Monthly Archive for November, 2013

love lessons

people have told me, ‘love yourself first. you have to love yourself before anyone else can love you.’ but i have observed that there is an unconditional love, greater than my self-love work, i simply have to receive it. it generates a gorgeous softening light that allows me to see myself anew.

and love is an expansive lens. once i see one person as worthy of love, be it myself, or a child, or a lover, it opens up a liberating worldview where i am free to see anyone, even everyone, through that lens.

love makes other humans so infinitely forgivable. it makes compassion a default. it makes the attention of the lover healing.

love is a form of brilliance. it puts a shine on the lover and the beloved.

love is a cellular sustenance. the space between one and two has such abundance of life in it, the very taste is a healing.

love is a form of genius, a visitation of clarity wherein the ways of the world seem simpler, more possible.

if i want love in my life, i can’t participate in actions that hurt love. learning to see those actions clearly, even through my own loneliness, desperation or desire, is a maturing.

love requires a continuous willingness to surrender, to let go of the best i have crafted of myself so far, to drop back into beginner’s mind about my heart.

love finds me in a messy, imperfect, vulnerable, reactive pile of shame, takes my shoulders, and says, you are doing a good job, you are lovely and lovable, i see you, and i love you.

love justifies every moment and experience of my past, and makes my future delectable, valuable, a smart longing, a creation ground.

on being invisible in the airport

we had all missed our connecting flights due a delayed inspection crew in detroit, so the crowd coming off the plane in salt lake city was grumpy, and american about it. pushing each other with forearms, just a step more ‘accidental’ than elbows, racing past wheelchair bound and elderly passengers, upstreaming the hotel shuttles.

the delta help area was a wreckage of human kindness and human waste. i was waiting in line for a man who looked like half of siegfried and roy, shellac hair fanning up and away from his head, something akin to alien ears, bulbous nose. he looked at me a few times while helping the previous customer. when that person turned away to elbow over to the hotel shuttle, a tall white man stepped around me to sir bulbous. and they started talking about mr tall’s situation.

i knew immediately what had happened. i dropped my bag and screamed out, ‘HELP!! HELP ME – CAN ANYONE OUT THERE HEAR ME?!?!?! I’VE GONE INVISIBLE, HELP HELP HELP ME!!!!!’

as dr suess would say:
‘here
i fear
i cannot be

here
my dear
they can’t see me!’

sir bulbous and mr tall looked at me in shock. mr tall said, ‘ma’am you are not invisible, please calm down!’
‘i’m…i’m not invisible?’
‘no ma’am, not at all.’
‘so you saw me standing here?’
‘yes, i saw you there and see you there.’
‘and you just walked in front of me?’

‘…’

‘somehow that’s worse.’

just kidding. it went more like this:

they started talking about mr tall’s situation.

i stepped between them, emboldened by my leather jacket with fringe on it. in that second of tight sausage sandwich awkwardness that results from thickness stepping between two much taller men, i thought i might not survive this stunt. the men stepped apart.

‘are y’all lovers?’

mr tall and sir bulbous looked at me incredulously and scoffed. ‘we’ve never met!’

‘so you aren’t long lost family? or returning soldiers who were POWs together somewhere? you aren’t from the same kickball team?’

giving me the official you-are-an-irrational-woman look, mr tall side eyes me, ‘we just said we just met.’

‘well i’m just saying that y’all being family, or lovers, or soldiers, or being from the same victorious kickball team, those are about the only reasons you could justifiably cut me in line right now.’

a woman behind me said oh snap, and literally snapped her fingers. i turned with her and we sashayed away, dropping mics all around us.

no really, really it was more like,

me: ‘he cut me!’
mr tall: ‘i did not.’
me, barely audible: ‘grumble…america…grumble grumble patriarchy asshole grumble grumble.’
me centering, extending compassion at these two assholes, thinking of them as kids. me holding my ground.

finally sir bulbous, with the tolerating-an-irrational-woman look, mr tall sucking his teeth and rolling his neck in the background: ‘sorry ma’am how can i help you?’

the end. really.

i am not a dog person.

today we got a dog.

i am not a dog person.

to be technical, sam and autumn and the babies got a dog. which means once a month for a week i now have a dog to love and care for.

this morning his name was dewie. up until a few weeks ago he lived in an apartment, and was too big and excited and awesome to be there. then he lived at the humane society.

now his name is bran, a good irish name, which is what all new beings to this home immediately receive. bran is house trained, but has no other visible forms of obedience. he loves chewing children’s toys, but he is discerning, showing zero interest in the dog toys that came with him. he barks at the fire as if putting another living creature in it’s place. he is mostly sleek black labrador, but has a slight sagginess to him that is apparently from his ‘coon hound lineage, as well as white paws and lots of spots, including one at the very tip of his long tail. he likes going outside, but doesn’t appear to feel any obligation to pee. he is playful and incredibly sweet and keeps bumping up against me until i scratch his hips.

he is ten months old, the same age as mairead, the youngest child here. mairead is the least interested in him. siobhan has tried twice to mount him, and keeps asking in wonder, ‘do we have a dog?’, while finn tries tirelessly to engage the dog in the massive overly directed production called finn’s imagined life.

i had my dog already. her name was sugarfoot because she was all black with white paws. we reveled in her mutt-ness, it matched our family. she was small and perfect, untrained, not interested in barking or conflict. we grew up with her, and when we went to college she became the primary confidant of both of my parents. during my last visit home before she died she took me out to look at the stars and we had closure. i knew i’d never need or want another dog.

i am not a dog person, i just loved her.

i am not a hater of creatures, not ever. in fact i am mostly not a dog (or cat, ferret, parrot, snake, mouse, or other pet) person because of my deep belief in freedom. the domestication of animals who cannot reason or choose such dependence has always felt like an entrapment. and particularly dogs, who love so thoroughly…how can humans ever earn that love enough to justify taking the wilderness away?

i know i am centuries late in this argument. still.

and yet…i loved sugarfoot. i grieved her death, i still get caught up if i find a hair in some parental storage or her picture comes up on my screen saver, and it’s been a decade since she passed.

and i love when i see people who truly love wild and unreasonable creatures, somehow domesticated and found. i see the difference when it is truly cross-species love. there are my politics and and then there is the current complex world.

and these kids are the kind of kids who will do well to love and care for a dog. my sister and brotherinlaw are the kind of people who will be soothed and amused and enlivened by the presence of this creature.

but of course i was surprised when i saw this dog in the yard and my heart trilled a bit. and then when he made eye contact and looked familiar. and then when i needed to take him on a walk, one on one, and i was giggling as he dragged me along. and then let him lay on my floor futon, albeit flipped over so he isn’t touching where i sleep. he loves it. he already, with some suspicion, but genuinely, seems to love me.

i don’t know. he’s awfully sweet. and curious, young, full of life. i am not a dog person. i was a sugarfoot person. maybe a decade is long enough to grieve and release and be loyal. maybe i can consider this friendship? maybe i can be a bran person.

we’ll see. regardless, we have a dog.

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slave songs (on renisha mcbride, 12 years a slave, beloved)

i don’t want to write about renisha mcbride. i don’t want to know her story.

last week i saw 12 years a slave, and then beloved. it was an intense week in my body.

after 12 years i wanted to crawl into another skin that felt somehow further from, or alien to, what i had just watched and felt. as a multiracial person i watched it feeling everything, the whip on my back and the whip in my hand. all my people have lived in south carolina for generations, you know? i want to know these ancestral memories and i don’t.

after 12 years i wanted to be quiet with my blackness, quiet around black people, in black spaces far from the dangerous suburbs. i couldn’t move to a place of even having an opinion on the film…i was shook. because it felt true. through the hollywood lens, and the phallic frame of finding singular male stories through which to tell all of history, i still felt the pain of women, mothers, sexualized slave bodies, radically unfair circumstances, allies, and legacy, the legacy of slavery this country is still holding so tightly.

and it was powerful to watch beloved again so soon after 12 years. perhaps even necessary. i had seen and read beloved before, years ago, but was unfamiliar with the 12 years story. i watched both movies with my lover/scholar/friend lynnee. she framed beloved, which is a horror story, as an examination of a tenderness of storytelling, how do we tell the ugly truth in a beautiful dignified way? toni morrison took this story into her thorough speculative hands and shaped something immensely humanizing, focused on a powerful and complex female protagonist, where the black love and survival and even madness left a feeling of empowerment in us when it was finished. she indicts white supremacy – as we watch sethe stand in that shed we understand what happened to her, what slavery was. this time around, with children in my life, that scene was even more devastating than it was the first time.

so my mind has been returning to the scenes of both movies, wanting to write.

and then 19-year-old renisha mcbride was shot in dearborn. i didn’t see it at first, my friend dream has been posting about and organizing around it. renisha, from what i’ve gathered, was a young black woman who got in a car accident and was seeking help. instead of being seen as a human seeking aid, she was taken for a potential robber. an unarmed robber knocking on a front door in the middle of the night. so she got shot in the face? and as i write this no charges are being brought against her zimmerman, but pressure is mounting as more of us reluctantly say and write and scream her name for the first time.

it all feels deeply connected, to me.

from the first day we were brought here, until today in this obamajayzoprah era, it is still such a dangerous thing to be black – and let’s be precise, most every other shade of brown – in the wrong place in this country. and the wrong place is wherever there is sufficient fear and arms. the borders are invisible, because they are internal – if you fear us for any reason, you can shoot us to death and the word ‘justified’ will become your armor for the remainder of your shameful life.

before learning renisha’s name, 12 years already had me thinking about the modern day spaces where race and ethnicity are used to justify capturing, enslaving, disappearing, torturing, and/or eliminating people. i was thinking about guantanamo bay, about migrant workers and immigrant families, about the survival of palestinians and somalis which gets narrated as terrorism, about our industry of prisons and punishment.

watching a slave balance on his toes as he hung just so from a tree, as others moved about their day, i thought of herman wallace in solitary confinement, and of waterboarding – i already couldn’t stay in the past.

