Category Archives: community

gone to the printers

I think this might be like arriving at base camp at the foot of Everest

I know its an awful lot like being 37 weeks pregnant.

maybe you dreamed of it

surely you worked for it

but as the time nears

you realize, increasingly

that you have absolutely no idea

what you’ve gotten yourself into

 

and the dark clouds form and disperse

as you reckon the size of the leap

you have made

peering at the place you think you’re going to land

readying the things you think you’ll need

asking for mentors, safety nets

realizing that when you need financial security more than ever you are sloughing it off

to pit yourself against the challenge

of doing this thing

and doing it well

aprons and layers falling

revealing the dream vulnerable to the raw air:

 

I,

Writer

terrified, quaking, tired and certain

there is no perfect draft, there is no truly ready time

the story is past due

 

and gone to the printers.

finally finished, and only just begun.

Downwind: A People’s History of the Nuclear West.  November 2014

 

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bigger than a blog post, smaller than a breadbox

I haven’t been doing much creative writing lately,

because this:

Fox_sketch-1

 

is coming out in the fall and contrary to what I’d somehow fooled myself into thinking,

my work is only just begun.

More to come lovelies, I promise. all sorts of things are moving and shaking.. a website, a video, events, travel. opportunities for folks to support getting the stories in my book out into the world. For now… disjointed waitress poetry will make an attempt to return, because learning how to market a book gives me a headache, and I need to write creatively again.

 

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emptied

photo(7)
today a crew of three vietnamese men arrived
they backed their trucks up along either side
of the foreclosed house next door
and over a period of hours
systematically removed every artifact
of the family

at first I thought they some of the local laborers
who make their money hauling away scrap metal
but then I saw they had opened the doors to the house
and were taking absolutely everything
and then I knew they had been sent by the bank
to purge the ghosts
so prospective buyers could envision their own plans
upon the structure
without distraction

It took them less than 4 hours
At the end of our driveway I stopped the car
to walk to the mailbox
and crossing the street upon my return
I saw one of the men leaning in the front doorway
of the foreclosed house
eating noodles out of a bowl
with chopsticks
he looked at me from under his hat
just taking a break while doing his job
and I looked back at him and wanted to smile politely
but couldn’t
because I was distracted by a vision of Jesse’s aunt,
who stayed there sometimes, and always brought our dogs
surplus foodbank meats
sitting in that doorway
soaking in the summer sun

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making soup from what we have

photo 1

sit by an open January window
and study the healing
of the half dozen cracks and gashes
the work weekend left behind on my hands

sip lukewarm coffee
and watch a slight wind stirring in the damp boughs
of a cedar tree that is maybe a century old

think about the questions of the day
What Ought We to Do…
about potty training the toddler
about the epidemic of gun violence
and the erosion of abortion rights
How are we to love each other, best
and how long is this stomach virus contagious
when will we finish the bathroom remodel
and catch on to the violence
of American poverty

the issues of the day seem insurmountable
but are soon forgotten
in the thickening pile of months
and years

make soup from what we have
which is collard greens, black beans,
farro grains and summer tomatoes and basil, frozen in blocks
from a warmer time

make playdough
watch him knead the warm, wheat-colored lump
into dogs and sticks and gingerbread men

and continue rowing
through the thick greyness
of the doldrum days

photo 2

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5 AMpThu, 31 Jan 2013 10:47:44 +000047Thursday 2009 · 10:47 am

Offerings to the Utter Brilliance of the Present Moment

As we were leaving, the sweet Vietnamese woman at Chu Minh Veggie Deli on Jackson and 12th bent down to stand face to face with our son in his rubber boots and his raincoat, and handed him a crispy vegan springroll wrapped in a napkin. “Because you are special,” she said,

and I felt my heart in my chest, standing by the window in the cramped deli as the birds took off in a mass from the telephone line outside and swirled into the grey sky, feathered bodies reflected in the puddles of rainwater laying on the pavement.  There was a sign on the wall behind a potted plant that said “We care more about compassion and protecting your physical and spiritual health than we do about making a profit” and it was as if they didn’t need to advertise it, they just needed to affirm it, somewhere, commit it to the visual world in case someone bothers to look closely,

which is how i feel about the tattoo on the back of my neck, which says

basic goodness

and is usually covered by my collar and my hair.

:like a declaration of compassion tucked behind the leaves of a potted plant,  like the reflection of birds swirling into a grey sky in a puddle of rainwater on the pavement, like the momentary connection between that woman and our small son

Offerings

to the utter brilliance of the present moment

 

 

 

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On Feeding Our Son Food.

Callum with garden beets

This is Callum. He’s 1 year and 8 months old. He likes birds, buses, water, dancing, pushing things with wheels, reading books, especially ones with monkeys, stacking canned food, throwing rocks at the beach, petting his dog-sisters, and roaming around the yard. He also loves food. Avocados, Yams, refried beans, tofu, goji berries, strawberries, kale, tempeh, zuccinni, lentils, brown rice, crackers, peaches, yogurt, blueberries, apples, raisins, spicy things, coconut milk, sunflower seed butter, garbanzo beans, watermelon, garden tomatoes, indian food, thai food, vietnamese food, peanut butter, toast, noodles, calzones, oatmeal, farmers market fresh apple juice, grapes,   (I could go on).

In addition to breastmilk, Callum thrives on whole foods. Fresh foods. Garden foods. Foods high in protein, rich in vitamins, filled with fiber, minerals, and good complex carbs. We supplement his diet with a children’s multivitamin, a vitamin B-12 supplement (he loves it when we spray it right into his mouth)  kiddo probiotics, and plant-sourced vitamin D and DHA. He has an exceptionally healthy digestive system, and he’s never been sick. Runs a fever or gets a runny nose occasionally when he’s cutting a tooth, but that’s about it. He’s exceptionally well-engaged with the world, a keen observer, experimenter, risk-taker, and adventurer. He’s self-sufficient, sweet, creative, and unbearably cute.

He’s also vegan. His poppa is vegan. His momma is mostly-vegan. When I tell people we are a vegan family, it tends to make them uncomfortable. Some ask questions, like “is your son getting enough protein and good fats?” Others change the subject. Rarely does anyone ask why. Of course, I’m not in the habit of asking people why they eat meat, dairy, or eggs. I’ve never asked another parent if they think their children are getting enough complex carbs, fiber, or leafy greens, or if they’re possibly getting too much protein, transfats, or meat- and milk-borne antibiotics and hormones. I assume that they’re educating themselves about their children’s nutrition in the best way they know how.

By their questions and comments, not a few people have made it clear to me they assume we are undereducated about nutrition, or that we’ve chosen a path of deprivation for political or far-left ideals.  Many people clearly believe its one thing for us to “do this” to ourselves, but another thing entirely to subject our son to our beliefs.  Leaving aside the fact that they’re overlooking the superb nutrition that takes place in our home, they miss a fundamental point: every parent “subjects” their children to their beliefs.  Every parent raises their children the best way they know how, based on what they know about the world and what matters to them.

I’ll tell you what though…. Our table is hardly a place of deprivation.  We use our cookbooks like other people use facebook. We season, sautee, bake, experiment, and savor daily. We love flavor, we love spice, we love to eat, we love to share good food with friends. We embrace dessert with gusto.  And we enjoy our food all the more because we know that the choices we make in our kitchen are in line with our most deeply held values.

compassion. health. stewardship and sustainability. community.

compassion.
Ryan and I believe that if we can eat delicious, filling, sustainable, and nourishing foods without causing suffering, then that’s what we want to do. We don’t judge other meat eaters, and we understand that humans and other animals have been eating meat for millennia. What hasn’t been happening for millennia is the factory farming industry, which causes horrific suffering for chickens, pigs, cows, and other animals, for the entirety of their lives. They do not experience the “humane,” painless deaths we would like to believe, and their bodies are flooded with terror and pain and adrenaline as they are slaughtered. That’s just not something we want to eat, and its definitely not something we want to feed our son. The meat, dairy, and egg industries have gotten savvy to the fact that people are disturbed by these realities, so they market things like “cage free eggs” and “happy meat.” Both of these labels are words used in an effort to sell products. They very rarely reflect reality.

I have a great love for cheese, and my periodic indulgence in it is what makes me refrain from calling myself a vegan. I am not oblivious to the suffering that indulgence necessitates. The cow that gave the milk for the cheese I love didn’t give up her life for my smoked gouda, but her male calf did. To get milk from a cow, you need to get that cow pregnant, then take away her baby so you can take the milk for cheese. Male calves aren’t worth much now that veal is unpopular, so they’re not kept alive. In Tillamook County, Oregon, there are so many of these throwaway calves they’re talking about using their bodies for biofuel. Which takes the edge off my cheese craving. Going through the intense, demanding, exhausting, and often painful physical processes of pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding also put a dent in my desire for queso. I did these things out of love, and they were hard. I shudder to imagine doing those things under coercion. Sometimes I still eat cheese. But it just doesn’t hold the appeal it once did.

health

Healthy eating habits are learned in childhood.  My parents and Ryan’s parents raised us on balanced meals, and the love which with they prepared the food we ate as children set the stage for our choices as adults.  We want to do the same thing for Callum.  If we can start him off with a craving for kale, an appetite for whole grains, a passion for fruits, and a love for legumes, than by golly, that’s what we’re going to do.

There is a literal epidemic of obesity and childhood diabetes in America. The leading causes of death in the United States are heart disease and cancer.    One of the most effective ways to maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk or heart disease and cancer is to eat a plant-based diet.  The vast majority of animal products in the United States are filled with hormones, to make the animals grow bigger faster (to achieve maximum profit) and antibiotics, to prevent the animals from succumbing to disease in the severely overcrowded and filthy conditions in which they live (again, to achieve maximum profit). If you consume food with growth hormones and antibiotics, you are incorporating those substances into your body also.  Numerous studies have found that animal products consistently arrive on grocery store shelves contaminated with fecal matter and foodborne illnesses like salmonella.  No thanks.

Thanks to our decades-old habit of using the oceans as a dumping ground for garbage, toxic waste, and the radioactive effluence of nuclear power production, seafood is extremely high in nasty crap like heavy metals. Being at the top of the food chain has its price—small amounts of toxins absorbed by plankton become concentrated in greater amounts in the flesh of the fish that eat that plankton. And so on, in the bodies of the humans that catch and consume that fish. Its called bioaccumulation. That means that if I feed my twenty-four pound son fish, he’s consuming a significant quantity of heavy metals.  That’s a lot of work for tiny kidneys—and our son was born with only one kidney. So we’re not messing around.

stewardship and sustainability.

I was raised to be gentle with the earth, and to consider how my choices impact the air, water, and overall health of the world around me. Animal products exact a severe toll on the environment.  Agribusiness has a vested interest in keeping this toll off the front pages, so you don’t tend to read too much about it.  Two trillion pounds of animal waste are produced by the livestock industry in the United States every year.  It has to go somewhere, and it usually ends up sitting in poorly managed holding ponds (from which it evaporates!) or running into waterways.   It takes more than 11 times as much fossil fuel to make one calorie from animal protein as it does to make one calorie from plant protein.  It also takes roughly sixteen pounds of grain feed to produce a pound of meat.  That same amount of grain could feed a lot more people than that pound of meat.  There’s a lot of people on this planet, and less and less space left to produce viable food crops.  Meat just doesn’t make much sense.

community.

Yes, there are farmers out there raising meat, milk, and eggs who are dedicated to compassion, health, stewardship and sustainability.  If you eat meat, milk, or eggs, seek them out.   They are doing something difficult and noble and their product is worth every penny they are asking for it.  Unfortunately, they produce only a teeny, tiny fraction of the meat, milk, and eggs (something like 1%) consumed in the United States.   Most communities that host meat, milk, or egg production have a long list of chronic health problems, thanks in large part to their exposure to toxic watershed and air pollution.  Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are breeding grounds for infectious disease (think bird flu and swine flu) which can of course spread far from the “farm” on the flesh of animal products).  Slaughterhouse workers have one of the highest rates of occupational injury of any industry in the country.   Animal product production is bad for communities.

When its time to sit down to eat…

We don’t think of our meals as “vegan.”  We think of them as food. We are feeding our son food.  Varied, nutritious, ethical, delicious, plant-based food.   We are not alone in believing this is healthful.  “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes. “
We are not alone in believing this is delicious either.  We would love to have you over for dinner. If you live far away, I will mail you cookies.

I’m going to keep feeding my son food.  And I’m going to send him out into the world knowing how to ask questions, think critically, and stand by his decisions—no matter what they may be.

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Last week, I visited the Northwest Detention Center.

On a cold, grey-sky January morning last week, I packed the diaper bag and made myself some tea with lemon and honey, since I was fighting a cold. In our bedroom, I scooped the baby warm and sweat-damp out of sleep and changed his diaper before he’d finished his waking up stretch. By the time I’d dressed him and bundled him into his carseat, his eyes had fallen closed again. I drove south from our neighborhood in south Seattle, past the sprawling concrete runways of Sea-Tac airport, to a trailer court near my husband’s school where many of his students live.

I was looking for the home of a brother and sister, one a current and one a former student of my husband’s. They and their younger brother needed a ride this morning, and I had offered to drive them. I followed a map my husband had drawn on a piece of scratch paper until I found their trailer. Their mother, a small, pretty woman with dark hair, welcomed me inside, exhorting me to come out of the cold, and I sat with the baby in an armchair near the door. Their home was cosy and dark with the heavy curtains drawn over the windows, likely to help keep out the cold. The parents’ wedding picture was framed over the television, which was tuned to a program in Spanish. The mother moved quietly around her house, finding jackets for her daughter and sons, who sat next to me and played with the baby. Their father wasn’t home. Back in early December, he’d been apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and he’d been detained and awaiting deportation ever since. His wife and children hadn’t seen him in over two months. I had come to drive his children to his deportation hearing.

Their mother couldn’t take them because she’d be asked to show her papers, and she didn’t have the proper ones to show. As I sat in the armchair by the door holding the baby, an older gentleman who was a friend of the family gave the kids a brief set of instructions in English. “When you see your father, don’t talk to him. You can’t smile or wave or stand up. Just sit quietly. If you make the judge angry they could decide against your father. Do you understand?” The kids nodded.

Outside, their mother had her car warming up for me to drive. I pulled the baby’s carseat out of my car, and she installed it in her small four-door sedan with brisk efficiency. She was wearing a fleece jacket and a black skirt, and thick pink socks over her tights. I imagined her getting out of bed early while the house was still cold, dressing in an extra layer and turning on the heat. I wondered if she made herself tea or coffee and sat with her hands wrapped around the mug in the quiet, thinking about her husband, before waking up the kids and making their breakfast. I thought about how once you have children, feeling sorry for yourself is a luxury you don’t really have time for. I thought about her daughter, who’d been one of my husband’s students in his first year of teaching at this school. Exceptionally well-behaved and kind, perfectly bilingual, insightful, thoughtful, and intelligent far beyond her grade level, she’s a critical thinker, acutely aware of the systems that surround her. At the age of nine, she and another student staged a day of silence to protest injustice after learning about Mahatma Gandhi in fourth grade. She made such an impression on me I named the heroine of a children’s story I wrote after her. I wondered how much of her and her brothers’ comportment was the result of having had such a stable home life up to this point.

The kids climbed into the car and buckled their seatbelts, and we got onto the freeway heading south. The oldest, the girl, sat next to me in the front. Her brothers sat quietly in the back, the older one focused on entertaining my son in his carseat. I tried to make conversation, but none of us had much to say. We passed the Federal Way waterslide park in the rain, and I asked them if they’d ever been. The daughter brightened. “No, but a friend of my parents said maybe they’d take us this summer.” We lapsed back into silence. I followed the family friend’s car off the freeway just north of Tacoma, and we made our way through the industrial section of the city to the Northwest Detention Center. It’s what’s known as a “Contract Detention Facility,” which means that a private corporation is getting paid for each person detained here.

(Image by Alex Stonehill, from http://www.prx.org/pieces/52448-expanding-the-northwest-detention-center)

The Northwest Detention Center is a dismal-looking place. Razor wire spirals around the fencetops, and there is no visitor parking. A few spaces are provided for lawyers’ and employees’ cars, but those who are here to visit the incarcerated have to park on the street. There were lots of people there that morning, and I had trouble finding a spot. After I’d carefully tucked the car in a space near some sort of shipping yard and unloaded the kids and the baby, a man in a hard hat came outside to yell that he was going to tow my car. I gave the baby to the eldest girl to hold and moved the car to a spot in a nearby alley.

The family friend led us across the railroad tracks and inside, past the line of waiting families. He had been here before, and knew that we could bypass the line since we were here for a court date. A brusque official signed us in and ordered us to leave our coats and bags and cell phones in a locker. I was informed I could take only “one diaper, one wipe” for the baby. As we stowed our things in the locker and shepherded the kids through the metal detector, I heard this instruction barked at subsequent mothers waiting in line. “One diaper, one wipe!” “One diaper, one wipe!” I crossed my fingers the baby didn’t have anything in the works that couldn’t be handled with these minimal supplies.

