January 2019

January 1st- my brother calls to tell me that my father has been admitted to the ICU with pneumonia in both lungs.

January 3rd– my father gets a breathing tube.

January 6th– breathing tube is removed and everyone marvels at his turn around. Pneumonia seems to be responding to treatment. He remains in ICU for observation.

January 7th– while at work at the tattoo shop I get a text from a former Ristretto Roasters employee whose partner is a current RR employee. The text is a link to a Youtube channel, asking if I have seen said channel. Hours later, I get home and remember the text- I open the link and up pops a channel titled #meneither.

I notice two things immediately: first the name is clearly meant to provoke, and in my opinion, is in poor taste, considering its obvious link to #metoo. Secondly, featured in the video is my former boss, Nancy Rommelmann. The Youtube channel has three videos in which Rommelmann and her co-host discuss the validity of sexual assault survivors’ stories. They question whether or not what someone experienced is “actually rape,” they blame someone’s suicide on their former partner’s infidelity, they suggest trauma is a personal choice, and that some people’s experience of unwanted sex is just “bad sex” that they should “get over.”

During my five years as an employee of Ristretto Roasters I regarded Rommelmann as my boss. Not only was she present at all important business meetings, she made decisions that impacted the daily operations of Ristretto, like when we changed pastry providers at her request. I received my first business email from her in July of 2013, and my last one in October of 2018.

Because Nancy Rommelmann was extremely involved in the operations of Ristretto, I found it disturbing that she would be promoting these ideas on her public Youtube channel. As both someone who directly managed staff for my whole time at Ristretto (and all throughout my 13 year coffee career) and someone who finds it important to be an informed consumer, I think the values one keeps are important. It informs how you lead a team, how you treat employees, how you vote, and how you spend your money.

During my time in the Portland coffee community I have been privy to the poor and abusive behavior that many employers engage in behind the scenes. Behavior that is sexist, racist, and, in my opinion, has no place in a work environment. In order to express my disapproval I choose not to patronize certain coffee shops. That is my personal choice and right. I am thankful for information sharing so that I may be an educated consumer.

So I saw it as my duty to the general public, the coffee community, and the upset staff members who had brought the matter to my attention in the first place, to more widely circulate the existence of the #meneither channel. This channel was posted about publicly on Rommelmann’s personal social media profile, so it wasn’t meant to be private.

I took a screenshot of the Youtube page and posted about it on my Instagram stories. Within seconds of posting about the #meneither videos, people started responding and getting in touch with me- many of them former and current RR employees. The general reaction was of shock and dismay.

January 8th– I hear from more people regarding the #meneither channel. They have watched the videos and are upset and angered. People start to denounce the company on their own social media accounts because they do not wish to support a business whose part owner espouses such anti-feminist ideas. These ideas throw into question the safety of Ristretto as an employer. To have one of the owners publicly question survivors could suggest that should RR employees face sexual harassment on the clock, their stories might not be taken seriously.

At this point dozens of Ristretto employees have reached out to me to share their disapproval of the view points that Rommelmann shares in her videos. Many people want to speak out but are scared of retribution, since their ability to pay bills and remain financially solvent is partially in the hands of Rommelmann. The reason people are reaching out to me in particular is because I was the first to denounce #meneither on social media and because I have a track record of advocacy on behalf of RR employees and their right to a safe working environment.

Many suggest making videos more widely known by contacting local media outlets. I decide to pen an open letter on behalf of RR staff, current and former, condemning Rommelmann’s views and making it known that RR staff doesn’t share her views. I write an email to people who have already reached out to me in anger and ask if anyone would like to sign onto the letter I am writing. I do not solicit signatures from anyone I hadn’t already discussed videos with.

January 9th– It is discovered that my father has a fungal infection in his lungs and needs to stay in the ICU longer than expected.

I get contacted by a new employer who had hired me to help with her independent business. Ristretto is one of her accounts and over the phone she explains that because I had slandered Ristretto she could no longer bring me on as an employee. Evidently, in legal paperwork I had never seen and had yet to sign, there was a clause stating that as her employee I wouldn’t slander any of her clients. This was a person with whom I had worked closely for years, always keeping a respectful and supportive business relationship. Her call and her declaration was hurtful and surprising, because rather than holding Rommelmann accountable for her Youtube channel to which people were reacting, she was punishing me for speaking out against problematic views. Furthermore, sharing true information about a public Youtube channel, which Nancy herself was promoting, is not slander. I didn’t make anything up, and any statements I made regarding the content of the videos was a matter of personal opinion.

On my way to the gym in the afternoon I call my father at the hospital and urge him to try to get rest. He is agitated and disoriented. I don’t know it, but that will be the last time we ever speak.

That night I finalize edits on the open letter and at this point 30 people have agreed to sign off, with employees not included in first email reaching out to me asking to have their names included. I get in touch with various local news papers.

January 10th- Ristretto Roasters, for the first time, makes a public statement on their Instagram account distancing themselves from Rommelmann by stating that she is in no way involved with RR or the running of the company. This is a complete and utter lie. From my first day in 2013 to my last day in 2018 she played a huge role in running the company. She made business decisions, she gave raises, she sent company wide emails, was present at company functions, signed checks, made bank deposits. In subsequent new stories she is referred to as “the owner’s wife” which is not only an unfitting title, it is insulting to her. I will not refer to her as “the owner’s wife.” I will call her what she has been, at least for the five years I worked with the company- part owner of Ristretto Roasters, if not on paper officially, very much in practice. Her role in the company can be backed up by dozens of employees who regarded her as their boss, and by literally hundreds of emails I have from her.

I hear back from several media outlets, get interviewed, share the public letter.

Later that night it is discovered that my father has internal bleeding. In order to figure out where it is coming from he is put under sedation, breathing tube is reinserted. The night ends with no clarity around his health.

January 11th– I get interviewed by Yahoo news. The story gets published and my social media handle gets shared in the article.

I leave my house that afternoon to get coffee. While driving I get rear-ended. I do not have my phone on me, so the woman who rear-ends me, after accepting full responsibility, texts me a picture of all her insurance information. After the week I had I am pretty exhausted so I don’t have the wherewithal to write down her license plate number or, unfortunately, even her name.

I drive home and as I enter my house I hear my phone ringing. I run to pick it up and hear my brother on the other line explaining to me that our father is entering the final stage of his life. I need to get home as soon as possible. The bleeding is coming from his carotid artery and there is no way to stop it. He is placed on life support as all curative measures have been exhausted.

An hour later my social media accounts begin to be bombarded by troll accounts calling me all sorts of creative things, such as “unemployed idiot,” “SJW,” which I don’t understand as an insult, and nazi, which hilariously enough, makes absolutely no sense.

January 12th- I catch a redeye to New York City.

January 13th– I arrive at the ICU at UVM Medical Center in Burlington Vermont at 5:30pm. I sit silently with my father as he breathes with the help of machines. He is under sedation but I know he knows I am there. I hold his hand. My brother and I speak with the doctors and decide it is time to remove him from life support.

We are in the room when, 10 minutes later, he breathes his last breath and passes from this world into the next.

+++

January 19th– I fly home to Portland and do my best to settle back into my life. My car is still in disrepair. The woman who was at fault had at some point stopped returning my calls, and through some evil trickery of my phone, her insurance information had been deleted. With the help of my insurance company I did some weird reverse engineering facebook/internet stalking and managed to find her name and figure out who she had insurance with. A ridiculous nuisance, which was just that, but added even more to my plate.

January 28th– I hear from a friend that Rommelmann and her co-host disparage me in their latest #meneither video. Its pretty hard to understand how they think any backlash directed at Rommelmann or the business she is closely affiliated with is in any way my responsibility. They clearly have no faith in the public’s ability to come to their own conclusions after watching the videos they themselves promote.

