For the last eight years, I’ve been doing a-just-before-bed poo-walk with Leonard, my dog. I’m in my PJs smelling of toothpaste. There is the short circuit, medium and the long. I cross my fingers for the short. It goes how it goes.
I make a practice out of saying good evening to everyone I encounter. Over the course of the first years, I succeeded in making myself visible to the kids that congregate at the top of my road. They are doing their thing, posturing and posing, drinking, smoking weed, doing a bit of dealing. I am an early-old white woman with a dog and a coat over pyjamas. They are unconsciously/semi consciously disappearing me. I choose as a quiet act of rebellion against separation – to show that I see them, and invite them to see me. Initially my simple ‘good evenings’ caused flummox. People like me, weren’t supposed to acknowledge people like them.
Over time flummox moved through hostility, suspicion and sniggering. One evening someone mumbled something like hey. Slowly but surely, they engaged in this small human contact. Sometimes I now get a hey before I’ve offered up my good evening. A very stoned young man once said he liked my dog. Me too, I said, his name is Leonard. Thereafter occasionally someone says hey Leonard.
This little endeavour to see and be seen makes me happy.
But I also notice how many people respond to my good evening with a violent gaze. It is intense on the receiving end. Many of these people are my neighbours, and when I greet them during daytime, I get ignored, but not a face off of hate.
I know what it’s about though I’m curious how the day/night dimensional shift happens.
In my street, around my block, lots of people don’t pick up their dog poo. Ergo, there is a lot of dog shit. I know this blanking, and then a more sinister version of it when day becomes evening/night, is me being disappeared as human kin, and seen (not seen) as a demographic to hate for all the dog shit on the street.
I think about hate and separation.
My heart hurts from the state of our beautiful and ravaged world.
I gaze unflinchingly at what is, and am in an ongoing practice of maintaining heartbroken/scared/furious/helpless, without being destroyed, devoured or disassociated.
As Kae Tempest says in People’s Faces: And yes our children are brave
But their mission is vague.
I know I won’t be here to see the unthinkable, that is in my humble opinion just up ahead, close enough to touch, and I know there are amazing communities of young activists across our global family. Nevertheless, the power in the majority has the tightest grip on the most terrifying governance.
As Leonard (the man, not the dog) threaded into one of his songs: There’s a mighty judgement coming down.
My poo walks in this micro experience of being for fleeting moments in the direct gaze of blind hate, take me to thinking about racism. In the beginning, I would take a poo bag and wave it ostentatiously about, like a flag saying: look I’m not one of those ones.
I got to thinking about what if I were a young black man, wearing the ubiquitous hoody, just walking from A to B. I couldn’t wave anything about to signify my humanity, that it was safe to see me; that we were two human beings passing on the highways and byways of our little human lives.
I put the poo bag back in my pocket.
I’m 65 this Autumn. I’ve seen things change – laws, culture, attitude, vocabulary and I’m grateful for the movement around these terrible oppressive norms… however, I’m not convinced it is more than a surface change. The kind of change that matters, only comes when we dig deeply collectively and face into our own carried-for-generations legacies of separation, judgement, hatred and violence.
We have hate-crime legislation.
There was a black president in US.
We have built equality into our systems, and yet at the same time we had Donald Trump in the White House, police killing black boys and men on film on phones, and women being raped and murdered by people in positions of trust and accountability.
At this point in the UK, I find the difference between Labour and Conservative difficult to distinguish. I’m ambivalent about my Labour Party Membership, although I rate my local MP very highly.
Politics spin the line about how we all matter, while the clear demarcation between those that have value and those that don’t is so massive a chasm that social justice and equality is way out over the horizon, forever I believe, out of sight.
The hard-won abortion legislation that gave women choice and agency has been revoked after 50 years in the US. And there is talk about it here.
Personally, I am very grateful to the internet in general and social media, though I am a total dinosaur, and only use Facebook, and very recently, sometimes Instagram… I love it for its doorways to contact, intimacy, knowledge, relationship, shopping without going to shops! Oh my, I hate shops (mostly) with occasional exceptions. I love it for everything it gives me, which except the convenience stuff, could be distilled into one word: connection.
I know though that it has the darkest underbelly.
It has highjacked so many of our children (and adults).
It has (in my humble opinion) destroyed democracy.
It is teaching the young everything that is counter intuitive to deeply intimate erotic joy.
It is a gateway to so many different shapes and flavours of violence, and it is used ruthlessly to destroy so much that matters so much.
Social media is used to target, manipulate and teach hate and separation. We are being played without even noticing. Everything that has always been in the fields of human dynamics and complicated, is now on steroids. I don’t get any rabid right wing promo because all the algorithms know I’m neither leaning that way, or lost and susceptible, I get a reflection back of who I already know I am – showing up on my feeds.
We are being taught, both overtly and more worryingly, less obviously, to see any kind of difference as the enemy. The only thing that brings us together, to the place where the simple truth that we are all kin underneath our costumes, skin colour, sexual orientation, gender, ways of living life, rituals, churches, no church, neurodiversity, beliefs, is to keep seeing one another across the differences and be open to recognise the humanity that threads us together. We are all in it together like it or not.
I have community, intimate friendship, a hard won compassionate and loving relationship with the one I’m with, having nearly succeeded in destroying myself through the pain of coming into this world via a micro lineage of revulsion and hate.
I occupy the places where connection and authenticity are the paramount culture and though I am rather solitary, I am connected, seen and loved by the wideness and closeness of my heart Familia. I am home.
To be able to say that as I walk towards the end of everything – fully aware old – that old age is not for me, is my success story. (My tongue is jammed in my cheek as I do not believe in any kind of binary success and failure construction).
Yet it does matter that I got home which wasn’t looking likely on paper.
Home means I feel the pain of what has become of us, the big us, as I cherish the home ground of community, connection with self, others and the natural beauty of our planet as it gets murdered breath by breath.
Grief runs through me like a clear, cold alpine stream. It knows the way.
I am also discovering that underneath the fields of kindness and simplicity, there is another place. I’m not sure peace is exactly the right word, but it is a kind of peace. Not the classic body of beautiful still water but full of movement, full of everything… it is everything.
It’s the quality of the everything that has opened and yielded… if it had a voice, it would be whispering, over and over: yes this, yes this too, yes this. This is a new place for me and to go back to Kae Tempest again: Even when I’m weak and I’m breaking I stand weeping at the train station, cause I can see your faces. I love people’s faces.
The faces I meet on my evening poo walks are always going to take me for a moment to the impossible question of – what if I was walking this life in a black male body. I’m glad it takes me there. Sometimes I have an impulse to stop a neighbour on the road, and ask: What are you feeling? Who are you seeing?
I might even do that some time. If I do, no doubt I’ll write about it.
I live between being ripped to shreds and finding so much peace in people’s faces.