lessons from a lunar eclipse

(i am a cheap expert on the stars – at some point i stopped buying gossip magazines and put my attention on stars that felt more authentic and reliable, more capable of holding the weight of my projections. i now say things about the stars and other celestial bodies with gravitas, but i am often corrected by my smarter friends. this caveat is to say that what follows is all feeling more than knowing.)

last night was a lunar eclipse and a super wolf blood full moon, aka a bloody howling supreme lunar happening. i learned (at the intersection of multiple websites and listening to what others learned on the internet) that it’s about truly letting go of patterns that don’t serve, about release at the level of system, about making room for something that cannot coexist with that shriveled up rotten moldy crusty whatever that i am dragging along behind me. time to kondo my soul.

so i looked up and i listened for what it is time to release. i learned some things in the watching that feel like clues, if not answers.


(howling bloody lunar wow, rural mn, 1/20/19 11:16pm)

– the moon eclipsed in shadow is gray, quiet, murky, briefly reddish. it looks like it is resting. i am reminded of its passive, orbital nature.

– the moon is not doing anything. not covering up, not unveiling, not demanding. unlike me, the moon’s life isn’t much changed by brief and total shadow.

– to us humans, the moon eclipsed in shadow is dramatic headline material with awesome names…even though it was more dazzling an hour before in super bright fullness. why are we so drawn to the drama of reduced light?

– the body that casts the shadow is not made of shadow. it’s just earth. i often think this is the case between humans…one complex system casts shadows or shines light on another, while being neither darkness nor light.

– but when you’re looking up at something that hurts, it can look like a shadow monster. back lit, broken, the illusion can be confusing. this makes me think that i don’t believe in monsters amongst humans. i believe in shattered spirits, and in souls that get stuck/lost in shadow, and then want to shadow everything.

– this is why, as a mediator, i choose space over punishment every time. space to stop harm, space to look at, release and claim our own shadows.

– and i choose love over pain when i can. pain doesn’t stop or resolve pain. love is what heals – love of self, love from others who see the shadows, love of how we survive. love invites us to occupy the universe, not just some cage of our worst moments.

– i can’t ignore that i am in the martin luther king jr holiday season, reflecting on love, at the edge of saying only light can drive out the darkness you can’t carry. but of course. he was a moon, he held brightness.

– i have been thinking a lot about how to make distinctions between beings and our behavior. in real time, how can i not get confused between the who and the how?

– and, if a being is committed to a certain behavior, and that behavior casts shadows, what are the options? we are not in orbit, we do not have to continue the dance. sometimes we must ask each other to move in massive ways, sometimes we must go around the sun to get to the light, sometimes we are unable.

– you may have noticed i identify with the moon, even though i’m part of the shadow on her face tonight. my work as a facilitator/mediator is often that deep reflection. what beauty is in this darkness? how much light can you handle being? look how bright you are. but always half dark, or more.

– i am generally comfortable holding the dark. i believe it is the balance of light and dark that makes our world miraculous and dynamic. and since light is the anomaly of this universe, perhaps we all need to be comfortable with/in the dark.

– i hold brightness, too. but i think it’s a reflective work, catching and sharing the light of sun creatures like octavia butler, grace lee boggs, audre lorde, ursula le guin, mlk, toni cade bambara and other bright beaming beings. as i write that, i can also see how they caught and shared the light of their teachers. some light is as old as the tao, some as old as a humanish god. and some light is much older than that.

– this moon is telling me to notice every shadow on my face, accept my own darkness, emerge from any shadow that isn’t mine, surrender to the cycle of light and dark, and, when my time comes, be unapologetically bright.


(superfull af moon through branches, 1/21/19, 6:48am)

no monster will keep you safe at night

last week i made myself watch the ‘surviving r kelly’ documentary. i knew it was coming, and i knew it would not be easy to contend with. i have deep respect for the work of dream hampton, and i know her to be uncompromising and unflinching in her commitment to justice, especially for Black women and girls.

i wanted to watch the phenomenon as it unfolded in the public sphere, to be part of the collective experience. i also didn’t want to watch it alone, because i am a survivor and i have learned the hard way that if i am not careful, my own feelings of terror and shame can put me down in a hole where there is no bottom. watching it with others, hearing how we all gasped together, whispering ‘no’, shouting ‘oh my god’ at the most egregious reveals, crying together as these victims claimed their place as survivors, as survivors moved towards the light by telling their stories in a way that will make it harder for other girls to stumble into the dark place from which they – and we – are finally emerging.

what became crystal clear to me as i was watching the documentary was how capitalism was the river running through it. offering vulnerable people money, opportunity and stability in exchange for sexual favors, access and loyalty (their own, or that of their wives, sisters, daughters, sons) is a well worn practice.

the most terrifying story told in the film concerns a girl who was 12 when she met r kelly, 14 when she was filmed in a sex act with him, 21 when he was acquitted of child pornography (with the child and her parents ((including her dad who is credited as a guitar player on subsequent r kelly albums)) all denying it was her in the video, while her aunt, childhood best friend and high school coach all vouch that it is her), and the shocking news that, to date, she is still living with r kelly and ‘training’ his new victims.

what became clear to me was that one way the collective can do what law enforcement has failed to is by financially starving r kelly out of his hole.

to this end, i decided to make a playlist that covered some of the sexy territory r kelly has occupied with stomach-turning consistency. even when we knew the songs were about girls who could not possibly consent, people still played his music, requested it, were intimate to it.

for years i have left dance floors when r kelly’s music is played, and not streamed or played it on my own devices. i have been in an effort to decolonize and defang the things that i watch, listen to, read – trying to reprogram myself to feel power and wholeness inside a structure designed to make me feel incomplete, imperfect, and like there was something i needed to change or buy in order to be desirable.

after seeing the series, i wanted to be a small contribution to the collective effort to mute r kelly. if we stop listening, if we cut away at his income, he will not be able to continue paying the small army of people it takes to entrap and monitor these girls, to keep them in various homes around the country. muting r kelly is the most transformative path possible for accountability right now. so far, no matter what people say, r kelly has been able to use money from so many of us still buying concert tickets and streaming the music, and he has been able to enslave girl children for sexual abuse, both denying and flaunting his behavior without stopping the harm.

i want to explore, as carefully as possible, one thing that has happened since i posted the playlist. i populated the playlist with songs i know of and those suggested by others through social media. mostly people have been like ‘thank you! i needed this!’, and i even got a few testimonials from people who copulated to the playlist and vouch for its sexiness. whoop.

but a few people have responded by identifying other artists on the list as potential predators, explaining why they probably shouldn’t be on there.

when drake was 23 he pulled a girl up on stage and did lots of things with her before learning she was 17 (which some outlets have pointed out is ‘legal’ in colorado, where he was, though i am not sure what means in this context – she can drink, so she’s legally gropable?) and continued expressing attraction to her while saying this is how he gets in trouble. more recently he’s been developing a friendship with a young tv actress which many people have raised an eyebrow at, because we remember aaliyah…and generally have no reason to trust our favorite light skinned ho with any young ingenue.

miguel allegedly groped a fan’s breast during a photo and autograph moment backstage.

jaheim mistreated women.

prince groomed his young wife for years before they got together.

these facts are shared in a variety of ways – some just helpful, wanting to make sure i know. but some people seem almost gleeful, to have found another monster, and to then watch my next moves, will i align with a monster or what?

i have been very curious about my own reactions: it was easy not to put jaheim on the playlist, it was impossible to pull prince off of it. i have felt grateful for some of the news, annoyed by some of the news, and everything in between. in general this is true for my feelings during a lot of this last year of #metoo. sometimes it is easy to feel appalled, sometimes i feel a shrug in me, a question around the veracity of the stories or the intentions in bringing them forward. i sometimes feel shame at this wide range of responses, but i also want to get into why it exists.

of course on one level there is the very simple part of this…i don’t want to give up any artist i love, i don’t want to part with the art.

but then there is the other piece – i think there are monsters everywhere. it doesn’t make me feel better to identify someone else’s monstrous behavior, to show it. i am not particularly interested in the harm – i am interested in the healing.

i am a survivor, i know the terror that lives in the body when you have been touched the wrong way, hurt, sexually. i was hurt by people i knew and people i didn’t, by those with clear power over me and those who had none…well, none except the normilization of men claiming any part of a woman at any time, most recently embodied by our current president.

i have been in a relationship that i (and my partner at the time) realized was abusive. i have felt the shame of surviving, the shame of having gotten into such a situation. for that reason, i want to be the kind of person who says ‘trust survivors’ with ease.

but i have seen other things. i have seen unwell minds twist reality. i have seen opportunists weaponize every interaction. i have seen masterful manipulators at work, i have seen hurt people lead those who love them away from their wounds with misdirection, to cause more harm instead of generating healing. for this reason, i pay attention to patterns, to details, to my gut. i encourage others to navigate in this way.

and i have seen how mutable my own memories are, how i have to trust what i am learning to feel more than what my mind offers me for narratives on why i feel certain things.

so…my goal was not, and is never, to make any playlist that pretends there is purity, that there are all these good people and just one or two bad apples. my goal is help boycott r kelly’s music so that he cannot afford to upkeep his harm.

it is becoming easier daily to recognize r kelly as a monster we have grown up with. we know he was sexually harmed as a child by older family members, we know he can’t read, we know he has been involved in harming young girls (or, as one survivior put it, ‘weak minded women’) his entire career. but the things he has done are not unique to him.

dream has created an opportunity to tell this story and change it. to look at RCA and say, why do you support this? to look at every person who can play/stream music in the world, and say – don’t these girls matter to you?

but the desire to stop r kelly’s harmful patterns is not just about him. it’s about stopping the sexualizing of young girls, of young people. to stop the pattern of breaking young people’s sense of self and healthy sexuality during formative years. to stop his harm and start his healing.

no monster will keep us safe at night, and no individual accountability will create the new conditions we actually need – we have to widen our gaze to take in all of the community that keeps predatory behavior normalized and protected. r kelly, yes. and the jurors that acquit him. the parents who stuffed their daughters thru the tiny door of possible innocence offered by that acquittal. the brother, the staff people, the hundreds of people over the years that protected (and continue to protect) r kelly.

we all have people in our own families, schools, churches and workplaces that have passed off sexual predation as a harmless activity of men, as a spoil of masculinity. sexual harm, sexualizing young people, childhood sexual abuse – this is the water we are swimming in. #metoo is not just a grown up problem; it is, devastatingly, all about childhood, and how we protect it, how we raise sexually healthy and empowered generations. i am grateful to explore some of this in pleasure activism (out on ak press, february 2019), and grateful that my woe dani mcclain gives this a lot of space in her forthcoming book We Live for the We.

at the same time, we have to be cautious not to come up with a one size fits all response. sexual harm is not separate from us, and it isn’t uniform. it is extremely personal, it is fraught with shame and secrecy, and it can be a weapon.

if our approach to someone else causing sexual harm is gleeful finger pointing, and pushing people out of our lives and communities with a smile on our faces, then we will never actually disrupt the cycle of harm. when we approach sexual harm as if it is only in the realm of monsters, we miss the way it is our earthly burden, the way the roots of it grow under every aspect of human society, perhaps since we came into existence. this might be our first flaw and our greatest evolution. we all have to change.

and if we try to clump all levels of sexual harm together as one offense, we encourage those who have caused all manner of harm not to come forward, apologize, not to change.

the work is harder. the work is to listen to survivors and follow their lead, but from a place of being in community. we have to hold space for the complexity of everyone involved, and the belief that everyone can and will change, hopefully for the healthier. the work is to feel for what is authentic and true. the work is to notice each time we try to normalize something violent. and to have good boundaries around sex and permission and bodies in our own lives. the work is to make sure the children we are raising and loving are protected from the brainwashing and culture-washing that many of us fell prey to, whether or not we were overtly assaulted.

ultimately the work of ending childhood sexual abuse and patriarchal sexual assault is liberatory, not purgatory.

happy places, 2018

as i look back at this year, i see how it could be a bad, or hard, year. the irs grabbed me by the neck so i could barely breathe. trauma memories found me everywhere – on stages, in bed with lovers, during meetings that i was facilitating – clarity i’ve prayed for, but oh i didn’t want it when it came. i was disappointed in love experiments, and surprised by our limitations in our movement capacity. we were not able to keep Alana alive.

and yet. it was a year full of tenderness, and love, and pleasure, and miracles, and generosity. more than ever before, i was rigorous with my own attention. i was rigorous about putting my attention on the good, and moving towards the happy places available to me.

here is small list, in no particular order:

Alana’s bedside. i fell deeper in love with my friend as she was defying death and finding magic and pleasure and grief everywhere. the time we spent laughing and facing death together changed me.

standing in a room full of organizers getting the news that Siwatu is free. each room that conspired on her miraculous freedom.

