enough and enough: an intersection, an invocation
I’m curious: when is it good to have limited resources?
When is it good to not have enough? Not be enough?
I’m curious about when struggles are intersectional and when they aren’t. I hear talk about limited resources so much lately. I’m curious where there’s intersectionality between limited environmental resources and limited people resources, and when those two are not actually the same.
What would it be like to believe there is enough for all of us in people-places? Can we ever actually believe that?
Maybe: the nature of being together is that we will never have enough. I’ve certainly been raised to believe this: My body is too much, there are limited opportunities, you can’t win ‘em all, only a limited amount of people can truly be seen or made visible or famous. Not everyone can be great, if great means being part of a select few. Not everyone can be kept safe, if being safe means being kept apart. There is not enough justice, there is not enough coal, there is not enough land for us all to live on well.
But: Sometimes this scarcity is about keeping us separate. Sometimes this scarcity is a good reminder to value things, to try not to deplete them. When is which? Or more?
Lately I’ve been hearing people talk about solidarity so much – trying to find ways to reach across different needs and situations to support each other in some kind of communal struggle. M told me about #solidarityisforwhitewomen. Of course it is. Can we only reach across when we already have more than enough? More than is our due? Does solidarity require abundance on one end, or some end? Does solidarity require that scarcity pre-exist it?
As a white woman myself, I’m wondering. I didn’t start identifying as a white woman until I realized that other people didn’t have these words, didn’t have these tools to lay on. My father was born and raised in Mexico and I grew up speaking Spanish. My parents and grandparents wouldn’t likely identify simply as “white.” But I have the white woman tools. I’ve got the shovel of white woman to lean on and dig in with.
L and I talk about intersectional feminism, about not silencing any other voices by trying to shout to get heard as women, about including trans voices and genderqueer voices and people of color and women of color and not letting my desire to be heard shout them out. I get so loud, though, when I’m given the chance to speak.
How do you know, though, when to step back? So many organizing spaces depend on the rule “know when to step up and when to step back.” What if people never know? What if I never know? Is there enough space for everyone to actually be heard? There must be, and there can’t possibly be. I think both.
If I need to shout, how can that shouting happen in a field that does not shout anyone else down? Perhaps shouting is the wrong verb entirely, but in some ways it seems like the only one I can have.
I feel okay being quiet when other people are in pain. I am a good listener. That is a key way that I know myself to be.
But what happens to my body when other people are more in pain than I am? Do I have to make myself scarce? How do I make myself scarce without making other people have to stand alone on a stage? See under tokenism in my literary world and white allies who take up so much space—when I call myself an ally, am I actually stepping my body away from the fight? It’s physical here, and somatic.
I’ve been in meetings, #blacklivesmatter meetings and actions, organizing meetings and other kinds of meetings, where it makes sense to make myself scarce and I feel right about it. I am there as an ally, as a support. I am there to bring my body along and stand with it. I am there to put my body in the room with people whose bodies have struggled and been targeted more than mine has. When and how, though, does my body know when to arise? To act? My voice and my body are different (though of course linked). Still, I worry that—once quiet—my body will only stay down.
Bhanu Kapil, in Ban en Banlieue: “I want to think about the body becoming a kind of food for the street. Irreducible.”
What if my body does stay down? Is there a time or a way when that is okay?
My body stays down a lot in my art worlds. But it’s starting to get up, and it doesn’t know how.
In light of recent conversations in the “alt lit” world about how to create a safer space, I’m wondering about scarcity. Part of the reason I see for rape culture and discrimination in the alt lit world is that we all want things; we all want publications, jobs, to read, to be seen, to be heard. We want those things and yet there’s not a clear path—the alt lit world can be so murky in what will make us successful. And this murkiness is on purpose, because it’s “alt.”
And so we try to ingratiate ourselves. And so we try to make people like us. And so we try to be cool. We try to play by whatever rules we can identify. We worry that there aren’t enough publications, reading series, chances to be “famous,” jobs—and so we are willing to do what we have to do get them, even if it means submitting to cultures or to people that don’t make us feel extremely comfortable, extremely safe.
Even if it means making ourselves small when necessary. I have made myself small when I deem it necessary. I have laughed at the jokes of men who I didn’t think were funny or kind or impressive. I have been less than brave. I have stayed quiet in order to figure out how to please.
The alt in alt lit is important here, too – this is an “alternative” space, one that doesn’t require or live by “mainstream” rules. And without those mainstream rules we have a vacuum. The vacuum allows people to make anything seem acceptable because it is alternative. I have held myself as a woman and a person in ways that make me feel uncomfortable in “alt lit” spaces because I don’t want to appear to be shutting down (or shouting down) anyone else’s creative expression or “alt” ways of being. I want everyone to be heard. But, again, where does my body go when other people get heard? Can I stay in the room?
At a recent meeting reflecting on efforts to combat rape culture in the alt lit world and create safer spaces, I listened to JT talk about how we can’t rebuild anything yet, about how there has to be much, much more destroyed before we can rebuild. I wonder if this destruction holds in its heart the desire to invent again – or not. Is it possible to destroy without thinking of what will come next? Is there a way to actually get published and heard in a public context without shouting anyone else down? Is it possible to ask our voices to be heard publically (ie published) and trust that others will be heard, too? Whose responsibility is to get voices heard? What would an alt lit community (or set of circles and communities) look like that took responsibility for voices getting heard? Would it still be alt? Does making rules for safety around something make it less alt?
I’m excited to see some swipes at this developing, things like the Enough is Enough community handout and the Chicago Feminist Action Support Network. These are some brave systems. These are some things on paper that are not scarce in their destruction.
I left that meeting wanting some system to remain, wanting not everything to get destroyed. I think that destruction is part of how we know we are talking, evolving, reaching to be alive. We want to be more alive and so we’re trying to figure out what to throw in the fire. JT’s emphasis on destruction felt ecological to me, as in: a broken system cannot stop climate change, cannot fix the earth. What would it take for a broken system to fix the earth?
In “Fully From, All Scarce To,” an essay on ecology and poetry, Peter Larkin writes, “scarcity resists modernity’s sense of permanent climax.” I hear that. We believe we are always getting bigger and we need to be told that we’re not. We’re aging and dying like the rest of them, the earth is aging and dying. Scarcity can be a productive force in letting us see this for ourselves.
I wonder how will I ever know when to take myself away – remove my body – from this earth in order to make it more whole, more safe for other people. I was born into a body that feels female to me, and because of that I often think I should make myself more scarce than I can. I always want to be thinner, smaller, quieter than I am. I am never scarce enough. I’ve worked hard to convince myself that it’s ok to be as big as I am.
And yet, I need to be more scarce in some ways. I use up so many resources, so much water in the California drought. I produce trash. I waste things, I waste time, I eat more than I need to. Can I be both enough and too much?
I’m interested in Larkin’s thinking around “permanent climax” – in naming a climax as a single ongoing event, he also implies that climaxes come in sets of one. I can’t help but think also of people for whom orgasms may or may not come in sets of one. Has Larkin read The Multi-Orgasmic Man? Is he referring to someone who will collapse after they climax, tired and dead of energy, or someone who will climax and return again? I’m fairly certain he’s thinking of the former. He is thinking of a climax as final. What would happen if we could think of social or ecological climax as rising, dying, and rising again? What if progress involved death? Does this mean there is another planet for us?
But: let’s accept for a moment that we’re thinking about one single climax: yes, I want the opportunity to rethink the idea that we are only ever rising forward toward progress. I have a sense of myself only at the center of my life and at the apex of history. As I write this, I just turned thirty. Is this what aging feels like? A tired kind of permanent climax, still believing I’m constantly climaxing but partly hoping it will end someday? I feel the longing for the downturn of the climax.
