Kavanaugh and Me

Friday morning I woke up full of rage. A coursing sense that I wanted to stab someone was so visceral I could hardly imagine leaving the house without bloodshed. Specifically I wanted to stab a man in a suit. I couldn’t tear myself away from the news until almost noon, scrolling through my Twitter feed in my underwear in bed, not writing, not eating, not even brushing my teeth. This is a familiar feeling, and it seems to come in waves, ebbs and flows in and out of my life dependent upon current events, both personal and political. The last major wave of rage generated a manuscript of poems titled CUNT TEETH and a dozen or so performances drenched in fake blood as The Third Thing

Nearly every one of my closest women friends has experienced some sort of sexual assault. The statistics about assault have started to blur more and more in my mind as I talk to other women about their experiences, reflect on the cultural norms that have shaped my sexual experiences, and reexamine my own attitudes and impulses. I wonder if it’s likely that every single woman has experienced some sort of sexual assault, if “rape culture” is more of an apt signifier than I fully understood even a year ago.

I have a list of questionable experiences that I remember:

  • A friend gropes me on a couch. He’s trying to make out with me despite his knowing I’m coming down from a particularly intense mushroom trip and my unresponsiveness. He eventually stops; we remain friends; I never bring it up again.

  • A friend persists in suggesting we go to his house and have sex despite my resistance; we are at a party and he lives nearby. I am drunk and tired and I don’t want to even kiss him, let alone have sex, but I also don’t want to make the long trek home across town. I say no; I say no; I say no; I relent. I never bring it up again until he gets called out for being a creep and I let him know he’d coerced me, too.

  • A friend introduces me to a man who happens to be very connected to a network of artists I really want to connect to while living temporarily in NYC. He expresses romantic interest in me and I tell him that in my short time in New York I am focused on finding creative contacts and friendships rather than sexual or romantic relationships. He tries to convince me otherwise, but I remain resolute and he finally agrees we can just be friends. Awhile later he invites me to a party at the center of the network I wanted to access. I go and have a really good time hanging out with him and meeting people. We get very drunk, and I don't remember leaving the party. I wake up next to him in my bed the next morning feeling sick to my stomach. I ask him to leave and he does. I don’t continue deepening my connections to that network of artists. It takes me another couple years to call it assault.

  • A very close friend, a brother-in-spirit, and I are falling asleep next to another close friend, my roommate at the time, after a night of partying. I’m high and drunk and on the edge of sleep when he pulls me close and says something to me. I cannot say for sure what it was, but the delayed hazy brain memory is something like “Kate, you’re one of my best friends, but I’ve always wanted more.” As my brain catches up and I start to cognize what he’s just said I say “what?” and he releases me and laughs. I don’t bring it up again until two years later when this friend gets called out for assaulting someone.

 This list isn’t exhaustive, but it is representative. Maybe you, as I do, notice some patterns here. All of these occurrences happened with friends, and all of them involved drugs and/or alcohol. All of them involve some sort of delay in acknowledging what occurred, or in some cases utter silence. There are thousands, maybe millions, of people who would look at my behavior and tell me the problem is me, that my use of drugs and alcohol resulted in my being assaulted, or maybe even that those experiences weren’t in fact assault, but just “boys being boys,” or as a friend of a friend put it after she was raped while drunk: “I don’t know a boy who wouldn’t do the same in that situation.”  

The conversation about consent #metoo has stimulated is critical to unpacking the prevalence of sexual assault in this country. The concomitant conversation around drinking and drug use, though, is scary to me, as it frequently devolves into moralizing and disservices survivors. Yes, I was very drunk that night in New York and I probably should not have been so drunk, that time or any other time I've been that drunk or drunker, but it is not a crime to get too drunk. Drugs and alcohol do impair one’s ability to consent, though, and pestering someone until they finally relent is coercion. When fully sober I put up a boundary with the man who assaulted me in New York. He then took advantage of my desire to connect with his network and the fact that I was wasted enough to let my guard down.

