Home, at last.

Today was an amazing day for me and the first time I felt “at home” in South Carolina, all because of the wonderful women that I met at Brookgreen Park, who are carrying on the arts and traditions of my paternal grandmother’s “Geechee” Gullah people.

I was at the park with my family, a surprise day for my granddaughter, as part of her birthday celebrations. As we entered the park and I saw the beautiful, vibrant yet calming old trees, I could feel my blood pressure begin to drop. Trees have a very special place in my heart and soul, and the clearcutting that has surrounded us as housing that is gentrifying the area and making it unaffordable for locals, has hurt my heart and made me disgusted by the government that allows it in the name of “revenue” and “employment” with little concern for the environment, the long term impact on local constituents, or the depletion of local cultures. That the beauty and culture that attracts people are being undermined and destroyed in the process of “development” and (shudder) “progress.”

So this gorgeous haven lifted my spirits as we entered and made our way towards the scarecrow making, pumpkin decorating, and crafts we’d brought Olivia there to enjoy.

As we were passing the gift shop, there were local artisans with their beautiful hand made wares.
Virginia “Genya” Watson stopped me as I admired her work, and bowed in respect, stating that she felt my spirit and knew I’d been through many journeys in life. She and her young helper were warm in ways that brought me home to some of the sweetest moments of my childhood. And the beauty of the dolls was stunning!

“Gullah Dolls of Charleston by genya”

(My photo doesn’t do justice to the fine detailing on each)

I also admired the basketry of a woman-still busy with a new creation- who looked up only to answer my questions. Noting a particularly stunning basket that I recognized from its West African counterpart, we discussed rice culture for a minute, and when I asked her name, I was astounded to realize I was in the company of Miss Ivie Barnwell, a well known and venerated basket weaver who I’d heard about for years.

I was unable to purchase the beautiful, flat, rice basket, but am thrilled to have this beautifully crafted little sister, still smelling of sweet grass and “home.”

Talking with these women was of course, a perfect connection for my professional work, but what brought me nearly to tears was the sense of recognition we all shared. My sense of self, of place, of belonging, had been shattered with my husband’s death. Finding myself in a state I’d never wished even to visit had left me alienated and sad, despite the incredible love and kindness of my family who’d kept me alive, the joy of being around my granddaughter, and the goodness of my neighbors. Only the trees and other “folks” of the natural world had given me any sense that I might eventually adapt, but the connection to the Ancestors that had carried me through every difficulty, obstacle, and loss my entire life, had been missing, and the hurt and anger I’ve felt since Raymond’s death seemed irreparable.

Yet something in these women and the smell of sweetgrass- which I normally associate with my mother’s Native American people- was instantly healing and soul replenishing.

There aren’t words for these experiences, though I will likely write in “anthro-speak” at some point in order to try. But for now, it’s enough that it happened. It is enough that those drops of healing balm repaired something in my scorched and broken soul. That for now, I am not abandoned nor broken or- at this moment- bereft.

That in this moment, it is well with my soul.

Meanwhile: A Long, Provocative Read (🧐🍷)

Full day without WiFi l/access to work or a talk I was actually looking forward to. Out since about 4 AM except for about 20 minutes this morning. At least three blocks in the area were out. (Interestingly, only those with the newest, routerless tech)
But ya know what? I still had every other amenity and driveable roads, unlike millions of US citizens in Puerto Rico, where people have never recovered from Hurricane Maria, that killed 3,000. (That’s more than perished at the World Trade Center on 9/11, and almost all preventable if the US exploited even a bit less and invested in infrastructure for the local citizens as it does for an economic system that rewards only a select few.) Americans are again being forced to live without electricity or safe water following the recent hurricane Fiona.

So why weren’t all patriots up in arms about the mistreatment and lack of support for other US citizens? Why must we send aid to Kansas, Mississippi or California for their natural (also measurably preventable) recurring disasters? And why are “disaster/vulture” capitalists and neoliberal governments openly allowing these, and other areas of the USA to be destroyed while locals are impoverished, removed and replaced with wealthier gentrifiers/neocolonialists?

This is happening across the US as prices for necessities soar, wages stagnate, and greedy corporations enjoy increasingly higher profits.
Yet the death and related “news” about a colonizing monarch of a country the US fought to get away from was the only news that media and many others cared about or reported. That’s some serious cognitive dissonance and denial of your actual relationship to Power, folks. And some serious manipulations by corporate media, mimicking the fall of the Roman Empire. (Look it up/read a book without pictures. Here’s a simple intro:

“The best known is “panem et circenses” which translates to “bread and circus games”. The brutal and often very bloody fights in the arenas were basically free and so was the daily bread allotment. Since the Coliseum in Rome (known also as “Amphitheatrum Novum” or “Amphitheatrum Flavium”) had a limited number of seats the admission tickets were drawn by lot. A citizen of Rome could hope, at least once a year to win a ticket.

Another example is the Circus Maximus where chariot-races were held. These events were also free of charge to the citizens since all costs were carried by the state.” Quara

Meanwhile, our distractions aren’t even free! You pay for your own distractions and ignore the downward spiral, thinking that buying more products to arm yourselves and fortress your mortgaged houses against your neighbors is the answer. 🤦🏽‍♀️ 🤷🏽‍♀️🤦🏽‍♀️
Anyhow…thus endith the lesson. Don’t mind me…

Below are a coupla organizations that are helping. Do what it’s government hasn’t and help your neighbors out of a jam. Thanks.

Disaster Relief

https://www.prvoad.org/

https://www.diasporaxpuertorico.org/en/index.php

https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/music/2022/09/19/bad-bunny-el-apagon-music-video-puerto-rico-hurricane-gentrification/10426694002/

IT’S THA’ KUL’CHA!

For those of you not from the area, or too young to have been influenced by the older culture, you should know that old time NYC area people “bitch and moan” about nearly everything. (And if a current mayor can be blamed, so much the better!)

On my first trip to Denver in 1980, I was completely weirded out and annoyed by what the anthropologist Roy Wagner called “aggressive niceness.” People kept coming at me with tv-ready, toothy smiles, saying in high pitched voices, “Hi! Can I help you?” in what felt like an overly friendly, almost loud, “close talker” manner. I’m a friendly type, as North Jersey-NYC types go, and will make eye contact and nod, but this was too much for my fresh from NY sensibilities. It didn’t help that nobody wore black or grey, and it took me a few days to adjust and calibrate my responses away from annoyance or feeling threatened.

Now there were definitely stoics among us as kids: New Englanders for sure, and older African Americans would simply sigh or sometimes smile and say “No need of complaining,” a subtle way to still lodge complaints, imo.

But the older Jewish, Italian, Greeks, and a bit later, the Black, and AIM radicals of my youth took “complaining” to higher levels, some in the service against mass injustices, some for individual woes. But silent suffering? No way- there’d been enough of that for my friends’ families who’d survived the camps, Turkish invasions, and the general silencing of women, and for my own peoples, hundreds of years of colonialism, enslavement, genocide, ethnocide, segregation and institutionalized poverty and policing. Complaining was a freedom, even in the service of pettiness. It was a recently gained right and they were going to voice their complaints to anyone who was present. They made it into an art, and each group had their own spin and accompanying body language and voicing, sometimes even with costuming.

So I consider myself to be a proud carrier of that tradition, even though it’s been at odds with my family’s mostly stoic ways for decades. As a woman who is perpetually fighting against being silenced and labeled “Angry Black woman” as justification for being ignored, this is not just a way of releasing stress and noting genuine problems, it is a way of staying connected to my own feelings, of not self-alienating, as our society pushes us to do. It is a direct action that throws blame back at the feet of those who wrong us. By calling it “complaining” it’s too often reduced to only the realm of the petty and is frequently a term used to dismiss genuine suffering, by medical professionals and even ostensibly “enlightened” folk who relegate it to “negative thinking.”

However, it can also be a humorous outlet, said with a wink and in a dramatic fashion for the sheer joy of the thing. There’s a reason nearly everyone I grew up around knew at least a smattering of Italian, Jewish, and other ethnic complaint/curse words, from the sacred “Oy vey!”and “Marone!” to my non-cursing father’s muttered “Cripes” (so as not to “take the Lord’s name in vain.”) These are just a few examples, of course. The variety was dazzling and offered a multitude of ways to express and nuance one’s particular gripe.

For many older people, good fortune was downplayed, with “spitting three times against the evil eye,” making the sign of the cross, or simply a mild denial of serendipity or good fortune to ward off any form of punishment for hubris and to keep away envy or misfortune. Everyone knew that good fortune could be wiped away in the blink of an eye, and a classic exchange might go like this:
Frequent customer “Oh, Mr. Johnson, you’re doing so well, your business is thriving! You must be thrilled.”
Mr. Johnson: “Meh” (tooth sucking/eyes raised towards heaven /sad head shaking heaven, according to ethnic based preferences) “It’s just more headaches- the paperwork, you can’t find good help, the taxes…” A light hearted elder might simply say, “Things could be worse.”

I made a vow to myself when young, that I would always celebrate joy- mine or that of others- and I would try never to bottle up my feelings. I saw the damage that it did, on buses and trains, and in the streets, as people went about their lives, blankness covering whatever joys or sorrows had been pushed down or cupboarded for the sake of functionality and fitting in. Many adults looked grey to me as a kid- unanimated, beaten down, claiming no emotions except perhaps anger. I determined by eleven that I’d not be them, that I’d never stop feeling or deny what I felt. I had one motto that centered me: Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore.

So scroll on if you wish. I rarely complain about things that genuinely hurt my feelings, and it’s more likely that you’ll just be on my Madam DeFarge-like lists for another day. For now, I’ll simply shrug and think “ok” or maybe “schmuck” to myself with a touch of pity for your unknowing ignorance.

Or as my grandma would say, “ I ain’t studying you.”

Just A Note

“Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted by talking wires? The end of living and the beginning of survival.” – Chief Seattle, 1852

💔 In my older years I’ve come to a deep understanding that greed is the most destructive force in the world. Doesn’t matter what form it takes- envy, the desire for power, money, influence, fame, or to control others or their bodies- in the end, it’s still greed, and it kills: love, beauty, relationships, the natural world, and ultimately, humanity and human kind.

I’m obviously not the first or wisest person to say such things, but our decline on almost every level requires me and us to move away from merely noticing or despair and to vigorously act on behalf of the world and all living beings. In my tradition, that includes everything/everyone in the natural world, including rocks, trees, rivers, and bees. Even my nemesis, the mosquito.

Any culture, society, or tradition that promotes greed needs to be rethought, reorganized, or simply revoked. If we can’t understand that we are all connected and that our fates are intwined, we’re all going down with this earth ship I love so much.

When I was a kid at school, we had something called “Think and Do” books that promoted critical thinking in young children. I’m adding the element of compassion to the equation and asking that we all connect, consider, and act. Thrive, don’t just survive. There are and have been, better ways to understand and live in the world. Learn and grow. ❤️

Peace out, kindred.

Photo by Carol Kunkel 2022

Birthday Blues

Friends, you know that I usually make a fuss over my birthday, but this has been a personally challenging time and yesterday topped it off. We’re in a nightmare where a bunch of greedy, heartless two-leggeds want to force women to have children but won’t regulate the formula companies or spend the money to feed the children women are forced to bear. They know that the majority of these under nourished, possibly unloved kids will be poor and more likely to be incarcerated, often for the same crimes that their jailer’s own children and grandchildren commit but for which they will never be punished. And the rotten cherry on top of this putrid cake is that these immoral and cruel meat suits also adjudicated that death row prisoners could no longer use exculpatory evidence to free themselves when wrongly imprisoned.
So it boils down to the willful and fully conscious control, virtual enslavement, and persecution of women, people of the global majority, and the poor.

My birthday wish is that you actively fight against this in every way that you can. Give money, take to the streets (masked, of course), write letters and put your various amazing talents to good use. Organize, Agitate, and Change the World because a better one is waiting to be born. And it must be born, “by any means necessary.” We cannot wait!

Endings

Today marks nine months since my husband died and ends the week when things shifted for me. The last bits of magical thinking died somewhere around Wednesday, a day that has often marked changes in my life, although generally more benign, like getting a new job. It is Oya’s day- the Orisha of Change and the Guardian of the Cemetery Gate. It is she who admits the dead and has the power to deny entry. She’s the warrior who rides before Chango in the form of the whirlwind, the harbinger of his oncoming storm.

I am not one of her children, but my appreciation of that deity goes beyond the general respect I have for ancestral beliefs. I guess you could say that I get her, and like my childhood love for Athena, she is the archetypical embodiment of qualities to which I have aspired. This week my emotions made such a radical shift that I could not help but think of her, despite the inactivity of my beliefs.

For nine months some part of me hadn’t really believed that my husband was dead. It was unacceptable and just impossible. I looked for signs and portents. I prayed that his soul might enter an otherwise healthy but prematurely dying body, like in the old movie, “Here Comes Mr. Jordan”, or the more recent “Soul.” His death was an intolerable mistake and I expected the correction every pain-filled day.

Years ago, I had an ugly dream that Ray had won the lottery and when I came home from work, he was waiting for me in a big limo, on his way out of town. He handed me his keys and said that he’d paid the rent for the year. It was November.

When I woke up, I was angry at him, with that residue from lucid dreams that sometimes floods the borders between our waking and dreaming worlds. He of course laughed, held me, and was a bit hurt that I held even the slightest doubt about his complete loyalty and devotion to me, and over the years it became a bit of a family joke, and I’d always end the laughing by saying, “Uh huh- I’m keeping my eye on you, brother!” It was particularly funny to everyone because most of our friends had never seen a man as devoted as my husband was to me. Yes, he could be incredibly stubborn, obtuse, and frustrating, as in any marriage. But he was “as constant as the Northern Star” to quote Joni Mitchell. Adultery was an intolerable sin to him and one of the few things for which he would cut off a friendship. It was not in his playbook. He understood the boundaries of mild flirtation and never went anywhere close to its edge. He didn’t hang out on his own or with “the boys.” Once married, he was completely faithful, so my residual anger over a few days after the dream befuddled and amused him.

I tell that story because this week I understood that he was not coming back. I know that because I know that my husband would never willingly leave me and if there was any consciousness beyond the grave, any way that he could return to me or fetch me, he would have done it. There is nothing that would stop him. He prided himself as a Marine to never leave a comrade behind, and his love for me more than doubled that emotion. He would sometimes say to me, “You go, we go” and he meant that most sincerely. So for whatever reason(s), this week something shifted in me and I knew that he was indeed gone. It is real.

I won’t bore you with the aftermath of such a shift, I’m still processing and so far there’s nothing beautiful or redemptive in it. But I will leave you with something by Carl Sagan’s widow that showed up on my Facebook feed on Thursday and felt affirming:

2018 Observation

I have to laugh. Anxiety can turn people into hyper-alert, fearful-without-recognizing-it-fools. It will have you covered in armor, always prepared to fight: for your life; for respect; for fair pay; for your grades; against racism/misogyny/poverty/isolation/stupidity/greed; “bourgieness.”

Fighting anxiety.

Humans are funny creatures. We make so many things a battle and wonder why we have no peace. Some things must be fought, every day, in every way. But learning when to take off the armor- to trust in yourself enough to risk relaxation or love is among the most important things a human can do.

You’ve made it this far, you know how to fight and negotiate. You know who your real friends are. And if you’ve made it this far without that awareness, I reckon that your guardian spirits are strong and hope that they’ll continue to protect your dumb ass a while longer. Your weapons and tools are at hand when you need them, but right now, in this moment, you are safe. Relax and let love- for self and others-flow.

#Pranayamasaveslives

#Awarenessisnotparanoia

The “Gift” That Keeps on Giving

I found myself getting emotional, even weeping this morning as I was preparing for my final day of classes. Almost lost it as I listened to a song from South Pacific. Couldn’t figure it out until I realized that eight months ago today, I found my husband’s body.
So much is held in the body, despite our schedules, plans, methods, and formulas for control. The body knows, remembers, and feels, and it will not be denied. I keep saying that grief is like the Mafia: just when you think you’re out, it keeps pulling you back in. Perhaps our society should consider this and not expect people to return to full functionality the first year after loss. I seldom think of past Western societies as being kinder, gentler periods, but the older traditions of mourning made more sense than what we do now.
When he was about 9, my son said to me that you never stop loving anyone that you ever really loved, and he was right. And grief is a part of that love. We should respect that.

RomCom Culture Crossing

So I just watched a very corny Bollywood-Nollywood combo movie, Namaste Wahala. It was actually a romcom my Raymond would have liked. Sweet, corny, the idea-reality-of true love, and of course, a happy ending. 💘

Best part from an Anthro point of view was the final post script minute when the issue of dowry vs brideprice was broached. An enjoyable moment in an otherwise predictable film.

Yet corny as it was, in thinking back to Mira Nair’s 1991 film Mississippi Masala being banned in India, I guess this film marks a moment. Of course the dollar power of two of the worlds largest film producing countries is the real base for this cultural bridge, but it is nevertheless, a major shift.

Elegy for Ray

Every day, I wait for Ray to come home.

I know that he’s dead, but my body doesn’t.

Thirty seven years of waiting:

for him to get home from work,

to finish sweeping the kitchen late at night,

and hardest of all,

for him to come back to bed most mornings, coffees in hand, that special smile that came after his first few sips, ready now to tackle the day, talk schedules or errands.

So many adjustments to each other over the years, such different people,

Bound deeply by passion and a never broken sense of belonging to one another- as family, through lifetimes and difficulties, passion and pain.

We were Earth and Sky to each other- hurting and wanting, fiercely protective and connected in ways that made no sense to me at times.

My easy-to-leave-men-self perpetually stunned by my unflagging devotion, and he, always and proudly, “as constant as the Northern Star. “

I miss the giggle I could invoke in him,

his warmth, his sweetness, the stubborn side that few could see.

I miss his eyes of love, his happiness to be my audience, the touch that never ceased to arouse my fire. His joy in being my man.

There was never a time that I didn’t love him, no matter what my feelings were at any given moment. He was my joy, my sorrow, “frustration on two legs walking.”

My sous chef and line cook, I even taught him to bake brownies, although he remained intimidated by baking. He lived to watch me make pies and loved the eating of them more. He learned to love gardening and walks, classical music, Thai coffee, volunteering, and the people that I brought into his life. My friends became the sisters he always wanted, and he loved making coffee or piña coladas for them, loved hearing us talk and laugh.

He loved being in community with people. He was a good neighbor and a sneaky look out, knowing everybody’s business and licenses. He was the guy you wanted when danger broke out- he knew the exits and every way to avoid any trouble. He was first to know that something was going to break out, and he’d quietly say “Time to go” and lead our little troupe to safety. Only love for me got him to join me at protests and picket lines. His distrust of police was intensified over the past few years and his outrage led him to volunteer to translate and help in any way he could. It was the first time I’d seen him offer to do something as overtly political (outside of voting, which he never missed) without being asked.

His desire was to be of service and he learned the importance of asking- finding out what was needed, not just what he wanted to give. That was hard. I put tasks before him that forced him to go deep- confront his fears, hurts, insecurities and doubts. He’d worked hard to wall that up and only Love could lead his way.

I knew who he was and loved him- a scenario he’d never imagined, couldn’t believe, and sometimes feared couldn’t be true. He thought he had secrets, but I knew his soul and all the ways that he was damaged. I knew him in ways that gave him strength and sometimes wings. I didn’t have to like all that he was, but I loved him beyond any person, place or thing outside of my son and his family.

And they were father and son in ways that drew me back to him when things threatened to tear us apart. He cared for my son and they bonded in ways I couldn’t, but that love reminded me that his devotion went beyond our mutual passion and other ties. And I think my love for his mother endeared me to him in unexpected ways. We met each other in places that no one else had ever reached.

So I wait: his death is unreal, impossible to “get”, an unacceptable reality that brings out the Cosmic Karen in me, wanting to speak to God about this mismanaged mistake.

He can’t be gone. It’s unacceptable and I won’t have it, pure and simple.

That’s how I feel. That’s the rage inside me.

Fuck everything I ever thought or believed in. No Ray? No fucks left to give.

I live because I don’t know how to die. I know too much about the risks of self annihilation, and hurting myself makes no good sense to me. I want him back: my Ray. I want to smack him for dying and leaving me to find his body- so cold, so clearly dead, a PTSD scene that reverberates as I hear my own screams and wailing- sounds my body had never made before.

I see it all sometimes- Now, sitting in my car, weeping and hurt and angry.

Bereft. A word I use- the only one that fits the tearing pain I feel where he was severed from me. It never wanes. Months pass, life appears to go on, but I am dead in that part of me. Not dead as in quelled, but dead like a constant, ripping, searing pain that screams inside my body, night and day, 24/7. Like having my heart and viscera ripped from my body, every waking minute of my day. Prometheus having his liver eaten by the eagle every day seems preferable or certainly comparable.

I sit here now- cold as fuck: haven’t eaten and have no appetite. I eat once every day because I promised I would. Because the body is strong despite the pain of walking and being, it continues to live. How long, I wonder? Will we be reunited then? What if he’s gone- reincarnated or otherwise oblivious to my pain? “What ifs” and other scenarios run through my head despite my current lack of belief in anything. He seems alive to me- I hear him all day long, as I would if he was here. I talk to him, fuss at him, laugh with him, and try to do the things he’d want of me. To live. I don’t know why, but I do.

And that’s part of the pain: that he’s so much with me, but not here to kiss, glare or roll my eyes at. He’s not here for me to love and I am full to overflowing with love for him. It could be frustrating when he was alive, and it’s unbearable now. He grounded me, allayed my fears, made the doing of things doable. He praised me in some way every day for 37 years, and I made it safe for him to be.

Two Geminis bringing our seesaws back to center.

So I wait. Until he comes home to me, I’ll wait.