October 2013

Post 123.

You know when you’re mad at someone, really mad, like for a long time and you don’t know how to un-mad yourself, even though most of you really wants to. You think it has to do with acceptance and forgiveness, and recognizing we are all human and imperfect. Or maybe just with growing up. You got to grow up enough to realize that he or she is growing up too. Or maybe it has to do with their investment in making amends, so that they show responsibility for what they caused by whatever they did to you.

So, you ponder being mad, which can at times feel a bit like madness, and you map it’s myriad implications, thinking that you’ve hit a threshold where you are not going to make being mad an issue, but you are not going to pretend you can forget it either, not when you might just have valid reason in the future for getting mad again. I mean, people don’t change overnight, right? Or at all? And, you’re already mad, why let it go when it’s made you wiser and stronger and more able to know what you needed and expected, and still do?

Then, just when you are coming to terms with the fact that being mad has changed you, or you and them, irreparably, you realize that you’ve been that person that they don’t like or you’ve been thoughtless or got things unnecessarily mixed up or acted as if they were still doing that thing that made you mad when they weren’t. Wait, he or she is mad at you!

If you think it’s feeling vulnerable that made you mad, wait until the feeling of vulnerability from realizing you’ve hurt someone hits you.

Suddenly you appreciate him or her in technicolor, regardless of whatever. Suddenly you get what they meant when they asked you to pretend you have amnesia, and what happened never did and never mattered. You want don’t want them to make being mad decide the future.

And, bizarrely, that’s the break. You feel a little less mad because you realize you hurt them, and instead of you holding back it’s now them, and really you just want a hug, having apologized, so that you know they still like you. Now that you’ve glimpsed their soft inside, you just want to get close to it to make everything alright, because maybe then you are both more likely to communicate or be considerate or feel connected.

The whole mad thing might be less important than figuring out how to not make the same mistakes, because knowing now how each other feels might make it so much more possible to do things together that end up better.

Turns out that it wasn’t their apology that moved you an inch forward, it was yours. And it wasn’t about how you dealt with being mad, it was about they dealt with you. And even if you still have things to be mad about, so do they and once you saw that you just wanted to figure out how to make it all okay.

You start wondering whether your approach all along was wrong, just a lot of misplaced certainty and effort that was more reaction than direction, more escape than making peace.

That’s when, in the space that was being taken up by being mad, other things start to stretch their fingers and toes, like longing and appreciation and affection and closeness and care.

And it seems like a miracle because you said you wanted only to receive love, and now it’s here.

Post 122. 

Seconds before the anesthesia cut off consciousness, so that a dangerously large cyst and the perfectly healthy ovary to which it was attached could be removed, all I could picture was Ziya, laughing. All I heard in my head was her calling ‘mama, mama’, that ancient resonating hum, that sound that captures the wish for motherhood and it’s fulfillment. Having never had surgery before, part of me was calm and rational, part was scared I wouldn’t wake up. You never know, something can go wrong, and I wanted to see my baby again.

Two more days passed before I could give her what she calls ‘proper love up’. Stone brought her home asleep, when I could spend quiet time kissing her fingers and her eyebrows, and rubbing my nose against the back of her neck. The next morning, I showed her the bandage and she showed me the cut on her knee, and told me all about the debate she and some boy in school were having over the correct pronunciation of ‘cucumber’. Apparently, this is conversation by the water cooler for three year olds. It was delightful just to be with her lively mind and innocent heart. She’s gone again, to grandmothers who are keeping her while I recover.

The healing isn’t only physical. Whether it’s cysts or fibroids or cancer that causes women to increasingly end up under the knife, when you talk to them, you may also hear a lot of stress, anger, exhaustion, disappointment and worry or hurt, guilt, resentment and fear, or maybe all wrapped together into a toxic mix that seeps into our cells, adding dead weight to our bodies.

Doctors will likely disagree with me because they look for sources of illness through science and chemistry, but we can’t be well physically if we don’t also feel accepted, happy, confident, trustful and so many other emotions, because these are how our body experiences our spirit. We may think our bodies are holding up while our spirits are struggling, sad, bruised, lonely or weary, but that myth starts to shred eventually and unmistakably.

So, there is rest, good foods, fresh air, exercise and even the right drugs. Instinct tells me deeper decisions, that move beyond protective locks to honoring our sacred being, and it’s potential creativity, are now also necessary.

I can only speak for me. I’m releasing everything and everyone, whatever it takes, so that love is now all my mind, body and spirit receive. It will be safe to grow and feel joy regardless of who and what has to fall away, because that’s what I need for balance and inner sanctity.

I’m grateful I got here before a whole range of unhealthy people, places and and patterns caused more damage, and right when I have the knowledge and power to recreate new lifelines from new priorities. I’m grateful for the experience, wisdom and friendship of those who remind me what I deserve on this journey.

When you reach a point where all you want to do is wake up, you are absolutely certain that nothing matters beyond living however you have to, unapologetically. You just want to be your best self again, fearless and freed. That’s where I’m starting to heal, and how I’m going to best look after myself and the little girl who needs me to be healthy.

Post 121.

I was surprised to hear her experience, though I suppose I already knew inside why we need to attend to the truths of women’s lives.

In my Women’s Studies class, we were reading Catharine MacKinnon’s classic piece on consciousness-raising.  A woman quoted in the article said, ‘I am nothing when I am by myself…I only know I exist because I am needed by someone who is real, my husband, and by my children. My husband goes out into the real world. Other people recognize him as real, and take him into account….I stay in my imaginary world in this house… The work I do changes nothing; what I cook disappears, what I clean one day must be cleaned again the next…”

A housewife in my class, articulate and passionate, read this excerpt to us because it described how she feels every day.  Then, she began to cry. Don’t worry, forget it, she said, dismissing her feelings and her voice.

Not in my class. Knowledge should touch not only our minds, but our hearts. It should rattle the cages we peer through. It should teach that our silences will not protect us, and it should turn our fears into language and transformation.  Invisibility and inequality hurt, and we can also get cut by the shards when we shatter those glass walls. It’s totally okay to cry.

Another woman suggested that the first not let anyone undervalue her contribution as a mother to her family and to society. However, it is not that housewives must discover self-validation from within themselves.  It is that our values must change.

Housewives live in a society where their labour has no visibility and no value. CSO does not count the number of hours spent on cooking, cleaning or caring for elderly or children. It is as if the care economy, for which women remain unequally responsible and without which the waged economy would collapse, does not exist. The government has no clue what the these many thousands of hours and skills add to Gross National Product (GNP). Yet, we know they have value because a price can be put on that work when it is not performed, mainly by women, for free.

When a woman leaves the paid workforce to mind children, she cannot put any skills she uses or gains on her resume. She is not only considered unemployed, she is considered a cost.  That’s damn untrue. The majority of housewives are home-based, non-unionized, unwaged labourers for whom negotiating access to power, status and resources may not be easy. 

Housewives subsidize the cost of reproducing workers for the economy. This is why unions used to fight for a ‘family wage’, not only because men were seen to be the family breadwinners, but because those producing and being paid are like a two for one deal.  

Of course, the women in the class then began to debate whether housewives should get ‘wages’ from their husbands, whether there was an income to which they were due. These wages are not a sign that the wife is the husband’s employee, but that his income includes her contribution. After all, the hand that rocks the cradle, labours, sometimes night and day.  

The personal is political precisely because it points us beyond our own individual experience to women’s shared social and economic realities. Consciousness-raising aims to enable women to find the words to identify the annihilation they must resist, make the connections they need so that they always struggle collectively, and enable even, or especially, housewives to name the problems that rule the world, and which must still be changed.

Post 120.

Few people will believe, but once upon a time, trees migrated across fields and within forests by bending their roots toward greener or more golden grass, or by creeping to hillsides where clouds clustered, creating the right encounter of tears and sunny consolation for those learning to band their bellies with the rings of time.

Trees of all heights and colours negotiated over maps, and were expert cartographers, just as they understood assorted soils, having woven their way over more dinosaur bones than paleontologists have yet identified. Trees didn’t just travel for ecological variety, they also embarked on spiritual quests, and adventures with karmic kindred, sought communities that offered rejuvenation and peace, and patiently pursued abiding and defining love.

One day, one ambitious and thoughtful sapling, only recently grown strong in stalk and only just casting wide her many arms, decided she would never move, search or chatter like the others before and around her. She intertwined enduringly with the land beneath, reached her entire self toward the galaxies she wanted to emulate, called on earth’s elements to watch over her soul, and began a vow of eternal quiet.

