When the hard rain comes it leaks through the glass pained roof above my bed nook. It doesnt leak enough to fill buckets but it cries tears through the metal seams and lands in soft patches on my bed. I know that I have to go to the store tomorrow to buy clear silicon and then somehow get my ladder on the bed to reach the glass, which I’ve already imagined means dragging that long piece of plywood over and creating a kind of table top on the soft mattress. At least that’s the lazier way to do it.
I already dread going to the construction store to buy the thing and I already feel like as the rain passes that I have already forgotten that the drips through the glass were ever that bad, and I might somehow never get around to it. My fathers colleague once gave him a cut wooden circle with the words, “A Round Toit” printed on it. I found it again in the big messy desk my father had in his office after he died. I suppose I suffer from something of the same thing; endless home improvement needs never finished, always desired. Not to speak of home improvement dreams. He and I rarely got to dreams, though a few we managed to accomplish. He, the garage, and I, the loft. These projects both required the help of other people, which, in retrospect, were probably the driving force to get us to finish them. Buddies pushing at us to finish finish finish are always the saviors … AND the ones to be beaten and punished for their cruel workoholism.
My child asked me just today, why I always say, “I have to fix the sink, I have to fix the sink,” and yet I never do it, I never do it. I explained that it took me both time and money to find the way to get it done, and it was always hard to find that. But of course I still felt like a failure and a frustrated familiar feeling filled me: why haven’t you done it yet Dada, how come?
For some reason an imagined person comes to me on my shoulder as I’m having this thought who says, you need to invest more in loving yourself and your home. This person apparently eats really well, takes the time to only and always shop for fair trade organic, food and cooks it slowly, gets weekly massages and takes regular baths and has time to build herself a beautiful Instagram account of shots of herself in Bali doing yoga and meditation and pampering herself as she deserves. She teaches classes about how to achieve this and I apparently hate her, even though I essentially desire everything that she has and yet feel simultaneously quite certain that my life is much more fulfilling and interesting than hers because I have managed to have so many unpleasant experiences in life. Experiences which were thrust upon me and of which I had no control. I’m not talking about trauma here, although I’ve experienced some of that. I’m merely talking about discomfort—waiting for very very long times while riding buses, waiting for buses at all, working 10 hours shifts as a waitress, riding a bicycle for hours through the rain, showering with a bucket, being trapped in hot trains, living in places with no electricity, no running water, no internet, and of course, sleeping under leaky ceilings. These experiences have allowed me to see that the world has very very diverse expectations what it is to pamper oneself, to live well, to be rich, to be fulfilled.
Self love. The term has always confused me and turned me off, like some bizarre remnant of my father’s East German post war depression time childhood that presses on. I suppose because as much as it purports not to be about consumption, so much consumption comes packaged in the lifestyle, the branding of what it means to practice self love. Although I can see how self live might include consumption, I’ve never been convinced that it must.
I’ve never been entirely convinced that there is ever any need to buy anything at all. “Just what we need for a better life,” was my father’s sarcastic mantra, anytime the idea of buying anything came up. It was true, and it is true. It is my truth, somehow, as it was his. You never ever ever need anyTHING. Period. It’s so internalized that I don’t feel like it’s self love to go walk to a store and buy a thing, and certainly not to buy something on the internet. Both acts feel arduous, joyless. Drudgery. Certainly not what I understand “loving myself” to mean.
And yet of course I don’t agree with myself. I know perfectly well that although the procurement of the thing may not be fulfilling, the having and the utilizing of the thing as a tool, as an opening to possibility, to creation, could, somehow, perhaps … Yes. Feel good. Not only feel good, be good for me. An investment in my growth.
“Perhaps you simply don’t know how to love yourself,” the woman on my shoulder says.
But, yet again, I resist her. I do love myself. I always have loved myself, and for some years, I actively seemed to love and appreciate the person I was becoming with increasing strength everyday. That, perhaps, has slowed to a plateau as, in my mid thirties, I began to feel the weight of shame and regret, bad actions coming to haunt me, rejoinders of old relationships who were still just there, on the other side of the digital line. I love myself, but I’m nothing special. Or rather, I am special, as everyone is, but there is no reason why I, as opposed to anyone else, should live and thrive. There is nothing in particular that should keep me–me as opposed to anyone else–living and presumably, self-loving.
It’s here, where these edges arrive, between loving oneself and ones own existence and valuing and loving the existence of others, that I begin to think about why consumerism matters in these questions. It’s not possible to consume endlessly, to take up space, to pamper oneself through purchase–without bounds, in the name of one’s own self love and worth without beginning to encroach on the survival of others.
Things and services have stories, stories of other people, of resources. Stories of origin and migration, struggle to get from one place to another, people who assist in the getting from one place to another. Yet we often think of ourselves as individuals, easily able to demarcate ourselves, to clean our immediate surroundings (of dust, of dirt, of disease, of clutter, of irresponsibility, of bad choices, of emotional baggage). But is it really possible when everything we access through exchange links us to hands and people and movement?
To Kondo something. That is, to get rid of. To ask—does this serve me? This is an outcropping, it seems, of this brand of individualism, this consumerist/minimalist cycle where self love is also decluttering ones surroundings, sanitizing one’s mental capacity. It’s so clean, this “setting of boundaries.” It’s so clean, this sense of my own mental capacity. My capacity. What do I believe is my capacity? Who decides this, who is master of this boundary setting, this clearing, this mental hygiene. Certainly I would like to believe that it is always me, but if I have involved others–is it? Or rather, is the cleaning of ME a CLEAN action? Is clean possible?
Why is it that we believe that the thing just “disappears” or that it ever simply appeared in ones house. It has this story, the one that took it here to my hands. All the hands that touched its creation and now I’m to act as though I am master of it? I am master, presumably because I purchased it at one time or another (or was anointed as gift-bearer), free to ask whether or not it serves me.
The object might want to ask the same of me. Do I serve it? Have I taken care of it, honoured it, the resources it is made of, the people who took the time and care to make it. Did I even attempt to recuperate the thing or did I sell it for parts? Or did I give it to the dump as though the dump were not some appendage of my own body, my own living and breathing body that Ive simply decided to actively neglect.
I keep waking each morning with the drilling of information in my brain like the midi notes on my computer screen, relentlessly looping, quantized, precise, drilling at me in time with the metronome, sometimes double time, sometimes the high hat and sometimes the crash. Information useless and useful and neither at the same time. Exponentially increasing application devices for which to measure ourselves, our health, or past illness and future health, when and how to do everything. It made me think there must be an app to schedule a time to take a shit. If it hasn’t been developed its probably on its way as I write this. After all it might be more time efficient to schedule absolutely every aspect of the daily existence of a human being in order to reach maximum capacity of—no–not production, not just production, but of joy. Maximum joy, maximum enjoyment of life. Least inconvenience, least blockage: of the heart, of traffic, of the blood to the brain, of the idea to the manifestation, of the waiting (for the sleeping, for the site to load, for the cure).
I think that if my bonus son asks me to help him with his homework tomorrow and it prevents me from going to the Bauhaus immediately upon waking and then the day takes me as it does with six years olds around from one fantasy to unachievable idea to the next, I will probably say yes, and part me of will feel valiant in doing so, as though I am “making time for being with children, for being silly and carefree. I am letting time take over, I am letting go of control. In short, I am a good person.” What’s more, I will feel genuine joy in doing so–not just this checking of boxes that we all love to accuse each other of. But later, if I haven’t bought the silicon and the hard rains come after the stores close, the sense of failure will come again. I will glare at the glass and the dripping water and feel shame again. And I will dread, all over again, the idea of going to the store.
And then I will ask myself, what on Gods earth did you actually DO today and why was going to the store and fixing this leaky roof nothing in that plan? Not to mention the sink of which my child speaks.
What I did today: I home-schooled two six year olds. I spoke to my old lover about white privilege and our failure to call out a racist comment. I made a long deep stretch of my body as I watched my deeply entwined friend draw and read tarot. I watched one artist, should have been two, who I was meant to meet in Ghana share their studio space over Instagram Live, interrupted and glitched by the realities of terrible internet connections and never being able to connect at all. I argued with my lover about the idea of whether or not something is already known when it is felt by the other but not the bearer of the feeling, about how to receive anxiety with love, without trying to rationalize it. I texted in multiple Whatsapp groups: with friends in New York about parental support and sexist partners unequally sharing the domestic labour; with with my brother about insomnia and a new love interest; with my co-parents about how our pods are holding up with social distancing. And I tried in earnest about three hours worth of actual “productivity” of the thing I would call “job,” which was editing video footage.
Yes, these many diverse things and people filled my day because I am not in a relationship, no, no, I am in relationship WITH.
It occurred to me that there are so many normative things (things which “aught to be”) — towards which or against which one is either conforming with or rebelling against which are (not) happening in these Corona Times. The normative idea of getting into the car and going to work; instead we work from home and mask ourselves inside “one of the 52 coolest Zoom backgrounds according to …” The normative idea that we should be speaking to a person and yet the conversation only includes every 9th word. It aught to include all of the words. All of the words ought to be audible. We aught to connect and yet we spend time waiting to connect, in anticipation of connection, in the wake of bad connections.
And it occurred to me that this Corona moment, despite all those imperfections, is making actual the idea that digital intimacy can be had, indeed, regardless of these failures to be normative. So many extended family chats have shown me that it took THIS, this apparent “universal moment of being thrust into discomfort” to make us all talk to each other at one time, over the Interwebs, even though the capabilities had long existed. The resistance to the idea of connecting through whatsapp or zoom or periscope or skype or google hangout has remained so strong that all intimacy was rejected full stop for years at the expense of even trying to have digital intimacy whatsoever. I’m speaking of those dark years between the end of analogue and the now, what may also be described at the nineties and the nauties and even the tweens. I mean, many of these people I hadn’t spoken to for 15 years, apparently because we all subscribe to what my mother always warned against, “Don’t make the perfect (intimate/internet connection) the enemy of the good (intimate/internet disrupted connection).”
So this is what it appears has been occupying my precious time, these relatations I have, these entanglements. These incredible amounts of relatations to whom I desire to relate, and to whom I am related, whether I desire it or not. The reality is that whether I see these relations or not, this principle extends to the things–and by extension, people–with which I come into contact.
I can love myself, but my self love is not what I would call clean. It is entangled, it is relational, and it includes being thrust into uncomfortable situations beyond my control.