Things Change

 

April 16, 2019

In November, a month after my first entry, a horrific suspicion everyone secretly holds in the depths of their hearts became a reality. Someone very closed to me was diagnosed with cancer- my mother.

This event occurred a few months in to my fellowship and caused me to I withdraw from my life in New York and fly home to Missouri to take care of my mom and help my dad; there I stayed until the middle of January. I don’t remember a much about my time there, other than drinking a lot of bone broth, sleeping in hospital chairs and reading lots of online cancer forums.

Toward the end of January, I flew to Oaxaca to be alone, to sit quietly  in the sun, to heal my body by immersion in the sea, and to begin Spanish language courses. It is one of the best decisions I could have made for myself.  I had many profound thoughts, or ones that seemed it in the moment, and I’ll share more someday, but for now I’m still digesting.

Now, I’m back in New York working on the project which was a mere contemplation at the beginning of this fellowship. It’s evolved and expanded with my outlook, taking a different shape than I had considered.

But so has my life.

My mother’s cancer, multiple myeloma, resides in her bone marrow and blood. So far as the latest research indicates, it is not genetic. It is, as one oncologist explained, “an out of the blue cancer.” Yet there are three prominent groups of people who are diagnosed with it: former oil field workers, firefighters and farmers - all three having been exposed to toxic chemicals. There are many theories proposed about its origins and consequently, hundreds of lawsuits filed. The most compelling discovery has been the link between Monsanto’s herbicide RoundUp and blood cancers. There are more than enough reasons to believe my mother’s use of RoundUp and a childhood spent near a toxic landfill, have contributed greatly to her bodies development of this disease.

I’ve been working in New York as a florist for the last 5 years. I come from a long line of farmers and gardeners and I’ve always felt pulled to work alongside the natural world. Yet, my industry contributes overwhelmingly to destroying this landscape and its inhabitants on a much larger scale than one would think.  

Flowers are shipped in from all over the world. Here in the states they come predominately from Latin America. These flower are majority greenhouse grown, doused in chemicals, picked by unprotected workers,  packaged in plastic sleeves and flown to a processing center in the states. Once they make it into the country they’re divided and sent to markets nationwide where they’re purchased by florists. The majority of florists arrange said flowers using floral foam - a plastic foam soaked in formaldehyde - that allows for speedy arranging. This foam can’t be composted, should never be touched without gloves and protective eyewear, off gases in hot environments and and crumbles into microplastics. Florists across the world use this product everyday without understanding what it is they’re exposing themselves or their clients to.

Yet, I have much hope for this industry. There is a growing  group of florists committed to changing everything outlined above. Following in the footsteps of  culinary pioneers, we’re spreading the gospel of farm to table, seasonal and local flowers. The multitude of  grasses worshiping the sun from the abandoned lot next to your home is just as beautiful as the exotic orchids shipped from Vietnam. Trust me.

This summer, I’m self publishing a collection of essays, short stories and poems written by florists, farmers and union workers from all over the world. Each contributor is writing about what they love about flowers and what they don’t. What encourages them and what they want to see changed. This zine, as I’m calling it,  will be available in the Summer of 2019 in both English and Spanish and will be sent all over the world. I hope you’ll read it. Dismantling this machine that has risked my mother’s life along with millions of others, is the best form of therapy I’ve found.

In Solidarity,
Alex




 

Notes on Reciprocity

 

October 14, 2018

My life as a moment before me, a goal or a place I’m moving toward. Or sometimes a moment behind, a memory of an event or feeling. It’s difficult for me be aware in the present, seeing time linearly. I’m trying to change…perhaps, cyclically?

Writing comes easy in my head and next to impossible in execution. This isn’t entirely my fault, I’ve been reading authors like Thoreau, Solnit, Baldwin and Kimmerer - they make it seem so easy. 

Autumn is here with crisply spoken sentences streaming in through the windows, the wind summoning darker skies and grayer moods. I shift between excitement and melancholy at the thought of winter. Excitement for the plans I’m laying, and melancholy because guilt follows fear. I’m not as courageous as I want to be.


I found a monarch chrysalis amongst dead branches I was removing from the front garden. After I inspected it and the beautiful dried flower it was attached to, I brought it inside and secured the stem in a floral frog. Every morning I whispered words of encouragement to her on my way out of the door. Then suddenly I couldn’t feel her anymore. Her cocoon went dark and tiny holes appeared - the wasps had eaten her. 


That week I called my mom and we spoke for two hours about the Kavanaugh hearing in the wake of Dr. Ford’s testimony. On opposing sides, we were able to engage in civil, even tender, conversation. Her views tempered mine and mine, hers. 

Could it really be that simple? Is this nonviolent resistance? 

I watch as fellow feminists publish strongly worded posts targeted at republicans, conservatives or white men - addressing them as one group. And I see friends and family publish strongly worded posts targeted at democrats, progressives, and fellow women - addressing them as one group. Our differences of opinions and world views have become our bullet points for conversation. Our differences define us. Left from Right, Male from Female. Wealthy from Poor. Us from Them.

What about what makes us alike? 

My mother, and almost every woman, will agree that Trump’s comments regarding Dr. Ford, victims of sexual assault and woman in general are a far cry from Presidential.

They believe Dr. Ford. While not her entire recollection (and it’s worth asking them why), they believe the woman who spoke up.

This is common ground. 

Understanding this commonality between us, and the many others, is key to any sort of solidarity. And the future of feminism, which is in need of a name that better reflects its more all encompassing mission: to defend, protect and promote all life, depends on this. 

See Dr. King’s 6 Principles of Nonviolence. 

This is the nonviolent resistance. 

I’m currently reading: 

Hope In the Dark - Rebecca Solnit

Braiding Sweetgrass - Robin Wall Kimmerer

Walden and Civil Disobedience - Henry David Thoreau 

Notes of a Native Son - James Baldwin 

You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train - Howard Zinn

And every issue of Harper’s and every episode of On Being