Monthly Archive for September, 2015

Closing Remarks to Environmental Grantmakers Association

These are my notes (roughly what I said) for framing the closing plenary of the EGA.

Apocalypse is not in the future. It is a current condition. In places like Detroit, where I live, or New Orleans, where I just was for the ten year anniversary of Katrina…or hearing the news from Syria, or the Marshall Islands where my family lived for a while, the apocalypse is all around us. It is happening now.

Apocalypse is not linear, with an end point. I was raised with a Christian concept of apocalypse….four horses, and scene. But there are places that are post-apocalyptic, people beginning again in toxic soil, surviving after what was an end to the economy or environment as we knew it.

Apocalypse and temporary utopia co-exist. We are all interconnected, which means we are all, right now, living in an apocalyptic time. When I go to California I take three minute showers and don’t flush anything, then I leave and I go back to “normal”, instead of holding that the water crisis is interconnected.

The reality now is that there is no science that can account for our future. According to Movement Generation, we are living in the effects of our technology and pollution from 40 years ago, it takes that long for the impacts to fully show up. In 40 years we will feel our impact now! There is no science, no math, nothing to account for the survival of places like New Orleans. Now is a time for imagination and magic that can move us beyond what we think is politically possible now, which is simply not enough.

This is why I write science fiction (after spending so long in social justice work). To cultivate radical imagination. I believe, Octavia’s Brood proposes, that all organizing is science fiction, all efforts to bend the arc of the future towards justice, is science fictional behavior.

How we do that work really matters.

Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of relatively simple interactions (give examples). We are all interconnected. Denying that, we die. Surrendering to that, we live.

Relationship is key! Relationship, quality relationship, may in fact be everything. To create a shift, we have to learn to be in authentic relationship with, to listen to, voices that are ‘on the ground’.

What does that mean for you? Do you just go up to an organizer and write a check? Perhaps. But aligned with the Jemez principles, ground up happens at every level. In your foundations, it means putting more power in the hands of program officers, who are forming relationships with the field. In organizations it means really listening to the organizers in the field for strategy. And so on.

Who do you know how to listen to?

everywhere so full (for Jake Brewer, rip)

everywhere was so full of people
remembering what they’d been told to forget
dying with regrets
too soon or too late
but never on time

you were a man unafraid of the moon
leaning into the small and tender beautiful
of an incomprehensible world
if you were the president
i’d still think you were good

let’s banish the tar from our dreams
in your name
plant trees in shells of the old world of steel
swell against the places wounded with borders

there is this world and then
which one have you gone to
how is it there is no portal
you would have opened one easily
i want you to just explain it is all

in shock i put it aside
lived a day with the story peeking through every window
feeling the no in me forever as a bell
till i could look at your face
and know you
as your children will know you:
in memory

Self Love as a Liberatory Practice for the Future

On Wednesday night I got to have a public conversation with new and old friends about self love.

We spoke at Solespace, my favorite site store /community space in Oakland. They’re in a campaign right now to keep the space open after the city shut down their street. Support the space with donations and spreading the word.

I opened by speaking about Audre Lorde’s Uses of the Erotic, specifically the idea that once you have tasted the pleasure of being so fully alive and self realized, you cannot settle for suffering. She teaches:

“once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.”

I’m titillated by the implications of a future determined by those who willfully immerse themselves in joy and love for the self. I am obsessed with how love and joy are the actual tools we need to move against the culture of fear and scarcity. We’re experts at deconstruction and tearing systems and each other apart. But if what we pay attention to grows, how can we be more mindful about growing our capacity for love?

I also spoke of building community with those who are also focused on self love and how it shifts accountability. About how I’ve been learning slowly to engage self loving behaviors and disengage from behaviors that harm myself. That there is a way that truly loving myself makes clear how interconnected I am to other people, to this planet…makes it harder to do harm. I spoke of Somatics and healing as a way to understand that I am more than my trauma, that I can be a part of communities organized around collective and liberatory longing. I spoke of how grief has made self love more crucial, because I have to love not only myself, but the ancestors and ghosts I carry, their wisdom.

Jodie then spoke of how self love radically changes what we demand from the world and the future. She also spoke of how people on a self love journey in parallel engage in coevolution through friendship – and how this isn’t easy. It means asking each other tough questions about whether the choices we’re making serve that highest purpose of self love.

Jay-Marie spoke on being a deity amongst deities and how her choices in life, including leaving the bay for a massive black lgbt bike tour of the South, participating in the stunning Say Her Name action earlier this year, and pouring her heart into her music, come out of this exploration of self love. Jay-Marie brought tons of people out, drawn in by the light force she’s generating.

Ashara was our final speaker, and she had us in tears as she spoke about this year of her mother’s death and her own near-death experience with overworking to the detriment of her health. She taught us about family, being present to each other’s real emotions, about learning to do work we lOve without sacrificing our bodies in the process. Her 29 year-old son was at the event and wouldn’t take his eyes off of her. It was deeply moving.

Everyone in the room then paired up and got a chance to just see and be seen, feel the attention of another. I was moved by how much laughter and crying happened during this pairing. Each pair shared their own ‘self love front line’, where they know they need to advance their self loving practices.

Finally we brain stormed self love practices together. Here’s the list we started – feel free to add!

Therapy 
Bodywork
Masturbation (‘an orgasm a day keeps the nothing away’)
Tarot 
Meditation 
Shifting relationship to food 
Learning to say no in real time 
Unstructured time to feel myself, follow my intuition  
Acupuncture 
Notice when I feel alive and happy 
Give myself permission to grow old 
Recognize my body is all I have 
Celebrate self love in self and others 
Jomo…cultivate the joy of missing out 
Self love day!  (Baba’s day – insert your name!)
Sleeping in late 
Waking up early and being quiet 
Silent walks 
Dancing 
Decaf life 
No meeting Wednesdays (or whatever day you choose)
Grow more food 
Care for injuries 
Don’t hate, collaborate
Delegate 
Trust my intuition 
Being in spaces with my community that cultivate healing 
Spending time by the water 
Singing to myself 
Working out 
Playing sports 
Dancing and playing music 
Finding a tree in my neighborhood 
Read more books 
Free writing daily, or often
Less Internet 
Cook 
Work with clay 
Good one on one interactions 
Prayer 
Making home a safe space 
Animal love 
Feeling land and air 
Let myself be danced by another
Have good sex 
Making out for a really (really) long time 
Put hands in the dirt 

Go forth and love ????????????

black sci fi dreaming (report back from Ferguson is the Future)

so…princeton’s new african american studies department partnered with the octavia butler legacy network to offer up ferguson is the future, a black to the future sci fi love fest extravaganza that took place over the last three days.

there’s a live stream archive, and i live tweeted and instagrammed everything, so i’m not going to cover all of that.

i’m going to instead share the feelings i was left with.

– we make the beautiful moments, we bring the magic with our presence and attention.

– there are many ways to build family, and none of them are fast.

– when the opportunity comes to support other artists, take it. this includes buying things, but also really listening or contemplating the art, dancing to the music, reading the book, seeing the whole.

– be present. when you are actually present you can shape the moment. you can shape by speaking truth, slowing down, letting someone know you appreciate them, suggesting what you most long for, and other small/massive actions.

– children can create the best moments. the 11-year-old and the newborn at the gathering gave me some of my favorite moments of playfulness, sweetness and equality.

– living into your gifts doesn’t take away your humanity. meeting all these sci-fi deities was so humbling. i was daunted at the task of facilitating them, and then i got there, and each one of them was kind, visionary, figuring out life, and just…just wonderful. i miss them all, i want to time travel back to their laughter.

– to love others in this world is to see in them the same humanity and flaw-possibility that i see in myself. it’s liberating.

– we cannot change others, but we can change ourselves and in doing so change everything. complexity.

– mentoring can happen in a moment.

– transformation can happen by witnessing someone else in their wholeness.

– being deep in my life’s work makes me feel beautiful.

– walidah imarisha is a powerful human being who has changed my life and i’m so grateful for her and for Octavia’s Brood.

– i love sci fi, i love black and brown people creating our freedom with zero apologies.

now, finally, sleep.

9/11

Flying on September 11.
I once believed I could never do this.
This isn’t the first time.
The number 911 is in my life almost daily, I notice 9:11, am or pm.
I spent the morning on the phone with IRS explaining how I chose not to pay federal taxes into the wars that came after 9/11.
The skyline still looks empty and small to me.
I’m still an anticapitalist.
I still remember hearing my dad’s voice for the first time that day after his office was destroyed and making some new agreements with the universe.
Being an adult at the moment of 9/11 seems a more clear generational marker than any other I know.

(9 sentences.
Or 11.)

37 gratitudes

1. My life.

2. My mother, carrying me, loving every iteration of me.

3. My father, at my back, thinking always of my safety.

4. My sisters. Warrior rock comrades and best friends. So glad you chose this family, with me in it, and have grown it/us with true love.

5. The gift of writing, the place I know myself.

6. My loves, my woes, my partners, each of you have grown up my heart – you orient me all the time towards my highest self.

7. Finn, 8. Siobhan, 9. Mairead and 10. Summer. 11 & 12. The Unnamed.

13. Emergence – surrendering to, and falling in love with, change.

14. Octavia’s Brood. When the time comes, I’ll die satisfied.

15. Facilitation. Giving me, over and over, hope for humanity and earth.

16. Somatics. Teaching me I’m more than my trauma, and letting me experience so much aliveness.

17. Black lives matter. This work, in my lifetime? Thank you all.

18. Dreaming, for the wisdom and wonder. I can’t believe so much of my waking life is spent dreaming and making dreams come true.

19. The places where sky meets water. The sound of summer. The first snow. The wild and calm ocean. The forever stars. Heart beats. This particular planet, this particular universe.

20. Grief – carving me out over and over, making me so spacious inside.

21. Tarot, pendant, horoscope, guides, witchiness and intuition…it helps so much to not know anything, but with some sense of patterns. I love being magical.

22. Sugar. You’ve gotten me to here. No hard feelings. I needed you.

23. Adela, Lisa, Mia, Anna and other healers who have made my body more whole.

24. Weed. Whiskey too. And moderation.

25. Pleasure, in every iteration.
Being a body of nerves in a sensual world and saying yes. (And, I’m learning, no.) Being prolific and alone, laughing with others, complete release, anticipation, joy. Yes.

26. Reading. Reading voraciously. Grateful for the physical and emotional places I’ve been through pages. Playing scrabble (and bananagrams) for the love of words.

27. Happy style: the celebration of my gorgeous body through clothing and adornment.

28. The privilege of traveling freely in this beautiful world. Feeling home in so many places, with so little.

29. Song – singing just for me, singing to heal, singing with others. Song/poems that measure moments in my life (both sides now, all is full of love, purple rain and adore, man in the mirror, a song for you, 22nd century, misty blue, strangefruit, cheek to cheek, home and so on)

30. My ghosts and ancestors, so thick with me these days.

31. Dancing.

32. ‘Never a mistake, always a lesson.’

33. The writers who shaped me, and left room for me.

34. Beyonce. The women artists, mothers, athletes, activists, and academics who keep me looking up and ahead.

35. The unknown. Ok, keep surprising me.

36. Complexity. I know nothing, I know everything. I am nothing, I am everything.

37. Self love. This shit is exquisite.

something rotten

i came home from a summer of writing on the west coast feeling like a late blooming novelist, centered in what i am here to do. i opened a cabinet in my kitchen that i immediately had to close again. there was something terrifying and alive and putrid in the cabinet, something that had been growing in my absence. i didn’t want to ever look again, to know what was inside, to smell it….no. no no no.

but i live alone and there isn’t really a service to do this kind of thing for you. so an hour later i had on rubber gloves, a face mask, and half a tube of clorox bleach wipes to scrape the bag of rotten and transformed potatoes and maggots and flies out of the cabinet and out of my home.

i did it. i neither fainted nor threw up. and i can’t stop thinking about it.

it feels exactly like the emotional work i have been up to for some time. going past what the world sees, opening up all these doors down deep in my psyche, in my memory, in my choices, in my heart. finding the places that i want to slam shut and run away from, and instead reaching my hand, my attention, in.

it what i feel when i walk around my neighborhood now in Detroit. there are fences and strangers everywhere, people smiling as they get their cars valet parked, patrols every other block. there is so much rot under these new developments. i miss the place i moved to. but when i open the cabinet, i have to really think a lot about being a gentrifier, dipping in and out of this place as it’s face changes – how am i perpetuating this? how do i divest from the erasure and displacement of Detroit?

‘you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land’
warsan shire

rotten is how it feels looking at the picture of aylan, the syrian baby that washed up on turkey’s shore. i could imagine how he felt in his parents’ arms. i sat with the picture of him and wept, overwhelmed. in this case, opening the cabinet and reaching into the rotten place doesn’t just mean pointing at europe…it’s sitting with my role in this – how long have i been skimming over news from syria? why did it take this image to make me pay more attention? what can i do? i signed the petitions, but what else?

there is so much that is rotten in this world right now, so much we don’t turn and face. i mostly focus on the miraculous, beautiful, evolutionary…but it’s not for lack of seeing. it’s out of desperation, out of a need to grow something good in this violent and unfair world.

and then as always i wonder: what can we do to manage all of this simultaneous crisis and trauma?

i don’t know. to a humbling and quieting degree, i don’t know. i am learning to heal, learning to write the rotten honestly, learning to see myself in the dark.

but also, i have only just gotten the cabinet open, i am only just looking inside.