This could be painted as a typical mating dance, to be honest. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been drunk the first time I had sex with someone, and I know the same is true for many of my peers. Hundreds of romantic comedies have been premised on male persistence. So-called “hookup culture” is well documented with regard to Millenials, but the Kavanaugh hearing underscores the fact that none of this is really all that new or particular to my generation. I felt compelled to take responsibility for what happened to me in New York out of shame for my drunkenness and guilt at my conflicted feelings about a guy I wasn't supposed to like. On the afternoon of the day I woke up next to that man in my bed I spoke to a friend and told him what happened; he responded by telling me I had been assaulted. I explained that, no, it was my fault: I clearly must have wanted it to happen all along or we wouldn't have been at my apartment. It was just further evidence that I’m just a drunken slut. Eventually I came to realize that whether or not I did actually like him a little, I was too drunk to actually consent, and he had manipulated the situation to get what he wanted.

Drinking to get laid is a contemporary social and sexual lubrication ritual that many, if not most, U.S. Americans participate in. It’s so pervasive that in my experience friends who decide to get sober usually struggle for a long time to connect with others socially. I got older; I tempered my consumption of alcohol and lost my taste for hard drugs, but I do wonder about things I don’t remember. I thought about all this as Brett Kavanaugh “confessed” his love of beer during the hearing and as I read about his yearbook inscriptions, and his reputation among classmates in high school and college. I thought about the friend who’d sleepily confessed his decade-long hidden feelings for me.

When that friend was called out for assaulting someone I took responsibility for him, as my role in our friends group was usually the caretaker. I “believed” his accuser and I attempted to hold him accountable by moving him into my house and asking him to be sober while he lived with my fiancée and me for a few months. I wanted to help him figure out how he would address the situation. I put quotes around “believed” above because while I had long since taken up the practice of believing people who say they’ve been assaulted, deep down I was convinced he didn't do it. Never mind that he didn’t remember the night in question, willingly admitting to being blackout, I knew he couldn't have done it for various reasons involving intimate knowledge of his patterns and physiology. It was surely some sort of misunderstanding, but nevertheless a perfect opportunity for him to reflect on and curtail his substance abuse and reckless behaviors.

I was wrong, though. He did do it. I know that now, not because I got a clear narrative of what "actually happened," either from him or his accuser, but because I took him into my home and learned more and more (too much, really), about his struggles, neurosis, addictions, and compulsions. I still love my friend, but I had to make him leave my home, and I sadly couldn’t include him in my wedding months later. He has had to, will continue to have to, account for the things he did, and I could not shield him from that.

That experience taught me the horrifying lesson that despite my card-carrying riot grrrl feminist status I have been just as indoctrinated into the culture that perpetuates sexual violence as the men and boys who have assaulted me. I have no idea what "actually happened" the night my friend did the thing he's been accused of, but I don't need to. I need to believe people who say they've been assaulted. Period. Given the mental acrobatics I had to do to convince myself I hadn't been assaulted in New York, and how difficult it still is for me to call it that, I am pretty ashamed that I ever questioned my friend’s accuser. I know firsthand that it’s almost impossible to call assault assault, that our culture trains us, women especially, to make accommodations for men and explain away shitty behaviors. That's rape culture. I am part of it, too. 

Just as I have been assaulted in ways that are so normal I couldn’t discern them as such until years passed I have also made accommodations for the behaviors of my friends and loved ones in ways I didn’t even realize I was doing: brushing it off, not bringing it up, taking responsibility­­­—noticeably, all of these socially deferential behaviors are stereotypically gendered feminine. I saw this socially deferential female conditioning surface in Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s amazingly brave testimony. The contrast between her measured and, as she describes it, collegial tone and his entitled man-baby histrionics was in and of itself a perfect encapsulation of the results of how we indoctrinate people into the two dominant genders: the woman works hard to make all parties happy, and the man demands the thing to which he feels entitled. In this case it’s a Supreme Court appointment, in others it’s a woman’s body.

