Category Archives: story telling

Moving through acupuncture school (while Fat)

At my school, one of my requirements this first semester is Qi Gong class.  Qi Gong is a movement practice that comes from the large and dynamic body of theory and practice that we call Chinese medicine.  It has to do with energy, electricity, meditation, and a lot of other things that I am just beginning to understand through studying them in acupuncture school.  I love it so much and it also makes me nervous all the time.  It’s not that I have qualms about taking Qi Gong—in theory, it’s really exciting.  I just have qualms about group movement* class, what it means to be a fat person in group movement class, over and beyond what it already means to be a fat person in acupuncture school in a world that systematically equates health with weight loss.   One of my learning-to-love-my-body practices is figuring out how to incorporate movement in my life that involves as few other people as possible (or making sure I time my lap swimming with water aerobics classes—universally one of the movement classes I have witnessed that contains the largest diversity of differently-sized bodies).

Group movement practice is something stolen from us fatties by a society that has decided there is one kind of acceptable body, and it’s not ours.  I’ve been to a million yoga classes in my life, and still every time, the teacher without fail assists me too much or not enough. Or I get weird looks—sympathy, pity, anger.  If you are not fat, you might be surprised how much maliciousness people feel towards fat people in group movement settings, like we are their personal internal enemy, which I suppose, when the diet industry frames weight loss as a battle, is true.

There is a deep-seated cultural myth that tells us fat is the opposite of health.  This just isn’t true.  Not only are more and more evidence-based biomedically legit research studies coming out that question this widespread assumption, but most of us could spend five minutes and find ample anecdotal evidence to counter this rampant and destructive belief.  Saying that fat is the opposite of health implies that all not-fat people are healthy, implies that “healthy” practices (a whole other bag of worms, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s call it some combination of taking care of ourselves in ways that work best for us, having love and support, time with people we care about and time by ourselves, food that gives us energy and nourishment, sleep, water, movement) change our weight or the size of our bodies, that health is about appearances more than internal experiences of wellness.  I am a relatively healthy person and I am fat.  I’m not a paradox or even an anomaly.  It’s just that you can’t tell by looking at me how well or ill I feel, despite institutionalized attempts to the contrary.

We didn’t always think this way.  We know that there are times, whole systems of medicine and wellness that understood health as something attainable by people with a wide diversity of bodies, that didn’t create some fake epidemic in order to hide the fact that it is the stress and trauma of oppression  or corporate pollution that makes people more prone to the “lifestyle diseases” of Type 2 Diabetes, hypertension, heart disease.

In my Qi Gong book, interwoven with a history of this particular movement practice, is a brief history of vitalism-based movement in the West, how it was informed and augmented by Qi Gong practice.  It talks about the history of gymnastics, how over time western scientific materialism (read: nothing exists but what you can put your hands on, no spirit, no emotional body, etc.) replaced a system of movement based around cultivating energy, life force, vital energy, what have you, with one that was based on the appearance of that hard-to-name quality via the trappings of stamina, flexibility, strength.  It’s a profound difference: movement that is based on feeling better as opposed to looking better, like we know work towards.  Though Gymnastics as a sport is now far from its vitalist roots, this means we all have something to go back to, a place in our collective embodied memory when we moved together to feel better, not to look better.

I want to move with other people, and I want to do it in settings in which movement is about building together, collaboration instead of competition, in which different bodies are respected for what they can and can’t do, more than that maybe that different bodies’ capacities aren’t even the point. What it feels like individually to do the movement as more important than anything else.

In the post-industrial capitalism of the Global North that I live in, group movement practices have been stolen from almost everyone by the institutionalized systems of oppression in place, which include fatphobia, and also ableism, patriarchy, white supremacy.  Moving together to move towards health and wellness has become a luxury commodity as opposed to a basic necessity.  It’s a far cry from what it should be, could be: movement for wellness as a way we build solidarity with each other, as a way we come together in embodied community that doesn’t ask us to leave any of our selves behind, as part of the creating of other kinds of dynamic movements.  Qi Gong was banned from public practice in China during the Cultural Revolution, which tells me that there are many points in history when group movement practice, when growing our collective wellness together, has been considered subversive.  Maybe it’s because it’s related to the building of strength, the building of armies, guerilla forces ready for uprising.  Maybe it’s also because when we are well together, we have it in us to build the world we need, no matter the forces against us.

It’s not just group movement that has become more about cultivating a look than about cultivating an internal experience of health.  The history of colonialism on traditional medicines is one that is constantly shifting the focus to practitioner’s diagnosis and away from client’s experience.  Just think about this taken to an extreme: one thing it might look like is almost complete reliance on technologically sophisticated diagnostic tests and then practitioners spending five minutes with clients, mainly reporting on the results of said technologically sophisticated diagnostic tests.  Sound familiar?

All of this makes me realize that part of the goal of me writing this blog is accountability:  over the next four years, I will be schooled in how to diagnose people.  It’s a useful skill, and also a slippery slope.  Healthcare schooling teaches us to disregard people’s experiences for our own external perceptions of them; sure acupuncture school probably does this less than med school, but it’s still covertly and not-so-covertly part of the curriculum.  It’s my third week of school and I can already see how it can sweep over a person—I’ve already heard numerous teachers and students rant about how Fat people are automatically unhealthy.  This systematic silencing of peoples’ experiences of our bodies is a slippery slope and yet those of us who dedicate our lives to learning how bodies work do have something to offer, if we can combine that with listening and shifting the power dynamic ever towards empowerment of those we treat.  Fat is just one of the ways that we are taught we know about a person’s health just by looking at them, by using our far-from-objective observation skills without any sort of dialogue with the real expert in the room, the person seeking healthcare .

And one more thing: fat healthworker friends, where are you?  The first day of qi gong class, my teacher rhetorically asked, “who would want a 200-pound overweight chain-smoking doctor?”  In my head I automatically answered, that’s exactly who I want to be my doctor, and I realized that I have a lot of friends who do healthwork and none of them are fat.  I can imagine a million reasons for this, but I also know you are out there.  Fat healthworker friends, come to me.  We have some things we need to talk about.  In a body shaming, fatphobic culture, we are doing something powerful, transformative, even revolutionary—we would do it better if we were doing it together.  Doing health and doing movement together is part of collective liberation: it’s how we get to the world we need.

*I have used the word movement instead of exercise throughout this rant.  Partly that’s because the word exercise makes me think of all the ways white supremacist capitalist patriarchy frames the ways we move our bodies: that it is more about the appearance of health than the experience of health.  There is no monolithic experience of health.  Partly because as movements for collective liberation, what are we working for except broadly, a world in which everyone gets to live well and healthy, whatever that means for them?  Isn’t part of that learning how to move together?  We march and we dance and we eat together, sometimes we sleep together and we care for each other.  There is another basic pillar of wellness, and I want us to do it together, in anti-oppressive spaces that are working towards access and safety for all bodies.  I want vitalist movement practices together, as part of the world we want to create.
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Filed under #fatacceptance, #healthateverysize, acupuncture, body positivity, community care, fatphobia in healthcare, healing justice, self care, story telling, Uncategorized

Decolonize Safety (part 2): Alternatives to Arpaio

The internet world is abuzz with the Department of Homeland Security cutting off Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office access to 287g and S-Comm, agreements which enable them to work as an arm of the federal immigration system.  Arpaio and his deputies are notorious for misconduct, racial profiling, excessive force, corruption, horrific treatment of incarcerated people, retaliation against those who speak out against them, and aggressive raids that sweep thousands of undocumented folks into the immigration system dragnet.   Janet Napolitano (Obama’s hand-picked head of DHS who has supervised over 400,000 deportations in the last year) says that the reason DHS is finally doing anything to hold Arpaio to the barest of standards is that the Department of Justice just released a report denouncing civil rights violations perpetrated by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office under Arpaio, including “the most egregious racial profiling in the United States.”  As the headline of this Colorlines article aptly puts it: “DOJ confirms Joe Arpaio is a Racist Sheriff.”  In this same week, his deputies have beaten and tased a man held in their jail to death.  Some say it’s bad timing, others that it is just another signifier of the culture of abuse and brutality that pervades the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office under Arpaio.

I feel honored and humbled and amazed and inspired by all those who have worked and fought so hard for what the National Day Laborer’s Network is aptly calling “A People’s Victory.”  All the hidden and not-so-hidden acts of resistance that have contributed to this small but notable victory against the repressive monster of a system that Arpaio represents.  This resistance has taken many forms: by living and caring for each other, by defending communities and supporting each other, by educating those of us not immediately directly impacted by deportation and incarceration, by organizing and speaking out and bearing witness and shouting truth to power.  There are so many ways that so many different people have created this moment, by the daily practice of living and surviving and by the more public acts of organizing and denouncing and marching against all that threatens our communities.

The struggle to get Arpaio out, which will have huge real impacts on people’s lives and an important symbolic rippling, is far from over.  The Puente Movement, a grassroots migrant justice organization in Phoenix that has been a huge part of leading the fight against Arpaio,  is now calling for an end to all cooperation and all ICE Access agreements with Arpaio, criminal charges against Arpaio, and the shut-down of Tent City.  Yes, sometimes we win a little bit and there is so much more to win.  The way is led by those most impacted by Arpaio’s reign of terror and the rest of us would do well to join the struggle that is turning the tide towards justice and collective liberation, a world that works for all of us.

In addition to his horrific treatment of people he’s locked up and his racist terrorizing of undocumented people, Arpaio has been getting tons of media attention recently for a related, but different violation of human rights:  between 2005 and 2007, his deputies either didn’t investigate or barely investigated over 400 sexual assault reports, many of which involved children and/or undocumented people.  It’s a travesty and tragedy and unfortunately completely in line with Arpaio’s upholding and extending of systems of domination, power, and control that feed him and he feeds.  It’s also extremely common for police departments to ignore reports of sexual violence: we live in patriarchal rape culture that in so many subtle and overt ways deems sexual violence acceptable.

When sexual violence is reported to the police, it should be investigated: it seems so basic, but it’s unfortunately not to the MCSO or to other police departments, invested as they are in maintaining the power dynamics of the world as they are.  It is such an act of bravery for a survivor to report a sexual assault and it is often the only the option for folks to begin to achieve some kind of safety, to tell their story and make the intimate horror they’ve experienced public and seen.  Most sexual violence is perpetrated by someone known to the survivor, and therefore any reporting or going public with the story can lead to severe consequences, including loss of family emotional or financial support, loss of immigration status, more abuse, isolation, alienation, etc.

But all the attention to this brings up lots of questions about safety and responses to sexual violence:  because we know that most acts of sexual violence go unreported, because we know that the police (not here, not anywhere) never have oppressed people’s best interests in mind, because really, even an adequate and appropriate investigation into a sexual assault is unlikely to keep a survivor safe, or to center their needs and desires, or to hold the perpetrator accountable in a way that means they will never assault someone again and transform into someone who is also struggling against the interlocking systems of oppression that allow sexual violence to happen.

When we see the ways that OF COURSE Arpaio and his deputies didn’t investigate sexual assaults because that would be undermining the power and control that they thrive on, as well as the fact that any Sheriff’s Office is a poor solution to the epidemic of sexual violence and culture of rape (1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted during their life), we can honor the further silencing around sexual violence that occurred due to Arpaio’s misconduct and also recognize what our work is moving forward.

The brilliant Opal Tometi recently pointed out how much Arpaio has stolen the definition of “toughness,” with his identity as “America’s Toughest Sheriff.”   He claims it with pride to mean brutality and injustice, racism and violence.  When I think of toughness, I think of survivors.  I think of communities in resistance, together fighting all of what Arpaio does and represents.  I think of the courage it takes to keep living after facing violence that has torn you down, physically and emotionally and spiritually.  I think of survivors speaking out and knowing we deserve the justice and safety we are fighting for.  I think of speaking truth to power, even when that same power has pushed us into the most hidden and trembling corners of ourselves.  I think of the small part inside myself that, on some days, is tough, as I learn to be in survivor community, standing strong and powerful against the interlocking systems of oppression which depend on and enable violence, including sexual violence, as a way of keeping us silent and chained.  I think of toughness as the world we are breaking open, the one we are building, the one in which we can all be well and together and our best selves, the one we move a little closer towards with each small victory, the hidden ones and and the not-so-hidden.

So at this moment, when some silence is being broken around the prevalence of sexual assault, around the systemic reasons why the system of police and policing will never end sexual violence, we also have an opportunity to break the silence about responses.  We can break the silence about what would truly end sexual violence for all people, about how we can turn to each other and build responses and communities that do not rely on the police as the only way to keep us safe, knowing that for most of us, that is something they can never do.

We are at the moment when we get to dream and vision and plan and enact alternatives to Arpaio.  This doesn’t mean 50 federal immigration officials being sent to Maricopa County to continue the violent, racist work of deportation that Arpaio is being cut off from.  This means abolition, in all the senses of the word: ending detention, deportation, incarceration, the Prison Industrial Complex, rape culture, and all its tentacles that rip communities apart.  It means communities coming together to fight sexual violence and denouncing any violence as unacceptable.  It means self-defense and community-defense, learning how to feel at home in our own bodies and that we are worth protecting.   Abolition also means accountability: it means growing resilient communities that can respond to intimate violence and sexual violence in ways that do not rely on oppressive systems that also perpetrate violence.  It means learning from all the hard work that has been done to imagine what a world without sexual violence, without any violence, would look like, and beginning to enact that, every day, growing the world we need alongside the struggle to tear down the one we need to end.

If you are in Phoenix, come join the Puente Movement on Thursday December 22 at 4 pm in Cesar Chavez Plaza to hold vigil for the 432 survivors who were ignored by Arpaio and the system he upholds.  Together we bring Arpaio down, and together we build alternatives to Arpaio.  Jen Cross, from Writing Ourselves Whole, writes: “ for those who can, we also have to put our bodies in the place, on the ground, together, linking arms, raising voices, physically manifesting our resistance. For those who can and wish to, this is deep self care. We give ourselves the bodily experience of resistance together, of revolution, we allow our bodies the memory of solidarity, we give our hearts that message: we are not alone in this struggle. Look, look: we are not alone.” 

We are tough.  We are resilient.  We build a new world with each breath we take.

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Filed under #alternativestoarpaio, accountability, decolonize safety, ending sexual violence, healing justice, prison industrial complex, rape culture, resilience, self care, story telling, violence

Decolonize Safety (part 1): Understanding the Root Causes of Police Violence

So I’ve been trying to write this for some time now and it’s just too big to put into words.  A friend recently told me that when I write, I try to bring everything in all together—sometimes it works wonderfully and sometimes it doesn’t make any sense.  In the name of clarity, I’m trying to keep this short.  Partly it’s hard because that is just how this world works: everything is connected, sometimes as neatly as a patchwork quilt, sometimes as chaotically as a tangle of yarn the cat has gotten its paws into.  And I’m trying to write about things related to trauma these days and that makes my words jumble and strain even more, but here’s trying:

I’m thinking about Thanksgiving and police violence against Occupy protestors, the ways that they are similar.  I’m thinking about how they are both real things that hold lots of emotional significance for lots of people, that they are worthy of honor, holding, respect, and significance for many people.  I’m also thinking about how they are both layered on top of other, harder things: genocide and colonization and daily police violence against marginalized communities, which really is the same thing as genocide and colonization.  I can respect that Thanksgiving as a holiday, as a time to be grateful and connected in a culture of individualism, is a big deal for lots of people, including people who are aware that it is a celebration of the theft of land and the killing of millions of indigenous people in this place we now call the United States.  I can also respect that police violence against Occupy protestors is really hitting home for a lot of people: Sharon Martinas, a white anti-racist elder activist, pointed out a few weeks ago that this is probably the first time that many young, white middle and upper class people are experiencing or witnessing police violence firsthand.  That’s a really big deal.

The coordinated police crackdown against Occupy protestors is terrible, violent, and deserving of much attention and outrage.  It’s important to bear witness to police violence against protestors.  It’s an important step towards understanding what the state will do in order to maintain the status quo.  It’s part of beginning to see the police not just as individuals who may be part of the 99%, to use common Occupy lingo, but as part of a system of institutionalized repression and violence.  Sharing of stories and asking the world to bear witness are resistance strategies that have been used by people and communities that experience oppression probably since oppression began, whenever that was.   It’s an effective way to call the world to bear for its complicity in ongoing, hidden violences and also potentially some kind of harm reduction, some kind of safety plan: the more that people who the state wants to trust the police and see them as “community peace officers” are witnessing what the police actually do, the less it will happen, in theory.

But while we hold space for burgeoning attention to brutal police crackdowns against Occupy protestors, let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture: police violence is a daily concern for marginalized communities.  These stories don’t usually garner media attention.  They don’t usually go viral on social media.  They are horrifically mundane and hidden from view.  The systems of oppression in this world depend on people with privilege remaining ignorant to the massive amounts of violence used daily in order to uphold inequality.

For many people, daily survival under capitalism is an act of resistance.   That means people of color, poor people, homeless people, migrant people, and queer and transgender people experience police violence, every day, as part of daily living.  All the time.  Every second of every day.  All the time.

Here’s some facts to help break it all down:

The last stat makes a really important point, so I’m going to say it again:  most African American women in prison are serving sentences for nonviolent drug or property-related offenses.  In other words, crimes of poverty, of trying to figure out how to eat and feed your kids and pay rent and bus fare to get to work on time.  Most people in prison are not there because of violence that they inflicted on another person.  Most people are subjected to incarceration and brutal interactions with the police because of the color of their skin or because of what they had to do to get by in this unjust world.

I’m thinking a lot about the messaging after Scott Olsen got hit with a tear gas canister and nearly died.  About how somehow the violence against him was extra unacceptable because he is a veteran, had fought in U.S. wars.  The cops aiming a tear gas canister against ANYONE’S skull is unacceptable, whatever that persons’ experience, whatever they were doing at the time, whoever they are.

Police violence against protestors is horrible, disgusting, unacceptable.  So is police violence against anyone, no matter what.  Just because we don’t hear about it or see it on the news every day doesn’t mean it’s not happening.  We have an opportunity right now, in the expansive moment that the Occupy movements have generated:  we can understand police violence against Occupy protesters as a microcosm of police violence against marginalized communities every day.  We can demand that NO ONE get assaulted by the police, whether they were protesting, selling drugs or sex as a way to get by, crossing a border, or walking down the street.

Let’s never again say “The police did that because so-and-so did something stupid.”  Let’s never again ask what someone did to incite police violence.  Naomi Klein writes about the civil war that is being fought in the United States, the system versus the people.  Sure, it’s a civil war, and it’s been going on for some time now.  They just can’t hide it anymore.  The police are not here to keep us safe, any of us.  The police are here to keep the system in place at any cost: that’s what they get paid to do, day in day, day out, by targeting people who the system is designed to silence because their very existence threatens the way things are.  It’s supposed to be so mundane we can’t even see it.  Now that we and the media are paying attention to police violence, let’s tell the whole story.

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Filed under #anti-racism, #occupyracism, #whiteprivilege, decolonize safety, prison industrial complex, racial justice, story telling, unlearning privilege, violence, witness as resistance

What does healing look like?: To all the white people talking about unity in the Occupy movement

Sometimes we need to spend time apart in order to come together.  Sometimes we need to be angry in order to heal.

It’s like this: I’m facilitating a workshop at Occupy Phoenix about colorblindedness and privilege on the Left and a middle aged white man compares “healing” the divisions created by people of color trying to create caucus space to overcoming the systems that divide our communities, like policies that bar migrant kids (or kids with migrant parents) from attending public school in this state, like police violence that works against black-brown solidarity in our neighborhoods, like a corporate media that works to convince us that most of us don’t have health insurance because poor people are using emergency rooms too much when really we know its because of corporate healthcare that puts profit over people.

It’s like this: race was invented by the few in power (referred to in the language of Occupy Movements as “the 1%”) to keep poor and working-class white folks from allying with everyone else because that alliance had (and has) the power to topple global capitalism.  It’s only if we work together that we can transform the world into one that works for all of us.

But Occupy movements and rhetoric are missing something huge in order to get there.  A lot of really smart people have written deep analysis of the problems with unacknowledged privilege at specific Occupy sites and in the broader Occupy movement and about how people and communities are working to unpack and resist that.  I think a huge part of how we move forward is to reframe how we talk and think about unity.

I hear lots of talk of unity at Occupy Phoenix and from the wide internet world of access I have to other local Occupy movements.  When I hear the word unity, my brain immediately goes to the word healing, because I think they are intrinsically linked.  Like that we are working towards a world and a movement in which they mean the same thing.   But what’s different about the word healing and the word unity is that healing implies a process, it implies something that must righted, it implies we are not there yet but we are working on it, it implies a history and a present and a future and work that must be done to move between those three points in time.

The word healing is often really loaded coming from the mouths of white people, privileged people in political spaces.  It often is about reinforcing colorblindness, about erasing histories and current lived realities of oppression in an attempt to pretend we are all “equal” in the present moment.  It’s a word that has been co-opted by the individualistic, depoliticized self-help movement, a word that white culture often tells us means just taking care of one’s own.  The work of personal and collective healing within Occupy movements is justice work and is work that must happen for these movements to succeed.

When I say that we need healing in our movements, I don’t mean the same kind of healing that the Occupy Phoenix participant I mentioned earlier in this post meant.  I don’t think unity means pushing everyone together without paying attention to different levels of power and privilege, to different experiences we have every day because of systems that treat us so differently based on the color of our skin, the language we speak, the amount of money and resources we have access to (even within the 99%), the gender we are seen as, our histories and experiences and the options we have been presented with.   Capitalism hurts us all, but it hurts us all differently.

I think the Occupy movements have the potential to be a liberating space, a transformative space, a place where movements come together and form and swirl around, getting even just the littlest bit closer to the world we want to create.  The only way we can build this is if we only call healing what is actually healing: creating space to acknowledge our different experiences of global capitalism, of the economic crisis, of histories of economic crises that last for generations in communities of color.  Yes, healing comes from unity, but not unity that only comes from silencing.  It comes from unity that is built, that is carefully, slowly, and painfully constructed, by listening to each other and realizing we have a lot to learn.  Unity-as-a-healing-process is built on spaces that center those most impacted by the systems of oppression that harm all of us.  It doesn’t always feel good, it is not always easy and it is NOT constructed on anyone’s back or at anyone’s expense, or by leaving anyone behind and telling “them” “we” will “deal with their issues later, once we fix this more important thing.”

Unity as a healing process doesn’t necessarily start with all of us together.  We have to grow our capacity to really share space, to listen to each other, to create room for all of us together.   Vanissar Tarakali, a longtime white anti-racist organizer, talks about why she has seen it be so important for people of color and white people to meet in separate groups to when beginning to learn about and heal from racism: “The purpose of this is for white people to build community, and support each other to challenge racism and white privilege; and for people of color to build community, and support each other to heal from the daily trauma of racism and internalized racism.”  The process of healing from the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual impacts of oppression and internalized oppression is different than healing from the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual impacts of alienation, guilt, self hate, defensiveness, and sense of superiority associated with privilege.   Like both people who perpetuate violence and people who survive violence need to heal from that trauma, but they are really different (and initially incompatible) processes. The end goal can still be (and to me, still IS) building unified multiracial movements that reflect ALL of our experiences, including the most marginalized among us, as the end goal.

But we have some work to do to get there.

So if we start to see unity as a process instead of a forced assumption, if we start to understand the way that systems have been intentionally designed to divide us through the use of tools such as racism, sexism, and homophobia, how do we move forward?

The synonymous healing and unity I want to be part of creating has to center those most impacted by the problem at hand, has to lift up our differences and the ability to listen to and truly hear each other’s diverse experiences, has to acknowledge and learn from our histories of trauma and violence and oppression and resistance.

White privilege, the system of unearned benefits and advantages that is granted to white people by systems that deny these same things to people of color, teaches us white people that we know everything.  In order to heal from the harms global capitalism has inflicted on us all and to build real unity, we have to learn to challenge these basic assumptions that we have been taught.  We need to learn to breathe before reacting to something that challenges our worldview, our perhaps invisible assumptions of superiority and knowledge.  We need to learn how to take the time to thoughtfully respond, instead of reacting out of places of defensiveness and hostility to proposals and ideas that we might see as “divisive” or “diluting the message.”  This is not to say that anger does not have a legitimate space in the process of overcoming unchecked white privilege that is rampant in Occupy movements.  People of color are rightfully pissed off at being yet-again marginalized in a space that is supposedly by and for the entire 99%.    Actually hearing and taking into account this legitimate anger can help us as white people move forward in a way that is more accountable to the systems that grant us feelings of superiority and unearned benefits, often in ways we don’t even notice.

We white folks at Occupy need to engage in really listening: both to the lived experiences of folks who bear the brunt of global capitalism as individuals and communities, as well as to the histories of resistance, struggle, and movement building that have come before us.    We need to build our understanding of what’s really going on in this world, how they got there, and figure out how to lift up the voices and needs and skills of those most marginalized among us so that we are truly moving toward a  transformed world that works for ALL of us.  We need to challenge the assumption that white privilege teaches us that our experiences and ideas are the most valid and important.

Let’s take this as an opportunity to learn from other individuals and communities and organizations.  To realize that our personal experience is important and not the end of possible personal experiences in the world.  Let’s really listen and hear what people are telling us, especially those who capitalism has silenced for centuries.

One of the things about white privilege is we are taught to see our work and ideas as individual, as arising purely from ourselves and our own intellect/smarts/genius.  Really movements are informed, whether we acknowledge this or not, by all movements that came before, by all organizations that have been throwing down and building for years.  Let’s connect to our personal and collective histories.  Let’s realize that we have a lot to learn.  Self determination is a crucial value of Occupy movements and one that I share.  But the systems that hold white privilege in place tell us that self determination is an individual process, one in which we only think about ourselves and our own needs and wants and desires and expect everyone else to do the same, starting from the same options and power and feelings of entitlement to advocate for ourselves.  I see growing self-determination as lifting up the power inside all of us in a way that moves us closer to our selves and to collective liberation.  I see self-determination as something that fits perfectly inside the framework of centering the voices of those most marginalized by capitalism: migrant people, formerly and currently incarcerated people, people of color, queer and transgender people, women, disabled people, and especially folks who fall into more than one of those identity groups.    If we create a world in which those of us most marginalized by capitalism are free and have our needs met and our voices heard, then we have a created a world in which that is true for all of us.

One of the important lessons we can learn from movement history is that we’ve already seen what happens to movements that marginalize those already marginalized.  They fail.  Many of us who can sell out do, many of us who can compromise our ways into cushy non-profit jobs and pretend like we are helping “the less fortunate” do and we are someplace so similar to where we started.  There may be some change, but there is no healing.  There may be a false sense of unity, but there is just all this hidden (or not-so-hidden) division.

We can pretend to be doing this together, but until we do the work to make sure we are all at the table and that the table is even set in a way that anyone can come to, where anyone’s voice can be heard, we will just be doing this as alone and as divided as we are in the rest of the world.  Until we center those who of us who are currently and systemically pushed to the margins, we will not be able to create a resilient and lasting unity that is BUILT ON our differences, instead of in spite of them.

The divisions among us are created by systems.  Let’s learn to understand those systems by listening to each other and learning our collective history in order to build real unity and healing in the face of all that tries to keep us apart.  Building true unity and healing will be painful, but it will also be liberating.  Mad props to everyone who is already engaged in this work.  It’s hard as hell and it takes all of us, so let’s get moving.

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Filed under #anti-racism, #occupyphoenix, #occupyracism, #whiteprivilege, accountability, healing justice, racial justice, resilience, story telling, unlearning privilege

on leaving New England

It’s not like it’s the first time I’ve left.  It’s old news to talk about how most of the cells in our bodies replace themselves every seven years.  I could break down which organs and tissues do it quicker but that’s not the point.  It makes sense to me to come back to New England at least every seven years so that part of my composition is of hemlock, wintergreen, rolling hills, and the people that are so familiar in their ways.

I leave and am not a refugee.  I have not been displaced, my right to return has never been challenged in any way.  I can’t even know how lucky this makes me, what it means to have a home to return too, in all its complexities and memories and layers of feelings and experiences.

It’s complex to talk about origins as a white European-American.  I come from peoples that don’t necessarily stick around.  I come from peoples that have taken the story of a homeland and used it to steal other people’s places of belonging.  None of my family comes from New England: my dad is Ashkenazi Jew raised in Queens by way of Austria and the Phillipines; my mom is Kansan through and through.  Her mother was an active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and therefore committed to genealogies and documentation, to proving white settler legitimacy.   Through her, I know I have some ancestor from Gloucester but that is not at all what makes New England feel like my home.

It’s home because I spent the first 18 years of my life here, and granite mountains make my heart stir and so do the Red Sox even though I don’t care at all about professional sports.  I can’t imagine a more beautiful place than Head of the Meadow Beach on Cape Cod at sunset with the seals barking and the hemlock and Ericaceae (rhododendron, mountain laurel, blueberry) forests that I played in as a child, the birches and beeches and oaks.  I cry every time I watch Good Will Hunting and sometimes when I listen to “Dirty Water.”  The dreamfantasies I have of growing old involve looms and Vermont mountains and mist that rolls back many times a day, the ghosts in the woods that look like birches and old stone walls and crumbling foundations.  They take place in Wise Child, the book that takes up as much space in my brain as the few real childhood memories I have, but transposed from Cornwall to the places I know.

 

The subtle sculpting of identity has roots in Boston for me.  I was never out when I lived here, but my femme, which is queer as hell and more geographically-based than maybe any other part of me, comes from here.   My femme is New England.  Sometimes she’s not there when I’m not here, but when I’m here, that’s who I am.  My femme is being the only person so many people talk about their feelings to, is bleakness and settling into my bones, is wearing flannel shirts with sparkles in the winter and charming the pants off small town husbands without ever sharing more than I want to.  It’s fabulous and covert as needed, sometimes both at the same time.   It’s dreaming of myself with white hair and wrinkles, a vegetable garden overflowing with things to put up and at least seven signature jam recipes under my belt.  It’s trying to know when and how to talk to my mom about class privilege and resource hoarding, when her mom dies and all she wants to talk about when I visit her is which family heirloom punch bowl I’ll inherit when she dies.  It’s my generosity and my boundaries.  It’s me learning to change as I come back here over and over again, learning to stick with it with people and places even when it’s hard and what my body knows best is leaving.

 

Birches have white bark so that they can sufficiently photosynthesize even in far northern climates where there is very little sun.  It’s hard to talk about a place and not talk about the trees, even though so much of me is city kid.  Hemlocks are dying from the woolly adelgids and this place is changed, so many times over.  Trees as the lungs of a place, a vital organ, surface area of a football field folded in us to let us go on.  I took a tree identification class through the extension school of the community college in Greenfield, MA, where I’ve been living, and the teacher, who wore pants that zip off into shorts and made us do too many guided visualizations of trees for a three-part class, talked about how we think of forests as static, or as only susceptible to busted human intervention but how truly forest succession has always been a dynamic process that is both cyclical and looming.

You’d think leaving home would get easier each time, because you leave with more and more certainty that it will be there when you return.  It doesn’t feel like that.  It feels like the older I get and the more I settle into my own skin, the more of a New Englander I become, wherever I am.   The harder it is to be anywhere but here.  The more I want to stick around.  I have a lot of choice about where I go, a lot of resources that enable me to move for lots of different reasons, to have the option to move.  There are also the tides of life sweeping through and around me, the eddies and currents and whipping branches that sometimes send me in directions I never imagined.

I moved back this time at a moment of need: my sweetie and I were trying to swim through grief and floating above it all with no ability to land.  I pulled us here and tried to hold us both to ground through some dark winter times, tried to tether us to someplace that I knew how to be in.

 

It’s a bad stereotype to talk about New Englanders as being mean.  I kind of hate it when people talk about it.  Geographical stereotypes obviously don’t always work because they erase all our other differences and boil us down to ONLY shaped by the land and the climate we inhabit.  Relevant, sure, and in some ways the only way dominant North American culture talks about the ways that people are shaped by the world that is beyond the control of people.  A tiny shred of connection to what it means to be land-based, but without the necessary critique of colonization.

Partly I hate it because I just really don’t think that New Englanders are mean.  I think an expectation of charm and a certain brand of exuberant politeness just isn’t our style.  There is something about certain kinds of reserve that I think are elegant as seashells.  That are about maintaining yourself as whole and boundaried, about actively choosing which parts to share with who and how and when.

There is something I that just makes sense to me about the slow work of getting to be friendly and intimate with New Englanders.  Alex says, don’t think you can win us over, but we will, on our own time, decide if you are trustworthy and/or fun and/or an ally.  We will wait and watch and let it play out and we understand that through and around us processes go on beneath bark and skin.  We watch maple sap flow and make it into syrup.  We watch each other grow older and settle into our selves.

What I mean by elegance is knowing who we are our selves and letting winter and summer pass over and through us.  What I mean by elegance is a birch tree and an elder in flower.  What I mean by elegance is active choice, and taking responsibility for ourselves and our own action, is accountability without necessarily having to talk about it all the time.

When I think about leaving this time, something wells up in me that is too heavy to spill out as tears.  It is something that doesn’t know how to settle anywhere else, because despite all of it, this is home.    It’s like all the old stonewalls and cellars you happen on when you walk in the woods anywhere around here: so low you could step over them but a wall nonetheless.  A border, a boundary, a reminder of people and history and different lives that happened here and made it through the bleakness alone and together.  That also existed in complicated relationship to displacement and colonization and who lives here still, at the margins, who lived here before and was forced away and killed.  There is nothing simple or easy about white people claiming home in the United States.  And yet however much we think and analyze and critique, isn’t part of home under the radar of tongue and brain?  Something we settle into as our bodies integrate the bits of where we are into our very nuclei, something that once it’s caught us, doesn’t really ever go away?

 

I just went to Boston for the last time before I leave: I saw my family of origin and my friends from high school, who were and are my first chosen family.   I had a lot of feelings that I wasn’t prepared to have: feelings about what’s hard about families, the places of silences and disconnect, the places of imperturbable comfort and trust, the stories we have created together over the years of weaving in and out of each other’s lives.   As a queer person, family feels integrally related to struggle, both as comrades and as challenge.   There are the newer friends, the ones who share queerness and political critique, ways of living and a certain want of family that is more than nuclear, a desire for and commitment to a different world, collective struggle, liberation, transformation.  There is a certain closeness that comes from that, and a whole other kind that comes from long history, from the intricate dramas we have played out and continue to weave, from the things we don’t say to each other, from the ways we have gotten under each other’s skin, itching and soothing.

My family is not all biologically related to me, but aren’t we?  Haven’t we spent so much time around each other that we have inhaled fragments of dead skin and aligned our circadian and other rhythms?  When do we reach the point when so many of our cells have replaced themselves with splinters of each other that we can know down to the marrow that biology is not an objective fact?

We learn to stick around with each other as we inhale each other, as we fight and untangle silences, as we throw down for each other, as we have fun, as we remember, as we tell our stories that diverge and converge like a creek bed.  We learn to stick around even when we are not in close proximity, even when we feel like skeletal tree memories of summer to each other.

 

I just finished reading Ethan Frome, because my mom was shocked that I’d never read any Edith Wharton and she sent too many of her books to me.  I tried reading others first but got bored by Gilded Age New York City high society, but this one I love even though it’s maybe the most despairingly miserable book I’ve ever read in my life.  I see its tragedy and it is resonant with what I know of these small towns, of harsh and lonely people who have each other and don’t, of the way we get through winter.

I lived in California and felt an expectation of gushy honesty that I bristled against over and over again.  Yes, I think that there are ways our emotions and emotional communication have been stifled by white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism, but for me, the answer to that is not to let it all out.  It is to take the time I need to thaw before I give up more than I mean to.  It is to know that nothing and everything is urgent, and winter is long but spring always comes again just like peaches ripen with their fuzz.  It is knowing that we killed too many of the whales and wolves that live here and now are left with little to check us but ourselves, trees and stones, and those too are going.

I’m not interested in being won over, and really, I’m not that interested in leaving these hills and fields and people.  They made and make me who I am, tough and guarded until the sinking happens.  The less we talk about it the more comfortable I will feel, the more the ways we are close will ride over us like waves—of so much note and also routine.  And I’m also learning to talk about it, learning to grow relationships like perennials where we can tell each other the hard things and still laugh together.   How to be in relationship, in friendship and family and the ambiguous places that circle around both of those things, with people who have so much the same and so much different from me, who are not going anywhere, to whom I want to prove that I can stick around.  I want to grow my capacity for permanence in the face of ephemeral consumer “need” and erasures of people, bodies, histories.  Someday soon again, I hope to do that in New England, surrounded by people from so many layers of my own history, where my roots run deep even as I uproot myself and head west, again.

 

The mornings and evenings are starting to get chilly, and my toes are eager for warm socks and the crunch of leaves.  My body is preparing for fall here and I am preparing to leave.

I want this to be a poem full of the things that fill my heart, of salted roads and looking down on old church spires while tossing handfuls of wild blueberries into my mouth, of the parking lot where I learned how to ride a bike and to drive a car, of mosquitoes biting my legs so hard that I can’t stay in the field to key out that plant and then the scabs I get every summer when I itch too much.  It’s cobblestone streets and eating ice cream in the Herrell’s bank vault, walking along the Charles river at night and riding the 78 into Harvard Square or the 62 to Alewife, the new sign in front of my elementary school named for the crossing guard who worked there forever.  It’s the things I never got around to and never will.  It’s how I’ll keep coming back and all these places that skim into my heart like skipping stones and sink will change and shed themselves as I will.  How some of that shedding will make it’s way into us, as we make our ways into each other.  It’s how I already miss my home.  Oh New England, why is it always so hard to stay?

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Filed under accountability, family, femme, home, New England, story telling

Making the way with love

I wanted to write something in honor of Samantha Jane Dorsett, but I didn’t want it just to be about her death.  There is so much to say about the holding of collective grief and healing justice, the way we as movements, communities, individuals do and don’t do this.  The ways that our grief and who/what we have lost has to be part of our liberation and our healing and our transformation.  But then I re-read Samantha’s novella Troubled Sleep on the second anniversary of her death, this past June 20th, and was inspired all over again by how amazing, how revolutionary it is.

Samantha made beautiful art, mostly before I knew her.  She drew hilarious and inspiring comics and wrote a genius novella and poems and so many other things.  In addition to just how plain amazing her creations are, I think that Sam’s art, her drawing and her writing and her flyers and her organizing and her friendships and her soup, were a way she took care of her people.

There has been lots written about how art is a part of movement building in the more conventional sense.  We have countless examples of artist-revolutionaries breaking silences, bearing witness, fighting against oppression and repression, inspiring grassroots explosions of struggle and freedom.  Samantha was such an artist, and she was something else besides.  It seems to me that the things she made, all of them art, were as much about caring for the people immediately around her, about survival and holding and comfort and tiny shreds of hope, as they were about  contributing to large-scale movements for justice.

Her art is an incredible example of art as an act of love, therefore of care, support, and healing.  When we think about love as an action, as bell hooks talks about, making can be just one more way we love each other and maybe even ourselves.  And all of this can become a microcosm of what our larger movements look like, how we feel when we are participating in them, what the work is.  Yashna Maya Padamsee wrote an amazing piece about how healing justice work is about moving beyond self-care to community care, to fostering organizations and movements and communities and networks and cultures that intrinsically value and support our well-being.  She writes,

“Can we understand how creating another world will require, or rather, demand our well-being? From small-town collectives and national organizations to strategy and pop-ed sessions to shared meals and parties- it is our responsibility not as individuals, but as communities to create structures in which self-care changes to community care. In which we are cared-for and able to care for others.”

The practice of revolutionary art-making is often framed either as an act of individualized self-care, that one steps out of the “real” work of organizing to do, or as a tool for moving the hearts and minds and bodies of masses of people to collective action.  It can be both of those things.  And then there is this: art as a way we show love to those around us, as one of the ways we make it possible for all of us TOGETHER to move forward and fight, to heal and carry on, to grieve and hope.   Perhaps our most liberating, transformative artists are the ones who were just writing to give their friends, families, and selves something that would help them make it to the end of one day, and then the next.

I have lots of questions about revolutionary art as an act of love, liberation, healing.  About what access means in terms of art making and sharing.  About when we break silences and when we keep our secrets safe.  About what it means for me to share my writing  as a white, able-bodied, cisgendered (not trans) person with class privilege, someone with so much in common with people whose stories and voices have been elevated at the expense of the silencing of others for centuries.   About how to tell stories that will give hope, inspiration, glitter, and heart.  About how the things we do to take care of ourselves can also help us take care of other people and about how the things we do to take care of other people can also help us take care of ourselves.  Asking questions, challenging ourselves and each other, being humble, moving and making in a way that respects the dignity and self-determination of all people, all of this is building love, like developing a new muscle, like visioning and creating liberation—the slow work of threading together our bodies, our hearts, our words, and our creations.

Dorothy Allison—up there with Samantha as one of my revolutionary/loving artist role models—writes in “Muscles of the Mind” in her book of short stories, Trash:

The only magic we have is what we make in ourselves, the muscles we build up on the inside, the sense of belief we create from nothing.  I used to watch my mama hold off terror with only the edges of her own eyes for a shield, and I still don’t know how she did it.  But I am her daughter and have as much muscle in me as she ever did.  It’s just that some days I am not strong enough.  I stretch myself out a little, and then my own fear pulls me back in.  The shaking starts inside.  Then I have to stretch myself again.  Waxing and waning through my life, maybe I’m building up layers of strength inside.  Maybe.’”

The art that we create and share is part of building that muscle, part of building truly loving communities that can hold us all up even in the face of the most horrific violence and oppression and trauma.  And the deep love we create and share is often all that we have.  Someone told me today that what makes it possible to live through grief is the moments when you feel the presence of the person you have lost as a strong beam of pure love.  That is stronger than death, stronger than oppression—it keeps us going even when there is no hope.  And at the end of the day it is what we use to slip through the cracks, to rage and live and fight another day. Samantha wrote, in Troubled Sleep:

“In Franco’s Spain, it was illegal even to hold hands in public streets.  Was there really something good, something inherently good about affection, another thing that brought people close?  So much affection was channeled and controlled by pimps and husbands.  But still there was something special about the way people gently touched and reached out to each other, some tenderness that can’t be controlled.”

Thank you, Samantha, for being a bunny princess beam of pure love, for the chance to know you, and for leaving behind your art that pulls us up and through and together.

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Filed under community care, healing justice, resilience, samantha jane dorsett, self care, story telling

mirroring resilience

When I feel the lowest, the craziest, the farthest from capable and who I want to be, all I want to do is immerse myself in stories.  Like I want to go from listening to Harry Potter on CD in my car directly to watching bad TV on my computer directly to reading some completely engrossing young adult speculative fiction novel (which right now, ps, is The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu—highly recommended).  I want to be immersed in stories that are not mine, in realities that are comprehensive and full, in worlds that I can relate to but that are clearly, starkly different from my day-to-day.

It is hard to talk about having a hard time because like with so many other things in our world, we are taught that there is a distinctive mental health binary.  There are crazy people and there are normal people.  If we are capable of functioning, putting one foot in front of the other most of the time, then we are of the sane half of the world and we work like hell to distance ourselves from everyone else: THOSE people who just can’t seem to hold themselves together.  It’s a fear thing, like so much interpersonal oppression– we try to distance ourselves so that we don’t see ourselves reflected in people who we have been taught to look down on.  And, of course, there is a huge, powerful, well-funded system behind it that tries to keep us in line—it’s the psychiatric part of the medical-psychiatric industrial complex–the definitions of normal and crazy created by those in power to fit themselves.  The pharmaceutical companies that try to convince us that drugs will fix problems so obviously caused by poverty, bias, and violence, the institutions that work to isolate us and convince us  that it is all in our heads, that we should never talk about our feelings and hard times except  to people we (or our insurance) pay to listen, that we are permanently broken and alone, and if we let on to anyone how broken we truly are, they will mock and shun and hurt us like they do the people who can’t hide their crazy.  It’s just you.  It’s just you.  It’s just you.

Everyone I have ever met struggles sometimes.  Experiences of trauma and oppression compound hard times so we interact with them differently based on our experiences, what tools we have available to us, what support we can mobilize within and around us.  The root of the word health is wholeness.  Wholeness is something we all find glimpses of in different ways, at different moments, as we try to keep our heads on our shoulders on our chests on our bellies on our thighs on our calves on our feet on the ground.  I deeply believe that wholeness involves the insides and the outsides of ourselves: it is body-mind-spirit-community-ecosystem-world.  Working towards health is working towards collective liberation because it has to be, because to be whole takes all of us, together.   No one’s crazy is an individual problem with an individual solution, because what could possibly be whole about one person, all alone?  To me, health only exists within movements and communities struggling for justice, dignity, and self-determination—without collective struggle, we are all just some kind of sick in a sick, sick world.

What would it truly look like for the work of mental health to be the work of centering those of us most marginalized by psychiatric oppression/individualized normalcy/crazy?  As opposed to a politics of inclusion/exclusion where we leave the most marginalized of our people behind, claiming we will pull them up later, what if we practice what Dean Spade calls “trickle-up social justice?”  If we work to center the voices, work, and power of those most oppressed among us, we will all benefit, unlike the fallacy of trickle-down economics by which the privileged compound their own privilege, over and over again.  Trickle-up social justice when it comes to mental health justice means we center the resilience and resistance of moms who are surveilled by welfare and are threatened with the loss of their kids because they sometimes have days when they are too depressed to get out of bed, of transgender and gender non-conforming homeless folks whose trauma is compounded every day by violence they experience and fight back against but who are diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic because so many psychiatrists can’t imagine that such realities exist, kids who are so unsafe in their homes that they have to split themselves into a million parts just to survive.    Mental health justice depends on  dignity and self-determination when it comes to support and healing, understands what goes on in our minds is intimate, private, belonging to us alone and also a crucial part of movement building, and does not allow for simple categories like normal versus crazy.

It’s crucial that we see mental health as a collective struggle as opposed to an individual problem.  It’s really hard to see how to do this, given how important it is for us to choose when and how to share our most internal experiences.  I think that one way we start is by beginning to name our own resiliences: to recognize, talk about, honor, and share the really smart and brave coping mechanisms we have developed to get us through.  Of course they are so individual and based on our particular context that they may not be useful to many other people, but just the fact of the naming that we are all resilient and all have things we practice that make us feel better when we are feeling our worst is revolutionary.

An example: Since I was seven years old, I read speculative fiction when I feel crappy.  It’s probably the practice I have engaged in for the longest at the bleakest times.  It’s an ingrained thing in me now: when I can barely get myself out of bed, when all I want to do is stare at the wall, I can open some book that will transport me to some other world in which magic and intuition are lived and named and respected and I can get through the day.   Stories help us practice things without having to take such big risks as it can sometimes be to try things out in “real” life.  They can be like cushions or training wheels or holding a really good friend’s hand, so that we can try out what it feels like to think or feel or enact certain things that seem scary or overwhelming or just plain impossible.

Speculative fiction develops and strengthens our imaginations, which we need in order to vision and dream the world we are trying to create.   It lifts us up out of The Way Things Are and creates enough space for us to imagine a world centered on dignity and self-determination, a world that so often feels so far away from the one we live in.  For me, the hardest days are often connected to when the world we want/need/imagine/create feels the most unattainable, so any tiny space for possibility helps me breathe.  Our assumptions about what is stuck and what is moveable are completely unsettled when we engage with talking animals, omniscient technology, and the rise and fall of civilizations so like and so unlike our own.  This allows us to come up with new resistance strategies and maybe, just maybe, to remember the moments in our lives we often dismiss as not real, the times when we listened to our intuition even when it felt “crazy,” the moments when we did talk to animals…

I think that another part of what draws me to stories when I am having a hard time is their predictable arc, meaning something bad happens to one of the main characters and then it is resolved, unraveled.  Even if everything is not all the way better, some crisis is averted or some conflict is satisfactorily closed.  There is finality, the ebb and flow of hard times and struggle, the reaching of solutions and conclusions.  There is the end of the chapter or the episode or the whole damn book and I can breathe again.  There is some feeling in my body that comes with the end of a good story, like the door has been closed and my mind is quiet and I can just be still for a few moments while the ripples emerge outward from some central point in me.    I feel it in my body, this quiet returning to what is around me from the other worlds I have been soaking myself in.  We don’t get that much in the “real” world.  The injustices that surround and enmesh and ensnare us usually don’t leave us with moments that feel like resolution, in which the energy and fight we mobilized is allowed to move through us and come to some sort of temporary end, closure, a place that we can notice as stillness, a place to move back into the circle again.

Our bodies are equipped with mirror neurons: we experience the same electrical transmissions and connections when we imagine or watch something happening as when we actually experience it.  If I imagine myself typing on my computer, neurons fire in the same places as if I were actually typing.  Mirror neurons are thought to be a big part of how we develop language, how we empathize with other people, how we practice and learn.  Because our nervous system doesn’t really differentiate between the things we live and the things we witness, it also doesn’t distinguish between what we live and what we imagine.  This means that when we dive into story, immerse ourselves in fantastical worlds, our bodies and minds are learning what it feels like to have arc, release, conclusions, and triumphs, the way that stories so often do.

Trauma steals from us this exact ability:  we get stuck in an unresolved stress response (fight, flight, freeze, appease, or dissociate) and never get to experience the release that would allow us to move away from that.  Our reactions to trauma (oppression included as a kind of trauma) are really smart and brave and protect us from situations that we perceive as life-threatening.  However, over time when we get stuck in this place, we isolate ourselves, we get sick, we have a hard time moving forward, trusting, listening, being our fullest and most authentic and loving selves.   We can heal in many ways, but the healing modality(modalities) called “Somatics” names that one of the ways we heal, learn connection, and develop awareness of ourselves is by learning to notice what it feels like it our bodies when we feel bad and also what it feels like in our bodies when we feel neutral, calm, good.  According to somatics, this process is called pendulation (as we naturally swing like a pendulum between being triggered and being calm)—and the more we learn to track what pendulation feels like in our bodies, the more we can fully inhabit ourselves.  It’s like the process of developing awareness about injustice and oppression in the world: as we pay more attention and grow our understanding of what is going on to, for, and around us, we can struggle in ways that are more comprehensive, deep, and aimed at the roots of things.  The more aware of ourselves we are, the deeper our healing can be and the more healing we have to offer to the people around us. (For way more articulate explanations of trauma, somatics, tracking and collective liberation, check out Vanissar Tarakali’s blog and Generative Somatics.)

So for me, stories help me learn to ground myself more, to practice moving through crisis and stress and triggers to release and calm.  It is a practice, this learning to notice what resolution and ease feel like.  It is a practice, engaging with fantastical worlds to figure out how to move through this one.  In the space of dreaming and visioning that stories give me, their respite and illumination, it seems to me they are also teaching me some lessons about embodiment, about what it can feel like to heal ourselves, our communities, and our world.

Through learning how to be whole together we learn how to be whole ourselves.  Through learning how to be whole ourselves we learn how to be whole together.

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Filed under healing justice, medical psychiatric industrial complex, mental health, resilience, somatics, speculative fiction, story telling