We were buzzed from the waiting room into a hallway, where the kids found their dad’s name amidst three or four dozen other names on a court roster, taped to the white cinderblock wall. A security guard told us there would be a long wait. We took our seats. There wasn’t much to look at. Lawyers passed through occasionally, checking in at a glassed in desk. A portrait of Barack Obama in front of the American flag hung on the wall opposite us. The family friend made brief conversation, asking me about the baby, and telling me that his kids were grown, and that he worked the night shift last night and had not yet slept. The kids kicked their feet restlessly. I thought about playing “I spy” with them, but gave up on the idea since there wasn’t much to spy. In the hopes of staving off a courtroom meltdown, I turned toward the wall and breastfed my son under my sweater.

A mother who looked to be about eighteen came in with her baby, another woman, and two children. The baby bumped his head while playing on the floor and began to wail, and the young mother scooped him up and pressed his forehead to her lips, whispering words of comfort to him as she rose to bounce him in her arms. She did so with practiced efficiency, moving around the room until he fell asleep, and I felt a physical kinship to her, having done the same thing many times before.

About thirty minutes later, we were escorted by a guard into another hallway. We sat together on a long wooden bench and waited some more. Dozens of men in blue or orange prison jumpsuits were escorted in and out of the three courtroom doors while we waited. I watched the kids out of the corner of my eye, and wondered what it felt like for them to know they were going to see their father dressed as a prisoner. I wondered if they were reminding themselves of their instructions, not to smile or wave or speak to the father they hadn’t seen in over two months.

After another twenty minutes of waiting, the guard led us into the small courtroom. The detainees sat on the left side of the room, their families on the right. A Spanish-language interpreter sat at a desk before the judge, and a lawyer representing the federal government sat at another desk. In the center of the room, there was a third table with a microphone and a pair of headphones. We stood as the judge entered. She apologized for the delay, then proceeded briskly to the matter at hand. It took her approximately seven minutes to hear each case. Each detainee put on the headphones to hear the judge’s comments translated into Spanish.

Some of the men were in court for bond hearings, while others were being considered for deportation. To each of the potential deportees, the judge put the same set of questions. “Are you aware of your right to be represented by a lawyer?” If they did not have one present, (and only one of twelve did), she asked “Do you waive that right?” Most answered “si.” Through her questions, small details about these men emerged. Most had American-born children. Most were in their mid-twenties, and had been apprehended for traffic violations. Most were from Mexico. Several admitted to being afraid to return to their countries of origin, citing “the violence in Mexico” or “the violence in Guatemala.” Their answers seemed to matter little, and the judge authorized the deportation of nearly every one of the men.

The childrens’ father was the second-to-last to go before the judge. He looked down at the floor when he walked past his kids. My stomach tightened when I realized there was no lawyer present for him. His three children obeyed the instructions they’d been given, and sat still as he walked past them and put on the headphones. As it turned out, he was actually here for a bond hearing, and he did have a lawyer, who the judge called and put on speakerphone. The connection was poor and it was difficult to understand the conversation. It turned out that because their father had already begun the process of appealing his deportation, this particular judge lacked the jurisdictional authority to grant him a bond, and his entire hearing ended up being nothing more than a bureaucratic shuffle. As he walked back to his seat, the guard asked the children, the family friend and I to leave, and the kids’ father flashed them the smallest and briefest of smiles.

We were buzzed through the two secured doors, and passed single file through the metal detector to reclaim our coats and the diaper bag. Outside, we stood beneath razor wire in the rain, and I asked the kids if they understood what had happened. The eldest daughter said yes, and I did my best to explain it to her brothers and the family friend, who confessed he was confused over the outcome. I told him that while nothing had really happened, it seemed that we should feel good, because he wasn’t under immediate threat of deportation, and there would probably be another hearing soon. He said he would be there for it, and I said I would bring the kids back again. “Well, I’ll see you then,” he said, with a small tired smile. “It’s a good thing you’re doing,” he offered as I began to shepherd the kids off the sidewalk. “De nada,” I told him, placing my hand over my heart.

A half an hour later, I pulled up in front of the family’s trailer. The oldest two children asked if they could go back to school for the rest of the school day, and their mother and I raised our eyebrows at each other and smiled. She thanked me, and I told her “de nada” like I’d told the family friend, placing my hands over my heart. I offered to give her son and daughter a ride to school, and they clambered into the car with their backpacks.

When I said “de nada,” I did not mean I thought it was nothing.
I meant its the least I can do.
But mi español es muy malo.

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