Over uncountable rotations of the planet, diverse trees came to stay near her, understanding more and more that knowledge, when experienced, need not always be spoken. Simply lived. One by one by one, every tree across the surface of the world came to first hear about her, as the wind circled and swept through them all, and then to feel her assurance radiate from the complex network at the base of their trunk to their uppermost, unfurling tendril.

What consciousness caused such a transformation?

The tree realized that a path is not always followed by switching terrain, direction or companions, for grass that appears gold from afar may always have been only brown, and arriving to such deception can wither your heart. Rather, paths may merely be about the practice of being deeply grounded, tall in spine, true in reach and light in breath; finding freedom without escaping belonging.

The tree came to appreciate her changes as natural and beautiful, her needs as exactly how she would blossom, and her imperfections and wounds as profound inscriptions about acceptance. She saw that the weather is her teacher, and there is no point running from truths.

It is unavoidable. Some will break your branches, but some will honour even your bare boughs, adoring whatever your texture, twists and size. Though some will carelessly tear your leaves, they will also be valued as emerald jewels. Similarly, some will listen while others rush past. Not noticing you, some will deny that even trees get lonely. Therefore, some will never think of giving you a hug. This occurs far and wide. So why run? Where can you go?

The tree observed that some will enter you like rain or express unpredictable affection, coming and going like the seasons, with their reassuring familiarity and no promises to return. Different creatures and spirits will love you, and though some will feel good, some will not give enough, and while some will want your love, others will brush it away. Release and receive all, with stoicism and graceful sway. Thirsts and hungers will be met or may leave you hollow, but your spirit will always disperse like seeds that burst into a thousand rebirths.

In evolving strength, stability and serenity wherever they stood, all trees now carry her wisdom. Keep their company, with your mind still and senses alert. The insight they share is continual certainty that you, like them, are exactly where you are meant to be.

Post 119.

Yet again, I found myself standing outside of the PM’s office watching the women of the Highway Re-route Movement peacefully but defiantly sit against the walls of the building, trying to give visibility to what happens when government disregards its own rules. They were not going anywhere and why should they when they have their very houses and lands to lose, potentially leaving them with money as compensation but no place to go and no community that is home.

I saw the police first try to reason with them, and then physically lift them out of the compound.  I saw the actual tears in these women’s eyes, tears from feelings of frustration, defenseless, anger, disappointment and fear of loss. I could have cried right then too.

I saw how elite politicians pit police against people, forcing those who must enforce the law to simultaneously fail to protect people from state illegality.  These women’s breaking of the law, by occupying the PM’s compound and blocking the pavement, was more morally valid than the police’s exercise of force.  Officers were just doing their jobs, keeping their jobs, upholding one law for ordinary people and another for those on the inside of those walls.

Wayne Kublalsingh also watched from his usual spot across the street. Once my UWI colleague, Dr. Kublalsingh’s contract was not renewed because he missed classes while undertaking his breathtakingly courageous, 21 day hunger strike, and because the university decided he was a “risk” to students.  When I heard that news, I could have cried then too.

Universities should provide intellectual and political leadership to nations and communities. Our job is to spark, engage in and educate about progressive social change through theory that informs collective and individual action.

Some of us are full or part-time, have family responsibilities or are at a career stage where we need to get tenure or secure promotion, and so we make decisions about focusing on our research or our teaching or our families instead of our politics. It was therefore our responsibility to make sure that colleagues who are taking risks we are not, over issues of governance and development that affect us all, get to keep their jobs too.

Research gives universities an international reputation, but so do their public intellectuals, whether they are Arundati Roy, Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis or Vandana Shiva. The university desperately needs students willing to take risks for democracy and sustainable development.  As Sunity Maharaj sagely said to me, it is when you are taking a risk that it’s most important to speak out. Those are the kinds of theoretically informed, civic minded, ethical, politically astute and fearless students we need to produce, and the lecturers who can inspire that are role models to be held onto. Our message should never be conform to the status quo or we have no room for you.

On my way to the PM’s office, I passed Sea Lots’ graffiti that shouted, “ we not taking dat”. That, more than any campaign speech, is the national mood. Chaguanas West already told the PM that it felt alienated and even betrayed. Mon Desir is saying the same. People are resisting exclusion from decisions that affect their families and communities. Forget tears, one day all that will be left is anger which has less and less to lose in the face of power. 

I saw real leadership in this small group of committed women, leadership that I do not see in our political and academic hierarchy. That’s why I was there on Thursday. Solidarity on the streets and from the university is necessary.