Here is what we have to offer you in its most elaborate form — confusion guided by a clear sense of purpose. –Gordon Matta-Clark c. 1973
to the sky, to the land –
bowed in turn
that precious treasure
or a thought, maybe, too strange for us
This found poem was created from fragments of William Stafford’s daily writings (1975-1976).
The morning I discovered this poem, I admonished myself for not knowing enough vocabulary. The next day I woke early to catch a bus into a city so rich it begs. Finding traces of the first quarter rising moon, I watched a skyline break blue. As ocean waves disappeared into infinite replication, news of another massacre weights the expansive and empty horizon before me.
In “How the Mind Works,” Patti Smith asks Can we truly separate the how and the why? This logic is why Midwestern letters from home are factual and often lack ornate descriptions. The news relayed is a list—bills overdue, doctor visit Tuesday, crops flooded—to extrapolate and to elaborate reason would only waste paper and time. The weight of how to get where I do not yet know forms my most elaborate creative patterns, and those lines buried between what is said are code switches. I want you to imagine what that would feel like. I assume you are real on the other side of this virtual divide.
“Success is someone else’s failure. Success is the American Dream we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including thirty million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty. No, I do not wish you success. I don’t even want to talk about it. I want to talk about failure.” — Ursula K. Le Guin, excerpt from her 1983 Mills College commencement address “A Left-Handed Commencement Address”
Mental maps are flashbacks of intertwined stories not to be confused with flash-forward dreams like visible clouds in the night sky backlit by 24-7 traffic lights, or knowing you are looking directly at an invisible full moon. I am sorry if this specificity of darkness is dense and complicated. I have historically avoided anchors of place in my writing because it feels safer to drift unmoored. It is entirely possible I do not want you to find me.
My past has too many inconsistent waypoints to map accurately—my mother is an unreliable narrator and my father’s sense of direction was absorbed as gospel, narrow and aggressive. Gathered, these scattered memories take shape as a specific form of isolation. The truth is, wrapping myself in distance feels like home.
This dark and expansive landscape I pull from is as familiar as counting landmarks on long drives back home, de facto mile markers such as wind-sculpted trees, mirage plateaus, and the occasional 4-way stop sign scarred with casual bullet holes. My expertise in understanding subtle changes as a sense of direction was earned honestly.
As an identical twin, separation is a practice of abundance. Do you recognize that gift in yourself?
Stars are born when clouds of gas called nebulae infinitely collapse. The center of this collapse, a result of carefully balanced external gravitational forces and internal rising temperatures, fuses into light brilliant enough to witness from Earth’s distance. In this nearly empty darkness, collapsing coordinates are not fixed either. All these simple steps broken into a discovery of self, in excellence and always in evolution.
“Are we witnesses or actors?” – Carolyn Kizer from “Twelve O’Clock”
From a tender age, we learn to anticipate expansive boundaries. This is how we survived.
Our inheritances can be found folded into cornered spaces where silence occupies itself. A similar appreciation to realizing how much our eyes have adjusted to darkness. We trade today’s exhaustion for speculative futures. Assassinations happen daily.
Diversions become elegant beginnings when you realize resistance has immortal roots. That’s why performing for an absent savior is a dishonest practice and violence is a loop of fractured sounds. Do you hear that echo abdicating its own existence?
The sun feels yellow today. Birds still relay their news through song. Incantations woven over and through the roar of their own destruction. A natural and honest alchemy. Such revision signals there is enough, a gathering of effort.
When they ask how you survived this century, what will your answer be?
I have to start somewhere and this is a good place to begin. I want this early reflection of my time spent at the William Stafford Archives to be a conscious wandering.
I knew I couldn’t finish. There was too much. I needed a respectable and intuitive pace. I had to make quick and deliberate decisions on what to capture and what to let go — a practiced, indulgent impulse.
“I would like to be known as an action philosopher.”
– Banana Yoshimoto, from the novel Kitchen
I wrote what came to my attention and catalogued patterns — wind, mountains, snow, trees, rocks, and secrets to name the most prominent. It felt the best, and most honest, way to honor Stafford’s daily writing practice. It was what I had learned to do from You Must Revise Your Life and Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer’s Vocation.
On August 17, 1993, eleven days before he died, he asked:
“What can butterflies do if they get mad at each other? Should they express their anger? Stop and get even? Are these questions about a butterfly trivial? And about you?”
And on May 13, 1951, at the age of 37, Stafford wrote:
“How do we know our perceptions have the same feel as others’?” (emphasis in original)
Graceful inquiries such as these found their way into Stafford’s daily writings, which also included his dreams remembered in the darkest shadows of morning light. Intimate and rooted in place, Stafford recorded the present in all its creative movements.
I learned how deeply mountains listen when trees and rocks tell their ancient stories.
Stafford’s lifetime dedication to following and listening — carefully — to what wasn’t being said, or said loudly, was powerful to witness. His repetition was seductive. A rhythm visualized into meditative language that demonstrated “…all living things are afraid (20 June 1975)” and a steady truth that “your hope keeps you awake (20 May 1975).”
What comes next is unknown and that’s exactly how it is supposed to be.
And then will come my turn toward considering the poem as a set of strategies.
— William Stafford, You Must Revise Your Life
My aesthetic genealogy is borrowed from a working poetics. A magpie practice of creative slanted interruptions. One of my favorite writing habits is to post on Sundays. Years ago I discovered this practice as a way to reclaim time lost to benign neglect and take back a day formerly dedicated to church services that framed ideal bodies as those willing to give up their souls.
Forgive this brief editorializing break. I’ve wandered to the edge of today’s subject.
It is safe to assume the forensics of great writers are investments in process.
For the last twelve and a half years, I have traced the shapes of memory — collective and personal — in this wide open space. I have anchored active examination into subtitled weekly posts. I curated evidence of expansion through parallel interpretations and feel for traction inside line breaks weighted by punctuation’s invitation to pause. I am aligned when tone reflects visual structure.
This time last year I was organizing myself to study Audre Lorde’s time in Berlin. Today I want to capture my emerging intention to study William Stafford this fall. The boundaries of this poetics inquiry are a promise to continue to carve out curious time. It is an extension of how conscious practice cleaves to the promise of honoring spirit. I aim to explore and investigate Stafford’s pacifist approaches — specifically conscientious objector — to writing poetry, his teaching methods of writing poetry, and his graceful rejection of competition.
Our days are urgent as parents wait for children to find them. Climate and change are conjoined into violent denials. Stafford practiced creative resistance strategies during WWII and the Vietnam War.
What might we borrow to alter our endangered lives?
An older German man likes to greet me by singing his favorite melodies from 1960s American pop songs. Our connection is assumed to be familiar on those grounds. Other connections have taken longer to root, to find their own casual and wandering paths. Most often I simply smile, to show submission to a foreign tongue, and repeat my English phrases so we can entwine in a hopeful vernacular.
There is a mutual desire to be understood.
Mornings are typically dark and grey, thick with clouds that never leave. There are, of course, exceptions. Some days find swirling pink clouds opening their hearts to promises of illumination. The void of this work has been filled when silence is created from conscious expression. An expression that most days outpaces language’s translation of experience.
This poetic examination of Audre Lorde’s teaching, and by extension her methods of poetic practice, has strengthened the tender edges of my own belief of how change happens – personal, political, and everything in between. I feel marked with new annotations at the outermost areas of my known history. My knowledge is shaped into intentional practices around work, love, and living a conscious life. I have discovered purpose inside complex layers of wanting evolution. I can see, now, how those borders have always been informed by an interior landscape, whether I owned this fact or not.
This is a truth we all share.
The Audre Lorde Archive materials are predominantly audio recordings. Everyone I love is dreaming while I’m awake listening to student’s chairs scraping wood floors, birds chirping in public chorus, and occasionally a truck will rattle the open classroom windows as it barrels down the city streets. The digitized tape recordings also capture nervous laughter when Audre Lorde refuses to center whiteness – and white discomfort – in Black women’s lived experiences.
She asks the students, who are there to learn about poetry written by Black American women, “What is it you want to come from this investment?”
Because “what you want will help influence what you get.”
She names her expectations and her intentions: “What poetry will demand of you…is that you will not do it [experience Black women’s lives] comfortably. You will have to get involved or you will not get anything out of it.”
