Je Suis Viola

As a teenager I thought I was born in the wrong time. Reading Howard Zinn I became obsessed with the activism I saw reverberating through history, especially in 1960s America. Yet from my perch in suburban Oregon I wasn’t sure there was any way I would ever be a part of something so important.

Throughout college I struggled to put my feet behind my emerging beliefs – beliefs I at times could not articulate but knew were the same type of earth-shattering, world-moving efforts. I wanted justice. I wanted peace. But, as we all know, the early to mid 2000s did not make the change I sought.

I marched with thousands against Iraq, joined with hundreds of laborers on May Day, eventually even found myself living in Louisiana marching with Jesse Jackson and meeting with Ambassador Andrew Young.

I even had a t-shirt that (no joke) stated: “This is what an activist looks like.”

But in the past few years, somewhere, I lost that activist spirit.

Throughout the mucky, difficult waters of accompaniment, solidarity became a warped concept. Ego-driven leadership, questionable methods, and haphazard organization were rampant.

Blame it on grad school, getting older, burn out, living in the woods, discouragement – whatever it is, or a combination of everything, my feet are now largely off the front lines.

Yes, I still write, think, value, and promote the central tenets of what drove my activism in the first place. But I’m not out there. I’m not singing in city halls or making witty march placards.

In the wake of Ferguson, Trayvon, Cleveland, New York, Boston, the Paris massacres, and ISIS beheadings, I am anxious.

I cry. I lament. But this is not action. It is groping in the dark for some small shard of hope.

Yesterday, I saw Selma and learned of Viola Liuzzo. Although a small part of this film, I saw a woman I could be – a courage that a large part of me still desires.

When asked, she showed up. And was killed for taking part.

Although not perfect, the film depicts ordinary citizens, who fought long before Martin showed up, and had the fortitude to stand behind him when he called. Viola is shown doing small things, handing out sandwiches, offering greetings, a simple smile.

She displays the type of quiet, humble action I find most important – service that relinquishes undeserved societal power and provides what is most needed: support, resources, and any advantage her fate of birth may be able to provide to those so long denied their rights.

Last week’s Charlie Hebdo killings inspired a saying that has layered meanings. Rather than simply “I am” or a sense of standing with, the phrase can be interpreted as: “Follow until you become.

While I do not want to wade into the waters of debate around Charlie‘s choices of publication material, this concept resonates deeply.

Show up. Pass out sandwiches. Smile.

I’m going to try.

Je suis Viola.



Squirrels are performing acts of high-wire gluttony outside my window.

Rushing across power lines toward the gigantic oak; knocking down the nuts it has worked so long to grow, rushing across the grass with cheeks blown out.

A thicket pushes against my desk view to the world and trembles with sparrows.

Their smudged bodies cock heads this way and that, tuning in for better reception. They settle on my sill, chattering. When they catch my eye they fly away as if I am about to breach the glass between us.

Cooky greats me at the train, counting the hour, minute and second it arrives; scratching the record on a wad of wrinkled paper as I wonder where he files his data of ten years of trains.

And then I’m on another couch.

At another bar.

Welcomed with love, with grace, with obligation, into homes, businesses, libraries.

Finding my place of settling in a space not my own.

Stretching these new morning kinks, carrying the ‘important’ things on my back.

Tumbleweeds of dried hydrangea heads, browned from the cold, bounce across the frost-hardened ground. The sparrows greet me on the path to my door.

They burst from the hedge, flying as a group – in fear, in search, in everything.

Brunswick, ME

Brunswick, ME

Other People’s Couches

I was inspired today by Grace. That is her entire presence of being, this good soul. And in that spirit I am asking myself to follow through.  To just do, instead of question. That was how I found myself here in the first place. So forgive this jilting re-entry, but here we go:

2014 was rocky. Full of missteps, new adventures, questions, and not too little confusion.

But there is one thing that shines through the slog: the generosity and great heartedness of my community. And their couches. Literally.

Beginning my PhD was tough, not in the least because my home is in Maine, and my school in Boston. So each week I asked for hospitality. For people to take this jumbled mess of books and stress into their homes. And they said yes.

Yes to my banter about Aquinas or Derrida or the twists and turns of the academy. Yes to a disruption in their week, their evening, their routine. Yes to random calls, texts, meet ups, beers and conversations.

What I love about new years is the excuse to give myself a new slate, a new start. The marker may be arbitrary but the outcome can be glorious. So here, amidst a new beginning I want to begin with gratitude, and offer a litany of my saints over the past year:

Bonnie, Smashley, Allison, Pegasi, Eric, Lindsey, KMHC, Kee, Aly, Courtney, Al and Pat, Donna, Megan, Rooster, Lauren, Tony and Sarah, Dave, Blake, Shawn, Em and Kati, Matthew, Remy, Hans, Sarah and Chuck, Tuesday, Jedi, Tim and Annie, John, “Other” Megan, Pete, Newman House, Eden, Craig, the Broadwillies, Mom and Dad, DJ, Melody, Kim, Dan, Banker Jim, Meredith, The Carter Clan, Sara and David, Kay, Sophito, Cooky, Wyatt, Catherine, Spud, and everyone else I have forgotten.

Thank you for everything. For the hugs, the dinners, the music, the laughter, the honesty, the joy, the pho, the drinks, and, of course, the couches.

Alright, 2015. Let’s go.