GPS

Letters to (of) the Future

Department of Feminist Conversations*

Dear Future,

These pages bring together a partial archive of letters to the future, distributed by the Department of Feminist Conversations via Tiny Letter (To the Future), and a series of letters that think alongside them, addressed directly to you, reading now (Dear Future).

The Department of Feminist Conversations is a collection of writers engaged in feminist discourse.  We write letters to the future because we need to think anew the ways in which it might arrive. We write letters to the future because of the difference in our expectation. We are engaged in the kind of act described by the anthropologist Arjun Appadurai as an act of collective imagination, anticipation, and getting stuck in nowness; a now that is messy, throbbing, disorienting, and repetitious; a now that folds within it past and future.

These letters consider feminism and its cultural, social, and plural experience, drawing on modes of writing in dialogue with performance. Performance is both a lens through which to view contemporary political life and the dominant mode of our time. We ask how we might think differently about writing as a form of encounter, a different conception of public debate: not antagonistic or characterised by opposition but embracing the contradiction that others use to pummel. We seek the productive ambiguity made possible within alternative structures of discussion. The letter is to us a mode of being in correspondence with what has happened/is happening and also what might occur.

You are reading about thinking differently with the moment. There are histories implicated in that. Histories of writing on the margins; histories of battles with language and form. Histories of speaking from or with foreignness. Histories of speaking from or with motherhood. Histories of speaking from or with migration. Histories of speaking in tension with the patriarchy of rationality, casting aside all the markers that constitute experience as a collective political problem. You are reading about a now that repeats itself, each time with a different weight. A now in which, sometimes, there is repair. Hope affixes itself there.

You are reading something that is often discussed together around a kitchen table, where shared concerns around the multiple forms of micro and macro oppressions are battled out but also something written late at night, between children’s bedtimes and different forms of domestic labour and care. You are reading something that takes a while to come into shape for me because I am constantly negotiating an anxiety around foreignness and a self-exclusion from belonging. Correspondence as a way of learning. Sometimes, we bring others to the conversation in partial, incomplete ways, because correspondence is itself partial and incomplete.

You are reading at the meeting point between archive and speculation: the meeting point between thinking we have carried with us in our encounter with feminism and its writings, and the hopeful positing of what might follow. A contrast, maybe even a paradox, lodges itself between your gaze and the movement of the texts as they unfold. The feminism taking shape here is a matter of departure, a matter of writing with the social, or perhaps, writing in and through the political moment to fold language outwards. To bend it a little.

The internet is dead, writes Hito Steyerl. This is not a metaphor, she repeats. At some point, the Internet stopped being a possibility, she argues. Data moves from the screen to a different state of matter, she tells us. There is a material reality to digital data, not only in cloud storage drives hidden in the desert but also in mass post-production of images that waft through bodies, she says. Writing might melt into code, might split and divide, might penetrate surveillance, reproduction and appropriation. There is a productive ambiguity to writing: I think of this as a reaction to restriction. An alliance with what might come when we think about what is here, and untangle invisible threads that we carry collectively, differently, in different negotiations.

The Internet is dead, writes Hito Steyerl, but not its occupation. Perhaps solidarity begins with the gesture, something small. Maybe, in the endless reproduction it constructs, the occupation of the Internet begins with a breath; a sign in response to reading a letter delivered to your inbox; an invitation that remains open, for a while.

Hannah Arendt writes in the midst of the Sino-Soviet split that we are familiar with how thought and reality lose themselves in one another; the past and the future are forces that we are constantly negotiating, broken in the midst of our standing point. Arendt speaks of thinking that is out of order, that interrupts all other activities. There is experience to be found in thinking as it is made visible in a letter, in how it exposes a political problem: not just who does the thinking, or what the thinking does, but also how it makes experience visible, how it seeks to face a reality that has no compass. In that way, thinking is a matter of process, much like experience. I ask: how do we think reality? If political thinking, as Arendt proposes, emerges out of incidents of living experience and must, therefore, remain bound to them, what kind of bind does writing perform? Or, rather, what performances of the present does the speculative act of writing to the future enact when it is necessarily collective?

You are reading this within a collective voice; you are reading this, and the writing dissipates into a partially anonymous body. Something is found at the point between the letter, the text, and the collective voice.

You are reading this, and from the future you receive word that something has turned out differently in the present.

With love,

The Department of Feminist Conversations

*

To the Future,

I hope you have no more victories.

I hope you have no more small victories: no more silent, laughing victories, like when a man raises his voice while you’re talking, and you catch the eye of another woman who knows exactly what you think.

I hope you have no more apologetic victories: no more slouching, smiling victories, like when your body is folded into a cringe to disguise the strength of the words you want to say.

No more pleasing people.

I hope you have no more weight-loss victories: no more victories against belly fat, no more fights against carbs, no more wars fought on will power.

No more spending all the seconds of every day counting mouthfuls.

No more symbolic victories: no more fist pumping, headline grabbing victories next to full colour photographs of “the first woman to…”, “the first young woman to …”, “the first older woman to …”, “the first Muslim woman to …”

No more symbols.

No more firsts.

No more Pyrrhic victories: no more grimacing losses collapsed in a bed of moral virtue, like the body of a gang rape victim whose death inspires protests across a continent.

No more bodies.

No more transactional victories: no more freedom for her as long as she is tied up, demeaned, abandoned, raped, murdered, photographed, and/ or turned into a symbol.

No more transactions.

No more collective victories. No more pretending that all women are treated the same.

No more glass. No more smoke. No more mirrors.

No more hard-won victories: no more tired and exhausted victories, chained to the backs of lifetimes of struggle, forgotten about in the archives, and resurrected in a man’s world.

No more man’s world.

No more historic victories: no more essays written and speeches made and poems passed around like rallying cries, identifying a common cause in the language of war.

No more war.

No more exhaustion.

No more bodies.

No more victories.

With love,

The Department of Feminist Conversations

*

Dear Future,

I’m thinking of you at eleven years old when you are a keen reader of dystopian fiction. Adults raise their eyebrows when you say this to them, surprised that a child should already know this word and have grasped such a concept. I look at you and wonder if what you’re expressing is a genetic inheritance, your father’s inclination for the worst-case scenario. He has such confidence in stockpiling for emergency, as if the preparing makes any more bearable the slow enduring of daily indignities when the worst actually comes. I wonder if you’re developing tactics for surviving adulthood in a landscape wrecked and wretched by untrammelled growth, the marketisation of every aspect of human existence, from education to healthcare to the warehousing of the elderly, the depletion of natural resources that fuels consumption. I look around at the proliferation of architectural glaciers in London, each one overpriced and under-occupied, homeless people crumpled like debris at their feet, and wonder if you’re living in a dystopia already.

I’m thinking of you just now, dear future, as my own real-life daughter, and writing to you as your mother, fretful, uncertain what your life might hold, except more of this present, perpetuating, unchecked, this life I feel so irresponsible for bringing you into. Sometimes I write to you as a not-yet-existing daughter, a granddaughter perhaps, or a daughter unconnected to me, an idea of ur-daughter, the way my own real-life daughter seemed the first time she slipped her toddler feet into my high-heeled shoes, suddenly every daughter ever born since the dawn of time or at least since the invention of footwear. Sometimes I write to you as an even less concrete idea than that, not a person but an atmosphere, a horizon, a shimmer of possibility. Sometimes I write to you as hope. In hope. To be able to hope.

I’m thinking of you as my daughter but also as the writer of a letter to me: a letter asking me to be clear, explain, introduce myself. When I say me here, I don’t mean myself as mother of two children, struggling to feel hopeful in a political and social environment poisoned by the neoliberal agenda, whose damage I see among all my friends and peers. I mean me as the Department of Feminist Conversations. As the Department I’m not single but plural. I am a first-generation immigrant to the UK from Romania; I am a London-born second-generation immigrant with roots in Cyprus, a former British colony still scarred by that ownership; I am a third-generation immigrant whose grandparents experienced waves of anti-Semitism across Europe and reinvented themselves as non-Jewish to survive. I write to understand my background and my place in the world, the privilege I have acquired through being white or diasporic white, the complicity in that. I write to challenge place, privilege, complicity, and the hierarchies that accrue around writing. I write because I want change and because I want to change.

