Tuesday, February 18, 2014

One-tenth of Love is Still Love

Allen Ginsberg saw the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness.

I'm watching some of the best of mine destroyed by their own empathy.

Brilliant, passionate, dedicated people surround me, people committed to causes like equality and social justice.  They have jobs, hobbies, and interests that give them opportunities to make the world a better place, and knowing them makes me a better person.  They challenge me to follow where they lead, to question my assumptions, to do my own work in the world.  The world shows me fearless warriors of justice, every day, calling me to stand with them.

Lately, I've been watching them get eaten alive by the world they're trying to save.

Outrage fatigue is real.  There is so much out there, so many things to leave you speechless with grief, and push you shouting into rage, that at some point your fury turns to despair.  You begin with the belief that you will change the world, sure the love that burns so passionately inside you will catch like wildfire and carry away the old structures, the ones that keep some people bound more tightly than others.  Most people begin from a single point of activism (gender/gender identity, race, religion, sexuality, ability, the list is as endless as the ways of oppression).  Many embrace as a guiding star the idea that if we are not all free and equal, then none of us is free and equal, and from there it is a short but difficult step to intersectional activism.

It is at that moment, when you turn to the world with an open mind, to contemplate all the possible faces freedom might take, that you make a horrible discovery.

The world is a terrible, terrible place.  There are people in it so consumed by hatred and greed that they can't even see someone you love as a person.  There are people being beaten, starved, executed, bullied, and abused in ways you could never imagine, all in the name of hate.  Twisted moralities destroy families and communities, attack children and target the weak, in the name of loving gods or simple societal stability.

There is just so much to do.  Injustice grinds, all day every day, against anyone who resists it.  You could give your whole life to the fight, and while you might make a difference there will always be more hate, more evil, more pain.  It's brutal.

You come, at some point, to the realisation that the darkness of the hating world is larger than any light you might kindle.  You remember your fire, and you know that it can never possibly be bright enough, but you feed it anyway, you feed it your words and your wisdom and your free time and your friendships and your family and your money.  When you get tired, when you start to question whether or not to keep going, you think, "I have a roof over my head and a stomach full of food, and no one has ever tried to kill me for loving who I love or wanting equal rights or wanting to be free.  People are still being beaten in the streets; how can I sit in my comfortable life and say I've done enough?"  So you take back up your sword and shield, your blog or  your protest sign or your Twitter account or your megaphone, and you reach down to feed whatever you have left to the battle you're fighting.

One day you look at your fire, and it's not the one you lit.  It's not the passionate flame of a loving heart, because it changed, when you fed it your joy, when you fed it your optimism, when you fed it happiness and good cheer and lazy Sundays and just sitting in the garden with the sun on your face.  It's an angry burning now, and it will consume you whole if you let it.

It is possible to pour out so much of the love inside you that you have none left for yourself.  I never would have believed it, when I started down the path of love, but it's true.  I have seen people so moved, their love so transformed by outrage, that I could not tell it apart from the hate they fought with it.

It's sobering to stand face to face with hate and find it a mirror to your own despairing rage.

We who fight for love must learn to tithe, if we can.  Many faiths have some practice by which you give of your assets, be it time or money or goods, in an established amount to support the common good.  They do not ask for everything you have, only for a tenth part, and allow you the rest to support yourself and your family, to expand and grow, to find joy and beauty without feeling it's at the expense of what you believe in.  A tithe is, most of all, a sustainable practice that will allow you to structure the balance between life and dedication.

Compassion is the cornerstone of an activist's faith; empathy is the heart of our shared religion.  It is past time to embrace the notion of tithing to that faith, not being martyrs to it, because the fight we face is a long and brutal one, one that will outlast all our lives.  What we can build with a sustained and sustainable commitment will stand far longer than what we can create by throwing ourselves wholesale into burnout.

I love you all.

Friday, February 14, 2014

I Am Capable of Procuring My Own Freshly Dismembered Plant Genitalia

I love cut flowers.  I love them a lot, probably to an unreasonable extent.  There's just something bright and cheery about them, a little bit of outside come in to beautify the day.  If I could, I'd have cut flowers in every room of my house, every day, all the time; they're one of the few things that never loses its 'special' quality.  It's possible I've played the Smithereens' "Cut Flowers" a few (thousand) times.

As a young woman, I absorbed the cultural narrative that cut flowers were a thing boys gave you.  If you didn't have a boy, you didn't get any flowers.  Sure, sometimes your dad sent them to you, and if you were in Texas for Homecoming your best friend got you a giant mum, but the 'flowers come from boys' meme was firmly entrenched in my head.

I was not a girl the boys pursued, and my luck ran to not-particularly-romantic gentlemen.  "Happy Valentine's Day, I got you a tool set!" was always conflicting for me, because I *liked* the tool set, and I *needed* new tools, so it was a wonderful gift and I loved it, but I sure would have liked some flowers, and I had said so, but I still usually got told "Oh, you know, you're so fierce and strong and practical I thought you wouldn't go in for silly romantic stuff!"  In between practical non-romantic boyfriends, I've been single for a lot of my adult life, so receiving flowers is still a rarity for me, something I find special every time.

Years ago, I was lamenting my perennial flowerlessness to an older friend, and she said, "Just buy your own flowers."  When I protested that doing that seemed like giving up, like settling for what I could get, she said, "No.  It's not giving up at all.  It's independence.  Flowers are easy.  You walk into the store and you buy some, and then you have flowers.  No meaning, no hidden statements about your worth as a person, just flowers."

The first time I gave myself flowers, I stood sort of furtively in the grocery store line, sure that everyone knew I was a pathetic loser who didn't have anyone to send her flowers.  The cashier stopped, looked at them, looked at me, and then picked them up and SNIFFED them delightedly.  "I love flowers," she said.  "I wish someone would buy some for me, too.  Your friend or whoever is lucky."  I almost told her the truth, but couldn't quite admit that I didn't have someone to buy them for or someone to buy them for me, so I smiled and said, "I love flowers too."

Since then, I buy myself flowers regularly.  I also go to movies alone if I want to see them, instead of waiting for a date to see them with.  If I feel like dinner in a nice restaurant, I eat dinner in a nice restaurant, enjoying it whether my companion is a boyfriend or a book.

I'm not saying it happened overnight, the belief that going ahead and doing the 'date things' myself isn't settling.  Even now I fight the curious looks from hostesses when I cheerfully say, "No, I'm not waiting for anyone.  Just one, please," and refuse the suggestion that I sit in an uncomfortable chair at the bar and eat my furtive lonely dinner under a giant football game on the TV.  No, I'll sit in the dining room, thank you, and enjoy my meal just like anyone else.  And when the cashier asks me who the flowers are for, I smile and say "They're for me.  I just love flowers."  One or two of them even said, "I never thought of buying them for myself.  I should do that!" and I always agree enthusiastically.

The journey to loving myself so that I didn't depend on someone else to do it for me has been so worthwhile, though.  While I'm dating a lovely man who does buy me flowers and plan sweet romantic weekends, I'm able to look at those gestures and appreciate them all the more because I don't depend on them to 'prove' I am loved.  They are allowed to be exactly what they are: expressions of love and appreciation that are sweeter for not being required, for not filling in some relationship check-box.  If you're depending on someone else's love to make you feel worthwhile, then you never will.  The void has to be filled from the inside; it'll just consume whatever you're given by others, voracious and unchanging.

Today is Valentine's Day, a difficult day for many.  For some, the holiday is just a stupid commercial Hallmark holiday designed to throw another set of rapids into relationship navigation.  For others, it's a genuinely painful reminder of love lost or missed, of personal emptiness.  Some of my friends have lost a partner in the last year, and my heart goes out to them.  Today, more than any other day of the year, we fight the social machine that tries to make us worthless, that slams binary genders into heteronormative monogamous constructs and dismisses everything else as 'weird'.  If you don't have love, if your love is wrong, if the love you have is incorrectly expressed, you're told that it makes you different, ugly, deviant, less-than.

I'm lucky, in my life, to have so many shining examples of love done right.  In all manner of incarnations, from freewheeling uncommitted singles to stable, dedicated polyamorous blended families, I am surrounded by people making love work, and making love into a life.  Maybe it's maturity, maybe it's the power of attraction drawing people like me to me, but the core of people who form the closest and most important structures in my life all share one thing, regardless of relationship status: we all recognise the value of loving yourself, of being happy to buy your own flowers and delighted when someone else buys them for you.  We all see, in ourselves, something worthy of loving and we're all committed to bringing that out into our daily lives.  When we look at each other, our partners, and ourselves, we see beings of light and wonder, souls we embrace without reservation, and individuals worthy of love, and we love each other, and that's good.

I love you all.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Eating Right and Wrong

As I fried up a couple of pan-steaks for my dinner, I had a brief moment of panic.  I remembered yet another massive beef recall earlier this week, millions of pounds of meat from diseased animals that apparently passed uninspected through our food production and distribution system.

But, I thought, that's not for me.  I bought my meat at the farmer's market, from a woman who's been selling me pastured pork and grass-fed beef for years.  She and her husband run a locally well-respected farm, supplying beef, pork and poultry to restaurants and families.  Like many of the other merchants at the farmer's market, they'll tell you all about their methods and their practices, answer your questions, and look you in the eye when they sell you the food they raised for you.

Much of the year, especially during the summer, I get my produce from local farmers.  I participate in a weekly Community Supported Agriculture delivery from a local family farm for part of the year, and shop at the farmer's market or a local co-op when I'm able to (time does not always permit, but the good news is that several of the grocery stores in my area stock locally raised produce).  I have built a friendly relationship with the farmers, and we greet one another by name.

I come from farm stock.  My grandparents were farmers and I spent my adolescent summers eating fresh produce from my grandmother's garden.  When I was in college, my mother remarried and moved to her second husband's family farm.  Despite not being certified or labeled in any way, my stepfather practiced the sort of ethical animal management I think everyone should observe:  free-roaming grass-fed cattle, uncrowded hogs, no hormones or prophylactic antibiotics.  His animals were happy, healthy, and well-tended.

But everyone doesn't observe it.  Factory farming has made it easier for disease or other problems to spread through our food supply, and there's a general outcry for more regulation, more oversight.

I don't think the answer is more oversight.  I think the answer is more connection.  I think that the answer is more people eating like I eat, more people having what I have.

What I have is choice.  I live in a city with a thriving local food movement, I have access to multiple farmers markets and local food producers, and I have sufficient income to afford the much higher cost of ethically, locally produced food.  As a child I was taught to prepare fresh foods, and I have the tools and time sufficient to cook regular healthy meals for myself.  I can choose restaurants that source local food and ethically raised meat, and I can afford to eat in them.  For more than a decade, continuously, I have had food security.  I have a doctor who tells me that I am anemic and should eat more of some foods, that I do not have concerns with my cholesterol or blood pressure so I don't need to worry about fat, how much fiber and water and sugar and alcohol is healthy for me.  All of these combine so that for me, food is a pleasure and a medicine, a support to my lifestyle and a thing I am able to enjoy.

When people talk about healthy eating, there's a lot of "How I eat is the RIGHT way."  My paleo, my locavore, my slow food.  I went gluten free/low carb/low fat and it worked for me so you should do it too.  My complicated set of food needs and requirements must be universal, or my faith in it will be challenged.  The reality is that there is no one right way to eat, but there are tens of thousands of people eating the wrong way.

The wrong way?  If you have no access to fresh food, that's wrong.  If you cannot afford to choose the foods that are best for you and your family, that's wrong.  If you have no understanding of nutrition and how to prepare a balanced meal, that's wrong.  If the only vegetables available to you were picked a thousand miles away, force-ripened, and transported in massive trailer-trucks, that's wrong.  We live in a system where we're so desperately disconnected from the source of our food that we can't have any real understanding of what's involved in producing it.  Especially in impoverished areas, food deserts create a cultural divide of choice based around class, race, and economic status.

If I were brilliant, this would end with an answer, but the only answer I can offer is that we need to be working to localize food, to support and protect family farming operations, to educate people about good nutrition, balanced diets, and healthy attitudes towards eating.  We need to be working to break down the divides that prevent everyone from having the same privilege and the same choices I have.  We need a serious examination of whether it's better to mass-produce cheap food and waste 40% of it or produce smaller amounts of more expensive food and waste less.

The wrong way to eat has nothing to do with the choices you make, and everything to do with the ones available to you, but we spend all our energy trying to change people's choices without giving them any new ones.  Maybe that's the best place to start.