November 22, 2019

A haircut, and a chance

A little over halfway through my freshman year, almost two decades ago, I agreed to let my friend S cut my hair.

S had never cut anyone’s hair before, and didn’t quite know what she was doing. She was, however, passionate and committed to learning, and needed someone to give her a chance to test out the skills she had been working hard on to acquire.

Never one to worry too much about my hair—it grows back a bit too quickly—I volunteered to be her guinea pig.

I’ve been thinking about that haircut a lot these days because, recently, someone decided to take a chance on me.

Last week, I started a new residency at work. As part of the residency, I’m going to be doing some fieldwork, some research, and some hands-on learning on the digital product management process in government—something I don’t know much about—while also doing a bunch of research and analysis on ethics, equity, justice, decolonization, and human rights—something I’ve been learning a lot about over the past few years—and hopefully synthesizing all of that into report and recommendations on embedding an ethical framework and equity lens into the government digital product management process. And I have four months in which to do it all.

Like I did with S all those years ago, the folks running this residency are taking a chance on me: I don’t have a background in digital product management, and only a shallow understanding of the ethical and justice frameworks I’ll be researching. They are taking a chance on me that I’ll be able to learn from others and pull together something useful and valuable and honest; I am taking a chance on myself to commit to much more travel and research than I’ve done in a long time in an effort to create something that hopefully has impact.

We all need someone to take a chance on us in order for us to grow and learn and become who we want to be—and I’m lucky to have found people who are taking a chance on me, now, at this inflection point in my career and in my life.

As for the haircut, those decades ago? It was a disaster, but I wore it proudly for a few days before my friend N offered to shape it all up. Sometimes the chances we take don’t always work out, but what’s important is that we give someone that chance, anyways.

A poem

A quick public service announcement: the excellent newsletter, Pome, has returned from hiatus earlier this month and it is clearly and easily the best newsletter on the Internet, especially if you love poetry. Go subscribe now.

I See the Fire that Burns Within You
Tommy Pico

It’s one of those magical early summer sherbet skies

on a thin blue blanket on a rolling grassy knoll with

the breeze off the East river tempering the city heat

as the sun begins its dip behind the buildings and all

the little office and apartment and department store

lights begin to twinkle. A sizzle of foam on the water.

I’m listening to this Neil Degrasse Tyson podcast where

they talk about the God Gene”—Something cellular

that makes us look up and beyond and wonder at our

creator and Stephen Hawking talks religion and science,

saying they both articulate the nature of who we are,

where we came from and why, and that though science

produces more consistent results, people will always

choose religion because it makes them feel less alone

And the debate turns to whether we’re alone in the cosmos

and the guest host says she hopes so, because if not?

if we encounter an alien civilization? They would likely

be far more technologically advanced than us, and look,”

she says, how that worked out for the Native Americans”

and I suck my teeth because all we ever are is a metaphor

or a cautionary tale or a spirit guide, nothing contemporary

nothing breathing, nothing alive. They had just spent the

previous half hour discussing other cellular inheritances,

saying for example that trauma could be passed down

like molecular scar tissue like DNA cavorting with wars

and displacements and your bad dad’s bad dad and what

is being indigenous but understanding a plurality of time?

That I’m here right now in this riverside park across the

water from the trunk of the city in the golden light of

the golden hour and that light, that sliver of golden light

is light unlike any other light you’ll ever encounter—

Nothing we’ve ever made can come close to that glow,

not a filter not a software not a bulb. A gathering of

circumstances, of the atmosphere buffering the dusk

light and the angle of the Earth at this time right now in

this moment on top of this continent of top of this blue

blanket I’m on top of our sacred mountain I scout from

the peak. I’m dragged to the center of town in chains.

I’m old women scattered along the creek. My little hands

squeeze my little mouth shut, drawn into nooks within

the valley like a sharp breath while shaggy men on

horseback, following the water, seek brown bodies for

target practice, strong brown back for breaking in the

name of the Church. Valle de las Viejas. Blue echoes

split the early evening split the dusk. They spit

and ride on but I’ve held my breath ever since It’s like

one minute I’m onstage and the next I’m in fifth grade

ducking behind the dash after cousin, high on something,

points a gun at my face and Onstage I’m a mess of

tremor and sweat. The gift of panic is clarity,” my

therapist says. Repeat the known quantities.” Today

is Wednesday. Wednesday is a turkey burger. My throat

is full of survivors. It’s okay,” he clicks his pen, getting

ready for his next appointment. Lots of people get stage

fright.” But that’s not what I’m talking about because what

I mean is I’ve inherited this idea to disappear. In the mid

1800’s, California would pay $5 for the head of an Indian

and $.25 per scalp—man, woman, or child. The state was

reimbursed by the feds. I am alive. This is a gathering of

circumstances. This is the golden light. But when you’re

descended from a clever self, adept at evading an

occupying force, when contact meant another swath

of sick cousins, another cosmology snuffed, another

stolen sister, and the water and the blood and the blood

and the blood, you’d panic too, exposed on the stage

under the hot lights and I can’t stand in front of the

audience in Columbus, Ohio without wondering how

the last person felt, leaving the ancestral homeland

for the Indian territory but I’m on the road and when

I’m in their home I can say their names, the Ohlone,

Costanoan, Muwekma, Duwamish, Suquamish, Muckleshoot,

Shawnee, Lenni-Lenape, Tocobaga, Pohoy, Uzita, Lumbee,

Piscataway, Nacotchtank, Multnomah, Anishinaabe,

Ojibwa, Ottawa, Pattawatomie and now on this podcast

they have a linguist saying that language tells the story

of its conquests, its champions, its admixtures, while

moving onward into new vessels. That a language is dead

when its only speakers are adult. That in a hundred

years 90% of the world’s languages will be kaput. He says

the most precise word in the world is Mamihlapinatapai,

from the indigenous Yaghan language of Tierra Del Fuego

which means something like when you leave a café

bathroom and want to tell the next person in line it

wasn’t you who took the smelliest dump in American

history but you keep walking. Aaaaay just kidding it

means something like when two people look at each

other and the look is that they both know what the

other should do, but neither wants to initiate, so they

sit in the stasis. It’s a whole caravan of meaning of

feeling in a single word like how in Kumeyaay you

say howka” for hi” but the translation is more like

I see the fire that burns within you” I see the golden

light and this show goes to commercial and I make

the mistake of opening the news app in my phone

and it’s a massacre in Palestine and in Pakistan the

journalists disappeared” and in Mogadishu a bomb

explodes in the bustling city center and ICE loses”

thousands of migrant children and drones fly over

other countries and the quote unquote president”

says, he literally says, we tamed the continent” he

says, we aren’t apologizing for America” and murdered

and missing Indigenous women never ever ever ever

ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever

ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever

ever ever get an article or a shout out or a headline

and I’ve been thinking a lot about fuel sources that

produce the heat of the fire that burns inside you

and the term resistive circuit” and active networks

and mainly about Kirchhoff’s current law, that the

sum of all currents entering a node is equal to the

sum of all currents leaving the node by which I mean:

Imagine you are a circuit. Imagine electricity. Imagine

being fed, and feeding. Imagine getting what you

need. Imagine the fire inside you. Imagine heat.

I don’t have much of anything figured out but I do know

to be indigenous is not to be a miracle of circumstance

but to be the golden light of survival, the wit of the cunning

of the cloud of ancestors above me now, a cloud of light

from which something almost umbilical is plugged into

my back, through which they feed me and flow out of

my hands and bear with me it’s like this: My dad grows

his hair long, the black waves cascade down his back

because knives cropped the ceremony of hair of his

mother’s generation in the Indian boarding school, and

while I cut my hair short in mourning for the old life, I

grow my poems long. A dark reminder on white pages.

A new ceremony. Poems light up corridors of the mind,

like food. They call where we grew up a food desert,

a speck of dust on the map of the United States in a

valley surrounded by mountains that slice thru the

clouds like a loaf, where the average age of death is

40.7 years old. I am 34. I live in the busiest city in

America. I am about to eat an orange. Every feed

owes itself to death. Poetry is feed for the fire

within me and but what is trauma but a kind of re-

wiring as in I’m nervous where I feel most free but then

the show comes back on and now they’re talking

about what else we pass on after death and you know

what? Too much for me, so I shut it off and

I crack my neck. The air is clear, and all across

Instagram, people are posting pics of the sunset.

ten years:

There’s a lot of commotion on social media about the end of the decade; what have we accomplished, what do we have to show for ten years of living, what have we carried in our hands to some arbitrary finish line? Mostly these are nostalgia exercises, or excuses to talk about ourselves, like when someone at a party tells a story and then one after another everyone piles on with their own story that only tenuously clings to the edge of the same topic, anxious to for a minute elbow their way into the spotlight. Things like decades allow us to stop and envision ourselves in a movie, filmed, framed, and curated, rather than merely in a collection of days threaded with losses and triumphs so small as to be invisible to anyone outside of their occurrence.

It’s Time South Asians Confront Our Entitlement To Black Culture:

South Asians have long taken a hall pass for critical examination of anti-Blackness within ourselves, our families and our communities. We have allowed ourselves to accept a model minority” identity — a myth that, in this context, casts non-Black racial minorities as harder-working, smarter or more likely to succeed than Blacks. In doing so, we have become beneficiaries and scapegoats in the perpetuation of anti-Blackness.

The Role of the Artist in the Age of Trump:

At the end of the day, our job as artists is to tell the truth as we see it. If telling the truth is an inherently political act, so be it. Times may change and politics may change, but if we do our best to tell the truth as specifically as possible, time will reveal those truths and reverberate beyond the era in which we created them.

The Unexpected Joy of Repeat Experiences:

There is joy in repetition partly because every human mind wanders. Consequently, we miss a substantial part of every experience.

How to Support Your Fat Friends, as a Straight Size Person:

When a thin person does something — anything — to defend or support a fat person, it’s a thunderclap, a cathartic climax in an otherwise desolate movie. I long for those moments. I imagine a thin friend talking about their fat politics, unprompted, with other thin people. I imagine them proactively bringing up fat activism, inviting other thin people into a conversation about solidarity and matching their actions to their values. Still, they come so rarely.

I have thoughts about therapy! Some of them may even help you.:

The most important thing to remember is that this is a journey, not a destination. I’m really happy for you that you’re taking this first step. Whether you succeed in finding a therapist or not, the act of looking for a therapist is a signal to yourself that you are worth taking care of. You are. You’ve got this.

How did being happy become a matter of relentless competitive work?:

This imperative to avoid being — even appearing — unhappy has led to a culture that rewards a performative happiness, in which people curate public-facing lives, via Instagram and its kin, composed of a string of peak experiences’ — and nothing else. Sadness and disappointment are rejected, even neutral or mundane life experiences get airbrushed out of the frame. It’s as though appearing unhappy implies some kind of Protestant moral fault: as if you didn’t work hard enough or believe sufficiently in yourself.

13 life-learnings from 13 years of Brain Pickings:

In any bond of depth and significance, forgive, forgive, forgive. And then forgive again. The richest relationships are lifeboats, but they are also submarines that descend to the darkest and most disquieting places, to the unfathomed trenches of the soul where our deepest shames and foibles and vulnerabilities live, where we are less than we would like to be. Forgiveness is the alchemy by which the shame transforms into the honor and privilege of being invited into another’s darkness and having them witness your own with the undimmed light of love, of sympathy, of nonjudgmental understanding. Forgiveness is the engine of buoyancy that keeps the submarine rising again and again toward the light, so that it may become a lifeboat once more.

Why the future is feminine:

Leadership as an exercise in patriarchal macho values of domination, greed, exploitation, possession, abusiveness, rank — that age is over, even as the Trumps and Farages embody it. True leadership today, and for the next century, is about nurturing and elevating and expanding the possibilities of things — from a reef to a child to a river — with care, gentleness, defiance, courage, truth, rebellion, grace. Sure, men can do that, too. But patriarchy and capitalism and supremacy — the great systems of male violence that have run our world for millennia now — can’t.

How to Eat Alone (and Like It):

Somehow all of the romance of food, drink and their various joys seems to go out the window when we go from eating with another person to dining with ourselves. And much of the advice available on eating alone amounts to bring a book” (I have several hamburger-stained books that attest to this being a bad idea). Yet, there is a freedom in eating alone, even if we need a little help to relish in it: no discussions of what we should order, no small talk, no sharing.

Why we are all losing sleep:

For one thing, these changes are having deleterious consequences for our mental and physical health — not just insomnia but depression, anxiety, heart disease and cancer are all rising, in part because of sleep deprivation. We know we have a problem — we talk about sleep and stress constantly; but we tend towards short-term palliatives, sleep-tracking apps, meditation and tablets. American art critic Jonathan Crary’s cult 2013 book 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep zooms out to give the crisis the perspective it deserves, describing sleep as a last-chance saloon that cannot be colonised and harnessed to a massive engine of profitability, and thus remains an incongruous anomaly”. But, he warns, we are rapidly losing the battle to protect it. Crary’s book is a hugely significant polemic about technology, work, urbanisation, time, light and dark, dreams, and the world we now live in. Barely 140 pages in length, it is as dense as tungsten — the kind of book you need to pull away from your face every few pages to think about, and exhale, before resuming.

Stille Berge: The Alps at Night:

Sonnenspitze IV 2003 from the Series Stille Berge by Michael Schnabel

And a few more:

Give yourselves a chance, today, my friends. Until next time.

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