Dear daughter, this world we’ve brought you into…

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What can I say about this world we’ve brought you into my love?

What can I say about the privileged misogynistic scumbags, and their fathers, who populate the elite hallways of this world?

What can I say about a world that is built for the benefit of men and white people (and the few privileged women and people of color that the colonial structures let into the club)?

What can I say about the hostility we as a family face from white men everyday we step outside the bubble of our home?

What can I say about the evil inherent to the male of the species that evidently the majority of men are blind to?

What can I say about the soullessness inherent to colonial society that evidently the majority of white people are blind to?

What can I say about the fact that there are times when I daydream about gutting the life out of any man who dares cast an evil eye on you (empty and horribly masculine though those flights of fancy might be)?

What can I say about the harsh sadness I’m trying to mask with that anger – a sadness stemming from the fact that, try as we might, your mother and I cannot protect you from all the evils of the world?

What can I say about this all-consuming fear that I will fail in providing you the tools and weapons you need to fight the evil blanketing this world?

What can I say about a world of nation states and borders, where patriarchy, privilege and profit take us ever closer to a likely violent resolution?

What can I say about a world where people in the dominant colonial power are choosing between a demagogue and a plutocrat  to be their “elected” leader (both as white as freshly driven snow in a wealthy suburb)?

What can I say about a world where nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and misogyny seem to be the go-to bastions for the fearful majority of people, privileged and vulnerable alike?

What can I say about a world where I truly believe humanity and the earth would be better off if 80% of the world’s men would simply drop dead  – proportionately across all countries and communities (I am extremely egalitarian when it comes to hating men)?

What can I say about a world where I often up that figure to 90%?

Well…

When I’m at a loss to say or do anything about the oppression and evil in this world we’ve brought you into…

When I feel depressed and weak in the knowledge that this oppression and evil is so vast and deep…

When I feel the urge to build an impermeable, self-sustaining life pod for our family to live in forever…

When I feel the need to embark on a multi-generational, quantum physics research project to transport us to an alternate universe where matriarchy, freedom and egalitarianism prevail…

I look at you and I see the power of your soul…

And the warmth of your heart…

And the depth of your mind…

Only matched by your mother’s (in all three departments, mind you)…

I then rest a little easier…

For I know the evil flourishing in the world today is ultimately no match for your divine strength.

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Dear daughter – I’m sorry for my failures (but know that I won’t fail you)

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Hi love,

As I hold you in my arms and see those rascally, angelic eyes slip into a deep sleep following a majestic poop explosion, I often reflect on yet another parenting cycle – a cycle usually consisting of three very regular stages:

Stage 1: a general failure to address your immediate needs with my efforts, followed by…

Stage 2: a blundering,  occasionally teary, attempt at redeeming myself, usually by adhering to the grace and wisdom of your mother, followed by…

Stage 3: simultaneously amusing and irritating the crap out of you with energetic, puppy-like adoration – a manifestation of this fascinating new spiritual feeling I have; I think it could be paraphrased as the deep, singularly unique, and mind-boggling love a parent has for their daughter or something.

Now, it’s easy for me to get caught up in stages 2 and 3 of the cycle – it’s generally more pleasant to focus primarily on the redemption and love.

But truly if I want to ensure that, despite my failures, I’m still being the best parent I can be, then I absolutely must focus on the failures themselves.

And I think the first step is to name them and apologize for them. But don’t worry, I won’t stop just at this perma-sorry for my myriad failures. I will actually try to learn from them. I just need to retrain my hitherto dense and regressive brain, swaddled as it has been in patriarchy for so many centuries. You are way too awesome for anything less.

Plus, your mother and I are hell-fucking-bent on ensuring that we as a family (cats included) fight for the freedom and happiness of all souls on earth. Thus, as your parents, we especially want to fight for that kind of life for you, and it takes some honest reflection to keep fighting well.

So, let me begin by first apologizing for the times I get frustrated, irritated, even angry when nothing I do seems to meet your needs. For the most part I’m frustrated, irritated, and angry at myself, but let’s face it, the feelings inevitably home in on you. When I step back to think about it, I feel shame, my darling. I – your adult father with over three and a half goddamn decades of life experience – actually get frustrated and irritated at a 2-month old kid whom I love beyond life itself. All because you, divine soul, try very patiently (and in the only way you know how) to communicate to your father, guiding him to hold up his responsibilities properly. I know I keep the frustrations “inside” or at least try to, but I also know that I cannot ever fool the spiritual bond between us.

Because I know it upsets you.

For that (and all the other fuck ups, just to be on the safe side) – I am so very sorry my love.

Please don’t mistake this for false humility or something. I can’t stand that shit. I have a galactic sized ego, and really have no real issues with self-confidence or thinking I’m the coolest (i.e. luckiest) guy on earth. I get the big picture. As your parents, I know that your divine mother with me as her pet lout and loyal sidekick, will strive with every sinew of our beings to engulf you in love, joy, health and happiness. We also have an awesome transnational community of family and friends who will provide a very privileged safety net for all of us. So life will likely be more good than bad for the most part.

However, having plied my trade as a trauma therapist and community health worker across three countries for many years now, I am well aware of the numerous forms of abuse and violence that parents and adults in general can impart on children. No doubt, all violence exists on a spectrum – with the horrendous sexual, physical, emotional, and mental abuse existing on a particularly traumatic side of the spectrum. We as a society have this dangerous tendency to think that abusive parenting solely consists of those egregious acts of violence – and we forget that patriarchy is not just egregiously violent but also insidiously covert.

I know that, no matter how sincere and loving and caring, I will make mistakes that will hurt you. It is violent when my frustrations are directed at you. How can it not be? Your capacity to harm me is pretty much non-existent. You didn’t choose to grace our lives with your glorious presence. You’re not the one with decades of human experience. Most importantly though, patriarchy has made our relationship unjust from day one, with you getting a really shitty deal.

But while patriarchy is indeed guided by power and oppression, you, your mother, and my mother, among others, have taught me that patriarchy can be challenged, undone, and eventually dismantled with love, liberation, and a veritable fuck ton of struggle.

So I make this simple, and hopefully ever-evolving, promise to you (very much extended to our larger family and community and, oh what the hell, the world in general):

  • I promise to spare no effort in being the best parent I can be and ensure that our relationship is always egalitarian and just.
  • I promise to love you, nurture you, and fight behind or alongside but never ahead of you for your inviolable rights to freedom and happiness.
  • I promise to dismantle internalized patriarchy and oppression from within me, no matter how many lifetimes it may take.

Ok, so I might have been a little hasty to classify this as a “simple” promise but whatever. I assure you, I will keep this promise even if it kills me because it’s neither political revolution nor mass social change that motivates me, but love. And without love, my soul would cease to exist. So, please feel free to whip my ass into shape whenever your powerful self desires, because you already know more about winning this fight than I ever will – and I would never say no to being guided by your wisdom, your spirit, and your courage.

But, sweetheart, I think this piece needs to be ended because you have just had another poop explosion.

And a fresh diaper – maybe even that gorgeous smile of yours – beckons.

The diary of a fairly privileged immigrant

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[This is a new series of weekly essays entitled Essays from an Immigrant Diary published every weekend for the length of the series in a chronological, memoir-style timeline.]

Essay 1 – The diary of a fairly privileged immigrant

I think it’s best if I start this immigrant diary with my name.

Sriram Ananth.

I realize it might be a pain to pronounce, what with simultaneous consonant-laden syllables in a non-Christian name and the inherent nature of the letter “r” being one of those letters that so marks out accents – from the South Asian rough-roll to the American twang. All things considered, it might not be the easiest name to pronounce for the Western tongue.

And that’s just the shortened version.

My passport has my full name: Sriram Ananthanarayanan.

Take a wee look at that honker of a surname again – it’s an eye-popping sixteen letters long.

In order to de-exoticize my name a tad and prevent infuriatingly predictable reactions during daily-life activities like working, writing, and bar-hopping, I tend to use the shortened version, lopping off a hefty ten letters from the back. It’s completely phonetic mind you, but my guess is that unless you’re from the land of my birth, you’re not going to be able to pronounce it any time soon. So you can call me Sri, a perfectly manageable single-syllable hypocorism that all my loved ones in the Western world use to address me. Sri as in Sri Lanka. It doesn’t matter if you roll the r or not. And no, I’m not from Sri Lanka in case you were wondering. More on that soon.

Now, while these essays are brought to you under the rather broad umbrella term of an “immigrant diary” I hasten to add that I consider myself a fairly privileged immigrant.

For starters, I didn’t have to brave the Rio Grande with nothing more than some tepid water in a jerry can and a wishful prayer in order to cross into American borders. Nor am I one of those fresh-of-the-boat stories from the 19th century, evident from the fact that I’m writing this on a laptop, sitting in a small but cozy Toronto condo my partner and I recently bought. I’m a 21st century immigrant from India, and as far as I can tell I was just as happy when I was there. I didn’t escape war or famine or political oppression and my path to America (and Canada later on) was rather benign and remarkably shorn of danger.

I grew up with plenty of food on the table, a rather nice roof over my head and all my needs paid for by a very loving, nurturing family. Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I realize that my “privilege” is really about having a wonderful family and community. My family was not filthy rich, but we did well enough for ourselves, and most importantly, there was a lot of love to go around.

