Saturday, May 30, 2020

Speaking the Future Into Being

Well, and to think last week we were complaining that the apocalypse was boring and not very apocalypse-like.  Last night somebody set Atlanta on fire again and I learned my new favorite word, "carbeque."

As when anything important happens, we all took to Facebook to argue about it.  

For those of you struggling to keep up, please take note that hand-wringing about some windows getting broken after deafening silence on the matter of police murdering people with complete impunity, implies very strongly that you care a lot about the former and nothing for the latter, and that's what the kids call a you problem.  That doesn't mean that everyone thinks smashing things up is a-ok or that there isn't some vocal condemnation of it from activists as well as assorted officials; it does mean that they are taking the time to put what's happening in context and express some nuance, a concept you might have heard of. 
For my more conservative friends:  Most of you have already identified what the important  moral question is here. You might be fascinated to learn that some of the points you have been making lately are the exact things that people on the leftward side of the political spectrum have been saying for years, about the many other instances of police murder you inexplicably missed.  You don't know that because you don't listen to them.  You should try it.  They might know other things you haven't noticed.

For my more radical friends: You are missing a golden opportunity here. People I would NEVER have expected to do so are openly questioning that stupid coroner's report on George Floyd, out protesting, or saying that they understand why people would get mad enough to break things. Maybe instead of focusing on criticism and calling anyone who voices it nasty names (like neoliberal, which almost certainly does not mean what you think it does), you should try to, I dunno, understand the critiques people are making and seize the opportunity to make connections with people you don't often find common ground with.

Or you can go on and retrench all of your existing balkanized divisions and thwart any possibility of gaining real traction, just like every left/activist group I've seen for the last thirty years.

You know why the right-wing extremists are doing so well, despite the paucity of their philosophy and their repugnant personal traits? They recruit, constantly. They hand out flyers. They start book clubs. They take any hint of agreement and exploit it into a conversion gambit, and talk about their vision of the future a lot. It's a shitty future, but they all know what it's supposed to look like and are encouraged to actively fantasize about living in it. They plan, and sometimes take, concrete steps towards making that future come to pass.

That shit is powerful. It's a poisoned dream, but a dream nonetheless.

To counter it we can't just have the status quo (which sucks a lot for lots of people) and we can't, absolutely cannot, have a bitchy America's Got Privilege jury deciding who is or isn't woke enough to be allowed into our "movement," which because of said gate-keeping never actually becomes a movement but hovers constantly at a level just above toe shoes but below Pet Rocks.

We need something better.  We need something accessible, and welcoming, and above all visionary. Defining yourself always against what you are not creates emptiness, and fighting always against what is wrong (however necessary) is exhausting.  We need the Beloved Community, and more to the point we need to describe what the Beloved Community is going to look like.  It's ok if we don't all have the exact same ideas. It's the act of speaking it into being that is important here.

Here's one:  I would like a means to resolve serious conflicts with people when it's beyond my personal ability to address, that does not involve calling the police.  I have a neighbor who has put her hands on me while drunk more than once, among other incidents. There isn't actually a lot the police can do that isn't out of proportion to behavior that didn't actually hurt me (but which causes me distress and which I NEVER want repeated), and so there's not much between "ignore it" and "file a police report."  I think a society that took conflict resolution and de-escalation seriously would have a third option for me...and that would incidentally likely reduce times the police are called due to vague "someone is walking around black in my neighborhood" type scenarios, and in turn reduce occurrences of police violence. I also think that a society where people commonly had good conflict resolution skills would function very differently, and much more justly and humanely.

What does your Beloved Community look like?

Friday, May 22, 2020

The Stories We Tell

This story has nothing whatever to do with global pandemics, toilet paper shortages, the sorry state of affairs in this country generally speaking, or politics.  Except, perhaps, by implication...but that could be true of anything, really.

Many years ago my ex-husband (then my boyfriend), our roommate and I were the sort of people who frequented Rainbow Gatherings and also went on road trips more or less on a whim.  It was the 80s and gas was under a dollar a gallon and you could rent camping gear from the Georgia State University recreational department for very little money.  So we did.

We met lots of very interesting people at Rainbow Gatherings, all of whom were 80s-era hippies...some were original models who never gave up but many were our age, the sort of people who followed the Grateful Dead around, because that was still a thing then, and who believed in things being free and smelling of patchouli.  I was 100% one of them and somewhere in the archives of the National Park Service is video of my twenty-something self wearing a long skirt and a midriff shirt in the middle of the Talladega National Forest, talking about the healing uses of elder flower tincture with, I'm sure, much more of an air of authority than I actually warranted.

One of the people we met was a fellow whose "Rainbow name" was Spice.  He lived in Charlotte and we hung out at gatherings and he came through Atlanta a few times.  He eventually invited us to a weekend party at his property...a farm he had inherited from his grandfather, I the middle of nowhere North Carolina.  Close to Ruffin, maybe?  I can't was a long time ago...but I do remember that it was most of the way to Virginia.  A good six hour drive, at least.  (This becomes relevant later).

