‘Til Each One of Us is Free

What are you doing to confront racial injustice?

How are you committing yourself for the long haul?

What questions are you asking?

What are you doing to examine your privilege?

How are you caring for those who are struggling right now?

How are you educating yourself to be a better ally and a better person?

How are you incorporating critical self-reflection into your life?

How are you listening to voices that are very different from your own?

What are you doing to prioritize justice over order?

What opportunities have you passed up? Why? What will you do differently next time?

How is your worldview changing?

How are you changing yourself?

What are your core values?

What is justice?

What is peace?

What is freedom?

How can you expand your definition of love?

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Dismantling Our Empires

I have been hesitant to say much publicly about the recent murders, protests, and riots firstly because I wasn’t sure what would be helpful for me to say and secondly because I’m not convinced that posting on Facebook really amounts to much. This is precisely the kind of situation where voices like mine need to become less. But it is also the kind of situation where I must be unequivocal, so I offer a few words to white people.

I have decided to say something–even the bare minimum–because I know I have the space and the privilege to do so without consequence. White people need to be talking about these things and we need to be making progress on them right now. It is not a time to wait and take stock (though it is absolutely the time to listen). This will not be exactly the right thing but I feel that it is important to try.

I urge you in the strongest way to seek out first the voices of people of color and heed what they have to say. Only when you have done that do we come to this place to be really clear with ourselves where, exactly, we stand and to communicate that we are doing something about it.


As a small aside, because music is powerful for me, I want to call to your attention this version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic and in particular this line, which replaces the original “As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free”:

Dismantling our empires ’til each one of us is free.


This country is and has always been built on racism, colonialism, and misogyny. Not accidentally but with absolute deliberation and clear intent. Do not appeal to the Constitution, it is a racist document written by racists. Those legacies have never been dealt with. There have been acts of progress but we as a racial majority in power have never fully reckoned with the roots of oppression, the realities of privilege, and their generationally compounded costs on uncounted lives.

All of our systems have been built by white supremacy. Law enforcement, politics, voting, education, healthcare, employment, entertainment. Everything. As a white person, it is a mistake to imagine that I can erase my complicity by any action or wokeness. Those actions and that awareness are critical but just by living here I continue to be a part of systems of oppression. This is not about white guilt but an admission that we are all touched by white supremacy and there is no escaping it.

I support any protest of injustice, particularly when the language of protest has again and again been restrained, reinterpreted, co-opted, and rejected by those in power who are not the victims of that injustice. I do not love violence, I do not think that we should repay evil for evil, but I will not condemn people for responding to unanswered violence that has been done to them.

No one can tell you how to respond. People change, even as people grieve, in their own ways. But I will advocate that you listen to the needs of your community–local and national–and respond appropriately.

Donate regularly and strive to keep racial justice in your active consciousness, as people of color have no choice but to do. Watch and read stories and information that will teach you truth and help you respond. Listen to people of color and let them guide you on this issue, though be wary of expecting them to instruct you constantly. Use your political and economic privilege to agitate continually for a better society. Look into local police. Contact your local politicians. Protest, if you think that’s right for you. Do the rhetorical work when people of color are tired of explaining their existence. Acknowledge the diverse intersectional nature of injustice, from race and ethnicity to class, gender, and sexuality.

I will tell you that one thing I am doing is reading I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown. There are many other resources available for you to take advantage of without requiring personal emotional labor to teach you. I posted a friend’s helpful list on Facebook with many good options. You can also look here, here, here, here, and here. There are a million more places to look, literally google “how to educate yourself about race” if you have to. Do not feel like you must learn it all, read it all, master it all. But do not feel like you’ve done enough.

We must dismantle our empires. Tear them down. It will take a long time. It will often seem hopeless. Do it anyway. Do not stop until each one of us is free.

Who Shall Command the Skylark

In times like these, my first and foremost offering to the great void of the internet that may or may not ever consume my blog must always be: cat. And as always, if you feel so led, please do feel free to share your own cat pictures with me because we must truly be here for one another when we possess such a commodity. In this case, as is not the case for basically everything else right now, sharing is caring.

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Over the past several months, I have kept going back to Kahlil Gibran’s Prophet and its soaringly beautiful way of describing the world. Recently, a line from the section referred to as On Laws has been on my mind.

You can muffle the drum, and you can loosen the strings of the lyre, but who shall command the skylark not to sing?

This week has been rough on a lot of people in a lot of ways. I’m not sure the best way to address any of those people or those ways. One approach is to provide relief in the form of humor; another is to give encouragement and solace; another is to take the opportunity to look out for the least of us and try to argue for deep change. All good, all appropriate in times and places, I’m just not sure that I’m quite up to any of those tasks this week.

I feel like I spend too much time in self-pity and it’s something that I’m deliberately trying to change but, like, not trying too hard. When I say that I didn’t get the job that I had been hoping for, I really do feel like I have gotten over it and I didn’t spend an undue amount of time torn up about it. But at the same time, while I’m not overly sad and I did try to manage hopes beforehand, I do have numerous expectations that I have to–once again–revise.

