still i write (somewhere between mantra and ode)

i worked on a sci-fi story throughout the day today. it was incredible, fun feverish writing. i woke up with a new piece of a story i’ve been working all summer that wanted to be told, needed to be written down. it was a gift.

i was hanging with a sick niece who wanted to be in my lap even though the words were coming. at one point i was writing with one hand while feeding her yogurt. later i was writing on my phone while carrying her around for the pre-naptime bounce. i started hearing the maya angelou poem still i rise, but with the words ‘still i write’. it made me smile thinking about a remix of that poem, but about the persistence of writing. i’m playing with it, here’s what i have so far:

I may only write my history
colored with all my favorite lies,
I may scratch my name in rocks and dirt
Each day, in dust, I’ll write.

Does my persistence impress you
as you procrastinate in your room
while I write like I’ve got novels
shelving the red walls of my womb?

By the light of moons and suns,
to the sound of my own sighs,
With sparks of legend catching light,
Still I write.

Don’t I want this deadline met,
with sore fingers, tired eyes?
Not quelled by the whimpering toddler
In my lap with bambi eyes.

In the quiet hum of wifi free plane rides
I write
under covers in shared movement conference hotel rooms
I write
I’m a diva author, unsatisfied
gnashing and rending til my thoughts clarify
Leaving behind writer’s blocks of terror and fear
I write
if no one ever reads me, if no one hears
I write
sharing the gifts that my ancestors give,
Words are my air, to write is to live.
I write
I write
I write.

(thank you to ancestor Maya for the structure and rhythm)

sacred places and stardust

There are many sacred places along the journey through grief. One of the them is the body, but I’ll build to that.

Land is precious. Especially land full of trees in the fall, when everything is changing so beautifully. I’ve always loved fall most of all the seasons, the season of my birth and of new beginnings. For much of my life this was the time when I would be landing in a new place, new school, new community. As a child in a military family we often moved in summer, so fall would be a time of seeing who I was in a new place. How would this place and these people receive me, a precocious child who challenged authority, loved approval and wanted to create everything anew?

Land always received me well.

I remember landscapes – German forests, Georgia swamps, a low flat Kansas field between our backyards and the big gates behind which I later learned Leonard Peltier was imprisoned, the dried up riverbeds and magical desert lawns in Texas, the sparse trees held in concrete in Brooklyn, the dirty active water between the Twin Towers and the Statue of Liberty, sky fetish beauty in every direction in the South Pacific, the white sands of Tulum, the lush green hills of rural Japan and the Big Island and Southern Africa. Changing conditions, diverse beauties – it is an outstanding planet. Each of these places are locations of my growth and places where I left part of myself behind, skin shed.

Lately I have been shedding self in a few places.

In Detroit I have been letting go of a certain urgency that permeates crisis, that can make everything feel very important. People ask me how I am responding to the crisis in Detroit, and I want to say: by loving it, very slowly, as it is. It isn’t easy. I am growing a capacity to see a longer arc of time in this city, these communities which are engaged in basic battles, that is, battles over the most basic human needs. I am growing a capacity to be visionary even when there appears to be no time for looking ahead.

In rural Minnesota my unborn little relative is now part of the land, the wind, the dirt, the birch stand and the pond, the trail through the woods, everywhere. I am growing my skill in grieving, my understanding of the importance of impermanence.

I am realizing the humility required to be stardust. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s just the truth. We suffer, we die, we control only how much beauty and joy and laughter we can seek and let in. We are temporary, first and foremost.

This cosmic season has been all about grief and letting go. It feels like there is so much death and transition being pulled forward by these eclipsing or retrograde celestial bodies which don’t know our names but shape our lives. It’s terrifying to realize the insignificance of my impact, my pain, my grief, and my ability to protect those I love. This doesn’t mean don’t try, give, effort, extend. It just means I have to be less attached to everything, be of the world without clinging and grasping.

This is theoretical, right now my knuckles are pale with the grip I have on all the things I want to love forever.

It helps to look at the truth of what I can and can’t protect. I am concluding that I can’t protect anything except my dignity and my capacity to love. And that is a lot, that is worth fighting for, that is a life’s work, against all the odds and expectations and the strong arms of the moon and the playful fuckery of mercury.

What gets me through, always, is space. I meditate as if I am floating in space, the Milky Way somewhere far behind me. I remember that I am just one body of billions, hurtling through space on a body in orbit amongst a trillion gazillion other bodies, much larger, much smaller.

What is random is not personal, even the most beautiful and sacred experiences – it is the whole massive universe that is precious, not me specifically or especially. It is all of existence that is worth the attention of prayer and intention, not my singular and most likely myopic concern. That comforts me, being a fragment of a sacred existence.

Then I can pull all of that scale into my understanding of myself. I am stardust, the baby is stardust, Charity is stardust, Grace is stardust, Sheddy is stardust, Blair is stardust, Papa is stardust, Grandma Brown is stardust, and so on. This is my stardust litany.

What does it mean to be stardust? The sacred place I am longing for is right here, in this body so briefly available to me, accessible through pleasure, chanting, storytelling, healing, dancing and noticing this skin I am in. I am of the celestial whole. When I see my flesh and bones as a source of information, self-love and curiosity become inevitable.

Fragile bones and individual oceans, with memories of stardust spiraling through us – could we be more beautiful? More sacred? More capable of the grief and love required of the living?

Octavia taught us to pray working, to let our work be sacred practice. I am holding these words as my life work continues to challenge me completely, to feed my human curiosity in the face of human terror. I cannot know or understand it all. It hurts my heart, mind and body to pretend I know much of anything.

And, we are stardust. And, each one of us is the sacred place.

The Beauty of Autumn

On Wednesday we learned of a transition in our family, a little one we were expecting in February was instead delivered at twenty weeks by my sister Autumn. I’ve been completely humbled by the experience, both the exquisite unbelievable pain, and the sweet tender weight of family. I’m feeling everything in poetry. I wanted to share some with you.

The Beauty of Autumn

Few of the trees here are evergreen 
The most beautiful hues are all bright and brief 
and clear and sharp and haunting

The verdant holdout who seems immune 
to the tax fall demands with windswept hands 
will be stripped right down to the quick, it’s that season

Fire covers the wood from floor to ceiling 
becomes earth again, still, changing and healing
Swallowing up all but the smallest bones

Hours after the child became ash 
An owl told the story in a whoop and howl 
We thrilled at the wild language of our belonging 

And I wonder, how do the trees let go 
of their leaves, which made it through the summer’s blaze 
But then left, hushed and nameless with the wind?

And I wonder, what does the earth recall 
When the cold gives way and the green slips forth 
from her body, taking another greedy spring?

And I wonder of Venus and Mercury 
When they watch her face is it grief they see 
Do they wish their fleeting eclipses could keep her from burning?

And I wonder, what should a mother do 
With that stored up love, when a life is through…
what playful perfect spirit will come to receive it?

When I was younger I feared the woods 
How could all this ghosting amount to any good?
Now it seems so sweet just to be haunted.

Was it yesterday we rang all the bells 
To mark the solstice and the darkening days 
To chant: even this quick dying season was wanted.

Time warp log (a piece of sci-fi only it isn’t fiction)

I write to you from what I am now empirically convinced is the inside of a time warp. Which, to be clear, is an experience and not in fact a container I can exit.

Whatever divinity is at work here won’t answer me, even when offered tobacco and prayer.

Understandably, everything is suspect.

The moon is supposedly moving the tides and reflecting everything, but I’ve been watching it for hours and it continuously displays the same blank lie of a face. Is it not the grand conductor of the grief current? But yet it reflects no hint of blood anywhere.

It can’t be trusted.

Time in here passes extraordinarily slowly. I can’t seem to get out of this day in spite of repeated efforts at closing my eyes and counting all manner of living things. I am afraid that when I see daylight again I’ll be too bitter to attune to its fine fall beauty.

I have searched all my belongings but can’t find the instructions for Manual Mood Shift in Spite of Repeated Daunting.

It is an uncomfortable place, meaning, there is no familiar comfort to give or receive here.

Of utmost peculiarity is the dysfunction of miracles in here. Case studies seem to indicate that the line between life and death itself is weak, somehow faulty. It keeps glitching as one might expect in a light bulb run on too much (or too little) power. Those who are ready to cross over are left wandering the empty halls of disappearing memory, shrinking in adjustable beds. Simultaneously, the landing strip has gone dark, and there is still no orientation, so the new ones are getting lost. And otherwise healthy creatures are being eradicated in places where no war has been declared.

Nothing can be counted on here to go as it should, the very word ‘should’ is becoming a meaningless relativity.

My final noticing is that the sound system in here is bizarre. Things seem either muffled or bubbling, like they are screamed into pillows or uttered while drowning. There is an ongoing coupling of a sharp high keening weep, and a low growling moan. I’m wondering if they are the full emotional vocabulary of the same creature.

And to be forthcoming, I may be that creature.

It’s all quite mysterious. I’m beginning to think the night itself will never end, although the bright empty liar of a moon is in fact very slowly progressing across the sparse and freezing sky.

There is nothing else to report.
That is not accurate…
There are simply no more words.

Spell for Grief or Letting Go

Adequate tears twisting up directly from the heart and rung out across the vocal chords until only a gasp remains;

At least an hour a day spent staring at the truth in numb silence;

A teacup of whiskey held with both hands, held still under the whispers of permission from friends who can see right through ‘ok’ and ‘fine’;

An absence of theory;

Flight, as necessary;

Poetry, your own and others, on precipice, abandonment, nature and death;

Courage to say what has happened, however strangling the words are…and space to not say a word;

A brief dance with sugar, to honor the legacies of coping that got you this far;

Sentences spoken with total pragmatism that provide clear guidance of some direction to move in, full of the tender care and balance of choice and not having to choose;

Screaming why, and/or expressing fury at the stupid unfair fucking game of it all (this may include hours and hours, even lifetimes, of lost faith);

Laughter, undeniable and unpretended;

A walk in the world, all that gravity, with breath and heartbeat in your ears;

Fire, for all that can be written;

Moonlight – the more full the more nourishing;

Stories, ideally of coincidence and heartache and the sweetest tiny moments;

Time, more time and then more time…enough time to remember every moment you had with that one now taken from you, and to forget to think of it every moment;

And just a glimpse of tomorrow, either in the face of an innocent or the realization of a dream.

This is a nonlinear spell. Cast it inside your heart, cast it between yourself and any devil. Cast it into the parts of you still living.

Remember you are water. Of course you leave salt trails. Of course you are crying.


P.S. If there happens to be a multitude of griefs upon you, individual and collective, or fast and slow, or small and large, add equal parts of these considerations:
– that the broken heart can cover more territory.
– that perhaps love can only be as large as grief demands.
– that grief is the growing up of the heart that bursts boundaries like an old skin or a finished life.
– that grief is gratitude.
– that water seeks scale, that even your tears seek the recognition of community.
– that the heart is a front line and the fight is to feel in a world of distraction.
– that death might be the only freedom.
– that your grief is a worthwhile use of your time.
– that your body will feel only as much as it is able to.
– that the ones you grieve may be grieving you.
– that the sacred comes from the limitations.
– that you are excellent at loving.

Was it me that changed or you?

This week I’m running around NYC, working and experiencing the city with my sweetheart.

It feels different again. When I first came to the city I’d loved it for years already, reveled in the idea of being a New Yorker as I was coming of age. When I left it was with a sense of having given it everything I had. For years after that visits to NYC would find me trying to catch a deeper breath, befuddled by the changes, missing my New York.

This trip feels heart opening. My partner Lynnee Denise is part of a series of events that the great bell hooks is curating at the New School, which includes conversations with Laverne Cox, Cornell West, Samuel Delaney, and others. bell is riveting, very human, very dynamic, fierce and curious. So far the conversations have been hilarious and insightful and necessary. Sitting in a space with minds like these, with participants like Deborah Willis, is quite intoxicating for the part of spirit that is constantly evolving. I am reminded that there are still original points to be made in conversations around sexuality, queer theory, fabulousness, body love vs shame, healing, patriarchy, relationship, transformation and healing.

The thing that still blows my calendar out of order is the sheer number of magnificent people to connect with. On top of the usual plethora of beloveds, several dear friends happen to be visiting NYC at the same time we are. New York visits require days of open time for the spontaneous love affairs and reconnections. Or a full return. Thrilling, daunting, but possible again after almost a decade away.

I’m also working with a long-term client, the Correctional Association. I really respect their work, their hearts and spirits and dedication to growing. We’re experimenting with a fusion of traditional and emergent strategic planning and I am learning a ton.

Everything changes. I am excited to feel a little home again here.

how to feel a feeling

I want to feel everything, to meet all my feelings head on.

I suspect it’s impossible, because there are so many valid feelings and only so much time.

But to live in the world at this highly interconnected moment and be a part of a growing global self-consciousness seems to mean that we must increase our capacities for feeling our feelings.

I have had the opportunity this summer of being given more things to feel than ever before. And by that I don’t mean this is the hardest summer of my life, but rather the most emotionally diverse, and the fastest paced. It feels like each day grief dawns over me in multiple shades, and by nightfall the need for celebration is steady as the moon. Anger flows over me like rain into a cloud, joy breaks through often in solid beams of light. No day feels fair per se, and every day feels weighted, destined.

And then in every situation I find so much complexity. I have to be in much more regular communication with my confidantes in order to have real conversations because of the complexity of it all.

Recently I have found myself trying to compress my feelings. By ‘found myself’, I mean the emotional equivalent of walking in on my heart in an overlooked closet, attempting to meditate atop a burlap bag writhing with undeniable life.

When I pulled my heart back into my chest, the bag opened and out stepped a gorgeous demonic creature, million-headed, glistening raw and ranging from meadow-calm colors to a garish rainbow, singing to me in a sweet and clashing chorus of need.

And here is what I learned and am learning about feeling a feeling:

1. There is no wrong way to feel a feeling.

2. It helps to have a reflective practice that allows me to look at all my life and the places where I could be feeling things, to be in touch with myself around where the most intense feelings might be. Sometimes I go so far as to ask myself, ‘Self, how do you feel about this intense thing today? What do you need?’

3. Notice my patterns for feeling. I like to swallow my feelings, and I can consume anything. For grief and pain I like cold and sweet things, for loneliness or emptiness I like cheese and bread, for joy or surprises I love whiskey and foods at the meeting place of sweet and salty, for ease I love sour pickled things. Learning this through years of observation, I begin to be in relationship with my feelings by looking at my cravings. I get quieter inside, convinced no one can hear feelings (in spite of all evidence to the contrary), and start to feed the feeling, perhaps to keep its silence. Small things begin to overwhelm me. The other day I was moved to tears trying to put a screen on my phone. Hints…a feeling or few is afoot.

4. Clear my schedule. If possible, once a feeling has gotten my attention, I give it some time and space. My stronger feelings require something like a sick day. My feelings appreciate being processed thoroughly with others, thrive in an honest environment, demand I don’t sleep until they are named and love a hot bath after I release them into the world.

5. Listen to my body. My feelings know so many languages. They tingle up my spine, tighten my gut, sparkle or lock in my jaw and chest, fill my eyes with tears, create an overall numbness, drop like a weight through my feet, seize up in my left hip, crave and crave. If I notice anything that is clearly not normal in my body and approach it with curiosity, I learn so much about what I’m feeling.

6. Articulate it. This is actually the hardest part for me. I can speak eloquently of many things, other’s feelings for instance…but my mouth freezes up and tears overwhelm my own deepest feelings. There are good reasons for this, I’ve been studying. And it’s always time to grow. Learning to speak my feelings out loud is currently one of my liberation practices.

7. Love the feeling. However messy and compressed and intense it is, however weak it makes me feel, ultimately I find a peace in myself when I love the feeling, embracing it as part of my life and my journey, a sign that I am still alive and, with awareness, empowered to act on the feeling.

8. Be grateful to this magical world which makes me feel so much, and to the people who make me feel and love me through my feelings. Right now in this summer of immense living, which I’ve been in all sorts of work around, I’m grateful to Lynnee, my family, the babies, Sofia and Jodie and Dani and Janine and Morgan and Walidah and Ife and Cindy and so many others who have shown up to feel with me.

9. Keep breathing. If I am feeling I am alive and need all the oxygen I can get. If I know what I’m feeling, then I can figure out the next step. If I can take the next step, I’ll be rewarded with more feelings.

That’s what I know about how to feel a feeling. Would you add anything?