In 2000, my email signature was, “my heart to yours.” By 2005, it had changed to “best.” Now, I don’t have one. If I did, it might be, “in despair” or “from despair.” Rarely, with those dear to my heart, I write “love.” Perhaps I mean, “love in times of despair.”
On Twitter, Prof Grace Musila asks,
Remind me please, how do we not yield to despair? How do we keep hope alive? How did we not despair in the face of variants of these monstrosities in yester-years?
I need serious, practical ideas.
I am unable to formulate an answer, unable to imagine a quote from Audre Lorde or Pumla Gqola or Shailja Patel or Wambui Mwangi or Christina Sharpe that will work against despair. Be kind to each other. Care. Do not pass this pain to others. Yes to all of these. But I do not know how to think about these ideas and practices from a space outside despair.
I wonder what imagining and thinking and creating and writing look like from despair’s embrace. What is writing that does not imagine itself as overcoming despair? What are its tenses? What are its verbs? What is writing that sits in the room with despair? What are its adjectives? What are its silences? What nouns populate despair’s vocabulary?
What actions lubricate despair’s presence? How it not only sits in the room, but desires intimacy. How it rubs onto and against us, staining us with its desires. I wonder if despair imposes its proximity, if it presses, insistently, so that we do not so much yield to it as lose any possibility of escaping it.
Does one, then, attempt to bind and cast out despair in the name of this or that deity, this or that religion, this or that magick, this or that . . . ? What sealant does one use against despair?
I read Lorde:
We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. (“Transformation of Silence”)
Reading it this time, I am arrested by “can learn” and “have learned.” I am caught by the idea that what’s at stake is learning how to work and speak and imagine and think and write and create when despairing, with despair in the room, pressing insistently.
And I think about Christina Sharpe’s beautiful In the Wake, a book written, one feels, with despair in the room. Not always. There is care. And love. And beauty. But there is also despair. In the ditto ditto, the everexpanding archives of black life unmade, black death proliferated. And I think of what Christina—she’s a friend—had to learn̛ about writing with despair in the room. And what we—I might be too scared to write “I”—have to learn̛ about writing with despair in the room.
I envy those of us who can write despair away and those who have found ways to overcome despair, to pursue and practice freedom through other states, other feelings. I do not know if I have learned how to write from despair, with despair in the room. And if I have, I do not know that I know how to pass on this knowledge.
Sitting with despair in the room, writing from and into it, I do not wish those on anyone else. Yet, I hold on to what I adapt from Lorde: we can learn to work and speak from and into despair as we pursue freedom.