Humph. Once upon a time, there was a lively elasticity to the way I received and understood ideas; now I've become hard and often forceful. Why is that? But then again, as an adolescent, I was strictly humanist, simplistically relativist, universalizing experience to the injury of my intellectual development. Now, seeing is harder, I suppose; it must, I must use a multi-focus lens or else something crucial gets airbrushed. Sometimes I get cross-eyed, forgetting to rest here, in my other body, in its curves, its recesses, the potential embodied by writing....
Last weekend, I attended "Practicing Transgression: Radical Women of Color in the 21st Century," a conference celebrating This Bridge Called My Back, a landmark publication since it critically disseminated--not tokenized and thus rendered inert--the stories and perspectives of non-white women living and operating within the US. The participants, the fabulous Mimi among many brilliant-crazy others, discussed the two decades since that publication, exploring the issues pertinent to all women of color: the transnational prison industry, mass sterilization of populations that corporate America considers a threat, the citizen-subject in the 21st century, the danger of assuming women of color as self-evident identities, and the critical need for multi-issue organizing. Ever the academic, I scribbled in my much-abused notebook, excited to bear witness to the concrete ways by which abstract concepts manifest themselves, the ways politics impact our lives, the ways we can impact politics; we are, as Aristotle insists, political animals.
At one point, thinking idly about credit cards, I grasped, if for a moment, the ways the abstract informs lived experience. Still unemployed, I recently acquired a credit card for emergencies; it's not real money, but sometimes it feels like it, especially when the credit card has been accepted by a restaurant or grocery store. Still, an automatic, real-time, real-space transfer of cash never-ever occurs, only numbers juggled around and exchanged on the terms of a multinational corporate banking system; all speculative, really, this money that I may or may not have. This glimpse reminded me of the job search at hand, the discomfort I feel towards the imperative of advertising my assets, i.e. my profit-making abilities, to prospective employers. How much am I worth per hour? And what societal roles will I be limited to because of that perceived worth?
Mind-boggling, really, to think about the ways in which capital moves, disguising the slipperiness of values that contribute to the seeming arbitrariness of my worth as a human being, a worth dependent upon luck and upbringing. And, really, how much of luck and upbringing is historically conditioned? So fucked-up, isn't it, that these meanings become lived, often to the detriment of the individuals and communities that live them daily! (Note to self: return to Marx, soon.)...
But, duh, I should have already been able to imagine these relationships, but there are a lot of things that are still new to me. Sometimes I don't think I know anything until I've lived it; perhaps that's why I am repelled and drawn to fiction, why I worry so much over my own making of it, although I seem to make it all the time, in real-time and real-space.
Everyone I know or have known become characters: Mummy, Mel the Brave, Niva the Beautiful, the Girls, the Chef, the Physicist, the Roommate, etc. And as a young Cambodian woman navigating heart and mind in the US, I encounter the rules of navigating a racist, sexist, highly capitalist society. Although at first I am angry and sad at these rules and the ideologies that they are founded upon, I am often astounded by the exceptions, the tricks that family, friends and I have accrued over time and space, the innovations and ironies we discover and acculturate, because we must, because there are few resources allowed to us, unless we go to university. Even then, we must be mindful that, as it was quickly discovered after the dot-com industry boomed and busted, the self-made man really is a myth.
Guess I am learning the vagaries and interdependencies of place: how home and nation can become repressive and how place can be, when you experience it with friends who know where you have been and where we might go, truly libratory; the rules are not fixed. Each innovation discovered, each trick employed, each transgression committed will, as vital part of a system counterpoint to all-exploitative capitalism, resists and breaks down these rules and, eventually, the system that would annihilate us.
Remember how I started this missive wondering why I thought I could see so much before? Perhaps what really happened was that I could see a lot, but only the surface of things; I was a literalist in my adolescence for I believed, naive, in the faces shown to me. Why would anyone or anything try to hurt me?
Now, in the twilight of my adolescence, after all the friendships, the misunderstandings, the heartbreaks, the plans gone awry, the dreams that have failed, the fiction that is always in-process, I am closer to grasping irony. Under the surface circulate motives and intentions now suspect, ideologies to strip bare of its pretenses. Through reading and writing, I learn the art of irony, if clumsily, an art that has become a necessary strategy in this new decade of especially repressive corporate-state politics. Become a Trickster, rather than a Fool among Fools, ya know?