Omnipatent Cells


Oh heavens, y’all, I have not felt like I had it in me to write for a bit, but like those other things that “if you think you don’t have time for ___, you EXTRA need to do it, probably to save yourself from yourself” (i.e. exercise, meditation), writing on here is something I can decide I am not currently capable of. I can decide that my thoughts are too swirly, the post won’t make sense or be any good to read, and also I want to just watch this movie or read this book, and also these other five books, aren’t I allowed that, for heaven’s sake?, etc. And the kicker is, of course, every time forever, that writing is in every way the only cure for not-writing.

So! I’m gonna write some. It’s been a highly experiential July, given shape by a couple of meaningful trips–rafting the Green River in Colorado and Utah with EL and Outward Bound, and a few days in New Orleans at an Undoing Racism (antiracist community organizing) workshop through the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB).

And speaking of writing as the only cure for not-writing…I mean, the thing there is that I go, “oh, I have to THINK some more in order to write,” forgetting that writing is thinking with just the right amount of slow-downedness to actually make meaning instead of flailing. And something related came up on both trips: I was called out, with love, on my own headiness. On the river, it was Kathy, a white woman with 30+ years of experience running rivers, a lot of that with Outward Bound. I got to learn from her how to row the oar boat (as opposed to paddling the paddle boats), and it was awesome, and an interesting mix of thinking what to do and feeling what to do. As we debriefed afterward and I noted how she’d kept me answering fun questions about my life the whole time in order to think less and feel more about rowing, she nodded and pointed to my head: “Seems like you stay up here a lot.” This Friday, as we all milled about leave-takingly, I was joking with Thea, a Black woman who organizes with PISAB, and basically made a white-guilt reference, and she said: “I hear you, and feel you, and want you to be gentler on you. You stay up here (points to head) and that’s ok, but be careful without adult supervision.” Typed out it looks maybe condescending, but it wasn’t, and I don’t think she meant adult-like-her-not-like-me; I took her to mean guidance, and possibly from my own self. Some slowdownedness, too.

A lot came up during both trips, and I believe a lot will come out of them, but there is another connection between them that has taken over my brain, and that is…well, I actually have swirly thoughts about what to call it, but I’m going to defer to common English usage and just say “inclusion.” Even with the lens narrowed to that concept, I feel like I could write 50 pages about how that manifested in both experiences, so if you want more than I’ll say here, please give me a call. For here and now though, here’s the crux of what I feel like I know now, at the end of this July: 1) inclusion–a sense that one belongs in one’s community, however micro or macro, and the behaviors that build that sense in people–isn’t just nice, or moral, it’s necessary* and 2) racism (by which people who do antiracist work mean “racial prejudice plus power” **) is the most significant barrier to inclusion in this country. It is not the only one, and every way that our dumb culture considers people “one-down” is dehumanizing to us all. As Ron Chisom, one of PISAB’s founders, says, “when you add color, oppression doubles,” and if we look with open hearts at, for example, what women of color face (in terms of outcomes within systems, and measures of well-being) as compared to white women, or what people of color in the LGBT community face as compared with white people in that community, this is just true. I also like it when people say things like “there’s not an oppression olympics!” and I think that’s right on and largely the view I hold; what I am getting at here is that this is where I have to put my own energy; this is what I put myself in service of.  So this is what I mean by taking over my brain. I gladly give my brain to this.

Now: about those swirly thoughts about what to call it… see, I got all excited to do a post on “include/inclusion,” and then I looked it up, and…I don’t love the etymology.


I like the tidy morphological contrast with “exclude,” but I don’t like “to close, shut”…just “in” instead of “out.” Because shut is still shut, and while we use “include” to emphasize the in-ness, the shut-ness preserves the notion of out-ness, too; if it’s shut, there’s still an outside, excluded. So I spent some time, and I mean some time, this morning trying to invent a good new word. I tried all kinds of dang Latin verbs, hoping to capture something to do with “in” (but not out), “belong,” “welcome,” “all,” hold.” “Omniclusive” was a front-runner for a while; in the end though, I just went with the opposite of shut: open! Now: there are some words in Latin for “open.” Plenty, really, and because as the neologist I have some leeway, I’m choosing one that’s fun to say: omnipatent. Omni: all. Patent, from  Latin “patere” which is “stand open, be open,” and sometimes “allow.” Yes, that! For all. AND, I’d gotten all that nosing around with etymology dictionaries and translators and Latin sites, and didn’t even check funny old 1934 Websters Int’l:


And I’m super glad I did, because these words are just lovely.

And now, the doodle (again):


So, here’s what I realized making it and thinking about what I wanted that wasn’t included in “inclusion.” Because…I spent a lot of time in circles–yes, fine, in that heady Kathy-Thea way, but also physically standing or sitting in them, because that’s how I facilitate and often am facilitated. So…here’s the reason I need a new word: some circles really need to just be inclusive, and basta. They need to shut the people in and make a mini-world we can all belong to and keep just ours. And: when Bill and I were figuring out how to get married in our backyard, we got to the notion of a marriage circle under a dear tree, and once we started physically making it, we realized it felt super weird to actually close it, because…there were so many loved ones, right outside! We wanted it to symbolically hold them too, so we just left part open, and this is the kind of circle I want to also exist: an omnipatent circle, that still meets the criteria for a good circle (everyone can see everyone else without flailing), but leaves a space for those not present, because they can’t be or because we don’t know how to invite them well yet; “not closed to knowledge, use, entry…easily reached”…and omni-“conferring rights and privileges.” To quote Ron again: what’s been done can be undone.


* “necessary”: In particular, I learned from Camille Farrington about the mindsets that researchers have found matter that kids have in school: “I belong in this academic community. My ability and competence grow with my effort. I can succeed at this. This work has value for me.” This work of hers is here.

** “racial prejudice plus power” : this is an explicitly systemic view. “Power” here means legitimate (i.e. legal) access to and advantage within systems (like the educational system, the justice system, the financial system, the political system, etc). It’s why antiracism holds that people of color cannot be “racist”–they do not hold “power” as defined here (given that all these systems were set up and are controlled by white people and white people have better outcomes within them). Though of course people of color can exhibit racial prejudice, as everyone can. Here, “racist” is not synonymous with “asshole”–it’s naming a system of advantage for white people, not individuals who express overtly racially prejudiced views.

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