November 1, 2017: A Cold Beginning
#1. Shifts are always hard. Today, where I live in the world, which is Edmonton, Alberta, it is November 1st, 2017. We are shifting into winter. The snow is coming down. At home, the central heating kicks in for the first time in months. The authoritative announcements of male radio hosts advise us to drive slowly and be aware that road conditions are perilous. At work, colleagues and friends speak in heartfelt tones about having scheduled winter-tire changes just before the snow flew.
Yesterday was Halloween and so, predictably—happily so, given the indeterminacy of climate change—the snow started to fly early in the morning, well before dawn, when all the little school-age ghouls were stirring into wakefulness, rubbing their eyes, mumbling about the alter-ego disguises they were so excited to don. Their costumes were first stuffed into backpacks. The pretence these little comédien play at is that they will be paying attention in school until the festivities begin later in the day. Ultimately, they are just living through the limbo, the impasse, until, when, in the dusky blue light of a first-snowfall-midafternoon, costumes can be revealed and festivities opened. Later, they all trickle out their front doors into the shadows of the streetlights, tricking or treating, as the case may be. The zombies too, exhausted from the treadmill of social reproduction and capitalist entrepreneurialism, follow their little gremlins out into the neighbourhood. And, while the little ones swoop and cry from one house to the next, the zombified attempt to build, maintain or repair community connections, as the case may be, talking to neighbours—something that happens only one in a blue moon, or a full moon, maybe only this one time a year.
But that was last night. Today, in the foggy daylight, refracting off the snowflakes and frozen water molecules suspended midair, drive-time talk-radio reports that snow trucks are on standby. When we hit the three-centimeter mark, they’ll send out the convoy. Yes, that is how we talk about our relationships to snow and to the environment. As though it is a militarized operation: man versus environment. Not as the miraculously beautiful and fun substance that my puppy sees it as, while he romps out in the yard, discovering for the first time the joys of winter, repeatedly demanding to be let outside for no other reason that to regale in this new mysterious whiteness that covers the ground
Perhaps it is cliché that an action-a-day performance project on ‘deep energy literacy’ would start with talk of road conditions and deep winter freezes. It is, after all, one of the justifications for our ‘monster trucks’ and our energy intensive fortresses, built largely in sprawling suburbs. I don’t want to be trite in a project that claims as its very weft and warp to be weaving a “deep” narrative. But, at the same time, on day one, a day that is also for me a transition into the very scary abyss of writing to the unknown, about what is potentially unknowable – a feminist energy transition – I need to start somewhere. So, I start with what I know, and what I hear on the radio. And I acknowledge that what I ‘know’ is somehow amiss. There is something uncomfortable in drive-time traffic reports: in how we interpret and confront the miracles of the everyday as mere obstacles to the flows of our own mobility. The way our lives have come to revolve around a network of highways and freeways that connect us, physically or virtually. Somewhere far North, the Arctic is melting and rather than mourn the plethora of species lost to this third mass extinction event of the planet, white-shirts in boardrooms around the world log on to conference calls to discuss how to exploit the opportunities of the moment and run telecommunications cables through the melting permafrost at more cost-effective rates. Supposedly, they will connect us all: connecting me to you. Just as the network of highways and freeways connected me this afternoon to my students on the far south side of the city: women who’ve left abusive relationships filled with domestic violence.
To them, who often have very modest educations, I tried to explain the relationship between an extractive global economy and their own lives. I tried to illustrate how the systemic violences of patriarchal, colonial capitalism that allow for the exploitation of land and resources, also fuel the more immediate gender-sexual violences they have had to escape in their own relationships. It is humbling, to say the least.
But they are supportive and excited about the idea of a 365-day project: the one I’m committing to here. And, they share their stories with me and with one another. Their knowledge, and the knowledge of the women they speak of, so ephemeral—so easily lost to the annals of history. They tell me about a similar Facebook project some of them have committed to. It isn’t 365 days long, but a 7-day challenge: a project in which they document their lives visually taking black and white photos. I think about the privilege that affords me the ability to commit to a project of this breadth and length. I’m in awe of how beautifully they tell their stories, and the stories of other women in their lives—mothers and grandmothers and sisters—as we talk about radical women past, present, and even, as far as our imaginations will take us, into a more feminist future. What other future might have been possible for them, had things been different? What futures still are possible?
Then, as class ends, we all rush to meet our children arriving home after school in buses careening to keep schedule over dangerous and slushy roads, no time to slow down; but we don’t stop thinking about our acts of daily resistance and how we might organize now, or in the future, around energy transition and how we might, together, shift power.
(Image: Snow on the side of a city road.)