Italy, on a small island where old friends reveled in each other and new friends delighted each other. we were so glamorous! a highlight for me was dancing naked in the moonlight as a lightning storm rolled in.

Thailand, a small apartment with old friends and their new baby, my new nibbling whose name means ‘ring around the moon’. learning breastfeeding and endurance, remembering the sacred service of postpartum doula work, interspersed with ritual, Buddha and a daunting bout with fecal waterfalls.

nibblings…so many nibblings so little time. i write this while one nibbling is on my lap in cat ears and another waits for me to continue rubbing her back. my blood nibblings are joined by those i’ve chosen, and those who have chosen me. my upstairs neighbor nibbling yells out to me from the stairs by my door, and if i’m home i come running. i have a nibbling who started reading before she knew the alphabet. i feel joy and huge auntie capacity, and anytime i’m with them, it’s a happy place.

la (or anywhere) with my woes. started the year with beach and my woes. we found each other in many places this year. we did rituals and held each other up and got so much done by living as a community. i am more excellent than i was at the beginning of this year.

anime on the couch…most relationships don’t last, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some good in there. this year i spent a lot of time watching anime on my couch with someone sweet who let me hold onto their soft belly, and it was good, and it was a comfort.

time with my plants – actually, any time at home, period. i feel in love with my plant babies, and with the sweet rhythm of a life that supports the well being of plants. i love the way light pours into my kitchen, the little blue cave of my room, sunbathing on my deck, hot baths, being cozy in my living room. i love my home, and i know time there is still too rare.

writing time. i finished two books this year, and a zine. it will all come out in 2019. i went to martha’s vineyard and wrote in the deep quiet. i wrote in new orleans during a cold snap. i wrote in detroit, on planes, in baths, in stolen moments, on the edges of my life. i wrote for free, i wrote for patrons, i wrote things that made me laugh and things that came from great weeping. writing is ALWAYS my happy place.

sistercation/family time – my sisters and i went to see Beyoncé this year and just get deep check ins. i also got quality time with my parents, who jump through fire for me and make sure i know they love me and are proud of my work. i love that, as a family, we put in work on being sisters to each other across borders, families, time limits, technology and distance. this is how we hold each other through changes.

somatic space! being a student and trainer with generative somatics meant that i got to spend several weeks of this year watching and feeling as people leapt wholeheartedly into their highest selves. ghosts and dreams meet in those rooms.

goddess weekend! the group of women i went to college with has become a circle of brilliant, creative bad ass leaders raising families and standards for what our species can be. i am so humbled that i have won these additional sisters. i love our commitment to annual extravagance.

emergent strategy immersions and facilitation training. i scarcely know how to speak of these. my dream, my deepest most tender vision, grew this year. so many people took risks and gave of themselves to grow with me this year. so many people showed up to give me feedback, to weave with me. i can’t even express the gratitude, it’s too much and when i think of it i am moved to tears.

podcasting…primarily i am grateful to get to be in transformative conversation with my sister in a regular basis through How to Survive, but also getting to be a guest on so many other podcasts. i love conversation as a way of learning, and i always think grace lee boggs would be pleased by the practice.

Black space! whether it was BOLD gatherings, or facilitating for BYP100 and BLM GLOBAL and M4BL, i was continually blessed to get to hold space and be with some of the most brilliant Black people alive. i know who i am meant for.

opening up gifts and care packages. i love gooood gifts so much!

there are so many more, but these are the highlights. and i am grateful for how much i’ve learned about putting my attention on beauty, love and freedom and going that way through all obstacles. thank you all for being a part of this good life.

the cold moon

the year is almost over and it’s a massive moment for release – solstice and full moon! the darkest night and the cold full moon, somehow it works together in a beautiful impossible contradiction. have you seen the moon tonight! i can’t take my eyes off of her, she is so full and fat that i feel beautiful.

tonight, it is a time for letting go. here is a recipe for release:

i release my fear of the dark. i promise to trust that the shadows will shift as i grow and change.

i release any grasp oppressors still have on my attention. i promise to give my dreams and waking life to that which inspires me, and those who love me.

i release any traces of scarcity in my heart. i offer love, joy and connection from the incredible regenerating well that is sourced from the very miracle of my own life.

also…thank you moon, for bathing us in light, for showing us the rhythms between light and dark. thank you for moving me so viscerally that i cannot sleep, for pulling the tide out of me, and for teaching me the sacred value of reflection.

the runs: poetic reflections

i don’t want to tell you about what’s happening here my last day in thailand, except i am obviously about to because i’m an awake writer experiencing something daunting. and everyone i could tell about this is asleep.

y’all. the speed with which microorganisms have put me in my place is so humbling. i am fascinated in my misery.

my weak american gut has been bested by something here, something that doesn’t harm those who live here. i am trying not to take it personally, even though being an american means always being somewhat responsible for the mess.

i don’t want to even guess what caused this, because i don’t want to cast aspersions at all the yummy things i’ve bravely tried. after my swift and violent midvisit reaction to the strange fruit called durian, i’ve been more cautious about putting things in my mouth. but i’m human, so i did put things in my mouth. delicious and sometimes mysterious things. and one of those things changed me.

this morning i woke up feeling like i was nauseous with hunger. i felt a gaping growing void in the center of my system, which slowly began to burp and bubble in a way that whispered, gently, ‘don’t fart’.

i tried to eat oatmeal, but the nausea was stronger than the hunger, so i chilled on that. after two sweet rounds with baby and parents, supporting them through a night that involved six hours of baby feeding and only two hours of sleep, i retired to my room feeling like a balloon. a balloon full of toxic carbonation.

there i tried to sleep the strange gaseous nausea away (but that just made it even bubblier, get it?). i brought a trashcan near the bed, because as a Virgo i try to never be unprepared for mess.

the alien force in my body apparently took that as a sign of welcome and immediately bent me over that trashcan and started trying to free itself through my mouth. i moved to the bathroom and got the cherished and, to date, avoided, experience of becoming a passageway, with a river flowing out from me in every direction.

i had the brief moment that i suspect most of us who live with eating disorders experience in the first seconds of the runs – ooh i’m going to lose some weight! then i was on my knees feeling how i love every pound of flesh i’ve acquired and apologizing for anything i did to bring this harm into me.

it was not beautiful. i prayed for breaks so i could breathe and wipe away tears. i felt cleansed at every level of my being. at this point i also had to relinquish the narrative that it was just gas.

gas doesn’t make fecal waterfalls.
too much?
yes, it is too much. but it’s also real life. and it’s happening to me.

i did research and found many names i won’t repeat (they all sound western and colonial) for what is happening to me, because fecal waterfalls, while cringe worthy, is the most accurate. i’ve spent the last eight hours trying to sleep between Jackie Joyner Kersee paced dashes to the loo.

the “sleeping” is hard because the bacteria inside me are engaged in a muy thai tournament to the death. i even attempted some slow, distraught packing, which looked like carrying one small thing at a time to my suitcase and then catching my breath. the whole time i heard myself chanting “oh lord God why do you smite me so? am i not your child, perfect lord? have i not tried obsessively hard to avoid fecal matter on food?”, knowing all along that my late grandfather would chastise me for only turning to Him on my deathbed.

the internet says i will be fine in a couple of days. it says to stay hydrated, a miraculous task i must somehow achieve with substances that only seem to source the waterfall. i’m chugging liquids into a dusty forlorn mouth.

i’m sad because i want to be relishing the last hours with my baby friend instead of laying in fetal position, feeling like a less than cute newborn giant who has no sense of shame or timing and probably needs a new diaper.

but this writing is cathartic, i really do need to process this in words, reclaim myself as a being of coherence, not incontinence. i don’t think you need to read about my fecal matter or anyone else’s, but i’m grateful for the imagined company.

and no regrets – i’m so glad i came here, i love it.

i’m really glad i went exploring yesterday, and that this didn’t come over me outside the hotel.

i got to chant with a protector Buddha, and do rituals with a reclining Buddha for beloved ones living and beyond.

