Art can elucidate.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Friday, March 12, 2010
In August 1977 I went to the second Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. It was my first (of many times) to attend, and the festival's first time on "the new land", which is now the only land in most women's memory since they've been gathering there every August since for 35 years now.
I had been to a Texas women's campout organized by Austin dykes in the summer of 1975, and a women's music festival in Stillwater, Oklahoma earlier that summer of '77. They had been revelatory experiences, but nothing could have prepared me for Michigan. I am who I am today because of Michigan: Because gathering together for four days in a self-constructed town with thousands of other women who have survived girlhood was an experience you can find nowhere else on this planet, or in the known history of humanity.
I was rubbed raw the entire time but in the best of ways. No two women were alike, and the incredible diversity made it clear what a horrific lie we have been raised to believe about the nature of girlhood and womanhood. Escaping overt male-conditioned beliefs about who we "ought" to be, even in a temporary and limited form, reshaped my brain permanently. It was safe to be what "they" said we were not, should not be. The little girls who ran in ecstatic packs had no risk at all from predation, and that experience transformed my daughter as well.
Because, let's be clear, the children of lesbians have the lowest incidence of child abuse in the entire world. Statistically much, MUCH lower.
At some point, either on the main stage or the daystage, a lanky blonde dyke got up with her guitar and sang
"Well I went out last week and cut my hair to the boneBy that time we were screaming with joy. Her name was Kitty Barber, and she went on to finish singing what she called "The Pancake Blues":
Suddenty you don't call me on the phone.
Well, that's okay, I got a real good book,
Think I'll stay home and eat what I cook.
"Yes, I wear a leather jacket one night.
And later on, you're gettin' all uptight.
Why don't you just go out and find someone else.
I'm doin' fine right here admiring myself."
"When I make up a batch of pancakesI only heard that song the one time but I memorized most of it. Many times in later years I'd hear dykes drop key lines -- especially "Take my word, it makes no difference in the taste" or "If the package ain't too pretty, it's because I'm not for sale" -- and laugh together knowingly. The next day at the festival, I paid someone with buzzers working from a stump near the front of the main stage to buzz my hair for the first time, "cutting it to the bone". I never looked back from that act of empowerment,
And they don't come out all round and flat and straight;
I eat 'em anyway, because I don't believe in waste.
Take my word, it makes no difference in the taste.
"Yes, I am just what I appear to be.
I'm not trying to be a man, I'm nuch too busy bein' me.
I am who I am and look how I look.
And baby, I eat what I cook.
"Just last night, I tried to fry myself an egg,
But the yoke got broke and it got scrambled anyway.
It looked a little funny, but why throw it away?
It tasted a whole lot like a puffy souffle!
"So tell me, do you think that this is bad?
Then how come it matters to you how I am clad?
If you don't like the cover, do you throw away the book;
Don't you open it up and take a second look?
"Oh no, I'm not tryin; to be a male.
If the package ain't too pretty, it's because I'm not for sale.
I am who I am and look how I look.
And baby, I eat what I cook --
Oh, yes I do --
Baby, I eat what I cook!"
It was devastating to leave the festival, to re-enter a world where we were not full human beings. The car I was riding in stopped at a small cafe in the nearest town that Monday morning, to eat breakfast and delay our shock. The cafe was full of dykes with the same idea, and a few hostile and stunned local men. We shared a table with strangers, one of whom turned out to be Kitty Barber, of all people. We ordered coffee, cokes, sausage, all the addictions we'd not had for four days, but when they arrived, they didn't taste as good as I had hoped. There was a price tag attached, I suddenly understood.
A plate of white bread was set down in the middle of our table, and we stared at it. Kitty Barber picked up a slice, holding it in the air, and said slowly "Wonder Bread: You wonder why they call it bread." We began laughing hysterically as she wadded it into a gummy ball and set it back down on the plate. "Baby, I eat what I cook" was my thought.
I put that song into my novel Ginny Bates, in the chapter here titled More Life With Two Bright Children.
So you can imagine my amazed thrill when last night, as I glanced at the comments on the Michigan FB wall, there was the name Kitty Barber and a photo of her. Looking much the same as then, plus 35 years. I immediately friended her and she wrote me back yes this morning, saying "Wow, what a time we had, eh?"
I wrote about it at Facebook and heard more from Kitty (as well as Liza Cowan, who was also at the festival that summer). Kitty said said she had recorded her song on an album named "Gay And Straight Together", produced by the one and only Ginni Clemons in 1980 for Folkways Records.. I found this online, you can view the album cover here and buy the album for yourself.
