Sunday, January 11, 2015

Fan Zine

There are a series of crossways in the popular imaginary that quietly link a balanced combination of well-roundedness and specialization, entrepreneurial achievement, positivism, linear thinking, capitalist growth, efficiency, intellectual focus, and success. All of these things are conceived as more or less good--a category of judgement which allows no room for multitudes, obsessions, distractions, failures, doubts, fanaticisms, hybridities, sensitivities, inspirations, or any abundance of feeling. Abundance in general is negated in this scheme, which privileges and attributes value to all that is sharp like a knife and nothing that is fuzzy. The fuzzy is negligible. The fuzzy is wrong.

The fuzzy is aberrational in this scheme (which, if it is not obvious, is structured around capitalism). When French President François Hollande spoke this week on the recent spate of terroristic murders in Paris, he identified the African killers as "madmen, fanatics."In this way, fuzzy thinking is almost interchangeable in the popular imaginary with both criminality and difference (as well as darkness and unknowability, but that is for another essay). We see this in the case of every single high school shooting over the last fifteen years: the popular question always boils down to What went wrong at home and how did nobody see it? We do not ask the questions: Who else feels this way? or What other manifestations of this feeling are possible? or How could this feeling--the feeling (i.e., the knowledge) of being different--have been alternatively manifested?

It took a team of psychologists reporting in Psychology Today and elsewhere to determine that Christopher Dorner (the black ex-cop who declared war on the LAPD two years ago) is not, officially a psychopath. The focus was on his difference--his doubtful nature in regards to a racist patriarchy--as a perfect example of criminal fuzz. Feelings of difference such as this, and their violent manifestations, are not easily decoupled from what we call madness, and more legible professionals were thus deployed to help make sense of these violent acts stemming from confusion and sorrow in the professional and social realm.

And that coupling is powerfully leveraged to deny the very social forces that drove Dorner so crazy. If I never see another image of a lynching from the early 21st century, or another picture of Nazis marching through Germany with some sort of copy discussing the otherwise innocent white folk as people who had somehow become complicit in evil by putting aside their good sense of humanity and logic and delving into the darkness of madness.... White families who have picnics at lynchings aren't crazy, they're racist. They're dealing with white supremacist capitalist patriarchy--which may indeed encourage fuzzy thinking, or may exist side by side with fuzziness--but it is not their craziness that explains their violence. Being crazy is not necessarily the same thing as being violent. However, being racist (among other things) is.

But I want to return to this question: Who else feels this way? I recently found myself in an emergency intake for psychological counseling. I was/have been/might always be having a breakdown (again). If you've never done a psychological intake, consider yourself privileged: they are really uncomfortable, oddly reassuring, and yet simultaneously dissociating things. Anyway, they are a series of questions, which in the best environments are used to help you find a therapist, and in the worst cases are used to medicate, incarcerate, or commit you (or some combination of the three). During my intake, I was asked Have you ever thought of killing someone?

What a question!

To be honest, I don't know. I'm fairly sure I've never premeditated murder--and I can guarantee that, in this life anyway, I have never taken anyone's life knowingly. But have I ever considered it? I very well may have. How many times have I been scared by another person--really terrified? How many times have I been sexually or otherwise violently offended by another person? How many times have I been so angry at someone that I did not feel in possession of my own actions? How many times have I felt dispossessed?*

It is a sharp question that elicits only fuzzy answers. But fuzzy is aberrational, after all, and even in a building constructed to house and treat aberrations like me, I was scared to say any of this. This response--fear of my own difference--is very, very normal; of this I am positive.

So imagine the difficulty of normalizing the fuzz outside of such spaces. How do you tell someone you barely know, when they ask How have you been? that you have spent the last five months contemplating suicide? That you have felt so confused and so angry that you've premeditated killing not someone else, but yourself? That you sometimes lose your sense of who you are and where you are, and it makes you cry uncontrollably? How do you tell someone you've shared a drink or two with that you struggle in a deep way with depression, that you sometimes fantasize so intensely about disappearing that you hurt yourself in an attempt to deny your physical presence? And that this is why, I'm sorry, I didn't get to apply for that thing you nominated me for, or I didn't show up to your event, or I had to cancel our plans so many times. How do you apologize for the unspeakable? And how do you explain to someone that these feelings are chemical but also based on your heightened sensitivity to world horror? Why isn't that obvious?

