Sunday, 23 March 2014

Jig of a very original life

17:40 Posted by Afro Latina , , No comments
'Challenge the status quo' - I sort of lost count of how many times I heard/read the line and I can't help but think about its empowering nature, and how unachievable it may occasionally seem to me, maybe others as well. 

One simple way I try to keep my spirit up is by searching for daily samples of provocation here and there. It's funny how hope is always at hand, no matter which direction you turn your gaze. I can say this is pretty much how I feel these days. 

Like having a horrible, sleepless night only to learn the next day that your favorite singer is going to play live again, after 35 years. I know I've no talent and blogging about someone with the caliber of Kate Bush is almost like a blasphemy, but I wouldn't forgive myself for not dropping a few words on the matter. I'm a fan. I still tremble with awe when I think of that moment when the news met my eyes. 

I'm not one of those fans who've known Kate forever. I was pretty grown when I decided to move beyond her classic 'Wuthering Heights' and explore her work more attentively. I still cannot fathom how I could have lived for so long without Kate Bush. Her music made such impact in my life that I seriously consider it in 'before' and 'after' Kate terms. 

Bush's songs helped me go through dark, difficult times of my journey. The difference between her songs and all other songs that mark such occasions is that I keep going back to Kate. Always. You know, sometimes you've had a bad experience and the songs you hear to try to cope with that bad event become so stigmatized that you just want to leave them altogether in the past. I could never affirm that about Kate, because there hasn't been an instance when I listened to her songs while I was down that I didn't feel like getting up and fighting back again. 

To make things clear, I have an example. I can say today that I had the most incredible years of my life when I was living in India. Those were, however, very difficult times. So mentally straining that when I look back, I understand how important it was to know and appreciate Kate's music in its entirety. I still remember spending hours listening to it. 

Today it sounds a bit awkward but I used to meditate listening to Aerial's A Sky of Honey. I would sit in half-lotus and in a matter of seconds, I would find myself in a magical place, so safe and so immersed within my soul that it felt like nothing could break me. I still feel that way when I listen to that album,  and I also get a sense of hope and well-being that makes me wonder if she's really real. I mean, of course she's real and about to tour again but it's as if she is channeling something extremely powerful, positive and not exactly from this world. Or maybe she is in such connection to the Universe that all good things get effortlessly manifested through her very existence. 

I think it's brilliant that she is back after so many years. She herself is an example of utter defiance of the status quo, I guess. When she had the opportunity to be cliché and mainstream, she just shrugged and decided to be herself. I think in the end that's what her songs teach me, over and again: in a crazy world the wiser thing to do is to be true to yourself and do what you really want to do. It's always easier said than done, I know. Not everyone has the privilege of being passionate about something. But I think everyone, including the less privileged me, has the power to remain genuine and attain some level of magnificence in life that only self-knowledge and gratitude can bring about. So I'm grateful to Bush for all that she is, for all that she represents to me. 

I would like to go to her show. Right now things seem pretty uncertain, and I can form no conjecture of my next steps, even for the near future. But I do know that I'll spend some hours next week trying to get tickets online. For if someone is capable of bringing out the best in you, even in strange/dark songs such as 'Waking the Witch', then I think she's definitely worthy of all efforts. I may get frustrated if I don't get tickets and I may get even more frustrated if I don't gather the money to fly to London, but I do know one thing:  I really wish her all the best with the shows. She deserves nothing less than full sessions. 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

I think the post is very confusing, but I need to talk about body image

15:59 Posted by Afro Latina , No comments
My relationship with my body has never been easy. If there is someone who confirms the theory that media exercises a negative influence over women, this person is me, really.

I wish I could say that, after I became a feminist, all my body image issues were gone like magic. That's not the case, and I get irritated whenever my husband points out the inconsistency of me being  self-proclaimed feminist and still worrying about how my body (and face, and hair, and skin, and nails, for the matter) looks.

Well. I'm not saying I'm completely influenced by media, or that I'm 100% dissatisfied with my appearance. That would have been a lie, and all I can say is that yes, I do have body issues but yes, feminism has helped me tackle them to a good degree of satisfaction. However, there is always that part within you that is so fragile and vulnerable and normalized that it is hard to say that I am completely system-free. Who is, after all? That's an interesting question that a professor asked me once. She herself responded to it: we are all affected by the system.

Knowing that we are all influenced by the system, at least to a certain extent, does not make me relieved, though. I think I would be happier if I had ZERO body image issues, but I don't necessarily think having them is the end of the world, really. I don't know if I'm going to be able to explain how I feel about my body in a single post, but one thing I know for sure: I don't quite feel comfortable with the two main approaches to body acceptance that I see around me (at least the ones I have knowledge of).

On the one hand, there's people trying to convince me that I should discipline my body and control it to achieve the desired effects I want. I think it's easy to get carried away with this approach, since there's millions of how-to's circulating online. It's the idea that you can be anything you want to be, the magic of a modern age that empowers us to achieve anything we want through dedication and handwork, even though they are subtly modeling our minds to 'want' what they are selling, basically. 

On the other hand, there's people telling me that I should be happy with whatever I have, that my body is perfect and beautiful and amazing the way it is and I should indulge in all pleasures that gluttony can offer me. In this approach, you are seen as an individual who does not bend to the pressures imposed on us by the industry I mentioned in my previous paragraph. You are a person who is 'comfortable in her own skin', regardless of the fact that you need to keep updating your closet every month because your clothing items just get too tight to wear. I'm saying that because I've been there

On the surface, it looks like the second approach is infinitely better than the first one. After all, it helps you empower yourself with self-acceptance. There is nothing like acknowledging who you are and being fine with that. The problem I see, though, is precisely in the fact that both views seem to subscribe to one old myth: that we CAN be 100% anything. 

That's it. There is this massive beauty industry telling me that I can be 100% satisfied with my body if I work hard to discipline and enhance its features. Also, there is this counter-movement telling me that I'll be 100% satisfied with my body if I just accept it as it is, that I'm beautiful just the way I am and that I don't need to do anything to feel beautiful other than accepting myself. 

This excessive urge to happiness is what uneases me, actually. I feel a good dose of self-acceptance can do wonders to you, but I also agree that disciplining your body and your mind can have positive effects, too. I don't overemphasize the need to be happy with my body, I don't lie to myself saying I feel liberated when I'm really worried about the way I'm carrying myself in public, and I don't like pretending as if there is one theory that will be able to make me feel 100% satisfied with my life when in fact nothing will do that job. Many people get that, yet many people just scold me whenever I'm mindlessly whining about something I don't quite like about my body, because 'as a feminist' I should accept it the way it is. As much as I feel empowered, I don't think I really need labeling. This is a journey, after all, and I'm just afraid of this glorification of 'happy'. In fact, I'm just okay with not being okay on a permanent basis. 

I think this text is a bit too long now, but I promise I will talk about it again. And again. 

Beautiful image by Carl Warner, which I got from the site Brainiac :-)

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

I am home: some thoughts on facebook, again

Today I missed the chance of getting a 500-pound voucher to shop online at my favorite store. I won't say the name of the brand here, but it's a pretty cool, fair trade one. The thing that called my attention, though, was the fact that, in order for me to apply to it, I would need to first 'like' their facebook page and then follow the instructions from the networking site.

Well, everybody knows I'm on detox. I could very well login quickly and enter it without further ado. I didn't, and I feel proud about that. I want to persist on my goal, and return to the site only when I'm supposed to return. It seems such a short period of time (1 month) but trust me, when you're an addict, it feels like an eternity. Perhaps that's reason enough for me to stay away on a more permanent basis? I think the only thing that prevents me from moving forth with a drastic solution like this is the fact that facebook is a means for me to keep in touch with most of my friends and family members. Other than that, I would be happy to be away forever, I guess.

Now back to the voucher I won't get a chance to run for. It's amazing that everyone seems so hooked on to the social network that it's become normalized as 'part of life', at least for the so-called generation-y, and I kinda get worried about it. Whenever I meet someone who doesn't have a facebook account, I can't hide the shock on my face. I know it's bad. It happened yesterday, as I talked to a very nice girl I met at a development course in NUIG. I asked her if she was in the course's facebook group and she let me know that she did not have a facebook account and as I think my face went 'ohhhhhh really' again, she said "I know, it's strange, but I don't have a facebook account". At that moment, I just wanted to tell her that it's not strange at all, that she is my idol for that. Like, really. I so admire people like that. It's like they're telling me: "see, you silly, I need no artifice to feel cool" and, even though I do feel a bit cautious towards people who are resistant to change, I still admire those who value interpersonal relationships on a more realistic basis. I say 'more realistic' because I do feel those relationships we build online are real, even though they lack in profundity in many cases. 

What is insane, though, is that I'm a person who met a life partner online. I have all reasons to celebrate virtual life as the best thing that could happen in one's existence. Yet, I have reservations about that. Only now that I feel sucked up into a very disorganized lifestyle and that messiness is actually disturbing me, that I realized how much time I wasted online. Which begs the next question: is it the existence of the social network in itself that is the problem, or the fact that so many people, including me, are so addicted to it? Or maybe both?

Well, I vote for both. I totally dislike playing the victim role, as in 'oh, I'm such a poor creature who wanted to socialize a bit and felt that if I didn't have cool posts that conveyed profound messages, people wouldn't like me', but, to some extent, that's how I feel. I also don't like the 'total agency' role, as in 'well, this is what I did to myself, no one was pointing a gun at me and I could very well have managed my time better'. Even though the last argument seems so bullet-point to what has actually happened to me, I really don't feel it answers it all. Because, to some extent, when ALL your friends are available ONLY on facebook, you obviously want to be in touch with them and end up going back to the site again and again. 

There is even a metaphor running on the Brazilian circles of fb. It states that being on facebook is like being part of a Dungeons and Dragons cartoon episode. When you want to get out, something happens that gets you to stick around for a little while more. The most obvious thing one could think while reading that sentence is there's plenty of jobless people on the social networking. But then, when you stop and investigate further, people aren't really jobless. On the contrary, they complain that they've been working too much and have no time for themselves. Yet, we spare our precious free hours trying to keep up with information we haven't even asked for, such as your cousin's lunch or the fact that someone is suffering from constipation (trust me, I've seen that on fb). 

So, I come to the conclusion that facebook is a very bad idea for people who tend to procrastinate. People like me, who absolutely abhor the amount of nonsense posted on the site (including my nonsense, I'm no exception to that rule) and still keep on going back for 'just a quick check'. Like we're stuck in a Dungeons and Dragons episode. Like we've never really asked to be in that magic land and are so tired of the endless adventures that materialize in front of us that all we ask for is to be home again. I am home now, and it feels pretty comfortable in here ;-)

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Goodbye, sweet Tia

05:54 Posted by Afro Latina , , , No comments

I can still see the child in me, going for some rare Sunday visits to my grandparents. They were sweet towards me, to the extent I couldn't really believe whenever mom told me of her hard childhood with cruel parents.  That nurturing lady who gave me hot chocolate and spoke about life with a soft, nurturing voice? No way she could have been that bad. I wish to develop on it further, as I now know that people can uphold different personalities at different times of their lives. The story I would like to share today has a different tone. Or it does not, as I write about change, anyway. 

Those visits call for another memory, a sweet one, as well. My dear auntie whom we tenderly called Tia Tianinha. I loved to visit her and listen to her stories, even though she was usually busy cleaning her tiny home. It looked like so much effort, so much to do. The place was so small but she was very careful in leaving it spotless. 

Life did not run smoothly on her. I remember mom telling us about her ex-husband, how she suffered unspeakable domestic violence and how he ended up drinking poison and spending months (or was it years?) dying slowly at the hospital. Most of all, I remember my mom acknowledging how strong of a woman Tia Tianinha was, even though she was so tiny and looked so frail from the outside.

I was not very close to her, as my mom is not very attached to her family. So we rarely visited, and I can’t really remember the last time she made it to our home (I mean mom’s home, as I now live abroad and she would never consider such undertaking). All I know is that she was really kind and loving towards me.

I visited my family in Brazil last Christmas. I was fortunate to see auntie at a family gathering. She as usual greeted me with a smile that brightened her castigated face. Yeah, the years took their toll on her. I remember how self-conscious she was of her appearance when she was younger. She even went on and did some plastic surgery on her eyelids. We always thought that she was going to grow old but never lose her vanity. Because she was pretty and seemed very proud of that.

She did give up on her vanity, though. I’m not saying there is no beauty in old age. Far from that, I think old age is an adage to beauty. It's just that one needs to accept being elderly. You know that natural light people have when they are comfortable in their own skin? Well, that's precisely what auntie lacked. That did not prevent her from being beautiful, but it indeed prevented her from looking satisfied. 

I'm aware that it's a bit too much to expect someone who suffered so much to express gratitude and keep on with a positive attitude towards life. That's sort of a privilege. She told me twice that she was "extremely tired of living". Last time we met, she advised me not to have children. I greatly appreciate her advice and I even think that was unexpected, as I'm usually bombarded with questions like "why are you not conceiving?" as if reproducing was my sole purpose in life. She was different. She looked at me and said "you know what? You're better off without kids". What she meant, though, is that she was immensely tired of taking care of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Yeah, she was only 64 and had great-grandchildren! And she had to take care of them, as she did with her previous descendants. 

I heard of her passing on a Sunday evening. My sister told me she looked placid on her funeral box. I think she finally rested. I'm very sad that she's gone and my mom and her relatives are all suffering greatly on the loss. I think we get too attached to life, even when life proves time and again to be nothing less than a nightmare. I hope she finds the peace she never really seemed to derive from her existence. I'll keep my memories and with them the conviction that she was, above all, a very good person. R.I.P, Tia. 

Sunday, 2 March 2014

My facebook detox

This blog is part of my facebook detox. I am not saying I will never go back into fb, but I really want to have a one-month break from it and then limit my participation to once a week, strictly. I realized I'm an addict long ago, and I successfully managed to stay away for a month last year (from June to July, 2013).  What I didn't succeed at, however, was limiting the time I spend online, and facebook remains firmly as the first source of distractions to me. 

So last week I came across this article and it resonated. Although I find the author quite judgmental at times, I cannot say he is entirely wrong. I don't usually feel jealous on fb, although I do admit there have been instances. Anyway, I take being jealous as entirely normal and part of the human experience. Knowing how to manage jealousy is more important than trying to get rid of it completely, I guess. 

But then, he came up with some questions and I was shocked to see that my answer to most of them was a sound YES: 

  • Do you use Facebook immediately upon waking?
  • Do you use Facebook immediately before going to bed?
  • Do you feel irritable if you don't get your precious time with Facebook?
  • Do you spend more than an hour at a time on Facebook?
  • Do you use Facebook at work or school or any other time when you should be engaged in something else?
  • Do you use Facebook while walking outside?
  • Does it anger you if others do not have a Facebook account?
  • Do you get an update on your phone every time someone updates their Facebook?
  • Do you feel the urge to check Facebook while driving?
  • Do you feel sick or on edge if you have not checked your Facebook for a certain period of time?
  • Does the idea of going a weekend or a week without Facebook make you feel uneasy?
  • Do you find it hard to imagine a life without Facebook?
  • Do you get irritable when others insinuate that you may be addicted to Facebook?

I think the fact that I responded yes to most of them is really problematic and I want to fix this. I am not saying the idea of being all the time online is harmful to everyone, but I do acknowledge it is harmful to me. I'm well aware that I will be missing interesting posts from part of my family and friends, and even my communication with most of my college mates will be compromised, but I also understand that no choice is consequence-free and I'm fine with that if it means opening space in my life for more productive/creative stuff. 

Although I will miss on getting updates from beloved ones, I am glad I will be a month away from trivialities that make life seem so unappealing to me. This is some sort of paradox, I guess. I spend huge hours happily procrastinating on facebook, yet I can't stand people complaining about the weather, or making generic statements about how corruption is ruining Brazil. Or even frantically posting selfies or pictures of meals I am not at all interested in seeing. Not to mention the huge amount of racist/sexist/transphobic bigotry I encounter while browsing. Whether in the form of religious B.S or openly aggressive, those posts drain all my energies and I end up ruminating on ways to counter them in a polite manner, even though what I really want is to use the f-word and block the person straight away. 

So, I reached a point where even the cute kittens that people post on fb were sort of giving me to the nerves. I don't think it is about kittens, or babies, or meals, or even selfies. It's about ME not knowing to strike a balance. Maybe I am monotonous in what I post, too. Maybe I ALSO post too much on the same topic. I don't think that viciously posting pictures of your baby is inherently wrong. I think this is inherently part of being human, and I'm really understanding towards that. Because I also understand that I am just seeing too much of the same thing because I am spending too much time online. It's time to make a change. It's time to really enjoy my life without wondering how it would look on a facebook album.  

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Some thoughts on privilege.

08:14 Posted by Afro Latina , , , No comments

I vividly remember the apprehension in my mom's voice when she learned that we were about to migrate from India to the United States. Are you sure that's what you want? Are you sure it's a safe place to be moving to? I hear it's a racist nation, I don't want you guys to suffer with racism over there. 

Over there. I think the whole rationale behind that expression was clear: she knew that my husband and I suffered with prejudice in our own countries. She knew that but, for some reason I could not grasp at that time, she was afraid that being prejudiced against in a different setting was going to be extremely harder than it is for people who suffer with daily micro aggressions in their own native places. 

Well, the answer I would give her today, after being 'abroad-abroad' for over 2 years is: it feels different to be discriminated in a foreign setting, although the things we hear are about the same we've been accustomed to in our respective birthplaces. It's not that it hurts more, either. All in all I think it hurts the same, even though it feels different and I'm not sure how 'different' could be defined here. 

I will try to unfold it like this: there have been instances when it felt awkward to be an alien. There have been instances when it felt extremely awkward to be both alien and looked down for some reason. And that, I would later learn, was not something that would happen to me only in the United States, for then we moved to Europe (Ireland) and the sort of responses I get here are quite similar in some aspects. 

Then, things happen that get you thinking about the whole notions and ideas of privilege that we seem to be widely discussing about in non-conventional circles such as feminist and lgbt* gatherings. So there was this seminar I attended this morning. It was an event on gender, and the facilitator basically opened her session by giving us a list of common 'privileges' to which we were supposed to engage and relate to in some way or another. 

Well. The list had about 10 privileges and I could recognize myself in 3 of them. Moving forward, she asked the class to give some feedback on how many privileges they had. My colleague L. stated that she had all the privileges, and the facilitator dismissed her on the grounds that 'obviously' as a woman she could not have them all. I found that aggressive. 

Then, someone raised her voice and stated that she would have had almost 100% of her privileges intact hadn't it been for the fact that she's dating a Brazilian. My friends looked at me because well, I happen to be Brazilian. The girl who said that probably had no idea a Brazilian would be sitting at that very place, having that exact conversation, and reflecting upon the same privileges that she would have had if it weren't for that 'detail'. 

It's funny how simple things like that never crossed my mind: I knew the level of prejudice people could have against me was huge. But I never knew it could actually mean someone losing her privileges. Of course, I thought. That's what this is. I know loads of Brazilians who actually married europeans and feel privileged for having done so. I mean, for most of them it's a very positive thing, one that gives them pride. Some may be neutral, but from what I see and hear, it's like they received an award or something. 

And I never quite got that. I mean, from most of the cases I know, the person's livelihood improved considerably after moving to Europe. Some take it as if they won the lottery. Actually, I even heard that once. 'I won the lottery' were the words a Brazilian lady used to express her gratitude for having married a Swiss man. Being in that room today and hearing the 'other side' of the conversation was a very awkward, yet interesting, experience. 

It was awkward because, even though I knew about the so-called 'Western privileges', it was strange to see people acknowledging that so clearly and (taking the specific example of that lady into account) imprinting stigma to a whole nationality. That's a microcosmos of what goes on out there, anyway. I just think that her very loss of privilege is working in tandem with the Brazilian feeling privileged somehow, and this just denounces how perverse the whole system is.