So I’m not sure what I have to say because honestly, my current bleh is only kind of tangentially related to the current global situation. I’m just thinking again and again about the skylark. And the singing, as Emily Dickinson knew, that goes on and on. That thing with feathers that sings whether the world at large or merely your personal universe is in the midst of storm. That indomitable bird.

If you yourself aren’t up to singing, take solace in this: no one can command the skylark to be silent.

This section of The Prophet is immediately (and very appropriately, given the whole of the treatment of the topic of laws) followed by a section called On Freedom. Would that we staying at home were more free in this time, would that all people were more free in all other times. If we are not free, do we begrudge others their freedom–rightfully expressed without harm to others–or do we celebrate with them?

That’s kind of what I’m thinking about now, having pondered that single line the past couple days. How can I be the skylark to another–how can I bring hope or freedom or joy? And in the circumstances where my drum is muffled and my strings are loosed, am I listening for the skylark’s song–am I able to rejoice with those who rejoice when I am down?

Maybe this is all beating a metaphor or three way past their limits. I can’t help it, I’m a poetic romantic and I have a lot of time on my hands. Regardless, that’s what I want to say to you and to myself in this time. Plenty of people are reminding us to wash our hands (as they well should) so I guess I’ll be here to remind us to sing or hope or be free or whatever it is that I’m trying to say.

Anyway. As we cross into April, and continue into an uncertain future, let’s all resolve to be cleaner, kinder, and more hopeful. And, of course, let us luxuriate in the time spent with one another–virtually or in person–and with our cats.

 

 

Coast; Thoughts

I thought about making this post a Jeff Bezos rant, and just rich people in general (wealth is immoral, ask me about how I feel and I’ll tell you) but I couldn’t quite manage it. I have lots of rants stored up, and some of them aren’t even that bad, but I just wasn’t feeling it for this week, I guess.

On Monday, I did go on a bit of an adventure to fulfill some Washington things that I’d been meaning to do for ages. We drove out to La Push and Cape Flattery, the northwestern-most point in the state (and the contiguous US). The weather here had been surpassing hot and I just had to get out.

First, La Push. It’s in this strange, stringy little arm of Olympic National Park out on the coast-coast. We went partially to escape the heat and indeed, instead of 93°F, the temperature fell as we approached the water, some places more along the way to the tune of 60°F though the beach itself was more like 70°F, very pleasant.

The other weather thing, though, we discovered on the short 20-minute trail from where we parked down to the beach. The last five minutes or so were blanketed in a sudden and dense fog bank. So thick, in fact, that is almost seemed like it was raining as the moisture condensed on needles and leaves and fell on us. Very spooky. The beach was no different, a mysterious and arcane view greeted us when we finally came out of the trees. Sandy beach, lots of driftwood, seaward boulders, all opaque and obscured and opalescent.

 

We walked along the beach some way, then returned before the rising tide stranded us on some rocks in the middle of nowhere. After a bit of lunch, we drove up the coast toward the Cape.

Upon arrival, we were greeted with sunny weather, no mysterious fog banks, and a gorgeous sight. The view on offer included a number of rocky islets, formed by the slow (or maybe not so slow, actually) erosion of the underlying bedrock. We stood, in fact, on top of a number of sea caves and that land would soon collapse and form more rocky promontories. We also could see a good chunk of Vancouver Island which seemed not at all distant and very beautiful.

 

All in all, 10/10 would recommend both destinations if you’re in the area. We were very blessed by great weather, the Washington coast spends most of its time gloomy, chilly, and just very, very rainy.

I didn’t want to do a ranty post this week, as I’ve said, but I do want to include a little something here at the end. I’ve continued to call this blog Journeyman because, MPhil or not, I’m still not a master at life but I continue to work on myself. In humility, I submit to you this: let us question our lives deeply, examine ourselves honestly, and put in the work, be it ever so laborious, to make ourselves–and the world–a better place. We may never do enough, but are we even doing at all?

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, so I’d like to conclude with a few of his words. About apartheid and about how we live our lives.

The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.

Breathe the Free Air

Introductory thoughts for the week:

I was reading a little article about the recent ‘velvet’ revolution in Armenia whereby the premier was removed from power and the whole political system upset by popular demonstrations ect. They reference the actions of youth, commonly known there as the ‘independence generation’.

I’m real into generation things, I think it’s an interesting way to think about history and contemporary life. I like being a millennial, generally. But think about this: in lots and lots of places, I would be in a different generation–the first generation born and raised in a new country.

The early nineties were a crazy time in much of the world. And the resulting waves of independence meant that there’s a whole slew of young people around the world who are literally building their countries. They are deciding what they want their countries to look like. Not just by voting or consuming culture or whatever options are available to people just generally. But by actually being the first people born ever in, for example, the Republic of Armenia.

It’s something that I really can’t imagine, being very far removed from US independence. Certainly, there are traditions to build on, history and precedent. But think about Kyrgyzstan, for example, which went from progressive invasions across the steppes to the Russian Empire then the Soviet Union. Before independence in 1991, there had never been any kind of Kyrgyz state in history, the people of that area traditionally having been loosely organized nomads (historians please feel free to instruct me if I’m mistaken, I like learning).

In other news, I climbed a mountain with my friend on Tuesday. We debated both ‘climb’ and ‘mountain’ but in the final estimation, decided both were appropriate. We went to Mount Townsend, right at the northeast corner of the Olympics. It was eight-ish miles round trip, increasing about 3,000′ in elevation. Having reached the top, we definitely determined that it was a climb not a hike, and definitively a mountain mountain. The views were spectacular.

 

We had some lovely conversation, some lovely chicken salad sandwiches, and some companionable silence (huffing of breath excluded, of course). One of my favorite parts of the whole experience was the air.

It was fragrant almost beyond belief with pine and alpine freshness. It’s a smell I’m familiar with but can never have enough. Something about being up a mountain, seeing verdant green and bright snow and elegant peaks… it’s beyond special.

In places like that, I often try to envision the first people to come to those places. The first human eyes to see those mountains, those valleys, those rivers. To have all your senses alive with a totally new experience–scenting the pine, hearing the birds, warmed by the sun, seeing the peaks, tasting your chicken salad sandwiches.

What an incredible gift it is. I was trying to think of a way to connect my initial musings with the hike and I stuck upon that moment from Lord of the Rings when Théoden is freed from Saruman’s enchantment and Gandalf says, “Breathe the free air again, my friend.” (As an aside, yes pretty much everything can be connected to a Lord of the Rings quotation).

Sometimes, a protest and political revolution is required to breathe free. Sometimes, all that is required is a lungful of pine and a vast, open sky. In the words of E.E. Cummings, “i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky…”

I awkwardly forgot about my music list so I’m adding it now. Too late for some of you, alas.

  1. Praying – Kesha
  2. Pray – Sam Smith
  3. In the Name of Love – Martin Garrix and Bebe Rexha
  4. Say You Love Me – Steve Grand
  5. Issues – Julia Michaels
  6. Cameo – Sam Tsui
  7. Silence – Marshmello ft. Khalid
  8. All Our Love – Gentlemen Hall
  9. Paris in the Rain – Lauv
  10. Settin’ the Woods on Fire – Hank Williams

A Discontented Sojourner: Now Free

This week I have encountered plenty in the national and international news cycles that put a cloud over my head. Perhaps most of us are often made aware of Syria ongoing, but how often are we reminded of Ukraine? Yemen? Myanmar? How many other things are simply overlooked? It sometimes feels overwhelming to care about all of these on top of threats and challenges in our own lives, much less our own country.

Rewatching The King’s Speech with some friends, I was reminded how precious it is to have a voice and to have that voice heard. Certainly many problems we have been collectively facing of late stem from voices being too strong, voices that speak loudly and falsely. But for others of us, not on the national or global stage, the problem is with speaking too quietly, if at all, and too timidly. We do each have a voice and, while I might not wish to hear several among us, their speaking is not the problem. See, the privilege of having a voice is accompanied by the privilege of having ears.

I was going to write this whole post about that movie and some good, topical take-aways I got from it. In the event, surprise, that is not how it has happened.

There’s not loads to report on my life this week, other than frustrating paperwork being worked on and the like. Going on a brief trip this holiday weekend to Ocean Shores so I had to stock up on warm and cozy cat snuggles.

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I did not watch all of the farewell speech this week, but I did read the entire transcript. It was well written and well taken, more than I anticipate from any speech that will be forthcoming from the Oval Office in the next several years. Anyway, I liked the speech overall and I wanted to discuss a bit one particular moment from it. Talking about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, Obama said,

It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.

Self-executing indeed. I am always struggling with what these rights look like in my own soul; I cannot imagine working them out for an entire country millions strong. As much as I fervently believe that we can, together, build a more perfect union, I also believe that perfection is unquestioningly unattainable. My teleological worldview does imply an eventual end to history but it does not require an arch bending toward justice. I do not believe that we inherently march toward goodness. All I know is that one day, everything will be good and perfect, regardless of what has come before.

In the meantime, it’s difficult not to feel a deep-seated restlessness. This restlessness stems from a knowledge that we will never get it right but somehow we’re meant to. We had the blueprints for perfection but somewhere along the line each of us tore them up in favor of living in comfortable squalor instead.

I contemplated, briefly, having this post simply reproduce Wordsworth’s The Prelude because it’s over six hundred lines of magic. But I did not because it’s over six hundred lines. Then I contemplated including just the first stanza because it’s beautiful. But I did not because I could not decide where to cut it off, perhaps it needed more than just the first stanza, perhaps I could use just part of the first stanza. Alas.

In the end, a single line from the opening made its way into this entry. It is the title. This line haunts me with its eloquence and tenderness. And its truth aches and emboldens.

Every day, I feel myself a discontented sojourner in this world so often dismal. Every day, I must remind myself that I have been freed. It does not matter where my steps are directed, they are taking me home. I am yet a wayfaring stranger in this world of woe, but while I’m here I can embrace the freedom that comes from declining to care what this world thinks of me. I can use that freedom to love in ways that other people think are foolish at best or downright disgraceful at worst.

I would much rather be counted a fool for loving much than wise for loving little.