The Performance Issue Is Out Now!
Illustration: Beena Mistry
Dear Shameless readers,
We hope that this issue finds you as well as can be, given everything that’s happening in the world, and everything that has happened since our last issue. Prior to the pandemic, and prior to the moment we all decided we’d had enough of white supremacy, police brutality, and the neoliberal neglect of our most vulnerable communities, many of us weren’t okay. Now, after almost a full year of fighting so many battles, on so many fronts, after a full year of not having real-life access to the supports that we may have had, we know that many of us are just hanging on. Before we get into the heart of this issue, we want to take a minute to say that it’s okay not to be okay. We want to honour everything it took to bring you to being present today. We share your grief, rage, and the oscillating feelings of hope and despair. We see you.
It feels like a different world now, when we first imagined the performance issue. Our initial conversations talked about a desire to explore both the performing arts and the role of performance in political organizing, and this got us started on some of the pieces that you see here, exploring performance as an act of radical re-imagination of gender (p.8), a mechanism that can further marginalize and silence (p. 24), and a tool for accessing the truth (p. 36). All of these points still feel relevant today, and we hope that you learn as much from our amazing writers as we did in the process of putting this together.
But something else happened along the way. Those of you who subscribe to Shameless may have noticed that this issue is long overdue. Our mandate is to publish three issues a year, and last year, we managed to get one out the door and into your hands. This issue was meant to be published in summer 2020 and, as I write this letter, it’s mid-January, 2021.
I thought about using this space to apologize to you, our readership. But instead, I want to reflect on why we struggled to get this out the door, and reflect on what it means to perform through production.
In my personal life, I’ll share that in the summer of 2019, I had a baby, Uma. Uma is the light of my life; she’s joyful, curious, and loves trucks and the colour yellow. My first year of parental “leave” was both joyful and complicated by work obligations. I sat on conference calls while I chest-fed her. I hid my pregnancy and leave from some clients, telling them that I was in “meetings” when I was actually caring for her. I woke up at 5am, and I paid for a service that would schedule emails to go out at 9am, so people wouldn’t know that this—having a human life to care for—would impact my work, my schedule, my life, my capacities.
When the pandemic came, nine months into being a new parent, I continued this trend. I leaned into pandemic life; I shared photos of food we cooked in a WhatsApp group (aptly titled “Photos of Food”), I continued trying to juggle being a new parent (now without any extended support from family or friends) with working my day job, with Shameless, and with taking on a new role as a professor in a school that I had never even visited. I packed Uma’s nap time with Zoom conference after Zoom conference, stayed up late, and woke up early, to make everything seem normal. I pressed on. The work I continued to produce during this time, the seeming seamlessness of it, was a performance. Behind the scenes, I was exhausted, stressed and stretched beyond capacity, and sad. I was slowly feeling the gap left by my joyful interactions with friends, with co-conspirators, with Shameless collaborators.
I am used to pretending to be okay, to pretending like things are okay, even when they’re not. That’s something that came from my experience in an immigrant family; we can’t afford to let a ball drop, we can’t afford to ask for what we need, we have to press on.
I am lucky to be around people who have healed from that trauma and those patterns and have learned to be more honest about where they’re at. While the world burned around me, and I scheduled my emails to go out at 9am, I saw friends asking for what they need. I heard people from all parts of my life saying, “I can’t finish this,” or “I need more time.” I sat on the other end of calls while folks honestly said, “I am struggling,” and created space for me to say the same.
So much of 2020 was about performing being okay when we’re not. About pushing through when maybe we just can’t, or shouldn’t. The last 10 months were not business as usual. Many of us were struggling. We needed time and space, and we took it. As I introduce this issue, the performance issue, I am empowered to take off the mask and substitute an apology with an honest look at where we’re at. In that spirit, I hope that you, too, are able to put down what is too heavy to carry, and to do what you need to stay present and “okay” until we meet again.