Brain Gardening

Remembering Antonio

hood rats

Hood rats of Holyoke

Forgive me, Jerica.

“That life – whatever else it is – is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. Death always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch.” -Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

I have been meaning to write this for some time, though at first, I did not know what to say. Or perhaps more accurately, I did not know how to write about it. What prepares anyone for the finality of death?

Antonio Nieves Martinez was my professor. It is true that I did not know him that well. I did not talk to him as I should have, I did not spend enough time with him.

We met in my first year of graduate school, in 2014. He was a new professor in my program, and I was a new master’s student taking the hard blows of imposter syndrome for truly the first time. And I’m sure he had felt the same way years ago, yet there he was, graceful, charming. I don’t know how to say this. Antonio was not perfect. He had moments when all transparency went out the window, when I could tell he was only going through the motions, and wasn’t fully present or engaged. But there were other things he did so beautifully.

On July 13 of this year, I was nearing the end of the eighth day of my new job at Hampshire College. A friend of mine, a doc student interning in Alaska at the time, called me over Facebook messager out of the blue. She hadn’t contacted me in a while, and we were going to move in together in about a month, so I wondered if she had had some problem signing for the apartment. I wish that had been the problem. She told me instead that Antonio had committed suicide.

I’m not sure I fully understood in that moment, what she had said. I was living with another friend, and I knew I would have to tell her as well, when I got home that day. She and I were in the same cohort, and we both took Antonio’s class at the same time. In fact, at that moment, I was dimly aware that I really needed to tell all of my cohort and the one after mine, and anyone else who knew him, what had happened. Looking back now, perhaps it was not my place to have done that. But I also knew that the faculty of my program and the administrators of the College of Education would keep it quiet, and that felt wrong. Because personally, I did not care how he had died. He deserved to be remembered.

More than that, he deserved to be loved. The friend I was staying with went to New York that weekend after I told her. We were supposed to meet up with members of my cohort the Friday after that, to celebrate Antonio’s life.

I had the apartment to myself the next day. I drove to my favorite ice cream place, ordered a giant tub of blue ice cream, came home, ate it, and cried. I cried for a long time. I don’t remember when I stopped. I just remember thinking he must have been in so much pain near the end of his life, and I couldn’t bear to think of him feeling that way. Not when he had had such a colorful life, not when he probably knew so much more about living than I did. Of course I know now that he always assigns the Duncan-Andrade piece, the ones about roses that grow in concrete, because he was one himself.

I did my crying in co-counseling. And alone in my car on the way to work. I’d put on all the Spanish music I could find and it would remind me of him. And I’d cry. This man probably knew so many things that I don’t, and I never bothered to ask. I know because I’m going through life now wishing I could ask him.

After I graduated from my program in 2016, I spent a year in my hometown, Tampa. Intermittently, I would think of Antonio. I’d think maybe I should email him, and tell him what I’m up to. In May of 2017, I knew I had received the job at Hampshire, and I knew I would be moving back to New England. I didn’t know then, but Antonio and his family were moving back to Oakland. I thought I’d tell him I got this new job, eventually, perhaps once I moved back and settled in. I’d reach out to him, to the other professors, see how they were doing.

I will never tell him now. There was a gathering for him at UMass. I did not go. I could not talk to anyone besides my co-counselors about him. I remembered him by wandering around Western Massachusetts alone. I swam alone. Explored remote towns alone. Stood on the edge of large lakes alone. There was a gathering for him in Holyoke. I didn’t go to that either. His daughter will never have those important conversations with her father, like the one where she calls him at 3:00 a.m. to tell him her car has gotten towed. Again. Or the one where she tells him she finally got a job, so would he please help her move her stuff 1,000 miles away. He is never going to have those conversations with her.

My cohort gathered to remember him. However, they wouldn’t confess to past mistakes they have made. For their dishonesty, I destroyed the cohort. I scattered them to the winds. I did not go to meet them. How could they be such cowards when Antonio was dead?

Finally, my friend and I moved to Holyoke, where Antonio used to live while he was in Western Massachusetts. I know now why he chose to live here with his family. It’s a beautiful town, far too small for how much life it contains. On walks in the streets, I meet people who say “¿’ta bien?”. Little black and brown children run around barefoot in the summer. On my street, there’s an old Boricua who goes to Stop and Shop in an electric wheelchair and blares loud bachata music from two speakers that he rigged himself. I once had a little old brown woman follow me around for 10 minutes because she thought I was someone else. I didn’t really mind.

This was your city,
child of immigrants.
In your memory, in your name,
I will do everything.

We had our own remembering party, my roommate and I. We invited some of the Latinx folks we knew from our program, a small group of 5 people. It was good. We brought things that remind us of him. There was a lot of drinking involved. And bachata. I think Antonio would be proud.

I’ve left the Hampshire job. I loved the position, but my boss sucked. I remember all the ways that Antonio tried to help make my life easier, when it felt like nothing was going right. Coincidentally, a friend of mine who works at a school in Holyoke recommended me for an open position there. I now teach ninth graders. Antonio used to teach in high school, once upon a time.

I wish you were here. I’m bewildered and inspired by these young people every day. Most days, it’s really, really fucking hard. You would have known exactly what to do. I miss your guidance, and I miss you very much.

Antonio had these moments when he could be unfathomably sweet. I remember, on our first day of class with him, he asked us if we would mind if he took a selfie with us. He said that he would like to send it to his mother. He said his mother is a Chicana immigrant who doesn’t fully understand what his job entails. He wanted to send her a picture so she could understand. We agreed to let him take the photo. Who does that? Who remembers their mom like that? Even I don’t, family girl as I am.

I remember he was there on the day I graduated. I remember he asked what I was doing next, and I told him I was going to Tampa to continue prospecting for jobs. He told me congratulations, and I think he hugged me. I hope he did. Antonio deserved a hug.

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On Gross Parasites of Masculinity

muddy grass

Muddy grass, bank of the Connecticut River. PC: me

I wonder if perhaps I spoke too soon in my last post. In the height of eclipse season, I did indeed experience the possibility of a bad job, and just how awful that might have been. By some miracle, that conflict is getting better (personally, I think it’s because Mercury was retrograde until this past Tuesday).

I digress. There is a green, spongy algae that blooms along sidewalks where standing water is not properly drained. It is an attractive, eukaryotic organism, sometimes appearing in variations of blue or yellow, and while algae are often depicted in mainstream media as indicators of death and decay, they are actually a sign of quite the opposite–of excessive fertility. Algae can cause many pond and water organisms to die because as algae deteriorates, it causes oxygen levels in the water to rise, making it a toxic environment to live in.

Why is this the topic I start with today? To be honest, I have no idea. Maybe you can draw the connections, instead of me.

My white boy has got to go. He has crossed too many lines, placed one too many straws on my back. In the course of knowing him, I have discovered he is the kind of person who surrounds himself with women who will cater to his needs. He doesn’t realize it because, as these women have only ever catered to his needs, he has never met a person who has told him to his face that he is a gross parasite of masculinity. Furthermore, he broke up with me and refuses to stop communicating. Granted, I haven’t yet either, but I didn’t want to break up. He did. I find this to be a suspicious way for a person to behave.

He has told me in no uncertain terms, without any thought to how it might make me feel when I am so attracted to him, that he is pining for another woman, one who is already with another man, and who is planning to move to Seattle for said man. My white boy wants to move to Seattle, too. Yes, he is that stupid. Did I mention, he has been pining for this woman for 5 years? Yes, he told me that as well. In fact, there was a period in the beginning when he wasn’t pining for her. In that period, he was pining for another woman, then this current woman got together with a man, and then my white boy “realized” he had missed out on her. Do I sense a pattern? Might my white boy realize, somewhere down the line, that he missed out on me the second I am with some other worthier, stronger, wiser person? My intuition tells me yes, and my intuition predicted that Trump would win the presidency in July of 2016 (there were at least 3 eyewitnesses to this testimony).

I suppose he thinks this is a grand, romantic gesture, moving from Florida to Seattle for her. I have dated a great many morons who think the same way. I even had one try to do that to me when I was starting graduate school in Massachusetts. Sadly, perhaps that is why I fell for my white boy, because when I am attracted to straight men, I have a bad habit of dating morons. I’m sure it doesn’t even occur to him that his white girl never asked him to do that for her, that she isn’t even thinking about whether or not he likes her, and just because he is present in her life, that doesn’t mean she will date him or even think of him in a romantic way even if her relationship does end. (Let me not get into how boringly monogamous and linear and heteronormative this behavior is either). Gross. Parasite. Masculinity.

This, this is what I fell in love with several months ago. What I gave my heart to and bled out for, what I made myself vulnerable for. These were the kinds of sad, pathetic people available to me in Tampa.

I will not attempt to convey the kind of shame I feel. I suspect you already know. Too familiar to me are the flaws of the human heart. I recall from high school a similar sort of shame, the kind I felt from having to hide from my mother, who conditioned me to think my romantic feelings were wrong, my seemingly endless propensity for attraction to human beings. I would have gladly forfeit my ability to feel romantic feelings at that age. Sometimes now, the idea still appeals to me.

I think sometimes, I moved back up North just to realize these things. Not that I’m a sad person for having fallen for this dude. But that I deserve better. I surround myself with people who I trust to tell me the truth. It took all of them to get me to this point, where I am capable of overcoming loneliness, capable of letting go when it is necessary. Because I trust them to tell the truth, I believe them when they tell me I am brilliant, kind, and good. If they leave me, I know it’ll be for a damn good reason, not to chase some stupid romantic notions all across the country. Some people go their whole lives without knowing stability like this.

