Some truths

Some truths:
1) You are not just who you are when you are who you want to be – you are also who you are when you are who you do not want to be.
2) If you are rationalizing something, you’re about to make a bad decision. You don’t need to rationalize a good decision.
3) It is not weak to admit that you can’t handle something. It is weak to fail to learn from your mistakes and pretend that you can and continuously make the wrong decision.
4) Apathy is the biggest killer of man.
5) If we don’t fight for each other we will never all be free.
6) Gentle, appropriate pressure over time yields results.

Some truths from Rumi:
1) Set yourself on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.
2) If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?
3) Be empty of worrying, think of who created thought!
4) Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?

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The Importance of Thorns

I haven’t put anything up in months, & I felt this essay I wrote a while ago discussing a lovely piece of prose called St. Cyril’s Dragon: The Threat of Poetry by Dave Smith was a fitting post to resume with..

The Importance of Thorns

Threat, as defined by Smith, is “various as a heartbeat, [and] is the weight, complexity, difficulty, problem, resistance every poem draws energy from as it seeks resolution.” A good poem takes us out of our comfort zone, it disturbs us, and through threat is “manifests what is important to know. Threat engineers the struggle of self to come into being.” It is confounding to me how much of poetry, poetry without threat, has come into this idealized, soft form of art. We would never want to read a book or watch a film in which everything is serene and peaceful all the time.

Sure, one can come to brilliant understandings and reflections in loveliness, but I think it is truer to say that we are shaken in a beautiful way by discord, by threat. A poem needs a threat, a driving force, just like any other form of art does and just as our own lives necessitate threat. I believe that if one were to live out the entirety of his or her life without such threat, without the moment “when painful choice arrives,” that person has sorely missed out on the beauty of the bad and has been utterly shortchanged in his or her life experiences.

An easy, threat-less life, like a simple, threat-less poem, is one in which nothing is overcome, shaken, disturbed, and developed. It is lacking. Smith says, “no threat, no poem,” and perhaps I’m just a bit twisted, but I think threat is essentially always a good thing. To me, threat is synonymous with motivation – isn’t it the threat of failure that drives us to work hard, the “formative pressure” that inevitably shapes our lives?

As I mentioned in my response last week, there is nothing wrong with a lovely poem; poetry has a tendency to strive toward such loveliness and encapsulations of the beauty of the world, but I find that there is more to be gleamed from ugliness. And when the two coincide, when poems like those of Neruda, Trakl, and at times even Dubie, Wright, and Smith, jar us with their exquisite descriptions of such ugliness in the world, that’s when I believe that true loveliness is achieved.

The power of a poem, of course, comes from something more than merely strong descriptive words on either end of the spectrum – while something in me would be more inclined to read a horrifically disgusting poem  rife with words like “entrails,” or “fetus,” or “maggots,” without threat, a poem comprised of such cringe-worthy yet purposeless words is every bit as shallow as a poem depicting a viridian meadow bursting with wildflowers on a brilliantly sunny day. It is the consolidation of these two realms which makes a poem, as Smith says, one “that scares those who pay attention. It delivers truth we find hard to live with.” Poems in which the threat is has a force proportional to its release deliver us to a credible statement made or implied, and takes us on a journey through which we are able to comprehend, to quote Smith quoting Frost, something “we know but didn’t know we knew.”

For Smith, if the poem’s purpose is to “make meaning of action and to lodge it in memorable words,” akin to “images hung on a wall,” such images are “those which tell us what is most durable, which we admire and call Beauty because they summon from in us the will to do and to be good, and in Beauty, we see the sorrowful diminishing of what had seemed to us permanent.” This is the most perfect definition of beauty I have ever heard. Beauty is not simply what is pretty, what we find to be lovely, as seems to be the case in so many poems without threat, but rather a force that moves us, and has the power to make us realize the ephemeral nature of all that constitutes our lives.

In keeping with this definition of beauty, the ‘darker’ or surrealist poems of Neruda, Trakl, or Wright surely are far more beautiful than any gorgeous yet idealized depiction of something traditionally perceived to be lovely. To quote Smith, “To Miss O’Connor, life’s sweetness was dependent on what threatened it and upon the size of the threat. Without threat, the road of life is only a pastoral walk in the daisies. That is why poetry that fails to reveal and risk the life of the real self is no good to us.”

