on the day of the hearing, sing:

let no evil come by you, [name] let no evil come by
you will be set free today, [name] you will be set free
all our love will guide you, [name] as you stand calm within the storm
no evil shall come by you, [name] today you will be bound no more

or whatever words you feel called to sing that invoke collective liberation, breaking chains, uprooting systems of oppression.

as you sing, write the name of whatever system, institution, group, or individual is responsible for the activist’s incarceration 3 times on a piece of brown paper bag in black ink. turn the paper 90 degrees and write the activist’s name three times in red ink. fold the paper into a square.

combine dill weed, galangal root, calendula flowers, licorice root, cassia chips, rosemary leaves, eucalyptus leaves, cascara sagrada powder, and sandalwood chips in a cauldron. light charcoal and add to cauldron. place folded name paper on top of charcoal. open a window.

while lighting a rainbow taper candle (any protection candle color will also work), visualize the activist safe, protected, home with their loved ones. sing. let the candle burn to the end.

make sure all plant material in the cauldron has burned. bury ashes and wax in the earth.

wonder at the miracle that is our collective body of loving support and ferocious action.

image showing degree conferral from UCLA: bachelor of arts, sociology, magna cum laudeSociety—other people, systems, institutions, culture—has so much more power over our lives than the average person gives it credit for. Acknowledging its outsized influence is devastating at first, incompatible as it is with a vision of the individual as master of their own destiny, culpable in failure and deserving in success. But there is a freedom in relinquishing our illusions of control. If I am not charge of my destiny, if my class or race or assigned gender or national origin are stronger determinants of my fate than my individual decisions, it matters less what choices I make. I can make the choices society prescribes for me, or I can choose a different path.

A little less than six years ago, I fled back to school hoping that when I finished, I would be able to avoid the stress and disappointment of looking for a job without a college degree. I had just been laid off from my job as a technical support specialist and was already attending community college part time, so it seemed fortuitous, especially since my partner and were talking about me quitting my job and going back to school full time once he found a teaching job. I made the leap and enrolled in a full load of classes at my local community college.

(Society told me going back to school was a respectable choice, the right choice. I should have graduated from college a long time ago, according to chrononormative* standards, anyway, and won’t a college degree give you a leg up in the job market? They can never take your degree away from you, they say, and promise it will all be worth it, all the struggling and debt and biting your tongue.)

There was no way for me to know five years ago that I would be graduating into a job market even more unfriendly to folks like me than I had avoided by entering college in the first place. No way for me to know that I would be made more disabled by my time in academia; definitely no way for me to know that the world as I understood it would effectively be ending in slow motion, that overt and aggressive fascism and white supremacy would be in power all over the world, that the naively hopeful environmental trajectory I thought we were on would be replaced by dire warnings of our dwindling opportunity to halt the inevitable collapse.

But—this is actually an okay place to be, for me. Even if it doesn’t always feel like it. Even if sometimes it hurts so bad I wish I could sink into the molten outer core of the earth. Systems are failing, nakedly, obviously. That means there is no way for me to blame myself. There is no way for me to be exceptional enough to overcome an actual apocalypse. If I learned anything from studying sociology, I learned that.

At last, finally, and in the end, I understand: It’s not me, it’s society.

###

I once believed that higher education was a refuge for the bookish and bright. Being the kind of learner that prefers to absorb a subject through obsessively researching as much as I can on it, I found only misery in elementary and high school. I felt trapped, forced to learn in a regimented way, forced to adhere to conventions set by long-dead colonizers and bootlickers and other types interested in turning children into compliant cogs in a surplus-generating machine. College, I thought, would be different, would be more open to the kaleidoscope of brains humanity contains. Despite having attended college on and off since I was sixteen, I didn’t have enough long-term experience with it to dispel my idealistic beliefs. I was always too crazy to attend class regularly, always withdrawing mid-semester to deal with some emotional upheaval, some mental collapse. And I was so drugged up and indoctrinated into various mainstream viewpoints that I probably wouldn’t have noticed the reality of it all even if I had managed to spend any length of time at school.

This time around, though, I noticed. I noticed all the ways higher education operates to exclude folks like me, all the ways it demands exceptionalism in the face of its own mediocrity, all the ways it perpetuates a status quo of ableism, capitalism, cisheteropatriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism, and imperialism. And as I got further into my upper division major work—sociology—I noticed even more. It became too much to bear too many times to count. The small ironies piled up like so much oppressive detritus, my daily commute a recounting of historical and present-day trauma, my thoughts a running tally of injustices: I am currently driving on a freeway system built by displacing poor people of color, past houses big enough to hold every single houseless person I meet on the way, to a campus more concerned with the appearance of diversity than materially improving the lives of its Black or disabled or queer or immigrant students, to learn about the impact of housing discrimination on intergenerational wealth in whites versus Black folks.

I channeled my anger, my outrage and existential despair, let it flavor impassioned papers and pointed presentations, but it felt hollow, was hollow. It meant nothing, and I knew it. I had to endure the slights, had to make do when my disability accommodations were phased out, had to push myself beyond the point of burnout to finish my degree. Because in my mind, if I didn’t, I’d just spent five years and however many tens of thousands of dollars to have my dreams crushed without even getting a receipt. As much as I wanted to be the kind of bitch that says you know what, I’m good and forges their own degreeless path in life—as much as I had effectively been that bitch for the first part of my adult life out of necessity—I felt obligated to finish, not only for myself but for the loved ones who were sacrificing to help me get through school.

To stay motivated, I told myself that I’d find a job quickly once I finished school. I knew this was a fiction, but it was a necessary one—more than once, the specter of graduating and still being unable to find a job almost convinced me to drop out. I pretended as if this degree really would allow me to navigate the job market with ease, picking and choosing from a panoply of well-paying jobs with full benefits, leapfrogging over my un-degreed competition. But even if that were the case, I was using every last bit of my energetic reserves to reach a finish line that had shifted since I started the race, leaving me in no condition to leapfrog over anything. I spent the first few weeks after graduation pretending it was just another summer, trying to recharge a little before I started my job search.

