Thoughts on Getting Lost and Marauding Relatives

I have been reading Rebecca Solnit’s novel, A Field Guide to Getting Lost. A quote from her: “The mind too can be imagined as a landscape, but only the minds of sages might resemble tImagehe short-grass prairie…The rest of us have caverns, glaciers, torrential rivers, heavy fogs, chasms that open up underfoot, even marauding wildlife bearing family names.”

I guffawed at the last part, marauding wildlife/family trampling through the landscapes of our minds. As a Filipino family, we have a herds of water buffalo relatives that like to charge through our lives and loves. Like many immigrants, we have intercontinental family dramas. Arguments over cows, rice, and water buffalo cross space and time to come to roost here in hipster Williamsburg. The 20 year-old butchers over at Marlow and Daughters THINK they know all about meat – talk to my relatives, who can butcher, barbeque a pig AND climb a coconut tree and cut down some fresh coconuts with their bolo AND drink a case of San Miguel within 24 hour period. We also have the fastest intercontinental gossip (chismis) line, where gossip can somehow instantly get to the Philippines, and to several US states within 5 minutes or less.

No, but back to the book – on getting lost. I am there – hanging out in a place of no directions. Meditating on that. Getting. Lost. I am not the type of person to allow myself to “get lost.”  I knew I want to organize people for systemic change and collective action since I was 18. A therapist called me “actualized” at the age of 24. I went on a union organizing campaign at 28 and fell in love again. All of which means I have been “with it” for a long time or at least pretending I knew the way. Now that I am 40, I am much more likely to let you know I don’t know what the hell I am doing. So I mean that kind of lost – allowing myself to not know the way for a bit. This year promises big changes again, and my tendency is to plan, research, and make declarations. I am trying hard to avoid that and to let myself visit the caverns and the glaciers of my mind, to allow marauding worries plow through and then see the dust settle, to visit the scary corners and turn the lights off in the bright, shiny pretty scenes I have built for the visiting public. More later on getting lost…. For now, I will return to watching the snow.

Sheltering in Place school drills, DARE dogs, Fallout Shelters and the Monsters under our Beds

My children are learning how to “shelter in place” in school. In Kid’s words, “If someone with a gun comes into the school, they will say a code word on the intercom and we all go into a corner of the classroom, after my teacher locks the door.” At first, I had this moment of mourning for their loss of childhood, etc, but then I stepped back and remembered that kids throughout US history have been practicing drills for different monsters under our collective beds.

In my childhood, it was the War on Drugs and DARE (Drug Abuse and Resistance Education). I still remember the movies – kids on PCP who thought they could fly, kids high on weed who let their baby brother drown, all the while laughing hysterically.  And who can forget the commercial – “This is your brain on drugs” – a sizzling fried egg!~ One of my earliest memories of school is of the DARE bear, or was it a dog? I looked it up, turns out it was a lion?? A policeman and his DARE bear met with us every few months to tell us the dangers of drugs and urge us to turn in our parents if we caught THEM doing drugs. “Just Say No kids!” My kids have heard very little about the dangers of drugs and certainly have never seen a DARE bear. They HAVE learned about the dangers of obesity and Kid #2 always asks, “Am I burning calories? or Is this calories? as she takes a bite of food.” (This DOES NOT come from us, we don’t believe in the body shaming/dieting fad of our culture).

During WWII kids in schools practiced diving under tables in case the Axis powers conducted an air raid. In the 60’s – 80’s the cold war with Russia had us all looking for fallout shelters or building them in our back yard.

I guess my point is that in the moment our fears and anxieties seem very real and terrifying. After Sandy Hook, our schools appear to be nightmares of possible gunmen and murder. According to media, our children all more obese than ever so we should teach our kids about calories. Gunmen in schools, childhood obesity  – these are our children’s monsters under the bed. But in other generations, their monsters also seemed very real and terrifying – drugs, nuclear warfare, German airraids. Today, the monsters of the past look small, even quaint. Or they, themselves, were the actual things we should have feared. The WAR on drugs has arguably done more damage than drugs – the mass incarceration of a whole generation have destroyed families and communities. It also distracted us from what we really should have been fighting – the growing inequality, the failure of trickle down economics, for instance.

My question is  – if this is true, the monsters of the past were just distractions or worse- then maybe our monsters of today aren’t the ACTUAL monsters. Yes, a lone gunman did enter a elementary school and committed a terrifying act and thereby entered all parents’ nightmares. But he was also a child himself, who had long suffered from mental illness and his parents’ hadn’t been able to find him help. Maybe the real monster is the failure of our mental health system. Maybe it is an society that glamorizes violence, guns, and a mean-spiritness that makes it ok for politicians to attack teachers, firefighters, and other public workers as the drains on society.  Yes, obesity and diabetes is on the rise among children. But Maybe the REAL monster is that parents are both working full time (which are 50-60hours a week), jobs don’t give us any time to take care of family, including cooking of healthy meals, parents increasingly rely on empty calories of McD’s dollar menus. Maybe it is the privatizing of our schools and the resulting pressure to produce high testing children and so they don’t have time for physical exercise, art, music, or other creative work.

As a parent, it feels like an exceptionally scary time to be raising children, there is a myth that times were simpler and the monsters tamer in the past. But in truth, children in our society have always been in danger, in capitalism, it’s the most vulnerable that are the least likely to survive. From Black children throughout the US history, to child workers in the factories, and even now children working in our fields, children dying at our borders, it is only the death of certain children that become a national tragedy. Our children are at risk differently, based on race, class, and gender, gender identity, sexual orientation – the fact that we help some children thrive while letting others die – that is the real monster under our collective beds. As poet Audre Lorde said:
“So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive”

But those are not the monsters that our children are being prepared for when they learn to shelter in place. 

Favorite Fiction Book of 2013 – themes of law, racism, First Nations* & jursidiction (perfect for radical lawyers!)

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Image from Goodreads.com

Louise Erdrich’s new novel: Roundhouse, has everything for the radical lawyer.  Native writer/member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Louise Erdrich’s novel is deeply embedded the complex history of colonization, genocide, racism, and resistance and law of First Nations on Indian Territory and in the United States. **Trigger alert – the novel begins with a horrific sexual assault. It is this assault that provides the backdrop to the whole novel. And there is a jurisdiction issue – where did the crime take place? On Indian territory or on “white man territory?” Erdrich’s characters travel across borders – reservation borders, national borders, emotional, crime, love and justice. It is here, between the borders, that characters struggle with the contradictions of surviving and resisting, assimilation and annihilation. Erdrich’s book makes it clear – these lands, Native lands and what we call the United States still exist simultaneously, parallel, and overlapping.

The Chippewa woman who is the victim of the assault is the wife of a Chippewa judge but the story is seen through the eyes of their son. Throughout, Erdrich explores what justice can mean against a backdrop of colonization and genocide.

Radical legal workers! – Look for Great conversation on pages 227-230 where Indian law is compared to a a dead,dried out casserole on the bottom with knives and cutlery stuck on the top. Then discussion of Johnson v. McIntosh and other cases which stripped First Nations of their land & rights under US law.
Real Life parallel: The book centers on a legal precedent that took away First Nation’s rights to prosecute Non-Indians on the their own land/in their jurisdiction. The books theme was prescient because in 2013, this was changed for the slightly better when VAWA protections extended to First Nation territory and extended First Nation’s courts and governments authority over non-Native Americans. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/10/violence-against-women-act-native-americans_n_2849931.html

** A word on language – which we all know is so important. Obviously the nations that lived on these lands prior to Europeans colonization of these lands were NOT Indian. I prefer First Nations because it seems the truest description to me, words like tribe and indigenous even, seem created by warring Europeans to belittle and “de-civilize” the nations that they destroyed and thus justify their murderous rampage. However, there is a rich history in the US of reclaiming of the word Indian in movements like the American Indian Movement, and in the use of tribe and tribal council. So I used both words, in my essay. And sometimes, I use Native American.

Year end re-cap from the Brooklyn Barangay, surviving, BMX, Rowing,

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Photo by Daphne Youree

Holidays can be particularly hard for so many complicated reasons – hence the quiet on the blogosphere. But I know that I am long overdue in writing, so I thought a year-end recap might fit the bill. I asked my lovely partner in crime what he thought of the last year. His first answer was – I don’t remember anything at all! Must be nice to see the world fresh like that. 🙂 But here are the best highlights:

Our dear friend “Octavia” who lived with us during her struggle with the big C, survived! At Stage 3 -She had everything – chemo, radiation, mastectomy, and reconstructive surgery this year. She is looking fabulous, her hair is back if a tad greyer, and has moved out to her own place. She did it all while still taking spinning classes and pilates and mothering a teenage daughter. Our hero.

Our children turned 8, January 3 of 2013. They have gotten older and taller. Thing 1 is into Glee now. Thing 2 remains committed to military history and nerf guns. They both have gotten much better at piano and played in two recitals. They and our nephew have enjoyed the nearby BMX track a lot this year and became quite skilled at zooming around the dirt track and biking sideways.

Our nephew is the mayor of his elementary school and has become totally fluent in English, his first full year in the US.  He met Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! and does a great impression of her!

Our lovely goddaughter and cousin is a Fellow at Democracy Now! she has met so many of the Illuminati of the left, it’s not even funny. She will graduate with something like a 3.8gpa from Brooklyn College soon and then onto a fabulous career as the people’s journalist.

I have finally discovered exercise! I started going to an indoor rowing studio, Brooklyn Crew (like spinning but on a rowing machine). I have become obsessed, rowing more than 21,000 meters a week at some point. The 45 minute workout leaves me covered in sweat, down to the last article of clothing. It has been a new experience, feeling fit. In the beginning, I felt like throwing up but now I don’t so I must be getting fitter – right?

Did I mention turning 40! Also, had surgery for the 2nd time for my endometriosis. The surgery helped and so does the regular exercise.

I realized that I need to become an environmentalist. It has honestly never been my “thing”, human rights, labor rights, race and gender were my lenses. But I read the IPCC report from the UN (big climate report) and I realized that none of these rights will matter much if we destroy the planet. It may be too late. But we should try. WE SHOULD TRY HARD.

Well, these are some of the highlights of from our Brooklyn Barangay (Tagalog for neighborhood). Looking back, we have been incredibly lucky, my husband and I kept our jobs, we all kept our health and our home. We undoubtedly struggled with alot too and felt profound sadness with the Typhoon in the Philippines. But in the end, our little barangay has continued to be a beautiful, sunlit space, with spontaneous dance parties (what does the fox say??), great political discussions, and delicious food. We are grateful to share it with you. I will promise to make my blogging more regular, if you promise not to give up on me!

2014 promises a lot of changes, so for now –

peace.