So Many Ways to Say Yes

Posted on October 16, 2019 by

This is a thread I posted on Twitter, but Twitter gets confusing and things get lost, so I copied it over here, too. I’ve been thinking about consent for a long time, and these are .some. of the thoughts. There are a lot more where these came from.

  1. There are so many ways to say yes: a consent thread. This has been gnawing at me for a while, and I’ve been wanting to put something together for the last few years.  @genderqueerwolf got me thinking (their excellent thread is here: https://twitter.com/genderqueerwolf/status/1183819829813399555?s=20) and here we are.
  2. As always, people vary, make sure you check in with the people in front of you before you apply any of this with them. 
  3. Consent is not just for sex. How many times have you ended up in a conversation or situation you simply weren’t in the right place for because the person didn’t read you right?  So even though I’m writing mostly in the sexuality and relationship context, consider where else these might apply.
  4. Consent has become a very big deal, which is a good thing. I’m old enough to remember when it wasn’t, when you were just supposed to roll with it, when saying “no” meant you were possibly going to be ostracized, when wanting someone to check was considered weak.
  5. We are not over that judgment as a society, but we are working on that. Certainly in queer, kink, and other similar spaces things are changing faster, as is often the case–margins inward is not an uncommon model for social change.
  6. Explicit, enthusiastic consent has become the gold standard. Most educators boil this down to “say a clear yes or its equivalent, with expression and body language that says you mean it.”  Alternatively, “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.”  Any exceptions need to be thoroughly prenegotiated and are still revocable.
  7. Consent answers some version of four questions: What do you/I want? How will I know you/I want it? Am I willing to give it to you/are you willing to give it to me? How will we know if we want the same thing?  (And not just for sex.)
  8. Consent usually comes up in the context of “how do you know if you’re hearing no?”.  I prefer to frame it in terms of “yes” because there are so many layers and degrees of yes. 
  9. But really it’s about saying yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no, and the (kind, gracious) negotiation in the middle.  Because in fact, consent is the territory of liminality, of navigating the grey areas.  
  10. A hard spoken no and a verbal enthusiastic yes just set the outer edges of the conversation.  There are two frameworks out there that deal with setting the container: 
  11. @genderqueerwolf mentioned FRIES and RACK as models.  Those are useful ways to encapsulate the basics.  FRIES: Freely Given, Reversible (or Revocable), Informed, Enthusiastic, and Specific.  (https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/sex/all-about-consent)
  12. the RACK: Risk-Aware Consensual Kink (replaced the earlier and problematic Safe, Sane, and Consensual) standard offers the idea that you should know what risks you’re taking when you’re taking them,
  13. …and that you have to consent to the risk as well as the plan.  (in-depth discussion about this here: https://epochryphal.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/rack-vs-ssc-kink-consent-ableism-agency/)
  14. This helped me: Practice your yes and your no, and I mean this literally. If yes and no are hard for you, get a group of friends together and practice asking and answering questions that feel a little loaded.
  15. You want to build the neuronal pathways that allow you to say yes please and no thank you easily, and you will freeze less if you’ve done it a bunch.
  16. I used to freeze when someone asked to do something I didn’t want to do.  Now I can smile, make eye contact, and say, “no thank you” easily.  (Not that a smile is always in order, but when it is.)  I also used to say “maybe” when I meant yes.
  17. I had to practice being clear. There’s no shame in that, but it IS worth doing.  I am still learning to invite invitations.
  18. Sometimes a thing is a dealbreaker. If I come to realize that I’m polyamorous and the person I’m in a relationship is not, then there may be a moment of “unless we can do this, I cannot remain in this kind of relationship with you.” Know your limits and honor them.
  19. This does not extend to “If you don’t [do x thing] right now I’m leaving you.” That’s coercion, and is not ok.
  20. I’ve noticed as I age that some things become less negotiable and some things become more so.  Know yourself; be clear about what you can’t bend on and be clear and verbal about it.
  21. (That’s asking a lot; there are a lot of other ways of knowing and communicating and it’s not fair that some are privileged over others.  Recognizing that can take some of the ableism and bias out of the conversation.)
  22. Then there’s everything in the middle. “In the middle” includes yes-but-not-right-now, not-that-but-this-similar-thing, I’m-not-actually-sure, I-might-change-my-mind-and-I-need-that-to-be-ok, and let’s-explore-and-find-out. 
  23. This is the hard part. It can be delicious and sexy, and it’s where a lot of growth happens, and it’s risky as fuck.
  24. To some extent, every yes is a conditional yes.  A yes to “May I kiss you?” (for my money, one of the hottest questions in the English language) doesn’t answer how: fast, hard, slow, peck on the cheek, on the lips, on the back of your hand, on the palm?
  25. The next part of the negotiation often happens in motion: where do I lean?  When do I stop? What cues am I watching for?  Do I reach for your hand or lean toward your face?  Do you pull back or lean in? Do you smile? Part or lick your lips? Blink? In short: are you into this *right now*?
  26. Because if you’re not, I’m not interested anymore. But if I’m just misinterpreting your cues, that could lead to a much different ending than we wanted, even if we pretty much want the same thing.
  27. Consider things like neurodiversity, disability, trauma responses, and intercultural communication challenges.  There are a pile of things that change what enthusiasm looks like, access to and use of verbal and body language, etc. 
  28. Those are issues in any negotiation context, but especially in something so intimate as personal desire.
  29. So now let’s get to the interesting part: All of these models makes some assumptions and privilege some particular ways of knowing and communication.
  30. (That conversation could easily be its own thread because it goes far beyond consent and similar into things like academics and institutional power.)
  31. These things can be navigated but it helps a lot if they are worked out in advance and if the people involved are fluent in more than one language of consent.
  32. So what might that look like?  How do .you. give and get consent, and how do you share that information with people who need it?
  33. You can say it, if you can say it. You can have a document, an actual written thing, that says, “when I do x, it means y.”  You can share it with people who need to know.
  34. You can let them know that when you get to particular emotional states you shift communication styles.
  35. You can teach them about your culture, or cues, or disability and learn about theirs. All of that requires both emotional labor and energy.  But all of those allow the conversation to be more explicit, more clear, more useful.
  36. Here’s the trickiest part: sometimes, whether you have the capacity to be explicit or not, it’s delightful not to. Ambiguity can be hot.  But to get there you have to have a much deeper level of trust. And trust is not just about trust-not-to-fuck-up, it’s also trust-that-we-can-repair. 
  37. Trust is layers and layers of time and space and process, and relies on both people having some steadiness in themselves, and oh god this is a whole other thread, isn’t it?  (setting that aside for later…)
  38. Honestly, the best way to get good solid consent is to know each other for a while.  If I know what enthusiasm looks like, if I know when you freeze up, if I know when you struggle or stumble, if I know what the energy of your body feels like when you relax and then relax again, if I know that look in your eyes, then our communication is just .better. and our consent situation is going to be way more solid–
  39. …as long as I don’t assume I know better than you what you need or want in any given moment.  Don’t make assumptions. 
  40. Finally, remember why you’re in it. The thing that makes you want to be in the conversation (grace, connection, pleasure, delight, joy) is the reason to get it right, and the reward. 40/40
  1. Despite the fact that the “dominant learning/communication styles” concept has been largely debunked, I find it useful as a way of understanding interactions with the world.
  2. So let’s consider visual, verbal/aural, and kinesthetic/tactile as ways of communicating.
  3. If I want to do something and I ask, and you say yes, that’s the form of communication that’s privileged in not only the models above but also our legal system.  Of course, I have to .say. something that we both understand the same way.  Even words are tricky.  (Take “have sex” for example. What exactly does that mean?)
  4. If I want to do something and I let you see me move toward doing it, but I stop before I complete the action and wait with a quizzical look, that’s also requesting consent.  But you have to know what it means–know what I’m implying, know what the look I’m giving you means, and know how to respond in the negative or the affirmative.
  5. Kinesthetic/tactile is the hardest one to wrangle without some kind of other communication, because beginning contact without consent is a consent violation.
  6. And here we are with the first problem: where does the action begin?  If the person you’re with struggles with words, especially in spaces of high emotion, how do you talk about it?  If you can’t .talk. then what do you do?

sustainable fashion

Posted on July 9, 2019 by

The thing about saris that I’m really into at the moment (other than their inherent gorgeousness) (and the need to wear them like they are clothes and not fragile crystal that you take down once a year) (and their comfortableness) (ok, everything) (but still)…

the thing about saris that I’m really into at the moment is their sustainability.

These are garments that need no alterations (maybe a new blouse) to pass from generation to generation to generation.  They come down from parent to child.  They get shared among friends.  Imagine a Naked Lady Party where everything fits EVERYONE!  Imagine shopping for clothes and every single garment fits.

There is one caveat: If you are big enough you might need to shop for eight and nine yard saris, or saris with the blouse piece “running” (still attached, and at the inside end), or have a piece of cloth sewn to the beginning or to the top edge, or both.  But imagine, even then, you can wear any nine yard sari you want.  Any of them.  It’s like saying you can wear every single blouse in the store, or every pair of pants.  Cut is NEVER an issue.

As someone with an unexpectedly shaped body, this is a godsend.  And when you wear draped clothing often enough you realize how ridiculous it is to design clothing with, like, a one inch tolerance.

And then you realize how unsustainable it is.

And how classist.

And then you realize that the reason those body-skimming dresses probably came into fashion in the 1300s in Europe was that only court women could afford to have clothing that tightly fitted and bias-cut (which, if your fabric is rectangular, makes it much harder not to waste fabric.)

Imagine if all the women in your family could share the same five or ten or twenty dresses.  All of you, no matter how pregnant or ill or fat or skinny or whatever you got.  You only buy new ones when you feel like changing it up, and if you can’t afford it, you’re pretty much ok until they wear out.  You change accessories or dress them up or down with jewelry.  You drape them a bit differently depending on the occasion.  You have some heavier cotton, some lighter cotton, some silk, and some synthetic, realistically.

And they don’t get very sweaty, and they are so thin they dry instantly on the line or on your person.

Imagine how pissed off the fashion industry would get?

Also the luggage people.  If I’m wearing only saris, I can pack twenty outfits in a standard size rollaboard.

I pretty much never need twenty outfits.  But I can, if I want.