“I am here because poetry is crucial to me. It’s not merely what I do, it’s a way of living. And I believe it’s a way of living that can strengthen every person who takes part in it. I think that it is a crucial way of living for women and [inaubible]. I think that self-conscious recognition of our feelings are one of the primary ways of making the stuff we need to move through our lives. I think poetry is the visual actual recreation of this stuff in a way that can be shared and used. I’m here because I want to examine this body of literature which is very important, and I feel vital to me, in conjunction with the rest of you. … That’s why I’m here, because I’m greedy, because I’m curious and because I believe I am an endangered species, the same way each one of you is endangered.” — Audre Lorde, 1984, Black Women Poetry, Frein Universität Berlin (Audre Lorde Archives)
Establishing mutual visibility – we are all endangered species – through honoring of complexity creates an awareness, an opening, towards strengthening our respective relational capacities. I learned this personally from two wildly different yet equality vulnerable experiences this past August. What is beyond those lived experiences, and this specific poetics inquiry, is an embodied confrontation of feelings. It is a requirement of authentic participation in any relationship – from self to the project of a just society.
“…personal has become a very negative word for a lot of people…but how do you feel? Do you feel objectively? How is it possible to feel other than personally? You can feel personally about things that are very large and outside of yourself, but is it possible to feel objectively? There’s nothing wrong with the personal but I want to tell you, yes poetry is personal, it must be. It is the first place you start but it does not remain there. We [poets] take what is personal, we take what is experienced and we make a bridge, hopefully, to your experience that is different. That is the magical and wonderful quality of poetry. That it can arc across differences. It’s one of the few ways we have dealing with what is genuinely different between us. One of the key ways of making something creative out of that.” — Audre Lorde, 1984, Black Women Poetry, Frein Universität Berlin (Audre Lorde Archives)
“It is part of my work that I came to do and I don’t have 300 years any more than you have. I am interested in doing my work because it satisfies me on a lot of different levels, and part of my work is coming here saying to you – how are you doing yours? What is this work we are dealing with have to do with your work as a white woman, as a white German woman, as in who you are. … I am not an angel. I cannot descend upon you with a magic wand. I cannot transform you. I can throw out those things I know and invite you to make some connections. I invite you to use them for your life.” — Audre Lorde, 1984, Black Women Poetry, Frein Universität Berlin (Audre Lorde Archives)
The weight of that investment by way of personal invitation is strategic. Her liberation, theirs, and mine cannot be separated. Other class conversations have pivoted on global tensions of climate change, gender-based violence, and nuclear escalation. It is remarkable that our shared reality has us waking up to and living under the same violence today.
Thirty-three years have slipped through us.
What dreams, or as Lorde calls them “emotional blueprints,” must we encourage beyond political formations?
How might you use the weapon of active examination – and poetry specifically – to not only envision what is possible but also perform your and my liberation?
Dystopia in real time is not like the movies. We’ve digested so much spectacular violence we know no tender alternatives. Fighting feels so good. The characters we play on screen form dead weight on the streets and sink us in our bedrooms.
Persistence is extractive.
As surf buries smoothed rock, we turn the calendar page to July. We spread like picnics under cloudless skies. Our flesh a moral document scrolling beyond politicized reach. After all, the bottom line is always evolving.
Sea levels have always been inconsistent.
Ideological battles are taken for granted outside a schema of pursuit. This adoration, a relationship of necessity, remains prone. A curious posture. Abuse is normal. Its purpose is to feel. Subtly is weaponized.
Perceived as commodities, we trade.
Auspicious tensions act as purifiers for taste, a basic sensation. Our judgements psychic protection. Didactic fracturing agitates into frothy comfort. Perceptions gain value for their ahistorical subjectivity.
Aspirational dissent is the chorus and the bridge to —
If we listen carefully, joy is elegance reproducing itself into near future referential fits and starts. Inspiration is a slow bleed. Murmuring into abruptions delightful as salt penetrating unhealed wounds. An intimacy as ancient and poetic as opiates or fire.
“I knew the tension in me between love and power, between pain and rage, and the curious, the grinding way I remained extended between these poles – perpetually attempting to choose the better rather than the worse.” — James Baldwin
I read all the names of the sacred rivers and creeks
as roadside memorials blurred into permanent mile markers
horizon x distance = distortion
horizontally speaking it was a longing
pressure folding into seductive resistance
when you knew you were in trouble, what did you do next?
these days and for some time since
I move with spiritual abandonment
neglect now atmospheric radiance
habitual as landscapes
my divided thoughts are pulled to you
Receptivity is a form and function of power.
