November 2022: THICC #003
making a home; tina campt and the grammar of black feminist futurity; lower the pitch of your suffering; toni morrison's and shock; mlk jr. and creative maladjustment; avery gordon and haunting
Bismillah. We begin everything with the name of Allah. We say Bismillah to initiate an act to acknowledge the intention and the ethics we carry with all that follows Bismillah
[I suggest you read this newsletter in the browser as it is image heavy, and the email will pixelate most things.]
I appreciate your patience. And sorry for the double newsletters!
It has been a long month. I have not been at home in weeks.
I miss my bed and my coffee mug. I miss my stubborn plants. I miss dancing to kwaito in my living room. I miss poorly making Jocón de Pollo ten feet from my etching press in my living room. I miss the smell of the paper-developing chemicals. I miss my weighted blanket, yellow carebear, and special home bonnet.
To miss my apartment means I finally have a home. I have been housed in New York City but never had a home. Because I grew up without a home (we were houseless—motels, the homes of relatives, etc.) it has been hard for me to identify what I need to feel grounded. It has taken a year and a half to get my apartment into a sanctuary space following my divorce. There was a slow process of purging and reorganizing the space — not leaving it because who leaves a rent-stabilized apartment in Crown Heights?! — but literally making a home for myself. Along the way, I learned how much I desire to make my home like the home I grew up in. I looked at whatever old photographs I could find and searched for specific things that comforted me as a child. I found a beautiful knitted blanket similar to the blanket I used to have on my bed. I am now on the hunt for a marigold ribbed blanket my brother, and I used to spread across the floor and pretend was a swimming pool.
In addition to these childhood echoes, my studio is in my living room. This has not been easy because I would love to have a large studio space in New York, but I also can’t justify an additional rent bill. Poverty trauma means that I always keep my monthly costs so low that if anything happens, I can figure it out. This annoyance with not having a space meant that I had to find a way to my living room work. And I needed to make it work not as a concession but as a choice. My space wasn’t feeling more like space because I resented not having a separate studio space. I spent months researching shelving, containers, etc. I also spent months reflecting on my relationship with housing, architecture, and ownership. Is it more important for me to have a space or to own the means of my production? If 2000 USD is to be spent anywhere, is it best to spend it on equipment, supplies, and research travel?
I am grateful to a former student who built me a beautiful work table - thank you, Carlos! As an artist who desires to own the means of my production, I am grateful to Paul John for gifting me a risograph machine in 2020, which lives well with my xerox machines and etching press. My space is also adorned with over 40 plants, beautiful artwork from some of my favorite fellow artists, and seashells I collected at Dolphin Coast near Durban. My little studio has finally come together. Here I can dance, make etchings, print a book, compose terrible music on my theremin, and scramble eggs in the same 750 sq feet!
I am back from Berlin but not entirely settled in. Something is jarring about time differences. One is either delayed or early to the news of a disaster, pending disaster, or some version of both. Then, there is jetlag, a spatial disorientation that makes everything suddenly feel unfamiliar and new until a smell or texture reaffirms that I am home. While in Berlin, I woke up to numbing news alerts.
I think I am most interested in this sort of emotional negotiation that happens during a crisis. Like, we must find a tonal range that does not make people uncomfortable. In 2013, I remember starting this work below — How to Suffer Politely (and Other Etiquette) as a commentary on larger political happenings, but it has resonated deeply at an interpersonal level.
I am thinking a lot about the terrible things I have experienced this year. I am thinking about my very intense reactions to abuse. And more than anything, I am thinking about how my responses were considered strange, the idea that somehow being shocked or angered by the harm is abnormal. My therapist and I spoke about reaction time (the time between a thing that happens and my response) and reaction registers (how I respond to the happening). I tend to have very slow reaction times (it literally took me four years to end an abusive marriage), and my reactions at one point were acquiescence (figuring, maybe, if I fawn, the harm will end).
This weekend, something happened. I remember explaining this something to my therapist, who reminded me that my reaction was normal. Now I have all sorts of hang-ups about the language of normality, but I agreed; my response was justified. During that something, I remember being told to calm down. And I remember asking myself why I am expected to be stoic and unaffected in the face and mistreatment. The something I am speaking about is not important. As my therapist reminded me, it is important not to get caught up in the “drama of the wound.”
The lesson is the most significant part of this incident: we must be vigilant and assertive in our refusal to adapt to or normalize harm.
I am leaving 2022 with far fewer people in my life than I started. Sometimes, it is heartbreaking, but most of the time, I am proud of myself for establishing criteria and holding folks to that criteria. The vigilance is the only thing keeping me here. My insistence in thinking another relationality is possible is what keeps me here. My perpetual shock and amazement at crude human behavior is not naivete or silly hope; instead, it is a spiritual disposition; it is, I think, what Tina Campt calls a grammar of black feminist futurity:
I am reminded of a 1998 Toni Morrison interview with Australian journalist Jana Wendt. In response to Wendt’s comment about the “shocking barbarism” that undergirds racial violence, Morrison asserts, “I insist on being shocked. I am never going to become immune. I think that’s a kind of failure: to see so much of it that you die inside. I want to be surprised and shocked every time.”
Morrison is not naive; something else is happening here. Shock is visceral. Shock shakes and reconfigures.
To be shocked is to acknowledge a dissonance between what one witnessed and what one wished was witnessed. It is a form of close listening, of an attunement. Shock is the collision between realities: the present conditions and the possible future. Shock disorients; ruptures time. It is a discontinuity that brings something else into focus, akin to what Avery Gordon describes as a “haunting.”
Most significant in Gordon’s analysis is the “something-to-be-done”; that the haunting doesn’t simply frighten or shock or surprise, but that it compels action. When Morrison insists on shock, she invites us to be so rooted in a close reading of our socio-political landscape that we have no desire but to embrace this disjointed and incongruent time as a stay against the normalization of oppression. That time should never be perceived as smooth or coherent as long as, to Gordon’s assertion, there is “something-to-be-done.”
On December 18, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech at Western Michigan University. In this speech, he introduces ideas around “maladjustment.”
Within psychology communities, maladjustment is considered as the “inability to maintain effective relationships, function successfully in various domains, or cope with difficulties and stresses.” Martin Luther King Jr. speaks of his maladjustment with pride. I appreciate that Martin Luther King Jr. thinks otherwise and challenges the normalization of oppression to say, yes — the inability to cope with oppression is not an indictment of the individual, but an indictment of the society. It is to ask— why do we pathologize the people who express outrage at injustice rather than the society that reproduces this injustice?
Years ago, I heard about a book published in 2010: The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease by the psychiatrist Jonathan Metzl. I have not read this book but have just begun. I am interested in this excerpt toward the beginning of the book:
Is the refusal to be “adjusted” (Martin Luther King Jr., 1963) to injustices or to be “immune” (Toni Morrison, 1998) something like a more nuanced iteration of hope? Coming back to Tina Campt, I think Morrison and King Jr. are saying I will not become accustomed to this because this will not last forever.
I'm not too fond of broadcasting / self-promoting, so I will make this quick because y’all know how to use google 😏. There are a few projects I cannot announce, but 2023 will be very cute. Alhamdulillah. I am humbled and grateful for the opportunities. I am excited to think aloud about translation, mysticism, and mystery. I am excited to get weird[er].
I spent the last five days in Berlin checking in with my gallery, NOME, and meeting with the folks at KW Institute for my upcoming solo and publication.
There was also some press in Art Papers, Chasing the Thing That Can’t Be Changed. Excited to be reimagining this show at the top of the year in Maryland!
There is nothing more beautiful than reading Octavia Estelle Butler write about artistic influence as a sort of possession.
A few things have taken hold of me in the past few months:
Books: Quantum Listening by Pauline Oliveros, Gathering Moss A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Death by Landscape by Elvia Wilk
TV/Films: Rewatching LOST because I do not love myself 😂
Podcasts: I just started listening to NPR’s Short Wave. Recently, I listened to a nerve-wracking 13-minute episode on prions, or misfolded proteins that transmit their misfolded shape to other proteins, thereby causing neurodegenerative diseases. In that podcast, I also learned about endocannibalism. I am also back to No Such Thing as a Fish. One day, I dream of getting on the radio with three other dorks talking about the cool thing we learned that week!
Music: I am back on Flying Lotus! Cosmogramma has been an excellent reading soundtrack.
Exhibitions: I have been in Berlin for the last five days and got a chance to go to Gemäldegalerie where I saw items from the permanent collection of paintings from the 13th to the 18th century. A little-known fact about me: I love dramatic European paintings featuring religious themes. Maybe it was those four years of Catholic high school or my general attraction to dramatic demon scenes, but it was a lovely few hours roaming around.
In addition to the ideas that have taken hold, a few sensory things have locked me in.
Food: I still crave this vanilla tart frozen yogurt from 21 Choices.
Smells: Accidentally, I mixed Florida water and peppermint. I love the scent.
Textures: tomatillo husks 😊
How to cite this newsletter: Rasheed, K. (Year, Month Day). Newsletter Title. I Will (?) Figure This All Out Later. URL
Spectacular. Absolutely loved every moment of this. I read it slowly and intently. So grateful to be working at the same time as someone as fully brilliant as you are. I'm so happy that your home is homing. I loved the journey around the idea of shock and maladjustment vis-à-vis MLK Jr, Toni, and Octavia! Just yes! Thank you!