A Foretaste of the Autumnal Winds: Change is A-Comin’

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I took that photograph while waiting for my partner’s graduation ceremony to begin. It was a good 2 months after I graduated and received my Master’s degree, and being back on campus forced me to reflect on my experience in graduate school. It was painful and I had to “fix my face” (so to speak) and enjoy the moment. No doubt, I was proud of my beloved and his accomplishments.

The year 2013 has been… complicated. In many respects, I am much better off than I was between the years 2010 and 2012. I am now finished with my schooling, and I am doing the work I love while living in a fairly accessible city. If you had told me a year ago that I’d be living in Chicago as a recently graduated Master’s student, I would not have believed you. Honestly, when I applied to graduate school programs, I was looking some way, any way out of the doldrums. The years 2010 and 2011 were a dry spell, of sorts. In a lean period, one learns to conserve their energy for the essential and disregard the rest. I am still learning that lesson, even as my current circumstances are kinder.

It is now September, and the days begin earlier as they cool down. The slight breeze offers a foretaste of the coming autumnal winds. The apples and squash promise mouth-watering culinary experiences. Internally, I find myself turning further inward. My priorities have shifted as I’ve come to accept that social change is slow, and that the tireless labor that saps one’s life energy won’t change a mite. It will never be enough to rage against structural inequality- especially not if that rage is turned against one’s loved ones and neighbors. So instead, I tend to my internal gardens. Do I have what I need to survive? Is my self-care holistic? Do I have a home to return to when the day’s work is done? Is my intentional community kind, generous and loving?

I think, that’s where I went wrong. I sought community among people who saw me as potential competition. It’s hard to be open and honest with someone you see as your competition. The individualistic ethos of ‘internet feminism’- particularly among liberal, Western feminisms- does not lend itself well to intentional, caring community. Instead, the logics of capitalism (and neoliberalism, with heavy focus in “social capital”) drive the formation of cliques. Those who offer an immediate benefit are welcome, and all others may remain on the periphery. I went wrong when I thought I could find like-minded, justice-minded people who could suspend their ego-driven, internecine conflicts to form accountable community. Instead, I found cliques, selective outrage, politically calculating “call-outs,” cold blades plunged into my back and cyberbullying.

If anything, 2013 has taught me a lot about people. People are flawed. People can always do and be better, regardless of their subject position and social conditioning. I have an unwavering belief in the possibilities of betterment, but I am not holding my breath for people to ‘do right by me.’ In fact, I’m not even sure what justice looks like anymore. Without decolonizing our selves (a constant, conscientious labor) and our institutions (which might mean dismantling them), I’m not sure if ‘justice’ is possible. If we continually reproduce the patterns and practices that shape our subjection, we cannot expect change. This is the point I made about “call-out culture” in a previous blogpost.

Aside from that, I have rather enjoyed the change of the seasons (literally and metaphorically). Years ago, I told myself that it is necessary to bless people out of your life, just as it is to bless them into it. That is still true. This summer, I blessed a lot of people out of my life. No hard feelings, but sometimes it is necessary to part ways. “I wish you well,” was the last message I sent before I deleted another number from my phone. I said that with all sincerity, too.

If I could sum up where I am now, I’d say that I am at a precipice, unsure where to step, but certain that another adventure lies ahead- an adventure I’ve been prepared for.

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