Thursday, May 21, 2015

Thank you, Robert Girard

Thank you, Robert Girard, so many years ago for keeping this woman's body alive as part of lesbian history, as part of Jewish history, as part of the history of protesting bodies. Deep in reading "If This is a Woman: Inside Ravensbruck: Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women" by Sarah Helm, the history of so many stigmatized bodies deemed unworthy to live and the courage of resistance. Whore, lesbian, Jew. And now so many other bodies deemed not worthy of life. Refuse, always, refuse dictated hatreds, unbreakable borders, ordained deaths at sea, behind walls, in broken streets. Stand together, the pariahs, the unwanted, stand together for the soft swell of our human, women's selves.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Lover's Voice, Ravensbruck and The Great Migration--the Beginning of my 75th Year

"The presto continues - am writing from Dubai - just one more flight. I rang you from the plane before leaving Heathrow (twice), but you couldn't hear me. I am so sorry if I worried you - but all is fine.
Love love love..."

Now reversing her journey, La Professoressa moves through continents and time zones, leaving before she departs. Cello will wag his tail off, knowing the only reason we are waiting at the gate at 6:30 in the morning is because Di, his running companion and great love, is coming home. A privilege of life this love, this letting go and welcoming home for as long as we have in life.
Di welcoming friends to our home, with an image from Jacob Lawence's Migration Series Behind Her

While my darling was away, I turned 75 and so many of you wrote and wished me well. I am trying to answer all, but what became so clear to me as I read your words, was how much so many of you have given me over all these years, of how we struggled together for more sexual and gender freedoms, for more inclusive histories, for women's full social and economic dignity, for an end to repressive regimes of nationalisms, for borders not of stone but markers of our human care, one for the other, for an end to the rule of racism and the dictatorship of profit no matter the human cost.

Two offers of the imagination have my complete attention now: Sarah Helm's "Ravensbruck: Life and Death in Hitler's concentration Camp for Women" and since I cannot see the exhibit in New York, the catalogue for Jacob Lawrence's "Great Migration" Exhibit. Both too huge portraits of our failures and our resistance to speak of now, but if these are the last documents of history I read in my life, it will be enough.

My darling, I await you.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Words from Sarajevo

May 7, 2015

"I spent all day wandering around Sarajevo. The hotel is not very close to the main/old part of the city, so it took a while to even get there--but I found the river and followed it along for a bit. I found the old Jewish synagogue looking out over the river and  took photos for you. The old town is a mixture of Turkish/Arabic/ Eastern European/Islamic arts and design. I also found a gallery exhibiting photos from the Srebrenica genocide and its aftermath. Words cannot express what these people have been through. I am hoping even more that the Women's Court Project is a success for those who have come to testify. At dinner there were tables of women from Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and others still arriving. The atmosphere is building--I have such a sense of this amazing network between many women that exists despite the continuing hatreds and nationalisms."
                                                                                                        All my love,

                                          Di in the free zone with Urska in Ljubljana in 2014

May 10, 2015

Dear Heart,
  All working out here. We've worked doggedly on our 'conclusions' and have agreed - we deliver them this morning. High anxiety about unrest in Macedonia - some women have gone home. Must rush now,
Love xxx

I hear on the radio of the military action within Macedonia and I know the women trying so hard to listen to each other and find new ways will be forced back into the old histories. My concern is with them, my love.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

La Professoressa Sits, Stands and Travels

                                     In our home before La Professoressa, Di Otto, leaves for Sarajevo, May 2015

                               With Esme and Alex on our May Vigil Against the Occupation, Melbourne, May

                                                    Preparing for Departure, The Hidden Expertise of Good Packing

    My darling has just written that after 34 hours of flying, stop overs and splitting headaches, she has reached the mountain- fringed city of history- torn Sarajevo where she will be part of a Women's Justice Tribunal. For many years, Di has flown over seas to teach, to learn, to share our work with lesbian and progressive communities, with international human rights activists and when I am able, I walk alongside but now the journeys are all hers. The sheer physicality it takes to leave or arrive at this island continent, the demand on all resources for those who can muster the required funds and time and health of body is my oppositional lesson to the taken-for- granted center of all things of New York City. Now I stand at the gate, Cello by my side, waving my goodbye as she leaves in the silver top taxi or in the evening's darkness, listening for her returning to my embrace.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Writers on the Road: Jacqui, Joan and Chea, 1991, Northampton, MA

How I cherish this moment, our shared travels, Jacqui and Chea and me, reading of our body's adventures, carrying politics in every gesture and desire too. The only image that preserves the large woman's body in the black slip that I wore from the late 80s on when I was sharing my erotic writings with an audience. I wanted the honesty of the body there, the availability, the need and generosity of touch written on every swell, every pull of the fabric.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Why there must be reparations for the ongoing sufferings of the descendants of enslaved workers in the United States of America

                     Frederick Douglass cast in bronze outside the New York Historical Society,
                                                      Another City Loosing Itself to Greed

Now the white male republican governor rounds on the black woman democratic mayor--baying the old fascist words, "more boots on the ground," more boots to ground the hopeless, the unwanted reminders of apartheid Baltimore, of Maryland's slave owning history, further away from the sun. Frederick Douglass born into slavery along the sandy shores of this state wrote in the mid 1800s of strangled dignities and his refusal to live under the shadow of white institutional hypocrisies. '"Let me be free! Is there any God? Why am I a slave? I will run away. I will not stand it. Get caught or get clear, I'll try it. I had as well die with ague as the fever. I have only one life to lose. I had as well be killed running as die standing..It cannot be that I shall live and die a slave. I will take to the water." A great dignity of word and deed was born in that moment. America has always had the choice to make between boots on the ground and historical understandings, between accumulated wealth and exiled communities. We see it once again. The woman mayor saying, they were 14 and 15 year olds, I was trying to keep from declaring war on our children. The man of power calling for quicker deaths of the unwanted.

Closer to the waters, to the bays where oysters are eaten in the thousands, their shells piling up on the sawdust floors, the others, those who have profited from the misery of others, live. The other side of the tracks, the other side of history.

The Fire This Time

All day I sit here in Melbourne, Australia, watching the sadness of human loss--the earth moves on its own journey, and thousands die. More then a tourist destination, more then the gateway to the conquering of mountains, a home to millions of poor workers who are left with little when the rich trekkers look away.And then Baltimore--one face I saw in my mind, one voice I heard, James Baldwin speaking to the SEEK students in 1969, telling them of the fires that would not stay contained, that through the racially brutalizing skin of America, through the determined and conscious destruction of hope, the fires would come again, our humanity would split open and then he said, looking up at our students, his small body fierce with intensity, you must be there to pick through the ruins and take what you can use to start again in a different way.

Now at 75, I sit and think, we had a chance to listen to the knowledges of the 60s but Reagan and greed and white supremacy turned our hearts into gated cities. Baltimore's Mayor, Ms. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, tried to have learned from the overly militarized responses of other apartheid American towns and cities. No deaths in the long night when angers too hot to stay beneath the streets marked her city. She will be criticized for being too soft, she will be criticized for her humanity and her understandings of what we have done.


Editor's Note: In light of the protests around the country demanding a stop to police brutality and changes to a racist justice system, we are reprinting one of James Baldwin's most famous articles published in The Progressive magazine, from December 1962. (Baldwin later adapted it in his essay collection, The Fire Next Time.Senior editor Matt Rothschild remarked today, "This might be the greatest piece we've ever published."
Dear James:
I have begun this letter five times and torn it up five times. I keep seeing your face, which is also the face of your father and my brother. I have known both of you all your lives and have carried your daddy in my arms and on my shoulders, kissed him and spanked him and watched him learn to walk. I don't know if you have known anybody from that far back, if you have loved anybody that long, first as an infant, then as a child, then as a man. You gain a strange perspective on time and human pain and effort.
Other people cannot see what I see whenever I look into your father's face, for behind your father's face as it is today are all those other faces which were his. Let him laugh and I see a cellar your father does not remember and a house he does not remember and I hear in his present laughter his laughter as a child. Let him curse and I remember his falling down the cellar steps and howling and I remember with pain his tears which my hand or your grandmother's hand so easily wiped away, but no one's hand can wipe away those tears he sheds invisibly today which one hears in his laughter and in his speech and in his songs.
I know what the world has done to my brother and how narrowly he has survived it and I know, which is much worse, and this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. One can be--indeed, one must strive to become--tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of war; remember, I said most of mankind, but it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.
Now, my dear namesake, these innocent and well meaning people, your countrymen, have caused you to be born under conditions not far removed from those described for us by Charles Dickens in the London of more than a hundred years ago. I hear the chorus of the innocents screaming, "No, this is not true. How bitter you are," but I am writing this letter to you to try to tell you something about how to handle them, for most of them do not yet really know that you exist. I know the conditions under which you were born for I was there. Your countrymen were not there and haven't made it yet. Your grandmother was also there and no one has ever accused her of being bitter. I suggest that the innocent check with her. She isn't hard to find. Your countrymen don't know that she exists either, though she has been working for them all their lives.
Well, you were born; here you came, something like fifteen years ago, and though your father and mother and grandmother, looking about the streets through which they were carrying you, staring at the walls into which they brought you, had every reason to be heavy-hearted, yet they were not, for here you were, big James, named for me. You were a big baby. I was not. Here you were to be loved. To be loved, baby, hard at once and forever to strengthen you against the loveless world. Remember that. I know how black it looks today for you. It looked black that day too. Yes, we were trembling. We have not stopped trembling yet, but if we had not loved each other, none of us would have survived, and now you must survive because we love you and for the sake of your children and your children's children.
This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that for the heart of the matter is here and the crux of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do and how you could do it, where you could live and whom you could marry.
I know your countrymen do not agree with me here and I hear them. saying, "You exaggerate." They do not know Harlem and I do. So do you. Take no one's word for anything, including mine, but trust your experience. Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go. The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority, but to their inhumanity and fear.
Please try to be clear, dear James, through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words "acceptance" and "integration." There is no reason for you to try to become like white men and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them, and I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love, for these innocent people have no other hope. They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men.
Many of them indeed know better, but as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case the danger in the minds and hearts of most white Americans is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shivering and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one's sense of one's own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man's world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar, and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.
You don't be afraid. I said it was intended that you should perish, in the ghetto, perish by never being allowed to go beyond and behind the white man's definition, by never being allowed to spell your proper name. You have, and many of us have, defeated this intention and by a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grasp of reality. But these men are your brothers, your lost younger brothers, and if the word "integration" means anything, this is what it means, that we with love shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it, for this is your home, my friend. Do not be driven from it. Great men have done great things here and will again and we can make America what America must become.
It will be hard, James, but you come from sturdy peasant stock, men who picked cotton, dammed rivers, built railroads, and in the teeth of the most terrifying odds, achieved an unassailable and monumental dignity. You come from a long line of great poets, some of the greatest poets since Homer. One of them said, "The very time I thought I was lost, my dungeon shook and my chains fell off."
You know and I know that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too early. We cannot be free until they are free. God bless you, James, and Godspeed.
Your uncle,