The “year with bell hooks” Project: Letter #001
All About Love - Clarity: Give Love Words
TCW has created the “year with bell hooks” project on the late bell hooks’ love trilogy. Meditating and reflecting upon the chapters of the selected books, our letters will go out to your inbox weekly. We’re starting with All About Love, then Salvation, then Communion, then concluding with sprinkled letters in between. Follow along, invite a partner, and feel welcome to share your reflective thoughts through the comment section below or directly to my email (which I do read and respond to!)- firstname.lastname@example.org.
Entering this year more gently with plans and goals, I’m keeping simplicity & wellness as my guiding markers. For me, to view both words in a spiritual sense helps me see how simplicity and wellness blend together in all areas of my life (spiritual, physical, mental, relational, and financial). And the way I could view this as an ongoing reality was to reflect and meditate upon the words of bell hooks who already gave language to what I, and I’m sure many others, feel in this present moment.
On December 15, 2021, I was at my desk, at this point in the early afternoon (furiously), typing the final parts of my womanist theological ethics paper, which centered on the teachings of bell hooks and other notable Black feminist and womanist theorists and practitioners.
I got a text from a friend saying that hooks passed, and I thought it was fake. It took me a minute to believe it was true as I felt hooks so alive through her writings, which at that moment was Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance and All About Love.
Now, a month later, I think of hooks nearly every day and the catalytic inner and collective transformation she brought about through her words.
I consider this project as an homage to her.
Love + Clarity
How eerily so that these were some of the words I penned in my essay from meditating upon her works right before her passing.
Love is our springboard. Love is our reference guide. Love relentlessly undoes and pieces back together. And love, not in a co-opted white supremacist capitalist patriarchal sense, is instead a fierce and radical determiner of healthy ethics, the path towards freedom, and the positioning towards the new world (bell hooks).
bell hooks teaches this realization in her book “All About Love,” where she says, “to know love, we have to tell the truth to ourselves and others.” Love stems from Knowing ourselves, our truth, and our communal (blood or created) abidings.
What have I previously understood as love?
I previously understood love as something conditional, or what I had to earn. Whether in church, in-home, or all forms of relationships, love was viewed as a thing, something fleeting, something needing to be caught. I’ve often heard love described as “when you know you know.” And love has us finding ourselves in what seems like an endless pursuit towards something “unattainable” or achievable for those who are perfect. Love was never really clear, it was just assumed that everyone knew what it meant.
What does hooks define as love?
Love is an act of will - namely, both an intention and an action. The working definition for love is partly from Erich Fromm (The Road Less Traveled), where love is “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth … love is as love does. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” “To truly love, we must learn to mix various ingredients - care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication.” (pgs. 4-5)
What we cannot name, we cannot address.
But now that love is named, it can be addressed.
Knowing that love is a choice rather than an all-of-a-sudden happenstance shows me that I have more power than I previously recognized in my present relationships and the imagination/ “work” towards my future relationships. Rather than aimlessly falling into love, I purposefully choose to love.
Hooks later talks about what it would be to know and practice the definition of love. I wonder who we all would be? What choices would we make? What would stay the same or be different?
Is it Love or is it Cathexis: the Ties that Bind
I'll be honest; I had nooooo idea what cathexis meant before this. So by page 5, you can already imagine I was contemplating my entire existence. But funny enough (actually, I did not laugh), once I read the definition of cathexis, I realized I knew more about cathexis in real life than I did about love.
Cathexis is the
concentration of mental energy on one particular person, idea, or object - especially to an unhealthy degree.
Cathexis is the attachment to the idea or image that brings about an emotion/feeling to which we often attribute as love.
If that is the case, all following actions are then based on that falsehood rather than reality itself, which leaves the self/the doer more and more with an unsatisfied hunger, yet, being continually depleted and receiving/offering to the self/other what is fake vs. real.
I had to sit with this one because this was difficult to take in. Do I actually know love, give love, have loved, etc.? Or have I constructed all my realities on a pretense?
This is why the definition of love by hooks is necessary for clarity on the subject of love, wellness, recovery, and wholeness.
Are we committed to the investment itself that we have outputted towards the object/person, and, because of that investment, we do not want to disentangle ourselves when we are faced with this reality?
For most folks it is just too threatening to embrace a definition of love that would no longer enable us to see love as present in our families. Too many of us need to cling to a notion of love that either makes abuse acceptable or at least makes it seem that whatever happened was not that bad. (pg. 6)
I then think about bell hooks “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance” as the rope, which brings me into a deeper realization of love. We cannot discuss love without purging the ways where we excessively consume and devour the “Other.” Love not only abides in all forms, but its exploitation can sometimes miss the eye if we have not been trained to see. That is how cathexis disguises itself as love when it isn’t at all.
Love + Wellness
At the beginning of the letter, I shared that wellness is my “word” for the year. I’m well aware that wellness can’t be limited to one year but is an ongoing process. I’m just taking more ownership over what this means for me.
The quote above by Toni Cade Bambara has been on my mind in silent moments.
Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well? Just so’s you’re sure, sweetheart, and ready to be healed, cause wholeness is no trifling matter. A lot of weight when you’re well.
I had a conversation about this quote with Taqiyyah, a Blackgirl & Womanist Practical Theologian, who shared that
Being well comes with a lot of awareness and knowing and responsibility to stay well. To care for self is not a trifling half-hearted effort and healing isn’t always pretty. It is indeed a journey.
What is the cost of being well? What is the responsibility?
How long have I been unwell, and how long had I been living in what is unwell thinking that it is well?
How deep have I normalized discomfort and pain - physically, mentally, spiritually, as just part of who I am?
Why do I think that the prolonging and endurance of this pain are what makes me worthy?
Why do I think that being unwell is what makes me approved and draws me closer to whatever/whoever is the bearer of that pain?
And this is not to be confused with promoting ableism and shaming dis-ability. This is a questioning on environments, constructed places, and harmful relationships that create dis-ease for all participants, under the guise as “stable”, “secure”, “healthy”, and “right” forces upon us.
As I take a look within and out, Bambara’s quote in conjunction with hooks’ 1st chapter causes me to realize that yes, to be well is frightening. That to be well necessitates clarity and not only clarity but it means I no longer can return to what was because ‘that’ was unwell. New questions emerge that may/will require some relationships and patterns to be in critique. That may require starting a new slate of naming, discovery, identity-formation, and more. And if I begin my self-recovery journey through a new lens of this definition of love, how much will be dismantled? To whom do I still stay committed to in this realization?
But I also believe that all of *this* is worth it. Because to be well means that I am finally so.
There’s so much more that could be said about this chapter (!) but I will pause here for today. Thoughts on chapter 2 “Justice: Childhood Love Lessons” will be out in your inboxes next Saturday.
Until then and with love,