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DISPATCH 008: Experimentations in Expansive Stability vs. Stagnant Settling
Do something different. Let the fire engulf you.
My name is Priya Florence Dadlani and I’m an NYC-based cultural worker. I’m infinitely grateful to everyone who has chosen to meet me in this liminal space I often find myself, constantly on the edge of becoming. If you’re able, please consider becoming a paid subscriber to my newsletter, or making a one-time gift to support my storytelling via Venmo @priyafdadlani.
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“When you base your expectations only on what you see, you blind yourself to the possibilities of a new reality.” — Zaheer in Legend of Korra, S3 EP1
Nothing has to be done the same way it has been done before.
Every time I start a new Dispatch, I copy a template from the previous one, wherein that document lies a structure, vestiges of the last document. And they linger. After a while it feels hard to just start fresh, and make things different this time. So I’m trying something different and beginning this Dispatch with a blank canvas. It can be hard to release things from the past that used to work, but no longer do. And it’s okay to feel sad after making the right decision. I recently pulled the Devil card from my tarot deck for the first time in a while, and I’m realizing that sometimes you have to break down the barricades you set up for your own safety. Sometimes what was once a protection becomes a prison.
Thank you for tuning into this Dispatch, I’m grateful you’re here and a sweet, special thanks to everyone who has decided to financially support my writing. I’m excited to publish more frequently, writing more, editing less, and releasing expectations. I’m realizing that if I wait months to write a Dispatch, when I sit down to do it, everything spills out and becomes hard to piece together. I feel really good that this newsletter is coming only one month after the last one.
That’s probably because for the past very chaotic few years, I’ve been beating myself up for not doing enough. Not writing enough, not being as outwardly active with SPICY, not going out enough, not applying to more jobs or gigs, the list goes on. Before March 12, 2020 I had endless ideas and energy, but after the first year of the pandemic everything changed. I changed. Things took more time, took more of me. I became incredibly anxious, tired, sick, and burnt out. Death surrounded me. Then 2021 came in like a bat out of hell and broke my heart in new and profound ways. Core relationships shattered. News ones emerged. My grandmother died. The third year, 2022, was memorialized in financial hardships, housing insecurity, and general insecurity. Scattered through these years were beautiful moments, some of the best in my life, so no — of course nothing is ever all bad. But when I take a step back and really think about it, it would be absurd to believe that if the world should never go back to the way it was before March 12, 2020 — why the hell should I?
On a macro-level, 2020 was a hammer that cracked the heart of the empire wide open for everyone to see and stare at in ways that were undeniable. Covid-19 was an opponent that didn’t play by the rules, that seeped across borders and silently made the world aware that no matter how big and bad we may feel, we still remain powerless to the natural world. Capitalism came to a halt, and the government made it abundantly clear through continued police militarism and disregard for essential workers that their vested interests were only in how much people can produce and definitely not if we lived or died. People were mobilizing, people were pissed, people were in the streets. But despite seeing this country exactly for what it is and being 100% convinced of its horrors, many have slowly receded back into their funhouses wherein they can distort the faces of extractive capitalism, white supremacy, and brutality to somehow be friendly and non-threatening. The fire has receded from their asses as if they’ve been brainwashed; a “return to normalcy” is well upon us. For some, what was once real anger has dissipated into hopelessness and then finally to inaction. A major missed opportunity. Some channeled their anger into educating themselves and organizing with other like-minded folks, some had been doing that well before this pandemic. And yet for others, I wonder if they ever cared to change the status-quo, or just felt peer-pressured to act like they did.
Now returning in-ward, to the fractal, the small, the micro-level. I see that I've been trying to compete with the productivity levels of a pre-Covid Priya, when really I should have been listening to my present self and moving accordingly with my current capacities, desires, and needs. If I see society returning back to pre-Covid levels of unhealthy productivity and hyper-individualism as a mistake, then I must also see it as a mistake to try and fit into the mold of my pre-Covid self. I must begin to not only embrace, but examine and take notes from the new parts of me that have emerged since the onset of this pandemic.
When I was a kid I used to love going to the pediatrician because they had these little children’s magazines called Highlights. They were full of articles written by kids, crafts, and games... my favorite has always been the game where you look at two seemingly identical images side-by-side and then have to spot the differences. Now, imagining my current self side-by-side my pre-Covid self, I would circle the following differences (to name just a few):
My eyes are now a little more focused and more intentional. Less distracted.
Under eye bags have faded because instead of getting FOMO, I’m getting rest. They’re still puffy though.
Mentors surround me.
New angels fly above me.
Less secrets exist between myself and the people closest to me.
Jahajee Sisters tote is hanging on my arm.
My journal is now full. My bag has watercolor paints and enough paintbrushes in it for everyone at the kickback.
The Ghost of Credit Card Debt now menacingly floats in the background.
A magnifying glass sticks out my tote because I’ve been hurt, I’m weary, and I’m clocking funny business.
My hair is pink.
A shaggy brown dog has appeared beside me.
I spy four new tattoos.
My feet are more firmly planted.
By conjuring up this self-portrait in my head, I see my present self for who I am, and not necessarily what I’ve done. Instead of following my first instinct to meticulously list out my accomplishments from the last three years in order to convince myself that I’m worthy of acceptance, I actually just need to decide that there is nothing I have to do to make it acceptable to be me. I can pull my energy back from constantly criticizing and comparing myself and put it towards being and exploring this new version of me that I’ve just been denying. It would save everyone a whole lot of wasted time, energy, and pain.
I can’t be in competition with pre-Covid Priya because they aren’t here anymore. And when I really think about it, I would never want to be her again anyways. But I understand my desire to go back, and I think there were many stages of grief that had to be experienced between then and now for me to finally accept the distance between me and the Priya who may have been if the pandemic never happened.
I finally accept that I am who I must be today, so I can do what is needed for tomorrow. I stop fighting myself and feel the slippery mess of the last few years harden around me into a new mold. The joy of finally accepting myself in this new evolution fills me. It’s hardening, bone-hugging, warm, crystallizing. ASMR of the soul.
And then (just, like, that) after the first, sweet sensations of self-acceptance hit me and I begin to stabilize, vibrations begin calling from deep within me, summoning a new cycle of change.
The thing about stability is although it’s the thing I want most, it’s also the thing I fear most. I fear becoming stuck. I fear becoming stuck, and then jaded. I fear the traditional escalators of life, which patriarchal society assumes we will concede to, could swoop me up and never let me off. Nightmares of a 45 year old unfulfilled, unsatisfied, empty Priya haunt me. Nightmares of a Priya who only cares for others, neglects herself, then guilt trips everyone into oblivion whenever they decide to have boundaries, haunt me. My best friend Sali has an amazing song called “Other People, and my favorite lyric is:
“You're taking the burden,
burned up your candle.
Other people need things…
Never occurred to you that
no one even, even asked?”
I am glad this song asks the important question, because I am absolutely rebuking a future in which I have sacrificed myself to the point of someone asking me this.
And I have to actively rebuke it every day, because so many femmes are conditioned, taught, and most horrifyingly lauded for endless amounts of unpaid, unacknowledged [purposely hidden], and feminized care work inside and outside their homes. I was a part of this year’s Peoples Forum course on Revolutionary Feminism, and in it we read Uncovering the Crisis: Care Work in the Time of Coronavirus from Tricontinental. Patterns are global, and only starker because of the pandemic, of women and queer people being the ones who take on the brunt of care work. Now they are also the ones, primarily at the margins of society across the world, who are fighting to make our dependence on each other more visible. The report took me back to the resilient women of my own family carrying out their jobs while doing the necessary labor of caring for kids, carrying on traditions, feeding, cleaning, going to work, coordinating schedules, and more. But lack of acknowledgement and support leads to frustration. You ever heard a woman mutter under her breath, “You gonna’ miss me when I’m dead!” and just know the spite and anger in their tone is more than valid, even though the words sting bad?
I wonder that if I “settle down” as defined by society, I may become stagnant and if I become stagnant, I become a non-moving target for the world to trap me and force me to fully embody the thankless, unofficial care worker who does everything for everyone with no thanks. As a person who actively fights against my own people-pleasing syndrome, and grew up in a culture that has its roots deep in patriarchal playbooks where women are seen as the family’s dutiful care takers, I just can’t have that. And it would be incorrect to say I haven’t had examples of formidable women before me who decided that they’ve had enough as well. I am extremely grateful and indebted to them, my magician of a mother absolutely included. Traditional stability of a two-parent household growing up was replaced by her unwavering, steadfast, multidimensional care and love which also flowed from my grandma, aunties and uncles, neighbors, and eventually my father too. They lived the saying, “It takes a village.” Naturally, a healthy level of chaos defined much of my life, and while it wasn’t always pretty, in it I found a portal to an alternative way of living that resisted the constraints of a society that relied on individualism, disconnection, and silence of women. What some may dub as “unstable” was actually familiar and safe to me, and in a way has always been my defense mechanism against the kind of stability that would cost me my autonomy.
But the keyword above was “as defined by society.”
I’m understanding that stability on my own terms can actually lay the foundation for expansion, growth, and leaping when I have the support of true love from friends, family, and community. Like @the.holistic.psychologist said, it feels like, “Love beyond survival mode.”
Though I hear the questioning voices inside me, expecting more chaos and disarray to ensue at any moment, I want to silence them for just a little longer so I can experiment with expansive stability. I want to trust that my gut can lead me into safe spaces where expansion, liberation, and even measured chaos and risk-taking are possible. A self-defined stability that leads to transformation, instead of stagnation. I intend to continue the tradition of breaking curses of security leading only to the banishment of truth, autonomy, worthiness, and dreams.
I have always heeded the call to cultivate spaces for people to make art, heal, break curses, transform, get free, and demand more from the world. I arrive early, set up the space, light the fire, and watch so many beautiful souls walk through it. This has always helped my own healing, and through this work I have found community and home in ways I didn’t know were possible. And I’ve put my foot to the fire, I have felt the burn, I have died many deaths and regenerated in private. But I now feel ready to take the entirety of myself through the flames. To accept myself fully as I am and to bear it to the world. For so much of my life, I have stood on the outskirts of my own healing. But on the edge of my Saturn Return, I realize that the “Why me?” refrain that is usually constantly playing in my head has silenced. I know it’s time to cross the the element I fear most. To let it engulf me.
Journal Prompts on Experimenting with Expansion
Describe the distance between you and your pre-Covid self. Mourn it.
What does “stability” mean to you?
What does “stagnancy” mean to you?
What escalators do you fear society will put you on, that you won’t be able to get off of?
What ingredients are needed for you to feel safe enough to expand?
What monster will catch you if you stop running?
What is a shift in your life that you’re teetering on the edge of?
What support do you need to leap towards this shift?
Which element do you fear most: water, fire, air, or earth?
How can you improve your relationship with this element?
In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I’m proud to have emceed Jahajee Sisters’ Lift Up With Love: Sexual Assault Speak Out for Survivors on April 5th in Queens, NY. Thank you so much to everyone who supported in organizing this event, featured artists, the homie Sania for taking amazing photos (see some here), and of course everyone who came out, shared their stories, and held space! Feeling grateful and inspired to be a part of an organization that is holding space for Indo-Caribbean people of all ages to explore the intersections of gender based violence, patriarchy, capitalism, and colonialism through art making, political organizing, and healing justice.
I recently finished reading Capitalism: A Ghost Story by Arundhati Roy and have recommended it to all my homies. This absolutely seamless and scathing quick 96-page read that was published in 2014 sums up the exacerbated effects that capitalism is having on the world’s largest “democracy.” For folks that didn’t know (including me before I read this book), India is a nation of 1.2 billion, but the country’s 100 richest people own assets equivalent to one-fourth of the country’s gross domestic product. While this book dissects and clearly explains how government corruption, militarism, Hindu supremacy, violent caste structures, western intervention, microcredit, colonialism, and more have created conditions for billions of people to feel the highest and most intense forms of exploitation, what I really appreciated was it’s sharp and close read on how corporate philanthropy and the NGO’ization of movement has been used as a weapon of imperialism to defang many (but not all!) revolutionaries in the region. Please, read this book! If you’re in my area, borrow mine!
Last lil’ note — my personal website has finally been updated! You can check it out here, and learn more about my work, goals, and projects. If you’re looking for someone to host a creative workshop, collective journaling session, or coordinate and host your next Murder Mystery Party — do not hesitate to let me know.
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