In the video they call me “C,” a sad attempt to, what, obscure my identity? Everyone knows who they are talking about at this point- my name was all over the news and I was heavily quoted. Her co-host implies that she would like to call me cunt instead (“another C word”). For those of you who are journalists, a fact: I am a lesbian and am not offended by the word cunt or the existence of cunts, and I can’t believe people still think of cunt as an insult. Then Rommelmann goes on to talk about my father’s health and cancer diagnosis, of which she knows nothing about, invents that I took off six weeks of work to tend to his health- I didn’t, it was 10 days total, and over three years ago in a situation that was unrelated to his cancer diagnosis, and she talks about my salary. She draws parallels to her life, in which she too is dealing with a terminally ill person who is near and dear to her. Her analysis here is weak, in stating that because I was aware of the declining health of the person in her life, I was somehow in the wrong for making the channel she herself made public, more, well, public.

Let me make this crystal clear: Nancy Rommelmann made a Youtube channel titled #meneither. You can go watch the public videos on the public channel and make up your own opinion on her and her co-hosts view points. I, in fact, did this myself- cause I am pretty sure thats what the videos are there for: to illicit reaction. I watched the videos, I deeply disagreed with their statements and poorly articulated arguments, I know Rommelmann on a professional basis, I spoke about this publicly on my own social media account. Other people watched the videos, and did the same thing. In what became a weird mini media storm about this I have seen many people suggest that “Portland feminists” tried to “silence” the wife of the owner of a company, and then incorrectly try to bring “his” business down. Make no mistake: regardless of whatever paperwork they try to produce stating otherwise, Rommelmann played a huge role in RR. To boycott RR is to, by extension boycott her and her values. That this has anything to do with me and what is going on in either of our personal lives, well, it just holds no water. And might I remind you, while Rommelmann was busy trying to blame me for the backlash, I was actually dealing with the death of my father.

Furthermore, in Rommelmann’s plea that she be treated with care she reminds her viewers that we are dealing with people here who have real lives with real pain. Right- like the very people whose sexual assault claims she questions?

At the end of Rommelmann’s analysis of the situation, her classy co-host calls me a crumb bitch- still trying to figure out what that one means.

January 29th– For reasons that will probably never make sense, weeks after my first social media post regarding #meneither, Rommelmann decides to take to Ristretto Roaster’s twitter account and slander me, using my full first name. No clever use of “C” this time. Instead she quotes from my blog, says I am a “little lady” grinding my ax, makes fun of my halloween costume from last year (which is such a sadly low blow), belittles me for attending Smith College, speaks about my family’s socioeconomic status which she knows literally nothing about, shares quotes from a private email exchange I had with her about a business idea (cause, you see, she helps run the business…) and states that I was going to be fired four days after I quit.

Can we please just go ahead and say that anything negative that happens to Ristretto’s business, from here on out, is so clearly not on me?

In a statement to a local newspaper which published the twitter rant, (rant was deleted from the RR account promptly, but not before people got screenshots) Rommelmann, who just a few weeks prior claimed to have no professional affiliation with RR, admits to being the one who slandered me on Ristretto Roaster’s public twitter account.

+++

I will never, ever, apologize or accept responsibility for Nancy Rommelmann’s poor behavior and her choice to publicly share view points that could potentially engender a dangerous environment for survivors of sexual assault. Especially within the work environment of a company Rommelmann helps run. I do not believe myself to be anywhere near powerful enough to stop anyone from supporting a business, let alone bring down an entire company. I simply shared my opinion on a public video and shared the truth of how it is linked with a public facing company. From there, people were left to make up their own minds. To blame me is not only ridiculous, it implies a lack of free will from the general public, like I am some how orchestrating people’s opinions and their subsequent behavior.

Although touting the First Amendment as a means to defend Rommelmann is                 oh-so-tempting for dudes on the internet who to refer to me as an unemployed idiot and question the validity of protesting within the capitalist structure they adore, this is not about Rommelmann’s right to free speech. Rommelmann can say anything she wants. Seriously. And she has (see: Twitter Rant). And then, the cool thing about free speech, is that everyone has it. So because listening, using your brain, and forming your own opinion is also free and presumably protected by the constitution, lots and lots of people exercised their own free will and right to the first amendment to say either out loud, on the internet, or to their friends, that they disagree with Rommelmann’s views as shared by her on her #meneither Youtube channel. The leap from there to not patronizing a business she is closely linked with and benefits from is really not such a stretch. People have the right to make that choice. To boycott her business doesn’t “shut her up,” as some people imply is happening. She continues to say what she wants, how she wants.

Participating in a capitalist system that is meant to keep people down is not my first choice. But when you are left with very little recourse, you use the tools available to you. We are living within a structure that champions white supremacy, endangers queer and trans bodies, questions women and survivors at every turn, and protects people with money. We can argue both “sides” of a situation until we are blue in the face, but unfortunately, we don’t get results fast enough, or often not at all. And within this broken system, sometimes the only thing people feel, the only way they hear our calls for equality, is through their wallets. So its pretty simple- that is what is happening here.

Regarding all the other drivel in her twitter rant- I see no need to defend myself against her.

+++

It has always been incredibly hard for me to be vulnerable. Blame it on my Aquarian moon, but being forthcoming about my feelings and my needs hasn’t always been my forte. This isn’t to say that I am cold and can’t hold space for the feelings of others; its more that I have a hard time letting others in.

One of the really special things a troll said to me is that I am a selfish brat who is only concerned with myself, while my father is dying of cancer, and that I deserve all the hardship coming my way.

I thought about how to write this story without including my father, and how to write about my father’s death without including the Ristretto situation. This isn’t because I am inclined to give weight to what some idiot with a fake profile says on the internet, but because this comment in some way spoke to my inclination to hide myself, hide my vulnerability.

But you see, it is actually impossible for me to extricate the RR occurrence with my father’s steady decline in health and his subsequent death- at least the portion that happened concurrently. Although the two situations are seemingly unrelated (nothing in life is unrelated though), dealing with personal hardship through this more public situation informed my behavior. It put things in perspective and reminded me that I have a responsibility to move forward with integrity, honesty, and clarity.

I initially set out to write this blog post about my time with Ristretto Roasters. I got ready for a gloves off play-by-play account of what I felt was a pattern of mistreatment and disrespect during my time with the company. I wrote and wrote and wrote and created something devastating, extensive, and true. But also- something very angry, and motivated by aggression.

I sat and looked at what I had written, hit “select all,” “cut,” and pasted it to an email I sent only myself.

If my father hadn’t died between one half of this media circus and the next, my understanding of this situation would have been severely skewed, entangling my sense of self worth with internet commentary about my “character.” During the first week of this very public discussion, my whole body vibrated with anxiety. This anxiety vibration started from the second I watched the first #meneither video, coming from a place of sadness, pain and anger; it felt like a rush propelling me forward and informing my every move. I lost sleep, was attached to my phone, scrolling and reloading for hours on end. It truly exhausted me, and the moment my body was pushed forward by the impact of my car being hit, it was like a weird universal smack down literally tell me to STOP. Stop, move on, because your life is about to change drastically. You are about to enter a stage of grief, grief you have never known before, the status of fatherlessness, of suddenly understanding the reality so many of my friends know, what so many people close to me have gone through.

When I got news that my father was close to his death, I had a choice to be forthcoming, and by extension vulnerable, about it publicly. I had been deeply engaged in internet discourse for the better part of a week, and now I could no longer continue talking about Ristretto or Rommelmann or anything else in the world that matters so much less than love, loss, and family, chosen or biological. It was time for me to put it down and face grief.

So I said to my community, who had been giving me so much beautiful support as it was already, hey- this is me and I am at the precipice of  something really really hard. I said this out loud, I wrote it down on a screen, I trusted my emotional needs to those who I knew well, those who I had never met but were sending me support via internet waves, those who I knew only tangentially.

And what I got back in return was such a deep form of love, dense and forgiving, asking nothing of me and only holding me and bearing witness. So, thank you for that. It was a good reminder, and in so many ways a new lesson, that there is basic goodness in the world and that sometimes asking for what you need, or even just stating it by living and persevering, leads you down a really strange and round about path at the end of which you get what you didn’t even know you needed.

January 2019 was a crash course in vulnerability for me, and I am eternally grateful for every moment that has unfolded, and grateful to myself for being able to stay as present as possible for it all. What I want to focus on now is where I go from here and how I use my own vulnerability to act from a place of integrity. Where do we, as a society, move from here- this volatile and deeply sad time in our history- how do we evolve through the dissonance of personal belief systems? How we communicate and work together has always been of fascination to me and I am drawn to spaces and work that calls for digging into the challenge.

This is my work and I vow to devote myself to this discourse with continued honesty, humanity, and you guessed it- vulnerability.

 

Actually, it IS the small things that count

Over the last 6 years I have been regularly keeping journals. I am pretty diligent about this practice and have filled about a journal per year with thoughts, musings, to-do lists, attempts at budgets and financial planning (always failing at this), elimination diet observations (a time-honored Queer sport), bitchings, lists of people I’ve kissed, lists of possible dog names, lists of people on my shit list, and recordings of daily minutiae, crushes, relationships, and therapy sessions. I started keeping a diary with some regularity in middle school, but I would start one with enthusiasm, and quickly lose steam, dropping off for months or years at a time. Sometimes when I am home at my mom’s house in the Bronx I come across an old one and sit for hours laughing at the ridiculous things 15 year old me wrote about. My favorite entry by far, from my first year of high school in 2001 reads:

High school is fine. I hate my math class. And the Twin Towers fell. I have a crush on Preston.

I don’t think its possible to find a more nonchalant retelling of one of the most traumatizing days in “American” history. Apathetic doesn’t even begin to describe 15 year old Camila Coddou.

When I was a senior in high school my boyfriend at the time read my journal while I was out of my room for all of 15 minutes. When I returned he confronted me on whether or not I had cheated on him with a friend’s boyfriend. Rather than answer him I whipped the journal out of his hands and ran down the hallway of my mom’s apartment building to promptly deposit the journal into the trash chute. I deeply regret throwing that journal away, and for years after that incident I avoided journaling as honestly as I wanted to for fear of being exposed and having my privacy violated. I was 18- we all do stupid things at that age. Lots and lots of stupid things.

In 2012, when I traveled around India by myself for almost three months, I filled an entire journal in about 90 days, feverishly capturing all the wild things I would witness in one 24 hour period. And thats when the dedication to this practice was cemented. Following India I went to Japan for over a month, then I flew to California and took the train across the country back to New York. Once back in NYC I went through a break up, moved into a milk hut (read: 8 by 8 foot shed) in the Catskills and mucked horse stalls for 6 weeks, decided to move to Portland Oregon, and took an epic road trip across the country to get there with two friends. On said trip I was kiiind of arrested and held in a cell at a border patrol check point for several hours, made a bunch of bad decisions that involved making out with ex’s exes and friends in the Bay Area, and started a new life in Portland, where I promptly had my first threesome, and started dating multiple people at once. If all this isn’t material for journal keeping, I don’t know what is!

A nice thing that I started in recent years is having a lot of intention around the end of one year and the start of the next, and recording intentions and reflections in my journal. I think you know where I am going with this- yes, this IS a NYE blog post, sorry not sorry (just trying that phrase out- I hate when people use it in earnest, and now that I have tried it myself I can report that I didn’t enjoy it). So this past weekend when I was deep cleaning my fridge- another pre-NYE ritual- I thought back to last year’s New Year’s Day entry. I stopped what I was doing to go find that journal, a red moleskine, and re-read the entry from January 1, 2018.

Lola and I were sitting at Laughing Planet, which was the only thing open in Corvallis that day. I was eating a tempeh burrito, and she was eating a seasonal bowl. I don’t know how I remember exactly what we were eating, cause I didn’t write it down, but somehow I do. We wrote lists- what we wanted more of and less of in 2018. Then we made a venn diagram of where our intentions overlapped so we could see what we could accomplish together. Looking over what I wrote last year, I was eager to see what I had achieved and where I could maybe focus more attention moving forward.

I got some pretty major and life changing things done this year that I am very proud of, including committing to a physical activity that I enjoy and makes me feel healthy (wut up crossfit), learning more to assert and keep boundaries, committing myself further to my writing through keeping a blog and most importantly and perhaps most astonishingly, starting to move away from persistent and somewhat debilitating anxiety. Although this year was trying at times and difficult as all hell at other times, as it draws to a close, I feel a sense of peace and pride at where I have gotten myself. I feel like I am standing, somewhat firmly, in my power.

But my real question right now is, seriously, how on earth did I get so much of this shit done?! Like for real, “start a blog” has been on almost every single to-do list I’ve written over the last 4 years. Likewise exercise, and don’t even get me started on taking steps towards anxiety management. Shit I’ve avoided, put off, and actively fought against, much to my own detriment, for YEARS- like I’m taking even fighting Lola on going to workout last year on this very day even though I had said it was something I wanted to do-  I was able to start chipping away at, finally, this past year. So what gives?

Well a few things are at play, I believe, but as I scanned to the bottom of the page, written as an afterthought, I saw “focus on the small stuff- the bigger things will follow.” And there it was, a letter from myself from a year ago, written to me, today. The small things. Of course.

Cause when I look back over the course of my life, as a person trying my hardest to really be the best iteration of myself that I can be, mostly what I see is a failed methodology. I see myself badgering me, labeling myself a failure, berating me over and over again, for not getting the things done that I needed and wanted for myself. Looking back through my journals, sadly, its a whole lot of me not being kind to myself, literally asking myself over and over again to *just* make these huge sweeping changes in my life. Eat healthy! Cook for yourself! Stop wasting all your money! Stop being in friendships that don’t feel good! Stop being an anxious person! Wake up early! And then providing myself with zero support or words of encouragement.

Then one day in recent history my therapist asked me about what time I go to sleep every night. I must have been mouthing off about all the things I wanted to get accomplished but couldn’t, so she asked me this really simple question. What time do you go to sleep every night, how long do you sleep, and what time do you get up? A lot of my life I have actually spent running late. Running late to the bus, hair brush in hand, papers flying out of my backpack. Not giving myself enough time to eat breakfast, leaving myself no time to find parking, starting my shift hungry, sleepy eyed, or even just wearing an outfit that I didn’t love, which, hello, can have a super negative impact on your day.

So I started paying attention to one small thing- what time I get up in the morning. The internal dialogue went something like: so if I know I want to eat breakfast and pick out something to wear, I know I need to give myself x-amount of time. So I set my alarm for that time. But the next day, I realized that actually, even though it only takes 15 minutes to get to work, I need an extra 5 to find parking. So I set my alarm 5 minutes earlier. After trying this for a bit, I realized I was still feeling tired, so I looked at what time I was getting to bed, and adjusted that. Am I am to fall asleep easily? No- too jazzed on my phone, so I started ignoring instagram about 30 minutes before I wanted to be asleep.

And so I went, step by step, looking at really small things in my life that I wanted to help myself with. At the time I was also having ocular migraines, bad allergies, and gut issues. Clearly, these three things contributed hugely to my anxiety, which made me feel depressed and made it very hard to motivate myself to get into some form of exercise. Really, I only felt motivated to watch Netflix. Whereas before, I had always looked with laser focus just at the ultimate seemingly impossible outcome I wanted, instead, I inspected possible root causes. I started with one first step: what I was eating.

Could too much dairy be a migraine trigger and be giving me bad tummy times? So I stopped eating dairy. I didn’t go cold turkey and also cut out gluten, sugar, and caffeine all in one go- I focused on one small thing.

And it helped immensely. Having less gut trouble and fewer migraines meant a drastic reduction in anxiety. And a reduction in anxiety, for me, meant more self confidence to try something new, like crossfit.

And so on and so forth, over months and years, I tried small changes.

This isn’t to say that I thought of this line- focus on the small stuff and the big things will follow- last year on January 1st and then voila, this year I started doing crossfit, quit a job that wasn’t healthy for me, and finally felt like I had conquered my anxiety. Or that this one conversation with my therapist about sleep patterns was my aha! moment.  Its been a slow process, over the course of years, of reminding myself to ease up, a little bit at a time, and actually address taking real care of myself. You can see hints of it starting a few years back, recorded in my journal, trying to inspect why my methodology wasn’t working. Trying to imagine a self love, a self care, that felt genuine. Reassessing how to actually take care of myself in sustainable and attainable ways. Cause Duh, of course I am not going to all of a sudden accomplish my wildest New Year’s resolutions if I can’t get enough sleep on a regular basis. And considering myself a failure, ever, is only going to hurt me in the long run.

