Collected Writing

California Knows How To Party: Cascading Failures--November Fire

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I write with tears welled up in my throat, my eyes burn even indoors now- the smoke air has gotten into all our hundred year old houses. The thickness in our throats and the dark yellow snot we wake up with in our noses tell us that our bodies are working to create barriers. We wear masks when we go outside but the masks make your heart race because your not quite getting the oxygen you need. After a while of wearing the mask you pull them off in disgust because you feel like your suffocating. The smell is not of woodsmoke but of chemicals, of acrid noxious charred unknowns. Air is remarkably equal in its treatment of humanity- we all need to breathe. Here in San Francisco I know we don’t all breathe equally though. There are those of us who have advanced air filtration systems for our renovated homes, windows double paned and weather sealed and there are those of us who have no home at all. There are those us who have always breathed the compromised air living under the freeway overpass and no place to retreat when a smoggy day arrives. What is this we taste in the back our throats? 



We breathe in the dust of our dead, we breathe in the toxins from their homes, we breathe in the cars, and trucks and sofas and televisions, horses and cats, and the deer and bear and mountain lion, we breathe in photo albums and record collections, hidden diaries and hordes of cash, tree upon tree upon shrub upon bush poison oak and manzanita, sequoia and tan oak, black oak and white, live oak and madrone, and we breathe in sheets and pillows and rugs and boots and desks and books and computers, we breathe in the dust of our dead. 



I imagine moving to the desert where there is nothing to burn, where the sky can stay clear and I can run in the evening and stay up all night writing and painting, sleep in the heat of the day like a lizard in an earth ship half sunk into the ground, headphones on and sleep mask listening to oneohtrix point never and rising at dusk for coffee and a run. I will catch my water in the two weeks or so of rain and snow that come in the late winter early spring and I will garden in containers on the roof of my earth ship and I will scavenge the trash heaps to build my house and a barn for dancing. I will teach the dances to the people around me as a method to manage the stress and anxiety of the world without chemical pharmaceutical intervention. 



The trouble is we don’t, we won’t have anywhere to go. If we decide to leave we will in many ways thrust ourselves into the role we have no tolerance for in this particular moment- the migrant. Let’s be real- they are refugees, and we would be refugees. Particularly people who don’t have savings, investments, property, people who live at the fragile edge of the fragile edge- people who are poor in California. Many will leave because of the fires. Many will not want to go. Born and raised or happily transplanted, Californians are proud of what we are, who we are. None of us will want to go. 



I imagine the exodus while I sit in my car on the 80, slung low in what feels like a fishbowl filled with milk, the red eye of the sun makes itself into a gash winking and menacing in the white sky,  a bloody slit as its sunset excess is reflected in the white water of the bay. The smoke has erased everything, the city, the bridge, the islands in the bay, everything is gone, smoothed out in the thick white smoke, only the sun can reach through it and it has become something else- shows another face- a potential we had not seen before. Inside this porcelain dome I am crawling along in my hybrid vehicle wearing a n95 face mask and feeling my heart race from lack of oxygen. Where would we all go- if suddenly we had to go? The air today is Hazardous and is designated by a deep purple color with an exclamation point on the air quality index. People laugh with a nervous darkness, “Welcome to the Apocalypse.”  but stuff like that feels empty, slippery, its meaning out beyond our mouths and into the bodies of the children being born this year and next, and next and next.



My sister is pregnant, her second baby, a boy due next month. To me it is an ominous birth, a life that will not be like ours, can not be like ours,  a life that will bear witness to things we ourselves have wrought but might never fully face. What have we done?



After twelve days of smoke filled skies it begins to break apart. We can see the growing moon that night and the sunset skies streaked red and purple. The smoke is coming apart, the light is breaking over stratus clouds way up high. On the thirteenth day it rains. Big steady rain like the kind we have not had in months. When did we last have a storm? I would have to look it up but I am guessing we had some showers about two months ago and then before that it would have to be March or April. People who don’t live out here don’t understand that- this long expansive dry time- and now it has grown and the drought is a feature of the climate, its not even really a drought, its just we don’t get much rain regularly. I find it better to think of California in these terms. Think about it as it really is, as it will be, instead of constantly comparing this California to some historic understanding of it- an understanding that will prove to be a passing through, a stop off on the way to something else. California as a place where 39.54 million people live, come and go, are born and die. California as the leading edge of the changing climate of the west, the diva, burning and raging, quaking and falling on the way to uninhabitable intolerance of the human organism. California as a myth, as a fantasy- as the site of the production of the primary exports of American culture. California works overtime to produce the American story, the corrupt and blazing, far away and impenetrable American story. 



I think of an early morning conversation with a group of young Portuguese I met while I attended a residency there in 2015.  Standing on the dark stones in Porto at 2:00 am smoking cigarettes we end up talking about California. Looming large in their imagination is this place I am from- that I can never really be from, but the place that defines me more than any other. California is the place my Americanness has most taken shape- a hallucination that stands in this old river town on the west coast of Europe. Here I am a dream of myself, I am a version of an idea of a myth. I am an American, a Californian and an Artist- capital A artist. The Portuguese kids are fascinated and immediately start singing lines from Dr. Dre to me- their perfect English inflected with the song of their accents and Dre forming more easily inside those mouths than he ever could for me- too self conscious to sing ____California knows how to party______.  I laugh and they are charmed and charming, we enjoy the tobacco together and then they admit to having some weed and I smoke with them in the cold February morning, all of us a little drunk and stoned and pleased to have stopped in the quiet street to share fire, warmed by the dream of the west. California is a song the world sings. It is a love song to itself, it is the narcissist dreaming, blonde light through the sunset that lasts forever. It is a never ending reflection pouring warmth that can not really reach you across the cruel mirror of the Pacific, a million billion screens lit up with its radiance. California is on fire- and it and rages with the tongue of the prophet. What new world is this we have made

a world of familiar strangers

When I was five years old, I left home with a stranger. I had been living with my grandparents in Luoyang, China, since I was born, with only faint memories of my parents, who had immigrated to the United States when I was a toddler. In old photos my home is a haze of gray quadrangles, but I remember it as the yellow of ducks and the viridian corduroy of my winter coat, flashes of color gleaned from disparate photographs and transmitted memories.

As a child, I would meticulously thumb through yellowing photo albums, using visual debris as the bricks with which to construct alternative histories and futures for myself: one in which I had siblings, another in which I had never left China, others in which the setting was distinctly American, but we all spoke Chinese, and people didn’t pull their eyes upward when they looked at me.

Salman Rushdie writes that “redescribing a world is the necessary first step towards changing it. … Writers and politicians are natural rivals. Both groups try to make the world in their own images; they fight for the same territory.” (Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands, p.14)

For a long time after I left, I saw China as a second home, sometimes more of a home than our wooded split-level in suburban New England, where people working at CVS would often ask me if I spoke English. Like most first-generation immigrants, my parents aspired to upward mobility for our family and situated us in mostly white neighborhoods with good public school systems, where they were socially and culturally isolated from their neighbors. My first set of toys and clothes in the United States were donated to us by a nice white family that liked to support the Chinese graduate students in their town. Yet my parents cheered for the Chinese national team during the Olympics and once took me to a Women’s World Cup match at Gillette Stadium, where I joined them in humming along to the Chinese national anthem, which I didn’t know. I had learned from the news media that shaped my protean knowledge of a politically polarized world that it was shameful and potentially anti-patriotic (therefore anti-American, therefore ungrateful) for me to claim China as a home, but the sounds, smells, sights and tastes that furnished and animated my parents’ house suggested otherwise.

The most memorable summers were the ones spent in China. I used to love the sharp mountains wrapped in mist and the willow trees sweeping the rivers, but the horrifically mundane left the strongest bodily imprint: supermalls the size of a college campus, umbrellas splashed with acid rain, villages of trash, rivers white with waste. Statistics and figures and graphs are only the flat faces of a two-degree increase in temperature, increased desertification, decreased crop yields. There are also family members dying early of lung cancer, my burning sinuses in winter, the black ash on my tissues after I sneeze. As Timothy Morton writes in The Ecological Thought, “even the time of living and dying takes a stretch of the imagination.” Cognition only grazes the surface of time, which moves between the “mesh” of people, place and beings “animal, vegetable, or mineral” like an electric current. (Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought, p.7)

The following text is an attempt to wrangle together these strands of thinking around home, place-making and migration, and how these notions are mutating alongside our changing environmental conditions — but also how mutable notions of home might be helpful as we consider our changing world.

Familiar Strangers, Strange Familiars (for SFMOMA’s Open Space)

in kinship,
CZ

Inspirations and references

The Dark Mountain Project

John Jordan and Isa Freymeaux: la r.O.n.c.e

T.J. Demos, Decolonizing Nature

T.J. Demos, Against the Anthropocene

Manuel DeLanda, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History

Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies

Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble

Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought

Timothy Morton, Ecology without Nature

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins

Strategies of Care

STRATEGIES OF CARE-

We believe the means to our collective and individual liberation lie in a fundamental revision of what activities matter. We have produced enough. We must learn to care for what we have. Care has long been the invisible work of women and communities of color- it is work that disappears every day and the value given to it is also disappeared through a process of marginalization that began hundreds of years before the industrial revolution would usher in the supremacy of production. 

 

We believe that Strategies of Care can begin the revision of our relationship to production and redefine what work matters on this planet moving forward. If we can not care for what we produce then we are woefully out of balance.  When what we produce is waste, toxicity, pollution, violence and war, we have crossed a threshold that signals our entry into a world in which the human organism has no right to ask for shelter. 

 

We have ceased to care and in so doing we are forgetting the fundamental agreements at the heart of human endeavor.    

Care:

Work on behalf of something/someone besides yourself. 

All actions have consequences, tiny gestures move through the network as surely as the heroic.

Look and listen to determine where your efforts are needed. Wait and look and listen some more. Sometimes a witness is what is needed the most.

Reach out. Touch can transmit care in the most fundamental of ways.

On The Occasion of the September 8th Climate March San Francisco California 2018

 The earth- which is also a body-produces the conditions for our bodies, and for all that our bodies can produce. 

 

In returning to the consciousness of the organism in its entirety we find both the means for our liberation as individuals and as communities. With this shift in consciousness we optimistically dream the separation that has allowed for untold violence across the body of the organism to become impossible. The recalled, remembered, rewritten relation stills the violence, slows the extractive practices, quiets the urge for totalizing meaning and places the organism back inside a web of interdependency- this is our fantasy, our dream, our urgent hope.

 

We see that all transgressions against the organism, all acts of violence and oppression are done to the entirety of the organism. That organism is the earth, our home- to every person alive today and to all the generations that continue to come- the violence seeps through and we are woven together in a web of shared destiny. If we can not begin to see the implications of that shared destiny we are doomed to be extinguished as the conditions for our survival are increasingly infringed upon by the machinations of the capitalist juggernaut that has taken the place of democracy and humanist governance. We have not been given a choice. The means of our survival is too deeply woven with the manufactured desires and superficial successes of material accumulation, property, ownership, and fantasies of liberation through acquisition. We must face the toxicity of these fantasies. 

 

We consider grief and mourning to be the first step in recognizing that we may not be able to change the trajectory of global climate crisis but we can develop the means to live ethically and justly in the fallout of these unfolding crisis. This belief in the power of mourning to recalibrate our relationship to the crisis- to fundamentally recognize our inability to change the course of events that have long ago been set in motion- is to also recognize our place within the network rather than continuing to uphold the paradigm in which humans are the masters of the earth. 

 

This process of recalibration will challenge our deepest held beliefs and will also require a revision of the long held hierarchies of knowledge that place the Euro-centric Enlightenment subject as the master of knowledge production.

 

From this view point the first work of the Burl Concentrate will be to actively consider fundamental knowledge that has been lost, erased, or hidden within hierarchies of specialization. Our initial projects will be to consider reactivation of such knowledge, and the research and methods to develop new strategies of care.