Be Easy On Those Doing The Work.
A random list I initially thought could organize this piece and would be deleted afterwards but as lists do, this one started doing it’s own thing and insisted it remain a list undeleted:
- why i’m mad
- why i’m grateful
- why i cut my hair/ let someone I love who doesn’t cut hair cut my hair
- why is my dog so itchy
- what is the shape of my trauma
- how can i use my time here for the most good for others
- how can i use my time here for the most good for myself
- what stands in my way/ today/ this week
- how prospect park sustains me through a pandemic/ will that lone man in the woods attack me?
- how will i read all these books / I have some books I ordered I forgot to pick up today / (remember to pick them up)
- can I eat cake instead of dinner today / the vegetables in my fridge are judging me
- how I like setting essays up as chaotic so I can be a bit self-deprecating
- I do self-deprecation to make others feel comfortable
- what if I regularly went out there telling people how dope I actually think I am? would they be able to handle it?
- End of essay lists are cool but how about top of essay ones?
- You all know that we need to abolish ACS, or whatever local administration takes children away from Black and Brown families, right?
- Can I write an essay entirely in questions?
I’m reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche which was recommended to me in a death doula certification course I’m taking online. What is a death doula you ask? The short answer is death doula work is similar to birth doula work but for the dying. Another answer is that what we call “death doula” has existed in some way/shape/form for as long as humans have been dying. There have always been those who assisted in the dying (and birthing) of humans. It’s often times ancient wisdom unconnected to capitalist pay structures that we never hear about. There is an intense need for spiritual and practical death support in this country and not a lot of conversation around that, which means many of us are traumatized by death events that may mirror the ways we feel unseen in our lives. Hospitals don’t know what the fuck they are doing in this regard, don’t even get me started about how they treat Black or Brown people while dying.
So I’m low key convinced that the thing I needed all along is to be a Buddhist. Emphasis on the low key. But I am also thinking about slowing down, what’s it all for, capitalism taking us to the edge of survival.
I’ve read a bunch of books in the past few years that are lauded by smart bookish people in the Western canon so just reading a “…spiritual classic and international Bestseller”, the “26th Anniversary Edition”, a popular book written for the most possible eyes to see it feels kind of refreshing. Written by Sogyal Rinpoche, Buddhist meditation master and teacher, the book is not always concise and often spends a bit too much time trying to convince us of the fact of things they clearly believe, e.g. that we all have lived previous lives (reincarnation-ish). Concepts I personally would rather just read about without having to witness the impossible hoops an Eastern writer has to jump through in trying to convince Westerners of their validity. There are of course some parts of the book that trigger me with visions of long-dead male Buddhist masters who are venerated, sometimes carved into stone, a photo taken of them next to a suggestion that we could deepen our own meditation while looking at their photo. The women seem to occupy largely nonexistent or supporting roles, but honestly isn’t that the current case everywhere if we are really being honest? So no, I’m not going to give this book any shit for some writing that has brought me real, slow moments of silence and peace.
Besides meditation and Buddhism, the book has me thinking about how ethnically Eastern authors write for Western audiences. Whether we say we are writing for Western audiences or not, if we are writing in English in a English-dominant culture, then aren’t we? If perhaps there’s a way to flip it and write primarily for ourselves or an audience of us (whatever us means), then how is it done? How do we not fall prey to the writing that lives in a constant convincing? Convincing that our existence, our way of thinking, is in fact legitimate? Is it premature to think we are beyond the ‘legitimizing of our own existence’ era of BIPOC writing? Even if we are not beyond it technically, do we still say fuck it, and write the way we dream the world could be? Or just write in a way that is a relief from the world as it exists?
Another thing I’m thinking of is the endless consumption of BIPOC pain by white institutions that only want to hear about the pain to the extent it sells and they can identify it as something not caused on their watch . Everyone wants to essentially not change much without getting cancelled. Getting to the source of the pain, to proactively begin to undo the systems that cause the trauma — when will capitalism make that sexy? But ultimately Black and Brown pain is now part of our diet, it does sell. We like it. If it often feels voyeuristic, that may be because of us. It’s always been a basic tenet of a part of American society, we can look to when white families brought their kids to watch lynchings like it was the movies? We are used to rape in our tv programs, movies, and plays but to actually root out rapists from power, to actually create a culture where rape cannot exist? That’s not entertainment anymore. Does watching the pain make us feel better? Perhaps generations of being entertained by the pain has numbed a part of society so that we don’t remember how to act? Maybe the knowledge that someone is in more pain than we are makes our own angst palatable? I’m just guessing. And if you have gotten used to reading and watching about Black and Brown pain but not actually doing anything about it, well you may be in your own kind of unique torture chamber of lies. Lying to yourself about your part in it all. When I think of the cost of a lifetime, of generations of those lies, I think of this video clip of James Baldwin I saw on Instagram recently.
I’ve been thinking about what an immense privilege it is to witness someone’s pain, their grief. In recognizing the power of that moment, I’m also realizing the sharing of my pain should be deployed with care and intention. A practice I am currently engaged in is the sharing of more of my joys. But more importantly, the question I’m constantly engaged in is what sharing myself outside of the white gaze looks like.
What else am I musing on? Why even seemingly universal truths (“all humans deserve to live dignified lives where basic needs are met”) start breaking down when words require definition: dignified, whose lives, or basic? It seems insane and only a thing humans could invent. The transformation of language we invented to expand forms of communication into a method of confusion deployed to cloudy basic concepts of what we need to thrive as a species (food, shelter, ability to form connections of our choosing). So then all our inventions require activism to counter our human-ness. Forms of activism I think about: consensus-building (e.g. changing the popular narratives), knowledge-sharing (e.g. giving affected communities essential tools to fight back), and resource-shifting (e.g. moving money from wealthy to poor).
Although I think about activism in the way I think about most things, analytically. Emotionally, I mostly think about the cost of not doing the work, any work, being silent. And this excerpt by Audre Lorde, in her essay The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action (The Cancer Journals):
In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light, and what I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid? To question or to speak as I believed could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. And that might be coming quickly, now, without regard for whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else’s words. And I began to recognize a source of power within myself that comes from the knowledge that while it is most desirable not to be afraid, learning to put fear into a perspective gave me great strength.
Here’s that end of rant list.
Some beautiful images/things:
- A still from artist Modesto Flako Jimenez’s instagram story (On insta: @modesto_flako_jimenez), of his grandmother’s hands. He recently made Mercedes, a multidisciplinary work (in residency at BRIClab) inspired by his mother Margarita and grandmother Mercedes, and the legacy of Latinx individuals she helped migrate to this country. Can be watched on youtube here.
2. I like the way the light falls on my desk.
3. The thing that has saved / keeps saving me this winter. Prospect Park.
4. This book of poetry. Rocket Fantastic by Gabrielle Calvocoressi.
5. I find this song kind of slaps. Identity by Pallavi aka Fijiana.
6. This image (from the @nowness Instagram page) featuring Dalit model/ activist Seema Hari (Instagram: @seemahari)
7. This slide from a photo my dead father took many years ago. I uploaded many of these old slides to my laptop in preparation for his funeral service in July of 2019, which both seems ages ago and like it was yesterday.