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.
Excellent! Vivid writing. Thank you Bahia!
Ahhhhh I love it!!! Courage and inspiration to you my lovely Bahia—I know your writing will give me both. Love, Pamela
Dear. Ms. Watson
I read your piece and I think you are a talented writer. I was able to see and feel the things you want your readers to see and feel.
I especially related to you questioning yourself, “If I was a slave, would I run?” It’s a good question and it inspires one to take a good look inside oneself. I used to wonder things like that in my youth. For me it was more about being a woman in the early days of fighting for the vote etc. Would I have had the courage to stand in those protest lines and stand up to the men in charge of everything, for example. I’m grateful to the women who did that for me.
I’m also grateful to the people who get out and push for Black Lives Matter and all the great causes in our current situations.
On another subject, I just want to say that your piece has brought up an idea that some will find troubling. I’m one of those people. The lack of capital letters disturbs me and I’m hoping that this is not a new trend in writing.
I know that things change and evolve and it’s hard sometimes for an older person like myself to accept these changes.
My thought is from my experience throughout my life, that communication can be difficult for so many reasons and if one tries their best to communicate clearly, the more chance there is that people will understand exactly what one is expressing.
Capital letters aid us in comprehending and also help us find our way around a written piece. For example; perhaps I want to go back to read something again and I can see with ease, by the capital letters, where the sentences start or if I am looking through the work for a name.
Also it has been brought to my attention, that people who speed read would have an easier time when there are capital letters.
I wish you the best and I hope that you and your loved ones come out of this pandemic safely.
I Loved this so much! Such a thought provoking and vivid read.
Beautiful. Poingnant. Powerful. “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.” –> expertly phrased. I look forward to reading more.