Monthly Archive for January, 2018

final letter to Ursula le Guin (sent the day after your departure)

first, a few excerpts from our correspondence, which will be published in the Ursula le Guin Science Fiction and Social Justice Reader this year.

amb: How does imagination help our species survive?
UKL: It is through imagination that we think intelligently about what we’ve done, are doing, and should do.

amb: did you ever spend time with Octavia?

UKL: We met only two or three times…She was an extraordinary person, both formidable and lovable.  I always felt she was larger than life, if you know what I mean.

amb: Thanks for your life’s work!
UKL: You’re very welcome! I have enjoyed it very much.


a relationship with a beloved writer can be a very selfish place. you are alone with them, building an understanding of the world through their eyes and some intimate pairing of imaginations – they paint the worlds but all of it happens inside you. i tried to write something more epic and universal, and i trust that will come. but first i wanted to write a letter to her that was about how she shaped me.

dear Ursula,

great teacher.

great spirit.

i’ve been crying since i got the news of your passing, and also feeling very alive.

i got to live at the same time as you.

and i get the honor of grieving you.

there are thoughts and ideas you wrote down that became beliefs for my whole life, marking posts on the journey of freeing myself.

there are questions you asked that changed the way i could think.

many of us don’t get to experience grandparents who can accept us whole. for me you were one of the adults who stepped into that yawning space, who joined the composite of my dream elder.

you let me know i may be in the wrong universe, but i am not wrong, i am not impossible.

you not only matched and fed my queer unorthodox mind, but pushed me further. on relationships and sex alone you had me consider: what about four-way marriage? what about gender as a responsive switchy sexual state that was otherwise nonexistent? what about instead of a period you just had a monthly sexual overdrive and a special place to go orgy for that time?

i am a lucky one – i got to tell you to your face that you were everything – and you were gracious about it.

i am still creating a project about your work. in researching it i became fascinated by you, your abundant correspondence, your art and poetry connected to the worlds you created, your fierce letters to local editors about tree removals, your loves and flirtations.

i still want to read everything. it feels impossible in the best way.

writers cast themselves out to the world with words, so that now you feel fully dispersed more than gone. you were so generous with your gifts. and you were rare – both prolific and genius. so many genius words!

the worlds you wrote increased my trust that white people could imagine something beyond their own supremacy. and that capitalism could be out imagined, like monarchy.

even when i did not seek you, you were there.

when i learned to meditate, you’d left me a framework.

when i fell in love with the Tao, i could turn to your translation.

when i wanted amazing fiction for all my nibblings, you had a series on flying cats.

when i needed to stand up for something, feeling alone in my dignity, you told me about the ones who walk away from a utopia dependent on someone else’s suffering.

when i lost hope in this world, you offered me a plethora of fully formed universes to learn from. you even gave me multiple options for moving between universes, both distant and parallel.

when some aspect of humanity felt beyond my comprehension or compassion, i found books you had written twenty years before that not only opened my heart, opened the possible in me, but generated desire for that specific difference.

when i wondered if imagination could be necessary for revolution and transformation, you said yes, you said our dreams and visions matter, they are the way we make oppression temporary.

88 years. i wanted more. you are that kind of human.

even as i sit in my grief for you, you guide me, you remind me that you are not absent, but complete.

“true journey is return.”


from the new yorker’s piece “the fantastic Ursula le Guin”

the parables: an ecstatic review

today i saw the Parable of the Sower opera.

it is the work of my beloved ancestor-teacher Octavia Butler in the hands of Toshi Reagon, begun as a collaboration with her mother Bernice Johnson Reagon. Dr Reagon is now retired, but her sonic fingerprints are all over the piece that continues to grow.


today as i watched it, Octavia’s family and her incredible agent were in the audience. i got to meet them after, for which i am grateful.


i saw the opera years ago in an earlier iteration. i remember loving the music then, in the dark, in a circle of voices.

