Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Lemonade: Not Everything Is About You

“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”


Regurgitating what social media has been saying about this record is pointless, the interesting element to the release of 'Lemonade' is the "backlash".

One of the articles that has people talking is Piers Morgan's on the Daily Mail. (Who ironically ensures Jay Z is in the title of his article to get maximum exposure.) It's apparent to me that Piers's main concern, that's making him "uneasy", seems to be the "shameless exploitation" of the mothers of the victims of police brutality, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner. He quotes an interview he had with B 5 years ago, in which she said she doesn't think people think about her race, that they look at her as an entertainer and a musician and that it's not about color and race before saying:

I still think she’s a wonderful singer and performer, and some of the music on Lemonade is fantastic. But I have to be honest, I preferred the old Beyoncé.
The less inflammatory, agitating one.The one who didn’t use grieving mothers to shift records and further fill her already massively enriched purse.The one who didn’t play the race card so deliberately and to my mind, unnecessarily.The one who wanted to be judged on her stupendous talent not her skin color, and wanted us all to do the same. 
Let me start from the top, and tell you what makes me uneasy.

First of all, I'm not going to brush over the obvious.

You're "uneasy" because Beyoncé's not white enough for you anymore.

Not only is the title actively perpetuating the message that she should be making people nervous with her "born-again" message, but there is an explicit reference to her message as "aggressive, "inflammatory" and "agitating", further fuelling the 'angry black woman' stereotype that we are trying to eliminate.

My immediate response to a work of art like 'Lemonade' is exactly that...that it's art. Whether autobiographical or not. That's besides the point. And when it comes to art, the creator is oftentimes irrelevant. Beyoncé is shedding light on things that society decidedly turns a blind eye to. Whether she talks race or doesn't she will be making money just like she has been for over a decade. Get over it. And most of all, don't think we're dumb enough to take that age-old argument alone as a good enough reason to invalidate a project that has empowered many. It's not enough. The point is, we're faced with the faces of people that have stories to tell. Stories that are forced to shut up on the daily for the sake of some peace of mind and bringing fabricated solace to guilty consciences. 

Her project will inevitably make different people feel different things and will spur discussion of all sorts. The project stars an all-black cast and showcases the work of young black artists. The project celebrates culture, culture that is only ever brought up for being "unjustly called out for appropriation", or not brought up at all! The project commemorates a journey - both a universal and personal one. 

And yet it is reduced to a "discrepancy" in Beyoncé's image.

As expected as it is, it's a little embarrassing for Piers here, an allegedly intelligent man, to wholly dismiss the opportunity Beyoncé has expanded for black women in terms of identification and representation. Her image has always been one of power, and it could fairly be argued that that position was not utilized to the maximum in terms of speaking up about what "matters". However, her previously guarded approach should not be allowed to downplay the discussion or the worth of the message because in that respect, it holds no relevance

Not experiencing something does not make you immune to invalidating it. We cannot attribute everything to ignorance. Some people, myself included, have not experienced the spectrum of oppression yet they continue to acknowledge and attempt to understand it. And granted, people are not perfect and will say or do things that do not further their message or align perfectly with the values they hope to uphold, but that cannot be an unshakeable excuse for a lack of desire to understand or to acknowledge.

As I speak from a position of unawareness, I maintain that I am open to listen and learn. But an attempt at tearing down a message that is bigger than you and not for you with an attitude of righteousness is not an acceptable display of ignorance.

    Friday, 8 April 2016

    What Does It Mean To "Have It All"?

    "I think "having it all" is one of the concepts of feminism that doesn't apply to me."

    "How so?"

    "Cause I'm black"

    I don't know why I always stumble upon things that make me think so much so late at night but I do and it happened again so here we go. Hannah Witton is a YouTube person who makes videos about everything from books and pop culture to feminism, body image, gender and sexuality and recently she started a series called 'Girl on Girl' where two women discuss one topic and the one that resonated with me the most out of the three I watched was Episode 3 (watch below) with the stand-up comedian and writer Athena Kugblenu. Now I was disappointed that this was my first introduction to Ms. Athena but I was so excited to find that she had a blog (which I can later binge-read) but for now I'm going to stick to talking about that episode because it has already triggered so many thoughts on the topic of "having it all".

    First of all, the fact that she sheds light on the exclusive nature of the feminism that's primarily talked about these days is so important. I think from a personal stance, I do not wholly identify with white feminism, being an Arab woman whose culture does not carry the same "values" and "beliefs" that a "Western" culture does. However living a privileged, predominantly Westernized, middle class life in the Middle East and not having experienced the myriad of hardships/difficulties women (and people, obviously) experience all over the world makes it very easy to slip into the privileged notions of entitlement every now and again. And in order to combat that I try to keep myself reading and watching and listening to what other people have to say because anybody's experience is bound to be different to yours, one way or another. And I believe that empathy is 100% what heaps of people these days are lacking because a. they don't know anything/much about the lives of people outside of their bubble and b. they don't care because they don't have to. And that is problematic because this movement is supposed to be one that supports and empowers all individuals and when an allegedly inclusive movement is so blatantly exclusive and intersectional feminism is hardly pushed to the forefront of discussion or even acknowledgement, that's just counter-productive!!

    So when Athena talked about her mother who had to support a family and said that, "You have it all because you don't have a choice", that is something that needs to be acknowledged because choice is fundamental in the discussion of having it all. As Hannah said, the notion of "you have the opportunity to have it all" that is often shoved down millennials' throats is part of the root cause of the problem. But this is a big entangled point I'm trying to break down, so bear with me. On the one hand, that is immensely positive. Yes, some people have these opportunities handed to them on a platter and if they're not going to try and achieve/accomplish everything that is within their reach (that they would want and would further their life, of course) then it is plainly stupid to not make the most of that opportunity. However, making the best of that opportunity should co-exist with the understanding that this is not an expectation I can have of the world and I do not deserve these opportunities, I am lucky to have them. This attribute or belief (that is often unjustly and purely correlational-ly) attributed to millennials perpetuates this (un)conscious entitlement that can cloud a lot of people's understanding, making them blind to the reality of the world around them. And that kind of entitlement breeds a lot of ignorance that in turn holds society back from "true" mutual understanding and the possible elimination of this discrepancy in the opportunities we hand out.   

    It was immensely poignant to me when Athena answered what would having it all be for her:
    "I would want opportunity to get whatever it is I desire professionally or personally"
    And that was immense because of the fact that I, an individual who is very conscious of (her) privilege a lot of the time did not consciously expect that answer. Because opportunity is seen as a given. Opportunity is discussed as something you will get when it just is not. And for some people, their reality is that they will just get opportunities and that is not something we should be punishing them for. Bitterness is not the end goal. But it is something that they need to be held accountable for. Privilege is a responsibility. And by being so unaware of it, that is a misuse of one's responsibility.

    There were a lot of thoughts their conversation brought up that are irrelevant in the scheme of this particular conversation but will definitely appear elsewhere in my writing as they tackle very current and relevant topics/issues in my life at the moment. HOWEVER I am going to list the thoughts here because I'm bound to forget them and I've made a habit of tangents, I might as well.

    1. Men "get it" - the idea of men not being silly little idiots fooled by everything in terms of skewing their perception of women. Made me think of how a lot of the time people either underestimate men's ability to understand the situation or give ignorant individuals the justification of "this ignorant notion is marketed to you so it's okay if you're being ignorant"

    2. The triangle of doom - priorities and choice - career, kids or a lifelong partner??? (+ bonus: my thoughts on childrem)

    3. "My issue with feminism and the idea of having it all is that you put a to-do list on your life that actually has nothing to do with you" - this

    4. A look at the structure of the show as a whole - the concept, the approach, what I'd like to see more of or less of (+ more bonus: my own desire to start a project along those lines and my recent quarter life crisis on creating and investing time into valuable projects and also what makes them valuable wow)

    5. Self-discovery - that little "Eat, Pray, Love" point made (a lil commentary on the problematic depiction of "self-discovery" and the cultural appropriation that goes into that that irks me a lil)

    6. Relationships - marriage, open, non-traditional (???) - everybody has their priorities but also, everybody has their own perceptions (+ bonus discussion: changing for the sake of a relationship!)

    7. Many more!

    Overall, I thought Athena was a brilliant guest to have on the show as everything she said just had my brain gears going and I have been trying to write something for the past month and a half to no real success, yet here I am at 2:36 AM on a Friday morning typing away furiously and not going back to read this through because I'm bound to change too much that it no longer carries its true essence.

    Thank you Athena!

    Thursday, 4 February 2016

    David Levithan (i.e. the man who makes me question all. and cry)

    The Lover's Dictionary made me think and feel a lot of the things all at the same time to the point that it was overwhelming. And that has never happened to me with a piece of text before, or any art for that matter.

    211 pages of dictionary-style entries documenting such an intense combination of intimate and commonplace events and thoughts and questions throughout the course of a romantic relationship between our speaker and his partner, whom he addresses the entries to. This book had me underlining and pausing and wincing and I'm immensely surprised by that because things don't usually move me like that. I appreciate the artistry or the creativity or the thought processes promoted but to actually taste the bitterness and feel unsettled and to physically gasp at something so brief and concise.

    It made me fear things; things like myself, things like the potential and the weight one puts into the ideas of trust and forever. It made me fear the things I saw myself in within the characters, things one may not view as insecurities, and maybe they aren't, but they are deeply rooted in things that are in a sense still tethering you to something you can shed. It showed just how significantly immense of a thing trust was. It is absolutely ridiculous to put down all your weapons, in fact even without the metaphor, but the willingness and the feeling of safety sleeping next to somebody else. That in itself is ridiculous; one day we were strangers and now I don't think twice about being unconscious a reach away from them. The fear is absolutely stunning and I suppose that's what makes these notions so immense.

    It also made me see myself from the outside looking in (and I say made because it felt forceful. A good forceful. A holding up a mirror to your face kind of forceful) and at times, almost justified, or maybe just put into words what I struggle to explain:

    “Even when I detach, I care. You can be separate from a thing and still care about it. If I wanted to detach completely, I would move my body away. I would stop the conversation mid-sentence. I would leave the bed. Instead, I hover over it for a second. I glance off in another direction. But I always glance back at you.”
    "I want to sequester this one part of me from everyone else. I want the act to be a secret, even if the words can only hold themselves secret for so long."  

    It made me think a lot about making decisions; how we make some so fast, "we don't let all the synapses connect before we do the thing we shouldn't do" and we hold on to things. We have this tendency to grip so hard onto things, even when we adamantly deny it, and we know that if we had the power, we would make those things happen. Even if they weren't ready to.

    Most of all, I guess it scared me of human nature. To great extents. Or maybe that's enthralment. But we are such inherently possessive creatures. We want to know that if we want something, we would be able to get it and once we do have something, it has to stay. But then again there is a spectrum for feeling all of these things and I think what fuelled me the most with this book is the fact that both characters were stubborn, in their own ways, but both very ebullient in terms of their feelings and perhaps that dynamic felt closest to home for me because I'm basically a human firecracker.

    "Just be warned," you said. "Someday you'll ask me to give up something I really love, and then it's going to get ugly."

    Everything is incredibly fragile and this book highlighted that in the fact that it used such little words and very small distinctions, a little misinterpretation, a little connective, a variation of a tense can bring up such contrasting thoughts and conversations and emotions.

    I think the quest of understanding is essentially the legacy we leave behind because with all our complexities and complications, intricacies and simplicities, everybody is trying to understand everybody in order to be able to communicate and co-exist and everybody is also trying to understand themselves and what they feel and how they feel it and why they feel it. And when we think we understand us we want other people to understand us and we want them to understand us right and oftentimes we want them to like what they're getting.

    I think this book just made me surrender a little to the feeling of desperation because a.) it's inevitable and fighting it can make you so bitter and so bottled up and the way that it made me feel so full last night after finishing it to the point that I just did not understand what the fuck was wrong with me is a sign of that. And b.) it's okay to feel and do and think certain things and they could be sharp and harsh and scalding but we move on from that and being able to hold that mirror up to what you did yourself possesses immense strength and vulnerability.

    It just helped cement that that particular dissonance is okay, we just learn to live with it and we realize it's not always an oxymoron.

    "What did it matter to me? Did I think that by making you rational about one thing, I could make you rational about everything?"

    Tuesday, 2 February 2016

    Recluse Shower Writer Woes I

    I think I have officially coined a new term. See, here's the deal. Shower singers get all the recognition for being basically Adele for 15-30 minutes a day, but I think it's about time shower writers got some recognition.

    show•er writ•er

    an individual who writes all sorts of masterpieces in their head in the shower, extreme cases often murmur their creations to themselves while they absentmindedly leave the water running. tend to act like a recluse who has already had their big break in the book world (when in fact their primary writing publication is their notes app on their iPhone.

    So yeah. Look at me going out there. Coining words. Making a name for myself.

    I have taken ownership of the term shower writer because I find myself profusely writing poetry and looking for alternative rhymes and rhythms and making sPEEChes while I put my hair into a shampoo mohawk. So in a way of making myself useful for things other than midterms, I started a saga, if you will, called 'brain vomit' on my phone, the first note being on the 19th of October. And it has been going on since; 19th, 26th, 28th, 14th, 15th, 20th... and quite consistently too, which is very very unusual for me and my writing habits considering I basically wrote a book for NaNoWriMo 2015 and didn't like it enough to allow it to see any light outside my Microsoft Word prison.

    The thing with this 'series' is:

    • Now that I've created something on my phone that has sentimental value and confidentiality requirements I'm
      • Irrationally concerned about people around my phone even more than usual
      • Incapable of waiting until I'm out of a social scenario when I need to write something that I have to evacuate (there is a reason it's called brain vomit)
      • More informed in terms of roman numerals because I decided to title each note "brain vomit i/?" because it's a, presumably, never-ending series
    • It's so comforting to have my thoughts documented somewhere that does not garner any feedback or invite any nosy eyes, or genuinely interested ones for that matter. I come back to them and am essentially teleported back to the morning of the 14th or the Thursday afternoon in the gym changing rooms at school. I feel like time is malleable in my mind's grip and that's exciting
    • I am getting far more comfortable with honesty. I'm very good with self-disclosure, don't tend to live in denial or accept my mind telling itself lies, but this has changed how I see communication. Once something is written down and out of my mind, it carries a different kind of worth. Some of it can be shared through chats or art or discussion and some of it is just beautiful in it's little safe rectangular container in its little slot in my millennial device.
    • Some lines I write are so beautifully vague or descriptive that everytime I re-read them I feel inspired and motivated enough to a degree to make art or write a little more and if my mess of a mind can be my own muse sometimes, it's a very beautiful place to be in. 
    I suppose despite my inability to commit to a singular writing project at least I am always writing, whether it be in a Notes folder titled with an emoji of nosy eyes or on here every once in a while. I have heaps to look back on one day, and that is a satisfying and gorgeously haunting thought. 

    Monday, 4 January 2016

    untitled (or ‘a poem about intimacy, beauty and forest fires’ for now)

    Intimacy
    to me
    has always been synonymous with
    beauty.
    Somehow I felt
    or knew
    that when I breathe in the air escaping his rising
    and sinking lungs that it would be
    nothing short of
    beautiful
    that it would
    linger in my head for days to come
    leaving me with a high
    that made me feel
    invincible
    that his fingers will leave me traced
    drawn
    that it would
    leave me a masterpiece.

    Intimacy
    to me
    has always been tied to the idea of
    reciprocity.
    That I could never
    and would never
    be the one left alone with my questions
    as though the polar possibilities of a
    suppression
    or a
    confession
    were all I needed to escape
    But I
    have made a
    profession out of crossing the invisible line
    where your eyes meet mine and I find myself wanting to ask for
    permission
    to look at them.
    Because looking at them felt like
    blissful
    sinning

    Because as he moved his body against mine with
    nothing but simplicity on his mind
    Moving and reducing and moving and thinking and moving and
    knowing
    that sometimes it is just
    that
    It is just simple
    and sometimes it is not art
    and not magic
    and sometimes there is no
    beauty.

    As his cold fingers traced the small of my back
    I did not have to think twice to know that this
    was desire
    that this
    was craving
    and I couldn’t help but find the heat escaping his body
    welcoming
    Knowing and scared that this was not
    an invitation for the trust that I was so surprised to see myself giving (up)
    or maybe, just giving / Knowing
    that this fire might only be put down
    with the dust
    of realisation
    that this
    may have been a forest fire
    and I
    did not want to find my flare gun
    and maybe
    I have gotten so used to being the one lighting fires
    that I just did not know how to put them
    out.

    As we twisted and turned
    and crackled
    and burned
    I sat there admiring the marks of his ravishing aftermath
    scattered
    all over my body
    This incessant need to put a name to a feeling has left me with this
    addiction that I do not want to recover from
    and no
    addiction is not beautiful
    but I cannot sit here and deny that this does not make my blood rush
    that it does not make me feel like I am at the top of a mountain range overlooking
    oceans of skin in flames
    and empires of wild eyes
    and crushing heart rates
    and I ask myself how can something so beautiful be rooted in
    so much shame

    This incessant need to put a name to this feeling has left me with this
    brooding sickness
    and I cannot for the life of me
    stop
    and try
    to put into words all the reasons why
    I am
    so
    fucking
    scared
    to let him
    in

    But what is harder than claiming the inability to put them into words
    is the ability to put them into words

    but the inability to accept them.

    Saturday, 2 January 2016

    Everything I Never Told You | An Almost-Review

    In kindergarten, he had learned how to make a bruise stop hurting: you pressed it over and over with your thumb. The first time it hurt so much your eyes watered. The second time it hurt a little less. 
    The tenth time, it was barely an ache. So he read the note again and again.
    It didn't stop hurting. His eyes didn't stop watering. 

    This is probably not for anybody who cares for spoilers for Celeste Ng's "Everything I Never Told You" because I have no idea how to de-spoil my stream of consciousness so bear with me!

    I just finished this book after reading a couple hundred pages non-stop for the past few hours and despite having started it absolutely forever ago and having it absolutely consume me with its progression, I dropped it for a little while and I suppose it's for the best that I didn't finish it in little chunks because it wouldn't have felt as overwhelming as it does now, all at once.

    The book revolves around the Lee's - a family made up of a father of Chinese descent, James, an American mother, Marilyn and their three children, Nathan, Lydia and Hannah. Lydia Lee goes missing and after several days her body is found in the town lake. This basic plot summary eludes to a novel about death, pain and ultimately, healing and I suppose, in a sense, that is exactly what happens, but it is the first novel that I have encountered that reveals this healing process for what it truly is. An absolute mess. Especially amongst a family who struggled to communicate before any traumatic event. It highlighted just how much damage was being caused on a day to day basis without the need of a death to lead to the dysfunction. It's very common in cases of a child passing away that the parents end up separating and those cases are always seen as the death drove them apart, but what Celeste has so meticulously crafted here was the multifaceted nature of relationships and all the dimensions in which damage seeds were being planted long before the "event".

    Of course, the death was what forced them to take a look at their lives and with that halt in everything, the breaking down of every safety barricade people put up, there are realizations and there is resurfacing of past turbulence that has always been just beneath the surface like a low, barely noticeable fire. And once again, bringing it wholly to reality we do not end up with every doubt consoled and every question answered and every missing puzzle piece found. In fact so many things are still lost in translation, so much is not spoken and this makes me think of two things. One, that communication does not always occur in the conventional verbal manner as sometimes words do not suffice and people's mannerisms slowly bend and mould as their feelings change and their thoughts process. And sometimes that is enough. But sometimes it isnt. And that is the second thing, the fact that so many of us do not know how to use our words just yet. We're often shackled to the probable consequences of these words slipping out of our throats that we don't quite realize the inevitable consequences of the words not spoken. And I think I find solace in the idea that if you speak your honest self to those who matter at times that matter then you have done your part. You have less to regret and you will not be caught in the consequences of doing nothing. And to me, that's reassuring.

    This book discusses a greater issue of belonging that I noticed resonated with me a lot less than it would with other people. And I acknowledge the privilege of the absence of persistent worry about where you come from and your differences and whether you belong but I also acknowledge the fact that I have not always 'belonged' but it has not been to the extent that it has led to me feeling like an outsider. So assessing my situation, I came to the understanding that perhaps I can empathize but I cannot talk very much about this aspect of the book without having the necessary experienc-ial (it's a word, I'm trying to keep up with my brain) prerequisites. However, I will say this. As I was reading, there was a point in the book where Marilyn says this when discussing finding out who she thinks did that to her daughter:

    "I would think you'd want to know, too. But listen to you. Of course officer. Thank you, officer. We can't ask for more, officer" ... "I know how to think for myself you know. Unlike some people, I don't just kowtow to the police"
    In a blur of fury, Marilyn doesn't think twice about what she's said. To James, though, the word rifles from his wife's mouth and lodges deep in his chest. From those two syllables - kow-tow - explode bent-backed coolies in cone hats, pigtailed Chinamen with sandwiched palms. Squinty and servile. Bowing and belittled. He had long suspected that everyone sees him this way. But he had not thought that everyone included Marilyn.
    This moment hit like the utmost betrayal because it is very difficult to come to terms with the fact that someone you thought saw you differently to the rest of the world could see you from the same lens. And has mindlessly, most times passively, taken those perspectives in and regurgitated them without even the intention to hurt, in some cases. An experience of the sort can lead to things neither James nor Marilyn could be aware of. Little things break down and other things change within people after conversations and after incidences that even they do not acknowledge and that is just another thing that I find extremely exhilarating yet petrifying about human interaction. 

    Something that this book touched on that I am eternally grateful for is showing the acts of sacrifice made my children. This is a newly formed thought in my head that I'll attempt to walk the both of us through. It is very easy to notice, if you pay close attention, the rate at which children soak up everything around them. They can sense situations and empathize and understand what must be done in order to elicit or prevent a particular behavior or response. And I think that is something so disappointingly dismissed. Once their mother disappears, the children do not nag their father for the meals they used to have, Lydia understands why the cooking book was such a menace for her mother and hides it beneath all of the books of science her mom relentlessly gifted her, Nathan does not speak of the uncanny preference shown towards Lydia because it keeps everything going and Hannah, hugging her knees, watches everything from the sideline; understanding Jack, Nathan, Lydia, Marilyn and James, understanding everybody and paying attention to everybody while nobody spared her a couple of seconds. It is ridiculous how much people refuse to acknowledge that children could make sacrifices and could give up such immense luxuries of childhood in order to maintain normalcy and to keep those around them happy and sometimes that pressure accumulates to extents that even the child itself no longer understands what is making all of this the way it is.

    Tears blur Marilyn's sight, It had not been science that Lydia had loved.

    There is a moment in the book where this dawns on Marilyn, how Lydia was bearing with the science in order to show her mother how much she loved her, and how much she wanted to ensure she would always be around because she saw a direct correlation in the behavioral patterns of her mother that reinforced her adding up obsessively throughout breakfast and her brilliant grades that she shed complete light on without acknowledging that there was more to her daughter than that. The humiliation of pinning a failed test paper right opposite the kitchen table. The way Nath and his dreams were wholly dismissed. The way Hannah's entirety was wholly dismissed. It's a difficult dynamic to live within yet I feel this particular family is a symbol of children making far more sacrifices and being far far more selfless than any adult in that story was despite the fact that they too, were just as pained and confused and trying so desperately to heal. 

    This book was about everything from the difficulty of belonging and the struggle to accept identity and difference to the unending and jagged process of mourning, accepting and healing and it was definitely a whole lot more than I ever expected. 

    In bed, they touch each other gently, as if it's the first time they've ever been together. In the dark they are careful of each other, as if they know they are fragile, as if they know they can break

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