Scholar, writer, editor

Category: Uncategorized (Page 2 of 4)

So this is the new year….

It is almost 11pm as I have sat down to write this, on 1 Jan 2022, or, one of the times on the turn of the sun that we call the new year. I felt the urge for a late-night workout about an hour and an half ago, Tom has been fiddling on his guitars through the evening, and we spent the day relaxing, walking, and decorating gingerbread Moomin with a friend after a pretty tame evening watching trivia shows and reading. And I don’t feel any different.

Of course, everything is Different. The Gregorian calendar that dominates global day-to-day life and keeps us all on the same page across cultures, religions, and time zones says it is now 2022, but in all honesty, a part of me keeps writing 2020 or 2019 when I need to manually write the date. January 2021 feels like it was only one month ago. In some ways, I don’t really feel like time has moved at all over the last few years, although I logically know it must have, as too much has happened. More importantly, I know how much I have grown and changed over the last little while, as have those I am close with.

I’ve only realized how much I’ve grown more into myself over the last year or two over the last day. Our New Year’s Eve was a comedy of errors. It started with relaxing and a beautiful walk, deciding to ignore our phones and other people, and really leaning in (blergh) to our last day of both technically being on vacation before work begins again on Monday. We had decided to just spend the evening together, cook something new for a romantic breakfast/brunch the next day, and watch a movie with some takeout. Despite best planning, we had a massive bake-fail for our next-morning showstopper, and three dinner plan fails: the first choice closed early, the second never showed up with the order, the grocery store closed early (which was fair enough) so plan three fell apart, and the Domino’s finally arrived around 10pm. None of this is earth-shattering or a terrible problem, or even necessarily an event worth noting in itself. But what truly hit home last night is that two plan-centric, over-organized, usually-very-stressed-about-logistics people watched things fall apart over and over again, and just laughed and shrugged. Truly, if we are together and we can find something to smile at, it is enough and everything else can float away. After so much uncertainty over the past two years on all fronts, to be so malleable, to let change small and large roll off us, is a gift. And that has somehow minimized the New Year, or at least, made me look at it in a very different way.

I’ve never been a resolution person. Nor dry January, nor Veganuary, nor anything that requires change on someone else’s timetable. While I can understand why some might participate, for me, change has to come when you’re ready for it, not because one of the many overlapping calendars in existence has told you it is time for it. And really, this is only one time of year that I find myself wishing people a happy new year, just within my own cultural sphere. The turn of the year on paper might come now, but it just as easily comes with the rise of spring, or with the harvest seasons of different parts of the world. Each time we acknowledge it, we have the same chance to renew ourselves, renew our sense of self, look forward to what might come with a new outlook. The turning of the year, to me, invites a moment of acknowledging of the unity of the past, present, and future: who we were, who we are, and who we might yet be. Sure, it can be this moment to party, but I think I prefer looking at it as an opportunity to pause, and to breathe.

In many ways, January is simply the middle of the year; I am currently somehow a working academic after all. And beyond that, the Zoroastrian year is far from over, no matter which calendar one might follow. Never mind all the different reckonings of what entails a financial year when your bureaucratic life is currently split across three countries. But nevertheless it is nice to be able to look at change in a positive way; I’m more sure, I’m more confident, I’m ready to know when I need to draw limits around certain behavior and treatment and more importantly I’m willing to enforce those boundaries. I’m less afraid of being on my own; after about a year of learning to be a wife while bored and just waiting for anything to change in life while also being locked in the house with my new husband, I suddenly had to learn to be on my own again. I had to learn who I was, and who I was going to be in my thirties without all the other noise and pressure and expectation and distraction. I took a job and a chance on a new place, but, what I really did was meet myself all over again. And I think I really, really like her. And I think I really like who she might yet become.

I think about becoming a lot for my current work, and about aging, about how it can be viewed as a decline, or a period of loss, or equally, a period to regain things that perhaps were lost with so-called maturity and socialization. I’ve realized that I actually welcome it because I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling just like myself, no matter who I continue to grow into. I also realize I have been lucky in my role models; formidable women who just, continue, just keep living through the passage of years. Because what is a year, anyways, or even several? Just a moment to catch one’s breath before continuing onwards, in the knowledge that we might do this again in just a few months, as another way to mark a new year arrives with the next season.

One month down…

Exactly one month ago I began my postdoctoral fellowship adventure in Antwerp, and I think I am profoundly struggling with the passage of time. One the one hand, it is moving so quickly, and in terms of work I feel like I am racing various clocks, and feel a (most definitely internalized and only coming from me) pressure to perform. And on the other hand, as much as I am growing to love this city, and am fond of the people I have met here, I am doubly homesick, for my home with my husband in the UK, and home-home in the US, and I am oh so aware of the time spent away from them. But I also know it is just a matter of weeks until visits and before I know it I will be back in the UK for good, and the bigger source of stress will be whether or not I will have accomplished all I wished to in this period of research time.

I’ve joined the Constructing Age for Young Readers (CAFYR) team at the University of Antwerp, and while this is a step in a different direction from my PhD, I am finding that it is opening up space to pursue questions and play with texts I did not have space for during my doctoral research. I’m excited to look at fairy tales from a new angle, discover new authors, and work with new people. I’m also excited to discover who I am as an adult on my own; I might miss home but I also know that opportunities like this are rare gifts, and that few people get the chance to step sideways onto a different path, face fears, do things that scare them.

I did not have on the bingo card for my thirties that I would end up a Belgian civil servant. As much as I love the idea of travel, I never thought I would end up living in a fourth country – I would have stayed in my home state my whole life if I hadn’t stumbled onto reasons to leave. And to be honest, it has not been the easiest transition, this step farther than I had ever gone before. But it has also been one of the biggest learning experiences, in terms of me learning what I can do, who I can grow into being, what I can handle. I know well that I will miss it here when it is time to go, and I think I might be a different person at the end of this. But that too will be its own beginning, and maybe life is easier if we think less in terms of the finality of time passing, and more in terms of the change it carries with it as it passes.

No normal again

As media and everyday rhetoric in the so-called West continues to focus on ‘returns to normal’ I’ve found myself more reflective about what ‘normal’ means, and who is and has been excluded from it. I think about the bodies whose blood feeds a small sector of the world’s concept of normal – from access to goods and vacation spots to which bodies need to be heavily policed for a very small segment of the world to feel safe and free.

I am thinking of who is left out when a global pandemic that has kept me from seeing my immediate family in sixteen months, that most certainly means that the last time I saw certain other friends and family members is likely the last time I will see them though we could not have known this, is declared “over” because a certain part of the world has vaccines. I’m thinking about vaccine access and how the profits of billionaires and corporations have been given preference over people, and for whom the pandemic will be extended and worsened because of that callousness.

I am thinking about borders, and who gets to take their ability to cross them for granted. I am thinking about how on paper I should be able to take border crossing for granted but reality and the past four years of rhetoric around immigration has taught me differently. I’m thinking of what it would be like to be able to travel without exit strategies, without contingency plans, without always thinking six months in advance.

I think about friends who still bear the weight and fear of the last year, whose lives were made easier by accessibility measures and the lack of need to travel or be physically present in places to be part of things, and how in the push to reclaim normal, they are now back to being excluded.

I think about people who were able to bear their jobs better, despite the pandemic, because they did not have to put their bodies in front of their coworkers. I think about people who have been broken by their jobs because others still demanded to be served in certain ways, and demanded that their bodies were put on the line for customers’ senses of normalcy and entitlement.

I think about how all the tools were right there; all the choices were right there to build back a better world. To choose to make people and their needs the focus of governing rather than corporate profits, to reshape modes of life into gentler patterns. I think of every time those choices were let go of in favor of egos and profit and self-centered patterns of thinking.

I think about sacrifice as a word, how often it is said by people who very clearly do not know its meaning. I think about sacrifice as an action and a promise to the future, and the legacy of the sacrifices of others, usually more marginalized than me, that is the only reason I am enfranchised with the freedoms I have today. I think about the communities that have given so much, that still fight for all, even as after a year indoors certain people have only found more vitriol towards that which is different to them, and scares them.

I think about fatigue, and exhaustion, and coping. I think about who is allowed to express those things in public. I think about all the people I know, coping, bearing not only the strain of a global pandemic but a world that does not want them to exist as they are.

I think about the people who are desperate to turn back the clock to times that have never existed, other than in their fantasies of their place in the passing of the universe. I think about how isolating it must be to have all the answers, to have made yourself afraid of change and new ideas.

I think people who will never get the credit for the work they have done to build communities, to protect communities this past year, and before. I think about the people for whom “normal” was never good enough. I think about the people for whom “normal” has always meant their lives stolen, their land stolen, their resources stolen, their children stolen, their culture stolen. And then put on display for people who can pay, who can even in the midst of a pandemic decide to travel to islands and resorts because they just need a break, without thinking about the ramification of their actions on others. I think about those who insist that just because something has been kept open, that it should be used, instead of thinking more broadly about why and how and what motivates decisions.

I think about people who think intentions are ethics. I think about people who don’t have to think in worst case scenarios, who are allowed to feel comfortable in the bodies they inhabit. I think about who gets second chances, and third, and fourth, and fiftieth chances, and who is never allowed to fail much less show weakness or signs of incompetence.

I think about what it means when we as adults say the kids are alright, point to the strength and conviction of youth and absolve ourselves of responsibilities for why they have no choice but to be strong. I think about how, this too, is a stolen childhood. I think about whose childhoods are stolen.

I think about whose safety, whose grief, whose feelings are given preference and airspace. I think about forests being chopped down for funeral pyres.

I’m thinking about who feels entitled to speak over people about the issues their people face. I’m thinking about people who think that their google searches are the same as practical and academic experience and expertise, and who is ultimately given space to speak.

I’m thinking about the audacity of never having to consider positionality before carefully folding thoughts into words and letting them slip past lips. I’m thinking about the audacity of considering oneself the universal, and who is allowed to do this. I think about who has the right to be fragile, to be less than perfect, to crack at any point. I think about what counts as stress, or duress, or pain, and how often its legitimacy is decided by those outside the body experiencing it. I think about what it would be like to consider my mind without the implications of the body it is attached to. I think about what it would be like to be embodied of legitimacy.

I think about what it would be like to not be aware of my body also standing in for so many other bodies. I think about the freedom of not being aware of being the only in a space, and what that does for what I might do or say. I think about how my normal is not the normal that is being cried out for. My old normal is so much more restricted; my new normal is still so much more free than others. I don’t want to think about normalcy anymore.

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