocent girl you picture”

“Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad #ihatemyself”

It’s also worth noting that not all the table-flipping over casting choices came from white fans.

On March 27, Stephanie Eisner published a political cartoon about the Trayvon Martin shooting in University of Texas at Austin’s student paper, the Daily Texan. Stephanie Eisner is a student at UT, and unlike my coworker’s relative at the wedding, can’t possibly be a relic of a time in which it was ever acceptable to refer to black people as “colored,” regardless of her position on the media coverage of Martin’s killing. And yet.

On March 28, a black burlesque performer in the Bay Area, Dorian Faust, posted to her Facebook page:

“white burlesque performers: no it is not okay for you to do a song that has the n-word in it repeatedly. sorry. start shit on my page if you want to, i’m done with it.


Nearly immediately came the condemnation of the “n-word” by white commenters of any usage of the term, by anyone. Few commenters addressed the actual situation about which Dorian posted–white performers using songs rife with the word “nigger.” But many chimed in to add their $.02 that the word itself is ALWAYS off-limits, no matter who is using it, as though their own commitment to this, the laziest aspect of anti-racism, is only conditional, as though if we call each other “nigger,” they feel entitled to call us nigger, too. No one actually said this, but more than 70 comments in, it’s become quite clear that this is the prevailing notion.

Listen. There are black people in this world who may call me their nigger, and it sounds like “sister,” feels like an embrace, lets me know I’m home. But that word in the mouths of white people, whether they are singing along with Patti Smith, John Lennon, or a song they heard on a contemporary radio station, will always trigger within me dread and a fear for my personal safety. Yet, it seems that some white people have decided that the only way they will promise not to say “nigger”–people who have never been bought, sold, raped, lynched, harassed by law enforcement, or turned down for housing or a job while a white person uttered that word–is if I promise not to say it, either. Because they find it offensive. And isn’t white people’s discomfort with anti-black racism (and the ways we’ve learned to deal with it) the most important thing ever?

On March 30, the Internet lit up with video of GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum seemingly calling President Barack Obama a “government nigger.” Well, okay. He didn’t say “nigger.” He said, “nih” and then caught himself. (One of the best comments I’ve seen on this is “I guess ‘nih’ is a derogatory term for ‘blah’ people.“) Aside from nearly dying of not-surprise from yet another slip of the tongue from the GOP candidate who has spent weeks lambasting Obama for daring to use a teleprompter during his speeches, this moment simply brought into focus the last few weeks of rage-worthy news. The Republican Party has dispensed with the racist dog-whistle and bought a vuvuzela. That, or they just watched Blazing Saddles for the first time.

My friend and former coworker B.J. West posted on Facebook several days ago, “I am beginning to think that the stability of the United States for the last 100 or so years was solely due to the lack of high-speed communications technology.”

And I do not disagree. While I am grateful for my access to information, I am also very clear that right now, I am walking a tightrope. It is not true that I was not angry at that wedding when that woman referred to black people as “coloreds.” I just couldn’t let myself be angry. It was not the time.

I was angry. And I am angry that my enjoyment of The Hunger Games was cut short by the realization that at least one of the people watching it at the Alamo Drafthouse with me was probably aghast that a character he or she had grown to love, and had mourned, looked like me. (While there have been a couple of hundred comments identified online of people who feel this way, it’s safe to assume they represent a more common, but unvoiced, perspective.)

I am angry that the idea that white people are always innocent–and that black people never are–is why Trayvon Martin (and Rekia Boyd and Kenneth Chamberlain and Anna Brown) is dead right now, and that their character is being posthumously trashed to justify their deaths.

I am angry that in the comments to news stories about Shaima Alawadi’s murder, there are white people claiming that this obviously ethnically-motivated killing wasn’t ethnically motivated at all–that someone left those racist notes to throw the police off their trail. (People on the internet not only lack reading comprehension but also have never heard of Occam’s razor.)

I am angry that supposed white and non-black “allies” in the burlesque community have made it clear over the last three days that they are only willing to commit to not calling me a nigger if I censor myself because otherwise, it’s just too damn tempting.

There is information. There is synchronicity. And there is anger. And in these post-Livejournal days, I am trying to figure out what do with all of them.

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Natural disasters

Just watched an interview of former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Nagin’s promoting his new book, Katrina’s Secrets; Storms After the Storm, Vol. 1. What was interesting was Stewart calling him out on his own lack of preparation for what followed the storm, but I found myself responding with anger so much as an understanding I didn’t have before.

