To survive is to speak it, to break open a million hearts, to sew them shut with reassurances--that I am fine, that I am safe, that I am kind in spite of it. That we all are. To survive is to smear my bloody hands on leaves and turn the whole world into a new season, to look up in October and say see, we made it, we can breathe, we can lay down our inhalers and pull on our scarves and settle into winter.Read More
This morning, I find myself angry again at everyone who voted for Donald Trump. Ilhan Omar was born in Somalia. Her mother died when she was two, and shortly after, her family fled to escape war. She spent four years living in a refugee camp. She first arrived in this country in 1992, which means she’s been here almost as long as I have. And despite all of that hardship, in the last election she became the first Somali-American, the first naturalized citizen from Africa, and the first non-white woman elected from Minnesota, and one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress. And if none of this were true—if she were just a refugee who came here and led a simple, quiet life—if she were just a Black or Muslim American living on your street—she would still be a human, and still be just as deserving of our love and acceptance.
And last night, egged on by a racist, fear-mongering leader, a rally full of people chanted “send her back.” And let’s be clear: this wasn’t about Ilhan Omar not being born here. This was racism and Islamophobia, and it was inspired by the person at the podium, and he had the power to stop it and he didn’t.
And when you stand at a podium and you let 8,000 people chant that type of hate in your name at your rally, you’re not just talking about Ilhan Omar. You’re sending a very clear message to immigrants and children of immigrants and minorities in general that they are not welcome here. You’re saying anyone who doesn’t look like you or think like you or love like you or worship like you does not have a place in this country. You’re making them afraid, and you’re doing it on purpose. And when you let it happen, when you endorse it with your checkbooks and at the ballot box, I can’t tell the difference between you and the people who put on white hoods and burn crosses on the lawns of their Black neighbors.
I’m not going to stand here and say we’re better than this. We are not. This is who we are. But I do think we have the potential to be better than this. And it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of hard conversations and we’re not going to come out unscathed. But I hope we are brave enough to do the work, to have the difficult conversations. I hope when we’re afraid, we remember a little girl who lost her mom and her country and found a new place to call home and grew up to be a woman who fought for the least of us even while we yelled that she did not belong. I hope we can all be even one tenth as brave as her, and even one tenth as patriotic.
I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about the power of women’s anger lately. And I’ve been trying harder to name it when I’m angry—to embrace it—to count myself as fully human and fully capable of a broad range of emotions. We have been told anger is destructive and we should therefore not feel it—we should cover it up in words like sadness and heartbreak and fear. If we must feel it, we must turn it inwards and destroy ourselves.
“A society that does not respect women's anger is one that does not respect women; not as human beings, thinkers, knowers, active participants, or citizens.” ― Soraya Chemaly
But I’m here to tell you that it IS destructive and that’s exactly why you should let yourself feel it. Why? Because while I believe wholeheartedly in kindness, I also believe that there are things that need to be destroyed: the patriarchy, white supremacy, the prison industrial complex, the narrow range of emotions we let men feel. Racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia and fatphobia and the wellness industry that tells women they must shrink themselves to fit here. Human trafficking and police brutality and our collective ignorance to the plight of the oppressed. I want to destroy these things. I need to be angry about them to do that.
So when you feel rage, name it. Give it power. Let it fuel you. Change the whole damn world.
There's a really freeing thing I learned to tell myself recently: I wish things were different.
That's it. Just that I wish things were different from the way they are in that moment. And just saying that has freed me from so much--from denial that something was happening, from anger at myself for ruminating on it, from being grumpy when I can't articulate my feelings. From wanting to change things I couldn't.
And it has done two things for me that probably seem like polar opposites: first, it has helped me accept my current situation, whatever it may be. And second, it has helped me understand how I want myself or the world to change, and to see how that change is actually possible.
Acceptance is not naming change as impossible. It is simply the only place to start.
So often, when something truly terrible happens to someone we love, we want so badly to fix it or distract them or make the situation go away. But when I think about what it really means to love someone, it's those silent moments we spend together in the truly terrible parts of life. The moments when we accept that things are this way. That no one can fix it, at least right away.
So if someone you know has experienced something recently that you can fix, remember that sometimes saying "This is all really terrible, but I love you so much" is exactly what they need.
That, perhaps, is the most miraculous thing about human intimacy. That when we can't do anything else, we are able to say to each other: I love you. This is hard. But you are never, never alone.
In between my work as an Instructional Designer, making art and managing my small business, I read. A lot. In 2018, I read 202 books (67,857 pages!) I’ve narrowed it down to my top 10, because what would be the point of reading all these books if I didn’t tell you which ones you need to read. So, here you go.
10. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi* is a dark novel about what it’s like to experience multiple personalities from the inside. Part African folktale, part modern story, Emezi’s novel explores what it’s like to be a woman and immigrant suffering from mental illness. It’s raw and tragic and you won’t forget it for a long time after putting it down.
9. All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung* made me rethink everything I’ve ever known and believed about adoption, and I would strongly urge anyone considering adoption to read it. Chung’s incredibly personal story about her white adoptive family, her search for her Korean birth parents, and her reconnection to her sister (and her children) is incredibly moving. Chung doesn’t give any prescriptive answers about adoption, but her work does ask us to think more about what it means to displace a child from her birth family and culture.
8. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich is part true crime, part memoir, and completely unlike anything I’ve ever read. I started reading this because I knew it took place in Louisiana, and I’m always interested in good books about the South. I didn’t realize how much it would wrench its way inside my soul and never leave. Marzano-Lesnevich takes us with her as she investigates the murder of a child, which leads us to an investigation of her own difficult childhood, and in doing so, asks us to grapple with our own stories and those of others.
7. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller is one of the wildest memoirs I’ve ever read. Fuller grew up in Rhodesia (back when it existed), and her father fought on the side of the white government during the Civil War. It’s fascinating to see Fuller’s evolution from girl to woman as she learns to become her own person and confront her own biases—and her family’s issues. If this were fiction, it would seem too outlandish to believe. But it’s true.
6. When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele* is a powerful and important memoir about what it’s like to be Black in America, and especially what it’s like to be a Black, queer woman in America. It is heartbreakingly open and honest, and asks us all to be as honest with ourselves when examining our own roles in creating a society that treats Black people as less than human.
5. Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister* reminds us that anger is a powerful force for justice, and the right response to so much of what is happening in the world, and especially for what happens to women. I don't think I've ever needed a book more in my life: It is spectacular. It is liberating. It is validating. It is important. It is among those very few books about which I will say, "Everyone needs to read this. Now." So please, please, please: if you are a woman, or a human who loves women, or a person who cares about this world, read this book.
4. Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie will break your heart and force you to think about things you’ve never considered—like what you would do if your father was killed in a war and your only brother became a terrorist. Shamsie’s novel asks us to see all people as human, even as family, even (and especially) in the midst of violent conflict. And she asks us to consider what’s important—even what’s worth dying for.
3. Educated by Tara Westover* stuck with me long after I finished it, in part because I work in education, but mostly because it’s an incredibly haunting story about the capacity of girls and women to overcome the impossible in order to survive. If you’ve ever said that someone is too old or too prejudiced to change, this book will ask you to reexamine the power of education, and its capacity to change lives.
2. Heavy by Kiese Laymon* reads more like poetry than any other memoir I’ve ever read. It’s a heartbreakingly honest recollection of what it’s like to grow up Black in Mississippi, to leave it behind, but to carry it with you, too. It’s about both physical and psychological weight, and whether we can ever really escape it. It’s beautiful and tragic and important and you should stop whatever you’re doing right now and buy this book.
1. Florida by Lauren Groff* beautifully weaves character and place together in this book of short stories. I found the imagery of the stories haunting me long after I finished them. It reminded me of what it means to love a place fully—not the people in it, necessarily, but the place itself. And to also sometimes hate that place—what it does to the people there, and what the people do to it.
*books published in 2018