Time is Water
"I do not believe in time. I do believe in water." Dionne Brand
“I do not believe in time, I do believe in water.” Dionne Brand
Oh hi, nice to see you here again. I hope that however your emotional weather is cast today that you’ve been able to find a moment to walk with tenderness. I hope you’ve been able to take space to slow down. Lately, I’ve been wanting less of “What do you need?” and more, “Here’s how I have capacity to care for you.” What I have space to offer you, reader, is a pause. I invite you before reading further to take into account your body and how it’s arriving to this digital portal. Maybe upon taking that pause, you find you’d actually like a glass of water, or a pillow behind your back, or to sit closer to a window. Maybe you’d like to come back to this later. Maybe you’re ready to read on.
If ready, here, take this seed 🤲🏾🌰. While we walk, plant it wherever you’d like to return to and tend so it can grow. Thanks as always, for being here.
This one’s on time.
Where does time slow for you? Where does it twist?
Time eases for me when I’m near water. This past week I’ve been going to the beach almost every day as an evening ritual. There’s the phrase “to be lost in time.” When near water I don’t feel lost to time, but rather time feels kinder - it honeys. It’s always been this way between water and I. We find safety and memory in each other in all forms, whether tears or oceans.
In her book Undrowned, Alexis Pauline Gumbs writes, “trust that all water touches all water everywhere.” Water is past and present and future. It’s a conductor of memory where all time is happening at once. I step into the waves at Ocean Beach and feel the same tides that held me as a kid learning to swim, feel the same water that my great great grandmother once showered her garden with in 1920s Oakland, feel the same water I’ll use to care for my homie when I ask if they want a glass of water tomorrow.
Poet Dionne Brand once wrote in a poem, “I do not believe in time, I do believe in water.”
Where does time water for you? Where do its waves overlap?
I’ve been thinking about the ways that capitalism organizes time. Notice its undercurrents in language:
“How are you spending your time?”
“Don’t waste your time.”
“Let’s save time and go this way.”
There’s a history to capitalism colonizing time and fixing it to its own metronome. One instance I recently learned through Black Quantum Futurism was in the creation of time zones in the 1880s by railroad companies. At this point in American history, the railway system was providing a literal engine to the expanding U.S. empire. Railways allowed the newly industrialized economy to colonize further distances and expand at a quickened pace. Railroad companies, which were some of the largest slaveholders in the South, created time zones to make railway scheduling easier. As the expansion of the U.S. empire was powered by railway networks, the government later accepted the time construct for the benefit of profit. Time was colonized to support the accumulation of capital.
The construction of time zones is just one of many points in history where the meaning of time changed to describe a relationship with and outside of profit, and that meaning continues to reverberate politically, culturally, and interpersonally. In taking a personal inventory:
In western time constructs, time is a limited resource. If we want to spend time outside of productivity we have to have earned it in some way, we can’t just have it. (Example: I told a homie the other day I took a day off of writing because I was tired. I felt I needed to provide a reason to have earned the time off).
Time spent outside of productivity is cast as wasted or squandered. (Example: the guilt I had for taking time off).
Marginalized people are criminalized for spending time outside of gaining capital (see: loitering laws, criminalization of time accommodations for disabled folks, the walking while trans laws, the criminalization of homelessness).
In a still-raging pandemic and cascade of atrocities, there’s a governmental and cultural push to rush through grief, to get back to business and move on. A cultural “correction” of time, to get back on the “right track.”
Undercurrents of fatalism, meaning the belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable. Found in the institutional whitening of history that we see in the destruction of critical race theory and trans and queer identity in U.S. education. Found in lack of belief that alternative structures and paradigms outside of the ones we live in are possible.
It is in our best interest to question the metronome of capitalism and the ways it arranges time, both structurally and interpersonally. It’s in our best interest to study the alternative clocks that exist. I’m curious about CP time, crip time, Black and Indigenous frameworks of time, pandemic time, jazz constructs of time in the never-ending riff, how time moves with trauma, how time moves with grief, queer time, the alternative timelines plants offer in their cycles of life and death. It’s in our best interest to offer curiosity around ways we can construct our own clocks.
I want to imagine with you a timeline where slow time is beautiful. I want a timeline that is blurrier and fuzzier than the linear arrow of time that I’ve been taught is the best and only way. I want time that expands in rings like the radial way my grandmother tells me stories, how she tells it across months in bits and pieces that overlap - a process that requires my commitment to patiently listen over months or years if I ever want to hear the whole tale. I’d like to imagine a space where time is treated like we are gardens rather than machines - where time is attuned to our individual needs and given consistently, given softly, given with care. If you had a clock, what would it measure time by? My clock moves in the direction my homie and I decide to take a walk. My clock ticks every time my great-grandmother told my grandmother “I love you.” My clock measures time at the speed I can exhale with ease.
