spectacle |ˈspektəkəl| noun:
a visually striking performance or display
excite |ikˈsīt| verb:
produce a state of increased energy or activity in (a physical or biological system)
vitality |vīˈtalitē| noun:
the state of being strong and active; energy
It is important for me to feel cautious talking about my work. I know it’s easy for violence, and survival, to be made into spectacle. To talk about a day at work includes storytelling about the existence of trauma such as rape, starvation, stabbing, mental illness, psychological terrorism, addiction and suicide. It also includes stories of massive resistance, imaginative resilience and brilliant forms of healing.
And most of those words, especially ones describing different forms of violence, are words laden with manufactured connotations of blame and exploitation. When we are at our worst those words carry some degree of titillation and a complicated combination of curiosity and excitement. And possibly they hold an opportunity for emotional catharsis, an experience and release of sadness and attempts at empathy, mostly to the sole benefit us the witness.
I feel cautious about my ability to be a fair and loving storyteller, as much as my listeners’ ability in being a fair and loving listener. Rhetorically removing people from their own context removes them from structures of power; and negating the dynamics of power is a powerful tenant of structural violence.
She is so much more than simply what she’s survived.
When I am worst at my job, I allow violence to be spectacle, on the days I am no better than my will to cope.
I wonder if it is human to seek excitement. When I was little I had too many fears to be able to look out the window at a car accident, or for that matter, to listen to the radio with the threat that the weather report possibly could predict lightening. I now can listen to the radio, as well as look out the window as I drive past ambulances parked on the side of highways. In those moments my senses become heightened by worry and curiosity. It is exciting.
After I graduated from high school I spent eleven weeks, as a white 18-year-old American woman, traveling around India alone with another white 18-year-old American woman. When I came home folks always commented on my bravery and sense of adventure (correction: white entitlement and a classically wealthy desire for shock) and they asked me how my trip was and what India was like.
“The vitality…” I’d say. “The smells, the sounds, the colors, the movement, the heat, the flavors were so…alive.”
India was exciting.
I wonder if it is near impossible for people’s lives to not be spectacle, if we neither love nor understand them.
Personal identification can create an understanding that removes spectacle. Love for the folks experiencing trauma can remove spectacle.
I didn’t understand what I was seeing, or tasting or smelling or hearing. And, I didn’t love the place I was visiting. Not love as a destination for a visitor, but love as a place in the world abundant in history and custom and tradition and ritual.
India was spectacle.
And so became my own life.
The same rules apply—lack of love, lack of understanding. And so ensues the violence—the drugs, the sex, the lies. Consumption or sharing of something, including our own bodies and selves, that is neither loved or understood, and therefore void of honest context, is a form of violence.
And then I stopped—the sex and the high and the traveling to other peoples’ countries, because I fell in love with being alive.
I knew I’d answered everyone’s questions about India with the wrong word.
Spectacle is violence.
“Tell me about work,” they say. I smile, “she calls her feet her biscuits and her brand new baby is healthy and has exactly four names.”