Monthly Archive for January, 2016

book reviews from reading/writing retreat 2015-16

Book Reviews from my reading in Mexico:

Falling in Love with Hominids, Nalo Hopkinson
Beautiful, sensual and intriguing collection of short stories. I love how Nalo writes, could read her writing about almost anything. Standouts in here are a story about children in a world with a virus where aging turns you into a monster, and another about grief for a lost sister that carved me open.

Savage Holiday, Richard Wright
Well written and strange experiment by Wright to do a book with no black characters as a study of man, and in this case a study of a pretty abhorrent man. What I enjoyed was the inner monologue distress as circumstances get to out of hand. Read a bit long for me though, and I sought more redemption.

In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje
Ahhhh. Ah ah ah. this is exquisite writing. This story takes place before The English Patient and we get introduced to some of the characters we see there. Everything small is made visible, the sensual writing gave me goosebumps and longing, the story moves in various directions that almost lose each other at times, but the writing and character development and inner focus are so stunning that it made me realize that that is also how life is. Stunning.

Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk
I couldn’t finish this book. I wanted it to be like Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children in terms of weaving between a place and a story, but I felt underwhelmed by the story. Maybe something is lost in translation but it felt like a really really slow long study of melancholy. I am still excited to go to Istanbul this year though.

Demian, Hermann Hesse
This one started slow for me, similar to Istanbul it felt a little navel gaze-y, which I have a low tolerance for from male writers of a certain era (the past). But then the book really landed in it’s shameless philosophical exploration of the dark side of energy and experience in the world, or rather a liberation from good and evil as a binary framework, and invitation to accept the whole. Hesse published this originally as if the author were the main character, only a decade later claiming it as his own work. Reading the second half I found myself stopping, underlining, gasping, saying ‘you did that!’ and really experiencing a reader ecstasy.

Some of my favorite lines:

An enlightened man had but one duty – to seek the way to himself, to reach inner certainty, to grope his way forward no matter where it led.

We create gods and struggle with them, and they bless us.

That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself. You can be happy that way. But..

A priest does not want to convert, he merely wants to live among believers….to be the instrument and expression for the feeling from which we create our gods.

Whether you and I and a few others will renew the world someday remains to be seen. But within ourselves we must renew it each day.

If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is a part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.

Your soul…you’ve borrowed it: it has existed for thousands of years.

He even brought out a zoology book and showed me the names and illustrations of these anachronistic fish. And with a peculiar shudder I felt that an organ from an earlier period of evolution was still alive within me.

The surrender to Nature’s irrational, strangely confused formations produces in us a feeling of inner harmony with the force responsible for these phenomena…if the outside world was destroyed, a single one of us would be capable of rebuilding it…every natural form is latent within us, originates in the soul whose essence is eternity, whose essence we cannot know but which most often intimates itself to us as the power to love and create.

Sooooo gorgeous and good.

OK. Next book!

Changing Planes, Ursula Le Guin

Fifteen worlds explored through the lens of a frequent airline traveler who learns to slip through planes of existence. She is anthropological, and prolific in it. Lovely concept, well executed.

There’s a line in the intro that offended me, surprised me. I’ll ask her about it if we meet.

The Teachings of Don Juan, Carlos Casteneda
Wow. I finished this book a week ago and Don Juan is still walking around with me everywhere I go. Really intriguing approach, I love being with the skeptical protagonist as he learns these lessons which made me…I really felt, inside, what he learned, or rather what he got on the page. Death is on your left at arm’s reach – don’t deny it, accept it. Respect it. Be less accessible – be intentional which your energy. I am the bird, the ant, no more important, no less miraculous. This is a liberation. I highly recommend this book and am grateful to everyone who pointed me to his writings. Hungry for more.

Doris Lessing, The Making of the Representative for Planet 8
This is tough. Grace Lee Boggs recommended this author and series to me, and I feel the values in this book so much. But the writing plods along, and this particular book is really focused on misery, the death of a planet, for pages and pages and pages. And we should consider this, understand this is a fractal prophecy. But it’s been hard work to read her words – I wonder if people who mostly read nonfiction political work would find her a good bridge though.

Cosmopolis, Don Delillo
This book was disturbing in this odd blip of Trump’s presidential effort. It’s a ridiculously wealthy and wordy man having a breakdown. There is some real poetry, and interesting sex…and I like how Delillo writes. Took me a while to read. My favorite character was an advisor of his who is into chaos theory. Lots of people not to like, lots of randomness that felt, to me, like the emptiness that comes from having too much for too long.

things i think i said at eso won books

the other night i got to do an artist talk at eso won books, in leimert park los angeles. super grateful to cultural shapeshifter lynnee denise from international locals who organized the event, which included an artist talk with the sci fi writer nature grrrrl homey lisa bolekaja, and a book signing. it felt like a portal opened up, and i said some things. below are those things. afterwards i got to sign their big book of famous signatures where octavia butler’s signature from 2005 was on the first page! then i was told that one of my future wives, queen latifah, had just purchased octavia’s brood the night before.

