A poem for the Trees

I see you standing tall

I feel your bravery—your strength

rooted in grace—enlaced with an ancient magic that radiates

scintillating sensations swell inside my mind

You are kind as you gently remind me to listen

The wind whispers delicate lullabies

Precious dewdrops glisten in the soft light

Streaming through your branches

My heart is love, and it dances before you—within you

You who watch the changing landscape but remain

You who hold the memoires of a thousand summers but refrain

from the piercing judgment a man would cast if in your place

I let my worries fall like your autumn leaves

They no longer define me

Instead they pirouette into the river and float away

My bare branches stay and start to sway

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Playtime!

It’s decided. I’m writing a play.

What about?

What else but a play about an Angry Feminist and her journey to become, well, less angry! I want to follow the life of a womyn, Ruth, and how she comes to find peace with herself and with humanity in the midst of a tumultuous world.

It’s going to be a minimalist play. In fact, Ruth will be the only character on stage… On one side of the stage Ruth, in her early 20s, will sit in a chair facing the audience, and on the other side of the stage Ruth, in her 50s, will sit in a chair facing the audience.

There will be laughter; there will be tears; there will be raw emotion that pulls at your heartstrings (hopefully, all this does depend on my writing ability…). And there will be a moral: it’s okay to be a feminist and NOT be angry.

We’ll see how this goes…

*also note, this idea may be subject to alterations as I see fit

My Spirit Animal is the Shadow-Beast

Do you remember elementary school? The days when we committed the multiplication tables to memory, took pride in winning the spelling bee and played four square at recess (not foursquare the app).

Then in high school we studied geography—we memorized maps of the contemporary world. Growing up in America meant I spent a lot of time learning the shape of each state, reciting the state capitals and learning the important dates (in 1842 Columbus sailed the ocean blue).

I’m very familiar with the lines—the borders—that draw the great United States as one entity.  What didn’t occur to me at the time was how malleable those contours that comprised our nation actually were and are.  I had yet to discover the true history of those state lines that hold our United States of America together. And I had yet to encounter the means people employed to obtain those border lines and continue to enforce them.

What do these state lines do other than make a pretty shape on a color coded map?

They provide an identity for the people who dwell within them as well as those who are forced out.

Identity is constructed over time and maintained through culture, environment, borders. Borders breed nationalism and patriotism, but what happens when borders collapse? Does one’s identity collapse along with it?

Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderland/La Frontera offers insight into the devastating displacement imposed on the Chicano people at the greedy hands of Anglo farmers.  As Anzaldua explains, “The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds.” The war at the border wages in the name of nationalism.  Nationalism becomes synonymous with racism as Chicanos are labeled the lesser—the Other.  Many white Americans see Chicanos as an invasive species that needs to be repelled.  What they don’t see is that they-the Anglos-are the initial intruders.

So much hangs on the construction of this border—whole economies are fueled by its existence. But is its existence healthy? Is it necessary?

Ana Castillo’s The Mixquiahuala Letters documents the adventures of two women, Alicia and Teresa, as they cross the border again and again.  Teresa, a Chicana woman, and Alicia, a women with mixed ethnicity but with fair skin, embark on a tumultuous and intense friendship, and together they gallivant through Mexico and the United States.

The novel begins with a choice on the part of the reader.  Castillo offers three paths: for the Conformist, for the Cynic, and for the Quixotic.  Each path prompts a different order to read the letters, with omissions of certain letters left for certain paths.

I opted for the quixotic path, anticipating some Don Quixote antics.  But instead of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, I met Teresa and Alicia—two women trying to understand the world around them.   Their volatile world was controlled by the whims of men.  As they navigated through one tangled love affair to the next, they struggled to find autonomy.

Letter Twenty-Seven was doused with vivid imagery and striking ideology.  Teresa recounts a dream, a dream so real she was certain it had happened.  Indeed, the events of the dream did happen.  Her dream parallels the history of the Chicano people, and reflects her place in that history.  It began in a town they’d visited during their excursions down south.

“The people were of mixed blood, people of the sun and earth…i was of that mixed blood, of fire and stone, timber and vine, a history passed down from mouth to mouth since the beginning of time…”  Mixed blood—mixed identities—all untied under the sun and through the earth.

As her dream continues that sense of unity pervades, however, there is a divide between male and female.  She meets a woman who is not her mother, but “this woman was still of my people and we accepted each other readily.”  Her “people” are of mixed blood, but more importantly, they are the women of mixed blood.

When she meets a youthful male, she notes “Manhood had hardly touched his seraphic face.” While they are of the same blood, it is still quite salient that Teresa is a woman and this adolescent is a man.  She goes on to say, “He was to know manhood in its entirety in the next hour.” For Teresa and the culture engulfing her, the notion of Manhood equates to copulating with a woman—but beyond that, in the context of this time (1980ish) and culture, Manhood means consuming a woman.  Teresa feels compelled to “make a man” out of this boy in the middle of the street.  As they begin to undress and embrace, they are interrupted. “…the intellectuals who criticized my intentions. In rage i tore open the worn shirt to reveal flesh. ‘i am woman,’ i shouted, ‘but i am first human.’ i pushed them out of the way and hurried back to the house with the old woman.”  She returns to the woman, her people.  While she had desired to make love with the young man, intellectuals tell her this behavior is inappropriate.  The ambiguous intellectuals in this Mexican town resemble the patriarchal culture, a culture that associates liberal with ‘whore’ rather than ‘open to new ideas.’

Teresa is open to new ideas, and throughout her journey she must constantly define and redefine herself—unfortunately society tells her that for women, their definition comes through sex with a man. And men in turn consume women.

There was no time!” she says, and she wields her weapon.  This weapon, a gun, represents her growing agency in the changing world.  She is her own weapon, and constantly battles for respect as a Chicana woman.  The letter ends with “…to all that had lived and died and had been born again in that moment as i approached an opaque window and pointed my weapon.”  The future is opaque, but still she points her weapon and holds her ground.  What a powerful image.  Teresa must stand up for her own future, the future of mixed blood people, and for women.

A woman is all too often thought of as just a body, but Teresa asserts, “i am woman,’ i shouted, ‘but i am first human.”  What does it mean to be human? Well, that’s up to you.

As a woman—but first and foremost as a human, I view my body as a canvas. It is a temple.  I choose to do with it what I wish.

But not every woman nor every human has that freedom.  Anzaldua writes, “I want the freedom to carve and chisel my own face…making a new culture—una cultura mestizo—with my own lumber, my own bricks a mortar and my own feminist architecture.”

She goes on to address the Shadow-Beast: the rebellious voice within that refuses to take orders.  The guilt that stems from a cultural repression teaches women to be afraid of embracing their desires, their Shadow-Beast.  But if a woman can face her Shadow-Beast and embrace it, she can live free of guilt.  Free to make her own choices for her life and for her body.

Going Down With The Ship

By Eveline Tarunadjaja

By Eveline Tarunadjaja

A Poem for Lazy Summer Daze:

     Roses are Red

     Violets are Blue

     Gender is Fluid

     Mojitos are Too

On that note, let’s talk about good ol’ gender roles…

While everyone agrees that a mojito is a tasty fluid-filled beverage, a perfect way to quench the summer heat—not everyone feels that way about gender roles.

Unfortunately gender is often viewed through a black & white lens, leaving no room for color.  You may ask, What’s wrong with black and white? It can render something beautiful! Elegant even!

The Problem: it’s not very inclusive…

The Solution: give people a choice! Let them have color in their lives. Let them drink fluids!

(source: http://livehealthysimply.com/2012/07/sugar-free-mojitos/)

In photography, not every image works in black and white.  Black and white images are interesting because of the texture and the contrast between light and dark.  Images that depend on color for their impact won’t flourish in a monochrome environment.  For example—an image of a gorgeous sunset will be stripped of its most striking quality if it is rendered black and white…

But people, on the other hand, often flourish in black and white settings.

However, not all people.

Not all people fit into their prescribed gender roles. And why should they? Let’s examine what and who prescribe these roles:

What?

Society…hmm, what’s that?  According to the vast wealth of knowledge that is Wikipedia, Society is “a group of people related to each other through persistent relations…subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations. Human societies are characterized by patterns of relationships between individuals who share a distinctive culture and institutions.”

Okay, so society is a bunch of people interacting and sharing culture and institutions. Which leads to the…

Who?

Who prescribes these gender roles? We do. And who can break them down? We can!

How?

