being different

for the past few years, every june, tons of my favorite people come to detroit. they come beaming love and brilliance in rainbow neon sundresses, low slung shorts, tattoos, amazing new haircuts, in caravans, on buses, on bikes. un-uniform, completely fresh, waves of light fantastic.

for the past three years, my sister has been amongst the beautiful people.

we cloud together for the allied media conference (AMC), a gathering of futurists and imaginators and transformers, co-evolving our community work as we learn new ways to share our stories.

each year, i have been running all over the place, sweeping past the people i loved as i dashed to emcee this and facilitate that and generally be a little too fabulous to connect with.

it was fun.

today i feel like a different person coming into the space – into any space.

for one thing, i only have a few things scheduled, and they are things i deeply love, focused on octavia or on sabbaticals and healing. i am deeply rested and not really interested in running anywhere. in fact i have been sick the past four days after jumping back in a little too fast and rough.

and a lot has changed that doesn’t fit easily into a “how are you?” response. in fact – i can’t think of even one aspect of my life that is unchanged. where could i begin? and yet, i’m realizing that the same is almost always true, for everyone. we try and snapshot our lives at each other at these gatherings where we have full fascinating programs and around the edges fit in the building relationship part that strengthens our movements.

the AMC does a better job than most at cultivating intentional time throughout, but it’s still 1500-2000 people to love all at once. and hot cuss but they are loveable.

i mostly wish i could just float through the gathering and see everyone, see how lovely and vibrant and wicked and intelligent they all are, without having to say a word. i may do that, just smile a lot and let people hug me, see my tan and tattoos. i believe i am at the end of a realm of conferencing as the main way i see and fall in love with these people – i want deeper connections from everyone, in their backyards or at my kitchen table, one at a time.

so. for the next few days, i’ll be making notes in my head about who i want to dive into deeper, later. and as people come at me with all their love and updates and excitement, i am just going to breathe a lot, stay focused on what my body is telling me i need to do as i heal and keep landing home, and be present.

it’s all love.

scent free at the AMC

recently as i have reconnected with people, several have commented about my distinctive scent as something they missed about, something they really notice.

i feel deeply associated with, and ridiculously proud of, smelling like a combination of nag champa, egyptian musk, lavender, and about 18 other secret spices, hair products, and sacred oils/smokes. i don’t even really notice as i layer scents into my clothes, home, skin. and no one’s ever told me my scent was making it hard for them to participate in anything…

so the recent trend in movement spaces to be fragrant free and chemically sensitive has been very very challenging for me. it’s not that i lack belief, it’s that i LOVE smelling the way i smell.

but – i have seen people having reactions to laundry detergent and deoderant, i have heard people speak about how isolating it is, and how hard it is to raise it as an issue in a public space.

and to be honest – i’m not ready to be scent free all the time, and i may never be ready for that. but, in the spaces where i know i will be in close proximity to those who are negatively impacted by chemicals, such as the allied media conference starting on thursday, i am going to do it. and invite everyone else to really honor the call to do it.

and by it i mean:

– washing my clothes & body in unscented natural detergent/soap
– wearing unscented deodorant
– laying off my oils for the days of the gathering
– finding ways to ground and center myself without sage, incense, or essential oils (working a lot with breath)

it’s not easy, but as i step more deeply into my healing work in communities i love, i need to know that i’m not unintentionally making it impossible for other people to be in space with me.

there are, of course, some powerful pieces written about this stuff already which have grown out of years of communities creating accessible spaces, so i wanted to post a couple of them here, for those coming to the AMC, and for those creating spaces for folks to come together. these two are written by women of color who have made the need to honor scent free spaces real and accessible to me (and been loving and patient with me in my learning process (thanks leah and mia!)).

1. fragrance free femme of colour realness, by leah lakshmi piepzna-samarasinha

2. access intimacy: the missing link, by mia mingus

and then octavia was born

today, 65 years ago, octavia butler was one day old.

i love the idea of this, of her being born, and being a tiny baby with little clenched hands and curling toes and round and screaming hello into the world, being held and protected and celebrated.

i wonder how she looked, how she sounded, what her first sight was, first smell.

i honor her mother, also an octavia, and her father who would only get a short time with her before his death – these people got to love her just for her very existence, before anyone knew her as a genius recluse science fiction prophet. i wonder how her mother and grandmother felt about the young writer.

now, i was going to write something yesterday, on her birthday, but it wasn’t that kind of day. it was the 4th day of a road trip, in the company of one of my greatest friends, where I was the only person who could drive. and after the days of pavement and landscape, all I could do was drive, sing music really loud, and take in the beautiful world around me. the thought that kept coming to me was that i truly wish America was as beautiful inside, in it’s practices and policies and laws and humanity, as it is on the outside. such a beautiful country, and i am really aware of how i feel both home and visitor all the time as i travel here.

anyway, as soon as i got to detroit it was time for jenny lee’s birthday which featured my favorite ballroom hustle teacher and fireworks! i had a dazed lovely reunion with a lot of my detroit family, and got to sweat the road out on the dance floor – summer is truly here. but after that, there was no space for an intentional love note, which any writing i do on octavia will always be.

this coming weekend is the allied media conference. lots of us in the amc family have been immersing ourselves in octavia’s work for a few years, in workshops and conversations and community. this year, because of my sabbatical, i didn’t propose a session on her…and yet as i returned, a session fell into my lap that someone else had proposed who then couldn’t make it to the conference! i’m thrilled because the session proposal is very cool, aligns with the anthology i’m working on with walidah imarisha, and because it is healing to me every time i get to explore octavia’s work with others.

healing because so many of us are shy, are writers, are disgruntled creators, don’t agree with how very meta major things in the world are going. because so many of us are heroines of stories that haven’t yet been written, and need massive time alone to envision the specifics of how humans can be deeply transformed. because we need imperfect characters who take us with them on journeys into strength, letting us see that it actually looks like vulnerability, yielding, merging, emerging, and loving.

if you are at the amc, come through this session, we will honor octavia’s birth by diving all the way into one of her worlds:

Edible space ships, off-grid “resistor” towns, and alien-induced polyamory are some of the projections for challenge and change for human survival in Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood. What happens when we embrace change? When change is no longer challenging? Can we live our fantasies? Join us for a celebration of our collective awakening as we take a personal look inside the Lilith’s Brood series and collectively write the next short story in this series, redefining land, life, love, and liberation.

we will also be geeking out on octavia and other dope science fiction writers in this session:

Transformative Justice Science Fiction Reader, begun at AMC2011. Containing awesome writing about how writers like Nalo Hopkinson, Nnedi Okorafor, Samuel Delaney and more have imagined ways to deal with violence without police or prisons, this reader will help us dream our way into putting transformative justice into practice. Participants will walk away with copies of the Reader and the opportunity to continuously build on it via a Tumblr and Googledoc!

if you aren’t there, reread lilith’s brood (the xenogenesis series) and reflect on how it intersects with your lifestyle now. remember that the genius who wrote it was imperfect, and a baby once, lonely sometimes, and not always pleased with her work.

then create something brilliant.

my sweet cocoons

perfect brilliant and curious nephew is now obsessed with cocoons, caterpillars and butterflies. last week it was pollinators and stamen. with each discovery I raise a hand up wildly – me too, me too!

perhaps my sabbatical was a cocoon. i certainly feel like I’m seeing the world in a thoroughly different way. the mystery is when I entered it – I thought I was wrapping my self up and out of my life when I flew away from work and detroit. now I am beginning to wonder if that was actually the process of me beginning to push my way out of the cocoon I had entered to survive my life, a life where I had lots of hands to the ground, but could not do what I most wanted to do, my equivalents of flight – write, sing, create, heal.

the more I listen to people, the more i see that we all have a capacity within us which is greater than mediocrity. we are each a raw force which, given time and attention, can coalesce into something magnificent and utterly unique.

I have been moving through layers of soft and/or loving places: sister family, new friends, somatic healing, parent family, and heading towards ny family tomorrow. I have been basking in the built-up love of people who have just been so happy to see me, and feeling what it means to be present and centered and me now.

it feels good.

in some ways I feel like a new creature. much of the difference still feels so internal, deep inside myself, for myself. now is an exciting vast time of seeing how that feels in external interactions. one observation: when I am with people I love, I feel a palpable energy, a heat, growing between us. I sense throughout my body how i am opened up, if not yet in the air flying or falling.

regardless, I think moving forward I will keep a cocoon handy. I want to have permission to transform again, to let go of the responsibility to hold myself together if life ever feels mundane in a post-divine sense, to see what new self is longing to form from my essential miraculous content.

and most of all, i will let the people I love be my sweet cocoons, the spaces where I am so true to myself that my very form is free to change, to emerge in ways I cannot comprehend right now.

as I write this a human creation has left our home solar system. this, too, feels like the first pressing up out of a cocoon, tearing at the diaphanous border of self and not self, ours and not ours. it is exciting on any scale, this poking out and looking around and preparing to take flight.

so hello universe. I fly into you.

imani uzuri’s gypsy diaries, a review/love note

so I can’t write much right now – tomorrow I do my first piece of ‘work’ since beginning my sabbatical five months ago, and need my beauty sleep. however!

today I bought imani uzuri’s gypsy diaries album and listened to it once. then about eighteen more times.

