Feb 24, 2008

A Promise

on the corner of carlton and jarvis
her fragile hands hold on
to the hem of her mama’s coat

in the solace of a pause
she squints at the sky
and wishes for glitter rain
to bring pretty things good

they cross the street together
mother and daughter walking

each deliberate step
marks pavement and memory
in silence
the space which holds no language
no glitter
just a promise
of movement
Movement and Healing

I work in an education support program for high school students from a stigmatized neighbourhood of the city. Many of the students, who are mainly young people of color, (have) face(d) traumas rooted in both structural and interpersonal violence, including war, abuse, poverty, abandonment, racism, exile, to name a few. Knowing the cultural and economic realities of these young people's lives, many of them maintain silence around their traumas. Depression shows itself in different ways in every person, and it's difficult to know who is struggling with their mental health. Young people have a way of keeping things in, pushing them deep down somewhere, in hopes of burying. It's called survival. Keeping things moving. I know, because I did this. Those of us who could, kept it moving. As adults, we still do. But the buried stuff, they make their way up at some point. And movement becomes difficult, and in some cases, stifled.

Women of color make up the highest percentage of people struggling with depression (in the U.S. and Canada). We are more likely than white women to share socioeconomic realities that lead to depression, such as racial/ethnic discrimination, lower educational and income levels, segregation into low status and high-stress jobs, unemployment, single parenthood and so on. The impact of immigration and exile also furthers the level of depression in immigrant/refugee women of color. And our cultural perceptions of depression, often dismissive and negative, can prevent us from getting support. There's so much silence and stigma in our communities around the issue of mental health. And that silence can be detrimental.

I recently came across a website for an American based organization, mysistahs.org, created by and for women of color to provide info and offer support for young women on health issues, including depression. I'm having a hard time searching for a similar one here in Canada. I'm hopeful to find one. It's crucial for such spaces to exist for young people of color, girls and boys, who are struggling with traumas. Because while coping strategies keep things moving, there's always the need for support. No matter what.

Movement is imperative. But so is healing.

Feb 18, 2008

Getting Well

Depression runs in my family. But I didn't know this until a few years ago. I knew well what someone who felt sad and absent looked like. But I never knew it as an illness. And I'm still not sure if I see it as such. What I do know is that struggling with depression means seeing life through a pair of distortion goggles. The intensity of distortion varies from day to day, and from person to person. But as long as the goggles are on, clarity is compromised.

I've always been afraid of depression, as much as I've loathed it and been ashamed of it. It's like an evil alien that takes over your body, devours all your positive energy and then shits inside you. And all you're stuck with is the remaining filth. Sometimes, it stays in you for so long that you become used to it. The smell. The texture. You even begin to smear it on yourself.

I finally admitted to myself (really admitted) that I've been smearing shit all over me for a while now. It happened so gradually that I didn't even notice. I've made so many excuses for how I've been feeling. I've blamed it on anything and everything external to me. Namely, my breakup. Which triggered just about every trauma I'd buried in me long ago. My denial became so hardcore that I stopped noticing how deep I was going. And I've been going about my everyday, functioning, trying to be ok. Some days things are good. Even really good. But the goggles haven't come off. They've been there the whole time.

In my culture we eat our sorrows. We don't show weakness. Life is tough and we need to swim, because sinking is never an option. Western medical models are unfamiliar to most and they conflict with traditional ways of dealing with mental health. And those traditional ways have become lost in the whirlwind of global capitalism, hardcore westernization, and a history of colonization/imperialism. Yeah, it's complicated. But people are struggling with depression. Both there and in the diasporas. And where do they turn to for support? How do all the young women, the young men, the older people...how do they (we) deal with personal traumas? All kinds of traumas. Exile, poverty, abandonment, racism, abuse, misogyny, war...

I'm writing this scared shitless. Of being judged. Of exposing "weakness." Of not being the "strong" image I present to most people. But I need to be real. I want clarity. And sharing this with you makes things a bit realer, clearer.

Sinking is never an option. But neither is eating your traumas.
Silence is destructive.

I will no longer swallow my words.

Feb 15, 2008

And the winner is...

I just found out my blog has been nominated in one of the categories for the Canadian F-word Blog Award. It was surprising to learn that my thoughts and rants were being appreciated somewhere in the blogosphere. Especially because I do this for no reason other than needing to express myself. Needless to say, the nomination came as a big surprise. But what wasn't much of a surprise was the category I was nominated for: Best Women of Colour-centered Blog.

The organizers of this event state, "these awards have been created to highlight and celebrate the best feminist bloggers (and their supporters) in Canada and the world." And that's cool. Though I don't necessarily identify as being a feminist, the content of my work would be marked as such. And that's cool too. But what makes the content of my blog different than other blogs that have been nominated for their "feminist" content? Is there something more overtly, or inherently, feminist about these blogs than those like mine? Do people see my blog as being Woman of Colour-centered within a wider feminist context? What makes a blog "feminist" and another Woman of Colour-centered-within-a-feminist-context?

There are 20 nominees for the Best Canadian Feminist Blog and only 5 for the Woman of Colour-centered one (with one blog also included in the former category). Only 5 of us? Really? I can think of at least 5 other canada-based women of color that are in my blogroll. You've got to seek us out. We're there. Often times, linked to one another's blogs.

Being othered in feminist spaces/movements is too familiar, a history of whiteness and othering that most of us know well. Women of Color have been challenging this for years. And we do it in different ways, whether overtly or otherwise. Every word and rant on my blog is exactly that. It has to be. Because that's where my heart is. Every poem, personal entry, drawing, song...

I appreciate the efforts of this feminist award org to put something like this together. I equally appreciate being nominated. I'm not taking issue with the organization but the wider discourse regarding feminist othering. The questions I'm raising are important to me. I'm assuming there are others out there who feel the same way.

Feb 13, 2008

Feb 8, 2008

The Try-Hard Era

My teenage years were drenched in the golden era of hip hop. Before you say, here she goes again with the reminiscing, hear me out first. The hip hop culture and music of the first half of the 90s was my life. To say I was "into it" would be an understatement. Thinking back, I feel there was something crazy vibrant about that particular time. Maybe because this was a time of identity formation for many of us. Maybe because I felt the sounds of this era much deeper than any sound I hear now. But in talking to a friend last night, I realized there was more to it than that. Creatively speaking, this time felt like an explosion. Not just with what known artists were putting out, but by how we were all contributing to that energy. Whether making beats, pause tapes, mixes, or writing rhymes, poetry, stories, or writing graff and painting, or dancing, listening to underground radio shows and geeking out to the latest album or single, there was a particular buzz, and with it a sense of connecting with one another.

There's always been innovators and emulators. I appreciate both equally. But there was a time when both were organically shaping because people were immersed in that energy I'm talking about. Nowadays, everybody's an innovator. When in reality, most of it feels too forced. Too confused. Too try-hard.

I'm writing all this because this shit is important to me. I was never a mere "music listener." Sound has always been an integral part of my being. I create through sound. I live through sound.

As much as I've been keeping up with the sound of the times, I'm not feeling it. And that's because I'm not feeling it on a deeper level: that bigger thing I once felt. But it's ok because that's life and it goes in cycles. Everything is a ripple effect of another time, another energy, as a friend of mine said. And the time I'm talking about was no different.

So what am I really getting at? Hear me out. I'm being haunted by that energy I once felt over a decade ago. It's showing up in different ways in my everyday lately. And it's stirring something inside me. This is not about looking to the past to seek something I'm missing. I am a different person from that time. The journeys I've gone through to get here were rooted in that time, but I am exactly where I want to be. So what’s it all about? I'm taking this haunting as an opportunity to innovate. Innovate by looking within. Because it's all here. It's always been.

A little while ago, someone asked me what I was into other than writing. I told him I was into hip hop. But I quickly corrected myself and said, hip hop of a different time. I did this not to disconnect myself from present day hip hop (which needless to say, I am) or to be pretentious (like that shit was better). I did this because I wanted him to know where I’m rooted. I wanted to see if I could connect with him on a level that only people who felt that explosion connect on. Not people who've done their homework. Or know the lyrics to the most obscure tracks. Or who have encyclopedic knowledge but don't feel shit. Because you can tell who really felt that shit. You can tell they were part of something much bigger. They'd felt that buzz. I told the guy I meant hip hop like DITC and Freestyle Fellowship, and when he got that look in his eye, and said O.C. and Aceyalone, I knew. We needed no preambles. We got each other.

This rant of mine might still sound like a reminiscing of sorts to you. And maybe it is. But I think I’m trying to get at something more. Apparently, I’ve been on a verbal diarrhea tip lately. Fair enough. But I know there's something to be said about forced innovation. And trying too hard without looking within, without really feeling it. Anything forced just doesn't feel real. It doesn't hit deep. It doesn't feel right.

Feb 1, 2008

I Used to Make Pause-Tapes But Now I'm an...

I just found out that Yusef Afloat, one of the emcees from The Nonce, is dead. He took his own life in 2000. There's not much else out there about it. In fact, there's not a whole lot out there about The Nonce. This group never got the recognition it deserved.

Yusef died eight years ago and I just found out today, randomly, while searching the net. That in itself, makes me real sad. He was a dope emcee. I played that first tape in my walkman a lot in '95. And I still listen to it. World Ultimate, takes me back to a time I often reminisce on. An incredible time of music, writing and creative inspiration. A time where I used to make pause-tapes...

This time was the beginning of so much for me.

I dedicate this post to Yusef Afloat,

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