brexit

(This is essentially a continuation of my previous post, which was written two days before the Brexit vote. As there is usually clarity in hindsight, the messages and senses that came out of Strasbourg were further illuminated after the vote.)

For all the Americans who don’t get what this all means:

The EU was created mainly to prevent further war in Europe. I’m pretty sure you all are familiar with the world wars of the 20th century, but the horrors of war in Europe go back for over a thousand years. Wikipedia can explain the Thirty Years’ War and the Hundred Years’ War much better than I can, so I’ll point you there as I really don’t want to type out summaries of those wars on my phone. But I will stress that those are only the biggest two, and that there have been countless other wars that have devastated the European continent.

The seventy years between the end of WWII and now have arguably been the most peaceful time in Europe for hundreds of years, and the EU is the main reason why.

Is the EU perfect? No, far from it. As I’ve elaborated on in the past few weeks, there are many aspects of the EU that are pretty horrible, mainly it’s neoliberal economic policies and the racism inherent in its austerity programs. The power differentials within EU countries causes much suffering for those countries with less power, which is why Spain has been grumbling and Greece has made efforts to exit the EU over the past few years. Those efforts were unsuccessful, but were driven by legitimate grievances against Brussels and the Troika over the treatment they have received.

The U.K. on the other hand, or more specifically England and Wales (as Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain) did not have the legitimate grievances that countries like Greece and Spain do. This was not about economics, this was about racism and xenophobia. This was a vote based on fear-mongering, inaccurate rumors, and outright lies. This is indicative of the rise of fascism and the far right in Europe, a trend that is being mirrored in the United States. Trump is actually in the UK right now, cheering this decision. And fascists across Europe are also toasting this development.

Meanwhile, the refugee crisis is only worsening, with the UNHCR estimating that 24 people per minute are fleeing from their homes due to war and/or persecution, and the UK’s exit will only further empower those in other EU member nations who wish to close their borders to refugees.

History tells us not only of our past, but our future. As the saying goes, if we ignore history it is doomed to repeat itself. WWII was also fueled by racism and xenophobia, most notably but not at all limited to antisemitism. But while hate was the fuel that drove WWII, the war itself was started over food. Hitler invaded Poland for a very specific reason – to secure the food supply for the German people, as there was not (and still is not) nearly enough land in Germany to feed its population.

I’ve been gushing about the food in France all month, in terms of both the quality and the price, which was also the case in Germany. The reason such a food supply exists is due to a combination of EU subsidies and a lack of tariffs across borders as a result of EU policies. Which means that if the EU crumbles, a food crisis will result. And this is where history is crucial, as a combination of widespread xenophobia, the rise of the far right, and a food crisis were the primary conditions that prompted WWII.

And this does not just affect food, nor does it just affect the EU. This also puts the US in great danger as well as the rest of the world, especially given the rise of Trump and far-right nationalism in the US. A Trump presidency in the face of a weakened EU spells danger for the entire world.

Right now the UK has no PM as Cameron has just resigned, basically no functional government at the moment, and everyone who isn’t affluent and white is suddenly in danger. This will only further fan the flames of anti-immigrant sentiment in England, as well as severely affect the lives of poor, disabled, and other marginalized folks who rely on the financial and/or policy-based benefits and protections of the EU in order to survive.

From here, Scotland will undoubtedly once again hold a referendum for independence with the goal of joining the EU, and will likely succeed this time around. Meanwhile, Spain and Greece very well may be empowered to try to exit once again, and given a weakened EU have a much greater chance of succeeding. And while that may be advantageous to those countries themselves, it will still further weaken the EU as well as further exacerbate tensions within other EU member nations. I should add that a significant portion of Europe’s fresh produce comes from Spain and Greece, and that food is heavily relied upon by EU countries that cannot produce enough food on their own.

This entire situation is absolutely terrifying. And while there’s not much that us Americans can do to stop it, there are three crucial things we absolutely must do. The first is to educate yourselves on the politics of Europe and the EU. The second is to build communities of resistance and an actual Left in this country. And the third is to stop Trump.

I love you all, but we really really need to wake up now. It’s literally now or never. This is Tower Time. The storm is now here.

beauty, occupation, and empire

I approached the cathedral and looked up at its magnificent spire, trying desperately but unsuccessfully to tune out the haunting chorus of both Walter Benjamin and Cathubodua screaming between my ears.

At that moment, I heard ‘Sweet Caroline’ coming from the brass band playing in the square just as a group of police ominously rolled through.  img_2480

Everyone around me was distracted, absorbed, or tuned out. But I glanced at the police and then at the cathedral and then at the clueless tourists, and there was something about the moment… I felt nothing but pure terror.

I looked up the cathedral again, and it stared back down at me, reflecting in its beauty a thousand years of war and horrors.

And the feeling of terror only increased. And many hours later, it has still not faded.

*   *   *   *   *

I would much rather write about Arles, or Toulouse, or Rennes right now. But I haven’t those stories in me yet, or more specifically I haven’t yet the words to brings those stories out of me yet.

Those cities, and my experiences in them, carry many stories that I am itching to bring forth, to bring to life. Those cities carried magic and meaning and lessons that I still am digesting and still cannot quite comprehend.

And yet I feel that I can’t do those stories justice until I am back home, back on American soil, where I can let their magic sink in a bit more and allow the effects of distance to clarify their meaning. For those places took root in my mind as do the inner workings of dreams, dreams which I still need to sort out further in order to extract their true meaning.

Strasbourg, on the other hand, is not a dream but a stark reality, and I would much rather extract that reality while I am still here in the hopes that it will not continue to linger so heavily once I leave.

And as much as it breaks my heart to leave France, I am anxious to leave Strasbourg, despite the fact that Strasbourg is breaking my heart as well. But it is not the same type of heartbreak that France as a whole has affected me with, the heartbreak of longing, or of yearning, or of desire unfulfilled.

Instead, it is the heartbreak of the mirror and the truth reflected within. It is the heartbreak that Walter Benjamin articulated so beautifully when writing of the angel of history. It is the mirror that Hegel spoke of when he reflected on the owl of Minerva and the falling of the dusk.

*   *   *   *   *

There are three deities which I have obligations to, agreements with, working relationships with that I do my best to fulfill to the best of my ability. As I’ve written about before, they are the reason I am here. We are close, we are kin, we engage with mutual respect and without fear. Often what they bring me is unexpected on a certain level, but I always take it in stride. For that is the nature of trust and kin and obligation.

The three have been hovering close throughout the entirety of this trip, as I expected. They are louder and stronger, as is everything here, but they are altogether the same comfortable and guiding presence as they are back in the states.

And then there is a fourth deity who I have a very different kind of relationship with. We have agreements as well, but there is a mutually understood distance between us that is maintained for good reason. She does not require my service as the others do, she has many others who serve her as she wishes, and I hear from her rarely although I often sense her close by. But we have understandings all the same, and when she does show up and command my attention I oblige with the same level of obligation and trust as I do the others.

Despite our distance, I had assumed that I would be graced with her regular presence here as well, if for no other reason than her history in these parts. But she had been completely silent and absent thus far, absent to the point where after a week or so I didn’t think much about her at all.

She was silent, that is, until I got to Strasbourg.

We had been here for less than two hours. I was still in the wondrous, child-like state that I find myself in every time I set foot in a new city, a state of wonder that often does not allow me to immediately sense what lies beneath. We were in a German-style bar and a beer had just been set down in front of me when suddenly I heard her unmistakable voice. And what she had to say brought me nothing but terror.

You need to know this place, she said.

You need to know its history, you need to feel its wounds and its scars and its dead. You need to understand and know it thoroughly, and it will not be pleasant. This city holds its past well, and it’s beauty is seductive, but it is a place of war. It is a place that has known great suffering. And you need to know it and feel it because this is what is coming. You need to prepare. You need to save yourself if you can. Because what this city holds is what the future holds. And that future is almost here.

I kept looking out the window, at the picturesque, Medieval-style surroundings that seemed just as friendly and welcoming as any other place I’ve visited in France. The message was clear as day, so loud and forceful that I couldn’t have tuned it out if I tried. And yet, only having been there for a few hours, it was without context.

And so I spent the night and the next few days talking to the streets and doing my homework.

*   *   *   *   *

Strasbourg exists as and at the crossroads of European history, both in its role in such history as well as the name in itself. Stras shares an etymological history with the English word street as well as the German strasse, all derived from the Latin strata, meaning paved road. Burg, which comes from German as well as Dutch, is cognate to the English borough and the Latin burgus, which all derive from the Indo-European burgh, meaning fortress, fortified city, or stronghold. So in itself, stripped bare, Strasbourg means ‘fortified town of paved roads’, and understood by residents to mean ‘town at the crossing of roads’.

The crossroads, if you will.

img_2645

Some of European history’s most crucial moments, both the highest points of Western civilization as well as some of its darkest moments share Strasbourg as their stage.

Strasbourg is where Gutenberg debuted the moveable type printing press, and the first modern newspaper was printed in this city. Goethe was educated here at the University of Strasbourg. Rouget de l’Isle wrote ‘La Marseillaise’ here after a dinner with Baron Philippe Friedrich Dietrich, the first mayor of Strasbourg who was guillotined under orders from Robespierre a little over a year later. The Cathédrale de Notre-Dame in Strasbourg was one of the greatest architectural achievements in European history, which was completed over a period of nearly three-hundred years and stood as the tallest building in the world for two centuries.

