Monthly Archive for June, 2013

Octavia’s Brood

you may have picked up on the fact that i am living my life as a testament to, and continuation of, the work of science fiction writer octavia butler. i love her. i see emergent strategy throughout her work in ways that make me see the way change happens in the current world more clearly.

for some time now i have been developing a project with walidah imarisha called Octavia’s Brood: science Fiction from Social Justice Movements. this project is our secret heart made public – we believe it is our right and responsibility to write ourselves into the future.

now we are asking y’all to fund this project with us – we are self-publishing!! we have an amazing incredible mindblowing collection of original stories from social justice movements – stories that are important to read at this time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=lZ1B_BEsYuw

you can watch that adorable and nerdy fundraising video of us above, then donate. we are thanking EVERY SINGLE DONOR in the book, and our perks are delicious – hanging out with us and the writers :), original stories, original music from Invincible or Gabriel Teodros, sci-fi writing workshops.

so…(with so much LOVE and anticipation)…support this baby!!

:)

ambandwi2013

on being a kresge literary arts fellow. :)

i am a kresge literary arts fellow. it’s in the free press, detroit news, and metro times, so it’s real in spite of my ongoing shock.

i have a lot of thoughts and feelings about it.

1. i am a writer.

2. ‘i can sense it. something important is about to happen…it takes courage to enjoy it.’ – bjork (big time sensuality).

3. i am an artist. i am a singer. i am a writer.

4. for years there has been this undertow. i would move forward in my life as a social justice facilitator, worker, leader. and reach some peak, receive some honor or title or role that honored my work. and there would be this undertow – my artist self. my writer self, wanting to write wild speculative poetic fiction and sci-fi erotica and afrofuturist opera, sing jazz in paris and paint entire worlds made of women’s beauties. then the current would move again and i would be chasing sand, rolling in the familiar rhythm of holding space for others to dream and reach for justice.

which i also love.

5. i thought all this time it was a selfish pull. but it isn’t.

6. i thought i could stave the need to write by blogging. but i haven’t.

7. i want to write more and more. on my sabbatical last year i wrote so much my hands were weary, then i dictated things into the recorder. i wrote poems, songs, memoirs, fiction, science fiction, essays.

8. the most exciting writing was the science fiction. the science fiction pathway has been growing for years, and it’s steeped in the learnings about emergence, it’s steeped in my love of octavia butler, and my love of detroit. it’s steeped in my complex relationship to apocalypse.

9. as i have started to write science fiction, and hold space for others to talk about and write science fiction, i have found a juxtaposition of passions. in this space i get to shamelessly be an artist, while still opening and holding a space for the art of imagination and visioning to spread amongst the people i most believe need to be central in the future.

10. late last year i was awarded the BALLE fellowship to do local living economies work – and i was excited, because it was a chance to advance ideas i am deeply aligned with. but as i got into the experience, surrounded by amazing people i respected, i found it wasn’t quite for me – it was for detroit, but i wasn’t the right conduit to get that radical business knowledge to the city (‘i don’t know nuthin bout birthin no bizness!!’). when i stepped back from that space, it was without knowing what else might come my way, and hoping (praying, doing ceremonies, searching) for some way to still keep roots in detroit.

11. i forgot i had applied, it was such a reach. i am beyond the curve – i have not been writing full time. there are many in detroit who have, and i am so aware of their brilliance and hard work. and i thought i had run out of viable options to stay creating and working in this city i love. i had an absence of purpose. i had eeyore eyes looking around my beloved apartment. i was building up my adaptability muscle to let go.

12. and i thought i might be destined to always write on the side of the work i do as a facilitator. in terms of how i made a living. and i was making my way to being ok with that. kind of.

13. i can think of so many incredible artists in detroit who should receive this award. so many it humbles me.

14. it is kresge, with whom as social justice worker in the D i have had a very complex relationship. this is the foundation that funds everything in detroit in some way, things that move us towards justice and democracy, and things that move us away from it. and i wish there were more black detroiters with me amongst the awardees. i see the whiteness, i see particularly the lack of women of color, black women.

they are investing in me, and my intention is to uplift the transformations afoot in this city and play out the potential futures of justice. so the relationship is direct now, and the invitation for accountability intrigues me, challenges me.

15. the money is a major blessing. but even more so is what the people of the fellowship keep saying – ‘we want to support you to become the artist we already see in you’, ‘we will help you learn to connect to resources to be an artist as your life.’ really? really.

16. thank you more than i can fit the words in my mouth to express it. thank you to the panel who felt my writing, to kresge and creative capital and artserve michigan. and to the people who supported my writing all these years, those who funded my sabbatical, to invincible, to my parents, especially my mom who reads every blog post. to my creative partners walidah imarisha and dream hampton, to the sci-fi nerds building community with me. and to the greater force i feel moving in my life, god-is-change, thank you.

17. in the spirit of all of that – i’m going to write. i am going to write as the center of my life! in every way, to the best of my ability, prolifically and unapologetically and as sacred work, work prayer, shaping god.

18. i feel exposed…this feels like a coming out. even though maybe everyone knows how much writing is my center. but i didn’t know it could be honored, that it was that visible mama-i-want-to stuff. i feel like another self, further inside of me, is in the sun. it’s delicious.

19. ‘i predict a graceful explosion.’ – cold specks (elephant head)

emergence (speech from opening for allied media conference 2013)

emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. it emphasizes critical connections, authentic relationships, listening with the body and the mind.

in emergence, the whole is a mirror of the parts. fractal – the health of the cell is the health of the species and the planet.

there are examples of emergence everywhere.

birds don’t make a plan to migrate, raising resources to fund their way, packing for scarce times, mapping out their pit stops. they feel a call in their bodies and they must go, and they follow it, responding to each other, each bringing their adaptations.

clara reminded me today of the WAY of flocking: staying separate enough not to crowd each other, aligned enough to maintain a shared direction, and cohesive enough to always move towards each other. destiny is a calling that creates a beautiful journey.

emergence is beyond what the sum of it’s parts could even imagine.

a group of caterpillars and nymphs might not see flight in their future but it’s inevitable. it’s destiny.

oak trees don’t set an intention to listen to each other better, or agree to hold tight to each other when the next storm comes. under the earth always they reach for each other, they grow such that their roots are intertwined & create a system of strength which is as resilient on a sunny day as it is in a hurricane.

dandelions don’t know whether they are a weed or a brilliance. but each seed can create a field of dandelions. we are invited to be that prolific. and to return fertility to the soil around us.

cells may not know civilization is possible. they don’t amass as many units as they can sign up to be the same. no – they grow until they split, complexify. then they interact and intersect and discover their purpose – i am a lung cell! i am a tongue cell! – and they serve it. and they die. and what emerges from these cycles are complex organisms, systems, movements, societies.

detroit. the allied media conference.

nothing is wasted, or a failure. emergence is a system that makes use of everything in the iterative process. it’s all data.

octavia butler says “civilization is to groups what intelligence is to individuals. it is a means of combining the intelligence of many to achieve ongoing group adaptation.”

she also says “everything you touch you change, everything you change, changes you.” we are constantly impacting and changing our civilization – each other, ourselves, intimates, strangers. and in that reality, we are working to recreate a world that is by it’s very nature in a constant state of change.

but Janine Benyus the mother of biomimicry, says Nature would always create conditions conducive to life. She tells of a radical fringe of scientists who are realizing that natural selection isn’t individual but mutual, that species only survive if they learn to be in community.

how can we, future ancestors, align ourselves with the most resilient practices of emergence as a species?

many of us have been socialized that constant growth, and critical mass, are the ways to create change. but emergence shows us that adaptation and evolution depend more upon critical connections. dare i say love. the quality of connection between the nodes in the patterns.

and we know how to connect – and we long for it.

we are going to experiment with this in our bodies now. together we are going to make a wave. how many of you have observed the ocean? the waves are not the same over and over – each one is unique and responsive. the goal is not repeat each other’s motion, but to respond in whatever way feels right in your body. the wave we create here is a one time occurrence, show up. let’s begin.

notice what it takes to respond well. how it feels to be in a body, in a whole – separate, aligned, cohesive. critically connected.

now, let’s get more complex.

(dance, hustle, crowdsurfing explosion)

Transformative Justice Strategic Reader

This reader was created in 2012 by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Jenna Peters-Goldman, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and myself. It has been redesigned and we wanted to share it :) – please print it, share it, use it!

Love
fly hot sci fi nerds

Transformative Justice Strategic Science Justice Reader

why i stopped plucking/letting my brows grow

my sister autumn and i have been in a conversation for a while about letting our brows grow out. we touched on it again and last night and wrote down some thoughts. i wanted to share the conversation, interested in hear how others navigate their beauties.

amb+siobhan

why i stopped plucking (autumn):

I remember the first time I had my eyebrows done. I was in high school, and had traveled from dc to nyc to visit my big sister, a student at Columbia university. It was my first trip to visit her on my own (!!) and after about a day, adrienne granted me the enormous privilege of getting to go out and roam morningside heights alone, while she did something. Honestly I have no memory of what she was doing. I only remembered that she trusted me enough to send me off on my own, and I trusted myself enough to enjoy it.