Better yet, how do they receive the information once you tell them? How do they re-imagine you, police you, and negate you--or vice versa, celebrate this version of you to whom they've just become closer? The three overarching questions I suppose I have to ask are How do we safely come out about who we really are in relationship to madness and How do we support those around us coming out? And How can we reimagine ourselves as necessarily diverse, and thus cease using diversity as a metonym for criminality?

The thing about diversity is it demands community. Being a little or a lot fuzzy means the constructed world is not made for you, and the only way to survive it is with support. I know that right now I have so much to learn from those in the disability community who have been thinking about disability justice and the complexities of community for so long. (I am partially writing this blog to step my conversation and research game up, esp. with folk like TL Lewis, Allie Cannington, Theri A. Pickens, Micha Cardeñas, Moya Bailey, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, and so many others who criss-cross fields to talk about safety, community, and self-actualization (because a part of my fuzziness has always been social phobia, but I am committed to growing stronger as a fuzzy person).)

I am really upset about what the French President said, and what silly statements like that do to neurodiverse people, crazy people, sensitive people--people like me living in the fuzz. It refuses our right to humanity. It encourages our desperate desire to perform passing behavior (and as we know, passing is always tied to violence). It denies our need for community--and thus denies the need we all share for mutual support. It makes things sharp, efficient, easily considered and disregarded; when, in reality, madness is anything but. Madness is not inherently criminal, and it is not negligible. Madness is fuzzy. Madness demands respect.

*Another way to think of this, one which I borrow from Fred Moten, is to understand the flip of this question: How many times have I been possessed? To be possessed can occur in unison with the forces of oppression and dispossesion, and denies one the right to their own self-possession. I could be talking about zombies here just as easily as I could be talking about colonized thinking.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

your idea of a good time. (7/22/13)

on a cruise from some accidental civilization to some other

i am hungry

you’re telling me about where you stay, where you drink late into the night

where boys i have never met reach for you and you wake


then try again to find a way way back again into darkness

then get published in The New Yorker speaking foreign languages

but but but i am sad too, i think, but mostly because sadness is familiar

and proof of life.

we are slow bodies delivered every five to seven hours

to ancient cities built in the ecstatic era of late capitalism

when driving was a compulsion against the threat of progress

when distance made sense, like a good idea

like turmeric in everything

we pass exit 10 for newtown/sandy hook

as we will eventually pass exit 11 for newtown drive, which i have never heard of

and then we also pass so many exits that any other exit loses its quality of metaphor

and all places become just another exit off the freeway

i imagine my hunger and am glad for this strange undifferentiated melancholy

i am glad to know one can be sad about everything all at the same time, and that we can talk about this later, like some discuss dinner

i am glad to know one does not necessarily die jumping from a ledge

or that the highest speeds will never end in flight

we are not planes or birds, but sometimes do sail sometimes catapultishly 

and a little while later tell stories of the voyage

so to be glad is another way to gratitude--

which has nothing to do with not being sad

which itself is a distinction i would not have made before meeting you

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Proxy Wars and Gasps

Syria all morning since 7am. Which is not so long, in the scheme of things. It is apparent in this moment how incredibly twisted my thinking has been made by experience of being born and being a toddler in the era of Reagan and stratification, a kid in the era of Bush and war, a teen in the era of Clinton and capitalism, a young adult in the era of Bush and militarism, and a 20-something in the era of Obama and post-racism. So twisted, in fact, that I can't wrap my head around who we are at war with presently, or what the impact is (globally, and in my neighborhood, and in my very body) of striking a place unilaterally, or how to help someone who you never cared to help a year ago when they asked for it and who is now dying in part because of what you have been doing for years and years and years on end.

They say that our generation is apathetic, but there is a more accurate description of the feeling, I think, beyond apathy... it is, perhaps, deep within the realm of fear--a feeling that is native to those born and raised in neoliberalist terror. It is closely related to the feeling familiar to those with chronic pain: sharp stabs in the back that your mind at first twists into dull throbs and eventually into normalcy. Not "who cares?" like it doesn't matter, but "who cares?" like it matters so much that holding my breath has become a proxy for breathing.

Friday, August 9, 2013


Israel Hernandez-Llach was an 18 year old graffiti artist who was out tagging an abandoned McDonald's early Tuesday morning when he was accosted by the Miami Beach Police Department. He ran, and was subsequently fatally tased by an officer who is now on paid leave.

I want to talk about Israel in the same breath we use to speak the names of Trayvon Martin Marissa Alexander Shaaliver Douse Kimani Gray Jordan Davis CeCe McDonald Oscar Grant --

It's a deep breath we must take to say all these names. I fear we may soon lose our breath.

Once my brother and father went back to my Hampton Roads to find our family. They visited the site of the Turner plantation -- the revolutionary Nat Turner was my great-great-great-grand something -- and historians gave them dirt to hold, as if it might bring them closer to our family ashes, as if dirt does not just fall through the fingers. My brother and father were told that every time we run for cover at threat of the summers' hurricane coming up the southeast coast to the Mid-Atlantic, up from the Caribbean, out of the ocean, off of West Africa, we are running from our own ancestors. Those winds, they said, are the exhalation of our thousands of dead relatives, returning with rage to haunt the landscapes that hold captive their ransomed bones.

The exhalation is growing stronger; it is building. (I dream of the Dream Defenders in Florida, of the Dreamers recently released, of Dignity and Power in LA, and more.) There is an ocean of rage trembling underneath America's concrete. There is an ocean of black and brown faces that is being parted, over and over and over again: continually disrupted family structures and kin systems that are forced to rearrange and cope anew after each lock-up, each death. There is a tsunami of ghosts, some as old as 600 years, and they are coming for us.


When I say the name Israel Hernandez-Llach, I am calling to all my kin. I am calling to my artist-people, many of whom are people of color (but not all), many of whom are young (but not all), many of whom have experienced running from the state (but not all). I am troubled by Ben Davis' proposal in his new collection of essays that "the predominant character of [the contemporary art scene] is middle class," despite the poverty most of us live in. I am disturbed by artists' lack of mobilization around the proposed 49% cuts to the NEA, the only federal funding stream for the arts, which is already limping along only by the grace of a pathetic $.06 per capita in taxes. I am concerned by our inability to connect the dots here: many of us are perpetually employed as "teaching artists," a job vastly different from "art teacher," in part because in our post-No Child Left Behind landscape there are almost no more "art teacher" positions to be filled. The art classroom was long ago converted to the JROTC room or study hall or some equivalent, and now many of us find work as low-wage contracted laborers who take on woefully under-resourced and over-capacity after-school classes fortified with nothing but some donated construction paper and juice boxes.

And whether or not we ever were Israel Hernandez-Llach (many of us were), we all can recognize Israel as our student. He is the kid who actually comes to class willfully, or he is the kid who is court mandated to come to class and finds he likes it, or he is the kid who comes to class because he has nowhere else to go and though he sits in the back and doesn't speak his sketchbooks read like magic. He is us or he is the kid across from us, but either way we both show up to a mold-infested cement room 2x a week for 2 hours at a time to make art together. And far too often we, as teaching artists, are charged with the job of saving him from himself, which we fail to recognize means saving us from ourselves as well. Because the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), with its meager resources, can only partially fund the non-profit we are employed by, our ED splits her time seeking grants from Ford and Philip Morris, who also have a longstanding partnership with our city's police department. And because of that -- and because of so many other things, the same things to led to an 18 year old lying dead on a sidewalk while Miami Beach police chuckled over his body -- we are also complicit in a kind of violence. Whether we are Israel or we teach Israel, our stated role is to steward Israel as a member of an "at-risk" population -- though, beyond state violence, he is at-risk of little else besides being an artist with limited resources. Much like ourselves.

