Wednesday, December 28, 2011

As The Old Year Leaves...

In the year 2010 the careful construction of my life began being dismantled by exterior forces, board by board. The process was painful and disorienting. In the year 2011 I started building a new structure; simpler, more grounded on the earth and much closer to my heart. Now, in the year 2012, I plan to move in and truly make it my home.

I close with a transcendent poem that has always held special meaning for me. It seems particularly relevant now. Sara Teasdale lived from 1884-1933.

May you all keep learning and changing and have a magnificent and meaningful new year!


ONE by one, like leaves from a tree,
All my faiths have forsaken me;
But the stars above my head
Burn in white and delicate red, 
And beneath my feet the earth
                           Brings the sturdy grass to birth.
                           I who was content to be
                           But a silken-singing tree,
                           But a rustle of delight
                           In the wistful heart of night--
                           I have lost the leaves that knew
                           Touch of rain and weight of dew.
                           Blinded by a leafy crown
                           I looked neither up nor down--
                           But the little leaves that die
                           Have left me room to see the sky;
                           Now for the first time I know
                           Stars above and earth below.

                             Sara Teasdale

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The People of Broken Glass

When I got into a graduate degree program at UC Berkeley in 1988, I found the proposition of attending a prestigious school quite frightening. I had actually written two of the three required recommendation letters myself. My Alma Mater, Ohio State University, was a totally adequate school but certainly didn't have the status and mystique of Cal Berkeley.

Mostly, I was afraid that the range of my experience growing up and being an adult (I was 37 when I got in to grad school) would not mix well with the pedigreed and polished lives of my classmates. UC Berkeley is a very difficult school to attend for folks who need to work for a living, due to the fact that all the major classes are during the day. Luckily, I was living with a supportive partner and able to take out a small loan, so with the financial aspects taken care of all that remained were the psychological ones.

Of course, once I was established at the school, I connected with others who came from backgrounds more similar to mine. We found each other immediately, with that unspoken radar that seems almost instictive.

And I also socialized with folks from very different backgrounds and perspectives. I remember eating lunch with a woman who had gone to an Ivy League school and was working on her second master's degree, preparing to go on for a doctorate. I thought about how I would love to spend my whole life in school and what it would actually cost to do that.

She was a very sweet person. In my experience, people who come from loving families where there needs are met on many levels usually are. They are like the folks in my workplace who tell me I complain too much. She was effusive, warm, fluffy and soft, a bit like sitting across from a gently purring, contented kitten.

My best friend at school, Shari, who I wound up calling "scary Shari" for reasons I won't go into, had a good luck, fend for yourself background more similar to my own. Sitting across the table from her was a bit like dining with a pile of shards of broken glass.

When I tell friends this analogy, they assume I am being negative and tremendously self-deprecating. To which I can respond, "I'm Jewish and working class and we tend to be like that." But I truly believe that most of the earth-moving, gut-wrenching, creative contributions to society are made from the outside, not from sleepy kittens, but from honest, damaged people of broken glass, the ones with the power to reflect back a brutally accurate image of society at every level. You only have to hold us up to the light for all things to become visible!

Happy, Merry and Peaceful whatever you celebrate, even if it's just a day off work!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bradley Manning's Struggle

Bradley Manning, the Army private charged with leaking documents to Julian Assange for his web site Wiki Leaks, is in the process of pre-trial hearings to determine whether or not his case will proceed to court martial. If that happens the 24 year old could be sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars if those hearings determine he was a traitor releasing information that could compromise the US government.

But to many of us, both straight and gay, Manning along with Assange are heroes. They follow in the whistle-blower tradition of Daniel Ellsberg who has called Bradley Manning a patriot and Julian Assange a hero. 

The conditions under which Manning has been detained have been the subject of worldwide controversy. Extended solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, no access to exercise or any comfort items like pillows or sheets are just bullet points on the list of his inhumane, soul-destroying detention. In part, because of Manning, the world community is reconsidering defining solitary confinement as torture.

Now, Manning's future is on the line and one of the pillars of his defense involve his gay identity. This strategy is to paint him as an "emotionally troubled homosexual of the don't ask, don't tell era." Although much of the leftist media seems to be stumbling over this one, as an open lesbian, I don't find it at all contradictory or politically incorrect.

The truth of our lives as queer folk is that they are more difficult and challenging than the lives of heterosexuals from the gate. We face far greater obstacles when it comes to self-esteem, confidence and interaction in general, whether socially or at work. I am sure that for Manning to reconcile the fact of his otherness in an openly hostile environment like the military, was a soul-wrenching and complicated endeavor. Oppression damages everyone, but it is particularly corrosive to the folks on the receiving end. 

Best of luck Mr. Manning, the thoughts and good will of the many are with you. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Brothel Hierarchy in the Capitalist Workplace

Is the Oldest Profession a
Prototype for all Others?
The main problem with the employment scene lately has been that decently paid jobs with benefits are rapidly disappearing. But, for the first time ever, the word capitalism is being tossed about in public discourse. People are daring to admit that the capitalist workplace, even when it's functioning perfectly, is quite problematic for many, perhaps even most, of us.

The fact is that when observing the stratified, profit-based workplace, the brothel model fits nicely. All work is, after all, prostitution on some level. Take the library where I am employed. At the bottom rung of the ladder you have street hookers, hourly employees without benefits hired if and when there is demand. They are the "five dollars for a quickie" set. As totally independent practitioners not under the umbrella of the pimps, they are free agents but the trade-off is that they are completely vulnerable to the tides of economic, and personal risk. Their work takes place in the moment and when it's finished there are no future guarantees.

Above them there are those who are offered a certain number of hours per week with benefits. These are the pros who can rent rooms by the hour. The rental of these folks' time involves a modicum of warmth and shelter in exchange for an ongoing financial arrangement.

Proceeding up the food chain, you have lower management, the call gals and guys who live very comfortably in exchange for their favors. In this classification a bit of the pimping of others is a necessary part of the bargain.

As you enter the area of middle management the true pimps emerge. These are people who earn their living off the front line work of others. They no longer need to service the johns at all and are paid only to oversee those who do.

In the rarefied air of the very top level you will find the madams, ironically a mostly male coterie, who own the brothels. They reap the profits by manipulating the pimps who control the entire stable of call girls as well as  room-rental by the hour hookers.

So what is the point of this exercise? Those of us who were not born into the lap of luxury have to sell our labor to survive. There is no need to feel ashamed or guilty because of the simple fact of our role in prostitution. After all, it's a living.

But wouldn't it be wonderful if we could stretch our minds and try to develop a different model for the workplace. A cooperative versus a competitive one, where all workers have inherent value. It has been done before, sometimes with very good results. In any case, as long as were dreaming of rebuilding society, it's at least worth some thought.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Clinton's Speech and LGBT Rights in the USA

Like so many LGBT people in this country and around the world, I was amazed and astounded by Hillary Clinton's speech on international gay rights in Geneva in commemoration of Human Rights Day. To say that "gay rights are human rights, seems like a no-brainer but we live in a world where brains appear to be in short supply. Concepts like equality, dignity, freedom from harassment and violence are simple ones that are rarely applied to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population.

The basic fact that gayness is not a byproduct of Western culture, but a natural occurrence in every society, (including non-human groupings) is also just plain common sense. But still, we have never heard these truths put forward by a mainstream political representative before.

Of course, the bitter irony of this is that, in spite of all this international posturing, the United States is not a shining example of LGBT freedom or equality. We don't have legal marriage in most states and certainly nothing on a federal level. Obtaining healthcare for partners, death benefits after a partner's demise, freedom from discrimination in jobs and housing, freedom from harassment and violence on the street, freedom to live partnered with a person of a different nationality without IRS interference, all these supposed constitutional protections afforded our heterosexual sisters and brothers are rights we do not yet possess.

Nevertheless, with the true imperialistic aplomb, here is our Secretary of State preaching to the world. It would be preferable for the USA to put its own house in order before detailing and expounding on the untidy habits of others. But maybe this will set a precedent for advancement here at home. We can only hope.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Occupy and the Leadership Conundrum

The fact that the Occupy Movement doesn't have leaders is one of the best things about it as a grassroots movement. It's also something that may prove problematic as it moves forward into a future where the encampments are no longer a mobilization base for struggle. Having some leaders,  a steering committee or something similar, is going to be needed eventually especially if an entity, like a new political party, is going to emerge.

But it's true that the concept of leadership brings with it its own set of problems. When actual people are selected to embody a movement, it evolves from an all-encompassing, nebulous idea to a tangible reality. A leader, even a slate of leaders, cannot possess all qualities the 99%.

They each will have an age, a race, a gender and sexual orientation. The very act of selecting leaders is exclusionary by definition and the one thing the occupy movement has successfully avoided is alienating any one segment of the 99%. Once a leader or group of leaders are elected, appointed, self-selected, drafted, cronyism has the opportunity to germinate. It may be subtle but it appears to be human nature, not just in politics.

Look at the capitalist workplace. Studies have shown that managers tend to employ and surround themselves with people most similar to them. That's how empathy works in this rat-race culture. The more someone's character traits and values match your own, the greater your ability to identify with both their struggles and accomplishments.

Still, while consensus and absolute democracy may work fine in small groups, they can't function on, say, a nationwide scale. Leadership will be a key issue in organizing and one that will have to be grappled with sooner or later unless a truly innovative and radical structure can be formed. I have no idea what that would look like but within an upheaval where everything is new, anything is possible.