i’m grateful for this journey and for getting to witness the first weeks of this dynamic little being who responds so sweetly to my silly auntie songs.

i’m praying that this resolves itself before my flight tomorrow. won’t you help me pray? that the chaotic little bacteria within me find peace, that they go back the way they came…no, let me be precise cause i can’t do that when-do-i-get-to-breathe barf thing again. let’s pray that they let go of their death grip on my tender-boweled body and go with the flow, back into that great great sewage of 18 million souls.

mkay? mkay.

when in thailand on the fourth thursday of november

I made gluten free stovetop mac and cheese with tapioca flour, coconut cream, and four kinds of cheese, none of which are cheddar. and none of my usual kitchen tools. and it’s effing delicious, because I am adaptable, and trust in garlic salt.

I prefer ham to any turkey ever.

I feast today in honor of indigenous people who have survived the long and violent encounters of colonization. survived with bows, arrows, wit, collectivity, protocol, culture, resistance. and adaptation. I grieve the role my ancestors and the country of my birth have played in breaking our right relationship with this land, and pray for those wounded ghosts.

I’m grateful to be working hard to get us right.
I’m grateful to be holding a sleeping baby who will be raised outside the narrative of American exceptionalism.
I’m grateful I met Alana and got to know her.
I’m grateful I can make yummy food in any conditions.
I’m grateful for my sweet father, born this day.
and so much more.

me, but in thailand

i’m sitting in a hospital lobby while sheets of rain pour down outside a wall of glass. in this nation of medical tourism, the hospital lobby feels like a four star hotel, including a man playing a baby grand piano. my way is the song of this moment. i’ve been in bangkok less than 24 hours and i’m quite taken with all the small ways i can feel that i’m in a new place.

the drivers sit on the right side of car. they drive on the right side of the road. i have crossed to the upside down of the world and the clock i know. what stands out – an open air night market, the green everywhere – close all around the buildings and shooting up even from the tallest roofs. and temples and altars around every corner. it’s humid heat, it slides into the skin fast and, for me, makes me move slower and breathe deeper.

i’m a journey traveler, i love the whole thing. i love getting lost, i can handle delays and changes of plan (yesterday i got lost at heathrow and had to spend the whole day there waiting for next flight out), i love being on planes and staring out the window, i love being surrounded by a multitude of different languages, i love intuitive sign language directions from the backs of cabs, and how google has made it both easier to get around and more hilarious (google translate told my driver i wanted to go see a really tall lady part, and i wonder how it knew that), i love the changes in culture and perspective, and then finding the ways humans are the same, children are the same, wherever i go.

i am here to doula for my friends, although their baby already came and the whole set up here is so sweet that a lot of my normal doula work – cleaning, cooking, cleaning – is covered. so i get to stare at this little one and then explore bangkok. with all the grief and crisis and excitement and work of this year, i have deeply needed this away time, it already feels so good, like so me, but in thailand. the rain has stopped. time for massage.

Dear Stacey

Dear Stacey,

Don’t give in.

I lived in Georgia for four years once. Sometimes when I tell my story I include the truth that I learned about racism in Georgia – I’d experienced it before, but Georgia was where it was organized, a shameless system.

Don’t give in.

Now I’m in Detroit. We had a relatively good election. But it was you I couldn’t look away from…I watched your race as if borders didn’t exist and I could vote for you! I couldn’t sleep until I knew you weren’t giving in.

Don’t give in!

We know you won. We feel it. You are real, and you love us, you won us. Every Georgian I know voted for you. Everyone else, we donated, we reached out to all of our Georgia people, we made calls, we spread the word. And we all plan to vote for you one day.

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Please don’t give in. Even if you can’t get light into every shadow of this race, even if you are told to concede, even if they try to complete the story, you ain’t finished yet.

You are a love scholar, a romance novelist – this is a love story. We see who you are, and we love you. We’re staying. We won’t give in.

love,
amb and errybody I know

election day spell

spell for election day; utter out loud anytime between 12:01 and poll closing where you are. #goodwitch #spells #castouttheconfederacy #blacknovember

we recognize that voting
is only meaningful when we act together
as movement, as future ancestors

today we put aside our egos
we set down perfection,
and our privilege,
and our butbutbutandand righteousness

today we show up for those furthest from power
those carrying the most of our burden
those we’ve already lost to hate in this pale time
we say no where it is the only humane word
and yes where it is a way forward, another breath

we hold history and future in the balance.
we vote to take up our responsibility
we vote as both prayer and blessing
we open the way, widen the way, change the way
ashe

we are intelligent (grieving alana)

my friend alana died last weekend.

i say friend even though we had very little time in person together, and even though by the time i met her in person she was already diagnosed with metastatic cancer so there was a time limit, which i figured we could best with magic. really i was her fan. but i say friend because she was the coolest, and i dedicated part of my heart to her forever.

i fell in love with her in large part because my friend malkia loved alana in so big a way that everyone who heard about or witnessed the love felt blessed to hold a part of it. it felt like the parachute game from my childhood: everyone hold her here, and live in her beautiful circumference.

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after we met, alana and i played games together on our phones (she always won by a lot – and i never took it easy), and i meditated and visualized her health every day. i sent her original songs/jingles, tarot cards, energy and spells on big medical days. loving alana, with and in addition to malkia, became a daily practice. it’s a continuing daily practice for a huge community of people.

when we did hang out we talked. we got high together. we talked about fear and pleasure and big love and what really matters in life. we talked about mindfulness, and how she wanted to keep her attention on life and love. we talked about how badass she felt going through the challenges of cancer (“i was awake while they did shit to my brain!”), and about how much she really didn’t want to die. and then about how cancer was hard. and then about what shows i thought she had to watch before she died.

alana was intelligent – “having or showing the ability to easily learn or understand things, or to deal with new or difficult situations” (merriam webster)

alana had a kind of intelligence beyond any dictionary, too. it is the intelligence that recognizes how unique and miraculous life is, an intelligence that moves towards the best of life – love, pleasure, laughter, nature, connection, ice cream, dirty dancing, play. she rapped kendrick lamar flawlessly. she had an emotional intelligence that allowed her to feel what she was feeling and say so, and find love and connection that was about honesty and feeling together. when the worst news came, she could feel her fear in direct relation to all she loved, and she could wish such love and fear on everyone.

i want to admit that i have been feeling the peculiar bitterness that comes when i lose one of my intelligent friends on a day when lots of unintelligent (by any definition) people continue to live and make horrible decisions that effect me and the whole planet and future.

is there a name for that?

through my grief i notice how ok i am with the human reality that everyone dies, and how not ok i am with us dying in unfair ways, too early, for reasons that may be related to other people’s unintelligent choices about how to exist on this planet. i feel cancer that way, as some misguided response to an environment that is more physically and emotionally toxic each year. it makes me furious that cancer is so abundant and insatiable, and yet not one of the central focuses of our species…we’d rather foment war and wackness.

i feel angry and sad i didn’t get more alana in my life, and i’m grateful for how generous she and malkia were with her/their time, that i got to laugh and sing and learn with her, that so many people got to spend time with her.

and in her honor, i want to redefine intelligence. i don’t care if someone is really quick of mind, not if they only use it to compete with others, to deny the precious gift of life, to injure the relationship we have to the planet as a species. i want intelligence to be measured by the standard of alana – by a commitment to pleasure and loving life.

or the standard of my friend yulanda, who died last year, who made life – particularly moments of terrifying transition – delicious.

or my mother’s best friend kathy, who died last year, who worked to create abundant food sources so all humans could eat.

or my friend donaji’s son chuy, who died last year, who stayed a child in many ways, who giggled when he received grown up art projects (like collective get well cards).

i want intelligence to be a function of adapting to changing circumstances by always moving towards love and right relationship. not just surviving, but filling our days with pleasure and caring and delight, reveling in life.

i want to stop celebrating the quick stupidity of those who use their minds to keep us from each other, or disrespect/harm our connection to our only home in this universe, to those who choose misery, isolation, destruction and ignorance as a life path.

i want to change governance and schooling and media and philanthropy and architecture and math and research patterns and city planning and all human systems to align with alana’s intelligence.

during this thin time, i want ancestors old and brand new to be heard, telling us how precious the miracle of life is, guiding us to treasure it, to taste the ice cream, to say yes over and over to love, to organize our lives and structures around beauty and connection, and to claim our transformative capacity with each breath.