“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” - Pema Chödrön
My darlings, this essay has been cooking in my brain for over a year now. Over a year. One of the reasons I find it best to live by myself is that I work out my writing by pacing. I pace obsessively. Often in the dark. Often in vintage nighties. I talk to myself a lot while I do this. You can see how that would weird people out, yes? I am a working-class girl. I'm a working-class artist. So very working-class that it took almost fifteen years of creating before I allowed myself to say: writer - artist - and, oh my god...poet. So you can also imagine the ease and comfort with which lines like this spew from my lips: Look lover...roommate...friend...this is just my process! I need you to respect me while I walk around in the dark mumbling to myself so that I might make magic for all of us! Yeah, mostly I just apologize and hobble off to watch The Golden Girls.
I must have walked miles for this. And I think that's ok, I think the benefit of a good pilgrimage is that it forces us to drop the unnecessary and focus in very tight on the point of it all. And I need that focus now because I am about to beg you to do the least intuitive thing you can imagine. I need you to take a walk with me into the possibility of unsafe. I live here. And I'm a pretty good guide. I'm tempted to tell you I'll keep you safe but.... :)
A few days ago news broke that Virginia Ramos, best know around San Francisco's Mission district as "The Tamale Lady" would no longer be able to sell her amazing food at beloved bar Zeitgeist. You know this song...permits and ordinances and what ifs...what if? What if the what if led to a law suit and no one can afford that and what if? When I moved to San Francisco in early 2006 on the heels of a break up and some particularly rough and ugly time served as a femme in my former city of Seattle my friends Pete and Gordon took me to Zeitgeist. They took me there and fed me bloody marys and beers and we sat on those benches until it got a little easier to see that life would somehow happen again. I would be ok. But you can't sit and drink bloody marys for hours without food...and like magic The Tamale Lady would come with her beautiful steamed wares and it wasn't just food....it was the right food. It was the kind of food that said: You are not finished being delighted by life, child. You don't know what you don't know. I ate it and I never once got sick. Never once.
Earlier today I was watching some unfortunate video from the recent Miss. U.S.A. competition. A contestant was asked about the NSA and our phone and internet records. "Is it ok to do that? To keep us safe? Why or why not?" I don't need to pound the poor child...I don't think I'd answer questions super elegantly if millions of people had just been encouraged to judge my ass in a swimsuit. But what she said was kind of perfect when you really think of our society (and I paraphrase because I love you but I CANNOT watch that again.) "I don't know....I look around and well, it seems like it's not safe to do anything anymore. It's not even safe to go to the mall. I don't mind if they listen to me on the phone if it keeps me safe when I go to the mall." Capitalism have fun crashing into feminism right there. You're both going to need aspirin in the morning because that intersection has no stop lights and a history of enormous, disastrous, WRECK.
Here comes something hard. I cannot give you a trigger warning. Not within my own writing. It is hard but I mean you no harm. I never mean you harm here, ok? If you feel harmed you can say that to me and we can talk about it. I will hear you and bring you to my metaphorical chest and hold you and tell you how sorry I am. But I can't go about my life assuming the truth of it is something from which you need protection. I've tried that and it almost killed me. Safe often asks us to mask the truth, and the truth is not our enemy. I understand if you need to turn away from this right now so that you can make it through this day. I'm cool with that. I am no unicorn. What I am about to say happens thousands of times every day in the world. So it needs to be said. It needs to be said often and loudly until it fucking stops being ok with all of us. Keeping you safe from this kills women like me. And I'm growing sick of that with age.
When I was three years old my mother and father bundled me up, threw me in the back of the station wagon and drove me straight to my mother's rapist house. And then they left me there for a week. When they picked me up my little body was so devastated and bloody for months that I was tossed into Yale Children's Medical Center and misdiagnosed for a time with stomach or colon cancer. While in the hospital I was raped again by two different men. The effect of all of this on my tiny little psyche was that I tried to kill myself three times before the age of five. No one ever asked me why. That's the abridged story, anyhow.
Admittedly, I am no expert on "safety."
I do know a thing or two about surviving; and I have glimpsed thriving somewhere on the distant and blurry horizon. Neither of those were won to me by doing anything even remotely safe. Still here? Good. I know that's ugly. Keep walking with me....it stays rough for a while but we're headed somewhere breathtaking, I swear it....