where the writers are
Swimming with Emma Goldman while California Burns
Emma Goldman. Can you picture her in a string bikini?

Our spot on the Russian River just above Cloverdale was quiet and the sky strange. The water was muckier than usual. Still, we'd driven an hour and a half for this nature. So we swam, we played cards, we laughed, we tossed sticks for the dogs, we fought with the dogs over who got to sit on the towels. The sky was strange, a too-familiar strange, a fire sky.

Jessica Barksdale Inclan might be right about the world ending. The world is always ending, sometimes worse than other times. But the world rarely ends as fast as we think and fear it will. We're in this struggle -- this life -- for the long haul; we need to touch beauty, we need to refill.

The anarchist Emma Goldman knew. She wrote in her autobiography Living My Life (1934):
At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha [Alexander Berkman], a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.

I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business, I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. "I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things." Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world--prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own comrades I would live my beautiful ideal.

If Emma Goldman were alive, she'd probably come with us swimming. We'd drive up to the Russian River. The dogs would run in the water, then come out and shake on us, and we'd laugh with the dogs. Then all of us would plunge and gasp in the cold current, swimming in life and joy beneath the strange sky while California burned and the world continued to end. 

1 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

Emma sounds

like my kind of anarchist.  Work all day, dance all night, even when Rome burns.

These younger anarchists don't seem to have such an intensity (and I think the times kept Emma from being as much of a dancing fool as she might have liked).  And my son, at least, doesn't look at the "coming" end with fear.  He'd probably swim with you in the river, too.

Ah, so much to think about.  Thanks for those quotes, though.


Jessica Barksdale Inclan www.jessicabarksdaleinclan.com