Oct 11, 2010–It’s after one a.m. I am wide awake. the radio is on. someone is playing an accordion. That’s nice. The radio show is about some plummy-voiced museum curator, hanging a show of Cezanne’s works somewhere in Europe. so i guess that’s why the accordion. you know, Parisian cafes and everything. today was thanksgiving in Canada. there’s lots to be grateful for. I didn’t have turkey today. my friend came to visit. She’s a radio producer in Toronto, a journalist. She’s going to Africa soon to work as a radio producer for UN Peacekeepers in the Sudan. wild. She was here for the weekend visiting her Aunt and Uncle, because they are elderly and she is leaving the country for two years. Maybe six months, but probably much longer. She is brave. We talked as if we had just been hanging out yesterday. You know how that is with some friends? Like that.
I love that my wee apartment is tidy enough to have people over. Another friend of mine has been coming every couple of weeks or so to help me to get the place organized and good. we have a ways to go yet, but it’s sure looking better. I can see the floor, in most spots. and i have a counter, and a desktop again. lovely. anyhow. my Toronto to Sudan friend came over. And she was lovely and kind and a bit stuffed up with a cold, and funny and sweet and kind of prickly and inquisitive, just like always. We’ve known each other for thirteen years. hm. She was a social activist. Me too, I am. Or was? can you be a social activist and an academic? I kind of think I have to be. She said I could. She said “this is what you do now,” she said that it sounds like an important thing to do, what I’m researching. She’s not the kind to say stuff “just to be nice”. no. I don’t even have friends like that.
Her description of getting this UN job was hilarious. “The UN moves in geological time” she said, “it’s glacial.” and even though everyone she has dealt with in the vast bureaucracy that is the United Nations was very polite and professional, there were hints that she is in for a wild ride. One woman said, “you will find that the hiring process will be the most pleasant and efficient of your career in the United Nations,” about the hiring process that my friend found frustrating, bureaucratic and cryptic.
Now it’s October 16 at 7:30. I’m about to go to the gym. I’m thinking of how it is we became so shaped by neo-liberalism, we can’t even see it. I was talking to another friend this week. She’s been a life-long radical feminist activist and organizer. Life-long. And she’s in her 60s now. She sees the difference. Those of us who entered the women’s liberation movement in the last twenty years don’t understand collectivity in the same way as those who entered in the 60s and 70s to the early 80s. we are kinda more individualistic. Even if we don’t really think there is such a thing as ‘the autonomous self’, we kinda behave as though we are such things.
but we can’t. so we flail. because we need each other, and we can’t really exist without being in relation to others in public. Like Hannah Arendt thought, only she didn’t think “women’s work” constituted work in the public sphere–What we think of as “women’s work”–cooking, cleaning, caring for the very young and the very old, that kind of stuff, sustaining life–Arendt thought of as “labour”–things that we have to do just to stay alive. It’s work that doesn’t produce anything else but the ability to draw the next breath. I don’t know how she made the distinction, I’m not clear enough about her thought, and I should be by now, but she was a political scientist, a philosopher, a thinker, an academic, at a time when women were very thin on the ground in those kinds of circles. She was surrounded by men. She knew of course that she was a woman, but she didn’t have much patience or understanding of the women’s liberation movement. She died in 1975. Too soon.
Anyhow, the thing is, other than that big mistake about women in general, and feminism in particular, she said that we are all very different, and we all need each other to be free–not in so many words, but we have to be attentive to each other, act in solidarity and understand that we act in public no matter where we are, even if we’re alone, we are acting in the public space of appearance to ourselves. We gain freedom by being together, or acting as if we are together, even when we’re alone. Does that make sense? It’s like we don’t really exist as individuals, our meaning comes from the web f relationships we construct by our everyday interactions and thoughts. And we could all make the greivous, banal and evil mistake of thoughtlessness, and refusing to think about or take responsibility for the consequences of our actions…Like Eichmann, the bureaucrat who organized all the trains to the death camps. To his dying day, he said, “I was just doing my job. I have nothing against Jews. I did as I was told.” How many times have we let people including our own selves off the hook by saying, “it’s my job, I have to do this, I can’t lose my job.”
I think in lots of ways my paid work as a mental health worker was like that. Kind of not ethical. kind of monstrous. I wanted peole to get well. but imagine if they all did? What then? I don’t like capitalism. i see it as a system deeply flawed, founded on degrading inequalities and hierarchies; held together by Institutions of Power that reproduce classed, raced, gendered categories so there will be workers and bosses and slaves and masters and apologists and impotent rebels and junkies and drunks and which colour pill was it in that movie, The Matrix, that made you see the pods and the war? the red pill? or the blue pill? i I forget. But whichever it was, if everyone has seen the movie, and everyone thinks that they would take the blue pill (or the red one, I can’t remember–which one was it where you got to do all those fantastic fight scenes? that’s the one I want–I want to run up the walls and hang from the ceiling and kick the shit outta the bad guys–that’s the pill I want…)–if everyone thinks they would take the pill that enables you to see the truth–why are we still here? Why are there still legions of poor and desparate? why are the transition houses still full of women and children? why are there men still strutting around with all that entitlement? Why do we the settlers still have more stuff than the people whose land we are on? what gives? nothing gives. we haven’t given. we gnash our teeth and wring our hands and hang on to our stuff. And say, “I gotta do my job, see, this is my job. ”
This is what neoliberalism has given us. Masses of people, massed all together, all feeling lonesome and all disconnected. We seem to think there is such a thing as an autonomous self. But how can there be, really? We’re nothing special. especially not alone we are not. we are pack animals, we exist only because of the lives of others, and even if we live alone, (unnatural arrangement, that), we can’t manage without having others to talk to, and to help and to be with and to care for and to eat with and to touch and to see.
My friend was here today, the woman i’ve known for nearly twenty years now, who has helped me get my home in order. This was her third time coming over. I fucking LOVE my home now, it’s so tidy (it’s still messy, but the difference is AMAZING–thank you, Terry–i can nearly cope with my life now, I can nearly imagine how to move ahead now). She lives with a roommate, for whom she cooks as well. It’s Terry’s place, and her roommate pays room and board and cleans up sometimes too. We worked together for nearly ten years, Terry and I did. And we don’t see eye to eye about things all the time, and we’ve had some conflicts, and sometimes I find her difficult and sometimes she finds me difficult and somehow we are friends. After all this time, even if she thought I was a bit of an ass, and I thought she was a bit of a curmudgeon, and I have self-righteous moments, and she’s kinda harsh sometimes, even after all this time, our broken bits fit into each other in our friendship and we have a way to be together. She helps me get my place in order, a kind of order that i can maintain, mostly. And in return, I sometimes cook for her and we talk about things, and I make her laugh and remind her of her beauty and intellect and wit. I don’t know if it’s an even exchange, but she keeps coming back to help me. And I am happy she does. Not just because my home is now habitable, either. I love that we are friends. I know our freedom is bound together, and with the freedom of other women. I can’t get too comfortable, but it’s nice to have some sense of home, and a home where i can have people over, that’s real. That’s life-saving. I can’t tell her how grateful I am that I can say to my writing group, “let’s meet at my house next week”, and that I can say to my friend from my University days ( the first time around, 25 years ago), “oh, yes come over and have a meal with me”. We are not free yet, but with this small space of hospitality, we can imagine it from here.
We are steeped in individualism and it will kill us. It is the driving ‘ism’ of the patriarchy. individualism and neo-liberalism. similar thing–keeps the power and the wealth in the hands of the fellas, the pale fellas with the thin smiles and the grasping hands. Polite, urbane, smooth and charming.
i gotta go. ‘nother buddy is having a40th birthday party today! fun. i will have to pull myself out of this worried gnawing of the neo-liberal ropes binding me to despair. cake awaits.
this is kind of a dog’s breakfast of a post. maybe there’s an idea in here to pursue somewhere…
and i haven’t had a coffee since about 10 am. maybe i’ll sleep tonight.