we are intelligent (grieving alana)

my friend alana died last weekend.

i say friend even though we had very little time in person together, and even though by the time i met her in person she was already diagnosed with metastatic cancer so there was a time limit, which i figured we could best with magic. really i was her fan. but i say friend because she was the coolest, and i dedicated part of my heart to her forever.

i fell in love with her in large part because my friend malkia loved alana in so big a way that everyone who heard about or witnessed the love felt blessed to hold a part of it. it felt like the parachute game from my childhood: everyone hold her here, and live in her beautiful circumference.

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after we met, alana and i played games together on our phones (she always won by a lot – and i never took it easy), and i meditated and visualized her health every day. i sent her original songs/jingles, tarot cards, energy and spells on big medical days. loving alana, with and in addition to malkia, became a daily practice. it’s a continuing daily practice for a huge community of people.

when we did hang out we talked. we got high together. we talked about fear and pleasure and big love and what really matters in life. we talked about mindfulness, and how she wanted to keep her attention on life and love. we talked about how badass she felt going through the challenges of cancer (“i was awake while they did shit to my brain!”), and about how much she really didn’t want to die. and then about how cancer was hard. and then about what shows i thought she had to watch before she died.

alana was intelligent – “having or showing the ability to easily learn or understand things, or to deal with new or difficult situations” (merriam webster)

alana had a kind of intelligence beyond any dictionary, too. it is the intelligence that recognizes how unique and miraculous life is, an intelligence that moves towards the best of life – love, pleasure, laughter, nature, connection, ice cream, dirty dancing, play. she rapped kendrick lamar flawlessly. she had an emotional intelligence that allowed her to feel what she was feeling and say so, and find love and connection that was about honesty and feeling together. when the worst news came, she could feel her fear in direct relation to all she loved, and she could wish such love and fear on everyone.

i want to admit that i have been feeling the peculiar bitterness that comes when i lose one of my intelligent friends on a day when lots of unintelligent (by any definition) people continue to live and make horrible decisions that effect me and the whole planet and future.

is there a name for that?

through my grief i notice how ok i am with the human reality that everyone dies, and how not ok i am with us dying in unfair ways, too early, for reasons that may be related to other people’s unintelligent choices about how to exist on this planet. i feel cancer that way, as some misguided response to an environment that is more physically and emotionally toxic each year. it makes me furious that cancer is so abundant and insatiable, and yet not one of the central focuses of our species…we’d rather foment war and wackness.

i feel angry and sad i didn’t get more alana in my life, and i’m grateful for how generous she and malkia were with her/their time, that i got to laugh and sing and learn with her, that so many people got to spend time with her.

and in her honor, i want to redefine intelligence. i don’t care if someone is really quick of mind, not if they only use it to compete with others, to deny the precious gift of life, to injure the relationship we have to the planet as a species. i want intelligence to be measured by the standard of alana – by a commitment to pleasure and loving life.

or the standard of my friend yulanda, who died last year, who made life – particularly moments of terrifying transition – delicious.

or my mother’s best friend kathy, who died last year, who worked to create abundant food sources so all humans could eat.

or my friend donaji’s son chuy, who died last year, who stayed a child in many ways, who giggled when he received grown up art projects (like collective get well cards).

i want intelligence to be a function of adapting to changing circumstances by always moving towards love and right relationship. not just surviving, but filling our days with pleasure and caring and delight, reveling in life.

i want to stop celebrating the quick stupidity of those who use their minds to keep us from each other, or disrespect/harm our connection to our only home in this universe, to those who choose misery, isolation, destruction and ignorance as a life path.

i want to change governance and schooling and media and philanthropy and architecture and math and research patterns and city planning and all human systems to align with alana’s intelligence.

during this thin time, i want ancestors old and brand new to be heard, telling us how precious the miracle of life is, guiding us to treasure it, to taste the ice cream, to say yes over and over to love, to organize our lives and structures around beauty and connection, and to claim our transformative capacity with each breath.

4 Responses to “we are intelligent (grieving alana)”


  1. 1 lisa graves

    Thank you for this beautiful and inspiring tribute to Alana!! I am bookmarking it to read it again and reread it. lisa

  2. 2 Anjali Sawhney

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes…thank you Adrienne for this through Malkia.????? ps and I will never forget Alana’s deep, soulful eyes (yes the kind that really saw you, me)the one time I met her in person. ?

  3. 3 Emily Dietrich

    Thank you for naming Alana’s intelligence in this way. I had the honor of being her teacher when she was 16, and she knew then, already, how to be inside a day with happiness. Her film and her way of living her last two years have gotten through to me, and I have begun to be able to access the transformative power you speak of Alana manifested.

  4. 4 Shirley Man-Kin Coenen

    Thank you so much, you are amazing and I always feel nourished reading your blog, your book, hearing your words on your podcast and following you on social media. I am a community organizer in Fort Collins, CO and always seek your wisdom. Thank you!

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