Kavanaugh’s accusation of Ford being part a political conspiracy mounted by Democrats and the Clintons struck me as not only ludicrous with regard to Ford’s willingness to testify, but indicative of a deep misunderstanding on his part, and I would venture to guess the part of many U.S. Americans, including many Senate Republicans, as to what politics are and how they might be wielded. Dr. Ford’s testimony is most certainly politically motivated: she has sacrificed herself, risked her own “annihilation,” in the hopes that it will result in the political gain of blocking an abuser from a seat on the Supreme Court where he would exercise a power few will ever access. This isn’t personal, Brett, it’s political.

Movement

I have three different friends posting pictures of their trips to Iceland in my Instagram feed right now, and I’m feeling intensely jealous. My partner and I are making lists of pros and cons to decide our future. Yesterday was my first Father’s Day with a dead father. I’m happier and lonelier than I’ve been in years. Life makes no sense.

Heavy, pt 1

Mean body has compulsions and tics. Mean body holds too much. Mean body is so susceptible. Mean body keeps grasping at. Mean body loses grasp.

I woke up the other morning with Linkin Park in my head. Actually I think I woke up in the middle of the night and was greeted with “Heavy,” the Linkin Park single released a few months before LP’s lead singer, Chester Bennington, took his own life last year.

I have never owned a Linkin Park album. Until Chester killed himself I really didn’t know much at all about them, or about him. LP is not in any way part of the discourse or the range of interests generally discussed in the artist and writer circles I run in, but over the last couple years Caleb and I have worked up a pretty grand tongue-in-cheek karaoke rendition of “In the End,” with me singing Chester's part. I guess in doing so I inadvertently forged a bit of a connection to LP and Chester. When he died I found myself obsessed, legitimately heartbroken, and somewhat shocked as I learned just how popular LP actually is, so I started to investigate further.

In the days since I started writing this post we've lost two more pretty big public figures, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, to suicide. I was sad to hear about Kate, but had no real connection to her work, the news of Bourdain was crushing, tho. There was a pretty long era of my life where I didn't own a TV, almost never watched anything, but I would gather weekly with my two besties and watch No Reservations and eat something delicious Jesse cooked.

I loved Bourdain for his ability to unlock cultures through food; I loved him for his unabashed attempts to seem cool all the time, despite his dad-in-a-Rolling-Stones-cover-band-with-earring vibe. I saw him as something complex and laughable, but still lovable, and in many ways very wise. He understood deeply that food was a political issue, from the restaurant industry's reliance on undocumented labor to the cultural exchanges that happen via sharing meals, traditions, and commodities. His shows increasingly brought political struggles to the fore.

He wrestled with life. He was a year younger than my dad. I keep thinking about this fact that Bourdain had to end his own life and Fred's just ended on its own for no reason. Fred didn't commit suicide, but in a way he did kill himself through decades of checking out from the world and destroying his body with a four-pack-a-day habit and exclusive beverage consumption of coffee and beer. 

I don't know what I really think about that yet except that it's compelling me to read tweet after tweet about the sadness everyone is feeling in the wake of this loss. Nobody saw it coming, apparently. Tony talked about his depression, for sure, wore his darkness publicly, but it always seemed like something he had a handle on, not something that would get the best of him

Chester Bennington, on the other hand, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, was very public about his mental health struggles, it seems like he was always up and down. Linkin Park’s songs are all about depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, struggling with ptsd and its related issues. I was completely ignorant to how many records they had sold, that they weren’t just the butt of jokes about nü metal, but actually have a massive following. According to my shallow research, they're the best-selling band of the 21st century and one of the world's best-selling musical artists overall: Linkin Park has sold more than 70 million records worldwide.

I’ve long thought that depression and anxiety were increasingly culturally constructed, as capitalism is a brutal system to live under unless you're cis, white, male, AND extremely wealthy; even with those privileges you aren't guaranteed respite from the darkness, as the INCEL "movement" deftly illustrates. I don’t have to think too hard about why a band screaming about suicidal thoughts got popular. It is depressingly relatable music lyrically, not to mention the fact that thrashing around and screaming is one of the most cathartic treatments I can think of. It’s a sort of diy Trauma Release Exercise

I read in the CNN story on Bourdain that the suicide rate in the U.S. rose 25% from 1996-2016, and in many states the number is actually 30%. I have many friends who have contemplated suicide, one in particular who has attempted and been hospitalized like 4 or 5 times. The day before Bourdain was found I talked to a close friend who has bipolar and had just come out of the psych ward, finally on meds after her most suicidal episode yet. I listened to her talk about the past 6 months for half an hour with tears streaming down my face and words catching in my throat. Those statistics are both completely shocking and in no way surprising to someone who is surrounded by people who feel such deep darkness. Their struggles are personal and unique, but I can't help but see, also, how the state of the world impacts us all deeply.

“Heavy,” the single I mention above that has been swimming around in my head for the last week or so, and the album it's featured on, One More Light, marked a departure for the band. Instead of the usual interplay between his soaring vocals and Mike Shinoda’s raps Chester is duetting with pop star Kiiara, and the overall tone is slightly more emo pop ballad than hard nü metal anthem.

“I'm holding on,” he sings, “why is everything so heavy?"

Honestly, I frequently tear up whenever I hear "Heavy" considering what happened after it was released. LP’s fans were very very critical of it, in the Quora thread about the song one commenter writes "Suprised to see Linkin Park bend their knee so shamelessly for a taste of the charts" (LOL @ the surely Game-of-Thrones-inspired knee bend reference). I haven't been able to find this in my preliminary research yet, but my husband told me an anecdote about a radio dj playing the single upon its release and asking listeners to call in with their thoughts: they were overwhelmingly negative. Chester may or may not have heard any of those call-ins, but he did lash out publicly at LP's fans in the wake of the album's release telling those accusing him and LP of selling out "you can fucking meet me outside and I will punch you in your fucking mouth." 

He killed himself about five months after the single release, and only 2 months after the full album release. 

I'm not arguing that the reception of "Heavy" and One More Light is responsible for Chester's suicide. It is clear from all of LP's music and many things he has stated publicly that his suicidal ideation and the struggles he had with addiction and other fallout of his abuse had been haunting him his entire adult life. But it's meaningful to me that fans who connected to the music on an emotional level could so quickly turn on him, couldn't see a shift in genre as anything other than a marketing decision, even as his lyrics gave off such a stench of utter desperation. 

To me the lyrics of "Heavy" read as an exhausted cry for help, a man at the end of his rope. He knows that his mind is trapping him:  "And I drive myself crazy/Thinking everything's about me" and that it's in his power to free himself: "Holding on/So much more than I can carry/I keep dragging around what's bringing me down/If I just let go, I'd be set free"

And yet, all it seems he can do is spill his guts. 

U.S. Americans use music to cope with their mental illness. People, I guess, do this, not just U.S. Americans, but given the state of our healthcare system, and mental health in particular, and the fact of my own U.S. American-ness, there is something about this coping that does feel particularly U.S. American. It is not surprising to me that bands like Nirvana or Linkin Park became so popular with mental health struggles being at the darkened center of their aesthetic. It is a cruel irony that people have become so conditioned to be paranoid that we're being financially manipulated by marketing gurus when a beloved band takes a risk in their sound or tries to be more vulnerable.

I spent my 20s in Olympia, WA in basements full of young people drinking excessively, doing drugs, thrashing their bodies against one another, screaming along to punks thrashing their guitars and pounding their drums, everyone collectively trying to self-medicate their internal struggles. Depression was at the center. Attempts to self-medicate mostly just exacerbated issues. Kurt Cobain had been a key player in the burgeoning Oly grunge scene pre-Nirvana, and his ghost was haunting every basement. More than one of my peers didn't make it out alive.

To the fans of LP's music the hard darkness the band embodied for them was part of the commodity they were buying to self-medicate when the culture otherwise just left them to the wolves. When the makeup of the drug changed, tried a new tonal balance to get the message across, their response was based in it not having the same effect on them. The tragic collateral was that it caused a disconnect between the fans and their beloved singer trying to reach through to grasp onto something that could save him.

My husband discovered a middle aged dude's YouTube channel wherein he sings almost exclusively Linkin Park covers in what seems like a state of the art home recording studio. Big Bermers (singing Chester's part) isn't the best vocalist in the world, but he sure as hell pours his heart into it. The story we've constructed to explain this particular YouTube phenom is that he built the studio after a divorce, and Linkin Park is what allows him to access the feelings he can't otherwise out of fear of losing his manhood. Linkin Park fans couldn't allow themselves to open up to Chester's more tender side. Anger is an approved masculine emotion; screaming is great, but if it tips into a wail you might get punched for being a fucking pussy.

I can't help but wonder what could have happened differently, say if fans hadn't felt so entitled to the commodity of Chester's manly scream rather than his tender wail, or if toxic masculinity didn't dictate to him that the way to deal with their rejection wasn't to lash out violently, but to be even more vulnerable.

Patience

Some days just feel cosmic. Maybe it's just my inclination to observe phenomena through this lens, but sometimes it feels so much larger than just my perspective.

A couple mornings ago I biked to a metal fabrication studio in North Oakland to meet a guy about a job. When I arrived he was welding some incomprehensible metal form. The warehouse was full of machinery and materials, every surface was dusted with a light layer of sawdust. Luigi was animated when he shook my hand. I brainstormed with the woman I'd be taking over from about project management strategies while he gestured towards the piles around the warehouse.

"Clearly we need a lot of organization," he said, feigning embarrassment I could tell wasn't real, needn't be there, anyway, I was hooked and comfortable, aching to come to work in a place where people were getting dirty.

I'd explored his website after the recruiter reached out to me and discovered that he'd left a job at Tesla to revive his father's metalworking studio after he died. I tried my hardest not to mention my own freshly dead dad and managed not to until we were parting and it already seemed like he wanted to hire me.

Is it manipulative/stupid or truthful/smart to connect to a potential new employer via a very present sense of grief?

He invited me to the going away gathering for the person I'd potentially be replacing.

That probably means I got the job, right?

I biked to Caleb's workplace, only 3 minutes away, and stood outside texting my inner circle, straddling my bike on the corner of Shattuck and 58th. Caleb came out and we celebrated my almost victory. Caleb pointed out that the vacant building across the street was photographed for Sam Lefebvre's recent Open Space essay about the neighborhood and the deeply problematic "gang injunction" imposed upon it. After 4 years of work-life struggle, most of them (when not unemployed) spent commuting to San Francisco, the notion of working a 15 minute bike ride from my house, 3 minutes from Caleb's job, and literally across the street from the print studio I can never seem to get to enough lit up my spine, catapulted my bike back down Telegraph to meet up with David. Beaming in the "oh my yes it's finally Spring" sunshine.

As I type this I realize my dog has been dropping her ball off the edge of my bed behind me over and over in an attempt to get me to scold her for having the ball on the bed. She knows better. At least she's dropping it. I. Will. Not. Turn. Around.

Anyway, I was early arriving at the intersection I called home for 5 years, the intersection wherein my boyfriend-at-the-time and I got mugged by children moving in choreography. He couldn't leave my house after dark for months afterward, still chooses not to walk through that certain patch of sidewalk. I decided to kill time by investigating the hip 3rd wave coffee shop that opened up across the street from the beauty supply store on 20th/Thomas L. Berkeley Way and Telegraph. My roommates/Manifest collaborators and I had studied mainly at Farley's on Grand and Broadway during grad school. I texted them a video of the interior of this new shop, marble countertop, chandelier, mid-century modern couch, nouveau Bay Area in every way, a fraction of the already short distance from our former doorstep to Farley's, which has, coincidentally, undergone a makeover to take on this aesthetic in the years since we lived on 22nd St.

"Remember how many hours we spent at Farley's??? Miss y'all"

I drank a nitro cold brew while waiting for my lunch date with David. How is this a thing that exists? I love and curse my former life as a barista. With two of us in one household we rationalize our weekly bag of specialty coffee by generally not buying coffee out of the house. The logic being that we can only afford to be snobs if we also make it ourselves.

When I arrive to meet David I'm buzzing with springtime and biking and a probable-new-job-after-almost-three-years-of-turmoil and the cold brew I just had. He is so easy to talk to and we just spill into conversation about dads and parent death and jobs and publishing in the Bay and the transformations of the scene and the way our movements ripple out and spirituality and trauma and healing and atonement and forgiveness and patience.

We talk about his new chapbook publishing endeavor and I recall the first time he handed me a Try (the poetry zine he used to make with his now-wife Sara Larsen):

I was standing in the auditorium at CCA, Timken Hall, winter 2010, rehearsing, or arriving at or leaving rehearsal, for my first involvement with Poet's Theater: Lara Durback's production of Rachel Blau DuPlessis's play...the title escapes me now, but it was also how I first met Alex Cruz, being in Lara's interpretation of Rachel's play. David was perched cross legged atop some perch (as he was known for doing at the time) gripping a stack of stapled half-legal sized booklets (an underrated size for a zine, imho); he jumped down and thrust one into my hands saying, essentially, "You're here, you probably want this."

We hadn't been properly introduced at this time, but I knew who he was. Months prior, during my first week in Oakland, my Evergreen Mentor, D Wolach, had come down to do a reading with Rob Halpern, my favorite poet at that particular moment. D asked me if I would be a second voice in D's reading, and I agreed. When I arrived at what turned out to be David and Sara's apartment I was blown away by the packed room. I was never more comfortable than in a packed room in someone's living space, but generally these sorts of gatherings were centered around an underground band. I had tried and only slightly succeeded in generating something similar for writing in Olympia, and it died as soon as our collective did.

A punk show audience for a poetry reading? A self-made publication that reflected the immediate milieu? 

I was home.

David and I walked to the lake reflecting on the changes to Oakland over the last 8 years. He mentioned having been asked to write something about "his Oakland"...we laughed and he said the working title was "My Oakland (is Not My Oakland)". We talked about his fellowship project, Agape, a radical Christian congregation that met in his living room for 3 years until recently moving to a nearby community center. A new chapter has formed in Portland, and he's ruminating on the space in his life this anticapitalist faith endeavor requires.

You never know what will take on what shape.

I tell him I feel like the the fallout of the sexual abuse callouts of 2013 in the East Bay poetry scene rippled out to create #MeToo and he says "Absolutely" with no hesitation, evokes Pound's characterization of artists as "the antennae of the race." We sit on the grass by the Fairyland sign talking about sexual assault, activism, restorative justice and the reciprocal relationship between atonement and forgiveness. I mention the patience those things can require. How hard it is to be patient when everything is so painful and unjust. 

I recall and sing to him this song from Vacation Bible School. My family wasn't exactly religious when I was small, but we did go to a Christian church, I think mostly for the fellowship aspect, something that is easy for me to understand from this vantage point. Being part of this community of writers, even those I don't consider friends, has been crucial to my survival in Oakland.

"Have patience, have patience, don't be in such a hurry
When you get impatient you always start to worry
Remember, remember, that God is patient, too
And think of all the times when others have to wait for you!"

I bike home and as I turn onto Market St. I notice a moving crew unloading from a truck in front of a house just around the corner from my house. One guy is carrying the smooth cherry wood frame of a mid-century modern arm chair, cushions removed. I wonder who the people are moving in, and how much that chair cost. More and more people look like me in West Oakland. My house is full of beat up mid-century furniture I found on the street or at Urban Ore or on Craigslist. I have never hired a mover, or owned a new couch, but my dead dad's house in Houston holds my grandparents' beautiful and pristine cherry wood mid-century cabinet, shelves, and table set I ache to bring into my home around the corner, unload from some sort of truck.

Does it make any difference if I unload it myself? No, I know it doesn't. Or that's not what makes the difference.

Existence for me on this edge of the country is wild and fraught, and as much as I've felt planted here over the last 8 years my roots feel tenuous, but maybe they should? The fact that I am, have been, able to make it work here throughout this time as the tent cities grow under every overpass of 580 and in medians around West Oakland, while people who have lived here their whole lives are being pushed onto the street, is not in any way meaningless. I can commit to this city without it needing to commit to me, and if I want to live here, let alone put down roots here, I owe Oakland that much. 

Writing poems and making books, hosting readings in my house, is not enough...