 

The Politics of Relationships

bogolis

Storks grazing in suburbs. I want to be a stork. Or perhaps I just don’t like my life right now.

CW: not for little kids

This is going to be some weird shit. I’m fucking a white boy, and you know shit is always weird when I’m fucking a white boy.

Probably not surprisingly, lately, I have been contemplating this question. Should I be with a person whom it makes sense to be with politically, or should I date a person who agrees with my politics? Ten times out of nine (Beyonce Carter Knowles, 2016), these two things do not occur simultaneously in the same person.

I’ll explain what I mean by that. I’m a woman of color, right? I try to praxis in a way that centers marginalized folks. However, I’m also educated and upper-middle class. If I was with a person who politically makes sense for me, I’d probably choose a man of color, probably also someone educated and raised upper-middle class, if we’re going with a traditional partnership which my family would find acceptable. If I’m thinking of personal satisfaction in my romantic and sexual partnerships, I could also see myself with an educated woman, most likely of color as well, though class background may vary (in my experience, I seem to get along with women of color across various class backgrounds).

In a strictly political sense, these categories of people make sense for me to partner with. In practice, partnering with people like this is a whole. Other. Experience. I firmly believe that our first experiences with people of a certain identity sort of “stick” in our brains. They create patterns that we fall into again and again, if we are observant enough to notice. The first men of color I ever dated were very abusive people. There was much behavior-monitoring and slut-shaming in those relationships. Since then, I’m not sure I have rationally been able to trust men of color. The ones I am attracted to seem like surprisingly sub-par people, and I suspect these attractions originate from those early abusive relationships, where my brain now has connections between men of color and abuse. Because that is a familiar dynamic, one which I even romanticized, my brain is wired to be romantically attracted to abusive men of color. This is probably a pattern I need to dismantle if I ever hope to be with a man of color.

With women, while the dynamics are certainly less problematic, they seem vastly more nebulous. There were three women in my life that I ever felt attracted to romantically. For the first, I was so puzzled by my feelings that I never told her. She was a kindly mentor sort of person who I greatly admired in high school. She promptly went off to Harvard, never to be heard from again. The second was quite friendly, though she had a boyfriend and I never told her as well. The third is now a good platonic friend of mine, for whom I do not feel romantic attraction any more. I am not certain what kinds of patterns this sets me up for, or if indeed, a pattern is even in place for women I am attracted to.

This brings us to the second part of the question: instead of a person who seems like my political counterpart, what about people who agree with my politics? Let’s examine that, shall we? First off, very few people seem to truly “agree” with how I see the world. The ones who really do are usually my good platonic friends. I keep those relationships platonic because these people are few and far between, and the relationships are more important to me than some fleeting romantic or sexual experience.

Thus, the options I am left with are varying levels of political compatibility with another person. Even there, the data is somewhat ambiguous, as I have not devised an actual method for measuring how closely my politics align with my romantic partners’. For some problematic reason (and I think this says a lot about how we are conditioned to feel about race in America, as well as how men of different races are conditioned to present themselves as masculine people), the partners I choose are more closely aligned with me around gender politics than around racial politics. This, too, could be inaccurate because I measure the alignment, at least initially, based on what men say, and not always what they do. (The latter usually presents itself later in a relationship, and I find myself disappointed more often than not). Perhaps not surprisingly (again), this means a lot of white men. I speak entirely from experience when I say, the white men I have dated are less defensive around topics of gender. Frequently, they will agree with me about the circumstances of women. Men of color, at least the ones I have been with, are surprisingly resistant to talking about gender. I don’t think this means that men of color cannot be trusted to talk about gender, but it certainly says a lot about intersections of race and gender. I think men of color are usually so targeted with racism that to have to admit they actually have a kind of power in gender structures is actually threatening. After all, it must be confusing to be both targeted and have power. Theorists like Kimberle Crenshaw, bell hooks, and Patricia Hill Collins do a much better job than I do talking about why this occurs. There are a great number of social and political factors that make men of color defensive. I don’t have much to say on the subject besides, it sucks that these systems take so long to dismantle. It really does.

Anyway, after being told in a rather roundabout fashion by said white boy who I’m fucking that he cares more about the white women in his life than he does about me, I promptly find myself running out of faith in romance once again. I feel I have been swindled again, as I always am, and I become progressively cynical, deadened, hopeless. Stubbornly unwilling. I suppose this wheel grinds rather slowly. Just as I gradually discover what I will not tolerate in a professional setting, and what I am willing to suffer for, it seems that my romantic life must follow the same path. Though, uh, I think in the professional sense, I am the more willing creature. I have discovered I would much rather be in a bad job than in a bad relationship. At least a bad job still pays. A bad relationship is just a lot of bad memories clogging the sacred inner world.