As Smith says, “Weak poems, pruned of thorns, barbs, and threats, console and soothe us; we all want the beatific promise. If it were not so, ever-positive Walt Whitman would have little appeal for us beyond verbal postcards from the travelogue of his imagination.” This may be true for many, and would explain the wealth of so-called “weak poems” in existence today, but I believe this statement to be true only in reference to the same sort of people who remain willfully ignorant in all aspects of life. Perhaps the sort who do not watch the news, because its all rape and war and death not at all directly relevant to them, or the kind who brush off the importance of things like having political knowledge of one’s own country, or the food they eat, because to keep blindly accepting and devouring whatever comes their way is far simpler.

These are the sort of people to whom Smith refers when he says, “Knowledge, to us, is always partial, inadequate, dangerous.” I prefer to believe that there must certainly also be many whose intrinsic curiosity hurls us away from stagnation, people who want to be pricked by a poem, to be unsettled and jolted awake. Good poetry uses the imagination to “dive down into the dark heart of experience and return with knowledge necessary to selfhood,” as opposed to “Fancy,” which Smith quotes Coleridge in saying is merely “an act an act of the mind that seeks escape from reality, creates false images, panders to us.” The power of well-executed imagination in poetry leads us to confront and comprehend threat.

Such threat bursts from every line of Smith’s “In the House of the Judge.” The threat of death, of our own mortality permeates the poem like ash, suffocating us. The poem is so densely packed with detail that it reads almost like a fully executed short story, and is obsessed with this image of ash, of the dead floating all around us. In this poem, we are brought into the very conflicted, fear-gripped mind of the narrator, who seems to be trying to convince himself that there is nothing wrong with the house and situation he is in – “night after night I stand now trying / to believe it is only dust, no more than vent-spew.” The narrator goes on to describe how he sees and feels this “flesh-gray sift” everywhere, on framed photographs, on bookshelves, in the house, and it becomes clear that these are the remains of those the judge has sentenced to death. The threat here is practically tangible, the particle remains of the deceased truly engineer the struggle of the poem’s narrator, and is the driving force of the poem’s conflict.

The narrator is indeed “shaped by the mica-fine motes that once were body in earth.” He is so plagued by the death, the audible weight, suffocating this house that his actions become rash and nonsensical. Here Smith manages to use imagination “dive down into the dark heart of experience” by detailing the manner in which the shapeless, formless dust, the only remnant of those no longer with form, becomes that which now comprises the entirety of the obsessed narrator who is still with form. This captures the truth that in our lives, such little nothings, such things that do not exist in physical form, tend to wreak havoc on our real, physical world.

Fight for $15 Rally

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Thousands of workers across more than 160 cities turned out for a national day of action on December 4th to demand higher wages and the right to form a union. The Fight for $15 movement began two years ago amongst fast food workers, but the cause has grown exponentially since being undertaken by citizens struggling to live on poverty-wages in various industries, including convenience store workers, airport employees and home care workers.

Rallies took place in Boston, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Knoxville, Philadelphia, and here in New York City, to name a few, with strikers walking off the job in many more.

The crowd outside City Hall on Broadway and Barclay had incredible energy, complimented by a marching band performing while whistles and trumpets blared along. The atmosphere was hopeful and determined, despite the fact that many in the crowd were clearly still reeling from the previous day’s news that there would be no indictment for the cop who killed Eric Garner, as many of those in attendance at the Fight for $15 rally held signs that read, “Black Lives Matter”.

At a panel discussion put on by the Left Labor Party on Tuesday, December 2nd, Jake Streich-Kest, an organizer with the Fast Food Campaign, noted that, “Just recently a few workers from New York got back from a trip to Europe where they were visiting workers in Denmark and the UK. They spoke to fast food workers where they have a union, like in Denmark, where McDonald’s workers make $20 dollars an hour,” Streich-Kest said.

It is unarguably certain that McDonald’s and other massive fast food corporations are capable of paying their American employees living wages, given that McDonald’s pays their employees in foreign countries decent wages. While the average fast food worker makes a mere $8.69 per hour or less, the CEO of McDonald’s rakes in more than $9,200 per hour.

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Jackie M., a fast food striker and Wendy’s worker revealed to the crowd that she lives in a shelter because she cannot afford to live in NYC with the current minimum wage of only 8 dollars an hour.