Lately my love language has been the texts: “Take your time!” “No rush in responding.” I recently received a question in an email that ended with “Please let this invite simmer.” I’m grateful to everyone that insists in small ways that time can be generous.
Much of my practice is guided by communal dreaming, what I understand as practices to collectively imagine alternate futures, and initiating actions so that those futures can be made real. Communal dreaming is not about escapism, nor is it avoidance of the collapsing crises of our lived realities. Dreaming can be found in radical imagination as described by Robin D.G. Kelley in his book Freedom Dreams: “a collective imagination engaged in an actual movement for liberation. It is fundamentally a product of struggle, of victories and losses, crises and openings, and endless conversations circulating in a shared environment.” Movements for Black liberation, Indigenous sovereignty, queer and trans liberation, disability justice, and many other freedom movements across time point to how dreaming is an opportunity for refusal of the current timeline and an incubator to create alternatives.
Communal dreaming can quickly be romanticized, aestheticized, and monetized. Since the 2020 uprisings I’ve peeped it in how brands have co-opted language from freedom movements to position themselves to appease their audience (I’m already nauseous thinking about the pride campaigns we’ll see from brands that have done nothing about the wave of laws criminalizing trans youth). I also see it in our personal and interpersonal co-optation of dreaming - how dreaming is looked to for avoidance - how dreams stay in the “what if” and not as something that can sharpen our daily practices. I see it in the repetitiveness of the shock that’s churned at the atrocities we’re facing when marginalized people have long pointed directly at the systems that caused them, how shock is shared but nothing is done from it, how time can feel like a rubber band that in moments of tension is stretched out of place and snaps right back to its regular business-as-usual form.
I was watching a conversation Angela Davis had at Brandeis University, where she talked about cultivating long range imagination. She noted: “We wouldn’t be here today had it not been the case that in the 1600s and 1700s there were Black people who believed in the possibility of freedom and we are the beneficiaries of that imagination.”
If time is water then small actions reverberate - sometimes to distances I cannot see, maybe to a generation that I won’t meet. In a western culture that’s obsessed with fast time, quick turnarounds and immediate results, can you and I refuse? Can we slow down? I’d like to commit to a slower timeline with you that is rooted in the sustainable and care-centered. I’d like to be next to you during the hard shit and the moments I will inevitably mess up and you will too. I’d like to take more time to listen rather than immediately react. I’d like us both to tune into our bodies and feelings, to find how we are best personally suited to be time benders, and show up to that practice with the consistency that a well-tended garden asks for.
The other day I interviewed my grandmother on her relationship with plants. We sat in the living room she grew up in surrounded by the garden she’s created both in and outside her home. She told me about how her mother always gardened, and how her grandmother built a garden and koi pond in her home in 1920s Oakland after moving with her family from Louisiana.
I wonder if my great great grandmother, a shipyard worker, a Black woman that built herself and her community a place of serenity and care in the form of a garden, knew that from her one day choosing to carry water to soil, that someday her granddaughter and great great granddaughter would be in a room together talking about plants and the ways we look to them to care for ourselves and the people we love. Whether she did or not I thank her anyway. The lesson still holds true. Time reverberates. Time is care. Time is water.
Do you remember the seed I offered you in the beginning? I’m planting mine here (🌰). I’m planting it with the hope that we commit to learn to hold ourselves and each other softly. I’m planting it with the wish that we learn the future is brightest where interdependent care networks are gardened. I’m planting it with the knowing that great networks take great time. That a wider margin of freedom is possible in every act of tending we commit to. Do you believe in my smallness? I believe in yours. In our collective smallness I see oceans. I see water that we can use to make this seed grow. To call in the future that’s long been growing by movements that have existed before you and I were here. (🌱).
To do yourself or with a collective (could just be you and another friend!)
Move through the Social Change Ecosystem Map by Deepa Iyer to deepen your understanding of roles you can play in widening the margin of freedom.
Root yourself in the reminder that we do not have to tend to our practices alone. Learn about the work of Mia Mingus’s framework of pod mapping and complete the pod mapping worksheet.
Reflect on these questions by Mariame Kaba: “Questions I regularly ask myself when I'm outraged about injustice: What resources exist so I can better educate myself? Who's already doing work around this injustice? Do I have the capacity to offer concrete support & help to them? How can I be constructive?”
Spend intimate time with your anger. I’ve learned much from anger from Lama Row Owens Love and Rage.
Spend time with grief on both a personal and collective level. I’ve been learning about the meanings of grief through Pierre of Queering Psychology.
Sending you much love 🕊. Offering a pause to drink a glass of water after reading this email
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Thank you so much being a part of this process and this work. 💕