I was going to start this post with an apology for its divergence from the usual academic, think-y pieces I try to write and toward a more personal, reflection piece. But the graduate student in me wouldn’t let me not ground this in theory; so, in looking back upon my one-year anniversary in Minneapolis, marking my one-year survival as a PhD student, I turn to Aimee Carrillo Rowe (affectionately referred to as ACR) to help me frame what has been a terrifically salacious, surprisingly delicious, and altogether hellish twelve months.
Before I bring in ACR, I need to share what I wrote in a former online blog exactly one year ago today. It was a few days after my arrival in Minneapolis, and I was perhaps still somewhat in denial that I had really left Chicago, my home for the six years prior. I remember sitting in a coffee shop, fighting back tears as I projected optimism into the keyboard. In it I discuss what I describe as “the hum of Chicago’s electric air,” and wonder if I’ll ever find the kind of vivacious community, the feeling of really living, that I found there. I reflected:
“Only after I left the city did I realize that the only time in my life I had actually been immersed in such an epically poetic description of organic vitality was in Chicago for the past six life-altering years. The relationships I made on the streets, (the streets that fell upon one another in their seamless grid’d dance), the love I made in the beds of apartments set behind sidewalks with impossible-to-describe colored streetlights, (the sidewalks with cracks and heart-framed initials and footprint’d stories of failure and hope and promise and regret), the way the wind felt against my face as I scavangered through cars on my bicycle, the potentiality of our protests, and the harmony of our laughter on late-night el platforms…..all of it, all of it created the stirring hum that aroused electric currents to pulse through the skies of Chicago, and through my wanting, impressionable veins. Chicago is alive because of the people within it, and the people within it are alive because of the city itself. Our public space becomes an entity that both simultaneously shapes and is shaped by the creation of community—be it intentional, organic, or incidental. While there are a diverse and multifaceted blend of sub-communities, there is no denying that the city on the whole is a space of some common energy that fosters (at least the semblance of) unity.”
So did I find an equivalent in my new dwellings? As one of the professors in my department likes to say, “Yes and no.” This past year I’ve been that annoying city-girl who is quick to mention how Chicago is superior whenever she can; and there have plenty of times to participate in this obnoxious behavior: any time public transit comes up (the el is perfection compared to these buses), the skyline (weak sauce), the “lakes” (psh, they ain’t got nothin’ on Lake Michigan). And that hum? That buzz of electricity that stirs my veins? Absent.
But there is something here, something in these twin cities that is comforting and stable in a way that Chicago could never be. It nestles me in the shoulders of bicycle paths, cozies me in the plenitude of locally-owned coffee shops, and I can feel it, everyday, trying to rescue me from my big-city-life bad habits (like cynicism, and total distrust, and a fervent addiction to doing things the hard way). The people are openly kind, and even though everyone says that “Minnesota nice” is not sincere, sometimes it’s refreshing anyway (like all the times I’ve been lost, and within a moment of seeing a confused expression upon my face, strangers approach asking if I need help. Wow!).
Now, my actual PhD program is kind of the opposite of all that. Grad school beats the shit out of you. I have an increased propensity for self-flagellation, I work far more than forty hours a week (couldn’t even count if I tried; I’d probably cry), and have a general sense of self-doubt, feelings of worthlessness, and wonder whether or not it’s possible to “make a difference” as a professor…..
But here’s where theory saves us. (Which, incidentally, answers the above question, non?). Bring in ACR’s “Be Longing: Towards a Feminist Politics of Relation” (2005), which urges us to reframe traditional feminist notions of “standpoint” (e.g., I am: white, female, queer, working-class, Midwesterner, etc.) and instead think about the people that constitute home. She writes,
“My argument is that who we love is political. That sites of our belonging constitute how we see the world, what we value, who we are [becoming]….Be Longing, two words, placed beside each other, not run together, phrases a command. The command is to be “be” “longing,” not to be still, or be quiet, but to be longing.”