Even better, I've now purchased this track and made it available for you to hear! Click on Kitty Barber singing "The Pancake Blues" to listen.
Here is Kitty's memory of the event:
'August '77...I'm a worker at the festival, stayed for weeks and weeks (things were a little looser then) and on Thursday night,, Ginni Clemmons is supposed to open the first night. I'm hanging around the stage, and Ginni's partner runs up to me to say that "Ginni can't go on yet. She wants you to sing a song or two. That pancake song." OK, no problem. Grab my guitar, get tuned up, when LV says to me, "Kitty, can you take these garbage bags out of here?"Baby, we still eat what we cook.
"Sure, but I have to sing first."
I thought she would faint. But it all went off smoothly; I sang "The Pancake Blues", Ginni came up, I hauled the garbage, and a good time was had by all.'
I was reading Konagod's blog just now and his jonesing for french fries because it's been over a week since he had solid foo. I thought to myself "I went 10 days without food during the gut explosion incident." I had to go look at a calendar to make sure I wasn't mythologizing myself.
I got a grocery delivery the early evening of Sunday, Oct. 11. I was anticipating its arrival because I was hungry, had gone more than a day without food, because I had no money and no way to go get food on my own. The first thing I did was sit down and eat a handful of tortilla strips with some spinach dip and a glass of orange juice -- enough to give me quick, healthy energy. I saved the rest of my hunger for a real meal and began trying to haul the bags of groceries to my kitchen. That is when the final hernia rupture took place. I left perishables on the dining room floor and went to lie down from the sudden pain, hoping it would subside as it had before over the preceding year.
And, of course, the reason why these episodes of severe abdominal pain and vomiting had gone untreated by me for a year is because I had no insurance, no money to pay for an office visit or even to get transportation to a health facility. I didn't know what was wrong with me, had guessed it might be my gall bladder and so was trying to address it with a diet revision. I had not an inkling that it was two hernias slowly extruding through abdominal muscle and strangling my colon -- nor of the carcinoid tumor sitting like a time bomb in my appendix.
Lying down didn't help. I began puking every 15 minutes, and at midnight gave up on working a shift that night but couldn't get to my computer or phone to call in. I had water and gatorade by my bed, and tried to stay hydrated by sipping at it periodically, but vomited back up anything I swallowed.
Things get hazy after that. All my memories are of agony in the dark, but it couldn't have been dark all the time those two days. I know for a fact that I called EMS at 2 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 14, and since I had to get to my phone anyhow, I composed an email to Jesse giving all my passwords, emergency info, etc -- don't know how I did that, either, but the email is there.
I think I called Jesse, too, but I don't remember talking to him. Somehow I found and put on clothes that were nearby. I couldn't get to underwear or my shoes, so I greeted the paramedics without those items. Didn't have my wallet, either, but I was on sheer mercy by that point. The only thing in my pocket was my front door key. I didn't say goodbye to Dinah. I had no idea I'd be gone three weeks -- time had stopped for me.
Why I finally called the paramedics, instead of dying in the dark, is that I prayed to my mama. I had been trying to find a position where the pain would let up just a fraction, enough to give me a minute of rest. I think I said out loud "I'm in trouble this time, Mama. You gotta help me." And instantaneously the pain got much, much worse. I interpreted this as her saying "I can't help you, you have to ask somebody else." So I did.
I was at the ER by 3 a.m., where the angelic Lisa gave me Zofran and Dilaudid, erasing my agony within seconds. I remember being transferred to the 2nd floor only because of the nurse who was there, who kept calling me baby girl. That nurse is who tried to pass a nasogastric tube through my right nostril. Her attempts were not working, and when my right side was bloodied amd she was switching to my left nostril, I took the tube from her and did it myself. A feat I'm not likely to ever repeat, but it earned me a lot of street cred on that floor.
The NG tube began pumping out copious amounts of green gunk, more than seemed possible. I had an internal lake of backlogged bile from my halted alimentary canal, and removing it vastly helped my nausea. But they decided to let that process have a little time to work, keeping me on a push IV. The NG tube and oyxgen began drying out my mucous membranes. I remember I had five tubes and/or monitors in me because Jesse and I joked about me being "Five-Line Girl".
They gave me a tightly rationed amount of ice chips as my mouth and lips dried out. It became difficult for me to talk, and my lips began cracking. I wanted liquid, but I was vehemently not hungry at that point. It was fine with me if I never ate again. Eating meant vomiting. You never quite appreciate the miracle of your digestive system until it completely quits on you.
