accepting the way things are
is freedom from delusion. it is power.
so long as you do not accept
that things must always be this way.
Last week, a colleague arranged a big lunch order from Sadat’s, a local restaurant recently hit by a costly scam. Along with eating delicious food, it was a chance for a bunch of cool people and me to eat lunch together. I’m usually socially awkward af, but this was pretty nice!
We wound up telling stories of embarrassing times we fell down in front of other people. It was kind of lovely. Everybody falls down.
I’m mentioning this because I usually fall (uuugh sorry) into the pattern of asking boring questions – “what department are you in? What classes are you teaching?” and that’s not actually a very good way of getting to know someone. Telling stories is much better.
Problem is, I’m not very good at telling stories. If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them. As long as they don’t involve listening to self-promoting white men on youtube.
What even is thanks?
A transient moment of honor? an obligatory feint of humility? a recitation of blessusohlordforthesethygifts so that we can feast on turkey, or just deserts?
Or a recognition of the fact that we are largely products of circumstance, of the gifts that have afforded us the place we are now – the efforts of family, community, support systems. The structure of a system that considers us its beneficiaries (from tax cuts to access to loans to “free” land “given” to your ancestors). And of the things our historical revisionism will call “gifts” but were never given, were taken. Are being taken. Land. Dignity. Lives.
Because thanks, sincere thanks, not the kind you say when someone holds the door for you unnecessarily, places you in an ethical relation with someone else. In my philosophy, morality is not one of obligation but one of care. So… acknowledging the gifts the system has bestowed on you, what are you going to do about it?
This post was written from my home on traditional, unceded Mi’kmaq territory. The First Nations Leadership/Councils on PEI are embarking on a project called L’Nuey, which as I understand it, is a negotiation with the governments of PEI and Canada, to come to a common understanding of what the existing treaties mean in terms of Mi’kmaq rights and title. That’s cool! Also the Government of PEI’s website says that 12%(!) of the province’s land is “publically-owned and managed by the government for the good of all Islanders.” You know, uh, we could probably make a start by returning some or all of that land back.
[Correction: An earlier version implied that the First Nations Leadership/Councils only applied to the two First Nations. The L’Nuey website is clear that this project is for all Mi’kmaq on Epekwitk, not just those who are defined as Band Members by Canada’s Indian Act.]
Are you sitting down?
Things happened in October. I had a birthday. I got older. I took a vacation. I learned things for which there aren’t words. And I let my blog sit.
What does it mean to sit? One facet of sitting is to be left alone, in the state of not receiving regular tending or care; the way that something sitting gathers dust from the swirling air around it, or moss from the creeping ground life, or plugin updates from the code faeries. To sit is to let the world happen. As the dust gathers, as messiness ensues, we call it disorder, entropy, chaos. The word disorder comes with a philosophical sense of wrongness, provoking impulses to tidy, to organize, to heal. We fear the consequences of sitting. Sitting is just letting be. Also, to sit with is to be present with. It can mean being present with something uncomfortable or something we fear. Accepting, bearing witness, supporting. Sitting can be a form of care.
What does it mean to stir? To break stasis and start to move. To feel a swirling of emotion, to let that feeling move you. To disturb. To stir a pot, rather than let it sit. A vision of witches and cauldrons, stirring is a kind of magic. Stirring a soup is an act to sustain you and your kin. An act of tending and an act of care. Stirring speeds the generation of entropy, as it disperses heat from high-temperature areas to low-temperature ones1https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/entropy. Stirring is, in the thermodynamic sense, doing work in the service of chaos. How many devices does capitalism offer us to avoid stirring? Instant Pot, Crockpot, Kitchenaid, Oster, Betty Crocker, Anova, Cuisinart. Praxis suggestion of the day? Go stir something.
I have been stirring over the last month, and this blog (and author) will not be the same.
I gave a very short talk today. I was invited to be part of a panel, that was one of the (many interesting) events in the Applied Geospatial Research in Public Policy (AGRiPP) workshop. Our topic was Digital Literacy / Digital Humanities. Each of my co-panelists and I had 5 minutes, so I said something kind of like this.
I’m Rosie Le Faive, and I’m a librarian, so my exposure to digital literacy is usually in the context of “information literacy” – delivering 50-minute lectures to first-year university students on how to use the library. And most of what I cover is how to use our databases to find peer-reviewed research, but every year when I get these classes, I like to think about how I can take it deeper. What does information literacy mean?
I’m going to go on a sidebar… forgive me, it will spoil a movie from 18 months ago… but it will tie back in. [CW: abuse, murder].
In Avengers: Infinity War, the character Gamora is murdered by her abusive father, and in the film it’s framed as proving his love for her [ick face]. Some scenes later, in the middle of a battle, Gamora’s boyfriend realizes she didn’t return and demands “Where… is… Gamora?”. Iron Man, (who’d never met them till this movie) counters with “I’ll do you one better… Who’s Gamora?” and Drax, who usually misses emotional tones of things, says “I’ll do you one better… why is Gamora?” The audience laughs, Drax is stupid, the question is silly.
But I really like his question. Why is Gamora? In this movie, her entire story arc exists so that she can die, and spur a man into action (or mis-action). This is a trope in media that’s known as fridging, after a brutal scene in a Green Lantern comic. Women characters biting the dust in order to further a man’s storyline is so popular that feminists have given it a name and are aware of it. Fridging doesn’t happen by accident. There were thousands of people involved in the making of this film. Why did this get through the layers of decision-making? Were there no women in the right rooms?
Why does this information exist? That’s the question that interests me. Why was it made, and what was its path from creation to distribution to wherever I encounter it? What structures and institutions were part of the story of this information, and what does it say about them?
A digital humanities project that I just became aware of, and deeply admire for its work in this, is Lily Cho’s Mass Capture project. It digitizes a collection of certificates – known as C.I. 9‘s, which Canada used to keep track of and control people from China. This was in the days of the Chinese “Head Tax”, and if someone from China living in Canada wanted to return to their home country and be able to return (without re-paying the head tax) they had to fill out a C.I. 9. It contained a lot of personal information – name, birthdate, where they’re from, identifying features, and photographs. This was particularly exciting [edit: that is the wrong word, maybe interesting or fascinating; left for accountability] because it was the first mass photography project implemented by the Canadian State. But Cho’s work explores how this bureaucracy creates and constructs people as “non-citizens,” a special kind of subject (in the Foucauldian sense) as defined by government policies founded in racism and white supremacy.
So I like to think about information literacy as knowing where to look for information (e.g. libraries!), and understanding who created that information – the direct provenance and responsibility, but also why is this information – what systems and structures and institutions brought it to me, and why did they consider it valuable?
Understanding these structures won’t let us be free of them. After all, “We live in a society.” But I find that awareness gives us context, and with the ability to reframe, more agency in how we construct stories.