Saturday, 5 June 2021

Seeding solidarity


PLEASE NOTE: this short blog post is written specifically for the community of people who knew and worked with Chris Goode.



trees without leaves at an angle on a portrait photograph, against a sky that turns from white to grey to blue



“What would be the pace of this process if healing were at the centre?”
*



Dear friends,

I woke last night, fearing an angry ghost.

I wrote some things down.

It won’t be for all of you. But it’s written from within my own grieving process, as one way for us to not be so alone.


I am writing this for us, those who are alive, grappling with this situation that is so full of impossibilities. I am feeling so many things, but one of them is the clarity of a community coming together as we make our way through the debris of this explosion, with so much love and care and compassion and carefulness, at completely different paces, but nevertheless, together somehow. So this blog post is about that feeling. I write it as a companion – in case these words can be companions to you as we find our way through this process.

I am feeling so many things, unexpected emotions that visit with force, memories that I didn’t invite, seemingly opposing thoughts framed by love, anger, fury, distrust, and disbelief.

This thing we are confronting, navigating, holding uninvited conversations with, it is bigger than we can grasp alone.

So please know, as the sorrow slips to rage slips to distrust, slips between pasts and futures, please know that there is a steady heart somewhere, between us all, calling us. A steady hand that is our solidarity.


I find myself noticing a clearing. Perhaps it will come closer into view. I want you to know that I feel it is possible that we’ll find each other there. Those of us who are hurting and hurt, those of us who have been harmed, those of us who will never forgive, those of us who are heartbroken, those of us who remember with love,
those of us who can’t let go, and those of us who remember with woundedness.

Those of us fighting and those of us crying and those of us cursing. We’re all there.

We find a way forward. Our fear of monsters is done. Our trust in ourselves is arriving.


Friends - please keep some deep kindness wrapped loosely but surely around you, so it is there when you need it.


rajni.x.
05.06.21




* While I was awake, I listened to episode 7, season 2 of Prentis Hemphill’s Finding Our Way podcast – a conversation with Kazu Haga about Navigating Conflict. It resonated so deeply with the feelings I have around everything that has happened within our community, the harms caused, and the ways in which we might approach healing. This quote is from Prentis. Listen/read here: https://www.findingourwaypodcast.com/individual-episodes/s2e7

** Also, one of my favourite blog posts, which I have probably mentioned to you already if you know me, is this one by Mia Mingus. It is about Dreaming Accountability. Again, it feels so relevant to what I hope might be seeded in this (wider and longer) moment. https://leavingevidence.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/dreaming-accountability-dreaming-a-returning-to-ourselves-and-each-other/


Monday, 28 September 2020

Breaking open: the work of listening in a racist world


image of dark landscape with sky and clouds - moody and blurry

This is a transcript from a talk I gave last week, to mark the end of my two-year postdoc at Concordia’s Acts of Listening Lab. It was written to be listened to live with an audience, but I hope that something comes through from the written words.

To celebrate the International Day of Listening, join Acts of Listening Lab postdoctoral fellow Rajni Shah as they reflect on two years of research into the work of listening across difference. This talk will include reflections on Rajni’s ‘Listening Tables’ series, as well as personal reflections from their own embodied experiences as a non-binary person of colour living on unceded lands. Those who identify as QTBIPOC are especially welcomed.



Start here:


As a listener (including those who are reading) I invite you to begin by thinking about what it means for your listening to meet my listening, in this online meeting place. This is a slow, somewhat meditative talk. It asks you to bring your listening. So before you go any further, take some time to listen in to your own body. Ask yourself:

What do I need in order to be able to listen right now?


Do you need to be here, reading or listening to this talk? Is now the moment? Perhaps when you tuned in, you found that you need something else right now. If so, please honour that desire.

If now is the right moment, please take one action to help yourself arrive into your own listening. This might be making a cup of tea, running a bath, meditating, changing your location, putting on music, or anything else that will allow you to feel just a little more arrived.

When you’re ready, we’ll begin.



Acknowledgments

I acknowledge that I wrote and recorded this talk as a visitor on Gadigal lands and waters. I offer deep respect and gratitude to Gadigal elders past, present, and emerging, and to all Indigenous peoples around the world who are doing the heart work of continuing and resisting.

I acknowledge the kookaburras and the lizards, and the many other creatures who were close by as I wrote this talk, whose songs and dances teach me about time.

I acknowledge the whales, who are making their passage south as I write this.

I acknowledge my own heritage and blood family, who are from the Kumaoni region in present-day Uttarakhand, India.

And I acknowledge and thank all the people who made the Listening Tables project. Luis, Caite, Andrea, MJ, and Alana at the Acts of Listening Lab. Guest listeners Ellen, Leo, Savita, and Eldad. The listeners who came back each time to share and grow this practice: Emma, Hanss, Seçkin, Victoria, and Ayumi. And all those who attended Listening Tables between August and November 2019.

Thank you.




*



I try to turn things right side up.

Which is the same as to say,

I turn things upside down.

Which is the same as to say,

I try to make sense of the world.

Which is the same as to say,

I tried to rearrange the room in order to rearrange our thoughts,

which is a way of saying,

I invited us to rearrange our minds and hearts by inviting us to rearrange the room, the table,
                                    and our listening.




1. Breaking


The first Listening Table. Tiohtià:ke/Montréal. August 2019.

I am nervous, and newly arrived back on to these lands. I came from unceded Gadigal lands, where I was not invited, and arrived on the unceded lands of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation, where I was not invited, into the University, where I was invited, but which itself is at the heart of a history of peoples and actions that were not invited.

In any one moment, there are so many arrivals.
Harms done, that continue to harm.
Harms done that continue to be done.

I am aware of this discomfort, the shame of mobility and the histories that enable or necessitate it, the shame of racisms, my own and others, the shame that pours through lineage into our bodies.

On this day, same as most days, I am trying to find new ways to arrive myself.

At the first Listening Table, I was nervous. 30 people arrived. They had, as invited, brought food to share. Their hearts were suddenly right there, beating, in the room, expectant, and to a greater or lesser degree, trusting me to hold their experience. And I was nervous, and this is how it began.

I had arrived hours earlier, more than five hours earlier to set up the room. I like to give myself the time to arrive, see, here I was again, trying to give myself the time and space I needed to arrive. But when the people came into the room, I was nervous, I moved quickly. I remember myself losing the ground beneath my feet. I remember myself not yet feeling arrived from those lands, these lands, the bright sparkling waters and thick air of Gadigal country. Not knowing how to be arrived in that room. Not knowing how to be oriented.

That first table, I had no idea how things would go. I had a plan, of course. The plan was this. During the first hour, in one room, the Acts of Listening Lab, are ten people around a beautiful table. Microphones at the table. Pretty light hanging in the middle of the room. Those people, the ten, mostly strangers to each other, are invited to sit together for a full hour and wait for words to arrive. Those people are invited to meet across difference through listening.

A chance to be heard, and held.
A seat at the table.

And in the other room, the one that is called the Sun Room, the room in which we would be meeting now, in which I’m imagining us all sharing this talk, in the Sun Room are the rest of the 30. There are papered tables, pens and pencils, plants, natural light, cushions, chairs, and headphones through which these people can listen in to the listening conversation that is happening between the ten in the Acts of Listening Lab across the hallway. Later, in the second hour, we will come together, and share food, and share words.

This was the plan. And this is how it went. In some ways, it went exactly to plan.

I began with an introduction. And as part of this introduction, I invited us to enter into a process during which we would, together, select who would go into the Acts of Listening Lab, to sit at the table, and who would listen in from the Sun Room. I said something like this:

“The work of Listening Tables is about reorientation. It’s about the fact that how attention is distributed is political. One way of thinking about it is that it is about what happens when we centre the margins in order to problematise default behaviours. To this end, in considering whether you want to take part in the Table, please ask yourself whether yours is a voice and a body that you see represented in all its diversity in mainstream media, whether yours is a voice that is heard, that has agency in the world. If so, maybe it is your turn to listen in, to take a different role, in order for us to collectively reorient. If yours is a voice that you feel is unheard, unrepresented, placed at the margins, then you might consider stepping up, to take your place at the table, even if this feels a little challenging or takes some bravery.”

I like to make invitations in this way, clear enough that there is an intention that can be heard, but open enough that each person can gather around that invitation in the ways that resonate for them. Rather than me determining which bodies need to sit at the table, the invitation asks each person to determine for themselves which role they will take on that evening. It was an invitation to both listen in and listen out, to place ourselves at the point where those things meet.

What I didn’t say explicitly is that this is an anti-racist practice.

I wondered, in the weeks and months after that first Listening Table, whether I should have been more blunt.

Racism is a blunt tool that presents itself in blunt ways. The work of reorientation, of listening, of figuring out how we might even stand a chance of arriving in a room together, is at once subtle and blunt. It is careful, delicate, difficult work, and it is incredibly simple.

*

I’ve thought about trying to explain to you what actually happened during that first table. The complexities of the listening experiences that presented themselves over those few hours we spent together, and the many obstacles to listening that were present. I’ve thought about trying to explain how some people seemed so aware of their bodies and voices in relation to others, and others seemed not to be aware at all, and how these behaviours fell so devastatingly neatly along lines of racialisation and speaking privilege. But every time I try to put the facts of that evening into words, I get knotted up in the complexity of its emotions. It would take me more than the hour that we have to talk my way into that knot, and then I would have to leave us all knotted up.

Knotted up is a place I’ve been and know.
But I’d rather focus on loosening the knots than recreating them.


What I will say is this.

White supremacy was present with us in that room, during that first table, in all its hard armour.

Unexpressed pain and anger and grief were present, and they obliterated the possibility of listening.

Tenderness was present, as was warmth, trust, and desire.

Harm was done.

Hurt was felt.

And in the midst of all this, solidarity was present, and listening was present.

*

After the first Listening Table, a dear friend asked me: why didn’t you make it a closed space? Why not make it a project for people who identify as Black, Indigenous, and people of colour? My answer is that I love being in BIPOC-only spaces. I seek them out. I love leading for BIPOC communities. I love the places we are able to go together, the trust, the delicacy, the respect, the world-making that happens when we’re not dealing with the assumptions of whiteness. But those can’t be the only spaces in which we are able to express ourselves. They can’t be the only spaces in which we are seen and heard. And they can’t be the only spaces in which we are centered.

What happened during and following that first Listening Table was shattering. It was messy and hard and deeply felt for many people. And I changed things, of course I changed things as the project moved forward and evolved. But I also started to understand something about that shattered place.

I started to understand that this is the work.

I started to understand, to trust, that this is urgent work.

I started to understand how much work it would take.

It is hard work.

It is heart and spirit work.

It takes time and patience and persistence.

It takes trust and vulnerability and not knowing.

And it will always include breaking.



2. Open


It is just over a year since that first Listening Table.

Surprisingly, I am writing this talk from a place of breaking open.

At first, I feel this as an opposition. The task of writing a talk and the task of being with my own breaking open feel at odds. But I am curious to know what will come from this moment of thin spirit, thin skin. So I invite them to be one. I write as one who is breaking open. I write from a place that is in close kinship with the unbearable, with the unbearables. Some humans would call this the work of decolonising self. Some would call it sickness, or failure. Some would call it transformation. And some would pretend really hard that it was not happening.

But it is happening.

I am breaking open.

We are breaking open.

For many years, I did not do this blunt work. I was more subtle, more refined, and more successful. I was much more pleasing to those who needed pleasing, and much more approachable, and much less sensitive. I did everything I needed to do in order to survive. Or maybe, I did everything I needed to in order to help others survive. Or maybe, and I fear this one is the closest to the truth, maybe I did everything I needed to do in order to help systems of oppression stay alive. I hated the idea of finding solidarity with other people of colour, because I did not want to see race. I did not want to see racism. What I didn’t realise was what is now so obvious to me: that I was holding racism in place, and it was destroying me.

*

My parents bet their survival on rationalising the world. I bet mine on feeling it. Such a risky strategy! It leaves me feeling the sicknesses of systems that I carry inside me and am a part of. It leaves me a weak player, a sad and angry player, and sometimes, oftentimes, a non-player. My parents feel contentment, and they wish the same for me. The other day, one of them said to me: “I worry that you’re too focused on the negative. You have to make the best of what is here.”

What they don’t know is that the work I am doing is joy work. It is the work of making room for joy, and feeling joy in this body, as a world-making way of being. Sometimes, it feels like breaking open. Sometimes it feels like battle. Sometimes it feels like being a killjoy. Sometimes it feels like dreaming. Sometimes it feels like I am spinning away into other realms. And sometimes, the best of times, I remember that my joy exists right now, alongside all the other joys and sorrows. Sometimes, I remember that this moment isn’t one moment in a sequence of moments, but one moment in alongside and intertwined with many other moments. Sometimes I remember to unhook myself from the blinkered behaviours I have learnt for survival, and I live in alignment with my joy. Sometimes, this is the work. The work of feeling joy.



what needs saying in this moment?


I want to live in an expanded world where there is room for all of us.

Do you want this too?

But really?

Even if it means destroying what you have built?



what needs saying in this moment?

nothing needs saying. nothing more needs saying. nothing more can be said.

stop trying to speak yourself into the future.

stop trying to mend.

your listening reveals your own boundaries. uncovers the earth. opens up the possibility that you might notice the moon.

your own listening doesn’t even try to be separate from the vibrations of this planet.

your own listening asks for surrender.



what needs saying in this moment?


no more questions.

hold the moment open.

break the moment open.

and stay there.




3. The Work


What does it mean to reclaim that phrase, “the work”?

I take everything that I used to consider ‘not work’ and place it inside that phrase these days.

So breaking open is the work.

Taking rest is the work.

Having a conversation that spills over from where or what I intended, is the work.

Being held is the work.

Saying “I love you” and feeling it is the work.

Intimate friendship is the work.

Saying “no” is the work.

Holding change is the work.

Attending to the pain in my body is the work.

Crying is the work.

Dreaming is the work.

Listening is the work.

*

In my introduction to the first Listening Table, I said: “Let’s trust in the process, let’s trust we are the people who need to be in this room.”

I do believe that we were the people who needed to be in the room. Even the person who told me afterwards that they had a horrible time at the Listening Table, that they hated not being able to talk more, that they felt constrained and attacked and disappointed that they had trusted me. And that they wished they had listened in to their own desire to say “no” instead of feeling compelled by my invitation to show up. I have to trust that this was their work on that day.

I do believe that we were the people who needed to be in the room. I include in this my own inability to arrive, my own chaos and mess, my own desire to hold it all together, and my inability to do so. The ways in which things spilled over the edges and taught me from there.

What fascinates me about attempting to listen with others is that it shows me things I could not see on my own. Or at least, it lets me notice things I have known but didn’t want to know. It is as if in the attempt to listen there is a surface-rising that takes place. Patterns, beliefs, assumptions, violences, histories, inequities float to the surface.

And there they are, announcing themselves, very seriously and very lightly.

“Here we are. Just as we have always been. But this time, you’re listening.”

If we are listening, if we are paying attention, it is almost clumsy, almost funny, how these structural inequities play themselves out. Our histories, our assumptions, our held tongues and polite conversations hold themselves up to us. And we laugh or hate or cry or look away, but they are there.

This is the work.



4. Listening


I think about the Acts of Listening Lab exactly as its name suggests: as a laboratory for listening, in which we conduct experiments in listening. In which we hope to come a little closer to understanding what listening is, and what it might be. In which we practice something called listening. The Listening Tables were conceived from this idea, that there was a place in which some people could come together to explore listening, to examine listening, to listen.

But listening, as I understand it – a practice which some might call ‘being’ or ‘feeling’ or ‘attending’ – listening without already knowing what we are listening to, is a big ask. It’s a big ask in a world that revolves hard around short attention spans, around goal-oriented tasks, around doing and producing and declaring ourselves. In a world that moves fast towards naming, calling out, and acting. In a world that does not value slowness, or multi-generational thinking.

So these attempts to practice listening are often met with resistance.
They are resistant and they create resistance.

Each Listening Table had a guest listener. Someone who had been invited to listen, to bring their listening to the table. This was part of the experiment. Every time I told someone about this idea of a guest listener, they didn’t understand what it could mean. We are so attached to the declarative, to words and their meanings, that it is hard for us to understand what it might mean to bring a listening. When I told people about it, it was almost like I was telling them about a guest nothingness. “But what will they do?” people would ask, those people including some of the guest listeners themselves. “They will listen.” I would reply, but no one could grasp what this could possibly mean. Even after we had these conversations, most people assumed that the role of the guest listener would involve speaking. This tells me a lot about how we value listening and how we value speaking.

A guest listener is someone who is invited to listen.

Someone who is invited to bring their listening, in the knowledge that each person’s listening changes the room, changes the work that can happen in the room.

In the knowledge that listening is work.

That each of us is changing, creating, manifesting the world through our listening.

That each of our listenings are linked.

And indeed, each guest listener brought such a different energy to the table. And not only that, but the fact that the guest listener was different each time changed who was in the room, and how they came into that room. This was most clear when my mum was the guest listener. People came to that table with a desire to meet my mum, or with an expectation of what it might mean to have a parent, an elder, in the room. And my mum is blind, so her listening, her experience of what it means to sit quietly in a room, was shaped by her experience of blindness. And her blindness, and her relationship to me, shaped my own listening, and my own being at that table. At the end of the night, so many people thanked my mum for her presence, for what she brought. And she didn’t understand what she had brought, or what she had done, that had so moved those people. Because it wasn’t her. It was her in relation to all of us, and all of us in relation to each other.

Each of our listenings are linked. In fact, to name them as ‘each’ feels inappropriate to the work of listening. We are creating each other all the time. We are creating our worlds all the time. We are listening each other into being all the time. It is how we orient ourselves. And it is happening, whether we acknowledge it or not.




5. A racist world


[one minute’s silence - listen]




6. A world


for the listeners
for the healers
for the seekers
for the killjoys

for the guests   and the hosts
for the spirits
for the ghosts
for the circles   and the spirals    and the mountains      and the songs

for stumbling
for tumbling
for shattering
for failing
for overflow
for being-with
for holding open
for breaking open
and for shutting down

for saying no
again and again
until it is time to say yes

for the circles   and the spirals    and the mountains      and the songs
for the lizards    and the whales    and the kookaburras    and the ants

for saying no
again and again
until it is time to say yes

for you, who need to hear this.
you know who you are. we know who we are.

Thank you for your listening.

[end]

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Arriving and arriving and arriving


As you will likely know, I have spent the past five years in movement. First a move from London to Sydney with my partner, where we have lived on the unceded lands of the Gadigal people for what was initially supposed to be three years and has now extended into an indefinite time. Then in late 2018 I took the most beautiful opportunity to work with Luis Carlos Sotelo Castro helping set up the Acts of Listening Lab at Concordia University on the unceded lands of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation in Tiohtià:ke/Montréal – a position that should have lasted two years but which I have (with deep regret) left early due to the pandemic. During the time I was working there, I travelled back and forth across the world more than once a year in order to sustain both my job and my relationship with my partner. Now I find myself suddenly back in Sydney; the apartment I have been calling home sitting empty in Montreal; my (elderly) parents and sister in England; extensive blood family in India; chosen family all over the world. I have been living globally, dropping into communities and friendships, writing letters and sending voicelets, but never staying long enough on the ground to be counted (on). All of this movement that so many of us took for granted has come to a sudden standstill. In my last blog post, I reflected a little on the feelings of pain and confrontation that change (actual, real change, as opposed to the kind of change I can experience without destabilising my own privilege or comfort) brings. This one feels more personal – a reflection on my own journey – a document of what that kind of once carefree movement across borders has felt like in these past months – and a record of the kindnesses and questions I have encountered along the way. It’s a long read, I imagine only of interest to friends who care to know how I’ve been going. If you’re up for the long read right now, thank you for your companionship.


1. Tiohtià:ke/Montréal



Mid-March. I’m in my beautiful sublet in Montreal, on the 21st floor, overlooking the city. My university has closed. All my work for this year has been cancelled. I understand that staying isolated is an act of love that I have the luxury to perform, so I go into my own early lockdown, avoiding any time in other people’s homes, and only going out when absolutely necessary, washing hands frequently and using rubbing alcohol to wipe down door handles and occasional grocery purchases. I already hate this social distancing, and I notice how much I appreciate the looks. Over the next two weeks I notice more and more human connection. People smiling under masks, so their smile is visible in their eyes. People leaving distance between us as we pass, but nodding, as if to say: yes, we are doing this for each other.

When the isolation began, I left a note for my elderly neighbours on either side, asking them to contact me if they needed anything, and offering to do groceries. It feels like we often make these kinds of gestures, but they are rarely followed up. This time, it’s different. We have to reach out. The lady next door calls me. She speaks french. I understand just enough to be able to communicate. She tells me that she is well but she is over seventy and has been advised to stay home. She asks how we would do it if I were to get groceries for her. We come up with a system. A few days later, she calls again to say it’s time.  She leaves empty shopping bags, a detailed shopping list in careful handwriting, and some money in an envelope outside my door, knocking loudly before returning to her apartment. I go down and buy things for her from three different shops in our building. I wear a mask. I am careful with touching things. I wipe them down before leaving them outside her door, giving a knock, and walking away. She calls out, “Merci beaucoup.” She phones later to thank me for my kindness. It doesn’t feel like kindness. It feels like reciprocity. Reciprocity is what I have long been hungry for.

I make hot chocolate and cake for a small group of people who are living on the streets very near my home. I figure they must be suffering because of the social distancing. I am very careful not to touch anything or breathe on anything while I bake, and hand over the goods in a paper bag while wearing winter gloves. They are full of joy. I am full of joy. We chat a little, at a distance. I learn that one of them is called Lola. During this time as most of us have looked more and more harried and worried, this small group of people has continued smiling every day. I am so grateful for their smiles, and wish I had made friends with them earlier in my time living here. What is it that stops us from being kind to each other, or even noticing each other? The learnt behaviours of capitalism become easier to notice and more noticably absurd to me during this time.

Over these two weeks, the pandemic is declared, and things start changing swiftly around the world. It suddenly feels like nothing is a given. I feel into both the challenge and the possibility of this. I wonder about whether I should try and return home to Sydney, to be with my partner. I flip and flop in my decision, one day to the next. I am safe in Montreal. I have a beautiful apartment, and a good network of friends and chosen family who will take care of each other. I am seen and held. It doesn’t make sense to travel during a pandemic. I want to stay. And I also know that in wanting to stay I am holding on to a life that no longer exists.

At a certain point I realise that no one can make this decision for me. There is something profoundly liberating about this. I am used to looking over at someone else to check whether I am doing right or wrong, good or bad. And now? Suddenly there is no validation of right or wrong that comes from outside, because nobody knows, and nobody is even pretending to know. There is only a decision that I have to make and that I have to live with. So many of these decisions being made every day by each of us. Heart choices, hard choices that will determine whether we get to be with loved ones when they die.

I wait, feeling into the decision.

I know it will come.

And then, against many odds, I decide to leave.



2. Travel



There is a narrative that starts to surface around this time: go home. It is a simple narrative, and a simplifying narrative. It says that everyone should return home. And for some people, it is more or less clear what this means. For some people, it is an easy decision. Home = one place. Family = one unit, or one location, or one person. For some people, home = safety or security, and returning is an option. For others, not. Many people tell me it would make them happy to know that I am with my partner during this time. I know that it will make me happy to be with my partner, and that I will be safe there. But I am deeply resistant to the idea that this is the only narrative, or even the most important narrative of this moment. I have many loves, many lives, many homes. Perhaps more importantly I feel that now, more than ever, we must connect with a wider sense of what it means to be family. I want to use this moment to open up, not to close down.

In spite of this, I decide to leave, and to travel during the pandemic, knowing that it might be a very long time before this kind of choice is available to me if I stay. I leave knowing that I cannot come back, that Canada has closed its borders, and so has Australia. It is a one way decision. I have spent the past years moving between worlds. I strongly believe that this is a role I have been born into – queerness fluidity not-knowing and inbetweenness are written into me at a very deep level. But I also know that flying in an aeroplane is not the only way to move between worlds.

In the moment I make my decision to leave, I understand that everything I need is within me. I am keenly aware of my privilege as I spend $2,000 on a one-way ticket to a country in which I have ‘permanent residency’ on unceded lands. I feel something that I have been lucky enough to experience only a few times in my life: that my movement is shaped by government policy, and my freedom is held in place by the decisions made at borders. And at the same time, something shifts inside me as I accept this reality. I trust something deeper, a history that is longer than those borders or governments, and therefore both longer and wider than my life.

At 7.15am on the morning of my scheduled (evening) departure, I check my flight status online, and find out that my flight has been cancelled and I have been rebooked onto a flight that leaves at 8am. I knew this might happen. We have moved into a world where getting a notification of a change or cancellation is rare. Airlines are barely functioning. I throw my clothes on, call a taxi, and head straight to the airport. I am lucky there are still taxis operating in Montreal. I am lucky that there are still just enough flights that Air Canada can re-route me that day. And then, without any goodbyes, I am on my way to Sydney, via Toronto and Vancouver, unshowered, hungry, my belongings shoved into all the vessels I could appropriate into suitcases on short notice. I contact friends and ask them if they can clean up after me. I left my apartment with dirty dishes in the sink, a half-eaten meal in the fridge, my bedclothes in dissaray from my rushed departure. Many of my belongings are still in Montreal, but belongings feel secondary in this moment. As I struggle through airports over the next 30 hours, lugging a cheap midi keyboard under my arm and three other bags full of stuff, I understand that being in this body is the only thing that matters. I feel like a human being, part of a species, struggling to survive, riding out this collapse that we have made and trying to learn how to plant seeds for a simpler and wiser future.

I spend hours waiting in Toronto airport, and then again in Vancouver airport. Both airports feel like an embrace between chaos and emptiness. There are no trolleys, barely any people, and almost all the shops are shut. Airport staff, airline staff, and travellers are dotted around in various levels of protective gear. A few people seem to have no protection at all, going about their business, gathering in groups, as if there were no pandemic. Many people, myself included, wear disposible gloves and masks. I see one person in a full body suit, with gloves, mask, and goggles. I am wearing a tailored suit and a silk shirt. I usually wear super comfy clothes when travelling long distance. But this time I wanted to feel glamorous. Glamour as armour, as safety, a talisman to get me safely across the world one last time.

During the flight, they don’t serve any drinks apart from bottled water, which is limited to two tiny bottles per person. There are no meal services on the short flights, and on the sixteen-hour flight they bring around pre-packed food, once in the evening, once in the morning. There are no ‘special meals’. When one of the crew members realises that I cannot eat the prepackaged meal they have brought around, he sends half of his meal to my seat, so that I have something to eat. I am bowled over by this gesture. Some of the crew members are, understandably, snappy and rude, their fear and exhaustion seeping through. But in this moment this person chooses to be compassionate and I am flooded with gratitude at his kindness. What used to be a transactional relationship within a service economy suddenly feels as if it has transformed into a reciprocal one. Throughout my experience of travelling during the pandemic, I have encountered people who are choosing this as a moment of connection and compassion. Every time it happens, I notice how much it changes me, how it feels like it changes everything.



3. Quarantine




It was two days before leaving that I found out the Australian Government was going to make everyone arriving into the country quarantine for 14 days in “hotels or other accommodation”. I almost lost my nerve. The Australian Government is known for its xenophobia and racism. It sounded terrifying. And when we walked off the plane, and I saw the people from first class and business class, I smiled to myself thinking: we’re all in this together, even the people who travelled first class. I have to say this brought me some joy. It was only later that I realised this was going to work in my favour. Later I realised that because we were all citizens and permanent residents, we would be treated well, and because this ‘we’ included those who have power, financial or otherwise, we would be treated really well.

The hotel I am housed in is a four star hotel – somewhere I would never be able to afford to stay in for two weeks on my own terms. There is a desk, there are two double beds, there is a beautiful bathroom with a bath and a shower. For two weeks, we are served food three times a day, and can order snacks from the hotel menu. We are given fresh towels and toiletries every two days, and fresh sheets once a week. I can call the hotel staff at any time to make a request or ask a question. After a few days, they even introduce a grocery service, so that families can order extra provisions. At the same time, populations of less importance to the government – refugees, prisoners, the homeless – are denied safe accomodation.

During this time, people keep asking me if I’m okay – I mean, friends ask, but also mental health nurses call to check on me, the Red Cross calls twice, and medical staff call every day to see if I have any symptoms. One day, I get into a short conversation with the nurse who has called. I tell her I am grateful for the work she is doing, the work they are all doing to look after us. She says that my kind words have made her day, and that I am the only person who has said something positive to her about the work they are doing. I hear on the news and from friends that some people are complaining about ‘prison-like’ conditions in the quarantine hotels because we are not allowed to leave our rooms. I find their phrasing deeply offensive at a time when prisoners are at such high risk of contracting the virus. I dream about a world in which people in prison and others who are in vulnerable situations receive the same treatment as I am receiving. I have a deep hope that all those people who are struggling with their quarantine hotel experience will dedicate their post-quarantine life to prison reform.

I come to treasure the interactions I have with staff at the hotel, and even with the police. None  of these are face to face. Each of our meals comes in a paper bag, and every night someone writes a joke or little message by hand on the bag that houses our dinner. This detail is amazing to me – in the middle of a pandemic, within a police operated quarantine, someone thought this was important. I start drawing little pictures and leaving them out with my dinner bag when I have finished to say thank you. About halfway through my stay, I receive a note form the police:


Near the end of my stay, I get a knock on the door, and am surprised to find that when I open it there are two people standing outside. Usually there is a knock and when I open the door there is food or towels. This time, two male-presenting white-passing Aussie policemen greet me and say they are doing a room check. They take my name, and my phone number, and then they leave. They are friendly and formal. I find myself longing to keep them there, to make some kind of chat that would mean we would stand around and banter for a while. But I am totally lacking the language of banter that would be appropriate for this situation. I hear others further down the corridor laughing. I close the door and feel a deep longing. Later, it strikes me that I am craving human to human connection. It doesn’t matter who the people are. I never thought I would feel fondly towards the police, or that they would thank me for my drawings. This is an upside-down state for me. It is an indication that things are not as normal, and that what was assumed can be un-assumed. Confusing as they are, these are the moments when I have felt grounded in all of this: the moments when I remember and live into the fact that care and compassion are all that we have.



4. (always) Arriving















Back in my apartment in Sydney. I wake every morning and wonder if I will be arrived yet. This question about arriving is a luxury. I have enough time and space in my life right now to notice that I am often expecting to wake into my childhood bed these days, that I don’t know which season comes next, that the timelines in my life are jumbled around. I know that these are ways in which my body is processing this moment with its own intelligence.

I have often written or spoken about things like kindness and difficulty, care and (dis)ease, or reciprocity. Now I come back to them as urgent matters. I feel more than ever that we need to re-learn for ourselves how to both give and receive, separate from desire or shame or guilt or greed. How to develop the skills to do this without going into a mode of protection and separation from each other. We are not our money, our love, our resources. But we have a choice to allow those to flow or not flow.

Turning this world upside down, in the small ways, can bring about change. Or rather, turning this world upside down allows for change. We can make that change ourselves, in small ways, amending the systems that used to be default in our own behaviours. I can make friends with my neighbours, inside and outside the building where I live. I can cook for someone who does not have that skill or cannot find the energy. I can ask my friends to be there for me. This is the work of reciprocity. It is complex, and it is simple.

Now I am trying to do the work of not returning, not going back into old patterns.

Now I am trying to feel my way into what reciprocity looks like at a deeper level.

Now I am looking for allies who are ready to turn things around, or are already doing this work.

Now I realise that the work of arriving and arriving and arriving I’ve been doing over these years was preparation for this moment of collapse. I am not ready, and maybe that is the point.

Becoming and becoming and becoming.




*

with heartfelt thanks to CIFAS, who have supported me during this time without need for any outcome, allowing me time and space to process and write and develop the work of reciprocity


Sunday, 22 March 2020

Today everything changes

These words will resonate so differently, even in a week.
But here are some thoughts, from where I am right now,
March 21st, a marker of Spring or Autumn in some places.
2020, a marker of change on this planet.
Tiohtià:ke/Montréal.
Alone in my apartment.
Falling through uncertainty.



I’ll tell you a secret, something I’ve always been a bit ashamed of. When things fall apart, when projects fail, or plans – even big ones – fall through, a small part of me rises up. I feel excited by change, by the possibiltiies of thinking wider, of cancelling and finding another route at another time, of starting all over again. I think of myself as a good leader in these moments because even as I might feel challenged, I love feeling new futures emerge.

But this time, none of that. Just grief for a whole life lost. My plans this year – to deliver listening workshops and a beautiful symposium, to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday, to be with my family who live in other countries – all cancelled. Universities closing. Borders closing. Everything closing. I am left with some hard decisions about whether I can or should travel to be with loved ones. And even harder decisions to come.

When the wildfires raged earlier this year where I and others were living, I thought: this is a time of reckoning. I wrote the last blog post in response to that moment, while wondering how to write from what felt like the end of a world. At that time, I felt a certain horror that everything kept functioning while the world was on fire. But now I feel the horror of everything shutting down and breaking apart. It is this, it turns out, this virus moving very much like wildfire, that provides the moment of reckoning. And I am not ready for how much that reckoning hurts.

I have a cardboard sign I made for the climate march in Montreal last year. It says, "Today everything changes." It was the first sign I ever made for a rally. I felt so proud of it. I brought it with me to a performance I did that night, and then I brought it home with me. Ever since, I have looked at it and it has looked at me. A kind of daily impasse has developed. I started to wonder what it even meant.

But now everything has changed.

*

What I haven’t done yet is slowed down enough to really feel the changing rhythms of this city, this mountain, to know these birds. What I haven’t done, in a long time, is felt into the rhythms of sleeping and waking without electronic input. What I haven’t done is let go of my plans. Instead, I have postponed them in my mind, to carry on with later.

Some plans will get postponed.

Some plans will get postponed indefinitely.

I want to remember that I have everything I need inside me, now and always – not in a ‘my’ and ‘mine’ kind of way, but in the sense that we are universes. In the sense that looking in is already also looking out, if we let it be that way. In the sense that my inside is not separate from the world. And the world as I have known and lived it is breaking open.

*

Many years ago my friend Mark Trezona gave me a pack of cards he had made. They were designed to help with running an Action Learning Set. Each had an open question that would help someone think through a problem they were confronting in their lives. I still use this pack, and treasure it. But there are two questions from the pack that I carry inside me:

What is the most radical thing you could do?

and

What is the simplest thing you could do?*

I wrote in my last blog post that I have been struggling to argue for listening in a world that needs action. I was thinking about the way that listening in a time of urgency sometimes feels inadequate or even silly. And I still feel it. I feel the trace of those thoughts in here, in this moment. But I also feel something different. I feel that listening is here, right here, urgently and proudly present in this moment. It’s not feeling ashamed any more in the face of activism. Today listening and being are activism. This moment, a deep acknowledgment that we are intricately bound whether we like it or not. That my touch, my breath itself, affect your breath, your capacity to live. The virus and its behaviours are us.

As we find ourselves in global shutdown, breakdown, and the sorrows that come with this collapse, I have a feeling that we must do what is at once simplest and most radical. Take to the roots. Know or trust that we have what we need within us. And listen in before we move forward.




*the actual questions are: ‘What is the most radical thing you could do to get what you want?’ and ‘What is the simplest useful thing you could do?’ but they have simplified in my head