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01 tender musings: battling cynicism
This is an exercise in imperfection.
These tender musings will come monthly-ish, maybe the format will change each time, and they’re both an opportunity to shout out the movements and homies and a way to keep myself accountable to a writing practice. Bear with me as the musings are a bit long this time, to ground us in Why. Scroll to the bottom for links and resources, and if anything here resonated with you at all, please consider supporting my work and resharing on social media.
I don’t really know what I’m doing, and damn, does that feel good to say. My whole life has been an exercise in performing a role that fills a needed dynamic within my family, team structure, friend groups, organizations, communities. I’ve spent so long being everything everyone else wants me to be, or that I think and project that I need to be for them, that I lose myself in the process. It’s a learned trait as a daughter in an Bangladeshi, immigrant household where the women toil over pots for hours, and eat second. It’s a learned trait existing in an exploitative, capitalist world where we are expected to hyper perform and over achieve for the basic necessities to be met.
Despite all of this, I can count on waking up every single day with one guiding question: how can I be kind, patient, authentic, and loving today towards the people in my life and the grander ecosystem of humans, especially those oppressed and dispossessed around the world? It may not be a lot, but it feels like enough. In this sense, I know what my life is dedicated to and for that, I do feel fortunate for at least that much clarity. That this is what I spend my hours towards, and dedicate my studying and art to. My mother has been waking up at 5am to work at a Queens Duane Reade cash register for the last twenty years, and my diabetic father makes his way as a server in a Brooklyn diner. They and those like them, the working class, immigrant, internationalist communities of Queens and New York City serve as my north star – as I make the connection of solidarity to struggles across the world. For some, their north star may be the creation of a beautiful photograph to highlight the beauty to our existence, or a morning radio show with dug up records to share an oft-overlooked genre of music and sonically inspire. It might be making and selling tamales, or stocking a bookstore shelf with used books. I think that’s beautiful and noble and necessary, and my wish is for everyone to feel authentic to themselves, find what it is that makes them feel alive every single day, and partake as little as possible to the harm of others.
This month, with a change in my weekly and daily structure, the chance to truly sit with myself and reflect, the moving away from survival mode, the chance for my body to catch up to how sick I really have been and how poor my mental health is, I’ve identified a pattern of giving to others in order to not give to myself. I haven’t had a work break since I graduated university, and then the pandemic hit soon after, plunging me into a hole I’m only now slowly climbing out of. Filling my days, weeks, calendars with work, organizing, activism, socializing, and partying – as a way to compensate for being allowed to be alive, and simply human. And for me, I’m still figuring out this human thing. Can my room be utterly disheveled and my dishes unwashed, while I’m out styling a shoot and seeking to create aesthetic beauty? Can I have 4 one-third read books from Lenin to Aijaz Ahmad on my nightstand and facilitate a political education class? What if I’m not on the streets everyday and have decided to move physically away from the communities that raised me, and choose to build elsewhere in the city, and hopefully soon around the world, am I a dedicated organizer? What if I miss deadlines and haven’t had something published in years, am I a writer?
Currently, I’m working on battling the cynicism that dominates our lives. I hear it on first dates, from students at the beginning of our classes, from my father when the gas prices rise because of sanctions and war, when clearly, electing Biden did not solve our imperialist problems. I see it within myself after the highs from Cuba seeing the socialist project in action, doctors embedded in local communities, and unionized artists, and after the lows from Bangladesh, the impoverished at every doorstep, garment factory workers sitting shoulder to shoulder creating fast fashion pieces for the West to wear, rising waters having decimated the village my mother grew up in.
The cause of our cynicism is alienation caused from capitalism – from nature, from our own selves, from feeling true connections to others that do not feel transactional, from our own labor. We work, we use that income from work to counteract some of the dullness from work, we read a few devastating headlines on war a week, rinse and repeat. I wish for us to believe that we can battle cynicism. Community organizing, mutual aid, political study, and my comrades have healed me in ways I did not know was possible – that we can in fact, make sense of the system we are in and play a tiny role in the betterment of the world and revolution, in the ways that make sense for you. Yes, I’ve felt it while marching and chanting “Cuba Si, Bloqueado No” on the streets, but I’ve also felt the spiritual nourishment from sitting on a stoop with a neighbor, sharing stories with my rickshaw driver in Bangladesh driving through Sylhet during prayer time, and dancing till sunrise during Dweller, a Black electronic music festival in NYC.
I’ll use this newsletter space to shoutout grassroots movements that you can support and anti-imperialist, socialist political education resources to ground us in the long line of history fighting for an equitable future. I’ll also share arts and culture that has saved me at my lowest, and experienced in the pockets of the world I call home in its multitude of definitions: Queens, Brooklyn, NYC, London, Cuba, Bangladesh, because culture is the soul of a nation and heart of revolution.
As I enter a moment of transition with part-time and freelance work, studying, organizing, and styling, I’m disoriented, but empowered. In this next era, I carry these words that a parent organizer for education justice shared in a meeting, from Gloria Anzaldúa:
“Where others see borders, nepantleras* see bridges. This bridge is an act of will, an act of love, an attempt towards compassion and reconciliation, and a promise to be present to the pain of others without losing themselves to it”
*Nepantlera: boundary-crosser, thresholders who initiate others in rites of passage, activistas who, from a listening, receptive, spiritual stance, rise to their own visions and shift into acting them out
Let the grassroots movements lead us and inspire us…
The first labor union at Amazon, here in Staten Island. Amazon is a trillion-dollar company that spends millions upon millions in union-busting.
It’s been 9 years since the collapse of Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing over 1000 garment workers, mostly young women creating clothes for Mango and Benneton. Watch this 50-minute documentary “Worker’s Voices” (2017) by the amazing comrade, professor, movement lawyer, activist, Chaumtoli Huq.
“CoronaShock and Patriarchy” The invisibilized labor and women who bore the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis
[VIDEO] The People’s Vaccine: How Cuba vaccinated 80% of its population, when wealthier nations have failed, despite being a blockaded island with limited access to resources. I was in Cuba in November, and spoke to the dedicated scientists who created the Abdala vaccine, and US sanctions are devastating for medical research and work, but Cuba finds a way.
For your bookshelf…
Socialist States and the Environment by Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro
Unpacking the way the environmental impacts of socialist states have been compared to the impact of capitalist ones. Socialist states aren’t perfect in their environmental record, but remember, they are the underdog in this capitalist world! This book carries lessons to better understand the relationship between socialist states and environmental crisis.
Other books I’ve been reading and enjoying:
Like a Bird by Fariha Roisin
Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices by Thich Nhat Hanh
Muscle Memory by Kyle Carrero Lopez - debut poetry chapbook on money & work, Blackness & anti-blackness, the art world, queerness, & violence—governmental to interpersonal. Had the pleasure of hosting their book launch and poetry reading at The People’s Forum - check it out!
Kfeelz (Kafilah Muhammad) mix, for Warming Mix Series - a fellow NYC native and friend. A soothing, brain massaging ambient mix, comforting for my overstimulated brain this month. Has a track from Nala Sinephro’s Space 1.8 debut EP, a jazz album that has held me, coming from the thriving UK jazz scene.
Fabrice Bourgelle’s worldwide.fm show, Synesthesia, London-based photographer, director, and documentarian exploring the relationship between sight and sound. Fabrice is a dear friend I met on the dancefloor in London this past August during DJ collective Daytimers 1st anniversary party (if you don’t know them yet, tap in!). I saw the collective’s Boiler Room sets and planned my London travels to arrive the morning of their party. He spotted me raving solo, fresh off a flight from Brooklyn, and embraced me into a beautiful and inspiring creative community the rest of my time in what I consider a sister city. This particular episode that’s a South Asian focus features one of my favorite tracks coming from Daytimers - Tabla GQOM from Ahahadream
Dynoman and Zara Dekho party series, Rare Frequency Transmissions - talented producers and DJs themselves, this party series puts all kinds of DJs on their lineups, always a lowkey time to discover new music and artistic styles. The parties are kind, safe, and a good time.
For visual stimulation…
Kapu Glass. Artist Prinita Thevarajah handmakes glass jewelry and vases. Playful, soft yet a strong statement when worn. They sell online, and will be selling pieces at UrbanGlass in Fort Greene on May 12th from 5 - 7pm.
Ashley M. Lagrange, the Collage Therapist. Queens-based pre-licensed therapist and artist, makes ethereal, full of depth collage prints and frames as a pastime craft turned coping skill while recovering from self injurious behavior.
In the stars…
My friend Danielle and I used to do 5 minute birth chart readings as a party trick in college. She has screenshots of her closest’s birth charts on her Notes app, and I think it’s a dear love language from her Cancer moon heart. We entered Pisces stellium this past week (when three-plus planets are grouped together in the same sign). Like a Pisces, this is a creative, hopeful, artistic, sensitive, and heartwarming time, particularly when during the grounded, tactile, and pleasurable Taurus season. My Pisces moon is feeling it, having launched this newsletter this week, allowing vulnerability, and celebrating and organizing multiple iftars this week held in community. How is it manifesting for you?
If you’ve stuck around this long, thank you, love ya, I’ve lost steam. This is fun and weird. Ok bye. Let me know what you thought and give me a shout! Email me at email@example.com or send me a message on Instagram!
Tahia Islam is a community organizer, activist, stylist, and educator from New York City.