“Where the stars meet at night!!!”

Monday, 1:27 PM

Landmark Diner Buckhead

Vaporwave vibes. The nineties-does-the-eighties, riding the coattails of the art deco revival. There are many things I wanted to say about such a beguiling building in Buckhead with its aluminum spaceship façade, but this Atlanta-does-New-York diner proved to be an imposter in every sense of the word.

Upon entering I was greeted by a large display case of cakes and pies and Greek desserts. I asked the woman welcoming me if they had cherry pie. She warmly responded, “Of course we have cherry pie!” My Twin Peaks heart did a somersault. Then she dropped her server book and fumbled to pick it back up. She was twitchy, bleached, and forcibly tanned with kind eyes. I removed my scarf and coat and pretended I was in Florida, swiftly inventing her backstory for my amusement. I had a hunch that this diner was suspect since I was the only customer for the entire duration of my stay, but it was a Monday post-lunch rush, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I was, after all, drawn to its pink, purple, and turquoise neon signage and gaudy accents. Its diluted glass block windows beckoned me to unearth the other side, in hopes of a droolworthy vintage interior. As I took my seat, the darkened, empty, and painfully ironic Punchline Comedy Club was adjacent to my left. My usual stab at humor in lieu of disappointment could not redeem this place. There was nothing funny about this meal, and the persistent mirrors made this revelation inescapable.

Though Landmark drips in the nostalgia of fond, childhood aesthetic memories, its overpriced menu features $20 salads that seem derivative of a post-apocalyptic wasteland where food is scarce, manufactured, and tasteless. In retrospect, I take full responsibility for being a vegetarian and venturing off of my turf. My server, a chiseled, blue-eyed Eastern European man, denied my request for a meatless chicken Caesar wrap even after my assuring him I had no issue paying full-price. His bewilderment alluded to how unusual a request this was, so I didn’t press the matter. I pondered whether the wraps were already prepped and thrown together, or if he was simply too lazy to ask the kitchen if it was possible. Even the fries I ordered, a staple and mainstay of every vegetarian’s casual dining experience, were unseasoned— some still mushy and cold inside. My table lacked a salt shaker, so I grabbed one from the next booth over. There was no ketchup on the side, so I asked for honey mustard in a futile effort for redemption, fully aware that a 3 oz. ramekin might incur a $2 upcharge in this new and strange land.

After serving me two pale tomato slices over a wedge of romaine, the server snuck away to eat his shift meal at a small table off to the corner but in plain sight. I noticed his tomato had all of its color and probably some of mine, too. When he finished eating, I asked him for a coffee refill. He disappeared into the back for a while, and the fake flowers in the tall windowsills mocked me. Roswell Road was business as usual, and I could feel the bitter wind attacking the window as I stared out at the intersection listlessly. I sipped the last drops from my mug which had become lukewarm, forcing gratitude for a peaceful moment of elemental shelter. I got lost in the geometric patterns in the booths’ upholstery, and just as my eyes locked into that sweet spot of mental ascension, my check was dropped off. I could have enjoyed a Starbucks latte cheaper than what my solo black coffee cost, and I loathe Starbucks. I left the cash I had, 25% tip included. I was lured into this tourist trap, and I certainly would not stick around to wait for change. Exiting, I noticed the song that softly played overhead was a cheap, bedazzled eighties-pop version of the original “I Think We’re Alone Now” from the sixties. Nothing is as it seems. Rather than spiraling out into an existential crisis, I said goodbye to each plastic, dusty plant that had likely fooled so many over the years, feeling relief that I wouldn’t follow suit. I’m sure this establishment is a beloved joint for its boozed-up patrons at 3am, but I would have been better off seeking lunch elsewhere, only to pop in for coffee and dessert afterwards. All I got from my first visit to Landmark Diner was smoke and mirrors, and heartburn.

And needless to say, I did not have the cherry pie.

Embracing Shadow Work Within the Patriarchy

by Cayce Tiedemann

Through my work in Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, I’ve made vast connections within the structures of hierarchal oppression. Two of the course readings in particular contributed greatly to these revelations. Understanding Patriarchy by bell hooks illustrates the foundation of society’s most important problem— the patriarchy, while Taking Risks by CARA offers logical solutions for a deeply perplexing aspect of that problem— sexual violence.

In Understanding Patriarchy, hooks declares the patriarchy to be “the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation.” Before this reading, I wasn’t aware that the patriarchy even affected men other than for their benefit. I certainly didn’t know that the patriarchy poisons women and men equally. hooks reflects on how she was raised and examines the cyclical nature of the patriarchy.

“At church they had learned that God created man to rule the world and everything in it and that it was the work of women to help men perform these tasks, to obey, and to always assume a subordinate role in relation to a powerful man. They were taught that God was male…These teachings were reinforced in every institution they encountered… Embracing patriarchal thinking, like everyone else around them, they taught it to their children because it seemed like a ‘natural’ way to organize life.”

This experience is a common one, and older generations normalized “beatings” in an effort to assert dominance, like the one hooks received from her father for trying to play marbles with her brother. Conversely, upon observing the double standards inflicted by her parents upon her brother, she found in order “to indoctrinate boys into the rules of patriarchy, we force them to feel pain and to deny their feelings.” And thus, the inception of the othering of women, and of the feminine, begins its lifelong infestation.

“Passive male absorption of sexist ideology enables men to falsely interpret this disturbed behavior positively. As long as men are brainwashed to equate violent domination and abuse of women with privilege, they will have no understanding of the damage done to themselves or to others, and no motivation to change.”

Of the people I polled regarding the patriarchy and white privilege, the few who denied its existence all together were middle-aged and senior cis-hetero-white-men. The reasons they gave me were immediately defensive, as though acknowledging that the playing field isn’t equal absolutely undermines their personal successes. For them, entertaining the notion of white privilege would mean that their personal struggles their whole lives must not have been that bad after all. They expressed anger with marginalized communities “victimizing themselves” and seeking handouts; from their POV, racism is sustained predominantly through POC rehashing “things that happened a long time ago.”

As a man, you cannot know a woman’s experience; as a white man, you cannot know a Black man’s experience. Truly it’s best not to assume anyone’s experience and to give folks the benefit of the doubt. But that’s the thing about othering— its boundaries are typically formed steadfast in one’s upbringing, and its limitations are perceived as rigid, hard truths devoid of empathy due to the persistent dehumanization of the others. I first discovered othering while reading about Islamaphobia and ethnocentrism. In the article The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging, othering is defined as a set of dynamics, processes, and structures that engender marginality and persistent inequality across any of the full range of human differences based on group identities. Our current administration, as well as almost every historical period before, has thrived from “stoking anxiety, resentment, or fear of the ‘other.’” During the evolution of mankind, classification schemes were necessary for our survival. We are hardwired to make categorical distinctions to thrive as a species, but this does not entirely explain othering, which derives from the societal hierarchy. This article argues “although human beings have a natural tendency to make these distinctions, the categories themselves and meanings associated with those categories are socially constructed rather than natural.” In order to explore how and why we participate in othering, we must analyze our shadows.

As Carl Jung said of the shadow side,

“It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him… Blindly he strives against the salutary dogma of original sin, which is yet so prodigiously true. Yes, he even hesitates to admit the conflict of which he is so painfully aware.”

In the article Why Doing Shadow Work Liberates Your Story And Heals Your Spirit, shadow work is described as acknowledging “a part (or parts) of yourself that you’ve ignored, and which you’ve kept alive in secrecy. As with anything in darkness that has been festering for some time, it has grown comfortable there, and shining light on it may likely be excruciating.” Reflecting on these heavy facets can illuminate your patterns of response, tendencies of harsh judgement, and why it’s easier to hide behind an addiction— be it substance, behavioral, or violent rage.

“The goal is not to eradicate the shadow self; but, to integrate it in healthy ways into your whole being. This is done by acknowledging the shadow, healing the stories it kept alive on your behalf and your survival (since it served a purpose at a given time in your life), and integrating it into your whole self, resulting in… greater compassion for yourself and others.”

Not only should we acknowledge our shadow selves, but we should honor their places in our lives in order to release the residual negative fragments that persist in holding us back.