You ask, what do I want? Clearly change is too imprecise a word. Perhaps if I were an economist, a sociologist, a scientist, I might be able to give you a more definite answer: a detailed plan for new ecological macroeconomic models, a new conceptualisation of socialism, a socio-political agenda prioritising care, human and environmental well-being, moral over financial objectives. But I am none of these things. I am a writer working in the field of performance. Performance is the lens through which I think about presence, the present, about activism and social justice. I write not about but towards and around performance, seeking to open up spaces for dialogue, discursive thinking, paradox, and nuance. Such spaces, as John Berger writes in his 2006 essay on Pier Paolo Pasolini, are being “systematically sprayed” within our mainstream media “not with pesticides, but ethicides — agents that kill ethics and therefore any notion of history and justice.” I write towards history, justice, and ethics. I write towards the fusion of “our ideas” and “our feelings … those hidden sources or our power from where true knowledge and, therefore, lasting action comes” that Audre Lorde advocates in her essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury.” I write towards the future.

I also write as a feminist. I write paying attention to feeling, that maligned chalice of femininity; as Ann Cvetkovich writes, “tak[ing] seriously questions like ‘How do I feel?’ and ‘How does capitalism feel?’ as starting points for something that might be a theory but could also be a description, an investigation, or a process.” I write as someone who wonders, often, whether feminism is the best, most inclusive word for the way in which I want to think about socio-political-economic relations, those illuminated and inhabited by performance and writing. I asked another member of the Department about this once and she replied:

I like the word feminism because it’s not just about equal opportunities but a challenge to systems of thought that run on patriarchal models. One of those patriarchal models is the idea of equal representation being the same as equality, which is in itself based on the idea that there are systems of representation that are fair. I have been haunted by a map I saw in the James Cook exhibition at the British Library, drawn by James Cook’s crew when they sailed to Tahiti in the 1790s. It shows the outline of Tahiti but nothing inside (they had not landed yet, just sailed round the island.) Emblazoned on the blank space of the island are the words “King George’s Island.” The violence of that naming is chilling because it shows that the English travellers went round the world, and they could only see themselves. I was talking about it later and said, “The empire was just a dream: they created something out of nothing.” The person I was with corrected me and said, “No, they created nothing out of something.”

That’s how I feel about patriarchy in general. You want a term that describes all of humankind that is inclusive by default? Patriarchy will give it to you — it’s called the enlightenment, or reason. It is based on the idea that there is someone rational and intelligent who can see and comprehend, surrounded by a world that is waiting for his comprehension. But the world is not like that. It fails to see so much; it creates nothing out of something. Feminism, on the other hand, suggests that there is a different way of thinking that is necessarily partial, messy, difficult, and in negotiation. It is a triumph of patriarchy that so many women are appalled by this messiness.

I am only one element of the Department, remember. The others might describe all of this differently.

With love,

The Department of Feminist Conversations

*

To the Future,

I was trying to tell you, it’s about inequality.

Redact that.

I was trying to tell you, it’s about the lack of recognition of the plurality of identities, how we can be many or, rather, how often we are rendered into something we do not see, which does not always mean we are not that, but we hold the right to reject what that might mean or the interconnected lack of agency, political, social, economic, that pertains to these different configurations of identity.

Redact that.

I was trying to tell you something about the problem with governmental or institutional communities with which few self-identify, but that guide us all.

Redact that.

I was trying to tell you, it’s about disproportion.

Redact that.

I was trying to tell you, it’s not just local, but the manifestations are particular.

Redact that.

I was trying to tell you, it’s about knowing how to create productive, caring conflict without blind opposition.

Redact that.

I was trying to dig at language, but the expressions are too multiple.

Redact that.

Maggie Nelson speaks of this paradox of writing when one cannot speak or dealing with different kinds of incapacities.

Let’s build on that.

Anne Carson asks what exactly is lost to us when words are wasted.

Let’s build on that.

bell hooks invites us to think about how we gain our voice the same way in which we perform change.

Let’s build on that.

Judith Butler brings a stark reminder that the state we are in when we ask the question may or may not have to do with the state we are in.

Let’s build on that.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak says that we cannot make a clear-cut distinction between self-determination and nationalism, regionalism and nationalism.

Let’s build on that.

Hannah Arendt talks about appearing through action.

Let’s build on that.

Andrea Brady interjects by talking about her child’s first laugh, small and gathered only in the mouth, the white reveal in the bottom gum, painful thread of tongue tie, animal tip of tongue.

Let’s build on that.

Simone Weil reminds of stages of belief, truth flooding the whole soul, like a revelation.

Let’s gather, for a while.

Maybe we have something to say about that. Maybe we can twist and turn language and find the power structures that operate not only in what language carries but also what it omits. Maybe we need to write it again and again. Maybe we need to deal with faultiness and progress without having to agree. That might mean being with what feels ambiguous to you but concrete to me. Even in fragments.

The state we are in when we ask this question may or may not have to do with the state we are in.

With love,

The Department of Feminist Conversations

*

Dear Future,

Our letters are a discipline. Our letters are a fortnightly practice written by an anonymous body. Our practice follows a choreographic routine, at the same time as it tries to compose a different score.

Our anonymity is crucial. We refuse the egoism of the intellectual traditions that we have inherited: those traditions that infuse even the most radical thoughts with a pervasive individualism, in order to ensure the safe passage of established routes of power.

Our individual identities are crucial. We speak for no one but ourselves. We speak to no one but the future. We listen to each other’s individual voices so that we can understand what we have in common.

With love,

The Department of Feminist Conversations

*

To the Future,

I was talking about masculinity, how it confines, how it harms, and your mother leaned forward to tell me about you and your friends. You’re all in your early twenties, and gender labelling — at least, the fixity of it — is irrelevant to you. (Maybe she mentioned sexuality labels too.) For a moment your mother and I marvelled because the way you move through the world is so fluid, freer than we ever were at your age. And she wanted to know: what promise is there in that fluidity? What hope in that physical freedom?

My instinctive answer was equivocal because nothing I thought about the future, or my body, or my place in the world prepared me for having a child. I don’t so much mean birthing as raising, living with, sustaining myself alongside, a child. My instinctive answer was to wonder aloud how parenthood might limit you too.

I’ve worried since that was too narrow-minded. That it might be exactly that kind of equivocation, dour suspicion, that reinforces the barriers between you and the change you could bring.

The queerness of water: solid, liquid, gas. Fluid until an outside pressure forces it to re-form.

I think of parenthood as a kind of freezing: a slow creeping chill that penetrates a relationship until it holds the shape of traditional gender roles, even if it hadn’t before. It doesn’t have to be like that, but it was for me, and so many people I know. Not at first perhaps, when the flush of love is spring, blossom and unfurled green; but later, when the work of it settles as humdrum reality, and suddenly he finds his real work elsewhere, leaving her with the cooking and the laundry and the mindlessness of building blocks, the tedium of tantrums, the spills to wipe, the snot, the shit. Even in households where she works too, the responsibility of sorting out childcare mostly falling to her. Evidently I’m talking of hetero-cis relationships; perhaps even in that context I’m making a ridiculous, sweeping generalization. Perhaps it’s just that the people I know are particularly conventional. Still, the facts of our lives are these. His needs take priority over hers. His work takes priority over hers. He takes without asking; she asks without getting.

When I think about masculinity, I think about entitlement.

I think you move with a sense of entitlement too: entitlement to something so much better than anything such gender roles have to offer. And your molten refusal is a wonder to me. You have a language, a plasticity of mind, a wide-lens way of seeing, that I’m just now trying to develop: stumbling, flailing, believing in spectrum but catching myself slip into the binary I was trained in, always against better intentions, against the knowledge that this binary was shaped and continues to be regulated because it makes certain power structures possible. There have been moments in my life when it seemed even my body might be a site of power, but they were few and brief, and when I look back at them I recoil because whatever power was present wasn’t mine: it was projection, and I was its object.

At your age I retreated into invisibility, and parenthood sealed the door of that cage. Whereas you resist and refuse, flagrantly claiming and queering that power, arguing for presence and purpose — a purpose not tied to anatomy. I’m aware that when people attack you it’s to anatomy they direct their weaponised gaze; they’re wrong, and yet I don’t know how to describe my gratitude to the change you’re bringing except through a gaze at your bodies too. Chest hair peeping out above dresses, moustache hair bristling above breasts. Dismantling the rules about how women and men are supposed to look, dress, occupy space. Dismantling the very idea of women and men.

These are the stories I find heartening: trans-male fathers giving birth and chestfeeding/breastfeeding/nursing, and trans-female mothers inducing lactation. So much for parenthood halting your stride. The campaign against period shame partially led by a trans-man, and the fight against testosterone-testing among female athletes, and the argument for toilets labelled to describe their fixtures, not to prescribe who can go in them. In these I see the future I want to live in, already here, happening now.

So what is it that worries me or makes me equivocate at least? What is it about parenthood that I fear might freeze you? I know already my mind is hampered by the pull of the way things are and have been: that’s a hard habit to kick, takes time, takes work, takes conscious thought. But it’s hampered in other ways too. The ways in which I feel guilty, and he doesn’t. I want to please, and he doesn’t. I defer, and he doesn’t. Such thoughts and feelings may be cultured, but in the frozen relationships — mine and those of others I know — they are also gendered. This is the willing entrapment, the slow strangulation, the silent tongue-bitten invisibility, I hope you can escape.

With love,

The Department of Feminist Conversations

*

Dear Future,

I’m imagining you as a time in which I have actually read Hannah Arendt, instead of always reading other writers quote her.

I haven’t read Rosa Luxemburg either, precisely, but I’ve read two brief biographies, both liberally quoting her writing, and now the voice in my head contemplating the whirlpool in which I might plunge myself — that indistinct desire to break every bond, to speak up, and speak out — has a different register to it. I try to catch the cadence of her thought. In one of these letters to you I wrote of how she could genuinely predict the future, not least in her ability to understand how “Capitalism is prepared to set the world on fire.”

I am watching the world burn, pulling out charcoal stumps, trying to rake up the ashes. To what purpose? What am I trying to save?

Just now I am in love, with a woman I might never meet, a poet disrupting the forms of poetry, plunged into her own whirlpool and swimming against the heat. She writes and thinks from a desire: “to understand how love, which is the most beautiful thing, is also the most potentially terrible thing. And one of the hopes I have about changing the world is that we must change it for the sake of love, if not for love’s rescue, maybe just for love’s arrival. Think about all the possibilities of love that could happen if everything were organized in a way that made life more bearable, in which people have most of what we need.”

Every letter we write to you, we sign it off with love. It was an instinct that finds an articulation in another writer’s words. What I am trying to save from the ashes is love’s arrival. What I am trying to sketch with the charcoal lumps is possibility.

Not included anywhere here is the repeated P.S., in which we invite others to write letters to the future too.

With love,

The Department of Feminist Conversations

*

To the Future,

By the time you read this, I’ll have had another birthday. Not a significant one. But a gentle surprise, as they all are. Like you I didn’t expect to get old, but I didn’t enjoy being young, either. I prefer this compromise of middle age: at once bloated with time and leaking potential.

This year my birthday also marks six months until the official date of Brexit, when the UK will leave the European Union. On the day of the referendum result in June 2016, I was in the park opposite my house listening to a concert of songs from the First World War, during which the park was used as a makeshift sanatorium. Tents were set up round the bandstand for injured soldiers who couldn’t find a bed in King’s Hospital next door.

On that day in 2016, the choirmaster turned to the crowd to hand out lyrics so we could join in. He did this with an incongruous grin designed to whip up enthusiasm and his arms spinning like rotary blades. It started to rain in a half-hearted way and the dampness complemented this scene of grim, English nostalgia — a fondness for a war none of us knew, which sent a generation of young men to death or madness through industrialized violence. Here we stood, a hundred years later on the site of some of those deaths, being jollied along in songs about national pride. I saw a neighbour cutting through the park on the way home, and we greeted each other with an exhausted shake of the head.

Not long after, I made a decision to Not Believe in Brexit, simply to stay sane. The last time I tried this tactic was after the violent death of a friend. You can’t know about it, I used to say about my friend, and still get up in the morning. I mean, you can’t really know about it. You can’t feel it in your bones, taste it in your throat, remember how often it happens and to how many around the world. Not if you want to get up in the morning, hold the toothbrush to your mouth and kick-start every habitual movement, without sobbing.

It’s a luxury to care about politics. To feel like you can talk urgently and decisively about your ideas. We must seem like opinionated schoolchildren to the people who are really in charge. Of all the crushing disappointments of my life, this is the one that still makes me blush: once, I thought I could make a difference. Childishly, I imagined that my own thoughts were worth cultivating. Could be significant, perhaps. Even useful.

Who did I think I was, an old Etonian?

