Saturday, July 5, 2014

Love Beyond Text(ing)

"Reading and writing proceed from the same region of pleasure. That's what is mysterious. There is always the feeling that something has been found again, a fragment of human nature; or else that something has been saved. What fills me with joy is that this writing that was found again or saved with the instrument of writing is a life factor and not a death factor." 
--Helene Cixous "Rootprints" page 98 


I've gotten into the habit lately 
of copying, editing, and printing out 
everything you write to me. 
Because I must keep you, 
your spirit, your words, alive in the flesh with me. 
Tangibly. Us together object/lively--even if you are not "here." 
It's the only thing I can think to do 
in the harsh cruelty of our geographic separation. 
These printed devotionals are often emails, 
but sometimes text messages. 
I'm lucky when they come 
in hand written cards. 
You wrote me a poem once; 
that one got formatted and printed 
perfectly 
to fit on my altar. 

It hit me this morning: this is what the disciples did 
when Jesus died. It's the textual rendering of resurrection. 
Such rendering can, as we know, 
lead to reading legacies that spark 
social movements for justice, 
communal care-taking, 
personal devotion, and worship. 
They can also lead to faulty outsourcing of one's wisdom, 
fundamentalism and dumb-ass obedience 
to something no longer even slightly relevant. 

You know what my prayer is, Marjorie? 
As I look about these remnants of paper,
these scraps of testimony
documenting the years 
we've ventured together...
you know what my prayer is? 
That someone, preferrably young, 
fed up and confused
but strong, delicate and on-the-verge 
of becoming a womyn 
like Walker or Soelle or Rivera-Rivera
finds our correspondence 
and thinks to herself--
wow, look how the love between them
took on a life of its own which deepened 
only to deepen some more. 
Look at how it made them curious,
trusting and awe-struck, 
and how it saved them when
life crumbled into chaotic little piles.
Look at how their love gave them life.  
And then I hope she puts those texts down
and gets busy finding and doing love 
in her own ways with her own kind of lovers
inspired by, but not obsessed with, us 
only to pick our pages up again 
when she forgets and needs reminding 
that love has no script, no preordained form to mimic
only traces of its power in those who have gone before
and invitations in the desire we feel right now 
to take our impossible place 
on her delightful and terrifying stage 
for the sake of her eternal reign. 


Friday, July 4, 2014

I Was a Front-Row, Tenacious, and On-Time Student

She polks put-put golf looking holes in her play-dough
before turning it into an ice cream sculpture
then sings in hushed alto tones while tracing a helicopter
on a pad of bright white with a stick, golden brown.
"1, 2, 3, 4"
"a, b, c, d"
Head up from the lego table, eyes locked now:
"Your turn mommy!" She squeals, then proudly,
almost boasting, extends her pencil to me
like it's a unique, shining treasure
from a remote, distant, uninhabited island
that she voyaged alone to discover
so that I, and I alone, would be privileged enough
to receive this gift from her outstretched palm.

We are always taking turns and sharing our treasures.

He vacillates on the floor
between scooting, crawling, pulling up and falling down,
trying to discern, physically, with each shift and gesture
which surfaces are steady
which limbs are trustworthy
which positions lead to balance
and those that lead to crumble and thump and ouch.
Head up from the carpet, eyes locked now:
he reaches for me, from knees bowed, with both hands,
body so trusting, form so reminiscent of prayer,
that I tremble with the tenderness and responsibility of it all.

We are always learning how to crawl and be held.

When I am older, a womyn who has lived into my days
with hallowed fullness, body surrendering to the dust
from whence it came, soul retiring or having been gone
quite some time already,
and I am no longer able to tell stories
or charm people with my embodied whit,
please, if you love me, pilgrim,
remind my children
that I was a front-row, tenacious and on-time student
in the classroom of their lives,
and I studied hard, every moment school was in session,
sometimes observing quietly with curiosity,
other times questioning, hands in the air, the rationality of it all,
but most of the time taken aback with wonder,
by how each step of their development
retaught me all the gentle kindness I unlearned
in order to survive way too much pain
long long ago.