today it was in a theater, packed, and it opened with the sweet gift of Toshi just giving us some context, some welcome. she has one of my favorite voices in the world, speaking or singing. she was on the stage the entire time, along with two others called the Talents, who rode the wave from earthly to ethereal as the two hours passed.

every singer who entered the stage was powerful, well cast, sounded timeless. Toshi later explained that the singers were trained to truly open their mouths, sing with their whole bodies, sing in a 19th century style. they sound like forever.

it was a congregational opera, we were invited to sing when we knew the songs. even the balance of lights made it feel as if we were part of the circle of survivors trying to find a viable future.

the music Toshi gathered and/or wrote is so beautiful, so emotionally accurate to the story. the pieces were tender – at one point i found myself crying in a new way, the pain of my eyes sharp – something was being cleansed in the tears. i gasped as the last song landed; now hours later, i feel freedom like what only comes after suffering, i feel connected to other believers within a dual web – archives and whispers.

in the iterative process of this opera the singers have left their seats and now we must call them actors. these actors danced as a flock of birds, they migrated north, fractal, iterative, each one contributing to this act of musical genius.

Toshi is not just conducting the musicians, the sounds…she is orchestrating emotional liberation from apathy and oppression, with our bodies as instruments. this is sound healing.

and these actors, these players! there’s a moment when Lauren’s stepmother (played by Karma Mayet) is singing to Lauren’s pastor father (Jason Charles Walker): “I Won’t Crumble With You If You Fall” and i felt my concept of love changing. this is a kind of love/survival we need access to for this coming change.


and then Lauren (realized, embodied by Shayna Small) singing “Have You Seen My Father”…writing out the words brings the grief back. this is what i was worried would be lost in translation, the solitary work of grief inside of the stunning experience of terror. the hyperempathy, which was well done, AND the mundane experience of losing someone. Toshi didn’t shy away. there were several moments when all we could hear was a weeping song and the breath of tears.

and emergent strategy was so apparent. the verses Toshi selected – “belief initiates action or it does nothing”, “embrace diversity” – are those that most read as instructions for how to survive the impossible.

tonight we held a conversation at the national black theater, a historical location which was perfect for us as a stand against gentrification, not to mention they’re in the middle of a season called Black to the Future! the temple was packed and we generated life. here are a few highlights, moments that increased our honesty and togetherness:





Toshi spoke to how she’s not going to be one that runs, that’s not what her body does. she said she will stay, she will cover the backs of those who must go. and that the idea of playing this role makes her smile.

Shay spoke to how being Lauren Olamina on that stage is changing how she moves through her real life, what she practices, making her revolutionary.

Manju and Alexis came up from north carolina, where the parable was put on last fall. they spoke of the need now for direct action, and for recognizing that when God is change, each of us is God and must act accordingly.

in this state, with the bias of ecstasy, i recommend you bring the Parable everywhere. give it every grant. run to see it when you have a chance. change and be changed.

bonus: for yesterday’s #movementtarot i pulled a spread on the relationship between movements and Octavia Butler.


#sundayspread on the relationship between movements and Octavia Butler.
(in honor of me going to see the Parables Opera today and then hosting a conversation with the Parables team later this evening at the National Black Theater.) what we bring: “the student of branches carries a fire in their belly that refuses to be put out. other people don’t always understand why the student must act with such fiery determination. and that’s OK. the student doesn’t always understand either. they just know they have been called to move, and they are heeding that call. the student wants to bridge the gap between what is imagined and what can be actualized.” ?

what Octavia gives us. “the visionary of stones reminds us that being grounded need not mean being boring. a dazzling diva whose glamor is drawn from the natural world, the visionary represents the pinnacle of intuitive connection to the earth element. when the visionary appears in your reading, recognize that you have the power to reshape your world.” ?