 

Mean Body

I can't remember exactly when this concept of a "mean body" started tumbling around in my head. I know it was regarding something someone said on some group text thread. I made it the name of the group, and then the phrase just stuck around me for awhile. Has continued to.

I think I was likely listening to The Body Keeps the Score, thinking about all the ways one's body holds their experiences, thinking about my chronic pain and unresolved trauma, the way my father smoked 4 packs a day and drank only coffee and cheap beer, the way my other father responded when I brought up concern for his black body driving home every night alone. The image of the body has become a cliche in contemporary poetry. It's even been a few years since I've heard someone moan about embodiment or "the body" being evoked in a poetic or academic context, which means not only has its "moment" come but it has worn out its welcome and mostly disappeared from the discourse.

Except that it hasn't, bodies just continue to be present. Women's bodies, black bodies, immigrant bodies, homeless bodies. They seem to pile up. My dog shook a possum in her mouth in our backyard, our yard was then littered with expelled baby possum bodies. Our political moment is teeming with bodies, what felt like an insular obsession from those of us continually embroiled in them has exploded onto the national scene in seemingly every corner, from pussy grabbers to travel bans to white supremacists fighting antifa and a never ending stream of police brutality.

My bio-dad shut down in a lot of ways at a few different stages of his life. One when my mom left him in 1992, another when he got laid off from the LA Times in 2009, and yet another when his body started to fail him too early in life. He refused the doctor or visitors or trips outside of his house, except to get beer and vaporizer cartridges for his e-cig. I was partly surprised when he made it to my wedding, and utterly shocked when he opened the door a few days before the wedding, a gaunt corpse of an old man at only 62. Four months later the cops found his body in his bathroom during a "wellness check."

My other dad, the man my mother married when I was a kid, who fathered me in all the ways bio-dad couldn't, would get up every morning by 4am to get to the gym before his workday all through my middle and teenage years. In his early 50s his doctor told him he had to stop working out, he'd pushed his body so far that his heart rate no longer increased after 20 minutes of jogging on a treadmill. He could end up overworking himself to death.

Years later, after the murder of Philando Castile by Minnesota cops I laid awake one night thinking about my dad's 45 minute commute each way from suburban Houston to the middle of the city, full of anxiety about his driving while black. I called him and tried to connect over my hatred for the institutional body of the police in the US. I expected commiseration, but his "both sides" argument left me shaking my head and somewhat speechless.

I observe the relationship between my mind and body: the effects of yoga, even once, on my anxiety; the sneaky tension in my shoulders when typing; the meditative epiphanies that flow when biking; the lethargic cloud in my brain, the psycho-physical manifestation of depression keeping me at a distance from my emotions. The body keeps the score, so how do we settle it? 

Writing hasn't solved anything for me in my life except that it's continually brought me closer and closer to the truth, so, writing through the mean body will maybe bring something into light.

 

After Fredfest

I used to be good at blogging. Or, good in the sense that I think I can write well for the form, but I never really made any effort to be visible to anyone except for by accident or love for me irl that compelled a person to my blog. Anyway, I told myself I'd do this and today is as good as any to start.

C and I got home last night from a long weekend in Denton, TX celebrating the life of my suddenly-deceased-at-too-young (62) father, Fred, in his beloved college town. We stayed in a big weird/beautiful house on a horse farm on the outskirts and made our festival home base in front of the UNT showcase stage at the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival. I sobbed when I felt his energy jumping out from the student director of the 6 o'clock lab band, and again when a 19 yr old girl in gym shorts and a tube top singing for the 4 o'clock fucking nailed a rendition of Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring" eerily similar to the one my father penned for Kathy Smith, formerly Stellmaker, when I was a kid. There are a couple records worth of big band charts that the AFRES Band recorded in the late 80s that are seared into my body, and that song is one of them. 

