Monthly Archives: December 2013

Early in 2013, I was enormously privileged to attend a series of events dedicated to the legacies of Audre Lorde. Organized by the Community Arts Practice (CAP) Certificate Program and the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, in conjunction with Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto, the series included a film screening, several lectures, and an exhibition of artwork and performance by members of CAP. The inaugural event was a lecture by Professor M. Jacqui Alexander of the Women & Gender Studies Institute at University of Toronto. Titled “Medicines for Our Survival: Indigenous Knowledge and the Sacred,” the lecture has resonated in my heart and mind throughout the year and has grounded me in a new understanding of my work.

Practically, Prof. Alexander inspired my increased involvement in political struggles for justice within my Faculty and University. From an institutional perspective, this has taken the ‘recognizable’ form of committee membership on our Faculty’s relatively new Equity Committee. More personally, it has involved learning from, struggling alongside, and sharing with colleagues and comrades – faculty, students, and staff – who are committed to social justice beyond the boilerplate languages of ‘equity and diversity’ and in opposition to the violences justified in the name of ‘inclusion.’ Many of these folks, including Prof. Honor Ford-Smith were directly involved in getting Prof. Alexander up to York for her rare public lecture. Many more, including Prof. Jin Haritaworn, have been deeply involved in struggles for justice both preceding and after their arrival to FES. I name Profs Ford-Smith and Haritaworn because I have personally witnessed their incredibly hard work to organize and support struggles for justice at the intersections of race, class, ability, sexuality, and gender. In short, they help make FES (and Toronto) a fabulous place to agitate for justice.

More directly related to Prof. Alexander’s words that March evening, her discussion prompted me to start the process of thinking about legacies of colonialism and racism as they relate to my own work on urban ecologies of gentrification. This has involved learning how to draw politically honest intersectional connections to both activist and scholarly work that heretofore were not a part of my intellectual or political practices. It has involved a lot of parallel reading of both scholarly work and blogs, online archives, and political texts that travel under headings of women of color feminisms, anti-colonial struggles, critical race studies, disability studies, and trans studies. Among my favorites this year were a text that should be considered a classic of queer ecologies, Eli Clare‘s Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation (2009 [1999], South End Press; I highly recommend listening to the free MP3’s of Clare reading the text) and M. Jacqui Alexander’s own book, Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred (2005, Duke University Press), particularly the chapter called “Anatomies of Mobilization,” which tells the story of a struggle organized by a coalition of faculty, staff, and security guards at the New School in NYC. Their movement contested dominant oppressive frameworks of ‘diversity’ in a range of institutional practices including, notably and strikingly for this courageous chapter, the hiring of Prof. Alexander to a temporary position there.

The process of getting to know histories of struggle both within and beyond my immediate institutional and personal context has been necessarily slow for me. The temporality of this learning reflects the work it takes to listen and position myself as a white, queer, male-identified person who is routinely enabled and privileged by my institution. The ‘slowness’ of this work also reflects a resistance to the isolation and over-specialization that permeates the PhD journey; in my most grounded moments, I see this slowness as a refusal to work with the ‘speed’ and ‘efficiency’ required to become a depoliticized competitive PhD-candidate. Using Alexander’s terms, I would say that the path of building ‘communities of difference’ and making ‘intelligible worlds’ is not paved in advance of our walking it, even if it is well worn by the many people who have traveled ahead of us.

As this work has unfolded, I have recalled and drawn strength from my earlier social justice organizing experiences. When I was living in Prospect Lefferts Gardens/Flatbush (Brooklyn, NY), I got involved with a group of community elders and long-time residents who were trying to rebuild the fledgling Neighborhood Association in a way that build on the long histories of social justice and civil rights organizing. My comrades in this struggle ranged from white women university professors (one of whom was involved in the New School struggle that Prof. Alexander writes about), young mixed-race hetero-families whose renovated apartments brought newcomers like me to the neighborhood, an elderly white man who moved into the neighborhood while it was still redlined and who was directly involved in the civil rights struggles for integration and reconciliation, an inspirational and brilliant queer woman of color pastor from the local church, as well as many renters, homeowners, business operators, and youth from the neighborhood. We struggled to create an organization invested as much in the ‘safety’ of the neighborhood as in contesting aggressively gentrifying development projects. We did not always agree, but we created an environment in which difference and dissent grounded our process. Along the way, I learned quite a bit about listening, respect for elders, and the complexities of negotiating different political struggles alongside knowledges and practices of the sacred.

