Zainab Amadahy is an author, singer/songwriter and educator. Among her publications are Indigenous Peoples and Black Peoples in Canada for Breaching the Colonial Contract. She also contributed to Strong Women’s Stories: Native Vision and Community Survival and authored the feminist science fiction novel Moons of Palmares. Zainab’s new book Wielding the Force: The Science of Social Justice explores the mind/body/spirit connection and its relevance to social justice and community organizing.
May Lui: Why did you write this book?
Zainab Amadahy: Truthfully, I was shocked that the science I was reading about was not well known or being taught in schools because the implications were mind blowing. The more I learned the more I realized how important this information is to people’s health and happiness as well as to community organizing and social justice. I was also thrilled with how it was consistent with Indigenous knowledge, which has been denigrated, devalued and ignored for so long.
Another reason, which I don’t discuss much, is that I had several experiences inside and outside of ceremony that led me to believe that my ancestors wanted to see this book get written. And they don’t seem to be finished with me so there will be more.
ML: How long did it take you to write the book?
ZA: In terms of actually sitting down and typing it out, maybe about 6 months. But the research took about four years and is ongoing.
More important than the time it took me to write the book was the transformation I underwent in the process. Writing and other types of artistic work can be quite transformative and I’m grateful that this was true for me. As I struggled to live what I was learning and writing about I really grew spiritually and emotionally. And that’s the hope that I hold for people who read the book. I hope they experience a powerful transformation and that they’re able to not only integrate this knowledge into their lives but are able take it to higher levels.
ML: I was present at a few workshops and talks that you held while you were writing the book. What other ways did you utilize regarding the content? Why did you choose to do this?
ZA: I started doing workshops about a year before the book came out. I had seen myself in a vision conducting workshops on this knowledge and I had this wonderful feeling that people would respond to it positively. It felt as though the workshops could play an important role in getting this information out into the world. I was really nervous at first but it was a good way to see how my audience (activists, community workers, students, etc.) reacted to this material. Workshop participants helped me figure out better ways of explaining certain concepts and identify the typical kinds of questions people had. The earlier workshops sometimes made me go back into research mode because people had such great questions and critiques of the science. So the early workshop participants informed parts of the book. Current workshops continue to inform my work, including the next book, coming out shortly.
Workshopping also gave me confidence. I had health care workers, environmental scientists, a biologist and even a physicist come to my sessions and they were completely on board with the information I shared. So that meant a lot.
ML: If you could summarize the book in a few paragraphs, what would you say?
ZA: The book looks at the implications of emerging science, especially medical science, which can radically transform the way we see ourselves in this world, the way we understand community, and our sense of empowerment. The new science is very much starting to look like the wisdom of many ancient traditions. It shows us how life is intricately connected at the energetic level. In other words it demonstrates how we have the power to physically (and otherwise) heal self, each other and Our Relations through mere thoughts and emotions as well as actions.
After we absorb a lot of information on how some new discoveries can be useful to us as individuals, we then look at the implications for community work, artistic production, education, activism and much more. In fact, I argue that this new knowledge suggests its time for a paradigm shift that transcends right and left wing philosophies in favour of one that recognizes that everything, including matter, is essentially energy. Furthermore, our thoughts and feelings, as forms of energy, are significant creative forces in the world — as powerful as actions.
ML: Please share why you decided to self-publish, what the process was like, and your thoughts and reflections on self-publishing.
ZA: I’ve been published before but there were two main reasons I wanted to self-publish this time around.
1) Timelines. The process of finding a publisher, editing and design can take years. With my first novel it took almost three years but it can certainly take longer. I didn’t want to wait that long to get this information out there. There are so many implications for decolonization and social justice work I feel like we’ve waited long enough. Plus, I didn’t want to deal with the kinds of barriers to publication that might crop up because of the resistance and cynicism in some sectors to this information. Particularly the knowledge that’s difficult to profit from.
2) Money. People don’t realize how little authors and other artists get for their work at the end of the day. It’s true that there are bestselling authors that make a fair bit of money, especially those that sign movie deals, but most of us spend years learning our craft, researching our work and writing yet we live below the poverty line. Publishers, agents & retailers can all make a living off of our work but we who create really only get a pittance. When my first novel was out it sold for something like $24 but I only saw $1-$2 for every copy sold. And that was four years worth of work.
I still believe that publishing houses have an important role to play but at this stage of my writing career I wanted to try out something different and see how it went. Bottom line: I’d like to be paid fairly for my work.
Self-publishing has been quite an experience and I’m learning every day about book promotion and developing relationships with my audience. I completely understand that self-publishing isn’t for everybody or every book, though.
You certainly won’t get rich self-publishing and you’ll work hard but it’s very satisfying.
ML: Why the Star Wars metaphors? (Which I love, by the way.)
ZA: I tried to make make the book feel accessible, fun and interesting. Many people who can benefit from scientific information are resistant to it and for good reason. It’s complicated, full of jargon and often oppressive. Science has been used to rationalize a lot of injustice in the world. So I was trying to lighten it up a bit. I’m not sure that referencing Star Wars was the best call and I would love to hear from readers on that.
Until my book came out I’d never realized how many people have never seen the original Star Wars, which was about rebellion against Empire. Although the first three films were problematic in terms of patriarchy, heterosexism, Eurocentrism, etc., the story had to do with disempowered people, who didn’t particularly like each other at first, working together to overthrow their oppressors. It also had to do with how the teachings of the old and dishonoured “Jedi”, who had undergone a genocide because of their belief in “The Force”, could reverse power dynamics. When I saw the first films, the portrayal of people denigrating spiritual beliefs for political purposes resonated with me. I loved that an “Elder” survivor of the Jedi genocide (Obi Wan Kenobi), was able to pass on teachings in the interest of reviving Jedi spiritual beliefs to challenge power.
The recent Star Wars films have seemed to contradict the messages of the first three films. In the newer films the Jedi are in league with Empire and play the role of galactic police force. Plus, now SW is a multi-billion dollar franchise that exemplifies how wealth is spent on reframing and co-opting stories of rebellion.
In any case, the advantage to being self-published is that I can retitle the book and take out the Star Wars references with revised editions. I can drive the content and process in accordance with the wishes of my audience/community.
ML: The book has been out for a few months now. What has the feedback been so far? What parts of the book have been received well?
ZA: I’ve been brought to tears by the enthusiasm and positive feedback I’ve received from people who have read the book or gone to my workshops. There are certainly questions here and there but everybody that has communicated with me has been overwhelmingly supportive. Some even say they have been transformed. I’m just hoping I can get the book and workshops out there to more people because they seem to be contributing to people’s lives & work and that’s why I write. I’m certainly not the only one doing this work but I think this information has the potential to fast track social justice and decolonization processes.
ML: What parts of the book have people been most resistant to?
ZA: There are two things that people tend to feel a bit resistant to:
1) Initially, with the workshops, participants felt that I was suggesting it was beneficial to stay positive and cheerful no matter what they and others were experiencing. But, of course, that is very simplistic, New Agey and not at all healthy. It’s also not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is a bit too complex to explain here (which is why I wrote a book) but it’s really about developing an awareness of your thoughts and feelings, developing a healthy relationship with them and taking responsibility for them because they have conjuring power. They not only impact how you experience YOUR life, they also impact the wellbeing of other life forms.
2) There’s been some cynicism about the published research on how our thoughts and feelings impact water. I start out looking at Dr. Masaru Emoto’s work, which has been heavily critiqued in the world of science, but his findings are consistent with Indigenous knowledge as well as my personal experiences. I also explored the work of other hard science researchers after an earlier draft manuscript was critiqued for being unconvincing on this point. I was advised to take that section out but I didn’t want to because, for Indigenous communities, the scientific findings I explore reflect our understandings of how we two-leggeds relate to the waters. Also, because water really needs our help and prayers right now.
ML: Will you ever write the second novel you mentioned near the end of Wielding The Force?
ZA: By the beginning of the fall I’ll have a booklet out that contains practical exercises for groups, collectives, cooperatives, etc, that want to put the principles of Wielding the Force into action. The science is developing rapidly and the corporate sector is beginning to make use of these ideas to better control their workforces and make more profit. But in this next publication I’ll be looking at how social justice, activist and community groups can implement this information to be more cohesive and effective.
ML: What are you working on now (writing, art, etc)?
ZA: I’m working on a rewrite of my first novel Moons of Palmares. My son, Leith Martin, is co-writing it with me. That should make or break our relationship. The book will be very different in terms of its political depth as well as character and story development.
I’m also writing a trilogy of Nano Tales novellas, that take place in a future where capitalism has pretty well collapsed and a group of people in Toronto is trying to build a cooperative, sustainable community but they come up against some corporate dinosaurs that want to re-establish their power. We also look at some of the various potential uses of nanotechnology.
Finally, I’m working on a film that was just shot called Alien Night, a science fiction comedy that satirizes terrorphobia. There are some other film and TV projects in the works as well.
So I’m happily busy.
ML: Is there anything else you’d like to share about the book, the writing process, your journey with the book?
Well, I’d really like it if my readers could do what they can to help me get the book out there or get me workshop and speaking gigs. It’s not an ego thing. I sincerely believe this information needs to be in the hands of communities and when we’re all on the same page it’s going to make a huge difference for upcoming generations, the Earth and Our Relations.
Secondly, I’d like to encourage my readers to correspond with me, friend me on Facebook, leave reviews on my Amazon page or otherwise share information on how they have experienced my writings. It’s a way to help me develop my work and better respond to community aspirations. So review it for blogs, comment on it in social media, etc. Positive or negative, it’s all good.
Other than that, I just want to offer my gratitude to you and Black Coffee Poet for your support.
ML: Thank you, Zainab! I wish you the best success with this book and your other projects.
May Lui is a Toronto-based writer who is mixed-race, anti-racist, feminist and an all around troublemaker.
May blogs at maysie.ca, ranting and raving at any and all injusticesand uses the f-bomb regularly.
She’s been published in the Toronto Star, Fireweed Magazine, Siren Magazine, in the anthology With a Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn, at section15.ca and rabble.ca. Contact her firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tune into Black Coffee Poet Friday June 14, 2013 for a video of Zainab Amadahy reading from her book Wielding The Force: The Science of Social Justice.