depression curls itself around my body, pulling me down, suffocating me in its grip.
i stumble around my one-bedroom apartment, feeling like fried hash browns, shredded, then crisped.
my to-do list crouches in the right-hand corner of my browser. when was the last time i crossed something off? a week? five days? the days are endless and too short. is it thursday?
i wake up at dawn, the sun creeping into my window. i listen to birds: finches, sparrows, mockingbirds, chickadees. they chitter and chatter.
it’s spring, but i don’t feel renewed.
on monday, i’m late for work. then i forget someone’s broth in their take-out order. when i get back home, i contemplate attending a virtual workshop, i look at the agenda, i even text a friend, but depression clenches my intestines, luring me to television’s glow. my depression flirts with me, caresses me as i lay down to watch The Simpsons.
maybe things’ll be better tomorrow. it’s all i can hope for.
on tuesday, i don’t want to get out of bed. i take a tequila shot at noon because the spirits in my flesh are screaming. i draw cards from the mayan oracle, what messages do they have for me? believe in yourself. believe in your power. you are enough. if you fill your cup, you can fill others'. with shaking fingers, i try, but it spills and spills. i bring what little i caught to my lips, but my tongue burns it all away. when the sky darkens, i can’t breathe. my lungs freeze, calcify. tears paint my eyes shut.
by wednesday, i see a glimmer, but depression is a bag i’m stuffed in and someone’s closing it again. the thoughts parading in my head are ghouls. i draw more oracle cards - message is still the same - believe in yourself. how can i? strength leaks out of me like pus from a popped pimple. i drift, miss another workshop.
days wasted. my neck muscles are twisted rope. a fire bubbles. i soothe it. i try. it’s all i can do. it’s thursday, and i’m not okay. maybe i’ll never be, but i’m still fucking here. a friend reminds me that we write because that’s who we are. so i write this, surprised at how easily the words gush from my fingers.
depression rages, makes me forget who i am, and what i do. it tries pushing me off an edge. i yell into the abyss, then jump, my voice vibrating into an echo. my depression cackles, watching me fall.
will i disintegrate into a million pieces? will my echo catch me? is this the end?
i don’t know. it’s not even 9 am yet.
at least i can cross off one thing from my to-do list - write blog entry.
No April blog post because I'm doing the 30 days, 30 poems challenge for April's poetry month.
My poems are posted on my website under April 2020 Poetry Month.
See y'all next month.
When I don't write, I stop knowing who I am. I am more written word than I am physical flesh.
I write as therapy, processing my emotions, digging myself out of trauma-heavy silt.
For as long as I remember, I've had a story crawling out of me. Whether fantasy or reality. I'm a story-teller for better or worse. And I know I’m not the only one.
Creative expression sits heavy in our bones. What happens if we don't release it? How many of us drink or binge-watch shows to escape whatever it is we are scared of?
Sometimes, it's needed. Sometimes, it's hard to motivate myself to do creative things.
But I always return to writing. It calls to me, even when I don't want it to.
My mother didn't play her role as mother very well. In many ways, I mothered myself. In other ways, writing became my mother. It fed my heart, it stroked my skin, it tended my wounds.
Writing and its counterpart, reading was my embrace. It held and comforted me.
Before I moved to Los Angeles, I had no friends and only one book, Anne of Green Gables. I read this book over and over, while waiting to cross the border into the US. First in Polish, then in English. Anne helped me travel into another world, while I was stuck in my very precarious one.
After moving here, the library quickly became my second home. I would come back with stacks of books - Goosebumps, Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew.
I loved reading them, but I never saw myself. They didn't strike a deep chord within me. Maybe if they had, I would've decided to pursue writing as a craft earlier in life.
Reading Borderlands by Gloria Anzaldúa much, much later changed that. Reading Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, then learning how she worked at a potato chip factory and got up at 4am to write, changed me.
I recently published my first book. A chapbook of poetry. It took me a year, it took a community of writers to encourage me, and it took me believing in myself.
I don't want my book to be perfect, or prestigious, or praised. I want it to open up our vulnerabilities and emotions. I want it to be someone's embrace and comfort. I want it to encourage someone to pick up a pen, or a pencil, or a paintbrush. Doesn’t matter if you went to school or graduated. Doesn’t matter if you ever wrote a word or put paint on a canvas.
We are creative creatures. We need to honor that. We don't have to share or be the best at it. We don’t have to win prizes, or contests, or be published. We can write in our native languages or our second languages. We can sing spontaneously or dance in the middle of an intersection.
We need to connect to the humxn-animal in us, not the profit-making-machine choking us.
We need to find other ways to survive together because our current ways are destroying the planet and its inhabitants. I haven’t taken streets in way too long, but I hope sharing my vulnerabilities is, in some way, direct action.
This past week, my mentor challenged me to say, "I love me." I had never realized how foreign these three words were to me, pebbles rattling on my tongue, stuck between my teeth. Have I ever said this to myself? Have I ever declared "I love me"?
As children, we are taught to say "I love you". "I love you" to our parents, who are supposed to say it to each other, as a model for us to later say to a romantic partner. We place love in a hierarchy. Sexual/romantic, familial, then friend/platonic, and maybe finally somewhere yourself. Instead of dismantling this hierarchy, the self-love movement places self-love above romantic love, even claiming if you don't love yourself nobody else will. But different types of love exist simultaneously. Even if we don't love and accept ourselves, we are still capable of love. Love is a journey, a continuum, a kaleidoscope.
I'm not a fan of mainstream positivity. Feel-good slogans, like "You are awesome", "You can do anything," "Don't give up" don't address the systemic and institutionalized structures of power. White supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, colonialism/imperialism give us different experiences, depending on where we fall in the web of oppression. A white cis-man won't face the same set of challenges as a black trans-woman. Feel-good phrases won't change that. Feel-good phrases won't change the trauma I've experienced as a migrant to this country. Feel-good phrases subvert the work it takes to actually overcome daily anxieties and unhealthy coping habits.
Love shouldn't be coerced. Self-love, familial love, sexual love, platonic love, none of these should be forced on us. Yet, as children, we are told to love our family, sometimes including abusive family.
I am expected to love my mother, despite any emotional abusive she inflicted on me. I do care for her because she was a person in my life, because we lived together for eighteen years, and because she fed and clothed me. But she never took the time to know me, or accept me for who I am. I felt like she only loved me because I was her daughter and that's how she was supposed to feel. Is that real love?
What is love?
We can define love differently. For me love includes acceptance, acceptance of our sexualities, our genders, our skin colors, our depressions, our faults, our wins. For me, my mom's love felt conditional. I had to get straight As, I had to go to college, I had to get married (to a cis-man), I had to get a "good" job, if I didn't do these things, there would be no love, only disappointment.
Is that love?
I struggle to love myself today partially because how I saw love defined through her. My mom grew up in an abusive household, learning to see love as harsh and painful. Maybe her mom also grew up like this, and it's been a cycle for generations. I tried asking my mom to start therapy so she could begin dismantling her self-hate. She didn't want to, she refused to acknowledge her toxic patterns. I even suggested mindful meditation, but to her these tactics were silly and ineffectual. She didn't want to face the monsters inside herself. She didn't want to embark on an authentic journey of self-love.
But I do.
I want to love me, accept me, but also work on myself, ensuring I'm not repeating toxic patterns. We live in a culture saturated in systemic oppression, this can translate into oppressive behaviors. I make mistakes, there needs to be room for that. I need room to grow and learn. This shouldn't stop mew from loving myself but I should be self-aware otherwise my self-love could blossom into selfishness and egotism.
The relationship we build with ourselves is just as important as the relationships we build with other people. I want to be intentional with myself and my friends, lovers, comrades. I want to dismantle the hierarchy of love. I don't value self-love over platonic or sexual or family love.
I should take myself out for lunch and fucking celebrate it. Or go out with friends for sushi. I should masturbate and fucking celebrate my solo orgasms. Or have sex with a lover. I should be kind to myself when I make a mistake. Or show compassion for my friends when they fuck up. These are ways we show love, either for others or ourselves. We should value these types of love equally.
Show up for yourself, show up for others, blend the two. Be self-aware, say I love me and say I love you all in one breath or multiple breaths. Exist simultaneously, in contradiction, own your shit, and don't fucking play into the hierarchies of oppression or love.
Eight years ago, on January 27th, 2012, my comrades and I drove up to Oakland from Los Angeles in response to their call for Move-In Day. In 2012, we were the ripples of the “Occupy” movement.
Move-In Day was a vision, inspired by the revolutionaries, warriors, and fighters of our past. Like the Argentinian workers who took over abandoned factories in the early 2000s, our goal was to take a building and transform it into a community space – the Oakland Commune.
On January 28th, I woke up in a studio apartment with twelve others and a sky full of sun and promise. At 10:30am, we met at Oscar Grant Plaza for a rally, strategy sessions and art-making.
At about 1pm, we took the streets. Some held trash can tops decorated with peace and anarchy signs; others held three large corrugated metal sheets displaying “Oakland Commune,” “Commune Move In” and “Cops Move Out”. Our handmade shields, our defense.
We knew we needed it. We remembered November 2nd and Scott Olsen. The photographs of his cracked, bleeding head circulated social media, freshly imprinted in our minds.
The police followed us from the beginning. They made an arrest before our main march even started. They wanted to control us, to scare us. The police aren’t here to serve and protect the people. They are here to quell protests, maintain social order, and ensure the current hierarchies remain in place.
They blocked our planned route. In an attempt to escape them, we marched through Laney College, clambering across narrow pathways, losing our music truck. Emerging on the other side of the campus, they tried to cut us off again. We walked around, crossed a bridge and arrived at the Kaiser Convention Center. This could be it – this grand, empty, ornate building could be our community space.
The police formed a perimeter around it. We weren’t deterred, someone tried to move the metal barricades surrounding the building. A few cops pushed them back. The first canister hit the ground. People screamed, thinking it was tear gas, preparing themselves for stinging eyes and a burning throat. But the police hadn’t escalated yet, this was round one, these were only flash grenades.
We continued to look for a way in, ignoring the smoke piling up around us. The police drew their paintball guns: round two. They pointed it at me. I rushed behind a shield, ducking underneath. They didn’t fire, not yet.
Through their megaphone the cops announced that the “State of California” declared us an unlawful assembly. According to their codes, they must tell us this before they can disperse us.
The Kaiser Convention Center was our first target, we had others in mind. We moved away, passing by Oakland’s Museum of Natural Science. On this bright sunny afternoon, families and couples cluttered the sidewalks, streaming in and out of the museum.
The police blocked us on both sides. Our shields led the way as we attempted to continue our march, tear gas and flash grenades erupting around us, hitting parked cars. Their alarms bleated and blared. To the right of me, someone yelled “Medic!”
Heavy smoke hung in the air scorching my eyes and throat. Near my feet, a flash grenade exploded, I backed away, stumbling to the sidewalk. I looked up, across the street, by the museum, dozens of shocked onlookers stared. Someone handed me a gas mask, I slipped it on with shaking fingers and returned to the front lines.
The police started to fire rubber bullets, as we tried to find an opening to continue our march. Behind the shields, the bullets didn’t hurt us, but we could feel their impact. The stench of tear gas filled the air, making it hard to see. My gas mask wasn’t tight enough, my lips and tongue started to burn.
Unable to get past the cops, we scattered on the sidewalk and began to retreat back to Oscar Grant Plaza to recuperate.
We were hungry and high on adrenaline. It felt surreal to return to the calm grass baking under the sun. Was I just tear gassed? Are we doing it again?
An hour later, we were ready to return to the streets, as the sun bowed its head.
We couldn’t give up, we headed to our next location, the police trailing behind us. As we crossed through Snow Park, the cops trapped us again, gave another order of dispersal followed by more tear gas. I found myself yelling, “Don’t run. Walk. Don’t panic. Walk,” as people pushed each other to escape the tear gas.
