This is dedicated to those brave, badass, beautiful women who performed in The Vagina Monologues at Delta College on February 14, 2017. Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Keep loving HARD.
There is nothing meaningless here and there is nothing to be ashamed of and fear is a relentless monster and rich white boys are still getting away with rape and murder and becoming president and what the fuck is going on? But I gotta sing and I gotta dance and I gotta love harder and harder and harder. And every single day for the last three months, I listen to that country song, “Blessed” by Martina McBride in the car on the way to work and I sing SO SO LOUD and yes, it’s a bit cheezy but it reminds me how lucky, how grateful I am for the people I have: my people. It reminds me how much I have because the truth is, I have everything. I have everything. And I shouldn’t be afraid. And I shouldn’t be SO angry ALL of the time. And I’m not. I’m really not. It shocks me how very little I am truly angry. But then the anger comes and it scares me because it has never been quite so complete but then have we ever been in quite this state? I don’t know. I don’t know. When I was a little girl – maybe eleven – I learned that certain countries (mine included) amassed nuclear weapons in order to be able to respond to an attack of nuclear weapons from another country and I knew the notion was absurd at eleven! And it terrified me to think that I was obviously – at ELEVEN – wiser than these people who were in charge of the entire world’s fate. It was not the first time that I thought the entire world must be crazy – that it really didn’t make much actual sense – but it was the first time I realized that fact existed outside my own family and at the level of world powers. And so here we are. And I’ve seen other things. I sat at a table making an escape route to Canada on the chance that George Bush Sr. brought back the draft to send my boyfriend to Iraq. There was 9/11. So many other hardships that little sad-sack, soft-hearted me could take personally and find difficulty in. Every single victimization I hear about magnifies my own. I am not one of those women who finds strength in silence and living forever as if not speaking about what happened to me somehow makes me superior to women who feel they must speak. I must speak. But I appreciate that we all do whatever we must to make it through. But then, I wonder, is this “superior silence” what creates the kind of people who can turn their back on the most obviously abhorrent person becoming president? I mean, just don’t vote. Or vote for a gorilla? Or vote for an independent even though you know the vote for the independent is just going to put more votes in that evil pocket? That feeling – that you’re superior because you don’t have what you perceive to be a “weak” heart – does that mean you can shirk your responsibility to the rest of the world? I don’t know. I don’t know. There it is again, the anger. But then the sea of pink rose up just after the (gulp) inauguration and that gave me hope. Even though I was too chicken-shit to join it and I regret that. I do SO regret that. But I am so grateful to every woman and man who marched. I am so grateful that this madness, this stupid evil tidal wave of chaos and absurdity has AT LEAST brought people together, has woken people up, has gotten people’s attention. But still, I can’t sleep. Still, just constantly on edge because who knows what will happen next? No one. Which, of course, is always the case. But… well… when my father was in the right kind of peaceful mood when I was a child and he was driving, I felt safe and comfortable in the backseat, happy and cared-for and this allowed me to color in a coloring book or look for horses out the window or any number of happy things that children do BUT… when my father was in a terrible mood (which was frequent) and he was driving, I had no idea. I had no idea. He could be driving somewhere to kill me, I would think. He could intentionally get us in an accident any minute, I would think. All I could do was gaze at the road ahead and wait for what I imagined to be my painful and imminent death. And that’s really a good analogy because not only is that how our country feels to me right now but this current situation also triggers every little cellular memory in my body of what it felt like to be a child of such a man. Eggshells. Walking on eggshells – and not just – but walking on tectonic plates made of already broken eggshells and you never know when the fault-line will tremble and send you into the chaotic abyss of what… you don’t even know… just something unthinkably terrible. It’s like that every day again now and on a much bigger scale because it’s not just MY family that could fall under, it’s my entire human family that could fall under. And what? What? What? How do you deal with THAT? I’ve been speaking to my angels more frequently. Oh, I don’t know I don’t know about angels or what that means exactly but when someone goes, they don’t go from everywhere. Oh, maybe you’re a staunch atheist and you think no, really, they go from everywhere, they no longer exist. Fine fine but they’re here in my mind, my heart, my own body, my own memory so not from there – they haven’t gone from there. I ask my mother to hold me through this. Which is just what she did through my childhood. I ask my mother to give me her strength. Which is just what she did through my childhood. I never thought of my father as my angel before. I’ve always thought of him as more of a demon. His small, shrill voice still lives in my head – calling me names and telling me how pointless every single thing I do is. But, the other day, I called on his best self. I knew he was the only one who would understand the way my mind can’t stop, the way my desire to do and know and think runs in constant loop and can’t be stilled – maybe especially when it perceives threat (as it does under this “predator-in-chief” -- Eve Ensler's phrase). I asked him for his guidance. But it’s hard for me to listen to him. It’s hard for me to take him seriously or care what even his best self might say. Still, here it is. I have forgiven so much. I have opened my heart and forgiven so so much. I am trying. And he tells me to take care of myself. He tells me to not take the people around me for granted. He tells me that I can’t always trust my own mind’s need for constant movement BUT that constant movement is its own reward and I can only be who I am and I can’t be anyone else and who I am is just fine -- enough. HE tells me that? How? And what the hell am I talking about now? How is any of it connected?