But Strasbourg is also a city that has bore witness to well over a thousand years’ worth of war and horrors. The aforementioned cathedral bore witness, for example, to the Strasbourg Massacre of 1349, where several hundred Jews were publicly burnt to death only a few blocks away, having been blamed for the Black Death during the height of Medieval-era anti-Semitism. The city itself was violently disputed between France and Germany since the Middle Ages. Nearly every great war of European history, from the Hundred Years’ War to both World Wars, left their distinct marks on Strasbourg. This is one of the few cities of the region that embraced both the ideological and subjective violence of the Protestant Revolution, and where Calvin himself lived for several years as a political refugee.

Nowadays, aside from Brussels, Strasbourg serves as the center for much of the mechanisms of the European Union and its various tentacles and is known as other ‘capital of Europe’. The city serves as the official seat of the European Parliament, the Council of Europe is located here, as is the Eurocorps and the Ombudsman of the European Union. It is not only a city that has bore a long history of war and horrors, it is also a seat of a crucial and controversial body of power, a power that holds together an empire that is arguably in the beginning stages of being brought to its knees.

*   *   *   *   *

My favorite movie as a child was ‘The Sound of Music’. I’ve seen it more times than I could possibly count, and I pretty much know it line-by-line. And unlike the other cities that I’ve experienced in France, Strasbourg is aesthetically much more Germanic in its architecture and aesthetics due to its history, and the first thing that struck me when I walked around was how much it reminded me of Salzburg as shown in the movie.

And I can admit that it was partially on account of yet not limited to that association which first sent chills down my spine when I saw a line of police marching down one of the cobblestone streets. I thought of when Baron Von Trapp first observes the Nazi presence in Salzburg, then I thought of the stormtroopers marching through Mos Eisley in Star Wars.

And yes, Strasbourg is not Hollywood, but all the same it feels like a city under occupation, and that feeling is reverberated both through the cobblestone streets as well as through the reactions and expressions of its citizens when the posse of officers marches past.

*   *   *   *   *

“It feels like a former lover who is so distant that I don’t know what to say to them.”

Unlike myself, Rhyd has been to this city several times before, and his words solidified what I had been feeling so strongly but couldn’t confirm on my own. The tension, the nervousness, the feeling of occupation was a very recent development.

In America, 9/11 was the final nail in the coffin in terms of our normalization and acceptance of the police state. I remember the initial reaction of tension and horror in the days following that tragedy when tanks rolled down the streets of Manhattan. I also remember clearly that a few months later, nobody really seemed to notice their presence. Today, it’s generally only foreign tourists who come from countries where police are not militarized that react to the sight of police officers with automatic rifles marching through Penn Station. And it’s only in their reactions that I myself often have to reflect on how much I have normalized such a state as well.

In France, on the other hand, local police are generally not armed, and the national police (gendarmerie) have not been a regular presence until very recently. The terrorist attacks that shook Paris last year and the yet-materialized threats that have been hovering since that moment have resulted in a sudden increase and militarization of the French police as well. But unlike Americans, who basically took the sudden presence of a police state lying down, the French are much more visibly upset and express a much greater displeasure at their presence. This city has a long history of hostile occupations, most recently the Nazi occupation during WWII, and those lessons and that energy had never been forgotten here. And so, tension and resentment. And fear.

That tension and fear echoes through the streets here, through the facial and the quick pace of the citizens who walk past the occupying forces. And while I have never set foot in this city until three days ago, the energy is all too familiar.

I lived in NYC when 9/11 occurred. And while I don’t need to reiterate any specifics of that event, what I feel I do need to articulate is the energy and the tension of the city in both the weeks preceding as well as the weeks after that event.

I remember the tensions of that summer all too well, the days and weeks of late August into early September, and the unspoken resonance that so many who lived there felt. There was something unexplainable in the air, an unmistakable force that was undefinable at the time but which was clarified for those who felt it the second that the towers were struck. While the rest of the country processed the shock, so many of us who lived here processed the that tension and the realization of what had been building. For many of us it was not so much shock as it was like, oh, that’s what that was. That’s what we had been feeling, that’s what we had been sensing.

It was as though the city itself had been trying to tell us something in the weeks before, something we could not pick up on as we had no cognate, no historical comparison of which to measure it against.

And here, now, in Strasbourg, I feel that same tension. And I can tell that do many others feel it too. But unlike New York before 9/11, these folks do have a historical comparison. They may not know details or timelines, but they abstractly sense all too well what is coming. They are waiting for the other shoe to drop.

*   *   *   *   *

“Don’t carry that knife around. Seriously. It will get you in trouble.”

I looked down at my right boot, at the 2 1/2″ knife that had been attacked to my boot for so long that it had long-ago left a permanent mark in the leather. I have literally been carrying it around for years, only ever removing it when I must pass through areas where it is forbidden due to security measures. It serves not only as a visual deterrent to potential harassment and trouble, but as an artist and a craftsperson I have a need to utilize it on a very regular basis. And I had been carrying it throughout my travels in France, not even thinking twice about it in over a month.

But Strasbourg was different. As opposed to what I witnessed in Rennes, there are no smashed banks in Strasbourg. Anarchist graffiti is a rarity. And while there is still plenty of left-wing propaganda affixed to light-poles and billboards, there is plenty of right-wing propaganda as well.

“If the police see your knife, they will target you for trouble, and it may not end well. They are angry. They are angry at the leftists, angry at the uprisings against the Loi travail, angry at anyone who they interpret as challenging their power. And they will use their power to punish you if they see you with it.”

I didn’t like it, but I knew that she was speaking the truth and only with the intent to protect me, so I reluctantly pulled the knife off of my boot and stuck it deep down into my bag.

And over the next few days, as I felt the eyes and the stares of the police every time I walked by, I was ever more thankful for her advice.

*   *   *   *   *

Americans know very little of the politics of the European Union, just as we know very little about world affairs in general and often also know little about even our own politics. We hear of things like “Grexit” and “Brexit“, but most of us haven’t the understanding to comprehend what lies behind or beneath those controversies and decisions. This is to our great detriment, as we are also an empire that is in the beginning stages of crumbling, and much of our fate and our survival is tied into the fate of the European Union.

Europeans understand this quite well, which is why despite their views on the EU, their views on Trump and the rise of fascism in the United States are pretty much unanimous. I have yet to come across a single person in France who is anything less than completely scared shitless at the prospect of a Trump presidency, regardless of whether they identify as Left or Right.

Of course, it also should be noted that other than those who specifically identify as Fascist and/or Far Right, those who are ‘Right’ in Europe hold similar political views to those who subscribe to liberal ideology in the United States. The politics of Hillary Clinton and the mainstream wing of the Democratic Party would be considered centrist at best in Europe.

As a friend in Strasbourg said so succinctly, “There is no ‘left’ in America. In the United States, there is just Right and far Right.”

And although I’ve known that for a long time, hearing it from someone who both was born and raised in a country and culture with an actual Leftist tradition as well as someone who is a resident of this city-under-siege has further driven home the importance of that fact.

*   *   *   *   *

It is Solstice in Strasbourg, and as per an old tradition, this city as well as most other cities in Europe are celebrating. The streets are blocked off, there is music coming from every corner, and thousands of folks, tourists and locals alike, are dancing and partying and drinking and celebrating. Everyone is participating, from the very young to the very old, despite the fact it is a work night and school night. The police are everywhere in force, but folks are at least pretending not to notice.

And for the first time since I stepped foot in this city, I don’t feel the tension quite so strongly. At least not from the people, anyway.

The city itself, that’s a different story.

The people may be able to put aside their fears for a night, but the egregore of the city itself still holds that energy, lest anyone forget.

And myself? I wish I could forget. Despite the merriment, despite the celebrations, I can’t shake myself of the feeling of dread, of violence, and of war.

Like the city itself, I hold the tension of what is to come.

*   *   *   *   *

“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “emergency situation” in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. Then it will become clear that the task before us is the introduction of a real state of emergency; and our position in the struggle against Fascism will thereby improve. Not the least reason that the latter has a chance is that its opponents, in the name of progress, greet it as a historical norm. – The astonishment that the things we are experiencing in the 20th century are “still” possible is by no means philosophical. It is not the beginning of knowledge, unless it would be the knowledge that the conception of history on which it rests is untenable.”Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History

 

street harassment, male entitlement, and cultural differences

Sometimes it is only in the absence of something pervasive that one has normalized that they are able to truly reflect on it.

Which is why it hit me very hard this morning when I realized that in the three weeks I have been in France, I have not experienced nor witnessed a single incident of street harassment.

Let me repeat that: not one instance of catcalling. Not one drive-by yelling. Not one ‘hey baby’… and yes I know what that sounds like in French. Not one man following me after I refused to engage him. Not one.

Now, I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen here. I’ve only been here three weeks. I’m sure it happens to women at some point. But in Portland, especially in nice weather when I dare to show my arms or my legs, it happens to me every day. EVERY SINGLE FUCKING DAY. Not just to me, but to women I walk by over the course of any given day. It happens constantly.

To be fair, I’ve been approached by many men on the street. And some of them definitely had unsavory intentions. I had a drunk man bluntly ask me to go home with him to have sex. I’ve had several ‘photographers’ approach me and ask me if I would be interested in being their model. I’ve had men not-so-subtly undress me with their eyes. And I’ve had several folks say things to me that I didn’t quite understand due to the language barrier but I knew were along the same lines.

But every single time, EVERY SINGLE TIME, when I politely refused, the conversation was over. They were polite, apologetic (even the drunk guy), and went on their way. Nobody acted out the angry, entitled shit-fit that’s typical in such situations on the streets of America. Nobody lashed out at me, nobody followed me yelling, nobody called me a bitch or a whore, nobody treated me like I was their property, none of that.

And mind you, this is quite a patriarchal culture. I would never try to argue otherwise. In that way, its not much different than America. I’ve been treated patronizingly by men. I’ve been talked down to, been talked to like a child. And I’ve witnessed that dynamic between men and women everywhere I go. But despite the patriarchy, there’s a deep respect that is shown towards women here that is completely absent everywhere I’ve lived in America.

And that respect is reflected in the way women behave here. They don’t walk around in fear. They don’t walk with their heads down. They don’t play the eye-aversion game with the intent of avoiding street harassment. They walk down the streets proudly, dare I even say they ‘strut their stuff’ in ways that I would never dream of doing so in America due to the fear of street harassment.

So what is it about American culture that so deeply ingrains the permissiveness that men think they have to treat women as they do on the street? And what can we do to change that culture? Because I must say – the only thing more wonderful than being about to go an entire day without experiencing street harassment is to go day after day after day after day without experiencing it.

You know what it feels like? It feels like freedom.

l’effondrement

The only thing more awkward than breaking down crying in a French hypermarket is when you utterly forget how to speak the language in that moment and are completely unable to articulate that no, you’re not hurt, you’re just in complete and utter destabilizing shock at the fact that anyone anywhere, let alone an entire country, has access to such a wide variety of foods at such an inexpensive price. 

So then to try to come down from your shock, you take refuge in the nearest McDonald’s, figuring that American-style familiarity will snap you out of it. But it only makes it worse, because even at McDonalds there are twice as many choices and the food is of an infinitely better quality than what you are used to at home. 

So you cry some more. You cry because not only has your homeland so quickly descended into what seems to be a hopeless pattern of chaos and violence and hatred, not only is it on the brink of a potential fascist takeover that a significant percentage of the nation enthusiastically supports, but you realize in that moment that even without those dangers that you have been utterly fooled. That even with all your critiques and analysis and skepticism of the capitalist machine and the American Dream, that even you have been fooled by its propaganda machine, even you needed to spend a month in what actually is an first-world country to truly understand that you’ve been living your entire life in a second-world country that’s quickly becoming a third-world country with little to no hope of recovery. 

And so you just try to breathe and munch your fries and eat your cheeseburger-on-a-bagel and pray to any gods or spirits that might be listening as you wipe your tears, as you try to regain your composure while trying your hardest to ignore the horrifyingly painful pit in your stomach, the pit that signifies both the mourning and grief you have for your homeland as well as the deep angry fire that burns every time you think of how many loved ones you have back home who are forced to suffer in poverty and to live in fear so needlessly and so without reason. 

And you still believe somewhere inside that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice, but you fear that it will not bend that way in time to save us.

le chaudron, la tour, et l’avenir

(Note: This came all at once, in an unusually concise flood of thoughts. And while I usually edit the fuck out of my work, arguably a little too much, in the spirit of how this came through I am leaving it unchanged and unedited. My apologies in advance if its a little rambling and wordy.)

*   *   *   *   *

“Do not look there, unless you’d leave.”

Those were the words of Ceridwen, first to Rhyd, and then later aimed directly at me in relation to this pilgrimage.

At the time, I thought I knew what they meant. And while I was not necessarily wrong, I failed to remember that meaning is often layered and flaked, not so different from the pain au chocolat that I’ve been enjoying here every morning in France.

More to the point, I took her words as metaphor. It turns out they were meant to be taken as literal.

*   *   *   *   *

“Look there, there, in the darkness. Do you see? That’s you… that’s who you really are.”

Years ago, deep in the dark woods of Oregon, I found myself for the first time.

I was an angry but determined anarchist witch-punk in my early twenties, born and raised a stone’s throw away from the rooftops of Manhattan, who very much thought that I understood things like forests and witch-punks and what it meant to be free. And yet, I was deeply wounded, deeply vulnerable, and floundering despite all my efforts to find my way in the world.

And it was against that backdrop in early 2004, while ‘working’ as a photographer for NYC Indymedia, that I happened upon a chance meeting with forest defenders from Oregon, who over the course of a week or so had charmed me with a spell that I could only describe as the pull of freedom.

“We’ve just started occupying a new unit at Straw Devil, women and trans folks only. You should come out there with us. We are building something big”

At the time, I felt small and insignificant, trapped in the bustle and flow of a city that was ‘home’ and yet often did not feel as such, and as the words left their lips my universe shuddered for a moment. A crack erupted from the pavement, so to speak, and something quickly started to grow.

And so I went out West, knowing nothing of where I was headed or what I was heading into. All I knew was that I had nothing to lose. I didn’t know what I needed, but I knew I wasn’t going to find it in the cracks of the sidewalks of Brooklyn.

The rest, as they say, is history.

In the woods, in the darkness, isolated by miles of old-growth forest and thirty or so fellow anarchist witch-punks, I understood for the first time what it meant to be free. I understood for the first time what it meant to love something so much that you would risk everything you had to defend it. One could argue that for the first time in my life I had found the hill I was willing to die on.

And yet, I was not really free, at least not in the way my fellow forest-dwelling witch-punks were. I was a tourist, a traveler from a city far away that had taken a month out of her life to have an experience, while everyone else out there in the woods was simply living their life. While I experienced a liberation that I had never before experienced, I also felt like a tourist amongst natives, like a trapped animal in a cage surrounded by those who both had and at the same time did not need permission to wander the wild.

After a few weeks, when I had to leave, they did not quite understand.

“I have bills to pay,” I tried to explain. “And a mess of kittens at home and a partner who loves me, and obligations that I can’t just shrug away as much as I want to stay.”

They nodded, but I could tell that under the surface they still regarded my decision with both confusion and pity. Just as I had never known such freedom, they had never known such chains. And while in the woods we were as one, upon my departure it was clear to all of that despite our bonds, we came from two different worlds, them and I.

I thought I could just go back to the world I had left behind, carrying with me the lessons I learned so that I could integrate them into the life I had before I had left.

But it was never the same. There was nothing that could take me back to who I was before. And yet I tried, tried to integrate the old understandings with the new, tried to incorporate pieces of what I had left with the pieces that I had picked up in the darkness of the woods.

But the entire time, I felt the nagging, I felt the hovering. I knew.

Looking back, the gods were riding me and I was refusing to listen. I felt a loyalty to the life I had built in Brooklyn, to the people intertwined in that existence, to the unfulfilled dreams that I thought would fit into that life and that mold.

It took three years, a lightning strike, and a nervous breakdown for me to finally acknowledge what the gods had been trying to tell me the entire time.

And so I left everything, and in retrospect I did so in a less-than-graceful manner. My apartment, my partner, my worldly possessions, all were sacrificed on the altar of what it was that I had discovered in the darkness. And in the fall of 2007, I packed my van with everything I could fit and drove three-thousand miles to the town that had captured my heart three years earlier : Eugene, Oregon.

But when I arrived, the community that I left my life behind in order to join had itself disappeared. The Green Scare and its chilling after-effects had decimated the forest defense community of Oregon, and despite searching long and hard I could not find a single one of my anarchist witch-punk comrades who had taught me in the forest what it meant to be free.

And yet, I was there, once again with nothing to lose, and was determined not to regret my actions and my decisions, so I settled down as best I could and tried to make it work.

For a few years, I was happy enough. I could support myself despite the struggles of both physical and neurological disabilities. I had carved a life out for myself that I was not ashamed of, a life that I could respect and that others respected.

And yet, I was still not free.

By the summer of 2011, increasingly frustrated with what had at that point become a tedious and trapping routine, I once again felt the pangs of wanderlust. I had long ago given up on every rediscovering that part of me that I had once found in the darkness of the woods. And yet I needed a change. And so once again I started the process of selling my possessions, packing my boxes, and planning a move to the Bay Area.

And then Occupy hit, a month before my planned departure date. And once again I felt a pull I could not ignore, a whiff of revolution in the air, a chance at another taste of freedom, albeit on different terms.

So I stayed. And while there were moments of freedom, and moments that were truly revolutionary, Occupy died within a few months. But I was lifted up by a windy remnant of that moment, and over the next three years I went from an impoverished, disabled anarchist witch-punk to one of the most recognizable and powerful political figures in town.

But the success of the latter depended very much on occluding the former, naturally, and while I spent three glorious years effectively scaring the shit out of the powers that be in that town, I did so at great expense to my own psyche and well-being.

When one effectively challenges power, power strikes back. And strike back they did, despite what I had successfully occluded in order to protect myself. They found their way through, found their way to hurt me, from boycotts to blacklists and outright threats. I responded first in strength, successfully testing the limits of my strategies through the seven-month Whoville encampment, but when Whoville finally fell, I fell as well. The price of Whoville’s success was my own sanity and safety, and in the spring of 2014, I fled Eugene for Portland with my tail behind my legs.

At that point, I wasn’t even thinking of freedom, just safety. All I wanted was anonymity, the absence of present danger, and perhaps a chance to pull myself out of poverty. And yet none of those things came to fruition, and the toll that my work in Eugene had taken on me only became more evident in the months after I fled. I felt like a refugee, exiled from my community, with little support and few friends in a city that had never really spoken to me.

Once again, I tried to make it work. And I put on a big smile and reminded myself to count my blessings and denied until I was blue in the face what was obvious to so many.

I was miserable. For the past two years, I’ve felt without purpose. I’ve been drifting in an abyss of my own triggers and traumas. I tried to channel that pain into my writing, and while I have produced many pieces that I’m proud of in that period, the vast majority of the time has been wasted. I had never felt so stuck.

And then, once again the gods came knocking.

A year ago, Sara-la-Kali showed up on my doorstep, asking me to fulfill an old promise.

Having nothing to lose, I said yes, both out of love and obligation, but also admittedly out of fear of saying no.

And similar to when I said yes to the anarchist witch-punks years ago, a small crack tore in the fabric of my reality at that moment that I said yes, and the universe started to shift in ways I couldn’t necessarily comprehend nor explain at the time.

I’ve written about those shifts a bit. What I wrote here was also very relevant to this pilgrimage, although I didn’t quite understand the extent of that at the time.

I tried many times over the past six months to back out. Nobody, neither gods nor community, would let me.

In retrospect, I have nothing but thanks. But at the time, I held nothing but fear.

*   *   *   *   *

The gods tricked me to get me here. I can’t blame them, of course, as I’ve made it obvious to them (and everyone else) over the years that I still don’t know how to listen.

I made this trip for them. I thought it was about them. I came here for the gods, and for my ancestors.

I never would have done it for myself.

And of course, they knew that. And, of course, it turns out that this trip is very much about me instead. Its about me having to face uncomfortable truths. Its about me having to reconcile a painful childhood and an adulthood marked with bitterness and struggle. Its about me having to bury and/or release what I cannot change, to break myself down and then put the pieces back together.

A few months before I left, a bit of a bombshell was dropped on me, one I didn’t take too well at the time. Its still too raw to speak of it plainly yet, but I’m comfortable in saying that it has forced me to re-evaluate my entire life through a new lens. And for the first time in my life, I have context and clarity for my struggles, especially my childhood and my long-term estrangement from my family that I am only now starting to repair.

I knew that the timing was no coincidence… I understood on some level that there was a reason behind the timing of that bombshell. And I knew that being thousands of miles from home was a good place to process such information. But I still saw that as secondary to my obligations to those both above and below.

*   *   *   *   *

I have very little French blood, but I have never felt more at home than I do on French soil. And that in itself is an important reminder about the artificial constructs known as ‘borders’ and ‘nations’. For the most part I am not genetically tied to this specific country and people, but I am very much tied to this landmass, to this continent, and to the gods and spirits that reside here.

Absent from this landmass is the anger, the un-tempered resonance of the ghosts and spirits that haunt the American landscape, ghosts and spirits that will never truly rest, and rightfully so, due to the genocide that was committed against them. And while there are plenty of angry ghosts and spirits here as well, they are older, they are tempered, they are at home in the landscape and mostly at peace with the people who currently inhabit it.

From the very first day, I felt that so strongly. And for every day since, my understanding of both this place as well as what lies underneath in the land of my birth becomes ever and ever clearer. Not only has my relationship with both places become clearer, but more importantly, as I watch America crumble from an ocean away, the reason for her crumbling also becomes ever clearer.

*   *   *   *   *

I stepped foot on this land, and this land here knew my name. And I immediately felt at home.

It took me a week or so to shake the toxic resonance of America off of and out of myself, but once I did, I understood why I was here.

I fulfilled my obligation to Sara-la-Kali, and then paid tribute to the indebtedness I felt towards Walter Benjamin, and then allowed myself to truly just be.

And then, the déjà vu. And then the recognition that I had come full-circle.

When we first got to Rennes, I realized immediately that I had already been here. At least in my dreams I had. We had originally planned to camp just outside of town, but a random stranger on Facebook invited us to stay at his place, and we gladly accepted.

And when I entered his house, it was so familiar, a little too familiar. As was our host, who immediately felt like an old friend, like kin. As was this town itself. As was the strong sense of history and belonging that resonates every time my feet hit the pavement of this 2000-year old town.

It took me a few days in Rennes to understand exactly what I was feeling, but when I did, it was profound. It was the freedom that I had originally discovered in the forest all those years ago.

*   *   *   *   *

Americans talk a lot about ‘freedom’, but they are clueless to what it actually means. For far too many Americans, ‘freedom’ means having the right to own guns and as many houses as you want and the biggest car you can handle and the legal permission to spout racism and xenophobia. Any intrusion on those ‘rights’ is seen as a curtailment of ‘freedom’.

The French speak of freedom as well, but their concept is much more grounded in reality than the American concept. The French understand and tie the concept of ‘freedom’ to an authentic way of living, one which does not demand 70 hours of labor per week in return for the ‘freedom’ to live in starvation conditions. Here, ‘freedom’ is closely tied to the social contract that in a sense is the true religion of this country, not to artificially constructed ‘rights’ that in reality will never be granted to all.

Here, ‘freedom’ is reflected in the joyous attitudes that surround one here, in the way of being that I still don’t know how to describe in words but which reverberates from every corner and sidewalk-crack of cities such as Rennes. While this country is far from perfect, when folks speak of ‘freedom’ here it has an actual meaning.

And here, I feel free. Not just in mind, but in body as well.

At least half of my health issues have completely disappeared in a few short weeks. I am eating better, sleeping better, and in less pain than I have ever been in my entire adult life. Here, I can keep food down. Here, I am not reliant on Xanax and Adderall in order to function. Here, it does not take me an hour to get out of bed. Here, I enjoy the mornings.

Here, I feel safe, perhaps for the first time ever. I am not living in fear, I am not constantly looking over my shoulder, I do not shrink in fright when I am approached by a stranger.

Here, I have found the person that I haven’t known since those long nights in the darkness of the woods. I have become re-acquainted with my young, anarchist, witch-punk self, but with the added wisdom of the struggles and challenges which I have endured over the past twelve years.

“I feel like I’m finally seeing the you that you always talked about, the you that I knew was in there somewhere,” Rhyd said to me. “I feel like I’m seeing the real you for the first time.”

It hurt to hear, as it was a reflection of what I have been suppressing for so long, of the state of panic and survival that I have existed in for most of my adult life. And yet I knew how true it was.

Here, I finally feel at home. I feel at peace with the person I was, the person I have become, and the person I have the potential to become. But similarly to those moments in the woods, I am once again only a tourist among the natives. I yet again must return to a life I have left, one with responsibilities and obligations to others. I yet again must surrender this freedom in a little over two weeks.

But unlike last time, I know what that means. This time, I know what I’m in for when I return. I know that it will never be the same. I know that I can’t simply integrate these lessons into the life I left behind in hopes that it will make it slightly more bearable.

And I know that this time I can’t delude myself into thinking otherwise.

I know that if I ignore what I know this time around, the gods will kick my ass. And they won’t do it kindly.

*   *   *   *   *

It was Saturday afternoon in the anarchist bar in Rennes. And despite severe social anxiety and a significant language barrier, I felt as though I was surrounded by old friends.

Not just friends, but kin. Because while friends may hang out with you at bars and attend your parties and check up on you once in a while, kin will have your back.

What does this mean, kin? It means that when a group of homophobes throw bottles and scream obscenities at your best friend and his adorable partner for daring to express their desire in public, they drop everything and take off after the homophobes in pursuit as fast as they can. And you know that if they had caught them, they would deliver justice the old-fashioned way.

What does this mean, kin? It means that when your adorable host-turned-kin suggests that you read some cards for the folks sitting around the table, you do so without thinking and without fear, despite the fact that its been years since you’ve read cards for strangers, despite the fact that you’ve had at least four beers at that point, despite your social anxiety, and despite the fact that your French is far from perfect.

And you not only do so, you do so without fear. Because trust. Because freedom. Because kin.

And you nail each reading, each time, without them even asking questions first. Because love. Because trust. Because kin.

And then, without really considering the potential consequences of what you are about to do, you think of home and turn the cards on yourself.

And what lies before you is anything but the concise, inspiring messages that those cards delivered for others.

And yet you know what it means. And yet you trust it anyway. Because you know this place is magic, and you know you are magic, and you know that its a message that you needed to hear.

Just like all the other messages, the ones you’ve ignored for years, the ones you’ve turned on their heads, the ones you’ve gone running and hiding and screaming from.

But this time, you know.

Because you’ve finally allowed yourself to stare into the cauldron, finally allowed yourself to feel the heat of the tower, finally allowed yourself to understand what the future holds, despite the terror that is inherent in that knowledge.

Because in that knowledge, lies your freedom.

img_1640