!!!

so here are some thoughts:

as you do anything, as you write new stories, you are either moving towards justice or away. there is not a neutral space actually, you’re either perpetuating the existing paradigm of power, or you are disrupting it. that’s why visionary fiction is important, fiction that intentionally disrupts existing paradigms of oppression.

writing sci fi, writing futures we want, is a mindfulness practice. we need mindfulness practices to intentionally grow a future up through our collective and familiar cycles of trauma.

time is non-linear – octavia butler’s stories or nina simone’s music are good proof of this, as relevant now as when they were writing and singing it.

(in response to a question around what and how we create in a world that doesn’t want to acknowledge and celebrate our work…referencing hugos, world fantasy, oscars, etc, i stood up and turned around and said:) look at me. look at my body. i don’t have a body that is seen and affirmed in the mainstream space. i see some reference to it now in people like nicki minaj, but still nothing quite like all of this. so learning to love my body has been choice after choice after practice. it has included self documentation, self pornography, not engaging lovers who want my body to change, learning how i like to look and feel, learning what health is for me. my mind is as divergent from the mainstream as my body is. all of our minds are. which means we can’t look to mainstream systems for affirmation and approval – that’s why we created octavia’s brood. that’s why there are anthologies, and malkia cyril’s work and center for media justice are fighting to keep the web accessible to all, so we have room to create our own spaces and celebrate ourselves. our self love and full realization are dangerous to the mainstream.

capitalism has skewed what we think is enough. everything doesn’t have to be huge bestseller on mainstream markets for everyone. figure out who you want to reach and measure success against that.

we have rituals for collective trauma – we spread the word, and our outrage, on social media where you have to be careful, the trauma is on auto play. we create a hashtag and seek justice and take action and then when justice is often not send we have a next round of grief. we listen to music and sing and numb ourselves. we have less ritual for collective healing. black zen teacher angel kyodo williams pointed that out to me, how technology is connecting our pain so fast, but we have to develop the individual and collective capacity not just to respond, but to evolve together beyond this paradigm.

(in response to a question of the difference between black sci fi and afrofuturism). i see black sci fi as a literal thing, black people doing sci fi – it includes anything, can be the regular old tropes, action narratives, can be conservative, heteronormative, misogynist, etc. whereas afrofuturism to me implies a worldview beyond the western paradigm, being explicitly distinct, born from a different perspective from the mainstream white male American sci fi stuff.

create create create. find people to read your work and get feedback and let people see and hear and engage the part of the future you hold.

on being with what is

i often write when i am learning about something. for some time i have been learning to get present, and be with what is in the current moment. it is much much harder than i thought it would be. it has meant noticing the ways i numb, regress, resist, ignore and deny the present moment, and asking myself why.

this being with what IS, enhanced by meditation and somatics and tarot and my woes and my family and most recently my time away from the u.s. and facebook, is such a powerful learning. i am closer and closer to living in the present moment – i am closing the gap between anticipating/observing my life and actually living it.

i wanted to share with y’all some of my practice ground of late, which has included, but not been limited to, the following:

– sometimes it rains for a week in mexico. the week i was planning to beach and scuba dive was rainy and cold. but i found that there was no feeling of anger or ‘why me, why now’ that would change the weather. so i bought tea and read books and watched ants and listened to the rain pounding on the little skylight and did rituals and booked cheap massages. and i think it ended up being much more restful than my plans would have been.

– David Bowie died, and he was only 69, which seems so very young. he influenced me more than i can pinpoint, his existence was one invitation into the creative weird life that i am carving out for myself, loving earth and space and flesh and magic and colors and travel and art and music. but he is dead. and Grace is dead. and both of them gave me a gift: turning and facing death. listening to the album Bowie released on his birthday, days before his death, is almost a trans-life/death experience. he took the truth that he was going to die and created from it something ethereal, stunning.

Grace, similarly, faced her death and said yes, let me go/come, i am ready.

i have been so scared of death, and so angry with it for showing up all the time. i have seen so much unexpected death, where i didn’t have a sense that my lost ones were ready for the change that came. this intimate/stranger modeling is such a lesson.

i also read a book by carlos casteneda that i will review in my next post – the central figure of the book is an elder named don juan who teaches carlos that death is always with us, to the left, at arm’s reach. to accept and live with that is a fundamental part of a liberation process.

when i finished the first draft of the emergent strategy book earlier this month, i journaled that i felt a new kind of satisfaction. not a desire to die, i adore life. adore it.

but i also felt this sense of having done something that made my existence worthwhile, completed some cycle of expression that i have been playing at for years. there’s editing, but the raw yawp is out.

maybe the world needs this book as much as i do, maybe it doesn’t. but i came here to do a few things…as far as i can tell so far, that includes being good at love, seeding octavia’s brood, and this emergent strategy book. i feel satisfied.

– i landed from mexico into minnesota on the coldest night of the year. as the cold touched me all over my sunkissed skin i kept saying to myself, you really love, you really love, you really love – it was my youngest nibbling Mairead’s 3rd birthday, and i haven’t been with her on that day since her birth, where i got to be her doula. the babies were all super snuggly with me and i really needed that. Mairead and i spent most of her birthday curled up on the couch, watching dora the explorer (such a deeply repetitive show – one madlib style script really….) and the little mermaid. it was so perfect.

i only got two days there, which nibbling Siobhan let me know was not really adequate to her (because she wanted to read me more books – she is basically teaching herself to read because she is brilliant), and i agreed.

but the thing i want to bring up for practice here is that my oldest nibbling, Finn, asked me on my last night there (before a seven am departure) if he could sleep in bed with my mom and i.

as usual when we visit, we’re sharing a futon that is tight for the two of us. but i can’t say no to Finn! so i say: if you wake up early in the morning, you can come down.

to which he says, ‘is that in thirty minutes?’, which should have been a clue about his intentions.

i said no, like, five hours?

he’s like bet.

so around two am he is standing by the bed tapping my shoulder. i scoot over and make room, and then move him between us. and i would say my mom and i didn’t really sleep after that, just adjusted ourselves in various uncomfortable positions with Finn in the middle.

Finn is. and i am not his parent, this won’t happen a ton in our short lives. so, i watched him sleep, i wrapped him up in the covers, i contorted around his long limbs. and then i lay there in the dark, feeling so much love for him, and for my family, and for these kids who know how to be so openly loving.

– i am getting to a next level of my grief for Grace, for which i am grateful. i feel her in me, in us. i landed in Detroit and within two hours was in and facilitating a meeting, then went to another meeting, a circle of local healers who are going to be offering our work to a fellowship of low-income students this semester. and i feel her all in us. part of ‘what is’ is that she is with us all now, in us, lesson/essence. and when i look up from looking back to find her in my memories, she’s right here.

– i gave to a white homeless person for the first time ever. i always resist it on some principle i haven’t even articulated to myself: no, you’re white. i am not a fan of this form of charity anyway. and this is black Detroit, and you are gentrifying even the begging corners? no.

but…last night my thoughts shifted. who am i to limit my compassion according to some system i didn’t create, that is so much more complex than black/white? or hold this moral or political high ground, when i can see this human being’s face, and he can see mine?

what is? right now?

it’s so cold outside. cold enough that no one would be outside if they had an inside.
and i have a car full of food and a life full of met needs and abundance.
and his skin privilege has not kept him from this corner.
and maybe he doesn’t agree with charity either. who knows.

he said he was grateful, and he blessed me, and i said the same.

– i over-scheduled my return. i knew it as i was doing it, but i wanted as much writing/retreat time as possible, and then i wanted to be fully present with family. a lot of people were waiting for me to return and do things.

so. i landed, dropped my suitcase and went straight to work. as i write this, i have not unpacked. that’s major for me.

but the whole time i kept/keep thinking, this is so good! this is my good full strange life. i planned this, i got all the time i needed, i got to be so present, and now here i am. and retreat or no retreat, i am aware that i am a relatively slow person in a fast world, and i am still making it happen.

as a result of all this Being with what Is, this week – which has also held the beginning of my year of no added sugar, and my moon, and mercury in retrograde – i am often moved to tears by the love, the rightness, of my life. not the rightness of the universe, not yet. but the rightness of surrendering to and growing the good in my life, inside of what actually is, right here, right now.

rain soaked notes

I’ve been looking for a name for what I am doing in Mexico this time. Practice Intensive feels most accurate. Creation Retreat?

In 2012 I took a six month sabbatical, two weeks of which I spent in Mexico. It was the fourth stop on the journey, but that was the two weeks where I actually slowed down, disconnected with the external world and began reconnecting with myself. I made a commitment to build some time into each year for…that. This.

It’s not a sabbatical in the way the first trip was, not even a mini version of that. I needed to Do Nothing for a while back then, and I felt burnt out and lost. I needed massive transformation.

These trips, these days, I’ve needed rest, but I’m also on my path and that feeling is it’s own source of center and sustenance.

And I still need to recalibrate how I’m spending my time every so often. What happens here is that I set my patterns and intentions for the year. Whatever comes, here’s how I want to be.

It’s a vacation destination, but doesn’t feel like a vacation, because there’s a lot I’m doing. This time, my goal was to finish a first draft of a book on emergent strategy, which I did last Friday. Which feels like…

!
!!
!!!

And so on.

And now I’m going through the rampant self-doubt work related to putting something you love with your whole being into a tangible form. Just more awareness work. And notes for the next draft.

But in addition to the writing, which has included the book and a bunch of short stories, I’ve been doing a lot of other practices. Practices I need in my daily life, which can slip away in the chaos of even the good times, much less the grieving times.

My practices here have included guided and silent meditation, yoga, Spanish lessons, daily tarot reading, journaling, creating art, reducing social media viewing, reflecting on the year I just lived and the year that’s coming, rituals, reading physical books, and a 300-word daily speculative fiction writing challenge with my Clarion woes.

It’s also included preparing for a year of no added sugars, which will begin when I return to the US in a few days.

That prep has taken a lot of forms – logistical and ritual, yes, but mostly emotional. I’ve been moving in this direction for a while, with community and family. It’s so clear to me that my sugar addiction is the next frontier, the next set of gates (yes, I’m referencing The NeverEnding Story, because that’s how I feel going through changes). I’m mostly really excited – I know it feels better. I know I can do it. I know my body wants it.

I’ve been setting up plans and support structures for handling big emotions, which are, no surprise, the consistent trigger for sugar binging. I’ve also been ritually having sweet things I won’t have for a long time, with gratitude – the fun part of the prep.

The other practices – mindfulness, quiet, returning to my body and to the present moment – all support and connect to the shift in my sugar life. And vice versa – knowing that the fuel in my body isn’t there to hook me in, but rather to nourish me, from the earth…that lines up with the kind of presence and gratitude and balance I want throughout my life.

Being public about the sugar journey is itself a practice. Like most addictions, it thrives on silence, ignorance, deception and omission.

This trip, I have noticed how the connected world is encroaching everywhere on the world of quiet, meditation, escape. This year the WiFi is stronger, more of the neighbors have televisions, news and crisis pops up daily – perhaps this is no longer far enough away.

Or perhaps this is advanced practice, like daily life. Where is my choice in all of this, how do I continue to train my attention?

I have wrestled with boundaries, feeling frustrated that people keep asking me for work things while I am on break. And yet I know it’s no one’s else’s fault. If I let myself be too accessible, I don’t get the time I know I need. Reading Carlos Castaneda is helping with this.

And turning off WiFi.

I will add that since I completed the book draft, it has been cloudy and raining. Not light drizzles either, torrential downpours that flood the neighborhood. Instead of the beach time and swimming and scuba diving that I expected to do to celebrate in this post-book week, I have done other things – reading, listening to music, all of my practices.

I realized that I can get a Mayan massage and limpias for $25, so I’m redistributing my defunct scuba budget to get rubbed on lots and lots.

I’ve had more time for deep listening, for observation.

I noticed that Bruce Springsteen is always singing to someone he calls ‘little girl’. That David Bowie does sound like an alien to me, in the best way. That when I want the music closest to my heart, I always turn back to Ella, Billie, Etta, Dorothy, Dinah, Sarah – the classic black female vocalists of the jazz era.

I’ve noticed that I can let things pass without needing to engage or correct. For example, a bunch of white people with dreadlocks were in the town and all looked at me with a lot of…hmm what was that look? Longing? Invitation? I biked away. Then the other day I sat down for a nice restaurant dinner and after about two minutes a very belligerent drunken couple sat down at the next table with a little boombox playing something that sounded like country metal. I considered my options, decided to put on my headphones and drown them out with the ethereal sounds of Gallant. I have my own work to do.

I watched a community of ants move a piece of prosciutto, and felt really blown away by how they did it. I am barely resisting the urge to intentionally leave them food just to watch them manage it all.

I have grieved for all the people who have passed while I was away, especially sweet and brilliant Bowie, who has been a beacon on my weird futurist fluid fashionista path. Even how he passed, creating a releasing incredible music til the end. Yes.

I downloaded Labyrinth the other night, having forgotten how scary it actually is. It’s scary.

I considered writing a comparative piece about Bowie’s Lazarus and Drake’s Legend. We’ll see.

I’m having my most successful experience with learning a language other than English (every other experience has ended in official failure), which is exciting. The difference between my Duolingo competence and real life conversation is hilarious though. Real life is so much faster.

I have a few more days of this intensive period, and then another big year takes off. Last year was so complex, it took a lot to survive and navigate it. Here I am, stronger, clearer. And I feel excited. And I feel ready. And I know that comes with practice.