Collected Writing

Pulga Chronicles

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Tetra Tec and Ceres are the names of the debris removal companies. Global warming will awaken the super heroes and goddesses to assist in these calamitous events.

We watch the comings and goings of the workers. We offer them coffee and we show them around the town. Its a whole cast of characters and Betsy knows them all, learns their names, keeps track of their affiliations and what they are here to do, what tools they have, how long they are going to be working out here for. The clean up and the debris removal, the workers and the oversight- the tribal monitor looking for grinding stones- Betsy- fed up and overworked-looking always cute in some bikini top and polka dot hair scarf. She is quite something. 

The heat and the faint smell of fire in the morning.

The dogs and their sweetness, the quiet in the morning. 

The hammock in the night after a bit of mushroom tea and the walnut tree above me- electrified and quivering in the wind. Lit from beneath by the town lights and the way that everything feels like we are children playing. Children die, children have sex. Children build things and children take them apart.

The train song and how it piles up in the canyon- getting closer and closer until it fills up the world. A clacking racket that seems to come from somewhere far away- a hellish place- a place of human folly- of hubris and devilish momentum-  the sound of sex and acceleration- of desire and great distances- the sound of the end of the world. The train makes a whirring inside- the body twists against its cry, the whistle and the clacking, grindings of its song. Thrown against this wall of sound. I spin against the ropes of the hammock and laugh in that maniacal mushroom way. I am laughing at the sins of my forefathers, I am laughing at the horror of the train in the wilderness, taking and returning, sliding as if through time itself. Through earth, through stone so old, a grinding clacking takes the train up the canyon. 

The train is a relic and a missive from the future. The train and I accelerate and then come to a halt- whirring as it stands still, just past the obscenity of my cackling pleasure. It seems a born disguise for cries of climax. The night laughs softly with me- in the manner of trees and winds and water falling down over rocks. For a long time- water that falls down and makes itself into canyons and eats up cities in the future, eats and sucks and makes soft our bones of steel. The world collapsing, and we are sharing a quiet and low down laugh. The laugh of orgasm, of mania, of tipping over into the upending of history- of teleology undone. Mountains laid low, forests burnt to the cinders, the insides of the earth in a  rippling stream of plastics, confetti that falls to the earth with the snow. The toys of children, the convenience of grab and go, the profusion of choice. Overwhelming and nonsensical- we are in the middle of a horror movie- we are standing at the edge of a precipice in the dark- we are upside down and sideways- we have no gravity- we are children dying before we even know what death is. We are fundamentally taken by surprise. 

This is how it will feel- over and over again- as if the knowledge of what we have set in motion- of what the Anthropocene really is- will continue to be a surprise. An infant playing peek-a-boo, we thought that the status we had conferred upon our animal selves- enlightened and separate from nature-wild, innocent, pure, and malleable to our wills- meant that we were in control. Surprise! Boo! 

The Boat House, Pulga CA August 2019

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.