she, alice smith – because you like sangin’, and original songs, and songs about all the different aspects of love and heartbreak. because alice is on par with the best vocalists singing anywhere today. because her cover of cee-lo’s fool for you smashes.
jake bugg, (self-titled) – because you like bob dylan but always wondered how it would be if his voice was a bit more tender. because you really like simple lines well delivered – ‘broke my heart when i knew/that i could never be with you’.
reincarnated, snoop lion – because it will make you feel like your regular life is smoking weed in l.a. and you’re on vacation in jamaica discovering your greatest self. all summer.
nomad, bombino – because you need gorgeous expansive road music that can play on repeat, and this touches that sacred ali farke toure place.
haim – because sometimes you need dramatic music that harkens fleetwood mac and the 80s and you’ve played your florence & the machine albums too much.
blah, blah, blah, denitia and sene – because you are unafraid of pretty, blatantly cool and well-produced pairings.
overgrown, james blake – because his voice is unique and meta-gender and the album is calm and sexy and kind of feels like bubbling up from a deep place.
ghost on ghost, iron and wine – because you have guests over and you want something warm and cozy and mature and easy on in the background.
passalaqua – because you want some detroit hip-hop that makes you laugh and feel your nerdy swag.
james linck – because though he is harder to find (has some stuff on soundcloud) he’s into making magic electro-soul falsetto music.
indicud, kid cudi – because some songs (not the whole ambum) are magnificent. primarily unfuckwittable and afterwards with michael bolton.
the 20/20 experience, justin timberlake – because it’s smooth and funky and unashamed of being pop. this is going continue to be good all summer.
queen, janelle monae featuring erykah badu – because it’s actually too good to even talk about. song alone, or video.
#beautiful, mariah carey and miguel – because i am loyal.
Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
as few human or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
has made my eyes so soft
my voice so tender
my need of god
i went to a beautiful talk last weekend at the clouds in water zen center in the twin cities. the talk, in light of memorial day, was on death. facing our own deaths, those of our loved ones, the inevitability of it, the truth of it. it was also on change.
last night i sat with my mother and sister also talking about death, grief, the way that when people die it seems for an instant they are everywhere, in us, in or with everyone they touched.
when talk of death starts i never want to hear it. superstition, fear, the way i love people (where i never feel done with it)….this is who i am. a student of change, but not interested in changes that take away my beloveds, in that pain which presses out from the center of things.
the talk offered the framework that sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are born from loving and caring for others. this echoed through the conversation with my mother and sister – that all of these feelings are born from the same exact experience that yields the joy of connection, intimacy, wholeness, wonder.
while listening to the talk last weekend i remembered, as if he was suddenly beside me, a brief friend: jai. we met in hawaii and he did powerful reiki work on me. i was processing the dual griefs of death and lost love and he said, ‘grief is gratitude. all i hear from your guides is grief is gratitude.’ that has stuck with me – because it felt true, like a whole thing placed in my heart. and because he took his own life shortly thereafter and so his gift and his sudden absence are forever compressed around him into one important experience.
as things in my life end i absolutely notice how much they meant to me by the way grief doubles me over and wrings me out.
this is all relevant for me as i continue to be in a life where chapters are ending and new possibilities arise.
my time living in detroit as i have for the past few years is ending, changing. no matter how hard i try i can’t seem to stay there for even a month at a time. between traveling for paid work, babies, family, lovers…my life is happening elsewhere. i rarely see the beloved friends and amazing apartment i keep in detroit. there has been grief as i have considered letting go of my built life there, grief rooted in my gratitude for the love and life i experience there.
but there is past and present. it’s simple in words: to let go of what is past allows new possibility to open up in the present.
what does it look like to lean into this, to see detroit as a home rather than the home? a shared dynamic home? a few times a year home? a past home i visit? i don’t know yet.