I had a couple of Dilaudid days because I also can verify I didn't have surgery until the early morning of Friday the 16th. I have a crystal clear memory of being prepped in the surgical suite, the older and extremely competent nurses around me, feeling beyond fear because it was get fixed or die. I also remember waking up, a calm dykey looking nurse telling me "All good, you wanna call anyone?" and me moving my body to see if there was any pain, but she was right, it was all good. More ice chips until I passed gas, then had a BM, which took three days.
The dryness of my mouth started making me miserable despite the Dilaudid. I was also hallucinating my ass off for a couple of days, which I kept to myself, not even telling Jesse. I saw ghosts in my ICU room 24/7, walking in and out the walls, and I decided they were hallucinations, not real ghosts, because one of them was a little girl in a long dress and a bonnet but that hospital was too modern to have an old-fashioned ghost like that, so it was all in my head. They were some sort of company and I didn't mind them much.
Once I started having BMs, though, the ice chips and IV were not enough, I was craving water, milk, juice, soup. It was on Wednesday the 21st that the tech finally got permission to give me something besides ice chips. Veronica, that was Veronica, I adored her. Hard-bitten and expert, teased me a lot because, as she put it, I was the only one in that ICU section who wasn't out of my mind. She came into the room holding a massive rainbow-striped popsicle, all artificial colors and fake sugar, the kind of thing I'd never buy for myself. But it looked like glory at that moment. She unwrapped it for me and I took one bite, then moaned, which embarrassed us both. She sneaked me another one before her shift ended.
I got sick of the popsicles within two days, so it was at least another two days before I got progressed on to lemon jello for a day, then finally beef broth which was truly excellent, they made it from scratch there in a real kitchen. Anyhow, it was 10 days without anything but ice chips, and another five days before I got the beef broth. But I was on Dilaudid most of that time, which makes it a lot easier, Konagod. You have my sympathy fer sure.
[To read Jesse's posts here as this all unfolded, beginning on October 14th, read Maggie Jochild In Hospital For Major Abdominal Surgery and then proceed forward. Eventually I was able to write as well and Jesse took those posts as dictation, got them up for me. Then Liza sent me a netbook at the hospital and I was back online -- that netbook is my lifeline in bed now, is what I use to write this and everything else. I have food and meds, rent and utilities, only because people send me money each month. Most days, I find joy in being around. Thank you for keeping me.]
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Every Thursday, I post a very large photograph of some corner of space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and available online from the picture album at HubbleSite, followed by poetry after the jump.
THE OLD NEIGHBORS
by Katha Pollitt
The weather's turned, and the old neighbors creep out
from their crammed rooms to blink in the sun, as if
surprised to find they've lived through another winter.
Though steam heat's left them pale and shrunken
like old root vegetables,
Mr. and Mrs. Tozzi are already
hard at work on their front-yard mini-Sicily:
a Virgin Mary birdbath, a thicket of roses,
and the only outdoor aloes in Manhattan.
It's the old immigrant story,
the beautiful babies
grown up into foreigners. Nothing's
turned out the way they planned
as sweethearts in the sinks of Palermo. Still,
each waves a dirt-caked hand
in geriatric fellowship with Stanley,
the former tattoo king of the Merchant Marine,
turning the corner with his shaggy collie,
who's hardly three but trots
arthritically in sympathy. It's only
the young who ask if life's worth living,
notMrs. Sansanowitz, who for the last hour
has been inching her way down the sidewalk,
lifting and placing
her new aluminum walker as carefully
as a spider testing its web. On days like these,
I stand for a long time
under the wild gnarled root of the ancient wisteria,
dry twigs that in a week
will manage a feeble shower of purple blossom,
and I believe it: this is all there is,
all history's brought us here to our only life
to find, if anywhere,
our hanging gardens and our street of gold:
cracked stoops, geraniums, fire escapes, these old
stragglers basking in their bit of sun.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
One of the questions you will have to ask yourself with your first post as a blogger is how you will deal with comments. I don't personally know any bloggers who say they would allow absolutely any kind of comment, no matter what it contained. For one thing, you'd run afoul of possible lawsuits and legal liability from the free blog-offering sites that many of us use. If, however, you intend to exercise no moderation at all, this essay is not meant for you.
For the rest of us, we require an ethos of moderation, and this will derive from your intention as a blogger: Why are you writing? What do you hope to accomplish? If education, sharing resources, encouraging community and shared growth are among your goals, your ethos of moderation should facilitate your intent.
Community-building and the synergy of diverse voices is a strong intent of mine as a blogger. However, after decades of community activism I am well aware that not everyone who enters into group conversation is willing or capable of behaving in a manner to assist in my intention. Some voices actively seek disruption -- those of us who worked in groups targeted by the FBI know what damage an infiltrator can do. The right wing is even more organized and determined to thwart our freedom of associaton and thought now. If any part of you suspects a commenter is trying to interfere with your chosen work, I believe it is self-destructive to give them airtime. Make them go elsewhere to spread their confusion.
I likewise do not read the comments left on blogs where trolls/racists/woman-haters are not shut up. They have nothing to say I haven't already heard, and their presence contaminates the fresh, open, kind connections which is the hallmark of genuine human connection. On the rare instance when I do read down a comment thread so contaminated, I will not leave a comment myself. This is true whether the attempt to intimidate others is coming from the right or so-called left-leaning allies. Dobermans operate from a power-based view of the world, and I don't try to reason with dobermans.
I have on occasion driven a doberman from a comment thread where they are ruining potential connection, but mostly I leave those blogs to the mess their moderators have failed to address. (Or which they secretly allow in order to drive away certain voices they find troublesome -- this is particularly the case on some feminist blogs where a longstanding disagreement about key interpretations of feminist theory has resulted in a culture war everyone is terrified to openly acknowledge.)
Freedom of speech does not mean I am required to engage in conversation with anyone who comes at me with their opinion. Gender conditioning teaches women we can't say no to male "venting" and teaches men the whole outdoors is their potential urinal, but I have overcome that conditioning and it has freed me up to hear much more interesting stories than if I didn't insist on my boundaries. I trust my self-examination process, and am not answerable for my choices to people who are not supporting me in a tangible way. As Fran Winant said "What I don't know now / I can still learn."
And I regard the comments threads under my moderation as a conversation which already suffers from the lack of in-person amelioration offered by tone of voice, facial expression, or instant give and take. It is more demanding to be kind and clear on a comment thread, but the demands are growth-inducing and slowly create what is often referred to as "safety". I prefer to call it respect, decency, and reciprocity.
These habits of discourse are available to anyone, of any gender, race, age, ethnicity, class or creed, and are common to every culture. It is inhuman to abandon them in favor of letting dobermans control the discourse. It inhibits rather than fosters liberation, and the only folks who argue to the contrary are those who intend the silencing of honest, respectful difference of opinion. If you can't hear the nonviolent, respectful thinking of someone who does not share your worldview in every detail, don't come to a conversation under my purview. Huddle with your kind until you are healed enough to hear the words of someone who will defend your human rights and freedom of expression but doesn't necessarily share your interpretation of X.
Of course, this sounds more cut-and-dried than it often is in comments threads. Human communication is incredibly messy, and there's a great deal of research proving that acquiring the skills to sort out the mess, our ability to read social cues and intention, is what made us human instead merely another large ape. So, when trying to suss out what is being said or meant to be said, I rely on a few beliefs.
I believe the human drive toward cooperation and altruism is far stronger than our drive to compete or relatiate, and is much more rewarded in our culture. I believe real growth and development only occurs under "positive reinforcement", under conditions of trust and reciprocity, and all lessons learned from punishment and pain are rigid encrustations that will eventually have to be undone for clear thinking to take place. I believe hate is a manifestation of fear, always the result of childhood trauma (usually from our parents), and anger is a thin scab dried over terror. I believe the only way to facilitate change in someone who is terrified is kindness. But I also believe it is not my job to offer rehabilitation to everyone I encounter; I get to choose my battles. If I can't make it better, at least I can walk away without making it worse.
I believe everybody thinks (or hopes) they are good and trying to make the world a better place, at least for themselves if no one else. Even Dick Cheney thinks he is a good guy. Thus, telling someone they are evil means they will stop listening to you, because cognitive dissonance demands it of them. Is it more important that you express your upset at them or that you maybe make a connection by treating them respectfully? It's a choice we make all the time, and I have no judgment about where you draw your limits; I only care about labeling others as evil and fit to die in comments I am moderating, because it makes everybody nervous and go a little (or a lot) quiet.
Some of the finest leaders and thinkers I know were raised with obnoxious privilege which made them, at one point in their lives, stupid and hurtful to those around them. What changed them, invariably, was contact with someone who believed they were not inherently the asshat they had been raised to be. I think everyone has the potential for this kind of transformation, absent certain kinds of brain damage. But their ability to recognize and then make use of help is an individual path of recovery that, seemingly, only a certain percentage of folks are able to utulize.
Fortunately, even a small percentage can turn things around dramatically, create an environment conducive to more growth and tolerance, and foster permanent genetic predisposition to human generosity. This is, in fact, the story of human history, despite the bleak cries for help you have been taught as our legacy. This is why those trapped in fear want most of all to stop education and open conversation -- why the right is so terrified of lesbians -- because open minds have a tendency to keep opening. They don't want us to leave them behind. The only alternative they've given themselves for love is a vengeful, dimwitted g*d who is willing to kill his own son rather than learn something right off the bat. I'd live in terror too if that bounded my entire existence.
I am reminded of the Persian proverb which was displayed on a blacklight poster in my bedroom when I was a teenager (I'm going to correct the pronouns to make them inclusive rather than perpetuating a failed worldview):
S/he who knows not and knows that s/he knows not, is a fool, shun her/him.
S/he who knows not, and knows that s/he knows not, is a child, teach her/him.
S/he who knows, and knows not that s/he knows, is asleep, wake her/him.
S/he who knows, and knows that s/he knows, is wise, follow her/him.
"Shun" in the first admonition is harsh and has a christianist overlay, so I would substitute "avoid". But it's the middle two suggestions which require of us a daily decison on our communication and associations. How do we teach and learn from each other, waken each other, and foster such environments on our blogs? How can we perfom this task with an understanding of how damage leads us astray, makes problem cases of us even when we intend to be allies?
The voices of discord and despair dominate most of our corporate-controlled messaging currently, because keeping us apathetic and afraid makes us malleable. In her poem "Conscientous Objector", Edna St. Vincent Millay swore to us "the password and the plans of our city are safe with me/ Never through me/shall you be overcome". My intention as a blogger is to be an antidote to those who mean to overcome our quest for human liberation and dismantle our democracy. Your tender hearts and fumblings toward revelatory connection are safe with me. Let's see how far it will take us.
(Thanks to Jill Cozzi, among others, for earnest endurance and ethics as a blog moderator.)
[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]
Sunday, March 7, 2010
Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones gave 6 rules for allies (cross race/ gender/ sexuality/ nationality/ religion etc) in her keynote speech given 19 February 2010 at a luncheon sponsored by Abriendo Brecha Vll Conference and The Seventeenth Annual Emerging Scholarship In Women’s and Gender Studies Conference, University of Texas, Austin.
A complete transcript of her speech is available at Sharon Bridgforth's site by clicking here. I'm excerpting a portion here, but it will not do complete justice to the moving and brilliant words of Dr. Jones, so please take in the entire message from the video and/or the transcript -- and pass it on:
"I take this opportunity to speak with you very seriously. The times require that I use every moment of public presentation to speak the truth as I know it. That is my job as an artist, a scholar, a teacher, a committed human being seeking to make a world of peace and justice for everyone.
"This truth telling is dangerous business. It leaves one vulnerable — but our vulnerability is our strength. It leaves one exposed, but exposure allows the wind to whip through all those dank and musty spaces of terror and blow away isolation and fear. Truth telling leaves us free—and that is, after all the point.
"This truth telling is especially dangerous for a Black queer woman, for me. My very safety is at stake when I speak the truth, the truth of my life, and the truth of the world as I know it. My truths challenge the very foundation of the systems around me, systems that variously support and denigrate me, systems that applaud and slap me.
"So, as I walk, I look for mirrors, for allies who are also committed to everyone’s freedom, allies willing to risk their own safety in order to insure mine."
"I offer some reflections on what it means to be an ally to queer people, to women, and to people of color."
(1) "Allies know that it is not sufficient to be liberal. In fact, the liberal position is actually a walk backwards...The liberal position supports the status quo of the academy which means that racism, sexism, homophobia, the perils of nationhood, and a commitment to class structures cannot be undone in the academy—unless we move toward a radical rather than liberal position."
(2) "Be loud and crazy so Black folks won’t have to be! Speak up! Say it! Name it!" (Likewise men, straights, and Christians.)
(3) "Do not tell anyone in any oppressed group to be patient."
(4) "Recognize the new racism, the new sexism, the old homophobia. It is institutional and structural."
(5) "When called out about your racism, sexism or homophobia, don’t cower in embarrassment, don’t cry, and don’t silently think 'she’s crazy' and vow never to interact with her again. We are all plagued by racism, sexism, and homophobia. Be grateful that someone took the time to expose yours—remember, exposure allows the wind to whip away isolation and fear."
(6) "Allies actively support alternative possibilities."
[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]