i am a writer writing in the woods

i haven’t brushed my hair since i arrived. i have taken epsom salt baths and two-headed showers. i have to remind myself to brush my teeth, and something about this pleases me, the hermit-nature of it. i am a virgo, this is extra. i have left the house twice, both times to walk to the nearest body of water and listen to it, the waves lapping song against the shore. looking among the ducks for the giant swans that i see bobbing there each morning. today i saw one in the late afternoon light – it looked like it was my size, so i said ‘hey thick ass swan, looking good’!

i have written for about 24 hours now, with daily dance breaks. am i delirious? only with pleasure. pun intended, but i only expect those in the know to get my drift.

please don’t ask me where i am, i appreciate feeling like there is some mystery about all of this. when i want people to know where i am, i geotag myself and scream it from the mountaintops. but right now i appreciate the solitude, even if it is mythological, or generated only from my boundaries. boundaries are life’s work! i love boundaries. this whole paragraph is a boundary, do you feel my joy?

i have been practicing not looking at incoming requests, and deflecting folks when work comes through personal channels. it’s hard and i am doing it.

the things that come through are only things that do not wait – things that make me cry instantly, an assassination, the death of someone fabulous, a new cancer, an older one, a heartbreak or two, a grief cycle.

in the face of the massive and melancholy, i appreciate how clear and small the editing process feels, how instinctive and nourishing the weaving of these pleasure tales feels. writing, total writing, is an erotic experience for me. i feel so alive.

i removed social media from my mobile devices (instagram is not social media, it’s like hbo) and yet the web of superconnection is like moana’s sea, it calls me! so i am being patient in the withdrawal, noticing each time i go out of my way to plug in, and what i actually need.

at least it is still a choice. (suspicion voice tho)

the soundtrack so far is Joi, Lizzo, DRAM, and Prince. the number one snack is homemade kale chips, tied with a homemade honey peanut butter.

happy new moon. hope to sleep soon. <3

Detroit is/as/beyond Wakanda(?/!)

the other day i got be part of a circle of Detroit thinkers, makers and artists considering the relationship between Detroit and Wakanda. in what ways is Detroit a Wakanda? in what ways might we go beyond our in a different direction than Wakanda?

we met at the FabLab, hosted by the brilliant Blair Evans, who gave us a tour of all the equipment that is changing the realm of production. the other invited speakers were myself, Ingrid Lafleur if Afrotopia, and black comic artist Arvell Malcom Jones. the other attendees were comic book creators, technologists, organizers, entrepreneurs, artists, parents, educators, children and more.

i took notes cause it was a great conversation across a lot of walks of life.

Blair shared the democratizing potential of spaces like the FabLab – what if anyone in any community can make whatever they need? how could that shift our economy? and since the technology is basically here, what human systems are needed to make the most of that potential?

i made some connections between Detroit and Wakanda – we are a city that people can’t truly see from outside, that people have written off. but so much innovation is galen here – it’s part of why i moved to Detroit on purpose. i spoke of our practice of small scale innovation and intentional experimentation in projects like the FabLab, Peace Zones for Life, Detroit Summer, and the very idea that we transform ourselves to transform the world. i also spoke of the resource richness of our location, with 25% of the world’s fresh water around us. i asked how we hold boundaries in a way that isn’t isolating.

Arvell spoke on the work of creating comics and stories of our own, and doing this in community. he asked, “if you are taking care of the people and they take care of you, what do you need?” he also noted that the role of monarchy in Wakanda is about managing needs and resources, versus just holding power over others.

Ingrid asked if Mayor Young could be read as a Killmonger – an anti hero working to create Detroit as a safe space for black bodies to prosper. she reminded us that Detroit is built on salt, a crystal city, on incredibly rich soil. she asked, “what kind of orientation do visitors to Detroit really need?”

here are some thoughts from the conversation – i tried to catch everyone’s names*. enjoy!

zoo, the barber, spoke about where conversations really happen – in the barbershop. he said the old, ancient ways were better.

we noted than one strength of Wakanda is that the ancient and future coexist and grow together.

Blair added that if we don’t have a framework, then we will use bigger, better tools to replicate pathological behavior.

Halima and Talon spoke about how WE are vibranium, and our hearts are the purple flower.

Numi, in full Wakanda regalia, shared the Afrofuturist Youth Project, which is teaching youth healing modalities, political education and arts.

Lou pointed out that scale made Wakanda successful – everyone had relationships with each other.

Elandria, visiting us on a tour to learn what different communities think about ‘the Commons’, shared that in her work it’s important to have things you don’t use machines for, so you don’t lose the person who knows that job or skill. and noted that great ideas don’t really matter to folks who can’t pay their bills. she asked how do we meld the
theoretical with the practical?

she also pointed out that the movie, and Wakanda, are still based on extraction. and that actually we need things that are within, that we can all access. she left is with the question, how do we show our shadow side for the sake of being whole in community?

coke spoke on how Wakandans did don’t want to share vibranium if it could be used for harm, and said this reminded him if cell phones in schools, which kids use to access porn, or text people to come fight. he asked how do we change how our children think and act? how do we use technology to do that? so they start creating futures? the children are our vibranium (this point was shared by so many in the room)!

mama lila spoke on how technology interferes with face to face connection. she thrilled us with the reminder that with children we’re building a pathway forward, vs adults, who are unlearning. she said we need to view lived experience as a gift, a source of political education. and reminded us about the importance of our water, that the whole emergency management move was about taking control of our water. wage love.

mohan told us technology is important to empower and augment, not replace. he says we have a tremendous cognitive surplus in this region – how do we bring the tools to ask the people here? he reminded us not to be afraid of failure – an idea isn’t important, but a series of ideas we learn from is very important. he said open source has made so much technology accessible, but we must learn through failing like in a video game. you get good through iteration. (!!)

lauren noted that one of the biggest blocks to actualizing Wakanda is how we think of ourselves. how do we activate that liberator mindset while still in a colonizer-adjacent space?

ingrid asserted that joy is a rebellion. she said “i am active in joy and pleasure to decolonize black bodies.”

upcoming ways to continue conversation:

check out an emergent strategy immersion or facilitation training – www.alliedmedia.org/esii

Ingrid is hosting a conversation on cryptocurrency/black chain on Mar 22 at Norwest Gallery.

Arvell offers ongoing comics classes.

Blair is generating FabLab cities with a vision of Detroit being independent by 2054. he reminded us to generate more than we use, to not be extractive but generate for future generations. to remember we are machines running on DNA coding (swoon). practice makes it real. also community hours at fablab 3-6 daily!

* if i missed yours let me know and i’ll update!

excerpt from Sublevel: Report

i was asked to write a piece for Sublevel magazine and it aligned with what felt like a transmission, possibly written in the pace of a Battlestar Galactica cylon hybrid. here’s an excerpt and a link to the full piece!

Task: We must become scholars of belonging.

Need: Separation weakens. It is the main way we are kept (and keep each other) in conditions of oppression.

Truth: Belonging doesn’t begin with other people accepting us. It begins with our acceptance of ourselves. Of the particular life and skin each of us was born into, and the work that that particular birth entails.

Mantra: Where we are born into privilege, we are charged with dismantling any myth of supremacy. Where we are born into struggle, we are charged with claiming our dignity, joy and liberation.

Possibility: From that deep place of belonging to ourselves, we can understand that we are inherently worthy of each other. Even when we make mistakes, harm each other, lose our way, we are worthy.

Practice: Learn to apologize. A proper apology is rooted in this worthiness – “I was at my worst. Even at my worst, I am worthy, so I will grow.”

Practice: Move towards spaces that value us, let ourselves belong to those communities that know they want us, know they need us, know we have worth, know we deserve more than transactional care.”

read more HERE!

home joy in three parts

today i joined a gym. i told someone yesterday that i wasn’t this kind of person, but inside i felt devastated because i love my body and want to be good to it. i asked my sugar shift group for some help, how do i balance between self-care and self-discipline. they were gentle and wise and spacious and brilliant. i woke up this morning and asked my body what it wanted. it wanted to move, it wanted to be in water, it wanted as much future as possible. so i drove over to the gym to join. i teared up as i was filling out the paperwork, hearing all the little voices of resistance (you can’t afford this right now, what about when you travel, you not gonna keep it up) try it and then have to get quiet in the face of my resolve. it’s my choice today.

then i went to swim, and the pool was full of black people in a water aerobics class. i shrugged and got in the pool. i was the only person under 60, the music was james brown and earth wind and fire. it was hard! it was so good. i started giggling with joy and endorphins, feeling strong and young and like a whole body.


this morning i woke up before dawn. i found one of my plants had sprung a new leaf, with another almost there. i touched my plant and told her she looked so beautiful and she was growing so well. the new leaves were wet to the touch, like water i had poured in days ago had come through the dirt, through the secret inner pathways of the plant, to make this bursting easy. it’s hard to recall how little she was when i got her. now she grows visibly every single day, more when she’s sung to.

earlier this week i watched a hawk eat a small bird in the tree out my front window. it was magnificent and gross. the plants heard all my reactions. i think i amuse them.


i’ve been cooking so much during this time at home. a short list of things i’ve made:

croutons with nutritional yeast
salad dressing centering pickled ginger
arugula salad
basil pesto turkey sausage & kale lasagna
kale chips
madddd roasted vegetables
miso rice
extravagant egg sandwiches
turmeric tea

transformative justice in wakanda

i just saw black panther for the third time. i wanted to see it in 3D, just in case the awesome could be enhanced in any way. 3D felt unnecessary. the visuals are so crisp, so stunning, that all the dimensions felt covered without special glasses.

since my first viewing, i have had something between a thought and a longing, something i need to explore. i admire the movie, and each viewing gives me more to admire in how the story unfolds. in order to explore this thought-longing i needed to see the film again. and again. and i will surely watch it some more.

and i want to talk about transformative justice in wakanda. (this piece will only make sense to people who have seen the movie.)

transformative justice is justice that goes beyond punitive justice – punishment in response to transgression (from spanking to prison to death penalty); and goes beyond restorative justice, which seeks to restore the original conditions in which harm happened, often focusing on rehabilitating offenders rather than systemic change. transformative justice recognizes systemic injustice, oppression, and particularly the harms that come from putting conflict resolution in the hands of the state; it seeks to go deep into the soil and find the root causes for harm and transform the systems and societies such that harm becomes impossible.

my question around transformative justice in wakanda first occurred to me while watching the last minutes of the story: i believe that the king, t’challa, is offering his antagonist, erik killmonger, transformative justice. and killmonger is not ready for it. with each viewing this belief has strengthened.

Screenshot 2018-03-03 19.45.33

in the scene, t’challa has just bested killmonger in a battle on a literal underground railroad (this was pointed out to me by the very observant poet nadine marshall). t’challa has delivered one of those mystical injuries where the weapon is lodged in killmonger’s body in such a way that it’s a death blow, but the actual death won’t happen until the weapon is removed. i love movie injuries like this because they allow for extended death monologues that spark blogs.

t’challa helps a dying killmonger up into the light, to see the sunset. killmonger’s first words after the death blow are that his father, n’jobu (played by sterling k brown, one of the people most likely to make me cry in the last year) had always told little erik about these sunsets. i had questions about whether n’jobu actually told erik about their secret homeland as a child or only in the secret wakanda journal in his gun closet…or if he just mentioned it in the afterlife.


regardless, this sunset move on t’challa’s part is generous. killmonger has killed t’challa’s uncle (zuri, who, adorably, calls t’challa the bleck peintha…and who, in all fairness to killmonger’s vengeance, betrayed n’jobu back in 1992).

killmonger has also thrown t’challa to what seemed like certain death, burnt all the heart shaped flowers that make black panther kings, and caused mad strife between couples and friends in wakanda. killmonger literally arrived like, ‘hi, i spent my whole life preparing to kill you. what’s good?’


it’s only because of FINE ASS m’baku that t’challa is even alive. now that i mentioned m’baku we should probably look at him.



so. the fact that t’challa continuously tries to find a non-combat-to-the-death way to resolves things with killmonger is noble (woah, did y’all know that noble means having a higher moral principle AND belonging to a hereditary class of rulers? it’s like the hierarchy superword!). however, killmonger is right as rain about one thing: wakanda has been shirking its responsibilities…to the diaspora specifically, and the world at large potentially. it’s unlikely that t’challa would have seen the error of national isolation without this challenge.


the crucial exchange i want to examine happens in the fading light of this sunset.

t’challa says ‘we might be able to heal you.’
killmonger says, ‘why? so you can lock me up? naw son. bury me in the sea with my ancestors who knew death was better than living in bondage.’ he then pulls the spear out of his chest and dies.

i think this moment is so crucial. it’s so heartbreaking.

i have seen and heard people express disappointment that t’challa doesn’t respond in that moment to say ‘wakanda has no prisons!’ or ‘dude, i’d never lock you up. you’re my bro-cousin and all is forgiven.’

but to me, what t’challa offered was far more precious than the absence of prisons – he offered the possibility of healing, which could only be offered with the energy of compassion. i didn’t hear it simply as – we can close up the wound in your body, but as a larger, deeper understanding that what killmonger needs is not victory, or defeat, or prison, but healing. t’challa has listened through the violence, through the personal attack. he has heard the pain under all the anger.

a course in miracles has this idea that what people do is either an act of love or a cry for love. to be able to hear that cry, for love, for healing, is quite profound.

we actually don’t know if wakanda has prisons or not (unless they’re in the comics…are they? UPDATE: several readers quickly let me know there are prisons and popo! more reading required on my part – a part two of this post is coming). yes it would be great to know for sure that wakanda is abolitionist.

but this also speaks in some way to the limits of the colonized imagination. a nation that developed outside of the context of colonialism and slavery would likely have a different method of justice than what we as black people in the u.s. have ever known. black people are part of a diaspora that has been shaped by and against colonialism and white supremacy; we have been traumatized by punishment from humans who did not, and do not, see us as people.

this is not to imply that any prison is ever acceptable, but simply to point out that what we experience as prison/confinement in the u.s. is inside an institution that is a direct descendent of slavery, that is still constructed to break us, to generate labor and misery instead of healing at an individual and societal level.

i actually have a lot of curiosity about how wakandans approach justice. the existence of the doro milaje and ritual combat suggest that physically engaging in combat for a purpose is engrained into the society. the jabari have different values and they have sovereign space in which to live into that difference, plus a fighting chance at the throne. even the conflict of having a privileged monarchy vs other wakandans has to be understood through a context that most black americans can’t fully grasp: being tribe. having love and honor and protection and love for each other as tribe. this is part of what has been taken from us, what we are regenerating.

in wakanda there’s evidence that conflict, and the meting out of justice, happens in culturally respected settings, and that it is generative, from a sense of being tribe, of sharing land, of sharing identity.

but in absence of more information on it, i would say in some ways we miss the point if we focus on physical prisons or not, because it is a society in which healing is possible.

we live in a society where, whether we are behind bars or not, we are constantly harmed, constantly reminded that we can be taken when the state decides. in that constant harm, healing at a societal level feels impossible.

in wakanda we see healing with herbs, healing with family and relationship, healing with the land. healing is available to killmonger without anyone having to say, ‘i understand you’, or ‘i forgive you’. it’s just there if he wants it.

he chooses death. he disrespects my ancestors on the way, the humans black americans descended from only because they chose to live, to cast their breath forward through terror and hell, towards their childrens’ childrens’ children.

and even when killmonger rejects the possibility of healing, even when he is dead, t’challa is still compelled to seek solutions to the original wound that created killmonger’s need for annhilation. t’challa takes shuri to oakland, he wants to bring what wakanda has to offer into relationship with that place. the emergent strategist in me is pleased to see that he is starting with a relatively small experiment – an outreach center (although i also saw the instant gentrification flags). but he is moving in the direction of healing the underlying wounds that killmonger carried into clear view.

i wonder what it would take in this moment for most of us to be able to continue to extend the possibility of healing to those who have harmed us, harmed our families and communities, harmed our movements. those who look like us, and those who don’t. can we stay focused on the harm? and, from whatever privilege we have, can we adapt to meet the deepest need?

that, to me, is the lasting question of wakanda. it is an echo from toni cade bambara’s salt eater: “are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?”

are we?

virgo full moon journal

i am a practical witch.

i charge up my moon phase tattoo under the full moon of my sun sign, yes. i know how that sounds. but i just stand there briefly, grateful the moon is visible after the hours of snow. the clouds are moving quickly, so do i. i put a glass of water out in the path of the moon and tell it what is ready to go from my life. in the morning i will pour it away from me.

today was a hard day. it started off with the news that a wrongfully convicted comrade, a pregnant comrade, was taken into custody. she is being taken to prison to begin a mandatory two year sentence. it’s unimaginable, it’s devastating. i felt helpless. i made an altar, and i felt grounded and helpless.

my comrade needs a miracle. she is not alone. there’s so much too much right now. we have do what we can together.

today i spent a lot of time getting things together for the irs. humbled, dissociated, doing what needs to be done. i am having to ask for so much help these days.

it is a very difficult time to be humbled, to have to give any time, any resources to this government. to feel no trust in the systems of this place.

this moon is about getting things in order. it gives me some satisfaction to do mundane things that can be completed. today the big things were hard but the small things were easy. today that is enough.

radical gratitude spell

a spell to cast upon meeting a stranger, comrade or friend working for social and/or environmental justice and liberation:

you are a miracle walking
i greet you with wonder
in a world which seeks to own
your joy and your imagination
you have chosen to be free,
every day, as a practice.
i can never know
the struggles you went through to get here,
but i know you have swum upstream
and at times it has been lonely

i want you to know
i honor the choices you made in solitude
and i honor the work you have done to belong
i honor your commitment to that which is larger than yourself
and your journey
to love the particular container of life
that is you

you are enough
your work is enough
you are needed
your work is sacred
you are here
and i am grateful

i love winter

i love snow.

i love walking in the snow and i love sitting in my house and watching the weather come and go, fog, snow, freezing rain, sun. weather in a big sky is part of what brought me to detroit.

i love how quiet it is when it’s snowing, and snow days and tea/hot toddies, soup and reading and taking hot baths that fog up the windows.

i love putting my footprints in the fluff, i love the heat of my own body under my layers. i love having the right layers, the learning that goes into keeping my body warm and mobile and dry.

two things make this love possible – winter travel to warmer places (though with climate change, it’s been kind of cold everywhere), and working from home. i’m not sure my love would be as possible if either of these norms shifted.

but as it is, i just wanted to say it loud and clear: i love winter.

apologia, alabama

we were not the revolution
we gathered in sight of the monuments
we held up our phones at arms’ length
standing on the bridge looking for
droplets of iron and salt
rinsed away by rain 53 years ago
my father was twelve and then thirteen
I mean this happened in his lifetime
but now we have already gone so soft

in the slavery museum
he called us wenches and bucks
yelling in militant cadence
absent of feeling, at ease in the work
‘bend your knees, don’t you look at me’
and we did, and we didn’t
and some of our comrades laughed
because they are really from the continent
and they don’t have this memory in their veins

I feel defensive of my bloodline
and in those small rooms of wood and drama
I wept, but quietly, ashamed to be the open wound
when I’m supposed to be a teacher

we met people in the small town
they all came out to touch our hands
I wanted to tell them
‘I learned to breathe from a man who migrated north from around these parts
to breathe freely
to say the word revolution in the mirror
and feel capable of the terrible’
I learned to be somebody, of many,
a miracle in a realm of ubuntu

but we sat in the room
as if blackness was a wilderness we had controlled
as if we knew how it should be lived
as if it were solid and real and forever
as if we carried no seeds in our mouths
only tornados, glaciers, or chasms
as if history was a door closed behind us
and not this rope fraying at our
withered, willing necks

final letter to Ursula le Guin (sent the day after your departure)

first, a few excerpts from our correspondence, which will be published in the Ursula le Guin Science Fiction and Social Justice Reader this year.

amb: How does imagination help our species survive?
UKL: It is through imagination that we think intelligently about what we’ve done, are doing, and should do.

amb: did you ever spend time with Octavia?

UKL: We met only two or three times…She was an extraordinary person, both formidable and lovable.  I always felt she was larger than life, if you know what I mean.

amb: Thanks for your life’s work!
UKL: You’re very welcome! I have enjoyed it very much.


a relationship with a beloved writer can be a very selfish place. you are alone with them, building an understanding of the world through their eyes and some intimate pairing of imaginations – they paint the worlds but all of it happens inside you. i tried to write something more epic and universal, and i trust that will come. but first i wanted to write a letter to her that was about how she shaped me.

dear Ursula,

great teacher.

great spirit.

i’ve been crying since i got the news of your passing, and also feeling very alive.

i got to live at the same time as you.

and i get the honor of grieving you.

there are thoughts and ideas you wrote down that became beliefs for my whole life, marking posts on the journey of freeing myself.

there are questions you asked that changed the way i could think.

many of us don’t get to experience grandparents who can accept us whole. for me you were one of the adults who stepped into that yawning space, who joined the composite of my dream elder.

you let me know i may be in the wrong universe, but i am not wrong, i am not impossible.

you not only matched and fed my queer unorthodox mind, but pushed me further. on relationships and sex alone you had me consider: what about four-way marriage? what about gender as a responsive switchy sexual state that was otherwise nonexistent? what about instead of a period you just had a monthly sexual overdrive and a special place to go orgy for that time?

i am a lucky one – i got to tell you to your face that you were everything – and you were gracious about it.

i am still creating a project about your work. in researching it i became fascinated by you, your abundant correspondence, your art and poetry connected to the worlds you created, your fierce letters to local editors about tree removals, your loves and flirtations.

i still want to read everything. it feels impossible in the best way.

writers cast themselves out to the world with words, so that now you feel fully dispersed more than gone. you were so generous with your gifts. and you were rare – both prolific and genius. so many genius words!

the worlds you wrote increased my trust that white people could imagine something beyond their own supremacy. and that capitalism could be out imagined, like monarchy.

even when i did not seek you, you were there.

when i learned to meditate, you’d left me a framework.

when i fell in love with the Tao, i could turn to your translation.

when i wanted amazing fiction for all my nibblings, you had a series on flying cats.

when i needed to stand up for something, feeling alone in my dignity, you told me about the ones who walk away from a utopia dependent on someone else’s suffering.

when i lost hope in this world, you offered me a plethora of fully formed universes to learn from. you even gave me multiple options for moving between universes, both distant and parallel.

when some aspect of humanity felt beyond my comprehension or compassion, i found books you had written twenty years before that not only opened my heart, opened the possible in me, but generated desire for that specific difference.

when i wondered if imagination could be necessary for revolution and transformation, you said yes, you said our dreams and visions matter, they are the way we make oppression temporary.

88 years. i wanted more. you are that kind of human.

even as i sit in my grief for you, you guide me, you remind me that you are not absent, but complete.

“true journey is return.”


from the new yorker’s piece “the fantastic Ursula le Guin”