The feast started with Marisa and I, non-cooks with notes and lists, pondering the relative danger of cooking stuffing inside the bird. We decided it was best not to risk it and a few minutes later Marisa had her hand up inside of the bird, groping for the neck and innards. I will politely refrain from comment: I covered my eyes.
Gabriel rolled dough in the kitchen basement and listened to Sonic Youth. Angie and Danielle cooked alongside of him as we wrestled with the bird in the upstairs oven. Six exquisite little children paired off into couples, playing happily all over the house
Stella and Al and their daughter showed up with presents, a book about mathematical people for Dr. Daddy and cat shirts for the females in the family. Byron took groups on walking excursions to the bluff to see the bay and Duwamish flats below us, the sun setting past the Olympic mountains, the sky streaked pink and red, airplanes floating past. Al told us that he has a song in the Jackass movie and we talked about the history of independent regional music.
I cooked with Marisa and Michelle and while the turkey was roasting went into the backyard to stand in the waning autumn sun and hatch plans to go to Italy with Stella. Someone asked a question and I stood with my finger up, delivering a monologue about the history of utopian communities, peace churches, and conscientious objectors.
We dragged out the long wooden table, once used for church bazaars, then by James as a teenager, then in my house and later office, and set it for dinner: candles and wine and eggnog in a green glass owl decanter. We set out all the lovely food cooked between the kitchens or brought from other houses and fifteen of my favorite people sat down together and raised our glasses. We toasted happiness and community and love and tucked in to the meal.
After dinner people split up for walks, started a roving Scrabble game that involved most parties and moved from room to room for three days as we listened to Doc Watson albums, talked, had more wine. Some people listened to records, others to Gabriel and his accordion in the living room; the children played happily and without normal argument.
Stella and Al hosted a dance party in the kitchen and we rocked out to the Gossip and Gravy Train.
The party lasted for three delicate, splendid days. Marisa and I took turns reading Dolly: Daughter of the South. I confessed my bizarre internal soundtrack and we sang I believe the children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way, show them all the beauty they possess inside....
When I was three years old I had a Weeble Wobble dollhouse. One day I broke it, on purpose, to see if I could. When my mother asked me what happened I told her an elephant sat on it. In her wisdom, she didn't punish me. She just said that it was too bad, because when things are broken they often can't be fixed.
I looked at my broken toy and realized that I wouldn't get a new one, that I had intentionally and foolishly destroyed something I loved. From about that time onward, I've been very careful with my things.
I don't even find this mildly amusing:
I'm having guests for a proper holiday meal, and I still don't know how to cook.
The guests have expressed concern.
But I have a list of ingredients, and I ordered an eighteen pound turkey, so we will all just hope for the best.
For the past year or so I've been listening to The Smiths while I write. I did not enjoy the band as a youngster because I was not attracted to industrial grade sadness as entertainment: I had enough melancholy in my actual life.
Byron always winces; he wonders why I am discovering things he liked as a teenager. He was a mopey boy, a Smiths fan, and his best friend Matt was an actual Morrisey cousin.
Recently we received word that Matt died in a car accident. Now the Smiths have a whole new tragic aspect, and listening to Steven Morrisey is more poignant than it ever would have been when I was just a mixed-up teenager.
In the midst of life, we are in debt, etcetera....
I went home over the weekend and took Byron to Illahee, but the trails have been closed by landslides. We walked on the beach and crawled across driftwood and fallen trees, got our hands and city shoes dirty with wet sand.
I heard recently that various people I knew in high school still live in the county, and I'm baffled. Not just the mean popular kids -- I never expected they would escape -- but people who were actually interesting, artistic, the intellectual elite of the school. The hipsters, the kids in my own scene who were too cool to be my friends. The people who should have moved to cities, partied, attended alternative colleges, dropped out, traveled, joined rock bands... the ones who had skills, talent, interesting ideas.
I asked both Scott and James if they could explain it to me, but they had no answers, and we all pondered the phenomenon. What can people do in that trashed small town, the meth capital of the Northwest? Do they work at the shipyard? Do they have any fun at all? Scott suggested perhaps they enjoy bowling and domestic violence. James simply could not guess.
Maybe they love the beautiful, toxic landscape, the water and trees. Maybe they have figured out some kind of Buddhist approach to daily life that allows them to enjoy what they have been given.
I don't know. I guess I'm not that evolved.
After a recent entry in this journal I heard from my friend Jenni. She knew me ten years ago, and she pointed out that since we were disability activists together, I wasn't technically keeping the whole thing a secret.