Last week, I directed an entire week’s worth of sexual assault awareness and prevention programming on my campus. The months of planning. The doing. I exhausted myself. It was worth it. For this programming, over the last eight weeks, I had the honor of co-directing The Vagina Monologues and our amazingly sweet and varied and feisty and wonderful group of women suffered through the intensely personal journey of embodying the spirit of that play. And before their first performance, I told them that they were going out on that stage to say what women are told every single day that they SHOULD NOT say, they cannot say; that they were going out on the stage to speak a truth that needed to be spoken. I believe – absolutely and unequivocally – in the healing power of art to THAT degree.
Tonight, someone was raped on my campus -- according to an alert I received on my phone.
And I am thinking about the person hurting from what happened to them tonight on my campus. And my prayers are with them. And may love and light surround them. May LOVE AND LIGHT surround them.
And I’m ALSO thinking about an article I read last year about “white tears.” It was an article written by a woman of color admonishing (in the kindest way possible) white liberals for not appropriately controlling their (relatively childish) emotions when FINALLY confronting the truth about racial inequalities and injustices. When I first read it, I was slightly offended (despite how “down” I would prefer to consider myself) – perhaps, typical white liberal that I am -- because I considered tears to be a sign of empathy. I didn't get it. But then a couple of months later, I found myself at a Louder Than A Bomb National Symposium and in a session about social justice in poetry listening to a panel of black speakers – mostly women – talking about their work in Chicago and while one of them spoke, I caught myself starting to cry. But then I looked around the room and I realized no one of color was crying and melting away like I was allowing myself to do in that instant. And these were people, for the most part, who actually lived with the struggle they were discussing, actually were out in the streets making changes and leading a revolution against racist policies and actions. They had seen people die. A lot of people. They had watched their communities and families struggle in ways I couldn’t dream. But… here I was the one crying. No. That’s NOT okay. I straightened myself up. I toughened myself up and I thought about why that was…
And why that was, was aptly portrayed in the first skit of Saturday Night Live after the election in November. Dave Chappell hosted. Chris Rock cameoed in the skit. Two black men sitting around with a bunch of white liberals who were shocked as all hell that Trump was actually elected. White liberals who – for the first time ever—were considering the possibility that America is unjust, corrupt, racist, etc…. The fact is, we’ve been asleep at the wheel. We’ve let plenty of evil shit pass us by but because it was dressed up JUST enough, we said nothing, we didn’t notice. It took THIS… it took THIS shit-storm to get our sorry-ass privileged attention.
In that room that day in Chicago, with a bunch of badass poets and teachers and scholars and activists of color I realized, you can’t lead a revolution with tears in your eyes AND if you cried at every single struggle that sought to break your spirit down, you’d be doing nothing but crying. White tears – the unproductive, sentimental, self-centered manifestation of privilege – just like a bunch of white liberals sitting around getting drunk on chardonnay while watching the votes role in for a man they are SHOCKED we’ve produced at all, let alone elected.
I hurt for the person who was assaulted on my campus tonight. I hurt for every woman and girl who is assaulted every few minutes in this world.
But.. my hurt can’t help the movement to end sexual violence against women and girls. My hurt – by itself – is too soft.
What do we strive for? What is the resistance for? Why do we feel this current fear? This current confusion? This dismay? We want freedom and peace and the chance to love our beloveds without fear for their safety. Freedom is freedom from fear. Peace is a safe space to create and be who we are without fear of persecution. To create that safe space, to get that freedom it is necessary to be SO hard, so unapologetically focused toward that goal. Let hurt come when hurt is necessary and important to allow ourselves to feel. But let hurt make us stronger, more focused, sharper, more unwavering.
Now I don’t mean “hard” as in “hard-hearted.” To the contrary. This kind of work requires an astonishing openness and pliability of heart. Workers of the revolution know this already – watch them. They care so truly and so deeply for their cause that they become it. They don't need to say it. They DO it. They aren't waiting.
Bear with me: Remember how I said that I feel like a child riding in a car, whose angry, out-of-control father is driving and I have no idea what is going to happen next? Yep. EXCEPT… I am no longer a child. And I don’t depend on my dad to drive me anywhere anymore. I’m driving myself now. I’m driving myself. And if HE wants to drive his car all crazy all over the road, that’s what he’s going to do. And what am I going to do? I’m going to find ways to stop him, disrupt him or follow my own road far away from his crazy ass.
But wait? Am I talking about little t (that’s what my son calls the “predator-in-chief”) or am I talking about rapists? Or what the hell am I talking about?
It’s all one, people. It’s all the same monster. Fear. Hate. Evil. The dark side. I don’t care what you want to call it. It’s the thing driving the car I no longer have to ride in.
And I have a secret to tell you about it. It’s weak. That’s why it masquerades in big badass costumes and loud noises and towers and entourages of weak-minded followers. That’s why it hides the truth in silence. It lies. That’s the best it has.
But we have both the truth AND hard love. We have what my man, Paulo Freire calls, “profound love” which is not that weak-ass greeting card stuff but the real deal. We’ve got the kind of love that can keep moving after being smacked down a hundred-million times. The kind of love that can live through millennia of cruel hurt and institutionalized subordination and still hold its head high and lead global marches. The kind of love that knows bad things are going to continue to happen but as long as we refuse to be silent about them – or silenced about them – we are free. The kind of strong, unwavering love that is big enough and massive enough and tough enough to stop the car being driven by the mad man.
Keep Resisting, Teamies, With Hard Hard Love
(and some dancing and singing too!)