From the edge of the park, you can see all the way to the City of London. When the park was built locals might have glimpsed Big Ben on a good day. But now we can see the light-tipped skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, pulsing their warning signals to helicopters like a robotic heart beat.

Do you know London? And if you do, do you remember it before the skyscrapers were built at Canary Wharf? Do you remember standing at the river and looking east to see the first tinted towers being scratched into the sky? Do you remember the transformation that happened, sometime in the nineties and noughties, when east London went from scruffy to smart, the influx of cash from financial services — newly deregulated — rendered in new, smoother paving stones, new public sculptures, and countless, countless, countless new glass towers?

Back then, I didn’t know about how much of this landscape was privately owned. Each office block has a reception hall the size of several family homes. Even public-looking squares are owned by private companies, guarded by security firms, policed for the right kinds of behaviour. Most of this space is empty, but it lies full of intention. They call it potential, which is the same thing they say to the young.

When I was young I misunderstood this diagnosis of “potential” as a type of moral purpose when really it’s just a way of gauging the threat of change. All types of measurement are forms of control, of course, and the mythos of youth’s potential is also a way the establishment can patronize young people and side-line old people in one fell swoop. Canary Wharf gapes with potential at passers- by. It builds potential into the city’s skyline. It throbs potential up to the clouds. Fat with these promises, it swallowed a generation of bright young things who mistook money for prosperity.

What is going to happen when all this kind of potential leaves?

In five years’ time, the towers at Canary Wharf will be empty. The banks we’re meant to be so grateful for will exit, overnight, once Brexit really hits, and their vast spaces will be repurposed, temporarily, by pop-up fashion houses. Eventually, all the well-guarded cash will be lifted out of London in Business Class. In return, we will get the space.

In ten years’ time, artists will move into abandoned office buildings, charged a peppercorn rent by international landlords who don’t want to clean the windows. Shortly afterwards, campaigns will be fought and won for structures to be turned into social housing. Families will be incentivised to move to Canary Wharf, and they will start to grow food on its sterile roofs. Private spaces will be repurposed by new encampments of citizens. Libraries and schools will live in cavernous atriums made of stainless steel.

In twenty years’ time, I will wander round town with visitors and instead of saying, as I do now, “Believe it or not, this all used to be council flats!” we will laugh at the memory of the moneyed elite: those suited soldiers fighting for another side, whom we toppled, eventually, with a mixture of luck and plucky determination. We will sing protest songs around server fires. We will look at the allotments on the horizon.

I mentioned this to someone recently, and she said it was the most optimistic thing she’d ever heard me say about Brexit.

Well, it’s my birthday after all. I’m allowed to have a wish.

With love,

The Department of Feminist Conversations

*

Dear Future,

The letter is feeble. The letter is a point of suspension between two moments and bodies in time. The letter is gendered. The letter is not anyone’s to claim but has been claimed many times in the past. The letter is sometimes an intervention that changes your life. The letter is not always inclusive. The letter is where you receive information that requires to be a particular kind of documentation. The letter is fictional, but it is also real. The letter begins somewhere and ends elsewhere. The letter might not arrive. The letter is a performance for and of writing. The letter is a distraction. The letter is distracted. The letter is trouble. The letter circulates.  The letter is of the past. The letter is a space cast as private that is, nevertheless, public. The letter reaches out. The letter as a form of constituting subjectivity. The letter as never comfortable with the now.

With love,

The Department of Feminist Conversations

*

To the Future,

The future holds seasons differently, no longer reserved for bodies to feel alone, but rather, to experience symbiotically.

After icebergs broke off and travelled, melting into oceans distant from their place of rupture, after storms emptied skies into areas that grew Ballardian forests and concrete cities melted into orange deserts, a different planetary commons emerged, one marked by new meteorological time. The oil had changed the colour of the sea, its vertical movements swallowed islands of discarded plastic; water tasted differently, and new stories emerged.

The future holds time differently, no longer the domain of capital. In the future, time is multiple; it belongs to the bodies that once fell outside of it, ones that were occluded by its passing, ones that desired it: the softness of rain in the heat, the sharpness of out of season snow, the bite of cold ocean water, the heat of sun at dusk, the vantage point between climates and seasons and their future hybrids that shape different regimes of the body.