Perhaps the last point – a politics which does not shy away from the sacred – grounds what I found so profound about Prof. Alexander’s lecture that night. Prof. Alexander opened her talk with gestures of sacred ritual and with an acknowledgment of the land claims to the territory on which we were located. She then took us on a journey that called all of us to a specific awareness of our work. Cultivating an enraptured audience, Prof. Alexander drew our attention to what we need most and want least: the truth, which she said there is often ‘an allergy’ to in the academy. Honoring Audre Lorde, she spoke of the uses of the erotic as power and reminded us that sharing in the same life force is not about sameness. It is very difficult to capture the energy of the room, which, among other reasons, is perhaps why Prof. Alexander asked that nobody use a recording device other than a pen and paper to document her lecture.

Among the many memorable moments of testimony, storytelling, and analysis that comprised “Medicines for our Survival,” one has become an important part of my own survival throughout the perilous process of PhD professionalization. At a certain point, Prof. Alexander told us, quite simply, that she was present in the room doing her work. She followed this profoundly simple statement of purpose by saying, “And I am here to ask you: Are you doing yours?” To answer this question, she told us, we would need to know who we are and why we came. We would need to summon the courage to stand up to our academic peers, advisory committees, department heads, and Deans when they imposed upon us a vision of what ‘our work’ should be. We would need, most of all, to ‘sacrifice speed for scrutiny.’

From here, Prof. Alexander told us a bit about the methods and pedagogy she uses in her courses. In one of her courses, she explained, she asks students to connect with a medicinal plant, to make the plant a subject of their work, to explore how and why the plant has chosen them. Having only recently come to consciousness about my desire to write with and through plants, this moment deepened the impact of Prof. Alexander’s already moving lecture beyond what I could have expected. She called us to ‘think, learn, love, grow, and possess ourselves.’ This call – and the context and work that went into opening the space for it – has nourished my purpose and process more than I could have imagined.

Over the last 9 months, I have brought myself back to Prof. Alexander’s lecture many times. As I have written with and about Tree of Heaven, I have had to wonder how and why this particular plant found me. I have had to wonder how to honor the moment of truth in which I was encouraged to follow a surprising intellectual and political path lined with its newly sprouting saplings. What will I find there? What have I found without looking? What has this plant revealed about my own ignorances? My own history?

I have had to wonder how to continue to follow this path despite the reality that it has demanded a far more rigorous practice of truth-seeking and truth-saying than I could have imagined as part of this process called ‘doing a PhD.’ In fact, as Prof. Alexander so powerfully attests to in her work, academic spaces are often hostile to just such practices.

The work of making an alliance with Tree of Heaven has been both a literal and metaphoric opportunity for me to nourish and ground my participation in struggles for justice both in and as ‘my work.’ When it comes to discovering and understanding the surprise of ‘my work,’ I can’t think of a more important moment from this (or any) year than Prof. Alexander’s lecture. An indisputable moment of truth, “Medicines for our Survival,” has led me well beyond the requirements of completing my program to struggles for justice, intelligibility, and recognition. The ground on which these struggles unfold – one might say the nature of these struggles – long predates my arrival. So far, the partisans and proliferators of these struggles have been beyond generous in welcoming me, in challenging the terms of my arrival, and in leaving space for my clumsy process of coming to full awareness of oppression. My work, then, begins by accepting the invitation to rigorous self-inquiry and by taking responsibility for the state in which I accepted it.

Toronto, Winter 2013; Credit: Darren Patrick

Back in January 2011, just a few months after QUE was born, I wrote a piece called The Erotics of Drainage. Inspired, in part, by Bruce Nauman’s Body Pressure (1974), this was my first attempt at writing a method of everyday embodiment.

At the time, I was living in a decadent Victorian house near Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park. The house had the most magnificently large bathroom, complete with a freestanding tub. Having spent the previous year living in Hungary in what amounted to a one-star hotel room with a stall shower scarcely large enough to contain the flow of water, I had forgotten the discrete pleasure of a long hot soak. So, inadvertently channeling Laura‘s Waldo, I took to bathing as a sort of auto-erotic practice of body work. (For a queer reading of Laura, see Lee Edelman’s [1994] chapter “Imagining the Homosexual: Laura and the Other Face of Gender” in Homographesis: Essays in Gay and Literary Cultural Theory)

As the 2011 post established in the format of a set of instructions, the bath (or ‘a drainage’) became something of a method not just for relaxation, but also for the exploration of erotic architectures – articulations of my body with the sound and force of the old house – as well as a way to experiment with self-dismantling and reconstruction, both of which circulated around experiential engagements with weight and density.

Despite no longer taking daily baths, the method retains a cohesion which means that I can no longer simply ‘soak for a few.’ Instead, each bath is another instant in the series of moments which consist in their own temporality – a long embodied performance for nobody. Each drainage witnesses changes in my body and consciousness. This summer, I engaged the method in Italy, where I experienced a particularly powerful drainage culminating in the temporary detachment of my penis: It just floated away down the drain with the last of the water, leaving a small purple patch of skin in its place. Being temporarily freed from this part of my anatomy felt liberating, giddy, lightening; like the method was working on me. Unfortunately, after I stood up, it came back.

I have also tried the method in my new house, where, despite having a much smaller bathroom, I am fortunate to have a luxuriously deep tub. While I typically don’t write reflections on the drainages anymore, I did come across a journal entry from Fall 2013 which seemed worthy of reporting as a ‘state of the method’:

Every time I have a bath I am reborn into the weight of this body.

Senselessly hot. My heart races while my face sweats, desperately trying to cool me down as my legs, too wet with the water of first entry, refuse evaporation in the smoke thick steam filling the tiny tiled room. I am relaxing after a long day. If (and only if) my muscles give way to bone, I am lucky to float a little bit, legs jacked up on the faucet side of things, ass pointed out, yielding to nothing but senselessly hot.

A tiny bit of residual piss is the only new matter here; the bath is an art of diminishment. I promise to try to make it until the evening offering has burnt through, but I didn’t turn that damned noisy fan on so the air is overly thick with molecules of bergamot, clove, orange, nutmeg. Without the usual meditation, I let go of the golden thread of breath long enough to thoughtlessly turn the stopper. My only important decision is when to drain. From now, I take only one position, again floating 4, in a figure four turned on its side. [symbol].

A plumber came last week and snaked my drain so theres no sweet slowness. No. Water doesn’t wait now, it flows fast and, with some conversational level of sound, becomes waste. The wasted parts of today. The last flecks of my poorly peeled nail polish from this weekend’s drag.

No bubbles today to fizz and tickle my exposed parts. Once the water is out, leaving only a tidal pool on the small of my back, I’m just a wet body. I still hear the liquid sound of my heartbeat as if under water; my veins lined with innumerable tiny ears each pulling my attention in bump bump starts. But the usual attention to that rhythm soon fades back into my perpetual background ringing; a legacy of loudness, a tattoo heard but never seen.

My eyes are open now – maybe they were before, but not to see – and now they seek out some line. From my sacral nubs to the occiput, I break the curve of my spine, turning my head toward the opaque window, magnesium orange light diffused through slowly dripping tidal waves of condensation. Hundreds of tiny rivers making vertical terrain against a towering line of polypropylene bottles.

