Iron-rod necks & blackberries

This post is an original-format one, by which I mean I am writing to find out how I feel. This is my blog and always was. I know everybody likes me at my ‘dissecting Islamophobia’, and I don’t ask you to love me at my ‘exploring sadness’, but I will not suppress it for you. To be honest my mind has been in many other places than dissecting Islamophobia this summer. I am kind of hoping that if I just letting my fingers tap away those different places will come together in a way that makes sense. And yet, I can’t deny that Islamophobia – and racism, and colonialism, and gender – is constantly a texture of these other places, the landscape, if you will.

Something I have been thinking about a lot is pain. I’m talking about this as a human, and I think all humans have at least some right to talk about this; some experience, some knowledge. I’ve been thinking a lot about bodies and how they hold pain. I’ve been massaging a lot of necks, strange as that may sound – it’s not very strange to me though. I’d love to read more about decoloniality and massaging because I’m sure there is so much to say. I love the feeling that my body has knowledge that my conscious mind does not. That I can trace up a muscle in a neck and know, intuitively, where there is pain. It feels like a sort of super-power. It’s not as if I am new to this, only that I have spent a strange amount of time this summer doing it. I’m no expert, I just feel drawn to the places people are holding things. I feel a desire to purge them, drag them out, dissipate, dispel, dissolve. I think the other reason I enjoy that feeling of squeezing the hardness out of a neck is that I rely so much on words that when they can’t convey important things, I value having another way to say them.

I’ve been wondering about how much pain a body can hold and I’ve been wondering how different our bodies would be if they didn’t hold it. I know women with necks as hard as iron rods and shoulders like tree trunks. At some point that was a laughing point for us, but I know that it’s a sort of double-think that we think that the more you suffer, the stronger you are. Sometimes I wonder if we think that just because women of colour have only ever been able to narrate ourselves this way – as strugglers and survivors. And sometimes I think it may be because we have actually been that way.

I got reading about trauma lately. It’s almost funny how eerily the symptoms of trauma map out onto the women and elders in my life. I had always thought there were these kooky personality-traits that ran in my family, or amongst immigrant families, or amongst people with working-class backgrounds. But I guess it makes sense that hypervigilance, easy panic, repetition of stories that follow the exact same frame-by-frame, feeling-by-feeling mode, and entering trance like states are actually to-the-T signs of trauma. It’s almost funny.

I’ve been thinking about how racism is just one constant trauma really, isn’t it? And how traumatised people have had to care for other traumatised people all the time, especially women. About how being a woman of colour is therefore really just a constant state of living trauma. How if you were an immigrant child who grew up with the threat the National Front were going to burn your house down every night and your father stayed up with a cricket bat by the door every night, and you saw brown men being beaten up every week, and you ran down the same road home from school every day, and then you raised children yourself – never having had the chance to feel safe in between, in fact, having the fear of those helpless moments happening again being confirmed – that maybe it’d be a messy situation. And that if you were an immigrant child but now you’re an adult and you take care of immigrant elders who stayed up with cricket bats by the door every night and barely spoke about any of their fears all their lives, and who have to shut down conversations they simply cannot have – how that may be a little difficult. And how if you now lived in a situation where you still can’t feel safe, where your emotional and psychological trust has been betrayed by everyone you’ve known intimately and everyone you haven’t, and your children learn to be hypervigilant because they carry all those stories, and their own stories, and you all carry the stories of the other families, the other boys, the other girls, the other women, the neighbours, the children, the friends, the cousins, the ones down the road, the ones in the news – all the other ones who make you feel helpless again and again and again – you’d never have had a space to heal.

And I’ve been thinking about healing. Or maybe thinking about how little I know about it or what it looks like. About the fact that so much of what I’ve thought healing or processing was/is has just entailed spilling stories over other people and them leaking and us leaking and all of us leaking together. I’ve been thinking about why it feels so important to wash my hands after massaging a neck and why it feels like my wrists are still holding something. I listened to a podcast yesterday where I was reminded that our bodies – particularly people of colour’s, particularly women of colour’s – were made valueless through colonialism and capitalism, rendered merely tools of production – useful only when serving, and useless when done. I know that part of healing lies in those moments when my hands are pressing into the soft/hard skin of a neck and telling a body that it has rights, too, that it deserves to be well. I wish I could excavate these women – slice them open and melt down all the hardness and take out all the unnecessary baggage. Although, what is unnecessary baggage? Maybe migrant women from the colonies are so afraid/traumatised about losing their things the first time that they hold onto all the baggage, necessary or not.