i do know that i want and need more resources within my self to feel of use in detroit, more capacity to be solution oriented in the midst of crisis. i hope my somatics teacher training will help me find my right relationship with this city i love so much.
knowing where to root next feels easy – every time i am near the children i am home. i don’t have to tell y’all – anyone who has read a word i’ve written in the last few years knows i am smitten with my nephew and nieces and keep finding my way to them. i want the rhythms of my life to align with theirs for the foreseeable future. we are so in love, and i follow love. it’s how i came to detroit, and now how i am looking at minnesota.
knowing that sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are on the path no matter how carefully and rigorously and wholeheartedly i practice, i want to lean into the places where i feel uncompromised joy, and where my full presence is not only desired but necessary.
fortunately, because of love, i have many homes.
i have family of all sorts along the east coast. i still know how to melt into a crowd in new york, shuttle between best friends’ homes, and pick a great restaurant. i know how to get from the airport to my parents’ house outside boston, or to the two families i love in cambridge. i can drive from atlanta up to my grandparents’ house on the border of south carolina by scent and sound alone.
then there’s california.
i moved from oakland four years ago but i can’t shake it, it’s home too. landing there, rolling down my windows and letting the sun and bay and mountains in, it always releases something in my shoulders. i have beloveds there, the highest concentration of my partners in coevolution through friendship. and my somatics teacher training is there.
so i’ve made it more official, i have been offered a room of my own with dear friends, and said yes. the bay is a home again.
in this abundance and change, i can feel home inside of me, after a long time of feeling lost with myself. i have let pain carve me out and i will continue to do so. it seems to leave behind a space shaped like a bell, i feel full of tones i can recognize when i let myself get still. a clarity of feeling vibrates inside of me.
this tone only came to me through loneliness. for some time, landing in detroit, i have been more aware of absence than anything else. in the company of dear friends, in my beautiful home, while dancing and reveling in the specific black cultural richness of detroit, i feel the absence. it’s specific – i miss the babies climbing in my bed each morning, and then centering my days and work around their learning and bodies, that feeling so needed.
and yet without the loneliness and heartbreak of the past few years, i don’t know if i’d ever have opened my life and schedule to these children in the way i have. without ‘something missing’ i may not have shapeshifted into such a good auntie.
it has required the death of a certain self, an ambitious important highly responsive doing self. i felt no small amount of grief there too, from my ego, for who am i if not a shaper of history? if i am not good, deeply and constantly?
i think arrogance can grow in the space between smart, well meaning and naive. it has taken me longer than most to realize the freedom of insignificance. of being one who lives and dies, amongst others who live and die.
within that, it becomes clear that the most precious, delicious life experiences are rarely the ones that make people famous or historic. loving and being loved, choosing to be with those who love you, who can receive your love, that is what makes for a good life…and perhaps even a death without clinging.
the changes that come with loving others are divine. to open your heart to another and become worthy of their devotions, trust, vulnerability – to ‘grow our souls’ together! – that is the sacred miraculous offering inside of each day.
last week, the teacher read that hafiz poem, and it allowed some good death inside of me, some submission to what is in the past. it let me notice what is composting, and what is growing. i am allowing myself to contemplate god-is-change, to feel the fleeting fragility of this particular tender life i am in. i am living a life free of obligation and full of willful loving.
and taking risks. letting myself love more people more deeply, knowing the risks. letting it all cut more deeply, letting something mysterious and divine, something i need, touch me at the root.
I am in Minnesota. they got this place in the fall. driving up tonight to the sound of frogs, green catching the light cast from the car, wet lush overgrowth pouring onto the dirt roads from all sides, i realize I’ve never known this spring.
I love earth most at moments like this, a new season, a new soundscape.
I left the concrete binding of new york again today, after stomping around and feeling the atmospheric heat and first blasts of air conditioning that confirm spring’s presence there.
