Friday, March 11, 2011

Joy is One Big Fuck You to Oppression

Emily O'Neill once quoted me as saying that every moment of joy in the face of oppression is an act of revolution; I will die believing that, and I don't know about you, brothers and sisters, but I think revolution's what we need right now, and bad. These last few weeks have been scaring the holy hell out of me: every day it seems like some new horrific thing is happening in this country, and I mean scarier than usual, big big scary, rights being stripped from women, an eleven-year-old implicated by a New York Times writer in her own gang rape, the travesty of justice in Wisconsin, the peculiar happenings I just don't understand around shutting down the government, and last's night's last straw -- the right to declare martial law in Michigan on the whim of its governor, who may then appoint anyone he likes as "administrator" of each town, accompanied by the right to shut down school boards, fire elected officials, sell off public property, and call in security forces. I've had a bad morning. I've had a bad month. Right now it's either write a goddamned manifesto or break down in tears. So here it is, folks, the articles of my revolution:

This country is two countries splitting every moment down the center. It is the private property of a scant handful of fanatics in the grip of a fear and greed I think so far unequaled in the chronicles of humankind, the natural heirs to the country's history of violence and oppression, the moral great-grandchildren of those who slaughtered the native peoples of this place and called it their own by right of conquest.  And it is also a place where now queer folk can marry and Dear Abby columns hold advice about the etiquette of threesomes, where slowly but surely the right to live outside the restrictions of an archaic "norm" is flowering, a country where people still allow themselves to dream.

Each news story I hear about some small and shrunken soul trying to wrest our rights away from us makes me cry out in anger because I believe in this country, in the magnificent artists and the dedicated peace workers, the healers and the thinkers, the farmers raising happy chickens and the musicians in love with the glory of a chord progression, the poets and the storytellers, the teachers, the true spiritual leaders, every person in this country who remembers what gratitude feels like, who knows what it means to give thanks for what you have instead of thinking that there is not enough happiness or food or love or money unless you take it away from someone else.

I believe that anger is a force for justice, and I believe in the power of protest, the strength of voices; but I also know that lashing out builds nothing, and you cannot break the stranglehold upon your dream by flailing against the fingers on its throat; the only way to break its grip is to make your dream bigger, to swell it, to make it grow and open and unfold like a tree damn well exploding full-fledged from an acorn. If you have got the shakes like I do, if your tongue lies heavy in your mouth with horror, if you want to lie down and cry or break everything in sight and yell this is not the world I believe in,  well, it is up to us. So make love. write music. paint something so gorgeous it makes you want to weep. go out and dance. cook for someone. make one stark raving lovely moment just to say: right now, this country is beautiful. right now, you cannot have my joy. Because they will take everything from you, from me, and they will have nothing when they're done as they had nothing when they begun, and this is the heartbreak of it all: it would be so nice to call them evil, to think they will be satisfied when the world is in shards around them. But they will be just as bewildered and impotent and lonely then, just as afraid of dying, just as frightened and completely empty. And all that taking and taking and taking will have been for nothing, you understand, for nothing.

So become a fountain, a spring, an underground river of creation. Go put some joy into the world. Go dance and thumb your nose at them, pity them, for they can make nothing, for they are starving and you have this great big beautiful soul to make the world larger, to fill it so full of fresh bread and and blessings it can't be eaten up. Go sing hallelujah and praise God if you have one, praise the skies, praise your mother, praise the page you write on, praise the pen and the tongue and the body and its blisses and its strangenesses, go praise the mysteries, praise your teachers, praise memory and longing, praise the smell of the air after rain. The one thing that is incomprehensible to those who seek to take is the act of giving. If you fill yourself up with bitterness, choke on your fury, get up from your garden to go throw stones and curses, they will just smile: already they've stopped you from making things, from giving thanks, from bringing joy. Remember this. They can squash your rebellion, they can silence your protests, they can gag your cries for help. They can't shut you up if you know how to sing.

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