Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Again, thank you Mike, for taking the time to write to me. Yes, I know the work of bell hooks--she, like Edward Said, is an essential voice in our times. Glorious dissenters who fashion a body of work out of their knowledge and their heart, out of the history of their own marked bodies. They are some of the many writers targeted by the Right wing's ongoing attacks on "left-leaning" universities--but those of us who shared bell's writings with our students know the gleam she brought to their thinking, their recognition of her portrait of gender, race, culture and of her fierce self. These public university rooms, besieged by so many constrictions from so many fundamentalist desires for silence or from so little federal economic support, must always be a matter of our concern. Once in New York, we turned our back and free higher education died.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Today I write you from a different Australia--John Howard and his sneering cohort have been converted into men again; in a strange way, by loosing this national election, they have regained their humanity. Howard is simply an aging man who lurches forward on daily walks, his assurance stripped. Overnight, the glitter of power has gone from his eyes, his wife interrupts his resignation speech with a fragile inappropriate touching of his hand, a half whisper of wanted reassurance that his use of the past tense did not include her. One political reporter summed up the Liberal party leaders, here, as people of privilege and punishment. Once there were three: the demented (Blair), the driven (Howard) and the delusional (Bush)--and now only the last remains and so does our work.
When La Professora first brought me to her shores, she would regale me with stories of how Australia used to be--a fair go, solidarity with workers, women's projects flourishing, affordable housing--lending itself to the wonderful tradition here known as shared houses--groups of active, lusty, creative young people living together, collectives each having its own reputation, its own sexual dramas, its own political banners. I laughed at my first tour of Melbourne in Di's aging car, FiFi, as Di would stop at almost every corner and say, "see that house, that is where I lived with Beth and three other names, that was the garden I started" and then two streets later, "see that corner house, that was where we lived in the 70s and I built that bench under the gum." I would peer through overgrown bushes and look into the youth of my new lover, trying hard to see the young lesbian women in their fedora hats deep in discussion about how to secure the squat for a women's refuge.
Then the Howard years, 11 and half years of free market conservatism, economic rationalism, foolish parodying of America, little by little stripping from the public face of this wide brown country so much that had softened the hardships of working people and of the citizens that struggle to live under the glow cloud of the "well-off." As the Howard years went by, all the worst characteristics of Australia's national character became social policy. Racism, a particular virulent Australian version, disfigured the government's refugee and immigration policies, prevented Howard from saying "sorry" to the first Australians who still wait for inclusion in the much vaulted wealth of this country, a wealth ripped from their lands--the gold, copper, uranium deposits hauled to the surface--China, India waiting for these riches--and Indigenous people live 25 to a tin shed, flies studding the eyes of the children so glaucoma is a young person's disease. But we have never been so rich, Howard and his ilk boasted at every dinner party for the very rich while public schools and public health and public dreams of equity went begging. Howard who lied about desperate asylum seekers on a sinking boat--they threw their own children into the ocean, we don't want these kind of people in Australia--like the lies propagated by his beloved Bush, weapons of mass destruction, any lie in the service of consolidated power, consolidated narrow nationalism. I came to understand more about the cringe shadow on the Australian psyche that Di had told me about as Howard would boast, Bush just called me, the great man spoke to me, I have my cowboy hat ready for that invitation I know will come for me and Jeannette to stay at the ranch with my buddy and Laura. Like he believed in the monarchy, Howard believed in the American empire. Lost men these are.
The night of the election we went to lesbian gathering in one of those famous houses only we were of a certain age and a couple of long standing were generously sharing their home as they often do--bottles of champagne stood ready if truly the unimaginable happened. The polls had tightened, perhaps Labour was not as far ahead as everyone had thought just a week ago and so we gathered around the tv, sharing food and worries, except for me, old time friends each one. Film makers, writers, sex educators, teachers, carers--all glued to the small band of red and blue that ran along the bottom of the ABC screen, watching slowly the count of seats falling to Labour, pushing--76 was what was needed for a victory. Pattie sitting next to me with pencil paused over The Age's guide to the electorate, ready to tick off the acquired seats. I heard words I did not know all through the night, place names that meant nothing to me, but that brought shouts of delight from my comrades--Eden-Monaro, Lindsay, Deakin, Bonner, And all night, Bennelong, the Sydney seat from which Howard's power emanated for over 30 years. I watched, a stranger, as long suffering citizens hung on every flick of the numbers chart--so much depended on this outcome for these women who had known another Australia, one that had made their dreams possible, that had shaped their young adulthood with social commitments to fuller, more compassionate national visions. And I could witness the almost exhausted shout of victory when the numbers finally gave the answer, Howard and all who fed off his arrogance were out of power.
Now I know that Rudd represents the conservative branch of the Labor party, but his deputy Prime Minister, a red head named Julia Gillyard, hails from the left reaches of the party--struggles lie ahead of course--but just when I thought the Right in this country and in my own could never be made to retreat--a little like housing costs in New York--the majority of people in this country proved me wrong--what the Bushes and the Cheneys present as destiny can be refused. Here in a time of unheard of prosperity for many, many looked beyond their own comfort and peered into what their country had become. Two down, one more to go.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I am here, under the words, the words that lie on my belly and breasts, both scarred with life. You can always find me here as I have always found parts of myself in your words.
I wait for the night to write you, as if I am one of those late night radio djs who whisper low into their microphones as the hours tic by, soft gravelly voices speaking into their listeners' dreams, stopping just long enough to play the best jazz you will ever hear. No jazz here, but the most wished for sound of falling rain--all day it has poured, wet slick roads, floods in the bluestone laneways, a thirsty garden taking it all in, growing greener and thicker before our eyes. At Fitzgibbon, where we live, there is some worry. La Profesora has not been feeling well and we were off to doctors today.
While she sleeps, I paint and listen to the radio, ABC, the national station here, like WBAI used to be and I hear a recent interview with Studs Terkel, a man who once called me in a Chicago hotel room, he was speaking to a reporter about the 1960s and wanted to quote from my essay, "This Huge Light of Yours," never before had I arrived in a new town and had such a message waiting for me. Now I hear his words, about hope and curiosity and the wonder of recording people's stories and his bewilderment at this present America and I feel I am listening to an old friend, I think of him and Grace Paley, their wonderful pugnaciousness, all in the service of common dignity. We can not afford the loss of such voices these days. "The sixties is a favorite target," I wrote twenty years ago, "of those who take delight in the failure of dreams. For those who dabbled in social change or who stayed aloof from the passion of the times, the sixties has become a playground for nostalgia, a pot-filled room of counterculture adolecents playingwith anger. But it is a sad cynicism that jeers at the defeat of courage and commitment, and a selfish one too...There is one group of Americans that cannot play with the sixties, cannot give those years to mockery and disdain. In Alabama and Mississipi and Arkansas, in Watts and Harlem and Phildelphia, in luncheonettes and in movie theaters, on beaches, on school steps, and one buses, black Americans took history into their own work-worn hands, carried it on their tired feet, until it became a different thing." We must do this again, this walking and talking about change, this doing and moving until our nation takes another path, wears another kind of face.

"Alvin Krongard, 71, who left a $4 million-ayear-job in investment banking to serve in top posts at the Central Intelligence Agency from 1998 to 2004, played what he describes as a routine role as ain intermediry in helping blackwater get its first big security contract from the agency for guards in Afghanistan in 2002. A martial arts enthusiast and former MArine who has regaled friends with tales of punching a great white shark while scuba diving, Mr. Krongard said he later became friendly with the company's founder, Erik D. Prince. They have hunted near Blackwater's North Carolina's training ground and Mr. Krongrd's hunting club in the Krongard brothers, known as Buzzy and Cookie through their long careers--are tied up in the tangled story of of the deaths of least 17 Iraqis while guarding a tate department convoy in Baghdad." from "Brothers, Bad Blood and the Blackwater Tangle" by Scott Shane, NYT, November 17, 2007

Punching a white shark in the face--and hunting, hunting until killing becomes a private business worth more million dollar contracts. Buzzy and Cookie who loved their lacrosse, American grotesques let loose on a fallen country. Oh Studs not your laborers, oh Grace, not your lower East side young mothers trying to make sense of love in hard times. Do not leave us now, now in our lost years.
Which brings me to a memory--in the mid 70s and through the 80s I traveled the US with a slide show I put together called "Butch-Fem Relationships: Sexual Courage in the 50s and 60s," perhaps some of you might have seen it. Using excerpts from tapes I had made with mostly butch women from my PreStonewall communities, I played their voices and showed their images in darkened rooms in university towns and lesbian and gay gathering centers in many American cities. And like Studs, I knew the gifts that were exchanged when one voice asked another to make their history a tellable story, when one became a listener with an eye on a new kind of history. And so Jul's story of the first time she used a dildo was born--a story I was to tell so many years later in a queer gathering in Jerusalem and Sandy Kern's history of 50's butch desire and Mabel Hampton's tellings of life with her wife, Lillian Foster, from 1932 until 1978--never parted--until death separated Big Bear and Little Bear. But even in the listening and telling, bodies made new histories. In this late night in Melbourne, with my profesora trying
to fight off her exhaustion, I think of one evening in a small apartment in the West Village, near Hudson street, over 20 years ago now, taping C.'s tales of bar raids she had been caught in, how the girls helped each other out, and how she missed those times. I haven't touched a woman in years, she said, the longing hanging like a curtain in the darkened room. And so, when she had finished remembering, I held her head against my breasts and let her suckle. Stories and touch, so much of my life has been in seeking out both.

