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Pleasure Practices with Sami Schalk: Taking pleasure at year’s end

Celebrate being alive in all its joys and sorrows as we make way for a new year.

Photos: A collage of four images, showing the author’s cat, the author kayaking, the author smiling in a hammock, and the author glamping with a group of friends. Photo credits: top left: Dutcher Photography; top right: Hattie Chamberlin; bottom photos: Stephanie Selvick.

Celebrate being alive in all its joys and sorrows as we make way for a new year.

This month marks one year since I began writing this column for Tone Madison. I’m grateful for this platform to promote pleasure activism as a social-justice-engaged practice of understanding pleasure as political, as an essential part of liberation work. I believe that embracing my pleasure is part of owning my power and I want to encourage other people, especially people of color, queer and trans folks, disabled people, women, and working class folks, to do the same. I believe sharing and expressing my pleasure publicly as a fat Black queer disabled woman is a powerful act that encourages others to move toward their own greater freedoms.

As we approach the end of 2021, our second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a time to take stock of what we have experienced this year, the gains and the losses, the joy and the sorrow. I much prefer to do an end-of-year assessment of all I accomplished, survived, and experienced than making new year’s resolutions that leave me feeling bad when I don’t stick to them. Taking stock at year’s end allows me to celebrate being alive in all its highs and lows and that practice, to me, is pleasurable. adrienne maree brown, building on the work of Black feminist legend Audre Lorde, writes that pleasure is the experience of deep satisfaction and this exercise provides significant emotional satisfaction for me, so perhaps it will for you as well. 

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Here is part of my 2021 list so far:

  • Adopted my cat, Madam Alice CJ Walker
  • Got diagnosed with a B12 deficiency
  • Got vaccinated & boosted (or as my friend says, got my bustier)
  • Finished writing my book Black Disability Politics (coming in fall 2022 from Duke University Press!)
  • Saw my younger cousins for the first time in a year and a half
  • Helped one of my niblings explore his gender identity and come out as trans
  • Learned to kayak
  • Finally found a Black woman therapist I adore
  • Started doing Pilates
  • Experienced the first full year of my life with no contact with my mother
  • Got back on Tinder then off of Tinder then back on Tinder again
  • Got ghosted by a guy I was seeing for three months
  • Grew food in my balcony garden
  • Killed at least seven house plants
  • Went glamping

When I make the list of the things I’ve experienced and done during the year, big and small, it helps me appreciate what often felt like a cruel trick, a second year of pandemic life with vaccines creating ease but not normalcy. My list shows me what I did even as the pandemic raged on and it shows me who was with me through it all (and it was so many more loved ones than last year, which I am grateful for). The pleasure of gratitude helps me grapple with how fast and fragile our lives can be and it encourages me to appreciate my personal and our collective resilience.

Parts of my list include the sorrow and loss I’ve felt. Sitting with these feelings alongside my gratitude requires that understanding of pleasure as deep satisfaction. Processing my losses, crying, feeling the grief in order to move on, to not carry the same unexamined hurt into the next year, is part of this month’s pleasure practice. While it might not feel good in the same way lying in a hammock or eating delicious sausage gravy feels good, making space for sadness and grief increases my capacity to feel deeply, and reflecting on the hard things about this year helps me move forward in a way that allows for even more joy next year.

So this month, take stock of everything you have done, experienced, survived, accomplished, lost, and learned during this second year of a global pandemic. When you’re done, read it over, maybe even out loud, then look at yourself in the mirror and say “I’m a badass bitch who has survived another pandemic year. I’m proud of myself.” See you in 2022, babes. xo

This is our newsletter-first column, Microtones. It runs on the site on Fridays, but you can get it in your inbox on Thursdays by signing up for our email newsletter.

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