I promised myself once, I promised myself a thousand times, as a child that I would not run away- from my known life, from my fear, from my confusion and pain- wouldn’t run away to the shelters that adults fled to, putting as many veils of professionalism and distance between themselves and their pasts as they could, until they could safely turn around, smile, and say with complete assurance that what had been torture for them was surely “for the best” for us.
But I don’t think I understood, then, how much pressure there would be on me- I couldn’t imagine yet, the forces that would start pushing me away.
We start out gasping for air, our impossible mission: to make words of the shock of our senses, words that will transmute matter into something else, words that will become deeds that will become stone.
if we were an army
and we believed that we were an army
and we believed
that everyone was scared, like little lost children
in their grown-up clothes and poses
so we ended up all alone floating
through long wasted days or great tribulations
when everything felt wrong-
good words, strong words,
words that could have moved mountains, words
that no one ever said, we were all waiting to hear those words.
and no one ever said them.
the tactics never hatched,
and the plans were never matched,
and strange lonesome monsters loafed through the hills wondering why.
People have been fighting for so long to get free. But this is all so new to us. But we don’t want to let on that it is, we don’t want to sound naive.
I tried to learn from everyone else’s mistakes, when I threw myself into radical organizing, so I could skip the part of making my own.
It really doesn’t work like that.
But what did happen- I got so bogged down, with the enormity of it-
My god, anything I could say has already been said, anything I could feel has already been theorized a thousand times.
It was a strange sort of futility that leeched into everything.
Now I am looking for work that engages people more as whole human beings.
But there is so much to understand-
A few years ago, after a period of intense spiritual crisis, I wrote about the theoretical diversity of the people around me, and the temptation to look for a “singular truth”:
But what, I asked, if I found myself in a different environment, in a different time or place, where the atmosphere was heavily dogmatic or had some creepy single-ideology shit going on? What if I was living in something more akin to, say, Germany in the era of the RAF, or some other social setting where one could hear the long knives being drawn? ……
We treat [the Jonestown suicide cult] as an anomaly, because, after all, most of us don’t know anyone who’s done such a thing. But the truth is, that could have been any of us. ALL HUMAN BEINGS have a breaking point at which they will accept as sacred truth- not just on an intellectual but an emotional, yes, a religious level- whatever is said by whoever presents themselves as most sympathetic and capable of helping.
Been thinking about this more.
We have to slog through all these conflicting histories that aren’t our own, and decide in spite of that which ones to take up as our own, and how- If we want to get anything done, anyway.
For instance. I write now because I feel uprooted and homesick for places I have never known. I write because I want to sort out my thoughts in a place where I might get feedback on them. I feel that I have exhausted myself in the ongoing chaos of my life and allowed myself to lapse, back into being more part of imagined communities than real ones.
I want to get past this. I want to be rooted in action and discussion and study, with people with good ethics and solid analysis of the sources of social power and how human life could be reconfigured. Right now the thing I am most drawn to, that I feel would be the most helpful and educational, is to relocate to somewhere that has a strong current of revolutionary feminism going on.
But now, see, if I say “radical feminism” that means something different. That means this other movement that I wasn’t alive for most of, with its specific organizations, ideologies, and so on, that carried really fucked-up ideas towards transgenderism, reactionary treatments of pornography, and hugely unhelpful stances towards the liberation of sex workers, among other things.
So then I have to distance myself from all that and clarify my own stances on those things. When all I really meant to say was “feminism that is radical.” But then I guess I can’t just say that either, I have to explain what that means to me. To me it means freeing people from any social status determined by biology. As well as centering the conditions of those who have been most marginalized- and a militant opposition to any alienation of people’s power- any taking-away of our ability to think and act, and forcing us to use it to build a world of someone else’s design.
But I can’t just say what I want, I have to take up the language of extant social movements and define my position in relation to them, if I want to be effective.
I’m trying not to write like a pretentious shit.
When I was living in a tent I was reading the COINTELPRO Papers, thinking about how much revolutionary waves are shaped by the repression of those before them- the Palmer Raids and associated programs against the Old Left poisoning the public consciousness, defining the intellectual environment the people came-of-age in, who became the New Left. I guess I should learn what their encounters with theory were, I’m naturally curious anyway about tracing the history of ideas. And how in the later 70s, shaped by ramped-up death-by-hard-drug campaigns against the black and poor, and other ruling-class terrorism, the relationship changed between official radical organizations and loosely-defined communities of common interest / working-class consciousness. And I guess I should study what’s so damn important about What Happened After Seattle. (When the actual street fighting went down I was a nine-year-old living in my own private hell on the east coast, and when I learned about it later- I guess, finding it a bit silly to focus on “globalization” or “neoliberalism” as separate from just plain capitalism, I’ve always rolled my eyes and gone, “yeah, okay, just let me get to the real stuff!” But I guess since it changed the U.S. radical terrain I shouldn’t ignore it maybe.)
But I’m not “coming out of” a Marxist tradition, or a class-struggle anarchist tradition. Decolonization was the first language that made sense to me, because it intuitively felt like making-space, but I’m not coming out of postcolonial theory either. I’m coming out of a precarious family arrangement centered in a small suburb in the northeast, I’m coming out of years and years dominated by useless reactionary “theraputic” situations, swarms of naive liberal teachers and vicious children.
but if you want a revolution
return to your childhood
& kick out the bottom
be able to change
yr own internal chemistry
walk down the street
& flash lights in yr head
this is not a game
is the foundation
of the system-
I would like to finish reading This Bridge Called My Back when I can. I haven’t been processing written information all that well but the essays in the section called “Roots of Our Radicalism” seemed especially resonant-
And this is where I repeat- that I don’t only identify with conscious anti-capitalists. There are lots of communists who are perfectly good people but whose motivations are far different from mine- which took me a while to understand. And I’m returning to how very important it is to see each other at the level of most-basic intentions, most-basic desires. Which I sometimes find that I share more with non-politicized people, and we recognize each other as fellow travelers.
But I need the company of revolutionaries, I need people who can join me in picking apart dominant discourse, just because there’s so much of it, I need people who delve into the same studies as me, to examine how the fuck we got here so fast, and what has historically been shown to be effective for getting us somewhere more free and human.
So what am I really recommending that we do? Since we want to root ourselves in processes and ideas beyond our immediate, subjective experience- but don’t want to trust outside forces, even forces of liberation, to *represent* our experiences, and we don’t want to lose ourselves in the historical baggage of the resistance movements we inherit- so tangled, so contradictory, born under such enormous pressure, so often bearing such deep birthmarks and scars of the old world even as they struggle to breathe the air of a new one.
Do I think we should just spend more time talking to each other about how we came to our different visions of liberation, and how that journey changed our relationship to the communities of our origin? (Communities in the most utilitarian sense of people we shared our time and life and work with, those we were maybe expected-to-be-like, but not assuming any positive attachment.) I think about intentionally bringing people together for the purpose of exploring this, something like the model that feminist consciousness-raising circles used. But then I think such structure might wind up being just more insular talk in radical subcurrents already struggling with isolation. Definitely, though, I think this is a major thing we should take the time to examine.
Myself, I remember only a huge tangle of betrayal- constantly screaming trying to throw off something that writhed under my skin like a faulty blood transfusion, every cell in my body rejecting it and trying to get the wrong-thing out. Being unable to find either language or co-conspirators– and to conspire is only to breathe, together, is the only alternative to asphyxiation. I still haven’t made full sense of it, letting its unprocessed shadows lapse into a kind of mythic Back There. But I’ve carved a niche for myself and gained confidence in my ability to defend people’s autonomy.
Still- as the immediate urgency faded- as I found my footing and breathed a sigh of relief, that I could at least do something right- have I substituted the possible goals of social movements for my own goals? (Which were much scarier because they had felt so impossible for so long, because they were so weighted down with the establishment accusations of infantile madness, and because they seemed less defensible because they lay beyond the province of speech.) I think, to a degree, I did- but once this is recognized it can be remedied.
Again, we are thinking-things that need maps to survive- creatures who could not stop theorizing if we tried. But theory has limits to its usefulness, and if we want to help each other get free we should accept that limit- the point beyond which we can only say that if something feels wrong it probably is.