When people show you their boundaries (“I can’t do this for you”) you feel rejected…part of your struggle is to set boundaries to your own love. Only when you are able to set your own boundaries will you be able to acknowledge, respect and even be grateful for the boundaries of others. –Henri J.M Nouwen (The Inner Voice of Love)
I’m in the airport lounge in Vancouver, waiting to fly to Seattle. Twenty-five days on the west coast. Exactly what I need to resettle myself in the centre of my life. So much has happened in the last two months to destabilize me and muddy my soul-streams. I’m in the lounge dining room. All the walls are glass, so my peripheral vision is going a little crazy watching passengers moving around on all sides, walking seemingly into nowhere. There is an older French (not Quebecois) couple beside me playing Scrabble. The place is pretty crowded with travelers, in their own worlds, all in transition. The only brown faces other than mine are the women who are switching the food from breakfast to lunch. The younger one keeps smiling at me, and looks like she wants to talk. Once my hour is up for this essay I will chat with her. My table is almost holographic, covered in scalloped steel disks, and with faux mid-century red leather chairs. When I took off my sweatshirt my denim shirt had come undone under my sweater during the last flight, so I flashed everyone in here for a couple of seconds while I re-buttoned.
Yesterday was ultra disappointing, and I do want to write about it. Honestly, as much as I always intend not to make these “essays” into “diaries” it feels like the only route to impulse is through my truth. Not sure how to manage that, maybe it will transform as the weeks continue. But right now I feel quite grounded because I had a long “conversation” (meaning a written dialogue in my journal) with Shams and am coming to understand something that has evaded me for a long time. It’s connected to the chaos from essay ten, after Jarrett talked to me when he visited in Feb about how when I get what I want I’m not being rewarded by the universe and when I don’t I’m not being punished. Really, a lot of the high waves that have been happening go back to that moment, or more specifically the hallucinatory migraine from the day before. That migraine signaled something, some kind of shift for me. It’s as if a storm came into my life that night and has been whipping up waves ever since.
I also made my way through chapter four of Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway while on the plane. It is truly extraordinary. It’s only the end of April and I have a feeling this will be the book of the year for me. Partly because, as so often happens when something feels right, there is a kind of confirmation or familiarity bias where the ideas that I worked so hard to cook up in my master’s thesis are not only affirmed and extended, she also is proving them using quantum physics. It’s incredibly satisfying. That thesis, which I think I will post a link for maybe even on this blog or something, was a work I was very proud of. I still am. About four people read it (thank you, Erin!) and no one at all came to my defense (Rup tried, but he was late) but it remains the thing I’m most proud of until now, except maybe my collection of drawings. The title that Tammy and I came up with, “What Matters” is a phrase that Barad uses as a refrain throughout her book.
One of the fascinating things about chapter four is that it clarifies something I was trying, aching really, to articulate. I was looking to the phenomenologists, to surreal and improvisational artists, to poets, to biologists, ecologists to try to grasp with words something I know in my bones, my skin, my dreams. I have no formal background in philosophy other than a one hundred level course on Hobbes and Locke that I loathed and a research position for a semester at SFU under Sean Blenkinsop where he wanted Mike Derby and I to look into the biographies of Western philosophers of note to try to determine if and how the influence of the places they lived in shifted in their theoretical work. Which itself, as a project, connects to Barad’s shimmering piece. I love philosophy and critical thought, but I feel I’m always at arms length from them. Maybe that’s why these essays feel so important to me.
I became so fascinated with metaphor in my MA that I could not stop tugging and unravelling, until I wanted to build a theory of mind that centered it, and then eventually it became a kind of mini cosmology. Ah! I loved the work so much. But one thing I had to articulate to make the whole thing work was the indivisibility of the world. I got as close as I could with Merleau Ponty and his ilk, but it wasn’t close enough. I found Jan Zwicky’s work, and that was much easier to relate to, and with her frameworks and forms I managed to make something I was happy with. I got into the idea of a radical contiguity, where the edges of what is/isn’t a self shifts according to transformations/exchanges of meaning, which are determined by being/materiality. But Barad, she has it. She has it so clear with her methodology “agential realism.” She says everything is not only contiguous but interpenetrating and inseparable, and that individual traits appear for seemingly discrete phenomena only when an apparatus is included and applied which itself is also inseparable from the phenomena in order to measure certain features which themselves are not pre-existing but appear as the measurement is in process. Oh it’s brilliant. I am just barely beginning to absorb the implications. And in a sad but hopefully soon maybe funny or at least interesting way it applies to what happened last night.
