Monthly Archive for October, 2013

i’m writing

i’m writing, i’m writing.

i have been writing a little less for this blog and writing more science and speculative fiction lately, and it’s exciting. i do want to develop this into a space where i can share new fiction and poetry as regularly as blog posts.

i’m writing. ideas come into my head fully formed, characters crawl out of the shadows with attitudes and understandings that seem greater than and/or counter to my own little grasp of the world.

i’m writing.

i hired a writing coach, a science fiction writer i respect. she expects 20 pages from me a month. that seems like a spectacular amount. i would be daunted, except i know i have often generated that much content here. and actually, i am still daunted. i am realizing how vastly different it is to write these reflections versus writing fiction.

the characters don’t belong to me like these thoughts and stories here. they have their own histories, often in their own utterly alien worlds. i have to be more vigorous than i have ever been to tell their stories well.

i’m writing.

i am voraciously consuming as much art and speculative writing as i can, at every opportunity. last week i went to see nico muhly’s opera ‘two boys’ at the met and was touched by the juxtaposition of the dramatic, familiar beauty of opera wrapped around the tender reductionist communication of teenage chatting. the whole thing felt deeply ambitious, and necessary – brave even. applying this aged art form to this moment creates more possibilities for how we can understand the dramas and longings of our own lives. the present as a gorgeous and operatic landscape? yes. and i was thinking of how i have fallen in love through long distance instant writing more than once, and again quite recently. how much of ourselves and our safety and our passions can now be revealed in these digital missives, reshaping our lives.

i also immersed myself in wangechi mutu’s work at the brooklyn museum. she makes these larger than life images of women’s bodies that simultaneously disturb and delight the mind. i went with a good friend and her toddler son, and it was amazing to watch him recognize the images, ‘owl, snake, eagle’, while what i saw was ripe vulva, mid-trauma, internal narratives, danger, freedom. watching her film ‘the end of eating everything’ with santigold on a full wall was remarkable.

both of these artists are in realms of their own imagining – i am excited to be alive at this time to see their work, and excited by the challenge of creating in a field that contains such brilliance.

i’m writing.

now, when i see people after any period of absence, they ask how the writing is going. i notice the reactions this pulls out of me. if i have written that day, i smile, i feel the ease of doing part of my life’s work, i speak about a story i am in the midst of. if i haven’t written that day i feel a defensiveness, a tightening, a pressure. how can you ask me about such a deeply personal thing??…except that i have thrown myself onto the stage. it is a rough thrill to be out in the open with this flagrant desire to write for my living. it feels like jazz hands before the music starts playing. vulnerable, naked, bold, precocious, deeply humbling.

and regardless of how it feels, whether it comes easy, if i feel up to it, my joy over what’s coming out, or my surprise because so far none of the stories are what i expected, regardless of all of that, with a palpable thrumming gratitude that reverberates under all of my days, i am writing.

funny moments with the babies

(wrote this last week but just getting around to posting. yay babies.)

i spent 48 hours being on point with the kids. we had a blast, although i couldn’t quite seem to get them to the bath or get the meals on schedule. i am more lenient with time, the auntie with no set hours.

here are some humorous highlights:

watching the sunrise: siobhan woke up at 6:30 this morning and came to get in bed with me. she lay quietly for one minute, and then said, ‘it’s really dark!’ i told her ‘that is because it’s still nighttime’. she was quiet for another moment. then she sat up and pointed, gleefully, ‘but look!! the light is coming!’

choice: whenever i put on happy feet two, which we happen to have recorded on the dvr thingy, they both scream, ‘i don’t want to watch happy feet!’ if i ignore this, about five minutes later they are transfixed and dancing around to this cautionary climate change musical. want vs need, kids.

on reality: finn is perpetually disappointed in my lack of ability to tell what is real and what is pretend. case in point, finn, siobhan and their grandmother-in-law decorated the house in spiderwebs, spiders and a pumpkinhead scarecrow. all terrifying. when it was time to show off they made me cover my eyes and come with them to see. when i see it all i start giving an oscar worthy performance of fear. finn turns to me and screams at the top of his lungs, ‘IT’S FAKE!!!!!!!’. he then gives me this ice cold glare tinged with disgust.