So what I am here to say, as your favorite 4 foot 11 blogger, during the last moments of 2018, that it really is the small stuff that counts. Taking care of yourself, as in real true self care of your body, mind, and soul, is the building block upon which all other accomplishments can be built. And these small acts of self care, are so huge, so important because what we all deserve, more than anything, is to love ourselves and treat ourselves kindly.

Happy New Years babes.

xoxo,

gossip girl…

 

 

Just kidding, Bruiser wrote this post.

 

This is about being seen, my job, and my family.

At 11pm on October 4th of this year I emailed my two weeks notice to my job.

I had been working tirelessly for 5 years for a specialty roasting company primarily conducting hiring and training, providing direct support to the managers below me, and indirect support to our 20+ employees. I made sure operations ran efficiently and I did whatever possible to make sure our employees felt cared for and listened to, and were able to perform their jobs effectively. I liked my job, sometimes loved it, and I knew that I was good at it.

My job started out pretty good. I felt respected and cared for, and I gained fulfillment from my work. I liked my coworkers, I loved my employees, and I felt like mostly my values aligned with the company’s values. But as time went on and the company grew, I found that the owners were making more and more business decisions I didn’t agree with. Business decisions that in my opinion seemed ill advised and a lot of the time lead to failure, many times putting in jeopardy the job security of our employees.

I started spending more and more of my time doing damage control and taking on extreme efforts to keep morale up amongst staff. I would put myself in the middle of a bad situation and do what I could to pacify all parties, mostly trying my best to stop the shit from rolling downhill, while still acting in support of the company’s best interest.

But after enough time of this it suddenly dawned on me that I was actually working for my alcoholic father, and as in so many other relationships, I found myself perpetuating family of origin patterns at work. I could no longer, in good conscience, work to move the company forward, and I found myself moving further and further away. It wasn’t good for me, and I knew it wasn’t good for my staff. So I decided to quit.

I wrote a very brief email notice and included no details as to why I was leaving. I simply stated that this was my notice, that I would be staying 2 weeks, or longer if we discussed another date, and that I was available to speak in person the coming week. I figured there would be a discussion. After all, I helped build their business for half a decade. I was fully ready, willing and able, in fact expected, that I would be asked to help tie up lose ends, possibly train my replacement, prepare the company and my staff for my departure, and leave on good standing. While I hadn’t been feeling great in my position as of late, (actually this job has caused me MAJOR anxiety and stress over the years, but I was in a lot of denial) up until this point I was just thinking “you know what? maybe this just isn’t the right work environment for me.” I didn’t have the highest opinions of my bosses, but that was actually a new occurrence. Like I said, for most of my time with the company I actually felt a mutual respect and understanding. I thought that all small businesses are crazy places to work, and that even though there were some negative aspects, mostly there were a lot of perks to my job. Get this, they had even thrown me a party to celebrate my five year anniversary this past May.

On October 5th at 8am, less than 24 hours after putting in my notice, I received an email from the owner of the company informing me that in fact this would be my last day and that I should return my keys and company credit card immediately- my final paycheck would be ready by noon. No “thank you for all your hard,” no “we would love some feedback on how to improve,” no “why are you leaving?” no “what are you currently working on?” no “could you train your replacement?” no, “we will be sad to see you go.” Absolutely nothing- just the ego-knee-jerk response of an extremely sad man whose business I had cared for. I wrote back – initially from my company email, but that had already been cancelled- and insisted that he might at least want to sit down with me briefly so that I could pass on projects that were up in the air. I never heard anything back.

I should note here that when my male counter part quit a few years ago he was allowed to complete a full month after putting in his notice.

I can’t fully explain exactly what this reaction was about, and I certainly will not take responsibility to speak on his behalf, but two things are clear to me. Firstly, this reaction was based in a deep and abiding misogyny (duh). AND secondly, more importantly to the point of this post, this reaction to me was clearly based on my boss straight up NOT SEEING ME. Not seeing my value, not seeing what I had brought to the table for 5 years on the job, and not seeing me as a human deserving of a proper farewell and a little bit of appreciation. This email was of course not the first time this was made clear to me, but it was the proverbial “final nail.” Furthermore, this was about not seeing that the work I did, which some might see as women’s work, as in the caring for the wellbeing of employees beyond their paychecks, as something of value and importance to the health of this, or any, company.

Raise your hand, fellow femmes and female identified people, if you often realize that someone you are speaking to, or even just standing right in front of, is so clearly NOT SEEING YOU? And how often is that person a cis dude? And how often is the work you do, especially work of care and education, dismissed and not thought of as imperative? Cool, me too.

*Side note- in the weeks that followed I scheduled various appointments to take advantage of my soon to be cancelled health insurance. While I was getting blood drawn the phlebotomist and I commiserated on how little respect we got in positions of management. I said to her, “girl, thats cause it’s women’s work!” and she said “don’t I know it,” and then she assured me she knew I would be ok because it was clear to her that I had a good and sassy head on my shoulders.*

So just like that, after five years of sweat and tears, but not much blood cause that would be against health code, it was over.

I sat in bed not sure of what to do next. I had a therapy session scheduled for that afternoon and I thought, meh, maybe I should cancel it? Take the day OFF? But then I thought, eh, I’ll just go. Clearly, I had big news to talk about.

So I went to therapy and there started talking about leaving my job and the revelation I had that I had been working for my father and taking on a similar role I did as a child within my family. Which lead me into talking about my father and the time we spent together this past summer. Sadly, one of the things he liked to connect with me on were all the faults he found with my brother. And on one occasion I brought up an argument I had had with my brother in which I felt he wasn’t respecting the boundaries I was clearly asking to have respected. So my father starts in with “well of course he doesn’t respect what you are saying, your brother doesn’t really see you, he never has,” and as I am sharing this with my therapist I realize “…which is actually a story he tells himself so as to not confront the fact that HE himself doesn’t really see me.”

And then I remembered. It came back to me- this horribly sad moment I shared with my father over a decade ago. Its really is a wonder, what comes up when you start digging.

I was 17 and sitting in the kitchen, alone with my inebriated father. It was late at night, a dinner conversation extended way past my step mother’s bedtime, having long left the table for bed. I was a captured audience, and so often these conversations started as truly interesting and engaging intellectual discussions. I wanted to be there, I felt smiled upon and excited, like my father viewed me as a worthy partner in discourse. I was chosen; what luck.

But the further down the whiskey bottle he went, the further out of my hands the conversation got. All of a sudden he was crying and talking about my deceased sister, Natalie. She was born 14 years before me, and after her death not only were my parents destroyed, they considered not having any more children. However, a few years later they had my brother and all was well. And about 7 years after that they had me. But the thing is, I was a girl.

There I was, at 17 still merely a child, the overhead light feeling bright on my eyes. I had rarely seen my father cry and I didn’t know how to react. I sat still and he said to me “when I look at you, I only see her. I cannot see you, as you are obscured by her image, the loss of my daughter.”

He was literally telling me, in his most vulnerable state, that he can’t. see. me.

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As I recount this in present day, I start crying, something I rarely do in therapy, and I feel a heaviness.

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I firmly believe that as we try our fucking hardest to move further into consciousness, at least within the groups of people that I surround myself with, we need to both take responsibility for our actions AND hold accountable those who abuse their power. This abuse of power could be conscious or not, ultimately it doesn’t matter. What matters is that in many relationships, especially within family and always within a work place, there is an imbalance of power. This imbalance isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault, but it is real nonetheless. And how you conduct yourself within a power structure that you benefit from has serious repercussions for those around you. You have a responsibility to treat your power and those in your life with care and skill.

As I come into personal understanding of how familial structures have informed my life, I have started to take responsibility for perpetuating that which doesn’t serve me. I have come to find that I align myself, quite a lot actually, with people that don’t see me and that don’t respect my boundaries. A perfect example is the relationship I had with the people I worked for at my most recent job. I have to do work to advocate for myself, I have had to learn, and fail, at this work many many times. But still, I insist on persevering. Because I very much believe in self work and personal evolution.

