Hi Community! In order to continue the rich and important dialogue about self care and community care, here is another heartfelt and loving response to B Loewe’s article, “An End to Self Care”.
As someone that’s had to fight (because of abuse, survivorship, assimilation/racism/cultural erasure, queerness, femmeness, and recently because of degenerative illness) for the notion that I have a self (I mean really. It took until I was…20 or so before I could think about myself as anything but some thoughts floating in space, and it’s not as if that one is resolved), much less that it was valuable beyond what I do and provide for other people (Shira Hassan blew my mind when I was about 24 and she started talking about how ‘you’re worth more than what you provide’—I mean, I had not thought about that, and about how hierarchy and history taught me the exact opposite), and then again that this self I had was worth taking care of—these things were and are huge for me. And all of that is not nearly done unless I am really lying to myself that day.
Hearing the notion that focusing my attention on caring for self is a bad thing feels like eleven steps back. That if my values were properly aligned I’d be able to work steady 18 hour days with no problem. When I do that, and sometimes I have to, I’m impacted for weeks. And really, hearing that if I was doing it right/in the right organization/in the right community I could/should be able to have unending time and psychic commitment because that would be enough, or that it is enough for someone else and that person’s life is the life I should strive for, well…maybe that’s not actually new, and it’s sure as hell not true for me.
I know other people have remarked on the knitting thing, but I think it’s probably worth saying that no one says ‘we’re not going to screen print and graffiti and spoken word our way to a revolution’—I mean, maybe people do, but I know the organization you work for uses media stuff (rightly, powerfully, and effectively) to get its message across. When I knit (or make any of the other stuff I make) I am sending messages.
I do it to use my body in ways that are important for me to try to preserve, to connect with the beautiful artist parts of my abusive bitch of a grandmother, to wrap my friends and loved ones in warmth, to let them know that I care about them. And that I care about them looking as fabulous as I know they are. To try to be the way I want to in the world. And really, I know you and I both want to live in a world where creating and making art (insert Emma Goldman about revolution and dancing) is important and central—I know for sure you believe this, so what are you attacking, exactly?
And maybe because we’re not in the same city any more, and what we’re doing is so different, maybe you didn’t address this article to me and mine, because the people in my communities will break their faces open to help their own people, but spending a moment on themselves is usually last on the list. This notion that we should be assisting people with whatever their struggles are so that they can do whatever they need to do? I feel like that’s what I do (and all my people do) all the time, and always have done. I can think of four examples in my personal life this week. I think that’s what community care is? I’m committed to that because our lives depend on it…but, I also need to do stuff that’s not for other people.
I’ve chosen to focus on cardiovascular strength so that if I wake up tomorrow and my legs aren’t working in the way I’m accustomed to, I can have a head start on rehab. I’m seriously focused on managing stress better because right now the MRI of my brain looks fucked the fuck up, and I want to do whatever the hell I can to help my body stop attacking itself, because isn’t the whole point of having a movement so that we can all work less, have our needs met, and have the right to our own lives and bodies? And yes—I have access to medical care, I can attempt to make these kinds of plans, that is for sure a privileged position relative to lots of my people, but I don’t see how ignoring my own body does anyone but abusers any good.
But just to reiterate, I don’t want any part of any movement, any job, any life that involves a single pursuit to which everything is devoted. Certainly I don’t want endless work, I don’t care what the work is. If that’s what the vision is, let me officially turn in my card.
I know the way I’m feeling is because I’ve chosen to pursue training where I get looked at like I am from Mars constantly, and where people’s unquestioned privilege and worship of power are constant. And so, I think I am doing movement work, but it doesn’t seem like I am within your framing. Because my work feels one on one, it feels like providing a healing perspective in a place where that usually doesn’t happen. It’s about challenging what people think about chronic pain, about drug use and drug users, and about the medical care that people (people of color, poor people, fat people, undocumented people, people with disabilities, queer people, all of the above) deserve. It is certainly in the most fucked up of structures. It is about getting state sanctioned permission to do something that no one in my family or in my life does, because I want us all to have access to holistic top quality medical care, and I’m egotistical enough to think I can be a part of doing it better. All of that while hiding who I am and who my communities are for my own self-preservation. Hell, my name isn’t on this because I don’t want the people that I’m around to know that these are my experiences when I’m inevitably googled for some thing or another.
Do you really want everyone to be doing the same thing? Working in the same way? Do we all have to reach a level of movement purity before we count as doing it right? That can’t be what you meant, but it sure as hell feels like what you said.
And so I want a movement that welcomes me in, whatever my capacity is. I want a harm reduction movement that recognizes that people do what they can, and engages everyone where they’re at. I have the history that I have, I have the body that I have, I’ve chosen the work that I’ve chosen (and understand the privilege of that), but comparing what I’m doing to what anyone else is doing is a losing game for sure. I already have several communities of care, for which I am thankful. I need everyone to let me have time for healing, time for rest, and time for doing nothing even remotely productive. I want a movement that values all of the above—complexity above purity, multiplicity above absolutes—because I want my people with me, including you.