This is not America: A Letter to my Children

To my children.

This, this that I have seen of late, this is not America. My partner is an immigrant, who now worries that she might be deported. Most of my friends (actually, if I think about it, all of my friends) are immigrants.

We, none of us, however, can allow the victory of one person to defeat our minds, our hearts, our souls, to destroy our faith, our trust, our dreams, our hopes. We must rise above such a defeat. We must be courageous. We must be awake and be conscious. We must transform the world by living in the world with a conscious daily practice, a refusal to give in to hate.

I am sad that I have to write such a letter to my children. Once again. I am sad that we have had to have these conversations again and again. That I have had to remind you to NOT walk around the city, Pittsburgh, the city I love, with earphones in your ears listening to the music that gives your joy. To remind you to always be alert to the ways of boys who think they can grab what they want.

But I do not want you to ever live a life thinking that you are victim, that you have no control over your own existence, you own living of your life. You are stronger than those people who remain victim of their victimhood. You are more educated. More passionate. And the reality is that you do have control, that you can create your life, and that you are not limited by a world bent on destroying your agency. I simply want you to be aware of what surrounds you. Awake to what the world thinks it can think of you as a woman. 

"Nevertheless, beneath me—along the river bank, beneath the bridges, in the shadow of the walls, I could almost hear the collective, shivering sigh—were lovers and ruins, sleeping, embracing, coupling, drinking, staring out at the descending night. Behind the walls of the houses I passed, the French nation was clearing away the dishes, putting little Jean Pierre and Marie to bed, scowling over the eternal problems of the sou, the shop, the church, the unsteady State. Those walls, those shuttered windows held them in and protected them against the darkness and the long moan of this long night. Ten years hence, little Jean Pierre or Marie might find themselves out here beside the river and wonder, like me, how they had fallen out of the web of safety. What a long way, I thought, I’ve come—to be destroyed!”--James Baldwin

"Nevertheless, beneath me—along the river bank, beneath the bridges, in the shadow of the walls, I could almost hear the collective, shivering sigh—were lovers and ruins, sleeping, embracing, coupling, drinking, staring out at the descending night. Behind the walls of the houses I passed, the French nation was clearing away the dishes, putting little Jean Pierre and Marie to bed, scowling over the eternal problems of the sou, the shop, the church, the unsteady State. Those walls, those shuttered windows held them in and protected them against the darkness and the long moan of this long night. Ten years hence, little Jean Pierre or Marie might find themselves out here beside the river and wonder, like me, how they had fallen out of the web of safety. What a long way, I thought, I’ve come—to be destroyed!”--James Baldwin

If anyone builds a wall to stop you from dreaming, or if someone nails a glass ceiling down over your dreams, trying to suffocate your desires, I hope that your mother and I, and the education you are actively pursuing, have given you the fortitude to fight back for the right to have your own desires. Tear down any wall built by fearful boys. Break any glass ceilings put in your way by insecure boys.

And remember any one person only has the power over you that you grant them. Deny granting such boys, especially boys so orange that they frighten the sun, any power over you. Be wary of boys with small hands, hands so tiny that they are terrified of their own insecurity. Such boys tend to overcompensate by demanding you submit.

I hope your teachers have the courage to challenge you. To make you uncomfortable. I hope that your teachers respect you enough, and respect me as your father enough, to know that it is your parents’ role to nurture you, and that their job, as educators, is to open worlds to you that would otherwise not be opened to you. Worlds that may challenge your values. And remember growth is painful. And remember, as if I have to remind you of this, my daughters, my son, the world does not revolve around you. You are not entitled. You must work to break on through to those places where there is magic. Nothing about growth is easy or comfortable.

“The various forms of education or ‘normalization’ imposed upon an individual consist in making him or her change points of subjectification, always moving towards a higher, nobler one in closer conformity with the supposed ideal. Then from the point of subjectification issues a subject of enunciation, as a function of a mental reality determined by that point. Then from the subject of enunciation issues a subject of the statement, in other words, a subject bound to statements in conformity with a dominant reality."--Gilles Deleuze

“The various forms of education or ‘normalization’ imposed upon an individual consist in making him or her change points of subjectification, always moving towards a higher, nobler one in closer conformity with the supposed ideal. Then from the point of subjectification issues a subject of enunciation, as a function of a mental reality determined by that point. Then from the subject of enunciation issues a subject of the statement, in other words, a subject bound to statements in conformity with a dominant reality."--Gilles Deleuze

And know this: What we think about daily. The acts we commit daily. We create our lives with these thoughts, with these conversations, with these actions. So, we must resist those who are trying to seduce us into being lazy. We must resist the distractions created by capital and by all those who want to own our thoughts, the creeps who put their channels in our bedrooms.

There was nothing innocent about playing Pokemon Go this fall. The rabid intensity of finding whatever it was that those people staring at their screens were searching for. They, the ones who invented this distraction, knew these people were looking for nothing. They knew that the people staring at those screens would never be satisfied. They wanted you looking for nothing so that they could distract you from the real matter of living.

Imagine if we put our passion—the same kind of intensity people put into playing Pokemon Go or watching Game of Thrones or watching a football game—into actively engaging in the world? Imagine what we could do. Capitalism only functions through distraction. Capitalism can only destroy our souls if we fall for the distraction. Hollywood films, the internet, contemporary life, require that we never see, that we remain blind to what is being done to us.

Culture infantilizes us. The indignity of it kills our imagination. We are never invited to linger. Slow down. Linger. We must feel something. Connect to someone. We have children. Their lives are at stake with how we are living our lives. What are we creating for our children by the ways we live our lives? What world are we creating by what we devote each moment of each day to?

Screens create loneliness, they murder spontaneous imagination and destroy our ability to entertain ourselves, painfully erasing our patience and sensitivity to significant detail.

All this, the daily life of living and of making choices (or more accurately of failing to make choices and allowing them, those people with power, to chose for us), makes it possible for orange aliens to overthrow integrity and peace and equality.

You, my daughters, my son, are in college not for a degree, but for an education, and a responsibility comes with an education. An education is a gift. Any time we are given a gift, we have a responsibility to transform the gift—whether the gift is that of an education, or of love or of a hammer—into something beautiful, powerful, and useful. The person giving us the gift does not have power. The person receiving the gift has the power. 

"You do not deserve love regardless of the suffering you have endured. You do not deserve love because somebody did you wrong. You do not deserve love just because you want it. You can only earn - by practice and careful contemplations - the right to express it and you have to learn how to accept it. Which is to say you have to earn God. You have to practice God. You have to think God-carefully. And if you are a good and diligent student you may secure the right to show love. Love is not a gift. It is a diploma. A diploma conferring certain privileges: the privilege of expressing love and the privilege of receiving it. How do you know you have graduated? You don't. What you do know is that you are human and therefore educable, and therefore capable of learning how to learn, and therefore interesting to God, who is interested only in Himself which is to say He is interested only in love. Do you understand me? God is not interested in you. He is interested in love and the bliss it brings to those who understand and share the interest. Couples that enter the sacrament of marriage and are not prepared to go the distance or are not willing to get right with the real love of God cannot thrive. They may cleave together like robins or gulls or anything else that mates for life. But if they eschew this mighty course, at the moment when all are judged for the disposition of their eternal lives, their cleaving won't mean a thing. God bless the pure and holy. Amen.” --Toni Morrison

"You do not deserve love regardless of the suffering you have endured. You do not deserve love because somebody did you wrong. You do not deserve love just because you want it. You can only earn - by practice and careful contemplations - the right to express it and you have to learn how to accept it. Which is to say you have to earn God. You have to practice God. You have to think God-carefully. And if you are a good and diligent student you may secure the right to show love. Love is not a gift. It is a diploma. A diploma conferring certain privileges: the privilege of expressing love and the privilege of receiving it. How do you know you have graduated? You don't. What you do know is that you are human and therefore educable, and therefore capable of learning how to learn, and therefore interesting to God, who is interested only in Himself which is to say He is interested only in love. Do you understand me? God is not interested in you. He is interested in love and the bliss it brings to those who understand and share the interest. Couples that enter the sacrament of marriage and are not prepared to go the distance or are not willing to get right with the real love of God cannot thrive. They may cleave together like robins or gulls or anything else that mates for life. But if they eschew this mighty course, at the moment when all are judged for the disposition of their eternal lives, their cleaving won't mean a thing. God bless the pure and holy. Amen.” --Toni Morrison

We need you to be citizens. An education is only useful if we do something with our education. If we merely go to college to get a job, then we will miss the opportunity to earn an education, and transform our understanding of the world, and transform our sense of self.

Education is more powerful than a job.

Politics is not something that happens every four years. Politics happens when you open the door to Old Soul Coffee House for someone, and you look that person in their eyes, and you share that one moment with each other, and you carry that moment with you when you walk through the rest of your day. And you feel seen. You exist. That is political.

Politics is when you reach out, seriously reach across chasms, and you listen. And when you listen, you make the person talking to you feel like they are the only person alive, that nothing is more important to you than this moment of listening to them, and you are not waiting to speak. You are listening. And that thing inside you that you feel beginning to move, just a flutter of movement, that is your soul waking up, because you are moving outside of the boundaries of your own skin into the skin and breath and voice of someone who is not you.

“Finding yourself in a hole, at the bottom of a hole, in almost total solitude, and discovering that only writing can save you. To be without the slightest subject for a book, the slightest idea for a book, is to find yourself, once again, before a book. A vast emptiness. A possible book. Before nothing. Before something like living, naked writing, like something terrible, terrible to overcome.”--Marguerite Duras

“Finding yourself in a hole, at the bottom of a hole, in almost total solitude, and discovering that only writing can save you. To be without the slightest subject for a book, the slightest idea for a book, is to find yourself, once again, before a book. A vast emptiness. A possible book. Before nothing. Before something like living, naked writing, like something terrible, terrible to overcome.”--Marguerite Duras

My brother came out to California to help me with work around my home. One day he wore a Pittsburgh Penguins t-shirt that said: All guts no glory. We must be this. We must embrace this. We live each day not for recognition, not for the glory of being recognized, of being given a prize, at trophy, by someone outside of us, but as a way of expressing our guts, our inner sense of being. We live, we act, because we want to be alive.

If you want to change profile picture to show some sort of passive solidarity, do so. But understand that is not enough. Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, and others did not sit on their sofa in the safety of their homes clicking “like” and thinking their work was done. That is only the beginning.

If you want to wear a safety pin, do so. But actively be that person that makes difference matter, that opens to difference, but that means all forms of difference, even difference that may make you uncomfortable.

Every photograph, every sentence, every line of poetry should threaten the boundary between aesthetics and politics.

“What is meant by “reality”? It would seem to be something very erratic, very undependable—now to be found in a dusty road, now in a scrap of newspaper in the street, now a daffodil in the sun. It lights up a group in a room and stamps some casual saying. It overwhelms one walking home beneath the stars and makes the silent world more real than the world of speech—and then there it is again in an omnibus in the uproar of Piccadilly. Sometimes, too, it seems to dwell in shapes too far away for us to discern what their nature is. But whatever it touches, it fixes and makes permanent. That is what remains over when the skin of the day has been cast into the hedge; that is what is left of past time and of our loves and hates.” --Virginia Woolf

“What is meant by “reality”? It would seem to be something very erratic, very undependable—now to be found in a dusty road, now in a scrap of newspaper in the street, now a daffodil in the sun. It lights up a group in a room and stamps some casual saying. It overwhelms one walking home beneath the stars and makes the silent world more real than the world of speech—and then there it is again in an omnibus in the uproar of Piccadilly. Sometimes, too, it seems to dwell in shapes too far away for us to discern what their nature is. But whatever it touches, it fixes and makes permanent. That is what remains over when the skin of the day has been cast into the hedge; that is what is left of past time and of our loves and hates.” --Virginia Woolf

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