Tree tops soften from light’s pressure as rays break to bend.
Collusive collaborations are their own manufactured commodities.
This contemporary capital vision is a muted song from the past.
Borrowed promises, fallowed lives, and lustful rationalizations are systemic desire lines, whose paths of consequence are worn clear. Your biases are showing. Bad.
We, all of us, are reclaiming pleasure.
Things are so intimate, so personal, these days.
Tensions and conflicts splayed.
We leave literary marks as evidence.
On whose authority is the question we need to be asking.
A different way of understanding omniscience. Please validate.
He said he was going to take a walk around the block to clear his mind. Stretch his legs. Escape. He never came back. A map of states’s preferences for corn or potato chips forever frozen on his desktop screen.
Battle for references, a retirement to the absence of —
On Wednesday, I was reminded artists should “support each other religiously.” This community-level policy is seductive, whose root is “to lead astray.” Oceans of context transfer nervous energy. Is thinking out loud unprofessional?
It’s come down to semiotic analysis of utterances. This weekly cathartic release looping endlessly to create a low frequency hiss. A similar process to the way valleys take the weight, form, and shape of foggy mornings or as secure as refuge.
Isn’t history just repetition and accumulation of power and influence? This is about understanding why you feel so wronged. Don’t you know it takes the Sun and the Moon to make the tides? It’s also true that roaring cats don’t purr. In this specific instance, it is either roar or purr. There is no both.
Cities showed up 6-figures deep. A people’s definition of amazing. Folks are asking if this is another revolution for a problem with no name. Pre-conditions find themselves in dispute along with feeling safe, not comfortable, but safe. You do not have my permission to share this. Pussy is on sale.
Today we celebrate 44 years of codified privacy and personal (white) choice. An axis of origin. To be fair, there’s no standard agreement on how many simultaneous wars we are fighting. Drama should be reserved for love. The noise, the roaring noise, has been the most reliable of our tensions. Hair-triggering sensitivities. Isn’t it ironic?
If you are a private poet, then your vocabulary is limited by your obsessions.
— Richard Hugo, The Triggering Town
It’s a fact. Cycles sync. It is October, 2016. The word pussy is in our mouths again. Full and heavy bodied, it’s paired with a specific violence as naturalized as an inherited ownership tone. This is the fetishized frequency of law and order.
*** you’ve got to stack it so it’s stable – Low, No Comprende ***
So this is what whiplash from a mass capture of imagination feels like. A forced common image. Pussy, for now, functions as an ironic partisan anchor, while still maintaining its gendered significations.
What is the whole of this historical objectification of our parts? Patriarchal logic argues that this violence of disassociation is necessary and even desired. This detachment is inherent in our economic theories, consumer-based language, and mass-produced representations.
We learn, repeatedly, there are far more serious and urgent issues to concern ourselves with than ritualized gender-based violence. We are dismissed. We are told to question less and obey more.
*** underneath this hood you kiss, I tick like bomb – Perfume Genius, Hood***
We perform this idealized creed through a perpetual liturgy of demure expressions in a culture that protects mobs of high-volume denials. This contemporary shrill masculinity is socially recycled into discourses that tap into an idolization of individual perspective. For most, this illusion only creates isolation.
Manipulating the dark side of vulnerability isn’t a new strategy to win elections, or maintain control. What feels different this Presidential election cycle is the dredge of cultural material to mine and the hypervoyeurism that has been produced. Public and private boundaries are as unstable as our contemporary understanding of when virtual becomes reality.
As we bare witness to the misogyny that rages beneath all our sacred institutions, may the soundtrack to this ride to November include Magnet by Bikini Kill.
I’m keeping this advice on a loop: I’ve got the love that’s strong and not weak.
Did you know we have started living in isolation to prepare for colonizing Mars?
There is dedicated front cover news space to our collective denial about the basics of life on this planet: water, menstruation, dignity. A particular death-wish resistance to facts because we can’t face our feelings; our responsibility as witness to 24-hour broadcasted cruelty. Gripping so tightly to distance, we can think only about scale not urgency.
