community supported sabbatical



I’m here in the international terminal, about to board a flight to paris and begin a journey of three months, most of it on my own. I keep expecting to wake up and I keep finding myself in this waking dream!

I have been safety checked by all my family, feted and celebrated and loved on by all of my friends, and this trip was conceived of by my love ilana weaver and is supported by over 50 people now financially and hundreds in myriad other ways – permission, truth telling, advice, favorite spots to visit, seeing me.

the importance of that – that you all are pressing love into my back and wind up under my wings – makes this possible. I literally would have never made it without my community. everyone should experience this beloved community, being seen and held and loved by more people than I can ever properly thank.

my intentions are to love myself more, trust myself more, and learn about my health and my peace on this journey.

I’ll be in touch 🙂

the brands of my journey

i just realized that I am deeply branded on this journey I am about to embark on – I have been seeking the best ways to minimalize my belongings for the next three months while maximizing my style, creativity and health. I am a huge fan of things that are high quality so I don’t have to buy/own a lot of stuff, but what i have feels good, looks good, smells good, aligns with my principles, and is good to the planet.

here’s what I love so far:

1. ex-officio underwear. these feel great, are treated with some scientific stuff to resist grossness, and you can wash them in the sink and they dry in two hours so you can literally travel with 2-4 pair and be good for a long time. these are the drawers of the future.

2. trudy miller. Trudy makes zero waste convertible pieces of tight stretchy magic that can be layered or worn alone as shirts, skirts, belts, cowls, scarves, dresses or whatever else you come up with. this is my primary clothing item for the trip because I can wear her pieces every day and never have the same outfit on. William Gibson foresaw this clothing in Idoru.

3. tom’s. one pair of toms flats and a new pair of tom’s wrap boots are my primary shoes for places where sandals aren’t enough. I love their business model and the comfort of their shoes. I also got a pair of saucony sneakers for a more bright freshness look, those feel incredible for the walking I need to do to truly get lost in each city.

4. manduka. I am slowly making yoga a key spiritual and physical practice in my life, one sun salutation at a time. I know that I want to have the freedom to do yoga wherever I go, but all the mats i found were too big to travel with. a yogi friend quickly pointed me in the right direction – manduka has a full size biodegradable mat that folds into a slender square to slip into luggage. woot!

5. eagle creek – my travel towel and security belts are small, lightweight, necessary pieces that are made perfectly.

6. muji! I generally love muji items, everything is made in the spirit of brilliant, simple, small design. all my socks (recycled fabric) and writing utensils for this trip are muji. just being in the store makes me feel happy about the kind of eco-friendly minimalist design we could live in.

7. the diva cup! I don’t have to worry about buying tampons and pads around the world, I just have my diva cup which takes up almost no space and can handle everything I and the moon throw at her. I feel like a goddess during my periods because of this little cup; no woman should continue building a mountain of used tampons and pads in the world if the diva cup works for her.

I’ll keep you posted on other perfect travel things as I find them, and the folks who make them. feel free to add your favorites to this list.

without manipulation

it has been hard to write for the past week – too much to write about! I need to write about Etta James, and about heading on sabbatical, and the beautiful work I am getting to do in the last moments before my sabbatical. I say ‘need to’ loosely because – there are lots of words in me, and I am also liberating myself from doing anything from a place of obligation.

here is something alive in me today.

I was journaling this morning about the kind of spaces I want to create in the world, and it occurred to me that I want to create spaces people long to be a part of – space folks desire to be, but don’t feel obligated to be. radically deep choice.

then I wrote this sentence: ‘I want to open spaces free of manipulation. I want to invite people to be themselves without secretly placing restrictions and boundaries on what that means.’

this is a crystal clear longing I have for all humans.

my friend sterling, who I have called our detroit bodhisattva (which he resists in an enlightened way), calls himself a dressing room where people can try on their true selves without judgement. I feel like the space he creates allows this wholeness and healing to be present wherever he is. I see the impact it has on everyone he meets.

