Appropriation: Our Bodies Are Not Yours

The recent weeks of the ‘appropriation prize’ bullsh!t has and probably will stick with me for a long time to come. It’s saddening and hugely disappointing when you learn that people at the top of their field(s) who are widely respected don’t deserve to have anyone looking up to them. For people who are so influential (all of them white) to so casually out themselves as entitled, insensitive, racist pricks on social media, makes the world and this country feel like there have been few societal gains made by Aboriginal people, people of colour and other marginalized people, toward justice or equality.

I’ve lived my whole life knowing that people are treated different because of what they look like, where they come from and what they don’t have. But to bear witness to the unfolding of this event and its aftermath – an aftermath which may just be the beginning for some – has been painful. I wrote two posts about this issue, mainly the facts, without truly injecting myself into them and I feel like that wasn’t enough – or right. It wasn’t enough because I didn’t make it clear that the Aboriginal writers featured in the spring edition of the writers’ magazine were not alone in their hurt; and it wasn’t right because in cyberspace we can choose to be anonymous without revealing which side of an issue we choose to land on.

I am not Aboriginal, but as a person of colour, whose ancestors also had their lands, their bodies and minds colonized, I identified with the pain and anger Aboriginal writers and their communities felt. As someone who writes – although because of illness I do it now primarily for myself – the idea that anyone would find it acceptable, even in jest, to tell others to write about who or what they couldn’t possibly know beyond gross generalizations and dehumanizing stereotypes is maddening. For members of that elite, gate-keeping clique to become indignant and lash out at the ones hurt is irrational and sickening. It pains further that they tried to hide their racism behind supposed efforts to protect free speech – which I pointed out before, on this occasion of overt racism, became the beneficiary of protections when it was least threatened – from Aboriginal writers and their communities speaking out against the harm being perpetuated by the denial of the existence of appropriation.

As one who has been wounded, I know that to be always alert and ready to respond to an incident like this as an individual and/or a representative for your race/ethnicity/community is demanding. To have to restrain one’s self in the face of conflict to avoid perpetually being labelled angry or ignorant of the bigger picture is exhausting. To be repeatedly harmed and then told by the perpetrator no harm was done to you is abusive. To have the things that concern your life flippantly mocked and dismissed as ‘identity politics’ is a form of erasure conveniently applied when those with racial privilege and power have no interest in examining their wrongs, or seeing all of what makes you human.

Moreover, when people throw around the term ‘identity politics’ they seem to forget that in each person’s life it’s not realistic to separate politics from who you are because the personal is political, which simply relates to consciousness-raising, awareness of where you come from, and what makes you who you are in any moment. So instead of attempting to stir controversy with such a ridiculously inflammatory positioning of these words, they might actually think about doing something beneficial with the privilege, influence, and power they continue to stockpile. Perhaps, these privileged few could learn the true unpolished history of this country, which will show how impossible it is for any of them, or other white individuals, to write what they don’t know. It might also clarify, how inherently difficult it is for the Aboriginal writers they belittle, and other writers of colour, to produce beautiful work about what they know when our worlds are overrun by systemic violence, oppression, physical and emotional trauma, lost lives, wounded families, and sometimes fragile love(s).

I’ll give them a place to start. After spending a few days in reflection, I turned to writing this post to purge the bullsh!t from recent weeks and only started feeling mildly better when poetry appeared. In all likelihood, were I to send any of this writing to any of the involved publishers, editors, or journalists, they would probably reject it without consideration because of the subject. Ironically, that knowing might be what prompted the editor to write that offending editorial; why in his words, the face of literature in this country is so white and middle-class…

 

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iRest: Groundless Ground

During the iRest program I participated in last November, I spoke with the doctor who facilitates the program about a memory from my childhood that surfaced. I quite vividly remembered a day when I was walking home from school – I’m guessing I was in eighth grade – when I suddenly felt a sensation that might be characterized as an out-of-body experience. I felt as if I wasn’t physically connected to the ground beneath me. I didn’t feel completely connected to my body either, but I could sense and see everything around me it was as if I was simply witnessing what was happening through my eyes. I felt that at any moment, I might float away but, because gravity was doing its job, I wouldn’t go flying off the planet.

I know it sounds strange and I can’t remember having that experience at any other time in my life: the awareness of not actually walking down the street in my body. The iRest program was probably the first time I thought I wouldn’t be considered odd if I shared it, mainly because we talked about the abstract concept of a person’s essence and being, rather than the soul. When I described this memory to the doctor, she told me there is a name for what I experienced. It relates in psychological terms to our consciousness and metaphysically to our essence or being. The experience is known as the ‘groundless ground’, which may even be likened to the ‘witness state’ in meditation. It was a great relief to have a frame of reference for the memory of an experience that felt so strange.

As we discussed it further, the doctor explained more about the metaphysical concepts of ‘essence’ and ‘being’ and asked me to spend some time thinking of what about me, my being, has been consistent throughout my life. Of course, the one thing that surfaced was writing, more specifically writing poetry. Writing poetry may be the one thing in my life that is never forced or analytical and has been part of me for more than half my life. It may be the only thing about myself I never question nor do I wonder why or where it comes from; and of course acquiring this new insight inspired me to write poetry.

Groundless Ground

Gratitude and Creativity: We Evolve

Even before the arrival of my illness, sleep was a difficult thing for me. Insomnia and I are old friends, but having to cope with it while dealing with high levels of pain is not an easy thing. When I was working, I used to take advantage of the times I couldn’t sleep by catching up on or completing work tasks early. In some ways it seemed like a blessing to be so productive, but of course there were the drawbacks of struggling to get out of bed many mornings and having to caffeinate myself to get my brain started and to stay alert sometimes later in the day.