I do not – can not – move. My mind is rushed upon by these words. They’re seeking a line of escape from the bottom of the tub, but I only want to go back under wherever I am now that words replace water in this tub. They are already trying to drain themselves onto the page that is in the other room, empty in my notebook.

I still can’t move. Don’t move. Don’t want to move. I’m coming back now. Wondering if the offering is done now. Its smell still hangs heavily in the steam rising from my slowly drying body, but I cannot see where it sat because my legs have fallen open like a book with only one page in it, unsure of whether to fall this way or that. My spine is rolled out again, unbroken, pressing quite firmly into the shell of the tub. The pain of this weight, uncushioned, becomes a motivation. Still, I don’t move. I have no idea how long, but wondering makes me know: almost long enough.

I start to consider the move. Once it happens, I can’t start again or stop because the work is too hard. My muscles don’t plead, they simply refuse to animate bone. If I could float out, if I could float! But I am almost a little bit dry and the clove resin is raining back down on me, making me want to vomit and that can’t be my first move. So, I start with my hands.

I lift them from my ribcage where they had been resting, wings folded in, one hand over the other, keeping my heart contained, calm, beating its liquid stop and go sympathy. Now its an internal rhythm again and I’m stuck with the external so I reach for the outside of my knees and begin to close the book, which, indifferent to the pages, creaks from my hip until my knees meet. I release their heft to the right. This space is small and deep and not configured for elegance.

My movements are interrupted by the sputtering of rubber wet skin pulling against the still shallow eddies of the tub floor. Movement is not easy. It involves enormous and minute effort. It involves immense coordination. I may not get out, I may sleep here until I am too cold. Then B might think I’m dead. He usually leaves the bath full when he gets out “To dissipate the energy so it isn’t wasted” and I’ve not done that, of course.

I will not sleep, I am already folded as an absurdly large fetus in a water broken womb, hard edged and unwelcoming; I’d rather not, I’d really rather not. You’ll pardon the image because its me in the tub now, not Oedipus. This is nobody’s fault. All reprieves are temporary, so don’t blame the method.

I start to push. It doesn’t work at first; I feel too heavy on my own tender joints. With a swift inward breath, I push again and I am on all fours, head heavy, always the last to go, I’d leave it if I could, but, now, thats really the decapitation fantasy; not about suicide at all, but about the monstrosity of having this head demanding uprightness.

With an unplanned ease, mismatched to the moment, I grip the sides of the tub and swing my feet beneath me. Noodling my spine to vertical, meeting the window written map of condensation trails, I am, once again, too heavy to be still.

Stepping out, I furtively grab my towel. There is little left to dry that wasn’t already taken by the smoke sweet mist, now vapor, soon to be evacuated by the exhaust fan, rumbling. Another escaping particle.

I to bed.

The drainpipe will be relieved that the water’s scheduled to be shut off tomorrow.

Kshyama's Attic

a collection of political and personal thoughts, poetry, prose.

luke dani blue astrology

coaching | classes | intuitive guidance

Naked Heart

The LGBTQ Festival of Words

incroci de-generi

tra classe, razza, genere e specie

Sky Writer

Donna Cunningham's Blog on astrology, healing, and writing.

Yanis Varoufakis


Open Geography

Open is an adjective and a verb


Non lasciare che la scintilla venga del tutto spenta dalla legge - Paul Klee -

Working-Class Perspectives

Commentary on Working-Class Culture, Education, and Politics


films by Kami Chisholm

Picket Parade

Voices and Stories from the 2015 York Strike Lines

Heal to Strike

Refuel at Mobile Strike Therapeutics

Cento Trattorie di Bologna

La guida con le migliori trattorie e ristoranti di Bologna. Dove mangiare i tortellini, le tagliatelle e le lasagne più buone della città. Un brasiliano in giro per cento trattorie bolognesi, attento anche alla bilancia!

Like a Whisper

Feminism, Critical Race Consciousness, Queer Politics, & Dr. Who Too?!?

%d bloggers like this: