My Life

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Well I finally did at least something with my writing. All that work that I put in over the summer–for which I woefully neglected this blog–finally got shared out into the world with this self-published piece and fancy new site (thanks Lambert Rochfort for that work!). It’s a big piece, cumbersome and very me in that I refused to pare things down into a few select, refined ideas and instead went for the big comprehensive package angled at like 3 or 4 entirely different audiences. It’s a mess, but I think it’s a charming mess.

But so be it. The piece wasn’t about making a big splash or getting things perfect. It was about catharsis. It was about breaking through a political (and thus, for me, spiritual) loneliness that’s probably deeper than I’ve felt in decades. I had to get that out, and I had to just let myself do it in the ways I know how, or that loneliness would keep shaving pieces off of me.

What comes out of it, though riddled with imperfections–from minor to almost embarrassingly major–is something that I am proud of on its own, but which I’m even more excited about as a potential project. My hope is that it will give me the confidence to spring into some existing local conversations while also initiating new ones, all toward the goal of creating some new political spaces that can hold more of us.

That was my big new year’s resolution for 2014–to end the year as a member of a political group that feels right to me–and we’ve still got 2 1/2 months to achieve it!

I’ve been on summer break in Guatemala for two weeks now, with all sorts of hopes to jump back into writing–especially after an extra stressful school year. Sadly, it’s been a slower start than expected.

The after-effects of yet more gang extortions; battling with the affordable care act authorities for a $10,000 tech screw-up; getting nickel-and-dimed by our landlord rental company; a feverish daughter; lethargic and unhelpful US/Guatemalan visa systems…so little time for relaxation and reflection, just when I need it most.

There are still good things, though. Still lots of basketball. Still lots of reading (4 books and counting…Dan Berger’s “The Struggle aWithin” and Lisa Delpit’s “‘Multiplication is for White People'” being highlights). Lot’s of World Cup screaming and snacking. Lots of amazing bilingual toddler moments.

Some good stuff, a lot of hard stuff…but what I really want most is just to write.

The juggling act…

Since around the new year, I’ve been working on a life-organizing project to help me become a better person. Like all my favorite personal schemes, it’s ambitious and multi-faceted and is made up of all sorts of maps and charts and concept bubbles and lists. I hope to share the project here shortly, but it’s hit a little snag.

I am committed to just too many spheres of life in which I don’t just want to sail by, but instead be great. It’s all too much, it’s unhealthy, and I need to recognize that part of growing up means establishing priorities for who one wants to be. But how?

Here are all the things I want to be:

    -A good father
    -A good partner
    -A good family member to my Guatemalan family
    -A good friend
    -A good revolutionary organizer
    -A good teacher
    -A good school leader
    -A good writer
    -A good housemate
    -A good gamer
    -A good game designer
    -In good health

I can’t be great and innovative all the time in all of these different areas of life and, as I get older, it’s taking a heavy toll to constantly expect across-the-board greatness for myself and then fall way short–telling myself that I still have time to fix the flaws.

What does it look like to make peace with being just okay in some areas of life, and then really hone in on those areas where I really want to show my stuff? And if I do that, how can my 4.0 gpa super-achiever sense of identity let myself slide? Can I? I shiver. I don’t know.

On my living room bookshelf there are two little stacks of DVDs that I borrowed from two different friends about 5 years ago. I walk by them every day, and I notice and think about them every couple of days. They remain there, in their same little stacks. Every time I think about them–probably hundreds of times now–a combination of logistical anxiety and accumulated shame–for the lateness, of course, but even more for the crime of never having watched them–win out over any intention of returning them. It feels like an impossible task, like it’s the kind of act meant for someone far above my station. I’m the guy who loses things I borrow from my friends. I don’t have the dignity to be anything else.

In these small stacks of DVDs, there is so much to understand about me. The weight that such stupid little social shit has, and the ways that I freeze. And freeze. And freeze for years. Until the smallest in-actions begin to form into a life that is, quite unintentionally, viciously anti-social. Like slow drips that develop into stalagmites and stalactites, a sharp, more permanent form emerges.

Perhaps even more curious is that for me, as a writer who sometimes tries to describe fictional characters, it feels so distant, so difficult, to imagine a person who could have an easy time returning those things. Could it really be so easy? Something that, for me, is like the plodding social navigation of a monstrous and archaic tanker could be, for someone else, like a zippy summer jet-ski trip? Who could possibly not be tormented?

And so the day that these DVDs get returned? Surely it will be the sign of a much more profound rising.

Dear Blog: I need you.

Here I’ve been, thinking that I’m doing well enough without you, thinking that I could afford to wait to write until another long vacation comes. The last summer break was so rich and productive that it gave me some pretty amazing fuel for these last 4 months of teaching and parenting and all sorts of other small projects. I thought this time away felt fine.

But the distance, it seems, has wrought a subtle devastation, an erosion of–at the risk of sounding dramatic–some of my favorite things about myself. My contributions to meetings and discussions feel ever more meandering. My once creative approaches to situations feel increasingly more rote. I’m noticing that my thinking and being in the world just feel less “Jeremy” to me. I told Glendi that I feel like I’m doing everything in my life at a 6 out of 10. That’s not me. I miss me.

Of course there are real stresses to blame. If I gave you the list and the stories, you’d place your hand on my shoulder and offer doughy, consoling words. But that’s not the point right now. It’s not that life is hard that’s the problem. Life has been this hard for years. What I realized is that the really hard thing is that I’m not consoling myself in the best ways I know how. I’m not writing about it. I’m not reflecting. I’m not dreaming. I’m not checking in with my best self, the Jeremy of this blog, the most real Jeremy that I know…and, damn, that has made these 4 months feel more and more disconnected as the nights get longer and the pressures grow.

My beautiful little blog, I need you. Let’s reconnect. Let’s catch up. Let’s pontificate and preach and prattle. I need more reminders of why I’m really here living and doing all this shit I do and, to be honest, nothing helps me feel better than talking to myself.

I have come to understand myself as having roughly two “specializations” or focuses when it comes to the radical thinking that I most enjoy: popular education/political development and structures for political organization. The reasons why I have these focuses are 1) I believe that the left heavily—almost pathologically—overemphasizes social analysis and so I prefer to keep my head tilted toward vision and strategy, 2) my visions and strategies continuously tell me that revolutionary work is fundamentally educational in nature, and 3) I believe that building dynamic, healthy, high-capacity organizations is perhaps the most critical factor in the success of that revolutionary work. I adore thinking about education so much that it has become my day job. I am so gaga for all things organization that organizational daydreaming is one of my favorite free time hobbies.

You can imagine, then, how baffling and tantalizing a puzzle it is for me that the U.S. left has such a spotty history with building revolutionary organizations. I’ve been writing about this a lot lately, and I just wanted to share some notes about different aspects that I’ve been thinking about.

When I was 12, in Oak Harbor, Washington, I was playing ball tag with my best friend when I witnessed his neighbor charge out of his house yelling, and then brutally kick his dog in the ribs with steel-toed boots. I cried almost instantly. I didn’t care that my friend might see me and think I was weird. This was wrong, and I cried. I then called my mom to tell her and get advice. She gave me the number for some animal control and welfare organizations on Whidbey Island, which I later called, and then she paused and praised me for how sensitive a person I was. This was a defining moment in my identity development. I was a sensitive person. I defended an animal and I wasn’t afraid to cry when things weren’t right.

In Guatemala, in the present day, our family has two dogs that no one pets or plays with, which serve simply as night guards. There are four or five other dogs who come to hang out and socialize, steal some food, kill a duckling, or go to the bathroom. Along with all the rest of my family, I yell for them to leave. I curse and complain with the chorus. When one of the men in the family came charging out with a leather belt to scatter them yelping, I said nothing. In fact, I think I was happy that he was taking care of a problem. When one of their dogs got in a fight and its tail got infected, I don’t remember feeling anything. I merely nodded in the affirmative as the family predicted how many days it would have left.

What happened to me? If I am still a sensitive person, and supposedly still a dog lover, how is it that I let myself become so desensitized?

A surface analysis might just attribute this to individual personality changes, growing up, getting jaded—that something changed in me on an individual level. But I believe this has far more to do with the overwhelming power that human culture has to both submerge and unearth our best selves. In this case, I didn’t just magically become less sensitive, I changed to conform with a culture that expected a far less sensitive—and more violent—relationship with animals. For the most part, I have prioritized my family’s smooth (read: with minimal conflicts or controversies) acceptance of me over my love of animals. It’s just one example of the situational moral and emotional shifts we make all the time to fit in with our surrounding cultures.

I think these dynamics are important, perhaps even key, to building a winning revolutionary politics. People rarely change, for better or worse, as isolated individuals. We change as cultural participants. Prison guards may or may not enter their jobs with previous violent or sadistic conditioning, but you can bet that almost all of them retire as worse human beings. Insurrectionist and individualist anarchists might wax poetic about the liberation of individual desires and the destruction of a barcode based existence, but they sure do tend to talk and dress and party all the same as each other. John Brown wasn’t just individually moved as a white person to violently resist slavery, he came from an intense American masculinity that melded with an intense church tradition that told him slavery was a sin. We are social beings, cultural beings. Our best and worst human potentials, our heroism and our villainy, unfold out of our common cultural pools. This doesn’t have to be seen as a problem. It’s just a feature of our common humanity. If we want a revolution, we must revolutionize our cultures. Revolution is cultural change.

But here is where many radical people get into a sort of chicken-and-egg debate cycle. How can you change a culture without transforming the material conditions within institutions? But how can you change institutions without changing the cultures of those within them? Round and round we go, and so many of our movements harden into positions that are either mechanically focused on institutional organizing at one end of the spectrum, or exclusively spiritual, counter-cultural, navel-gazing at the other end. Our way through these debates is the synthesis of the opposing positions. Yes, revolutionary work, at any level, is cultural—even spiritual—change. But institutions, through their accretion and solidification of social traditions and relationships, are the engines that generate culture. In fact, what makes any institution viable is its ability to create and sustain a specific pattern of social behavior—a culture. To try to change culture outside of institutional change is like continuously mopping the floor of a flooded house without ever thinking to turn the faucet off. Thus, revolutionary work is counter-cultural, even spiritual, work, but it should be grounded in the concrete realities of both existing and alternative institutions, not just diffuse culture building that lacks institutional ties.

This is why I’m so passionate about the organizational questions facing revolutionaries, and why I’m so baffled by how awkward the left is about handling them. I believe that explicitly revolutionary organizations are crucial vehicles for changing culture. They are the missing link between external organizing and internal process. However I see too many people who see them as either unnecessary, or as something for the far-off future, or as some kind of necessary evil.

I imagine the totalitarian and bureaucratic legacy of Marxism-Leninism is a major culprit in this, but I observe that leftists are hyper-wary of organizational projects—especially anything beyond single issue or campaign work. It’s like we go into the work holding our nose, or dipping our toes in, not wanting to get too close or too deep. I imagine, like my dog example, that we are worried about creating a culture which dehumanizes us, which, in the name of efficiency, strips us of what we love most about our radical selves. Certainly, building any organization carries this danger. We can become organizational robots, puppets to the mass line that so many party-builders of the past have become. But guess what: avoiding organizational questions doesn’t change that danger, it just makes the acculturation process more chaotic, informal, and implicit. Anti-organizational milieus can be just as conformist and dehumanizing. In fact, I would argue that our lack of organizations makes radicals far more vulnerable to the acculturating tendencies of the dominant culture. We just get good at hiding it when we go to parties, meetings, and fundraisers.

When we try to avoid organizational experimentation, we do avoid some dangers, but we also miss out on huge transformative opportunities. See, the institutional nature of organizations can be just as much of an asset as a liability. By institutionalizing practices that are liberatory, reflective, compassionate, inspiring, and rooted in ethics of solidarity, we have the potential to accelerate the process of cultural change way beyond what any informal scene or milieu can offer. People change faster, and more profoundly, when they are changing within a group that they are committed to, and that is committed to them.

I know this, because I’ve experienced it in quite an unlikely place: the small high school where I teach. Officially, I work for the State, in an institution that is unquestionably part of a large and problematic bureaucracy. But, damn, the intensity and quality of the collaboration that our school has been able to generate is thrilling. It’s some of the most satisfying work I’ve ever done, I relish it every day, working face to face, building a culture with people who don’t even share my politics or interests. The cohesiveness of the institution, our collective commitment to its mission, and the humanizing work structures that we’ve built allow us to build a culture that makes us better teachers, and better people. Why is it so hard for leftists to build organizations with that same dynamic?

I am optimistic about our ability to create organizations that hold radical values and visions at their core, and which institutionalize practices of both mutual aid and mutual inspiration. In fact, I don’t think it even has to be as hard as we make it. Like I said earlier, I think the left’s overemphasis on social analysis—a process of breaking society and people apart with our sharp radical scalpels—actually also makes it harder for us to come together. By relaxing a little, softening our edges a little, and just getting together to do some pretty good work around some pretty good ideas, I think we could get so far. I want to see us experimenting so much more with new organizational forms!

Sometimes simplistic identity politics are just easier than actually thinking about the realities of power and relationships. Over the years, I have been served well by facing potential conflict by just bowing, acknowledging the depth and obscenity of my privileges, and asking for readmission to the good graces of my more marginalized friends or comrades. Not manipulatively either, I’m talking genuinely believing that my privileges simply make me more wrong than people who’ve faced more violence, or trauma, or exploitation. The formula that this approach provides can ravage one’s sense of agency and self-worth, but it eases tension, and it allows one into all sorts of spaces where one would not normally be invited.

The problem is, those kinds of politics aren’t just simplistic, they are dangerous. They are patronizing and flat. The truth…god!…the truth is just so much harder and messier.

I’ve been here in Guatemala for almost two months, which is actually one of my longest consecutive stretches yet. In that time, I’ve spent nearly every moment in this same house with my family. That much time in close quarters with between 12 and 23 people? You don’t need an MTV reality show to know that things are going to get real. Pet peeves. Petty and not so petty conflicts. Days without speaking to certain people. Sulking, simmering, then later singing together. Always, at least one person is having a bad day or is feeling sick, and on a good number of days that includes me.

This is to be expected from any extended family trip, I know. Especially with in-laws. But how does one manage that when the landscape of culture and power is as freaking weird as it is in our case? What does it mean when your in-laws feel comfortable teasing you all day long, playing with you, but when they are actually angry with you, they say nothing because they know that you are their sole provider? You have the power to cut them off at any level you want, from luxuries like cable and ice cream, all the way to electricity, health care, and food. How does that not just totally screw up the authenticity of a relationship? How do I handle, at the same time, that Glendi and I have all this power and responsibility, but I also feel like I’m never allowed to say “No” to anything, because then I will be a hoarding, cheap, privileged gringo? What happens when I know I’m being lied to or manipulated, as sometimes happens?

Tonight, I crossed the line from playful family banter to being a North American ogre, and I just don’t know how to process it cleanly. I don’t usually write about details like this, but this time I feel like I was sufficiently in the wrong that it won’t embarrass or shame my family to share it. I need to write this out, and maybe it can help some others in my life have a little window into the constant, exhausting complexities of our family situation.

Here’s the story.

In rural Guatemala, the word agua doesn’t mean water. In reference to beverages, it means soda. If you want to drink actual water, you need to ask for agua pura. The Guatemalans I know almost don’t drink plain water at all—usually only after playing an intense sport or if they are sick or something. With their three meals a day, they drink sugary coffee, sugary packaged juice (like Tang or Kool-Aid), sugary soda, sugary boiled water, or a sugary corn-flour water that they make. They think plain water is a very gringo (or canche, which literally means blonde-haired) thing to enjoy. They think it tastes bad, and they often make jokes that it’s more for animals to drink than people. I know this, I’m used to this, and I’ve been fine weathering 6 years of constant comments about how weird I am for what I prefer to drink at the table. I’ve always been a big water fan.

Fine. This has been fine for years, and mostly I’ve just been fine with boiled water from the family well.

Then comes the baby, and in consideration for her baby stomach and our decision to not give our baby coffee and sugared drinks, we started buying big jugs of pure water. The whole family could access them, but the family still made constant comments that they were for the baby and also for me, because I prefer water to coffee and other sugary stuff.

Two jugs a week, supposedly only being used by a few people, because no one else even likes the stuff.

Over time, I start realizing that the two jugs are being finished in 2-3 days, with me accessing a tiny portion of the water. I’m playing basketball with the family every day, and I’m drinking almost nothing. My pee is almost always yellow, often dark yellow. Some days I’m only drinking 2 or 3 coffee mugs of water in an entire day that includes almost 2 hours of intense basketball. I can’t find water because it’s being used for juice packets, or because everyone else is drinking pure water as well.

When the water is gone, few people even mention it. They go back to their sugared coffee and sugared boiled water etc. The baby doesn’t have pure water to drink and neither do I. Not until the next delivery in 3 days, or unless we go out and buy more from the local stores.

Okay, context set—from my perspective, at least. So, here’s what happened tonight.

It was dinner, just a few hours ago. Chile Rellenos. Delicious. The family, as usual, is drinking sugared coffee. I have my bag of pure water, which we had to buy earlier today because there wasn’t any water and no one had said anything for a few days—I don’t like to be demanding here. Suddenly, I see one of the teenaged boys asking for pure water instead. At lunch, I had noted that 4 other family members had drunk from the bags of pure water along with their coffee also.

In the sarcastic, even caustic style that I see my family tends to use, I said loudly to the whole table, “Ah, I see how it is. Whenever there’s no pure water here, no one cares, no one complains, and I just go without water for days. But when we finally have water, everyone suddenly wants it. You all finish it in two days and then I don’t have any water any more!”

I was smiling. For me, this was a family nit pick, not actually something that’s a huge deal for me. My family, however, was not smiling. The teenager pushed his pure water away in a “never mind” gesture. Glendi left the table, her food untouched, and sobbed in her bedroom. One of the twins later ran to his bed—which I share with him—and cried for 20 minutes.

Glendi told me that I was bitter and yelling and that I hugely insulted her family, claiming that pure water is only good enough for the gringo and that no one else should be able to have it, not even the young ones. The twin, crying and crying, told me that if he had millions he could buy all the water he wants, but since he’s poor, only the rich, proud gringo gets to have the water.

With one side of my mouth, I apologized for hurting feelings and being insensitive. With the other side of my mouth…immediate defenses. I explained that my tone was an attempt to use the family’s sarcastic style, and that I actually was mostly just ribbing on them for what I saw as hypocrisy. I told them that of course I’d actually prefer for them to drink pure water, but if they want to, then we should buy enough for everyone, or we should boil enough, and all it would require is spending less money on powdered drinks and sugar…that it was an issue of family priorities, and pure water is only a priority when it’s in the house—for me and the baby’s consideration—and when it’s not in the house it’s not even an afterthought.

Nothing. They went to bed angry and hurt. See, I crossed a line of class and culture that is so hard to uncross. I exposed myself as privileged and as an outsider, and that’s just how it goes. Here’s what I let slip from my mind: although I am one of their sole providers, it is highly humiliating and insulting for me to ever criticize their consumption decisions, especially with the kids and especially with life-affirming and healthy things like water. I understand how they read what they did into my words, and I understand how there were so many other ways that I could have broached the subject. I also understand my reasons. It feels so messy to me.

This particular situation will clearly wash over after a few days. The family will probably whisper and gossip about it for awhile when I’m not around. It will probably make it to some circles of aunts, uncles, and in-laws. Can you believe what Jeremias said?

That’s fine with me. I think it’s important for my family to be able to be mad at me. It’s healthy and authentic. However, I wish we could talk about it more openly, rather than either speaking in sarcasm or in broad class strokes.

That’s the thing, though. How do we talk about this stuff openly? Because the need for money is so constant, because Glendi and I are always giving so much, there are so many little screw ups or moments like this, so many reminders of the one-sided nature of our situation, so many examples of how the power dynamics distort the fullness of our relationships. I don’t know how to navigate to a place where we discuss this openly and healthily. For example, why didn’t I just use my abundance of conflict resolution and even teaching skills to just directly address my frustration about water weeks ago? (seriously, I sometimes don’t know where the hell so many of skills go when I’m down here!)

So hard, so sad, so confusing. And I just end up feeling really bad about myself, while still also feeling unheard.

I wish I knew more people with these same unique family dynamics, but I still haven’t had much luck. I could really use more people to talk to about this.

Writing Update and More Than We Imagined…

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been writing every day but, with the exception of a few spontaneous poems, little of it has been showing up on this blog. That’s because I’m finally earnestly putting my energy into a couple of bigger writing projects that have me really excited. I’ve been preferring to keep my head down, working quietly until these pieces are further along.

One of the pieces that’s really pushing me is an attempt to develop a more sophisticated and articulate synthesis of some of my favorite ideas about revolutionary strategy and organization. I’ve been thinking and writing about these topics for years, and I’ve never attempted to publish or even share any of that writing beyond this page—which has an average of just 16 readers! Now I’m ready to change that, as hard as it feels sometimes.

One thing that has been encouraging to me in the last couple of weeks is the recent report, “More Than We Imagined” by a grassroots research/listening project called the Ear to the Ground Project. The authors of this slick report interviewed more than 150 committed activists about the state of the movement, and what the authors have to share is quite encouraging. You should read it. It’s a pretty quick read.

There’s a lot to process in the report, but here are just two things that stood out to me:

1) This report provides a little window into just how much the U.S. radical left has matured in its ability to handle complexity, diversity, and disagreement. For far too long, I believe that the left the world over has been pinned to the ground by a certain antagonistic and polemical style of idea-building that has its roots in the cantankerous personalities of Marx and Lenin. That approach to disagreement has done significant damage to our ability to build a meaningful movement of movements, and it’s something that we don’t talk about enough. One of the many things that I really appreciated about David Gilbert’s memoir of the Weather Underground Organization, Love and Struggle, was that he explicitly named this phenomenon for the problem it is. However, this report shows a healthy, optimistic, and cooperative orientation that is becoming increasingly common on the left.

On page 20, the authors even state, “We originally planned to map out various ‘camps’ to show the central debates within participants’ responses; however, distinct camps did not emerge. Instead there was a high level of consensus. This was a surprise to us. This is not to say there are not differences, but the differences arose in degrees of emphasis rather than outright disagreement.”

This is extra good news because my read of the report is that it skews pretty clearly to the post New Communist Marxist side of the left—especially toward a particular tendency of activist-of-color-led Marxism-Leninism that has brought us a ton of the current campaign and base-building formations we see across the country. To see that the U.S’s most dynamic and powerful Marxist tendencies are demonstrating this kind of dialogical style is great for the entire U.S. left and it should really be acknowledged as a milemarker toward a more sustainable revolutionary current in this country.

2) When asked to identify movement weaknesses and challenges, respondents said:

    -60% said that our current organizational forms are insufficient.
    -50% said the movement is fragmented.
    -33% said that our movement and organizations are not “at scale.”
    -33% said we lack a clear, inspiring vision of the world we are fighting for.
    -32% said that our grassroots organizing and activism lacks a shared long-term strategy.
    -30% of participants said that the culture of the social justice movement is too negative,
    and reproduces destructive practices we’ve learned from the broader society.
    -25% of participants said that the disproportionate power of foundations and donors in the 501(c)(3) system is harmful to movement building efforts.
    -15% of participants said there is a lack of investment in grassroots organizing in key communities and sectors—namely in the South, in African American communities and in rural areas.

The authors also point to four problematic dynamics related to building a better movement culture:

    -Self-marginalization and “localism,” or thinking too small
    -Racist and patriarchal practices within the movement
    -The movement does not act like we plan to win lasting and fundamental change in our communities, workplaces or the world
    -We have an inability to have healthy dialogue, debate and disagreement

While it’s always tough to hear a list of problems and challenges, I find these observations highly validating. I think participants in this research project really are highlighting some key difficulties that we face, and I think so many of these problems are interrelated. As I am arguing in my upcoming piece about organization and strategy, I believe that issues of resources, political culture, self-marginalization, lack of “revolutionary confidence,” and fragmentation actually have a lot to do with the first problem mentioned—our lack of experience and experimentation with more dynamic and open organizational forms. I think the organization question, which really unfolds into a bigger question of our daily movement practices, has so many things to offer us on all these counts—if we are willing to go beyond the old ground of party-building, non-profits, cadre groups, and collectives.

I’m running out of internet time, so that’s all for now, but I’m so excited about writing, reading, and thinking these days!

Poems for When You’re Older #3

August 2013, 14 Months Old

Here in the Caserio, they keep thinking you’re a boy.
After the correction, always the short pause,
then the question,
“Why no earrings?”

My love, forgive me,
but how could I welcome you here,
with a ritual so full of metaphor
for so many things to come?

To hold your head in my palm as I sing,
those same songs that help you sleep,
while another hand
quietly rubs the ice that numbs you.
To leverage this smile and soft voice that you know,
as the needle tears through.
To see you scream, as I pat and coo,
as this thing
that has nothing to do with who you are,
or who you could be,
this thing that was mined and made
by hands we will never know,
becomes a part of you.

This thing they will know even before your name.

Almost there, almost complete.
Here, just a little clasp
to keep your body
from pushing it away.
And here, babe,
just some dabs of alcohol,
because this thing is want to bring infection.
But after a few days, look!
All better. So pretty.
Your skin has grown
around the thing.
Adapted to the lifeless and cold.
As if it were natural.

It isn’t.

My love, forgive me,
but I figured that this world
will try enough enough on its own
to stab you,
puncture you,
and tell you that’s who you are.
I didn’t think it was a father’s job
to help it along.

Robert Frost, Meet Karl Marx…

All well-worn trails radiate calmness,
where so many boots, and shoes, and sandals,
paws, galoshes, and fleshy summer toes,
have worked the earth down into rounded edges,
like the dulling of a knife.
The line is almost fuzzy, out of focus,
between the smooth and clean undulations
of brown clay
and the unkempt edges of grass, forest, jungle.
It suggests an unspoken collective contract
between thousands,
that by asynchronously walking this same ground,
–you earlier, and me right now–
all those messy things might be held back,
kept in their place.

These are the properties that trails have.
They are social relationships, set in slow motion.

And just as the same path
can hold its rough, yet unmistakable integrity
as it grazes green fields,
then cuts deserts,
dips into seasonal creeks,
or polishes down the jagged rocks from other years’ avalanches,
it can bring the same familiarity
to fashion and fad,
to rituals of control.
To horror. To loss.
Just as the disparaging dinner table remark,
the offhand comment about your body,
is easier to take when it’s not the first,
so is each bloody sidewalk,
diabetic death,
wad of safety money rolled into newspapers,
made so much softer, even soothing,
by the rhythm of its repetition alone.

“It’s okay, my friend,”
the trail always whispers,
“you are not the first to see this thing.
Just keep going.
I need your lone, humble tread,
to make it easier for there to be a next time.”

Party of 23…

A quick family update, by the numbers.

These days, there are 23 of us in Glendi and I’s orbit of family responsibility:

    -Glendi, me, and Amanecer (3)
    -Mariana (19), Ivan (16), Josue (14), Juan Jose and Jose Juan (both 10)
    -Isabel (22) and her husband, Oswaldo
    -Walter (23), his partner Gaby (23), and their newborn, Mario David (4 months)
    -Mario (26), his wife Estefany (20), and their daughter, Genesis (4)
    -Ines (37), her husband Oswaldo (40?), and their children Celeste (17), Anavi (15), Alan (12), Pamela (10), and Melany (5)

We are the complete providers for 12 of these people, and we have regular backup responsibilities for the other 11–especially regarding emergency expenses and healthcare.

In the last two years, we have lost two immediate family members–Glendi’s parents–and we have gained two babies and two new spouses/partners.

In the last year alone, beyond the health crises and deaths of Glendi’s parents, we have struggled to help our family with:

    -Adopting the four youngest siblings so they can eventually live in the U.S. with us
    -Two lay-offs and chronic unemployment
    -Violent extortion for multiple thousands of dollars (twice)
    -Robbery at knifepoint in a bus
    -A piece of rebar through a kid’s foot
    -A piece of corrugated metal stuck in a scalp (that was me!)
    -Scarlet fever
    -Life-threatening post-childbirth sepsis
    -Multiple staph infections (potentially MRSE?)
    -Ongoing type-2 diabetes
    -Stage 1 uterine cancer
    -Potentially hereditary liver problems causing systemic allergic reactions

Since I joined the family in 2007, and with the tremendous help from so many great friends and family members, our positive material impact has included:

    -Building 1 1/2 new houses on the family property
    -Building a store that ran for a year
    -Buying two used cars (the first of which was stolen at the hospital), for safer and cheaper family transport
    -Buying a motorcycle for Glendi’s brother to commute with
    -Getting internet into the house
    -Building the family’s first septic tank, shower, and two toilets (thanks to all who donated!)
    -Buying two additional plots of land for agricultural produce and our eventual school
    -Getting two family members graduated from secondary school, and one into college so far!

Sometimes it’s so easy to get lost in the details from week to week that I forget just how much we’ve done together, how much we’ve been through. Sure, a lot of this stuff is painful, but it’s all punctuated with so many hilarious and loving moments. I feel so honored and fortunate to be a part of this family, and to be able to help in the ways that I am able…which is never enough.

At around the same time that I read the news of George Zimmerman’s acquittal, 4 people were shot just up the road from the house here in Guatemala, as they were commuting in the same truck that Glendi’s siblings usually take to go pick coffee. A 7 year-old girl and her 16 year-old brother died in their mother’s arms. A man who was shot in the groin ended up losing both of his legs. If Zimmerman’s trial sent the message that black lives don’t matter—which it did—then what of these campesinos, whose deaths will not even lead to an arrest?

There is a connection here, between what is happening in Guatemala and what happened to Trayvon Martin in Florida—which itself is just a brutal extension of the profiling and violence that youth of color face across the United States. There are layers of lessons here, but to see them all we have to go beyond the easy conclusions about race and fear. We have to be willing to step beyond simple liberal outrage and even self-identification with Zimmerman’s fears of black masculinity. Of course, there is truth at that level, but if we want to just wallow there we might as well just loop Ludacris’ scenes from the movie Crash over and over on top of the cable news coverage and we’ll have all the in-depth analysis we need. People across our planet have been taught to fear black people. Yes, it’s absolutely true. I am absolutely included. But that is not all this is about.

What Zimmerman did wasn’t just the tragic overreaction of a scared and damaged man, and his acquittal wasn’t just a lone aberration of justice. Zimmerman’s trial was a personalized example of a deep yet unspoken U.S. doctrine: that disproportionate and deadly force is entirely justified in order to defend American comfort from even the slightest rumblings of The Other. Trayvon Martin was an outsider in a gated community, and he made Zimmerman uncomfortable. When Zimmerman acted on that racist discomfort and confronted Martin, Martin did what no Other is allowed to do, he responded naturally with appropriate defensiveness to a threatening and abusive person. That is, Martin stepped out of his place, and Florida law gave Zimmerman the legal right to defend himself—which is to say, defend his sense of entitlement and comfort—and he killed Martin right there.

Those of us North Americans who live comfortably in our privileges find it easy to shake our heads and pout our lips. We can cry for Trayvon and we can wear black solidarity hoodies. We can wring our hands and acknowledge the fearful Zimmerman that lives in all of us. I personally have no qualms with these responses. I must and will acknowledge my own racism and my place in propping up such a racist order. But let’s be real. What Zimmerman thought he was doing for his neighborhood is basically what happens each time our country sends out a drone strike, sponsors a coup, or authorizes an ICE raid. Self-defense. Standing our ground. The comfort levels of those that matter must be defended, at all costs to The Other.

What Zimmerman did was scarcely different from what the powerful have continued to do to Guatemala since well before 1954: strike out at even the slightest sign of justified self-defense with completely disproportionate brutality. The consequence of Zimmerman’s actions and acquittal is a U.S. environment where the lesser value–the Otherness–of black people’s lives has been re-affirmed, even by legal institutions. The simmering consequence of these same dynamics in Guatemala is that Glendi’s friends, neighbors, family members all have been touched by countless deaths that no one outside of these communities even cares about. They are just another permanent Other on the world stage. They pick our coffee and our bananas, but they are easily replaced.

If there is any truth to the connections that I’m making, then any calls for post-trial racial healing and introspection ring hollow without a far deeper soul-searching. If we are so interested in healing, are we willing to relinquish our comforts so that we can take our bloody boot off the necks of half the planet? Are we willing to stand down our drones and our bases and militarized police forces?

No? Am I being too extreme, too rhetorical? Then how convenient, and how useless so much chatter about one trial in Florida.

Stand still,
Let me scrub that brackish line
Where something rose and then receded.

-The Weakerthans, “Watermark”

Sometimes it’s almost comforting how predictable my patterns of self-sabotage are. Just as I’m gearing up to not only write more, but also to pursue avenues towards polishing and publishing my writing, the voice steps in and tells me, “Jeremy, there is nothing new under the sun, and even if there were, it sure as hell won’t be coming from you. Sit down and shut up.” They are some damn strong psychological shackles. Damn strong. Looked at with a little bit of distance, it’s actually breathtaking how intently, how systematically that voice scrambles to pull out every possible piece of evidence to shut me down.

    There is a prison strike in California happening right now, Jeremy. There is more revolution happening in Egypt. It’s history in the making. You aren’t doing shit about it, so anything you have to say about anything is clearly coming from the sidelines. Come back when you’re actually in the game.

    Jeremy, do you see all these other articles and blog posts you are reading? You see those little numbers that are strewn all over the place? Those are called footnotes—and you don’t ever use them because you are a fucking wannabe who just spouts stuff from the top of your head with no grounding in any real discourse.

    Jeremy, don’t you see the thirteen, fourteen, twenty-six errors that you’ve made down here in Guatemala today alone? Who are you to have anything to say about justice, equality, change? You can’t even maintain a great conversation at the family breakfast table.

    Really, my friend? You are going to write about how relationships are key to movement building? Ha! Let’s have a look at your own scattered husks of starved and roach-infested friendships, the zero birthdays you remember on Facebook, the trail of forgotten promises.

I don’t know why this voice hates me so much. I don’t know what I did to deserve its rancor, its unremitting bile. I try to be grounded, I try to remind myself of all the other people who share their writing, warts and all, and to recognize that they are doing just fine after the fact. Almost robotically, I chant through all the reasons why I think I am good, am worthy, do have something to contribute. This voice doesn’t give a shit. This voice knows all the ways to rip apart any rational argument I might have.

A little while ago, I read a book called the War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield. It’s got quite a following, and that’s because it’s like this nice, compact Art of War aimed at that little voice. Pressfield calls that little voice “Resistance.” Here’s a sample of what he says about it:

    Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.

A little later…

    Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man. Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned.

Although one reading of Pressfield can basically feel like “Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps: The Book,” through a more flexible, politicized lens–with a conceptual toolbox for things like internalized oppression–the War of Art felt like the feminist “click” that many women describe as an experience during the women’s liberation movement—the realization that your reality is not just yours. It’s shared. It’s collective. Could other people have this voice, with this intensity? Could it be that I’m not alone in this self-hatred?

I feel buoyed for a spell. I feel held. I take another dozen steps forward. I have 5 separate drafts for 4 different posts, plus a grant application for a larger project, all right here on my computer desktop. I hook up the little 3g wireless modem we have here, use our little bit of data left on it to read a few more articles on other blogs—damn you, Miami Autonomy and Solidarity for being so damned awesome—and then the voice winds right back up.

This is one of the hardest parts, something that I’ve also been noticing in other readings like David Gilbert’s striking reflections about ego in his incredible memoir, Love and Struggle: this voice turns the people and places that should feel like comrades, the highest sources of inspiration, and it turns them into the most threatening enemies.

I feel so lonely so often, so surrounded by critics waiting to take a bite out of me. Even here in Guatemala, where the urgent reality of both my privileges and my opportunities, where my actually quantifiable impact on 22 other people’s lives, is constantly impressed on me, I become so tempted to just give up. Pick up your 3DS and play some more Mario, Jeremy. There’s nothing to see here. Revolutionary work is too hard.

Tonight, right now at 2am, at least, I chose to turn on this computer instead.

If you are going to keep attacking me, you ugly and brash and overhyped broken record of a voice, then I’m going to at least expose you. The very least I can do is call you out into the open and see how you will do in the sunlight. You aren’t me. I’m not that mean, I’m much too loving to have produced you. So, go now, back out into the world where you came from.

This little light of mine…I’m going to let it shine.

The old era.

Behold the revolution. Goose included.

The day that I finish writing a piece about how difficult it is when people have different ideas and intentions about winning, this awkwardness happens:

Here in Guatemala, the whole family is gathered in the living room after enjoying some amazing homemade tacos. All 23 of us are crowded there, laughing and gossiping. The twins are finishing up a game with the chess board that we gave them and I taught them how to play. Somehow the talk gets around that my brother-in-law–a 40-something manager of a large coffee finca–knows how to play chess. He confirms it, and I’m excited! Usually, the rural Guatemalans I’ve met are wicked skilled at checkers, but don’t know chess.

The family starts rallying us to face off each against each other. They set the board up in the middle of the room. Some of the boys start taking bets. Who’s gonna win? “It’s a battle of the minds,” one of my sisters-in-law says.

The tension is high, the whole family is staring. I make my first move, a pawn two spaces forward. He concentrates. Moves his pawn…diagonally?

I pause. The twins–who have been enforcing the correct movement rules on each other for days in order to get them memorized–look at me with their heads cocked. What’s going on? I ask him how his understanding of chess’ rules allows him to move like that. He giggles and takes the move back. Honest mistake.

Except it continues. Knights moving diagonally. Pieces double-jumping other pieces. Even pieces capturing my pieces from halfway across the board.

He’s playing checkers with the chess pieces…at least some variant of checkers.

I don’t know what to do. There is a growing history here of Glendi and I having to step in and help their family make ends meet–helping cover debts, pay for hospital visits, bringing gifts that he can’t afford to give his kids. There’s embarrassment there about needing so much help, as a man responsible for his family.

He claimed proudly that he knew chess. I really don’t want to embarrass him right now, with all his kids watching, betting, cheering–to pause and explain how each piece is supposed to move, or to tell him he’s playing a totally different game. Instead, we awkwardly play this hybrid monstrosity, chesskers. And before it get’s too painful to figure out what winning actually means, I choose to make a series of silly moves and then resign with the shake of his hand. The family won’t let me live it down. “You got beaten!” “Our dad crushed you!” Later, the twins whisper, “That wasn’t actually chess, was it?”

What was I supposed to do? Usually I prefer being blunt in the face of cultural misunderstandings like this, but when it’s so built up, so tied up in being about our intelligence and level of education, and when there is already a touchy power-dynamic developing given our roles in the world, I didn’t know what else to do. Letting him win and letting them chide seemed like the best of all the awkward options.

Guatemala and its abundance of muses…

Finally, I get the greatest perk of being a teacher: my summer break. One of the biggest factors in choosing to teach was the 2-3 months I would get each year to be with family, and it feels so good to make good on it. I get to be in Guatemala for a whole two months, with Glendi, Amanecer, and the other 21 members of our family down here!

As is usual, the emotional turbulence of being here–the culture shock, the intimacy of both joy and conflict, the constant discomfort that comes with being a privileged person having to share in poverty, the exhaustion of always thinking in Spanish–are giving me plenty of things that I want to write about, starting with the things I already mentioned in a previous post. Of course, internet access is spotty, but I’ve been reading every day and writing in my notebook, so hopefully some stuff will make it to this site soon enough.

In the mean time, people are mostly okay down here–though we have some more chronic health problems looming–the baby loves it here and is almost walking, and, for me, the first week is always the hardest but I feel like my grumpy attitude is turning around.

Looking forward to a summer that is both intense and refereshing!

Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s Glendi’s birthday present to me of time to reflect in Vancouver, BC. Maybe it’s that my first year of teaching is coming to a successful end. Maybe it’s the inspiration of my friends and colleagues. Maybe I’m even starting to heal from some of my past pain. Certainly, some of it is the strength and beauty of my baby.

Whatever it is, I’ve been on a roll in May, reading, writing, and building community with energy and good spirits. I’ve actually hung out with 3 different friends this week, and I’ve gone to the radical coffeeshop twice on my own as well!

I feel so good.

As usual, once my brain gets going, it’s so fun where it takes me. I’ve got a bunch of pieces of writing and thinking that I’m working on. If you are actually reading this, here are some things that you might hopefully look forward to:

  • A review of Chris Crass’ Towards Collective Liberation
  • Campaigns are the New Black…Bloc: The Strategic Dangers of ‘Non-Reformist’ Reformism
  • Trolls, Feeders, and Button-Mashers: What Competitive Gaming Can Tell Us About Unhelpful Anti-Authoritarian Tendencies
  • A response to Andrew Flood’s piece, “Revolutionary Organization in the Age of Networked Individualism”
  • Some Lessons I’ve Learned From My Past Revolutionary Organizations…part 3
  • Sucking Out the Poison: How My Daughter Is Saving Me From Destructive Masculinity

    I’ve also re-read pretty much all the major pieces on this site, and I’m making plans to select and polish at least one for publication over the summer in Guatemala…which tends to be my most intellectually productive time of the year.

    What I don’t write about…

    I don’t write about teaching, my students, and my job, because that’s gotten me into trouble before. If I did, I’d have so many dozens of stories, analyses, and questions to share. I know that I’m only ready to write about that stuff here when I have sufficiently processed and synthesized it all to a more abstract and general conceptual level. Then, and only then, will I really get into it on this page. But oh my, I have learned so many things about teaching, schools, and social change in this year.

    I don’t write too much about the ups and downs of my marriage, and related issues of masculinity in relationships, because I don’t quite trust the audience. I think there are still a few people out there who doubt my relationship or who would be a little too satisfied to take in that vulnerability, and even imagining that deters me from sharing (if you imagine that I’m talking about you, you’re actually probably wrong). I wish I could, though, because long-time relationships offer amazing food for thought…and I am disturbed by the power of gendered divisions of labor in my life.

    I don’t write about my family very much, because that’s family business and it needs to be handled there first. If I don’t have the strength or energy to bring my analysis up directly with them, then I’m not going to share it with the world here first.

    I don’t write about sexual assault and community accountability in activist communities, even though it’s been a huge part of my work in activism, and I think about it quite a bit. I don’t talk about it because that topic–in my view–is the number one way to destabilize movements and I don’t take that lightly, so I prefer to keep those conversations face-to-face. However, my close people know that I have A LOT to say about it.

    I don’t write about all the ways I screw up with my family in Guatemala because it shames and embarrasses me…which is probably why it’s time to write about it.

    I don’t write about topic __________ because I just am not making the time I should for it.

    I have pretty much one parenting skill in which I can say I’m better than Glendi: putting Amanecer to sleep. My tactic–beyond the basic ingredient of love and tranquility–is singing…mostly just whatever songs from my childhood.

    However, sometimes I just can’t bring myself to sing the original versions of those songs, so I retool them to match my values a bit more. A favorite example:

    Silent night, hopeful night,
    All is calm, the future is bright.
    Proud young anarchist father and child,
    Precocious infant, tender, yet wild.
    Dreaming of justice and peace,
    Working for justice and peace.

    In this together…

    I get home weary, with shoulders slumped. My movements to the front door fluctuate between shuffle and ooze. Dazed, blank, I turn the key and step into the living room and, each time, it’s such a warm and energetic shock what I see.

    Each time, for about the last month or so, I get to enter the house and see my daughter’s masterwork. I get to see the joyful product of her newest, most dedicated hobby.

    You see, my daughter is a radical librarian. And a damned systematic one, at that.

    Pretty much each morning, afternoon, and evening, she race crawls into the living room, grips our bookshelf and lifts herself up, then proceeds to pull my books from their homes one, by one, by one. We put them back, she crawls back and does her work again. She will not be deterred.

    —-

    I think about those books today, and their soggy corners from all the chewing and slobber…and I can’t stop thinking about the news.

    Guatemala. The historic, heroic trial of the dictator Efrian Rios Montt–the architect of the worst of the Guatemalan genocides in 1982-3. Just before damning testimony will be shared about the current president, Otto Perez Molina, and his involvement in the genocides as a young officer…the trial is annulled. There is video of those days, when his code name was Major Tito. He is standing over the bodies of some radical peasants. Their skin is dark brown, like Glendi’s brothers. Her dad.

    The peasants had radical books on them. Like mine. They were killed.

    Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Today. FBI agents in Hawaiian shirts are visiting activist houses. Not so subtle intimidation before May Day. They even visit Left Bank books, where so many of these books–now on the floor–once came from. Where so many times I thought about which titles would be most useful for building a revolution.

    All the death and all the fear of so many generations who have struggled for a different world than this one. So many legacies are in those pages, now squeezed between those craggy, tooth-pocked gums of my baby. How many people have had to hide, or burn, or justify their possession of those books I come home to? How many comrades in danger, or shock, just because they happen to be more active than I am?

    If, one day, my daughter chooses to agree with what those books are about? And she chooses to act?

    Will she be safe?

    Will she remain undeterred?

    1)

    2)Dispersing Power: Social Movements as Anti-State Forces by Raul Zibechi. This is the first non escapist sci-fi book I’ve read in awhile. It’s awesome. It explores how social movements in El Alto, Bolivia have been able to maintain such militant and prolonged mobilization that has transformed the politics of their country–while still refusing to be co-opted by the state. His central argument is that the movements are not separated from daily life, but rather completely enmeshed in people’s whole lives–it’s this community and relational aspect that gives the movements their potency. Yes. Lot’s of lessons for us in there, which I’d like to talk about when finished. I’d highly recommend this book for book groups to read and discuss.

    3) I’ve come back to pre-writing for a novel I’ve been working on for awhile. A long walk around Vancouver was perfect for my inspiration, as I worked through some long-standing story blocks. I don’t want to talk about it much, but the inspiration is that I love fantasy and sci-fi novels that build deep and convincing worlds–Middle Earth, Game of Thrones, China Mieville’s cities. I believe that a revolutionary and post-revolutionary world could offer similarly exotic and escapist settings, and I’m disappointed in radical fiction writers because they always hover around the moments of insurrection, but they don’t describe the world to be built afterwards. I don’t mean utopia, but what actually would be there afterwards. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed is a great exception, but I wish there were more. So, that’s what I’m playing with.

    So, I fell off the world again….

    Glendi knows me so well! For my birthday on Wednesday, she gave me a quite unexpected gift: a 3-day trip to be alone with my thoughts in Vancouver, BC. Here I am, beginning the 3rd day, and it’s no coincidence that I’m coming back to my blog–and clearing out the copious amounts of spam comments–during this special time alone. Something still isn’t quite working in my daily life.

    Here I was in December and January, reading, writing, eating with people, balancing my workload and my social anxiety all quite well. Then, pretty much exactly when Glendi and the baby came home from Guatemala, the old patterns crept in. It’s not them. It’s me and my introversion.

    Introversion is not shyness. It’s a shorthand way of talking about where our energy comes from. My energy comes from having ample time alone–first to decompress from exhaustion and any person struggles, then to ease into more creative and inspired work. I like being around people, and I love my time with Glendi and Amanecer. But social interaction, even with them, drains me. When we are all in the house, I don’t know where to find my energy. I only know how to energize myself when I have hours and hours laid out before me. When I have to find my alone time in scraps of 30 or 45 minutes here or there, I get cranky and then just fill that time with electronic mind-mushing. In this way, I have frittered away 3 months since last writing. I’ve read almost nothing, I’ve talked with very few people beyond my family and co-workers, and I haven’t been to a single political event.

    Don’t get all mopey and down on yourself. Just acknowledge it, take responsibility, and move forward.

    I just reread my Backwards Planning for the Revolution. Yes, I am so happy that at least I wrote myself a really practical guide for how to get out of the funk and try again. The goals and ideas still make sense to me. What I wrote still speaks to where I want to be. But I need to readjust to 3 realities:

    1) I need to more realistically understand a father’s time limitations. I will not have more than a few 1+ hour stretches of free time. Free time is there; hours and hours of it. But it’s all chopped and chunked up into 10-20 minute moments. I grumpily cast this off as lost time and waste it. I need to become a scavenger and salvager. I want to try positively embracing and playing with these fragments of alone time.

    2) I need to own up to my exhaustion. When I am teaching, I feel energized. When I get home, I am drained. I’m only sleeping 6-7 hours a night, so I’m physically tired also. It’s silly to have high creative expectations of myself in the weekday afternoons when I’ve spent so much creative energy trying to teach well. As I get more practiced at teaching, this might change, but for now it’s just plain true that I don’t have that much mind or social power left after work. Do I just designate my weeknights as recuperation time, then? Not quite. I just need to prioritize work that will also be restful–low stakes social stuff, lighter reading, lighter writing.

    3) My social anxiety is more debilitating than I want to admit. Intellectually, I can recognize and rationalize around it, but the truth of my daily life is that I live in a constant white noise of anxiety about email, mail, and phone messages. It takes me days to find the courage to go through my email and phone messages, even just to delete unwanted stuff. The longer I wait, the worse it is. I feel like I’m currently standing underneath a tidal wave of correspondence that I owe to so many people…but then I think that they all must be so disappointed in me…so I can’t contact them…so maybe another day…and so it goes.

    See, these three realities work in wicked concert together. Because it takes so much strength and energy to face my social correspondence, I never feel like I can do it with just a 10 minute fragment of time. So I spend those 10-20 minutes trying to find escapes to avoid thinking about the mounting social anxiety. I play and consume. This is my cycle. This is how I self-medicate and what I’m self-medicating for.

    If I’m going to accomplish my goals, healing from my anxiety and pain need to be priorities for me. I need friends again. If not, then I need a therapist.

    Zero Dark Thirty…

    I was surprised by how upset I was after seeing Zero Dark Thirty, the new film about the search for and killing of Usama Bin Laden. The movie immediately reminded me of The Battle of Algiers, in that it shows glimpses of the logic and cold brutality that imperial powers employ to get their way. Throughout, I kept widening my eyes, telling myself, “Watch this, Jeremy, this is what your government does in your name.” It’s like a textbook example of how the colonial mindset and gaze distort all notions of safety, “protecting the homeland,” and self-defense.

    While the movie certainly doesn’t show the full extent of the U.S.’s crushing role in the Muslim world post 9-11–where are the drone strikes leveling villages, the special forces in Afghanistan collecting human ears?–the grand sense of entitlement to violence and victory shows in the scenes of torture; in the amoral, almost non-chalant attack on Bin Laden’s compound; and the numerous rapid-fire, paranoid and Islamophobic scenes of brown Pakistani faces–which brown face in the market is the terrorist? It could be this one…it could be this one…maybe this exotic and dangerous looking woman in hijab. I still think Argo wins this year’s prize for Islamophobic rapid-fire shots of dangerous and mysterious looking Muslim crowds…but still, this movie comes close

    I don’t have anything too novel to say about the movie, but I do want to talk about one more thing. Watching it, especially the numerous scenes of torture, I couldn’t help but think of Guatemala in the 1970’s and 80’s. As Greg Grandin’s The Empire’s Workshop tells us, many of the practices that the CIA still uses now were tested and evolved in their brutal counter-insurgency work in Latin America. And the policies were generated by many of the same neo-cons who got started back with Reagan and who then continued with Bush. As I watched the movies, I imagined all the people who look like Glendi and her family–the peasant leaders, indigenous guerrillas, socially conscious Catholic organizers, and brave college students–who had their hands strung up in the same way, who had their mouths filled with the same wet clothes…who were broken and humiliated by that same cold, brutal logic. It is not okay, what is done to protect us here in our privileges. It’s not okay with me at all.

    Fighting Over the Crumbs…

    Snapshots of internalized class warfare in Colomba Costa Cuca, Guatemala:

      -In August, when I was last in Guatemala, a 13-year old classmate of my brother-in-law’s was kidnapped when gang members tried to take his dad’s motorcycle. 3 days later, his body was found in a creek in a whole other state of Guatemala. His arms were cut off, he was decapitated, scalped, and his jaw was cut from his skull.

      -Around that same time, my oldest brother-in-law, the head bookkeeper and supervisor at a large coffee finca, started getting phone calls from extortionists threatening his family. He changed his number. Two months later, a group of men were waiting for him as he left a bank nearby. They put a pistol to his back and told him that they hadn’t been playing around on the phone. I don’t know how he found the–what was it?–$4,000, but he did pay them. He had been too scared to tell anyone, so he didn’t ask Glendi or I for the money. We only found out because his wife found a bank receipt in his pants.

      -During this Christmas, just up the street, gang members used the late night fireworks to cover the sounds of their gunshots as they killed a young man and dumped his body near the cemetery.

      -Today, up the street at a streetside cell-phone card stand, assailants beat the clerk and stole about $1,500.

      -Last week, when my family went up to our school land where there is coffee growing, people had already stolen most of the coffee beans for themselves. You can forget about the bananas…they always are stealing our bananas.

      -Almost every night, we have to listen outside to make sure no one will sneak in to the back yard and steal our New Year’s turkey. It’s happened plenty of times before.

      -Oh, I didn’t even mention last summer, when I personally was stuffing bundles of $2,000+ cash into a red bag in order to pay off some mysterious people threatening Glendi’s sister….that’s a much longer story there.

    Hooray for another round of backwards planning, this time for my own political work! I tried to make the scale reasonable, so I’m giving myself a year to figure things out as I move toward my final outcomes. That kind of makes this a new years resolution. Kind of cute that way.

    One thing I noticed from last time is that I missed a whole category: pre-assessment. That is where you acknowledge where things currently stand, so that your planning actually starts in a grounded way. I added that section into the plan. So, let’s go.

    1) Final Outcome: What do I want to be contributing to the movement by the end of 2013?

      -I am a proud and excited member of some kind of organized political formation—ideally a mass-based organization. This organization is energetically building movement infrastructure and is capable of efficiently utilizing people’s contributions at varied levels of intensity.

      -I am involved in at least one organized group or campaign that leverages my position as a teacher to support youth, family, and community base-building in South King County.

      -I am helping to build a cultural dual power by contributing my ideas in workshops, published writing, and some forms of electronic media. I have at least playtested one of my revolutionary board game designs.

      -In writing, workshops, or some other media, I have collaborated with others to distill and share lessons we’ve learned from years of organizing problems. I am able to propose and advocate for practical solutions to various problems that political groups face.

      -Glendi and I have expanded our Guatemalan holistic school project into a full non-profit fundraising project, so that we can raise money at the scale we need to make it happen.

      -While there are natural ebbs and flows, my activity is more or less stable throughout the year, and is balanced with my commitments to family, friends, work, and self-care.

    2) Pre-Assessment: What are my current contributions, capacities, and challenges related to these outcomes?

      -I’ve been re-reading this past blog and…man! Although I tend to be really insecure, I think I can safely say I’m a pretty good writer. I have a ton of rough, partial, sometimes really cool ideas that could probably be helpful if published and shared in the world.

      -But, I really do tend to be insecure. I’m ridiculously sensitive to people reading and criticizing my stuff. This will be a big challenge if I actually want to try writing or speaking for an audience. (Quick aside: Why am I not insecure at all about teaching? My principal watches me all the time, and 120 students have all sorts of mixed opinions about me every day! Yet I actually get a thrill from all that.)

      -I am also ridiculously hot and cold with my political engagement. I get hot streaks like this week, then I go months without checking emails, returning phone calls, or reading anything. Like I’ve said before, underneath that is a lot of anxiety and self-medication through escapism.

      -With my current new teacher work schedule and child care responsibilities, I have from 4pm-6pm free each evening, with weekends being a lot more free. From 6pm-8pm, I tend to be doing baby-care while Glendi works, so if I found child friendly spaces for organizing, that could give me more time. As for weekends, I fiercely guard them for Glendi, Amanecer, and I. But I think I need to flex this more.

      -Right now, with this free time, I’m spending about 2-4 hours a night either playing video games, internet window shopping, or watching TV with Glendi.

      -Our Guatemalan school project has land, and our Secret Cafe fundraisers are making enough each year to at least pay a few scholarships. The ground has been laid for more ambitious planning, fundraising, and building.

      -I know parts of South King County communities relatively well, because I’ve worked there for cumulatively almost 6 years. If I am patient and dedicated, I think I could be a true asset to grassroots base-building there.

      -I feel almost completely out of touch with current anti-authoritarian organizing in Seattle. I know folks in the Black Orchid Collective and a few in Seattle Solidarity Network, but if I don’t want to be a lone wolf type—and I don’t—then I have my relationship-building work cut out for me.

      -Because I am so out of touch with the local scene, I don’t even know if meeting my goals involves joining existing groups, or the much more exhausting work of collaborating to form new groups.

      -Further, because of my life-long tendency to want to feel distinct and special, I will have a dangerous temptation to assume that existing groups aren’t the right fit. I might be right, but I must be careful.

    3) Evidence of Success: How will I quantitatively and qualitatively know if I’ve accomplished my outcomes?

    I think my final outcomes above mostly do the trick. In backwards planning for teaching, this is where we think of what specific test questions or assignments will let us know that a student has learned what we want them to. But in planning for just myself, it’s challenging to think of evidence beyond just straight-up meeting my goals.

    Still, maybe a few things could be more specific…

      -I am a member of no more than 2-3 groups: 1) an explicitly revolutionary group, 2) a group that leverages my teaching work for South King County base-building, and 3) maybe some group related to radical parenting, mutual support, or radical gaming.

      -My email inbox is cleared out by the end of each week, with responses to all who I need to respond to. Same for my phone voicemail and snail-mail inbox. Being personally organized is critical to meeting my outcomes.

      -When I ask my family members, friends, comrades, and coworkers, their responses are relatively similar that I seem to be balancing my commitments well, and they are satisfied with my efforts.

      -In collaboration or on my own, I have published at least 3 pieces or facilitated multiple workshops that I’m proud of. After soliciting feedback, people express that my contributions are helpful.

      -Any strategic or tactical contributions I suggest are taken seriously by at least a handful of other radicals, who are able to share with me how they concretely benefited from my help.

    4) Key Milemarkers: What are key moments, accomplishments, or stages on the way to success?

      -At least privately, I am able to roughly map the political constellation of radical Seattle, and I am able to clearly identify spaces where I am excited to work, instead of feeling like I 100% need to do or start my own thing.

      -I find a group for myself!

      -I revise and publish my first piece, and then follow through by engaging with any comments or critiques without hiding in a hole for 6 months.

      -I have made it through 6 months of slow but steady political presence without dropping away too badly…which means that I’ve made it to the end of the school year as well!

      -The group related to my teacher role has its first event—hopefully by spring/summer.

      -I have my first play-date with other radical parents.

      -I have created a playable prototype of my revolutionary board game.

      -Our Guatemalan school project has a Board of Directors and we have completed our 501(c)(3) application!

      -I have political friends who I share meals with at least a couple of times a month.

    5) Daily Projects and Activities: How will I move toward my final outcomes on the day-to-day level?

      -I want to coordinate with Glendi to have guests over for meals 3 or 4 times a month. I want to really put some effort into relationship building and maintenance. Oh, how many friendships I’ve lost and squandered from simple lack of presence and care!

      -I reserve about 4 hours a week for political work outside of the house. This is meetings or hang outs. I need to push to make sure my time here is compatible with my baby-care.

      -At first, my out-of-the house time should be focused on a little political tour of spaces and groups, to get a feel for what’s happening. Additionally, I’ll want to keep a calender of events so I can prioritize events that 1) are most interesting, and 2) where I can be more useful than just another body in a room.

      -I reserve another 4-5 hours a week for writing, reading, and creative work in the house. I’d like to be reading at least one blog entry or article a day, and responding in comments 2-3 times a week.

      -I already have some prospects for some cool teaching related work, so I want to follow-up on that and see where it goes.

      -I want to create a personal wants/needs/non-negotiables list for what a political home should look like for me. Then I want to slowly and thoughtfully look for a group in Seattle. If I really don’t find one, then I need to identify individuals who I want to build a new group with.

      -Using my “Lessons Learned From…” as a starting point, I want to reach out to some other people I have in mind to create a deeper synthesis of lessons that we could share as a zine and electronic resource…maybe even a short video project?

      -I need to purge my email, mail, and voicemail. Make a list of outstanding correspondence, and then work through 2-3 of these a day until I’m caught up. From there, I should be clearing these out every couple of nights.

      -To make sure I’m doing all this stuff, I need some explicit mentor or motivator relationships. I need 1 or 2 people who will agree to support me and push me when my downs hit me. I have a list of a handful of people in mind already.

      -I keep writing in my blog. About 1 entry a week or 4 a month feels good.

      -I need to avoid feelings of perfectionism, and be prepared to scale back 1 or 2 projects if I’m getting too overwhelmed. The trick is to scale back smartly, rather than just dropping completely off the planet like I usually do. For now, I feel like really pushing my writing forward is my biggest priority, and so meetings would be the thing to scale back if I had to. I have never invested enough into my writing, and I really want that to change in 2013.

    Damn, that was fun, too. My, oh my, how good I feel to have taken the slow, deliberate, and wordy road to move myself from political stagnation and crabbiness to this inspiring plan for my work in Seattle. I am mighty excited. Now, it’s all about the implementation. I think one of my first orders of business, maybe even while I’m still in Guatemala, is to get my mentors/motivators lined up.

    As a teacher in today’s public schools, I’m tasked with supporting 100% of my students to meet certain learning goals, and then proving that learning with evidence from student work and activity. There are plenty of political reasons to critique how this plays out in schools, but that’s for another time. A positive that comes from this is that it forces us teachers to think about overwhelming and seemingly impossible educational expectations, and then creatively plan how to accomplish those expectations for our entire, diverse population of students.

    This need for planning in the face of seemingly impossible odds is exactly where anti-authoritarians find ourselves, and so I think the teacher practice of backwards planning can be quite useful for revolutionary folks.

    Here, I’m going to try an initial draft of backwards planning, by creating a plan for the big-picture revolution. It’s what I personally imagine for a winning anti-authoritarian movement. This draft is mostly just to have fun and get the hang of this, so that my second draft can be a more intimate, individual, and concrete backwards plan for my personal political work.

    Here’s what I’m trying: I’m going to sketch a rough backwards plan of what I think the anti-authoritarian movement needs to accomplish to be at the point where it could pull off a successful revolution in the U.S. It’s not a plan for the post-revolutionary society, nor is it a plan for the specific tipping point of transformation (general strike, insurrection, a magically transformational electoral victory, ecological crisis, or defense against an enemy attack that then becomes a revolutionary moment, etc.). It’s a plan for the prerequisites that we need to have so that we can win when a tipping point opportunity shows up.

    1) Final Outcome: What do we want the movement to be able to do?

      -At least 1/3 of the U.S. population (about 100 million people) supports and participates in the anti-authoritarian movement; another 1/3 is neutral or sympathetic but skeptical; the other 1/3 may be hostile.

      -We have built a cultural dual-power that provides diverse, rich, and daily whole-life programming at a mass level. This dual-power has made special effort to reach and engage with armed forces personnel stationed across the globe.

      -We have built sustainable, practiced organs for directly-democratic decision-making and the accountable execution of those decisions at workplace, neighborhood, and school levels.

      -We have built an active network of millions of people (let’s say 10,000,000) who can mobilize and use a wide variety of direct action tactics (read: not protest, but direct action) to defend the movement or push the movement forward.

      -Our sources of strength are sufficiently balanced across rural and urban areas and key industries that we could generate the resources to sustain ourselves even if the rest of the world and the country boycotted us post-revolution.

    2) Evidence of Success: How will we quantitatively and qualitatively know when the movement has achieved our outcome?

      -In polls and surveys, at least 1/3 show support or sympathy with the anti-authoritarian movement…not just our values, but the movement itself.

      -At least, say, 30 million people have actually signed on to some kind of 1-2 page statement of revolutionary vision or purpose.

      -When asked, 100 million people have at least 1 daily contact point with the anti-authoritarian movement, be it participation in an assembly, accessing anti-authoritarian media, utilizing anti-authoritarian consumer options, or having daily contact with an organizer who they respect.

      -The movement has at least 20-30 highly successful examples of workplace, neighborhood, and school direct democracy, with at least 1,000 more that are at least in embryonic form. If we have at least those good examples, their model can spread fast in a more heated revolutionary situation.

      -On any given week, at least 1-2 million people are engaging in some kind of direct action across the country…and on following weeks, we see a different 1-2 million mobilizing. At least 1/3 of these mobilizations are in rural areas.

      -At least 30,000,000 people have participated in a strike, boycott, or walkout within, say, a year-long period of time.

      -There are GI coffeeshops and alternative institutions established near almost all military bases. If you can’t tell, I think the distinct nature and cultural hegemony of the U.S. military is a unique challenge for U.S. revolutionaries.

    3) Key Milemarkers: What are some of important stages or accomplishments on the road to our outcomes?

      -A majority of the most serious, dedicated, and principled anti-authoritarian forces (I don’t give a shit about the adventurists and wing-nuts) have signed on to a 1-2 page statement of unity, which is a foundation for their organizing and outreach. The number of signers goes from 500, to 1,000, to 10,000, to 1,000,000…and rising.

      -We have established our first examples of successful mass-based cultural organizations in both urban and rural contexts. These organizations have weathered the storms of conflict, internal power dynamics, repression, and apathy and have gone on to survive and thrive.

      -Anti-authoritarians have been key, even majority participants in at least a few large-scale direct action campaigns that directly threaten a major corporation or state apparatus…and we win a significant number of our demands. These victories solidify our credibility with non anti-authoritarians.

      -In at least a few urban and rural contexts, we have established our first successful, lasting examples of large-scale workplace, neighborhood, and school direct democracy.

      -We have established our first anti-authoritarian equivalents to schools and universities, and child and youth participation rises from hundreds, to thousands, to millions.

      -We have established our first 24-hour outlets for news, entertainment, and educational programming…whether these are networks of local initiatives or a national electronic media.

    4) Day-To-Day Activities: What specific actions, projects, or other contributions will help make this stuff happen?

      -A 1-2 page statement that is clear and accessible, but also captures all the important non-negotiables that make serious anti-authoritarians who we are…this statement should be the back-page of our leaflets, a sidebar on our websites, and a brief aside in all of our public speaking. Agreement or disagreement with the statement is an empowering and clear decision point for all newcomers to a movement.

      -Experienced organizers should continue to collaborate extensively to synthesize and share lessons for how to problem solve around movement killing dynamics: internal movement violence and failed accountability; repression and infiltration; wars of personality; hyper-identity politics and the opposite, hyper-defensiveness about identity; super-star worship and jealousy; overwork and burnout; and navel-gazing and drowning in process. Actual solutions and models should be proposed, tested, and then energetically advocated for. Let’s figure this shit out and move on, please.

      -Cultural projects, and lots of them. More workshops, trainings, music, theatre, movies, video games. More cultural meeting spaces. You know I’m all about revolutionary congregations!

      -Experimentation, and lots of it. Immediate and constant attempts at mass-based organization building. Experiment, reflect, revise, and repeat again. If an attempt fails, try a different one. Our ideas are already good enough to have mass organizations now; we don’t need to wait for some cadre period first…I’m increasingly convinced that cadres are a strategic error.

      -Do the same experimentation process in direct action work and with attempts at direct democracy at workplace, neighborhood, and school levels. With all of this, we don’t know what is a prerequisite for what, so we kind of need to throw a lot of things at a wall and see what sticks.

      -A constant background context of small victories…a la Seattle Solidarity Network. While we are working and tinkering with bigger-picture stuff, we should be choosing and fighting little fights that we can win.

      -Documentation, and lots of it. Anti-authoritarians should evolve a dedicated, energetic research and polling network—designed to collect ongoing data for movement use about what works and doesn’t for achieving our goals.

      -Hella relationship-building. The greatest way to sustain a movement is for the movement to be infested with positive and healthy relationships. Even though we don’t have the theory and the structures down and we’re not even close, there is nothing keeping us from a friendly and warm vibe with a spirit of openness and experimentation. Lots of potlucks, one-on-one lunches, intermural sports, socials, etc…but boo to always having alcohol involved in social stuff.

      -A patient, multi-generational timeline. It is absolutely true that, given special conditions, all of our final outcomes could ramp up and be accomplished in a matter of years or a decade. However, anti-authoritarian revolution is by far the hardest revolution to actually win—hence our track record of zero. We should be flexible and lithe, ready to pounce on opportunities, but we also need to treat each other with a lot of patience…this will probably take a long time and we are small enough now that the stakes of our individual and small-group failures are actually really low. Let’s take advantage of that by really stretching, playing, and slowly trying to get things right as we grow and evolve.

    Wow, that was fun. I love thinking about this stuff. Finally, after this and the last piece, I think I’m grounded enough for the harder work: backwards planning for my own political work, which I can jump right into in the new year.

    Note to the reader: this piece is me processing a bunch of stuff. I thought about not posting it, but something I’ve found about this page is that I tend to be more useful to others when I am more open and vulnerable. In this case, I tried to be as clear as possible about the steps of my processing so that maybe it could be helpful to others when they are trying to think through political negativity.

    In a previous post, I mentioned that I felt like I’ve become more grumpy and conservative about politics lately, often complaining to myself about the state of organizing, while contributing less than ever. The feeling has been bothering me since I wrote about it, to the point that it’s affecting my sleep.

    I don’t want to be that person, that cliché who snipes at other radicals—mostly younger folks—while never knowing or admitting whether it’s because of genuine disagreement, or just bitterness about how my own life choices have distanced me from the struggle. Here, while I have some time in Guatemala, I want to work through some of these feelings, and see if I can come out the other side with a healthier orientation to politics—and especially to the local organizing that I tend to react most strongly to.

    Step 1: Breathe, Ground Myself, and Notice My Feelings

    When I pause, close my eyes, and just feel, it’s amazing what my body tells me that I don’t want to tell myself. The tension I feel in my back and chest when I think about what’s happening in Seattle, the signs of anxiety that I detect as I catch up on reading political blogs, they show me that there is certainly more going on for me than political disagreement—though I’ll get to that part soon enough. Underneath all my rationalizations, the most visceral feelings I have are more personal—and more petty—than political.

    I am jealous, and I am scared. I am jealous that people are out there taking risks, writing things, building groups and countercultures, and growing a movement that seems even more large and significant than anything I’ve done…while I work, play video games, and numb myself in a consumerist domesticity. At the same time, I’m scared that other people will build a winning movement without me, that someone else will write the great books that I want to write, and that I will just be a has-been, sellout teenage-anarchist-turned-professional. I am scared of being left behind, especially as I age.

    This part is very telling: I am far more threatened by other radicals’ potential success than I am by the possibility that our movements might be losing. Pretty sad, Jeremy.

    This is what happens when your identity, since you were 14 or 15, has been based on not only a vision of a revolutionary movement, but especially on a belief—even a sense of entitlement—that you will be a special and celebrated contributor to that movement. When your context and your choices start increasingly contradicting that identity, you either grow and reassess who you are, or you start frothing up and lashing out. I’d rather do some growing.

    So, what do I do with my not-so-healthy feelings? Where do I go next?

    Step 2: Own the Unhealthy Feelings, Identify Positive and Healthy Goals, and Refocus There

    Even further below my jealousy and fear, there is a guilt and a dissatisfaction. I am not quite happy with who I am politically. While I don’t think I’m currently self-hating or depressed or anything, I do know that there are ways I want to grow.

    I want to better appreciate the ways in which my teaching work, fatherhood & partnership, and our commitment to our family in Guatemala uphold, rather than contradict, my political values. And where these things do contradict or excessively strain my politics, I want to do something about it. I want to better use community resources, friendships, and movement opportunities so that my personal life and teaching work can evolve within a movement, not alienated from it—which is mostly the case now.

    I have the perennial goal of working through the pain and self-doubt that have festered from many past organizing and interpersonal experiences. This includes finding constructive alternatives to the self-medicating I do with consumerism, video games, and obsessive internet use.

    Given the realities of my life, work, and personal commitments, I want to renew my confidence in who I am as a political person. Instead of subconsciously judging my political success or failure based on my teenage self’s dreams of full-time revolutionary activity—not to mention hubris and fame-seeking—I want to continue developing a more balanced, humanist, and feminist sense of what my own political contributions can be. I want to be confident and comfortable with who I am as a revolutionary, even if I can only contribute a few hours of explicitly revolutionary work in a week.

    This means that I also desperately want to reflect and decide on how to use my precious few free political hours each week to make the best possible contribution to revolutionary movement building—with minimal interference from unhealthy jealousy, fear, ego-centrism, or attention-seeking.

    So, after this internal emo-fest, exploring these personal things that are making me crabby and cold toward current political work, what will my healthier orientation to that work be? How do I want to participate? Is all my grumpiness just personal and unjustified, or do I have also have legitimate concerns to air about local politics?

    Step 3: Having Recognized the Internal Stuff, Explore the Critiques and Disagreements That Remain

    Acknowledging my jealousy, fear, and other personal issues and putting those on the table, there are still a handful of things that are making me uncomfortable about the current political context, at least here in Seattle. I want to at least mention them here, for potentially more discussion or even public intervention later.

    An escalation of militant rhetoric and tactics, while the mass base shrinks

    At the height of the Occupy movement in Seattle, I would say that there was a genuine mass attraction to what was happening. The language and populist angle of the movement spread far into popular culture and is still referenced by some non-active people today. However, as radicals dug in and fought valiantly for their positions, the masses have not stuck around. Anti-capitalists have not created sufficiently attractive “containers” for the aspirations and activities of non hardcore people to grow and blossom, yet at the same time the rhetoric of revolution, insurrection, and class struggle seems to be heightened. Anti-authoritarian revolutionary strategies can only work with millions of people involved, and our ability to build a mass base should be our most important barometer of success—of course, while maintaining our principles.

    The movement is not growing fast enough, especially given the potential that Occupy had. We can blame the historical moment. We can blame the powerful. We can blame the identities or class compositions of the participants. We can critique people for being liberals and reformists all day and night. However, I believe that those critiques, in the end, often fog over radicals’ own failures to attract people to our positions. I think radicals, from the beginning of Occupy on, have been speaking a language that is unnecessarily at odds with mass culture.

    One quick example: the black bloc. I can recognize the bravery and efficiency of the black bloc. I recognize that there is a huge difference between property destruction and actual violence. I understand that they are going to do their thing, even though it’s not my thing. However, I also think they scare the shit out of people. What’s the good in that? Black bloc: take a look and reflect on tactics like the European Ya Basta! (white overalls) folks during the anti-globalization movement—there are ways to be militant while also effusing color, hope, and opening spaces instead of closing or trashing them.

    An uncomfortable political dialect

    This connects with the point above, but it’s more personal to me. When I read a lot of today’s political blogs, including the writing of people who I really like and respect, I just kind of feel…off. If I need to let this go, I will, but I least want to air it out a little bit.

    First, I’m seeing very little positive vision or strategy in people’s work these days. What are we building? What’s the point? What I see is a lot of issue-specific fights, which often get really intense—mostly because a small minority of people make them intense in pre-determined ways—but which don’t tell us what we’re fighting for. I know I’ve always been a kind of posi- kid, but I also know that most people don’t like to spend all of their time fighting, fighting, fighting without a deep connection to the vision underneath.

    Second, I’m both intimidated and worried about the reliance of some of today’s most thoughtful and committed anti-capitalists to materialist, class reductionist, or otherwise Marxist language. I’m not anti-Marxist. I think Marx and Marxists have been very useful for a lot of things—particularly for understanding capitalism. However, I think they suck at communicating with ordinary people and at practicing anti-authoritarian revolutionary strategy. To reference Marx himself, I think way too often some really great people are talking with the corpses of past Marxist moments in their mouths. Anything more I have to say about this, I think I’ll say in direct response to the things I read or hear.

    Third, this struggle is going to take a long time, and that means that radicals can’t always have our volume on at full
    blast. There is way too much epic language in people’s writing, way too much bombastic rhetoric. The insurrectionist anarchists are the worst on this point—and Crimethinc before them—but it’s spread to a lot of the things I read in Seattle. I’m sorry, but most of the time, we revolutionaries have to be just people living our lives—and even our revolutionary writing has to reflect this. We can’t expend every breath as if we were on the barricades. It’s exhausting and it’s insincere.

    A subculture that seems increasingly closed and paranoid

    I don’t have much to say about this because it’s mostly anecdotal, but the impression that I get is that as repression has heated up in Seattle, radicals have become more subcultural and more closed than they were a year ago. This is unfortunate, because, despite police repression, the actual state of the movement is way too weak to justify this closed type of attitude. A movement has to be huge—or the repression has to be much more significant—before it starts acting all underground like.

    From what I can tell, Seattle organizers are really on the defensive. Repression, sexual violence, and immigration attacks are dominant issues. I just hope that radicals can figure out ways to flip these defensive issues into potentially offensive issues so that it becomes real work that builds power instead of distracting from other, so-called “real work.” I’m excited by how “Who Are You Callin’ Illegal?” is trying to make that strategic flip from defense to offense, for example.

    It’s amazing how much the Seattle radical scene has changed in the last year and a half. At the same time, I’ve felt tremendously unwelcome in a number of spaces—particularly anarchist spaces, and that feeling has gotten worse lately. That’s a big problem, because I’ve been doing this for a long time. What about newcomers?

    There. When I really get down to it, these are the things that have been legitimately bothering me. I’ve gotten them off my chest, now what?

    Step 4: Figure Out What the Hell You’re Going to Do, Jeremy!

    Here’s the outcome I need from this lengthy processing session: a new orientation toward actually working in community with other Seattle revolutionaries. What am I going to do?

    This is where my teacher training kicks in. It’s time for some backwards planning! When teachers need to plan a big, intimidating unit that could last months and months, we are taught to plan backwards…starting with the vision we have for what our students will know at the end of the unit, then planning how our students will be able practice that knowledge in the world, how we will confirm that knowledge through assessments, and then, finally what day-to-day activities will help us achieve these educational goals. This is what I need to do for my own organizing activity.

    And that is going to have to be another post : Backwards Planning For the Revolution!

    It’s winter break for me, and we’re spending all of it in Guatemala with Glendi’s family. In addition to celebrating Christmas and the New Year with her siblings, we’re also here for the first step of getting Guatemalan legal custody of her four youngest brothers, so we can start trying to bring them to live with us in the U.S. It’s going to be a long and expensive road. For this reason, Glendi and Amanecer—our 6-month old baby, for those who don’t know—are going to be here indefinitely, until the court process is finished and we’ve procured Guatemalan passports for each of the boys.

    In the free moments here, I’ve been reading a good number of books—some about teaching, some fantasy novels, and a good number about politics. It’s a rare opportunity to reconnect with some anarchist reading, so I’ve been diving into In the Crossfire: Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary by Ngo Van, Building Utopia: The Spanish Revolution 1936-1937 by Stuart Christie, and Decolonizing Anarchism: An Antiauthoritarian History of India’s Liberation Struggle by Maia Ramnath. For some reason, I’ve developed a habit of reading 5 or 6 books simultaneously, so all this reading has been extra enriching.

    However, because all three of these books discuss peasants’ struggles and peasants’ realities quite a bit, reading has been a depressing reminder of the current state of things in Guatemala and beyond. Reading Ngo Van’s accounts of his peasant childhood from 1912 to the 1920’s, I was taken aback by how similar his life and cultural experiences were to Glendi’s—some 60 year’s later in the 1980’s. After finishing Building Utopia, I described for Glendi’s family how anarchist militia columns marched across the Spanish countryside and attempted to help liberate peasant communities and collectivize land as they passed. The response from her siblings—who had just returned from picking coffee—was a predictable, resigned silence. In his old age, someone asked Ngo Van why he kept so active in politics and struggle, and he responded, “Because the world hasn’t changed.” He’s so right. One only need to look at the peasantry to see how the fundamentals of capitalism and oppression have stayed intact.

    Actually, the fundamentals have gotten a lot worse. Because while peasants traditionally lived in a social contract that at least offered stable employment and income—exploitative though it was—in Guatemala, they are now no longer peasants, but farmworkers. They have been proletarianized by having their homes kicked off the land, where they have to be rehired as essentially temp workers. Where once they got a pittance of a salary but also a finquero-owned house, a school, a church, and a communal water source, now they just get the pittance of a salary, and they have to fend for themselves for all the rest.

    It’s summer here, and my family members have been going to the finca to pick coffee every day. As a group of 6-8 people working 6 hours together, they collectively make about $12 a day—after picking about 250-300 pounds of coffee. Their two week salary was just enough to pay for yesterday’s meal of little beef patties and elbow macaroni salad. Seriously. One day’s meal—plus some extra kitchen ingredients—cost two week’s salary for 6-8 people. Without outside income sent from the United States, how do Guatemalans survive?

    Can the world be changed?

    I think I still believe it’s possible. With a new baby, a new place to live, and a new job, I’ve been far away from my own organizing spaces in Seattle, but I’ve been watching some of it from afar, with a certain grumpy old man attitude. I’ve been annoyed at the rhetoric radicals use, the decontextualized escalations of militancy, the often simplistic framing of issues into “revolutionary” and “reformist,” and the overheated and frantic responses to repression. I’ve been especially dismayed by the cultural, political, intellectual, and tactical effects that insurrectionist anarchism has had on Seattle. Silently complaining to myself and making no positive contributions whatsoever, I’ve watched myself get more conservative. But now, with some space to think, read, and write, I think there’s a healthier approach. I hope there is, at least.

    When I read about revolutionaries of the past, my hope refills and I feel motivated to keep pushing, but when I think about the present, both in the movement and in my own family’s reality, my energy vanishes. Luckily, I still have two weeks of reflection time here in Guatemala to improve on this dynamic.

    So far, so…great!