On one side the police had surrounded us, but before they could completely enclose us, six hundred tore down a fence and continued down Broadway. We were building-less but we had evaded the police for hours, disrupting the day-to-day status quo of Oakland. The rest of the march was a blur.
A few blocks later, the police cut us off once again. Thinking quickly, some people rushed into a nearby YMCA building, the rest of us started setting up barricades. But this was round three, the police advanced towards us, pushed us into a corner, against the building. We stumbled into each other, trying not to fall.
A few minutes later the police announced, “You are all under arrest.”
No one believed this.
We started to chant, “Let us go” and “This is illegal detainment.”
The woman next to me was indignant. “This is against the law. You can’t detain me. I’ll call my council members,” she yelled. “Call the media.”
The cops ignored us. We rebelled. This is America. We are not supposed to do that.
It took five hours to arrest 409 people. As they processed us, we sat on concrete, our hands gripped by plastic cuffs. When they finally removed my cuffs at Santa Rita, I cried.
I spent two nights and a day in a holding cell with at least sixteen others. We had no beds, no blankets, no pillows, only cold air blowing at us from vents near the ceiling. For food, we received bologna between two slices of bread, an orange, two cookies and a calcium drink.
Time was non-existent, as we waited for the guards to call our name and release us.
Getting out of jail and seeing my comrades filled me with joy. Later that night, we cooked pasta and wept together. Following day, we drove back to Los Angeles, strengthened and smarter.
The revolution is a mix of victories and failures. For me it is always a victory because we haven’t stopped fighting. We don’t always win the battles, but we face Goliath. But with each action our collective power grows. We didn’t take a building on January 28th, but we built something wonderful and massive: our ripples continue to this day.
Eight years later, we may not be in the same physical space together, but our community continues to grow. Tear gas, flash grenades, and bullets can’t suppress us. Despite police repression, we believe in direct action, we believe in not asking for permission from false authority and fake hierarchies.
As November 2020 nears, we know replacing the Empire’s leader won’t change the institutionalized dynamics of this country. We need more. We need reparations, we need to give land back to the Indigenous, we need to end our complacency in a system hurting the majority of living beings. The question, then and now, is how. Taking and holding space is one tactic, hopefully more will flower in this decade.
I emerged from the womb erased & confused. I was born in Warsaw to a Polish mother & a not-present Bengalee father -- a mixed-race child, a brand & label stamped on my skin before I could even speak.
To my mom's mother, I wasn’t considered good enough to be part of the family because of my Bengalee blood, skin, & features. Now this is the secret part, the part that’s hard for me to talk about. Before I was born, my mom had another daughter, but a white daughter. At my birth, she was maybe six or seven.
My grandmother took her from my mom.
She told my mom that a white daughter could never be raised with someone like me, who is brown, that it would be harmful for my sister, that somehow she would catch my “brown” disease. With that, my sister was gone forever from my & my mom's life. My mom’s punishment for her intimacy with a non-white person.
I wasn’t allowed to talk about my sister. She came to visit me, once or twice before I left Poland, but I don’t remember her. I just remember my mom telling me afterwards -- don't tell anyone about her. For years I didn't. Today I no longer keep this secret. It’s a scarred wound, I've picked apart to get rid of the infection.
I’m angry. Every day. None of this was under my control, but I am responsible for handling my emotions. I have to live with the pain of my thirteen-year-old self finding pictures my sister drew as a child, of finding photographs of the two us the couple times we were together. Then not being able to process the loss & pain, or understand it, or even begin to name it, & using scissors to try to cut out the answer in my skin. Because I knew, though I didn’t have the words, that my skin was the problem.
I continue struggling with my identity, not feeling tied to any particular label. This year, I took a DNA test confirming I am South Asian & Eastern European. I don't know much about my Bengalee or my Polish culture. My mom wanted me to be a white American so badly, she didn’t tell me where my father was from until I begged her when I was twelve. She wanted me to assimilate, but I refused. Or rather, I wasn’t allowed to assimilate, “where are you from” is a question I hear over & over.
Google “mixed-race children” and you’ll see some racist, triggering shit. No, we are not in a post-race world. No, white features do not make POC folx more acceptable. No, we are not exotic objects for your Instagram feed.
To me, white supremacy is not some abstract concept or some philosophical/theoretical term. White supremacy is the monster who stole my family, my identity, and almost myself.
Everyday I wake up to this monster, and everyday it also awakens my desire & need to fight, rebel, resist. How can I not, when I see how people are treated based on the color of their skin, even subconsciously. How can I not, when police murder Black folx every day. How can I not, when the statistics prove again & again the scarcity of resources available for darker-skinned individuals. My story is a pattern in this white supremacist tapestry, and so is yours.
After keeping my sister a secret for years, I started to tell people. At first, it overwhelmed me. Now, I want everyone to know how fucked up white families can be. I want to talk about the trauma of POC folx raised by white people. I know there are other stories out there, and they need to be told.
Let’s share, let’s be fucking vulnerable, because we are here, and if we don’t speak up, who will?
To pay rent, I work as a server in a restaurant. It's a physically demanding, multi-tasking, tip hustling art performance. Some days I get frustrated, most days I try to have fun.
Yet somehow "society" sees my job as something to grow out of, a temporary arrangement, not a life choice.
A couple months ago, I broke my foot (slipping on a pine cone, of all things). My X-ray results crushed me - I knew I couldn't work with a broken foot. The doctor suggested I do "back-office work", then added, "Maybe, who knows, they'll let you do that permanently." Immediately assuming I didn't like my job, that I would enjoy doing "office" work. At my small Korean-owned ramen restaurant, there is no "office" work. Our office is a corner between the dish-washing station and a rack for pots & Cambros.
I have actually worked in an office and hated it: working more than 40 hours in a week, stuck in a room, sitting in front of a computer, sharing an office with people at least fifteen years older. I couldn't stand it. I couldn't focus, spent most of my time surfing the Internet and eventually got fired.
As a kid, I loved to play Diner Dash. I loved it’s routine - take order, bring food, take payment, bus table. Now reality isn't as fun as the game - taking out the trash & sweeping was not required in the virtual world. But the bustle is real and a thrill.
Sometimes weird and funny shit happens - like a group of USC students who opened at least ten packets of chopsticks, claiming they smelled funny... like wood.
But everywhere I go, when I say I work at a restaurant I feel a judgy vibe. Why am I not trying to “better” myself?
A co-worker asked me this week what I wanted to do in life. (TBH I want to burn shit down, etc etc, but that uncomfortable truth aside...) I am doing what I want to do - working part-time, writing part-time. I don't know if I want to make money from my writing. I don't like money. I know we need it because the system of capitalism we currently live under, but I don't like it. I want my poetry & writings to be accessible, I’m sharing my story to inspire & help others, not to gain material wealth. I believe in exchange and give-what-you can, because artists should be compensated for their work, but this shouldn’t be a marker of success or the sole goal.
However artists living their hustle does inspire me - folx creating content and using Patreon to support themselves; folx doing workshops, lectures, and key-note speeches on resistance at educational institutions; folx using grants to support marginalized voices. As someone with light-skinned, cis-privilege, I haven’t stepped into that space, to allow for others to inhabit it. I try to balance my anti-capitalism, privilege and joy.
Sometimes I joke, serving is my hobby, and writing is my job. Who says you must define job as something paid? If we didn't live under capitalism, I don't know what I would choose to do, but it would most likely still involve art & food.
Point is - don't demean people's work within the service & labor industry. Don’t demean what people have to do to survive. Instead of talking shit on people's jobs, let's talk shit on the institution of work. Eight hours of labor for someone else's gain? Who is creating value? Who keeps the material wealth? Is it fair that Bezos is a billionaire and line cooks are paid minimum wage? Cleaning & cooking are essential tasks, yet these are often the least valued - both in how they are paid and viewed. Why?
Let's take down this hierarchy of work, y'all. Don’t let societal norms & pressures define you. Find joy, especially if you are a person of color, especially if you are a Black and/or Indigenous person of color (BIPOC). Don’t get caught up in how others define success, define success your own way. Finding joy can be an act of resistance, if this joy is not rooted in white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism.
There’s so much more to say on this topic, but for brevity’s sake, I’ll end here.
I celebrated my fourteenth birthday with my mom, our neighbor & my [girl] friend from school at Universal City’s Hard Rock Cafe. Throughout dinner, my mom didn’t speak, her mouth buried in her steak, waiting for her opportunity to strike. When my friend left to the restroom, she began her disparaging comments: “I wish you brought a boy to dinner” & “what does this mean – this bringing a girl to her birthday dinner? Does it mean she’s a lesbian?”
I didn’t respond, and our neighbor ignored my mom. Silence stretched. “Are you a lesbian?” my mom asked again. My fingers clutched a napkin, tore it to pieces underneath the table, my gaze burning into my almost empty plate.
“No,” I muttered, finally, barely audible. I lacked the language to express the truth: I don’t know, let me find out. I said no because under my mom’s accusatory eyes, coming out felt like stepping under a falling boulder.
Later walking back to the parking lot, my friend and I linked arms. Immediately my mom started to scream, “You are a filthy lesbian, you are filth, you are disgusting.” My friend clutched my arm tighter for a second, then released, the words hitting her. The drive to our homes weighed heavy on our lips.
My mom never let up on her accusations of my sexuality. I frequently received emails from her that started: “I know you are gay.” Sometimes she would add, “But it’s okay” followed by “How did this happen?” Other times, “I want grandchildren.”
One night my other girl friend and I kissed, but by then I was too terrified to think about whether I enjoyed it. My mom’s words ringing: “filth” and “disgusting”. I decided I should be attracted to men because making her proud became more important than my own identity. It took years to untangle this toxic decision and its repercussions.
Rather than explore freely, I followed a prescribed path, closing gates to my own sexuality & my own self. Most days, I’m no longer attracted to anyone. I struggle to be comfortable in sexual encounters. How much of my engagement in my sexuality, in my identity is my own, and how much of it is dictated by oppressive norms & parental scoldings? I deconstruct, hoping to uncover the real me.
How many of us lead lives of lies? This Western European culture of oppression results in broken bones, bruised flesh & bloody teeth, but it also steals us away from us. We (us living in Empire) aren’t outside of these constructs of domination. We are prejudiced, patriarchal sacks of shit. Don't want to be defeatist, but it's important to recognize: we are not immune, or somehow exempt from dominant European hierarchical culture because unfortunately we are steeped in it.
Recognizing this gives us the tools to think outside of imperialist hegemonic boxes. To start thinking outside of binaries, outside of boy/girl, outside of straight/gay.
No amount of rallies, marches, or even direct actions will help usher in a different era, if we are not willing to see how we reproduce the narratives of domination, exploitation and oppression in our everyday lives. It is not enough to seize the modes of production, or to overthrow dictators/presidents. Most of us are angry, but if our anger is misogynistic or anti-black, it will only lead to other forms of oppression, even if the anger is anti-capitalist and anti-state. If you decide to pepper spray people at an anti-police community meeting because you’re threatened by femme folx taking space …. Well, even if you’re anti-capitalist and anti-state, we’re not on the same side.
I question my sexual and gender identity as part of my struggle against capitalism and against the state. Our identities are cultural reflections of the economic and governmental power relations in our society, and they are also us. How do we build identities of resistance and healing? How do we peel away versions of us no longer true? How do we ensure our identities are not co-opted and used against us?
In our struggle, the questions must never end. We must unlearn what white men have taught us while listening to (and supporting) Black transwomen & queer Indigenous folx. We must continue to critically engage while fighting for liberation, not passively participating in “political” work.
The first version of this piece exists in LA Queer Resitance Zine #4. You can find this and other zines on their website: laqrzine.wix.com or FB page: facebook.com/laqrzine