Wild and precious
Mary Oliver died last week and I haven’t really moved on at all. Deaths of famous people or people who are well known are strange, as is public mourning, and sometimes I partake and sometimes I don’t. But I took this one hard. Oliver is known pretty widely as a nature poet, a writer of gentle things, and a constant source of inspiration for the spiritual, the effusive, and the online. I never learned her in any of those contexts because of course I found her at Smith, the same place where I found my sexuality and my moral compass and myself. At some point there, in aggressively, rudely beautiful Northampton, someone (probably a lesbian) introduced me to ‘Wild Geese’ and then a friend (now my closest friend from college) gave me a print of that same poem and later, on the morning when I took a one-way bus to D.C., a friend I was losing ran out of her house on campus, crying and in pajamas with hair going haywire, and gave me a copy of Oliver’s poetry. And then I left.
Not to be melodramatic, but: my entire life I’ve been the odd one out, in so many different ways — a visibly religious Jew in central Texas, the person in the intensive high school program who didn’t have money, the one at college who didn’t have biological family a phone call away, the private liberal arts graduate who worked seven days a week in a coffee shop without support from home, a D.C. journalist from the South without a storied history of internships, the only person who looks like me in any given space. And on and on! I feel like I’ve shaped my life around this and I feel like I’m attached to it now, even if it has been thoroughly alienating at (most) times. I thought about this the day that Oliver passed mostly because I kept seeing tributes from dykes online, and it made me miss Smith, and it made me remember that Smith was a place where I felt alienated and different but didn’t look different, and how that meant something to me, even if it was only a small thing.
I really miss dykes! I miss visibly queer people and people who look like me and people who do not conform their bodies to the patriarchy and people who don’t mind being at war with the world when the world is wrong. I miss being comfortable and accepted and fitting in, even if only superficially.
People who aren’t in vulnerable communities tend to rebel when those communities rise around them to make their presence known, and I’ve felt this so often, the moment where someone’s face just says so clearly, Why are you being the thing so much right now, the thing that is making me know I am not the thing. (Once, I was upstairs in a small office building in Switzerland and the conversation downstairs drifted up just as someone was mimicking my voice and saying: “I’m gay, didn’t you know, I’m gay, I’m gay!”) I think a lot about that study, the gist of which was something like: if you have a room full of white people, and you put more than a very small number of people of color in it, the white people will say the room is evenly divided. Anyways.
That’s all to say: I’m devastated that an iconic lesbian poet died, a poet I liked so much I had her words tattooed, something I can say of only two writers, period. I’m devastated she died and I’m annoyed (I’m enraged) that every single tribute to her didn’t scream that she was a dyke. I’m sad that everyone who felt the same way as me about her death was so far away from me, and I’m sad that I spent the day she died surrounded not only by straight people but by straight people who do not understand queerness at all and do not think queerly or live queerly. I think a lot of us have to live this way, surrounded by people who do not understand a vital part of us, and I think that’s gut-wrenching.
Also gut-wrenching is the collapse of journalism, if it can be called that. I spent the last two days watching friends and personal heroes and much-loved presences lose their jobs at random in a brutal bloodbath we just keep re-living, over and over. It’s painful and exhausting to watch good, hard-working, painfully talented people lose their jobs, at the mercy of a world that doesn’t appreciate or understand what we do and why do it and why what we do means something for everyone. I’ve heard several people say they’re thinking of going to law school, and more and more that’s the refrain: when I lose my job, what is my next plan, my next dream, my next impossible task? I don’t want to be anything but a journalist and I have no plan, which is very fun for me, a person who always needs a plan.
In the meantime, between now and when I will need a plan, I’ve spent January trying to be a better reporter and a person who thinks more about their time. This newsletter is now twice a month instead of weekly, and that’s partially because I want to be thoughtful about the things I create and I want to be prouder of them and put more time into them. I’m trying to master a 101-page manual on how to drive, I spend a lot of time watching my cat explore his new world, and I am going out more to meet friends when I would rather be alone. My favorite Oliver line is “you do not have to be good,” which I have needed a lot at different points in my life, but everyone else really loves her iconic reminder about seizing your “one wild and precious life,” which is ready-made for Pinterest but also a genuinely hot life tip. Anyways, I am trying to make the most of this year so I can be better at making the most of this life and I am at the gym more often and that too is nice, as are most things that make you feel, even if for only a moment, slightly more in control.
Apart from that: The might-have-been. Female ranchers are reclaiming the West. On being a woman and trying not to be assaulted. The idea of place, the idea of domination. What we lose when we lose queer sex scenes. In the dream house. Black millennials in search of the New South. “Feminism.” Angels make love. Colonialism comes home to roost for Britain. The pansexual Iraqi-Syrian who refuses to explain herself. Ah, The L Word and The Chart. Towards a radical Tu B’shvat. Building masculinity from pieces of boys. Ellen Page isn’t afraid.
Me: Private citizens stepped up to care for national parks during the shutdown. Offshore drilling was prioritized during the shutdown, despite questions over safety and legality. Oil and wind reign in Texas, but coal ash pollution is a staggering problem. Michigan’s new attorney general is making good on climate action, beginning by withdrawing from four anti-EPA lawsuits. Probing Interior Department actions during the shutdown is shaping up to be the first major test of Democratic power.
Elsewhere: The Anthropocene is not the same as climate change. Environmentalists are wary of India’s plan to fight its notorious air pollution. The Green New Deal and the outdoors. The shutdown hit climate science. China’s first lunar leaf sadly died. Loons are getting squeezed by wind farms. How do you save an endangered species in a war zone? Sea turtles poisoned by red tide are getting a new treatment. At least one being enjoyed the shutdown.
One small town is battling radioactive fracking waste. Greenland’s ice is melting very, very fast. Plants will absorb fewer carbon emissions as the world warms. The EPA is lapsing on holding polluters accountable. What happens to fish after a wildfire? Poor Southerners are joining global climate migrants. The shutdown stopped critical testing in North Carolina. Right whale calf! Hundreds of people are missing following a dam collapse in Brazil. Japan resumes commercial whaling.
Around the Globe
The mayor of the Polish city of Gdansk, known for his progressive views, was murdered and 10 people were detained over hate speech in the country. U.S. troops will likely remain at Mexico’s border until September. U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who has been racist for years, is now in trouble for his racism. Greece v. Macedonia. An attack on a hotel in Nairobi was claimed by the militant group Al-Shabab. A new Central American caravan heads north. Uganda’s new restrictions on artists. Thailand’s military junta is cracking down on social media in advance of elections. A U.S. anchor for Iranian television was detained and allegedly mistreated in U.S. custody.
Theresa May survived another no-confidence vote, but Brexit still isn’t solved at all. Greece’s prime minister survived his own no-confidence vote. Zimbabwe has been cracking down hard on protestors. A bomb killed at least 20 people in Colombia. An Israeli teenager was charged with manslaughter in the stoning of a Palestinian’s car. USDA’s broadband initiative has a problem. Mass-protests are playing out in Venezuela, as the opposition attempts to oust President Nicolás Maduro, complicated by the Trump administration. Around 100 people have died in Mexico after a gasoline pipeline explosion. Brazil’s first openly gay congressman is leaving his position and the country following mounting threats.
Spoken & Written
“Oliver’s eroticism is more visible to the queer reader, who knows that queerness isn’t just about queer sex: it is a fundamentally individual way of looking at the world. To queer is to break down—to destroy—the structures that would limit or bar or imprison us, and to rethink or even replace them.” — Jeanna Kadlec