I have also done work at trying to understand that of course I am not always an innocent bystander in relationships that feel negative to me. I too perpetuate negativity and push emotional responsibility to others. The work I can do is to see that which is mine, and claim it. And then move from there.

In relationships that don’t feed and nurture you, sometimes there are various solutions you can come to. You can identify what you need, and ask for more. You can ask what your counterpart needs, and see if you can provide it. You can move on from things, and contextualize, and work to understand and have compassion. Relationships can be extremely worth very very hard work.

And sometimes, just sometimes, it is totally ok to move on from that which doesn’t serve or value you.

 

 

 

The first time I kissed a girl

I have been working a lot on long form writing as of late, writing which I hope will one day become something I could call a *book*. Here is an excerpt from that work. It is the story of me at a young age, finding my way, and kissing a girl for the first time.

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I believe I peaked at age 13. Never before or since have I been as self assured, confident, witty, or smart. I know more now but I understand less.

The other day I was sitting in the tub with Lola on speaker, my phone placed on top of the closed toilet seat. She didn’t want to hang up even though I am trying this new thing where I ignore my phone starting at 9pm. It was 9:45pm. My therapist keeps suggesting that I need to get further into my body and feel my feelings IN my body. Just now as I was typing the word “body” my fingers automatically typed the word “phone.” Thats fucked up, huh?

In order to get into my body she thinks I should sweat more. I workout quite a bit, and I sweat there, and that absolutely takes me out of my head. Which is good. But mostly I don’t feel my stomach. Well, what I mean by that is that I feel cortisol coursing through my guts when my anxiety is triggered by literally anything. The rest of the time, when I cry or feel joy, I only “feel” the idea of it in my mind, perceive the tears intellectually. Think about the thing that makes me feel happy. My stomach is only good for anxiety. And real talk I don’t feel “joy” very often.

I have a feeling that sitting in hot water will help me get in my body more. The only problem is that I work at a tattoo shop and get tattooed a lot, and timing being what it is, I end up not being able to soak in hot water for weeks at a time. Because, for those who don’t know, you can’t soak in water with a new tattoo until it is healed, which takes 3-4 weeks.

So here I am in the tub on a rare night between tattoo healing. While I soak Lola and I discuss her goddaughter’s recent birthday.

“I loved being 12 and 13. I think I peaked at 13- its been all downhill from there. Don’t tell her that though” I say.

“Bammmbi,” Lola responds by way of illustrating her disbelief. As in- you did NOT peak at 13. When we first started dating she took to calling her dog bayboo. She also started calling me bayboo. Its a mix between baby, bae and boo. Our phones autocorrected bayboo into bamboo enough times that we started calling each other bamboo. Then bambi, bambam, bampersand. Bambelijah is our biblical name. Bambelijah Wood is our Hollywood Hobbit name.

“No really. When I was 13 I knew way more than I know now. I wasn’t insecure or scared, I was just curious and smart. Its been downhill from there for the most part, and I’ve only just started climbing back up in the last 6 or so years.” Which makes sense because I am now 31.

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When I was 12 I met many of the people who would help shape me, who would change my life forever. Before then, the things that informed my sense of self were:

  1. Discovering Nirvana, the unplugged album, in 3rd grade. My brother owned this CD. I remember learning about Kurt Cobain’s suicide.

  2. A pair of ripped jeans that I had worn out myself, some knock off converse, and some lace up canvas boots my mom had gotten me for Christmas. They were sand colored and had a low heel. My cousin got a pair before me and I was red hot jealous. I must have begged my mom for a pair. I was probably around 10 or 11 at this point.

  3. Speaking Spanish as my first language, being very aware that I wasn’t blonde or blue eyed, and wishing so hard that my name was Stephanie.

  4. Somewhat understanding that at some point I had a sister, born many many years before me, who had died.

  5. A puzzle, that when put together created the image of technicolor ballerina bears. I loved constructing that puzzle around age 5, when my parents were battling over child support. The image of the bears is always with me.

I first observed Lilith walking down the halls of our middle school. She wore tons of eye liner and had recently cut her hair into a pixie cut. I wanted to be her best friend.

One day she told me she was bisexual. Next thing I knew, every other girl in my group of friends also said they were bisexual. So I too was bisexual, finding words to put to things I was starting to learn about myself.

I told my parents, triumphantly, one night over dinner. My step father congratulated me and my mother waxed poetic about not being able to have any friends of ANY gender over for a sleepover EVER AGAIN. Don’t worry mom, in a few years time I will have gotten pregnant anyway despite all care and rules you put into place.

My first crush was on Mimi. Someone told someone else who told someone else that one of us thought the other one was cute, some sort of middle school rumor mill.

She had a slumber party that year for her 14th birthday. It was a winter birthday, right after the holidays. The day of her party I took myself shopping on St Mark’s place and bought myself my first REAL pair of Converse sneakers, using holiday gift money. There was a guy who had a small shoe store- it was more of a hole in the wall that extended much further back than you could see from the street. His specialty was to add platforms to Converse sneakers. I bought a red pair, because I had convinced myself that my favorite color was red. In retrospect, I only said this to stand out from everyone who thought it was cool to reclaim pink.

By this point I had also cut my hair into a pixie cut with strange long bangs in the front. Lilith had helped me with the cut. If I am being honest, my first crush on a girl was on Lilith. I was in love with her the way you are in love with your best friend at 13, completely obsessed, certain that everything she did was literally art. I would write her notes and letters, because we were friends, but quickly they turned into love letters. I would confess, as best I could, my deep and utter admiration. She rebuffed my advances, knowing better than I did, how it was really all a game of youth.

The day of Mimi’s birthday party, I knew that she knew that I thought she was cute. I wore fishnet stockings under ripped jeans that, this time, I had cut up. I had mints and perfume in my bag, probably a Gap Body spray that I had gotten for the holidays. I wore a rainbow beaded heart choker. It was cooler than it sounds and if I still had that necklace I would wear it today. I finished off what I would be wearing to Mimi’s party with my new red Converse sneakers.

Her mom had made us Pad Thai and flour-less chocolate cake- parties for my friends in middle school were always more sophisticated than seemed appropriate. Her mom had a huge standard black poodle named Bette, who, at being surrounded by a dozen screaming tween girls, was having an identity crisis. Over the course of the evening Bette pissed and shit in the house several times.

As the party wound down, I would catch knowing glimpses, Mimi and I sharing in fear and excitement. I spent most of my time in middle school perched up on the crest of this wave, riding the feeling of anticipation, knowing, in a very clear and palpable way, that my whole life was ahead of me. I was old enough to know how real and exciting that was, and young enough to not yet feel like I had failed at anything.

It felt like that tingling sensation when everything in Spring is budding and exploding around us, mirroring our internal turmoil. I wish I could have held onto myself at that age. I wish I could have kept that curiosity. I knew what I wanted to learn more about and I didn’t know to be scared of it. Here I am showing up to a house I have never been in, eating dinner cooked by a mom I didn’t know, feeling certain that I would end the night having kissed a girl for the first time. I don’t feel half as brave today as I did that night.

As our friends rolled out sleeping bags and brushed their teeth, our moment became more and more imminent.

We are sitting on the couch, alone in the living room. I am guessing most people in the house are asleep but I care about absolutely nothing else in the world. I am so nervous. We innocently check in with each other “Have you ever made out with anyone?” I had- my first real “boyfriend”, earlier that same school year. She had too- someone at camp, if I recall correctly. We move closer together, I have mints in my mouth and am recently perfumed, which is so cute and tender in retrospect. We start kissing, and she pulls away for a moment to comment on the minty-ness.

It could be that we kissed forever. But probably it was more like half an hour. We tipped toed back into her room, giddy. Drunk with power of self possession, with a secret. It meant everything to me. It was the first moment of the rest of my life, Mimi’s 14th birthday party.

She slept soundly in her lofted bed made of reclaimed pipes. I slept on a deflating blow up chair on the floor, twisting and turning.

The following morning, with her nerves pushed beyond reason, unsure of which way was up or down, her canine world turned on its side, Bette the poodle made her way into the middle of the room and urinated on the face of an unsuspecting and still slumbering party attendee. We all woke up the screams “OH MY GOD, THE DOG IS PEEING ON MY FACE.”