Researcher-storyteller Brené Brown is known for her viral TEDxHouston talk regarding vulnerability and courage. From her decades of work, she notes that healing shame directly affects our self-worth. Courage is something I once discounted as a non-applicable ideal, a sort of heroic bravery, the way many things are polarized due to stereotypes and inaccurate classification. Brown reminds us that the original definition of courage comes from the Latin word “cor,” meaning “heart”— to tell your story whole-heartedly. She explains that the courageous people in her field studies were distinguished from the rest by their willingness to embrace vulnerability. “They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating — as I had heard earlier in the shame interviewing. They just talked about it being necessary.” Brown, a mother of two, discusses how our self-worth is often immediately challenged upon our birth with parental expectations of perfection. She proclaims that as parents, “our job is to say, ‘You know what? You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.’” Imagine if bell hooks and millions of other “normally traumatized” folks had experienced this level of individualized, unconditional support and acceptance throughout their childhoods. How do we expect a person to be whole-hearted if an entire side of their psyche has been denied, suppressed, and badgered?

While reading Taking Risks: implementing grassroots community accountability strategies written by a collective of women of color from Communities Against Rape and Abuse (CARA), a distinct feature I found unique was the importance placed on humanizing the aggressor. In every level of CARA’s program, a multi-efforted balance is concerted between victim and aggressor, between community and one-on-one correspondence. This is not to say that the aggressor is let off the hook but that both sides are considered with mindfulness and appropriate assistance. I believe that a thoughtful accountability program like the one that CARA proposes is the first major step for inclusive change that feminism has ever witnessed. Normalizing a dialogue that allows people, particularly men, to be self-reflective— and communicate what they uncover, will alleviate suffering and impact us all interconnectedly. In CARA’s vision, the victim has the ultimate say in how the program is conducted. This lifts the pressure and shame that is typically placed upon a survivor and fosters a safe, effective space to make amends. In collaborating with the community, as well as close friends and family of the aggressor, a dialogue is engaged and receptive offerings are made. The aggressor is given an opportunity to respond and seek help rather than be backed into a corner.

The humanization of all is the key to developing compassion and in turn transmuting pain into tenderness with ourselves and with others. The othering of the unknown has reinforced race, sex and class struggles. The demonization of emotions as weak has propelled cyclical oppressive structures since the rise of modern agriculture where women were deemed second-class property. Emotions are for women, and the feminine is weak. Rejection of the feminine is absolute strength and power. This othering of our emotional selves has enabled generations of men to not be held accountable, even rewarded for displays of dominance and aggression paired with unaffected demeanors. Since men are not permitted to tune into their own suffering, they can’t possibly be expected to tune into the suffering of others. Women are assumed at fault, often times aggressively, for their female form simply existing in a space with a man. A man’s credibility is protected above all, reinforcing that there will be no consequences for his actions. This systemic foundation of lies will need to be significantly challenged until society revolts, destroys, and recovers from this deteriorating facade of freedom.

In the meantime, as it pertains to sexual violence, we must bypass the legal system in order to help victims and aggressors alike in achieving breakthroughs and healing. Accountability is seldom found within the system which is interwoven with the patriarchy’s toxic web. In fact, we repeatedly hear of the biases in which justice was not served, discriminating against POC and women— case after case. With the implementation of strategic programs such as CARA, marginalized communities around the globe can finally have the opportunity for a seat at the table. It’s crucial for victims and their allies to emerge from the shadows of shame and set an example for as many men, women— people as possible. Even if a goal is not met, initiating the process would inevitably prompt a necessary conversation within a community. Who the message may coincidentally touch with its dialogue could be surprising.

Generations of children have endured trauma and then projected that trauma onto their children in the name of the patriarchy. In the name of This Is How My Father Did It. In the name of preserving traditions that hold an entire worldview together because there is “no other way.” Well, I’m proposing there is a way. First, we must acknowledge that the patriarchy oppresses everyone and pins the lower levels of the hierarchy against each other to distract from the fact that we all should be enraged at those running the show. Next, we should check our heads with how othering has manifested in our lives. Upon examining our personal processes and prejudices and healing those wounds, we can find liberation that will lighten a collective burden. As Chuck Palahniuk said, “Find what you’re afraid of most and go live there.” That is shadow work at its deepest roots. We must seek courage when diving into our shadows and be gentle while handling the neglected parts of our soul. This is how we can lean into vulnerability. Just as the patriarchy does not discriminate against gender, neither does shame. With accountability programs such as CARA’s, the rights for both sides to be vulnerable in finding their truth are defended, and courage is embraced and uplifted.

No matter where we are on the planet, our fundamental differences lie more in perception than in rigid truth. Most of us are living day to day with a common purpose: to be free from suffering, however that may be. If you get to the bottom of the pain or the void, you can alleviate that suffering little by little. The patriarchy is unforgiving, but if we learn to forgive ourselves and one another, we can effectively support a new generation that heavily leans on this accountability-healing dynamic going forward.

Works Cited:

Understanding Patriarchy by hooks, bell

The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging by Powell, John and Menendian, Stephen.

Why Doing Shadow Work Liberates Your Story And Heals Your Spirit by Alcantara, Margarita

The Power of Vulnerability by Brown, Brené

Taking Risks: Implementing Grassroots Community Accountability Strategies by CARA women: Alisa Bierria, Onion Carrillo, Eboni Colbert, Xandra Ibarra, Theryn Kigvamasud’Vashti, and Shale Maulana

Invisible Monsters by Palahniuk, Chuck (1999, W. W. Norton & Company)

Church Zone

Dream torn, I cartwheel to the place
Where the settlement takes.
In this zone, I am past
The litany of ecstatic errands.
My enthusiastic Yes takes me all the way home
Where I break bread for a new season.
Visiting the field out back— my glittering yard of light,
I can hear the organ-led choir ushering in New Days.
And this interior voyage plants me in a rocking chair
Alongside gardenias, my stone still planted
Under the magnolia.

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Road to Nowhere

My head is spinning from watching the sun come up— and nothing more. Even putting my seat belt on feels strange. Heavy eyes, could be from the ride, more likely from the cigarette smoke. What is this growing day by day? What is courage from another wary baby step? I’ve reviewed the nocturnal blueprints. I’ve buffered my whole way here. What is this clear picture— this road to somewhere that feels like nowhere in particular? What tastes comfortable is seldom fruitful, and my tired teeth have picked through these seeds. Would you like to come along— to chase this buggy in the parking lot, blowing bubbles underwater on a stop-motion throne? Time is on our side here, galloping to the green screen of our choosing. The smells and bells of taking day by day. The scenic route to the same place. The city in my mind.  It’s alright. Baby, it’s alright.

Meet me in Santorini

I ran into Scotty the night before I was admitted to SummitRidge Hospital for mental health and addiction treatment in November of 2007. It was our first time alone since we had stopped seeing each other. We sat in his white truck and listened to the new Kanye West album. He expressed how the same songs that had come to my aid in the recent weeks without him were keeping him going as well. He apologized for the way it ended and kissed me, but it was too late. I climbed out of his truck and off into the night. That night was a blur. Well, the whole year was a blur. The next morning I checked myself into rehab. And that was the last time I saw him.

He attempted to contact me while I was being treated, and shortly after my parents had my number changed. On the day before Christmas Eve, I was notified by phone that Scotty died in a Tennessee hospital. After many attempts, he had finally done it. It was Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. I immediately went down the street to my best friend Donovan’s house, my second home, where the news was confirmed. I rode with him to get wine with his fake ID, and Incubus’ Wish You Were Here came on the radio. Sunroof open, we shouted the lyrics, chugging white zinfandel.

I spent my entire Christmas break wasted and hysterical, only obtaining respite after the start of the new year, when life and grief could return to a dull hum. I was suffocated by the festivities surrounding me. How could I possibly enjoy anything about this time of year? And how could anyone with any sense? I repeated this for the next decade. Holding my breath from October to January.

Last year was my first Christmas without alcohol since his passing. While pulling boxes of decorations from storage, Donovan found a tree topper in the attic of his 100 year old house that had belonged to a former resident. We had lived in the house together for a few years and never come across anything left behind from its past, but Black Santa was right on time. Upon my enthusiastic reaction to his discovery, Donovan said that I could keep him. And upon recognizing a newfound peace, I decided I wasn’t mad at Christmas anymore.

After Thanksgiving this year, I knew I wanted to bring home my first Christmas tree to let Black Santa really shine. When I was a child, my mother started a tradition of giving ornaments to my brother and me each holiday, and I held onto the majority of them despite my apathy. Now every memento and keepsake I come across is sacred, and I’m baffled at these resurfacing memories of my childhood. Of joyful Christmases in the nineties. Before scoliosis. Before my first sip of alcohol. There are many milestones behind this tree: living alone, Dexter & Ruby’s first Christmas, my nephew’s first Christmas, my first Christmas.

I have two tattoos for Scotty. Santorini on the inside of my left ankle is in remembrance of his life and our painstakingly elaborate plans of running away to Greece from our troubles. The semicolon outside my right wrist is honoring his death and my decision to keep living. I’ve posted a tribute to him for the past decade, mostly through tears and slurred words. And now the most healing part of this experience, of actively choosing recovery, has been through the connections I’ve made with others in sharing stories and experiences. It feels like there’s a new generation of people who are generally fed up and seeking more from life than alcohol can fulfill. It’s not enough anymore. Grief- human and animal, mental illness, and addiction are no longer such taboo conversations. If anyone is suffering from one or more of these, please don’t hesitate to find someone who you can confide in. That person can even be me.


Soundtrack:
Flashing Lights- Kanye West

Still running against the wind

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.” -Brené Brown

Tracy came to me in a dream to inform me of her passing. We met five years ago, lost touch for a little while, and then reconnected this past December over our mutual sobriety, struggles, and (of course) adoration of dogs. I reread my text history with her and saw multiple attempts at her checking on me just before she departed, caring about me, concerned for me, and ultimately reporting that she wasn’t doing as well with her mental health. I was in a truly dark place myself in recovery and didn’t know how to begin talking about it to her. The last time she texted me was to tell me she had relapsed.

tattoo[Sitting with Tracy during a session for her Wizard of Oz sleeve.]

Following my dream and the discovery of her obituary online, my friend, Bill, and I held a spontaneous memorial for her the next day. A Monday. My sacred day.  Without giving it any thought that morning, I put on my ceremonial outfit. Bill and I found ourselves sprawled out on the lawn of the Center for Civil and Human Rights Museum. The sky was infinitely gray. Clouds swirled about, tiny and sporadic raindrops falling on our faces but never growing to be anything more than an occasional trickle. Moisture was swelling all around us, and I pet the grass under me for comfort and poured my heart and tears out to Bill and the earth and Tracy. For the first time in my entire life, I could grieve. I could let it wash over me in my newfound courage. In that moment I loved my grief. I held it and sat with it. I thanked it for finally showing itself to me. I could feel her reassuring me that I would be okay, particularly as it pertains to Phoebe’s eventual passing. I thanked my angels and spirit guides for all they had done to get me to this point and relished how comfortable I was in that moment of pain and peace and celebration. The thick air promised a thunderstorm at any second, and I welcomed it to mingle with the cries coming out of my face. But it never came.

Before leaving, we took in the museum’s beauty and its mural from Centennial Olympic Park. We walked down the stairs on the side of the building, the same stairs I marched up for womens’ rights and cried on at the Pulse nightclub vigil. Again she immersed me in her energy. She was delighted in my remembrance of her in such an important place in the history of human rights. She shared with me the happiness her soul has found now. The sky only opened up once we had returned to my living room.

I searched for a letter Tracy wrote to place on my altar and instead found a card. This was the card that accompanied the flowers she anonymously sent to my job after the passing of my first dog, Gracie.

card

Tracy was as devoted to her friends as she was to the animals in her life, which is to say, she gave all of herself. She obsessively loved The Wizard of Oz and had an affinity for pitbulls. She rescued, fostered, and cared for dogs because she didn’t know how not to. She was a songwriter and an incredible singer though I didn’t get to hear her voice nearly enough. She spent way too much money ensuring we got to hear everything we wanted to on the jukebox of our bar, the place we met. Bob Seger was one of our favorites. She left me secret notes in sharpie on the stalls of the bathroom there, using code names so her girlfriend wouldn’t catch on. That bar has since burnt down, and my patronage ended long before its existence did. I haven’t so much as thought about it for years until now. I remember its queerness and grit and realness and smells and the literal holes in the walls and floor. Filtering through a painful addiction to savor how genuine and thoughtful Tracy was with me will forever make me smile.

Soundtrack: Wild Horses – The Rolling Stones