I only need a few, so I can afford to spend more on each one, to pay the weavers (and spinners if it’s khadi) properly (that’s still a major issue, with middlemen picking up most of the profit, so if you can manage to be picky about your sourcing, DO).

All that is great, but I keep coming back to this: I can wear this art and pass it on to anyone I want.  Friends, relatives, neighbors.  People at the coffee shop.  Total strangers.  You can always give a sari as a gift.

This is complicated a little by gender, yes. But historically these garments belonged to everyone.  It is complicated by issues of cultural appropriation, yes, but people can find their own heritage draped clothes, too.  Greeks did actually wear togas, the kitenge and the kanga are African draped garments, the sarong/lungi/etc is a size and shape of fabric worn around the world, the Scots have the kilt (yes, a great kilt is six yards of draped fabric…but it’s wool!  I’d love to see someone well-versed in kilts drape a sari as a kilt).

It’s further complicated by what do I wear under it, because there are only a couple of drapes that are full-coverage and not many cultures where exposed breasts are ok.  But we can wear whatever shirts we want, whatever shirts we have, or can make, or tie a bandeau top out of a piece of fabric, which is very very oldschool.

And remember, your friends can borrow your saris.  Traveling to a wedding?  Don’t have anything suitable?  Find a fancy top and borrow a fancy sari.  Done.  Going to a family occasion?  No idea what to bring for the hostess?  A sari is always suitable.  She may regift it if she doesn’t like it or doesn’t need it.

So tell me: why do we insist on stitched clothing?


if you liked this, and want to support this work, head on over to my Patreon, Everyday Saris. There you can make a monthly pledge and get even more of my musings about this draped clothing thing.

No Prize for Pain

Posted on April 26, 2019 by

You know what I’m noticing?
I’m finally reaching college levels of productivity again.
In my junior year of college I was doing really well, by many standards. Yes, I had depression and anxiety, yes I was probably underslept. But I was singing, I was working, I was skiing, I was going to class. My classes were good, my social routines were good, I was eating well, I had a single (finally!) so I could sleep well.
You should have seen my lagniappe. At Carleton, a Lagniappe was a planner that arrived as an unexpected surprise (ok, after the first year it was totally expected) in every student’s mailbox, with all the important college dates written in. Mine was black with ink, plans, commitments, due dates, everything. And I discovered that I worked really well going from task to task to task, and then having things and moments where I just laid on the Bald Spot (our quad, it got a lot of foot traffic) and let it all sink in.
Then…things happened. It doesn’t matter so much the details as just knowing that they did, they were hard, they were traumatic and disruptive, and my life began to come apart.
It stayed traumatically dismembered for a very long time, going from crisis to crisis like it was swinging across a long (very long) set of monkey bars, where the only thing that kept me from falling was ironically also the proximity of one disaster to the next.
I came out of it briefly for a year when I lived in Minneapolis, then dived back under.
It’s hard to realize that there was that much trauma over those 15 or 20 years. It’s hard, because even now that’s not how I see myself.
To be honest, the alternative isn’t much better: I have a bad tendency to see myself mostly as a failed adult. But when I’m honest, I did a pretty good job of at least surviving as wave after wave crashed over me and I tried not to drown, either in my own depression or in the circumstances that surrounded and eventually nearly consumed me.
But my calendar was not covered in appointments.
I became protective of each moment, of every day, of the gaps and the spaces that let me rest enough to do what needed to be done.
Everything needed massive padding around it.
Some tasks could only be done in an otherwise empty day.
Spoon Theory (by Christine Miserandino https://butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/) had become deeply important, vital to my survival. I survived it, but I had to be vigilant all the time. The very real depression I had was consuming any resources I didn’t use and many that I did.
Fast forward again, and the most important thing I did was recognize that there was no prize for being tortured. There really isn’t. That’s not to say that the depression didn’t need other treatment. Years of trauma-informed therapy with an experienced therapist, work with a naturopath, homeopathy, acupuncture, and personal growth work. Also touch. But even as the depression ebbed, something tugged at me. There’s no prize for struggle, no valor in desperation. Somehow I had been trying to do things the hard way for a very long time. I think that’s a value I absorbed from my father, who tends to make things hard so he learns/grows/gets stronger/whatever. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A few challenges keep you from getting bored but mostly that level of struggle is damaging or even unhealthy. Current neurological research shows that brains get altered–damaged–by continuous pain, and that emotional and physical pain are virtually indistinguishable in the brain. You can even take painkillers to soften the crushing ache of a broken heart.
So if there’s no prize for pain, I should move where people accept me.
If there’s no prize for pain, I should do work that delights me.
…and charge a sustainable rate.
If there’s no prize for pain, I should give myself enough sleep, the right food, and the necessary care.
If there’s no prize for pain, I should do what I need to do to make money without shame.
If there’s no prize for pain
then there’s no penalty for turning away from pain.
If I can learn something, great.
If I can grow, great.
But there’s no need to make it extra hard.
I’ve been in California, in permanent housing, for 2 years this week.
I have a beloved whom I love very much.
I have a roof over my head.
I have use of a car.
The sun comes up, and outside my window a tree bursts into leafy abundance.
I travel a lot, but I always come home.
And this week–THIS WEEK–as I approach my 44th birthday and the world comes to life around me, I am finally able to slip administrative tasks between the appointments on my calendar. I’m finally able to contemplate doing something every day. I’m finally approaching healing.
I can’t say what got me here, or how long it will last (forever, maybe). It could be the health hypnosis session we did in class two weeks ago. It could be the slow and steady work toward health I’ve been doing otherwise. It could be having a partner who loves me for long enough. It could be the sun, it could be the keto eating, it could be getting my blood sugar managed it could be a lot of things.
But I’m here.
And it’s a pleasure.

security, poverty, and the magical art of enough: reflections on Marie Kondo’s work

Posted on January 23, 2019 by

And why not spark joy?

