“Yes, all those ridiculous men–and women, sometimes–wanting so much for me to be something I was not. Their vision of what royalty should be, or justification for hiring me to fuck–… Have I shocked you?”
– Queen Malka (who becomes known as Shoshana by the people who save her life, “Rose” by the Romans)., Prelude
The Final Note
Today’s edition of At Water’s Edge is built around the guitar, and also celebrates creative collaboration. Too often in the music world, the focus is on the soloist, the rockstar in front of the band, the diva, the hot dog shredder, the standout.
This applies to many other things about modern life, too: high scores in tests or games, competition in sports or at work, individual performance, standing out in a crowd, unique looks or ideas, rugged individualism. Gamesmanship.
But that model doesn’t serve us as well as we think. Life is far less of a competition than some would have us believe. Continue reading
This week’s edition of At Water’s Edge was called Love Letters from the Universe; it sprang out of a need for perspective in the wake of so much bad news coming from the media. These are the closing remarks from the program.
The Final Note
The world seems to be going crazy. Bad news is everywhere, violence is all over the media, and people are desperately hanging on to their crumbling belief systems — and their humanity — in the midst of heartbreaking strife.
Belief systems built up over lifetimes, over generations of lifetimes, are how people identify themselves to themselves and to each other. When belief is such a fundamental part of one’s identity, maintaining that belief is critical.
Now those belief systems are falling apart, and as they do, so are the people who hold them.
The human race made a critical error millennia ago, when its members decided that men were more important than women, that light skin was more important than dark skin, that one religion was more important than others, that humans were more important than animals and the environment.
But the fact is that we are completely and irrevocably interdependent. Without every other human, without every other component of life on this planet, we cannot live. No single person or group is better than another, and the consolidation of personal or cultural power is a shallow and shortsighted use of individual and collective energy. It is all for naught if we kill ourselves and each other in the process.
With only a few rare and brilliant exceptions, human culture has arisen around fear — fear of predators, fear of nature, fear of other tribes, fear of the unknown, fear of having less power than someone else, fear of one’s own thoughts.
To the extent that we should fear at all, I believe that we fear all the wrong things. The point of today’s program is to make us look beyond our petty concerns, to recognize that all we have is each other. We’re on a tiny little ship together, spinning alone amidst a sea of stars.
Our ship is sinking. The only way we can survive is by working together to patch the holes, to look each other in the eyes and fully recognize the humanity in all of us, and to understand our place here — inextricably part of, not separate from, the nature in which we live, and the people with whom we share that nature.
It’s infuriating, truly maddening, that white people who are watching the terrible events unfold in this country try to excuse themselves (“All lives matter!” “Well, I’ve always…” “I don’t see color…” “…but I’m not…”) from the actions of our fellow white people. I’ve done it myself, I confess, before I recognized the wrongness of it. The racism in this country is not about YOU, it’s about US.
So, nope. Sorry. We’re ALL guilty because we move in a bubble of privilege. We can drive our cars, or carry skittles, or wear hoodies, or play in a park, generally without fear of being shot for merely existing.
I’m achingly aware that I live in such a privileged bubble. Despite being marginalized in some ways because I am not a middle aged white guy, I do not fear for my life merely because I’m breathing. I’m a middle aged, fat white woman, which in fact renders me invisible in this youth- and thin-obsessed culture. Frankly, I’m lucky to be invisible rather than all too visible, as black people are.
I am, despite my very best efforts, complicit in this mess, simply because I’m white. I live in a country that was taken systematically and violently from its original inhabitants. I grew up in a part of the country whose economy was built on the backs of people who were ripped from their own homes, beaten, raped, and forced to carry out back-breaking, heart-breaking, spirit-breaking work for their “masters” (I hate that word) because those masters believed they were ordained by God to be placed over other people.
I married a brown man, married into a family whose members I love dearly — they run the gamut from deepest black to fairest white and everything in between, and even though he and I are no longer married, I still adore my rainbow family and always will.
And I’m aware that I had the privilege of choice in that regard, too.
We live in a culture whose law enforcement is very deliberately being infiltrated by white supremacists so that the racism built into this country can be further institutionalized. We are surrounded by people who believe — truly believe — that their Creator made them superior, despite volumes and volumes and volumes of scientific refutation.
As a species, we are inclined toward violence, conflict, and chaos. But that doesn’t mean it is inevitable, because we are also self-aware. We must do the work to avoid this inevitability.
So, for ALL of us white folks: when we try to whitesplain a person of color, we are part of the problem. Saying “black lives matter” does not imply that no other lives matter. Yes, all lives matter, but because they’re in critical, immediate danger, #blacklivesmatter right now. Instead of trying to exonerate ourselves, we must listen. Learn. Educate ourselves. Read articles. Check Snopes. Read the 2006 FBI report that called out the white supremacy movement’s infiltration of law enforcement. Read as many supporting articles as you can (here and here and here are good starts). CALL OUT RACISM WHEN WE SEE OR HEAR IT! Defend our brothers and sisters against violence and oppression. Reach out across the divide that WE MADE, and learn to love. Look our fellow human being in the eye and recognize their humanity.
And finally, it’s simple: love one another.
An article reproduced from a 2010 small town newspaper, the Iosco County News Herald, has been making the rounds for a while, and inspiring various responses across the political spectrum, from applause to derision, and everything in between. I feel this is important enough to write a response that’s something other than a kneejerk reaction (one way or the other), because people really do feel this way, and while I believe this is an honest cry for understanding, I also believe that it’s misguided. Continue reading
The opening graphics for Marvel’s TV series Daredevil are fascinating, offering an unusual and even gruesome conceptual view of how the world “appears” to our hero.
Included in the sequence is a rendition of Lady Justice, blindfolded as she usually is. It’s a visual joke on the idea that our hero is blind and dispenses vigilante justice on the streets of New York City — Hell’s Kitchen in particular. Marvel is unafraid of moral ambiguity in recent shows and has presented some troubling grey areas expertly. I think they make a mistake in presenting violence as the solution, but that they’re offering moral questions as a significant part of several story arcs is a step in the right direction. The Daredevil adamantly refuses to kill, and just as adamantly refuses to let go of the possibility that even the most hardened criminals are beyond redemption.
It got me to thinking beyond the visual joke to the general condition of Lady Justice in modern times. Continue reading
Some years ago, my mother shared with me a printed page titled “The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings”, which many people will recognize as the authoritative and excellent list of personal and interpersonal tools from Thich Nhat Hahn. They are wisdom indeed. I have kept them and often refer to them. Continue reading
And just like that, we were once again packing in a hurry as we had when we left the palace. It was a strange, sad feeling of familiarity, tinged with something like despair. I wondered if we were doomed to repeat this cycle as long as I lived, or at least as long as Rome’s puppets occupied the region. A fleeting thought whispered across my mind, that perhaps it had been better to stay and fight for my people, and maybe die in the process. Just as quickly, I dismissed the notion. In dying alongside the remaining denizens of the palace, my death would have been useless. Stories had come to us from the marketplace, tales of wholesale slaughter: anyone they had found within the palace walls, whether nobility or servant, was killed without hesitation. No mercy, no imprisonment, no interrogations. Witnesses had seen William’s soldiers stacking bodies and burning them unceremoniously in the courtyard, like so much garbage. Continue reading
Yadin’s home was in the mountains south of Shamar, as the royal city was called then, in a fertile valley near the Belen road. What normally took him a day and a half took us twice that.
That first evening, the road out of the city was crowded with refugees. The lot of us moved with a singular purpose, but necessarily slowly simply because of the vast numbers. We had little fear that William’s men would pursue the throng; they had come from the West and we were headed south, and it was generally understood that he had wanted the city for its strategic location. Rome had been wanting to regain a foothold in the region, and what better way than to capture the royal city, the last remaining stronghold of the Khazars, which stood between Rome and its path eastward.
No, Rome wasn’t interested in the common people just yet. And with Adina and the decoy child in place, we were assured of anonymous safety for a time. Continue reading
Of the nurses who stayed, one was known and dear to me — Maryam — one I vaguely knew — Adina — and one I didn’t recognize at all. That happened a lot. Nurses came and went and, except for Maryam, I hardly even looked at them. So it was nothing remarkable that Bina was unknown to me. I thought she was so new to court life that she simply hadn’t yet tired of my childish antics.
Despite my father’s lack of leadership and my mother’s more ascetic approach to court life, I had managed to receive an excellent education up to that point. Tutors had been imported from the great courts of Persia, and I soaked up their knowledge; the Greeks with their logic and the Goliards with their music; truly I was a fortunate child, and more fortunate still that these subjects had been of such interest to me, for of course they served me very well in adulthood.
My father’s reign was disastrous, as you know. As much as I loved him as a child, I know him now for a self-indulgent fool in a time that could ill afford luxury of any sort. When he should be inspecting troops before they were sent off to guard the borders against the very motivated invaders, he was inspecting wines instead. When he should be conferring with his generals on the best way to address the new war machinery that Rome’s engineers had wrought, he was conferring with his own court engineers on a new mechanical toy to be unveiled at my next birthday fête. Continue reading
I am not a beautiful woman.
I’m not even particularly pretty.
Oh, I suppose I’m handsome enough, with even features, green eyes, decent cheekbones. But without the benefit of the paint pot, I wouldn’t consider myself anything beyond merely plain.
Nevertheless in my long and very interesting life I have been called “beautiful”, “stunning”, “breathtaking”, and worse. I couldn’t tell you why, except that it is, I guess, a wish on the part of the speakers that I be those things to fulfill their own strange and fevered imaginings. Continue reading
There once was a bard with a very large ego.
Most bards, being of the public sort, do enjoy the admiration of their audience, but this particular bard’s ambitions went beyond the desire for mere accolades. No, this bard desired fame, craved fortune—he wished no less than to be the most famous bard in all the land, installed in the King’s own court, above all others, without peer.
This bard, though skilled, pursued his trade for all the wrong reasons.
Oh, he studied, and learned the old songs, the ones that his audiences would request time and again—epic tales of romance and derring-do. But all the while, there lived a tiny stone of resentment in his heart, for despite all his efforts to capture what was so magic, so compelling, about those old tales, he could create no such songs of his own.
He stayed abreast of the machinations of King and Court, hearing from heralds all the latest activities in the Great City. From such news, he attempted to craft new epics—for such were the times that there was no shortage of heroism from the King or his men.
It was a wealthy kingdom, situated on rich farmlands, with a port that sat in the midst of a prosperous trade route.
The King’s ancestors had wisely settled there, many generations ago, defending and fortifying the holding, patiently expanding it, all the while taking care that its citizens prospered right along with the kingdom. For these kings knew that their hold on the land was dependent on the contentment of the people there.
Theirs was a wise dynasty. Continue reading
After two days of reading about Ferguson, and fighting strange online battles based on assumptions and prejudices (many of my own, I’m sure), I wanted to just throw my hands up and say “Okay, I’ve had enough!”
And then I thought about that.
It’s so easy for observers to say something dismissive like “I’m sick of hearing about racism. I’m going to do [insert your distraction of choice here] now.”
That’s privilege. If we can say that, it means that we have the choice to walk away.
But you know what? Michael Brown didn’t get the choice. Trayvon Martin didn’t get the choice. Millions of people of color every day are stripped of the choice to walk away and choose something nice, because there are still people in the world who live and behave as though they’re better than everyone else, and screw anyone who doesn’t agree with them and behave the same way.
There’s not a whole lot I can do from here, except boost the signal of sanity where I see it. I’m in the middle of nowhere, there are no protests, and all the other desert rats are just going about their lives.
But this matters. Black lives matter. People of color matter.
And whether or not Michael Brown was stealing, he did not deserve to die for it. Darren Wilson, who claims that he felt threatened, defaulted to “kill” when his training should support “protect and serve”. There was no protecting or serving Michael Brown that day. There was no protecting anything except Darren Wilson’s right to perpetuate a systematic and institutionalized power imbalance that lets him take a life with impunity.
So although I WANT to walk away from this situation, I WON’T. I will continue making noise, and pissing people off, because the best thing I can do as an ally is… be an ally.
This story was included in a special “Story Time” edition of At Water’s Edge on 27 September 2014, along with several other tales. Watch the video archive or listen to the podcast. This story, along with the other story in this series and a poem from Love the Haven of Peace, will be released as a CD and downloadable album in the 4th quarter of 2014. You can hear a preview of the release at the end of this story.
Once upon a time, there lived a girl who dreamed—and not just any ordinary dreams. Well, many of them were ordinary, but once in a while, the girl had dreams that would come true in unexpected ways.