The 1960 Valdivia earthquake data reads like an ultrasound of the earth’s surface. What’s at our center?
“An ellipse is richer than a circle. It possesses two centers. It’s a dialogue.” — Louise Bourgeois
Those smallest details of absence and desire go almost unnoticed, felt as impetus. A survivor’s mentality. An orientation to want (hunger) as something outside of you, something to be experienced. Unapologetic formations to desire are apocryphal stories of purpose. They hold between their lines our remaining humanities. Revelation is all around us. A range no longer than a row of buttons.
Summer, by academic and capitalist time, is over. The light, the light, the light shows phenomenal nominal change.
There are silences bestowed and silences unbecoming. We are taught we are broken: mind, body, spirit. This evangelical conservative belief that the future is not yours is an organized robbery of imagination and self-determination.
Conceptually, we must collectively conceive our own destinies.
In a previous post, I coupled the early essays of The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure as “academic stimulation with real-world sensations.” The chorus of voices throughout the remainder of the book continue on that path and give more support for using an erotic economic analysis. The production of porn is about selling pleasure, consuming (queer) desire, and fucking loving yourself.
Ingrid Ryberg in Every Time We Fuck, We Win pushes you to understand watching porn is witness to intimacy. It is telling that we have to learn to repress so much to fit into assumed historic preferences. Keiko Lane’s Imag(in)ing Possibilities spreads your psyche out with respect. Experiencing “fantasies made conscious” is a particular arousal of “embodied subjectivity.” That point of view, a corporeal validation, is useful. Porn can heal us if we experience it without shame or remorse. If you want to get the deepest and quickest purpose of this book, read Constance Penley’s A Feminist Teaching Pornography? She gives you the permission to study porn as film. We are the audience to a multi-dimensional experience from performer to director to public tastes.
Presentation matters: angles and agency. Lorelei Lee demonstrates that to the fullest. “Sexual desire and sexual identity are absolutely essential to the freely defined self.” Feminist porn performs power which is why it deserves its current patriarchal reputation. Own that what you feel from seeing is pleasurable. This feminist entertainment project is political. That’s no-fucks-given explicit from the begging to the end The Feminist Porn Book. As is Ariane Cruz’s call to “take up a politics of perversion, a disruptive shift in black feminist studies, to critically analyze the engagements of pleasure and power through pornography consumption, performance, and production.”
All anthologies straddle numerous opinions and I agree with Nina Hartley that “porn houses our sexual dreams, which are vitally important to our happiness.” The how – worker centered – is what makes feminist porn feminist. It is what mutual satisfaction looks like – good enough to share. Tristan Aormino knows both sides of the camera. I’ll watch sex that is “presented as joyful, fun, safe, mutual, and satisfying.” Sexual expressions of joy! Who would be against such imagery?
That was a larger question that was often left out of the frame. We hear and see enough of the anti-porn position. It was a nice reprieve from that way of thinking. The Feminist Porn Book repeatedly and gently reminds you to consume critically and honor consent always. Sexual expressions are exchanged as erotic capital and culturally produced whether we agree with it or not. That’s why having more porn that thinks and fucks like me is where I’ll be putting my hard-earned feminist dollars.
We are a cramp nation. Involuntary, restrictive, a tool.
our periods, collectively, are politically vogue
as gender representation reflects without liberation
we process its reclamation as speculative transmissions
even the clouds
and now their patterns
the simplest narratives are stored in the bends of our flesh
rancor its own habitual expression, a saturation of cultural static
transfigurations of competitive positivity, a sharing economy
Angela Davis said the political reproduces itself through the personal
This time of year the radiator sings at night. The gray mornings are carbon copies of Cleveland’s skies. Those years full of bravado that only darkness holds or youth demands. To the east, the pastel light spins out into easter yellows, baby blues, and softened ripe peaches.
I watched him dip his boots into the fountain, one at a time, muddied from the urban forest he was paid to curate.
When we talk about the work be explicit.
Do you care
We all have somewhere to be
someone to hold (ourselves mostly)
accountable for what happens today.
She maps “squad” as a term and concept to 90s hip-hop culture.
Arriving at a boundary of solidarity, she challenges the reader to not be tricked into defaming masculinity. She connects masculinity to strategies that have avoided “sexual jealousy, emotionalism and spiteful turf wars that sometimes dog women.” Is this what being a man feels like?
It’s an interesting charge for us to study the “immensely productive dynamic of male bonding in history,” which assumes male bonding has been productive and that production has been positive. This is where her contradictory ahistorical argument wanders into abstract proposition.
Yet Paglia’s scolding tone is enticing and visionary. “For women to leave a lasting mark on culture, they need to cut down on the socializing and focus like a laser on their own creative gifts.” Let us be blessed and count our fortune to be in a squad that is “about mentoring, exchanging advice and experience and launching exciting and innovative joint projects.”
What is driving this iteration of the gender wars propensity to want to thrive on grievance? Is it the emotionalism or the sexual jealousy that Pagila names?
Connection, collaboration, and bonding (which requires affection and trust in order to be safe and healthy) are the inherent politics of any community-oriented experience, regardless of gender assignments. It is a shame those practices have accumulated such heavy and fractured gendered prescriptions.
Kept in the Hollywood gaze, as Pagila has strategically framed, the reader is reminded, as consumers of said culture, that supporting girl squads can be a way towards “expanding female power in Hollywood.” Let’s hope that power doesn’t replicate the same product as the boys.
The voices most common to me end with the sound of a question.
It’s that curl at the end, a curiosity unspoken.
There’s a particular consciousness when I hear that familial cadence.
Prompts that possess risk and assumed uncertainty.
The sun was an escort that morning.
A morning with purpose and mummified mandarins.
This and other routines becoming orientations –
a private relationship with temporality.
In silence, I see violence.
In breath, I think sex.
In the pornography of my dreams,
you know you can’t fuck me like that
and then act like I’m fragile. That is
a subtlety best reserved for detachment.
The body speaks. A language born of vigilance.
An effort that does not deviate. In the same way
cyclical is about more than repetition and less
becomes obvious. Those times when scarcity
is a luxury of desire (thought) or when home
is opposite of feeling (being) love. Seasons nested
between gaps of wants, things you don’t need,
taking without realizing its cost.
What is left behind in this wake?
A free fall. A slow fade. A disclosure.
What is it that makes us different?
Tracing boundaries of shared recognition.
Three years ago today, it was a nearly nude fashion show, and four years ago doing my own thing found itself on a “good things” list.
Do you know if the richest cities face west? What if we found settlement in a such a place?
Weeks form around us. Patterned reconciliations, memories of bus rides in other cities, different exchange rates. Those were my hard gained needs.
From your perspective, I cannot exist. Shifting your vengeance, a cruel blindness, that’s the type of aggression I inherited now abandoned for gentle privileges, useless hardwired knowledge, plotted along sensitive geographies. Navigating scripts, a dialect of claimed silences, lulling like waves like violence like survival. We have always carried this resistance, this method of rapture.
“Because there’s 40 different shades of black…” Pavement Elevate Me Later
I promise to hold your gaze, even those that are unwanted.
Or the erotic retelling of my life as told through your eyes.
It is the specifics that matter when we confess. Some may believe that is enough. The confession is the means to the end. But what would happen if we thought of that release as the beginning?
Until that expositional moment, those words, thoughts, opinions are internalized truths that are ours alone to own and to hold. Now they are all of ours to absorb, to manage, to learn from, and to let go to make room for what we do not yet know.
Please forgive me. I did what I was told to do. I was bound to pick up bad habits after all those hours of witnessing evangelizing and attempts at redemption.
I was taught over and over again, no matter what I did, I was never going to be good enough. I was taught my body was not mine and out of my control. I am just now understanding how much obvious violence, subtle and insidious, is needed to give your soul away.
There is a primacy in this ritual of naming, recording, and distilling into something that only I understand. I won’t be so naive to think that a mirror’s only job is to reflect.
Geographies contain multipliers.
They are containers of dreams,
a space for visions.
This week the morning sky met the Bay by gently laying on top of itself. Low-hanging clouds smelled of cheap cologne, saturated with the kind of hope that only comes from peer pressure or digital capitalism or the start of a new year. The price of oil is less than $50/barrel which means the Financial District’s transactions have had less swagger. Instead calculated bets are placed on commodities like complex sugars, protest, Taylor Swift, and war. Pipelines born from speculative fiction landscapes are on pace to divide community from livelihood.
