The underground train urges me to zone out. To be anywhere but here. It’s paused momentarily. I’m not concerned. Underground, with strangers, layers deep under paved roads, I’m stepping around puddles of my past, peering through windows at myself—memories so warped with time and emotion that it’s like I’m dreaming in the fluorescent buzz of the still train car. Rationality doesn’t usually join me on these journeys. Insecurities balloon in my thoughts. Echoing voices of superiors, peers, and strangers grasp me in a trance wound up in the space between my eyebrows. Here, lunch box between my legs, headphones sitting silently in my ears, my open eyes are closed to this daily underground journey. It’s only 8 A.M.
Suddenly sensation is calling me back. As if we’re about to take off from the ground, the train accelerates. The noise vibrates and we’re all part of the rumble forward—or sideways. It is the moment of relinquishing any drop of control for the duration of the atmospheric ride and the coinciding drop of one’s stomach in the initial lift off—the somatic experience of facing a choice. To hold on tight or to let go. A choice whether to let of of control that never existed. I’m reminded of all the take-offs that have thrust me into new adventures and I’m awake again. Present in the perception shattering moment of relinquishing control. Those moments of complete in-between.
Even if just for a moment, the recent hypnotic thoughts are released. I’m breathing with the present. Everything is perfectly how it must be. Thank you, I think. For the memories that rush back. For the small reminders that letting go is an option. That my thoughts are not my reality. That these treasures are accessible in the minute moments of daily routine.
The awkward train pauses again and again, jerkily following a slower one up ahead. Paused in darkness, and once at the apex of a bridge over the river, the stop-and-go provides an extended number of take-off moments this morning. Thank you, I think, as the euphoria of released rumination and pre-escape jitters wash over me. From my chest, to the space between my eyes, to my shoulders and my hips. It’s 8:25 A.M. and the day has begun again.
We find normal in the storm.
I'm Scorpio, so they say. I thirst for stability, but I reject routine.
So how do I anchor my self but not my soul?
How do I shape-shift endlessly and commit to love?
Well, with him. With us.
He and I repeat the intertwining dance, holding each other from nape to toe, sometimes by fingertips, sometimes by nothing at all.
When nothing holds us we hold ourselves, in pride and fear and the desire to loop back into the other with stories and moments we've collected throughout the day.
We hold each other in all combinations, but face-to-face is the best because we don't exactly fit but we can breathe each other in, including the unspoken pieces we don’t know yet and won’t know for a while.
The dance is a ritual. Our souls strew out into the world for us to find ourselves in the pieces and reflections. Some pieces we pick up together, others when we’re completely alone.
The only pattern is this. Feeling lost is a tradition. Feeling wrapped up in another is my habit. My grounding force is not him, it's us. He is my opposite and we are a balance. A swaying tower of trust.
We say goodbye and I already want to know how he goes. If he met a dog on the way and did it bite or lick him, and which stranger he helped today.
These thoughts are my routine as I go bouncing from bus to bus in every direction for no particular reason but that I was invited. I observe the time as it passes outside the window, ocean and concrete in a blur before the steady horizon line.
And if I invited myself? The thought buoys to the surface.
Whoosh. The world stops for a second as doors I was waiting to be opened swing off their hinges from
And if I invited myself?
We're together again and it's like gliding. Any friction is a wringing out of our love, paying close attention to what comes out.
He's endless possibility and it scares me. Someone who'd say, if you want to, do it, with no questions or qualifiers. No mention of when you’re ready, if you can’t, or when the time is right. He plays motivational videos for breakfast, tying his shoes ready to say yes to the world and stomp on the bullshit.
We part and I'm vibrating. A strummed cello string exploring the length of its own sound in the air. I'm upside-down for a moment, nauseous on the curving bus.
I listen to a song that reminds me how we create our own normal in the storm and calm blankets me for a moment.
How do I keep my feet warm with his and walk alone through the thick forest? How do I embrace him and have hands to hold myself?
Like clockwork, the questions arrive and I can't see that I can invite myself to the answers. That is my power.
I can be us without him for a while.
I travel up and down the coast, all swerves and standing in the aisle.
I invite myself,
Would you like to enjoy the ride with me?
Would you like to say no sometimes so you can spend more time trying
to touch what you long for? With me?
If you want to, do it.
Would you like to build a life with me?
Would you like to be our own normal in the storm?
I'm listening to the earth around me on a walk.
And the color jumps from the ground.
A fallen, barely bloomed flower.
A scattered bouquet, loosened by wind or another earthly shaking.
I decide to give one another life, like the burr that catches the fur of the dog.
I'm conscious of this.
This is not only a small, found gift I'll slip to my partner, enjoying thoughts of him while spinning the gift in my fingers until my steps meet his.
This is a movement of the earth. This is my impact on nature.
We build our nests like birds, picking up scraps of the earth and forever changing it.
We consume like wildfires and leave wakes of waste like tornados.
We're focused on the earthquake while the tsunami soaks us up to our ears in a landscape we never imagined.
Because it started with picking up a fallen flower and giving it to others so many times that it turned into a possession.
Something named mine or his or ours. Not Of The Earth, the plant's, or the soil's or the cow's.
Soon the waters cover our mouths and our eyes glimpse the last of our legacy.
Voiceless, we see what the animals had seen all along.
We see that the voiceless knew better than we did, but we fell in love with the sound of our machines and the buzz of an insulated home.
We thought these spoke for themselves but really they just deafened our sense of earthliness until natural forces had to scream us into our senses and up to our ears in the truth.
If we rape the earth it might just rape us back.
But if we love the earth it can love us back unimaginably.
Love takes time and openness. It is uncomfortable and honest.
It's not possessive, but grateful. It's selfless and sweet.
It's thoughtful. Like walking on a sidewalk and considering the dense earth that lies deeply beneath it.
It's seeing the leaves fall and not taking spring for granted.
Humans belong to the earth. The earth does not belong to us.
A system in imbalance is a flawed system. The compass is fixed in the wrong direction and a new path must be forged.
"If you want something you've never had before, you must be willing to do something you've never done." ~ T. Jefferson
[Another version of this post is published on elephant journal here]
Chile has baggers everywhere. Even if you buy gum and chips they’ll want to put it in a full-sized plastic bag. Not to mention knotting and stickering the poor bags so that it’s impossible to reuse them, or double bagging. Keeping an eye out for this is a never-ending battle kind of like Whack-A-Mole but less violent. Sometimes they ask, sometimes they don’t:
“Would you like a plastic bag to hold your apricots which are already in a plastic bag?”
No one else where I live (Viña del Mar, Chile) happens to be phased by this question, except somehow the older woman whose house I landed in a few months ago. She’s brought an awareness of the earth instilled by a rural upbringing into her sun-kissed coastal city home.
I didn’t grow up living off the land but I grew up in a society waking up (selectively) to climate change. So complying with her eco-consciousness (composting, recycling, reusing) feels normal and natural at home. But upon trying to live this lifestyle in the real world, I’ve been met with blank stares when I ask for “no bag please”.
So, compared to the near-zero concern of the people I see on the street and others I’ve lived with, I’d say I’ve become obsessed with avoiding unnecessary plastic bags.
This is not an easy mission.
At the farmers’ market (imagine a crowded flee market of people yelling off their hot deals like auctioneers, spinning nonstop rounds with the stalls around them), I have to yell for them to throw the lemons into the bag I brought with me. I’m not a loud or insistent person. But I am a loud and insistent denier of plastic bags.
Why do I care so much?
First of all, Chile is a sliver of a country with 6,435 km of magnificent coastline, 1.5 times longer than the width of the U.S.A. Any litter and non-decomposing trash has impressive access to the Chilean coast and other natural habitats. Trust me, it’s appalling to witness the bold, roaring ocean as a helpless force against wind and discarded plastic.
Chile has world’s driest desert to the north and the pristine Patagonia to the south, while flanked on either side by the Andes and the Pacific sea. I have learned so much from the unforgettable earth I’ve encountered in the deepest corners of this country. I’ve counted on it as my sole companion on trekking adventures, and it’s beauty has left me speechless and poetic in the same moments. It’s hard to find a place where you can summit a snowy high-elevation mountain in the morning and then dip your toes in the ocean in the evening.
Second, Chile’s recycling infrastructure is almost invisible in this region of the country. Daily, I see people buying and tossing plastic bottles and other recyclable items into a trash bin that will head straight to the dump. Often, there are so few trashcans on the streets that they are overflowing onto the ground.
Chileans consume 3.4 billion plastic bags annually, which is about 200 bags per person. Each bag takes 400-1000 years to break down, although toxins in the bags prevent it from completely degrading, leading to contamination of our waterways and food web. In other words, once created, this plastic is here forever. Other startling facts from the organization Conserving Now include: Nearly 90% of Ocean debris is plastic; and “in some locations, there is 46 times more plastic than available food for marine animals.”
I can’t spend all day at the supermarket turning people away who don’t have reusable bags. But each bag that I say no to is a bag that won’t strangle a sea turtle or become part of an endless ocean vortex.
During my personal war on plastic bags, I realized it was a privilege to grow up where people were taking some communal responsibility for the changing earth. When I first arrived in Chile, I was eating meat and forgetting that there was no paper option at the supermarket (before I knew paper was just as bad). I was taking in everything as a cultural experience. Then I realized that these weren’t necessarily their values, but just cultural habits, like tipping volunteer baggers at the supermarket.
At the same time, I noticed I was imposing my foreign idea of what meaningful “climate action” looks like. The entire nation had recently stood up against building an environmentally devastating hydroelectric dam in the Patagonia. In other parts of the country, some communities have already prohibited the distribution of plastic bags.
I decided my experience as a residing foreigner wasn’t solely about adapting, but rather integrating as contributing human being. I returned to vegetarianism and I became more emotionally involved in denying bags, especially after a specific visit to a densely littered ocean cliff.
Chile is magic, yet fragile. Its beauty hinges not only on its immediate surroundings but upon the choices of the global population to engage in the environmental consequences of their actions. Rather than waiting for slow or non-existent changes from the top, individually I can help turn something rare into the norm.
So, if you’re inclined to change the norm, repeat after me:
I’ve compiled this list of commentary and news from what I see as the most hard-hitting voices and perspectives from a long and heavy day of processing the events from the last three days.
My suggestion through this is to observe your reactions and face them, let them pulse through you. Dedicate what time you have to really be there, with these people and do more research if you need to.
I’ll take you through what happened, responses from those connected to the events, Black Lives Matter story-telling and spoken word, where to go from here, how to support as a person with privilege, and final thoughts from some powerful voices of our time:
What happened in the last 72 hours: Shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Falcon Heights, Minnesota; Dallas, Texas. NYTimes’ What We Know contains important links to videos and more detailed news stories.
In Minnesota and Louisiana, the events involved police brutality that ended in the death of two black men, Philando Castile and Alton B. Sterling. Both events were caught on camera.
In Dallas, during a peaceful demonstration in response to the recent shootings, policemen were gunned down by a sniper. Four were killed.
African American female police officer responds with outrage to the news of the fatal shooting in Louisiana by a police officer. Other videos start around 2:55 but I believe her entire video is resounding and powerful:
This next video (go to link) expresses the calls of the community and the #blacklivesmatter movement and anguish and emotion in Minnesota. The community is reeling in pain and makes me ask how can we expect any type of positive change or progress from an entire population when this is the everyday experience of a significant percentage of the population. It’s real and it’s consuming. If you don’t have time for everything, watch this. All of it:
“I’m sick and tired of Minnesota being ranked at the top for all of these quality of life issues that affect white people – for the appearance of the promise land, which hasn’t been the promise land for us.” ~Past president of the St. Paul NAACP and retired fireman at NAACP Press Conference outside governor’s mansion, Minnesota.
Relevant expressions and story-telling:
Story Corps animation (go to link) and their Facebook intro. Especially valuable to watch if you’ve chosen not to watch the live videos of the shootings:
In our animation "Traffic Stop," Alex Landau shared his story of a 2009 account with police in Denver that went wrong.
As we follow the events in the death of #AltonSterling, we bring you this story today and ask you pay attention to what's happening as it has happened before.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
- Maya Angelou
“Stop telling us to bite our tongues when we cannot guarantee our siblings’ safe passage to the corner store.” ~“An Overreaction,” written and performed by Sarah O’Neal. :
Where to go from here:
I recommend searching for reading to completely understand the Black Lives Matter movement and white privilege, as well as reading the entire articles from which I’ve pulled these excerpts.
“Safe spaces are illusions.”
Racism is an illness that afflicts each and every one of us. It steals our humanity, our capacity for empathy, the righteous indignation that is our birthright. I don’t believe in allies; I believe in the decolonizing power of solidarity. White people ought to challenge themselves to engage in more spaces of risk and difference. ~Umi Selah, mission director of the Dream Defenders
“Stop acting like black people are stupid.”
We are politically savvy. And black women especially have a higher voter turnout than anyone else. No candidate can win without black women, yet a bunch of black women stood up and expressed their feelings on an issue that is literally killing our people and white progressives are acting like they were a bunch of uppity Negroes who didn’t know their place… These are young people who are learning as they go. Every movement has growing pains...White allies need to give these young people space to grow, space to fail, space to learn. And they need to amplify their voices. ~Imani Gandy, senior legal analyst for RH Reality Check and co-host of This Week in Blackness Prime
So I and every other white South Carolinian who has let the racist jokes go unchecked, who has looked the other way at some sanctioned act of bigotry, who has not taken the time and effort to listen to what black people have to say about their experience, is, in some sense, responsible for Dylann Roof — even as he remains responsible for his own actions.
Finally, and equally as valuable, the voices and narratives of the oppressed matter!I recommend discovering these voices through a medium that speaks to you (books, videos, art). Huffington Post and Black Lives Matter did a series in February 2016 called “Black Future Month” which includes narratives and incredible artwork:
←Alyssa Etoile, “The Education of Black Self Love” Tumblr:etoilearts.tumblr.com Twitter: @alyssaetoile Instagram: @alyssa_etoile
"Trauma from structural oppression impacts every aspect of our lives and beings — our communities, our relationships, our bodies, our spirits, and our psyches. My inability to dream, to image worlds outside of the fucked up one in which we inhabit, and the nightmares I experienced were symptoms of the psychic terrorism of anti-black violence. Each day I was passively internalizing images of the Black death. My Facebook timeline functioned as an obituary, a litany of names and pictures and tributes to Black gender non-conforming folks, women, girls and men shot in the back by police and beaten in classrooms." ~Kiyan Williams, "Why Black People Must Hold on to Our Dreams", Huffington Post
Final thoughts: I truly hope that this compilation does not leave you feeling helpless or hopeless. After reading everything, I feel motivated to be a voice, to share what I know and learn what I don’t. To contribute positively and not passively. I am human, a maker of mistakes, a creature of habit. My job is to stay open and reach out or do research to keep me in check. To regularly shake up my own world, which is necessary to create real restructuring. These events unfortunately had to be the catalyst this time.
May we take ownership and not point fingers.
May we seek the whole truth and not what's comfortable.
May we demand voices and not silence.
May we be one and not the "other".
May we hold up the heroes and not make excuses.
May we dismantle the system and not the people.
