education

Grappling with Thanksgiving

I love turkey and cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. I love passing on family traditions to my toddler. And I especially love sandwiches stuffed with Thanksgiving leftovers. But y’all, we have got to stop with this ridiculous story about the Pilgrims and Indians becoming friends over an ear of corn and living happily ever after.

I get that people want one good meal with their families, just one day of eating and drinking and not worrying about everything else. But it’s not like we’re doing this on a random Thursday afternoon. We’re doing this on a national holiday based upon a colonial myth that enables the horrible and ongoing mistreatment of indigenous Americans. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t enjoy the day, but maybe while we’re eating our turkey and cranberry sauce, we should also consider discussing the truth about our country’s history and how we can take action to support present-day indigenous communities.

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My idea is not perfect, but as a parent of a three-year-old, I’ve decided to focus on learning about the Tuscarora, a Native American tribe based in New York. The website I’ve chosen to use as my guide offers facts about things like their traditional foods, toys, and hunting tools, how they fled from North Carolina to New York because the British attacked them, and what their lives are like now. My plan is to read these facts aloud, pass around some pictures, and talk. Then, after exploring these materials, I’m going to pull up this list of online stores run by Native Americans and pick out something with my son. We white folk too often purchase “Native-inspired” products from places like H&M or Target instead of giving our money directly to the Native American artists who did the inspiring in the first place – many of whom are living in poverty despite the fact they’re making the authentic versions of the products we seem to want.

On this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for many things, including the opportunity to learn about our Native American neighbors, to spread the truth about our history, to use my money to support an amazing community, and to hopefully inspire my son to do his part in making this country a truly more equal and accepting place.

Huge thanks to Jen Winston (@girlsupplypower) for inviting Native Americans to take over her Instagram site this week and educate and motivate people like me. Check out Allen (lilnativeboy), Urban Native Era, Corinne Oestreich, #DearNonNatives, Tranny Cita, and Cleopatra Tatbele for more info on how to support Native Americans.

Photo credits:
N085/365 Corn Doll by Helen Orozco

Bamboozled

Did you know that toothbrushes are immortal? Unlike human beings, plastic toothbrushes keep on living even underneath tons of pounds of garbage. They keep on living even inside the bellies of dead dolphins. They keep on living even as they float all the way across the ocean until they wash up on Taiwanese beaches. Then, they keep on living even after they’ve become sculptures in the sand.

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— ◊ —

The past six months have tried to end me. The life I once lived in which I wrote, mothered, taught, sang, performed, took politic action, and somehow also relaxed, has been shattered. Instead of making art, going out, or sleeping, I’ve learned firsthand about anencephaly, the gray area of sexual harassment, and municipal regulations on basement apartments. I’ve dealt with wild hormonal swings. I’ve worked my ass off for a job I was promised that ultimately didn’t exist, then found myself in an uncomfortable situation when I said no more. I’ve packed, moved, unpacked, re-packed, re-moved, and re-unpacked – all with a cat, two dogs, and a busy-bee toddler who recently dropped nap.

I’ve never felt this much rage before, and while it has cracked me open in important ways, it has also shaken me to my core. My mind has raced in circles. My muscles have morphed into a single knot of tension. And my anxiety, after eighteen years of treatment, has found a new way to express itself: my throat is clenched tight, leaving my voice strained and hoarse, my neck and teeth throbbing with each heartbeat.

— ◊ —

Did you know that bamboo is the fastest-growing plant in the word? It is also one of the sneakiest. Its roots can run underground for over twenty feet before popping up again as a new shoot, called a culm. These culms then grow up to three feet a day for the next 120 years, sending their own runners out to sprout in surprising, faraway places.

Three to five years after its initial sprouting, a culm can then be harvested and transformed into basically anything: food, medicine, toys, rugs, clothes, bikes, houses, roads, bridges. In fact, bamboo can withstand twice as much force as concrete, and can hold up to 16 tons of weight. It can also cure cancer.

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— ◊ —

Becoming a mom has turned my home into a plastic palace. I look around the living room of my new new apartment, a place I hope will last much longer than the three months we spent in our illegal new apartment, and identify eleven items that will never die.

The bathroom isn’t any better. Three toothbrushes stick out from inside a plastic cup. A plastic bin filled with plastic toys is propped precariously on the lip of the tub. I move it to the floor, out of sight, then run hot water for a bath, but as I soak my stress-induced hemorrhoids and eat the M&Ms intended to aid in my toddler’s potty regression, I can’t relax; plastic is still very much on my mind. Also on my mind: pregnant women who’ve been denied access to proper health care, immigrants who’ve been detained for going to work, animals whose homes have been destroyed by loggers. I lament my now inactive Quick Action email list, my abandoned blog, the phone calls to senators I never placed. The enormous task of surviving my day-to-day has been all consuming, and while the depths of my strength have truly amazed and buoyed me up, I also feel like a failure of an activist.

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Did you know that toothbrush bristles were once made from boar hair? Of course they contained loads of unhealthy bacteria, not to mention the moral issue of how these pigs were treated before they became tooth-brushing tools, yet, because animal hair is biodegradable and nylon is not, this is the only completely decomposable option presented thus far.

There are scientists out there who have dedicated their entire careers toward dissecting the greater impact of a single bristle. I think of these people doing this work, and I feel the knot inside of me loosen a little.

— ◊ —

I’ve always approached my activism from the angle of who needs it the most, but for the first time, I’m now approaching it from the angle of what I can most reasonably do. I am not ready to jump back into the strict schedule that once worked for me, and perhaps I never will be, perhaps that life wasn’t sustainable with or without my recent crises. But either way, here I am, dealing with effects of events that, though they’ve calmed, are still very much present: an unfulfilled due date, a static career and lingering sense of violation, an unresolved case with the Department of Buildings.

I will never solve all of the world’s problems. I will never even solve all of my own problems. But as I hold my recently purchased bamboo toothbrush and move its brand new form of bristles around my teeth, I realize, I don’t have to.

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You can buy your own set of bamboo toothbrushes by clicking here. And if you need some more motivation to start the long process of giving up plastic, check out Margaret Atwood’s compelling piece in the Guardian.

Sources:
Encyclopedia Britannica: Bamboo
Bamboo Facts
Bamboo Herb
Brush with Bamboo
The Bamboo Solution
15 Creative Uses of Bamboo

Photo Credits:
1. Flotsam and Jetsam by F Delventhal
2. Bamboo by Serlunar