I wish all of us who call ourselves agents of change, facilitators, organizers, activists, intermediaries or anything else in that vein, were holding this way of being.

too often, I feel our work is fundamentally toxified by manipulation – we want to open people to their power and transformation, but only in order to get what we want in the world. it’s ego driven, it’s…not good. we want to change the world by making everyone else change, instead of changing the world by changing ourselves.

and to be fair, we say we want to change ourselves. but actions do speak louder: we still compete, sneak, manipulate, disrespect, accumulate power, build stories of enemies and allies, complain, self-victimize. i do these things, in the spirit of getting food justice and direct democracy and, whatever important thing i want in that moment. I am always amazed when I actually articulate what’s driving my work – I want people to see and want…what I want. genuinely, for themselves, but still exactly as I see it.

and i hear this from other organizers and facilitators in lots of ways, over and over. we need to do ‘this’ so that people will understand ‘this’ and then we can have ‘this’. we want community power, but only if that yields the visions we hold in our own hearts, each vision radically different and often unexplored.

the dissonance between the world we say we want, and the way treat other human beings in pursuit of that world, leaves us strategizing and movement building outside of integrity and authenticity, wondering why we don’t succeed.

I am going on sabbatical in part because I need to regenerate my faith in humanity to be in relationship with each other without manipulation. because I don’t know that we deserve to exist, we humans, if we cannot learn to love each other beyond our desire to manipulate each other, and to create space and society which is about people’s wholeness…not their ‘number-ness’, their body and politic which we can use to achieve this or that campaign. but their wholeness, because we deserve to see ourselves, and humanity, in wholeness. healed.

those are the only spaces I want to hold and be held in, not as an ideal, or righteous vision, but because it feels fundamental to our survival to forsake manipulation as a form of organizing and being, now. i daresay its time to flood ourselves inside and out with respect; to open space for mutual transformation.

we are not nearly done learning, we don’t know yet what right is. let us be in the inquiry together, in community, not knowing, so we can truly hear our selves, present, ancestral and successive, in the context of time’s wisdom.

I suspect an entry way into the practice of operating without manipulation is not to look at how you may manipulate others, but rather, what are the small and large ways you manipulate yourself every day – towards perfection or projection or perception or whatever else is in the conscious mind.

how can you trust yourself, be in right relation with yourself?

a participant in today’s training asked this beautifully: ‘how can I open up the space for my own greatness?’

look in the mirror. breathe deeply. release expectation.



obama and revolution

a word on this election year…

I am so excited that I am about to be away from the u.s. as this election year gears up!

I said, years ago, that I hate politics, and that is still true. I hate the posturing, the games, the polls, the navel-gazing beltway, the lies.

I love the people and land of America, but I hate the politics, and how little the process currently has to do with yielding positive changes in people’s lived experience.

I want an alternative way of being in the world, post-nationalism of any kind, local beyond borders, post capitalist, people and planet-centered. i am learning that way in the work i get to support in detroit. and because the changes I want to see are so pervasive, I identify as an American revolutionary more than associating with any political party.

but to me, this year is a simple year. all I need to do is go on sabbatical, be a revolutionary, and vote for Barack Obama.

for most of us, Obama is not a promised land, though perhaps not enough of us realize yet that no president will ever be that. Obama is a human being in the highest office in a corrupt system in a capitalist nation, so naturally he is a hot mess. i send him compassion.

the people who are vying to run against him are so much hotter in their messiness that I can’t even watch these primaries. not because they are republicans, but because they are part of a racist inhumane anti-immigrant 1%-loving backlash.

I dabble in the belief that revolutionaries shouldn’t engage whatsoever in reform work. if you are all the way there, just be you and dont get distracted or frustrated. heck, stop reading now, this isn’t for you.

if you are unsure about whether or not to engage, just operate on those fronts that feel logical for you. being revolutionary is something we must practice every day, but logic is also something we must practice every day.

logically, we propel ourselves to a dark zombie apocalypse if the republicans come into office this year. the Mayans told us everything will change this year…I don’t think they meant a perry presidency tho. I think they meant the transformations we are currently unleashing. I hope! this is why I am going to the Mayan ruins next month!