Here comes the challenging part…In order to change the way people view gender, we need to change our culture and our institutions.  The best way to change our culture is to pull the Ghandi quote and “be the Change you wish to see in the world” (although it’s debatable as to whether or not he said this verbatim…). By defying gender roles (& really anything you don’t like about society), you’ll start a ripple effect. And with all our “persistent relations” who knows how many people you’ll affect!

Then comes the institutions…I was watching a talk by Gloria Steinem (a fancy feminist lady, check her out: http://www.gloriasteinem.com) and she affirmed my beliefs about this patriarchal society—our institutions are doing an excellent job of silencing women.  One particular institution has done a phenomenal job of belittling women—the church.  According to this predominant institution, woman was created as an afterthought, and her purpose is to serve man and love Jesus. Praise God!! Even her ability to give life is one up-ed by the heavenly Father.  Christianity preaches: sure, women can have babies, but through God you can be born again. And then you’ll live forever!

That’s a dangerous notion: when the afterlife becomes more important than this life.  When people discredit what happens on earth because they’re pinning for life after death, some serious injustices ensue. I’m not sure how to tackle that institution just yet, but I sure won’t be at church this Sunday.

 

The Authenticity of Love and Surrealism

Angela Carter’s Love is a rich and complex novel that forces one to pause and reevaluate their notion of Love

“…this was not the memory of a real event but of a particularly lifelike dream she had under sedation in the hospital although she now believed it to be perfectly true. In the hospital, she could create confusion by a gesture as simple as gulping down her wedding ring; she learned how uncommon she was and so she acquired an aristocratic sense of privilege and, with it, an aristocratic sense of distain, for all around her she received hints and intimations that her fantasies might mould the real world. She leafed through the National Geographic magazine in the lounge and saw pictures of long-horned steers so she decided to brand Lee like the cattle of the Old West as a first test of her occult powers.” Carter, Page 76

 

The complex and otherworldly Annabel creates her own reality as she renders all people and places palpable objects she manipulates to her liking.  Lee, her self-proclaimed “puritanical” husband, falls prey to Annabel’s sticky web.  Consumed by guilt and the desire to “do right because it is right,” Lee feels responsible for her attempted suicide.  In order to make things “right,” he forces his brother, Buzz, to move out and collects Annabel from the mental institution.  In the process of trying to placate Annabel, he slowly loses contact with the world outside the one she creates in their gloomy flat.  Annabel never sees the world through anyone’s eyes except her own peculiar ones, and like fortune telling tea leaves, her gray saucer eyes predict despair for Lee and Buzz.  Before her dramatic transformation and ultimate suicide, Annabel grows pompous in her power over Lee and Buzz, but is met with disappointment when reality catches up with her dreams.

Carter’s passage creates a tone of surreal disconnectedness.  Surrealism is steeped in dream analysis, and Annabel takes her dreams as the truth—beyond truth, she believes them to be reality.  This false reality—her fantasies—is the reason for her disconnectedness with anyone outside of herself.  The word, “real,” is repeated throughout the passage and reflects Annabel’s conceit.  She believes her powers dictate what’s real, especially for Lee.  Indeed, all she does revolves around controlling him.  She consumes him as she gulps down her wedding ring—a symbol of their union.  She views this as “simple,” an obvious solution to make him her possession, her object.  In a striking metaphor, she decides to “brand Lee like the cattle of the Old West as a first test of her occult powers.”  She interprets Lee and Buzz to be the Cowboy and Indian, and with her perverse notion of power she turns the cowboy into the cattle.  In branding him her property, she twists Lee into a long-horned steer and displays her aristocratic affluence. In her domain of unreality, the Indian-the exotic Other-becomes idealized, and she is not satisfied (or rather dissatisfied) until she copulates with the man who, like her, lives in shadows.

For me, this paragraph was the dénouement of the novel—the point of no return.

From this point onward, Annabel grows in power while Lee withers away.

Annabel is certainly a powerful female character, yet she possesses sinister feminine wiles.  There is a fascinating blend of upheld and deconstructed stereotypes in this novel.  Annabel defies the feminine ideal of a “nurturer” or “motherly” figure.  She is the opposite and destroys anyone who gets close to her.  bell hooks argues that every woman’s experience is unique, and Annabel serves as a testament to this.  Judith Butler expresses the culturally contrived nature of gender, and Annabel, again, serves as a testament to the consequences of a rejection of culture.  Annabel exists outside of cultural norms.