    I think every teacher I know has told me that the first year is the hardest, and sometimes that it was even the hardest year of their entire lives. If this is the case, then I’m mighty excited, because this year has been pretty great so far.

    I think this is partly because I’ve had so many hard and chaotic years building up to this, that the daily schedule and stresses of teaching just can’t compare to all the past trials…in fact, the constant demands are almost comforting in their consistency.

    What’s been going well is that I think I’m doing an okay-to-good job at the actual teaching part, I’m taking home very little stress at night, I’m getting a lot of time with our new little one (because I do child care while Glendi works in the evening), and as I get better at the planning and grading piece, I actually see pockets opening up for a social life, political involvement, and even writing like this! This career feels so completely right for me, I don’t even know how to describe the feeling that washes over my body while I’m doing it. Like I’ve said many times before, teaching just feels like home to me. It actually doesn’t usually even feel like I’m working.

    However, let me be clear about something: just because I’m doing okay doesn’t change the fact that teaching is a cruel and inhuman gauntlet. It’s a machine for generating cynicism, alienation, isolation, and self-hatred in teachers…and I think if I didn’t have prior youth empowerment, organizing, and life crisis experience, this job would be destroying my soul.

    Here’s a brief outline of why it’s so hard:
    -An industrial pace and workplace organization where the work never stops and where student relationships can end up feeling like commodities that you are producing and augmenting…just because of the speed and numbers of people involved.
    -A non-stop realization that there’s more that you could be doing, that you aren’t doing all that you could do, that you only half covered that thing. It is a festering mosquito’s nest of self-doubt and inadequacy.
    -A national climate and narrative of teachers “failing” students and communities, which creates and internal school culture of every mistake we make as “I’m failing my students.” As the Northwest Network would say, we go from zero to 6,000 when it comes to our sense of accountability.
    -The length of the workday almost guarantees that teaching become a lifestyle instead of a career. I think I’m getting better, but I wake up between 3am and 4am every morning. I work at least 12 hours a day. I get home around 3 or 4pm, and that’s great because my mind is clear and I can relax, socialize, and take care of the baby…but then I go back to bed at 9pm!
    -The scope of student needs is so very daunting! This is where radicals and organizers miss the boat in such a big way! There are so many nuances to learning, understanding, and knowledge, that the limited ways that I learned how to talk about education and “consciousness raising” in social movements just didn’t prepare me for the deeper realities of helping people learn things. Seriously, the things that teachers could and should be offering to social movement education efforts!

    That’s just a the short list, but my point is actually that I’m satisfied that all of the hard things about teaching aren’t destroying my will, my energy, and especially my dedication to a political vision.

    However, I still need to figure out many ways that I can live my values and vision with more consistency both in and out of the job. Because, as a first year teacher, I do still feel like my intellectual spirit and personality is just barely punctuating my teaching. I haven’t really developed my full and best style yet, I don’t think.

    Anyhow, it’s 4am as I right this on a weekend. I should probably get back to sleep.

    Hi to you who read this.

    All the personal struggles and surprises aside, I’ve spent the bulk of the last year focused on learning how to be teacher. Now, with the first, tiniest amount of free time, I’ve noticed my mind pedaling around the same question: how far have my grad school stint and my career choice pushed me away from my revolutionary ideals?

    If we look for the answer in my participation in organized and explicit social movement activities, then the response that reflects back is dazzlingly clear: I’ve been almost completely M.I.A. I’ve missed basically all of the major political events and initiatives in Seattle for the last year. I missed Occupy, I’ve missed all of the major Seattle Solidarity Network fights, I’ve missed the port workers and transit organizing, I’ve missed organizing against the new youth jail, and I haven’t been to a single radical educational or discussion event. Given that pretty much my entire identity has been wrapped up in radical politics since I was 14, this is a drastic change. It’s a stark absence from the world I know best, and I’ve certainly felt the void.

    But the question cannot end there. If it did, then not only should I be depressed and disappointed in myself, but my integrity should also demand that I rethink my decision to be a teacher. Yet that’s not at all how I feel. The truth is that I’ve felt largely satisfied over the last year. I feel well-grounded in my politics and strategic vision, and I’m optimistic about my ability to integrate a teacher’s approach to social change with the more traditional social movement work that I’ve been missing lately. In fact, as I’ve been thinking, I’ve realized that my original question might be inappropriate.

    Perhaps a better question is: how has my time focused on teacher education contributed to my revolutionary ideals? Yeah, with that question, things get a lot more interesting.

    In many ways, my year in teacher-education-land has been a useful retreat from the often insular world of radical organizing. First, it’s given me personal space to build new relationships outside of the radical subculture, and that has been healthy and rewarding. More importantly, though, it’s given me the opportunity to think about movement dilemmas using a variety of new lenses. More than ever, I believe that education is central to revolutionary movement building, and getting intensive, formal training in educational theories and techniques has really expanded my political toolbox.

    I’d like to elaborate on some of this here.

    Let’s start with some basics. Revolutionary organizing, at its root, is about facilitating people’s personal transformation. It’s about transforming people’s relationships to their own sense of power and potential, their relationships to each other, and their relationships to larger social institutions. Some can disagree with this and frame it differently. They might say, for example, that it’s not so much about changing people, as about changing the structures that hold people’s true natures back, but that’s a mistake. The “structures” are almost never actually structures—we’re not fighting against giant concrete slabs, after all—but rather very human social relationships that need to change, which means individual people, values, and decisions that need to be transformed. I will gladly debate radicals all day long about this: revolutionaries are in the business of helping people to change. I think that’s our necessary starting point.

    Well, wouldn’t you know it? Teachers are pretty much in the same business. Teaching is all about organizing a social environment, and facilitating experiences, that allow people to grow deeper and more sophisticated connections with themselves, each other, and the world. That is, teaching is about helping people to grow and change toward their higher potential. Teaching and learning are both intensely personal while also being highly social—much like radical organizing. And, at its best, teaching is a process of supporting people to realize their full potential as historical agents.

    That said, revolutionary organizing and teaching are also markedly different. Public school teaching begins in a context of coercion, and it does involve state-mandated content. It is riven with elements of social control and indoctrination. I don’t need to go that far into all this, because I think we can just take it as a given. I’m not under any illusion that just by being a school teacher I’m doing radical work. I’m not. Teaching is not enough to make more than a small dent in the armor of this system.

    The point, though, is that there are some tips and techniques in teaching that are almost directly transferable to revolutionary organizing.

    I think at this point it’s probably most useful to just list some examples off.

    Know Your Students, Know Yourself. This one is kind of a gimme, but teachers are taught to know their students well, and to use a wide variety of techniques to do this—icebreakers, interest surveys, one-on-one conferences, pre-assessments, open houses, field trips, etc. Teachers are also taught to be grounded in their own identity, style, and preconceived notions about students—including being aware of our institutional privileges. As radicals, this seems like all obvious stuff, but how well do we actually implement trying to know our people? How do we use data? How do we use internal movement surveys? Do we do one-on-one conferencing between new folks and movement veterans—I know they do in some cities—or use other forms of relationship building beyond parties or go-arounds at workshops?
    The political parties are absolutely obsessed with data-mining, microtargeting, and knowing everything they can about their constituencies. If I walk into a radical info-shop or social center, on the other hand, people often won’t even look at me or acknowledge me. Seriously, I’m 31 and I’ve been an anarchist for 16 years, and I’m still scared to enter radical spaces because so few people make a friendly effort to know me!

    Metacognition and Learning Strategies. A big thing in teaching these days is this idea of metacognition, or thinking about thinking. The idea is that helping students to explicitly think about and articulate how they think will help them think better. For example, it’s not enough to know the answer to a math problem, it’s potentially more important to be able to describe how one found the answer, and why the method worked. Teachers are also encouraged to identify the tricks that skilled readers/writers/quantitative thinkers use and to explicitly teach those to students as learning strategies. Students learn how to infer meaning in texts, make predictions in stories, visualize numbers in a wide variety of ways, or break unknown words into their component parts.
    We need this in a big way in revolutionary work. Everything is so mystified and loaded with jargon, that especially new organizers feel like they have to read dozens of books before they can hold their own with veterans. This is a mistake. There are very real tricks to thinking systematically and strategically about political realities, and those tricks can be taught. Similarly, manipulative and abusive politics are rife in our movements because people are using techniques and tactics that most of us aren’t metacognitively aware of. We need more awareness of when we are creating straw positions, when we are using anecdotal evidence, when we are creating false dichotomies, imagining zero-sum situations, etc.

    Students Need Regular, Specific Positive Feedback. Current thinking about classroom management and “discipline” in schools is that students respond best to warm classrooms that offer a ratio of 4 specific, positive pieces of feedback for every 1 piece of constructive criticism. However, the positive feedback can’t be hollow or like “everyone gets a trophy because we’re all equal.” It should actually be relevant to the student and their actual participation. Both positive and critical feedback should be framed with an understanding of the student as being in a process of learning, without an imposition of artificial deadlines. Further, feedback should be pretty much constant, so that students have a regularly updated sense of their progress toward their various learning goals.
    In revolutionary work, criticism is one of those things that we’re particularly bad at. From the group-think of criticism/self-criticism, to passive aggressive notes and open letters—which usually means humiliating people publicly because we’re too scared of a one-on-one discussion—to just straight-up name calling—can’t we just ban attack words like “liberal,” “bourgeois,” “reformist,”–we are mired in terrible ways of handling difference. We also are pretty terrible about giving new people information about how they can learn and grow from mistakes. In fact, do we even learn from most of our mistakes on the radical left? Not so sure.
    In the context of a caring and stable political community, the teaching tips of 4-to-1 positive feedback and consistent delivery of specific feedback could do some amazing things.

    Zone of Proximal Development. So, there was this soviet-era educational theorist named Vygotsky, who current teaching theorists love. Vygotsky was all about social learning, the idea that we learn less from a teacher depositing knowledge in us, and more from working in a group with our peers. People who like Paolo Freire would find things to like in Vygotsky’s thinking. Well, one of Vygotsky’s ideas was that all of us have our current ability levels, but we have also this whole extended level of potential which is what we are capable of with the support or presence of a more capable peer. This is the zone of proximal development. The idea, then, is that with strategic cooperative grouping, students can develop their learning even faster because the support and modeling of their peers expands their potential.
    This is a very simplified gloss of the idea, but it’s useful for thinking about mentoring and division of labor in revolutionary circles. We don’t need a rigid system of step-up/step-back all the time. We also don’t need individual role-rotations, where veteran organizers swap out of a role and new people swap in. If we have mixed ability working groups that share tasks cooperatively, people actually can show remarkable abilities to grow rapidly, without having to throw new people to the wolves, and without having to shut down veterans’ experiences entirely.

    Scaffolding. Another very popular Vygotsky related idea is the idea of scaffolding. The theory here is that human beings build their learning as a web of relationships to prior experiences and knowledge. So, knowing this, teachers should use students’ prior experiences as a foundation, and then build supportive scaffolding up so that students can move higher and higher toward whatever the learning goal is. Scaffolds can take many forms. They can include visuals to aid texts, or blocks and manipulatives for students to physically work with in a math class, or just helping students have pre-requisite knowledge before taking on advanced concepts.
    I think this idea of scaffolding is especially salient for revolutionary organizing. Most people do not have a lot of prior experience with radical ideas, with collective self-management, or with confronting systemic oppression. However, they do have many, many experiences with surviving and navigating said oppression. Organizers should consciously think about how their tactics and initiatives help scaffold different experiences for people to learn new, relevant revolutionary skills. We should explicitly ask ourselves what future ideas and skills our various events and actions are scaffolding. Are we building only militant confrontational skills, or only academic skills, or only meeting and discussion skills? How do we scaffold for a future society if we don’t know what that society will look like?
    One group that I think is an excellent example of revolutionary scaffolding in action is the Seattle Solidarity Network. By taking on small, winnable fights against bosses and landlords, and organizing hundreds of people in collective action in these fights, they are scaffolding many critical skills and attitudes that will be useful for whenever a time for larger, more protracted radical campaigns are necessary.

    One More For Now: Inquiry-Based Learning. In teaching, there are many different philosophies about how to actually present new content. One strategy is inquiry-based learning. This is closely connected with Freire’s problem-posing education. The idea is that a teacher presents a dilemma or situation, and provides access to a variety of pieces of authentic information (texts, resources, tools, etc), and students are tasked with building their own understanding by trying to create an approach to the problem. Once again, this is a gloss, but that’s the big idea.
    This should be really common in revolutionary educational work, but it’s not. Rarely do we have workshops in which people are actually using authentic data sources (newspapers, statistics, past activist experiences) to develop realistic approaches to scenarios. Instead, most of our workshops use highly abstracted games or veiled scenarios that often inspire only shallow thinking about solutions. We learn big concepts from these activities, like how to select a target, or how to make a fun chant, but we don’t develop high-level strategic and tactical thinking skills. The nuance is usually not there, and I believe the ability to handle the nuances of radical politics is one of those metacognitive tricks that keeps some people in radical work, while others burn out and quit.
    I think our revolutionary workshops and education projects need to—as they say in the teaching world—develop higher expectations.

    Okay, I’m still getting back into the groove of blog writing, so I think I’ll cut this off here.

    The point should be clear by now, though. Although I’ve been away from revolutionary work for a long time now, I’ve been learning a whole bunch as I prepare to become a teacher. I’m excited about applying some of that learning to social movement work in the Seattle area in the near future.

    The kids? Not alright…

    This last friday, my mother-in-law died. We are in Guatemala now.

    Pretty much exactly a year ago, my father-in-law died. Doing the math in my head, this means that my little siblings-in-law no longer have parents.

    Now what the hell do we do?

    I look at our wiggly, bright little baby–born June 3rd, by the way–and I think about all the things I hope for her. Then I think of these others–so many others in so many places, really. Who is doing the hoping for them?

    What can we do from so far away in the US? Our electronic funds from across the world offer quite a frigid hug. Our tinny voices and pixelated skype faces rub out all the subtle expressions of love we try to display. Right now, I only have ten days here. How can I possibly fill it with all that I want to give these little ones? How to condense 8 lost months of care and attention into just a few rainy days?

    The kids deserve more than that.

    We have our own business to sort out back in Seattle, I know. The baby. The new teaching job. Glendi’s business. Moving. Getting back to some revolutionary organizing…

    I know, I know. Put it all on my to-do list. First, damn, we’ve got to do something about these kids.

    Finishing grad school. New writings added…

    Well, this is my last week of grad school, then just a few more loose ends and I will be a real, live teacher! To “celebrate” I’ve added two pieces of writing that I did in the Master in Teaching program, just so that I can remember them later.

    Being a dad is awesome, and I should write about it more soon, but first, I just need to get through this school thing.

    Much love to whoever is out there.

    My beautiful blog, my beautiful friends, I haven’t disappeared, but I have been mighty busy with life and learning how to be a teacher.

    Short summary of my time learning to teach: I love it, teaching feels like home to me, and it’s also some of the most emotionally and physically challenging stuff I’ve ever done. I’ve got just a few months left, and then the challenge is finding a job.

    But I have much bigger news, which I’ve been sitting on for a long while, and which I want to explore in more depth if I can find the time later.

    Are you ready?

    You sure?

    Okay…

    …some time around June 9th…

    …I’m gonna be a parent! That’s right, Glendi and I are having a baby! I’m so ecstatic.

    The Word “In-Laws” Doesn’t Work For Me

    Before all else, thanks for the supportive comments from all those who read this! It’s really motivating and heartwarming…

    Hi from an internet cafe in Colomba Costa Cuca, Guatemala…about 10 minutes drive from Glendi’s family’s house.

    So, things truly have been as challenging as I speculated, but they are more stabilized now. Immediate dangers and hospitalizations seem to have been dealt with, and now is the longer-term struggle of supporting and re-orienting ourselves as a family which has lost one parent and which is in grave danger of losing the other…and in which all the older siblings are living and working away from the home. My main job in the house seems to be playing with the little ones and helping them with homework, but I try to be useful in other ways also. But I still don’t know how to chop firewood or wield a machete.

    When I’m not doing family stuff, I’m reading all my pre-reading for the masters program, which starts 1 day after I get back. I’ve read 5 books in 1 week. Yesterday I read Sherman Alexie’s “Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” in two sittings…man, that book was really good. I also read this fantastic and deeply thought-provoking book of life stories of youth with learning disabilities, and that one really pushed me in some intense ways.

    But things here are sad, for the most part. There are laughs and good stories, but it’s all tempered by grief, fear, and pain. Like I said, there is a lot more going on than just Glendi’s dad’s death.

    But here’s a thing that I think about a lot. When I talk about our family in Guatemala as my “in-laws,” it feels so cheap. And I feel like the response that people give me is watered down. The word really implies a certain order of distance as compared to one’s blood family, but in my case, it’s pretty much the opposite. I’m much more intimately connected now with my Guatemalan in-laws than with my own family, because of the economic and emotional role that Glendi and I have in their lives. It feels weird, and it feels wrong at times, and often I want to bow out, but that isn’t a real option that the family wants for me at the moment…so instead I know all the dirty secrets, and I’m in those family meetings where huge things are decided.

    Like I said to my friend a couple of weeks ago, I don’t feel like my previous life and background have prepared me for this. I still play with legos, I still talk to myself. In so many ways, I’m still a kid. Yet Glendi and I are also often put into the position of being heads of this huge and complex family…it’s a really weird mash-up, and it makes me feel insecure pretty much all the time. And I also have very few friends who share the situation or experience, so I sometimes I feel low on resources.

    But with this intimate level of connection and responsibility, there is also that root idea…intimacy. And that is beautiful. I love my family–in both countries–so much, and I’m always learning so much, and even in deep struggle I find space for optimism. But like Sherman Alexie says in that book, hope might be something that’s for White people. Because I’m not sure if the rest of my family is feeling it right now.

    Remember those kids in school who would make up elaborate lies about themselves in order to impress you, and then would develop those into even more outlandish lies in order to keep up the momentum?

    If I could tell you all of the disparate, outrageous, terrible events happening to our family right now in Guatemala, you’d think that I was one of those kids. For now, I can’t tell you because things are really sensitive, but as I fly down to Guatemala right now, I’m steeling myself for some of the greatest challenges yet in my life. Things are really bad right now, and for reasons separate and beyond the painful loss of Glendi’s dad.

    If you are reading this, please be thinking about us. When you eventually hear about some of this stuff, you really won’t believe it. It’s like the worst greek tragedy one could write.

    However, in a brief distraction of positive news as I wait for my plane to board, I just finished and incredible month long intensive to become an English for Speakers of Other Languages teacher. It was super hard, but so fun! I forgot both how much I love everything to do with languages, and also how good I can be at school. I actually kind of shocked myself by how well I did in the program. But then again, I barely slept. It is also really weird how a month ago I was completely locked in the non-profit executive mindset, and now my mind-set–beyond the immediate crises–is now very, very oriented toward teaching. And I am really excited about being a teacher!

    With all the love in the world for you who read this, and with trepidation in the face of the coming weeks…

    I like to pretend sometimes,
    that I got this hunching spine
    from working so meticulously at my craft.
    Each day carefully placing my toolbox on the table,
    unfolding the lid and curling my soft pink fingers into their positions
    to forge these words into some kind of weapon,
    to whittle at these ideas until they pierce the chest.

    I like to pretend sometimes
    that this glow is a kiln,
    I wipe my brow, and it makes no matter
    that my hand comes away dry.
    Because this feels like the work of a workman,
    and I make like I’m adjusting my spectacles
    and gripping my tweezers
    as I deftly shift another syllable.

    I like to pretend sometimes
    that I’m just like that man I watched
    crack firewood with ballet strokes,
    cut grass finely with a dull machete,
    coax coffeebeans to fall with massaging fingers,
    like the spider spindling the fly.

    I like to pretend sometimes,
    because I’m good at it.
    Because that is what carefree little boys do.

    Because what fun is it to recognize
    that this squirming bad posture
    comes from all the slouching,
    as I remove a handful of Doritoes from the bag,
    and gently wipe the orange dust on my bedsheets,
    so as not to sully my controller?
    What adventure is there in the truth
    about all the books I never wrote,
    all the marches and meetings I left early
    because I didn’t want to miss my shows?
    How do I look at Don Mario’s picture,
    and remember wincing at the sunburn from swimming,
    that day when he planted all day and then collapsed?

    I like to pretend sometimes,
    not because I feel guilty or inadequate,
    but because this is what I know how to do.
    Because, don’t you understand my part in this whole thing?
    My actual craft, at which I excel?
    My calling is to escape, over and over again,
    Using all the fine instruments that more calloused people make for me.

    My emotional resonance was tuned early to Skywalker,
    my first loyalties were to the autobots.
    And so all the grandeur and dedication of art and revolution,
    gets tiresome after a half hour with no breaks.

    However, my pretending didn’t prepare me
    for marriage,
    family,
    and so much loss.
    I didn’t expect the toll on my artisanship,
    as the loom with which I textured my fantasies
    broke apart in my arms.
    All the posing and posturing feels awkward,
    when the people next to you in the picture
    are the real deal.

    Now, at least for a moment,
    this writer is not content with pretending.
    I open this toolbox again,
    and the glow this time feels like nothing more,
    and nothing less,
    than what it is.
    I unearth old notes and plans and blueprints,
    search for my sharpest and most effective verbal implements.
    I hunch here and stare into these white spaces
    and I feel driven to fill them.
    Because now I don’t want to be a craftsman,
    but instead, there’s something I need to craft.
    These soft pink fingers need to come up with something,
    that can stab and tear,
    that can motivate and heal,
    that can take on just a piece of the fighting work
    that so often falls to more calloused hands.

    You are killing my family.

    Don’t think that I don’t know that. Don’t think for a second that I’m fooled by all those temptations you offer for us to blame ourselves, for me to blame them.

    Well, okay, for a second I was fooled. But not now. This has you written all over it.

    See, I can follow the money, I can follow the violence, I can follow the misinformation, there’s actually quite a number of trails I can follow back to you. The coffee trees, the dialysis bags, the gunshots, the distended bellies, the fucking casket that’s lying there in the living room right now…I know it’s you.

    You made their homeland into an experiment in fractured, traumatized psychosis. That is what your counter-insurgency and your anti-communism boiled down to. You run the poor against each other just like those bored, twisted rich kids that pay homeless men to fight to the death. And now, you want me to actually believe that this is happening because my family just isn’t doing things right? That we just don’t work hard enough? Are you kidding me?

    And you’re right. I can’t do shit about it right now. The powerlessness is palpable. This pain, this unimaginable frustration, has me gnawing at my own hands, has us sniping at each others’ jugulars. But I like to think that there are at least small parts of us that are saving up just a little bit of the rage that we’re not investing in self-hate, in circular attacks. And that little bit, we’re saving for you. Multiplied by 7 billion, that rage could count up to something big.

    Hopefully it’ll be enough to topple you. Hopefully, I will get to see it. Hopefully, when we have taken it all back, and you are curled into your isolated little corner, you will just repeatedly tell yourself that you just didn’t work hard enough, that you just didn’t have the drive to succeed. That would be a good laugh.

    I forgive many people for many things they do to me. I forgive easily, and I forgive in abundance. It fills me with dignity to do so.

    But I don’t forgive you.

    I want my father in law back, you pieces of shit.

    I have no intention of abandoning my current series’ of pieces, and I’m so excited by the warm and thoughtful comments I’ve received over the last two weeks, but the reality is that I just haven’t had time to write for now.

    Glendi and I just got back from my grandma’s memorial service in Redding, California. It was a powerful and difficult trip, seeing dear family, most of whom I haven’t seen in 20 years. I learned a ton about my dad (it was his mom that passed) and really got to see him in another light, acting as a big brother in such an engaged and beautiful way. I was really proud of my dad this weekend.
    But I was also really self-critical, because I had made so little time to ever get to know my grandma, I almost never wrote or called, and I hadn’t even seen her since 2006. She never met Glendi. And I never got to ask her all the questions about her life that I always assured myself that I would have time to ask her. It’s one of those true cliches about not putting off time with family before it’s too late. I still can’t believe that she’s gone and that I just don’t get a chance to make this up. The chance has passed.
    However, like I said, the trip was powerful, and I was really glad to have done it. It was especially greatfor Glendi to connect with that long lost side of my family, which is actually the Puerto Rican side…which is a whole other blog post about hidden family histories and the incredible damage that assimilation does.

    I have two weeks now left in my job–hooray!–and I’m working hard to prepare for the transition. It looks like I don’t get any of that famed “short-timers syndrome” that let’s me just be lazy and unreliable for a month or two. I’m working on real stuff until the very last day. Ouch….but, probably how I would choose to leave anyway.
    Though there are always stresses, worries, regrets, I’m feeling pretty satisfied about how/when I’m leaving Seattle Young People’s Project, and I’m excited about having somewhere to go next…which is looking to be teaching, though I reserve the right to change my mind between now and August 29th.

    With all of this stuff, plus new difficulties in Guatemala and some relationship communication challenges, I haven’t had much time for political thinking or writing. I have been reading a gripping biography of Vladimir Lenin which is focused on his daily life in the years of his exile (it’s called Conspirator), and that’s making me think all sorts of things about the costs of political obsession, the skills that one needs to win political battles, the relationship between ends and means. In the end, the portrait that keeps getting painted of Lenin in book after book I read is that he’s someone who I probably would have enjoyed personally but hated politically if we were in a movement together…which is disturbing since his faction ended up winning–something anyway.

    Hopefully as I get caught up in work after my California trip I’ll find more time to write. I really miss this blog, and the internal–and increasingly external–dialogues I’ve been opening up lately.

    For those who read my last post, I’m feeling much better now, and I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about some real progress for some of the people in my life.

    In general, I’m feeling optimistic about almost everything right now. Life is moving forward in interesting ways for me, and so I want to give a quick update about some things right here.

    -Just 5 more weeks at my job of 3 1/2 years, and I last weekend I completed the hardest part of it! We had our annual spring fundraiser and for the first time in more than a decade, we decided to not do an auction (for anti-capitalist value reasons, not money reasons). This was really scary for us, and we were prepared to make way less money. But, in fact, we made almost double what I expected, and actually surpassed the donations from past auctions. It feels like such a positive way to transition out of my job.

    -After long agonizing, I did decide to go to grad school to get my Master In Teaching. I begin in early July, and I’ll be in school for a year. That means that I’m going to be trying to chill during this last month or so of work. I am so eager to actually feel rested and calm for at least the next couple of weeks.

    -Glendi’s family is still struggling so much. We’re sending all the money we can, and that’s still not enough, but at least they seem to be holding on for now. For now, what else can we do?

    -Some old organizing friends and I are starting to talk about forming a new, open study group in the fall. We just had a meeting yesterday, which I came to thoroughly ambivalent, yet which I left feeling inspired. I think, after the hardship of the breakup of Common Action, I’m now ready for a new political project, and this one is feeling pretty good. Right now, we’re discussing it as a study group that will center around questions of revolutionary intersectional politics…that is, understanding how systems work in an intersectional way, and trying to ask what revolution actually looks like for those systems. Yes!

    -I’m starting to work on game design again. This is part of my own real-life game (which I’m still rocking through, though I’m scoring myself less frequently than before as I’ve internalized a lot of the habits)…to be more creative again.

    The board game I’m working on is a cooperative game, in which the players must work together to build a post-revolutionary economy. The game will have multiple phases in which players have different roles. For example, in one phase each player represents a different industry’s workers council, and in another phase each player represent a different region’s consumer council. The idea is that players need to discuss and negotiate where to invest the economy’s limited resources and labor to produce a better life for all. Of course there would mechanics representing reactionary opposition, which players would have to cooperatively deal with. This is so fun to design, but the trickiest thing is boiling the concept down to its most essential parts, so that it still fits the them but without being too complex or fiddly.

    -I think I’m going to get a haircut. Like a serious haircut. Like maybe even a buzzcut. I think I’m just about tired of having longer hair.

    It Crushes Me To Keep Watching This…

    It’s so hard to be in the world, in community, in family with people you love and to watch them continuously make destructive emotional decisions. I’m not going to offer any specifics here, and I’m certainly not interested in increasing any drama, but I’ve gotta say something about this feeling, because it’s got me so wound up. As I watch people in my life repeatedly fall into patterns in their conflicts with other people, repeatedly wrap themselves in denial and anger to protect themselves from what really are self-inflicted, insecure fantasies, I feel like I’ve run out of things to do. I start to shake quietly as a crawl into bed, I feel helpless and childlike…sometimes I just wish I could step out of this life completely and play carefree like when I was little. But I can’t, and so I try to act, to state my case, to share my advice for best courses of action…to set boundaries and ultimatums in order to influence behavior…and sometimes I think it works…and then it all just falls apart again.

    I’m tired of watching this same car crash into the same wall dozens and dozens of times. I’m tired of seeing people I love hurt themselves like this, and so often so pointlessly. But when you love them, and you want to accompany them, what do you do? I’m not a tough love person, or a cold shoulder person. I have zero interest in losing more people from my life. But what are the other strategies? What do you when the survival strategies, the coping strategies, the defenses of people who you love go in strong contradiction to your own beliefs and values?

    I feel like the answer from so many people in the activist community is distance. Space. Boundaries. Self-care. Because that’s my own cultural context, I tend to jump to these ideas first, too. But they are so wrapped up in individualism, detachment, entitlement, privilege, isolation…those solutions feel so incomplete to me. I’ve responded to so many issues in my life with detachment and distance, and lately I’ve found so much more hope and happiness with presence and engagement…but what do I do when my engagement get’s met with hostility one minute and warmth the next? What is the line between presence and accommodation or enabling?

    I think I’ve said enough. I don’t know if this is even a useful post or just venting…but I think enough people have similar struggles that I hope you at least feel a little less alone with your own problems when you read it.

    P.S. Don’t worry…I’ll be okay. Just frustrated right now.

    Reflections to come…

    My lovely little blog, I haven’t forgotten you, nor am I avoiding you for some emotional reason. I’m just far too busy as I’ve said goodbye to some wonderful out-of-town guests, as we wrap up two grant applications and prepare for our spring fundraiser this Saturday at work, and as I get things organized for grad school (yes, I am going to study to be a teacher!).

    So probably not much writing here until at least Sunday. However, I have so much I want to talk about! Here’s just a preview of what I’m thinking about:

    -A new series of pieces I’m thinking of calling, “Transformation Is A Spiral,” or something like that. These are pieces that acknowledge the cyclical and spiral like nature of radical politics, and how, after experience, we often come back to previously rejected positions, but with new insights. For example, how my ideas about dropping out and abolishing the school system have changed…or my recent troubles with approaches to community accountability that are based solely on the wishes of the survivor. Tough changes in my thinking that I want to make time for.

    -Reflections on this last weekend visiting with my old friend Chris Dixon, and my new friends Andy Cornell and Harjit Singh Gill, who were on tour for the book, “Oppose and Propose.” There were plenty of moments that caught me off guard with exciting thoughts and I’d like to capture them.

    -A fifth part to my Revolutionary Congregations piece, focused on ideas for how such formations could be started from the ground up…since that’s the biggest criticism of the idea I’ve heard expressed to me so far.

    -Thinking through all of the exhilarating ways that I’m feeling challenged by Marxist and insurrectionist positions on political questions, and the positive effects that it’s having on my thinking.

    -Some fun and interesting pieces on fluid dynamics and revolutionary strategy, as well as the power of crowd-sourcing for building accessible mass movements.

    -Some writing about love, loneliness, and trust…because these are feelings that I’m feeling and thinking about a lot lately.

    As always, there’s the caveat that I might write more than this or none of it, but at least I’ve got something in writing to keep me honest.

    With all my heart to the few (but growing few, for sure!) who read this thing.

    Pain is a gas, not a liquid…

    Right now there are people crowded into shipping containers, into the floorboards of trucks, on top of freight trains, naked in rivers with their clothes in plastic bags tied to their bodies…all trying to get to my country.

    They have signed themselves up for years of debt with monthly 10%+ interest accruing, offering whatever possessions, or even family members, they have as collateral…so that they can come here to do exploitative, under-the-table work.

    Right now there are people, perhaps millions or even hundreds of millions of people, who would trade torturous pain for the possibility of even half the opportunities and comfort that I have. And there are hundreds of thousands who are actively trying to make that trade…right now.

    This is an indisputable reality of this world. These are the raw facts of daily life within global economic apartheid. Over here we can go days or lifetimes without thinking about it, but those millions of people remain whether we acknowledge them for a moment or not. This is real.

    But here is the thing that confuses me (beyond the sheer injustice of it all, of course): if I know how unbelievably fortunate I am, and how many people–including my own family members–would suffer so much to experience a fraction of what my life offers, why is it that my own stress and pain feel so strong, so all-consuming? Why is it that the worries that I have this morning, all the anxieties about my never ending to-do list, always feel like they are near the top of the 1-10 scale, even though I’ve actually experienced far worse moments in my life in the past…even in this same year?

    I think this is how pain and stress work, and I think it’s why empathy and lasting solidarity are so hard to maintain for so many. Pain and stress have a way of filling up whatever spaces they are given, whether those spaces are substantial and complex, or small and trivial. The way they fill the body, the alerts they send out to the mind and gut, they often ring out in the same tone, regardless of their urgency. Rather than being a substance like a liquid that you can measure and see how close it is to filling up your capacity to handle it, pain and stress are gases that fill up all measuring devices; so hard to quantify, so confusing in the way they haze over your perspective.

    By any intellectual calculation, I have so many hundreds of reasons to be happy on this Monday morning, and to be excited about the privilege of doing the kinds of tasks that I get to do this week. The things that I will get paid for, and the amount that I will get paid for them, would feel like both a dream and a cruel joke to so many millions of people. Yet I am here in bed at 8:30am right now (once again, a privilege to not work until 10am) and my stomach is churning with so much acid, I feel so uncomfortable in my body, so uncomfortable in my being. I feel like I’m screwing everything up, like things can’t possibly go right even though my last 30 years show me that, for me, so much ends up going right.

    The pain of insecurity, the fear of failure, and then the self-hatred for feeling these things despite my privilege…
    How is it that these feelings can be so strong while having so little basis? It’s gotta be physiological, right? It’s gotta be the brain and body chemistry, no? The simple fact that our evolutionary toolbox only contains so many gradations of stress and alarm chemicals, and that we were never meant to use them for things like event planning and campaign organizing?

    If we pull back and just look at ourselves and each other across this planet, it’s really pretty sick and fascinating. While one person can’t handle the stress of figuring out which new car to buy, another is struggling to figure out how to keep the electricity on…yet the actual physical sensations and cerebral signals they are both experiencing actually give them a lot in common.

    While I fret and groan and come close to crying about how I’m going to possibly finish this week of work productively, I know on so many levels how I should have more perspective and a much more tranquil response…but I’m still a mess anyways.

    Well, I’ve done the economic calculations, I’ve been having meetings with various school offices and departments, and I’ve received a load of commentary and advice from people around me, but I still haven’t made a decision whether I’m going to study to be a teacher this year.

    After talking with my good friend Bruin today, I feel a little bit more space to imagine some other possibilities, and I realized that maybe I don’t have to rush into a decision like I’ve been thinking. Do I really have to lock myself into a decision this year? Is the window really that small, or is it something that I’ve created out of the sense of life/financial urgency that I feel because of all my responsibilities? What would happen if I took it a little easier for a year, experimented with other types of work and living, spent some more time with my writing, thinking, and non-paid organizing? What could I discover about my economic possibilities? What could I discover about potential work that I could love?

    It’s true that I feel the urgency pretty intensely. I feel like I have to get moving on a career track, toward a stable salary, retirement, benefits. After struggling in the non-profit sector where funding is always scarce and intermittent, I’m tired of constantly doubting whether I’ll have work 3 months from now. I’m tired of having no ability to plan or save beyond the short term. That’s one of the really compelling things about pursuing a profession like teaching–though I recognize the instability in that field as well. I would like the financial question to have more consistent and automatic answers, so that I can spend my mental energy on other things.

    But what other things? This is the question that I’d like to have more time to explore. I’m worried that public school teaching will so focus my mental energies on the students, my classes, my planning, the bureaucracy, that all of the thinking, reading, organizing, and building that I’m doing toward bigger change, toward bigger learning, will be significantly diminished. The stuff in this blog, the revolutionary congregations, the popular education questions, the strategic questions…all things that I wish I had hundreds of hours of more free time to further develop and actually test with other people…will teaching be compatible with that, or will the bulk of this–which really is critical to the me that I like best–be sacrificed?

    And here’s where I actually notice a martyr tendency in myself. I feel like I have no right to continue getting paid to do explicitly revolutionary work or thinking, and that I should thus sacrifice myself to a career track that I know will not use my full abilities. Because teaching will not use my full abilities. It will use my abilities to plan good curriculum, yes. It’ll use my abilities to work with youth, support them personally, and help them ask critical questions, yes. It’ll even hopefully use my abilities to help institutions move toward more justice and youth empowerment, sure. But a lot of the bigger picture thinking, movement building, theory work, visionary work etc. will not be stretched that far in the teaching path.

    Let’s look at it this way, using the economic concept of comparative advantage. There is a limited supply of radical people, and especially of skilled radical thinkers, organizers, movement builders. There is a much more abundant supply of liberal/progressive type people. If you take the radical people and the liberal/progressive people and have them both doing sort of under the table work or random work for pay, and then organizing in their free time, I think the radical people have an especially unique and important contribution from their free-time organizing. At the end of the day, the radicals will add something to the world that the liberal/progressives would not have added. Now, if you take those same two people and have them focusing most of their energy and time on being good teachers, I would argue that both the liberals/progressives and the radicals will actually end up making more or less the same contribution towards youth and toward educational change. That is, I don’t think radicals have that much uniquely to offer in the teaching field as the many more prevalent liberal/progressive folks. At the end of the day, I think liberals/progressives are similarly capable of being great teachers, and so the fact that we’re radical has much less impact on the world if we are teachers than if we are in the streets organizing. I fear that my own unique skills, interests, and abilities will be less utilized as a public school teacher than if I was doing something else…even working random lower wage work that gives me free time to write and organize.

    But I shut this line of thinking down pretty fast. How dare I suggest that I have a unique contribution to make. How dare I suggest that teaching isn’t a maximum use of my personality and potential. And what about my internalized need to show success to my parents and family? What about the financial obligations to Glendi’s family?

    I just don’t know what to do. But one piece of advice that Bruin gave me is really useful. I want to at least take these days before my decision to think about the other viable options, and really think about them as viable options. I don’t want to make my decision from a place of feeling trapped or rushed. I want to be able to own this decision this time.

    If you’ve read this, feel free to chime in!

    I have an image of myself as a pretty lazy person. I don’t like working. I really like spending half a day in bed. I procrastinate on almost everything. I can be really flaky on getting back to people.

    In fact, this self-image is so much a part of me that I’m mostly incapable of ever feeling truly relaxed. I have a constant feeling that I’m not doing what I’m supposed to, and that something must be wrong. I don’t tend to think that I’m a dramatic person, but I do think that I live in a sense of permanent crisis. And I usually think that crisis could be avoided if I was less lazy.

    But then on certain days, like today, I actually step back and make a list of all the things that I’m actively working on right now, and the question almost completely flips! Could it be the opposite? That I’m actually drastically overcapacity and I’ve lost my perspective on what “productivity” and “laziness” even mean (both of which have all sorts of ablist, classist, racist undertones, right?)?

    I mean, let’s actually make a list of what I’ve actively done this week:

    -International wire transfer to Guatemala of $8,000 that Glendi and I raised to buy land for the Guatemala school project
    -International transfer of final $2,000 to Guatemala to build first septic tank and basic plumbing for Glendi’s family
    -Two meetings and loads of correspondence around my grad school applications and impending decision
    -Publicity and logistics for a political speaking event on May 12
    -Co-organizing a 250-person, $12,000+ fundraising dinner for my job for May 21
    -Daily support for a youth direct action campaign against the school to prison pipeline, including a May 4 action
    -Helping to prepare my transition out of my job and the hiring of someone new by July
    -Preparing and facilitating of two presentations/workshops on Thursday and tomorrow
    -2 nights of support for Glendi’s various jobs, making copies, driving Glendi around, etc.
    -Daily cooking and chores
    -Phone conversations and hangout scheduling with multiple friends
    -Walking 10,000 steps each night
    -Reading each night
    -Writing each night
    -Oh, and dealing with identity theft and fraud of $400 by someone in France, and changing all accounts

    What?! I walk around each day with all of these threads, struggling to hold them together. Yet, still, even right now my dominant perspective is that I was lazy this week! Seriously, what?!

    How do I accept what I’m not able to do in a week? How can I accept that healthy living includes downtime in which I actually do calm down? How can I accept that perfection actually is impossible, and that it’s not the secret goal of my little real-life video game? How do I hold onto my self-love, even in moments when I feel like I’m screwing everything up by not working harder?

    Jeremy. Please breathe. Feel your body. You’re okay. You’re okay. I love you so much. I think you need a good cry.

    I’m in a pickle. I need to make a tough decision, and I pretty much only have 10 days to do it.

    I just got word that I’ve been accepted into the local Master In Teaching program that I was most excited about. Since I’m leaving my job of almost 4 years in July, the time has come for new life decisions, and so this is both great news and difficult news.

    It’s great for the obvious reasons. The program’s really close by, it’s got a great reputation, and I’ll be set to start teaching by next fall. But what makes it difficult for me is the seeming finality of it. If I choose to enter this program, I’m making a long term commitment to both a large amount of debt (the financial aid in a program like this is pretty tough and I haven’t put nearly enough time into scholarship applications) and a potential life-long career path. To choose this now, I’m essentially sealing in that my job role in the world is to work closely with young people, in and around schools and other educational projects. This is what I’ve been doing for nearly 10 years already, and I do think I’m pretty darn good at it, so it may seem that it’s a given, but I’m resistant to making that conclusion.

    There is a part of me, perhaps even an entire half of me, that thinks there’s something different out there for me, and that doubt needs a place to find expression. This is a situation where I need a place like this website. Before I sign my name on that letter I received today I need to give myself a little bit of time to freely ask myself: do I really want to teach? Do I even want to work with youth anymore? What else could I do for work? What else stirs my passion?

    I thought I had already answered some of these questions in 2007, when I entered, studied for 2 months, and then left another Master In Teaching program. At the time, I remember feeling like becoming a teacher was too much of a lifestyle choice, not just a career choice. I was worried that I would lose all of my capacity to organize outside of the job and that I would be unhappy having to work under the strictures of public school systems. I thought that I’d be forever looking outside the window of my classroom wondering, “why am I not in the streets?”

    However, after almost 4 years in the radical non-profit world, my perspective has changed. In this economic system, radical non-profits also pretty much have to push their workers to capacity, and I do feel too tired to do any other organizing. Further, I feel like I’ve actually been far less effective at doing good work with lots of young people than I was when I was working in the schools. And I also have come to believe that if we want more inter-generational presence in the streets, then youth non-profits won’t cut it. We need more good teachers making the movement connection with youth directly in the schools.

    And of course the financial question. As Glendi’s family has grown and grown up, and as health issues have dominated her parents’ lives, our financial burden has skyrocketed. We sent around $18,000 to Guatemala last year, more than half of our total income. Watching as non-profits fold up all around me and as even our own organization is constantly in a precarious position, I feel a need for a stable job that I could potentially get regardless of the economic climate. Non-profits are not that job.

    There are other options, of course. Going for a doctorate and doing scholarship, trying for a bigger salary in the private sector, starting a small business, learning a different trade, etc. I still get really excited about linguistics, and I get excited about writing for a living. But here again is where age and economics come to constrict the choices. We can’t afford to enter multi-year training or graduate programs, and we can’t really afford to take risks on new ventures right now. Stability really has to be a keyword until other members of Glendi’s family are working.

    But I’m scared of teaching. I fear that so many years of working with youth, while sharpening my skills, have burnt me out. I don’t have the same patience that I once had with young people. I find myself being more cynical about what youth can accomplish sometimes. Where once I was so excited to do new curriculum and to have facilitation opportunities, now I just feel tired. And if I get frustrated at lack of youth participation in a non-profit when youth choose to be there, how will I feel when I’m a part of that occupying force of teachers who are forcing students to sit still and participate? Sure, I want to do things really differently if I’m a teacher, but modern bureaucracies are not often kind to new experiments, and regimented curriculum and instruction techniques are becoming common.

    My response to these concerns varies: no matter what job it is, I’ll always feel tired and worn out by work; sure it’s hard, but we need good people doing that work; I don’t have to be inspired by every moment of teaching, because with proper skills and preparation I can teach even on days when I’m not enjoying it; and I don’t have to teach forever, there are lots of other institutional opportunities once one has a few years of teaching under their belt.

    Sometimes I’m convinced, but I also recognize that heavy, sad feeling of settling. I do feel like I’m settling, and like the wide open possibilities of youth have finally closed. But this is also a very entitled perspectiv. The very fact that I have this opportunity to get a higher level degree that could almost guarantee me a stable financial future with tenure and retirement benefits (assuming that unions don’t lose the education fight completely!) is really unique, and I don’t want to be ungrateful or shortsighted. But I don’t want to regret my career choices for the rest of my life either.

    On the job, I think I would be able to teach well. I think I can manage a daily class load of 150-175 students or whatever and know their names, give some personalization, yet maintain larger, more efficient teaching systems in order to keep cool and go home okay. I think I’ve learned some emotional boundaries that would keep me from taking youth trauma home with me nightly. And I think I could support some great education for a lot of youth, and some personalized support for those who don’t feel like they are learning with me.

    But will I be able to write or organize in my off time? Will I also have time for family, community, and hopefully fatherhood? Will the summer breaks be long enough for time in Guatemala?

    I feel like I have too many political ideas that I want to experiment with still to sacrifice them to a hard career. If teaching really does have to be my only organizing, I don’t know if I can take that. If I can’t ever get time to write, I don’t know if I have that in me either.

    These questions linger, and I realize that I need to ask some of my teacher friends. As the 10 days toward a decision tick down, I’m sure I’ll be writing about this more.

    Dear Jeremy,

    I’m not gonna lie, I’m scared for you.

    With all that’s happened over the last couple of years, I can feel my newfound flinch response to thinking about the far future. How dare I cast out hopes that far? To raise my voice with my desires for you seems like an open invitation for life to sabotage us. But if I shy away from my aspirations, what remains? The other stuff. The rougher stuff. The stuff that I haven’t liked to talk about.

    I guess this is where I need to start. Because at the very least, Jeremy, I hope you’re still there. I hope you’re alive, that you feel healthy and that you feel connected to your body. Because from this vantage point, it’s that heady disconnection, that calm fog that comes over me when things get really hard that has me wondering if you will be. I hope you’ll make it. I hope you’ve at least made the choice to keep sticking it out.

    I hope you feel far less lonely. Recently—and increasingly—I’m realizing the seemingly obvious: that it’s not for lack of other like-minded people that I’ve felt so lonely these last 30 years, but it’s my own fear of connection. To be real with how sensitive and passionate I am, to open myself up to how much I actually do feel in this life and world is profoundly vulnerable. I hope that you’re sharing that vulnerability more. I hope you are sharing and transcending your insecurities and your blemishes, because we both know that everyone around us is feeling their own version of them too. Who are your communities? Who are your close people? How many secrets are you holding onto right now?

    I hope you still feel love. For Glendi. For your family and friends. For your co-workers, whoever they might be. I hope you still cry sometimes in simple appreciation of them. What is love feeling like for you right now? What are the things you’re feeling most deeply, most regularly? What are the things that are making you laugh?

    But beyond these broad things, I’m frightened of hoping for more. Instead, I guess more questions:

    Are you still organizing and/or doing popular education work? What has felt most successful? What lessons have you learned in the last 15 years? What is the state of social movements in the US and globally?

    What is your relationship to place? Where are you living and for how long? What roots have grown?

    How is the family? How is Glendi? What about children?

    How are things in Guatemala? What projects are you involved in there? Has anyone else in the family made it up north? What about the Alaska family?

    Have your relationship wounds healed? How social are you, and how well are you keeping up with people who are in our lives now as I’m writing this? Are there people in your life who you feel like you can’t talk to? Why, and are the reasons worth it?

    What languages do you speak? What happened with Mandarin? Any luck with K’iche or Mam?

    How are you getting by financially? Do you still hate working? Do you actually feel like you have a career or calling? What is Glendi doing for work?

    What are you writing? What are you reading? What music and art are you really appreciating?

    Damn, what is technologically like? What is the political economy like? White supremacy? Heterosexism? Patriarchy? The strength of the dollar? The US’s geopolitical power? Climate change?

    Are you still playing games? If so, what and with who? What is your relationship to consumerism? What sport type activities are you doing? What recreational technologies are around that I wouldn’t even know about now? How did the real-life roleplaying game turn out?!

    Right now, at 30, I feel so many tensions that make me scared, but I also recognize my conscious work to change and grow. I hope that this work has made a difference for you. I hope that the things I’m doing now, the reflecting, the pushing will have some concrete impact on you over there. I hope that it will keep you in this world and that it will keep you fighting. Beyond that, I’m prepared for the winds of life to blow you far and wide. But please at least be there to be present and feel them. And please, if you are there, feel deeply inside yourself for your thirst for justice and inspiration. That’s gotten us far, and if you’ve lost your connection to that, please trust that I have some wisdom too and try to feel for it again.

    Throwing all of my love, pain, and fear out there for you to feel again,

    Jeremy

    My dear Jeremy,

    As I’ve been circling around this milestone of my 30th birthday, I’ve been thinking about you often. You know how, even though you’re having doubts about God right now, you still feel like he’s watching over you and judging what you’re doing? It’s funny to say, but now you’ve actually taken over that role for me, in a good way. Perhaps more than anyone else, I feel like you’re accompanying me, observing me, forming opinions about how well I’m living the revolutionary values that you are just now developing. I guess to say it concisely, I feel a unique responsibility to you, and to honor the path that you put me on.

    15 years later, I can still feel the surge of energy that you’re now unlocking as you’re exploring spirituality and politics. The decisive break you’ve made from your middle school years, your bullying and the shame around being yourself, still reverberates today. You still inspire me with your hope and your curiosity, and I still feel moments where the world is opening up. A lot has happened, so many things that we didn’t expect–but not actually the things the adults are warning you about!–but I am still here, Jeremy. Though I have faltered, and I have changed, I haven’t grown up in the way we were so scared of…and I certainly haven’t sold out.

    Some quick, fun little updates:

    Right about now you must be reading that book about the Tiananmen Square movement, right? You’re imagining all of the committees that the students are forming, you’re wondering if you’ll ever be in a committee of your own, or a coop, or a collective. The answer is yes to all three, to the point that now committees feel almost nightmarish in how they seem to spin off into more and more committees! Revolutionary movement work is real, there really are thousands of other people doing it (and the numbers have grown so much since 1996!), and it actually doesn’t feel so precious and exotic anymore. It’s kind of just life now, believe it or not.

    I’m still straight-edge! Never smoked, never drank, never tried drugs, and I still don’t plan to. Now, I don’t actually use the term publicly anymore, just because it turns out that a lot of self-proclaimed straight-edge people are real jerks and they don’t have any other political views at all. But I still love my clear thoughts. But something worth noting is that most of the friends you are worried about now actually turned out okay, so some of the judgement and fear was a little harsh.

    I do cuss now, though. Leave it to working in a high school to make me start using bad words! I didn’t use them at all until I was already twenty-something, but the reason I started was actually so that I could connect more with high school students that I was working with. Okay, so this is selling out a bit, and I can own up to that. But swearing in front of youth can sometimes be the quickest way to build trust and get to real stuff. AND it’s important to say that I never say any harsh words that are truly hurtful or offensive, like the b-word, n-word, homophobic words, etc.

    The acne’s gonna clear up, but the next years are going to be way too rough. I actually often have a beard now! But the posture’s still bad.

    You’re right about adults. All the things you suspect about their own confusions, contradictions, and lies are pretty much true. I have seen nothing about getting older that actually automatically makes us adults wiser. Sure, having more experiences and actively learning from them is a real thing, and I do think there are probably a ton of lessons that I’d personally like to teach you. But their attitude of authority is mostly an act, and their warnings about what you need to do correctly, about how to have the best future, are mostly them just passing off what they think they’re supposed to say. Believe me, each night they go home scared and insecure about all the things they’re doing wrong just like you do.

    Still no book published. Still can’t speak Mandarin (but I’m studying), but I am fluent in Spanish, my yo-yoing is still great, and I still can ride the unicycle!

    I’m married! That’s right, I can’t believe that one either. As I think you are suspecting, love has been harder to find and to feel than it first looked, and our own love story is really something special. I still agree with you about all your critiques of marriage, but this is one area where selling out to immigration law seemed to be important. But yeah, it’s true that love shifts and changes, and maybe there will be some day that this love and this married arrangement doesn’t make sense anymore. But you know there is also the beauty of growing old together with someone, and with a community, and of building a story there. I think this does require a commitment that you express out loud to the people who need to hear it, otherwise, when the things get really hard, insecurity takes over and people can leave for lack of confidence in the future. There is something powerful in a promise that you make year after year and keep…but of course happiness and passion do need to be a priority in there, right?

    I still try hard to be friendly and playful. I’m finally rediscovering that lizard smile. I’d lost it for a bit, because there have been some rough times. But overall I think you would like me. And I actually hold myself to that exact standard a lot!

    And as many other things I have that I want to update you about, that’s really the point of this letter. I wanted to take just a moment to look inside myself and recognize you. I want to see you with as clear of eyes and memories as possible, and I want to thank you for what you’re doing right now. Thank you so much for the questions you are asking. Thank you for the ways you’re trying to break out of your shell. Thank you for your creativity. Thank you for distrusting the adult line. Thank you for the reading, as hard as it is to make sense of–you’ll actually get quite good at the intellectual work–and thank you for the creative writing. Thank you, especially for feeling so deeply, for your sensitivity and for not letting all the middle school masculinity brutalize it out of you. I needed all of those choices to get here, and I’m really proud of where we’ve gone.

    It’s slow and hard, but we are building a revolutionary community. It’s slower than we had wanted, but it’s happening. With poetry and music still woven throughout this life, I feel like I am carrying forward all of the biggest elements of what we had dreamed about. A new society is possible, a better world is possible…and that’s actually the slogan of a movement of hundreds of thousands of people, not just me on the computer alone! It’s so much bigger than we thought it was!

    Like Tim will soon tell you, the real world is hard and it will try to crush a little butterfly like us…but these wings are still fluttering. Bruised, for sure, but still fluttering.

    I still feel you in there, Jeremy, and I hope that I have been accountable to you in the ways that most matter. I hope that you are proud of me. Because I’m really proud of how you got here.

    With just so much love!

    Jeremy

    I’m excited. Today I hit level 3 in my real-life video game, and all signs point to me only increasing my commitment to this project until at least the “beta” phase is over at level 10. From there I’m going to re-draft my missions, improve my reward system and point structure, and try and see if I can make it a multi-player game by recruiting a couple other people to play it with me!

    But here I want to talk more about why I’m doing this in the first place, and how I’m conceiving of the eventual end of this game.

    The purpose of this game is to leverage both my playfulness and my propensity toward game addiction to become a better friend, partner, comrade, organizer, and thinker. It’s about using fun and games as a means of actually helping myself to mature and get more “serious” about the way I want to contribute to the world in my lifetime.

    The roots of this are many: I’m getting older (30 on Sunday) and working with youth all day increasingly makes me feel old; I’m responsible for a huge family and will hopefully be a father in the coming year or so; I’m professionally adrift; family finances are a constant hell; I’ve been struggling with politically-rooted depression for a good decade now; and yet I’m still deeply, thoroughly, gut-level committed to building a just and democratic world.

    Though there’s always more to learn, of course, I feel like my 15 years of radical struggle now have given me a pretty good idea of the work that I want to be doing, and the kind of social movement participant that I want to be. I’ve made my peace with the fact that I don’t want to be a famous movement superstar (though I do want to write a book or two). I know that I don’t care about professional advancement (except to bring Glendi’s family stability and to fund the movement) and I know that no matter what job I have, I’ll always hate working. I know that I want to be rooted in one geographic region and to slowly foster long-term revolutionary movement building from there. But all this time the sticking point has been the follow-through.

    So many years of insecure fumbling. So many hard experiences of failure, followed by months of despondency. So many repeated conversations, promises, proposals. As the stakes have gotten higher and higher (now with lives depending on me being present and responsible), I’ve come to realize that it’s time to really get growing. It’s time to really apply what I’ve learned over the years in a meaningful, consistent way.

    Thus, the game. The game is a way of motivating myself–really its more of a manipulation–to do the kind of personal work that I know I need to do to be the organizer and person I want to be. By getting points for participating in social spaces, attending political events, reading, playing, walking, and appreciating the work of friends and comrades, I am building new practices for myself that key off of my already developed triggers of, “just one more game,” and “I’ll quit as soon as I level up.”

    The idea was actually inspired by what I’ve seen from people doing Somatics and Trauma work. Their idea, in a nutshell, is that we are sort of made up of our practices, and that those practices are based on years of responses to the world that we live in, so the things that we do that are unhealthy are usually rooted in survival strategies that once worked for us, but which are no longer serving us so well. The trick to growing and changing, then, is to be engaging with our mind-body-spirit (soma…somatics) to develop new, centered practices that can take us toward our values and our commitments. Right on. The problem is there are a whole bunch of reasons why the straightforward somatics practices and groups won’t work for me right now, so I chose to come up with something that could meet me right where I’m at and support me from there.

    It’s working. My god it’s working so beautifully.

    It’s my hope that in 6 months, 9 months, a year I will have developed and internalized enough new practices that the framing of the game can go away, and I can engage in more social ways of doing this work. Somatics groups? Maybe. Revolutionary organizations? I hope. Revolutionary congregation building? If only!

    Of course, if the game does pan out for me, I’ll try to share about it, maybe with a special website, or a small book, or a youtube video or something. I do think it’s fun and creative and could be a help to a lot of other gamer types. But that’s not the point for me.

    The point, for me, is entirely personal.

    I want to end this game considerably more practiced in the skills and habits that I want to carry with me into fatherhood and old age. Because I know that my ideas and habits will continue to get more ossified with age, I want to make a big offensive right now toward getting myself on a better track. Of course, there is no endgame in trying to be a better person, but I believe there will be a point where I can do it without these wonderful training wheels that the game provides.

    Onward to level 4, then level 10, and then version 2.0 of the game!

    This past Sunday, I got to have a really nice–though too brief–phone conversation with a good friend of mine, in which my friend gave me warming praise for my revolutionary congregation writing, as well as a lovably packaged critique. The critique went something like this: “I like your writing and I’d love to read what you think about ablism. Its absence seems pretty stark in your posts.” Now, in my opinion, that is a skillful critique. Positive, engaging someone with an interest in their opinion, while also pushing them to grow further into their values. Magnificently done.

    And my friend was absolutely right. I had actually been triggered to a similar thought in Part 1 of the congregations piece, when I mentioned churches having disability accessible spaces–I began thinking about how lonely that one little mention of ablism is in this whole blog of mine. And with my friend’s push on Sunday, I’ve decided to do something about that. I’ve started re-reading Eli Clare’s work, and my co-worker Sunny just let me borrow their Disability Studies reader from college. I do think the absence is stark, and I can bodily feel that it’s deliberate. Similar to my absence of deep discussion around transphobia and trans liberation, ablism is one of those areas where I get physically uncomfortable talking about it, both because of the trickiness of language and the fear of speaking wrongly, as well as the lack of time and energy that I’ve put into studying it.

    The absence is particularly jarring for me because I really agree with an important theoretical observation that I believe my friend Bruin (was it you, Bruin?) made to me: that ablism is the canary in the social movement coalmine. The idea is that if a social movement or a movement organization fails to make good space for people with disabilities, that is a strong negative sign for the long-term sustainability or liberatory quality of said movement. I think this observation is brilliant, just totally right on. Because the same skills and structures that it takes an organization to be less ablist are much the same skills and structures that make it responsive to issues of abuse and sexual violence, to issues of self-care and burnout, and to issues of power hoarding and space sharing. They are the skills of patience, consideration, listening, and caring. Particularly because of the vast diversity of disabilities that exist in our current society, the flexibility that our movements require to meet the anti-ablism challenge is powerful preparation for the flexibility that our movements need for thousands of other issues and tactical challenges as well.

    Okay, so if I really totally believe this, then why such a low prioritization of study and work on ablism? Hypocrisy, of course! While I believe it theoretically, I think that I’m embodying the contrary, ablist reaction of thinking that addressing ablism is too hard, that it’s not worth prioritizing, that it’s not a core issue…and even that god-awful default defense of the status quo: that talking too much about ablism is divisive. Additionally, in my secondary reaction to my friends critique I found myself thinking, “but that’s not an issue I know about or have experience with, that’s something that other people are blogging about.”

    It’s this last thought that I want to talk about today, with the other stuff coming later as I read more.

    It’s incredible how, in the areas where we are privileged or where a deeper critique frightens us, we can ignore constantly lived realities that are staring us in the face. That’s the case with ablism. I seriously can’t believe that I think ablism is not an issue that I’m dealing with, when actually it’s all around me!

    First of all, my own chemical sensitivities, and the fact that almost all perfumes and chemical smells give me an instant headache…and thus that I have headaches weekly.

    Then, there’s the youth organization where I work, and the deeply challenging politics of unspoken and unseen learning disabilities and how youth hide them, but then are lightly teased about their behavior…but it’s never politicized beyond calling out the teasing, and we adults don’t know what to do because we don’t want to put a youth on blast by naming it as ablism, but then it also never gets talked about. This has been an issue for years, and I think about it every time certain youth are in the office, but our inaction and our lack of strategizing around it is actually pretty terrible!

    There is my last post about being put into gifted programs at a young age…and the whole flipside of that of people who I’ve loved who were put into remedial programs, medicated, sent to tutors, etc. Their experience also made me hate the system that separated us…yet I never considered it ablism??

    There is Glendi’s hospitalization, the months of healing afterwards, and the patience I occasionally lost as the weeks of taking care of her went on. And there’s that question that Glendi hoarsely voiced the day after the emergency, about whether she was broken.

    There is Glendi’s friend and college classmate in Guatemala who, after a bus accident 6 years ago, is paraplegic and who lives in this tight, winding little cobblestone alley and almost never leaves her house…and has been systematically shut out of the teaching profession that she was previously in.

    There are my friends who write and talk and think brilliantly about disability and ablism, but who are also living much deeper realities ablism than I am. I think about them, and I think about supporting them, but it’s sadly typical that I haven’t take the step of really applying the politics beyond it being something that’s sort of “their thing.”

    Then, there is the really, really big reality. The daily family issue. The unspoken tension underneath much of the suffering in our Guatemala family. There is Glendi’s dad’s condition. As a man with type-2 diabetes who now also faces kidney failure, he has been unable to work for 3 years now, and the pain and shame of him not being able to contribute financially to his family has been a defining frame this whole time. In the mix of poverty and manhood and rural pride, the ablism piece has been there this whole time, but I’ve been missing it! All of the embarrassment that gets expressed, the exasperation with life and the questioning of what living really means. The softly spoken question, so wrapped up in ablism, of when is the time to give up, stop operating, pull the plug. And for us, with the economic power in the situation, to miss this piece is profound. Man, this is big.

    This is bringing up a lot of questions for me, and a lot of feelings. But I think this is the point where I need to quiet down, do more work, and do more reading. This was sort of just a first clearing of the lot lot before building the foundation. The additional building will come slowly.

    I am so thankful to my friend for the push to be thinking about this, and I’m excited for Eli Clare’s Exile and Pride to arrive in the mail. As hard as it can be sometimes to overcome the initial hump of defensiveness, I love realizing the places where I need to stretch myself and grow.

    I have been giddy about the amount of writing that I’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks, and I’ve been especially excited about the parallel increase in my reading, walking, listening to music, social activity, and attendance at political events. I’m kind of just feeling great in general these days, and it’s so refreshing.

    I have felt a little bit weird, however, because I was writing a post every day and the last two days I didn’t write anything. In part this is because I’m working on a critical review of AK Thompson’s book, Black Bloc, White Riot; but it’s also just because I wanted to take a break for a few days and see how it felt.

    Nevertheless, I have a lot of things that I’m working on for this week and next:
    -The review of Black Bloc, White Riot (which will also touch a lot on the question of violence in political struggle)
    -A piece reflecting my current relationship to ablism in my personal life and movement work (prompted by a nice, loving poke from a friend of mine about the stark absence of discussions of ablism in my writing)
    -An update on my real life video game, a discussion of my cool new rewards system, and my anticipated “endgame”
    -A return to my piece on Presence, Power, and Popular Education (once again thanks to AK Thompson’s book)
    -A reflective letter to myself on the event of my 30th birthday (this Sunday!)

    I doubt I’ll get all of these done, and I also expect some spontaneous writing, but it helps me to set my aspirations out there in public, particularly because I’m now using this site pretty consciously to slowly prepare myself to write for publication.

    But this discussion of my posts brings me to something I want to write about briefly here: the personal damage that growing up as a straight-A student and in gifted programs did to me.

    It was really hard to go two days this week without writing anything for this blog. I had committed myself to write a post a day–even though I think such a goal is probably not even healthy or useful anyway–and when I couldn’t keep up with that I got caught in the same downward spiral I always get caught in: if I can’t do it flawlessly from day one, then it’s not meant for me and I should quit.

    This is something that I’ve had within me since at least 3rd grade. It’s something I internalized from being put in a gifted program at that age, and then all of the praise that I received since. I came to believe really deeply that a truly talented and intelligent person 1) does everything right on the first try, and 2) doesn’t ever ask anyone for help.

    This is what caused me to cry right in the student lounge of my high school when I got my only A- (which I later got changed through extra work). It’s what’s caused me to walk away from every single writing project I’ve ever started after the first draft…because the idea of it needing changes was a sign to me that it wasn’t worth publishing in the first place. It’s what keeps me hoarding all of my ideas for years because I never think they’re ready to share.

    While obviously being treated like I was smart and being encouraged and thrown resources has done wonders for me since childhood, and it gave me all of the key opportunities that have led me to my life now, I still need to acknowledge this damage. The damage is real, and it’s profound. It pops up sometimes in the weirdest places of my life. It’s definitely a part of my cycles of depression. It’s also an underlying cause of the anti-social elements of my personality that I discussed a couple of days ago; not just that I was taught a kind of arrogance, but I was also taught to not show my full self because of the flaws it might uncover. Further, it completely colors all of my family dynamics.

    Since high school I’ve tried to break this internalization apart: in all of the times I dropped out of school…my GED, the 4-5 times I dropped out of college, the choosing of low-paying jobs that focused on social justice, etc. I tried to believe that I was over it, but I definitely am not. This blog has actually helped a lot, and my job, relationships, and organizing have also taught me a ton (because I’ve needed to learn to stay present and learn lessons from mistakes in all of those areas, without purity and self-flagellation). But there is still work to do. And preparing myself more intentionally to try publishing my writing is going to be a big step.

    So in the end I’m really glad that I could go two days without writing and then come back today (I almost gave up, to be honest). I need to better learn the skill of making mistakes in my intellectual work, in sharing incomplete thoughts, in hearing and then responding to feedback, etc.

    I’m so glad I haven’t given up. I feel myself on the verge of really beautiful growth that’s been a long time in waiting. I don’t want my internalized needs for purity and personal perfection to sabotage these possibilities. This time, I want to grow in messiness.

    Patience Is a Faith-Based Initiative…

    Here in the few remaining moments we have left,
    just what do you propose we say in our defense?
    That much was decided before any one of us were born?
    That we were nothing more than objective observers to the madness
    and throw up your hands in sadness?
    “We’re powerless to change anything anyways.”
    So just lay back upon your death bed
    and gaze idiotically back up the chain of command
    from which we receive our directives.
    I guess it’s just common sense to preach
    what ought to be but ensure it never is in the present tense
    –Propagandhi, Last Will and Testament

    There are nights where it feels right and true to approach change as a patient builder, with a plan of struggle that will take decades. I can sleep soundly and wake up motivated in the morning. But then there are nights like tonight. I can’t sit still, I can’t feel comfortable in my body thinking about the possibility that I might die without seeing some real measure of justice and equality in this world. It’s like the day after a sunburn, that unbearable itch after the pain…I can’t just go to bed with this feeling.

    I talked to Glendi–who’s in Guatemala right now–on the phone this evening, and it looks like it’s time to send money again. Her dad is without pills, there is no food, her siblings’ school projects are lacking materials, and they are behind on paying for the new water project we just raised money for. Nunca alcanza, nuuuuunca alcanza. It’s never enough. And for my lovely, fierce Glendi, that means that she never gets peace…not even on the night that she herself almost died did she get peace.

    And I can’t take this. Can’t we put the struggle on fast forward, skip to the part where we win? Can it really be that we’re still somewhere in the first act, and the disc keeps skipping backward? And so in the meantime does that mean that all these millions of families have to keep trying to play tricks on tragedy each day in order to see the next?

    I have a hard time with militancy. I abhor violence and violent rhetoric. But there is no denying this sharp edge that comes out, like retracting claws, when nights like this come along.

    I know the theory from many angles why guns and seizures of power will not bring the justice that we need. But that just means that our other ways–our building and constructing and fighting with moral force and creative nonviolence–had better be that much better…relentless…focused.

    Atheist or not, tonight I cling to this faith with a desperation matching any churchgoer: that there will be some redemption for this pain that doesn’t leave them…that there will be peace within a hard-won justice for at least the young twins by the time they are grandparents. And instead of praying for it, I write for it here…with the feeling that it’s echoing futilely off into the silence just the same.

    “How many times have I wondered if it is really possible to forge links with a mass of people when one has never had strong feelings for anyone, not even one’s own parents: if it is possible to have a collectivity when one has not been deeply loved oneself by individual human creatures. Hasn’t this had some effect on my life as a militant–has it not tended to make me sterile and reduce my quality as a revolutionary by making everything a matter of pure intellect, of pure mathematical calculation?” –Antonio Gramsci

    I was so struck by this quote when I first read it in 1999, that I remember just wanting to envelope dear old Antonio in a great, warm hug. I wanted to embrace him in a way that could communicate my soul deep recognition of what he was expressing. I wished dearly, regardless of the distance of time, language, place, and mortality, that we could be best friends. I felt, at that time, that he was speaking words that I couldn’t dare to admit to myself, but which I felt and was acting out to disastrous effect in all of my relationships.

    Now 12 years later, I re-read the quote in AK Thompson’s Black Block, White Riot (that’s gonna have to be a subject of another, post), and I am struck by something else: I have changed so much as a social and emotional person, that the quote no longer feels like it speaks to me at all. Though elements remain, I am not the loner kid that I once was. And, even though it’s pure geeky fantasy, I smile a little imagining that my good comrade Tony Gramsci has been evolving alongside me as well.

    How did this happen? What shifted and at what speed? Truth is, I hadn’t even realized the change until I thought about this quote. I assumed that I was still the same socially awkward person I’ve always been, and that’s still I how talk about it most of the time. But that’s less and less my reality. In fact, increasingly over the last, what, maybe 8 years, I feel like I’ve been so full of love for the people–even the enemies and strangers–around me that…well… like this:

    “Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.”–From American Beauty

    I’d like to take a few paragraphs here to investigate this wonderfully gradual transformation of pretty much the core of who I am.

    The Hermit Who Got Radical

    As far back as I can remember, I’ve preferred to be alone. Growing up, I so loved talking to myself and pacing around my back yard, weaving my own narratives with my own characters, that I had very little interest in friends. Even until 11 or 12 years old, I remember there were school kids who wanted to be my friends and who I’d have slumber parties with and stuff, but I also distinctly remember getting to a point after an hour or two of playing that I’d just send them home, so that I could let the game unfold how I wanted it to by myself.

    It was at that time, at 12 in 7th grade, that I started making up my imaginary stories about the utopian hidden islands where there was no money, no poverty and homelessness, and no destructive technology. My first hint of anti-capitalist thought.

    By 13 and 14, I was pretty sure that I was going to be a hermit…running away to the woods in my favorite park at McHugh Creek in Alaska, living in a cabin with a typewriter, Thoreau style. At Steller Secondary School, I got introduced to Eastern philosophy, and I decided instead that I wanted to be some kind of monk, a Siddhartha. Enter the critique of the material world, add a few readings about capitalism and the destruction of the soul, and soon I’m getting into socialism and anarchism.

    And thinking back about my social life and my early radicalism, it’s so humorously sad the way I thought about it: the people all around me felt so boring and shallow and mean, so dull and uninspiring…but if only we could have a revolution, then maybe everyone would be into poetry and philosophy, imagination and learning like I was. In short it was, “I’ll finally have people worth being friends with after the revolution.”

    Yet from middle school through high school I did have friends, and some really great ones. I have lifelong memories, and deep appreciations for all that we shared together. But back then I so rarely had them over to my house, I so rarely thought about their emotional realities, and I didn’t really think of myself as having them in my life forever. It was just gonna be until I ran away or moved on. Girlfriends and crushes just the same, or even worse.

    And when tragedy struck, when an ex-student died, when my mentor was exiled away after serious scandal, when a member of our friend group committed suicide, even after my grandma died until the moment of her funeral…my tears wouldn’t come. I’d try to convince myself of the importance, of the ethics of crying, but it didn’t happen. I didn’t know for sure if I even cared. I was really quite terrified that I didn’t care at all. And it also often annoyed me that other people seemed to cry and care so openly.

    In college, the WTO protests, summit hopping, revolutionary collectives and the feeling of imminent social transformation…and it was also my lowest time, as I was a terrible friend, a cold co-organizer, and an even worse relationship partner. I was charming, inspiring, and I made lots of people want to be close to me, and I treated them all like they weren’t serious, deep, or revolutionary enough to see the best of who I was. Although there’s always been a part of me that’s been deeply sensitive and empathetic, for some reason I wasn’t really good at applying those skills in close quarters. It broke down when it involved actual one-on-one interaction and vulnerability. I remember feeling so lonely, so unappreciated…but really I was just a big jerk who didn’t see the wealth of love, intelligence and goodwill all around me.

    And the Grinch’s Heart Grew Three Times Bigger That Day

    I can’t believe it…really I’m almost embarrassed to realize it…but 9/11 changed everything. In the climate of repression, depression, and demobilization that followed, and the social and political vacuum that it created, something got tweaked within me. My radical community in Bellingham was torn asunder, I was depressed in my relationship, and I didn’t know or want to meet anyone in my new town of Seattle. And in the deep marginalization I felt by the right wing surge, I feared that I had lost some of the best comrades and allies that I had yet known.

    It was in my first year of doing work at Tyee High School, when a young man felt the trust to come out to me for the first time in his life, that I think I noticed that my heart had changed. I remember being alone and stuck in traffic on I-5, thinking about this young man and his fears for his manhood, his future, his family, and yet his excitement at finally admitting it someone else…and I, of course, broke down crying. But I think it said as much about me as it did about him, as I remember thinking, “oh my god, other people have whole complex emotional lives and struggles just like I do…and this is what it feels like to let them in.” A raging, frackin’ beautiful torrent…cold and foamy river water just rushing over you, as you let someone else’s reality connect with yours. Oh my god…I-It becomes I-Thou. It was so sharply memorable. And I felt so much poorer for not having felt it more in earlier years.

    But it was just a moment. Slowly over the next 5 years came other moments. Brief punctures through my numbed-out, computer addicted haze of 2001-2009. Guatemala, of course, and my blog were powerful forces for emotional connection. Losing vital and complicated friendships, and leaving my lovely Tyee. Finding Glendi, of course, was another one, but even there the learning came slowly. Learning to love consciously, on the daily, is a wickedly beautiful journey.

    But to talk about this without talking about feminism would be a farce. Because parallel with all of this story is the story of being challenged by women in my life, by reading and organizing with other men, by seeing the realities of gender violence, and struggling with my own internalized definitions of manhood. This was an undeniable prerequisite to me being able to access and move through my emotions in these years. This is, in so many ways, a story of gender redefinition, and the discovery of new ways to be a man. That wall, that shield, that barrier that I had learned from my dad, my brother, my uncles…it was such a big part of what’s needed to come down in order for the real complexity of relationship and community to be able to rise up in me.

    And here in 2011, in a life that is now dominated by supporting others, sending money to others, offering care and closeness to others, I just feel so differently than I did all those years ago. I feel immersed in a politics and identity of affection. Still, I need my time alone. Still, I flake regularly on my friends’ phone calls and emails. Still, I go off by myself and talk to myself and spin imaginary narratives. I don’t think there’s any coincidence in the fact that I do this kind of writing most when Glendi’s in Guatemala and I’m alone all night in the house. And still, my solitude is my best friend, without question. But at the same time, I feel my relationships so much more. I feel the struggles and the insecurities and the desires of those around me…like feeling the subtle thread of a spider web with your own hands, whereas before you were wearing boxing gloves.

    I feel full to bursting with love, and that is now what keeps me thinking and dreaming of revolution. Where before I wanted everyone to change for me so that I could enjoy them more, now I want everything to change for us, so that we can all share in the beauty of this thing together. The mathematical calculations are still present, and valuable, but they are now knitted with intimacy and care.

    And that has given me a freedom, too, to grieve for those old losses that I couldn’t tear up for back in the day. To all those I’ve lost to get this learning: I miss you and I’m sorry it’s always been taking so long.

    Last night I went on a long walk by myself–one of those things that I’ve been doing a lot more of since I started playing my little game. It was just wonderful, my head just galloping through creative idea after creative idea, reflecting and expanding on dozens of thoughts and memories, all punctuated by loud and soulful music on my headphones. I made it through my neighborhood and all the way through the Seattle arboretum, where the plants and the mud and the blossoms gave tangibility to the coming spring. And on my way back, waiting there at a crosswalk for a light to change, I developed this big, childish grin. I had just this grand, warm smile, standing there all alone on the street.

    And there was something revelatory about smiling like that. It felt so familiar, so comfortable, like something that had been aloof had finally settled into place. It felt like me. It felt like me putting on my own face again. And that’s when I started to cry, out there on the street. Huge, gasping sobs.

    See, I had realized then how important the simple act of smiling is to me, to my relationships, to my history, and to my politics. And I realized also how rare it’s been to smile so naturally over the past 10+ years.

    I was thinking about how many relationships I’ve built just starting with my smile, and how many awkward situations I’ve made more comfortable. I thought about the trust I’ve built with friends and family ever since childhood, and how many people I’ve made feel heard and recognized, just with my grin.

    This is not about being boastful, or exaggerating my strengths, but I think I have enough experience in this world to know that my smile is a gift, and with it the ability to make people feel seen and validated, to be inspired with creative and wild dreams, to connect with a playfulness that they often feel unable to access in other spaces. And, honestly, I believe that it’s helped me win a fair share of people over to radical politics–it’s a powerful revolutionary tool. But it’s not just a gift. It feels more like a critical piece of who I am inside, my identity. If there is an archetypical form of me, a “platonic,” perfect form of me, it would have disheveled hair, bad posture, and that huge, silly smile with crooked teeth.

    But that’s also what felt so wrong about the whole thing, how much I’d missed the feeling. Over the last 10 years or more, I’ve gone from project to project and group to group, even across the country in the process, and consistently the predominant memories, the most visceral lessons, have been negative. Scathing political critiques leading to dissolutions and splits. Entire groups of friends who no longer speak to each other. Actions and projects that blossom with tremendous progress, and end up condemned publicly and retold as cautionary tales. Those places in Anchorage, Bellingham, Seattle where it still stings to walk by. And lately, more personally, just the stone-heavy, dull, steady crushing of capitalism, xenophobia, corruption, and disease that is rolling over our family members one by one.

    In all of this, my smile only surfaces briefly, and too often as a veneer for much more stormy thoughts beneath. And here is where I have learned to put in the self-criticism of my privilege and sense of entitlement–that really this negativity is how the majority of people are made to feel, so I should be careful about lamenting too much. And that is true enough, that’s a fair point. But it’s not my point. My point is that my disconnection from my own smile, my alienation from that deep and authentic pool of creativity and happiness that I have known since I was 4, has been a tremendous blow to my revolutionary potential. And any strategies that I may be trying to develop about being a better organizer had better have a priority on reuniting me with my smile!

    If there is a role for radical scholars, skilled campaign planners, tireless fighters, fierce poets…then there is a role for making people feel happy and for encouraging them to imagine outlandish things. I think that’s a role I’d like to fit again. And I plan on doing just that.

    Aint nothing going to break my stride
    Nobody´s going to slow me down
    Oh no, I have got to keep on moving

    I’ve been doing really well since my last post. Lot’s social interaction, having a great time with Glendi, and making great progress on all of these crises have hit us since the New Year. Sure, there was hard week of depression in February, but then sort of a beautiful moment where I was able to channel that into a lot of creativity. It felt good.

    One of the coolest ways that I’ve managed to feel so great lately is my secret little nerdy project: my real-life game!

    Here’s an old Facebook post I originally wrote about it back in September:

    For many years I’ve noticed two interlinked personal problems that get me down alot and make me feel like I’m not living up to my potential: consumerism (especially just constant internet window-shopping for items that I’m not even going to buy), and video games. These go back to like elementary school!

    So the other evening I was playing a computer game in which I spent like 3 hours chopping wood and gathering bricks to like build a house, and I was like: “why did I just spend all this time essentially doing chores in this game when I could be doing real chores or even more, fulfilling, revolutionary stuff?” And without getting down on myself like usual, I just acknowledged it, because I want to gain a new level and have something that makes me feel safe and makes me feel definite progress.

    So, thus was born the project: I decided to try an experiment to convert my life into sort of a real-life roleplaying game, in which I get experience points for doing things that help me live my bigger desires and values, and if I get points, I gain levels, and those levels give me little rewards.

    Is this geeky and sad enough, yet? Potentially unhealthy? I hear ya, but it gets more embarrassing.

    I worked out a whole structure of level progression based on 8 values (love, community, health, playfulness, responsibility, political action, curiosity, creativity), and then I created like 50 missions (along the lines of World of Warcraft, if you know that game) that give me points towards some or all of those 8 values (for example: if I read 100 pages of a book this week I get 3 curiosity points, and +1 point for political action if it’s political, or +1 for playfulness if it’s fun fiction, etc…or I get points for cooking Glendi or the housemates breakfast 3 times in a week, or for reading and responding to my friends’ blog posts, etc.). Getting even worse, right? There’s more!

    THEN I actually inputted all of these missions into an excel file, and programmed macros and little buttons into the excel file, so that if I complete a mission I can actually just click one button and it automatically updates my point totals for my 8 different values. And then if the average of all my 8 values reaches 100 or more, I go up 1 level, and the excel program is actually programmed to change the color of the cell and the font to show what level I’m at! And if I get to a new level, I get to buy myself either a new game, or new clothing…thus also tying my consumerism to the reward system of the game.

    So, it sounds freakish and weird and geeky, and I think it’ll probably end up not working at all and feeling really not right. However, on paper, in order to gain my first level I’ll have to be more community oriented, read more, pursue spontaneity and fun more, eat more healthy and exercise more, and be more politically active.

    So, the idea is to use my nerdiness in the service of living a more balanced and community oriented life.”

    Well, guess what! I got the game done in October, then had some major bugs in the excel formulas that had me put it aside for a number of months, but then I came back to it just a couple of weeks ago and got it all working for real.

    Now, with one week down I’m halfway to achieving level one! So far, the game actually feels really effective. My scoring and leveling system actually provides me a really accurate-feeling sense of where I’m spending my time, and checking it every morning gives me a sense of a whole world of options for how I can spend my time.

    So far, playing the game has helped me learn new recipes, spend more time with friends and political comrades, deal with outstanding financial issues, read more, and even write this post (I get creativity points for each post I write!).

    I’ll be really curious to see where I’ll be in a week, then in a month. I’m still trying to figure out some of the systems for leveling and especially for rewarding myself when I reach a level…but the cool thing about my self-taught excel programming is that all this stuff can be changed on the fly while I’m playing the game.

    When so much terrible stuff is happening–Japan, Libya, Wisconsin, and even Seattle schools–this is one thing that’s keeping me moving, and especially keeping me fighting. Finally, I’m using my video game problem for good!

    Not Tragedy, Just Poverty…

    On January 19th, Glendi and I lost the baby we had just found out about days before. We nearly lost Glendi as well, from the internal bleeding. That exact same day and hour, Glendi’s dad was hospitalized for the fourth time because of end-stage kidney disease. Glendi’s mom, newly diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver (maybe from malaria or hepatitis, we still don’t know) had been running a fever for 3 days. Weeks later, she’s still running a fever. Our 2 years of savings ran out just about right then. We have no insurance for Glendi’s emergency, so we’ll just have to wait and see about that. And then, on January 20th, Glendi’s cousin was murdered in Guatemala city while attending a funeral for one of his other cousins. He died along with six others, gunned down right in front of the church by gangsters.

    This is just the pain of 2011, so far. 2010 was already one of the hardest years yet. More hospitalizations; paying over 2 thousand to secure Glendi’s brother a teaching job, only to have him not be paid a dime (in a public school!) for the ENTIRE school year, and then to be downsized at the end of it; her other brother finding a job driving trucks that pays only $250 a month, with an average of 20 hour days, 6 days a week–no exaggeration. And I won’t say much about 2009, because it was no joy either.

    Just so much struggle, while still only moving backward.

    With emotional cycles that already swirl between inspiration and depression, this reality has been hard for me to take. The first few problems, I could face it optimistically alongside the family, with an attitude of, “we’ll make it through this thing, things are gonna get better.” But then after a few years of nonstop crisis, the optimism has gotten really ragged. I think one reason for the even more constant numbing activities–video games, tv, online window-shopping, almost never being able to be alone with my thoughts–is that I don’t know how to think about myself, my family, or our future anymore. One becomes scared of making plans or hoping, because that is one more thing that you’ll probably lose.

    Sometimes, from my perspective and upbringing, this feels like some kind of grand, almost poetic or operatic tragedy. Something from a movie. It’s been easy for me, and the people from my world and community, to get stuck there. But that is not what this is. What this is, actually, is exposure to the global reality of poverty. What looks and feels like personal tragedy when seen from an individual and family lens is actually the institutionalized experience of millions of people around us. This pain is the status quo in Guatemala and in so many other places across the world.

    We are not alone with the malaria, cirrhosis, or kidney disease. They are rampant in Guatemala. We are not alone with the unemployment or terrible, exploitative jobs. We are not alone with the street violence. Just talk to Glendi’s neighbors, cousins, colleagues; all of them know these stories in some form or another. It’s sad to hear what is happening to the family, but it’s no surprise for folks.

    In the U.S., there is a simplistic notion that countries in the global south (or in the poor U.S.) are there to provide resources and cheap labor and wide open markets to the rich countries. This is true, on a systemic level. However, this is not actually what makes a whole country like Guatemala run. There is only so much profit to be made in Guatemala from resource extraction and labor exploitation, and there are far more people there than are needed to make that profit–that is, there is a huge surplus population. The coffee and banana workforce have been downsized and converted from a feudal system of peasants who live on the land where they are exploited to a day-laborer system with no job security and no economic stability. This means that there is a huge swell of people with few work prospects and desperate needs, and this creates a roiling economy of poverty that is brutal, predatory, and ever-present. Narco-trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, bribery, sex trafficking, scams and schemes, robbery, this is what fills in the spaces where there is no more room for the traditional exploitative jobs, or the small household stores, or remittances from the U.S.. And the hunger, pain, violence, and disease that accompany this reality are also sources of exploitation and predation.

    I write about this not to diminish or even distract myself from the pain of our personal reality, of this terrible 2011. I’m writing about this because I need to realize that I’m not alone in this pain. And being in the U.S., Glendi and I have access to resources that millions of others don’t have. So to lose too much hope, to give up the fight against this system, it’s just something that I can’t do. It’s a shock to see how so many people live, and to see the people who I know and love living it. But for them, it’s sad but not all that new, and they keep trying to move forward.

    I’m hurting, we’re hurting, but we’re not alone. Sticking together, trying to stay present with each other, with our feelings…maybe we can build the resilience to push back even harder at this system. This is why Tunisia, Egypt, Venezuela, Bolivia are so inspiring. Because sometimes these humble and hurting people can fight back and win. Hopefully that parallel reality can help me stay away from the constant video games for a few days, at least!

    My job just had its really big fundraiser (very successful, thank you very much), and what I’ve discovered is that when an obligation forces me out of procrastination and into high capacity, I get a high off it and my creativity really ramps up. I want to write blog posts, I want to respond to blog posts, I want to read, I want to create. For example, out of nowhere yesterday, after a 12-hour workday, I spent another 3 hours making a punk-rock mix CD for two youth.

    Eventually the energy dies back down, but right now there are just so many things I want to write about. Unfortunately, I leave for Guatemala tomorrow night, so I probably won’t have time for more than one post…which will either be about churches and revolution, or my thoughts about location-centered organizing. We’ll see.

    However, I have a thought about one intellectual project for while I’m in Guatemala. I want to read Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed again, take good notes, and then respond to it chapter by chapter. Hope I’ll find the time to do it. Usually I have a couple hours each day with nothing to do but read and think.

    Tonight I leave for Guatemala, to support Glendi in the care of her father and her family. Her dad has diabetes, and his kidneys have failed. It’s pretty much terrible, and it’s been very hard for everyone. It’s been hard for me to be so far away from them.

    I bought my ticket yesterday. It’s that kind of trip. I’ll be gone for a week, and probably won’t have time to write while I’m there.

    There is much to say, though. I’ve got a heap of questions to unravel and feelings to express about all of this, but they’ll have to wait.

    Gotta Read More

    Just read this: 7 Ways Reading Makes Writing Better

    Gotta say I feel shamed. I know that this site is my little idea and emotion playground and I can do whatever I want, but I feel like if I want to really push my thinking and writing further, I’ve gotta be reading more. I’ve gotta be dialoguing more with other people’s thinking. Engaging more in community with my writing.

    That’s gonna be hard with all of my anxieties about intellectualism, and I imagine that I can really hit some blocks here. But it’s about trying, about putting in the practice. So that’s what I’m gonna do. I probably want to start locally, with some friends’ blogs, and with Gathering Forces…but I’m also interested in writing about something the New York Study Group put out about revolutionary approaches to reform.

    I’ll keep writing my own thinking and life, but I want to be engaging more with other people’s ideas here. It’s the next step for me, I can feel it.

    And Then What Am I Going To Do?

    “Separate everyday a little more from the things we start
    Well I won’t forget my part
    In the end what you want is much different from what you choose
    Yeah, it’s bigger than me and you
    It’s bigger than me and you”
    A Jingle For The Product by Dillinger Four

    A year from now, I have no idea what I’m going to be doing. I have no idea where Glendi and I will be living. I have no idea what career or education path I might be on. That feels weird and scary, to say the least.

    See, my three year commitment at SYPP, the organization where I work, is coming up in December. Glendi and I’s plan for a long while had been that in March of 2011, we’d move to Guatemala for 6 months, to have some solid time with her family in her home context, and to begin a long-range project of building a solidarity school there. For Glendi and I, it’s been a dream. But with the long train of challenges and emergencies that we and her family have faced over the last three years (deportations, evictions, diabetes, accidents, legal struggles, green cards, housemate nightmares), we have now officially exhausted all of our savings, and the dream seems like it needs to be delayed. [here is where you can watch the first 15 minutes of the Pixar movie “UP” to get a sense of how it feels sometimes]

    So in the place of that grand plan, there is just kind of a void for me. Do I want to go back to school? If so, for what? Do I want to try my hand at being a teacher? PhD program? Try writing a book? Get another non-profit job? Learn a trade? Truthfully, the options seem wide open for me. While there is a very real pressure to choose a path that will allow us to support our whole family and grow our own close family, within that there are a lot of choices for us to make.

    One of the reasons why I chose to start blogging again was just this reality. I need to connect with myself much more consistently and honestly if I hope to see where I personally want to go from here. Glendi and I didn’t ask for the class and imperialist realities in which our relationship and our families exist. That’s what has come with our love. And if we don’t want to fall into the twin traps of selling out and resenting our lives, then it’s important to do some earnest grappling with my own hopes and aspirations for the coming years.

    However, right now, at 11:15pm on a Sunday night, I don’t know how much grappling I’m gonna be doing. Maybe it’s enough to just lay the question out here right now, for me to explore with more detail over the next weeks. Because there are so many questions that are wrapped up in this.

    One thing I can say for sure, though, and a good foundation for all the exploring to come: I am in love and I am in love with life. And as sad, confused, and scared as I am about the future, I still feel like this life of mine is an adventure. It is a joy in so, so many ways, and I’m genuinely curious about what is to come.

    First morning of my weekend and I’m in bed again, now into the third season of Friday Night Lights. Despite all sorts of emotional rollercoaster cheesiness on this show, my interest in this program is still unshakable.

    It’s really unacceptable, though, how all of the main characters of color keep getting written out or they just disappear, at a rate of one a season…to the point now that in the third season it’s looking like an all-white cast. What’s up with that? Not to mention that two of the major storylines in the second season had to do with racism, but one of those storylines just…poof…disappeared, while the other one ended up sending the lesson that if a person of color defends themself or their family from racism, they get crushed. No thanks, NBC.

    But I also think that I’m beginning to understand the personal appeal of this show for me, as strange as it is to realize: positive masculinity. There is something in some of the main characters, especially the character Coach Taylor, that is like viscerally hitting at my dad issues. Just watching that Coach Taylor character (who’s very well acted, by the way), and the way he makes decisions and yells and is all masculine, but also caring and ethical and emotionally present, it’s like hypnotic to me. It’s weird. This is something that my old therapist had brought up a number of times, my search for models of masculinity that make me okay with who I am and also let me stand up for myself. I don’t really have more to say about it, but it’s almost a scary level of realization to see that that is why I’m watching this silly TV show…what is this unearthing for me?

    The Wonder Beyond the Numbness…

    “If you knew that you would find a truth
    That brings up pain that can’t be soothed
    Would you change?
    Would you change?”
    -Tracy Chapman, “Change”

    It’s just plain neat how the way we spend our time–our daily practices, as somatics folks like to talk about it–can totally affect our consciousness and our mood.

    Like I said recently, I spent almost the entire weekend in bed, watching TV and playing video games. Essentially, I spent the weekend numbed out. When difficult ideas surfaced in my mind, or stresses began to appear, I would just dive further, surfing the web on my laptop while I watched TV. Playing cellphone games while listening to podcasts. Total sensory overload as a way to shut out feelings as well as the physical pain of my sprained foot and burned finger (small cooking accident).

    Very well, but something interesting happened when I chose to turn off Friday Night Lights and try my hand at blogging again. That decision woke me up. It woke my feelings and intellect up! Not only was I reflecting on the US Social Forum, but my mind just started working through all sorts of discourses, project ideas, potential blog posts…including this one. I can’t really emphasize how different I felt. I almost felt like a different person entirely…myself. Exhilarating.

    But you open up the flood, and it really comes flooding. I woke up this morning and the first thing I did was turn on some music. Tracy Chapman, singing my soul. The tears came quickly. That when I let myself think and feel, I’ve gotta think about the choices I’ve made, the pressures I feel, a grown man dying in Guatemala and growing Guatemalan young people depressed at the structural walls overshadowing them. The father I may become soon enough, and how I don’t want to be the fathers I’ve seen. How lost I feel when I think about life post-SYPP. Things I’ve mostly written about here before. What mistakes have I made? How badly have I strayed from the path I wanted? How wrong was I about what this life would hold for me?

    But also, the flood of the beautiful, the wonderful: how fascinating it is the level that babies’ brains have to work to learn language, and how dazzling it is all the new ideas and poetry that linguistic structures allow; how stunning it is to watch people in my life learn, grow, change…watching younger cousins and ex-students and my own family members…ooh what a privilege it is to participate in; and how utterly overwhelming, how dwarfed I feel by that long train of people before me who have chosen to keep believing in the struggle for the beautiful and fair. I was just so, so happy to feel bathed in this, to feel the wonder of this little world of ours.

    You know, maybe this is Bipolar Disorder (if that’s even real)…biochemical cycles going from the numbness and depression to the frantic and awed. But I don’t think so. I think I did make a choice last night to think and feel and reflect…and I think this happiness is really just me connecting to myself again, like coming back to an old friend. And that connection had me dancing alone in my bedroom with a sprained ankle this morning, holding my laptop like a guitar and belting out Christian pop tunes…with feeling.

    That was pretty great.

    So, Glendi’s in Guatemala for a month–which is a future post in itself–and I’m alone in the house with a sprained ankle. So this weekend I had very little to do.

    I played a whole lot of video games (Tales of Monkey Island and Monster Hunter for the win), and then I started streaming this TV show that my friend Bruin had mentioned, Friday Night Lights. An NBC series about a high school football team in a small, depressed West Texas town? Not for me, I thought. Well, I bought in as soon as the pilot, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I watched all 22 hours of the first season in a day and a half. I was in bed watching the show for 15 HOURS on Saturday. In fact, before I started writing in this blog tonight I was just finishing the 4th episode of the second season!

    So what do I like about it? Do I have a political reason? Not really. I just think the stories are good. It’s pretty much about the whole town and people’s lives, not just football. Now, there are layers of politics to explore and the show does explore them–there’s lot’s of stuff about ablism, some about race and class, a little bit about gender so far. But honestly, I don’t think much of it is all that deep (except for the ablism storylines, which I think are compelling and pretty rare for mainstream entertainment), but it’s gripping for me. I wouldn’t actually recommend it to you, necessarily, but it was gripping for me.

    One thing that I particularly was struck by, oddly, was the way people set boundaries in the show. There is a whole lot of “get out” “leave and never come back,” “do the right thing or face the consequences,” kind of talk in the show, and it’s sort of the dominant way people make tough choices in the program. A lot of sort of razor-sharp decisiveness, whether it’s about monogamy or reconciliation, or quitting drinking, or confronting injustice. This didn’t strike me as realistic at all, because I’m very indecisive and I’m terrible at setting boundaries…but I think what is intoxicating about the show is watching people make tough choices and growing by leaps and bounds in each hour long episode…and here I am struggling for years just to even maintain an internal dialogue with myself through mediums like this blog! I think I was drawn to the escape into this world where tough situations are so clear and easy to confront and take action on. If only it were so.

    It’s almost midnight now on Sunday night, and I have to get up at 6am to go to work and work on a grant with a deadline…but I’m mighty tempted to put on one more episode to fall asleep to.

    Why should anyone but me care about my addiction to this silly show? I have no idea, but I think there are more profound things at work here, relating to how I’m feeling about real life in general. Which hopefully I’ll get to soonish.

    From June 21st to the 26th, I traveled to Detroit with 9 youth and 2 adults to attend the US Social Forum (USSF), a gathering of between 15,000 and 20,000 social justice activists from all over the country and beyond. I actually started writing my blog reflections about the experience as soon as I was on the plane home, but as usual I started over-thinking it and just stopped writing. So, instead, I think I’ll just share some of my reflections in bullet points, before I start forgetting everything.

    -The trip was exhausting! Because I went in my co-director role at Seattle Young People’s Project, serving as an adult chaperone for 9 young people (ages 12-19), I felt like I was constantly checking in with youth, texting someone or another, helping people find workshops, staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning debriefing the experience with the other adult support people. It felt more like work than any kind of trip. However, the good side of this was that I loved it! I really treasured the opportunity I had to really think about supporting teenage activists as they were having this one-of-a-kind experience. It was special to think about their experiences, to listen to their questions, to hear their frustrations, and to reflect back what I was observing from them. It felt like popular education as it was originally theorized: a process of dialogue and reflection where themes are presented, contradictions are unearthed, and new learning unfolds as that new experience clashes with the worldview that the student brings to the table. Though I can’t say that I slept well each night, I did go to sleep very, very happy. I felt really alive.

    -Speaking of youths’ frustrations, the USSF has a lot to learn about being youth friendly. Youth were continuously frustrated by the inaccessibility of workshops, intimidation about asking questions (even being laughed at when asking someone to break down the meaning of neoliberalism), the lack of attention to all-ages party spaces throughout the week, and the sorry state of the designated “youth space” which youth said was relegated to a smelly basement (though I never saw it). I’ve heard similar but unique critiques about the ablism of the forum, as well as numerous instances of transphobia (particularly around the issue of gender-neutral bathrooms) but I don’t feel like I know enough to go into detail about it. Google it and I bet you’ll find some brilliant pieces of reflection.

    -This was my 3rd time in Detroit, and ironically it was the time that I felt most disconnected from the realities of the city. I spent almost all my time in a very heavily-policed and well-developed area of downtown, and the sheer number of activist folks everywhere gave downtown Detroit a very surreal atmosphere. Many people expressed frustration about this, and made comments about how people should have left downtown to talk with “real Detroiters” and I hear that…but at the same time I was annoyed by how often this came from other white folks, who I felt were kind of falling into some exotification of local folks. As I’ve described it to my friends, it felt almost like some kind of racist petting zoo, with radical white folks talking about walking up and hugging random black people all over town, and asking people for their life stories because they are “so much more interesting than what’s happening in workshops.” I wondered how many of these folks would do the same thing back in their home towns, with the folks of color there? Because of the heavily policed and fair-like atmosphere, it just felt off, the level of entitlement to people’s stories and struggles that I saw people displaying. But maybe that’s just me.

    -But speaking of Detroit, the plenary event on the first night of the forum was fantastic! A panel of some Detroit movement elders (including one of my long-time revolutionary stars, Grace Lee Boggs) talking about the history of Detroit as “a movement city” was really powerful. Listening to the discussion of the Detroit uprising of ’67 (I believe), and of movement history before and since, I fluttered my eyes and told my comrades from Common Action that I was in heaven. And I was. I love hearing people talk about their revolutionary experiences, especially when they are older and they still identify as movement people.

    -This really hits at something that I’ve been learning about myself generally. I’ve got a big, sappy place in my heart for themes related to aging. I think and write about my own aging a lot (and I will continue to do so, I imagine). The movies that most often make me cry are crap like “The Notebook” or damned “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” not because they are that good, but because they show old people reflecting, making legacies together, and dying. So, watching old radicals reflecting on their contributions to not only a general revolutionary movement, but to the movement in a specific geographic location…it was almost too much. I started crying a bit right in the plenary. It brings up such vivid imaginings of who I want to be at 80 or 90, if I make it…of how I want to contribute and listen and share with my younger comrades in whatever city I end up being committed to.

    -As for the workshops, well I spent a lot of time helping young people go to their workshops, and so I missed a number of slots, but almost every workshop I went to was excellent: meeting youth organizers from Mississippi talking about leadership transitions; watching anarchists and other radical scholars talk about movement-based research; a mind-opening workshop about building a leadership pipeline for youth to transition into the social justice movement, as an alternative to the school-to-prison pipeline; a workshop on transformative organizing that integrates whole-body, somatic approaches to personal change to great, structural movement-building thinking; a workshop with some really interesting new-school Marxist type folks about revolutionary approaches to reform; a workshop on US Solidarity with ALBA and the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela; an assembly on a youth-led national student bill of rights campaign…and more. All of these workshops, every single one, was engaging and exciting to me, and I was left with dozens of questions each time.

    -This was one of the best parts of my experience (alongside my reflections on youth support): how intellectually electrified the whole thing made me feel. To be honest, as my infrequent blog posts should show, I’ve been in a real political rut. Very busy with work and organizing, but not really inspired or motivated. Just plain down, to be real honest. And one of the consequences of that is that I don’t actually read very much or engage much with current movement discourses. I read maybe seven or eight books a year, that’s all! For me, that’s really sad. But the interesting thing is that at the forum, I was amazed by how fluid and sharp I was in all of the discussions. Even in more tough-vocabulary Marxist discussions I was so happy to so quickly follow all of the exchanges, but also to quickly think about it, process it, and have handfuls of questions at all times. I was just brimming with questions! It was great!

    -Many of those questions are potential topics for future blog posts: questions about the relationship between reform that engages the State and the building of revolutionary alternatives; questions of the efficacy of transformative justice organizing within our movements; the role of parties and cadre organizations in building the US left; the role of the city and citizenship as primary revolutionary sites of struggle; the question of community, spirituality, and the search for a political home…and oh so much more!

    -But a big highlight for my trip was the personal connections I made in Detroit…almost entirely with people who I already knew: an absolutely heart overflowing hour+ with my brilliant old friend Chris Dixon (thanks, Chris!), a euphoric discussion until 4am with 3 comrades from Common Action about class struggle, transformative justice, and the church model of organizing; late-night debriefs and confessions about race, age, identity and vulnerability with my fellow adult support people…I just felt so connected with these people who I’m organizing with and who I have known for awhile.

    -In short, for my organization the USSF was a solid experience that will pay off for our organizing. For me personally, it was even better: a vital refresher that came at a perfect time, a time when I’ve been doubting more and more who I am in relation to movement work. It was a great reminder of just how comfortable I am thinking about revolution, social movements, strategy, theory, and down-to-earth questions of change. It’s like since I was 14 my mind has become finely tuned to this stuff (which is pretty much the case), and I had really missed it. So it was great to feel it again.

    There, now I wrote that, all in a half-hour. Here’s hoping this quick post keeps me writing here again.

    No time like the present…

    For years now, I’ve been in orbit around a cluster of ideas that I think are really significant, but which I still haven’t been able to really explore to the depth that they deserve. These are the ideas that I tried to go into in my series of 21st century anarchism posts, as well as my barely-begun series on presence, power, and popular education, but in both cases I got stalled before things could get really interesting These are also the ideas that most make me come back to this blog…because I know that there is something important here that I want to articulate, but that I need more time and experimentation to get it out.

    Basically, I’m talking about ideas that relate to being a better organizer, building a better revolutionary movement in the U.S., balancing life and activism, and meaningful popular education. At the core of these ideas, there are a couple of key words that I’ve been playing around with for a long time: mutual inspiration, personal cycles, and presence. These are words that just keep coming up for me over and over in my life and my work, and there is something there that I want to unlock. There is new theory there. There is really strong organizing potential. But how to get at it?

    The answer to this question, I think, lies in the concept of presence itself. It is a tremendous challenge to both hold long-term revolutionary vision for our world, and to be daily present within that world. Even more, it is so, so difficult to see the needs we have for the people around us, and their potential, but to be present with the people they are right now–especially with their own personal dramas–and to really work with them from there. Never mind the constant struggle to be present with our own pain, loss, and senses of inadequacy when we feel like we should be so much more. And in my own case, it’s really hard for me to present with myself for long enough to really develop these ideas that I want to contribute to the world.

    And so I return to this blog, specifically as a reminder that there is a space where I can be present with myself; where I can give myself that careful mix of patience, challenge, and attention that make the concept of presence so powerful to me.

    In my daily life, things have gone back to feeling so heavy, with the burden of a non-profit and its legacy on my back, with intense internal activist dramas burning around me, and with what seems like less and less time to both take care of myself and meet people’s expectations of me. With that heaviness, it’s even more important to assert what I think is most important for myself, and what I want to be contributing with the youth, the resources, the experience, and the time that I currently have. Because as I get older and as I say yes to more and more of other people’s requests of me, I feel the danger of losing myself and why I became an organizer in the first place.

    So, with that said, I’ve cleared some space again to give this another try. To work on articulating these ideas that I think are so important…not only to the social movements around me, but to myself as I’m grasping for meaning and for air.

    Oh, how Guatemala has changed me…

    I began this blog nearly five years ago, with the help of my friend Dave (thank you for more than you know, Dave). I started it as a way to share my thoughts as I took my first real journey outside of the U.S., to learn Spanish in Guatemala. Since then it has provided me really vital space for me to reflect, play with my ideas, and, frankly, grow in a lot of ways.

    Now I’ve just returned from my 8th trip to Guatemala, and on the plane home alone, I was just weeping, weeping. I was so moved by how much I love that country, its people, its history, and especially the family that has welcomed me in there. Guatemala has changed me in so many ways, I feel like it’s a critical piece of understanding who I am and what I value these days. How could it be otherwise, with Glendi in my life??

    But as I’ve eluded to in previous posts, I don’t really talk about it much anymore. I think that as the ties with Guatemala have grown stronger, and as I become more humbled by how much I don’t know or understand, it becomes harder for me to share. It’s not just the class and race complexities that make it hard to talk about, it’s the whole web of it. Just how different the whole picture is from the realities of my life and my friends’ lives in the U.S.

    But I want to keep trying. This blog first started as a way for me to talk about Guatemala and my growth as I spent my first six weeks there. Now that I’ve been there 8 times, there are so many deep reflections that I could be doing here, and I want to give myself the freedom to do that.

    But for now, let’s just settle for a quick few fun highlights from my trip:

    -Riding for 7 hours in the back of a pickup truck on the way from the capital to Glendi’s family’s house. I love the wind, the sickening sweet smell of burning sugar cane, the disgusting, shit smell of the rubber factories, and the way my legs always completely fall asleep. It’s precisely the length of the journey, so many unknown locations and people that we pass, that really affects me…makes me feel so small in the world.

    -Setting up two makeshift basketball hoops outside the family’s house, and playing almost daily 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 tournaments with nearly everyone in the family and extended family, from the 6 year old twins to the 35 year-old Inés. Since I’m a giant compared to everyone else, I get to play Shaq style, just totally guarding and blocking everything…that is until they got really good at passing underneath my legs!

    -Picking coffee with Glendi’s dad and brothers on our little plot of land…my first time learning how they pick coffee. It was fun, and the social nature of it reminded me of our old family fishing trips in Alaska. I’m glad that even though the family is very conscious of the exploitation they face when they pick coffee at the fincas…that the actual activity is enjoyable for them. For me, even spending one day doing it, I appreciate just how hard they all work under the sun, and with all the bugs, every day of the week. Glendi’s dad also tried to teach me how to cut brush with a machete…but…that’s going to take me a lot longer to learn! Wow!

    -Seeing all of the URNG (the old guerrilla army turned leftist party) graffiti on every single road sign in the area. It gave me hope about increased leftist mobilization since my previous visits, and reminded me that next time I want to plan more than just family time…I want to really seek out and spend time with some more organized Guatemalan leftists. However, I also cynically thought that the graffiti could just be one night’s work of just a small group of youth…who would still be great to connect with!

    -Reading 5 books and writing all sorts of stuff in my journal, really re-connecting with some of my favorite political ideas….which hopefully I’ll be writing about more. The peaceful thinking time I had, mixed with the playful family time, really allowed me to get grounded with a lot of the emotional and political stresses that I’m feeling in Seattle these days

    -Swimming, swimming, swimming!

    -Visiting the kids schools was just so, so humbling. To see, generally, how young people live, interact, find their identities within their families…it really makes me question the work that I do in Seattle. What is youth empowerment in the context of deep poverty? What is youth empowerment in the context of barren schools with no books, and only a few typewriters that are in the main office? What is youth empowerment in the context of rigid gender roles that also maintain a very real family labor system…that if not maintained can grind a families health and hygiene to a halt? Wow, oh, wow are these big things to think about…and they just humble me when I think about my job.

    It probably sounds like the trip was mostly low-key fun, and though it really was fun, what made it so powerful was that underlying everything was an emotional intensity, and some critical realities that I can’t really talk about here, but which gave everything a real electricity. Guatemala makes me feel in a way that makes me realize how numb I usually am. And it really makes me ask myself why I feel so numb so often. But that’s another thing I hope to write more about.

    Until then, I’m home, I’m thinking, I’m feeling. And I’m alive, and that’s so, so special.

    Much love,

    Jeremy

    On the verge of a big new organizing project…

    So, I’m a member of a regional anarchist organization here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s called Common Action. When it was founded and when I joined, it was called Class Action Alliance, but the majority of us thought that name sounded too class reductionist, conjuring images of the old left shirtless white male worker swinging the big hammer and all that. The name change was just one of many instances of growth that we’ve gone through as an organization in our first year of existence that has given me a profound sense of hope in this particular grouping of radical people. I think we’re on to something here.

    And this week we just had our Seattle branch meeting, and we came to the agreement that it’s time for us to engage in a common project, or a common focus, or even in a common campaign. You know, common action. For a long time, we’ve been doing a lot of internal and structural work. We’ve been doing a lot of consciousness raising events in the community that have built quite a bit of goodwill with fellow radical and progressive groups in the region. And now it looks like we’re ready for a new level of organizing together. Yes!

    But the question is what? And how? What is the most valuable type of political struggle for organized anarchists to be doing? How does it differ from organizing that is done by groups from other political tendencies? And if it’s not different, then what is the point of even labeling it as anarchist? These are questions we have discussed frequently in our branch and in our whole organization, but now it’s time to try putting some of those concepts to the test.

    Within our particular tendency of anarchism, there is a lot of talk about “social insertion” within mass struggles. That is, engaging humbly and fully within non-anarchist spaces of struggle, so that anarchism’s very practical and principled ideas can be put to use directly at the grassroots. I agree with this tendency, except I have a lot of questions about this notion of “mass struggle.” What is mass struggle in contemporary U.S. society? The anti-war movement? The climate change reform movement? Anti-austerity movements within poor communities? Obama supporters and the netroots? It’s tricky. What if the greatest political potential, the potential for really creative and innovative action, doesn’t exist within current “mass struggles?” Do we hold off on those ideas because they didn’t emerge from a grassroots, non-anarchist base? Or is that kind of idea a fetishization and exotification of “ordinary” people, and their historical destiny to spontaneously spin mass movements out of their own initiative? What about the fact that most of the “mass struggles” we see in U.S. society are actually the products of highly professionalized and well-funded reform groups that are already geared heavily toward policy advocacy and engagement with people in power? What is the anarchist contribution there? There are lots of smart people debating these ideas, as always, and I think it’ll do me some good to start reading more in the radical section of my personal library again…no more liberal progressive mish-mush for awhile, Jeremy.

    We won’t have a decision for a little while, and then from there the actual planning and development of the project will take even longer, but even these initial brainstorming conversations are invigorating. Do I finally get to actually try out some of my long-held ideas about praxis, community education, and dual power? It’s a like a dream come true.

    And I can tell you now, I have my own ideas unfolding out of the cracks of my mind, and forming into some pretty cool visions. Hopefully I’ll take the time to work out some of those ideas here.

    The Game Problem…

    So, I have to admit I have a problem.

    I think the lines of what constitutes non-chemical addiction are a little bit fuzzy for me, so I don’t know if I can call it an addiction, but I can definitely say I’m struggling with it. It costs me hours and hours every night, it makes me feel disconnected from the world and numb to my feelings. And it is so clearly more about escaping than about actually engaging in my life.

    My problem is games. Board games. Card games. Computer games. Video games. I’m pretty close to obsessed with them. Not nearly to the extent of other people in the gaming world, but still to a definitively unhealthy level.

    First off, as I’ve said a number of times before, I spend hours on the internet scouring gaming forums, reading gaming news and reviews, watching gaming videos on youtube. It’s rarely even about games I play; it’s about games that I’m thinking about buying next.

    Which is the second point. I don’t even play the games I have for very long. I get a few hours of fun out of them (sometimes up to 20 or 30 hours if I’m lucky), and then I’m off chasing the next great game. Glendi has a running joke with me that every month I’m saying, “They say that this next game is like the game of the year, I have to try it!” In the end, it’s not even about enjoying games and their actual qualities…it’s about building up obsessions and living in my own imagination of future recreation.

    Which is the third point. This is deeply connected to consumerism, and an obsession with the new that I’ve had since my first pair of brand-name, Air Jordan shoes in 5th grade. I remember that personal shift pretty clearly, actually. And ever since, I’ve had some consumerist kick or another. Clothes (rarely), books, music, computers, and now games.

    This is deeply linked to my cycle of depression that I’ve been exploring here on this site. It’s both a cause and a consequence, because I obsess about games specifically to avoid feeling what I need to feel. And then I start getting guilty and self-blaming about my game problem, and then that just encourages me more to just go down the shame spiral. Is that what addiction is like? If so, that’s me.

    Truth is, I like games. I think there is a healthy place for games in my life. And I like game communities and I like being able to talk to strangers and play games with strangers who share this hobby in common. I’m not interested in going cold turkey, or in “growing up” away from this playful part of myself.

    But if I’m not actually playing, and not actually enjoying what I’m doing, then there really is a problem, and I need to face it.

    Thankfully, I have this blog, and it feels great right now to write this out, so that I don’t have do go around in circles about it privately. I have a problem, I want to confront it and give my games and my broader consumption a healthier balance in my life. I think writing is a critical step toward that healthiness.

    Who knows, maybe actually writing about games and why I enjoy them might be helpful…making me more active in my hobby rather than using it as a tool for passive escapism. We’ll see.

    I sat down to write in my paper journal today, for just 20 minutes, and I couldn’t do it.

    As sad as it is to admit, I just didn’t know what to say to myself. I didn’t feel like I know myself enough to write anything. Like two people awkwardly shuffled into each other at a party, I didn’t know what me and myself had in common. So easy just to jump to the small talk…so, what’s the plan this week? Have you paid all your bills? What do you have your eye on buying these days? Those more intricate spindles of my personality seem dried up, and they feel so distant. My fun curiosities and probing reflections feel like a chore. What is happening to me?

    With all of the automatic deposits, the automatic debits, the automatic weekly and bi-weekly appointments, the pre-planned social time with wife and friends, the monthly house meetings, the regular game nights, the chore days and the cooking nights, the TV schedules and the annual fundraisers…what is left beyond the pre-planned? Where is my life beyond the regimentation? Where is the time I’m making myself just to think, to feel? Because I’m not sure I am, and I’m not sure I do these days. When it is completely satisfactory to go numb for hours on board game forums, or window-shopping new electronic gadgets…when it seems unthinkable for me to be even one minute (in line, in the bathroom, in bed waiting for Glendi) alone without a magazine, my laptop, or my cellphone…when it seems impossible for me to be alone with my thoughts…something is wrong. I used to talk to myself–literally talking–for hours a day, and now nothing. The silence really is chilling. Is my soul dying or smothered? Have I sold out spiritually, even though my body keeps doing the political work? Is this why leftists seem to become so stodgy and uncreative? They just live on auto-pilot like I am?

    I know that perky, sunshiny Jeremy finally needs to admit that he’s dealing with depression. Therapy has been helping a bit, but what he really needs is some time alone to himself. Just to step away from all the auto-responses and auto-deductions and just feel this shame and sadness that is in there, so that he…

    …so that I can heal.

    Class politics, family style…

    Let me share a little bit about the economic reality in which Glendi and I live, because it’s really intense, and I want to start talking more about it on this blog. I really need to talk about it more, reflect on it more…feel it more.

    Here’s the short version: Glendi and I are more or less the sole breadwinners for our family of 11 people in Guatemala (and occassional supports of 4 or 5 others). This means at least one monthly payment to cover all food and utilities expenses (which are constantly rising in this economic climate), but it also needs to cover school fees, clothes, transportation, medical expenses, and so much more. This is something that we, of course, have built into our budget, but every month, when we send our payment (and especially when we have to send our frequent emergency payments), I am just struck by this reality. We are responsible for the health, nutrition, safety, and economic stability of a huge family who we barely even get to see every year. Coming from my own very stable U.S., white, managerial middle-class family, there really is no straightforward way to assimilate the full implications of this. It takes time, and it is a daily struggle (and one which I am privileged and honored to be a part of).

    Truth is, it’s something that I find hard to talk about with my friends, and especially with my family. Sure the numbers and broad politics of it, fine. But the deeper emotions that I live with, and which have been stirring in me for these two years that Glendi and I have been living together…this is something else. I mean, I’m still me. I still like movies. I still play video games. I still like new gadgets and toys and all of that shit. And at the same time I don’t just have some distant family that I married into because I love their daughter…her and I are their core economic (and often emotional) support. I am involved. I have been grabbed by a context and pulled into the center of a family that is so different from me in every way…and it’s so real and so immediate that often there isn’t a lot of time to pause and analyze it.

    I mean think about it as like some pop-ed workshop scenario exercise about power and privilege: Twenty-something middle class white guy marries spanish-speaking immigrant campesina and becomes a primary breadwinner for her 11-person family. What are the intersections of oppression? What does allyship mean? Just how problematic is this social relationship? I’ll tell you! It’s extremely problematic, and it’s also our daily life. With an economy in rural Guatemala in which there is almost no legal work, where health problems are mounting within the family, and in which the majority of children are still focusing on their education, what other options does Glendi’s family have but to depend on what their family in the U.S. can send them? And in a context where we make 4-8 times what they make in a month for doing much easier work, what moral option do we have but to send part of our check to them every month?

    Having friends who are mostly white, anti-racist activist types, this is something that I like to talk about, but which leaves me feeling lonely. It’s a situation where I feel so much more comfortable talking with immigrant folks, because they know what it’s like to send the moneygram or money order, and to know that it’s never enough.

    It’s never even close to enough.

    And it’s so, so much harder, and so much deeper, when this beloved family calls and needs to ask for more. To think about their dignity, and the fierce injustice of needing to depend on this white guy and his wife (who only got here because of marrying the white guy) to be able to fucking pay for their pre-school for the twins, or the diabetes medicine, or little cotton balls for a school diarama…and even more complicated when we are stretched, and we don’t know if we can pay…but we also know that we do have a subscription to netflix that we could cancel or cut back…

    This is just the beginning of me talking about this and working it out. It really goes so deep, and touches so many layers that I am going to need time to get at it. But I really want to. Because I feel like my inability to express myself about this to my friends and family is really cutting them off from understanding what my life and emotional state are really like…

    …and also why I sometimes think that a lot of current U.S. activist preoccupations and analyses are kind of bullshit…much more than I used to, anyway. I mean, when people who you love are fucking screaming from malaria, or locked up in fucking Texas deportation prison, or they are eating beans and rice for the 7th straight meal of the week, because they can’t afford even carrots…then yeah, one’s sense of what is most important politically really changes. And you kind of do start thinking about some “oppression olympics” and some “class reductionism” sometimes. It’s hard not to. But it’s also important to keep the bigger picture in mind…but it does change you.

    And I have been really changing. Not toward the sell-out side of the spectrum, not by a long-shot. More toward the, I am so pissed at this society that I need to do more side of the spectrum. My anger is a lot more visceral, and a lot less academic than it used to be.

    As you’ll see as I eventually write about this more.

    It’s been a long many months…

    It’s not just about personal cycles when I get down and stop writing. Sometimes it’s about real stuff that is happening to me, that is happening to my family, to the people I love.

    These have been some of the hardest 6+ months of my life. So many small and large personal struggles, economic struggles, professional struggles, political struggles, all packed into a terribly short time.

    I’m writing now because it feels like maybe, oh pretty please maybe, things are starting to change. The pressure is easing off and my hours are becoming free to actually look at myself again, and to work on some growth and healing. I am so exhausted from being so stretched in so many ways, and especially by seeing just how cruel and terrible people can be to each other. Dealing with evictions and deportations and emergency board meetings and empty personal accounts and emergency moneygrams and malaria and sexual violence and…and…I’m tired. And the wild thing is that I am rare in my privilege to get a break. So don’t think I’m whining. I’m just acknowledging how damn hard life can be. And I don’t even know the half of it.

    And it would be tradition to go off now on all the posts I want to write and the incomplete series’ that I’m going to finish up on this blog, but I have no promises to make. First I just need to break my own silence. Then we’ll see how I feel about writing more in the next day or two. Or whatever.

    To those who catch this. Hi! I hope you have been doing better than me…and if not, let’s congratulate each other on surviving.

    Life Is Fascinating

    To the few or none who read my blog regularly, I want to give you some notice: I’m obviously feeling the need to really think through a lot of emotions and life stuff right now, and this page is my favorite place to do that thinking. So I just hope you’ll be patient as I do all of this thinking and feeling out loud…

    Yesterday I was thinking about how interesting life is on so many levels. The diversity of it. The tenacity of it. And most interesting of all, how life makes all living things into subjects of their own story. That is just thrilling to me. The idea that for almost every living thing, they are the center of the universe. Their perception. Their connection to life and the world. The perspective and experiences of a grasshopper or fish are equally present for them as my own for me.

    I like thinking about this in relation to my own life and interests and needs. The things that matter to me, the things that make me fret or cry or yearn are so deeply connected to me…and they really don’t have much relevance beyond me. That is, a person trying to survive a morning bombing run by the U.S. military is going to have wholly different priorities than me. They aren’t worrying about non-profit management or what the activist community thinks of them the way that I do. This, of course, is thoroughly linked with more structural questions of power, privilege, opportunity, but right now I’m just thinking about the pure fact of it. That life inherently means a plurality of subjectivities. And that is cool.

    Maybe right now you are reading this and you are fretting about something in your life. Maybe you have self-doubts that are similar to mine, but for different reasons. Isn’t it special to pause and recognize the complete uniqueness, and overall global insignificance of that fretting. I just want to recognize you for a moment, recognize your fretting and self-doubt…and let us remind ourselves that life and the world are so much bigger than our own little boxed perspectives.

    It is cliche because it is true. My life will go on if I miss a deadline, or if I screw up in my personal life. My life will go on if I am lazy one day or overzealous another. My life will go on, and it will still be running parallel with so many other beautiful lives.

    Good morning, then. And I hope you have a good day as your time and life run alongside my own.

    The Cops In My Head…

    I’ve just been thinking and thinking and thinking lately about my life, who I am, who I want to be, where I’m going. I’m still drifting between depression and inspiration, and I’m amazed at how I used to think I was so emotionally stable…but the truth is I don’t think I ever really was.

    You see, I’ve got cops in my head. I’ve had them since I was as little as I can remember. Be they my dad, or teachers, or bullies or influential friends and enemies, I almost always have all sorts of voices in my head telling me who I should be and telling me how I’m not measuring up, etc. Maybe you have similar voices in your head. This is pretty normal, I think. But it’s so interesting how I have dealt with these cops in my head and the toll it has taken.

    For so long, I’ve seen my self as an essentially happy person. Beaming even. Optimistic. And I think it was mostly true. I have a vivid imagination, and that imagination tends to veer toward the positive. It’s something I’m very proud of. However, for so long I have felt so comfortable with who I am, and so empathetic about wanting other people to feel comfortable with themselves, that I’ve always been willing to give people little pieces of me. You’re sad and need my time and attention? Of course. You need me to change this or that so you can feel less threatened? No problem. Need me to take up more slack in a group? Okay, you have other responsibilities you need to attend to. This was nothing to me, and I was proud of my flexibility with people.

    Only now, at 27, I realize how many of my relationships have had this dynamic at their root, and then other underlying authority dynamics surrounding them. I have felt so flexible, so willing to give and give and sacrifice emotionally, that the other day I was really wondering what I even care about anymore…where have my own passions gone? Where has my own sense of accomplishment or will gone? What do I do because I’m inspired, and what do I do because I’m scared or because someone needs it from me?

    For so long, I’ve allowed myself to be flexible that I’ve allowed some pretty core pieces of myself to be chipped away. In many aspects of my life, I feel like such a shell. I feel so different than I felt as an inspired little boy. I’m not cool with that.

    So, a couple of weeks ago, I started therapy. I’m trying to figure out some space and some limits in my life to give myself the room I think I need to find myself again. I’m working hard with Glendi to get what I need from her, and to make sure that we are both growing in a way where we can be good to and for each other.

    I’m in need of more connection. I’m in need of more passion. I need to find that creativity that fills me with so, so much!

    When I was in high school, I was so optimistic and so positive. I felt so open to the world. One of my favorite teachers, Tim, (there is a long and sad story there, believe me…but that’s another day) told me one day: “Jeremy, I’m really worried about you. You are like this vibrant and colorful butterfly. I’m worried about this world crushing you.” I just smiled, so sure and confident. My love of the world and of life were too strong to be able to crush me. Now I’m not so sure. At 27, I’m feeling the strain.

    But life still is beautiful. And I still do love the world. There are other possibilities here. And this little butterfly can push back!

    If Los Salvadoreños Can Do It, So Can I…

    On Sunday, yet another long-standing Latin American social movement had a victory on its long electoral (and previously military) path to power. The FMLN won the presidency of El Salvador, and ended 20 years of rule by the arch-conservative ARENA party. From what I read, there has been a lot of dancing and crying in the streets of El Salvador, and the interviews and speeches I’ve seen from Funes, the new president, suggest a strong tone of reconciliation. Same from the Salvadoran establishment Right.

    Okay, we’ll see how long that tone lasts.

    But for now, this is what I want to say: with all that the Salvadoran people have been through, and with all the stages of struggle that the Salvadoran freedom movement has passed through, I can’t even imagine what this must feel like. 70,000 people killed during the civil war (official numbers, who knows the real numbers, right?). Millions displaced. And now there are red flags waving all around. My congratulations to them all. And my heartfelt wishes to them as their struggle enters a new stage of working to build people’s power through the apparatus of the state, against the resistance of strong and virulent opposition forces.

    On a personal level, I also want to say that I’ve been reflecting a lot on my own life and where things are at. And I’m going to keep reflecting. But the Salvadoran story just goes to show the importance of perseverance and presence in the face of difficulties. We live in history, right? Not just in singular moments. Bad days flow into good days, disastrous moments unfold into serendipitous opportunities. I asked for a little bit of support in one of my recent posts and I received it (thanks, by the way). I will be better with time, and with some personal work. And I’ll be sharing that here when the time is right. We live in history, and history changes with us and our choices.

    Thanks to El Salvador for inspiring me this weekend, and giving me an extra boost with my own stuff.

    Treading Water…

    These have been low times for me. I don’t think I can even begin to summarize it here. Needless to say, I’ve been happier in my life.

    Of course, I’ve written about my cycles before, so I’m definitely on the down side. But I sure wish I was feeling something else.

    Many of my recent (as in within the last 4 months!) posts on this site have been nostalgic and reflective pieces. That’s still how I’m feeling. Really thinking a lot about aging, about compromises in life, about what I wanted for myself as a child vs. what I’m building for myself as an adult. Difficult questions. Not a lot of answers.

    If you read this, I think I need a boost. Just a quick compliment or, even better, a fond memory of me. Right now I’m kind of forgetting the good that I do in the world. So, yeah, I’m fishing for compliments and positive attention right now. Isn’t that what blogs are actually about anyways?

    It’s liberating to face it…

    -That someday, and it could be any day, I will die. This life is a precious accident. And the chance to share it with you even more an accident. What joy to be able to breathe in this air, to see these colors, to feel the weight of my body.

    -And that my body is aging. I can’t jump on beds anymore, and my knees don’t have the spring that they had at 5 or 10. My hair is getting gray, my body and face are rounder. I am creaky. And I will never go back. I could engage in consumerism and body modification in a fit of denial, in an attempt to conquer myself. But no. So much more wonderful to just face it. Those seemingly endless summer vacations. Those silent and silly high school crushes. My first thrills of believing that revolution would come before my 20th birthday…those moments and feelings have passed. They are now memory. But they did happen and I will cherish them. Still, life moves along, and my body will groan and bulge along with it.

    -That I will be out of touch with the younger generations. Their priorities will and do feel out of whack. Their technologies confusing. Their arrogance maddening. But it’s their turn for first tries. And it’s my turn for tenth tries. There is room for both of us, without crowding each other out. It just takes a little bit of openness.

    -That I will never be perfect, or even live up to all of my personal goals. This life is too short, and soon enough I will have more responsibilities than just myself…I already do. The point of life isn’t to be everything anyways. The point of life is to live as myself, and to fill that role as deeply and openly as possible. And let being myself be enough, so that other people’s selves can come and connect and compliment it. It’s the us that end’s up really making us feel alive. Usually, anyhow.

    -That I am on a big kick of nostalgic and sentimental posts about getting older! I think it’s healthy. Better to be doing this now than to be having a crisis at 40, or even 30, feeling like I wasted my years. Not a year of my life has been wasted. I am happy about the life I’ve lived so far. Let’s hope the rest is this rich.

    Quick Life Update…

    Just a random smattering of updates and thoughts…

    -Glendi just left for two months in Guatemala. I miss her a lot. It’s hard when we’re apart, especially when we’re both in very different contexts. More money on phone cards once again! And then in February I’m heading down for two weeks and I am so, so excited!

    -Currently reading Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine. That book is blowing me away. For some reason (probably because I haven’t read a non-fantasy book in awhile, shame on me), this book is really getting my imagination going, not just my anger. Giving me a lot that I want to eventually write about here.

    -Right now I’m playing around with two game designs: Struggle (tentative name), a customizable card game based around radical politics and social movements. And another cooperative board game in which each player represents a region of a country that has recently had a revolution, and you have to make the new socialist economy work for everyone in a participatory way. Both have basic rules and turn orders outlined. But I always get hung up on the math. I guess I just need to kick out some prototypes, play with some eager and patient friends, and then tweak the math and balance from there. Someday I might have my game design collective!

    -Got an electronic USB music Keyboard for Christmas from Glendi and my folks. I want to learn how to play some music. I think there is a really good songwriter hidden away within me. Painter or sculptor? No! But potential songwriter? I think possibly.

    -Work feels like work. Shouldn’t feel this way, it should feel more fun, like dream jobs are supposed to feel. But it feels like work. Slogging, struggling, bubbling, gubbling work!

    -I’m really upset about what is happening in Gaza, and I wish I understood more. The fiction that modern war creates is often so much stronger than the reality, no matter how many lives are taken (especially when those lives come from poor and brown countries).

    -If you don’t already know, I absolutely love Karaoke. We ordered a new microphone for our house, and I can’t wait until it arrives and I can sing anew!

    Here’s my second piece. I almost thought about taking these down off the blog, but I feel like sharing.
    ***

    The night that I became an atheist was one of the most powerful nights that I’ve had so far in my life. It was also the night that I came closest to killing myself. Thankfully, atheism saved me.

    I was seventeen years old and it was a clear and brutally cold night in the middle of Alaskan winter. While my family slept, and wearing only a t-shirt and jeans, I headed out to ride my unicycle—I had recently taught myself the skill and it had become almost meditative for me—across the snow and ice of my small town of Eagle River. I was not planning to return.

    My teenage years so far had been really intense for me. Having abandoned past quests for conformity after moving to Alaska from Washington at fourteen, I was enmeshed in a process of self-discovery and self-expression in which I was redefining my beliefs and my identity on a constant basis. It was hard for me to keep up with who I was from one week to the next. I was a self-proclaimed revolutionary anarchist; an ex-Catholic aspiring to understand Buddhism, Taoism, and Sufism; a fledgling poet and short-story writer; a voracious reader of critical educational literature and philosophy; and an iconoclastic dresser, with my black and white wingtips, my homemade t-shirts, my black suspenders, and my briefcase covered with political and philosophical stickers and quotes. In all honesty, I was just plain weird, and I was fiercely proud of that fact.

    I was fiercely battling with my body as well, and carrying a deep shame about it that kept me from looking anyone in the eye for nearly two years. I had chronic acne that covered not only my face, but also my chest and back. I had to sleep with a towel wrapped around me, because every night all of the pimples on my back would burst and I didn’t want my sheets to get bloody. Skin and pus would wash off along with the soap bubbles in the shower, and my tears often drained away with them. I would wear layers of sweaters or even turtlenecks to cover up as much as possible at school. After I read Moby Dick I wrote a poem likening myself to the whales in the book, full of rich, thick oil that could be used to light lamps or fuel homes. Unfortunately what I had within me wasn’t so prized. When I finally got up the nerve to talk with my mom and go to a dermatologist, the doctor told me that it was level four acne, apparently the worst kind, as it also formed cysts underneath my skin. She put me on a drug called Accutane, at double the normal dose. Apparently, I was a special case.

    It turned out later that Accutane was closely linked to teenage depression and some cases of suicide, but we didn’t know that then. And I didn’t actually feel depressed or suicidal. On the contrary, I was actually a very happy person, with nearly boundless enthusiasm about life. I did feel something, though, a certain sharp quality to my emotions, a certain clarity and force to them, and I now wonder whether that was the drug doing its work on me.

    Regardless of my reasons, be they chemical, developmental, or even purely cerebral, my emotions about the world weighed heavily on me, and they often expressed themselves in relation to deep spiritual questions that I was exploring at that time. Was there a God? What was the meaning of life? What do life and death mean, and are we reborn in a cycle? Is the world all an illusion or even a dream? I would often go on walks or unicycling trips to think about these questions, to try and puzzle out who I was, who I could possibly be in the shadow of such massive confusions. I read books, and lots of them. The Bhagivad Gita, the Tao Te Ching, David Bohm and J. Krishnamurti, Frtizjoff Capra, the poet Rumi, Descartes, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Kurt Vonnegut, and especially the philosopher Martin Buber, and his book, I and Thou. In all of this reading the essential question remained: What could I possibly amount to in a universe so large, and so what did my life signify?

    On my bedroom ceiling, directly above my bed, I placed a strip of masking tape that said, “Mysticism or Activism?” This was another definitive question for me. Did I want to focus myself on the inner life, on trying to reconcile and harmonize myself with the deeper rhythms of the world in some kind of search for enlightenment or the dissolution of self into something greater, or did I want to maintain my sense of self and my grounding in the world in order try to change the world and make people’s lives better? Was the choice so stark, or could I do both? I pondered all of this daily, I fretted about it, I wrote about it. While I had friends, and had crushes, and played video games and ate junk food like other teenagers, these were the parts of myself that felt most real to me.

    Perhaps it was not only because of the Accutane, but because of my overall skin condition that the inner life meant so much to me. I’m not sure. I do know that I broke up with both of my high school girlfriends as soon as we got to a point of intimacy in which we are on the verge of taking off our shirts. Perhaps this is why I found so much comfort in thinking about living a hermitic or monastic life. In such a life I wouldn’t have had to think about the painful contradictions between my desires and the condition of my body.

    *

    This was me at seventeen, and this was me on that night. Earlier in the day I had just read something by Sartre, in which he said that life has no meaning, that there is no God to watch us or care for us, and the universe doesn’t know or care about us either. This was a alarming to me. As a boy raised Catholic, I had always had a feeling of a presence watching me over my shoulder. I felt the buoyancy of that presence. Even as I began to doubt the Christian God, I still felt like life itself had some kind of conscious, guiding, loving quality, and this comforted me. But on that day Sartre had messed all of that up. For him, life was meaningless, unless we alone chose to infuse it with meaning. This disturbed me greatly, mostly because I had a hunch that he was right.

    So I took my unicycle out that night, thinking seriously about dying. I wasn’t sad, really. I was just exhausted. For me at that time, it felt like I had spent my most recent, most conscious and lively years completely wasting my time. I had put so much of my energy and creativity into searching for some kind of deeper connection with life, with myself, with something greater than myself, and now it seemed pointless. I had spent years struggling with my body, searching for ways to transcend it, to overcome it, to completely deny its existence as pure worldly illusion, and yet, ultimately, it was all I really had. The futility of all my efforts absorbed me that night. With these tired thoughts, with this world-weariness, I headed into the Alaskan cold.

    I pedaled slowly toward a nearby creek bridge, looking up at the clear, dark starry sky. If life was meaningless, then it seemed fittingly dramatic and poetic to punctuate my death with the sharp, pure pain of freezing water. All it would take was a leap from the bridge. As I pedaled closer, I sobbed.

    It was the sobbing that was the turning point, as I arrived and stood on the bridge. I looked at the water, I gripped the railing, and I imagined the fall, but my crying got more intense. I started to think about that fact, and it started to crowd out my thoughts of death.

    If I was crying about life, then this clearly showed that I cared about life, I thought. I didn’t just care, I was actually deeply passionate about life. I looked through my teary, blurry eyes at the snow around me, with its millions of crystals reflecting the light of the streetlamp back at me, and I started crying more forcefully because of its beauty. I looked up at the moon and I lunged at it with both arms as if to try at embracing it, and I let myself fall to my knees in the attempt. The things all around me we were so beautiful. Life was so beautiful. Death would erase all of these things for me. But life, life alone contained all of these colors and sensations. Life alone was so full and complex, while death was a monotone, a flat line, a complete void.

    That was the moment when I embraced atheism. Facing a choice between the constant blackness of death and the endless variety of experiences of life, I chose life. For the first time, I chose life, consciously and ecstatically, for what life was in itself, not for what was promised in some afterlife, not for the sake of some outside force that I thought was watching, and not for the idea of transcending to some supposedly more enlightened kind of living. I chose life as it was, and thus I also chose myself as I was, as a humble, lucky participant in life. Even as an accident of the universe, even with a body that seemed at war with itself, I was lucky to be alive, I realized. Even more, I was lucky to have all of the privileges of family, economic security, education, and peace to be able to appreciate life so consciously and abstractly, and so the question of social justice became even more forceful in my mind at that moment. There, on my knees in the snow, on the verge of choosing death, I finally really connected with my own authentic spirituality, and it gave me the force to choose life instead.

    I am still a proud and happy atheist. I also love life, and my body’s participation in it, as passionately as I did that night.

    However, I have grown up in many ways, and I’m often so embarrassed of this story, of the heavy teenage angst that it portrays, that I rarely tell it to anyone. I’m especially embarrassed, even ashamed, because two years after that night happened, one of my good friends, Stephen, committed suicide. There was nothing poetic, romantic, or philosophically pure about it. There was just sadness and confusion. There were just tears and snot and constant questioning about why he left us. There were just scores of people who wondered why he didn’t love us enough to stay and share this life with us. I’m so thankful that I didn’t make the same mistake that he made, and I wish that I had told him my own story.

    For me, ever since that winter night on the bridge, life has been a choice that I make daily. I choose to give meaning to my thoughts and my actions. I choose to love and care about the people I love. I choose to work for a world where more people can choose life passionately, rather than just struggling to scrape through it. I choose to appreciate the blades of grass, the old trees, the tumultuous cloudy skies, because they simply make me feel blessed to be here.

    And I also choose to love myself, with each scar that I still carry on my chest and shoulders, and with each memory that I still hold of that younger boy who didn’t yet have the force to choose. Now I do have that force, and I try to carry enough passion and love within me for both of us.

    Pieces of Memoir… Part 1

    When I was studying for my Master’s in Teaching, I had to write two autobiographical essays. I dreaded the assignment, and waited until the due date to write both of them. But now, just having re-read them, I think there is a lot there that I almost never share with anyone…so, why not post them here.

    Bear in mind, that I wrote these a year ago. Also bear in mind that I wrote them both in about an hour or two. With that in mind, I hope you like them. (Oh, and Christina isn’t her real name.)

    ***

    I had to search through my seventh grade yearbook to learn that her name was Christina. Thirteen years ago I didn’t ask or care. She was merely a prop for me, a comic foil that allowed me to fit in exactly in proportion to how left-out I made her feel; and for these purposes she served me well. I made the whole playground laugh, so easily and instantly, and all I had to do was make her cry. I didn’t then know the full price, for her or for me. Even at night, sobbing and hating myself, I didn’t know what would come from my choices. I didn’t know that Christina would transform my life.

    Christina was one of a handful of developmentally disabled students at Oak Harbor Middle School in Whidbey Island, Washington, and she was not the first of them who we surrounded and terrorized. She was just the latest in what was more or less a rotation. As we got bored with stealing one kid’s football or aggressively imitating the slurred speech of another, we would eventually come around to her. And she was mine. I picked her out in the playground, I motioned for my friends to follow me, and I chose those soft spots that I wanted to prod and irritate until I got my desired response. It was a calculated process of emotional brutality, targeted less at our victims and more at each other, a bunch of scrawny white middle class kids who’d learned from our movies, our sports, our dads, and especially our older brothers that this is what one does to be cool: you focus so intently, so callously on the strangeness, the weakness, the frailty of The Other that no one would dare suspect that you carry those things in yourself.

    Without the ability to articulate it, and with no one to articulate it to, this was exactly what was going on for me. In my head, in my heart, things felt terribly wrong in the world, and I didn’t know where I belonged. I saw homeless men arguing with lampposts in the streets and I wondered how I was different, why I deserved friends and comfort while these men deserved ridicule. I saw National Geographic specials about poached gorillas and elephants and I rose up screaming at the television, at the unjust absurdity of the world. I even watched Corky struggle with Down’s syndrome on ABC’s “Life Goes On” and TV movies about Special Olympics superstars overcoming their obstacles and I remember feeling so much love and respect for them in their dramatized struggles. But I had my friends, and my brother’s older, cooler friends were always hanging around, as well. None of them talked about these things. They talked about cars and video games and the way women’s bodies were supposed to look. The message was clear: Talking about those other things made you gay. Mama’s boys talked about those other things. Pussies talked about those other things. I didn’t want to be called those names, and so I didn’t say anything about what was going on for me. I just focused on being cool instead, and that meant going after Christina.

    Most of the time, I just sort of walked circles around her, tagging her and getting her to chase me, pretending to play with her while everyone laughed along from a distance. The last time was different, though. We all thought she had a crush on me, the way she giggled and tagged me back, and so I thought I was brilliant when the week of the spring dance arrived and I formed my little plan. On the Thursday before the dance, I came up to her really nicely, really slowly. I smiled at her and she smiled at me, and I faked nervousness, pretending to search for words.

    “I was just, you know, wondering if, you know, maybe you’d go to the dance with me?”

    She blushed brightly, her eyes widened, and she stepped back and turned around. I spun around her to see her face and she was smiling, nervous, clearly surprised. She ran off, laughing, probably not knowing how to respond, then she ran back to me, with a huge smile. She was going to say yes, I could tell, and that was just too much for me. I acted quickly.

    “Not! I was just joking, retard!” I ran away to my group, and we walked, chuckling and jostling, back to our classes.

    When school ended that afternoon, I ran home by myself, crashed into my bed, and cried. The person who I was inside, the person who I wanted to be, was nothing like the person who I was presenting in public. The gap was so great, and it felt so unbridgeable, that I started thinking about suicide.

    I was lucky though. That summer, my parents had to move us from Washington to Alaska, and for me that move was a lifesaver. I remember consciously thinking that I would have the opportunity to start from scratch, to finally redefine myself in my own way. And I was.

    In eighth grade, I was unashamed of getting good grades, of having multiracial friendships in a racist town, in being drug free among stoners, and in making friends with the so-called nerds of my school. In ninth grade, I got accepted into an alternative school, where nearly everyone had rejected the conformity of traditional schools, and where, for the first time, my confusions about the world were not only validated, but also reflected back in new and challenging ways. At 14 years old, teachers and students were introducing me to Socrates, Buddhism, anarchism, and the writings of Karl Marx. In that new, open environment, my mind exploded open. I felt like I was identifying with a new worldview every week, debating publicly and privately about questions of materialism, freedom, desire, meaning, and equality.

    I’ve only recently realized that all of my intellectual and emotional processes in that exciting time, and up to the present, had their roots in the contradictions of my experience with Christina. Inside, I had long felt a deep love and sensitivity for the world, for other creatures and people, and even for her. But outside there were all of these forces pushing and pulling me away from who I was. They were not just pushing me away from basic decency and respect for people like Christina. They were also pushing me toward more and more consumerism at the expense of my childhood imagination; toward the objectification of women at the expense of authentic desire; toward classroom docility at the expense of intellectual curiosity; toward some vague college track at the expense of my genuine passions and interests. I came to see that modern social forces were far from benign. They were often deeply irrational and oppressive, even murderous. With Christina I had fallen into a myriad of society’s traps, and the move to Alaska freed me just in time to breathe, reflect, and decide that I didn’t want to go down that road ever again.

    By 17, I was a committed radical social justice activist, in love with books, and especially steeped in economic justice and de-schooling literature. Even in an incredible alternative high school, I felt stifled and I decided to drop out. I tried college for a few months, but decided to drop out again. The struggle was calling. I decided to focus on full-time radical activism, fighting for farm workers’ rights in Skagit Valley, against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, for anarchist revolution in Los Angeles, and for community control of public space in Bellingham.

    All my experiences eventually brought me back to college, by choice this time, rather than by obligation, and they even landed me a job back in the public school system, doing youth-empowerment work in a diverse urban high school near Seattle. I still work at the school, and it feels like such a privilege to work with young people and to provide them support for the kinds of vulnerable, challenging reflection that I wasn’t encouraged to engage with until many years too late. In that job, I discovered my passion for education, and my desire to be a teacher.

    For me, every part of who I am is related to the story above. I love life tremendously, and I love sharing it with so many people, animals, and other living and non-living things. Sometimes the beauty is simple overwhelming. At the same time, ever since seventh grade, I just can’t ignore the ridiculous, inhumane, and sometimes unspeakable social systems and relationships that thousands of years of human history have built around us like a cage. I can’t pretend that racism ended with Martin Luther King Jr. or something. I can’t pretend that sexism faded in the 1970’s. I can’t pretend that poverty is on the downswing because the news is optimistic about the Dow or Nasdaq. I can’t ignore the realities of Iraq, Burma, Guatemala, Haiti. What I only viscerally felt in seventh grade, that something is terribly wrong in the world, I now know from experience and from research. Something is terribly wrong. Many things are terribly wrong, and they need to change. I want to be a force for that change, and for almost 11 years now I have tried. For me, that has meant participating in social movements that seek systemic transformation, that strive for the creation of new social institutions built on human cooperation, equality, and dignity. I’m not dogmatic, though. I recognize the possibility that I might not be on the exactly right path.

    Every day, I try to find that difficult balance between my deep appreciation for the beauty of this life and my deep outrage at the injustices of this society. For me, this is a kind of amazing dance between my heart and my mind. I know that I need both perspectives, that without one or the other, I would be hollow. I owe Christina for pushing me to the deep introspection that has brought me here.

    13 years ago, I didn’t know Christina’s name, but she did change my life. I will always carry shame inside me, knowing that her experience of me was probably not similarly beneficial. Whatever lessons I might have learned do not excuse how I treated her. I hope that somewhere she has forgiven me, but I would support her fully if she never does. All I can do is what any of us should do in the face of those inexcusable choices that we sometimes make when we try to solidify our status or our privilege: recognize my humanity, face forward toward my potential, and try once again to act vigorously for justice.

    Me and My Propagandhi Connection…

    “When all is said and done, just cuz we were young, doesn’t mean that we were wrong.”
    -Propagandhi, “Rock for Sustainable Capitalism”

    When I was 15 my brother bought me a pop-punk sampler CD for Christmas, and on that CD was a song by a political punk band called Propagandhi. The song was called “And we thought nation states were a bad idea…” and it was all about the rise of neo-liberalism. It gripped me tight. It opened my eyes to a whole new type of music and expression (before that my favorite band had been the Beatles), and one line just completely spoke to how I was feeling as I was becoming a young, angry anarchist: “And I’m just a kid! Can’t believe I have to worry about this kind of shit…what a stupid world!” I sang and screamed that song in my bedroom all winter in 1995.

    Ever since, I’ve had a deep connection to Propagandhi’s music. Well, actually, I think think their music isn’t very good. But there is something about their lyrics, and how they sing them that just speak to my exact feelings about the absurdity of our current society. I don’t think they’re the best band. They aren’t even my favorite band. But whenever I listen to them, I feel less lonely, more understood, and especially more grounded in why, after 13+ years, I’m still a radical.

    The quote at the beginning of my post is really ringing true for me lately. I’ve been thinking a lot about my teenage years, and my education as an activist. I am so proud of who I was, of my naivety and my deep desire to be a good person. I am proud of the poems and manifestos that I would write in my notebook. I still read them sometimes and I’m actually pretty impressed. I was a pretty sharp and sensitive kid…and actually way more open to later anti-racist and feminist politics than I sometimes give myself credit for.

    Just because we were young, doesn’t mean that we were wrong.

    Young Jeremy, I’m so, so happy for how you’ve grown up. I’m so happy for the choices you made and the thoughts you had…because you led me to where I am now, at 27. I’ve learned a hell of a lot that you didn’t imagine then. I don’t know what you’d think of my compromises. Married. Working. Still playing video games. Still eating meat. Still driving and wearing store-bought clothes. But I want you to know that I haven’t forgotten those things you used to tell yourself, those better lives and worlds that you used to dream while bouncing the tennis ball against the garage. I’m walking the path that you found for me…and I so wish we could just spend an hour or two together. It would be so fascinating to get your opinion of all that is happening right now.

    But instead, I’ll find you in the Propagandhi songs…because when I sing quietly on my walk to work, I can hear you faintly singing along.

    Long time no post. Big surprise.

    My fourth installment on 21st Century Anarchism hasn’t been forgotten. It will come when it’s ready.

    I just wanted to write briefly about something personal. As I’m getting older and creakier, I think I’m starting to finally make peace with my own internal cycles. These are cycles that have dogged me since my earliest memories of school (2nd and 3rd grades…) all the way to the present. They’re cycles that cast a shadow over every aspect of my life. And I bet they’re very similar to the cycles that most people feel. Although I wouldn’t know, since shame has kept me from ever talking much about them.

    The cycles are simple: weeks and months where I feel confident, creative, life-loving, connected…followed by weeks and months where I feel lackluster, ashamed, useless, corrupt and like a general nobody. These cycles have almost nothing to do with the overall conditions of my life, since they happen no matter how bad or good things are going. But they do have real consequences as they affect my friendships, my work, my writing on this site, and more.

    At the root of it all, I think, is insecurity and a bad ability to handle pressure. When I feel low and forgotten and like I don’t have much to lose, my inspiration and creativity shoot up. But when I see people wanting to appreciate me, be near me, hear what I have to say, I feel like I will inevitably fail them, so I retreat, I distract myself, I wallow…and pretty soon they are frustrated with me or forget me…at which point I feel the upper swing of the cycle again.

    It’s absolutely fascinating, especially when I look at it in its pure continuity throughout my entire life. By looking at it and acknowledging it as less of a personal failure and more just like a rhythm of my social personality that I may or may not grow out of, I think I can make peace with it. I think I am making peace with it. And that, I hope, will allow me to be more intentional in my work, more open in my friendships, and more accountable all around.

    To those of you who read this and who have been burned by these cycles of mine (as all of my friends have been, and some for years and years), I hope you read this and forgive me. I hope you read this and understand that sometimes my silence is a sign that I’m doing important grappling with myself…

    …but also sometimes its a sign that I’m just wallowing in self-doubt and doing internet window-shopping for 6 hours with crumbs of tortilla chips and peach pits all over my bed. Both scenarios are common and real.

    I hope you can love me regardless, as I love you in your cycles, too.

    Four Months Later…

    I’m officially married…Glendi is living at the house with me…I joined and then withdrew from a Master’s in Teaching Program…I’m about to start a new job as a co-director of a youth empowerment non-profit…my hair’s getting long…a center-leftist won the presidency of Guatemala!

    But mostly, I’m really happy these days. And I’m thinking about a whole bunch of stuff. So now it’s time to start writing again!

    Nearly a year since Glendi and I really started talking about this, and now we’re almost there. I just need to pack my bag and head to the airport, and then…

    Glendi, her mom, and her brother Ivan will meet me in the airport, where we will travel by bus for four hours to reach her home, and there we will spend 1 bittersweet week, as Glendi prepares her things and her family says goodbye.

    I’ve been talking with Glendi’s dad and he seems a lot more prepared emotionally than he was a few months and weeks ago. Stilly crying occasionally, but much more open about his excitement and happiness for us as well. Glendi is excited. Her mom is excited and sad, of course.

    I have so much I want to write about, but I don’t have the time. Hopefully during the summer, now that school is out (yay!).

    I want to talk about my hopes and my fears about Glendi and I. I want to talk about the possible futures, about the balance between this relationship and my other friendships. I want to talk more about the politics of this relationship. There is just so much. There are all of these things that I’m thinking about all of the time, but I still haven’t put them down in this blog yet.

    Still, for now I can tell you that I feel so free and happy…and I’ll let you know where it goes from there.

    Much love, and hope to write a least once from Guatemala.

    Here We Go Again…

    Hi there,

    First off, my apologies to those who have commented and who have not yet received a response. Please be patient with me.

    Second, you really should read this article about the battle for Bolivia’s future, and then read the Movement Toward Socialism’s Vision for a New Bolivia. This is really promising, I think.

    Third, and most importantly, I leave for Guatemala on Friday! Glendi and I will be coming back to the U.S. together on Saturday, June 30th. My life is about to radically change at the end of this week. Wow. I am excited, nervous, stressed, scared, and then excited again. It’s a whirlwind, as one can imagine.

    The good thing is that I have lots of support. Many people have emailed me or called me with support, and many people also are supporting me face to face. Moreover, talking with Glendi every night is really grounding and relaxing, as is talking with her family, who are definitely sad right now, thinking about saying goodbye to her for a good number of months.

    But the hardest thing is having no clue about what I’m going to be doing for us to be able to live come the fall. I’m really leaning against going back to school right now. It just doesn’t feel right, and it will be expensive. At the same time, I don’t have a sustainable job anymore at the high school (they still want my work, but don’t have the money…can anyone point me to any grants or fellowships?)…so the big question is “What Now?” I don’t know, but I think it involves getting more focused on concrete organizing and pushing my politics, and thus maybe even looking for a more brain-free kind of job just to pay the bills. We’ll see.

    I just took a break from cleaning the apartment in preparation for Glendi in order to write this entry. Perhaps I should get back to work.

    More to come, I hope.

    A few little thoughts about my announcement…

    Hey folks,

    I’ve received some really interesting feedback from a few folks about my “big announcement,” and I want to write about two pieces of it here…maybe more later.

    First, there was concern expressed about posting such an intense, personal letter as Glendi’s on a public blog. That perhaps this is something I should share more carefully, with my close people, rather than just anyone who comes along. I’ve been thinking about this, and I want to talk with Glendi more about it (as soon as the phone card works again!), but for now I’m going to pull the letter from the writings section, and just email it out to those who email me and ask to see it. For now, anyway.

    A second piece that I’ve gotten from a number of people is some concern about the tone of my letter, as if I’m coming out with armor on, ready for our relationship to be attacked, and so I’m bringing out my talking points. This is more or less accurate feedback. I feel extremely vulnerable talking about my relationship in general and this decision in particular with people. Somewhat with my family, but definitely in political circles. This is complicated, because there are many, many levels to it, but mainly because I know that our relationship is complicated, and because I know that it is easy to go from thinking something’s complicated to thinking that it’s problematic…and then to go from that to thinking its fucked up…and then going from questioning silently to shit-talking publicly…. I have been an activist for 11 years now. There are sketchy interpersonal dynamics across all communities, including activist communities, and so yeah, in making this more public beyond certain close circles, I kind of came out erring on the side of caution, just wanting to get my reasons and my thinking out there. You should have seen my rough draft…way more thorough and intense!

    Bottom line, I have worried that people, even people who I care about, won’t trust us enough to be able to do this with care and intentionality. I have worried that people would talk behind my back and even spread rumors (and some crazy rumors HAVE been spread). These things have run through my imagination too many times, and so, yeah, maybe there is some attitude in my letter as if I’m anticipating a fight.

    But the wonderful thing is that so far people have come back with concerned feedback, but also with love and support, and with an understanding that I really am trying to be careful about this…perhaps even too careful. I can take that, I can hear that. I’m also prepared to hear more feedback of all sorts.

    All my love,

    Jeremy

    To all of my family and friends,
    To all of the people who I love so very, very much,

    I’ve got a really big announcement for you.

    This summer, my partner, Glendi Susana Aguilar Lorenzo, is coming from her country of Guatemala to the United States, in order to live here with me.

    We are engaged to be married.

    Now, I imagine that this is a shock to most of you—and for some of you, not so much—and so in this letter I want to share with you first about our story and then about our plans, so that you can better understand and support us in this major change in our lives.

    So, pretty please:

    -Read through this letter (especially the part at the end with our plans and what we need from you in terms of support)

    -Then, find some time to read the letter that Glendi has written to you (in the writings section). It’s actually a collection of 13 emails that I’ve translated from Spanish and edited, with her guidance and a double-checking of the translation by my friend, Isaura…thanks Isaura!

    -Then visit here to see some photos!

    All of this is quite a chunk of reading. I’m sorry for that, but that’s how it is, and I hope that you’ll make the time to read through it.

    ———————-
    The Story, As I’ve Experienced It
    ———————-

    I met Glendi in the summer of 2005, just two years ago, when I was studying Spanish in Guatemala. She was (and is) a teacher in La Escuela de la Montaña (The Mountain School), where I studied for just three weeks. We would chat a little between classes, and then she became my teacher for a week, and out of that we developed a good rapport. When I returned to the United States, through emails and phone calls this rapport turned into a friendship, and then about three months later into a more serious long-distance relationship. In those months, I had fallen for her, and she had fallen for me.

    For quite a while, however, I was scared of my feelings and of our connection. One reason was the fact that my previous partner of four years, Briana, and I had just transitioned into being friends, and I didn’t want to move too quickly into anything new. A much larger reason, though, was the fact that Glendi and I are coming from such very different places, and I was worried that those differences—and especially the power dynamics that come with them—would make a long-term relationship impossible. I am an urban, middle-class white North American, Glendi is a rural, Indigenous Guatemalan from a poor, farm-worker family. My primary language is English, hers, Spanish. I am a strong atheist, she is a deeply faithful, though liberal, Protestant Christian (she calls herself evangelical, but it should be noted that this means something different in Guatemala than in the U.S.). I am a dedicated radical activist, and she is very sympathetic and is definitely lefty, but has never considered herself an activist. Moreover, I knew that if our relationship were to be real and sustainable, Glendi would have to be able to travel freely between the United States and Guatemala, and that would probably require marriage, which is a legal/religious institution that, to this day, I do not politically or ethically believe in. I had never imagined myself in such a complicated situation, I certainly hadn’t looked for it, and frankly it was freaking me out.

    Yet talking on the phone and writing emails every day, the connection we had was undeniable. The openness, warmth and humor that we shared and that grew between us made it a safe place to talk about all of our differences, to analyze them and feel them, without feeling a need to push away from or reject each other. We decided to take a risk and hold on, with open eyes, yes, but also with open hearts.

    And so we have held on, not only through almost two years of daily emails and phone calls, but also through 3 more trips to Guatemala, with me spending about 2 ½ months living with Glendi and her family, and through discussions of the relationship not only with my close people but also with her closest people. In all of this we have faced some real struggles, primarily related to cultural differences around dating and family, and we have processed through these struggles in ways that have strengthened our relationship and that have built intimacy, but which also have required compromises from both of us.

    One of the most fundamental compromises is the very subject of this letter: our decision to get married.

    For those of you in my family, I don’t want to freak you out or offend you, but I do not generally believe in the institution of marriage. I believe deeply in committed relationships, but for political reasons, historical reasons, ethical reasons, and just plain personal reasons, I do not support the institution of marriage (though of course I support people’s rights to choose to get married, including couples of the same sex/gender). Glendi, and especially her close-knit family, are not in the same place. Neither is U.S. immigration law. For these and other reasons, the decision to become engaged with Glendi has been a long, hard decision to make…a decision that, especially for reasons of the U.S. border, has been weighing on us from day one.

    I am not going to detail all of our discussions and deliberations here. There is simply not room in this letter to outline the emotional and logical paths that we have followed to come to this point. If you email me or call me and ask, I will surely talk with you about it, but for now, I do want you to know just a few things:

    • I love Glendi tremendously. Tremendously. I am committed to her and I am excited about building a family with her, a family that has strong, deep connections with our existing families, friends, and also with our extended activist “families” as well. Though our decision to get married has been confined and structured by U.S. law, this is no kind of “green card” marriage. Our commitment is much deeper than that.

    • Our marriage, however, will not be completely conventional. We are going to share between us all of the traditional “husband/wife” marriage roles like cleaning, cooking, childcare, working, etc. ; we’re also going to prefer the term “partners” to “husband and wife;” we’re going to try something creative regarding the whole changing last names thing; we’re going to have a very non-traditional, non-religious “ceremony of commitment” in the U.S. (and something more traditional in Guatemala); and we are definitely going to work to stay connected with our communities, friends, and families so that we don’t get too isolated into our own little nuclear family unit.

    • I have a strong relationship with Glendi’s family, and though I do not agree with all of their beliefs and traditions, I have tried to build my relationship with Glendi in a way that has been open to and respectful of where she and her loved ones are coming from. This has sometimes meant things like traveling to Guatemala to ask her parents’ permission to enter the house (which is a Guatemalan tradition), or traveling to meet all of her aunts and uncles…and it will also mean an eventual traditional-style wedding in Guatemala, in her family’s church.

    • So far, our relationship has grown in a Guatemalan, Spanish-speaking context…in Glendi’s context. Now we are taking a major step towards strengthening our relationship in my context…the United States. Seattle. We think and discuss constantly about what this means in terms of greatly shifting power dynamics, of her experiences as an immigrant, as an English-learner, as a poor woman of color, and so much more. We also recognize the sad possibility that, despite our will to commit, our relationship might not be able to survive all of the challenges this transition throws at us…but we hope so much that this isn’t true! I take my own responsibilities very seriously in all of these regards, and we hope that you also will do what you can to support her and us (even if that means lovingly holding me accountable for mistakes sometimes). Please read Glendi’s letter and finish this letter to get a sense of the support that we are asking for.

    • Even with our current plans to live in the U.S., our relationship is founded on a long-term commitment to share our lives in both of our countries. This means that probably within the next three years we will be moving together to Guatemala, to live near Glendi’s family. We are planning on moving back and forth periodically throughout our lives, and the life of our family, and this will very much depend on circumstances. I just want you to have a heads-up about this, and also to know that I will take my responsibilities as a North-American living in Guatemala very seriously, as well.

    There is much, much more that I could say. There are many stories to tell (about Glendi’s family, her culture, our relationship, the VISA process, etc.), and I hope that you will stick with us and hang out with us so that you can hear these stories directly from our mouths!

    I imagine that some of you are worried, skeptical, questioning, and I want you to know that I support you in those feelings. It shows that you care about Glendi’s well-being and my own. At the same time, we need you to put some trust in us that we know what we are doing, and what we are getting into, and we need you to know that your loving support and welcoming attitude toward Glendi are crucially important, even with any lingering doubts that you may hold.

    I love you, and I look forward to further discussing this amazing new stage of my life with you as it develops. But for now, let’s move on to the actual plan!

    ———————-
    The Plan
    ———————-

    June 22: I leave for Guatemala, where I will spend a week with Glendi’s family as she says her “see you laters” and gets ready to come to the United States for the first time.

    June 30: We fly together from Guatemala to Houston, where she will go through customs, and then we will fly to Seattle, arriving at night. This will be her first time in a plane, we’ve got seats together (of course), and any strategies you might be able to offer a first-time flyer might be helpful! We will stay one night in a hotel near the airport, to relax, get our bearings, and save her first real view of Washington for the daytime.

    July 1: We will drive to Bellingham, where my parents live, and we will spend a week there. Glendi will give my family Spanish lessons (a great way to balance the power dynamics and allow us North Americans to feel some of the vulnerability that she will be feeling for a long time), we will cook and explore all together as a family.

    July 8 or so: We will return to Seattle, where we are going to live together in the basement “apartment” of my cooperative house, alongside 5 other wonderful people. This way, Glendi will be able to be welcomed right in to my political and social community, she will be less isolated and less dependent on me alone (once again, helping to balance power dynamics), and both of us will be less isolated as a couple. Once again, Spanish lessons are offered to everyone in the house (but thankfully some already speak it)!

    At some point in the three months of her visa: We will get officially, legally married, with no fanfare and the minimum number of witnesses (not even family) necessary. This is just the official part.

    Sunday, August 12: We will have a non-religious, very non-traditional, and bi-lingual “ceremony of commitment and partnership,” probably outdoors. I am very excited about it!
    ALL OF YOU who have received this ARE WARMLY INVITED, but I do need to make two points: 1) Because of the stress and newness of her first few months in the U.S., Glendi and I need to be able to focus on each other and make this event very casual…which means that we can’t take logistical responsibility for any of you who wish to come from out of town…so if you come (and you are invited!) you may need to coordinate it through my parents, or on your own. 2) Since this will be our kind of ceremony, which will uphold our values and the values of my community, this will be an event that is welcoming to all of my queer, lesbian, gay, and transgender friends and their partners. I want them to be safe and free to express themselves and have fun, and so if sharing this kind of space with my friends will make you so uncomfortable that you are unable to participate happily, then I want to give you a heads-up that this event might not be a good idea for you.
    Please let me or my mom know ASAP if you are planning on coming to this.

    August 13-20 or so: Glendi and I will fly to Alaska, to celebrate with my Alaska family and to explore the places where I was born and grew up. Ondras, Kochs, Brewsters: this also means that it’s okay if you can’t make it down for the ceremony.

    August 20 until Glendi receives her permanent residency or at least permission to return to Guatemala: We will just focus on building our lives together, while Glendi prepares to start her business as a private Spanish teacher (waiting for a green card), and I will be working and possibly pursuing a Master’s degree in teaching.

    When Glendi can travel back to Guatemala (hopefully by December): We will return to Guatemala, with my family, where we will have a more traditional Guatemalan wedding in Glendi’s church and with Glendi’s family and friends. If you are really interested in coming down to Guatemala for this, please let me know ASAP.

    For the next 3 years or so: We will live primarily in the U.S., traveling when we can to Guatemala. We will be focusing on saving money and paying off my college debt, so that…

    In the future: We will build a small house on a small piece of land near her family’s community, where we will live some years in Guatemala, some in the United States…we clearly don’t know the actual breakdown of how it will work yet.

    ———————-
    How You Can Support Us
    ———————-

    Of course, you can support us emotionally by writing to us (Glendi’s email address is aguilarlorenzo_3@hotmail.com) with love and best wishes, and by trying to make it to our August celebration (please RSVP ASAP), and by being at our sides in good times and bad.

    But also, because I have chosen a career path of important social justice work that pays very little, and because Glendi will be moving from a situation of being the breadwinner of her large family to being unemployed until she gets her green card (anywhere from 3-6 or more months), we actually can use your financial support as well.

    In sort of a surprise move, the Bush administration announced a doubling of immigration fees, and we are not sure how this is going to affect our budget, and with our need to support ourselves, plus the need to support Glendi’s 12 person family in Guatemala, plus staying on top of my debts, and also trying to save for the return to Guatemala, your financial help can make a huge difference. We will have no wedding registry, but if between now and the August ceremony you would be able to make us a donation, we will really, really appreciate it.

    My address is 1643 S. King St., Seattle, WA 98144

    Also, if you know anyone in the Seattle area or in King County who might be interested in paying for private Spanish lessons from an excellent professional teacher from a highly regarded Spanish school, Glendi’s classes will be available for a reasonable rate when she has a green card, but until then she is up for trading English lessons for Spanish lessons, groceries for lessons, or other fair barter/trade kinds of things. Please let us know, and when Glendi has a website, we’ll send it out to you.

    Thank you so much for reading through this whole thing, for being in my life all of these years, and for continuing to be in my life and now in Glendi’s life for many years to come!

    I love you,

    Jeremy

    Big Stuff Coming…

    For a little while I’ve been hinting at opening up about some rather big stuff that I haven’t yet discussed on this blog…for a variety of reasons.

    Well, things are getting to a point where I’m ready to change that situation. So just sit tight and check back on this blog in the next few days.

    I hope you’re well, and things are flowing okay in your lives. My life is okay right now. The big staff meeting is tomorrow, supposedly. But I don’t believe anything anymore. I’m just going to show up, speak when asked to speak, and see what happens. I’ve already been saying my goodbyes to students.

    Until soon, much love to each of you.

    A little bit of self-censorship.

    I’ve received a little bit of advice from a net-savvy friend of mine that maybe I should be careful about my “blog identity.” That is, I should be careful about how much I talk about my job, people I work with, etc.

    I think he’s right. People do find this site in their google searches sometimes. And although I don’t think I’m saying much that I wouldn’t say to anyone’s face at the school, I think I do want to be more careful.

    So, I’m going to keep updating occasionally about the job, but more cautiously. And maybe I’ll end up making some of my previous posts unavailable to the public. Not sure yet.

    Please comment here if you think differently. Thanks to all who are reading!

    WTF?!

    Today, after lunch ended, the principal came into our office, with all of us standing there awkwardly, and she said:

    “I just want to tell you that I want you two here. We need you two here. And I want you to know that I’m going to find the money. It may only be part time, but we will do what we can. I’m going to take the budget home over the weekend and find the money.”

    She also apologized for her insensitivity and hurtful comments in a past staff meeting, she acknowledged her use of power to try to frame reality, and told us that yesterday’s emergency student/staff meeting was powerful…and she left saying, “So, before I just walked in, were you two organizing to overthrow me on this?”

    No, we weren’t. But the students were planning some things. They had refined their walkout plans and messaging, and they were getting ready to go…the campus has been buzzing.

    And they still are going to do something, but now it is a much more toned-down lunch forum about the future of student voice at the school. They’ve made new fliers. None of us are giving up, because having funding doesn’t mean that we get the kind of work we want. This is just the opening of the conversation.

    What a weird place to work. A low-income high school that two years ago was totally traditional and has now become a national darling as an example of a successful conversion of a large campus into 3 small schools…an institution that is in an active state of transformation, and where very marginalized young people are finding themselves in new positions of activism and leadership around all sorts of issues…seriously, my head is just spinning and I’m in shock. What is this place?! This job is so hard to read. Every year we keep pushing and pushing, and they eventually give in…it’s like: when is this power structure actually going to stop us, because in four years it hasn’t yet. It’s kind of disconcerting.

    It was almost easier just to see the principal in her power role…Briana and I were just staring at each other, like: “What happened to her? What got to her? What do we do now?” It was almost easier having all the drama…more familiar.

    We’ll see, huh? There’s still the lunch forum and the staff vote on Tuesday. I’ll update as it seems valuable.

    Should I stay or should I go?

    This’ll be funny coming off the heels of my last post, but I just got word today that I’ve been accepted into the Master in Teaching program at The Evergreen State College.

    It’s flattering of course, to have the opportunity to go grad school to eventually be a teacher, but all my thinking and reading and experiences, as shown in the last post, are just really telling me that this is not a bargain that I should be trying to make with the system. I have other things I could be doing.

    But I will admit that I’m not sure yet. Teaching public high school is way different from joining the academy. Yet it is still working for the state, and choosing to spend the vast majority of one’s active energies within a more or less structurally limited institution. The good thing is that I won’t even hear about financial aid/scholarships until mid-June, so I have a long while to decide. In the mean time, I have many other things going on in my life that I have to think about, and write about soon enough.

    Also, you should go here and watch the newest PBS Frontline, a history of the Mormons. Fascinating stuff. Really got me thinking a lot about how faith works…it simply isn’t rational, it just isn’t. And as much as I try to understand religious people (including my Christian partner, Glendi) with my intellect, I can’t. I can’t cross that gap of faith that they have. Now, maybe I do cross it in my own ways (for instance, believing that revolution is possible), but I can’t cross it in their ways…I just find myself shaking my head and being perplexed. Doesn’t mean that I can’t respect faithful people in many ways, because I can. But there are just certain ways that I can’t understand them. But I am fascinated.

    I just recently finished reading the memoir of a relatively prominent leftist by the name of Michael Albert, called “Remembering Tomorrow.” Albert is one of the founders of South End Press, as well as Z Magazine and Z-net. He’s written or co-written many books about revolutionary theory and post-capitalist vision, such as “ParEcon,” “Looking Forward,” and “Liberating Theory.” His memoir is not great, and in some places it downright pissed me off (mostly regarding his treatment of the Black Panthers, women’s liberation, and really many parts of the sixties in general…if you ask me to explain myself, I will, but otherwise, I’ll save it), but still it was well worth reading and it inspired me.

    The truth is, I have read I think almost every book that Michael Albert has written, some a couple of times (his earliest work with Robin Hahnel, “Unorthodox Marxism,” is actually my favorite). I first discovered his writing when I was 16, and his thinking has been pivotal in my own development as a radical. In many ways still, I’m kind of an “Albertist” in my radical worldview. At the same time, he’s definitely a sixties white, male leftist, with many of those trapping and contradictions, plus I’ve had friends tell me that’s he’s kind of a jerk, etc, and that all probably holds too. But all of this together, I’m glad that he has lived and done the work he has, because he has helped me to become a better thinker, a better, radical, and frankly a better person. His writing frankly helped me transition from standard white male anarchism toward listening to the ideas of my anti-racist and feminist friends. If I hadn’t had that role-modeling from an older white male radical intellectual, I don’t know if I would have listened as intently to my friends’ demands for me to change my ways…even still it took me years.

    I’m writing about all of this because, in the book, Albert mentions numerous times that actually, among his prominent radical friends, his thinking is actually met with silence. He seems genuinely frustrated by the lack of critical response he gets even from his friends about his work. I was wondering why this might be…maybe he’s hard to be honest to, maybe, personally, he’s an asshole (as I’ve heard from some, but not all), maybe he’s such an obnoxious debater that no one wants to get into it with him….or maybe they actually just don’t care very much to help push his ideas forward. Maybe engaging in his theorizing and vision doesn’t seem worthwhile to them, which I think is just kind of crazy. I know that almost all of my friends have had almost no interest in reading the theorizing of an old white male leftist. I’ve let them have that opinion, but that hasn’t stopped me from keeping up with his work, and I don’t regret it. Frankly, I’ve met very few other contemporary US radicals of different identities who talk about revolution and actually winning as much as he does (other inspirations that come to mind are the women of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence…they are on the cutting edge, way far ahead of Albert in many ways on many things…but I don’t think all).

    But his discussion about the great silences that surround his work really shook me, because honestly it is kind of how I feel about my work. For a really long time, I’ve felt that while overall I’m liked (mostly, I think, because I’m nice, a good listener, and very non-threatening…and a perpetual optimist, which I think people sponge off of, because they aren’t…it can actually be very draining for me), I don’t think I’m recognized as actually very useful as a radical thinker, or as the kind of asset for social change that I have worked hard to try to be for years. Usually, this doesn’t bother me much at all, I’ve gotten used to it, being within a political context of non-white males who really don’t trust people like me very much for doing much more than staying quiet and nodding along, as “allies”…because of such a long past of broken trust by white male radicals. I get this, and I have just sort of been patient, because I know that someday someone will ask my opinion, and someday that will be able to make a difference…like it did for awhile at the school. But that is precisely it. I have realized that now that I’m feeling un-valued and thrown away at the school, a key source of my intellectual and radical self-esteem has shriveled, and I’m realizing that outside of the school, in this radical “community” that I am more or less a part of, I actually have almost no developed base of trust, where I am known or appreciated as anything other than a smiling, humble background character.

    Like I said in my ego post, all of us have egos, and all of us want to be validated and valued, like we’re contributing. That goes for me, too. Not because I want to be a big leader or have fame. I simply want to feel useful. We have a revolution to build, and I think I’m pretty young, smart, energetic, and frankly ethical, and so I want to have a place where I feel like I can make a difference. But the problem is that nobody really wants me……but it’s not just me they don’t want. Nobody really seems to want anybody. Because nobody really thinks that way on the radical left. People on the left mostly just seem to be thinking of themselves, of their pet projects, and on getting everyone else to just be spectators, or marchers, or readers, or donors to them. People signing up to be equal, active participants in creatively building grassroots organizations? No, there is almost no interest there.

    This is what capitalism has done to the radicals. It has sucked us dry and turned us way too far inward. And not inward in a healing way (that would be great, and is necessary), but in an unhealthy, cannibalistic way. Let me explain:

    On one level, capitalism has captured many of our really energetic intellectuals, influencing them to go to universities and become academics, where they will be totally isolated from the movement outside of books and, worse, where they will be so pressured to come up with original theses and ideas etc….more books and cutting edge analyses, even though we really have many good ideas already, we just don’t practice them, and so we have radicals who just end up making old ideas more inaccessible, then they don’t engage with each other, they find cozy positions in society and…suddenly…where did they go? Off the streets, out of the neighborhoods, and into the ivory tower.

    On another level, capitalism takes some of its cash and it doles it out to foundations, who dole it out to non-profits (read The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, by INCITE! must-read book), who then suck up our most accomplished and efficient organizers, having them organize stale campaigns and, worse, fundraisers, when they should be doing grassroots base-building outside of the non-profit system. They become professionals, who have traded efficiency in making narrow gains (and then exaggerating their victories for their donors and boards of directors) for effectiveness in building a mass-based visionary politics. Suddenly, where did all of the dynamic organizers who were willing to work for free go?

    And the rest of us? With professional intellectuals making our ideas less user-friendly, not more, and with professional organizers making our work less ordinary-person friendly, not more, those of us who don’t join have to find normal jobs, where we are tired, and then we do activism on the side, in more or less unfunded and unstable groups, where we have a constant brain and ability drain into the academy and the non-profits, and we are left with sad little radical groups…which really just become the equivalent of farm teams in baseball…just a way for the big leagues to recruit our best and brightest, leaving us hanging.

    Do I sound bitter? I am. I’m also furious. I have been a radical activist for more than 11 years. I still don’t have a radical group to belong to. Almost no one around me even seems very interested in the idea. My inspirations have all gone on to grad school. Maybe I will too. This makes me so sad.

    Everything we know about global warming, water, and oil tells us that we are the generation that must take swift, decisive action. Us. Everything we know about the system tells us that it will not make these changes fast enough, or good enough. We must get organized and act for fundamental systemic change. We have the knowledge, the creativity, the generations of experience, the kick-ass intersectional revolutionary ideas and the ability to popularize them. We could win. We really could. But why aren’t we organizing more?

    Because capitalism has bought too many of us off, and it has us cozying up. It had me for four years, at the high school, and I’m just now realizing how many other great things I could have and should have been doing. I still don’t regret it…at all. But now that I’m on my way out, I’m antsy to really find something effective to do now.

    We can’t let this system beat us. We just can’t allow it. We are the generation to begin turning the tide. I want to rejoin that effort. Fuck getting paid for it (although, of course, I understand that some people have survival needs much bigger than my own…I’m speaking for myself)…fuck getting a book published out of it…I just want to make the world better….and yes to have my close people see my worth. This isn’t too much to ask.

    Why do such beautiful things crumble sometimes?

    Tomorrow, we have a staff meeting at the high school, in which mine and Briana’s work will likely be called into question, and it may very well mean that our services are no longer wanted.

    I have worked there for four years now. It has simultaneously been the hardest, most painful, most powerful, and most effective political, emotional, and personal work I have ever done in my young life. They have been four incredible years. I will not regret them if this is the end, but I don’t want this to be the end. We’ve been working with a vision and a strategy, and for it to get rolled back this year, at this point, would be a major, tragic loss.

    Tomorrow we will present our views, and all of the staff members will present theirs, and we’ll see where we all are. I have no idea what to expect. There frankly have been a lot of rumors going around about divisions and factions, and that freaks me out…because in dramas like that the radicals and visionaries are usually the first to be sacrificed.

    I’ll let you know what happens, but I am preparing to leave. Crying sometimes. Enraged sometimes. Most of all sad for the students. I know that I am nowhere near the kind of educator and ally they really need at that school, but at the same time I KNOW that I am good for them, that Briana is good for them. If we leave, it should be because the school is ready to move on without us, not just because our work is not wanted or understood anymore.

    But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Our work was possibly never wanted or understood as it really was, but rather as an idea, easily tokenized and marketed, of “student voice” and “student empowerment” and “social justice.” But then folks start to see the substance underneath the style and they get scared. It is a story that is WAY too old. I’m sorry to have to be just another rerun of it.

    In this way, it was good yesterday to re-discover my old writings, and to recognize my own radical visionary abilities again. I think I’d forgotten lately that I am a valuable thinker and worker for social justice.

    Wish me luck tomorrow, and still don’t forget to check out the writings, when you have time.

    I’ve posted four of my most substantial pieces of writing from the last 5 years. Check them out (they are Word documents).

    Two of them are works of revolutionary theory. The other two are attempts to express that theory in more creative, visionary ways (that is, they are fiction). I’m proud of all of them, with their flaws and gaps and all that.

    To be honest, I’m thinking about maybe trying to do something more with some of these pieces. Not like a book, but at least trying to publish these as articles or zines…with some modifications, of course. I’d be interested to know what people think about that.

    But seriously…the last two pieces are actually pretty fun reads, in my opinion, so I suggest checking them out.

    Love you…and please be kind with any constructive criticism…because I am SUPER-INSECURE about my writing. Not defensive, but insecure.

    P.S. If you do like any of the pieces, please tell other people about the blog!

    New look, and more stuff coming!

    Hi folks…

    Well, I’ve gotta say that the old design of the blog was becoming too claustrophobic for me (but great job designing it, Dave! It served me well.) and so now I’m moving on.

    The new design will make it easier to navigate and find things. It’ll also allow me to present more different types of content in the blog, which I’m really excited about.

    So, you should come visit again in the next few days, and see what’s up!

    It’s late and I should be sleeping, but…

    I wanted to visit and to say hi to my little blog.

    I’ve been busy. With some things that I still don’t want to talk about here. And with other things like applying to grad school (to become a teacher? Yikes!), and with designing a Magic: The Gathering style card game.

    Tomorrow I have a meeting to find out about the future of my work at the high school, and I imagine that it will be pretty tense. So maybe that’s why I’m not sleeping right now.

    I feel like this blog is becoming like a distant friend now…where I’m keeping so many things to myself that I feel like it doesn’t represent me or “know” me anymore. I don’t want this to be the case.

    One Week…No Post…

    For those who have noticed my absence this week, I’m sorry.

    I’ve been having a real hard time at the job and it’s kind of sucked away my emotional energy.

    Truth is, I’ve had a lot that I’ve wanted write about…be it ideas about local organizing, Iraq, the Democrats, analysis of oppression, The Good Shephard, Borat, the upcoming constitutional referendum in Ecuador (April 15th!), and much more.

    But really there is a more important post that I’m working on that should be up some time in the next week, so just be patient.

    In the meantime, check out the comments on my post about Oppression Olympics. Some one wrote in and challenged me with some really good points.

    Hope y’all are well.

    Interesting Local Action…

    Check this out, on my friend Andrew’s blog.

    I’ve been thinking about how I still want to be writing more about more local, more grassroots kinds of things, but I think I realize why its hard: the vast majority of the political work that I’m doing and seeing relates to my work at the school, and I’m reluctant to speak about that work in a public forum like this as long as I’m employed there and working for the State. But I wish I could say more, because that work is so very, very satisfying, more than any other political work I’ve done in the more than 10 years that I’ve been an “activist.” Someday I’ll talk about it.

    Nerd Stuff: Music…and the Democrats…

    Sunday morning and I’m listening to Propagandhi’s latest album (they are a Canadian political punk band). I just had the strongest urge to hear them after my week of work. I’ve been listening to them since I was 15 (wow, 10 years!) and they just have a specific kind of white-boy “I can’t believe all of this is happening in the world and my parents never told me about it so now I’m REALLY pissed” rage that speaks strongly to me.

    Also have the urge to listen to some Cat Stevens and Tracy Chapman today. And earlier this week I was listening to Alanis Morrisette. She has some really good feminist songs!

    Been following the democratic presidential race daily, because it’s something to do, and every day John Edwards is impressing me more and more. Never expected it. Now clearly I am pulling for Obama and Hillary for the identity milestone reasons, but politically Edwards is setting himself apart more each day. He’s actually talking about real stuff on a daily level. For example: talking about ending poverty in the US by 2030 (at least talking about it), talking about drastically cutting down carbon emissions, talking about a non-aggression pact with Iran, about the genocide in Darfur, about net neutrality, about withdrawing troops now, about supporting rights of workers to organize, and most recently, talking about a cabinet level global poverty position, which would be his priority approach to national security…classrooms not battlefields (which still could signify expansion of empire, but AT LEAST by feeding people and providing books instead of killing them). So, yeah, he’s intriguing right now.

    Exhausted…

    Another Friday evening. Got home from the high school a few hours ago, cooked some dinner, then mopped the kitchen floor. I’m tired.

    And right now I don’t know why I do this.

    Do you ever get that? I bet you do…those moments or days where you forget why you’re doing the work you do, why you’re living where you’re living, why you made all of the chains of choices that brought you to this point?

    I think it’s really healthy to let reality unravel like that every once in awhile. Everything in moderation, and all that, but for me it helps remind me that this, my life, is just one of many possible lives, and that there are many other choices I could be making. It’s grounding, I guess.

    Working at a high school, and being there to organize for social justice of all things, is just so tiring on every level. My body is tired. My back hurts. I’m perpetually sleepy despite almost always getting 8+ hours. I cherish my evenings and my days off like warm, golden honey. Even five minutes more on the snooze alarm is worth resnuggling into my bed for. Perhaps this is just the working life in general, but I’ve never felt it so strongly as this year, working this hard at this high school.

    In other news…there is a lot happening in Ecuador…with 57 opposition senators being fired by the electoral commission or something for trying to stall the constituent assembly…and Chavez, as you probably know, made a tour across Latin America and the Caribbean in an effort to overshadow Bush–and succeeded. Chavez is actually on Barbara Walters tonight…check it out. Locally, the Tacoma Port protests have marched on, and I still would like to tell my story about that someday. It was weird to be there, with tear gas and weird sparkling fireworks things flying around me…and yet I was perfectly calm, just trying to help other people out, trying to keep people from running and panicking. Interesting bodily response, I thought.

    There is so much that I still don’t share on this blog and I wonder when I will have the guts to break those silences.

    One last thing: I believe that the next generation of activists will be much better at what they do than we are…and I think that we are actually pretty good.

    I love all of you. Until next time.

    OH AND PS:  Still having vivid dreams nightly.  Last night I was fishing  by hand for salmon in a creek.  It was kind of beautiful.

    Another fact about me that some people know and others don’t: I’m straight-edge, which is a stupid punk-rock term that means that I don’t drink, or smoke, or do drugs. Never done any of those things and I doubt I ever will. I’m not judgemental or in your face about it, it’s just kind of something I came to in high school and never felt like giving up…it’s an eccentricity that I like about myself.

    When I was in high school I had this super dorky slogan I told myself: “Dreams Over Drugs.” Truth is, I’m a very, very vivid dreamer (I often have lucid dreams, in which I know I’m dreaming and I can shift and control them…so I very rarely have nightmares), and so I decided that I would focus on my dreaming as an alternative to the psychadelic drugs that my friends were doing.

    What I’ve found is that if I actively try to remember my dream from the night before, especially if I write it down, then I will dream vividly again the next day. I’ll let you know if this is confirmed by my dreams tonight…

    Edit: Yep, I had very vivid dreams last night, and since I remembered them I hope the cycle will continue and my dreams will just get better.

    I want to talk a little bit about growing as a political person, and the significance of that for me.

    When I was a little kid, like 6 years old, I used to watch the TV show “Family Ties” with my mom. I don’t have many concrete memories from the show, but I do remember that I looked up to Michael J. Fox’s character, Alex P. Keaton, and I remember that he loved Ronald Reagan, and so I loved Ronald Reagan, too. I also remember the youngest child on the show, a cute little blond-haired kid, and I remember that I was entranced by him. I was entranced by the idea that there was actually somebody my age on TV. More importantly, I remember that I was very concerned with whether he was younger than me or older than me, because if he was younger than me, then somehow that reflected on me and my self-worth…that I was actually older than someone on television. That maybe I could even be on television.

    The same thing happened years later with Macaulay Culkin, right after Home Alone came out. I remember reading a magazine and I found out that he was 3 months older than me and I was devastated.

    When I was 16, I heard something about how the old philosopher David Hume wrote one of his most famous works before the age of 21 or something, and I told myself that I was going to beat him, and publish my first book before the age of 20. It didn’t happen, and I remember having a tinge of sadness on that birthday, although I didn’t tell anyone.

    Also, when I was between the ages of 14 and 20, I was very interested in historical figures like Mao and Lenin and Stalin and Ho Chi Minh, and read biographies of all of them. I was particularly interested in their beginnings as leaders, in their school years, in their twenties, and I took mental notes of how I was stacking up. Was I going to make history like them? Was I going to be a famous leader?

    I sure wanted to be a leader like them. Clearly, I would be a leader who would NOT be a butcher or a sellout or a hypocrite, I would be the one who broke the historical legacy of faulty leaders. Who truly WAS a liberator. I would be different, and that would be my particular claim to fame. The anarchist version of the Mao, of the Lenin (complete contradiction in terms, though it is)…and the biographies would highlight my distinctions boldly.

    For a good number of years, I lived my life and grew as a political activist and organizer with a very real kind of double-consciousness going on. I genuinely wanted equality, social justice, liberation for all people, and I could imagine many details of that dream. But at the same time, I wanted that global liberation to come FROM ME, from my innovations, and leadership, and legacy. As if the revolution were Arthurian legend, I wanted to be the ONE to pull the sword from the stone (actually…thinking about it…that too was an old cartoon that really spoke to me growing up…interesting). I was a revolutionary optimist partly because I knew that it was my own destiny to usher in the revolution.

    The problem was that, of course, there was a fundamental contradiction between my supposed beliefs in direct democracy, massive grassroots social movements and non-hierarchical social structures and my own ego. And over a number of years, as I began to rise in the “activist ranks” and began to find myself being offered opportunities to assert myself as a leader, as a spokesperson or whatever, that contradiction became a lived reality that really started to affect my choices. Especially in the climate of post-WTO radical organizing in the Pacific Northwest, I found myself faced with questions of integrity that held many of my friendships in the balance.

    Thankfully, though, I met some feminists.

    And, as so many feminists do for wayward young activist dudes, they introduced me to a way of thinking that, for them–and I would imagine most marginalized people–was just second nature, but to me was earth-shattering: they introduced me to the reality that I am not the center of the world.

    From those first rocky interactions with feminism (I very nearly lost most of those friendships, too…in fact I pretty much did), I was eventually pushed and guided toward critiques of white racism, and then even more deeply into women of color’s thinking and organizing around ideas of multiple, intersecting oppressions…and each time, each day, each conference, each book just shook me further and further away from notions of myself, of who I am, and of why I’m here.

    The realization, so obscenely simple: that there are actually billions of people on this planet, all of whom hope to be good people, to do good, to be recognized in their work, to be loved and cared for and admired. And that for me to want to claim all of that, to hoard that all for myself and for my posterity…how brutally greedy and foul it is…and how typical.

    This shit simply just shook me to my core. Not like in one night of epiphany, but much more slowly, over time, in a process of realization that really just doesn’t stop.

    Egos. Of all the questions that surround us when we think of social change, I think this question of ego often gets missed or, more often, misunderstood. It is sooooo deep, and it goes so far beyond just me and my particular story, and it goes so far beyond just white dudes, or white people, or middle class people, or educated people. It is much, much deeper, and I think much more crucial than the particular experiences of one or a handful of identity groups.

    This is about who we are, about our places in the world, and about, like I said, a very real desire to be loved and to BE RECOGNIZED in this life. It is so simple but there is so much there, and if we look at social movements (or really any grouping of people) it is amazing to see how far egos and their misplaced desires and insecurities take us. The hierarchical, competitive nature of our society and of all oppressive societies fundamentally warps our senses of our selves — certainly some more than others, and probably proportionate to how close we are to the centers of power — and it warps our ability to hold our own value and desire for recognition alongside that of those around us. We sabotage even those we love because we see and feel threats to our egos all around us.

    For me, this question of ego has required me to examine and redefine pretty much every aspect of who I want to be, of how I define success for myself. I cannot deny that it is still fun to think about being able to give speeches that draw crowds, to write a book and maybe get on c-span bookTV, to maybe be somewhere in a history book…and I think a lot about the implications of those lingering fantasies. But more commonly these days, these years, I feel like what I want for myself has shifted towards things much more simple. I dream much more often now of participating in revolutionary processes so big and complex that my own head couldn’t possibly hold onto them, of revolutions that would make me feel like a constant tourist, watching in awe as the people all around me create new things and we really learn from each other. I think about my personal success as the building and sustaining of even just a small community…of shared food and reinvented holidays and kids running around and looking up to us maybe for a few years, but then discovering our foibles, rebelling, and then maybe then reconciling with us years later…I think about plants, and simple music, and simple writings that maybe only my friends read, like these blog entries. I think about designing and playing games. I think about doing good work at a local level, like in the high school where I work, and fighting so hard for the people around me…with the people around me. Knowing them. Crying with them…and just weeping and embracing in sharing our losses and our triumphs.

    What I think about is the significance of being just one among many, and rather than thinking that means something boring, conformist, robotic, I think about the magic of it: that we live in a world that is so richly filled with beautiful, brilliant, creative people, and that if unleashed we could share in so much joy and discovery every day, on every block, in every nook and cranny of our lives. In this life it is a privilege to be one among so many who are so fantastic.

    Over time, and through the struggle of many patient people who love me and believe in me, I have come to see that there is something far, far more beautiful than the sight of a billion posters with one great liberator’s face: billions of faces making billions of unique posters about their own mutual inspiration and liberation.

    So suck on that, Macaulay Culkin.

    Just read this article and thought I’d link to it. It’s a good overview of Venezuela’s communal councils, and I think it does a good job of exploring the numerous questions that are bound to be raised in a process like this. A lot of these questions remind me, on a much smaller scale, of questions raised in the high school transformation work I’ve been doing these last few years.

    Speaking of which, I’ve been feeling very overworked and emotionally exhausted working at the high school, and that is a big reason for why I haven’t posted since Saturday night. This is sad, because there is much that I want to talk about. I have a whole list of topics that I keep on a crumbled piece of paper in my pocket.

    For now, though, I feel safe in asking you to go rent the documentary Jesus Camp and then please come back here and comment on it. Anyone who’s been around me these last few years knows how much I talk about and think about the Evangelical Right and their movement-building work, and this movie really puts faces on the stuff I’ve been thinking about; namely that they are trying to build a rich, parallel subculture which acts a base for eventually winning power in the US. This movie is especially interesting because it focuses on one of the most essential elements of any culture or subculture which hopes to sustain and reproduce itself: the children. It’s a freaky vision of what’s happening out there, but I hope also that it’s a wake-up call. I will write more about this in the future.

    Been playing the board game Carcassone a lot with my brother and his wife. Damn is that game fun! Especially with the towers expansion, which makes the game a lot more cutthroat and interactive.

    This past Thursday, I went to a special neighborhood meeting that was called because a local non-profit, Casa Latina, wants to relocate all of its services to our neighborhood, and some of the neighbors are concerned. Frankly, some of them are terrified and, as usual, those damned isms are the culprit.

    Racism, classism, and xenophobia, to be more specific.

    See, Casa Latina is an organization with the purpose of helping mostly Latina/o immigrants to pursue work, education, and personal empowerment. They have ESL programs, women’s empowerment programs, and they also have an active day-labor center, which helps immigrant workers to find day-labor within more dignified conditions than they might otherwise find. Basically, they are doing really good, important work.

    My neighbors all seem to agree. Except some of them don’t want that work to be done “in their backyard.” “Can’t you do your good work somewhere else, doesn’t our neighborhood have enough non-profits doing good work?” (actual statement) “Our neighborhood is finally moving away from being a social service magnet, this is taking us in exactly the wrong direction.” Basically, the message was: go help poor Latina/os elsewhere. Here they’re good enough to build our houses and cut our lawns, but god forbid that they actually stick around and set up shop here!

    It seems that our neighborhood, Jackson Place (sort of within and between the International District and the Central District in Seattle, right along Jackson st.), is definitely undergoing a process of gentrification, with fancy condos going up and businesses moving in (target is also looking to relocate nearby), and so Casa Latina is exactly the kind of thing that some folks just don’t want. It’s bad for the property values, you know. More white professionals? All for ’em! More poor brown people? What, what?!

    So basically this is how the meeting broke down: the majority of the members were older Asian folks, with some older white folks. The majority were against Casa Latina (but this was just the last in MANY community meetings about this project…and this one was organized by the angry neighbors who seem to have not have heard about the MANY other meetings!), and there were a handful of us who welcome Casa Latina. Also, there were a number of women from the Casa Latina board strongly and clearly defending their project and their organization, and there were two Mexican immigrant men who spoke very emotionally and painfully about the effect that racism and distance from their homes has caused them here in Seattle.

    In my view, the “antis” already had their minds made up before the meeting even started. The majority of them were defensive, distrusting, and snotty as hell…basically insinuating that Casa Latina has been planning this project deceptively and with some kind of sweetheart deal with the city, and that they are trying to sneak these new offices onto our streets without telling any of us. When the women strongly explained that this was not the case, it seemed like most of the folks weren’t listening. And there’s a reason for this: the isms had drowned out all other noise in the room.

    Only five minutes in, the real issue was out in the open: the anger had nothing to do with lack of open communication or planning protocol or anything, and it had everything to do with the image of poor Latino men out on the street-corner waiting for work.

    Latino men. That was the issue. Period.

    “I’ve been living here twenty years and we have fought prostitution, drugs, homeless people, people sleeping in benches…and we are terrified of this. We don’t want you here in our neighborhood,” yelled the angry white man who then proceeded to interrupt pretty much everyone else in the room as the night went on.

    “Just tell me, are these people legal, or are they illegal?” Another white man chimed in.

    “Sir, we don’t ask.”

    “Well, then you’re supporting criminals!”

    “You don’t even do a background check? We have children going to school nearby, how can the city allow this?”

    Fear. Fear. Fear. The image of Latino men, huddled together in the morning, speaking in tongues…who knows what they are saying in that language of theirs…perhaps they are planning on kidnapping our children…or selling drugs. You know, because drugs do come from, you know, those countries down there.

    God, it was just a few rifles short of being a Minuteman meeting…and the sad thing was that some of those angry folks weren’t white…they were Asian. It was actually quite devastating, especially in that the “antis”‘ petition actually compared the deal that the city made with Casa Latina to the JAPANESE INTERNMENT! What the?!

    There were some allies who spoke up, and the two Mexican men held their ground (even when one of them told the Asian folks that their minds had been poisoned by the racism of white people…every one gasped and laughed at him…despite him being completely right), and frankly Casa Latina is going to win this, because the actual majority of the neighborhood supports them…but it was so painful to watch as stereotypes just rolled along and just got worse.

    But I could only smile during the last minutes, when things were really made clear. The old angry white man, who had been yelling and interrupting, all to much applause, decided to tell us a story about how there were three groups doing neighborhood break-ins. One group was caught, and they were three Latinos. (At this point, I loudly said, “OH GOD, here we go!”). He told us that they had climbed up and broken into like the third story of the building…

    “They were Latinos who broke in like this. Not black people. Black people just do not break into buildings. Black people will break into your car, or steal other stuff, but they don’t break into buildings.”

    And with that, I hope the rest of the “antis” really got to see what position they were associating themselves with. The same old bullshit, dressed up as civic concern for the neighborhood. Those old White Citizen’s Councils were all about being civic minded as well.

    Every day more lines are drawn in a not-so-new war against immigrants. Before Thursday, I didn’t know that our own block would end up being a battlefield.

    Viva Casa Latina…

    Pero, realmente, viva la revolucion…porque una chiquita organizacion como esa no va a poder ganar lo que realmente necesitamos…un cambio completo de este sistema tan injusto, corrupto y criminal. Poco a poco…

    Art, Poetry, and Changing the World…

    Well, I just got back from an amazing youth poetry slam and on my way home I was crafting a post about it. I was going to write about how, for me, poetry is the closest I feel to a revolutionary spirituality, a kind of deep, whole sharing of ourselves, our subjectivities, within a shared context. We are all there, and we get to watch as the center is shifted from person to person, with new stories and perspectives and ways of connecting us to something powerful through language, and intonation, and movement.

    So, that was what I was going to write about…but then I read my friend Andrew’s blog and he, amazingly, has said much of what I was going to say. That is a neat bit of serendipity. It kind of made my day. Please read that entry, and then keep reading his blog, because he’s a sharp and dedicated fellow.

    In other news, Seymour Hersh was on Democracy Now! today, that was interesting.

    Venezuela’s Vice President gave a great speech at the anniversary of the “Caracazo”, the anti-globalization uprising in 1989 that arguably kicked off the current revolutionary process. Once again, he talked about how the communal councils will become the new form of government of Venezuela, a communal socialist government. He also talked specifically about how if the government tries too hard to direct or manage the “explosion of popular power” it will only kill popular power; and about how the government needs to get out of the offices and into the streets. This is a good sign, but of course time will tell.