this helped me later that night when i walked past the window and saw a strange huge man sitting on the porch. the scream caught in my throat as finn’s voice echoed through my head, ‘it’s fake!!!’

bathroom as water cooler: at one point while they were transfixed with happy feet 2, i realized i could go to the bathroom! i got really excited and went in. i closed the door and danced over to the toilet for this alone time. literally as soon as i sat down finn came running in, followed by siobhan, both yelling ‘i have to pee!’ i told them it was my turn, and they both shrugged and began having a polite conversation with each other about the very bathroom itself, with no intentions of leaving until we’d all had our turns. sigh.

dance break: i play music most of the time i am at the house with them. this trip i was playing nina simone, drake, jessie ware, beyonce and emeli sande. i was in the kitchen cooking while the kids played – and i was feeling REALLY excited because we had spent the day not watching tv or movies. suddenly siobhan comes up and says, it’s time to dance! i was amenable, so she ran and got finn, and we had an amazing dance party where we were often holding hands. finn and siobhan took turns directing the dances we were doing. this isn’t really funny, just awesome.

things you have to tell auntie because she doesn’t generally wear pajamas or underwear and thus forgets crucial things: tonight siobhan fell asleep on the couch, and i carried her upstairs to her bed without waking her up, which is an unbelievably sweet and magical advanced act in parenting.

when it was time to take finn upstairs we were both working hard to stay quiet and not wake siobhan up. that looks like finn yelling about how they could run out of water if their local water table goes dry (he JUST turned 5) and me reminding him about his inside voice.

i helped him get in bed, and then in a stage whisper he said, ‘i need underwear!’ i pulled out a pair of outside sweatshorts and he looked at them skeptically. i put them on him and then he looked at me with deep concern. ‘i’d really rather have…underwear.’

once we got the proper situation happening, i kissed him goodnight and told him to let me know if he needed anything. i went back downstairs.

roughly two minutes later finn again stage whispers from the top of the stairs, ‘auntie adjin! remember how you said to tell you if i need anything? i just remembered my dessert part didn’t get full yet!’ finn has determined that his stomach has several parts, which adapt based on the meal. his pancake and pizza parts never get full. lately his cooked vegetable part is very very small. he holds these parts up with his hand opened or closed to express the state of the part.

i laughed and gave him something. on his way back upstairs he stops and says, ‘auntie adjin, i love you.’

melt.

storytime: siobhan invited me to sit with her and listen to a story from her notebook. here it is, verbatim: ‘once upon a time, there was a little car (pointing to a car sticker in the middle of an otherwise blank page). and then, it went BUMP! and see, it was in this (pointing to a dark scribble on the next page, also in the middle of an otherwise blank page)! and then there was a big surprise (pointing to a completely blank page). hey! i need my crayons!’ future artist-griot in the house.

choice, part 2: siobhan is a fashionista. it’s not unusual to put socks or a dress on her and then watch her little 3 year old face crumple because ‘it’s not working,’ or ‘it’s not right’. we went to get ready for a walk in the crisp fall outdoors and after three different outfit attempts, siobhan decided that the only thing that worked was a sundress with no leggings and finn’s rain boots. and i daresay she looked fantastic! but clearly underdressed for the weather. finn was wearing shorts with a pair of siobhan’s legwarmers and a sweatshirt. i decided not to fight with them, as we were all a bit done with being inside.

so we get outside and jog to the top of the road. on the way back siobhan turns to me and says, in genuine surprise, ‘i’m freezing!’ i asked why she thought that might be and her face got woeful as she shook her head and said, ‘i just didn’t listen.’ i carried her home under my sweater like a rescued puppy.

with pumpkinhead

please-don’t-die

i drove a plant across this country once, from brooklyn to oakland.

the plant sat in the back while my sister april was with me, til denver. after extensive and thorough pat benatar and mariah carey singing, april hopped a flight back east and i moved the plant up to the front seat to take on the salt and red rocks of the west.

i can’t remember why i had this plant now, but my sister autumn had given it to me and, based on it’s name, it was supposed to go back to her at some point.

the plant was called autumn’s-plant-please-don’t-die.

in my spotty memory, autumn made it seem like caring for the plant would be ‘easy’, which garden-y people often do…’oh you just water-feed-talk to-put it in sunshine-don’t overwater-don’t oversun-LOVE it!’ i have gently ended the lives of spider plants, aloe plants, and everything in between, listening to these relativist caveats.

but there i was, driving a big van where, between my back and the end of the vehicle, were all the things i loved/held dear/thought i needed in order to live in the alien nation of california…with a plant hanging from the passenger mirror. i drove, singing at the top of my lungs and telling autumn’s-plant-please-don’t-die about the questions on my mind: would i be a good executive director? eh. how long would i live in cali? 3 years. could i make it outside new york? jury’s still out. is my writing career over? no.

i am not a gardener by any stretch or even deep misunderstanding of the word. i love watching the hands of people who garden, gentle and kind of dirty, of earth, these people who have a way with plants. in the past few months i have killed an air plant which only needed occasional moisture, as well as something sold to me as ‘eternal bamboo’.

i travel more than i am home. i am the main living thing i can sustain at this point, and that takes my full attention.

and yet for autumn, i was able to care for this plant, engage it, travel with it. it lived longer than any other plant i have slowly killed, by multitudes. it died eventually, sure, but it had an incredible, luscious, loved and exciting life.

but, you know, i have made choices in my life which don’t lead to thriving gardens.

or kids.

because it is the most natural and common experience in the world, i think it’s easy to forget how truly brave and brilliant the act of parenting, caring for other living creatures, actually is. life and safety and happiness and health are all in your hands, little people who cannot care for themselves are looking to you for literally everything related to their well-being.

and here i am, heading west again, midwest, this time on a flight. autumn is once again putting something alive in my hands, making me become worthy of giving care. this weekend i get to be on point with the kids for the first time, by myself. so far i have basically shown myself to be capable of this kind of thing, at least in the last five years or so. and yet as i head into it i feel the preciousness of it all.

being responsible for other people is perhaps the greatest maturing that humans experience.

i have explored this in love…here is my heart. can you be careful with it? sweet to it? thoughtful and mindful and honest and passionate and just…good to it? oh, you are human, i get it. but can you really try? the emotional work of love is familiar and exciting to me, learning constantly how, how, how to really love myself and others.

this feels like all of that tender risk, heightened. in love, there are at least two adults navigating the fraught territory of vulnerability and opening, building desire and building trust and learning each other. it is such a beautiful and collaborative work. with the babies, there is immense collaboration and co-creation of a magical world of discovering how mindblowing reality is, learning to emote and stuff…

and the majority of things they want to do could potentially result in something horrific.

so i ask all of y’all to send lots of love fun safe life vibes to me with my beloved babies for the next few days. we will likely be singing at the top of our lungs and full of joy. but part of me will be keeping everyone alive simultaneously, and i have no green/baby thumbs, just more love than i know what to do with.

gentle work: facilitation lessons

this past week has been an incredible week of facilitation and learning.

i started the week in petaluma california with a circle of community midwives and reproductive justice workers connecting around the places where their work aligns, overlaps, and could strengthen each other. it was hosted by groundswell, one of the few funders of both of these communities. it’s amazing to see how much nuance there is in and between these groups. doing work that is still largely misunderstood, doing work in isolation, doing work that has deep historical roots, doing work that is under near constant attack – that is the common reality of both midwives and reproductive justice workers. community midwives want to make the wholistic midwifery way of approaching reproductive and family health available to as many people as possible. reproductive justice workers organize to ensure that all people have access to everything they need in order to achieve reproductive and family health, with an emphasis on those with the least access. and yet these two groups are often not able to connect and do that work together. it was beautiful to watch the opening up, the reaching out, and the questions people were able to ask once they were talking.

the circle came up with a lot of ideas for how to deepen understanding of each other’s work. my favorite was the idea of an internship exchange, where folks would spend weeks immersed in each other’s work to learn what kind of issues, challenges and solutions are growing.

i then crossed the country to nyc to facilitate the board of the correctional association, an organization which has been entering prisons, monitoring conditions and advocating for incarcerated people’s rights for 170 years. the room was full of incredible stories of what motivates people to engage in the work, including people who had been part of the prison industrial complex as lawyers and judges at some point in their career, people who were formerly incarcerated, people working on specific issues of justice for women, youth, the elderly, etc.

weeks like this i feel deeply inspired by the groups i get to work with. and i just keep learning.

i feel more and more in love with the art of facilitation…and i’m already an evangelist so it’s getting to be a lot of love. i wonder who is facilitating through the government shutdown right now. i imagine teams of skilled facilitators sitting down with congress and moving people out of their boxes and through their hearts.

my style of facilitation has changed a lot over the years, as wisdom keeps coming from participants, co-facilitators, my doula work and my own spiritual growth. some of the changes i am noticing:

– i used to have a tight virgo hold on time and content, but i kept experiencing a sense of scarcity and dissatisfaction. people would enjoy themselves but not necessarily get to the deepest content. i have grown to trust each group i serve to know what they need to work on together, and use emergent design to let that knowledge come out. i am going to write a longer piece on emergent strategy/design tools i have learned, including the brilliant collective thinking from an amc emergent strategy workshop this summer…anticipate that! but basically i am learning that my work is not to control or guide, it’s simply to hold the space in such a way that the priorities come out organically, and so that as much truth as possible can come into the room. the sooner the truth comes in the room, the more time we have to advance the work and generate solutions and possibilities.

– i am often sitting at the intersection of two truths: people do the best they can in the present moment, and work moves better when the relationships between the people are strong and clear. these truths give a pace to my work. i am learning to assess what is actually possible for a group in the present, not what they once did or could do in the future. and then in the majority of cases, if they articulate that that best needs to be a little better, i create an opportunity to deepen the relationships. the deeper the relationships, the more space and time there is in the room, the less sense of scarcity the group experiences. then each meeting begins to feel like an ongoing conversation, not the last chance to get it right.

– having art supplies on the participants’ tables leads to a room full of creative minds engaging the content while they build play dough pipe cleaner stickered up masterpieces. i am sure there is some science as to why this results in more joy, laughter, playfulness, ease and openness in a group, but i don’t know that science. it just works.

– as i drop more and more into my body through my own Somatics work, i am able to feel the room as a circle of miraculous bodies, and get folks working from their wholeness, not just their minds. as the majority of communication is nonverbal, physical and energetic, it makes a massive difference when people can intentionally communicate with their whole selves.

– i used to basically transcribe each meeting as i facilitated. the result was tons of detailed content that no one ever looked at again. i have shifted my process such that i just grab the decisions, commitments and lessons. saves me time and leaves the group with one or two pages of critical notes that are easy to refer to.

the work used to feel almost impossibly invigorating. it would take so much out of me, i would leave a job spent. these adjustments, primarily trusting the group to get where it most needs to in the time we have, has made my work much more gentle. the collaboration with the room leaves a sense of collective satisfaction.

as with any aspect of life, the strength of the connection, the level of truth that becomes possible between the individuals, is what yields the long-term resilience that movements need in order to take on co-creation of a transformed future.

after days of this kind of collective work, i feel more excited about our future as a species. i see how people are working on all the many parts of this complex system, generating possibilities because they are willing to build with each other a next step. and then a next. and so on. there are so many places where that work is necessarily hard. i am grateful that i get to create conditions for the gentle work, the vulnerable work, the places where people can ease into their best selves and feel what it is like to open and simply be received, as is, whole, uncompromised.