🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊 [REDACTED] shorelines
Crisis is ongoing, layered and sticky. And it isn’t always coherent. Neither is this text. Shorelines form, shorelines disintegrate. What began as a dissatisfaction with current vocabularies around identity and a hunger for more meaningful ways of accounting for the complicated nature of our bodies and experiences, would be subjected to further complication through crisis after crisis after crisis. Trying to account for the complexities of bodies otherwise unaccounted for, bodies queered by crisis, bodies named invisible, dispensable or ungrievable, bodies confronted with the very real material conditions of a world not built for their survival, [REDACTED] shorelines is a shattered text taking the time to grieve and elegise the experiences of these bodies when there is no time to be taken.
A collection of short texts, poems, essays and letters washing up like a message in a bottle, it has been gradually written at different shorelines of experience, while being battered and shaped by ongoing waves of crisis. These waves continue to arrive, already here as climate crisis, queered political states of the present, pandemic isolations and global antiblackness. This text is a rambling document of work done with friends (some close, some strangers) in making and sharing knowledge during such moments of crisis. This work is underscored by a pedagogy of intimate connections—connections most delicate but worth holding onto in whatever form remains—and a practice of providing mindful tools and activities for sense-making, world-making, listening and responding in the space between one another. This work also believes in writing as a form of pedagogy, and hopes that you might bear witness to this. It is an elegy for bodies seemingly slipping from this world and slipping from our grasp and understanding. What does crisis do to our bodies and how do we retell our stories accordingly? And what do we want from each other after retelling our stories?
Scroll down to begin the journey.
for the people below the surface trying to emerge
Kei Miller, A Smaller Song (2007)
and then you hear the count;
metal skirt beaten in time telling you to stand firm, get ready, free up yourself, remember your part, play yourself. When the last wordless 1, 2, 3, 4 drops, we all know to beat pan together.
I show this footage as a way of introducing myself as a practitioner to each new group of people that I’m working with.
Each section in a steel orchestra is tasked with playing its part in time; a severe discipline is enforced around this foundational responsibility. Beyond that, however you might appear, move, behave or perform while playing your part is pretty much a free-for-all. From freshly styled hairdos to colourful wigs, masks to novelty sunglasses, dancing atop bass drums to playing the underskirt of the pan, conducted choreographies to informal or accidental choreographies, there are hardly any limits as to how a player can express themselves while playing their part. While an individual player’s performative decisions or inclinations may feel at odds with some idea of unison or synchronisation around the orchestral body, as a former section-leader of the double second section, I would argue there is certainly a need for that queer and discordant place shared by both harmony and counter- melody.
There is something to be said on harmony and counter-melody when returning to the pan yard of my memories. Contemporary pan yards tend to be sites for dissolution, even if only partial dissolution, of the frames, boundaries and expectations around bodies in space, particularly in relation to class, age, ability and gender. Though structured in sections guided by section-leaders, arrangers, conductors and others, this structure reflexively betrays itself; the pan yard recognises itself as a space marked by the idea that each player has something to teach and each player has something to learn. There is both value in adhering to what the structure promises to do as well as seeing what else is possible through speaking back to structure.
Though my future with pan was deferred by the confrontation between the knowledge of my own queerness and the social climate of my steel orchestra, I keep the pan yard in the back of my mind when introducing myself because of the queer political agency it still lends me. However “closeted” I may have been, the pan yard was my first experience of a queered space. It was in the pan yard that I could indulge in an excessive garishness, a sense of pageantry, erotic gyrations, the gift of a chosen family, the partial breakdown of normative power structures and the carnivalesque dissolution of bodies moving together in a mass. I try to emulate and stimulate these feelings, memories and experiences with each new group I work with. At the same time, without romanticising it, the space I want to share with others hopes to learn from the mistakes of the pan yard. That is, to be true to its origins as a space of refuge for a society ’s most vulnerable , a society ’s queered.
I had trouble returning to this anecdote—its dishonesty kept me comfortable.
Truth be told, I can’t forgive my steel orchestra—and those players who I can still picture as friends—for what they did to me; for that guillotining of my personhood by the cut of their cut-eye.
It really did hurt.
I spent at least 7 years with those people, not pretending I was straight but rather, pretending I was desireless. And that was my choice, sure—the cost of staying with them, the cost of our being together and playing together. But I chose to stay, like that, stay in that way. And it’s because I can’t pretend that those years never mattered to me.
They really did matter. They made such a difference.
And I suppose that’s why I can sometimes look at those years, that form of life and practice, with nostalgia. That’s how I can sometimes remember painful moments fondly. Because it was never just pain—there were so many other complicated and difficult feelings. So many contradictions, so much instability and insecurity. Back then and there, I had never imagined the word “safety” in the way I hear it being chattered over here; with the same nagging persistence as the sunrise seagull’s cackle, with the same illegible echo of caged dogs, barking across distances from hutch to bloody hutch.
Safety? I don’t know her.
Listening to Da’Shaun Harrison , “Insecurities are not a personal indictment; they are an indictment of the World,” and I can’t not hear this being said without also seeing “safety” as something that only helps to derail our already insecure, unstable and uncertain experiences and indictments of an also inherently insecure, unstable and uncertain world.
I dredge this up, not to revel in my wounds but, rather, to remember my pan yard with honesty, to love it with the difficulty of being honest. I can’t return to my pan yard in body, only in spirit and memory. And it would be foolish to try to. That shoreline has since been eaten. I can’t afford to tread water, even if that is the life that has been marked for me, especially if life for people like me means “to drown and live to tell the tale ” .
To sit at the shoreline is to be always praying for an event. It is a posture characterised by an ongoing and incoming sense of anticipation; to make life and make do with what the sea dredges up in both your sights and reach. And the sea’s gifts do not arrive in any reliable sense of consistency.
Driftwood is a gift.
Sargassum is a gift.
Sunny days is a gift.
Friendship is a gift.
Solitude is a gift.
Joy is a gift.
Pain is a gift.
Love is a gift.
And a hurricane is also a gift.
And that likkle piece ‘a shoreline you did love up fuh donkey years—
and what sea could give, sea could tek way
so don’t play you gettin-on foolish an’ surprise
when sea tell you “scotch round”—
when water catch yuh waist
when de beach did get carry ‘way,
did gone an’ leff you less than high and dry, more so
wet and groundless
What does it mean to live from shorelines destined to be eaten?
A loved one, Ark, messaged me about a month into quarantine:
why did I spend a bunch of last night just watching traffic cameras in Barbados?
lol omg what
can we do that?
link me, that sounds sad but also, i wanna do itttt
Hahaha apparently everyone knew about this?
OMFG THEY HAVE BEACH ONES?
they have fuckING BATHSHEBA??!!
oh rashole, they have gibbes beach? which means i have been on this cam so many times,
building rh sandcastles, unbeknownst to meeeee
paranoia fucking hell
Ive probably been doing something illicit in secret with a public view of 15,000
Gibbes Beach has a habit of disappearing.
At its most vulnerable
the night walks
a tide, hounds
the coast, nibbles at
beach house doorsteps.
The day after,
only carcass lef’ back:
combing teeth in coral
vultured of its flesh
of sand and any pretence
at its fullest
somebody postcard bleached
and gutted of natives
beach cam streams 24/7
no light at night
the black of hungry sea
eats it, the black of pixeled night
not a moon cycle, wax
and wanes, lacks
a common harmony
paper say coast
an’ sea gon’ up
net sun sets
on line beach each
night watch my beach each
shop for loss to come,
for loss ongoing,
ground provisions and
canned goods cuh cushion it
beach can’t be canned
On another note, on “doing something illicit in secret with a public view” as Ark mentioned, we are both always already doing that or, rather, being that, just in the trouble of our bodies and experiences. Living a queered life feels inseparable from doing something illicit in secret with a public view. Living a queered life, then, feels inseparable from living with the kind of risk that can drown the shoreline around you—that is, each shoreline you come to pass through. Whether a pan yard or another shoreline once cherished and familiar a tide ago, each is risked and each can be eaten.
When Jamaica Kincaid (1999) said, “I am in a state of constant discomfort, and I like this state so much I would like to share it,” that kind of mischief catches me like fire.
I don’t know safety. From shores where crisis is seasonal and safety has never really been a condition to count on, I can’t help but wonder what it means to count, instead, on crisis.
Counting to Three
Why is pain the conduit of identification?
– Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection (1997)
Why are we still talking about race?
– Participant, DIY16: Green Screen Charivari (2019)
Green Screen Charivari was a 5-day project which took place under my guidance at Live Art Bistro (Leeds, UK) in July 2019. Although open to everyone, priority in selecting participants was given to those bodies which have been made to feel defined, reduced, fixed or pigeonholed by categories, frames and expectations around origin, race, gender, sexuality, creed, ability, and/or class. Involving dance and movement exercises, collective readings, mask-making, costuming, digital keying and procession. With a selection of videos and literatures concerned with slippages around racial identity, carnival rites, queer and trans* reflections on becoming and the worldmaking potentials of refusal, the project culminated to a collective procession runway. Costumed in green, participants’ surfaces were live-keyed, revealing short films to other worlds contributed by international makers, allowing a transnational dialogue between the filmmakers and the performers’ bodies. A proposal for the right to be unfixed, the project was guided by the following questions. How may we change our bodies and realities by means of post-production? How can we edit the world to accommodate us more comfortably? What images of ourselves do we want to bring to surface?
Remembering the first day of the project, a moment had arisen for participants to air their concerns and pains as these related to experiences of being fixed within frames used to identify them (in particular, the frames considered included race, gender, sexuality and ability). This airing reminded one participant of a question I regretted including on the application form for the project: What interests you about challenging society’s expectations of yourself (and your body / appearance / identity)? They remarked, upon receiving that question, “Oh, is this the part where I tell you how I’m different?” My regret stemmed from my decision not to articulate the question differently out of concern for lack of clarity. The question I wanted to propose – and which I did propose during the project – in its place, “What more do you want from your identity?” felt more open and generative, helping participants to better anchor themselves to the potential (dis-)identifications of the project rather than being weighted by their own already known and very familiar pains in being (mis-)identified. Amid the airing, a passing consensus was reached among the group to hold the alternative question – What more do you want from your identity? – in the backs of our minds, while letting this airing session be the last of its kind. Though these airings may be useful for collectively signalling pain – telling each other where it hurts – they don’t help much with thinking beyond that pain which identifies; pain as the conduit of identification.
Midway through the project, following a group reading of Who’s Passing for Who? by Langston Hughes (1996), one of the participants, admitting frustration, asked, “Why are we still talking about race?” Locating my own frustration within it, the question may be amended to “Why are we still talking about my race?” or “Why are we still identifying with race?” or perhaps “Why are we still talking about race in these same non-generative ways?” The frustration at play within the question locates itself in the site of one’s pain being picked at while being identified as its fester. With this in mind, it may be asked, “Why are we still picking at this wound?” Of my decision to include Who’s Passing for Who? the short story reads as a sort of satire on race in America, paving the way for something else to be expressed – alternative expressions of possibility – beyond lines of race (as well as making race behave and articulate unexpectedly). Of course, it’s difficult to imagine alternative expressions and performances of possibility beyond this pain while we’re still hurting, while we’re still made to hurt. It’s difficult to keep that question in mind – What more do you want from your identity? – especially when the sting kennels you to the perimeter of the wound. At this point I am reminded of Toni Morrison (1975) speaking on distraction:
The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.
I must admit that I don’t really know what a different or eloquently generative way of identifying and speaking about ourselves may even begin to look like but, perhaps the following participant feedback (2019) shimmers something of that prospect:
I love dancing, but with my various disabilities, it’s been a very long time since I danced at all. So, thanks for making it safe for me to dance!
Recalling Toni Morrison’s (1975) remark on the function of racism, it is useful to consider these frames or perimeters of fixation as distractions from working, living and being; interrogation tactics which fix you back to the hurt of explaining yourself. The participant’s experience seems to be accounting for something else being performed beyond expectation and explanation. That is, suspending the provisional condition of having to explain themselves (alongside ensuring conditions of support for participation and engagement), the participant was able to imagine, access and engage with activity otherwise withheld from them; or, more specifically, from the ‘them’ outlined and measured by the perimeter of fixation.
To reiterate, “a proposal for the right to be unfixed” is how I described the hope of this project; a hope that has preoccupied me longer than this project and continues to preoccupy me beyond its closure. I am reminded of June Jordan (2002) “reaching for the words to describe the difference between a common identity that has been imposed and the individual identity any one of us will choose, once she gains that chance.” Once she gains that chance; a phrasing which points to an articulation not yet pronounceable but nevertheless on its way. Something else, but not altogether separate, which preoccupies me alongside this project are feelings I’m having over ‘they’ and ‘them’. Not wanting to explain myself too much, the singular plural ‘they’ has felt an incredibly accurate means to describe singularities present within a plurality of embodiments (Steinbock, 2019). Marlon James (2019), speaks against binary thinking through his character, Tracker, in Black Leopard, Red Wolf:
Just like all you men of learning. Everything in the world cooks down to two. Either-or, if-then, yes-no, night-day, good-bad. You all believe in twos so much I wonder if any of you can count to three.
Refusing the given contract of a subject position (in this case, within the gender binary), points to an unfixed positionality or, in other words, an unstable positionality generative of a plurality of imagined and performed embodiments. “A series of aliases, unravelling like a tangential pass or dribble with the ball – producing and obscuring simultaneously,” or “a strategy for ‘being’ and/or living without being seen or scrutinized,” both indexing and erasing a subject position; I’m curious how strategies of becoming in performance may support others in imagining, accessing and engaging with an unfixed positionality (Cozier, 2009). I’m curious what lays unaccounted beyond the threshold of the three.
Returning to the question which prompted this reflection – “Why are we still talking about race?” – what alternative articulations and performances of self are possible when the hold of such frames becomes dislodged? “When we get the monsters off our backs,” (Jordan, 2002) what may be performed when we are dislodged from the fixed trajectories and positionalities assumed by these categorical frames? How may performative and artistic strategies encourage a porosity and vulnerability to a host of uncertain embodiments? Diverging from narratives ‘known’ around us towards those erotic knowledges felt within, what undisclosed, proliferating and excitable embodiments begin to resonate in refusing those frames to which we have already failed to perform (Lorde, 1984; Halberstam, 2011)?
COZIER, C. (2009) Shifting Signs and Transactional Moments. In South-South: Interruptions & Encounters. Canada: Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, University of Toronto
HALBERSTAM, J. (2011) The Queer Art of Failure. Durham: Duke University Press
HARTMAN, S. (1997) Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America. NY: Oxford University Press
HUGHES, L. (1996) Short Stories of Langston Hughes. Ed. Akiba Sullivan Harper. NY: Hill and Wang
JAMES, M. (2019) Black Leopard, Red Wolf. USA: Riverhead Books
JORDAN, J. (2002) Report from the Bahamas, 1982. In Some of Us Did Not Die. NY: Basic/Civitas Books
LORDE, A. (1984) Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. USA: Ten Speed Press
MORRISON, T. (1975) A Humanist View. In Black Studies Center public dialogue. Pt. 2. Public Dialogue on the American Dream Theme. Portland State University, 30 May 1975. OR: Portland State University.
STEINBOCK, E. (2019) Shimmering Images: Trans Cinema, Embodiment and the Aesthetics of Change. Durham: Duke University Press
Sent: Fri, 1 May 2020 23:19:10 +0200
To: christopher cozier
"So, it's really about the ongoing turbulence of fossil fuel futures; this big bang and unfolding of flying fragments. So then, is the thing that makes all of this possible--the whole exchange--also that which makes it vulnerable and unstable?"
I first need to apologise, and for that apology I've poured myself a rum punch--not necessarily for courage but, just to steel myself in my little embarrassment. I'm sorry that it took me this long to write you, to return to our conversation that we had kept alight in Port-of-Spain, on our drives, coffee-runs and otherwise errand-running. So, I've also poured myself a rum punch to take myself back to a craft of rum punches whipped together by the skittish magic of my hands and memory, of lime and a fine rum whose name I can't remember--Nicholas should know, he insisted on something finer than my mauby pockets--of sugar to keep things sweet and crystal clear in my mind; the memories of being with you and the others at the Yard. I told no one that I cried quietly on the drive home (that is, to home via Piarco airport) not even Shanice in the backseat wanting a drop home bc she did live bout Arima (which was further than I would ever admit to her, but she was right about the roti!)--because 3 days was all it took to fall in love, not with a country (for I didn't see enough of one), nor with a city (for it passed me in a flash), but perhaps a community in passing, a something of someones together in a crass but meaningful errancy and instability. So yes, I'm sorry for the delay in getting back to you, in coming back here, in fixing myself a drink, in unfixing myself from this somewhere else.
To recall, it was what you said in Berlin that stuck with me--you pointed to an unfixed condition for being, seeing and moving through the world. Chris, it shook me, and I mean not one bit of flattery. And it keeps shaking me, it has shook me for almost 2 years. And with each tremble and reverberation that shakes me out of a settled skin, that unfixes me from categorisation, I can see the seismograph lines stretch, streaming back all the way to the epicenter of your thoughts and words. You indulged me in instability, discomfort and a tremble, and you led me to keep company and make kin with crisis.
Chris, I gave up my inherited pronouns, reluctantly, or, rather, I traded them in, for "they / them". But I came to that lucrative exchange from lines of race, not gender. Race frustrates me, Chris, and the Americans that grip to it like their shadow and only read it as their shadow, no one else's, they frustrate me too. It took me a while to live with mixedness in a way that was generative as well as ridiculous. I mean, the muddle is hilarious. To live in a skin that complicates and unsettles the allegedly fixed cloth of race in a Euro-American understanding--they real frighten, Chris, they does get real frighten when they can't name something too easy--and I reached gender at this same crossing. What being a "he / him" meant escaped me, failed me as I failed it, for too long, and so I've forfeited those words. They suits me better--it really does make space for all the contradiction, all the complexity, all the complication, all the mess, all the uncertainty, all the "i don't have a name for this", the plurality, the slipperiness, the elusion. At the same time, I am still my sister's brother and my mother's son--though I don't hold onto "he" any longer, what it means for me to be called "he" is certainly something other than "he" for some other body.
And this kind of instability, this not being able to be accounted for, this uncertainty, this wilderness of possibility, this unnameable present, this unfixed-ness--your words kept me busy with these things for longgggggg.
Chris, I've been living with and thinking on crisis since the last hurricane season, since my own crisis of gender (an identity crisis?), since the crisis of the pandemic, since crisis to come, since since since, and I can't help but draw a link between the grief, the uncertainty, the loss, the instability of crisis in relation to the slipperiness and unfixed sense of positionality, identity, subjectivity which I feel of your words and thoughts.
And, to go back to that hanging epigraph I left at the top ^^^ "is the thing that makes all of this possible--the whole exchange--also that which makes it vulnerable and unstable?" I know you're speaking about oil, petrocapitalism, our being entangled in all of that, but I feel ready to also ask this otherwise. All of what we're wrapped up in, all that's at stake--of our bodies, our communities, our inheritance of identities and refusals of identities, our lives and deaths, the narratives made of us and the narratives of our own makings----and our lived slippery navigation between all of these, is the thing that makes all of this possible, also that which makes it vulnerable and unstable?
I'll stop the ramble here for now.
But, I wanted to get in touch because I missed you and I missed our talks. And because I wanted to thank you for this wind in my sails, and this crumble of past shorelines. Cheers!
With love, warmth and a most destabilising commitment to our shared work, Adam.
[Sat 6 June, 2020: Chris and I have a conversation]
It almost felt that being an artist was a territory you couldn't quite enter and it was all dominated by these sort of discoverers. At the juncture of exchange with these international agencies, they make them into correspondents to speak for us and then we become too angry, we lack credibility because of our anger and because of our frustration. I remember the anger, I remember the frustration. The order of things is that darker people without access to property and capital only naturally must suffer and if we don't quite get our worth, that's okay. So, it's a really ugly thing that I just find in my old age, I can't go back there, I just want to get on. But of course, there's no on if you don't solve a problem that you encountered thirty years ago, if you see what I'm saying.
Maybe it's great? Maybe, you all as another generation can hack away at the beast because it's all Hell breaking loose in the US right now-- maybe what Arundhati Roy said about the virus being a portal where we transport ourselves, the possibility to transport ourselves to a place since we can't go back to what we had before, which is what I was talking about with my red steps when I did the project in Boston some years ago.
I feel you, Chris.
I never want to get into these bacchanals. People of my generation laugh at these older conflicts between people of the older generation. None of us were actually around to witness what the source conflict was. So we laugh about it in a bittersweet fashion, to realise that maybe if we stopped bitching and whining, we could organise ourselves a bit better. Because we're aware of the precarity of the situation of being an artist or working in the arts in the Caribbean, and so we laugh and cry, because we just want other to get peace/piece, I mean to get a piece of whatever situation we can have, together. There's no sense in one of us having it competitively because it means taking the piece out of someone else's mouth.
So it was conflicting to see it, thinking, "this is an important realisation, we got questions to answer, we got problems to speak to, in our own backyard, before we show solidarity elsewhere" and for that to be disfigured into this self-centered thing, I couldn't let it go. I keep having more and more experiences recently, due to the situations in America and the world, where whiteness, not as a pigment but as an institution, keeps presenting itself in front of me in these very strange, exploitative, troubling or questionable ways and in questionable postures and I can't let go of it.
I hear you. It's pretty murky territory.
There's a thing we say in Trinidad, maybe there's a Bajan version of it:
What doh pass hey, leave hey.
So that's kind of what I meant. This beast keeps rearing its head. I suppose the conversation is the process towards arriving at somewhere. Because I don't necessarily always believe in a kind of marroonage. This is very significant for me right now because my most recent thing that I'm working is something that's called, "When yuh miss me, I gone" and it really has to do an old idea that's been drifting in my work over the years about leaving the frame. But the frame is a field of expectations.
I was listening to you talking about the "piece" out of somebody's mouth, but I was thinking, "I'm not sure what we're fighting for--is it "piece" or "peace"?" At the end of the day, which I think is what I learned from participating in the conversations with Gabi (Ngcobo) in Berlin, we really just want to enjoy ourselves, as a psychic entity, we want to be credible. And then we have to do a fair assessment about the amount of accommodating and violence against ourselves that we have just learnt to accept generationally.
You don't want conflict, you want piece/peace, so to speak, but then every time you try to behave decently, there's a kind of indecency elsewhere. And when the indecent songs hurt, you're saying to yourself, "But don't you see? Don't you see?" And that's where I was years ago, saying, "There should be space for everyone" and psychologically there is. There is peace and piece for everyone, but the beast keeps coming. Personally, I find it keeps coming up every time we have to have an interface with foreign institutions. Even though we are in the process of trying to figure it out, these institutions come and make people feel it's okay to indulge in this regressive behaviour, by how they fund us, by how they support us, by how they determine what is a credible voice and not a credible voice. It's kind of a double-edged sword because I don't think, deep down inside, most of us want to embark on these kinds of procedures. It's hard work to create real change.