Final words for thought from Jon Stewart, Frida Kahlo, and Rupi Kaur. The last poem, Kaur has posted again and again in response to bombings and attack on innocent people across the world. It resonates in this situation as well:
Stumbled upon this article (linked below), published today on July 4th, and couldn’t agree with her more as a fellow American living abroad. Below are my top 3 excerpts from “Fellow a’Muricans, Please Drop the Ego” by Rachel Markowitz including my own commentary underneath:
What is seemingly American to most outsiders? To those who don’t have individual human examples to demonstrate otherwise, an American is loud, demanding, rich and self-centered. (In fact, an American might even use the label American in an international context without taking into consideration that North, South and Central America comprise half of the globe.)
The poor impressions that others have of us are nothing but a reflection of how we have projected ourselves throughout modern times; we invented the products whose packaging litters the streets of towns around the world who don’t have waste disposal systems and we justify treating the rest of the world with disrespect under the guise of “freedom.”
What is a’Murica to me? It’s an incredibly beautiful and diverse land full of my family, friends and millions of other kind-hearted people who are raised with the idea that we can all do whatever we want and therefore have the potential to make positive changes in the world. But first, we need to own up to the fact that we need to change.
Off the top of my head, I’d emphasize that the America-isn’t-America idea is widely spread. Latin Americans hate when we refer to the USA as America and especially the people from there as Americans. We’re all Americans, from Tierra del Fuego to Vancouver.
Additionally, while outsiders – for lack of a better word – are huge fans of our entertainment, clothing lines, and electronics (and Disney), they don’t let this brainwash them into thinking the U.S. is perfect and amazing (like many believe is the opinion of foreigners). Instead, they are shocked by the outright racism that our country breeds and dumfounded that a visit to a classroom, night club, movie theater or church could mean our last breath. Many are aware of how their own country’s politics and bloody histories are wrapped up in the United States politics, and how new trade deals are now threatening local businesses. Others are convinced that 9/11 was a conspiracy created to justify U.S. intervention in oil rich countries. Typical U.S.A. to conveniently cause a ruckus where the politics of another country don’t align with its economic desires.
While the U.S. is somehow internally creating the impression that everyone wants to be us, a step outside can swing things into balance. If you’re a privileged citizen, this news may be a shock, although I think enough has been going on in the country lately that it’s impossible to ignore. While some comments I’ve received abroad have put me on the defensive, I’ve learned it’s crucial not to base credibility on what’s familiar. I am grateful for being challenged in this way and choosing to be curious.
I’m not writing this from a place of disillusionment or disappointment (although I do feel these things). Instead, I hope to inspire more reflection and consideration of what makes a country successful versus powerful. Greedy corporations and systematic discrimination doesn’t look good on us, no matter how many James Bond movies, 90s hits, or Gap sweatshirts we have.
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us walk together…” ~ Lila Watson, Australian Aboriginal woman
I'm in love with living here.
My heart set roots here.
They're buried deep and daily the waves lap at them,
goodbye, hello, goodbye, hello.
Ready to never meet again and rejoicing upon every re-encounter.
I could learn from my roots and those waves,
I think to myself as the clouds ripple away from the sun.
Into the darkness, until tomorrow.
Simply overwhelmed with gratitude. The sunlight hours and odd blue skies cast a dreamy haze over this lavender-infused trip. As we strolled through ancient ruins and limestone hill towns, the honoring of history was a common theme. Birthdays and anniversaries tinted our trip in the same way.
As a family, we are drawn to preserve our traditions. And as an individual I am moved as powerfully by an ancient towering aqueduct as by the love and spirits we propel by making family.
None of this existed not long ago, when grandma was just a dancer tapping her way through life. We’re so lucky to rediscover this magic again and again, as our history morphs and what was once everything we knew about each other becomes new again. The ruins are beautiful not because they once stood bold and intact, but because they tell a story and make us feel small yet significant against the backdrop of time.
Time is what cut this trip short before one more laugh or delightful meal. But time is what gave us this serendipitous window to join together before being thrust back into our own unique stories. So I only feel gratitude. For family and the places and people it takes us to.