Now Matters

Now Matters

Hi all! Sorry to have abandoned you for so long, let me give you an update. I am deep in writing my second book, and I know I'm not supposed to get invested in provisional titles but as you may have noticed, I went and bought the domain name. If nothing else it reflects what's going on here. The name comes from the Zapatista concept of a world in which many worlds co-exist, a thousand worlds struggling to be born. I needed a name change anyway, I also subscribe to Ms. Kelly Hayes' most excellent newsletter organizing my thoughts and although collecting my thoughts did seem appropriate for the loosely organized chaos in this space, even I was getting confused by which email was landing in my mailbox.

So yes, deep in writing. The podcast series I did a couple of years ago, ambe: a year of Indigenous reading, forms the narrative backbone of this book and I've got three chapters on fiction (general, horror, and speculative) still to go. Each chapter begins with flash fiction so that's been fun to write. Plus I've been traveling all over zhemnido's green earth bringing the good news of #LandBack and surviving together to anyone interested in hearing me including my hapless Uber drivers, airplane seatmates, and anyone unfortunate enough to strike up a conversation with me. It's their own fault for asking why I'm travelling.

And all this in the midst of nationalist conflicts and genocides and the organizing that goes along with fighting them. Take heart in the fact that these protests, rallies, and incidents of direct action across the world have resulted in real policy change from a strengthened BDS movement up to countries changing course on selling arms to Israel. And before you whataboutCongo or any other conflict yes. Please. Bring them into the room, not to push others aside but to show how colonial violence around the world is connected and intertwined.

What else do I have going on.

Well. On April 26 I'll be speaking at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. My friend Leena Sharma Seth of Mending the Chasm has convened an online panel called Land Back & Liberation: Building Transnational Solidarity, April 30, that you can sign up for. I am excited to be participating along with Black, Palestinian, and Dalit speakers. My oldest son Ben and I contributed a chapter to Widening the Lens and we will be in Pittsburgh May 11 for the opening of the photography exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art. We will be leading a nature walk and by we I mean Ben. I'm walking with him, but this is his jam. May 14 I'll be speaking with the Ontario Non-Profit Network at the Toronto Reference Library and on May 30th I'll be in conversation with my friend Angela Gray about trans-racial adoption at Massy Books in Vancouver! I'm in town for the United Church Pacific Mountain Region's AGM from the 31-st to June 1. Then I'm home long enough to do laundry and it's off to Norway for the NAISA conference from June 5-9. Do come to Socialism 2024! August 29-September 1. I will probably be there but even if I'm not it looks amazing. And if you are in or near Austin, Texas September 21-24, why not celebrate my birthday with me at the Nevertheless She Preached gathering where I'll be bringing my good news about #LandBack and surviving together. whew If you are interested in booking me for a zoom or in person event please contact my agent Rob Firing. I don't mind zoom, but all the side conversations that become possible through spending time together outside the keynote or workshop are where the best stuff happens in terms of building transcommunal solidarities.

Now for the books I've been reading.

shelf of books, various colours and titles

I've probably mentioned my youngest child, because this is a blog about books and when he recommends a book I tend to get it, read it, and let it make profound changes to my perspective.

That happened with Against Purity, which transformed how I thought about the various ways that we are implicated and complicated by the systems around us. Just as the saying "no ethical consumption under capitalism" is not a call to simply give up and do whatever, Alexis Shotwell's argument in Against Purity is not to give you an excuse to just shop at Amazon and forgo buying organic because we can't be pure anyway so why bother trying. Purity is often about what makes me feel good, how can I be assured of clean hands. If your goal is a more just society, then this kind of inward facing goal is counter productive. These things are a call to think beyond purity and about the relationships that we are embedded in. What is my relationship to Amazon workers? To the migrant labour that operates under the same exploitative system regardless of the organic label[1]? To the people who live downstream of the chemicals sprayed on non-organic foods. What is my responsibility to Palestinians when the product I like comes from Israel.

Decisions to purchase or not might make me feel better, but it makes no difference to their working conditions unless it is part of an organized boycott. Even if I don't shop or purchase, I should still see myself in relationship with them and take whatever actions they ask for on their way to organizing. That's key by the way. Whatever action you take, personally or collectively, should be in line with what the workers are asking for.

Which brings me to my boy's most recent recommendation, which is a book that he has recommended several times and one that another friend has also recommended. Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now. This book has a lot against it. It's a NYT beststeller, Oprah picked it, and it's got a real New Agey vibe I'm not sure what to do with but there I was on a beach in Belize [2] having just finished Helen Knott's new memoir Becoming a Matriarch, and no internet access to download a new book. So I looked on my phone to see what I already had downloaded and there was Tolle's book. I must have downloaded it with good intentions the first time Sam recommended it to me, but then it got buried under other books and I don't much like reading on my phone unless it's the endless doomscrolling of social media. And that's not really reading.