When I can’t sleep now, I don’t feel productive, I feel restless, which makes my mind bounce all over the place during the longest stretches of the night. Sometimes I watch TV shows or movies to make the time pass more quickly. Other times I spend hours online poring over pages of articles, news, videos, and interesting writing others post here. Thankfully, many of the things people post here positively occupy my thoughts and lead to me being creative, which feels so much better than being productive.

In the dark, early hours of Thursday morning, a poem I found on Dave Kavanagh’s site, which he titled ‘Dark Eyed Woman’ sparked some creativity to help me pass the time. I was fortunate to engage with him through the comment section of his site and part of our exchange calmed the restlessness of my thoughts enough for me to write some poetry. In this respect – my creativity being sparked so I can write – I still see insomnia as a blessing sometimes. However, I know that sleep is the bigger blessing I need so I can better manage my illness.

We Evolve

 

Gratitude and Creativity: Death Comes

I was in a very dark mood yesterday because of the intensity of my pain. Unable to sleep – as I often am – last night I went searching through the WordPress community for interesting things to read. Sometimes I search through the list of blogs I follow in the Reader, while at other times I randomly select a tag to see what others are writing about under different topics. Last night, or early this morning, I chose to search under the tag ‘death’ because I had attached it to yesterday’s post.

What I found wasn’t as morbid or bleak as one might expect. Not that I didn’t find some heartbreaking posts, but I also found inspirational and philosophical writing from many members of the community. One of the posts I read was about an excerpt of a letter from Pier Giorgio Frassati a beatified early twentieth century Italian Catholic social activist. The letter was in response to a friend who had not heard from him for a long while, who wrote to him asking if he was dead. In his response Frassati wrote, “Dead – what does this word mean?”

He then details definitions of death for his friend, and goes on to say, “But if we’re talking about the word in its true essence, then sadly not only am I dead, but already resuscitated a number of times only – alas! to die again.” The post I read this in came from the site Contemplative in the Mud, whose author seemed to have had a bit of a day herself/himself, or at least was introspective about the ups and downs of life. The nice thing for me, after reading this post, was that it opened me up to write some poetry in the early morning hours, which distracted me, at least for a little while, from my pain.

 

Death Comes

 

Gratitude and Creativity: And Then The Night Comes

My illness keeps me housebound, except for the odd occasion when I feel well enough to go out with friends or when I have medical appointments. Being stuck at home as much as I am, I spend a lot of time online. It’s how I stay connected to the world and keep track of what’s happening daily. It’s also how I get a glimpse into the lives of others. I know that sounds voyeuristic, but I mean it in the best way possible. Whether it’s reading news articles, watching videos, or reading other people’s personal blogs, I see so much – and I’m certain more than they sometimes want to reveal – about who they are.

One of the blogs I follow is ‘Kaffe con leche’, which is written by a young woman originally from Sweden, Maria Repa, who now lives in Bolivia with her daughter and soon-to-be ex-husband. Even though English is not her native language, the rawness of emotion in her posts caught my attention. I think I was most drawn in to her writing because I could relate to her sadness and longing for emotional support and connection, and her desire to fill what she calls the voids in her life. I can also remember myself as that once insecure 30-year-old, trying to define herself and make the best out of what the world was offering.

Yesterday as I was catching up on posts from Maria’s blog, one of her recent posts, ‘And then the night comes’, lit up my brain. I had to write her a response. I did it the only way I can when I’m struck by so much emotion: with a poem. I hope my words help her feel a little less lonely and more aware that she is connected to the world in more ways than she realizes.

 

And Then The Night Comes

Gratitude And Creativity: Heart In Motion

A few days ago as I scrolled through the pages of one of the many blogs I follow, yet another post led me to an artist new to me; and a wellspring of inspiration I otherwise might not have found. While visiting artist Deb Riley’s site, I followed links to a post she wrote about 103-year-old Japanese artist Toko Shinoda. This incredible woman works with a centuries-old Chinese art form: sumi ink paintings and prints. Her art merges traditional calligraphy with modern abstract expression, which immediately grabbed my attention. However, Toko Shinoda’s personal description of her work was what inspired me most. She states, “Certain forms float up in my mind’s eye. Aromas, a blowing breeze, a rain-drenched gust of wind…the air in motion, my heart in motion. I try to capture these vague, evanescent images of the instant and put them into vivid form.”

It was impossible for me to read Toko Shinoda’s words and not write poetry. It continues to amaze me that I started this blog because I was in a constant state of feeling overwhelmed by my illness and the strong pain medications I need to manage my pain. Even though my pain and illness stubbornly persist, my heart and spirit are positively affected each time I connect with posts shared by other bloggers, in this endless universe of talent and creative storytelling. Surprisingly, this space, meant to be a place to purge – somewhat coherently – all the things that are too hard for me to voice to anyone close to me, is transforming me with each post I read and write.

Heart In Motion

 

That From Which I Run

I often feel like my pain is a predator. That it takes pleasure in the chase and ultimately taking me down. The question, to which I have no answer, is how do you fight an enemy you cannot see? How do you win against an opponent about whom you know so little but who knows every corporeal detail about you? Some days I feel like a helpless animal that will succumb, at some unknown moment, in this battle that I did not start.

That From Which I Run