to be unconstrained

I’m thinking of borders and permeability in relation to art and writing, in relation to making and to being in the world and I also find myself looking at nature, looking at what the various sciences also tell us about how nature and the universe works.

Related to this, I have to think about various conversations I’ve had with friends and journey mates. One thing I wanted to share was this thought that the borders between practices are permeable and as beings whose strength lies in our ability to imagine, there are or should be no borders.

Glissant, writing about borders advocates for permeability–for moving past seeing borders as a means of defending or preventing, but rather as a way to mark that one is crossing from one country to another.

Translating that into the practice of making, it makes me think of how I am not bound to only one form or genre of practice. It also means that the doors to various genres and forms of making need to be permeable and to my mind, we also need to make the threshold less imposing and more inviting. (Open the door, break down the barriers or walls and say welcome.)

I’ve often had people tell me that they’re not really writers because they’ve never been published or because they’re just starting to express themselves in writing. I’ve also spoken with people who practice art but don’t dare call themselves artists because ‘well, there’s a study you have to do for that’ and also ‘my work isn’t as good as’ or my work isn’t worth it because I don’t have the right background’. (Did the first cave painter have the right background, I wonder.)

As humans, we tend to be fond of creating labels. We say: you are a writer, you are a visual artist, you are a painter, you are this, you are that. Even when it comes to being in the world, we like to employ these definitive and concrete labels and breaking away from those definitive and concrete labels is often viewed as strange or weird. (Actually, it’s often brushed aside or denied because it doesn’t fit into how people like to see things.)

But we can’t put limits or borders around the creative mind and we can’t put borders or limits around being in the world.

I articulated some of my thoughts in this message to the guerilla writers. I wrote: I feel that as beings we are fluid by nature–maybe born with certain body parts, but that doesn’t mean we are limited to those parts. Those parts don’t define us or speak of who we really are and to my mind remembering that fluidity, remembering that freedom to just be–while it can be scary at first, it is most certainly a source of joy and hopefulness.

One of the writers asked me if I could share my experience of this and so I talked about how I slowly came to recognise and embrace this fluidity for myself as well as my thinking on it. It was for me, the first time I was able to say to someone that I was born in a body that I’ve often felt awkward in, but which I embrace as being part of me. To put to words that feeling that the self that lives inside the body, that pure self is one that’s not bound to societal parameters or social constructs, it was scary but also freeing. Having done that, I found myself better able to say that I am simply as I am–a being in the world. Unbound, undefined, but very much joyful for having embraced this knowledge.

To you who are on the journey, I wish you love and the joyful embrace of self and work that isn’t constrained by borders.

In a time of pandemic

Last year, I was on a panel where we talked about the pandemic. We were in lockdown, but there was still this feeling that vaccines would be developed and the virus would be defeated. The reality is we’re still in the midst of a raging pandemic and while there are vaccines, the virus has undergone a number of mutations and there’s no way of predicting the path of a virus. It’s a natural phenomenon–like a storm that must rage until it’s done raging. There’s no reasoning with it, there’s no negotiating with it, there’s just understanding that we are living in a time when we must rethink the way we live our lives and do things.

This Sunday, I’ll be on a BonFiyah panel titled: Frail But Hard to Kill:Hope in a Time of Pandemic. The panel will be hosted by the most excellent Cristina Jurado and I’ll be on it alongside Alyssa Cole, Bogi Takács and Eve Shi. It’s probably the first proper SF related event that I’ll be appearing on since I don’t remember when, but the subject matter of the panel speaks to the need of the time we are in, so I hope I can offer something helpful.

The pandemic broke at a time when I was getting back on my feet and feeling strong enough again to pursue new ventures. For a short while, it was like coming to a full stop and feeling quite stymied about what happens next. But what helped me most was being in the rhythm of conducting a workshop that had to be moved online. Having to adapt the method and the practice to one that was more personal and having to take more time to think about the needs of the students. At the close of that period, I felt as if I had learned a lot and it helped me go back to the drawing board, to rethink how such workshops are conducted and to think about ways that are more nurturing and communal.

It also had me reflecting on the radicalised nature of various discussions and on what could be done to shift the direction of conversations so that instead of shouting from opposite ends of the table, we could move towards finding common ground, building bridges, and having productive discussions.

How can we as beings who are writers, practitioners of craft, artists and thinkers help create or shape the environment for these kinds of discussions?

I don’t think a blogpost offers enough room to think aloud on that matter, but I am taking it with me as I continue on my journey.

In the meantime, I wanted to share an image taken during one of my afternoon walks. I’ve included the caption I invented for it as I shared it with my friends. May we also recognise that there are other dwellers and travellers on this earth.

Upon observing a third species attempting to capture their meeting, the two species say to each other: ignore the third species. We’re still going to have our afternoon hangout, right?

May we travel with love and with wisdom.

Where I am at and dear God, but living is painful

Liz Williams sent me a note asking me how I was doing. It came at a time when I was in the absolute pits, thinking there was really no point anymore and I just can’t do anything right, can I? That short note was like a jolt of lightning.

How can I think of giving up on life when I have been constantly lifted up these past two years?

There is a point—I don’t know what it is. Is it grief? Is it mourning? Is it guilt? I don’t know what it is, but there is a point when giving up seems like the only thing left to do.

Just let me lie down and wallow in my grief. Just go away and leave me to be miserable and lost and chaotic and forgotten. Don’t look at me because what has overcome me feels so terrible that it might touch you too.

I was like that.

For a while, I decided I wasn’t good for anyone…even for my children. I thought, if I can just make sure that my kids are in a stable and safe place, then it will be all right.

This moment of despair came in part because no matter how I tried, I just couldn’t write properly anymore. (Still can’t, btw.)

When I write, it seems my words keep turning back to sorrow. I cry. My body aches. I read the words and the words turn into tears.

That is what writing has been like for a good long while.

There is this thing about grief and loss. It’s okay to talk about it for a while, but as time passes, we start to tell ourselves this story—

“You’re grown up. You’re an adult. You’re a strong person. You can do this.”

I also started to tell myself this story:

“Your grief is so heavy and burdensome. You shouldn’t be a burden to others. You mustn’t burden those around you with your grief.“

And so, it goes like that. That story I kept telling myself.

I guess, we all need just that one person to make us face the truth of how much bullshit that story is.

Grief strikes anywhere at anytime. Sorrow has no respect for passing time.

So what if a year has passed or two years or five or even ten?

It doesn’t make loss insignificant.

Just because I still feel the pain of loss doesn’t mean I am no longer intent on living and just because I am intent on living doesn’t mean I no longer feel the pain.

*with apologies to Liz for mentioning her note without permission and for my failure to reply in any way at all.