This is the last post I am writing for heathersquire.com, as I no longer am using that name and I am no longer interested in writing non-fiction or embarrassingly earnest pleas for compassion in late capitalism. I’ll leave it up for archival purposes, but the heathersquire.com domain will go back into the pool in February 2022. I may put my writing online in the future, but it will be under an alias. There is nothing about a public persona, clout-chasing, self-promotion, or begging for market value that interests me. Writing is just a way for me to walk my brain so that it doesn’t kill my body prematurely.
This post is a bit of an ode to my friend, Sam Yang (he/him/Comrade): aka Liberation Martial Artist aka yangfluencer aka half of the Southpaw podcast duo aka someone I “met” online in the pandemic era who has been a great inspiration and support to me ever since (even if I cannot handle being in the Discord chat!). This past weekend Sam posted a video essay that really struck me titled, Have Gi, Will Travel, about his decision to leave a cushy job in the finance sector to travel the US as a wandering martial artist. Check out Part 1:
While the typical way that we conceive of politics in the US is linear, rigid, and predetermined, Yang calls us back to adventure and complexity: embracing impermanence instead of grasping for control, exercising compassion for all people instead of fostering empathy for the few people in our immediate circles, celebrating the spaciousness of boredom and spontaneity instead of set plans and goals that we didn’t even consciously make for ourselves. It’s a truly liberating vision of what it means to be human and to take care of ourselves and others. To watch the full supercut (it’s about an hour long), sign up to support Southpaw on Patreon or leave a tip via Ko-fi ($1 minimum). I loved this video essay so much that I made a donation on behalf of a couple friends. If you cannot afford to donate, send me a message and I’ll donate on your behalf and send you the link. That is how much this piece means to me <3.
Don’t want to support Amazon? Download my book below for free! It is nicely formatted for printing in the “booklet” format (about 40 sheets double-sided). Just three asks:
If you can afford to donate something for the book, anything helps. I’ve been unemployed, but I start at Safeway on Monday so anything really does help: Venmo: @Heather-Squire PayPal.me/Hsquire Cashapp: $squireheather
I still want to donate to the Thai democracy movement tho, so if you only have $1 to donate, send it to Prachatai, an English and Thai-language news outlet that is telling the truth about dictatorship and the movement for democracy in Thailand.Donate via PayPal: firstname.lastname@example.org. ♥️🖤 [https://prachatai.com/english/]
I am writing this now, one day after I decided to go full no-contact with my family of origin, because I am still so close to the feeling of “before”, which I know will fade with time. Two days ago I anonymously published a short essay detailing some of the abuse I endured throughout my childhood. I published it anonymously because I was afraid – mostly of being rejected and called “attention-seeking” by my friends and acquaintances, or even worse not being believed. In the still fresh aftermath, I realize that those thoughts were just projections of my horrible inner critic, still sharp even after so many years of putting in the work to heal. In reality, telling my story was for me and for other survivors of abusive family systems. The most important person that needed to believe it was me, as painful as it is to acknowledge that I could both come from an abusive and loveless home and actually turn out to be a decent and empathetic human. I do realize that I wrote this in a way that sounds like I’m an authority. I just want to clarify that I am not an expert in anything except my own experience. I write this in a “you do this” kind of tone because I am writing the perspective of the chorus of healers, therapists, priests, monks, shamans, friends, researchers, and that arc of the moral universe that eventually got loud enough inside of me to drown out the destructive voices of my abusers (including the ones in my head). I’m excited to begin this new chapter in my life surrounded with the love and support of so many people, including myself.
We might have clear memories of certain parts of our childhood trauma histories, but often it is buried deep inside of us because we had to do that in order to survive – showing anger or fear would only lead to more abuse. The deep feelings of rejection and betrayal and worthlessness imparted by our abusive parent(s) sunk deep into our developing brains, leading to self-hatred and a distorted sense of self we carried into adulthood. This pervasive fear and stress was not just damaging to our minds, hearts, and skin – but also our nervous systems. This means panic attacks, autoimmune diseases, and addiction. If any of this sounds familiar to you, I want to tell you again that you are not alone and that what happened was not your fault. You can find help and support.
Educate yourself about trauma, narcissistic abuse, mental health, PTSD/C-PTSD, and how your brain works. You don’t have to buy books or become a published author on the topic – you just need to have a basic understanding of how your brain and body process traumatic experiences, what narcissistic abuse looks like in family and romantic relationships, and how the collective trauma of oppression experienced by different groups impacts and exacerbates individual trauma (eg racism, poverty, heterosexism, etc.). There are so many resources you can find for free online these days. I started a YouTube collection of the ones I found most helpful.
2. People will tell you that the most important thing is to “love yourself first” and it will hurt and frustrate you. Even if you think that comment is trite and unhelpful, just accept that the comment is coming from a place of good will and move on. It doesn’t actually matter if they have the perfect intention or truly understand your suffering – this is about you. You do, in fact, already love yourself. You would not have gotten this far, through so many horrible things, if there wasn’t a glowing core of love inside of you. The problem is that you cannot feel it right now and that is ok. It makes sense that you have erected walls to protect your heart – your defenses have kept you alive.
3. Protect your empathy compassion. If you find yourself annoyed hearing about the suffering of others or the thought comes up in your head like, “Oh, it probably wasn’t that bad,” or “They just want attention,” or “I’m so tired of hearing about racism,” – take it as a sign that your mental health may be on a downward trajectory and pay attention to it. Humans are social animals who need to give and receive love in order to survive. You will never heal if you allow the abuse you experienced to destroy your connection to society at large – and if it’s left unchecked you’ll find yourself repeating the cycle as an abuser yourself.
4. You are not “too smart” to end up in an abusive relationship (and if you were born into an abusive family system, you didn’t have a choice in the matter anyway). This isn’t about intelligence – most of us rationally know that we shouldn’t let our natural impulses such as selfishness or the need for connection dominate every other aspect of our lives. Sometimes a little selfishness is good – particularly when you set boundaries: we check that impulse against our own empathy and respect for other people. But if you grew up in an abusive household that lacked unconditional love and care, your brain was affected and you likely became conditioned to chasing that love in a way that is mirrored in your adult romantic relationships. Obviously it’s more complex than that, but you are already educating yourself on how your brain works so you get the basic idea.
5. You need love more than anything, but it probably feels so far away and impossible right now. Cultivate platonic intimacy instead of chasing sex and romantic relationships, which can become addictions of their own. You probably have a few friendships situationships that aren’t actually supportive or nurturing – those are not what I’m talking about. There are people all around you – well right now they are all online, of course – but there are good and caring people with open hearts that would love to hold space for you and to have you hold space for them. They might be acquaintances that you are Facebook friends with, but never really pursued because they were not “cool” or into partying (numbing) pre-Covid. Maybe they are more introverted. You are not going to find that in reactionary online spaces or even some of the more liberal political spaces, so don’t expect it. Explore your own softness in the safety of solitude. Learn about radical self-love and entertain the possibility that we all need a bit of it these days. Make yourself a Spotify playlist of songs that have big nurturing/mothering energy and listen to it often – Beyonce, Bjork, Lizzo, and (newer) Ke$ha. Sing all those love songs to yourself, as if you are whispering a lullaby to a scared child.
6. Rationally accept your friends love you, even if you don’t feel it right now. I know it’s hard to trust on the worst days – especially if you learned growing up that love is transactional and inconsistent. If there is a possibility that this is all an elaborate ruse on the part of your close friend to one day humiliate or abandon you, there must also be a possibility that there is something about you that they find so delightful, so worthwhile, so endearing that they stick around because their life is better with you in it. If both are possible, it doesn’t actually risk anything to go with option B because that pain is inevitable. When you choose option A, you suffer twice – in anticipation of the pain and when the pain actually happens.
7. Sit and breathe. Exhale with force and even noises if you’re feeling it. Don’t bother reading too much about mindfulness or meditation, as judgement often arises from all the different theories and ideas. What is important here is to remember that breath is life – we do it all the time and never stop breathing until we die. I held my breath without knowing it for most of my life, always holding in my rage or anticipating some other disaster. When you just let yourself breathe, feeling the air fill your chest and flow out, you can calm yourself if you are triggered into a state of hyperarousal. This is especially important if you know you need to confront some really ugly things in your past one day. These things might be really scary and painful and they might fill you with rage. Good – you need to finally feel those feelings in order to stop them from haunting you. If you practice deep breathing now – 2 minutes here, 5 minutes there – your mind and body will be more prepared for when that time of feeling your anger finally comes.
