Labor of Love

Love as Labor.  Labor for Love.  Labor of Love.

I can’t always say where ideas come from, but when some of them take hold, it’s only a matter of time before I have to give in.   I suspect that I was provoked by bell hooks’ writings on love and politics which I encountered many years ago, and which still sits with me.  She talks about love as a methodology for engaging and interrupting our own complicity with the misuses of power, and for reclaiming our humanity so that we can build a better world.  Love as social action. Love as revolutionary even.   I can get with that.

But this project also came about because I have a streak of rebelliousness in me.  I claim it, yes.  The project really started to germinate in 2008 when I began to see – more clearly than ever – that some of the very conditions that many Jamaican people, no matter how well-meaning and liberal even, have wanted to wish away also present an opportunity for asserting a very different sense of what is possible.

Through all the patriotic speak of the past several months, I still hear that children living in poverty are not entitled to competent and patient teachers or the support of loving parents; they are simply unfortunate for not having such until they can be ‘rescued’ and made into something that we can recognize.

I still hear that people who earn their bread by working on the streets, which are the very spaces that the well-meaning ones scorn, somehow don’t deserve to have clean, beautiful environment that the office dwellers take for granted; in fact, they are part of the garbage strewn about, and need to be “cleaned up” and stored out of sight.  Where is the love, I ask?

I have not been able or willing to abandon my deep skepticism about nationalism and its cousin patriotism, both of which I find to be deceptive and remarkably dangerous: those who claim and cling dearly to these lifeboats in order to give themselves value are never required to examine their deep mistrust and prejudice about their own countrymen and women who they gladly Other and avert their eyes while the detritus of the ongoing social experiments called “freedom” and “democracy”are disappeared.

But at the same time, echoing in my head are the words of Colin, a dear friend: you have to love the place before you can change it.

Change takes work.  Work that is playful, serious, risk-taking, intentional, reflexive, contingent, thoughtful.   Change requires love.

What does that love look like? How does it feel? What does it take to make that love visible? Palpable? Viable? Ripe and ready to burst forth despite the hostile ground from which it springs? What does it take for love to be able to spread itself at the first gust of wind?

If I were to describe my love of this country, I would say this: it is constantly straining, rebellious, questioning, unsettled, looking for resolution, to negotiate better terms, a place of safety, stable ground, for home.  Steady but not stagnant.

I know that we don’t all love the same way.  But we can find ways to love so that we are able to embrace as much of ourselves and others as possible.

Love.  Work. Change.

I decided to begin with public space in Jamaica, and some of the images that have stayed with me for a long time, troubling me in a way that seemed beyond words:

* The vision of women walking miles in day within the commercial corridors hawking brassieres hanging all over their bodies, ready to make a sale.  The work of the body.

* The children sleeping on cardboard, roaming the sidewalks or using patty shops as daycare centers while their caregivers tried to earn today’s meal and bus fare, with one eye looking out for the police.  The streets as home, school, church, playground.

* The stark contrasts between the pristine sidewalks that emerge around the tony shopping malls, the grassy strips that emerge outside of the carefully constructed brick walls, and the ankle-twisting mishmosh of dirt, sewage and cracked concrete that pedestrians encounter everyday.  The ground that we walk on is neither level nor equal, a tool to get from here to there.  What is that journey like?

* The expanses of land interspersed among the broken and degraded buildings, marking borders between neighborhoods where some residents cry, or become angry and despondent from hunger, while others [declare that they will] commit unspeakable crimes to “eat a food”.   Feeding others is an act of love.  And yet, many are denied the ability to act in loving ways.

* The way that the work of life so consumes us so that we forget to plan for when we are no longer alive to have our say.  It is as if the screenplay for the production called “Dead Lef'” was already written and roles cast, each of us merely stepping into the part we would play until it was our time to die.  The play needs to be rewritten.

This labor of love that takes place over 12 days, is one part performance, one part activism, one part education.

The props:  art supplies, books, a 50′ bag of flour, seeds (sunflower, beets, zinnias), and templates of wills (as in “the last will and testament of…)

The sites: central business areas of Kingston and Montego Bay

Is jus’ me one an mi backpack inna di sun…

The love is in the work.  The work conveys the love.  And even for a moment, or a few days, somebody will be reminded that love hasn’t left them. Maybe they will take a piece of it and carry with them; maybe they will pass it on.

With Love,

Natalie

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