    I’m searching daily for more news about Rigoberta Menchu, but right now the Guatemalan media is more focused on the brutal killing of 3 Salvadoran congress people by Guatemalan police officers. Clearly it’s a really big deal, whether it is related to organized crime, or the state, or whatever.

    Maybe someday I will write a poem and post it here. I did write poetry in high school. Even did some slams and had a show downtown. But then I just stopped, and for some reason it feels hard to start again. But that’s how it felt to write in this blog, too.

    Random Things…

    It’s really interesting to me how the entire flavor and texture of life can change simply by changing the ways in which we engage ourselves in it.  Just by writing in this blog again I feel so many parts of myself are opening up in other parts of my life, and I feel like my mind and senses are getting sharpened.

    I’ve started working alot in the garden of my 6-person collective house.  We’ve been tearing up weeds and digging some paths and then laying down bricks and gravel to make them pretty.  Yesterday I helped install a low fence made out of old bicycle wheels dug halfway into the ground.  I’m also renovating our greywater system, which recycles shower water through  series of sand filters, into a small bathtub pond which then filters the water more, until it is ready to go through a hose and water the garden.  It’s neat.  Also I’m talking with my housemates more, eating better, being better with email correspondence (including writing to some old friends).  I’m applying to grad school to get my master’s in teaching (maybe).  I’m more focused at work (sometimes).  And I’m more present with my friends, family, housemates, and partner.  This blog is some kind of amazing medicine for me.  And it’s an addiction.  I come home from work and I just want to write in it, but then I stop myself because I realize that I would just be writing about work all the time.  So it’s better to pause, think, and wait before I just write whatever.

    So, now for some random things I learned today:

    -Just read Seymour Hersh’s new article (look, I can do links now, thanks Dave!) in the New Yorker about the administrations shifting foreign policy in the Middle East.  Damn.  So it looks like we’re covertly siding with Sunnis in order to contain the Shiites, to the point of financing radical Sunnis (like Al Quaeda allies???) to attack Hezbollah, etc…all of this running without congressional knowledge through the Vice Presidents office? Wow!  Now that’s sinister!

    -Today the socialist president of Ecuador,  Rafael Correa (remember, I like this guy), ordered the military to make itself useful by providing for the public good, in an emergency order to build and repair the highway system, using the money that was slated to be used to pay the foreign debt.  This is important for two reasons: 1) Because Correa is making good on his promise to prioritize the “social debt” of the country over the foreign debt, and 2) Because Correa is playing like Chavez in trying to integrate the military into a protagonistic, civil role in the transformational process.  Very, very smart.  Arbenz and Allende fell not solely for lack of military support, but it was part of it, so this is good stuff.  By the way, Correa also has insisted on having a woman as the defense minister.  Even after the first one was killed in a plane crash, he made sure that her replacement would be a woman.  ALSO, he refused to allow anyone call his wife the first lady (primera dama), because he says it is sexist.

    -There is an article here about Chavez and his environmental projects.  It’s a bit propagandistic, though I tend to like Eva Golinger’s writing.  This is a bit much, considering that there are still major critiques to be made of the Venezuelan governments oil projects, industrial projects, and ambitious pipeline projects.  Some more perspective, please, Eva.

    -Didn’t play any Star Chamber today.  I was too tired from work to concentrate.  Plus it’s more fun to read the news on the internet.

    -Watched the Oscar-winning Melissa Ethridge song on you tube…and I just started crying all over the place.  That would be a longer blog post to explain why (the last post can give you an idea, I think).  This world is just so, so beautiful and we deserve so, so much better.  Does global social transformation really need to be so hard?
    Darn you power elite for always being such sticks in the mud!

    I have nothing particularly profound to say tonight, but I had a hard day that has only gotten harder as it has progressed. And the thing is that all of it has involved watching other people who I care about who are hurting.

    Don’t want to be naive guy here, but why are so many people hurting? Why are so many people so lonely, or self-doubting, or, just tired of living?

    Sometimes I just sit here, in my bed, and I just look up at the ceiling and I think about how seriously, deeply fucked up our society really is. I try to allow the enormity of it pass over me. I don’t care what cynical folks say, or post-oppression folks, or folks who make themselves feel smart by being dismissive of rage and sadness at the world…I don’t care what they say because I, even with all of my happy times and great privileges, can see just how totally senseless this place is. Not the world, because the WORLD is beautiful. But our SOCIETY…

    Senseless. Without fucking sense.

    And it’s amazing how many people there are who get paid, who get degrees, who build status and careers all trying to explain this mess, to package it as THE way, trying to argue how it’s good for us, that this is the best of all possible worlds. Well, perhaps so, but it still sucks…and it could be a whole lot better.

    To all of you who I know or who know me and who are in pain, I love you. I love you from the core of me, from my baby self through my wide-eyed toddler self and beyond. You may not believe me and that’s part of the problem, huh? And I am sorry. And if I’m a part of the pain then I hope you really know that I’m sorry.

    When I was little I just wanted to cuddle up with the Snuggles Detergent bear. I just wanted to lay in those soft warm towels with that cute little bear. Boy, have I seen alot since then.

    More Nerd Stuff…

    Umm, pretty much the nerdiest stuff of all:

    -The Nintendo Wii.  My brother has one.  He got up at 5 in the morning and waited in line for it.  It is one of the funnest toys I’ve ever played with.  Even my mom enjoys it.  I played Zelda for like 2 days straight.  Then I played Wii sports tennis for like 3 hours…and now my brother and I play Madden football on the Wii every weekend or so.  It’s simply really, really fun.  Of course, all critiques of consumerism, etc. apply.  But still it’s hella fun.  And I avoid the really offensive and violent games, naturally.

    -The Nintendo DS.  Really almost more fun than the Wii.  I’ve been playing this musical rhythm game called “Elite Beat Agents” and I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun playing a video game.  It’s very, very addictive.

    What’s wrong with me, playing so many video games?  Don’t know, but now I’ve imposed a new limit on myself of no more than 2 hours of TV or video games a day.

    There is just way more important stuff to do in the world…

    The good thing is I don’t spend any money on this stuff…it’s all been gifts or borrowing or whatever.  I’m actually pretty much only spending money on food these days.  Everything else towards savings and debt and international phone cards.

    This is What Inspiration Looks Like…

    I would like to thank Alisa, Andrew, and Dave for showing me that you’ve been reading this site lately…for making me want to reach out to you and write more…share more of myself with you.

    I also want to thank Glendi, Lambert, and Briana for what y’all are doing to make me feel inspired again.

    I just wrote a whole flurry of blog posts in one sitting, because something has clicked in me and I feel inspired again.

    It’s okay to have typos and it’s okay to make personal and political mistakes…but it’s not okay for me to just go through each day silently when I have so much that I want to share and experience with the people who I love.  I don’t want my fears to be that powerful in my life.

    I Love You, Venezuela…

    When I was 14, I kind of decided that I wanted to be a revolutionary.

    That decision transformed my life.

    Being who I am, with all of the privileges associated with a white, male, middle-class identity, I have always just been sure that I will see global revolution in my lifetime…just like other kids of my identity were sure that they could become doctors and politicians and businessmen. The mythology of our culture is, after all, that we can do anything we put our minds to…I just applied that to global social transformation. And that has always made me one of the most optimistic radicals that I know.

    Well recently I’ve been talking with old radical friends and we get to talking about we’ve grown and changed and settled and compromised…and we get to talking about hope, and I say, “yeah, I feel like I have more hope for revolution now than I’ve ever had before.”

    …and they just kind of stare at me. Or can’t believe it.

    And really, to respond, I only need one word: Venezuela.

    There is something magical happening in Venezuela. It is the magic that happens when the energies and aspirations and minds of millions of ordinary people are awakened into social movements. There is a genuine revolution happening there. And it is speeding up so fast that I don’t think the English translators have caught up yet.

    It’s not all about Hugo Chavez. Yes, he is the leader, the icon, the figurehead…yes he has tons of power (and now more with the “enabling law” which allows him to fast-track new laws without approval from congress)…and yes there is a gross cult of personality around him (seriously, it’s really gross). But it really isn’t all about him. What he symbolizes, what he talks about, and what he is trying to create is not all about him…it is literally about giving power to the people. I know that sounds weird…especially coming from an anarchist. But it’s the truth.

    From the beginning, Chavez has said that to end poverty power must be given to the poor, and since the beginning he and his people have been transforming Venezuelan infrastructure to open up more spaces for popular participation and organization.

    Down there, the discourse is very lively around democracy. WAY more lively than here. Unlike supporting Hillary or Obama or McCain or whatever, down there supporting Chavez implies wanted to actually be A PART of the process. They are very critical of representative democracy down there. They talk a lot more about participatory and DIRECT democracy.

    And institutionally, these new forms of democracy are blossoming. The Venezuelan state is massively funding new Communal Councils…which are directly elected and recallable councils that represent 200-400 families only…and they are being given state funds to improve their own communities…also there is more and more talk about workers councils…about democracy in schools…about participatory budgets. The discussion of economic democracy and Socialism is now mainstream in Venezuela. The movement toward democratic socialism is now a mainstream debate…and it is a fiery one.

    What I see in Venezuela is millions of people engaged in a very messy process that a lot of people outside of Venezuela don’t really understand (and I KNOW that I don’t fully understand it…but I’m reading about it, in Spanish, every day). It is a process that my radical friends and I have only been dreaming about…but down there they are building it. And soon, too, in Ecuador, in Bolivia…maybe in Cuba someday. Maybe in Nicaragua…maybe even in Guatemala.

    So yeah…I still consider myself a revolutionary. And I still believe that we can do it. Venezuela can’t show us the way…because the US is much too different. But it should definitely be lighting a fire under our asses.

    Nerd Stuff…

    Need to bring some other parts of myself to this blog.  So with that, some nerd stuff:

    -I have been spending about two hours a day lately playing a game called Star Chamber online.  (www.starchamber.net) It’s like a cross between a collectible card game (like Magic) and a board game…with a Star-Treky sci-fi theme.  It’s basically one of the greatest games I’ve ever played and I’m a total addict.  I’d love to play my friends on it, so maybe you should look into it.  It does cost a bit of money to get cards…but there is a strong player community that’ll give you tons of free cards.  They’ve given me hundreds.

    -Recently read the sci-fi/woo-woo-fiction novel “The Fifth Sacred Thing,” and even with witchraft and magic and stuff I absolutely loved it.  It reminded me once again of the spirituality of my politics…and how so much of what I believe is rooted in a simple love for life and people and animals, even if I end up getting distracted by big-word theory sometimes.

    -I love youtube.com  and I really have gotten into the fake tech-show called “infinite solutions.”  See if you like it.

    -I also am a sucker for Saturday Night Live’s digital shorts…I love the newer “laser cats” ones.  When I was 8, my brother and I made a homemade “Aliens 3” that was almost exactly like those videos.

    -I tell my friends that the movie “Children of Men” was a movie for people like us.  It’s the best movie I’ve paid $9 for in awhile.  Also Dreamgirls…loved it.  And I laughed more than I’ll admit at “Music and Lyrics” with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore (saw it with my parents, okay!)

    There’s much more nerd stuff that I keep inside.  Maybe another day.

    Yeah, so it’s been awhile and the funny thing is that the last time I wrote I said that I wanted to write more. But I didn’t end up doing it.

    Why?

    Well, basically because, as much as I want to write and express myself and explore ideas, etc, I’m just scared. I’m scared to write, and I always have been, for as long as I can remember.

    For some reason, when I first started this blog while I was in Guatemala, I could write and write and write, and I didn’t really want to stop. But as soon as I got home, when I actually had MORE access to the internet and more free time, that is when everything froze.

    What happened? Why did it take a LACK of access to the internet to get me to write, to actually share something of myself…and then when I’m in my normal life I clam up. I procrastinate. I just have so much anxiety and fear about so many things.

    I think partly its because when I was away, I was distant from all of the forces in my life that keep me quiet. The people who I fear will judge me. The pressures that I feel on my time, etc.

    I think also it is the affect of living the kind of consumerist lifestyle that I live. I am surrounded by distractions. I have so many other things to do besides be creative and expressive, and it seems that at nearly every opportunity, I choose to do those other things.

    This makes me so sad, because really there is always so much interesting and beautiful stuff going on in my head that I would love to explore, and even share with whoever reads this, but it just doesn’t get out. But that’s also a part of it, as well. I get so overwhelmed by all of the things that I want to do, all at the same time, that I end up not doing anything.

    I want this to change. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Maybe I’ll do something or not. I guess we’ll all see, depening on future entries.

    …And really, there is SO much that I want to be saying to all of you, to myself, right now.

    Maybe someday.

    I got back from Caracas on Monday evening. I’ve been pretty much home sick since then. Nothing serious, just a sore throat and slight fever.

    But it’s made it even harder to acclimate back to my life here in Seattle…especially because of all that I experienced down there in Venezuela.

    Don’t be fooled by the lack of updates to this blog…the reason I haven’t written isn’t for lack of things to write, but just the opposite. I was having so many back-to-back experiences every day (from 7am to 2am…I only got about four hours of sleep a night) that I couldn’t find time to search for an internet cafe and write up my reflections.

    Only now, sick at home and bored, am I finding this time to type something up.

    And what do I have to say?

    Well, fundamentally, I can say that I have come back to the United States with a whole new level of hope.

    For the first time in a long time, I feel like I have real hope for the world that is not based in my own self-generated fantasies of a different society, but rather in concrete processes that are actually taking place. For the first time in a long time, I can sit back and relax as my hope is refilled from an external source rather than from my own rusting reserves of teenage idealism…it feels so refreshing.

    In Venezuela–and more broadly in contemporary Latin America and in the World Social Forum–there is something happening. It is something that people like me and my friends have been dreaming about and have been predicting for years, only to be called naive, only to be accused of misunderstanding human nature. There is a process underway that is engaging millions and millions of people in the creation of a new kind of society, based around a handful of key values: inclusion, participatory democracy, socialism, and integration.

    The process is not perfect. In fact, it’s a mess. There is corruption. There is mismanagement. There is conflict. There is chaos. There are power struggles and there are injustices. It would be foolish to hide these or to apologize for them. They are real and they are a problem. But at the same time the process is also real. It is not made moot by it’s contradictions, in fact it might end up being strengthened by them…

    I know that this is all vague so far. Sorry for that. But what I’m talking about is actually very solid and concrete and measurable…and it goes like this:

    Venezuela, historically, has been a tremendously unequal country. 60-80% below the poverty line, while the middle and upper classes have enjoyed a US/Europe style consumer lifestyle…including shopping trips to Miami for new clothes (Venezuela isn’t that far from Florida…or Cuba for that matter). At the same time, it is one of the most oil-rich countries in the world…but historically only the top few have benefited from this wealth. As in most Latin American countries, there have always been social movements in Venezuela…there have been coup attempts, Guerilla movements, protest movements, riots (especially the 1989 riots in Caracas called the “caracazo” which arguably led to the current revolutionary process)…and these have left a legacy which eventually led to a left-wing coup attempt by a young paratrooper named Hugo Chavez Frias in 1992…Chavez’ coup failed, but he became a popular hero, was able to build a movement from jail, and then ran for president in 1998 on a promise to change the entire system, starting with a new constitution. He won. He won by 55+ %, which is rare for Latin American elections…especially since he didn’t really have a party. But he won. And he immediately held a national referendum to ask about rewriting the constitution. This passed. Then he called for elections for form a representative constituent assembly. This happened. Then the constitution was written, hastily debated at all levels of society (but emphasis should be put on the word hasty), and then it was also put up for referendum. It passed…and became one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, spelling out such rare things as social security guarantees for housewives, a whole chapter on indigenous rights, the idea of participatory democracy as opposed to mere representative democracy (that is, citizens actually directly participate in decision-making, they don’t just elect higher representatives to do all that in their name), rights for people with disabilities, etc…I have a copy and it really is quite amazing. It actually became a huge source of pride, especially for poorer Venezuelans, who for the first time began to feel included in the political process.

    With the new constitution, Chavez and the entire government needed to be “re-legitimized” and so he and the entire new national assembly were re-elected in 2000…again by majorities. Then the reforms came. Land reforms. Fishing reforms. Oil reforms. The rich became antsy and they began to more seriously resist…

    In 2002, with US support, the rich organized a coup. It only lasted 3 days. The poor supporters of Chavez, along with the rank-and-file of the Venezuelan military, came out of their homes and barracks and took the power back, putting Chavez back into the presidency (there is an amazing documentary about this, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” and you need to see it).

    But the rich didn’t stop. They organized an “oil strike,” shutting down Venezuela’s most important industry and smashing the economy. But over time, this tactic failed as well, because lower-rank oil workers took over oil production, and Chavez filed the upper-bureacracy…stabilizing the economy again…

    Then Chavez began deeper reforms. The missions. Mission Robinson, which seeks to complete eliminate illiteracy through free neighborhood reading programs. Mission Ribas and Sucre, which allow adults to finish high school and college, also for free. Mission Barrio Adentro (1, 2, and 3), which provide doctors and clinics within poor neighborhoods for absolutely free care. Mission Mercal, which provides special supermarkets with heavily subsidized foods….all of this paid for by oil profits that previously had only gone to the rich.

    And so the rich kept at it…and they tried to use the constitution itself against Chavez…being a progressive constitution, it allows for the population to recall any politician from power, even the president. And so the opposition gathered signatures from 20% of the population (though this is disputed), and there was a recall referendum in 2004…once again Chavez won with a 55% majority. Only solidifying his political stability.

    Since then, Chavez has become even more radical in his programs. More money for the missions. More money for social spending. Increased support for the formation of worker’s cooperatives as opposed to traditional top-down capitalist businesses…and just last year he finally used the “s-word”….Socialism. That is the direction that Venezuela is heading in. I couldn’t be happier.

    Chavez states, repeatedly, that Venezuelan socialism will be fundamentally different than the USSR, or Cuba, or China…those models do not work (in my view, they aren’t socialist at all). In the Venezuelan process, they are trying to build socialism right alongside this other thing, called participatory democracy. They want equality, but they want it anchored in a democracy that allows people to discuss and debate and have real control over how things develop in the society…and this is what I saw in Venezuela.

    In Venezuela, we visited a number of cooperatives, and missions, and community meetings, and we met with a large number of folks who are involved in this revolutionary process, and what I saw in all of this gave me hope. Just as I said in the last post, Chavez is not a dictator. He’s not perfect, and I think he’s too popular (he’s like a folk hero, with t-shirts, and dolls, and posters and all that…not by imposition but genuinely because he’s so popular…which is a problem. No person should be that popular, it’s dangerous), but at the same time there are millions of people trying to make this process happen independent of Chavez…and I think they will succeed. With time, I think they will succeed.

    Okay, I’m tired for now…but I want to end this post just by saying that I think we in the US need to study what’s happening in Latin America very carefully. First, because if we don’t then we are going to be taken very much by surprise when we see a whole slew of socialist societies right down there at our South. But second, because we can learn so much from what is happening about how our own society should be changed. Hopefully we can do it without a strong personality like a Chavez…but I hope we do it somehow.

    To all of those who actually read this thing,

    I’m back at the keyboard again, preparing to share more about myself, my life, my ideas once again…and it’s taken another bit of international travel to get me here. I’m going to Venezuela.

    Through a unique opportunity at my college, I am traveling to Caracas, Venezuela to attend the 2006 Americas Section of the World Social Forum, which is a massive annual gathering of people who believe that “another world is possible” (that’s the forum’s slogan). There are expected to be around 100,000 people attending, from all over the Americas, and there are 2,200 scheduled workshops, meetings, performances, speeches, etc.

    This is all really exciting, but honestly I’m more excited just to be going to Venezuela itself. I’ve been following the political developments in Venezuela since 2003, pretty much on a daily basis, and I believe that people down there are genuinely trying to create a peaceful social revolution…which hopefully those of us in other countries can learn from (both positive and negative lessons). At the same time, however, this revolutionary process is very polarizing down there, and there is A LOT of media/government bias here in the U.S. about what they are trying to do in Venezuela, and so it’s very hard to get accurate information.

    A good tip is: DON’T BELIEVE WHAT THE MEDIA SAYS ABOUT VENEZUELA. Hugo Chavez, the president, is not a dictator. He is not just another Fidel Castro. Flawed? Yes. But dictator? No.

    Okay, this is enough for now. More as it comes…in the meantime check out this site to learn more about the Venezuelan revolutionary process (they call it “el proceso”).

    You can also check out info about the forum itself here.

    I love you, all of you who are actually reading this, and I hope to keep you energized and reflective and inspired as I tell you all about my experiences.

    Goodbye Letter

    This is it. My last post from Guatemala. For this last post, I want to translate into English the speech I gave for my final graduation from the mountain school. I think it says everything I want to say:


    There aren’t words. There aren’t words to describe my experiences here in Guatemala, here at the escuela de la montaña. How can you describe the subtle changes inside of a heart?

    I’m a gringo. I come from a country, a culture where latinos and latinas are almost invisible, as farmworkers, gardeners, maids, mechanics. Where my students who don’t speak English are treated as if they don’t have brains. We, we white folks, are so lost in our things, in our money, in our TV, in our conquests, and in our racism that we don’t listen to latina voices. We don’t listen to the powerful stories, the touching dreams, the brilliant ideas. We don’t know the history of Guatemala…we don’t even know where Guatemala is on a map.

    Supposedly, I’m different. Before traveling to Guatemala, I did know much of the history of Latin America. I have read many books and almost every day I would read news from Mexico, Venezuela, Bolivia, Brasil, and Guatemala. But this was just words and paper. Actually, I wasn’t prepared for this trip.

    When I arrived in Guatemala, especially when I arrived at the escuela de la montaña, I realized how much I don’t know, how much I don’t understand. I noticed many little absences in my heart that I had never recognized before. There are no words.

    My time here has been so much more than the grammar and the official activities. It has been a wonderful mix of sights, experiences, jokes…and, the most important thing, relationships.

    Because of y’all’s affection and because of this project, I am returning to my country a different person, with love, rage, and solidarity. And an ear that is larger and more capable of listening to latina voices.

    Well then, thank you all. You will be in my heart forever.

    I am crying now, in the internet cafe, just I was crying then, in the mountain school. I think, with our without visible tears, I’m going to be crying for a long while now.

    Thank you all for reading and caring about me, and I hope you know how much I love you and care about you.

    One Of My Favorite Things

    I’ve been really satisfied writing on this little website, mostly for one specific reason. Those who know me even moderately well know that I keep a lot to myself…as I’ve mentioned before. They know that I often try to maintain separate worlds and fronts in my life…with my friends, my work, my family, my politics, myself. I get really nervous at the idea of certain people knowing everything that I think or feel, for fear of putting them off or scaring them…but here, for the first time ever in my life is just my honest thoughts, and I have invited my friends, family, co-workers anyone to read it.

    When I think about the feelings of it, it feels like growing up. This whole trip has felt like growing up. Maturing just a bit into a place where I can be comfortable with all of who I am, nerd, radical, sissy, intellectual, atheist, gringo…all of it…this is me and I love me, and I feel like here in this space I’ve become a lot more comfortable opening myself up authentically for other people to really love me (or not if they choose) too…something that is obviously really scary.

    I hope to keep writing when I get home…I have all sorts of thoughts about games, about international and local politics, about my work and studies. I don’t know who reads this, and I tend to assume only Bri, Dave, Mom, Dad, and Chris…and then occasionally other people…and that’s kind of fun…because I really am not writing for you all. That stopped pretty early into my trip.

    This is much more for me than for you…sorry.

    Okay, first…for those few who may be reading this who didn’t know: I am an anarchist. Now, there is no reason to be alarmed, because being an anarchist does not mean I believe in chaos and destruction, or that I am a bomb-wielding terrorist or anything…anarchism is a political philosophy just like any other. To be really simple about it, it’s a philosophy that people deserve the maximum amount of freedom possible and thus that we deserve a society that is free from all forms of oppression: sexism, racism, homophobia and heterosexism, ecological destruction, poverty and economic exploitation, and government oppression and war, etc…it is a philosophy that believes in grassroots, participatory democracy…it IS radical, it COULD be called naive or utopian, but it IS NOT mean-spirited, cynical, or destructive…and if anyone has any more questions about it, I would love to talk with you about it…for hours and hours and hours.

    Now, with that said, I really want to write about something that I’ve been thinking about for awhile now: my spirituality.

    Somewhere in the last few years, especially as I’ve become more and more fascinated with the growth and organization of right-wing christian movements in the US, I’ve started to become really bothered by the fact that I, as an anarchist atheist, am so often considered non-spiritual…and so I’ve been thinking, writing, and talking with Briana about this, trying to get a grasp on just what my beliefs are…what my spirituality is…so here I’d like to chat a little bit about it.

    “If You Don’t Believe In God, Then What Do You Believe In?”

    I believe that we are here, right now, and this is it. This is our life…and it will only last for a short time, and then we will be gone. Because what we are, as human beings, are beautiful, complex, and fragile patterns of matter…nothing more, yet nothing less, which have risen like a wave out of deep and rich process of evolution…but which will ultimately crest and crash back into the ocean of particles and elements that we were born from…and with our deaths, our memories, our consciousnessess will scatter in all directions…circulating back into the stew.

    There is no higher consciousness guiding us, there is no grand plan…there is simply energy and matter and time…and the dancing, dancing relationships between them…

    “Boy, That Sounds Depressing”

    Now, I know so many people who hear this and think it’s so depressing…but I’ve never understood that…I think it’s just the opposite…I think it is an immense and almost unthinkable blessing that out of a gigantic mess of natural processes and chemical reactions…we have actually come to be, with our eyes and ears and our languages and cultures…that out of completely lifeless and soulless universe life actually DID happen, and that these impersonal processes have actually led to the evolution of PERSONALITIES…our personalities…and so we are lucky enough to be here…alive…and we are here together right now…sharing this thing, this experience of life…and really we are all we’ve got…

    And this is another thing that is so depressing to so many people…this idea that without God we are alone in the universe…but when I hear THAT perspective I get depressed…because it feels to me like it’s missing the whole point: WE ARE NOT ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE. We are surrounded by life…we are surrounded by personalities and emotions and consciousnesses…more than we will ever be able to comprehend. People, bird, fishes, three-toed slothes, amoebas, viruses, chimpanzees, mushrooms, forests…what I don’t understand about people who believe in God is…why isn’t this enough…Why isn’t it enough that we have eachother? Why do we need something above us, watching over us? What extra comfort does that give…because for me that idea is far more scary…(that there is a boss in the sky that has a plan for me and that He doesn’t have enough respect for me to actually treat me like an equal, to introduce himself…and to level with me about what the point of this world is…but that’s just me. I don’t think it shows any real kind of love to leave your children in the dark, suffering and dying so you can watch and judge…that seems pretty abusive actually…sorry, I went a little too far into the negative there…apologies).

    So this is the foundation for my spirituality…a spirituality of us…a spirituality without a hierarchy or a need for a leader or for a top-down plan…it is a spirituality that says: we are here, in this beautiful world, and we are here together…now we have a choice…we can work together to learn and grow and celebrate all of the beauties together…or we can fight and exploit each other and waste our lives…or we can tell ourselves that this world is actually just some kind of test or fake world, and that real life begins after we die…as for me, I choose the first. And by choosing that first, I have my moral code and I have my politics…and I don’t need any ten commandments or other scriptures to tell me not to kill or hate or steal…because I know that we’re sharing this life…so I don’t have any reason to do any of that bad stuff.

    “But What Happens When We Die?”

    Now there is one other part…and that is the whole death piece. I know that alot of religious people find it really important this question of what happens after we die…and there is all this fear of that after death piece…and for those people who feel like they need to know that they will live forever somewhere…there is no comfort I can give…because that sounds boring to me. I find it far more fascinating and powerful and neat that really I just have this tiny window…that I need to make this as powerful an excursion as possible…and…

    …and I need to make sure that I am doing what I can to help my fellow people and creatures get the most out of their lives as well…because that’s the point for me, that we get to live TOGETHER…so this is why justice is essential for me…and also I believe that it is only in each other that we find our meaning and where we can become bigger than ourselves…by carrying the stories of those who came before us, and having our children carry our stories…we become a part of a larger project, something that, while not immortal and absolutely eternal…will continue for more than just one or two generations. We find meaning in our lives in how we live with each other…and for ourselves.

    And so my spiritual practice is in sharing my life with my family, my friends, my neighbors…my spirituality is rooted in the struggle for justice…my mass is those times when we sit around to tell our stories, and where we bring forward the stories of the past…of those people who had their time and then passed…for us to learn from, for us to be nurtured by, for us to be inspired by (and for us to acknowledge those billions who have been wronged)…

    This works for me…this fulfills me and enriches me…this gives me meaning…and this makes sense to me…

    And I’d love to hear what you think about it…

    “But Atheists Don’t Have The Communities That Churches Offer”

    And this is absolutely true…I think one of the strongest and most positive things about religions are the social elements…the congregations, the discussion and study groups…the buildings that you can go to at least once a week to find people who connect with you about a deep part of your life…they connect with your most basic worldview…

    And this is why I keep saying…not even joking…that anarchists and other social justice activists need to start building churches…or something similar…I would love to have a place to go once a week where I knew I could find people who shared my beliefs…where we could celebrate together and tell stories and histories together…share donuts and tea…in fact, strategically, I think it’s going to be essential for building commmunities that can actually change this world.

    Ooh, this was a fun post to write!

    La Escuela De La Montaña, Part 1

    Okay, I’ve just got a few minutes before I’m heading off to a workshop on human rights in Guatemala, but I really need to get moving on my stories from the mountain school, as new stories pile up each and every day…

    Here are the basics:

    The mountain school is sister project of the same collective that runs the language school in Xela, and it was started in 1997, I believe. It is a school in the country, located on land that used to be a finca (a plantation)…and I believe that the school building itself used to be the finca owner’s house.

    The climate in this area is very warm and humid, with sun and warmth almost every morning and heavy rain EVERY afternoon. The property itself has all sorts of trees, coffee trees, banana trees, chickens, three dogs, two cats…and now…two ducks (who arrived while I was there)…the property is super comfortable, except for the billions of mosquitos that ripped my arms, legs, belly, and face apart. There are hot showers and electricity…and all of the students (12-14 at a time) live in the school…it’s a total dorm atmosphere, which was really fun…

    Now, the school is located on the same old finca property as two small villages, Fatima and Nuevo San Jose…both of these villages are completely composed of families that used to live on fincas (that is, they born out of many generations of people who have lived on the finca, worked on the finca, and died on the finca…basically straight up peasants in the feudalistic sense of the term), but the finca owners ended up screwing with these folks too many times (in Nuevo San Jose’s case, by not paying them AT ALL for more than A YEAR!), and so the families organized unions (having to meet secretly in the Catholic church under the guise of worshipping, for fear of being killed or persecuted as “guerillas” since this was during the civil war that lasted for 36 years until the peace accords in 1996), and struggled, and struggled…until they were left with no choice but to leave their homes on the fincas (carrying all of their possessions on foot in the rain for miles and miles…all at once…at least in Nuevo San Jose’s case). So, now there are these two collectively built villages, Nuevo San Jose which is 11 years old, with 25 families, and is composed of two parallel dirt roads (more like wide dirt paths) with houses on both sides…and Fatima…which is 5 years old, with something like 15 families, and which is one dirt road with houses on both sides…through cooperation, solidarity, and struggle, they have built a school, they have gained services like electricity and water (Nuevo San Jose at least, Fatima still doesn’t have water)…and who knows what will come in the future…but it was always a joy to hear the stories of these important places from the families…and the mixture of pride and sadness (because the fincas were their homes…and they had thought they would grow and die there, as unjust and hard as that seems to me, and probably you too) was obvious on their faces.

    Now, although the students live in the school, we each had a family, which changed each week (so I had two total), and we would eat three meals a day with our families…and that is where I’ll have to leave off right now…but when I return I’ll talk about the families, about the school, about the teachers and students…and poco a poco…about all this made me feel.

    In the meantime, I’m doing fine here in Xela…I’d rather be in the mountain school still, and I’m a little bit overwhelmed by my studies right now (only my fourth week of Spanish and I’m studying the “advanced” track of grammar…subjunctive tenses…youch).

    More later, and much love to you all!

    Jeremy’s In A Cryin’ Mood

    Well, I cried yesterday calling Briana about my blog and the email I had recieved and I talked about my feelings and some of my experiences and I just started gushing in the internet cafe…

    And now I’m in the language school, at my break, and I decided to check up on the Zapatista guerillas in Mexico (who, for those who don’t know, have guns but haven’t actually used them in ten+ years, and who are some of the most inspiring fighters for justice I’ve ever read about or followed) reading the newest translation of a communique at this site

    …and I just started crying again…because it talks about this new generation of youth who have grown up in that struggle and how they are making the struggle even more strong and brave and inspiring than the previous generation…for me, it’s so beautiful…

    Anyhow…more later about the mountain school.

    I just checked my email and I had recieved a message from one of my closest friends challenging me for being so dry and so anthropological about such a powerful, sad, unacceptable situation as I saw there on that first day at the mountain school, and I really want to write more about this because I’ve been thinking alot about this very thing these last few days…about how I’m writing about my experiences here, and how I feel this dissatisfaction with how disconnected my writing style is from the feelings I’m feeling and all of the ways that I’m being pulled and twisted by having seen even the little bit I’ve seen of what things are like here.

    In truth, I feel like there is something really tremendous building inside of me, with much of the shape and momentum of a whirlpool, which is frothing and fomenting with anger and fear and pain and sadness…and definitely guilt…and I think much of this began when I saw that woman. Before that, I feel like my experience here had been relatively unchallenging for me, but seeing her, and then seeing the reaction of the people who lived in that area, and feeling my alienation from the situation, our ‘observer’ status here, and my fear of saying or doing more, I feel like a big part of me started sucking in…and I found myself wanting to focus more and more on Spanish, on Spanish…studying, studying…to avoid all that I was feeling by being in a situation that is so wrong in so many ways…

    I don’t know if I know how to really describe this…

    Basically, I feel like after seeing that woman, and then spending more time at the mountain school, seeing the poverty, the struggle, learning more of the history of the area, of Guatemala, and of Central American in general…I kind of shut down emotionally. In my last post, I was kind of trying to portray that, that banal resignation in the face of really horrible things which I have witnessed numerous times here…and I feel like in the last two weeks alot of my emotions have been swallowed in this manner, because I don’t how how to hold it…I just don’t know how to hold this kind of reality right here, in front of myself, in my consciousness…I’ve never had to do that, this intensely, before. I’m a person so used to looking for solutions, so used to finding tactics and strategies, and trying to move towards reconciliation with people as soon as I can…and here, none of that works…this is a situation I can’t change here, there is a history and a reality that I cannot take back…I can’t take back the disappearances, the murders, the rape, the terror, the trauma, the violations of every kind of dignity…it’s just there, present in the air and in people’s stories, in people’s daily lives…and I don’t know how to hold that very long in front of myself…so, Spanish, Spanish, studying, studying…telling myself that maybe if I had just a few more words, a few more conjugations of verbs, maybe I could be that much more helpful…

    But no, this is a situation that the little white boy Jeremy can’t fix…instead, I think I need to be more attentive in my observations, in my reactions, so I can learn what I can, connect where I can…so where I can help (and there are constant opportunities), I am emotionally ready and willing to step up…

    …It’s just so much, it’s this massive torrent of pain and injustice…how do people here not completely lose themselves in that…that’s a feat of tremendous struggle and resistance in itself.

    To anyone who was struck, hurt, offended, offput by the dryness of my previous post, I’m deeply sorry…it was a symptom of a much deeper problem, of my disconnection…my inability to put ME into these stories…and it’s something I’m working on…poco a poco…little by little.

    The Subtleties Of Growth

    I’ve just returned from two weeks that have changed my life. Not any kind of drastic change…not any kind of sell my possessions, drop out of the world kind of change…something much more silent and soft…like the fine hairs on my cheeks. I’ve had this weird sort of privilege of dropping into the middle of a situation that was so incredibly foreign to me that my brain was forced to create new categories of thought and understanding in order to be able to function…for two weeks, I was dropped into these two communities, Fatima and Nuevo San Jose (both associated with la escuela de la montaña…the mountain school), I ate every meal with families in these two communities, and within this, my understanding of poverty, of struggle, of work, of families, of religion, of education…all of it was shaken and challenged and…with that, just as with my learning of Spanish…I feel like I have grown enormously.

    I don’t know how I’m going to be able to write about these last two weeks. There is so much to tell, and even more to process and analyze and reflect on…

    I think I’ll probably try to do it in little bits, snapshots of my experiences…

    If you take a moment and look to your right, you will see our Jeremy habitat…yes, there is a living, breathing Jeremy in there, so keep your hands and feet on this side of the fence. He’s more scared of us than we are of him, but if you startle him, he may snap, so just be careful. We took him in when he had a broken wing, and he’s been here ever since…our keepers are taking very good care of him, and we believe that in five more weeks he will be well enough to fly home.

    Now, let me paint you picture of what this Jeremy’s life is like in here:

    Jeremy lives in a house in the city of Xela (pronounced shay-la), with a mother and her two sons. The mother has three sons total, 18, 22, and 24 years each…but the oldest has a wife and cute baby named Diego, and he lives elsewhere. There is a husband as well, but he lives and works in another city, and comes home on Saturdays. This family has a contract with Jeremy’s language school, el Proyecto Linguistico Quetzalteco de Espanol, and they have been taking in creatures like this Jeremy for 13 years now. The family is extremely friendly with Jeremy, and they feed him three times a day…a diet of eggs, tortillas, and black beans in the morning…a large lunch of vegetables, meats, rice, and tortillas…and a smaller dinner of more meat, vegetables, and rice. Jeremy seems to love his food, and as a gesture of gratitude he does the dishes after lunch and dinner every day.

    The house is modest, but very pretty and comfortable, and Jeremy has his own room all to himself, where he studies and reads. He shares a bathroom and a shower (which has a strange heater contraption attached to the shower head to generate lukewarm water…and which uses much electricity and will shock Jeremy if he touches it in the wrong way. The family has refrigerator, a Sony tv with satellite, cell phones, and a stereo…but they the mother does the laundry by hand in a large stone sink, and so Jeremy believes that this family is more of the middle class persuasion compared to many families in Guatemala. However, Jeremy seems to be stunned by some of the decorations in the house, and at how they are things that he would normally take for granted or throw away…for example, the family has, as the centerpiece of their dining room table, a Batman Returns placemat…and Jeremy is curious because Batman Returns (and this place mat) was created in 1992.

    Every morning, Jeremy wakes up at 6 in the morning, to the sounds of dogs barking, roosters crowing, cars rumbling, and firecrackers cracking (which Jeremy naively mistook for guns at first). Jeremy brushes his teeth with bottled water, gets dressed, and goes down to breakfast with the mother. At every meal, the mother talks in a very slow and friendly manner with Jeremy, in Spanish, and Jeremy attempts to slowly carry on conversations with her. He has improved considerably in this in the week he has been with us here.

    At 7:45am, Jeremy walks ten minutes through the narrow streets of Xela, past many houses and small shops, to arrive at his language school…which is run by a collective of more left-leaning Spanish teachers…who set up the school to not only teach Spanish, but to teach about the social, political, economic situation of Guatemala. Jeremy has one-on-classes with one teacher a week, for five hours, from 8am-1pm. In these classes, his teacher teaches him by writing concepts and words down on long pieces of paper, while he takes notes…then the teacher talks with Jeremy about his life, his opinions, politics and history. Jeremy is very happy in these classes, he very much liked his first teacher…and he has learned much…but he is still slow in speaking, and shy.

    The school is laid out around an indoor courtyard, where the sun shines in, and where there are lots of political posters and bulletin boards decorating the beautiful yellow walls. During the half hour coffee break during classes, Jeremy mixes with the 40+ other students, trying to speak Spanish, but often falling back on English.

    After class, Jeremy walks back to his house, where he eats lunch, and then he either returns to his room to study, or he goes out to do activities with the school (the school hosts workshops and movies and trips related to the reality of Guatemala). So far, he mostly just studies and walks around alone, admiring the city.

    He eats dinner at 7:30pm or 8:00pm, and lately he has taken to watching tv with the family (shows like Los Plateados…which is a cowboy soap opera…and la mujer de ejero…or something…which is a traditional soap opera…and the news). At 10pm, Jeremy goes to sleep and sleeps soundly until the roosters and dogs and firecrackers wake him up the next morning.

    So far, Jeremy has very much enjoyed his stay in this habitat, and he is acclimating well. He loves his family, although he feels shy and embarassed to not be able to discuss more than favorite fruits and preferred types of movies…but he is new to all this, so we expected this of him.

    Currently Reading:

    -Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi