content warning: mentions of violence against trans people.
"The world is littered in dead and dying things that are so beautiful right now. What I want to give you is comfort, is succor, is a place to come and be in a mind that is not belabored by the impossibility of a better world. I want to bring you into the space that I insist upon occupying as a rebellion, as sustenance as integrity: I refuse to occupy a world where better is not possible. "
Together, we can weave a thread strong enough to stitch this breaking world.
For more on the Japanese art of making fabric from mother of pearl and other materials, called hikihaku, see How was it made? Japanese hikihaku obi | V&A (YouTube) and this TikTok post from Margaret Jean/Couture Fantasy.
The Alice Walker quote is from her poem "Expect Nothing" from the collection Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism.
The quoted lyric ""Because I knew you I have been changed for good" is from "For Good," from the musical Wicked (Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book by Winnie Holzman.)
Recorded on Sunday, November 20, 2022.
notes and full transcript: https://powerpivot2.captivate.fm/episode/tdor-goodness
I wake up for the second time at 8:30. I try to remember why I feel like something terrible has happened. And then I remember. There's been another shooting. There's been another shooting. I read about it at 4:30 in the morning when I couldn't sleep. It apparently happened overnight. It happened overnight, the night before Trans Day of Remembrance.
Trans Day of Remembrance, the day that we remember. We remember and memorialize our dead. We have a whole shared holiday for it, separate from all the other days that our culture has for dead people, because our dead people are so many more per capita than all of the other dead people per capita. And so we need a day, we need a day to remember how fragile we are, how vulnerable we are, but mostly to remember how fierce and beautiful and wonderful we are. And that we do not deserve to die and that we die. And we die, and we die.
And there's been another shooting. And I cannot help the echoes of all of the years of shootings and deaths, and beatings and deaths, and deaths and deaths. And it is beautiful outside. Forty-five degrees. Crisp. Blue sky. Sunny. Red trees. This is one of those magical years when the cold came fast and snapped the maples into bright red. The world is littered in dead and dying things that are so beautiful, right now.
What I want to give you is comfort, is succor, is a place to come and be in a mind that is not belabored by the impossibility of a better world. I want to bring you into the space that I insist upon occupying as a rebellion, as sustenance, as integrity. I refuse to occupy a world where better is not possible. I do not believe that life is made to wantonly destroy life. I believe that we are in relationship, and that we all know that at some point we have to die in order for some other thing to happen. That that's the very nature of life. It is finite. And the ways in which those boundaries are executed upon us are varied and many and complex and difficult.
I read a long essay by a friend of mine about the death, and life, of their precious, precious dog. Life and death, joy and sorrow, woven fine. And sometimes death is what you're hoping for. Sometimes death is what you're expecting. If you have lived long enough, for long enough- I have sat with people at their deathbeds and they are ready.
But if you are out dancing at a queer club the night before Trans Day of Remembrance, you're probably not ready. And you shouldn't have to be. We should not have to walk through our lives ready to expire at any moment, any more than anyone else does. Yes, Alice Walker says "expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise." But not that kind of surprise, really. Really? I want to give you a place where you can come and occupy a different set of possibilities, a different imagined future.
Because what is real, is that art allows us to imagine the future that we want and when we imagine it, our brains naturally start to work on how to effect that change, if it feels good. And so the question I have is, how do we effect that change? How do we make it feel better? It doesn't even have to get to good, just okay would be fine.
We all now know what it means to walk around not knowing when something could decide to kill you. That's the gift- if it's a gift, which it isn't- of the pandemic. We all share that experience. We all know what it's like to be under threat. We all know what it's like to protect ourselves preemptively. We all know what it's like to get tired of protecting ourselves preemptively every day, every week, every year. We know. We know and we can feel that fatigue in our bones. We can feel the gusty sigh of masking up one more time.
And yet, we want to be safe. And we want to keep our community safe. And so we do mask up one more time. Protect ourselves a little more. Support and encourage people as best we can from a distance of six feet. Smile at the neighbors and wave but also walk away so that we are not in each other's airspace. Hold our breath when we can't avoid people. Try not to inhale until we can feel that the air has changed around us.
I have been trying not to inhale at least since the AIDS quilt. Try not to inhale. Try not to take in that substance without which you cannot survive. Because also if you inhale, you may not survive. So if that's what we have, and what we want is something different, what do we believe in? How do we believe in ourselves as the agents of change?
We all have power, you've heard me say it a million times, and I will say it a million more. We all have power somewhere. We all have power somewhere. Where is your power? Where do you have knowledge, wisdom, influence? Where do you affect someone else's life? Where could you affect someone else's life? What are you doing to affect someone else's life for the better? "Because I knew you I have been changed for good." That song lyric- that song lyric just floats up out of nowhere over and over and over again. It just comes. Because that is the person that I want to be in the world. That is how I want to move through the world.
I know I change people. I'm an intensive, that's what we do. We change people. We are agents of change, we are catalysts. We are the delta in the equation. Which means that we are more ephemeral than the rest of the equation, we are not a thing, we are not a substance, we are the embodiment of change. And that's why intensives are so important. Especially now. Always, especially, now.
How do we believe in ourselves as someone who can make a good change and not just a neutral change? And absolutely not a bad change? And how do we handle the fact that we will sometimes make a bad change even though we didn't mean to? Because sometimes that's what happens. How will we repair it? How will we make sure that we mitigate the danger?
How will we stop focusing on the danger long enough to believe in ourselves as agents of change for good. Agents of change for a better world. Agents of change for a place where everybody can feel safe. Where everybody has food. Where everybody has housing. Where everybody can get a decent night's rest and the medical care they need? Where everybody's pain, to the greatest extent possible, can be mitigated. Because people do not ever deserve to be in pain.
Suffering is not justice. And it is absolutely not the correct consequence for being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong society. Nobody deserves to suffer. Suffering does not improve brain chemistry. Suffering does not improve community. Suffering does not improve things. There's no justification for suffering for its own sake. Struggle. Challenge. Discomfort in the name of good. But not suffering. And there is so much suffering.
How do we believe in ourselves as agents of change in a world that is trying to break apart?
Last night I was working on making a custom-made dress form that would more accurately reflect my shape than anything that I can buy in a store. And I went to sew two curves together and I realized that trying to use the sewing machine for that was an exercise in futility and frustration and I wasn't even going to put myself through it once. And instead, as I stood there debating if it was really something I wanted to do by hand, I said to myself, just get the thread. Just start sewing. It'll be done before you know it.
And in fact, I got the thread and I started sewing and I had to put some more thread on periodically because it took a lot of thread. But it was sewed together and it was sewed together right the first time and I didn't have to worry about all of the vagaries of machines sewing doing things to my fabric that I didn't want to have done. And it was just done because I had taken up my needle and thread. We can all take up our needle and thread we can all begin to sew the world back together. It is trying to break apart. It needs stronger thread, maybe carpet thread, maybe twine. Maybe it is baling wire.
Sometimes baling wire, duct tape, and cobwebs are what we have. But sometimes when we get together, those are the perfect things.
I watched a YouTube video about this ancient Japanese art of making fabric out of things like lapis lazuli and mother of pearl. It was prompted by a TikTok of somebody who had gone to the Legion of Honor Museum, here in San Francisco. And they had seen an exhibit about a fashion designer who does these amazing, amazing, almost otherworldly, designs. And one of the designs had a sheath made of mother of pearl fabric. And all of us said "what?"
And so we passed it around from person to person saying "what?" "do you know how this happens?" "Do you know how this happens?" And someone found it on YouTube and shared it with me and I watched the video. They take these paper-thin sheets of mother of pearl. And they lay them down on a sheet of paper, they glue them to a sheet of paper. And then they very carefully, with the edges of several porcelain bowls, they break up the structure of the mother of pearl so it won't crack. And they soften it and it becomes pliable. It becomes fabric-able.
And then once all of that is done, they weave it on special looms, it gets sliced into tiny, tiny, tiny strips. And then they weave it on these special looms that only a few people know how to use. And in some cases, nobody knows how to repair anymore. All for the sake of beauty. All for the sake of a better world, a more beautiful world.
There are so many ways to make the world better. There are so many things that make the world beautiful. And each one of us has some of that in us. One person I know- make that three people I know- are like Disney princesses with animals. Animals just kind of wander up to them and think they're friends and communicate with them. The natural world doesn't really recognize a barrier between them and it. Because there is no barrier. Because they are animals and we are all animals. And the natural world recognizes that these particular people are more available for that conversation and engages with them in a different way. That's one of those kinds of beauty.
Other people are skilled or talented. I know somebody who can understand complex theoretical frameworks and translate them into comprehensible chunks of ideas. So that everybody can have access to them. That's a way of making the world more beautiful. Some people are skilled at being out there on the frontlines shouting, literally shouting in the streets. And we need that. And some people are skilled at making beautiful art that changes our minds, and we need that too.
Everybody has something. Everybody has some kind of gift and some kind of power, some context where you know more than anybody else, or where you know as much as everybody else. And you can weave yourself together with them and make something strong and beautiful and good.
Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, and absolutely there is mourning. And absolutely there is rage. And absolutely, absolutely, there's complexity. And absolutely, there's longing. And absolutely there is love for each other, and for the world.