R.I.P Sandra Bland

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Two days ago, Roxanne Gay published an op-ed piece in the NY times about the vulnerability of Black bodies– male and female. She started the article, with words friends and I have used when discussing the racial situation in the U.S, “I’m tired.” Thanks to cellphones, we’re seeing just how often Black children (who somehow appear to be adults), men and women are being brutalized, violated, and/or killed. As difficult as it is to look at the situation, we can’t look away and we can’t be silent. As one activist cried, “There’s a war on Black bodies.” How can this be denied with the videos and the statistics? One person killed based on their race, as I’ve said on this blog before, is one too many.

What I really don’t understand are a few of the comments attached to the article. A few people expressed, and thankfully very few, that Sandra Bland, the focus of the article, was responsible for her ill-treatment by the officer because she was “disrespectful.” If I’m understanding those commenters, they’re saying that being rude to a public official, and possibly deservedly so in this case, should somehow lead to death. I’m not going to debate if Sandra handled being pulled over badly, she died as a result of it. Whether she committed suicide in the jail cell, after being locked up for three days for a reason that still hasn’t been revealed or was murdered by the police, only one thing is sure, the whole situation was overblown, unnecessary, unacceptable and heartbreaking.

A 28-year old woman lost her life, because of an alleged traffic infraction. What do we then teach Black children in the States– even if you’re right, hold your head down; don’t speak back; be polite; make yourself small; appear as unthreatening as possible? If you read this story and somehow felt that Sandra was at fault for her death, or somehow feel that she’s in any way to blame, then please take a long look at yourself and the justice system.

Let’s continue to speak for those who were silenced much too early– Amadou, Trayvon, Tamir, Michael, Walter, Sandra…and sadly, it goes on. (What an awful roll call.)

Read Gay’s article here:http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/25/opinion/on-the-death-of-sandra-bland-and-our-vulnerable-bodies.html

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p.s a) If you look at this and say, “All lives matter,” (and yes they do, and that’s irrefutable), but if that’s what you say, then you’re not getting it. b) If you say, “Black people kill each other every day,” and think that’s an excuse for why it’s alright that a law enforcement official does it, you’re still not getting it.

Accept What Is

Dear Friends,

It’s Saturday afternoon, which means that it’s a flea market day, a beach day, and the day for grilled octopus at the restaurant beside the gas station. In this corner of the world, where the sun washes up in waves on the asphalt, the jacaranda trees have shed their last blossoms, and the dogs never stop barking, there’s a certain rejection of what’s happening elsewhere. Over coffees and custard pastries, no one spoke of who died today based on their melanin, their religion, their gender, their hunger, their misfortune of being born in the wrong place in the wrong time. There are conversations about the economy, but they don’t last very long. Hard lines haven’t etched themselves near the corners of mouths, or eyes, yet. My mother has started using the expression, “It is what it is,” which seems to sum up the reactions I’ve seen here– acceptance; little resistance.

Yesterday, on Skype, my niece told me that she’s most glad about turning six, because it means that she’ll soon be turning ten, and therefore can get a phone, and if she’s ten, then she’ll soon be sixteen, and then twenty-two, the age when she’ll get married and have a houseload of childen. She really made me laugh, and each statement had to be explored fully, but it also made me realize that at all ages in our life we rush ahead, instead of fully enjoying each moment. It’s impossible to tell a child, “Think of today; treasure today.” We were all told that, and ignored it, or told that we wouldn’t miss it until it was much too late, and we didn’t understand what was being said. I’ve already told you that my only dream when I was ten was to be sixteen, then sixteen came and went, and was it what was imagined? Can things ever be as we imagine or is it the anticipation that holds all the weight of exitement, joy and wonder? If we could really put our minds at rest, I imagine we’d be more blissful than we could have imagined.

A very good friend, in another conversation yesterday, told me that she’s thinking of moving to Europe in the fall. She’s single, childless, intellligent, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s beautiful, so I wondered why the debate?  She confessed that fear was holding her back from taking the leap; no friends in the new country, no idea of what her place would look like, or what the future would hold for here there, whereas at home everything was “good,” but she had a feeling of discontent. I’ll share my response, because maybe it could help you too– “So what?” So what if you don’t know anyone, have never been there, don’t know the language, don’t know how to get around at first? You’ll learn or leave; you’ll thrive or leave; you’ll survive or leave; you’ll make it, but it you don’t, and I’m sure you will, then leave and try something else. As my Uncle Aubrey said, and I’ll never forget it, “Nothing is permanent.” One day, I’ll tell my niece the same thing, unless of course, she’s in her house, at 22, with all the children she wanted at 5.

I never really understood, though I’d heard it so many times in countless ways, that “this”, the right now, is it, not the plans for the future, but the living each day. I’ve imagined a lot, and dreamed alot; many things came to fruition and just as many didn’t. It’s wonderful though, because each day is another chance. We get the chance, and sometimes it seems the right questions aren’t being asked.

I asked my lovely friend, if she had savings, to which she answered, “Yes.” So then, what’s the worst that can happen? The very worst that can happen is occuring to some every single day, out of our sight, and often out of our knowledge. Maybe, we need a checklist to put things into perspective: no real obligations, a passport, savings, capable, intelligent, desiring– if it’s all yes, then there’s no worst case and no excuses. My niece only knows me via Skype now, and I hope she’ll take to mean that life doesn’t need to be conventional. This is what I want to say to her one day, “You are special; you were born in the right place at the right time to the right people. You are intelligent, kind and driven (and it doesn’t hurt that you’re beautiful), you can do absolutely anything. Don’t be afraid, and don’t let anyone (absolutely anyone) tell you something different.”

(*finally getting it)

Love,

Val

Summer in Portugal

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Friends,

It has been two and a half months since I moved from Lisbon to the quiet town of Fontainhas, Cascais. The days like the nights have been heavy, but of a different sort of weight. They are full of idealism and wonder. In two and a half months, the number of overcast days can be counted on one hand, which is to say, the days have been glorious: sunny, ranging from warm to hot, never scorching, and clear. Friends have asked me, “What do you do with your days?” with a special emphasis on do, and it takes a moment to answer. My list of activities seems like nothing, but it’s everything– everything in the art of joyful living. There was a month alone, where I went to the beach almost every day, and then a month of guests (my mother, and different friends), and I am again, in my apartment, on the top of the street, alone.

More often than not, these past weeks have unfolded at various beaches along the coast, reading novels (discovered a fantastic bookstore in Cascais center that sells used books in English and allows the exchange of books read for new ones), eating grilled sea bream, known in Portuguese as dourada grelhada (the first thing I look for on any menu), making small talk and double cheek-kissing acquaintances, juicing carrots and cucumbers, walking around town, watching old women in aprons make their way down narrow streets, and sitting at cafes, under large umbrellas, eating flaky pastries and watching life either dance or freeze around me.

When the summer draws to a close, I, too, will pack up– memories, clothes, and one or two mementos. What a special place Portugal is– warm, gregarious locals, delectable food, stretches of aquamarine ocean for miles, bougainvilleas, hydrangeas, hibiscuses and roses exploding off balconies and trellises, orange groves and olive groves, the raining of fluff from trees, the crispness of the air, smooth, cobbled sidewalks, the sultriness of the shhs of the Portuguese language.

Where will I go next? If funds were unlimited, the choices would be Bali, Brazil or India. However, as ideal as those locations would be for maximizing well-being, it would be necessary to figure out (quickly) how to make sure money was coming in to my bank account, and freelancing is uncertain. Thus, I’ve decided to teach English again for a year in either China, Vietnam, or Taiwan. I make all my decisions at night, because the days are breezy and thoughts flit and escape with the wind. By the end of this week, I will know where I’ll go.

The thing about dogs is that they always answer each other. In the middle of the night, as it is now, there’s no human around for me to ask, “So, what do you think I should do now?” The voice I hear is my own, in the night it sounds like my mother’s, and I speak out loud to test it, and feel the comfort of its reverberations; it says, “Whatever you do will be right. You’re alright.”

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Take care,

Val

Beach Day in Monte Estoril

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Words scrawled across the ocean, with the curves and dips of calligraphy, relay a full story: 1) The sound of waves, in no hurry, rolling in, that’s enough; there’s no need for other music 2) the melody of children laughing, as they skirt the waves; women giggling as they splash each other; men, with glee, stepping out of white sailboats, that’s enough; there’s no need for other melodies 3) the green blue indigo violet of the color spectrum’s end, sprawling across the vista, the tranquility it inspires, that’s enough; there’s no need for other views 4) the pink, red, orange, yellow, and blue umbrellas, standing like sentinels over receptive bodies, that’s enough; there’s no need for other protection.

You know what it is: to observe and be observed; to be created and create; to be a part of a tribe and alone.

You know what it is: to stop and feel the breeze surround you; to fill your lungs with salt and air; to let your ideas fly away in the beaks of gulls; to shake hands, grin, and mean it when you say, “Pleasure;” to sit in silence and think, and not think; to massage your mind, gently unwrinkling thoughts; to crave the sun and the shade; to crumble into the dust from whence you came.

“Ola.”

“Hello.”

“Would you like coffee, wine, water?”

“No, thanks.”

“Can I get you anything?”

“Nothing. Thank you.”

You know what it is: to want nothing; to watch sandcastles falling one turret at a time; to catch the scent of coconut and vanilla drift by; to be sated– to be complete.

other side of the tracks
other side of the tracks

Open Your Hands and Look

Do you see what I see: white fluff floating off trees like light snow; an army of ants finding their way; blue-green aquamarine ocean approaching and retreating; a toddler losing himself in an ice-cream cone; bronzed tingling flesh stretching and reclining; teenagers strutting and crowing in their glory; men throwing a Frisbee; pigeons circling and observing; the sky opening and opening with its visible fields showing; wild yellow flowers pushing from the cliff; the day wind and all of life dancing? Can you see it?

Do you hear what I hear: a thousand birds caroling as they glide over undulating waves; drumbeats caught in the branches of your heart; voices chanting for freedom, for peace; a boy calling to a girl swishing past (hear her hips); a whistle warning; three girls laughing; ice cubes hitting glass; a hundred soft breaths exhaling in ecstasy; one long sigh; the day wind seducing, “Relax.” Do you hear it?

Do you know what I know: you’re always learning; it’s not complicated; you are deserving; you’re the chosen and the chooser; you must find what you’re looking for– never stop exploring– it’s already yours; it’s true, “love it or leave it alone;” the night wind cajoling, “Relax.” Do you know that?

Listen to what I say:  Open your hands and look in them, your life is there. Take control of it.

The Universe Says, “There’s Enough”

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Dear Friends,

Exactly a year and a half ago, I hung out with a hot surfer twice, while on vacation. Hot Surfer and I had a lot of fun: danced at a Cuban bar, drove around on a scooter, drank coconut water, spoke on a couch for an hour before my flight, and flirted a whole lot. That was the extent of our interaction, and I’m not keeping this clean because my parents are reading. If I hadn’t met him three days before the end of my vacation who knows what might have happened, though I couldn’t reveal that either, because I’m still waiting for a bird and bees talk from either of my parents.

Yesterday on Facebook, Hot Surfer posted that he and his girlfriend are expecting a baby. I’ll be completely honest with you, my initial reaction was that of disappointment. Mind you, I haven’t spoken to this guy in eighteen months, and have never thought about him in any way, except as someone with whom I had spent some good moments. He rarely posts on Facebook, so he’s never in my newsfeed.

After I saw his news, I wrote a close friend, “Another one bites the dust,” and even the beach couldn’t dislodge the strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. I spent time trying to figure out exactly what the feeling was. Was it jealousy, insecurity, what? And, it was both of those to an extent. But why? 1) I don’t want him 2) I want a baby like I want a mumps measles malaria combo 3) He appeared to be simultaneously gaining and losing something precious.

But, he seemed so happy; they looked so beautiful together; only very young guys or old guys hit on me here, and I wonder if all the 30 somethings are gone?

That’s not it. That same day, I had spoken to another friend of the abundance of the universe, and here I was begrudging the happiness of someone I think’s a great person. If the universe is so abundant, why was I being stingy with my feelings? How hypocritical.

I’ve written so much about  how there’s enough for all; there are more seas I told you; there’s more love; there’s more joy; there’s another tomorrow, until the end. It never ends, I had also said. Why cast negativity, even a trace, on their supreme happiness? It was selfish and not the good kind of selfish. Something shifted, and I went back to Facebook, got on his page, and with goodwill, “liked” the post.

Now, if only the universe would send a great guy who’s older than 30 and younger than 45, who wants to excessively travel, wants no kids or pets, and loves yoga, that would be perfect…..Wait, I met that guy, and it wasn’t. Back to the drawing board.

Cascais
Cascais

Love,

Val

p.s When you have time, please head over to FB and like the lettersfromval page. Thanks!

Directions To and In the Garden

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If you journey to the top of the hill, you’ll find a curtain of trees. Thick, dark leaves, yards impenetrable. Stop there.

Have patience. When the wind sweeps the green aside, you’ll find a gate. Rap on it three times, the birds will let you in. They line up like, soldiers, and will welcome you in chorus.

The garden may seem to be in a bit of disrepair. It may look like the one in the classic tale, but there’s no Mary and Colin to fix it. If there’s a problem in the garden, you must do the work.

There’s a pathway. The past and present are standing with you; it’s been said “the future never comes.” They will guide you, so don’t fear that you’re doing the work alone.

Don’t let rocks cause you to stumble. Don’t let weeds trip you. Don’t shake your head and think about giving up. Tend to the garden.

Imagine: There’s a hammock cradled under sturdy trees; a bench with colorful cushions; bees drinking from half-open buds; birds playing hide and seek; fish, in a pond, playing tag; shy grass puckering up to kiss your bare soles; a shower of leaves tumbling on your crown. There’s a round table set for you and whoever you invite; a basket filled with fruit, cakes, roasted meat, fresh bread. There’s a chilled bottle of champagne to celebrate that you made it here.

Enter; fix what’s in disrepair; take your time, there’s no rush; make the garden yours; rest; wear the blush of contentement. Continue to tend to the garden. It’s divine.

Much love to you.