reflections on writing ‘self’…while free-falling through words and memories

On Friday night I attended the launch of Consented magazine’s second print edition. It was awesome. HUGE big ups to Amit Singh and Mike Pope at Consented magazine…and NUFF props to the panel. It was such an amazing space of thought, reflection, joy and challenge. Belonging, decolonisation, feminism, anti-racism, liberation, anti-capitalism…and more. #BlackFeministSoulFood

I was at the event because Consented is amazing…I was also there because I have written a ‘piece’ for this edition…and it was cool to just be there in that space…connecting with others who are in conversations of resistance and transformation.

I did not completely know that writing for this edition of Consented magazine was going to be such a ‘thing’ for me. I wrote my ‘piece’ from my belly. I wrote it feverishly, in the middle of the night and actually the words wrote themselves…they wrote me.

I write all the time, but rarely in this way. I write constantly in my work. I write because it’s what I do. I do Black-Feminist ending violence work…and it requires that I write…and my activism, my work, my job…all rest within a space of navigating, challenging and dismantling intersecting oppressive systems. I ‘speak truth to power’ while not wanting to be implicated in those power systems. I walk a tightrope between revolution and reform. I use words to expose inequities and to build bridges. I weigh each moment’s pragmatism against the next moment’s reImagining. It’s a messy space. It’s one where creativity and ‘voice’ are curtailed and managed in the interest of effective advocacy. It’s one where acts of speaking and writing can be powerful in themselves (and in a context of censorship and silencing they are not to be taken for granted or diminished); but they can equally feel like conversations in an echo chamber. I write and speak into a reImagined future, a lifetime of numerous generations, one that allows my ancestors to be as present as those that will be born into my tribe in the years to come. I write and speak words that become lines, paragraphs, references and footnotes in policy papers and briefing notes. My thoughts become sound bites in articles and tweets. I have ‘voice’ yet it is splintered and reconstructed, often in patterns that are not of my own design. This is not a ‘waaaah…poor me’. This is merely a reflection of how ‘di ting set’.

Writing about my own sense of BeLonging and unBeLonging in the context of a magazine edition which is completely focused on BeLonging was different. The process itself was liberating. For me this was not just a magazine piece, or an article, or a story told through anyone else’s direction, voice, questioning or lens. I was writing ‘me’. There is no substitute for this. I am no Frida Kahlo, but for the first time I truly came to terms with the importance, and even necessity, of painting your own wounds, triumphs, joys, nightmares and dreams. Weaving your own uncensored thoughts into a fabric that may be recognisable to others, but is unique to you in material, design and flaws, provides a sense of vulnerability and space that is incredibly precious. No one else completely feels each past and present moment with the same intimate intensity. No one else can tune into that place where you disappear into the power of a memory that is the riff between heartbeats. This is not self-obsession, it’s self-expression. It’s not self-indulgence, it’s emotional and psychic survival. It’s mental decolonisation work.

I am eternally grateful for the work of Black ethical filmmakers, writers, photographers, artists and journalists. I recognise the necessity and value of those who make this their work, ensuring that we are seen, heard and reMembered. I am also always grateful for the privilege and opportunity to collaborate with the amazing human beings who create in these ways. That said, I now know with certainty that I must increasingly speak, as ‘just’ me. In writing with the instruments that are my own thoughts, voice and hands, I am not a subject or object being captured, directed and spliced through another’s camera and editing programme. I am not someone else’s artistic project (however blessed and honoured that might make me feel). I am not a platform or an image or another file in an archive. I am not someone else’s article, feature or paper. I am not a product; and if I am, I am a product that is at least marked with my own inscriptions before it tumbles out into space to become reinterpreted, stomped on, caressed, spray-painted or rejected (or all of the above). I am writing ‘me’. When I am fortunate enough to write ‘me’ in a platform such as Consented, which constantly opens space for ‘us’…it is wonderful gift. When my words appear, as they did in the Consented magazine, opposite a picture of myself taken by the mind-blowingly brilliant Ajamu Ikwe-Tyehimba, who has taught me so much about art, creativity and self-expression, well then…it’s just BRAWTA. As my inspirational colleague Jashmin Patel reminds us ‘I MAKE ME’. We do so in our different ways in much the same way as we find or create our BeLonging. The freedom comes, perhaps not so much in the ‘how’, but in the assertion of the ‘I’ in the construction of the ‘ME’.

I believe that transformation and revolution require radical self-love…this feels especially urgent for me as a parent, an activist and a dreamer…who is trying to make sense of the world of 2017. Self-love in turn requires that the ‘self’ shows up…not in the suppression of others but in an ongoing acknowledgement of a right to be here…and to belong, in this time in our human journey, in this place that I stand, and in this moment that I breathe. If in the tender, fierceness of each breath there is sharing with others…then that is even more beautiful.

Marai

April 2017