Reflections on motherhood and weapons systems, public death in Syria, and the spectacle of dying in a Greek hospital
I have carried grief in my bones for so many years that I do not notice its weight unless it becomes acute. I do not hear its noise unless it shouts at me.
What does it look like to do political work in the every day? Voting is not the only political act. We need to look beyond the realm of high, formal politics to the politics that govern which lives are grievable. I keep reading, particularly among liberal allies who share a lot of the policy priorities but who do not necessarily actively practice political work between elections, is that “we must start working.” To them, I earnestly say: Welcome. The work has been going on — slowly, quietly, invisibly, in the margins, often done by the most marginalized.
What would we ask about the rejection of the Colombian peace agreement if we took feminist questions seriously?
On my last day in Guatemala seven years ago, I bought myself a ring. I had never worn rings prior to this. I was not looking for a ring. But as I wandered the streets in a farewell nod to a place I had called home that year, this small jade ring felt welcome in my life. I had just completed the first year of work in a new field for me. It has turned out to be my life’s work. I had just begun living in the questions I now call home. The most gratifying part was that I knew it then–I had the inklings of a person who had just stumbled into a question in which she had wanted to live. The ring looked like an eye and I have worn it on my right hand every day for the past seven years. There was the day it fell behind a radiator in Kentucky and I turned a whole house upside down looking for it, fearing the dog had eaten it. There was the night I thought …
Colombians know how to honor an occasion, from love to loss, with an unstated but palpable awareness that most celebrations carry a tinge of both. As a fellow anthropologist remarked after the third glass of a wine on a Wednesday, this country inspires an “ethnography of rumba.” This is a story of what happens in the margins of research.
Naming ghosts of patriarchy and misogyny was a feminist project to which I have committed my life with little hesitation or regard for propriety (ever the fear raised to caution people away from uttering powerful words). Except, somewhere along the way, I became more comfortable exporting this project to other domains rather than finding the words for it in my homeland. The same can be said for tolerating all other manners of abuse–racism, anti-immigrant sentiment, xenophobia–for which the words felt foreign or the battles felt like they were someone else’s to fight. Is that not a form of complicity in oppression, disguised under the banner of foreignness?
I know that Easter and fathers and pre-exam jitters and saudade layer atop each other. I know that grief sneaks up on you when you are trying to pack ‘the canon’ into your head (and I know enough about feminist inquiry to question what counts as the canon, to know it has earned the quotes around it). I know how to tell grief apart by its taste. This is not the cutting, surprise grief, the kind that has made you nauseous before. It is the sweet, quiet accompaniment.
The expectation (illusion?) of privacy, coupled with an attachment to propriety, has made it easy to separate lives, even within one self. There is a professional self, a professional voice, and we put them on like an outfit. There is a body that runs and moves and makes love and gets sick. There is a heart that aches and rejoices and a voice that teaches and asks questions. There are hands that type love letters, and they are the same-but-different hands as those that write the essays, or the ones that write academic articles, or the ones that cook. These selves inhabit the same body. It’s all one body and, for those of us who aspire to a semblance of authentic coherence, one self too. And yet, they seem to be imagined and treated as comfortably severable and separate: fragments of a self. Blending the compartments is jarring. Our imaginations struggle to stretch in that direction, even when our hearts do.
I am writing these words in my attic in the suburbs of Boston. Every time the wind howls, the apartment shakes a little. Enough to make your heart be surprised with each gust, but not enough to lose faith that the center will not hold. I crawled out of bed this morning with the intention to continue reading for my dissertation on the politics of victimhood and the hierarchies of suffering that emerge in transitions from armed conflict. I have, instead, spent the morning browsing the news about Paris and Beirut and Baghdad, trolling social media for that one post that will help everything make sense or that will at least dislodge my heart from its place of numbness, even though I know better than that. I am consuming news almost mindlessly. The reports are on loop, reproducing narratives I have already heard while the authorities seek to unearth new information, and yet I cannot help but be glued to them, as though that is an act of meaning and use. At a time like this, writing …