James Baldwin and the Education of People of Color

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes daily practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week’s quote is from the essayist, poet, novelist, playwright, and social critic, James Baldwin.

“Not a thousand years ago, it was illegal to teach a slave to read.”

— James Baldwin

The first laws prohibiting slaves from being educated were passed in South Carolina in 1740 beyond what was necessary to understand scripture. Other states followed quickly adding fines for anyone caught teaching a slave to read or write and even going so far as to prohibit freed slaves from living in some states in fear they might incite others by educating them and distributing abolitionist materials or ideas. By the 1850s public education for all black people was illegal.

Educated slaves were a threat to white slaveholders. To have slaves reading and reflecting, questioning authority, and getting ideas of rising and rebelling was not to be tolerated.

This discouragement did not end after the emancipation proclamation was signed. There were few schools or teachers available to teach black people, and they were not permitted in white school. What schools were established were poor and largely ignored by the government. It would be almost another 100 years between the signing of the end of the civil war in 1865 and the legal desegregation of schools in 1954. One hundred years of freed slaves and their descendants scraping by the best they could in a world where white people had the advantage.

And not much has changed since. A significant percentage of Black people in this country are illiterate or unable read above a basic level. They say we are all equal now. Legally we all have a right to an education and the same opportunities regardless of race, but anyone with eyes can see it isn’t true.

School in predominately black or poor neighborhoods doesn’t receive the funding needed to educate its student body enough to compete with the richer and often whiter schools.  It is their schools that have less money, fewer teachers, bigger class sizes, and lower graduation rates. Even in the school district, I work for, one of the best in the state and arguably in the country, there is a clear difference between the education and resources received between our predominantly white schools and the ones with a more diverse enrollment.

The same discouragement to educate exists now, black schools are still poor and largely ignored by the government and for much the same reason, to keep the power where the ruling class wants it.

Education carries ideas, ideas about who we are and what life is and should be. Education exposes you to ideas about what happiness is and what suffering is and how we end up with either. Education brings wisdom from the past to the present and cultivates the capacity to imagine a better future for oneself. It puts you into perspectives you might never see from. It makes us want.

Writing means utilizing logic and creativity for more than basic comprehension ideas. It means pulling those perspectives and ideas you encountered apart and recombining them into something new. The power of writing is in its ability to teach you how to think and reveal what you think. Writing makes it possible to share these new ideas and possibilities with others.

Writing gives you an independence that threatens the establishment. Writing lights your soul up, and gives you the power to light another’s, and another’s, and another’s. It gives you a freedom you don’t have to beg for, a freedom you take for yourself. Once writing has happened control is lost. You cannot keep the masses from reading it, and you cannot stop them from spreading it. The end of oppression becomes inevitable.

It can be slowed. A ruling class loathes to give up power, so they find new ways to restrict education. We’ve banned books and burned whole libraries, but the human appetite for knowledge is insatiable and compulsive. It comes naturally to us and is essential for success in our society.

Too many Americans never learn to read or are not taught the joy and power that words and ideas can give them. It’s a damn shame. A shame not only on those in power but on all of us who turn a blind eye.

Someone somewhere at some time thought that too, and it is because of them I can call myself a writer now.  It is because so many people who came before wanted that I have access to so much information and education, often for free and at my leisure. It is because of them that I can contemplate and reflect, forming ideas of my own and share them with you. As a woman and a person of color, I know how lucky I am to have this power. I feel like I owe it to them to wield this power, to practice it and share it. I can’t give in to self-loathing and doubt. I can’t quit or make excuses because that would be a dishonor and a disappointment to their legacy and sacrifice.

Every person who fought to get us here, no matter how small their resistance, performed great acts of courage. Those who still fight are true heroes. I want to be among those heroes.

The conclusion we all have to come to is that literacy is a human right, period! No person sound denied access to a fundamental feature of what it means to be a human being. No other species on this planet has discovered math, reading, or writing; it is our discovery, it belongs to all of us, equally.

We all have access to school, but we don’t have access to the same education. What we have is a deliberate attempt to keep certain groups ignorant and unable to think or think properly, or articulate their needs and imagine solutions to their ills. I say “deliberate” because the news that some schools are failing, are poor, and are overcrowded and understaffed is not news to anyone and yet is still not a problem politicians are willing to fix.

Who better to take up the fight than writers? As a writer, it hurts my heart to know that language is being used as a weapon this way. As a writer yourself, or as an artist or any creative type, you should feel the same. What would life feel like to you if you had been denied the tools to express your hopes, and fears, and dreams? What could a stunted mind imagine or believe in? How might you suffer if you had been kept from words this way?

No one should be denied to opportunity to fall in love with writing. Call you representatives, contribute to local school fundraising efforts, even if your children do not attend. Familiarize yourself with the basic literacy statistics and the reality of black students in public education. Read authors of color, especially women and queer authors of color. Raise awareness. Confront your own racist ideas, even the ones you deny you have.

And finally, make access to the very best education for everyone a moral issue. Make reading, writing and math, a human rights issue. Make it your goal to bring up other artists and writers the way you were brought up, or the way you wish you had been. Make sure they can read the classics, learn the rules, and know that expressing the human condition through fiction, poetry, essays, memoir, and more are noble and fulfilling endeavors. Let them know we need them, their ideas, and their words.

We need more minds lit up and souls burning in all of us.

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James Arthur Baldwin was born on August 2, 1924, after his mother, Emma Berdis Jones, left his biological father because of his drug abuse and moved to Harlem, New York City. There, she married a preacher, David Baldwin. The family was very poor. His mother reportedly never told him the name of his biological father.

The oldest of nine children Baldwin spent much of his time caring for his younger brothers and sisters. At the age of 10, he was teased and abused by two New York police officers, an instance of racist harassment by the NYPD that he would experience again as a teenager and document in his essays. His adoptive father, whom Baldwin in essays called simply his father, appears to have treated him—by comparison with his siblings—with great harshness.

Baldwin developed a passion for reading at an early age and demonstrated a gift for writing during his school years. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, where he worked on the school’s magazine with future famous photographer Richard Avedon. He published numerous poems, short stories, and plays in the magazine. At age 14, Baldwin became a preacher at the small Fireside Pentecostal Church in Harlem. In the early 1940s, he transferred his faith from religion to literature. Critics, however, note the impassioned cadences of Black churches are still evident in his writing.

Baldwin’s first and probably best-known novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, a partially autobiographical account of his youth, was published in 1953.  He continued to experiment with literary forms throughout his career, publishing poetry and plays as well as the fiction and essays for which he was known. He garnered acclaim for his insights on race, spirituality, and humanity. His essay collections Notes of a Native SonNobody Knows My Name, and The Fire Next Time were influential in informing a largely white audience. Other novels included Giovanni’s Room, Another Country, and Just Above My Head.

James Baldwin offered a vital literary voice during the era of civil rights activism in the 1950s and ’60s. Baldwin’s novels and plays fictionalized fundamental personal questions and dilemmas amid complex social and psychological pressures thwarting the equitable integration of not only blacks, but also of gay and bisexual men, while depicting some internalized obstacles to such individuals’ quests for acceptance. Such dynamics are prominent in Baldwin’s second novel, Giovanni’s Room, written in 1956 well before gay rights were widely espoused in America. His inclusion of gay themes resulted in a lot of savage criticism from the Black community.

On November 30, 1987, Baldwin died from stomach cancer in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France. He was buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, near New York City.

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If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for some existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering + some interesting reads from others. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Also: James Baldwin on What Artists Know

Biographical information via Wikipedia, Biography, and Goodreads

Featured image by John H. White, 1945-, Photographer (NARA record: 4002141) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Self-Loathing for the Egoist

Hello, and happy Monday friends! Yeah, I know, I know, Mondays aren’t exactly happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed. I know.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, a reset of sorts, every single week. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“He who hates himself is not humble.”

— Emil Cioran

What is it about self-loathing that is so damn satisfying? When I say satisfying, I don’t mean that it feels good. It hurts to hate yourself. It’s depressing, and it hinders you from realizing your potential, from taking care of yourself, and from being truly happy. It’s cruel and abusive, and yet, we all do it, some of us compulsively. Why do we do it? Why can’t we stop?

I am a chronic self-hater. I don’t like myself very much. I don’t see any reason why anyone else should either. I think I am a failure. I think I am ugly. I think that I am annoying and stupid and I feel like a burden to everyone around me.

I am hard on myself. I keep a running tally of all the ways I have pissed people off, said something stupid, made mistakes, made more work, or made the wrong choice. I remember that I always do this, that I always forget, and that I am always wrong.

I find some point in time when my actions could have changed everything and because I acted this way instead of that the whole train of events, and all the hurt feelings and frustration that result are on me. I can trace my negative impact all the way back to my birth. I am the worst; I tell myself this at least once a day.

I don’t want to feel this way. Hating myself is not something I enjoy doing. I want to love myself because somewhere deep down I know that I not only need it, but that I deserve it. I know this but I can’t get there. I have listed things I like about myself. I have told myself I am no more flawed than anyone else. I tell myself I am beautiful and smart and kind and worthy of love and happiness. I have treated myself and forgiven myself, and still, I fall back into old habits. I have tried, and some progress has been made, but I still can’t help hating who I am.

Clearly, giving myself a few compliments and staying hydrated are not the way. Or, they aren’t the only way. Self-love needs more than words; it needs an acknowledgment of the pain that brought you to such self-loathing. It needs an investigation into what purpose it serves and what satisfaction is derived from such thoughts.

Within each of us lives the ego, or our identity and sense of self. To act in an egotistical way is to put oneself at the center of your world at the exclusion of others. When we think of the egoist, we think of someone who is selfish and mean, ruthless and uncaring. Someone who thinks they are better than everyone else. We don’t think of ourselves as acting in an egotistical way when we heap hatred on ourselves because to us we are acting in a way that put everyone else above us.

We love other people more than ourselves. We value them more than ourselves. We take their blame and pain and anger and place it on ourselves. We carry the load for everyone and put ourselves down for not doing more. We don’t think we deserve as much as them. We don’t think we are as good.

But who we place above anyone else has nothing to do with who we are placing at the center. When we are so focused on ourselves by imagining ourselves greater than others and worthy of more, even if what we are giving is hatred, negativity, and insults, we are still acting in an egotistical way.

Maybe this is a form of control, a way to make sense of the world and feel some part of which way it turns. Maybe we are like a child who has simply gotten into a habit of seeking out negative attention because it is better than no attention at all. Maybe this is a way to make yourself feel important. Maybe we want so badly to be the best at something that we are willing to accept being the best at being the worst.

Self-hatred is a real concern. It is unhealthy and negatively impacts your mental health and quality of life. The pain that led you here is real, and your feelings are valid, but the result you are chasing may not be what you think it is. You are not giving yourself what you deserve, punishing yourself, or being honest with yourself. You are not making the world better or making people around you feel better either. You are putting the spotlight on you.

I realized this when someone I love, and who loves me too, pointed out how the feelings of others often got overshadowed by my self-hatred. When things went wrong, when I hurt someone’s feeling, for example, I focused on how I was always doing this and making mistakes and saying stupid things and fucking everything up, not on the person I had hurt. I thought I was helping by letting them know how awful I was, but I wasn’t. I was serving my egotistical self and making myself feel better by focusing on myself.

Admitting that I have been acting in an egotistical way has made me view my self-esteem in a new light. There is more to it, of course, but it is helping me make further progress in my healing. It is helping me see the difference between what is real and what isn’t. It is helping me find the right path forward.

This week, take a look at how you feel about yourself. If you are you a chronic self-hater start asking yourself what purpose it serves and explores why it is so hard to stop. When did you start to hate yourself? When did you start to believe that you were less worthy than anyone else? What prevents you from seeing the flaws in others as well, or letting them take responsibility for them? What effect has your self-hatred had on others?

Often the expectations we put on ourselves and the blame we place there are unrealistic and wildly beyond what we would place on anyone else. Sometimes our motives for doing so aren’t apparent to us. We have to consider that we may be indulging in giving ourselves special importance as someone who is especially damaged. We may be looking for someone else to give us the love we should be giving ourselves. We may be looking for ways to be rescued or special acknowledgment for how we suffer.

Self-criticism is the middle road you should be trying to achieve. A realistic view of your strengths and weakness and your progress toward becoming a healthier more whole version of yourself through the pursuit of wisdom and fulfillment. Self-criticism is an important part of self-love. It is nothing less than what we would offer another human being that we loved. Able to see their flaws and their strengths without placing them above or below what is normal. To do otherwise would be cruel.

Be humble in your ideas of both the positive and negative aspects of yourself. Remember that you are never to blame for as much of the good or bad that happens in this world as you think you are. You are just plain old regular good and ordinary everyday bad.

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If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for  existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering + some interesting reads from others. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured image via Unsplash

Jorie Graham on Capturing the Past

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes daily practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from the poet Jorie Graham.

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Jorie Graham was born in New York City in 1950, the daughter of a journalist and a sculptor. She was raised in Rome, Italy and educated in French schools. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris before attending New York University as an undergraduate, where she studied filmmaking. She received an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa.

Graham is the author of numerous collections of poetry, most recently Sea Change (Ecco, 2008), Never (2002), Swarm (2000), and The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994, which won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

About her work, James Longenbach wrote in the New York Times: “For 30 years Jorie Graham has engaged the whole human contraption — intellectual, global, domestic, apocalyptic — rather than the narrow emotional slice of it most often reserved for poems. She thinks of the poet not as a recorder but as a constructor of experience. Like Rilke or Yeats, she imagines the hermetic poet as a public figure, someone who addresses the most urgent philosophical and political issues of the time simply by writing poems.”

Graham has also edited two anthologies, Earth Took of Earth: 100 Great Poems of the English Language (1996) and The Best American Poetry 1990.

Graham is known for her deep interest in history, language, and perception; the critic Calvin Bedient has noted that she is, “never less than in dialogue with everything. She is the world champion at shot-putting the great questions. It hardly matters what the title is: the subject itself is always ‘the outermost question being asked me by the World today.’ What counts is the hope in the questioning itself, not the answers.” Graham has received numerous honors and awards for her work, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

She has taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University. She served as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1997 to 2003.

“There’s no way back believe me.
I’m writing you from there.”

— Jorie Graham, Overlord: Poems

It seems like a sign or an interesting coincidence that I should come across this quote from Graham so soon after finishing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which was concerned very much about returning to the past. When I saw I thought immediately of a scene near the middle of the book, when the narrator, Nick, is talking to Gatsby about his longing to get back Daisy Buchanan, a girl he had to let go some years before, and who he hope to get back.

Gatsby has been throwing one of his famous parties and invited Daisy to attend. She didn’t have a good time nor did she seem to like the company Gatsby is keeping. He’s a bit disappointed at not being able to please her and make her understand what he is trying to do. Nick listens and advises him not to be too hard on Daisy, after all, “you can’t repeat the past.” Gatsby replies:

“Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can! I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before.”

Nick goes on to wonder about Gatsby:

“He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was…”

Of course, Gatsby’s longing to return to the past, to go after Daisy and try to recapture what they had will be his downfall, that is how these kinds of stories go. If he had only moved on, and let her move on to, he might have made a good life for himself. Or if he had discovered writing and found a way back to the past that offered closure and cleansing

The laws of this universe are such that time moves one way and one way only. The past can’t be returned to, but we can express our frustration at being forced to live with no instructions or guarantees and no ability to go back and fix what we got wrong. We can express our heartbreak and our loss and our suffering/. We can even express our wishes and our dreams of what might have been had we turned left instead of right at the fork five years ago. We can’t relive the past but we can sure as shit rewrite it.

It’s strange to think too that everything you read is from the past and everything you write is to the future. I mean, I know that but to consider the past, and the future too, as a physical place that writing is either going to or coming from feels weird.

By the time you are reading this, I will have left my place behind this screen and gone on to finish my day. You may even be reading it days, weeks, maybe a year or two from now. I wonder where I am? I wonder what twists and turns my life has taken in that time. I wonder what wisdom I could send out to myself, or to you from here?

As for the past, I may not be able to speak to my old self, but I can comfort the part of me that is still hurting. I can talk with an old self who feels joy and hope. I can sit with myself as a child and capture a bit of her innocence again, in a way.

This is the loophole, a poor one, but it’s all we have for now. We’ve been gifted with an ability to vividly imagine new worlds, and we have cultivated out knack for language and learned to share those worlds with each other. We found a way to beat time, to loop back, to jump forward, to redo this life or make a new one entirely. We can live on this planet or another, light years from here. We can live in another time. We can travel to heaven or hell. We can see our lost loved ones again and tell them what we never could in life. We can fall in love, give birth, beat our enemies, become the leader, the savior, the hero, the genius, the one that everyone wants to have or wants to be.

We can be Gods.

But only in our heads, and only on paper, and that just has to be enough. Trying to go back never works. It can’t be done. Writing can help though. It can get you through your feelings. You can get them out, you can find closure, you can have what you want, in a way. Writing can be your therapy and your friend. It can help you discover the thing, that part of yourself, that you missed and reclaim it. It can keep you from getting stuck.

We’ve never been able to revisit the past, but somehow we have never gotten over the desire. We’ve never been able to let go of regret, but we found another way with writing. Take advantage of it because there is no other way back.

Trust me, we are all either writing from there, or writing about then, and we should know.

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If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for some existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering + some interesting reads from others. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Biographical information via Joriegraham.com and The Poetry Foundation

Featured image via Unsplash

The Error of Arrogance

Hello, and happy Monday friends! Yeah, I know, I know, Mondays aren’t exactly happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed. I know.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, a reset of sorts, every single week. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“I am a member of a fragile species, still new to the earth, the youngest creatures of any scale, here only a few moments as evolutionary time is measured, a juvenile species, a child of a species. We are only tentatively set in place, error prone, at risk of fumbling, in real danger at the moment of leaving behind only a thin layer of our fossils, radioactive at that.”

— Lewis Thomas, The Fragile Species

Have you ever heard of the Greek goddess Aidos? She was said to be the daughter of Prometheus and the personification of the feelings of modesty, humility, and shame, reverence, and respect. She was said to be a companion to the goddess Nemesis who punished men guilty of arrogance before the gods.

Together they represent the shame and respect that keep men good, and what can happen when we lose sight of how small and fragile we are. Or, put another way, they represent the “emotion that a rich person might feel in the presence of the impoverished, that wealth was more a matter of luck than merit,” and “righteous indignation aroused by the sight of wicked men receiving undeserved good fortune.”

Humans have accomplished much on this planet. We’ve colonized every continent, invented culture and society, found math and the sciences, conquered nature, and each other, and soon even the distance and emptiness of space between the stars won’t be left untamed. We are the pride of our planet, and of the universe as far as we know. Most of us believe this reality was made for us to rule, many of the rest believe we have earned the right, I say we haven’t earned shit, and nothing here belongs to us.

I say we need a little humility, a little shame for the way we are acting, and a bit of respect for or planet and the life on it. I say we need to remember that we got here purely by luck and we shouldn’t be so damned arrogant. I say it’s time for some righteous anger for those who forget that and act carelessly, putting all our futures in danger.

Humans are what we are because of our big brains, and our thumbs, and the ability to walk upright. Our feelings of empathy and self-awareness, our ability to reason and work together, and our unwavering curiosity have taken us far, but when you put our accomplishment on the scale of time from the beginning of the universe, we are less than a blink of an eye. On the scale of space, we are less than a speck of dust; we are very nearly nothing at all.

Yet, here we are acting like it all belongs to us. Like gods deciding who gets to live and who dies. Gods who cannot give life to the ones we take it from and who cannot fathom a future farther than our own. We are polluting the planet, killing off species who have been here long before the first thing even resembling a man was born. How is this much ego even possible?

There will be a price to pay for our arrogance. There will come a time when we’ll regret being so damn stubborn and stupid. We’re going to wish there had been more respect, reverence, and shame to keep us good. We will wish we had been better. I can see it now, and every move we make in the name of ideals as short-sighted as money or convenience makes me cringe.

Of course, I am speaking of our President, a man who seems to made entirely out of foolish pride and extreme short-sightedness, but I am also talking to people who refuse to see what is happening around them and refuse to listen to reason. The science is conclusive, the rest of the world is leaving us behind, the future is coming and you cannot stop it.

I’m talking about climate change. I’m talking about us thinking that cutting down the trees, dumping chemical into our rivers, throwing plastic into the ocean. I’m talking about hunting for fun and profit. I’m talking about taking land that animals need to live. I’m talking about the blood on our hands, the death we are bringing now and for eons to come.

I am talking about the way we treat our home and the life that fought just as hard right alongside us to get just as far as we have. I am talking to anyone who believes that we have the right to use this planet for our own ends. I am talking to those with no shame and no respect!

Arrogance is a human emotion that comes far too easy and one we have to be ever aware of. We have to fight it to keep from acting stupidly, another human tendency that comes far too easily. We are a species that has learned to imagine the future but only so far as it concerns us personally. We have difficulty holding vast expanses of space or time in our minds, but we have grown in numbers and strength that affects whole planets and eons of time when they act. We literally possess power we do not understand, but instead of stopping for a moment to grasp the impact we have, we stupidly move forward. We double down in the face of facts and warnings and become bolder and more arrogant. No good can come from this.

This week, take a moment to check your own arrogance. I have found the easiest way to do this is to take time every day to look up at the sky, particularly if the stars are visible. Or maybe get out into nature. See some tress, not ones we have planted but old ones that were here before this place had a name. Get out of the city and away from the influence of other humans if you can.

I have found that looking at the sky reminds me how small I am and that finding my way into nature reminds me that this world does not need us to go on turning, growing, and creating. We have only just gotten here and so much happened before us and will happen after we have destroyed ourselves once and for all. We are not gods and this universe does not bend to our will. We are not omnipotent nor omniscient. We have no right or claim to this world.

 

We are small, and dumb. We are barely beginning to be anything at all, but we do have some power, and it would be better to use it for good than for bad. It would be better to stop here, realize our recklessness, and make a change but it has to start within each of us.

It has to begin with letting go of our pride and letting ourselves feel some awe and gratitude and a sense of protection for what we have been given.

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If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering + some interesting reads from others. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured image via Unsplash

If We Were Having Coffee // Happy Pride Month to My Fellow Queers!

Hello, dear readers! Thank you for stopping by for a bit of conversation and caffeine. I nearly forgot about our coffee date, I’ve been up doing a bit of work in the yard, around the house, and getting our new grill set up for some jalapeño cheddar burgers, corn on the cob, and grilled peaches for dessert! Please excuse the mouth-watering. It’s been a long time since we grilled anything and we are very excited.

“Current problem: The fatigue is unbearable without coffee, but coffee makes the illness worse, which makes the fatigue worse.”

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If we were having coffee, I would wish all of my LGBTQIA+ peeps a very Happy Pride Month! Denver’s parade and rally aren’t for another couple of weekends, but I’m going to try to start planning the festivities and inviting friends this week. Nothing big, there is exactly one gay club and one gay bar I like, and that’s it.

We’ll probably spend a couple of nights out with friends, then watch the parade and meet up with all the gays I know but only ever see once a year. We’ll do some shopping, go home, and be happy that we live in a country that we can love each other and get married without the threat of imprisonment and death.

We’ve come so far since I came out as a teenager. I remember I was so afraid of rejection. I was afraid something was wrong with me. I was afraid I wouldn’t get to live a “normal” life. And here we are now! We own our home, we are engaged, and we both have our loved ones with us, supporting us, proud of us, and treating us just like a normal couple, because that is what we are!

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If we were having coffee, I would tell you that last week was not a good writing week. I only posted here a couple of times. On Monday, about my growing fear of the world around me and how I hope to overcome it, and Tuesday I checked in with everything I am currently doing and feeling to mark the end of May. I didn’t get my newsletter out, and I didn’t keep up with posting over on Tumblr. I’m trying not to be too hard on myself over it. Things have gotten a little overwhelming, and I need to imagine a clean slate where the failures of the past aren’t weighing me down.

So, next week will be better. I hope to post twice here, get my newsletter out, and write something small every evening on Tumblr. I’m also setting a goal of 250 per day on a couple of essays for my zine project.

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If we were having coffee, I would tell you that part of the reason I had such a hard time getting these words out was the weather. I have been so excited for summer, and now that it is here my body has decided that heat is far too exhausting. I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open after 2 PM in the afternoon and on the weekends all I want to do is sleep.

It may not be just the heat. I have been tapering off of the steroid I’ve been on since February, and without it, my body may be struggling to cope. I’m worried about my health and energy levels going into the coming week. I took my last dose yesterday, and I’m already had headaches, and I’m more tired than ever. Thank God for coffee.

I’, also a little depressed, I think. It’s hard to tell since I’ve felt this way nearly my whole life, but there are signs I’ve learned to look for. I’m more irritable and moody than usual. I’m more critical of myself, less forgiving and more aware of my mistakes. I’m tired. I’m craving foods that are bad for me, lots of grease, and salt, and sugar. I’m sad sometimes, and I’m not as interested in the things I love as I usually am. A lot of me trying to write starts with me trying to care about writing again.

I’m really hoping it’s just the change in meds and season and not anything more serious.

***

If we were having coffee, I would try my best not to bring up politics because I still don’t know where to even begin to articulate my frustration, anger, embarrassment, and hopelessness at everything that has happened these past few months.

My anxiety is at an all-time high. I dread the news every day and yet I can’t seem to pull myself away from it. Every morning there is some new scandal, some new way that this administration has found to make life a little less bearable than the day before. I fear the rest of the world is laughing at us and moving on, together, to make their world a better place. America has lost her place as leader and savior.

The future looks so bleak from here. But there has been some good. I was happy to see many states and cities recommit to the Paris Accords after our president stupidly decided to pull out for no fucking reason. I was happy to see the rest of the world come together to condemn our president’s decision as well. There has been so much community and unity found and formed since Trump took office.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that more and more I am focusing on ways to find joy and hope closer to home. This week I am seeing a couple of movies, It Comes at Night and Wonder Woman. The former looks super creepy, creepy movies are my absolute favorite, and the Wonder Woman screening will be one of the Women-only showings that have men all over the internet wound up and whining.

I’ve heard nothing, but good things about Wonder Woman and I anticipate that will be the highlight of my week. I’ll be honest, I’m a little worried about some of those angry men showing up to cause problems. There are a lot of men in the world who hate women and hate for them to have anything of their own. I’ve seen a lot of hateful comments on the internet, and it’s hard not to imagine the worst happening here.

It’s really upsetting we live in a world where I can’t go see a movie without fearing for my safety.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that besides that, not a whole lot has been going on. I’ve spent more time that I want to admit watching TV this week. House of Cards came back, and I’ve been binging that. I paced myself the best I could and mode it just six days before finishing the 13 episodes. Luckily Orange is the New Black starts this week, so I’ll have something else to get into.

Speaking of Netflix, one of my favorite shows, Sense8, seems to have gotten the ax. If you haven’t watched Sense8 you need to stop here and go check it out. There are two seasons and a Christmas special available. The show features a very diverse and talented cast, is beautifully shot, and tackles themes of race, sexual orientation, gender, privilege, and acceptance. I’m devastated it was canceled. If you’d like to help get it back, for me or for yourself, please fill out this title request form on Netflix’s own site. Just put in “Sense8 season 3”. Thank you!

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that it is getting very close to dinner time and I had better get going and get the grill fired up. My girlfriend already has everything prepped and my mouth is watering again smelling the jalapeños and seeing the beautiful ears of corn she brought home.

I hope you had a great week and a relaxing weekend. I hope next week will be productive a free from unhealthy amounts of stress.

Until next time (:

Lola's little nose spots are so adorable 😍

A post shared by Lisa Blair (@zenandpi) on

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If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for interesting reads + some of my own existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering, or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the weekly Weekend Coffee Share link up hosted by Nerd in the Brain

Featured image via domestikate

May 2017 // The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is Here

Summer doesn’t officially start for another few weeks here in the northern hemisphere, but in my heart and mind, it’s already here. This is my favorite time of year but to be honest, I’m not sure why. The heat is intense, the bugs are everywhere, and the threat of severe weather is worrisome but something about the season makes me feel alive and happy again. I love the rain that rolls in the evenings and the warm nights I spend on bar patios with friends. Summer is when new connections are forged, and beautiful memories are made. I’m so ready to see what June has in store for me.

But before I do, here is what I am currently:

Writing some essays, or, I am learning how to write essays anyway. I’ve decided, I think, that becoming an essayist is the dream. I’m hoping to learn by example. I’m consuming popular longform non-fiction pieces from my favorite publications, reading print magazines, and this month I’ll be diving into some work from one of the greats, James Baldwin. So, the writing around here is going to get a bit more serious, and some of the fun and personal type stuff, book reviews, poetry, etc., will probably be moving to Tumblr.

Planning the design of the first issue of Zen and Pi the zine. I now I have been talking about this forever, but this time I mean it. I wanted to complete one project this summer, and this is it. By the middle of August, I need to have something ready for print at the very least. I’ll have more info next month.

Making some big home improvements! I haven’t written much about my house, but that’s because I hate it. We bought it years ago, during the recession, when we didn’t know what we were doing. We got a good deal, but it needs a lot of work. Unfortunately, we’ve learned that home ownership isn’t exactly for us and we’ve barely made any progress fixing this place up but if I ever want to be happy here, or sell this place and find a home I love, I have to start. First up is a new swamp cooler, then paint, then flooring maybe?

Anticipating Game of Thrones season 7! Okay, so GoT doesn’t actually premiere until July 16th, but it’s all I can think about, as far as media and pop culture go. Outside of that, I’m looking forward to Denver’s Pridefest the weekend of the 17th. I wish the parade wasn’t scheduled for the same day as Father’s Day though. Every year I feel like I have to choose or try to squeeze in both.

Reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of the many used books I’ve picked up over the past few weekends. I finally finished The Mind’s I: Fantasies And Reflections On Self & Soul by Daniel C. Dennett and Douglas R. Hofstadter. This is my second attempt. It was still hard to get through, but this time I really tried, and it was so worth it. I’ll still need a third read through though.

Watching Sense8 and House of Cards on Netflix. Sense8 is visually amazing, the acting is on point, and sci-fi enough to get you out of your head and away from all the crap going on in the news. House of Cards is the opposite. It’s this world, only worse, which, I’ve learned, can be therapeutic in its own way. Plus, Claire Underwood is the smartest, sexiest, most badass female character I love to hate at the moment *heart eyes emoji*.

Feeling better! Last month my doctor expressed some doubt that the medication we started with would keep my ulcerative colitis symptoms under control. I won’t know for sure until I’m off of the steroid I’m on for short-term relief, but so far, through tapering off, I’m still doing okay. I think this is a good sign. If I feel good through the end of June, I may be able to stay on these meds rather than moving into harsher options. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Needing a little reassurance from the universe that all this good in my life isn’t a sign that terrible things are on the horizon. I don’t know how to feel gratitude and practice mindfulness with all this anxiety. I don’t deserve so much in life, I’m worried there will be hell to pay eventually.

Loving the fact that my local Alamo Drafthouse is hosting a WOMEN ONLY screening of the new Wonder Woman film and gives no fucks about the backlash from weak egoed men. I’m also living the fact that they offered free tickets to the new creepy movie. It Comes at Night for rewards members. Seriously, if there’s an Alamo Drafthouse in your city, there’s no reason for you to go to any other theater. If there isn’t, bug them until there is.

Hating that I’m losing my route next year. It’s a lot to get into, a lot of politics and specifics I’m not even sure I’m allowed to get into but basically, the school district I work for is experiencing an employee shortage, and things have to change to maximize the people we have. So my easy-peasy route with the perfect hours and the awesome kid is going away, and I have to make some tough choices next year. Also, I still hate Donald Trump and every single Republican asshat pushing cruel and destructive healthcare and environmental policies. I cannot wait for midterm elections!

Hoping the summer passes slowly, but I know it won’t. The winter months drag on for eternity, and the summer is never long enough to recover from the cold and drab and depressing. Maybe I’ll learn how to slow down time?

All in all, this month was good, but I may have been too busy looking ahead to really appreciate it. I have to try harder to appreciate where I am. Where I am going will come soon enough, and when it does, I want to know I enjoyed every step of the way there.

So, how about you? Was May good or bad to you? What are you looking forward to in June? Are you as in love with Claire Underwood as I am? Let me know in the comments (:

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Check out my weekly-ish newsletter for interesting reads + some of my own existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering, or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

The inspiration for these posts come from Andrea at Create.Share.Love.

Featured image via Unsplash

May Your Terror Make You Brave

Hello, and happy Tuesday friends! I hope you all got to enjoy the holiday and are starting your work week a whole day later. Three-day weekends can be nice, but sometimes the worst kinds of Mondays are the ones that land on a Tuesday. You wind up more tired, less motivated, and more aware of everything you don’t like about your life. All you want to do is crawl back into bed, I know.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of think of today as a fresh start, a reset of sorts. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“may I never lose
that terror
that keeps me brave”

— Audre Lorde, The Black Unicorn: Poems “Solstice”

The world is getting to be a scarier and scarier place. Every day I wake up and turn on the news, despite my anxiety, and hear nothing but war and death and instability. These things used to happen elsewhere and to other people. I used to feel safe in my city and in my little bubble, but the bad things are creeping closer and closer, and I’m having to really confront what kind of person I will be in this new world.

I’ll be honest, sometimes I am afraid to go places. I am afraid of events that draw big crowds and attention. I am afraid that a day out with my girlfriend will end in tragedy. I am afraid of the hatred all around me.

I know it isn’t people who are the enemy but ideas and ideas can lurk in any skin, age, and gender. Unlike those who only see the danger from the other side, I see it everywhere. I feel the tension all around me, and I am terrified to become a casualty of it.

I want to hide away, but I am trying hard not to let my fear win, but there is a new terror now. I am afraid of how I will act if tragedy does hit close to me.

I’m not just talking about guns and bombs either. Every day there are new videos posted online of fights, assaults, and harassment based on race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation and in nearly everyone there are bystanders in the background watching it all happening and doing nothing. The hateful know that the natural tendency of the general public is to keep silent and keep to themselves. No one wants to get involved, no one wants to get hurt.

I never want to be one of those people. In my eyes, they are almost as guilty as the perpetrator. I want to be one of the ones who stands up for what is right.

But then, last week, two men were killed and another injured for doing just that. They stood up to a man ranting and directing hatred at two young women, and they were attacked for it. I won’t lie, that has me terrified now too.

There was a time when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, lately, it seems there is no end to the way people can terrorize one another and no end in sight for the war happening in secret all around us. So, what can I do when I feel too afraid to leave the house and too afraid to let those who want to keep me there win?

I try to remember the worst case scenario. Not the hatred, not the violence, not even the prospect of losing my life. No, the worst case scenario is to become something I’m not. To become a part of the problem. To let my fear control me, or worse, turn me into someone filled with hatred and willing to do anything to feel safe again.

This week, when the world all around you feels on the verge of violence, and you worry you might be the next victim, remember that there are worse things than death and that there are ways to live and die that are preferable to others.

What I am really afraid of is living my life cooped up and alone, cut off from humanity. I love people. I love experiencing life alongside other people. I want to feel like I am part of a community. I want to feel joy, and wonder, and curiosity with others. I want to feel connected to the rest of the world. That is a big part of what makes life worth living. Other people!

We should be able to go out and be with each other without feeling so afraid. Human beings are social creatures. Human beings are also rare creatures in this universe. We should be treating each other better than we are and we should be helping each other learn how.

What we all should be afraid of is being part of the reason everything keeps falling apart. What we should be terrified of is becoming more and more disconnected from one another. What should be keeping us up at night is the prospect of losing our humanity and of becoming something dark, and lonely, and mean.

We should be afraid of becoming ruled by fear. We should be afraid of succumbing to evil ideas about who deserves to eat, to work, to live. We should be afraid of succumbing to ideas about when we should act and when we should speak up.

I don’t want to be too afraid to be human. I don’t want to live my life cowering inside, or holding back, or keeping quiet when I see people being hurt. The terror of what I might become is what will keep me brave.

How about you?

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If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for some existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering + some interesting reads from others. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured image via Unsplash