Monthly Archive for February, 2014

healing out loud/claiming frida

(drafted this last week on the road)

feb 24, 2014

last week i received my contributor copies of the anthology dear sister: letters from survivors of sexual violence. my piece in it, called “awakening”, was written about two years ago. it is about ‘how i was smart, how i survived long enough to fall in love with myself.’

it was so exciting to read where i was in my healing process at that point in my life. one of the paragraphs talked about my weight – how i gained weight for protection, as many people do. and how i tried losing it a variety of times and ways, but when people began to give me a certain kind of attention, i would lose my courage and go back to my pizza and chocolate beloveds. after years, decades of this, i finally felt ready for the change to begin.

i went on my sabbatical in 2012 with a goal of learning what health looks like for me. what i learned is that i had to really love myself, my body, as it was. and from that loving awareness, i would understand what transformation, if any, was needed.

in the dear sister essay i write about some of the ways i started healing and falling in love with myself leading up to and during that journey.

in that loving place, when i sought the answer to what health meant to me, i found i longed for strength, for the capacity to run and play with the kids in my life, to have a real chance at surviving any sci-fi apocalyptic conditions i could imagine, and to enjoy sex and pleasure without shame.

i learned that i would need to do it all at my own pace.

it’s important for me to notice how far i have come. in my early twenties i was eating pizza, hot pockets, fast food, candy, bread. since then i have learned so much about sustaining myself – how to cook delicious vegetables without meat or sugar displacing the nutritional value, how to make a salad dressing that transformed my relationship to raw vegetables, how to juice, how to shop the outer edge of the grocery store (veggies, fruit, fish, eggs) rather than the inner aisles (snacks, candy, cereals). and i have been actively practicing yoga for two years now, getting my body stronger and more flexible.

i have also been doing major healing work through somatics – learning to access and understand my whole self through the sacred ground of my body.

so it was thrilling to receive this essay about healing from trauma back into my life now, when i am almost halfway through a 21-day sugar cleanse. it feels like the next radical step in this lifelong journey of mine. and it feels like i have come far enough into my body to really notice, with curiosity and tenderness, the ways trauma still shapes me.

i started doing weight watchers earlier this year, which for me includes tracking my food and wearing an activity tracker. i felt like i had made a lot of shifts in terms of my health, and wanted to raise awareness now about eating and exercise. it was illuminating – i was still eating larger portions, eating worse when i traveled (which is a lot of my life), and being more sedentary than i want to be. i made changes with that awareness, but kept hitting pleateaus, particularly when i traveled. two pounds forward, one pound back.

the sugar cleanse came in because what i observed was that i had the hardest time controlling chocolate, bread, alcohol. i first cut out bread, and quickly learned that lots of the gluten free alternatives are also mostly sugar. i needed to know if sugar was keeping me plateau’d in my health. my sister starting the cleanse provided the perfect opportunity to do this from a state of inspiration and solidarity.

writing about it, sharing it, has been immensely vulnerable and powerful. i realize that actually a lot of my writing, here, in more formal essays, and even the fiction i am writing, is an examination of myself, my healing process.

which brings me to frida.

my bathroom walls are covered in self-portraits of frida kahlo. in fact, she has a presence in every room of the house. thinking about my writing, my subject, my passion, i feel i have to invoke her constantly as an ancestor who has made it not just ok but radical to create my art as an exploration of my life. she once said, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best … I think that little by little I’ll be able to solve my problems and survive.”

her work as a queer, disabled woman of color was radical because it presented her beauty, her strength, her struggles, her resilience. things not yet to be assumed but claimed, carved out against all societal brainwashing to the contrary.

i feel similarly about my journey, though my medium is less often visual arts (though i will have three pieces up at the carr center exhibition on feminisms this month), and i dare not presume the talent of frida. but i am locating transformation at a level i can see, decipher, understand – myself. i am sharing that as transparently as i can in my art, knowing that the conversation i want to be part of at this time in history is how those of us who were supposed to be invisible instead became very loud, very whole, very powerful, very beautiful, and very joyful. very full, capable of creating our own healing journeys wherein we realize we are examining the breadth of societal trauma through the lens of ourselves.

to claim that full, whole space, i think we must claim the artists and ancestors who worked before us to carve it out. i have been claiming octavia, audre. i want to go on record as also claiming frida. she, too, is my sister.

stark raving craving

i am going to be incoherent with y’all, perhaps only as someone in the throes of a detox can be.

i am five days into this sugar cleanse. apparently this part, exactly today, is the worst part? i am experiencing nausea, headaches, constant illogical hunger and serious shifts in my understanding of myself.

i have never really thought of myself as a sugar addict (and have felt deeply insulted by and sometimes hateful towards anyone who implied i was, and i’m sorry, ok?), mostly because sugar didn’t seem more necessary to me than bread, cheese, whiskey, wine and pizza. and i only turn to those things as an emotional comfort.