What if what I’ve been wanting is to find love in that space found between deep breaths? A capacity just beyond the quiet terror of behaving. A boundary traced around dangerous desires.
I’m seven essays deep into The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure. There are new terms to embrace like “pink films” (Japanese softcore porn) and breathless realizations around phrases like “the key to mutual confidence–risk.” The essays couple academic stimulation with real-world sensations. As the infamous Betsy Dodson so aptly notes, “all forms of sex were [are] an exchange of power, whether it was [is] conscious or unconscious.”
The politics around (re)production, representation, and the permeable moral high ground of porn – “feminist” or not – are chapters of a story that pivot on domination and release. Who’s on top and who is really getting what they asked for? What lies beneath most of the antiporn rhetoric (which is intimately coupled with conservative ideas about the purpose of sex; hint: it’s not pleasure) are “sexual panics” around fluid concepts of decency, normalcy, and obscenity. All of these convictions, and more, build towards a formula that reflects standardized shots designed to maximize profit.
I like Susie Bright’s pithy assessment “porn arouses to distraction” to describe what porn actually does.
In the essay “Emotional Truths and Thrilling Slide Shows,” Smith & Attwood theorize “in making arguments for free speech, its proponents often cede the ground that some forms of pornography are indeed awful, damaging, and to be abhorred, thereby confirming the basic analysis that there is something intrinsically problematic about both the cultural forms of sexual representation and those who seek them out.” This sounds similar to the soundtrack around abortion rights and reproductive freedom in general. This ceded ground leaves the usual suspects, non-wealthy, gender non-conforming, and non-white, maintaining the space of deviance. That is until there is a reason to play with that resistance.
In a book that has nothing to do (at least not in an obvious way) with Nietzsche, I learn that he believed “philosophers tend to write their memoirs in their theories.” That feels like a well-known secret, an existential tenet.
That’s probably why I write about light so much. The sharpness of every one of those mornings when I realized I survived. I was alive. My breath my own. And rhythms. The way give and take should be an invitation. And the different shades within sadness. Understanding how much we had to absorb to get to the point of saturation. And the violence around silence.
There’s so much to tell you which is another way to say: vulnerability. Have you thought about how the intimate architecture of being out of body serves a purpose and the faith it takes to manifest this into pleasure? Why failures can quickly become ways to feel safe? I want to ask questions that lead to answers, or at the very least have a chance to form structure to a conversation.
In the end, this is simply a way to theorize this week’s memories into something concrete, into something I want to remember. I want nothing left but the details of how deliberately the sun slipped behind the ocean horizon and how the blue darkness now holds all my wishes.
Sloping power lines dance above me as the train emerges from the tunnel. I follow them. We race across the flat industrial landscape that ebbs and flows according to the cheap demands of consumers. Wires bend and sway to impress passengers whose eyes adjust to the glare of the setting sun, a palette of light stretching from peachy pinks, transparent blues, and burnt oranges. I listen for that moment when we all take a breath, a collective reminder of where we just came from. Our cadence influenced by a retrograde perspective, a point of view that manipulates distance. Even the trees, with their fading leaves and tender roots, know this isn’t enough.
There must be more. Surely we can look for opportunities to eat cake with our coffee; search for an afternoon to visit the ocean and stay until the last light disappears; discover different angles to reveal new patterns; listen for rhythms that break hearts so we can be rendered tough enough; restore a belief in a future that can both afford to make mistakes and is strong enough to allow for change. These delicate moments of revelation, quiet and embodied, should be stored in bulk and kept tucked behind corners waiting to be shared, especially when the light feels heavy.
When so much is in front of you, the only way out is up.
movie star faces
We dream of different reasons
to perform the same routines.
Money is not enough of a lure.
We have been poor before.
Status is not an option.
We have been poor before.
In order to believe in tomorrow,
we occupy contrasting spaces.
That is what we are trained to do.
We have been poor before.
It is cold enough to see breath.
Predictions of an epic winter storm never materialized.
I should have known better; California you are a master of hype and fantasy.
The visual meditative state of witnessing exhalation suspends guilt
and reflects action.
Traditionally, this form of indulgence is transitory
for this purpose it feels good to think that transgressions can be forgiven.
