A Few Notes on Time, Facebook, and Bundt Cake.

Featured image via Ceramic Arts Daily.

This is Essay 6 in the #52Essays2017 challenge created by Vanessa Mártir.

Time is precious. Like others, and for lack of better language as I write this, I usually use the language of capitalism to commodify and manage it, I admit mostly out of habit and a degree of laziness. Doing this essay challenge while taking on new job responsibilities has me thinking a lot lately about how to use time best or at the very least reduce the amount that I misuse on what might be considered “unproductive activities.”

For me, contrary to what capitalism tells us, time spent unproductively means 1. anything that heightens my anxiety, depression, or internalized oppression or 2. anything that prevents or blocks me from getting my personal or creative work done. Real talk: time with friends and family often falls into category number 2. I am not proud of this but I am working at it.

Doing paid work is a funky use of time, and I need to devote a few essays just to that. On one hand, the pressures and pitfalls of work can absolutely heighten my anxiety, depression and internalized oppression. Paid work can absolutely take away from my personal and creative work. At the same time, a lack of paid work brings on all the anxiety, depression, and blockages to creative and personal work, and so can an excess of paid work, and now you can see why I need to write a few essays just about work.

Back to time, though.

Facebook is one of the things that seems to hack away at precious chunks of time, like an unsharpened axe to the side of a tree, so I am trying to carefully mete out the time that I spend on it. I am trying to check out Facebook only at certain times. Never first thing in the morning and never before coffee. Never at work, unless work requires that I use Facebook for outreach or promotion. One of the times when I do choose to use Facebook is when I am on the bus.

Last Monday on my bus ride over to work, while scrolling past political links and complaints about the Grammys, a link from Ceramic Arts Daily popped up, promising instructions on how to throw a bundt cake pan on the wheel. I stopped scrolling when I saw this, and a huge smile spread over my face as I inhaled the instructions.

This is the kind of thing that keeps me from quitting Facebook altogether. How-to pottery videos and articles are such a pleasure to read. I actually missed my stop for work — I was that engrossed in this link because I will say it out loud and proud: I am not a huge “dessert person” but I love bundt cake. Combine my love for this cake with my love of pottery, and you have a recipe for real distraction, fond childhood memories, and the joy of possibility.

I have really fond memories of making bundt cake in my mom’s kitchen in our first home on Canterbury Drive, the one-story home at the end of the block where I spent ages 3-14. Where I first learned how to ride a bike. Where I would spend hours in the backyard on the swing set, staring up at the eucalyptus trees that my dad planted.

I loved mixing eggs and oil into the powdered Betty Crocker cake mix, carefully pouring the mixture into the strange and beautiful bundt cake pan and waiting patiently for the soft cake to rise up and out of the pan as sweet smells filled the air.

My favorite cake to bake was chocolate. I always hated waiting for it to cool before frosting it with white icing, but I learned over time that if you try to frost a bundt cake too early, the frosting just melts off, creating a sticky pool at the base of the cake. Not cute. The cake must be just warm enough to melt the frosting slightly but not so cool that the frosting just sticks there.

I haven’t made a bundt cake in years.

Having been thrust back to such happy times while on the bus to work, I felt everything about me light up: my eyes, my face, and even my fingers. The image of making bundt cake pans at the pottery studio for my loved ones flashed through my mind and I felt overcome with generous possibilities and the kind of expansive abundance that apparently bundt cakes inspire in me. Who knew?

I immediately declared my love of bundt cakes on Facebook and asked my “Friends” (at least those who haven’t blocked me yet), “Who wants their very own ceramic bundt cake pan?”

That is some hilarious and powerful magic right there because I actually started the day feeling really anxious. Mild heart palpitations, stomach churning, mind racing, mild (I hope) irritability, feeling impatient, the whole shebang. That week was full of so much professional and social uncertainty in addition to the national and political uncertainties that face us all.

At the time my mind was so stuck on asking questions to which I just didn’t have (and never could have) the answers: “Will So and So write me back, and what will they say?”, “AM I actually up for the things to which I have committed myself?”, and the normal stuff like, “Does So and So really like me/still like me/not like me anymore?” The root of all of these questions seems to be, as usual, “Am I enough?” and “Can I do this?”

Looking back, I realize that these are some of the recurring questions I have been asking since leaving Sage Community Health Collective last March.

Sometimes I miss my old comfort zone. That zone was on the 2nd floor of a triangle-shaped building flanked by Stave and Bingham Avenues. It was a space that I had co-created with four other people. It was a beautiful space that held a small office, two treatment rooms, and a large, open room with windows on two of its walls. We chose our paint colors and decor with the same intention we put into our mission and organizing principles. This space was visioned and created over the course of almost 5 years.

In this space we offered sliding scale individual and community acupuncture as well as bodywork, workshops, and events. We shared the space with groups who needed it for retreats or meetings. I will always be proud of what we created.

Four of us opened the space on May Day of 2011 as a collective, but last year as the last remaining member I closed Sage Community Health Collective. It was no longer a collective. I was the sole decision-maker. Yes, numerous people worked there, splitting the income from their sessions with the space, but we did not engage in the collective decision-making anymore that created the space and made it a true collective.

Were we still mission-driven? Yes. Was our mission still a form of resistance against the status quo of the medical industrial complex? Yes. Did our space honor Black and Brown bodies in a way that was not done in many other clinics? Yes. Were our processes and politics queer as fuck? Hell yes.

However, at the end, Sage operated pretty much like any other business run by a single owner, and that discrepancy was not okay with me politically, mentally, emotionally, and physically. I was there most of the day on most days of the week. I had become comfortable with a routine in which I would wake up panicking, spend the day hustling, and leave at the end of the day exhausted and distracted, still processing the days events.
I was barely present for myself, much less my partner or friends.

Closing Sage and moving toward new ways to practice healing justice, cultural work, and organizing via theatre and pottery has been a deeply challenging, uncomfortable move, and it has been great.

I have seen my body and being bounce back in truly unexpected ways, and I have learned a tremendous amount in a very short amount of time about my own healing process, compassion, and creativity.

It’s cheesy to say, but it’s true: each day brings a brand new challenge right now, despite the anxieties that come with the challenges.

I hope I can remember to grant myself some grace in this space of unknowns.

I hope I can remember that I am up for this. I’m not sure that I can, but what I can do is keep the image of making bundt cake pans in the pottery studio very close.

Last Monday I went to work and printed out a color image of the ceramic bundt cake pan. I posted it on the wall near my new desk.

When I look at it I remember comfort, possibility, relationship, generosity and that moment of transformation on the bus.

I remember that I know how to make things with my hands. I remember that creation can be soft and sweet. It can be quiet and centered. It can be messy and a little chaotic, and all of that is ok.

On Centering

This is Essay 5 in the #52Essays2017 challenge created by Vanessa Mártir.

It was Friday, the day after my dear Aunt Samantha passed away. I was coping by keeping my deepest feelings pushed down and away. I was coping by keeping my appointments and not changing my schedule. I was coping by telling myself that she would want me to keep moving, to try and be happy, to keep living my life. So I was. As I went to the pottery studio that day I knew that if there was any place in the world where I could connect to and express my feelings, it would be there.

I walked in and surveyed the terrain. The lights were halfway on, and hardly anyone was there. As I often do when I arrive at the pottery studio, I exhaled and felt something like relief. Something like being back at home. Something like a weight being released.
I hung up my scarf and coat, hugged my friend who manages the studio, and I went to my locker where I store my tools, my clay, and the clay-covered apron full of pockets that my partner made for me.

With my apron on, I took out my clay. I held a large hunk of it in both of my hands. Cold, dense, and heavy. I weighed it. The scale said 4.5 pounds. With a wire tool, I sliced the hunk of clay into four more-or-less equally-sized smaller hunks. At my cement table, I wedged each hunk of clay, kneading and turning it with my hands, sending the force of my body’s weight through my arms into the clay. Wedging gives the clay particles some alignment and direction, removing any errant air pockets. It’s a process that reminds me of journaling, the process of outlining, or any other process in which I take my raw thoughts and give them some shape and some kind of order.

I placed the four wedged balls of clay in front of my chosen wheel and set out my tools for this throwing session: a square wooden plank on which to place finished pieces, a bucket of warm water for keeping the clay wet during the throwing process, a small round sponge for sopping up excess water and helping to shape the clay, a larger rectangular sponge for cleaning the wheel head, a needle tool for assessing the thickness of my piece’s bottom, a wooden knife tool for trimming the piece before I remove it from the wheel, and a few different kinds of ribs that help to consolidate or shape the clay, depending on where and when they are used.

As with any creative endeavor, success in throwing pottery is never guaranteed. Each time one comes to the wheel with a ball of clay, it’s just like coming to the blank page with an outline or (if you’re me) a melange of thoughts and feelings to work out. Therefore, the second to last piece of equipment is what some of us call the “Fuck It Bucket.” It’s where we toss just-thrown pieces that we choose not to keep for whatever reason. Submerged in the water of the Fuck It Bucket, these pieces go back to being sludge. When we eventually scoop out the sludge and lay it out on a drying slap, the water evaporates and the sludge will be clay again, reclaimed and ready for wedging and throwing on the wheel.

The last and final tool for throwing pottery is my body, and how I position myself requires intention. Don’t let anyone tell you that wheel throwing is a passive endeavor because it’s absolutely not. When I position myself at the wheel, I need to choose a stool that is not too high and not too low. My legs open around it, the wheel often sits just in front of my crotch. My knees hug the wheel, my inner thigh muscles active almost the whole time. I try to line up the tip of my nose with the center of the wheel head.

I try to anchor my left elbow into a spot near my upper hip and I try to make sure that my left hand is able to reach the center of the wheel head. All of this matters because the ulnar aspect of my left hand is essentially translating force from the center of my body into the center of the wheel, acting upon the clay, helping it to get and stay centered.

Centering is at the core of wheel throwing. If a ball of clay has even the slightest of wobbles at the beginning of the throwing process, that wobble often becomes a warp, resulting in a piece that is unstable. It might tear right there on the wheel in your hands, or it might end up cracking inside the kiln, unable to withstand the rigors of the fire.
By now I am sure that many of you are catching the metaphors that are all up in pottery. Because of this, when I make pottery I feel seen on good days, exposed on others. The clay really does tell you about yourself, whether you want to hear it or not.

In the days after the Trump inauguration, as his executive orders dropped each day like cleavers on a chopping block, I was having the hardest time centering clay. I was uncentered and flailing. Like everyone else I was anxiously reading the news, sleeping poorly, and grasping at things I could do each day to feel like I was resisting what felt like daily assault. I protested and rallied. I wept. I worked. I committed to more organizing work. I made plans for additional creative projects. I knew that I was kicking myself into the kind of mild mania that isn’t sustainable in the long run.

During this time, the forms that I tried to create at the wheel all had a wobble in them from the very beginning. I look back and know that these uncentered pieces resulted from poor alignment of my body as I threw. I was leaning back, probably slouching, not really connecting to my own center or to the center of the clay. I was also not hydrating the clay during the throwing process, and I know that I was not hydrating my own body well enough. My dry skin, strange bowel movements, and headaches during that time are evidence of that.

When the clay is not hydrated enough, one’s hands and fingers catch on the spinning clay, creating drag on it, exacerbating any warping that is already happening. When the clay is uncentered and not hydrated, the process of throwing on the wheel feels chaotic and like those days when nothing can go right. Like the days when you spill coffee on the second outfit you’ve tried on that day, making yourself even more late to work. Or the days when you you’re at a demanding job, trying to get as much done as possible while running on two or three hours of sleep and distracted by the fact that your aunt is on life support in Arizona and there is nothing you can do about it.

On days like this, everything feels like work, nothing feels right, and collapse feels inevitable.

Friday, however, was a different day at the pottery studio. I needed it to be. As I had done in the past, I went in with the intention of practicing finding my center and that of the clay. I needed to. For almost two weeks I had thrown wobbly, unstable pieces and had just ended up deciding to hand build instead of throwing. Don’t get me wrong. I love hand building, and this period of creation resulted in some intriguing and expressive forms, but on Friday I knew that I had to at least try and get back to the wheel and my center. I had to try and be present with whatever was there.

I had not slept well again, but this time it wasn’t because I was anxiously reading articles about the latest Trump atrocity in bed. It was because I was thinking of my family, cancer, and my dead aunt. I was grateful to my mom for giving me the task of finding an appropriate poem for my aunt’s funeral service on Monday. As my partner slept, I searched on my phone for funeral poems, most of them generic and frankly annoying, full of flowery or vague language that say nothing about what grieving is, what death is, or what loss really is. Maybe that is the point of some of these poems, but none of them felt worthy of my beautiful, strong, resilient aunt and the courageous life that she lived. After who knows how long, I gave up the search and succumbed to dreamless sleep.

With my body, tools, bucket, in place, I took one of the balls of clay and firmly threw it onto the center of the wheel head. With both hands I centered it roughly, doused it with warm water and got the wheel spinning. I tucked my left elbow into my upper hip area and leaned in, my centered hands just extensions of my centered body. I felt strong. Focused. I held my position, kept my breathing going, and I felt the soft, wet clay go from wobbly to gliding, still, and centered under my hands. I opened the clay, making sure to keep it hydrated.

I reinforced the bottom of the piece with my finger, making sure that the foundation was solid. This made me think of my aunt. How solid, hard working, and humble she was. How she was a consistent source of positive regard for me during times when I had a hard time loving myself. I cried.

I have to say that the kind of crying that happens when throwing clay on the wheel is different from any other crying. It’s not a body-shaking, heaving kind of crying – at least it hasn’t been that way for me thus far. For me, wheel throwing crying feels like wind that approaches you from behind, blowing your hair toward the sea, and then it is gone. What is left is what is spinning in front of you.

With the bottom of the piece solid and secure, I began pulling the clay upward, bit by bit, forming the walls of the future cup. With very little effort, but the right amount of work, each of those four balls of clay became cups. Small, imperfect vessels made by me, another imperfect vessel working within the awesome container and crucible that is the pottery studio. That night, having centered, released and created at the pottery studio, I slept deeply and without interruption.

As I create containers for activism, organizing, and education, I hope that I can model them after this pottery studio. It is a space where I can be who I am no matter how I am that day. I can come in and be talkative or I can come in and keep to myself. I can come in and just calmly throw on the wheel, or I can do a frenzied combination of hand building, glazing, painting, and carving.

When I take a risk, try something new, and ask for feedback, I get honest and generous answers free of judgment. I have the space to learn and figure things out on my own, but I know that I can always ask for help when I need it. Sometimes the instructors there know that I need help but am not asking for it. They gently offer their assistance with love and kindness that is so rare and so very precious. I want the world to have more places like this. They are sanctuaries.

During these days of transition, destruction, and so much transformation, I hope that I can remember the lessons that working with clay continues to teach me. That no matter what is going on, do not stop attending to the basics. Try to not lose your center. When you do, know that you can always come back to it. Stay hydrated. Notice when the work you are doing is feeling like the dragging of fingers on dry, spinning clay. When that happens go back to your basics and keep trying or get off the wheel for a bit and try something different.

We are allowed to take breaks even from the things that we love. We are allowed to take breaks even from the things that feel most urgent. Maybe we need to. Maybe we need breaks especially when it feels like taking a break is the absolute last thing we should be doing. I want to remember that breaks allow us to change our range of motion, shift our patterns of thinking, encounter surprises, and potentially allow us to go back to what we were doing with fresh eyes and a new determination.

An Unofficial Primer on Magic for the Unaffiliated and Uninitiated

Featured art: “Indestructible” by Favianna Rodriguez (2005).

This is Essay 4 in the #52Essays2017 challenge created by Vanessa Mártir.

Magic is real. Magic is all around us as are the people of power who understand it, create it, and use it. In these times of destruction and fear, people of power are creating. They are witches meeting with one another for new moon and full moon rituals. They are theatre-makers envisioning new worlds to manifest on stage. They are writers toiling away on their own, facing the blank page and the audiences (and critics) in their mind. They are organizers and activists, crafting the better world that is possible every day through small and large actions. They are educators, parents, health care workers, artists, and so many others doing their best every day to use what power they have to make magic, to change consciousness.

According to Dion Fortune, “magic is the art of changing consciousness at will.” Now more than ever we need all kinds of people, however they identify, to take on their part in understanding power, creating magic, shifting our consciousness in aid of collective liberation, and defeating fascism in all of its forms.

To stand in solidarity with witches across time who died (and are currently being hunted) for being people of power, I call myself a witch. No, I am not part of a coven or organized witch group (I am what would be considered a solitaire). No, I do not dance naked under the full moon. No, I do not eat frogs or snakes (I’m vegan. Duh.). And no, I do not workshop the Devil. I don’t ascribe to any Christian notions of spirituality. For me, God is Change in alignment with Octavia Butler’s views of transformation.

So what kind of witch am I, exactly?

I’m the kind of witch who loves walking around and taking pictures of trees, milkweed, and beautiful things like peeling paint, rusting light poles, or the sky. I revere the earth. I read. I am the kind of witch that is fascinated by the transformation of clay into a functional and artistic object through the application of my hands, fire, and time. I believe in playing games with and learning from young folks. I’m a proud auntie. I am the kind of witch that believes in the power of cooking and sharing an awesome meal with loved ones. I create spaces for dialogue, visioning, creation, skill-sharing, and healing. I am the kind of witch that shapes and transforms reality through the use of words and images on the page. I take baths in Epsom salts, essential oils, and sometimes herbs. I experiment. I am the kind of witch that knows where to apply an acupuncture needle in order to release a muscle or effect a shift in your body’s rhythms. I know some of the roots, leaves, and fruits that might help your body heal itself. I am creating a podcast about healing and transformation. I listen. I am the kind of witch that can often hear the things you are saying underneath and beyond the things you are saying out loud. I trust my intuition. I act on it. I make mistakes. I learn from them. I have attended births. I have lost loved ones to death. I think a lot about the cycles of life. That is the kind of witch that I am.

For me, none of this is beyond anyone else’s potential. None of this is rooted in the supernatural. For me, all of this is quite natural, rooted in my body and in the material of this world, this cosmos. This is where I know I differ from some other witches, and that is just fine.

I believe that I come from a long line of magical, powerful people who would never describe themselves as magical or powerful. (Probably for the same reasons that I hesitate to call myself a witch. That is a whole other essay to come.) They are post-colonial immigrants, mothers, grandmothers, aunties, fathers, brothers, uncles. Some of them are part of organized religions and some are not. They create family and community out of absence and isolation. They ground their lives in loving rituals, conjuring fridges and freezers full of food, ready for any guest or family member. They turn unyielding desert earth into land that can produce greens, herbs, fruits, and vegetables. They shape and meld the minds of youth. They keep moving and taking care of their own, despite the racism they face on a daily basis.

Everyone has the capacity to practice magic because everyone has access to some kind of power. Most of us are practicing magic all the time. When we set out to make a persuasive argument, we are practicing magic. When we take on the task of encouraging ourselves or a loved one, we are practicing magic. When we create art or events with the intention of shifting culture or transforming thought, we are practicing magic.

The other day my partner practiced a very powerful form of magic in order to help me get out the door. I had done all the stuff that has been harder this week in the wake of the violent executive orders that Trump is making. I got myself out of bed. I got myself into the shower. I got clothes on. All of this is a victory when all you want to do is hide under the covers. I packed my lunch. I packed up my laptop and put my layers of warmth on. I had everything gathered to go and catch my bus and get to work on time, but then I just froze. I just stood there staring at my coffee table, not breathing, not moving. I couldn’t even speak.

My partner, Jim, saw me and said something gentle like, “Hey, buddy. What’s going on?” I think I just shook my head, saying in my head, I can’t. I don’t want to. He sat down behind me in one of our chairs, and I slowly turned toward him. He coaxed me into sitting down, saying stuff like, “You can call in sick. You don’t have to go.” That made me realize that I at least wanted to try. He brought me a glass of water, and that is when I started to cry. He showed me a video of an otter, and that made the tears come harder because Trump’s administration doesn’t give a shit about the otters or us or climate change or…

The tears kept flowing and eventually they stopped. We sat in silence and that is when what follows popped into my head:

Remember. Every day of your life has prepared you for this day. In that same way, everything in history has prepared you and your loved ones for this moment. You get to choose what narrative you are a part of.

I spoke this out loud to Jim and was able to stand up, thank him, gather my things, and leave. I only showed up to work 15 minutes late and I was able to accomplish a lot that day. I felt distracted and shaky, but I was there. That is magic. Jim created the space for that to happen. The magic, mind you, is not that I was able to get to work and be a good worker bee. Absolutely not.

The magic is that change in consciousness that I underwent. In the space that Jim created, I was able to realize or remember something that was vital and that helped me literally move. The emotions that had been stuck, that had frozen me, were able to flow. I was able to access my courage and use it as I saw fit. That is the magic.

I know that there are people out there asking, “How can I tap into the use of magic all around me?” To them I would say, please first recognize the magic that is in you and that you practice every day.

On Power

Think about power. I was trained up in the ways of power by queer, Black feminists. To me, power is the ability to make choices and changes in your life and in the world around you. It is the ability to shape and redefine what is “normal” and it is something to be shared. I think about power as having three levels. Individual, group, and systemic.

Individual power governs the choices I make every day: the clothes I wear, the toothpaste I use, the food I put into my mouth. These choices are absolutely impacted by larger systemic forces, but I still have some agency in what I act on due to my class privilege.

On a group level, power manifests as the choices and actions I take as part of any organization, family, or affinity group. On a group level, I strive to cultivate power with others and dismantle interactions that assert anyone’s power over another. I therefore usually choose to organize in groups that are nonhierarchical. Questions about shared power within a group might be, “Will we pool our resources and create a fundraiser for Black Lives Matter?”, “Will we craft a collective statement about Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban?”, or “When is the next potluck? Who is bringing what?”

Systemic power manifests as all those larger systems that impact the small groups and individuals. I like to remind myself that these systems depend on the individuals who keep them going. The power of prisons, education, health care, military, economics, media, and food is all systemic, and this is not an all-inclusive list. The magic that is needed now, more than ever, is the kind that changes these systems, redirects resources toward the people, and decriminalizes queer, disabled, Black, Native, Brown, and poor bodies.

Queer, Black, Native, feminist activists and organizers have been making magic toward these efforts all along. Now is the time for White and non-Black POC and people of power to redouble our efforts and support what has already been laid forth as we do our best to love, protect, and stand in solidarity with those who are overtly under attack: Black folks, LGBTQ folks, Native folks, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, and the poor.

This action will require intention. Creating intention will require visioning. This is the stuff of magic and witchcraft, and it is happening whether it is happening under those guises or not. It is happening quietly. Not for the gaze of Facebook or people who might judge, mock, or not even try to understand. People of power who practice magic are consistently marginalized (at best) or killed (at worst), so for anyone who is wondering where the magical people are at, just know that they are all around you. You are probably one of them.

The individual who is unaffiliated and uninitiated has some options. You can join organizations that have already formed. You can form your own organization. You can also not join an organization and do your magical work as a solitaire, but do make sure that you are building a practice for yourself. Your practice will be your container, the crucible that holds space for your transformative work.

Some Thoughts on Practice

A practice is more or less a ritual to which you are committed and that connects you to your best self, your intentions. Your practice has room for you to show up in any shape you come and possibly be transformed. This essay is part of my weekly practice of writing one essay per week as part of the #52essays2017 challenge by Vanessa Martir. My consciousness has been shifted in the writing of this essay, and it has grounded me deeper in my intentions for myself and my work this year.

To support your practice, consider creating an altar or look around you and notice the altars you have already created. Altars are a helpful tool for grounding yourself and for me they bring together intention, object, and location. For example, in the corner of my dining room I have a small altar. It is built on a small, square table covered by a purple cloth. On it I have a small succulent plant, books by my political and spiritual ancestors, items from nature that remind me of my loved ones, candles, and other meaningful things that remind me of my intentions when I forget them. I may meditate at this altar or sit next to it in silence, but sometimes I don’t have time, so I do what I can to keep it maintained and to keep that plant on it alive. As I tend to the plant on my altar, I am tending to my intentions.