When I'm critiquing someone, it's not to cancel anybody. It's more to say, "Look, watch yuhself, wha you tryna step into now?" I keep seeing this cliche James Baldwin adage resurfacing more and more nowadays. The thing about "I would tell you the truth because I love you and I know you can do better"--I made that more cliche than it actually is but yeah, I do want peace. I do think the space for critique, to critique each other, is meaningful. Those critical questions don't get asked too much in Barbados at least. I do want peace and I do feel naive for thinking that we might get along someday, or hoping for that at least.
I don't think there's an end to this. One of the most enjoyable moments of my life growing up was when I started developing the confidence to walk through crowds in Port-of-Spain. There was a kind of way that you just walked through the crowd, confidently because you're young and agile, and you move your shoulders to let an old lady get by, you miss a beat with the step to let another youth man pass you and you're just walking through the crowd. What's interesting is that everybody's doing the same thing so there's a kind of rhythm. I never thought about it until I came back from college on holiday, and I just found myself standing there watching the crowd, and I realised how everybody was walking around everybody else; but not stopping anybody else from moving, it was a kind of constant rhythm. It was so beautiful. That's the kind of metaphor for what we could possibly be.
And sometimes, I feel the influence from different islands. If you're walking through a crowd at carnival in Trinidad, people naturally touch you and they move through and you make space for other people. I remember the first time I was in a crowd with Jamaicans and I realised people don't move, they hold their ground. And then suddenly, you have to find complicated ways to get past people. All of this is process not to an end but to keep moving. What excited me about being a contemporary artist 20-30 years ago, I saw that possibility within the contemporary scene.
yeah that image of the people moving through, around, with the points of contact, everything keep moving, it resonates a lot. i guess that's what i mean by peace too, because i never appreciate a fixed point...
When I first got a sense of what constituted the contemporary, it was a possibility around a kind of itinerancy, a kind of lack of fixedness. Because what we were contending with as a culture oppositionally, we were in danger of becoming. And I'm thinking about that national moment because that national moment was often brokered as a response to a kind of white supremacist plantocracy colonial thinking. So we thought the response to that was to rebuild ourselves and make ourselves whole or something. But what constituted that wholeness that we were imagining was just a mirroring of the conditions of power under which we had suffered. So, at the juncture of possibility, our constitutions didn't really imagine what that new self could be, beyond a kind of ethnocentric masculinity--a fixed one. In my imaginings, the contemporary started taking shape in Trinidad from about the early 80s in the fallout from the 70s where suddenly, issues of gender, sexuality and all these things began to unravel. But people didn't really have a vocabulary for it. And in a sense we were still struggling for.
When Minshall was at his height in the 70s, he had a band, Papillon, where 4000 butterflies went through Port-of-Spain. What could be more provocative than that in terms of widening the prospect of how we understand ourselves and who is included and excluded. And people didn't pull away from this band and say, "No we're not gay, we can't play in this band"--everybody was in the band, everybody was having a great time. And those who knew what that represented as a symbol felt included and the rest were just going along. All kinds of wildness were going on that era. And those were my formative years. There's no end, we have to keep pushing and I think it's happening through the work. But we have to look out for this little obstructions that move it from an open field to an obstacle course. When people start putting down territories, then you gotta jump over fences, you can't move through space any more.
Sent: Mon, 22 Jun 2020 16:22:09 +0200
To: M. Maria Walhout
Subject: did i seriously just write you like 1000 words about banana trees?????????
I wanted to get back to you on what you said to me about willows.
I had originally wanted to include our conversation verbatim but I know that you weren't comfortable with that. Thinking on it now, yeah, I don't wanna put you and your body on the line or put you out in the open like that--I don't want instrumentalise your experience for some edgy niche intellectual embodied capital, I just wanna include you in a way that doesn't throw you to the wolves--the wolves prowling offices who might read this and mis-think it's theirs to hunger over. I want to include what you confided in me in a way that'll keep it safe, keep it hidden, keep it warm, buried in my own flesh. Let them choke on it.
So, willows. There are no willows in Barbados but there are bearded fig trees, after which the country is named (Barbados, Portuguese, "the bearded ones"). They remind me of willows but they're thicker, more grounded, sturdier and altogether less elegant. They're attractive in their own right, like hairy knuckles or lower back on some people--not me but on some others. I don't share the resonance you have with willows for bearded fig trees---I commit to shaving my face bc I'm not capable of growing a full beard, nor do I want to. The patchiness reminds me of my failures, reminds me of what I've always (knowingly and unknowingly) also decided to withdraw from.
There are no willows but there are banana trees. My mother's house has always had banana trees; I spoke to them. I feel really close to them, maybe almost as close as you do to willows. They can grow quite tall and their leaves begin as curling satin trumpets shooting up and soon unfurling into sheets. These trumpets can catch rainwater and the sheets glisten with the droplets--like this, they are a sunlit sequined textile and the glamour is here. The trunks are sturdy but still delicate--they are soft, fibrous and a refined effort of layers. And their flowers and fruit---a gnarly hanging stem ending with a magenta bulb--but this is just the outside. Hidden in the layers of this bulb are buttery trumpet blossoms that eventually form what we know as bananas--they will soon grow out in rings, bracelets of green fruit that will brighten with age.
I've just always been fascinated with the multitudes hidden in banana plants--all the shapes, textures and colours they're capable of. I refuse the phallic connotations and, Hell, their bracelets of fruit are more like a sphincter anyways (most Europeans have never seen bananas on the vine). I know I'm detouring / derailing a lot with this banana chatter but I assure you, there's a point here somewhere, hidden in the layers, hidden in the trumpets, hidden in the leaves.
Playing "alone" for a lot of my childhood involved running around speaking to dogs and plants, wanting to indulge in both the body language of the trees and the uninhibited joy and curiosity of dogs (along with their pack-spirited sense of community). I felt both of the pack and the "orchard," so to speak, in those moments of play.
There was something of a modest and understated glamour about banana plants which I've always wanted to feel close to. You looked to willows for their long hair--in turn, I think of headties when looking to banana leaves. This is part of the reason for my blossoming interest in headties, as expressed through Ada. They wear headties, like their mother sometimes does, to catch sweat like a banana leaf trumpet catches water. They wear headties, like their mother sometimes does, in dazzling patterns like silver rain. They wear headties, like their mother often does, as it's sometimes easier to hide the difficult magic of their hair in layers.
And I don't mean to mention my mother as a femme-gendering reference; I wanna bring her into this because my mother makes me think of banana trees and vice versa. My mother is the person in my life who, rather than femme-ing clothing and appearance, helped to bring other understandings and ways of how one could dress and look without signifying gender so crudely and explicitly within binaries. She is where I get kanga from. And you wrap kanga around you, around your waist, chest and head like banana leaves. And kanga are not bound to any gender. For me, Ada is (or, more honestly, will be) my surrendering, celebrating and remembering of all my multitudes (presently emerging, soon to emerge and those deferred and mourned in the past) wrapped in banana leaves.
But yes, I feel you, it is a move away from masculinity (something so defining of gender) and therefore it can be read as *contrapoints' voice* LITERALLY TRANS --- GENDERED. I think for me, though, in this given moment, I haven't made enough of a move for myself to sit comfortably and fully with the word, trans--I'm not there yet and I can't know if it'll ever be on my path until TOO LATE BXTCH YOU'RE ALREADY THE(Y')RE--for now, im still an enby baby.
But thank you for being here with me and having so many conversations with me on this stuff, it always makes me feel so seen and I hope I make you feel that way too. For the record, I see you in every willow tree.
I hope we can keep moving together, withdrawing from masculinity and always failing to be uninteresting, destitute and monochrome.
With all the love,
P.S. Here's a screenshot of us in The Sims 2. I'm on the left, telling you that I'm a Gemini.
Taking Turns with Hurricanes
My life is always ahead of a hurricane
— Aimé Césaire, The Woman and the Flame (1948)
Each year now calls me to brace from faraway as mutated hurricanes rush the Caribbean with promises – not threats – of obscene devastation. Each year now calls me to huddle for warmth among the people that I love – each one stone-scattered across the world – through the screen, through the phone. We are no strangers to these hurricanes in the same way that my friends are no strangers to me since transitioning. We are no strangers to these hurricanes in the same way that I am no stranger to myself, even now after refusing an inheritance of gender. Strange unfamiliar things may be happening in our bodies and relationships but they don’t necessarily render a stranger in our midst. Our bodies each take turns turning as each hurricane takes a turn turning our bodies. Turned where, though, or into what? Well, queer, perhaps, but, not as “a matter of queer political agency so much as a queered political state of the present” (Chen, 2012).
The storm is already here, in that the effects of climate crisis are already being felt; some of us unaccounted for done been feeling its effects. Pushed beyond the limits of resilience and “rebound- ability” narratives, tested by the ongoing arrival of hurricanes long since grown, it is no longer a matter of even being able to rebuild, let alone survive. The region’s vulnerability is taken for granted and taken to shop, where the profiting actors of environmental imperialism demand that we, the vulnerable, remain “‘resilient’ in the face of unfolding catastrophes,” recasting our very survival as a commodity while “entrenching new forms of biopower in response to crises”. As climate change unloads itself on us with swell-bellied hurricanes, concerns spin that these changes may threaten existing social orders. However, considering the precarious social arrangements we find ourselves in, where our past, present and futures continue to be colonised—contingent to the actions of elite global powers—these climatic changes only seem to be providing further opportunity for such imperial social arrangements to be flexed and extended (Sealey-Huggins, 2017).
To address a now rather outdated proposal around queerness—given the circumstances— from Lee Edelman’s No Future (2004), the heteropatriarchal future of the Global North continues to be reproduced while eclipsing both present and future existences in the Caribbean (and other immediately vulnerable regions of the world). To put it more firmly, against Edelman’s now privileged notions of a queer oppositionality or negation, “we, who are invisible, do not have the luxury to leapfrog into that debate because we are too busy trying to survive” (Mottley, 2019). That is to say, I simply can’t get behind or risk entertaining a wholesale negation of futurity (however queer and iconic Edelman makes it sound) given that my region and its futures are already being marked for death and these deaths mean absolutely nothing—that is, they have no disruptive effect—against the will of the sustained reproductive futurity of the global elite. But, our mere survival within these devil’s contracts of present social orders is certainly not enough either. To reiterate, our survival is not enough and “the present,” as it stands, “is not enough” either (Muñoz, 2009).
Following on Audre Lorde (1978), it may be true that “we were never meant to survive,” however, now that we have survived, our present forms of survival have since been co-opted and rendered profitable. If there is a present worth imagining as vulnerable queered bodies, it is one where our modes of survival and queered ways of life refuse and violate the social contracts “of a Symbolic reality that only ever invests us as subjects insofar as we invest ourselves in it,” alongside resisting “mandates to accept that which is not enough” (Edelman, 2004; Muñoz, 2009). I’m not looking for another future; I’m looking for more ways to approach the present. It is all already here happening in the here and now and while some of us have run out of time, some of us never had time to begin with. The ways we’re looking at the present are not enough and I’m not ashamed to be insatiable. It’s no coincidence that the eye of the hurricane is a hole.
What if conversations about “adaptation” focused on acclimating to that new reality (Westervelt, 2019)?
Against resilience and “rebound-ability” narratives, questions of acclimating to an already-here queered present relocate our bodies towards liminal sites of toxicity such as the eye of the hurricane. Acclimating towards a present “that struggles to be hopeful” is to find ways of living “with toxicity, extinction, and without the reassurance of the open horizon of the future” (Davis, 2015). For queerness may very well be on the horizon, but it only speaks in the excesses of climate-queered hurricanes. While “the worst is getting worse and worse and worse” (Mottley, 2019), let’s take a cigarette break and have a cuddle—a little tête-à-tête—don’t mind Dorian, he only likes to watch. Against these faceless decisions foisted on us “that inhibit our ability to move forward with certainty and confidence” (Mottley, 2019), I am not pushing for a resignation towards powerlessness. Rather, while I am literally incapable of making sense of what is happening around the region, that uncertainty and unknowability incline me to hold close all that I love and cherish. To refuse to feel isolated, dispersed or dislocated by these adverse happenings from my queer friends is not to close ranks nor is it a matter of braving the storm. In truth, we’re frightened. As we were reflecting on Dorian's passage, a loved one, Ark Ramsay (2019), said to me:
You also keep me so grounded. Or rather not grounded. But like when an astronaut is floating away from the space station and gets linked to someone else. Untethered but not alone.