Friday, November 16, 2007

It is a warm humid night here now, the beginning of summer heat. I cannot sleep until I share with you the words of Dorothy Nador, a 75 year old Israeli woman who refuses to concede her humanity. Night speaks to night.

Dear Friends,

While the politicians are daily mouthing Annapolis and the concessions that Israel will/will not (should/should not) give the Palestinians, the occupation goes on as usual--in the OPT and also for Israeli Palestinians ( i.e., Palestinians who are Israeli citizens) revealing the true intentions of Israel's government. Actions do, after all, speak louder than words. And in point of fact life has not eased an iota for Palestinians. Daily--or rather, nightly, I mean—the IOF 'detains' (read that 'kidnaps') Palestinians from their beds at 2:00 AM or 1:00 AM or 3:00 AM. Daily the Israeli morning radio news reports the nameless numbers of the Palestinians the IOF has kidnapped that night—from 4 to 20. It's hard to imagine that there is more room in the jails, with some 11,000 Palestinian prisoners in them. And the demolitions continue, too—a Palestinian school here, a Palestinian home there. Be glad you are not Palestinian!

I well remember Dar Elhanoun, the 'unrecognized' Israeli Arab village threatened with demolitions. I was with Ta'ayush when we helped pave the road, build a children's playground, and enjoyed meeting the residents, listening to their trials and tribulations. I remember the first time that I drove to the village—located on the top of a hill overlooking the sea in the far distance. A police car stopped me on the way to the village. I hadn't noticed it creeping up on me as I drove up the hill. It stopped me. The police began interrogating me: where was I going, why, and so on and so forth, till I asked if I had mistakenly landed in the Territories. The police responded no, and with that I asked to be allowed to go on my way. I was allowed to. But the police got there first. Nevertheless, apart from getting our names and watching, they did not on that occasion drive us away. If I recall correctly, we were at the village 2-3 days. I personally did not sleep there (my back can't take sleeping on the ground any more), but came back daily to work with the others. As is the wont of work camps, there was great camaraderie, and good feeling. But we knew that technically speaking we were engaging in civil disobedience by building the road. After all, unrecognized villages are not supposed to have paved roads! The road and the children's playground were finished before 9/11, and although there have been threats by the powers to be to demolish them, they are still their. Now it seems that the government has awakened and wants the land without the people. Great to be an Arab citizen of 'the only democracy in the Middle East.' There are no Israeli Jewish unrecognized villages. And Israeli Jewish homes are not demolished. That bit of democratic act is left for use primarily on the Palestinians.


Be glad you are not Palestinians or Iraquis or Somalians or or Burmese or New Orleanians and once it was and still can be, be glad you are not Jewish. We`must not turn our eyes away--so huge seems their control--the rants of Fox news propagandists, the hunger of the corporations, the stacked Supreme Court, the faith and family and nation marchers, so deadly to their own dreams, the smiling apologists for murders writing their New York Times columns with a boyish wink--it would be so easy to go to sleep as if a deep deep snow was falling upon us, to turn away from our knowledge of the young lying in their unseen military coffins, but this is the sleep we must refuse, rest yes and then in our time, little by little, reclaim our public humanity. This government and all it has brought to the world must be overthrown.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

You are there! You are there!

The sun is beating down on us on Fitzgibbon Avenue here in West Brunswick in the state of Victoria. Cello and I hunker down in our home behind drawn blinds but I can still hear the rattling of the old trolleys going by. Is this the same Joan who walked to Zabar's and Fairway on the bustling, so full of itself Upper West Side Broadway. Yes, yes, made rich with glazes of tracks and new footpaths; yesterday, I sat under the shade of our apricot tree in the backyard and read John Le Carre's "Mission Song" while Vincent, our neighbor, chopped wood for his outdoor oven, just as he did as a young man in Calabria; now 70, he still farms his backyard as if it was acres and makes grappa in his garage. I like to hear his steps, the blows of his axe, Anna, his wife, calling to him in Italian, the only language she wants to speak, asking him to be careful, I imagine. How to explain how lives border each other, but they do, I feel the strength of Vincent's arm and he must hear my sighs. From now on while you in the Northern hemphisphere cool down, we here will warm up and watch the skies with anxious eyes for the promise of rain.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

In the beginning I did not realize how important to my own days, this way of talking, this immediate shaping of thoughts, of responses would be. So much I read and see breaks the heart, but words, these public-private words, shape the wrenching visions into something else. Last night, after La Profesora and I had eaten the special meal I had prepared to congratulate her on the end of her week of intensive teaching, I sat down to finish the blanket I was knitting, watching the American tv series NCIS. I watched this show a few months ago and became familiar with the woman character who is an Israeli-trained special agent--and wondered at how just the word "Israeli" has become a metaphor for useful brutality--you don't fool with this woman; she in fact is the show's torturer. Last night she is told to get the information out of a suspect in the way she knows how to do it--torture, she says, half a question. The next scene we see her with a gun to the bad guy's head threatening to kill him; the other episode I watched the first time, she is told again to use her expertise to get information and she answers just give me five minutes, I know a special place on the side of the neck that will make anyone talk. Here I am, at the other end of the world, watching a popular American TV drama where torture is part of the story line, in fact is part of the appeal of one of the characters, what you expect to see. How did this happen--how did torture become an acceptable plot device, a Deus ex machina of the 21st American century? As La Profesora has taught me, and Naomi Kline as well, norms shift in times deemed extreme and they do not usually shift back--particularly if the national power blocks like the new terrain. So first the unacceptable becomes a sad faced possiblity and then entertainment. The next show, also an American import, Numbers, opened with an image of student antiwar activist from the 60s now labeled a terrorist by an aging government agent. That was the end, I thought, until this morning when I was trying to get news and paused at the Fox Channel--there was O'Reilly showing grainy pictures of a new generation of young anti-Iraq war demonstrators shouting as he does that these were far left terrorists.
And the last image of the night, one that has haunted me even more then the others--an oil drenched sea bird, its features gone in a coat of suffocating oil, trying to open its beak, a black mass trying to breath, drops of oil falling from its open mouth. I think of all it needed to live--the sea and air--and how we have not allowed even this minimal habitat to be safe--in some way, it all connected for me--we are our own torturers and not all the money and armies and duplexes and country estates and stock investments will cleanse our air of broken bodies.

Monday, November 12, 2007

In July of 1999, I received an e-mail from Lepa Mladjenovic, a woman I did not know and who now is part of all that makes the human world, with all its armor and hatreds, a place of hope.
My name is Lepa Mladjenovic, and I am a feminist lesbian from Belgrade, Serbia. I've been wanting to write to you for some time.

I think the first time I thought of it was a couple of years ago, around the wa in Bosnia, and I was e-mailing with Women in Black from Israel, Haya Shalom, Gila Svirsky, and I saw your name on one e-mailing list, I saw your name there, ah!!! It was such a beautiful moment. It was such a feast! I was saying in my mouth, your name, my lesbian was rising...and my body was excited. In the middle of a working day in the Center [for women victims of war and other forms of violence]. I did not write you.

Now I have A Fragile Union on my pillow and I must write. So first I ask you how are you, and I send my greetings that I entered in your home, and then I wish to let you know that you are present in me sometimes, in some other lesbians in Belgrade and then in this region as well.
I remember that the first what I read from you was "My Mother Liked to Fuck," it was around 1988 and I was only becoming a lesbian with identity and I read that, and it was a shock to all my senses and my mind, and that was that!...So we translated it, at that time in Belgrade there was a small group of us who were making feminism and even smaller who were lesbians among them.
I bought "A Restricted Country" many times and gave it to many... Particularly it was during the Bosnian war time that I needed to read and reread you. From the beginning of wars in this region from 91 on, I felt that I have to invent Ten Thousand ways to let my lesbian desire breathe...At some moments during the last eight years it was not easy for me to put into words how do I feel when making love with a woman and in the back there is a radio with the news of war. Killed or expelled or other fascist acts. In my room, I would not be able to stand up from the bed, leave the desired bodies and swith off the news, also because I thought the respect to the killed I will show by not switching off the radio.