A manic episode lent me the optimism to apply for a dozen or so jobs and write sparkling cover letters to each. The inevitable fibro flare and depression that followed forced me to acknowledge the truth of 2019’s job market hellscape. Several of the $15/hr-and-under positions I applied to expected me to do free labor in the form of aptitude tests and their ilk. (For some jobs, I did these, because I felt the position/salary would be worth it, and the tests weren’t too egregious. On others, I declined.) Out of the positions to which I applied, only one has even opened my resume—I’ve received no response from that employer at the time of writing, two weeks later. One job I was particularly excited about, one whose qualifications I greatly exceeded and whose hours and duties perfectly matched my needs, had over a thousand applicants at last update. A few jobs have “moved to the next stage in their hiring process” without my resume even being acknowledged.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to be jobless for a while, if traditional employment is the way I insist on making my living. I can write about it now, find the silver lining in my misfortune, because it’s been a couple weeks and I’m high as fuck. But realizing that I just spent five years under some of the most extreme stress of my life to basically end up worse off than I started broke me for about a week. My always-tenuous commitment to staying in corporeal form dwindled to nonexistence more than once, but I happily do not own anything capable of killing me in a guaranteed manner, so I’m still here.

(Kidding, kind of. As long as the people who love me are here on this planet, I’m staying in solidarity. But things did get pretty pale in my head.)

I cannot Black excellence my way out of being on earth as worlds crumble around me. I cannot young, Black, and gifted my way into insulating myself from climate collapse, into financial security, into overcoming a system built to oppress and exploit folks like me before leaving us to become casualties of their disregard for life. All I can be is open to learning how to live in different ways, how to ride the waves of change such that I can keep my head above water, keep what’s important in sight. And if I can’t keep my head above water, I can learn to take bigger breaths before I go under.

If I could travel through time, I would impart this wisdom to 34-year-old me on the eve of their decision to go back to school. I would whisper in her ear: Do not give in to fear. Leap. You will find you have wings. I don’t know that I would fly, that things would turn out any better if I threw myself into professional writing in 2014 instead of seeking the comfort of official validation, but I might have avoided destroying my health in order to get it. I really thought I needed the legitimacy of a degree. I didn’t. Turns out what I needed was to finally internalize the idea that it’s not me, it’s society. For accomplishing that, at least, perhaps going back to school was worth it. For what it did to my emotional and physical well-being, decidedly, it was not.

###

It’s the end of the world—at least, it’s the beginning of the end of a way of living based in colonialism, ableism, white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, and cisheteropatriarchy—and that means we don’t have to do things the same way anymore. We never did, but we have even less incentive now that doing things the way we were told to do them has been so starkly revealed as a path to destruction and separation from god, god being that spark of the divine we each hold within us, the glue that binds us to each other and the planet and all beings across the universe. The way of living that tells me that I must depend on a boss or a landlord or a mayor or a president to manage my work, my housing, my community, my people, is the same way of living that has cleaved Indigenous land from Indigenous humans, the same way of living that is rendering the planet uninhabitable for large human populations, the same way of living that I will reject every single day until it has been banished from this earth.

We must reject ways of living that perpetuate systems of oppression if we are to have hope of humanity surviving the catastrophic change that is underway. But since systems of oppression also shape the ways of living we have available to us, this rejection will come with pain and sacrifice, especially for those of us who are subjugated under the same systems. I know this, I been known this, been known revolutionary change is full of what we are taught to perceive as negative emotions and experiences, but that there is growth contained within them. If a little pain, a little discomfort on my part, on our part, could propagate through the system all the way up to the institutional level, could destabilize the systems that oppress us, wouldn’t it be worth it? Especially when—in my experience, at least—pain can be a catalyst for awakening, and a pleasure unto itself.

For me, the desire to be traditionally employed is partially rooted in a genuine concern that my disability might prevent me from being able to manage freelance or self-employed life. Putting the responsibility for finding streams of income on myself and not on some professional who ostensibly knows what they’re doing is a terrifying prospect when I consider how few days out of a month I feel well enough to work on projects. At the same time, I do get shit done despite how I feel. I don’t have to feel good about something in the moment for it to be worthwhile. In fact, the most worthwhile things I’ve done have often been ordeals to get through.

That’s not to say that everything worthwhile must be painful, or that suffering is necessarily productive—I would never endorse that idea. Sometimes, though, the only way we get out of a destructive situation is for it to become untenable, uncomfortable, painful. Sometimes pain is a friend nudging you: Are you safe here?  Is this what you really need? I’ve been trying to understand what this pain is trying to tell me, this discomfiting space I’m in where I don’t know when I’ll find work, how I’m going to support myself, where I’m going in life when it comes to career.

Before I got my sociology degree, I might have blamed myself for my inability to find a job. I might have taken the metaphorical whip to my own back, expected that I would be able to make up the gap between economic expectation and reality by hustling, killing myself to meet a capitalist ideal of productivity and employability. Now, I know. It’s not me, it’s society. Trying to be middle class, trying to live up to hegemonic ideals of success, is destructive. What I am feeling is in part the shame of not being able to consume the same disproportionate amount of resources as my parents did, the anguish of believing hard work gets you anywhere, the guilt of having held that ideology against the poor and the houseless and other unfortunate souls I probably thought myself better than, the humiliation of having that ideology thrown back in my face when I cannot succeed under the same terms.

(And when I say I, I mean we. None of us are safe here, and this is the opposite of what we need.)

This job market, this disappointment post-graduation, is painful for me to confront. It’s a bit of the same pain I felt when I came to understand that higher education was not a great equalizer but merely a mechanism to perpetuate the status quo, the same pain I feel when I hear people defend throwing families in cages because they violated some law, the same pain I feel when I see folks saying we can’t take radical action on climate change or abolish prisons or dismantle capitalism because it will cost too much or be unfair to folks who paid off their loans or their debt to society or whatever milquetoast excuse the centrists are offering that day. We insist on adhering to the tenets of a way of life that is killing us. I adhered to them by going back to school, even though I had literally no reason to, was receiving no real benefit besides the false sense of security that comes from doing the right thing. If we just work hard enough. If we get a degree. If we are exceptional. If we go high when they go low, if we open a business in a disadvantaged community for three years, if we are silent as the waves of change crash upon us, as the inexorable tide of exploitation pulls us under, we might become one of the lucky ones.

The past is the past. I made my choice, I went back to school, I graduated. But now, I intend to break away, take a different path than the one society prescribes for me. A scarier path, but maybe a more realistic path. A path that I forge myself, with guidance from others who have navigated this chaos longer than I have, successfully. I want to write full-time, or as full-time as my bodymind allows. It isn’t my first choice to make writing my primary source of income—it is partially a function of the reality of the job market—and I may end up needing to find part-time work to supplement my income after all. The more I think about it, though, the more I believe that making writing my full-time job is at least something worthwhile for me to attempt. Writing is where I see myself doing the most good on this planet, and despite the awful state of publishing, I think I have a chance—however tiny—at my version of success. It will be hard. It will involve a lot of rejection and crying jags and questioning whether I ought to just peace myself out and avoid all the misery. It could also be the most amazing thing I’ve ever done. The way I find community. The way I build community and leave a legacy of work for the folks who live after I’m gone. I have nothing to lose, anyway. We have nothing to lose but a world that would see us in chains again.

It’s not you, it’s society. And society is in shambles. What would you do if there was nothing holding you back, if you had nothing left to lose, if everything you thought you knew turned out to be a lie? What will you do now, at the beginning of the end of this world?


* Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories. Duke University Press. 2010.

Night stars are benevolent, unlike the pitiless lord of the day. Under the moon’s placid gaze, Sesylie can pull off her goggles and drink in as much ultraviolet as the heavens will grant her. Lest her absence become contested, she resists the urge to wander and sprawl on the chalky jigsaw flats of the Barren. The last time she did, the crisp air tempted her to sleep and she woke to Nyria raising Sol in search of her. If she stays close to the mottled obsidian guarding the mouth of the launch cave, she can trawl the waters of her mind in peace.

As she samples the wavelengths, she considers their source. Any one of these gentle lights might contain a dying moan of radiation that would end the world once and for all. But she can’t hold it against them. Though her upbringing was steeped in Berai superstition, she doubts stars have will beyond a desire to burn bright as they can with what they’ve been given. In that, she has sympathy for the little sun, not hot or dense enough in life to become explosive or exotic in death. No wonder it lashes her people with its tongue of fire, its withering light. It feels the sting of not measuring up.

Maybe sympathy isn’t the word for what Sesylie feels. Empathy might be more like it. Yes, though it will take everyone she loves from her–has already taken everyone she loves, in a way–she feels a kinship with the sun above all stars. She knows all too well what it’s like to question your place in the cosmos.

#

Inside the crystal-lined cave, the humid air is thick with anticipation. Sesylie sinks into the embrace of the vessel as Meroan explains yet again what she can expect of her journey.

“I wish we’d been able to build in a readout, a control panel, something in here so you’d know if you were going off course,” he says. He picks at the vessel’s acrylicine walls, his dark eyes narrow. “This thing is a piece of fesh. Should have spent more time digging around the Domes for parts.”

“It’s fine, Mero,” she says. “It will work. You risked enough getting what you did.”

“Under any other star…” Meroan shakes his head and stops before he finishes the adage. “Anyway, I know, I know we’ve gone over this–but you have to stay focused when the engines are on. You get sucked into one of your spirals and there’s no telling where you’ll end up. Or when.”

“Mmm,” she says, gazing over his smooth brown head at the amethyst formation on the wall. It’s amethyst in name only now. Just the palest hint of blotchy lavender distinguishes it from clear quartz. Another casualty of the sun.

((… read the rest at Patreon for $1/mo))

everything from then on out was going through the motions.
everything from going to work every day to saving for the future to breathing was
a charade performed as defense against the inevitable
a tired eye closed to the light of the oncoming train
a battered heart numb to the cries of the victimized child
a weary soul creaking under the weight of the world
and choosing the path of least resistance.
yet we could not cease going through the motions,
could not stop the motion of the machine grinding towards us
with the threat of growling bellies and chattering teeth.
a few of us figured out that we could stop the motion of the earth
blot out the sun with the moon
compel every human into the street
if we imagined it together.
but most of us were too tired from work
to work on aligning the stars for revolution.
so we waited,
and plotted,
and planned B
all the while praying
for the rest to get as tired
as we were.

    Excerpt from journal of an anonymous Appendage of the Queer Disabled Black Femme Tactical Liberation Body, Third Division (Western Turtle Island). [Archival comments: ….. So, this is written ten years BEFORE the Reckoning. Quantum-temporal collective manifestation or visionary madness? We still don’t understand exactly what the QDBFTLB harnessed to bring us this world, no matter what we might like to think. This begs further research. – taf]
[In the first installment of this series, I talked about my politics in general and how the connections between systems of oppression and my personal experience have become incredibly salient to me. Here I want to talk about how that awakening impacted my attitude towards my various disabilities and how I navigate the world with them.]

I’ve experienced the world in the way I do for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I was fourteen that I was officially diagnosed with depression and later bipolar disorder (along with assorted goodies like dissociative identity disorder and panic disorder and PTSD and and and). I’m off psychiatric medication, and for the most part I don’t find my panoply of diagnoses useful anymore, but they were a part of my journey at one point.

It was also around this time–maybe a little before, maybe a little after, my memory of my childhood is hazy–that I was diagnosed with two other disabling conditions: irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia. I’ve had digestive struggles since I was very young. I can recall missing a lot of school due to stomachaches that were almost certainly a result of internalized stress and trauma. The fibromyalgia did not manifest itself until I was in my teens, but it came on strong when it did. I needed to use a cane to walk for a long time. (Along with all this, I had extremely debilitating menstrual pain that seemed to take up a majority of the month, I developed PCOS as a consequence of being treated with valproic acid during puberty, and I had various other issues crop up–like sleep disorders and RLS–due to the psych meds.)

My teenage years were mental and physical hell, some of it a byproduct of my not possessing the framework to understand the societal underpinnings of why I was experiencing the things I was, some of it a direct result of my divergent mind and body. I was taught to blame my hellish existence solely on my mind and body. The treatments I was given focused on correcting supposed imbalances in my brain or building tolerance in my body to things I felt I shouldn’t have to tolerate. I eventually got balanced enough or good enough at pushing past the pain that I could get off disability and get a job and tolerate injustice for a paycheck. And I thought I was as close to cured as I could possibly be; I was approximating normal, at least.

When my life fell apart and I along with it, I again sought cure. I thought psychiatric medication was the reason for all my disability, and if I could just get that out of my system, cleanse my system with enough detox and healthy living, I wouldn’t be in constant pain, wouldn’t feel like I needed to curl up in bed after a couple hours awake, wouldn’t feel every single worry in my muscles and joints or every single piece of food pass through my digestive tract.

(That wasn’t the case, either. I’m still very much in pain, very much beholden to my body’s need to eliminate fully every morning before I’m able to comfortably start my day, and very much inhibited by overwhelming fatigue on most days.)

Here’s the thing: until 2017 or so, I’m pretty sure I saw my disability as something I could overcome. Much like all the other characteristics I talked about–my race, my gender, my body size–I saw my disability as something conquerable if I was just exceptional enough. I’m not saying I would have ever verbalized this, and I certainly didn’t think it about other folks. But internalization runs deep, is insidious. Uprooting hegemonic thought patterns takes a lifetime, because they are forever changing and adapting as you change and adapt.

It took withdrawing from psych meds and confronting the continual presence of my disabilities to force me to reckon with their permanence. This reckoning is ongoing. I still sometimes find myself looking back at some mythical time before I became disabled, or looking forward to a time when I might be some shade of healthy, that is to say, less sick. And when I envision me as my best self, too often it’s a vision of myself being productive and able-bodied enough to perform activities like running or cleaning my entire house. The goal is to get to a place where my best self isn’t molded by ableist values. I want to make plans for the future that don’t center on the pain abating or my moods stabilizing.

I’ve realized that up until recently, I was attempting to do one of three things to my disabilities: cure, control, or contain. When cure seemed out of the question, I sought containment through rebellion and self-destruction or control through meds and adopting abled culture; when containment and control became untenable, I set my sights on cure through withdrawing from psych meds and convincing myself my disability was an artifact of their effects. Cure, control, contain is the model for cancer treatment, deadly and alien as we know it, and I knew my disabilities similarly. I hadn’t considered that they were inseparable parts of me, and might have something to offer other than suffering and eventual death.

That these parts of me are disfavored by white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy is not a reflection of their true worth. The parts of me that achieve academically or generate income or do sports aren’t better than the parts of me that were too depressed to finish an assignment on time or that were on SSI or that couldn’t walk without a cane. I don’t need to isolate and berate the so-called deficient parts of me to protect the virtuous parts. All together they make me who I am, and I am glorious because of my disability, not in spite of it.

Now I have the language, the frame through which to extricate the struggles I experience due to ableism and the struggles I experience due to physical or psychological pain. I no longer look at my mind and body as something to be overcome. I’m learning to interact with my bodymindsoul in a tender way, to listen and consider and ask for consent, and not to judge or reprimand when I can’t perform in some way that ableist society has demanded. I’m lowering my expectations, because I wasn’t put on this earth to be productive, and I don’t see the point in playing along. What society has to offer me in exchange for breaking myself at its feet isn’t worth the blood spilled.

My disabilities are foundational to how I navigate the world. Having limited energy shapes my view of what is truly necessary to spend one’s time on, and thus dictates my priorities–growing love and nourishing spirit. My mental illnesses have shaped my understanding of the nature of reality: the relative abundance of sorrow and the rarity of true joy, and how important it is to protect the latter when it crops up. If it weren’t for these supposed impediments, I would likely have spent my life pursuing goals set for me by society rather than building a life guided by transformative love principles and seeking pleasure.

I truly believe my disabilities have something to teach me about how to live wholly in this world, something precious. I need only agree to stop trying to fit them in an ableist box, stop trying to make them small or acceptable or part of an inspirational narrative of overcoming that ties up neat in a bow with me as the cured crazy person at the end.

It’s been pretty somber in the Fierce household this fall and winter. I would say I’m approaching burnout, but I know that boundary was crossed long ago. I’m fueled by sunk-cost fallacy at this point. I don’t want to be in school anymore, haven’t wanted to be for some time. Me doing something I absolutely loathe, day in and day out, can’t help but set the tone for how my partner feels, the household aura poisoned by my thinly veiled rage.

I’d already decided by the end of last academic year that I didn’t want to get a Ph. D. in sociology because of my inability to reconcile the exclusionary nature of academia with my belief in divesting as much as possible from structures that produce and perpetuate inequality. For a while I planned on getting an MFA so I could spend the next few years writing and not having to deal with the shambles of my finances. (I went back to school full-time after having been laid off in 2014, and I have a bunch of credit card debt that I haven’t been paying because we don’t have the money for both of us to have good credit.) But I don’t need to go to school to write, and I don’t need to buy further in to the lie that higher education is a means to break down structural barriers. Why go further into undischargeable debt? So I can assimilate into a system that would much rather I not participate in the first place, a system that will put up innumerable obstacles to ensure I only make it if I’ve proven myself exceptional? Nah. Being exceptional is the opposite of being free. (I still gotta convince my anxiety of this.)

Over the hot, depressed, miserable summer I even considered leaving UCLA without finishing my bachelor’s. After agonizing over it, taking into account how much work and sacrifice went into me being here not only on my part but on my family’s, I finally settled on just not giving a shit about grades anymore. I figured GPA means nothing when I’m 99.9999% sure I’m never going to want to set foot on a university campus again once I’m done with this degree. As a result, I’ve pulled back a lot when it comes to studying and reading. That freed up some time for me, but I’m so broke or anxious or depressed or exhausted or achy that I can’t enjoy it. Whenever I do something I want to do, something that would normally bring me joy, there’s this buzzing in the back of my head reminding me that I should be reading or working on some paper or whatever for school. Right now I have two final projects I need to start, and I’m writing this. Oops.

I tell myself that it is participating in a system I no longer believe in that is driving my mood instability, my fibro flares, my chronic IBS issues. But there’s a deeper truth that I elide with this narrative, the truth that the world–at least the man-made part of it–is in itself a system I no longer believe in. I still haven’t figured out how to live with that in a generative way, but I am looking forward to spending the rest of my life working on it. I still think things will get better for me once I get out of school. I also know there will be new struggles and obstacles to overcome.

person with locks and light skin in blue and purple dragon pajamas
I’ve been wearing this dragon onesie all fall/winter. Yes, even outside.