8. Learn about self-compassion. It might be awhile before you feel it and that’s fine. First you can practice having that compassion for other people. For instance, it might be really hard to identify your own abusive childhood or manipulative relationship. But what if you saw a stranger treating a child that way? What if your friend’s partner was talking to them in a really demeaning way or gaslighting them all the time? You would probably do something about it – maybe seek out a person to talk to or if it was right in front of you and really bad you might intervene. When you look at it from this outside perspective, with compassion in your heart, it no longer matters that the abusive person had an abusive childhood or suffered from depression. What matters is getting the child or your friend to safety and making sure they get extra love to help them heal. Think about this often. Journal about it. Read the accounts of people who were abused and got out. Let yourself feel sadness and anger for their suffering. This will prime you to start seeing it in your own life.
9. Get a therapist and understand that they are human and limited. I signed up for Medicaid and got a therapist that I see about once a month. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing. Even once a month can give you the time to vent all of your ugliest darkest feelings to a compassionate listener that isn’t your friend or partner. Our loved ones cannot be the only people you talk to about your trauma and abuse. They are only human and cannot possibly carry it all, no matter how much they love you. Pretty much any therapist will gently push back against your cognitive distortions, keep you accountable as you try to change some habits, and remind you of your progress. If you aren’t connecting with your therapist – if they are racist, don’t take you seriously, or don’t remember you, etc. – get another therapist. The process takes time, but its worth it. You are investing in the happiness of your future self.
10. You are the only person that knows the depths of your suffering. Sometimes it will seem like nobody but other survivors will “get it”. But the validation of other people is not what will be healing – it’s the validation you give yourself. For me that meant “going back in time” to re-parent myself. And since I don’t have a healthy experience of parenting, I decided to imagine myself as a tough and loving foster mom who adopts that brilliant and scared little girl, taking her away from the danger and giving her all the love she never got. And part of that love was to give her a new name, which is why I decided to change my name.
I’m sure I will have a lot more thoughts on this in the future, but like I said I wanted to get it out while it was all still so fresh that I can feel both the before and after states in my mind and body.
Two years ago I compiled a list of ten films that I used in the class I taught about the housing crisis. Since that time, the housing crisis has not disappeared and in fact has only been exacerbated by the continued financialization and land grabs by private equity firms and the massive loss of income brought by Covid-19. As the Biden administration settles in and the process of managing our expectations over what is needed and what is possible, it is more important than ever that we root ourselves in the truth of housing as a human right. Here are twenty more films to educate, agitate, and move us towards action.
1. PUSH, The Film
2. Decade of Fire
3. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
4. Priced Out: Fifteen Years of Gentrification in Portland, Oregon
5. Land Grabbing
6. Comuna Under Construction
7. Ȟesápa: A LANDBACK Film” [first installment]
8. Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle [UK]
9. Techos y Derechos [Spanish with English subtitles]
10. We Will Not Be Moved
11. 99 Homes
12. Mobile Homes: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
13. Segregated by Design
14. What It’s Like to Be Evicted in the Middle of a Pandemic
16. East Lake Meadow: A Public Housing Story
17. Human Shelter
18. Airbnb Dream Or Nightmare
19. Tenants Rise Up!: Fighting for Housing Justice in the Bay Area
20. Housing is a Human Right: Eviction Defense Workshop w/ Jamaal Bowman and Housing Justice For All
This post goes out to the family member who is subscribed to my blog, but is blocked on social media. When your family of origin is a primary and consistent source of pain, sometimes all you have is boundaries. I’m choosing to address their concerns after having some time to think and cool off from their own fiery aggression.