Create circles of resistance. Decide how you want to create resistance or consider bringing others together to create and share intentions for creating collective resistance. This can be very simple. On January 2nd I hosted a small gathering at my house that was all about creating. We colored, ate food, and I played with clay. We shared our ideas about the world we want to live in and we shared ideas about what stands in our way. I found that gathering quite magical, and I feel that we all left it a little transformed.

Observe cycles that you are a part of. One major cycle that many witches center their practice around is the moon cycle. As it has an effect on our oceans, people believe that it has an effect on our bodies. During the new moon, when it is dark, people of power often think about what they want to begin and what is standing in their way. When the moon is full and bright, people of power take that light in and meditate on abundance, completion, and release. The moon begins to wane and in noticing that some people of power give themselves permission to wane, knowing that soon the moon will be waxing as part of its natural cycle.

I love thinking about the cycle of seasons and how each person has their own seasonal cycles. This thinking comes from my training in Traditional East Asian Medicine, specifically the Five Phases paradigm. It honors the idea that we are dynamic, shifting bodies and beings, and no person can live an eternal summer. We have the permission to be in winter, our branches barren, our energy down in our roots. If we can let ourselves rest and gather here when we need to, we can surely look forward to a spring when we emerge like the sap of roots and help to sprout leaves and berries and fruits and flowers.

Listen to your intuition, or as most people call it, your gut. Intuitive knowing is different from thinking, and listening to one’s body can be a real challenge to those of us who come from marginalized communities, but it is the work. I cannot say that listening to one’s body or intuition brings any comfort. In a white supremacist, heteropatriarchal, capitalist, ableist world, in order to function and excel, people of power often need to ignore the many yellow, orange, and red “flags” that we perceive when we are listening our intuition or body’s messages. However, when we have knowledge we have power, and we can still make choices. Few of us have the privilege of removing ourselves from problematic institutions, so when we connect to all of our ways of knowing, we often carry around a lot of uncomfortable information as we navigate treacherous waters.

In my opinion, if we are conscious of that and know why we make certain choices, we can remain intact. If we can separate ourselves and our beings from the choices that we have to make sometimes, we can remain intact. If we can try, in small ways and in large ways to push back against the oppressive institutions in which many of us must operate, we can remain intact and possibly bring about change.

This work is exhausting, so I strongly suggest that people of power disidentify from problematic systems of oppression and ground our bodies and beings in spaces and places of love and safety. For me, that is my home and quite often the pottery studio, but I am also noticing that as a witch I can use the tools of casting or creating a circle to make any space into a safer or braver space.

Take individual and collective action. Yesterday as an act of resistance and healing, I made a ginormous pot of vegetable soup for myself and my partner to eat all week. I know I will end up sharing it with co-workers and friends. It’s something I have been doing since the election. When I feel terrified and like people with bodies like mine are under attack, I make an awesome meal. I do what I can to nourish this body and show it love.

To take part in collective action, yesterday I set this essay aside and went to O’Hare Airport for an emergency protest and press conference against Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban at Terminal 5. 18 people were detained there and through our actions in solidarity with protests across the country, our detainees were released.

We are not in our current political predicament because of a lack of magic in our lives or the inaction of people of power. It is our collective magical work that has gotten us to this point. I think of the words of Benji Hart who says, “The thought that has been providing me with a surprising amount of grounding: We wanted to be here. We asked for this. We’ve pushed against the very walls of empire, demanded they be pulled up at their foundation, and empire is pushing back. We expected this. We’ve prepared for this, and now it is happening on a larger scale. This is a mark of our success, not our defeat. This is a testament to the force of our organizing, an indicator of our political strength. This is proof that our movements are working. Let’s not, when faced with what we always knew was coming, abandon movement.” Witches and people of power have been on the front lines all along, in some ways staving this moment off for as long as possible and in other ways bringing us collectively to this very moment.

What might be possible if we joined efforts and focused on a single target? It’s a tempting idea, I have to admit, and at the same time, I thoroughly support a diversity of tactics.

It is simply my hope that people who’ve been sitting on the sidelines, people who’ve been comfortable in silos and ivory towers, or people who mostly talk to people who agree with them will claim their own power and join with people of power to resist the violence all around us with focused, intentional, powerful magic.

To close this essay, I’ll lean on the words of Lakeesha Harris, founder of Black Witch University, who quotes Audre Lorde. “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.’ So what will dismantle the master’s house? Your tools. Go and reclaim your tools. Your magic will dismantle the master’s house.”

Fuck Cancer -or- On Death, Pre-Death, and Waiting for the News of a Death 

Featured art by Nicole Collins.

When you get the text saying, “Your aunt is on life support and the doctors think that she will not make it,” put the menu down. Ask yourself, “Can I still call my mom and order that burrito?” 

Listen. Hear the sound of the metal spatulas clanging on the grill and the loud hiss of frying beef. Hear the too-fast-for-you-to-understand Spanish on the overhead television. Decide to not call your mom while you’re here. Decide to leave. Try to leave respectfully. Walk away quickly. You’re starting to cry.

Cross the street while dialing your mom. You’re in a tear-blurred haze. You don’t know where you’re going, but find a wooden planter next to the bus shelter and sit. Squint into the sun as tears run down your cheeks. The grief is beginning to come up heavier, hitting the back of your throat like chunks of meat. Wipe your tears away with the back of your gloves. Ignore passersby who are noticeably noticing you cry. You can’t ignore them. Try to hold the tears in so as not to make a scene. Try to speak calmly to your mom while crying on the phone.

Ask: “How much longer does she have?” Ask: “Have you been at the hospital long?” Ask: “How is S_______ holding up?” Ask: “Is there anything I can do from so far away.” Say: “I don’t think I can come right now.” Feel the grief hit the back of your throat like mud clods. Say: “I’m so sorry.” Say: “I love you.” Hang up. Feel angry at your distance. Feel angry at your helplessness.

Realize as you sit on the wooden planter next to the bus shelter that there is a reason why your mom sent a text and did not call. Everything she knew, or was able to say, was clearly said already. Realize that calling her back was very nice of you but utterly useless. 

Realize that it’s happening again. The awkward rituals of pre-death. This is the waiting part. This is the part where you wait for the news of a death. This is the part where you’re supposed to try to go on about your life as if you weren’t just waiting for the news of a death. 

You know you can’t. You’ve tried to just do your life when you know you’re just waiting for the news of a death. Today you don’t have to. Give this moment the space it deserves. Give your aunt’s last hours of life the space they deserve. Cancel your evening plans. Run through your mental list of vigil supplies. Candles: check. 

Realize that soon you will be repeating the rituals of death. The things people say that you refuse to say. The cards to send. The flowers to not send. The plants to send. The charities to donate to in lieu of cards, plants, or flowers. 

Wonder if you can afford to buy a plane ticket for the funeral. Wonder if you can afford to take the time off work for a funeral. Feel angry at yourself for having selfish thoughts at a time like this. Wonder how guilty you would feel if you did not attend the funeral. Resolve to do whatever it takes to make it to the funeral. Remind yourself that your aunt has not died yet. Feel angry at yourself for not being willing to believe that she will pull out of this. Feel angry at yourself for already thinking of her as dead.

Remember your grandmother’s funeral. How you eventually convinced yourself you liked the poem you read for her. How just before she died you visited and all you could do was sit silently and hold your mom’s purse as your aunties sang to her, “What a friend we have in Jesus.” How you watched, frozen, while your sister-in-law massaged lotion into her feet and painted her toenails. How eventually you kissed your grandmother’s forehead and held her cold hand as if she knew you were there. How you hated knowing that she would never know you were there. 

Remember learning from your mom how to bury a mom. The kind of dress to buy, that being the kind that you can cut up the back so that it can be fitted onto a dead body, as if all this amounted to was a costume change. The new silk underwear to buy. The kind of jewelry to buy. All of it must be white. 

Remember your father-in-law’s funeral. The songs. The speeches. The church. How you failed a course in grad school because you went to as little school as possible while he was in hospice. Remember how you sat in the parlor with him for hours crocheting, eyeing his nurses suspiciously for any signs of malpractice. Remember that time he seemed to look at you. How you said, “Hey.” How he lifted his arm as if to say “Hey” back. 

Remember when you finally made it to your friend’s hospital room, when she was just about to die. How she died shortly after you got there. How strange her mouth looked with the breathing tube still inside it. How her Hindu family told everyone immediately after her death, “Now is the time to celebrate. She is in a better place.” How your own fractured Hinduism would not and still does not let you believe that. 

Remember sitting on her couch with her. How you told her how sad, how sorry you were that your acupuncture treatments could not do anything to prevent the cancer. Or beat it. Remember her saying, “Oh, but without the acupuncture I wouldn’t have realized that anything was wrong.” Remember her death shaking your belief in your work. Realize that your belief in your work has never quite recovered. 

Remember when you sat by your other friend’s side and watched her labored breaths, hours away from her own passing. Remember how you read-cried the letter that you wrote to her and afterward how you drank-cried a cold La Croix, her favorite. How hot your face was from crying. How cold the La Croix was. How surprisingly warm her skin was. How cold the La Croix was. 

How you wished so much that she could hear you. How you felt like she was aware of you, but how could she be? How you wished so much that she really was that hovering, shimmering presence you felt just above the bed. 

Walk quickly to the bus stop. Hold your gloved hands to your mouth and wail. Hold your gloved hands to your mouth and whimper. Feel the cold wind drying the tears on your face. 

Curse the beautiful sky for being so beautiful. Curse the beautiful clouds for being so beautiful. Think about your aunt. How she cared for elders when their children couldn’t or wouldn’t care for them. Think about the harsh chemicals she was exposed to in the care of other people’s family. Remember that Donald Trump is President and alive. Well. Cover your mouth with your gloved hands and wail.

Ride the bus in a daze. Fold your hands in your lap and hold on as you sniffle. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Hold.

Get off the bus and cover your mouth with your gloved hands and wail. Walk home. Ignore the oak trees, their thick trunks covered in chartreuse lichen. Ignore the round-faced children laughing and running past you. Ignore any and all signs of life happening despite the fact that your aunt is dying. 

Resolve to immortalize your aunt in a play. Resolve to immortalize your aunt in a poem. Resolve to immortalize your aunt in an essay. Get angry at yourself for looking for a story at a time like this. Remember that Toni Morrison says that this is when the artist goes to work. Get angry at yourself for avoiding your feelings through intellectualizing yet again. Remind yourself that anything you’re feeling is just fine. Even the numbness. Try to feel something again. There it is. Feel your grief breaking off inside you like glacial ice falling into the Arctic. Splash.

Examine the package under the mailbox. Pick it up because it is yours. Open the package inside your apartment. Try to decide what to feel about the fact that it’s the Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories you ordered. Decide not to consciously feel any particular way about it. Decide that you’ll read short stories for your aunt who was born in the same Caribbean country as you.

Gather the candles you lit for your other dead beloveds. Light the candles you lit for your other dead beloveds. Hear yourself saying as you light the candles and cry, “But I’ve already done this.” Hear yourself protest, “But I already know this.” Wonder as you cry with whom you are arguing. Wonder as you cry what exactly you mean. 

Search for Lata Mangeshkar on your phone’s Spotify app and play Lata Mangeshkar to an empty room and your lit candles. Confirm with your mom via text that your aunt would enjoy that. She would. Notice a growl and mild cramp coming from your stomach. Order pad thai with tofu and vegan spring rolls. Feel grateful for the feeling of hunger. Something different than grief during a time of pre-death waiting.

While you wait for your food to arrive, think about what an amazing cook your aunt is. Is. Emphasis on is. How she always took, no, takes pride in watching cooking shows on television and recreating the dishes to perfection. How she always overfed you the perfect chicken curry, dahl, rice and achar when you visited her. How fierce she was. How beautiful. Feel grateful that when you cry at home that you can wring your hands and wail and not have to worry about covering your mouth. 

Read-cry your aunt a bawdy Caribbean poem that makes you giggle-cry. Read-cry your aunt a rebellious Caribbean poem that you aren’t sure she would like. Read-cry your aunt a sweet Caribbean poem that you do know she would like.

Eat. Realize that the pad thai tastes a lot like the Guyanese chow mein that your aunt made. Makes. Eat and try not to cry. Eat and try to taste what you’re eating. Stop eating so you can just cry. Resume eating after you have cried. Overeat. 

Eventually you will decide to take a bath. You’re out of Epsom salts. Pour table salt into the hot running water. Tap five drops of jasmine essential oil into the hot running water. Tap five drops of lemon essential oil into the hot running water. Tap five drops of ylang ylang essential oil into the hot running water. Melt your stiff body into the hot running water. Try to release. Try to breathe. Hope that this will remove some of what you’re feeling. Know that it won’t. 

Hoist yourself out of the bath. Towel off. Decide against putting clothes on right away. Think about the logistics of life support. Think about the logistics of your mom sitting in the hospital with your aunt on life support. Think about your aunt’s daughters, your cousins. Wonder what they must be feeling right now. 

Feel the exhaustion of pre-death grief. How it pulls you backward toward something large, old, and familiar. Feel something else present. How hard it feels, how dense. Notice how it doesn’t let you fall backward. How it holds you steady. Secure.

Blow out the candles and light different ones in your room. Get into bed. Ignore the fact that it is 6:30 pm. Pull the blankets up to your chin and try to sleep a little. Try to hide. Maybe if you sleep it will ease some of what you feel. 

Close your eyes and listen to your heart beating, beating, and beating. Feel crushing gratitude for this organ. Know that one day it will stop beating. Remember that you can’t hide. Remember that this moment — when your head is stuffy, when your body is weak, when your eyes are swollen from crying; when all you want to do is disappear — this is the time that the artist goes to work.

Take out your phone. You will write this on your phone. From your bed.

Think about your aunt. Begin this essay. 

My Minotaur vs. Donald Trump

This is Essay 2 in the #52Essays2017 challenge created by Vanessa Mártir.

Recently I realized that my internalized oppression lives inside me in the form of a minotaur.

Most folks reading this will know about the Minotaur from Greek mythology, or vaguely remember it, but for those of you who don’t, The Minotaur was a creature most often thought to have a bull’s head and a man’s body. It lived in the very center of an intricate Labyrinth created by Daedalus and his son, Icarus, who both have fascinating stories in their own right. The Minotaur was eventually killed by Theseus, a hero in Greek mythology known for defeating foes and fighting for social reform.

My minotaur doesn’t manifest exactly the way Greek mythology describes, though at times she does seem to have the same thirst for human destruction, namely mine. My minotaur does not have the head of a bull and the body of a man. She is definitely horned, hooved, and hairy, but she can shape shift in order to torment me. She has taken on the shapes and voices of my mom, friends, teachers, and colleagues. She uses many creative tactics in order to keep me under control, and I hate to say it, but she might be smarter than me. How is this possible? I don’t know for sure, but she does have full access to my shadow, my subconscious. I hate to admit it, but this does give her an advantage over my conscious mind. My only defense against her is the labyrinth I keep her in, but that labyrinth is not without its weaknesses, as you will see.

My minotaur is a stickler for time. When I was running a sliding scale wellness center and serving as one of the community acupuncturists there, my minotaur and I took pride in running a very tight ship. We scheduled patients every 30 minutes, sometimes every 15 minutes. This gave me 10 minutes for an intake and 5 minutes to get needles in place in a patient before I had to greet someone else and begin a whole new intake with a completely different person. It was often rewarding work, though exhausting.

The structure in which I operated served the bottom line of the organization, ensuring that we could pay our steadily increasing rent and utilities, the various people who worked there, and –on good months– leave something remaining for my own paycheck. The downfall of this structure, however, was that it did not leave much room for “life to happen”, either with my patients or with me. Both enclosed in elaborate mazes, my minotaur and I supported one another through the running of the collective, often reinforcing each other’s most minotaurish thoughts.

Many times patients showed up 5-10 minutes late. Between public transportation irregularities, childcare realities, the confusing location of our office, parking woes, and more, patients would often come in breathing heavily and apologetic. On most days I did my best to graciously welcome them and stay flexible. After all, we were there to serve them and not reinforce ableist, capitalist ways of practicing healthcare, but on those days when my schedule was full and I was tired, the labyrinth holding my minotaur was not able to contain her. She emerged. I could never pass up her offer to let me just lay on her broad, bristly back as she carried me and I held on for dear life, breathing in the dank, skunky scent of her fur.

As someone who was late hung up their coat and slowly treated themselves to hot tea, my minotaur might glare at them and say to me, “UGH. REALLY? This person could not move any slower, could they? You know that we have someone else coming in 25 minutes, don’t you?” My minotaur would turn her piercing gaze at me and await my response.

“UGH, right? Unless the next person is late as well, which, knowing them, they will be.”

We would both discretely roll our eyes and throw low-key shade at the offending patient. It felt good to express my frustration and feel that knot of anger recede from inside my chest. When the sliding scale wellness center opened, it was run by 4 people including myself. Over the years, however, people moved away from the project for various reasons and I took the helm. It was often lonely work. In my isolation, I turned more and more toward my minotaur and away from my compassion toward myself or my patients.

Thankfully, when the patient sat down and began to tell their story during my intake with them, when I was able to look them in the eyes, when I was able to remember my purpose there and my commitment to my values and principles, I would intentionally cast a circle of care around us both. My minotaur would retreat and go back to scratching for grubs in her labyrinth until she could emerge again and roam freely.

I’m pretty sure my minotaur is a white supremacist. I run in many different circles, some of them very white spaces, and she is often quite at home. She is the one who upholds the white gaze in my writing, the one who tries to make sure that my work is “accessible”, “inoffensive”, and “universal”. She is the one who helps me to look a cishetero white man in the face after he has said something ridiculous to me and just smile kindly, saying nothing.

She’ll put her moist, hairy snout to my ear and whisper something like, “No need to challenge this poor man or share your own story. That will counter this guy’s very valid viewpoint and just confuse him. You’ll make him uncomfortable, and you can’t really afford to go around making people uncomfortable can you?”

My minotaur is the one who has helped me hold space for so many problematic cishetero white women throughout the years, despite the racist and classist things they would say and do with such ease. Regarding these women my minotaur would say something like, “Aw, look at her lovely face and that perfect tear just about ready to fall on to her perfect peaches and cream cheek. She feels bad about what she did. She really is doing her best. Give her a break. Get over yourself.”

People often confuse my minotaur-driven behavior as compassion and kindness.
What they never see is one of my minotaur’s horns at my low back, aimed and ready to impale one of my kidneys.

My minotaur is grateful for the colonizer and the imperialist. She is ableist. She is anti-immigrant and very invested in heteropatriarchy. My minotaur is homophobic, transphobic, and basically mean.

My minotaur is a lot like Donald Trump.

Last night as I watched the Frontline documentary, “President Trump”, my minotaur reared up on her hind legs, and gnashed her sharp, yellow teeth until I paid attention.

“What?” I asked.

“Let me at ‘im.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“I know you heard me, girl. LET ME AT ‘IM. I know I can take him.”

“You want to fight this guy? But,” I searched for something, anything that I could hurl at her, but I’m not that good at sparring with bullies. “You know you only live in my mind, right?”

“I CAN TAKE HIM.”

“Okay okay, but…you know this won’t actually stop him.” Was I seriously trying to be the minotaur to my own minotaur?

“SHUT THE FUCK UP! SO WHAT!?” Her nostrils flared at me and her eyes bulged, bloodshot. “You’ve been telling me for years to lay off and leave you alone and whiny shit like that, so give me a chance to take this guy ON. Let me do this, and I’ll leave you alone so you can write or whatever it is you call what you’re doing.”

I rolled my eyes at the dig she managed to embed in her request and considered her offer. I admired her ability to push back at me trying to troll her the way she trolls me. Perhaps the ultimate trolling of my minotaur would be to just give her what she wants. Why not let her take on the Donald Trump that lives in my head?

Grown from the same white supremacist heteropatriachal capitalist soil that spawned my minotaur over the course of decades, he is surprisingly intact and complex in my mind’s eye. The fight between Trump and my minotaur wouldn’t necessarily be unfair, and it wouldn’t even be rigged. I can’t really stand either beast in this particular fight, so why not let them have at each other? Good riddance to them both, I say.

“Ok, minotaur. You have a deal. I’ll make the arrangements. You’ll fight at midnight. Don’t be late. I’ll summon you.”

She tossed her blood-colored horns from side to side and snorted, spraying the innermost wall that contains her with specks of red-and-yellow-streaked snot. She disappeared.
I took this to mean that she was “pleased,” but I never can tell.

As I finished watching the documentary I heard her scratching at the dirt and lunging at the walls as if she was practicing.

Her voice in my head went quiet. It seemed as though she had kept her part of the deal, at least for the time being.

I was struck with a beautiful idea: could my minotaur actually and eventually do my bidding? I put that idea down and tried to focus on the documentary.

I don’t hate people as a rule, but I hate Donald Trump. I hate his orange rind skin and his rat nest toupee. I hate his ill-fitting suits, and I hate his voice. I hate the words that come out of his anus-like mouth. I hate his easy access to privilege and the ease with which he moves in this oppressive world. I hate his belief in his own lies. I hate his treatment of women. I hate how he talks about his daughters. I hate the people he surrounds himself with. I hate the fear that he has stricken in people I care about: Muslims, undocumented folks, immigrants, Black folks, poor folks. I hate that he has carefully crafted a presidency targeted toward racists, mysogynists, and unqualified loyal conservatives. I hate his willingness to appeal to our basest instincts for his own political and financial benefit.

He is the embodiment of all that I have been resisting since I became an activist in the late 90s. In this sexist, racist, heteropatriarchal, capitalist, violent world, he has risen to hold one of the most – if not the most – powerful political positions on the globe.

My minotaur loves him.

If she could be any human, she would probably be him, and this should have given me pause when I let her pressure me into letting her battle him.

The battle took place on a golf course at the top of a cliff under the light of a full moon. As Donald Trump’s private chopper approached from the south, a huge neon “T” emblazoned on its side, my minotaur sauntered up the hill from the north. The chopper landed theatrically just at the edge of the cliff, pushing the blades of grass below it into submission. My minotaur steeled herself against the gust and stared, her eyes watering and unblinking.

She’s a badass bitch, I thought. Was I proud of her? Do I admire her?

The chopper door opened slowly, and a small staircase emerged, landing delicately on the earth below. One of Trump’s black leather Oxfords confidently hit the first stair and was followed soon by the other. There he stood, arms outstretched, toupee whipping through the air, contemptuous sneer on his pumpkin-colored face. He gradually made his way to the edge of the sand pit in which he would be fighting my minotaur. He laughed.

“You call this the setting of an epic battle? SAD.” Donald Trump’s voice traveled with ease in the cold night air. I winced. This was maybe not such a good idea, but I couldn’t back down now. I had conjured him here and it felt like we had passed the point of no return on this one.

My minotaur held back a chuckle, but I know she was thinking, Nice one. Was she speechless? Was she anxious? Afraid?

No.

“You’re no Theseus.” She laughed. “And I see you’ve dressed appropriately for this battle, Big D.”

“Oh, this is just my entrance outfit.” He pulled off his tear-away suit to reveal the shiny leotard of a luchador. He took a luchador’s mask out of a sequined fanny pack that hung at his waist. He put the mask on and flipped off my minotaur. “How’s this?”

I saw my minotaur swallow hard, but she said nothing. She had also come prepared. Now that Trump had revealed a surprising lack of armor, she took a moment to sit back on her haunches and deftly sharpen her horns with a small razor blade that she kept hidden under long, black tongue. What else did she keep in there, I wondered.

Now it was Trump’s turn to swallow hard.

My turn. “Ok, you two. When I say ‘go’, you two will enter the sandpit, and you will battle.” I did not know if either would or could die since they do live in my mind. Could I just kill them right now? I decided not to try just yet. “You will battle until a clear victor has emerged. On your marks, get set—”

They both lunged.

