In the Middle Ages we didn’t call it feminism, we called it rebellion. The aim of feminism is the liberation of women. But what are women?
I learned to define as female any time you sacrifice yourself for someone else.
Most people I see look like they’re being shouted at by invisible friends. These invisible friends always say the same thing: you’re not good, or smart, or beautiful enough. No one can stand these frenemies, even though we agree with them.
Maybe the root, the beginning of all political consciousness is when you can see that your desires don’t belong to you, that you’ve become a vehicle for someone else.
Francoise Gilot talking to a friend at the beginning of her relationship with Picasso: “You’re headed for a catastrophe,” she said. I told her she was probably right, but I felt it was the kind of catastrophe I didn’t want to avoid.
He wouldn’t even look at me until I pulled a thick layer of tough elephant skin over my skin. When he saw that his complaints, his small town cruelties, couldn’t hurt me, I became irresistible. She was so convincing and charismatic and fun that for many years I lost sight of the fact that she was not me.
On the way to the demonstration I met a writer, a biologist, a dancer, a nun, even an angel.
They became my second family, a family I got to choose.
This is their story, as well as mine.
I wanted to learn to write, which meant confronting my own innocence, and the excuses that kept that innocence in place. Writing is a way for me to clear my cache and preferences, to take the logo of my personality out of the room so that I can start to think again. One day when I was three, I was playing with a little boy and afterwards his face was covered in scratches. I didn’t have brothers and sisters so I learned to fight by playing with cats.
We’re the ones who find our way back to this place
carrying a notebook
in which our names do not appear.
When I was young I wanted to be rich. I wanted to be rich so that it wouldn’t be my fault anymore. All the money in the world, that’s how much it would take so that I wouldn’t have to carry the blame.
I’m a biologist, looking at genetic changes in plants. But here in the forest, I see that no plant grows by itself, only through encounters with others. All development is co-development.
Polyphony is a kind of music where separate melodies play at the same time. Like separate plants. These forms sound weird for modern listeners because they were replaced by music where a single rhythm and melody hold it all together. In rock and roll, this unity sounds like a beating heart.
When I first heard polyphony, it was a big surprise for me. I was forced to pick out separate melodies happening at the same time, and to listen for the moments of harmony and not-harmony they created together.
It’s as if I wasn’t alone. As if I was also a polyphony, a collaboration. Where would I be without Chelsea Manning? Without horses and sheep?
The word “monster” is from the Latin, meaning a portent, or a warning. Every monster is a warning to the community. Except for the ones working for the oil companies, is there a scientist left in the world who doesn’t wake up feeling that they’ve become a monster?
Today I’m carrying a rake instead of a computer. Just like you, I’ve heard the call from the experts, I’ve seen the climate samples from the Arctic, I’ve watched the forests burn and the islands flooding. And every time I do I can’t help thinking: it’s not me. It’s not happening here.
I want to look after this park. Look after my neighbourhood. But I don’t have time. I’m from the first generation that ran out of time.
When I ask my friends “What are we going to do?” they give me that face, you know the face I mean, the one that says: I’m just struggling to get through the day. I’m just trying to make it and sometimes I don’t. Can we talk about the end of the world later?
For five years I was Ani DiFranco. I would follow her from gig to gig, sometimes crashing in the same living room. I lived for those nights. And after a year, maybe a year and a half, the audiences started getting bigger, the whole thing just blew up, because people were starting to see what I was seeing. Ani wasn’t about the music, though the music was great. Ani wasn’t about being a punk dyke, though she taught me about that too. What we were doing was changing the whole system, the way we buy and sell each other.
The first person I came out to was my best friend in high school. I was really nervous but she gave me a big hug and whispered into my ear, “I think I’m gay too.” It was awesome, even though, you know, for straights they had storylines already laid out, with marriage and kids. We were a new story that had never been told before. It was scary but good, you know?
The next day, we started our school’s first ever GSA – gay-straight alliance. We raised money for the gym and the music room, even though the jocks spit in my face whenever I walked by. They were voting for the way things used to be, while we were voting for the future.
Mic check! I’m Indigo and I’m an 8-year old third grader. The staff Ms. Cunningham is doing work for free. I don’t think it’s fair that teachers are getting laid off. I think it would help me learn more if we had smaller classes. My teacher, Miss Lamar, has to shout to be heard. We also need more support for teachers. At the beginning of the year we had 32 children.
The Catholic Church was the world’s first multinational corporation, its biggest landowner, a machine for turning profits century after century. How did they do it?
The old style of power flowed from the throne. But what if this authority could be put inside each person, so that they would rule themselves? What if you could swallow a king, a manager, a judge?
And just as the separation of mind and body allowed a new kind of ruler to be born, a self ruler.
The development of self-discipline is a form of self-government, necessary in any capitalist system, where workers have to become their own bosses.
The central image of the body, repeated all over the world: a body that is ruined and bleeding, nailed to a cross, crucified, as if in answer to this question: How do you control appetite?
I keep wondering what I’m going to be able to do with the freedom that everyone keeps telling me about. I wonder what new lie I’ll have to make up now, how she’s going to have to pretend to be cool, so that men will finally leave her alone.
I’ve left men, sometimes heartlessly, with the temporary thrill you feel deleting someone’s invitation, standing someone up, vanishing into a crowd. The acute and rare pleasure of avoiding something, of disappearing into the landscape – but never the experience of surrender.
And yet: it did happen to me once, just one time and it was enough, but who hasn’t experienced that? Not knowing how to say no, not daring to say it, yielding to the mortal threat, escaping in the end by withdrawal, absence, slipping to the ground. No longer even offering him the gift of fear. No longer pretending, no longer thinking the unthinkable. Protecting oneself in shock. Leave me alone.
But mostly what’s happened is that I’ve allowed myself to be pushed around, just waiting for it to finish, preferring misunderstanding over confrontation. It’s impossible in moments like that to think that defending my body could be worth the effort, and anyways what does that even mean, “my body,” at the age of fifteen? Only this matters: not to be alone, not to be abandoned.
Angel of History
Even in the middle of the city no one sees me. I can stand next to the person who needs me most, but they walk right by. As invisible as a virus or a God.
I am the angel of history. I walk backwards, because I’m interested in what’s already happened. I look at the past, searching for clues. For me, history looks like a wound that doesn’t close. The endless war against the poor, the state managers who are just doing their job, the young men in uniforms beating up neighbours.
I want to stay in this city, awaken the dead, and restore the broken promises. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise. It catches me by surprise, so my wings won’t close. Slowly, this wind is pushing me into the future.
You have a gift for naming storms, and this one is no different. This storm, this wind, is what you call progress.
I gave a talk at the New School, and this older white woman stood up and said, “When I see the grandmother in your film, I don’t see race. I don’t see color. I see my own grandmother.” She was actually being progressive, but I immediately said, “Yeah, that’s all cool and well, but how come you can’t see color and see your grandmother? How come you have to erase something we cannot erase—our color?
The question is: how come we can’t be as black as we are and still be universal?
How come we have to refuse who we are in order for someone to be able to identify with us?
How come the audience can’t see themselves in that thing, whether it looks like them or not? It’s what black people do because most of what we see are white people. It’s what women have developed the muscle to do because mostly what they see are men. It’s what gay people are able to do because mostly what they see is hetero stuff.
It’s a muscle that everybody needs to develop: the ability to see themselves in someone else’s circumstances without having to paint that person white, make that person straight, or a man. How can you see yourself in the other?
In the relationship between story and image, I see the story as a kind of vampire trying to suck all the blood from an image. Images are very sensitive. Like snails, they shrink back when you touch their horns. They don’t have the ability to be like old pack horses, carrying wagons full of messages or morals. Although, that’s exactly what a story wants from them. I like to write in the street, or waiting for the bus. The image of the artist is open for everyone, even in the underground city, where new dreams are born.
To protect ourselves, my generation spun little nests out of TV, video games and stolen alcohol. We didn’t feel real. I often feel like I’m lifting out of my body, watching myself from above.
All the poets my age write about floating and blackouts. We want to get out of these nests and make our way down to where our bodies are. We try shoplifting and racist humour, trying to offend our way out. We get naked on stage. We try sleep deprivation and razors on our skin. We date creepy, scary sleazes who we half-hope, half-fear might do the cutting for us. But we’re so used to living inside a dream, even cutting feels dreamy.
The history of science is about groups of people cooperating, as soon as one person makes a discovery, everyone gets to share it. Maybe my love life can be more like Wikipedia, and less like Google.
The internet saved my life when I was younger. Because the world I lived in told me one thing about myself, but the bigger world told me I could be something else.
When I watch TV shows about survival it’s all about saving yourself by fighting off everyone else. But in order to stay alive as a species you have to co-operate. Collaboration means working across difference, which leads to contamination. Without contamination, we all die.
On the way to the demonstration I met a dancer, a writer, a biologist, a nun… Even an angel.
They became my second family, a family I got to choose.
Together we imagined a new language, and a new form of life.
Bureaucracy is another name for destiny. But we grew tired of the planners.
We learned to speak differently and then to live differently with each other. We led the bread riots, the protests over corn and beans. We broke down the castles, the churches and mansions. Communism wasn’t the right answer but it was the right question. We’ll never stop asking.