This is true. I used the word secret incorrectly. From the first day of junior high in 1983 until the day I finished my masters degree in 1994, I faced daily institutional discrimination. Each time I registered, every time I needed accomodation, or had surgery, or lengthy medical testing, I had to disclose my disability status. For eleven years, I made ferocious efforts to exercise my right to an education under 504 and then the ADA. I faced systematic prejudice that, whether subtle or blatant, was unlawful and morally wrong. I challenged and won each of those fights. I was a proper little resistance fighter, disguised inside the sytem and pushing hard.
I turned my personal struggle into campus activism and coordinated the group for students with disabilities. I participated in campus governance that made the school accessible, sat in on architectural review committees, and was hired to write the accessibility plan for the institution. With my friend and colleague, I won a contract to staff the Governor's Committee on accessibility for state contracts. I wrote my master's thesis as active participatory research documenting the efforts to bring about ADA compliance at the state level. I graduated and then took a job staffing an independent living council. When I left that position I was asked to train as a consultant to analyze federally funded clinics.
I lived and breathed disability civil rights issues. I was politically and personally committed to integration, liberation, all of the brilliant and worthy goals of desegregation. For my people.
But at the same time, I did not speak about my own experiences beyond the basic issue of self-identification. I admitted my status, gave a cursory outline, and changed the subject. Between the ages of twelve and twenty-three, I dated, had a child, married, divorced, fell in love, went to school, met and befriended hundreds of people. I worked very hard to make it seem that my life was easy, and people believed my story. I did this because I was sick of being sick. I never felt that the attention afforded the disease was appropriate. I disliked the voyeuristic aspects of having a rare disorder. I wanted to be tough and strong and superior, and if a rare specimen of humanity, then one able to withstand any kind of trauma without complaint.
During junior high I was critically ill. Throughout high school and after the car accident I was chronically ill. In college I had bouts of life-threatening illness, and during graduate school I underwent testing that kicked off additional years of chronic illness. I never admitted, to anyone, not my friends or relations or doctors or lovers, how very difficult it was. That was my secret.
I didn't even notice myself until I started writing the story.
I left the disability activism scene because I started to question the tenets of assimilation. I started to read further into freak history. When people with disabilities were forced outside of culture, into sideshows, when there was no place for them in normal society, it was a disastrous travesty of justice. But when they chose the life, when they made money and traveled and enjoyed the benefits of fame because of their differences, they created something rare and wonderful. They created their own world.
I wondered, at age twenty-five, why I had to wear ugly clothes and shoes and try to look like a normal person. I wondered if the efforts to achieve mainstream acceptance for all people with disabilities might not have subtle and negative side-effects for some people and if my time might not be better spent exploring the boundaries of the two worlds.
My understanding of prejudice pushed me away from the specific focus of disability activism and toward a larger effort to serve, to think about class and gender and race, about how people who should be united in struggle often work against each other. I rejected the idea of mainstream as a cultural sham, a way to divide people and maintain the hegemony of a ruling elite.
Fundamentally, I believe in civil rights. People with disabilities must have the right to exist in society, to be educated and work, to go to the library and waste money at the mall. I also believe in mutual aid and reciprocity, and see disability rights as being irrevocably linked to economics, class, eugenics, oppression.
But I also believe that people have the right to live separately, in autonomous communities, underground or outside of mainstream culture.
That is real change. That is freedom.
My grandfather used to sit at his desk in the front room, hands shuffling a worn deck of cards, staring out the window. He looked out across the fields, the apple orchard, the pond. He watched the cars driving by on their way from Keyport to Scandia. I imagine he could smell the inlet at low tide, though he could not see it from his seat at the window.
I have his desk in my own front room now. I sit and look out my window and I can see my tiny yard perched above a street on a high hill. I can see a stand of trees, pine and fir and aspen and oak, a muddle of growth. Now that the wind and rain of the changing season has taken the leaves, I can see streams of light, cars moving down the valley, driving toward other hills. I can smell the changing tides of the bay on the other side of this hill.
Trish came for the weekend and we were talking about various things and I mentioned something in passing about cancer and found that she did not know about my disease. I wasn't surprised; the cancer was a closely held secret, a forbidden subject, until about two years ago.
I never used to talk about the disease because it is too difficult to explain, but more importantly, because I'm not interested in helping someone else feel okay about my situation. I never wanted to see that stricken look, the concern and dismay. So I kept secrets and covered my scars and had a roster of misleading stories to tell new friends.
Since I started publishing the illness essays, I have had to make startling adjustments in the way I interact with people. I have to be, at all times, the woman with cancer. Anyone who has read the essays knows the back story, and every conversation is influended by that knowledge. My funny anecdotes don't play very well these days. The same swift monologue that used to make people laugh has on more than one occasion brought tears to the eyes of a friend.
I hope that divulging my secret is a political act, that by putting my story into the world I will make it easier for other people to tell their own true stories. But it is painful, and sad, to watch a clinical diagnosis become my identity. I liked it better when people didn't understand.
The second Harry Potter movie hits theaters near you today, and we have tickets for the first performance after school ends.
Last year we went to the first movie on opening day with Gabriel and his child, Polly and her six children, her first and second husband, her sister and her five children, assorted borrowed children, and Marisa. I think the total number in our group was twenty-seven.
We don't have anywhere near that number for this excursion: just me and four kids, the maximum number I can fit in the Volvo. I am going to a venue I'm not familiar with, somewhere in the south of the county, so we'll have to leave early and pretend we are intrepid and brave explorers.
I have no critique of the Harry Potter books now that I've read the first four. The books coaxed my son through the perils of leaving his home and moving to a new city. The books introduce and reinforce appropriate ethical ideals about friendship and honor.
And the even more thrilling fact: the author is now the most famous welfare mom of our century.
The United States was founded in part by conscientious objectors, people who refused to kill for country and king. Religious freedom, including the freedom to dissent, to refuse to fight for moral or philisophical reasons, is an intrinsic principle and absolute right and should be defended without fail.
It is a patriotic act to protest for peace.
During WWII tens of thousands of men refused to go to war: because of religious or philisophical beliefs; to witness for peace; to protest the internment of Japanese-Americans; to protest the colonial status of Puerto Rico; because they did not wish to kill another human being. These men went to prison, went to work camps, and went into combat without weapons.
David Dellinger, Elijah Muhamed, Sun Ra, William Stafford, Robert Lowell, Brother Antonius, countless working men, academics and musicians, artists and writers, people of every political and religious persuasion refused to kill for their government.
Conscientious objectors founded KPFA and Pacifica Radio. Freedom rides, integration, anti-apartheid movements, the farm worker struggle, union activism, non-violent and radical pacifism for the people, were all influenced and often cultivated by WWII conscientious objectors.
Conscientious objectors took jobs in mental health hospitals in a time of national crisis, when most staff had left to participate in the war effort or accept other jobs. The new, idealistic staff publicized the atrocious conditions inside the institutions, sought and won legal remedies through the courts, and through the efforts of voluntary Conscientious Objector Girls (who were not forced to serve but made the choice to stand by husband or brother) won over Eleanor Roosevelt. These efforts led to significant reforms and the eventual liberation of a class of citizenry.
In the federal prisons, the conscientious objectors went on hunger strikes to force desegregation, and in fact forced integration of the entire federal prison system.
In the forests, the men used untested and dangerous new approaches to fight fires and protect natural resources.
Many men volunteered to be human laboratory subjects as the most valiant of all patriotic choices. They underwent cognitive and physical experiments. They allowed themselves to be injected with viruses, with hepatitis, with unknown vaccines, to be biopsied. They consented to the first-ever clinical study of starvation and rehabilitation that was later used to develop the plan to feed a starving Europe.
Every single war waged by the United States has seen a substantial protest movement in opposition, from so-called draft dodgers to the riots over Civil War conscription. The form of activism has not always been the same, but anti-war sentiment is a legitimate force to balance the choices of a government elected to serve the people. There has always been a peace movement, and there will always be conscientious objectors.
On November 13, 1851, the Denny party arrived at Alki as the first white homesteaders in what would become Seattle.
The settlers found one unfinished cabin, Denny himself sick, and the third member of the advance party had left to find a tool, without returning.
The women of the party were not amused.
They named the place New York and the indigenous locals added the Chinook word Alki, meaning by and by.
Most of the party relocated across the bay as soon as they could, and started their strange new city the next spring, naming it in honor of the man who signed the Point Elliot Treaty, ceding the land of his people to these pale interlopers. He is buried on a reservation in a distant county.
I think that I will go walk on Alki today and think about the history of immigration and persecution, land and money, speculation and appropriation.
It was a bright, stormy morning and we were running late so I drove the children to school. I didn't have time to take my hair down from braids before I shooed the group out the door and to the car. On the drive home, I saw an accident on the bridge, and the sun shining as rain fell sideways on the other side of the car.
When I arrived home I found Anna Ruby and Eli sleeping in a car in the driveway. They came inside and admired the house and I stood still in the morning light as they unbraided my hair.
Trivia of the day: historian Stewart Holbrook was once in a touring theatre company with the man later known as Boris Karloff.
On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the treaty ending World War 1 was signed. That was the Great War, the war to end all wars.
Now we call it Veteran's Day, and the old men who sold poppies in front of the Merit Mart are all dead. I don't like the designation of Veteran's Day because it assumes future generations killed or maimed by war. I prefer remembering the Armistice, and the hope that an atrocity of such terrible scope might teach us something, might guide us toward an optimistic future.
After the war ended, when working men and women were continuing their fight for safety and fair wages (the eight hour day, basic standards of hygiene, and similar rights we take for granted were achieved within living history; if your grandparents don't agree, you can ask mine), the IWW pulled off the first general strike in the United States. On November 11, 1919, a much-disputed event occured in Centralia between the IWW and Legionnaires. Nobody is in agreement about the sequence of events, but many people died, and an IWW member was taken from jail and executed by a mob.
Byron was attending a conference of international mathematicians at the Benson Hotel. This building is named for a founding father and is famously haunted: it shows up in all the guidebooks with descriptions of waifish figures gliding down the elegant staircase, of phantom maids assisting elderly ladies into their beds.
I know many of the mathematicians, and if I don't know them, I know their friends, and it was lovely to see people again. I ran into a few in the lobby and said hello, then walked outside and up two blocks to our old scene, indie rock block, Half and Half, Reading Frenzy. I was able to walk about ten paces before running into a beloved friend, then another ten before someone else showed up. We saw the woman who performed our marriage ceremony at the 24 Hour Church of Elvis, screaming about mittens and bustling along the sidewalk. It took the better part of the afternoon to walk four blocks and disapear into the nether regions of Powell's.
During the visit to Portland we visited friends, attended a banquet cruise, flopped around our fancy hotel room, and agreed unanimously that we wanted to go home, back to Seattle. Life is too haunted in Portland, too rife with drama, too claustrophobic. We missed the mountains and the salty air from the Puget Sound.
Byron was almost finished with his PhD two years ago when our finances went into death watch mode: we were so broke, we didn't know how we would pay the next mortgage payment, or eat, or catch up on looming utility bills.
His department bought him tickets for a conference in Texas; I dug up some respectable clothes for him and handed over our last ten dollars. Somehow, he would have to find a job, any job. It didn't matter too much what it was, we were willing to move, we just needed the money desperately. I asked Trixie for advice from his birth chart and she told me that all would be well; I asked Ariel what to do and she said that I had to give thanks for prosperity yet to come. I clasped my hands together, paced around the house, finished edits on the book, and worried my way toward believing that everything would be fine.
He attended the conference and saw some friends and one night he went out dancing with some people from Sweden who had tried to recruit him in the past. They asked again, and he said no; Sweden is cold, and my ancestors left Northern Europe for a reason. The Swedes persisted. They asked what it would take, and he said that he wanted to stay in Portland, formal permission to publish, and full insurance. They said okay and he blinked and that was the deal.
Byron put aside his doctoral thesis and went to work for a Swedish start-up. I found him a great office above Reading Frenzy and he set about earning money to rescue the family finances and give my faltering business an infusion of cash. Because of the Swedish job, I was able to travel and do research and pay some crucial bills. We had enough money to buy fresh vegetables, paint the living room, and even get a thermostat for the house. When the couple hundred dollars for my book came in, it was surplus and I was finally able to retire our ancient, ailing Honda and buy a twenty-year old beater Volvo.
Two years passed and Byron did the respectable and proper thing: he worked hard and we dealt with all the accumulated bills from our years of student poverty. We visited our extended families. The dissertation was neglected and occasionally lamented, but full-time industry jobs are incredibly taxing. He worked twelve hour days, traveled frequently, took calls from Europe in the middle of the night. His cell phone never stopped ringing, and there were days when he sat typing at his terminal with a head set connected to one phone and the cell pressed to the other ear. He didn't have time to read a newspaper, let alone do academic work.
When the Swedes pulled out of Portland he accepted another job and we moved to Seattle. It wasn't necessarily important to his new employer that he have a PhD but the prospect of completing that much research and then bailing on the documentation was ridiculous. It became a priority to finish. He set a date, made the plans, and did it.
Yesterday he defended his dissertation to his faculty committee, and passed.
The kids screamed congratulations Dr. Daddy! over the phone.
Byron is the sweetest, smartest, nicest fellow ever, and he deserves endless thanks and admiration for all the hard work over these many years.