Self Affirmation

In the style of Chani Nicholas horoscopes, I am writing a self-affirmation today. I know there are a great number of things I need to let go of before I leave home. It feels like it’s taking forever to move and start at my new job. I think my greatest weakness is not actually transitions, but waiting. Waiting is awful. It fills me with restlessness, knowing that something different is about to begin, but having to go a month or so with nothing to do, waiting for the damn thing to start.

Someone who I trust once told me that in order to move forward, sometimes we must let go of things that weigh us down. Frequently, I find the things I have to leave behind are actually things I hold quite dear. Without further ado, though, I give myself permission to let go of them.

I give myself permission to not ask permission. I give myself permission to do whatever I damn well please and to not feel guilty for doing so. I take the wheel in the car of my life. I direct myself to where I need to go and what I need to do because I know myself better than anyone else. If this means I spend money and indulge myself, I permit it. If this means I give myself pleasure and feel good in my own body, I permit it. If this means I eat all the sweetest, the saltiest, and the most savory things I can find, I permit it. If this means I do nothing but watch shows on Netflix, listen to music, or read novels for hours on end, I permit it. I will not feel bad giving myself the things I want and need. I will not feel bad treating myself like a whole, complete, feeling, thinking human being, and this includes giving my body a rest, giving my mind a rest, and feeling worthy of the gifts I give myself.

I give myself permission to not meet other people’s expectations. How I measure up in other people’s eyes means nothing if I do not meet the expectations I set for myself. The only expectation I give myself is to live life fully, to enjoy every minute. I promise myself that I will pursue the things that give me peace. Money is meaningless, time is meaningless, admiration from others is meaningless if I do not fulfill myself. Thus, I promise myself that I will walk in green places, that I will admire every tree and flower I come across because this reminds me that I am alive. I will wear clothes that I am comfortable in to remind myself that I have never been more beautiful, more attractive, or sexier than I am at this very second. I will cultivate relationships with people that are meaningful to me, regardless of what others may think of the people I maintain those relationships with. I will give myself fully to their brilliance, have faith in their judgment, and give them my utmost loyalty because they have done the same for me, and because society does not always deem worthy the people who deserve the most. I will go to places that feed my sense of adventure, places that intrigue me and fill me with a sense of wonder. I will go to the places that feed my soul. I will go where I can see the stars at night, where I can find the histories that are not told, where I can find artists like me, where I can hear the rain and feel the sun, and not just in 30-minute, pre-determined break periods.

I give myself permission to let some relationships lapse so that newer, healthier ones can grow. I give myself permission to let some relationships change. I will let go of the people who do not listen to me, who are not aware of my intelligence, and who are not capable of understanding how their actions impact me. I will let go of the judgment people throw at me for being so willing to let go of harmful relationships. Other people do not know me the way I do; they do not know what is good for me the way I do. It is not my responsibility to change people who are toxic. It is also not my responsibility to maintain relationships where there are obvious inequalities in feelings or investment in the relationship. Furthermore, I will learn to navigate the changes that come in relationships. I will learn to accept the things people I love do to survive, even though I think they deserve better. Just as they have no right to tell me what to do, I have no right to tell them how to live their lives. I will learn to accept that people I love might keep secrets from me. When they want to, they will tell me in due course. I will learn to accept that people I love may feel joy in different things than I do. It is not my place to judge them for what brings them joy. I will learn to accept that people I love may receive things that I myself want. It is not my place to covet them because I have so much to celebrate myself, and my time will come in due course.

I give myself permission to change my narrative. I give myself permission to ask for what I want from people. I give myself permission to change my environment to suit my needs. I give myself permission to feel the things I feel fully and without conditions because no one should feel shame for having feelings. I ground myself in the things that make me feel sure of myself, so that I may reach for things I never dreamed could be mine.

 

The Phantom, Heart-Draining Menace

bc

*This post is shaped by my ace cis femme brown woman lens

As I’m writing this blog post, I’m looking next to me at (among the rest of the detritus on my desk) a pack of birth control pills. There are two sugar pills left in this month, and then I’m supposed to start a new pack, but most likely, I will not. The new box of pills is small, green and unopened, and sits next to the current pack. My logic is that it will come in handy later if I find occasion to use it before July 2018, when it expires. Fat chance of that happening, though.

A good friend of mine recently told me about this really good sexual experience she had. It sounded to me like it was good because the two people involved actually asked each other what they like, and they did things with each other that they both enjoyed. I was happy for her because this friend hasn’t always had great experiences where sex is involved, and I was glad that this experience went well.

But sometimes, being happy for someone else doesn’t always mean you are happy yourself.

I think, to my great embarrassment, I have to admit that I’m jealous. Which, for me, is shocking because I actually don’t experience being jealous too frequently. Stupid people I know think they can tell when I’m jealous, but they are usually just misinterpreting my anger or sadness. I am jealous so infrequently that I think I can actually remember every single time I have ever been jealous and why I felt the way I did.

It’s not that I’m jealous of my friend, or of the person she had sex with. No, I’m jealous because they got to have that conversation that I have been waiting to have for what feels like eons–the one where someone asks me what I want. You know, without expecting anything in return.

God, it feels good to admit that.

Because now that I have, it’s pretty obvious that the problem is not between me and my friend, but has everything to do with patriarchy.

If I am being honest, at the age of 25, I have never had a sexual interaction in which I did not feel as though I was shortchanged. As I have only ever had sex with heterosexual, cisgender men, this may come as no surprise (at least, it doesn’t to me). Even when sex was consensual (because there are times when I did not consent, but I’m not talking about those), I found myself going through the motions more so to please my partner than out of enjoyment. And I do not think I ever felt as though my partners wanted to give me pleasure. The things my heterosexual, cisgender partners would claim they “gave” me were always conditional; I was expected to give what felt like far more than what I was given in return.

At this point, I have to admit, that sounds, uh, sad. It does, it sounds rather sad, even to me, which I don’t like to admit because I don’t like to think of my life as “sad”. I think it is hard sometimes, and certainly not perfect, but definitely not “sad”. And if this is what all of my sexual experiences amount to, well, clearly something needs to change.

Maybe the sadness comes from shame, which is not logical. This is not an uncommon narrative. I know because other women have written about this same experience again and again. What is it about a patriarchal society that forces women to have to accept really sad sexual experiences? Isn’t that pathetic? We live in a world where, if you are a cisgender, heterosexual woman, you can more or less expect to feel emotionally drained, empty, and hollow after sex.

To preface this next statement, I have nothing against women who have sex with no emotional attachment. If I was capable of doing that, I would. It would make my life so much easier, not to have to think of my past relationships feeling, at best, like I was used as a sex object, and at worst, like I would like to do some really vindictive things to get back at these men. I think it’s really problematic that I have always given both physical and emotional affection in a relationship, and I have only ever received one of the two when I have always wanted both.

This realization has suddenly forced me to contend with how much I value my own heart. How many times has RuPaul told us that if we can’t love ourselves, how in the hell are we going to love somebody else? How many times did Professor Harris say that if there are too many people draining our love, there will be none for ourselves? How could I have forgotten the first rule of being an empath? Everything I do comes with a side of emotional investment. Every person in my life gets emotional nourishment from me without asking. That is the benefit of being friends with someone like me, and also, that is the thing I have to be most careful of. All of my good friends know this about me, and they also know not to take advantage of me.

So you never know, maybe I will start that second pack of birth control pills. But I feel like the better choice would be to hold myself accountable so that I don’t need them in the first place. I’m a little sad that I live in a world where I have to be this cautious. I wish I could have had a great experience with every partner I had sex with. But the fact is, straight men aren’t expected to be like me at all, and thus are usually incapable of giving me what I need unless I explicitly tell them. I’m waiting for that person who asks, and not just because they want to get into my pants. I’m waiting for the person who is willing to take responsibility for this tender and giving heart that is drained all too easily by careless, unfeeling people.

 

The Waiting Women

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A photograph I took at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It had a courtyard in the center that I liked.

The Waiting Women

The movement has no name, but she has pronouns.
She walks between the living and the dead,
a spectre, hand outstretched to catch the rain.
She is waiting in the corner of a courtyard.
The bottom of her skirt is drenched with mud.

The movement has no age but she has grace,
the messenger between spirit and flesh.
Her life is spent remembering past lives:
lovers’ names forgotten long ago
and children who have died in her arms.

Ancestors, like oceans, stretch before her.
“The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair.”
The people, all of them, they want to take her,
Change her, meet her, love her, and worship her.
They assume they know, but never ask.

She wants much more than what they want for her.
Her bruises and her scars are so apparent,
people must think she will never die.
The last being on this earth was not a man,
and when he left, she found some sense of peace.

~*~

It must be your lucky month. Two poems in two weeks. To be honest, there may be more on their way. I’ve been in a very poem sort of mood lately. I’ve been thinking about ancestors a lot, their constant presence and absence, that dichotomy.

I wrote this one while I was thinking of all the women I love, all the truth I know about them, that they know about me, and how often we seem to be waiting.

Rant on “IndoWestern” Fashion

I usually don’t like categorizing things as a rant. However, today’s post is going to be exactly that: a rant.

There is this horrible disease going around, mostly among Indians, but also sometimes among hippie-bohemian people of the white variety who like to appropriate things. It is called “IndoWestern” fashion.

I don’t know which idiot thought these two things could be combined to still look beautiful. I think Indian fashion on its own has an elegance that is rarely paralleled. Western fashion can be cryptic, but it also has its perks as it is usually more utilitarian. But why, WHY would you put these two things together??

Examples of how bad Indowestern fashion sucks: fusion outfits. First off, I feel like fusion has always been the bottom of the barrel in terms of Indian dance teams, though perhaps that’s not their fault. Bhangra, garba, and raas teams showcase dances and outfits that are specific to a region and are usually narrowly defined. Fusion, on the other hand, can be everything and anything–usually confined to Hindi pop (though I’d love to see teams challenge that norm).

The first mistake they usually make is to take 8 songs and turn them into one mix like it’s cute (hint: it’s not. Stick to like 2 songs per mix, okay, y’all?). Also, instead of trying to find folks who have the potential for leadership and organization, fusion teams usually just attract people who are already friends of people on the team, leading to a clusterfuck that loosely resembles a sorority (except sororities actually have a point sometimes). I will spare these folks the embarrassment of being sourced.

fusionoutfitno

Scarves tied around butts are always so attractive.

fusionoutfitno2

This one is called the Victoria’s Secret-wannabe-sportswear look.

fusionoutfitno3

Can’t be an Indian fusion team unless you’re wearing over-the-top, fluffy pink pants, a belly dancing belt, and a top that doesn’t cover your midriff.

(The exception to this rule is Gator Adaa from the years of 2011-2013. That team had everything: leadership, organization, and class. Shoutout to you women. Y’all were fierce.)

adaa height

Source: Gator Adaa: Fusion Dance Team Facebook Page

To be self-critical, I understand that on first glance, it might seem like I’m slut-shaming. Look, maybe I am, but here’s the thing, right? I’ve seen classy hoes, okay? Remember Rani Mukherjee in Saawariya (2007)?

rani saawariya

Source: India-forums.com

I’d love to see a fusion team showcase a look that is about having fun as a woman in whatever role she is performing, not the “WE HAVE TO LOOK BROWN AND EXOTIC BECAUSE WE ARE DANCERS” look. Other examples of truly heinous Indowestern things:

truly heinous

Source: utsavfashion.com, Clockwise from top left: a green that even your visually impaired grandmother would not wear, royal blue mummu with pink trim for when you want to look like a fish??, a thing trying to be both a dress and a top, WHY WOULD YOU PUT LIME GREEN AND CORAL TOGETHER IN THE SAME OUTFIT THEY ARE SO BEAUTIFUL SEPARATELY, what is this cut, what is this print.

no2

Source: utsavfashion.com, Clockwise from top left: Dafuq is this print, actually kinda cute but I could get from Forever21 for 6 bucks, assflap?, what is THIS print?, for the 7-year-old in you, mushroom-high-psychedelic print.

Right. So what did we learn today, y’all? Indowestern “fashion” is NOT FASHION. Brown women, I suppose you are the ultimate arbiter of what you put on your body. But I do feel like the amount of grace I find (at least in ready-to-wear shit) in the mixing of these styles is little and far between.

indian1

YES! Source: utsavfashion.com. 

indian2

YES! Source: utsavfashion.com

western 1

YES! Source: Target.com

western 2

YES! Source: pinterest search “pants”

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He Breaks Me

fatfish

Taken at Durfee Conservatory, UMass Amherst, MA, home to cute, fat, orange koi fish. These fish are much happier than I am right now. A photo worthy of the end of Pisces.

Well y’all. I know it’s been a hot second. This is a direction I never thought I’d go in, or more accurately, not a direction I ever thought I’d go in again. By that, I mean, there are some people, some incredible, wonderful people, who theorize love (shoutout to bell hooks, Cheryl E. Matias, and Durryle Brooks). As in, they spend time in the academy talking about love, like a bunch of warriors. Those people are some badass motherfuckers. I’m just a simple broad, so I wrote a poem.

Not gonna lie, I’m trying to act like I’m cool and like this poem is not about some man-human who I definitely lost my shit over. I have this brilliant friend who tells me that people have to know the difference between things that are actually good for them, and things that make them feel good. Maybe that’s why things ended so, so badly. Like, it wasn’t a clean bad, you know? I like when it’s obvious that the man is an asshole, and then turning my back is nothing. But I can’t write him off like that because I’m not convinced he’s an asshole. I feel like that’s worse than a clean bad. It’s a messy bad.

If he ever finds this, I bet he’d say something like “I didn’t say that” or “you’re totally misrepresenting me”. And I wouldn’t say it, but I’d be like, why can’t you just tell me you’re hurt? Why is that so hard for you? I write my first poem in 3 years and you still can’t be satisfied. Man-humans, I’m telling you. Learn to name your damn emotions. It’s not like I don’t know. I just pretend not to so that I don’t embarrass you and your stupid man-feelings.

Anyway. I totally did not plan to tell y’all that much. But here’s the poem.

He Breaks Me
by yours truly

I can tell he thinks he loves
me while he watches my
every move. But I do. I
tell him one secret after
another, hoping he’ll say
the words I long to hear, “I’m
wrong, you’re right. I’m sorry.”

He tells me I am pretty,
attractive, intelligent
yet also that my rape
is like his murder, that my
pills are the same as his
paternity test. My ravaged
body he likens to his.

Death would be a luxury
for women like me. Death frees
her from her body, leaving
spirit. Death removes the
thing to ravage. Death takes
away the object, reduces
fault to dust, corpse to earth.

I leave him before he is
aware. He tries so many
words. It is his silence I
crave. No reasoning consoles him;
he is closed. He tells me I
am mistaken, that the love
I know I see is not real.

He breaks me. Our bodies know
no solace, nor did those of
our ancestors. Before lips
could meet, before we could
touch, history opened a
chasm that neither of us could
cross, that neither of us could cross.

On Healing

20161107_174813

Skies over Hillsborough Community College, Tampa, Late October. For some reason, all my good photos come from work.

CW: abortion

I have read so much bullshit on healing from trauma. So. Fucking. Much.

So for those of y’all who don’t know, I got an abortion about 14 months ago. It was difficult and sad. My partner at the time pretty much left me to fend for myself. With no one else to go to, I had to go home and tell my mother, which was neither pleasant nor something I really wanted to do. My mother is an anxious, overprotective Indian immigrant, and I knew this would break her as much as it broke me. This woman learned to drive just so she could take me to this middle school with a science program that I wanted to attend. She has never held it against me when I ate beef (we’re practicing Hindus) or got my father’s car towed (has happened twice) or done a number of other stupid things when I was growing up. Even though my pregnancy was an honest mistake, something that happened because I made a bad decision, even though it wasn’t rape, I knew the way she thought of me would fundamentally change, and I knew there was nothing I could do about it but allow her to deal.

I had to allow myself to deal as well, though my mother and I did not agree on how that should be done. I wanted to take a semester off from grad school to take care of my mental health. It did not bother me so much to think I might have to spend another year in graduate school. That seemed like a small price to pay for being healthy. I was distraught and incapable of concentration. My mother, on the other hand, was probably thinking of the amount of money it cost the family to support me while I was in grad school. My parents basically took care of rent for me because my assistantship wasn’t covering it. At the time, I selfishly thought she was being harsh, but looking back, her concern made sense because my brother was still an undergraduate going through school (with his own costs). My mother harangued me to the point that I didn’t want to be at home any more.

So I did one of the hardest things I, or literally anyone (I’d like to see anyone go through this level of shit and come out the other side with a master’s degree), have ever done. I went the fuck back to grad school. I went back to that place where enough bureaucracy goes on that even mentally healthy, hardy, and/or charismatic people want to leave. The best part is, I told almost no one about the abortion. There were maybe 4 people I trusted enough with the information. I told none of my professors, none of my co-workers, my supervisor at work, my staff, or my colleagues. It just didn’t seem like something they needed to know, though I know they probably noticed how tired I was, how lacking in emotion, how little I wanted to engage with human beings. Perhaps my entitlement is showing, but I think I ought to be given a medal of honor for having given enough fucks to finish graduate school in that condition.

My therapist has told me that people who are allowed to grieve openly usually have an easier time of overcoming grief. I wasn’t open at all about what I was grieving, so you can imagine the kind of complex shitstorm I am in now.

On healing from trauma, the one thing I might respect about the literature is that it consistently claims that everyone heals differently. That might be the only part I agree with.

The other things written about healing from trauma are so sugarcoated as to be irrelevant to my life. The literature consists of either Tumblr-tier, hippie, self-love bullshit that prescribe things like bubble baths, getting your nails done, and lighting candles (don’t get me wrong, if that works for you, do you), or it’s got this underlying narrative of “treat this poor, tragic person with kindness because they need it”. (My apologies for not being able to come up with examples at the moment. I might have rooted out all the offending articles from my newsfeeds and thus have none to show you).

The fact of the matter is, healing has not been some fun process of chillaxing and spoiling myself. It has been incredibly frustrating to feel as though I have to take time off from regular activities to heal. This is difficult to admit because it’s not as though I am some workaholic who drowns her pain in work all the time. Even before trauma, I was a person who liked to have fun. I would drop everything to hang out with friends. I would skip studying to go to a party or go on a snack run in the middle of the night. I would splurge on expensive shoes. I would buy plane tickets to some far off state at the drop of a hat. I loved the freedom of being impulsive.

But I find I am not impulsive any more. I have become cautious and guarded. While I think that has been a necessary process, I also know my life looks very different now as a result. I resent having to take time off from being social. I resent having to ask for help, and how weak it makes me feel to do that. We are surrounded by incredibly ableist narratives that dictate that a person in their mid-twenties should be at their physical peak, and should also be financially independent. Thus, it pisses me off to no end that I am not either of those things.

I am not enjoying my healing process. Perhaps this is due to a number of other things that coincide with this time, like the fact that getting a job takes forever these days, I am living with my parents again, my job pays me in bread crumbs, and I have enough bills that I have forgotten what life without debt looks like. Maybe I would fucking light a candle if I felt I had any time or energy. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t have to go through healing at this point in my life. In an ideal world, I’d have a community and financial support and a job that gives me fucking paid leave! But the fact is, I am healing, and I wish I didn’t have to. And that’s probably why this process is taking so long.

State of the Union (Day 6, post-inauguration)

(Written on January 26, 2017)

Someone I know stated two days ago that so far, our mango-in-chief’s reign has not been bad; it has in fact been much worse than we thought it would be. There is not a day this week that I signed on to social media profiles and I didn’t see a stream of voices reaching a fever pitch indicating the myriad ways in which we are in danger. This is the news, in no particular order:

It is becoming clear that our orange buffoon was never personally invested in taking the role of president. Rather, he is serving the interests of the ruling class of this nation. He is their vehicle, and they have had ample time to organize for this purpose. It seems as though all of these people being appointed to the highest offices in the land were waiting in the wings for their cue. They are now advancing the agenda of the wealthy, as well as that of colonizers. As time progresses, I predict these changes will be reported as “progress” or “development” of this country, instead of the destruction that it truly is, because of the gubmint’s gradual control over the media.

One of the reasons it is taking so long for liberals to organize (besides the obvious: Republicans control both the house and the senate) is because they have been artificially dispersed by identity politics. Democrats seem to think they cannot serve everyone’s interests because they must cater to communities divided by race, gender, and a horde of other identities (this theory is not my own; I probably got it from a radical Black woman. Just so y’all know). They do not see the need to reframe this narrative in a historically accurate way, though I am also conflicted as to how it can be reframed. On one hand, it does seem like a class conflict. The various constituents of the left are all vying in some way or another for access to resources. On the other, it also seems like a conflict of colonized and colonizer. (Wealthy) white Americans, whatever that means any more, are looking for ways to acquire more land and resources to serve its interests, with no regard for people or the environment.

I am not sure what about all of this scares me the most. I do think that “moderates” can no longer be trusted from this point on. Many moderates receive their news from mainstream media, which is slowly being either silenced by the gubmint, or annexed to serve their purposes. Moderates may soon think that what the gubmint is doing is okay for a gubmint to do, simply from being fed the same messages every day and not being critical about them. Just today, I had a student, who did not seem to have any particular political affiliation, argue in her (2-paragraph, nonetheless) paper that a wall between the US and Mexico “has to” be built to “keep out drug dealers and freeloaders”. Where does this rhetoric come from? Why is this the topic she chose for a “current event” paper? I’m sure we do not have to look too hard for the answers.

While I am concerned at present, I am also of the belief that the worst is yet to come. I am seeing a pattern where even moderate liberals are inching right to placate the right (granted, this might just be because of my geographic location). The American middle class has been coerced so thoroughly into professionalizing and digitializing that it has forgotten it has a voice. It will now not lift a finger to stop this onslaught.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I knew the orange buffoon would become the president in 2016. These are my predictions now. For those of us who are resisting, it will not get easier. Our higher-ups and co-workers will not support us in our work. People will not be kind to us when they find out what we do. In fact, they will do their best to silence and hinder us, which can get very, very violent. There has been talk to re-instate the House Un-American Activities Committee. I am putting myself in danger by even writing these words.

If you did not know that this is how it would be, you were clearly living in some castle in the sky. But also, if you are not prepared for this reality, you are of no use. I mean that honestly (I’m talking to you, white women). This is, really and truly, one of those times when feelings must be put aside and the needs of people around us must be a priority. Please keep in mind your feelings are not important when Black and Brown people are being killed by the cops, undocumented people are being deported, and people’s humanity and dignity are being threatened. We do not have time to coddle you. In this movement, it is all hands on deck.

We need to get very, very good at supporting and communicating with one another. And I actually mean face-to-face. Much as we like our internet space, I am not sure how much longer electricity will be accessible in a time like this, let alone the internet. But also, these are material problems. Immigrants are physically being deported. Women’s bodies are being physically threatened. Muslims are being physically harassed. Native land will physically be re-appropriated. I hate to say it, because I know how much even I love internet theorizing, but until we come up with physical, real-time responses, there is very little that will come of our rage.

Resources for action that I have found useful:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/17Rj40_i39gTuo4hMNNmhToL0_NnJnzjnr3Tx90nTPfE/mobilebasic

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1FKXcRFOg5VS-UjCyH2jmgRTm-sQY_PB65Gxo-rwMT6A/mobilebasic

For further reading:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1QYENgyc4lINlGwcJUnjl_7lDf5xSL5WL0pEJUEOZbF4/edit