Image description: Lake Ontario on a foggy day. A flock of geese is in the water, and a bird is flying overhead. The trees in the background are green.
100 love letters to this world. This one that we’re in right now.
(Content note on this first section for talking about some of what is happening in the world right now, including climate collapse, genocide, and starvation.)
Today, in this world, orcas, grey whales, polar bears are starving. Insect populations are collapsing. Forests are burning. Permafrost is melting.
Today, in this world, the National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls releases their report, outlining the genocide, and asking for justice from this colonial government after generations of violence.
Today, right now, in this world, thousands of Yemeni children are dying of starvation in a civil war that is enabled by the US government. And the Canadian government sends aid, but sells arms into the conflict.
How can we love this world?
But maybe that is exactly why we should love this world. Because there is so much healing to be done. There is so much to stand vigil for, to witness, to resist.
And because there is so much to love.
Today, in this world, new species are evolving. The world will find a way to eat our plastic, and already mushrooms can digest plastic (both the oyster mushroom and the Pestalotiopsis microspora, which can survive entirely on plastic), wax worms can eat plastic bags, and researchers in Pakistan are studying landfill ecosystems. This world, much as we have fumbled our relationship with it, is majestic and determined. Life, as they say, uhh, finds a way. 😉
Today, in this world, Indigenous communities are preserving and passing down their cultures despite the ongoing violence of colonialism. In Australia, the Milan Dhiiyaan community posts regularly about their culture-saving (and joyful!) activities. In Canada, communities are doing the same. In every colonized space, Indigenous communities are holding the threads of their histories. They are weaving together new ways forward based on old knowledge. They know this world. The colonial project has never been successful.
Today, in this world, the African diaspora is stepping up in every creative space to offer hopeful Afrofuturisms and maps of response and resistance. In America and Canada, the Black Lives Matter movement continues to make a difference, showing us that something else is possible. Black filmmakers, musicians, writers, historians, professors, podcasters, bloggers, and performers are holding space for possible futures and holding powerful systems accountable for the harm that is ongoing.
In this world, crip communities are not only imagining but enacting disability justice. And disability justice means justice for everyone. This work is already being done, has already been done for generations among networks and communities of care. They know how to keep each other alive even when the context is hostile. They know how to get through apocalyptic conditions. And they are sharing their knowledge. Find the authors, the podcasters, the creators. The map-makers.
This world is more than grief and tragedy.
This world is more than collapse.
I’ve been thinking about this letter all weekend. I’ve written a dozen versions, and meant to send out a few pre-project letters, but I hesitated. This project, now that it is here, seems daunting.
It is hard to show up in love and grief. It is hard to hold love and anger in the same hand. It is hard to open up to love, knowing that despair will also find that open door.
On Thursday, I went for a walk along Lake Ontario. The fog was thick, and the birds were everywhere. I saw chipmunks and squirrels, mosquitoes, good puppers and so many green and growing things.
It felt magical. It was a gift. An invitation. An affirmation.
Today is the June New Moon. From the Many Moons Planner:
“This month could be an excellent time to reflect on relationships. Thinking about everything as a relationship can be helpful, as it opens us up to multiple possibilities, and highlights our perceptions, behaviour, and thought processes as agents enacting those possibilities. When we interrogate our relationship to ourself, our relationship to time, our relationship to friends, family, etc., it can take us out of the realm of rigidity, and into the real of possibilities. We are NOT just our behaviour, our thoughts, our mistakes, our harmful habits. … This month, try to treat yourself with more care, kindness, and compassion. Hold your own hand through your one and only life.”
So I begin this project with an invitation to reflect on my relationship with this world. To find the possibilities, and to think about this relationship in deep and meaningful ways.
I come into this project with grief and despair, searching for connection and possibility.
I don’t know how to be with you, dear world. I interact with you primarily through media, reading about soil more often than I touch the dirt, looking at pictures of animals more often than I sit quietly in their wild spaces.
Even my houseplants are struggling. I forget to feed myself, and I forget to water them, too.
I dream of making crow friends, and forget to put seeds in my pockets.
But I am here, and trying.
And when I show up, you are here, too. Every time I step out into this world, there it is. Bigger than I am, bigger than I can imagine. And I am in it, I am part of it.
I think that this project is, in some ways, 100 days of grieving and memorial. We are watching many species die, and we are watching many ecosystems transform in ways that are violent, tragic. We are watching collapse.
We are watching change.
But change offers possibility. I think of Octavia Butler, and her Earthseed principles.
From Parable of the Sower:
All that you touch You Change.
All that you Change Changes you.
The only lasting truth Is Change.
God Is Change.
So, if part of this project is a memorial, let it be an Earthseed memorial. Octavia Butler knew just the way.
An excerpt from the Earthseed funeral in Parable of the Talents:
We give our dead To the orchards And the groves. We give our dead To life.
Death Is a great Change— Is life’s greatest Change. We honor our beloved dead. As we mix their essence with the earth, We remember them, And within us, They live.
Darkness Gives shape to the light As light Shapes the darkness. Death Gives shape to life As life Shapes death. The universe And God Share this wholeness, Each Defining the other. God Gives shape to the universe As the universe Shapes God.
We have lived before. We will live again. We will be silk, Stone, Mind, Star. We will be scattered, Gathered, Molded, Probed. We will live And we will serve life. We will shape God And God will shape us Again, Always again, Forevermore.
I start this project with grief, and also with remembering, and discovering. I am alive, and I will serve life. That’s my intention for this project.
I love you, world.
If you would like to receive the love letters in your inbox, you can join the email list here.
If you want to know more about this project, you can find the intro post here. You can participate in many ways, including on social media using the hashtag. You can also participate off social media, and if you would like your letters shared, you can send them to me to be included in the emails.
If you want to support my work, you can find my Patreon here.
Do not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant, even though the thing one is fighting is abominable.
This is an invitation to join me in writing 100 love letters to this world. An invitation to spend 100 intentional moments loving this world, and documenting this love. Finding 100 things to love in this world, or loving one thing in this world 100 times. Being present in this world, and seeing its complexities, holding space for what is terrible and for what is beautiful.
This world, which I propose we love with intention and with tangible actions, is full of grief and suffering and injustice, and many of us are resisting, responding. That core of recognizing and responding to injustice is central to this project.
Why speak of thriving and love when there are so many massive, urgent problems that need to be confronted? To write about the potential or trust and care, at this time in history, could seem like grasping optimistically at straws as the world burns. But durable bonds and new complicities are not a reprieve or an escape; they are the very means of undoing Empire.
Nick Montgomery and carla bergman, Joyful Militancy
Loving this world in a time of compounding crisis and active, necessary response can be challenging and it can feel counter-intuitive. But as I move through this difficult time in my own life, and as I witness community members similarly moving through fear, and grief, and anger, and despair… I find love and connection more and more critical.
Community care, connection, and the ability to recognize and express love; these are not just a reprieve or an escape, as Montgomery and bergman point out. They are the means by which we can respond to injustice.
And so, 100 love letters to this world.
To this world. And to those of us who are in this world, fighting for this world, fighting for each other within this world.
To all survivors today: your time is precious, your energy is precious, you are precious. Your love is precious, your relationships are precious. And I don’t mean precious like cute. I mean precious like invaluable like massive like power like transcendent.
The goal of this project is not to stifle resistance or to turn our focus away from injustice. But rather to find a way to be in relationship with this world – this world that we have, the physical world, the social world, the emotional world that we find ourselves in right now, unique to each of us – that allows for love and struggle. I am not looking for a quick fix or a cure for the problems that we are facing; the idea of a “cure” for trauma is fundamentally ableist, and I reject it.
The idea that survivorhood is a thing to “fix” or “cure,” to get over, and that the cure is not only possible and easy but the only desirable option, is as common as breath. It’s a concept that has deep roots in ableist ideas that when there’s something wrong, there’s either cured or broken and nothing in between, and certainly nothing valuable in inhabiting a bodymind that’s disabled in any way.”
Leah Lakshmi Piepza-Samarasinha, Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice
We are facing climate crisis, and seeing the effects more and more clearly. Time is short. We are at, and passed, many critical tipping points.
We are also facing an emboldened and increasingly powerful right wing, fueled by capitalism, climate denial, white supremacy, and cis hetero patriarchy.
Within my own heart, and within my communities, there is despair, hopelessness, existential dread. How do we move forward? How do we continue breathing, living, loving, in this context? How do we stay connected when we are in such pain, and when we are anticipating so much more pain?
It is easier to scroll the newsfeed endlessly, to think about collapsing insect populations and melting glaciers and rolled back rights and ongoing colonial violence, to think about these things rather than engaging with them. To grieve in an abstract and disconnected way. It is harder, and I am less likely, to go outside, to attend a rally, to have coffee with a friend, to breathe the air that I still can breathe, to see the moon in the sky, to feel the ground under my feet, to hear water moving through rivers and streams and in raindrops.
Moving from the abstract to the material is difficult, because it means facing what is at stake. Feeling my own body on the line with this world.
Underpinning so much of the despair is the sense of impending and worsening scarcity. Many of us have been so deeply steeped in capitalism and capitalism’s story about humans as inherently greedy, as hoarders and accumulators, that it is hard for some of us, for me, to think about scarcity without wanting to retreat. To turn inward, to accept the neoliberal premise of individualization, to become ever more an island.
Disconnection is a coping strategy. There is value in disconnection, in avoidance, in the inward turn. There are times when it is just what we need in order to continue on. But for myself, and for some of my community members, there is a way in which disconnection has stopped being supportive of my life and has become too heavy. I want to change it.
When I notice how much easier it is to access feelings and stories that close off acts of living and resistance, that’s when I know I need to interrupt the disconnection and find a way back. That’s where I’m at now. And that’s why this project exists.
Whatever comes next will be hard, and it will leave most of us hurting. We can learn from disability justice work, from racial justice work, from queer and trans justice work, from all the community workers who have come before us into apocalyptic trauma and have found a way to stay connected. We can take their wisdom and ask: How will we love this world? How will we love ourselves in this world? How will we love each other in this world?
Those are the questions I hope to ask with this project. And I hope that by bringing our love to this world, we can start co-creating possible futures together, or even just co-creating the possibility of imagining a possible future.
Your love letters can be as elaborate or as simple as you’d like. A single word or a ten-page billet-doux. A photograph, a drawing, a poem, a deep inhale. A conversation with a friend about what there is to love in this world, a moment in the mirror, a short story, a long story, a postcard. Love letters can take so many forms, and all of them are welcome.
All that is required is that you do this intentionally, that you find some way to connect with love for this world.
And your love, just like your love letters, can take many forms. Love can coexist with despair. Love can fuel anger. Love and grief know each other well. This project is not a demand for “positivity.” It is, instead, an invitation to connection.
This project will run from the New Moon on June 3 2019, to the Full Moon on September 14 2019.
Following the project, I will be collecting the love letters into a zine.
You can participate on social media by tagging your posts #100loveletters. If you’d like to receive my love letters in your email, you can sign up for the 100 Love Letters to This World email list. I’ll be sending out my own love letters throughout the project, and also sending out any letters that you submit to be included. You can submit those letters by emailing them to me at email@example.com.
Collecting the self-care posts that I shared over the course of the April 16 election day.
It’s Election Day in Alberta! I’m going to be sharing self-care prompts throughout the day. We’ll be back to a more regular schedule of posting tomorrow. It’s first thing in the morning in Alberta, and I imagine that some folks are already awake and sitting with the intensity of this election. If you’re up, and you’re sitting next to an anxiety gremlin, join me in breathing for a moment. Not a “breathing exercise,” just a breath. I know sometimes that’s really challenging, for a variety of reasons that might include anxiety, or panic, or allergies, or congestion, or chronic health concerns. Whatever the breath feels like, just notice it. If you can breathe with some intentionality, do that. Can you bring the breath deeper? Can you feel where it goes on its own, or where it feels like it needs to be? Sometimes anxiety sits in the middle of my belly, and a breath helps. Sometimes my shoulders tighten up really tight, and a breath helps. Sometimes being told to breathe is just annoying. What’s it like for you, today?
Our second self-care prompt for Election Day in Alberta. Have you had anything to eat yet today? Are you hungry? Check in with yourself. Lots of folks will be volunteering today, working at polling stations or driving folks to polling stations or doing other important jobs. If that’s you, can you throw a snack in your bag on the way out? If you’re dealing with the emotional intensity of today and it’s making it hard to eat, what might help? Have you experienced emotional intensity like this before? How did you get through that time?
Are you thirsty? Have you had anything hydrating to drink yet today? What’s your favourite morning beverage? I’m in Australia today (I voted by special ballot before I left!) and when I’m here, I have a flat white with two sugars in the morning, and I love the apple juice over here. When I’m at home, I have my nesting partner’s amazing coffee – black, with maple syrup. What gets you started in the morning? Stress and anxiety can leave lots of us feeling wrung out. Staying hydrated sometimes helps. Is there anything you could do to remind yourself to stay hydrated today?
I really struggle with the way self-care is talked about in a lot of spaces – the way it’s commodified and individualized, and turned into yet another task for overburdened and marginalized communities to take on. I think that self-care is inextricably linked to community care, and that when we talk about self-care, we have to do it carefully. We have to be conscious of the ways in which self-care advice can actually cause stress and harm, and the ways in which self-care tools are differentially accessible to different communities. However, I also really value the way that people develop self-care strategies in even the most challenging situations! As much as I reject and critique the idea of individualized self-care (the idea that we can single-handedly make ourselves and our contexts better), I also really recognize and honour the ways in which people do exactly that! People are *always* responding to the hard times in their lives and the challenges in front of them. What are your favourite self-care skills or strategies? Is there a particular self-care story that you love to tell, or to remember? My very favourite self-care story is actually a community care story. When I met one of my most cherished friends, she noticed that I had a habit of speaking about myself in unkind ways. She designed basically a training program for me – for weeks, months!, she would check in with me about how my self-talk was going. She wrote me cards, gave me little gifts, and was basically a cheerleader for me as I worked to change that habit of unkind self-talk. I did manage to change that habit, and it was possible because I made it a priority, and because someone saw what was happening for me, and made an effort to support me in making changes towards something I wanted. Have you ever been supported, or offered support, through a process of change? I think that remembering some of these stories of care (self-care and community care) can help us remember how skillful we are at responding to hard times. No matter how today goes, we bring these skills with us.
Do you need to stretch? Sometimes emotional intensity can find a home in our bodies, and we can end up pretty uncomfortable. Where do you store your tension? How’s that part of your body doing right now? Can you give it a little gentle movement?
Whatever happens today, our communities will require care. We have seen that Alberta is not insulated from the kind of hate and cruelty that we’ve watched rise up in the States and in Ontario and across the globe. It will take time and effort to heal, and the process of healing will be an ongoing process because the hurts are also ongoing. I love this article by Shivani Seth on the topic of creating communities and contexts of care. If you need help imagining hopeful and possible futures, I suggest reading this.
Have you had any kind, supportive, one-on-one interactions with another person yet today? Intense emotions can be so isolating, and social media can leave us inundated with social information but isolated from social connection. What do you do when you’re feeling a bit isolated? How did you learn these skills? Are there any skills related to responding to the feeling of isolation that you’d like to practice? Would now be a good time to try out a new way, or a reliable way, of responding to feelings of isolation?
When was the last time you felt something really pleasurable? One of my favourite authors, adrienne maree brown, just published a new book called Pleasure Activism. In it, she includes dozens of essays by a wide range of writers on the topic of pleasure in a variety of contexts. The book is specifically about how pleasure can be, perhaps even must be, part of how we respond to oppression. Is there something you can do for yourself this afternoon that would be pleasurable? Can you find something soothing to touch, or something delicious to taste, or someone cherished to connect with? Is there a small moment of pleasure that you can invite into what may be a difficult and emotional day? You can read an interview with adrienne maree brown here. (Content note on this article for discussion of substance use and sex.) “In order to feel pleasure, you have to feel the whole breadth of your emotional spectrum and how to communicate [your] needs. There’s an aspect of it that’s also about surrender. If you orient [the world] around a collective community of care, then there’s plenty of stuff [available] if we know how to share it. A lot of pleasure activism is also leaning into the simple pleasures of existing, right here, right now.”
What is the memeing of this?!?! Share your favourite meme. Send a meme to a friend. Post a meme on your page. MEMES! I’ll start. (Memes are *absolutely* my favourite form of quickly accessible self-care.)
This post is a great resource to keep handy. It includes over a dozen questions and self-care prompts. It’s particularly useful if you are feeling intensely distressed, depressed, or suicidal. Getting through election day might be challenging. A lot of folks are scared, angry, and feeling uncertain about the future. Waiting for the result of such an important election, where the stakes are so high and hope has been low, can be overwhelming. I know that saying, “if you need help, reach out” is often trite and unhelpful. Many of us would reach out if we could, but intense emotions can keep us quiet for a wide variety of reasons. If you’re struggling, consider starting with this checklist. If you’re struggling and you feel able to reach out, the Calgary Distress Centre is available 24/7, with text-based support available from 3 pm to 10 pm. https://www.distresscentre.com/ The Edmonton Distress Line is also available. https://edmonton.cmha.ca/programs-services/distress-line/
Have you gotten any fresh air today, or spent any time with plants or animals? Can you find a way to engage with nature? Maybe you can actually go outside. Maybe you can pet an animal. Maybe you can water a houseplant, or look out the window and really notice what the sky looks like, or the plants outside the window. This world is amazing. We are part of this world.
Art can be resistance and response. Creativity can be resistance and response. When was the last time you did something creative or artistic? Could you break out the pencil crayons or the paint or the stickers or the knitting needles and do something creative this evening? Maybe take a cue from some of the folks who have been responding to hateful rhetoric in this election and take some sidewalk chalk out to share some strategic affirmations. Can you do some art that will, to quote my beloved friend Nathan, affirm your pain or support your function? Art can make our lives more possible, can invite us into a moment of agency, action, and creative choice. In the face of terror and overwhelm, this can be powerful. (I am a fan of stick figures, myself.)
One of my cherished friends reminded me last night that being helpful can really help the person doing the helping to feel better. If you’re feeling the emotional intensity of today and it’s starting to wear you down, know that you are not alone. There are a lot of things going on today, a lot of narratives running through many of our minds. It’s a lot. What are your favourite ways to help other people? Do you enjoy baking for friends? Do you like reaching out with a text, or sending a meme, or sharing an article? Do you prefer doing tangible acts, like helping someone tidy their house or running an errand for them? Do you like helping someone reframe a difficult situation that they’re facing? What is your favourite story of yourself as someone who helps? Is there anyone in your life who might need some help today, that you feel you might be able to reach out to? This election has shown us that there is a lot of hate and willingness to cause harm in our province, but it has also shown us that there are so many of us who are willing to step forward and offer help. There are many true stories of this election, and they do not cancel each other out. It has been hard and horrible, and it will continue to be hard and horrible. AND, at the same time, our communities are beautiful and resilient, and will continue to be beautiful and resilient.
This election has felt intense and overwhelming. And I think that part of this intensity, part of this overwhelm, is that this election follows a trajectory that we have been on for a while. We have been witnessing harm, and the escalation of overt acts of hate and aggression, for a long time. We have seen it in the States, and in Ontario, and in the UK, and in many other countries*. For some communities, this has been an unrelenting experience of oppression for many generations. For all of us, the impacts have become more visible, more overt. We see the changes happening in our environmental, economic, and political contexts. I am in Australia to convocate from my Masters of Narrative Therapy and Community Work program. For my final project, I looked at narrative responses to political distress. You can watch that video here. I’m sharing this today because I want to affirm for our communities that we have already been responding to hardship. We have skills that will continue to be available to us. We have cherished values and histories of action. Whatever happens in this election, and in the upcoming federal election, and in the global context – whatever happens, we will continue to respond. We will turn our hopelessness into action. We will weave safety nets for each other and with each other. As G. Willow Wilson says, there may not be a way out, but there is always a way forward. We will find that way forward together.#abvote
* I want to note that this experience of rising hate is *not* universal across our globe. Rwanda, Ethiopia, New Zealand, and many other countries have found a different trajectory. If you want to feel some hope, look up what is happening politically in those three countries. Women in Sudan have been the driving force behind ousting the president and demanding better representation. And even on our own continent, communities are finding ways to map a new path. This story of harm and rising violence is not the only true story of our time.
A while ago, I co-created and participated in the Tender Year project with Nathan Fawaz and Stasha Huntingford. In this project, which was powerful and life-changing for me, we had seven prompts, one per weekday, and we reflected on these prompts every day. On Saturdays, we wrote affirmations. Affirmations for ourselves, for our communities, for the world. We asked, what do you need to hear? What do you need to affirm for yourself or for your people? I struggled with the affirmations (I struggled with all the prompts at different times in the year) but I also found them powerful. So often, affirmations are demanded from people who are struggling, and affirmations are presented as a singular solution to systemic oppression. But when we uncouple affirmations from these ableist and capitalist discourses, they can actually be incredibly powerful. They can affirm for us who we are, what we cherish, where we have been, and how we want to be in the world. They can open up possibilities that feel closed off by the anti-affirmations so many of us are confronted with on a regular basis. What do you need to hear, today, this evening, as the polls close and the long count begins? What do you need to affirm for yourself or for your people? Nathan offers us these as a place to start: “Spend on the world you wish to create.” “Exile nothing.” “Call yourself home.” “Orient towards the possible.” “The possible is an exchange between heart and lungs.” “The possible first feels like relief, and then dares to be joy.” What are your affirmations today?
Is your body feeling nourished right now? Do you need to eat, or have something to drink? It’s been a long day, and lots of us either forget to eat during stressful days, or struggle to eat when the emotional intensity is present. If you’re hungry, or if you know that you need to eat, is there anything you can nourish yourself with? My go-to calorie-intake on stressful days or high-pain days is a London Fog. I appreciate the ritual of making myself a London Fog, and I appreciate that I can get some calories into myself without having to eat anything solid. What are your tricks for days when eating is difficult or inaccessible?
Friends. I see the panic. I feel it, too. If they’re right about the outcome of this election, we will grieve and we will rage and we *will* keep fighting for each other. I know you feel sick. I do, too. Breathe, beloveds. Put your hand on your chest and feel your good heart beating. You are alive. You have done everything you can to keep us and our communities and our kids safe, and now we will figure out what to do next. The outcome hasn’t been determined, the advanced poll votes won’t even be counted until tomorrow. But I know how bad it looks. I love you. We will figure out how to move forward together. You are alive. You are here. You are not alone. Your good heart is beating and you will continue to make a difference in the lives of the vulnerable and hurting. We are not alone. Unstick your tongue from the roof of your mouth. Breathe. Push your shoulders down from your ears. Squeeze your eyes shut for a moment and then open them wide. Let the feelings move through your good and knowledgeable body. Breathe. Find each other. We will weave safety nets for and with each other. There may not be a way out, but there is always a way forward.
How are your nerves right now? Feelin’ a bit frayed? Is there anything accessible that would be soothing for you right now? Although bubble baths and cups of tea won’t solve the world’s problems, there is absolutely sometimes a place for them in offering comfort and a moment of peace.
How was today for you? What is the story of this day? There can be some value in naming our acts of living, and in naming the values that we held close through a difficult time. What choices did you make today? What were the values that informed these choices? What were you valuing when you made the choice? Is there anyone in your life who knows that you made these choices? Who, in your life, would be least surprised to know what your strong values are? Did the choices that you made today make a difference in anyone else’s life, or might it make a difference in someone else’s life to know that you made these choices? What choices did you witness other people making today that align with your values or hopes? What values do you think they were holding onto, that allowed them to make these choices? Will their choices make a difference in your life? We are not passive recipients of trauma or hardship. We are always responding. We can hold onto that truth, no matter what happens in the near future. #abvote
This is an expanded version of the review I posted to Patreon earlier this month. If you want to support my work and read early versions of many of my projects, you can join the community here!
Content note: talking about racism and white supremacy
For the first time in… I don’t even know how long!… I finished a substantial novel in a week. That novel was Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black.
There were a few factors that made it possible, and I want to acknowledge that this isn’t always possible (for me or for anyone else dealing with a notable lack of time). The most important factor was that I spent a lot of time in the passenger seats of cars, so I had a solid 10 hours to read. I also decided to devote some time on the weekend to reading, so I spent a few hours in coffee shops reading when I could have been working instead.
It meant the next week was a bit stressful, and now two weeks out from it I’m still trying to get caught up on some of the work I put off, but it was worth it.
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan was so very worth it.
If you have the chance to read this book, take it. And be prepared to be pulled into this world, which contains so much nuance and life and depth and joy and pain.
I’m working through Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacyworkbook this month, and reading Esi Edugyan’s novel, which holds a mirror up to slavery-era white supremacy, and to the white supremacy that remains in our current culture.
In this mirror, I saw my own complicity with, and cooperation with, ongoing patterns of privilege and domination. I see in myself Christopher Wilde’s self-serving white savior thoughts and actions. I see in myself, and in the context around me, so many of the harms perpetuated by well-meaning white people in the book. And I see the blatant and violence racism of the book still present in the world around me, even the world very close to me.
Washington says, “How could he have treated me so, he who congratulated himself on his belief that I was his equal? I had never been his equal. To him, perhaps, any deep acceptance of equality was impossible. He saw only those who were there to be saved, and those who did the saving.”
This is deep and relevant and contemporary knowledge. In the last two weeks I have watched a community that I was part of absolutely combust in white backlash, and I have been so moved by the discourse that invites to consider not how we can be inclusive but rather how we can challenge and stand against exclusion.
“Being inclusive” puts us in Christopher Wilde’s well-heeled shoes. It puts us on the side of “those who do the saving.” We share our spaces. We “pass the mic” (because we maintain control of the mic).
Instead, we have to accept the invitation that Black and Indigenous theorists have been saying for generations. We have to recognize that there is not “those who are there to be saved, and those who do the saving.” These hierarchies are hierarchies of harm.
The book was beautifully written, with rich and evocative metaphors. The characters were written with such care and generosity. Washington’s experiences, and his reflections on the world around him and his own place in the world, are so carefully and skillfully shared with the reader. It’s heartbreaking and heartening and absolutely gorgeous.
I was especially moved by how compassionately Edugyan treated each of the characters, no matter how misguided or actively harmful their actions may have been. There are monsters in the book, absolutely. There is no doubt that many of the white characters are deeply influenced by and actively complicit in genocidal white supremacy. But even the most monstrous of these characters is also a human, a person who has hopes, who feels love and gentleness, full of complexity and a desire to find happiness, to be seen as a good and worthy person. This makes the book infinitely more powerful, because it resists creating a simple (and therefore easily dismissed) stereotype of racist villainy. Instead, the violence and inexcusable harm is committed by people who are so much like me.
Esi Edugyan is masterful in her storytelling, and she is part of a long lineage of masterful storytelling by Black women.
I am so thankful for the generous work of Black women. For the visionary work of Afrofuturists and Black feminists. I am so thankful for the invitation to see the world with the clarity and the active hope of writers like Esi Edugyan, Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin, Octavia Butler, adrienne maree brown, and so many others.
This is the book I read for the category of “A book by a woman and/or author of colour that won a literary award in 2018.” Washington Black won the 2018 Giller Prize (a second Giller win for her!). It was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Rogers Writer’s Trust Fiction Prize.
Image description: On the left a paper heart hanging among many hearts, on the right a single torn paper heart. Text in the centre reads “it’s complicated.”
There is already so much good writing available on the topic of love, and I find myself hesitant and slow to write this post, which feels so important but feels so superfluous, redundant, pretentious. What can I say that hasn’t been said better by others?
I think that this, the stumble at the beginning of this post, is part of what and why I kept coming back to this text file again and again over the last month. Can anything new be said about love? Does it matter? Is what we want to say valuable even if it is not new? There are questions here about authenticity, originality, value and voice. Discourses of love.
So, first, I want to share some of the great writing that has inspired and moved me on the topic of love. I’m sharing these at the beginning of the post rather than the end, because within those questions of value and voice there is also the question of privilege. Whose voice am I lifting up? And many of these pieces of writing come from people who are more or differently marginalized than I am, whose voices need to be heard.
“Why look for The One, when what we want, what we need, is the many? The multiple? Not partners, but practices of love. Why is single (singular, alone) the opposite of the couple? Why is the alternative not an even greater plurality? Again, not only of lovers, but of life-sustaining arrangements of relations that we navigate without containment?
This issue is an attempt to locate and articulate ways of shoring up against the hurtful shape of love we’ve been handed by the state, by colonialism, by the family, by patriarchy. The artists and writers featured here are seeking a less deadly sort of love—forms of love that are not so easily weaponized against one another.
It’s about clearing and defending ground for new shapes to emerge when we see them struggling into life. This issue is looking for those nascent configurations about to come into view.”
“I don’t want to be loved. I want to be cared for and prioritized, and I want to build a world where romantic love is not a prerequisite for these investments—especially not under a current regime with such a limited potential for which bodies are lovable. Which bodies can be loved, cared for, and invested in.
It does not have to be this way. We can commit to keeping each other alive despite our sexual capital. We need to care for each other to keep each other alive. The myth of self-assurance is neoliberal victim-blaming in an attempt to obscure, neutralize and depoliticize our actions in the name of independent thoughts and actions and to skirt accountability.
Can we care for each other outside of love? Can we commit to keeping the unloved and unlovable alive? Is this a world that we have the potential to build?”
“When we see our interactions and our strengths as ways to give to each other, as a flow back and forth, it’s easier to see how self-care and community care are naturally intertwined. We move the nexus of self-care to the community and spread our relative wealth out. Like a microloan or a community bank, we can take what is too small to support one individual and enlarge the potential impact by pooling our collective resources. We begin to work on trusting each other in slow, small ways.”
“This brings us back to the beginning: my anxiety about being abandoned. In reality, I should be calling this, my anxiety that all my friends are going to find romantic partners and leave me behind and I’m going to lose the world I’ve learned to live in. I cried recently, in a cab at 5am, because I had an anxiety attack at a party sparked by my friend showing interest in someone. I know this isn’t normal; I’m well aware, delete your comment right now. This was super embarrassing but my friend and I talked about it and I admitted why I had a melty. It has been a good and ongoing discussion and a growing opportunity. But it was the first time in my entire life that I have ever expressed this fear to someone, especially a close friend who is implicated in this anxiety. My friend is really supportive and didn’t run when I unloaded years of hurt and trauma onto the living room floor. Living in my body also means being terrified of telling anyone anything that might scare them because you don’t want to be “crazy” and fat. You already feel like you’re too difficult to love. So laying out my vulnerabilities shook me. I’m still shaken, and I’m still processing. It’s scary to straight up tell someone: “I’m scared that one day you’re not going to care for me like you do now because you’re going to do something that is completely normal and expected in our society that I can’t participate in on an equal level.” It’s scary to ask someone to rip apart the world we live in and help you create a new one where you feel safe.”
And there’s more. There’s so much amazing work being done on the topic of loving, and liberating love from oppressive discourses, demands, expectations, entitlements. People are telling their stories, and their stories are incredibly moving.
Please share your favourite links in the comments – I would love to read more.
Languages and/of Love and/of Loneliness
I’ve been thinking about love languages a lot lately. And I’m always thinking about stories – the stories we tell and are told, about ourselves, about each other, about what’s real, what’s valid, what’s worthy. I’ve been thinking about loneliness and the language of loneliness, lately. I’ve been thinking about connection, and collective action. Community, and communities of care.
I’ve been thinking about silence and silencing and quietness.
I’ve been thinking about love.
(I’ve been thinking about leaving Facebook and starting an email newsletter.)
I’ve been thinking about the apocalypse, and about neo-liberal fatalism. (Articulated by Paolo Freire, this is “an almost casual acceptance of ongoing social inequalities as inevitable,” and a sense that just because the solution has not been discovered, it does not exist. This is particularly prevalent among privileged progressives, and I am absolutely guilty of it, of not seeing a way forward and feeling deeply fatalistic about this. Powerful antidotes exist within Indigenous feminism, Black feminism and Afrofuturism, and in the insider knowledges and transgenerational survivance of so many oppressed peoples.)
I have been thinking, especially, about how we speak our love, hear our love, receive and transmit our love within scarcity.
I have been thinking about the loneliness of “burn-out.” I agree entirely with Vikki Reynolds critiques of the discourse of burn-out (link is to a PDF of her article, “Resisting burnout with justice-doing”). Reynolds calls out the discourse that frames burnout as an internal rather than contextual problem, and suggests that one way to resist burnout is through solidarity and collective care.
I think, yes!
And I think, how?
From October 2017 to October 2018, I participated in the Tender Year project with two of my dearest loves. We each engaged with the project in our own ways, and our ability to participate actively ebbed and flowed over the course of the year, but in that year, I felt myself to be actively in solidarity with community. The project has been over for months now, and I still miss it. I have not managed to maintain that feeling of connection.
I am lonely.
I struggle to do the work of connection and cultivating community in ways that feel nurturing to me. I do the work. I can even say, and believe, that I do the work well (sometimes, in some ways). But do I do it in ways that feel nurturing to me? That is an important question. It feels critical, actually. How do we tell stories about ourselves in loving relationship, in community, in connection, in ways that honour the prickly static that surrounds so many of us who are living in pain and under financial pressure?
How do we tell stories that honour the complexities of our experiences, that resist reducing our experiences down to totalizing narratives of connection or disconnection, love or lovelessness, hope or hopelessness? How do we hold space for this complexity? How do we find language for these contradictory and still concurrently true stories?
Because it is true that I am lonely these days. I feel this truth so often, particularly in weeks (and there are many of them) when all of my interactions are somehow related to my work.
And it is also true that I am blessed with an abundance of love in my life.
I know that I am not the only person experiencing this complexity, and feeling guilty and overwhelmed at my own emotional responses.
I feel that if it is true that I am surrounded by loving community, including: loving partnerships, some of which have survived multiple major relationship structure transitions, one of which includes co-parenting, all of which are deliciously and actively and intentionally anti-oppressive; loving platonic friendships; loving family-of-origin relationships (shout out to my amazing sister, one of the foundational relationships in my life); loving chosen family relationships; and loving extended community relationships – if this is all true, and it is, then what right do I have to feel lonely? To feel isolated? To feel stretched too thin and with support that does not meet my needs? What kind of ungrateful, entitled wretch am I?!
And the companion narrative to this self-flagellation – when will everyone realize how ungrateful I am, and abandon me? And, even more profoundly present in my life – when will everyone in my life become tired of subsisting on the little I have to offer, and abandon me?
So I feel simultaneously overwhelmed with gratitude when I think about the people and the relationships in my life, and overwhelmed with guilt for the fact that I am still struggling and the fact that I feel I often have so little to offer outside of (and even sometimes within) my work.
I rarely see my people outside of work contexts, except the ones I live with. (And even there, do I do enough work around the house? Do I tidy up enough, do I cook enough, do I do enough childcare? The uncharitable answer I provide myself is no. Absolutely not.)
I am too busy, all the time. I am achy. I am tired. I am always, always (almost always) feeling overwhelmed. I don’t get enough done. I’m barely keeping up. Yesterday, I forgot to call someone who wanted to talk about working together. A referral! Of all the things to forget. I forgot to email someone potential dates for our next narrative session. I’m behind on everything, constantly. My editing work. My freelance writing work. My own writing work, which is precious to me, and yet constantly falls away. The blog posts and zines that seem to constantly be “getting there” but never actually get there.
There is a pervasive feeling of chaos in my life, and this feeling can obscure the concurrent truth that I do actually get a lot done.
When I reread Shivani Seth’s piece before writing this post, I felt the sharpness of my longing for just a little more time, more rest. More ease. More space for more care.
My pain has been unreal this last month. Every day, it hurts. My body hurts. My head hurts. This means my heart hurts. And I question myself constantly – who am I kidding, thinking I can be a narrative therapist, thinking I can make this my life? When that means that I need it to be financially sustainable… I can’t even finish these thoughts. They trail off into the abyss.
This impacts the experience and the language of love.
When I send a message to a partner or a beloved friend or to my sister or someone else, and I say, “I love you,” I mean this with such intensity and intentionality. And when they say it back, I believe it. And also, I struggle with it.
One of my community members recently described an experience of being “immune to niceness” and another described a type of “dissociating from affection.” These descriptions resonate for me. It’s like stress and contextual pressure and fear of failure and fear of abandonment create a buffer of static around me, and the feeling of being solid in the love ends up dissipated and repelled.
But this is complicated. This story of static and fear is not a true story that exists in an absence of other true stories. There is also the true story of receiving and knowing love. I am thankful for this complexity. I am thankful for stories that do not ouroboros into a tidy bow, stories that contradict themselves. Like this story of scarcity and fear, which contradicts itself constantly.
Earlier this week, I shared the following:
I often have considerable anxieties about my narrative therapy practice.
Like, I’m not accredited as a counselling therapist and I probably won’t be unless I do another degree.
And I don’t work with an organization.
And I have a ton of community organizing experience but does that count *really*?
And I have some pretty strong political views and they absolutely are present in my narrative sessions.
And sometimes I’m a bit of a “down the rabbit hole” kind of person, and often it works out but every so often it doesn’t.
Like, these concerns come up really often for me. There have been so many times when I’ve sat in front of my computer, or stood in the shower, or been driving, and my head is just *full* of thoughts like, “what do I think I’m doing? why should anyone trust me?”
Do I actually know what I’m doing?
Am I actually making a difference?
And the stresses of living under capitalism also come into play – am I ever going to have enough business to make this sustainable? How will I develop this business without cooperating with the overwhelming whiteness of the wellness industry (because I am not willing to do that)? A lot of folks have said that I need to find the folks who can pay my full rate to subsidize the folks who can’t, and I need to aim my marketing towards that, but… that implies I know anything about how to do marketing in the first place?
And I know that narrative therapy, narrative practice, explicitly and intentionally welcomes people like me – outside of institutions and organizations, working in community, noodling along without as much formal training (or the kind of training) that is expected. But still. That anxieties are there. A lot.
What I’m saying is!
I have these concerns pretty often and then other times I just feel so good about my practice, and I love what I do, and I love joining with my community members to co-research the problems in their lives. I just love it. And it feels like home for me. And there are times when I have a narrative conversation and I’m like, “damn. this is exactly what I want to do with my life. I am going to keep doing this, and just have some faith that it will work out.
My community showed up for me with such incredible words. Here is some of what they shared:
“As someone you have helped I want to say that you have made a difference in my life, and that what you do matters, and that you’re very good at it, and that I hope you continue doing what you do. Also, thank you.”
And someone else responded, “I couldn’t have said it better. Ditto!”
“I keep meaning to tell you that I got one of your fridge magnet in one of my event bags like last year and it’s still on my fridge so I can remind myself of the advice on it. In case you ever wonder if you are making a difference.”
“Our medical system is incredibly broken, especially when it comes to mental health and wellness. To do the amazing work you are doing, and want to keep doing, it’s probably actually part of your incredible strength and versatility that you _don’t_ go through the systems of control and conformity that characterize “accredited” mental health care. <3″
“You are a true gift to me and so many others like us.”
“Tiffany, I can confidently say that you have opened windows in my heart that I didn’t know were closed. I have referred many friends to your blog writing and Facebook page because what you say and how you say it is profoundly validating and stimulating. Keep going, you must!”
“Could some of what you frame as anxiety or self-doubts be part of your own process of self reflection? Is it a way of exploring your space/faith in yourself and shaping the balance between the more rigid spaces in healthcare and capitalism? I’m a part of the mainstream healthcare system, and I intentionally try to point out how little capitalism and the way it shapes the societal rituals and beliefs has anything to do with humanity and wellness. And part of how I measure success has to do with feeling uncomfortable in the space I’m in, and knowing that I simultaneously want to be of service to my community and also stay aware of the fundamental flaws in the system I’m a part of. When I read your words I feel like there’s a lot of similarities. I feel like your niche and your place of belonging is more focused than mine, and we’ve touched on the difference between narrative therapy and OT. I pretty much just want to give you a big hug and remind you that marketing is the word capitalism uses to frame networking and connection and building community capacity and recognizing skill and ability and specialization that doesn’t make someone better than another person. I love the scope and heart of what you do. I love your bravery and not compromising your ideals and values in order to ease your path.”
“I definitely see value in your narrative therapy practice! I could choose to go to a counselor who’s accreditation is acknowledged in Alberta and have part of the fee reimbursed by my insurance provider… But I find way more value in meeting with you. Your political stances create a space where I feel safer, as I know I am unlikely to experience queerphobia or fatphobia in that space. I could be wrong, but I’m also guessing that working outside of an organization might mean you are more accessible to people who are typically oppressed by organizations (especially health and mental health organizations). The sustainability piece I’m totally feeling right now. That might be the toughest one to figure out, but that also has little to do with your skills as a narrative therapist (cause you are amazing with that), and everything to do with capitalism and gatekeeping of access to mental health care.”
“I’ve often had these ideas and fears along the way…especially when starting out….it gets pretty scary at times…but not as scary as some other places I’ve been. There is a real accountability with the folks we meet when doing this work in these ways….not just accountability as an abstract idea. Keep going till you can’t I say!!”
“All of those concerns are exactly why you are going to be & are great… its the self awareness … please remember to use a great narrative mentor of your own … I’d certainly pay for your services as one.”
“I don’t have any words of wisdom, but want to say that I also experience these feels and impostor syndrome likes to push me around. I’m only just starting to get to know the way that ideas in social work/counselling like “competence” and “credibility” and “professionalism” bully me into thinking that I don’t know enough and don’t deserve to be paid the “big bucks” unless I meet the “qualifications” and become “registered”. (oh man, just putting all those words into quotations felt good and took some of their oppressive power away for a moment!) Anyway, from not knowing you very long and having never met in real life, you’ve already offered me emotional support and been thoughtful and kind when you witnessed something happening that you felt wasn’t right. You reaching out to me at that time was exactly what I needed. I am thankful that you exist and that you are able to be there for your community members.”
I’m going to put these into a book of reassurance for myself, and keep it in my office.
I’m going to keep doing my work.
I’m going to keep cultivating my loving relationships, across the wide range of their expression, and I’m going to continue to speak the language of scarcity and fear while I’m doing it.
I’m going to let this be complex.
I think that’s my primary love language – if I love you, I will step into complexity with you and for you. And that’s also how I want to be loved, with contradictions and complications.
That’s what I have to offer, and what I hope to receive.
(Maybe with a little bit of ease in there, too, sometimes. Just a bit. A bit more. More. A little more than that. Okay… maybe a lot. Someday, a lot.)
Image description: On a deep blue cosmos background. Text reads: Surviving Creating Contributing Connecting Sharing Building Healing Growing Learning Unlearning Resisting Persisting
What is this document all about?
This document is the result of a ten-day narrative therapy group project that ran from December 21 to the end of the year in 2018. The purpose of this group was to counteract the pressure of New Year’s resolutions and shift the focus onto celebrating the many actions, choices, skills, values, and hopes that we had kept close in the last year, and to connect ourselves to legacies of action in our communities.
Celebrating our values, actions, and choices may seem trivial, but we consider it part of our deep commitment to anti-oppressive work and to justice.
We hope that this project will stand against the idea that only certain kinds of “progress” or “accomplishment” are worth celebrating.
We want to invite you to join us in celebrating all of the ways in which you have stayed connected to your values, joined together with your communities, stood against injustice and harm. We want to celebrate all of the actions that you have taken in the last year that were rooted in love and justice.
Although this project was focused on the end of the calendar year, we hope that you find this helpful at any time when you are invited to compare your “progress” to other people or to some societal expectation. We think this might be particularly helpful around birthdays, anniversaries, major life transitions like graduations, relocations, retirements, gender or sexuality journeys, new experiences of diagnosis, and, of course, if you’re feeling the pressure that often comes with New Year celebrations!
This project is informed by narrative therapy practices.
Narrative therapy holds a core belief that people are not problems, problems are problems, and solutions are rarely individual. This means that although we experience problems, the problems are not internal to us. We are not bad or broken people; we are people existing in challenging and sometimes actively hostile contexts. We recognize capitalism, ableism, racism, transantagonism, classism, heterosexism, and other systems of harm and injustice, and we locate problems in these and other contexts. We recognize that people are always resisting the hardships in their lives. This project is meant to invite stories of resistance and stories of celebration.
Narrative therapy also holds a core belief that lives are multi-storied. What this means is that even when capitalism, white supremacy, and other systems of oppression are present in a person’s life, that life also has many other stories which are equally true. A person’s story is never just one thing; never just the struggle, never just the problems. This project hopes to invite a multi-storied telling of the year – one that honours hardship and resistance but recognizes that there are also stories of joy, companionship, connection, and play. We know that you are more than your problems.
When we are reflecting on our past year, shame and a sense of personal failing can be invited in – we might feel like we haven’t done enough, and that our reasons for this “not enoughness” are internal. This project hopes to stand against these hurtful ideas, and instead offer an invitation to tell the stories of your year in ways that are complex and compassionate.
Perfectionism and comparison can show up at the New Year, at birthdays, at anniversaries and graduations. But you are already skilled in responding to and resisting hardships. We know that you can respond to any hurtful narratives that show up and try to push you around. We are standing with you as you find the storylines in your year that are worth celebrating.
We know that it is a radical act of resistance to celebrate your life when the culture around you says you are not worth celebrating. If you are fat, poor, queer, Black, brown, Indigenous, trans, disabled, neurodivergent, a sex worker, homeless, living with addiction, or in any other way pushed to the margins and rarely celebrated, this project is especially for you. Your life is worth celebrating.
David Denborough and the Dulwich Centre have outlined a Narrative Justice Charter of Storytelling Rights and this charter guides this project.
My hope is that each of you feels able to tell your stories in ways that feel strong. I hope that you each feel like you have storytelling rights in your own life.
Article 1 – Everyone has the right to define their experiences and problems in their own words and terms.
Article 2 – Everyone has the right for their life to be understood in the context of what they have been through and in the context of their relationships with others.
Article 3 – Everyone has the right to invite others who are important to them to be involved in the process of reclaiming their life from the effects of trauma.
Article 4 – Everyone has the right to be free from having problems caused by trauma and injustice located inside them, internally, as if there is some deficit in them. The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem.
Article 5 – Everyone has the right for their responses to trauma to be acknowledged. No one is a passive recipient of trauma. People always respond. People always protest injustice.
Article 6 – Everyone has the right to have their skills and knowledges of survival respected, honoured and acknowledged.
Article 7 – Everyone has the right to know and experience that what they have learnt through hardship can make a contribution to others in similar situations.
However you end up using this resource, we would love to hear about it.
You can send your responses to Tiffany at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Tiffany will forward these responses on as appropriate.