When I say the name Israel Hernandez-Llach, I am calling to my artist-people to resist what Rob Horning and Ben Davis identify as the tyranny of "limiting authentic creativity to proven professional artists." At the end of the day, the "proven professionals" (employed as we are as laborers without adequate compensation) are an iteration of Israel. Or he is an iteration of us. We must understand with whom we are aligned = -- both by our own volition, as well as in the eyes of the state/capital. Israel was running from cops with tasers, or he was running from representatives of the state/capital with the power to stop his life, and we should understand that we are, too.

Sunday, July 21, 2013



Obama gave a 20 minute speech on Black people's response to the George Zimmerman verdict of "Not Guilty." These are my responses.


“The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed.”
I am concerned with the idea of proper.

Nothing in the Zimmerman case has so far revealed itself to be cause for a mistrial. Everything was done “properly” – in other words: as it has always been done, in a tested and proven manner. For a moment this past week – past-Zimmerman, past-Marissa Alexander, past so many trials past and all trials not yet realized wherein all is done by the books yet justice remains spectral – I was convinced that what Black people have to face down in this country is a dearth of representation. But I am growing to wonder if it is representation that truly matters; I wonder if that is like saying, “If not for his hood, he’d still be alive.”

 Black people in this country will never have the representation we need. We are up against too many centuries of racism, inculcated not only in our legal system, but our systems of education, our economies, geographies, linguistics, theologies, kin systems, health practices, everything. And does that fact not lay bare the reality that the Law – not the law of the multiverse, or the law of gods, but the Law of white heteropatriarchal capitalism (which has never not been used in the U.S. to create and un-create racial citizenship) – is a game that is won by those with access to capital (in the sense that winning means living)? Which means Black people will never win?

Black people will never win this game. Certainly not by legal means, because we will never be legal. The six non-Black judges made this tragically clear when they ruled that not-murdering is not an act of not killing but rather an act of killing a Black person.

I am concerned that Obama’s allusion to the professionalism of the courtroom ignores the issue: professionalism and proper conduct are precisely the problem. To paraphrase Philadelphia activist attorney Michael Coard: “If the law is illegitimate, we should not follow the law.”


“…sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.”

The burden of proof of amnesia will always be on Black people. Proof of amnesia meaning proof that both history and present are understood as that which cannot be recalled. The burden of denying the surpassing disaster, in the words of Jalal Toufic. Which is to deny oneself.

There is no question about which sets of experiences – borne of a violent history and a compoundedly violent present – inform the white community’s ability to interpret a killer as a non-killer. The question is whether Black people, with all of our “experiences,” can live with white interpretations. The answer is inescapable, and the answer is no. 

That is the Black burden.



I do not understand him when he uses this word.


“…demonstrations and vigils and protests… some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through as long as it remains nonviolent. If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family.”
But, speaking in the positive (as one white woman recently implored of me) how would one honor what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family? Is what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family not what is also happening to every Black person, every person of color, and every white person on the planet? Is what happened to Trayvon Martin not directly linked to what happened to George Zimmerman; that is, the militarization of white supremacy, a cop-in-the-head that prevents one from seeing a way away from violence or from fear? Would not the over-determination of Black bodies as always already violent, or at the very least dead, or the overrepresentation of cops in any public or private space made by Black people – would not these incidences all be evidence of honoring what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family?

What is honor? Honor in what sense, or in whose? In the sense of “serving and protecting [NYPD],” or in the sense of “being there when you need us [OPD]” – or in the sense of being killed by a creepy stranger before one’s 18th birthday? In the sense of being killed while on a BART platform? In the sense of being killed while being a 13-year-old neighbor? How do we honor the sentiment of CeCe McDonald at her sentencing: “I’ve faced worse things than prison.” How is one to honor such a statement?

The violence of Black people is rarely easily distinguished from the violence of white people. There is no telling at what point a body becomes violent Legally, I mean – this is something I would like to ask the judge in Zimmerman’s trial. It seems that Trayvon’s body was violent by the fact of its presence. It was de facto violent. But it also seems that Zimmerman’s body was the unavoidable victim of violence, with no ability to be violent. Zimmerman’s body was, by the fact of its presence, the victim body. Legally, I mean. Is it ever possible for such a body to commit an act of violence? Who will be the victim?

Outside of the Law, I would argue that Zimmerman is violence; that his body and what his body does (on a street at night or in a courtroom in the daylight) is to hold the position of violence. Whether or not he can be judged as guilty of this is secondary to the fact that it is.



“They’re better than we are.” (re: the views of Sasha and Malia on racial inequality in U.S.)

When Obama says “they” and “we,” he is doing one of his favorite things, which is to use democratic euphemisms. What he really means by “they” is “young Black folk,” and what he means by “we” is his himself. What he means by “better” is “different,” so what he is getting at is a general distance he feels between himself and Black people who create culture (rather than attempt to recall it).

A friend had texted me: “I am watching Obama’s speech,” which I had not yet seen. I asked her, “What is he saying?” and she wrote back, “It seems like he’s explaining Black people to white people.” Unfortunately, that is his job. Even more unfortunately, he is perhaps the least qualified for that position. He who speaks of “the African American community” and its ties to “sets of experiences,” of the disproportionate representation of Black men in the U.S. justice system as evidence of their being “disproportionately… perpetrators of violence.” He, who in his own construction is “they” to our “we,” and who finally acknowledges that he feels different than us.

Does a president ever say when he feels alone? Is an admission of loneliness an honorable choice? Is it honorable to the death of every Black boy walking home at night, or to the emotional death of every Black mother or best friend, or to the psychic death of any Black person who chooses to rest instead of fight – is it honorable to all of these deaths to admit weariness? I wonder what Obama honors, and whom. I wonder who taught him that, and why.

I cannot say if Sasha and Malia are better than Barack Obama. If they are, he should let them be President. I wonder if his conviction in their superiority is actually a euphemism for his lonely terror that young Black people may be more creative, more fearless, and more angry than he and that this his fundamental difference from them might be his well of loneliness. I am not sure that this thing young people have – the ability to let rage course through us past the point of sadness and lodge so deeply into the place of love so as to become a world-making thing that thrives in love – I am not sure that this is “better” than his lonely bottomless well. But it is certainly freer.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Promise To Myself From The Near Future.

I had a lingering fear once that I would be lost forever. Something about never really knowing why I was or for what, too often being projected outside of myself, watching myself do things that are unimportant. Also, with this fear, came the certainty that even those who cared for me now would soon realize I truly had no purpose, no reason. I was always trying to show my work, to hear that it was alright as confirmation that my people hadn’t lost interest in me yet, not yet. Whoever turned away, I figured, must know something I did not.

Eventually, we have to decide that it’s okay to stay busy by clutching to our small incomprehensible fragments of waning desire before they have disappeared. (Everyone will at some point decide that, rather than having no direction, you are over-invested in a wasteful purpose, or your purpose makes no sense and you must be crazy, or else stupid. You should know that you are working against a legacy of derision that is hundreds of times longer than your life, but equally spiritless. The know-nothingness of colonized thinking thrives on the evacuated spirit, but in the face-off between a tight grip on what you know is yours and the absence of knowledge, the spirited struggle always wins.) We will find that these ambiguous and duplicitous fragments, these pieces of us and in need of our curation, will grow and grow, and then wane and wane, and perhaps disappear and return. We will find, as we make this thing that becomes Ourselves-in-love, that these flexing and dissipating bits are merely the prop in the performance. It is not them that do the work; it is the fingers curled to fists, holding tight around what’s right – that is the score that keeps the piece activated.

It is uncanny, but my fear dissipated as soon as I learned the score.

Friday, April 26, 2013

What Do You Know? (an argument for an internet free of violence)

Someone says, “I think the FBI is doing a sweep in West Oakland.” I am in a kitchen in LA; I don’t know what they mean. Frantic messages go out and come back from Northern California: 300 cops. Helicopters. Think some kid got shot in the face. What do you know? I know only as much as the next friend will tell me. What I don’t know about what the cops do could fill an ocean. We tell lots and lots of stories and hope none of them stick, but it almost always all do.

A couple people tell me they get their news from Facebook now. I do not know where to buy a newspaper in my neighborhood, and I rarely care. I bought an LA Times yesterday for any mention of Dhaka and found none, but I guess I should have known better. I have been liberated from the tyranny of news to the freedom of an algorithmic awareness of things-of-scrolling-interest. Sometimes I miss Indymedia, but mostly I forget to think about it. 

Now I do not go outside to know the weather, and that both is and is not a metaphor. 

The internet -- the height of neoliberal creation -- is the human invention that no human understands. Pixelated and hypertextual, everything seems to virtually progress without ever really moving. We travel through cyberspace but our bodies are still our bodies in chairs, the vessels for so many troubled memories and desires. We still have to get up to eat, to shit. We still have to pay our taxes.

Just two weeks ago I willingly filed my taxes and paid for any number of things... the tin used on a drone in Pakistan, or for one week’s hardship compensation for a mercenary in Afghanistan, or for several dinners and a lunch for a Congress person that will stifle any gun control bill, or for the new holsters on the belts of four LA police officers who will draw their weapons from those holsters when they raid my house, or for the gasoline in the vehicles of the 150 FBI and 120 Oakland PD and 30 San Leandro PD that have spent the last 24 hours terrorizing a neighborhood to make four arrests (one of a minor), or for two days’ salary to the FBI public investigator who used one of those two days to ask the internet for support in identifying the Boston Marathon bombers.

Because we have bodies and because these bodies hold memories we don’t even remember and desires too secret to mention even to our own hearts, a federal institution has no right to ask anyone with a modem to identify a bomber. Not when Trayvon’s or Oscar’s or Sakia’s murders spark debate. Not when Sunil Tripathi was still missing. 

If things were different -- if we really were on the other side of a revolution and the internet really did function as a window pane through which we truly see each other, and come to know and know of each other through that seeing -- then the FBI call would land on different and more critical ears (or eyes, as it were). In fact, there would be no FBI call for citizens’ arrest because there would be no FBI; the internet would’ve taken care of that, along with the CIA, DHS, ICE, and etc. 

But the FBI knows that the internet does not work that way -- they know this, they helped to invent it. They know that we do not see through the internet at all; it is a tool for reactionary feedback loops and gossip. Gossip can indeed move bodies to action, and in this way it can be a radical force for justice. (I am thinking of gossip circles that support survivors of sexual violence by de-prioritizing police and giving primacy to the survivors’ needs as expressed by the survivor.) But when gossip happens in a vacuum without awareness -- without hyperlinks to this or this or this -- it is not a radical kind of gossip. It is just plain ol’ gossip, Salem Witch Trial style. 

The other thing about bodies is that bodies die. Bodies sleep and are woken up in their sleep by cops with AK’s and bodies shake with trauma and bodies watch their mothers get led out of the house with their hands cuffed and bodies run and bodies get shot. The internet simply cannot do away with our bodies. What it does do away with is our ability to see each others’ bodies, and to know we exist physically. 

The FBI had no right to make that call in the Boston case because they more than anyone know that 300-person SWAT team sweeps happen in West Oakland precisely because West Oakland bodies are unseen bodies -- as unseen by Facebook algorithms as by the LA Times. The FBI (the US Government, the police, etc) uses the blanket of unseeingness provided by our most popular news source to erase and disappear real bodies without accountability. 

They understand that brown and black bodies exist phantasmagorically in the collective imaginary almost entirely as specters onto which fear and desire can be projected, in much the same way that the FBI projects their own desire and fear of black bodies onto the bodies of the 4 people they arrested in Oakland. And when, in Boston, they asked for help finding a body... oh, any body, but which body will you choose when there are so many...  their feedback loop is in full swing. (You see, even our ability to re-imagine the Tsarnaev brothers as non-white subjects was a kind of unseeing, a true cop-in-the-head in which the public watched and re-watched the boys in that footage and found itself unable to see them as white.) 

The FBI should not expect critical visuality to emerge Phoenix-like from the unseeing internet it has propagated in the name of legal terrorism. They have no right to ask people to see that way when all they have ever wanted of us is to never see at all.