All this provided me the ability to enter the US “legally.” Under this dehumanizing paradigm of conferring legality on human beings, I was able to follow the letter of the law because of my relative privilege in contrast to several of my fellow-immigrant brothers and sisters who couldn’t do so. I am, or at least could be, the poster boy for the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, respect-the-American-way, follow-the-law, hard working immigrant who can seek to be (but, let’s face it, ultimately never fully become) a part of North American society.

It’s an interesting space to be in. I’m more privileged than immigrants who crossed the border without documents, enduring belligerent guards and chauvinistic abuse in order to produce American food, feed American mouths, and clean American shit – a full cycle of daily sustenance that undocumented immigrants make happen for American society. I definitely didn’t have to work as hard or for as crappy pay as they had to. But I’ve also faced a good amount of racism and xenophobia in my journey as a fairly privileged immigrant. I’m not white, and certainly not that privileged as to have my non-whiteness be washed away so to speak.

I’ve seen America, and a variety of people in America, through this interestingly multi-colored lens. And it’s been one hell of a ride so far.

Ok, now that the privilege part is out of the way, I think it’s only fair to state that I’m also a progressive, one of those bleeding heart lefty-types (sans any political affiliation mind you). I feel it’s important to state that outright because my anti-oppressive philosophical framework guides the way I engage with the world and reproduce my memories on paper.

You see, my reasons for coming to North America were not too different than many other immigrants. I too came to this part of the world because it was, at least when I came over, the driving economic centre of the world. I was fascinated by American pop culture that influenced me in a variety of ways as a child and young adult. I wanted a Masters degree that would be recognized all over the world simply because it came from a top university in America. I wanted to earn a salary, however modest, in American dollars because the conversion rate to Indian Rupees would have worked well for me when I saved up and sent money back home.

Thus I came to America knowing that I would be opposing a lot of what the American government did around the world. I came with a full bag of criticisms aimed at American imperialism and war-mongering. I came knowing that the capitalist exploitation I saw as a result of American excess was resulting in disaster for vast swathes of humanity. I came unwilling to let the assimilation anxiety as a new immigrant take over my thinking. I came with the understanding that I wasn’t going to smile and acquiesce to everything that was thrown at me.

But through that I found astounding beauty in America. Like every other part of the world I had been in, I found gorgeous humanity.

And I found love in America.

Needless to say, it’s a journey that’s had its ups and downs. So I thought I’d write about it and I hope you’ll find it interesting.

This time in America can be considered the quasi-fieldwork that informs my empirical observations. This series comprises a bunch of stand-alone essays, but with an overarching sense of continuity. The essays are anecdotal narratives derived from accessing and processing my memories. I will be reproducing personal accounts and experiences, while changing the names and/or markers of certain events and people (especially folks who made life difficult for me), and have occasionally refrained from specific details because I’m not rich and cannot afford a lawsuit. The conversations and experiences I reproduce will be as true as I can remember. I hope I do this without losing the essence of those life-events. In terms of tone, I bounce around a bit, sometimes serious, often silly, hopefully reflective, every once in a while sarcastic with a visible streak of anger and pain, but ultimately bending ever so slightly towards happy and maybe even thankful.

Finally, it’s important for me to acknowledge the inherent narcissism in this exercise. It is equally important to understand it as a fallibility I’m unable to escape as a writer, especially when penning a memoir of sorts. I can only trust that I’ve been true to the experience in the most sincere way I can think of and that it will strike a chord with you.

It is a socio-political travelogue of sorts, often in the form of acerbic critique. It is highly unlikely that there’s even a single person on this earth who’s going to agree with everything written in these essays. And while the more conservative reader is likely to be rather irritated with the narratives, getting readers to agree or even sympathize with my perspective is decidedly not the aim of these essays. The only aim is to challenge, provoke, and engage the reader in as critical a way as possible. The subsequent essays will show that I bring with me a whole bucketful of viewpoints and ways of thinking that influenced what I experienced, and more importantly how I processed those experiences as a privileged, pinko immigrant journeying through the United States of America. I make no attempts at distancing myself from those biases, nor do I believe it is possible to do so. It is a journey traversing different experiences that span the entire spectrum of emotions, ultimately shining a light on the beauty of the human condition, flaws and all.

American nationalists and patriots might ask me what right I have to critique “their” country, and I feel compelled to write a brief response to this hypothetical but, I’m certain, rather likely strain of criticism. It might sound like defensiveness, but I prefer to think of it as a preemptive strike against insularity and nationalism. I would ask people to juxtapose my writing about the US against the many Europeans and Americans who have written copious volumes about the non-Western world often piggy-backing their explorations on the coattails of colonial exploitation, resulting in racist notions of Third World savagery and the so-called burdens that colonizing societies had to bear as they reveled in their manifest destiny of stealing land, resources, and cultures. They might then realize that it’s ok for me to critique a land I came to as an immigrant, and am equally a part of. I will also ask people to consider the fact that what most people know now as the United States of America was indeed someone else’s land before it got settled upon with much cruelty. So it might be morally prudent for the more jingoistic reader to take the stars-and-stripes-chest-thumping down a notch or two before reacting in disgust. (I apologize in advance for any passive-aggression in my tone. Part of my journey was a good chunk of time spent in the Midwest and that stuff tends to rub off on you.)

Most importantly however, I would invoke my right as a human being, a citizen of the world like anyone else, and humbly suggest that maybe we can look at this as an exercise in humanity. I’ve found just as much to be happy about (did I mention love?) as I have to be angry about in America, a dialectic space of troubled joy similar to the one I occupied in the land of my birth. Trust me when I say that any occasional moments of harshness in my critique of North American society is also present in spades whenever I critique various strands of Indian society.

Besides, at some point in time countries and nation-states will become a thing of the past, and we will have to struggle with nurturing communities of human beings rather than artificial borders. I am one of you and you are one of me whether we like it or not; always have been, always will be. The sooner we all realize that, the better.

I do hope you enjoy these essays from an immigrant diary.

[Next up: Essay 2 – Erie, Pennsylvania and the shakiest of starts]

Building community and family one relationship at a time

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If there’s one thing I have learnt in building a transnational community of loved ones in partnership with my awesome soul mate, Sus, across three different cities and colonial states – it is this:

Community and family is best built one relationship at a time.

Not in large gatherings.

Not in giant parties (though they do help).

Not even in the fun community or family dinner hangouts (awesome and integral though they may be.)

Community – a family of our choosing – comprising blood and other blood members alike, truly is built one relationship at a time.

At least that’s how it seems to have worked best for Sus and I.

That relationship could be with a person who is either a good friend or family member or otherwise generic loved one to either of us, eventually becoming a friend and loved one to both of us. I think about the people in our lives; those whom we call our friends and loved ones; those whom we would fight for through thick and thin.

And they all happened, and continue to happen, one relationship at a time.

But it’s more than just the particular closeness that such a friendship can bring.

It’s about the person as well.

The relationship is likely always going to be a caring and nurturing one because we only develop close relationships with caring, nurturing people. It would also be primarily with people who would care for our non-human loved ones (in our case, the Brothers Cuteness, Faiz and Rumi – our two feline bffs/confidantes) with as much tenderness and gratitude as we do, because we can’t even imagine being in a relationship with people who have cruelty or callousness in their hearts.

Of course, with all these requirements of care and nurturing spirits in our loved ones, our community has tended to have a slightly higher proportion of women at any given point in time than men – though we do have some gentle spirited and kindhearted men whom we count among our loved ones.

(I apologize profusely for any problematic stereotypes I might be perpetuating here. I don’t know why, but the world over I have generally always felt safer in communities and families where women outnumber men, and the men that are there tend to be of the gentler, more caring type rather than the harder, masculine kind. From a very young age, this has been a core value of sorts and it seems to have followed me as Sus and I organically build our own family and community.)

The biggest reason why this community building works best one relationship at a time, as this musing has been harping on, is because it helps us really know a person, their life experiences, what makes them happy, and find ways to figure out love and friendship together.

(Indeed, there’s one big relationship coming our way, even already begun, with our soon-to-be little one currently growing in Sus’ belly.)

Building our community and family in this organic way affords us the ability to get to know one another in a deeper way, hold space for each other’s failings and peccadilloes, as well as each other’s pain and suffering. All, to the best of our ability. Nothing more and nothing less.

It also helps us celebrate the beauty  and richness in one another. It gives us the time to truly understand one another, support one another, have each other’s backs when the going gets tough – but also be honest with one another, realize each other’s limitations and strengths, and help one another find a liberated sense of self.

We know it’s not perfect and it never will be. But we also know there’s a certain beauty to that imperfection.

The relationships that constitute the core of our community are likely to emerge from anywhere, aided by our openness to friendship and comradeship, but also guided by our sense of safety for one another.

We know we are far more likely to build these community relationships with people who fight against oppression within themselves and society as a whole – beautiful souls who see racism, sexism, gender violence, colonialism, and patriarchy as dehumanizing and evil at an organic level.

Soulfully.

Not just intellectually or rationally or conveniently.

We also understand that there can be a variety of ways in which these relationships are sustained. Perhaps we see each other on a regular basis or it’s merely a weekly text, a monthly phone call, even a bi-annual hang out.

We don’t sweat the small stuff.

Who needs a rule book on how a loving relationship is to be sustained over the long term?

All in all, I’d say it’s a good practice to build community one relationship at a time.

It makes for a more liberated and healthy family.

‘Tis the fucking season after all.

In the midst of all the patriarchal religious dogma and glitzy commerce we have been and will continue enduring, here’s wishing you and your loved ones much joy and health.

 

If we have to sell our labor, let’s find ways to make it more tolerable

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I hate the fact that I have to sell my labor in alienating, stressful ways in order to help sustain myself and my loved ones. I’ve been doing it for well over a decade, and I know I’m not alone in this sentiment, seeing as we all exist in a colonial, capitalist world mired in patriarchy.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a good job working as a trauma therapist in a community health centre, and am certainly very grateful that it pays for life in general.

But that still doesn’t deny the fact that there are at least a hundred other things I would rather be doing. Topmost on that list is hanging out with my pregnant partner, our cats, and our burgeoning community. It is so very painful to say goodbye to her every weekday morning before we both head to our respective workplaces. It hurts deep in my gut to spend so much time away from her and our loved ones, human and non-human.

But we all need sustenance.

For me sustenance is healthy food, clothing, and shelter, as well as the security that it will be there for the perceivable future. In an ideal world, we’d all be living in intentional communities comprising of friends and loved ones, sustaining and caring for each other, wherein the labor involved in feeding, clothing and sheltering ourselves would’t have to be so onerous and might even be fun because it’s done alongside people we love, minus alienation and insularity.

I hope we never stop fighting for this ideal world. Because capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy should never be taken as a given. They are socioeconomic systems that suck the life force out of human beings. Love and joy are afterthoughts, while stress and suffering are seen as normal. And that’s simply unacceptable.

But we can’t just fight, can we? We actually have to sustain ourselves while fighting this good fight (quite possibly for a victory only to be tasted many generations from now). Intimate partners work for the sustenance of each other. Parents work for the sustenance of their children. Community members work for the sustenance of their loved ones.

And this sustenance almost always involves selling our labor in one way or the other, often with dollops of tension and strain. So how the hell do we make it more tolerable?

Some thoughts on the matter follow. For starters…

Let love be the primary driver for going to work (not career advancement): In my line of work, burnout is common. Because banks tend to be quite unsympathetic when the mortgage payments aren’t made on time, and landlords don’t hesitate to kick someone out when the rent isn’t there on the first of the month, it means that there are times when I have to keep working even when burnt out. During those moments, it is only love that keeps me going. I literally visualize what my salary helps pay for – the sustenance of loved ones – and it helps no end. My partner, our little one, and our community of humans and non-humans. I see them, and the pain goes away.

When I’m running on nothing but fumes, love fuels me in a way nothing else does. Neither money, status, or acclaim can come anywhere close as a motivating factor when the stress levels rise and burnout is imminent, if not well and truly complete. Love does indeed move mountains, and it also gets me the hell up on god-awfully painful Monday mornings.

But then there’s the stress of the job itself. For that, among other things, I suggest we strive to…

Build community and friendship on the job (even if it’s via the whole misery-loving-company thing): This is tougher than it sounds, but it’s so very important. I’ve written about this before, and I do believe it’s one of those things that really sticks it to the man, so to speak, because it goes against the very essence of alienated labor in a capitalist society. We’re supposed to erect barriers around us, become productive professionalized automatons, and not share friendship or solidarity with the people we share a good portion of our waking lives with.

That’s bullshit.

Making friends, even one or two, and building a caring community, no matter how small, is really important if you don’t want to feel like absolute crap going to work. You can have each other’s back and share in each other’s pain. You might even have a person or two whom you actually look forward to seeing when you get to work, which makes it slightly easier to endure the pain of leaving your loved ones in order to sell your labor. The friendship and solidarity has to supersede the work however, in order for it to be truly nurturing. You can’t compete with each other or try to outdo one another or have trust issues and still be friends.

But friendships are hard to come by in capitalist, colonial societies. They can take time, and can often be frustrating (even if ultimately rewarding) endeavors. So, during the day-to-day, when you have no one to rely on but yourself, don’t forget to…

Find ways to “zone out” and de-stress while on the job (maybe even find ways to relax): Do not be a workaholic. Do what you need to do, but don’t go overboard. There’s a really messed up pedestal that workaholism is placed on in our society, and that pedestal is emblazoned with the words “Maximum Productivity To The Point Of Ulcers And Break Down”. Don’t fall for that crap. It’s more important to play the long game. If you have family and community whose sustenance you are committed to, then it’s equally important to remember that this sustenance needs to take place over the long term. And that means you have to find ways to de-stress, zone out, and yes, even relax, while on the job so you live to fight another day. If this is impossible in your job, then seek one where there are greater opportunities for this. It’s worth the effort to prioritize low stress levels in any job search, even if it comes at the cost of some money.

