Cascading Home

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I learned about this form of poetry, the Cascade, from Kat Myrman. With a three-line stanza, and capital letters representing repeated lines, the form is ABC deA fgB hiC. (I have also seen this done where the repeating line is the first line of the following stanzas rather than the last, now that I think of it.) Naturally, I chose a seven-line stanza because I am a bloody showoff. Don’t go there, people, or at least not without stretching out first.

I like it again right now because I am about to move into my first office ever of my own at work and I have bought a Laura Wilder print with a window to replace the window I did not get due to seniority and other issues. But art makes life better.

 

Home is the place where you write your name

In the dust and it remains your name,

Your dust, your cat’s pawprints telling the tale

Of small peregrinations, domestic pilgrimages.

All the books are yours. You have read them all.

You make your way from room to room in the dark

And as day recedes, your bed embraces you.

 

In other places, you wander, a stranger

Unremarked and nameless, a cipher

To those you pass by, who do not think

To wonder about your loves and dislikes.

They have their own shopping lists of worries.

Out in the world, you are ever nameless.

Home is the place where you write your name.

 

The geography of naming is such that

Your name points the way back to your birth

Or rebirth. Tell me who you are and I will

Point you toward the river whose water runs

Through your veins, calling itself blood.

Drop your name down a well or toss it

In the dust and it remains your name.

 

The story of your life would require volumes

Or a skilled raconteur with a very long string

Tied end to end and woven into itself,

A cat’s cradle of intention, obstacle, outcome,

And the serendipities that every life engenders.

Come to the window. Trace out your tale in

Your dust, your cat’s pawprints telling the tale,

 

Which would include a heroic company of friends,

Sister travelers, the wise one, the warriors,

A ring to find, a cup to destroy, some evil

To overcome, and now and then a resting place

Like this homely place, a place to pause between

The small battles and the long weariness

Of small peregrinations, domestic pilgrimages.

 

Returning home to your bed, your armchair,

Your cat sleeping on all the notes you took

On your travels, you settle in almost as if

You had never left. But now you see it

Anew: You have chosen every picture that hangs

On the walls. You have sat in every chair.

All the books are yours. You have read them all.

 

All of it is as familiar as your own hands:

Small and compact peasant hands that belie

The spectacles and teeming brain, the sword

Hanging over the fireplace. You can lay your hand

On any book you want at a moment’s notice,

Predict the pattern of new spring leaves in the window.

You make your way from room to room in the dark.

 

At dawn, both sun and cat pat your face,

Clamoring for your attention. As the sun passes

Overhead, the light turns this way and that,

Caressing doors and bookcases, chairs and the cat

Who stretches out in the bright patch of carpet.

In the afternoon, he ambles over to welcome you back.

And as day recedes, your bed embraces you.

 

Art by Laura Wilder.

History of Hair, Yours, Mine, Hers, His, Theirs

A Google search of “history of my hair” just now turned up 68,800,000 results. This does not surprise me. Just as our geopolitical history is filled with battles, innovations, opportunities, colonizations, festivals and cooptations, so is the history of our hair. Think about it. When you are a kid, your parents pretty much decide what your haircut will look like, and it often ends up being a smaller version of theirs. Maybe around the time you are approaching your teenage years, you start to get a say in the matter and for some of us who grew up with our mothers cutting our hair, this will be the first time your parents paid for someone else to do the job.

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Puberty is also when the changes to the rest of your body start to affect your hair too, usually making things harder, because who ever heard of puberty making ANYTHING easier? The hormone shifts, the social shifts, all of that make it even harder to figure out the individual shifts that might be happening in your identity: what do I want more, to stand out or to belong?

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Eventually, in the business world, you adapt to a balance between identity and belonging, to set yourself apart a little while also maintaining a professional stance. And always assuming that your physical hair itself isn’t causing problems (not always a fair assumption, as my African American women friends will be the first to point out), sticking to that balance can—slowly or quickly—lead to utter boredom.

These things are compounded when your identity undergoes more shifts. People get married and need to do something excessively fancy with their hair for the wedding. They get new jobs where the professional standard is different. They figure out they are queerer than they thought, and want to express that. They go through a midlife crisis. They have a baby—and we all know how babies grab at long hair. A lot of things can trigger a desire to change what we look like. The problem is, when the world is full of options, how do you choose the change you want?

In Search of Queer(-Enough) Hair

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In her essay for PopSugar, “I’m Asian, I Came Out of the Closet, and I Finally Cut My Hair Short,” Jo Chiang writes about the difficulties of fitting into a white-dominated US queer subculture within the dominant gender-binary-heavy US heteronormative culture as an Asian, given the differences between Asian and Euro-Caucasian hair. She says, in part:

“Androgyny has always been about that hard-edged balance between masculinity and femininity. But when Asian masculinity is desexualised and Asian femininity is infantilised, twists on gender presentation don’t quite make the same impact.[…] It’s an ongoing journey to feel positive about my queerness, my race, and my hair on top of that. Even out of the closet, I would often feel awkward and ill-fitted. I tried new haircuts. My hair wasn’t fine enough to pull off the pixie cut or flexible enough for a pompadour, and my cowlicks were too tenacious for anything asymmetrical. It took trial and error and error and error, until I figured out a solution. I found a Japanese hair salon. They knew my texture, the quirks of my part, and the shape of my skull. While they did not share my Taiwanese heritage, they understood the very specific struggles I had with my hair.

“Instead of going wild with a clipper, my stylist brought shape to the back of my head with careful trimming. She left the sides and top long to let my cowlicks bear down with their own weight, but added a choppy texture to keep it from flattening. When I stopped bringing in photographs of models I wanted my hair to resemble and instead worked with my stylist to understand the ways my hair grew out, I finally settled into cuts that suited me and my queerness.

“I walk the streets happy to confuse strangers with my gender presentation.

“There is no one way to look queer. A haircut isn’t a requirement for coming out. But the decision to resist against assumptions of gender and femininity and race can be a healing and invigorating aspect of loving and accepting yourself in a world that continues to police beauty.

“These days, I walk the streets happy to confuse strangers with my gender presentation. When I feel especially frisky, I style my hair up with some grooming cream, and when frisky is too much work, I wear a hat. Either way, long or short, my hair will always be as queer as me.”

I like the way this essay targets the intersectionality of identity–the flipside of the intersectionality of oppressions, since, after all, we get oppressed because of our identities. Having lived in Japan and been a martial artist for more than half my life, I have had a lot of East Asian/Asian-American friends, and it is good to learn a bit about their realities. One of the things I will consider this week is where hair texture is not the only problem a person could be facing in the Queer Hair Dilemma. But Chiang’s meditation is a great place to start.

I say this because I think we all look for quick fixes, believe that quick fixes are in fact possible: “Now that I know who I am, I need to declare it. Declaring it will be easy. Declaring it nonverbally may even be easier than doing it verbally.”

Ah, fond hope, so soon dashed for most of us. I am putting this out here as a hypothesis, which I intend to test this week by talking to my queer/lesbian friends.

H1: Most people struggle to find a haircut that represents them as they want after they come out.

Wish me luck, children. I’m goin’ in!

 

Jo Chiang, “I’m Asian, I Came Out of the Closet, and I Finally Cut My Hair Short,” PopSugar.com.au. 16 Aug. 2016. Web. 16 Aug. 2016.

 

Boston Pride 2016, Continued

So tonight I went with some friends to the vigil for Orlando held in the plaza in front of Boston City Hall, and prayed and held silence and signed the book for our brothers and sisters in Orlando, to let them know we care. I still need to process all that, and I will write about it soon, but for now, a look back to Saturday and what I spent the time doing when I wasn’t either watching the parade or dancing my ass off.

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Needle. Haystack. Backbeat.

 

One

A sea of exhausted queers, underdressed, rained on,

Milling jubilantly across the plaza. Three flags:

Stars and Stripes, Massachusetts Indian, Rainbow.

Sixty-nine reasons to salute. Save the environment.

Adopt a shelter dog. Get tested. Buy a t-shirt.

Help veterans stop our warring. Eat fried dough.

There on the steps, a woman break-dances to music

Coming from the stage, to the applause of her friends

And strangers. One onlooker, all in black leather,

Turns away. We text and call you, give up,

Then turn around, and there you are at last.

 

Two

Parking lot block party between tall brick

Buildings echoing the DJ’s words, the backbeat

So deep my bones reverberate. Broken tarmac

And puddles of Bud Lite Lime make a rough

Dance floor, but I’ve lost my friends. I looked

Away for a moment and once again I was

Alone amid a few hundred tightly packed

Tattooed women’s bodies gyrating. Buzz cut

Blue hair bump and grind. Surely salmon swimming

Upriver move to no such background music,

Though the press of bodies must be something

Like this. How then to find four particular

Fish in the struggling river? Wandering the edges

Will not suffice. Only leaping into center stream,

Zenlike, gets it done. I abandon my goal,

My isolation, and finally find what I seek.

 

Three

Black light disco ball and all the young men

Packed wall to wall and taller than all

My lost friends: I am tired of losing them.

Even more than the vibrating drums and lights

Is the slight pall of sticky spilled drinks

On the floor. All these men so intent on

Scoring block my view as the lights

Scramble my attention. Trying to make out

Lyrics, like making out faces, is too much

Of a chore. Some searches are just doomed

From the start. At least I can still find the door.

 

Photo by Paula M. Grez.

The Orlando Massacre and Beyond

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People fear what they don’t understand. From the ancient ancestors imagining an angered thunder god sending down lightning and destruction, picking out scapegoats as their preferred victims, and sacrificing them in the vain hope that a smaller amount of “their” spilled blood would stave off the larger amount of “ours,” humans have always been good at spreading their confusion and pain and fear around.

I have a friend who teaches middle school, fifth-graders, ten and eleven years old. In her homeroom she has a many-pages-long protocol for an active shooter attacking the school. They practice drills, twenty-first century survival skills for children. She is a teacher, like the teachers in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut (where 20 students and 6 adults were killed on December 14, 2012), and although we haven’t discussed it, I am sure that she has considered to what lengths she would go to protect her students in the event that the drills became real one day.

I know this because I have considered it myself, since the shootings at Virginia Tech University on April 16, 2007, when the shooter killed 32 people and wounded 17. This was the first shooting at a college or university in a long time. Previously, most of the school shootings had happened at high schools; somehow I assumed that teenagers were more likely to be unstable than students a few years their senior, but the Virginia Tech shootings made me realize that I too could one day face the unthinkable at one of the universities I teach at.

Colleges don’t make protocols for these scenarios. College life is unlike middle and high school life in their uniformity of scheduling and classrooms. So if you work at a college, you have to think these things through for yourself. Could you talk a gunman down? Should you try? Does your classroom have two exits or only one? One of my criminal justice students pointed out that the safest place to be was near a gunman. Far away you haven’t got a chance in hell of closing the distance and overpowering him; even close up, it would be suicide, although as in Sandy Hook, a teacher might just consider that an acceptable choice if she or he thought there was a chance of success.

So tonight I was at a Pride Block Party. We had already held a moment of silence for the 50 Latin@s killed at the gay bar Pulse in Orlando, Florida (and the 53 still on the wounded list). Then, because Pride is all about standing against institutionalized oppression and ignorant hatred, we danced.

Intermittently, my lesbian sister texted the newly-out me to warn me that, given that the shooter had made comments about the Boston marathon bombers, Boston might be the site for a copy cat. I took her warning seriously, thought about exit strategies considering the narrow space we were in with a brick wall all along one side. Another of her texts pointed out that young people in the group might not be as savvy to the possibility of gay bashing, since the US has gotten a good deal friendlier toward gays than it was during the Stonewall Riots of 1968. I pointed out that as a teacher, I automatically consider the younger people; teachers teach, yes, but we also often protect. Sometimes it is just from bullying, or insensitivity or ignorance, but it does seem to be an unstated part of the job.

I could say that nothing happened tonight. I will not add “of course,” because if the US failed to take the murder of small children four years ago seriously, it will hardly take the murder of more than twice as many gays seriously. I do not expect better gun laws any time soon, alas, nor do I expect the violence to end. But yes, we were lucky in that no one else tried to attack our Pride celebration, or from what I have heard (so far) anyone else’s, so far.

But something has happened. We were reminded, at the height of our celebrations (which is of course how backlash so often works) that we are still vulnerable (not that the trans community needed the reminder, with the scandal of anti-trans violence a worldwide pandemic). Our straight allies, those who are not racing to blame radicalized Islam-against-Americans-in-general as the culprit, were reminded that achieving the right to marry has not granted us any more practical financial or physical protection from the haters.

And here’s the other thing that happened, and maybe I am the only one who put the bits together in this particular way, and maybe I’m not. But towards the end of the party, it rained lightly, just as it did yesterday at the parade. Only this time, we got an actual rainbow out of it, the symbol of hope from the story of Noah, where God promises not to wash the world away ever again.

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I know too much about human intransigence and sea-level rise to take it literally as a promise from God, but I do believe that humans are powered by symbols just as cats are powered by the sun. So I will take this as a sign that love is more powerful than hate, even if it does require more work. I am in the community now, and in the game, or war, or whatever it is. And I, too, was at a gay club last night with my friends. It could have been us. It could have been everyone. It could have been my out-of-state sister or friends or the friends of friends. So, for all intents and purposes, it was.

And, that rainbow tells me, it’s time to get to work.

 

Photo of rainbow over JP by Paula M. Grez.

From our friend Bluejay of Happiness

It’s utterly flabbergasting to belong to a social group that is both mightily derided and highly celebrated. On the one hand LGBT people are condemned by several religious and political forces, yet on the other hand, we have earned the love and respect of more enlightened groups and individuals. The 1960s were harsh, often terrifying […]

via What Is LGBT Pride? — bluejayblog

Styling Saturday: To Tie or Not to Tie

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Vivienne Westwood says, “You have a more interesting life when you wear impressive clothes.” Now, Westwood is an old British fashion designer, apparently known for bringing punk clothing into the mainstream, so on the one hand, she would think this. On the other hand…I dunno if it’s true, but it sure feels true.

This also reminds me of the last time I wore a necktie, around 1986 or1987. It was the eighties, so I was not being ironic or gender-bendy in any way. I think I wore jeans and brown Oxford bucks, a light blue button-down Oxford shirt, my jeans jacket and a narrow light blue necktie with pink flowers. My hair was short, just as it is now. I was singing the final song at the top (bottom?) of my lungs, as I always do. Afterwards, the little old lady standing next to me patted me on the arm and said, “It’s so nice to hear young men singing in church!” That was the last time I wore a necktie.

I often get “sirred” at the grocery store. I don’t really care, but it always makes the person who says it get embarrassed in the following moment when they take a closer look at me and focus less on my fedora and more on my earrings, etc. I recently bought three modest neckties at SkinnyTies.com (one black, one navy, and one powder pink), but I don’t think I will probably wear them, or at least not until I learn how to do my makeup better. I don’t think I could pull off true butch, and I don’t think I would want to. But when I look at something like Katherine Moennig or Julie Andrews just looking so darn cute in a tie, I wish I could carry it off.

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An Offering

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So I have spent much of this afternoon reading people’s blogs about gender fluidity and figuring out that mess, stupid bathroom laws, parents who say that they love their children but refuse to go to their gay wedding because Christ doesn’t like gays, blah blah blah. And another blogger talking about being a very feminine woman and how to be a woman of action and a formidable women, and it all just sounds to me like being a person, although possibly a person in high heels?

Why are we all struggling so much to simply be who we are? (Um, probably patriarchy?)

Why do other people seem to want to force the whole world into these terribly narrow boxes with prescribed ways of being in the world? (Well, patriarchy…)

And why can’t I just give everybody who is suffering on the interwebs today a really big HUG? (Oh, honey, I can’t help you with that one.)

Rilke Was Right

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From 1903 to 1908, the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke carried on a correspondence with a young poet who wrote to him asking for advice, and long after, his letters were gathered into a book, appropriately enough titled Letters to a Young Poet. I feel a bit like that young man, putting feelers out into the world to say, “How do I do this thing? Am I doing this right? How will I know?” And I would like to thank my readers who have entered the conversation with me.

As Rilke said, “We would easily be made to believe that nothing has happened, and yet we have changed, as a house changes into which a guest has entered…. [M]any signs indicate that the future enters into us in this way in order to transform itself in us long before it happens” (55). I think this is true, and probably one of the reasons that some changes or discoveries that we make about ourselves end up having either a ring of inevitability or a “D’oh! How could I not have seen that?” to them. Of course I couldn’t see it. You live into your answers very gradually.

So the two things I think I have been attempting to do with this blog is 1) articulate the questions I am learning how to live into, seeking clarity from the articulation on the one hand and feedback from others’ experiences on the other, and 2) make some poetry that can turn the feelings into art, for myself, for the world. Again, Rilke says, “A work of art is good if it has sprung from necessity” (20). So a lot of questions and a little bit of art here and there, hopefully good.

A small bouquet that I can share with you.

Rilke, Rainer Maria. Letters to a Young Poet. Trans. M.D. Herter Norton. New York: Norton, 1962.