entry 7 - i owe all of my good thoughts to black feminists
this entry contains swear words, uncapitalized proper nouns, and confessions of inadequacy. it seems polite to warn you.
brain log begun
12.2.2021 - 9:44
isn't it fun how writing the date this way makes it look as though it could be december second? but it's the twelfth of february, two thousand twenty one – a meaningful/meaningless¹ measurement of time. i'm very focused on time lately, as the previous posts have accentuated; perhaps i've always given this kind of over-balanced weight to the measurement of time.
how best to balance my desire for honesty and hyper-visibility of my thought process with my desire for people to engage with my thoughts? is this log of my thoughts only useful to me? if so, does that change how much effort i want to put into it? i absolutely do find writing to be therapeutic – it clarifies the scribbled page of my mind and leaves clear sentences behind, pointing me in the direction of behavior that will make me feel better. would i read someone else's blog if this is what it was like? what have i been looking for when i ended up reading someone's blog? mostly, i look for the existence of thoughts that i hope exist, that will give me comfort about the diversity of the human mind. in that light, i do believe this brain log fits perfectly into the category of things i myself want to read.
that is a self-focused measurement, labeling my writing useful as long as it is useful to me. i am also moved by a desire to communicate with other people, to help our collective thought processes evolve, and in order to fulfill that desire it does seem like i should spend at least half as much time considering what other humans want to read as what i myself want to read. is even that fraction a distortion of what really needs to be done to encourage transformation? half for me, a single being, and half for everybody else? perhaps i should be thinking of other people's desires 99% of the time and myself but 1%!
the problem i run into in that direction is paralysis. it is easy to let the words pour out, making slight edits here and there, using only my own judgment to determine whether or not what i've created is 'good.' in fact, left to my own judgment, i think i'm dispensing with the word good altogether – finished and publicly released is better than good (for me). when i consider too carefully how other humans might react to what i write – whether my imagination shows me their angry comments or total boredom – i lose all motivation to write; i create nothing.
this log is a practice. i have many practices – meditation, physical movement, singing, piano, audio engineering, speaking with others. it seems significant to me that i predominantly hear the word practice used in the context of music or sports, and not so often to describe day to day conversations or how one thinks (but that might only be significant in that it shows the low volume of my filter bubble). i believe i can practice literally anything and improve. at the school where i work, they call this the growth mindset and teach it to children; this is easier said than done. many students still describe their singing voices as horrible, failing to notice the improvements that are obvious to me. i am patient and encouraging with them, and i have already witnessed transformations in the way students talk about themselves and each other.
i need to be patient with myself as i write these entries. i have stated my desires, to both be honest and thorough in the presentation of my thoughts and make that presentation engaging and useful to other humans. i doubt that i am fulfilling the second desire yet, and why should i be? i have just begun – this is my seventh entry in the brain log. imagine what shape my words will take, what effect they will create in others, when this is my 107th entry! reflection is useful and important, to see how far i've come, how i've improved; imagination is equally important, using the past to imagine what the future could be like if i maintain my practices and am patient and encouraging with myself as often as possible.
working with my personal definition of 'natural' as meaning effortless, patience is not a natural human trait. i'm tempted to leave that sentence as a short, sweeping statement of certainty, but i can't do that, because that's not what's in my mind. as soon as i think a thought like 'patience is not a natural human trait,' 17 new thought trains arrive at the station at once: 'choo-fucking-choo! WHAT did you just say? we have some thoughts we'd like to offer too!'
i'll start with the thought itself, where it comes from, how i see it applying to myself and other humans right now, and then i promise i'll deconstruct it, point out how it's not necessarily a 'true' thought, remind you that these are just my thoughts written down, not special, nothing you should accept as facts applying to yourself – just be patient.
before writing today, i read an article in the atlantic called 'the most american religion.' it focused on mormonism, which has been an organized religion for 200 years as of the year 2020. as religions go, that's a child. some rough estimates put islam at 1400 years old, christianity at 2000, and buddhism at 2500.²
(it seems worth mentioning that i am decapitalizing most letters in this entry, including countries and religions. see this previous brain log entry for some explanation. i also realize i am leaving out tons of huge, older religions from this list. if this infuriates you, you like it, or you don't notice, will you leave a comment or send me an email? i would be very interested to know what effect it has on your mental state)
time comes into my thoughts again: 'the more time you've spent on something, the better.' right? hmmmm.... this certainly seems to be how we think about religions; we give credibility to organized religion that has withstood 'the test of time.' the atlantic article cited numerous quotes – some from the writings of the atlantic itself in 1863 – predicting the demise and dissolution of mormonism, which of course has not happened. perhaps this is something like a human in the 90's saying 'cd's will last forever;' making the statement seems to require a greater proportion of confidence than patience.
the author of this article brought up people's lack of knowledge about mormonism: “but i also couldn't believe some of the things my otherwise enlightened peers were willing to say about a faith they knew so little about.“ this strikes me as an important point about all human disagreements: why are we so eager to make fun, deride, put down, and even suppress ideas that we know almost nothing about? it seems like a lack of patience!
christianity is prevalent enough to be baked into the school environment. 'one nation, under god.' whose god? mormons refer to the same christian god and the same christ, and yet their religion can be mocked as implausible. muslims refer to the same god, same christ, different prophet, and they can be labeled as extreme and dangerous. humans seem to be too impatient to learn about the nuances of faith and the diversity of believers of those faiths. and let's face it, patience is hard! far easier to accept a stereotype you learn about than to research and discover more complex truths.
i think this sympathy for the difficulty of patience is warranted, but it is also an excuse that makes change seem impossible. and change is not impossible, change is happening all the time, whether we notice it or not. god is change (thanks octavia, thanks adrienne, thanks autumn). instead of saying 'patience is hard, i wish media outlets would do better reporting on religions. o well, back to my stereotypes,' you could say to yourself 'hmm, i bet there's more to the story,' and still move on, saving your 'precious' time. i don't believe that i, acting alone, should be responsible for learning all of the details about mormons and how complex they are. nor do i believe it's my duty to read all of the well-researched articles about mormons.
i believe it is my responsibility to my fellow humans to begin with the assumption that they are complex. to assume from the start that any joke i hear about a group of people is not a truthful way to shape my idea of who people are. to know that i don't know everything.
if i behaved this way in every interaction, would i turn into a 'buzz kill?' 'come on man, it's just a joke!' is it my duty to challenge other people's conceptions of who people are, or just to check my own conceptions? i'm divided on this idea, probably, again, because it's hard to challenge other people – that task also requires patience.
i'm not surprised by tales of oppression anymore. i've started to assume that it's happening all the time, in all spaces, to all sorts of groups of people. i'm trying not to weigh the oppressions against each other, i don't believe it's useful to figure out if this oppression is worse than that one, but even as i write this sentence i doubt this belief; i'm open to other ways of viewing oppression. weighing forms of oppression can clarify what actions one should take. i do think the male body is oppressed by unrealistic standards of musculature and size. but with a society that so clearly favors males – making me feel valuable and important enough to write my ramblings in a space where other people can see them, convinced that my thoughts might somehow be useful to other people! – it seems silly to focus my financial or philosophical efforts on male oppression when women are raped and their rapists are not held accountable! when people of color are killed during traffic stops! imagined standards of what my body should look like or be able to do are damaging to me, yes, but do they threaten my very existence? no. by dedicating my time and effort towards stopping more dire forms of oppression, i will be working for my own freedom anyways.
i was reminded this week of the combahee river collective. reminded, because i know i have read these words before, but my subscription to anti racism daily's virtual exhibition “28 days of black history“ brought the words clearly to my attention once again:
“if black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free, since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all systems of oppression.“
isn't that fucking cool? i'm going to take a break from writing now to read the entire statement; it's long past time these words were more fully assimilated into my brain.
that was awesome. i owe so many of my present thoughts and desires to black feminists. the scholarship of the combahee river collective, of the brown sisters, of bell hooks, of toni morrison, and seemingly infinite numbers of diligent, dedicated, brilliant black female minds have given freely of their words and ideas that i may assimilate this brilliance into my own mind and make my life better.
here's some more genius from the combahee river collective statement of april 1977:
“in the practice of our politics we do not believe that the end always justifies the means. many reactionary and destructive acts have been done in the name of achieving 'correct' political goals. as feminists we do not want to mess over people in the name of politics. we believe in collective process and a nonhierarchical distribution of power within our own group and in our revolutionary society.“
i hear that as an argument for patience! patience can be cultivated through collective; patience can become natural.
non hierarchical relationships are a concept first introduced to me by the brown sisters (mentioned above and in previous posts). most of the relationships of our lives are hierarchical; we have bosses, supervisors, managers, parents, officers, guards, lieutenants, commanders, presidents, blah blah blah. to deliberately choose a non hierarchical way of doing work together requires a lot of discussion about what is valuable and how best to recognize value.
i have had discussions like this with fellow musicians in bands – how will we fairly compensate everyone for their efforts in creating and performing this music? i am proud to say that the vast majority of my bandmates intuitively gravitated towards completely equal shares of all currency our music created, despite the differences in the type of work we all contributed, and how much time that work required. to share equally in this way requires a way of valuing work that is not based on time! it requires patience for the paces of other humans. i might need more practice playing my piano part for our song than you need for the guitar part. if you consistently nail your guitar parts the first time, and i consistently need a week to get it together, you could possibly get annoyed with me, tie up knots of resentment in yourself, and eventually demand more money or more recognition for what you now perceive as your more valuable contributions to the band. if i write 60% of the songs, and the other 4 members write the other 40%, should i demand a larger share of profits from sales and live shows? the philosophy of capitalism would say yes, right? you created more product, so you deserve to collect more reward.
in order to collaborate non hierarchically, i have to check my own mental habits. if i observe someone not doing the thing the way i would do it, i might have an instinct (born from teaching) to 'correct' them, to do it for them, the way i like it to get done. but this doesn't build the relationship, and it shapes the final product unevenly. giving out equal value to different amounts and types of work is a powerful way to affirm our equal value as humans. it seems to me that one of the great narrative battles of our entire mental history is whether or not some humans are more 'useful' than others. i call this a narrative battle because i do think the humans who tell the most absorbing story will penetrate the most hearts and minds.
but my words are failing me. the word 'most' appeared twice in that last sentence, and that word feels so firmly rooted in capitalism that i'm suspicious of myself for using it. will doing the most of anything actually get me where i want to be? i'm teetering between going deeper into why i think all humans are equally useful – in spite of the vast differences in what we are all capable of – or refocusing on my thoughts, the stated purpose of this blog.
black feminist thought is brilliant because it ties everything together. racism can't be separated from sexism can't be separated from classism. more brilliance from combahee:
“we also often find it difficult to separate race from class from sex oppression because in our lives they are most often experienced simultaneously.“
it takes reflection, honesty, and diligence to figure that out. i'm so lucky, SO LUCKY that i get to benefit from the wisdom of these words without having to live the literal nexus of oppression; i only have to search and read – this is an example of my privilege as a middle class white male.
black feminists are strong where i am weak, focused where i am scattered – the combahee river collective statement weaves the intersectionality of oppression together so clearly and effortlessly. i become overwhelmed with all of the connections that i want to try and untie and retie, and usually fail to present anything meaningful. two things will help, both of which i have already written about here, both of which are already turning around in my thoughts, waiting for the day when i allow these two ideas to express themselves effortlessly.
do things with other people. (collective)
let things take their time. (patience)
time sometimes feels like my enemy, but i need to continue my practice of letting go of the important of time so that i can use my time for things that are more important to me. it's a paradox, and paradoxes need loving embraces just like children, pets, and trees.³ point #1 seems more obvious once i write it down; it's in the friggin' name of this document that i find so inspiring: the combahee river COLLECTIVE statement.
one more thing about time before i end. i've been thinking a lot about leisure time and the desire to spend it watching disney plus or other familiar creations. i don't want to think of watching disney as wasted time – again, i don't believe time can be wasted – but i want to be more conscious of whether that's what i really want to watch, or if it's just the easy option that pops into my mind. on this blessed 4 day weekend i remembered to search past my initial craving for star wars until i found a documentary called 'who killed malcolm x?'
this documentary is not 'fun' in the way star wars is 'fun.' but it is entertaining, in that it holds my attention, makes me wonder, and encourages me to feel. it's still low effort to consume, just like star wars would be, so it fits the bill for leisure time. yet it seems so much more directly connected to shaping my mind the way i want it to be shaped. i know the star wars shape really well, talking about it and watching it makes me feel really good, it affirms me. but i am capable of adding new shapes, new stories, new colors, new sounds to my personal narrative – what makes me me.
i'm hungry to watch this documentary right now, there are still 3 more episodes. i'm also hungry to learn more about the concept of compression in audio engineering. i want to get it all in to my precious tiiiiiime. taking in a deep breath, i slow the pace of my typing, even as my nervous system urges me to rush to the end so i can move on to other tasks. from the collective statement again:
“we are ready for the lifetime of work and struggle before us.“
if i'm being honest, i'm not ready. i am actively trying to get ready. let's see where i'm at next week.
brain log ended
13.2.2021 - 21:35
1: how about a new(ish) word: meaningfuless – possessing significance at first glance, but upon closer inspection, not that useful or important. (back)
2: to check my metaphor of calling mormonism a child, let's do some math!
i'm 31 years old at this moment. it's likely i will live into my 90s, all of my grandparents did. let's say specifically that i die when i'm 96. that means my life is 32% of the way 'finished.' let's say that buddhism's 2500 years is equivalent to 96 years of age – sorry, i'm not trying to imply that buddhism is dead, just do math with me.
200 is 8% of 2500. 8% of 96 is 7.7, let's round up to 8. So, if buddhism is a 96 year old human, mormonism is an 8 year old. a child. (back)
3: have you ever actually hugged a tree? i suggest waiting at least three deep breaths before letting go; it might transform you (and the tree). (back)