It's actually pretty good. And connected interestingly with Knott's book as well as No Spiritual Surrender: Indigenous Anarchy in Defense of the Sacred by Klee Benally whose book I am likely going to come back to again and again so you might as well buy yourself a copy.

Knott and Benally both weave through personal and collective history to reflect on who they, and those around them, used to be and think about various futures that may or may not be open to them, but ultimately they both land on now. Knowing who I am now. What we can do about injustice now. Near the end of her memoir Knott realizes that she has been stuck in the past and needs to decide who she is now so that she can build a future instead of just repeating old patterns in new ways. Benally writes about this from a movement perspective. Yes, we have to think about the future and where we are going, but not at the expense of making a difference now.

Trauma does this to us, getting us stuck in the past so that we repeat old patterns in new ways. This is true whether we're talking about individual or collective traumas. Tolle loses me a little in his emphasis on individual pain, but as a place to begin it is valuable because we've forgotten how to live in the moment and Tolle gives us exercises and thought experiments we can do to untangle ourselves. We play those old tapes endlessly, not in any kind of useful way but just to worry the sore spot and keep it with us. What he suggests is that instead of becoming absorbed by it, we observe it, acknowledge it. Yes, that happened and it was awful. Yes, I feel anger or grief or helplessness. Observe it, don't enter it and don't argue with it. That way when we replay the tapes it allows us to learn rather than wallow. We can take responsibility for the things that are ours without becoming overwhelmed by the things that aren't.

Living in the future is another kind of trap. We either fear it so much that we live in a constant state of anxiety or we put all of our hopes in it as if it will somehow be better than our current circumstances. I wrote a very bad poem years ago about living from mountaintop to mountaintop, always looking forward to the next great moment rather than enjoying where I am now. That too is a trauma response, a way of avoiding pain by either kicking it down the road or living in some imaginary future where it doesn't exist anymore. And neither of those strategies work.

Near the end of his book, Benally writes "we are compelled to ask, What does the Earth teach us to do?" We shed the dead earth of settler time, he writes, and ask what the earth teaches us. The earth moves in cycles from season to season. Regardless of what the calendar says, spring is not the beginning and winter is not the end. Each cycle has its own capacity for life and death, for growth and decay. The water moves from river to ocean to rain to river to ocean .. It's all cyclical. Everything the earth teaches us to do is contained in cycles.

We can imagine the end of worlds, Benally says, but not the end of colonization. He wants us to remember our own stories, as Indigenous peoples, that contain stories of worlds ending and beginning. When you live in apocalyptic times, you tell apocalyptic stories. But if time is cyclical then we've been here before and our traditional stories tell us that we've been here before and it is not the end of the world. Just the end of this one. And our stories tell us how to rebuild after one world ends and another begins. We don't need a hero to come to rescue us and give us a perfect future. We don't need the chosen one, we just need to remember who we are and know that the past and future are landmarks helping us make sense of an eternal now, they are not time stamps.

History is the story we tell about the past to make sense of the present. It is not a place we can return to. It is a story we tell ourselves, and its power to shape our present is in that story. We don't have to lie to ourselves, but we can change the story. Maybe not the material facts, but the story we tell about those facts that assigns blame where it doesn't belong, that results in those feelings that threaten to overwhelm us. And the future is also a story, it is an imagining of something yet to come.

When I was first learning to drive there was construction on the highway and it had those godawful concrete barricades that are safe to drive through but feel so narrow. My father told me to look at the end, at where I wanted to be, so that I could safely navigate the corridor and he was right. I still do that. So the story we tell about the future has great impact on the now we exist in, but the past and future aren't real in the way that now is real. We may have monuments and artifacts, but it's the story we tell about those things that matters and we tell that story now. The future is just something we're looking at to help us navigate now. We can shift our gaze, tell a different story. The stories we tell can be hopeful or frightening, they can empower and disempower. We can imagine something different. But we can shift the way we understand these stories, and we can imagine something different.

Benally reminds us of the Ghost Dance, that ceremony that pulled the past into the present and imagined an unsettled future. He says, instead of imagining Indigenous futures based on Euro-sourced sci-fi utopias,we should imagine a ceremony of unsettling colonial existence. What was done can be undone, what was written by the conquerors can be unwritten by those who refuse to be conquered. We study our own stories for the lessons of emergence and we built a better now.

All we are is story. And the one we tell now matters.

  1. If you want to learn more or get involved with advocating for migrant worker rights in Canada you can check out Migrant Workers Alliance For Change. Migrant workers are not just farm workers. They do care work in homes and long term facilities, work in the tourist sector, and much more. They are kept precarious and deported when the work is done. ↩︎

  2. on a beach in Belize. Where tourists get the oceanview that locals access through their labour. I know. The worst part is I did a webinar on decolonizing the educational system while I was there and yes, I did address the absurdity of it. ↩︎