Last week, I performed for 7 hours as Akanzyla - a character embodying a possible future in T’karonto on Turtle Island, rooted in interconnectedness and care, while holding space for the process of rewilding after climate collapse and navigating the merging between the physical and virtual world.
This world, set in ‘2050’ wasn’t a utopia or a dystopia, but rather a place of beauty and tension, of struggle and sovereignty. It was a world that recognized that all things in the universe exist in cycles of birth, being, and transmutation, and to be in relationship is to bear witness, hold space, celebrate and offer support through these natural cycles. It was a place where a ceremonial ‘revolution’ had occurred, but the process of rewilding, meaning to heal and return to being in a reciprocal and fluid relationship with the land and living beings would take time after centuries of human dominion and control.
I called the performance ‘experimental,’ because I wanted to be able to play and explore how to practice the future within this contained and ‘fictional’ environment. Through the process of the performance, I expanded my capacity to be witnessed and my imagination for the ways in which liberation could exist and occupy my body.
Merely days after the performance, I read news of the heatwave in BC killing over 486 people, soaked up the living imagery of gender abolition through the final days of #PrideMonth, met a new friend who shared their work as part of a care collective, had an invitation to a metaverse called Raspberry Dream Land in my email, and participated in the mass demonstration to #CancelCanadaDay after 154 years of Indigenous resistance against colonial rule.
Once you embody the future, it becomes present, because if an idea can occupy the body, it already exists. Imagination becomes liberation when our ideas of freedom meet embodiment.
I was like, damn universe, you work fast.
There really isn’t a shadow of doubt in my body, mind, and spirit that this land, Turtle Island, will be liberated. That the land will be returned, and Indigenous communities and nations will regain political sovereignty. I can’t even say the word Canada without my body coiling and mildly gagging - but I am also very sensitive to the frequency of language as a marker of experience and representation of values.
In reflection, I would say it took about 15 years to fully embody the notion of Indigenous resurgence, which started during Dr. David Burman’s class on Indigenous Health Practices while I was a student at the University of Toronto in 2006. Before that, I’m not even sure if I knew that Indigenous communities still existed in ‘Canada’ based on our distorted and fucked up history curriculum and suburban insularity, which feels hard and shameful to write out loud. It wasn’t until I became a commuter student at UofT, taking the subway downtown from Scarbs that I noticed folks of Indigenous descent who were under-housed congregating in the park beside the St. George subway station where I would get off.
In class, we would sit in an intimate circle, begin with a smudging ceremony, share snacks, and listen to stories from various elders and knowledge keepers that Dr. Burman, a kind kind soul who was a dentist by profession, worked with on various reserves across the province. When I think of Dr. Burman, and how he wore compassion like a second skin, my heart swells. He was so intent on creating space for Indigenous teachings and broadening our conceptions of ‘health.’ It was surreal to be learning in this way at an institution known best for amphitheaters that kept you nameless and docile in rows of harsh wooden chairs. I can’t express how pleasurable it was to feel comfortable in a learning environment after four tough years at UofT that all together broke me.
I distinctly remember the moment when our class went from information to learning. When the unfathomability of the knowledge hit me and all rationality shattered into dust. With my brows furled and eyes pinched, and the only intelligent thing I could say was what the fucking fuck. A class reading led me to imagine the reality of a stranger showing up at my door and demanding I could no longer speak English (my first language), with the conditions that if I spoke English, I would be tortured or killed. I sat with it and was at a complete loss at how I, or anyone, could cope with such circumstances and absorb the terror of not being able to communicate, express, advocate or resist. To have your tongue wrenched. The exercise of imagination shook me and my body still remembers.
Even still, it took many more years of relearning the history of this land, reciting land acknowledgments, unraveling biases, listening to elders and teachers, and unlearning the colonial mindfuck of capitalism ($%$!#>#%#$), to begin to understand and embody how to be in solidarity - not saviorism - with Indigenous resurgence and liberation on this land. The work is long and for life.
But systemic change is not an individual project, it is a reconfiguration of power, powered by, collective power. My embodiment matters, but our embodiment matters more. I’m not fooled by the allure of self-importance.
After the performance, I contracted hard. The contraction wasn’t a surprise (thanks wisdom. thanks life experience) but it was still unpleasant. I think about contractions as sort of the exhale to the inhale, the cat to the cow pose, a retreat to what my body perceives as safe. In short, I wanted to hide. Some call this a vulnerability hangover, but I tend to refer to it as the clap back - like the elastic that has stretched far beyond its resting place, clumsily flinging back into a slightly reconfigured version of itself it has to get to know. It’s also kind of like gaslighting yourself, which is a bit unsettling. Often in this state, all the conditioned fears and doubt will make themselves known: why did I do that? what do people think of me now? did I look stupid? Almost immediately, I was like, I never want to do that again. About 24 hours later, my ego was trying to delete the experience. Did anything even happen? Don’t think so! It took about 96 hours of self-coaching to interrogate the flood of voices, and integrate into the new shape presented to me. Integration is such a formative part of any process that feels like an edge, but it doesn’t always get the airtime it deserves.
I don’t know if I can fully explain what integration looks like, but it feels like intense awareness and scrutiny of all the internal chatter that is questioning the experience of expansion. It is asking a lot of why is this coming up? what is the root of this thought? does this still serve me? whose voice is this? and giving more space to new ideas, born from the experience, to occupy the body, maybe I can do it? that felt really good. I’m proud of myself. I recently saw a TikTok where a creator explained that they literally imagine their thoughts as a colour and then physically pull them out of their body, so maybe that works too? Somewhere between moving around all the puzzle pieces of thoughts, a new normal emerges.
White supremacy is the ultimate clap back in the process of collective liberation. It’s how the state can stand in vigil to honour over 1,000 Indigenous children murdered at residential schools and ignore decades of calls from Grassy Narrows to clean the water from mercury poisoning and complete a mere fraction of the TRC’s call to action six years (!) after its release. It’s how the JTs (Trudeau and Tory) can kneel during a BLM / Abolish The Police rally, cut the police budget by a total of zero dollars and send in a police operation to Trinity Bellwoods to clear an encampment made by communities who are under-housed. Whiteness is the voice that screams, protect me at all costs, I deserve this power, I earned this power, if you’re not white and rich you are worthless and I can treat you as I want. I refuse to ever be surprised by the clap back of whiteness. It is always predictable. It is always abusive. It is always pathetic. It is always a vulgar display of power. It is the grandest misuse of energy I have ever spent and no more.
In the meantime, let’s keep shaping safe/brave/accountable/fun spaces to practice the future, to embody liberation, AND participate in collective power building.
Things that ground me in this process:
-the brilliance and audacity of Gen Z
-the acceptance that you don’t need everyone to dismantle a system (basically 30-40% of a population)
-the gratitude for this abundant and glorious land and the knowledge that we can hold space for is healing
-the knowing that my inner power is not dependent on being seen or having any external conceptions of power
-the steadiness that I can be a settler on stolen land, and still in solidarity with the present call for Indigenous resurgence
-the conviction that the revolution will not come from representation in the state or DEI in institutions but parallel people-powered communities and systems that choose to live and relate differently, that root in liberation
-the investment in other forms of currency: care, community, creativity, play, joy, peace
-the power of redundancy, being a broken record in catalyzing and manifesting systems change
Capitalism, survival, and lifestyle is sort of the piece that mangles any bright-eyed visions. Capitalism is the intersectional centre that institutionalizes racism, patriarchy, class, colonialism, etc. You can’t have an analysis of one without the other, and the fact that it is a self-regenerating system that absorbs anything with a monetizable pulse makes it trickier. I approach the abolishment of capitalism like I’ve learned to approach the abolishment of policing: we don’t have to know how, because it is a collective project. We just have to know this is not working and hold the belief in a different way.
It’s all happening, and gosh it is unimaginably painful to be aware of oppression and still have to live within its four walls, and also be optimistic? It’s not lost on me that my insane privilege means I can write about this on a Friday afternoon, and even create a performance to ‘imagine’ and ‘explore’ this. I don’t know how to fully reconcile that, but meaningfully participating is the best I got.
bye and give the land back,
Public Art: Philip Cote collaborated with the TTC on a project to highlight sacred Indigenous sites across the subway line. I went on the subway twice in the past two weeks after almost two years, and it was a nice break from the wash of Casper ads which unfortunately the pandemic did not change.
Music: Common took out a new song! Like what? This feels like the 2000s. (Okay I checked and he has been steadily releasing music for the last few years, I just clearly have not been listening to new music). The song is called Imagine, which feels like a good soundtrack for this journal entry. Also, Common has not aged, which is a nice gift for all of us.
Reading: I just finished Somebody’s Daughter, a memoir by Ashley C. Ford, who is a beloved writer mentored by Roxanne Gay and lauded by Oprah. There were moments where she described her relationship with her mother that felt synchronized, and what better way to understand your own experience more through someone else’s configuration of words? I’m now reading Adrienne Marie Browns, Holding Change (my fave!) and Stacey Abrams, Lead From The Outside.
Attending: Reset is getting ready to launch a summer of pop-up playgrounds to support Toronto’s social recovery and invite adults being adults to just play. Sign up for their newsletter to access the first ticket drop and check out the shiny new brand.
Reminders from Dr. Fish Philsopher Todd: