not all love is requited…

yesterday was full of intersection. i spent the morning wrapping up facilitation of a circle of black women focused on black reproductive justice. i spent the afternoon in the company of my friend and her 1-year-old, a precious baby black girl from new orleans. in the evening, i watched the oscars with my twitter feed open.

and i can’t help but feel it’s all connected somehow.

because what does it mean to be 1 in new orleans now, and be a black girl – when you can call a real live gifted little black girl from the south a cunt as a joke in public?

because that black baby starlet was in a movie that swirls around in the actual climate crisis truth of what it means to live in this region at this time (where when it rains i feel an undercurrent of…terror? memory? foreshadow?).

because i sat in the room with all these women talking about how far we still need to go to transform reproductive health for black women and girls. because of rape and sterilization and shackles and domestic violence and population control and poverty and the other ways we get hurt. and when they wept i felt them unleashing a hurricane like wood releases the sun. such pain, how can we use it for anything but room to build – build joy, build pleasure, build the power of belonging to no one.

because i am getting used to seeing kerry washington cry for white men, and she still has a dignity, she is so fierce to me. is that acting?

because so recently, in this region, you could put a black woman in a hole in the dirt, and no one would come in blue satin and save her. and part of me needed to see someone show up once, even with all that pale ego behind it. because part of me suspects you can still put us in a hole, as long as you put in our babies and lovers too, or as long as you put a whole city in.

because i am working to transform myself, but i can’t ignore the hole black women are in, if i look at us mathematically. which i tend to check into around this time of year.

because if you look at us mathematically you might see why we want to protect our little girls.

because we want them to be held, to grow up and win oscars and sing louder than anyone else at the oscars, and be beamed in to the oscars from the white house, and then we want so many more radical things.

because i want to see more black everything – days of the year, and faces while driving around this city, and honored on the screen. it is hard coming out of a loving black space and seeing how unseen we can be.

because you know it’s not like i expect much, and i think i have a sense of humor (i don’t get mad about most pothead white dude humor), but 900 people reposted or favorited a sentence calling a 9-year-old black girl that.

because i want to invite quvenzhane to come over into the circle of black women i was co-holding for the past few days and get to soak up how brilliant she is, how people are rooting for her life and her health, not her fame. and rihanna, and jhud, and shirley, and kerry, and halle – and salma too.

because black women are coming together to ‘conscious study how to be tender until it becomes a habit, because what was native has been stolen from us, the love of black women for each other.’ (audre lourde)

because i woke from a dream where someone on the internet wished me dead and wondered if that was a cultural or racial dream, maybe for all women. maybe a dream for a species. i started thinking about what becomes acceptable if we let people go too far without an apology. we become jokes – domestic violence survivor jokes to open the night, genital jokes to close it.

because we have to see when someone doesn’t have the capacity to do better, and have the compassion not to depend on them for our liberation.

because look how much i love hollywood, i love the movies and tv shows and the glamour and fashion, and the photo spreads and red carpets. i go see everything, i notice, i just want to enjoy it, i just want to love it.

because not all love is requited, and what gets us through the heartbreak of being black girls in this country is loving ourselves more tenderly, and comprehensively, and unabashedly. and then continuing to create our own stories, visions, writers, directors, executive producers, academies, networks, foundations, communities and definitions to honor our uncompromised and non-monolithic brilliance.

magical parenting

the snow is up to my knees in some places, on the way to the compost or to get more wood. i’m a little nervous in this mysterious snow after my christmas fall, but every day i gain confidence as i continue not to fall again. during these chores i have time to reflect on how awestruck i am by the endeavor of parenting.

the two parents i have been observing up close for the past five years, my sister and her husband, are remarkable and inspiring parents. i think this is because they are both excellent humans whom i love and look up to. tho i don’t assume that all good people make good parents, these two practice some magical, wonderful and pragmatic parenting.

since my sister was about five months pregnant with their latest miracle, i have been visiting once a month for an average of a week. i try to help with things like cooking, laundry, general cleaning. but mostly i play with the kids from the predawn hours til they go to sleep.

each time i visit, the parents give me another piece of experiential learning. this trip it was taking two of the babies to the pool by myself. it was a glorious success in that everyone survived and no one actually pooped in the actual pool. from the moment we arrived til the moment we left i was in an advanced mindfulness practice, simultaneously holding the little one close to me while encouraging her to kick and be fearless while not taking my eyes off the independent four and a half year old as he dominated the 3-foot deep section of water and corresponding poolside while not cramping his style as he made friends.

i ran into other parents and kids in the pool. there was a poopie swimsuit and a whole process of getting the little one out of it without making a bigger mess. i forgot to ask for towels so we all ended up drying off on my long johns. we were laughing most of the time.

the level of attention and creativity it took increased my respect for their parents, and all parents, once again.

this proximity to actual parenting has made me more aware of the best practices of the amazing parents i know. this includes my own parents, my friends who are new parents, gifted aunties and uncles who slip into parenting when it’s needed, and my friends who have been doing it on their own for years.

so much about what it means to be human, the grand philosophical question, shows up in the work of parenting. i am watching and doing and learning, and wanted to share some of the things i am becoming aware of, things that i’ve been learning from the parents in my life:

– ‘children are celestial beings’ (from a zen teacher named fish). they have their own sacred character, their own instincts. don’t pressure them into acting ‘normal’, as their divinity, their unique gifts to this time and place, are embedded in these instincts.

– our job is to encourage children in their critical thinking and creativity – not to control them. i have to continually notice and practice releasing my socialization to control anything other than their safety.

– for safety, it helps to develop a no nonsense tone of voice. and then use it sparingly, so it matters.

– we never need to hurt children, ever. especially not as a way to teach them right and wrong. this only teaches violence as a solution. the world has abundant pain, that will surely come for them and it will be important and educational – but it doesn’t need to come from the people they are dependent on. in fact, children are so sensitive and intuitive that we must be mindful not to unintentionally hurt them, given our own limitations of attention and time.

– my life is always improved if i can be present to the constant learning state they are in. it feels so enlightening to be this open to learning, instead of so deeply committed to knowing. i am beginning to suspect not knowing, with ample curiosity, is more fun.

– if babies are interested in something we are doing as adults, we can explain it to them, engage them in it. in this way we invite them into a world full of interesting tasks to do, lives of usefulness, as opposed to a world of shadows, mysteries, fears, and off-limits adult things.

– their health and quality of life depend on what we encourage them to love. it is possible to cultivate love for natural sugars from fruit, love for snacks like yogurt, bananas, raisins, almonds, salad. let the things they love to do include being physical to the utmost of their abilities. it’s up to us to notice if we are accidentally encouraging a sedentary life, or a dependence on unhealthy foods.

– and let them feel good and powerful and capable in their actual bodies, however they choose to express themselves, without a judgment or a narrative.

– while we cannot make the whole world radical for the children we love, we can absolutely have faith in their resilience. my sister recently reminded me that people have found ways to live their radical truths against all odds throughout time. the best we can do by the babies is embody our own wholeness and encourage that wholeness in them for the majority of their young lives, whenever they are with us. support them in their own becoming.

– the ideas that are normalized in this world – like white supremacy and racism, love equaling marriage, ableism, boys are aggressive and girls are princesses, money is your life’s purpose, crying is weak, and so on – with our babies we get to practice a world beyond all of that. we can start from the miraculous sameness of existence: we are all equal in that we are given one lifetime of unknown length to experiment and learn.

we can’t make our kids believe anything, evil or righteous, for this whole unknown lifetime length. we can’t, no matter how hard we try – and thank goodness. the best part of history is the generational rejection of parental ideas in order to elevate the human condition. we can’t give them content, but we can give them process. we can give children time to formulate their own beliefs. we can give them time to try it all on, and encourage them to feel for their own emergent normal.

this is how i ended up as a radical nomadic pansexual futurist doula. i was born to southern christian folk and raised in the u.s. military. but my parents were open to me finding my way, and remain so.

– i am pretty sure that some of the process things that help in that beyond world are being able to feel, defaulting to kindness, cultivating love, having curiosity, and leaning into change.

– if there is more than one child, if there are siblings or close baby friends growing up in community, teach them to be gentle and respectful of each other. they are each other’s primary practice ground of how to be good to others, how to love with accountability.

– it has impact when we let babies see how much we love the natural world. this place is our only home, and it is changing so fast. it can induce terror to love babies in this world with so much climate crisis to come. but that terror won’t help them – letting them touch the earth, know the flowers, love the garden and just be passionately dirty will hopefully create more humans who feel responsible for home.

– it is possible to share with children the ways we communicate with the divine without making it a tiny room with closed doors and windows.

– one of the great privileges of the world is time alone, to enjoy one’s own company. children need this too, however it is carved out.

– give them plenty of time outside of tv and video games to draw, create, build and play. cultivate their imaginations.

– and then when it really does reach that moment where tv/video is needed, because that time does come for non-saint parents, pay attention to what goes in as if it is your own words. sesame street, wildkratts, dino dan, super y – there are some fantastic pieces of children’s media out there.

– of course they are physically beautiful. don’t let that be the only noticing they get. value the amazing things about them which are not surface level.

– everything they do is ‘an act of love or a call for love’ – as much as you can, don’t respond with frustration or pushing the babies away. hear the emotion, give the love.

– partnership and community matter, from sleep to discipline to food to just giving the babies adequate attention. cultivate transparent, accountable partnership and community that will last at least something like 18 years.

i think that is everything for now…i plan to keep observing and noticing and being awed. but for now, just a standing blogovation for the parents in my life, a bow in honor, and thank you all for the ways you allow me to be useful in these processes.

octavia + oakland

last week i got to geek out on octavia butler and emergent strategy at solespace in oakland.

about the space – if you are in oakland, ever, this is a place to go and be in movement with others and buy sweet shoes to support the brilliant vision of community and cooperation that owner/innovator jeff perlstein is building there. jeff reached out to me about an event when he heard i’d be in town, and i thought a small talk about octavia butler with some of my homies would be fun. dani mcclain and malkia cyril, both immensely humble and brilliant leaders living in the bay, were game to come play.

about the event…it was pretty magical.

first i read the piece on octavia butler and emergent strategy from the transformative justice sci-fi reader which was unveiled at the allied media conference last year. here’s a few excerpts:

emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. rather than laying out big strategic plans for our work, many of us have been coming together in community, in authentic relationships, and seeing what emerges from our conversations, visions and needs.

we knew that we were seeing deeper commitment and radical transformation in this community work, but how could we articulate it as being strategic?

we were reminded that strategy is a word of military origin, and refers to a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal. the fact that many of us were using a military definition in order to achieve an evolution in humanity was both ridiculous and illuminating. that alone was a driver for some redefining. it was also a little funny that we have been saying strategic like its a subjective thing, a sign of good. it simply means planned towards a goal. it can be an inflexible outdated hierarchical colonial imperial urgent haphazard plan towards a goal and still be strategic, technically…

we needed to be able to get more specific in what we meant, what we wanted, and how we could measure our progress.

(input lots of examples from octavia’s work which serve as case studies of emergent strategy)

…we can define emergent strategy as intentional, strong because it is decentralized, adaptive, interdependent, and creating more possibilities. bringing emergent strategy to our organizing means we become creators of our future together.

we are not limited to how things have been done in the past in terms of how we share leadership, how we manage interpersonal justice, how we make decisions, how we grow our work. even our smallest acts of integrity grow our collective capacity to live our visions into reality.

after this reading, we moved into a conversation, first with dani and malkia and myself, and then opened our seats so that anyone in the room could come up and speak. so many powerful ideas were shared. i asked participants to share what impacted them most afterwards, on the facebook event page.

this is no transcript, but here’s some of what folks remembered:

– be careful of charisma (glamouring) in leadership
– it is important to win campaigns, but always know that only gets us from a to b. maybe to j. not to z.
– we need both emergent strategy and more traditional campaign based work. (this is evidenced by the smashing of the Acorn community in parables series after ignoring the radical right wing.)
– “Live from a place of passion.” YES!
– we are made to fear our divinity
– being reminded of the limitations of the noun-centered language we speak, that keeps us from seeing ourselves always as beings becoming.
– the importance of ritual and acknowledgement of ancestors and the native land that we stand on.
– the words of the close-out meditation: “if you are (living your passion) doing what you love, and do it day in, day out… celebrate inside from your head down to your toes. And if you are not doing what you love, lean more towards it.”
– where and how do creative/cultural workers find their place in movement work? so much creative practice happens in isolation. how does that figure into collectivity/collective liberation/emergent strategy?
– (free schools) kids deciding their curriculum year to year, making it work for their needs/desires.
– see everyone as a potential ally.
– creativity comes from making room, rather than pushing.
– honor the erotic as the tie-in to our creativity and play.
– “the arrogance of our opposable thumbs.”
– Even an awkward black girl can lead, even when she doesn’t mean to.
– Play and being curious.
– We are all artists.
– Find a place in movement for what you want to do.
– evoked Dagara ritual of elders council asking child in womb what they are coming here to do, what is their gift. For example, if they say an artist, then artists materials are gathered by community and gifted to the parents for the child. And from a young age they apprentice with and shadow artists so education is based on who they are coming here to be for the community, their calling. While we as a society are a long way from being open to something like this, it would be fascinating to get more curious with children about where their passions lie, and fostering that rather than standardized schooling and testing we now have.
– there are resources available to us in dreaming this new existence into being that we are not tapping as deeply into as we can. Ancestors, Sacred Plants, Madre Tierra, etc are cheering us on and just waiting for us to humbly ask for their assistance. Been waiting for us to do so, and excited to see us awakening on a more collective level.
– always do embodied organizing.
– nowadays my visioning conversations are limited to an organization’s aspirations three or five years hence.
– I need to commit to doing personal work that connects my brain, my heart and my body.
– I need reread all of Octavia Butler’s writings.
– I so needed to be encouraged to lean into my passion. Since I fear it could lead me to create a beautiful reality in relative isolation, I heard everyone saying, “go ahead and build it, there’s a place for your vision within the movement.” everyone has a role to play and we find it by being true to ourselves.
– if we don’t start imagining and creating whole new systems, we will never get past the oppressive hierarchical patriarchal systems we are in.
– through it all, the awareness that climate change will make science fiction a reality in all of our lifetimes. This is real, and we have a great opportunity for transformation amidst the upheaval to come.

hopefully this gives you a sense of the magic that was moving through the room. more events coming soon to a city near you 🙂

coevolution through friendship

coevolution is “the change of a biological object triggered by the change of a related object.”

a couple of years ago i hosted a community of practice. one of the outcomes of our year of building relationship and sharing of ourselves was an idea articulated toward the end by gibran rivera: coevolution through friendship. meaning we evolve in relationships of mutual transformation.

since the community’s formal time ended, i have watched and felt this relational coevolution continue in a variety of ways, including close daily personal contact, occasional opportunities for mutual support, noticing and supporting each other’s work and growth from afar, and being more intentional about bringing this practice into the way we hold all of our relationships.

these past few weeks i have been really aware of the power of coevolution through friendship as i have been in what feels like a growth spurt. babies do this, suddenly overnight become taller, fuller, using new words, more confident in their bodies and complex in their communications. it’s pretty incredible to watch – and to feel that the growth doesn’t end even if it changes form. in this period i have been supported, inspired, encouraged and witnessed by a marvelous circle full of people in their own growth.

the very nature of this is iterative, so i am not writing any definitive guidelines up for y’all. but it is so delicious and impactful that i wanted to share some of what i am noticing, some elements of coevolution through friendship.

self-transformation. both/all people in the relationship are committed to their own self-transformation, aligning with the words of grace lee boggs that ‘we must transform ourselves to transform the world.’ we see ourselves as microcosms of the world, and work to shift oppressive patterns in our bodies, hearts, minds, speech, interactions, liberating ourselves into purpose, liberating our communities into new practices.

curiosity. we have curiosity about our own lives as learning labs for our values and figuring out what it means to be human at this moment in time. and we have curiosity about each other’s lives, about why we do what we do, about the roots of our behaviors. we want to know if there are lessons and changes available in the reflection and action cycle of life. this curiosity ranges from philosophical to academic, historical, nosy, somatic. our lives are our life’s work. what matters is that we are authentic with the questions, we believe the answers are important and we listen to each other accordingly.

vulnerable reflection. we reach out to each other and say things like ‘something incredible is happening’, ‘i don’t know’, ‘i fucked up’, ‘i think i hurt someone’, ‘i’m overwhelmed’, ‘i’m terrified’, ‘i think i’m hurting’, ‘i’m lost’, ‘am i falling in/out of love?’, ‘_____ happened, what should i do?’, ‘i want to do something new/different/marvelous/dangerous/that feels essential to my soul – help!’ and so on. we ask others to be mirrors for us at our most vulnerable places, so we can see what we are learning, see new possibilities in our lives.

pattern disrupting. i know i am always whole theoretically, but i don’t always feel that way, i feel half sometimes, i feel fragmented sometimes, messy. being whole includes owning all of that as me. when i am feeling fragmented or limited, seeing any of my friends in their wholeness reminds me of my own capacity. and as i stand in my wholeness, which includes being more honest with myself and others about what i want and who i am in the world, it exerts a pressure on others, both to receive me and to become more whole in themselves. this disrupts those familiar diminishing patterns in my friends and in myself, the internalization of a world that has rejected every aspect of my identity at some point. counter rejection. still i rise. and new patterns become possible, more interconnected and interdependent patterns which rely on being open.

present and intentional. this is perhaps the biggest place to practice. life is not happening to us. we are learning to be in the actual current moment, to recognize where we have choice…in a terrifying twist it turns out we always have it*. so the great question is how to be intentional, in the present moment, to take responsibility for your state of being, and for your life? another participant-teacher in the community of practice asked us to consider, ‘what if i am responsible for everything?’ it’s not a singular task, to be responsible for what happens in this world – we do not exist or transform in isolation. we are in this universe. we are actively reflecting on how to be in our lives, to best embody our greatness and to yield a more liberated future for ourselves and thus, in the fractal sense, for all of existence.

there is a lot to be careful of. we are not yet masterful, even though there are moments of collective genius. sometimes we misread each other, push each other too hard, get defensive or give unsolicited coevolution pressure.

sometimes what is happening in the world is so terrifying and urgent that we forget our complexity, or wonder why take time on ourselves or our friendships when there is so much work to do. what i am noticing is that it is not a privilege to practice coevolution through friendship – it is the deepest work.

i believe it is how communities have survived.
i believe it is harriet tubman going back to free others, because it wasn’t enough to free only herself.
i believe it is ubuntu active in my life.
i believe it is the freedom that we are longing for, which will never be given to us, which we have to create, the pulsing life force of the collective body we are birthing, the rhythm of a shared heart.

“coevolution through friendship is a path to liberation.” – gibran rivera

*recently i have been wrestling with even seeing death as a liberatory choice in response to oppression and suffering, as a wave of suicide moves through and near my life. this doesn’t give me peace, but it gives me pause, trying to see wholeness in a life ending when i wanted it to continue. endings are sacred too. it gives me pause. what i can say is that the unknown is a massive yawning universe, and i have to respect it.