I found it first so different from anything else I hear that it intrigued me – there was no pop hit, but just a sustained poetic vulnerability, and skill. rather than a standout song, there was nothing, not one moment, i wanted to skip or miss. and the more I listened, the more I heard, of her journeys through the world, of her pain and heartaches and fierce strength and self-knowing and operatic soul and fearless exploration of her own voice.

it’s a beautiful, brilliant album that every woman I know should listen to on repeat until you really hear it, hear how she knows what she says when she sings, ‘love is patient, love is kind, it is not self-seeking, it is not self-seeking.’

everyone who feels called to travel, wander, get lost, live and learn nomadically, needs to hear her sing, ‘traveling may feel lonely sometimes, but all who wander are not lost. the journey is to look inside and find, and find, and find!’

she sounds like mantra and prayer and dream and…yes ocean, and lava. really massive and gorgeous. and the album journeys, india, russia, africa, tennessee, ny, outer space, inner space…it’s really good, and really unique, and when she says she is ready, when she says ‘you are so beautiful’, it is impossible not to believe her.

she is offering up healing through this music – get some!

the importance of being auntie

I am deep in the special heaven of being auntie. I started by visiting various babies of friends on my journey home, and now I am in the midst of a week of reuniting with my brilliant intriguing and ever changing nephew and niece. it was my niece’s second birthday yesterday.

being here with them, I am reminded of the importance of my role as auntie.

I remember the amazing aunties in my life.

my aunt karen, my mother’s youngest sister, who talked to me like an adult, wore perfectly torn jeans, and took me for the rare secret grape soda. another less clearly related aunt – tanya? – who danced with me all night at a family reunion event. she danced like dancing really mattered, and let me know I was great at it.

aunts that were friends of my parents were equally important – my aunt cindy taught me how to paint my own nails and purse my lips when applying lip gloss. my aunt corina taught me what glamour smelled and sounded like. and perhaps most important was my aunt margaret, the australian. she who wore bright gorgeous colors right down to her socks, and fabulous hats. she had a house that looked like an explosion of paints and sunsets and an aquarium and an international travelers collection. she loved food and children, and she laughed at everything, and had a good surprise/shock face. she made life look incredible and celebratory. she is present in how I do most everything.

now I’m here pulling it all together, feeling like I was born for this particular role. I dress each day with the intention of making my nephew and niece happy and inspired, wanting them to try on my jewelry, paint their toenails and be bold with their own colors. I come to them with my full attention, and we dance and play and create.

what I see now is that the auntie role is as much student as teacher and parental extension. they teach me so much every day that I am with them – about feeling the dynamic ups and downs of the world, making messes, pursuing happiness, letting things go, being unapologetically true to self, loving things wholeheartedly, using one’s body as often as possible (i hadn’t considered that i could feel free to act along with action movies, for instance), choosing over and over to not take things personally, and to ask for what i want.

they remind me that I too started off full of wonder and curiosity, and that each day is full of possibilities, anticipations, meditations, alone times, creations…that we can let go of even our tears, and move into laughter and declaring our love, whenever we want to.

and in exchange I guard them fiercely, and try to answer every question they ask honestly, and come up with projects to engage their imaginations, and say yes as often as possible, and hug and kiss them and swing them around and let them climb on my head in the pool and build them whole worlds out of furniture and pillows, and show them how cool it is to look closer at nature, and encourage them to give rounds of applause to anyone who makes them food, and so on.

and I love them – more than I knew I could love. it’s such an important role in my life, and I am so grateful to my sister and all the other loves of my life who are creating this next generation of brilliant beautiful babies.

tomorrow it will be one year since my grandfather died. he chose the spiritual path of his life when he was five years old. my niece and nephew are already showing such clear unique aspects of themselves. I want them to love justice and nature and spirit and each other and kindness and celebration. I know that all I can do is embody these things in my every moment with them.

its a blessed work.