We went, naturally.  Why not?  We made friends pretty easily then.  We drove up there in the one car we had between us, a 1988 Ford Festiva.  It was a tiny two-door hatchback.  (This also becomes relevant).

It was fun, I will admit.  We glamped, in a manner of speaking, in a dilapidated cabin he was slowly trying to refurbish, and I wandered around the dirt paths looking for wildflowers and deer.  He had a bunch of his friends there, mostly guys, and it was clear they did this frequently.  Not a bad way to spend your time.

We were always talking about starting an intentional community back then, and he invited us to come help fix up that cabin to live in full time and then work on the rest of it.  I was fine with this plan if it was made minimally livable (it really wasn't yet) and we could figure out a way to make some actual money in the middle of nowhere North Carolina.  I was usually the voice of reason in these situations so while my ex was spinning glorious visions of what could be, I was asking how we were going to live in the meantime.  But we went back home making plans for the next time we could come back and put some work into the house.

Except a few days later he called us up and accused us of stealing some sheet rock that was there, intended for remodeling the cabin.

Well, first of all, who steals sheet rock?  But laying that aside...since evidently someone had...why would he think WE had done it?  We tried to explain that this was ridiculous, because...

1) We'd left before he had, he'd seen us drive away, and we didn't have a key to the gate.
2) We lived in Atlanta six hours away.
3) We didn't own a truck.  Sheet rock will not fit in a Ford Festiva.  Certainly not if you also want to put people in it.
4) We lived in a city apartment (he'd been there) that had no reasonable storage areas for sheet rock, assuming we'd somehow teleported it there.
5) And honestly, what the fuck? 

He immediately saw the logic of all this and apologized, because human beings are reasonable like that.

Well, of course he didn't.  He doubled down.  I pointed out that his pickup-truck driving buddies, some of whom had keys to the gate, were much more likely culprits.  That just made him mad.

We were baffled, and not a little upset and disappointed.  I can't say exactly what was going on in his head, but I guess it was easier to accuse us...relative strangers from Atlanta...than his closer friends.  Even if that made no kind of sense. Or maybe he realized he'd invited people to live on his property while he was high and needed an excuse to get rid of us.  I have no idea.

I wonder if he's still telling himself the story of the people from Atlanta he invited to his party who stole his sheet-rock.

I do know that nothing we said, no matter how logical or grounded in obvious facts, made the least impression on him.  I have had that experience...many, many times in my life.  Once someone has decided on a certain story about you, and it has some kind of emotional resonance for them, they will ignore everything that doesn't fit the narrative.  They are the worst about it when they are actually the ones in the wrong...because nobody likes being the bad guy, and nobody thinks of themselves that way, but if they alter the facts so that you are the villain of the story, then they don't have to do any such thing.  They can go on thinking of themselves as the hero: wise, perspicacious, and good.  Most people are much more attached to their self-image than they are to the truth.

Well, I guess that does have some relevance to current affairs.  I am not surprised that lots of people have concocted stories that ignore facts, reason, and science, allow them to go on doing exactly what they were doing before, and buffer them emotionally from thinking otherwise.  I'm not surprised that no amount of logic, statements of the obvious, or appeals to common humanity will move them.  One hopes for better, always.  But I'm not one bit surprised.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Today is Pretty Good

On Memorial Drive, Atlanta, GA
My son bought me take-out brunch from Baker Dude Cafe in Grant Park.  It's thirty minutes away but they have keto desserts made with Swerve that I can eat.  It is strangely difficult to find sugar-free desserts in Atlanta, compared to Chattanooga where tasty sugar-free cupcakes abound. I don't know what's going on there but someone should look into it.  I am just saying that, whenever the world allows such things again, that if there was a place that had sugar-free desserts, comfy chairs, good coffee, and wifi that was a little closer, I would be there EVERY day. As it is the almond pecan carrot cupcake at Baker Dude's was worth the drive by itself.  I had their crustless mushroom and leek quiche which was also very good and my son had their Van Gogh sandwich which he pronounced "delicious" while eating it on the way home.

It's beautiful and sunny today, and lots of people were out and about, though they were maintaining a polite distance both at the cafe and on the sidewalks and at the farmer's market going on next door.  Lots of people were wearing masks, some weren't, but no one was crowding.  As I walked by I overheard a woman saying,"I just can't with all of this."

Me neither. My unemployment finally came through (hooray for PUA) so I'm less freaked out about money. I have also (unrelated) stopped arguing with my husband, which was getting to both of us, even though I am still very agitated and can't sleep well.  But today is pretty good.

We had a picnic in the front yard and I'm now sitting out here with my laptop and a glass of wine.  Today is pretty good.