TOMBOY BOOKCLUB!!!!- The Body Is Not An Apology

Hello!!Happy Sunday! I finished this book yesterday in the bath, and honestly it made me feel so jubilant afterwards I knew a blog post was waiting. This book is like a little explanation manual of why you feeling shit about yourself isn’t always your fault, how you hating yourself is actually the product of years of subliminal indoctrination into shame and how this shame builds divisions and inequalities that fuel ‘Body Terrorism’. Body Terrorism being, according to Sonya Renee Taylor, the ubiquitous bombardment of stereotypes, hierarchies and judgements we subject our own and other bodies to.These ingrained negative messages about ourselves and others ultimately being the energy powering every kind of ‘body oppression’, every kind of discrimination there is from racism, misogyny, fatphobia, abelism, ageism, homophobia and more.

I found this book so relaxed, yet so rich in potential ways of re-organising the brain away from inertia and hatred, that I found myself repeatedly rereading the same passages and dog-earing many of the pages for future reference. Sonya Renee Taylor is an activist and founder of the ‘Body is Not An Apology’ website and movement- so her book isn’t set out in a traditional format, with chapters for readers to get through without enquiry as to how the material they’re reading is making them feel or what they’re learning. She sort of makes it like a school text-book for emotional growth (and political empowerment), interspersing text with small bubbles of her ‘Radical Reflections’ and ‘Unapologetic Enquiries’ for the reader to engage not only with Taylor’s words, but with the brain of themselves that is processing and reformulating the book back in terms of knowledge their own brain can retain. Though this book covers some timeless and universal struggles that I’m not sure can ever be easily addressed or answered, Taylor makes the book manageable to read, without being condescending or reductionist in how she proposes her tactics for the eradication of body oppression and terrorism everywhere: radical self love.

The Body Is Not An Apology is split into sections. First examining the roots of our self-hatred and internalised stigmas against ourselves and others, excavating how those who tormented us ultimately aren’t the originators, but pollinators of hate and judgement they’d learnt from external forces. Second, it explains how we are subjected to ideas perpetuating body terrorism- via the media, culture, and intimate pollinators of shame- and how these ideas are made concrete, made real and painful by systemic and structural enforcement by governments, and more cruelly and baffling, ourselves. This book does not endorse a binary organisation of thinking at all, Taylor is not in favour of any ‘you’ VS ‘them’/ ‘He’ VS ‘She/ ‘Black VS ‘white’- she offers radical honesty into admitting when we were victims, and learning to write new stories for ourselves to live by. But, equally, Taylor gives us a mirror, questions to hold up to ourselves so we can realise how we are never purely victims or enforcers of judgement, but always simultaneously being harmed, and (unintentionally, mostly) causing harm to others.

Her argument is simple: if you treat yourself with suspicion and animosity, if your’e forever giving yourself a hard time for not being ‘perfect’, if you don’t afford yourself empathy and compassion then how can you begin to extend that to others? If you cant hold yourself accountable for who you really are, not who you are told to be, how can you honestly hold other bodies accountable without reverting to bias and cruel stereotype? Taylor cites a perpetual reluctance to accept difference and ‘not understanding’ as ways our inherent capacities for self-love are intercepted. If you constantly hold up a default standard of body which deserves more love, respect, and grace than any other type, becoming hostile and confused whenever bodies not conforming to your rules choose to be something the rules don’t allow, then how will the mysteries of life ever be anything other than fear? If you can’t come to terms with differences that have no ‘why’, with not understanding the various reasons people become who they are, then how can you truly try to love everyone without making your love hinge upon some category that must be fulfilled? Basically, by Taylor grounding oppression and injustice in the body, the physical homes which keep us ticking, she is making the political issues that seem beyond our grasp a literal part of our DNA- she brings the fight truly home.

Her book is about honesty, forgiveness, curiosity into the why things are structured the way they are; and how by becoming more aware of who we are, our true potential for love is the long-term revolution that will truly sustain the world for future days. By examining the intersections of our identities, we can become more aware of how our worst fears about ourselves are not isolated or arbitrary, but indoctrinated into so many other people there’s no need to feel alone or afraid. Equally, by being honest with how who we are impacts our thinking, we can begin to understand why we have absorbed negative messages about others whose ‘faults’ are different from our own. By seeing ourselves more clearly, we can more effectively see how  we treat others-regardless of whether we actually ‘understand’/know them- you don’t have to explain yourself or understand yourself to deserve love.

Sometimes it may seem that Taylor is being too idealistic, too lovey-dovey for her idea to actually be radical, but that’s why I think she is genius. Her revolution doesn’t propose us all to be sitting in flowery fields, congratulating each other on how beautiful our bodies our and how all corruption is finally gone. Her revolution is material, embodied and so close you can literally touch it: it is within each push of the lung as it heaves out more breath. Her revolution reaches to the poorest of neighbourhoods,to the richest of banks, because her argument is applicable to all: if you have a body, love it- and that love will spread like the best ever virus you could hope to catch. If you constantly try to organise humanity into tribes to be trusted VS targeted, you could have the best intentions in the world and still result in cruelty when you finally get the power that was held away, and use it to do to others what was done to you. Without loving yourself, and by extension all bodies, nobody is there to interrupt the infinite figure of 8 the devil has somehow spun hatred into the seconds with.

I know that I’m definitely going to be revisiting this book a lot. Taylor has included many tips and tricks for helping unclutter the mind from the shit-show named body hierarchies. If you’ve been feeling not enough/ frustrated with yourself and where the world has placed you/ hopeless at what you can do to make it better- just generally confused/ ugly/ worthless but forever glimmering with that shadowy dust of hope, then this book is for you!!!!! Sonya Renee Taylor has a big heart that we can all learn from, and I really hope you give this book a try! It is not tedious, too complicated or far-fetched. It is beautiful and necessary. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post, and to conclude, I’ve decided to quote someone who I know would agree with Sonya and L.O.V.E the message of this book…. RU-PAUL!!!! ‘IF YOU CAN’T LOVE YOURSELF, HOW IN THE HELLLLLL YOU GONNA BE ABLE TO LOVE ANYONE ELSE??!?!?!?!’

“We are not simply good or bad; vessels of pure, divine light or mongers of hate; interrupters of body terrorism everywhere or singlehandedly upholding oppression of bodies across the planet. If ‘good’ and ‘bad’ were the choices on a quiz about who we are, the answer would be ‘all of the above’. Humans (i.e., you and I) are doing and being all those things all the time… Binary thinking limits our possibility, squelches compassion, and reinforced narrow ideas of how we get to ‘be’ in the world. That marginalisation is a function of internalised body terrorism. If you recall, the practise of ‘I am not my thoughts’ prompted us to examine our thoughts from a place of curiosity and diminished judgement. The same is true for our behaviours. We can change our behaviours, but only when we see them as mutable- of us but not us. Honour that you will be many things throughout the course of your life. Sometimes you will be a phenomenal gift; sometimes you will get on someone’s damn nerves. There is gorgeous potential and heinous instinct in all of us. Singularity does not define us. Our instincts influence and shape us but do not define us. When we find ourselves in the land of either/or thinking- characterised by words like never, always, only, every time, mostly, rarely– it is a great sign that we may be off our path. Binary thinking is the antithesis of radical self-love…”

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- ‘Devotion’

The fact that I have chosen to sit and type this after a day of work, instead of scrolling through instagram and letting other people decide how I should hate myself today, perhaps illustrates the point that Patti Smith is trying to explore in this book- Devotion, all about why writers choose to write. Why there is something within us all that won’t shut up, like a conker trying to burst out of it’s thorns into the dark softness of earth around. The mystery of what compels somebody to sit down and create a whole new world of their own choosing, whilst the real hustle and bustle of blood and bones keeps cranking the wheel outside dreamings. This isn’t the first book of Patti’s I’ve read, and Just Kids about Robert Mapplethorpe and her galavanting around New York in love and inspired will always hold a special place in my heart. Patti’s works are always little miracle drops into the vast legacy of language.

Devotion keeps up the typical Smithian prose, sparse yet searing- using a minimal lanuguage to convey spiritual hopes and depths, that many writers forsake in favour of catalogued details to get more ‘realistic’ styles. Sometimes reading Smith I do feel a bit skeptical, like her writing is trying too hard to be profound and is too serious in its exultations of divinity. But, I also feel perhaps that is the green eyed monster clouding my perception- truly, I am amazed how one mind can be so sensitivley intune to the cosmic vibrations around the most mundane of routines without fanfare. In Devotion, Patti describes her visits to cafes for bread and coffee with as much beauty as if she were visiting an other-worldly wonder, not some old poets dive in Paris.

This book is not too long, but it engages with the topic on the origins of inspiration and the force behind writing with a mystical directness that only leaves me wanting more. It is probably my analytical mind being too hopeful, that I thought before reading this that Smith could give clear answers to these obscure and ever debated issues of creatvitity. But ultimatley, that’s what I love about Devotion– Patti is like a London pidgin, alighting on one thought, briefly pecking around its periphery before flying away in search of another hope to find substance, not mere crumbs. The only certainty being that there will never be certainty, never any right or wrong when it comes to the soul unsullied. Smith doesn’t pretend to know all the answers- she worships beauty on her knees like communion mass scribbled on paper. She appreciates, and celebrates without the burden of answers which is something I envy a lot about her writing. It is powerful, direct, yet not pretentious in the slightest. If she is melodramatic, it isn’t because she is hiding behind pretty words- its a pure and unadultarated excitement for the world and its little wonders.

She discusses the how and why of writing. We often know what inspires us, and how we come to express such dioramas of feeling and thought, but never the why. Why do we write when we could live? Why create another world when we are given what is before our eyes without even asking for it? Is writing a desperation, or an overflowing sensitivity of nerve endings, forever reaching to finally touch what we trmeble underneath, grasp what is really there. This book is interesting, as it is not only a short work of fiction, but also includes memoir of before the pen hit page. Of what her life was unfurling to prompt that brain to dream, those words to kindle. This is a story where slices of ham become round ponds of ice. Where ice skaters speak a limb language that only hands knowing the curve of inked-writing can echo. Silent forests and the way failing sunlight in winter breaks through crusted leaves, the way breath catches on frozen air- a cold beauty only the mind can embrace without shivering in uncomfort.

Her story is promted whooshing past fields of France, and is recorded in its final narrative as a story of a young, friendless girl with a longing of finding and speaking her solitary truth through dancing on snowflakes. The story is told through her perspective, at once brutally honest yet alienatingly emotionless as she encounters her doomed paramour. A strange yet alluring art collector, obsessed with beauty and thus cursed with his rejection of living- all he wants to do is own, safe and sturdy with his precious object to commandeer. When I started reading this book, I was unsettled by the story Smith spins, and the ending is hardly consoling. But, once you get past the initial shock, the story unfolds in a prophetic eloquency that only Smith could have the gentle, innocent audacity to write. I don’t want to spoil the plot here, as really if you have a day to yourself this book could be easily read with delight in silence, with copious amounts of tea or coffee or zootage. But rest assured, after reading Devotion you won’t only wish there were more pages to turn, but you’ll be wanting to pick up a pen and record the singular mysteries of destiny and love in your own silent epic that is us, our lives.

I hope this blog post finds you well, and even if you dont read Devotion, that you give Patti your eyes and ears. Her writing is always consice without being empty, deep without being too high-brow and arrogant. Her voice is loving, cosmic and demurely energized- a way of feeling deeply without thinking too highly. If you have no time to read, do at least give her music a try. She is the punk poetess of New York, after all- and for that, Patti, I am eternally grateful. Like she so often visits the graves of those icons and artists she has followed; if I can’t meet her in person, I hope to be able to lay flowers for her some day. As Patti would say: THEY LAUGH AND THEY EXPECT ME TO FAINT BUT I WILL NEVER FAINT I REFUSE TO LOSE, I REFUSE TO FALL DOWN. xoxoxoxox

” Why is one compelled to write? To set oneself apart, cocooned, rapt in solitude, despite the wants of others… There are stacks of notebooks that speak of years of aborted efforts, deflated euphoria, a relentless pacing of the boards. We must write, engaging in a myriad of struggles, as if breaking in a willful foal. We must write, but not without consistent effort and a measure of sacrifice: to channel the future, to revisit childhood, and to rein in the follies and horrors of the imagination for a pulsating race of readers.”

 

Pocket Revolutionaries

Survival is difficult. I don’t mean Bear Gyrlls macho survival skills eating maggots or sleeping in a goat carcas. I mean the endurance of being able to wake up every day without instantly loosing hope in the world we inhabit as soon as your eyes scan the news. As soon as all the misogynistic/ racist/ classist/ general unwarranted cruelties all come to light, and you’re told “That’s just the way things are“.

I know that worrying about abuse and violence doesn’t prevent people suffering, but thinking is a start and the more you imagine the lives of others, the more unfathomable it seems to be able to ignore all the pain. Not imagining in some wierd voyeuristic, self-righteous way; I just mean, the more you think of others, the more potential for inciting a change of attitudes- which then hopefully leads to a decrease in the shittery that is ‘human nature’. 

This morning I woke up and did the mundane task of reading the newspaper with my orange juice ( I sound so bougie lol- its just my grandma likes to get the good old broadsheets still in their big flapping wings of paper). There was Windrush. There was the murder of Kim Wall (may you forever rest in peace xoxo). There were ambulance staff being sexually assulted and people in Nicaragua killed. The world is so beautiful because of it’s diversity; but this diversity and the incessantly shifting natures behind the diversity also means a huge pick’n’mix of the absolute worst parts of what we are capable of too. Reading all the stories didn’t armour me a thicker skin of acceptance, I didn’t try to make it make sense: I cried.

Crying is seen as something wimpy and that you should only do if absolutley nobody can see. Nope. Not for me. There’s nothing strong in denying, of repressing terror and fear in the name of blind comfort. Crying just means you care, a lot- and caring a lot is definatley something this world needs more of. But to return to my previous point: worrying incessantly does nothing to help those people whose lives you are invested in wanting to help. Putting obvious activism aside (‘obvious’= joining political parties, starting your own grass roots groups, protesting, donating to causes and signing petitions/ nagging politicans), I would like to propose another kind of activism that helps one cope with the world’s miseries without becoming an angry, detached, disillusioned shell: pocket revolution. The small, yet so so so necessary acts of kindness and understanding  that make the world- well, at least your patch of it- better.

POCKET REVOLUTION- my grandma hugging, not telling me off for being ‘too involved‘ with what I see in the world when I cry to the morning paper. The kind man who gave me a pink geranium after grandma and I admired his Tulips. It is smiling when the dogs cover me in dirty river water, not shouting at them. The mother whose pram I helped carry down the tube steps despite rushing crowds and the little girl who I made smile when I was feeding pidgins. Basically: not being afraid of strangers. Not being afraid to be childish and silly, or afriad to be the first one to say sorry. It is complimenting strangers and smiling because if Donald Trump/ Amber Rudd/ Theresa May/ Kim Jong Twat can hate people for no reason, then I am going to fucking try my very hardest to love people for no reason other than the fact you breathe and feel and eat and shit pretty much the same as me; but with a lot of interesting details I have no idea about (and that I would love to get to know over a cup of tea sometime).

I know I probably sound very righteous and I haven’t come up with any break through political rhetoric to destroy the montser of patriachal imperial capitalism… But I tried. And that is the point. We should at least try to try.

I was at the train station reading some poems after the newspaper, and the one I want to share is another example of what I would call pocket revolution by a Ghanaian poet, Joe De Graft called ‘An Un-African Breakfast’. His positivity made me feel stronger, and so I would love to spread the loveeee further. (it also kinda reminded me of my boyfriend in how happy Joe sounded despite all the world’s various brands of cruelty- both he and my luv are definatley pocket revolutionaries) xxoxoxoxoxoxox

AN UN-AFRICAN BREAKFAST 

So here I am this morning
Early in the Kitchen.

The aroma of fresh coffee on the boil,
Nose-filling aroma of good fresh coffee
on the boil;
And this kitchen is good to be in
And good to hear the browning water
babble-bubbling inside the glass-trap
head of the percolator;
And the good wife still asleep in her vono bed
Dreaming good dreams, I hope,
Of me!

All night the tummy hasn’t been well,
Running like it wanted nothing more
to do with me for eating what I
do not know-
All night a running tummy;
Till at last out of weariness
I drop into oblivion between 4 and 5
Quite unknowing –
Deep oblivion
Sweet as feathers…

Then crash out of nowhere
The white day comes bursting in
Through frosted louvres…..

And its good to be alive!

Good indeed to be alive,
So thank we god
For everything,
And the myriad sparrows
Chirrupping in the fresh morning sun outside
While the percolator bubbles……

(The poem is quite long, I can’t type the whole poem out but I highly highly highllllyyyy recommend reading his poetry, they are soul food)