greater-love

beloveds, i am basking and reveling in greater love, and feel called to testify!

in my life i have loved many people, in many ways, and been loved deeply in return. but i have also been experiencing something that i suspect is beyond the mutual love any two individuals can have, even at their best. it is a greater love, a sense that we are in the right moment in time, that we are many and enough, and the right people. that we are in the miracle.

greater love is what happens when many people fall in, or are in, or escalate in love with each other. all at once. the edges and sharpnesses soften, and the ways we can fit together become clear, and we realize our purpose is always greater than an individual drive. we are each part of the divine, so each of us has to individually reclaim that within ourselves, bring our piece to something that cannot be whole without us. we realize we belong to our time and place, with our complexities and critiques intact and accounted for; that we do not need to conform – in fact, it is the divergence that makes it feel so delicious.

and, lately, even when i’m alone, i can tap into the greater love, more and more often. it is a relaxing. it is not at all like i once imagined/projected love to be (an encompassing flame, a reaching forward into…some eternal future)…no. this is more profound. an eternal present. this is a moment in which we are completely alive and in connection. which, of course, reshapes the future, bending it away from numbness and complicity. we become part of the present, shaping a future where we can feel each other.

i am grateful that a lot of my life is spent in this state of greater love. i am grateful that i’m learning to tap into it, to choose it. that i am learning what enough is, what it is to work and be satisfied, to generate satisfaction in community with others – to be satisfied by the contributions of others.

i think movements are so strong when we cultivate greater-love with each other. and yes, there’s something about being open about the love between nodes in the pattern that helps the whole intricacy become a pattern of love.

i am thinking of a moment a while ago when a comrade in the throes of new love made a declaration of devotion at the start of a meeting – the beloved comrade next to them blushed and the love was so real and palpable it flooded the room. and all of us, who loved one or both of these comrades, oriented towards the brightness of that love, supporting it, letting it shape all of us in massive possibility.

i am thinking of how, in every place i’ve been for months, i have gotten into conversation with someone who was touched by the great and generous love of malkia and alana devich cyril. in connecting around that love, we, myself and this or that comrade – who i often only previously know through shared internet love of #mittsandmuffy – become more tender with each other, more trusting. we know that no matter what else is there, we share a recognition that love is real, that we have witnessed and participated in a greater love story in some small and meaningful way.

even today, i was in a meeting where we got to celebrate the birth of one of our humble, beautiful, committed comrades. we’d worked really hard for three days, and now we got to sing and speak testimony of someone who has given us so much. and even though the levels of intimacy in the room were wildly different, that greater love flooded through us and filled the room. i could feel us growing our capacity to sustain uncertainty and vision and rigor under pressure because we had love flowing through and between us. i could feel our love helping us grieve and hold the fear of white supremacist terrorism, borders, tyrants and corruption.

as i drove home from the airport, i saw something that looked like the embodiment of greater love: i live in a place i love – Detroit! and in michigan, god is often in the rearview mirror in the form of epic dramatic skies where the sun seems to pull apart the clouds to enter the world, incomprehensible. i wanted to pull over and make a video of that sky, to say to people – when we feel like this inside, i believe we are more connected and free. but i knew that it was the present moment, and my own attention to greater love, that made the moment. the most i can share is my feeling, my invitation to such awed attention.

i am going to keep studying and thinking on this. i want to keep learning how we authentically open our movements up for greater love to move between us, and out from us to those we must compel to join us in our move to freedom. and i want to keep unlocking my own capacity to be with, and in, greater love.

practice with me?

jeju

it’s been 40 years but i finally made it to jeju, the epic, famous, Black and Korean owned spa in Atlanta in which ask the rooms are magic and hot and their uniforms actually fit big girls and they do hip baths.

hip bath, aka yoni steam, aka extra tight.

this post is short af because there’s not much i can say about sitting on a stool with a hole in it, 19 magical herbs steaming into me from a hot plate below, under a circular cape that created a private stream room from my neck down. it was daunting at times (is the kitty on fire?) and healing (have i ever done a public blessing just for my yoni?) and i immediately wanted to make it a monthly ritual.

in brief? go steam your euphemisms.

mate soul moments

i am not sure this experience can happen in a city you call home, a mate soul moment. it happens in transit, in a place neither of you are from. a stranger catches your eye and the life you could have together thrums through you, a complete chord.

there is nothing lewd about it, it isn’t the hungry look of a stranger who wants to taste your skin. it isn’t the wide eyes of someone looking at something different for the first time. it is a look of recognition – we’ve never met?, but we have history. we have ease. you feel a smile on your face in spite of the pain that walking brings to each step of your aging body.

you feel the note strum and look away – can everyone hear, feel, see this ludicrous knowing in you? but it is in you, it rings through you. you look back and this strange familiar is watching you. no missed steps, you look, look again, in rhythm with each other, not pretending not to see.

you’re with others. so is your brief beloved. there’s no need for each other, so satisfying is the brief moment of total irrational connection. you want to remember: humans forget this. you feel the directive in your body: mate soul. so you do, however briefly, take respite in the absence of solitude, the way you are tethered to a beautiful home. your home, until this tether brand.

you pull off first, a last look, the gift of a small smile, yes. we would be great.

northern ireland, first impressions

at customs the woman asks a few questions and then says, “so you’re spending the whole time in Northern Ireland then. that’s a whole nother country.” i know this, my sister autumn and i have been well prepared for the journey we’re on. but this is this first impression i get here, on the land – there is a battle over the story and it is reinforced with every step.

we have come to Northern Ireland by invitation, to do the work of Octavia’s Brood, of practicing collective visionary fiction. 20 years into a tenuous peace agreement, with brexit on the horizon, survivors and comrades and family members and nations and religions are all wondering: what’s coming?

our hope here is that these workshops will invite solutions and shared dreams in, to help these beautiful people dance with the grief, fear and mystery. we hope to, in some small way, help them shape change together.

since we announced we were coming here, i have been surprised at how many people have told me what i must do and see and read and watch and listen to to really understand what’s happening here. there is rarely a question of who is hosting me – if asked i would say i have been given tons of reading and things to watch, and i am learning the most from the stories of former POWs and hunger strikers and blanket protesters, about how they came into the conflict and how they made it through and why reconciliation is so important to them. i am humbled by their stories. i want others to hear them, i want these voices that feel so parallel to those i hear and focus on in the US to be heard.

most of the time when i travel to teach or facilitate, it is by invitation of people in that place. my rule of thumb has been that i come when and where i am called by communities i am of, committed to, and in solidarity with. so when people, especially people not from/of the place i am in, reach out to guide the journey without asking, i often feel a little defensive bristle in my heart…i want to say ‘trust the people here to welcome me, to show me what i need to see. i do.’

but even as i bristle, i can remember doing the same thing to people going to South Africa and Mexico and Thailand. i am very protective of who tells the story of Detroit, and just beginning to think i might be one of those storytellers. it’s a gift and curse of loving places, and of travel. we want to adventure and root, see everything and know it all. relive our lives through others. and, in conflict zones, we want the right side to be crystal clear.

i can already imagine future-me insisting that i know who has THE story in Northern Ireland, even as i recognize that the power of my experience here is being exposed to so many stories, so many perspectives of pain, persecution, regret, ignorance, resistance.

this desire to shape the story (of Northern Ireland and other places we go) speaks to trauma based tension in a way i recognize – after harm there is a desire to do with narrative what could not be done in person, clean up the story and claim a victory. but there’s no neat story here, and the main victory is not winning or losing, but sacrificing and living. these people who look so much alike have a coded, deep experience of being othered.

today we are told of a sunken wall in Belfast City Cemetery to keep the separation of catholics and protestants even in death, and i feel how far they’ve come, these teachers from both backgrounds, and others, around a table over wine and meatballs, cohabitating on contested land.

i am moved by how love flows amongst them, how many are in mixed religion love stories, how healing comes at the place where intimacy lives, how love knows what is truly different and the same about us.

i am also struck by the random nature of history. almost everyone i’ve spoken to was caught up in the conflict by accident, by circumstance. they were born into a lineage, a certain faith, a set of borders, a presumption of imperial rights, a working class that was hard to survive. most of them were shockingly young when they were sent to prison, or lost someone in ‘the troubles’. none of them have expressed being particularly religious, they were just raised a certain way and before they had much chance to choose anything or even learn about other options, they were being shot at, interrogated, bullied, taught who to love and who to fear, locked up or grieving or/and seeking the source of their fear and grief.

once in prison or in grief, they were shaped by those who showed up in the container with them.

so much of this makes me think of home. those that get caught in the matrix of racism and poverty and gun violence and patriarchy are rarely seeking that life path. there’s nothing romantic about living in constant fear, losing your community in an unacknowledged war, watching a generation become addicts and/or commit suicide in droves. there’s nothing romantic about spending any portion of life in prison because your rights are denied, or you’re from a different religious lineage than the dominant one where you live. civil wars, whatever sparks them, don’t end in unity, but in exhaustion.

another aspect of our work here is shaped by the humbling condition of being an American citizen. we know what it looks like when the “civil” war “ends” but the hatred never heals, the truth is never unveiled, and amends are never made. when the system never really shifts, when the conditions actually get worse, when the growth is symbolic and fatally compromised, when the past takes the future in its mouth and begins a destructive feeding. when we said no, but didn’t say a clear enough yes, when we find ourselves still fighting to win the rigged game.

we are so young, but we know this pain, the wound’s wide open.

we came to teach, so of course we’re the students. i am learning/reminded, i want this kind of big vast love to guide all movements. i want the love each of the people we’ve met have for each other, for humanity, and for this land, to be the central story – of this week, this place, and of my life. it takes love to look back, to really see what’s behind you/us, and still choose to dream the future together.

i am finding love in Northern Ireland.

(many more pictures and stories on Instagram feed)

quicky reviews for Feb 2019

i took a day off and binge watched everything on all the streaming services. then i took a long flight and watched more things. here are my very brief reviews (that’s a prediction but it’s late).

Amanda Seales comedy special I Be Knowin. when i really love a comedy special, it feels like i have fallen in love with the comic. so when i tell you i’m ready to propose? i could watch amanda be a jamaican/harlem/la cat caller or a runaway slave any day. everyone watch this immediately so we have a common language.

true detective. mahershala ali, the prayer and the god, can do ridiculously tender things with his face. scary, captivating start to season 3.

two dope queens: they make me laugh. phoebe’s physical humor sticks with me whenever i bend over.

grace and frankie, yes as good as everyone says, i adore all of them.

james blake assume form: perfect Blake. “can’t believe the way we flow” is my current theme song for any time spent with any other humans. if it’s not like that, why hang out? i also love every other song.

blindspotting. hard and brilliant film experience, gave me nostalgia for oakland, reminded me i have feelings for daveed diggs, and has a scene i want recreate with futurebae.

bill murray stories: inspired the spontaneous heart under my cool virgo exterior. murray is totally a weird delightful introvert who creates moments of people-time. worth the watch.

collette. thank God for feminism gee whiz.

heaven’s gate podcast. pretty interesting exploration of this cult that was popping when i was in high school and ended in mass suicide. i think in this age of personalities gone wild we all need to be cult scholars to stay safe.

fyre stuff. i watched both documentaries, i was surprised (blow job man really impacted me, shook my sense of dedication to work) and felt like i recognized that white boy miraculous mess energy and i am glad that this one time it didn’t work.

also, i got introduced to online boggle and am literally injuring my thumb so i have to wean off but i love word games. sigh.

muting is not disposing of (distinctions)

i have muted r. kelly in my life. his music is nowhere in my home or digital collection. i have created a playlist that hits the specific place his music did before i understood it to be a pedophiliac’s songbook.

i have not wished death on him, or torture, or the end of his possibility in life. i have not denied that he is an adult who was abused himself. i muted him, meaning i will not financially contribute to his harmful behavior.

i muted him because it became very difficult for me, as a survivor, to listen to his content. and because he’s an active predator, because there are girls still caught in his sharp teeth, living in some sex hell of his direction.

the creators of the #muterkelly campaign, uplifted in dream hampton’s visceral series Surviving R Kelly (free on Lifetime), realized that pulling his economic rug out from under him was the only way to shake his abusive foundations and possibly have a chance to stop the harm. parents of potential victims aren’t going to stop shrugging and saying ‘well he was acquitted tho.’ his record label had not dropped him in spite of the years of allegations creating a pattern of clarity around him (they’ve since parted ways). and a jury acquitted him – what he’s up to is still seen as preference or oddity by some, not serial rape, abuse and torture.

so we mute him. the campaign is not silencerkellyforever or disappearrkelly. it’s muting, an act designed to put pressure on him to release the girls and stop harming new girls.

i keep seeing this meme go around:

i want to explore this a bit, as well as why artists we want to stand with little girls’ safety instead keeping expressing their love for a man who repeatedly abuses little girls.

i think we are in very early stages of beginning to understand transformative justice, and in absence of TJ being a common practice, we think disposal or grasping are our only moves. we either have to throw the person with bad behavior out of our community, or hold onto them with love because they were abused too, because they are oppressed too, etc. and both of these strategies fail to liberate us from the cycle of harm.

if abusers see that the mass response to the truth of abuse is to dispose of abusers, they are encouraged to be more secretive about their behavior. this means not seeking the help needed to truly end the harmful behavior. hide it, deny it, continue, protect your reputation instead of your soul.

and if abusers see that people will have their backs with no public demand for accountability, they are given a green light to continue to act from their abuse shaping, rather than do the hard work of healing, changing.

what we need is a path to redemption: understand that you caused harm, stop future harm, turn within, repent, apologize, learn boundaries and how to navigate power and connection, grieve, grow. transformative justice recognizes that the state upholds systems of oppression more than accountability, and requires us to name the truths within community, to stop the harm ourselves.

TJ doesn’t guarantee peace between abusers and those they’ve harmed, but it offers the possibility of ending the harm. it doesn’t feel good, it feels like untangling knots made of nerves. these are mostly slow processes, but if we really want a world without childhood sexual abuse, without rape, without abuse, we must believe the process can work, and we must get rigorous in our practice…because it’s not enough to throw one monster out of the village when the monstrous behavior is happening everywhere. and abusers produce abusers.

with r kelly (and a lot of other well known abusers) the first steps generally happen out of sight. people asking them to stop, people trying to get justice through legal systems, quiet warnings proliferating around a repeated abuser. in most cases, a lot has taken place before we reach the point of public pressure. this is because, sadly, our patriarchal society believes, in a deep core place, that this is how things are, how men/adults are, how sex is, how power works.

public pressure is a risk, because we don’t cultivate nuanced thinking in our current education or media systems. going public makes room for everyone to point away from themselves, their families, the abusers protected in their own communities, blaming the monster of the day instead of acknowledging the ecosystem of harm.

that said, i am impressed with the strategic use of public pressure in r kelly’s case because he is still actively involved in harm. this will be different in other cases, where the harm is in the past and the need is for an apology or a reckoning, vs an intervention. but public pressure isn’t the end.

there are consequences. i want to invite everyone to listen to Mariame Kaba all day every day, but especially on this point. consequences are not disposal, and they aren’t punishment. if someone won’t stop causing harm, one consequence is that they stop getting celebrated by the communities they harm. another consequence is losing a job. or having to work within more limited boundaries.

muting r kelly after decades of sustained abuse is not disposal, it is a consequence of his choices to persist in abuse, to not seek help to break his patterns. Mariame says “it’s the harm” that should be the focus, rather than demonizing or isolating anyone. how do we stop the harm? not by throwing anyone away, not by punishing broken people, but by taking responsibility for harm in our communities and creating systems of healing and boundaries to allow for different futures to emerge.

waning

slowly i collapse
lose light lose warmth
forget everything i ever knew about bright
it is time again to know nothing
to be still and silent
to wait and wonder
to notice exactly what i need so completely
that it pulls me through shadow
pulls me through the cold of my own isolation
back, slower than a dream
faster than a season
i hear everyone whispering:
plant everything now
plant love the shape of gods
the handprints of children allowed to say no
plant quiet contemplation of miracles
the ripple of orgasmic awe
plant the undulation, the pulse, the fusion
plant even the idea of a wave
and let the ocean flood you by morning

before kondo, kondo, beyond kondo

five years before marie kondo was conceived, i was born, a virgo oldest child to military grade parents who were also 2/3 of the sagittarian horde in our household. i was not so much a neat child as a particular one – i like things the way i like things. i came out of the womb adjusting my hair and pushing my sleeves up, wanting more touches of color in the hospital room.

military life, moving every 2-3 years, gave me many opportunities to learn what i loved, how i wanted my room/home to feel, and how to let go.

in my mid 20s i moved from NYC to Cali, having realized after ten urgent important years that i was incompatible with the new york lifestyle. i wanted less performance, less rushing and elbowing, to be less on, less at the center. i wanted a simpler life. so for that move, i committed to only driving across country the things i loved and needed. i would pick something up, assess if i loved it, go through the internal struggles of negotiation and making excuses for why i wanted to keep things i didn’t love, and let go of most of my things. i gave away things i loved but didn’t need – i lovingly curated boxes of books for dear friends, i let people shop in my donation bags. sometimes i still come across those items in a friend’s house and they make me smile.

i decided to do this practice a few times a year, especially with clothes. it has served me well. people have commented that it’s a virgo thing that i do this. perhaps. i don’t like clutter but i do like things, and acquire new lovely joy-inducing things regularly. but! i don’t like cleaning. so i tend to live in spaces small enough to clean quickly – and the less clutter, the less cleaning. and order serves my creativity – when everything is in place my mind can settle in on what doesn’t exist yet, or what i am learning to say.

i first heard about marie kondo from a friend who knew of my practice. she said, “this is like what you do, but she made a whole book about it.” i didn’t read the book, nor have i watched the show, but her konmari method of tidying up, minimizing clutter while increasing home joy, is now ubiquitous in my world. i feel like she’s living the life i could have lived if i hadn’t failed french and joined the rebellion. i am so grateful she exists because friends who once chalked up my practice as my weird virgo shit now text me pictures of their reduced belongings and the bags of stuff leaving their home.

marie kondo is not a virgo, so maybe there are forces at work in this world stronger than astrology. in part she traces her methods back to shinto religious practices. i love this idea, as this reduction ritual has always felt sacred to me. how to be in love and not attachment? how to see what i have as treasure without growing greedy?

all this to say that i kondo’d my kitchen yesterday. while i do my clothing regularly, and recently did my bedroom and bathroom, the kitchen had been getting away from me. i had a set of rainbow colored knives with the paint peeling off, unused and dangerous. i had eight more mixing bowls than anyone needs, and tupperware with no lids, and tea that hasn’t been considered for a decade.

this kind of cleaning gives me home joy. taking bags of stuff out of my home to donate and toss and recycle gives me home joy. coming back into my apartment and seeing the space i have reclaimed gives me home joy.

but/and i was also reminded of my little bag obsession. whenever i clean my home i find little bags full of chapstick, pens, gift cards, stuff i think i’ll need when i travel. in transit i never open these bags, but they’re with me just in case. it’s not unusual to find 3-4 little bags in my suitcase.

in the kitchen i learned i do the same thing with tea. i assemble little ziplock bags with an assortment of my favorite teas. i travel with them, rarely drinking the tea, and then bring it home and put it in the tea area. i found four meticulously assembled baggies with black, green and herbal teas. two had tea balls in the bag for loose tea, though i hadn’t packed loose tea.

i’m thinking of this as the nomadic clutter of home joy. because i live a life of frequent travel, home has to always be with me where i am. i love my apartment, and without thinking, i bring the small comforts of home joy with me everywhere – a reminder of my extensive tea collection, of my self care practices, of my body having needs. even if i don’t open and use what’s inside, these little bags are sacred, and i love what they represent.

but i am upgrading my home joy game. i’m going to just have one beautiful small bag – of tea, chapstick and pens – and carry it like i do my altar bag, as a sacred beloved thing, functional if needed, but not needed because i need function, just needed because i need home.

the place i am interested in exploring a bit is what we actually need, all of us. how do we kondo at a collective and interdependent level? what if what brings you joy is a zionist soda machine, or artifacts made of ivory, or fancy temporary technology that harms the earth, or a wasteful amount of personal space that requires tons of heat and energy resources? there’s a space for connecting kondo’s thinking to a just transition, to being in right relationship not just to home in the individual sense, but to all of us having enough and having joy in the home of the whole.

perhaps that’s in the book i haven’t read yet, i just haven’t heard it in the flurry of excited energy around konmari. and i don’t know that i will watch the show, cause i live this method in my heart. i am mostly writing this as a note of gratitude, that kondo has made my ways less weird, more delightful, and more common. and an invitation, to see it all as home, to measure it all with joy.

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.