Some words you just have to stare down

When I wrote the title of this blog post I was in a bad place, that morning I’d used the M word for the first time. I’d wondered out loud if moving to Chicago had been a Mistake. I stared at the word in the text I’d written. I came over faint, wobbly. I had to go and lie down. I clearly still looked shattered later in the day as two colleagues, now friends took me to sit and drink tea and be quiet. That was Monday last week and Tuesday wasn’t much better.

img_2757Wednesday I flew to Vancouver wondering what the… I was doing. Thinking back to Vancouver I have to laugh. I arrived and remembered that I do love Canada. Before boarding I’d chatted to a woman in line about the man in a plaid shirt who was determined to be first on the plane. As we exited immigration together she asked, “Are you here for the food conference?” I was stumped, “How did you know that?” I asked. “Well, female academic, I guessed you’re here for the food conference.” “How did you know I’m an academic?” I kind of gasped. So there we were, arriving in Vancouver, identifying each other and then working out how to catch a train into the city. Once downtown we parted agreeing to meet up again later, I found my hotel, connected to wifi, and discovered that my paper was not on the conference program. I have to confess I contemplated just staying quietly in my hotel room and studying for the two days. It felt good, two quiet days to catch up on volumes of reading, away from the downward spiral Chicago had become. Pretend I wasn’t even there. I went and had a coffee, of course the barista was from Melbourne. I thought more about having two days alone, no pressure, no people, just me and Marx and a do not disturb sign on the hotel room door.

img_2761But instead I contacted the conference organisers and got back onto the program. I finished up my presentation and notes for my talk, had a way too expensive, not so nice dinner and slept. I really slept.

So Thursday the conference went well, my presentation was well accepted and prompted a lot of discussion. I shopped afterwards: if you’re going to spend most of the week reading Marx then indulging in a little capitalist expenditure is good for the soul. I bought fleecy lined jeans that were not only 50% off but it’s the first time I’ve bought jeans that are size 14 since, well last century. I got PJs too. Magnificent dinner of salmon pasta, salad, gin & tonic, white wine, coffee and a chocolate tart, all for half the price of the previous night’s extortion. Friday morning I met up with a friend and exchanging feminist research jargon and ideas, well I started to feel refreshed and not alone in a sea of conservative thinking, economics and dead white men. I read more Marx on the plane. The person sitting next to me moved away.

img_2799I landed back in Chicago feeling reinvigorated and since then I’ve been powering on with work, making great leaps forward if I dare continue the Marxist theme. I’ve been enjoying the leaves on my walks to uni and running late because I keep stopping to photograph them for all of you. Choir is definitely my Chicago happy-place. My contents insurance automatically gives me $2500 of coverage for my firearms. I’ve been to the gym today, things are being crossed off my to-do list and my apartment is starting to feel welcoming. Tomorrow the rental agency people are coming for a first inspection so we’ll see if they agree, sigh. Tomorrow we also get our mid-quarter paper to write so it may not be the happy day of yesterday or today. Have to confess several of us are “rooting” for it to be a Marxist analysis. But it will be what it will be, I’m not expecting the other M word to come back but who knows. Who knows other than that all will be well, and all will be well.

Oh and tomorrow’s Halloween, so hey I could turn into a vampire. This is the US after all.

There have seriously been gremlins messing with this post while I’ve been writing it, maybe I shouldn’t be so flippant about ghostly hauntings and Halloween…

img_2813

First of (it had better not be too) many

Yesterday I seriously felt like giving up.

Not some trivial I don’t want to do this. A deeper brokenness. Just too hard to keep going. I can’t do this any more.

I’ve learned that I cannot neglect self-care, eating right and daily exercise. That takes time, real worthwhile time. There’s a cauliflower in my fridge that has wanted to go into a veg curry for three weeks. It used to look at me in hope when I opened its container for a carrot to dip in hummus, now it turns its face away. The carrot, beautiful heirloom carrot, cringes on its way into store-bought hummus. But there’s only so much time and fresh roast beetroot hummus is still in the future.

Yesterday I wrote my first submission of my degree here. It took way too long. It was polished beyond practical need. It was polished to my own personal need to give care and credence to my work: respect. Close to finished at 9pm I realised my curry was again unmade, I’d not eaten dinner and I was still cold. Cold from my lunchtime walk to the farmer’s market where I bought more veg than one woman can seriously cook and eat, but for which I’d not worn enough layers and so I was still cold.

Today I have more reading that can possibly be done. I MUST make my veg curry. I also MUST cook the piece of cod I bought yesterday. I need to drink more fluids as my new scales show I’m dehydrated, something I didn’t really need the scales to tell me. I MUST go outside and get my blood circulating, but today I’ll wear more layers.

And so we wander, not alone

Wander or wonder or both? Today I am happy, I’m productive, I’m Wendy. I feel like the malaise of the last few weeks has lifted and there is so much that I want to do – watch out world, Wendy is awake.

And yet, today one of my dear friends is in the depths and immediacy of unwordable grief. Two other friends move tentatively with scabbed wounds, scars forming, hurts still real and fresh. Eyes furtive. Anger flashing. Loss of people, dreams, hope. Others I know are weighted with life, and like Frodo and Sam in Mordor can only wearily put one foot in front of the other. For others, in the words of Ursula Le Guin “There was nothing she could do, but there was always the next thing to be done.”

It would be easy to feel guilty for enjoying the sun, the smell of my steaming tea. For feeling some measure of control over life as I hear the washing machine spin, as I start to write an essay that’s been brewing in my head for a couple of weeks and must come out of its safe prognostications into the world of words and grammar. My toes are cold, but they want to take me outside so they can scrunch in the grass and dirt and proclaim “I am alive!” Energised. And yet a quiet niggle, “How can I be happy when others are in so much pain?” And another, “Don’t get too excited, this too shall pass.” I resist their ache and breathe into the space between my ribs.

Life is so fluid, fragile, fleeting. Formless. So precious. We try to hold fast, too tight, too human. Days like today are so sharp and clear. Intense. I hear one conversation, clumsy, god I hope I was clear, I hope in your pain you heard. “You gave words to their humanity” I know I tried to say. “You said that slavery and oppression weren’t the whole of their story. That even declared sub-human, people claimed their humanity in small acts of resilience, their agency in small acts of resistance. You gave them back those actions. It matters.”

I sip my tea. The Korean chimes proclaim my washing is ready for the line, for the gentle air and warming sun. Feminism must be inclusive if it is to be feminism, my essay wanders toward the keyboard. Breathe. Life is … this instant.

And so we wander, we wonder. We are social beings, us humans. We share, we journey. We are scared to trust, and yet we do. Time rolls us, twirls, layers. We pray to deities we think we don’t believe in. We reach out. We hold… and we let go.

Binti, a woman of earth and stars

Binti and Binti: Home, by  Nnedi Okorafor
The above incredible image was sourced from DestinAsian 

I really want to write you a review of the novellas Binti, and Binti: Home, it’s a long time since I read such real science fiction. But I find I’m not sure where to begin. Instead of finding words or images to share with you, a story line to attract you, instead my brain is still and I can feel earth, coarse damp earth, rough wet clay on my skin. I want to smear it, rub it onto myself. This is unusual for me, I am a woman of water. But the scent of living soil is in my nostrils, minerals seeping into my blood. Enervating. I feel grounded. Real. Growing, alive, but still and stopped. I want to go outside and bury my hands in the soil, feel its pulsing life. To stand on rock and earth. I don’t want to appropriate her culture, to claim for myself otjize, the culture of the Himba women of Namibia. I just want to inhale that grounded life. Maybe I want to reach out and touch that warm supple skin. To taste transcendence in immanent earth. That is the gift of Binti.

Binti is a young woman of colour, the first of her people to be accepted into university on a far planet. She leaves alone in the early morning. By leaving she is exiled. She is the sole survivor of a massacre. She is a harmoniser, a woman who weaves mathematical patterns of meaning and peace. She is powerful. Transcendent and deliberately immanent. Woman.

I don’t think Binti asked me any profound questions, other than why she should be the first woman of colour to have a science fiction series of her own. I love that this is a book written by a woman, about a woman. A book about a woman who dared to defy social strictures that would have held her at home, told her who to be, how to be a good woman. Instead she journeyed away, redefined the meaning of being a good woman. Took the earth from which she came and healed others. Created earth with the power of womanhood and healing and home, although the distances of space ached between. Returned to find change for all life is change. To find something new of herself and her people and her universe. To find echoes of time.

Not since my earliest readings of Ursula Le Guin’s Rocannon’s World some thirty years ago have I felt so connected to a science fiction culture, a science fiction character. And I love science fiction. So that is the highest praise I can offer. Neither Binti or Binti: Home are long, they leave you aching for more. And to be honest, I don’t think I liked the end of Binti: Home. But I desire, long for the next instalment Binti: The Night Masquerade. I’m holding a deep hope that Okorafor doesn’t fly Binti away into unreality, when she has been so grounded, so real to date. And so sniffing earth, tasting ground, smelling stardust with our toes, we wait.

 

 

Inhaling colour, tasting light

Soundtrack: Beethoven: Piano Sonata#14 in C Sharp Minor Op. 27/2
Moonlight, First Movement

Tham Siew Inn

I have been so privileged this trip to stay with families, to be welcomed into people’s homes, invited to share food, to sit. One of the truly great privileges of this trip was being taken by a dear friend and her family to Melaka, and then invited into the home of artist Tham Siew Inn. Such an honour to quietly spend time inhaling the atmosphere of the artist’s residence, imbibing the green of their gardens. Drinking tea. Sitting us women, peeling pomelo. Talking with family members, two sons creative artists themselves and the oh so real, material, tangible woman-wife-foundation, herself a teacher and creative floral artist. There were times sitting with the art, wandering the rooms, up and down the stairs, when I caught myself almost wondering what we were doing next, but not following the thought as time had slowed, the lime infused walls cooled the heat of stress and haste, and I wanted to just be, to be breathing, to just be. The colour breathed calm into the empty places in my soul. And of course sharing together much much wonderful local food breathed companionship into the empty places in all our bellies.

When you look out from the first floor gallery through the open windows, the old green glass with its patina of the ripples of time, you see into Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, one of the oldest streets in UNESCO listed Melaka. That’s the street where you find the artist’s gallery, and it’s a street of contrasts. From the most hip art coffee house The Baboon House, to a museum with original shoes for Chinese women’s bound feet, to a UNESCO restored house showing original architecture and building styles. The atmosphere of creativity, grounded in history, twisting and tasting and reinventing identity and vision and place. Continue reading “Inhaling colour, tasting light”

Prologue February 2014

We are driving back from Chennai beach through the slum. Ok to be accurate, we are crawling through the fish market on the edge of the slum on the edge of the beach on the edge of Chennai. Even in the locked car with a/c on full recirculation the smell of the fish is penetrating. The fish lie there eyes all milky, guts smeared on the ground below. The flies covering them are like a heaving pepper crust. Stall holders are pushing trolleys laden with more buckets of fish to hawk to the evening throng, the madding crowd. Down by the water’s edge, looking away from the market’s filth there’s a film crew with a press of onlookers and extras filming – on some level I wonder if it’s drama, reality or both? Children press against the car windows begging. Shoppers and commuters patiently wend their way through, each occupied in their own drama, threading between waves and cameras and stalls and traffic and road works. It’s a chaotic whirl, but it’s a whirl that’s outside the secure insulated bubble of the car. And inside my bubble I’m starting to realise I’ve lost my heart.

Karthik is pattering a monologue on change in India, loss of moral values, the concentration of wealth in the upper and middle classes. While some things change, caste is still very bad. Progress isn’t helping the ordinary family who lives and works outside IT. He’s just a poor man who wants to make enough money to go back to the country and live with his kids. He so rarely says much, so rarely opens up about his thoughts, and I’m not listening. Well I’m listening but not processing.

My heart is somewhere back behind us on the beach.

Home is where your heart is, but tomorrow even though I’m on a plane going home, I’m leaving mine here.

All India is change…

Chennai Beach

Happy in Hyderabad 

I’m meant to be resting before going out for tea, but I wanted to share this with you first and of course it’s taken all my rest time. Anyway, after a brilliant day Monday teaching at the University, and yesterday chatting and getting a sinus infection, today we risked an outside trip. Ended up at Chilkur Balaji Temple, well outside it anyway, we were having too much fun to go inside. We wandered, and chatted, and ate guava. I’ve never been brave enough to try sugar cane juice. I learned how to ask people in Hindi if I could take their photographs, and practised a lot. The best smiles were after I’d taken the photos and turned my phone around so they could see themselves.

I asked this guy if I could take his photo, and he wanted me to take the young fellow too. Not that I understood his reply. Which makes me think of this morning, there’s a deaf waiter at my hotel, huge grin. Well this morning I made sure I remembered how to sign You R Great! He’s now my new best friend.

This woman is so beautiful with her guava and her mango, only 10 rupees each. Just lovely, well not the guava, I’m not a fan.

The goats didn’t all try to run away. And no we didn’t feed them my guava.

That’s it, quick rest now before dinner. See you!