lynnee’s scholarship of late has focused on nina simone, and she just unearthed this line, ‘slavery has never been abolished from america’s way of thinking.’ it is a trauma, toxic in the soil. mostly we don’t want it to be this way, we want to be ‘post-racial’. but we shoot babies in the face, and over skittles, because we are not post racial. we are not even post traumatic. we are in an active, sustained state of ongoing trauma, and that state has no borders.

and it’s hard, because most of the time i think white people, particularly white people with southern roots, should be terrified. because of what their ancestors did, and what karma might be justified to demand as recourse. but black people aren’t out here raging against white people and exacting revenge in place of reparations. we barely engage in any kinds of social movements at this point, to our detriment. but we are being presidents, we are railing against glass ceilings in high fashion culture on the jimmy kimmel show, we are falling in love, we are working for ford motor company when they’ll hire us, our social justice efforts may be small but they are fierce – we are working to shape a society to somehow see our humanity even though we all know all day every day how we came to be here. when we do turn to crime, we take it out primarily on each other, and it’s driven by the economic state that emerges from being so recently the slaves of this nation.

it is hard to shake away the fact that slavery really helped capitalism take off here. today, how one is doing in the system of capitalism is the difference in most aspects of black life – whether you will work for others and barely survive, get sucked into illegal pathways of survival, or ultimately ride away. and it’s a markedly less discriminating slavery, this embedded modern version. it still shows a statistically trackable lust for black bodies, but will swallow whole anyone who can’t advance against the odds.

if you ride away you can be president. but if you were the president and you happened to be in dearborn heights and got into a car accident and approached a door for help? for the resilience of surviving slavery and being a nice guy and achieving status and titles and leadership and then surviving the car crash and getting to the door, you get nothing. you die, sir.

i am thinking a lot on how creativity thrives in such conditions.

how do we generate life in the midst of an ongoing war? how do we love in the path of such a mysterious borderless hunter?

the only answer that makes any sense to me is the resistance of creating, and letting that creation, that joy and love and generation of something new, press up against the fear.

this combination of movies has me reflecting a lot on resistance. throughout both films there are whispers and traces of love and intimacy as forms of resistance – feeling touched, connected, sweetness, sexual release, goodness. then there is the resistance of not engaging, which beautiful brave slave patsey employs in 12 years. there is the resistance of choosing to die, to kill one’s future, that both patsey and beloved’s sethe turn to or attempt. there is one woman in 12 years whose resistance is weeping, uncontrollably and unstoppably, for her children.

i love the full consideration of these forms of resistance. dream tweeted that resistance is never futile, and i agree – resistance let’s us know how severe the conditions of suffering are, and also let us know how resilient we are, that we still long for a taste of freedom, of action on our own recognizance.

to that end, i have always loved the stories of slow poisoning slave masters, of learning to read and write in the shadows and dirt, of doing the slave work as incompetently as possible without incurring punishment – i love these as much as the stories of running away and freeing others, and think they speak just as powerfully to the ways in which we bend but do not break, break but do not disappear, disappear but are not forgotten.

perhaps because i know myself, and how hard bravery is. and how radically i am living my resistance with every choice, though it may never be seen by others.

perhaps because i have been in the woods in the dark and it still scares me and i think that is some ancestral memory, and i know you can hear everything in the night in the wood, that an escaping slave must have been a crashing burden to the darkness. renisha mcbride. we have been getting shot at in the night such a long time.

i want hear the truth until it is made impossible. if that means lots and lots of movies and television shows and series about slavery and its foundations, its legacies, it’s breathing beastly present, so be it. i want these creative indictments of this viral system, until it can no longer justify itself the morning after. i want inspired-by-true stories like toni wrote, i want directors from all backgrounds to see this as a necessary story to tell. i want djangos, i want fantastical lesbian slave science fiction, i want slave narratives from survivors. i want big budget hollywood movies and small home crafted art films. i want oscar worthy performances and scripts, and i want the rest of it – i want us to obsess about this, to turn to it as a festering spreading wound that can only truly heal with our attention, our slowing down and attending to this place where we have never been well but could be. today, slavery is the rarely mentioned core narrative of this country’s existence – i want our narrative to be truth and reconciliation.

i want a justice for renisha that makes her the last one.

i don’t avoid the news because i don’t care. it is a sign of exhaustion about living in this country, about willfully turning the best of my attention towards creativity and solutions. but from a place of surviving, in case there is ever confusion. i am hanging on the line too, digging my toes in the dirt for purchase on some new stability, hanging on for a true freedom.

moya bailey + octavia butler + me = awesome geekout

a little while back moya bailey and i had a google hangout to talk about the octavia butler and emergent strategy work that has been developing from the allied media community and my nomadic geek life for a special issue of ADA focused on science fiction and the feminist present. i say ‘you know’ and ‘right’ a lot, and talk about octavia’s work as it relates to feminist and womanist politics, shame, embodied organizing. i also reiterate my dream of us co-creating the future through our writing.

moya asks great questions in a great way and is generally a brilliant beast. enjoy!

http://adanewmedia.org/2013/11/issue3-baileybrown/