I came through Indianapolis, perhaps for the first time. a very attractive coldstone creamery worker heard me sing happy birthday to my grandmother’s answering machine and helped me celebrate. I felt briefly smitten.
now I’m about to pass out. I can’t see the moon through this mist but I feel her. everything must change.
tomorrow I will wake up to the first day of summer for some of my favorite people. I’m right on time.
question: do you have instructions for running a fishbowl?
(a fishbowl is a way to have an intimate conversation with a lot of people.)
set up three or four chairs in the middle of a room – these are the fishbowl chairs. set the rest of the chairs in a close circle around the middle. it should be easy to get from any chair in the room to one of the fishbowl chairs.
choose a small group of people as the starting speakers. they should be people who are familiar enough with the topic to get a juicy conversation going. (some people do better if they know way ahead of time that you want them to be a starter speaker, so keep that in mind in planning your fishbowl)
let them go for 15-30 minutes to get the conversation going.
when it’s time to open it up (generally when you can see the unspoken words forming on the lips of people in the outer circle), tell everyone it’s their turn to join the conversation.
the general rules:
anyone in the fishbowl chairs can be tapped out after they speak 2-3 times (…this can be more or less depending on how many people are part of the room and hoping to speak. i’ve noticed it’s hard to have a rhythm of conversation with less than two opportunities to speak, and hard to get other folks to tap in with more than three.)
obviously no tapping someone mid-sentence.
encourage the room to pay attention to who is speaking – you want to engage the difference in the room, however it’s showing up, and center voices of those most impacted by the topic at hand (whether its young people talking about youth incarceration, divas with their nails did talking about the dangers of gels and acrylics, or white men talking about white male balding patterns).
no one can tap back in til everyone (or at least most people) have had a moment in the fishbowl.
the facilitator can stay in one seat guiding and grounding the conversation while people cycle in and out, or float around and encourage participation. most groups can self facilitate once the conversation gets going.
afterwards consider having folks pair up to notice what they gained from the conversation.
(any additional tips or guidelines you know of? please share them!)
i often get little requests for advice. i often give answers.
Question from a friend: Do you have any advice for managing long distance relationships? The desire to be together versus the need to maintain boundaries? My sweetie is an introvert and is feeling overwhelmed, while I feel that we only have these few days and want to make the most of our time together. It’s leading to some hurt and confused feelings. Help!
first, i am sending love to your heart where its feeling a little hurt and confused.
pacing is really important in the long distance scenario – it can feel like you are falling really fast into seriousness because of the long calls and intense visits, but you still get to choose together how your particular entanglement goes. stayed tuned in and honest about what feels right. it might help to exchange some stories about paces of relationship and love that have worked for you in the past as a starting point.
the other thing is to watch for scarcity. this has been my achilles heel for a long time, feeling like i need to rush a great thing because i only have a tiny amount of time (3 days for deep conversations and staring at each other and sex and dates and meeting friends and and and)…unsurprisingly this rarely works for deepening the connection. invite abundance in.
if you feel scarcity or fast pace creeping in, breathe in and out really deeply. remember that you are all you need, you have all you need.
ideally she is a partner to you in loving yourself, rather than a receptacle for your love. no matter what, you get to feel your love. its just whether she has capacity to partner in it.
and have curiosity: what does overwhelm feel like for her, what contributes to it, how can you set the right boundaries for her personality to benefit most from yours?
i mean nomad here in the sense of one who travels for food, or to make a living, and one who is home in the journey. i am noticing the things which help me stay healthy and grounded while spending the majority of my life traveling.
leave no trace behind – beyond joy.