I have always lived somewhere rife with natural disasters. I was born in Chicago and spent the first ten years of my life with regular tornado warnings. I then moved to the Bay Area, where I learned that an earthquake could feel something like a truck rumbling past our apartment building. Right before I started junior high school, my mother and I moved to Miami Beach, Florida; Hurricane Andrew hit while I was visiting my grandmother back in Chicago the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, and when I returned a week or so later, the many-ton air conditioning unit of our 500+ unit high rise on the Intercoastal Waterway had been blown off the roof, there were still trees down all over the city, and we had to boil water to drink. My mother spent the next year working for FEMA in Homestead, the little town of trailer parks that had taken the brunt of the storm. When I came home for the summer after my first year of college in Ithaca, where there was always a risk of ice storms and blizzards, I split a studio apartment across the street from the Atlantic Ocean with a friend from high school and was subjected to a mandatory evacuation as Hurricane Erin launched itself first at South Florida before landing in Vero Beach.

After college, I moved to California. I lived in Los Angeles for two years and the moved back to the Bay Area for what would have made ten years this August had Jason and I not relocated to Austin. Our first weekend here, there were tornado warnings two counties north of us as deadly storms struck all over the south.

Listening to Ray Nagin tonight, it something occurred to me that hadn’t before. Jon Stewart questioned him as to why the city hadn’t prepared for the kind of damage and need that came after the storm, and he said, frankly, because it hadn’t happened before. Taking a quick gander at Twitter right now, I see a number of people clowning Nagin, but I get it. Why? Because of Japan. And because people still live in San Francisco.

Japan–earthquakes are not new there, but no one anticipated what happened earlier this year, or the extent of the damage that the ensuing tsunami would cause.  Japan is one of the best prepared countries in the world when it comes to natural disasters, but still, what happened there in March was inconceivable. Similarly, it was not Katrina herself but the flood that followed that made the situation in on the Gulf Coast in 2005 so dire.

And what does this have to do with San Francisco? Well, people still live there. It’s not because they don’t know that The Big One is going to hit eventually (an earthquake that won’t be the same kind of quake that hit Japan, for geological reasons, but still The Big One). It’s because… it hasn’t happened yet.

Now imagine that San Franciscans were evacuated two, three times a year because there was going to be an earthquake, but that quake was never The Big One. That is the reality of those who live in both Hurricane Alley and tornado country. We watch the news, we see the warnings, and if we have the means or our municipalities the resources to help us, we evacuate. But the storm is never as big as it is supposed to be.

People continue to live in earthquake zones with the knowledge that doing so is inherently fraught with danger. But we don’t spend six months of every year hearing that The Big One is coming in two days. Perhaps if we did, and it never came, we would stop evacuating, too. Especially if we couldn’t afford to.

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Can’t Stay Good

My friends have this band called Vagabondage, and they’re kinda A Big Deal. Most recently, they’ve released this remix of their song “Can’t Stay Good” by Mixman Shawn, and I’m beyond digging it.

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“A long time ago, we used to be friends.”

J and I have been watching Veronica Mars all week on Netflix. It’s the first time I’ve seen it since it originally aired. I’d forgotten how good it was–and particularly the first season. (I was less interested in the second season, which faltered in some serious ways; I don’t remember if I watched the third at all, though I also didn’t have a television then and was at the mercy of others’ ability to download torrents.) But it’s been fun to watch it again without thinking of it so much as as methadone following my years-long addiction to the heroin(e) known as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which ended the year before Veronica started.

One last comparison, though. This show really does take me back to high school, when I loved bad boys. Logan Echolls is hot (and really well acted by Jason Dohring, who manages to capture the mischievousness and sensitivity of the character instead of turning him into a one-dimensional asshole). On the other hand, Teddy Dunn as Duncan Kane is so boring, I keep thinking to myself, “God, he’s such a fucking Riley.”

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Plan 9

Some days, I need to listen to good music to get me through the hours. Today is one of those days, and some of the music to which I return again and again is this archive of a December 20, 2002 episode of Garth Trinidad’s “Chocolate City” on KCRW, Santa Monica’s public radio station. Plan 9, hailed by Trinidad as an unsung hero of hip-hop, plays one of the most incredible sets of music I’ve ever heard.


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Naomi Wolf: The latest contributor to “Caught in the Undertow”

So, back during the 2008 presidential election campaign, after witnessing such mind-bogglingly bad politics in writing by so many well-respected feminist Clinton supporters, it occurred to me that I should publish an anthology called “The Second Wave: Caught in the Undertow.” I’d forgotten about that tag to some extent until today, while pouring over the “#MooreandMe” campaign on Twitter. (For a quick rundown on what that is, read this article on by Sady Doyle, who began the campaign on Twitter and her own blog, Tiger Beatdown.)

Right now, I don’t really want to talk about Michael Moore, and his entirely misinformed and irresponsible behavior over the last week. Suffice to say, he repeated obvious and already-debunked untruths about the rape allegations against Wikileaks figurehead Julian Assange, helped further publicize the names of the accusers, and openly mocked the accusations.

Nor do I really want to talk about Keith Olbermann, who, like Michael Moore, further spread misinformation about the allegations and about the women accusing Assange of assault, and since has given us all an object lesson in how to completely alienate a bunch of your fans and also undermine your own credibility with the handy-dandy tool known as Twitter.

I don’t even want to talk about whether or not Assange raped those women. Because that’s not even the point here. The point is two women reported having been assaulted and have since been publicly named and smeared. Whether or not the investigation of Assange is politically-motivated is also not what I want to talk about right now. I believe it is, most definitely, because generally no one gives this much of a shit when a woman reports being assaulted. But, again, that’s not what I want to talk about.

No, the person I want to talk about right now is Naomi Wolf.

Back in the olden days, Naomi Wolf was my hero. This was back when I was a junior in high school, and I chose to read her first book, The Beauty Myth, for my humanities class. I was blown away by her words, even those that I would realize later, when I was a more seasoned feminist, were problematic and really not about all women and definitely not women like me. But that was later. At the time, it was Naomi Wolf and her book who began to form the foundation of my blossoming feminism.

About a year after I read The Beauty Myth, I was raped. I was raped by a boy I knew, who lived in my building, with whom I’d made out. I was raped when this boy locked me in his room and held me down on his bed and put a pillow over my head until I stopped struggling. When it was clear that running for the door and saying no and putting up a physical fight wasn’t going to get me out of being raped, I asked him to at least put on a condom. The only thing I wanted less than to be raped was to be impregnated or given HIV while being raped.

At the time, I knew it was rape, and yet I didn’t know. I knew I’d had no choice, and yet I blamed myself anyway. I was angry that he’d taken my virginity and ashamed of myself. I told no one about it for years.

(Apparently, the boy didn’t realize he raped me, either. On Thanksgiving of this year, a full 17 years later–half my lifetime–he contacted me via Facebook as though we were just old friends who had fallen out of touch. As though he hadn’t raped me.)

But back to Naomi Wolf, my first feminist hero. Since I read The Beauty Myth, my reading list has expanded a lot. Wolf has been displaced by bell hooks and Audre Lorde. “Feminist” has been slowly purged from the ways I identify myself after years and years of being alienated by white feminists. My disgust with trying so hard to belong to a movement that has made it clear it doesn’t want me as a member has led me to abandon mainstream feminism and look for more inclusive communities committed to the goals of dismantling the kyriarchy, not simply replicating patriarchy when it benefits them to do so.

But all that said, it still never occurred to me that Naomi Wolf would at some point rewrite the definition of rape for the sole purpose of protecting a leftist man accused of rape. It never occurred to me that Wolf would actually fix her mouth to say that having unprotected sex with someone who is asleep counts as consensual sex. It never occurred to me that Wolf would say that having unprotected sex with someone who is asleep and has made it clear while awake that she will not have unprotected sex is consensual.

But she did.

No, really. She did. Really. Click that link. There’s video.

What’s really disturbing here, aside from the actual case in question, is Wolf’s implication that if a woman does not specifically say “no” to sex, she’s consenting. The absence of “no” is consent. The absence of “no” is “yes.” Our default position on someone having sex with us is apparently one of consent.

So, apparently when I’m sitting on the couch with my fiancé watching television, I’m saying yes to sex. When I’m sitting at my desk in my office, I’m consenting to sex. When I’m driving across the Bay Bridge, walking to the BART station, eating dinner at the Mexican restaurant a couple of blocks away, I’m saying yes to sex. I’m always, ALWAYS, consenting to sex. Always. Until I say no.

Thanks, Naomi, for clarifying.

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Two special interest groups enter, one group leaves.

When I awoke this morning, hung over after a great Friday night that involved my company holiday party followed by singing at the Shoebox Studio Winter Showcase which was then followed by the Hubba Hubba Revue Chris-manukkah Spectacular, I rolled over to look at the clock on my nightstand and picked up my phone, charging beside the bed.

I opened Facebook and saw six posts in a row, all fewer than five minutes old, celebrating the imminent repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The seventh post was about the defeat of the DREAM Act by House Republicans.

I couldn’t really get that excited about this “victory” for LGB* civil rights–a victory that revolves around participation in the U.S. military will always feel hollow to me–but what struck me was how obvious it seemed that this victory was a quid pro quo for demolishing the first progressive legislative attempt at immigration reform we’ve seen in at least a decade.

A friend of mine put it this way: “In 2010, the Senate IS Thunderdome.”

*Aside from the extent to which the T is casually tacked on without any regard for whether or not gender-queer and trans people, much less their concerns or best interests, are actually included, the abolition of DADT still doesn’t protect transgender people. You’d need to go to Australia or Canada for that.

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