I did what felt like the most adult thing I could do. I went to a salon to get a manicure. But when I walked in the door, the first thing the woman in the salon said was, “here to get your eyebrows done?” Embarrassed, unsure, suddenly feeling that all of my years of misgivings about my bushy brows were now confirmed by the truth, essentialized in a moment, I said, “yes” and was led back into a room, laid down on a bed, and unceremoniously had my abundant brows waxed.

I felt cool. But I looked ridiculous. Red, puffy.

It was not until I got back to dc that I realized the fullness of my mistake, the level of upkeep I had consigned myself to with one decision.

Had my eyebrows done one other time, took skin off, never had waxing again.

Continued plucking, even after I stopped shaving my underarms (age 16), even after I stopped shaving my legs (age 17). It was a recognizable (hypocrisy) but by then I felt like I had dug my own grave. If I stopped plucking, I would look even more ridiculous. I thought…

Then I had my daughter. She was only a few days old when I realized she not only had my face, but MY EYEBROWS. As she has changed from an infant to a toddler, the similarity has become more pronounced. She is going to have the thick eyebrows I had. The ones I got from my dad.

siobhanbrows

One day I grabbed tweezers from the drawer while she and Finn were in the bath, raised them to my face, then stopped. I felt a profound sense of shame. I was about to pluck in front of my daughter. What kind of message would that send to her? In that moment I decided to stop plucking. It’s been weird, trying to let my brows grow out, but I don’t regret it. I want Siobhan to know that she is beautiful, and the best way to do that is to let her know that I am.

autumn and siobhan

letting my brows grow (adrienne):

i am one of three daughters of a man with big expressive eyebrows, the brown family brows.

i have always loved them on his face, the way they move and let me know his moods. but on my face i’ve sought to control the bush, to feminize, to keep expression but in a way that was elegant and slender and arched.

my sister autumn and i have ‘the brows’. our sister april somehow ended up with dark sharp slender arched brows that are almost too perfect. i have paid lots of money over the years trying to get those brows, with lots of hi-jinx. folks going too far and leaving me with lines of tragic surprise, or odd uneven shapes that pointed at my vanity.

and sometimes i would negotiate just the right brow and experience a week of happiness. i have had two different women who did it perfectly, consistently, and with whom i developed the gentle and submissive relationships we can have with those who make us feel beautiful.

i have never been great at keeping them up between waxing because the pain of tweezing doesn’t appeal to me. every time i would go in to get them done it would be with a sheepishness – yes i know there’s a wilderness on my face, yes i know i should have come earlier, yes i know it will hurt more now because ‘it’s so much, my god. so much hair!’.

i didn’t really consider how beautiful my brows might be until i saw them on my sister’s face. and that was while she was holding my niece siobhan, who was also blessed with the brown family brows. on them the brows look full and fierce, in the realm of strength, self-expression and boundaries. autumn told me she was intentionally not plucking.

i arched a waxed brow. i felt moved inside, towards her.

with no conscious connection i came home and covered my bathroom wall in frida kahlo prints. every time i look in the bathroom mirror i am flanked by a wall of shameless and powerful eyebrows. and slowly i’ve stopped plucking. i haven’t gotten them waxed even thought the AMC starts today. i’ve watched them grow.

now i am so grateful autumn inspired me to stop plucking, waxing, threading and shaving these brows into submission. as they have slowly recaptured their natural glory it’s been complex.

and…i do still want to get them waxed sometimes, mainly whenever i’m going to nyc. i love the clean lines and contrasts of done brows, how high femme/drag queen fabulous i have felt at times with my brows (and nails and hair) did. i find myself admiring the art of eyebrows on other faces even more.

but i’m also generally loving the power of being a woman with these brows – it says something about my self-love. i am learning a new beauty in my face, a beauty that comes from seeing what is without wanting to improve it.

and i feel in an authentic place when siobhan lays next to me in the morning and touches my face. there is something healing in the knowledge that when she sees me she sees that her beauty is whole.

amb and siobhan

Parenting in/and/as Science Fiction

Here is a sneak peek at the draft reader for the Parenting in/and/as Science Fiction session at the Allied Media Conference this week-end! Our session is at 4pm EST :) – there we will deepen the content together and craft a reader for full release!

parentinginandassciencefictionareader (3)

an executive director’s don’ts

(this is a guest post from a young director named danielle. it was sent to a friend who shared it with me and i thought it might be useful to folks holding leadership roles. it resonates with what i remember of the role…enjoy!)

“don’t try to be friends with your staff
don’t try to get your staff to like you
don’t think your staff liking you and respecting you are the same thing, or that they always go hand in hand
don’t try to build trust by sharing vulnerable personal things
don’t dwell on your mistakes
don’t try to cover up your mistakes– from anyone
don’t make the same mistakes over and over–only new mistakes!
don’t avoid accountability
don’t avoid holding others accountable
don’t overstate what you know
don’t understate what you know
don’t assume everyone shares your analysis or priorities
don’t require everyone to share your analysis or priorities
don’t confuse passion and work ethic (in either direction)(yours and others)
don’t underestimate the urgency of what’s at hand
don’t hurry unnecessarily
don’t get your sense of value, connectedness, affirmation, or meaning only at work
don’t forget the power of humility and honesty
don’t confuse mistakes for flaws, or vice versa
don’t believe “perfection” exists, or that achieving it would command respect
don’t question your right to have your job
don’t stop questioning whether your job is right for you, and whether you are right for it
don’t think that question has one answer and isn’t always changing
don’t attach too much to your ability to raise money–whether you’re raising it or not
don’t process too many work things out of work that aren’t matters of the heart and spirit
don’t attach to things you think you’ve “figured out” — when they’re working and when they’re not working
don’t forget to ask for help
don’t take all the advice people give you :)
don’t forget to love yourself and others. it’s all that really matters in the end.
don’t take yourself too seriously or forget to laugh–especially at yourself. :)”

juneteenth dreams

i was in a brownstone in brooklyn with this sweet older black couple. he says to me, with this twinkle in his eye, ‘come down and see what i have’. and she says, ‘oh harold. he loves to show off. go on go on.’

he opens a red door next to a bay window, and i realize that isn’t possible. the stairs beyond the door are piles of books. he makes his way down easily, i slowly pick my way down, wanting it all to be more solid. but i’m charmed.

we get to the basement and there is a slender blue black boychild tending a massive table, a table shaped like a continent, growing all over with little seedlings. there are intricate systems of sprinklers over it, and lights hung low and close, little pictures in cordoned off sections of this verdant basement table. there are shelves floor to ceiling farther than my eye can see, full of little packets and pictures and instructions. bees move amongst the green.

it smells like life down here, and i suddenly feel tears in my eyes.

‘you know what it is don’t you girl?’

i nod. i thought he was a myth.

‘and he’s the next one.’ harold nods over at the young man, ‘next seedkeeper. you do this too, i know. i see you.’

somewhere between the basement and my house i leave my scarf and the rain comes back to brooklyn.

conversations with the universe

me: give me one reason to stay in detroit, to let it be a home. please.
universe: loving it is enough of a reason. but i will give you two other reasons. (whispers)
me: oh. :-) thank you.

a poem on purpose

(written by hand on plane, transcribed with a cacophony of frog songs all around me)

i am often now looking into beauty
wherever i am
seeing a falling down around me of cages, perhaps
some bar, some steel, something thought to hold me
or i thought it up to hold myself
through the awakening

when it is a chaos inside it helps to say
i am this
(tired) {known}
and not that
(desired) {unknown}

but in all the space i found a chaos without
a world, a familiar
an unreasonable joy
an unrealistic life
and i have decided to live it

because i don’t remember anymore when the heartbreak started
that emptiness larger than any single slight or withholding or person
but i do know this world will keep it burning and aching
twisting you and i away from any purpose
filling up the sight

i could, and i have, but
i don’t think i was put here to see the world and weep

i have full hands,
my work is to create more beauty
tho…there is enough and so much
so then, to show it, to let it be, and let it out
to conduit that love which is also always present
in this same plane, in this same little world
to notice the ways it is good to be of my species
on my planet
in this age
to remember how to love
all through these forgetting times

notes from BALLE talk

i spoke today at the annual gathering of the business alliance for local living economies.

the theme for this session was changing the story. fran korten facilitated, with gar alperovitz, d’artagnan scorza and myself as panelists.

i was selected as a BALLE fellow last fall, and am super excited about their work, although i ended up stepping back from the fellowship because it wasn’t lining up with where my life is going (babies, writing sci-fi, etc) and i wanted the resource to go to someone in detroit who loves entrepreneurship and could really bring the skills home (enter the remarkable jess daniels). they were deeply understanding about it and invited me to still come through to the conference.

i spoke after gar, whose brilliant book i have been reading (and I had prepared some questions for him but he had to dip early), and d’artagnan, who is a serious mlk meets will allen meets berry gordy type brother from l.a. who i have come to deeply respect since connecting in the fellowship.

though my formal work (facilitation, curriculum development) with the detroit food justice task force is done, i still wanted to share a little about what i learned there and what changing the story looks like in my beloved detroit. these are the notes i prepped for the talk, which came out a bit differently, but you’ll get the gist here:

detroit is the ultimate city of changing the story – narrative is the key to our future.

detroit is dying? ‘we see opportunity in crisis’, ‘detroit is what the country has to look forward to.’

time to right size the city? ‘we aren’t leaving the land we have tilled’, ‘now is the time to grow our souls.’ [grace lee boggs]

detroit’s a blank canvas? detroit is a city full of survival stories and brilliance.

noticing stories? we notice stories, we create stories.

my friend mia herndon often says, capitalism is not failing, it is working for the elite. beautifully. but in detroit, lots of people are beginning to practice alternatives, even if we don’t yet have language for it.

the businesses and organizations that we support are ones that honor the survivors, the resilience, not saying they are filling empty space or saving poor detroiters. detroit doesn’t need saving, we need folks to recognize the creative and brilliant ways detroit is still here.

even just what you see – you might see abandoned lots – we see fertile ground. we are detoxifying years of abandonment, corruption, and being forgotten, composting the —- people have spoken about/dropped on the city.

literally and figuratively. we have the fastest growing and largest urban agricultural movement in the country! land mass to compare to l.a. but just over 700k living there. do you understand that scale of potential food growth? but it hasn’t necessarily created sustainable business models – because the majority of the 713k people left in the D don’t want to eat it, or can’t get to it, or can’t afford it.

so the food justice task force charged itself with connecting the abundant food potential to the hungry people of the city – that’s why the twitter handle is @justfeeddetroit – looking at all possible options to feed detroit.

first, wow, it’s overwhelming how many challenges there are, how many systems need to shift. it’s a long arc, a long piece of work. but one of the things we realized was that we needed to change the story at the neighborhood level.

so cook eat talk was a series of events we created where instead of asking people what was wrong with their community, or training them on the crisis, we asked what works? what is your favorite food? who are your food heroes? who is feeding the neighborhood now? where are the gardens? how are your cornerstores and liquor stores, where you get groceries?

and then we could ask, what do you need, what do you long for, what is the new story of the neighborhood?

we heard about grandmothers cooking for the neighborhood, folks gardening found plots. to be real, a narrative and land battle is afoot in detroit, between those who claimed the land when no one else wanted it, and those who just realized it is the most fertile gorgeous place…

we also heard about chili cheese fries. how delicious they are, and the real question from a young person of ‘could they be nutritious’? (audience members told me to try parsnips and string beans btw)

the real question emerged: how do we create a desire for the healthiest food possible, the healthiest life possible?

it’s possible to get it, it’s possible to get the rights to grow it, we have a food policy, we have restaurants and farmer’s markets and grocers and cooks and pantries and foodlab and all the potential for a justice based food system. we must tune into and keep growing that longing, consistently.

the cook eat talk model worked for folks, and people have run with it, even using cook eat talk to have other community conversations. the task force is finalizing a food justice curriculum to use for the next round of programming.

i want to throw in that my other work is in science and speculative fiction, growing our capacity to imagine, practicing the right and responsibility of writing ourselves into the future. which to me falls in line here with moving past idealism and into new practices.

competition is not going to be eradicated with pointing fingers. we must ‘be the change’, we must ‘transform ourselves to transform the world’ – the older i get the more i understand we can’t change others. we can inspire though, we can show that something is possible. we have to do inner work, generate new imaginings, to heal the trauma and change the patterns within ourselves.

we have to practice. understand that every single thing we are doing is a practice. are we practicing old? new? very old? intention, with?

envision the new story, practice it into existence.

after this fran asked everyone to reflect on the story they are trying to change, and we created a map of the stories we are changing from (profit is our purpose, any job is a good job, american dream, change is impossible, dystopia), and the story we are changing to (we have many purposes and that biodiversity is good for life, abundance is the default state of earth, meaningful work, dreams for all, change is inevitable, utopia). we talked about how we make that change – naming the vision, practicing, creating art and culture, redefining wellness, practicing, practicing, practicing.

it was inspiring to hear how much this room full of small local business owners grasp these radical love-based thoughts. the great turning feels active.