Turn back the pages – August 2012

Throw the walls down
Punch, stamp, tear at them
Open the space up wide
Wide, wide as the
Moonlit sky above.

Lose yourself in the space
In your head, your heart
Your home, your world.
Like in a film, let the camera
Pan upwards and out,
Leaving you, a speck of flesh
Alone in the dust.

But free.

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On Academia vs the “Real World”

Disclaimer: there is no “real world”, nor is academia really separate from anything else.

Academia has been my safe space for nine years. Or all my life really. School is just pre-academia, a formatting that, should your personality match, encourages you to keep going, keep learning. Home, with a Doctor of Philosophy for a father, has always been an extension of the classroom – not in an austere, live-by-the-bell sort of way (though it was at times), but in a stimulating, you-can-learn-from-everything way. Game shows are not a waste of time but an opportunity to learn and memorise more. So that has been my whole life. And now it’s over.

My fears? To no longer be stimulated. No more deadlines, no more piles of articles and secondary literature to read. No more Jstor or Project Muse, no more abstracts to learn from in under 3 minutes, no more critical theories. But I never got to make an effort with Derrida! or Barthes! and I missed the class on marxism… I’ll never be able to join those conversations now it seeems. Then there are the Shakespeare plays I never read; not enough on postcolonial studies; what about in-depth black feminism? I’ve learned a lot, but somehow it doesn’t feel enough. And so leaving that world behind… am I really ready?

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Of course I am. I’m just hiding behind the safety of what I know. Of a system I know the inner workings of – what to do to get top marks, that 3 half-days are anough for 4000 words on the American West, that bringing Beyoncé into seminar conversations sounds good, just the right amount of recherché. I can read Keats in any of the greats and vice-versa, I’ve mastered essay-writing and can teach it to others.

Now what? The real world. Where my skills, really, are irrelevant. Or rather my detailed knowledge – Selfhood in Shakespeare, Sisterhood in The Colour Purple. The real world: new codes a different system, a whole new set of rules. Will I know how to play? Can they tell I’m a novice? Will I relive the awkwardness of teenage years, when I struggled to find my place, my way of being? Just as I had finally stoppped pretending, felt legitimate in my capacitites and skills – here we go again.

Excelling, for free, with my own satisfaction at stake was fun. Now they pay me: I have to show something for it.

“se réveiller ailleurs…”

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12th March 2017

Dawn had come and gone, so it was almost a midday sun that dragged me from a still-drunk slumber. The light, the way it shone through the shutters, made me think we could be anywhere. So when the windows were cracked open and street sounds reached us, I thought of Dar Es Salaam, Rome, busy roads and car horns. On a similar morning, children’s voices rose up, hearkening back to distant summer pleasures.

“se réveiller ailleurs…”

While the outside shape-shifts, inside, a cascade of words and impressions tumble through my mind, whether flashbacks or intense awareness for the present, I can’t be sure. Lithe, luxurious, tangle of limbs, echoes of Countee Cullen’s “Tableau”, all the books and films, ever. Forms of synchronicity and promises of empires to come.

On the Importance of Seeing my Peers in Positions of Power

July 2017, Montreux

*When I see Solange, I see a woman, a sister. I know how she feels in her skin, I know how she gathers her hair on the top of her head as she slips into bed at the end of a long day. When I see her backing singers, I know the laughs that rose from their throats as they dressed and got ready; I know their measured breathing as the walked out onto the stage as the lights flashed on. When she says “I have a right to be mad”, I yell “Preach”, whisper my thanks, though no one can hear. When she tells us her body is tired and she doubted herself, I hear my own voice, and know what she means.*

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This strikes me because I’ve been to gigs, listened to interviews, taken interest in artists. But I feel none of this when I see male idols on stage. I feel no such connection to the rich and famous white men who grace my screens, the pages of these papers, their faces on billboards.

Now (almost) a grown woman on the verge of real life, I realise the importance of seeing my peers in positions of power – artistic, political, academic. I live in a society dominated by people who don’t look like me. My peers never wrote the laws, their voices weren’t the ones echoing through the marble halls of power. For too long, their very being was put into question, their voices never heard.

So today, Solange and all our sisters out there stand out as true inspirations and precious examples for me. Women to look up to, to show me how far I, too, can reach. When I see them, I know I can achieve. I, too, with the power of my voice, of my words, of my love, can make waves and succeed. There is nothing keeping me from strength, pride and a firm, steady stride.

If Bey, Michelle, Serena, Gaga – women who hurt like me, cry, feel, hesitate and hope like all of us – have that power on a 25 year old, imagine how powerful their silhouettes are on the minds of our little sisters and daughters. Imagine the effect these solid and flawed women can have on the self-esteem and confidence of girls growing up. Imagine all of us realising our potential, finding our voices and pulling each-other up to the light. It’s December 2017 and the power of sisterhood is finally proving itself undeniably to the masses.

And away from global stage, in my own times of hesitation and doubt, I have found reassurance and true power closer to home. Hungover mornings, sunny lunches, cosy rainy afternoons and endless nights spent with Lindas, Lolas, Claudias, Danielas and Patricias are priceless. Watching these women excel in their fields and be their own bosses while staying honest about womanhood and all its challenges gives me strength and the belief that our time is now. And girl, are we gonna slay – all the way.

Me too.

Nothing can describe the recurring sinking in my stomach, or the invasion of shivers. My complete inability to understand whether I should like, send love, be sad or show anger; wow could never be a solution. Also difficult to express is the deep gratitude in feeling that this time, we’re on a roll. Not all of us are marchers, or politicians, journalists, rappers, or have access to a platform from which to express ourselves. But what a lot of us do have in common is social media. And through this system we insist on calling perverse (which it is, but that can’t overshadow the ways in which it is effective..!), we have managed to create a true wave. And what with? Two words. Two words to lend our voices to a cry which should never be quietened, let alone silenced.

In only a few days, we have shone a light on a monster we love to ignore.  And you know what, I’d love to see how you go around ignoring us this time. The numbers are undeniable; you cannot argue provocation, drunkenness, naïveté, or any of the other “excuses” you cower behind. May you be damned if you don’t prick up your ears, ready to finally listen, or if you choose to deny the truth, again.

More than the sinking feeling and the skin crawling, I’ve been crying. Crying at a pain that’s so normal, we never even bother mentioning it anymore. An injustice we should fight against together, but that we are all too tired to address, faced as we are with other unrelenting assaults to our integrity. When I see how many of us are involved, somehow, I feel even more helpless. If so many of us have been through this, how come it’s still going on? But this, this feels like a new opening for this conversation.

Ladies and gentlemen, here is a feminist wave, a current event, that makes the involvement of men obvious. Without the oppressing group gaining consciousness, it all stays the same. So when each of us says “Me too“, we are lending you our voices – so that you can join our ranks, stronger from our avowals – and be a part of this fight against a patriarchy that makes sexual harassment and assault part of the normal fabric of society. This is not normal. It’s time we overthrew this system, all of us together.

 

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Never again: Selfish.

There are words that hurt. Selfish is a destroyer for me. And it’s taken me a long time to understand why. While I am a generous, sometimes (borderline) sacrificial person, I think this makes me strong, and so it’s not what shapes my pain at the root. It actually runs deeper and earlier.

As a child, I was denied individuality. Motions to do things for myself were swept aside, seen as signs of weakness. If I expressed a desire to sit out of a group activity, it was made clear to me that then leaving me alone was punishment, exclusion. It was proof of my selfishness that I would rather have time alone than join in. Lila, the selfish one. That is how, through instances of punishment for individual thinking, the mechanism was installed.

Since then, I have been acutely aware that my duty is to others, to the family unit. Wanting something, anything, for myself is only a weakness, punishable, to be silenced and hidden at all costs. I have therefore developed a disregard for myself, my needs and desires; as a result turning me into an efficient family/team/couple member, always putting others first. But that game ends up with me in pain, feeling repressed and unworthy. 

So now that I understand, why don’t I just move on and be an individual ? Guilt. Guilt is the answer. Guilt and fear that I’m letting others down, that I’m being selfish. For standing up for myself, for being honest, for having emotions, for expressing them. Because now, in my head, there’s always a voice, a cycle of thoughts that’s ashamed of my individuality, at the imagined cost of others’ comfort and joy.

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I’ve started a process of recovery. I’m in the early steps. Of removing that voice, acknowledging it’s not mine but a childhood fear, that I can leave it behind. I’ve started to feel how rich a person I am. How the woman I am becoming deserves her own space, her free time, to have her voice heard, to not be scared.

So when you call me selfish, or self-involved, I cringe, I hurt, and scramble to self-efface, to have my presence forgotten because the voice inside says I’ve failed at my duties again.

That’s why I sing. That’s why I ask – where’s the room for my self love? Wouldn’t I do well to put myself first? Shouldn’t you, who are by my side, celebrate that?

Selfish is a word that hurts, and I hope now you understand. You wouldn’t tell me I have too much self love, would you? 

All of us, messed up, in pain

You leave me with bite marks,
Fantasy plans of tying me up tight.
But when it comes to real tears
Or hearing my calls as I drown,
You turn your music louder
Cover my voice with drunk stutters.

Now, just the other day:
“Give it all up” you say, “come, let me show you the way”
Promised me an ear, “Come on, give up on the pain”
If I’d just let go of the meds, stop reaching out for professional help…

But now, where are you now, dicky dick dick
Enjoying my tears from afar, finding joy in my fear ?
Stroking your c*ck at the thought of me lost?

I promised I’d crown you and you laughed – not your play
Maybe the wisdom of your years (that you do have!)
Tells you you’re right, you’re too old to care,
And this girl? She’s too young to know.
Trouble, trouble. Just raw, needy trouble.

But what happened to love, to trusting, believing?
When did you become too lazy to care
And I, your light, become a burden,
A truth, too heavy to bear?

Yes, my pride’s hurt, and yes I’m messed up
No, I don’t hide it, fuck no, I don’t blame you.
Yes, I get scared and hey, yes, I’m scary
I scare you, I know, but aren’t you scared too?

YET behind these addictions, I know you hear it boo
The same fear rips through you, I’m sorry to say.
Shake your head all you like, give up on the world
Out-talk it, you’ll try: “No Silence, not you!
No! Peace, not your touch
Stop the voices, shut up, leave me be, stay away!”

—-

Whisperings, baby, turn your ear, just listen.
In truth, they say “Honey, don’t let go
I know you’re scared we’re leaving but –
No, angel, no,
We want to stay.
This burden you bear, shift it over here.”

Your addictions and mine, just chemical aids.
What if if we both found a wide open space,
Thick forest of fears, the depths of depression,
A sheer, blinding darkness…
And sat there a while.

The different parts of me, collection of us,
(Most of our friends are here too, if you let yourself see.)
All of us, messed up, pissed off, in pain, too proud,
Hiding and hidden. What for?
Open up, damn it. Don’t be ashamed,
I’m not – will not, accept to be told.

But I will hold your hand,
Yes, and sob in my sleep
Now here’s the cliché: I want to believe

Luxury and adventure await, if only we trust.

 

Portovenere (2011)

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As rain starts to fall on the town of Portovenere, the scene is set for a suspense film.

The town is walled in by ancient battlements, keeping watch over port, streets and tourist-weary natives. Once passed the gates, tall houses tower and stairways loom at every turn. A porcelain-white cat sits ever patient, not a turn of the head as we pass by. Nor do we acknowledge its presence with more than a word; my left wrist bears the trace of its now-hidden claws – I’ve learnt my lesson. The air weighs down on us as we climb step after step. Only fallen flowers catch the eye as we walk. Laundry hangs white above our heads, out of prying eyes’ reach. A little bowl left out for pigeons is the only reminder of an old mumbling woman we saw the day before, out pruning her plants. In a plea to lessen its burden, the sky finally releases a few drops of rain. Far in the distance, a dull sound echoes.

(As I sit to write, the day’s carillon rings out its irregular tune:  sinister, kitsch, jarred and devoid of melody, it uselessly announces the fourth hour after noon.  Inside the house it is answered by an exasperated groan).

At first the rumbling sound resembles the one heard non-stop as motorised boats cross the Golfo. From dawn till dusk they send dull vibrations into the air, amplified as they travel from island to mainland and back again. Only this time the sound is more insistent, getting closer, covering up the aria of an opera seeping through a first-floor window in the silent, deserted street. For a moment, the woman and the helicopter fight for their voices to be heard until we turn a corner and they both accept defeat. More stairs to be climbed, more “buon giorno”s left unanswered or perhaps unheard. Flowers are still in bloom in this summer afternoon that is yet spring. Cacti point the way and, at the turn of a corner, my eyes level with the view offered at last: the bay, the sea and the island we’ve just come from. As I turn back where we are heading, my mind floats to the castle, up there. The image, fresh in mind, of faded photographs showing two old friends dressed against the wind, walking the old path of polished slabs, pointing at something in the distance, a long time ago. My mind then goes back to a face I’ve only now seen for the first time: that of my grand-mother, my mother’s mother.  Mum in who’s face I now recognise the past they maddeningly fight over. I climb the final steps, pass the wall in pink bloom and enter our shelter, just in time. As the rain starts to fall in earnest, the scene is finally set: white cat, bodiless opera voice, a labyrinth of stairs, helicopter swooping low and a family tragedy waiting to be told…

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