Both city officials and low-wage workers alike spoke at the rally. Current New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer declared, “It is outrageous that corporations are making millions and all you want to do is take care of your kids.” NY State Assemblyman Carl E. Heastie, chief sponsor of the 2014 bill to raise the minimum wage, was also in attendance.

As a 2014 report from the AFL-CIO (a federation of labor organizations) reveals, in 2013, CEOs made 331 times that of their average worker, and 774 times more than their minimum wage workers.[1] That ratio marks a sharp increase from that of the 1950s, when CEOs made 20 times that of their employees, while in the 1980s CEOs made on average 42 times that of their employees.

It is not as though New York City workers are demanding the impossible. Seattle and San Francisco have recently begun the process of raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Just this past Tuesday, December 2nd, the City Council of Chicago voted 44 to 5 to raise the city’s minimum wage to $13 per hour.

Raising the minimum wage would lift millions of workers out of poverty. It is truly unbelievable that we live in a world where our fellow citizens can work full time and still need to rely on government assistance just to get by. It is unjust to allow people to juggle two and sometimes even three jobs, yet still remain unable to pay their bills. And yet the sad reality is that Republicans in Congress continually fight to block a federal minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour. With Republicans winning big in the 2014 elections, the fight for fair wages may become more difficult. The importance of voting, however futile it may seem, however maligned the system may be, cannot be understated for matters such as these.

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All photos and videos taken at the Fight for $15 Rally on Thursday, December 4th. 

[1] http://www.aflcio.org/Corporate-Watch/Paywatch-2014 – Please check out their report for more unbelievable stats on the pay rates of CEOs and minimum wage workers.

Cages

If the French do one thing right, it’s flowers, I’ll give them that. On the treating people like actual humans and not like disposable annoyances front, Parisians are definitely not the leading authority. Though that’s a generalization and generalizations tend to over generalize, which is always bad.

Bad like my host dad proclaiming that the Roma are the cause of all of Paris’ problems while driving me and the Bulgarian girl from my study abroad program (Kalina) to the American Hospital of Paris after some Parisians beat me up and the French hospital told me to leave because I was being a disrespectful bitch. After he realized Kalina was fluent, he spoke on the phone to his wife in Spanish. As if it’s somehow less bad to be an ignorant bigot in another language. Te comprendo, pute.

But the architecture! The Eiffel tower! The history! Oh, if a city or a person could run on history, well there’d never be any reason to be any better. Nevermind that at night you’d find more rats than people under the tower on most nights, just look at how it sparkles every hour on the hour. A big glittery beacon of distraction.

There was invariably a homeless person and a florist on every street corner where I lived, in the sixteenth arrondissement. I overheard it was the “chic” arrondissement by some girls in my study abroad program giggling about their housing assignments. It was rare to have an entire floor of an apartment building to yourself in Paris, though I think what my host parents probably enjoyed most about this was that it gave them the ability to sleep at opposite ends of the apartment; while Madame Beauregard slept in her bedroom, Monsieur Beauregard snored in the little room off of the kitchen where he smoked his tobacco pipe endlessly from the second he arrived home to the second he passed out in his silly sleeping cap and cotton pajamas. For the most part, my host family was never around, except during the evenings when they returned from work to smoke and sleep. They had a son, but he was only ever present during the day, when his parents were gone, so that he could eat their food and play music loudly in the room across from mine. He usually left just before his parents returned.

Every Sunday on my “chic” street, there was an explosion of garbage. I guess that’s why when I asked my host mom where I could throw out my trash, she took the black plastic bag from me and muttered, “C’est compliqué.” (It’s complicated). On one such Sunday when I was walking down the one block of Rue de Rémusat that I traversed each day every day multiple times a day, between the metro station Pont Mirabeau and my apartment building, a van pulled up and rolled to a stop in front of me. A spindly figure hopped out, ripped open a garbage bag, quickly sifted through its contents, retrieved something, and hopped back into the van and drove off. On Sundays the garbage wasn’t just on the street, every garbage bag appeared to have spontaneously vomited up the entirety of its contents onto the sidewalk. I once saw a Parisian garbage man toss the garbage can itself into the hungry mouth of the disposal vehicle, which ate the can right up. Are the Roma begging on the street really costing you, Monsieur Beauregard?

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The second weekend I was in Paris I had decided to go out at the last minute with two girls from my program to get dinner. I didn’t want to go outside after what had happened the weekend before and because of all the uncomfortable and relentless eyeballing of Parisian men, but I knew I had to give it another chance and that I couldn’t let one scare ruin my whole experience. When we were walking back to the metro station around 1 a.m., these three men – boys really – who kept getting in my way as I walked down the crowded street stopped in front of me. I kept walking, hitting my shoulder against one of theirs as I pushed past. I shot him a nasty glance over my shoulder just in time to see him shove me to the ground. I fell to my knees but got up immediately and started running – I thought he was going to rob me – but then he pushed me to the ground again and that’s where things get kind of fuzzy. One of the girls who was with me said she pulled a man off of me, and that he had been crouching over me. I still don’t really know what happened, but from my body it looked like I was kicked a lot.

When she pulled him off of me they all ran away. I shot up and started chasing after him. I wanted to hurt him, furious, I was screaming, YOU FUCKING PUSSY, YOU LITTLE BITCH, COWARD, COWARD. That’s when the strangers on the street finally decided it was time to act – by grabbing me and holding me back. Then I was very very dizzy…The other girl I was with had collected up the contents of my purse – keys, credit cards, Euros – which had spilt everywhere when I hit the ground. They didn’t even take anything. Then I was in an ambulance answering questions.

You know I think maybe I’d have been fine, except when I was standing in the lobby of the first hospital (which refused to treat me because I was an angry cunt) waiting for the cab I had called, I thought I was trying to stare outside but really I was staring at my reflection in the darkened glass. It looked like there was a dried trail of blood on my face that originated from my nose. I touched my thumb to the outside of my left nostril, pulled it back, and looked at it. My thumb was unreasonable bloody and I realized I no longer had a nose ring. That whole time I had been angry, I had yelled at the nurse asking me questions trying to assess how bad my concussion was. But for some reason this destroyed me. I had gotten that nose ring five years ago specifically because I thought I looked too weak and girly. I felt like a part of myself had been ripped right out of my face.

A few days after I got beat up and was back at school, the program director told me I should dye my naturally bright blonde hair a normal Parisian brown, so that I didn’t stick out so much.

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I have to go to either Saint-Germain-des-Prés or the Jardin des Plantes for my French Literature course. Class is really the only thing that gets me out of the apartment these days. I’ve been here about four weeks now, and the first weekend I was in Paris, some man from a bar stuck his hand down my pants, grabbed my face, and asked me, “Do you want to be raped?” We had been sitting outside the bar in the too-hot-for-September air, talking about journalism. He was a journalist and that’s what I came to Paris for. When my classes finish at the end of October, I’m supposed to begin my internship in journalism for the last two months of my stay. Only this week, I found out they are actually sticking me with a 45-hour-a-week unpaid internship in marketing. MARKETING. Writing product reviews. I think I’d rather have that hand down my pants again.

Oh, this yellow wallpaper isn’t doing me any good. In my room of my host family’s apartment on Avenue Théophile Gautier there is: a desk, a twin mattress on the floor, a huge single pane window, a television that does not work and has no buttons, and this awful foul peeling yellow wallpaper. (Was this some sort of cosmic joke? Sais-tu l’histoire Madame Beauregard?) Marketing. MARKETING. Marketing – a festering hemorrhoid on the asshole of humanity. What could be more opposite? Journalism in my mind is defined as the relentless pursuit of truth (good journalism, that is). I want to be a soothsayer, not waste my time trying to figure out how to convince people to spend their hard-earned money on the latest greatest shit they didn’t need at all. I had romanticized everything, I know. Don’t laugh at me now, they’re all laughing enough. I think my host brother is making fun of me all the time when I hear him speaking in the room across the hall, though I can’t understand his rapid French well enough to know whether or not this is true. It feels like he is. And here I am lying on that mattress on the floor of my room with that book my mom gave me mocking me from my desk. Forever Paris: 25 Walks in the Footsteps of Chanel, Hemingway, Picasso, and More.

It’s been four weeks since I got here, three since I was molested, and two since I was beat up. Two since everybody started treating me like a pariah and two since I’ve been fucking losing it. Or maybe that’s been happening the whole time. Forever Paris –god, please no. I had to be here another three months, and usually three months seems to fly by, but lately the days have been moving like molasses and I feel like a prisoner in solitary confinement.

I don’t want to stay in this room, but I don’t want to leave more. But I do want to leave, I want to go to the Louvre I want to go to the Catacombs I want to just walk around. Oh but the people out there – the people out there. Maybe I’ll just stay in here a little longer and keep reading the news. There’s so much news you know, all around the world things are happening all the time, how can I ever know it all, how can I ever be up to date? Why are celebrities always in the news? I’m sure an economist could explain it to me, but I can never wrap my head around the coexistence of poverty and luxury. One of the saddest things I have ever seen in my life has got to be the pregnant Middle Eastern woman kneeling on the Champs Élysées with her arms cradling her pregnant belly and her hands cradling her cup of change. I didn’t stop.

And I’m from New York City, how did I not notice before? I guess I was blind I was very very blind – I cannot reconcile the way I saw things before and the way I see them now and it makes me revolted by everything especially myself. I used to enjoy getting all dressed up, I mean, I used to take real pleasure in putting outfits together, jewelry, make up, it was like a ritual. Nowadays I roll out of bed and head to class wearing the same clothes I slept in. I don’t want anybody to look at me. I want to be unnoticed. How could I have ever taken pride in my appearance? The way you look doesn’t mean a thing, and all it’s ever gotten me is trouble. My dresses mocked me too, my jewelry sat splayed out on my desk, all these different bracelets and rings and necklaces, and laughed to each other about how vain I was.

Why didn’t I see the homeless before? Maybe it’s just that I liked to walk around in parks or museums though the homeless are everywhere the homeless are my neighbors, you know the biggest park in all of Paris is just a few blocks from my house? But don’t go in the Bois de Boulogne at night, that’s where all the prostitutes have fled.

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So, you know, yesterday didn’t quite work out but here is today and hey I’m outside already. When I’m not in the apartment I don’t have any sort of service, and thus am completely incapable of getting in contact with anyone, except for people in France, and I don’t really talk to any people in France. Although sometimes my host mom sends me texts telling me to close the window. That was another reason it was so hard to go outside – at least when I felt trapped in my room, it was my own choice, and I could talk to my friends and family. As soon as I step outside, I can feel how alone I am, and it almost sends me scrambling back inside so I can grab onto another soul. I study creative writing at Johns Hopkins and all of the people in my study abroad program go to Boston University and already knew each other. It’s weird how people don’t want to talk to you after something bad happens as though you’re the one that did it.

I took the Metro all the way to the last stop for the Jardin des Plantes. If the French do another thing right, it’s their metro system, I’ll give them that. It was all nicely color coordinated and the numbers went from one to fourteen, none of this random New York shit where we had one to seven, then A, B, C, D, E, F, and G, then also the J and the Z, the L, and the N, Q, and R lines. There’s this saying in Paris – metro, boulot, dodo, which means, train, work, sleep. That’s because, supposedly, that’s pretty much all Parisians do. Though your typical Parisian work day may start a bit later than it does in America, that long, sometimes two hour, lunch break means there’s not a whole lot of hope that you’ll make it out of the office before 6 o’clock. Even then, you’re looking at an at least thirty minute metro ride before you can burst back into your tiny little apartment. By that point, your day’s pretty much shot. You’re tired, you worked through daylight, and the nicotine from today’s twenty cigarettes is wearing you thin. Lights off, light up, and lie down.

The metro stop was right at the entrance of the Jardin des Plantes. The garden was glorious. I’ve never seen so many different flowers in one place in my life. Rows upon rows upon rows of bushes of flowers taller than me with colors as vibrant as birds of paradise. The sun was beaming, the sky was cloudless, and each step in the garden was like walking into a dream. The petals had colors I previously did not think could exist in nature, only artificially, in dyes. If the French do one thing right, it’s flowers, I’ll give them that.

The flowers were so lovely, so lovely, I started to cry, I wanted to hug these gargantuan flower bushes, I wanted to squeeze them until I osmosed right into them, until I was a happy flower. I walked up and down the garden nine or ten times, just to make sure I saw every one. The garden made me miss my boyfriend even more than I already did. I could only communicate with him exclusively in that awful yellow room. He grew up on a farm, and I always admired the loving and meticulous way he took care of my potted plants when he was around. In October of last year, he gave me two potted lilies. One is still alive and the other festered two weeks ago. As I wandered through the garden, I pretended he was walking with me.

When I was leaving the garden to go to the zoo in the Jardin des Plantes, I saw a woman who didn’t look homeless, but must have been, lift up the lid of a trash can, pull out a recently discarded McDonald’s bag, sort through the remnants, and put all of the scraps into the fry container, which she then put into her bag.

The life of the garden was absent from the zoo. Walking around, I saw binturong sleeping atop his wooden prison, looking for all the world like a lifeless mass of mottled fur. I saw a baby Caucasian tur eating his own feces. I saw a feeble turtle struggle to exit a bowl of salad he had fallen into. The Arabian oryx had a pile of hay stuck on top of his head, having skewered it with his long, sharp horns. A Rocky Mountain Goat watched me watch him.

The zoo was nearly deserted, save for a few touristy couples, small families, and very young school children on class trips. There were hundreds more people in the garden, here I saw maybe nine people in total, not counting the large groups of shrieking school children. I have never seen a zoo with so little activity. And I’ve never seen a zoo with so few zookeepers – I saw more people attending to the garden than the animals.

The children ran and screamed incessantly. I felt sorry for the animals, who had no choice but to listen. The animals in the menagerie could probably hear much better than me, seeing as their designs were not intended to live amongst the clamor of humanity. Here they were, in an infinite loop of shrill, gawking children, rattling their cages and banging on their glass. Nothing moved inside the vivarium, save for the snakes, who slithered endlessly from branch to branch, corner to corner, then back again, their tongues occasionally flicking against the glass in search of an exit.

I left the zoo and sat in the garden for a few minutes before heading home. I walked out and headed back down into the metro, then packed into a train with everyone else. I had never once in my life thought zoos were bad, maybe I was just projecting, but all those animals seemed so sad, the air seemed sad in there. It reminded me of the same two homeless men I saw every single time I took the metro to or from my house. They beg all day, and sleep in the phone booths on Rue de Rémusat at night.

Last weekend, I met up with the friend of a friend of my roommate at Johns Hopkins. I wondered if he had been instructed to hang out with me just because my friends knew how bad I was. Anyway, the friend’s name was Hugo, and when we were walking around last week, I noticed that he always responded to all of the homeless people, and sometimes he gave them money. When I mentioned this, he said that the most painful part of being homeless is not being deprived of their money and possessions, but rather being deprived of their humanity. Homeless people are completely ignored by everyone; they say hello, and it is as if they do not exist (for the most part). We don’t even look at them. And when we do this, he said, we are actively denying their existence and their value as a human being. We are saying that they do not even deserve to be responded to. After that day, I said hello every morning when I passed by the two homeless men who sit together on Rue de Rémusat.

I got off the ten at Pont Mirabeau and went into a Tabac store for some cigarettes.

“Bonjour Madame, je veux acheter les cigarettes…slim.” I didn’t know how to ask for the bitch sticks in French, you know, the skinny ones.

The old lady behind the counter replied, “Tu ne parles pas le français? Quand tu es en mon pays, tu parles ma langue.” (“You don’t speak French? When you are in my country, you speak my language.”)

I just stared. I wanted to say every French curse word I knew, but all except pute seemed to fly from my mind at that critical moment. Instead, I told her I speak French just fine and give me the cigarettes. She gave them to me this time.

I lit up as soon as I stepped outside and headed toward the grocery store across the street. I had quit smoking in May, but I took it up again now that I was here. How could I not? There were more cigarette butts than leaves and the ground as it became fall. I’m an anxious chain-smoker though, it’s horrible.

As soon as I stepped out of the grocery store on Rue de Rémusat with two enormous bags of groceries, the handle of one of my bags ripped off and the bag fell to the ground. One of the homeless men I saw every morning was sitting on the corner. He immediately asked me, in English, if I wanted help carrying my groceries. I told him that was very nice, but that I felt bad because I did not have any money with me, only my credit card. He said that didn’t matter, and picked my heavy bag up off the ground.

“Thank you so much,” I said, “it’s so nice of you.”

“It is nothing, we are kind of like neighbors.” He laughed

Dulce et Decorum Est

Today is Armistice Day. On November 11th, 1918, the world came together in the realization that war is so horrific it must be ended immediately, and the armistice signed in France signified an end to World War I – the “war to end all wars.”

At the time, the bloodshed of WWI marked a massive departure from the wars that came before. With the rise of machine guns came the horrifying ability to wipe out entire generations of young men in a single attack.  Since then, of course, the killing power of the world’s weaponry has only increased exponentially.

Today is a day of peace. We don’t even know a world without horrible death machines. Is it really progress to continually invent more efficient ways to kill each other?

Please take a minute to read (or listen to a reading of) this brilliant poem by Wilfred Owen, a poet and soldier in the first World War. Makes me cry every time!

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

*Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori means “It is sweet and right to die for one’s country.” These are the first words of a Latin saying (taken from an ode by Horace).

The Case for Protecting Women’s Access to Reproductive Health Care

A snowy day outside the Supreme Court
A snowy day outside the Supreme Court

“The widespread use of contraceptives has indeed harmed women physically, emotionally, morally, and spiritually — and has, in many respects, reduced her to the ‘mere instrument for the satisfaction of [man’s] own desires.’”[1] It’s hard to believe that anyone actually thinks this, let alone declares it as fact. But this is just one example pulled from the 59 amicus briefs filed in support of Hobby Lobby, a for-profit corporation arguing for exemption from the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act on the grounds that it is an unconstitutional violation of its sincerely held religious beliefs.

When I read some of the more ludicrous quotes from the case briefs aloud to my roommate, she had pretty much the same indignant reaction that most rational people have upon hearing statements like, “the promotion of contraceptive services harms not only women, but it harms society in general,” (another gem from the American Freedom Law center). She got frustrated. She asked me to stop reading because she didn’t want to hear anymore. And that was my initial reaction too – I stopped reading in anger, shook my head and thought, I cannot believe this.

You see, we have a choice. We live in a liberal state where our reproductive freedoms are largely recognized and protected. Yet for far too many women in our country, statements like this aren’t something they can simply tune out. Such ignorance is the unrelenting and unavoidable reality that they live in.

Where are you from? In Texas, a recent law imposing unreasonably strict regulations has forced dozens of clinics to close.[2] In 2011, 44 facilities in Texas offered abortion care. Recently, that number has been cut in half, and by fall 2014, that number is expected to drop even lower, to a mere six. The entire state of North Dakota has but one clinic that provides abortions, while South Dakota and Mississippi have two[3]. Just last week, a federal court of appeals agreed to let Kansas strip family planning funding from Planned Parenthood[4]. In early March, a medical office that provided abortions in Montana was meticulously destroyed and vandalized by the son of the executive director of an anti-choice group called Hope Pregnancy Ministries[5]. That office had only been opened three weeks prior – the owner had been forced to relocate from her previous office after someone purchased the building her office was in. That someone was, somewhat unsurprisingly, none other than the same executive director of Hope Pregnancy Ministries. Some may think, well Roe v. Wade legalized abortion 41 years ago, what is everyone still arguing about? Yet, around the country, our reproductive rights are being stripped away, piece by piece.

It is insane to me that the Hobby Lobby case ever got as far as the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, March 25th, I got a bus down to D.C. with members of JHU’s Voice for Choice group, and other activists from Delaware and Maryland. We joined the protests outside the Supreme Court as the attorneys presented their oral arguments. On the left, many young women and men touted neon colored or plain white cardboard signs with statements like, “My Birth Control My Decision,” and “Don’t Impose Your Beliefs.” Pro-choice activists gathered around a platform where intelligent speakers informed the crowd of what was at stake should Hobby Lobby win its case. On the right, mostly old white men gathered holding visceral and inaccurate signs, such as one that read “’Choice’ 1st Trimester (10 Weeks) Aborted Fetus” with a graphic poster-sized image of a blood clot digitally manipulated to look more like a human. One woman from the pro-life side walked through our group of supporters from JHU and Planned Parenthood and kindly informed us that we were all robots and should learn to think for ourselves.

dontimposeyourbeliefs
Some protestors
In the front, a lovely old lady brandishing a hand-knit uterus. In the back, an abominable sign.
In the front, a lovely old lady brandishing a hand-knit uterus. In the back, an abominable sign.
A close up of that awful sign (sorry, it is graphic, and also digitally altered)
A close up of that awful sign (sorry, it is graphic, and also digitally altered)

As Jon Stewart recently quipped, “let me get this straight: corporations aren’t just people, they’re ill-informed people, whose factually incorrect beliefs must be upheld because they sincerely believe them anyway.” Lets talk about those beliefs – the 600-store chain of craft stores claims that four of the contraceptives it is required to supply under the Affordable Care Act are actually abortifacients, and thus providing these contraceptives places an undue burden on their – sorry, their corporation’s – religious beliefs. These four contraceptives are Plan B One-Step, Ella, and two forms of intrauterine devices. None of these contraceptives act after fertilization. The two brands of emergency contraception delay ovulation, and the IUDs thicken cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching the egg[6]. Fertilization never occurs. There is nothing to abort. Why are we even entertaining the notion of imposing some sincerely held belief that is factually just plain wrong? What’s next? What if the heads of my corporation are Jehovah’s Witnesses? Will I then be denied access to blood transfusions, on the grounds of their sincerely held religious fictions?

Our campus is no stranger to inaccurate and insensitive displays from pro-lifers. Last fall, Voice for Life’s “Cemetery of the Innocents” stuck 139 crosses in the ground near the MSE Library, which was meant to represent the number of fetuses aborted hourly in the United States (the correct number is actually 121[7]) accompanied by a sign that read “3600 Human Beings Were Aborted Yesterday.” Funnily enough, for all this talk of religious belief and fertilized (or in the Hobby Lobby case, unfertilized) eggs being people, the Bible doesn’t say all that much on the subject. In Genesis, the first human became a “living being” when God blew into its nostrils and it started to breathe[8]. Biblical writers thought that life began when you started breathing. With modern technology however, we can determine that what one can conceive to be ‘life’ begins sooner than that – a fetus becomes viable no sooner than the 23rd week. This threshold is defined as the point at which the fetus becomes potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb. A passage from Exodus (21:22) actually describes what the penalty would be should a woman suffer a miscarriage as the result of being injured by a man: “if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no [further] injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any [further] injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”[9] Killing the woman would be murder, yet the miscarriage is treated as a property loss.

If we are really going to make an argument about whose rights trump whose, be it a corporations’ rights to religious freedom, an unborn child’s right to life, or a woman’s right to choose, let’s stick to the facts. Over the past decade in the United States, teen pregnancy rates have been consistently higher in Southern states that fail to provide students with adequate sexual health instruction[10]. Making it more difficult to access contraception will not reduce the rate of pregnancy. Making it more difficult to access safe and legal abortions will not reduce the rate of unintended births, and is sure to result in more unnecessary death for women who are forced to resort to unsafe means. Only education and safe and proper access to contraception and abortion will help women.

A Live Action News article proudly pointed to Voice for Life’s contribution to their cause by stating that the group’s bimonthly harassment outside of Baltimore’s Planned Parenthood clinic has “helped save three babies from abortion” and that they have “even watched one worker quit.” That worker told the group, “You have no idea how much you guys have done with your presence here.”[11] It is unkind, unjust, and downright cruel to impose your personal beliefs on another person’s personal battle. It is never an easy decision. It is sometimes the right decision. But it is always the woman’s decision.

But this isn’t a woman’s issue. If men could get pregnant, birth control would be bacon-flavored and dispensed as freely as condoms. Woman do not get pregnant all by themselves, and they should not be left alone to the task of ensuring their access to reproductive health care remains intact. Women everywhere want the same exact thing for their children – to be able to give them the best life they possibly can. That starts with being in control of when to bring a new life into this world.

Me outside the Supreme Court
Me outside the Supreme Court

[1] http://www.becketfund.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/13-354-356-bsac-American-Freedom-Law-Center.pdf

[2] http://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/03/27/3420207/federal-appeals-texas-abortion/

[3] http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter

[4] http://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2014/03/25/ruling-kansas-can-strip-planned-parenthood-funds

[5] http://www.democracynow.org/2014/3/27/targeted_by_firebombing_legislation_and_now

[6] http://www.salon.com/2014/03/25/4_things_you_need_to_know_about_the_hobby_lobby_scotus_case/?upw

[7] http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html

[8] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rick-lowery-phd/abortion-what-the-bible-says-and-doesnt-say_b_1856049.html

[9] http://www.str.org/articles/what-exodus-21-22-says-about-abortion#.Uznz361dXg1

[10] http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/05/23/2053841/teen-birth-rate-drop-high-south/

[11] http://liveactionnews.org/johns-hopkins-university-voice-for-life-overcomes-discrimination-and-attacks-against-their-freedom-of-speech/

*This was written in April, 2014