We are always taking turns
and sharing our treasures.
We are always learning how to crawl
and be held.

Tell my children that before they even arrived, I loved to learn most of all,
and from the day of their arrival, they were my greatest teachers.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Demarcating with Boundaries & Fantasizing Cobalt Blue Doors




My suitemate in seminary, 
the tender and silliest dyke you ever met,
blue eyes like morning glories
set above mostly pale 
but quick-to-flash lightning red cheeks,
name of Anna Kathryn, 
used to pause in my tiny bedroom doorway  
upon returning home from class
eager to process the latest theological learning,
with someone a little less daunting 
than the professor she was crushing on hard

She'd stand there for hours
quoting scholars, weaving ideas,
requesting my partnership in discerning aloud 
whether or not these ideas about God 
or deconstructions of God
or silencing of the name for the sake of the Name 
God
did or did not mesh with my fleshy, worldly experience. 
I'd take in and push back or provoke or laugh or cry
given variable contexts such as 
weather, menstrual cycle, relationship status, 
the latest topics in therapy, and/or vague, lingering homesickness
that doorways, in and of themselves, would
consciously and unconsciously (I believe) 
trigger by the mere visual of her standing there. 

After this practice of occupying doorways 
continued despite changing apartment buildings and bedrooms,
we thought more of it than mindless, convenient habit. 
Might form lead to content?, we'd muse aloud. 
Then we'd half-jokingly launch pleasurable fantasies 
of writing a book one day entitled "Doorway Theology"
which became more and more frequent--
the utterance of fantasy, that is--
when she went on to the East Coast to get her PhD in theology
and I ended up in the economically thrashed rustbelt to pastor. 
That fantasy kept the doorways central to the relationship
when thousands of miles separated our bodies. 
Imagination sorta incarnates proximity.  

In the last week, I've been having new fantasies of doors. 
Not doorways. Doors. 
They are magenta doors, surrounded by grey,
 Orange Julius doors, surrounded by light brown,
 bright cobalt blue doors surrounded by flesh colored adobe walls. 
Every time they are front doors of houses, 
looked upon by an outsider,
a stranger passing by, across the street. 
They haunt me about some future possible
when we get bold enough to splash color 
on physical architecture that represents 
what's spacially framed as a boundary of coming and going, 
a boundary of what constitutes myspace & yourspace in this place.  

Are doorways altars? 
Is the position of a door a particular rendering, 
a voice? 

How you can stand there,
 at the threshold of an open door,
the geography of it all literally belonging to an/other
but in standing there, inevitably, by physicality alone,
albeit temporarily and with great precarity,
the space becomes more yours then theirs,
which transitions them from owner to host
and you from passerby neighbor to occupier 
which can confuse, sometimes subtly and quietly 
other times wild and unsettlingly 
the categories of self and other
there and here. 

(Kind of like skin--a boundary so porous 
folks have actually come up with theories 
about its impenetrability 
just to calm the terror of realizing 
corporeal autonomy is a farce)   

But how when a door is closed the doorway itself is inaccessible,
which leads one to know exactly where lines of self and other 
and geographies of inside and outside are drawn 
which can lead to a gorgeous, exquisite self-actualization 
birthed from the death of codependence 
or to a loss that feels like choking while drowning
in water so cold you don't know whether 
lack of oxygen or hypothermia will kill you first. 

There is power in the power to demarcate. 
To keep open wide. To close and lock. 
To crack it open, ever so slightly, 
intentionally leaving a sliver of light 
shining in the hallway like love infused Morse-code 
to a tired and weary traveler 
just home from a hard day. 

Yesterday my husband had a vasectomy. A door closed. 
I cried quietly on the drive to the appointment. 
I cried in the shower this morning 
after feeling like getting out of bed 
required too too much.  

Then I slumped myself in Tom Ott's doorway, 
body heavy heart sick
from memory after memory 
of an old, bald, straight-to-business 
white man in a white coat 
standing over and operating on
my beloved mocha-skinned husband,
memories of testicles splayed, 
needles and scissors grabbed,
the smell of burnt flesh, sights of blood, gauze, ice packs 
memories that terrorized me enough 
to admit  my hopes for ever having children 
with this man, again, 
died on that table, in that office.

How many possible futures die with the performance of a vasectomy? 
Countless. Itself a theological question and answer. 
Where are the protesters outside of these clinics? 
Itself a theological question and answer.  

In the doorway, I intuitively trusted Tom to know something, 
an expectation rooted in radical trust 
and longevity between us,
that he would see 
--in that doorway--
that I needed him to see 
what I couldn't conjure, gesture, speak. 

"Come in, come sit..." he said. 
With that invitation, he bid me enter a funeral procession, 
one I didn't even know I needed,
where sorrow and care 
could have their rightful places 
in our mutual spaces

for the sake of truth 

these altaring demarcations
these doorways where we dwell
these boundaries around exchange we draw
for coming and going
here and there
me and you
these places we place ourselves 
what we bid enter
and what we prayerfully release
matter. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Nesting

Burnt orange breast
portrudes like the pride it signifies
amidst a mostly dull grey body built for flight
surrounded by bursting spring nettle green--
a mother bird builds a nest
for her 4 open-mouthed baby birds 
who sing and chirp and demand 
and ruffle each other's feathers
in a tree 
that sits 
right outside 
my kitchen window. 

A week ago, the same day we first caught a glimpse of the nest, word came round that Battle Creek is set to receive state funding for first time home-owners as a way of programmatically responding to Michigan blight. For years as a young girl and then as a budding student of Marx, I watched carefully how the accumulation of personal property resulted in the cage mentality of far too many humans, particularly "trapped" womyn who became mired in their own lifelessness with every passing day of their overly domesticated, gender-rolled lives. For years now as a resident of the state that has the highest unemployment rate per capita of any in the union because the lies of capitalism (which are built on the assumption that ownership of material stimulates a productive economy) staged their most awful theater right here--I'm reluctant to buy a house.  

Momma bird darts in and out of the tree,
exploring the terrain
securing food
returning it to the hungry beaks 
nuzzling the loose branches of the nest
making sure the balance of it all remains.
They are safe. They are fed. Nourished and alive. 
Grounded in rituals up so high. 

Whose work is the work of home-making? Does it indeed include ownership? A stable place? Or is it about collecting what's available in our environments in order to meet the current demands? While acknowledging no one gets to stay anywhere forever? We are all here only for a season, only for a time. What if what's close at hand is all we need in this season? Yet it strikes me significant that there are specific seasons, do or die ones, that require a stability. A staying place.  Where rituals of awakening and resting, preparing and feeding, playing and cuddling, spatting and remaining--themselves--make the home, home. Is it the building? Or is it the rituals? Both/and, I suppose.  

Earlier this morning
my own daughter and I stood beneath the branches
where the baby birds live 
quietly, timidly trying to catch a peak.  
"It's sacred in there, Rory" I said. She got on her tip-toes
and chirped her 2 1/2 year old affirmation 
that always takes on a soprano high note at the end: "yeAH."
Momma bird came swooping in, 
but upon recognizing our presence, flew away
while keeping her eyes entirely locked on the nest.
Think Sankofa and Maternal Protection--with wings. 
 She landed on a telephone wire above us,
watching until we decided to move along. 
I felt for her. Wanted to get out of her way. 
To say "Hey--we have no right 
to keep you from your babies,
to occupy this land so close to your home. 
Sorry for the intrustion." 
Instead, I took Rory's hand, 
and lead her to a pile of sticks she'd collaged on the grass--
far enough away that momma bird could return 
close enough that Rory might make the connection 
between her collage of sticks on the ground 
and the mom's labor up above so high. 
Distanced perfectly so that she might see the value of it all, 
how the creativity for it and of it is already in some of us,
before we even know we need it, 
natural, beautiful--
and totally undercompensated.  

The dimensions of our material lives are justice issues. They are. But never before have I been able to witness, both in the world and in myself, the value of womyn's work (which shouldn't just be our work), of the maternal materiality of this Earth and why that work deserves a stable place, a resting space, a home, because the work itself is sacred, eternal and the catalyst for each new generation to recognize its inherent right to the rituals of sustenance, intimacy and beauty that this life naturally affords. 

