WRITING, FILM & IMAGES: MEKDELA MASKAL
Mekdela Maskal is a media activist, researcher, artist of many incarnations and long time Nu Swim muse. Born in Northern California and living in New York for the last decade, during isolation Mekdela made the decision to relocate to the place she called home as a child. While driving across the country back to California, Mekdela spent time considering isolation during Covid 19, her changing relationship with her body, the deep connection she feels to water and adapting to new, yet familiar land, in an eloquent essay and accompanying transcendent video footage. Mekdela’s thoughtful musings remind us to slow down, breath, and continue to educate ourselves, now and forever. We asked Mekdela to use our platform as she wished – watch Mekdela's film 'like water' she constructed for us on her journey back west, look through her beautiful images and read her words and interview below.
AN ESSAY OF THOUGHTS BY MEKDELA
I started to write and think about this when we had been social distancing in New York City for about two months and I was going through a journey of being in a transformed relationship with my body through isolation. Coronavirus was making me attend to my ideas about my social self and our responsibility for collective health while also learning about my own womb and hormonal health issues. I was taking baths everyday and jumping in the ocean or upstate rivers as much as possible.
I thought about how water has always been a sense of comfort for me. How I have no water in my chart. How expelling water through tears is the most satisfying relief. How being submerged in water feels like the ultimate hug. How I always seek out bodies of water. How we are bodies of water. And, how waves make me want to dance.
A couple weeks later I was healing from an emergency surgery and feeling weak and disconnected -- sprinting between rage and numbness about black death and the spectacle that follows. I’m a very thoughtful and expressive person, and I usually find catharsis and reflection in sharing and connecting with views online. But, over the past few months that’s been changing. The evil that’s built into -- and manifests from -- the platforms we rely on for sharing feels ever present.
I’ve found myself yearning for the feeling I get when I’m in water, of being consumed by quiet, yet even more aware. In How to Disappear Akiko Busch explains research by Elizabeth Straughan that describes the relationship between breathing, buoyancy and emotion. “Above the surface...attentiveness to slow measured, and continuous breathing is generally practiced in meditation, but underwater this connection between breathing motion and placement is even more intrinsic.” Straughan suggests that texture, depth and relative silence of water can revise our psychological state and “mobilize emotion”. I too find a surge of clarifying emotion and healing in water -- in swimming, watching and listening to her.
Busch goes on to say how it’s not only our sense of space, weight and substance that is under revision in water, but our humanity. My yearning for the movement, structurelessness, and comfort of water has been reflecting my desire to vanish -- to have less visibility and be more unseen -- but still feel held. I’m always learning from my relationship with nature, and water has been teaching me a lot these days, making me reckon with my internal conflicts.
I’m now in Nisenan land near the Yuba river in California. I moved here a few weeks ago and am getting rerooted in the environment and deepening my relationship with land. I asked my dad why he built a home here and he said “because of the lakes”. I love them too.
There’s a stream at the bottom of a hill I live on and when I’m feeling detached or overwhelmed I tune into her sound. I didn’t have a shower for a couple weeks so I bathed in her too and remembered how much more of her there was when I was younger. I think that’s why I adore all seasons. I want the land here to rest in the winter and receive snow so that we can have a spring of growth and a summer without drought. I work in climate change news so I think about this often, especially the words we use to describe the non-human.
Robin Wall Kimmerer said, “a bay is a noun only if water is dead” in Braiding Sweetgrass. She describes how a bay is a verb in indigenous Potawatomi language, “To be a bay releases the water from bondage and lets it live…the living water has decided to shelter itself between these shores, conversing with the cedar roots and a flock of baby mergansers. Because it could so otherwise -- become a stream or an ocean or a waterfall, and there are verbs for that, too. To be a hill, to be a sandy beach to be a Saturday, all are possible verbs in a world where everything is alive.” Language as a mirror for seeing the animacy of the world. Water helps me understand love in multitudes.
“‘What were you before you met me?’
‘I think I was drowning’
‘And what are you now?’ he whispered, sinking.
I thought for a second. ‘Water’”
-Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
CAN YOU SHARE YOUR PERSONAL FAVORITE BODIES OF WATER?
Yuba river! Feels right to be near her again.
The clarity of Lake Tahoe between California and Nevada is special to me and I have many memories sailing, swimming and sleeping on the water.
The colors and feels of the mineral rich Lake Langano in Ethiopia sends me dreaming.