Before you were born, my face froze for years, missed neurological connections, heavy lids unable to close, dry mouth, the taste of a changing body. A freeze is not stasis, however: even in stillness, there is a poetics of movement. I was frozen, but you were moving, and that disjuncture felt true to the climate of our bodies. A freeze shaped us both as we experienced a new meteorological cosmology.

We swam together in oceans, and you dreamt of sea creatures and felt the temperatures of deep water and asked if a frozen lake felt the same as my temporary immobility, and we both thought of marks in and of time. Your body was in sympoiesis. You already knew how care was embroiled in history where bodies and environments carry each other; sometimes, they become undistinguishable. Different ecological scales and rotations of bodies, in commons.

You became fascinated by old cures, an ecological pharmakon: lavender and rosebush; bark and honey; nettles and garlic; rosemary and black mud; orange peel and daisy petals; camomile and mint; arnica and summer potatoes; vinegar and bay leaves; parsley and raspberry leaf. Sleep with your head lifted and place rosemary under the pillow. Cover your blisters with smashed onion over three days. Place eucalyptus oil in a towel and hold it over your stomach. Rub vinegar into your forehead and rest in the shade. Rub lavender into your hands and place them on your cheeks. A future archive, or an archive of futures.

The future holds climates differently, and you are already of the future.

With love,

The Department of Feminist Conversations

*

Dear Future,

Ernst Bloch writes in Principle of Hope: “[T]here is no hope without anxiety and no anxiety without hope, they keep each other hovering in the balance.”

Each of these letters is a dialogue between hope and anxiety, and sometimes one voice is more dominant, sometimes the other. In writing to the future, are we trying to call it into existence? Perhaps. Bloch and John Holloway (in Crack Capitalism) both write of the world-not-yet or the not-yet-here, that which we know must come into existence, which comes closer to being with every word and action and even thought directed towards it. I think of the responsibility to nurture that happens instinctively, unconsciously, in pregnancy, the mother-not-yet nurturing a foetus until the moment of birth, the violence but also the gentleness of touch needed to guide that person-not-yet into the world. Perhaps our letters to the future are an attempt at such a birthing, but perhaps I say that as a condition of my identity — or a fragment of it, at least — a mother with two children, repositories of more anxiety bound with hope than I’ve ever known.

But no: I refuse to accept, vigorously argue against, the notion that it’s “for the children” that a different social structure, a different future is needed. Change is needed now, today. We write to the future to deconstruct the present, to see it more clearly, to alleviate, however briefly, the weight of living in patriarchal capitalism. A weight that crushes us to different degrees, that crushes our readers differently. The anxiety is that it’s a futile gesture. The hope is that the gesture is no more futile than silent listening or an embrace, given when needed, imbuing warmth.

With love,

The Department of Feminist Conversations

*

To the Future,

So much time has passed since we started writing to you. It’s been a time of subtle changes, quiet growth, some taking up, some letting go. A time of friendship in action — a perfect simple phrase adopted from another feminist collective, elsewhere in the world, also writing, sharing, walking, listening, hoping. A time of whispering towards you through the still air of the night, of shy confessions and melancholy reflections, an intimate slow unfurling of the matter long compacted in our hearts.

I have worried, over that time, that it’s a limitation, a kind of myopia, this writing from the near, the inside self, from the life that is known and experienced day to day, in this country, or one like it, in this time, or the time barely past. But I know — we know — it can’t be otherwise. How can we speak to the future of refugees, or freedom fighters, or women whose bodies are property, elsewhere, when we aren’t able to secure the bodies or freedom or refuge of women here? We might say we want all women, all humans, to have our comforts and security, but our letters to you reveal equivocation: we feel smothered, devoid of faith, numb sometimes with unhappiness. This way of living — in privilege, fear, inequality, complicity — isn’t even what we want for ourselves.

What, then, do we want? And if we got it, would anything be different? And what if what we think we want requires more work and dedication and discomfort to ourselves than we’re prepared to give or undertake? And what if reaching it requires the unhappiness of other people or, worse, that they be spiked or scarred by pain?

I think we write to you, dear future, in an attempt to find out.

With love,

The Department of Feminist Conversations

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Letter to the Future is a series of fortnightly dispatches to the future, written as a gesture of hope by The Department of Feminist Conversations and friends.

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Department of Feminist Conversations

Maddy Costa

Independent Scholar

Diana Damian Martin

Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

Mary Paterson

Independent Scholar and Artist

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