Sideways

“And if we’ve come a long way
Then I suspect it’s sideways
Further from our origin
No closer to our destination.”
-Dessa, “Mineshaft”

We want the road we’re walking on to be the one that leads to where we go. Trouble is, we make the road as we walk it. You cannot ask for a map for that which does not exist.

Are you all familiar with Dessa? Even if you’re not into rap, it’s worth your time to go to genius.com and look up her lyrics for the poetry. “Mineshaft” is where she introduces herself to you. “The list of things I used to be, is longer than the list of things I am.” She’s largely lamenting herself or things she’s done. The hook is, “I’ve been here before / I know where it goes / It goes down”. I have noticed a few thematic loops in my own life coming full circle. I’m standing in new places feeling like the reflections in the windows are all familiar. I’ve been here before. I’m not so sure where it goes, but I have my suspicions.

Not all movement is progress. Not all motion is forward. You can work towards something with all your heart, and fail. Righteousness does not guarantee success. The universe has no arc, it’s just a myth to reassure us. I’m not knocking it – we need all the reassurance we can get. History is largely a list of all the times we were nasty to each other. That’s what makes this hard.

Rev. Alison Miller said, in an episode of the VUU (may the puns never end), a lot of stuff, but one idea that stayed with me is that leadership now is a matter of who you choose to follow. She was describing how white people need to pay attention to people of color and how people in power need to draw their gaze towards the marginalized. It’s wise advice. If you are going to take someone else’s directions, best to see what their road looked like for them. If it is completely uncharted territory, sharpen your compass, make sure you don’t lose sight of that horizon.

I confess: I don’t trust the narrative of “resistance”. I don’t trust those who enthusiastically embrace the identity. It’s like when someone identifies their self as being a good person in a social media bio – really? Since when was that for you to decide? All of this seems more like it should be a matter of show and not tell. I can string a few convincing sentences together too. I can declare commitments. It is all about the follow-through. It is about what you do about what you see.

I stepped back from the fight but didn’t leave the ring. You’ll find me leaning on the ropes, watching the punches everyone else is throwing. Cowardly? Maybe? Bets are looking like they’d make better hedges lately, at least with the landscape in front of me. I don’t fight just to bleed, I don’t pick roses for their thorns, and my efforts towards social change were feeling that way. Picking fights for the sake of demonstrating I’m willing to do it. Risking a (metaphoric) punch to show I can wear the bruises. I went along because others said it was the right path to the destination I seek, but you know? It took time to admit it to myself, because getting there mattered so much to me, but I didn’t trust them. Reasons. Is it me? Is it them? Reasons. I’m walking on my own. That is a recipe for failure too. There’s few guides where I am trying to go. Time to be brave. Time to be wise. Time to be ready to reconcile how bravery and wisdom have conflicting pre-requisites.

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