I recently took a Communication class called Language and Social Identity. We discussed language and power, and we dissected how linguistic barriers inhibit women from gaining social, political and economic equality.

I had…let’s call it, MAJOR discrepancies with how my professor presented this information.

We watched slide after slide documenting the injustices against women…

We watched slides on genital mutilation (a crime committed against men as well, but my professor failed to mention that). We read an Arabic news article that scoffed at a “woman driver” spotted on the road. We addressed the “face-ism” present in portraits depicting men versus women—portraits of men focus on their face: highlighting intellect, while portraits of women feature the body: highlighting sensuality.

You get the idea—we focused on these negative issues without addressing any progress made in regards to women’s rights.

During one lecture my professor asked a question: Why do women put up with this?

To my great dismay not a single peer raised their hand…
So I offered my opinion on the matter.

I explained that there happens to be a movement—feminism that demands equality for women. And some countries even incorporate ideas from this movement into their politics and into their language! Add a slide about that.

Why Don’t Women Have More Power

Emotional State

Women are said to ruled by their emotions, but when the inequality between the sexes is taken into account, it’s hard not get a tad emotional…

“Sad Women.” is a poem by Daria Mateja Domitrovich that addresses just that—Sad Women.  Her poem follows women as they go through their day and ultimately their life. In a day and in a lifetime,

“Sad women don’t have time to be sad,

Sad women cry when lights go out.”

It’s a demanding task to comply to the stipulations of womanhood—tend to the children, placate the husband, work hard,  be filled with empathy and compassion—basically, if you want to be a woman, a Sad Woman, you better get used to self-sacrifice.

Simone de Beauvoir and Mary Wollstonecraft, some early feminist thinkers…

-Cheris Kramarae and Paula Treichler

offer up explanations as to why women are so sad and how it came to be this way.  Trapped in a position of subordination, women suffer in silent resignation.  Women are taught that a docile countenance is more pleasing than a sharp mind.

De Beauvoir explains the situation: humans love to categorize—it’s why we avoid cognitive labor and jump to stereotypes.  In regards to man and woman, “A man is in the right in being a man; it is the woman who is in the wrong.” Which leads to classification of woman as the Other while man is the default.  Nevertheless, women are woven into intimate relationships with men creating a complex “Master-Slave” relationship.  De Beavoir explains that unlike most groups of people suffering inequality, women are neither a minority nor were they a united group because (in the past) women depended on men for their economic security and thus identified with members of their fellow economic class, race, etc. but not with other women. This break in solidarity enforced their inferiority in relation to men.

The social hierarchy has long been established and stands as this: Men > Women.  In order to subvert such a hierarchy women must unite in solidarity and voice the repression they are instructed to accept.  Domitrovich’s poem illuminates some reasons women are sad, yet she explains, “They don’t let their sadness to come out.”

Why not let it out?

Clearly these women are sad: the phrase “sad women” appears in 7 lines of a 14 line poem—there’s all this sadness hanging in the stanza, but NO RELIEF…until the lights go out. And even then, catharsis comes in the form of tears on their pillows and in their graves. Crying is a beautiful thing; however, it does little to cry about a sadness that is never voiced.

Wollstonecraft, a proto-feminist figure, observes that women are taught to be the plaything of men.  In seeking only to please their husbands, women will fall victim to their shattered expectations about marriage and about themselves.  As females are “degraded by being made subservient to love or lust,” it follows that rather than pursing self-empowerment (which at Wollstonecraft’s time was rendered virtually impossible by Law), women pursue other men, or fantasies of other men, who will show them the adoration they crave.  This assumes a devastatingly heteronormative interpretation of what women want–that is, to be loved by a man.

Wollstonecraft goes on to say, “An unhappy marriage is often very advantageous to a family, and that the neglected wife is, in general, the best mother.” This neglect is what propels Domitrovich’s “Sad Women.” Thus the poem begins with women getting up to raise children—because what is woman but a womb to bear children?

She is so much more.  A woman is more than her biological features, just as a man is more than his.  Women are not victims of biology, but victims of society.

Society constructs this Sadness

And Society will deconstruct it.

Together, Womyn and Men make up our species, and Together we make our species better!