Archive | Feminist Matters

Split at the Root, Part II

This is the second installment of my tale about Ute. You can find the first here.

By 1998, I was finally on my own after a decade of living off men after leaving my parents’ house—frying pan, meet fire. I was living alone in a ridiculously affordable Prospect Heights floor-through with a backyard, rotating through a series of lovers, free-lancing as a copy editor, working out at least once a day, and writing the occasional magazine article about holistic health. Back then you could make grownup money as a journalist but working full-time in a magazine would’ve cramped my yoga girl lifestyle so I resigned myself to pitching articles that would earn me coin while I learned about something that already interested me. Getting paid a buck a word to take a vacation where anorexic me could manage the food always felt like a good call.

The magazines I wrote for were mostly the kind of rich-people vanity projects that were long dead by the time everything crashed in 2008, and their editors were usually inexpert enough that they were desperate for my “boho girl” ideas. So when I pitched a raw foods spa I’d read about, they bit though back then nobody ate raw; my friends thought it meant I’d be eating steak tartare by a pool.

I don’t exactly know what I was expecting—spa treatments and beautifully arranged greens and fruit, probably–but it wasn’t what I encountered. The Hippocrates Health Institute was located in West Palm Beach, which is a lot grittier than Palm Beach. Think gravel and gutted strip malls instead of white sand and perfect vistas. Founded in the 1950s by raw foods advocate Ann Wigmore, it was in definitive decline by the time I showed up—all peeling pink stucco, diseased palm trees, unfilled pools, moldy wall-to-wall carpeting; pale people with insipid smiles and desperate eyes.

Shit was bleak.

At the orientation meeting, laminated folders were passed around and my heart sank. Our diet was to consist solely of raw cabbage, spinach, pea shoots, watercress, wheatgrass and cucumber juice, and sprouted grains. In between meals we would be learning about the diseases we’d apparently already incurred from eating cooked food, and submitting to regular fasts, enemas, rigorous tests of our organ function, and electromagnetic and infrared therapy to draw out the many toxins impeding our body’s “natural processes.”

There wasn’t so much as a massage table on the premises.

As our guide—40ish and clad in 70s cult whites—droned on about the benefits of eating raw I gazed around the circle sitting cross-legged on the dirty floor. These were the people with whom I’d be spending the next month of my life, and everyone looked lumpy and wan. The only other person under 40 was a blond woman with angry eyes wearing a long-sleeved floor-length dress though it was 90 degrees in the meeting room, air conditioning apparently counter-indicated for cleanses.

This woman of course was Ute, and though I could usually take people in without them noticing, she looked up and met my gaze hawkishly before I got a chance to register more than a general dislike for her. Continue Reading →

Split at the Root: Part I

untitled by Chantal Joffe

If you have taken this rubble for my past
raking through for fragments you could sell
know that I long ago moved on
deeper into the heart of the matter

If you think you can grasp me, think again:
my story flows in more than one direction
a delta springing from the river bed
with its five fingers spread
–Adrienne Rich

This is a story I began writing when I was 34, the last age of Ute, whose story this really is. I am 49 now, and what were cracks in our country’s landscape then have become continental divides. But deep in the soil of this stolen land, the rot was always there, threatening to poison us all.

I knew Ute in 1998. The temperatures were already climbing. Justice as always was only truly available to those deemed human by the Founding Fathers (such a small percentage of us). Rodney King was not so far in the rear view mirror, but had already been obscured in White America’s memory by OJ in his white Bronco,  launching the whole of reality TV culture in that one uber-televised police chase leading finally to Donald Trump’s White House.

As I write this, there is no stable ground—only lethal virus, lethal white supremacy and capitalism. Righteous fury in the streets, dangerous dybbuks in the spreadsheets. I have been sick too—not with COVID but a urinary tract infection that has bloomed into my kidneys and triggered every trigger I didn’t know I still had.

My ability to filter toxins is completely maxed out.

The first day I experienced these symptoms, a first draft of Ute’s story fell onto my desk. It had been securely pinned to my bulletin board for more than a decade but on that overly warm May day, the printout suddenly dropped onto my desk.

I felt sicker.

The summer she and I knew each other, I was 27– the age when you either step into the path of adult life or die. Back then the curse of 27 wasn’t discussed as it is today. Nothing was. The Internet was still in its infancy. When I needed information I went to the library or called up a smarter friend. When I needed companionship, I showed up in people’s bedrooms. When I needed help, I prettily cried Uncle. Continue Reading →

Changing the Things We Cannot Accept

I have been silent here, partly to let others be heard during this week of historic unrest, partly because I have been struggling with a life-threatening kidney infection.

But my heart has been in the streets of my city and country, where protests have been righteously, rigorously practiced even as law enforcement thugs have responded with pepper spray, rubber bullets, tear gas, police cars—anything they could weaponize (even The New York Times). We know light shines only when we turn it on, and I feel deep gratitude and reverence for those who have been doing so–for all who’ve brought their precious soft underbellies into these lethally police and pandemic-addled streets.

As many of you know, yesterday would have been the 27th birthday of Breonna Taylor, the black female EMT who declared joyfully in tweets that 2020 would be her year. 27 is a make-it-or-break-it age —when you begin your Saturn Return and journey into authentic, rewarding adulthood. I have such confidence that this beautiful soul would have done exactly that had she not been murdered in her own home by cops conditioned to plunder every physical, legal, emotional, and moral boundary of a person of color. It is no coincidence that yesterday also was a massive lunar eclipse–in social justice-seeking Sagittarius, no less.

So let this enormous celestial release of energy—for that is what an eclipse truly is— support the release being rightfully demanded in America’s blood-lined streets.

Let the solar return of the soul of Breonna unite with these big big stars. Let righteous light, righteous labor, righteous love burn down the American infrastructures built on the backs of brown and black bodies whose work, let alone humanity, was never honored. And by the light of this bright full moon let something more enduring, encapsulating, and ennobling rise like a phoenix its place.

In every way I can, this middle-aged white woman will practice more reckoning and self-reckoning to resist the injustice built into this broken land. I am grateful to all else who do so. May Breonna’s birthday song ring around the world.

For concrete actions you can take to commemorate Breonna’s life and the fight for justice, here is a list.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy