Rihanna’s ‘Anti': A Pleasure Activist’s Review/Love Note

I got on the plane today and somehow didn’t have access to Formation. I flailed around a bit, and then remembered that I downloaded Anti last week and hadn’t gotten listening time yet. And I just wanted to let y’all know I listened to Rihanna’s latest offering for the last few hours, and I really like it! And the more I listen to it, the more I like it. It has its own mood, it feels good.

(Actually, before I really begin…if you are newer to this blog, hi, I’m adrienne. I look at the world through eyes that seek to love it and be awed. I focus on pleasure, experiential learning, emergence, feelings, solutions, transformation and evolution.

I am a sci fi and visionary fiction and memoir/blog writer/facilitator/healer/doula/pleasure activist. Virgo with Scorpio moon and Aries rising.

I generally write about something when I like it and want to revel in that, or want to understand why I’m drawn in. I rarely give my attention to things I don’t like, unless I can see a way my attention will change those things, because I believe that what we pay attention to grows and I want to grow the good.

I pour most of my political critique into my political work as a social justice facilitator, emergent strategist and sci fi writer.

If you want really nuanced and thorough political analyses of pop culture, there are professional cultural critics out there! My role is more in the range of radical unicorn diva doula, loving my way free. I especially love supporting and consuming the art of black women, with compassion for the many things we have to burst through, navigate, learn, unpack, compromise, develop, resource and/or conquer to create.

Some of my favorite artists aren’t very famous or wealthy. Some are. Some are really woke, others are awakening, and some are still drowsy. I started my political work in the realm of harm reduction and I deeply believe in meeting people where they are at and taking the next steps together towards more power and pleasure. Poor people, rich people, whoever. Want to get free? Cool. Since we not there yet, we can learn together.

To that end, I prioritize my work and attention to projects that serve black people and people who have intersecting experiences of oppression, and who are interested in getting free.

I believe we get free together, that every exchange has the potential to transform us, and that no one is disposable.

I just wanted to say these things because the internet can be a really big, confusing place to come across something new, and over the last few days a lot of new eyes been around here.

You are super welcome here, with all your divergent opinions and struggles and uncut joy and learning together feels, as long as your root motivating energy is that of love and your tone is respectful).

Now onto my review:

I kind of love this album y’all! I want to put it on for a sexy grown folks party with the lights low and some casual grinding and/or laughter going on in the corner.

Rihanna’s voice is unique, lived in, complex and mature, while still playful. It’s got a personality I want to go kick it with.

She does some really lovely things with it on this album: quirky on Consideration, full bodied on Higher and Love on the Brain, sexy on Yeah I Said It and Sex with Me, mysterious in a Banks way on Needed Me, experimental on Woo and Goodnight Gotham. She revisits the Stay energy with Close To You. I like the Willow-esque abstractions of Same Ol’ Mistakes. There are a few places, like Work (which I’m adding to my get hype facilitation playlist! Featuring my favorite yoga vocalist Drake), and Desperado, where she does that D’Angelo slide – which I like a lot when used appropriately – the one where she’s expressing the feeling directly, letting words, which can be a mode of emotional translation, slide together and then away.

The sounds woven through the music are intriguing to me – Prince guitars, what sounds like a Florence and the Machine sample or maybe remixed cover, with songs that veer between Genesis soft rock ballad, gangster Western, space echoes, all conduiting up through her Caribbean roots.

I am listening on repeat as I write, and the album as a whole continues growing on me. In large part this is because I like the pleasure in Rihanna’s presented life, and in her lyrics. Several times she describes what love, sex, or just general time with her consists of: smoking a j and having an amazing time.

My favorite song on the album is called Sex With Me: “sex with me is so amazing…always wet never need lip gloss on it…even when I’m alone”.

Beautifully done.

And as weed slowly legalizes across the US, it’s encouraging to have artists/humans who are destigmatizing it’s use besides Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa and Miley Cyrus.

This is one of the ways culture shifts. Through art that reflects the times.

This particular culture shift around the most gifted weed continues to be necessary so that all these people growing up and old in prisons for weed possession/use can get free. The second song of the album, James Joint, starts out with her gentle voice singing “I’d rather be smoking weed”. I can see the bumper sticker now.

When I hear Rihanna’s music, there’s a level of my listening that is tuned in for lyrical signs of abusive intimate dynamics. Just how it is. I listen for what she’s learning and practicing around it, projecting protection and black love in her direction, listening the way I always want my loved ones to listen to me.

So there’s two songs that gave me pause around this – Kiss It Better, and Love On The Brain. Kiss It Better is all about make up sex after your partner does something wrong – “who cares when it feels like crack?”.

Who doesn’t make intimate mistakes every now and then? But that line in partnership with a line in Love On The Brain where she says love “beats me black and blue, but it fucks me so good and I can’t get enough” becomes worthy of attention.

I just want to make clear that I believe that on-crack feeling is not the love you run towards, and nothing that beats you black and blue is love.

Those lines feel different to me than the line “I want you to homicide it” on Yeah I Said It, though I’m still putting my finger on why. During the conference call I hosted for radical leaning humans to process the love and emotions around Beyonce’s 2014 self titled release, we talked about the way Jay Z spoke of beating the pussy up, referencing the violence of Mike Tyson and Ike Turner. While most folks couldn’t see it for his verse, there were a few women on the call who spoke up about really enjoying ‘rough’ sex and ‘shocking’ sexual language (using ‘ ‘ because everything here is relative), even/especially as survivors.

What we do in the pursuit/realm of pleasure can be fantastical and dangerous, and the power of exploring those edges in honest communication with others can be healing. It feels like Rihanna is exploring an edge with us on this album.

She serves some skillful shade In this text too, I’ll leave that for y’all to discover. It’s delightful and subtle.

Finally, I love this line from Same Ol’ Mistakes, it might be my favorite – “I feel like a brand new person, so how do I know if it’s right?”

True. Always.

Beyonce’s Visionary Fiction: Formation

Like many of you, yesterday I was sitting in my house minding my own Black History/Futures Month business when Beyonce did this:

This video.

My first reaction:

“Wow. Thanks to musette Tunde Olaniran for letting me know Beybe gave us something new. There is so much going on here and a lot of it gave me feels (tears…Blue Ivy opening and then that baby boy vs the riot squad??).”

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“Overall it reads as Bey slaying (sp) no to govt/popo killing us with no impunity, and I’m absolutely here for it.”

Then I came back to say: “this video keeps on giving. Each viewing there are so many gifts and blessings. Each line is conversational, it is constructed to be used in pieces or as a whole to transform a situation. Spell casting place-based brilliance.”

And this Sunday morning I have watched it several more times, and realized that above and beyond the level of excellence I expect from Beyonce, she is serving visionary fiction here.

But before I even get to the visionary fiction aspects of this work: the references made throughout this video are so satisfying, so uplifting – New Orleans is in the pace, in the lighting, in that black southern mythical witch Marie Laveau finger lickin life and death Sunday church realness. Beyonce rocking her long blond hair preference but meeting haters with braids. Every single outfit, every move, all three perfect seconds of the conqueror Blue Ivy, all of it. Stanned out.

Like, I love that only a chorus separates the middle-fingers-up promise of how she will respond to good sex from the black-bodies-dancing Sunday church spirit catching. Pleasure activism. This is real life.

And then…so visionary fiction, a concept Walidah Imarisha taught me, which we have been popularizing with Octavia’s Brood, centers traditionally marginalized communities, posits change as something that is bottom up and collective, neither utopian nor dystopian. Visionary fiction understands that there is no neutral ground, that art is either advancing or regressing justice.

I think parts of this video (a video which also has non-radical elements, I know, I’m open to that conversation) are as radical a seeding of visionary futures as the lunch counter sit-ins. Stay with me – after the country saw black and white people sitting together at that counter they couldn’t unsee it – it was an option, it was a possibility. It was an aspiration.

In this video, at a point where Beyonce has already taken us from the adorable to the raunchy to the ecstatic, and instructed us to get in formation!!!!, we get to see a riot squad surrender to the body brilliance of a black boy in a hoodie, dancing in the middle of the street.

One day after Trayvon Martin’s birthday. And, as my friend YK Hong points out, one day before Sandra Bland’s birthday.

Then we pan over graffiti which says, in case you are in any way confused: Stop Shooting Us.

Then, a police. car. sinks. into. the. NOLA. waters.

With the Queen Bey as a human sacrifice to keep it down!

I/We cannot unsee these things, they speak so completely to the longing to drown the impulse of white supremacy, of violence against my/our people.

And then, finally, one of the central lyrics is basically a visionary fiction mantra:

I dream it
I work hard
I grind til
I own it

We create from what we can imagine. We are living right now inside the imaginings of people whose mental illness makes them believe they are superior to other human beings. This video is part of the resistance, the new imaginings that we use to pull ourselves towards liberation.

I feel so proud of Beyonce, so moved by director Melina Matsoukas’ vision in action, and just want to say thank you everyone who shaped this incredibly timely work. We needed this, and we need more artists to deliver this kind of flawless politicized work. Art is our public sphere, our culture shaping cauldron. This is a precious black love offering.

Now. Go slay.

book reviews from reading/writing retreat 2015-16

Book Reviews from my reading in Mexico:

Falling in Love with Hominids, Nalo Hopkinson
Beautiful, sensual and intriguing collection of short stories. I love how Nalo writes, could read her writing about almost anything. Standouts in here are a story about children in a world with a virus where aging turns you into a monster, and another about grief for a lost sister that carved me open.

Savage Holiday, Richard Wright
Well written and strange experiment by Wright to do a book with no black characters as a study of man, and in this case a study of a pretty abhorrent man. What I enjoyed was the inner monologue distress as circumstances get to out of hand. Read a bit long for me though, and I sought more redemption.

In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje
Ahhhh. Ah ah ah. this is exquisite writing. This story takes place before The English Patient and we get introduced to some of the characters we see there. Everything small is made visible, the sensual writing gave me goosebumps and longing, the story moves in various directions that almost lose each other at times, but the writing and character development and inner focus are so stunning that it made me realize that that is also how life is. Stunning.

Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk
I couldn’t finish this book. I wanted it to be like Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children in terms of weaving between a place and a story, but I felt underwhelmed by the story. Maybe something is lost in translation but it felt like a really really slow long study of melancholy. I am still excited to go to Istanbul this year though.

Demian, Hermann Hesse
This one started slow for me, similar to Istanbul it felt a little navel gaze-y, which I have a low tolerance for from male writers of a certain era (the past). But then the book really landed in it’s shameless philosophical exploration of the dark side of energy and experience in the world, or rather a liberation from good and evil as a binary framework, and invitation to accept the whole. Hesse published this originally as if the author were the main character, only a decade later claiming it as his own work. Reading the second half I found myself stopping, underlining, gasping, saying ‘you did that!’ and really experiencing a reader ecstasy.

Some of my favorite lines:

An enlightened man had but one duty – to seek the way to himself, to reach inner certainty, to grope his way forward no matter where it led.

We create gods and struggle with them, and they bless us.

That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself. You can be happy that way. But..

A priest does not want to convert, he merely wants to live among believers….to be the instrument and expression for the feeling from which we create our gods.

Whether you and I and a few others will renew the world someday remains to be seen. But within ourselves we must renew it each day.

If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is a part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.

Your soul…you’ve borrowed it: it has existed for thousands of years.

He even brought out a zoology book and showed me the names and illustrations of these anachronistic fish. And with a peculiar shudder I felt that an organ from an earlier period of evolution was still alive within me.

The surrender to Nature’s irrational, strangely confused formations produces in us a feeling of inner harmony with the force responsible for these phenomena…if the outside world was destroyed, a single one of us would be capable of rebuilding it…every natural form is latent within us, originates in the soul whose essence is eternity, whose essence we cannot know but which most often intimates itself to us as the power to love and create.

Sooooo gorgeous and good.

OK. Next book!

Changing Planes, Ursula Le Guin

Fifteen worlds explored through the lens of a frequent airline traveler who learns to slip through planes of existence. She is anthropological, and prolific in it. Lovely concept, well executed.

There’s a line in the intro that offended me, surprised me. I’ll ask her about it if we meet.

The Teachings of Don Juan, Carlos Casteneda
Wow. I finished this book a week ago and Don Juan is still walking around with me everywhere I go. Really intriguing approach, I love being with the skeptical protagonist as he learns these lessons which made me…I really felt, inside, what he learned, or rather what he got on the page. Death is on your left at arm’s reach – don’t deny it, accept it. Respect it. Be less accessible – be intentional which your energy. I am the bird, the ant, no more important, no less miraculous. This is a liberation. I highly recommend this book and am grateful to everyone who pointed me to his writings. Hungry for more.

Doris Lessing, The Making of the Representative for Planet 8
This is tough. Grace Lee Boggs recommended this author and series to me, and I feel the values in this book so much. But the writing plods along, and this particular book is really focused on misery, the death of a planet, for pages and pages and pages. And we should consider this, understand this is a fractal prophecy. But it’s been hard work to read her words – I wonder if people who mostly read nonfiction political work would find her a good bridge though.

Cosmopolis, Don Delillo
This book was disturbing in this odd blip of Trump’s presidential effort. It’s a ridiculously wealthy and wordy man having a breakdown. There is some real poetry, and interesting sex…and I like how Delillo writes. Took me a while to read. My favorite character was an advisor of his who is into chaos theory. Lots of people not to like, lots of randomness that felt, to me, like the emptiness that comes from having too much for too long.

things i think i said at eso won books

the other night i got to do an artist talk at eso won books, in leimert park los angeles. super grateful to cultural shapeshifter lynnee denise from international locals who organized the event, which included an artist talk with the sci fi writer nature grrrrl homey lisa bolekaja, and a book signing. it felt like a portal opened up, and i said some things. below are those things. afterwards i got to sign their big book of famous signatures where octavia butler’s signature from 2005 was on the first page! then i was told that one of my future wives, queen latifah, had just purchased octavia’s brood the night before.

!!!

so here are some thoughts:

as you do anything, as you write new stories, you are either moving towards justice or away. there is not a neutral space actually, you’re either perpetuating the existing paradigm of power, or you are disrupting it. that’s why visionary fiction is important, fiction that intentionally disrupts existing paradigms of oppression.

writing sci fi, writing futures we want, is a mindfulness practice. we need mindfulness practices to intentionally grow a future up through our collective and familiar cycles of trauma.

time is non-linear – octavia butler’s stories or nina simone’s music are good proof of this, as relevant now as when they were writing and singing it.

(in response to a question around what and how we create in a world that doesn’t want to acknowledge and celebrate our work…referencing hugos, world fantasy, oscars, etc, i stood up and turned around and said:) look at me. look at my body. i don’t have a body that is seen and affirmed in the mainstream space. i see some reference to it now in people like nicki minaj, but still nothing quite like all of this. so learning to love my body has been choice after choice after practice. it has included self documentation, self pornography, not engaging lovers who want my body to change, learning how i like to look and feel, learning what health is for me. my mind is as divergent from the mainstream as my body is. all of our minds are. which means we can’t look to mainstream systems for affirmation and approval – that’s why we created octavia’s brood. that’s why there are anthologies, and malkia cyril’s work and center for media justice are fighting to keep the web accessible to all, so we have room to create our own spaces and celebrate ourselves. our self love and full realization are dangerous to the mainstream.

capitalism has skewed what we think is enough. everything doesn’t have to be huge bestseller on mainstream markets for everyone. figure out who you want to reach and measure success against that.

we have rituals for collective trauma – we spread the word, and our outrage, on social media where you have to be careful, the trauma is on auto play. we create a hashtag and seek justice and take action and then when justice is often not send we have a next round of grief. we listen to music and sing and numb ourselves. we have less ritual for collective healing. black zen teacher angel kyodo williams pointed that out to me, how technology is connecting our pain so fast, but we have to develop the individual and collective capacity not just to respond, but to evolve together beyond this paradigm.

(in response to a question of the difference between black sci fi and afrofuturism). i see black sci fi as a literal thing, black people doing sci fi – it includes anything, can be the regular old tropes, action narratives, can be conservative, heteronormative, misogynist, etc. whereas afrofuturism to me implies a worldview beyond the western paradigm, being explicitly distinct, born from a different perspective from the mainstream white male American sci fi stuff.

create create create. find people to read your work and get feedback and let people see and hear and engage the part of the future you hold.

on being with what is

i often write when i am learning about something. for some time i have been learning to get present, and be with what is in the current moment. it is much much harder than i thought it would be. it has meant noticing the ways i numb, regress, resist, ignore and deny the present moment, and asking myself why.

this being with what IS, enhanced by meditation and somatics and tarot and my woes and my family and most recently my time away from the u.s. and facebook, is such a powerful learning. i am closer and closer to living in the present moment – i am closing the gap between anticipating/observing my life and actually living it.

i wanted to share with y’all some of my practice ground of late, which has included, but not been limited to, the following:

– sometimes it rains for a week in mexico. the week i was planning to beach and scuba dive was rainy and cold. but i found that there was no feeling of anger or ‘why me, why now’ that would change the weather. so i bought tea and read books and watched ants and listened to the rain pounding on the little skylight and did rituals and booked cheap massages. and i think it ended up being much more restful than my plans would have been.

– David Bowie died, and he was only 69, which seems so very young. he influenced me more than i can pinpoint, his existence was one invitation into the creative weird life that i am carving out for myself, loving earth and space and flesh and magic and colors and travel and art and music. but he is dead. and Grace is dead. and both of them gave me a gift: turning and facing death. listening to the album Bowie released on his birthday, days before his death, is almost a trans-life/death experience. he took the truth that he was going to die and created from it something ethereal, stunning.

Grace, similarly, faced her death and said yes, let me go/come, i am ready.

i have been so scared of death, and so angry with it for showing up all the time. i have seen so much unexpected death, where i didn’t have a sense that my lost ones were ready for the change that came. this intimate/stranger modeling is such a lesson.

i also read a book by carlos casteneda that i will review in my next post – the central figure of the book is an elder named don juan who teaches carlos that death is always with us, to the left, at arm’s reach. to accept and live with that is a fundamental part of a liberation process.

when i finished the first draft of the emergent strategy book earlier this month, i journaled that i felt a new kind of satisfaction. not a desire to die, i adore life. adore it.

but i also felt this sense of having done something that made my existence worthwhile, completed some cycle of expression that i have been playing at for years. there’s editing, but the raw yawp is out.

maybe the world needs this book as much as i do, maybe it doesn’t. but i came here to do a few things…as far as i can tell so far, that includes being good at love, seeding octavia’s brood, and this emergent strategy book. i feel satisfied.

– i landed from mexico into minnesota on the coldest night of the year. as the cold touched me all over my sunkissed skin i kept saying to myself, you really love, you really love, you really love – it was my youngest nibbling Mairead’s 3rd birthday, and i haven’t been with her on that day since her birth, where i got to be her doula. the babies were all super snuggly with me and i really needed that. Mairead and i spent most of her birthday curled up on the couch, watching dora the explorer (such a deeply repetitive show – one madlib style script really….) and the little mermaid. it was so perfect.

i only got two days there, which nibbling Siobhan let me know was not really adequate to her (because she wanted to read me more books – she is basically teaching herself to read because she is brilliant), and i agreed.

but the thing i want to bring up for practice here is that my oldest nibbling, Finn, asked me on my last night there (before a seven am departure) if he could sleep in bed with my mom and i.

as usual when we visit, we’re sharing a futon that is tight for the two of us. but i can’t say no to Finn! so i say: if you wake up early in the morning, you can come down.

to which he says, ‘is that in thirty minutes?’, which should have been a clue about his intentions.

i said no, like, five hours?

he’s like bet.

so around two am he is standing by the bed tapping my shoulder. i scoot over and make room, and then move him between us. and i would say my mom and i didn’t really sleep after that, just adjusted ourselves in various uncomfortable positions with Finn in the middle.

Finn is. and i am not his parent, this won’t happen a ton in our short lives. so, i watched him sleep, i wrapped him up in the covers, i contorted around his long limbs. and then i lay there in the dark, feeling so much love for him, and for my family, and for these kids who know how to be so openly loving.

– i am getting to a next level of my grief for Grace, for which i am grateful. i feel her in me, in us. i landed in Detroit and within two hours was in and facilitating a meeting, then went to another meeting, a circle of local healers who are going to be offering our work to a fellowship of low-income students this semester. and i feel her all in us. part of ‘what is’ is that she is with us all now, in us, lesson/essence. and when i look up from looking back to find her in my memories, she’s right here.

– i gave to a white homeless person for the first time ever. i always resist it on some principle i haven’t even articulated to myself: no, you’re white. i am not a fan of this form of charity anyway. and this is black Detroit, and you are gentrifying even the begging corners? no.

but…last night my thoughts shifted. who am i to limit my compassion according to some system i didn’t create, that is so much more complex than black/white? or hold this moral or political high ground, when i can see this human being’s face, and he can see mine?

what is? right now?

it’s so cold outside. cold enough that no one would be outside if they had an inside.
and i have a car full of food and a life full of met needs and abundance.
and his skin privilege has not kept him from this corner.
and maybe he doesn’t agree with charity either. who knows.

he said he was grateful, and he blessed me, and i said the same.

– i over-scheduled my return. i knew it as i was doing it, but i wanted as much writing/retreat time as possible, and then i wanted to be fully present with family. a lot of people were waiting for me to return and do things.

so. i landed, dropped my suitcase and went straight to work. as i write this, i have not unpacked. that’s major for me.

but the whole time i kept/keep thinking, this is so good! this is my good full strange life. i planned this, i got all the time i needed, i got to be so present, and now here i am. and retreat or no retreat, i am aware that i am a relatively slow person in a fast world, and i am still making it happen.

as a result of all this Being with what Is, this week – which has also held the beginning of my year of no added sugar, and my moon, and mercury in retrograde – i am often moved to tears by the love, the rightness, of my life. not the rightness of the universe, not yet. but the rightness of surrendering to and growing the good in my life, inside of what actually is, right here, right now.

rain soaked notes

I’ve been looking for a name for what I am doing in Mexico this time. Practice Intensive feels most accurate. Creation Retreat?

In 2012 I took a six month sabbatical, two weeks of which I spent in Mexico. It was the fourth stop on the journey, but that was the two weeks where I actually slowed down, disconnected with the external world and began reconnecting with myself. I made a commitment to build some time into each year for…that. This.

It’s not a sabbatical in the way the first trip was, not even a mini version of that. I needed to Do Nothing for a while back then, and I felt burnt out and lost. I needed massive transformation.

These trips, these days, I’ve needed rest, but I’m also on my path and that feeling is it’s own source of center and sustenance.

And I still need to recalibrate how I’m spending my time every so often. What happens here is that I set my patterns and intentions for the year. Whatever comes, here’s how I want to be.

It’s a vacation destination, but doesn’t feel like a vacation, because there’s a lot I’m doing. This time, my goal was to finish a first draft of a book on emergent strategy, which I did last Friday. Which feels like…

!
!!
!!!

And so on.

And now I’m going through the rampant self-doubt work related to putting something you love with your whole being into a tangible form. Just more awareness work. And notes for the next draft.

But in addition to the writing, which has included the book and a bunch of short stories, I’ve been doing a lot of other practices. Practices I need in my daily life, which can slip away in the chaos of even the good times, much less the grieving times.

My practices here have included guided and silent meditation, yoga, Spanish lessons, daily tarot reading, journaling, creating art, reducing social media viewing, reflecting on the year I just lived and the year that’s coming, rituals, reading physical books, and a 300-word daily speculative fiction writing challenge with my Clarion woes.

It’s also included preparing for a year of no added sugars, which will begin when I return to the US in a few days.

That prep has taken a lot of forms – logistical and ritual, yes, but mostly emotional. I’ve been moving in this direction for a while, with community and family. It’s so clear to me that my sugar addiction is the next frontier, the next set of gates (yes, I’m referencing The NeverEnding Story, because that’s how I feel going through changes). I’m mostly really excited – I know it feels better. I know I can do it. I know my body wants it.

I’ve been setting up plans and support structures for handling big emotions, which are, no surprise, the consistent trigger for sugar binging. I’ve also been ritually having sweet things I won’t have for a long time, with gratitude – the fun part of the prep.

The other practices – mindfulness, quiet, returning to my body and to the present moment – all support and connect to the shift in my sugar life. And vice versa – knowing that the fuel in my body isn’t there to hook me in, but rather to nourish me, from the earth…that lines up with the kind of presence and gratitude and balance I want throughout my life.

Being public about the sugar journey is itself a practice. Like most addictions, it thrives on silence, ignorance, deception and omission.

This trip, I have noticed how the connected world is encroaching everywhere on the world of quiet, meditation, escape. This year the WiFi is stronger, more of the neighbors have televisions, news and crisis pops up daily – perhaps this is no longer far enough away.

Or perhaps this is advanced practice, like daily life. Where is my choice in all of this, how do I continue to train my attention?

I have wrestled with boundaries, feeling frustrated that people keep asking me for work things while I am on break. And yet I know it’s no one’s else’s fault. If I let myself be too accessible, I don’t get the time I know I need. Reading Carlos Castaneda is helping with this.

And turning off WiFi.

I will add that since I completed the book draft, it has been cloudy and raining. Not light drizzles either, torrential downpours that flood the neighborhood. Instead of the beach time and swimming and scuba diving that I expected to do to celebrate in this post-book week, I have done other things – reading, listening to music, all of my practices.

I realized that I can get a Mayan massage and limpias for $25, so I’m redistributing my defunct scuba budget to get rubbed on lots and lots.

I’ve had more time for deep listening, for observation.

I noticed that Bruce Springsteen is always singing to someone he calls ‘little girl’. That David Bowie does sound like an alien to me, in the best way. That when I want the music closest to my heart, I always turn back to Ella, Billie, Etta, Dorothy, Dinah, Sarah – the classic black female vocalists of the jazz era.

I’ve noticed that I can let things pass without needing to engage or correct. For example, a bunch of white people with dreadlocks were in the town and all looked at me with a lot of…hmm what was that look? Longing? Invitation? I biked away. Then the other day I sat down for a nice restaurant dinner and after about two minutes a very belligerent drunken couple sat down at the next table with a little boombox playing something that sounded like country metal. I considered my options, decided to put on my headphones and drown them out with the ethereal sounds of Gallant. I have my own work to do.

I watched a community of ants move a piece of prosciutto, and felt really blown away by how they did it. I am barely resisting the urge to intentionally leave them food just to watch them manage it all.

I have grieved for all the people who have passed while I was away, especially sweet and brilliant Bowie, who has been a beacon on my weird futurist fluid fashionista path. Even how he passed, creating a releasing incredible music til the end. Yes.

I downloaded Labyrinth the other night, having forgotten how scary it actually is. It’s scary.

I considered writing a comparative piece about Bowie’s Lazarus and Drake’s Legend. We’ll see.

I’m having my most successful experience with learning a language other than English (every other experience has ended in official failure), which is exciting. The difference between my Duolingo competence and real life conversation is hilarious though. Real life is so much faster.

I have a few more days of this intensive period, and then another big year takes off. Last year was so complex, it took a lot to survive and navigate it. Here I am, stronger, clearer. And I feel excited. And I feel ready. And I know that comes with practice.

jomo queen whispers goodbye to 2015

me, about to turn up for new year’s eve: what is it?
knee, twinging with petulance: nothing.
me: we not doing that anymore. you have my attention, what do you need?
knee, throbbing: to go home. i mean, to the little room.
me (feeling curious): really? we’re at the beach, in great company. i was thinking dancing, drinks?
knee: meh.
me: well…what do you want to do?
knee: rest. ice. compress. elevate.
me: mmhmm. totally down for that. can we do that tomorrow?
knee: naw. i mean sure, but …
me: i’m listening.
knee: what we’re doing at midnight matters. it matters.
me: yes, hence this exact current situation.
knee: but you want something else, right now. you know it.
me, contemplating my instincts: dang. i think you’re right. (feeling my whole body wanting to rest) you couldn’t have brought this up earlier though?
knee: i have been trying to talk to you all year. with love. turning up the volume. with love.
me: i been hearing you.
knee: you say that, you even tell others. but…actions speak louder than words.
me: truth. so. just go?
knee: just go.
me, some relief and longing moving in my system: you know, it’s unexpected. but i really do want to go. i gave so much of my year to floating through things i knew weren’t right, to doing what i thought was needed, even when it left me depleted.
knee (whistling briefly): yup. like, no exaggeration? i am pretty sure something is broken in here. i’m making it work, but it’s not pleasant.
me: a lot broke in me this year. (teary eyed glitchy montage of 2015 memories) i am so grateful for it, all of it makes me me, i know. but that was a lot.
knee: i know love. just saying, don’t take it out on me. i can heal like a miracle, and also too, i am finite.
me: i am so sorry. 2016 is our year. i mean it.
knee: so was 2015, baby girl. we twisted everything good out of this year and you know it. are we here, or are we here?
(we laugh)
knee: what did you learn?
me: i learned…that when i ignore my body, it always leads to disaster. i learned that no is imperative if i want to be able to say an authentic yes to the good things meant for me. and…i learned that in almost every situation, i’d rather be writing.
knee: and what do those lessons look like in practice? right now?
me: it looks like going home. to rest my body, to write, to meditate, listen to my chani 2016 horoscope. i want to enter the year totally clear and free from obligation, free from the pain of ignoring my needs. jomo queen shit.
knee: jomo?
me: joy of missing out. the glory of intentional solitude. so.
knee: so.
me: thank you. let’s go.
knee: you sure?
me: don’t be passive aggressive. i’m saying i surrender, and taking action. i’m saying i love you, and taking action. i am ready to put you first. us. for life.
knee, glowing: oh.

so that is how i am whispering goodbye to 2015, from the quietest place i could find tonight, from my whole self to yours.

holiday tidbits (radical musings on Xmas)

Uncle Jody, on the phone, to my 5 year old nibbling Siobhan: So, have you been naughty, or nice?

Siobhan: Honestly, a little bit of both.

Word. Welcome to the club, nibbling.

Mairead, eating a chocolate covered strawberry from a gift box: It’s not really that good.

Discarding the strawberry after sucking the chocolate off: I need another one.

Weeping, to no avail: I need it right now!!

Sugar does this to me too, kid.

Finn committed to waking up early to do reconnaissance of the gift spread, picking up the traditional work of the eldest child (me). I feel proud.

I’m not sure if he followed through because I stayed up last night watching A Very Murray Christmas Special (pretty cool) and then Jurassic World while drinking naughty eggnog and wondering what it is (but not wondering enough to look at ingredients because…drank).

Also, Finn said his destiny is to “create a dinosaur park where nature controls nature”.

I grew up as a hardcore magic Santa enthusiast. A few years ago I asked my family not to give me gifts, because…anticapitalism. I totally meant it when I asked, I really did. In my mind.

They still tease me for the forlorn look on my face that morning.

I still look in the mirror each Christmas Eve and sing, ‘Hello. It’s me. I was wondering if you’re ready to live life without the greed.’

I want less and less each year, I’m growing. But this year I needed a red rice cooker, so.

When I was a kid, like 6, one of my parents’ friends dressed up as Santa and came over to surprise us. My commitment to Santa was so deep that even though I recognized this man, I just created a narrative in which I just happened to be friends with Santa, and thus I had to help him maintain his cover the other 364 days of the year.

I miss my dog Sugarfoot at Christmas, even though I’ve spent more time without her than with her now. Her enthusiasm for her gifts was so pure. The last time I saw her was a Christmas, on an island in the south Pacific where she will always be.

Full moon!

I love a well conceived gift. Giving or receiving. I separate that out from monetary consideration, giving gifts of various value with the same glee, receiving my nibblings’ works of art as works of immense value, etc.

I love the convergence of family, even as it exhausts me. It’s true our time left on this earth together is limited, and this time of relative health and presence is precious. Showing up in my wholeness doesn’t mean not getting short with my parents or jumping into business that isn’t mine…it means apologizing faster, getting to gratitude and compassion with more ease, trusting love to hold us. Really, we’re all so tired and so in need of familial attention.

I love anticipation. I love surprises. I love shared joy. I love the kind of magic children can perpertuate and inspire.

I hate competition, commercialism, consumerism, capitalism, and candy overload.

I love living my values in real time. Some years that has meant participating in the holidays with resistance, or sarcasm, letting everyone know I’m better than Christmas.

But I’m not, not yet anyway.

I love the way my family does this holiday – with a sprinkle of the sacred, a touch of tradition, mostly focused on the way we give to each other, weaving a system of caring for each other.

In terms of what being a radical home for the holidays looks like to me this year…I am convinced that authentic relationship, deep transparent love between two or more people that makes each person feel more free, is central to the path to liberation. This is the main practice ground of my family each year. My active question is: can I show up, offer appreciation, care, generosity, spaciousness, wonder and kindness to these people I love? Also, can I relinquish my righteousness, control and judgment?

Mariah Carey’s Christmas album is still some of her best work.

To get through Christmas, I think of my late grandfather’s Jesus, who came from poverty and displacement, whose parents sought asylum at closed doors, who rolled with the meek, washed the feet of sex workers and went on long meditation retreats.

Then I color him in with my historically accurate crayon set, the Boyega chocolate shade.

I speak to him like a time traveling comrade, saying ‘look at #blackxmas!’, saying we haven’t given up on ourselves as a species.

It helps me, feels like idealogical aikido. Christmas is just an energy moving in the world.

I have more thoughts but it’s absolutely time to go play. Love y’all.

the children (solstice poem)

the children run up the stairs
and i realize how old i have become
one choice at a time
in the places i come together
and where i am forever apart

the children climb me
i offer branches and answers
to their years
i have to be so solid
so much stronger than i am

the children are full
i am humbled by the life in them
they laugh with nothing held back
they demand everything of my attention
they bring me here, now

my child face a mirror on the wall
smiles toothless, echoing us
before all the lessons
we know everything
life is learning to forget

the children resist even sleep
they know how precious
all this living is
they dream with open eyes
and surrender mid-vision

the children gift me
the miracle of letting go
the wonder of and in time
the wilderness of right now
the possibility of dawn

9 lessons from my wayward child

9 months ago today, I became pregnant.

Pregnant in spite of plan b, nonchalance, magic and my non-pregnancy-inclusive plans. I had no idea. I didn’t feel anything particular, didn’t notice my enhanced sense of smell (except in retrospect).

I didn’t glow.

8 months ago today, I reached up to close a window while doing a phone interview for Octavia’s Brood, and was suddenly in the most acute and life focusing pain I have ever experienced. I understood in a quiet inner way that I only had a few minutes to get myself downstairs, and that I needed immediate help if I was going to live. A friend rushed me to the hospital where I, with no insurance, learned that I was pregnant and it was ectopic and I was lucky to live in a time when I could survive it. And I would be losing my left fallopian tube.

I’ve given myself these long months marked with other griefs to process it myself before writing about it, hopefully birthing some kind of wisdom in the absence of a child-based outcome.

Here are the 9 lessons I have learned, so far, from my wayward child.

Lesson 1: I am special.

I rarely date men (frankly it never seems to go that well, in spite of my earnest pansexual leanings). So rarely that when my dad heard the news, I think he seriously considered the possibility that I was involved in a biblical birth. The game of percentages means there’s exactly a one in gazillion chance that this could happen, both the pregnancy and then the ectopicness of it.

Lesson 2: I am not special.

When I got to the hospital, I told them I was pretty sure my appendix had burst. They said it was more likely that I was pregnant. I was adamant, I made my case of how that was impossible, asked them through clenched teeth to focus on the real problem. They said, “uh huh, pee in this cup though”.

It was a common situation, and I was handled accordingly, with very little gentleness.

Lesson 3: People are complex human beings, and also angels.

I had two that night, humans who stepped over into a beam of light. I will forever be grateful for the convergence of events that led to my strange and lovely support team that night, and getting to see the particular goodness that can emerge in crisis. The nurse wouldn’t give me morphine for a while because of my ‘condition’. It was cold, and scary, the pain was nonstop, and there was a torturous internal ultrasound. I both survived and increased my pain by laughing, and it was worth it.

I am also grateful for my mom’s voice on the phone, helping me face what was happening. There was some time between learning I was pregnant and learning for sure that it was ectopic and surgery would be immediate, my hour of conscious pregnancy. My mom’s voice on the line helped me through that time.

Lesson 4: I am human.

After what I initially called ‘the surgery’, I denied my humanity and tried to carry on as usual. I was in the middle of a book tour. I did several major events, which I powered through, hoping no one would notice I was moving slow and couldn’t do simple things like open doors or water bottles. People did notice, and I told various small lies (an ‘ovarian cyst’ seemed close enough) about what was going on. I shared what I could, mostly because I had to depend on others. Other than my closest friends and family, I actually didn’t know how to say the truth. I spent about a month in tears after every event, overwhelmed by the juxtaposition of the high of my life’s work and the strange irrational sadness inside me.

People kept speaking of the book as a baby, asking wasn’t I thrilled about our book baby. I had said that before, too, but I don’t think I’ll say it again…nothing is a baby except a baby.

Lesson 5: I can grieve like a motherfucker for something I didn’t want, something that barely happened. I’ve written about my choiceful childlessness, I’ve ignored healers and intuitives who felt a baby coming for me.

Still.

I had a few people afterwards who advised me not to think of it as ‘losing a baby’ since it wasn’t a viable birth. I tried that. It didn’t work because when I did my research, it said that there were all the makings of a baby, it just connected to the wrong part of me. If it had connected to the right part, or even a different wrong part, I could be in or near labor today.

After my sister’s miscarriage, my niece, four at the time, said she hoped that the baby found another way into the world. I hope the same for the little mass of miraculous tissue that visited me. I sense the size of it’s soul in absentia.

And in spite of my attempts to logic through it, that little lost embryo made me cry a lot this year. It was tenacious and miraculous in it’s own way. A one in a gazillion kind of lost embryo.

Lesson 6: So many humans have faced unintended pregnancy loss, of kids they wanted, of kids they didn’t want.

And so many people get pregnant even when they take measures not to get pregnant.

Many of the children I love most in the world were unintended, were somehow able to outsmart preventative measures to get here.

A lot of my favorite parents felt disappointed, scared, confused and stressed when they found out they were pregnant.

These stories emerged this year when people learned what I had experienced, and I am grateful to all of them for sharing and normalizing my complex emotional response.

Lesson 7: It’s not the little one’s fault it didn’t find fertile soil. They showed me some pictures, it’s confusing in there.

Lesson 8: Everything does not happen for a reason.

That doesn’t mean you can’t create a reason for everything.

This year, this wayward child, has turned my sense of self upside down, narrowed the number and increased the quality of people I need close to me, made me sloppy and vulnerable, changed how I want to dress, made me favor my left side, sharpened my ideas of what I want to generate in the world, snatched my perfection mythologies away, given me good news to sweeten the hardest days, found me wandering in the dark begging for help, and helped me keep choosing to see and love myself, just as I am.

Lesson 9: Time is the most precious thing. Time is the most precious thing. One month, nine months, an hour, a lifetime. During these nine months life and death came in and out like waves, like always. My wayward child was life moving towards life for a month. My mentor Grace was life moving towards life for 100 years and 100 days. Could it be that they are equal teachers to me?

Time is the most precious thing, choosing to learn in this precious time. Once lived, these hours cannot be returned to me, I determine whether it is a miraculous experience with my attention.

So. Nine months are complete. I declare it miraculous.