…unless i find a place i want to return to. mark it with a pair of sweatpants or a beloved book.
then, let go of attachment to materials and plans. i am this journey.
remember the sacred space is inside – it is my body, and it is worn on my face.
that said, a little bag of items that feel grounding can’t hurt. currently mine holds a bunch of gifts including a tiny ganesha statue for removing obstacles, zen tarot cards, a stick of palo santo to clear bad energy when i am in a new space, and a print up of my favorite sutra, which i am making into a song to remember. i add my mala when they come off my wrists each night, like they are getting recharged.
the most important resource i carry is water. keep water carrier full and flowing. immerse myself in water wherever i find it, remember its all of one place, one system.
pack based on weather, such that i can layer up and down and still look fly. know exactly where along the journey i will clean my clothing. fabulous minimalism = happy style. very few people look cute with too much baggage.
the right piece of cloth can be blanket, scarf, coat, hair wrap, baby carrier and decoration. it should be beautiful.
learn practices to center and strengthen myself. practices to do anytime, anywhere. meditation, prayer, yoga, aikido, etc have all persisted for a reason.
gather up instances of kindness, always notice when a human is being with me.
cultivate compassion, there are so many mysteries.
eat what i am given enthusiastically, with gratitude. carry fruit to avoid desperation.
articulate what i need shamelessly, with self-love.
a walk tunes me into the pace of the place where i have landed.
delays are opportunities to create and reflect. or write. or meditate. or discover new music. or catch up with my loves angelina and beyonce. or chat with my many collaborators in the life. or call my mama.
and if in all of this i feel homesick, if i feel lost, if i am exhausted, ear plugs and a good book can still transport me wherever and whenever i need to go.
p.s. my homey leah wrote a piece on travel tips for folks who are chronically ill – check it here!
one iPad in turquoise leather case. full of unsaved ideas and snippets of pieces, poems and songs.
one suitcase containing computer, tarot cards, favorite boots, my scent and my leather converse.
my somatics homework folder.
a day with my mom.
my crush on JetBlue. the tv doesn’t make up for delays of 6 hours and lost luggage.
the calm outside my material goods.
that I can sleep on the floor still if needed.
the sweetness of letting my parents care for me when I land this hot.
a new practice: backing up my words and giving into the cloud.
the deliriously blessed heat of a shower after 36 hour journey.
Alice Smith. Jake Bugg.
the compassionate impulse of strangers who responded to my vulnerability.
omega retreat center in ny’s hudson valley has been the location for some pivotal moments in my life. here are a few stories:
10 years ago: i’m here for early meetings of the league of young voters. we’re working on a book, hundreds of printed out pages in stacks around the room for editing. several of us are experiencing culture shock at the rural health culture of this place. two brave members of our group take a canoe out onto the lake and get stuck, while others map out where to smoke and get burgers in the onslaught of healthy air and vegetarian food. we all dash to the nearest bathroom often. there’s no where to dash away from the other aspects of culture shock – strangers smiling at me, being out in nature with no access to technology. we believe we have a sacred call to intervene against the bush administration on behalf of our communities.
9 years ago: after hours of nervousness, i give a speech on weaving together electoral, community organizing and business strategies at the social venture network gathering. it is a dynamic and breathless moment, even for me…a standing ovation moment. i surprise myself with the energy moving through me. i can’t focus on any face in the crowd but feel the energy as a whole swelling. is that hope? i don’t know it yet but several people in the audience that night are from my future.
the next day i sneak off with a new friend for a joint in the parking lot. he makes me laugh harder than anyone else i know, and he inspires me with his radical commitment to action. his name is john sellers. he doesn’t ask me to compromise my values, he makes demands. a year after this i join his board. within two years i am executive director of the organization he had held and shaped for a decade – the ruckus society. this will be the practice ground where i learn to walk my ideas of collaborative leadership and organizational development.
6 years ago: i join a circle of people who were discussing governance models for intentional communities. one of them was with me years before, in my nervousness, in my speech. i am skeptical because – what do i know about intentional community? and why are they all crying and opening up so much? within three days i will be in love with these people and call them family, the people of common fire. they carry the radical vision i associate with the zapatistas, with all who reject the mainstream society and choose to live their values in the current moment.
5 years ago: i’m returning as a board member of common fire, my fourth (or fifth) board commitment. knowing these two founders, kavitha rao and jeff golden, is changing my life, making me think about where and how i live, the resources i use, what i eat, my war tax resistance, and particularly the skill of how to be vulnerable with other people for the sake of sharing my life. this time they have a newborn baby, samiha, and she lives on the soft shelf of my breasts the whole meeting. my partner is recording drafts of their shapeshifters album in a studio magicked together with a lamp stand, microphone and some towels.
yesterday: i’m holding my blue eyed mixed race niece on my lap, talking with friends about the ‘luxury item timeshare system’ from the utopia in woman on the edge of time. a woman comes up too close to mairead’s face, saying how beautiful she is. she doesn’t speak to me but to her credit i am ignoring her, continuing my story. this trip i am more aware of the white-people-seeking-enlightenment pattern of this and other retreat centers, full of beautiful intention and sloppy mid-transformation interactions. she then asks my friend sean, a tall redhead, if he’s the father. she completely ignores my sister, sitting on the other side of sean, and explicitly doesn’t see the baby autumn is holding. that baby is our friends’ newborn, a gorgeous black baby girl. the woman moves past them as if they don’t exist. anger, hurt, exhaustion…i work through to generate compassion for that woman, who has not yet learned to see so much beauty. i wonder what i still don’t see.
today: i finished facilitating the common fire board through a beautiful transition retreat. i moved off the board two years ago, along with any of the other boards or national roles which so enticed me a decade ago. my sister autumn is now a part of the board, which means my niece mairead is the newborn baby on my shelf. babies are a major part of my spiritual and political work these days. common fire is thinking within and beyond non-profits as the form for transformative movement building. the integrity and self-awareness i experience with this circle is still refreshing, even when the lessons they have to share are learned in hard ways. its powerful to see a vision at four years old, six years old, a decade old…to watch children come into the world and grow up in the container of a shared vision.
i wonder about the spiritual paths that call to us, and why so many do their spiritual work outside of political commitment. i wonder how the workers here feel about their workloads, their power and access to the offerings here. i balk a bit at the cost of things sold here, from massages to yoga pants to workshops. i notice the small details of beauty everywhere. i finally find the laundromat.
i feel how much can shift in a decade, strategically, contextually, personally.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is my best.
When I was young it was clearly laid out for me what the best was, there were prizes and gold stars and north stars and ways to measure: grades, parental smiles, degrees, solos. I can count my not-best moments (when I saw the failure coming and did not change course) from birth through college on one hand. Generally, I was ambitious because I thought that was good.
Then began a dance, a crumbling of drive, a dusting off of something essential which appeared like an inner resistance. I would achieve some honor, title, position, or acknowledgement and feel erased by it, instead of seen. That I was conforming to other people’s idea of the best, in a society which measured things in ways that didn’t resonate with me.
This has been slow, and its ongoing. It has meant rejecting or sidestepping degrees, money, and certain spotlights. I am beginning to tease out what feels right after years of just being able to sense what didn’t resonate. There are two aspects which are emerging, which work in tandem as a compass towards doing my best: love and dignity.
These two aspects work in a couple of ways – as I follow them, when I feel them in myself or sense them in others, they are leading me to the best life I’ve known. And tasting these feelings, I want more of them – I want to let love grow through me, and guide me. I want to stand in my dignity against all the odds.
If I ask, ‘Is love here?’ and/or ‘Am I in my dignity here?’, I can feel answers that help me move towards my truth and back away from future regrets. I still do things that might be morally questionable, all the time. But with intention, with the consideration of love and dignity being present, I am learning to trust myself to do my best.
Last week my friend dream posted a mini rant about the ways people judge each other’s work and passions. She was responding to general local critiques of folks who aren’t in the streets over the emergency manager in Detroit, among other things.
I was really moved by her words, probably in part because I haven’t been in the streets. To a large extent I see the EM as a distraction, pulling people away from their work to create a future for this city rooted in abundance and community, to fight for a symbol of power instead of continuing to learn how we generate and hold power in community.
But I care about a lot of the people impacted by, displaced by, and focused on resistance to the EM. I’ve been reflecting and writing and meditating and praying on the well-being of all the people I love here who are internalizing this period of Detroit’s history, taking it into their breaking hearts.
I also care about gender justice, which dream named as one of her core passions. And Assata. And the men in Guantanamo Bay. And the sexual health of black women and girls. And people impacted by terrorism and violence the world over. And Palestine. And the tar sands pipeline, environment, trans liberation, combating obesity and fat phobia, education and so many more things.
I want to do my best by these things.
I actually think most people want to do their best, to be good people and create a good society. But there are so many paths to do that good. Is it by being a body in the streets, or infiltrating the school system with radical content, or making new media, or creating more art, or opening cooperative businesses, or raising awareness on social media, or disrupting every city council meeting, or writing science fiction about new worlds, or, or, or?
How to choose? What is the best way?
What I have been exploring over the past few years is that the work I do best is that which I am most passionate about, work which encourages my health and well-being, affirms my power and the power of everyone else, and keeps me in a space of creativity and solutions.
I don’t think this is unique to me. In my heart I feel there are a thousand paths towards justice and liberation. Yes to all of those things, all of that work, all of those strategies. All of these issues need to evolve – which means they each need people who are most passionate about them, people who feel powerful in moving the work forward, who are healthy enough to do the work well, who are creating solutions.
This happens, for me, at the smallest scale. It has felt hard to explain, unimportant after some of the national and/or urgent work I have done in my life – where I felt special and smart and strategic and at the table. But I am beginning to really understand how political it is to do personal emergency management.
Detroit is one epicenter amongst many – we are in the midst of systems which are imploding. Systems which we – well I, and I suspect/hope many of you dear readers – know better than to want to save, because these are systems which rely on our oppression and inequality, on seeing each other as competition rather than family.
So we are working to remember and create new ways to manage our shared home together. And yet many of us are still in the elementary stage of learning how to manage our personal homes – our bodies and health, our relationships, our movement work, our hearts. Not to mention our actual homes and our finances.
I might be in pre-K.
In this chaotic state we try to create change in the world and find ourselves stretched, tired, demoralized, and unable to create the transformations we yearn for, though we feel the possibility within ourselves. But in the lack of knowing how to do things differently, too many of us still do our work from places of fear, obligation or anger. From no, instead of from yes.
I am sitting now with the question of what it means to do my best, as an adult in a world full of crisis and tragedy. I’ve written about cultivating joy as a weapon, as a frontline. And here I don’t mean a general upbeatness. I mean joy powerful enough to generate authentic resistance in the face of hopelessness. Joy that makes people want to create new worlds and new life together.
I think a first step in cultivating that joy is measuring my best based on how well I can manage my personal state. I was in an emergency state for a decade – my mental, emotional and physical health were deteriorating and I wasn’t even really aware of it except occasionally as a badge of honor to mark how dedicated I was to the work. I was, like many activists I love and respect, doing my best impression of eeyore-on-speed.
I am on the journey now of getting my health, spirit, heart and finances together, with the belief that the more grounded, joyful and dignified I am, the better I can live and lead. The more clearly I can apply my gifts and energy towards work I am passionate about, making the most of my miraculous and limited human capacity. Then, the more inviting my futures become. And the stronger my emergent strategies can be.
Because when it is time for us to manage it all – whatever we call it, our neighborhoods, our cities, our sovereign collaborative tribes – I want to be capable of the task, I want to be experienced, I want to be trustworthy. I want it to feel like love and dignity are there.
I suspect we won’t even get a real chance to manage it all until we have generated so much love and dignity and joy that our future is the irresistible one.
I see everything I am doing now as learning, as preparation. Now, and then, I want to do my best.