In a darkness that only winter can afford, I took a new bus route home.
A route born from too many walks home alone
knowing $2.10 was the price to suspend the need to control, a different kind of letting go.
Transported past houses with illuminated front rooms
I internalized why deserve is a word that triggers so many strong memories.
These desperate opportunities of wanting more are not a crime
yet I hold them like a criminal.
Is the tipping point when the perfume on the back of your neck smells familiar to me?
Muscle memory contains the same difference between perceiving versus seeing.
The pornographer demands uncompromising attention to detail;
we should all be so aspirational.
We joke about taking it all the way as the planets revolve around us. Facing one another, like borders, we exchange memories as cash and carry each others extremes to calibrate our balances.
In What Is Found There, Adrienne Rich notes that the core of metaphors are “resemblance in difference.” And Gloria Anzaldua said, “The resistance to change in a person is in direct proportion to the number of dead metaphors that person carries.” There is much to explore within these spaces of similarity and syncretistic juxtapositions. Metaphors are essential ingredients, catalysts really, that shape how we will tell others what we see.
Navigating aspects of a culture, one that feels more about reading and performing than being, only partially explains my reoccurring dreams of stairs. Traveling east to the prairie to fulfill a mission that will close a chapter of home that has few memories that aren’t seeped in melancholic filters may be another immediate interpretation. It’s equally likely, and as obvious, this vision is based on that lost time in Chicago. The recalled memory is only violent sound: bones on concrete.
The town where I was born has a museum that specializes in local history. The museum’s fame was ownership of a found prehistoric fossil. This piece of stone was remarkably well preserved, the spine of the evolved animal clearly intact. It turned out this grand jewel, this generational crowd pleaser, was actually a piece of broken feather from the statue of Sitting Bull, a Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux holy man.
Local assholes used to ram the monument with their pickup trucks knocking the bust of Sitting Bull’s head off its pedestal and they’d shoot into the Sacagawea monument for fun. We used to try to count all the bullet holes during those long summers we were lucky enough to visit my grandparents.
Grandma Nancy and Grandpa Pinky’s ranch was only a few miles from the monuments. Their house was a special and magical place. There were lamps that turned on by touching plant leaves and a dining table that was the go-to place to listen to the reporting of current events and visions of the future.
I remember summers where cousins divided themselves along the intractable wedge of Boy George’s sexuality while Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA blared from the back of pickup trucks that drove too fast down roads that were tire ruts imprinted on the rich prairie soil. We saw monsters rise from ponds and were oblivious to the violence around us.
I want to tell my dying grandfather that I will never forget that burned cowhide is the smell of money. I want to tell him that his house was a refuge, a site of culture and learning about a world larger than I could imagine. I want to ask him if he remembers the fossilized feather and if he heard any of those shootings.
If I tell you my identity, will you tell me what to buy?
Ask me questions. I want answers.
This time of year brings out a different kind of angst in understanding who I am. From pressures to BUY SOMEBODY SOMETHING to calibrating the dangers of assimilation (of all kinds), I appreciate everyone who has added to my voice and sense of agency.
I’m tempted to make promises that I can’t keep.
Oscillating between choice and denial has sparked new, and powerful, imaginary yearnings. I want that feeling of checking your assumptions; a feeling of being heard. Let’s practice justice everyday so that these memories are in our muscles, so that we are conscious when we fail.
Can you feel the rush for the end?
We report back different memories. Like when we visited her in the mental hospital and learned how tradition is precarious security. She sadly handed each one of us a painted gold angel made of plaster, which I still carry with me as evidence. It was the only thing she could provide to us, a product of her extreme sadness. You said we baked chocolate chip cookies in the industrial kitchen and have no memory of her angelic presentation. We both agreed that she was never coming home again.
justice will take us millions of intricate moves
– William Stafford
As each day tucks into the next, I add up the cumulative influence of how silence can be a weapon of intention. My head reminds me that this is the familiar effect of winter and the reappearance of those heavy memories that not-so-gently announce its arrival. My heart has been in hibernation for weeks.
There is nothing left for you; I promise.
Shall we think of junctions as felicitous opportunities to recast and reassess? If the rumors are true that the world is ending in less than a month, let us wake up each day with strategic purpose. This ritual is bigger than you or me.