the runs: poetic reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mkay? mkay.

when in thailand on the fourth thursday of november

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

I prefer ham to any turkey ever.

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

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

me, but in thailand

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

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

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

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

Dear Stacey

Dear Stacey,

Don’t give in.

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

Don’t give in.

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

Don’t give in!

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

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

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

love,
amb and errybody I know

election day spell

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

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

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

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

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

we are intelligent (grieving alana)

my friend alana died last weekend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

is there a name for that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

running hurdles at the schvitz

dear humans with capacity to hear about some racisms,

tonight I went to the schvitz in detroit for the first and probably only time. I was excited – anyone who knows me knows I love basically any kind of public bath, banya, hammam, sauna, hot spring. this one is very old, and most of its life has only held the naked public bathing antics of men. but it’s reopened as a bathhouse with men’s, women’s and coed nights.

I wanted to love it.

I was the only visibly Black person there. this is not unusual for me in terms of bathhouses, but anytime I’m in a space in Detroit with no Black people, I feel like I’m in a deleted scene from Get Out!

to be precise, there were no other visibly non white people there.

the person who was supposed to give me a tour didn’t include the actual baths. I didn’t notice this until I saw her giving the full tour later. it gave me a slight hmmm feeling.

I’m often slow to realize racism is happening to me. I can see it for others, like a nibbling sees me sneaking chocolate (this is the most hunter like vision I know of). but I’m my father’s child. he survived impossible racism by denying it was happening, or, if it was undeniable, seeking the humanity of the racist and then quickly forgetting the whole thing. the thought that this was a racist oversight only emerges, for me, in context of what followed.

I brought the Vanity Fair with Michael B Jordan on the front; I love the challenges of reading a magazine as it steams apart, and I wanted to be in my own little world – this was one of my days off in a packed work period. the first sign that I was in the wrong place was when a clueless voice called across the banya (which basically means hot ass room): “who is Michael B Jordan?”

I turn around – I was facing away from everyone and reading in order to send the clear message that I didn’t want to engage with humans. I look briefly at this very young white girl, wondering what kind of social exclusion it must be, to be so out of touch with human contact that you can’t read a full body ‘leave me alone’, and so out of touch with your generation that you don’t recognize Michael B Jordan on sight. I say he was one of the stars of Blek Paintha, a crossover hit. another very young white girl says, “not the star though right? I don’t think, right? but he could be?”

I can’t think of anything nice to say, so I return to my reading.

A while later the woman who didn’t give me the tour sets up to do the platza treatment – the person getting treated lays on the highest, hottest level of the banya and gets beaten with oak leaves and then massaged with soap. I scoot away so I don’t get splashed.

This dialogue follows:

person about to receive treatment: is that Dr Bronners?
untour lady (the bottle is clearly branded): Yes!
patrt: {describes an allergic reaction to Dr. Bronners} but let’s do it!
untour lady: ok.
patrt: {possibly said some other things, but what I next heard was} it’s probably made by enslaved children.

I freeze, because my body carries memories of enslaved children, and it always freezes when reminded of this weight.

someone else, in the banya: right?
patrt: slave child rash!

laughter.
laughter?
laughter.

no one speaks up, and I wonder if I am invisible or too visible. is this cluelessness or aggravation or threat?

I notice where I am – in a basement with no windows, in the back corner of a sprawling tile bathhouse, naked and Black. I splay my energy wide around me like peacock feathers.

I hear the ways I could say something to this room of sweating naked white strangers, but then I add up the cost to myself of doing free educational labor for ignorant white people on my day off. when something so egregious is spoken aloud, it’s not enough to name it, you have to also teach it. I have allocated my free or low cost labor to Black people. and I already paid the $30 entry fee.

I stand up so slowly, like if I move slow enough I could slip right out of this warped dimension of white gentrification and into the future post-horrific bathhouse I’m going to open. I go to cool down in every way in the cold pool at the center of the bathhouse, this is my second dip of the evening. the first time another blather slipped past me, swam, and left without a word. I want to shout her out, as long as she wasn’t in the banya for the enslaved children remark.

anyway the water, it’s super cold, so I just go in to my thighs so my arthritic knees can feel some relief. this time a white woman splashes in loudly from the edge and tells me “it’s shallow if you can’t swim.”

I swim every day that I can. I’m more mermaid than any other magical creature. I feel responses well up, coherent, from deep within me. one response involves me singing Chakra Khan’s classic ‘I’m every woman! it’s all in me” but with the lyrics “I’m Esther Williams! Bitch can’t you see?”

but in equal measure to my rage is my exhaustion from teaching classes I didn’t sign up for.

back in the banya, hoping the racists have migrated, I get a moment’s peace. there is one other woman there, and she’s mostly quiet.

then two tall white women walk in, one of whom has a european accent and is loudly cataloging every thing she sees. I wait, knowing the heat eventually quiets everyone. loud lady is dramatically shushed by her friend. I’m reading and reclaiming my schvitz.

I get up and leave the room. as soon as the door closes they start giggling and whispering. curious. I realize I’ve forgotten my towel and slip back in to grab it. they freeze, three blonde raccoons in a trash can.

I wonder if this is an elaborate prank, or intended to make me feel unwelcome, or just ignorance in the wild. white supremacy is tricky that way, a mixed message, consistent only in its hateful bent.

the rest of the evening was less racist, though it still involved a ton of forced engagement, the kind that makes you appear rude when really you’re just minding your business. I kept slipping to wherever there were the least people, wanting to sweat these small racisms out of my system.

I’m going to stick to the sauna at the gym, where the demographics reflect the city and the other patrons know when to let you cry and when to make you laugh, and how to leave you be. oh, and it’s not a rampant racism zone.

riding the line between memoir and psa,
yours
amb

in the river now

I got a spider bite, a Charley horse, and my period while I was teaching last week. I kept noticing that I was happy in spite of dramatically uncomfortable physical circumstances.

I sniffed a septum piercing retainer into my nose and swallowed it. I’m not searching for it.

I taught 11 of the last 15 days and I’m teaching or facilitating 16 of the next 20. My “days off” keep filling up with calls and yesterday I found myself being rude to someone who didn’t deserve it until I finally just said “I’m too tired to really do this.” This is the level of honesty I need.

I visited my friends Alana and Malkia, who are loving each other fiercely under the weight of metastatic cancer. There was so much laughter that I lost track of precious time. Past a certain age, we are always both living and dying. Knowing or not knowing how, we deteriorate and become vulnerable and need others to hold on and let go. These beloveds are teaching me how I want to live-die, in love, in laughter.

I taught a bunch of somatics over this past month and it has me feeling so much hope about what happens when we can actually feel what’s real. It reminds me that most of us have been taught that our feelings are too much. The muffling and repression of feelings is an industry, and our work is to reclaim the full range of senses, of trusted intuition, of bodyscape memory. Our liberation as a species is tied up with the reclamation of what we can actually feel and do, both in our own miraculous bodies, and with and for each other.

I’m grateful for all the people supporting me as I feel and work and work and feel.

I blew out my right knee and have been lurching around the house, mad at myself for overriding limitations I can now feel.

There’s a voice inside me saying “give up dairy and gluten for a week and see if it helps”. But there’s a voice under that that just rage growls at the first voice while holding Jeni’s Salted Peanut Butter ice cream in one hand and pre-made tzatziki in the other. Yes, my trauma eating patterns are like those of a pregnant woman, but without the 9 month time boundary.

It’s all happening. The climate crisis is now and also moving closer, and it’s devastating to have these decision makers creating dystopic conditions that all of us will suffer in the near future.

I write things to lift my own eyes to the horizon. I’m pleased with this piece I wrote for Vice on making a better tomorrow.

I’m also pleased with how the podcast is going, we have had big talks about burnout and state violence, launched our first apocalypse skills episode, and have a very juicy inspiring conversation with electoral geniuses Jessica Byrd and Kayla Reed coming up next week.

I’ve decided Myrtle Snow is my style icon for my 40s. And I’m going to learn to make cheese rolls like they make at Arizmendi bakery this decade. I have trips to Thailand, Ireland and Belgrade planned for the next year, I keep learning how to balance nesting and migration.

I think that’s all the random bits to share. Shout out to any of you who make it all the way to the end of this rush. I’m truly in the river now, it’s moving fast, but I haven’t forgotten this poorly designed place where some of y’all just come for the words.

Dr Ford’s Dignity

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the work was done, and there is heartache and victory in it.

the decision will come and it may be a logical decision (to stop Brett Kavanaugh from becoming a member of a body meant to hold integrity and accountability), or it may be an irrational and politicized decision (to barrel forth with this mess).

regardless, Kavanaugh has been marked by his actions in public, his dirty hands showing, his rageful face showing precisely how a boy who sexually assaults a girl while he is drunk looks when he grows up. his true self showed today, and every survivor who saw his face, who heard Christine Blasey-Ford say she was once scared he might kill her, recognized him as a perpetrator.

and Dr. Ford stood in her dignity, her life – changed long ago by this trauma – is now again forever changed by her bravery. her dignity helped her stand there in her terror and revisit her trauma. she even explained to the world how trauma works in the brain, because like all of us, she is not only a survivor but a whole human being…and in this case, a scientist.

Amilcar Cabral taught us to “claim no easy victories”. i deeply believe that – and i am curious about how we understand what a victory is in this political climate. i was teaching all day yesterday. i read the testimony laying in bed, after reading about Bill Cosby finally being held accountable in the only way possible in his lifetime.

i want to share that i believe it is a victory that the attention of the nation was on this hearing, and that this brilliant woman stood in her dignity and told the truth. now everyone has to face it. those who are doing everything possible to regress humanity back into caves still have a say in the decision of this moment. they may not be transformed by Dr Ford’s dignity, by Kavanaugh’s pathetic guilt. but the landscape of this long war against patriarchy and rape culture is changed by her advance, by this battle.

the #metoo movement is opening up the closets of this country. when Dr. Ford tells her truth, in her dignity, she is flanked by millions of survivors finding our voices and tired of the bullshit. we shake and we cry and we rage and we battle through the day. we cast binding spells. we tell our stories, again and for the first time. we are not passive observers. we are survivors who have learned and are learning to alchemize our pain into futures that don’t hurt our children’s children. our stories are our slingshots, and we are moving forward. and none of us move alone. we are growing from #metoo to #wetoo, and we hold each other up on days like this.

and Kavanaugh, regardless of the decision made about his work, still has options for his soul. his legacy doesn’t have to be that face full of rage and denial, barrelling towards a false entitlement. he can turn and face his actions, his history. he can atone and be accountable. it is important that all perpetrators know that.

but for me, i want to recognize the victory of Dr. Ford, the dignity of that survivor telling her story and shifting the lens through which we see this man and any governing body that would accept him without him taking accountability for these illegal and immoral actions. i hope she is being celebrated properly by those closest to her. i hope there is victory in her heart.

Alana Slays Dragons

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my friend Alana needs your help. she is well into the miracle phase of her life. we all know that we are going to die, but most of us don’t know how, and we can pretend the time is far away. for two years now, Alana has woken up every day knowing that cancer is inside her body, too far along to be stopped, the number of her possible days spoken aloud. she shares each step of her journey, finding the humor, the pleasure, the connection in each battle. she reads Harry Potter, and she plays scrabble, and she slays dragons. it’s never fair when someone gets sick in this way, at this young age. but Alana’s fight is especially unfair, because my friend is in the kind of love that humans long for at the cellular level, the kind of love that deserves forever, the kind of love that cannot be quiet. her love and life are a benefit to all who cross her path. please go and read her incredible, vulnerable blog. it ends with this donation link – give her more days to live, more days to love. give her family space and time with this badass angel. give give give!