the composite energy is the visionary of vessels, but in reverse. “the supporter needs support, the healer needs healing. a temporary blip or disruption in intuition and empathy. approaching powerful wisdom and capacity to heal, but not there quite yet.” what to practice? the four of stones. “no need to hoard, no need for excessive accumulation. trust that there is always enough. ground your sense of security in that you are always enough.” from @slowholler deck, #resistancetarot #movementtarot

oprah is already an emperor

i watched oprah winfrey’s beautiful speech the other night…actually the next morning. that night i watched different people from my community documenting their experience as #timesup activist guests at the golden globes. a friend sent me the speech and i sat on the edge of my bathtub and watched it and cried hard because i get moved by bravery and collective moments.


i thought oprah was stepping into a new territory, wielding her power in a new way. i didn’t think she was beginning a run for the office of president. i’ve been reflecting a bit on why, as i’ve seen tons of very heated debates on her qualifications, her wealth (which seems suddenly surprising to some people), her liberalism.

the first thing is that i think we all need to change our understanding of what presidency in the context of this country means.

i was recently at the obama summit. i met the 44th president there, and sat up close for michelle obama’s speech. in both of them i saw elegant beautiful brilliant black people who had survived something horrific. when the first lady spoke of the white house, it sounded like the biggest, fanciest prison experience available. listening to obama tell stories at the dinner table, i wondered how he carries the weight of the decisions he made as president. and i understood, again, that brilliance, and even individual integrity, are not enough to change a corrupt system.

Octavia’s words “all that you touch you change, all that you change changes you” are also a warning. so far, to hold the role of presidency means to become the keeper of war, the one who manages oppression, the prison guard and executioner. it is a role of drones, prison bars, barbed wire borders. it is a curse, even when held in competent hands.

and i am tired of seeing power handed off at the moment of implosion – as a coach i often support women and people of color who were celebrated and given roles of executive power only to learn that it was power over a hot mess. we’re lucky we survive these brushes with toxic hierarchy – power imbalances that put all the worst kinds of work on the shoulders of those willing to risk being leaders. the job description to come in after 45 is like firefighter-janitor-ER nurse-in chief.

so one reason i am not over here thinking #winfrey/[insert powerful feminist here]2020 is because the role of president as it currently stands is a set up to do the worst harm, and i don’t really want to see another black or brown person take on that burden until we have revolutionized the whole system, at which point the role will likely be obsolete.

and we’re far from revolutionizing even that role; at this point we need to reassert that president is a role of service, not empire. we don’t want to accept the precedent that wealth can qualify you for a role that is meant to be held by experienced politicians who have been practicing service to the people for most of their adult lives. my great uncle just passed – he was a state senator in South Carolina and he was beloved, available to his constituents, responsive. they guided his hand.

it isn’t actually meant to be about who is the most articulate, or charming, or rich. democracy is supposed to be about finding those who can listen to the people, uplift the best of our skills and longings, and weave a society that works for all of us.

as a post nationalist, i am divesting my energy from the federal experiment as the place where this kind of leadership can get elevated. 45 is a clear indication of failure. a system at this scale without a humane economic view (such as socialism, a pluralist commonwealth or other forms of economic democracy) leads to boorish, egotistical monsters in power. it’s what we will put our attention on – look how many people are reading the news every day now that it’s all dumpster fires and disaster.

we have to invest in a different way of being american than this experiment allows for, and our cities and communities are the spaces for that investment.

let’s give oprah a slate of incredible local leaders to back, help her redistribute her wealth into powerful feminist leadership in that way. politics is a field that requires diplomatic and collective skill, and there are brilliant women walking in the fire of elected office right now, learning to survive and lead – she can support them in 2018 and 2020.

because the other reason oprah doesn’t need to be the president is that she is already the emperor of her own life, network, wealth and narrative. oprah is living her best life as oprah. and i’m not mad at it, she’s been shaped by her time and taken great risks.

i am rarely angry at an oppressed person for besting the system, but it’s a corrupt system, and those who rest comfortably in its spoils should not be expected to lead us to the next system.

oprah is a black billionaire who loves love and transformation. she’s a survivor who has lifted herself out of poverty and lifted a lot of others with her. she has learned a lot in public, and she is generous and vulnerable with that learning. she claims her joy, her book nerdery, her health, her right to be a black woman on the cover of a magazine every month, her actress self, her producer self, her i-don’t-have-to-get-married-to-have-solid-partnership self, her podcasts full of spiritual leaders self…who knows what she’s like behind the scenes, but she’s a fucking fantastic public persona. let’s not destroy that with an american presidency.

let’s be brave

today i suddenly needed to read this again:


i couldn’t find it, couldn’t remember if i knew where it came from, but it felt so important to re-presence. my friend hilary found it and then sent me the original:


and it was from mickey, who i recently met after a long time of trying to get to each other, and I was so deeply impressed by her, and to think our paths had crossed long ago in such a profound way made me feel like:


photo credit: @klovesnature

attention liberation: a commitment, a year of practice

what we give attention to grows. what we pay attention to grows.

i am a commitment to attention liberation and reparations.

i am a commitment to being/shining sunlight on everything i want to see grow.

i am a commitment to divesting from anything that isn’t rooted in love.


today i am entering a year-long commitment of putting my attention on what i love and want to grow.

i have been heading this way, but still giving too much of my attention to that which i cannot shape, that which i cannot reach. i want to hold my attention as precious sunlight that i bestow on every practice or person or concept that advances the way i believe things should be. i want to affirm that which is done well, and/or is done bravely.

to have enough attention for this focus, i am intentionally removing my attention from those who hurt humanity or the planet, or hurt movements learning and working to protect either of these.

i will practice:

1. meditation.

each day i will practice focusing my attention on my breath through silent meditation and black feminist chanting.

“i am who i am doing what i came to do.”
“the world needs to hear her voice.”
“my people are free.”
“god is change.”

2. centering daily in the commitment of attention liberation. i am a commitment to being/shining sunlight on what i want to grow.

3. redirecting what isn’t mine. i will direct people to a resource page (link coming soon) for folks learning things that are no longer the best focus for my attention.

i will also disengage from gossip at the interpersonal or ‘media’ level. “Be the boss of your business or be bossed by those that can’t mind their own.” – Chani Nicholas

4. find the people already working on the solution.

Wherever there is a problem, there are already people acting on the problem in some fashion. Understanding those actions is the starting point for developing effective strategies to resolve the problem, so we focus on the solutions, not the problems.allied media network principles

i don’t read the news simply to be appalled and then rant about how appalled i am. i stay informed about the world with my attention on (and material support flowing towards) movements and people i believe in. we are the solution.

5. put my attention on growing transformative justice in conflict and grievance. this one is big. and this level of work doesn’t happen on social media.

while purely punitive measures can feel briefly sayisfying, i know they do not work outside of a transformative justice process, at worst recreating/proliferating harm, shame, repression, and isolation; at best making people act right without healing whatever is broken at the root.

once light is shed on a harm, i will participate in tj processes where appropriate, or support by mediating or connecting those involved to someone who can help get them to and through a process of resolution.

if that isn’t possible (for instance, if both/all parties are not willing to participate in a process in good faith) i will hold and support strong boundaries, wish all parties the sacred work of transformation, and keep it moving.

i will not give attention to continuous case building against people or institutions where i do not see a commitment to resolution and transformation.

6. i will report back on new year’s eve of 2018, on what i learned through this practice.

wish me luck, and/or join me.

bonus: emergent strategy mantras

i am no victim of life; i shape change.
we are not victims of circumstance; we shape change.

i practice what i want to become.
we practice what we want to create.

i am a microcosm of all the possible justice, liberation, pleasure and honesty in the universe, and i act accordingly.

i remember that i exist only in relationship to other people and systems.

i accept that i cannot change others, but i can hold standards for my own life.

i willingly engage in and support transformative justice processes for accountability and getting in right relationship.

i create more possibilities in the face of scarcity thinking.

i act from and towards love.