The final chapter of my book Hard Bones is an essay about neoliberalism written for an audience that does not have the benefit of the education and study necessary to take a long view of what is actually a very short period of time: the last 70 years since the end of World War 2 and the GI Bill, which helped millions of mostly white families own a home for the first time. The history of how this happened is fairly complex and difficult to communicate to the average reader lacking the scaffolding to make sense of it – I should know, I wrote part of my Master’s thesis on the topic and taught an undergrad elective based on it. As often happens on the Left, it is easy to get caught up in the pedantic review of facts and figures, losing the forest for the trees – the forest being a deep and empathic understanding of the role of white supremacy and settler colonialism in determining policy whose implications continue to unfold today in the form of neighborhood segregation (which is worse now than it was at the end of World War 2), vastly diminished Black wealth, increased vulnerability to Covid and other diseases, and a host of other hinderances to full citizenship and thriving in the Black community (extensively documented by researchers in the last 20 years). This is not new to Black, indigenous, and other people of color who have lived with that reality, but it is not part of the worldview of many white people who never had to give much thought to it. How could I make these historical facts come alive and engender empathy and solidarity?
…My Pop-pop arrived in the US at the age of four from Kingston, Jamaica aboard the ship Abangarez. He was drafted and was awarded a Silver Star at The Battle of Anzio in 1944. He returned home and got a job at the Bristol Myers Squibb factory, raising three children with my grandmother in the simple row homes near the factory. Both of my grandfathers were union members – a Teamster and a Machinist.
This is of course a vast over-simplification of my Pop-pop’s life, but I didn’t have much to go on beyond Ellis Island’s records and a few family anecdotes. Besides, this story is not about him in particular, but his generation in general. I didn’t really know him or my Mom-mom growing up because my mother declared them “worldly” and only made the hour drive to their modest retirement community a couple times a year, and only for a few hours. They both passed away when I was in high school and the only impressions I had of my Pop-pop were his dollar bill gifts, his temper, and his liberal use of the n-word. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that his Jamaican heritage was not totally that of a settler, however it was scandalous enough to merit being a family secret. One of the family anecdotes is a quote from him to his children, that they should “Tell people you are from Jamaica, Queens, not Jamaica, West Indies,” but it was always treated as an example of his sharp wit and not hard evidence that he “wasn’t fully white”. Ancestry.com would later tell me that 2% of my DNA is connected to “Cameroon, Congo, and Western Bantu Peoples”, but that doesn’t tell me much. I’m still curious about it because the history of racialization, immigration, and identity in the Americas and the Caribbean is interesting, as is the history of “passing” in order to survive racial apartheid in the US.
The family member that this passage enraged is in possession of memories big enough to fill a book about my Pop-pop, but they are hers alone. I can confirm that the row home he purchased through the GI Bill was actually in a mixed-race working class neighborhood and that there was only a few thousand dollars worth of wealth transferred on after all the bills were paid – the granular is always more complex than the macro and if hard Bones is ever published, I will probably just yoink the whole section to avoid the proprietary concerns of my aging relatives. But the rest is an abstraction related to this collection of people I share DNA with, but who decided long ago that I was the family asshole for calling out the abuse, for escaping, for being weird, for being involved in politics, for getting tattoos, for leaving the church, for calling addiction what it is, and for not performing up to their standards of strained normalcy. But for as much therapeutic/spiritual/self-help “work” as I have done over the years to avoid turning into an angry, disassociated, and unstable person, they can rest assured that their poison still haunts me and repeats in my actions before I can even grasp it. I possess the family heirloom and intend to be buried with it alone.
As someone who thinks that humans are capable of an economic system far more stable, equitable, and sustainable than capitalism, I haven’t spent that much time thinking about what a socialist economy would look like in my every day life. When I say socialism, I mean a democratically-managed economy, where the industries and services we all need (like power, the mail, and healthcare) are owned by all of us. But what about businesses? Many internet critics that rail against the evils of socialism and communism conjure up these drab, grey pictures of people waiting in breadlines and a massive unaccountable bureaucracy. And I have to admit – the image is certainly not the kind of world that I want to live in. But are they correct that a democratically-managed economy must certainly turn into such a dystopia? I have been a critic of capitalism for more than twenty years, but I haven’t seen that many descriptions of a post-capitalist economy that really get me excited. Not that they don’t exist – Cooperation Jackson and the World Social Forum immediately come to mind – but they never really make it out of niche circles of activists and into the world of cable news. So I decided to lay about daydreaming what it might look like.
In another life, I ran a kitchen-based baked goods business. I made all kinds of delicious confections – chocolate-espresso brownies with hazelnut buttercream, custom birthday cakes, and chocolate peanut butter cookies to name a few. I really wanted to have a “real” business one day, a cute café where people would meet their friends or order a special cake; something where I’d have a few employees and all of us would share the profits after expenses/rent/loans/etc. I didn’t have much money to invest, but I had my skills and a good credit score – why shouldn’t I just be an entrepreneur?? A small business owner. The problem is risk and the very real threat of economic oblivion in the event that the failure. And for restaurants, the rate of failure is stunning: sixty percent of restaurants don’t make it past their first year and 80 percent go out of business within five years. I had $80,000 in student debt and no trust fund or rich spouse to fall back on. Some of you reading this might assume that I have low self-esteem or that my product just wasn’t that good. I can assure you that neither of those are the case. I made a rational decision based on the information available to me and concluded that there were too many uncertain variables weighing against the small chance of success. I think we can all agree that desserts and baked goods are not socially necessary in the sense that one can lead a pretty ok life without having access to them. But they are a social good – a means of treating oneself to something delicious or celebrating a loved one. What about a bake shop under socialism?
Under the current system, I – as a potential business owner – write up a business plan, secure a loan, contract with a landlord for space, and invest my own money into equipment and making the space attractive to potential customers. I must either know in advance about marketing, or else pay someone to do it for them. If the business takes a long time to start making money, I will have to take on more debt to be able to stay open and pay employees, driving down the wages and forcing employees to “do more with less”. If another bakery selling pastries were to open up across the street, there is nothing I could do about it. Even if they offered similar items at 1/3 the price because that other owner had a rich parent or patron keeping them afloat, there is nothing I could do to compete besides lowering my prices or investing even more money into advertising. If my business fails during the second year of my 5-year lease, I still have to pay all of the rent for those five years. If after five years of steady growth and building relationships with customers my landlord decides to double my rent, there is nothing I can do. I have to pay or I have to leave the space (not to mention all the capital they invested into it). The business owner is forced to absorb all the risk without any guarantees. So what? Just file for bankruptcy and start over again in a few years. [Insert eyeroll].
Opening a bakery under a socialist system would look a lot different because the goals of the economy would be different. How many times have you decried the existence of a Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks, around the corner from another Starbucks? This is how our space is organized under capitalism. Does there need to be three of the same shitty coffeehouses within a square mile? Probably not. But under the current system there isn’t much that people in the neighborhood can do. There are always “planning meetings” and other liberal urbanist practices that purport to give regular citizens more power, but they are by and large toothless entities that write reports and make suggestions. This is why there are entire neighborhoods where you can’t buy fresh produce. Under socialism, our space would be planned by accountable people who work for the taxpayers. Under capitalism, the free market decides and those with the most capital to invest will always win. Under socialism, the taxpayers would own commercial real estate, protecting the business from money-hungry landlords or, conversely, protecting building owners (not talking about hedge funds or investors here) from huge jumps in property taxes. If the citizens own the property and want to make sure the business is successful, perhaps the business wouldn’t have to start paying their cost-share (formerly rent; now a monthly fee used to start-up new businesses) until they start making money consistently and sustainably. A democratically organized economy by its very nature would want to help businesses survive and to keep neighborhoods stable because it supports human flourishing. These are just a couple of the infinite ways we could decide to organize our economy if we the people actually had power…we have the power.
The beauty of imagining the future is that we can imagine it however we want. We make the rules. If we say we want a socialist economy, that means we have the freedom to imagine all kinds of new economic relationships that favor democracy, justice, equity, and social cohesion. There’s no reason that a socialist economy would look like the USSR – we have access to far more knowledge, research, and stories from people on the ground than there was at the time of the Russian Revolution. Even as they advances in communications technology have created a lot more trash and toxic waste, the ubiquity of smartphones in the world today is a democratizing force that has been underestimated by the “communists want to steal your house” crowd. Just look at the pro-democracy protestors in Thailand – they have been able to organize and mobilize at a massive scale in just a few months, making use of social media to spread news about protests and memes that repeat the movement’s symbols and demands. They demand democracy and a new constitution, in spite of the fact that there has been a military coup there about once every seven years since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. We are capable of creating new kinds of economic relationships that favor human development over shareholder growth. The future is ours to write. If you could organize the economy for the benefit of us all, what would it look like?
The smart money hit the canvas. The long shot got the nod. The yokel had simply stepped inside of his opponent’s sense of time.
[Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man]
As I write this conclusion in the little bedroom of the Covid-safe friend pod, Trump and his followers are waging yet another war on reality, denying the legitimacy of Biden’s election victory. More than 100,000 cases of Covid-19 are reported every day in every part of the US. The 24 hour cable news cycle is reporting every absurd event, debating whether or theorizing how a Trump coup might unfold. The atmospheric dread is thick and orange, choking us with disbelief. The democratic experiment feels more like a failure than usual, especially as so many of us lacked faith in our institutions and that old promise of opportunity to begin with. Not many people believe that a Biden presidency is capable of bringing about the deep changes necessary to confront either the viral memetic infection of Trumpism or the contradictions of racial capitalism. Climate change looms heavy in our hearts too, even as we feel confident in Biden’s ability to bring actual science and scientists to the fore in our battle against Covid-19. Where do we go next? How do those of us that believe in truth, justice, and democracy orient ourselves in the proximate and distant unknowns? What are our weapons and tools of resistance? Who is our opponent?
Meritocracy is one of the great fictions of late capitalism in the US, a shiny chrome paint job obscuring the gutted interior and rusted out chassis of society. Our collective allegiance to the myth that wealth and power are doled out on the basis of individual merit, rather than inheritance, nepotism, and structural advantages, keeps us grinding away for longer hours and shrinking wages – even as the GDP rises and new billionaires are made. The carrot-and-stick nature of meritocratic ideology rewards winners with wealth, influence, and power, while punishing the losers with diminished opportunities, increased vulnerability to violence, and shorter life expectancies. As the wealth gap increases, our visceral reactions to this polarized binary become more extreme as well. We celebrate and elect people that we perceive to be most qualified because we hold it to be self-evident that the wealth, influence, and power they hold are the result of individual striving – hard work and gumption ftw. At the other end of the binary, we pathologize, criminalize, and actively hate poor people because we are enchanted by the delusion that such social failure could only be the result of an individual making shitty life choices. You cheer breathlessly in the school yard while the bully beats the crap out of the weakling, hoping that your sycophantic applause will protect you from being the bully’s next victim – after all you are a half inch shorter than the weakling and you have asthma…it’s not your fault, you think. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
Despite attempts by Thailand’s elites to cast ordinary Thais as docile, obedient, and uninterested in politics, evidence of resistance to exploitation and domination in the region pre-dates the formation of the Thai state. The popular uprising that spread across Thailand starting in July 2020 traces its lineage back to the Red Shirt political movement that emerged in 2006, resistance to the 1991 military coup, the coordinated student, labor, and peasant struggles of the 1970s, and the Siamese Revolution of 1932 before that. While Thailand was never formally colonized, it was still economically dominated by the British imperial system since being pried opened to British foreign trade with the signing of the Bowring Treaty of 1855. The organizers of the Siamese Revolution ended the absolute monarchy and put Thailand on a path towards economic nationalism and modernization; the political ideology of the organizers was not monolithic, however, and the party would eventually split into civilian and military factions. The military faction along with its royalist supporters would ultimately win the dispute, excising any mention of a welfare state or land reform from the new constitution and ushering in fifteen years of authoritarian rule that outlawed communism. Post-World War II prosperity brought with it a more liberal mood and Marxist ideas gained traction in urban Thai society. Progressive political parties, trade unions, literary movements, and the publication of original Thai socialist ideas – as well as translations of Marxist works in other languages – multiplied from 1946 to 1957. These once-banned ideas inspired a generation of student activists, many of whom would go on to organize protests right up until they were banned yet again by another military coup in 1958.