(An earlier draft of this post was available to Patreon supporters.)
Yesterday was the Winter Solstice, and it was also three weeks since my dad died.
It was a hard day. It has been a hard three weeks. It was a hard stretch before that. It has been a long night, and the night is not over. But the light returns. I know that the light returns. I know that even in the darkest night and the deepest gloom, there is light.
The stars exist. And some of the stars that light our night skies are many centuries dead – still, they glow. Legacies of light, a physics of remembrance. I think that there is something like this in grief, too. A way of light continuing.
And there are fireflies and other bioluminescent plants and animals. Lights in deep gloom. In the further depths of dark ocean, in the forests, in the wide open spaces that can feel like endless empty. There is something like this in grief, too.
There is always light, somewhere. There is always light returning eventually. Sometimes it just takes time to travel to us, for us to travel to the light, for us to find a way to glow, for the small and precious glowing thing to show itself. The long dark is hard, but it is not forever.
I’ve been reflecting on the legacies that my dad left me, the legacies that I want to continue.
I wrote to my friend about the memories of my youth and my feelings about my dad. Hugh said that, in reading my letter about my dad, they could see that he gave me “part of the thing we need most in this world: a sense of urgent justice.”
And this is true. When I think about what my dad gave me, and what I cherish most in myself, it is that sense of urgent justice.
This urgent justice was, in its best and most cherished expression, justice tied to love. Justice tied to acceptance. Justice tied to empathy. Justice tied to an awareness of power and privilege, and an intentional choice to side with the marginalized.
I saw my dad express this justice tied to empathy and awareness of power many times in my life. Those stories have been close to me these last few weeks, surfacing again and again. Luminescent.
In the week after his death, when I was updating An Invitation to Celebrate to include him, and to invite people to celebrate the life of a loved one, I wrote –
“He taught me to always watch for the hurting people and to connect with and care for them. That’s still how I live my life, and it’s my favourite thing about myself. It comes from my dad.”
This is justice.
This is the urgency of justice – to watch for the people who are hurting, to connect with them and to care for them. Justice and love are tied together, braided into a strong triple-strand with the hope that justice and love can light the path to something better, something more possible.
My small Solstice ritual included writing my dad a letter – the first letter I’ve been able to write him since he died. I told him that I love him, that I will not forget him, that he was good and worthy and that I will hold onto many of the things he taught me. I named the threads I will hold onto:
a sense of urgent justice
a deep appreciation for the power of good story
a commitment to compassion and acceptance
These are some of the lights my dad offered me. Lights that are still in my sky.
And every light casts a shadow, so along with these lights I acknowledge failures and complexities. Actions that align with injustice, stories that cause harm, cruelty and rejection instead of compassion and acceptance. These shadows were present in my own life, and in my dad’s life and in our relationship, but they do not cancel out the light. Part of how I will honour my dad is by holding the light, and not denying the shadow.
What those failures and ruptures and omissions, those shadows, offer is the invitation to return to alignment with values of justice, good story, compassion, acceptance.
Fail, and return.
Fail, and choose to come back.
Fail, and then breathe, cry, grapple with guilt and shame, and return again, again, again.
I did not include this in my letter, but it is also true that another legacy I will carry forward from my dad is a deep value of connection. In this, too, we both failed and returned, failed and returned.
I wrote this two weeks ago –
One week since dad stepped out of this story and into another.
I woke up at 4:30. I set an alarm. I didn’t want to sleep through it, to sleep through the slipping from the first week to the second week, to sleep through marking and remembering those ten minutes between when Domini woke me up and when dad slipped away.
I had a plan for the day, to get through this day. It was a pretty good plan, I think.
But I got the wind knocked out of me before I could do it, knocked off the plan, smashed hard into a wall I saw coming but still somehow didn’t expect. Maybe just didn’t expect the timing of it. Didn’t expect it this morning, like that.
I went swimming instead.
Dad and I used to swim at the same pool – Vecova. Helped my fibro, helped his pain, too. We crossed paths a few times. Not enough.
I have spent the last hour reading old emails.
‘Hello my first born, you know, I hope, that I am proud of you. I miss you.’
‘Hi dad, haven’t heard from you in a while. I miss you.’
‘Good morning, Tiffany. I sometimes feel that you and I are growing further and further apart and I do not know how to counter that.’
‘Hey Dad, how are you? I miss you. I love you!’
‘You have no idea how much I miss talking to you; working on a treasure hunt for you; and just being able to connect with you. Even though you are a fully realized adult and are demonstrably moving forward I still think of you as someone who, at one time, counted on me to help you work through some of your issues. I wish that were still the case.’
‘Hi dad, I know you’re probably busy but I thought I’d try again. How are you doing?’
We both tried so hard, for so long.
We both wanted something different.
We were both reaching and reaching and reaching and not quite getting there.
It is hard to read these emails, each of us repeatedly reaching out, somehow not able to get past the missing and find connection.
There is a deep ocean of grief in me, for what we had and have lost, for what we wanted and were not able to find, for what was painful between us, for what was precious between us.
It is a very hard day, today.
Despite how hard it was, we kept trying. We valued connection – we both valued connection with each other – enough to keep trying. To keep coming back.
And I will carry that with me, the knowledge that continuing to try holds value, and that even when it isn’t perfect, it is good and worthy.
I lit four candles for the Solstice.
A black candle for the grief, the loss, the long dark.
A green candle for justice, and for the growth that comes from aligning with justice.
A red candle for love and compassion and empathy and acceptance, the sparks that tell justice where to focus, how to grow.
A white candle for hope and renewal, for the willingness to fail and come back, for the light that we can turn to, phototropic, moving towards what is good and life-giving.
This new project, which will become a zine or a collective document of some sort, is inspired by a community member who wanted to create a “map” of all the women and non-binary folks who have managed to live a life they want despite not having family support, and despite dealing with the fear and uncertainty that can come with acute illness and chronic pain.
This project reflects our collaborative desire to make this “map” possible – to bring together stories that will show some of the many ways forward through the compounded hardships of unsupportive family and what we might call “body problems” – illness and pain, but also the problems that can be invited into someone’s life by having a body that is deemed unacceptable in our ableist, fatphobic, transantagonistic, white supremacist culture.
We are looking at these factors together because there is often an expectation of family support in many of our cultures. When we fall on hard times, we are often advised turn to family. When we get sick, family is often expected to be there for us. Although we recognize that family is not always there, there’s still this dominant narrative that they will be, or at least that they should be. And when they aren’t, it can leave us feeling isolated, vulnerable, questioning our own value and our place in the world. Experiences of rejection, dismissal, or an absence of support can stay with us for a long time.
We are looking for stories from trans and cis women, non-binary folks, intersex folks, and trans men who have experienced an unsupportive family of origin paired with body problems, and who have continued to live a badass life despite these compounding factors.
(Although cis men also experience these compounding factors, and their experiences are valid and worth listening to, in this project we are also interested in the particular ways in which misogyny and sexism, which are experienced by anyone who is not a cis man, intersect with these experiences. If you are a cis man and want to share your story of experiencing these compounding hardships of unsupportive family and body problems, please reach out to me – I am happy to create a supplementary zine, or a section within this project! But the initial project is focused on non-men because this is an important part of the original context.)
These stories will be collected and turned into a small zine or collective document, and we hope that this resource will offer some hope for folks in this position, including the community member who inspired this project!
When we then also experience body problems, particularly body problems that impact our ability to find employment, to engage in cherished hobbies or activities, or to access social spaces and support, the lack of family support can become even more difficult to deal with. This is particularly true in contexts where the social support net is being eroded – where welfare, assisted living, disability pensions, income support, housing support, and other supports are difficult to access or not adequate to support our lives.
And yet, we know that people get through these hardships.
We know that there are disabled folks with no family support who are living rich and precious lives.
We know that there are so many people who have experienced these hardships and gone on to be successful on their own terms.
We want to collect those stories.
We want to pull those threads of hope together, and weave a safety net of stories for people who don’t yet see the way through to a life that feels possible.
You are welcome to write whatever feels right for you, and we welcome poetry, essays, art, creative non-fiction, or whatever format works for you. The length of the piece can be flexible, but ideally not more than 750-ish words.
If you would like help with the writing, get in touch with me and we can arrange an interview and I can help write up your story.
We hope to make this project available in early 2020, so please send in your contributions by mid-December.
If you would like some prompts to guide your writing, consider:
What does your culture tell you about how families should treat each other?
What had you hoped to receive in terms of support from your family?
What do you think that families should offer to each other?
What does this say about what you value in family relationships? (Care, support, being there for each other, etc.)
How did you learn to value this, and how have you held onto this value despite hard times?
Is there anyone in your life, past or present, who knows that you value this kind of supportive relationship?
Have you been able to find this kind of support in other relationships?
What have you held onto as you get through the times of feeling unsupported by family?
How have you navigated the body problems that have been present in your life?
Is there anyone in your life who has supported you in getting through these body problems?
What do you cherish about your life now?
What has made it possible for you to get to a life that you want to live?
Is there anything that you would want other people who are dealing with unsupportive families and body problems to know?
You may have noticed a new addition to the top menu, a link to the page for An Unexpected Light, the speculative fiction and narrative therapy course that will be launching on October 1. As of August 15, all of the scholarship spaces are filled, but there are still 11 paid spaces available and negotiating an extended or alternative payment plan is totally possible.
This post is a copy of the email sent out to people who have either enrolled in An Unexpected Light, or who have signed up to my Thinkific site. You can do either of those things here!
Phototropism, first defined in 1899, is the mechanism that causes plants to orient towards light. (I anticipate that our journey together will include both the phototropism of turning towards the light of hopeful stories, and also the bioluminescence of creating our own hopeful stories.)
First, a little teaser of some of our content (which I’m hoping will inspire you to enroll, if you haven’t yet, or to let your friends know about this course!)
In the lead-up to the course starting on October 1, I’m going to share some of the great writing that didn’t make it into the syllabus, and some writing about texts that are in the syllabus.
First, Susan Jane Bigelow’s story A Memory of Wind, in Glittership (so you can listen to the audio or read the text).
I didn’t include this story, although it would be a great fit for when we’re working on memory in month 4. But I loved it, so I’m including it here.
Second, this video about Janelle Monae’s science fiction. Although this video was made before Dirty Computer (which we’ll be watching as one of our texts), the points about how she uses music, dance, and costume are all super relevant to the later video. I didn’t include this in the course, but it’s also worth a watch!
And now, the question.
The first two of the textbooks have arrived, and I am thrilled! Octavia’s Brood and Funambulist no. 24: Futurisms are in my hot little hands, and Witchbody is waiting for me at Shelf Life Books. The only one we’re waiting on is Variations on Your Body, which I anticipate receiving within a week or two.
This means, of course, that folks who have signed up early can get their textbooks early, too! As soon as all four are here, I’ll start mailing them out.
So, if you have already enrolled in the course, let me know, dearest phototropic readers and bioluminescent writers, whether you would prefer to receive your textbooks in physical or digital format. If you would prefer your books in physical form, please also send me your address.
Lastly, if you have any questions, especially if you’re on the fence about whether to enroll, please let me know!
And if you can think of anywhere that I should send information about the course, or if you know anyone who might be interested, I would love to hear that, too.
I’ll be sending out a few of these messages with teaser content as we approach the course starting on Oct. 1.
One goal is to generate excitement for the course, another is to share some of the delicious content that didn’t fit into the course, and the last is to start getting some feedback from you about what kind of content most resonates, so that I can tweak the course before it starts.
The Small Self-Care Toolkit was my first effort at creating a zine, and today, years later, I finished a significant update to the content and also renamed it.
So, here you go – the 28-page Small Toolkit for Taking Care (now with a stronger focus on the role of community and relationship in our actions of care).
What are actions of care?
I used to write a lot about self-care, and I defined self-care as any choice you make that honours your needs. I talked about sustainable self-care as the result of consistently bringing awareness, compassion, and intention to your choices.
I don’t really talk about self-care as much anymore, because I think that community care, collaboration, and connection are so critical to challenging the kind of individualism that places all of the responsibility for our well-being on us as individuals, and can end up being victim-blaming and hurtful.
I still think that honouring our needs is important. And I still think that it’s easier to make these actions sustainable when we bring awareness, compassion, and intention to our choices. But now I think that it is important to name and recognize how these actions of care happen within social contexts, and how we are not just looking after ourselves when we take these actions – we are also looking after our communities. And how we can also care for ourselves by caring for each other.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.