In other news, I’ve been writing poetry and fiction, trying to improve so I can one day produce something publishable at the pro level. I have a lot of self-doubt about my writing skill. I’ve gotten over it to a certain extent when it comes to nonfiction, which I (inaccurately) see as “not creative”. When it comes to “creative writing”, though, I falter. I know good writing when I read it, but my feelings on my own writing are tied up in my doubt. Not to mention the mindfuck that is grandiosity in mania and self-loathing in depression. Meaning, when I read my writing while manic, I think it’s amazing, but when I read it while depressed, I think it’s straight trash. I’ve had walking depression for like, a year, so it’s been hard to accurately judge my work during that time. I’m trying to be generous and not force myself to write when I’m so depressed I hate everything I’ve ever produced, especially since I have to save some energy for my schoolwork.

On the theme of saving energy, I deleted all the social media apps from my phone, so if you’ve been trying to get my attention on Facebook or Instagram, I apologize (but I doubt my absence has been greatly missed since I wasn’t active much to begin with!). I can’t help looking at web Twitter every now and then, though. Hey, I also deleted the news app, so I gotta go somewhere to keep up with the latest political fuckery and the dankest memes.

Spiritually I haven’t had energy to do all the work I’d like to; I’ve mainly just been celebrating full moons and pulling tarot cards when I need direct messages from god. I haven’t been able to keep up with my studies on that front since I transferred from community college, to be quite honest. Haven’t been able to move my body regularly or eat the way I want to either. I’m sure the lack of psychic and physical nourishment is contributing to this pervasive feeling I have that I’m dying. Being in chronic pain doesn’t help that either! My “rational” mind tells me I’m not dying any faster than I was before I started school, but the way my body feels… it’s hard to dispel that belief. The fact that I’ve felt like I’m dying for the past year and I haven’t died yet is probably an indication that whatever I’m feeling, it’s not a result of my body being riddled with cancer or something. I am really looking forward to going back to my old doctors once I get a job with some decent insurance, though. (I’m especially looking forward to going back to acupuncture once I have a job.) I don’t have the energy to deal with all the obstacles Medi-Cal puts up to getting good care, but I do need to spend some time working through my issues with someone who is paid enough to act like they want to find a solution.

Anyway, this has gotten long and disjointed, and as I said, I should be working on finals. Will probably be on radio silence until spring break. Stay strong during this Mercury retrograde & assorted upheaval, y’all.

P.S. Happy tropical Aries, sidereal Pisces season in advance–my 39th birthday is in twenty days.

CW: mental illness, suicide

This week Kanye West and Chance the Rapper’s manager and some other folks decided to share a few thoughts on mental illness and medications that were less than ringing endorsements of the latter. In the midst of a Twitter rant against two other artists, Kanye mentioned that he’s not taking medication anymore because he felt it hindered his creativity; seemingly as a response to the backlash against that statement, Chance’s manager tweeted that folks should try lifestyle changes before taking psychiatric medication and referred to his own experience becoming addicted to doctor-prescribed Xanax for anxiety. 

At first I was just going to let it ride and not say anything, because it’s Kanye and I don’t particularly like him or what he has to say lately. On this point, though, I felt where he was coming from. In the 20 years before I began withdrawing from all my psych meds, I also felt my creativity drain away. Yes, it was eventually replaced with the ability to hold down a steady job and maintain some level of stability on my meds that didn’t require me going in to the hospital every year to have them readjusted. But I mourned that loss, and I had to learn to accept a reformulated version of myself: one who was not a prolific writer, who didn’t use writing as a form of creative expression but merely as a tool to document my mood states from day to day.

Anyway, I was going to let it ride until my timeline started to clog up with other folks with mental illness (I won’t call them crazy, since I’m not sure they would take kindly to the reclaiming of that label) exhorting other folks to take their meds and completely dismissing what Kanye said. And then when Chance’s manager said their piece, it ramped up even more. It became overwhelming, confrontive, all that stuff–especially when people started trying to pathologize Kanye’s reaction to meds as resulting from “medication resistance”, and his Twitter rant as being evidence of his “rapid cycling”. It just reminded me that as someone who still has a severe mental health diagnosis somewhere in the system, I won’t be taken seriously because I’m not taking psychiatric medication. 

Which is absolutely wild to me, because for the first half of my life I wasn’t taken seriously because I was taking psych drugs. 

Back in the 90s, when I first started writing about my mental illness in ‘zines and online, mental health awareness seemed to be at absolute zero. Barely anyone was really talking about it in any real way in popular culture, and those who were, were usually white and upper/middle class (a la Elizabeth Wurtzel and Susanna Kaysen). I was all about the personal being political, so I felt revolutionary being a Black girl talking about my crazy openly and without shame.

I opined about my broken brain’s inability to produce a “normal” level of serotonin or norepinephrine or dopamine. I wholeheartedly accepted the medical model and in fact, in one ‘zine I wrote when I was a teen, I took it to its logical extreme by comparing folks’ unwillingness to allow me to commit suicide with denying a terminally ill cancer patient access to euthanasia. I thought this was logical because the doctors were telling me I would have to take a med cocktail composed of dozens of meds for the rest of my life just to maintain my marginal existence.  

I never guessed that I’d be on the other side nearly 25 years later, disagreeing with folks whose arguments are based in the same logic. Or AGREEING with motherfuckers who advocate lifestyle changes before starting on psych meds. 

Now, that last part is way controversial and I don’t fuck with saying anything of the sort on social media because it requires over 280 characters to articulate my feelings on the matter. But I do think that in an ideal society doctors would try nondrug treatments for mental illness first, because those treatments don’t scramble your brain chemistry. And I think our belief that meds are the first line of defense is rooted in capitalism’s productivity edict (which necessitates that recovery from mental health crises be quick) and the decades-long project the psychiatric establishment has engaged in to promote the chemical imbalance myth (in order to convince the public their discipline is as scientific as others in the medical field).

But I also know that we don’t live in an ideal society, and people don’t always have the time or spoons or resources to engage in nondrug treatment. I want people to be able to relieve their suffering by whatever means they need, whether that’s via psychiatric drugs or therapy or recreational drugs or exercise or massage or sex or nothing at all. Life is hard, and everyone is different. That’s why I’m not out here demanding that we stop prescribing medication across the board. But I see way too many folks doing the opposite and demanding that talk of medication only be positive to avoid scaring people away from getting the help they need, and that isn’t realistic. People need to know what they’re getting into. They need to be able to make informed decisions. And dismissing those who’ve had negative side effects from meds (like a loss of creativity) isn’t facilitating informed consent among psychiatric consumers.

(I’m not even going to get into how many of us enter the mental health enterprise under coercive circumstances–as children and teens, as adults under 72-hour holds, etc.)

So yeah, I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past few days, and I decided I’m gonna start trying to pitch some essays to outlets about this stuff*. Because I don’t see my experience represented in the current discourse on mental illness and I think it is a valuable one.  There are so many others who were harmed by psychiatric meds, and who have written about this stuff for years with little mainstream recognition. I want to help bring attention to this. Not because I want everyone to give up their meds, but because I want to offer a counterpoint. I’m not speaking out of turn; this is and has been my life since I was a teen. If there’s one thing in this world I know, it’s what it’s like to be crazy. And what it’s like to survive, every day, a mind that wants me to die.

(P.S. – I didn’t cite anything here because this is just a quick blog, but do please Google stuff if you think I’m a conspiracy theorist or making things up about psychiatry or whatever. Eventually I want to upload a lot of the material I have on the sociology of mental illness, because I think everyone should have access to this stuff. But today is not that day. Sorry!)

* Edited December 23, 2018 to say: I’ve realized I probably don’t have the emotional energy to handle the amount of rejection this would (and already has) result(ed) in, and so I may or may not do this, after all. I gotta save my rejection spoons for fiction.

“Goodnight, Jennifer.” Mother stands in the bedroom doorway, made ghostly in the waxing crescent moonlight, her shadow further darkening the dim hall behind her.

“Goodnight, Mother,” Amara says from bed, turning away from the door as Mother shuts it behind her.

Amara breathes shallowly, listening as Mother pads down the hall towards her and Father’s room. She doesn’t treat herself to a full, deep breath until she hears the heavy click of their door latching. Then she takes in all the air she wants, drinking it in greedily. She releases it in one rushing exhale, imagining herself contained within that breath, imagining herself riding that breath home.

After tonight, Goddess willing, she won’t have to imagine anymore. Won’t have to eat Mother’s sandpaper cooking—she started to be able to taste whatever they put in her food to control her, so now she can’t even enjoy it—won’t have to go to school with those wack ass self-hating Negroes happily playing at being white folks, waiting to get tortured and eaten by a bunch of ancient racist demons. She still can’t believe most of them knew the trade-off before they did the spell. Some of them even hired someone to do the spell for them. Amara rubs her shoulders and pulls the blanket up closer to her chin; she still hasn’t forgiven herself for being so careless in who she took advice from.

But at least I wasn’t betrayed by a friend like Janet was, she thinks, shivering.

Janet knew what she was getting into as far as giving up her family, and that was fine with her. They’d disowned her when they went through her room while she was away at college and discovered she was not only a lesbian, but a witch. Her dark eyes flashed when she told the story, but they were moist, too; Amara could tell there was a tender scar behind her hard, angry words. The members of my coven got me through it, Janet told Amara with an edge, and then they delivered me into the mouth of the actual devil.

What they told Janet was that she’d get a new family, new skin, a new existence—but not that her new existence would be as cattle in a psychic fattening pen. She’s had to figure that out for herself over the ten-odd-years she’s been here, by snooping and surviving, the latter being accomplished through cultivating the proper ratio between compliance and resistance. They’re picky as hell, she told Amara, and they like their meat a certain way. They’re willing to wait.

The last time they fed on one of their human livestock was Janet’s fifth year here. She counts the years by the moons; she has a sketchbook filled with its changing faces. It was a full moon when they strung up and filleted her friend Crystal, who had skipped school every day for the last month and tried to stab both her parents. After they stripped her bones, they cooked her flesh along with that of the year’s valedictorian, salutatorian, and Homecoming Court.

Janet decided then that she needed to buy herself time. Crystal had been the only other one there with a lick of sense, and that’s pretty much why she started acting out. If Janet could manage to keep her shit together longer, she’d force them to wait in the hopes of getting that perfect savory cut. She imagined their feathers and fur dropping like dandruff as they rubbed their hands together in anticipation of the medley of flavors her brand of racial trauma might produce.

And so for five years since she watched Crystal die she’s been here, sometimes rebelling, mostly conforming, and letting the sourness of acquiescence permeate every bit of her.

Amara smiles and flips onto her other side. She and Janet are a good team, despite the fifteen-year age difference. They ran into each other at school the day after Amara’s confidence was shaken to its foundations by her encounter with the man-thing in the woods. Janet offered her a story of survival, inspiration, hope even. And Amara returned the favor by offering Janet a more immediate way out.

That awful night a week ago, after Amara snuck back in the window and buried herself under the covers, after she tried and failed and finally succeeded in pushing the image of the beast wearing her father’s face out of her head, she dreamt of her mother. Her mother, and herself—but not her, something wearing her body and wanting very much for her mother to suffer, wanting it so much that the strength of its hunger terrified her. The conversation was garbled, but she heard herself say one thing clearly—

I can make her feel anything that happens to this body

—before the hunger filled her eyes with red, overwhelming her, and she woke up almost hyperventilating. But when she caught her breath, she had her escape plan, although she didn’t grasp that until she talked to Janet and everything clicked into place.

Amara climbs out of bed and begins to get dressed. She remembers the chill she got last time she ventured out to those woods with just a sweatshirt on and grabs a heavy parka out of the closet, then thinks better of it and tosses it on the floor of the closet. No point in not being cold, she thinks with an audible snort. Instead, she snatches a thin hoodie from under the bed and throws it on over her t-shirt and jeans.

