TOMBOY BOOK CLUB- FRESHWATER!!!

Todays’ book has me utterly besotted. It is one of the best – in my humble opinion- that I have read recently, way up there with Audre and Patti. I first found out about it because it is one of the longlisted books for the 2019 ‘Women’s Prize for Fiction’, but, more interestingly to me, it is the first book in the prize’s 27 year run to be written by a non-binary transgender author. By glorious coincidence, just as I finished this oracle of a book the months had changed to welcome in the beginning of PRIDE season- so what better way to usher in a month of acknowledging and understanding all things and people non-heteronormative or cis-gendered than by celebrating a book sincerely invested in expanding that conversation even more? Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi is stunning, wild and daring in its pursuit of defining freedom in identity: who really are we, and to whom do we belong, if not ourselves?

I didn’t realise it until mid-way through after reading some interviews, but Freshwater is actually a fictionalised representation of ‘real’ autobiographical experiences. I had been reading, stunned and touched that somehow, some stranger had put into words feelings I had never known myself how to articulate. To then learn that this story wasn’t pure imagination spoken through an art form, but grounded in and woven through actual breath and body was serious magic. This blurring of fiction and non-fiction is just the tip of the ice berg when it comes to Emezi’s dismantling of oppressive reason and the destruction of organizing meta-narratives rooted in binaries. Freshwater vibrates with a low humming queerness and punk, strung through a modern indigenous ‘fairy tale’ of Nigerian spirits from another realm.

We follow Ada from birth throughout *her* becoming, however this isn’t a story of growing up- it isn’t wholly her speaking. It is the tale of the spirits trapped inside her- who both are and are not her, who want to live so badly, just not here– and what they make her do in the pursuit of their own freedom. The Obanje spirits are at once mischievous, malicious and innocent- not good or bad, childlike yet wise beyond years with their inherent knowings. They rail against the torture of individualized embodiment, the concomitant fears and consequences that come with realizing you are one and singular… to then throw away their rules. The sprits know they aren’t alone in Ada, she is of them.

In my feeble reckonings, I think the integral mission of Freshwater is to make known the alienating, terrifying, yet utterly freeing and beautiful realisations that come through the collapsing of the binary and fusion of supposed opposites. Deviation flows in abundance through Freshwater, a transgression of established borders, the edges we put up to organize ourselves which only leave us lonely: Blurring happy/sad, god/mortal, insanity/sanity, life/ death, the individual/ the crowd, male / female, black / white, animality / humanity, emotion /empirical fact… INTERCONNECTEDNESS IS A SECRET NO MORE!!! Awareness of self and the construction of destiny is rendered back to primal impressions, where knowledge is powerful because it cannot be appropriated for gain or purpose; it simply is what it is, and that’s who you are- for one moment.

I will stop fangirling now, but for anyone interested in concepts of multitudes and hybridity, I cannot recommend this book enough. Akwaeke Emezi has created a world of sprightliness and depth; intoxicating in its imaginings of private mental space, made vivid through the scaffolds of reality structured around raw flux at its centre. Freshwater was also a breath of fresh air for me, and I can’t wait for what else Akwaeke Emezi has in store!!!!!!

“…This is all, ultimately, a litany of madness- the colours of it, the sounds it makes in heavy nights, the chirping of it across the shoulder of the morning. Think of brief insanities that are in you, not just the ones that blossomed as you grew into taller, more sinful versions of yourself, but the ones you were born with, tucked behind your liver. Take us, for instance…”

Pride (in yourself)

I feel it’s always worse to be sad when it’s sunny outside. When the weather corroborates your feelings with its grim drizzle and thrashing winds, it makes sense why you feel bad for no reason because, really– who can explain the weather away ? But when it’s sunny, I just feel so guilty; here are the gods in all their glories working to give beauty to life with their pollens and light rays- and I can’t feel a thing. Not a speck of summer hits the skin and tears blend with the sweat in some awful bodily cocktail. But the best thing about the weather is it’s changes; how you bless the day you’re given and hope it will last for as long as it can. The cliche of emotions being like the weather is cheesy as hell, but it is true.

I’ve been feeling BLEH for a while; a conglomeration of university ending, friends falling apart like the blown petals of flowers, and a sense of unceasing unimportance and confusion. But, it helps to get a little perspective. I saw one of my old friends yesterday who often also feels BLEH, but feeling BLEH together is actually the way to end BLEH, funnily enough. We went to a queer film screening in our hometown to celebrate pride month, and seeing so many stories of love denied, or mutilated, or hidden or so happy it could die was as uplifting as it was soberly life affirming in the different scales and durations in facing the problems we’re thrown. I’m not saying that all suffering is the same, or trying to erase lgbtqi+ narratives back into the soup of heteronormative obscurity, where specific and ignored problems are straightjacketed back into the confines of societal ignorance: I’m just saying, listen to others. You’ll learn a whole new way to see your own pain, and hopefully be able to help the other person/people too.

One of my favourite short films was about a trans kid called Nasser. Their mum keeps trying (in good faith, she isn’t trying to be horrible) to make them wear dresses, to have their unruly hair down; but all Nasser wants to do is eat crisps with their friends in their hideaway and to fix bikes with their dad. Not everyone knows what it’s like to feel wrong in their body, to feel trapped in your vision of yourself and what the world sees and dictates. But, I’m sure everyone, at least once, has wished they could be someone else- has wished to escape and exist in another’s body and life. Everyone knows what it’s like to feel shitty. And here is my point: listen. Nobody expects you to have the world answers or to be born with the heart of mother theresa. It is hard fucking work being tolerant and not judging, but it is so necessary. I really don’t want this world falling into a heap of depressed floppy bodies, all too lazy to learn how to love. Slipping back into the amnesia of claustraphobic understandings of life as an object, rather than a thing that’s always moving. The shadows as they play on curtains. The taste of chocolate as its sweetness hits you, then mellows away. The dragonfly’s one day.

I hope everyone has had a wonderful pride month, doing everything you can to support and give back to the lgbtqi+ community as an ally; or celebrating your love wherever you can to uplift others less fortuante to be romantic in their own countries (it pisses the hell out of me how most commonwealth countries still uphold homophobic laws- THANK YOU EVIL BRITISH EMPIRE AND YOUR PUTRID INFLUENCES THAT REMAIN). I am planning to go to Pride in London this Saturday, so yay! But if you still haven’t signed any petitions, made any donations or at least educated yourself a little about the lgbtqi+ community and how to rid injustices against them in the wider community (and also to rid the community internally of intolerance)- there is always time. And caring for others is the best way to care for yourself. love is a human right .JPG

XOXOXOXOXOXOXXOXOXOXOXOXOOXXOXOOXXOXOXOXOXO

PS- obviously don’t tear your soul to shreds trying to make everyone happy. You do what you can, and you understand that you’re amazing even if you can’t make the whole world love you as you wished. :))))))

The film event was run by CINE-SISTER. You can find them @CineSisterFilm on twitter. Give them a follow!!!!!