The View From Here

(8:00PM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)


I'm sitting in a cozy little study on Seattle's Capitol Hill.  A warm halogen desk lamp, four computers, several piles of books, a shelf full of my favorite and beloved tomes beside a comfortable chair.   A pot of earl grey.   Outside, it looks kind of like this:

Window View

Well, OK…exactly like that, since I just took it five minutes ago from the window above my right monitor.  It is cold as hell and the snow just won't stop, which is unusual for this part of the world.  Everyone I talk to has gotten sick of the holiday magic of it all, and just wants it to go the hell away.  I have gone from resenting the impact on my daily habitrails, to taking eight perimeter laps around the park you see…exactly 5.3 miles.  It makes my teeth hurt, but it's better than letting the carbohydrates win.  And it's a thrill to see the vast machine of the city come to a softly falling halt.  Anyway…that's only part of what this is about.

For the last few days, I've been reading diary after diary by people upset with the Warren choice.  I may or may not repost this in the context of most of those diaries…I'm kinda tuckered out.  But I've learned some things I didn't know.  I wanted — insofar as a short diary can manage…to share them here.

We have a lot of liberal folks, a few queer folks, a whole bunch of people who find Obama's choice of Warren to be repellent.  Some are outraged, and some are just a little squicked but are willing to extend the benefit of the doubt.  All very well and good, albeit it can get old rather fast.

In almost every diary I visited on the subject (albeit not the one here at DD), there have been at least one or two African American folks pointing out that Gay Rights and African American rights struggles aren't the same thing, and that it isn't terribly wise to start with that comparison.  Rather like Tim on Home Improvement, my first response has been “hwoouh???”  I mean, civil rights leaders of the last generation (Coretta Scott King among them) have made that comparison explicit, over and over.  And the people who have said “they aren't the same” in the past — well, those statements have ususally been followed be something really mean and awful, so that the basic, homophobic frame was not in doubt. 

But there aren't too many African American folks on the liberal blogs.  Who have the priviledge of sitting here.  So I figured…to spite the thrill of hearing queer voices yell all around me…I'd better listen up.

The thing is….the thing is…I was wrong.  Not completely wrong.  But I missed a couple of important things. Not just the obvious: you, over there…you may find the idea of a transsexual having surgery really physically disgusting, and repellent.  And I…well, my anscestors captained slave ships, and one of them held the continent's first native american slave.  But…mostly…we can get past that.  Hey, it's cool.  We're fighting for the same thing now!  But I think perhaps that fighting for the same thing…and hearing each other…are not the same thing. 

A long time ago I posted a diary on here about the politics of dignity.  It ran straight to what I believe most deeply about what inspires revolution, change, growth…the point where Havel's greengrocer, in Power of the Powerless, takes down the communist party sign.  The ways in which people finally throw off generations of oppressive rhetoric, the agreed upon lie, to live in truth.  And there's this thing about living in truth…it usually  starts from the specific.  What you can touch and feel, or imagine so clearly you can smell it.  And what I've touched and smelled and done…that's my story.  You can't know it.  You can't have lived it.  And what you have touched and smelled and fought for and loved…I can't know it.  I wasn't there.  It is our histories, our specific, lived histories, which make up the understandable distance between I and It and I and Thou, between sharing something of each of us, and telling you How It Is.

I cannot make someone else's story my own without telling a lie.  I can't appropriate the specifics of your struggle.  It is nice to feel like we are all sharing the same goal, but that's a little like eating the pumpkin pie before the green beans.  We don't get to say “oh yes, we're all on the same side” until we have _heard_ the other side.   We are in a terrible hurry to find a common ground, and we all know what it looks like and feels like.  We've all read things, and marched in things, and fought for things which serve the best in people.  But there is no shortcut to hearing the specifics.  The generalization of how bad you have it, or they have it, or I have it…is false coin.  What is true is what happend.  What you understand in the moment, standing there, being born there, growing up there, and can only communicate with a true accounting.

And so…finally…this mediocre and overlong essay winds back to the beginning.  The priviledge of sitting here, warm and dry, in front of a computer.  And telling my story, and the stories that I remember and can tell with truth.  But for each person like me, or you, there are a thousand without that computer, without that access.  Whose stories you haven't heard, and I haven't heard.  So…in general homily like terms…I think we have to be careful about how we generalize, and how we tell stories that are not our own.  Are they broad, cozy stories that make us feel virtuous and caring?   Or uncomfortable in a way we know like the trip from the kitchen to the car?  Or does the story have narrative truth, the detail and specifics of what is, in every story, the truest evidence?  Does it relate to a lived life, or is it borrowed for our purposes?

And now, indeed, I have gone on too long.  Thanks for reading… 


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    • jessical on December 22, 2008 at 2:50 am
  1. there you’ve gone and done it…found that arc between outrage and thought. How very dangerous of you!!!!!

    Your words touch places where very deep questions lie for me. I think you’ve just done an amazingly wonderful job of describing the cutting edge of my racism, homophobia, and classism these days. I’m really trying to learn that its the height of my privilege to assume I understand someone else’s life by using mine as the yardstick.

    But then I also occasionally wonder how often we do the same thing with folks who look to us like they have power…the wealthy or politicians. Never having been there, I wonder how much we assume to know about their lives and choices based on our own frame of reference. I’m not trying to make a case for empathy for folks like that. Just that I’ve been thinking about how much we assume we know when we really don’t.

    So many other thoughts you’ve triggered. But I’ll stop there.

    Thanks for a very beautiful and thought-provoking essay.

    • jessical on December 22, 2008 at 3:22 am

    If you hate it, say something 🙂

  2. Photobucket

    It’s a weeping crabapple tree.

    Thanks for the essay.

    • RiaD on December 22, 2008 at 4:05 am


    • kj on December 22, 2008 at 4:06 am

    girl, hate to say it, but i didn’t know you had this in you.  i mean i thought you had brilliance, but this?   this is thought and heart turned to words.  we all know how rare that is.  i’m so happy for you, this one was worth, well, to me, a lot, to you, i can’t imagine.  🙂

    i’ve been stuck all weekend by robyn’s story of Vigil. so much of it reminded me of my own days at retreats, witness, the touch of healing from stranger/friends.  but there is a part of the story that i didn’t understand immediately and that’s what i’m chewing on, that is where the nourishment lies, in what i don’t understand on instinct, what has to be taught, or as you say, what has to be heard.

    because we all see through our own lenses, somehow this essay of yours describe my own internal muse, and i love it for that, because it matches the beauty of what i might (if i’m lucky, if it took) have just learned.  the sort of stuff that is sacred, that is rare, that is quite simply a gift.

    • kj on December 22, 2008 at 4:14 am

    jess, this just stops my heart.  this brings tears.

    What is true is what happend.

    • Alma on December 22, 2008 at 4:48 am

    Its a winter wonderland here too.  20 below with the wind chill, lots of blowing snow. Just got home from picking my daughter up, brrr.

    Great essay.  Its a good thing we don’t have to really know how another feels to be able to see unfairness and injustice.  All one can ever do is use their imagination to the best of their abilities ie. of having family and friends turn away, of having no shelter from the cold, and scrounging in dumpsters for food to eat.  Of being locked behind bars where you have no control of what your life is, not even when you get up or go to bed.

    My main thing is fairness.  Always has been.  Fairness doesn’t always equate to equality because different people have different needs.

    • jessical on December 22, 2008 at 6:38 am

    If you read this comment, plese consider going to the GOS and reading this diary by ChristieKeith

    Run don’t walk, these don’t come along every day.  It is the absolute opposite end of the spectrum from my careful moderation here.  It had me in tears.  For every careful diary I’ve written about queer rights or ENDA or keeping it all in perspective…trying to meet allies and be careful…this one wasn’t careful, it was just true, from the first word to the last.  And if you’ve ever wondered where all those angry gay people are coming from, when there are very real issues of social justice at hand…

    …she has it down.  Just down.  

    • pfiore8 on December 22, 2008 at 11:28 am

    What you understand in the moment, standing there, being born there, growing up there, and can only communicate with a true accounting.

    your piece makes me think of possessiveness over pain as a teenager…

    whatever growing up i did “there” in those sometimes hard, dark, and desolate places had some sweetness as well: because it made me like no one else. that’s how i felt it. where i was wrong was thinking that no one else could understand it . .  

    i read Christie’s piece. And pico’s the other day. i for am earthlings. i can’t know their experiences . . . yet, i can feel the energy generated from it. it creates in me empathy and a desire, a want, a need to protect them . . . but more, work on a more equitable world.

    great writing, jess.

    • pfiore8 on December 22, 2008 at 11:29 am

    for me, that kind of snow is lovely. and exactly for the quiet it brings. the slow motion days . . .


  3. … before I commented.

    I think what you are describing is the fundamental understanding that must occur before real solidarity can take place — not the kind of sentiment, “Oh, I’ll help you work on your struggle” but that “your struggle is my struggle.”

    I found it interesting in Christie’s diary that so many people went into the default “Warren” setting — saw very few folks who grasped her point, that it wasn’t Obama she was angry at but her supposed “allies” who didn’t have a clue as to her life and insisted on defining her against her will.  Comment after comment went on about Warren, as though the diary spoke of nothing else.

    Good essay, Jess.  Very thought provoking.

  4. Almost as good as reading a MLK essay. I am guilty of hitting the Warren button, and seeing red smelling the sulfur ignoring the significance in the lives of all the clamoring.  . We cannot all experience each others struggles, but somewhere is my heart I know that all struggles for equality are really the same struggle. On a ‘cultural’ level the world is so diverse in beliefs that it is hard to ever sort out the why’s, who’s and how’s of ignorance, oppression, inhumanity and politics. The struggle for equality is an ongoing part of living in this world as a human. Humans are as sacred as the rest of the universe, there divinity has nothing to do with their social structures or their puny definitions of good and evil..

    The thing I can’t comprehend is the politics of Religion of using the sacred for politics for power for control, for deciding right and wrong. From explanations of the universe in a text by a desert tribe 2000? years ago to having Warren on the podium, seems a leap backward from even our founders feeble attempt at enlightenment. Forgive my ramblings I guess even though I cannot live your life, know your pain, share your privileges or lack of I think we all have ability to recognize what equality is what human rights are. We may enslave each other in endless variations but I refuse to ‘reach out’ and find the ‘common ground’ that seeks to call this not only divine but codify our dark as law. Some truths are self evident.                

    • kj on December 23, 2008 at 3:47 am

    i was tossed onto the waves at 16.  naive, catholic kid, shy, short. i’m a whole lot tougher than i look, and i look like everyone’s kid sister, even with silver hair.  i laugh a lot.  sadness is a soul companion, but i’m fonder of detachment and beauty, because sadness and melancholy just doesn’t do it for me anymore… and neither does anger.  and yet i think about davidseth’s line about ‘dull sunlight’ and shivers go up my spine remembering one particular winter when all the sunlight was dull, all the time, and it was cold, all the time.

    i almost always ‘pass’ where ever i land.  it doesn’t last much past the surface, but it’s got me in places and i’ve been able to do a slight bit of damage before being tossed out.  of course, i’ve moved a lot, so have needed to cultivate just what it takes to pass in any given place.

    and i’m not queer or any of the GLBT initials.  but i know outsider status at the core.  and i know the power of groups and stories and witness and acceptance and toughness and compassion, not through theory, but through action. stories have saved my life. my stories have aided others.  that’s just the way it works.

    but mostly i pass, and listen and hopefully learn.  and i hate to reveal myself.

    i like what’s happening now.  i like this rising.

    • kj on December 23, 2008 at 4:14 am

    part of that ‘dull sunlight’ winter included this, which is more memory than poem.

    Two Stones

    I lie awake, curled helpless

            ephemeral children, strangers to my arms

    waves churn, tear through me

            your delicate tendrils wither, unable to root

    rip away another body and soul

            draw sustenance from me.

    Only the cat murmurs, my husband sleeps.                    

    Snow falls

            this day I cast cornmeal

    to the East, and to the South        

            this day I give thanks

    to the West and to the North

           and watch the starlings feast.


    • kj on December 23, 2008 at 4:23 am

    and a scant few months later, still that winter: my third up-at-bat as midwife to the bardos.

    Blue Pict

    I woke with a start.

    You’d ridden into my dreams again

    woad-stained skin

    floating in patches that

    fell on my face.

    You’d run your horse down

    the same rutted tracks my

    memory had worn–

    back to the day

    you’d become

    a gaunt shell of scar tissue

    arms raised in supplication


    I stroked those limbs

    bathed them

    covered you with

    thick, rich lotion.

    I tried to push blood up

    into your heart

    tried to keep you alive

    but — there at the end                          

    you pulled away — rode

    quickly on before me

    as you’d always done

    leaving nothing behind

    but blue skin.


    • kj on December 23, 2008 at 4:40 am

    • jessical on December 23, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    …the comments were way better than the essay, which, oddly, tells me the essay didn’t suck.  But this has all been a lovely distraction from le monde, and I gotta go back there for a bit…maybe a long bit…

    Thank you to everyone who came by…very, very much.

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