Things that I've learned at 31
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I’m tempted to write, “Nothing” to the things that I’ve learned at 31… because who am I kidding? As if I really know anything. I don’t mean this to sound like the self-deprecating tone I may have once used to say this, playing off my intelligence with incessant and emphatic gestures of “I’m listening” wide-eyed and so sickeningly honest. I’m not like that anymore, filling in the gaps of conversation with laughter and giggles, turning so easily into a court jester that ladles sentences with “like” so often, wondering where the affect was first rooted? I’ve never wanted to seem intimidating, or, worse: threatening. Lord almighty imagine if I was either.
Now I’d answer “nothing” to the above because I think when you start to learn anything you realize fucking blimey I truly know nothing. It’s a wonderful thing to accept that we are always, always learning, always a student of life. In one of my favorite stories of the Prophet Mohammad (I believe from the hadith) he mentions one should always approach life with open hands to take in its blessings but to also keep them open so as to always be in spiritual prostration to God and the Universe. I guess it’s a similar parable to a glass half full. Everything can teach you something.
I recently had a humbling experience where I realized I was wrong about something I thought I was right about. It’s funny how attached we get to be “right” about anything. Even so, it was such an uncomfortable experience being wrong that I felt my ego do that thing where it turtles itself back into the shell, suddenly, embarrassingly, timid. Eventually, I accepted that it was ok to make mistakes, and moved on with an awareness that acquisition of knowledge, and of being right, is such a colonial thing.
The recent (and historical) reaction by white supremacists seems to be an en masse rejection (of many things—“logic” and “fairness” come to mind) of feeling uncomfortable. Doesn’t the continuation of white supremacy rely on needing to be right, without any true reflection? Without ever being comfortable enough to be like, you know what, I’m wrong… how do you learn? Don’t you just stand in the way of your own evolution?
I’m currently writing my fourth book. Yes, it’s wild to me as well. It’s my first book of non-fiction entitled, Who Is Wellness For? So I’m reading a lot about the colonization of knowledge. In a paper from 2013 on Cartesian Philosophy, sociologist Ramón Grosfoguel quotes Rene Descartes's famous “I think, therefore I am” to suggest that this philosophy inaugurated the ego-politics of knowledge. Enrique Dussel, an academic and philosopher, reframes Descartes’s statement to, “I conquer, therefore I am.” “According to Dussel,” Grosfoguel writes, “the arrogant and idolatric God-like pretension of Cartesian philosophy is coming from the perspective of someone who thinks of himself as the center of the world because he has already conquered the world.” I keep thinking about this, how this obsession to know all, to be right about it all, is to propagate an idea that was very much instilled by white, Christian men who wanted nothing more than to dominate than by erasing the possibility of anything beyond what they knew, and what they deemed to understand.
Recently I was sent this video of a caterpillar becoming a puss moth. We look at the moth (or a butterfly) and think ~transformation~ but rarely do we think of the number of times a caterpillar sheds itself, only to have to eat itself, to eventually become its final iteration. Watching the video I kept thinking about my ego. To transform is fucking uncomfortable, to do it anyway is an act of faith.
Humans delay the inevitable. We latch on to momentary comfort. Our capitalism makes us bold. We resent anything that isn't Amazon prime-able. I’m not being smug either, I’m implicating myself as well. For everything I learn, I make another mistake. It’s the cycle of balancing victory with failure—the retraction and then the expansion of life—the dance and flow of it. The spiral of its darkness into the light. Nothing is stagnant, why do we think safety resides in numbness?
My friend Sarah Hagi told me that the biggest thing that I learned in 2020 was that people are mean. LOL. It’s true. I am somewhat an optimist when it comes to people despite continuously contending with shitiness.
I think a lot of people won’t admit it, but they hate women. Truly I think a lot of people actually just hate women, all women. Looking at society, is that even shocking? Let’s all read Caliban and the Witch again, shall we… There are historical evidences that prove we were societally taught to hate women, I mean we live in a patriarchy! I’m surprised more of us aren’t doing the sort of unearthing it takes to truly confront misogyny. Cis-men are pretty annoying but it’s a bit boring to point fingers at men all the time (though it’s also fun, I’m not disputing that!) when women/femme folks are all inflicting so much damage on each other. As a baby academic and the daughter of a real academic, my father would always point out, “Misogyny is replicated by women all the time.” Last year when I read Carmen Maria Machado’s incredible memoir, In The Dream House, I kept thinking about how we mirror and cycle abuse by using tactics that men use against us. This usually requires a demonization of things considered more feminine: sensitivity, care, emotions, and by doing so we gaslight someone’s own intuition, and self-knowledge, to make them question themselves at the very foundation of their being. The violence done is so innocuous, what’s left is just an unsettling feeling, like the remnants of an invisible hand on one’s throat.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how I was taught to mistrust women by my mother, so on both micro and macro levels, I was taught to hate women. I have gathered the immensity of this through how much I have hated (note: past tense) myself. Looking at what stood before me—the list of things I hated about myself—what stood out was that it was always things that I was taught to hate. I will never forget late last year when I was interviewing Maria Qamar (the wonderful @hatecopy) she said that she recognized at a certain point that her family and community were making her hate the things that she most liked about herself, and that’s when she clued in that something just wasn’t right.
So much of my public life has been marred by confusing instances that have led to a final acceptance that most people don’t give a fuck about you, especially if you’re a woman. Even if they pretend to publically, they might not personally, and definitely won’t privately. As a Bangladeshi, queer Muslim person, I’ve felt that deep isolation on multiple levels. Nobody protects you. Not your family, your culture, your religion, or your people. But it’s nobody’s fault. We have been bred to mistrust each other.
Because of an early age of high school organizing, I began to realize that we are stronger, much much stronger, together. In school, my partner in crime (we called each other comrades not friends lol) was Manna who introduced me to the Autobiography of Malcolm X, and through the teachings of elders such as brother Malcolm, and Indigenous Australian or Muslim and Baha’i elders, we radicalized ourselves. We understood the power of this unity. Manna was raised Baha’i to Iranian parents who fled during the revolution and entered Australia as refugees. I was the daughter of Bangladeshi Muslim parents who survived a civil war and hid my mother’s mental illness. We came from different places, but we both understood revolution.
It’s through my closest relationships I’ve contended with my own misogyny. It’s an important thing, at 31, I’m reminding myself to do. When I feel jealous, I locate the feeling and instead of projecting—own and accept it. When I feel sad and scarcity driven, I remind myself there’s abundance on this planet and that white supremacy has taught us to believe that there’s only so much to go around. I then tell myself that the most radical thing is to accept and safeguard the existence of someone you feel threatened by. It’s ok for all of us to shine together.
Unlearning the patriarchy is a hard journey, and it’s a long one too, but I feel honored to be on this path with myself, and with folks that are aligned with this mission to look at their own internalized misogyny. It’s learning to become the best friend we all deserve, the best citizen you can be.
This is all to say Jolene is a feminist anthem because Dolly Parton never once demonizes Jolene. She uplifts her, she talks to her as a friend might, and commiserates.
One thing I’ve learned by 31 is that I deserve to feel loved. After a lifetime of not, I’ve realized that it’s pertinent that the relationships that I allow in my life are ones rooted in love. I’ve been reading Gabor Mate’s When The Body Says No and it’s such a relief to read about all the myriad ways that children who grew up in unloved or stressful households retain a certain way of being in the world. “The blurring of psychological boundaries during childhood becomes a significant source of future physiological stress in the adult. There are ongoing negative effects on the body’s hormonal and immune systems, since people with indistinct personal boundaries live with stress; it is a permanent part of their daily experience to be encroached upon others.” I was the type of person for many years that thought not having boundaries somehow made me stronger because it meant that I was ready and capable of anything that was thrown at me. Reading me, maybe you have picked up that I did not have an ordinary life. In many ways, I’m gaining a lot of perspective and gratitude for it because it’s brought me here. At a place of true love with myself, with an understanding that not everyone deserves my love, but that I definitely deserve it from myself.
I want anybody who is reading this, that grew up in depravity or violence, to understand that there’s a way out. There’s a possibility of redemption. For yourself, and for those who have hurt you. I’m not going to sit here and say that everything you’ve lived can make you better, but I do hope to embody that for myself. I no longer want to sit in the backseat of my own life, I am on the path to get my life back in my own hands.
For all the things that have happened to me, I’m acknowledging that they’ve turned me into this person, writing to you in hopes of connection and healing. What a beautiful life I’ve been given that I can do this, that I can muster this.
I think every time I write I’m really just trying to be like Philip Glass in this perfect fucking melody he wrote for The Hours.
This by Anne Boyer moves me: “This drive to end the immediate pain of another creature in one’s own proximity is so strong that it can sometimes compel the witness to pain to inflict greater pain upon the sufferer, as when adults threaten to give children “something to cry about” in order to make them quiet. Pain is so communicative, in fact, that the source of much violence could well be found in reaction to pain’s hyper expressivity. It is the clearness of pain that gives sadists their reward. If pain were silent and hidden, there would be no incentive for its infliction. Pain, indeed, is a condition that creates excessive appearance. Pain is a fluorescent feeling.” It’s an excerpt from Boyer’s brilliant memoir, The Undying, about having (and processing) and grieving breast cancer.
Death is fast becoming something I think of daily, even if just abstractly. Many of us are beginning to think of our own mortality, as we perhaps confront the decay of our parent/s or elder loved ones. Pain is one of those things I’ve spent my whole life trying to avoid. In my 20s, I spent significant time trying to memorialize a new chapter of my life, one of intrigue and sex and drugs and alcohol. I thought living a life in opposition to my upbringing would bring me a joy I had not experienced in my youth. What I didn’t consider was that I was disappearing myself in hopes that I would never have to remember the pain that lives inside of my body.
Writing this most recent book, I’ve come to gain an understanding that the body does indeed keep a score and that looking at this fluorescent pain (as Boyer describes it) is to merely acknowledge the unacknowledged, in order to truly free yourself from it. I see this on a global level—how white supremacy is a disease that must be uprooted, but by doing so it needs to be declared and diagnosed. Doing so actually gives society a chance to heal, to breathe, and to actually move forward. I hope we are the people of this world that finally propel this motion into true action.
At 31 years, I’m remembering that life is both long and short but that I owe it to my life and all the things that have happened, all the people I’ve encountered, to continue to explore, to dig deeper, in order to tell the truth. I owe it to my lineage, my family, my parents, to liberate them with all the things that they could never speak into existence. My body and my life is a continuous spiritual reckoning. May yours be the same.
all my love, f.
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