On Activating Radical Imagination


Artwork in the featured image is by Joshua Mays.

Radical: from the online Merriam-Webster dictionary.

  1. 1:  of, relating to, or proceeding from a root: such asa (1) :  of or growing from the root of a plant radical tubers (2) :  growing from the base of a stem, from a rootlike stem, or from a stem that does not rise above the ground radical leaves b :  of, relating to, or constituting a linguistic root c :  of or relating to a mathematical root d :  designed to remove the root of a disease or all diseased and potentially diseased tissue radical surgery radical mastectomy

  2. 2:  of or relating to the origin :  fundamental

As August comes to a close the air reminds me that summer is also waning. It’s cool. It’s a call to the heady, humid buoyancy of summer to begin consolidating and descend. This air smells of back-to-school sales and last ditch barbecues. Soon we will hear all around us the rustling of fallen leaves, and the sun will start setting sooner. I look forward to the huge pots of root vegetable soup we’ll make, the loaves of bread we’ll bake, the coziness of knitting and crocheting projects underway, and curling around a good book and a cup of coffee. Coziness.

Can you blame me for dreaming of coziness on the day after Trump pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the day after Trump banned trans individuals from being recruited into the military, the day after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas while immigration checkpoints stayed open?

As I write this a fist is curling in the center of my chest.

Wasn’t I just writing about coziness?

Somehow that train of thought feels so distant now that I can barely breathe again and feel my jaw clenching. I wonder: is creating coziness a resistance to the daily onslaught of Trump’s racist and violent administration or will coziness have to wait? Is there a way to hold space for coziness and resistance at the same time? Is there a way to extend my wish for individual coziness to the collective?

When I use my imagination to conjure images of coziness, I am using my imagination to invoke images and experiences from the past that I equate with individual comfort, solace, and safety. Is it possible for me to use my imagination to conjure images of collective coziness in a future beyond and better than this current moment? I can try.

I can dream of a future fall in which as the air cools, young people all over the nation head back to school with excitement knowing that they have all the school supplies they need. Teachers return to school feeling refreshed, rested, and excited. They are heading back to work knowing that they are well-compensated for their time and effort, and they know that the schools at which they work foster the very best in their students of all backgrounds.

I can dream of a future fall in which as the days grow shorter all families, undocumented, native, and naturalized alike, can gather around abundant tables with the knowledge that their loved ones are safe, honored, and welcomed in this country.

They do not fear profiling by police or indeterminate detention because police and prisons no longer exist. They do not fear deportation, harassment, or murder. Their physical, emotional, mental, and financial needs are met. They dream with excitement about future, prosperous generations knowing that they live on a planet that is organized sustainably, where every being has clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, a home to return to each day, and access to holistic health care and enough nutritious, nourishing meals each day.

I can dream of opening yet another book written by a queer, Indo-Caribbean femme that tells a proud history about growing up in Guyana, my country of birth. I can dream of finishing an entire reading list dedicated to Guyanese literature as part of the well-attended Indo-Caribbean book club that meets every month. Armed with the context of our past, filled with the dreams of our ancestors, we publish our own visionary fiction and combat the erasure of our people and our history.

And I can keep on dreaming.

Or I can do what I just did: send a couple of texts that could possibly bring at least one of these dreams to fruition.

Now my cousin who, like me, was born in Guyana and now lives in Arizona (where I was raised) is working with me on putting together a Guyanese literature reading list.

I can check in on the fist inside my chest. It has eased. It is open. It holds a little hope and I daresay excitement.

I want to take some time to examine this excitement. It is not the same excitement I feel at the possibility of recreating something comforting from the past. It is the excitement I feel when I am creating something new, something that fulfills a personal and perceived collective need, something that addresses a problem I have been living with my entire life, a problem that lives at my root as a diasporic individual, a problem tied up in identify, belonging, and the persistent question about “who my people are.”

Who have we been and what do we dream of being in the future? What have we resisted and how did we resist? What have been our triumphs and what are the setbacks that consistently set us back? What defines the “we” of a people spread all over the globe? My way into answering these questions is through our existing literature, and so I can begin there in some good company.

Activating radical imagination often feels like a contradictory practice that I cannot hold in my body. How can I dream toward the future when the present and past weigh so heavily on my mind and inside my body? Perhaps that is because all too often I try to engage in activating radical imagination with my eyes shut tight, a clenched fist at the center of my chest, and my disorganized and cacophonous mind shouting expletives at myself and everyone around me.

However, today, with some space, some time, and some room to breathe, I created a little container for myself to dream (literally this post on this blog), and I fumbled through a bit of dreaming.

The exercise of visioning connected me to problems that live at my root and that connect me to people I am deeply worried about in this country under the Trump administration: fellow immigrants and undocumented folks. I was able to take a couple small actions with the end in mind, and now I daresay it feels “easy” to “just fill in the steps” that will take me and others through the process of bringing about that end.

It occurs to me that activating radical imagination is not a contradiction but a bridging of two poles: the base of our spine where we experience our root and the roots of all issues and the top of our crown, where we dream of future worlds. If we can bridge these two poles, stay present in the rest of our body, and take action with this awareness, what might be possible?

This is actually something that many of us do all the time, every time we create something new that we endeavor to do with others toward a specific radical goal. I think of folks I admire in Chicago. I think of prison abolitionists. I think of countless artists, poets, theatre-makers, visionary authors, and organizers who make radical visioning their practice, and for them I am deeply grateful.

I wonder what would happen if more of us activated our radical imaginations with folks we don’t normally work with?

How can I re-engage in creating larger containers for dreaming in community?

Thankfully, I am not the first to ask and attempt to answer these questions. Thankfully, I am not without models for taking action. Thankfully, I have done a bit of this before. I am working on creating larger circles for dreaming and writing, inspired by the call for submissions to the Spells for a New America anthology co-created by adrienne maree brown and Thenmozhi Soundararajan. [If you are a writer of color reading this and want to co-create circles for visioning and writing with me, please message me!]

I am happily reminded that sometimes activating radical imagination involves activating one’s own memory of paths forged previously and re-committing to getting back on the non-existent road.

This action essay is #7 for me in the #52Essays2017 challenge created by Vanessa Mártir.


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