Practices for the Darkest Night.
I learned while I was out there wandering that I needed to go silent and wait.
I’m not good in dormancy.
One afternoon this autumn, I was stuck in a turnstile in Portugal, queuing to catch a train back to Lisbon. My hand held my suitcase on one side of the turnstile while my body was locked from release on the other side. I had mistakenly tossed my ticket when I thought it had been fully used. I was wrong. Instead of asking for help to resolve the matter, we pushed through. Now Richard was at the train ticket machine, furiously trying to get me another tiny piece of paper so I could cross, but the system prevented him from adding a payment. Hundreds of people piled off the train, some of them asking me if I was coming or going (a loaded question, don’t you think?) All I could do was to stand and wait. Or maybe it was more like being suspended. If I let go of the suitcase, it might roll off toward the tracks. I couldn’t dodge my body through this or any other gate. I might have been waiting for fifteen minutes in this humiliating, silent state, but it felt like hours. Finally, a woman came along, took out her pass, and set me free. I thanked her in three languages. After I got over the embarrassment of the predicament, I thought about the truth of being halted. How being stopped—this time by a mistake but often by my body—had forced some of the most profound changes, not only on this trip, but in my life.
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You’d think that a global pandemic might have provided impetus for a collective reflection on how it is when we can’t push forward in endless productivity. Even now though, there isn’t support for those for whom the pandemic still exists, either as long COVID, organ damage, or by the immense grief and fear our bodies and communities experienced then, and still relive today. The week that my small town in the Canadian Rockies closed to tourists, I began the first of several treatments at hospitals and cancer centres which would lead to being quarantined for a spring, and then into a summer, due to a severely suppressed immune system. When I look at my calendar for that period, I see that it took me months to become aware that I was so ill that I couldn’t continue to see clients. I was writing on assignment, editing books, teaching workshops, attending online conferences, while undergoing treatments that caused headaches, nausea, dizziness, hallucinations, and in one visit, anaphylaxis. Most of my friends asked me to end the grind. They could see that there was peril at a time when I didn’t have a realistic view of my situation. Trained by capitalism, and by a father whose favorite direction for me was hustle, I carried on.
That autumn, after all that necessary but painful care of my body, we drove out to a lake in the Kootenays of BC and checked ourselves into a motel with a hot plate inside and carved bears out front. Everything that had been coming at me stopped. There on the historic fishing grounds of the First Nations tribes of the Sinixt, Sanpoil and Okanagan, I entered the waters. The dark lake moved through me—skin, hair, fingers, ass, mouth—and I floated for a week. We bit into plums hot from the sun, we watched the night sky, we talked about how we might plod into a night-shrouded winter. I was learning to pause, to re-imagine what being well-resourced felt like.
I’m inspired by the work of adrienne maree brown in Emergent Strategy. She says that “There is such urgency in the multitude of crises we face, it can make it hard to remember that in fact it is the urgency thinking that got us to this point, and that our potential success lies in doing deep, slow, intentional work.”
Oh goddess, yes. In these times, how many of us know the urgency that leads to chaos and burnout. On the 75th day of the genocide in Gaza, it’s good to remember that this is how weariness works to upend justice. I can’t just stop the endless life hacking and forget about what’s really at stake either. I need to lean into softness with myself and my communities while refusing to ignore the reality that our American tax dollars are being used to funnel money and weapons to enact violent apartheid in Palestine.
The actual and metaphorical floating in the lake is, for me, a part of intentionality. A way to be for art and in the depths of the activism. If I want to live in a world where everyone gets to live in abundance and do things that bring joy to their lives instead of some fantasy of peak productivity, then I have to live deep and slow myself.
I’ve come to know that there are so many others speaking about this kind of rest. Read the restorative activism of Tricia Hersey of the Nap Ministry, check out Melissa Febos’ piece on writers cultivating nonreliability, listen to my friend Rev. Judith Laxer’s talk on the depths of winter. Building on the works of Alice Walker (Meridian), and Hersey (Rest Is Resistance), The Black Rest Project and its exhibitions “challenge the binary assumption that one can either slow down or make a living, can either struggle or sleep.”1 There isn’t one way to use the power of deliberative moves to enact our resistance. We can unhurriedly take inspiration as we find it.
Just like wandering, rest might seem unintentional, but it’s based on generations of practices in the dark of the year, when we had to lay ourselves down to prepare for the busy seeding time ahead. Lay out there on the divan and rest your eyes for a spell, my Kentucky grandmother used to say to me, especially when I’d forgotten how good it could be to find respite in the presence of an elder.
Mimoo is no longer here, but my children will be soon. Until the new year arrives, I’m going to bake gingerbread and take naps and read books and walk the beach with them. I’m going to be the elder watching over their rest. My body doesn’t want to make sense of anything, it doesn’t want to produce, it just wants to be fed. There are times to bask in the love.
What do I contribute to the culture of chaos and burnout? What will it look like when I release these?
Write about a time you met the holy dark.
When was the last time the slow and the deep changed you?
Events for 2024:
Dates coming soon on these new year events.
Writing with Suzanne Morrison & Sonya Lea, winter, day-long writing events in Seattle.
Vision & Lineage: Food Writing As Ceremony, spring, A weekend retreat in the Pacific Northwest.
Liberating Narratives, summer, four weeks online with Corporeal Writing.
I still have a few spots open for feedback on your manuscript in the first half of 2024. Write me if you’d like to know how I approach developmental editing for your book.
P.S. - I know I promised an essay on the art scene in London, and it’s coming in the new year, where I’ll be writing from our home in Vancouver, BC.
P.P.S. - I know that Substack hasn’t answered a call by writers to face the Nazis and white supremacists in its ranks, and it doesn’t sound like it’s going to respond anytime soon. I’m staying here until 2024, reading and reflecting, talking with other writers about what they’re thinking about staying here or moving to another platform. I don’t know that there’s any system in North America (yes, I include you, Canada) that remains uncorrupted by white supremacy, and so I may stay and continue to agitate on this platform. More to come on this as I digest. See? S-l-o-w.
You can find Sonya at~
Emily Lordi, “The Visual Power of Black Rest,” The New Yorker, October 18, 2023.