The aftermath

Ouch.

I never seriously believed that Trump could become the next president of the United States.  My shock was partly due to the fact that I live in the bluest of cities in a blue state and get the bulk of my information from liberal news media. (I have tried in earnest to read/listen to mainstream conservative news in order to understand the other side but I just can’t handle the lobotomizing effect of emotionally-supercharged, propagandist headlines that are devoid of facts or content).  But more than anything I was shocked because I was sure that this country was just too good for the Republican candidate.  And the discovery that I was wrong has left me wondering about the very viability of democratic nationhood.

The best way that I have been able to interpret the outcome has been as a metaphor for a terrorist attack.  Many people (ok, around half the country) have been so completely excluded from the orthodox channels of influence that they were willing to do something crazy, even destructive, to finally get their voices heard.  And, though many people are upset, the reality is that many people are also now being forced to listen.

I am listening.  As a coastal ‘elite’ I’m supposed to be completely cut off from the concerns of middle America but I was born and raised in the Midwest.  Much of my family lives in the rust belt.  I know something about the economy of the region and the pain that comes from living without real hope for the future.  And I am fully aware of the ways that I benefit from living in a place with the power to write its own storyline.  The Bay Area is a place where ideas can become reality and the future truly feels like something that we have the great privilege of shaping.  The prosperity and opportunity here give residents the ability to look forward. Not back.

This is my country and I want to make sense of it.  I actually believe that there are real solutions to the problems that affect the many places that are struggling. But there are so many things that I just don’t understand.  I don’t understand how people can be more comfortable paying to incarcerate than to educate.  I don’t understand how anyone believes that it is possible to feel comfortable putting a racist in power without accepting racism.  I don’t understand how anyone can take out their economic frustrations on the people who struggle to survive while providing the labor that powers most of our food system and a good portion of the construction industry.  I don’t understand how anyone can be concerned about Muslim fundamentalism without ever questioning the nature of our relationship with Saudi Arabia. I don’t understand how women can support a man whose only metric for their worth is whether or not they can give him an erection.   I don’t understand how anyone can be more concerned about what another person might choose to do in his/her bedroom than whether or not he/she has access to healthy food.    I don’t understand how anyone can assign more value to the life of a fetus than the lives of billions of people living on this planet (fine, I do understand this, but I don’t understand how such rhetoric continues to be acceptable).

Over and over again since the election I have heard people who voted for Trump tell those of us who are despairing over the outcome that we can now finally understand how they have been feeling for the past 8 years.  They seem to be referring to the comfort one gets from having someone that they can identify with in power.  But, if by chance they are actually referring to the fact that we now know what it feels like to live without hope for the future, then I fully agree.

 

The year of the pussy

I never expected that I could feel grateful for the presence of such an unsavory GOP presidential candidate.

Yet here I am.

Grateful for the outpouring, the surge of outrage and personal accounts that are stirring up so much emotional turmoil.  Grateful for the intoxicating power of collective storytelling.  Grateful for the airing of excrement so stinky that it sparked a truly important national conversation during a campaign that has so far been little more than a media circus.

But I am also a little nervous.  Nervous that we will move on to other things long before we have a chance to make any real progress.  Nervous because there is so much more to learn from this conversation.  Nervous that we won’t learn the one lesson that I honestly believe will permit us to take a giant step forward in the fight to reduce sexual assault.

That lesson is consent.

Sure, everybody knows that consent is the difference between sex and assault but I have never been more convinced that we don’t actually understand how exactly consent works or how to use it.  Listening to the rather blase’ reactions of some older women that I know, I’m reminded that power dynamics were once so skewed that women didn’t even always feel entitled to exercise consent let alone know how to do so.

While things have undoubtedly changed, we have a very long way to go. And that is partly because consent is not simple at all.  While the concept of women clearly expressing lack of consent is critical to our very safety, I’m afraid that it is mostly acceptable because it conforms to our collective comfort with a rather sanitized view of women’s sexuality.

Because beyond the power to deny consent is the power to seek it. And by that I mean women who know what and who they do want and are capable of clearly expressing it.  And that, my friends, is practically heresy.  A particular brand of heresy that most of us have been taught to shun.  And yet it is exactly by learning to reclaim this thing that is ours and doing so on terms that we learn to clearly define for ourselves and others that we have the best hope of turning hetero sex relations into something that could maybe one day resemble mutual respect.

There will always be the Trumps and Berlusconis of the world who believe that everyone comes with a price tag.  And there will always be women (and men) who are willing to plug their nose for long enough to get into the master bedroom at Mar a Lago. But I’m dreaming of a climate in which future generations will have access to sex education that delves into consent even before talk of reproduction and birth control.  A climate where every woman might get to a place of respect for her own pussy that will help her to both avoid the sexual interactions that she doesn’t want AND shamelessly but respectfully seek out those that she does.

I need to talk about race

I don’t want to talk about race.  It makes me uncomfortable, angry and ashamed.  Every single strand of truth on the subject is heavy with conflict.  Taken together it all forms a bitter tangle that is honestly more than I can handle. It also happens that I am in no position to talk on the side of struggle and have zero desire to engage in the kinds of contorted arguments that I know are aimed at nothing more than freeing my own white conscience from its burden.

I can see that I live in a nation that views the horrors of slavery as nothing more than an old fever, long since medicated by the 13th amendment and the civil rights act.  This though I can also see how fully absurd it is to think that a people can be intentionally broken, the entirety of a culture systematically destroyed, and then left, resource-less, to figure out a way to rebuild within an environment that continues to be hostile.  I can see how many people like to talk about the success of the immigrants who arrive with absolutely nothing and yet come to thrive in short order.  And I am speechless to respond to anybody who thinks that a strong culture and family ties constitute as nothing.

I can see the way that things are disintegrating around me.  I read the news.  I see the crime.  I feel the hostility.  I fear the guns.  And I don’t want to talk about it.  But there is one sentiment that I continue to encounter that I’m afraid I just can’t ignore.  It is the sentiment of deep despair that follows time and again with the words “but I just don’t know what can be done” that brought me here to do exactly the thing that I don’t want to do: talk about race.

Because there is a hell of a lot that can be done.  We could do what we should have done a long time ago: put together a real plan to rebuild a (deliberately) broken community.  And we could do this without spending an extra penny in tax dollars because those countless millions that we are spending on policing, criminal justice and imprisonment, those same millions that have done nothing to improve the situation and plenty to make it worse, could be funneled into community building.  Even just a fraction of that budget could be redirected toward schools, clinics, recreation and job training.  And we could begin right now.

But there are problems.  In order to do any of this we probably have to admit the very uncomfortable fact that none of the money that we are currently spending, whether in government programs or criminal justice, is actually aimed at strengthening African American communities.  And we have to accept that there is truly nothing that can be done that will provide results in a politically acceptable timeline.  Our current predicament took generations to create and will take generations to repair.

Nothing about this situation is easy.  And we don’t have a hell of a lot of power to affect change as individuals of any color.  But we can start by deciding that something can be done.  And we can engage in a conversation about real ways to start that doing.

And, painful though it may be, that means that we have to talk about race.

 

Four…………ever??

Dario

Mr D turned four a few weeks ago.  And this happy occasion nudged me into thinking about how much of his childhood I’ve spent looking forward to the next step.  Once he starts walking/stops napping/starts talking/stops using diapers/starts school/stops needing so much attention…………

But somewhere along the way things changed.  Right now I would do just about anything to slow this train the fuck down.  Right now I wouldn’t hesitate to hit the pause button.

It’s not that I’m judging my former self.  She was struggling to get by during what is a very challenging time.  It’s that without much notice the hard work of parenting let up just enough to allow me to access a little secret.  Somewhere in the rhythms of lunch-making and drop-offs, the early-morning music jams and late-afternoon lego sessions, I became aware that my kids are thriving. Right now. And right now I don’t really have to focus on what they might become someday or the far more terrifying question of what the world might offer them.

A walk around the perimeter of they grow up so fast can only lead you to the more difficult truths. You never know what the future holds. And most importantly, life is short.  The path forward is equal parts excitement and terror. But the secret is right there next to the the weeds poking through amid the new sprouts and the endless piles of dirty dinner dishes.

This is it.

And it is enough.

Message for Donald

If you take away the efforts to create – the poetry, art and music

If you take away the desire to understand – the science and philosophy, the exploration of self

If you take away respect for life and those who nurture it

If you take away the courageous struggle to foster civilization

If you take away the belief that we can be better than we are

There is no Great

Food Fridays – a weapon of revolution

I have been a food worker for many years, though for a long time I didn’t know it.  One of the reasons for this was that I was just a child.  It’s not that I was very young.  It’s that I was generally trusting, focused on assimilating the rules of my workplace rather than questioning them.  Doing research inside of academia, I was sure that my goal was simply to further knowledge in plant science, unquestioning of the assumptions and goals related to “feeding the world” that were cut and pasted from one USDA grant proposal to another.  I didn’t focus on the ways that academia and business function together, the ways that the worth of a line of research is evaluated in light of the needs of a corporate system of agriculture that is busy stocking our supermarket shelves.

When g was born and I felt the weight of providing a healthy diet for a growing baby, I turned into a teenager.  I read about pink slime and BPA, antibiotics and processed sugars, atrazine, glyphosate and arsenic and I decided that NOBODY could be trusted to safely feed my child.  I began to have delusional visions of growing and preparing all of our food by myself.  Through a less than perfectly stable mentally outlook, I learned a lot about the things that are wrong with our food system.  And I dressed in black with safety pins, colored my hair purple and brewed kombucha.

About a year ago I began working with a local organic farmer. Confident in my understanding of healthy soils and biological diversity, I was ready to MAKE A DIFFERENCE.  And then I started to become an adult.  I realized that it’s fine and dandy to want to do the right thing, a “thing” that is typically not difficult to understand but isn’t going to take you anywhere if you can’t also put food on your own table.  I learned about the vertiginous climb that so many fresh-faced would-be food providers are facing when they step onto the field and find that their opponent is the colossal corporate food system, an industry so large and powerful that it has decided the modern history of entire nations, including, it could be argued, my own.

Now that I’m developing wrinkles, I finally feel like I may have a decent vantage point from which to see the big picture.  The hormones have calmed but I can’t give up on all of the hopes and demands of the pimple-faced girl in the ripped anarchy t-shirt.  Now that I’m an adult I’ve thrown an apron over that shirt because I think that there is something that I can do about it all.  And that something is called dinner.

I know that it’s asking a hell of a lot of people who struggle enough just to get dinner on the table, many of whom are preoccupied with whether that dinner will actually be consumed by those who need it most, to also consider the implications of genetic technologies, toxicity profiles, carbon footprints and the treatment of agricultural workers.  Life is difficult (and costly) enough!  But if you flip that page over and recognize that the simple and obligatory decisions you make about the food you purchase can be a powerful agent for change in a thousand different ways all at once, you realize that dinner is power.

There are about a billion websites that write about the topic of food in some way.  I know this because I read about half of them on a semi-regular basis.  By joining the ranks I’m hoping to be able to use some of the time that I’ve spent obsessing about all of this over the years to help people make simple choices about what to eat.

I really do believe that small choices can have an impact.  And beyond all that idealistic nonsense, even old farts need their outlets.

 

 

Révolution tranquille*

There is a conversation that I’ve had over and over since beginning life as a SAHM.  It takes on a number of variations but they generally boil down to the same sentiment.  I don’t know how you do it. I could never!  

I’ve had this conversation enough times with enough different people to give me the impression that I don’t quite struggle with this life the way that I’m supposed to. It’s not that I haven’t experienced firsthand the agony of never-ending days with young children.  It’s not that I don’t find some of the work to be repetitive, uninspiring and exhausting. Or that I’m not forced to recognize that sometimes I don’t actually know what I’m doing.  It’s not that I’m not sorry to be missing out on a long list of things because I simply don’t have the time. It’s not even that I am unaware of the nearly nonexistent opportunities for recognition or advancement.  But I have encountered every one of those frustrations in other jobs.  So what is it that makes this particular occupation so unique in so many people’s eyes?  Why is it that I see things differently?

The real reason that I’ve been able to spend several years of my life dedicated more or less exclusively to the running of my family without losing my mind entirely is that I place a high value on what I do.  I am fully aware that raising children falls clearly into the category of work that is not valued by our society.  But I happen to think that sometimes society is an ass hole.

The reasons that I value this work so highly go far beyond the importance of keeping the next generation alive and well or even the opportunity to enhance my children’s potential for “success”. In the workings of day-to-day family life I see the relationships and decisions that establish nothing less than the foundation of culture, the guiding force behind all human endeavors.   On the best of days, I see the work that I do to teach my children to respect other living beings as my greatest contribution to the building of a society built on those principles.   When the stars align, I can see in the simple acts of  watering carrot seeds or cooking dinner my contribution to developing a better food system.  In an hour freely given, I can see how the education of our children and the institutions that provide it rely heavily on the unpaid work of those who care about them.  And in the minor accounting of extra portions for an ill neighbor, I can be part of an alternative system of health care.

This is not an attempt to weigh in on the mommy wars.  It is an attempt to weigh in on the value of work that is too often overlooked.  In reality, I don’t think that any of it should be left to any one gender or individual, biology permitting.  G and I have never seen our arrangement during the past few years as ideal and I am glad that we are working toward a set-up that provides a better balance. But I am also convinced that one of the reasons that it is not easily achieved is that we belong to a culture that doesn’t quite see things the way we do.

And I think that one of the major factors behind this difference in opinion is the fact that the majority of this work takes place outside of the capitalist market system.  Promoting a workforce that both fails to receive a paycheck AND fails to consume a number of services by performing work that could be outsourced is a recipe for reducing growth and tax revenue.  Simply put, this “pink market”** is a problem for our economy.

And yet, I would argue, a system of labor that allows people to focus on the immediate needs of their families and communities is capable of promoting social goods that the market economy simply can’t take into consideration.  And it will tend to avoid many of those negative consequences that capital economies have no incentive to address. I wouldn’t advocate for the total demise of the capitalist system, even if I thought that were a viable possibility. But I do advocate for growth of an alternative system because I think the two can function in complement.

There is a notion that the ability to dedicate one’s time toward the well being of one’s community is selfish and decadent, a domain reserved only for the very wealthy.   This criticism is not unfounded, especially given the fact that it is by necessity subsidized by the market economy.  But it is also true that outsourcing of this work depends almost entirely on low wage labor, which is a major contributor to poverty in the first place.

I know that most people see absolutely nothing revolutionary in dedicating time to snack preparation and storytelling. But it may be exactly this concept that makes it so worthwhile to me.

Just don’t ask me to find anything of value in cleaning urine off the bathroom floor.

 

 

* My thanks to the Canadians for generously “lending” me this title.

**This term doesn’t actually exist in this context and doesn’t do me any good in terms of my goal to dissociate this work with women.  But I can’t deny that it has traditionally been a female domain and the black market is the only other alternative market that came to mind.

 

 

Be my valentine

Dear February,

I am feeling the love. I know that the glorious warm and sunny days that you have blessed us with lately were not meant for my enjoyment alone but that doesn’t change the way that I feel about them.  I credit the plum trees bursting with pink blossoms and our (mostly) unrestricted airways for my genuine feelings of affection for you on this valentine’s day.

I have no choice but to hope that this early taste of spring will be short-lived, followed by plenty more much-needed winter rain, but it has lured me excitedly into the garden.  A little pruning here, a bit of mulching there, a new, roomier home for my beloved baby olive tree.

I don’t ordinarily send valentines but this year I feel the need to tell you that your efforts are not going unnoticed.

 

plum-blossoms-400x600

With love,

Slowmamma

Ok. Let’s start over

Listen February, I feel like I’ve been doing my part to restore our relationship.  I put some real effort into changing my attitude. I planted strawberries and asparagus and got my seed-starting plan together.  I even uncharacteristically bought a duvet cover for the tattered old comforter that we sleep with in the front room/living room/play room/office/second bedroom.  But you responded with………….illness?  Ok, Mr D came down with the virus last week so technically we could blame it on January.  But g’s all-night, screaming-in-pain event on the anniversary of his emergency surgery?  Dude, that was below the belt.

Yes, I know that he has a tendency to be dramatic.  Yes, I now understand that it was almost certainly sinus-related and he seems to be fine.  But I’m exhausted.  And, given the power of understanding to guide a relationship in the right direction, I want to explain why this exhaustion is much more than the absence of a single night of sleep.

You see, parenting a child whose survival is so tightly entangled with loss (What’s that? You’re right, you’re not to blame for the death of g’s twin and yes, I will talk to April about that one) is a particular kind of challenge.  It doesn’t matter that I understand how important it is to send him out into the world to develop coping skills and become strong.  Or the fact that I know that things happen and kids get sick and hurt.  Parenting g is a daily struggle against my desire to dress him in bubble wrap and arrange all the activities he could ever want right here in our living room.

Because I have never fully emancipated myself from the fear that I wouldn’t be able to keep him safe.  And yes, I see that for the most part he’s managing quite well.  I promise you that I’m working on it. I think I’ll get there eventually. But in the meantime?  Please go easy on me.

Ok February, let’s work this out.

Ok February, I know that you and I don’t have a healthy relationship.  For me, you have come to represent a hardship to be endured, one that I mentally parcel out into discrete milestones: the Superbowl (getting started!), Valentine’s Day (halfway!), the Oscars (almost done!), despite the fact that not a single one of those milestones carries any meaning to me personally.

I don’t know when this silent duel began but I do know that it reached it’s peak a year ago when g was hospitalized.  I’ll admit that I’m still struggling to forgive that offense.  And yet there is something about this year that makes me believe that there is hope for us yet. Maybe it is the fact that we’ve had something that we Californians can justify calling a “winter”.  Maybe it’s something about the way that I can detect the subtle changes in light quality in recent days.  But this year I honestly feel like I can see you for what you are, perhaps for the first time- much more than just a prolonged period of short days and nasty viruses, you are a necessary moment of transition, a critical passage in the progression toward spring.

It’s not only the toddlers among us who struggle to embrace the meaning of transition.  We all like tidy definitions- winter/spring, young/old. But life doesn’t comply.  And so I see now that you, February, and I have more in common than I previously understood.

This year I’ve decided to embrace you.  I hope to approach you as a time to prepare, an opportunity to act.  I have plans – for the garden, for my home, for my self.  But I’ll admit that I’m not terribly wedded to outcomes.  For better and worse I will probably be quite busy in the coming days.  To be honest, my “plans” have much more to do with our relationship than they do with any measurements of productivity.  I honestly want to repair some of the damage between us.

And I sincerely hope that you will be inclined to reciprocate.