A note: and what does Larkin mean by modernity? Will anyone ever drive down the streets of this modernity and say it has been? It’s also, I’d suspect, culturally specific, this “permanent climax” phrase. I hate it when people say “in our society,” “in our culture,” “in this country we…” Especially as a preface to why we need healing or to explain the kind of healing we need.
There is not really any place to settle our bodies down, given the current state of climate. Meaning, the damage is already done. I have been born into a time when—ecologically speaking—the damage is done. I can lessen my own damage, but no matter what I do I still am causing damage on a damaged earth space. I am living in an urban area, not giving much back to the earth.
I do not think in my lifetime I will leave this planet to live on another—better engineered, better cared-for—planet. Most of me believes this one is the end for us. And also doesn’t believe, continues living, continues using paper like it’s not made of anything. I use, I use, and very little is actually scarce for me because I have enough money. This is important, too, the economics of it. Capitalism has led me to both have enough, and be afraid always of not having enough.
Larkin writes of a “sensation of the precarious” — there is less than we think there is. But also there is plenty: we’re just not distributing it. I acknowledge scarcity for many and acknowledge abundance for the few. There is not enough here for everyone to be rich in paper, oil, resources to extract or large houses… but I maintain a firm belief that there is enough for everyone to be fed. If we as a collective species changed a lot about how we grow, live and feed. If we did it differently. But we are not doing it differently. We as a collective species may never come to believe firmly enough that there is enough in order to feed everyone. At the moment this is how we are doing it, and there is not enough.
When we live long enough in a feeling that there is not enough, we stop caring enough to look around and see who else is dying, disappearing, decaying alongside us. Maybe this is partly what Larkin means: scarcity says the heart will stop, too.
A “sensation of the precarious:” we are going to die, we are already dead, we are part of a system that depends upon us dying. What if ecological scarcity could allow people (like me) who have experienced tremendous abundance to come in contact with dying more somatically? What if this could serve as a fundamental way to relate to other humans, let alone other alive systems? What if ecological scarcity could allow privileged people like me to come in contact with what it’s like to be most easily killed, disappeared, deflated by others?
Thich Nhat Hanh says the belief about permanence is simply an incorrect one, but all beliefs (correct or incorrect) are also impermanent. So perhaps impermanence and scarcity, too, is just another fence to begin to see. Just another belief-fence that describes to us how we could be together. How we already are: recently, at a BPF training, M reminded me that all these smaller deaths and sufferings are just training for the big death that is happening—the death of the earth. This planet is dying. We are in training for that. But we are in different politicized and somatic positions when it comes to that death.
So how to be alive, get bigger and then get smaller, too? When am I waxing, and when am I waning? How can we see scarcity as a call to arms for allies? There is less than we think there is, and we are always getting closer to being less, to being more dead. But, dying, we are also enough – a call to arms.
I see in my own self the desire to have, stockpile, have more, be exceptional, be special, and I don’t fully trust anyone not to desire those things also. The desire to be seen and also unseen. The truth of scarcity includes my own disappearing and desire to disappear to solve a problem. But if my white body disappears, if my woman body disappears, if my trash-generating body disappears – this disappearance will not solve any problem completely.
It will, though, point to a way of being that is slightly more conscious of limitation. Knowing our limits doesn’t evoke what I mean, but maybe it could. I’m interested in a human body that knows how to – and begs not to, and considers when to – disappear. I propose we ask scarcity to make us conscious of when we disappear.
Scarcity: the opportunity for us to see clearly that the human body disappears, decays, dies, is disappeared and decayed and killed by others. This is what scarcity shows us.
May we become aware of where we sit on a spectrum of beings who disappear. May we become aware of where we sit on a spectrum of beings who disappear others, who kill and are killed, who decay and are decayed by others.
May we know that we do this to and with each other. Our bodies go down. We make other bodies go down.
Maybe: I’m in solidarity with scarcity. May we find a way to offer ourselves fully knowing how limited we are.