it just turns out all of those things are basically sugar. and i have been comforting myself daily, as a comfort to both negative and positive emotions. the absence of sugar is making it clear to me precisely when i turn to sugar to move through a moment. and it is often – even after years of yoga, meditation, weight watchers and raising my health awareness – to take the place of feeling something bad, or to enable feeling something good.

it’s simple, and it’s humbling.

i also think of myself as a relatively nice, good person. no angel, of course. but dependably calm, thoughtful, a pretty good listener, non-reactive. however, i am beginning to suspect that that nice person is just sugar.

over the past five days i have become the kind of person who both says, and feels like, ‘cranky mccrankypants’. i want to say the proof is in the butterscotch pudding, which i have been craving for two days, after a thirty year absence of it from my life.

this is harder than i thought it would be. i feel hormonal and distracted and foggy and unreasonable.

it is going to change soon. but i am floored by this experience, by the flooding in of feelings throughout my body, sensations that say i should go get some real dark sea salt chocolate, or order a pizza, or bake some bread, or just pour white sugar directly into my mouth.

i am at my sister’s house, which is a snowy rural farmhouse of joyful babies and a gorgeous dog and funny smart capable adults. and yet…

i have had murderous thoughts about the dog, who keeps inadvertently waking up the snotty sick babies (who take two hours to get to sleep) because he is a puppy and needs to pee, bark and jump simultaneously, all the time. every minute and second of the time. i yelled at him to be quiet, which he doesn’t understand. then i pet him with deep guilt, because this poor creature didn’t take my sugar away.

i gave candy to an innocent child who i love and do not want to develop a sugar addiction, for the sole purpose of getting it out of my sight and temptation. it was her valentine’s day candy (which, ugh, i am right now just so aware of the whole holiday-equals-sugar-binge cycle that we train into, societally!) and every time i walked by it, it was just blowing kisses at me and disrespecting my boundaries. so.

when this same child threw a fit about going outside because she is three and throws fits sometimes, i yelled at her to be quiet, and then held her guiltily, because i don’t yell at her even if she is yelling, and because this little one didn’t take my sugar away.

i cried while wiping off the table where the baby knocked over all of my drinks in rapid succession. she is a baby and wet is awesome to her.

i cried because so many feelings are coming up – i cried because i am furious about detroit and don’t know what to do other than write my stories and poems and it doesn’t feel like enough. i cried because of the way ta-nehisi coates writes about feeling so overwhelmed within an unjust system, and how that writing matters so much to me. but also because adrian broadway was another child killed by an adult. and the fact is that this nation of people who don’t know how to process our feelings are still allowed to arm ourselves. it is devastating, and i hate that it is allowed to be an argument with multiple sides when the collateral damage is so consistently those who cannot protect themselves.

but the root, a root, is that we have to learn to feel, and to turn what we are feeling into action that changes the conditions around us.

my core philosophy continues to be ‘transform myself to transform the world’, in the words of grace lee boggs. i know, i know that standing up for myself in the face of this itchy scratchy desirous insatiable longing, this addiction, is one revolutionary contribution to that greater human work.

so i keep eating the things i am allowed to eat, and feeling hungry, and feeling so much more than hungry.

a meditation for Jordan Davis

We make this offering against our will.
We lay down another young man,
(Boy. Black boy.)
On this broken altar
To which we seem chained.

This child
Made of dirt and star
        Whom we cannot respirit
        With our wailing rage
We lift up, in all grace, to the sky.

Follow the bright way home, child.
The mystery reminds us
       We do not know death
       We only know this
Mortal ground

This land remains
A field of sunken and bled out dreams
       Pierced through by,
       Bordered by,
Our night terrors of rhythm, of the dark.

We whisper up his river name
As the moon starts to turn away –
Will she raise all these tears into an ocean?
In some way deliver us,
distorted in the pale and shivering gaze?

Forgive us, we let our faith go again.
That resilient weed, hope,
Crept into us, springlike.
We grew fertile, foolish, delusional
We, who still cannot protect our babies.

We are who will not forget
We are who will not forgive
Until black is beloved
In all places –
Even deep within ourselves.

We now and again sacrifice
Flesh, bone, memory, marrow
Dream, son and daughter, future
Though these sweet ripe lives
Mean so little here.

Now take this youth to some other ground,
Fly him to where it is his,
Or when.
Blow him to when a black child
Can stand, and live.

Grumble grumble sugar cleanse grumble

I’m starting a sugar cleanse today!

That isn’t a fully authentic exclamation mark, I’m actually totally nervous.

I’ve done a lot of other things to support my health, and took bread off the menu for most  of the past few weeks.

Then my sister Autumn started a sugar cleanse.

I knew immediately that I was going to join her, even though I didn’t want to. I love sugar. But I’ve been aware that I need to change my relationship to it for some time.

I’ve read a lot about it. About how it sets the conditions of the body to not process anything else properly. How it creates an unquenchable desire for itself. From a food justice perspective I’ve known that processed sugars dominate the American diet and palate, making it harder and harder to eat and be satisfied by real, whole foods.

It’s been a long road of excuses for why I wasn’t going to do it yet. I can’t do it while traveling! I’m always traveling! But now Autumn’s 14 days in, and I’m staying with her for the whole week, in the rural snowed in woods of Minnesota. No excuses stand up to the circumstances. Here goes.

It’s going to liberate me from mental, emotional and physical dependence on the corporate nutrition-free candy that masquerades as a massive amount of American food. I just want to actually have agency.

The cleanse we’re using is here. Autumn also pointed me towards some other resources that support cleansing. Some helpful tips here – a big one Autumn shared is letting folks know and support you.

So here’s what I’ll be eating for the foreseeable future:

image

I’m excited that it’s a lot of foods I love. I’m excited to orient my body even more towards whole foods. I believe in myself.

Anyone want to come with?

reflections on south africa, part 2

i have been sitting with this post, wanting and needing to write it out, and also needing to reflect on the impact of the last portion of the trip, which was all about looking deeply into the race hatred and suffering of south africa. the last few days of our journey through southern africa were all spent in joburg. i had taken in a lot of metaphorical sugar – beauty, beaches, elephants and gorgeous space – in order to have the capacity to swallow the biggest pill: the history and legacy of apartheid, and what it looks like today.

it’s not that it wasn’t everywhere. apartheid was, and it is. there is a simple blue uniform that signified a safety to white people during apartheid – ‘i am here to work for you’. it is still worn by many black workers today as they crowd into vans to venture to work, often in the gated communities of owning class whites who got wealthy off the land resources. in nearly every venue we entered, save for fro lounge and afrikan freedom station, the owners were white, the servers were black.

seeing it everywhere was one thing. studying it was another. as a whole, modern and well-documented system of horrors, apartheid is utterly overwhelming to take in. it absolutely evokes the same disgust and exhaustion with humanity that i experience when tuning into slavery, holocausts and genocides, sex crimes, abuse of children, industrial complexes, capitalism. it is true, it is possible, it is present – it is NEVER in the past, it is always moving, finding new front lines, changing scale and shade. it is ever so complex, but it is also like the nothing in the never ending story – we keep making the case for our extinction. this means that work that ‘respirits’ us, gives us any sense of future and hope, is incredibly radical. more on that later.

over the course of three days, my partner and i went to museum africa, the workers museum, the alexandra and soweto townships, the apartheid museum, the hector pieterson museum, and mandela’s home.

all of it was important.

the most impactful museums for me were the workers museum and hector pieterson, mostly because they each honed in on one devastating aspect of apartheid. the single story lens made it possible to see apartheid intimately. the workers museum used to be a ‘hostel’ for workers coming to mine gold and other precious resources up out of the earth. it is a preserved space that feels like a prison where the bars are made out of debt. solid and wooden bunk beds intact so you can feel the tiny space workers were given to hold their whole lives, the open lavatory and shower rooms, the room where workers were chained up overnight for breaking one of the many many rules designed to control their eating, drinking, cleanliness, work.

i laid on one of the uncomfortable bunks and tried to imagine having all my earthly belongings in the bed with me, living under rules put in place by a people who loathed and feared me. i stood in the lock-up room and wondered how these workers stayed sane, if they did so, if it was even appropriate to be sane in such an environment. i thought of our modern prison systems with their cells and solitary confinement rooms, and how our capacity to do that to other humans instead of treatment and transformative justice is such evidence that we continue to not know how to be on earth together.

the hector pieterson museum, in the heart of soweto, looks at apartheid through the story of a boy murdered as a bystander at a protest. halfway through the museum, they artfully unveil that you are looking at the site of the crime. they have stunning footage of life in the soweto township where the mandelas lived, and where hector’s life was taken. in the footage of weddings, people dancing, working, playing, looking fly, cooking, protesting, caring for and loving each other, i recognized faces and feelings of loved ones in the u.s. – there was something so universal in those captured time traveling people on the screen, about the ways we continue to practice love and celebration and ritual in the face of oppression and fear.

a friend’s aunt offered to drive us to alexandra, the largest slum i have ever entered. i have a few pictures of the place – i felt both a desire to share the experience with the people in my life who don’t have the same access to travel that i do, and the desire to respect the people i was interacting with not as subjects but as humans. so there are images, but the things which moved me most i couldn’t take pictures of – my eyes were blurred with emotion. my eyes were constantly on the children. my eyes couldn’t look away or make sense of what they saw. everywhere were children the age of my nephew, five, three, eight, walking the streets with independence, confidence, playfulness, swag. we came upon three children no older than six sifting through a huge garbage outside a rat infested police station. when the children saw us they wiggled, danced, smiled. they were being children. as we pulled away they were climbing back into the garbage. these are children i cannot fully comprehend or explain myself to. same planet. roughly everything else is different. what could i say, offer or receive other than the smiles? i didn’t come for charity or to change anything, i came to listen and learn. i still, at this moment, can’t quite tell you the mixture of feelings evoked by their circumstance and their energy – khalil gibran speaks of ‘the pain of too much tenderness’, and those words kind of get within the feeling.

the woman showing us around told us to keep our devices out of sight cause they’d get snatched in a minute, told us how the government keeps trying to get rid of these slums, building houses and moving people in, but they come back home. they sell the houses the government gives them, and they return to these shacks with walls of aluminum siding, car doors, sheets, run through with sagging and elicit power lines that electrocute babies who haven’t learned yet not to touch, marked with rivulets of human waste. she couldn’t understand why, said it felt like they did it to spite the government.

i doubt i understand why either. but there were a lot of heads held high in those streets. i noticed a distinction between the townships and the city, the gated communities – in the townships i saw black people offering clear direct eye contact, curiosity, overt assessment. i felt the presence of an immense culture truly unknown to me, and recognized a lot of hustle and surviving and intimacy. i saw black people not in service, at least for the moment. the power dynamics were liquid, we were visitors of unknown but obvious privilege in a territory that had it’s own rules and systems and didn’t need anything from us, but who could make brilliant use of anything and everything we had.

the staying in soweto and alexandra made me think of three periods in my life.

the first was when i lived in an illegal ‘studio’ apartment in brooklyn, basically a bedroom in a family home with no stove and a shared bathoom, walls ceiling and floor the thinnest barriers to the battles and sicknesses and sex and lives of other humans. i felt so proud of that space because it was my own, i felt proud of how i made it in that city where there were so many of us navigating each other, living up on each other. to this day when i speak of the space available in detroit to my new york family, i often see the look come over their faces that shows how, in some unspeakable way, they love the press of new york subway/apartment/sidewalk life. the eyes of community.

the next period was full of ruckus action camps in the woods. one camp in particular found all of us in tents sinking into the mud in southern minnesota while cold rain flooded the campsite every day. there was no liquor available for miles. we cursed a lot, laughed a lot, spent a lot of time sitting around the campfire saying warm things to each other, grateful for the hot coffee and rare moments of sunshine.

the third period has been these last few years in detroit. people still look at me with incredulity when i say i chose to move here and have stayed in large part because of the people. in spite of the material hardships and in spite of the fact that as i get older, my recluse tendencies get stronger and stronger, i meditate more and seek out company less. still i love the people here, the efforts here, the stories here fill up page after page of my writing. i love how it feels in detroit, the kind of quiet that comes from having abundant physical space, enough to grow food or get lost in. and yes, i am curious about the dignity of surviving against great odds – does it actually make for a more interesting life? more wisdom? more connection?

in all of these spaces, and in the study of apartheid overall, i was/am aware of the privilege of privacy and comfort, in contrast to the ways that a lack of privacy is often a measure of oppression. i was/am convinced i need those things – but can’t deny it can feel ok to give it up – at least temporarily, of my own volition – for the beauty and safety of co-surviving in community. in a way it’s some of my hardest work, navigating between my love of being alone and quiet in a lot of space and my love of living with other humans, learning to be part of networks of resources, of abundance that is possible because it is shared.

i am trying to experience more reality and less romanticization, really sitting with how shared suffering can both strengthen and wear down the bonds between humans.

on one of our last nights there, lynnee and i got to speak at the afrikan freedom station. she spoke about the migration of house music from the u.s. to south africa during apartheid and her deep curiosity about the whys and hows of that migration, which is so much about the ways we generate diasporic beauty and celebration and joy and love as our most radical output at crucial moments in african/black history. run to see her speak on this if she is ever discussing it near you.

i spoke about octavia butler and emergent strategy. and i had a lot of questions – primarily, what is the next vision for liberation in this post-apartheid moment? one answer that came from the room was that this was the last generation to be born into apartheid, that there is a work of story telling and legacy holding now. chills came over my body at this. i felt the weight of a ghost, the ghost of a system, a system that iterates itself throughout the economy even as it fades from the laws and street signs.

i saw so many similarities, and so many differences in the history and economy of south africa and the u.s….capitalism and greed and slavery, yes. a need to walk with the legacies of the land we are in because the legacies are still living and holding invisible boundaries in place. but also, the differences – home of the cradle of humanity, south africa is a country where the oppressed people are both the majority and indigenous people. what is possible when people are on land that they know the story of, know they came from, have a narrative inside of that predates violence?