When we were cleaning out my dad's house we found a whole cabinet full of small containers he had saved, empty Dromedary pimento jars and Coleman's dry mustard tins. His parents both collected these sorts of things to organize their house with; they were both so meticulous. Fred was meticulous, too, in a chaotic way, a way I can relate to, deeply. Sorting through his house was a total trip. Drawers compartmentalized by my Gramma decades ago still mostly intact up against my father's various piles of outdated electronics, stacks of cardboard beer case inserts and jagged-edged tin can lids, saved for some purpose forever locked away in Fred's dead brain. An entire crawlspace full of plastic bags he would never re-use.

The day we picked up his ashes we drove to the gulf coast, Dickinson, south of Houston, to have oysters and beers with the heavy box. On the drive we mused about what to do with the cremains. My sister, Meg, told a story of her friend, his sister, and their stepdad planning an excursion to spread his mother's ashes years ago. They rented a convertible and tossed her out of the roof as they drove along the seawall in Galveston. Of course his mother's ashes just rained down onto them and the interior of the rented car. We laughed morbidly. Dad would have loved to have sprinkled our heads with himself.

Mom said "What if we distributed him into those little containers we found? Gave them away to his friends at the memorial and let them do whatever they want with them?"

On Sunday we gathered a random sampling of Fredites at a burger joint downtown with a big open air rooftop patio that Fred would have loved. I'll make a distinction between Fred's family and the Fredites, the latter being his weird-ass friends, each with their own little quirks, so Fred-like in each a totally different way. It was perfect. Even got it on Facebook livestream, fully appropriate as that's where he spent most of his time over the last five years or so. Interesting how easy it was for me to get off the platform as soon as he died. I do keep wanting to communicate things to people beyond those I see or interact with via screens day-to-day, so here I am.

Meg and I had spent about half an hour on Sunday morning funneling Fred's ashes into our curated selection of containers, all of them the aforementioned pimento jars and mustard tins, their designs so evocative of our Gramma's kitchen. It was a dusty endeavor, there were specs of Fred in the corners of our eyes by the end. I'm not sure what I'll do with my yellow tin of Fred. For now it is on my desk.

That's a lie, it's still at the bottom of my carryon inside a little ziploc bag, but I think I'll put it on the desk until I decide where to sprinkle him. His friends were delighted to receive their jars, and he was surely delighted to be received. I don't believe in God or heaven but I do believe he's still paying attention and relishing the attention of this past weekend.

Before we left town we took a couple jars o' Fred to Bruce Hall on the UNT campus, the music school dorm that was the center of the universe until my parents and their friends moved off campus and created a new center. Of course they wouldn't allow a group of random adults into a college dorm building, but my persistent mother told the person at the desk a moving story and they relented. Meg and I boldly sprinkled him in as many places as we could, the front mat, the courtyard, the corners of the window seats, inside the piano, at the threshold of the concert hall, on the pool table. 

Is that gross?

I don't care. 

My father was one of the most frustrating people on the planet. He was also brilliant.

Here's a poem one of his lovers from college wrote and shared with my mom, sister, and me. Comforting to know we aren't the only ones who found him to be...


THE EAT-SHIT-FRED POEM

The explanation of this silence
Lies in the fact that I'm a word gambler.
I took a risk on you.
I squandered my store of superlatives,
Emptied my pockets of dramatic exclamations,
Placed my last adjective on the hope of your understanding.

I spent my words to make more words.
You ate them all instead.
Left  me not a bright term of affection
To toss in the air as I walk.

I can't complain;
I've spent all my curses on you.
Guess I wouldn't if I could;
You don't control the odds, after all.
I've never made love to Luck.

Don't interpret silence as reform.
This is just a slight reversal,
A temporary lack of capital due to a bad bet.
The next passing stranger to toss off a compliment
Will have fueled this damnable fever.
You'll find me at the nearest table,
Pen to paper,
Spending and spending and spending.

Comfort comes from my arms
Leading your head to my breast,
Wordless sounds and stroking.
Desire is dependency.

Hot reproach and harsh tears
Bury my face in the nearest
Depth of you. Your arm-circle.
Your silence. Too real.

Now you roll over,
Shift your weight.
The pillow swallows your face.
Blood resumes its flow to my arm.
Fingers flex.
I move this shortest distance,
Shape myself around you,
Wedge the other arm beneath you.

Try to sleep.