Maybe I'll buy a house, after all. 
And maybe, just maybe 
I'll paint one of the walls burnt orange 
to honor her. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Rituals of Shame: Body Image & Ever Elusive Peace

Yesterday was one of those days when before leaving the house, I changed my outfit three times. Trying this on. Trying that on. Too tight. Too revealing. Walking in front of the mirror with disgust only to see that disgust reflected back. Turns out no matter how many times you "change" on the outside, if your insides aint right, the mirror will just reflect your insides. This is a ritual of shame that I know too well. It's been a long time since I've been back and forth that many times, with that degree of angst and disgust, but apparently rituals cycle in and out of our lives until we are done learning what we need to learn. 

Before I get going on yesterday, let me be clear that I am a gender queer (meaning I have body hair, muscles and desires where I'm not "supposed to"), big bodied white womyn who comes from maternal ancestors whose fat shame conditioned every notion of vulnerability/justice that I've got. The terror of being targeted around gender non-conformity started when I was 6. Play ground bullying is a bitch. The terror of watching my mom get targeted (internally and externally) around size goes back before I can remember. These rituals of out-fit shame are learned behavior. The terror of targeting around attraction and rape started once my body shifted in puberty. That terror got harder and harder to differentiate from when I actually got raped. The accumulation of years and money I've spent in therapy learning to reclaim the sacredness of my body cannot be quantified. Let it be known: for me to leave the house without fear is a fucking miracle.  Let it be known further: I am young, light/white-skinned, of European descent, am able bodied (right now), am first generation middle/upper class, Christian, employed, married to a cis-man, and highly educated. These non-target identities make it easier/safer for me to walk out the front door each day than many many other womyn. For some womyn, even leaving the house at all, is a fucking miracle. 

Back to yesterday. I recognize now, a day later, in writing this reflection, that some of my early morning angst, being expressed in the ritual of shame, was a sort of anticipatory wisdom on my part. You see, we (my spouse and 2 children) were planning to spend Memorial Day at Fort Custer. That's a place where (mostly) patriotic, light/white-skinned, working class, hetero people gather with gaggles of children next to Eagle Lake. There's a "beach" and hiking trails there. Hubby and I are from California, so beach and hiking trails mean different things to us than they do the life-long Michigander. But we are grateful for the C+ version. What I'm not so grateful for at Fort Custer is how a supremacist notion of normalcy appears to provade the air even though 90% of the folks there wouldn't fit the category. Perhaps I'm just bringing the lingering hypervigilance of my hollywood-influenced youth into this mid-western space--and i'm the only one harmed by this obsession with on the surface appearance--but I could swear that when my mixed race family and my gender queer body starts nearing the waters, heads turn, eyes stare (hard) and lots and lots and lots of whispering happens. So when I was trying to "dress" for the day, I had much to consider, you see. How can I be low-profile, not get sun-burned, hiking comfortable, swimming comfortable, and, well, myself comfortable? I anticipated the hot eyes of old white men, former military personnel, drinking beer already at 11 a.m., conservative, and mocking. I anticipated the sneers of girly-girls in their bikinis. I anticipated how my appearance might throw my spouse and children into questionable judgment. It's a lot to consider at 9 oclock in the morning.  

The first time, I walked out with cut off jean shorts and a black tank top. My husband looked over me casually, which I took to mean that I looked unacceptable. So I went back to my closet and put on black adidas track pants. Then I walked back out and he asked "Don't you think you'll get hot in those?" I took that to mean I'd made the wrong choice. Why do I look at/to/for him to be the final judge of anything I do? I'd love to blame this phenomenon on heterosexual control and patriarchy, but the truth hurts. I've been in relationships with womyn identified as dykes, transmen identified as queer, and in every space, I've walked out and changed out and changed out and changed looking for some "judge" to pronounce me worthy of my own reflection. Besides, when I talked to my spouse later in the day about what I was going through between the wardrobe changes, mirror sessions, and marriage consultations, he admitted that he had absolutely no clue what was going on. 

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be a cis-man who has no clue what it's like to walk out the front door each day with fear preceding you no matter what you're wearing. That level of cluelessness just boggles my mind. I know they carry fears of a different sort, but Lord Almighty, I just wonder what that freedom is like. 

Finally I put on some black and grey spandex work out shorts that stop at the knee. They are skin tight which might be problematic, but given that swim-suits will be all around, I can probably escape the war. They might get wet while I walk my daughter on water-slushed sand, but work out pants dry quick. So that's cool. And they are a total winner for the run/hike I hope to take once the weather is right. Feeling pretty good about this 3rd choice, a Facebook status update that one of my (well-intentioned yet horrifically misguided) friends wrote recently flashes through my head. His partner is pregnant with their first kid. The status was about how he'd never ever let his daughter leave the house in spandex because of how sexist and objectifying other men can be. Then I think about that dude that shot up a bunch of students in Santa Barbra last week because he hated womyn enough that it it drove him to light up a bunch of strangers. 

Controlling how we "look" will only protect us so much.  What about how you/they look? What about that? 

I say a silent prayer for my friend who is about to become a father of a daughter and a silent prayer for myself and my own daughter and son and for the shooter and those parents who just lost their kids--that we may know peace, peace, peace. Peace. One day. 

A few weeks ago my therapist asked me: "Have you ever tried to practice being unseen? Do you know what that's like?" I shake my head, nope. "How much of this hypervisibility dynamic do you bring on yourself?" she asks. What's the answer to that question that doesn't involve incinerating guilt and shame gushing forth, like molasses, from my guts? 

Back to yesterday. It's time to dress my children. 

In the act of preparing them for our family rendezvous, I find myself shaming myself about my ritual of shame. After giving them both 45 second baths, complete with shampoo and soap, I put a little sun dress on Aurora because that's what she wanted. I put shorts and a t-shirt on Isaiah because that's what was clean and avaible. Simple. 5 minutes total. Then I think back to the 20 minutes of my own "changing" and say to myself, "come on, look how easy this is: you put on clothes, you put on sun-screen, you pack your bags and you walk out the door. What the fuck is wrong with you Emily Joye? If your feminist friends knew what you were doing, they'd all think about what a sell-out you are. And now, just think about what you're doing to your children. You're doing exactly what you watched your mom do every morning. You're passing on the shame ritual to them! You are no better than your mother. They'll be just as bad as you." Shame shame shame.

We often talk in our feminism about how the media sensationalizes and hypersexualizes and exploits womyn's bodies. We talk about rape culture and slut shaming and competition between womyn being the chief corner stone of capitalism. But rarely do I hear about the way we've been taught to internalize all of that and shame the shit out of our own selves as ritual practice--and then to feel guilty about it all and shame the ritual itself. Are body hatred and feminist-shaped shame the religion of womyn in this economy? Or is self-obsession and guilt about self-obsession the means whereby competition and greed package themselves within to be bought and sold bought and sold bought and sold? The problem with all these "health" and "wellness" initiatives is that even eating "right" and exercise can be based in shame. There's nothing healthy or well about rituals based in shame, even if the means are commodified by our culture as ends themselves. Before and after pictures are not your friend, sisters. Not your friend. 

As we are driving to the lake, I confess to J.R. that I've been wrestling with internalized oppression all morning. I cry hushed tears admitting the cycles of what feels like self-torture. He says "you must walk around in terror a lot of the time, huh?" And then I cry tears of a different kind because after years together he kinda gets that he doesn't get it. That's comforting to me. 

We arrive at the "beach" and I watch him take my daughter hand in hand, down to the water. I'm grateful she is in his care. Maybe that peace I prayed for is closer than I think. 

Later in the afternoon, he jokingly dares me to do a second loop on my lake-side run, and to huff and puff up the very steep hill at the loop's end. Even though I'm already out of breath, I side eye him and do it, just because it hints of a challenge. When I meet up with him and the kids after that exhausting climb, my heart is racing, my muscles are spiked and aching, and I feel more righteous than ever. With loving approval of my rigorous effort he says "I can't belive you! You're a beast!" I smile a huge grin, but before my own strength can occupy the mercy seat, I think to myself, "Beast like Abby Wambach or beast like too big, too ugly and too aggressive?" 


Maybe that peace is further than I think.    

Monday, May 26, 2014

Obeing My Elders: Learning to Dwell

There are things that get said over and over
by those (the ancestors/elders/wise ones) who have gone before.  
If you're smart, you start paying attention. 
If you're really really smart, you listen for what's underneath the repetition. 
If you're uncharacteristically pliable you obey that

It's been happening ever since my first baby bump emerged
and doubled in frequency when my first-born came along.
Triple and quadrupled with my second pregnancy, then son 
who put sibling dynamics on the surface for all to see. 
They'd get hollow looking, 
like half their torso might crumble in the admission: 
Pay attention. It goes by so fast.
Literally: I've heard it more than a hundred times now 
as a mother of two. 

The church elders.
The pediatrician.
The extended family. 
Strangers on the street, lovingly gazing upon us before 
the wave of absence hits. 

It's become such a familiar sentiment,
lodged at me from the xers, boomers and builders,
that I can recognize it without them uttering a word. 
A single glance of nostalgia so loaded with mourning  
you begin wondering if carrying kleenex around permanently
is a good idea. And not just to wipe up baby puke.  

It's like "I used to be you, I used to have that
But what used to be little is now big somewhere 
and the bigness of my love for that small thing 
keeps growing despite its disappearnce. 
Feels like nothing is small enough anymore." 

I watch my daughter dance away from where I stand in the kitchen;
she's a mixture of twirling and running and crashing forward,
her calf muscles now mimicking 
the feminized, over-size curviture  
of some Diego Rivera painting
because she's been prancing long enough
for muscle to develop underneath the baby squish.
My son echoes his hunger in the background, 
evidence that synaptic connections have formed between 
his belly and his mouth and his innate knowledge
that I get him what he needs when he needs it and dares to cue me.  

There will come a day when her legs
and his hunger will take them away from me, 
and so already, because anticipatory grief is worthy of recognition, 
I head the warning of my elders (who too often believe I am not listening)-- 
that if you want to fall and stay in love with something,
without choking on regret later,  
you better give yourself permission to dwell. 
Dwell when the outter demands shout louder than your own soul.
Dwell when the tasks seem insurmountable.
Dwell when it feels like cheating every one else's time. 
Dwell like your very life depends on it 
because it does. Because it does 

in the smallest and biggest of ways. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Each One Here

slightly browned corn cake latke's covered with 
cilantro cream sit next to 
the wild rice, cranberry, edamame and sweet potatoe salad on a 
turquoise plate adjacent from 
the to-go cup of coffee covered by 
a sleeve that artistically depicts a cherry blossom tree--
all resting on a small, circular marble table rooted on
the hardwood floor. where my feet are.
flat though arched, tattooed underneath flip flops. resting, not heavy. 
toes wiggly and free. 

my husband next to me in a regal forrest brown leather chair
is wearing an exquisite burnt mustard polo shirt underneath
a black vest that matches
the rim of his glasses that cover
blue orbed, chestnut eyes, 
tired and penetrating.
his brown skin, the brown leather chair 
and the mustard shirt are quite the visual cocktail
but nothing compares--Cupidly speaking--to watching him 
punctuate the keyboard with his long, fingers,
his book taking the form of 
words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters
finally, after all this time,
an action of fulfillment that responds to 
his deepest yearning. 
the aliveness in the air
when he is stationed at t/his craft 
stirs me. flirts with me.  

each moment is animated 
by elements 
of color, consistency, texture,
relational tissue and sequence. 

what a gift in this moment
to witness
each
one. here. 

i am getting better 
at noticing 
the parts of this life
that are not wounded
and not entirely wound-reactive 
not hopelessly complex
but delightfully simple 
easily regarded as true
and beautiful without apology


including food, furniture, him, us and

me.