There were endless birthday parties which invariably devolved into games of truth or dare and spin the bottle: all our thinly veiled attempts at setting “The Stage.” We all made out with each other, we explored our sexuality from within the safety of our small preteen world, in our childhood bedrooms. At my 14th birthday party a few months later, Mimi and I locked ourselves in my bathroom and went down on each other for exactly 20 seconds each.

We were known as slutty bisexuals at various other middle schools, and personally, I was proud of the label for a time. It was my first experience of empowerment and of giving absolutely zero fucks what my reputation was, because I knew who I was and what I was.

This was probably the most tender time of my life. Mimi and I would listen to Ani DiFranco for hours. That guy who sold me the converse sneakers also sold Mimi her first pair of Doc Martens. His shop was across the street from the place where everyone got their first tattoos. He has no idea how important he was to us. My friend Sidney told me about Sleater-Kinney that year. I don’t remember who it was that told me about Bikini Kill, but I also unearthed my brother’s old Tori Amos CD. I was finding my way, creating my own history, gathering up important artifacts, cataloguing items that would be important to the historians putting together the facts of my life in future centuries.

BBQ Man

This week my father starts chemotherapy to treat a tumor he has growing in the lymph nodes on the side of his neck. Last year when the season was changing he had moved himself from Vermont down to Chile to enjoy the southern summer months. This spring when it was starting to get cold he called me and told me he was planning on coming back up north to pass the summer months here. I suggested that he come stay with me for part of the summer.

He got to Portland mid July of this year. Due to a million circumstances, many of them consequences of his actions, he finds himself at 77 with no house, no partner, his personal belongings fitting into two suitcases and one shoulder bag, which he guards with his life. This shoulder bag contains both his passports, Chilean and American, and various other papers and forms which he refers to as his “documents.” “Mis documentos” he would say, when I was a kid, referring to whatever official paperwork was ascribed to various things in his life- his car, his house, his citizenship. Currently his Documents only pertain to his earthly form, paperwork that allows him to cross borders, and a few others that prove he belongs in this country and has the right to healthcare.

Within his first 5 days here I took him to the doctor to get some prescriptions filled. While we were there the very kind and patient doctor asked my father if he was aware of a swelling on the side of his neck.

Over the course of the next two months I dedicated myself, with so much invaluable help from my amazing partner, to get my father to doctors appointments, undergo testing, and figure out his diagnosis. It was challenging to find myself in the unexpected position of sole care provider, it was hard to act as translator, explaining to him as best I could in Spanish the medical jargon that doctors spouted at us in English, and it was hard to rearrange my expectations of his visit; this was to be a vacation, not a medical incident. Hardest of all, however, was confronting the reality of our relationship. To date, this is the longest consecutive amount of time I have ever spent with my father, and things surfaced that I didn’t expect.

An important theme in the personal work I have been doing lately is to understand how to assert my boundaries and to see, with as much clarity as possible, how I have allowed myself to sustain relationships with people who disregard and ignore my boundaries. Understanding the responsibility I have to make my needs clear, but also the fact that I can ask directly for respect, and then to take a step back and away in the event that I realize I am not receiving the respect I know I deserve. The respect I work very hard for.

My father is a recovering alcoholic. He drank heavily for most of his life, stopping only three years ago. As a result of this life long addiction he never developed coping mechanisms. Like all of us, he feels sadness, anxiety, and fear. But what comes out is anger, rage, and a notoriously short temper. For most of my life this short temper has been directed at his spouse and my brother. While he was living in Portland, it was directed squarely at me.

At the doctor’s office right after receiving his final diagnosis- stage 2 non-hodgkin’s lymphoma- my father started yelling at me in the hallway in front of nurses and patients. My transgression? Asking the doctor if I could have a moment alone with him so I could better grasp the scope of treatment and what I could expect as my father’s caregiver. Asking for a moment of personal space to address my fears and needs, without needing to translate or explain myself.

I understand that my father is deeply scared, deeply sad, and feeling vulnerable. I can see that his anger and poor behavior come from a place of fear. But how much responsibility do I have to be his emotional punching bag? To be berated and yelled at in public? Should I subject myself to poor treatment just because I understand that when he is insulting me, he doesn’t “really” mean it? How many times do I excuse his bad behavior?

There is a chance he could die from this cancer. And if not from the cancer, then from some other impending health issue, sooner rather than later. He is in an advanced stage of his life, in poor health, and he himself speaks of his imminent death. I suppose it could be seen as crass to write publicly (to the 10 people that might read this?) about the challenges I have with my father during his time of sickness. But the truth of the matter is that relationships don’t stop being complicated and challenging the minute death seems closer. I know that I need to move to a place of acceptance and peace regarding mine and my father’s relationship. But in order to get there, to find respect and understanding for my father, I also need to find respect and understanding for myself. I need to know my boundaries, the limits of what is ok and what is not ok for me to accept, I need to know when to stop giving and when to step away from that which hurts me.

Last fall at the urging of various important people in my life I took a memoir writing class. I was the youngest person in the class by at least 15 years. We were asked to write a piece using the prompt “and nothing was ever the same again” as the last line. This last line could be included or implied.

I feel a sense of guilt sharing this piece. I have always wanted to make this piece public, share it with more of my community. In my opinion it’s one of the best things I have ever written, and for me it illustrates a part of mine and my father’s relationship that I need to process. Stronger than the feeling of guilt is the understanding that sharing my experience is always valuable, and that there is never a “right time” to do self work and to dig deeper. It is on going and usually not convenient.

It is important for me to start working on processing my relationship with my father- I am feeling called to do this work now, and I can’t ignore that calling. I dont want to wait until after he dies, and I dont want to just sit with it in silence.

There is, of course, so much more I could say. And in time I will write more about it here. I want it to be clear that many of the times this summer when my father would treat me in a way that I didn’t think was right, I would speak up. It lead to a lot of screaming matches. I also think it lead to a deeper understanding between him and myself. After all is said and done, we are actually extremely similar beasts. Along with going through pain and grief with him this summer, we also grew closer, seeing each other more clearly. We went to the beach together, he met my friends, I got him a pair of hip Adidas sneakers which he wore everyday for 6 weeks straight. He spent time getting close with Lola, eating ice cream every day (sometimes multiple times a day), and exploring Portland. He would wake up every morning and walk to the New Seasons Market by my house and buy himself the New York Times; he became a favored regular. We discussed a lot of interesting things, I spoke to him about unpaid femme labor, we talked about death and pain. I spoke more Spanish than I have in years and we gave Lola impromptu Spanish lessons around the breakfast table.

And so, here is the piece I wrote for class.

“My father loves to barbecue. When we were kids him and our step mother relocated from Spanish Harlem to boring-ass suburban New Jersey. My father was a professor at the time and they moved into on-campus housing. We were the only latino family in a Korean dominated apartment building, which faced a college quad. On one end were a few neglected picnic tables, splintering to the touch. And next to those those tables, some unloved public barbecues cemented into the ground.

Based on court ordered custody agreements my brother and I would head out to NJ every other weekend. If it was just over 60 degrees, we knew what was for dinner. The gang of Korean kids who oversaw the quad had a nickname for my Chilean father- Barbecue Man- and would chant when they saw him coming “bar-be-cue-man, bar-be-cue-man, bar-be-cue-man.”

Six years later BBQ man had worked his way out of bankruptcy and had bought a house in another shit suburb of New Jersey, right off the rotten egg stink of the New Jersey Turnpike. One summer night my father had the barbecue fired up. We were eating steak and sliced tomatoes with white onions, mixed with oil and salt and my favorite thing was to sop up the tomato juice with a slice of cheap white bread. White bread, devoid of all nutrients, always a treat at my father’s house, never allowed at my mother’s house; it’s mono-dimensional sweetness mixing with salt and fat to light up all the flavor centers of my tongue.

My father’s nightly enthusiasm for whisky and diet-caffeine-free coke far surpassed my enthusiasm for the white bread. My father lit cigarettes and took sips, removing himself further from our world, and soon he would be in his own dampened universe.

I wish I could remember how this happened, but for some reason the conversation turns to the topic of my tragically alienating experience of teenage pregnancy and corrective abortion. It has been 2 years since that day which feels so vivid and so distant all at once. It’s the smell of the shampoo that I stopped using- its scent too strongly linked to memory, it’s the feeling of a car moving me to a destination, my father and mother in the front and in control. And it’s the deafening silence from my step mother.  Its 365 days and another 365 days during which she doesn’t ask me if I hurt, hear me speak of the experience, help me feel less alone.

I feel the warm tears that I’ve held back start streaming down my face, sitting there before the dinner table, my family bearing witness to brushed off pain. To grin-and-bear-it pain, to sit-in-silence-with-it pain, to present-false-bravery-and-strength pain. To this-isn’t-such-a-big-deal pain. I ask my step mother- “where were you? Why weren’t you there for me?” She responds, crying. Some truth comes out; a missing piece.

“I wanted to be there for you, but your father forbade me from contacting you. He didn’t even let me speak to you; when I called that day he refused to put you on the phone. I wanted to tell you that I love you and that I support you. That I am here for you. But he wouldn’t allow it.”

I am appalled. I am shocked. I am taken aback. I turn to look at barbecue man- speak to this you drunk fuck, I scream in my head. But I know he is too far gone to take responsibility, nodding and mumbling, no one home to pick up the call.

I feel so betrayed, having been allowed to think that the woman sitting across from me had turned her back when I needed her most. The two of us, pawns in a game to keep my father in power and dominance over his children, time and distance an unanswerable equation of deep depression and a continued excuse for addiction.

His weakness comes into grotesque and sharp focus. I am 17 years old, the coals die out, the heat presses in, and I see that my father is a fallible creature.”

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The Legacy of Trauma

I am part of the sweetest book club in all the land. Well actually, we call ourselves a Readers Club cause we don’t want to limit ourselves to only reading books. Maybe we wanna read an article, or a graphic novel, or watch a movie together based on a book! Or maybe we want to get together and just chat about how much we love our dogs, and maybe we have talked about renaming our club Dogs Who Read Books and Bark and Watch TV Shows Club. You can’t pigeonhole us!

This club was born of wanting to spend more time with friends who we don’t see enough, new friends who we want to get to know better, and committing to consuming books and media created only by people of color, women, immigrants, queers, and femmes. We rotate hosts, we vote on what we will read next, we share snack duties and there is a dog (or two) at every one of our meetings. At our last get together the host, Leif, went above and beyond. We all grilled, there was a kiddie pool, we sat in Leif’s beautiful backyard, and the night ended with us sitting in the pool, eating hippie otter pops, next to a beautiful fire that Leif had built. Tell me that isn’t dreamy.

One of the books we were discussing at our last meeting was The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende.

Isabel Allende has been a long time favorite of my family’s. She is an internationally recognized Chilean author, my father has written books about her writing and counts her among his friends, my brother named his daughter after one of her famous collection of stories, and mom has read everything she has ever written.

But not me!

Probably because I am a total brat and had to do everything to try and differentiate myself from my family, I decided to completely ignore the Allende canon. Until within the context of this very supportive and fun space, I thought I could finally read and discuss Allende’s first novel.

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It is hard to express the emotional journey that La Casa de Los Espiritus (I much prefer the title in Spanish) took me on, because words fail me, and are generally lacking to express complex and deep emotions. But I’m gonna try, cause this is a blog, and presumably you came here to see words.

Never before in my life have I felt so understood by a work of literature. I had no idea what the book was about, and didn’t realize it would build up to a depiction of the 1973 CIA backed Chilean military coup, which ousted socialist president Salvador Allende (related to Isabel Allende) and put into place the military dictator Pinochet, who amassed countless human rights violations from 1973 till 1990.

My family lived this. In every way. My father’s cousins were imprisoned and tortured for being communists, my parents helped hide contraband guns and my mother played “socialist telephone” through her therapy office, sharing and trading political secrets with those trying to resist the government, find their “disappeared” loved ones, or escape the country and seek asylum.

Also during this time- my parents had their first child and, within the year, lost her to a rare form of leukemia.

Within this context of loss they decided to leave their home country and move to the United States, ultimately settling in New York City. Here they did their best to, in so many ways, start new lives. They had to learn a new language, a new culture, all while grieving the loss of their first child, their home, and their community. They got jobs, finished degrees, had children, moved to the suburbs. And when my brother and I were born, even though in every way we were American- born on US soil, learning English as we learned Spanish- the truth of our parent’s trauma, the trauma of our lineage, the heritage of imperialism, was ever present. In the stories that they told us, in the food they fed us, in the country we knew we actually belonged to.

The military coup that occurred in Chile on September 11, 1973 was fueled by the motivation of capitalism. It didn’t serve the interest of the rich, and by extension the “first world” (read: the United States) to have the poor and disenfranchised citizens of countries long pillaged by Spanish colonialism, elect their leaders; It endangered business interests to have poor farmers read Marx and imagine worker’s rights. And so the upper class, factions of the government that wanted more power and wealth, and surely a whole other cast of unsavory characters, teamed up with the CIA to overthrow the socialist government and instill a despotic military regime.

For the next 17 years this regime literally traumatized dissenters.

Trauma is stored on a cellular level. It gets into the fiber of your being, it affects the way your body functions, and it is passed from mother to child for generations. This is why imperialism works so well- you need only to break families once to have a ripple effect. At the time of our reading The House of the Spirits, the current US political administration is systematically separating asylum seeking families at the “US boarder.” Literally taking children from their parents and keeping them in holding cells.

We are taught in school that imperialism is a thing of the past, relegated to our history books and the darkest corners of our imagination. But you know what imperialism actually is? Yes, it is the taking of land and resources- but in practice, it is the breaking of bodies, the altering of cells, the trauma that becomes blood and spans generations. Imperialism is happening right now, with children who are scared and not with their families- they are learning and internalizing fear, isolation, and loss. Deep deep loss.

The practice of taking children from families is a long standing tradition of imperialism. And these children who have most recently been separated from their parents will grow up facing all the same challenges everyone else does, but with the added challenge of that fear response. Of anxiety and depression that creeps up, that goes undiagnosed or untreated. That needs to be ignored in exchange for mere survival. It is literally the difference between surviving and thriving.

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I have struggled with anxiety for much of my life. Mostly I have tried to ignore it and when I think as to the root cause, I can figure some things out, but mostly I get frustrated. I think of myself as weak and like if only I could just think it away, do some complicated equation in my head, I could come out the other side anxiety-free.

A few months ago, while laying in bed on a rare lazy Saturday morning Lola said “I think part of why you are so anxious is because you have inherited, on a cellular level, the trauma that your mom has carried around.” How beautiful, to have a companion at your side who can lovingly help you see yourself.

To say my mom and I are similar is an understatement. In so many ways, we are carbon copies. As a child I watched her struggle with anxiety. I was acutely attuned to the triggers and warning signs of her panic attacks- restaurants with loud music, excusing herself to go to the bathroom several times, bright lights or extreme heat. As I moved through my 20s and found myself starting to exhibit my own signs of anxiety, I felt a sense of despair. My mother’s fate was my own, I was becoming that which I most feared in her, my weakness catching up to me. I was her child, and this was my birthright, my inheritance.

I never stopped to consider where it was coming from and what it meant, why my body and mind seemed more prone to anxiety and fear response. This isn’t about blame, not at all. I love my mother and her strength astonishes and amazes me, strength that was also passed down to me, that is also a part of who I am. This is about seeing how factors beyond her control, controlled in fact by fascists, had a deep and adverse impact on her quality of life. Its about seeing how that has found its place in my reality, without mine or her consent.

Reading The House of the Spirits was like reading a road map through the time and space. Its a terrain that I haven’t necessarily walked all of myself, but it is familiar and I know it in my bones. Its a terrain that my family, my ancestors, all the energy and life force that came together to bring me into existence, have traversed. Have endured. Have lived through.

This is, RIGHT NOW, about seeing how imperialism isn’t conceptual- it is something that is continuing to unfold before our very eyes. And you know what else can’t be conceptual? The dismantling of imperialism, and the active role we all can, nay NEED, to take to interrupt the perpetuation of trauma.

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The book we are reading now to be discussed at our next meeting is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. He clearly and devastatingly articulates that the breaking of the body, specifically the black body, is terrorism. To break the body is to break the spirit and is to break communities- interrupting life with constant grief. I can’t understand the reality of being black in America, and in very many ways my skin keeps me more safe and living in different reality than that of black PoC in this country. The breaking of bodies happens to varying degrees and extremes to different groups of people, but to a certain extent it happens to all bodies that are deemed “other.” It is the breaking of that which isn’t male, which isn’t white, which isn’t straight, able bodied, monied, clearly “gendered,” and believing in Christ. It breaks those of us who are extra and who don’t fit or make “sense.”

I am not sure what needs to be done here, but I do think a first step is to see that although our pain is very much real and very much ours, it isn’t our fault. I suppose there is a certain amount of cause and effect, but living within a broken system- how much are all our choices and actions really ours?

Writing all this down was hard and a little disheartening. Mostly I don’t just want to be an observer- guess its in my Aries nature to find and offer a solution. But I don’t think I can for this. So I guess I will just end with a petition, which I think in some ways can lead to undoing some trauma. My beautiful others- lets care for ourselves, and care for each other. Our struggles are not the same, but our liberation is bound and none of us can be free until all of us are free. Oh, and you should read The House of the Spirits and Between the World and Me. And maybe start a book club to discuss.

P.S. Happy Chilean Independence day. On this day in 1810, Chile started the process of ending Spanish rule. Layers of Colonialism and Imperialism.

 

 

 

Tattoos

The other day my father and I dropped Lola off at a tattoo appointment. As we drove away he asked me what I knew he was thinking- “Why on earth do you all get tattoos?! I literally CANT understand it!”

My father is kind of Old School. He was born in the 1940s in Chile, spent basically his whole life working in the world of academia as a Spanish Literature professor, and spends his time reading and thinking about language. Things that make sense to him: the opera, The New York Times, the critique of literature, deep thinking, intellectual conversations, and ham sandwiches. Things that don’t make sense to him: pets, unpaid internships, bad grades, his smart phone, vegetables, and mine and my brother’s tattoos. Well, presumably everyone’s tattoos, but more specifically, the tattoos on people he knows. I remember once when I was in my late teens arguing with him and my stepmother about my tattoos, and telling them that whether they like it or not, they are going to have to start accepting these tattoos on my body cause they aren’t going anywhere, and their response: No, we never have to accept the tattoos on your body.

I knew I wanted to be tattooed starting at a pretty young age. I have always been aesthetically inclined, I studied art in high school and college, and my attraction to subcultures has always been strong. My favorite CD to listen to on repeat when I was in 5th grade was Nirvana unplugged, I considered myself a “punk” and a riotgrrl in middle school when I discovered Bikini Kill, I came out as bisexual (ooh la la) at 13, and I wore slips as dresses to school, much to the chagrin of school officials. The groups of people I idolized- homosexuals, musicians, artists- well, a lot of them had tattoos.

I got my first tattoo when I turned 18. Its a poem about the ocean by Chilean poet (and family idol) Pablo Neruda. I got tattooed at MacDougal Street Tattoo, in the Village in NYC, by some super apathetic dude, and while he tattooed the back of my thigh (right under my right butt cheek) I read White Noise by Don DeLillo. I used to be way cooler. I put A+D lotion on as aftercare, and paraded around the halls of my high school feeling very very superior.

At age 19 I got my second tattoo- I picked a super ambitious image (an antique print of a bird I found in some ornithology book at the Smith College art library) and a super ambitious location- right below my collar bone, with the tail feathers wrapping around the side of my left breast. Thats right- I got my boob tattooed at the second go around. This tattoo was done in Boulder Colorado while I was visiting my brother over Spring Break, took hours, and hurt like HELL. That was my first year at Smith College and I was feeling super gay, super liberated, and super entitled to take my shirt off and not give two damns about this tattoo guy seeing my boobs. Apparently everyone else was scandalized- but I was like, tough shit- tattoo my boob please.

My collection of tattoos has continued to grow over the past 13 years. I’ve got a pig, a bear, a key, a lantern, an apple for NYC, a rabbit eating a carrot, a tattoo that says Lez, some roses, a skull, TCB, a snoop dog lyric, 2 pairs of scissors, an umbrella for Portland, a ton of friendship tattoos, a literal “bro-tat” with my brother, some tattoos I regret, some I’ve covered up, some I have  with ex partners, some with ex friends, some with current friends who are also ex partners.

All of them have hurt a lot, some of them more, depending on the location. I don’t have a favorite one, but I do like some more than others. I have two appointments coming up, and in order to support this habit, I recently started working the counter at a tattoo shop by my house. I have been tattooed by some super sweet and incredibly talented artists. I have also been tattooed by some mega douche bags, and a lot of those tattoos I have covered up, or have plans to cover up.

So really though, what is it that I like so much about tattoos? For real, they are expensive. And FOR REAL- I repeat- they HURT. Every time I sit down for one, I think to myself, what on earth is wrong with me? Why am I subjecting myself to this? But deep down inside I know that I am going to keep getting more tattoos, and sure enough as soon as that particular tattoo appointment is done, I am ready for the next.

How do I explain this to my father, who has, over the years, stopped asking me if they are permanent, and has started ignoring my growing collection, but nevertheless, still asked me the question just the other day- why do you get tattooed?

I was recently working behind the bar at my other job, chatting with one of the baristas about our future tattoo plans. She has some beautiful work on her left arm and has been completing a sleeve over the last few months. We were commiserating about how different spots on her arm hurt more, and how the older we have gotten the more tattoos have started to hurt, and so we got onto the question of why we do this.

So I said to her what I think to be the biggest truth for me, one that I have learned over the years: every time I get a tattoo, especially one that captures the image I have in my mind, that fits in the right place on my body, it feels like some part of my self image is falling into place. It feels like I am further claiming that one particular part of my body as mine, and only mine, with which to do as I please, and of which I don’t owe anyone a single explanation.

I started there, at that, with my answer to my father. And I continued: This act, of claiming, is not just important as a female bodied and identified person, its also important as a queer person. Since forever the “female” body hasn’t been regarded as ours, but rather as public property for public scrutiny and ridicule. And same goes for the bodies of queers, those of us outside the “norm,”- truly, how beautiful it is, and how terrifying as well, to forge our own path. Our own “norms” and our own standards of “beauty,” of relationships and family, of life goals.

Getting tattooed is also to fall inline and become part of a historical tradition of body art and modification, one that has been expressed by various indigenous cultures the world over. Getting tattooed can be rooted in religious practice, it can be rooted in the practice of queerness, in the practice of rebellion, and for me, in the practice of self awareness and in the harnessing of personal power.

For me, its also a completely ridiculous exercise in the even more ridiculous idea of “permanence.” Invariably I get people saying to me “I love tattoos, but I could never get anything tattooed because I change my mind all the time and I couldn’t possibly decide on anything I want to look at forever.” Want to know something though? Guess what isn’t forever- this body. And by extension, anything you do to it in this world, in this lifetime, is in no way permanent, and every time I agree to have someone ink my skin, I giggle to myself about the actual impermanence of it all. The moment is fleeting, the pain is fleeting, and in the end, this body, with all its art and flaws, will fall away to impermanence.

You know what else is true? The more tattoos you get, the less precious they become. When I first started getting tattooed, uff, I would think about a tattoo idea for months before I committed! I would draw and redraw, I would ask friend’s opinions, I would draw it on myself. It has felt really good to let go of some of that over time, to instead feel lighter about the experience, and instead of focusing on the permanence, focusing on the fleeting whim of a moment that feels good and memorializing on my body. I am not scared, I do not feel fear of cursing a relationship or friendship, I do not fear regret- this relationship to my body and literally what I do it, is so incredibly freeing.

And lastly- I get tattooed for the art of it, simply because I think tattoos are beautiful, and interesting and as trite as this might sound, fucking cool. Which is a totally legitimate reason, in my humble opinion, to get some permanent art on your body.

I am not sure if this explanation made sense to my father. But it was a great reminder to myself that there are so many ways to relate to our bodies as fully our own, and tattooing is one of my favorite methods. Mystery solved!

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