4. How do we get to the perfect there , when we’re in the broken here ?
Acknowledging our interdependence, inherent worth, and vulnerability — this is hard work that’s entangled in the already hard work of care, whether you’re the giver or receiver. When you’re really in the muck of it, care brings up a lot of feels: anxiety, fear, grief, anger, judg- ment, and more. But this is also the work of freedom, if we allow ourselves to open to the possibilities of liber- ation that care can offer us. In the words of meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh: no mud, no lotus. Let us feel the discomfort that care triggers for us, and begin to be in that discomfort so that the tightness might loosen, simply by virtue of our being with , our turning towards . If instead of fighting, we can dance with it: our shame, our fear, our anxiety. We can shift our weight, bend our knees, relax into the natural curve of our spine. Care as a Collective Practice of Freedom Care is not just my practice for my freedom, or your practice for your freedom. It’s our practice for our free- dom, together. What can care free us from? RECONFIGURING FAMILY One answer is the scarcity mindset that rations the provi- sion and receipt of care to the family. In our neoliberalist world, there is no collective responsibility for care; it is relegated to the family — and when they’re not available, outsourced to the market. This is both unreliable and unjust: not everyone has available family or money. How might we extend our commitments of care beyond the traditional family? What would it look like to construct family through choice and consent instead of chance? THE CARE WEB Justice worker Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha describes the “care web,” which applies the principle of mutual aid—a collective coordination to meet each oth- er’s needs 6 —in the spirit of interdependence and com- munity. It is from each according to their ability, to each according to their need. A care web doesn’t mean that everyone has to do every- thing, but it means that everyone can give and every- one can receive: pooling both caring needs and caring resources. In this way, the care web is neither unidirec- tional nor hierarchical, unlike the standard healthcare-me- diated relationship of the binary caregiver and care receiver that is unequal and non-reciprocal. And unlike traditional models of care for, say, disabled people or char- ity recipients, the care web subverts the model that they can only passively receive care. Instead, a person receiving care can also direct or give care. Finally, care webs have no center, paralleling the way in which the normative, institu- tional centers of life have failed its members — say queer and trans communities harmed by their families 7 .
In our movement explorations, our limbs both separated (pushing away) and connected (bringing together). Our points of contact varied from slip ‘n slide to deep pressure, localized to whole body. Rolling together on the ground necessitated full-body intimacy and support of each oth- er’s weight. Being on the ground versus standing each pre- scribed different constraints, but also opened different pos- sibilities. We butted up against power, when either of us would throw out a ‘bid’ that the other did or did not turn towards. We added successively more rules to our score, making it harder for us to maintain continuity of phrase given physical constraints — much like continuing to care amidst less resourcing and burnout. We dissolved any lead/ follow relationship, blurring our boundaries and engaging in a dynamic give and take: sometimes one of us needed more or less, sometimes one of us got to shine more or less; at no point was our relationship ever perfectly equal. Dance movement and social movement. The gesture and the rupture. For me, care is the bridge. And not only does it serve as the bridge between both, it contains the possi- bility and process of both — both the gesture and the rup- ture, the moving towards (ourselves, others, The Other) and away (from oppression, isms). Care is not inherently “nice” 2 — it is political (gendered/racialized/classed) and it is survival (both as caregiver and care-receiver). Care can be conceived as the mending, after the tear. But it can also be the tear itself: etymologically, care comes from the Old English caru , which means “burdens of the mind.” That tear can then become the mending, unstitching what we no longer need and revealing our inherent whole and free self. Care can be our practice of freedom 3 . What do I mean by that? The philosopher Michel Foucault distinguishes between liberation as a momentary act and freedom as an ongoing practice. He wondered what would happen the day after the Grand L. Turns out we’d still need to figure our shit out. “Liberation paves
This essay is about why care is hard, and for that very reason , why care is the practice of freedom. I describe the care web as applied interdependence, and give three exam- ples for scaled-up care neighborhoods that serve as models for societal transformation. Finally, I make the argument for why liberation is accessible to us— right now . This work of care is in the present tense and not some far-off future. It is our work, not someone else’s to figure
out. And it will never be perfect . But it is our practice of freedom.
Care as an Individual Practice of Freedom What can care free us from? Here are three ways that either giving or receiving care can be a practice of freedom. First, each time we ask for care, we’re chipping away at the tentacles of neoliberalism that have ensnared us, often without our knowledge or informed consent. Asking for help strips down the neoliberalist ideal of the self-made man: autonomous, resilient, and self-sufficient. It refuses the cultural value of independence as success, or even the possibility of any true “independence.”We’ve been brain- washed by the notion that we have to do it all alone or else we’re considered weak. Even Henry David Thoreau of Walden is a case study for interdependence: he visited his mother’s home several times a week to eat her food, give her his laundry, and see his friends 4 . Care can also become a practice of freedom by unhooking our worth from our productivity and believing in our inher- ent worth. Under neoliberalism, the individual is only valu- able as a “productive member of society” (read: engaged in waged labor, because value must be measured, and money is our only currency). But that’s just a story someone made up. We are worthy simply by virtue of being alive, full stop.
Two things the care web is not: it’s not charity, and it’s not friendship. Members of a care web relate on equal ground instead of a hierarchical, moralistic, and often con- ditional relationship that characterizes charity. Care webs also don’t require friendship, generally characterized by reciprocity, which is not necessarily possible when people have different needs, capacities, and capabilities. CARING FOR CARE Returning to Thich Nhat Hanh’s no mud, no lotus , how might digging into the challenges of care inform the ways in which care is our practice of freedom? One of the primary ways the care web is hard is the improbability of reciprocity, and the unequal distribution of caring needs and caring resources within that web at any given time. romham pádraig gallacher of the Radical Access Mapping Project writes about this eloquently: 8 If interdependency is in our DNA, what does it mean when we fall out of whack with it? How do we han- dle the realities of our bodies and minds that need what they need when they need it? What does it mean
That’s unconnected to what or how much we can produce, what our minds or bodies can do. Our belief in our inherent worth gives us a sense of enoughness that enables us to both ask for and give care by giving us a greater capacity to con- front our human frailty. Finally, care confronts vulnerability and depen-
This essay is about why care is hard, and for that very reason, why care is the practice of freedom.
the way for new power relationships, which must be con- trolled by practices of freedom.” That work of freedom after the Grand L? It’s also the work we need to do today.
dence, sickness and death. We care for our (and other) bod- ies and minds both because of and in spite of their perpet- ual imperfections, the ways in which they may not behave the way we might want them to, the ways in which we have to relinquish control. Care for our (and other) mortal bod- ies can also be an unsettling memento mori when our soci- ety tries so hard to ignore, deny, and hide death. The fun- damental truth of death is a feature, not bug, of the human condition. Care can allow us to unlearn our shame around having needs and mitigate our fears of frailty and death, accepting all of them as part of the human condition.
This essay is driven by these questions: 1. Why is care so hard?
2. How might we care more? How might we expand our caring imaginaries, our notions of kin, of who “deserves” our care? 3. Does care matter? I mean, is it really going to fix anything?
in dance WINTER 2022 10
WINTER 2022 in dance 11
In Dance | May 2014 | dancersgroup.org
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