In one of the short articles on anti-war, I Mentioned at the end that reading Adrienne Rich, "Litany for Survival" by Audre Lord and essays of Joan Nestle kept the light of my soul alive in wartime alive. And you know what, in those times "The Gift of Touch" we read and re read in our lesbian group and translated and read agin, and photocopied and printed in our feminist notebooks that has 1000 copies and goes to women's groups to all the states of Former Yugoslavia free.
Dear comrade Joan,
I send you tender regards,
Lepa Mladjenovic
Belgrade, 3 of July, 1999

I have received many letters about my work over the years, but this letter from a woman who is a tireless worker for peace, these words from my now dear friend, words perhaps never said allowed before in a time of war, testifying to the strength of lesbian desire as a life force in the midst of national atrocities, live inside of me, honor me as a writer, the small writer I am, honor all who write of the yearning body in times of armored nationalisms. I think of the women of ASWAT, the Palestinian Lesbian group, I think of the Israeli butch-femme community I met that night in Jerusalem, of the queers of Israel and Palestine, of the transgendered people of war torn lands --words of embrace, of touch, of delight in the small curve, the flick of a tongue. And in that place, others too will find their bodies, remember the fragility of their flesh and know that free deep breaths are so simple and yet are made so impossible. Words, my friends, words, from a different mouth--find them in the shadows of the power brokers and you will have another history.

"After four years in operation, the Shushan pub, the only one for Jerusalem's gay and lesbian community, has closed down...Shushan is the only place in Israel where the Haredi [ultra-Orthodox], Arabs, religious and secular could sit together and have good time...when they left Shushan, each returned to his own ghetto." Reported by Jonathan Lis, Haaretz Correspondent, November 12, 2007

Here I must tell you that a wonderful and brave group of Israeli women are in the act of translating a selection of my work into Hebrew and a brave man will publish it. Words, words--may they touch and honor you.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

I want to thank the two women who help me live in this strange mix of private-public space--Pattie and Shebar. Today I sit with John Ashcroft's New York Times shameful self-serving op-ed piece "Uncle Sam on the Line" before me--having come into the house to escape the growing afternoon heat--here in Melbourne, the Spring is warming up and here, as readers of my blog know and my in real space friends know even better, I live very different days, or better, my eyes see very different things, then they did in my over 40 years of life on the upper West side of New York City. Our little dog Cello lies daintly on his side in the shade of the huge tropical leaves that frame our verandah. He is further shadowed by the terrocotta pots, chipped and worn, overflowing with white and red geraniums and blue lobelia. My darling, La Profesora, is hard at work, co-teaching an intensive course on Women and War at the university. I have been sitting and drawing, little scenes from our garden that I will send friends for the holidays, and as I looked for the cast shadows on the pots, I fell into their tenderness. Let me explain. Two old, as I have said, earthern pots, one larger, rounder then the other and then there is a place where their roundnesses meet, where a curving tender edge is formed; leaves and flowers cascade down their shared sides but there it is, a place where things nestle into things, the slope of one kissing the curve of the other. Perhaps because the world seems so wrong now, or at least the parts of the human world with which I am concerned, that I am drawn to this need one thing seems to have for another, for touch that creates a different kind of boundary.
Then back at my desk, I look at the printed, hard words dated November 5, 2007 with Washington given as the point of origin. Let me give you a taste:
" Long standing principles of law hold that an American corporation is entitled to rely on assurances of legality from officials responsible for government activities....
Even more important than the inherent unfairness of requiring companies to second-guess executive-branch legal judgements are the acute dangers to which it would expose the country. One of our nation's most important comparative advantages over our adversaries is the creativity and robustness of the private sector. To cut ourselves off from that advantage would amount to a form of unilateral disarmament..."
Oh how warm the pots look, and how chilling the words "the private sector" freeze on the page--the free market, private sector, the free market run prisons, schools, wars, hospitals, water systems, and the free market sure can run--away from New Orleans and straight to Black Water operatives, away from civil liberties and straight to corporate enhancing surveillance of citizens as well as suspicious others, all under the patriotic cuteness "Uncle Sam on the Line." All of this would be bad humor, a democracy becoming its own Jonathan Swift--should we really eat our children--and the horror, the horror, so many Americans accept this caricature of their nation as the real thing or even worse, the good thing. Not even the closing italicized attribution--" John Ashcroft was the United States attorney general from 2001 to 2005. He now heads a consulting firm that has telecommunications companies as clients" brings roars of unbelieving laughter. So cheap they are selling this country, so obvious is their coldness--let us keep our words pouring out, those who remember a different way, a different time--let us keep alive the tenderness of mutual caring, for ourselves, for others, for the country that can be, for the world that can be, that tender touch of things we need to do so well for each other.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

I want to thank all of you that have taken the time to write me--Wendy who started it all, Stephanie whose questions I value, Barbara Ruth--an old time friend who has provided lasting proof of how deeply I was penetrated by the visions of the early years of lesbian-feminism, and Barbara, my uterus has remained grateful all these years, to BarbaraHammer, a pioneering film maker, to Esther with gratitude for her political and cultural work and to Mckn2 and Mike--whom I do not know, I think, and whose responses are as precious.