I traveled to Zanzibar with myself, and memories of being in the Indian Ocean remind me of the life shifts that those waves pushed me towards.
IN NEW YORK, YOU WERE COLD PLUNGING IN THE OCEAN DURING THE WINTER, HOW DID THAT START?
While my brothers and I helped my dad build our house we lived in a shed and used well water to shower. We had a bag with a nozzle on the bottom that we’d fill up and hang from a tree for the sun to warm up. I remember loving the surprise of not knowing how the water would feel.
Being in New York, I started to actually seek out flowing water in the colder months. I don’t think of swimming or time spent waterside as a seasonal thing. Of course, I can’t stay inside as long, but watching and listening are major parts of swimming, I think. Being in cold water brings me connection to my body on what feels like a cellular level. I can sense stiffness, clenching and shallow breath and bring that awareness with me above water. Cold water’s embrace has floated me out of many foggy and negative mental loops.
DO YOU HAVE ANY SWIMMING RITUALS, THINGS YOU DO BEFORE OR AFTER A SWIM?
Breath before, deep ins and outs with some breath holds, especially if I’m cold plunging. And, stretch + oil after.
HOW DO YOU WEAR NU SWIM?
All the time, as a swimsuit, a bodysuit, a bra. One of my last days in NYC I wore the paradise suit with shorts to meet some friends for goodbyes and the sky let out warm pouring rain. I was so happy to be in nu swim. We walked to the park and dried as the sunshine returned. I was on my period too, and wore thinx under the suit. I felt protected and free.
HOW HAVE YOU BEEN SELF ISOLATING? CAN YOU RECOMMEND SOME THINGS THAT HAVE HELPED YOU STAY GROUNDED? INSPIRATION? A RITUATL THAT BRINGS YOU PEACE?
I was isolating in NYC at first, but I shared a home with three of my dearest friends, so not so isolated. Baths were big because it was the only place I could be truly alone. I love being with myself, especially because it felt like an active choice in the city. Living there for almost a decade really helped me figure out how I enjoy gathering and what I want to gather around. Having to isolate and stay inside to social distance has put even more attention on this. Now, I can’t just walk outside my door and see people where I live, I have to drive four miles into town. It makes human kinship feel like the active choice now. My most social activity has been breathwork twice a week hosted by on&on. Part workshop, part meditation, part breathwork. I’ve been through continuous spirals of grounding, awakening, and fragmenting this year and since participating in this offering I’ve been able to more easily get into my body and tune into my intuitive center.
HOW HAS ISOLATION CHANGED YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE DAY TO DAY?
I’ve been able to really go at the speed of trust, as adrienne marie brown taught me. Let new ideas emerge and connect and observe them for a while before acting. I’ve been allowing myself to dream before I think (thank you Toni Morrison).
It’s been very different having less physical human kinship right now, because of social distancing and moving from a city to a forest. I have the space to sit with and challenge my relationship to visibility and productivity, and ableist ideas about health. I’ve also been pushed to find new ways of connecting and be more conscious about seeking it. I’m grateful for this time to parse through my internal conflicts and focus on healing while finding water’s embrace.
WHAT ARE YOU READING?
Some I’m reading now, some I always return to.
Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer
As Black as Resistance, Zoé Samudzi and William C. Anderson
Emergent Strategy, adrienne marie brown
On Practicing Liberation, Willa Köerner and Tsige Tafesse
Jazz, Toni Morrison
Stealing Away in America, Zoé Samudzi and Vicky Osterweil
Algorithms of Oppression, Safiya Noble
ON & ON and ĀINA HO'OKOPU O KīLAUEA
As you will read in Mekdela's responses, group breath-work has been a vital practice for her through isolation. She has been receiving this offering from ON & ON, a collective and store that seeks cultural shifts through daily practices of skin & body health. Mekdela asked the ON & ON founders about what their home community in Kaua`i is dealing with during the pandemic. They pinpointed a need to focus on food justice and land sovereignty, which is also an issue that has transformed Mekdela's life‘s work. In hopes of offering care through this interview ON & ON is giving 20% of all proceeds from their new frankincense hand and body wash to ĀINA HO'OKOPU O KīLAUEA who stewards 75-acre’s of land in Kaua`i and provides food, garden plots and education to the community for no or low cost. In honoring Mekdela’s activism, Nu Swim will be contributing with a flat donation to the organization.
THANK YOU MEKDELA