I don’t think my objection has ever been about “sparking joy”.  Unlike legions of her critics, I myself have been using a similar test for over ten years: “Do you love it?  Do you need it?  Then why do you have it?”


My stuff is still sometimes overwhelming.
There are a variety of reasons for that.  Sometimes I’m living in a quite small space, or one ill-suited to the things I’m doing. Sometimes I have moved fast, or in the throes of grief and heartache, which is not a time to make any decisions about joy.  I series of such moves has left me with storage units containing remnants of past lives while I try to figure out what space my current life will occupy.  And sometimes I don’t have much money.
Even with just the things of my current life, I can get overwhelmed.  My one 13×15 room with a small closet serves as office, art studio, video studio, bedroom, guest room, partial pantry, storage space, and more.  My kitchen doesn’t have to fit in here, nor does my bathroom, and I occasionally store things in my car.  But that’s a lot of activities to fit in my space.
It has its advantages.  For one thing, my rent is manageable.  For another, I have to consider very carefully bringing another object into the room.  Although I am one of the people who scoffed at the idea of 30 books, my current active collection of print books is very small (I just counted: ten–wait, no, eleven).  I tend to read books once, and move on.  The exception are professional and reference books, which I prefer to read in paper and reference by the location of the text on the page spread.  And a number of years ago I took a good, hard look at my religious texts from graduate school and realized they were not only going to be hell to store or move, but that they were perpetuating white supremacy in my studies and consequently in my work.  I can look them up if I need them.  I kept a few unique Bible translations, a study Bible marked up from class, and a handful of others.  I left all the rest of them at the free stuff room at the dump.
It was liberating.  Hard, but liberating.
Before that, when I still had the one house I’ve ever owned, I had at one time taken a tall bookcase and shelved only the books I loved (do you love it or need it?  Okay then it goes here.) by subject.  I stood back when I finished, pleased and surprised that everything not in my office at the church had fit, and as I scanned that shelf I could see the entire evolution of my life, the way the whole of my days had pointed toward the career I was choosing at that moment–which I still have.
It felt so…beautiful.  So clean, so pure, but also like such a justification.  It was a revelation that my life had not in fact been the chaotic, messy disaster I felt like the world around me saw, but a smooth ride toward an obvious result.  I had had some unusual schooling, but it led .here. and nothing could take that away.
If I could go back to any moment of home, that would be it, the moment when I saw and felt my rightness in a home that I owned myself, that was just mine.
My life did not unfold as I wish it had from that point–my feet were already tangled in the sheets that would pull me across the deck and overboard with the next big changed of wind.
That is possibly the most frustrating thing about life for me, that planning is not possible–or rather it is, but that the kind of precise planning required of a tidied-up life is a direct result of privilege.
And that is where I see the frustration and rage surface, more often than not.  It is only easy to release things if you are a monk or otherwise living in asceticism, or if you have at least some wealth.
In all the furor, I read this article: (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/marie-kondo-white-western-audineces_us_5c47859be4b025aa26bde77c) which explains the Shinto roots from which Marie Kondo is likely coming.  It connects me to my own version of Kondo’s method (Do you love it?  Do you need it?) and the deeply embodied question of “joy” although after reading about the animism I wonder if it’s more like a positive connection with the soul of the object.  That’s what I look for, too, essentially: do I want this thing here or not, where wanting is about a felt sense of rightness.  But whether I want it or not, whether it feels right or not, whether it “sparks joy” (I’m really questioning the translation) or not, sometimes I keep a thing because I fear being unable to replace it.  I lack the complete faith in a provident God that some of my clergy colleagues have, and that lack of faith that I will have what I need in the future is a direct and clear result of my relationship not to stuff, but to money.
The few times I have done a thorough decluttering I have been crushed to discover, sometimes mere weeks later, that the thing I was so sick of is the exact thing I need for an emergency, task, or project at hand…and that I cannot at that moment purchase a new one.–nor do I think Kondo wants us to.  It is my sense that she wants us to keep just what we need, and remove everything else, like carving a statue from a block of stone.
But here’s something else people don’t often say about poverty: it’s damned unpredictable. Things break more often; crises happen more often; because you can’t repair the tear it becomes a gaping hole and then the whole thing needs replacing more often.  At least in my circles the fierceness with which people fire back at the magical art of tidying up is often ringed with the soot and tears of poverty, of hanging on to the edges of their housing, of the tiny bits and bobs of comfort and security…and yes, joy…that have been possible over the years.  Often that’s embedded in and reflected by an accumulation of stuff–precious stuff–that doesn’t fit in the size spaces that we have (at least/especially not in the Bay Area).
That stuff–mountain of clothes on the bed and all–represents the ways in which people with little money hang on to their identities and their humanity in a world built to strip it away at every turn.  If you need public assistance of any kind you’re not to have choice or pleasure, you’re not to have dignity, you’re not really fully human.
The stuff is a bulwark against that.
