Ramble #27.2

Haven’t been super exact about remembering to cross-post when I release new Rambles, but I wanted to be sure I shared my latest one because people have said some deeply thoughtful and lovely things in the comments over on Patreon, and I think this is a discussion worth having right now.

Broad Themes: similarities between grief and creativity in both their acute and ambiguous forms, what to do when there is nothing to be done, Vaccine Feelings, broadening the window of tolerance for discomfort, models for social and economic validation, the metrics that matter in understanding Patronage, object permanence and online audiences.

Guest Starring: a lot of birds.

(If you prefer reading to listening, you can download a transcript here.)

April 10th, 2021
Ramble #27.2

Where to Put the Work

It’s been three weeks since Tansy was killed. I Rambled about it a little, but I haven’t really written about it. I didn’t write much of anything for a while there. I logged out of every online account I could think of the day it happened and told myself I would take a week at least to do whatever I needed to do to be okay.

That was new. Time was I wouldn’t have been able to give myself permission to disappear.

For the first few days I needed to tell people. I needed them to validate my experience, to affirm that it was horrific—as if every person I told might take some piece of it away with them, until I was left holding something I could bear. But I couldn’t stand the thought of the wider internet. I had to call my friends.

That, too, was new. It sounds like such a simple sentence. Of course you call your friends when something traumatic happens to you. But I didn’t used to be that kind of person.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to write about my cat or my friends. I was trying to talk about the fact that I haven’t been on Instagram or Twitter for the last few weeks, and that when I finally peeked today, this pair of tweets from Shing was at the top of my feed:

I read them, and faved them, and then I left.

Shing often says things I’ve been thinking with such clarity that I check behind my ears to make sure my brain hasn’t been bugged. The choice of language here—this idea of alignment—encapsulates so much of what I’ve been thinking about lately. Values and how we enact them. The moments when carving away is actually carving towards. It’s also present in Ashon Crawley saying “abolition is performative, it only happens when you do it” as part of a beautiful thread from December 15th, 2020.1

Critical Resistance Portland, the organization I’ve been writing letters with, are currently helping to get information about Economic Impact Payments into the hands of people in prison. Today I printed 25 info packets. Tomorrow I’ll address 25 envelopes, a couple at a time, here and there, and put the packets in the envelopes and then mail the envelopes to people imprisoned in Oregon. Maybe some of those people will be able to get their stimulus checks as a result. It isn’t complicated or particularly glamorous work, but it is important.2

And the thing is…it doesn’t take place on Twitter. All of the people I speak to on Twitter are privileged enough to have access to Twitter, for starters.

Having been off of Twitter for a few weeks, I do realize that I am, in many respects, less informed.

But I’ve also used the time I would’ve spent absorbing that deluge of information (much of it horrific) to distill and illustrate hours of interviews with voting rights activists about felony disenfranchisement and lowering the voting age in Oregon. I’ve reclaimed enough of my brain to align my skillset with my politics—something that is much, much harder to do when I’m caught in the mental landscape of social media, the one that screams “If you’re going to make art about this, it has to be done NOW.

I have so little time these days.

I mean, time is stretching, in the strange way it often does in Ojai, but there is relatively little of it that is mine and mine alone. I don’t have room to drink from the misery firehose. Instead, I am carving away everything that isn’t aligned. I am dedicating myself to the slow accumulation of calcium carbonate on stone. The drip, drip, drip of incremental progress.

Shing says “my hope in change lies there” and I know, immediately and without question, what they’re talking about.

It’s here, in the practice.

1. It’s been three months and I’m still thinking about it. I could write so many blog posts about the positive use of “performative” alone. He’s a gem.

2. If you’re the kind of person who wants to help with that work, you can sign up to get your own list of names and addresses here.

Make Haste Slowly

In a chapter of Always Coming Home titled “Long Names of Houses,” Le Guin writes:

“It is hard for us to conceive, harder to approve, of a serious adult person not in a hurry. Not being in a hurry is for infants, people over eighty, bums, and the Third World. Hurry is the essence of city, the very soul. There is no civilisation without hurry, without keeping ahead.”

Suddenly I’m thrown back to reading Terry Tempest Williams at the bottom of the Grand Canyon seven years ago; an image I’ve never forgotten of runners trying to outpace the Colorado River.

“The river was red. It was a race; they ran shoulder to shoulder, faster and faster, bodiesbehindandbodiesinfront, inhaling, exhaling, fat-free hearts pumping oxygen into every living cell, the body a machine, sighing, groaning, moaning like one large organism running, running, faster and faster, sweating, puking, shitting, wheezing. They outran the river, faster and faster, every one of them, two feet times thousands tapping, drumming, beating the pavement, faster and faster […]”

They are singing together, these two. (If you’re reading this via RSS, I’d recommend the on-site version for clarity in this next part.)

