11 October 2020

Coming Out Day 2020


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NCOD logo designed by Keith Haring


It's "coming out" day, and all around me people have been declaring themselvessome with many intersections. Truly, it's a beautiful thing. It makes me feel old fashioned in the labels I know, though. I see that the labels make it easier for people to find each other for support and family.  I don't know if I will ever know them all, and hope you will forgive me.

I, who have called myself asexual for many years, really have something like a river of sensuality flowing through me. I am content to know it, and also content to live alone. I think if I talked to people who talked about such things, I would find the right word for it and would be delighted. But I've rarely talked about sexuality since the early 1980s when I was new to feminism and anything personal was political.  After those days, when asked what I waswhether living out a hetero or lesbian relationship at the timeI usually  just said "sexual." I rejected the label "bisexual" as I had only one relationship at a time. Maybe saying I was simply sexual was a short-cut way of saying that it's a complex question.  I am lucky to have been born into the body that suits me, and with a freedom to experience untroubled attraction and love. I am blessed to have had a soul mate among them.  Further, I am grateful for the friendships that are equally important relationships; I am blessed by the soul mates among them as we journey toward wholeness.

I've met many people who were troubled about gender and sexuality.  As a teacher in theater and creative writing, I have listened a lot.  I'd love to experience a world in which all people knew the options and got to know themselves as free, loving, and lovable.  I wish all of you reading this could make that world come to  be. 


 © 2020 Susan L. Chast



25 July 2020

After morning at PhYM's Plenary Session on Addressing Racism

I recently took--along with a marvelous group from Green St. Friends Meeting--a 28-day challenge by Layla Saad in Me and White Supremacy.  I worked hard at it, and will for a long long time.  I am beginning to hear and cringe at micro-aggressions.  This morning I heard many refer to "we" as white Quakers doing something to help Black Quakers as if they were not part of "we."  Do I do that?

I wanted to call it out (without naming names), but the clerk moved us on to a group picture and a moment of silence at the end.  Efficiency on Zoom is so much more powerful than in person.  Assuming it's necessary to hold deadlines for so many people, and believing this morning generated ideas that will be picked up and acted on later, however, I urge myself to voice this and other contributions to the dialogue through letters and phone calls and writing.  Always writing. 

I wrote this essay-poem in worship earlier today, but I could add these new observations to it.  Language expresses where we are in space, time and openness.  But let me not bias my observations against a bias.  Or should I?  Should I? 

On Language
How young are we when we notice that learning means
acquiring languages? Not soon enough for us to become
world citizens conversant with multiple living tongues,
but early enough to learn to read multiple sign systems.

We use them for self-preservation. Passive grammar is
among the first: Not taking responsibility, but assigning it
to objects and thin air, like “It broke” instead of “I broke it”
and like “He died” instead of “I killed him.”

Impersonation might be next, soon followed by
choosing the signs we want others to read on us
rather than being genuine and unmasked. Offstage,
we wear signs as easily as make-up and costume.

And before we learn that unlearning might be good,
we have swallowed the codes of dominant culture,
which we have less skill to use strategically than
outward signs, less ability to control as we use them.

And then we learn Silence. Did all or some of these
languages keep us safe? At what point did trauma
cause us to let go of direct child-like speaking? Or
were layers a game to be smart, smarter, smartest?

With children to raise, we see the complexity
of learning, the necessity for instilling safety in movement
and language. Without children of our own to learn from,

       we gravitate to nieces, nephews, neighbors, students.

This morning in meeting for Worship, O pointed out that
the Bible book of Matthew records Jesus saying we have 
to turn around, humble ourselves, and become like little
children again.  How young would we have to become?


© 2020 Susan L. Chast

19 June 2020

Within the Systemic . . .

On the second day of Me and White Supremacy the lesson is White Fragility--ways we make working against racism all about US.  We draw attention, we cry, deny, demand, forget we're trying to remove obstacles white privilege leaves in the way of people of color.  I'm working through my gut resistance to being called "white."  I think it gets in the way of the work that I want to do. But find it is the work I am called to do.

At last, accepting I am white people,
obscured in a mass of  kin-like persons.
So that's what it feels like—a reduction—
Black people. White.  Established by law.
The distinction between us.  I am
white people and should converse with my own.
Two steps back to go one forward, to move
up to one step back then two forward. I
attempt to see systemic racism.

The Matrix—a Hollywood scifi film—
clarified "systemic."  Appearances
are deceiving.  Programming makes us live
how big powers want us to, and living
outside the systems is no fun. At least
within them, some people live the promise.
Outside them, some people see how they're rigged.
You're either on the bus or off the bus.
Possibilities are bounded by code.

Exceptions prove the rule. Exceptions
are necessary to make exposure seem a lie.
I made it, so you can too. You're just lazy
try harder. You are Black. I am White. Feel
the pigeonholing. Blue eyes or brown eyes?
You'll get your turn tomorrow, if we don't
achieve freedom today. Confusing, yes?
That's how systems work. First, make us believe
that we're different by natural law.

At last, accepting I am white people
I turn to talk with other white people.
See the lies. Hear the fake narratives. We
walk their line. See angry white people who
want ingrained systems to be natural.
Mommy will love them. Daddy likes them best.
Daddy rewards them for a reign of rage.
Terrorism is domestic, programmed
into systems that we must outgrow.

Tomorrow is Juneteenth, now a state holiday.

© 2020 Susan L. Chast

17 June 2020

White Supremacy and Me, and Believing in Myself

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Layla Saad is an author, speaker & teacher on the topics of race, identity, leadership, personal transformation & social change.

Layla is the NYT bestselling author of the ground-breaking book Me and White Supremacy (2020), the host of Good Ancestor Podcast, and the founder of good ancestor academy.

I joined a group that is beginning to work on the 28-day challenge that Ms. Saad leads in this book. One might say that this is the last thing I need right now, to add another daily event in my life while I'm trying to put my next poetry book together and procrastinating fiercely.

Procrastinating fiercely. Ha! There's some kind of oxymoron.

So why do this now? The right group came together, or, rather, the right organizer: Lola George. I think she could help me be honest. Viv is there, too. Both could say along with me that they've done the work before, but this probe is systematic in unpacking the disease of white supremacy. I feel that I can be honest--honester and honester--in unpacking of my privilege and becoming a better ally along the way. I could stop unconsciously handicapping my black friends. I am handwriting the daily journaling. It feels more private than blog-able to me right now. I hope that allows me to be more vulnerable than I've been before. And also I hope to get to know more of Green Street Meeting for Worship in this process.

So, how not to make this an excuse for "procrastinating fiercely"? The answer may be in an earlier to bed and earlier to rise intention.

I have to want something more than I want to play games and TV and Netflix.

I want to believe in myself.


  © 2020 Susan L. Chast

09 June 2020

Digging for a Poem . . .

⚘   ⚘   ⚘   ⚘

. . . in the details of my life, in my inner monologue.

A neighbor took out my garbage.
She noticed I hadn't done it, and . . . .
In a loosened lock down, neighbors notice
what's close by and they speak from a reasonable distance,
a physical safety zone. As if we come out
of our bunkers to see who's still alive.

Surprise, surprise to notice my first thought is gratitude.
It's often a low grumble. Gratitude has replaced my inner
grumble of resentment and remembrance of past mistakes.
What was a weed in my garden turns out to be a rose.
I might be able to let go of the fear that as I age
and dementia sets in, all my anger, feelings of superiority,
and resentment will spill out, and everyone--even me--
will learn who I really am.

I just noticed an inner thank you instead of
What was she doing in my yard? It's my job . . .
and last year they snubbed me and why should I talk
to them now? Just because I called the police on them
five years ago for burning garbage in their back yard,
even though I knew better than to call police
on Arab American people. I did it without thinking.
It turned out OK didn't it?
An exhale of relief.
I will not pick that flower but allow it room to grow.

Gratitude is revolutionary. I am happy to live where 

police assume good unless proven otherwise;
where the police know respect and de-escalation.
No one needs to act from dis-empowerment--not old,
young, white, black, Latinx. We are lucky.
But why is it luck and not the lay of the land?
It isn't that hard to feel gratitude instead of meanness,
to chance meeting God in other people.

Gratitude. Deep, deep earth, a moment located just outside
that is always the center of the world and never the center
of anything: What we do, what we learn walking around
our neighborhood.  We make room for each other. Gratitude.
I am one of the few white people. At times I try to see me 
through the eyes of neighbors unlike me.

Excuse me. Where's my Words with Friends partners?
Excuse me, I have to go and play a few rounds before 

I think about one more serious thing.  To think, to write, 
to live, to take a fun break, to pray.

Words With Friends takes me to Facebook time.
I get hungry for it just as I do for communal silence.
It is way too noisy in my home today with drive-by
graduations everywhere, and all the words in my head.

Happy Graduation Seniors!
I'm going outside to wave to them.
And then I'm going to put the garbage cans away.


FYI:  The inner monologue is overactive mind/heart/body/spirit.  It is not "the still small voice of God."   I have to move through a meditative stillness to have any chance of that.  I also have to listen to others.

Oh right, eye contact. Ok, good, holding the eye contact... holding... still holding... ok, too long! Getting weird! Quick, look thoughtfully into space and nod. Oh, dammit, said 'yeah' again!

  © 2020 Susan L. Chast