I’ve had the mixed blessing, this move, of rebuilding from scratch, buying only things that suit me right now.  My wardrobe is a mix of western and Indian clothes, masculine and feminine styling, which is exactly me.  My sweetheart says I glow–I thank her for helping me buy pieces that fit who I am right now.  I have a small handful of pieces from before, and of the whole wardrobe I have almost nothing goes unused.  A few things that I held over of the one suitcase full that arrived with me are getting ready for…some new life.  As I look at my sweaters I see one that is going to be glorious covered with applique flowers, and I know someone who will probably delight in doing it.  I have one shirt I bought two years ago that shrank and needs to go to some much smaller-bodied person.  Some of my underwear has worn and needed replacing, as have some of my t-shirts.  But never in my life have I replaced things because they were worn before–always something else has happened.  So this is a new moment.  A small wardrobe, rapid turnover, and–forget keeping–even buying for joy.
And in this place, where I have bought a few things just because I wanted them–luxury!–I had a glorious moment about a month ago.  I had just purchased four saris for myself, after having gone to India and purchased six of saris for myself.  It felt like a lot of clothes for just-me, but also like an exercise in art and delight.  And with these four saris’ arrival, I felt a sudden sense of sufficiency.  Of satisfaction.  Somehow in that moment I didn’t .need. any stuff.  I had reached equilibrium.
To be honest, I had never been sure if I would ever reach equilibrium.  Like people contemplating consequence-free bags full of Oreos, I had wondered if I would ever be able to stop.
As it turns out, it’s not about being .able. to stop–it’s about noticing that feeling that you are done, and heeding it. In her first Netflix episode, Kondo has a moment–a pause in which she speaks directly to the camera, to you-the-viewer and not to the couple with whom she’s working–where she describes the feeling of “sparking joy” and how you get better at tuning into it as you go.  I’ve been practicing a long time, and noticing that quiet, calm, grounded, relief is not new to me, but I’d never had it with .stuff. before.  I have had material desires or needs for pretty much my whole life.
When the clamoring in my head ceased, I took inventory.  How had I arrived here?
  • I have food and shelter that feel secure and safe.
  • I have transportation I can rely on.
  • I have clothes in good repair that are right for the weather and reflect me accurately to the world, in enough substance and variety that I can easily get dressed for most occasions.
  • I am warm enough and dry enough.
  • I have the tools I need to do my work easily (up-to-date computer, smartphone, video lighting, microphone) and anything I add is now an improvement–there is nothing the absence of which is an impediment to my work.
  • I have the tools for enough arts to keep my heart and soul fed and happy.
  • I have communication means to connect with the people who are dear to me.
  • I can visit my sweetheart and my grandmother enough to feel like I am connected to them.
  • But here’s the kicker: for two years now I have had a partner with enough income that she can share if I need backup, and which she does share to help support me.  With my partnership has come a shift in privilege, and that, more than anything, has relieved the desperation.
I said to her with a kind of bewilderment, “I’m at a point where I don’t need anything else.”
I also don’t have to keep .everything. “just in case.”  That said, I still keep some cardboard boxes on the top shelf of the closet.  You never know.
How would this essay look different if she had not arrived in my life?  I don’t know, but I do know that staring down the barrel of life crises does not motivate me–it makes me freeze.  The odds that I would have magically made a million dollars by now are very slim.  The odds that I’d have this much stuff to consider the joy of?  Very slim.  The odds that I would have reached that sense of sufficiency, that internal signal that I don’t need anything else?  Almost zero.
The tidying is wonderful.  It’s the virtue-signaling that goes with it–a kind of virtue-signaling that may well be woven into the cultural shift from Japan to the US and not present in the original concept–that sets my teeth on edge.  I have spent so many years surrounded by the message that chaotic spaces are morally bereft and therefore the humans that abide them are failing some fundamental test of functionality (and so often that poverty is tied to this failure), that one more highly-touted, tidying expert-made-guru hit the edge of my tolerance from the very beginning.  For me the key to beginning the process of tidying is always the release of judgment, the release of rules, the release of badness or wrongness of any kind.  Want to keep 300 books?  Then do.
Need them for work?  Then keep them.  Need them for pleasure?  Then keep them.
Of course Marie Kondo didn’t say “you must only keep 30 books”, because that makes no sense. She gives permission to keep exactly as many books as bring you joy.  Maybe that’s three. Maybe it is 300.  Say thank you to the rest, and bid them farewell.
The funny thing is that Indians–half my heritage–are also very kind to certain objects, notably books.  If they are dropped the get apologized to; they are never put on the floor or treated disrespectfully.  Thanking something for serving me, for accompanying me?  Absolutely.  The grace, ease, and spaciousness of a process where one can release stuff whose presence with us is done looks like heaven in comparison to the tear-streaked hurried packing I’ve done, wracked with fear and self-loathing.
Which brings me to the other thing: it’s not just about financial privilege, although that helps.  From my list I can see that it’s also about emotional and relational security.  The freedom of release is the freedom of knowing that something has your back, whether that something is yourself or someone else.  The community and social network I have is possibly the most valuable thing in my universe, and I don’t even control that.  It’s made of shifting sands, but I’m not building a house there, I’m swimming into the beach, and rocks are far less welcoming.  Knowing that my people are there, that I am loved and supported with incredible persistence and depth, makes everything else possible.  And as long as I live with integrity, that community tidies itself.
Could my room be tidier, even with the relatively small collection of stuff I own?  Certainly.  Am I prioritizing that right now?  I am not. I’m focusing on other things for other needs, and I’m comfortable with that.  It is useful to consider whether what you have brings you joy, or is serving you well, and your choices go with that.  Someday when the time is right I will clear out the stash of cardboard boxes–or I will be vindicated when I need them.
But not right now.  Right now, what I have is exactly, precisely enough.

money where my mouth is

Posted on January 5, 2019 by

I’ve been working for some time at my #deFB project, where, without closing my FB account I take gradual steps to unlatch from the teat.  I’m ready for solid food again, and to decide when and what I eat at least somewhat independently.

Sometimes, this involves considering paying for content.  Fortunately, my considering paying coincides with a small increase in funds that makes this possible.  Suspending my Patreon creator account meant suspending the income from that, which–while small–was supporting all the other creators I support on Patreon.  Without that, I’m just .paying. those creators, without any offset from my own creations.  That’s not a small outlay, but it’s manageable.  I’ve given myself three months to figure out what’s happening next.

But I’m also considering paying for a Medium subscription.  I already paid for a year of Wired.  I read, a lot, and I appreciate quality.  The other publication I read enough to consider supporting is probably The Atlantic.  I have a museum membership, and I’m considering a second one.  Shifting my attention away from Facebook reminds me how much it costs to consume art (including writing) and how much it enriches me to consume art (especially but not exclusively writing) instead of the fluff I’ve used to keep myself from drowning these last bunch of years.

When I’m depressed, tired, angry, overwhelmed, anxious, or stressed, I can’t read big sentences with complex ideas–I get lost in them.  My ability to consume deep content is heavily impacted by my mental state.  This shouldn’t be a shock.  There are all kinds of places in our culture where people who have more privilege and less stress are further advantaged by their ability to learn, in part because they aren’t trying to make their cerebral cortex function while their amygdala is running the show.  Some people learn to function anyway.  Some people learn to shut down their amygdala for short periods of time, but that takes energy.  But I digress.

For two years, then, or possibly five or ten, I have been unable to really access depth of content.  I thought it was graduate school that soured me on reading, but in retrospect I wonder if it was the stress of school, and the ordination/fellowshipping process of my denomination, and then serving congregations.  I have been out of the congregational world now for eight years.  At last, I think, my thinking is back on line.  I’m ready to have hobbies for hobbies’ sake, and I’m ready to read again.

So what happens now?  I want to be discerning, now that my palate has reawakened.  Sure, I like the fluff for when I need fluff.  But I also want the kinds of meaty, tangled things I can savor, with a thick mouthfeel and a flavor that lingers and holds over into the next dish.

And that means finding publications I like, that press the sides of my mind until they stretch to accommodate a growing thing, over and over again.  I want to be heavy with thought.  I want to be hungry, and then eat until I am full.

It is clear to me, from the way I spend my money when my income goes up, that it is possible to be generous and glad and good and monied all at once.  I meet my needs, support my business, and then go find people doing things I love or admire and pay them for their work.  I do not imagine that this pattern will change much with more money.  It will just change the scale of things.  Regular people with money in their pockets can truly be a force for good. One must simply remember that this is what we are here for, not forever, as Marge Piercy says, but for a long time*.

*from her poem, Seven of Pentacles


the moment of truth

Posted on January 5, 2019 by

So here we are.  Last week I suspended my Patreon creator account.  I felt like what I was offering was too scattered, too diffuse, not really meeting anyone’s needs–and it showed.  I don’t have enough subscribers to make it a good business move at all.

But now I have this thing, where I have to decide where to put my essays.  In some ways, blogs feel archaic.  In other ways…well, I’m considering a paid subscription to Medium, which is effectively an aggregator and sorter of what used to be blog posts.  So clearly I read blog-type essays, apparently other people do too.  It is possible that I will move to Medium.  But for now, well, here we are. 🙂


I seem to have a lot to say

Posted on December 31, 2018 by

about saris.  And I’ve been to India more often, and I’m buying more saris on the internet.  In fact, saris (as a revolutionary garment but also as a beautiful thing, which is identity-revolutionary for me) are becoming a kind of a hobby.

So expect to see more about that.

I’m also thinking that there might be a patreon coming.  A new one.  Mostly about saris and all the complexity of them.  But also, therefore, about bodies and image and weight and who decides what’s ok.  And why can’t we wear fancy things everyday?  Why do people judge that?  And who gets to be fancy, and why are some kinds of fancy supposedly better than others?  And what happens to your posture when you wear a sari, or a crown, and what about if the jewelry is made to hold your clothes in place?


This might be fun.  Just fun.

I mean, serious, because big ideas, but also fun.

finding my people

Posted on November 6, 2018 by

There’s this moment when you

find your people the

ones who breathe your air and speak

your language on lips that

look like yours.

My people, among other things,

wear draped clothing, long

lengths of fabric that swirl around our feet and

promise great things if you have some small



One of those people is Sarees and Stories on Instagram, and she is interviewed here, about saris and wearing them all the time, as daily wear: bfm.my/the-art-of-saree.

I never thought I’d be an Instagram person, but it’s the perfect place for saree/sari stories and pictures.

White Saris on the Fourth of July

Posted on July 4, 2018 by

I got up today and wasn’t sure what to wear.
I decided to wear the 6 yard length of white muslin I got myself as the most basic of basic saris.
It happens that white is the color of mourning in India, a color typically only worn (by women) as widows or the recently bereaved (or on Holi so you can then have the cool tiedyed look).  (Men wear white a lot; it’s kind of like black in the western world).  (Nonbinary, trans, and genderqueer folks in India is a cultural complexity that has not really been sorted in the clothing department.)
I didn’t think about it until I was pulling it around me, forming the pleats.  The color of mourning.  Huh.  Well, yeah.  Today feels like a not-very-celebratory day.  It feels like a buckle-your-boots-and-get-down-to it day; a day for figuring out how I can do some good in the world, for writing the story of the world and country we all need to read so we can imagine it so we can create it, because what we have is sure as fuck not that…
but it could be.  We can create it.
And that’s the most important part.  We can do it.  We are humans with power and will and brains in our heads and feet in our shoes (thank you Dr. Seuss) and we can do it.
We have been living with a Trojan Horse.  It looked vaguely like a country which lived the values and ideals which it purported to uphold.  But inside it was not only full of enemy soldiers with guns and tiki torches, but carpenter ants, eating away even the frame of the shell itself.
Those carpenter ants were a mixed blessing.  On the one hand, they destroyed what we* thought we had.  On the other hand, they revealed the enemy hiding within and the fragility of the whole mess.
We can holler until the cows come home about how we aren’t now and have never been what we professed.  It’s true.
But this is also a greater moment of opportunity than any time in our history.  We can see it, all of us can see it and hear it and feel it.  This carpenter-ant-and-tiki-torch horror is on the Jumbotron and on the loudspeaker with the extra bass beat and anyone who doesn’t know about it now has deliberately and willfully turned away.  That deliberate rejection of knowledge is unconscionable, it bespeaks a failure of personal and collective and community morals, and we can absolutely judge people by that choice.  Everything is exposed, and it’s about damn time.
Do I wish we had uncovered this putrid mass of filth and destruction earlier?
People have been saying what it was for a long time.
People have been writing and speaking and painting and drawing what it was for a long time.
People have been PAYING WITH THEIR LIVES for the excesses and ignorance of the rest of the people for a long.damn.time.
The problem was, it wasn’t just any people.
It was the very people this culture has been discounting and destroying and turning away from the gates for a long.damn.time.  So this culture went on discounting and destroying, and discounting and destroying, and their voices of warning and righteousness and judgement and remedies got discounted and destroyed and turned away from along with their bodies and their hearts and their children and their needs.
It was your indigenous neighbors and your Black neighbors and your Latinx neighbors and your disabled neighbors and your immigrant neighbors (the ones who were poor and not white), all going along doing nothing but existing…and your trans neighbors and your queer-as-in-revolution, lesbian-when-wearing-mens-clothes-was-illegal, gay-bar-just-got-raided-now-I-need-surgery neighbors.  They knew.  They have known.  They continue to know.
It’s not that hard to describe the people who were discounted and destroyed.
But it’s easier to describe the people who were safe, who had an expectation of being safe and heard:
They were white, usually with some money.
The color of mourning.
That’s interesting.
Anyway, my point is, the information was there, right out there, anyone could get to it.  Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde all called it out–and those are just the ones I can think of without interrupting my writing to go look.
So let’s not “we should have known, I wish we had known.”  Friends.  We could have known collectively what the voices were shouting.  There was some deliberate turning away there.  That was a moral and values decision woven into our culture from our education system on upward.  There was a whole lotta “that can’t be” and “there must be more to the situation”.  There was a giant pile of benefit of the doubt that should not have benefited the people that it did, which was the white upper- and upper-middle-class power holders.
That’s not blame.  That’s just facts.  It happened like that.  The rot was there, people said it, the people who could have done something about it failed to listen to the voices that were right.there, failed because of the very rot and danger that those voices were calling out.  The carpenter ants and the soldiers protected themselves from being known.
Now it’s crumbled.  There’s no protection there anymore.  Now that crumbling structure is hitting some people on the head, and maybe that’s the casualty of that #secondcivilwar we’re being accused of planning.
Because it both is and isn’t a joke.  We are in a fight for our lives, and for the values we wanted to believe everyone around us held all along, even though a lot of them didn’t.
We can do this.  We can build something that is solid and true and real, and not a false idol to false gods or a false monument to a pretend reality.  We can actually be the people we want to be, as a whole, with many parts, e pluribus unum.  Both/and, separate and together.
We can.  But the most powerful of the small groups, the white folks?  You need to get in the game.
There’s an old white lady somewhere who threatened to video record a woman who was threatening to call the police on a couple of black kids selling candy bars.  Be like her.
There’s a bunch of people who got together to raise money to replace the belongings of a homeless guy who had his stuff dumped in a lake by a jogger.  Be like them.
There’s a neighborhood where white folks speak Spanish first to say hello to folks, even if they’re not fluent, because so many people speak Spanish there.  Be like them.
The most powerful change we can make right now is not legislative, it’s cultural.  History teaches us that there is a simultaneous transformation of culture and law required if progress is to take.  That is not to say that we should give up on laws.  But laws don’t change hearts.  People change hearts.  Living changes hearts.  Eventually the change gets so deep that laws to the contrary are literally inconceivable.
The first step is living into it.
We forget this, because we are steeped in a cultural-religious history that believes that coercion and aversion are the only ways to change behavior.  Hell, purgatory, penance–these are designed by people who believe in lots of sticks and no carrots.  But behavioral science tells us otherwise.  Fear-based-compliance fosters resentment and usually leads to recidivism.
True change comes from lived experience of the alternative, comes from compassion, comes from connection.  “The greatest of these is love,” (1 Cor 13) isn’t just some throwaway line.  It’s about the heart of transformation.
“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
What changes us is our lived, felt, daily, embedded experience.
So if you want to change the country, go live it.  Be the hero you always thought you’d be in the face of supervillains and Nazis.  Fight the bad guys.  Don’t be afraid to know who they are.  Don’t make excuses.  And if you find yourself monologuing, ask yourself which side you’re really on.
Take heart; all is not lost, for we are the people of America, as surely as any, all of us together.  We have only to live that way with deliberate force and determination; we have only to take action for what is right with fierceness and courage; we have only to do what we have already said we will do, over and over, in every day.
Do not lose hope.  Do not lose courage.  Do not lose your ideals.
You have built [them] in the air.  That is where they belong.
Now put foundations under them. (Thoreau).
*many of us have known for a long time that we did not, in fact, have what everyone else thought we had.  But collectively we needed to learn, as a complete body we did not know.  W/we, the greater collective We and the smaller we-s that comprise it are complicated in relationship to each other.

on not-fitting

Posted on May 9, 2018 by

There was a side gig for which I had four interviews.
I didn’t get it.
I’m not sure how to feel about it.  On the one hand, it would have been good work.  On the other?
On the other I keep getting nudges from the universe to re-expand my work back toward the body of pleasure material, to somehow integrate it.
I keep seeing people who are doing witchy things in corporate spaces. I keep getting told my work is much bigger than the intensives/expansives world. An executive coaching mentorship program I’ve joined has me noticing how some of the conventions of the fb coaching world are contributing to the very problems they want to solve.
Last night I had dinner with two other women clergy friends, (one I’ve known since seminary, and her wife) and my sweetheart.  I again felt that work rising up. I’m seeing how being in spaces where I’m not supposed to talk about or do or be part of myself, including my work, feeds subtle shame about it. It’s making me question the wisdom of conventions and agreements I’ve taken for granted.
In some UU spaces we have tried not to use too much god-language in case it makes non-theists feel alienated. In some clergy spaces it’s not ok to talk about your entrepreneurial ministry, only parish ministry is really allowable, because what if you’re selling to someone?
News flash: sharing the good you have is always selling. It’s always marketing. Those lines get really blurry really fast.  If we don’t get over our aversion to marketing we’re going to miss some important opportunities to share gifts and spaces that are sorely needed.
Which drives me to consider the ways in which hiding is considered virtue.
Why not pray on street corners?
The issue is, are you praying from your own heart? I don’t care if you want to pray in the street. I care that you are praying to live into your prayer.
All this leads me to believe that this is more a problem with our relationship to “no”.
I don’t care if someone offers me {a candy bar, a cup of coffee, a kiss, a belief system} if I know that I can say no or yes freely.
I get anxious when I believe that I am at risk when I say no.
There’s so much involved in that.
There is shame at not being accommodating, which is gender-linked conditioning. There is fear of repercussions: violence or anger or more pressure. There is wanting to be a “good person” and our own stories about what that means, and others’ stories about what it means. There’s how at-risk do I feel generally? Slightly? Very? How do I make myself more safe? How much discomfort can I tolerate?
And of course the other side: how to recieve no. How much grace? How much groundedness? Was this a space where I felt like I could come for validation or evaluation and critique?
Is this a place where I feel my whole self welcomed? Did I expect it to be? How whole is that? Are tears ok? Anger? Pleasure? Joy? What’s the determiner?
What’s the obligation of public and semi-public spaces? Private ones? Paid? Free?
And ultimately, what brings me pleasure? Does it work for me to be in a space where these or those are the bounds? Is what worked for me five years ago going to work now? Or do I need to shed yet another cloak of shame and leave spaces that, in their protection leave me bleeding on the path?
There’s no shame in not fitting in the glass slipper. The shame is cutting off your heel* to make it fit.
*there are many versions of the Cinderella story.  When I was a kid, I had a hobby of learning and telling folktales, so I kind of collected them.  In some of the older versions, when the glass slipper doesn’t fit on the stepsisters, they cut off a part of their foot (toe for one, heel for the other) to force it to work.  Needless to say they get found out and taken back home, their painful sacrifice for naught.
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