Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How Imperfection and Accountability Mix: Part I

The topic of accountability has always been an incredibly important one for me. As a feminist, as a writer, as a person who tries to be wise before I leap, accountability is never far from my hand as I write.

What does it mean to be accountable anyway? Following in the linguistic footsteps of "love," "radical," and "liberation," the word "accountable" is often thrown around for weight and at times, I feel, drama.

I write about accountability
because I think it is a very complicated project of self-awareness and growth. Lately, I've been thinking about the two kinds of accountability I have had struggles with - online accountability and offline accountability.

Let's dive first into offline accountability...

Roughly 16 months ago, I came to a startling epiphany that I needed to go the Philippines. It was a pilgrimage of self-discovery, ethnic pride, family tradition, and confusion. The Philippines was the native homeland of my parents. It's image had soft, billowy clouds around it. It remained, for 30 years, an elusive link to my identity. A dangling key swinging thousands of miles from my reach.

That is, until, I decided to go. Alone.

I felt a sense of accountability to myself, my parents, to the people I had never made an effort to know and yet think about so much. The Philippines. It was there that I found a grounding peace. It came from meeting family. It came from researching sexual violence against Filipinas. It came from meeting activists, scholars, farmers, and artists who welcomed me as a Balikbayan, "one who returns home."

It was there that my sense of accountability grew. It grew, specifically, to Filipino women who were abused, trafficked, raped, kidnapped, tortured, and tossed into ditches, shallow graves, and death without justice.

I was gone for June through August of 2008.

* * * *

Today I received a heartfelt and difficult letter. It was from a dear friend whom I have loved for a long time. He and I exchange writings, poems, rainy talks without umbrellas, and stories. When I looked at the rain, I thought of G*. We had more differences than similarities but our similarities were powerful. We had similar concepts of spirituality, justice, and the agonizing waves of darkness that come with passionate loving. We loved our lovers fiercely and our friendship was connected with thick cable chords wrapped in understanding. Thickly, tightly wrapped.

G* wrote me a letter about two things: his joy and his disappointment. He wrote me about the joy of marrying the love of his life, his unfolding career, and New England -- the city of Boston we both loved so much.

And then he wrote of his disappointment. He referenced the time period of when I was deciding to go on my trip to the Philippines, except he didn't write it explicitly. He wrote how I, essentially, disappeared and never told him to his face that I was moving, leaving Boston and our friendship, and never returning. After the Philippines, I would be moving to Cleveland to start anew, write more, and lead a life of quiet purpose. The problem was that I never told him. In the last months of my stay in Boston were the same months he was preparing for marriage. And I never called. Never wrote. Never said good-bye. I was focused on other Things, see? Things like accountability, justice, and human rights.

This letter came to me with dried disappointment. The kind of disappointment that you can almost feel in your hands. It was as if the letter had been dipped in river of hurt and then left on a desk to dry before it arrived for me to read. It was dreadful to read because it was so true.

I left Boston and my life there without saying a word to this man, my friend, someone to whom I was accountable and, quite simply, forgot about. In some of the most forming and exciting months of his life, I vanished. Left town. Let news get to him via friends and old gossip.

* * * *

Even those who pride themselves on loving and justice fuck up. In major ways, we forget some of the most simple concepts of compassion. God, that's humiliating and so painful to remember that our scarred human skin is entirely capable of scarring someone's unblemished arms. Don't you hate being graphically reminded that you're not a perfect person? Worse than that reminder is the vile acid in your stomach when you see a wound on another person that you are completely responsible for and, to make matters worse, the wound is a settled scar that was clearly left untreated.

* * * *

The letter was simple and short. It was honest and humble, hurt and truthful. Those are the best and worst words to read. Real friends are the ones who get the truth to you, no matter how long it takes or how sick it makes you feel. I read it a few times.
Went downstairs to sit. Ate dinner. Scarfed it down because somehow the raw shame had famished me.

* * * *

I wrote back. I offered a reply coated with insufficient apology. There's no usefulness in remorse one year later. I wanted to honor his honesty. A simple apology was not enough. I forgot him. What's more - I LET myself forget him. I wasn't looking for self-flagellation, but I was looking to learn how to be accountable to a friend after I so clearly let him down. And so brashly abandoned someone who was and is dear to me.

* * * *

Even when we let Love lead our actions, we somehow manage to follow imperfectly. Even in our most pure efforts to create justice, art, connection and amendments, we somehow rip the roses when we meant the weeds. In a year since I left, in a year since I've been thinking, writing, and wondering about accountability to women and gender analysis, accountability to family and friends in my life vanished.

* * * *

What does accountability look like with, despite, because of our imperfections?

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