The tenderness of bodies battered by storms is certainly not something to be romanticised or celebrated. But there may be something to be said about finding love in a hopeless place (Rihanna & Harris, 2011). How can I and those with whom I share love continue living, given the circumstances? And, I’m not talking about survival here—I’m pointing to these elusive shimmering pockets of joy, warmth, tenderness and love shared between us in a covenant amid the ongoing slow-death series of annihilations and extinctions. What is to be felt from these precarious partial connections accumulating in the middle of a present conditioned by crisis? What can be gathered from an interspecies companionship needed to shelter a hundred dogs in a hurricane (Natanson, 2019)? When residential areas fail to hold up, what does it mean when refuge may be found in the mangrove’s cradle (Cartwright-Carroll, 2019)? To clarify, it is not my intention to dazzle you with clickbait kinships and headline miracles. Rather, these partial connections provisionally taking shape and taking care in the eyes of hurricanes point to a subliminal periphery of queer social intimacies hidden in the shadows of our present; “a thick present […] a thick now, where taking care of each other—human and non- human—for partial healing and for flourishing remain at stake” (Haraway, 2017). And intimacies whose cultivation and investment arguably might be worth the time we don’t have.
That Hurricane Dorian, that behaved strange with us, was to behave strange again, only this time, with different consequences (Mottley, 2019).
Beyond commonly felt conflicts, beyond a common enemy, beyond a shared suffering— beyond these and their unreliable though too often automatically assumed drivers of connection, what of those connections informed instead by the need we find between us? Beyond what is being done to us, what can we do for each other that may help to further determine these subliminal peripheral connections (Jordan, 2002)? With each hurricane’s turn, turning our bodies and relations, what turns may be made to demand the most from this turning point—and by turning point, I don’t mean a reversal or inversion—after all, things are still turning and being turned; the hurricanes are still coming and we are still yet being queered. A processual turning of ongoing transformations, rethinkings and reprioritisings, to take turns with hurricanes is to take turns shifting towards a generative posture of making do, with and against the sticky situations in which our bodies presently find themselves. The hurricane, which backs its departure point—that is, it is coming from somewhere else, it doesn’t just appear—also assumes a movement of turning away and from, and perhaps there may be no better time than the present to turn away from those dominating social contracts that shackle us to both meaningless deaths and survivals. And to whom or to what do we turn and who or what turns to us and each other in these hours of mutual yet partial and particular need? The consequences may never be certain but the question pushes us to keep turning towards each other in certainly strange ways, like hurricanes turning towards us, with a most destabilising commitment.
Sent: Wed, 24 Jun 2020 22:46:57 +0200
To: Marijke Appelman
Subject: little frames / little portals
I'm writing you to thank you for something that you said a couple months back.
It was something like, "You bring everyone into your little frame," about my Kanga for the Present wukshop and I think my practice at large. lol full disclosure i took like full offence to this comment when you first made it (i think you might have got that vibe from me too lol soz)--- it was like really confronting bc i like to think somehow my practice is about breaking open frames, unfixing ourselves from frames and blah blah blah. Koes helped me to understand what you meant--that on a first very aesthetic level, I do tend to work with frames (whether in film or in the anatomy of kanga) quite a lot. and then on a sort of collaborative / pedagogical level, i tend to bring people into my little world (frame) in the hope that they might find space / tools there to play around, to find things that lay hidden, or things not otherwise picked up on. I've always found that stepping in and inhabiting someone else's practice, whether as a workshop participant, a critic or just a fellow artist, can be really insightful---you get to be so close to that person, their work and their values and you might find something in yourself that you wouldn't have thought possible / capable. so yeah, a stepping into my head, or behind my eyes, to maybe, at least for just a glimpse, see through them.
On that note, I wanted to also thank you for inviting me to guest tutor one of your classes. It was like the first official "teaching" thing i've done and i was so happy for that chance--i've wanted to teach for a realllyyyyy long time! i've told you this story before but i just remember in my foundation, noticing a moment where everyone was having like an "aha!" moment about what they wanted to do, what direction they wanted to take, where they were heading for the next how many ever years in practice.. and i just loved seeing it, and i just knew i wanted to be part of that process, to help support and guide it.
It was super cute to have a day of magic portals with the students. I think my fascination and suspicion with frames is that, yes, they have so much power in defining / confining what sits within them (as well as what is excluded from them), and then, you can also burst through them-- they need not only been a prison, they can also be a portal. There can be something really satisfying about taking something so standard, so dull, so deprived as a square of solid green polyester, or an A4 sheet of green paper, and making it a way out, a way through, a different way, a hidden way, a way home, making it your way. The day was a bit rushed so I wasn't able to get a good grip of what the students made of it, but i was happy to hear from you that at least one student used the findings / workings from the day for their project. Beyond the school stuff, it was cute to find a friend in Suelea, who recognised her home country in the steel pan video i showed from my time in Antigua back in 2009--it's always a happy moment to find the region in people elsewhere, each of us can also sometimes feel like portals to somewhere else, somewhere distant but somewhere still miraculously here with you.
There was a different variation of my Magic Portal wukshop which I hosted at Tender Center (TC), as well as at this project symposium thingie in Brighton called The Black Joy Sessions (TBJS). You had a taste of it at Roodkapje one evening when I was doing one-on-one papercutting / mask-making consultations with green paper. Except, with these two updates, I included a camera and projector, so that the surface of the paper would be magically transforming while we cut shapes from it. I included two texts, one by Eliza Steinbock on trans* embodiment as an aesthetics of change and use of the pronoun, they; another by Saidiya Hartman, on black waywardness and fugitivity. all of that to say: they were texts about finding other ways and routes for living and being, texts that talk about diverging towards some kind of elsewhere.
It was interesting to read those texts in both an exclusively black context (TBJS) as well as an exclusively queer context (TC). Each group preferred one text over the other. for TBJS, the group preferred the text by the white queer and at TC, the group preferred the text by the black woman. their preference was marked by the same reason, "the other text was too wordy and theoretical". it just made me smile a bit. i wonder if we, with our particular eyes and experiences, are a lot more critical of those texts that are talking about each of us, that are also told by people like us. it's just a tiny superficial speculation based on group tastes, but it's still funny and curious to me. at the very least, it was cute to see that each group held their preferred text like a portal-- each became a way for us to tell each other our stories with further complexity and complication.
I think that's all for now. I just wanted to share these thoughts with you in relation to what you said. I hope we can keep stepping through portals to better elsewheres, together. And I hope we can continue to bring each other into our little frames and worlds, as an embrace of the other.
Thanks for your Aries energy, it's a burst of love and honesty!
Love you loads,
Ada <3 <3 <3
Sent: Wed, 24 Jun 2020 11:22:24 +0200
To: Katherine MacBride
Subject: rehearsal & thank you <3
I wanted to get back to you because I kinda let our communication drop as everything else seemed to drop and fall out of place. But, we never got a chance to speak about the Kanga for the Present wukshop and the person who got upset. It honestly took me a while to unpack what had happened, what felt like a failure on my part and what also felt like, "Whoa Katherine know what's going on and how to wuk it" lol. And then life kinda swallowed everything up and it felt like there wasn't the space to return to talk about these things in a way that didn't just feel like picking the scabs of a world before this one. But, I think, the meaning behind picking these things up again is a way to try and go back to the place of upset, the place of hurt, the place of rupture and fragmentation, to try and attend to those shaky breaky things and somehow make a difference in retrospect---a kind of psychic recalling, rehearsal and re-membering. I don't want to leave the scab alone, whether unpicked or unhealed.
[ASIDE]: I love a hot slice of etymology. The word rehearsal has been giving me a lot of cute little life and breath and trouble lately. It's ofc got performance practice connotations, repeating and redoing a scene / situation aloud, for purposes of clarity, refinement and burning things into memory. But it owes some of its roots to the word "hearse" and then further back, "harrow" -- so we get the first image of a vessel to carry and parade the dead or the pained or the lost, and then we harrow-- distress our minds and feelings, disturb keenly and painfully, become broken up like soil---and the whole of the word then, we do all of it again, we re-hearse. so i guess this letter is a means of rehearsing that moment, to break it up and consequently leave myself broken up so as to remember the pieces and maybe make sense of them. there is also another sense of harrow -- of Christ, descending into Hell to retrieve lost souls. So to rehearse this moment might meant to dip into a Hell of my own making and rescue the shard of my soul I left behind in leaving certain stones unturned and unread. I owe it to myself and I owe it to the person in the wukshop to try and make that little difference, if not to repair (and i don't think these things are even reparable) then to at least remember meaningfully.
But yeah, my hopes and intentions with Kanga for the Present, in my words, were that it would be a space for communication, wish-making and celebration, where our thoughts, words and experiences would be treated as gifts we give to the world out of love, whether that love is soft, tough or just complicated. It was a fun cute little afternoon and i dropped some of my schedule (like the reading of my auntie's kanga-related political bio in Three Swahili Women (link to epub file)), just bc people seemed to be having fun just making and busting out more and more kanga designs. It was super generative! But yeah, i think i kinda let things derail into something else with the "show-and-tell" moment.
I think sometimes I get caught up with conventional ideas and expectations of "what a workshop should look like" and i maybe snared myself a bit with the introduction of the show and tell. like, i stand by that the majority of the wukshop felt cozy, cute, and just like *dutch voice* gezellig! but that show-and-tell really just shifted the entire mood. this is complicated for me bc i do believe in having conversational elements about what we're doing / making but i think the formalising and framing and imposed scheduling of that moment really warped it into something discomforting and low-key violent and exposing. like, i tried to take the pressure off by saying "you don't have to say anything / don't have to share etc." but like when you're sitting in a circle staring at each other holding up the fruits of your labour, it's probs a bit difficult to say No to the gaze of the group and the gaze of the wukshop itself. it's not cute, to put it lightly, it's not fun, it's too much like work for my liking, and tbh, idk why we need to explain ourselves and what we're doing so formally---i'm fundamentally against that kind of expected transparency.
so yeah, i think the irony behind what happened is--that i always intend to make a space where we can all be delicately and comfortably honest about ourselves to and with each other, finding other ways and other words for what we're feeling, while sharing only what we want to share.... but then i didn't anticipate how honest people actually could / wanted / were led to be in the space. and so when it reached the person's turn to share, and they were upset in giving words to their experience, i honestly just didn't know how i should respond. full disclosure like my mind was jumping in the moment between possibilities---SHOULD I GET THEM A TISSUE, SHOULD I TOUCH THEM ON THE SHOULDER TO COMFORT THEM, SHOULD I REASSURE THEM WITH WORDS, SHOULD I SHOULD I SHOULD I--and that was a big part of the problem, and you responded in, i feel, a perfect way. instead of treating their words, their tears, their feelings as something to be responded to, to be wiped away, or to be problematised, to be resolved you just said
Thank you for sharing
and it was enough.
Thinking back to my brief, yeah, treating our words, feelings and experiences as gifts we give to the world, you listened and received that person's gift and thanked them for it, with a simple grace. I have a lot to learn from you and others still. I'm still trying to learn to be more in the moment and stay true to the things I claim to believe in and work with. I just lack a lot of experience tbqh. I think going forward, I want to be more careful about scheduling things in the way I did---I might seriously consider forego the idea of a clear-cut show-and-tell moment altogether--what is the point really? the conversations we were having in the moment of making already felt more meaningful. we don't need to explain ourselves and our feelings (of pain or joy) so abruptly and on such fixed terms to ascribe significance to what we're doing. the meaning is in the making (do, live, love, kin, a difference, etc.).
Thank you for being there and helping me and the work. And thank you for helping me to rehearse this moment again. Thank you for giving me the space to try these things out. And thank you for all the grace you've given me. Thank you for sharing all of this with me.
Also, I miss you! I miss Tender Center!! I hope we can pick things up again once things are possible in a right way (not a "the economy's open again" way). How have you been?
With love and thanks,
Sent: Tue, 23 Jun 2020 15:02:27 +0200
To: Clementine Edwards
I wanted to find a way to begin to thank you for everything.
Knowing you is honestly such a wild ride. I don't think I've ever clicked this much and so immediately with anyone before. It's like low(high)-key intense lol. With most of my close friendships, it's been a lengthy gradual growing-into / -closer, but I honestly feel a magnetic ease when it comes to you. And this is just to scratch the surface of unnameable feelings haha---I need to thank you for how much you've helped me to think and rethink, it's both so confronting and liberating. Soz if this is gushy, I swear I'm going somewhere with this, I just don't think I've ever told you any of this candidly, and maybe it's cute to start this way. at the very least, it's certainly a CHOICe. <3 (bear with meeee)
Ofc it began with first seeing Material as Kin, being introduced to what you named material kinship--it set ablaze something in my imagination which I didn't know I needed--to open up my perspective of what's at stake, and with whom / what we share stakes in whatever complicated ways, situations and meanings, and how to make life (and kin) with those things, to include plastics and other deathless things into my frame of who / what we can love and grieve. You taught me that grief is not something gifted only to the dead. You made everything so much more complicated, so much stickier and yet so much more fascinating and thrilling. I won't reiterate too much of this bc you've already heard it lollll
But yeah, it was such a pleasure to host Plastic Love Island around your solo, Sweetheart. Definitely channeling the spirit of your own workshop with Bella, Fast Joyful Art (which is still the best workshop title this bxtch has ever heard), I wanted to see how I might inhabit your thinking in practice--not only in the joy of thinking it--while also ofc giving credit where credit is due (and it's due to you darllll). I was so happy that people came out in droves for it. The speeddating was by far my fave part, everyone finding different ways to introduce themselves and their little plastics, and the letter we wrote together felt like a cute af way to give a eulogy to the festering trash-heap we managed to fuse together lollll. but yeah, it felt like a funeral reception lol. and i think that's what was needed really, for ourselves as grievers, for our plastics as the not often grieved. In the moment, I remember it being low-key disappointing afterwards bc I just had to throw our creation away. Looking back, I think it made sense with my way of working. I'm never one to intervene so much that #CHANGE is decided so violently, so forcefully--in that sense, I'm shy af. I think I just like to thicken the moment, or to spare a moment for those things whose moments are often deferred or foregone. So, to grieve the seemingly ungrievable (plastics), to stretch that moment, to prolong the inevitable discard and burial, I always hope that kind of small interception of a moment can make some little kind of difference. (im hearing Nicki Minaj - moment4life in my head now). Thanks for grieving with me.
[ASIDE]: Fave moments from moment4life:
I fly with the stars in the skies,
I am no longer trying to survive,
I believe that life is a prize,
But to live doesn't mean you're alive,
This is my moment, I waited all my life I can tell its time
Drifting away I'm one with the sunsets, I have become alive.
I think what I love about you is that you always find new ways to give me this "oh yeahhh..." epiphany moment, like, remembering a part of a wider more complicated picture which I had forgotten (or had never considered before). You always remind me to think of the very little microscopic and also the bigger / global / cosmic. You're like insta superzoom zoning in and out and giving me nauseous delight vibez making me see the little and big simultaneously
Your words and feelings really were the first impetus behind this new work--you were there when I was grieving over the queered hurricanes in my own region and I tried to be there for you when you were grieving over the queered bushfires in your home. It was very much this moment like, "it's not just us" and "it doesn't only come in hurricanes", which is dense and naive and im sorry it didn't click sooner. When it did click, I said:
The Caribbean is not the only one on the frontline of climate change. If crisis is now our conditioned and defining state of the present for those of us most vulnerable, then let it inform the trans-global connections we will need to make and strengthen as communities at risk, distant communities tethered together by risk.
But yeah, it's partly from you and it's partly from a lot of other friends, lovelies, voices, etc.-- I've been thinking a lot about impossible vessels for holding impossible multitudes, on one of my non-binary babe mixed race mulattresse feverdreams, and I probably came up with the idea of a ship--A Ship of Fools--bc of my darling friend Ark. Suspending the binary Xtian (TWO OF EACH ANIMAL) noise for a hot second, an ark is a vessel for multitudes in times of crisis. and yeah, not knowing whether or not you'll find land / salvation (in the form you expect it to arrive), the ark might very well be a floating coffin / pyre / crypt for multitudes. and yeah, i guess i hoped i could make space and carry the songs you, Ark and Maria made, wrap them up and keep them warm in kanga. And stretch the moment again and take the time we never had to grieve each of our lives, as they continue to feel that little bit more ungrievable. (also, im so fcking happy that your song is the 2020 climate crisis pop anthem of the decade. THAT--you did it!!!)
And you did it again, when you shared the Amy McQuire piece on Joyce Clarke, We must bear witness to black deaths in our own country -- it really just opened everything up again:
They are able to proclaim ‘Black Lives Matter’ in ways that circumvent their complicity in the deaths of black people here. But if you do not support black rights here, in this country, then you can’t support them internationally
I think this moment really gave words to my hesitations / uncertainties. Like, the global solidarity is beautiful, it's like, NECESSARY. but yeah, the local has always sat uneasy in my head. And so while I'm excited that the resistance efforts in the US have rippled into other countries making moves to tend to their own backyards, i also hope that things don't diverge TOO much from what was first at stake. what i mean to say is, i'm happy the colonial monument conversation is bubbling up again in countries like my own---but the bursting moment was really about pigs terrorising and murdering black people in america but not only america. I just really hope that even if some monuments get taken down (by force or as endorsed by each town and city), that people don't see that as enough. I would hate to see the removal of moments as another black square spectacle, where some people feel absolved of doing THE REAL LONGTERM WORK just by squeezing pimples (statues) off the larger faces of anti-black white supremacist societies. im insatiable af and i want MORE MORE MORE --- i want those statues to drown AND i want to defund the police AND i want Black folx to be able to live meaningfully AND AND AND AND AND
so yeah, I hope that we can tend to the entire messes of each of our backyards, right down to the roots and soil quality. it is not enough to cut the grass.
i've run out of words lol
I love you and I'm so happy to know you. Thank you for always complicating my thinking and being.
I wish that I could have this moment for life, for life, for life
'Cause in this moment I just feel so alive, alive, alive
To whom the sign is carried, and
To whom the sign is a breath often risked,
I hope these words can be worth your breath.
I'm writing you
out of breath
but with some words left to spare
out some of the noise.
Yes, I wanted to talk to you about breathing and drowning. I wanted to ask you: Who is allowed to breathe in this world? Given that he "was not allowed to breathe".
"When breath becomes an object of attention, no longer unremarked on, no longer taken for granted, no longer an uninspected given, anxiety is also in the air."
No, breath is not a given. My chest seizes up when I start to listen to my own breath--as if I own it--when I get conscious of its rhythm--it's like realising there's always been music moving and you've always been grooving and suddenly you're out of time--out of breath, and you try to catch up again--in and out of rhythm, breath--an underground tempo that marks you for life, lose your step you could lose your breath, step out of time, out of line, marked for death.
So no, it's not no given. I did see people breath get take 'way, it did breath-taking
but yeah, people--
it does don't only be men, it does don't only be boys who breath get take 'way--
it does be women, it does be queers, the people they does be trans, it does be children,
it does be it does be it does be it does be it does be
but no, don't get it twist up,
all of them does be Black.
So, this is why I need to ask: Who is allowed to breathe in this world?
It is not
It is not
It is not
It is not enough
It is not enough to"
ask of the conditions
that give rise to such a question.
We are painfully already aware.
But what could it mean to transmute them? What would that look like?
Can drowning do the work of baptism?
And how might we be breath-taking in ways that give us back our breathing room?
Pan is a melodic percussion instrument--that is to say it is an instrument that produces different pitches when struck in different places--that is to say it is an instrument of echoes, reverberations, recoils and consequences after making contact, after making an impact--that is to say it is an instrument of repercussions
so, to play pan, is to make repercussions
to make repercussions heard
When you roll a note in pan--
wrists cuffed invisibly, struggling against it
starting a fire in your hands--a repercussion--
each gripping kindling
from the timber
from the timbre--
and they last as long as you
last as long as your hands
last as long as your breath
as long as the note
the note lasts
the notes lost
as long as a
Let go the note
and it still breathing
on your neck--felt more than heard
but press down the note
o-press down the note
down the notes
drown the notes
drown note's throat
throa-ting--throw ting, drown it, note it
drow-ning no-ting throa-ting --no ting singing no more
noting no more
no ting no more
noting no ting no more
no ting felt no ting heard no more
noting no more
not no faded note, no more--effaced
a scream cut at the bloody root--
a face no more
a scream cut from the gumming mouth
not no ringing throating,
not no ringing throat ting--a wringed throat
noting a wringing throat, felt more than heard
on our neck, at the back of our throat
for the repercussions
pan is an instrument of repercussions--that is to say it is an instrument of striking back
so play pan
and be heard
"George was not allowed to breathe"
I heard a repercussion in what you said, Sis.
You struck back and a different pitch was heard, unique to where you stood.
In our little islands, as you know, to drown is to be denied breath.
And to drown in our little islands is an image whose clarity does not spare us a little breathing room.
Another George (Lamming) reminds me of a rumour that
"The sea, many thought, was God's reminder of his power."
It may very well be a reminder of power, but I wouldn't betray my breath by calling those men in suits, "God".
A pig that controls the weather is still just a pig.
So when he floods our seas and perverts our hurricanes, queers them in his image, queers us in the image he hopes for us---effaced and drowned
when he strangles the tide to rise
pockets plots of sand on each embarrassing visit
and seizes not only breath but our ventilators too
we are reminded of power and our place in his world:
underwater, under heel
under slaughter, under Hell
I've heard that
they won't be able to find all the bodies Dorian disappeared.
I don't need to imagine failed lungs, last breaths or drowned bodies,
the sea is enough of a reminder.
I don't need to imagine bodies ground to nothing but salt in the ocean's mortar,
the beach is enough of a reminder.
I don't need to imagine the spoken words or dialects of hurricanes,
the feeling is enough of a reminder.
I don't need to know the names of pigs who control the weather,
I just need an oven big enough to roast a god.
Let his last breath be a squeal.
I can hear repercussions when Pat Parker says,
"Don't let the fascists speak
My mind remembers and my innards churn
of stone men, bronze men
drowned in black bodies of water
effigies for slavers and other kinds of trash
deposed, condemned to serve
as criminal examples
and budding coral reefs
of white women and other kinds of apologists
"He should be put in a museum."
"We mustn't forget our history."
by the same apologists who always
are the last
of drowned men
slavers, decorated pigs and other kinds of trash
"coral typically live in compact colonies of many identical individual polyps."
--Where have I heard that before?--
"Fragmentation involves individuals broken from the colony during storms or other disruptions."
--Break him from the colony, disrupt his message and drown him in the sea--
"The separated individuals can start new colonies."
Let the coral devour him
he always wanted a colony
of beautiful survivals
queers and other kinds of fresh air
taking breaths, taking names, taking
in the cushion of wreckage
of worlds once built for drowning
of worlds not made for living--
giving room to breathe
for the short of breath
giving names to each other
written in fire
taking back and giving forward
striking back and being heard
for the repercussions
of drowned men
slavers, disaster capitalists and other kinds of trash
can't breach the currents
can't breathe, the currents
drowning out the noise
Don't let them speak
a scream cut at the bloody root--
pedestal emptied of cane trash
beheaded and chucked in the wharf
in the careenage
in the river
in the sea
in the Atlantic
in the water--
each body will remember, each is a museum
repatriate the breath
he stole from us
In the hope that we'll hear more from each other,
in the hope that the sign carried is a prophecy and
in the hope against hope,
Sent: Thu, 25 Jun 2020 10:59:20 +0200
To: joy mariama smith
Subject: feeling the feelingz
Something you said back at The Black Joy Sessions (TBJS) has been staying with me, resonating and repercussing.
You said it around the end, right after Anthea shared her songs with us, and you, Jaamil and I were standing close together. I can't remember verbatim but it was something feeling out the spirit of Black joy, "the joy we share together as Black folx when we're not being looked at". and i think it was also on the difficulty and precarity of such a joy, that it kinda shimmers, like it's only ever in a glimpse.
I remember you were making sound recordings, documenting everyone's experience and feeling of what Black joy meant to them, and I remember I struggled with it personally. I think I admitted to your sound recorder that I've felt a lot of confusion along lines of race. I feel a lot of resentment towards the experience of being marked by others--the words, whether used as compliments, insults or just neutral descriptors (black, mixed, queer, etc.), have never felt enough. but i think it's the usual reading and application of these words as identity categories which i'm dissatisfied and hungry with. And I've also always felt hungry at those who see shared pain as an immediate driver for connection and kinship. I think what TBJS helped me to remember was that there was so much of a particular and unique kind of joy (a Black [and also queer] joy) to be had and shared and that that experience could also be a way to make kin, love and life with others. I do not have that kind of joy with white people, I never did--I think Black joy is so particularly stunning, visceral and vivid because it radiates and shimmers on the thick and ever present horizon of global systemic Black pain and anti-Blackness.
But yeah, it is not about identity then. To feel the social force of Blackness, to move with it and be moved by it---might mean to, as Fred Moten says, "continually broaden out the concept of my folks and my family." I'm trying to get at the means by which we make connections and kin. It is not enough to share pain--that feels spiritually degrading and the pain does not account for the entire complicated tangle of our lives in and out of relation to one another. I can't do away with pain completely, well, because, pain is still here, is still felt, is still being remembered, is still being troubled, agitated, rehearsed and re-enacted. But if I said, for example, that the closeness I feel with and to you is defined primarily by pain, that would not only be untrue but also completely derailing. Pain reminds me that we are still here together, in this world that is designed to pain us along entangled intersecting lines of identity categories; categories of different inflictions of pain. In another light, Black Joy reminds me that there are ways and moments where we can feel ourselves together in ways that open up these categories, so that they are no longer prisons that fix us to one dimension.
In my own workshop at TBJS, I had hoped to point to this--treading another way or path, so that we might feel ourselves differently, feel ourselves along unmarked unmapped terrains of experience, to feel ourselves in that place that evades the gaze of whiteness. I think it was Jacob who remarked on the double feeling of talking about serious political dilemmas around identity while also being invested in the silly, playful moment of paper-cutting. And I think this is close to what I'm getting at. We don't have to disavow the pain, it is important. But we also don't have to be solely defined by it in any given moment (and frankly, we aren't). To be joyful and Black is also political. To be joyful with other Black folx, unseen by this world's gaze, is a political act. To take time to be joyful in a world that has no time to spare for Black joy is a political act. And it is an impossible moment like that that reminds me of who I am and who are my folx and family.
I miss you and everyone from TBJS so much. I feel bitter knowing moments like that are rare for me here in Europe--that is what moving to this place stole from me.
I'm looking forward to seeing you at Color Block next month. I'm looking forward to seeing my folx again.
Here's one of my fav songs from the legendary trini calypsonian, the Mighty Shadow, feeling the feelings .
"are you feeling the feelings baby?
most of Shadow's songs point to the magical infectious feelings of a community moving and living in dance and joy in a carnival context. and through this being together, the intimacy, the contact, the sweatiness, the joy, the high spirits, the friction, the sexiness, the love, the community and its individuals find their most meaningful selves.
Love, warmth and joy,
Ada <3 <3
CARTWRIGHT-CARROLL (2019) Man survived Dorian in mangroves off Grand Cay. The Nassau Guardian. 13th September. Available from: https://thenassauguardian.com/2019/09/13/man-survived-dorian-in-mangroves-off-grand-cay/?fbclid=IwAR3H7Me-FhtIa-ODJBBCd0QihHlVH-d5uzHUEU9jJf9uEiEWaOdfUrkIXfs. [Accessed: 15th September 2019]
CESAIRE, A. (2011) The Woman and the Flame. In Solar Throat Slashed: The Unexpurgated 1948 Edition (Wesleyan Poetry Series). CT: Wesleyan University Press
CHEN, M.Y. (2012) Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect. Durham: Duke University Press
DAVIS, H. (2015) Toxic Progeny: The Plastisphere and Other Queer Futures. Philosophia: A Journal of Continental Feminism. [Online] 5.2. p.231-250. Available from: http://heathermdavis.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Philosophia_Davis.pdf
EDELMAN, L. (2004) No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Durham: Duke University Press
HARAWAY, D. (2017) Making Oddkin: Storytelling for Earthly Survival. [Lecture]. Yale University, 23rd October 2017
JORDAN, J. (2002) Report from the Bahamas, 1982. In Some of Us Did Not Die. NY: Basic/Civitas Books
LORDE, A. (1978) A Litany for Survival. In The Black Unicorn: Poems. NY: W. W. & Norton & Company
MOTTLEY, M. (2019) Invisible Yet Indispensable. [Lecture]. 16th Raúl Prebisch Lecture. Palais des Nations, Room XVIII, 10th September 2019
MUNOZ, J.E. (2009) Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. NY: NYU Press
NATANSON, H. (2019) This woman took 97 rescue dogs into her Bahamas home to protect them from Hurricane Dorian. Washington Post. 3rd September. Available from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2019/09/03/this-woman-took-rescue-dogs-into-her-bahamas-home-protect-them-hurricane-dorian/. [Accessed: 15th September 2019]
RIHANNA & HARRIS, C. (2011) We Found Love. UK: Mercury Records
SEALEY-HUGGINS, L. (2017) ‘1.5°C to stay alive’: climate change, imperialism and justice for the Caribbean, Third World Quarterly, 38:11, 2444-2463
WESTERVELT, A. (2019) The Case for Climate Rage. Popula. 19th August. Available from: https://popula.com/2019/08/19/the-case-for-climate-rage/?fbclid=IwAR0xnkoVuntlM4P7otGBFIaeM2xp5mgwtq_2_qfq1gp0lKKI6HhIJJpUeU8. [Accessed: 15th September 2019]
Cabin Fever in the Safe Space
A safe space. There is nothing remarkable to be seen; only felt.
[ADAM enters. Their hands begin to sweat and their heartbeat quickens. They don’t know where to rest their eyes. They struggle to speak; they want to find the right words. They will forego speaking if the right words cannot be found. They are reminded of where it hurts. They rest their eyes on their wound and nowhere else.]
The Black Joy Sessions (Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, 2019) is a radically inclusive and exclusive black artist-led “un-conference” for people identifying as Black, brown or PoC, hoping to bridge the gap between academia and community while creating an exciting and nurturing environment for its participants. As it unfolded, The Black Joy Sessions (TBJS), through the conditions set by its individual lead-artists and their respective contributions, observably drifted between different understandings and priorities of “safety,” most of which were encouraging, generative and stimulating while there were other small moments where “safety” began to feel alienating, stifling and all too familiar. It must be made clear that TBJS as an event, at least in my own experience, made great efforts to ensure a hospitable space ripe with the conditions for, not only safety but, joy. It stands apart for me as a truly tender learning experience, where one could enjoy a significant degree of vulnerability and liminality in being and working with others. It also stands apart when considering that, amid this liminal joy, those few moments where one may have felt stifled and alienated shine so lucidly by comparison that it becomes so much easier to identify their mechanics. And it is these mechanics by which your hands are led to sweat, by which your heart begins to race, by which your eyes lose focus and by which your voice is left to choke. It is these mechanics, in the safe space, which keep you where it hurts.
I’ve desperately wanted to be able to make a really good solid argument for why it is that Blackness is best understood as a social force and not an identity. And it’s not because I don’t have some interest in the question of identity and it’s not because I want to denigrate people who are maybe more interested in that than me. It’s just because I think that at the end of the day identity is the residue of a bad political philosophical project that we probably be better off relinquishing in general, right? But it’s hard to give it up, you know. It’s hard for me to give it up, I’m so committed to and cathected to my folks, my family, and I don’t want to give up being committed to, being cathected to, my family. So, the only way it seems to me that I can do justice to both of these projects, to both of those commitments, to be committed to my folks and my family and to be committed to the eradication of identity, is to continually broaden out the concept of my folks and my family.
Describing “Black Joy” as “the experience and pleasure experienced by Black people in environments when we feel free to express and enjoy ourselves and our cultures when unbound from the prominent gaze of whiteness,” TBJS makes its intentions clear regarding what kind of space it wants to embody—one where “safety” is ensured through a practice of radical exclusion essential to the cultivation of an opaque, invisible or submergent experience of collective joy—while also lending itself to a bit of conflict concerning the diverging interests of some of its lead artists and participants. Conflict of interest made itself known when, during one artist’s crash-course in making safe-spaces just for “us and our family,” another lead artist whispered something only partially heard with a hint of alienation:
“But my family also includes white people.”
The alluded “family,” including both biological and chosen family ties, helps to complicate and problematise certain assumptions about who we might be, with whom we might associate and with whom we happen to share life, love, meaningful connections and joy, among other things. The felt alienation—the realisation that their constitution of “family” stood significantly apart from the majority’s understanding—consequently doused any urgency to make their dispute and difference heard and known by the group at large. Where divergent interests and experiences like this one could be welcomed as a broadening out of who might be considered family, the safe space—as defined by the majority’s politics—instead embodied a site of risk where the validity of these complicated experiences became endangered and problematised.
To be ideologically cut from one’s family, to be subliminally told, “No, they can’t be your family,” to be forfeited and bound to a monolith of experience and then be told, “Yes, we are your only real family,” it all feels rather miserable and, more importantly, painful. And some safe spaces in their identity politic, more often than not, seem to organise themselves according to the dubious assumption that partnerships in pain and misery effectively provide for partnerships for change (Jordan, 1982). Where pain enjoys a central role in defining collective identity in safe spaces, the nature of the pain in question tends to be unforgiveable. That is, we can tell each other where it hurts and we can also tell each other how that hurt is unforgiveable; which it may very well be. And because each participant is already always being characterised and identified in pain and a lack of forgiveness, the safe space rubs your wounds raw and vengeance feels dangerously seductive and palpable.
But I am not interested in revenge; I am interested in the miraculous capacity for joy, love, intimacy and other such things despite our lived conditions of pain. How can we hope to enjoy each other in the present, while always already being stuck in the pain of the past? If I am to intercept the loop of that pain, the first thing I must do is the last thing I can do—I must forgive the unforgiveable. After all, if I have borne an unforgiveable pain—if I have already lived through social death—then I have nothing left to lose in the present. With the exorbitance of a gift, Rebecca Comay (2010) describes forgiveness as arriving “unexpectedly, as from the future, and is drawn from the depleted reserves of one who has nothing left to give.” Comay continues:
Time remains irreversible: forgiveness diminishes neither the magnitude of the injury nor the agent’s responsibility, whether by forgetting or by “willing backwards”. The obduracy of the deed remains, but it no longer confronts me as a stony obstacle. [...] The event is historicized: instead of determining the future, the past is freed to receive a new meaning from the future.
And these conditions for new meaning, new feelings and new avenues for connection are the gift I give to myself when forgiving the unforgiveable. When a safe space over-prioritises raw tumultuous pain, it leaves itself open to be defined by the determinations of each pain and its aggressors. A space which defines itself and, in turn, defines and confines its participants to pain is a hurtful space. A space which is constantly preoccupied with the site of pain and its determinations, a space which consequently centres the powers of pain, which is essentially counter-defined by the powers of pain—such a space can only ever be a reflex, a revolt, a revenge, a rehearsal, a loop. Such a space is only capable of reproducing more of the same—that is, pain—and forfeits its ability to any capacity for recuperation. A space which keeps bringing me back, which keeps me fixed to the site of pain is a space where I must keep reliving my own social death. Run for your life.
Sent: Sat, 2 May 2020 14:21:51 +0200
Subject: the choices we make for ourselves
can i ask what you felt about building the sandcastle?
if anything lol
It felt good, almost therapeutic
I kind of liked the way we collaborated
It felt a little like you were my art therapist
But yeah it was nice to play with the materials, the different textures and so on I loved the wet bag, the different pieces of small shiny things on the beach
I guess we had quite different ideas to what constituted a sand castle
I feel yours was more like a fantasy miniature whereas mine was more like a collection of nice objects
thanks for sharing all this, it's really generous
"It felt a little like you were my art therapist"
lol idk what to feel about this
Maybe that was just my interpretation
Or like I appreciated the questions you asked to get my to question certain things about my process If that makes sense?
yeah, it was special for me to work with someone else.
i've never really built a sandcastle with anyone except my little brother. and he always wants to build tanks / war machines.
i guess it was special too because it knocked down my idea that such a collab couldn't be possible in these times
and yeah, very different notions of sandcastle, which i'm happy about. it's always surprising to see what other people do with a certain process and i guess it was nice because it felt like another kind of intimacy with someone, another kind of closeness
Yeah I guess art making can be kind of an intimate process Maybe that’s why I find it therapeutic.
I wanted to thank you again for coming to visit for a trip to the beach. It meant something to be able to share that place with someone else, to share that place with you. And it also meant something to be able to share a practice with you, just for the moment of building a sandcastle together. I know how difficult these times have been for you and sometimes I wish I could be more there for you--whatever that means--closer to you in the wake of being denied closeness, in the wake of a closeness now since forbidden or, at the very least, frowned upon.
The last time I saw you, before quarantine, was at the KLAUW Valentine's Day night, and that night reminded me why I shouldn't drink white wine LOL. I was super embarrassed for a while after that night for what I said to you. But I'm trying to salvage something from the remains of that night, so bear with me. I had some reservations about KLAUW from its first edition based on how it delivered / declared its door policy. I remember being told rather abrasively by some white cis gay queen not to touch anyone, not even a tap on the shoulder. I understand the pleas for safety (even if I have my struggles with the consequences of what these pleas signify in the bigger picture--i'll get back to that in a sec) and the heralding of policies of consent but, tbt tbqhlgbtqia+ I felt caught in something of a policing trap. I stayed the whole night, lost my friends who I showed up with and didn't know anyone else really, but I stayed (you know, the music was good enough and the bevs expensive enough that I stayed and danced sober by myself until the very end). tbt the trouble I felt of the door policy, at least in its centering the forbidding of touch rather than the priority of consent, it was a trouble that took away space for contamination, for mess, for meeting new people, for making new friends (and maybe enemies??)--it really did the work of keeping people apart, together. And so, it felt like a clean community, a sterile community, a riskless community, a safe community. And the kind of closeness and circumstantial / situational intimacy that you might sometimes find in passing--it all felt off the table of possibility. And I don't even think I'm talking about sleaze or promiscuity--I think I'm more talking about the risk and a missing sense of grace around risk in some folds of the queer communities of the night (and day).
They since changed their framing of their door policy, to again re-center consent, as opposed to forbidden touch, the night that we both went, which I was happy for. It made it fluffier, it made it friendlier, it made it flirtier. But yeah, I guess what I'm trying to get at is this weird phenomenon of queer nightlife institutions, queer communities and their relationship to policing measures--i.e. their relationship to adopting police measures. Our accountability measures and transformative politics must be so weak if our communities feel the need to always fall back on preemptive measures like assuring an artificial safety alongside policing movement, touch and intimacy. And at this point, I remember you mentioned getting grief from some of your queer friends for wanting to be in touch, wanting to touch, wanting contact, despite the current conditions and police measures and social distancing we're living under. What each of us wants, what we each desire in turn is complicated af. Without trying to sound too moralistic, I don't think it's fair for someone to be shamed for wanting touch in these times. Or, as I've said to you before, mental health didn't stop being a thing since social distancing came into being. And where touch is taboo, where desire for intimacy is taboo, where desire for sex is taboo, that so much feels like what it might mean to be queered, to live a queered life. Because as much as Anne Boyer means well when she implores that we begin
I can't help but think that some of that love and brilliance really just isn't there when touch is missing. Because I already lived a loveless adolescence in a homophobic paradise hellhole-- abstaining from the brilliance was not a choice I made for myself.
All that grief being said, aired and shelved, I did feel another kind of touch with you at the beach making sandcastles. I always feel like I'm doing something a bit unusual and illicit when I start touching the sand or when I start picking up shells, trash, debris or driftwood. Some of it feels like I'm picking up dead things or body parts or clots of sewage--but I only feel that kind of embarrassment when someone looks at me doing it, someone who can't see the fun it lolll (((excuse me i didn't go to the beach to get clocked, sir). But yeah, I feel weird for touching things like the sand or debris, because touch is still a problem. And yet, touching things, materials and matter is all we can really do, in place of touching one another. So we build something together and it's held in place by the touch we both applied, the touch we shared through making.
I'd like to try this again, with you as well as other friends, that is if you're okay with me to share this way of working together.
But for now, thank you for finding this way with me. It really made a difference. And I'd like to keep that difference afloat a little longer.
Hopefully see you in Berlin this summer if that's still possible, and otherwise, see you online.
Sending love, warmth and hoping you'll keep finding things to nurture you,
I’m embarrassed, to say the least. My body has outrun my spirit and I am not the child I remember, a child feigning patience with their sandcastle. I’m embarrassed when I go to the beach to build sandcastles because they stare
yet they can’t see me for what I feel, for whom I feel to be.
I go there when I can because it keeps me sane; putting my mind to it, shelving the isolation and its demons—I’m not ready to name them here; that would award them a substance better dedicated to the sand, the tide and its many gifts of debris.
The practice of building sandcastles is a precarious one, in that you can only really count on its precarity. Don’t build a sandcastle if you want things to last. Don’t build a sandcastle if you can’t afford to lose, if you can’t afford to grieve.
When the night comes, so does the tide. And when the night comes out, so do the crabs. They outnumber the tourists and they don’t complain when the shore gets eaten by the sea. I don’t know if sandcastles left ashore are built on crab tunnels. I don’t know if crabs hop the fence, trespassing these delicate remains. I don’t know if crabs live in the ruins. I don’t know if crabs mate in the ruins. I don’t know if crabs die in the ruins. I don’t know because the sea doesn’t tell me and, out of respect, I would never dare to ask. I don’t question the sea’s behaviour because it is unconditionally generous. Its capability is known, from splash to storm. I know the crabs come with the night because I’ve seen them and they’ve seen me. The sea tries to hide this fact just as it hides the spoils of the day.
When day returns to the beach, I try too. I try because I’m curious of the remains. I try because there’s something to be said about visiting the remains of things that were never meant to survive. I try because it helps me to figure loss and grief into my life in ways that are both nurturing and reparative.
A helpless commitment to memory, my archive of sandcastles boasts a material inventory of casuarina castoffs, sea-glass, shell fragments, urchin spikes, driftwood, palm husk, twigs of nameless varieties, Shak-Shak, coconut shell crescents, sea-grape leaves, mahogany pods, seaweed, wet and dry sands, grit from the shoreline, dead corals, concrete refuse and—I can’t remember the rest.
None survive in the ways I leave them.
But don’t worry. This is the game we play; I build with the day, the sea builds with the night. The night and sea enjoy an elegance with sand I can neither know nor envy. To see what the night and sea have left behind, to see what they have made, I return with the day. The silhouette of each castle is melted to a soft bump of sand. The heavier concrete and corals protrude from the surface like ancient ruins while all the foliage and shells are nowhere to be seen. I can’t ever know what I am inheriting with the day; I can only know that it takes the shape of loss while leaving something else in its place. If melancholia means to grieve what I can’t know I have lost, then what does it mean to grieve an unknowable inheritance? If I can indeed mourn the known loss of a sandcastle, what is to be done with the unknowable inheritance of its remains?
You cannot bury or entomb a sandcastle; you can only destroy it further. Or, to put it differently, you cannot restore a sandcastle; you can only build, from its remains, anew.
I’m embarrassed to say I am grieving.
When the responsibilities and policies of social distancing came to be, I awoke with the day to a practice in shambles. And I keep reawakening to that day, trying to make sense of dead corals, disappearing leaves and soft melts of sand. The story I kept telling myself of my practice—a practice of complicated comings-together, joys and intimacies—had already come undone in front of me and I didn’t—I still don’t really—know what to do. Josh Gabert-Doyon reads me with a mirror when speaking of this particular rupture, “the old world before the disease becomes irretrievable […] it seems hard to believe we’ll be able to make it through without abandoning some of our old selves.” It’s difficult not to take offence when a well-said, too real and too relatable truth clocks you so viscerally; perhaps being read to filth still also means being seen.
I’m embarrassed to say I am grieving what felt like a fixed and stable, yet already always momentary, form of practice I didn’t anticipate losing. I felt like the tiniest queer in the world and my practice felt like a sandcastle left overnight. For a moment—and perhaps still even now—this unanticipated inheritance of its remains has stayed illegible, irreparable and unforgivable.
I’m embarrassed to wake to a kanga now too old for this day and these days. Its face bears a since naïve image of two figures kissing in profile, their hurricane eyes, dead in stasis; stares eclipsed in butterflied horror. Its name?
“THE WHOLE WORLD IS TURNING”.
Imagining this kanga after Dorian and after the ongoing queering of the climate felt across different trembling frontlines of the world, I had hoped to attend to those strange unlikely pockets of intimacy, kinship, love, warmth, tenderness, empathy, and so on, springing up almost magically after another crisis-oriented queering of our worlds.
An image, like this, of intimate contact harnessed after crisis, seems so tricky and sticky given our present responsibilities and duties of social distancing. I don't know what to make of it in this light. The metaphor collapses and, again, illegible silences find me in new ways.
These conditions of distance remind me of another world; my once world of growing up queer in Barbados, my once world of sandcastles built, of sandcastles left to the mercies of unanticipated presents. Though certainly not the same yet not altogether separate, to be queer in anti-queer spacetime is to be both cautious of and estranged from the joys of social intimacy. Your queer friendship or your love or your sex would have to be quiet and unseen, lest the sight of it mark you for death or exile. So, you kept your love hidden, untouched, unmarked, and you learned to be close in other marooned ways.
With this in mind, to be queered might be to touch and be touched dangerously, to be put out of touch or for touch to be out of the question. I’m surprised—and therefore, embarrassed—to find myself back in this place and time, where intimacy can only be safely harboured through digital screens and windows. My local supermarket has since raised plastic barriers for its checkout staff and so the screen persists in and out of home. For some queered folk, the screen is bittersweet. At times, it is a magic portal, taking you elsewhere and otherwise; the first point of access to your not-so-local community, your distant love, your digital cruise. And at other times, it is a wall that strands you; a mocking horizon that keeps you out of touch and out of time. From intimacy to isolation, it is a pendulum at its cruellest, with queer life dangled at its mercy. At its kindest, it is a way home.
I’m embarrassed to have momentarily forgotten the kindness of screens and the warmth of those faces sat behind them. And I’m embarrassed to have also forgotten where driftwood comes from. Where does driftwood come from? I have no idea but I do know that it ends up on shorelines when building sandcastles. Driftwood and other flotsam have come to feel like unlikely gifts, unlikely tools, unlikely food, offered up or, more accurately, spat out by an indifferent horizon. When I’m embarrassed, forgetting where driftwood comes from, it is to say I’m embarrassed because I’ve also forgotten the generosity of horizons. Whether building sandcastles and staring out to sea, or staring into screens for warmth and company, what is most nurturing and sustaining, it seems, is the generous arrival and reunion of detritus. Finding the right—and that isn’t to say “perfect”—piece of driftwood for a sandcastle always begs the question, “How could you have been thrown away? You’re everything I ever needed.” And I’m again embarrassed to find myself asking that same question about the loveliest of friends; long since queered, long since set adrift in those troubled waters only we could call “home”. Communities of castoffs, castaways, dejected things and people; we have a habit of drifting together and, more than that, we make a habit of keeping each other afloat.
Tiny queers with not-so-tiny love have been teaching me, again and always, how to be close otherwise. And right now, learning to be close otherwise means “to see the negative space as clearly as the positive, to know what we don't do is also brilliant and full of love” (Boyer, 2020). Where it had once been a shelter in the isolation of anti-queer spacetime, the screen opens up again with faerie heart circles, digital dance parties and other little gestures to hold many a sad queer from falling apart. I’m embarrassed to have woken to what looked like a shoreline devastated; stripped of all practice and possibilities for intimacy. I hadn’t even taken the time to properly look, to see that, for the most part, it was still all right there, albeit in tiny, tiny pieces. Even if it’s disoriented, cast out of reach, forgotten its shape or loses its frills to the night, a practice always remains, even if only in remains. For every tiny remnant and speck of sand can build a world of difference. Each livestreamed poetry reading, each smiling webcam, each meal shared with a lover, each phone call with faraway friends or family, each delicate connection and tiny gesture can be a discreet bit of “ammunition in my arsenal against despair” (Lorde, 1986).
There’s a rolled-up poster gathering dust in the corner of the room—it hasn’t found its place yet. Splashed across a field of roses, I remember what it says: “Government Lover”. A poster design by Rory Pilgrim, I’m hearing a soft questioning in my head, but in their gentle voice, “What if a government could be a lover?” Those tiny things I mentioned spring up like weeds from the cracks of big states and their governmental bravados. As a child of divorce, the government’s scarce measures of care feel less like love and more like a begrudging alimony cheque; its police measures, a restraining order. Hyperconfident, yet knowing just as little, police measures fall out of the sky like seagull droppings all too frequently, while state-sanctioned measures of care only seem to come out as often as the European sun. And we’re told that it’s all for the best—of course it is. I just want to lay in bed with the state—holding its head and stroking its hair—and play some Imogen Heap: “Mm, what’d you say? Mm, that it’s just what we need—You decided this.” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any idea what anyone should do. Rather, I’m holding onto a friend’s forgiving words, spilled like chamomile tea in a video-chat classroom, “It’s okay not to have an idea.” I don’t know if anyone’s pulled the government aside yet for a little intervention and told them it’s okay not to know, it’s okay not to be certain in these radically unstable times. Hell, it’s okay to cry. Leading a state isn’t the same as loving or looking after a people. What does it mean when a people is well-led but not well-fed? And either way, a hurricane doesn’t give a damn about your leadership. And this moment is a hurricane. Recalling some cold counsel from Dr William Hanage (2020), “If your government won’t help you, do it yourself.”
And those tiny queers are doing just that. That being said, I don’t know if I’m ready or able to join them in that task of picking up the pieces. I haven’t found that feeling washed up here yet; it might still be somewhere on the horizon. Just another unbeached sea bean to feed me on a bad day, on worse days still coming like hurricanes at the heel. I can’t be sure if it will outswim the hurricanes. I can’t be sure if I will outlive the hurricanes.
Some days, the waiting is numb. You look up to the sky and it doesn’t matter that it’s blue, the sun is impotent and the food you worked to death from the magic of your wash-worn fingers doesn’t take you home. As much as you try in those days, the sand doesn’t seem to want to stay up; it just isn’t the right texture. And all that the surf leaves you only looks like junk. Your eyes don’t work in those days and the usual radiance of everything escapes you like highborn mangoes. Yes, the waiting is numb on those days, and it is for those days that you are the least prepared. You can only let them fall on you and with them—you hope—the mangoes… but they never do fall on those days, do they?
Last modified, 02 May, 2020
26 June, 2020
The mango never did fall again.
I’m only returning to this text, not to tie up loose ends but, to make a little room—a bit of aimless space—for some of those thoughts and things that didn’t get their moment to surface:
I've begun re-watching ".hack//sign" in these moments to help me contemplate part of the grief I've been feeling. Set in a virtual reality multiplayer online RPG called The World, .hack//sign focuses on Tsukasa, a player character, who discovers he is trapped in the game and cannot log out; his physical body hospitalized and comatose in the real world. Tsukasa has little to no memory of his physical reality; player and character separated, his body in the real world (which, to maybe complicate things further, is gendered female) has essentially disappeared. On his experience, Tsukasa remarks:
Instead of dwelling on the fact that I can't logout, I'm thinking that maybe I don't want to. It's now clear. After all, now I don't have to return to that ludicrous world.
Tsukasa’s words resonate against the feeling that everyone at different levels of society was just rearing for things to go back to “normal,” for everyone to log-out and just return to the world left behind, the world shattered by crisis. Arundhati Roy describes the pandemic as:
a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.
I feel the resonance. There is no going back, there is no logging out. And, like Tsukasa, I’m definitely neither ready nor willing to return to that ludicrous world. I can only see the portal.
And no, no one is safe, not you, your boyfriend, or any of your negative friends. Because you and they are human too. My only disappointment in all this is that I should have to protest my humanity to a friend. Still, I understand it, for to accept my humanity is to accept my frailty. Or to put it differently, it is to accept that I have an unconscious. It is to accept that everything I experienced, everything I knew, everything I understood could not guarantee my safety.
I held onto these words from Douglas Crimp. I think I wanted to invoke and honour the voices of an older generation of queers. I voice elsewhere my criticisms of contemporary safe spaces, as well as notions and priorities of safety in queer spaces. Growing up in a region marked by seasonal crisis (and a whole lot of messy layers of personal and political crises), safety just wasn’t something that could ever be relied upon, let alone be instrumentalised as a cornerstone value in nurturing a community (and I can feel this resonance in Douglas’ words). I haven’t mentioned this before but safety also feels unreliable because of the ease in how far it can be perverted. Governments enforcing multilateral police measures and generating airs of mutual suspicion within communities—that is also for “our own safety”. I only hope we can be “safe enough” to be ourselves but not let ourselves be defined by delusions of safety. I hear Achille Mbembe speaking on Hegel:
The life of the Spirit, he says, is not that life which is frightened of death, and spares itself destruction, but that life which assumes death and lives with it.
And then I hear Audre Lorde:
There must be some way to integrate death into living, neither ignoring it nor giving in to it.
I held onto some words from a few different people that all resonated. I’ll let them speak for themselves.
it is the material history that constitutes the present in all its geotraumas and thus should be embraced, reworked, and reconstituted in terms of agency for the present, for the end of this world and the possibility of others, because the world is already turning to face the storm, writing its weather for the geology next time
My own effort is to try to bear witness to something that will have to be there when the storm is over, to help us get through the next storm. Storms are always coming.
Sometimes, when I’m careless, I think survival is easy: you just keep moving forward with what you have, or what’s left of what you were given, until something changes—or you realize, at last, that you can change without disappearing, that all you had to do was wait until the storm passes you over and you find that—yes—your name is still attached to a living thing.
Sent: Fri, 26 Jun 2020 12:38:59 +0200
To: Koes Staassen
Subject: overlapping horizons
I wanted to speak to you about things that I've been feeling around our time together these past few months.
I know things have been difficult for both of us, apart and together. I know how difficult I can be too. And I know how much you've had to deal with on your own because of the lack of space for us to share each other's burdens in some respects. I need you to know that I'm always here for you, whatever that means, in whatever capacity for possibility, even if it has to be little, soft and quiet, even if it can't be as practical as I'd like it to be.
You know how much of a hard time I was having mentally and emotionally with the idea of quarantine and social isolation, the grief around it. Of course everyone was having some kind of hard time, one way or another. But I was happy to have a difficult time with you, rather than without. When I recall the pain of isolation from my upbringing, when I talk about building sandcastles, what I don't mention too much is the loneliness around those moments of sandcastle making. I don't mention turning from the shore and going home, because there aren't too many words for what I was "going home" to, back in those moments. There's an important difference between this moment and those--and it's you. You're what I come home to, we're what each other comes home to. And I know that that's so much more we have that others don't. So when I say I don't know if I would've survived quarantine in a meaningful way without you, I don't mean it lightly. I didn't know if I would survive Barbados in the way I had. You were always my horizon, always what I was unknowingly moving towards. So, it was always something that helped me to survive meaningfully into the future, to know there was a future to survive into, because it was marked by our being together, for the joy, the work, the love and the difficulty of what it keeps meaning for us to be together.
You know how angry I was--I gave you so much anger--for your country's behaviour in this crisis, and I know it was confronting. We fought over silly things and not so silly things. We sank into difficult and hurtful silences. And we held each other when we could no longer bear the weight of those silences. To drift apart from each other on either side of the horizon's fence is to take a walk, knowing eventually you will have to come home.
And then Hell broke loose again when George was killed.
I never thought I would end up in a relationship as meaningful as this, with a white man. And I mean, it's not easy. We've of course had confrontations over the years and we've learned from them. I won't try to speak for you on what you might have learned from me but I can say for myself that you continually teach me to be honest with myself and my politics. To be honest to myself, my politics and you, I have to both remember that this world we live in is designed for people who look like you and not for people like me, but I must at the same time refuse the idea that all people who look like you monolithically revel in my destruction, and the destruction of people who look like me, of people darker and queerer than me. To know the difference between unconscious benefitting from a system and conscious revelling in a system is a thought that keeps the work possible; it's a thought that keeps me sharp as to who can actually be helped to do better in this world, to do better than this world.
I can't deny that it makes me laugh to see you now wearing the same frustrated face I and other black people and PoCs have been wearing for years, when confronted with both the buffoonery and violence of whiteness.
I know you feel how much (and yet how little) keeps changing. It's affirming for me to know you just want to know how to do right by me on the stuff you might not be so sure about, like the non-binary stuff. I've loved that we can be honest and talk through all these things, the communication has honestly been so nurturing and grounding. When I tell you something, it makes it real for me. But this isn't only about me. Whatever moves each of us makes, the other is there on that journey too. I want to listen to and make space for the things you want for yourself, for the changes you want to embody, for the questions you want to sit with, for the silences you want to speak to. Whoever each of us becomes, I know our horizons will continue to intersect and overlap as they have done all these years together. You are the shoreline that the sea can never take from me.
I love you,