and what does that imply for black americans – how many generations must pass before we feel at home enough to not only hold political positional power, identify who is to blame for our condition and make demands? when will we be able to feed detroit, end the slave system of prisons and free mumia, get r. kelly et all on a mental health plan, and/or stop white washing our hair and skin and culture? how many generations before i can learn to drive stick shift in any city in south africa and never be on a road named smuts or botha?

as usual i have more questions than answers. but i know there is a connection worth all of my curiosity between the babies playing in the garbage in soweto as winter crystalizes bodies in detroit.

wherein i write about sex. (5 tangible tools of a pleasure activist)

i started this blog the night beyonce’s album came out. i didn’t know her album was coming, and beyonce didn’t know she was unleashing a soundtrack to this moment of my life. that convergence was so special that i had to pause writing this and spend two months learning the flawless dance and wondering, among other things, exactly what kind of feminism i am interested in. i decided that i am interested in a sexual, complex, whole person, imperfect feminism, one full of mothers, single people, married people and poly people, sex workers. women who make quality work and create systems to liberate their creativity. women as powerful as tina turner and other survivors of domestic violence. women who like to submit, talk dirty, shock even themselves. women who like to dominate, operate outside of gender norms, women willing to disagree and sit in discomfort and hold their power and their ground, women willing to grow and learn in public. it is in that spirit that i return to this blog entry.

here goes:

i don’t talk about sex enough here!

anyone who knows me in real life knows that the sensual, sexual, erotic perspective is a primary lens through which i see the world. and yet i struggle with how to integrate that self with the one here who speaks about transformation, babies, grief, growth…

but the link is all in the body as a practice ground for transformation.

i had a dream the other night. i boarded a train for a cross country journey with my friend evans, which is important only because he is a sexy beast. i was quickly recruited for a burlesque show, and i auditioned in a clear plastic belt and little else. the person running the auditions said, ‘to do this job you have to l.o.v.e. love your body!’, and i responded, ‘oh I do. i do love my body. i love my body!’ i woke up murmuring this to myself. (note: can you see how the lyrics ‘i woke up like this: flawless’ struck me with joy?)

now that’s an awesome dream outside of any analysis. but it is particularly awesome when you understand that my focus for personal transformation for the last few years (roughly 30+ years or so) has been learning to love my body, or more precisely, falling in love with myself through the terrain of my body. this dream made me feel that my focus is restructuring and healing me at the level of my subconscious…if i understand anything about the mysterious realm of dreams.

it is still work, daily. thousands of choices, opposing values and longings, moments of slipping, days of feeling super active and strong, days of feeling lazy and slothlike. i sit at the crux of an apparent contradiction: wanting to debunk the mythology (with my middle finger held high) that skinny = good/healthy, AND wanting to reclaim agency from the national practices of emotional eating, oversized portions, sedentary lifestyles, fast non-food, pharmaceutical concoctions over cooking, and corporate success over nutrition. slowly, surely, i am changing habits that will liberate me from my socialization.

but here’s the key: it started with pleasure, not with dieting and exercise. i had to love what is before i could understand what transformations were wanted, needed. and i’ve been feeling so loving in my body lately that i want to be more explicit around my pleasure activist practices. lots of them fall under the umbrella of sex. really good sex.

are you ready for that? if not, skip to my last blog which is probably about transformation or sci fi. no judgment here.

for those still here…hi….:-)

here are five tangible tools which should work regardless or any aspect of your identity, or the current state of your pleasure activism. they are in a sort of chronological order:

1. self-love. since i was a kid i have had a penchant and passion for my touch on my body. this was sometimes shameful, sometimes wonderful, and deeply private from fairly early on, as i received messages from family and neighbors that it wasn’t ‘right’. it has only been as an adult, as i have witnessed every single child i have ever met come into pleasureful awareness of their bodies, that i have understood that it was a natural part of growing into my body. in my early twenties i learned about pleasure activism: acting from an analysis that pleasure should be a natural, safe and liberated part of life – and that we can offer each other tools and education to make sure sex and drugs and other pleasures aren’t life threatening, but life enriching. my self-touch took on a political power. i started saying ‘an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away’, and i was in joyful practice for my own health. toys? yay! but i also worked to ensure that my own touch was effective. i was mostly single during this period, with lovers as they came and went. i now know that i was mostly single because i needed to reach a certain level of healing from earlier experiences of sexual trauma in school. it also became clear to me that if more people were encouraged to masturbate early and often, to learn what feels good to them and that they have the right to communicate that, there would be less sexual trauma, assault, patriarchy, misogyny and general awkwardness.

2. orgasmic meditation. this was a more recent practice connected to self-love. i went to a meeting of an unrelated group in a space in san francisco that focused on orgasmic meditation, among other things. i remember being in the space and sort of on edge. it is not unusual to end up in a room in california where people are talking openly about sex and even having it with each other, but i felt young and flustered by the idea of a room full of people bringing each other to orgasm and very glad my meeting had nothing to do with that. but the idea stayed in my head and a couple years ago i came across it again in my random explorations of the entire internet. i watched a few videos where folks explained the method: stroking the upper left quadrant of the clitoris to bring a person to orgasm. the focus on just that one place, following the breath patterns and emotional process of the recipient, and the power of the orgasm as a form of meditation and spiritual practice – all of it was fairly titillating to me. by this time though, i was thousands of miles from san francisco, with no one around i felt comfortable asking to stroke me just so without, you know, making it a whole thing. so i decided to see what happened if i just did it for myself. i did a fifteen minute practice every morning before anything else in my day for a few months. what i experienced was that every one of my orgasms had a different emotional flavor, like an experiential snowflake. and that i didn’t always need to reach an orgasm in that fifteen minutes – sometimes not releasing yielded a more energized day. starting my day with this practice made everything else go better, feel lighter and healthier, and generally increased my personal and interpersonal joy. i have still never attended their classes or done it with a group…we’ll see. but as a solo practice i return to this one if ever i feel i am in a funk.

3. self-pornography. this is also an extension of the self-love practice, but has a lot of it’s own specifications. i don’t fit the standard for american pornography or american desire. i have traveled to other places where i have been celebrated immediately for my size and shape, my color. but not so in the u.s. most pornography here offers the choice of brunettes, redheads, or blondes, or the ‘exotic’ options of asian or black women, all having sex with white men, or for lesbian porn white women, or in really freaky stuff, black men. perhaps you can feel the yawn in that sentence, pardon me. but i realized that if i wanted to truly be radical in the world, truly see white and skinny as one way people are born as opposed to the physical supreme, which pours over into every other aspect of life, i had to decolonize my desire. i had to learn to desire myself, my body, my skin, my rhythms, my pleasure. i took pictures at first. the pictures weren’t necessarily explicit in the beginning. they were just selfies, before instagram. i started with my face – how did i look smiling? happy? turned on? shut down? laughing? i took photos of every part of myself until i felt i knew more about my body, could tolerate myself, even like what i saw. then it was time for short videos. i would create the videos during moments of self-love, and then use them the next time i felt like touching myself. these videos were not shared, they were not for anyone else’s eyes, opinions or desires. that was radically important. the energy of them was purely self adoration. i dated a woman once who told me she had done sexual healing work to get to a place of screaming out her own name when she orgasmed. i let that concept be a guide. how much could i love myself, literally?

the results were life changing. this practice changed the way i dressed, the way i walked, the way i flirted, the way i made love to others, the way i spoke…because i had seen, heard and felt my power. i mean both my physical, earthly power, and the divine power inside of this body, this light brown, big, queer, glasses-wearing body. it wasn’t ego, it was sitting with what is and finding beauty. and now no one could take that from me, however they might regard my body. i was a pleasure unto myself, i was a guaranteed delight in my own hands and my own eyes. it was, and continues to be, magnificent.

4. developing erotic awareness. this section could also be called staying curious. it can get rote. you learn the way to release whatever is building up in your body, alone or with others, and you return and walk that path over and over, because you know it will satisfy your need. this parallels with other aspects of life – you can learn what works and keep doing it and get by. but bringing curiosity into your sexual relationship with yourself and your lovers is related to the spiritual practice of cultivating a beginner’s mind. as often as possible, i approach the experience of sex as if it is my first time feeling my flesh, feeling myself awaken. in my 30s this has led me to discover a whole new landscape of pleasure in my body, and then be able to clearly let my lover know when it feels good, how it feels good, and what adjustments to make. i used to have lines in the sand, places of judgment. these would usually form in my mouth like, ‘oh i would never (insert activity i simply hadn’t tried yet here)’. but i have been opening up, learning that the realm of desire is actually one of the most honest territories that can exist in the relationship with myself or anyone else. ‘haven’t tried yet’ allows so much more eroticism than ‘never!’, believe me. having curiosity, wanting to know what i desire, and why, and what effect it has on me to follow the desire, has led to an erotic reimagining of my life. audre lorde has a brilliant piece of work called the uses of the erotic, which i have been reading and listening to over and over. she talks about how one taste of the truly erotic, the feeling of moving from a blank world to one full of color and sensation, makes it impossible to settle for suffering. it raises the bar on every aspect of life. this curiosity in my body and my pleasure has helped me to clarify what kind of life work i enjoy and don’t enjoy. just as obligation is not a great motivator for intimacy and pleasure, i find i can’t live my life doing work that feels like i am obligated to do it because of other people’s expectations. i thrive when the work has elements of pleasure, titllation, total presence. that work might itself appear mundane or tedious to others – it includes housework, exercise, cooking, shoveling my car out of snow, honest conversations, facilitation, family visits. as long as i can see the glimmer of life in it. sometimes the glimmer is so bright, and i feel utterly alive. i realize that in the present moment, i am free, i am a body of sensations and memories and dreams, energies and spirits and ancestors, totally complex and utterly free. erotic awareness, for me, is coming into an aliveness in your felt senses that is quite beyond the material world.

