carte blanche is a monthly column by storyteller and artist bahia watson. this is a free space.
the year twenty-twenty entered the stage serving up all the glittery razzle-dazzle that hollywood dreams are made of. i walked past leonardo dicaprio at a party and pointed at him like in his meme before it was a meme. i accosted the most beautiful human being in the world (zoë kravitz in a peach gown) so my sister could tell her how much she loved her and her whole family. i dressed like a glamorous harlequin and went to an exclusive castle soirée where i flirted with a very handsome man and drowned my excitements in top shelf tequila. painful shoes, red carpets, flashing lights, delicious burmese food – this was what i had worked so hard for! and then: coronaviiiirus.
errrks. that’s the sound of a tire screeching over the world, bringing capitalism’s seemingly unstoppable train to an abrupt halt. well, not really. life, for many, carried on only to be more arduous, brimming with fear and immeasurable grief. loved ones departed this plane surrounded by none of the people who loved them. health care workers put in hour after dangerous hour to the score of kitchenware clanging from balconies and doorsteps. unsuspecting grocery store workers were suddenly shot into a brief and underpaid hero-dom. the very rich got very richer; the poor got criminalized. the great white way, went dark. and so on, and so on.
after many failed productivity attempts, finally accepting that life would not be forging ahead and carrying on business as usual felt like stepping off a hamster wheel for the first time in years, and slowly realizing how long i’d been running, how tired i am, how tired i’ve been. time became abstract: turn back and yesterday is a million miles away, look for the future and the tip of the nose is pressed against nothing. there was only the present, that pinprick portal into the everything is everything. it reminded me of being a kid in winnipeg, dragging my heels up the sidewalk, nothing at all to do, above me a pastel eternity. while the world crumbled and went eerily quiet, i strangely started to feel a little freer.
then reality lurched again, contorting and forming a familiar shape, but this time, when the world rose up and swelled and caught fire; when blackness burned bright, front and centre, there was nowhere to look but here, and now, at ourselves, at myself, the life i was living, the agreements i’d made along the way. a call had been made to the world, the response or lack thereof was defining. priorities reorganized themselves and the work became clear: fight, advance, awaken. a communal recollection and reiteration of every trauma ever experienced at the hands of racism; the coiling recitation of names of the stolen and dead; the lessons for those who hadn’t bothered to think of any of this until they had to, all that work came with a cost, but in the united voicing of truth, one brave telling giving rise to another, i felt stripped of things i didn’t need to be holding and what was left was a clear, sung note of liberation, vibrating through a body that couldn’t sleep.
if i was a slave, would i run? as a kid obsessed with harriet tubman and the underground railroad, i used to wonder that often: would i be brave enough to run? the stakes were high in every direction. if caught, the cruelty of punishment knew no bounds beyond what the slave catcher could mentally conceive. the economic system of slavery in the newly occupied world lasted hundreds of years, which meant generations of black people were born into, and died within, captivity. banned from learning to read or write, every measure was taken to withhold any utterance or articulation of the concept of freedom and yet, in the dark of night, guided by whispers and moss, someone would step outside of all that they know and follow a star toward a future spun entirely out of imagination and hope.
the world stopped and eyes flung open and noses were pressed against nothing but opportunity to do it differently. the phrase defund the police makes people respond with fear, at first, as did i, looking at the enormous blank space policing would leave behind. when slavery abolition was proposed, people responded with fear then too, looking at the enormous blank space slavery would leave behind. i believe it is our responsibility to imagine wildly and with optimism a more compassionate organization of our societies. the space revealed when structures fall is the blank canvas on which we improvise our lives. which star are you drawing your life toward? are you aware of all the colours available to you? what would a more loving world look like?
welcome to carte blanche. my name is bahia watson and this is where i intend to exercise and explore the infinite realm of my interest, and express the intricate pathways of my thoughts and feelings. this is a free space, let’s call it that. it’s where i hope to meet you, again.