Even though she can’t claim that she’s absolutely sure what they’re about to do will succeed, if succeed is defined as bring her home to her mother, Amara feels absolutely calm. If she’s honest with herself, she knows that her definition of success is flexible; it mainly involves not existing wherever she is right now, and this plan seems likely to accomplish that, at least. If she ends up just straight dead and not back home, hey, at least she went out on her own terms and not while being eaten.

Glass fogs with hot breath as Amara unlatches the window and hoists the bottom pane over the top. She stops for a second and listens to make sure Mother and Father didn’t stir, then continues out the window, onto the middling branches of the jacaranda, a quick shimmy down the trunk and then to solid ground.

The night is crisp and clear, a black velvet garnish for the slivered moon. Janet is standing down the street a ways, out front of her house, in the opposite direction of the woods. Amara waves and Janet starts walking in her direction.

“You ready?” Janet says when she reaches Amara.

Amara nods. “Ready as I’m gonna be.”

Janet gives her a sympathetic grin. “It can’t hurt worse than being eaten alive, boo,” she says as they start walking towards the woods.

Amara glances at her sidelong. Her mousy brown hair is piled on top of her head in a neat bun; a leaf pokes out of the top, an escapee from the nearly identical jacaranda on Janet’s captors’ front lawn. “True. But I’m not sure how much of an upgrade it is.”

They listen to each other breathe and step until they get to the edge of the woods, where Janet stops and turns to Amara.

“To be real, it might be about the same,” she says, “but at least this way might lead to me being myself again.”

A long, slow nod from Amara as she switches on her flashlight, and then the two begin to walk again, towards whatever kind of freedom lay ahead.

Part 5 | Part 1


Inspired by the film Wake (Bree Newsome), the novel The Good House (Tananarive Due), the short story “Wet Pain” (Terence Taylor), and, I’m sure, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

I don’t remember the first time I was raped, but I know it happened.

I don’t recall when the memory was lost. I can’t answer #WhyIDidntReport.

I do recall remembering exactly what happened, in re-traumatizingly clear detail, two years later: in the middle of an assembly at school on reporting sexual abuse. And then, I did report. Loudly. In the form of a high-pitched yet guttural scream that seemed to have gathered strength from the time the memory sat dormant in my brain.

Around me, other children–other girls, as far as my ten year old self could tell–had also begun to cry (although none quite so spectacularly as I, unfortunately for my social life). The administration at my private Christian school created an after-school support group for all of us. It lasted for six months or so before either they or we decided it wasn’t worth the effort, wasn’t worth re-dredging up our memories over and over with no real resolution. So eventually I forgot, again. At least, I thought I did. But I never really forgot.

I went through a tumultuous adolescence marked with mental instability, self-destructive behavior, and questionable relationships with men and masculine-identified folks. Standard survivor fare; I won’t bore you with those details. What I will say about that time is that I never fully recovered the memory again. I recovered more of it. For instance, during a particularly intense overnight therapy session at a residential treatment facility when I was sixteen, I remembered again where the rape took place, and I remembered penetration. But still, the full awareness of it was, mercifully, kept from me by my psyche.

When I was nineteen I was raped again, and I remember everything about it. It destroyed me, psychologically, but it didn’t reveal the memory of what happened when I was eight. It did, however, induce all sorts of PTSD and dissociative identity issues that forced me to confront my unprocessed trauma. I went into intensive therapy with EMDR, a course that lasted for about seven years. I managed to reintegrate myself, despite not having access to the actual memory of what occurred when I was eight.

Even without details, I can see the shape of the memory. Bordering the gnawing, gaping gaps in the record, there are some clear lines. I remember my excitement over an older white boy thinking this ugly Black duckling was pretty. How good that felt after the years of bullying and torment I endured. How cool I thought I was when we hung out on the jungle gym and flipped other kids off. Him calling me at my house: me, giggling, my mom, hearing me, asking who I was talking to.

And I remember…a nonlinear empty space. (And something involving the lunch tables, something involving something of his inside something of mine. I don’t try to pin down specifics; I truly consider it a gift that I can’t recall what happened anymore.)

Then, I remember my head down in my folded arms after school, crying. A note from him in my third grade yearbook that I think said something about how ugly my hairy armpits were but I could never tell because I scratched it out immediately after I first read it. My grades dropping, my interest in life degrading; partially because I’m not a fan of standardized education, but mainly because my mind was occupied with blaming myself for whatever happened in that empty space. And later, of course, there is the aforementioned mental instability.

What have I learned from this culture about survivorhood and memory? From watching season after season of SVU, from watching now two women in my lifetime testify that a potential Supreme Court justice sexually assaulted them, from the Mike Tyson trial, the Cosby trial, the Very Special Episodes of various sitcoms and dramas? What is important, when you are raped, after a rape? Remember as much detail as you can. (Remember, even, what you were wearing.) Remember not to take a shower, so your body can remember what they left on you, and you can prove this has happened. Remember to try to leave some memory of yourself on them, a scratch, some DNA, some irrefutable scientific proof. And if you can’t? If you didn’t? If your brain’s split-second decision when it realized you were under threat was to shift you into a different state of consciousness while the trauma occurs so you cannot remember the trauma outside of that state? If instead of smells and sounds and sensations there’s just an ominous void where a part of your childhood should be?

What can you do when you’re doomed to know, but never remember?

It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I am a survivor of childhood rape. In fact, I didn’t come to terms with it fully until I was raped again. Part of the reason I had difficulty in validating my experience has to do with the importance memory holds in legitimizing one’s status as a survivor, which in turn derives from a cisheteropatriarchal, white supremacist prioritization of the rational and material over the emotional and the spiritual.

When it comes to sharing experiences of rape, we love details; we love when someone’s juicy underbelly of trauma is served up raw for the re-devouring. Narrative structure is important, too. (Make sure it fits the range of acceptable assaults. Make sure you’re weren’t fucking them consensually first or laughing with them first or drinking with them first or flirting with them first. Make sure you’re white, nondisabled, cishet, thin, and attractive.) If you’ve got physical evidence, bruises, bleeding, we’ll of course take those, maybe rub some salt in those wounds for good measure. And you’ve always got to have the corroborating witnesses, preferably of the highest caliber (so not your drunk ex-BFF who’s consensually banging her boyfriend in an adjacent hotel bed and oblivious to your screams).

But when you just straight can’t remember? When your evidence consists solely of a promising life dashed upon the rocks and an empty space? There’s no empowerment to be found there. No statute of limitations to beat out. Neither our society’s system of justice nor the current pop cultural/political moment occurring around sexual assault readily accommodate the slippery nature of trauma memory.

I’m reminded of the difficulty I had in claiming a political identity as a survivor now, in this moment of #MeToo reckoning, with the development of newer hashtags such as #WhyIDidntReport. So many of our methods of personal resistance against rape culture focus on storytelling, splaying your experiential guts onto a screen of various sizes as a form of empowerment. I do absolutely support survivors who want to tell their stories. But as someone who doesn’t particularly want to feed more bodies to the prison industrial complex, and as someone who remembers the name of their rapist but no details in one instance and a bunch of details but no name in the other, I haven’t participated. What would I say? I keep looking out on my feeds to see if any of the stories resemble mine, an empty space; none so far yet.

The confirmation fight over Brett Kavanaugh was re-traumatizing for me, as it was for so many other survivors. In my case, it stirred up some latent feelings of inauthenticity. In Dr. Ford’s testimony, she leaned on the Western medical-scientific view of memory as primary in determining legitimacy as a survivor, basically stating that she knew she was assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh because of how traumatic memories encode themselves in the hippocampus. I know I was raped because of how the memory encoded itself into everything else in my life. Could I testify, if my childhood rapist were somehow nominated to some public position? Could I sit in front of that kangaroo court and try to plead my broken life against my rapist’s hippocampus?

(This is one reason why I’m an abolitionist. I don’t believe our current paradigm of justice can account for all the ways one can testify. My testimony is embodied, and so my vision of feminist justice involves a de-centering of narrative testimony, particularly when it comes to rape and sexual assault.)

Our (U.S.) society associates forms of knowledge gleaned outside a rational-scientific framework with femininity and Otherness, thus rendering them inferior in a cisheteropatriarchal white supremacist context. Our society is also a rape culture, and so no amount of remembering in perfect detail will ensure that a rapist is brought to what passes for justice here. So why should I, or you, dredge up our trauma on demand and offer it to an uncaring society with no guarantee of return on our investment? Why prop up the idea that a survivor’s memory is ever worth anything under heterosexist patriarchy?

Again, I don’t want to discourage survivors from telling their stories. I only want us to consider what we accomplish, who is excluded when we emphasize this tactic, and what ideas we’re reifying. Even in the best of circumstances memory can be unreliable, and constructing a homogeneous experience of survivorhood is impossible. There are survivors who remember every last detail, who know but cannot remember, whose memories are completely intact but organized nonlinearly, and whose understanding of themselves as having experienced sexual assault is shaped by the impression the event had on their life rather than any recollection of vivid details of the assault. Some of us contain all these and more. A feminist survivors’ movement must de-center the rational-scientific paradigm and consider all the ways we can know we were harmed, or risk perpetuating cisheteropatriarchal oppression.

Under a waning crescent moon, Amara is in the woods, dipping her hand into a black plastic garbage bag and plucking out tiny cafeteria packets of salt; ripping them open with her teeth and shaking them out until their combined contents form a thick, unbroken circle. She shuts her eyes and speaks under captured breath the words she’s been unable to erase from her memory since she first saw them.

Eyes open.

Pop?

But this is no more her father than it was her uncle Tad, no more a fortuitous family reunion than the dinner with Mother and Father she suffered through earlier was a return to nuclear normalcy. It has her father’s face, but it smells of sulfur and drops feathers and fur as it approaches Amara standing still and proud in the circle.

“This is wrong,” Amara insists, when he stops in front of her and glowers. “I didn’t want all this. I didn’t want a whole new life. I just wanted new skin. Put me back, now.” She folds her arms across her chest, daring him to deny her.

His—its—flat blue eyes take on a bit of luster. Its ruddy peach cheeks spread into a gaping, toothsome grin. It grasps its cloaked stomach with a furry, clawed hand and begins to laugh, a thundering laugh that shakes each molecule of Amara’s confidence. The man-thing lets his laughter trail off into drips and drabs before he speaks.

“Well, Jennifer. You’ve been white for a day and you’ve already mastered demanding a refund.” A laugh bubbles to the surface again. “But I’m afraid we don’t have a return policy. Was that not—” it snorts, stumbles into a giggle, stops itself—”clear when you decided to perform the spell? Did you not—as they say, do your research? Tsk, tsk.” The mouth that was her father’s, that once comforted her with kisses and bad jokes when she skinned her knees rollerblading, that told her that the coily hair she hated so much was indeed beautiful; now that mouth wears the most fiendish sneer Amara has ever seen. A foul smell fills her nostrils and dives down her throat, making her gag and water.

“No,” she says, quietly. “Actually, I didn’t. I just thought you’d make me white, and I’d get to go home to my Mama, and then our lives would stop being such a shitshow.” A creeping realization spreads over her: I’m not getting out of this alive. Mama is gonna be alone. Tears well up in her eyes.

“Ah,” it says, pacing the outside of the salt circle, shuddering pieces of itself onto the forest floor. “Well, we get some of your kind, too. The reckless kind. We like to think it’s that bit of us you’ve got in you.” That sneer again. “Mostly our guests come looking for the package deal. They go pretty quickly. They don’t have much substance for us to really gnaw on—they’re starved, you know—and their meat has a taste. Like lemon dishwater, or diluted vinegar. We love the defiant ones, the ones who’ve convinced themselves that they’re different, that they’re doing something good and right and pure. Their resistance is so tart on our tongues, we taste it in their marrow. We savor it in their blood. We scoop out whole chunks of pride from their skulls and use it to season the meat of the ones soured with self-loathing.”

It stops pacing and bends down, stretching its neck across the salt to square its face across from hers. “I wonder how you’ll taste, in the end.” It smiles softly, her father’s smile.

Part 4 | Part 6


Inspired by the film Wake (Bree Newsome), the novel The Good House (Tananarive Due), the short story “Wet Pain” (Terence Taylor), and, I’m sure, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.