The Art of Transformation

I try to tease the crane out of the paper slowly. When it’s done, I see I’ve made the head too bowed, or the body too short. I sculpt this thin square of paper, less than 3 inches by 3 inches, with my nails and a hairpin. Which do I like better? The one with sharp angles, or the softer one with wings like a pterodactyl?

 

Earlier today I realized my fears about reapplying to graduate school. I had gotten confused and thought that I was demoralized by the constant call for justification in academia. What is the significance of your research? How does it feed the academy? But that wasn’t it, because I love talking about inequality. Let me explain.

We talk so much of the time, and what do we talk about? Often, the things in our hearts that worry and hurt us stay hidden, but connecting with another helps alleviate this special kind of pain that is so often loneliness. I don’t think that we need to talk about gendered violence, racial inequity, able-ism, or other such matters constantly, but isn’t it a relief to see someone acknowledging another’s pain from a place of compassion? Maybe I’m strange, but bearing witness to these acts, which I read as acts of human love, always make my heart feel brighter.

Because I am one of those irritating people who believes she is neither an optimist or a pessimist, but a realist, I love to talk about inequality, because there can be no solution if there is no recognition of the problem.

I realized today that it wasn’t that I felt constantly called upon to justify the “significance” of my research interests in gendered, racial violence. Rather, it was my perception that questions about the “significance” of research about gendered, racial violence were really straw men telling me I had overstepped my bounds.

When I began my undergraduate career, I was interested in gendered violence and media, and for a while I flirted with projects about Asian Americans and comic books. I got very little pushback on this topic. My skin was my citizenship—I didn’t look like a tourist. But when my time and energy began to feel constricted, I stopped reading comics so I could read an extra paper on sexual stereotypes. I willingly gave up graphic novels so that I could reread chapters from Patricia Hill Collins and bell hooks. It was the choice I made when pressed to follow my heart, which is why I lasted as long as I did, and why, when I became disheartened I felt as though I had lost everything.

Do you see? It wasn’t the need to justify why what I thought what I was doing was important, it was that I felt questioned beyond my peers who were interested in the sociology of Burning Man or the biology of Black Bear diets. I explained and rephrased and tried to explain more in-depth, but was still asked what the purpose was. Here is my answer now:

 

The purpose of researching gendered violence is because it happens and it changes the lives of all involved cruelly and inexorably. We live in a capitalist, racist, ageist, able-ist patriarchy that systematically devalues whole groups of people in order to maintain a status quo that isn’t functioning. Violence, specifically gendered violence, is a symptom of the brokenness of our system. Research about gendered violence is needed to help identify, treat, and prevent gendered violence that steals quality of life, productivity, energy, and resources from individuals and society as a whole. And all of this matters, but none of it matters because if you don’t understand the significance of identifying, treating, and preventing violence, then you need help because you have so misplaced your own sense of humanity that the pain of another and the chance to relieve some of that pain cannot reach you. If you don’t understand the significance of violence, then I don’t want to compete to be a member of your organization.

 

Which is why I find myself folding, bending, pulling paper, coaxing it into a thing it wasn’t just before, dreaming of what I could make—of what it could be.

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