Sections Introduction
Atlanta, United States
Buenos Aires -> Newport, Virginia

Writing About Life in 2021

Eli Rose and Liz Mason-Deese

When you’re in a precarious place, a day is a struggle. Somehow we’re supposed to live through toxic institutions, gendered and racialized violence, economic crisis, pandemic and environmental disaster, overwork and bad pay, emotional overload, sheer exhaustion… And all this is happening in increasingly atomized societies, without a reliable social safety net or any sense of security for what tomorrow will hold… We started writing this text in April 2020, as a call for contributions to this project. A year later, all these crises seem so much worse than we could have imagined a year ago.

But writing can still be a force for survival. We think. Although sometimes writing can wear us out too. So this is a BOOK OF RAW PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: a political anthology of short essays, polemics, dreams, angers, intersectional feminist thought, queer feelings and reflections on social reproduction in a precarious world. We’re firmly internationalist in spirit; we invite you to be too. To our great delight, our contributors do hail from many different countries and continents.

We have organized the texts into four sections. Precarious life in motion centers around migration, travel and being in motion. Reproduction is a problem looks sharply at love, home, and parenting. Vulnerability and the body is about illness, disability and mutual aid. Finally, Survival and other utopias explores how we get by, resist, and perhaps dream of thriving.

We have here a tremendously diverse set of experiences. And as feminist theorists from Lorde and Anzaldúa to Ahmed have insisted, our very differences are at the base of what Lorde calls our “power to seek new ways of being in the world.” But the existence of differences is not necessarily an end in itself. Nor does it necessarily imply a liberal politics of “diversity” or “inclusion.” Rather, it demands that we work through our points of tension and our experiences of calamity, but without stopping there. Each of the pieces in this collection is trying to work through something. Yet there is no common program. Each proceeds on its own terms, even as certain resonances emerge across the texts.

If there is a common thread here, it is about the emergence of many small utopias, as Danya Glabau calls them here. Such small utopias emerge less from a grand revolutionary plan than from our weary reflections on our own everyday lives. Our daily grind, it seems, is not only a space of exhaustion. It can also spark a restless imagination.

And our small utopias in turn have historical precedents. Consider how Avery Gordon once described Toni Cade Bambara’s “usable” utopianism: “There’s a great force, Bambara is suggesting, that comes from refusing to cooperate with grief, from insisting on the capacity and the right to be better than and in a sick society… [from] the capacity to let go of the ties that bind you to an identification with that which is killing you.”*

* Avery F. Gordon, “Something more powerful than skepticism.” In Keeping good time: Reflections on knowledge, power, and people (2004), pp. 187-205. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.

So what exactly is killing us? Covid? Precarious economies? Sheer exhaustion? How are we getting by? Are we getting by? What alternatives can arise from collectively recognizing our vulnerability? We still aren’t sure. What kinds of writing can help us survive? We don’t know whether this work will find readers, or help them if it does. We only know that sometimes the work of writing and editing can build relationships among us, counteracting the bad solitudes, the atomisation, the privatization of suffering.

What follows is a motley set of short-form writing, largely with a queer and feminist slant. We set no constraints on style, genre, or perspective. We just asked people to write from wherever they were, using whatever point of departure they wanted.

And now, as we come to the end of this project, we’re left with many questions:

— What’s the relationship between “the personal and the political,” especially when that relationship becomes ambiguous, when the politics and even the persons themselves may be in flux?

— What does vulnerability show us about our relations with each other? And with ourselves? And what if our vulnerability doesn’t have any common thread; what if it doesn’t lead anywhere?

— What was our role here as editors? No one has trained us for this kind of project; and we didn’t end up publishing at a conventional press. (We got exhausted; and then we started wondering: what conventional press would take this motley crew and what would they make it into?) We didn’t filter much in the process either. We had only a very minimalist aim: to avoid fascism and typos. Was this enough?

— Both of us are former academics, and we found the contributors through our own social networks on the margins of academia. Many of these texts are implicitly about how precarious it is to be in the academy, these days. So is this project not somewhat haunted by the spectre of academia? What would it take to truly leave behind the university, and what is to be done about that?

— What does it mean to do an international project in the face of persistent colonial divisions in the world? Or to organize a multiracial project as two white North American editors? Or to accept contributions from a wide range of class locations? This project is not our political manifesto, but the question remains: what are the politics of an internationalism of creative writing?

— What about all the people (overwhelmingly women) who wanted to write something here, but weren’t able to, in the end? When does writing become impossible, and why? In spite of our efforts, there has been considerable attrition over the past sixteen months.

— Why are we now both so exhausted?

It’s as if the reason why this project is necessary is also the reason why it is impossible.

We leave it to you to decide what to take from it all.

July 3, 2021

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