5. talk about sex. blush and fumble, ask questions, let the words fall out of my mouth. one of my favorite aspects of the beyonce album is how it has led to really beautiful, powerful, nuanced, honest sex conversations with people in my life of all different ages, backgrounds, politics and sexualities. sex is the most common behavior amongst humans after birth breathing sleeping and death, and too often we still feel shame or bite our tongues when it comes up. now some degree of secrecy increases the heat, for me at least, tho i don’t know if that is just the last whisp of some demure virgo dynamic. i won’t tell you of my lover then, the specific things she does with me. but i will say i am having the best sex of my life, and it isn’t an accident. it is because of years of practice and hard work. it is because of friends who saw me having the most unhealthy sex of my life in my 20s and said honey girl no. it is because i have been blessed with lovers who were tender and taught me things and let us explore together. it is because of periods of intentional celibacy (a whole other practice and blog post) in my life. and it is because of each practice above.

i think it is important that we hold space for each other to feel good, to be touched in whatever ways bring us pleasure. i notice the impact it has on people i care about when erotic healing, self-love, and the tender touch of a lover, or a few lovers, is needed. i think this is yet another place to apply the wisdom of grace lee boggs, ‘transform yourself to transform the world’. i believe that if everything else in the world stayed the same, but every single person deepened their physical and spiritual practices of self-love and great sex, the domino effect would be a revolution of our understanding of our purpose here. suffering is a massively important and absolutely true part of life, a spiritual reality. but i deeply believe we were not placed on this gorgeous sensational planet to suffer. it is not the point.

a coach recently told me, ‘what is easy is sustainable’. i have been thinking, what feels good is sustainable. when my body feels good, my life feels good, and i want to keep going, and fight for my right to exist and love and grow and evolve. this is true whether it is in the context of a meeting, or a relationship, or a night of love making. that doesn’t mean the absence of discomfort or awkwardness or hard conversations or learning. but the majority experience should be presence – being fully alive. and i think that comes from experiencing ease, pleasure, connection. as nina sang: ‘feelin’ good’.

so…go forth and ‘turn that cherry out’!

:-)

and yes, i am blushing.

science fiction and social justice beginner reading list

i recently gave a talk on octavia butler and emergent strategies in johannesburg, south africa. which was A DREAM COME TRUE so i won’t try to play it cool at all. the audience was brilliant, engaged, and hungry for more readings. i started listing names of science/speculative/visionary fiction books that i would recommend for folks wanting to build their capacity to read sci-fi and speculative fiction for social justice, or with a social justice lens. the idea behind this is that a lot of science/speculative/visionary fiction can be read as case studies and imagination expanders that can help us navigate towards different ways of strategizing on social, economic and environmental justice in real time.

a few folks said, can you send us that list? and that sparked this post, which i have been wanting to write for a while. this is my starter list, in order from what i felt were the easiest worlds to enter to the harder ones. all of these are worthwhile reads. i reserve the right to add on as my memory is non-linear…and please feel free to add on in the comments section!

The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler

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Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (continue on to Speaker for the Dead. i disagree with Card’s sexuality politics, but i don’t believe in only engaging the work and vision of people i agree with)

My Soul to Keep ( and the rest of the African Immortals series), Tananarive Due

The Dispossessed, Ursula Le Guin

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Bloodchild, Octavia Butler (short story collection – especially crucial stories are ‘The Morning, The Evening and The Night’ and ‘Speech Sounds’)

Midnight Robber, Nalo Hopkinson

The Inheritance Trilogy, NK Jemisin


Who Fears Death?
, Nnedi Okorafor

Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Clay’s Ark and Pattermaster (often grouped together as the Patternist series, or the Seed to Harvest collection), Octavia Butler…(if you can get a copy of Survivor, a book she stopped publishing, it adds pieces to this collection)

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin (i recommend her works as a whole as well – the rest of the hainish series which this book is a part of, the earthsea series, even her translation of the tao te ching)

Dune, Frank Herbert (read as much of this series as you can – it tracks and traces power, culture shift and evolution in ways that are challenging, gorgeous, shocking)

Dawn, Adulthood Rites and Imago (sold together as the Xenogenesis trilogy, or Lilith’s Brood), Octavia Butler

2312, Kim Stanley Robinson

The Famished Road, Ben Okri

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Perdido Street Station, The Scar and Iron Train, China Meiville (Also everything else that he has written, especially Embassytown)

Neuromancer and Idoru, William Gibson

Dhalgren, Samuel Delaney (also everything else he’s written, including his autobiography)

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Canopus in Argos: Archives series, by Doris Lessing

inspiration chain mail abundance

several people recently sent me a chain email that had me send an inspirational quote to a stranger (mostly – i knew some of the people which was also a thrill), and add my name to a list to receive some inspiration. i then passed it on to others who passed it along and as a result have had a gorgeous inbox for the past week or so. i wanted to share here some of the quotes and poems that moved me.

quotes:

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Rumi

“Chance favors the prepared mind.”

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

“Leap – and the net will appear.”

‘It is in your self-interest to find a way to be very tender.’ – Jenny Holzer

“This is brain surgery so don’t go in there with an ax”

“I used to have an ego, but now I’m perfect.” – Geologic

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Geothe

“The only person standing in your way is you.”

“Let yourself be silently drawn toward the stronger pull of what you really love.” – Rumi

“Never try, never know.”

“Thrown away where? The world is round.” – Luciente from Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

“I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do. I’m going to go out like a fucking meteor!” ~ Audre Lorde

“The white fathers told us, I think therefore I am; and the black mothers in each of us-the poet-whispers in our dreams, I feel therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary awareness and demand, the implementation of that freedom. However, experience has taught us that the action in the now is also always necessary. Our children cannot dream unless they live, they cannot live unless they are nourished, and who else will feed them the real food without which their dreams will be no different from ours?” – Audre Lorde

“The process of finding the truth may not be a process by which we feel increasingly better and better. It may be a process by which we look at things honestly, sincerely, truthfully, and that may or may not be an easy thing to do.” – Adyashanti, Bliss is a By-Product

“There are certain emotions in your body that not even your best friend can sympathize with, but you will find the right film or the right book, and it will understand you.” ? Björk

“Today I will experience love of self, love of others, love of planet, and love of God in all of my actions.”

“Pleasure is the ultimate rebellion…”–Lydia Lunch

?”You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” – Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon ?

“You are not crazy. You are just ready to change.” –Nnedi Okorafor

“Compassion is the tender opening of our hearts to pain and suffering. When compassion arises in us, we see and acknowledge what we often push away – the parts of life that cause us sadness, anger, or outrage. The powerful awakening of our own compassion can tune us not just to the nurturing and sustaining forces of the world, but to the oppressive and destructive ones as well. When we open to these directly and become familiar with them, instead of avoiding them as we often do, we are more likely to hear ways to respond with love and support to relieve the suffering.” – Ram Dass

“I’ll not widow the world.
I’ll tell my human
tale, tell it against
the current of that vaster, that
inhuman telling.”
—Li-Young Lee

“I found god in myself and I loved her, I loved her fiercely.” ~ Ntozake Shange

poems:

    Kindness

Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing
inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

? Naomi Shihab Nye, Words Under the Words: Selected Poems

    Sonnet

Bill Knott

The way the world is not
astonished at you
it doesn’t blink a leaf
when we step from the house
leads me to think
that beauty is natural, unremarkable
and not to be spoken of
except in the course of things
the course of singing and worksharing
the course of squeezes and neighbors
the course of you, tying back your raving hair to go out
and the course, of course, of me
astonished at you
the way the world is not.

    Coal

by Audre Lorde

I
Is the total black, being spoken
From the earth’s inside.
There are many kinds of open.
How a diamond comes into a knot of flame
How a sound comes into a word, coloured
By who pays what for speaking.

Some words are open
Like a diamond on glass windows
Singing out within the crash of passing sun
Then there are words like stapled wagers
In a perforated book—buy and sign and tear apart—
And come whatever wills all chances
The stub remains
An ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge.
Some words live in my throat
Breeding like adders. Others know sun
Seeking like gypsies over my tongue
To explode through my lips
Like young sparrows bursting from shell.
Some words
Bedevil me.

Love is a word another kind of open—
As a diamond comes into a knot of flame
I am black because I come from the earth’s inside
Take my word for jewel in your open light.

    Phenomenal Woman

BY MAYA ANGELOU

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

    On Love

Khalil Gibran
(note, two people sent this one to me)

But if in your fear you would seek only
love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover
your nakedness and pass out of love’s
threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you
shall laugh, but not all of your laughter,
and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes
naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say,
“God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am
in the heart of God.”
And think not you can direct the course
of love, for love, if it finds you worthy,
directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfil
itself.
But if you love and must needs have
desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook
that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding
of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart
and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate
love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the
beloved in your heart and a song of praise
upon your lips.

    On Joy and Sorrow

Kahlil Gibran

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

    Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott