My dog, Jack, hates being alone in the car. When my husband stopped at the gas station after picking Jack up from doggy-daycare this past Friday he was careful to roll the windows down, stand next to Jack, and talk to him while he gassed my car up for me.
It didn't matter. Jack not only peed all over the front seat of my car, but he also peed all over a notebook that contained three years worth of my writing--part of a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy approach to treating anxiety and OCD. When my husband told me what happened, at first I was mad--a feeling I prefer, as I believe (rightly or not) that it's actionable. My anger lasted a total of three minutes, and I was completely caught off guard by myself, moments later, when I found myself devastated, sad, and at a loss.
I wasn't mad at Jack or my husband--it wasn't anyone's fault. It just was.
It's taken me three days to be able to sit down and think about the situation long enough to write about it. Every time I've tried I've been brought to tears, overwhelmed by sadness. What's obvious is that I see the physical output of writing as a manifestation of the actual work I've done to challenge and change deep-seated beliefs that no longer serve me for the past three years. I reasonably know that just because the paper copy is gone, that doesn't mean the work didn't happen or that I haven't changed or grown. I am now realizing, though, that I carry a belief about writing that is begging to be challenged.
Thinking that losing the paper copy means losing the progress is supported by the belief that writing is an end point and not a starting point. I want to challenge this belief for multiple reasons. First, if this belief were a fact, then that would mean I am exactly who I was three years ago, which negates the real life experiences that I've encountered, which ultimately negates me. Second, as someone who is writing many things--a dissertation, cover letters, teaching philosophies, diversity statements--this belief is subconsciously holding me back from enjoying the process through experimentation, creativity, and revision. Third, this belief deflates the power embedded in my dissertation writing, which makes visible labor practices that often render illegible the work of people that are both marginalized and foundational to an institution, art, or industry.
If writing is an end point, then my dissertation doesn't do anything. But based on my experience reading revolutionary work by Black women writers, such as Sylvia Wynter, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Jacqui Alexander, Carole Boyce Davies, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and more, I know that when the work enters the world it doesn't just enter a conversation, it also contains the possibility of entering movements and revolutions. Writing is a starting point. For me, reading other people's writing was the catalyst for changing the way I orient myself politically, intellectually, personally, emotionally, and physically to other people, realities, and worlds.
Losing the paper copy of my work was a good reminder that when the big picture is about the process, movements, and change, loss is a given. If I can't accept loss as a part of change, then I'm probably not ready to make the sacrifices that are necessary for the changes I want to help manifest.
So, today I am done mourning the paper copy. Instead, I can recognize this loss as a large indication of my privilege that affords me losses so small. I resolve to welcome loss into my process of writing, thinking, doing, and being. When we prioritize seismic levels of change, we shake the core of our world--if we aren't willing to stand on shaky ground and sacrifice our comfort to the cracks in the foundation, there will be no place for us to build something new.
Assistant Professor of English/Film Studies
Transnational Cinema, Decolonial Methodologies, Feminisms, Neoliberalism
Winona State University
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