In the last 365 days I have: reluctantly and painfully parted ways with Chicago, warmed up to the okay-for-now charm of Minneapolis, endured the bittersweet trials of academic abuse, and, most importantly, fallen in love with so many new minds and hearts. ACR tells us that it’s okay to examine what it means to be “home,” and quotes Kamala Visweswaran (1994), who states: “Home, once interrogated, is a place we’ve never been before.” For me, ‘home’ now means both Cleveland (where I was born and raised for 18 years), and also Chicago, where I lived some of the most formative years of my life. And now, when I go visit family in Cleveland or friends in Chicago, when I hug them goodbye and say “It’s hard to go home…” I am referring to returning to Minneapolis-home, but also stating that it is hard, so hard to go to any of these homes. And although the geography of Chicago makes me yearn like a hungry lover to be in it and upon it and amidst it, my three homes are mostly what they are because of the relationships I’ve made there.
“We tend to overlook the ways that power is transmitted through our affective ties,” ACR writes, “Who we love, the communities that we live in, who we expend our emotional energies building ties with—these connections are all functions of power.”
It is hard to compare the affective networks of Cleveland, Chicago and Minneapolis, because I was obviously in entirely different places in my life when I was introduced and belonged to each. I think any city that got a hold of me from 18-24 might have felt the most magical; it was then when I established a sense of identity that felt more right than anything had before. I discovered radical politics and the fluidity of sexuality and academic theory and occupying streets and office buildings (and really believing that each action was a step closer to justice); I discovered the vodka-laced conversations and smoke-filled lips and public transit at 2am and playing music in living rooms where everyone knows all the words….Everything felt “epic.”
Here, the moments don’t feel quite so epic, but they do feel powerful and strong and stable. These are all fairly new sentiments for me to describe relationships. Here, I have developed rock-solid friendships with four of the most inspiring, intelligent women I’ve ever met. We discuss our lives interlaced with theories we’ve read, we are self-aware about our contradictions, and lovingly care for one another’s mistakes. Here, I have found a community of activists and organizers that are concerned with building more than radical identity, but also a movement. Here, I have found radical queers that are interested in smashing the state, but believe it will take more than glitter and public sex. Here, I have felt more comfortable in my queer identity than almost ever before; comfortable enough to devote nearly all my reading and writing to queer projects. Interestingly enough, it is here that I have fallen in love with a cisgender man who inspires me, supports me, and challenges me to be the best queer academic and social justice warrior I can be.
In short, here, I have grown up.
“A politics of relation is not striving toward an absolute alterity to the self, but rather to tip the concept of “subjectivity” away from “individuality” and in the direction of the inclination toward the other so that “being” is constituted not first through the “Self,” but through its own longings to be with. Belonging precedes being….Thus there is no separation between longing—to be with—and being.” (p. 18)
When I long for home, I am deconstructing my notion of self and simultaneously creating my identity-as-relational. When I feel love for the past or the present, I am, in those affective yearnings, becoming. And there is something deeply comforting in missing the past when you know it is a necessary step for self-actualization. And there is something deeply motivating to loving the present when you know that it too is a necessary step for self-actualization.
When I look back on that love letter to the city-scape of Chicago, I grow nostalgic. But I am also grateful for the distance, for the ways I approach life more maturely for having left it.
ACR begins her essay noting that she’s writing from her girlfriend’s “puffy red chair perched by the window, looking out over the lake as fall blows into Iowa” (p. 1). I write to you from my desk chair, my baby-cat, Stokely, curled up beside me, feeling the relief of a cool August-night breeze, and waiting for my partner to return home from work. I am “home” here in a way that I have never been home elsewhere, and I have learned that trying to determine if it is better or worse than this or that is an exercise in futility.
ACR’s essay turns into a rich analysis of coalition-building, and especially interrogates whiteness and heterosexuality within feminist movements. She pushes us to consider how loving across difference can “widen our vision of the political field” (36), and continues,
“…[O]ur belonging are conditioned by our bodies and where they are placed on the globe. And yet, the point of “differential belonging” is to call attention to the multiple paths we may travel in our circles of belonging, and to consider the implications for each on the other. It is not to be bound by the regulatory practices of any particular group nor by the need to remain consistent or ‘pure,’ but rather to take a risk and move in the direction of multiple others. As in ‘becoming-other’” (p. 36).
One year ago I took a huge risk, and I have become-other, many others, and my heart overflows with gratitude for that.
So, happy one-year anniversary to me. Happy one-year anniversary to the ‘me’ that is only a product of the many, many relationships that have shaped me, the relationships that have enabled me to write this today. I took up Visweswaran’s challenge and interrogated home in a way that makes it unfamiliar, but it is because of be/longing that the unfamiliar has become a much less scary place to exist.