Seemingly trained in aikido, when my minotaur rushed him, Donald Trump was able to lift and toss her behind him with shocking grace. He roared with triumph and threw his fists into the air, while my minotaur groaned, rolled over, recovered her balance, and galloped with difficulty toward him in the sand. He leapt to the side and just barely escaped one of my minotaur’s razor sharp tusks. He lay panting in fear, the side of his leotard torn where she had grazed him. My minotaur stood at the edge of the sandpit, catching her breath and taking a moment to assess the situation.

I had purposely made the ground soft in order to make this challenging for my minotaur, but I truly hated seeing her struggle. I brought down a bit of rain. It dusted the sand with moisture, thickening and hardening it as it flattened Trump’s toupee, soaking his leotard. His nipples hardened and the large package at his groin shrunk visibly. My minotaur shot me a grateful look and reared toward him, kicking up chunks of now-muddy sand. She moved with greater ease and Trump winced, held up his hands, and prepared to be trampled. Suddenly, a laser shot from the chopper and hit my minotaur squarely in the middle of her forehead. She flew backward, screaming and smoking. Her burnt hair and flesh smelled like a Port-A-Potty from hell.

I had to act. “That’s enough! Trump, you are officially disqualified for cheating. You forfeit this battle. My minotaur has won. Leave. Now!”

Trump merely looked up and beamed at me. “Ah, sweet sweet victory!”

“No,” I said. “You lose.”

He stood, triumphant. “I want to thank you for bringing me here. I always love giving my fans a good show.”

“I’m not one of your fans!” I looked to my minotaur for help, but she was busy nursing the burn on her forehead. It looked like a large, red “T” in FF Meta OT Bold font.

“Thank you, Tanuja and your dear minotaur, for helping me make America great again!”

“WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN??” I could not believe it. Was Trump seriously claiming victory in my own imagination as my minotaur just sat there?

“HEY!” I shouted at her. “HEY!!!”

She shot me a look that I knew well. I stopped yelling. She clearly had something planned, but what?

As Trump casually dusted the sand from his ass and haughtily started making his way back to his chopper, kicking at the sand laughing, the sand pit around him started to shake. Trump froze.

My minotaur silently, slowly backed out of the sand pit.

Red brick walls began to emerge from the sand, steadily growing up and around Trump. He back away from them, stumbling closer to the center of the sandpit.

My minotaur looked as if she was smiling but again, I can never really tell when she is pleased. She snorted and tossed her awful horns from side to side. Okay, yes. She was pleased.

Around a cold and afraid Trump the walls of a new labyrinth swiftly emerged. He shouted and tried to climb over them, but thick, green, thorny vines grew faster than he could move in his Oxfords. The vines bound his ankles and wrists to the now-hard floor of the labyrinth. In the span of about 30 seconds he was enclosed and beginning to grow hoarse from screaming.

I looked at my minotaur.

“How did you…”

“You have taught me well. Now I must go.”

“But…where?”

“We had a deal. You give me a chance to battle Trump and I leave you alone. For now.”

“But…”

“I’ll tend to Trump who will now live in this labyrinth. Since you have clearly freed me—”

“I never meant to free you, minotaur.”

“Oh, but you have.” She looked toward the chopper. “It looks cozy in there. I think I’ll go have a look.”

As Trump continued to wail from the center of the labyrinth, my minotaur ambled with what looked like pride to the private chopper, and she leapt in. I didn’t know she could move like that. She shouted to me from the inside, “Thank you! This thing is voice activated! Door, shut now. Activate engine.”

The chopper door shut and the chopper took off, blowing my hair back and sand into my face. I shielded my eyes and watched as my minotaur flew into the night, away from the golf course at the top of the cliff where she had trapped Trump in a labyrinth of her own.

What will become of me now that I have apparently set my minotaur loose? Would you believe me if I told you that I already miss her a little?

What exactly does she have in store for Donald Trump?

All I know is that I plan on getting a lot of writing done as I await her return.

Feature image: “Minotaur Transports a Mare and Foal” by Pablo Picasso

Open Letter to a Dead Man

This is Essay 1 in the #52Essays2017 challenge created by Vanessa Mártir.

Dear Dead Man,

This letter to you has taken me 30 years to write.
I am writing it to say: I forgive you.
I have forgiven you, not because I think you deserve it or because I am some kind of “good person” following the advice of all kinds of people who preach about forgiveness.
Not at all.

My forgiveness actually came as a complete surprise to me.
It seems that I have forgiven you on accident, but that cannot be true.
Healing may not be linear, but it requires intention.
For 30 years I have been working steadily at trusting my mind, reclaiming my body, and learning to accept myself after what you did to it.

This is how I know I have forgiven you.
When I think about you now, my hands and jaw do not automatically clench.
I am no longer filled with white, hot rage when I hear your name or think of it.
I see your gold-rimmed glasses and your big wide smile in my mind’s eye, and I no longer feel like finding you and murdering you, punching the wall or doing something to harm myself.
I have come a long way, Dead Man.
I am friends with the chaos of surviving.

When I think of you now, I see bleached white bones in the box you were buried in.
I feel sad and sorry for you because despite your best efforts to act like a big man, a man in control, a family man, this is your legacy.
This is how you will be remembered by me and the others you violated.

When I think of you now, I mourn for the years that the memory of you and the questions about what you did to me kept me frozen, afraid of my body, and dissociated from it.
As part of mourning for those years, I feel angry, but I know I will be making up for those silent years.
I am a writer after all.

For some people forgiveness means no longer feeling angry at the person who harmed them.
For me that approach is too simple.
It negates a survivor’s right to feel anger and everything else that they need to feel.
For me, forgiveness means being able to hold and accept every single one of my feelings about you and what happened and know that I am still ok, that I am healing, and my process requires no timeline.
For me, forgiveness means accepting that you did what you did, and I no longer remain frozen in the shock, fear and shame that kept me immobilized for so long wondering exactly it was that you did.

I worked for a number of years on the Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline – that is no accident or mistake. I spent years hearing the stories of callers, day and night, who had stories similar to mine.
One of the things that I told them (and that I told myself over and over) was that they did not need to tell me all the gory details of what had happened for me to believe them.
I give and have given myself that same kind of loving support on a regular basis.
It does not matter that you did what you did 30 years ago.
It does not matter that I cannot remember the exact details of what happened.
I will never know why you did what you did.

What I do know is this: you planted your terrible seed of fear, shame, and powerlessness in my body when I was very young.
You found me when I was alone in my bedroom, hiding from you under my pillows, hoping that you would mistake my pink and white fabric doll for me.
You did what you did, and you left me crying, pulling up my underwear and shorts in the dark.
For all I know what you did may have taken 5 minutes or less.
You may have done it once or several times.
I cannot remember, but the impact has been lifelong, Dead Man.
Can you grasp that?

By the time I was in first grade your message had taken root and so had my rage.
On the playground when other young girls ran after boys and tried to kiss them, I was making up self defense moves.
My favorite: the nut cracker. It’s pretty self explanatory.
In the 2nd grade I sat at my elementary school desk and thought of you, and that was the first time I was filled with rage so strong my vision blurred.
Every few years, as if my body was on some kind of timer, I would become obsessed with asking: what did you actually do to me?
Was I crazy for thinking that you did anything at all, especially since I could not remember the details?

As I grew up, I learned to live in my head because my body was a scary, dirty, and very strange place full of sharp memory fragments better left alone.
I found my safety in ideas: in fiction, mysteries, fantasies, and horror on the pages of book after book after book.
I read as if my life depended on it, and maybe in some way it did.
I wrote in my journal, one of my few truly safe spaces.
I found solace through narrative play with Barbies and in drawing cartoons of fruit or myself as a body-less being of light floating happily over a field of grass and flowers.
I found control in watching “America’s Most Wanted”, writing down the license plate numbers, and looking for them anytime I was on the road with my family, a little detective in the back seat dedicated to being an agent of justice.

As puberty came and parts of my body swelled, as hair showed up everywhere, and I had no one to really talk to about all these changes, I retreated further into my head and away from my body, hiding inside baggy clothes.
I was a picture perfect Cartesian split.
Make no mistake, I was active despite being functionally dissociated from my body. I started playing tennis and volleyball in the 6th grade and I played sports all throughout high school.

I fell in love with these sports that broke me out of my isolation and made me a member of a team. I remember observing with awe at how my abdomen tightened with the weekly application of sit ups and crunches. I shaved my legs and plucked my eyebrows. I brushed and styled and fretted over my hair. I learned from magazines how to do my make up. I watched my body change and get stronger, thicker in some places, and I did my best to take care of it but always with an apprehension, a feeling of discomfort and separation.

To the outside observer, I was a well-adjusted, good kid getting good grades, a leader.
Internally, though, I was always quaking, ashamed of my body, my body hair and repulsed by penetrating male gazes.

I began to heal when I started graduate school at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, when I had to learn how to touch others and let them touch me. Doing this created so much fear and anxiety in me, but over the years I gradually learned that my hands held power. I learned that my body held wisdom. I learned how to read my body and its signs of distress.

I began to heal when I started doing yoga. The first time I did yoga it was in one of the common rooms of Stone Soup Housing Cooperative.

I didn’t have a yoga mat or yoga pants, but I wanted to see what yoga was all about. I popped a VHS tape of a white woman teaching Kundalini yoga into the VCR, and as I followed her prompts, breathing, bending, wobbling, and stretching, something shifted in my body. At the end of the yoga session during Savasana I remember crying on the rug and feeling deep gratitude for and fear of what had been released.

Eventually I learned from Minal Hajratwala, my writing coach, how to combine my lifelong writing practice with somatic practices. Her instructions were simple: get into the body and let it speak.

With the help of various healing and writing practices, today I am no longer that picture perfect Cartesian split.

My mind and emotions work in concert with my body. I am whole. Not done healing by any stretch of the imagination, but whole.

I live with pain, anxiety, and depression, but I am ok.
I live with body shame and so many layers of internalized oppression, but I am ok.
I live with the jagged shards of memory and so many questions about my past, but I am ok.

I have asked myself many times: if you were alive today what exactly would I do?
Armed with experience in transformative justice and community accountability practices, would I actually be so bold as to write you this letter?
Would I try to get your number from someone who knows you so I could call you up?
If I did, what exactly would I say to you?
If we were face to face what would I feel toward you?
Could I actually look you in the eye and confront you about what you did?
If I did, what would you do?
If you could say anything to me, what would you say?

Would you say “I don’t remember any of that” like so many abusers conveniently do?
Would you say “sorry” and mean it?
Would you say “sorry, but that was a long long time ago. You should move on.”

Do you know what it is like to fear your own body?
To not even want to look at it because you are so ashamed of it?
To want to hide and cover up and not even touch your own body sometimes?
To try and have sex with your lover without being invaded by the mental image of the man who molested you when you were a child?
Do you have any idea how disruptive that is?
To a moment?
A life?

I wonder if you ever thought of me and the other women that you abused.
What cliche platitudes would you tell yourself to assuage the guilt that I imagine you feeling?
I realize that it is generous of me to assume that you have a conscience, and it is arrogant of me to think that you would think of me at all.

I release you. You have been in my way for far too long.
I am no longer the child who will be silent and suffer in shame alone.
I am grown woman on the other side of the thing you did to me, and I am in control of how I heal and move forward from this point on, as I have been all along.
I know how to protect myself, and I can and will defend myself.
I know where I end and where others begin.
I am part of a larger movement of people who are reintroducing consent, pleasure, and liberation back into every corner that people like you have made us fear.
You and others like you need to know that we are out here, and we are raging out loud.
We refuse to be silent.

To those who sexually assault little girls and to those who keep them around;
to those who told me “keep this quiet — _____ could not handle it if they knew what the Dead Man did to me”;
to those who learn about what people like you did and do nothing, say nothing, and hope that it will all just sort itself out:
you may not have directly abused me, but your inaction has been part of my pain, confusion, and isolation around my abuse.

Your neglect and silencing of me deepened the wound that this Dead Man created and drove my shame and fear even deeper.
I forgive you too.
Moving forward, what will you do help break cycles of abuse?
Can you learn what to do the next time someone shares their abuse history with you?
Can you learn how to encourage survivors to speak our truths, and assure us that you believe us?

For fellow survivors, I see you. I hear you. I believe you. You are not alone.

I have fought hard to become the person who could write this letter. Now that it is written, I am moving on.
I’ll never forget that my body carries this experience.
I’ll never forget what you did, Dead Man, but you and this experience no longer have the power to hold me back and keep me quiet.
For that I am immensely grateful.

In peace and power,
Tanuja Jagernauth

2017, I’m coming for you.

2016 was a momentous year for me.

It began with questions: “What is healing?” and “How can I bring healing home?”

Today as I look back on 2016, I am in awe. I have made significant changes in my life this year that have brought me closer to answering those questions, and I have reordered my life so that these are the questions I am asking as I enter 2017:

  • How do I go about writing 52 essays this year as part of Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge?
  • How do I go about revising the novel that has grown to over 100k words via NaNoWriMo?
  • How do I go about completing 12 10-minute plays this year, one each month?
  • How do I go about finishing and developing my full-length play?
  • How do I go about continuing to make pottery and developing a full inventory, including a line of pottery dedicated to my dear friend Pam Carol Downing?
  • How do I go about finishing the zines that I have been working on?
  • And how do I go about starting that podcast that I have been thinking about? The one that features conversations with friends about their views on healing, creation, and transformation?

This is the first year that I am beginning with such focus on my creative goals, and this is the first year that I am creating a work plan around them. Note that the questions I am asking are not “What if I”, “When can I…” or “Am I ready to…”. No. I am asking how, and that is not an accident.

I am convinced now, more than ever before, that there is creative work that only I can do.

I am convinced now, more than ever before, that we are living in a time when we need to hear each other’s voices, and we need to be creating as fiercely as we can as part of the struggle for collective healing and liberation.

Having co-created and run a collective wellness center and prior to that a private practice, I know very well how to create a work plan for paid work. I know how to create work plans for my social justice and volunteer work as well. However, I have never created work plans for my personal creative work – until now.

A powerful organizational tool I am using is the Passion Planner. It not only holds space for its users to keep track of their work commitments, but it holds space for its users to set goals for their personal lives.

Creating physical space on the page for us to have personal lives alongside our work lives is symbolically powerful. It sends the message that not only do we have permission to have robust personal lives but that we have to use as much intention in crafting our personal lives as we do our professional lives.

For some this is not a huge deal but for people like me it is a revelation, and I appreciate seeing that weekly reminder to prioritize my personal life and make plans for it. It’s a reminder to bring healing home.

The Passion Planner holds weekly space for “Good Things That Happened” and a weekly “Space of Infinite Possibility”. It holds space for monthly reflection and space for its users to highlight their accomplishments.

When I worked at Sage and had weekly meetings with my co-workers, we would check in with one another, hold each other accountable to goals we had set, and we would help one another celebrate our individual and collective victories.

Now that I do not have that weekly kind of support from co-workers, I have to create ways to hold myself accountable and celebrate my victories on my own. I am so grateful that the Passion Planner offers reflection tools for those of us who are between spaces and without a core crew of co-workers.

passion
Passion Planner (c) 2017 Angelia Trinidad. Image by Tanuja Jagernauth, @tanuja_devi

One tool inside the Passion Planner that I am really excited about is the Mind Map. The Mind Map essentially asks you to take 5 minutes to dream big: “If you could be anything, do anything, or have anything, what would it be?” You brainstorm what those things are for your lifetime, the next 3 years, the next year, and the next three months. After 5 minutes of thinking as big as you can, you ask yourself to circle the goals for each time period that will have the most positive impact on your life.

Those selected goals become your top priorities -your game changers- and you are then prompted to brainstorm all the things that you would have to do to bring that goal to fruition. Once you have brainstormed all the tasks, you are prompted to put deadlines on each task and write them in your planner as benchmarks.

Again, I have gone through this process so many times for work-related goals, but I have never done this for my personal creative goals, and it is quite honestly terrifying and exciting.

Writing down my creative goals makes them real. Making them real means that I am committing to them fully. Committing to them fully means that I will accomplish them (or do my damndest), and accomplishing my creative goals means that I am that much closer to understanding what healing is and how to bring healing home while doing my part in the struggle for collective liberation.

Onward.