2014 in Review

Trigger warnings: Discussion of violence against people of color, discussion of sexual assault.

December is here. Time to look at this year.

For me personally it was both an incredible year and an extremely painful year. It was full of some of the best times of my (relatively) young life and some of the very worst. The highlights, before I get cynical and ranty: in January I found myself at long last in New Zealand, my spiritual homeland. The thought of traveling to this country has sustained me through some of my darkest moments. (Check out my old blog if you want.) Additionally, I wrote at least three pages every single day this year in an attempt to improve my writing or at least prove my commitment. I’ll be doubling this in 2015, so get excited for even MORE ramblings. And my mother got married! I guess that was pretty cool. In order to balance it out karmic-ly, I did my best to remain single for the calendar year. Questionable success? I don’t know. I’m not objective enough to determine these things.

And now to the real story of this year.

2014 has brought to the forefront a fact that has long been gnawing at the back of my mind. This system, the capitalist white-dominated patriarchy, is failing, and in many cases killing, its citizens. The two major ways, and believe me there are many, many more, that this was made clear to me are in the lack of indictment of the two police officers who killed Brown and Garner and the response to sexual assault victims in universities across the country. I do not believe the two to be unrelated: in both cases, institutions with stated goals to protect and support those they serve fell short of their goals and instead brought about destruction and pain.

While I don’t want to make the argument general to the point of pointlessness, I also don’t believe the larger movements against these failures are entirely unrelated either. You cannot support victims of sexual violence without working to end violence against people of color and vice versa. And while not every individual will be able to commit themselves to both battles, understanding that they intersect with one another is crucial to seeing the full horror of the system we live in and to understanding and helping those who exist along this intersection.

I’ve been trying to think a lot about what action I personally can take to change or derail this system, and more importantly how I can better understand and support the people who are being hurt by it. I think, and this is why I haven’t written about this until now, a lot of this has to do with getting out of the way and letting those living the experience do the talking. Two rather conflicting but important articles: “I Don’t Know What to Do About Good White People” and then “How White People Can Be Allies” . And secondly, in the words of James Baldwin from “A Letter to My Nephew” “It is the innocence that constitutes the crime”. This continued national ignorance cannot continue just as my own personal ignorance cannot continue. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves as best we can, educate ourselves on the horrifying and tragic history of this country and determine collectively that this is the time when it finally finally stops.

And while this segment has been mostly about the racial injustice in our country, certain aspects can also be applied to gender injustice. We need to educate ourselves on the history and reality of gender inequality as well and on sexual violence in particular. Learn how to be better bystanders by staying aware and stepping in. Learn how to take action by stopping even simple things like dumb jokes, because the language we use creates the reality we live in. Learn how to support the survivors of sexual violence and do all you can to place the power back in their hands.  We can’t let ignorance or feelings of guilt and discomfort stop us from becoming involved. Women and non-male genders can’t overcome sexism without male participation, just as people of color can’t end racism without white participation.

Make space, educate yourself, take action. They’re catchphrases, but God I’ll take anything right now. Because I have to believe that this will change. I have to believe that the people I love and the people I haven’t even gotten a chance to love yet will stop being hurt and killed. Kindness isn’t enough, it’s true, but it also isn’t worthless. And if you aren’t living your life doing your very best to love and support the people around you then I don’t know what you’re doing.

I will end on a positive note, because despite all this I think hope is one of the most important things we have. I was reminded recently, in the midst of one of my bitter tirades, that we need to be able to imagine a different future. If we can’t imagine a better future then we’ll never be able to achieve one. That’s why I write and why I respect people like Walidah Imarisha so much. Let’s do what we can.

Happy New Year!

 

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Remnants

It’s difficult to miss something that you’ve never known. This was driven home to me recently when I met my great aunt Hulda.

I knew that I had a great aunt in Iowa, of course, and I’d heard that she, too, was interested in writing, puns, and literature, but I had no idea what sort of person she’d be as I hadn’t seen her since I was three years old. I was overwhelmed by her warmth and generosity when we arrived tired and cold on her doorstep. We were welcomed with open arms. And I do mean welcomed. It’s rare for me to feel so instantly comfortable in a new place. There was one bookshelf completely filled with dictionaries and one bookshelf completely filled with books on the prairie. It was divine.

But the whole visit was colored in many ways by what was missing. It was amazing to meet my great aunt, but what saddened me was not being able to meet my great uncle, Don, who passed away recently.

With an odd feeling of both joy and regret, I found out through Aunt Hulda that my Uncle Don was also a prairie enthusiast. He spent most of his life photographing wildflowers, many of which I had learned to love this past summer. He spent time in Hayden Prairie, the remnant in Iowa where I was lucky enough to work for two days. It was both strange and uplifting to discover this connection, and brought home to me once again the purpose of conservation:

To save that which we love so that in the future others won’t have to miss what they never knew. Preserving remnants and restoring ecosystems means giving more people the opportunity to love the land they live on, giving more people something to get excited about: the sweet yellow and white of the butter-and-eggs flower, the spiky dignity of the rattlesnake tamer, the simple joy of a black-eyed susan. Preserving the prairie means keeping those connections that sometimes unknowingly bind us across time and distance.

I was unable to meet my uncle, but his memory remains, witnessed by my family members who knew and loved him, eulogized in the beautiful photos he took throughout his lifetime. It is up to us to prevent the loss of the prairie and other natural landscapes so that this echoing feeling of missing something unknown does not continue into future generations but instead is replaced by feelings of connection and delight.