I had a conversation lately which made me feel bad. I was wondering why I felt so bad about it for a few days until I realised it was a miscommunication, an error. There was an assumption, not explicit, but present, that unless my labour was productive in the ways deemed productive by this person, it wasn’t productive. The issue is that I’ve been putting a lot more value into massaging necks than I think most people know to do. And I’ve been realising that unless you know, you don’t know how long it takes to talk about some things. Unless you do know, or you forgot, which you might – you don’t know how long some conversations can take – those conversations that can take months and years. Where everybody is talking but not to each other, just at each other, having separate conversations, trying to have them together; conversations everyone holds inside their stomachs and their jaws and their necks and that no one really falls asleep in the middle of. I guess I felt bad because I was asking myself if it really did matter what I was doing if it wasn’t quantifiable. But some of the most important things I have ever done are unquantifiable, and certainly unremarkable in a world which remarks on the strangest of things.

I had another conversation recently which made me feel strange. We got talking about people who critique ‘the system’. I was trying to empathise and so I followed the argument that a lot of people critique ‘the system’ without proposing alternatives. But I got confused. Is a critique only valuable if it can offer an alternative? And doesn’t that very assumption misunderstand that a critique may not necessarily be asking for replacement, but destruction, or removal, or extraction, or reparation? Is it not a form of complicity to ask someone to hold back their critique? Surely any ‘alternatives’ to ‘the system’ can come only through resistance – and have! Surely to criticise criticisms for not providing immediate solutions to centuries-in-the-making violences is to misunderstand your own world? Or maybe I am just being defensive, or an optimist – which is funny if true.

I have been thinking a lot about how often we/I forget God. I’ve been reminding a lot of necks that I’ve been massaging that we have to remember God. That we have to live like we really do remember. And I want to remove the ‘like’, and live in the presence of God – because we are. And I wonder what our bodies would look like if we didn’t forget that. I wonder who the people I love would be if they/we didn’t forget, and if they/we weren’t holding decades, generations and centuries of trauma in their/our bodies. I wonder who they/we would even be without trauma? Would I recognise them/us without it? And I wonder whether if those bodies let go of pain what they might make space to hold instead?

I have been thinking about the strange rituals that make a home a home, or a thing a part of your life. Like the door-handle that doesn’t actually work, or the certain angle you have to press at for an appliance to work. I’ve been thinking about the ones that are strange and stem from traumas that we don’t think are traumas. Like the normalised paranoias that I’m sure haunt many more households than just my own. The accepted fears and assumed levels of unsafety that also just become ritualised parts of a home being a home. I wonder what our home would be if we felt completely safe.

I was walking walking walking recently. And when I do that I do feel very much in the presence of God. And I felt it, then – the miracle of the world and life and my beating heart and my ability to breathe and think and feel and love and put my hands on womens’ necks. And I was thankful in that way you only can be when you realise fully, and probably only momentarily, that nothing is your own or due to your own doing. And I remember asking out loud what it would feel like, or what it would look like, for us to feel truly free in this moment? What it would feel like to feel truly safe and loved? And no one really responded but we picked a lot of wild blackberries and I thought that was truly amazing that we could do that.

Anyway, the point is, everybody is in pain and nobody I know seems to know what to do about it. And I’m wondering what it would look like for our communities to actually heal. And what sort of world it would take for us to be financially, politically and socially safe and secure enough to be able to heal? And I wonder why it has to be that way round? But I find myself believing that that world is worth fighting for even if I don’t know what it looks like in the slightest or how to get there. The same way I will keep massaging those iron-rod necks even if they feel the same the next day. I find myself realising that that world I cannot imagine but believe in is inextricably bound up with me at my ‘dissecting Islamophobia’ as well as my ‘exploring-sadness’. That if I am only interesting at my ‘dissecting Islamophobia’ but not when I am massaging women’s necks or having month-long-conversations, or picking wild blackberries to remember God – then there are questions to be asked about whether we really think we can resist without loving one another and seeing one another; and whether we can resist without also trying to heal in the process, and whether we can resist without loving the women in our lives, deeply, truly and painfully – because I fundamentally question the value of anybody’s work if it hasn’t involved massaging a woman’s neck today.

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