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I’ve been wondering about control. About how my imagination is limited by the systems of domination I exist within—the heteronormative imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy, as bell hooks describes—how these interlocking structures inhibit my vision of what else could be.
The question for most of my adult life has been, what is liberation? What might it look like, feel like? What work does it require? How do we build structures and relationships that support rather than control?
Dr. Vivek Murthy, in his book Together, writes about three forms of loneliness: intimate loneliness, relational loneliness, and collective loneliness. The antidotes: deep connection to family, partners, or best friends; a social network of folks to spend time with; a larger community that provides a safety net, that shares our values. As the former Surgeon General, he says we need all three types of belonging in order to combat the public health crisis that loneliness has become. Add to this what Robin Wall Kimmerer calls “species loneliness” in her book Braiding Sweetgrass—a disconnection from the land, from all living things. And perhaps a fifth—an estrangement from the self. What would shift if we felt profoundly connected to our own being, to each other, to the earth?
Rather than systems of control, we need systems of care. In our daily lives, in our families, in our schools. With the land, with our bodies. Politically, globally. What if care rather than economic growth was our greatest priority? Where controlling structures aim to tame, punish, discipline; care listens. Care responds to feedback. Care does not demand a singular outcome. It is instead adaptive. Where control is hierarchical, care requires equity, respects the autonomy and inherent dignity of all involved, honors interdependence.
What I’ve noticed as the pandemic has progressed, is that while our government might fail to provide care, people and communities have risen to the call. They shouldn’t have to, but they have. From mutual aid to online gatherings, folks have striven to meet each other’s needs, to ask for help.
My gesture of community care has been a twice weekly free generative writing workshop titled The World We Want. It is a small offering. It does not undo the violence of the state. It is a space only of investigation, and on the best days of healing. I believe that all of us moving in the direction of care, demanding a government that does the same—that collectively, this too is an act of liberation.
Here is a prompt for your writing today, if you feel so called:
- List three acts of care you’ve received this week.
- List three acts of care you’ve offered another.
- List three acts of care you’ve offered yourself.
- List what is trying to control you.
Write a piece that begins with what controls you, its many facets, and then move into and toward a real or imagined act of care.
Here’s to taking care of each other, to being generous with ourselves, to liberation for all.
Aurora Masum-Javed is a poet, educator, and writing coach. A former public school teacher, she holds an MFA from Cornell University, where she also taught courses in creative non-fiction, short story, poetry, and composition. Her work can be found in various journals including Nimrod, Black Warrior Review, Aster(ix), Winter Tangerine, Frontier, and Callaloo. She has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Millay Colony, Caldera Arts, Vermont Studio Center, Kundiman, Callaloo, Squaw Valley, Pink Door, and BOAAT. A recent Philip Roth Resident in Creative Writing at the Stadler Center, she now serves as the Hub City Writer in Residence. She is currently working on her first collection of poems.