as long as I am going to live in America, which as the home of my niece and nephew kind of trumps all other places, I have a responsibility, particularly to those who feel policies shift. those who use food stamps and would not eat if newt gingrich was elected. our newly immigrated folks who won’t survive if michelle bachman is elected. the planet upon which we all depend, which won’t be able to sustain human life for long if a republican is elected.

but I also can’t drop the work I am doing, as a revolutionary, to stump for obama. that’s not logical. if we keep doing that every two/four years, we won’t make meaningful headway in our work to build the radically loving humane society we need to build in the shell of our capitalist present.

there are organizations that blend these realms sustainably and beautifully – I am still partial to the league, which localizes political engagement, integrates electoral and community organizing strategies, and creates accessible voting guides where people converse with each other, educate each other.

those are revolutionary skill sets, even if they are cultivated in a reform environment.

but generally, keep doing what you are doing, supporting your organizations, giving resources to the organizations you currently support, sustain.

we are in a revolutionary age, the age of Arab spring, occupy, 2012 transformation of the world, even my sabbatical – radical things are happening.

it would be amazing if we could all just keep escalating this revolutionary work, and Obama could focus on being the president, bringing home troops and stuff.

I know he won’t, I know he will have to basically pause his real job to campaign. and I know y’all will probably have this debate all year. but I just wanted to say, it could go down differently.

we can choose, we can be complex, anytime.

my year of not falling

last winter, I fell 5 times.

these were not easy falls. each time was fast, abysmal, humiliating, vulnerable, lonely, with me trying to laugh while I silently assessed the damage. my knee, back, ankle, hip…body jarred and now not trusting itself. just awful.

this year I need a break from falling. not falling is a commitment I am making to my skeletal structure, to my flesh, to my future elder body.

so far i have learned that the work of not falling down, which can be read metaphorically or not, includes these practices:

– know all the layers you’re walking on. ice is under everything here…detroit tends to have rain before the snow. if you only see the snow, you are doomed. it’s the clear patches, the just-beneath, the frozen over ditch – that’s where ice awaits your forgetting.

– slow down. the faster you move, the faster you’ll fall. the time it takes to watch your step will keep you balanced.

– the ice is not being slippery, its nothing personal. it’s not about me. it’s just being ice. it is on me to transform my behavior.

– if you can’t handle the snow, the ice…if you can’t be present enough to not fall, then admit it. my favorite rapper, invincible, has a line about winters in detroit: ‘if you can’t take the winter, you don’t deserve summer.’ the past couple of years i was excited by the snow, excited by the challenge. even last year, when I wasn’t down, I was smiling. but this year,
a detroit summer will be a gift I don’t earn. I’m not ashamed, I see it as building up my tolerance.

– its really quite beautiful when you pay attention. the snow, the cold, the ice…letting yourself fall poisons your heart against this particular gorgeous display of water in multiple forms. if you can’t see the beauty in the moment, in the present, take a break. come back refreshed.

I’m looking forward to next winter. this winter, I am gifting myself a year of not falling.

master cleanse

I’m completing day 5 of the master cleanse, so I thought I’d write a bit about it, what I do, and why.

there are a lot of ways folks do it. the way that works for me is to just jump into it one morning, shifting from eating full meals and drinking scotch to living on a lemonade.

I make my drink as a concentrate each morning from 3 lemons, 2 tbsp of grade b maple syrup and a dash of cayenne pepper fused with a detox or fasting tea. throughout the day I keep a mason jar going with 1/4 part concentrate in 3/4 part water.

on the second day I start doing a daily sea salt flush, which is dissolving a tbsp of sea salt in warm water, tossing it back like a shot and then chugging a jar of cool water. the salt moves through the body like liquid plumber, truly magnificent. you can’t leave the house for a couple of hours.

the first day I usually feel a little hungry, the second day I feel very hungry, and then I slip into a space that feels like heaven, where food is not on my mind.

y’all know how much I love food, cooking, feeding people. i have come to believe that delicious meals are central to a good life…

but I also wrestle with food.

for my adult life i have often used food as a way to process my emotions and shield me from attention. when I’m at my worst, I am thinking about food obsessively, eating for reasons that have nothing to do with hunger. when I’m at my best, I am thinking about food generously, creatively, as sustenance and blessing to my body.

lying about food is the major area where I catch myself in a lie, hiding chocolate wrappers and sneaking junk past even my own awareness.

the master cleanse gives me a vacation from thinking about food, gives me space to be present in life in a different way. my other senses come alive, especially my sense of smell. it’s a reset, a clearing.

by day 3 my body begins to feel light, liberated, open.

I don’t eat a lot of toxic foods these days, which is evidenced by how quickly the cleanse becomes normal. I’ve been doing the cleanse annually for years, and it used to run me through changes as what appeared to be detritus of scientific experiments emerged on my face, spawn of cheeze-it’s and pizza I’m sure.

the cleanse is a great assessment tool, and a way of making space for change in my life.

as I prepare for my journey, I want to leave excess behind, get to the lightest, most liberated, most open self…the truth. the cleanse is a very honest process with the self:

– either you can do it, or you can’t. honesty keeps you from suffering.
– it’s when you are alone, and you master the urge to cheat yourself, that you know your true willpower.
– sometimes, i don’t make it, I need to eat. I listen to myself…this cleanse, I have needed to be with myself and see that I can do anything, anything I set my mind to.
– hunger is a brutal experience. that people experience it every day without choice is one of the most shameful truths about humans.
– that was really in your body. really.
– you really need to rest and be healthy! really.

I ended up in a fairy ritual today.

I just wanted to write that sentence, and for you to know it is true! it was beautiful, and only possible for me because i could slow down enough for it to emerge. my lessons from it were that my sabbatical is the answer to every question i have right now, that I need quiet time to fall back in love with myself.

I keep hearing my 3 year old nephew, shouting a line from the land before time (brilliant dinosaur movie you should have seen by now) to strangers on a new playground:

‘I’m not afraid to be alone!’

which is what you say when you are afraid to be alone, but need to radically discover and affirm who you are in the world.

from the fear of being alone, we do so many harmful things to ourselves. we contort ourselves to fit into work, community and relationships in ways that are dictated, intentionally or not, by other parties. losing that fear means true freedom, to act from a space of agency and power and joy.

I got a massage today. the quote over the massage table was one of my favorite from anais nin:

‘And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.’

that’s why I cleanse. it’s time to blossom.

license to chill

i don’t know how to chill.

i have this permission, this complete support, from my partner and family and community, to actually just chill, and i can’t quite figure it out.

i used to know, i think. i have memories where i was actually doing nothing for days at a time. and i know i will again be able to reach that remarkable place. but right now?

i am on this sabbatical, sort of. i have a few more pieces of work to do, but mostly, i am trying to relax.

emphasis on the try. i have been starting my day with sun salutations. i am at the end of the 4th day of the master cleanse, which is giving me this clarity. i went to acupuncture today. i booked a massage for tomorrow. other than that, i am still doing a lot of work.

it’s making me realize why, in fact, i am so tired.

it’s laughable how not great i am at chilling, anymore. it has become my norm to work almost all the time. either i do my facilitation and organizing work while watching other things, or i do housework while people visit me. i am always doing doing doing, never still. even if i am not doing work i am doing things – gaming, reading, watching, cleaning, doing. i pop up with a mind full of tasks in the morning and i don’t sleep til i am so tired i can’t see straight.

i feel guilty when i look at my email and see the work i could be doing. just who do i think i am anyway? i’m abysmal at saying no – over the past three days, four people have merely implied that they needed support, and when i offered it, they had to remind me that i am on a sabbatical.

i know this isn’t the way i want to be feeling, i want my work to come from a place of joy, not guilt or addiction. i know better – how did i get here?

i am admitting it here as a baseline assessment. i long to be able to strike the balance between working and not working, working passionately, spending time just being without any doing involved – meditation, stillness, real sleep…and then just as passionately doing things that are very much not work, things that serve and restore and fulfill me.

i am making lists of more things i like to do that aren’t work, and i am starting to do them.

pray for me.

Rum Cake.

yes – this is an unusual post. recently, at the allied media conference holiday party, i got the great honor of tasting a rum cake that blew my mind. my friend mike medow, who was honored that evening for his remarkable work and commitment, encouraged me to eat this rum cake. his mom had made it, he said, by basting it in tons of rum over the course of several days.

i cannot fully describe to you how amazing it was. but there is one way you can know – you can make it 🙂

Rum Cake by Vickie Lee
From Miriam Medow

1 bx Duncan Hines Yellow Cake Mix*
1 bx Vanilla Instant Pudding
4 eggs
¾ cup Meyers Rum – Original Dark
½ cup Vegetable Oil – Safflower works well
½ cup water
Chopped or crushed pecans
Preheat oven to 350?
Combine all ingredients except pecans; beat for a minute or so until well mixed
Oil an Angel Food or Spring Form cake pan, line with chopped or crushed pecans. Pour in batter. Bake for 40 minutes to 1 hour. Cool for 20 minutes. Remove the cake from pan and place on a plate with a lip.
Note: Do not use flour to line the cake pan

1 cup Sugar – Sugar-In-the-Raw works well
1 cup Meyers Rum – Original Dark
1 stick Butter
Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and heat until it starts to boil.
Pour Glaze over cake. Continue to baste the cake with the run off until all the glazed has solidified. This can be done over a period of a couple of days.

* You can obviously make the cake from scratch if that’s your way 🙂

the amazing 2012 pledge (from diana nucera!)

as promised, the pledge we shouted at the top of our lungs at the beginning of 2012. diana nucera drafted it with a bunch of magical unicorns.

I will live this year like it is the last year on earth!

I will not let fear of being sucked in a black hole stop me from achieving my dreams in 2012.

I will treat my friends, family, and any aliens that visit this planet with love and respect.

I Commit myself to my community and the survival of the planet earth.

If robots develop artificial intelligence, I will make them my friend

I will live this year like it is the last year on earth!

I will make it the most radical and awesome year in the history of the universe.

So say we all!
So. Say. We All!!!

The Other Story (from Autumn Brown)

this is brilliant and timely piece from my sister Autumn Brown, reposted from her newsletter!

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a radio program about the current Republican primary candidates. At one point a woman called in complaining that the candidates are not talking enough about welfare reform. She went on to say that she is a single mom working 60 hours a week to pay for a lifestyle her son’s friends get for free, because in their households one or more parents aren’t working, in some cases by choice. When I told my husband about this later, we had a good laugh about the idea that public assistance and welfare benefits pay for “lifestyle”: as a family who has been on multiple kinds of welfare over the last 5 years, from Medicaid to Food Stamps to WIC, we couldn’t help but wonder what we were missing out on…where were our IKEA benefits?

When I hear an average citizen make the mistake of conflating public benefits with “lifestyle” benefits, I recognize it as a dangerous ignorance arising out of having little or no contact with the welfare system or anyone who is in it. When a current or formerly elected official with experience working for the government says something like this, as Newt Gingrich did when he publicly claimed that some people were taking their food stamp money and going on vacation to Hawaii, I recognize this as a dangerous lie.

The political discourse in our media about welfare has skewed the national conversation such that many citizens actually believe that it is both easy to get benefits, and that you can use benefits any which way you want. The reality could not be more different. Getting into the welfare system requires intense levels of documentation (including but not limited to: social security cards for all adults applying, birth certificates for all children in the family, marriage licenses, utility bills, lease agreements, vehicle titles, proofs of income, bank statements for any accounts you hold, documentation of any daycare expenses, documentation of any school expenses, etc). Most public benefits offices are set up to screen people out of the system, rather than in, which means that any applicant must jump through a variety of hoops (including having their application and documentation “lost” and having to start the whole process over again), miss work or school to attend multiple appointments, and then wait a month or more from their application date for their benefits to kick in.

Once benefits are in hand, they can only be used in a specific way. For example, Food Stamp benefits (also known as food assistance, or SNAP) come in the form of an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card. It looks like a State ID card, and works like a debit card. The benefits on the card can only be used to buy food. An attempt to buy anything other than food – i.e., beer, cigarettes, or a plane ticket to Hawaii – will be rejected by the card. WIC (Women, Infants, and Children food assistance) is even more specific, because it comes in the form of a series of checks that are handed directly to the cashier. Each check outlines which items can be bought with it, and they come with an accompanying guide that outlines which brands of these items are approved and which are not. A Grocery shop with WIC checks can actually take twice as long as a normal shop because the items are so intensely regulated.

So, are frauds perpetrated within this system? Certainly. But in my experience of helping people negotiate these systems, the most frequent fraud perpetrated is this: NOT reporting all of the income a family earns. For example, people who are self-employed may choose to not report all of their income because they know that if they do, the result is being kicked out of the system. The reason these kinds of frauds are committed is very simple: Survival. The public benefits system is set up to take into account ONLY the most basic expenses a family will have – rent, utilities, school, and child care – in its evaluation of whether or not a family qualifies to receive benefits. The system does not take into account cost of living variations around the country, or a host of other expenses that the average family either requires or incurs: transportation to/from work/school/daycare; clothes and diapers; student loans and other kinds of debt repayment; phone and internet bills…these are all things that most citizens would agree are necessary for the average family to function in this country, and yet these expenses are not included in an evaluation of whether or not a family needs health or food support.

So if we can recognize that the kind of fraud that usually takes place is under-reporting of money earned, rather than the myth of using food stamps to pay for vacations, then we begin to paint a different story than the one repeated in the national media. This alternative story is that people ARE working, but are unable to report their income for fear of losing their benefits. And fear they should, for we live in an economy where people are penalized and made homeless for not being able to pay back their loans on time, and yet this aspect of our collective financial duress is left out of the process of evaluating whether or not people can afford food and health care. The notion that this system needs reforming in the direction of screening MORE people out of the system is just plain false. And dangerous.

However, I also do not want to come across as defending the notion that all adults should be working for an income and that there is something wrong with people “choosing not to work.” I have noticed a transition in the national discourse about this question from when I was a kid. It used to be that we lamented the fact that in most two-parent households, both parents have to work. In the last decade, among conservatives and progressives, this has shifted to an expectation that both parents should work, and a criticism of those who “choose” not to work. There is an underlying assumption here that goes unquestioned and unexplored: that all of the other things we do in our homes and lives – things like cooking, cleaning, raising children, volunteering – are not work, and therefore have no value within our economy. We no longer recognize the value in a parent choosing to stay home with their children, because this is not considered “work.” How bizarre. And this notion that both parents MUST work comes with an additional accompanying assumption that goes unquestioned and unexplored: that both parents are working for themselves and their children to have a particular lifestyle – a middle class lifestyle replete with multiple cars, phones, and other gadgets – which is inherently more valuable than the lifestyle they might otherwise have. 

As a full-time mother who must also work somewhere in the range of part-time to full-time doing contract work in order to make ends meet, I recognize that public benefits have been critical to my family’s ability to survive. I expect the government to take responsibility for citizens by redirecting resources in this way and I think it is one of the few things our government could do quite well if it had the right resources. I find it painful to realize that many political figures, when faced with a choice between providing these necessary benefits and allowing children to starve because their parents are not able to afford food, would choose to allow children to starve – even if their position is only rhetorical. The politicians who espouse these dangerous ideas are the same people who claim to uphold Christian values and to defend the family. The hypocrisy is painful to witness, especially because it allows non-elected citizens to feel comfortable and confident sitting in judgment of those who have less than them, from a place of unacknowledged privilege and unabashed indifference.

When we allow this dialectic to go unchallenged, we reinforce the stigma attached to receiving assistance that results in our country’s public benefits being underutilized (in point of fact, close to half of all citizens who are eligible to receive food assistance never do).  We also reinforce the notion that the only appropriate way for individuals and families to receive assistance is through religious charity, which is hugely problematic because these forms of assistance play out primarily within private institutions with few accountability protocols that protect those in need from being abused by those in the position to help them. We reinforce the idea that people in need are only deserving of what those in power are willing to give.

I would much rather put in place systems that reinforce the alternative idea: from each according to their ability, and to each according to their need. Systems where we all have enough to eat, and the health care we need, and a warm house to make a home. We can have fullness, wholeness, and wellness. And maybe go on vacation to Hawaii, too.