I am terrified of fire. I still wake up from nightmares of burning, and when I was a kid, I used to wake from these nightmares and have to go through the entire house ensuring that nothing, in fact, was at risk of catching fire.
In response, I learned all I could about fire, particularly how to do a pretty good campfire. I know how to get it started (with a reliable match or lighter; I’m not that fancy), know how to keep it going, know how to effectively put it out. I’ve sufficiently impressed my family in that now I’m responsible for our new tradition of having one in our fire pit on Sunday nights.
The thing about fire is that it needs to breathe. You can easily smother it, and sometimes you have to dig trenches in the ashes in order to reignite the fire and keep it burning. Other times, you have to break it open because the heat can’t escape otherwise, feeding the flames and keeping you warm.
I, like I’m sure many of you, have been feeling smothered. I took a break this past long Thanksgiving weekend from social media (FIVE DAYS!) and read books instead. I even uninstalled the apps from my phone. What I read helped, immensely.
- Notes from a Feminist Killjoy by Erin Wunker was like coming home to talk to a long-lost friend for me. Nevermind that we do, in fact, know each other, and that she is Canadian, writing from Canada, inspired by a write (Sara Ahmed) that I, too, am inspired by. And she is a contingent academic. And a mother. And a feminist struggling with what it means to be an intersectional feminist in 2016. The book was written before the election here, she does so much work to explain rape culture and friendship and motherhood and...I want to gift the book to everyone I know and share the experience of reading it with them. In a time when I needed one, I read this book and found a friend.
- Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit was briefly available for free for download immediately following the elections. I downloaded it and finally got around to reading it. It was exactly what I needed. The only break I took from social media was to post this quote: “To hope is to gamble. It’s to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.” Solnit’s research in part is concerned with how humans react in the face of disaster, and she highlights stories of hope, of progress, and of being able to see the good that has happened alongside the bad that is clearly taking place. It made me reach for Dany Laferrière’s immediate memoir about the Haiti earthquake and the aftermath, The World is Moving Around Me.
- When I came out from under my social media hiatus, Tressie McMillan Cottom shared her piece Finding Hope in a Loveless Place. It is, like everything she writes, a must-read: “My hopelessness is faith in things yet seen and works yet done. It is a necessary requirement for the hard work of resisting tyranny and fascism. It is the precondition for sustained social movements because history isn’t a straight line. It is a spinning top that eventually moves forward but also always goes round and round as it does. Those erasers applied post-mortem confuse us to this, blind us to the defeats that will come and ill prepare us for the reality that most of what we believe in will not come to pass in our lifetimes. A transactional hope is anathema to social progress. “I knew this America could elect a President Trump. It is precisely because I always knew it, bone deep, that I worked so hard to stop it.”
- I moved on to Teaching and Learning Like a Feminist: Storying Our Experiences in Higher Education by Elizabeth Mackinlay, an Australian Women’s Studies professor. I was grappling with how I could keep teaching, and what, and why, and how. I didn’t realize I was also looking at how I could keep writing: “I have learned to leave my words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs in the stuck places in between, hoping that in their marvellous incompleteness, they do the kind of work intended.” It also invokes Virginia Woolf and A Room of One’s Own, and (again) Sara Ahmed and Cixous and others who I have brushed up against in my studies and in my work, and she brings them together here in a way that makes sense to me in this moment.
- In the silences, there can be power, as Chris Friend reminds us in Essential Silence: “And that’s the trouble with group conversations and speech: Timing is everything. The way we build in—and work with—natural pauses in our thinking and storytelling can help our audience in profound ways. Readers can create those pauses whenever they need; they simply stop reading for a moment. One strategically placed finger lets a reader take all the time they want to think, to process, to digest, to respond, to take notes, or do practically anything else before returning to the same spot and resuming the story.”
- Finally, coming full circle back to Canada, my friend Bonnie Stewart takes her reading and turns it into a call for action: “I thought about that as this post germinated the other day and I began to wonder what a modern-day Antigonish Movement would look like, could do. The original was about collaboration and cooperation to address poverty and people’s lack of understanding and agency regarding their own circumstances. To me, at this current moment, it is our societal lack of understanding and agency regarding media literacies and digital literacies – and thus the stories we tell ourselves about truth, decency, and each other – that is the poverty I know how to address. To ask “why” about.” This is must-read for me to think about next steps. That it is rooted in a history I know is not insignificant to me. And it reminds me that there have always been these pockets of successful resistance.
My son, who is almost eight and has long been the philosophical soul of the family, announced at the end of Thanksgiving weekend: “Mom! Did you know that everyone in the world is on the edge of extinction? There is only one you and there is only one me and there is only one of everyone.” He said it in such a hopeful way, that despite its bleak sentiment, it made me hope a little, too. The clarity and naiveté of a child is sometimes necessary for hope.
Here is your weekend video if you haven’t seen it yet. From the band:
“The song ‘The One Moment’ is a celebration of (and a prayer for) those moments in life when we are most alive,” the band says in the video’s credits. “Humans are not equipped to understand our own temporariness; it will never stop being deeply beautiful, deeply confusing, and deeply sad that our lives and our world are so fleeting. We have only these few moments. Luckily, among them there are a few that really matter, and it’s our job to find them. (We had no idea when we wrote the song that we’d be releasing its video in such a critical moment for our nation and the world. It’s one of those moments when everything changes, whether we like it or not, so the song feels particularly relevant).”