In my last essay I told you about the man I met on the street. Really, he has a lovely light. Golden, healthy skin, deep soulful eyes, mature, wise, sweet, attentive. A big, deep, soulful story. A love of nature. He’s even a Virgo. We went out five times, three before I went to New York and two after.
While I was in New York I went through another cataclysmic shift, but this one of a very different kind than the migraine, though perhaps it is actually not separate (haha) but is more like downstream from the migraine. I had a miserable morning that by now is so over processed I don’t even want to share it with you. (It’s about rejection. The complex. I’m so bored of myself with this shit.) In the evening I had plans to go with Sean to the Nuyorican Poets Café. It’s a legendary spot, and I wanted to read in a slam there, just to satisfy my teenage self who would sit in my mauve-walled bedroom and look out over to the Gatineau hills and dream of New York and dream of creation, of poetry and music that I could hear in my bones, but couldn’t get out of my body. At that age I was writing poems about the colour maroon, and in a band covering the songs of Quebec prog rock band called Harmonium, and memorizing jazz solos on my trumpet.
I didn’t feel like going but we went, my self-pity dragging behind me like a sad wedding dress train. There was some pretty wild magic at work, though. Sometimes, even when I’m going in circles, if I am right with my root, with my ancestors, the world will come and blow with a fresh wind and clear up even my most personal troubles. It really does make you think that it is all moving together, only seemingly separate because of the millions of embedded apparatuses (I looked it up, Latin geeks) that cut it into its prismic millions. It makes me feel known yet wonderfully insignificant. Like an egg. Like a silver hair. Like a red leaf. Like an ocean wave. All of us. Equally nothing and everything.
We stood in line outside the famous café, leaning on the graffiti, and Patricia took my name. I was fifth. Having been to numerous slams in various parts of the world I know this is not a great spot because the audience tends to forget the early readers. Also five is not a lucky number to me. The number of challenge. The number of war. The number of the expansion and retraction of boundaries. But there it was. Fifth.
When we got in the door there was a young man standing there in the narrow hallway. I caught a tiny shiver of recognition but I ignored it. I gave the doorman my name and the boy said, Nadia? It turns out to be Emmerson. A former Power of Hope youth. And not just any youth. One that spoke at Charlie’s celebration of life. We hug. I introduce him to Sean. And he tells me that he spent the day with Charlie’s husband Eric. If he’d known you’d be here he would have come, he said. Just to hear the name of my dear late friend and mentor invoked felt like a blessing.
We go in. There is a buzz like a jungle in Goa in there. It’s the Nuyorican. I’m really here. We sit in the second row, Emmerson and his sister and behind us. We start meeting the people around us. Then the women in front of us move and we are suddenly in the front row, in the aisle, right in front of the mic. Jaime Lee Lewis, the 2016 champ opens up the show and introduces Miguel Algarìn, the FOUNDER of the Nuyorican who started it in his living room forty years ago. He reads. He reads a piece about inseparability. About what it is that collapses the distance between us. But then the question, in order for you to know what I know, do you have to see what I see? Oh, how it all fits together. Why do I try to want and control? I could never make it more poignant, more perfect, more heartbreaking, more beautiful.
Then the 1999 champion reads, and his piece is about showing up even when you don’t want to, to write. How that’s how you learn about yourself. If you write when you are inspired you will write what you know. If you write when you don’t want to you will learn what is there that you don’t want to see. I thought of these essays, of course, and of you my known and unknown readers, and how much you mean to me. To witness my unearthing here. And then the slam began.
The third contestant was Sean Clarity. I’d seen him outside. I was going to read The Disappearance of Bees, but when I heard his piece I knew I was going to do Coastline, just like my friend Sean had predicted while I was sobbing all over myself in his living room that morning. I did. As I stepped onto the stage I saw Eric Mulholland there in the back. I knew Charlie was there too. And then I realized all my ancestors were there. Staring back at me through the wild, wide eyes of all these people. And even though it was a split second, something happened. My wretched self-loathing and my deep well of power were reconciled and I regained the soles of my feet and the tip of my tongue and my dry eyes were wet and my voice was ready to fly.
When I picked up the mic I wanted to kiss it. I love microphones. I love stages. I love performing and more than anything I love audience. Even more than a room to facilitate, I love an audience. Especially a sweet, intelligent room full of NYC people of colour who love poetry and come on a Saturday night in the spring to be moved. I told them how I’d always wanted to be there and then I opened up my faculties. My aperture. I let myself fill that room to the roof, dropping words right into people’s eyes. When it was done I felt good. I felt empty and good, better than sex, better than food, not quite as good as the summertime ocean from Channel Rock, but almost as good as it gets.
The rest of the show was a journey. Each reader was simultaneously dear and earnest, fierce and ironic, funny and devastated and political and personal and illuminated and obscure and whole. All at once. A testament to the place and what it has held and remembered and forgotten all these years. There were at least seven others who could have won that night. But it was me. Jamie handed me a black envelope with two hundred dollars in it, and people said things like, I never heard anything like that, and I love your mind, and if this is a hobby drop everything else, and what kind of witch are you, and Jaime said, we’ll see you again. And Miguel Algarìn listened to me gush for a couple of minutes while I held his hand and stared at the crystals around his neck and then he kissed me on the cheek and he said, you are why we do this.
And that was it.
And that was everything.
Back to last night. The man from the street (now even if I was going to name him I cannot, because I want to out him, and that isn’t cool. I’m trying to find the edges in these essays. I want to name people, credit them with their ideas and how they influence me, but I never want this to be a place where anyone but me feels exposed) came to the house. I had had a bad flu since I got back from NYC. I’d spent the first night with him before I realized I was sick. And then we went out for dinner day before yesterday but I didn’t kiss him because this shit was virulent. But it was weird that he hadn’t gotten it. Yesterday morning I went to a clinic because the fever was back badder than ever, and the doc suggested maybe it was an STD, the kind you get even when you use a condom. So I told him, even though I hadn’t yet had a chance to be tested, and probably won’t until next week when I get to Van (when is this too much information? I kind of think I burned that bridge a while ago, but let’s see how far it can go. If this is going to be an experiment in truth and fiction, then it will have to be the whole truth, so I can get to the whole fiction). He was worried, obviously, but I was very calm (honestly, shame for these minor STDs is misplaced. I have other shame to burn through), and finally he was calm too. We went to a new Korean restaurant down the street. It was a gorgeous early evening in Montreal last night. The sun was bright and warm, but the breeze was still spring sharp. We walked slowly and chatted. I was a little put off when he said something nasty about his ex-wife. I was starting to notice that while he was very sweet to me, he was pretty rude about other people. He’d said something uncool about the man who was fixing his car, too, the evening before. But the spring and his cologne, and our chemistry had been allowing me ignore these red flags. There were some others, the week before, too. Mansplaining is pretty hilarious in general with me, and when I’m dating strangers it can get out of control. I don’t know if I mentioned this when I wrote about online dating, but I once had a diamond merchant explain international youth development work to me for an hour after he asked me what I do. I ate the entire appetizer while he went on. This guy tonight felt the need to lecture me at length about personal development and self-reflexivity, and the value of telling your story, amongst other things. For example, when we had our picnic, he carefully explained to me that the green headed duck in the pair is the male. What can I say? This is why I fall in love with my friends. The way men in general talk down to women is staggering. It’s endemic and it’s international and it’s …funny.
So we get to the restaurant. We chat with the waitress who is very cool. And then he drops it. He says, my ex used to hate it when I would talk to the people like that. Oh, I said, was she shy? She was jealous he said. And then the world slowed down like it always does when god is tired of giving me signs and doesn’t want me to miss the point again. All Latina are like that, he says. They are jealous, and they will never pay. They are all like that. That’s why I’m glad you are an Indian. I will never date a Latina. I said, that’s racist. You’re totally wrong. You can’t know how all Latina women are. He said, it’s my culture. I’m telling you. (He hasn’t lived in Costa Rica in thirty five years.) How many countries are in South America, I asked. Twenty three, he said. And you are trying to tell me they are all the same. Yes, he said. I have been to all of them. I said, that’s disgusting. You think I’m disgusting he said. We were starting to get angry. I don’t want to blame the flu for my short temper. I’ll lose it over something like this any day. I said, I have so many beautiful Latina friends. He said, are they raised here? I said no. He said, they don’t show that part to you. It’s in relationship that they are this way. I said, this is racism and sexism. He said, it’s my culture. You can’t tell me about my culture. I said, you can’t talk that way about women. It’s insulting. And you don’t represent all people from your culture. You don’t get to say nasty things about women. He said, I’m not insulting you. I said to you that Latina women are greedy and jealous. I said, you think that because you are Latino you can know every women on an entire continent? He said, why are we fighting? I can say what I want about my own people. I said because you are offensive. What are you going to say about Black people, Indians? No, he said. I don’t have bad opinions about them. Only about Latinas, I said. He said, keep your opinion, I will keep mine. I don’t want to fight. He was getting angry, his face was going red. I probably was too. I said, I’m done here. He said, good. I left the restaurant and strode home, the fever burning in my face, mingling with rage. Ever since I was a kid I’ve hated injustice, this kind of ignorance. I can’t take it at all. It may seem small to you, when this guy was so nice and so fun to be around. But for this is fundamental. This is at the root for me.
The day before, my dear dad had stepped across the old-school theory of why-aren’t-you-married line which already left me feeling pretty annoyed. His theory, I should not chase me, because they like to be the ones to make decisions in a relationship. What’s really funny about this, though, is that when I met this guy I was wearing my This is What A Feminist Looks Like hoodie that Rob Fairchild gave me. He even told me he liked it. So I guess I can clearly understand that this man had no idea what was happening, what he was saying, or where I was coming from. But I can tell you this, I have absolutely no intention of seeing him again. I went home and luckily Martin was there so I could vent a little. He reminded me that when I met this man I’d said it probably wouldn’t go anywhere since there was no intellectual connection. But I’d talked about it with Laura, and she’d helped me see that that didn’t always matter. You didn’t have to connect intellectually if you feel good and connected in other ways. And Farah, too, had talked about how no one person needs to be everything to you. And I’d read in Henri Nouwen’s Inner Voice of Love (which Evan gave to me when he had to “reject” me a couple of years ago, it’s a good one for the sore of heart) about how you don’t keep asking for everything from one person. You look to the community of love to hold you, and then that leads you deep inside yourself, and there your needs are met by the beloved. So, my guard was down. But now it’s back. Now I’m back to “love is freedom”, but this time from my own side. Love is freedom for the object of my affection, but it is also my freedom. And when someone holds tight to constricting, derogatory opinions, treats me like I don’t have a working synapse in my skull, and (I forgot to mention this) buys Nag Champa for his car because, you’ll like this it’s form India, insists that I shave in a certain way, and makes assumptions about my sexuality I don’t feel free. I feel cheap and constrained. I don’t want to date anymore, and I don’t want any more fantasy-fake crushes.
I’m feeling pretty free today. I’m free of the secret love projection fantasy I’d been holding for my friend and I’m free of the desire to have someone just to be in that space of The Lover, good sex without that deep soul connection. What happens from here? Sarah Cathrae and Sean talked to me last winter about marrying myself. I wonder here again what that means? Maybe these twenty five days of ocean, mountains, islands, work, play and breathing will tell me. I’m going to stay with Ani first. I bet she will know.