“The hurry may lurk invisible, contradicted by the indolent pose of the lounger at the bar or the lazy gait of the stroller along the hotel walkway, but it is there, in the terrific engines of the TWA or BSA supersonic planes that brought her from Rio, him from Rome, here to NY, NY for the IGPSA conference on implementation of GEPS, and will rush them back tomorrow, hurrying across the world of cities where there is no tense left but the present tense, every second and tenth of a second and millisecond and nanosecond clocked, the readout always moving a little faster and the A rising.”

“In our human world, we worship speed and desire. We desire money. We assign money to time. What is time worth? Your time. My time. Our time. Talk fast. Work fast. Drive fast. Walk fast. Run. Who ever told us to wear jogging shoes to work? Don’t saunter. Don’t look. Speed walk. Speed dial. Federal Express will fly our thoughts around the world. We do not trust slowness, silence, or stillness.”

“Mozart’s A was a hundred and forty cycles a second, so Mozart’s piano is out of tune with all our orchestras and singers. Our A is a hundred and sixty, because the instruments sound more brilliant tuned up higher, as they all rise like sirens towards the final scream.”

“Stop time. Time? What was my time? What was your time? They are handed their time; for better or worse, their trophy is their time.”

“There is nothing to be done.”

“Where the runners stop, the river continues, a slow, strong current that now meanders through willows.”

“There is no way to heighten the pitch of the instruments of the Valley, no way to abbreviate their institutions and addresses and names to capital letters, no way to get them to move ahead.”

“I am not so easily seduced by speed as I once was. I find I have lost the desire to move that quickly in the world.”

Le Guin published Always Coming Home in 1985, but here I am reading it in 2021. Williams published Red in 2001, but I first read it in 2014. The precipitous time travel of literature never ceases to make my head spin. To discover these things all out of order and yet find them in conversation with each other—so close they could be touching. A thought moving at the speed of light, yet also crawling forward with impossible slowness.

“To see how much I can done in a day does not impress me anymore. I don’t think it’s about getting older. It feels more like honoring the gravity in my own body in relationship to place. Survival. A rattlesnake coils, its tail shakes; the emptiness of the desert is evoked.”

A thought you must think all your life long.

The rattle on the end of a rattlesnake’s tail is called a crepitaculum.

Beyond Urgency

About a month ago I signed up to participate in #WriteThemAll, a campaign organized by Critical Resistance PDX with the goal of writing to every incarcerated person in the state of Oregon. (That’s 14,500 human beings, in case you were wondering.)

I joined for a few reasons:

First: I love writing letters. I send a lot of mail, and the realization that I could leverage that love for causes I care about has informed a lot of my activism this year. Letter writing is also a slow motion activity—a category of thing I’m trying to spend more time in these days. (There’s a separate post in there, I’m sure, but I’ll leave it for now.)

Second: I’ve read more about abolition this year than ever before, which is great, but I made it a personal goal to pair insight with action in 2020 so it felt like the right time to step up and do more than learn. Abolition feels like a vast and occasionally overwhelming conceptual goal, but I think engaging with it through a slower activity like writing letters is a good way to operate at the edge of my comfort zone and become more familiar with the concepts in practice.

Third: CR PDX has a mail night once a month where folks can gather on Zoom and write letters together. This is very good. I’ve found a lot of solace in Kat Vellos’s Connection Club during 2020, and am glad for any opportunity to sit in companionable silence with other people (even remotely) and work towards something we all believe in.

Fourth: I needed to plug into something that wasn’t about the election. I wrote many Vote Forward letters and Sunrise Movement postcards to young voters last month, but if 2020 has made one thing inescapably clear, it’s that voting is just the tip of the iceberg. The urgency of this moment makes it easy to feel like getting out the vote is THE most important thing, but our country is failing so many communities right now, and they will continue to face the same challenges on November 4th, and December 4th, and January 4th, and so on.

When people scream “WE’RE OUT OF TIME” I try to take a deep breath and remind myself that I don’t believe in zero-sum games.

Instead, I think about the things I can still work towards next week, next month, or next year. None of this is over. Not racism or injustice or climate change or my creative practice or the love I have for my loony parents or the to-be-read pile on my bedside table—and certainly not the list of letters I signed up to write.

They will very likely reach their destination after the election has come and gone, and there will still be work to do. These days I find that state of ongoingness a comfort rather than a burden.

We get to keep up this practice, day after day. What a gift.


If you’re curious about #WriteThemAll, here are some ways to learn more and get involved: