I’ve been thinking, recently, about how we–those of us who care about our futures and each other–increasingly have to attend to urgent emergencies while not forgetting about the emergencies and inequities that predate this calamitous moment.
I’m thinking, specifically, of the urgent nature of wildfires burning down towns and blanketing entire regions in ash and smoke (hello from the smokey West Coast), which makes COVID measures (and rapidly climbing case counts) pale in comparison. After all, it’s a lot harder to self-isolate if your home’s burned down.
And I’m thinking of the rapid mobilization of immense resources and social capital and (waning) good will in order to protect ourselves and each other from COVID-19, while at the same time more than 5 people a day are dying from a toxic drug supply in my province. This overdose “state of emergency” has been going on so long it’s no longer treated like the emergency it is. It’s entrenched.
And while the internet loves to retort, “Unlike you, I can care about more than one thing at a time,” the truth is that we all have limited attention, energy, time, and money to devote to causes of justice, equity, liberation, and survival.
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t have one.
I just know that in the coming years, as the climate emergency gets worse, as climate refugees become more numerous, as late-stage capitalism accelerates, as those of us with some measure of privilege start to actually be impacted, it will be tempting to turn away from those crises we aren’t directly impacted by. That’s natural. It’s human nature. We protect ourselves first.
But if we allow ourselves to turn away–and stay turned away–we will not only be letting down the most vulnerable, we will be missing profound opportunities to create change.
It is all too easy to be caught up in the emergencies we face and to prioritize addressing them. In many ways, for our immediate survival, we must.
But unless and until we can address the root causes of nearly all of the worst problems we face–capitalism, colonialism, white supremacy–our lives will be an endless wack-a-mole of intensifying and overlapping crises.
I don’t know what the answer is here. I just know that we can’t allow ourselves to focus on the short game at the expense of the long game.
I sat down today with three small bowls. In them hummus, sugar snap peas, and ruffled plain potato chips. Truth be told, I’d been craving chips for a few days and the peas were a compromise and a bid to hit my daily fruit and veg goals. Which is to say, the peas were not the star of the show.
I took a couple bites, and then I remembered that I’m trying to eat without distraction. So I turned off the podcast I’d been listening to as I put groceries away and prepared my snack and the funniest thing happened: the potato chips lost all their appeal.
When you’re watching TV or engaged in a conversation, potato chips are unputdownably good–literally. They were designed that way. Crunchy and salty, they demand to be shoved in one after they other. And because they all but disintegrate before you swallow them, there’s incentive to keep eating–they haven’t actually sated you at all. They are truly marvels of (malevolent) engineering.
But the same qualities that are delightful when only 30% of you is paying attention are deeply disappointing when 100% of you is. One or two good crunches disintegrating into a tiny pile of potato mush is just kind of depressing. Sugar snap peas, on the other hand, while a nice substitute to snack on while distracted are a revelation when eaten with 100% focus. Sweet and crunchy and juicy, they feel vibrant. They call the sun and wind to mind. And they inevitably call to mind the people who planted, cultivated, grew, and harvested them.
This isn’t some paeon to intuitive eating as a magical diet we pretend isn’t a diet. In fact, I don’t really want to talk about food at all here. I want to talk about mindfulness and systems of power.
Mindfulness is, of course, buzzy as all hell, and has been for the past 10 or so years. You’ve got CEOs singing the praises of meditation and companies bringing in mindfulness meditation as if they care about the wellness of their staff and aren’t just trying to eke out more units of productivity. And you’ve got a million different diets passed off as mindful eating. Mindfulness has, one could argue, jumped the shark.
But I’m not interested in mindfulness as a philosophy or as a capitalistic tool or as an organizing system. Rather, I’m interested in the ways that the racist, sexist, capitalistic status quo both requires–and engineers–a lack of mindfulness.
When I say mindfulness, I’m not talking about meditation or retreats or pale wood and white walls. I mean simply the act of being here now in your animal body.
And I think that if we were to be consistently here now in our animal bodies, capitalism could not survive. As a “knowledge worker,” the toll taken on my body is far less than for most working people in the world, but I am still expected to ignore my body’s need for rest, for balance, for food if it interferes with a meeting or a deadline, to pee if I’m in a meeting, to stop before the sun goes down in the winter. As a barista and a server and a hairdresser, the toll was far higher–standing in essentially one spot for 8-10 hours a day. Having set times I could eat. Relying on others to ensure I could pee. Ignoring the revulsion and frisson of fear that comes with sexual harassment from men old enough to be my father. Shoving down the irritation as some wealthy tourist screams at me for not reading her mind and making it non-fat when she didn’t specify non-fat. Ignoring the roiling pain in my neck and shoulders from 8 hours of repetitive motions. Pretending my hands weren’t raw and peeling from caustic chemicals.
Similarly, the patriarchy both demands and causes women to not be here now in our animal bodies. Whether it’s grinning and bearing it while a customer makes lewd comments, or folding up inside yourself when the guy at the bus stop flashes you, or dissociating when something more violent happens, for many women, to survive in this world is to not be here now in our animal bodies. And lest you escape those terrors–or find a way to come back to your body after them–diet culture will do a number on you. We’re inculcated since birth that hunger is something to be feared and controlled. We’re taught to–consciously or not–count the calories, grams of sugar, grams of fat, relative moral worth of each bite that we take and each bite we refuse. We’re taught to internalize a cruel and judgmental gaze, so that we hear society’s messages in our own voice.
I can’t speak to intersections and experiences that aren’t my own, but I think it is a common thread that exploitation and oppression chase us out of our bodies. Because it is not possible to withstand the onslaught of terror, pain, and indignity and be fully present to do it.
And so I don’t think it’s any coincidence that as we see more income inequality, as we see power being further consolidated at the top, we are inundated with more ways to escape our bodies. Not just foods engineered to be eaten compulsively while distracted, but the rush of Black Friday shopping, endlessly scrolling Facebook, comparing our post-partum bodies to the fitness influencers on Instagram, going down rabbit-holes on Youtube fed by the endless algorithm. Constantly refreshing. Constantly consuming.
The world is not just designed to push us out of our animal bodies, but requires it.
And so I think that one path to liberation is to consistently come back to our animal bodies. This is, of course, easier said than done, and we do what we need to survive in the moment. But if we can resist the pull of all the things that chase us out of our bodies, if we can refuse to normalize an existence where we ignore our bodies’ needs, and if we can stop giving time, money, and attention to those forces that require our metaphorical absence, we can start building lives and communities that–even if only incrementally–allow us to be here now.
I’m planning to write more frequently than once every two years, but I wonder if the days of blogs are gone, as everyone and their neighbour has moved to a newsletter. If anyone is still reading blogs–and specifically this formerly defunct blog–let me know if you’d be interested in a (somewhere between weekly and monthly) newsletter or prefer the blog.
Self-improvement (or personal development or self-help) seems, on the face of it, like a good thing. Who doesn’t want to be better? We should all be better, right? (This should not be confused with “be best”, something that will never not make me laugh.)
I don’t generally do many reviews, because I feel like that isn’t my beat (whatever beat a perhaps-monthly niche blogger can have), but at heart, cultural critique is what I love, and I think we can find so much truth by analyzing the art that we make and consume.
Which is a fancy way of saying “I can’t stop thinking about A Star is Born so here we go.”
I’m not going to spoil the ending, but will talk about the general arc, so if that’s not your jam, here’s your warning.
[content: rape culture, descriptions of sexualized violence]
I remember being sexualized when I was 9. Seemingly harmless, for the uninitiated observer. But it was my first realization that my body wasn’t my own. That grown men laid claim to it. I remember my first kiss–a boy I barely knew but knew enough to know I didn’t like. I remember the second: A next door neighbour. A friend who would go on to grab my tits as I stood talking to my brother, both of us rendered speechless and frozen. A friend who would go on to, in the eloquent words of a powerful monster, “grab [me] by the pussy.” In public. In front of 40 classmates. If anyone cared, no one said a word.
When marginalized people say [insert privileged group] do/don’t do x, they aren’t saying “every single member of that privileged group.” They are saying, as a political bloc, that (for example) straight white men don’t care about women’s rights or queer rights or people of colour, etc.. Not that you, [specific person], don’t. And we know that, again as a bloc, straight white men don’t care about women’s rights or queer rights, etc. because we know how straight white men en masse vote. And how much power they wield. And how they wield it. Continue reading “Why #notall_____ is a Derailing Tactic”→
[content: sexual assault, #metoo, Harvey Weinstein, etc]
For most of my adult life I worked in the anti-violence movement, doing support work and consent education. And much of my work, both one-on-one with clients and in workshops and lectures of 10-200 (mostly) young people, involved undoing toxic messages learnt from the media and terrible Hollywood movies that normalize and reinforce rape culture.
From rape being used as a plot point (how else will we know that this literal dictator is the bad guy?!) or for titillation to the ubiquitous romantic comedy and action movie trope of the woman saying no in a thousand different ways and the man pushing through physically only to have her melt into his arms because that was what she really wanted, she just needed to be told that her desires and boundaries mean nothing, we are inundated from an early age with self-serving myths about consent, sexual assault, and rape culture more broadly.
There are few things on the internet that I find more tiresome than privileged people “taking down” a movement for marginalized people because they haven’t been given enough deference.
We see it all the time. Black Lives Matter is bad because it doesn’t cater to white people’s fragility. Feminism is bad because it doesn’t centre men and give them cookies for being non-awful human beings. Queer liberation movements are mean because they don’t praise straight people for not being homophobes. And on and on ad infinitum. If these movements would just be nicer they would have allies galore!
If you’ve spent any time on the internet you’ve encountered “wellness.” You can probably list off the things that “wellness” is a euphemism for: whiteness, thinness, able-bodiedness, middle/upper classness, performative consumption.
Wellness, rather than the state of being well, is an ongoing project by which certain (mostly? exclusively?) women either signal their inclusion in an exclusive strata or strive to gain entry.
“The wellness thing is big”…”We’re calling it ‘the new luxury.’ It used to be about fur and leather. But people just want to feel better.”
Wellness, if you were to only examine it through the lens of Instagram and lifestyle bloggers, is about $12 cold-pressed juices, yoga poses that photograph well, $50 water bottles (no, I will never get over how expensive those god damn water bottles are), and something else. What is that other thing? Oh, yes, being young, thin, white, and conventionally attractive. Continue reading “Selling Wellness”→