Ways to make the job more tolerable is one thing. But the stresses tend to follow you home. No matter how many platitudes we might hear of “leaving your work stress at work” it hardly happens that way. Stress is stress. It’s not an on-off button. If it were, life would be the easiest thing.

But there are ways to handle the stress that we take home with us. Love plays an important role here too. So remember, next time you get back home from work (and in an adequately relaxed state of mind)…

Talk about the stresses of the job with your loved ones (rather than bottling them up to the point of frustration): Verbose as I am, my motor mouth tends to vacillate between silly buffoonery and deep political anger (picture an obnoxious clown wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt). I often make the mistake of bottling up my day-to-day stresses. Sometimes the more overwhelming it gets, the more I bottle up, until I have some kind of break down. It happens subconsciously. I feel it’s some deep-rooted sexist crap around, ironically enough, not wanting to seem weak or vulnerable. Indeed, It’s safe to say that the vast majority of my mental health issues and negative behaviors is due to my internalized patriarchy. (Dudes are so messed up.)

But without fail, each and every time I have a heart-to-heart with Sus about the stresses I’m feeling, I am better off for it. She helps me get a better grip, do away with the stresses that aren’t worth stressing about, and get a healthier perspective on life. I still instinctively bottle up my stresses (like I said, dudes are messed up), but it’s now at a point where I just feel stupid when I catch myself doing that because there’s such an easy, healthy way to de-stress.

This then helps us…

Ensure that unhealthy ways of relaxing are only done with loved ones (and in moderation of course): Booze and greasy food are topmost on my list of unhealthy relaxation methods. Binge-watching television shows on my laptop hovers up there too (though I do believe there can be a healthy side to it, especially if it helps one get the necessary mental break to rest and heal from trauma, anxiety, and depression – if that’s you, then binge-watch away my friend).

I always find methods of relaxation that don’t exactly scream “clean living” are best done with loved ones. They are far more relaxing, and they don’t end up being a crutch to hold on to when the stress is overwhelming. As someone who fought off serious alcohol abuse following the loss of my younger brother over a decade ago, I know what such a crutch looks like and it’s a constant struggle, with varying degrees of success, to prevent myself from going back there. Ensuring that the dopey buzz of beer and the salty fat of takeout is only during fun social occasions with loved ones makes that struggle way easier. Even binge-watching television has a far more salubrious effect when actively done with a loved one (it’s one of the excuses I make anyway for Sus and I indulging in so much of it).

There is another side to the relaxation coin however, which shouldn’t be neglected. It’s not just unhealthy ways of relaxation that need to be engaged with. So while you have that occasional evening of drunken, gut-busting revelry, don’t forget to…

Make a long list of the healthiest ways you can relax and de-stress (and actually follow it): For me this includes regular exercise (even if just 5-10 minutes a day), long walks where I can daydream (and imagine myself as a brooding superhero in an alternate universe), writing and blogging (not to mention the occasional shitty podcast), music (listening, learning, and criticizing), television (especially stuff that makes Sus and I laugh or think, but mostly laugh), a little martial arts here and there (nothing macho, just fun stuff), hanging out with friends and loved ones (even the occasionally irritating ones), invoking the divine feminine whenever down (the whole liberated spirituality thing), erring on the side of joy and laughter (I mean, why the hell not?), cooking loads of really good, delicious food (taste in no way needs to compete with health – humanity would probably have died off a long time ago if so), receiving wise counsel from our cats (their fail-safe solution for de-stressing me is to have their bellies rubbed and their daily quota of cuddles met), and finally, lots of sugary, milky, black tea (the tea is just an excuse to get a sugar high – just ask any South Asian surreptitiously adding that extra spoonful.)

Remember to always privilege love and joy, my friends. The job is just a means to that end and nothing more.

Now go have some adequately debauched fun with a person you love.

 

Liberating myself from racist animal slurs by invoking the pure souls of the animals themselves

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The caged bird sings with a fearful trill

  • Sriram Ananth (sriram.writing@gmail.com)

I have been called more animal slurs than I can remember ever since I moved to North America a dozen years ago. Generally those slurs include variations of primates, and sometimes even canines. Greetings like “sand monkey”, “Indian dog”, even “Paki cur” (or it might have been “Paki cunt” in which case I have been ascribing a touch more linguistic depth to the humans who choose to use these monikers than I need to). Also “big ape”, “ugly gorilla”, “fucking chimp” and more. Occasionally, other animals will be invoked. This one time in Toronto’s gay village I was called a “hot and spicy bear” if I’m remembering correctly, and another time in Boston I was called “the great Indian bull” (these last two slurs I think were meant to be exotic compliments by heavily deluded, older white men who were of the belief that their gayness excused them from a basic sense of humanity.)

This is, of course, in addition to the usual smatterings of other non-animal slurs. I often project an ambiguous ethnicity on the streets, so a fairly broad gamut of slurs periodically come my way.

Now, I don’t wish to project this as a daily occurrence, or even a very frequent one, depending on your definition of an acceptable frequency for folks to face this. (I’m one of those saps who thinks once is too many, but to each their own.)

Of course, barring loved ones and genuine friends, a lot of people who don’t face these kinds of slurs tend to be surprised that “this shit still happens?” when I tell them about these experiences.

Be that as it may, over the last many years, I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been called some slur or the other in various parts of the US and Canada. After the first fifty or so times, one just blurs it out.

Now, I have found some awesome ways to liberate myself from the clearly dehumanizing intent of all those microaggressions. I’ve already written about how, ultimately, those who oppress or benefit from said oppression are the ones who are dehumanized, and not the ones the oppressive attacks are directed at. So I won’t belabor that point.

But what about also invoking the awe-inspiring pure souls of the animals themselves to liberate ourselves from the ugly manner in which they are twisted into dehumanizing slurs?

It worked wonders for me.

Equally importantly, it led me on a path of slowly destroying my anthropocentrism. It showed me that there was just as much love and liberation, if not more, that one could find with non-human souls as one could with human ones.

(Frankly, I’m seriously thinking of going the other direction and considering misanthropy as a solid life philosophy to incorporate – or maybe just misandry, considering women and trans folk are the only saving grace for humanity. But I think it might be best to keep the therapeutic rage for a later time.)

So let’s talk a bit about liberating ourselves by invoking the amazingly pure souls of the animals, who are unfortunately being dragged into this racism and colonialism nonsense for no fault of theirs.

But I’m not going to do it by addressing the slurs hurled at me in America and Canada. It’s easy to do that. Plus there are many eager liberals who will queue up to condemn those slurs and I don’t really feel like making myself angry right now.

Instead, what I would like to talk about is a body-image slur I faced when I was a kid, because that’s where this healing technique really began for me. Without realizing it, I used this very technique to liberate myself from the constant teasing around my pudginess when I was a kid. And when I recount that episode, it becomes easy to do it as an adult, which I hope you can as well should you ever need this technique.

In this case, i.e. my generously layered pre-teenage years, the animal used to tease me was the awe-inspiring, soul-liberating, elephant – one of my spirit animals. So, I’m going to first talk a bit about how that took place. Because it helped me many, many years later when the monkey/dog slurs were hurled at me.

Ok here goes.

So, I was a pudgy kid.

That much you have gathered.

And I got teased a lot. Don’t worry, I’m not going to dump all of my awkward insecurities on you with this article (that’s what I have my cats for). But I will have to recount some of those ego-busting moments, so try to not shuffle your feet too much.

Among the usual monikers, was your basic, never-going-out-of-style “fatty” in a variety of languages. The linguistic medium and environment of my childhood was a gorgeous mix of English, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi, Urdu, and Malayalam across friends and family, with the odd bit of Telugu and Bengali thrown in for good measure (usually in the form of crude jokes we would make of our friends who spoke those languages – yo, we all did it to each other).

Needless to say, the number of ways in which you can be teased also gets that rich linguistic and cultural diversity. From being compared to a variety of large, bulbous fruits native to the respective regions that my tormentors hailed from, to just being made fun of via a particular cultural or even religious trope, I heard it all.

When you come from a land that has every religion on the planet, including one that boasts over 3000 gods, chances are that there are some fairly plump ones too, such as Ganesh, the elephant god of goodness, knowledge, and other such desirable life entities.

Growing up, I hated his guts.

Because each god in Hinduism has umpteen different monikers and stories which – in Ganesh’s case – meant umpteen different ways of teasing us fat kids.

However, the one ubiquitous mode of teasing us across linguistic and cultural differences was to be compared to the (ahem, in reality, heavily muscled but admittedly good-personality-possessing) elephant.

We were in India after all.

The elephant.

What an amazing being with such a beautiful, liberated soul.

I realized that when, as a pudgy kid, I was on this trip to Guruvayoor, a small Hindu pilgrimage town, famous for the massive temple honoring the lord Guruvayurappan, a Tamil and Malalayalam moniker – and thus a naturally more tongue-tying one – for Vishnu, one of the dudes in the Hindu holy trinity.

(But one of the meh, not-so-cool, ones. Not like the awesome bad ass – Shiva.)

So there I was in Guruvayoor, placing various gods on a hierarchy of coolness, for this annual pilgrimage that my parents really liked taking. We always drove from Bangalore. I loved those trips because we all got to drive through Kerala, one of the gorgeous coastal states of the land and consisting about 60% of my roots, primarily on my mother’s side (tongue-twisters all).

When I became 18 and somehow connived to get a driver’s license (despite the testing officer’s eyeballs nearly popping out of his socket and chastising me for driving so rashly), I got to hone my driving skills under the patient tutelage of my father during the many road trips we took – the one to Guruvayoor always being among the most picturesque.

It was in Guruvayoor that I first met, soul to soul, an elephant. I was about 10 years old and it was the briefest of meetings, just long enough for a picture to be taken.

She was a kid elephant that the mahout (elephant man) told me was slightly younger than me in terms of our respective stages of childhood.

She looked at me and I looked at her. I felt her tough hide, with hair that stuck out like the sharp bristles of a brush. I felt her majestic breathing. She turned her face slightly, and grunted softly in friendship. Her trunk lightly enveloped my hips, not holding it tightly, but what felt more like a friendly, loving arm around my torso, except from a limb that could have crushed me with ease. Even as a child, she still had a raw power that I could barely contain my awe of.

But the tingle that went up my spine wasn’t due to her physical strength.

Like I said.

Soul to soul.

It was then that I realized a very simple truth that liberated me from the supposed slur of being compared to an elephant.

This being had a soul far purer than any of my tormentors.

Oh hell yeah.

I dug being compared to an elephant.

Or a dog for that matter. Or a monkey, a cat, a bear, a crow, a bull, or any other animal soul out there that we humans dare to invoke with our hateful misogyny, our racist bile, and our colonial entitlement.

Because if there are still people who think animal slurs can be used to hurt women, or people of color, or trans folk, or indigenous people – those hate-mongers should know this very simple truth:

Invoking the pure souls of animals liberates us and defeats the hatred.

In fact, I just realized something else…

We’re also happier as a result.

Purrr…

What if the refugees were white?

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It’s a struggle but that’s why we exist

  • Sriram Ananth (sriram.writing@gmail.com)

I suppose a fair number of liberals in Europe and North America were moved to a brief tear or two upon seeing that three year old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, washed up on the beach after drowning while escaping persecution. The divine feminine protects him now, from the violence, the virulence, the voyeurism.

After his picture came out, and because humanity needs to compete with pop culture memes these days, the social media feeds were awash with performed, public indignation. White folk especially were positively giddy with empathy for that brief second as they peered into their smart phones before the barista called their name out for their morning latte.

Their false empathy is useless of course because the non-sentiment fails to understand two very important points. Two points that encapsulate what this is all about.

Point number one – a little known fact for all you folks out there about refugees and which countries take in the most:

The overwhelming majority of the world’s refugees are hosted by some of poorest countries in the world.

Over 85% actually if you’re interested in these weird things called facts. Nope, the biggest hosts of refugees are not the shiny, wealthy democracies of the west, but the Jordans, Ethiopias, Lebanons, and Pakistans of the world. Not that those are stellar nation-states with great human rights records, but I’m not talking about governments here. I’m merely stating a very real fact that across the globe the poor are the ones who are hosting other poor people running away from violence.

Those are the stats, year after year, from the UNHCR – conveniently ignored by the people of the Western nations. Not surprising considering moral entitlement and manifest destiny are two sides of the same coin. Westerners, in Europe, North America, and anywhere else in the world – wherever we may find ourselves on the spectrum of empathy (or astounding lack thereof) when it comes to the ongoing humanitarian crisis with our Syrian kith and kin – we must be clear on a very important truth:

The countries of the West don’t do shit.

But they certainly act like they do.

(And there’s a long history of that behavior.)

These are the same colonial countries who benefit, yes benefit, from the ongoing sectarian violence in the Middle East. The Middle East burns because the Western world constantly shoots it’s veins up with black goop coming out of the sands.

(Anyone else notice that the price of gas in Western countries always tends to be a fair bit lower than the rest of the world? Also, all those shiny streets and spanking economies? Yeah, that comes from centuries of colonialism that also result in fallouts like large influxes of refugees.)

So not only does the West do precious little while pretending to do a lot, it actually owes those running away from the persecution and violence created by the geopolitical structures of Western imperialism. It owes them big.

But the majority of the West doesn’t want to share in their ill-gotten gains. Privileged communities rarely do.

Which brings me to my second point.

Just ask yourself this very simple question.

What if the refugees were white?

I don’t need to hear the answer. I know it already. In fact I’m just going to go ahead and make my second point without waiting for the eventual disappointment that your answer (no matter what it is) will bring.

Cos, make no mistake, my friend:

Refugees across the world are treated like human garbage for one very simple reason – they are not white.

Now let me see you shed a fucking tear for that.